SteamPunk September is just around the corner!

Steampunk September Surprise!

I know it is March, but September is just 6 months away! And that means that I have to get ready for Steampunk September! Here’s an overview of steam punk September provided by Penelope Bartotto, founder and creator of the event. I’ll have an interview with her up later this week! Also, please check out her wonderful website at It’s full of great reviews, commentary, and other exciting things!

Continue reading “SteamPunk September is just around the corner!”

50 Ways to Kill a Character

50 ways to kill off a character in a novel or story.

By Daniel Ottalini

Need to kill off an annoying character? Already used a bunch of creative ways to eliminate super important people, and you’d rather not leave a boring person to die by lethal sword thrust? Here’s a slightly humorous, hopefully helpful list of creative causes of calamity for you callous creators of creative creations out there.

Continue reading “50 Ways to Kill a Character”

Novellas & The Self-Published Author

My thoughts on Novellas & The Self Published Author

child with piles of books forest


By Daniel Ottalini

A novella is a written, fictional, prose narrative normally longer than a short story but shorter than a novel. A novella is a written, fictional, prose narrative normally longer than a short story but shorter than a novel.

There is undeniably something instinctively attractive about novellas for the self-published or small-published author. Think of it this way, a novella is faster to type, edit, format, and requires only an ebook cover, reducing costs and time in multiple areas, even with multiple checks and reviews.

So why novellas? Well, for one thing, exposure in this industry is key. You are more likely to catch more ‘browsing’ readers with five books out, even short novellas, than with two novels out. By reading one, you have a good chance of them reading more, especially if they are well done. You charge less, so people may be more willing to take a chance, especially on a 99 cent or free loss leader than on a $3.99 100,000 word novel. And they do work exceptionally well as loss leaders, bringing in new readers who, having identified the quality of your work, are willing to lay out money for your other written works.

But are they really worth it for a beginning author to write? As a self-published author, I’m struggling with this situation. First, time spent on novellas is time NOT spent on novel number three. Second, I am having a hard time mustering the effort to finish up the last leg of Antioch Burns. Having the cover ready (wow, that came faster than I thought!) has helped, but still, this hill seems extraordinarily difficult to climb. My first novella is only doing mediocre in sales. In some ways, I attribute this to the higher cost – $1.99 – rather than the more traditional $0.99 cents. I’ve also been forced to cut back on what little promotion I do, due to some other issues. I suppose that you must be prepared to offer your novella for a reduced price, or provide some other tantalizing tid-bit for readers in addition. Now these may be more personal components in some ways, but they are, in fact, a factor for many others. Burnout, exhaustion, weak story lines, all can reduce the effectiveness of a novella.
For example, the delay in Antioch Burns is actually a good thing at this point. This is the first I’m sharing with you, but the novella will be delayed until Spring, 2014. My publisher has some personal things to attend too, and currently I’m not quite happy with the novella. But this is good. Why? Because I can add that extra tid-bit into the novella, like the first chapter of Iron Tribune. Yes, exciting, isn’t it? Already, this is getting me into the mood.

So in the end, what’s my final opinion? Novellas are great, if you can commit to them and pump them out completely. In some ways, the smartest self-published author waits to publish book one until they have novella one or even book two. Just a thought, as I certainly didn’t begin that way.

What do you think? Novellas & Novels together? Novellas first? Or are they a waste of time?


Antioch Burns Cover Sneak Peek!

A preview of Antioch Burns’ cover and some exciting November news!

Antioch Burns Sneak Peak

What is this? A sneak peek at the cover of Antioch Burns? Yes indeed! As you can see, I’ve gone with the newspaper-y style of cover. I’ll be revealing the full cover later this month, along with a special sale announcement! November and December bring great gifts and surprises to my Roman Steampunk & Alternate History World. See you soon!

Copper Centurion Up for an EPIC eBook Award!

Copper Centurion is up for an EPIC award! Read more inside this blog post!


Good Morning to all my wonderful readers, and Happy Monday! At least, it’s happy for me, because I am very proud to announce that Copper Centurion is up for an Electronic Publishing Industry Coalition eBook Award. My first novel, Brass Legionnaire, won an EPIC award in the spring of 2013. I am extremely pumped for this nomination, especially as the judges are other authors and publishers.


