Spell/Sword Explanation

“Okay, let me play this song for you first.”

Aragorn sighed and hopped up on the desk. He folded his paws underneath his grand orange and white chest and surveyed me with stern iceberg-disdain.” I just wanted to know what your book is about. Why are you playing me a song? Why can’t you just answer the question?”

Aragorn
Aragorn

Maybe I should have put on pants first. When you’re trying to get an audience to follow you on a train of thought it helps to up your Dignity Quotient. I clicked around on the laptop for a moment before I finally found the song I was looking for.

“It’s a metaphysical thing! This song makes me feel Spell/Sword, makes me feel the long journey of Jonas and Rime. If you’ll just listen…”

“Not going to happen,” the orange cat said.

“Aw, c’mon. It’s this fascinating acoustic piece from the 60’s. It’s not very long,  just give…”

“Look, human. I have other things to do. Important cat things.  My interest in this project only extends so far as my dinner bowl. If you market this book successfully that will lead to an increase in your income. This will lead to an increase in the quality and amount of the food that I am provided with. A new mousey would be pleasant, as well. I don’t want to hold your pitiful human paw and gaze soulfully into your eyes. Just tell me what the book is about and why people should buy it.”

“Damn, Aragorn.” I leaned back in my chair. “Damn.”

The cat lashed his tail. “Who are Jonas and Rime?”

“I can’t just leap into it like that! You have to understand the context of the fantasy genre, and why they are interesting subversions of pre-existing tropes.” I began to list of details on my fingers. “You see, for most genre conventions–”

Aragorn stood up suddenly, and tilted his head to the left. The cat stretched out and stared intently at his dinner bowl. “Hmm. All that doesn’t seem to be putting any exotic meals in my dish.”

“Fine.” I threw my hands up. ” The book is about a boy and a girl. They don’t get along, then they do. Friendship triumphs. The End.”

The cat seemed amused. “Come now, don’t be petulant.”

“Can I just put a little English Major frosting on this explanation? It really helps me to get going.” I begged.

Aragorn began to groom his right paw. I took that as tacit assent.

” There are two tropes in fantasy that I’m trying to subvert.  The All-Powerful Wizard and the Young Hero. I won’t name any examples, I promise.” The cat stopped grooming for a moment and shot me an appreciative look. ” The All-Powerful Wizard can topple kingdoms with a thought, summon dragons from thin air, knows the answer to every question, undoes the riddles of an age. The Young Hero is the gifted one, the child of legend with shining sword in his fist, he rises from obscurity to shake the pillars of destiny.”

“Merlin and Arthur. I get it.  You’re not the only one who’s read Joseph Campbell.”

“Right.” I was a little taken aback. The cat who lives in my house is surprisingly well read. “Rime is my Semi-Powerful Wizard and Jonas is the Young Idiot.”

“Losing interest…” Aragorn muttered, rising.

Jonas and Rime
Jonas and Rime

” Rime is a wild mage – an abomination that breaks all the rules of magic! She can do anything, everything — bend the forces of reality to her whim. But then she burns out -her body goes unconscious, loses use of her limbs, nosebleeds, headaches – really bad headaches! And on top of that she knows that all wild mages eventually go insane and use their power to butcher as many people as possible in the most creative way their madness can devise.” I gesticulated with desperation.

“Okay. That sounds half-way engaging,” the orange cat settled back down to listen. “And the boy?”

“Jonas is a kid with a sword. And he gets the crap kicked out of him most of the time. He’s not handsome and he’s not all that skilled and he’s not particularly bright. ”

“Hmm. That doesn’t sound as engaging. Why is he in this story?”

“Because.”

“You’re getting petulant again, human.”

“Aragorn, please.” I walked into the closet to gather my thoughts and some bottom-wear. I grabbed a pair of reasonably un-frayed khakis and pulled them on.

