Teaser Tuesday

Happy Holidays! Back to work for me. This week’s teaser is from my newly released book Blade Breaker, the Shadow Wolf Sagas #1.

Shadow Wolf Cover

I was preparing to publish when I realized that the book does not pass the basic Bechdel test, aka having two named women talk to each other about something other than men.

After the panic subsided, I sat down and considered this flaw. The problem is that almost all of the conversations  involve Ragnar, who is a first person character. It would be easy enough to add a little conversation between characters like Thyra and Murith (they would talk about weapons or tactics) but it seemed artificial to me to go back and add that.

Then it occurred to me that the Bechdel test is really a low bar, almost like the minimum wage. I thought about this for a while, but the idea was tangential.

In the end I decided to keep it the same. Adding in a conversation just to pass a test is dishonest, especially since the first draft of the book can be seen online.

Ultimately there are conversations between women in the book, they are just implied. The plots involving Lily and Sapphire and Madame Glorianna and Crimson wind are the Catalysts for almost all of the action in the book. I leave it up to the reader to determine if this is a fair substitute.

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“Information isn’t free Mr. Grimfang. You’ll find out if you live.”

“If I live?”

“If you can pass my test, consider yourself on my payroll.”

“Test?”

 “You don’t actually believe I’d trap you in a private arena and not make use of the occasion, do you Mr. Grimfang?” asked Lily Gemarkand, eyes wide and smiling like a spoiled young child at her nameday celebration. “I said I tried other avenues, and I want you to dispose of one for me. Show me that you are worthy of my time, Nordan.”

“Family tradition and all that, I suppose,” I said, shaking my head, more dismayed by the fact that Miss Gemarkand knew she could get away with this and that she even expected me to accept her money afterwards. In the North, not even a king could dare such an act without facing rebellion. Sadly, I was not in North. “You do realize that I am going to charge you double because of this.”

She laughed, genuinely this time. As I listened, shuffling uncomfortably, some part of me still wondered if this was simply a jest on her part. Then men and women began shuffling into the room. My fists balled up. Ladies in bright silk society dresses began to take seats behind Lily, chatting excitedly with men in long black coats and tricorner hats. My blood began to boil. The head of the Gemarkand family herself watched me intently, like a child lording over an anthill. My lips curled into a snarl.

Blondie and several other guards filed in behind the guests.

After a moment, Lily turned to her guests.

“This is Ragnar Grimfang,” she said. “He’s a Northman of some notoriety; a Twiceborn Ascendant, I am told. Look at those eyes and see the beast that lurks within. Ragnar has come to our city. He pretends he is like us. But anyone can see that he is still wild. We shall soon see just how savage he is.”

She turned and smiled down at me, leaving me picturing my hands on that delicate throat, blood and fangs ripping it open. Lily paused.

“You might ask where I would find a worthy foe for such a man,” said Lily, “However, this is Myrrhn and I am a Gemarkand. Providence provides.”

As Lily spoke, a trapdoor opened in the floor of the little arena. An armoured hood appeared, followed by a massive, muscular body covered in thick plate armour with distinctive sharpened edges. The heraldry was immediately recognizable, sending a chill down my spine; I was facing one of the Devout.

The Devout are a people from a shattered land half a world away from Myrrhn, far to the south of Nordan lands. They fervently believe in power and the right of the strong to rule over everything that they can conquer. This one was an Ascendant, though his presence was dim. Still, he surged against the chains holding him in place, when his eyes fell upon me.

 “Two peerless savages,” Intoned Lily while her friends muttered and made sounds of awe. “A fight to the death for my favour, for your eyes only, my friends. Savour it.”

The Hugo Awards: The Money Angle

I wanted to write something about the Hugo awards, but I don’t really know enough about them to contribute meaningfully to the discussion one way or another. I have never been to Worldcon, and as a self-published author who flies well below the radar I don’t expect to see any of my book up there anytime soon, nor do feel bad about that. I’m just here to write and entertain.

