Saturday, March 7, 2015

Thank you, Ann

I went to a funeral today. It was the funeral of someone who has had a huge impact on my life. A bigger impact than maybe even she knew.

By 2003 I had finished writing the first draft of Eternal Knight. It was a monstrous 250,000 word manuscript. I had no idea what to do with it. I'd written the novel "in the blind," with no advice or support. I'd just wanted to write a novel.

From time to time I would mention my writing hobby to my students (mostly 9th graders taking Western Civilization). One day I brought up my book and one of my students said, "Mr. Heppe, Claire's mother is an author. She writes romance novels."

I turned to Claire and asked her if it was true. (For some reason, I thought the kids were pulling my leg.) Claire pointed me to her mother's website. There she was... not as Ann Emery, but as Ann Lawrence, her pseudonym.

I asked Claire if I could meet her mother and talk to her about writing. It didn't matter that she was a romance author, I just wanted to learn more about writing and getting published. I really had no clue and needed some help.

It took a little while to arrange, but a few months later I found myself sitting with Ann at her dining room table, talking about writing. I remember that day very clearly. Ann fed me angel food cake and tea and talked to me about writing, agents, and the publishing industry. It was eye-opening and informative. Ann was a wonderful host.

I'd brought a few chapters of  Eternal Knight with me, and Ann graciously offered to critique them. I was both excited and terrified by the offer. Nobody had ever seen a single word of my 250,000 word novel. I gave Ann the chapters, thanked her for her hospitality, and went home.

I then spent three weeks gnawing my fingernails. I'd put thirteen years of time into my manuscript. It wasn't an easy thirteen years, either. I had constantly started and stopped, losing faith in myself, and then being drawn back to the story again. That manuscript was filled with a lot of hours of work, hopes, and dreams.

Ann called me and invited me back again. She'd finished my chapters. When I arrived I saw more cake, more tea, and my chapters sitting on the dining room table. My eyes were immediately drawn to the first page of my novel.

There was more red ink on that page than I'd ever seen on a single piece of paper.

My heart sank.

After pouring some tea into me and stuffing some cake down my throat, Ann told me two things. She told me that my storytelling was very good. She also told me that my writing needed help. We then spent an hour going over every line of those first chapters in detail. It was an amazing experience. I learned more about writing fiction in that hour than I'd learned my entire life.

Before I left, Ann invited me to join her critique group.

"Of course!" I replied.

"What's a critique group?" I asked.

Apparently it was a group of four romance authors who would meet at Ann's house twice a month to exchange chapters and critiques of their work. Ann warned me that I'd be reading a lot of romance and would be expected to give helpful and honest critiques of the writing. In return, the other authors would read my monstrous epic fantasy and do the same for me.

The following months transformed me as a writer. It was Writing Boot Camp. There were four members of the group, and they each played a part reshaping my writng.

Sally (the Knife) Stotter: She'd send my work back with big red X marks over paragraphs (and sometimes entire pages). She took my 250,000 word beast and turned it into a svelte 115,000 word novel. Sometimes less is more.

Lena (the Queen of Grammar) Pinto: Grammar is still, obviously, not my strong suit. However, under Lena's tutelage, I made huge progress.

Lisa (the Sniper) Hollis McCulley: Lisa had a way of finding just right word and putting it just the right place. She commented less than any of the others, but when she did, her aim was dead on.

Ann (the Master) Emery: Ann was always right. I just accepted it. Sometimes she was stern, and sometimes she was funny, but she was always right. Ann had a wonderful eye for story and language. Her comments, suggestions, and criticism not only improved my book, but they taught me valuable lessons about writing and editing.

I have incredibly find memories of sitting around Ann's dining room table, eating cookies (and pizza, and lasagna, and pastries), and having my novel (and myself) transformed. I owe Ann, and the entire critique group, a debt of gratitude I can never repay. 

Even after I had left the critique group to pursue publication, Ann was willing to help me. Despite her illness, she found time to critique and edit my second novel. When I last saw her, she was so happy and enthusiastic it is hard for me to imagine how ill she really was.

