The Face of Bo

Erm, no. Not to be confused with The Face of Boe from Doctor Who.

I just sent off a mockup of the cover for BARRON’S LAST STAND to cover artist extraordinaire, Tomomi Ink, (a.k.a. author TK Toppin,) as well as the elements I used. She is going to be putting everything together for me and adding that magical flash of brilliance that she does to make my book covers “epic” (as my readers have called them.)

Bo’s eyes appeared on the cover of SOVRAN’S PAWN and Blade was shown in silhouette on HERO’S END. (Or it could have been Bo’s father, or her uncle Royce — jussayin’.) BARRON’S LAST STAND will show an actual, recognizable female face and…well…you’re just going to have to wait for the rest. I am really loving what I sent to her. I cannot wait to see what she does with it because she’s brilliant, you know.

And in other news:

Several short stories are currently making the rounds among my beta readers. I hope to have a collection of short Bo and Blade adventures ready to go very soon which I hope will tide readers over until BARRON’S LAST STAND is finished and polished up.

And…

Editor par excellence, Laurel Kriegler has talked me into making preliminary notes for a series on the ill-fated love story of Bhruic Barron and Marissa Kiara – Bo’s parents. There is a lot about their story that has never been revealed beyond my copious backstory notes and I think Laurel developed a little crush on The Barron while editing HERO’S END.

But wait, there’s more!

Fans of Blade (and let’s face it, we are legion,) will be happy to know that the first of THE MERCENARY ADVENTURES OF BLADE DEVON:  ARCANA DOUBLE CROSS is still simmering on the stove top. The first draft is complete, as is the back cover blurb, and I am also toying with cover ideas.

And while BARRON’S LAST STAND may be the end of THE BLACK WING CHRONICLES, it is by no means the end of Bo and Blade’s story. I’ve also started working on notes for the as-yet-unnamed series that follows.

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Why I Self-Publish

“What do you do?”
“I’m an author.”
“Oh? Who is your publisher?”
“I am.”

 

Promo 1991
1991 – While everyone else’s promo pics at the time came from Glamour Shots, I set up a photo shoot with a real photographer.

I wrestled long and hard with myself about going the self-publishing route. I’ve been in the business a long time (since 1987) and it was hard for me to get past the self-pubbed stigma. Personally, I couldn’t shake the reminder of “Vanity Press” publishers that were the bane of the writer’s existence back in the day.

For the low cost of around $3,000 way back when, you could send your manuscript to a publisher (printer really) who would slap a lame cover on and send you back a slick-looking, but completely amateur product. There was a certain type of person who did that. They were considered by the reputably published as no-talent, wannabe hacks who couldn’t get published any other way.

Vanity press publishing was the kiss of death to any hope of having a “REAL” writer’s career. If you mentioned in a cover letter to a publisher that you’d self-published previously, I’m pretty sure they would laugh cruelly and toss your submission — unread — into the return pile, if not the circular file, depending on whether you’d included a return SASE, (that’s Self-Addressed, Stamped Envelope for you whipper-snappers.)

It was a brutal industry with high and demanding standards. I got out of the publishing industry in 1999 and threw myself headlong into my television career out of financial necessity. I knew I could rely on a steady paycheck in television. Freelance writing can be an iffy proposition, especially when you’d rather devote your full attention to fiction and not articles about dogs, apartment living, and dating. So I only wrote to supplement my paycheck on occasion.

In the time I was out of publishing, Amazon rose from a novelty online bookseller to the mega-giant of publishing that it is today.

“E-books will never take off,” I said. “They’re a passing fad. People who read love physical books, not to mention the screens are hard on the eyes.”

I’ve never been good with investments either. Self-publishing surged and I resisted. Several friends encouraged me to look into it. I used to brag that I’d been rejected by some of the finest publishing houses in the industry, which is true. Del Rey, Avon, Tor, Ballantine have all rejected my early manuscripts. (Re-reading them now, I can’t blame them.) I stubbornly clung to my old-school ways. Self-published means you’re not a “REAL” writer and you can’t get published any other way.

Ten years rolled on. I was content to remain in retirement from publishing. I’d married and was raising a family at long last. Promo PicOne day, a friend emailed me one of those fun chain letters in which the sender has answered a bunch of questions and spammed their friends with them and now it’s your turn to replace their answers with your own and spam your own friends. One of her answers lit a spark inside me.

“I wish I could meet Darien Roarke for the first time all over again…”

Outside of my local RWA chapter and the slush pile readers, only a precious handful of friends had ever read any of my fiction. She was my biggest and most devoted fan. I had a manuscript she hadn’t read, so I sent it to her. I hadn’t touched it in ten years. She gave me the kick in the butt I needed, and I started rewriting with an eye towards publishing once again.

