Plaguewalker In The Flesh!

My time in arctic Norway is coming to a close, which makes me sad–but the great news is that I’ll be returning to Milwaukee in a week to gear up for Plaguewalker‘s official launch on October 26, with a very special “tag team of terror” reading with fellow author Paul McComas the following day.

If you’re in the southeastern Wisconsin area–or if you’ve got a lot of frequent flyer miles and like Marcus a lot–please come say hello at one of the events and let me know you’ve visited this site.

Reading and Book Signing, 7 p.m. Friday, October 26 at Boswell Books, 2559 N. Downer Ave., Milwaukee: This is it, folks, the official worldwide, dare I say galactic launch of Plaguewalker thanks to the fine folks at Boswell, who have been so supportive of local authors. As someone who is only slightly less introverted than Marcus, I am kind of dreading the actual public part of this, but I promise to drink too much coffee and be entertaining in a wild, rambly kind of way.

Tag Team of Terror Reading, 2 p.m. Saturday, October 27 at the Wauwatosa Public Library, 7635 W. North Ave., Wauwatosa: I’ll be doing another reading, another over-caffeinated ramble and signing any copies of Plaguewalker thrust in my direction, but this time I’ll be sharing billing with award-winning author Paul McComas, who penned Unforgettable, Planet of the Dates and Unplugged. Paul was an early supporter of Plaguewalker and has been a great mentor. His writing is an addictive blend of sci-fi, horror and comedy, with his native Wisconsin often featuring as both place and character.

I’ve got a few other projects in the works for Plaguewalker and am almost finished with the final edit of The War’s End, so watch this space for more announcements. Thanks as always for reading and please say hello later this month at Boswell Books or the Tosa Public Library!

Hello, Kindle…Plus Knowledge Is Power

Well, it’s happening. Plaguewalker is now available in Kindle format on Amazon for a mere $2.99. That’s less than a Starbucks latte! The paperback version is completed and ready to print–I’m just waiting for the thumbs-up from Amazon for the eStore to go active, hopefully within the next few days.

The reviews are coming in and, wow…

“A stunning and thoroughly satisfying debut…A riveting, moving tale of atonement and reconciliation, redemption and salvation. The author’s audacious choices—a fearsome executioner and expert in torture as point-of-view character and protagonist; the Black Death as catalyst for this same anguished man’s evolution and deliverance—pay off in a page-turner of a book that’s near-impossible to put down. Tarlach’s feel for time and place is authentic and evocative, her language crisp and poetic, and her characterization spot-on: Marcus, stoic and struggling, is an effective, affecting narrator, while bold little Brenna wins the reader’s heart right along with her protector’s. All told, Plaguewalker is one of the best novels I’ve read in years.”–Paul McComas, author of Unforgettable, Planet of the Dates, and Unplugged

“The descriptive prose builds word pictures so vivid that the reader can feel the cold–both of the weather and the circumstance…Strong, well thought out prose and dialog combine to draw pictures of a brutal time full of blood lust in the fourteenth century in central Europe.”–Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2012 Quarterfinal Judge

The whole process of getting Plaguewalker published in both print and eBook formats took longer than planned and involved many more steps than envisioned. But I’m happy to say I learned a lot, and that it ended up costing significantly less than I’d feared.

I want to stress that I am not computer-savvy by any means. But, with a little tenacity, I was able to do all of the design and conversion myself. Here’s what I learned, usually the hard way:

My biggest expense by far was purchasing a package of ten ISBNs from Bowker. That set me back $250. But a single ISBN costs $125, and I knew I’d need at least two for Plaguewalker alone (one for the print and one for the eBook edition), plus two apiece for my upcoming fantasy novels The War’s End and The Guardian.

I decided to purchase my own ISBNs instead of using free ones through CreateSpace because the latter have restrictions on them, and would record CS as the publisher, not Grunaskhan Books. The process for assigning an ISBN to a title was a little more involved than I’d figured, but the page Bowker has set up is extremely user-friendly and I was able to get both editions completed in a matter of minutes.

I spent months researching different POD (print on demand) companies and went with CreateSpace because of the reach of their distribution, through Amazon, and the number of free tools they have. Now that the process is finished, I would say I’m very happy with the result. During the process, however, I wished a pox upon the House of CreateSpace more than once.

If you do use CS, the biggest tip I can give you is not to waste time contacting their customer service or consulting their Help Guide if you run into trouble. Just go to the community forums and search for a thread on your problem. You’ll find the solution much faster.

