Wednesday, March 10, 2021


So, my first new book is out, a fantasy novella that plays heavily into the 80's style, tabletop fantasy role-playing games media tie-in novel fiction vibe. I'll cut-and-paste in here the Author's Note I wrote for the end of the book: 

I discovered tabletop role-playing games in 1993, when two of my friends acquired the “Big Black Box” edition of a certain “Basic” fantasy RPG which will remain nameless. My enthusiasm for tabletop gaming quickly outgrew theirs, and since I lived in a very rural part of Maine and didn’t have many friends who lived close by, I turned my interest in writing - which was very strong in me even as a teenager - towards an interest in gaming, specifically the world-building and character-creating aspects of it. I didn’t have much of an opportunity for playing adventures, so I filled my time by creating adventure stories.

Fast-forward a quarter of a century. I still play that certain role-playing game in its current edition, although now in the winter of 2021 my friends and I play it over video chat, because the COVID-19 pandemic is keeping us from hanging out together as we always did, laughing and teasing and bringing meals and having drinks. I’m a big nerd and most of my friends are big nerds as well, and this is one of the pastimes that keeps us together, some of us since the late-’90s. We’ve gotten older, some of us a little rounder, all of us a little greyer up top, but when the books and the dice and the character sheets come out, we’re all still kinda kids again.

This past year has been terrible on a global scale. The pandemic is far from over, all our lives have been on hold in one way or another for a year. We still try to get together online a couple of times a month to fight bad guys and go exploring, discover hidden places and earn fame and fortune in imaginary lands. It’s an old-fashioned style of play, and I try as the Game-Master to make sure the more problematic aspects are left out of the adventures. Still, we’re traditionalists in many ways. 

And so, this is what THEY KILL FOR GOLD is about. It’s a story of old-school fantasy adventure, hearkening back to those memories of a more “Basic” kind of game and gameplay. The plot isn’t fancy, the world isn’t unique or exceptional, the character motivations aren’t all that complicated. And yet, I enjoyed writing the story and bringing these characters to life. Hopefully, you enjoyed reading it. Maybe it’ll inspire you to go dig around in a drawer, find your dice, dust off your old rulebook and some graph paper, and go on an adventure.

So far, I've seen a slow but steady trickle of sales, and more interestingly, Kindle Unlimited "borrows" and reads. Very encouraging, as I haven't released anything in two years and this has gone out with very little fanfare. I already have an outline for the second book, and I am developing the story for the third. All in all, I think the idea of simple, fast-paced novellas that draw really heavily on old-school fantasy gaming tropes, but with a modern touch, may in fact find an audience with readers. I've gotten some really positive feedback from a couple of readers already, folks who know the genre I'm trying to fit into and whose opinions I definitely respect, and so that is extremely encouraging.

That's it for now, If you think this sounds interesting, you can click here to find the ebook on Amazon. A paperback edition should be along in a few weeks.

Sunday, March 7, 2021

It's Been 84 Years

Well, okay, not exactly that long. But it's been a while. 14 months since our last blog post. If you haven't been living under a rock for the last year, you know that the COVID-19 pandemic turned the planet upside down, and especially for those of us in the US, where things, shall we say, have been a little tumultuous.

Back in Mid-March of 2020, my work went remote until August. I worked from home for 5 months, with only very rare, clandestine operation-style trips into work in order to pick up something or drop something off in another person's office. Since then, I've been on a 3 days a week schedule since September. Overall, it has been okay. My commute, which is via public transit, isn't so bad, mostly because there are very few people on the train going in either direction. At work, I interact with almost no one. There are days where over the course of 8 hours, the person I interact with most is the nice person handing me my Starbucks through a pickup window. I have become the Maytag repairman, sitting and waiting for a problem to happen, and it rarely occurs.

