Tomorrow’s Shepherd is Book 2 of my fantasy trilogy, The Verdant Revival — my Weird West love letter to JRPGs and their memorable characters and epic stories — but you shouldn’t be too lost if you want to start with this one.
It’s about Fritz Reinhardt
A smart, quiet intuitive who is the only person able to fix the chipware planet Verde lost in the Blackout two hundred years prior, Fritz was a secondary character in Book 1, Yesterday’s Demons, but he takes center stage in Tomorrow’s Shepherd. (If you’re a fan of Siv and Cassie from Yesterday’s Demons, don’t worry. They’re still very much around, too!)
It’s about Lady Verde
The spirit of the planet remembers the environmental damage chipware did to her, and she’s pleased it’s been gone for 200 years. She’s not happy about its return, and she’s powerful enough to do something about it.
It’s about the future
While Yesterday’s Demons focused on how the past shapes us into who we are today, Tomorrow’s Shepherd is about how we build the future. This is such an important message for our world which has forgotten how to dream about the future.
It’s about hope
Each book in The Verdant Revival focuses on a different main character (Siv, Fritz, or Cassie), a different perspective on time (past, future, or present), and a different one of the theological virtues: faith, hope, and love. Yesterday’s Demons focused on love, and how it is the opposite of fear. Tomorrow’s Shepherd is about hope. Tomorrow will be better than today. Our problems can be overcome. We can make it happen together.
I’m so excited about this book, and I’m so excited I can now share it with the world. Enjoy!
One of my writing quirks is that I put together a soundtrack for pretty much every story I write, be it short or novel-length. A short story might have a single song, but for my novels, I eventually put together a full-length playlist. Music helps me visualize my characters and coalesce the story’s scenes into a resonant whole. It has long been my most generous muse.
Here is the list of songs I put together for my latest novel, Tomorrow’s Shepherd, Book 2 of The Verdant Revival. I’d like to give details of why I chose each song, but some of those reasons will contain spoilers. So, for now, I have to be a bit coy, but I hope the songs and the snippets of lyrics presented below form a sort of “tone poem” about the book.
“Learn to Fly” by Foo Fighters (Fritz’s theme)
I’m looking to the sky to save me / Looking for a sign of life
Looking for something to help me burn out bright
Fly along with me / I can’t quite make it alone
“Petroleum Distillation” by Fifteen (Lady Verde’s theme)
The ground is my body, it’s been poisoned with lead and junk food and toxic waste
The sky is my mind, it’s been clouded with cigarettes and fluorocarbons and petroleum distillates
The water’s my heart, it’s been broken with booze and drugs and shooting up paste
The sun is my spirit, it belongs to all of us, I guess we’re all just one sick race
“New” by No Doubt (Annalie’s theme)
Who sent this maniac? / You’re so new
Like a fresh battery, I’m energized by you
Don’t let it go away / This feeling has got to stay
“Breakable” by Ingrid Michaelson
Have you ever thought about what protects our hearts?
Just a cage of rib bones and other various parts
So it’s fairly simple to cut right through the mess
And to stop the muscle that makes us confess
We are so fragile / And our cracking bones make noise
And we are just breakable, breakable, breakable girls and boys
“Every Night” by Even in Blackouts (Screeching Weasel cover)
Each night I document the things I’ve done
The pointless points I’ve made for stupid reasons
Tonight and every night / I will analyze everything
And make myself count the ways / I fucked up today
“Defying Gravity” from the musical Wicked Something has changed within me
Something is not the same
I’m through with playing by the rules of someone else’s game
It’s time to trust my instincts
It’s time to try defying gravity
“The Pretender” by Foo Fighters
What if I say I’m not like the others?
What if I say I’m not just another one of your plays?
What if I say that I’ll never surrender?