Just a month ago, having finished the rough draft of my third novel, I was thinking I should give Ann a call. I would never consider publishing a novel without first seeking her advice.

Unfortunately, before I had the chance to make the call, I learned of Ann's death. The news was crushing. Ann had an enormous impact on me.

I don't know how to finish this. I'll just leave it at this...

Thank you, Ann. I'll miss you. I'll always remember you. 







Friday, February 6, 2015

Rolling in the Memories

I don't make much money as an author. Who knows... maybe someday I will. However, there are a lot of other perks to being an author than making money.

Every time a good review shows up, it feels like a small victory. Someone liked my book! And then there are book club meetings. I've gone to four of them. What a thrill- sitting with a group of serious readers who want to talk about your book!

There are also events like last night. I was invited to Garnet Valley School District to participate in Literacy Night. I had the chance to speak with three different groups of students and parents. I loved sharing my experiences with them and having the chance to answer their questions. Each time a new group came in I saw more people holding copies of my book. Seeing people walk around with copies of my book in their hands... I couldn't stop grinning. "That's me! That's my book!"

Me (on left) with Anthony Gabriele, GVSD Director of Curriculum

At the end of the evening a very earnest young woman came up to me and asked me for some writing advice. I did my best. Seriously, who am I to give advice? I still feel like a noob. And then she asked for an autograph. Not a signed book. She wanted me to sign her autograph book. I signed it, but I felt like such a fraud. "Look, kiddo," I was thinking, "I'm nobody. I'm not worthy of an autograph book."

I don't feel worthy of it, but I sure won't forget it. Francisco Lee has the fist copy of a book I've ever signed. Emily from Garnet Valley has the first autograph I've ever signed. The Doylestown Bookshop is the first book store to ever sell a copy of my book. Cheryl Anne Ham was the first stranger to give my book a five star review. Robin Tarzia hosted the first book club I ever attended. No, I'm not rolling in the dough, but I am rolling in the memories.


Sunday, December 14, 2014

Hello There

Well.....

Yeah, it's been a little while since I've shown my face around here.

What have I been doing with my time?

Writing!

Shadow of the Knight now sits at 123,000 words. A few weeks ago I didn't think it was going to be this long. Not that 130,000 words is especially long. Patrick Rothfuss and GRR Martin write books well over 200,000 words long. I still have to write one chapter, the prologue, and the epilogue. I'm thinking the final word count will hit 130,000 words. January 1st is my target date to finish the rough copy.

Once my rough draft is finished I'll spend almost a month on revisions and editing before I send it off to my critique partners. They'll have it for a month before I make adjustments based on their criticism, and then put it through proofreading.

My very roughest estimate is that Shadow of the Knight will be published on April 1st.

Besides writing, I've been having a great time playing Dungeons and Dragons with a group of friends. We only meet every 2-3 weeks, but I'm the Dungeon Master, so have some extra "work" to do between sessions.

I have to say, they've done a fantastic job with Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition. I'm really impressed with the game and how they've presented it. I'd love to play more often.

Back to writing!





Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Dungeons and Dragons

After a 26 year break, I'm playing Dungeons and Dragons again.

I've tried online "role playing games", spending the most time on World of Warcraft and EVE Online. They can be engrossing... even addicting, but they don't compare to Dungeons and Dragons.

In junior high and high school I was a D+D fanatic. Of course I didn't make this public knowledge. Today we are living in the Golden Age of Geekery, but this wasn't the case in the early 1980's. Back then D+D was a secret known only to a few friends.

Things have changed. First of all, I have changed. I am past the age where I care what people think of my hobbies. I write fantasy novels. I make longbows. I very occasionally dress in funny clothes and pretend it's the Middle Ages.

I play Dungeons and Dragons.

Think it's weird? I really, truly, honestly don't care. I'm having a blast with my friends. It's great not being in junior high school any more.

The world has changed as well. In the 80's people didn't really realize what geeks were bringing them. Today they do. Like your iPhone? A geek brought you that. Same with your computer and the internet. Enjoy Game of Thrones on HBO? Thank a geek. The popularity of The Big Bang Theory is clear evidence of how far we've come in our acceptance of geekery.

