Video Blog: The RPG Social Contract

After some prodding from my wife, I’ll be releasing a series of blogs concerning Role Playing Games, such as reviews, tips, and overall philosophies I have. Instead of my normal blog format, I’ll be doing most of these as videos.

The first of which is my thoughts on the social contract concerning the responsibilities and expectations that players and game-masters agree to when joining or forming a RPG group.


This is a topic I’ve discussed several times over the years with various players and GM’s and it was good to finally organize and articulate it all in one place. Hopefully others will enjoy it.

Podcast Interviews

arm-castIt’s been a productive month. Redemptor (Valducan #4) is done and currently going through Beta readers. I plan to have the first draft edited and turned in to Ragnarok by month’s end. I’m very happy with how this one has turned out.

For you podcast fans (or anyone interested in hearing my voice) I have two podcast interviews I’ve recently done.

First, I’m over at The Arm Cast Podcast chatting with Armand Rosamilia.

Next, I stopped by The Grim Tidings Podcast with fellow Ragnarok author Kenny Soward where we discuss our stories, role-playing games, audiobooks and everything nerdy. grimtidings

Swing by and give them a listen.


Signing Events and Other News

For anyone in the Dallas Forth Worth area, I’ll be at the Highland Village Barnes & Noble this Saturday, October 22, from 2-4.  Come by, say, “Hello,” and get your books signed.

If you can’t make it to that, I’ll also be appearing at the Lewisville Texas Barnes & Noble on Saturday, November 12, from 1-3. I’d love to see you.

Black OpsIn other news, pre-orders for Cohesion Press’ SNAFU: Black Ops anthology are now available. Inside you’ll find my Valducan story “Raid on Wewelsburg.” Set during the final days of the Second World War, Lady Helen Meadows leads a team of knights behind the lines into Nazi Germany to retrieve several stolen holy weapons before the approaching Allied army can seize them. Needless to say, they find more than they bargained for.

The anthology price will go up when it releases December 8, so order it now.  You can order it HERE.

I’m also in the final three chapters of writing Redemptor (Valducan #4). Hopefully I’ll have it edited and ready to turn in to my publisher before the end of the year. I’ll be posting more about it over the next few months.


Nine Facts About Sea of Quills

Sea of Quills RagnarokOne year ago, my second Black Raven collection Sea of Quills hit the shelves.  So in keeping with the tradition with Eleven Facts about Mountain of Daggers, I want to celebrate with a few bits of trivia about Ahren’s second collection. And being that there are nine stories, it deserves nine fun facts.

**Spoilers Below**

1:  Unlike most of the adventures that were written as stand-alones to be released one at a time, the first story, Temptation’s Proposal, was written specifically to be the opening for the second collection. It mirrors Birth of the Black Raven by taking place at a party, and offers a wide range of Ahren’s skills. It is my favorite story in Sea of Quills.

2:  Washed Ashore, The Gilded Noose, and The Raven’s Cage were originally intended to appear in Mountain of Daggers.  It was decided to split them off in order to release both collections back to back at 70,000 words each.

3:  Despite Ahren’s reputation as an assassin, The Blossom of Eternity is the only story where Ahren works as a willing assassin “on screen.”  It was originally requested and written for an assassin-themed anthology, but the antho never happened. The original version had Ahren make one additional attempt on the immortal Baron’s life by murdering him in his bedroom, but the story was beginning to feel too long, so we cut that scene to keep the plot moving.

4:  Both Washed Ashore and Treasure of Bogen Helm were inspired by a sailing trip I did through the Caribbean some years ago.  The island in Treasure of Bogen Helm was modeled after a small island we stopped at that was once covered with wild goats.

5:  The Gilded Noose was inspired by the story of how Michelangelo was conscripted into service by the popes. While Michelangelo’s circumstances were vastly different, I fell in love with the idea of a master artist forced against his will.Prison Hall

6:  The Raven’s Cage was inspired by the prison at the Doge’s Palace in Venice, most notably the graffiti and the passage window looking into Ahren’s cell. It was also my little nod to The Count of Monte Cristo, one of my favorite books. It was the fourth Black Raven story I ever wrote, penned in 2007.

