After their successful liberation of the kidnapped farmers, the three adventurers (my kids playing a role-playing game that I designed for them) were celebrities in their town. They were also growing in power. They had gained another level (it’s nice that kids just know this terminology from other games), and I let them think through the kinds of powers they wanted. My daughter got a defensive bubble spell, my middle son (who is the most energetic) got a spinning attack, and my oldest son got a dual attack.
The young adventurers were going to head out the next day to help Farmer Gurzab get his goods to Anduren when Crazy Hermit Harry came knocking at their door. He had heard of their accomplishments, and he was seeking their help in defending himself from tree trolls. (It’s a lot of fun to play crazy characters that the kids encounter. Harry was wild-eyed, and he called them “Treeeeeee Trolls” and had a lot of “heh heh heh” in his speech.) Since Harry lived in the forest north of town, the adventurers decided it would be good to at least investigate before they traveled far to the south-east. Farmer Gurzab grumbled, but agreed to postpone his trip.
The trio departed northwards the following morning. Rosy (My daughter came up with a real name for her character. My near-teenage eldest son picked “AKid”, and Quinn decided his character should be “Quinn”.) used her newly acquired weather sense skill to determine that a storm was coming. The group found shelter in the hollowed-out base of a giant tree. Unfortunately, two tree trolls also sought shelter in the same place. The battle was interesting as the kids all tried out new abilitie – including swinging an axe in a circle in a very small space… But it all worked out, and the kids had learned their lesson about checking the bodies of defeated foes. While they only found crude bone necklaces for treasure, they did discover a clue. Each tree troll had a crudely scratched brand roughly in the shape of an “H” on its shoulder. (This is the kind of thing where playing a pencil and paper game has a big advantage because I could actually scratch out my crude drawings and hopefully leave some doubt as to what they might mean.) One of the kids immediately said something like, “Looks like an H like Harry.” I thought my surprise might be spoiled…
After the storm passed, the adventurers made their way further north until they found Harry’s shack. It was built against the side of a hill, and the grass from the hilltop actually stretched over the roof of the house. Harry greeted them warmly outside the house and invited them in. His house was a mess and smelled horrible. Harry insisted they sit down and have some soup while he told them about his treeeee troll problems. The two boys agreed, but Rosy wouldn’t try the soup. As soon as they had choked down a couple spoonfuls, Harry stepped outside and beat loudly on a stump with a staff. When he stepped back in, he was accompanied by four tree trolls. Yup – the tree trolls were Harry’s minions.
I informed the boys they were feeling very, very sick and they needed to roll some dice. I’ve never really explained the concept of “saving throws” to them. The middle child immediately assumed that the soup was turning them into tree trolls. In fact, the soup was just making them very sick which was about to make the battle really hard. But they both rolled perfectly, so the soup had minimal impact.
Harry, however, had other surprises in store for them as he started using some of their own powers against them. The battle was close and exciting and involved a lot of tense moments. But the heroes prevailed.
When they decided to search Harry’s shack, the kids learned one of their last big lessons of adventuring. I started one of the kids out with a “detect traps” skill, but he rarely used it. Now as he opened a locked chest, he learned that he should check for traps first as a poisoned needle shot out and poked him in the hand. Fortunately, his sister’s healing saved the day again, and the kids got some good loot and some mysterious items.
I’m hoping to get the next couple of chapters in the book written soon. But in the meantime, the kids are having a lot of fun with the game. We’ve done a couple more sessions since the Crazy Hermit Harry episode, so I’ll share those soon.
While my writing is going fairly slow, I have had a chance to do a couple more sessions of the role-playing game that I designed for my kids. My wife was away at college homecoming event, so we did a pretty long session with two main quests. The first one was focused on the rescue of some kidnapped farmers.
The three young adventurers had been planning to help farmer Gurzab successfully get his goods to the town of Anduren, when they found that three other farmers had been kidnapped by the gorilla-bear mutant creatures (which the kids decided should be named GorBears). Farmer Gurzab agreed to delay his trip while the three adventurers tried to rescue the victims.
