I recently had the honor to correspond via social media and email with Michael G. Manning, author of the December Book Cover of the Month, Betrayer’s Bane. I’ve already posted the review for that, and you can check that out here. I’ve also interviewed Amalia Chitulescu, which you can read here. I’ve mentioned how much I enjoyed Bane, and I actually just finished the first book in the Embers of Illeniel trilogy before posting this blog. I’ll post my review for The Mountains Rise (the Audible version), in time (there are other reviews scheduled to post first, and I try to respect the order in which I read books). I’m a huge fan of the series so far, and I can’t wait to finish it. That makes me all the happier I had a chance to interview Mr. Manning.
Without further ado, here we go:
You have quite a few projects out there, and I understand some (if not all) of them are related. Can you explain how Embers of Illeniel fits in with other projects you have out and other projects you have coming?
My first series, was Mageborn, starting with ‘The Blacksmith’s Son’ and finishing with ‘The Final Redemption.’ It was five books in all, and during the course of it I frequently referred back to hidden memories that were trapped in the main character’s mind. So, once I had finished it, I felt a strong need to go back and write the story of what had been haunting Mordecai throughout those books.
So my original series was Mageborn, with Embers of Illeniel being a prequel set two thousand years before it. I also have a sequel series, ‘Champions of the Dawning Dragons.’ It takes up where Mageborn left off, following the children that were born during that series.
At the moment I have finished Mageborn, and Embers of Illeniel, and the last book of the sequel series, Demonhome, is due out later this year. I have a stand-alone book also, ‘Thomas,’ that is based on an old roleplaying game campaign I was in.
What was the inspiration for the series?
I was bored. I went on a Kindle binge and read eighteen books in a single week and found myself without anything interesting to read. So, I sat down and made a mental list of the things I was looking for in my hypothetical perfect book. When I had finished the list, I realized that I had already read everything remotely similar, so I just said to hell with it and started writing.
Betrayer’s Bane was the best book I’ve read so far in 2017. What do you think are the things that made that book so great?
Pain and suffering. One of my biggest complaints about books, movies, and TV shows, is that very often everything is sugar-coated. There’s almost always a happy ending, and it’s rare for anyone of importance to the story to die. Since I already knew this was going to be a dark story, I decided to go all out, though at times I wondered if I had gone too far.
Tyrion is such a compelling character. How did you come up with him? What made you decide to write a series focused on him with that series? I understand (at least I THINK) Ileniel happens generations before the Mageborn series. Is that true? If so, what made you decide to go so far back in the world you’ve built?Again, there were numerous veiled references to this story in my first series, so it felt almost compulsory for me to come back and write it.
I think Tyrion himself is so interesting because he starts out as a perfectly ordinary young man, perhaps even kinder and gentler than most, but his experiences gradually warp and shape him into the monster he eventually becomes. It’s like watching a train wreck in slow motion, it’s horrible, but you just can’t look away.
How did you feel when you finished that series?
Relieved. I don’t think readers always realize that all the same emotions they experience while reading a book affect the author as well. The main difference is that it takes us weeks and months to get them all down, so we suffer the same trauma in an extended drawn out sort of way. That’s fine when it’s a light-hearted novel, but when it is something like this—well it can be agonizing. Day after day you’re forced to repeatedly live out the same pain. I thought I might lose my mind before finishing it.
Bane was the first book I’ve read from you, and it has me going crazy trying to see what happens after the epilogue. For those like me, what book can I jump to to find out?
You should start with ‘The Blacksmith’s Son,’ and then follow it through the entire Mageborn series. Once that’s done you can read ‘Thornbear,’ which is the first of the sequels.
As you know, I discovered Betrayer’s Bane when I selected it as my Book Cover of the Day. It went on to become the December Book Cover of the Month. First, congrats to both you and Amalia for winning. I’ve spoken about what I think makes the cover stand out on my blog, but I’d like to know your thoughts about what made the cover work for you. Why do you think that cover stands out?Well, the cover represents a particularly traumatic scene in the book, the death of one of the more lovable characters, although it’s done with a bit of artistic license. I think that’s what makes it a great cover. It perfectly captures the raw emotion that I tried to embody throughout the story.
