All posts by jmoellerwriter


Today I am starting the rough draft of FROSTBORN: THE BROKEN MAGE.

Since THE BROKEN MAGE will be the eighth book in the series, it is interesting to look back and see how FROSTBORN has changed from the original outline of the series I wrote back in early 2013. I think Garth Nix said that he route detailed outlines for the pleasure of departing from them later on, and I’ve certainly done that!

Calliande was supposed to be much more mysterious and ethereal and oracular – sort of a Lady of the Lake type figure. That really changed with the scene in FROSTBORN: THE GRAY KNIGHT when she starts helping treat wounds in Dun Licinia’s church, because it’s hard to be mysterious and ethereal while getting one’s hands dirty.

Morigna was much more abrasive and treacherous in the outline.

Mara was supposed to leave the group and go back to Coldinium after THE IRON TOWER. Originally she was just Jager’s girlfriend. But as I started writing THE MASTER THIEF I was bored with her character, and so I threw in the line that she was half dark elven, and that threw the plot of THE IRON TOWER and THE DARK WARDEN is entirely different directions.

Gavin’s character changes in THE DARK WARDEN weren’t originally in the outline, but were instead a logical result of events in the previous books.

Antenora wasn’t in the original outline. I did add her around THE UNDYING WIZARD, and originally she was a man named the Red Knight whose purpose was to guard the ways between the worlds, sort of like Cerberus but with less fur and only one head. I ditched that idea because the Red Knight came out of nowhere – he had absolutely no connection to the characters. So instead the Red Knight became Antenora with her quest for redemption.

Ridmark turned out exactly the way I envisioned him. Of course, FROSTBORN really is Ridmark’s story, even if some of the secondary characters have stronger personalities than I first planned!


The Woman In Green

Watching THE WOMAN IN GREEN, one of the old Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes movies. It is interesting to see the influence Rathbone’s Holmes had on later film versions of the character.

I wonder if in a thousand years Sherlock Holmes will be a mythical figure like Gilgamesh or Achilles or King Arthur or Roland, and scholars will debate whether or not he actually existed.


How To Distribute Ebooks

James Latimer asks via Twitter:

“You’re a pro at this indie publishing lark, how do you distribute your books? Smashwords + Amazon? Create your own files?”

Good question!

For context, “distribute” basically means 1.) how I create the finished ebook files, and 2.) how those ebook files get from my desktop computer to Amazon and B&N and iBooks and all the other ebookstores.

For 1.), Amazon requires a file format called MOBI, and all the other ebookstores use the EPUB format. (Smashwords does something a little different, which we’ll cover below) Creating MOBI files is difficult. However, it is much easier to create an EPUB file and then convert it to MOBI, so that’s what I do.

To create EPUBs, you can use something expensive like Adobe InDesign, or something more affordable like Scrivener. I personally prefer to use a free program called Sigil (available here). Sigil is pretty bare-bones, but it gets the job done, and it also lets you see the underlying HTML of the ebook files, which makes it easy to fix errors. To make the EPUB, I copy and paste the finished chapters from Microsoft Word into Notepad, which scrubs out all the nasty Word formatting, and then copy and paste again from Notepad into Sigil.

Once the EPUB is created, I use another program called Calibre (available here) to convert the EPUB file into a MOBI file.

Smashwords is a little different in that it requires a specially formatted Word document. I used to prepare them by hand, but that was an enormous pain in the neck. I now use an excellent program called Jutoh to automatically generate a Smashwords-compatible Word doc, and it works quite well. Jutoh can do other stuff, but I mostly use it for Smashwords.

This is by no means the only method of producing ebook files. A lot of writers swear by Scrivener, and Scrivener can automatically generate the MOBI and EPUB files for you. That said, it’s possible to over-format your document with fancy fonts and layouts in Scrivener, and I prefer to keep my formatting as bare-bones as possible. One of the nice things about ereaders/tablets is that sight-impaired readers can dial up the font size as large as they wish, and excessively customized fonts can sometimes mess that up. In fact, when Amazon introduced the Kindle Fire HD in 2013, some writers got into trouble because custom fonts that looked good on the original Kindle Fire and on the e-Ink Kindles did not look good on the Fire HD.

For 2.), there are two options. All the ebookstores have some method of directly uploading a book. The advantage is that you can control everything yourself, but the disadvantage is that every time you change a book, you have to make the changes to every single ebookstore. One you have 90+ individual titles the way I do, this can be cumbersome.

