Thursday, June 21, 2018

How to Level Up

This week's question is, how do you level up as a writer?  And that's a really good question.  For me, the big answer is by lifting EVERYONE up.  The rising tide raises all boats.

That means being a mentor for up and coming authors.  That means being a champion for new books when they come out.  That means, when you're climbing over the wall, you reach back and take the hand of the person behind you.

So, I strive to do a few things: I try to treat every hopeful professional writer like the thing they are working on is the thing that will be their first sale.  I try to treat every struggling professional like their next thing is their big breakout.  I try to treat everyone I meet in this business like they are about to be the Next Big Thing. 

To me, that's just common courtesy.

Now, I'm sure I've had moments where I've failed this metric.  There's been plenty of times where I've been in my own head and not realized how my actions could be perceived.  Trust, as the line from Twelfth Night goes, that it's something of my negligence, nothing of my purpose.

That's also why it's important to me to pay things forward.  Things like teaching at workshops, or talking to prospective SFF writers at the Writers League of Texas Conference.  These things matter. 
Because nothing helps you level up better than helping others.  So have at it.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Staying Out of those Painted Corners

If you've been paying attention to me and my various babbling on writing, you know I'm a big fan of the outline.  I try to avoid the whole "paint myself in a corner" problem by sorting out the big path of the plot beforehand.  If I know the line of things from A to B to C and so on, I'm less likely to get lost in the weeds in the first place.  Now, that doesn't mean that sometimes things don't work, or I write a bit in one direction and go, "Wait, I need to go back and thread something else in here to be the way out."  

But I know how the whole story hangs together, and that's because I have the outline.  (And the outline of the larger arcs, etc.)  And the outline tends not to have plot cul-de-sacs or corners I paint myself into because it's got a solid structure.

I've talked about the twelve-part outline structure before, and it's the basic scaffolding I use to craft an outline.  Here it is:
  1. Establishment: Show character(s) and initial situation. Here’s where you set up not only who your main character(s) is, but what the rules of the road are.  What is “normal” for your story?  If there is magic, for example, you need to let the reader know here.  Especially in a genre story, you need to make it clear what’s going on.
  2. Incitement: Incident or new information spurs protagonist. This may be interwoven with Establishment, or exist on its own, but the important this is that the something changes to throw us out of the Established “normal” and gets the protagonist acting. 
  3. Challenge: Minor antagonists come into play. You can’t throw the big guns at your protagonist yet.  Either your protagonist isn’t aware of the Big Bad yet, or doesn’t understand the scope of what is happening, or just plain isn’t ready for the big picture yet.
  4. Altercation:  Conflict with minor antagonists.  Give your protagonist a hard-won victory, even if it’s minor or only symbolic.  This lets you show your protagonist as having the competence and drive to deserve being at the center of the story. 
  5. Payback:  Minor antagonists report back to major, allowing a strike back.  That hard-won victory may have felt good, but it isn’t without consequences.  Perhaps it means that your Big Bad just re-evaluated your protagonist, and has elevated the threat level from Nuisance to Problem.
  6. Regrouping: Protagonist reacts to the payback, possibly in an ineffective way; thinks confrontation is over, relaxes.  Here is where your protagonist has another victory, but not the victory they think they’ve had.  This is where they make a mistake, be it underestimating the antagonist, or just sloppy pride.  That deep character flaw you’ve woven into them is set up to bite them back.
  7. Collapse: Protagonist loses stability and safety of base situation.  Everything falls apart.  Whatever your protagonist thought they could count on crumbles under their feet.   
  8. Retreat: Protagonist must leave base situation to escape threat from main antagonist. Deal them that serious blow.  Force their hand.
  9. Recovery: Protagonist establishes a new situation, enough to be stable and safe. You need to give them a chance to lick their wounds, figure out where they stand, and if they can accept that.
  10. Investment: Personal reason forces protagonist back into fray with main antagonist—they won’t choose to walk away.  This is where you make your heroes.  At this stage, a lesser protagonist would cut their losses, admit defeat.  Your protagonist can’t do that.  It’s time to see this to the end.
  11. Confrontation: Goes after main antagonist, partly to reclaim investment. Now you’re at the climax. 
  12. Resolution: Defeat of main antagonist, which can create a new base situation or re-establish stability of original one.
If this is a useful tool for you, by all means, use it.  I developed it because I needed it in my toolbox, and it's been a very helpful thing for me.  If it helps you as well, all the better.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Saving the Mental Energy for the Work

Everyday, my social media feeds are kind of an assault.

Like, the world is a trash fire and there are tweets and links and stories pretty much every hour on the hour (and every minute in between) reminding you that things are horrible and people are garbage.  This is both for the world at large, and in the microcosm of the SFF Community.

(Not everyone, and I do try to make a point of reminding us all of that.)

A lot of times, you pretty much have to make a choice: do you watch the trash fire, or do you do the work?  Which wolf do you feed?

(And that's not even getting into the creative-energy-drain that is other parts of life, family, finances, work, household, etc., etc.)

So how do I keep my head clear so I can work?  Honestly, a lot of willful ignorance.  A lot of deciding NOT to pay attention to the trashfire.  Admittedly, a lot of that comes down to privilege: the worst of the trashfire things are NOT attacks on me or my daily life.  I'm able to ignore it in ways others don't have the luxury to.  And I need to so I can get my work done.

There's enough horrible in the world as it is, people.  Be excellent to each other.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Announcement: Blogging Semi-hiatus

So, some seven years ago I made a decision that made a lot of sense at the time.  I had a website and a blog, but I wasn't doing much of anything with them.  After attending some seminars at DFWCon, I decided I needed to be regular and habitual about blogging, and so I pledged to blog every Monday and Thursday, rain or shine.

And for seven years, I've held to that, even when I've not really had a lot to say.  Partly for the pure discipline of it, and partly to maintain a steady presence on here.  I wanted anyone who came to my website to be able to say, "Hey, this guy is reliable, this guy sticks with what he sets out to do."  I mean, the web is littered with tumbleweed-filled fledgling-author sites where they have a flurry of "I'm totally gonna do this blog thing" posts, and then they drizzle out to nothing. 

But here's the thing: I don't have to prove, to myself or the world at large, that I can reliably work with discipline.  I've got the bonafides: between seven books in three-and-a-half years, two more on the way, and seven years of regular twice-a-week blogs, I've shown that in spades.  Plus regularly posting here is time and energy that takes away from actual writing.  Between what I have on deck and other projects I have planned, I've got enough working that I don't ALSO need to habitually blog for its own sake.  And posting-for-its-own sake was starting to feel like the signal-to-noise ratio was getting low.

So, for the foreseeable future, I won't be posting regularly on Mondays any more.  I will still do Thursdays at SFFSeven and mirror those posts here.  And I'll post when I have something significant to announce, or some topic I really want to talk about, but not to any set schedule. 

If you are looking for things-I-want-to-talk-about-not-to-any-set-schedule, of course, follow my Twitter.  It's fun and I have pictures of food.

Now back to the word mines.  See you all down there.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

It's not where you get your ideas, it's how you fuel your tank

"Where do you get your ideas?" is the question put to authors a lot, and it's fundamentally the wrong question.

The ideas are always out there.  They are almost irrelevant.  If you're looking for them, if you're thinking creatively of how to integrate them to each other, you'll find them.  What matters is how you turn that idea in to a story.

And that goes into how you're keeping your tank full.

By which I mean, as a writer, you should always be taking in input while you're making output.  That doesn't necessarily mean Read All The Books--- but you should be reading, of course-- but any other thing that can fuel your imagination: movies, television, music, art, anything.  That's what's going to give you the little bits that weave together to become new ideas. 

And you need that.  You can't keep driving on an empty tank.  It never works.

