Hi-Tech and Lo-Tech in Peaceful Coexistence

JRPG Tropes I Love

(Theme song — sung to the tune of “The Daves I Know” by Kids in the Hall):
These are the tropes I love, I love
These are the tropes I love
These are the tropes I love, I love
These are the tropes I love

Welcome to the debut installment of The JRPG Tropes I Love, a series in which I celebrate my favorite recurring themes, elements, and outright cliches from Japanese role-playing games. Today’s trope:

Hi-Tech and Lo-Tech in Peaceful Coexistence

Before there even were Japanese role-playing video games, there was Dungeons and Dragons, and its worlds were decidedly lo-tech. Like the works of Tolkien which inspired it, the development level of D&D’s worlds was medieval at best. In the early days of computer adventure games, you had lo-tech King’s Quest and hi-tech Space Quest, but the two tech levels remained strictly segregated.

phantasy_star_boxAnd then Sega released Phantasy Star. An 8-bit masterpiece — soon to be re-released on the Nintendo Switch — the American box art made it seem the game was pure sword-and-sorcery. It sported heroes clad in medieval armor, brandishing swords, and fighting bats and skeletons and wizards. But turn the box over and read a little more about the game:

  • The story takes place across all three planets of a distant star system
  • Spaceships will take you between those worlds, and you’ll cruise over them in a futuristic SUV
  • You’ll be fighting robots and aliens along the way
  • And if you’d prefer to put down your ax, you can pick up a laser gun

Phantasy Star wasn’t the first story in the world to combine medieval fantasy and science fiction — see the John Carter stories of Edgar Rice Burroughs for a much earlier example — but it was one of the first JRPGs to do it. And after it paved the way, the floodgates were opened.

Phantasy Star II went all-in on hi-tech with a storyline featuring an artificial intelligence Big Bad. Final Fantasy VI broke with that series’s medieval traditions and featured a steampunk environment. The image of Final Fantasy VII‘s Cloud Strife armed with a giant Buster Sword and riding a motorcycle is practically an icon for this trope. And back in the analog realm, even the original RPG — Dungeons and Dragons — got in on the lo-tech/hi-tech marriage with 1989’s Spelljammer campaign.

My first fantasy novel, Yesterday’s Demons, is part of a trilogy I’ve often said is my love letter to JRPGs and their epic, unforgettable stories and characters. Yesterday’s Demons is set on the planet Verde, a world with a technology level and society much like that of the American Wild West. However, two hundred years before, it was a hi-tech wonderland only a few decades ahead of where we are now. Verde lost all of its technology in the Blackout, but some relics have been restored and repaired. Siv McCaig will need all of it he can find, plus a healthy dose of magic, to save Verde from destruction.

“Trope” doesn’t have to be a bad word. While there are certainly some that should never again see the light of day (I’m looking at you, women in refrigerators), others are like good friends whose presence never grows wearisome. I like Middle-Earth, and I like the Matrix. But give me both at the same time, and I’m in love.

New lower price for Yesterday’s Demons

Yesterdays Demons Cover Final (Small)My first book, Yesterday’s Demons, has been on sale for almost two-and-a-half years now. I recently lowered the ebook version’s price to $2.99. At the time of this writing, all sources except Wal-Mart now reflect the lower price. (So much for always low prices — always!)

Yesterday’s Demons is the first book in a fantasy/SF trilogy called The Verdant Revival. It’s the story of Siv McCaig, who has spent his young life in fear after a boyhood encounter with a monster. When that monster inexplicably returns, Siv needs answers. Where did it come from? What is it? And will it ever come back again? His search for answers becomes a journey across the world and a battle for planet Verde’s survival.

If you like anime-inspired role-playing games like Final Fantasy, Phantasy Star, Skies of Arcadia, or Wild Arms, I think you’ll love Yesterday’s Demons. It’s my love letter to those kinds of games and their immersive, unforgettable stories. It’s appropriate for both adult and teenage audiences.

Finally, now is a great time to pick it up Yesterday’s Demons because its sequel, Tomorrow’s Shepherd, will be out later this year so you won’t have long to wait for the follow-up.

