What a journey it has been! I will have more books published, including the sequels to this one, which are already written. But this one is special. It’s the one I spent the most time on. It’s my first novel on Amazon. It’s the one with all the pressure on it, as a series starter. And it’s the start of a series that I stand proudly behind.
Reviews and sales are immensely important to authors. I really appreciate everyone who bought a copy, and those who are planning to write a review, or who already wrote one on Goodreads or Amazon.
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★★★★★ “Engaging from the start, this complex space opera features relatable, believable characters; highly original, meticulous world building; and difficult moral and ethical dilemmas.”
★★★★★ “Thoughtful explorations of morality, altruism, justice and mercy, and the idea that godlike powers come with godlike responsibilities add depth and breadth to this auspicious entry in SF literature’s mutant-superman genre.”
I have very incredible and awesome news to share. I’ve signed a 6 book series contract with Podium Audio!!!
My epic 1+ million word Torth series will be coming out in print, ebook, and audiobook editions, probably starting late this year or in 2024. This is super thrilling for me. My magnum opus dark sci-fi series is going to hit Amazon & Audible in a big way! (Books 1 & 2 will be combined.)
I owe it to taking a chance on serialization. I’m having a blast on RoyalRoad + Patreon. Feel free to ask me anything. Now I’m diving into edits! ❤️
If you’re unfamiliar with my Torth series, here’s a brief blurb:
In a galaxy-spanning utopia where societal leaders are networked together for instant communication, nothing goes unnoticed.
There’s no crime. No secrets. No privacy. And no way to escape.
Until Thomas unintentionally captivates the top super-genius influencer.If he’s going to help his enslaved friends, he’ll need to trick her… plus her audience of thirty trillion mind readers.
Okay, I need to explain my reaction. The production value of Rings of Power is top notch. They have a stellar art department, music by Bear McCreary, great actors, incredible costume design. The only thing that isn’t awesome is the writing/story. And it’s not bad. It’s just…
I don’t even blame the writing team, because I think their hands were tied. They had to work on a major IP with tons of investment money and not take storytelling risks. When you tell stories by committee without taking risks, you’re gonna get some bland storytelling. I think they did a great job, given the constraints they had. They did their best. And it wasn’t bad. The writing here is certainly a thousand times better than the travesty that was the Wheel of Time adaptation.
Judging by media buzz, few people guessed who Sauron was. Really? Is that true? Because it seemed obvious to me by episode 2.
And I guess people were wowed by the stranger with Nori, and didn’t see that ending coming? I saw it a mile away. The final episode “I’m good!” scene was still fun and satisfying to watch, but it was extremely predictable. I think most viewers guessed who the stranger is, in Lord of the Rings lore.
I enjoyed watching the elves, the dwarves, the harfoots, and the Numenorians. But I didn’t feel invested in any of the characters. We all know Galadriel and Elrond survive, so there’s very little tension to those scenes. I guess a lot of people were charmed by Nori, but I found her charm to be very crafted/scripted. Didn’t care about Isildur. He gave off a spoiled Nick Cage vibe. Theo, son of Bronwyn? He seemed like was about to go bad at any second, but turned out to going through a simplistic moral struggle that didn’t really seem cogent. Durin & Disa were cute as a dwarf royal couple, and I did really enjoy their interactions with each other and with Elrond. But in the end, there isn’t much character conflict there, either. Durin’s conflict with his father is classic and predictable.
Every character in this show is going through bland, diluted, classical, predictable struggles. Galadriel thirsts for vengeance. That is all her character is about. Elrond is torn between friendships and duties. Meh. Durin has to obey his father. The Stranger is worried that he might be a peril, aka evil. Nori wants to wander instead of following the path. Arondir is torn between loyalty to his elven people and his love for a human (who is much younger than him, but that is never addressed). Etc. These are all very simple characters with simplistic, bare bones interactions.
The dialogues between Galadriel and Halbrand at the end? Those were okay, but not exceptional in the way that Game of Thrones (seasons 1-5) was. To me, it felt like it had to go through a lot of committee approval processes.
