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No ghosts here

Posted in A Writer's Desk

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Typically one speaks of being surrounded by ghosts. Where I live, however, the ghosts are surrounded by us. So are the ghosthunters.

We live in an log cabin, built by Christian Baughman. In 1812 he took out a warrant for a hollow tucked into the base of the Allegheny Front in central Pennsylvania. To convert a warrant on a piece of land, you needed to survey it and make improvements, and the cabin was part of those improvements. He patented the property in 1812 and Baughman Hollow Farm came into being.

Baughman Hollow Farm was originally about 400 acres that started at the head of the hollow and spread down to the south and east. In the next generation, the farm was divided among the children, and then Dr. Robert Piper (1865-1936) began reassembling pieces of it in the late 19th and early 20th century before he passed it along to Cosmo Mannino, the “Banana King” (1879-1965). By the time we acquired the place from the Mannino estate, in the early 80s, and did a bit of reassembly of our own, it was back to about 300 acres, though no longer a working farm.

The road originally ran up the hollow on the west, turned to the right to run along the base of the Allegheny Front, past the cabin and the barn, and then turned right again to run back down the hollow, to Van Scoyoc road, at the site of the famous circus train wreck. In 1840, John Baughman, son of Christian, donated a bit of ground just above that last turn, at the head of the hollow, to serve as a cemetery. Baughman Cemetery is currently run by an association founded in 1926, and it's still active despite its small size.

It's a tiny cemetery, dominated by the names of local families who are still in the area. Their relatives come by to visit on holidays or just to pass the time, some on ATVs from the adjacent hollows down the old part of the Baughman Hollow Road which is now an internal farm road.

Our farm surrounds it entirely, on all sides. The little patch with its slumbering graves is raised above the surrounding land and sheltered by the Allegheny Front. The cemetery is closed from dusk to dawn so that everyone can rest in peace. It's a quiet, tranquil, private place, as little country cemeteries tend to be.

Or it would be, if it weren't for the ghosthunters. Or the teenagers desperate for a place to party or make out. Or the transactions in illicit substances. Some weekend nights, it feels like we get all three simultaneously.

I'm not sure which is worse, but the ghosthunters are high on the list. You see, Baughman Cemetery is famous in the community of credulity.

    • Tyrone Ghost Hunters — note that this features both ghosthunters and teenagers, so it's a twofer.
    • Haunts of Blair County — it makes all the lists.
    • The Pennsylvania Ghost & Paranormal Research Team — I can't tell you how often I've wished we'd installed some microphones and speakers from the cabin so that we could respond to the flashing lights of the ghosthunters with some spooky wails from hidden locations. I know that my dogs who wake us up in the middle of the night to tell us about the shenanigans outside would agree.

      (We may do this yet…)

I have some sympathy for the teenagers — I was that age once — though I have to wonder about the sensibilities of bringing a hot date to a cemetery to make out. Drunken parties are more reasonable.

But I have to draw the line at vandalism. The maintenance shed was destroyed recently, and that requires real money from real people to repair. And then there was the sit-around-the-campfire-and-tell-spooky-stories party that ended up with a burning car in the midst of our woods. We were lucky it burned slowly.

Nope, haven't seen a single ghost. All the lights, moans, and hiccups have human origins.

 

 

Looking for a tune

Posted in Audiobook, Tales of Annwn, and Under the Bough

That's usually a topic for my fiddling website, but not this time.

This year I'm planning to do several of my audio books. That includes the stories from Tales of Annwn, and one of those (Under the Bough) includes a song.

I better come up with a tune for it. Oops.

It's a rollicking drunks-at-the-wedding sort of ditty. If any readers would care to make suggestions, I'll be glad to consider them before rolling my own, and give you a credit in the audiobook. Welsh or general Celtic styling is what I have in mind.


What did she see in him?
Who could explain?
Another full glass,
And we’ll not mind the pain.
Pain, no pain,
Again and again,
Another full glass,
And we’ll not mind the pain.

Over and under him,
Country or town,
Give us one more
And we’ll drink it right down.
Down, down,
Away with her gown.
Give us one more
And we’ll drink it right down.

