Saturday, October 30, 2010

A new look

I am finally done. With my 100th post I decided to amp up the blog, I changed the color scheme, and the side bars. I also added the nifty links on the top of the page. The menu was an…um…interesting…yeah that’s what I’ll call it…venture into the unfamiliar realm of html. But all in all I think it came out pretty well. I am finally done. With my 100th post I decided to amp up the blog, I changed the color scheme. I think I got everyone from my old blog list in the new link section, if not please drop me a line via my new handy dandy contact form.

I guess now I actually have to spend my free time writing.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


So last week we went on vacation, and now I am just trying to catch up. I had fifty submissions to read for Shadows & Light, the library book sale was this week, and I have a library “basic skills” class to complete online. Due to a slight mix up on my part, the class started during my vacation which means I have two assignments and a quiz to do by the end of the day, which of course, being the great procrastinator that I am, means that it is time for me to write a rambling blog about Halloween that doesn’t really have much of a point. Other than being my 100th post, cue the music and confetti!

Even though I am sitting in a room with every single wall decorated for Halloween what really made me think of it was that it snowed for a little bit yesterday. It wasn’t much of a snow, it was 40 degrees or about 4 degrees Celsius, and the snow only lasted for two minutes.

Why do I associate snow with Halloween? Because it snowed on every Halloween except one when I was a kid. I would spend a month agonizing over my costume and arguing with the other children over who had the “coolest costume” only to cover the whole fucking thing up with a heavy winter coat and snow boots.

Now I realize that the whole thing was just another chapter in the epic struggle of man versus nature, but as a kid it kind of pissed me off, as it did for the other children. When kids went out and played “tricks” egging houses, smashing jack-o-lanterns, and covering trees in toilet paper they had a damn good reason.

The one Halloween it didn’t snow I was probably too old to go trick or treating. I had decided not to go, but I got out of school and it was 70 degrees, so I dug through my closet till I found a cowboy hat and a toy gun. It was a pretty bad costume considering the closest thing I had to a western shirt was a button up Hawaiian print shirt, but the candy that Halloween was oh so sweet and plentiful. It was a truly magical Halloween. Every Jack-o-lantern was safe. No trees were covered in diaphanous strands of Charmin, and not a single house was covered in the yellow ichor of shattered baby chickens.

Flash forward 18 years to today. It is four days until All Hallow’s Eve. It is only 35 degrees, the sky is cloudy. I am preparing myself to have my home assaulted by children who have been frustrated and pushed to their limit by mother nature. Mother nature doesn’t care how badly they want to be a pretty fairy, or how strong they feel in their Superman costume, she just wants to ruin their good time. I feel bad for them, I have a feeling that a whole bunch of children are going to learn firsthand what a bitch mother nature can be, and by logical extrapolation what a real bitch life can be.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A Free Story

Hi all. Just found out my story Against the Grain, first printed in Shadows & Light: Tales of Lost Kingdoms and reprinted online by Golden Visions is no longer available. I thought I would post it here rather than try to get it published again. Enjoy!

Against The Grain
By Alva J. Roberts

Gareth ran his hands over the unfinished wood, feeling for any rough spots or irregularities. The chair he was working on would be his master’s piece. It had to be perfect—every seam joined flawlessly, the ornate work on the back and legs carved with a master’s touch. He was in the final stages of creation.

Grains of saw dust drifted down from his dark brown hair. So intent was he on his work, the world around him fell away. He loved working with wood, watching as the things he crafted took shape beneath his fingertips, as if they were his children, and he was breathing life into them.

Almost three hours later, he sat the chair on top of his work bench, almost done. He needed to stain it in the morning, but for tonight, he was finished.
His master, Norman, left hours ago.

Gareth snuffed out the candles gleaming around the room, making sure they were out. Few things could ruin a furniture shop faster than fire. A single mage lamp illuminated the shop as he left. The magical lights were expensive, but Norman liked a steady light when he carved a piece. He closed the door behind him, welcoming the air thick with the chill of coming winter.

“Gareth! You’ve been in there half the night,” Jora’s called out accusingly.