With everything else about this show being so exceptionally beautiful, it was hard for me to watch it wasted on mediocre storytelling. Those elven halls! Numenor! It was so gorgeous!
I wish Hollywood would dare to take risks on non-safe IPs again.
I just marathoned the audiobook editions of The Wandering Inn by Pirateaba, one of the largest web serials ever. I am agog.
10.1 million words, so far.
2.5 million of it is in audio, so far. That’s like 200+ hours of listening material.
The TWI series is actually bigger than my Torth series, which is a measly 1.1 million words in its entirety. TWI has more main characters, a larger world, and a bigger word count. It’s bigger than Game of Thrones and The Wheel of Time combined. The author is still putting out 2 chapters every week. They (no idea what gender the author is) have an active fan community, 4,000+ patrons on Patreon, and they (or their publisher?) hired the most talented female audiobook narrator I’ve ever heard.
And the series is awesome. I really got into it. Fair warning: The first book suffers from some amateur storytelling, including a main character that is hard to like or connect with until later on. I nearly quit a few times. But I’ve learned that my favorite series have problematic beginnings, so I pushed through, and I’m really glad I did. I’m ranking this one right up there with my all-time favorites. The author gets better and better, and the series is pure fun. It has the magical ingredient: Really outstanding interpersonal character dynamics.
It’s interesting that it remains addictive even without any majorly oppressive grimdark plot thread. Like Beware of Chicken and He Who Fights With Monsters and other SFF web serials that took off, TWI is light rather than dark. It’s fun rather than grim.
By comparison, I’m worried about how my series will fare on RoyalRoad. Mine just isn’t that light. It has a majorly oppressive galactic empire that needs to be defeated. One of my main characters goes super dark in Book 1, and spends the rest of the series on a redemption arc. Readers love that character–but only if they get past the beginning “gauntlet” of evil oppressive crap that he gets involved in.
I do have length on my side. 450+ chapters ready to go. But mine is finite. It has an ending.
I want a career like Pirateaba’s! They are incredible. They are the Brandon Sanderson of the web serial world.
You know what else? I think this whole web serial phenomenon speaks to the state of the publishing industry. The Wandering Inn is just as good and just as much fun as The Wheel of Time. If this was the 1990s, it might be the new Wheel of Time. Yet here in the 2020s, it’s an underground fandom instead of a trad pub juggernaut.
I think that’s due to the way algorithms are causing readers and literary agents to overvalue trends and books that are already popular, while also tamping down emergent stuff with unrealized potential. Pirateaba’s series has great word-of-mouth, which is allowing them to break out of the underground niche a bit and realize some of their vast potential. I’m sure 4,000+ patrons has enabled them to write full-time and hire an assistant and all that. But they only got there by writing an addictive series with millions of words and consistently adding new chapters. And even with their success, their fandom is still quite underground.
We live in unfortunate times for the arts, I think.
I’m really glad to have discovered Pirateaba, even if it was through underground channels where adventurous readers hang out. I think they have a great career ahead of them.
From what I’ve seen, A.I. generated artwork has a certain aesthetic to it. Faces are rarely defined. Imagery may be riotously detailed, which gives a superficial impression that it was lovingly worked on by hand for many days, but it lacks a coherent theme. That gives the impression that it is dreamlike imagery, or slap-dabbed together by someone in a creative frenzy. It is a certain look.
Perhaps that aesthetic will always be appealing. But I wonder if it will wear out its welcome? I’m already getting worn out on it. I feel as if I can recognize it when I see it, and it’s not what I want for my finalized novel covers. (Short stories, maybe.)
And I think the same applies to Jasper A.I. and other A.I. writing tools. People who read a lot of blogs and articles are learning to recognize overly emotional language that is incongruously used for conveying generic or low-value content.
I’ve seen A.I. performers, where people pay a service that simulates an actor to read lines. There is an uncanny valley effect with those. The “actor” looks quite human, but they blink a bit too often, and their smiles are quick and small and weirdly constrained.
I don’t know how the arts will adapt to these things. But speaking as a writer-artist, I’m not thrilled about it. I think this is all part of the race-to-the-bottom in the arts. Companies don’t want to pay artists and writers. Now they don’t have to.