Personally I dislike both the extreme right, and extreme left getting involved in this debate. North American directional politics, fed by the twenty-four hours “news” channels and the pundit blogs, is capable of very little other than bringing rage and ruin to everything it touches right now. I hate to think that in the midst of the massive boom in genre fiction that this ugliness could turn people off, and possibly even stunt the growth of SF/F.

What interests me most about the whole debate is that none of the articles that I have read about the whole Kerfuffle, most of which are very good, none cover the economic aspect of winning an award.

I would not buy a book simply because it was a Hugo award winner. However, if I was on the fence about a book and saw that it won an award, that would make me more likely to buy it. An award is an indication of quality, at the very least.

Perhaps more importantly winning (or even being short-listed) an award acts as additional exposure acts for both the work and the author. It will not push a niche intellectual work to bestseller status, to be sure, but I am confident that winning an award, especially a prestigious award, will expose a book to new readers and elevate sales in almost all cases.

Many authors are ego driven enough to value the award above the sales that it generates. Some writers, however, are far more motivated by sales figures and really don’t care how they get them. Attaching “Hugo” to their name and book will get those extra sales and so they have an economic motive, regardless of what ideology they might be espousing to justify their actions.

So while there is an ideological battle here, which is very sad, there is also the simple fact that by gaming the system the Sad Puppies have gained publicity and increased sales. The people who are outraged by their actions are not in their intended readership and I suspect that they, or their publishers, know it. The very nature of their very public campaign, and the amount of publicity it generates for their works, win or lose, demonstrates that at least some of them are motivated by sales as well as ideology.

Making money is not a bad thing, of course, but while winning an award increases sales, battles like this can damage how people view the award, which degrades the value of the endorsement that the award represents.

Unfortunately, it is a hard problem to fix. Every system can be gamed, and as George RR Martin brilliantly stated changing the rules to stop this behaviour only feeds into the narrative of a liberal conspiracy at the Hugos promoted by the Sad Puppies. Incidentally this will get like minded people to buy more of their books as well. Readers will often support writers they feel are being persecuted, as I found out when this happened. After I complained, readers picked up on the attack and sales increased.

Which means that there is also a possible economic motive behind complaining about being persecuted, which can get people on your side and sell more books… 😦

P.S: I don’t like identity politics, but people who form factions to promote their works based on not being part of a certain clique are only engaging in reactionary identity politics.

Title Change for Book Three

After much soul searching, more like agonized dawdling I suppose, I have decided to change the name of Warbound: The Shield Maiden to Bloodlust: The Shield Maiden. Many readers are not connecting Warbound with the first two Domains of the Chosen Books. This is entirely my fault, as most of my beta readers suggested that I keep the name Bloodlust for consistency. I should have listened, but I was focused on getting the book out and not thinking enough about branding issues.

Hopefully the switch does not cause any problems. Here is what the new cover looks like. It will release on the 16th. If you have the old cover, don’t worry about switching over, the book itself remains unchanged.

Not a huge change, but it is still a mistake on my part.

Not a huge change, but it is still a mistake on my part.

If this does cause a problem for anyone, let me know and I will send you a file in any format you choose.

 

The plan this time around, also a teaser.

Work in Progress...

Soon

We are coming up on the release of Warbound: The Shield Maiden, the third book in my Domains of the Chosen series, on July 17th. I am hoping to capitalize on what I have learned from my previous releases and maybe get into the top 100 this time. Getting as high as possible in the lists ensure that the book gets exposed to more readers. Here is the plan as it stands.