“Jora, don’t be like that. I have to finish my master’s piece. How else will I support us when we are married?”

“Hmph,” she grumbled. “I have no problem with you finishing your master’s piece, but you said we would have dinner together. If you were going to be in there all night, you should have said so. I’m starving.”

Gareth looked down, avoiding her eyes. He had said they would eat, but he got so wrapped up in his piece that he had forgotten.

“I’m sorry, Jora. It will never happen again.”

“You don’t mean it. This is the fourth time in the last three weeks. If you want to be my husband, I have to be more important to you than wood.”
Jora turned away, marching down the dark cobblestone street. Even in the half-light of the new moon, he could see how angry she was.

“Jora, wait!” Gareth called.

A scream echoed through the village, and Gareth could hear men yelling. He watched as Jora turned toward the sound.

There was a blinding flash of light, and Jora’s body flew through the air, smashing into the smithy. Gareth stared at here prone form, shock filling his entire being.


He sprinted foward, his hands shaking as he turned over her body. Let her be alive, by the four Gods, let her be alive. Gareth felt a lump form in his throat as tears ran down his face.

She was breathing. His hands came away sticky with blood, but it was too dark to see from where it came. He picked up her body, running for the workshop.

“Hey, where do think you’re going? She’s ours!” an angry voice called after him.
Gareth ignored the voice.

When he reached the workshop, he sat Jora down as gently as he could near the door.

He fished his keys out of his pocket, and hurled the door open.

He tossed the chair, his master‘s piece, to the side like it was scrap lumber. It clattered against the floor, and Gareth did not care if it broke.

In the pale green glow of the mage light, he could see a large gaping wound the size of his fist in her side. Blood flowed from the wound in a thick, crimson river.

“Jora! Jora! Wake up!” Gareth screamed, ripping off his shirt, pressing it against the wound to staunch the flow of blood.

“Gareth? It hurts. It hurts real bad,” Jora cried in a weak, pain filled whisper.

“I told you she was ours!” an angry voice shouted. “This whole village is ours!”
Gareth looked over his shoulder, keeping pressure on Jora’s wound. Three armor clad men stood in the door. They shimmered, reflecting the fitful light of the mage lamp.

“Let me get him,” one of the men snarled.

“No, look what you did to her. Dachis has a deft touch, and it’ll last longer,” the first speaker said.

Dachis lifted his hand and pointed at Gareth. There was a flash of bright light, and then something struck his chest, flinging him through the air to smash into his master’s workbench. Tools of every sort clattered to the floor.

He could not breathe and sucked hard at the air. His chest throbbed as if he had been kicked by a horse. Blood ran down his torso from a small, blistering burn over his heart.

“You see what I mean, Halthin?” the first speaker asked.

“Whatever, I tagged her. So I get her while she’s still breathing. You two have your fun torturing the carpenter—I’ll have my fun with his woman.

Jora! Gareth struggled to his knees. His hands snaked out, picking up a hammer and a chisel, and then he sucked in a deep breath, readying himself.

He surged to his feet, the hammer flying from his hand with all the strength he could muster. The ungainly missile flew through air, spinning end over end, cracking into Haltin’s head.

Gareth rushed forward, swinging his arm out wide in a roundhouse swing. The chisel sank up to the handle in Dachis’ stomach. Dachis brought up his hand, engulfed in a pulsing blue fire. Gareth grabbed the wizard’s wrist and forced his arm to the side.
Gareth’s big work-calloused hand connected with Dachis face, knocking him to the ground, and then he turned to face the last intruder. The man stood in front of him, his arms crossed.

“You are very resourceful. You killed both of my Sparks with… carpenter’s tools. But I am not as foolish as they, and I am not a Spark!”

The air around Gareth turned solid. He yanked and jerked, but could not move. Everything below his neck was trapped.

“What do you want?” Gareth screamed, almost crying in frustration. Jora lay a few feet away, dying.

“I am not a Spark, I am a Breeze. As easily as they controlled fire, I control air. We came here to conquer. Your people will be enslaved, your valuables will be taken.” Something invisible, but hard as stone, smashed into Gareth’s face. “Amazing what can be done with air. We chose your village because you backward simpletons had never heard of elemental magic. That made your home perfect for our needs. Don’t worry, not many will die—they will be worth more as slaves.”

