Project Gene Assist Origin Story

I am happy to announce that as of this post’s publication, Project Gene Assist: The Complete Series is available for purchase in both ebook and paperback editions. In it, you can find all three books in the trilogy: The Fair & Foul, The Watch & Wand, and Lies & Legacy in one convenient volume. But what is Project Gene Assist about exactly?

Well, like all stories, it’s a journey, and one that started out a long, long time ago—junior high, to be exact.

A friend handed me a novel in between classes about a group of three boys who all happened to be born around the same time as a Chosen One was prophesied to appear. This Chosen One was destined to fight against the Dark One in the Last Battle, but could also go mad and burn the rest of the world down in the process. Color me intrigued.

It also helped that the person leading the three boys on their epic journey was a female Gandalf-like character. It also contained other strong supporting female characters with their own destinies, along with monsters, betrayal, and political machinations. The novel my friend gave me was the first half of the first book in the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan.

If it sounds familiar, it is because it has been picked up by Amazon Studios in the hopes that it will become the next Game of Thrones.

At the time of this writing, I have no idea how the story will play out on the small screen. Previous attempts have been laughable at best due to the epic and continent-spanning nature of the story itself, and the trailer alone makes it clear that they are taking a few creative liberties. I’ll still give it a chance though. Considering how much of my life has been spent reading and re-reading these books. It would be a crime not to.

Photograph of books 1-13 of Robert Jordna's Wheel of Time series plus its prequel, New Spring
Exhibit A

As much as I enjoyed the series and its three-dimensional main characters, I have to admit that what really hooked me in that initial book was how the author portrayed one of its villains. As to not spoil the series, I won’t go into the details, but she wasn’t what you would traditionally describe as a bad guy. She just happened make one really big mistake which led to more really bad things. Okay, so “really bad” might be a bit of an understatement here, but even so, I found her to be strangely sympathetic.

I found myself wondering what could have driven a person like her to that point. She wasn’t a sadist or sociopath like so many other cookie-cutter villains. If anything, the root of her sin was love, though I suppose some might also call it an obsession. Still, I had to think there had to be more to her origin. There had to be a catalyst no one talked about. Throughout the series, Robert Jordan had given some hints, but much of the character’s backstory is told from other characters’ points of view.

My brain attempted to fill in the gaps, but my brain didn’t stop there. The Wheel of Time also makes several references to a time of technological wonder that was lost long before the series’ main events unfold. I found myself wondering what it must have been like to live during the transition from age of wonder to pre-industrial. It must have felt apocalyptic. My brain filled in more gaps. The result was an early draft of Juliane’s story in The Fair and Foul.

The story changed during the revision process to become more and more my own. This also allowed Juliane to also grow into her own unique character—a heroine in her own right rather than a future villain. Although she did have a bad habit of stealing scenes intended for other characters.

So what is Project Gene Assist about? In short, it’s about good intentions gone astray, trust, found family, and the invention of magic set in the not too distant future. It is not, however, anything like the Wheel of Time. For one, there are only three books (one if you prefer the omnibus edition), not fourteen plus a prequel. It also only has two points of view. In fact, it is much more in line with the writing style of Anne McCaffrey, whose books about genetically engineered dragons also feature heavily on my shelves.

Photograph of books by Anne McCaffrey among other authors on my bookshelf
Exhibit B

That said, I hope those who enjoy science fiction dystopian / post-apocalyptic tales, or worry about what might happen when technology becomes even more integrated into our daily lives than it is now, will check Project Gene Assist out. Who knows, maybe it will inspire another story or two one day.

Ready or not, the next era of human evolution is here

What about you? What books have left you thinking about its characters long after the story is complete?

Box Sets Vs Omnibus Books: What’s the Difference?

Box sets are what we in the publishing world refer to as a collection of multiple books packaged together. However, while they are sold as a single sellable item, the end consumer is able to remove an individual book from the set at their reading pleasure. An omnibus edition, on the other hand, combines multiple books into a single bound volume that can’t be separated unless you were to slice through the book’s spine (the horror!).

Both options allow publishers a way to offer a complete series, or at least a larger portion of a series, to readers at a lower price than the cost of purchasing individual books. The terms can also be used to describe ebook collections. However, while the term box set is the trendier way to describe consolidated works, it is worth noting that Amazon, and other ebook distributors, frown on publishers describing ebook collections as box sets as there is no physical box around the set.

That said, while a publisher should not describe their ebook collection as a box set in its retail listing, a publisher can still use a 3D image of a box set on most sites. Apple’s ibook store is the notable exception here. The same cannot be said about listings for physical copies. Publishers must use an image that matches what a print consumer will physically receive once they place their order.

