Updates: Publishing Schedules and Future Stories

There comes a point in a writer’s life when he’s ready to make the transition from hobbyist to professional. And I think I’ve taken another step closer.

In 2013 I wrote an experimental novella that marries Western gunslinger tropes and Chinese wuxia traditions, with a very hard take on steam technology. A couple of weeks ago I revised the story and submitted it to a leading independent publishing house. Today I’m pleased to announce that it has (tentatively) been accepted for publication and is currently being edited. More details will follow as the situation firms up, but I can say that I honestly never expected that story to see the light of day outside of my self-published portfolio.

In other news, I’m moving into the final phase of editing for my upcoming novel, titled NO GODS, ONLY DAIMONS. This is Book 1 of the Covenanter Chronicles, conceptualised as three trilogies. The series takes many urban fantasy tropes and places it in the context of a decades-long War on Terror, with covert government operators using unobtanium-powered magic to battle terrorists and conspiracies that tap into occult forces to further malicious agendas, set in a world that may have forgotten its gods though the gods have assuredly not forgotten the world. I do not anticipate this series to be self-published. Given that it throws so many science fiction and fantasy tropes together I am fully confident that the only way this book can reach appropriate audiences if it is entrusted to the experts and leaders who have gone before me in the field of SFF. And given the religious allusions in the series it is likely to be the only way to sustain this series in the long term.

At the same time, I’m also writing my next novel. I can say that this is a standalone work, a (reasonably) hard space opera set in the 25th century, with a slated completion date of December 2015. At this point I can say that it involves starships wielding ravenous death rays of stupendous range and fusion-powered missiles numbering in the thousands, Space Marines whose ultra-high-tech armor  and ludicrous armaments belie the humans within, and an interplanetary romance that dares to defy the iron laws of relativity and the speed of light. Also, lasers. Any more details and I fear I will jinx the story. Like the above story, this is not meant to be a self-published work. I could do it if I have to, but my gut suggests that this one would reach its intended audience with a certain publishing house.

Finally, assuming I have the time for it, I intend to publish another experimental story I wrote in 2013. This is a martial arts thriller set in an alternate 1800s based on a little-seen-yet-significant real-world country with multiple competing cultures. This one needs some expansion, but it feels right. This story would likely be published in between NO GODS, ONLY DAIMONS and the following work. With a publishing house.

Yes, at this stage I intend to shift away from self-publishing. In the immortal words of Larry Correia, a professional writer’s mission statement should be to GET PAID. To GET PAID means producing quality work, finding an audience who will appreciate these stories, and getting your stories to that audience. Given where I am, with my current capabilities and reputation, I think the best approach to getting paid and becoming a professional writer is to go through an established publishing house and leverage their capabilities.

This does not mean I intend to give up self-publishing altogether. The American Heirs series will be completed. There will be more series to follow, including the revival of Michael Chang. However, self-publishing does require the writer to shoulder the costs of publication. Until I can afford to continue self-publishing, these stories will have to be on hold. And, hopefully, not for too long.

And who knows…at this rate I might just become a full-time writer faster than I expect.

Stories on the Horizon

I am pleased to announce that I’ve completed the first draft of my next novel. Titled No Gods, Only Daimons, it is a science fantasy thriller set in a world reminiscent of our own. In the novel, an atheist government agent encounters the archangel of the faith of the world’s deadliest terrorist group, and must work with an assassin superempowered by another deity to dismantle a terrorist network, and in doing so fire the first shots of a war between divinities for the liberties and future of humanity.

No Gods, Only Daimons is the first book of a projected nine (!) book series, which ideally would be broken up into three trilogies. Unlike my previous works, I do not intend to self-publish this one at this time. The secret to self-publishing success is publicity. That means developing and building a reputation, online and offline. I do not have the level of brand awareness needed for self-published stories alone to take off, and while I’ve read plenty of marketing guides for self-published authors every last one of them assumes that the reader is a Westerner targeting a Western audience — and both of them will have access to Amazon, which I do not. When the initial edits are complete, I’ll be sending in the novel to a publisher; more details on that at a later date. I am hoping for a late 2015/early 2016 release date; I’m hoping that my optimism has at least some basis in reality.

Concurrent to editing the novel, I’m also working up another story. It is a radical departure from literally everything I have done so far. I cannot say anything about it at this time (it’s still being planned), but it draws a great deal of inspiration from The Fountainhead and The Speed of Dark. I also strongly suspect that it will straddle the very uncomfortable line between literary and genre fiction, but the plot and the characters demand as such. I am approaching it as a literary experiment, and I cannot guarantee how it will turn out. All I know for certain is that, like my other works, I feel compelled to bring it to life. And that the title of the story is The Sculptor of Light.

I, ESCHATON is live!

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I, ESCHATON is live and ready for sale! The third entry of the American Heirs series, this story picks up where KEEPERS OF THE FLAME left off, taking Master Sergeant Christopher Miller into a new battlefield. To quote the blurb:

Master Sergeant Christopher Miller has returned home from war, but war has come to find him.
The Sons of America are targeting the Wilshaw Foundation, and Miller’s lover, Sarah Grey, is at the top of their hit list. To survive, Miller must go underground with Sarah. But to prevail, they must ally themselves with the enigmatic artificial intelligence that calls itself Eschaton.
An extension of the smart networks that underpin the Republic of Cascadia, the AI offers contacts, resources and the full power of the national security apparatus. But at what price?