  • Teasers!: Putting out teasers has generated some excitement for the book, and as a bonus it has also generated some extra feedback. I started the Tuesday Teasers for Warbound about two months ago, and this year I have also written several posts about tactics and the strange cultures encountered in the new book to wet the appetite.
  • Release Warbound: The Shield Maiden before I go to bed on Wednesday evening: This way It should clear the hurdles for the amazon store by noon or so.
  • Offer deals on Bloodlust: A Gladiator’s Tale and Bloodlust: Will to Power. I am going to add kindle countdown deals for the first two Domains of the Chosen books in order to encourage people to pick up all 3. This also puts these books on the countdown lists, which is yet another point of exposure. These extra lists will feed into a surge for all of the Domains works.
  • Offer Bloodlust: The Great Games for free: My short story is a decent sample for the series, putting it up for free will attract more readers. It is also up for free on Smashwords. I have a link page at the back of the story, which directs people to the blog and the other works in the series. Like it or not, having at least one work available for free all the time is almost mandatory for a small timer like myself. It is also another list on which my books will show up on. More lists = more exposure.
  • Goodreads Giveaway: I am running a goodreads Giveaway for a signed copy of books 1 & 2 from the 12th to the 19th. The giveaway is a real wildcard for me. I have no idea how effective they are, or what kind of pitfalls to expect. My hope is for extra exposure to the work. Interestingly enough I have higher ratings on Goodreads than on Amazon, so maybe I will get lucky.
  • Internet Soft Push: I will likely put out a few small posts about the release on various reddits and twitter, and try to get people to push me on social media on the seventeenth. I am uncomfortable pushing too hard, because these are communities that resist aggressive salesmanship from relative unknowns.
  • Conditional Internet Hard Push: If and only if I break the top 100 in any of my amazon categories I will start a second, slightly more aggressive push. I see this as a genuine accomplishment and won’t mind bragging about it a little bit.

That is the basic idea. Unfortunately this has been a tough year for us, with tragedies and delays all over the place, so the campaign was a little more limited.

  • ARC Copies: I did not have time to give out Advanced Reader Copies in exchange for early reviews. Last year a 1 star driveby by a fake reviewer on Bloodlust: Will to Power stunted sales after the second day. Eventually that reviewer was banned, but it did some damage to my chances to make the top 100. This year I wanted to insulate myself from 1 stars and give some loyal fans a chance to get their hands on the book a little earlier. Sadly, life gets in the way. As it is we will have to work hard to get the book edited by the release date.
  • Reader Feedback: I wanted to get more reader feedback as well, but that is always the case, I suppose.

So that is the plan, I will let you all know how it worked out after release!

Here is a little teaser:

The war-barge in which Jaff rode rocked in the water. Men began to shout and scream behind him. Turning, Jaff caught sight of an armoured figure, a broad-shouldered woman in dark leathers, caught a blade with a buckler claw, cutting her assailant open from groin to gullet. Blood splashed across Jaff’s face. The deck became a trap as some of the hands pushed towards this deadly Krassian, while others struggled to escape her. In two heart-beats, Jaff watched the woman sidestep a lunge from a man twice her size, slashing his throat, then stabbing a screaming man, was it Gish?, with a lunge of her own.

Then the leather clad killer simply looked at a man charging her and his head simply exploded as if hit by a cannon shot. Magic. Krassian magic. Jaff’s blood went cold. He looked over the side into the bloody water. Ominous shapes swam beneath the surface picking at the dead. He looked back at the melee on the ship. Half the men were dead…

In each battle I create a character or two to give extra perspective to the action. A single perspective is rarely broad enough for a large battle, I find, unless you want a heap of exposition at the end where the character learns what happened on a broader scale.

 

 

Thoughts on my Nomads Project.

As I mentioned, last week’s Nomads will likely be the last, at least until I have had a while to think about the series.

Nomads began as an experiment. I did not start it to get page views. I’m not actually sure how many people read this blog since page views can be misleading, or if any of you are even interested in serial fiction. Mostly, I wanted to hone my writing skills, especially with first draft and writing in first person. The challenge I set for myself was to write a thousand words every week, with little preparation, as quickly as possible and to see if I could wrangle a coherent story from that. Here is my assessment of that project.

1) Draft Hard! I did find writing a serial in the raw to be great practice for writing better first drafts. One of my weaknesses as a writer (and game designer, actually) is that I love tinkering with a near finished product. I rewrote Bloodlust: A Gladiator’s Tale seven times and would probably still be re-writing it to this day if not for the realization that it would never be perfect. Bloodlust: Will to Power only had two rewrites and most of the people I have chatted with feel it is a better work. I feel that the Nomads project helped me shape in this regard: I write faster now, and I am able to control my desire to re-write. 