Lift up your glasses,
And do what is right.
Wish them the best,
Of both day and of night.
Night, night,
An inspiring sight,
Wish them the best,
Of both day and of night.


The year of the audiobook

Posted in Audiobook, Goals, Production, and Publishing

I've made up my mind. This will be the year I publish audiobook editions of all my titles.

So far, only To Carry the Horn has an audiobook edition. (I've written about producing it here.) I did the narration myself, and I relied upon a local music studio to do the recording.

I'm pleased with the quality of the result, and the reviews are favorable. I've even had a few fans contact me looking for more — but I've balked at producing the rest of them because of the cost of the studio work.

Today, however, my friend Katie persuaded me otherwise.

Here's why…

As I've mentioned elsewhere, I'm planning on writing several entries in the new series, The Affinities of Magic, before publishing them at the beginning of 2018, one every month or two. I think that'll be an interesting experiment in building momentum, and I should be able to manage 4-6 entries before my publishing schedule catches up with my writing. Since it's a new series, I'm hoping my readers won't mind too much waiting a little bit to begin it, if I can saturate them with new entries from the start.

It also lets me experiment with pre-orders, and all the marketing related to that, since I'll have plenty of time to line those dates up.

The bad part of that, for me, is that it means I won't be publishing much except a few shorter works in 2017, and sales tend to drop when no new titles come out.

Katie suggested putting up the missing audiobook editions (as well as audiobooks for the new series ahead of time). That would give me new editions to publish and keep the momentum going for 2017. It's a great idea.

We kicked around the idea of getting local college or high school media interns to help out, but then I realized nothing was really keeping me from just doing the whole thing myself. Nothing that I couldn't solve if I tried.

What's been stopping me from setting up a home studio is that I'm living in a tiny 1812 log cabin, and there's no room that's out of reach of the hot air furnace, and only one where the television is inaudible.

I don't have a good place to set up as a studio, with sound insulation and all the rest — not without making everyone else tiptoe around to accommodate it. It's not like we have a spare closet.

Desktop microphone isolation stand

But, you know, technology marches on. The popularity of podcasting has created a demand for gear that can create a mini-environment for recording on a desktop. If all the noise that reaches the mike is controlled, maybe the entire room doesn't have to be deadened like a real studio.

I'm an audiophile as a consumer, but not as a producer. I can grope my way around an audio editor program like Goldwave because I'm also a fiddler and I needed a tool to clean up workshop recordings, but that's a far cry from being an audio engineer. On the other hand, this is spoken word, not multi-track music.

What's one more learning curve for an indie author and publisher, eh?

I'll have to wait until spring is far enough along that I can shut the furnace down for a couple of hours at a time, but by then I expect to have a portable home studio set up for less than the cost of engaging an audio professional to do the work for me for a single book.

And then I'll start cranking them out.

Writer by day, and narrator by night.

Every story needs its own world

Posted in Artwork, Fantasy, Science Fiction, Setting, Structures of Earth, and The Affinities of Magic

Every story needs its own world and, if you're writing fantasy or scifi, that world has to be built.

I started Structures of Earth not quite two years ago, then put it on pause to write the Chained Adept series first (see background). At the time, I had a vivid image of the river town where the action was happening — the capital city for the country in which the story is set, rather the way London functions for England.

But where was that country, and what place in what world did it occupy?

One thing I learned from The Chained Adept — it's fun (and not too hard) to build a world map for a series and much better to do it at the start rather than to try and retrofit one after most of the story is done. That way, the “real world” constraints can ground the story and drive some of the plot logistics issues.

The world of The Affinities of Magic is a new world, and it needs its own maps. I took Fractal Terrains 3 out for a spin last night and started seeding the world settings until I found one I liked.

The world of The Affinities of Magic

Here's what that globe looks like if you unroll it, with a pointer showing where my temperate northern hemisphere initial city is located. (I haven't designated any national/imperial boundaries yet.)

One thing is already clear — there will be large differences between the cultures on the inner sea and those with access by water to the rest of the world. That inner sea may be 4200 miles wide, but it's still a restricted body of water, warm equatorial water, and the ecosystem in and around it will be unique.

