I’m Kell. I write urban fantasy in an interconnected universe. I’ve published one novel so far, and I’m working on the sequel. The premise of the universe is: Did you ever wonder what happened after the Dark Lord was defeated, and when the magic left the world? It’s been two thousand years since the forces of Darkness were defeated. Now, there’s a modern world of cars, skyscrapers and officers. Elves run fashion magazines. Orcs go to office jobs, and everyone thinks that the age of wizards and dragons is folklore. It’s a perfectly ordinary world…on the surface. But magic hasn’t gone away—it’s merely hiding in the cracks of the world. My current series, the Revenant Records, is an urban fantasy series focusing on ghost stories, mysteries and dark adventure. It’s the story of an undead teenager, trying to balance her responsibilities to help lost ghosts, while maintaining a semblance of a normal life. I love roleplaying games and I’m writing a system for my story world/universe. My mega-fandoms are Doctor Who, Final Fantasy VII, and Transformers.

  • Uncategorized

    Who are you calling ‘feral’?

    I’ve sent my novel off for professional copy-editing! (Which means it’s nearly there, or closer than before.) Here is Nemu admiring the nearly-finished MS (or perhaps she looks a bit disgruntled that I’m implying that she’s feral!.)

    Printing and scribbling on a hardcopy works for me, although I’ve heard stories that people can copyedit their own work by changing the font on their device. (I’ve heard of changing the font to comic sans works, or even making it really large.)

    What works for you?

  • Uncategorized

    Heads Up 7 Up

    Tagged by @mthollowell-writes. You can find their original post here!

    Soft tagging @saltwaterbells@minutiaewriter@valanke@repressed-and-depressed@missaddledmiss@ladywithalamp @blackrosesandwhump (no obligation) and anyone who would like to take part!

    Rules: Post 7 lines from your current WIP and tag seven people.

    I’ve sent my of book two of my Revenant Records series to the editor for copy-editing! We’re nearly at the end of the writing tunnel. Time to celebrate with this tag game.

    1 – Lukie Carpenter raced through the darkened streets of the Thunderhead Ward towards her father’s house, working out what to say to him after being dead for twenty years.

    2 – “Look, I’m doing this all wrong. Can we start again? Please. I’ve come back from the dead. I’m a revenant. Like a zombie, but more awesome. I’m still me, and—”

    3 – You’re a soul-sucking undead monster. Everything you touch turns to shit. Look at what you did to Dad.

    4 – Life doesn’t work that way, sunshine, her patron’s voice echoed within. You don’t get do-overs. If you do, you’re in a death loop, or psychic mind trap and you’ll have worse problems to deal with than trying to perfect your existence.

    5 – “The supernatural is like fire. It burns you and leaves scars you can’t get rid of. And yet people keep wanting to play with it.” A scowl marked his face. “Stay away from it for as long as you can.”

    6 – A rent to Stonerise opened in the same place where Lukie had attempted her initial assault. The spectral storm wailed in Lukie’s mind, and a seething vortex of gray mist oozed from Tenebra into living lands. Beyond, the true shape of the realm manifested: a sanguine sky, a castle carved from pure darkness, and a sea of twisted, heaving, suffering bodies, torn apart by feral beasts.

    7 – The cobbled path ahead snaked through rows of neat headstones, and the night breeze dislodged the thick heat that had hung over the suburbs during the day. Trees rustled, answering the wind in a secret language.

  • Uncategorized

    Short Craft Book Recommendation: Dear Writer, Are you Intuitive?

    simplezest:

    There’s a lot of advice on the Internet. A lot of posts. A lot of books. A lot of podcast. A lot of information to consume. But I hope you know that at the end of the day the most important knowledge is within you. What feels true to you? What feels right to you? What lights you up? That’s the gold 

    Becca Symes’s book ‘Dear Writer, Are You Intuitive’ is a great craft book on this approach. She also spoke about it on this free podcast. It goes into a framework about different types of intuition and how writers may get blocked if they stymie their subconscious. If you identify as an intuitive writer, your subconscious knows what to do. Trust it.

  • Uncategorized

    Magic: Transmission and Effect

    Here’s what you should think about when developing your magic system.