I, ESCHATON can be found on Amazon, Smashwords and Payhip.

Observant customers might have noticed the prices. That’s right: I’ve slashed the prices of my stories. Previously, novels were USD$5.99 and novellas at USD$3.99. Now, they are priced at USD$3.99 and USD$2.99 respectively. Plus. if you share my ebooks on Facebook and Twitter via Payhip , you’ll also get a 30% discount. These among are the most affordable military science fiction ebooks on the market; get them while you can.

In other publishing news: I’m about two-thirds of the way through my next novel, NO GODS, ONLY DAIMONS. It is a science fantasy novel set in a world populated by daimons and jinn, where specially-trained psions can use divine or infernal materials to reshape reality or themselves. It has cybernetics, reality manipulation, daimonic summoning, high intensity close quarter combat, hacking, and rumours of a coming apocalypse. It’s the first book of an exciting new series, and I hope I can share it with you soon.

I have also begun work on another short story. This one is a military science fiction action story with horror elements, with the setting organically allowing for magic. I can’t say anything else about this, only that just thinking about it makes me break out into giggles. In a good way.

Chapter 2 of I, Eschaton

As I, Eschaton draws towards publication, here’s Chapter 2 in its glory. Here, Christopher Miller and Sarah Grey learn about the attack on the Wilshaw Foundation…and so does Eschaton.

—-

Chapter 2

Pagan in Repose

Pain was an old friend. It had crept up on him the way the seasons did, obvious only in hindsight. After a lifetime in the military, training at the outer limits of human performance and serving in hotspots around a world two steps away from chaos, his body more closely resembled someone five, maybe ten years older than his real age of thirty-two. Not his muscles or his outward appearance, rather the worn cartilage in his knees and spine, the knobby bone spurs in his neck and ankles, lingering pains from scars and old injuries. And even that was largely due to superior conditioning, the finest sports medicine Cascadia had to offer, and medical nanomachine treatments.

Christopher Miller rolled, stiffly, agonizingly, out of bed. At least he didn’t groan this time. Sarah Grey snoozed on the other side of the bed, oblivious. The detritus of the previous night—discarded clothes, kicked-off shoes, toys—lay scattered across the floor. He smiled. They’d spent all of yesterday hiking and practicing combatives and shooting, but they still had energy for other…recreational…activities when they got home, late in the evening.

Miller swept a clear path with his feet, pulling on his T-shirt and shorts. He slipped on a pair of moccasins, filled up a soft plastic water bottle, clipped on his chest pack and went outside.

There was just enough light to see by. On his front porch, he stretched and twisted, rotating and swinging his joints, easing them into the full range of motion. He flowed into leg-lifts, butt-kicks, lunges, half-squats, push-ups, smoothly raising his heart rate, letting blood nourish his limbs.

Morning exercise began proper. No fancy gym here. Out in the wilderness he preferred bodyweight movements, working every muscle from head to toe. One-arm push-ups, pistol squats, bridges, handstand push-ups. On a nearby tree he had hung a pair of gymnastic rings. There he did one-arm pull-ups, hanging leg raises, levers, L-seats. He went full-bore for forty-five concentrated minutes, stopping only long enough to shift to the next set. At the end of the routine, his muscles burned pleasantly, and his joints quietened their protests.

He chugged down a shot of water, clipped the bottle to a D-ring on his pack, and ran. Not jogged. Ran. On active duty he ran in full kit; today, he made up for the weight with extra speed. He sped past his neighbors, jumping over or swerving around obstacles, practicing the art of natural movement as he went along. The Greenhaven EcoPark was the next generation of trailer parks, a self-contained ecosystem of greenery and small wild animals, with a small but growing population of humans housed in what the advertisers called LifePods. The pods were glorified trailers the size of shipping containers, but each was self-sufficient. They had solar globes on the roof for sunlight, water catchment and reclamation systems, waste composting tanks, and satellite-based Internet connections. They were also cheap—cheap enough that he could live out here for three years what it cost to live in the big city for one, and still have a nice hunk of change left over.

He took a long, winding route around the park, running until the sun was up and the sky turned blue. People bustled about, tending to their business. Microfarmers inspected their livestock and produce. Artisans trekked to their workshops. Some people fired up generators while others cleaned out their reclamation systems or just maintained their homes.

Approaching his home, he slowed to a brisk walk. His lungs were aflame. Pain spiked through his right side, coursing through flesh where shrapnel had torn through a week ago. He winced. The doctor had told him to take it easy. Maybe so, but he was coming up to the end of his medical leave and he needed to be at a hundred percent.

Sarah was waiting for him. Her cheeks were flushed, her skin shining with sweat. They both knew she couldn’t possibly keep up with him, but tried to coordinate their schedules anyway. While Miller was out running, Sarah had busied herself with a piloga routine, some strange hybrid of Pilates and yoga. She smiled at him, and together they went through a series of cool down stretches. More out of companionship than necessity, but Miller figured his joints would appreciate it.