“The problem with the original tropes is when they are introduced the reader automatically recognizes the shape. They know how this character will act and, more importantly, they know how the story will end. Success is guaranteed for the Hero and the Wizard. It will be an interesting journey, but the reader knows the end of the tale.  The golden, shining end.” I yelled back into the bedroom, zipping up my pants. “And I find that boring. I want Jonas and Rime to have some serious weaknesses, that way you can’t be sure whether or not they will succeed. There’s actually a large chance they will fail.”

“People like Superman for a reason, human.” Aragorn’s bored voice came from the bedroom. “People don’t want stories about losers, or stories about failure. There’s enough of that in the real world.”

“But they don’t fail! They succeed and they become friends. And it’s that much more meaningful because they actually had to work for it.” I walked out of the closet, my Dignity Quotient through the roof.

“Does the book have a happy ending?” Aragorn was unimpressed by my rockin’ DQ.

“Define ‘happy ending’.” I said.

The orange cat splayed his claws and hissed. Aragorn is not a small cat, and when he puffs up he can be quite intimidating.

“I cannot believe this. How can you expect people to buy the book if it doesn’t even have a happy ending.” Aragorn’s eyes pulsed with feline rage.

“But it does.” I quailed. “Friendship triumphs, remember? The end of this book is good for Jonas and Rime, very good! Please calm down.”

The orange cat did not. “You’re dancing around the subject. What aren’t you telling me?

“Nothing. I don’t want to spoil it for you is all…”

A claw lanced out, narrowly missing my hand.

“..it’s the very end that’s bad! Not the end of this book, but the very end of the story! It’s bad, okay — it’s very, very bad!”

Aragorn seemed to calm slightly. “So you’re going to write more books, then?”

“Yes! That’s the true subversion of the trope. If instead of victory, the heroes are doomed to failure. To a pre-destined fall. It’s actually an older trope, most commonly seen in Greek tragedy and…”

“I’m bored now.” The orange cat hopped down off the desk. “I’m going to go bask in the sun, and pray that many monomyth and genre convention enthusiasts buy your book. Clearly we’re never going to see any sort of Hunger Games money, so I’ll just hope for a small trickle of improved finances coming to our household.”

I sighed and sat down at the desk. I watched his orange tail slink around the corner and disappear. Maybe I should have told him about all the fun things. The ridiculous encounters, the dance-lock, the dinosaur battle, the frogs on roller skates. But those are just trappings, my little sally against the pomposity of Fantasy. Somewhere along the way we all decided that Orcs and Elves and Dragons aren’t silly. But they are. They are silly. And glorious.

“That’s what I think about, when you ask me what Spell/Sword is about.” I said to no one. ” The long journey into the dark. The long journey of Jonas and Rime.”

I clicked ‘Play’ on the song I’d pulled up earlier, and listened to the heart of the tale.

If you read this far- it's the titular track on Harry Taussig's hidden masterwork - 'Fate Is Only Once'
If you read this far- it’s the titular track on Harry Taussig’s hidden masterwork – ‘Fate Is Only Once’
Advertisements

I Dreamed the First 5 Episodes of a TV Show

I’m a quasi-lucid dreamer, so its pretty common for me to have a reasonably solid recall of what I dream on any given evening. Especially if I discuss it with someone immediately upon awakening, it helps to lock in the memory as a narrative. My beloved was treated to just such an incident Sunday morning when my late morning wanderings through the Dreamworld left me with a pretty solid outline for a television show.

“It’s a CW show, I think. Or at least a faux CW show. Part of how the show works is to get the audience invested in 147_jeffreyalanlovewithspearandswordweba certain style, then slowly subvert it.”

Dead silence for several moments, then my beloved stalked into the bathroom. I heard the shower turn on. Fair enough.

I’m putting  a brief description here on the blog for several reasons:

  • Sweet idea.
  • Some lonely TV exec might stumble across this and want to steal/buy it.
  • I can only pimp Spell/Sword so much in a given week.
  • My memory is a cagey beast. It’s good to get some things down while I still have it in my sights.

So, my dream centered around a group of high school kids travelling on an oversized school bus. They traveled from school to school, encountering a different wacky circumstance each week. Teen angst, unrequited love, all the tropes you can stomach. That’s where the CW idea came in — just a bus full of pretty, pretty folks. Except for one weird dude [more on him later.]

