The Shadow Wolf Sagas: The Whores’s War 3.30

This is my weekly serial, written raw as a writing exercise.

You can find the first post in the series here.

Last week’s post is here.

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She handed me a sword. It was a greatsword, a big Nordan blade of the finest craftsmanship with a pedigree of enchantments second to none. I recognized the blade, even before I drew it.

I was not the only one.

As I pulled the sword from its scabbard the last rays of the sun touched the edge. There could be no doubt then.

It was the sword of Siggurd the Stormbreaker, bane of The Devout, High King of the North. My king, the king I served, who fell at Drajinskyg where I died and rose again before my exile.

Memory washed over me like a hurricane swell.

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The Skraeling boiled out of the woods, a foul tide of screeching hate. We faced them, but we were taken aback. The Spearmarch was near settled lands. How could such a horde appear so close to all we held dear? Such was the sense of disbelief that men who would normally throw themselves into danger without hesitation lost heart. When the enemy charged, shaking the ground under their innumerable boots all seemed lost.

Their javelins blackened the sky, and though we were well armoured and shielded, men began to die.

But, Siggurd the Stormbreaker, the High King of all the North, was not one to run from an enemy in his own lands. He moved calmly to the front of the army, pushing his way through his protesting Kingsguard, myself the only member of the Shadow Wolf Clan honoured with a position among them in more than a hundred years. His gaze swept the enemy and then he spat dismissively and lifted his sword, Garmsbita, above his head. Invoking the Gods to witness the battle he rallied. His last line, the last words from my king are still clear in my mind.

“Nordan, do not fear. Stand with me now brothers and let us show Gods and Ancestors that we are brave and true; Come ruin! Come glory! Come courage and red joy!”

As he spoke, he raised Garmsbitta above his head and then, as now, it caught the last rays of the sun. It seemed like the coming of dawn to those of us around him. Our lines reformed and we met them like the heroes of old come to life.

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Siggurd was a canny fighter. He knew that such a horde would have more than Skraeling chieftains pushing it. He led the fight to them, and we followed him.

“Looks like the Gods have seen fit to give us a little excitement,” I said to Thyra.

“A keg of Furis’s finest, if you can best me in the tally, little wolf,” she said.

We fought, shoulder to shoulder, a rock in the stream, until misfortune struck

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Siggurd faced the wight king and struck him down, separating head from body with a single great blow from Garmsbitta. It was a glorious moment, worthy of song, and we raised our voices, drowning out the Skraeling din. Our enemy began to panic, several other wightkin fell to Nordan blade, and the joy of battle was upon me.

And then came that dark moment, when a shadow fell across the king, and he fell, never to rise again. Victory game way to ruin and though I fought to the bitter end, I was dragged down, and torn apart, tasting blood and despair and then darkness.

Before, no matter how hard I tried to focus on that moment, on that shadow behind the king, on what truly killed Siggurd, I was never able to. 

This time I saw. I remembered it all.

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New Year’s Resolutions (As a Writer)

Due to a family emergency, I missed posting this yesterday, but the sentiment remains the same.

2016 was a fairly good year for me as a writer. I made a bit of money, and managed to put out two books. Better yet, I managed to get a few enthusiastic reviews and had some enjoyable dialogue with people who have read my work. I even had a person put up their amazon review of my work on the US and UK sites, which is super nice (why Amazon does not collect all reviews for all marketplaces is beyond me).

Joining the Friends of Vocamus press genre writer’s circle in 2016 has been a boon as well. I have been to two of the monthly meetings and learned some interesting things about the local writing scene as well as some useful promotional ideas.

What I failed to do in 2016 (aside from convince people that voting for Cheeto Jesus is a bad, bad idea) is adequately promote and market my work. I have had a decent year with Twitter, but could drive more people to my blog and Facebook page. With eight books under my belt, and decent reception from people who read them, it is time to figure out marketing and social media (while keeping my soul and dignity intact).

Considering this has got me thinking about what I can do to improve my writing and book promotion in 2016, aside from the obvious improving of the fundamentals. Here are my writers resolutions for 2016.

  1. Promote my summer release on at least five secondary book sites: This requires money and the ability to schedule in advance. Secondary book sites, places like Bookbub, can drive a lot of traffic toward your sales and book releases. I would like to explore these for my next major release.
  2. Learn to type: I have written and published over 800k words and I do not know how to type. W T F. I could save myself so much time here.
  3. Put more effort into adwords and facebook ads: My third resolution is a bit more complex. Both adwords and facebook ads are very, very tunable. As an amateur user I can put in quite a bit more time learning the ins and outs of these systems to get more bang for my buck. One of the suggestions from my author circle that I wanted to try was concentrating add buys on the weekend instead of running the same amount every day of the week.