They shared a shower in the bathroom. It was cramped, but both were used to small spaces. Miller stayed to brush his teeth, while Sarah made the bed and cleaned up.

They made breakfast together. Omelets made from free-range chicken eggs, mixed with capsicum, cherry tomatoes, mushrooms and full-fat strained yoghurt. Sarah had hers with salt, Miller had his with pepper. All the food was sourced from nearby farmers, either purchased directly or at the local farmers’ market. It reminded Miller of his childhood—but, unlike his early days in New Washington, Greenhaven’s agricultural areas were managed with more care, and so far hadn’t suffered any crop failures or die-offs.

“How’s breakfast?” she asked.

Miller took an experimental bite. “Perfect, as usual.”

She beamed, and dug in.

At which point, Miller’s ebrain chimed. He had an incoming conference call, from a blocked number.

“I’ve got a call,” he said.

She arced an eyebrow. “Me too.”

They looked at each other for a moment.

“Eschaton,” they said simultaneously.

Anonymous conference calls were the artificial intelligence’s preferred, and perhaps only, means of communicating with them out here. They’d met the AI separately under trying circumstances. When Miller came home to recover from his last mission, Eschaton had contacted them together. Miller and Sarah had a few strained conversations with it since then, with the AI trying to learn more about humans and the humans attempting to elicit more personal information from Eschaton.

“It wants something from us,” Miller said.

“Let’s find out.”

They accepted the call.

“Good morning,” a flat digital monotone said. “I trust you slept well?”

The AI was learning to be polite. Miller didn’t see a reason to discourage that. “Yes, thank you. And are you doing fine?”

“Yes. Have you read the news?”

“Not yet. What’s up?”

“Take a look.”

In the living room, the holovision projectors fired up, displaying the home page of Cascadia News Broadcast Network. The images expanded, letting Miller read the text over Sarah’s shoulder without having to squint.

“Holy shit!”

“What’s wrong?” Sarah asked.

“Take a look.”

She turned around.

“Holy SHIT!

The headlines were splashed across the screen: ‘Terrorists attack Wilshaw Foundation, killing 108’.

“How the hell…?” she said.

Miller alternated between his omelet and the news, chewing his food as carefully as he did the words. A group of terrorists attacked the Wilshaw Foundation, gunning down everybody inside the office and leaving behind booby traps. They delayed emergency services with a cyberattack on the dispatch system, and detonated a car bomb outside 38 Vandemeer Plaza. The Sons of America have claimed responsibility.

Sarah’s face went pale. The rest of her froze.

“Sarah, are you okay?”

“Oh. My. God.” She turned around, burying her face in her hands. “My God.”

Miller went to her. She pressed her face against his shoulder. “I…I could have been there. If you hadn’t…I’d…”

He hushed her, wrapping his arms around her. “Shh. It’s okay. You’re safe.”

The Sons of America had targeted Miller, among other special operators, during their resurgence. When the Army bureaucracy disqualified Sarah from protection, Miller had single-handedly moved her to Greenhaven. She was still on a leave of absence from the Foundation. If she hadn’t…

“That is incorrect,” Eschaton said.

“What do you mean?” Miller asked.

“The Wilshaw Foundation was developing policy recommendations for the Federal government. The Sons of America have destroyed all data relating to their activities in the Yellow Zone, and killed a significant number of the Foundation working group investigating the SOA’s activities in the Yellow Zone. I extrapolate that the surviving members of the SOA policy working group is at risk. Including Professor Sarah Grey.”

Sarah swallowed. “Did anyone else from the Foundation survive?”

“I am currently cross-referencing casualty reports with employee payrolls and documentation. It appears that everyone inside the Wilshaw Foundation was killed in the attack. Only the ones not physically present in the office survived.”

Sarah nodded, mainly to herself. Miller felt her jaw clench. “What are we going to do?” she asked.

“Shelter in place,” Miller said. “If the enemy’s going after the Foundation, we need to hole up and remain underground.”

“You can’t stay here forever,” she said.

Miller sighed. That was true. Any moment now, the Unit could recall him to duty if they decided their manpower needs superseded his medical profile. More than that, though, he wanted…needed to get back into the fight. Cascadia was on the verge of war. The Cascadian Defense Forces were mobilizing to embark on the largest counterinsurgency campaign in the short history of the Republic. He had to be out there, at the tip of the spear alongside the Unit. That was his calling in life, and he couldn’t do that sequestered in a tiny pod.

“Master Sergeant Miller, I require your assistance,” Eschaton said.

An all-powerful AI needs my help? Miller wondered. Out loud, he said, “What kind of assistance?”

“I will not tolerate the presence of the Sons of America in the Green Zone. They have attacked me once, and they will attack me again. I request your help in eliminating this cell.”

“You can’t do that by yourself?”

“There is only so much I can do without being discovered.”