What did you think about the cover when Amalia showed it to you?I’ve never been disappointed with her work, so naturally I was pleased. Not only does she have great artistic sense, but she always arranges the less obvious elements perfectly as well as picking fonts that fit the theme.
Can you walk me through the process of creating the cover from your point of view? What did you ask Amalia for? What was she like to work with? What was your goal for the cover?I’ve been working with her for a couple of years now, but in each case I merely describe the scene I think would fit best on the cover. She takes it from there, and usually within a few weeks she has something to show me. Thus far I’ve never had to request a major change after that point, just minor refinements. She has excellent taste. As always, my only goal for the cover is to evoke a feeling in the viewer, something that will entice them to examine the contents.
Bane was, as I said, a great book. It was so good I went back and bought book 1 of Elleniel (audio version). If there are any new readers out there, where would you recommend they start reading your work?My preferred reading order would be the order I wrote them in, starting with the Mageborn series. After that I’d alternate the prequels and sequels, starting with the first of the prequels, ‘The Mountains Rise.’ I switched back and forth between the prequel and sequel series, so there are hints about each in the other. I know that sounds confusing, but if you look at the publishing dates just follow them chronologically.
Even if you don’t, you can’t go wrong just reading each series on its own.
What’s your newest released project? Please tell us about it.
The latest thing I did was release a short novel called, ‘Thomas.’ It’s actually something I wrote before I started publishing, but I never took the time to finish it. After Betrayer’s Bane I needed something light to cleanse my palate and wash away the evil that had sunk into my bones. It’s a great book that has nothing to do with any of my other work, being based on a roleplaying game I was in with some friends.
The main character is a boy named Thomas (funny how that works). He starts as an orphan and the mystery of the tale revolves around his origin, although most of the story itself doesn’t directly relate to that. I think anyone that enjoys fantasy would like it, even though the main character is a cleric, which is uncommon in the genre.
What are you working on next?
Currently I’m working on ‘Demonhome,’ the last book in my sequel series. It follows Matthew, the son of the protagonist in Mageborn, as he travels to another dimension to try and find his missing father. I’ve hinted at it before, but there will be some science fiction elements introduced there that I think will be fascinating.
I thank you again for all of your time. You’ve created a fascinating series that I highly recommend to any fans of action fantasy. (Disclaimer, this is a dark story.)
I’ve purchased the Audible version of The Silent Tempest, which will allow me to complete this trilogy, and I can promise I’m moving straight on to Mageborn. I’m very high on this series and this author at the moment. I hope a few of you try him out.
I came home from work yesterday to a wonderful surprise. I have a new 5-Star review for Caught on Goodreads. I’m always grateful for reviews of any type. Feedback is how authors get better. That said, when those reviews are positive and with a bunch of starts, well, that makes my day! Check out the review here to see what one reader thought of the new book!
Well if you were looking for an excuse to pick it up (I already did), here’s one.
Joshua Robertson, the book’s author and a guy I’ve had the chance to sit on panels with and grow to truly respect, is selling the electronic version of Anaerfell: The Blood of the Dragons (see…headline makes sense now doesn’t it?) for just 99 centsin preparation for his new release June 7.
Blood and Bile is coming your way, and Joshua wanted to celebrate by making it next to impossible to avoid buying a copy of his work.
While Anaerfell is a bit farther down my TBR list than I’d like, I’m glad to have met him and excited to get to his book. If any of you are hankering for something to read, I wouldn’t pass up this deal. I’ve spent 99 cents on plenty of stuff, and this seems like a much bigger value than 32 ounces of soda.
So check it out. Even if you’re like me, and you just plop it in the TBR rotation, you’ll be even more glad you saved money.
Last weekend I received the feedback from my wonderful beta readers. Before I do anything else, I’d like to thank them. My deepest gratitude goes to:
Elizabeth Drake, Jenn Moss, C.L. Schneider, (The rest I’ll use first names only as they’re private citizens.) Ashley, and Alora. You all are amazing people and very busy, and it means so much to me that you took time out of your schedules and lives to provide this humble indie author some insight into the book. I didn’t imagine we’d have room for any sort of “acknowledgements” page, but eventually, I’ll be giving shoutouts to you and the alphas and editors. But today is for you wonderful betas because it gave me the idea for this blog.