Monday, May 28, 2018

More German News



It's been a busy weekend, friends, so I'll just share some quick news.  In a couple months we'll be getting the second German Maradaine novel, DIE CHRONIKEN VON MARADAINE - DIE FEHDE DER MAGIER.  (i.e., A Murder of Mages).  Well, now I can tell you that next February Bastei Lubbe will put out the third, DIE ALCHEMIE DES CHAOS.  And it's got a pretty swank cover.
Beyond that, I've got plenty of work to get to.  Summer is around the corner.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

My current WIP: The Shield of the People

Talking about my current WIP is a bit odd, because it's the sequel to a book that you all haven't read yet.  I mean, I could talk about my favorite bits in THE SHIELD OF THE PEOPLEbut it's lacking context for you. 

One thing I am enjoying in this one-- and to a lesser degree this applies to THE WAY OF THE SHIELD as well-- is a different kind of antagonist.  At least one of them. Namely, I have an antagonist whose goal is something that is a complete anathema to Dayne, but methods that are completely in sync with him.  So Dayne doesn't respect what the antagonist wants to do, but deeply respects the way he's trying to go about it, and therefore the person doing it.

One of the things I like about this series is a lot of the characters are fundamentally good people who are trying to do good things-- but they each have a very different idea of what that means.  That leads to, for me, fascinating situations of the lines between rebellion, revolution and lawlessness, and where those lines fall when, fundamentally, you believe in the system.

A lot of that is what The Maradaine Elite series is about.
That, and cool fight scenes.  Always cool fight scenes.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Bonus Material: Maradaine Calendar

Hello, Readers: The end of May is turning into a busy time, both in terms of writing and with various things on the homefront.  (My son is graduating from high school, for one, and that brings with it a lot of stuff.) 

So, here's a bit of bonus material I can share-- the sort of thing that's in the Saga Bible.  Here's the calendar for Maradaine and Druthal for the year 1215-- the year the various Maradaine series are set in.  This gives you a sense of the bigger picture in terms of when each story is happening. (With some redactions for the future, because, hey, there's a contest going on.)

As for me, back to it.  Plenty of work to do.  See you later.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Choosing Titles

Titles are a strange beast in this business.  On some level, they're immaterial to the book, in and of itself.  The title is there for marketing purposes, a quick and easy way to set the tone of your book.  The shortest version of your elevator pitch.

But on the other hand, I think about them for a long time.

Almost every one of my books had some working title that didn't survive contact with reality. The Thorn of Dentonhill was just "Tools of the Trade" in draft.  The Holver Alley Crew was "The Fire Gig".  An Import of Intrigue was "The Little East".  And many times that working title is definitively and only a working title, one that I knew even then was not for public consumption.  Imposters of Aventil was merely "Wingclipper", as the original one-paragraph concept focused more on one of the antagonists. 

About the only one that lasted all the way through: Lady Henterman's Wardrobe.  For some reason I always knew that was the title of the second Asti & Verci story.

I've mentioned that the books up to People of the City (original working title... is a spoiler) marks the end of Phase I of Maradaine things, and if you know me, you know I'm a planner, and yes, I do have a plan for Phase II and Phase III.

And those Phase II books have tentative titles.  They still may change between now and when they are written and released, but that's the plan for now.

So, how about a little contest?  Below I'm going to put eight hints for eight prospective Phase II Maradaine Novels. And so we're on the same page, these titles each would represent Book Four and Five of the four respective series, but I've mixed up the order so it's not completely obvious what's what.

Email your guesses to me before AUGUST 1st, 2018.  The entry that is the most correct (or, barring that, most entertaining in incorrectness) will win an ARC of THE WAY OF THE SHIELD, limited to mailing in US and Canada.  Sound good?  Here goes:

The Q_____ G_____
The A_____ of C_____
The S_____ of the C_____
An U_____ of U_____ M_____
The C_____ of the C_____
A P_____ of P_____
The N_____ K_____ of R_____ S_____
A_____ and D_____

Happy guessing!

Monday, May 14, 2018

Happy (Belated) Mother's Day!


It was just Mother's Day, so what better way to celebrate than to remember my favorite fictional mother, Satrine Rainey, heroine of the Maradaine Constabulary books.  

It was just Mother’s Day, so what better way to celebrate than to remember my favorite fictional mother, Satrine Rainey, heroine of the Maradaine Constabulary books.

Especially since German Satrine has a bad-ass coat.  Look at what she's rocking.

So the Germans have to wait a couple more months to meet Satrine, but between A Murder of Mages and An Import of Intrigue AND her guest-starring in The Imposters of Aventilyou've got three books of her to enjoy before A Parliament of Bodies comes out next year.

So if you haven't checked out A Murder of Mages yet, get on that.  Here’s a few more review highlights:
First, over at Mutt Cafe:
I love a well done classic fantasy, particularly when it’s combined with my other love, mystery. A Murder of Mages, Maresca’s debut Maradaine Constabulary novel, does just that.
Next, over at Books and Ladders:
I quite enjoyed Satrine. She was a badass and did what she had to in order to survive and provide for her family. I am looking forward to seeing more of her quick wit in action because she was a treat to read about.
Chris from SFandF Reviews:
“The presence of the city, a dark, grimy, lively place, invades the reader by degrees. It’s not a place that leaps off of every page – but rather, one that seeps into your fingers as you turn those pages.”
From Bibliotropic:
“Maresca’s novels are certainly getting attention from fantasy readers, and I’d say it’s well-deserved. Quick reads, good action, and just generally very fun books to have around. I’m already a fan of both branches of Maradaine novels, and I’m looking forward to what new fun stories he’ll tell in that world in the future.”
From Bookaneer:
“Interesting characters, intricate worldbuilding, and a mystery that kept me hooked? Count me in for the sequel. It can’t come soon enough.”
From Powder and Page:
“Without hesitations, I would say that A Murder of Mages deserves 5 out of 5 stars!”
And, of course, if you want to read an excerpt, there’s one here.

Satrine Rainey: Former street rat. Ex-spy. Wife and mother who needs to make twenty crowns a week to support her daughters and infirm husband.  To earn that, she forges credentials and fakes her way into a posting as a constabulary Inspector.
Minox Welling: Brilliant Inspector. Uncircled Mage. Outcast of the stationhouse.  Partnered with Satrine because no one else will work with “the jinx”.

Their first case together—the ritualized murder of a Circled mage—brings Satrine back to the streets she grew up on, and forces Minox to confront the politics of mage circles he’s avoided.  As more mages are found dead, Satrine must solve the crime before her secrets catch up with her, and before her partner ends up a target.

READ AN EXCERPTGoodreads Page for A MURDER OF MAGESAvailable at AmazonBarnes & NobleIndieBound and more!

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Maradaine On My Mind

The question put forward this week at SFFSeven is the open-ended "What's on your mind?" (i.e., there's no real topic this week), and frankly any given week, the big thing on my mind is Maradaine.  Because, frankly, you can't write four intertwining series set in the same magical city without it occupying a fairly sizable portion of your brainspace.How that's manifesting right now is two-fold.  One is drafting The Shield of the Peoplewhich I will confess I was having some challenges with, but-- thanks to the other part of the manifestation (see below)-- I've figured out a large chunk of what my problem was and have hacked through that to see the problems in my initial outline.

It's been good stuff.

The other part has been a massive reorganization and re-examination of the material and notes.  I talk about spreadsheets upon spreadsheets, and that's key, but a good part of what I need to do is have a Saga Bible for the whole Maradaine project.  And every year or so I need to just plain STOP and clean it up, maintain it, and get it up to date.  Especially when little changes to the larger picture have created a butterfly effect.  For example, I don't have accurate summaries of THE IMPOSTERS OF AVENTIL or A PARLIAMENT OF BODIES-- I have summaries of the outline as they existed before writing the actual books. 

SPOILERS
SPOILERS
So I'm rebuilding a lot of the material in the Saga Bible from the bottom up right now.  Which is something of an undertaking, but a valuable one, because it helps keep the material fresh in my mind, and helps me see the bigger picture.  Which I needed to get through the wall I was having with SHIELD OF THE PEOPLEas well as getting me in the needed headspace for writing THE FENMERE JOB and PEOPLE OF THE CITY.  