I looked into e-publishers and small houses figuring I’d be most likely to find acceptance there. Angela James of Harlequin’s Carina Press put out a submission call, so I put my rewrites aside and took the backstory notes and knocked out a novella to send to her. I never sent it. During the process of writing, I did a lot of research into small press e-publishers, and finally, into self-publishing itself. What I learned changed my perspective completely.

Ultimately, I chose to self-publish the novella which became SOVRAN’S PAWN because:

  • BWC SOVRAN'S PAWN - FINALIt offered me more creative control over my brand,
  • I wouldn’t feel pressured to compromise my core values to satisfy a publisher
  • Looking at the smaller publishers from a publisher’s perspective (I edited and published a lifestyle magazine in my youth) I knew that if my sales didn’t meet their expectations, I could be dropped like a hot rock. Nothing personal, it is the ONLY way they could make their numbers work. High turnover is the only way to quickly build a back catalog and visible presence among customers. Keep what sells well and drop what doesn’t pay the bills. Never mind the fact the burden for marketing and networking was squarely on the author’s shoulders and not the publisher’s. I also knew that no publisher would believe in my series as much as I did, and wouldn’t feel as driven to market it. And lastly,
  • The quality of editing in far too many of the smaller press e-books that I was reading would NEVER have made it over the transom let alone out the door back in the day. Having aspired to being published by the lofty, “big” houses with their exacting standards, I wouldn’t allow my name to be associated with a publisher who turned out less than quality work. If there are editing errors in my books, they are solely MY responsibility, but I can promise my readers that I have done everything possible to turn out the best quality product it is within my ability to produce. I couldn’t guarantee the same from some of the smaller e-publishers whose books I was reading.

If I hadn’t had so much experience in the industry already under my belt, I may not have opted to go the self-publishing route. As it was, I knew what was involved before I started. I had done the writing, editing, layout, design, art, and marketing before. I couldn’t see where a small press or digital first publisher could do anything for me that I couldn’t do for myself. I knew that I could turn out a product that was at least as good as any digital first publisher, if not better than most.

I’m old school. Quality and integrity are of paramount importance. I want readers to know that if they pick up a book with JC Cassels’ name on it, I am providing them with the best book it is within my power to produce, technically as well as creatively. Smaller press e-publishers couldn’t guarantee that, not from the quality of products that I’ve seen out there.

FloppyDiskFor me, the biggest learning curve was unlearning everything I knew about traditional publishing. It’s not the same industry it was back in the late 80’s. On one hand, that’s good for authors who write outside the mainstream. On the other, the ease of self-publishing has relegated some damn fine authors to a different kind of slush pile in which they vie for readers rather than publishing contracts.

Ultimately, I believe a quality product will find its niche in the marketplace. The current environment means authors, self-pubbed or otherwise, just have to work harder to get the attention of readers slogging through the virtual slush pile on Amazon. This means to succeed, you can’t skimp on editing or packaging. The longer you can hang in there, and the more quality books you can get OUT in front of readers, the more likely you are to survive, self-pubbed or otherwise.

So when I’m asked who my publisher is, and I answer that I am my own publisher, I do so proudly. I bring nearly thirty years experience in the publishing industry, several awards for excellence in writing and editing, and a reputation for high standards and a quality product. It doesn’t get more professional or reputable than that. Arcana Double Cross Cover2

Oh, and as for my friend, the book she was referring to in her email is ARCANA DOUBLE CROSS in which I introduced Darien Roarke as the gambling alias of the one and only Blade Devon. It is a much darker, grittier story and more of a “James Bond in space” than a romantic adventure. As for the manuscript I sent her to read, the backstory notes for that became SOVRAN’S PAWN and HERO’S END.  The “new” manuscript I sent to her is still being rewritten and will be released under the title it has always had:  BARRON’S LAST STAND.

Who Is The Real Blade Devon?

From the first moment he stepped out onto a sheet of wide-ruled, three-hole notebook paper on November 4, 1984, Blade Devon commanded center stage. Until that moment, Bo Barron had a love triangle going with two other men: Lee Trager, a tall, dark, and handsome casino owner (and a bit of a pretty boy,) and Alec Barclay, a sandy-haired, hot-shot pilot with an inability to commit. When Blade Devon swaggered across the page, Bo (and I) sat up and took notice.

