Category Archives: Miscellaneous

My First Book Fair: Drop D.E.D.

On Saturday June 20th I attended the Hockessin Book Fair near my home in Delaware, for the first time as a vendor. I have tried, and failed, several times to describe what kind of line-crossing step this was for me. No words, you either do it or you stay on the sidelines. And I made the right decision.

Yes, I sold some books. More than I expected, no question.

But that only pleased me (very much). The gift beyond price was the evidence of support I received from everyone there.


Probably 90% of that line I mentioned is crossed before the event starts. You have to decide you’re going, you have to flog it on your platform, you have to assure fans and friends that it will be worth their while. I was a head-case for two weeks, I was in fact D.E.D. (Doubting Every Decision) I made. Mention it three times on FB? Or should it be only twice? I leaned toward emphasizing how cool the event was going to be (the large number of authors and artists who had signed up, the ice cream, the extra events): I knew this because I had come as a lurker the previous (first) year. Still had butterflies as I looked at my wares and thought about hawking them, but I was confident if people came they’d like being there.

HBF1The day before, I packed up my world. Yep, the Lands of Hope in a box: just add imagination. This was a funny moment for me. Remember, my lovely wife did crafts fairs for years when we were just starting out– and what a long, hard run of work that was– so I had a notion about the details you needed to remember.

But I found I could not just make a list of what to bring.

I had to tell myself a story! I wrote it out on paper:

Will comes to his tableHBF3

He sets out the cloth

He assembles the sign-hanger…

And while I make lousy lists, I tell a pretty good story! I think my booth, while modest, showed its own tale well and folks liked it (many said so directly, even other vendors).

I saw REALLY cool things at other booths, a couple of which formed “duh” moments for me complete with V-8 head-slap. Digital picture frames with slide shows and

Artsy, get it? He's taking a picture, and I'm...
Artsy, get it? He’s taking a picture, and I’m…

trailers? I gave my lovely wife one years ago and we’ve never used it. And most sellers had a big edge in the area of non-book LOOT. Buttons and magnets I’d seen before: book cards are always popular and several folks took mine. But some authors go the whole nine yards. How about Liz DeJesus, who writes in the popular alternate-fairy-tale sub-genre, with gorgeous silver Fairy Tale Survival Kits! I have to do some serious thinking around that idea.

So– see the prep as part of your tale, and keep rewriting it.

The Pep-Talk

Just before the doors opened, they lined us all up to hear from Mark Bowden. Mark’s the real thing that the rest of us are dreaming about. You can win an award for your writing, maybe call yourself a mid-lister, that’s all fine. Two of Mark’s books (Blackhawk Down and Killing bin Laden) have been made into movies. And this comes AFTER a career writing for the local paper in Philadelphia. So, yeah, legit. We listened.

HBF8Mark said several things that were as meaningful and impressive as I expected. He said writing can go from something you do, maybe to a living, but then to a way of life (not the same thing). Yes, that; I have increasingly come to think of everything as a tale; I want to describe, to find just the right word, to arrange my memory into story-lines. And as Mark also said, this is not really natural! We live in a flood of ideas, we don’t follow a single train of thought for an hour at a time, not usually. I had never considered that before, though I think maybe as an avid reader of things like epic fantasy, it’s more of a habit with me than others. Before Mark spoke (and it was seriously three minutes, maybe four), I tended to dismiss his presence “ah, bigwig, he writes about the Alleged Real World, no use to me”, but I was humbled by his manner and the intelligence he offered (which applied just as well to the artists among us).

So– don’t skip the headliner if they give you a chance.

The (Main) Event

The fair went very well, and almost too quickly. The DED-storm rampaged in my head for the first couple hours. The two fellas selling history books to my left, they’re going hard sell (calling out to folks as they approach); am I being too passive? The lady to my right, with the inspiring story of work in a hospice, she gets into long conversations with customers, am I doing it wrong? Should I listen in!