You can spend a lot of money setting up a title through CS, but I went the DIY route and made use of their free tools, including a downloadable template for my novel’s trim size and a Cover Creator that turned my JPGs into a PDF. My only expense associated with the whole process was buying MS Word for $100. I had been using OpenOffice for word processing but found it would not play nice with the CS template. Since I needed Word anyway to view some unrelated documents in Excel, I decided to bite the bullet and just buy it.

I can’t comment on CS cover services since I didn’t use them, but they did seem kind of pricey. I’m no DaVinci, but I had a very clear vision of what I wanted the cover to look like. So I drew it myself. The only expense here was buying a pad of good Artist Marker paper ($8) and six Prismacolor Markers (about $12 for the markers, thanks to a 50% off sale…I do love a bargain). I shopped around for a free commercial-use font and settled on Deutsch Gothic from FontSquirrel, my absolute favorite font site.

I’m also extremely lucky to know a very talented and detail-oriented copy editing goddess, Dulcie, so I was able to skip hiring a freelance editor or using CS’ service.

My only other expenses were a few dollars here and there to scan my illustration into a JPG and register this domain. I also spent about $30 on downloadable guides to specifics aspects of the publishing process, such as how to set up a copyright page and use an ISBN, from The Book Designer. I didn’t buy his stuff until I’d followed his blog for a while and realized the wealth of information offered there. If I had to recommend a single starting point to learn about this process, I would point you to his site. A crazy amount of information in very user-friendly form. His site is particularly useful for understanding the visual elements of book design, from page number positioning to choosing an interior font.

Once I got the paperback version finished and approved at CreateSpace, I tried to convert it to Kindle form at KDP. This started out as a comedy of errors but I dug around the community forums and found a link to a free ebook that explained, step by step, how to convert a Word file into Kindle-friendly HTML. Without this book I might still be weeping into my Tension Tamer tea. In the end, from first try to seeing those magical words “Conversion Successful,” it took a couple hours and cost me nothing. According to the CS site, they would have charged me $69 and taken weeks to do the same thing.

I’m still tinkering with the eStore for the paperback, which is not yet live. I’ve just started figuring out the whole marketing approach. It will be weeks or months, I expect, before anything comes of this venture. But right now, regardless of what happens next, I feel a sense of accomplishment just getting through the process wiser but not much poorer. I’ve already learned a tremendous amount that will make getting the next two novels ready a zillion times easier.

If you’re thinking about indie publishing, I hope the above was helpful. If you’re not thinking about indie publishing but have been wondering what I’ve been up to the last few months and why I never return your emails, well, there you have it.

Thanks as always for reading.


I’d Like To Thank This Curious Fellowship of Strangers

I’m on the eve, metaphorically speaking, of seeing Plaguewalker published. The interior has been proofed (by my ever-fabulous editor Dulcie), formatted, checked and re-checked. The covers, back and front, are uploaded and ready. I’m just waiting on one small detail, and then hope to have the book available within a few weeks. I figure hey, it took me a long time to write it and much longer to work up the courage to share it with others. I can wait a fortnight or so to make sure everything is as it should be.

While I’m excited about actually seeing it in print (though I personally won’t see it till August, when mail service resumes here in Antarctica), what I feel more than anything is a happy kind of gratitude. My family and friends have been supportive of this endeavor from the start, and for that I’m thankful. But even more amazing to me has been the number of total strangers willing to share their knowledge and offer encouragement.

During early research I did when I began seriously considering the indie publishing route, I stumbled on Joel Friedlander’s site, The Book Designer. Wow. What a fantastic source of user-friendly information. And it’s free. I did eventually purchase some additional guides he had on offer about specific elements of book design, but I paid less for them than I would for a decent meal and think it was money well-spent.

More recently, a friend who is a fan of sci-fi author Kay Kenyon suggested I check out her site. Again, I was astounded by the amount of useful (and free) information, and in particular the practical but encouraging tone. People like Kay and Joel are established in the business. They already have audiences. They don’t need to spend time helping out authors new to indie publishing but they do, and I think that’s terrific.

Even in the community forums at CreateSpace, the indie publishing hub I’m using to bring Plaguewalker to readers, there are dozens of knowledgeable people who’ll answer the most mundane questions from newbies, over and over, with no financial gain for themselves.

At a time when the traditional world of publishing is contracting (many would say imploding), it’s encouraging to see so many skilled and seasoned industry people sharing the wealth of knowledge they possess rather than clutching it tighter to themselves as they slink off into caves murmuring “my preciousssss…”

You didn’t think I’d go too long with a LoTR reference, did you?

So, as I wait for the final bit of preparation to fall into place before Marcus heads off into the world, I thank all these amazing people who offer their time and talent to anxious authors like me, not to make money but to make better books. For everyone.