See? That's something I didn't know before I generated this map. Hadn't even thought about it.

Read More Every story needs its own world

Restarting a series

Posted in Characters, Fantasy, Structures of Earth, and The Affinities of Magic

Book Cover - Structures of Earth, from The Affinities of Magic seriesI was about a quarter of the way into Structures of Earth when I put it aside in late 2015 to write a different series: the four books of The Chained Adept, the 4th and final book of which was just released.

Why would I do that, interrupt a series?

Well, there were several issues…

Series longevity

I intend for The Affinities of Magic to be a longish series, the way a detective series is. The characters will grow over time and their role in their world will evolve, but the focus will be almost exclusively on each individual story rather than an overall series arc. There are long-term issues that drive some of the characters, and those will show progress (or setbacks) across the books, but not an integral sort of series arc, the sort you're accustomed to in a trilogy, say, where you must “destroy the ring!” or achieve whatever goal you started with.

Some detective series work this way (the ones that don't just reset the characters with each new entry). Each book has a problem to solve that is important to the characters, but in the background the hero is getting older and having problems with his marriage, and an old flame shows up and then goes away again, and he gets wiser (or not) about how to handle certain situations, and so forth.

In The Chained Adept and The Hounds of Annwn series, there's an overall story arc to the entire series, though each book is a complete story of its own. For the former, that arc is probably completed, but for the latter — who knows? Might get longer. I have ideas…

World building to last

Creating a series like that meant I had to approach world building and character building (especially teams) for the long haul. Longer than four books, anyway.

I put some serious work into the technology of magic underpinning the “rules” by which the guilds (and others) operate, since the fundamental premise of the series is that they follow someone who is the “young Tom Edison” of magic — someone who figures out why the rules work the way they do. The whole series background is set in the resulting industrial revolution caused by these discoveries, with our hero at the center of it. I've always enjoyed technology of magic issues — perhaps that's a reflection of my fondness for hard science fiction.

All that is very interesting, but you can't tell stories about concepts. Stories are about people.

Read More Restarting a series

On a Crooked Track has just been released

Posted in On a Crooked Track, Release, and The Chained Adept

on-a-crooked-track-full-front-cover-297x459Book 4 of The Chained Adept

SETTING A TRAP TO CATCH THE MAKERS OF CHAINED WIZARDS.

A clue has sent Penrys back to Ellech, the country where she first appeared four short years ago with her mind wiped, her body stripped, and her neck chained. It’s time to enlist the help of the Collegium of Wizards which sheltered her then.

Things don’t work out that way, and she finds herself retracing a dead scholar’s crooked track and setting herself up as a target to confirm her growing suspicions. But what happens to bait when the prey shows its teeth?

In this conclusion to the series, tracking old crimes brings new dangers, and a chance for redemption.

Order direct from the author, or see the publisher for a growing list of retail sites.

Taking stock of 2016

Posted in Goals

Still Life and Street, M.C. Escher, 1937It's time to look back on 2016 and take stock — what worked, what didn't, and where I spent my time.

Accomplishments

I almost tripled 2015's word count, though my total of 343,000 fell just short of my target of 365,000.

For the first time, I managed to publish four books in eleven months — an entire series (The Chained Adept: 2/2016 thru 1/2017). The whole thing was an experiment in writing as a “pantser” (by the seat of my pants), without an outline (other than the basic inflection points of the story). I liked the freedom of the process and will continue that way.

I also packaged up and released two book bundles for the Hounds of Annwn series and expanded my international distribution.

Read More Taking stock of 2016

Word Count 2016

Posted in Goals

table_abacus-gregor_reisch_margarita_philosophica_1508

Always good to know what the numbers say…

Words of fiction

2016 – 346,258
2015 – 119,603
2014 –   65,736
2013 – 210,470
2012 – 270,600

Total – 1,012,657

 

Goal for fiction for the new year

2017 – 365,000

Blog posts

2016 – 43,429
2015 – 30,619
2014 – 34,214
2013 – 28,714
2012 – 18,347

Total – 155,875