Category Archives: Rants and Raves

A collection of opinions on topics that apply to the fantasy genre.

The Trials and Tribulations of an Indie Author

Methinks I’m going to vent a little, today. Perhaps it is not good form to spout angry vitriol at the ‘Net and all it offers. And perhaps it’s not good form to point out your own weakness—or maybe the whininess of such makes one look bad, but I’m finding the life of an Indie Author a bit tough to take of late. I enjoy the writing. I enjoy the editing. All the parts of the writing process are cool for me. I even enjoy developing new concepts for my book covers—although that’s not my forte and I hire someone to do the final cover. My big problem is that I’m just not making any money.


Yes, my chosen career is actually a money sink. I keep pouring more and more in, and getting pennies in return.


Part of my problem is that I have the business sense of a stone. I have no clue what to do about marketing. None. Whatsoever. I’ve posted interviews on-line at various sites. I’ve done virtual blog tours. I’ve bought advertisements on various ebook newsletters and similar sites. But no one wants to buy my books. I write well enough; I usually earn four or five stars on Amazon, and rarely fewer than three on Goodreads. I just don’t know what the problem is. My dashboard on Smashwords indicates that people just don’t want to pay money for an ebook—even when it’s consistently earned five stars. I have a number of sample downloads for all of my books, but very few actual paid downloads. Perhaps I’m not supposed to share that because it shows weakness. But it’s the truth. And I feel obligated to warn other potential Indie authors. If they wish to go into this business, they should go in with their eyes wide open.


Furthermore, if you want to be an Indie author, you should know that just being a good writer is not good enough. You need to have some business skills, not to mention a certain degree of Tech savviness. Like I said above, my business skills are sorely lacking. I never studied business in college and I’m having to learn the ropes the hard way. As far as Tech is concerned, I’m reasonably comfortable on-line; I just don’t like spending my whole day hunting through various web sites or visiting Social sites. I would much rather be writing. Or editing. Or brainstorming. Or what-have-you.


Then there is the whole Amazon factor. It is my belief that Amazon is going to put all the Indie writers out of business or force them into slavery. I don’t know much about business, but I do know that I can’t compete with Amazon when they offer all the books you want for a $3 monthly fee. Which is what they are doing. No one wants to pay for books anymore. Amazon is conditioning the consumer to expect free books. I gave Drasmyr away for free. And I may even give a Novella or two away for free. But that’s it. Every book I write represents a substantial investment of both time and money: for my novels, close to two years and a painful amount of money.


It’s enough to make me pull out my own hair in frustration.


Next week: my cat, Confucius, will reply!

Guest Post on Cirsova: My Influences for My Fantasy Literature

Hi All,

Just a note to let you know I’m guest posting on Cirsova today. Just a few thoughts on some of my influences in fantasy literature and how they have affected me. I talk a lot about J.R.R. Tolkien. Check it out!

Confucius Speaks …


Look at me! I’m a cat! I am wise, wily, and wicked. I’m an avid fantasy reader who has agreed to post on Mr. Ryan’s blog. I’ve read Mr. Ryan’s books. They’re all great, except for one flaw: No cats! What is the problem? He had rats! But no cats. I’ll be contacting PETA soon unless you include a cat in the next book. Be warned, Mr. Ryan. Overlooking a class of animal as prevalent as we are is tantamount to deliberate oppression. You have not heard the last of me. And if PETA doesn’t respond, it’ll be the Labor Department. I’ll take you to court and sue you for as many cat treats as your 401k can provide.


Unless, um … um … you rub my ears and fluff my pillow and let me rub my body against your calves. Don’t step on me! Just let me revel in my silken loveliness!


Reader Poll: What Length Fantasy eBook Do You Like To Read?

Hi, all,

I’ve decided to run a reading poll. It’s very brief, but the code may be a little twitchy. Anyway,

What is your preferred book length for a fantasy ebook?

Take the poll here.

Movie Review: Odd Thomas (2013) (3 ½ *’s)

Odd Thomas is a movie based on the novel of the same name by Dean R. Koontz. I haven’t read much of Dean R. Koontz’s work, just The Watchers and maybe one other book which I don’t recall. I was always impressed by the caliber of his writing, so a friend and I figured we’d give this movie a look (he’d actually read the book and said that he liked it). The movie tells the story of a young man living in a small town by the name of Odd Thomas. Yes, his first name is Odd. This is the result of a typo at birth; his parents were originally going to call him Todd.