Simple stuff, but also time consuming…

As for what is up for release this year, I am starting the first draft of the seventh Domains of the Chosen novel after I post this (2017 and I am already 1500 words behind… yay). I am also working on the third Shadow Wolf novella, which should release in the fall.

If I have enough time and energy I may re-release book one of the Domains series with a new cover and some additional information, but that seems overly ambitious for a year where I am taking on extra hours at my dayjob already.

 

The Shadow Wolf Sagas: The Whores’s War 3.11

Murith and I hobbled away from the carving yard, after a brief conversation with the Master Butcher and the duty officer of The Watch. There was no sign of Ulfgorr and his two accomplices; I doubted that fate was kind enough to have show me his last day. If Ulfgorr was truly trying to kill me, then Wolki must have given the order. My former clan, or at least it’s leader, wanted me dead.

“Are you alright, Old Wolf?” asked Murith.

“The werewolf that tried to kill us was an old friend of mine.”

“I wondered. You seem pretty certain he isn’t dead.”

“He is Twiceborn and a Werewolf to boot. By Garm’s shining spear, I hope that he is slain, but I will not believe it until I see proof. Worse yet, Ulfgorr might threaten and intimidate on his own accord, but the Prime of the Shadow Wolves keeps him on a short leash. The leader of my former clan wants me dead.”

“Why wouldn’t he hire an assassin?”

Murith had a point. There were plenty of people willing to kill me in Myrrhn, and Wolki certainly had enough money. Although Wolki was not the greatest Prime the clan had ever had, he was still subtle enough to avoid recrimination and discovery if he used the Nightblades.

“I don’t know, Murith. Where are we going? I thought we agreed on ale.”

“Git’s house first. If your friend is still alive, I want more ammunition.”

“Wise.”

We walked in silence for a moment. The crowds parted and moved around us. We received a few curious glances, a limping watch officer and a battered Nordan, but most people just kept moving, flowing along the streets to reach their destinations. In a place like Myrrhn, remaining impersonal is considered polite. As we neared Git’s shop, Murith stopped and spoke up again.

“Ragnar. They were waiting for us there. They had to be. Do you think that this Ulfgorr killed Beauchamps?”

“Garm’s teeth!”

In truth, I had considered this, but dismissed it. What would Ulfgorr and Wolki care for the arcane workings of the Doxies’ Union in Myrrhn? It seemed odd and far fetched, but in truth, I was so out of touch with my homeland that I could not be certain at all.

“I don’t know Murith, but I cannot see any other explanation. Ulfgorr or one of his men killed Beauchamps and made it look like I might be behind the murder and then tried to ambush us when we followed the clues. I do not know what this portends, but it cannot be good.”

“Its not all bad, though.”

“How so?”

“They failed to kill us.”

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Musings on user reviews

Reviews are the lifeblood of e-commerce. Without the ability to actually examine the product for themselves consumers are forced to make a judgement based partly on the description of the product, the reputation of the vendor, and the reviews of the item. Yet often these reviews are rife with ideological crusaders, reviews for sale, and odd design choices in the review systems themselves.

As an indy author this is painfully obvious for me at the moment. I have to solicit reviews on amazon because most people who read my work prefer to review it on Goodreads. I have even been tarred and feathered by fake reviewers looking to lower their average score in order to seem legitimate when they give 5 star ratings to their clients. The review system is annoying, and yet I need it to move books and reach potential readers.

The first and largest problem in the review system is that it often reads like any other comment section anywhere else in the internet. I am not popular enough to have this problem yet, but it does annoy the heck out of me when I am reading reviews of games or books and people are using the review system for popular products to push their personal views rather than actually review the product. This can be a fine line, to be sure: should Lovecraft be docked stars because he is racist? for example. Mind you in most cases it is not. I’m sure you have all seen reviews like this, if not go look at the reviews on your favorite (non classic) popular computer game or book. Some are legit, some are lazy, and some people are there to make a point that has little to do with the product itself. I’m not sure how to fix this, yet.

Fake reviews are more sensational. There is a thriving cottage industry in selling fake reviews of all sorts of products, as well as companies putting up their own fake reviews of their products. Since reviews still help drive sales, there is a real economic incentive to cheat if you can get away with it. As I noted these ‘reviewers’ often give crap ratings to low profile indy authors in order to even out all of the five star reviews they give to their clients so that they look like a tough reviewer.