So that's how I'm keeping my head on now.  Hope I can keep it there.

Monday, May 7, 2018

First Look at THE WAY OF THE SHIELD

This year is going by quickly-- it's already May! Since we're only a few months away from THE WAY OF THE SHIELD coming into the world.  I thought it would be a good time to give you all a little excerpt so you had a taste of Dayne and his world.  I'm excited for you to meet him, and get as engrossed in the fourth facet of the Maradaine Saga as I am. 

The Way of the Shield releases on October 9th.


The museum was on Fenyon Street, on the stretch between the Parliament House and the Royal College campus—the triangle of city blocks that wasn’t quite in any neighborhood. Upon approach, it looked like a large noble house, with wide marble stairs from the street to the giant, open doors.
Jerinne stopped on the front steps. “Who lived here?” she asked absently.
“I don’t think anyone,” Dayne said. “Most of this block is owned jointly by the College and Parliament. These houses are used as guest lodgings for scholars and other important visitors to Maradaine.”
“So the museum usurped one?” Jerinne asked.
“I’m sure that wasn’t the language used. The museum, in all likelihood, is a joint project of the Royal College and the Parliament. Not to mention some nobleman holding the purse.”
They reached the main doors, where two King’s Marshals had guard duty, in their crisp blue and white coats, matching felt caps and tasseled rapiers.
“A pair of Tarians!” one of them said, with more than a little contempt in his voice.
“What brings you two out here all dandied up?” the other asked. Dayne thought this was particularly ironic, given their standard uniform.
“We’re here for the opening of the museum,” Dayne said. “I was informed it was a public event.”
“Public event,” the first one said, with a strange nod that was half neck-crack. “But we’ve got two members of Parliament, quite a few nobility rubbing elbows in there. Care must be taken.”
“Meaning you’ve got to check your swords and shields here, with us,” the second said.
Jerinne stepped forward, “Why would we have to—”
“Because we’ve got to keep people safe,” the first marshal said. “You Tarians know about that.”
“Exactly, we are members of the Tarian Order and as such we should be given—”
“You’re not members,” the second marshal said. “You’re a Candidate and Initiate. I know blasted well what those marks on your collars mean. Now you can either turn in your arms and enjoy the museum, or you can dust your feet on the walkway.” Dayne knew pips and ranks as well, and this marshal was a marshal chief—equivalent to captain in the Constabulary. Regine Toscan, by his brass nameplate. Not worth picking an argument with over no matter what. Surprising that someone of that rank would be working the door at this event.
“It’s fine,” Dayne said, unhooking his sword. “We’re here for culture, Jerinne. Not a fight.” He passed it and his shield to the first marshal, and Jerinne did the same.
“Thank you, friends,” Chief Toscan said. “You can collect your belongings upon your exit.”
As the walked away Jerinne whispered in his ear, “That was complete posturing. They think—”
“That security of this event is their responsibility,” Dayne said. “We’re not here to use our weapons. It’s fine.”
Dayne looked around the entry hall, which truly was a grand and impressive lobby. A lot of work had to have been done to transform this building into the museum. Portraits of every king of Druthal for the past twelve centuries filled the walls. Maradaine the First hung just to the left of the door, with a brass plaque identifying him and his reign. It circled the room chronologically, with gaps at the entryways to other exhibits. Intricately woven ropes barred off entry to the other exhibits.
Along the back wall, in front of the disastrous kings of the seventh century, a small stage had been assembled. Several well-dressed people milled about up there, as well as other men in scholastic robes. Dayne didn’t recognize anyone up on the stage, but the two men in dark suits with silk cravats were clearly members of Parliament. Flanking the stage were two sweeping stairways, leading to a balcony rounding the entire room, and presumably containing additional exhibits.
Dayne searched through the crowd, looking to see if his new friends from The Nimble Rabbit were around. The crowd was diverse, though it mostly consisted of minor nobility, mixed with several students from the Royal College. But he was thrilled to see how many people were here, and the attention to detail that was being paid, both to the museum itself and the spectacle of the event.
What thrilled Dayne the most was the servers. Someone had spared no expense on this event, as a dozen servers weaved their way among the crowd with trays of culinary delights and cups of wine. The servers were dressed in authentic eleventh-century outfits, including the red neckerchiefs covering their faces. They looked exactly like the classic depictions of the ad-hoc army that filled the streets in 1009 to help reclaim the city and the throne for Maradaine XI.
Someone put a lot of money and care into making this happen.
“Dayne!” A woman’s voice called through the crowd. Warm, refined, and so very familiar. Dayne turned to its source, his heart quickening just at the thought of who it might be.
There she was, the very picture of Druth elegance, her richly embroidered peach dress complimenting her fair skin, though with her white gloves and the lace veil on her hat, very little of her skin was to be seen. Her delicate blond curls spilled down her back, and her dark blue eyes hinted at wisdom beyond her age. She cut her way across the hallway, one handmaiden at her side.
“Lady Mirianne,” he said with a bow. Jerinne, he noticed out the corner of his eye, followed his lead.
“No bowing,” Lady Mirianne said. Her gloved hand touched the side of his face, leading him back to standing. “How is it you are here?”
“I’ve only just come back to Maradaine, my lady,” Dayne said. “If I may, this is Jerinne Fendall, second-year Initiate to the Order.”
“Your servant, my lady,” Jerinne said, offering her hand.
“I have no need of more, Miss Fendall.” Mirianne took her hand gently. “Lady Mirianne Henson, daughter to the Earl of Jaconvale.”
“How is your father?” Dayne asked.
She gave a playful slap to his arm. “I’ve not seen your beautiful face for nearly three years and you ask after my father.”
“I’m sorry, my lady,” Dayne said. “I only thought it—”
“Proper, as always. Dear, sweet, proper Dayne. He’s quite well, happy at the estate in Jaconvale. He’s not a fan of traveling to the city anymore, so the household here is effectively mine.” She turned to her handmaiden. “Is he not adorable?” Her smile was a treasure, Dayne had almost forgotten how lovely she was.
“I should have asked after you first, my lady.”
“No,” Lady Mirianne said. “How are you back in Maradaine?”
Dayne glanced over to Jerinne, and at the handmaiden. “It is an involved tale, lady, and not one for public telling.”
She nodded. “Of course. I will hold you to a private counsel later.” She gave a light trill of a laugh, and a knowing wink to her handmaiden. Turning back to Dayne, she added, “I know why you are here, of course. A history museum must have been like honey to a fly.”
Dayne grinned, despite himself, taking another look around the wide entry hall. “I have to admit, this is incredible. I’m amazed at what they’ve done.”
“Thank you,” Lady Mirianne said. “It was quite the undertaking.”
“You had a hand in all this?” Dayne asked. Of course, he should have guessed it. If anyone had both the means and the desire to make a monument to Druth history, it would be the Earl of Jaconvale and his daughter. It was through them he had developed his own love for the subject, as well as the sponsorship that led him to the Tarian Order.
“Mostly organizing the funding. Professor Teal and his team were the real champions.” She pointed over to the stage, where Teal and other scholars now sat patiently behind the Parliamentarians.
“Will he be speaking?” Dayne asked. During his Initiacy he had had the privilege to sit in on a handful of lectures at the RCM. Professor Teal was a living treasure of Druth history, possibly the most knowledgeable and dynamic speakers on the subject.
“Not until the fools from the Parliament have their chance to babble,” Lady Mirianne said. She took his hand. “Let me show you something.”
“What?” Dayne asked, surprised at her soft gloved hand staying curled around his.
“There’s an exhibit you should see. Please.”
“But . . .” They hadn’t actually opened the exhibits yet. “The speeches.” He said it halfheartedly. He knew the Parliament speeches would be less than thrilling.
“It won’t take long,” she said. She turned to her handmaiden, “Jessel, keep company with Miss Fendall.”
“As you say, Lady.” Jessel curtsied.
Lady Mirianne pulled Dayne to the side as he gave one last look over to Jerinne. The Initiate merely smirked at Dayne, and then gave her attention to Jessel.
Dayne followed along after Lady Mirianne, and they slipped under one of the ropes, with Lady Mirianne nodding to one of the servants as they went. They entered a back stairwell, Lady Mirianne giving Dayne the same impish smile she would use back at her father’s manor when she snuck into the stables. As they ascended, he wondered if her intentions had anything to do with an exhibit.
“Don’t even look at this room,” she said when she pulled him off the stairs on the next level.
“But I thought—”
“You’re just going to get angry.” She went to the opposite end of the gallery.
“Why would I get angry?” Dayne asked, but then he saw the large portrait filling one entire wall. He stopped dead in his tracks and stared at the monstrosity. “The blazes?”
“I knew you’d hate this,” she said, coming back to his side.
The portrait was of ten eleventh-century figures, recognizable to even a casual student of history. “The Grand Ten? In a portrait together?”
“I know what you’re going to say,” Lady Mirianne said.
“They were never all in the same room together!” Dayne said. “Most of them never even met!” And yet, here, in the museum curated and blessed by the Druth Historic Society, the Grand Ten sat and stood together, in one enormous portrait. Of course, each one of the Grand Ten were instrumental in the Reunification of 1009, key figures in history. Dayne wouldn’t deny that. But the tendency to rewrite history, to pretend that they had been some sort of united club that organized the Reunification—that set his teeth on edge.
“I know,” Lady Mirianne said. “It was the Honorable Mister Barton’s idea. His one adamant insistence.”
“Mister Barton? Who is that?”
“He’s in the Parliament. Traditionalist from our archduchy.”
“Why did he insist on this?” Dayne asked.
“He’s very passionate about the Grand Ten. He even commissioned the portrait from his own purse.”
“Waste of money,” Dayne said. “It’s just bad history.”
“I’m well aware,” Lady Mirianne said. “Though if you look at it as an ten individual portraits put together, it is well done.”
Dayne nodded. “Individually, yes. All classically done.” They all were at their most iconic. Geophry Haltom, The Parliamentarian, with his red neckerchief, like the servers were wearing downstairs. Baron Kege, The Lord, with broken manacles on his wrists and his head held high. Oberon Micarum, The Warrior, in the full uniform of a Spathian Master. “I was just talking to the Grandmaster about how Oberon is the main reason why the Spathians still stand.”
“And Xandra Romaine?” she asked.
“And Xandra Romaine, yes.” It hurt his heart that the Order was not only considered a relic, maintained just out of gratitude to two historical figures, but that this narrative was so ingrained that they didn’t even have to explain it to each other.
Then he looked over to The Mage—Xaveem Ak’alassa—an Imach whose magical skills were instrumental in defeating the leader of the Incursion and restoring Maradaine XI to the Druth throne. The depiction of Xaveem was ridiculous: Druth clothing, and a skin tone only slightly darker than the rest of the group. Save the curved blade on his hip, there was nothing in his appearance to identify him as Imach.
“Classically done, indeed,” Dayne said. “This sort of history is troubling. It inflates the importance of some people for the sake of narrative, ignoring the important work of people like Lief Frannel or Hanshon Alenick, or—”
“Please don’t get too upset,” Lady Mirianne said, cutting him off from his rant. That was probably wise, and she knew him well enough to not let him get worked out over these things. “This isn’t what I wanted to show you.”
“Of course,” Dayne said, turning away from the aggravating painting. “Lead on, my lady.”
She took his hand. “Enough with the ‘my lady’, Dayne Heldrin. Especially when we’re alone.”
“That’s asking quite a lot,” Dayne said.
“I have the privilege of asking a lot,” she said, flashing another mischievous smile. “I am a Lady, after all. This is it.”
The new room opened up into a wide oval, with twelve mannequins on small platforms, forming a semicircle. Each mannequin was faceless, dressed with uniforms, armor, and weapons, some of which were centuries out of style. Only two had modern design, in the center of the semicircle. The one on the left wore the same gray coat and tunic that Dayne was wearing, save the coat bore the epaulets and insignia of a Master. That mannequin stood in classic Position Three, round shield high and short sword held low.
The brass plaque at its feet read “Master of the Tarian Order”.
The other mannequins each represented a different Order, almost all of which had long been inactive or disbanded—all but the Tarians and the Spathians, represented by the other central mannequin. The Vanidian—forest guardian with axe and bow. The blue uniformed Hanalian, the antecedent of the King’s Marshals downstairs. The fully armored Grennian. The healing master Ascepian. Pike-wielding Braighian. All these mighty and honored Elite Orders that had been abandoned or folded into the army or other new organizations.
“This is . . . incredible,” he said, his voice cracking just a bit in his attempt to hold back the tear in his eye.
“I knew you would appreciate it.” She came up behind him, placing her arm in the crook of his elbow. “Mister Barton insisted on the Grand Ten. This . . . this is what I insisted on.”
A smile found its way to Dayne’s lips. “You really were listening to me.”
She stepped around and faced him. “Always.”
Dayne couldn’t resist her any longer, and had no reason to. He bent down to kiss her.
Before he could, screams cut through the air.