Rosy (my daughter’s character) had learned horse riding, so I gave her the chance to ride on a loaned pony while her brothers traveled in the back of a wagon. The threesome arrived in the area of the attack just before dusk and Quinn (the Tracker character) easily lead the group back to the lair of monsters.
If you play role-playing games with a group of seasoned players, the “attack on the enemy stronghold” scenario is almost always done the same way. The small party of adventurers use stealth and careful scouting to try to get inside without raising an alarm. For a little while, it seemed like my kids somehow instinctively knew what to do. When one of the guards they surprised outside the cave tried to run back into the lair to warn the other GorBears, the kids stopped them. And they even cast invisibility on the pet wolf cub and sent it in ahead of them to scout.
But the instant they went into the cave, one of the kids pulled out a pick and started mining. He was convinced he would find magical gems. What actually happened, of course, was that the monsters were alerted and set lots of ambushes for the adventurers as they moved into the cave.
But the kids fought well and used their abilities to make it past the first couple of battles. This is where I introduced the idea of traps. Since the monsters had time to prepare, they tied a trip wire across the hallway. Not a particularly deadly trap, but good for comic relief as the lead character failed to inform those running behind him.
Eventually, they made their way to the dungeon, overcame the guard and his beasts, and freed the farmers. It was almost an afterthought when they searched the guard to find their first good loot.
The adventurers escorted the kidnapped farmers out, and here I got my second reminder of the different kind of player I had on my hands. There was one locked door at the end of a hallway at the very back of the creature’s cave. My kids never went back in to find out what was behind that door! On the chance that any of them actually read this post, I won’t say it here. But I’m willing to bet most of you can guess – even if you’ve never played a game like this.
I’ll talk about the kids experience with Crazy Hermit Harry (the second quest in our session) in an upcoming post. The kids are having lots of fun with the game, and I’m having a lot of fun creating it and leading them through it.
Now, I just need to find a little more time for writing…
The second book is going slowly, but I made some nice progress last weekend. Quinn approves of the first chapter, so I thought I’d get other feedback.
One of the fairly common pieces of feedback from the first book was that the beginning was a bit slow. So I’d love any thoughts and suggestions on how this one is starting off!
Chapter One: The Western Slope
The wagon’s rear axle almost survived the entire journey through the mountains. Now splinters of wood lay scattered across the ground, and the back right corner of the wagon dug into the turf . But Oren smiled as he stood on the grassy slope. Far in the distance, the Western Sea tossed salty water into the air as it collided with the shore. They had reached the western slope. Oren wished that Darria could see the open stretches with no mountains in site. He touched his late wife’s golden, heart-shaped locket that dangled around his neck on a leather cord.
“Huh. No cities. Guess we’ll just have to go ba.. ah.. ack,” said Quindarius. The small stammer at the end of the joke didn’t ruin the effect at all.
Oren laughed. That was a mistake. The first cough clamped down on his chest like the talons of a giant, iron hawk. Oren bent as the waves of barks from his lungs wracked his body. When the spasms paused, he pulled air in with a slow, wheezy breath. Oren spat and rubbed the sleeve of his deerskin shirt across his face. He spoke with a tired, soft voice to the boy. “One of these days, your jokes will be the death of me.”
Quindarius looked concerned. At eleven years of age, he still interpreted some expressions literally. His smooth, dark tan skin, wide brown eyes, and short, curly hair sometimes made him look even younger. He opened his mouth, but the balding man held up a heavily calloused hand. Oren patted him on the head and said, “Just kidding. Keep making jokes. A good laugh is worth a few coughs.” The smile splitting the old man’s round but lined face always warmed Quinndarius’ heart.
Oren returned to scanning down the slope. Scraggly brush thrust up through the grass about two hundred yards down the slope. Another few hundred yards beyond that, the jungle stretched like a huge green snake along the base of the slope. Sandy beaches and rock formations separated the jungle from the sea a couple miles away.
“Do you suppose they got lost?” Oren asked.
