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    2023 In Review

    Table of Contents

    It’s time for a 2023 review post where I reflect on life, the universe and my author career. I did one last year which makes a good benchmark. Let’s see how I did!

    2023 Goals vs Actual

    Finish the next two books in the Revenant Records series

    Completed half of this. I got Feral Night out, and I’m working on the third book in the series. Not quite at the stage of getting two to three books out per year. But I’m happy with the book I released—it’s a solid improvement over Final Night (which I still think is a pretty good first author book!) Currently, I’m knee deep in the entrails of book 3. I got ambitious and I’m attempting a puzzle mystery with two POVs which is slowing me down as I work through everything. I also won’t put this up for pre-order until it’s 100 percent finished, which includes proofing covers, backmatter—the works!

    Complete twelve issues of the monthly newsletter

    Done! I’ve kept the newsletter going. Still writing it in character, as it’s more fun that way. (In character? Check it out!)

    Submit original short stories to magazines

    This did not happen. I went through my old backlog of shorts and found a sword-and-sorcery-ish story that might be worthy of magazine submission with a bit of polishing.

    Write a proper Lukie-focused short as a reader magnet

    Done! It’s always good when your giveaway story relates to your in-progress series. You can grab Fiery Night here as a newsletter sign-up bonus.

    I would like to do a second, completely free short for a wide release and even have an idea for one. Will do this later, but not prioritize it.

    Streamline my automation sequence for the newsletter

    This was a bit of admin that I kept putting off, but it’s done now. Need to improve and develop the sequence further.

    Engage an artist for some character/concept sketches + learn to draw

    I got some done by a talented artist for my newsletter which are fantastic, but I won’t be happy with sketches until I can draw my own characters competently. This year, I did a few simple art courses at my local community college and attended a few live drawing sessions. This year, I’ll keep practicing. I also signed up for an online drawing academy by clicking on a random Facebook ad and going “Hey, that’s not too bad” (I know, I know). Was stymied also by Apple Pencil breaking, and had to revert to the less technical Graphite Pencil.

    Social media, book reviews

    I continue to be inconsistent with social media. I do this ad hoc posts, but a meh presence on social media. Not good at the funny meme stuff, and my book-a-year schedule means I can’t do too much around launches. I tried many social medias in 2023. I should pick something and be consistent.

    2024 Goals

    Okay, here we go. In 2024, I’m going to simplify my list. In fact, I had a more complicated list. Start a subscription! Work on the tabletop roleplaying set in the Vestiges of Magic world, do more drawing, and then when I got some strategic advice which was…

    Write the next book… No side projects?

    And that’s my core goal for next year!

    Finish Revenant Records – Fractured Night

    Still in progress. At first it was a puzzle mystery and now it’s more about the characters. The premise is like the Shining crossed with a dark faerie tale….

    Start the 2024 web serial, do a chapter a month

    I completed a web serial last year, which I’m sitting on until I get more material out to launch a series with it. (Having launched a series on the fly, my next series will have a bit more material ready to go before I launch.) This will be in my newsletter and on my website. I’ve got about four chapters done. The premise: a woman seeks the help of a supernatural assassin to avenge her murdered daughter, but the assassin she needs to help her has retired….

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    Life updates, housekeeping & recharging

    I’ve been away from the social media for a bit. There was a holiday, effort around trying to finish my next Lukie book, Feral Night, (Revenant Records ) book and getting it ready for release this year, getting stuck on a craft post I wanted to write about different fantasy species, trying to figure out how to use social media to connect with others and feeling overwhelmed by it all. And then when I’m overwhelmed by something, I pull back, and focus on other things.

    And now I’m all refreshed, and chill, and feel like talking to the internet again. For social media, comes down to, well, not what has good reach and connections, but more like, what is fun for me to use?

    So, what do I enjoy doing? Well, writing blog articles, it turns out. I don’t enjoy memes, and if I use cartoons, I’d prefer to draw my own. (I did do some drawing courses this year, and now have Procreate on the iPad and some terrible artwork, so something to try out later on.) The plan is to blog, cross-post, share, see how it goes.