Dayne Heldrin always dreamed of being a member of the Tarian Order. In centuries past, the Elite Orders of Druthal were warriors that stood for order, justice, and the common people. But now, with constables, King’s Marshals, and a standing army, there is little need for such organizations, and the Tarian Order is one of the last remnants of this ancient legacy. Nevertheless, Dayne trained his body and mind, learned the arts of defense and fighting, to become a candidate for the Tarian Order.

When a failed rescue puts Dayne at fault for injuring the child of a powerful family, his future with the Tarians is in jeopardy. The Parliament controls the purse strings for the Order, and Dayne has angered the wrong members of Parliament. He returns to the capital city of Maradaine in shame, ready to be cast out of the Order when the period of his candidacy ends.

Dayne finds Maradaine in turmoil, as revolutions and dark conspiracies brew around him, threatening members of Parliament and common people alike. Dayne is drawn into the uproar, desperate not to have one more death or injury on his conscience, but the Order wants him to stay out of the situation. The city threatens to tear itself apart, and Dayne must decide between his own future and his vow to always stand between the helpless and harm.
Goodreads Page for THE WAY OF THE SHIELDAvailable at AmazonBarnes & NobleIndieBound and more!

Thursday, May 3, 2018

ArmadilloCon Writers' Workshop: A Resource for Leveling Up


It's time again for me to talk about the ArmadilloCon Writers' Workshop.  Registration is now open for the workshop, until June 15th, and if you're looking for a resource to up your writing game, this is a great one.

There are a lot of great workshop programs out there, but most of those require a couple weeks and a few thousand dollars, and not everyone can afford that kind of commitment.  This workshop is a lot more affordable, both in time and money.

I give it a lot of credit toward putting me on the right path as a writer.  And there are quite a few other notable alumni: Stina Leicht, Nicky Drayden, Patrice Sarath, Vivien Jackson, just to name a handful. So should you sign up this year?  Heck yeah.  Look at this line-up:
  • Rebecca Schwarz (Workshop Director)
  • Holly Black
  • David Bowles
  • Christopher Brown
  • Cassandra Rose Clarke
  • Nicky Drayden
  • William Ledbetter
  • Stina Leicht
  • Marshall Ryan Maresca
  • Jessica Reisman
  • Patrice Sarath
  • Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam
  • Martha Wells
  • D. L. Young
(See, powerhouse alumni come back to teach, because we believe in it.)

So if you're in or near Austin, or just needed the excuse to come, what more do you need?  More details here.