“Forever Now” by Green Day Standing at the edge of the world / It’s giving me the chills
Lost in a tangle, it’s freaking me out
Burning lights and blackouts
“Still Breathing” by Green Day (“closing credits” song 1)
I’m still breathing on my own
My head’s above the rain and roses
Making my way / My way to you
“Glory (Let There Be Peace)” by Matt Maher (“closing credits” song 2)
Let there be peace / Let it start in me
Let there be peace / Let it start in me
This article is the second in a series introducing the characters in my forthcoming novel, Tomorrow’s Shepherd, Book 2 of The Verdant Revival trilogy. The main characters from the first book, Yesterday’s Demons, are back, but we also meet some new faces. One of those is the book’s primary villain, Lady Verde.
The Verdant Revival takes place on planet Verde, and Lady Verde is the spirit of the planet, much like Mother Nature here on Earth. And she’s not the villain of Tomorrow’s Shepherd because I’m some kind of planet-hating, non-recycling ne’er-do-well. Not at all. I’ve written previously (see here and here) about the JRPG tropes I love, but this is a case where I thought it would be fun to subvert a trope.
What if, instead of being a benevolent mother, the spirit of the planet was vengeful? What if she was sick of her soil being filled with our garbage? What if she was tired of our pollutants filling her skies? And what if she had the power to do something about it?
Though she’s the spirit of the planet, Lady Verde can form a body for herself out of anything natural: soil, water, or air. She possesses complete control of the weather. Plants can rapidly grow or instantly die at her command.
Thus, Fritz Reinhardt and his friends are faced with quite the challenge when Lady Verde demands an end to their technological restoration. She was relieved when all of Verde’s technology was lost in the Blackout two hundred years earlier, and she isn’t happy to see its return. She knows first-hand the environmental damage that will come with it.
A while back, I sneakily mentioned that Tomorrow’s Shepherd‘s villains were mentioned by name in Yesterday’s Demons. That includes Lady Verde!
“Our father is a farmer,” she said, “and while his son couldn’t be dragged outside, he had to pick me up and carry me inside against my will every night. He taught me everything he knew about hunting, horse riding, and farming, which means I know a lot about the weather. How to tell when it’s going to rain, or freeze, that sort of thing. Lady Verde is what proves the conventional wisdom about Terrascorcha wrong.”
When they weren’t battling the monsters, they were battling the heat. Lady Verde was harsh in early June. Siv estimated the daytime high temperatures to be in the low nineties.
There’s another one in Chapter 22, but no more sneaky Easter Eggs. You’ll meet Lady Verde proper in Tomorrow’s Shepherd.
“You call it the Blackout. I call it the day my oppressors died. Forgive me if that sounds overly dramatic, but I don’t want to be set on fire again. I don’t want my forests eliminated. I don’t want verloid gas pumped into my skies.”
“I will not remain the silent observer I have been for centuries. I will make sure the people understand this from my perspective. I’ll see to it they’re fully informed about all chipware is capable of, including the destruction it has wrought. I’ll educate the very people you claim to want to help. And trust me: my knowledge of this issue comes from personal memory, and it goes back far longer than yours.”
“Yes, [the first Mantissa] rendered the Steelterrors inoperable and interred them deep in the ground. But I am the ground. And I know where the bodies are buried.”
This article is the first in a series introducing the characters in my forthcoming novel, Tomorrow’s Shepherd, Book 2 of The Verdant Revival trilogy. The main characters from the first book, Yesterday’s Demons, are back, but we also meet some new faces.
Allow me to introduce you to Annalie Krieger. Annalie had the misfortune to be born in Verde’s ancient capital, Mondorf, which is now controlled by the white demons. Every human who lives there is either a slave or a collaborator, and Annalie is no collaborator. Six years ago, when she was 18 years old, the demons killed her parents, leaving her to raise her five younger siblings alone.
But you’d never know she’s lived such a hard life because she’s so pleasant, bright, bubbly and talkative, especially if you get her on the subject of chipware. Working in the demons’ Maintenance Duty, she’s spent her entire life cataloging and preserving the demons’ extensive stores of broken, blacked-out chipware. And if you read Yesterday’s Demons, you know the demons now can repair it all, thanks to descramblers they forced Fritz Reinhardt to make for them. Thus, the previous two months have been some of Annalie’s busiest ever.
