Category: Fiction


I’ve talked a lot recently about the cover of The Mason of New Orleans. Here’s a related point: The image of Martin it portrays.

Martin, as envisioned by cover artist Drew Baker.

Martin, as envisioned by cover artist Drew Baker.

So one of the interesting things about commissioning a piece of artwork like this is seeing someone else’s vision of the people and scenes you’ve created in your written work. Oddly (perhaps), I have a clear vision for some of my characters. If I were casting the movie version of The Mason of New Orleans, for example, the role of Madeleine would go to Naomi Rapace. (I wasn’t really familiar with her before Prometheus, but when I saw that I was all like, “Holy crap, that’s Madeleine!”) But in other cases—including that of Martin—my vision wasn’t so clear. I didn’t know exactly what Martin looked like, so this image of him was sort of a surprise to me.

I think it works. Heck, I’d go so far as to say it’s helped me firm up an image of him in my mind. And now it’s got me thinking who I’d cast in other roles. Celestine? Stephan? Gaspard?

What are your thoughts? Is that the Martin you’d pictured? Who would you cast in some of those other roles?

Writers live and die by the feedback they get from their readers, so I’d love your comments—there’s a little link just down below to the right. Also:

  • Receive an email notification of every update to this site by subscribing (see the link to the right)Follow me on Twitter at @charlesmryan, where I post lots of game, writing, and geek news and can often be dragged into conversation
  • Follow my writing diary on Facebook at Charles M Ryan, where I post frequent short bits on the writing process and state of my current projects
  • Encircle me (is that right?) on Google+, where, like most people, I have no idea what I’m doing

The process of commissioning cover art is an interesting one. In the old days, it was pretty simple for the author: The publisher handled it. Maybe you got a chance to comment on or even approve the choice of artist or the design, but if you weren’t Stephen King, you probably didn’t even get that. Hopefully you liked it, but in the end what matters to the publisher is not that it’s true to the author’s vision—or even true to the story—but that it sells books. We’ve all read books with covers that seemed barely related to the content, and that’s why.

As a self-publishing author, I had the chance to right that wrong—but at the same time, I lost the author’s luxury of caring only about my vision. Like the publishers of yore, I had to worry equally—or perhaps moreso—about selling the book.

And what sells a book? Opinions vary, and sometimes it just comes down to a certain magic, but I think a cover painting needs to convey atmosphere. It needs to be colorful and eye-catching (in the world of electronic publishing, it has to look good at many sizes, all the way down to icon scale). It needs to tell just a bit of a story. It needs drama and tension. Most importantly, it needs to ask questions, so the reader wants to crack that book open in search of answers.

Way, way down at the bottom of the list, it needs to represent something that happens in the novel.

The Mason of New Orleans cover

Unless this is your first visit to my site, you’ve seen this already. More times than you probably want to. So, what the heck, here it is again.

The events in my cover “happen” in Chapters 10 and 11, so if you’ve read the book (or the chapters I posted here on this site) you might recognize that stage of the story. But you might also notice that no scene exactly like this occurs: The bloodied arm, the hunted skulking, and the frescoe of St. Martin don’t all occur at the same exact point in the story. As the reader, should you be outraged? Should I, as the author? Not, I think, if the painting has achieved the goals I mention above.

So what do you think? Did the fabulous Drew Baker (who, unlike many cover artists, did in fact read a draft of the book before composing this) knock it out of the park? Is this a book you’ve gotta read? Or should I have insisted on something right out of an actual scene?