I have always been hesitant about entering many competitions, as sometimes I doubt that it is entirely worth it. But I have to say that I’ve been pleasantly surprised. I took the trip to Portland this last spring to attend the conference and learned a lot. I think such conferences are a wonderful way for self-published authors to network, learn, and share their ideas and knowledge! I heartily recommend everyone go to at least one at some point in their lives! Be sure to visit the EPIC website to learn more about their goals and mission.

Daniel Ottalini – Copper Centurion (Click here to see the full award category and Finalist listing!)



How to Beat Writer’s Block

Brief Posting on Defeating Writer’s Block

Hi all,

Had a terrible case of writer’s block the last few days (Okay, weeks. I think Lisa, the publisher of Antioch Burns, was having conniption fits.) But seriously, nothing was working. I was really unfocused and could not connect one idea to another. So how did I break it? Well, I think it’s a combination of factors, but here’s what I’ve got so far.images

    1. Got a lot of sleep (seriously, a tired brain doesn’t always think straight)
    2. Stayed up late (in opposition to the prior one, I stayed up late once I finally broke through!)
    3. Listened to classical music from Kingdom Of Heaven.
    4. Alternatively, you could have also watched scenes from that, or any other movie/film connected to your genre.
    5. Went for a walk. Without the iPod.
    6. Drove home without listening to the radio. (Both E and F make you think, because you have nothing to distract you.)
    7. Text/Phone a friend (Who recommend I go for a walk. Thanks Lys!)

Breaking through netted me a sweet 1k words in Antioch Burns, plus a long range pat on the back from my publisher. 🙂 Anywho, short posting today. What else do you do to defeat writer’s block?

Alternatively, look up inspirational photos online! (This is from the upcoming Rome Total War II game.)


Guest Post: Alison Morton

Read this guest post by author Alison Morton on creating a realistic and plausible Alternate History world in your writing!

How to build a Roman future

First of all, thank you so much, Daniel, for swapping blogs today. It’s lovely to be hosted by another ‘Roman nut’. But my vision of an alternate Roman state is a little different…

Setting a story in the past or in another country is already a challenge. But if you invent the country and need to meld it with history that the reader already knows, then the task is doubled.

Unless writing post-apocalyptic, the geography and climate must resemble the ones in the region where the imagined country lies. And no alternate history writer can neglect their imagined country’s social, economic and political development. This sounds dry, but every living person is a product of their local conditions. Their experience of living in a place, and struggle to make sense of it, is expressed through culture and behaviour.
Norman Davies in Vanished Kingdoms: The History of Half-Forgotten Europe reminds us that:
…in order to survive, newborn states need to possess a set of viable internal organs, including a functioning executive, a defence force, a revenue system and a diplomatic force. If they possess none of these things, they lack the means to sustain an autonomous existence and they perish before they can breathe and flourish.

I would add history and willpower as essential factors.

So these are the givens. How do writers weave them into their stories? The key is plausibility. Take a character working in law enforcement. Readers can accept cops being gentle or tough, enthusiastic, intellectual or world-weary. Law enforcers come from all genders, classes, races and ages and stand in different places along the personal morality ruler. But whether corrupt or clean, they must act like a recognisable form of cop. They catch criminals, arrest and charge them and operate within a judicial system. Legal practicalities may differ significantly from those we know, but they must be consistent with that society while remaining plausible for the reader. But a flashing light and an oscillating siren on a police vehicle are universal symbols that instantly connect readers back to their own world.

Almost every story written hinges upon implausibility – a set-up or a problem the writer has purposefully created. Readers will engage with it and follow as long as the writer keeps their trust. One way to do this is to infuse, but not flood, the story with corroborative detail so that it verifies and reinforces the original setting the writer has introduced.  Even though my book is set in the 21st century, the Roma Novan characters say things like ‘I wouldn’t be in your sandals (not ‘shoes’) when he finds out.’  And there are honey-coated biscuits (Honey was important for the ancient Romans.) not chocolate digestives (iconic British cookie) or bagels in the squad room.

In my novel, INCEPTIO, the core story of a twenty-five year old New Yorker who faces total disruption to her life when a sinister government enforcer compels her to flee to her dead mother’s mysterious homeland in Europe could be set anywhere. But I’ve made New York an Autonomous City in the Eastern United States (EUS) that the Dutch only left in 1813 and the British in 1865. The New World French states of Louisiane and Québec are ruled by Gouverneurs-Généraux on behalf of Napoléon VI; California and Texas belong to the Spanish Empire; and the Western Territories are a protected area for the Indigenous Peoples. These are background details as the New World is only the setting for the first few chapters. But as J K Rowling knew with Harry Potter’s world, although you don’t put it in the books, you have to have worked it all out in your head.