“Bastard!” Gareth screamed, thrashing back in forth in his invisible bonds.

The invisible club crashed into Gareth’s face again, and again. The world was spinning, and blood ran from his nose and split lip, his eyes swelling shut. The beating did not stop for a long while.

The man laughed, turning his back to Gareth. The wizard’s gleaming eyes locked onto to Jora, watching her die.

Gareth concentrated on moving, at stopping the man. Something inside of him shifted. His mind stretched as bright lights flashed across his vision.

Something creaked from the floor near the workbench. The wizard did not see it, but Gareth could feel it inside his head, as if he had grown another arm or leg across the room.

The chair he crafted so meticulously slid across the floor, tipping onto its legs, and waddled a few steps.

The man’s attention was focused on Jora, his smile joyful as he watched Jora’s blood drip to the ground.

The chair wobbled and rushed forward. Its back cracked apart into sharp points, then jumped through the air. The jagged tips stabbed through the wizard’s stomach, blood flowing down the clean wood, staining it red.

His invible bonds broken, Gareth fell to the floor, crawled through the growing pool of warm blood to the work bench. He grasped the top, forcing his tired, injured body to stand.

His hand reached out for Jora’s cheek, caressing it. He stared at her chest, willing it to rise and fall. Her flesh was cold, she was not breathing—he was too late.

“Jora! You can’t leave me. No. No. No.”

Tears mixed with the blood running down Gareth’s face. His chest thundered with pain as he collapsed to the ground, curling into a ball, sobs wracking his body.
It was too much for his strained will to take.

Blessed darkness stole consciousness from him.

Hours later, Gareth awoke. His face stuck to the dried blood on the floor when he tried to lift his head, and awareness flooded through him as he remembered the events of the night before.

He stood, up his legs shaking. Jora’s body lay on the workbench, looking as if she was sleeping, except her face had lost its color. Gareth stared at her corpse, feeling numb.

He stretched out his mind as he had the night before. The workbench clattered a few feet to the right. He watched the huge table moving. It was so easy—he would have loved to show Jora.

Tears ran down his face again as rage and sorrow burned in the pit of his stomach, a harsh bitter feeling he had never felt before.

The invaders would die for their actions. The building shook with magic as his anger swelled, growing stronger and stronger, drowning out every hurt and pain.

He kicked open the door to the workshop. Bodies dotted the street, like rotting leaves at the end of autumn. His anger built, higher and higher, as he stalked the streets.

The invaders had to still be there.

He saw them as he turned the corner onto the village green. There were at least twenty of the men in the strange armor. The remaining villagers knelt on the ground, their hands bound, their mouths gagged.

Gareth lifted his hand, stretching out his mind. The inn rumbled and shook, and with a crack, huge planks flew off the roof, speeding toward the wizards. The impact cut one wizard in half, with four of his conspirators buried under the thick wood.

Gareth’s hand slid over to the well. It groaned as the posts pulled themselves free from the ground and stomped at the men, swinging its bucket on a long rope. The wooden fence around the weaver’s shop yanked free from the earth, the boards transforming into the shapes of men and strode toward the slavers.

The Sparks shouted and fire leapt out, engulfing the well, burning it to cinders within seconds. A thick wall of air smashed the wooden men to pieces, the Breezes adding their magic to the defense. The splinters flew in a brown cloud across the green.

Gareth needed more. His hand moved back to the inn. Boards tore off the building, forming man-like shapes, faster and faster, running at the huddle of wizards. Some of the wooden structures picked up rocks, hurling them at their foes. The rocks bounced off a shield of air, and the wooden men burned to nothing.

Gareth felt something inside his head rip. Blood ran from his nose, from his ears. He glanced over at the slender delicate wood of the gazebo. The long poles snapped away, collapsing the roof. They spun in the air, shavings falling away, as the ends formed into to sharp points.

They zoomed through the air and slammed into the earth, twirling and spinning as they dug their way underground.