Writers live and die by the feedback they get from their readers, so I’d love your comments—there’s a little link just down below to the right. Also:

  • Receive an email notification of every update to this site by subscribing (see the link to the right)
  • Follow me on Twitter at @charlesmryan, where I post lots of game, writing, and geek news and can often be dragged into conversation
  • Follow my writing diary on Facebook at Charles M Ryan, where I post frequent short bits on the writing process and state of my current projects
  • Encircle me (is that right?) on Google+, where, like most people, I have no idea what I’m doing

It has been a week since The Mason of New Orleans went live on Amazon, and I have been incredibly fortunate in that several people have taken the time to review it. Even more incredible: They seem to like it! The novel has received nine reviews as of this writing, with a very gratifying average of 4.8 stars. Here are a few snippets:

amazon-4-star“The story vividly evokes medieval times from the point of view of a modern mason, magically thrust upon the twelfth-century scene. His character made it easy for me to get into the book because Martin’s reactions seemed to mimic how I might face troubles like swords, horsemanship, cults, ruthless nobles and more: with wit, courage and modern knowledge, applied as best he can. The twists in Martin’s adventures were always fresh, and I never got caught in a trope trap. Indeed, it is not going too far to compare this to “Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court,” yet it’s all the more enjoyable because it embraces the opportunities rather than using them as a foil or for commentary on modern life and troubles.”

amazon-5-star“I have a degree in history, and I loved the historical accuracy of the setting. The author clearly researched what life was like in medieval Europe, which of course really makes Martin feel like the fish out of water that he is. It’s easy to settle in and view the world from Martin’s perspective. What is foreign to you is foreign to him. And in Martin’s new world, not everything works out the way it would in our more relaxed society.”

amazon-5-star“Martin was a well-written character and hearing his internal dialogue gave the book a great sense of humor as well as an enjoyable take on the time-travel genre.”

Now here’s the thing: Most of these reviews were written by beta-readers of the novel—people who responded to my call back in July and received ARCs in trade for a willingness to review the book when it came out. Just one or two are by people who read the book since its release. Which begs the question: Where is your review? So here’s an offer:

Read The Mason of New Orleans, then post a review to Amazon or any other public forum (EN World, anyone?) where interested readers might find it. It’s easy. Then post a comment below letting me know that you’ve done it, and where people can find it. You are under absolutely no obligation to say nice things—if you don’t like it, feel free to say so.

I will personally send the first three people who do so a giant kiss. A giant Hershey’s Kiss, that is. (Offer valid only within the US of A.) Along with my undying gratitude. Because:

Writers live and die by the feedback they get from their readers, so I’d love your comments—there’s a little link just down below to the right. Also:

  • Receive an email notification of every update to this site by subscribing (see the link to the right)
  • Follow me on Twitter at @charlesmryan, where I post lots of game, writing, and geek news and can often be dragged into conversation
  • Follow my writing diary on Facebook at Charles M Ryan, where I post frequent short bits on the writing process and state of my current projects
  • Encircle me (is that right?) on Google+, where, like most people, I have no idea what I’m doing

And It’s Live!

The Mason of New Orleans is now available at Amazon.com:

Click through to Amazon.com!

Click through to Amazon.com!

If you’ve followed this blog and maybe read a few chapters along the way—or if you’ve ever enjoyed any of my work on D&D, Deadlands, d20 Modern, Star Wars, The Last Crusade, Millennium’s End, Hell on Earth, Psychosis or anything else—I urge you to check it out. Of everything I’ve written, this is the one thing I may be most proud of.

C’mon, it’s $3.99. What do you have to lose (you know, other than $3.99)?

Writers live and die by the feedback they get from their readers, so I’d love your comments—there’s a little link just down below to the right. Also:

  • Receive an email notification of every update to this site by subscribing (see the link to the right)Follow me on Twitter at @charlesmryan, where I post lots of game, writing, and geek news and can often be dragged into conversation
  • Follow my writing diary on Facebook at Charles M Ryan, where I post frequent short bits on the writing process and state of my current projects
  • Encircle me (is that right?) on Google+, where, like most people, I have no idea what I’m doing

The novel goes on sale tomorrow. TOMORROW!

Here’s the cover for you:

The Mason of New Orleans cover

Awesome cover art by the fabulous Drew Baker!

If you like the cover painting, I strongly urge you to check out the terrific work of fantasy and gaming artist Drew Baker. Drew has been a favorite of mine for many years, and it’s a real honor to have a piece of his on the cover of this novel. (In case you missed it, many moons ago I posted some early sketches for this piece.)