7:  The Second Gift was a story requested for the Time in a Bottle anthology.  It was the first time I ever had an editor contact me to request a story and was a bit of a milestone for me. The stipulation was that it had to be about time.  The pun with using “second” in a story about time was completely unintentional on my part and I hadn’t even thought about it until someone pointed it out to me later.

8:  The Lunnisburg Undercity was inspired by the Seattle Underground. After the Great Seattle Fire, the city was raised, leaving sections hidden below ground. The design of the streets to handle drainage, with raised blocks to allow foot traffic to pass, was taken from the streets of Pompeii.

9:  One of the earliest ideas I had for a Black Raven story was the scene in The Noble Hunter where Ahren steals the jeweled eyes from a public statue, leaving feathers in the empty sockets. The entire story evolved from that specific mental image.

BONUS:  Because many writers ask me about cover art, here is the evolution of Sea of Quills’ cover art from the Rogue Blades Entertainment designs until the final Ragnarok Publications design.  For both, the only requests I had as the author was that Ahren’s face is not clearly visible while the Tyenee pendant is.  



Evolution of Dider Normand’s cover concept design


Sea of Quills
Final wrap-around cover concept by Dider Normand


Final cover art by Alex Raspad


In the next few months I plan to announce Black Raven’s next adventure.  What?  You didn’t think he was done, did you?

If you want to give Ahren a gift for his birthday, please leave him a review on Amazon or Goodreads.


Guest Blogs

It’s been quiet on my blog, but I’ve been busy chatting it up on other blogs.

So for anyone that has missed my current blog-storm, you can find them here.

At Beauty in Ruins, you can read about how I came up with some of the unique monsters I used for Dämoren, Hounacier, and the Screamers in Ibenus. I also confess me deep fear of jellyfish.

At The Quillery, I discuss the different genre styles I use between each Valducan novel in order to keep the series fresh.

I paid a visit to RisingShadow where I explained how I try to avoid the dreaded Aquaman Trope and Eigen Plots. 

Finally, I’m at author Timothy C. Ward‘s site discussing the different layers in storytelling and how summing up a novel’s plot, especially one in an ongoing series, is pretty difficult to pull off in only 1-2 sentences.

I have several more guest blogs on the way, including a few podcast interviews, so I’ll post those up once they go live. In the meantime, I hope everyone enjoys my rambling thoughts and enjoys Ibenus.


Ibenus is Out


Ibenus hit the digital shelves today. Kindle editions are now available at Amazon.

While paperbacks started shipping out early last week, this is essentially the release day. Ibenus should begin appearing in bookstores and on Audible September 13th. 

But it’s out there. There are no last-second changes or tweaks I can make. It has flown from the nest and become part of the Valducan story.

In the meantime, all I can do is enjoy my funta (The official drink of Ibenus), keep working on Redemptor (Valducan #4), and wait to see how everyone enjoys it.

I hope you all like Allan and Victoria’s adventure. If you do, drop a rating or even a review on Amazon or Goodreads


Ibenus Pre-Orders Are Live


ReceivedPre-orders are available for Ibenus.

You can find it at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Once again, R.C. Bray narrates the Audible edition, which runs 10 hours and 44 minutes of pure awesome.

Amazon jumped the gun and started shipping some paperbacks a little early (I can only assume they were excited about it, as well). It was a bit of a surprise when a fan tweeted me about their shipping notice.

The first reviews are coming in, which is always wonderful…and honestly, a bit terrifying. It’s a strange experience throwing yourself out there, but reviews so-far have been wonderful. My favorite comment so far was not from an Advance Reviewer, but from a regular reader who had pre-ordered the paperback and devoured it in only 2 days.  

“If the first book was an epic supernatural action book and the second a horror mystery, then this one could be called a tragic romantic adventure. It’s beautifully written, perhaps the most emotional of all the books thus far . Skorkowsky surprises me with each entry in this series because it shifts how we approach each one.”

I’ve made no secret that each of the novels follows a different style. It’s one of the parts that I enjoy the most because its a fun challenge to keep things fresh. However, it does give me some worry each time because some readers might be turned off by the differences between each installment.  So seeing a reader respond this favorably to those changes makes me extremely happy.

In the meantime until the official release, I’ve been writing guest blogs.  I’ll be posting links over the next few weeks as those go live.

