Lord of Bones Update

So I’m up to 20,000 words on the next novel. The working title used to be Lord of Bones, but that doesn’t fit it right now. So the title has now changed to The Drovers. It may change again. This is the first book in an epic fantasy series that has the potential for many, many novels.

It about a retired, deadly mercenary named Borros who is trying to live the good life as a man of cattle, and smuggling blackmeal (a forbidden magic substance) on the side. A war with Osson, the kingdom across the sea, is imminent. And Borros has contracted with the king’s agent to deliver 250 head of cattle to the capitol city to help supply the king’s army. But then the crew he hires turns on him and tries to kill him and steal the herd. He and the camp cook defeat them, but there’s no way he can drive the cattle by himself, not where he’s going. He goes to the next village to hire a new crew, but the men refuse. And he has no choice but to hire a crew of boys. A week into the journey, far beyond any place they could get help, something begins to stalk them. And he and the boys are going to have to use all their wits and skills to survive.

A simple calculator for how much home you can afford

It’s March. Spring is here in most places. And this is when the house hunting season starts to get rolling. I used to moonlight as a realtor. I started from nothing, ran my own little gig, and did very well. Then I got a book contract, and there was no way I could do three jobs. But I learned a lot.

One of the things I learned is that home buyers very frequently have a very hard time staying within their budget.

They set a number, start looking in their price range, then peek at the homes in a higher price range, and of course those homes look better. Why wouldn’t they? They’re more expensive! And, geez, they have such nice faucets and cool counters and a shower with five heads so you can wash your body from every imaginable angle, and suddenly many of my buyers would refuse to see cheaper homes. Because they just had to have the ultrawash shower.

Or a dent in a wall that’s officially called an alcove.

Or a super deluxe gas heater fireplace that runs on banana peelings and saves gerbils.

Or whatever.

It’s called house craze. It’s a temporary thing. It passes as soon as you get in the house and start making the payments.

And then you wake up and realize you have a hot tub and you hate hot tubs! What in the world were you thinking?!

Well, you had house craze.

The unfortunate side effect of buying too much house is that the mortgage eats up so much of the take-home pay that it makes everything else exceedingly tight. Or impossible.

You don’t have room to pay off debts. Don’t have room to invest much, or at all. Don’t have room to have fun vacations. Don’t have room for anything except the fricken-ricken, blankity-blank, #$%!* house!

This condition is called being house poor.

So house craze leads to being house poor.

Which leads to second jobs and stress and often more debt. You may also end up in a roadside ditch. The situation below occurs with more than just with cable companies.

The lender will tell you that you can lend up to 36% of your take-home pay!

Your eyes go wide, and you being to think that maybe you can afford two ultrawash showers. But just slow down and think for a second–the lender is the one SELLING you the loan.


Don’t listen to the lenders.

Listen to common sense.

My advice is the same as Dave Ramsey’s:

  1. Don’t buy a house until you’re out of debt and have saved enough to pay 10% of the purchase price of the house.
  2. When you’re at that point, get a 15-year, fixed-rate mortgage with a monthly payment that’s no more than 25% of your take-home pay.

So that’s my advice. You’re free to do with it what you wish. Just know that being house poor sucks.

And all that to introduce the calculator which will tell you exactly how much home you can afford. It takes 10 seconds to fill in.

Here it is: How much home can I afford?

Download it and be happy.

Correia’s Son of the Black Sword

I just finished reading Larry Correia’s Son of the Black Sword, and enjoyed it immensely.

It takes memes from King Arthur’s sword, Moses, the Shaolin monks, special operations forces, ancient India, prophets, and freedom and mixes them into an epic fantasy that’s simply tremendous.

It has all the action and entertainment you expect from a Correia production. There are monsters. There are battles and wonderful scenes of sword fighting. There are magic and wizards, but it’s not the magic and wizards you’ve seen before (magic from demon body parts?!) And unlike many fantasies, which revolve around the magic—discovering how it works and some chosen person growing in its power—this story revolves around matters of justice and mercy and law and truth.

This isn’t a story about magic. It’s a story about a man in terrible conflict.