The story writing and editing process is as unique as the author creating the story. I thought it’d be interesting for me to share with you what I look for from and in a beta reader.
What I ask of them:
I’ll do another post at some point on what I look for in an alpha reader, but the short version is I’m more demanding of them because I need my alphas to make sure I don’t look like a moron. My betas are there for me to be test readers. So what I did is send them my character analysis sheets and ask a few questions.
The character analysis sheet is just a term I made up to sound smart. All I do is ask the readers to rank the character, description, dialogue, world building, and exposition for me on a scale of 1 to then. I expand the “character” sliders to include sympathy, proactivity, competence, and power. This is how I review books; this is how I evaluate books, so this is how I like to receive feedback.
Then I ask what I feel the most important questions any author can ask the reader:
What do you think of the story as a whole?
What do you think about the main character (in this case Elele) at the beginning of the story?
What do you think of the main character at the end?
Would you want to read another story in which this character (and others) appear?
Then I invite the reader to add any thoughts they find relevant.
So I sent the book out to betas and gave them a few weeks (I try to let them have two days to read a single chapter or segment) to read the story. When I got the feedback, the first thing I did was thank them for their time. This is critical authors. These folks are reading your work, the least you can do is let them know what it means to have them offer their time.
Then I opened up a document and typed whatever comments they gave me. For those who quite frankly went the extra mile and sent back the document with notes in the copy, I saved those files to a folder.
I’d be very interested to see what others do via the comments below, but here’s what I do:
Respect everything they say. You’re going to hear feedback. You won’t like all of it. Heck, you might not like any of it. I turn my ego in before I open a document.
While everything each beta says is valuable, what I look for is overlap. What do they all love? What do they all hate? What do they all think? What trends do I see. This is why I tend to want between 10 and 20 betas. The bigger the sample size, the more likely you’ll have enough opinions to really help you sort things out.
I’ll peel back the onion a bit here. The number one bit of feedback I got from every single beta is, “The story starts too slowly. There’s too much information to swallow.” Or something to that effect. Here’s how feedback works in the photojournalism field. One person’s opinion is just one persons opinion, but if everybody who says anything says the same thing, that’s truth. They all wanted to start closer to the action. (And when I review Conflict and Suspense, I’ll talk about that a lot more).
So when the majority of the betas say the same thing, I trust that majority. But what do you do when there isn’t one?
Well, I sort of take the liberty to trust my own feelings. If it’s a mixed bag, I understand that people are going to like some things and hate others.
I put the bigger weight on the betas who fall within my target audience. They’re the ones who I care most about because they’re the ones I want to buy this story. Some of the beta readers I have here provided critical information, but they’re more secondary alphas than actual betas. I trust their options more in matters of style and craft.
So an example might be if one of my style and craft beta readers thinks the dialogue isn’t working, I trust that, because they’re experts. I do this even if my “main audience” betas gave my dialogue 10s. This works because if I improve the writing of the dialogue, the “main audience” betas are only going to like it more. I give those main audience more weight in terms of how they feel about the character and the plot.
An example might be YA themes. I’m not actually a fan of teen or YA books. I can appreciate them and respect them, but I don’t like some of the storytelling elements in those genres. So if one of my friends asks me to read a YA book, I read it, but I’m not going to tell them I don’t like this character of that character if I can tell it’s a genre bias. But if I sent a YA book to a 19-year-old, and she hates the character, then I’m real scared.
So that’s it. I look for overlap (what are they all saying or agreeing on). Then I give tie breakers depending on why I asked that person to beta read.
Armed with my feedback, I create a “revision plan” document in which I plan on going over each segment several times (one time per issue I annotate in my plan). Then I go over it again (another several times) for each document the betas sent me via the actual copy of the story.
Once I finish this draft, it’s off to my editor for a copy-edit, and then I send it out. How do you use beta feedback?
I want to say one more time how grateful I am to those beta readers who helped me out. I may not apply all of your changes, but everything you said was heard and noted. You’ve made me a better writer, and I can’t thank you enough for that.