Well, I’m too nervous about tomorrow (that’s when my novel comes out) to write anything more.

Did I mention when the novel comes out? In case I didn’t, it’s tomorrow. TOMORROW!

Writers live and die by the feedback they get from their readers, so I’d love your comments—there’s a little link just down below to the right. Also:

  • Receive an email notification of every update to this site by subscribing (see the link to the right)Follow me on Twitter at @charlesmryan, where I post lots of game, writing, and geek news and can often be dragged into conversation
  • Follow my writing diary on Facebook at Charles M Ryan, where I post frequent short bits on the writing process and state of my current projects
  • Encircle me (is that right?) on Google+, where, like most people, I have no idea what I’m doing

Release Date: 11 December!

Yes! After letting The Mason of New Orleans languish for three months, despite being pretty much ready to go, I am finally unleashing it on the world! Barring some unforeseen catastrophe, it will hit Amazon on Tuesday, the 11th of December.

If you have ever enjoyed any of my creative work—particularly the excerpts I’ve posted here over the past two years—I ask you to check it out. You’ve nothing to lose but a paltry $3.99. As I tell my kids when they’re hesitant to try a new food (as kids are wont to be): “Go on, give it a bite. If you hate it, it’s all over in a moment. But if you like it, you may have a new favorite thing for the rest of your life!”

You could do me an even bigger solid by helping to spread the word a bit. In this day and age, there are thousands of new books released every month. To stand out in the crowd, a new book needs to be good—but it also has to generate a little buzz. Any time someone mentions The Mason of New Orleans in a conversation—online or off—the book gets one teeny, tiny boost in it’s chances of breaking out of the pack.

So if you get the chance to say something about it, please do. If not, hey, that’s OK too, but I hope you’ll check it out for yourself. Thanks!

Writers live and die by the feedback they get from their readers, so I’d love your comments—there’s a little link just down below to the right. Also:

  • Receive an email notification of every update to this site by subscribing (see the link to the right)
  • Follow me on Twitter at @charlesmryan, where I post lots of game, writing, and geek news and can often be dragged into conversation
  • Follow my writing diary on Facebook at Charles M Ryan, where I post frequent short bits on the writing process and state of my current projects
  • Encircle me (is that right?) on Google+, where, like most people, I have no idea what I’m doing

The Agony of the 3-Star Review

I talked last week about writing reviews on Amazon.com. With any luck, I’m only a few weeks away from reading online reviews of my first novel. That’s exciting, and it’s also crucial: Online reviews are absolutely critical to the successful launch of a new book these days, especially a book by a new author. I am, of course, hoping to see praise heaped upon my work, but I will not be surprised if some folk don’t like it. What I’m really afraid of are no reviews at all—or even worse: The 3-star review.

Why do I fear the 3-star review? To explain that, I have to explain what Amazon reviews really are.

Here’s what they’re not: Reviews. Nobody reads an Amazon review to learn about the inner depths, the hidden themes, and the profound meanings of a book. They read them to get a sense of whether other people liked the book—to figure out whether they might, too. To decide whether or not to buy the book.

And that’s the secret: Amazon’s system isn’t really about reviews—it’s about recommendations. When people read Amazon reviews, what they’re really trying to suss out is whether they’ll like the book in question. And Amazon’s internal systems use reviews (and particularly star ratings) to determine which books get put in front of unsuspecting shoppers. It really helps to think about this as you’re formulating your comments. Because:

Amazon’s 5-star system is really just a 3-star system.

  • 5 stars means you strongly recommend it
  • 4 stars means you recommend it, but with caveats or reservations
  • 1, 2, and 3 stars are all different shades of “don’t bother”

Which brings me to why I fear 3 stars even more than 1. A person who writes a 1-star review probably didn’t like the book. Fair enough. But chances are, most people who write 3-star reviews probably think it’s got a lot going for it. Might even think it’s a great read. But it’s no 100 Years of Solitude. In the world of hotel reviews, or restaurant reviews, or even movie reviews, something that’s decent but not world-class might get 3 stars, and that would be all right.