Admittedly, in my dream-logic — the kids went to each school to go to some sort of convention. Very DragonCon — lots of people in costumes, events, performances, etc. Clearly that won’t work for the television show, so I think a good conceit would be that the kids are from a Performing Arts Magnet School – they spend 4 months out of every year travelling from school to school, putting on shows.

The goal is to have the first 4 episodes be like Glee — but first half season of Glee when it was actually charming and good. Musical numbers, dance, scenes from famous plays, the works. We’ll get to know the main cast through their roles in the troupe — Lead Actor, Lead Actress, Tech Kid, Beautiful Wallflower, Soulful Fat Kid, Hyper Nerd Girl, etc.  The first few episodes are almost pure cotton candy — the kids have a demanding show to put on, and they pull themselves together at the last moment. One of the kids falls in love with someone at one of the school – but OH NOES, they have to leave on the bus at the end of the week . An Important Lesson is Learned About Disabilities/Drug Abuse/Gender Roles/Topic Du Jour.

I think the idea of the ‘School a Week’ premise lends itself well to the format. Lots of opportunities for Special Guest Stars, Themed Schools [Oh NO, this is the Racist School!], etc. For the show to work, the trope must be perfectly executed — the audience must be purely committed to this bubblegum pop show.

Which brings us to Episode Five. And the Weird Dude.

The one kid that doesn’t fit with the group, on the bus, on this show always wears black. The size of a linebacker, he wears a black trench coat with the collar always pulled up, obscuring most of his face almost like a mask. He has a battered backpack that he keeps near him at all times. He never speaks. He always wears black dirt bike gloves.

In my dream, the other kids just seemed to accept that he was there. All of them avoided him, of course, but there wasn’t really an explanation for why he was on board. I think for the show we”ll need some sort of contrivance — maybe he’s a kid from a bad past, who’s on the trip for rehabilitation? Maybe he’s the bus driver’s son — the teacher’s son? Or maybe no explanation at all – the kids think of him as That Weird Kid — accept his presence, but ignore him most of the time.

During the first four episodes, the audience is treated to a few glimpses of him. Staring out of windows into the dark, sitting silently in crowded lunch rooms. A few of the younger Kids on the Bus try to befriend him, but are met with stoic silence.

Artist - Jack Foster
Artist – Jack Foster

Most disturbing, the audience sees the Weird Kid collect a weird assortment of what could be considered weapons. Paper weights, letter openers, the arm off a desk — all crammed into his ratty old backpack.

The goal would be that astute viewers feel a growing sense of unease about the Weird Kid, a dark undercurrent to all the wacky hijinks ensuing each episode. Is the show working towards some sort of Colombine/Newtown sitiuation?

Finally, Episode Five.

The episode transpires very much like the first four — the Kids on the Bus arrive, and put on a performance for the school, in between trying to bone up on their course material for the EOCT on the horizon.  The main conflict is between them, and the entrenched theatre kids already at the school. They resent these fancy-ass kids coming in and stealing their thunder — but then they learn an Important Lesson about working together, and team up to put on the Best Show Ever.

After the last commercial break, we come back to the lunch room. The Kids are being congratulated by their new friends after the performance, and are packing up their things to get back on the bus. In the midst of this jubilation  the Weird Kid stands up and speaks for the first time.

Or rather he screams. A primal yawp, a guttural cry of absolute frustration and pain. The lunchroom goes silent, and shocked students pull back, giving the huge kid in the trench coat a wide berth. Some go for their cell phones to call 911, but they are stopped by the icy gaze that Weird Kid fixes on all of them. He looks at them with a deep well of sadness, pity and contempt — and slowly begins to stalk out of the school A long tracking shot of him walking through the halls, all who encounter him quail and make way.  Not a word is spoken — this should be a long sequence. A total departure from the frenetic, happy fun-times of the show previously.