Blade Devon AvatarWhere Lee was cultured and refined, and Alec was clean-cut military to the core, Blade was scruffy, rumpled, unshaven, his blond hair a little too shaggy and his manners less than gentlemanly. Bo and I quickly learned that his appearance and demeanor weren’t because of a lack of upbringing or not knowing better, rather were borne of fierce independence and a desire to face life on his own terms. In other words, he really couldn’t care less. He was a Bad Boy.

Only intended as a peripheral character, Blade had been introduced as a joke. (With a name like “Blade” who could take him seriously? His “real” name at the time was Wilbur Homer Wartwhistle, but no one would surrender to the dangerous mercenary Wilbur Homer Wartwhistle, so he adopted the name Blade, in homage to his predilection for bladed weaponry.)

The joke was on me.

Bo spent less and less time with her two love interests and more in the company of the hard-drinking, two-fisted mercenary. All the more intriguing, Bo and I learned that the man had secrets upon secrets. Like peeling an onion, we’d pull back one layer after another, only to discover that there was so very much more to this character than either of us anticipated. Before we realized, Bo and I were smitten and the other men were relegated to the dusty old files for dredging up later. Bo had found her soul mate.

(Lee Trager returns as Blade’s antagonist in ARCANA DOUBLE CROSS. Time on the back burner and losing Bo have twisted him and turned him into a bit of a sadistic villain. Alec has mutated and split, finding his way into the characters of Royce, Jaden, and Edge.)

The question keeps coming up, “Who is Blade based on?”

That’s a tough question to answer. Blade’s earliest inspiration can be found in Errol Flynn’s autobiography MY WICKED, WICKED WAYS which had been re-released the year before Blade’s birth…and yes, I read it. I was smitten with Flynn from an early age. The swashbuckler with the lopsided smile, the easy charm, and wisecrack for every dangerous situation – how could I not fall for him? And then, with the other book, the one claiming Flynn had been a Nazi spy…well, who doesn’t love a good swashbuckling actor-adventurer-spy?

But Flynn bears no resemblance to Blade physically…or does he?

“Her gaze traced the curve of his brow, his high, prominent cheekbones, the line of his jaw – not quite as square as his brother’s, but longer – to the barest hint of a cleft in his chin. He laughed at something the interviewer said, showing a pair of matched dimples that sent Bo’s innards into a barrel roll.” – HERO’S END

“Who is Blade based on?”

Let’s revisit 1984, shall we?

Dystopic, post-apocalyptic sci-fi was all the rage. At the top of the heap was the quintessential anti-hero, struggling to get along in a world gone mad, carrying the loss of his wife and child, battered and bruised, wild-eyed and dangerous, with cold blue eyes that had seen too much and a beautiful face buried under dust, sweat, and blood. That could only be MAD MAX, THE ROAD WARRIOR, Mel Gibson in his earliest, glorious breakout role. Yes, there is an element of Mel Gibson as Mad Max buried deep in the heart of Blade Devon. In fact, Blade owes his blue eyes to Gibson.

Also in 1984 were the Los Angeles Olympic games. The US Men’s gymnastics team was the first US squad to win the Olympic team gold medal. Bart Conner, Tim Daggett, Mitch Gaylord, Jim Hartung, Scott Johnson, and Peter Vidmar were celebrated heroes that summer. Conner, at 26 (Blade’s age in SOVRAN’S PAWN) was the old man of the team and had come back from surgery to repair his torn bicep, to win two gold medals, one with his team, the second with a perfect 10 on the parallel bars. A bit of each of them found their way into characters, ideas and stories.

1984 also saw the television mini-series THE LAST DAYS OF POMPEII based loosely on the 1834 novel by Edward Bulwer-Lytton. Canadian actor, Duncan Regehr portrayed the gladiator-slave Lydon. Regehr would go on to play Errol Flynn in the television adaptation of his autobiography. Can you see where I’m going here? Tall, beefy, square-jawed, ripped Regehr provided a good model for the body type of Blade Devon. (Regehr also provided inspiration for another character in a stand-alone novel that is as yet, unfinished.)

It was about this time that BLADE RUNNER hit cable. I can’t talk about the conception of Blade Devon without giving a nod to Rutger Hauer, who also solidified his tall, broad, blond, influence with the 1985 release LADYHAWKE. I like to think Blade’s ruthless edge comes from a combination of Hauer’s portrayals of Etienne Navarre and Roy Batty.

England’s Prince Charles admitted in an interview around then that he’d had aspirations of being an actor. His brother, Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, served in the Falklands War and is considered a bit of a daredevil. Sound familiar?

Each of these men, in some way contributed to the original vision of Blade Devon.

