“But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends— It gives a lovely light!”

What if you knew your Deathday? And if you were part of 98.7% majority of humans, where it’s at a median age of 25?

These are burners. They do the work to sustain society in the Sound, the last vestige of mankind after the release of phage initiated the Chaos and destroyed most of the world.

The inequality in the system is obvious; but “it is what it is” is the mantra of burners, because the phage changed life-spans by corrupting human DNA, the very essence of life. At the top .1% of society are People, who have no Deathday.  “It is what it is”

Dealer, a powerful computer, saved humans during the Chaos, by coming up with a way for this society to function.

Except there’s a problem. The system is breaking down.

And now there’s something that hasn’t happened since before the Chaos: there are twins: Grace and MIllay. And one was determined on Dealing Day to be a burner and the other a People. But if Deathday is determined by DNA, then . . .

Maybe it isn’t what it is.

You can read the opening of burners for free here.

If You Don’t Buy This Book, We’ll Shoot This Dog



If you know where that comes from, you get a Cool Gus commemorative puppy picture (download at right) , and were probably reading in 1973.

And, yes, right now Gus is giving me a dirty look, no, wait, he’s snoring, head buried in his dog bed.

Our new series launches next week on Tuesday with burners, yes, not capitalized. Because you have to count to be capitalized. burners are 98.7 of the population of the Sound, where the only survivors of the Chaos, which wiped out almost all of civilization over three centuries ago, live. burners have a median Deathday of 25 years. They exist to do the work and, outside of that, to live every second as deeply as they can, burning the candle at both ends. Sort of like Gus. Not.

At the top of society are the People. .1%. They have no Deathday. You know; them; that top .1%. Those people. Yeah, they’re still around, except instead of wealth, they get time.

Overseeing all is Dealer, a computer that restructured society to survive the phage, which changed lifespans and initiated the Chaos.

national-lampoon-january-1973-if-you-don-t-buy-this-magazine-we-ll-kill-this-dogOkay, my wife and I wrote this, and inventing an entirely new society is quite the feat. BTW, the Sound is Puget Sound. I’m kind of thinking Dealer is an Amazon computer, like THE computer. Since lots of people, especially the NY Times, thinks Amazon is the evil empire, it seems fitting for a book where most of the sales will be on Amazon (buy it here, or we shoot the dog—we just watched a documentary on National Lampoon and if you don’t remember that, well, you’re younger than us, which is most of you, sigh). And really it was fascinating to see how many people from National Lampoon went on to start Saturday Night Live, Animal House, Caddyshack, and much, much more in the world of comedy. Oh yeah, you can also get it on iBooks, Nook, Kobo and wherever fine literature is sold.

Where was I? So Amazon’s computer is ruling—no, wait. It’s Dealer.

Which deals the cards to everyone when they are six on Dealing Day according to each person’s DNA as affected by the phage. Get a white one, you’re People. A blank one. No Deathday. Get red, well, you’re a burner. There are two small groups in between, but you get the picture?

You think such a society can last? Is stable?


Thus burners.

Nothing but good times ahead. Such as prime, centre and chaos. At the very least. All out in the next nine months.

And Cool Gus is fine.

Why this Author Walked Away from a $25,000 Advance to Publish His Novel Independently

By Elliott Garber

I wrote the final words of my first full-length novel just over one year ago, closing my laptop with a dramatic flourish and breathing a deep sigh of relief. It was done. A major life goal complete.

The_Chimera_Sequence_Elliott_Garber copyI could already picture hardcover stacks of The Chimera Sequence—a bioterrorism thriller that one reader described as Michael Crichton meets Tom Clancy—lining front tables of Barnes & Noble bookstores around the country. Who knows, maybe my name would even make an appearance among the lower ranks of a coveted New York Times bestseller list?

That was the dream, at least, even though I already had a very realistic understanding of the rapidly evolving publishing industry. Alongside my novel writing, I had spent the previous couple of years reading everything I could find about the publishing process.

I even conducted a little experiment of my own with a short story. Much to my surprise, No Dog Left Behind has already earned me a few thousand dollars in its two years of life on Amazon. That represents a lot more money and readers than I ever would have found through almost any traditional route for a short story.

So I began the post-book writing phase with my eyes wide open, knowing all along that I would be okay doing things on my own if I didn’t find the right traditional publisher to work with through the process.