2) Confidence: leaving a swiftly written story with minimal corrections up requires some bravery. 

3) A taste of first person: First person is an interesting writing style. I have pealed back a few of its layers, but much of it is still beyond me. It helps to a very strong sense of character, which is always worth working on. The  character’s perspective must be both understandable, and yet their voice must stand out. Exposition is a particular hazard, since most people do not think about the facets of their culture and surrounding that are familiar to them but might be very alien and exciting to the reader. Forcing this in first person is, if anything, more obvious than in third person. Yet another reason why I like The Name of the Wind.

4) The Serial Format: I have great respect for people who can write a serial and keep it going. I learned that it is best to end each episode on a question or some other hook. (not necessarily a cliffhanger) Not only does this help keep the story fresh in the reader’s minds, it also gives the writer something to work with for the next episode. For the same reason I prefer to leave an unfinished sentence on your novel when you are done writing for the day; it gives me an easy place to start when I get back to work.

The problems I encountered in writing the Nomads serial were not insurmountable by any means, but they did make it less fun. Here are my thoughts on the problems I encountered.

1)  Introduction woes: Nomads begins in medias res. The first line of Nomads was a recording from a Nomad who has just been gunned down, sent to Raven. We follow Raven as he investigates how Jessup died. The problem with this is that in a first person narrative it is imperative that you establish voice and character first. Putting the action first without establishing Raven’s personality and voice was a wasted opportunity. This becomes especially confusing since I have to convince the readers that they should care that this Jessup dude died, all at the same time. Bit of a disaster, really, but kind of fun nonetheless.

2) Raven: As a voice character, Raven was not particularly interesting. Firstly, he was lacking in any meaty defects or even super-spy suave. Secondly he was too neutral in his opinions, which is inappropriate when you have access to a character’s thoughts and perspectives. A subtle character is best left to masters of the form, I should have tried something simpler or bolder.

3) Military Setting: The Nomads were essentially an elite military squad, equivalent in many ways to modern special forces but with futuristic toys. The problem this created is that I really wanted to stay away from that kind of atmosphere. Oops. 

4) Documentation: I keep a lot of notes when I work on m novels. One of these a spreadsheet with details on characters, geography, terminology, slang, and any other world-building miscellany. Whenever I need to recall details, I refer to this spreadsheet first. It helps maintain consistency: you never know when a character’s eye colour might come up again. With Nomads I was constantly reading previous posts to look up names, callsigns, jargon, weapons, and suit types.

  • 5) Source of Enthusiasm: When I started writing the Nomads serial I was playing a game called Firefall. I enjoyed the armoured-suit style action. I went with the Nomads idea because Firefall was boosting my enthusiasm for that type of story. Low and behold, when I stopped playing Firefall, my enthusiasm for Nomads suffered. It would have been better to choose a longer standing interest as a base for a serial.
  • In the end I feel that the Nomads serial was a success. I learned quite a bit and I enjoyed it while it lasted. I will likely try the form again, or perhaps pick up and try to rescue Nomads, at some point. 

Battle Tactics: The Roman Camp and The Legions of the Domains of the Chosen

The Remains of a marching camp in England.

The Remains of a marching camp in England.

When I was a young lad, I was always fascinated by the Romans. The splendour and the efficiency of the Roman Republic and later, the Roman Empire with its colourful uniforms, grandiose architecture, gladiators,  and history of conquest were of great appeal to a kid who like to play at battles and read fantasy. It wasn’t until I was older that I began to understand the ugly side of that ancient civilization; the politics, slavery, the brutality of the arena, genocide and Roman imperialism. I still love Rome, but that love is tempered by a realization of its deep and abiding flaws, and in some cases my flaws as well.

