Mid-June Production Update! Also Tortellini.

Greetings, readers, followers, fans, detractors, curious individuals, robots, benign spirits, and countrymen! (And anyone else I forgot who happens to be reading this.) A lot has been going on with The Crown of Secrets, so hold on to your tortellini!

A look at some of Stephen Rigall's art for the story The Crown of Secrets
A look at some of Stephen Rigall’s art for the story The Crown of Secrets

Tortellini are pretty important to hold on to, especially once they’re out of the package (assuming you don’t make your own – but if you do, let me know and I’ll totally try it). To be honest, if you drop a bag of tortellini, you know, not ideal, but not the end of the world by any stretch. However, a loose tortle is difficult to recapture, and even then you have to rinse it off – and, as we all know, a moist tortle is slippery indeed. The cooking process only makes the little buggers more difficult to grasp.

The Crown of Secrets’ Kickstarter project ended a little over a month ago. While we didn’t reach our goal, we did raise over $7,000, which is quite a bit of money. (Since we didn’t meet our goal, though, we didn’t get the money, and nobody paid anything. Good showing, though!) Looking back on it, I see things I could have done differently – reached out and connected more; updated more frequently; used the shipping option in Kickstarter’s pricing instead of including it in the budget; graded the actual printing numbers a bit more. However, I didn’t, we didn’t, and honestly that’s okay. I learned, people got interested in the book, and there are more opportunities out there.

FOR EXAMPLE! A good friend of mine referred me to Inkshares, another crowdsourcing site. Like Kickstarter, a project on Inkshares succeeds only when a certain number of people commit to supporting it. What sets Inkshares apart from Kickstarter, IndieGogo, and other similar sites, though, is that it is strictly for books. In fact, it is a publisher – the only difference between Inkshares and a place like Random House is that, instead of agents, Inkshares lets readers decide which books they want to read. Therefore, a high-cost, high-effort, high-risk book – for example, a book with heavy paper, lots of contributing artists, that contains a broad range of reading levels and is marketed toward a non-specific audience – that might be passed on by publishers can, with a little bit of social networking, easily find its target market and succeed on Inkshares.

In order to publish via Inkshares, a book needs 1,000 preorders. The author submits a complete or in-progress manuscript, creates a project page on the Inkshares website, and tries to get people interested in it. The Inkshares staff then works with the author to edit the story, format the book, and design the pages and cover. Upon completion of the whole book creation process, Inkshares prints and markets the book, distributing to book retailers in the real world and online. Having looked into doing all these things myself, on top of writing the book, my view of Inkshares is pretty much, “I do the fun part, they do the hard part.” Naturally, I plunged tortel-first into an Inkshares campaign.

Thanks to a jump-start – I entered CoS into a sci-fi/fantasy contest, which helped it get some publicity and generate interest – after about only a month, we’re already nearly halfway to our pre-order goal. The project has plenty of time to generate interest and far exceed the minimum pre-order count. In fact, there’s been quite a bit of interest here in Shijiazhuang among parents, teachers, and students, both foreign and local. It’s pretty exciting. Another benefit to working with Inkshares is that their flexibility has allowed me to add pages to the book – which means more stories! I’m very excited to say that this means there will be at least 5% more tortellini in the book (although the sauce may only be available as a digital download). The final page count should be almost double the original – the current plan is for 160 high-quality pages with lots and lots and lots of beautiful pictures all over the place.

Free-range tortillini merrily wandering about their farm
Free-range tortillini merrily wandering about their farm

In the wild, tortellini are difficult to find. They tend to live in shadowy, damp places – in forests, under rocks, next to water sources that sometimes include sewers. As is apparent when you eat them, tortellini are very strongly influenced by their environment – what they eat will greatly affect their eventual taste and texture. The rarity of finding wild tortels in a wholesome environment has led to the rise of free range farms where the environment can be controlled and monitored for health and safety purposes. Here, tortellini are kept healthy, well-fed, and happy.

The first thing I decided to add to CoS was, naturally, The Mamo Fragments. Due to the interest readers – and especially students – have shown in Gregor and Oren’s adventures, I feel very good about making it a part of the collection – in fact, I wouldn’t have felt that The Crown of Secrets would be complete without The Mamo Fragments at its core.

Wishes look startlingly like fishes to the untrained eye. The major noticeable difference is that fishes are typically confined to the water.
Wishes look startlingly like fishes to the untrained eye. The major noticeable difference is that fishes are typically confined to the water.

Another substantial story I’ll be adding is Towers. I wrote it a few years ago when I was living in Florida, unsure of how to release it. It’s definitely a story for children – much easier to understand than Mamo in terms of plot and nuance, and (I’d like to think) comparable to My Father’s Dragon in length and in level. I’m working with Stefanie Chang, one of my former translation students at Hebei Normal University, for the illustrations (check out this preview of some of her ideas, as well as the picture to the left) and I’m eager to show you our completed vision for the story when it’s done.

Depending on how many pages those two stories take up, I may have room for one or two more – that will depend on formatting, typeface and size, and several other factors. When I know for sure, I’ll be sure to either tell you or make you some tortellini. Probably tell you.

Meanwhile, the pot continues to boil, the tortels squirm contentedly in the water, and art moves forward for the other stories. The latest is that Stephen’s colored pieces for the title story look absolutely fantastic (see the top of the page), and that Ziyi’s drafts for The Robot and the Goldfish are moving right along. I’m also still working on creature sketches and scenery design for the poem Tapioca Hunt (see a couple in the Beastiary). I can’t wait to share more with you as they become ready!

One final thing: I’m finding more and more exciting things to include in the activity / study guide, including games, new and exciting discussion questions, writing and drawing prompts, and change-the-story guides. This week, based on an experiment I’m quietly doing among my university students, I’m developing a new story just for the guide where kids will be prompted to act out a few different roles, then make their own ending to the story. Also included will be options for the activity leader (teacher, parent, whoever) to change “minor” details in the story and watch what happens. The range of responses I’m getting is truly fascinating – sometimes fun, sometimes terrifying – and I think can tell us a lot about our students, our cultures, and even ourselves.

So, please, keep talking about the book; pre-order it on Inkshares; share our updates; like us on Faceface; spread the pictures; and tell everyone you know how absolutely awesome it is to hunt wild tortellini. Stay tuned to this devblog for more artist spotlights in the near future – there’s plenty more that I haven’t gotten to talk about yet! Thanks as always for your interest, and I can’t wait to get a book to you!

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