Monday, April 30, 2018

AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR and Sympathetic Villains (SPOILERS)

So, I saw AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR this weekend because of course I did (I mean, with a cursory knowledge of my tastes you know I would be all over this.)  Short, non-spoiler version of this: I really enjoyed it.

Also, I'm kind of in marvel (ha!) at it.  Because it's an incredible technical achievement, on every level of filmmaking craft.  Given that so many elements were likely filmed in isolation-- I imagine Chris Hemsworth barely saw any of the other actors, and the Big Battle probably had a number of elements that were never in the same room-- it's amazing how well it all comes together.  I mean, filmmaking is already painting individual pieces of a jigsaw puzzle and hoping it makes something beautiful when it comes together.  This movie is like cutting each piece individually, then painting them, and then trying to even make the pieces fit.  It's a miracle for that alone.

But I think it really works.

Time for spoilers.  Bail now if you need to.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Perils of the Writer: Trend Chasing

So, the other day I was on a fantasy-lit based message board, and saw someone comment, "I want some fantasy-inspired music, but I don't like heavy metal.  What else is there?"

And I thought, "What are they talking about?  How is heavy metal the go-to trend in 'fantasy-inspired music'?"  And then it hit me:
fantasy music:heavy metal::fantasy lit:grimdark
(If I gave you SAT flashbacks with that, I apologize.)

But the analogy fits-- both fill the same subgenre niche, and both seem to be a popular trend at the moment.  And, I'll confess, I've never been too keen on the grimdark (nor heavy metal), but people like it and it's got some good stuff out there. Or, more correctly, there are a lot of works out there that I recognize their quality, while also recognizing that they are not for me.  And that's OK.  That's the thing with trends-- sometimes they'll be happening around you and you feel out of the loop because you just don't get why it's a thing.

Grimdark feels to be a strong trend in the genre right now, at least in the circles I have my eye on.  But trends change, so we'll see what's next.  I certainly would like it if people gravitated toward heroic fantasy, epic in scope but personal in scale.  I may know a book or two along those lines.

But what will the next fantasy trend be?  If I'm reading the tea leaves correctly (and lord knows I'm probably not), it's non-traditional secondary-world fantasy.  Things that really play with their worldbuilding, creating settings that are recognizable in totally different ways.  Stuff like the 1960s-ish secondary Asia of Jade City. Or the upcoming Titanshade by Dan Stout, set in a magical 1970sesque setting with 8-tracks and disco.  I'm looking forward to that one. 

Maybe that's why a part of my brain is churning away with a vague idea involving a dieselpunk secondary-world setting and this helmet.

But it's still just early churnings.  We'll see what develops.

Monday, April 23, 2018

COVER REVEAL for A PARLIAMENT OF BODIES

I'm very excited about this excitement, and I know many readers have been patiently waiting for the next installment of the Maradaine Constabulary.  I'm sure The Imposters of Aventil gave you a bit of a Satrine and Minox fix, but you're waiting for the real thing.  And I am sorry that Way of the Shield has delayed the release of Parliament of Bodies for a few more months, but as you can see below, there's a very good reason for that:

Yes!  Satrine and Minox will be teaming up with Dayne from The Maradaine Elite series.  It's an exciting and thrilling story of our heroes racing the clock(work) to save lives, and one again Paul Young's incredible work has given us something fantastic and evocative.   You may have to wait until March 2019, but this taste should get your gears turning.

The city of Maradaine is vexed by the Gearbox Murders: a series of gruesome deaths orchestrated by a twisted mechanical genius. With no motive and no pattern, Inspectors Satrine Rainey and Minox Welling— the retired spy and untrained mage— are at a loss to find a meaningful lead in the case. Until the killer makes his most audacious exhibit yet: over a dozen victims in a clockwork deathtrap on the floor of the Druth Parliament. 

The crime scene is a madhouse, and political forces conspire to grind their investigation to a halt.  The King’s Marshals claim jurisdiction of the case, corruption in the Constabulary thwart their efforts, and a special Inquest threatens to end Minox’s career completely.  Their only ally is Dayne Heldrin, a provisional member of the Tarian Order, elite warriors trained in the arts of protection.  But Dayne’s connection to the Gearbox Murders casts suspicion on his motives, as he might be obsessed with a phantom figure he believes is responsible.
 
While Satrine and Minox struggle to stop the Gearbox from claiming even more victims, the grinding gears of injustice might keep them from ever solving these murders, and threaten to dismantle their partnership forever.
 
Goodreads Page for A PARLIAMENT OF BODIES

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Mistakes of the First Novel

I'm a bit crunched for time this week, and the SFF Seven topic is about mistakes in that first novel.  And frankly, I'm always learning with every novel I write.  And back when Thorn of Dentonhill was coming out, I owned up to one of its more glaring flaws-- I mistake I wouldn't make if I were writing it now.  As it's still appropriate, I'll put it all out here:
--
The_Art_of_the_Steal_posterSo, I've been holding off writing this post for a while, but with this article recently making the rounds, it's probably high time I talked about this.

I don't know much about this movie (The Art of the Steal), beyond what's shown here on the poster, but the poster is very telling.  We've got eight characters: seven male and one female.  So, a bunch of guys of all different types and The Girl.  In other words, we've got The Smurfette Principle in full effect.  Furthermore, while Katheryn Winnick isn't being overtly sexualized in this image, it still stands out that she's wearing shorts while everyone else gets pants.

(2018 addendum: I've now seen The Art of the Steal, and it's a fun enough movie, but it is VERY much a Smurfette Principle movie.)

Images like this one are pretty common, not only for movies, but for stories in general, especially of the action/genre/sf/fantasy types.  Here's another example. Another. Another. Another. YET ANOTHER.  I didn't even have to remotely try hard to gather those. It's so typical, such a pervasive paradigm, that movies, books and TV shows can have little-to-no female presence, and it doesn't stand out as strange.  I mean, who's the most significant female character in Hunt for Red October?  It's Jack's wife, who only appears for a couple lines in the very beginning.  How about Saving Private Ryan?  I'd argue it's Mrs. Ryan, who doesn't even have lines, but is talked about as someone who deserves to have at least one son come home.

I could go on about this sort of thing, but there's one big problem: Thorn of Dentonhill falls into the same trap.  An image not entirely unlike the Art of the Steal poster could be used to show the main cast of Thorn.

I didn't mean to do that, which is exactly part of the problem.  While writing it, it didn't seem strange that there was only one significant female character.  Now, I could make excuses or arguments that the world we're looking into with Thorn is made of spaces where men intentionally isolate themselves in some way-- the all-male dorms of the University of Maradaine, for example-- but that would be pure rationalization.

The real reason is I wasn't fully aware.

Now, this doesn't mean that Thorn is, in and of itself, a problem. Frankly, I think it's a great book, and the early reviews have been very strong.  But it is part of this problematic trend, and I need to be aware of that as I move forward in my writing career.

I felt compelled to be up front about this.  If this means that Thorn is a problematic read for you, I respect that.

All I can say beyond that is I believe I've done better with each book that's following.

Monday, April 16, 2018

A LITTLE ROMANCE: A Bad Movie I've Seen Many, Many, Many Times

Oh, I'm gonna get it for this one.  My sister is gonna be cross with me.


See, there are basically two types of people in this world: most people, who have probably barely heard of this movie, and my sister and I, who saw it OVER AND OVER AGAIN.

It was made in 1979, and was Diane Lane's film debut at the tender age of 14, and oh lord was it a product of its time.  You couldn't make a movie like this now.  OK, you could, but it would be a fiercely independent thing that no studio would touch, and it might possibly involve child endangerment indictments. Or, OK, it would be Moonrise Kingdom.  But that was filled with whimsy and wonder and childlike innocence, and this has porn movies and tit-and-dick jokes and someone screaming "RICHARD, GET IN HERE, THEY'VE BEEN HAVING AN ORGY!" in regards to 14-year-olds.  My point is, it was a different time, and you wouldn't get something like this today.