“Yes, but WHO is Blade based on?”

Since 1984, Blade has absorbed bits and pieces of other men, other characters and other roles, including the likes of Val Kilmer in WILLOW, Sean Bean in SHARPE’S RIFLES and Nathan Fillion as – well, you know.

“Who did you originally cast as Blade?”

Maybe there is one man I envisioned playing the role of Blade Devon in the imaginary movie I’ve made in my head. Then again, maybe there isn’t. Perhaps he is nothing more than an amalgam of traits and features that fell into place at the right time to create someone completely new. Perhaps that’s why he captures people’s imaginations.

The beautiful thing about creating a character like Blade is letting my readers offer their idea of who is playing the character. I have been surprised and pleased by the suggestions offered up. My favorite came from Amy Kolan, who confided that she saw Blade as Chris Hemsworth.

Who?

I’d never heard of the Aussie actor at that point. Of course, I’d seen him as James Kirk’s father in STAR TREK, and I’d seen the trailers for THOR and THE AVENGERS, and even passed through the room while my kids watched THOR, but I hadn’t paid him any attention. I didn’t get a chance to see THOR for myself until a couple of weeks ago. Out of curiosity, I recorded it. When my husband and I had a quiet minute, we sat down to watch. Partway through, I told my husband that Hemsworth had been suggested as a potential Blade.

“I’m not sure I see it,” I said. “I’m not sure he’s pretty enough.”

Gobsmacked, my husband sputtered. “Not pretty enough? This guy IS Blade!”

I have to admit that the roles he’s played are roles that Blade would have played. He does have a maturity, solidity and swaggering-self-confidence-on-demand that screams Blade Devon. Given my husband’s reaction, (and Hemsworth’s performance in SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN,) I am perfectly comfortable endorsing Hemsworth as a suitable Blade Devon.

“But who is your original inspiration for Blade Devon? Whose face do you see in your mind’s eye when you write him?”

012714_1950_9.jpgThat, my friends, is something I’ll never tell. Only one other person on the planet can say with any certainty whether anyone in particular wears the face I consider Blade Devon’s, and that person has sworn to take the secret to the grave. Other than this list of hunks, heroes and Hemsworth, that’s all you’re going to get.

I promise you, your imagination will serve you far better than sure knowledge of the truth.

***

Who did you cast in the role of Blade Devon when you read SOVRAN’S PAWN or HERO’S END?

Saturday Snippet: Everybody Comes To Crank’s

Welcome to Science Fiction Fantasy Saturday. On the surface, it’s a web ring of authors who post snippets of their work for comment. In reality, it’s a close-knit group of friends and colleagues working together to support and encourage one another and promote the science fiction and fantasy genres.

This week’s snippet comes to you from one of the lost novels of THE MERCENARY ADVENTURES OF BLADE DEVON. This snippet is from ARCANA DOUBLE CROSS.

***

Dreyvis 3 was a Third Sector cesspool, but he didn’t know another planet that could provide both a haven and information on Trager’s moves. Turning, he mounted the stairs to the street. A blast of cold, humid air sailed down the tunnel as he neared the surface.

Blade fastened the front of his jacket as he stepped onto level footing, and he looked around. If his memory served him, the place he sought was only a few blocks to the east.

Everything had a price in Crank’s. The commercial epicenter of the Sub-socia, Crank’s drew scavengers from all sectors of the galaxy. If there was any information to be had, it would be there.

***

Well, that’s the Saturday Snippet for this week! Please don’t forget to comment by clicking on either the blog title or the little quotation balloon in the upper right hand corner. Tell your friends. Stop back here next week for another!

***

“What’s Next? What’s Next?”

Now that SOVRAN’S PAWN is out in the world for everyone to see, the question I keep getting is “What’s next?” I am delighted to know my meager efforts have been so well-received. I’d like to thank everyone who has already bought an e-copy of my book and assure those waiting for the paperback, that it won’t be long in coming. Look for it sometime in June. Yes, I will have a supply on hand, signed, that I will happily sell direct to you at a discount, plus shipping costs.

As for what’s next, look for ARCANA DOUBLE CROSS sometime this fall. It is the premiere installment of THE MERCENARY ADVENTURES OF BLADE DEVON, a companion series of books featuring the man himself in all his swashbuckling glory. (Be still my heart!) You can find an excerpt under the tab at the top or by clicking the link.

The first draft of Book Two of THE BLACK WING CHRONICLES, tentatively titled THE WATCHTOWER, is two-thirds complete. Plans are for a release in Spring 2013, provided we all survive the Zombie Apocalypse of December 2012.