Well, most of you must be waving your arms around and saying, "Wait, that should be perfect for a novelist, right? You should be able to get all sorts of things done, right? Why haven't you written three or four novels by now?" Well, nah, not exactly. I'm sure it was great for some folks, but it was hard for me. Constant mental distraction between the pandemic news and worry, trouble with family (especially elder care stuff), troubles with friends and loved ones, national political crisis, and the stress of working-but-not-really working, in an environment that's both dull and stressful at the same time, it all became conditions that aren't great for the flow state necessary to write and complete long-form storytelling.

On the other hand, I wasn't idle. I did work on a number of projects, although some only made small amounts of progress. All in all, I think I wrote about 60,000 words over the course of 2020, which for me, isn't terrible. And the good news in all of that, is I did write a novella - 32,000 words - called THEY KILL FOR GOLD. I'll drop another post about it tomorrow, but in short, it is a fantasy novella that asks the question: Everyone wants to be the hero, but what if you're just the hireling? It's a story idea I've had for years, but never got around to writing it because there was always some greater, higher-stakes project that took precedence. Well, this year, I was just too stressed to work on the high-stakes stuff, so I finally settled down and wrote this novella, which will, I hope, be the first of many quick-read adventures.

Beyond that? I picked away at a few other ideas, but nothing I want to talk about here just yet. And I do owe you all my 2020 writing in review, which is usually a breakdown of sales and writing progress. It'll take a little more time this year, as my move to publish six of my novels through Wolfpack Publishing means I've got to consult two sets of spreadsheets, rather than one, but I do want to get you some numbers eventually. In short, it okay decision. KILLER INSTINCTS and SAN FRANCISCO SLAUGHTER sold better in 2020 than they ever did before, but my Commando titles actually lost money with the move, and overall I think I either broke even or made less this past year than I did in 2019. Granted, given the situation over the past year, making a good estimate as to what my sales should have been is a little pointless, but I think the long and the short of it is, I should have held onto my Commando titles, and only given Wolfpack the other two novels. Live and learn.

That's going to be it for now - just a quick update. Now that THEY KILL FOR GOLD is out (link for those who are interested) I'm going to focus this spring on finally writing the second Hangman novel, BATTLE FOR THE BLACKTOP. I've had this idea half-formed in my mind for years, and I think now's the time to get it finished. On that note, I'll catch you all later, and thank you for dropping by.

Friday, January 24, 2020


My first cover-to-cover read of 2020 was this classic. I first read STONY MAN DOCTRINE back in either junior high or high school - I can't recall which - as my schools had a lot of donated fiction and someone must have had a collection of Gold Eagle titles. I remember back then thinking how amazingly badass the GE books were, with tons of technical detail and blistering action scenes.
For those of you totally in the dark here, SMD is the first book in Gold Eagle Books' Three-Series "Stony Man" world (I guess Sons of Barabas is also in this world but I don't really count it here) which encompasses the Mack Bolan Executioner series, the Able Team series, and the Phoenix Force series. Essentially the three men of Able Team and five men of Phoenix Force work for Bolan, and in this book they're all brought together for the first time to take on a multi-national terrorist organization called Hydra (no, not THAT Hydra), which is planning to carry out a series of WMD-style chemical weapon attacks against major US population centers unless the US government withdraws all military forces from foreign countries. The President decides that he cannot abandon America's allies, so he calls in Bolan and Co. to hunt down the terrorists and wipe them out.

Reading this again thirty years later, it is still entertaining action fare. The usual Gold Eagle titles are far slimmer than this book, but the author is able to stitch together what're basically two and a half novels' worth of action in order to deliver the first "Super-Bolan" book. Instead of action-interlude-travel-action-interlude-travel as you have in, say, an Able Team novel, this book can just go from team to team to team and keep the action coming.
One thing I did forget about this book was how early on in the lives of the Able Team and Phoenix Force series this took place. I believe it's right around the same time as Able Team #6, and Phoenix Force #5. It was definitely a cool idea someone had to bring all three series together for a big operation, but it is also evident of why it wouldn't work as a formula for every book - the end battle alone, where all nine combatants are fighting, just doesn't give enough "screen time" to each of the characters, and winds up jumping around a lot in order to show us what everyone's doing.
Overall, pretty darn entertaining, and I'm glad to have been able to re-read it after such a long period of time and not be crushed that it wasn't as awesome as I'd remembered.