The wizards looked around for another attack, but none came. One of them saw Gareth and pointed. They turned, as one, balls of fire flying through the air, thick blocks of solidified air coming toward him.

Gareth closed his eyes, waiting…but felt nothing. He opened his weary eyes, watching with awe as wooden spears grew from the ground, piercing the chests of each of the wizards.

Jora was avenged.

Gareth smiled, falling to the ground. The pulsing throb of his thundering heart echoed in his ears. Pain wracked his body, and he thought his heart would explode.
People swarmed around him, but he could not open his eyes.

He would see Jora soon.

“Is he okay?” a voice asked.

“He’ll be fine with a little rest,” the village healer said.

Gareth’s awareness faded with the painful thought, knowing it would be a long time before he saw Jora again.

Friday, October 15, 2010


So we are going on Vacation in Deadwood.

When I tell people this they give me a blank look, their only knowledge of Deadwood coming from the TV show. I even got asked if we would have running water. So here is some clarification.

Deadwood South Dakota is a little over two hours from us. There are right around 2,000 permanent residents of Deadwood. So it is just a small town and there are a lot of old west themed things to do.

But the reason Deadwood is such a fun vacation spot are the 18 full size casinos, and the dozens of slot machines in gas stations, and bars. They are all on a single street, with little weird shops in between. It is like going to a mini Las Vegas, where every casino is within walking distance.

We are going because our windows in our house are being replaced and we didn't want to deal with the workers tromping around. So, we found a hunting lodge for the same price as a hotel, we can take out dogs. There are four bedrooms, and two bathrooms, a kitchen and a hot tub, all within 10 minutes of downtown Deadwood. (By the way if you ever need to take your dogs with you on vacation check out Vacation Rentals By Owners they have homes all over the world that you can rent like a hotel room, and many of them allow pets) Even better, no internet, no cell phones. I am taking my laptop to write when I get bored of gambling and hot tubing and about five different books I've been meaning to read.

We are leaving Monday, and coming back on Friday. That means I have nine days off of work, the most time I have had off in the last ten years, and I am getting paid for five days of it! That's right my benefits from my promotion have kicked in and I have paid vacation time to use!

So this weekend we are going to clean a little bit, and pack. Then it is off to Deadwood. I won't be posting for awhile, but don't worry even if I hit the multi-million jackpot I still plan on writing, now the day job...that's another story.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Book Recommendation

I am in a reflective mood today, and I began thinking about my rather uneventful high school days. I spent most of high school in my room reading a book, very different from my college days most of which I spent drinking large quantities of alcohol and making and ass of myself.

Anyway, I decided to post two book recommendations for books I read back in high school. So here are a few recommendations that have been colored by the years between me reading them and recommending them to today. Some might not be as good as I remember having been visited by the “suck fairy”. To read more about the suck fairy visit HERE, they may have also been visited by the super awesome fairy and are much better than I remember.

The books themselves are both about a distant future, which seemed oddly fitting. Reflecting about my past experience of reading about the future. Of course there is a slight chance that this blog post might tear the fabric of space and time. But I am willing to risk it.

Okay up first, The Death Gate Cycle by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman.

These books are about a distant future of earth where magic has returned. There are two magical races one evil and one good that lesser peoples worship as gods.

The good magical race sunders the earth into worlds based on elements and imprisons the evil magic users. The main character of the series is a scout for the evil magic users, they are returning and need to find out the state of the world.

These books are great, I love the characters and the depth of the world. I have been afraid to reread them because Book 3 Fire Seas is on my favorite books of all time list and I would hate to take it off.

Next up the Pern series by Anne McCaffrey

I started the series with All the Weyrs of Pern, the 11th book in the series. All the Weyrs of Pern starts with Dragon Riders unearthing a super computer.
This was the first novel I had ever read that really blended fantasy and sci-fi together. I remember being amazed that something so cool could exist. Basically the plot of the series is that humans colonize Pern in the distant future. As they are enjoying their new earth-like planet Thread begins falling from the skies. Thread is an unintelligent organism from outer space that eats all organic material.