But not on Amazon, where a 3-star review means the same thing, to both readers and Amazon’s internal systems. “Don’t bother.” So the 3-star review sucks because the person who wrote it probably didn’t mean that.

Am I saying you should never write a 3-star review? Certainly not. I’m just pointing out what that means: The highest of three levels of “don’t bother.” If that’s what you feel about it, by all means that’s what you should give it.

So I hope to see a lot of reviews when the novel goes live. And I hope most of them will rave about the book and give it many, many stars. But I won’t be surprised if there’s some dissent—I just hope it’s good, honest, 1- and 2-star dissent.

Writers live and die by the feedback they get from their readers, so I’d love your comments—there’s a little link just down below to the right. Also:

  • Receive an email notification of every update to this site by subscribing (see the link to the right)
  • Follow me on Twitter at @charlesmryan, where I post lots of game, writing, and geek news and can often be dragged into conversation
  • Follow my writing diary on Facebook at Charles M Ryan, where I post frequent short bits on the writing process and state of my current projects
  • Encircle me (is that right?) on Google+, where, like most people, I have no idea what I’m doing

How to Write an Amazon Review

Do you ever buy stuff online?

Yeah, that’s a pretty stupid question.

Do you ever read the little online reviews and star ratings? I sure as hell do. Who writes those things? Well, I’ve written a few. And you should too. It’s super-duper easy.

For example, perhaps you will read my book. Perhaps you will enjoy it. Or perhaps hate it. Either way, perhaps you will write a review—not just of my book, but maybe of other writers’ books as well. It’s the single most supportive thing you can do for an author or other creative producer. Other than buy 100+ copies of the product. (If you buy 100+ copies of my novel, I will certainly forgive you if you don’t also review it.)

Anyone can write a review; there are no special qualifications required so long as you have an Amazon account. You don’t even have to have bought the item in question, at least not from Amazon. (It is poor form to review things you haven’t actually tried out.) Just scroll down to the user review section and click the button that says, in nice big letters “Write a customer review.” Seriously, that’s all the qualification you need.

Once you’ve done that, though, you have to write something. And that’s the part that might intimidate some folk. So here are some pointers:

  • Keep it Short. It doesn’t have to be a book report—just think of why you liked it (or didn’t) and put that into a few sentences. Seriously, just three or four sentences is generally enough. Obviously, if you’re keen to wax poetic you can go into greater detail, and that’s much appreciated by both author and potential buyers, but it’s unlikely anybody’s going to read a review that’s longer than what you’d type on a typical page in Microsoft Word. So don’t feel like you have to go epic.
  • Avoid Critique. It’s not the right place for it and it colors your review in a way that makes it less credible to others. Personally, I’m fine with receiving criticism—I crave it, really—but this blog is a more appropriate and direct way of getting it to me.
  • Don’t Argue with Other Reviews. Some people will write stuff you don’t agree with. Ignore it. Just write what you want to say.
  • Understand Amazon’s Star System. 5 stars means you recommend it without hesitation. 4 means you recommend it with caveats. 1, 2, and 3 stars all mean you don’t recommend the book at all. Which is OK, but don’t give 3 stars to a book you’re recommending.
  • Keep it Short. Again. Yeah, I said this one already, but it bears repeating. You can go longer if you feel the urge, but three or four sentences will really do the trick.

There are a couple of other things you can do on top of writing a review. Rate existing reviews as “helpful” or “unhelpful.” (Those ratings, from regular people like you, help determine which reviews are most likely to be seen by people checking out the book.) If you come across bad reviews (by this I don’t mean someone who didn’t like the book—I mean someone who’s abusive, or clearly didn’t even read the same book), you can comment on it or report it as abusive.

And of course you can tell all your friends about it. That’s a big help.

Or you could buy 100+ copies. The next best thing to writing a review.