As one of the demons’ slaves, her clothes aren’t exactly fashionable or new. Her jeans are third- or fourth-hand. Her boots have been repaired more than once. The elbows of her shirt sleeves are a little threadbare. But her green eyes still shine behind her spectacles, and her red hair is as bright as her personality.
You’d think Annalie and Fritz would hit it off right away, what with them both being fascinated by ancient chipware. But they don’t, because when they meet, Fritz is in Mondorf as part of an assault against the demons. As interested as she is in restored chipware, Annalie doesn’t want anything to do with revolution. Over her twenty-four years, she’s seen a lot of humans try to rise up against the demons, but they’ve all had more courage than strategy, and they never have any idea about what happens after Mondorf’s humanity is liberated. If Annalie is going to help — if she’s going to risk her life and the well-being of her five siblings — she’s going to need to know what happens after the revolution.
Well, there’s something else that might motivate her. She’ll help if you have cake. And punch. And cobbler. Fried chicken would be nice, too. And bread! Oh, fresh baked, still warm bread. With butter. And jam. And cheese!
“My dad and I used to read notes left behind by past maintenance duty folks. For two centuries, there’s been a grist of ideas about what happened to chipware and how to fix it, but no one’s ever been able to make that dog hunt. How’d you do it?”
“My siblings haven’t had anyone but me since our folks died. But my friend Ramona said she’d look after them. As long as they’re taken care of, helping out is as big a no-brainer as mashed potatoes and gravy.”
You know what the future used to be? Back when there were still areas of the map filled with question marks and shruggies, it was all about new frontiers. New places. The future, in other words, was somewhere else. After we eliminated the blank spots on the map and turned our maps into globes (sorry, flat-earthers), we still felt the future was somewhere else. Space. The final frontier.
When I was a child, the future looked like rocket ships. The Jetsons. Star Trek. Gadgets for everything. Vacations on the moon. So much chrome. (You have to admit, mid-century futurists did accurately predict the early 21st Century stainless steel appliances craze.)
Walt Disney — a genius, a visionary, a futurist — even went and built the future as part of Disneyland. He called it Tomorrowland. Check out what it looked like back when Walt was alive. Rockets flying through the air! Transport cars zipping along a motorized track! There were missions to Mars. There were adventures through inner space, exploring the sub-atomic world. There were houses of the future filled with fabulous new technology. There was a great big beautiful tomorrow, just a dream away!
Have you seen Tomorrowland lately? Oh, there are still rocket ships, and Space Mountain is still awesome. But there’s also Star Tours — fictional rocket ships in a galaxy far, far away. There are adventures with Buzz Lightyear. There’s Autopia (a go-kart ride) and the Finding Nemo Submarine Adventure. And all of those attractions are fantastic and fun, and I love them to death, but… go-karts and submarines don’t really scream tomorrow, do they?
And I submit to you this is not because Disneyland’s Imagineers are lazy, and it’s not because Disney’s sharp pencil boys think a park loaded with intellectual properties makes more cents. I think the problem is bigger than that.
The problem is: we don’t know what the future looks like anymore.
We used to, of course, but then we made that future come true. The future is now! We have self-driving cars, and you can summon them with the push of an Uber button. We can cook food in a fraction of the time it used to take, thanks to microwave ovens. Captain Kirk’s communicator? We have that now. Actually, we’re past that now. Flip phones like Kirk’s are already anachronistic.
Sure, there are a few big-ticket items we’re still waiting on, like warp drive, teleportation, and that vacation on Mars. But we’re not exactly eager for any of that anymore, are we? NASA has seen budget cuts, and I haven’t heard any politicians channeling JFK and challenging us to go past the moon. (No, the “Space Force” doesn’t count. Just stop.)
We dreamed it, we did it, and then we stopped dreaming.
I’m not the only one who feels this way. This was basically the premise of Brad Bird’s thought-provoking, fun, and highly underrated film Tomorrowland. (No relation to the area of Disneyland. Well, not really much of one, anyway.) Produced by Damon Lindelof, Bird said, “When Damon and I were first talking about the project, we were wondering why people’s once-bright notions about the future gradually seemed to disappear.”