Finally, for those of you on Goodreads, don’t forget to add Ibenus to your To-Read list.

Thank you, everyone.



A Tale of Three Review Platforms or: Why You Shouldn’t Ignore Audible

We all know that reviews are important for authors. If you didn’t know that, then allow me to tell you that reviews are important for authors. For many new and lesser-known authors (like me) they can be the lifeline to new readers and to sales.  That means that authors spend way more time than they should worrying about and analyzing reviews.  There’s many platforms that people use to rate and review books, but three of them (at least for me) stand head and shoulders above the rest.  So today I’m going to discuss the Big Three sites as well as their strengths and weaknesses.


No big surprise there. Amazon is the largest bookseller in the world and for most indy and self-published authors is the main platform used to sell their books. Amazon reviews are critical for authors there.  Amazon uses the classic 5-star system and requires that every rating be accompanies by a written review. These can range from page-long in-depth reviews, to short “It Sucked” or “Great Book”.  Obviously some are more helpful than others. Amazon also requires that each review have a title, which some reviewers find a bit stressful trying to come up with something “punchy”.

Currently, my debut novel Dämoren has 121 Amazon reviews.

Amazon flags reviews from people that purchased the book on Amazon with a nifty “Amazon Verified Purchase” tag next to them.  These are great for potential readers to assess if the reviews are from actual customers.  However, since Amazon still permits non-verified purchased reviews, it allows professional reviewers that receives ARCs (Advanced Reviewer Copies) to leave their opinions as well.

However, the Amazon review system is very lacking.  The ratings/reviews do not allow a person to easily gauge the reason for the rating.  If they are rating it poorly because of the shopping experience versus the book itself, the rating is lumped in with all the others, either raising or lowering the total average accordingly. It also doesn’t differentiate which version is being rated (Kindle, hardback, audio, etc.) which means that someone rating it based off of an audio performance they did or didn’t like, or a buggy Kindle version, skews the overall rating.  Another thing that I’ve noticed is that if a title is purchased off of Audible (an Amazon company) a review on Amazon does not get the “Verified Purchase” tag, even if the sale was directly linked through Amazon.


Again, no big surprise. Goodreads is a massive and highly popular database for readers to find and rate books.  Readers are not forced to leave written reviews as to why they like or disliked a book, so it allows more people to simply leave a 1-5 star rating and move on.  Also, it doesn’t differentiate whether the book was purchased new, used, borrowed, or pirated.  This allows a much wider snapshot of reader demographics.

While Goodreads still uses the simple 5-star system, it is considered by many to be the main judge of a book’s popularity.  I’ve been told that a book is considered “obscure” by many readers until it breaks the 5,000 rating mark. Some readers will delay even looking at a book until it meets their personal minimum number of ratings.

Dämoren has 654 Goodreads ratings.

You can easily see that while the number of ratings is much higher than on Amazon , because Goodreads doesn’t require users to leave a written review for each rating, then number of reviews (a.k.a. What I liked and didn’t like) is lower. 79 vs 121.

Users can break it down to which version of the book they read, however the user interface to select editions is poor at best and most Goodreads users don’t bother.  But at least there is the option. Users are also not forced to title their reviews. Reviews are a simple blank box to write in with zero prompts.


I’m a massive audio book fan. Over 90% of my reading now is audio and Audible has been great platform for me to find and purchase audio books. With the ease of streaming and downloading, audio books have evolved from the giant folders of tapes or CD’s that contained a highly abridged version that we once knew.  In fact, abridged audio books are almost non-existent now. All of this has opened the fastest growing market of readers, and amazingly they’re almost completely independent from conventional readers.

My Audible edition, which was released four months after the other editions, currently has 667 rating.

You’ll notice that unlike Amazon and Goodreads, Audible uses three tiers to rate a book, breaking it down to Overall, Story, and Performance. This gives potential customers an immediate way to gauge if the book might be right for them.  Furthermore, in order to rate a book, it MUST be a purchase from Audible. That means that 100% of the ratings are from paying customers.

Like with Goodreads, Audible does not require users to leave a review, which encourages more people to rate a book. However, unlike the other platforms, Audible provides optional prompts to encourage reviewers. Prompts include: “What made the experience of reading _X_ the most enjoyable?” “What did you like best about the story?” “What about the narrator’s performance did you like?” and “Who was your favorite character and why?”  Of course many reviewers skip the questions, but because Audible tries to encourage reviews, they’re very helpful for people to explain why they liked or didn’t like a book instead simply stating “I loved it”.