“No. But they might be play.. ay.. ing,” Quinndarius replied as he looked down at the bracelet on his left wrist. Quinn, as pretty much everyone called him, often found comfort staring at it. Oren had decided that the others would go scouting ahead and Quinn would stay behind. But somehow it felt to Quinn like he was being left out of the fun by his friends again. Well, Morthinn at least was his friend. Groran was definitely not his friend, and Teesla was hard to figure out.
Sunlight flashed off the golden surface of the bracelet, and Quinndarius let his gaze slide along the green smooth bumps on the edge near his hand. The blue color seemed to flow among the bumps and stretched across the golden middle of the bracelet to sharper red bumps on the other edge. But the sharpest parts by far were the two silver spikes rising away from his wrist. No one would describe the bracelet as beautiful. But Quinn treasured it, and it had changed his life.
The squawk of the Norag still harnessed to the front of the wagon pulled Quinn’s head up. The strange flightless birds with the huge legs could always sense the approach of their sisters. Moments later, Teesla emerged from the brush sitting on the back of another Norag. Even at this distance, Quinn could see her smile on her pretty oval face and her long black hair flying behind as the Norag broke into a sprint. The five-foot tall creature had three-foot-long orange legs that were thicker than Quinn’s. It’s black-feathered body and gray neck and head looked entirely two small for those legs. Teesla hands held onto the creatures neck while her legs were wrapped over the shoulder joints of the Norag’s stubby wings. In less than a minute, Teesla jumped gracefully off the bird and started her report to Oren.
“I saw no signs of civilization. I travelled to the edge of the jungle and then turned south. I probably travelled about two miles to the south before I turned and went into the jungle. I only travelled about fifty yards into the jungle. It’s very difficult for the Norag to walk in there. It was much slower coming back to the north through the jungle.” Teesla looked at Oren to see if he had any questions, but her report covered everything.
“OK. Thanks for scouting. Give your Norag some water and get some rest.” Oren tried to hide the disappointment in his voice.
Quinndarius wanted to offer Teesla some help with caring for the Norag, but he couldn’t find the words. He went back to staring at the bracelet. Four years had passed since he discovered the bracelet, but he could still remember the discovery as if it were yesterday. He had climbed up on his favorite perch in the cave while Oren and Darria were out gathering food. The other kids were out playing front of the cave, but Quinn had wanted to be alone. As Quinn ran his hands along the rough walls, he felt as if something was calling to him from behind the stone. Without really thinking, Quinn wished the wall would open up so that he could see what was on the other side. Amazingly, the stone slide aside, and Quinndarius saw a small room glowing with a pale yellow light. He scrambled inside to find only a large set of leather books and a white stone box. As Quinn looked at the bracelet on his wrist, it looked exactly the way he remembered seeing it inside that stone box.
More Norag squawking brought Quinndarius back to the present. He could see Morthinn and Groran riding through the brush to the north. Even from a distance, he could swear he saw Groran wiping his mount with a thin branch. But by the time the two boys came back in view, the branch was gone. Even so, Oren had stern words for the boys as the Norags arrived panting hard with their heads drooping.
“I told you boys not to run the birds hard,” he growled. “We’re going to need them more than ever now that the wagon is broken.”
Groran just shrugged as vaulted his heavy frame off the tired Norag almost knocking the tired beast flat. Groran stood over five feet tall bringing him up nearly to Oren’s height. The boy showed his fourteen years in his personality as well as his broad shoulders. He pushed back frequently on Oren’s instructions. He argued. He shirked responsibilities.
Morthinn just lowered his head and said, “Sorry Oren.”
But Oren wasn’t the type to stay angry for long, and he was hoping that maybe the boys hard riding of the Norags had been to bring good news. His face broke into a smile and his voice rose with the question, “What did you find?”
Groran looked around to make sure everyone was watching him before he spoke. “Nothing. Just brush and jungle. No trails. No cities.” He sat down heavily and began chewing a piece of jerky.
Oren looked to Morthinn, but the younger boy had nothing to add. “Well, then,” Oren said slowly, “I think we should find a camp site. It looks like it might be a while before we find Arindas.”
I remember being confused when I watched Pulp Fiction. Perhaps I had lived a sheltered life, but the jumps in the timeline were a bit challenging for me. I enjoyed the movie, but I think I would need to watch it a couple more times before I could lay it all out nicely on a timeline.