The question is: Will the public accept A.I. art and writing as equal to the real thing? Or will they tune it out eventually? Will they tend to gravitate towards art and writing created by real people? Or will enough people fail to see the difference, or fail to care, so that the money flows towards A.I. tools more than it flows to human writers and artists?
As a writer, one can learn a lot from this breath of fresh air in the Fantasy genre.
One can write secondary world fantasy without war. Without prison scenes or gladiator scenes or slogging through a hellscape scenes. That doesn’t mean this book lacks suspense or escalating stakes or power progression. They’re there. There’s a magic system and fun characters, including a very proud rooster who was unexpectedly uplifted to sapience.
As SFF writers, we learn that our heroes are only as powerful/smart as our villains. In other words, we’re supposed to create strong villains to challenge our heroes. In this book, the strong villains are implied off-screen. They’re … somewhere, causing wars and stuff on some other continent. Sometimes local villains or bullies show up, thinking they’re badass and that they can easily defeat the simple farmer. Jin defeats these with ease, sometimes without even realizing it, because he’s so powerful. Then he goes back to farming or planning weddings or building snowmen and playing with friends. He is the Hidden Master. So cool.
Watching a supposedly simple farmer defeat bad guys with ludicrous ease is unexpectedly satisfying. It’s like that scene with Mat and his quarterstaff in Book 3 of the Wheel of Time.
I never thought I’d enjoy a book that’s all about mundane stuff, albeit in a fantasy world with magic. But this was just cute. And engaging. It’s like I got a book version of Stardew Valley instead of World of Warcraft or something. I would actually like to read the next one, when it comes out.
When it comes to media, I read far more than I watch. The last show I binge-watched was Breaking Bad. I’ve also adored Game of Thrones (except for the final two seasons) and Stranger Things. I can name other shows that amused me pretty well: Bosch, Reacher, The Venture Brothers. But I think Umbrella Academy has edged out to be my actual favorite. It has all the ingredients I crave, and they’re done exceptionally well.
One thing I appreciate about Umbrella Academy is that the show-runner doesn’t waste time on long, lingering close-ups of faces or pointless scenes. Nor do the writers skip any world-building or story setup. Every scene is well-thought-through, well placed, and flows seamlessly to the next. Their sense of timing is *chef’s kiss* perfection. That’s so important for cinema, yet I rarely see it done this well.
Another thing they have going for them is synergy. That cast of characters… it’s incredible that a show can have *so many* characters that remain interesting for multiple seasons and have great interpersonal dynamics and rapport with each other. Listen, I’ve written an epic series with a big ensemble cast of characters. There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes effort that goes into making every one of them interesting, relatable, likable, and to amp up character contrast so that their interpersonal dynamics keep changing and remain engaging. Umbrella Academy proves that you can have 10+ regular characters in a show with 10 episodes per season (I’m including Pogo, Sir Hargreeves, “Mom,” and others) who contrast well with each other and remain memorable. That’s just impressive. This is a skilled writing team plus a skilled casting director plus really awesome actors.
The special effects? Super impressive. I’ve seen shows with comparable budgets go very wrong in this area (Wheel of Time, how I mourn what you could have been). Umbrella Academy pays a lot of respect to visual artistry. The lighting, the costumes, the effects… just wow. They are superb. Perhaps that’s to be expected for a show based on graphic novels.
The music? Umbrella Academy even gets this right. I love the original score. I love the pop music they choose to blend into every episode. “Run Boy Run” by Woodkid has become one of my favorites.
One of the best things about the ongoing story is its complexity. They are juggling multiple timelines due to time travel, yet maintaining story cohesion and continuity. That is what really impresses me. I purposely avoided writing time travel into my epic series, because I was already juggling armies, space armadas, teleporting heroes, and mutant super-geniuses who can read minds. I’m seeing Umbrella Academy and nodding to the writers in respectful awe. At the same time, I can understand why the show-runner said that he’ll probably end it on season 4. Every season adds another layer of complexity, and holy moly, they created a storytelling masterpiece.