Because Audible is very good at not only encouraging reviews, but also good in using reviews to recommend new books to customers, more customers are using Audible than the other two platforms.  So even though my Audible edition has been around for less time than the other versions, it has more ratings on Audible than it has on Goodreads (which theoretically should have the most because Goodreads includes all platforms and has had four months longer to accumulate ratings).

Here are some other examples of novels with more Audible ratings than Goodreads and Amazon.

ROS The Rules of Supervillainy: The Supervillany Saga Volume 1

Written by: C.T. Phipps

Amazon Ratings:  86

Goodreads Ratings:  763

Audible Ratings:  1,471





NoSuchThing No Such Thing as Werewolves: Deathless Book 1

Written by: Chris Fox

Amazon Ratings:  202

Goodreads Ratings:  413

Audible Ratings:  660





DoD The Dragons of Dorcastle: The Pillars of Reality Book 1

Written by:  Jack Campbell

Amazon Ratings:  88

Goodreads Ratings:  1,652

Audible Ratings:  4,714




Of course this isn’t always the case. Most novels appear to follow the classic trend of more Goodreads ratings than any other type. So as they say, “Results may vary.”

Even then, self or indy published authors should strongly consider releasing Audible editions of their books in order to find a completely new niche of potential readers.


Audiobooks You Should Hear

As I’ve said many times before, I’m an audio book addict.  Listening to a book has become my standard entertainment while driving or working on some simple task that would prevent normal reading or watching something.  Audio books are the fastest growing market and frequently I’m asked which ones I’d recommend.  So here’s a list of my most regularly recommended audio books and why.

WWZ World War Z

Written by: Max Brooks

Performed by:  Full Cast

I was fortunate enough to have read this book right when it was released and I instantly fell in love with it.  After hearing about the audio version, I gave it a shot and it did not disappoint.  It features a spectacular cast including Alan Alda, Mark Hamill, Henry Rollins, and many, many more.  It’s absolutely wonderful.

The only gripe I have about the book is that it is abridged.  The version that I originally listened to (many times) was made in the time just before streaming and MP3 downloads made abridged audio books a thing of the past.  When the movie came out, it was decided that they would release a full-length version with all of the missing stories (this is the only positive thing I will ever state about the movie).  It’s a dramatic improvement, however, while the additional stories are unabridged, the small abridgments that were made to the stories that were in the original recording are still there.  This does disappoint me, but the audio book is still amazing and it’s often the first one I recommend to anyone wanting a great listen.  Mark Hamill’s performance is my favorite.

HBH The Hellbound Heart

Written by:  Clive Barker

Performed by:  Jeffrey Kafer

This is another one that I had read years before I tried out the audio book. After a Hellraiser marathon, I decided to revisit the original story and picked up the audio edition.  Jeffrey Kafer nails the performance and I especially loved the effect they added to the cenobites’ voices.  It’s an extremely short listen, but really packs a punch. Because it’s so short, it has also become one of those old stand-by books I save for when I need something to hold me over for just a couple hours.


Silence of the Lambs The Silence of the Lambs

Written by: Thomas Harris

Performed by:  Frank Muller

I’d seen the film version of this story countless times and was interested in checking out the original book.  When I saw that Frank Muller (my absolute favorite narrator) had performed it, it was instantly in my Audible shopping cart.  This audio book is amazing.  I can never ever praise Muller enough for his voice and timing, and the novel itself is brilliant.  One fun feature to the audio book is an introduction read by Thomas Harris where he tells a story of meeting the doctor that inspired Hannibal Lecter. Great stuff.


LLL The Lies of Locke Lamora

Written by: Scott Lynch

Performed by: Michael Page

First, I have no idea what’s up with that cover.  Lies of Locke Lamora has had some beautiful covers, but the audio edition looks like it was designed by Timmy over in Accounting.  Bad covers aside, I love this book.  I wrote an entire blog post about how much I love this book.  It’s amazing and Michael Page does a fantastic job performing all the characters and accents.