For example, this is how I am displaying my upcoming publication: Project Gene Assist: The Complete Series (which is available for pre-order now in ebook format and will be available in both paperback and ebook format after November 16, 2021).

3D rendering of multiple books titled Project Gene Assist: The Complete Series featuring a woman's face on the cover and a DNA strand on the back. There is also a tablet featuring a box containing three books.

Of course, with anything, box sets and omnibus editions have their pros and cons:

Box sets vs Omnibus Books: Pros & Cons

Box SetsOmnibus Editions
ProsMake great giftsMake great gifts
Save readers moneySave readers money
Allow you to take a break from reading a series without the guilt of leaving a bookmark in the middle of a volumeTake up less room on your bookshelf, allowing you to fill that space with more books
ConsForce you to take even extra care of individual book’s bindings in order to keep the book from warping or swelling and thus being unable to fit back into its boxy sleeveThe sheer size of these volumes can intimidate the casual reader
Take up more room on your bookshelf than individual books unless you throw away that beautiful box sleeveLess travel-friendly. The weight alone could force you to pay the oversized baggage fee at the airport.
Cost more than omnibus editions to produce and so are typically more expensive than their omnibus cousinsHave I mentioned how big these are? Seriously, I worry it is bullying the other novels on my shelf when I am asleep

Does a series have to be complete To Be Combined?

Does a series have to be complete to be offered as either a box set or omnibus edition? The answer is no, but it helps from a marketing perspective. This is because readers are more likely to buy a book (or a set) if they know they aren’t going to have to wait an age to learn how the series ends. Additionally, because a publisher does not have to include every book in the combined edition, sets can also serve as a convenient launching pad for later books in longer series.

Image of 4 books: the Bad Guys 1-3 and the fourth, fifth, and sixth book in the series

For instance, my youngest son, LT, is a huge fan of sharks and humor books, so I got him the omnibus edition of The Bad Guys Books 1-3 by Aaron Blabey, which features a shark (among other characters) who decides he’s tired of being stereotyped as a bad guy and goes on missions to save the world along with other often maligned characters.

I felt confident he would like the series based on the premise, so buying a single volume that offered 3 books in one just made sense to me. It then turned out the series is much, much longer. I immediately had to go out and buy additional books in the series one by one. In this case, I guess you could say that the omnibus acted as a gateway drug. (Absolutely worth it though to hear LT laugh with each page)

The same thing happened when LT and I read the Wayside School 3-Book Collection by Louis Sachar. The only difference was instead of being an all in one volume, the 3 books were offered together packaged in a cardboard sleeve. We then had to run out and get the fourth book in the series.

Picture of the box set of the Wayside School Complete Collection in front of the hardback edition of Wayside School and the Cloud of Doom

So which is better? A box set or an omnibus edition? The answer, of course, comes down to the preference of the individual reader, but I am happy to say I’m making the move to give readers like you this option.

Image of books in the Project Gene Assist series, which includes The Fair and Foul, The Watch and Wand, Lies and Legacy, and the Complete Series omnibus edition stacked upright together.

What’s in a Word? Announcing a Collection of Flash Fiction

We’re big on “no spoliers!” in the Potts household. At least as far as our entertainment goes. Holidays and birthdays are a different story. We can keep an ending or a surprise twist to ourselves, but it is all my kids (and sometimes, their dad) to do not to share hints about the presents they are giving well before the day of the event.

I’ve gotten into a habit of not taking them shopping until a week before a big day, if only to limit the time for temptation. They will no doubt continue this habit well into adulthood, reinforcing the stereotype of a guy waiting until the night (or hour before) to buy gifts. For that, I would like to apologize to their future spouses, but believe me when I say, as annoying as this behavior is, it is with the best of intention. It’s difficult to wait to share something you are proud of or is exciting news. This is even more true when the thing to share it is both of those things.

This is my long-winded way of saying, I’ve been keeping something from you.

The Big Reveal!

I was invited to add a number of stories to a collection of short fiction, and when I say short, I mean short. The maximum length of an allowed story in one section was 600 words. In another section, the collection’s editor, Sarah Brentyn, dubbed micro-bursts, the goal was to write a story in as little as 10. I’d thought, writing a full-length novel was tough… I am happy to say that I believe I rose to the challenge.

The Shadows We Breathe, Vol 1 is on sale as of August 9th, 2021, and I’m honored to be one of the eight authors featured in it.

The Shadows We Breathe - Sarah Brentyn

“In this anthology, we explore relationships—how they sculpt us, hurt us, help us, and reveal our deepest desires. Eight artists, whose words paint worlds, bring you stories of heartache, loss, hope, and forgiveness. They unveil the intimacy and complexity of relationships.”