A distributor, by contrast, uploads the books for you. Most distributors cover Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and iTunes, along with smaller ebookstores like Oyster and Flipkart and so forth. Distributors generally do not work with Amazon – Amazon will typically block a distributor from uploading, since they prefer that writers use Kindle Direct Publishing. Also, as far as I know, no distributor is currently uploading to Google Play. The main advantage of a distributor is that it saves time, since you need to only upload a book once and it shows up on multiple stores. The disadvantage is that the distributor takes a cut – usually 5% to 10% of each book sold. The two biggest distributors right now are Smashwords and Draft2Digital. Smashwords will get you into B&N, Kobo, iTunes, Oyster, and a bunch of smaller stores. Draft2Digital does B&N, Kobo, iTunes, and Oyster, and will also put your book in CreateSpace if you want. (Print book preparation is a whole different topic.)

Myself, I use a mix of direct uploading and distributors. For Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Google Play, I upload directly. The websites are all easy to use, and that extra 5% on each book can really add up in the long run. Uploading the first time is a bit of a learning curve, but after the first time it’s much easier.

For iBooks, I use a distributor. Apple lets you upload directly into the iBookstore, but to do so you need a program called iTunes Producer, which is available only for the Mac. Getting a Mac just to use iTunes Producer seemed like an expensive hassle, so instead I used Smashwords. I used Smashwords exclusively through 2015, but lately I’ve been experimenting with Draft2Digital as well. Honestly, I’m happy with both, and both have their strengths. Draft2Digital is faster and a lot easier to use, but Smashwords has a lot of features that Draft2Digital doesn’t like coupon codes, and Smashwords also offers direct sales through the Smashwords website. (I’ve noticed a lot of “elite” ebook users, the kind of ebook users who have their own folder system for organizing their libraries, tend to buy their ebooks off Smashwords.)

So, that is how I create my ebooks and distribute them.


GHOST IN THE INFERNO now available!


I’m pleased to report that GHOST IN THE INFERNO is now available at Amazon, Amazon UKAmazon CanadaAmazon GermanyAmazon AustraliaBarnes & NobleKoboGoogle Play, iTunes, and Smashwords.

You can read the first chapter of GHOST IN THE INFERNO right here.

CAINA AMALAS is the Ghost circlemaster of Istarinmul, leader of the Emperor’s spies in the city. She has defeated powerful foes, but more dangerous enemies lie before her.

A sorcerous catastrophe threatens to destroy Istarinmul, and the only the mysterious sorceress Annarah, last loremaster of lost Iramis, knows how to stop it.

To rescue Annarah and save Istarinmul, Caina must brave the Inferno, the hellish fortress of the sinister Immortals.

But those who enter the Inferno never return…


GHOST IN THE INFERNO vs Help Desk Scammers

This is how determined I am to finish GHOST IN THE INFERNO.

You might have heard of the “Windows support scam” phone calls. Basically, a scammer calls up a victim and claims to be from Microsoft, saying that the victim’s computer has been generating error messages at Microsoft HQ. Then the scammer has the victim go to Event Viewer, locate some perfectly innocuous error messages, and claims these are indicative of a serious problem. After that, the scammer will usually install a piece of “security” software that is useless at best and actively harmful at worst, all while making off with the victim’s credit card number to pay for this useless software. (More details on this kind of scam are on the official Microsoft site at this link.)

Anyway, I sat down to edit GHOST IN THE INFERNO…and I got a call from one of these scammers!

My delight was immense.

My delight was immense because I have been in IT in some capacity for another for a very, very long time, and I know every single way to screw with or lie to a help desk person. Every. Single. Way. I know every single way because I’ve had them all used on me at some time or another. All the tricks are in my head…and here comes this scammer like a sheep wandering into the lion pen at the zoo.

To put it into RPG terms, this must be how an Ancient Red Dragon feels when some level 1 adventurers in unenchanted leather armor wander into his lair and start quoting BEOWULF.

Gleefully I fired up the virtual machine I have for just such an occasion, thinking of all the many ways I was about to amuse myself at the scammer’s expense. If I did it right, and feigned the right amount of ignorance, I could probably waste his entire day…

But then I wouldn’t get any editing done, alas.

So I hung up on him and got through three chapters of GHOST IN THE INFERNO.

It was for the best. Work must take priority over amusement, after all.