Fortunately, with some experience from Dorie’s craft fairs, I could laugh at myself

Let me tell you a story...
Let me tell you a story…

about most of these details. But it takes a toll: I was hungry long before lunch and deliberately had not brought anything large or soft to eat because I was mortified about being caught with a mouthful of sandwich when someone asked me The Question.

I am telling you people, you can lose weight just from playing the Eye-Contact Game. You and strolling customers take turns looking: at the display, at the other person, at your shoes, but not each other at the same time. You know she’s looking and you nod, but keep looking away. She does the same, so you both say hello to empty air. ONLY if she stops, then spends time reading, then picks up a book and asks a question, only then do you engage.

And they asked The Question I’d been dreading for months.

“So, what’s this one about?”

The Question

Seriously? Judgement’s Tale is 200k words, and it’s in two covers right now, and it has a sequel. Am I lying just by opening my yap? This one paralyzed me. I prayed about it. And just as the first customer asked me The Question– honestly, at the last second– I think a good answer came to me.

“This is that classic tale where the orphan youth needs to save the world.”

Created with Nokia Refocus From there I added details in different directions: no one accepts him, he’s very driven, the bad guys are getting ready to take over and he doesn’t know it.  I got myself and all my stupid DED out of the way and just let my admiration for Solemn Judgement shine. I have no doubt they got the message.

And several chose to buy into it, quite literally.

So– drop the DED and just love your work with people around, same as you do when you’re writing.

The Children of Hope are Everywhere

I am simply overwhelmed at the supportive response I got from family and friends at the fair.

  • A college classmate drove over an hour and brought a friend
  • An entire family of artists showed up
  • My lovely wife and miracle daughter were there, and I think a bit impressed, and of course happy for me
  • A high school buddy I hadn’t seen since Reagan was president drove three hours from Virginia and almost cleaned out my stock.

HBF9Everyone bought the combo! Yeah, I have Judgement’s Tale in two covers now which makes a cheaper opening investment for folks who aren’t sure. But the people who decided to buy wanted the whole thing. I was humbled and inspired. The thought that readers out there may soon be perusing my chronicle (in PAPER, mind you, turning actual-factual pages and maybe chuckling, or going back to check something earlier, or dog-earing the spot)… I will never be good enough to describe how that feels. But thank you to good friends, whom I now count among the Children of Hope. You are not alone, and the number keeps growing. I will keep bearing witness to everything I’ve seen, in between my so-called real life. And I feel energized to get back to that happy chore at once.

So– make the contact, flush the DED and MEET people.

Remember why you started, get out of the writing shell. Notice all those who came out with you and want the same thing. Feel good about that camaraderie. You are no more in competition with them for customers than you are with the readers for air to breathe.

Thanks to the book fair, I remembered again why I love to chronicle the Lands of Hope. Ar Aralte!

It Figures: Qerlak Barleybane

Because in the end, you need to show, not tell


Qerlak2Qerlak Barleybane stands apart as the adventuring hero who retired- or tried to. The rare third son of an Elven noble family, Qerlak stood no chance of inheriting his father’s foef in the Inmark of the Argensian Empire. He is one of five heroes who formed the core of the Tributarians alongside Zoahnstar, Solo, Salling’r and Cheriatte. Returning from the Shimmering Mindsea awash in wealth in the summer of 2001 (The Plane of Dreams), Qerlak got news of a foef on the jungle fringe of the South Mark, and has used his share to purchase it, becoming the new lord of Mon-Crulbagh.

There, he finds life not nearly as settled as it was on his father’s estate, and his disreputable past has given him both friends and habits that come in quite handy (as seen in The Plane of Dreams and soon in the sequel, The Test of Fire).

Qerlak prefers the two-handed ax to a sword, which other knights would see as an eccentricity. He also fights on foot, because he never really learned to ride that well– and this would be a source of immediate disgrace among other nobles (as if his adventuring life were not enough). Qerlak never spent the requisite hours with a lance either, and this would be the final straw if known. But his years of hard adventuring have made him so strong, dextrous and decisive that he can get by in a joust, with an unfamiliar weapon and a horse he doesn’t control with practiced ease.