New! Read an Excerpt

Read the first chapter of Plaguewalker here. The excerpt is the first of several planned updates to the site as PW‘s publishing date draws nearer. The book itself is now going through a final proof by my gracious editor Dulcie. Meanwhile, I’m attending to a few marketing and distribution issues in preparation for next month’s official launch of both the book and this site.

Got any comments on what you’d like to see on this site? I would love to hear your thoughts.

Plaguewalker has made the Quarterfinals!

Plaguewalker has advanced to the next round in Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Award, reaching the Quarterfinals in the Young Adult Fiction Category. The competition began with 5,000 entries in early February and has been whittled down to 250 in the Quarterfinals, announced online today. The next winnowing will be in late April, when 100 entries will make the Semifinals.

Okay, that was the professional journalist in me. The author, the person who spent hours alone first with just the bones of Plaguewalker, then its guts and finally flesh, is a bit giggly right now. This has been a long journey. I began writing Plaguewalker in 1996, finished it two years later, tried to get it published and received one “well done but not for us, thanks” rejection after another, then set it aside, in a box, for years.

When I started to read one article after another about the self-publishing revolution, I decided to dust PW off, as a test case. At fewer than 70,000 words, it was a baby compared with my other, more monstrously sized novels.

Within days of deciding to publish it, I received a recommendation from Amazon, based on previous purchases: “Hey, why don’t you consider buying The Hangman’s Daughter?”

What? The Hangman’s what?!

I remember the night I read Amazon’s page on the book. Medieval Bavarian executioner and his relationship with his daughter.

Oh, crap.

I’ll admit it, reading about The Hangman’s Daughter took the wind out of my sails to publish PW. Sure, there is an apparently inexhaustible market for books about vampires and Freemason/Illuminati conspiracies hidden in ancient texts, but just how big is the audience for tales about medieval Bavarian executioners?

I set PW aside for another year, a bit crushed and fearing that anyone who looked at it would think it was a ripoff of The Hangman’s Daughter (which I never did read, so verklempt was I over learning it even existed).

Then I decided I was going to self-publish The War’s End, all 180,000 or so words of it (Note: shorter than Game of Thrones, if nothing else). Before taking the plunge, I needed to test the process. I needed PW.

I had to dig the files out of storage. I wrote them using MSWorks 3, I believe, four laptops ago. This meant a lot of file conversion and technofussing, which is not one of my stronger points.

Finally I got it into workable form in OpenOffice. I started reading it and suddenly I fell in love with it all over again. I edited it for a few typos and style issues, but I’d say 99% of it was untouched. Then I tried to upload it to CreateSpace–and discovered OpenOffice does not play well with CS.

Okay, okay… I gave up and bought MSWord, re-converted it and noticed it was the last day to submit manuscripts to Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Award. I did it really as an afterthought. I was more focused on other things, like redeploying to Antarctica and buying more fancy Prismacolor markers to take with me.

I’ve spent the past month wrestling with templates on CreateSpace, trying to get PW published, not really thinking about the contest. It was cool when I made the first cut, and a delightful surprise when I made the Quarterfinals.

And then I got a real shock of the nicest sort.

ABNA lets you read feedback from “expert readers” who have read your excerpt (in my case, the first two chapters of the book). I was a little afraid to look at the comments. I may have this reputation for being a total badass (somewhat warranted), and I’ll admit I fear nothing, but when it comes to PW, I’m a bit fragile. Not so much for my writing, but because, out of all my characters, PW‘s Marcus is very dear to me. I feel protective of him almost as if he were my defenseless child rather than a seven-foot, brutish executioner.

The main characters in The War’s End, Kharrn and Sventevit, well, I love them both. But I know they can fend for themselves. Marcus, ah, he’s special. Misunderstood, alienated and isolated in a way no other character of mine has been, I feel for him. He has no moral compass because the concept is itself unknown to him. And yet he is not a bad man. Yes, he tortures and kills people for a living, treats the women in his life horribly and is utterly detached from the suffering of others, but it’s not because he’s inherently evil. He just doesn’t know any other way.

I was a little worried readers might not respond to Marcus’ vulnerability, his insecurity and even his dry sense of humor. Friends who’ve read PW have assured me all of his better qualities come through, but it wasn’t until today, when I read the glowing comments of strangers who met Marcus for the first time, that I believed it.

Thank you, expert readers. Even if PW advances no further in the competition, your enthusiasm for it makes me feel so much less stressed about sending Marcus out into the world on his own. Once I’ve made sure he’s wearing his gloves and carrying a spare pair of nice warm socks.