Writers live and die by the feedback they get from their readers, so I’d love your comments—there’s a little link just down below to the right. Also:

  • Receive an email notification of every update to this site by subscribing (see the link to the right)
  • Follow me on Twitter at @charlesmryan, where I post lots of game, writing, and geek news and can often be dragged into conversation
  • Follow my writing diary on Facebook at Charles M Ryan, where I post frequent short bits on the writing process and state of my current projects
  • Encircle me (is that right?) on Google+, where, like most people, I have no idea what I’m doing

It’s been a long time since I posted—perhaps I’ll blog about why sometime soon, but not now. The important thing is that while there was also a long lull on work on The Mason of New Orleans, that lull was not as long as the blog post drought. Progress was made, and I’m now just about closed in on a final draft.

Would you like to read it—the whole thing in a final, polished state? If so, drop me a line. You can reach me by email: my first name at my full name (including middle initial M) dot com. I’ll be distributing electronic ARCs (that’s publishing-industry lingo: Advance Reader Copies) to interested readers in a week or so.

This free offer is not entirely free, though. ARCs serve a specific purpose in the publishing business: They drum up early enthusiasm for a book. About the time I ship these out, I’ll set a release date for the novel—probably in late August. I’ll ask the ARC readers to help me with that launch, by spreading the word about the book. If that doesn’t seem to onerous, I’d love to get a copy in your hands!

Drop me a line if you’re interested!

I sat down with my kids to watch Big Trouble in Little China this past weekend, and I was struck by how that movie went about solving a problem in very much the same way I did in The Mason of New Orleans. Here, let me (or, rather, someone else—I didn’t put this video together), demonstrate:

 

 

You may ask what problem, exactly, is being solved in that clip. (Go ahead, ask. I’ll wait.) The problem is that of immersing the audience in an unfamiliar setting filled with cultural nuance and iconography and intricate backstory, and getting that audience fully invested in the story without a lot of off-putting exposition.

Put another way, the writer has given us a bug dumb guy to act as a proxy for the audience. Every time the audience is likely to say “Huh? What’s going on here?” the big dumb guy can say it for them. Then someone explains things to the big dumb guy, and the audience gets the answers in the form of witty dialog instead of boring exposition. Probably before even consciously forming the questions.

Martin is my big dumb guy. OK, not really that big, and hopefully not really too dumb, but he’s sitting in the same role.

When I first started dreaming up the story that would become The Mason of New Orleans, it didn’t actually involve a time-traveling character. I had Madeleine and Stephan and Gaspard and an unbuilt castle and an antagonistic Count and satanic devil worshipers and Templars and pretty much everything else, but the story was contained within the 12th century.

But as much as I was fascinated by the setting and wanted to really breathe life into the medieval experience, I really didn’t want to saddle the reader with a tale that was too dry or technical or alien or all three. I didn’t want it to read like it was by and for history dweebs. I sure didn’t want a lot of exposition to explain things that would need no explaining to the characters in the book. So I needed a filter—a way to let the reader see this unfamiliar world through his or her own modern eyes. A proxy who could experience all this stuff on behalf of the reader, not just through what he sees and does, but also through how he reacts to it.

I do not recommend blithely adding time-travelers to your novel just to get this effect. (Hmm. Actually, there are a few novels I can think of for which this might be an improvement. . . . ) In my case, however, I had a bit of an “aha!” moment when this idea hit me. Although it’s not obvious early on, Martin’s presence in the events of this story—and the reason for his 800-year journey—fit the grand plotline like a particularly good-fitting glove. The story was improved, and I got a big dumb guy to say “what?” a lot on behalf of the audience.

Jack Burton may not have been put on this earth to “get it” (to quote Lo Pan), but the audience needs to. And that’s where a big dumb guy can come in real handy.

Writers live and die by the feedback they get from their readers, so I’d love your comments—there’s a little link just down below to the right. Also:

  • Receive an email notification of every update to this site by subscribing (see the link to the right)
  • Follow me on Twitter at @charlesmryan, where I post lots of game, writing, and geek news and can often be dragged into conversation
  • Follow my writing diary on Facebook at Charles M Ryan, where I post frequent short bits on the writing process and state of my current projects
  • Encircle me (is that right?) on Google+, where, like most people, I have no idea what I’m doing
%d bloggers like this: