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:

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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.

Yesterday’s Demons Giveaway

Yesterdays Demons Cover Final (Small) Want to win a free paperback copy of Yesterday’s Demons? I’m giving away five copies via a Goodreads.com giveaway.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Yesterday's Demons by Michael Ripplinger

Yesterday’s Demons

by Michael Ripplinger

Giveaway ends February 15, 2017.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

It is proving to be a more popular giveaway than I’d expected. If you already own the book, but you know someone who’d be interested in receiving a free copy, please let them know about the giveaway and ask them to enter. I can’t wait to send out these free books.

The giveaway ends on February 15.

Toasters of Tomorrow

In chapter two of Yesterday’s Demons, Fritz describes the ludicrous amount of technology planet Verde once had before the cataclysmic Blackout tossed the world into the Dark Ages:

Well having chips inside everything was great for when you just had to turn on the toaster with your mobile, which I guess people must have needed to do back then. … [But the] excessiveness of it all is really a bit embarrassing.

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Photo by Frank Oschatz

Pre-Blackout Verde is not too far from where we are today. We have smartphones, smart homes, and smart appliances. When I wrote the lines above, I tried to think of the most absurd “smart device” I could imagine. To succinctly describe a complete technological overdose, what’s something that, at least in our world, would almost certainly never be “smart”?

I thought toasters were a pretty safe bet, because how is your phone ever going to put a piece of bread into one? But it turns out I was oh so wrong.

A “smart” toaster, complete with an app for your phone that communicates with the toaster over Bluetooth, is on its way. It is a nifty solution to the problem of burning your bread to a crisp because you toasted it without realizing the previous hungry person to use the device had set it to 11. But… it’s a toaster! Are we really so lazy we now have a toasting app?

The point: I clearly stink at trying to dream up the ridiculous.

2016 Year-End Status Update

At this time last year, I posted a 2015 recap of the progress I’d made on that “become a published author” project I’d been working on. With the new year now upon us, it’s a good time for me to reflect back on 2016 and see how similar Plan and Reality ended up. Here’s what I had planned for 2016, followed by when I checked the item off my list… or when I didn’t.

Complete the final draft of Yesterday’s Demons
Done on March 5.

Publish Yesterday’s Demons in ebook
The pre-order went live on March 10, and the book was released on April 12. There’s really nothing else that I can consider my professional highlight of the year. This was a dream come true. If you haven’t bought it yet, check out the shopping links in the sidebar or on this page.

Publish Yesterday’s Demons in paperback
On April 22, newsletter subscribers were the first to learn this was now available. At this point, I exclusively read ebooks. But I learned that plenty of folks still prefer books made out of atoms instead of bits. And as my friend William Munn recently put it, he’s come to see a dead tree copy of a book as a collectible. So this was also a big milestone, and a true highlight of the year. For purchasing links, again see the sidebar or this page.

Complete the first draft of Tomorrow’s Shepherd
After releasing Yesterday’s Demons in ebook and paperback, I spent the remainder of 2016 head down writing its sequel. I had hoped to have a near-final draft of that book in the hands of my editor by the end the year, but life got in the way. I transitioned to a new day job, which was great for my mental health but bad (for a while) for my productivity. But the biggest problem I had in finishing by my self-imposed due date was that I struggled with the book for a while. I don’t know if I’d call it “writer’s block” so much as I’d call it “writer’s doubt.” For a while, I just wasn’t certain I was writing something that was Not Crap.

In the end, everything came together into something I’m proud of and excited about. This is the news that newsletter subscribers got earlier this week: on December 31, I completed the first draft of The Verdant Revival, Book 2: Tomorrow’s Shepherd.

As is my tradition whenever I finish a novel draft, I celebrated with a bowl of cereal:

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This time I chose a bowl of Frosted Flakes with some fresh strawberries and blueberries and, because it was Christmas and because my wife is an amazing Italian, I garnished it with some struffoli on top.

SPOILER ALERT: The final word of the book is “ours”! (Gah! Why did I give it away?)

Complete the second draft (with beta reader feedback) of Tomorrow’s Shepherd
and
Submit Tomorrow’s Shepherd to my editor
These are the two items that were on my 2016 checklist that I did not accomplish. At some point last year, I opened my 2016 annual plan notes, found the “finish the first draft” item, and added in red ink: “This seems wildly unrealistic.” Sadly that turned out to be true. But though I didn’t get as far as I hoped, I ended up with a work I’m wildly enthusiastic about. I’m an artist; I’ll take quality over deadlines any day.


So what’s next? I’m still formulating my complete 2017 plan, but I can say my number one goal for the year is to have Tomorrow’s Shepherd on sale by the end of the year. I’m going to work hard on that one, because I can’t wait for you to read it.

I’ve mentioned that each of the three books in The Verdant Revival will feature a different main character: first Siv, then Fritz, and finally Cassie. What I haven’t mentioned before is that each book also has a different theological virtue at its core. Yesterday’s Demons was about love, the opposite of fear. The finale will be about faith. And Tomorrow’s Shepherd is about hope. So while I wish I would have finished the book’s first draft sooner, there was something special about completing it during the Christmas season — the ultimate season of hope.

Thank you to all of you who helped make my 2016 so wonderful. A lot went wrong in the world last year, but I’ll always remember 2016 fondly as the year I became a published author. And as the year the Cubs finally won the World Series. #FlyTheW

Merry Christmas! Here’s a new short story

Yesterdays Demons Cover Final (Small)On April 12 of this year, I released Yesterday’s Demons, and all of you have shown me so much support by buying the ebook and the paperback and by leaving reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. Y’all have made me feel like George Bailey on Christmas Eve.

So today I have a holiday treat for you: a holiday-themed short story prequel to Yesterday’s Demons. You can read “The First Lenerstelen Without You” on this site right now.

I wrote this story in December 2014. That month, my writing group’s monthly prompt was “holiday story.” I tossed a few ideas back and forth, but I couldn’t find one I really liked. (Although I know I have a Santa Claus story in me, I just haven’t come up with the idea yet.) That December, I’d been listening to a lot of Sixpence None the Richer’s Christmas album, The Dawn of Grace, and I was particularly enamored by “The Last Christmas Without You.” The song is a beautiful letter from a mother to her unborn child in which the mother sings to her baby about this last Christmas she is about to experience before her baby is born.

But its opening guitar riffs have a haunted quality that felt a little out of place with the joyful nature of the rest of the song — and those riffs are the ones I kept humming over and over. Those melancholy melodies and a title idea inspired by the song’s title gave me the seed of a story. I realized I had a chance not just to describe a holiday on planet Verde, but to explore Siv’s youth and some of the choices he made that made him into the man we meet in Yesterday’s Demons.

So Happy Holidays and enjoy! Please be sure to tell me what you think of “The First Lenerstelen Without You.”

#My5: The Verdant Revival

my5logo_blackWhen you become a Goodreads author, a few “Ask the Author” questions are automatically placed in your queue. Two of them are “How do you get inspired to write?” and “Where did you get the idea for your most recent book?” I think this is because people are fascinated with writers’ imaginations. Everyone wants to know if that character is based on a real person, or what prompted the author to make the story take place in the 1700s, or OMG how in the world could you have let that happen to my hero?!

You can read my answers to the questions above on Goodreads.com, but I’d like to go more in-depth on this topic because I love talking about it… and because a friend and writing group colleague of mine, KM Alexander, has started #My5 — a familiar format for authors to share their inspirations.

So without further ado, here are five influences on my first novel, book 1 of The Verdant RevivalYesterday’s Demons.


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Phantasy Star

Before Phantasy Star, I liked fantasy, and I liked science fiction, but there was a line between the two. To my 13 or 14-year-old self, fantasy was about swords and sorcery and medieval times, while science fiction was about laser guns and spaceships and the future.

Phantasy Star destroyed that line. It featured heroes who wielded both swords and laser guns. In it, I traveled to castles in the sky and to distant planets. Some obstacles were overcome with magic keys; others with high-powered, high-tech ice diggers.

It might not have been the first story to blend these worlds. It might not have even been the first console RPG to do it. But Phantasy Star was the first time I experienced this kind of mash-up. That innovative mix didn’t just hook me from the start, it became my favorite kind of world to escape into. It is no mistake at all that Yesterday’s Demons takes place in a world with a similar mix of genres.


Wild Arms box
Wild Arms

Final Fantasy VII is rightfully remembered as the most popular RPG of the late 1990s, and I liked it a lot. It probably would have been the sixth item on this list if this were My6 instead of My5. But it wasn’t my favorite RPG of that era. That honor goes to Wild Arms.

Ahh, Wild Arms… how I love thee!

In the late 1990s, my beloved Phantasy Star series had come to an apparent close and I was in search of new games to fill the void. From the first day I saw it on the Vidpro wall at Toys “R” Us, Wild Arms filled that void, built a home, and tunneled its way into a very special place in my world. It has all the heart and soul, and fantasy and science fiction, that I loved about Phantasy Star. But it also added a new element: an Old West-style world, complete with gunslingers and ten-gallon hats. I can directly attribute the Western-like setting of Yesterday’s Demons to my love of Wild Arms and its planet, Filgaia.


JRR Tolkien
JRR Tolkien

Yeah, yeah, a fantasy novel was inspired by Tolkien — how shocking. But it’s actually not what you might think. Tolkien’s influence on Yesterday’s Demons does come from his status as the godfather of fantasy, of course. But Yesterday’s Demons was also influenced by the one-two punch of Tolkien’s dislike of allegory and his Catholic worldview.

It is well known that Tolkien wasn’t a big fan of the Narnia books by his friend, CS Lewis. Among other objections, Tolkien didn’t care for allegory. He felt Aslan was a too-on-the-nose stand-in for Christ. I suspect he’d be amused that in modern times I’ve heard Aslan described on the Internet as “the Jesus lion.”

But while no one would call Frodo Baggins “the Jesus Hobbit,” Frodo’s role as the Ring-bearer parallels Christ’s role as the sin-bearer. There are shades of Simon of Cyrene in Samwise Gamgee, especially when Samwise helps a beaten and exhausted Frodo bear his burden for a short time. And the OneRing was destroyed, and evil thoroughly conquered in Middle-Earth, on March 25, the day on which Christians celebrate the Annunciation of the angel Gabriel to Mary — the day on which Christ was conceived in His mother’s womb.

Tolkien’s Catholic faith was deeply important to him, and it was impossible for him to separate it from his work. He didn’t use allegory, yet his stories were inevitably and undeniably infused with Catholic morals and a Catholic worldview. And that’s pretty much exactly what I hope people will say about my own work.


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Unsolved Mysteries and other true crime TV shows

How in the world do old “true crime” TV shows from the 1980s like Unsolved Mysteries and Rescue 911 influence a fantasy, SF, Western novel?

Some of my grandmother’s favorite shows were what we’d now call “true crime TV.” I watched many of them with her, even though they often scared the pants off of me. I was afraid to visit the restroom during an Unsolved Mysteries  commercial break for fear that a criminal or alien would be standing at the window watching me. Rescue 911 gave me recurring nightmares that someone had broken into my garage. And when the annual Unsolved Mysteries Halloween episode aired featuring ghost stories? Whoa no! I didn’t sleep for days.

Fast forward to my earliest thoughts about the story that would become Yesterday’s Demons. I knew I wanted to write a fantasy, SF, Western novel. But I also knew I wanted it to be about fear — how fear controls us in ways both good and bad, how it can be both healthy and maddening. And you know what they say: write what you know! Thanks to all those paranoid fears and nightmares brought on by my grandmother’s true crime TV shows, I knew old friend fear far too well.


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Every Texan I know

I moved to Texas in 2007 and I’ve never looked back and I never will. I love it in God’s country. Since Yesterday’s Demons was published, friends have told me they saw some of our mutual friends in the book’s protagonist, Siv McCaig. And they’re right… all of them, no matter which mutual friend they mentioned by name. In many ways, Siv is an amalgamation of every Texan I’ve met since living in the Lone Star State.

I have a good friend who laughs the loudest at his own jokes. I have a pair of mentors who are brothers who always refer to their father as “our father”… except when they’re talking to each other, in which case he’s always “Daddy” — and these are big, tough, barbecuing Texans. Siv wears boots and jeans and when he’s planning to do something, he says he’s “fixing” to do it… just like every native Texan I know.


Yesterdays Demons Cover Final (Small)So that’s it… or rather, that’s the big five that came to mind the fastest. If you like any of the items listed above and you haven’t yet given Yesterday’s Demons a try, I think you’re missing out.

And if you liked this, check out #My5 from other authors:

June 2016 Status Update

hello-world-1333103_640I have been a slacker when it comes to writing articles here, so much so that it feels like this opening paragraph should be accompanied by the driving guitar riffs of a Creed song. “Hello, my friend, we meet again. It’s been a while, where should we begin?” Yes, that should be how I open this article, but I don’t want to sing and you don’t want to hear me sing, either.

The good news is I haven’t been a slacker when it comes to writing. Work is proceeding nicely on The Verdant Revival book two. And in my last update, I promised I’d reveal its title in this status update. You already know it if you’ve made it to the final page of Yesterday’s Demons, but just in case you’ve been unavoidably detained from reaching that goal, the title of The Verdant Revival book two is:

Tomorrow’s Shepherd

Yesterday’s DemonsTomorrow’s Shepherd. You’re probably starting to see a theme develop here, aren’t you? If you want to call Las Vegas now and put in a bet that book three’s title has something to do with the present, I assure you it would be a pretty safe bet.

I also won’t try to be coy. I’ve previously stated that each book in the series would feature the same three main characters, with each of them taking a turn in the lead role. Fritz Reinhardt is the titular shepherd of tomorrow. The story sees him attempting to bring about his dream of a world full of restored chipware. The only problem is not everyone thinks that’s such a good idea. Someone even tries to fight him over it. But, I’m not ready to tell you who just yet.

The most interesting part of writing the book so far has been the shifting of main character perspective from Siv to Fritz. Those two guys have very different perspectives! I’m also about to write the first ever Verdant Revival chapter written from Cassie’s perspective. I’ll need the practice since she’s the star of book three.

Finally, I want to take a moment to thank everyone who has purchased Yesterday’s Demons and especially everyone who has posted reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, or wherever else you like. The book’s launch has been more successful than I imagined it would be and for that, I am very grateful to all of you.

Deus vobiscum.