This is a real problem since they were trying to build a low-tech society and did not bring most of their technology from Earth. The solution? Genetically engineer dragons, which they ride, to fight Thread. How awesome is that?

There you go to book series from my distant past that helped shape what I read today. If you haven’t tried them go out and do so now. Anyway see you next time.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Getting Book Reviews

Okay, I thought I would do a post about getting book reviews. Before I start I have to say that I am not an expert, but I have tried to get reviews for every novel Pill Hill Press has published and I marketed the heck out of the anthologies I have edited. So this is just what I do, after much trial and error.

Getting book reviews can be a frustrating thing, and often times does not lead to any apparent sales. But getting the word out there is improtant, and there is no telling if some of the later sales come from these reviews or not, plut once you can quote one or two good reviews it is easier to get reviews in larger places that will get sales.

First of all I use Google to find book reviewers. Terms such as "sci-fi book review", "fantasy book review blog" or "horror news" will give you a bunch of sites to email. I make a list as I go and then send out emails once I am done. News sites might not do book reviews but they will post that the book is available, usually including the blurb.

There are tons of book reviewers online. The bigger review sites might not ever get to your book. We have sent out dozens of books to larger reviewers, and have only gotten a few reviews from them. Of course a large reviewer will mean sales, while a small reviewer probably won't. So far for us the best results have come from medium size review sites, with followers in the hundreds. A review on one of them will sell enough copies to pay for postage, and the cost of a book, the first day the review is posted.

This does not mean that we don't send out a couple of review copies to larger places. We just pick two or three to send books to. Maybe someday the copies we send to Locus, or Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine will garner a review. If they ever do I will post if it is worth it sales wise, I don't see how it couldn't be.

How many requests for book reviews do I send out? That depends on the book, I have sent at least fifteen requests for everyone of our novels. For Zero Gravity I have now sent out sixty emails, which is the most I have sent out for any book. I sent out about thirty the first weekend the book came out, and then I send a few more very week.

From those sixty emails, I sent out 12 PDF copies and five hard copies. I always offer the book in both formats. Emailing a PDF is free, and some book reviewers prefer them, of course some don't so be sure to check what the reviewer prefers.

In my email I always start by telling them who I am and who Pill Hill Press is. Then I tell them right off what the subject of my email is. Something like Dear (insert name) My name is Alva Roberts, I am an editor at Pill Hill Press, a small publisher of speculative fiction. We have recently published a sci-fi anthology, Zero Gravity: Adventures in Deep Space, and I was wondering if you would be interested in a review copy, in either PDF or paper formats.

Then I try to hook the reviewer in. This is a lot like hooking a reader with the beginning of a story. For Zero Gravity it was pretty simple, many of the authors published in the anthology had novels already in print. So I looked for book reviewers that liked their novels and mentioned that the author had a story in Zero Gravity. Or I looked for reviewers that liked "Adventurous Sci-fi". The point is you need to find some way to get a reviewers interest.

Book reviewers are much more likely to review a larger press publication. And through trial and error I have found reviewers prefer novels to anthologies or single author collections. The hardest thing I have found to get review for are novella collections. I am not sure why this is, but its true. So if you are trying to promote an anthology, novella collections, or single author collection the hook is much more important. On the other hand if you are not confident that you can hook them in a couple of sentences then skip it. Just a simple request and book information will get some reviews.

After the hook, I paste in the book blurb, the ISBN, and a link to where they can purchase the book, usually Amazon, I also mention where else the book is available. Pill Hill Press books are distributed through Ingram, so they are available through most online retailers. Book reviewers like to know the details of a book, and the like to know it is readily available. The Amazon link also lets them see the cover which is why two of the book reviewers said they would review Zero Gravity.

Next I will put in a snippet of other reviews if I have them. Here is one I used for Zero Gravity:

If you love stories about lone-wolf pilots, sentient spaceships, interplanetary power politics, rogue computers, lost colonies, and Terrors From Beyond, Zero Gravity, a new anthology of science fiction adventures from Pill Hill Press, will light your boosters and shove you deep into your acceleration couch- Fred Warren- Residential Aliens.