After going through several rounds of editing with the help of a diverse group of friends and family members, I was ready to begin. I sent out query letters to about 20 well-known agents, gleaning their names from the Acknowledgement pages of recent bestselling thrillers. Simple Google searches led me to their submission guidelines, and I personalized each e-mailed message based on the other authors represented and any shared personal interests I could discover.

I was fortunate to hear back from about half of these agents within a few days, and almost all of them requested that I send the full manuscript for their review. Woohoo! First hurdle, complete. I attribute this initial success to the fact that I developed a catchy blurb, but probably even more to my own online platform and unique professional background. The agents were intrigued enough to find out if I could actually write.

Within a few days, I received a phone call from one of my top choices. It was actually a voicemail—due to the secure environment of my workplace I’m not able to use a personal cellphone inside. The message was short and sweet: “Loved the book. Give me a call when you can.”

Needless to say, I called the agent right back and received my first offer of representation. The agent had recently helped a couple of other former military guys launch their own successful careers in the thriller genre, and he was convinced that he could do the same for me. No guarantees, of course, but he was fairly certain that we could be looking at a six-figure offer for an initial two-book contract.

It was tough not to say yes right away, but I did want to give the other agents a chance to at least finish reading my book before making a final decision on whom to partner with. As it turns out, the decision was made for me. Although a couple of the other agents expressed a tentative interest, none of them felt strongly enough about my manuscript to offer representation without further modifications first.

The next step was submission of the manuscript to editors at all the big traditional publishers. This was tough for me, as I was really at the complete mercy of my agent’s previous relationships and professional connections. I was expecting to get responses from these editors within a week or two, but instead it stretched into a month, then two months.

I felt as though the whole process had lost momentum. I knew in my head that this was normal—that the traditional publishing process takes time—but in my heart, I still wanted to be one of those lucky few authors who get so much immediate interest that a competitive auction is held within days. Sadly, it was not to be.

The rejections slowly began trickling in. “Sorry, loved the story, but just don’t see where it would fit in today’s market.” Huh?

“If I had gotten this book last year we totally would have gone for it, but the virus threat has been done too often already.” Not what I wanted to hear.

“Unique plot and captivating characters, but the action simply builds too slowly for a modern thriller.” At least this one contained feedback I could use for the next time around.

We finally got some bites after moving on to the next tier of editors just outside the “Big 5” publishing houses. At this point, I was already disappointed in myself, the book, and the process, but I wasn’t ready to close the door on a traditional option yet.

After several weeks of negotiating, my agent was able to present two final offers. Two books for $25,000—take it or leave it. This works out to $12.5k for each book, of course, and those payments would be split and stretched out over about three years. The contracts were pretty much boilerplate for a new midlister like me, with no special provisions that would make them more author-friendly in today’s rapidly changing publishing environment.

The publishers could not guarantee anything in the way of initial print run numbers or marketing budget, and my first book would not be released until sometime in 2016. Not exactly a proposal to get very excited about.

But I would be a REAL author, right? Wasn’t that worth it? I might get to see those stacks (of one? maybe two?) of my books at Barnes & Noble! I could be one of the select few who successfully made it past the proverbial gate-keepers and begin turning up my nose at all the independently-published authors I had learned so much from over the last few years.

No, thank you. Based on everything I had learned, I knew that this level of advance did not represent a very significant investment on the part of the publishers. I was confident that I could do almost everything they could with the book, on a tighter schedule and with more long-term potential for success.

It was one of the hardest decisions of my life, but I decided to walk away from these $25,000 offers and continue with the back-up plan to publish my thriller independently.

Fast forward six months, and here I am! The Chimera Sequence has been on the market for almost a month already, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised to have some affirmation of my choice. No New York Times bestseller lists yet, but I’ve already sold a few thousand copies of the book. More importantly, I’m steadily gaining readers and fans who are asking about my next book.

Was it easy? No, as my wife will tell you, neither of us could have imagined how difficult the whole publishing process would be. But I did it, all while working full-time and enjoying life with two young children at home. It was difficult, yes, but not impossible.

It’s too early to know for sure if I made the right decision. Who knows, maybe my book would have taken off in print, and I would have seen many more thousands of dollars in royalties than that initial five-figure advance represented. It’s possible, but unlikely. Especially in light of this week’s new report from Author Earnings, it’s clear that indie publishing is a better choice for many authors who desire ongoing financial success.