Anyway, Odd has a number of special abilities, all psychic in nature. He can see the dead; he can see these evil demonic spirits that flock to chaos and death, and he can find people he’s looking for—provided they are relevant to his current psychic case—simply by wandering around town. He’s also a heck of a good fist-fighter. The story begins with him encountering the ghost of a girl who was recently slain. She leads him to her murderer, who he promptly chases down and beats into submission for the police to take care of. That’s just the intro. From there, the plot thickens when he notices a man at his restaurant who is attracting an unusually high number of demonic spirits. This portends a massacre in the making. And that is something he has stop. The other characters in the film include his girlfriend Stormy, the police captain, a number of policemen, a single mother of two, and a few others.


Strengths: the movie had good plot, good characters, and decent special effects. I didn’t notice any logical loopholes on a first viewing, nor was the violence gratuitous. And the acting, I thought, was pretty good. Weaknesses: I think it tried to be too clever. There were a number of “twists” which involved additional bad guys, that got a bit tiresome; I walked away thinking they’d used that twist just one too many times. I mean really—was the whole town out to get them? Anyway, it was still a good movie and I’d recommend it to anybody looking for some paranormal mystery-type entertainment.


Ultimately, I’ll give Odd Thomas three and a half, or maybe even four stars out of five.

World-building Athron: The Magic System: Some Basics

In the gaming system I used in Athron while world-building, I spent a considerable amount of time on the magic system. The nuts and bolts are formed by the spellcraft, rune lore, and alchemy skills augmented with the energy skills. But there is more. Not much more, but a few additional skills I feel are worth mentioning. Specifically, scholars in my system have access to a Scroll Lore skill, Command Item skill, and Item Lore skill.


Scroll Lore allows wizards to create their own scrolls. Basically, the wizard inscribes a spell from a specific spellcraft on a piece of parchment or vellum or what-have-you. Thereafter, the wizard may use the scroll in lieu of casting an actual spell. The advantage comes in the form of an energy savings. A scroll only requires the expenditure of as few as one energy point when it is used. Casting a spell with spellcraft requires far many more. The initial construction of the scroll, of course, requires the same amount of energy as casting the spell, but then the wizard may rest as many days as he likes and restore his energy levels. Such will give him more access to more spells when in the depths of a dungeon with a bevy of scrolls at hand.


Command Item is a skill that allows a wizard (or anyone else with the skill) to summon up and control the magical abilities of an enchanted item. If your sword bursts into flames upon command, it requires an effort of will to activate that function. There is not a guaranteed success to such an activity. No, it is based on a character’s or creature’s Command Item skill or its equivalent. Increasing the skill increases the chance of success.


Item Lore is a skill that allows a wizard (or anyone else with such a skill) to study a magic item that he or she has found over the course of adventuring or in the course of a novel. It requires a certain period of time to examine and study the item in question. If the character does this successfully, he or she will unlock the mysteries of the item and learn all its special abilities and powers.


The final skill in the system is a skill called Magical Lore. This does not translate well into a novel; it is more specifically a gaming skill. Basically, it increases the modifiers bestowed on other skills. For example, a high Magical Lore skill will increase the effectiveness of a character’s Rune Lore or Scroll Lore or what-have-you.


Lastly, the system allows for minor access to the spellcrafts through two additional minor skills. With these skills, the character can gain limited spell abilities. It’s difficult, but not impossible, for a warrior character to gain access to a limited form of flamecraft, or some other spellcraft. Theoretically, a warrior could have normal access to flamecraft, but it is prohibitively expensive in terms of experience and skill slots, so it is almost unheard of. These minor skills are a little easier for non-scholar classes to use than full-fledged full access major skills.

World-building Athron: The Magic System: Some Basics

The magic system of Athron, developed when world-building Athron, is based on the gaming system I was working on for a time. As a result, it is a rich system that perhaps is too complicated for world-building a novel. So be it. I will still present what I can here.


