The season of hope

 

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Photo by Garrett Anderson on Unsplash

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.

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

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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:

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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.

February 2017 Status Update

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Ka-chow!

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.

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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?

Deus vobiscum.