Rotblossom Rose (1.3R)

Welcome to the space where I experiment, my weekly serial. It is written raw, not edited at all, and mostly unplanned.

The world is partly based on the background of an unpublished Steampunk game that I worked on with a few friends, which has grown in my mind over the last couple of years. The story is a take on those ultra-violent revenge epics of the eighties where a man’s family is abused and killed, but he survives and seeks vengeance. Needless to say it is a grim, bloody tale, that deals with bad people doing bad things, so be warned.

Here is the first post of this series.

Here is last week’s post.

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The present comes down to three names waiting to be crossed off, the last on a very long list.

“Is she really that ugly under the mask?” asks Green Jim, the youngest man on their dive. “I mean… the way she moves…”

“Ask her yourself, kid,” says Scarab, smiling as Rose steps out of the dark.

“Captain, I…” stammers Green Jim.

Rose meets his eyes and holds, letting the moment stretch uncomfortably. She has a reputation for severity. There are rumors about bad things happening to those who cross her. She lets her hood fall back, revealing the mask that covers the ruined half of her face and lifts her metallic arm. Green Jim swallows hard.

“I’d gladly bed you, boy,” says Rose, sitting down slowly. “As long as you don’t mind the rot.”

Everyone else around the fire laughs as Green Jim relaxes.

It is the third day of the dive and Rose is running a crew for Nietch, the man they call The Spider. She is the best sniffer outside The Syndicate, bringing in hauls of Wraithstone that have made her boss into the most powerful man in the Southside Hive. Deep Delving is a dangerous business, far less sure but far more profitable than mining Wraithstone blooms in the badlands further away from The Gash, at least for small outfits.

As always, Rose seats herself across the fire from Geb. She likes looking at him, and does not mind that he knows it, The big man is often smiling, even in the deeps, even with the company he keeps. It does not hurt that Geb handsome in a rugged kind of way, confident, and even-tempered. He even smells nice.

Today though, her choice of seating has more meaning. She is careful to make certain that Chris Cackles is seated to her right, fearing hat if she can see him easily, she might give herself away. It is important that he does not know that she recognizes him, and thinks that she trusts

Like Green Jim, Cackles is new to her crew. Unlike Green Jim, he is an old hand to the deeps. In spite of his grey hair, he is an agile climber and a sharp-eyed scout. The men respect him already and he has already eased into his role on their expedition with little fuss.

“Listen up,” says Rose. “Geb, Scarab, Cackles, I want you to make sure everyone is prepared. Tomorrow we are going after a live one, near the underside of Syndicate territory, bounty on it and everything. You all know what that means.”

“Sure thing, Rose,” says Geb.

“Yes, boss,” say Scarab and Cackles.

“What’s a live one?” asks Green Jim.

“A bleedwarpt thing,” says Scarab, rolling his eyes. “Why the fuck d’you think we need an extra Lancer, boy?”

“I though you just liked my company, Scarab,” says Green Jim, acting hurt.

Most of them chuckle as Scarab gives the younger man a dark look.

“Bleedwarpt have some of the best Wraithstone inside ’em,” intones Cackles. “Not a lot, but potent stuff, full of power. The stones you get from them make the strongest juice… I’ve got a furnace in my shack that still runs off a Red I got from this Bleedwarpt rat-thing fifteen years ago. Have I told you the tale?”

As Cackles spins his tall tale, Rose is only half-listening. Her focus is on the day ahead, and how she intends to cross another name off her list before they leave the depths.

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The Shadow Wolf Sagas: The Whores’s War 3.47

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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Carmen emerged from the shadow of a drainpipe beside a window ledge two stories above the cobbles. She grinned down at me and then dropped to the ground, making barely a sound as she hit the ground.

“Did you really hear me, or were you just guessing Old Wolf?” she asked.

“You are never as quiet as you think Carmen. Did The Twins send you to watch my back?”

“They suggested that they would be grateful if I did,” she answered, looking around the street. “But even without them, The Nightblades have a vested interest in seeing you survive until the Whores’s War is over and you have returned to the north.”

“Am I allowed to know that?”

“Yes,” said Carmen, turning to face me. “I took a risk giving you the sword. Had you died, The Guild probably would have discarded me.”

“Discarded is a nice way of saying executed…”

“It sounds worse to me, actually. Execution at least has a level of formality. But you killed Ulfgorr and disgraced Wolki and The Guild is very pleased with us both.”

