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.

 

 

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Sunday Teaser: *kith and [Click]kith, Hooah and Avey

Fresh from a busy Sunday of re-writes, here is a teaser from Warbound: The Shield-Maiden.

“We could march back to the Domains,” said Auria.

“How is that possible?” said Teven sharply. “Is the ocean not in our way?”

“There is an Old Dwarven stronghold called Khazak-Krim,” said Auria. “The under-roads that run from it lead across the sea to Sudra, once on Sudra we could march back to the fortress at Sudra’s horn or even cross the archipelago and march up to the Trials.”

“A ancient dwarf fortress?” said Teven indignantly. “Old passages through the under-roads. We all know how that sort of journey turns out in books.”

“Enough Teven,” said the Legate evenly. “We should examine every possibility. It is possible that we will have to make our way home. The march is not our first choice; but we should study every eventuality and plan for every contingency that we can. Auria, draw up those maps so I can study them. I want to know everything relevant about the surrounding terrain and peoples as well. It seems likely that we will have to move and dig in on more favourable terrain. Warbound Legarda stay, everyone else you have your orders. Dismissed.”

“Avey, Legate,” came the chorus of voices.

A few decisions have been made in the wake of comments from early readers and editors.

I was originally using Ave as a form of emphasis, like the modern marine’s use of Hooah. This form of salutation carries connotations that I don’t want to invoke, so I changed it to Avey, which I can own.

Secondly the use of * to indicate a clicking sound, and ! for popping sounds was too confusing so I am now trying [Click] and pop instead. Honestly [Click]kith does look better than *kith.

Perspective and Revision: Raping Cirsei

Why did they change this scene?

Why did they change this scene?

Warning: Contains Game of Thrones Spoilers

I have written on this blog about how I feel that a fair bit of of the dregs of modern fantasy gets overly gratuitous with the rape scenes, to the point that rape is the norm in the narrative and other forms of sex and consenting relationships are ignored. My feelings are best summed up by this post.

I was reminded of this dislike when hearing about the reactions of fans of the latest Game of Thrones episode. Essentially, after bratty king King Joffrey’s dies, his father, Jaime, rapes his mother, Cirsei, on his corpse. Fans were somewhat surprised, because in the book the scene plays out very differently, with the act being consensual, and some might say initiated by Cirsei. There is an excellent article about fan reaction, and how we view rape and murder differently here. George RR Martin’s response was somewhat coy, but people should leave him be so he can finish his series.

Personally, I started to dislike the series (books) after book three. Martin is a brilliant writer who has changed the genre for the better, and is at least partially responsible for fantasy becoming more mainstream, especially for adult audiences. Nonetheless after book four I moved on, book five still sits at page 115 out of a thousand or so on my Goodreads reading list and will for some time. Still, I dislike hearing about TV producers rewriting this scene. It really changes the dynamic of power presented in the book.

In the books Cirsei, at least until she becomes a perspective character in book four (which I hated), is a dominant figure in the realm. In the relationship between herself and her brother Jaime, she is not presented as a victim but rather as a willing partner, if not the dominant one. Jaime is the one who seems to have doubts, while Cirsei is the one who does what has to be done to preserve her position. At times, I felt Jaime feared his sister. This change in the TV episode turns her into a victim, and removes the sense of agency that permeates her actions within the book. This de-fanging and debasement of the magnificent, malicious queen of Westeros seems to be a bit of a bumble for the show.

Perhaps my interpretation of the books is flawed, but I often saw Cirsei as a dark reflection of an Elizabethan queen: she was a woman who was surrounded by figures who gained power from strength of arms and the patriarchal structure but who transcended these with a pure will to power and ruthless efficiency. Her deeds were dark, but on a certain level I could respect her for playing the hand she was dealt very well. Perhaps this is why I disliked when she became a perspective character, and at times seems petty and almost childishly malignant.