First, like many gaming systems, there are two different types of magic: scholarly (as in wizards and mages, etc….) and priestly (as in priests and clerics). Technically, I suppose the priest system isn’t magical; it is more prayer-based, but in terms of game mechanics they are quite similar. Anyway, I will start with the scholarly magic.


There are three major skills that scholars can enhance that relate directly to magic use: crafts, rune lore, and alchemy. Crafts refer to spells that are incantations consisting of a series of hand gestures and spoken words that harness magical energy. Rune lore is the study of runes: arcane symbols that are inscribed upon inanimate objects that provide magical enhancements. Alchemy is the study of potions and their making: a wizard with this skill can combine a variety of ingredients to fabricate different types of potions each with a different type of effect. Each of these major skills (crafts, rune lore, and alchemy) exists as a subset of a spell type like fire, earth, water, or wind. That is, there are flamecraft spells, fire runes, and fire-based alchemy. Similarly so for earth and the others. All three of these skills are fueled by energy. If a wizard casts a flamecraft spell, he uses so much energy. If he makes a fire-based potion or inscribes a fire rune, he uses so much energy. A wizard can increase his skill in energy to increase his potential power. A powerful wizard will have great amounts of spell energy at his disposal allowing him to produce incredible works of magic from his pick of magical skills.


Each of the spell skills bestows certain benefits as the skill in question increases. For example, increasing skill in a spellcraft will permit the spell-caster to learn new spells. Increasing skill in rune lore will similarly allow the spell-caster to learn new runes. And again for alchemy. Likewise, failure rates—something which rarely comes up in a novel, but may prove more important in an RPG—are decreased as the skill level increases. Going from this it is clear that a well-rounded wizard will have a formidable array of abilities to bring to bear against a problem; perhaps she has a spell to resolve an issue, or a rune she can inscribe, or maybe a potion to imbibe. Her options are many, and that makes a wizard a potent force in both the novel and the game.

World-building Athron: The Physical World: The Moons

One of the entertaining aspects of world-building is developing the physical characteristics of the setting. Usually this involves drawing a map—which is fun in its own right—and deciding about what kind of “natural wonders” might be needed in your world. For instance, in Athron there is a series of chasms on one part of the map that are inhabited by certain nasties. It is a vast, extensive network of chasms that warrant special attention. They stick out (although I have not mentioned them yet in my books—it hasn’t come up yet). Similar wonders can be found in other books like Piers Anthony’s Xanth series which had the Gap Chasm, among other things. Or the multiple moons of Krynn and, if I recall correctly, Pern.


In my world, I, too, have multiple moons. Two, in fact: Silgaren and Neerie. Silgaren is the larger of the two. It is white, or silver, depending upon how the light strikes it, and it is fairly similar to our own moon here on Earth both in size and general features. Neerie, though, is another story. It is a smaller moon, about half the size of the other, and is a brilliant golden in color. It also has, what appears to be, a cracked surface, not unlike the aforementioned chasms above, but larger and more extensive across a clearly visible section of its surface. It is a great topic of debate on Athron for two reasons: 1) the cracks on Neerie’s surface are an enigma. No one can figure out where they came from or what they mean. And since space travel is not in the near future, the cracks are destined to remain an enigma. 2) The color of the moon is the color of gold. Many a sage has speculated that that means the entire moon is composed of gold. In some records it is referred to as “Neerie: The Torment of the Gods.” It is believed that the gods placed a golden moon above the mortal world to torment the greedy with their thoughts of avarice in the night.


A final thought regarding moons. For a while, I was a bit confused by the phases of the moon. But I think I’ve got it figured out now. For a while, I was thinking that the phases of the moon might be dependent upon the size of the moon and its distance from its respective planet. But that’s not the case; it’s just dependent upon the angle between the locations of the moon, the sun, and the planet. If the angle is zero, the moon will be either full, new, or eclipsed (I think). The important thing to remember is that all moons, unless self-luminous, will follow the same phases as ours. New. Waxing. Full. Waning. New. Etc… I had to think about that (I haven’t studied astronomy in quite some time). Unless, of course, you throw in another star. In that case, I have no clue.


Also, the periods of the moons need not be the same. In fact, it’s probably better that they not be. I’m not sure (like I said, my astronomy is very rusty) but an identical period might (and I mean might) imply an identical orbital distance. In other words, an inevitable collision. Of course, in a world where magic is involved, that can be fixed.