Monday, January 6, 2020

My 2019 Writing in Review

My usual disclaimer: It is time once again to put forward my writing summary for the past year. As always, the facts and figures I provide here aren't meant to be boastful - I provide the information so that others can have an understanding of what I've done, what works, what doesn't work, and everything in between. I sell more books than some, and fewer books than others, and that's that.

In 2019 I sold 1,167 eBooks and tracked 471,533 Kindle Unlimited eBook pages read of my material (that converts to almost 1,900 Commando novel-length reads). This is almost a thousand fewer eBook sales than last year, and about 230,000 fewer KU pages. Interestingly, when I look at my royalties for this year as compared to last, I'm only down about $1,100, but of course, there is a two-month sales/royalty overlap (meaning, the money I received in January 2019 was for books sold in November 2018), and indeed the monthly royalties I received in the first quarter of 2019 are much, much higher than what I received at the end of the year. So you can see what my sales trends look like visually, here's January through November, 2019:

And here is the title-by-title sales for December 2019:

So, why the big downturn at the end of the year?

Well, a couple of reasons. First off, I only put out one title in 2019. That was my WW2 novella The Butcher of Calais, one of the "Commando Short Bursts" titles. While it was well-received by those who read it, it wasn't read by all that many, and I am not sure if that was because it was part of the Short Bursts series, or if it was genuinely not interesting to my Commando readers. Only time will tell, but it is true that this was the only title I released all year. I will say that this past year I did more reading and research for future books than I have in a long time, but frankly, the motivation to write has been pretty weak this year, and I am fighting hard to get past that wall, but so far, I have been unsuccessful. I'll come up with a great idea, do some good plotting work, a bunch of research, get several thousand words on the page...and then it just fizzles out.

The second reason my KDP sales have been so low, especially in the last quarter of 2019, is that I made the decision to partner with an independent press, Wolfpack Publishing, and give them the rights to publish my six Commando novels, as well as Killer Instincts and San Francisco Slaughter. The Commando books were released in two three-book omnibus editions, while KI and SFS were released on their own. Since all my previous "Writing in Review" posts have shown that roughly 90% of my sales and income is driven by the Commando titles, this effectively puts the whole of my financial future as an author in the hands of Wolfpack Publishing. For those of you who have always handed your books off to a publisher, that might just be business as usual for you, but for someone who did it all on their own for eight years, that is a big, BIG step, and I did not take that step lightly. However, as life the last couple of years had meant less time and energy for writing, and definitely less energy for marketing, I decided that giving my books to a publishing house that was well known among my fellow authors for a strong record in marketing and sales, I felt they would be able to do the one thing I could not - find readers for my books.

The ultimate question is, of course, did I make the right decision? Wolfpack's strategy for selling books is to rely extremely heavily on Kindle Unlimited page reads, and almost completely ignore sales revenue. Everything they put out is listed at $0.99, even multi-volume omnibuses like my Commando series. This means that while Amazon paid me $6.18 for every three Commando titles sold, Amazon is now giving out only $.35 for those same three books, and that's before Wolfpack takes their cut. Of course, they target Kindle Unlimited readers and make most of their money from them, and a page is still a page no matter who publishes it, but I made a significant amount of my money from sales, not KU reads, so Wolfpack needs to not only make up what they are taking as their cut of the KU royalties, but all the money I made from sales as well. This means that now, in order for me to make the kind of money I was making on my own, Wolfpack is going to have to sell a lot more copies of my books - especially the Commando series. And I do mean A LOT, like, an order of magnitude more.