Having Jaime rape Cirsei changes the way I view them both, and thus changes the way I view of one of the seminal relationships of the series here are a few reasons why:

  • Cirsei seems weaker: In the books at this point Cirsei seems unassailable in many ways. She rules through her sons and does what she wants. This includes banging her brother near Joffrey’s corpse. In the books she seems to be the dominant partner in the relationship at this point. Her power and her hunger are equal, if not greater, than her brother’s. She is no longer as strong in some ways, however…
  • Victims deserve sympathy: Being raped makes the audience feel more sympathy toward Cirsei. Here she has been victimized and violated, and it is hard to hate her for it. No matter what your view of the act you cannot deny that there is a big difference toward how you view a woman who has consensual intercourse in a chapel containing her dead son and someone who is raped in the same situation. What was an act of mad passion of two powerful people now becomes one with a definite victim. You can’t hate Cirsei or view her as the same sort villain after this, which is very different than the books.
  • Jaime cannot be redeemed, Cirsei can: In the books Jaime seems to be travelling the road to some sort of redemption, or at least reader sympathy. He wants to escape his sister. With Martin, redemption or growth is rarely certain, or even likely, but it was possible. Now Jaime seems more monstrous than he did even at the start of the series, when he drops a Stark kid out a damn window. Cirsei on the other hand is suddenly more redeemable, with our sympathy for her suffering making us view her actions in a different light. It might just be me, but I would it hard to see her as a villain after living through that kind of indignity. Plus, why wouldn’t she just kill Jaime.
  • What if this event influences the books? The TV series is popular. I often wonder how hard it would be to write with a series about my books airing, especially one with major differences. If anyone can handle the situation is is Martin, who has extensive knowledge of both mediums, but I do wonder if he will alter plans for Jaime/Cirsei to fit better with the show, where Jaime has turned out to be a real bastard and Cirsei is less fearsome.

In the end I think this is an excellent example of how changing a single act can change the way an entire set of characters is viewed, at least the best one since HanGreedo shot first.

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. 

Causality in Fantasy Story-building

Dresden Files: You dipped your fantasy story in my mystery story… and man was it awesome!

I love Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series. Not exactly a risky opinion these days, I know. However is an excellent illustration of my topic, partly because it acts as a bridge between Fantasy and that most causal of genres: the detective story. Jim Butcher is essentially a magical crime solver. His magic, the l world he lives in, and the situations  he finds himself in are based in fancy and myth and yet the way that the protagonist works his way through the story is reminiscent of a classic police or detective procedural. Harry Dresden may be a powerful wizard, but his main weapon is his brain, his ability to follow clues, and when all else fails — his stubborn insistence on following chain of causality no matter how brutal the path it leads him down.

Procedurals, detective stories, mysteries, and many other great novels of the modern era are all about linking that chain of events that leads the protagonist to the killer, helps solve a great mystery, or exposes a great wrong to the harsh light of reason. Part of the satisfaction of watching shows like Law and Order or CSI is in watching those links get made, bit by bit, even if we already know who perpetrated the crime. It is formulaic, but endlessly effective. Even subverting  this idea is exceptionally effective; one could argue that the story of Ned Stark in A Game of Thrones is partly that of a man of reason in a time when reason is vastly less important than position. In this fashion George RR Martin neatly subverts not only the idea of the Chosen one, but also the idea of the detective story, all in one go. Tough act to follow.

The protagonist does not have to be rational. In fact, lately we seem to prefer irrational, or deeply flawed crime solvers as a way of breaking the old formula of tough hard-bitten detectives with a soft spot for the dames. The chain of causality in this type of story does have to be rational, however, or it breaks the enjoyment of the reader far beyond simply subverting expectations. I’m sure a master writer can pull it off, but that is beside the point.

The basic narrative drivers of Fantasy have generally been quests, prophecies, great cycles, tragedy, Chosen Ones, or even just a desire for adventure. The causality driven narrative, be it a mystery, an investigation, or even a revealing glimpse at the grim mechanics of power that underlie an epic conflict, offer new possibilities for authors to exploit. The success of a causal narrative is in each link in the chain of events being logically satisfying and in the trials and revelations that the protagonist goes through to make the link. Naturally when the final link is made, something big should happen. Here are a few examples of archetypal Fantasy tales done up as causal narratives.