Examples of Micro-Bursts

Right now, you may be asking: how does one write a story in only ten words? In some ways, it is like writing poetry. You have to be very specific about your word choice. What you say matters, but what you don’t say is just as, if not more, important. In order for a string of ten words to tell a story, they have to give a reader enough context for to form a starting point, while also giving the reader’s mind enough room to fill in the blanks all by itself.

The most famous example of this sort of short fiction is Hemingway’s six word story: “For sale: baby shoes. Never worn.” Two sentences tell you much. They prompt the mind to come up with all the reasons someone might be selling a pair of unused baby shoes.

Sure, the baby in this story could easily have been like mine—due mid-October, but not born until November, which made dressing him in Halloween-themed attire like a candy-corn shaped onesie somewhat silly. (I still did it, mind you, it was perfectly good clothing—I just didn’t dress him that way when we were out in public).

This means the story might boil down to nothing more than a tale detailing the reason behind a yard sale offering, but as it was created by Hemingway, the safer bet is that the background story is much more tragic. That said, like other forms of art, it comes down to a matter of personal interpretation.

This form of writing also happens to be, in my case, a fun way to procrastinate fuel my writing skills when I am stuck at a particularly tangled plot point in a draft novel—it’s like the literary equivalent of Trail Mix. Whenever I feel the need to escape from my manuscript (why oh why do these things refuse to write themselves) recharge, I go on Twitter and look up the hashtags #FP and #FridayPhrases. Then I simply tweet a story around the weekly prompt.

I like these prompts because they give me the full length of a tweet to tell my story. However, there are plenty of other hashtags and users that start with ‘6Word’ or ‘sixword’ for you to choose from if you want to do the same and are looking for even more challenge.

I guess my little stories on Twitter were enough to get me noticed by other flash fiction fans, like Sarah. When I found out that this collection was in the works, I jumped at the offer. I was then thrilled to make the cut. This was especially true when I learned who else’s stories would be included within the pages.

If you are like me—pressed for time—but still enjoy indulging in the occasional bite-sized reading snack, I encourage you to check this, and Sarah’s other collections out.

Metaphorically Speaking Mockup

Reflections on a New Old Release

Those with sharp eyes may have noticed that I’ve updated my various banners across most of social media. A few were even kind enough to reach out and ask about it. The reason is, I have another title on my shelves — Metaphorically Speaking: Reflections on Happiness, Success, and Other Fictions.

Yet, while this is a new release, it feels like an older one too. This is because it is a collection of some of the best stories from my blog, which I have since tied together into a more cohesive narrative, along with a few new entries.

It all started one day when I was standing at the base of a literary brick wall and trying to motivate myself to resist the urge to abandon the project or pursue an easier choice of profession. The former engineer in me turned toward numbers. I had an estimate in mind for the final length of the novel I was working on. I determined the difference I still needed to write. I then looked back and calculated how many words I’d written thus far across all my books and my blog to convince myself that a couple thousand more were easy peasey.

That’s when I discovered that I’d written another book without even realizing it.

“What do a child’s invention, one thoroughly spoiled dog, and the occasional business insight have in common? They all serve as sources of inspiration in this collection of personal reflections on success and the ongoing pursuit of happiness.”

Available for purchase at books2read.com/u/mldweq

Unfortunately, once again writing the book proved to be the easy part. Curating the collection would mean picking favorites from among your darlings, which no parent is excited to do. It meant editing the works so that they actually made sense when strung together instead of acting as standalone reads. It would also mean updating verb tenses and eliminating typos that the gremlins clearly had inserted into posts after I’d originally hit the publish button.

It would require me to read through years of material.

Don’t get me wrong. I love reading. It’s just I’m a different writer now than when I first started — I’ve grown with each project. I’ve learned something new. So while I am proud of my early efforts, I have to admit I cringe a little on the inside when I revisit some, much in the same way that I suspect many people react when they share childhood photos with a new friend they want to impress.

I’m also not a fan of reading the same thing again and again with the sole purpose of finding its errors — especially when I know I am the one who created those errors in the first place. It does a bit of a number on one’s confidence.

In addition, publishing the book after all the edits were complete presented a few other challenges. Unlike my fiction, Metaphorically Speaking is my life, or at least it is a snapshot of my life up until the book’s release date. To say this makes me nervous about its public reception is an understatement.

It would also mean I would have to promote it when I was done, unless my goal was to simply fill in more space on my bookshelf for the benefit of me and me alone. This meant I would have to request reviews and more marketing tasks to my already massive daily to-do list.