Can my new publisher come through on those kinds of numbers? We will have to see. The US sales of the Commando titles aren't very promising. They're still in the six-figure rankings, which is...well it's terrible. In the UK the rankings are much better, but the UK eBook market is different, much smaller, meaning you don't have to sell as much in order to get those better numbers, so while the numbers in the UK are "good", that doesn't necessarily translate to sales being great. On the other hand, Killer Instincts and San Francisco Slaughter are now, after all these years, actually selling fairly well. It was always highly frustrating to me that those two books were well-liked by pretty much everyone who read them, and yet these was so little cross-popularity from Commando readers. So, while I will probably not be rolling around in large piles of KI and SFS cash, those books are finally going to be earning the kind of money I always hoped they'd earn.

I think that's all for this post. Perhaps next week I'll do a post on 2020 projects, but for now, it's fingers crossed.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Wargaming Wednesday: The Beards and Battleaxes RPG?

Cover art from one of the GW army books
Hello everyone, sorry for a lack of posts Friday and Monday, things were a little troubled on the home front. But here we are again, talking about gaming. After venting my frustration last week, I began thinking of a gaming project I could undertake, something simple, specific, and entertaining to me personally, while at the same time, viable as a product that can be shared to folks out there in the world at large.

So I settled on a game about dwarves.

I like dwarves. I've played them in various RPGs. The Dwarfs (not Dwarves, but Dwarfs) were my first Warhammer Fantasy Battle army. They're short, stout, and bearded, just like me, and although beer isn't my go-to form of alcohol these days, I can certainly appreciate a well-brewed pint of ale or stout. Dwarves are also usually portrayed as gruff, curmudgeonly little assholes who don't like taking shit from anyone and hold grudges far longer than rationally reasonable, and yes, guilty as charged on all counts.

A single player-race game might seem limiting, but it is also focused. It lessens the number of decisions during character creation and reduces the rules and word count, keeping the game tighter. Also, I would probably stick with tradition and limit any form of Dwarven magic to a kind of rune-crafting, coupled with perhaps some kind of holy boons or blessings from Dwarven gods. Again, it limits player choice, but also alleviates the need for a player-side spell catalogue (which in many games can be equivalent to all the other rules put together).

From a GW Dwarf infantry minis box
As for adventures, I think a lot of the major bases can be covered. Dungeon and underground exploration is an obvious go-to, but you can also have dwarves patrolling the areas around their strongholds, overland expeditions, trips to human (or non-human) lands and cities, long-distance explorations, diplomatic trips, monster hunts...with a little thought, almost any adventure type is possible.

As for the rules, I think I have a good foundation I want to build upon. Originally I thought of going with the core rules I developed for my stalled-out Tankards & Broadswords RPG, but I think for the moment I am going to set those aside and try something a little more basic, and if that doesn't seem to fit my needs, we'll reconsider. I think the rules should be simple, avoid a lot of math, and most difficult of all, not be just a generic system but an expression of the concept of the game. How we get there, we'll have to find out.

So, I'm going to leave this be for now. Next week I hope to have a few more details on this, and as time goes on, we'll build bit by bit. In the end, this is likely just going to be a downloadable PDF that anyone can enjoy, so we're keeping it as simple and straightforward as possible.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Wargaming Wednesday: Nine Novels, Zero RPGs

Old Cover Draft from Wayyyy Back When
Going to cut and paste in a series of posts from Twitter that I wrote this weekend. Every year or so, I get this notion of "finally" finishing a small role-playing game product that I can let out into the wild. I don't think I'd sell it, just create a PDF that's available for download, perhaps put a print-on-demand version on Amazon for as cheaply as they'll let me. But year after year, it doesn't happen, and I got thinking about why recently:
I've blogged about it in the past, but it is very strange for me to face that I have written nine novels and many shorter works of fiction, but the thought of putting out a short role-playing game product is vastly more nerve-wracking. 

I've been gaming since '93 and writing for profit since 2011. I ran campaigns with several homebrew RPG systems over the years, and tinkered with probably a dozen more system ideas. Yet, I have never had the nerve to finish a gaming product, package it, and put it out there.