1) The Necromancer’s Bane: An unkillable necromancer has arisen to terrorize the kingdom. In most fantasy stories this would require that the heroes find some wise guide figure who can tell them how to kill the necromancer and then go on a quest to acquire the item, spell, or person than they need. The action is in the journey. In a more causal version of the tale, the heroes would have to study the black arts themselves and attempt to understand the necromancer’s powers. Once they reach an understanding of how to achieve the same unkillable state, which pretty much writes an interesting book in itself if your characters are fun, they can then move on to studying and understanding the necromancer and finally confronting him. A less grim version of the tale could be a military procedural wherein the heroes use their tactical acumen to analyze the necromancers capabilities, neutralize his forces, and then come up with a plan to defeat him without killing him. This sort of story presents a problem to be solved, generally a Fantastic/Magical problem and then follows the characters on the step by step solution.

2) Who Murdered the King?: A Fantasy world provides just as much fodder for a classic murder mystery as any other setting. In this case an important personage has been found dead and the protagonist has been called forth to solve the crime or is the only person who realizes that the wrong person has been accused. Magic provides plenty of opportunities and plenty of pitfalls in a murder mystery. Spells and magical abilities can lead to some creative capers, but the author must be very careful to use magic consistently and in such a way that the reader can guess how it has been used in the murder without prompting. This often requires a very detailed or familiar magic system with set rules, or a priori exposure to magic in the narrative. It is important not to make magic so powerful that it allows the protagonist to skip links in the chain of events. A spell that allowed the detective to speak to the dead and get a description of the murderer would make for a rather short mystery, for example.

3) The Mystery of the Fantastic: By far my favorite Fantasy twist on procedural narratives of any kind is the old x-files style formula of supernatural beings who have disguised their predations as normal seeming crimes. In this case the protagonists are people with special knowledge or dogged curiosity who see through the clever disguise and go about uncovering what sort of monsters are at work and exposing or confronting them. This can further feed into either #1 or #2 for a longer procedural. The Witcher games are an excellent example of this with the protagonist uncovering what sort of monster did what, and then researching how to kill said beast.

Teaser Tuesday

In one hand, the Executioner bore a large wickedly curved sickle and in other other a full sized headsman’s axe. Darius knew that even a man his size would have likely have trouble wielding such a weapon in a fight. Gladiators used the Gift to enhance their bodies, and Fiona’s muscles were like steel cables, far stronger than any normal person could be. Her armaments were made of exotic materials, custom made by master smiths and enchanted with potent runes and Darius, who admired craftsmanship, took in the details reverently.

Rose was impressed. Naturally, her Favourite Gladiatrix was Red Scorpion, who wore light armour and carried three swords.  

In the end I decided to go with a new Gladiator, a protege of one of the characters from the books, but someone whose main actions thus far occur in the short story. Mostly this reflects a desire to entertain old fan with something new, but it also makes it easier for me to fit the story into the continuum.

Modern Fantasy: Mercenary Characters (an Example)

This is a follow up to a previous post. In order to better illustrate the post I am going to create a fantasy mercenary company on the fly. Dwarves popped into my mind, followed closely by Dwarf Fortress. I’ll start there.

Siege Warfare. The sort of thing our company specializes in…

The Wandering Hearth: A Mercenary Company

Two Hundred Years ago a great Dwarven Fortress came under attack and was nearly destroyed. In the aftermatch, the King’s eldest son had the gall to suggest that the traditional ways were failing and that that the people needed to find new ways to combat their enemies or perish. This breach of etiquette shocked many, and influential people began to question prince Ironheart’s fitness to rule. However, the prince had many friends among the younger dwarves. The King took a pragmatic approach: he decided to send Prince Ironheart forth to found a new colony. The expedition would either succeed and bring a new land under Dwarven rule, or it would fail and show that the Prince was indeed inept. It seemed like a wise decision at the time.

Prince Ironheart, however, was as ambitious as he was charismatic. He led his company to the very gates of Old Mithras, thought lost after the Dragon Balsmog attacked long ago. Unfortunately the Dragon was still in the old ruin, woke and set upon the dwarves. Ironheart fell, valiantly defending his people from the Dragon’s wrath. His wife, the Dwarf who became known as “Sapphire” in the nine kingdoms of men led her people back to the old lands, braving many dangers, only to find the gates closed to them.