The Domains of the Chosen Series, currently the novels Bloodlust: A Gladiator’s Tale, Bloodlust: Will to Power, and the short story Bloodlust: The Great Games, flow from my interest in that great classical civilization. The Domains could be seen as  the Roman Empire with magic, fantasy races, and a great apocalypse thrown in (Tolkien, a little bit of Jordan, some Earthdawn, and a pinch of steampunk).

The Roman Legions are of particular interest. One of the few truly professional military forces of pre-modern times, the Legions were the catalyst for much of Roman politics, colonization, and efficiency, as well as the cutting edge of their scythe of conquest. They had their hands in many of Rome’s grand accomplishments, particularly Roman roads and Roman fort towns. I wanted the Legions of the Domains to be similarly involved in the politics of the Domains, a sort balancing factor  between the Chosen and the Popular factions. I also adopted many of the conventions used by the Legions, just for the sake of familiarity. One of these tactics, in particular, has ended up changing the principle action in my third book Warbound: The Shield Maiden.

My assumption was that the Legions of the Domains would create the same sort of camps (Castra) on the march. Keep in mind, as I discusssed last week, Warbound: The Shield Maiden is partly based on Xenophon’s Anabasis, a story about a Greek mercenary army on the march. This mix was all fine and dandy until today, when I realized that the idea of building a camp, on the march (they did it even when under attack!) would completely change the dynamic of such a journey. Let me break it down.

The creation of a temporary, fortified camp at the end of a day’s march changes dynamic of conflict in a number of ways

  • Safety: The obvious difference between an army with a regular camp and the Roman system was that the Castra was far safer. Attacks from larger forces and surprise assaults would be blunted by the fortifications. This ensure that the whole army was better rested and able to operate for longer. While the Castra is hardly a fortress, or even a Roman fort, it is certainly more than a speedbump. In particular it makes harassing attacks on the army less effective; the Castra was even built to foil ranged attacks against sleeping units. Being able to rest and arm in relative safety, in hostile territory, is important.
  • Safe Supply: When operating the Romans could use their Castra to protect the supplies they brought with them, and even the booty they looted. Supply disasters were the bane of medieval and tribal armies, which often could not fight for more than a few days without secure supply. The Roman system gave the Legion a great deal more endurance in this aspect as well. Even with an army surviving off forage, it makes a significant difference — you have an organized system to protect the vital supplies needed to make war, as well as the equipment to carry it.
  • Engineers in the Field: The Castra system demanded that the Romans bring engineers with them. These soldiers were immunes, not subject to regular duties and were in charge of making sure the camp was set up properly. They could commandeer labour as required. Because they brought these specialists with them, the Romans had a tremendous advantage in other forms of warfare. Their siege techniques and feats of battle engineering were beyond almost anything seen on the battlefield until the Rennaissance. Examples include the siege of Alesia where the Romans surrounded an entire town (~20km encirclement), very rapidly, with this:

    You wake up one morning and there it is. How would you feel?

    You wake up one morning and there it is. How would you feel?

  • The Mobile Republic: The Ten Thousand Greeks from the Anabasis are sometimes referred to as the mobile republic, or the marching republic. Removed from their homes, their leaders mostly lost, and perpetually on the brink of disaster the Ten Thousand made their decisions in a very interesting fashion, relying more on persuasion than chain of command. The Castra, and other facets of the Roman system of warfare, change this dynamic. With a camp system in place, non-combat personnel  are able to accompany the Legionnaires because they have a protected place to stay. Thus, these civilians become part of the discussions that form the stress points of the relationships in an Anabasis style tale. Additionally, the army is used to moving mass quantities of supplies very quickly, and will have its own supply train that can operate on campaign — something that very few traditional armies could match before the modern day.

On the downside, this revelation means that I will have to rethink several parts of the book because of this. Xenophon’s army was constantly harassed, fearful of larger forces, and always hungry for supplies. A Legion in the same position would be much more relaxed because of their camp structure and habit of bringing along a large group of pioneers, engineers, and other specialists like smiths to keep them operating in the field. On the plus side, I feel that the camp structure gives the Ninth Legion a better character. Modern readers admire endurance and intelligence, and the camp structure gifts the Legion with these qualities in abundance.