The main character, Ashok, is not just a Lord Protector, one trained in battle to kill demons and administer death to those who break the law, he’s the most fearsome of them all. And the most pure in his devotion to the law. There’s just one problem—he finds out that he himself is a terrible affront to the law.

Discovering why that is and how it occurred is part of the enjoyment, so I won’t give it away. But along with that and all the action, you’ll be transported to a new world based on the old Indian caste system with a number of twists. You’ll encounter the court intrigue found in so many fantasies. But probably what was most delicious to me was a central mystery shrouded in the ancient past and a whole cast of wonderful characters. There’s Ashok, but we also get a courageous librarian/legal assistant, a tough female boat captain, a funny black market smuggler, and a veteran soldier who wants to restore the honor that was unjustly taken from him.

As a reader, I was delighted. As an author, I found many things to admire (and some to be envious of), including the fact that when you’re in the point of view of a character, you’re with that character, caring about what they care about and seeing the world through their eyes.

Son of the Black Sword is a book chock-full of delights. If you like fantasy and action, I think you’ll love it. As for me, I can’t wait for the second in the series.

The Novel Writers Academy – Do you want it?

Are you tired of being educated ABOUT writing?

Do you just want someone who knows what they’re doing help you do it?  

Specifically, do you want to develop a killer story idea, outline it, and write the first 3 chapters with the guidance of a pro?

If so, then here’s your chance to vote to have me create a course that will do just that. 

Read on for more information…

Educating versus Training

When you’re educated about something, you can talk about concepts and principles. You can recall facts. But most people I know don’t want to be educated about writing. They want more than another class, podcast, video, or book about the topic.

They want to be trained.

They want to develop a killer idea, sketch it out, and actually begin writing. Not just watch or read about it. But they want some help.

I’ve been asked many times if I would teach an online class or workshop, but I’ve put it off for years because I know that I don’t want to offer just another set of videos about writing.

Of course, I will offer just videos. That’s all some people want.

But I know there are others out there who want to go beyond that. They want on-the-job training. They want to develop a fun story, but don’t know the process well enough, and want someone who knows it to guide them.

They want training.

But training takes time. More than the time it takes to create videos or posts.

That’s what I do, by the way. When I’m not writing novels, I work in corporate America training people to actually do things. Over the last 20 years I’ve trained people to do everything from give compelling presentations and speak Dutch to plan and schedule manufacturing plants and close their accounting books at the end of a financial period.

And so I know there’s a difference between being educated about something and being trained.

Just think about it. Do you want a surgeon who has been educated about surgery or one that’s been trained to perform surgery at a mastery level? Do you want a plumber who has been educated about plumbing, or one that’s been trained to plumb? Do you want your airplane pilot to be educated about flying or trained to fly, in all sorts of weather?

Going to school and being educated is cool, awesome, and necessary. But we all know we have to go beyond that. We need to be able to actually DO things. Training requires you know concepts and principles, but it also requires you take the next step and actually do something.

Do You Want Training?

I’m willing to provide this on-the-job training, but before I develop and conduct this course, I need to know enough people are interested in it for it to be worth my time (it would probably be more sensible for me to focus exclusively on getting the books I need to write out the door, but I love to teach too, and had to figure out a way to do it).

So here’s the test. If you want to take the class described below, sign up to express your interest.

This does not obligate you to anything. It simply says that you are almost 100% sure you want to take the class, barring earthquakes, plagues of demons, or crazy in-laws.

When enough people signup, I know it will be worth my time, and the love of teaching part of me will be able to convince the sensible part of me to do it.

And then I’ll do a Kickstarter to make it official. Or I may just develop and release. We shall see.

So, here’s more on the course.

Your Novel’s Core: Develop a Killer Idea, Outline it, and Write the First 3 Chapters

The first order of business is to determine if this course is right for you.

Do you want to write a novel, but feel like you have no idea what you’re doing?

Do you often get ideas for a character or setting or snippets of scenes and dialogue, but find they just never go anywhere?

Are you tired of learning about writing, and just want someone who knows what they’re doing help you to do it?

If so, this class is for you.

This is not a theory class. Oh, we’ll talk about theory. You’re going to learn a ton of theory. But this isn’t about theory because I don’t care about theory. And neither, I suspect, do you. I care about developing an awesome story experience and sharing it with readers who enjoy it as much as I do.