You certainly wouldn't get the greatest actor of his generation, and a director with two of the greatest movies of all time already under his belt.
For real, George Roy Hill directed Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid AND The Sting and on top of that has quite a few other notable films like The World According to Garp  and Thoroughly Modern Millie and this film, which is really strange outlier on his resume.

OK, no, the real outlier is his last film, the deeply unfunny Chevy Chase vehicle Funny Farmwhere Chevy eats sheep testicles and fails to write a novel.  Hill tapped out after that one.

But this is a strange movie, about a horny French intellectual kid who pervs on an American girl and then teams up with an old pickpocket to win horse races and then commit an international kidnapping.

I LITERALLY MADE NONE OF THAT UP.

OK, so, Daniel (Thelonious Bernard, in his debut and penultimate film) is a French kid who, at 14, thinks he's way smarter than he actually is.  He's that kid who reads philosophy texts and quotes shit back and is genuinely pretty smart, but has no one in his life to call him on his bullshit.  He meets, Lauren, an American girl living in France, played by 14-year-old Diane Lane.  They immediately hit it off, since she's reading Heidigger so they can both be pretentious together. 

So much of this movie is focused on fawning over Diane Lane as this great beauty, including Daniel's French friend, who is obsessed with tits, commenting on Lauren's.  And I remind you: Diane Lane.  Was 14. 

(Has Diane Lane dropped any #MeToo on the world yet?  I'm certain she's got some stories that would turn your hair white.)
So we spend some time where Lauren and her friend Natalie (Natalie IS AMAZING and some great hero has credited all of her lines on IMDB to "Natalie Woodstein, Lauren's Dorky Friend".  Ashby Semple never made another movie, which might be an actual crime against humanity.  But she's a theater professor, so it's not like she tapped out of acting altogether.) hang out in Paris with Daniel and his pervy friend.  DO NATALIE AND THE PERVY FRIEND HOOK UP?  Yes, of course they do.  But that's not the story that matters.  Which is a shame, because, for real, those two are the magic.

Anyway, Lauren and Daniel hang out a lot and start having, well, look at the title.  They do what kids do: go to the Louvre, sneak into porn movies, chat with pickpockets and develop a system for winning at horse races.  You know, normal kid stuff.

OK, the pickpocket-- Julius-- is Sir Laurence Olivier, and while it's far from his last role, so much of it feels like his last role.  He infuses the part with this sense of someone who is going to die any minute now and wants one last chance to feel young and alive.  He charms our young couple with tales of young romance, including a bit about kissing under the Bridge of Sighs in Venice while church bells playing.  It's Sir Laurence Olivier, so you better believe he sells the hell out of that. 


Meanwhile, Lauren's mother (played by Sally Kellerman) DOES NOT APPROVE.  She thinks this French Boy is a bad influence (and, well, she IS right), and bans Lauren from ever seeing him.  Lauren does not accept this, and she sneaks off with Daniel.  First they use his system for winning at horse races to get some money.  They can't bet on the horses themselves, so they get Julius to help them.  TWIST: Daniel's system actually doesn't work, and the horse he picked loses.  TWIST BACK: Julius is all, "I bet on a different horse on a whim, here's a lot of money".  TRIPLE TWIST: Julius is just a pickpocket who stole that money and all his romantic stories are bullshit.  But that happens later, and it's too late, because since the kids have the money, we're off to the races.

Wait, no-- we already were at the races.

We're off to Venice!

Yes, the kids actually create an international incident by sneaking into Italy with an old pickpocket.  They get to Venice and still plan to kiss under the Bridge of Sighs while the bells are ringing, despite learning that all of Julius's stories of young romance were a pack of lies.  Because that part doesn't matter-- they were still good stories.  So they plan on doing that, but have to evade Interpol until sunset because, yeah, a known felon crossed a border with two minors.  Julius eventually makes a distraction and lets himself get caught so the kids can get away, rent a gondola to the Bridge of Sighs at sunset, assault the gondolier when he won't go under it (because they only paid him enough to go TO the Bridge of Sighs).  But it's OK, because they manage to have that perfect moment of kissing under the bridge as the sun sets and the bells play and it's beautiful and they'll know that they'll be together forever.

Except then they're caught and dragged back to France.  And Lauren's family is all, "We are going back to America away from that horrid French boy".  They get to have one last awkward goodbye in the driveway, and make that promise they have no intention of keeping to stay in touch.  Because of course they won't.

You can imagine, thirty years later, they both found each other on Facebook, had one exchange of, "Man, crazy times!" and then only occasionally liked each other's cat pictures.  Because that's probably what happened.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

But Does Your Wife Read Them?

So, when I met her, my wife was not a fantasy fan.  She literally did not know the conventions of the genre.  So often times, especially early on in my writing process, she couldn't make heads or tails of what I was doing.  What is this about?  Where is this city supposed to be?  Why do you have centuries of fake history?  Why don't you write something like One Hundred Years of Solitude?

Actually, as strange as that last one was, magical realism did prove to be the gateway toward some common ground.  She understood the rules of that genre, and through that I could show her how fantasy worked.

OK, there was also Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings as huge worldwide phenomenons.  That helped, too.

That isn't to say she doesn't read my work.  She definitely does.  But let's be real: she mostly does because it's mine.  She isn't seeking out the rest of the genre.

That said, she's more of a fan of short stories, and Jump the Black is probably her favorite.  She does nudge me, gently, to create a novel-length version of that story.

I think it's there.  I haven't found it all yet, but the novel length version exists.  It'll come.  I've got time.  And I've got someone to read it when it's done.

Monday, April 9, 2018

ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES: A Bad Movie I've Seen Many, Many, Many Times

Let's be real about something: the 80s and 90s were not all that mass-media friendly to your average fantasy fan.  If you wanted to see something with heroes with swords, bows, quarterstaves and possibly a sweet scene where someone gets a mace to the face, your options were decidedly limited.  You had Beastmaster and Conan and a couple other things, but for the most part: not much.

So Robin Hood: Prince of Thievesbeing the big-ass blockbuster movie starring one of the biggest actors working at the time?  Yeah, I ate that up with a dull spoon that would hurt more.  I watched the hell out of this movie.  I saw it multiple times in the theaters, and when it came out on video, I got a copy of it and watched that tape over and over.  I cannot blame this one on "Well, it's on HBO, so... why not".  I MADE ACTIVE CHOICES.  And on so many levels, this movie is really Not Good-- we could go on and on about how wrong Kevin Costner was for the part of Robin Hood, for one-- but yet it's got some magical alchemy that just plain works.

One thing on its side is how Robin Hood is one of those properties that is kind of perfect for reboot and reinterpretation.  It's a character in the public domain, and people have a decent sense of what "Robin Hood" is supposed to be, but it's all broad brush strokes. You've got Robin, bow-wielding outlaw-for-justice, you've got Sherwood Forest where he lives, you've got the Sheriff of Nottingham as his enemy, and Maid Marian as his love interest, and his band of Merry Men-- but the details of the story?  There is no "definitive" version of Robin Hood, so you can fill in the details however you see fit.   Within reason.


Well, the makers of RH:POT took a look at "within reason" and said to themselves, "Then let's get Morgan Freeman to be awesome" AND BY GOD THEY DID.

So, if you've never seen the glory that is RH: POThere's the rundown.  It starts in a prison in Muslim-controlled Jerusalem, where Robin and his doomed friend are about to be executed, but Robin stages an escape and rescues Azeem, played by Morgan Freeman, and they get out, but doomed friend doesn't make it.  Because of this, Azeem pledges his life to Robin and they go back to England.

And England just SUCKS because the Sheriff of Nottingham-- played by the fantastic Alan Rickman, back to him in a bit-- has, in the absence of a active king, just plain taken over, declaring anyone who gets in his way a devil-worshipper and executing them.  He does this to Robin's father, played by the fantastic Brian Blessed in a tiny cameo. (I could go on with "played by the fantastic..." in this.)