“When [Damon and I] were little, people had a very positive idea about the future, even though there were bad things going on in the world. Even the 1964 World’s Fair happened during the Cold War. But there was a sense we could overcome them. And yet now we act like we’re passengers on a bus with no say in where it’s going, with no realization that we collectively write the future every day and can make it so much better than it otherwise would be.” –Brad Bird
I’ve been thinking a lot about the future ever since I started writing my fantasy trilogy, The Verdant Revival. The first book in the trilogy, Yesterday’s Demons, focuses on how the past shapes us into the people we are today. The second book, Tomorrow’s Shepherd, is about building a better future. But what does that look like for us here on Earth in 2018?
It can’t be a dystopia. No, we need to dream again. It’s time for a new great, big beautiful tomorrow. But let’s not start dreaming about where we can go next or about the next new gadget. I don’t think that’s the kind of future we need. We need to think bigger.
But maybe we should start with some old ideas about the future that still haven’t been fully realized. Thinking about Star Trek again, it’s true we don’t yet have photon torpedoes and phasers. But we don’t have that whole “human hunger is a relic of the past” thing either, do we?
On August 28, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. shared with us a pretty darn good dream of a future, a dream that “one day this nation will rise up, live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.'”
How about a future without war? A future in which we build bridges instead of barriers. How about a future in which we seek to heal, not to harm? What would the world look like if no one was naked, no one was homeless, and no one was uneducated?
What if, in the future, we showed mercy, not malice? What if we replaced hate with peace? What if we chose to include instead of to divide? What if we chose to be generous with forgiveness instead of grasping onto grudges?
By definition, the future will never be now, but it can be something that happens here, and not on some distant frontier. And by here I mean inside our hearts. Let’s reclaim the future. Let’s dream again. And let’s do it together.
(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 another 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:
Themed Enemy Groups
They’re the JRPG version of running the gauntlet. They’re not a mini-boss or a Big Bad. They’re a group of boss-level enemies that must be defeated either one right after another, or as a recurring element throughout the game.
The Final Fantasy series, for example, features Weapons. In some Final Fantasy games they’re biological monsters, and sometimes they’re technological terrors, but they almost always appear as a group. In Final Fantasy VII, there are five, each of them an instrument of destruction built to defeat the alien menace Jenova: Sapphire Weapon, Diamond Weapon, Ruby Weapon, Emerald Weapon, and Ultimate Weapon. Of course, the fact that you fight them should be the tip-off that although the Weapons were created to defend the planet, they go a bit nuts and end up attacking it. This, too, is a common trait of Themed Enemy Groups.
Another common element of this trope is color as the distinguishing trait among group members. The Lunar series features the Four Dragons. These powerful, ancient creatures are not always enemies; sometimes they’re friends or even members of the player’s party. But what’s consistent is that they’re named by colors: White Dragon, Black Dragon, Ruby Dragon, and Blue Dragon.
Color is also the distinguishing trait of the Gigas in Skies of Arcadia. There are six of them in that game, one for each of the planet’s moons: Recumen the Red Gigas, Grendel the Green Gigas, Bluheim the Blue Gigas, Yeligar the Yellow Gigas, Zelos the Silver Gigas, and Piergoth the Purple Gigas, which is a giant sky whale — a sky whale, y’all! Like so many other Themed Enemy Groups, the Gigas are enormous weapons of mass destruction built by the ancient peoples of Arcadia.
Wild Arms features the Golems, which are:
Built for good
Now used for evil
Phantasy Star II turns this trope on its side a bit; it features a Themed Dungeon Group rather than a themed group of enemies. At one point in that game, artificially-created rainwater floods the planet’s giant lake, threatening many towns and lots of people. Rolf and his friends must open all four dams to end the flooding: Red Dam, Yellow Dam, Blue Dam, and Green Dam. At least they kept the color-coding!
Pokemon gets in on this trope with the Legendary Birds — Articuno, Zapdos, Moltres, and later, Lugia. Going beyond JRPGs, Disney’s Hercules features the Titans, a group of giant monsters that ravaged the ancient land until Zeus stopped them.