The ebook is available from:
Amazon | Barnes and NobleiBooks | Wal-MartKoboSmashwords

Tomorrow’s Shepherd Cover Reveal

I’m very pleased to reveal to the world the cover of my next book, Tomorrow’s Shepherd, the second book of The Verdant Revival.

eBook Cover

Tomorrow’s Shepherd shifts the focus of The Verdant Revival from sword-wielding blacksmith Siv McCaig to his best friend, socially awkward, mechanical genius Fritz Reinhardt. With the alien white demons defeated, Fritz embarks on a worldwide effort to restore the planet’s chipware. He’s the only person who can repair planet Verde’s ancient technology, lost two centuries prior. The promises of instantaneous communication, vastly improved medicine and hygiene, and labor-saving tools fill most people with ecstatic hope for an easier life. But a powerful minority remembers technology’s faults: loss of privacy, deadly high-tech weapons, and devastating environmental impact.

These critics find a powerful ally in Lady Verde, the living spirit of the planet, who demands an end to the technological restoration. How can Fritz build a better future when the planet itself is fighting against him? How will Fritz and his friends defend the people when their planet turns deadly? And what secret is Lady Verde hiding?

Fritz is featured on the cover clad in a high-tech chipware suit. And what is that massive robot he’s just tackled? Back in August, I dropped the hint that Tomorrow’s Shepherd features two villains, and both were mentioned by name in Yesterday’s Demons. The first is Lady Verde. The second is the Steelterrors, a group of giant, sentient robots who nearly destroyed the ancient world a thousand years ago. The Steelterror on the cover doesn’t look too happy to be taken down by a lowly “blood bag,” does it? Fritz is in for quite the fight.

Here’s the entire picture you’ll see on the front and back covers of the paperback edition. Click on it to view it full size.

Tomorrow's Shepherd Cover - Full

The illustrator of this cover is Tommaso Renieri, a gifted artist and a true professional. I’m blessed to have found him, and it was a pleasure to work with him on this piece.

Tomorrow’s Shepherd will be available in ebook and paperback in 2018. I’m currently hard at work finishing it. Check back soon for more updates. I can’t wait to tell you this story!

Tomorrow’s Shepherd cover reveal coming soon

TS Tiny Cover TeaserI have some exciting news today! Next week, I’ll be revealing the cover of my next book, Tomorrow’s Shepherd, book two of The Verdant Revival. That reveal will happen right here, on this blog, but a sneak peek will first go out to everyone who subscribes to my newsletter.

I send my newsletter a handful of times a year, anytime I have something I’m especially happy to report. If you’re not already a newsletter subscriber, please become one.

Whatever channel you prefer, stay tuned! You’re soon going to get your first glimpse at Tomorrow’s Shepherd.

August 2017 Status Update

The story of what I’ve been up to lately is in my Project Tracker:

2017-08 Status Update

I finished the second draft of Tomorrow’s Shepherd, and it is currently in the hands of the first of my beta readers! I’ve been working on this book for twenty months now, and it’s not done yet, but nevertheless, I’m happy to reach this milestone.

I’ve previously given out a few teases about the book. I’ve mentioned that each of the three books of The Verdant Revival will have a different theological virtue as its theme. Yesterday’s Demons was about love. Tomorrow’s Shepherd is about hope.

I’ve mentioned that each of The Verdant Revival‘s main characters takes a turn as the star of a book. Siv was the focus of Yesterday’s Demons. Tomorrow’s Shepherd is Fritz’s story. And I mentioned that “gravity” was not only the 100,000th word I wrote for the book, but it’s also another theme of the book, so much so that “Defying Gravity” from Wicked is perfect for the book’s soundtrack.

To celebrate the completion of the second draft, here’s a new hint about the book’s plot. Tomorrow’s Shepherd features not one, but two villains… and both were mentioned by name in Yesterday’s Demons.

As is my practice, I now plan to put the book on the shelf while my beta readers absorb it. During this break, I plan to catch up on some articles I’ve meant to post here. I also have another project in mind I’ll be starting very soon. It will be a different experience for me, but I’m very excited about it. And since I don’t want to sound entirely coy and elusive, I’ll say this much about it: it’s a non-fiction project.

As always, I want to thank everyone for reading this for your support. I can’t say you’re the reason I write, because I have to write, and I’d do it even if no one read my work. But the fact you do read it, and enjoy it, and tell me about your enjoyment of it means so much. Thank you for your continued support.

Deus vobiscum.

Happy Bookaversary, Yesterday’s Demons

Yesterdays Demons Cover Final (Small)
My Yesterday’s Demons page contains a sample chapter, character introductions, and purchasing links.

This month marks the one-year bookaversary of Yesterday’s Demons! My debut novel was published in eBook on April 12, 2016, and the paperback edition followed on April 22, 2016.