Only a handful of people knew Eschaton existed. It was afraid that if it revealed itself, the public would clamor to delete Eschaton, legally or otherwise. As the SOA had demonstrated before, it was effectively defenseless against physical penetration of its network nodes. Miller didn’t know how much of that was justified, how much of it was paranoia—and how much was just an attempt to manipulate him into doing its bidding.

“There is also only so much one man can do.”

“The Combat Studies Unit has attached a team to assist the National Security Service in investigating the attack. Your team.”

Miller’s eyebrows shot up. “The hell?” He frowned. “That’s not a coincidence, is it?”

“No.”

“You did it.”

“Yes.”

“How?”

“The national military and security bureaucracy is sufficiently large that paperwork may be generated and passed on without anybody knowing its true origin.”

Miller folded his arms. “Well, then. My men should be able to help out, no? What do you need me for?”

“To eliminate the cell.”

“Meaning, to kill them all.”

“If necessary.”

Miller snorted. “Get someone else to play your games. I’m not interested.”

The holoscreen cleared, displaying official looking paperwork.

“This is a recall order,” Eschaton said. “The Unit’s medical specialists have decided that your wounds do not preclude limited duty in the Green Zone. In the interests of team cohesion, they are recommending that you be returned to duty to assist the investigation.”

“Goddammit Eschaton!”

“This was not my creation,” the AI continued, speaking a little more slowly. “Colonel Ryan Kincaid ordered the medical review. Very soon, the Unit will be contacting you. I am merely providing advance notice.”

Sarah licked her lips. “The Unit can do this?”

“National security supersedes individual security,” Miller muttered.

“Our interests coincide,” Eschaton said.

Miller’s lips compressed into a narrow line. “You don’t say. Looks like I’ll be popping back into Cascadia, hooking up with the team, and developing the situation.”

The last phrase was deliberately vague. If the SOA left the boundaries of the Green Zone, where the laws and customs of civilization applied, they were fair game for the military. The Unit, in particular. Attaching a full team to the investigation meant that the moment the investigation developed actionable intelligence outside the Green Zone, the Unit could swing into action without delay.

And Sarah didn’t need to know that.

“Let me come with you,” Sarah said.

“No,” he said reflexively.

Sarah frowned, crossing her arms. “Why? It’s too dangerous?”

“It’s not that. You’re a civilian, with no special skills or training. How exactly are you going to contribute?”

She tapped her skull. “The Wilshaw Foundation uses a closed peer-to-peer messaging network for secure internal communications. A network I have access to. I can help contact the survivors and coordinate the response. And.” She grinned. “And. Until we know otherwise, at this moment I am Cascadia’s foremost expert on the Sons of America. You need someone who knows how they think, their mindsets, their preferred strategies. Eschaton, you can doctor paperwork to have me attached to the task force, correct?”

“Yes.”

Miller took a deep breath. Let it out. And realized that, yes, he needed her too. She wasn’t being overt about it, but he knew that she resented the way Eschaton had forced people to do its people. Separated, Eschaton could control them. Together, they stood a chance against its machinations.

“Fine. But I have operational control. Out in the field, if I or anybody from the Unit give an order, you will obey immediately.”

She grinned impishly. “Yes milord.”

“You will be armed at all times where practical. You will wear body armor if directed to. If the situation gets too hot, you will be evacuated to a safe house.”

“Yes dearest.”

“We won’t be babysitting you. You’ll have to look out after yourself. If you can’t keep up, you will be left behind. Or kicked out.”

“Yeeeeeeeees deeeeeeear.”

“Good girl.” He sighed. “Don’t make me regret this.”

“I won’t.”

Chapter 1 of I, ESCHATON

The next entry in the American Heirs series, titled I, ESCHATON is almost good to go. All that’s left is the cover. Here’s a preview of what’s to come.

Chapter 1

Special Delivery

Jacques’ timing was perfect.

It was just after two in the afternoon. Office workers thronged the streets, hurrying back to their workplaces from the plethora of coffee shops that dotted Downtown Seattle, many of them with their faces buried in smartphones, tablets, or augmented reality glasses. Jacques studied the crowd, spotting a few making a beeline for 38 Vandemeer Plaza.

The skyscraper gleamed in the sunlight. It was sleek lines and clean glass, shiny metal and unyielding concrete. Modern technology never ceased to amaze him. His childhood memories were of mold-blackened roofs, crumbling walls, streets filled with trash and debris, and packs of ferals that around every corner, waiting for easy prey. It was almost a shame to burn it all down.

Jacques pulled his van into an open spot in front of the tower. Smoothening down his gray deliveryman’s uniform, he reached under the dashboard and flicked three concealed switches. He grabbed the box on the passenger seat and jumped out, locking the vehicle behind him.

Cradling the box to his chest with gloved hands, he pretended it was filled with heavy lead bricks and waddled to the tower, slipping in behind a small knot of white collars. One of them smiled at him, opening the door to let him through. He smiled back.

A series of gantries controlled access to the main lobby. Employees flashed smart cards to pass. Jacques headed for the security desk, where an elderly woman manned a computer.

Can I help you?” she asked.

Ah, oui,” he said, his head just barely clearing the top of the box. “I have delivery for Wilshaw Foundation? On floor nineteen?”