I’ve made no secret that my fantasy novel series, The Verdant Revival, is my love letter to JRPGs and their epic, unforgettable stories and characters. In book two of the trilogy, Tomorrow’s Shepherd, Fritz Reinhardt and his friends must face the Steelterrors, ancient mechanical monsters — the worst chipware planet Verde has ever seen, resurrected and back on the warpath. There are four of them, one for each of the elements of the ancient world:
Samson, Verdant Warden of Soil
Leviathan, Verdant Warden of Water
Banshee, Verdant Warden of the Sky
Teufel, Verdant Warden of Fire
Yeah, I went all-in on this one for Tomorrow’s Shepherd, sticking very close to the trope, because giant robots, guys. The world just can’t have enough giant robots. Ever.
What Themed Enemy Groups did I miss? Let me know in the comments.
“Representation matters.” Google it, and you’ll find it’s a hashtag. It’s a movement. It’s a message. It’s the idea that all people have a place at the table. These two simple words have numerous applications. People of all races, nationalities, and income levels should be represented in democratic government. There shouldn’t be a gender gap in (to use my day job as an example) software development. And our stories should reflect the diverse world we live in, too. No, that doesn’t mean the characters of everystory must check off as many demographic boxes as possible. But nor does every hero in every story need to be Caucasian.
I’m a white, privileged male, so admittedly, this was a problem not immediately apparent to me. But who can forget this Tumblr user’s post about seeing Star Wars: Rogue One with her Mexican father?
When the film was over and we were walking to the car, he turns to me and says, “did you notice that [Cassian Andor, portrayed by Diego Luna] had an accent?” And I said, “Yeah dad, just like yours.” Then my dad asked me if the film had made a lot of money. I told him it was the second highest grossing film of 2016 despite it only being out for 18 days in 2016 (since new year just came around). He then asked me if people liked the film, I told him that it had a huge following online and great reviews. He then asked me why Diego Luna hadn’t changed his accent and I told him that Diego has openly talked about keeping his accent and how proud he is of it. And my dad was silent for a while and then he said, “And he was a main character.” And I said, “He was.” And my dad was so happy. As we drove home he started telling me about other Mexican actors that he thinks should be in movies in America. Representation matters.
The issue became much more personal for me when I had a conversation with a co-worker, Sarah, in which we got on the subject of Ghostbusters (2016). We talked about how we felt the film was underrated and about how many of its critics didn’t seem to critique the film itself but rather the fact that it starred women. And of course, we talked about how Kate McKinnon’s completely bonkers Jillian Holtzmann is one of the greatest Ghostbusters of all time. Of all time!
And then Sarah told me something that this father of three little girls will never forget.
She told me how, when she was young, she had all the Ghostbusters toys — the figures, the car, the fire station playset. “But,” she said, “it never even occurred to me that I could be a Ghostbuster since the Ghostbusters were all boys.”
Now I get it that no one, male or female, can wield an unlicensed nuclear accelerator and capture a ghost in ecto-containment. But that’s not the point. The point is: Sarah never even pretended to be a Ghostbuster because she’d never seen a female being one.
Now imagine if a young girl never sees a woman perform a particular real-life profession. Do you think that girl will say to herself, “Well, I’ve only ever seen men do that job, but I suppose I could do it, too”? Some do, for sure, but not all. Not even most. After all, there’s a reason women like Amelia Earhart and Elizabeth Blackwell are heroes.
And then it got personal But even after all of that, I’d only learned how much representation mattered to others. I still hadn’t personalized how affirming representation feels.
Then I came upon a particular paragraph buried deep in Brandon Sanderson’s Oathbriger. It’s a 1000+ page book, the third in an epic fantasy series that so far tips the scales at 3000+ pages, but this passage is the only one in the entire saga I’ve so far highlighted. This passage is written from the perspective of a relatively minor character, Renarin Kholin.