The Weird Kid slams the doors of the school open and walks out into the late afternoon sun, fall leaves are drifting through the air. He looks up into the sky, lost in thought. The two youngest Kids on the Bus [AJ and AJ] creep up to the Weird Kid, and stir up the courage to ask him what’s wrong.

The Weird Kid places a gloved hand on each of their shoulders, and shakes his head. He leads them to the bus as he speaks quietly. “You can not understand. The time is upon us. The dark time, the end time. Ragnarok is a silly word, but it is the time.”

Weird Kid takes his seat and stares out the window again.

The other Kids get on the bus, and they pull away from the school.

They drive away for a few moments, then cross a bridge over a lake — seen earlier in the episode upon arrival. tumblr_lyh47jWq1H1qchs4mo1_500The bus slows to a halt, as they spot a group of people on the far side, it appears to be some sort of parade.

The parade advances — no instruments, no floats, only people in regimented lines. They wear the costumes that the Kids on the Bus wore for this episode’s performance. Their eyes are blank and empty.

And then, things begin to appear behind the parade, making their way along side. Vaguely man-shaped, tall stilt-like legs and arms, small circular heads surmounted with oblong caps.

The Weird Kid springs to action, ripping his backpack open. “Let me off the bus. It’s time, I’ll fight. I’ll fight!”

A mishmash of improvised weapons fall out, and Weird Kid grabs the two largest — he bulls past the teacher and bus driver and out the side door.

Just in time to see the tall things begin their work. They begin to eviscerate the parade – calmly, surgically — cutting off limbs, peeling off flesh, slitting hamstrings, and a dozen other horrors of torture. Weird Kid takes a step forward, but then quails as one of the tall things approach. Through a haze it seems to transform into a dark-haired man wearing the uniform of an EMT.

“You kids allright?” the thing asks. “There’s been a terrible accident, some sort of gas released in the area. Making people see things. Could you all get off the bus so we can check you out?”

Weird Kid flees back onto the bus, and slams the door behind him.

“Drive.” he says. “It’s no use. It’s no use.”

The bus driver floors the bus in reverse, and the Kids on the Bus sit back down in utter shock. The bus drives off into the gathering dark and an uncertain future.

IS THAT WEIRD ENOUGH? NOPE, I THOUGHT ABOUT IT SOME MORE.

This all made perfect sense in my dream, but this is where it really goes down to Crazytown.

All of the Kids on the Bus are the heroes of the Illiad. They are the reincarnations, avatars, whatever of the Greek heroes — and the time has come for them to stand against the might of the gods.

The conceit would be that Homer’s Illiad is a version of a real event — a showdown between mortal and immortal, with the fate of the world in the balance.

If this sounds awesome to you, then you are officially a Classics/English nerd.

The tall things are the gods, or maybe their most powerful servants — something alien and other, some powerful force that was stomped out in the time of Homer. And now its up to this bus full of CW pretty kids to step up to the plate.

I EVEN STARTED FIGURING OUT WHO WAS WHO ON THE BUS.

The Weird Kid is Diomedes [Dennis Mead], he who even the God of War fears. And interestingly enough, not the main character of the show. The two kids who try to befriend him are Ajax and Ajax [AJ and AJ], I think I would flip the script and make Achilles and Odysseus female and the leads of the show. Agamemnon is the teacher, Meneleaus the bus driver. Oh man, I could go on. Helen is male, and so is Paris. Hector is my secondary lead.

I just love the idea of establishing all the Glee/High School tropes — then cramming them into the oldest of tales, to turn back the clock on those tropes to their most primal forms.

And this is what my beloved has to hear on the way to lunch on a Sunday morning.

Names for the show:

Kids on the Bus

Heroes [oh, that one’s taken?]

Legends

Thanks for reading.

Supernatural can’t stay on forever, after all…

Zero Escape – Nerd Matters

[It’s been pretty tireless self-promotion here at Spell/Sword for the past week or so. How about some dyed-in-

Artist Unknown
Artist Unknown

the wool geekery to ease the sting? These are my DM notes from the Pathfinder game I ran earlier this week, presented with little to no context. If your eyes have already glazed over at this point, I wouldn’t bother reading further.]