I just hope he calls back when GHOST IN THE INFERNO is done. :)


GHOST IN THE INFERNO Table of Contents

Making editing progress on GHOST IN THE INFERNO, and I should have a sample chapter available next week. Meanwhile, I have at last settled on a proper order for the chapters, so here is the Table of Contents:

(I should note that the chapter titles “Undying” and “The Stormdancer and the Assassin” have been used in previous GHOSTS books for reasons that will be obvious after you read GHOST IN THE INFERNO. :) )

Chapter 1: Something Always Goes Wrong

Chapter 2: Wraithblood

Chapter 3: Warnings

Chapter 4: Old Friends

Chapter 5: Instructions

Chapter 6:  A Little Task

Chapter 7: Something Else Goes Wrong

Chapter 8: Glass Hand

Chapter 9: Sparks

Chapter 10: Epic Poetry

Chapter 11: The Master Alchemist

Chapter 12: The Iron Hell

Chapter 13: A Man Who Should Be Dead

Chapter 14: Sanctuary

Chapter 15: Written In Flesh

Chapter 16: Encircled

Chapter 17: Undying

Chapter 18: The Stormdancer and the Assassin

Chapter 19: Subjugant

Chapter 20: Hear The Words Of Lore

Chapter 21: Liberator

Chapter 22: Messages

Chapter 23: The Lord of the Heretics



why is SOUL OF SERPENTS my favorite DEMONSOULED book?

Someone asked why SOUL OF SERPENTS is my favorite DEMONSOULED book.

Well, I do have a soft spot for it, partly because I thought it was the last novel I would ever write. In 2010, I had stopped trying to traditionally publish novels because it was a waste of time, and instead started focusing more on nonfiction about Linux. Then in 2011 I discovered the Kindle, and published a book on Linux, which started to sell. I decided, for the sake of completeness, to put up DEMONSOULED and SOUL OF TYRANTS (which I had written in 2001 and 2005, respectively). But since DEMONSOULED and SOUL OF TYRANTS had an unfinished plot arc between them, I had to have a third book.

Hence, SOUL OF SERPENTS. I figure after SOUL OF SERPENTS was finished, I would write more nonfiction books, but from time to time wistfully mention my fantasy trilogy, which would sell 1 or 2 copies every few months.

Of course, then things failed to go according to plan when people started buying the DEMONSOULED books.

So, after four years, I’ve sold 11,600 copies of SOUL OF SERPENTS, and written about another twenty-five additional novels since then. Not bad for the “last” novel I would ever write! Thanks, everyone!

This summer one of my projects is to update the DEMONSOULED series with new covers to get some new readers into the series before I start working on MASK OF DRAGONS. Here’s the rough mockup of what the new SOUL OF SERPENTS cover will look like:



an impromptu interview about GHOST IN THE INFERNO

A reader had some questions about GHOST IN THE INFERNO, and it turned into a short interview of sorts.

“1. Do you imagine yourself in the main characters shoes when you write?”

Nah. I’m nothing like any of my characters.  Considering what happens to my characters, I am relieved by this fact.

“2. Do you have a favorite book or character which you have written about??”

I think SOUL OF SERPENTS was the best DEMONSOULED book, FROSTBORN: THE IRON TOWER was the best FROSTBORN book, and GHOST IN THE MASK, GHOST IN THE HUNT, and GHOST IN THE RAZOR were the best GHOSTS books. But what the writer thinks of his work is not often what the readers actually think of it. :)

“3. What is your favorite book (not one of yours)? Do you/ did you read a lot? :)”

I used to read more, but I still usually get through about 40 or 50 books a year. Ebooks help with that, since I can read on my tablet while running on a treadmill in the morning.

Let’s see, favorite books:

For fantasy, THE LORD OF THE RINGS and THE SILMARILLION by Tolkien, THE HOUR OF THE DRAGON by Robert E. Howard, KNIGHTS OF DARK RENOWN by David Gemmell, and the entirety of THE DRESDEN FILES by Jim Butcher.

For science fiction, THE HIGH CRUSADE by Poul Anderson, THE ICARUS HUNT by Timothy Zahn, and CRYPTONOMICON by Neal Stephenson.

I think PERELANDRA and THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS were the best fiction that CS Lewis wrote. (MERE CHRISTIANITY, THE PROBLEM OF PAIN, and A GRIEF OBSERVED would be his best nonfiction.)