Renarin wears glasses. He’s soft-spoken and doesn’t like conflict. He’s curious. He takes his time before speaking. And this is how he sees himself:
Indeed, he still saw the world differently from everyone else. He was still nervous talking to people, and didn’t like being touched. Everyone else saw in each other things he never could understand. So much noise and destruction and people talking and cries for help and sniffles and muttering and whispering all like buzzing, buzzings.
And I felt it: the warm glow of representation. Because the person that was just described? That’s me. That’s totally me. Renarin Kholin represents me.
Another example: I read Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell because I was intrigued by the idea of a story about a fan fiction writer. I don’t read many “chick lit” books — and by not many, I mean zero — but nevertheless, I adoredFangirl. It’s been a year-and-a-half since I read it, and I still think about it all the time. And the main reason why is the book’s main character, Cather Avery. She’s obsessed with the Simon Snow books (a thinly-veiled Harry Potter-like series). She loves to write. She’s shy. She stays home every Friday night. And she nearly starves at the start of her freshman year of college because she doesn’t know where the cafeteria is, and she’s too self-conscious to wander around looking for it, or worse, to — gasp — ask someone for help.
I feel so represented by Cather Avery. And it feels magnificent.
And that’s how I learned representation matters. Renarin Kholin is an introvert like me, but he’s also a Knight Radiant. If Renarin can do great, heroic things, maybe I can, too.
Cather is as withdrawn and as hard to get out of her shell as I am, yet she wins a prestigious award for her writing. So maybe my writing can find an appreciative audience, too.
The main character in my new book, Tomorrow’s Shepherd, also represents me in many ways. Fritz Reinhardt is quiet, a reluctant leader, and a lover of all things breakfast-related. His introspection and intuition make him something of an odd stick to most folks, but they also help him both change and save the world. My sincere hope is that real-life people like Fritz — people like me — can find in him a character they can relate to. A character they feel represents them.
Because for the love of St. Pete, this is important. Everyone deserves to have some stories in which they see themselves. Stories should show our beautifully diverse world as it is — and, where our world is lacking, they should show what it could be.
Stories can teach little girls that only boys can be Ghostbusters, or they can show those young women that they can be anything.
I’m thrilled to announce Tomorrow’s Shepherd, the second book in my fantasy trilogy, The Verdant Revival, is now available for pre-order and will be officially released on Tuesday, December 11, 2018.
Tomorrow’s Shepherd shifts the focus of the series to Fritz Reinhardt, a young man with hyper-intuition who figured out how to fix all of planet Verde’s technology lost two centuries prior in the Blackout. Fritz now dreams of a worldwide restoration making daily life easier all over the world. It was a big deal for quiet and socially awkward Fritz to make his dream public, but the benefits of repairing pre-Blackout relics are too enormous to ignore: more education, better communication, and longer life expectancy.
But it could be over sooner than he thinks. Some see his dream as a nightmare, and these critics have a powerful ally in Lady Verde. The spirit of the planet remembers the environmental damage chipware did to her in the past, and she demands an end to the restoration. She’s even willing to resurrect the worst chipware the planet has ever seen, the giant Steelterrors, to prove her point. How can Fritz build a better tomorrow if the planet itself fights against him?
Tomorrow’s Shepherd will be available in both paperback and eBook, and the eBook version is available for pre-order now from the retailer of your choice:
This book has been a labor of love for almost three years. I wrote the first word of the first draft on Sunday, November 22, 2015, and finished it late last month, on Monday, October 29, 2018. I’ll be sharing a lot more information about it with you in the weeks ahead. I cannot wait for you to read it.
It’s the Christmas season, the season of hope. Around this time last year, when I finished the first draft of Tomorrow’s Shepherd, the sequel to Yesterday’s Demons, I mentioned how grateful I was to finish it at this time of year because hope is the book’s theme. It’s now one year and one draft later. I’ve spent a lot of that time thinking about hope, and I have some observations.
The three theological virtues, famously mentioned by St. Paul in the beautiful 1 Corinthians 13, are faith, hope, and love. “Everybody, everybody wants to love, and everybody, everybody wants to be loved,” as Ingrid Michaelson sings. I think faith is equally well understood. But I consider hope to be the most often confused theological virtue.