The review systems themselves are sometimes even more of a problem. Amazon, the most important reviewer for my career, has some quirks that annoy the crap out of me. They do not amalgamate reviews from all of their secondary sites on my book, even though the product is exactly the same on amazon.com as it is on amazon.ca or amazon.uk. People who have written reviews for me sometimes do not get them approved from various reasons (some are legitimate I suppose, sorry mom!). Even worse is that Amazon owns Goodreads and could easily show the goodreads reviews on a particular title, like Steam shows the metacritic score, but they do not and thus compete with themselves for reviews. I don’t know too many people who are willing to review a product on multiple sites without prodding. This is not to mention the problems with the scoring systems themselves and even how ratings drive searches.

One solution is professional reviewers, people whose job it is to review a product for a trusted third party. Unfortunately in many arenas Professional reviews are missing in action, or lost in the noise. Even if they are easy to find, a professional reviewer often wants different things than the average reader. This can lead to authors skewing their work to solicit favourable opinions from elite reviewers. This is nothing new, but it is still annoying; authors should be free to write for their intended audience, ideally, rather than jump through hoops for publishers and reviewers. Still, hunting down high profile reviewers who will like your work has been a piece of advice that many of my peers have given me.

For now, I rely on fans and organic growth while examining other possibilities.

Teaser from Seeds of Ruin

Tis the Sunday after release and it is time for another teaser from the Bloodlust: The Seeds of Ruin (Domains of the Chosen #6).

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Agga turned his eyes from the bay. “The arena in Frostbay won’t see action for some time, now. We will have to avail ourselves of another place. Now, watch the ice, right about there. If all goes well, you will soon witness something wondrous.”

The Runemaster said nothing else, but stared intently at the bay. Hilena felt a tremor, or rather sensed a shift in the patterns of the bay. As she was puzzling this out, Lignam stiffened and stood still.

The ice heaved, and then some monstrous appendage thrust into the air, mud, water, and ice sloughing from it. Another and another followed. They kept rising and Hilena realized that what she saw were towers and tall buildings. As she watched, a whole city, larger than Frostbay, smashed its way through the ice, like some great beast rising, roaring, from the depths. The patterns and power at work were dazzling, like staring at the sun.

 Ice split and fell away in ship-sized sheets. A great spray of water misted over the whole scene. Tall towers, buildings, streets, and houses soon shed their coat of muck and ice, while other sections rose further out. A coastline appeared. The last of the sections to resolve was familiar to Hilena; it contained the palace that housed both Antidilluvius and the Dark Heart.

Teaser Tuesday

Tis Tuesday and thus time for a teaser. This week it is from my newest, release Bloodlust: The Seeds of Ruin, which I put out on Sunday.

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“All that remained of Valaran diVolcanus after the Grand Championships was a tiny, ugly tree. Try as we might, not even the Chosen could destroy the tree without causing massive damage to the surrounding structure. The matter was set to study and everyone forgot this ‘Dire Root’ except on days that Sadira was in the Arena, when the ugly little thing popped out of the ground and blossomed, gruesome and blood red. Eventually they just raised the sand a couple of feet so people did not have to look at the thing at least.” After hours’ tour guide at the Grand Arena.

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Hilena suppressed a shiver as her former partner let loose a rasp of pain, halfway between a moan and a cough. The sound was horrific, like wet-lung, but she dared not look back to where he lay in the covered steam-waggon. It was best to let nature take its course at this juncture; Jerus was gone.

What was happening to him broke her heart, but each rasp hurt her a little less.

Master Kress had examined him after the plant had taken root. The big man had told Jerus he would be fine and given him a sedative.

“It has taken root in his bones,” Kress had said to her after Jerus had fallen into a deep sleep. “Removing it is out of the question. You must deliver the root to Frostbay at all costs. I will be sending my remaining servants to escort you. They will be with you, even if you do not see them.”

Hilena was astute enough to have spotted two of them. One appeared to be pathetic old cripple who, despite his faltering speed, never seemed to fall behind for very long. The other was a familiar looking brute of an ogre. She was also astute enough to know what would happen to her if she tried to help Jerus, to escape her duty, or to get rid of the terrible burden that he had become.

Seeds of Ruin Cover

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This is the final cover for Bloodlust: The Seeds of Ruin (Domains of the Chosen 6), barring a little colour adjustment to the font. The whole thing is the work of Dan Barclay, as always. I am pretty damn happy with it.

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We thought a green font might be better for the title, given the themes of growth and flora, but it just does not ‘pop’ well.

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Here are some of Dan’s early sketches. The process is very iterative with lots of back and forth. We started with a stonehenge shape for the stone but mobed tp something with a little more presence, squat and monolithic.

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One of the more interesting ideas that we tried early on was to have a fetus at the heart of the Oathstone. I love this take, but the skull just attracts more attention.