She gave him an once-over, and smiled. “Is it a scheduled delivery?”

Ah, yes, I have paperwork here.” He pulled out a flexitab from his pocket, unfurled it to its full length and powered it up. An impressive set of blanks and words filled the screen.

I see,” she said. “Do you need help?”

Non, I can carry this myself. But the gate…”

Of course.”

She got off her chair and emerged behind her desk. She was a very short woman, almost broader than she was tall. Jacques wondered how this…creature…managed to be a security guard. There were no fat people where he lived. There was never nearly enough to go around, and everybody knew fat people couldn’t fight.

Huffing from the exertion, she tottered over to the nearest gantry and flashed her security card over the scanner. The gantry beeped and opened. Muttering thanks under his breath, Jacques eased his way through, keeping up the charade. He studied the signs on the lobby, and called for the elevator that served odd-numbered floors. He’d been living and operating in the Green Zone for a few years now, and he’d always wondered why there were lifts that only served specific floors.

Once again, Jacques’ sense of timing served him well. When the elevator doors opened, a few office workers entered with him. One of them pushed the button for the nineteenth floor. All of them gave him a wide berth, and looked away from his face.

There were a number of tenants on the nineteenth floor. A law firm, an Internet marketing company, a gang of financial advisers. But the main one, the one that mattered most, was the Wilshaw Foundation. Jacques stepped out and turned right, following a woman. She opened the door with her smart card, and he dashed in just before the door closed.

Jacques glanced around the reception area. A white-uniformed security guard stood nearby, his face a portrait of professional boredom. Unlike the one downstairs, this one was armed with a pistol at his hip. The Wilshaw Foundation had upgraded its security over the last month, in response to the Sons of America striking targets across Cascadia. But there was only the one guard.

Hello?” the receptionist said. “Do you have a delivery?”

Ah, oui,” Jacques replied. He eased the box on her desk with a soft groan, and fished out his flexitab. “Please ack-no-ledge receipt here.”

She took the flexitab, opening it up. “What’s inside?”

Jacques glanced at the guard. The guard was still standing there, still bored, still unaware of what was coming.

He would be the first to die.

Death.”

Jacques reached in and pulled out his weapon. The 100-round casket magazine in the pistol grip was heavy, but the weapon was so finely balanced the extra weight made it easier to aim. He swiveled over to face the security guard and thumbed the fire selector to full auto, his off-hand grabbing the forward pistol grip and mashing down the pressure pad for the top-mounted laser sight. The gun still down at his hip, Jacques brought the laser up to the guard’s chest and squeezed the trigger. The stubby suppressor screwed on the muzzle reduced the report to a loud THUDTHUDTHUDTHUD. The guard dropped on his face.

Huh?” the receptionist replied, looking up.

Jacques casually turned around and put a bullet in her face. Turning back, he extended the weapon’s wire stock, brought it to his shoulder, peered through the reflex sight, and put a single shot into the downed guard’s brain. A nearby office worker gasped, dropping a stack of files. Jacques drilled her too, twice in the chest, twice in the face. With no more targets in view, he picked up the flexitab and swiped his finger across the screen. The text window gave way to a phone app.

Entrance secure,” he said, and stepped away from the flexitab.

Backing up against the wall, still aiming downrange, Jacques hit the button that unlocked the doors to the office with his left hand. The magnetic locks released with an audible thunk.

The door opened. Seven men flowed in. All wore black masks, gloves, and goggles. The last man tossed Jacques a balaclava. Jacques pulled it on as suppressed automatic fire erupted around him. Two of the newcomers took up security positions behind the security desk, kicking the corpse away. One grabbed the flexitab while the other plugged a flash stick into the computer.

Uploading worms,” the one with the tablet called.

The five-man assault team surged into the Foundation’s main workspace, suppressed gunfire in their wake, and Jacques followed.

Corpses piled the floor. Blood spattered across the walls and soaked into the carpet. The six men worked the room, gunning down everybody they saw. A young woman popped her head out a door and ate a bullet. A large fat man, seated at a couch, tried to stand, but a shooter stitched him from gut to face. Jacques saw a wounded man push himself off the floor, and rewarded his effort with a head shot. A woman, hiding behind a desk, jumped up at an attacker as he passed. She screamed, arcing her body away from him, throwing awkward, powerless slaps at his face. He shot her off him with a burst to the groin, snarling, and erased her face with a second burst. Another woman curled up behind a couch, whimpering, pleading for the police dispatcher to pick up. Jacques dragged her out and shot her.

Clear!” the assault leader called.

Clear!” Jacques responded.

Past the work zone were a series of private offices. All of them had full-length windows and doors made of clear polymer. Most of them were curtained off. Jacques knew the basics of active shooter response training: run, hide and fight. The two men at reception had sealed off the only escape route. If there were survivors, they would be hiding inside the offices, with some preparing to fight if the intruders broke in.