Finally, I admire how the show puts in moments of kindness and levity. It doesn’t take itself too seriously. It subtly pokes fun at the asshole characters, and subtly uplifts the kindhearted characters. It riffs on superhero tropes. It remembers to have fun, giving the characters moments where they’re singing karaoke or going on road trips in between saving the world. It sends a message about the strength of sibling love. It’s just sweet. And messages like this seem to be so rarely found on TV.
There. I summarized my admiration without giving away a single spoiler!
I’m about to undergo my fourth and final infusion of oxaliplatin. This is hardcore stuff. It’s a “platinum agent” that goes directly into my arteries through a medical implant called a “port”, like I’m some kind of electronic device. What does ox do? Well, aside from making me feel awful–anemic, fatigued, nauseas, and sick–it kills fast-growing cells in my body. Those cells might all be benign cells, such as bone marrow, digestive tract cells, and hair follicles. Or they might be evil cancerous tumor cells. This aggressive chemo treatment is meant to reduce the chances of the cancer taking root elsewhere in my body.
I’ve learned a lot on this journey. To catch you up: I had concerns for more than a year before I was diagnosed with cancer. I thought I was having sudden and severe food allergies, severe enough for me to make multiple visits to my primary care physician. She assured me “It’s not cancer.” Her reasoning was that my white blood cell count was normal, so therefore, I guess she thought the pain was all in my head. I am still angry about that misdiagnosis. The takeaway: Pain is not something to be dismissed, even if your doctor tells you it’s nothing. Always pay attention to random pain. It means something.
The pains became worse and more frequent. Intestinal cancer is hard to find or diagnose, and I was misdiagnosed at two different Urgent Care centers. When it became unbearable for a week in December, my husband figured we should skip the medical centers and go straight to the ER at the nearest major hospital, Baylor Scott & White. The staff there kept me overnight, ran scans and so forth, and within a day, I was told that I had a cancerous tumor and needed emergency surgery to get rid of it. That was shocking. A colectomy is major surgery with risks, and I was asked to agree to it ASAP. I was otherwise healthy–no co-mormidities, I exercised daily–and I am relatively young. I never expected anything like this. But I am grateful to the gastroenterologist and surgeon at that hospital. They gave me the news straight without any sugar-coating.
So. The tumor was removed, along with 21 lymph nodes in order to stage the cancer. Recovery from that surgery was very painful and rough. But within two months, I was more or less back to normal. I went to an oncologist, who strongly recommended this “cap-ox” chemotherapy regimen, which is standard for colon cancer beyond stage 1. I sought a second opinion from an expert at MD Anderson, which is a major cancer center in Houston. The oncologist at MD Anderson strongly recommended the same thing.
Which brings me to now. I began the cap-ox treatment in April. It’s really no joke, as far as side effects go. And the effects are cumulative. They get a little worse each time. I am astounded that some people endure this chemo regimen for years, or even for their entire lives. I am very, very lucky in that my cancer has not metasticized. Otherwise I would need to be on chemo for much longer.
What side effects, you ask?
Well, right now I have a rash on the soles of my feet which makes walking difficult. It gets worse if I walk any distance. That’s an effect from the capecitabine pills, which are the “cap” part of the cap-ox regimen. So never mind my daily walks. I can’t do those. Nor can I go swimming, because chlorine will exacerbate the rash. I’m not exercising much these days. Also, I’m anemic. I feel weaker than usual. There are gastro effects which are somewhat mitigated with pills. I’m immunocompromised. So I’m not traveling. My hair? Every time I brush it, the brush comes away with a bird’s nest of hair. So it’s falling out a lot more than usual, yet no one can tell, because it was so thick in the first place! I guess it might all be gone if I was on this chemo for 2+ years. But that isn’t the plan.
The worst part of chemotherapy happens 2-5 days after each oxaliplatin infusion. That’s when the mitigating drugs wear off while the ox infusion is still working its cell-killing magic. On those days, I get so weak and exhausted, I can barely walk up stairs. I have to stop and rest every few steps. It’s really a pronounced effect. Keep in mind that I am a person who typically goes for brisk hour-long walks on a daily basis.