INCEPTIO_front cover_300dpi_sm

So, how to do this?

1. Decide on your Point of Divergence [POD] from real timeline history.

Research this to death; know the political set-up, religion, customs, dress, food, agriculture, geography, economy, legal background, defence forces, cultural attitudes, everyday life of all classes and groups. These are the building blocks for your alternate society.

Illustrating this with Roma Nova:
In AD 395 [fixing the POD], three months after the final blow of Theodosius’ last decree banning all pagan religions [political/legal set-up], over four hundred Romans loyal to the old gods [religious background], and so in danger of execution, trekked north out of Italy to a semi-mountainous area similar to modern Slovenia [geography]. Led by Senator Apulius at the head of twelve senatorial families [political/class background], they established a colony based initially on land owned by Apulius’ Celtic father-in-law [cultural – intermarriage with non-Romans]. By purchase [land-management], alliance [politics] and conquest [normal Roman behaviour!], this grew into Roma Nova.

2. Know how you want your society to be and develop it with historic logic.

If your story world doesn’t hang together, you will break a reader’s trust. You can have a fantastic world, such as Romans and steampunk 😉 but it needs to have reached that place in a plausible way. Writers need to provide motivation, whether personal or political or just forced by circumstances from outside. In my modern Roma Nova world, women are prominent.

This seems a long way from the ancient world where Roman attitudes to women were repressive [starting point]. But towards the later Imperial period [moving time on] women gained much more freedom to act, trade and own property and to run businesses of all types [social and economic development]. Divorce was easy, and step and adopted families were commonplace [standard Roman social custom].

Apulius, the leader of Roma Nova’s founders, had married Julia Bacausa, the tough daughter of a Celtic princeling in Noricum. She came from a society in which, although Romanised for several generations, women in her family made decisions, fought in battles and managed inheritance and property [non-Roman values introduced]. Their four daughters [next generation] were amongst the first pioneers [automatically new tough environment] so necessarily had to act more decisively [changing behaviour patterns] than they would have in a traditional urban Roman setting.

Given the unstable, dangerous times in Roma Nova’s first few hundred years [outside circumstances], eventually the daughters as well as sons had to put on armour and carry weapons to defend their homeland and their way of life [societal motivation]. So I don’t think that it’s too far a stretch for women to have developed leadership roles in all parts of Roma Novan life over the next sixteen centuries.

3. Keep some anchors to the readers’ pre-knowledge.

Creating a story should be fun for the writer and the result rewarding for the reader. Although most writers like to encourage the reader to work a little and participate in the experience, writers shouldn’t bewilder readers.  I mentioned plausibility earlier and how to inject corroborative details into the world being created. Anchors are equally important. For example, if you say “Roman legionary” most readers have an idea in their head already.

Taking Roma Nova as an example:
Roma Nova’s continued existence has been favoured by three factors: the discovery and exploitation of high-grade silver in their mountains [luck!], their efficient technology [historical fact], and their robust response to any threat [core Roman attitude]. Remembering their Byzantine cousins’ defeat in the Fall of Constantinople [known historical fact], Roma Novan troops assisted the western nations at the Battle of Vienna in 1683 to halt the Ottoman advance into Europe [known historical turning point]. Nearly two hundred years later, they used their diplomatic skills to help forge an alliance to push Napoleon IV back across the Rhine as he attempted to expand his grandfather’s empire [building on known historical person’s story].

4. Make the alternate present real.

Writers need to imbue their characters with a sense of living in the present, in the now. This is their current existence, for them it’s not some story in a book(!). Character-based stories are popular; readers are intrigued by what happens to individual people living in different environments as well as taking part in major historical events. Sometimes it’s more interesting to follow the person’s story than the big event itself…

5. Go visible.

Obviously, an imagined country is pretty hard to photograph. If you can draw, then you have the tools literally at your fingertips, but if like me your artistic skills are limited to turning out sketches of pin-men, then it’s back to the camera.