Robin comes home to find England sucking, his father dead, his home and fortune stolen, and everything terrible.  Short version: he makes an enemy of the Sheriff, and then hides out in the forest with the common folk whose lives also suck because of the Sheriff, and whips them into an army to make things terrible for the Sheriff.  All the while, Azeem is at his side, but not being a sidekick, but being the smartest damn person in on the entire British Isle.  He's literally called "Azeem, The Great One", which he utterly lives up to throughout the movie.  He's got a telescope, he's making gunpowder, he's delivering babies, and he know that great love is worth dying for.  That's possibly my favorite part about him-- another movie would have a point where the movie just stops dead and tells you his backstory about him or his doomed love story with Jasmina and how that got him a death sentence, but NOPE.  This movie just tells you "Here is AZEEM THE GREAT ONE and you know that's some truth because MORGAN GODDAMN FREEMAN so BUCKLE UP." 

Robin gets some specific friends in the forest: Little John, Will Scarlet, Friar Tuck, some guy named "Bull" because why the hell not, and then of course there's Marian.  Marian is there to be the love interest, but she starts out in full armor beating the hell out of Robin-- mostly because the movie's main philosophy is WHY THE HELL NOT?  It's awesome.  She fights him with a set of antlers, people.  ANTLERS.
She's also the person who, while relatively aligned with Robin, has to put on a good public face with the Sheriff, who is getting more and more frustrated with everything going wrong, thanks to Robin and his army making his life difficult.  Like I said, the Sheriff is Alan Rickman, and this is the role that cemented him as an absolute glory in the hearts and minds of the movie-going public.  Die Hard  let us know who he is, but Robin Hood is where he showed us he could not only steal the scene every single time he is on screen, but he would also take that scene he stole, wrap it up in a bow and hand it back to everyone else.  He could have easily overshadowed the movie completely, but he instead elevated it.
And let's be honest, it needed elevation.  Kevin Costner has a natural charm and charisma, especially back then, but "13th Century British Nobleman" was not really in his wheelhouse.  And I'd like to say, "Well, he tried"... but did he?  I mean, performance-wise, Robin Hood Kevin Costner is not significantly different from Bull Durham Kevin Costner.  But that's OK.

I think the producers knew they would have this problem, because they had the foresight to ask themselves, "Who can we cast as Will Scarlett who will seem even MORE utterly out of place than Kevin in a British period piece?"  And they found their answer in Christian Slater.

But, man, I do love Christian Slater to bits in this part, because he looks like he's having a great time.

Funny story: in college, I was trying to chat up a young woman who was cute and nerdy and into all things SCA, and that went to hell because we got into a HEATED argument about Will Scarlett's line in the big finale when he sends Robin and Azeem over the wall via catapult.  She fought tooth and nail, insisting he said, "Bugger me, he cleared it!"  And I stood my ground that, no, that wasn't what he said.

YOU OWE ME A DOLLAR, BRIANNA.

The whole climax is delightfully batshit, with Azeem mixing up barrels of gunpowder so the movie can have far more explosions than any previous version of Robin Hood.  It's got trick shots, it's got rousing speeches, it's got a teleporting witch BECAUSE WHY NOT. 

Like I said, there is no "definitive" version of the Robin Hood story, so everyone kind gets to pick which one is "theirs".  And for better or for worse, this one is most definitely mine. 

Thursday, April 5, 2018

How I Plan The Future

So, this should surprise no one, but I plan out a LOT for the future.  That involves tracking the projects I have active, where they are in the production process, what needs to be done next in each of them, as well as projects that are on the backburner or planned for the future, either definitively planned (i.e., under contract), or prospective plans. 

To give you an idea, here's a filtered-and-redacted glimpse at my Productivity Worksheet:

And that's minus the things that have a Status of "Pending" or "Planned".  (Plus I blurred some stuff that's "secret" because I don't like to talk about things that aren't either done or contracted, if not both.  But I'll let you stew on my project codes.)

So, my time management takes into account the big things I need to do next.  Namely, draft Shield of the People and get geared up to write The Fenmere Job and The People of the City over the next eighteen months, all while taking into account my own workflow and reasonable expectations.  For example, I know I'm not the kind of writer who can pull off 100K in three weeks in an explosive flurry of words, so, yeah, don't schedule that as The Plan.  I prefer the steady pace of regular progress to the deadline.  And for that, I'm on track and in good shape with everything coming up. 

Plus some other stuff.  As you can see.  And there's a lot you can't see, because it's far future or just a bit too vague.  But even the vague stuff I track, just in case.  (Plus if I put work into the vague stuff, I like to track that THAT is what I worked on.)

And speaking of work: back to it.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Ideas Never Wait Their Turn

So, despite having an overfull plate of Things To Do, my brain has been on overdrive of late.  In the past couple weeks, rather than go full out with Shield of the People (note well: I still went, like, half-to-three-quarters out), I went and wrote a novelette that's tangential to all the Maradaine stories.*  And then I had one of those 2am ideas where you must jot down some notes on a project that you really do not have time to write.  And despite not having the time, my brain was all, "Well, we need to at least lay down some particulars" before I can let it rest in the mental crockpot and simmer while I work on other things. 
But this is how my brain goes in moments like this:
Me: OK, new idea, let's just write some notes--
Brain: Perfect. First step, understand what's happening in every part of the world as they transition from neolithic to early bronze.
Me: That's absurd!
Brain: You're right. It's neolithic to chalcolithic.
Me: I don't need any of that! That's, like, 8000 years before this story would be set!
Brain: Well, sure, then: half-ass it. Just decide cultures based on your whim without any sense of historical build up!
Me: That doesn't--
Brain: I mean, if you want to just cheat, sure.
Me: How is that cheating?
Brain: You have no idea what cultural or technological influence those two continents to the southeast might have.
Me: I don't even know what's there, yet.
Brain: Exactly my point. Cheating. So where were we? Ah, yes, neolithic era!
Me: Wait, but I just wanted a---
Brain: You're right, that's still taking the easy way. First a common origin point of humanity-- just humans on this world?-- and then their diaspora to fill the world and the effects that has on megafauna and other natural life.
More
Me: No, that's... I just had an idea for a story with deiselpunk motorcycles!
Brain: Oh, is that what you want?
Me: Yes!
Brain: Then we're going to have to go back even further and figure out the Mesozoic equivalents to justify oil deposits.
Me: I hate you so much.
But this is how my brain always works.  I've accepted that.  The point is: I had to exorcise some ideas this weekend.  But it's all good.  And now, for real: full steam ahead on Shield of the People.  And editing that novelette.  And maybe something else.
Maybe.

*- It's set on the island where Kaiana was born. 

Thursday, March 29, 2018

The Design of a Workspace

I do not have an idealized writing space.  At all.  I mean, I don't have a space-- I have two rolling bags that serve as my rolling-office.  Now, I do have mobility, and that can be great.  I can work anywhere.  Coffee shop.  Book store.  Back of the car.  Right now I'm on the walking desk in the bedroom, which is the most "permanent" workspace I have.  But I share the walking desk with my wife-- because we both need it and enjoy it.  And it's less than ideal.

For one, it's in the bedroom, which isn't great working energy if you can avoid it.  I mean, like I said, I can work anywhere and do, but if you are going to craft an ideal space, it's a space that is explicitly for working.  The space serves that purpose alone. 

So, what would that look like?

First is the desk.  It needs to be large enough to have the laptop and a couple notebooks spread out.  I need to be able to work on the computer and work by hand on it, sometimes back and forth at the same time.  Also, good legroom underneath.  I've learned the hard way that that is critical. 

Next, the chair needs to be right.  I've had a lot of bad chairs.  Good back support for long hours sitting in it.

Third, a separate chair for reading.  That's a comfy, lounging chair.  Or maybe a small couch.

One wall is windows with good natural light.  One wall is bookshelves.  One wall is white boards, corkboards, maps- a space to plan out the work in a large format. 