For mysteries, THE SIGN OF THE BASKERVILLES, THE SPECKLED BAND, THE ADVENTURE OF THE SIX NAPOLEONS, and THE ADVENTURE OF THE NORWOOD BUILDER (all Sherlock Holmes stories) by Arthur Conan Doyle. (If you ever get the chance, the TV dramatization of THE ADVENTURE OF THE NORWOOD BUILDER starring Jeremy Brett as Holmes does the rare feat of actually improving on the original story, which was already excellent.) Also ONE CORPSE TOO MANY and THE VIRGIN IN THE ICE by Ellis Peters for historical mysteries, and I think TELL NO ONE by Harlan Coben is the prime example of a mystery/thriller. Though since he likes to write about families torn apart by A Dark Secret, I think Mr. Coben may have missed his calling as a writer of Gothic horror.

I owe Jasper Fforde’s THURSDAY NEXT series for inspiration, because I used to find writing love stories tedious, but THURSDAY NEXT showed how a writer could get a lot of dramatic mileage & tension out of a love story.

THE CASE OF CHARLES DEXTER WARD is considered one of HP Lovecraft’s weaker works, but I think it was his best.

For nonfiction, Julius Caesar’s COMMENTARIES ON THE GALLIC WARS, Xenophon’s ANABASIS (I like Xenophon’s line about putting on his best clothes and armor to overawe his opponents, and then if they killed him, at least he would be dressed properly for it), and Ulysses S Grant’s MEMOIRS of the US Civil War. THE MIDDLE AGES by Morris Bishop is an excellent look at the Western European Middle Ages, and BATTLE CRY OF FREEDOM by James McPherson is the best one-volume history of the US Civil War. THE SECOND WORLD WAR by John Keegan, THE DECLINE AND FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE by Peter Heather, and DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY by Erik Larsen are also some of my favorites. I also liked Alison Weir’s books on the Wars of the Roses and Richard III.

“4. Are you thinking about starting another series or writing a separate book?”

Always! I always have new ideas.

Right now, I only have time to write six or seven books a year, so for now I’m sticking to GHOST EXILE and FROSTBORN. Ideas are easy. Implementing them into actual books is the hard part.

The trouble with stand-alone books is that they don’t sell very well, so I tend to write series.

“5. What is your inspiration? What gave you the idea for these books? (Ghost Exile)”

The idea came about because I thought THE GHOSTS series was going to come to a natural conclusion in GHOST IN THE SURGE, but I wanted to keep writing GHOSTS books.

So how best to do that without the series becoming stagnant and repetitive? I decided to have Caina save the day at the end of GHOST IN THE SURGE, but get punished and exiled for it. That way she would be thrust into a new setting, with new characters, new problems, and new enemies.

The root conflict and plot hook of GHOST EXILE – the wraithblood – was inspired partly by watching HOUSE MD, and partly by reading about various experiments the CIA did with LSD in the 1950s and 1960s. (I believe it was called the MKUltra project). About six years ago I wrote a short story about a wraithblood-addicted locksmith trying to pay off his debts in Istarinmul. That story never got published, but the locksmith eventually evolved into the character of Nerina Strake.

Also, writing a longer series tends to generate its own ideas due to the internal logic of the series – the characters’ actions have consequences. A lot of the plot of GHOST IN THE HUNT was simply a logical consequence of how much Caina irritated her enemies in the previous two books.

One hint for future GHOST EXILE books: someday there will be a GHOST EXILE book that revolves around just how much Callatas has aggravated Cassander Nilas. Internal series logic! :)

“6. How did you start writing? Did you have a favorite author that inspired you, or was your parent a writer or…??”

A long time ago I used to run Dungeons and Dragons RPG games for my high school friends, and found that I liked the storytelling aspect of it more than the maps and dice.

“7. Do you wake up in the middle of the night and start writing about an idea you had? My dad does (an author and I wanna go in his tracks) and I sort of do too.”

Nah. If I have an idea, I tend not to write it down. I figure if it’s a good idea, I’ll remember it because I’ll keep thinking about it, but if it’s a bad idea, I’ll forget about it. Usually, the good ideas are for an upcoming book, like “oh, Caina should do this” or “Ridmark should do that”, and I’ll add them into the outline for the next book.

If I wake up in the middle of the night, it’s usually because of leg cramps or insomnia, so I play SKYRIM or BALDUR’S GATE on my computer until I can fall back asleep. Usually, though, I sleep like the dead. Running 5k several times a week likely helps with that. :)

“8. How many more books do you plan on writing in all? What if you finish them?!??! :( :O What will be after that?! May you never run out of witing mojo steam and all that ;)”

FROSTBORN is going to be fifteen books, and GHOST EXILE will be nine.

After that…well, I have no shortage of ideas, and new ones all the time. I’ll keep writing as long as I’m physically able to do so and have an outlet for publication of some kind.