RP1 Ready Player One

Written by: Ernest Cline

Performed by: Wil Wheaton

This is one of those cases where a narrator took a great book and made it even better. Ready Player One is brilliant and funny.  It’s the ultimate ode to nerd and 80’s pop-culture. And who did they get to perform it? Wil “Nerd Lord” Wheaton. He was the perfect choice for this book and Wheaton nails this performance so well that I could never imagine anyone doing a finer job than he did.


TLD The Lesser Dead

Written by: Christopher Buehlman

Performed by: Christopher Buehlman

Set in 1970’s New York, The Lesser Dead is a beautifully written vampire novel.  It’s scary, dark, and incredibly entertaining. The audio book was performed by the author. Now, normally I’m not a big fan of author-read books. Authors might be able to craft a brilliant story, but an audio book requires a brilliant performer. Christopher Buehlman is both. His character voices and accents were masterfully done and The Lesser Dead has been my absolute favorite book I’ve read in 2016 so-far.  Horror fans should definitely give it a listen.


Martian The Martian

Written by: Andy Weir

Performed by: R.C. Bray

There isn’t much that can be said about this book that hasn’t been said already.  It’s earned stacks of accolades. It’s fun and highly entertaining. R.C. Bray deserves every single bit of praise that he’s received for it.  I honestly prefer his version of stranded astronaut Mark Watney over Matt Damon’s movie performance. Damon did a fine job, but to me he felt like Matt Damon surviving on Mars. Bray’s performance made Watney feel like a real guy.  I will confess I may have a teeny-tiny bit of bias because Bray performs my own books, but that still doesn’t change a damned thing when it comes to how great this audio book is. Listen to it.


Gifts The Girl With All The Gifts

Written by: M.R. Carey

Performed by: Finty Williams

This novel beat Dämoren for Best Paranormal Audie Award, so it had one strike against it when I began it. It quickly won me over. Finty Williams’ performance is wonderful. She gives the perfect amount of whimsy to Melanie’s voice and just the right sinister edge to what happens as the story progresses. The movie version will be coming out soon, so I recommend you check out the audio book before it does.


Super Bonus Audio Book

VL Virtual Light

Written by:  William Gibson

Performed by: Frank Muller

This book gets the Super Bonus Category because it’s no longer being made.  I scored my copy years ago and I’ve listened to it more times than I care to admit (Hint: It’s over 10). It was my first exposure to Frank Muller and his performance of this novel is what propelled it from “Pretty Good” to “Holy Crap This Was Amazing!”.  While a brilliant storyteller, Gibson’s writing style is sometimes difficult for me to follow. Muller grabbed onto the dreamy prose and ran with them. While a decent cyberpunk novel in near-future San Francisco, Muller’s performance is why I always recommend this book and why I’ve listened to it as often as I have(Hint: It’s over 15 times).  If you can find the Frank Muller version of Virtual Light you should do yourself a favor and jump on it.




Writing Update: Edits and Pre-Orders

I’ve been quiet on my writing updates recently. Time to correct that.

Ibenus has completed its first found of edits.  We’ll be making a few more passes to get it all nice and polished. I will say that reading it for the first time in months was a fun experience. I really like this one and I look forward to hearing reader responses. Release date is still set for September 2016. Paperback pre-order is available on Amazon.

Layout by Shawn King

Dämoren is going through its final revisions as well for the new version.  Some pesky typos are going away and the layout is getting a nice face-lift.  I can’t wait to hold the finished product. IPG should begin distributing the new versions, as well as my other Ragnarok titles, in the next few weeks.  I’ll update once I have more.

In the meantime, Brilliance Audio will be releasing MP3 CDs for my audiobooks so that libraries can carry them.  Mountain of Daggers will release 5/24/2016, Dämoren 6/7/2016, and Hounacier 8/2/2016. All of which are currently available for pre-order on Amazon.

My fourth Valducan novel, Redemptor, is coming along nicely.  I’m 8 chapters in, and while I can’t give a good estimate for when it’ll be completed, I’m shooting for the end of this year. Without revealing too much about it, I can tell you that it is set in South America, Matt is one of the principal characters, and the working tagline is, “Monsters Aren’t Born, They’re Forged.”

That’s all I have for now.  I hope to have another update soon on some other topics, but it’s a little early to go into those yet.