So I’m not interested in talking about it. I’m interested in doing it. And having fun.

Which means that in this course you’re going to:

  • Develop at least 10 story ideas that beg you to write them
  • Select one of those ideas and create an outline
  • Write the first three chapters of that novel

In order to do that, you will need to learn the secrets to:

  • A story idea that works and how to come up with one
  • Interesting characters and how to develop one
  • Transporting your reader to the story so they feel like they are witnessing the whole thing
  • Keeping readers on the edge of their seats
  • What story and plot are really about
  • Writers block and why it’s a gift (no, really, it is)
  • Knowing what comes next
  • Getting feedback from beta readers that’s actually helpful (and if you don’t know this, much of what you’ll get will be worthless)

These secrets and many more. But remember: this isn’t a course about secrets. It’s a course about you actually improving your ability to generate story ideas, develop them into ideas worthy of a novel, and then write them.

This means you need to not only produce, but also have someone who has the ability look at your work and guide you along. It means getting feedback.

So I will be there helping you every step of the way. And if you’re writing in a genre I don’t know as well, I will loop in working authors who are successful in that genre to add their two cents.

Fumbling in the Dark

I started my novel writing career when I received a three-book, $50,000 deal from a major publisher. I am now an indie author with books that sell thousands of copies each year to readers all over the world. I’ve had publishers purchase and produce my books in audio. I’ve sold story rights to foreign publishers. I love developing and telling stories. And I love teaching others how to do the same.

But when I started, years before that novel contract, I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t know where to start stories, how to develop them, or even where they were supposed to end. And I didn’t have anyone to really help me. In fact, I remember asking one of my creative writing professors after class how you knew where to end your story. He looked at me, shrugged, and said, “I don’t know. I just end them.”

What the heck?

It was all a vast mystery. I loved stories, but I was clueless about what they were, how they worked, and how someone went about developing and writing one. I had a lot of fun, enjoyed my writing teachers (they were all great people), but I was never able to write something that hung together and felt like something you’d see in a movie or read in a book.

But that didn’t discourage me. I kept at it. And over the years, I made a number of breakthroughs.

What I discovered was that there are three things you must learn to write killer stories. You must learn:

  • What stories do to the reader
  • How they do that
  • And effective techniques for both developing and telling the story

In this class, you’re going to learn those three things and the key principles for each, saving yourself all the frustration and discouragement that comes from trying to discover these insights by stumbling around on your own in the dark. With this class, you can cut years off the time it takes to learn how to write.

When you know these three things, you will be able to write stories on purpose, instead of by accident. You will have power over your craft.

You will see that instead of trying to remember a list of hundreds of “writing rules” or use “writing formulas,” many of which are nonsense, you’ll write by focusing on the simple and fundamental heart of what storytelling is all about.

Course Outline and Price

Below is a more detailed view of the course. My lessons are called quests because I’m expecting you to actually do something, not just watch.

Quest 1: Discover what stories do, then create your personal story profile

  • The three things you must learn to write killer stories
  • Your personal story type
  • The three main reader responses you must generate
  • The big secret: trigger and delay
  • Genre
  • Sensitizing yourself

Quest 2: Discover what you need at the core of your story, then perform a craft analysis of 2 of your favorite novels and report your findings

  • The story engine (without this, your story goes nowhere)
  • What makes characters interesting
  • The vital THOMR
  • The desire to gain or retain something specific
  • Formidable obstacles
  • Uncertainty
  • Surprise
  • The same but different
  • The 3 grunts

Quest 3: Discover the secret to developing ideas, then develop 10 fully-formed story ideas that beg to be written

  • The 4 main creative principles you must follow
  • 5 super productive techniques for generating ideas
  • Creating a schedule and goals
  • Using the story engine job aid
  • Using the setting job aid
  • Using the magic job aid
  • Using the world building job aid
  • Using the character job aid
  • Using the formidable obstacle job aid

Quest 4: Discover how to figure out what comes next, then develop your story sketch (outline)

  • The number of scenes for your story
  • The story cycle
  • Story turns
  • Trigger and delay
  • Structure, and why structure models so often fail to help