World-building Athron: Timekeeping: Hours of the Day

Again, continuing the theme of time-keeping in world-building for a fantasy world, I will now turn to the hours that make up a single day. For the record, in the world of Athron I keep this aspect completely parallel to our own system. Basically, every day in Athron consists of twenty-four hours numbered in two sequences from one to twelve. There is a corresponding midnight, and a corresponding noon. So, it’s basically pretty easy to keep track of.


Again, since I am using the system we use in our own world, I probably should have some kind of justification for it. Unfortunately, I don’t, other than happenstance and I admit that that is a weakness in my world-building scenario. Basically, Athron is a world of roughly the same size as Earth, spinning at pretty much the same rate as Earth, and revolving around its sun at only a slightly speedier rate. In a way, the clock-system is dependent upon a natural feature: the rate of spin of the planet. However, just because the day is the same length of time, that doesn’t mean the inhabitants of this alternate world would divide the day into units of time equal to our own. Keeping with the simplicity-in-math model, it would probably make more sense to divide the Athronian day into either two ten unit periods, or even just one ten unit period. Indeed, with the precedent set by the structure of the calendar, we would probably expect the people of Athron to do precisely that. Dealing with intervals of ten units is much easier than dealing with intervals of twelve. The unfortunate reality, though, is that it would cause headaches for the reader. If we use a ten-unit system and it is now one o’clock in Athron, then we can ask: What is the equivalent time on Earth? Answer: one-twelve. It’s not too complicated in terms of math, but one shouldn’t make demands of readers involving ratio mathematics (at least, I don’t think so). Keep it as simple as possible, especially when you are juggling large numbers of things (and twenty four separate hours is a large number). So, as a result of such concerns I’m keeping Athron on a twenty-four hour per day system. Again, this isn’t something mandatory in world-building (if there is such a thing), but it is worth reflecting on and making a well-reasoned choice.


Oh, there is one other possibility you can use. You can “assume” the novel you are writing is a “translation” from a corresponding novel on the alternate world. In such a case, there is no need to concern yourself with distinct hours of the day, or even days of the week or months. This is because you have conveniently translated the alien time labels to our Earthly ones for easier comprehension. But, to that I say, what is the fun in that?

Restructuring My Blog

Those of you who follow me regularly may have noticed that I haven’t been posting at my regular rate lately. Normally, I post twice a week, once on Monday and once on Thursday. However, for the past month or so, I’ve only posted on Mondays and let Thursday go to the wayside. This was largely because of burnout. I just couldn’t muster the strength to post as much as I should have these last few weeks. But fear not! I am returning to the Monday and Thursday schedule. However, I’m restructuring the general schedule of the blog.


Previously, I was publishing whatever I felt like at whatever time I felt like. Now, I’m going to give the blog a bit more structure. A Toast to Dragons is a fantasy blog dedicated to primarily fantasy literature. With that in mind, I will post reviews, be they of books, movies, or short stories, on Mondays of every week. For Thursdays, I’m going to do a little experiment. As a fantasy writer and RPG gamer—player and GM—I’m interested in world building. Over the past few years, I have developed a gaming system and a gaming world to go with it. This is also the world where most of my stories are set. So, for the foreseeable future, I’m going to begin uploading details and specifications of the world I have developed and am developing. It will be intended to be used as an instructive example for the art of world-building. In the drop-down menu above, I’m going to collect every blog I write on the topic in a single page (or group of pages) of links for easy access.


The world in question is, of course, the world of Athron, home to the city of Drisdak and the vampire Lucian val Drasmyr. In terms of flora and fauna it is a world much like our own. However, there are a plethora of profound differences, not least of which is the presence of magic and formidable monsters of myth and legend. So, enter this world at your own risk with sword at your side and shield at hand. And prepare to be tested! Bwa-ha-ha-ha!


For the record, all material on this blog is copyrighted. I don’t mind if you use it for entertainment purposes. That is, if you want to run a D&D campaign in Athron, I won’t be offended; just don’t slap a price tag on it and start selling it as your own work. In other words, commercial use of the material on this blog by third parties is strictly prohibited.