The Christian definition of faith is the belief in the truths God has revealed based solely on a personal decision to believe them. In a wider, more casual sense, it’s the belief in something despite a lack of physical evidence. The theological meaning of hope, on the other hand, is confidence in eternal life; its “pop culture” definition is, “I have no proof XYZ will happen, but I believe it will.”
Hope is sometimes incorrectly labeled as faith. “I have faith my team will win the championship!” No, you don’t. You hope your team will win the championship. This is a common confusion. Faith is a belief in past things you can’t see. Hope is the belief a certain future event will occur.
The most romantic of the three theological virtues is… well, it’s love, of course. But hope is a close second! Hope is at the very core of a lot of epic stories. In The Lord of the Rings, Frodo Baggins is a living embodiment of Middle-earth’s hope for peace. Luke Skywalker is the embodiment of hope in Star Wars, and Rogue One teaches us rebellions are built on hope.
One of my favorite hopeful moments from any story is the ending of Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode “The Wish.” Cordelia’s wish for a Buffy-free world takes her to an alternate Sunnydale overrun with vampires. When Giles discovers Anya’s necklace is the talisman responsible for that dark world, he prepares to smash it.
Anya: “You trusting fool! How do you know the other world is any better than this?”
Giles: “Because it has to be.”
The opposite of hope is despair. And that brings me to my final observation. This world needs a lot more hope. We seem far more inclined to despair than to hope, and that’s sad.
I see this all the time in politics. I remember a co-worker in the early 2000s declared George W. Bush to be the worst President ever – “the worst!” I haven’t talked to that guy in some time, but I reckon since November 2016, he has a new candidate in mind for the “worst President ever” award, if you know what I mean. And Democrats aren’t the only ones who despair. Look at how many Republicans didn’t simply consider Barack Obama a President they disagreed with, but a President who was actively trying to destroy America.
Living in despair is no way to live. I’m not saying the injustices and challenges of the world should be ignored, but we should never see them as permanent or insurmountable. We should not despair, especially in this final week of the year.
This is the season of Christmas. This is the season of hope.
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.
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.
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!
I 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.
The story of what I’ve been up to lately is in my Project Tracker:
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.
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!
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.
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:
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.
I spent two weeks of last month in the best possible way: at Disneyland! My beautiful bride, our children, and I had a great trip to my favorite place in the world. It had been two years since we’d been there, and SoCal was calling to me. I love the drive across I-10 from Texas to California, through the beauty of New Mexico and Arizona, and right past the splendor of Joshua Tree National Park. While there, we stayed at our favorite vacation rental home, and besides Disneyland, we managed to get in a day at Huntington Beach. Overall, it was fantastic. I still wouldn’t want to live anywhere but Texas, but no matter how many times I go, California remains near the very top of my list of places I want to visit.
Oh, and this trip was the first time I’ve ever been able to experience that tiny slice of paradise called It’s a Small World Holiday. I have always loved It’s a Small World. I didn’t think it could get any better. But every December and early January, when the attraction is decorated for Christmas, and the dolls sing “Jingle Bells,” it does.
And then we got home, and I got back to work.
I’ve begun work on the second draft of Tomorrow’s Shepherd. I mentioned in my previous update how excited I am about that book and that excitement hasn’t ebbed.
You know what else I’m excited about? I recently hit a milestone with this blog. This is the 101st article I’ve published.Considering that at times I’ve struggled with what to do with this blog, that’s a big deal to me. I’m not a very social person, so it’s just not in my nature to step up to a microphone and start speaking to the world, which is basically what you do every time you publish a blog article. There’s also the simple facts that I’m a writer with a day job, and writing is a zero sum game — any time I spend writing blog articles is time I’m not spending writing my next book.
But one of my goals for 2017 is to get better at this. I’ve said it before, but it’s still very early in my career, so if you’re reading this shortly after it’s published, you’re one of My First Fans. And that means I want to stay in touch with you. I’m committed to checking in via this blog at least once a week, even if it is just to give the blog equivalent of a wave hello. Only after I do that will I allow myself to crawl back into my writing hole and get to work on my next story. Deal?