I had always assumed writing with lots of jumps in the timeline would be too advanced for a young adult book. But after reading more books in a couple popular series, it seems that at least backflashes are pretty normal. In my first book, I only had a couple points where a character remembers a prior event. But the second book starts at a point where quite a lot has happened to the main character and some of that history is very relevant to the current storyline.
I’ve started going back to reconstruct the key events while trying to avoid bogging down the storyline. While I’m doing this, I’m trying to come up with some rules to help make this manageable. One of the rules is that I won’t do a flashback within a flashback. I got tempted to do this when I jumped back to a point about four years prior in the story and found myself wanting to explain things that had happened years prior to that. But it seems like a lot to ask a kid to follow two jumps backwards. The second rule I’m trying to follow is only one flashback per chapter. I think this will help keep the pace moving.
So here are my questions:
- Are young adult readers generally fine when it comes to having several flashbacks?
- Do my rules make sense in terms of limiting the complexity and frequency of the flashbacks?
- Are there any other tips for building a young adult story that doesn’t follow a purely sequential timeline?
A couple of weeks ago, I held my first game session of the role playing game that I designed for my kids. At that time, it had no name, so we simply called it “The Game”. I gave the kids their character sheets, a map of the area, a list of equipment that their character’s had, and a figurine. I think the figurines helped a lot with my kids.
I completely ripped off Tom Winter’s opening scenario. Well, at least I think I did. I did the same thing that I remember he did for his starting session. Basically, a farmer visits and asks for help escorting his wagon to the nearest city. One of my kids actually tried to bargain on the payment for the characters help in protecting the wagon (note to self – be prepared for more pushback from this kid). But since there were really no other options, the kids all jumped at the chance.
The next morning, the farmer was already sitting, bundled up in heavy clothing and a hat, on his wagon when the characters arrived. He just grunted and gestured toward the back of the wagon. The characters climbed in and the first day of travel was uneventful until evening. Just at dusk, the wagon was stopped by a tree that had fallen across the road. As the characters got out to inspect, the monsters launched an ambush from the forest.
Again, one kid surprised me by actually running away a little. Unfortunately, for him, the “farmer” was actually a monster in disguise! The monsters were some sort of mutation between a bear and a gorilla, so they could pass as humanoid if nobody looked to closely. Even though one kid had animal sense and knew that the horse pulling the wagon was very nervous, nobody considered checking out the farmer or trying to carry on a conversation. (Of course, as I remember it, Tom sprung this same trap on us, and none of us MIT geniuses thought to check on the farmer either…)
The kids fought a good fight and beat the monsters without anything more than some injuries. I used a simple drawing on a piece of paper and figurines of the monsters to show the battle – that worked really well. It was fun to see them think about which abilities to use – lots of looking back at their character sheets.
This was the first point where death was introduced. The monsters died. I probably should have worked that all out with Mom before we started. To their credit, the kids were sometimes saying things like, “I will stun the monster with my crystal blast ability.”
After the fight, the kids faced their first interesting decision. What to do next? The farmer was gone. They had no idea what had happened to him. They had a wagon full of goods. It was night in the Forest of Mystery.
They decided to set up camp. After a little prompting, they decided that having someone keep watch was a good idea. Good thing – a couple of big, hungry bears wandered into camp. One of the bears died in the battle, and the other one ran away. Hmmm… another death and this wasn’t exactly a monster. Mom had definite thoughts about this later. I’m sticking with all monster bad guys from now on. To top things off, the most peaceful of the kids had his character skin the bear!
The next morning, the kids decided to take the wagon back to the farmer’s house. Fortunately, he had just been knocked out. But it was fun to see the kids try to explain that they weren’t the ones who had conked the farmer on the noggin the previous morning. He was a pretty paranoid, if not too bright, kind of guy. In the end, he believed them since they brought the wagon back with all the goods.
I had each kid go back to visit their trainer. All my kids are completely familiar with the concept of “leveling up”, so all I really needed to do was explain their choices. I gave each of them a list of three abilities and told them they could choose one as well as increasing the level of one of their two powers.