For those of you who follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you’ve seen how happy I am to have completed the third draft to Sojourn in Captivity! I truly feel this is the best thing I’ve written so far (which I honestly hope to say each time I write something). Now that I’ve had an editor take a look at it, it’s time for what I call my Beta Draft. That means I need beta readers!
I’m sending out the call for any interested beta readers. I tend to like between 5-20 betas. In my mind, the more people who read it, the more feedback you get. The more feedback you get, the more certain you can be about certain aspects of the story. I’d like to send out the draft (31,000 words) Saturday, and I’d ask that you send your feedback (and a few very short questionnaires I have for each segment), by May 6. (That would mean you need to read at least a segment every other day.)
Sojourn in Captivity is a prequel, I guess it’s more of a novella now, but I’m calling it a short story, to my Perception of War space war science fiction/fantasy sequence. He’s an off-the-top-of-my-head blurb:
Elele’s course in life was altered when Adhol (her planet’s name for God) arrived three years ago. Her life remained relatively normal even though she couldn’t travel to the Gernis home planet of Welt, where she was supposed to study with the greatest mathematical minds in the galaxy. She’s still her father’s favorite child. She’s still gotten everything she’s ever wanted that was within her school’s or family’s power to give. That’s all about to change. Since Adhol’s arrival, he’s used his power to elevate her people from vestigial-winged, slender beings known as Seferam into the membrane-winged, monstrously sized Var’lechen. It’s supposed to be the greatest blessing a Seferam could ask for. It’s supposed to be when a Seferam evolves into a form that more closely resembles their god. There’s only one problem, Elele doesn’t want to transform. When she faces her god, she’ll discover that not only is her life about to change forever, but her family’s had secrets that she’ll have to come to understand before its too late.
I’d be honored if anyone cared to give it a read. Please reply below or send me an email if you’re interested.
The B2B Cyber Convention just wrapped up. I’ve been super busy these past few days, but I wanted to take a moment to share some things (one of which was truly amazing).
The first is a story I’d like to share with you all.
I’m a creature of habit. I do my laundry on the same day. I eat at the same place every Friday. I work the same schedule every day. I like routine. The thing about routines though is you tend to have this expectation that every day, week, and moth will work out exactly the same. Most times, when there’s an interruption to my routine, I’m actually quite difficult to deal with. But sometimes, it’s just wonderful.
Every other Friday, I go to the same place to cut my hair. I eat at the same place as I do every Friday. I check to see what movies are out that I might want to see. I stop by the book store in the mall just to see what may have gotten released without my knowledge. That’s when I head over the my hair place.
This particular Friday, I arrive to find the woman who does my hair isn’t available for awhile. I don’t think much of it. I arrange a time later that evening with her. I’m about to head out to knock a few items off my to-do list when someone taps me on the shoulder.
One of the other employees caught my attention and pointed to the woman he was working with. The woman smiles and points at me.
“Aren’t you that author?”
You see, my whole life, I’ve always wanted to be, “That Author.” That identification may be on the top three list of things I want to put on my tombstone. When The Journals of Bob Drifterwas first published, my sister bought me a personalized pen. When she gave it to me, I told her it was a life dream of mine to have someone approach me and ask for my autograph.
So when Karen asked me that question, she quite literally made one of my life’s dreams come true.
I don’t really remember much after that. My euphoria made it pretty hard to think straight. I said yes. She said that she’d recognized me from my book (Journals). Since I’m a regular at Rafet’s (the place I get my hair cut), I thought to plop a copy of the book there so people could read it while they wait for their haircuts. Now, that book has been there since Bob got published (two years now). Turns out, at least one person had been chipping away at it!
So we chatted for a while. She told me the book really grabbed her attention. We exchanged contact information, and, yes, I gave her an autograph. I originally gave her an autograph on a sheet of paper (which I tell my students to always have on their person). The establishment actually gave her that copy of the book, so I later signed that one and grabbed a selfie with Karen.
The world is a wonderful place sometimes. A guy can just be going about his day, and suddenly God smiles on someone. The little things are usually more special than the big. That moment will fuel my dream to be a “successful” author for quite a while.
So to those of you a little earlier in their journey than I am, I say you have to remember it’s a marathon. You have to work. It’s not an overnight thing. This isn’t the realm for instant success. But if you keep at it, and you’re consistent, you’ll get these little moments that mean so much. My sales are still right about where they normally are, but I found a fan and a new friend. If you’re reading this, Karen, I say again, Thank you!