At first I thought it was fear of criticism, but being a novelist beats that out of you pretty quickly. Maybe it's knowing that most readers just consume your product and move on, but so many gamers I know are system-tinkerers. It's like running a restaurant where half your customers are also running their own restaurants. Every single person who buys it is going to be deciding whether they could have done this better than you, and how.

Because that's the nature of RPGs. And that's fine, except that means not just criticism, but active, in-depth critique. No 4* reviews on Amazon "Fun read but the action was a little confusing". You have to defend every rule and every wording against everyone who reads it.

And to have that level of exhausting engagement, and so much of my time dedicated to a project that'd probably earn me 1% of what a novel would (if I even put it out at a price, which I probably wouldn't) just seems...not worth it.

Which kind if sucks, because I love role-playing games, and I have been a tinkering game designer for 25+ years. But the meat grinder which is that middle-aged person's algorithm of time, money, and energy vs reward is difficult to overcome.
I wrote a post about this back in 2015 on my Tankards and Broadswords blog (click to go there and read it, it's still relevant). It's funny that in the last four years, despite continued tinkering, I still don't have any kind of RPG product to share. I'm fully aware that the skill set of "Game Designer" and "Novelist" only partially overlap, but I think that is only a small portion of the problem. So, we shall see. I've got a few ideas, and I feel like if I can start small enough, I can build on a little idea incrementally. Only time will tell.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Media Monday: Rambo V - Last Blood

There's no good way to approach a review of this without sinking neck-deep into the current socio-political quagmire. There just isn't. I'm going to do my best to talk about it without engaging this, but I will fail. I'm just putting it out there that this review isn't meant to be a discussion of racism and politics in film, but rather, how to handle such issues in a way that doesn't make you look like a pack of morons.

Rambo: Last Blood is a garbage movie. There, I said it. Bring on the hate. I grew up watching the Rambo movies on VHS and (edited) television channels, so if someone wants to accuse me of not loving mindless action movies, come at me, bro. I saw Rambo 4 in the theater and left absolutely thrumming with adrenaline because I thought it was, if not a masterpiece, certainly leagues better than Rambo 3, and felt like they at least put some effort into addressing the complexities of the issues at hand with how outsiders view violent civil conflicts, and the futility of "helping" in regions where such help is marginal at best, and bloodily counter-productive at worst.

Last Blood, on the other hand, appears to have been conceived for the sole purpose of getting to the last 20 minutes of the film, and no one gave any real thought or care as to how the film got there. In order to talk about this, I'm going to have to deal with some extensive plot spoilers, so now is your chance to bail now if you don't want this.

Keep scrolling.

Almost there.

A little more.

Last chance.

Okay then, don't blame me if you're reading this and don't want spoilers.

The long and the short of it is that Rambo is now living on a horse ranch in Arizona with Maria, a woman who is at least approximate to his age, and Gabriela, a young girl who is graduating from high school and going off to college. The first big problem here is that Rambo's relationship to these two women is never actually explained. At the end of Rambo 4, you see Rambo going to a place that you assume is his family farm, but in this movie, you don't really know who is related to whom. Rambo isn't Gabriela's father, or even her grandfather. There's mention of her mother, and a deadbeat dad, whom Rambo stopped apparently at one point from beating up the mother. I'm not even sure of the relationship between Maria and the younger girl - I think she might be an aunt, but I can't say for sure. Seeing as the film spends at least its first 20-25 minutes establishing the family dynamic, the fact that I couldn't figure out the relationships makes this just sloppy writing. This is especially annoying, because the entire reason Rambo goes so batshit later on is that the girl is so emotionally important to him, the "one good thing in his life".