Images suggest tones, possibilities, and elements on which to base your ideas. Roma Nova is situated in the middle of Europe. I’m a European and have visited most countries, including a trip to Rome and Pompeii last year, so I have an idea of the countryside and cityscapes I’m looking for. The results are here; I refer back to them if I’m finding it difficult to visualise my characters in a particular location. Readers have loved them as well so it’s a double benefit.

In summary, alternate history gives us a rich environment in which to develop our storytelling.  As with any story in any genre, the writing must create a plausible world, backed by meticulous research, but the writer is, of course, the master of their universe.

IMG_3906_sm(from Daniel) Alison Morton is the author of Inceptio, an alternate history novel showcasing the continued existence of a small fragment of Rome’s once great empire in the modern age through the eyes of undercover cop Karen Brown. I heartily recommend you check it out! Be sure to hop over and check out my blog posting on using steampunk in your alternate history world at her blog!





Read my Article now on Alternate History Weekly Update!

Check out my article on Alternate History Weekly Update!

Check out this link! I’m front page on AH Weekly Update, which is a great honor. Matt over there is a stellar person (and I wish I was a better communicator!) Enjoy!

EPICON 2013 – Days One and Two

A Brief Overview of Days One & Two of the Electronic Publishing Industry Coalition’s 2013 Conference in Vancouver, Washington.

Greetings all!

I’m here at the Electronic Publishing Industry Coalitions’ Conference (EPICon) in beautiful Vancouver, Oregon. For those of you know don’t know where Vancouver (No, not the one in Canada) is, if you cross the stream from Portland, you’re in Vancouver. So far, it’s been quite awesome.

So why am I here? First off, as a new writer, I’ve been looking for an opportunity to network and expand my contacts of different industry participants – editors, publishers, other writers, cover artists, etc. – and a conference is a great chance to do so. Secondly, I entered Brass Legionnaire in their EPIC awards in the Action Adventure category, and was named a finalist! *Check it out here if you’ve never read it before!* Woo hoo! It was truly an honor to be nominated, but I’d love to win! The conference lasts for three days, and I’ve already met some wonderful people.


So far, in the last two days, I’ve learned a ton about marketing strategies and creating effective query letters. I also had the opportunity to observe a panel of publishers discuss different query letters and give their opinions about the book idea. So what did I learn already?



Marketing – I need to come up with a plan that includes…


1.) Specific Target Audience – Men ages 18-35 just isn’t good enough, I have to be more specific.


2.) Press Kit – I didn’t do this for the last book, definitely a must have for this one!


3.) Time & Research – I need to identify several steampunk or alternative history magazines (Or sci-fi/speculative fiction) to send said press releases to. Anyone out in the blogosphere know of any good ones before I get down to researching?


4.) Review my notes and come up with more information for you all to benefit from!


5.) Join Tribes for Twitter. Definitely a must do.


6.) Enjoy more Portland Breweries. Also a must.


I’ll be sure to write up another post about EPICon 2013. P.S. if you want to join me next year, I’m going to go to EPICon 2014 in San Antonio, Texas, March 13-15th. Here is the EPIC website for you to explore. They’ve got a great program for young authors (11-18) as well! Check it out!












Turning your story into a community experience

Turning my novel into a community experience.

Hi all,

As many people may know from my recent kickstarter, I offered the opportunity for readers and contributors to create a character for inclusion into Iron Tribune, the third novel in the Steam Empire Chronicles. I know that this can be considered a strange idea. After all, as a self-published author, didn’t I go this route precisely because I wanted more control?

Yes. And No.

As an author, I want to engage people. My goal is to get people to buy my books, enjoy reading them, and tell other people to buy my books because they enjoy them. What better way to encourage people to share the news about my net novel than to let them have a hand in building it? Or at least a part of it?

As a result of the kickstarter, I’ll be introducing four new characters into my story. While I have some inkling of how to introduce them, I still don’t know much about the specifics yet! I have to see what their creators would like to include. That being said, I’m still the author, so I still get to make tweaks as necessary. The characters must fit the story, not the other way around.

I think of this as a professional challenge and opportunity. It’s pushing me to expand my story and not get ‘too comfortable’ so to speak. It is also making me plan my story to a much greater degree, as I’ll have to incorporate new characters and new situations.

What do you think fellow authors? Would you include reader generated characters into your stories? And readers, would you be more likely to read a story you had input into, either character or event wise?

Respond in the comments below! 🙂

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