    • Why do people use it? Viewing magic as a process, why do people want to use it? How do they use it to do something in your story that they couldn’t otherwise?
    • How does it work? This is the transmission layer. By what mechanism does the magic do the thing it does? It’s perfectly okay to say ‘by the blood of dead gods spilled into the ethereal seams of the world’ but I like it when there’s some thought behind it. Even if the characters don’t know, stick this thought in your 90% of worldbuilding that the reader will never see. It’ll help for background consistency.
    • What does it feel like to use magic? I love stories where people are exploring their powers (I enjoy superhero origin stories, except those we’ve seen repeatedly; looking at you Batman, Superman and Spiderman). How does it feel to channel and cast power? Anxiety of trying to memorise a difficult formula? Getting high from channelling raw energy from the gods? Is there a taste or sensation? Or even boredom, if magic is perfunctory?
    • Who can use it? Trained wizards? Anyone who gets the spell right?
    • Where does the magic fit into your world and society? Is it a secret? Only used by the elite?

    Does your magic have an overall paradigm? Like a special esoteric programming code (spell) that can hack reality can if done right? Calling upon ancient gods for boons? The flavour is important to me. I read the first few pages of a book where the hero ‘magicked a barrier in front of the demon’ and while the scene was action-paced, the flavor of the magic didn’t grab me.

    Let’s run my magic system through these questions:

    • Why do people use it? To do things they can’t do via ordinary mortal means. Because it requires making a pact, it’s all for personal gain or desperation. Maybe to help with revenge, or to return after death to deal with your unfinished business.
    • How does it work? Magic is a flow of energy from another dimension. A flow of extra-dimensional energy overwrites the localised reality, enabling supernatural effects when present. For example, to summon a zombie, you’ll need a source of spectral energy from the Underworld, the land of the dead.
    • What does it feel like to use? Each realm has a distinct flavour of energy. Infernal magic is painful, like barbwire running through your guts. Death magic is sad and regretful, like holding a party that no one shows up to.
    • Who can use it? After the Rending—the terrible event when the Age of Magic ended—all portals to other dimensions were abruptly sealed off. Demons, fae, nature spirits, angels are trapped in their home realms and have limited agency to influence the mortal world. However, if you make a pact with one, you gain their vestige—a shard of their soul—and this enables you to channel supernatural energy into the mortal world. This changes you—you’re not a normal mortal anymore. You’re now half an extradimensional entity. Someone who accepts a demon’s vestige becomes a cambion; another who makes a pact with a fae becomes a changeling.
    • Where does the magic fit into the world? It’s secret and hidden. You have to figure out that magic exists, who you want to make a pact with, and hopefully find a patron whose goals align with yours.

    The overall vibe is if you want magic, you hustle for it, and cut deals with powerful extra-dimensional entities. It’s a grungy, noir occult world. You take on supernatural debt and have to weigh the bargain you’ve made against the power you gain. Sometimes you may not have a choice but to agree.

    “So everyone’s a D&D warlock?” someone asked when I described this.

    Yeah.

    Or John Constantine, as you sit on a teetering mound of debts and favors that are gradually spiralling out of control…

    How about you? How does your world’s magic work?

  • publishing

    The robot uprising and the end of the publishing world!

    I can’t remember the exact title, but there’s an episode of Doctor Who where Tom Baker’s Doctor, and Romana are discussing life on Gallifrey, their home planet. The Doctor likes painting, but Romana thinks that’s archaic, as in her mind, computers do art. And while that was science fiction in the 1970s, today we’ve got AI tools that do art, and writing!

    Every author business podcast I’ve listened to recently, and a lot of book-ish social media groups, are furiously discussing the impact of modern AI tools on publishing. There’s a mix of speculation, gossip and fearmongering.

    • Publishers with low-effort, AI-churned out books will swamp the market place! No one will touch self-published books again!
    • Readers won’t love us writers anymore as they can walk up to a computer, enter some prompts, and receive a perfectly tailored story to their tastes and preferences.
    • Canny publishers will use AI to increase their output and draw readers’ attention away from my stuff!

    There are arguments on both sides. A lot of this appears to be FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) – the fear that the AI assisted texts will make certain writers more productive and take the readers away from discovering other writers! I don’t think it quite works like that. Sure, I’d love it if my favorite authors were more productive, but I’ve also stopped reading a series where the latest volume loses that spark and feels ‘churned out’. And even if everyone flocks to mass-produced texts, there will still be people who prefer hand-crafted stories. Maybe it will become like craft beer—there’ll be always an audience for those who want the more interesting beverages on the side.

    What makes a good story? Intriguing characters, pacing, the ability to evoke emotion, perhaps. How do you bottle this and create a reliable, reproducible formula for making engaging stories consistently? People have been to figure this out for years. There’s so many courses out there that tell writers about how to write unputdownable stories, or what the best formulas. I’ve found some stuff useful (structuring and pacing techniques) and others less so.