OK, according to Wikipedia, Rambo has no relationship to any of these people. The horse ranch belonged to his dead father, and Maria is the grandmother to Gabriela, and Maria just...runs the household? That at least makes sense, but this relationship isn't really ever laid out clearly, which shouldn't be that hard. You at least know that Gabriela's mother died of cancer when she was little, and after that, her father - who was apparently always an asshole - leaves her with Maria and goes off to Mexico. Fast forward to now, when Maria is 18. A childhood friend of hers - Gizelle, who is referred to as a "bad girl" by Maria - is now living in Mexico, and she has found Gabriela's father, who apparently lives in the same Mexican town. Despite Rambo and Maria repeatedly telling her that her dad Miguel was a violent asshole and she shouldn't have anything to do with him, and Rambo even telling her that she should maybe let her urge to visit her father simmer a little before she makes the decision to visit him, Gabriela almost immediately ducks out and drives down to Mexico to go find Gizelle and her father.

I've already spent two long paragraphs here, so I'll keep this short. Dad is an asshole (surprise) and tells Gabriela to beat it. Gabriela is sad, Gizelle takes her to a club, where she sells (!!!!!!) Gabriela to some sex traffickers, who then drug and kidnap Gabriela. Gizelle then calls back to Maria, tells her she lost Gabriela, and Rambo goes full batshit mode and drives down to Mexico, where he finds Gizelle, realizes she sold out Gabriela, and gets her to point out one of the bad guys. Stuff happens, Rambo fails, and gets beat up by the rest of the bad guys, who decide not to kill Rambo, a guy who just tortured one of their own, and showed up with a pistol and a knife.

Gabriela gets doped up, gets her face slashed, and is put to work as a forced prostitute. Eventually Rambo learns from an "independent journalist" (who just happens to watch him torture one of the bad guys and saves him after his beating) where to find Gabriela, but alas, after he saves her, she dies in his car as they're just...I don't know, driving around in the dark. Yes it makes no sense. He finally drives over the border and brings her body home, then buries her on the farm. Maria just packs up and leaves. Rambo tells her he's going to leave too, but that's a lie. He goes back to Mexico and kills one of the two lead bad guys in a way so that they know it was him. He then comes back home, preps his murder maze, and in the last 20 minutes of the film, kills everyone. The end.

You might be thinking, "Hey, this actually sounds awesome, what's the problem?" but honestly, everything is just so stupid. It's not that the characters make stupid decisions - although there is some of that - but that every time the story reaches a point where something could be done in an interesting, intelligent, nuanced fashion, the car screeches off the road and goes into the ditch. By the time you get to the climactic battle at the end, it is boorishly obvious that the entire reason the film was made was to show Rambo running around an underground death maze, murdering bad guys with knives, punji sticks, old-timey guns, booby traps, and other assorted ordnance (claymore mines and hand grenades???). There isn't even any strategy or cleverness to any of it - bad guys just die, over and over, running flat-out into death and screaming in blood and pain.

I'm sure many of you are STILL shaking your heads and saying, hey, what's the problem? The problem is, it is stupid, sloppy work. This movie could have been a really good reflection on the plight of old soldiers who never really left the war behind. On PTSD and re-integration, on wanting to be left alone, only to find violence at one's doorstep again. And while you might think there's some of this, the movie only ever skims the surface, like a stone skipping across the water, but never sinking, just bouncing back out on the other side of the river. What was the point of the movie? What themes does it dig into? What message does it send? You could get the same thrill just firing up your XBox and killing dudes in some FPS game for a couple of hours.

And yes, I am skirting the whole "Mexico" issue. The only thing I'll say about that is, you could have told the exact same kind of story, even with most of the major plot elements relatively intact - and not use Mexico as this sort of Hades-esque underworld that you only venture into at your own risk. It is, again, sloppy, tone-deaf plotting that so obviously doesn't care how it is going to be received, and in fact is probably counting on "snowflakes" hating the movie to stir up buzz and get defensive butts in seats in support of the movie. I don't know, and that's not something I want to engage with, but again - there were many directions the movie-makers could have taken this story and at the same time, left its bones intact. They picked a route through some really, really questionable waters, and at the same time, made a film so sloppy and superficial that there's no real substance to back up the choices they made, except to get us to the finale with extreme prejudice.

Honestly, I am really disappointed.