Quest 5: Discover how to transport your reader to the story, then write your first three chapters

  • Techniques for telling your story so it’s vivid and clear
  • Narrative summary versus narrative detail and when to use  each
  • Effective description
  • Writing point of view, hot and cold
  • Orienting the reader
  • Transitions

Quest 6: Discover the three main effects you should read for, then deliver a reader report for the first chapters of seven different novels

  • The 3 grunts (the secret that allows you to learn from other novels)
  • Reader report rules
  • How to get feedback for the rest of your project

Quest 7: Discover your next steps, then create a plan

  • Methods to write quickly
  • What you need to do to publish independently
  • What you need to do to publish with a traditional publisher

As you can see, in this course you aren’t going to just hear someone go on about theory. You’re going to define your type of story, surprise yourself by developing at least 10 solid story ideas that beg to be written (by you). Then you’ll select one of those ideas, sketch an outline, and write the first three chapters, all under my guidance, using the same practical, simple methods I use.

Most important of all, you’ll actually stop thinking about writing and be well on your way to finishing your novel with a clear path to the end.

Instead of dreaming about someday, you’ll enjoy the excitement of writing a novel right now.

The cost of the course depends on what you want:

  • Access to all of the videos: $199
  • Access to all of the videos and two rounds of coaching on your story idea, outline, and first three chapters $399

Not for everyone

Having said that, you need to know that this class is not for everyone. If you are not willing to actually make time to do the work I ask, you will find no benefit.

How much time will you need to spend?

With all of the videos, reading, and development you’ll do, you should expect to take 30-40 hours. You can move through it at your own pace, but I strongly suggest you spend at least five hours per week. Any less than that, and you’re going to find it very difficult to keep your creativity hot enough to make dinner.

Also, if possible, I recommend you take the course with a friend. You will progress so much more quickly when you discuss the lessons and insights and bounce your ideas off of each other.

If you want to just watch the videos, that’s perfectly fine. If you want to actually develop a story and learn on the job, then you have to make time to do this awesome thing, just as you would if you wanted to learn how to dance, quilt, race cars, rappel, or paraglide.

So if you aren’t in a position to make the time, I understand. Please don’t sign up.

But if you’re interested, then click below to raise your hand as someone who is definitely interested. Once I see there are enough people interested, you’ll get the class.

Yes, I’m definitely interested!

If you’re interested, let me know by filling out the form below.

This does not obligate you to anything. It simply says that you are almost 100% sure you want to take the class, barring earthquakes, plagues of demons, or crazy in-laws.

* indicates required

Good Stuff! Two movies, a book, and a shovel

We’re going to start with the shovel because it’s been dumping snow this year, and I know there are some folks out there who want a quicker way to clear the snow from their driveways and walks. And, boy, do I have something for them.

I think it’s safe to say that the Brown family clears more snow by hand than the average American family. We have a driveway and street that together are a little over a tenth of a mile long. Here’s a picture.

We clear that lovely stretch of road by hand with shovels. (Yes, we are crazy; more on that below.) Most of the time we have it cleared long before any city plow shows up. But we love our city plows because they can do the heavy work at the edges on the bottom two-thirds. And they do all the work on that bottom part when it gets really heavy and deep. We love our neighbors with tractors who’ve come to our rescue as well.

Still, we do most of the clearing.

We began our mad shoveling craze for one simple reason: we couldn’t get to our house when it snowed. And it was a pain in the neck to hike that tenth of a mile.

Part of the problem is that we live on a hill, and there are a couple of steep stretches. Another part of the problem was that we had not availed ourselves of this higher technology called snow tires. We thought all-weather tires would do just as fine.

Wrong. Big wrong. They don’t even come close.

With all-weathers, on a hill, you have to keep the road clear. As in to the blacktop. Because once you build up even a small layer of snow, you’ll get slick patches, and then the all-weathers do nothing but spin.

But we didn’t discover that until a few years into it. And by that time, we’d learned that shoveling such a long drive was not only good exercise, but it also was a great way to teach our four girls how to work hard and not fear projects that seemed daunting.

I know some of you are thinking, dude, why not purchase a snow blower, or a pickup or four-wheeler with a plow?