As a result, I admit I took advantage of every excuse to procrastinate on Metaphorically Speaking’s completion I could find. Then 2020 happened, and I suddenly found myself with more time at home than I than I knew what to do with.

Metaphorically Speaking Mockup

I get it, universe, I needed to finish this book. You didn’t have to take it out on everyone.

I joke about the reasons for lockdown, otherwise I might cry. It’s a coping mechanism I’ve adopted. I’m also not trying to minimize the suffering that so many have gone through. I recognize I have been exceedingly fortunate or blessed (depending on one’s stance on the subject) during this time to have had the opportunity to spend more time with my children, to have remained in relatively good health, and to have maintained a day-job that allowed me the flexibility to stay at home.

However, I will admit that it was easier some days to recognize this than others.

I have since come to the conclusion, it was a good thing I’d drug my heels putting Metaphorically Speaking together. As it turned out, I needed to revisit those stories from my past during the time of COVID. I’ve built a brand around how to appreciate the everyday, and yet, I found I’d forgotten how to do just that.

Revisiting these stories — as awkwardly phrased, or typo-ridden as they were — helped me find myself again. If it can help even one more person find the silver-linings in their life, or if nothing else a reason to smile during a rough time, then all the edits and promotion will be worth the effort.

For this reason, while it is up for sale on retail sites, I am also celebrating its launch (and maybe, just maybe, the eventual return of normalcy) by giving this book away. All you have to do is subscribe to my newsletter to request a copy.

How I’m Reigniting My Creative Spark During the Time of COVID

What has it been like to launch a post-apocalyptic book that takes place following a period of economic collapse and mysterious pandemic during an actual economic downward tailspin, series of stay at home orders, and side of civil unrest to boot? Well, let me be the first to tell you it’s been as rewarding as you would expect it to be.

In short, my book launch flopped.

Don’t worry. I’m not asking for you to send me a slew of sympathy notes. It’s okay. If you are reading these words, I already assume you are an empathetic soul who appreciates the arts or at least a supportive friend. Also, this wasn’t a surprise. I expected this outcome. I made my peace with it before I hit the publish button.

Lies and LegacyI could have waited for market conditions to improve. That’s what a number of traditional publishers have done. I didn’t, though, because who knows when that time will be and the series had already gone on long enough between volumes. I decided, if nothing else, I owed the readers who’d kindly given me a chance, closure. I owed myself closure too.

However, what I didn’t expect was the absolute loss of my creative spark following this decision. I’d written before that Lies & Legacy was the book that almost broke me. In the weeks following its publication, I found myself wondering if perhaps there was no ‘almost’ about it.

I’ve been seriously considering giving up the dream of achieving literary success to free up my time to focus more on my commercial non-fiction writing. It would be the sensible thing to do. Not only does my non-fiction efforts pay more reliably (and better), but it is also exponentially less stressful to produce. There is no lying awake dwelling on a one-star review or agonizing over how to address a stubborn plot hole. However, between you and me, it is not nearly as satisfying.

I found I couldn’t do it.

Still, it is one thing to say you eventually want to return to writing novels. You have to have the overwhelming determination and desire to create in you too, and mine was gone—just gone—and there was no telling when it might come back. And so, instead of writing, I spent the first half of the year doing what so many other people have done during this time. I baked (I now make a great soft pretzel). I gardened (I recently harvested my first potato). I pretended I was okay with everything when I was in front of my kids. I randomly burst into tears at the slightest provocation when I wasn’t. I did what I thought I had to do.

However, I realized one day, if I didn’t force myself back into the chair, then I might as well admit giving up the dream was no longer my choice to make. I could no longer wait for inspiration to strike—it was clearly practicing safe social distancing. Instead, if I wanted to return to fiction, I had to reignite my creative spark myself.

I returned to the basics. I cracked open one of the first craft books I’d ever purchased: the 90-day Novel (affiliate link) and followed instructions. I wrote for five minutes that first day. Five minutes was enough. I did it again the second day and the day after that. I was on a roll. Until I wasn’t. Days went by. However, a funny thing happened during this time. I wasn’t writing, but I’d planted a seed and it seemed the smallest fragment of a story had taken root in my brain.

I tried again—much to my other half’s chagrin as he’d rather enjoyed me not waking up with the sun for a pre-dawn writing sprint. Before I knew it, I had 1000 words on the page. Then 2000.

I now have over 20,000 words on the page of my latest WIP, and the start of a brand new series, which, one day in a not too distant and brighter future, I hope to share with you. It’s far from a steady blaze, but my creative spark is once again breaking up the night, and for the first time, in a long time, the dream doesn’t seem nearly as far away.

How am I reigniting my creative spark?

Simple—one word at a time.