I’ve mentioned many times before how the publication of my novel was a dream come true. Even one year later, it’s just as thrilling as the first day I saw my book — my book, you guys, omigosh I wrote this — listed on Amazon.com.

If you haven’t read it yet, visit my Yesterday’s Demons page for a sample chapter, character introductions, and purchasing links. If you like YA-friendly fantasy or JRPGs like Final Fantasy and Phantasy Star, you’re going to love it.

And since a bookaversary is grounds for a celebration, I think it’s time to hand out a little treat. It’s been a long time since I dropped any hints about the next book in The Verdant Revival trilogy, Tomorrow’s Shepherd, and according to my Project Tracker, the second draft of that book is now 21% complete!

ProjectTracker-2017-04-14

Besides the book’s title, I’ve previously mentioned that the book would focus not on Siv (the protagonist of Yesterday’s Demons), but on Siv’s friend Fritz. The Verdant Revival features three main characters — Siv, Fritz, and Cassie — and the three of them take turns being the main character.

It’s time I dropped some new information about it, so here goes. On Twitter, when I reached the 100,000-word milestone during the writing of the book’s first draft, I mentioned the 100,000th word was “gravity.” What I didn’t mention was… that’s sort of a spoiler, albeit one you can file under “When I read the book I’ll look back on this and say, ‘Ahh OK I get it now!'”

But to be more specific and less annoyingly coy, I’ll also say that “Defying Gravity” from the musical Wicked is a big, key number in my personal soundtrack for Tomorrow’s Shepherd. So many of the lyrics apply to the story of Fritz and his efforts to learn how to wield his power of hyper-intuition, especially:

Something has changed within me
Something is not the same
I’m through with playing by the rules
Of someone else’s game
Too late for second-guessing
Too late to go back to sleep
It’s time to trust my instincts
Close my eyes and leap!

(Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz)

That’s all the hinting I can give you for now. I’m only 21% done with the second draft, after all. But I can’t wait to get this one into your hands.

Deus vobiscum.

March 2017 Status Update

I did my taxes last month. This was the first year I got to report royalty income on a 1099-MISC form, thanks to sales of Yesterday’s Demons. That was a nice problem to have.

Let’s take a look at the current status of my Project Tracker:

projecttracker-2017-03

I’m 7% done with the second draft of Tomorrow’s Shepherd, but honestly, that number is a little high. I bumped the bar to that percentage last month after I thought the first two chapters were done, but then I spent the rest of the month going back through chapters two and three, fixing up a few more things. I’m still not done with those two.

I mentioned in my 2016 Year-End Status Update that for a while during the drafting of the book’s first draft, I experienced some writer’s doubt. I wasn’t sure what I was writing was Not Crap. Specifically, that time was while I was writing the book’s first few chapters. I’ve finally zeroed in on what the problem was. It’s a writing problem I’ve never had to deal with before.

Tomorrow’s Shepherd is the sequel to Yesterday’s Demons, so characters and plot points from Yesterday’s Demons will inevitably be mentioned. But I also want the book to stand on its own for readers who — for some odd reason — haven’t yet read Yesterday’s Demons. And since I like that book so much, I want to tell these new readers all about it. Or more accurately, I want my characters and narration to talk all about it.

But I don’t have to go into the incredible level of detail I want to. And it’s bad if I do. The problem I finally realized was this: the early chapters of Tomorrow’s Shepherd were just telling too much about Yesterday’s Demons, and it was slowing down the pace of the story. And that’s an especially big problem because Tomorow’s Shepherd starts with a fun three-chapter action scene.

To sort through the mess, I wrote on my whiteboard “TS Chapters 2 and 3 — justify your existence.” Underneath that, I wrote down every reference to Yesterday’s Demons in those two chapters. And once I did that, I performed a brutal analysis. Every reference on that board was only allowed to stay in the story if (1) it was absolutely necessary and (2) it was communicated at exactly the right time — no earlier, no later. If it failed the first test, I said to it, “See ya.” If it passed the first test but failed the second, I found a new, more appropriate place for that particular item.

This might sound like a dull exercise, but this is actually my favorite part of writing. It’s like refactoring in software engineering — all the code you need is already there, you’re just making it better via improved syntax and more accurate placement. So that’s what I’ll be doing for a while on this new book. I can’t wait for you to read it, but only once I make sure all of its elements are in the proper order.