    How often can I do it? A weekly blog post is reasonable, so I’ll start with that for now. Social media Sunday! I’ve also hooked up my blog to the Fediverse so you can follow that your favorite fedi platform. I strongly believe in the power of open source social media, especially with the way other platforms are going so I’ve hooked up this blog to ActivityPub protocol, just as another way of getting this out there.

    And while it’s different from blogging on my blog and its little downstream sources, I’m going to mess around with Instagram. Basically, after attending a few author conferences, it appears to be ‘where it’s at’ and I’ll give it a shot for a few months to see how it goes. I’ve set up an account over here as well.


    This is what I’d like to focus on with coming posts:

    • Launching book 2, with a mix of business reflections, and some character updates and reviews.
    • Getting my dormant roleplaying game for the Vestiges of Magic in development again. I did a big playtest mid-year, lots of things broke, and I never wanted to look at the draft again. In fact, I was going—perhaps I could rebuild it in another system! Then I used a cut down version of the system for a local game convention and it ran well in that use-case. After a few months off, I’m looking at the draft again and it’s easier to see what to fix and what repair.
    • Craft post about fantasy species, racism and so forth. I think I’ve figured out the angle I want to use for this.

    Anyway, if this post has a message, it’s about taking a break and coming back to a stuck project with fresh eyes.

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    E-reader vs smartphone

    It’s cold here in Australia at the moment, with morning temperatures of around 7 degrees Celsius. And when travelling to the day job on the train, I’ve been struck by how much time I waste staring at my phone in those interstitial moments between phone and bus. Years ago, I inhaled a new book every few days, but my reading’s slacked off a bit, which isn’t healthy for a writer.

    Recently, I’ve got a small Kobo Nia that fits into my winter jacket pocket. A dedicated reading device that does only one thing—display books! Ideally, I’ll get through more books rather than spending time doomscrolling through the world news on the phone.

    The only case the shop had left was bright canary yellow. At least I won’t lose it anytime soon…

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    Entropy impacts your fantasy world

    Entropy infects all systems. Things wear down, and either collapse or shake apart into new configurations.

    Fantasy worlds are divided into a series of ages, where myths are split apart from legends and history. They might look like this Middle-Earth inspired history (at least my high school D&D campaign world did):

    • First Age – Gods walk the earth, or make the world. Evil gods are dealt with or bound.
    • Second Age – The great civilizations flourish, items of remarkable power of crafted and legendary battles occur. Famous institutions like kingdoms, and bloodlines are established.
    • Third Age – Not as epic, as the first or second age. The hero grows up on a farm or distant location and learns about the age of magic. Perhaps they’ll inherit a sword or learn lost secrets. There are ruins everywhere. Some dark threat left over from the second age will return and be dealt with. Perhaps the hero will reconnect with one of the elite institutions established in the second age.
    • Fourth Age – The age of magic ends, and everything changes. Elves sail away, gods leave the world, and hand it over to people, who, live in wisdom and peace and tell stories about the good old days to the kids.

    This is also a metaphor for human life. The first age is childhood when you believe impossible things and dragons, the second age is when you’re young, fighting for your passions, the third age is when you get your job and learn how the systems of the world work. And the fourth age is when you’re paying off the mortgage, and you don’t have time to play D&D anymore or read books, but you’ve got fond memories of those days and will tell your bored family members about the good old days.

    Let’s cut to 2020, COVID era. I’m in the fourth age of my life. During lockdown, I work through a bunch of intense personal stuff. One of them is that my epic fantasy novel series is doomed not to be finished in its current state—it’s lost in a muddle of endless rewrites. The book had lots of POVs, good character work and world building, but not much of a plot apart from an expedition across a continent. Time to recognize that it would never be done. I’ll never be Brandon Sanderson. (At least with that book.)

    I get out my shotgun, place the barrel against the malformed, beating dreams of finishing that series, and pull the trigger.