I’m grateful to all my fellow authors and readers who have helped me through this process so far, and I’m excited for the opportunity to continue sharing my stories with the world.

Here are some of the best resources I’ve found for other authors interested in learning more publishing in the 21st century:

KBoards Writer’s Cafe

The Passive Voice Blog

Hugh Howey’s Blog

Russell Blake’s Blog

Elliott-Garber-Mascot-Dog-AmputationBio Page: Elliott Garber is a veterinarian and military officer currently assigned on active duty with a special operations command. He has lived in India, Egypt, Mozambique, and Italy and traveled to over 50 other countries around the world, including a recent deployment to Iraq. You can often find him under the water, up in the air, or out in the woods. Elliott lives with his wife and two young children in Coronado, California.

Elliott blogs and produces a podcast at:


He also shares updates on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+, and he would love to hear from you there.

Burners: The Moment of Conception

I can remember the moment of ‘conception’ for every book I’ve written, and there are over 60 of them. I can’t remember a lot of other things (according to my wife) like how to fold towels or getting dog food, etc. etc., but I think that’s pretty much a common guy thing. For example, if she wants to hide something in the fridge from me, it’s quite simple. Put it behind something. I pretty much work on “out of sight, not there.” Am I not right, fellas?

IMG_0886My wife and I came up with the idea for burners over four years after we moved to Chapel Hill, NC in order to be there for the birth of our first grandson. We left Whidbey Island, WA and drove across the country, and we didn’t have a place to live when we got to NC, but we adapt well. Even Cool Gus tearing up one of his paws chasing a ball when we gave him a road break in, I think, Montana? North Dakota? I don’t remember, but it didn’t slow us down. Gus had to wear the cone of shame most of the way across the country as he healed, and Becca, being Sassy, helped him out by licking his wound for him. Really.

So Deb and I were sitting out on the back porch of the house we found and rented for a year a few days after we got to Chapel Hill. We wanted a high concept idea. Something people could relate to. We both are students of history, and strange history (seriously, ask Deb anything mob related and she knows about it– serial killers, which makes me wonder– hey wait!). We thought about patterns in history, like the Romans and other empires, and particularly about how rich people skew things.

We have the top .1% in this country controlling an inordinate amount of wealth, and out of that power. We don’t believe such a system is sustainable. But we projected that into the future and wondered “what’s more valuable than money?”

And the answer is time.

Life span. Which led us to: what if, in the future, the top .1% are delineated not by money, but by their lifespan? What kind of society would that be? How could that come to be?

I don’t quite know how we focused on Edna St. Vincent Millay’s poem: First Fig. Had to be my wife, since she’s the one with the English degree. And the memory. You know what sucks? Having an argument with someone who remembers everything and you can’t even remember what you had for breakfast. I lose all the time.

Anyway. The title of burners comes from this poem:

First Fig—Edna St. Vincent Millay

My candle burns on both ends;

It will not last the night.

But ah my foes and oh my friends

It gives a lovely light!

BURNERS(Bob_Deb_TN)The cover of the book, which we love (and Jen designed) also comes out of that. As does the label for 98.7% of the population in the story: BURNERS. They live to a median age of 25. Worse, they know their Deathday. More on that in a future post.

This was a great idea, but we weren’t ready to write it. That happens sometimes. It has to gestate. So our first grandson was born: Riley, future leader of the resistance in the War against the Machines. And we worked on other stuff. And this year our second grandson, Haydn, was born, co-leader of the resistance.

And it was time (no pun intended, okay it is) for us to write it. Interestingly, in the first writing, of which we had about 14,000 words, were several scenes. I kept them (I don’t like throwing things out, especially writing). And when Deb read the entire first draft of the book last month, she said “Throw them out.” Because they were old and didn’t fit. Didn’t fit the story, but more importantly didn’t fit the voice I’m writing in now. More on that in another post, because voice is everything to a writer and it’s taken me only 25 years to zero in on how I write.

We’re working on the follow up books in the series, both moving the series forward, but also laying out the backstory to how The Sound, the locale, came into being. By the way, that’s Puget Sound. We’ll soon have a map of what it’s like there over 300 years in the future, after the Chaos.

I don’t want to give too much away. But here’s the book trailer we put together for burners.

And, you know, if you want to pre-order it, here’s a link that will lead you to Kindle and iBooks.

Nothing but good times ahead, until the machines try to kill us, but hey, I’m training the future leaders!


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