Without a home to call their own, the band of Dwarves turned to mercenary work. Constant travel had already hardened the band, and the mercenary profession was considered honourable in their kingdom. Their knowledge of mining and stonework made allowed them to make a fortune as siege specialists in the constant border disputes between petty barons and rival dynasties in the nine kingdoms. They took the name The Wandering Hearth, signifying that they had no home but with the company. “Sappire” proved a better leader than her husband, leading the band through many successes and weathering a few disasters. Her Grandchildren lead the company now, formed up of Dwarves, Humans, and even a few orcs.

The Characters

“Ruby” Ironheart: Ruby is the current leader of The Wandering Hearth. She is relatively new to the position, but has won the respect of several of the captains with an astute series of postings in the Middle Kingdoms border wars. Ruby is even tempered, but cultivates the reputation of being tempestuous outside of her inner circle, a lie aided by her red hair and a nose that has been broken once too often. Ruby has long term plans, she wants to modernize the Hearth and then she wants to somehow acquire a castle to act as a base of operations for the band… even marriage to a human  is acceptable if it furthers her goals.

Pug Ironheart: Pug is named after his father’s favourite dog. Suits him just fine. His father was a great man, those rumours of him being not right in the head after a mishap with a powder keg are the product of jealous hearts, Pug resents Ruby’s position as leader of the company, but supports her because of his deep sense of family honour. Pug has fought in over fifty battles and has the scars to prove it. He is a vicious fighter, a superb sapper, and is popular with his men, but sadly for Pug he does not have a head for sums or long term strategy. He would do anything to get back to the old Kingdoms.

“Bolt”, Vashtuth: Vashtuth is a massive Orc. Some claim he is half-ogre or even half-giant, but in truth both his parents were orcs who were captured when fighting against the Wandering Hearth, and allowed to live and work for their freedom. Vashtuth grew up in the company and followed his parents example, The other free orcs in the company now follow his lead. Vashtuth is Ruby’s right hand man and whip. He is rightly feared for his skill with a Dwarven Arbalest, a monstrous crossbow that he can fire faster and better than anyone alive. Vashtuth resents and detests “uncivilized” orcs, to the point where it causes problems.

“Silver”: Silver is a stunning woman of noble bearing. Ruby’s mother found her in a fishing village and paid for fer to learn how to act like a Nine Kingdoms noblewoman. Silver pretends to be a former noble who has thrown her lot in with the Wandering Hearth. She helps attract the sort of client who is only comfortable with dealing with other “blue-bloods”. Silver is skimming as much money as she can from her clients, ostensibly so she can leave the company and retire, but really because she has come to love duplicity and playing games with other people’s trust. She does not steel from the company directly, but her schemes could get them into trouble.

“Bells” Tinira Vandere: Tinira is a winter elf witch. She is on the run from her people and the company provides ample shelter in a far-away land. Bells as she is called in the company is a skilled magic-user who uses weather magic to create and predict favourable fighting conditions for the company and her alchemical lore to furnish them with potions and poisons. Her honesty about her own limits makes her both invaluable and reliable.  She seems demure, but actually has a nasty streak a mile wide. She has poisoned several mercenaries that she dislikes, but has covered her tracks so far. (The same sort of thing got her in trouble back home.)

“Broom” Orvin Dulak: Broom got his nickname from his spectacular facial hair. He leads the Black Lancers, a century of heavy horse that serves in the Wandering Hearth. Broom is a real man’s man with a heroic demeanor. He is fearless and follows orders well. One of the best century leaders,”Broom is one of the few people who is well regarded by everyone in the company. However, he is deeply ashamed of his criminal past and tries to cover it up any way he can.

“Ham, Beans, and Shiv”: Two burly Dwarves and a surly human, Ham, Beans, and Shiv are veterans of the Wandering Hearths line infantry. They are doughty fighters but famous for their grumbling and their near mutinous laziness outside of combat. They enjoy chess, drinking, and avoiding work and have a cheerfully psychotic approach to the business of slaughter. They come alive during battle and despite their gruff exteriors have risked their lives for each other on numerous occasions. Currently Shiv is taking an interest in Silver, and is saving up money to buy her something nice…

Siege Warfare makes for interesting action scenes and I think we have a decent enough mix of characters and personalities to work into several short tales or a longer work.