Oxaliplatin also causes sensitivity to cold. That means no ice water, no smoothies, no reaching into the freezer, no running my hands under cold tap water. If I do those things, I feel an electric shock sensation. Also, it worsens the neuropathy in my fingers and toes and lips, which is another terrible side effect. So far, the neuropathy has been temporary. It goes away after 8-10 days. I really hope it never comes back. I’m an artist and writer who needs to be able to type. But I have learned that it is permanent for some random unlucky patients.
Okay! That’s enough complaining. I just wanted to de-mystify what chemotherapy entails. There are different chemo regimens for different types of cancer; my experience is not universal to all cancer patients. But it is standard for colon cancer. It is also known as an aggressive treatment. There are slightly gentler treatments for patients with health complications.
On the happier side, this will be my final infusion! I expect to feel fully healthy and back to normal by mid-July. It takes a while for all this stuff to wear off.
And yes, the medical professionals will scan me and check up on me for 2 years on a regular basis. It’s important to monitor me, because cancer is evil and can be sneaky and recur. I am told that the chances of recurrences are 10%. I really hope I am a lucky one who never sees it again.
I’ve learned that cancer runs in one side of my family. My grandparents on that side both died from intestinal cancer–but they were in their 80s and 90s. Same with at least one of their siblings. One of my aunts on that side has defeated lung cancer and breast cancer. My parent on that side also has signs of blood cancer, and has defeated skin cancer. So… yeah. It lurks in genetics. I hadn’t known how widespread it was on that side of the family until this happened, and the family stories came out.
I am becoming loud & proud about my self-pub procrastination. I was ashamed of it for a long time. I was constantly making excuses, and assuring friends/readers that yes, I will have the books for sale soon.
In reality, here it is: I hate the concept of turning into a marketing machine.
Once I set the ball in motion on Amazon, I will have to transform into some kind of savvy businessperson if I want my epic series to have any chance in hell at being noticed. The fate of most self-pubbed books is that they drown in the ocean of obscurity. There’s a new book published every minute on Amazon. The self-pub success stories pour a ton of ad spend and marketing efforts into their series. This article about the failure of the long tail says it well.
Instead of diving into book marketing, I’m very comfy serializing online. Readers kind of show up without me having to deploy ads or pour effort into newsletter swaps or study the dark arts of email campaigns. Readers say wonderfully nice things to me. It fulfills the part of me that wants acknowledgement/recognition for the magnum opus I’ve created.
So I’m admitting that I am procrastinating. I am freely telling people that I’ll get around to publishing and marketing my Torth series eventually… but I am enjoying the serialization life for now.
Also, I am probably going to do one more Hail Mary pass with literary agents. Yeah. Masochistic, I know.
At least this time, my expectations will be so low they’re subterranean. I’m aware that my series has no accurate comps, it does not match hot trends, it does not have a gimmicky angle that can be summarized in a sentence, and oh yeah, it’s not a stand-alone with series potential. It’s a full-fledged epic. Book 1 is an eternal problem. I was never able to make it behave.
But a few adventurous readers did take a chance on it, and some kept reading. So Book 1 does work for some people. I just don’t think that most literary agents are adventurous readers. They’re looking for “the same but different.”
Ah well. Why not collect at least 150 rejections, amiright?
Meanwhile, I have the excuse of chemotherapy for being lazy and not turning into a self-promotion marketing machine quite yet. I’m halfway through treatment. Hair is falling out, blood pressure is low, and I get very fatigued every third week due to oxaliplatin infusions. The other two weeks I can function pretty much normally. Hopefully there will be no trace of cancer after this.
Oh yeah! My new stand-alone novel-in-progress is a BREEZE in comparison to the Torth series. I’m not zooming ahead with passion on it. But dang, it’s easy and enjoyable. I think it may be easier to market, as well.
I’m also having a lot of fun creating 3D low poly art assets for my husband’s indie game. It’s his magnum opus, in the same way the Torth series is mine. His abilities with programming are blowing my mind.