Which they wouldn’t. The shooters ahead of Jacques lowered their goggles. These were fusion vision goggles, able to combine different vision modes in one. Including ultraband radar. Forming a tight triangle, they stalked the corridors and passages between the offices. Wherever they saw a survivor, they fired through the walls. Plastic splintered and shattered. People screamed and begged. Blood flowed in rivers. Jacques hung back, watching for survivors, checking the bodies the advance party had left behind.

Doors flung open. A man yelled. Eight people burst out of the last two offices, each holding an improvised weapon in their hands: fire extinguishers, a chair, flexitabs. Jacques didn’t have a clear shot, but that was all right. The shooters ahead of him held their ground, unleashing disciplined torrents of steel into the mob, cutting them down with aimed fire. None of the civvies got close.

Area clear,” the leader reported. “No more survivors.”

Proceed with phase two,” Jacques said.

Tearing through the offices, they found a door labeled ‘Information Technology’. Inside were a series of desktops, and a large tower that housed the Foundation’s server. One of the shooters pulled out a tablet and wired it to the tower, while the others took up security positions. Walking over to a window, Jacques peered out to the street below. All was quiet downstairs. Nobody was running, traffic was normal, no sign of police attention. Jacques sauntered into the server room and waited.

Phase two complete,” the man with the tablet announced.

Well done,” Jacques said. “Initiate phase three.”

The shooter disconnected the tablet and put it away. From another pocket, he removed a sticky bomb. He peeled off the back lining, exposing an adhesive resin. He stuck the disc-shaped object on the server, with the business end pointed at the doorway. He turned a dial, setting the proximity fuse to activate in a minute.

The men bugged out. Jacques, with empty pockets, led the way out. The rest trailed, taking turns to booby-trap bodies and corners with more sticky bombs. The team regrouped at the reception desk. There were four new bodies on the floor. Someone had dragged them in from the corridor outside. Jacques looked askance at the nearer of the two shooters on security.

Witnesses,” he said, shrugging.

Jacques nodded. “Good. My flexitab?”

The shooter returned it to Jacques.

The eight men left the Foundation, heading into a nearby stairwell. Eight duffle bags awaited. They grabbed one each and tossed in their masks, weapons, gloves, ammo, everything that made them stand out. Then they headed down the stairs, as fast as their legs would take them.

Twenty floors down, they were sweating and breathing hard as they emerged into the basement car park. A black van was waiting for them, the engine purring. The men climbed in, with Jacques taking the passenger seat.

All in,” the assault leader said. “Roll.”

Rolling,” the driver acknowledged, and drove. Jacques leaned against his seat, breathing deep, letting the air conditioner cool his face.

Up on street level, Jacques pulled his flexitab from his pocket. He closed the dummy screen and opened another app. The screen dissolved to black, displaying a single red button. Jacques checked the reception. Full strength. He took a deep breath. Let it out. Pushed the button.

A block away, the street erupted in flame and steel.

A Deeper Silence

On Wednesday my computer broke down without warning. I suspect it’s a hard disk drive failure, but time will tell the true cause. The digital silence that followed gave me the time I needed to coalesce some thoughts that were floating about in my mind, specifically pertaining to silence and speech.

As an introvert, silence comes naturally to me, and in prolonged silence I find the space and concentration necessary for deep thought and creativity. As a professional communicator, silence is a potential harbinger for disaster and long periods of it means you will be ignored and forgotten. I’m coming to understand this fundamental tension between my inclinations and my profession. Now I’m trying to put this into practice, discussing very recent events and making some updates.

Firstly, I’m pleased to report that the third entry of the American Heirs series, I, Eschaton, has completed the first round of proofreading and is entering the final stage of edits. I also managed to back up the last round of changes before my computer’s untimely demise. Work is on hold for the moment: I’m working on a loaner at the moment, and I would rather not keep sensitive information on it if I can avoid it. I am, however, planning for publication within the next couple of months, and am doing what preparatory work I can.

Secondly, I have also begun planning my next set of stories. It is not necessarily the fourth installment of the American Heirs series. It is not necessarily the same mishmash of science fiction and military tropes either. In the early days of the creative process I’ve noticed ideas come and go very often. I don’t think it’s prudent to raise expectations by talking about a product that may be dramatically transformed between conceptualization and publication.

Thirdly, I regret to say that my video game project, Odyssey: Remnants of Terra, is on hold indefinitely. The problem was mechanics: Odyssey was originally conceptualised as a shooter, and despite my best efforts I could not find a way to fit it into our chosen game engine, RPG Maker. After some intense discussion we concluded that the only way for Odyssey to work is if we choose another game engine, learn it from the inside out, and maybe expand the team. This takes time, money and contacts. Not to say we have given up on it completely, but we need to line up our ducks in a row before we can execute.

With that in mind, we are still going to create a game. Odyssey was a learning journey, and we came to better understand the ins and outs of the RPG Maker engine. As it transpires, I have an (as-yet) unpublished story that would, with some reworking, fit RPG Maker’s mechanics far better than Odyssey. Time will tell, but with this new pivot I hope we can finally create a product.

Finally, in spite of my quasi-weekly update schedule I noticed that readership has significantly tapered off. Part of this can be attributed to the shift in URL. In hindsight I should simply have maintained the old wordpress site and redirected visitors here, but it’s a bit too late to cry over spilled milk. All I can do is keep on keeping on.