Enough floor space to pace around, lay out notecards on the floor.

And a door that stays shut when I'm working. 

That's what would be ideal for me.

For now-- work wherever.  Work however.  The work is what matters, not the space. 

But the space would be nice.

Monday, March 26, 2018

The Promise of the Asterisk

So, I've been on a bit of a clean and organize binge of late, and in doing so pulled down my copy of The Sorceress of Darshiva.  I bought this book right when it came out, so the conclusion to The MalloreonThe Seeress of Kell was still a year away, and the new series, The Eleniumwas just getting started.  And all that was reflected in the front matter of the book.

Oh, there was something ever so tantalizing about that asterisk and its promise of a book that was Forthcoming.  It let you know that there was a PLAN in the works. 

So I've always gotten excited when I get my author copies of each new book, and right there in the front matter it lays out a little more of a promise, a bit more of The Plan. 

I don't know why, but it always thrills me.  I think because it is that explicit promise I'm making to the readers: More is on the way.  And that promise is a thing I take very seriously.  I don't like to tell you that a book is coming unless I know it's coming.  I make good on what I tell you I'm going to do. 

So I need to get back to it, so I can keep fulfilling that promise.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

The Power of the Review

Reviews are a critical part of a novelist's life.  We get them, we obsess over them, and we need them. 

I mean, I read every one that I see.  Every one.  Even the ones that hurt-- and oh lord, do some of them hurt.  But I see that as a necessary thing.  The hurtful, rip-the-bandaid-off aspect of the bad reviews are part of the process.  It's part of understanding that you're never going to please everyone.

Remember: even the great classics, even your most favorite, beloved books have 1-star reviews on Amazon. 

But I want to talk to the readers out there: remember that reviews are YOUR tool.  If you have a book you love, a writer you adore, then the best thing you can do is get on Amazon, Goodreads and anywhere else you can go and SCREAM IT TO THE HILLTOPS that you love that book.  You will make that writer's day.

So go do that.  It can be for one of mine, if you're so inclined, or someone else.  There are plenty of worthy writers who need a bit of your love.  So go give some, because it doesn't cost you anything.  Love is a self-replenishing commodity, spread it around.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Quick Check In

Hello, readers.  Finishing up many things on this end, including the final edit of A Parliament of Bodies.  It's a heavy time in the word-mines, and once that's turned in (and a few organizational/cleaning projects at home), it'll be time to focus on What's Next.  In the mean time, here's the new cover banner with Way of the Shield added.  I'm really excited about this cover, this book and this new series. 

Thursday, March 15, 2018

My Favorite Line for Inspiration

Quick post here, as I'm pretty busy this week, but the question of the week over at SFF Seven is for favorite inspirational quote.  And mine is my perennial answer whenever this comes up, Jimmy Dugan's response from A League of Their Own when told that baseball "just got too hard".

"It's supposed to be hard.  If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it.  The hard is what makes it great."

That's a line I remind myself of whenever I need that push, whenever things feel too much of a challenge, too unsurmountable.  And with that, I push through.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Cover for THE WAY OF THE SHIELD





There is something about a hero with a shield.

There is something about a hero who strives to not just protect people, but to be a beacon, a symbol, a source of hope for those around them. 

When I was figuring out the four different story paths we would see in Maradaine, I know one of them was going to have be something of a "classic" hero-- that big boy scout of a hero that is the heart of and spirit of what the best of Maradaine and Druthal could be.  A person who not only understood the ideals, but tried to live by them-- even if they stumble.

They needed to be a character that embodied hope and light, even as things went dark around them. 
That's what a hero who carries a shield means.  That's why Dayne is part of the Tarian Order, who pledge to put themselves between the helpless and harm.  And that's what I wanted the cover of the first book of this new series to evoke.  And did Paul Young deliver.


The Way of the Shield comes out on October 2, 2018.

Dayne Heldrin always dreamed of being a member of the Tarian Order. In centuries past, the Elite Orders of Druthal were warriors that stood for order, justice, and the common people. But now, with constables, King’s Marshals, and a standing army, there is little need for such organizations, and the Tarian Order is one of the last remnants of this ancient legacy. Nevertheless, Dayne trained his body and mind, learned the arts of defense and fighting, to become a candidate for the Tarian Order.

When a failed rescue puts Dayne at fault for injuring the child of a powerful family, his future with the Tarians is in jeopardy. The Parliament controls the purse strings for the Order, and Dayne has angered the wrong members of Parliament. He returns to the capital city of Maradaine in shame, ready to be cast out of the Order when the period of his candidacy ends.

Dayne finds Maradaine in turmoil, as revolutions and dark conspiracies brew around him, threatening members of Parliament and common people alike. Dayne is drawn into the uproar, desperate not to have one more death or injury on his conscience, but the Order wants him to stay out of the situation. The city threatens to tear itself apart, and Dayne must decide between his own future and his vow to always stand between the helpless and harm.

Goodreads Page for THE WAY OF THE SHIELDAvailable at AmazonBarnes & NobleIndieBound and more!

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Different Mediums of Writing: I Once Was A Playwright

So, my bio says "playwright" evening though I've not done much playwriting of late.  And most of my plays have been short ones, which is funny, because I don't think I'm very good at short stories, but I can do short plays pretty well.

For a long while, I regularly participated in the "Out of Ink" project, where we would receive a set of three "ingredients" for a play on Friday evening, and by Sunday afternoon we were supposed to have written a ten-minute play based on those ingredients, and then eight were chosen for a workshop production. Here's a smattering of my favorites from those plays.

2000:  Last Train Out of Illinois  My first year with Scriptworks, the rules involved boots, a character directly addressing the audience, and someone performing an “aria”.  I had, at the time, had the vague idea of a Tom Waitsish Musical called “Last Train Out of Illinois”, but all I had was Atmosphere and an Ending. Which is just fine for a ten-minute piece.
2003: Danger Girl’s Night Off  The rules dictated 1. something involving superheroes and 2. a seduction, so I immediately thought of a grown-up sidekick who just wanted to have a date night.  This was a lot of fun. 
2007: Hourglass  I’m really pleased with this one.  The rules involved 1. A physical transformation on stage, 2. a secret and 3. a piece of music connecting to a memory.  This may have been, for me, the most synergous set of rules.  The discovery of an old hourglass reminds an old woman of the true paternity of her child.  Hannah Kenah did really lovely work on stage going from 107 to 20.
2008: Ten Minutes Ago   The play goes backwards!  That was the rule that had to define this one.  The idea I was struck with here was having an innocuous instigation (a woman answering her door) lead to events that had disastrous consequences (her husband and a stranger dead in her living room), and then show it Consequences-Events-Instigation.  This one was challenging to stage, but enjoyable.
2010: Entropy  “Time is Running Out”, “Use the Beginning and End of Finnegan’s Wake” and “A Ceremony of Forgetting”.  How does this NOT say “two people stuck in a time loop”?  OK, it does to me, because I’m a sci-fi geek.
2011: Slept the Whole Way Again, the rules sent me to an SF place: the play needed to span 3000 years and have 300 characters.  So a cryosleep ship that missed its target and kept everyone in stasis for 3000 years made perfect sense to me.
2013: The Observer Effect This grew out a strange idea of someone being labeled "history's greatest monster" due to a mistake-- and ultimately not even their own mistake.  It's deeply silly. 

So, here's the thing-- if you're in a play-producing mood?  You got a need or hankering to put on a ten-minute play?  Especially in a science-fictional venue, as most of these are sci-fi plays?  HAVE AT 'EM.  Seriously, you want to produce them, go for it. They're silly, they're fun, and they tend to be production-cost light.  Only rule I have is: let me know. That's it. 

I do kind of miss playwriting.  Someday I'll do another one, or pull out one of the ones I wrote and never produced and give it another polishing pass.  But right now, I've got enough things on my plate.  Back down to the word mines.