    Time to reboot. Start something else. I need to create I can finish. Shorter, less epic. Except, being one of those eternal gamemaster types, I can’t tell stories without a world.

    Yeah, I could build any world I want and—my subconscious wants to design a setting in a fantasy world’s fourth age. When I was younger, the concept of the fourth age horrified me. Who’d want to tell stories in a world where the magic went away, and everything was about modern life, office workers and cars? 

    Now, I find that interesting. Because the past is a magical one, right? How would that influence the modern day? And how did the magic leave the world? What if something went wrong with the final epic battle between light and darkness? What if losing magic was a last ditch strike? A nuclear option. Not a gentle fading of magic like in Middle-Earth—a planned obsolescence—but a catastrophe mess that broke the world.

    And what if magic survived, but became hidden, messy and complicated?

    So that’s the key idea I had when designing my world. Modern, yet with a hidden layer of magic.

    Now to figure out what that looked like. And what sort of stories would it drive?

    How about you—did you build your world by thinking about this sort of thing to start with (themes) or did you start with some other idea? Or even a sense of a character or a vision of a scene? (I love the story by CS Lewis how his initial idea for Narnia was simply a mental picture of Lucy and Mr. Tumnus walking arm-in-arm through a snowy wood…)

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    Happy WBW! What part of your world would your protagonist (& others if you want) change? Aaaand go! ♥️

    Hey @toribookworm22! My world was badly damaged when the Age of Magic ended. Zheist was created by magic; its supernatural ecology and metaphysical architecture were shattered when reality shifted to one driven by physics and technology (although some magic remains).

    When my protagonist, Lukie, was murdered, she was shocked to discover there was no automatic paradise, only the dismal Underworld where souls hunted each other to survive. She made a pact with a ghostly sovereign of the Underworld to return as an undead revenant; surrendering her agency in exchange for the power to return to living lands.

    And while she has the ability to rescue trapped ghosts and take them to the Lanes of the Dead where they can travel onwards, she’d change the current system in a heartbeat. If she had the power, she’d make it so that no one ever again fell into the black tarpit void of the Underworld, and everyone would move onto their afterlife without judgement or condemnation.

    Alas, that remains an impossiblity for now…

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    Book Review: The Aosawa Murders by Riku Onda (trans. Alison Watts)

    When I read detective fiction, I either gravitate to old, worn Penguin paperbacks with green spines and worn pages (I have a bunch from a bookshop haul last year) or Japanese detective fiction. A lot of Japanese detective fiction are puzzle mysteries, which I have a weakness for. For these books, I’m more interested in the mystery’s structure, which often takes precedent over characterisation. Usually in a puzzle mystery you get the plodding police officer, the eccentric detective and a way how it all fits together, which is usually prioritised over other factors.

    The Aosawa Murders is the opposite—a beautifully layered mystery, a character study and a puzzle that is not clearly explained. There’s no scene where a detective lays everything out; instead you’ll either be frustrated or want to re-read the work carefully to see what you missed. I think it’s obvious who the murderer is, but the question is more why, and how the clues revealed throughout the book fit int the crime scene.

    The story is told in layers, through several short stories where an unrevealed narrator is asking questions of witnesses associated with the case. Most of the chapters are told in directed conversation (I think that’s what it’s called) when I am clearly narrating in first person, but I’m also talking to you, the reader, and explaining this as I type out this blog post.

    The story is about a mass poisoning of a family that takes place in the 1970s, who were gathered for the party. A few cryptic clues are left at the scene, which the book opens with; they’re made relevant later. A famous book, ‘The Forgotten Festival’ was written about the murders. In some stories, the narrator interviews the author of the book, in others it’s her research assistant. Other stories focus on the person arrested for the murder—more of a character study from those that knew him tangentially. There’s a segment from the detective that worked on the case. In the penultimate story, the interviewer confronts the probable murderer.

    Everything is richly described, evoking the heat and feeling of the city during that period. The overlapping stories fit together like a mostly-complete jigsaw puzzle.


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    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?

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    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.

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


    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.