I hope to be spending a lot of time at the beach between now and then, doing research. Much of THE WATCHTOWER is set on the Outland Fringe planet Kah Lahtrec whose people have adopted Blade as a native son. He has a pretty nifty villa on the beach there that was given to him by the Lahtrecki government in recognition for… well, you’re just going to have to wait and see. Book Two is going to be a lot of fun as it introduces some of my favorite characters in the series:  Ballanshi – Tryrium te Kah Lahtrec, his lovely and formidable wife Madine – Tryrine te Kah Lahtrec, and the wizened old holy man Tahar. Book Two also explains the how and why of Blade’s leaving his career in holofeatures for the life of an itinerate mercenary, complete with the scene in the theater which is part of Blade Devon lore.

Not to worry, the romance with Bo continues, as she carries on her quest to clear her name and find her father. Book Two finds Bo settling into her new role as a facilitator in her brother’s organization, and she has learned to have fun. With a new confidence, her puckish sense of humor emerges, but her resolve is put to the test as she draws closer to finding the answers she so desperately seeks, one of which threatens to destroy her relationship with Blade forever.

Now that I’ve told you entirely TOO much, I’m off to get back to work making all of these claims a reality.

SOVRAN’S PAWN: The First Week

Initial response to SOVRAN’S PAWN has been incredible! I couldn’t be happier with the reception my debut novel has gotten. Thanks to everyone who has shared, tweeted, talked up, and bought a copy! Your comments are pure gold to me. Here are just a few comments people have sent to me:

  • “I am madly in love with Blade. You had better write a sequel!”
  • “Oh, and yes, I did buy it, despite not being a big sci-fi fan. Surprisingly, I’m actually enjoying it. Who knew?”
  • “I downloaded it last night and read the first chapter this morning…love your imagination.”
  • “If you love your heroes in the mold of Han Solo and Malcolm Reynolds, you’ll be left idolizing Blade Devon.” ~ 4 out of 5 stars
  • “I can’t stop reading!”
  • “A fast, fun read!”

With no pretentions at great literature, SOVRAN’S PAWN is escapist fare; space opera with a bit of romance tossed in. If readers are entertained for a few hours, I consider my mission accomplished.

The BLACK WING CHRONICLES series is about the hero’s journey from callow youth (or ingénue) to Big Damn Hero who puts it all on the line to save the Commonwealth. I’d like to thank everyone who has embarked on the journey with us. I promise, there will be more! Just check out my WORKS IN PROGRESS page or the BLACK WING CHRONICLES page. And yes, Blade has his own series, THE MERCENARY ADVENTURES OF BLADE DEVON, with the first installment, ARCANA DOUBLE CROSS, in revisions with an eye on a Fall 2012 release. For those wondering whether Bo will become that Big Damn Hero, I invite you to read the excerpt from the first chapter of BARRON’S LAST STAND, the final installment of THE BLACK WING CHRONICLES.

#SFFSat – Arcana Double Cross

It’s Science Fiction Fantasy Saturday time again! As you may recall, SFFS is a ring of authors who share some of their work each Saturday. Anyone is welcome. The idea is to feature a snippet of your work for others to enjoy.

This week’s snippet is a departure from SOVRAN’S PAWN. It’s a departure from THE BLACK WING CHRONICLES altogether. This week’s snippet comes to you from one of the lost novels of THE MERCENARY ADVENTURES OF BLADE DEVON. This snippet is from ARCANA DOUBLE CROSS. Blade and his merry band of mercenaries have undertaken the task of rescuing a damsel in distress from the Arcana Hotel and Casino, which is controlled by the Jannus Syndicate. In this scene, they’re starting to get into position.

***

“Get mobbed by women again?” Adin asked with a raised eyebrow. “Serves you right. You look like a pretty boy heart throb out of a holofeature.”

“I am a pretty boy heart throb out of a holofeature,” Blade replied with a wry grin. “What have you found out?”

Adin’s theatrically painted face was completely void of all natural expression. “She’s here. Somehow, I get the feeling that taking her out won’t be as easy as we had planned.”

“She wasn’t kidding about security,” Blade said, glancing around. “This is heavy even for the Jannus Syndicate. If we can’t be subtle let’s be memorable.”

***

Well, that’s the Saturday Snippet for this week! Please don’t forget to comment by clicking on either the blog title or the little quotation balloon in the upper right hand corner. Tell your friends. Stop back here next week for another!

If you want a little more of SOVRAN’S PAWNBARRON’S LAST STAND, or to learn more about THE BLACK WING CHRONICLES, just click on the links.