Beyond that, though, sometimes it just feels like there’s nothing to say. That I’m either too busy working or else too preoccupied with other matters to blog. With a personality like mine, I’m beginning to understand and appreciate the need for quiet time, to process and analyze before acting. I don’t like to fill my pages with empty talk, and usually if I only have a few lines or paragraphs to talk about something they go on Facebook instead of my blog.

Content is king, as the saying goes. Now the question is what kind of content goes here, and how much. I have a headful of ideas. Some will stick true to the core Benjamin Cheah brand of deep analysis of politics and other issues. Others will take it into different directions. With a very small readership I’m effectively rebooting my brand. The question is where it will go from here.

That, I think, is something I need to answer first in a deeper silence.

Price revisions for Payhip and Keepers of the Flame

One of the benefits of direct ebook sales is that I get to enjoy very high royalties. 95% from Payhip, all of it mine. This is a stark contrast to the 45% I get from Amazon and Smashwords after the IRS takes their cut. What this means is that I can offer deeper discounts on Payhip than other platforms without actually losing money.

Novellas on Payhip will now be priced at USD$2.99, and novels at USD$4.49. In addition, if you share the purchase links on Facebook and Twitter, you will get an additional 30% off. If you haven’t already, you can pick up American Sons, Keepers of the Flame and my standalone novella At All Costs at far lower prices than my other distribution platforms.

In addition, I’ve also adjusted the price of the paperback version of Keepers of the Flame. Previously, it was USD$15.99. Now it is only USD$12.99. You can buy it here. The initial 5-star review has been very positive. To quote:

“Keepers of the Flame is akin to 40 different cameras following 40 different characters taking photographs of how the same overall event proceeds. And it does not feel nearly as disorienting as it sounds, since the progression is coherent though the perspectives constantly change…In seeing events unfold from multiple differently biased sources, it becomes possible for the reader to attain what feels like a form of objective view on the situation depicted in the novel. And it is, indeed, a very precisely described view.

“…[A]t times the words seem to disappear, their place being taken by a high definition video of the story; yet it never devolves into purple-prose territory. …[I]t feels like how you would naturally take in details from your surroundings – never so few as to be unaware to them, never so many that the framerate of the video is compromised by its resolution.”

You can think of it as an action movie in the form of a novel, with the occasional digression into politics and philosophy.

In other writing news, I am planning to create a newsletter specifically for book releases, and will be implementing discount codes and preorders in the future. This means that if, for whatever reason, you prefer Amazon or Smashwords, you, too, will enjoy discounts at a later date.

Finally, I’m working up edits for the next entry in the American Heirs series. It is a novella that takes place about a week after the climax of Keepers of the Flame, and I am aiming for publication at the end of March. More details will be forthcoming in the future. But for now, I can share with you the title:

I, Eschaton.

The Great Reorganisation

Once upon a time I kept my blogging separate from my fiction. The idea was to keep each specialised, with the blog driving traffic to my website. It was a neat idea, only it didn’t quite pan out the way it expected. Further, it was a pain to maintain two separate-yet-similar sites, and publish redundant posts whenever my stories were ready to roll.

Therefore, effective immediately, I have merged the contents of my blog with this website. All my old content is still available, and future content will be posted here. In addition, I have reorganised the layout of my site to suit its new role as a landing pad for my brand: blog, bibliography, and writing services.

This site, as always, is a work in progress, but I think I’m pretty happy with how it turned out. Thank you for putting up with my old blog, and I look forward to interacting with you here. I’ll also be tinkering with my approach to social media, marketing and other affairs in the coming days; keep an eye out for them!

Sidestepping #VATMESS: My new approach to ebook pricing

Books are my life. I spent my childhood in and out of libraries and bookstores, exploring the worlds and ideas of countless thinkers and writers. Today, books are my lifelihood, serving simultaneously as research material, entertainment, study guides, teachers and companions. Books made me who I am today, showing me worlds beyond this one, pointing to futures yet born and ill-lit histories, whispering hints to build bridges between today and tomorrow.

I believe in a world where books are cheaply and readily available. I believe in a world that values literacy and education, where the sum of human knowledge can be found at one’s fingertips. I believe in a world where technology can synergise with business and art. I believe in a world where artists can be paid fairly for their work, where readers can access high quality books at reasonable prices, where entrepreneurs need not pay unreasonable tax burden to enjoy the fruit of their labour. I believe that in this lifetime humanity has the power to make the first steps towards this new information revolution.

I believe.

The new Value Added Tax threatens to undo all this. Previously, the European Union charges Value Added Tax based on the location of the seller. Now, VAT is charged according to the location of the buyer, and sellers are required to harvest the buyer’s data for VAT compliance. As TechCrunch notes, these rules present an onerous burden on small busineses–like virtually all indie writers–who now have to handle even more paperwork and reconsider pricing strategy.