This is a great quote, I absolutely love it. Many thanks to Fred Warren and Residential Aliens for it. Read The Whole Review Here

I always end the email formally, and thank the reviewers for their time. Time is one of the most precious commodities that people have, and them taking the time just to read my email is, at the very least, worth a heartfelt thank you.

I also reply with a thank you to everyone who emails me back. Of those sixty emails about ten of them never got answered. So a polite I am too busy right now, gets another thank you.

I send out review copies immediately, if it is a hard copy I send a press release and a letter with the book. The letter reminds them who I am and thanks them once again. Reviewers are very busy people, who get tons of books. Being polite never hurts anything, and reminding them who I am might remind them why they wanted to read the book.

Finally don't get discouraged if you don't get any reviews at first. The first volume of Shadows & Light came out in September and we immediately sent a copy to Midwest book review. The review didn't come out until April. A copy of Twisted Legends that we sent to Bitten By Books got reviewed almost a year after we sent it, and resulted in new interest in the book.

Like I said before book reviewers are busy people, authors really need to understand that, and not hassle them.

A final note, some book reviews have resulted in noticeable sales, others have not. But each one gets the word out there and that is a good thing even if you can't see the results.

As far as book promotions go it is a pretty inexpensive thing that seems to work. The only other thing that has worked better so far, at least for Pill Hill, is when an author arranges a book signing or gets a local book store to carry their novel, author interviews have also worked but that totally depends on the venue, but those are topics for other blogs.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

New Story Online

Well it is sort of a new story. It was originally published in Horror Through the Ages, an anthology by the now defunct Lame Goat Press.

The story is called Roman Blood, and it is a mixture of horror and historical fiction. A roman legion meets a group of angry vampires in this short, just over a thousand word, story.It has been reprinted in Blood Moon Risings Halloween issue.

Monday, October 4, 2010

I Just Asked To Be A Writer

So I had planned to hammer out a chapter of Godswar, maybe two. The characters have just entered the swamp of Yvan god of rot, and have discovered a ruined city that had been swallowed by the swamp, while being chased by Yvan's vile servants, Joshua has just been bitten by a bog wolf, and might bleed out.

These parts of my novels almost write themselves, I have set myself up with a ton of possibilities, great characters, and a wonderful setting where almost anything can happen. I am sure my imagination will run wild once I get to actually writing them. I didn’t write any fiction this weekend, not a word. That is the first time this has happened since I started trying to write professionally.

What happened was that I was looking over a few websites of YA publishers. This is a pretty common thing for me to do. I am a children’s librarian, and it gives me something to do online at work, that doesn’t feel like work.

Anyway while looking over these websites I found that one of them, that publishes a shared world, doesn’t want you to write a book in their world. If you are interested in writing for them you send them a writing sample and they hire you to write a book.
This seemed like a great use for the nearly 200,000 words in novels I have sitting around waiting to be published. So I gave the first three chapters of The Laws of Summer a solid edit and prepared all the other stuff I needed to, cover letter, biography, etc.(One company asks for a fromal book proposal and a sample, so I had to come up with the idea for a novel and an outline, without ever writing any of it)

Then I looked at other YA publishers and I found two more that do the same thing. It was awesome. The best part was that I read books from all of these publishers as a child or a teen. I am very familiar with their worlds, and their books.

So I spent the weekend, writing book proposals, and preparing samples of my writing. It was a different experience. For some of the up and coming authors who read my blog, this might be a good avenue to get your first book published. Check out some YA sites and see what the guidelines are, sending book proposals takes time but it doesn't take nearly as much as writing the novel.

Today I sent one book proposal and two requests to be a writer.

I'll keep you posted on how it turns out.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Barton's Players Published

My short story Barton's Players is up on Moon Drenched Fables.

This is an exciting publication for me. This is I think the third or fourth short story that I wrote after deciding to become a writer, and it is the only one that didn't get published right away. But I recently did a major edit and bam-o, it got published by the next place I sent it to.

It is the fantasy story of a troup of "players" who comes up with a complex plan to rob the richest man in the kingdom...the king.