On foot, bearing his half-plate and enormous ax (both of which are enchanted to be lighter and more puissant than normal) Qerlak is a fighter not to be taken lightly. On top of that Qerlak’s faith in Argens Hopeforger endows him with miraculous powers, especially the ability to Endure under all manner of stress and exertion.


In Qerlak I see the hero who most heartens me. Though among the pre-eminent “front-rankers” of the Tributarians (exceeded for strength and prowess only by Spitz), Qerlak took on none of the airs that would normally form the prerogative of an elven noble son. Several of the villains in The Plane of Dreams are just that, knight-sons who through

The new coat-of-arms for Mon-Crulbagh
The new coat-of-arms for Mon-Crulbagh

precedence or boredom cannot wait for their seat, and have turned to a life of crime.The Argensian Empire suffers from their entitlement and pride. Qerlak, by contrast, accepted his fate and went adventuring as preferable to indolence. And when a fortune fell into his hands, allowing him to purchase first the magnificent half-plate suit of a lord and then a title to go with it, he rolled up his sleeves and went to work on a knight’s foef that could only be described as a “fixer-upper”. mon-crulbagh-detQerlak thrills to this challenge; nothing dispirits him in either the swampy terrain or the dismal weather. His newly hired castellan Elias Fennet, on Qerlak’s arrival to the foef, sees him address the servants almost as equals and marvels at “a lord without lordly pretence”.

Qerlak’s high spirits, enthusiasm, and his willingness to take risks on himself inspire immediate loyalty in his followers. In a short time, he begins to turn the abandoned foef around, bringing him into conflict with the master of those who control the swamps on his border. Then his former adventuring companions arrive for a visit with some bad news, and it all starts to come together for the young new lord of Mon-Crulbagh…

Galethiel the Dream-Seer, former adventurer who also retires and joins him at Mon-Crulbagh.
Galethiel the Dream-Seer, former adventurer who also retires and joins him at Mon-Crulbagh.

Much of the enjoyment in Qerlak’s story-line comes from the detail I’ve observed in his character and the intuitive, sympathetic struggle he’s undergoing. A new knight, trying to

Severyn Illfellow, a peasant-rogue who gets his due when the new lord takes his seat.

do the right thing by his peasants and companions– it makes sense that folks would be loyal to Qerlak, and this trend continues into The Test of Fire.

You can see a map of Qerlak’s rugged, remote foef in the Compendium, as well as a discussion of the heraldry of old and new Mon-Crulbagh, a description of some of the key staff of the manor shortly after his takeover in mid-2001 ADR. There’s even a keep journal, with entries from previous lords alluding to rather strange doings in the murky past.


As before I used my smartphone camera with Nokia Lens, shot under the best light I could muster, on a white tray for contrast. Additional cropping and contrast drawn from MS Picture Manager, which looks to be about my speed. I took many more shots this time,

Some of the castle key staff.
Some of the foef’s key staff…

and eliminated many more as well.

The swamps of the Mon-Morteissk are probably the prime breeding ground of Reptile Men in all the Lands of Hope. Always a significant threat, they’ve practically run rampant in the decade leading up to Qerlak’s arrival. I loved seeing how he gave them their come-uppance, and it served him well in meeting a great new companion as well as helping to solve the mystery of the

Some of the foef's ancestral foes.
…and its ancestral foes.

Dreamquest. Shooting these dark-skinned uglies gave me some trouble, though– the flash washed them out completely and you don’t see the detail no matter what the setting. But sometimes less is more, as in the deep swamp, late night, unfamiliar sounds, heat and humidity…

As always let me know what I could do to (cheaply) improve these posts. I’m not keeping it short for lack of material. I hope to help spur readers of The Lands of Hope to enjoy the experience, and perhaps help fellow-authors to look elsewhere, or even everywhere for inspiration.