As BuzzIndie points out, the new VAT rulings would crush indie writers, entrench major companies thanks to their ability to handle VAT, and open a whole host of legal ambiguities. The result is a #VATMESS that will not go away. Already, Amazon is taking advantage of its position by automatically raising prices for ebooks sold in Europe, and threatening to price-match ebooks should their bots find that an author charges lower prices elsewhere. Mark Coker from Smashwords predicts that the new VAT ruling will place a dampener on sales from Europe.

Yet I believe.

Independent writers like me face a dilemma: absorb the tax burden or pass on VAT to our European clients. From my perspective, it is incredibly tempting to just raise prices to meet the new VAT rulings, since I’m already slammed with a 30% withholding tax from the IRS.

Currently, I make far fewer royalties than my foreign peers. When I sell a book on Amazon or Smashwords, the distributor takes 30% of the proceeds. Of the 70% that remains, the IRS takes another 30%. This leaves me with a royalty rate of roughly 45%. With the new VAT ruling, VAT is subtracted first before all the other subtractions. Going with a European average of 20%, that means my royalties from European sales will hover at around 39.2%.

And I’m not talking about my own tax liabilities yet.

Still I believe.

This #VATMESS is going to take a long time to sort out. But I believe in a world where people do not have to choose between dinner and a book. I’ve had to make that choice too many times to wish it on anybody. And I believe in a world where a man should not have to put up with excessive demands for data and exorbitant taxes from foreign bureaucrats for the ‘privilege’ of doing business. The Internet and the indie publishing revolution promised an end to such nonsense, and I will keep to this.

I believe. And this is why I will be absorbing VAT.

I will not be adjusting the prices of my ebooks on Smashwords to account for a policy I’ve had no say in. Amazon has automatically raised the prices of my ebooks on Europe; when their bots find the lower prices on Smashwords I fully expect them to lower my prices on Amazon automatically. I don’t see a point in investing the time  needed to manually set lower prices on Amazon for each European country to meet different VAT regimes and periodically update them to account for fluctuating exchange rates (I have to think in three currencies when setting prices!) when my European sales via Kindle are practically nil. I’d rather focus my energies on directing European customers to places where they won’t have to pay elevated taxes, such as Payhip.

Previously, I sold ebooks through Gumroad, Sellfy and CoinLock. Neither Coinlock nor Gumroad would help me sort out the #VATMESS, effectively forcing me to maintain huge customer databases, capture addresses and determine how much tax should go to which country in Europe. I do not have the time or ability to do this, so I have closed these avenues of sale. As for Sellfy, I wasn’t too impressed with the marketplace and (lack of) categorisation for ebooks.

Therefore, I have consolidated direct purchases through Payhip. Payhip charges a flat 5% fee of the gross sale price for each transaction through Paypal. It also promises to handle VAT paperwork. It’s a godsend for writers like me, allowing me to focus on writing instead of paperwork, while still earning much higher royalties than the major distributors. My Payhip prices will be inclusive of VAT, so all my customers should see the same price regardless of where they are.

Payhip also allows me to do neat things like social discounts. If you share my Payhip ebook links on Facebook or Twitter, you will enjoy a 30% discount. Here are the links to At All CostsAmerican Sons and Keepers of the Flame.

I hope you will enjoy these stories. Together, I believe we can build a better world, a world where the politicians regret the #VATMESS they have created and small businesses can get on with delivering content instead of paperwork.

KEEPERS OF THE FLAME is cleared hot!

Merry Christmas!

KEEPERS OF THE FLAME is (finally!) live at every major retail outlet.

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Here’s the blurb:

In the wake of a global collapse, the Republic of Cascadia promises peace, prosperity and security. But these promises ring hollow in the shanties and slums of the Yellow Zone. The Sons of America, once driven underground, have returned to spark a revolution. Master Sergeant Christopher Miller, team leader in Cascadia’s elite Combat Studies Unit, stands at the front line, ready to seek out and destroy the SOA wherever they appear.

But the SOA is not the only threat Cascadia faces. On the other side of the continent, a new American empire marshals its forces and marches west. Its mission: to restore the old United States, by any means necessary. Cascadia has no place in this grand vision, and there is only enough room in North America for one great power.

As the body count grows and strategems unfold, Miller must confront enemies as cunning as they are ruthless, at home and abroad. Yet while mere humans struggle for supremacy, in the unseen spaces of Cascadia’s digital networks, a machine god awakes.

The ebook version can be purchased at Smashwords and Amazon‘s Kindle store. It retails for USD$5.99.

You can also buy it directly from me through Sellfy (PayPal), Gumroad (credit card), and CoinLock (Bitcoin).

The print version can be found on Amazon and the CreateSpace estore for USD$15.99.

And because this is the season for giving, here’re some discounts!

-If you buy the paperback from Amazon, you get 10% off the list price. In addition, if you buy the paperback you can also get the Kindle version for just USD$2.99.

-If you purchase any of my ebooks from Sellfy (Including Keepers of the Flame), you can get a 30% discount if you share it on social media.

-If you choose Gumroad for ebooks instead, you’ll also get a 30% discount if you use these links for At All Costs, American Sons, and Keepers of the Flame.

These discounts expire on 1st January 2015, so get your copy today!