“Did I earn you a promotion?”

“Yes, actually,” said Carmen, stepping in close. Her scent washed over me.  “Feel free to claim your reward… Vethra and Eiskra don’t mind, I asked them.”

I laughed. I was certain that Carmen was serious, but her motives were not nearly as transparent as her body language.

“I think I will, but that will have to wait until I return from the North.”

“You’re coming back?”

“I am. If I am able.”

“I’m intrigued,” said Carmen, stepping back. “Care to share what you know?”

“With you or The Nightblades?”

“Ouch. Point taken.”

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The days after my meeting with Lily were a frenzy of meetings with The Doormen and Bouncers of the Doxies’s Union. After my name was cleared, my former influence returned. Many of the old hands who provided security at the Union’s various brothels had trained with me in Madame Glorianna’s day. They were as loyal as you would expect, and it was not hard to convince most of them that Diamond Silvermane was not good for the Doxies’s. This was no surprise to me, in truth.

What was gratifying is how much my name meant to the newer Doxies. I was no longer old Ragnar the Nordan, I was Ragnar, the guy who killed a werewolf to avenge Rake. News of my deeds had spread throughout the Union and members greeted me wherever I went. My very presence helped our cause. That was gratifying.

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A Teaser for Tuesday

Barring unforeseen events my next Domains of the Chosen book, Bloodlust: The Sum of Hate will release next week. Here is a taste:

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The body was pinned to a tree with javelins through each shoulder and one in the belly. It was easy to read pain in the features of the dead man, although softened by death and decay.

“This is bad,” said Elder Hissu.

“This is my father’s work,” said Riritaka. “He wants to cause panic.”

“Who is this man?” asked Gavin.

“He is known to me,” said Elder Hissu, sadly. “He is a trader among your people, beloved by both the Legionnaires and those who seek peace among the tribes.”

“The scouts tell me he was put here four days ago,” said Strategos Mora. “This was done while we were attending the sodding peace talks.”

“Yes, that sounds like Gotka,” said Riritaka. “He will come for us soon.”

“How far away from the fort are we?” asked Gavin.

“If we marched clear through the night we could get there in less than twenty hours,” said Strategos Mora. “We cannot outpace The Pale in the jungle though, Chosen. Only the best of the scouts could manage that feat, and even then, it would be risky.”

“Can we evade them?” asked Gavin.

“No,” said Strategos Mora. “We believe they watch us, even now.”

“It is possible,” said Chosen Brighthoof. “But surely not in numbers large enough to be a threat.”

“The watchers will be directing two groups,” said Riritaka. “One will be between us and the fort, the other will be trailing us.”

“Should we move to the coast then?” asked Gavin, trying to formulate a plan.

“They would expect that, would they not?” responded elder Hissu, turning to Riritaka.

“Yes,” said Riritaka. “The paths to the coast will be heavily trapped.”

“Strategos Mora, how far away are your men?” asked Gavin.

<> (The edits on this next part have not been approved, so this is raw.)

The Duellum Dominantium was one of the few times that both groups enter the fighting grounds at the same time.

Silvius, followed by the mountainous form of the Gorehound entered from the south, while Sadira and Sapphire Kiss entered from the north. A half-million fans, all on their feet, screaming and cheering, greeted the four Gladiators as their feet touched the white sands.

Sadira, known for her flashy entrances, merely gave a salute to the crowd and then plodded to the centre of the Arena. The audience was taken aback; those who hated Sadira filled the air with jeers and boos, while those who loved her felt a touch of fear at the sight of their vivacious hero looking wan and full of sorrow. Sapphire Kiss walked beside her like an energetic filly following in the wake of an old mare, eager and ready to fight.

Silvius strode across the sand, his hair spilling over his shoulders in magnificent curls, jaw set in a confident smile. Everything about him shone, from his armour and the edge of his Draklaive to his oiled skin. He stood a head taller than Sadira and Sapphire Kiss, and looked leaner and more powerful than he had in many years.

Behind him lumbered the Gorehound, huge and foreboding.

For The Duellum Dominantium, Quintus diKrass, the most famed arena announcer of the day had been brought out of retirement. He named each of the fighters in turn and they all gave a salute. Sadira’s was curt, in marked contrast the impressive flourish given by Silvius.

“It looks as if the flower of Daer has wilted,” intoned Silvius. “Have you come to regret challenging me, kitten?”

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.