We haven’t played another session since then, but the kids are all pretty enthusiastic. I’m hoping to get another session in this weekend. In the meantime, I gave them the backstory of the next part of the plot. Several farmers have been captured by the gorilla-bear things – someone has to rescue them!
Work is going pretty slowly on the second book. It’s normal for me to have surges and slowdowns in my work, and I have had a pretty hectic few weeks in my day job.
But I also invested a little energy recently in another project.
Every Labor Day, I meet with some college friends who love playing games. It’s an amazing weekend being surrounded by extremely bright but also very kind and humble people. Frequently during these weekends, I look for games that might be fun to play as a family. Since my kids range from 12 to 7 in age, it’s often tricky to find a competitive game that works well. During one of the late night game sessions, I started chatting with my friends about various games that kids might want to play.
As it turns out, a couple of my friends had tried various adaptations of Dungeons and Dragons with their kids. Generally, their experience was positive, but it did seem like their were a ton of details that had been added since I last played. I didn’t really want to buy a bunch of books and spend time learning all the rules. And I wanted to re-create some of the mystery of the role-playing game we played in college where the player’s didn’t know any of the rules.
So I decided to make an entirely new game. When I got home, I asked the kids if they would like to play. After all three agreed, I interviewed each one individually to understand what kind of character they wanted. From those interviews, I settled on giving each character four “abilities” that could be used over and over and two “powers” that required internal energy. Each kid also got to pick one thing about their character which was truly exceptional (I got smart, fast and pretty as answers).
After that, it was just a matter of putting together a starting story (which I stole from Tom’s game in college) and then sitting down to play. For those of you who have played these kinds of games before, it may seem like quite a bit is missing: What about all the character stats like strength and intelligence? What about armor class and attack throws and saving throws versus spells?
Well, the answer is that I felt pretty comfortable that I could make up any rules on the fly. I’ll write another post with a synopsis of the how the first session actually went. But as a tiny bit of happy foreshadowing, the kids are all quite anxious for the next session of Adventurers of Bergin.
While I was working with Quinn on the second book in the series, I thought I would quickly go check on how the first book was doing in terms of sales.
Yup – I’ve sold three copies on the Kindle.
I didn’t start this project to get rich. I really have enjoyed the learning that has gone into creating a book. I read differently now. I watch my kids more intently – I hope that equates to paying better attention to them.
And, in theory, I should want these books to be read as widely as possible. I think my kids would like to know that they have inspired many other kids. But giving the book away for free feels like I’m saying, “There’s no value here.” Or, in a business sense, I would expect that someone giving something away for free captures the value somewhere else. But I’m not selling anything else.
With the physical book, free isn’t even an option. As I covered in my post on the costs and profits (https://wizardrift.com/2010/07/21/the-economics-of-self-publishing/ ), the current price point is only $1.20 above break-even when the book gets sold through the Expanded Distribution Channel. I could drop that channel and lower the price somewhat, but the limits hit pretty quickly.
But I could set the Kindle version to free. I’m guessing the three people who paid for it wouldn’t be thrilled. But they are probably all people who know me, and I could give them a refund personally. Still, I have a hard time feeling like free is the right thing to do.
So I’m trying out a simple poll here. Please leave me a comment with your vote.
What should I do with the price for my Kindle version?
1) Leave it at $9.50
2) Drop it to $4.99
3) Drop it to $0.99
4) Make it free As it turns out, free isn’t an option anyway (per the comment below – though Amazon says they are considering it). So please vote for one of the other options in the comments. Thx!
I have three kids, and I promised I would write one book with each of them. While I was waiting to see how the Amazon contest turned out with my first book, I started a little bit of writing on the second book. But the process of editing, formatting and publishing was pretty consuming. So I had let the writing sit for a while although I had chatted with Quinn about some of the key elements.
Last night, Quinn asked me how the book was going. For me, there’s nothing quite like a reminder that I’m behind on some commitment to really get me going. But I had enough other work to get done this weekend that I knew I wasn’t going to get any actual writing accomplished.