    There’s also been heartwarming stories of people with disabilities who can now express themselves better using AI technology. People with language issues or Long COVID brain fog can now complete stories with AI assistance. This is how I’d like it to be used. I’ve got some issues myself, which makes it hard for me to engage in social media. I have trouble writing random social media posts about blah life stuff without wanting to sit and think deeply about out it for ages, but if I bothered, I could go to the ChatGPT and have it write my social updates for me!

    I haven’t mucked around with AI yet. Actually, I tell a lie—I use souped-up grammar checker Pro-Writing Aid to clear up my text. I’m a messy first drafter with lots of dropped words, speling errors that are fixed down the pipeline. I use some of its suggestions, but not all. Lately it’s got this AI feature that rephrases sentences. Some of it sounds better, some of it’s bland. Mostly I ignore it. But the tool is there as an option. Anyway, more options are good.

    At this stage, I’m not going to engage AI (apart from PWA’s grammar/reporting checks). I’m still working on my craft, trying to capture that magic of making a great story, or at least, improve of what I’ve done in the past. For example, when I wrote Final Night, it was the best thing I’d written and completed, and now I’m going to improve on that with the next book. When I think I’ve gotten my craft to a certain level, I might check out AI tools more deeply, but for now it’s fingers to keyboard.

  • publishing,  updates

    Updates!

    I’m still figuring out social media. I’ve this blog, a Facebook page, a monthly newsletter, and ad hoc accounts on Mastodon, Dreamwidth, tumblr. New authors are told to get on social media and build a following, but I’ve been focused on getting the next book out! I’m terrible with memes and posting ad hoc thoughts. I update Facebook monthly, have slacked off on Mastodon, but have had a good run with the monthly newsletter. After some initial wibbling around content, I’ve settled on some in-character microfics, and links to an ongoing serial.

    I’ll probably keep the monthly updates and newsletter going for now, maybe try to do some more in-depth engagement around launch time. I want to prioritise my blog over Facebook, so I’ll give a longer update here than what I gave there. The next Lukie book is in copy editing and line editing: a sharp shift from the creative side to the technical. I’m also working in the first draft of book 3. I have a vague outline, but my first drafts are a discovery process.

    The first time I tried doing overlapping book projects, I nearly melted, but now I’m cool with copyediting book A, drafting book B, and doing another chapter of serialised book C. They say writing is like running a marathon—you work at it to build your production stamina. Also, having an office job helps, I guess.

    Alpha readers have the new book (those brave enough to work through the pre-copy edited version), and the feedback is good. A few more story tweaks, editing and then I hand the book back to my editor for proofing at the end of the month. Then beta reading, and hopefully tidying up for this release.

    So book 2 is on track for this year, and more updates on the other projects later.

    I know I should publish to a schedule, but I don’t what that is yet! In my last post, I called the Revenant Records my learn-to-drive series. The idea is to write a solid series, making each book more awesome, and then get some data on how long I take to write a book! It’ll be awhile before I quit the day job, so my current focus is on building a backlist, and reaching new readers and improving my craft. Not very exciting, but that’s the goal. Slow and steady, and all that.

    I mentioned a roleplaying game—I keep writing it, taking it apart, and trying new mechanics. I’m trying to get something together, but for a different urban fantasy setting than the one I set my novels in. Trying to develop a system, and an intricate setting at the same time, was tough, but I’ve been making better progress by switching gears. I did that for my novels, as well—the first novel I worked on (which isn’t out yet) stalled for various reasons, but I had Lukie #1 book ready to go, and that’s become my focus for this first series. I hope to visit the other characters later. The idea for the Vestiges of Magic setting is to have several short-ish series set in the same world with different characters rather than one central series.

    I’m trying to get back into reading again. To manage a current bout of insomnia, I’ve had to stop writing an hour before bedtime (sniff), and start reading. And there’s a reading challenge I’d like to do. Might try something this year. That’s it for this month! I have ideas for cool blog articles, but don’t want to over-promise on social stuff and under-deliver. (Maybe in the old days of LiveJournal you could get by with blogging as your primary social media, but it’s different nowadays—where do you connect with authors you want to follow?

    Or am I over thinking this, and does your store (Kobo, Amazon etc) tell you when something is out that you like?

  • writing,  publishing

    Self-publishing – 2020 to 2022 in review

    Table of Contents

    So it’s important to reflect and ponder, at least for the first few days of the new year!

    In 2022, I became a self-published author, with one book. I started back in 2020, so this is like a two year recap/reflection.

    The Dramatic Origin Story

    It was 2020. I was re-writing the Epic Fantasy Novel (about five years in development) and got frustrated when I’d finished it and the structure was pudding. It was a bunch of novellas bolted together. COVID was everywhere, and I was trapped in my house. So I joined a year long writing, online course. It was in the UK, I’m in Australia, so lots of getting up at 4am to talk to people or waiting for the replays of courses rather than joining in them.