So what triggered my return to D+D? It was this article on i09.


After reading the article I decided to pick up the boxed set. It was only @$12 on Amazon.com, how could I go wrong? The box arrived and I was very impressed. It gave you a campaign and all the rules you need to advance to 5th level.

Of course I then ordered the new Player's Handbook. In fact, just seconds ago, I pre-ordered the Monster Manual. Yep, I'm hooked.

The next step was to find players. I knew Mike Shultz would want in. He's my writing critique partner and we've talked D+D on many occasions. But how to find other players? I was pretty sure Bob and Steve, two friends I've reenacted with would jump aboard. They did. Three players isn't bad, but I wanted a good sized group. How to get more?

"Hey, want to play some Dungeons and Dragons?" Not the easiest question to ask other forty year olds. Mike and I knew that one of our co-workers, Ian, was already in a campaign. We hit him up and he was in. In fact, every single person we asked wanted in. They all thought it was a great idea. Two friends, Jim and Tim, had to back out due to family responsibilities. This is one issue younger players generally don't have to deal with. We did pick up Dan. The group was set. Five players: Mike, Steve, Bob, Ian, and Dan. I would DM.


The band of heroes.
I was very happy to assume the role of Dungeon Master. I'd always done it with my friends, so it was something I was comfortable with. What really had me psyched was that I was going to place the game campaign in the world of my novels. All of the players had read both Eternal Knight and Child of the Knight and were up for campaigning in the world of The Orb series.

How did I adjust the world to fit a D+D setting?

1) The campaign is set 300 years after the events of the last (yet to be published) novel in the series.
2) The Orb of Creation was "unlocked", releasing the ability to do magic into the world. Now more than just elementars, singers, and summoners (you'll read about the singers and summoners in Shadow of the Knight) would be able to do magic.
3) As readers of the books know, Akinos created the giant capcaun and urias, as well as the berserk varcolac and the silver elementars. What readers don't know is that he did more experiments. These other experiments resulted in many other "fantasy" creatures being created.
4) Rigaria is now overrun with monsters, and a place where only high level adventurers dare to go. The East Teren is the "wild west", subject to constant invasions from Rigaria. A good place for new adventurers.

What came of the eternals? The ones that survived (those who separated themselves from the Orb) have become liches. They create pyren (vampires) and ghouls to serve them.

The varcolac split into two lines. Some assumed more of their animal nature and became were-creatures. Those with stronger human influence became orcs.

Dwarves and halflings? Rejected experiments by Akinos. (Don't call a dwarf an "Akinos reject", however. They don't take it well.)

Elves? The spiridus, of course.

Anyway, you get the idea. I've turned The Orb novels into an "origin story" for my D+D world. This wasn't done just for the D+D campaign. I've always thought of the books as an origin story for a more traditional fantasy world. More on this another time.

Well, I was going to write about our characters and their adventures, but this has gone long enough! I'll write another post about the campaign itself. Maybe I'll make it a regular thing.



Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Shadow of the Knight Progress Report

Hello All!

Dropping by to let you know how I am progressing with Shadow of the Knight. As it turns out, things are going very well. I just passed the 30,000 word mark and have been doing very well meeting my writing goals.

As with Child of the Knight, I've put together a spreadsheet (click it to see a bigger image) to keep me on track:


The first five thousand words were a struggle. I wrote and re-wrote chapter one several times. I finally found the right voice and got the ball rolling. Every day I record my starting and ending word counts, which automatically generates more data. I get: word count for the day, words until finished (approx), average words per day, days until finished (words until finished divided by average word count), and projected finish date.

I've added colorful "badges" as a visual reward (or punishment).

RED= zero words
Yellow= 1 to 499
White= 500 to 999
Blue= 1,000 or more.

Come on BLUE!

I am trying very hard to write every day. Missed the mark on Sunday, but I'm back in the saddle. I would love to get the average over 1,000 a day. I'm close.

Well, back to writing. This post isn't helping my word count!



Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Newsletter Sign Up

I'm taking care of something I should have done a long time ago. Every author should have a newsletter, and I have (until now) neglected to set one up. My newsletter will be a (very) infrequent email I send to readers. Infrequent as in less than once a month. I promise not to spam you!

The newsletter will tell you about upcoming releases, special offers on my books, and any events (book signings, readings, conventions, etc) I have planned. Please take a moment to sign up. 


Here's the link: Matt Heppe's Newsletter

By the way, I'm making great progress on Book Three! 



Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Back to work

Making progress. I spent much of July doing book research, outlining, struggling with chapter one, and goofing off doing summer things.



I got a little fed up at my lack of progress, so declared (quietly, to myself) that I would get my ass in gear starting on Monday, August 4th. Not for any particular reason other than I would be just returning from a four day trip to Minnesota for my sister-in-law's wedding.

Two days in and things are going great. I changed the starting point for Chapter One and it has really improved the flow of the chapter. 2,000 words over two days isn't bad for late evening writing. And now that I'm into it, I'll start moving faster.

Child of the Knight is getting very good reviews, but sales are slow. I'm not going to make the same mistake I made after Eternal Knight. After EK I had hoped that awesome sales would motivate me to write more books.

I had it wrong. Writing more books motivates readers to buy more books.

Oops. Back to work.





Sunday, July 6, 2014

One Month In

Child of the Knight is one month old!

So far so good. The reception to Child of the Knight has been very positive. No, not a bestseller... yet. But very positive feedback and some very nice reviews. As of today CotK has seven five star reviews on Amazon and nine out of ten of its Goodreads ratings are fives. The one four on Goodreads included a very nice write-up, so no complaints there!

I know the average will fall over time. The earliest reviewers all appear to have come from readers who were expectantly awaiting the sequel to Eternal Knight. The positive sign is that most readers appear to like Child of the Knight even more than Eternal Knight.

If you are a reader, please consider writing a review on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Apple, Smashwords, Goodreads, or wherever you made your purchase. And tell a friend! Novels succeed on reviews and word of mouth. Especially independent novels like CotK.

One very supportive reader, Chris Verwijmeren, took the time to send me this awesome photo:


Chris is a very knowledgeable archer and he's given me a lot of archery writing advice. In fact, he's become one of the experts I rely upon to keep my books realistic and believable.

Speaking of writing, I'm already at work on Book Three (as of yet untitled). I won't say that I'm HARD at work, as the beginning of summer is a very turbulent time. Lot's of swim meets and family travel make it hard to get consistent writing done. However, Book Three is entirely outlined and ready to go. It will not take three years to get this one done!

It has been a great month. I'm happy Child of the Knight has had such a good reception. A big THANK YOU to all my readers!

All my best,

Matt 






Thursday, June 5, 2014

Release Day!

Here we are... RELEASE DAY! Child of the Knight is live!

Join us over on Facebook where we are having a release party from 9-11PM EST tonight (June 5th).

I'll post contests where you can win free signed copies of Child of the Knight. We'll also have conversations about writing and books. Any post at all will register you for a raffle to win a $100 Amazon gift card.

There will also be a Twitter conversation. Just follow #childoftheknight

I don't want you to be left out if you don't have Facebook or Twitter. Just post a comment to this blog post and you'll be entered to win a book as well as an entry in the Amazon raffle.

Oh yeah, go buy a copy of Child of the Knight!



CotK on Amazon
CotK on Barnes and Noble
Also available from Apple, Smashwords, and Kobo

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Virtual Release Party

Hi All,

I'm inviting everyone to the Child of the Knight Virtual Release Party!

Where? The interwebs.

The primary location will be on Facebook.
We will also party on Twitter @mattheppe with a # of ChildoftheKnight
And we'll also hang out here!

When?

This Thursday, June 5th, from 9PM to 11PM

Why?

To celebrate the release of my second novel, Child of the Knight


What?

There will be games and prizes. I'll give our free books, and there will be a grand prize of a $100 Amazon gift card.

I hope you can make it. Let me know if you have any questions!

Best,

Matt