The first cool thing was how many more authors I met. I got to hang out more with Joshua Robertson, who I met a few months ago and got to know a bit better when his book Anaerfell was up for Book Cover of the Month. I also met so many other cool authors: My internet is really acting up, so I can’t really link them all like I want. But just a few are: Heidi Angell (she’s not THAT kind of angel), Richard White, A.L. Mabry, Suzanna J. Linton (a fellow Dragonriders of Pern fan), Tim (again, my internet isn’t letting me find his last name), and Joe Compton. I PROMISE I could go on for days. I don’t know how many panels or group chats I did. What I DO know, is I’ll be adding a page to this website soon. I’ll add those videos, because they’re fun for readers, writers, and authors trying to figure out marketing.
Angela B. Chrysler and I had an idea at about the same time. I’d been trying to figure out a use for Youtube, and so she created Nerd Rage, which will be a monthly Youtube event we do. We’ll film them the last Saturday of every month. There may be a time or two we can’t all make it, but for the most part, there’ll be a handful of us just needing out about whatever topic Angela pulls out of a hat. (No, I mean that literally.) If you can’t wait for me to get around to loading what videos I’ve already been a part of, you can look at those and everything else here.
Which leads me to my last thought of the day. I’d mentioned that one of the events I was taking part in was a covers war. I’m very proud to announce that Caught won the cover war for horror and thrillers! I have to admit, I campaigned pretty hard to win. I was a big fan of my cover, and I wanted it to get recognized. It turns out, a bunch of my Facebook friends and a few of my Author/Wordpress friends (Hi JR! Hi Corey!) came to offer me support! Look, it’s basically just bragging rights, but it’s like I said, the little things make all the difference sometimes. So I wanted to end this post with a huge thank you for that support in giving that cover some love. Thank you all. Now, I have a short story to revise, another short story to write, two books to write and a series to get started on. All by 2018. So…I’m off.
What’s going on? Pretty much everything. I mean, I have to line everything up so I don’t miss JUST the things I’m participating in. This virtual convention is pretty much a book convention without the costumes. (Actually, I’m probably wearing a costume, you just can’t see it).
At any rate, I’d like you all to take a look at the events I’m involved in. Please feel free to participate and share whatever you see. I’m personally most excited about the panels (See below).
So, what am I up to this 3rd annual Cycon?
Author Showcase: This is where you can see all the authors involved. There are a BUNCH of talented authors participating, including most of (if not all of) my beloved friends aboard the Slush Brain. You can click the above link for the entire list. If you’re looking for yours truly, I’m located in the 2017 Horror Showcase. This is because I think Caught fits best in that section. You’ll see Bob around there, too.
Book Expo: Letting people know what books are out there is important. This breaks the books down by genre. You can see book blurbs and covers for all those books (and mine).
Character Tournaments: Sal, the main character from Caught, has landed himself in a character tournament. I love these. It’s just natural nerd discussion. Who would win in a fight? You can head over to the link and vote for all the characters. I don’t know how Sal would do against some of these guys, but I like his odds in Round 1. Just as with my Book Cover of the Month, I only ask that you vote and vote in every match.
Book Cove Bracket: Speaking of book cover brackets, B2B has one of those as well. Caught is lined up in the Horror category. I’ll be paying close attention to the winners from each category. I love my own project, and this looks to be like a good time. I’ve seen some of the brackets already, and they look great! So do a guy a favor, and send some votes his way?
Panels: This is just awesome. So Angela, Captain of the Slush Brain, Mistress of the Web Sea, Queen of Online Conventions (and the brain behind Brain to Books), set up a bunch of panels. I’m in a fair number of them. We talk about Anime (Naruto), Book Covers, Fantasy Fiction and Magic Systems, Doctor Who, and a lot more. Just head over here, to get a look at all the panels. This was so fun to do, and I hope you all take a minute or two to see some of the topics of conversation.
There’s honestly too much going on to go over in one blog, but there’s so much. There are giveaways. There are blog hops and genre tours. It’s pretty much endless.
I hope you check out these events and get to know these authors the way I do.