Because snow blowers at the time, much less four wheelers and pickups, were out of our budget. Because I’d much rather spend the money on a family trip somewhere fun. Because why spend the money when you can line up as a family and create your own Brown Family Snow Blade and give your kids stories to tell their kids about living in the Gulag?

Anyway, it’s what we do. Fast forward now to this year. Three of our daughters have grown up and gone off to college. Nellie, my youngest daughter, and I can usually still get it done. But this year’s record snows kicked our butts. Royally.

Now, we’ve tried all sorts of shovels. I can guarantee, if it was at a store for sale, we’ve tried it. We’ve used brooms. We’ve used all sorts of configurations of girl, woman, and dad power. After all that experimentation, we found a standard push shovel to be the best for general snow and a square garden shovel to be the ticket for ice. But this year our trusty tools weren’t cutting it.

So, after one long day on the driveway, I went on line looking for a better shovel. And after looking at quite several contraptions, I found The Snowcaster.

You can see it in action below. It’s basically a plow. One made for a human to push.

When I saw it, I thought this thing had to be better than pushing shovels. So I ordered it and assembled it. The curved blade of incredibly hard plastic rises 9 inches above the ground and is three feet long. Its nifty design allows you to simply flip it to change the direction of the blade.

After using it these last six weeks on multiple snows of everything from ten inches of powder to three inches of watery slush, I will simply say that it’s amazing. It’s so good, I ordered a second unit.

The Snowcaster does have a limit—you’re not going to plow three-feet of snow with it. You’re not going to plow a build-up of two feet. If you’ve got a lot of wet snow over a large area, you will break a sweat. And sometimes you’ll still need a shovel to toss snow at the edges. But for moving large quantities of snow out of the way on asphalt or concrete, it’s the best thing I’ve found to date.

If you are like me and don’t want to purchase a machine just yet, have snow to move, and want to dramatically reduce the time it takes to move it while providing some fun for the kids, I think you’ll love The Snowcaster. I ordered mine directly from the company here: https://thesnowcaster.com/. The model I chose was the 70SNC. I wouldn’t suggest the long model unless you rarely get snows above three inches. I say this because on some days with lots of snow the three-footer was about all I could push.

Okay, onto the movies. I have two excellent ones to recommend. Both of which are based on true-life events.

The first is Denial, a British-American historical drama, that tells the story of how Deborah Lipstadt, a holocaust scholar, was taken to court for libel in Britain by David Irving, a man who claims the Holocaust never happened. In America, you’re always innocent until proven guilty. However, in Britain, with libel, the burden of proof is upon the defendant. So how do you prove you weren’t slandering someone? The movie was thrilling and fascinating. And gave you something to think about afterwards. If you enjoyed Woman in Gold, you’ll enjoy this.

The next is Hidden Figures, an American biographical drama, that tells the story of female African-American mathematicians at NASA. These women were employed as computers—that was their official job title. Of course, this was before electrical computers and calculators, and what they did amazes me. The story is about the USA struggling to catch up to the Russians in the space race, and how four of these women helped while dealing with deep-seated prejudice against Blacks and females. It is full of humor, poignant moments, and surprises. It’s one of the best films I’ve seen these last few years. I don’t know what to compare it to. All I know is that you will laugh, be amazed, become outraged, and cheer.

Lt. General Michael T. Flynn. Flynn is a former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency and Assistant Director of National Intelligence and is now our National Security Advisor. If you want to understand how he is likely to advise the president about our war against radical Islam, let me recommend his book The Field of Fight. In the book, Flynn describes his background as an intelligence officer and how critical good intelligence is in this fight. He then describes his take on who the radical Islamist enemy is and how he thinks we can win the war against them. He shares several surprising insights that only someone with his experience can and reveals as well how good and smart leaders can disagree about strategy. One of his main points is that we will never win the war by killing bodies—this is an ideological war, much like the war we fought against communism. For those wanting to get past news blurbs and hear the man speak for himself at length, I think you’ll find this book interesting.

And because, Dear Reader, you read all the way to the end, I will give you two more movie recommendations. Moana is a great, fun, family film. La La Land is an enjoyable musical romance that will probably break your heart. It did mine.