So I just talked Quinn through the story outline that I had in my head. I explained the flow of the story, and the main characters. It was a good exercise for me because it forced me to think through some details that I had left unresolved. But it turned out to be even better as motivation because after I explained the first part of the story, I asked Quinn what he thought.
“Sounds great!” he said.
That’s pretty much all the inspiration I needed. So this week, I’ll get back to writing again. Thanks Quinn!
One of the last elements I put in the book was the Acknowledgements page. I followed the pattern of another young adult book and put it in the back.
But I struggled a bit with who to call out by name. I decided not to include the names of any kids. While five kids gave me the original inspiration, and I had a few kids who read the manuscript and gave feedback, I didn’t feel comfortable including their names in something that might get sent far and wide. I’ve pause nearly every time I use Brennen’s name on this blog, and I decided not to include a picture of Brennen on the back cover. I choose to look at this as a sign of how protective I feel about kids versus a commentary on the risks for kids in our world (i.e. I’m probably over-cautious).
I had a bunch of great reviewers. Some of them wrote pages of notes, and some provided a few sentences of feedback. Similarly, I had a number of folks provide support and encouragement along the way.
In the end, I decided to keep the acknowledgements short and call out my Mom who was my chief editor and Sue Mink who did the cover painting.
Maybe I should have made a longer list and put more names down? This is one of the reasons I hate being involved in coordinating social stuff – I can never tell who should be invited for some event. I am truly grateful to everyone who helped. The book would never have gotten completed and would have been much lower quality without all the help. If anyone can find any rules of thumb for who to include, please point me at them.
I’m already working on the next book, and I can improve on the Acknowledgements in this one!
So now the book is published, and people can buy it on the CreateSpace store and on the Kindle. It doesn’t seem to have made it to Amazon’s listings yet as a physical book.
Should I expect to be getting massive royalty checks any minute? Probably not…
As I see it, when you self-publish, you are mostly responsible for your own marketing. Some self-publishing firms offer marketing help, but you have to pay for it. So assuming the book does get a few sales, how does it turn out for me? I priced the book at $11.99 and paid $39 up front for the “Pro Plan” which gives me a better cut. But how much that is depends greatly on where the book gets bought.
If someone buys it through the CreateSpace eStore, I actually get $6 per book. But that doesn’t seem likely unless I drive a lot of traffic there. A sale on Amazon.com nets me $3.60. And a sale throught the “expanded distribution channel” gets me a might $1.20 per book. (The expanded distribution channel includes things like bookstores who want to buy directly from CreateSpace.)
With the Kindle version of the book, things are a little different. By pricing the book below $10, I can get a 70% royalty share. So even though I set the price at only $9.50, I still get the best royalty from the Kindle version. It nets me $6.65 per download. Of course, many books in the Kindle store are priced below $4, so my book may look extremely expensive.
Now, I didn’t put all that much cash into this venture. As I mentioned, the Pro Plan cost $39 (plus $5 every year to renew). Because I was short on time, I paid for express shipping of a physical proof to me, so that cost about $31. So with about $70 invested, I need to sell about 20 books on Amazon to break even. Of course, just twelve Kindle downloads could put in the black.
But there is also the matter of time invested… Thankfully, I didn’t keep track of the hours on this two-year project. I think I would need to spin through the thesaurus to find the appropriate phrasing for my hourly salary – perhaps “miniscule wage”?
As I understand it, some people do quite well with their self-published books. I didn’t start this project with that expectation, and I’m doubtful that will be the outcome for me. I do hope that it sells some copies. More importantly, I hope that the people who read it really enjoy the book. I certainly enjoyed working with Brennen and learning about writing and publishing.
And I feel pretty comfortable calling that experience priceless.
- The Adventurers of Bergin meet Crazy Hermit Harry
- Adventurers of Bergin Revisited
- Chapter One of the second book
- Non-linear writing in young adult books
- Adventurers of Bergin
- A small creative divergence
- Should I make my Kindle book free?
- Getting Inspired
- The economics of self-publishing
- The Mechanics of Self-Publishing (Part Three)