    Anyway, one thing the course guys said was to focus on the bestselling subgenre in your genre. For me, this was urban fantasy rather than epic fantasy. Also, because the genre draws a lot from detective stories, I could do a complete story in one book! And the main character could have another adventure in the next book!

    I also attended WorldCon 2020 in my bedroom. At the urban fantasy panel, a cool idea for a setting struck me—what if it was a world similar to ours with cars and technology but not our Earth? And what if the past was an epic fantasy setting? And in the modern age, what if people thought that their past was folklore? But magic was still there, if you knew where to look.

    Projects

    In 2020, I wrote the first novel in the setting. And got it finished, thanks to the online writing course. I had a draft, but it wasn’t ready for release. Lots of getting stuck in the middle, and figuring out to make the main relationship ‘work’ between the two characters. It’s not a romance–it’s more of a thriller, but that relationship needed to click or the main character’s motivations wouldn’t make sense.

    So, as a side project, I wrote a novella featuring a side character from the novel, which became ‘Final Night’. I also wrote a short story per month for my mailing list and wrote all of my world building for the setting as a tabletop roleplaying game.

    Problems

    • The novel took longer to develop than expected! In fact, I took it through two more writing courses (I think I got addicted to courses during COVID) and I still think it needs another draft.
    • Because of the above, I launched the finished novella as an ongoing series, which meant dropping the novel and completing the new series based around Lukie, the undead teen detective from the novella. This was a bit of rework and rescheduling things.
    • My best short stories (current reader magnet) don’t link into the current series I’m working on.
    • I’m still working out what comparison authors to use for marketing the series.

    Notes for next series

    • Finish at least the second book in the series, and have an idea for the overall size of the series.
    • Have the reader magnet that links into the main series ready when the first book is launched.

    Business Approach

    I realised I’d be a ‘slow’ author, and wouldn’t be able to keep up the book-a-month or rapid release schedule that the 20Books250k group focuses on. That’s all based around the KDP Select/Kindle Unlimited platform on Amazon. So I’d release wide instead. I went direct with Amazon, Apple, Kobo, Barnes & Noble and did the rest via Draft2Digital. I’ve only made about $10 from the release so far from vendors (more from hand selling to people at conventions and my book launch). I’m not too fussed, as my plan is to build a backlist and market that when I’ve got the box set ready.

    Uploading to all sites was relatively painless. However, because I kept tweaking my backmatter, I’d have to login and reload my book multiple times. Next time, my final upload will be final.

    Marketing

    I started a mailing list, and wrote a short story a month to entertain people while I worked through things. I decide to have a character host the newsletter, as it makes it more fun for me to write, so I’m still working out a balance between microfiction/and real-life author updates.

    Final Feedback

    Final Night had a lot of work on it – lots of beta reading, developmental editing by the amazing Angela Slatter, more editing by Nef House Publishing…. And I thought it sparkled and gleamed like a fresh-cut gem!

    I entered Final Night in the StoryGraph beta giveaway program. I got lots of reviews! Amazing! However, they were mixed. A few two stars, lots of threes and a few fours. After brooding for long hours on top of a skyscraper like Batman, I read the critical reviews. I thought people would have issues with the world building (It’s a modern world with an epic fantasy past!) but no one’s actually complained about that. Instead, the main takeaways were that readers thought the pace was too fast, and wanted more character development or digging into the side characters. I’ve made notes for Book 2—and I’m juggling the character development with the thriller pacing.

    Goals

    Long-term goal – build my author backlist. So write more books, and worry about ads and things later.

    • For 2023 – Finish the next two books in the Revenant Records series.
    • Complete twelve issues of the monthly newsletter.
    • When I finish my current series/short fiction backlog for the newsletter, submit at least three stories to magazines.
    • Write a proper Lukie-focused short as a reader magnet for the current series, and a second short for readers who’ve gone through Book 1.
    • Streamline my automation sequence for the newsletter.
    • Social media – Write a blog post at least once a month, besides the newsletter. Crosspost to Dreamwidth and Tumblr for audience reach. Try to find a social media that I can engage with that is fun and not tedious. (Currently enjoying Mastodon.) Write a blog post reviewing social media later on.
    • Read and review books and log them on Goodreads and/or Storygraph. Do one book review per month.
    • Engage an artist for some character/concept sketches, starting with the Librarian host of my newsletter.
    • Learn to draw so I can do my own character/concept sketches. Try to do one sketch every two days.
  • publishing,  vestige

    Final Night pre-order

    As everyone knows, the best way to manage your anxiety is to launch a book. I usually rely on lists and CBT to keep things in check, but this is madness! If this was a serial killer investigation, there would be corkboards and string connecting pictures to blood coffee, stains and incomprehensible scribbles! Wide publishing! Paperbacks! Do I use an aggregator or go direct to all the different vendors? Do I need affiliate accounts? How much should I do?

    I’ve also changed my email service provider at the same time—it was like moving e-house. Anyway, it’s done now even if I want to hit the block editor in the head with a rusted crowbar.

    Final Night was the book I didn’t intend to write. As my ‘survive COVID project’ I wrote a novel first, and then a short novel featuring one of the side characters. Well, a year later, the novel is still cooking, but Final Night is ready to face the world. And I’ve changed my publishing plans—to write a few more novels in the Revenant Records sequence before continuing with the novel sequence. That’s the good thing about self-publishing—you can change your tactics as you go.

    (You can tell I’ve had too much coffee this week.)

    Pre-Orders are Go!

    https://books2read.com/u/mZEPRR

    So the book! The first thing I’m launching commercially! It’s going live in less than a week! Currently on pre-order most sites and should be available for everyone on September 14th. (I’ll tell you about hardcopies later…)

    What’s it about? A teenager comes back from the dead to investigate her murder. A homage to the 80s, and a twist on the usual slasher film tropes. Set in the unique ‘Vestige World’ urban fantasy setting: a modern world with a magical past.


    Recently risen from the grave, Lukie has until dawn to avenge her death. If only she could remember who murdered her. And only if someone else doesn’t kill her again.

    High school’s out for the class of 1983. Forever.

    The last thing Lukie remembers is the farewell party in her hometown of Breakwater Bay. A final blowout before she leaves for university.

    But when she wakes up as a living corpse, confused, and weirdly hungry, she finds the sleepy coastal village is now full of strange cars and loud tourists. Her family home is a block of flats, and she can’t find her father. Her best friend has aged twenty years in a single night.

    Her memories are in tatters. She knows that someone hurt her. Someone betrayed her. Someone killed her. And that in some dark lonely place, she made a pact with something, and now she’s only got until dawn to find her murderer, or when the sun rises, she’ll be dead again. Forever.


    Also the audiobook, narrated by professional actor and performance poet Kyla Lee Ward, is available from my store now, or will eventually be on your favourite audiobook provider once it trickles through the Findaway Voices ecosystem.

    Let me know if you want an advance copy in exchange for an honest review! Unfortunately, the book isn’t set up on Goodreads yet–there’s a huge queue! Anyone know a friendly librarian?

    I have things set up on Storygraph, although it requires a login.

  • rpgs,  vestige

    Convention Daze

    In pre-COVID times, we used to have role-playing game conventions. A time of meat pies, and pizza (before I was diagnosed as gluten intolerant, alas) and crowded halls. Of buying too many dice sets and books from the stores. Of playing weird boardgames found in the library library and trying to figure out the rules late at night. But they were a long time ago.

    But Melbourne announced a convention—the first in what seemed like centuries. So I dug up my in-progress Vestige World roleplaying system and ran four convention games. The idea I had when developing this world for my fiction was that I could use roleplaying games as a creative test lab. Develop cool stuff, and see what people responded to the in the game, and what didn’t.

    So what did I learn? I thought it would be hard to pitch the setting to people, but it’s been fine. (So far, I’ve pitched it as:

    • Lord of the Rings meets World of Darkness.
    • Onward Meets Final Fantasy VII.
    • …urban fantasy, in another world that’s not earth, but still has telephones and skyscrapers.

    And if I use tropes and twist the,m it’s okay! Like–the world was ruled by the Dark Emperor ruled the world two thousand years ago… but now he’s been defeated and his castle is the city’s most popular tourist attraction.

    But if I wander too far away from a trope, people will point it out. Like vampires. I had vampires in initially as one of the critters, but people who played the first incarnation of the game (and those who read the first draft of Final Night) commented that the vampires weren’t anything like what they thought of as ‘vampires’ so I changed them to ‘revenants’. (They drank blood in the first version, but the sticking point was that they had to make a pact with a ghost lord to return from the dead, which was not a thing that the platonic idea of vampires in people’s minds did.)

    Anyway, so it’s good to get out there using one of my favorite hobbies to share my ideas that might work its way back into my stories. I think the direct transcription of roleplaying games into written stories doesn’t work (at least for me) but it’s a great idea furnace to model and design how the world works.

    Have you found that one creative pursuit helps another? Let me know.