 

Scene One: In the Cell

Most of the party wakes up at the same moment. [Justin’s Character] remains unconscious.

Everyone is wearing whatever clothes they had on when they teleported from the crumbling Stone Roots, but every other piece of gear has been removed. [DC 20 Sleight of Hand check to have hidden one Tiny object.] Falcon is nowhere to be seen. Everyone’s wounds have been healed, but they show signs of natural healing, not magical — suggesting some time has passed since they departed Rill.

The cell is 50 feet square, gleaming gray metal, adorned with regular bolts and rivets. Modular benches are welded to the floor in a square in the center of the room. On the far wall is a large crank over a spout, directly beneath it is a large hole with a metal grate over it.

The door displays no hinges or handle or window. The symbol of “0” is engraved into the metal, it gleams a dark copper shade.

The party have a few minutes to talk, compare notes. The Elven Cleric wakes up and introduces himself.

At last, a metal squawk fills the air — then a mechanically reproduced voice fills the cell.

“You must pass through the Dream to find the Truth.  You must swallow the Truth to find the Heart. The Heart burns and we shine in the darkness of the Dream. Follow me, Children — and Remember.”

“These words are written in the book that brought you here. These words were spoken by the Dragon Prime just before he fell into his endless slumber, he spoke these words to his acolytes and fell beneath the sands.”

There is a scraping metallic noise coming from the grate. If anyone checks, a large plate has slid into place closing off the drain.

“You have served us well adventurers. The seals chip and shatter with time and skill, but you have broken two in a matter of days with nothing more than luck and ignorance. The Guardian of the Endless Road and the Stone Roots of Rill — both destroyed and gone, blowing away in the winds of the Descabellado. For this you have been forgiven. The murder of Lord Argon and his retainer Lithium have been washed from your slate.”

The crank on the faucet begins to move, and clear water begins to pour into the cell.

“Forgiven. Forgiven and spared. And chosen — yes, chosen. Chosen for something greater, to become something greater. Servant of the Dragons, yes — we will take you into the Dream, and your true forms will emerge. You will break the chains of the foolish Balance.”

The members of the party become drowsy with a magical sleep. As they fall unconcious all can see the pool of water spreading from the back edge of the cell and rolling slowly towards their closing eyes.

Scene Two: Indoctrination

The party blinks.

They stand in a room very similar in size to the cell, but the similarity ends there. The walls are made of lines of light, squares – a wire frame of energy. Where the cell door was, an open archway leads into a formless void.

In the center of the room, stands a tall wood elf with dark skin. She wears a floor length dress of sheer material, bodice plunging nearly to her navel.Tattooed in the center of her chest is the symbol of the Dragon’s Dream. Her hair is wrapped in a high twist, coiled with some sort of thick brass cable. She doesn’t appear to be substantial, she glows like a light purple phantom.

Artist - Sam Bosma
Artist – Sam Bosma

“I am Xenon. Welcome to the Dream.”

At some point the party will notice that they similarly do not appear tangible. Each party member glows as a mental projection of themselves. [What color is your mind?]

“You must pass through the Gestalt. Travel forward. Learn and survive. Apparent time moves slower than actual time, but your shells still lie unconscious in a room that slowly fills with water. Dally and they will drown. And sadly…your true selves cannot survive without your shells, at least not yet.”

“You are young to this way, your minds only have a fraction of the potential that we can unlock. For now you have what you believe you have — the residual impressions of the items and skill you carry in the physical world. In time, with our training, these limitations will fall away. Now begin.”

Xenon erupts into a beam of light, that arcs away across the dark void.

When the party passes through the first archway — they unlock:

 

PSYCHIC Rank: 0

1

2-3

4-5

6-7

8-9

10-11

12-13

14-15

16-17

18-19

-5

-4

-3

-2

-1

0

+1

+2

+3

+4


A floor forms from green squares of nothing as the party proceeds into the void.

 

Room One:

The room is circular, about 100 feet in diameter. A doorway is at 2 on the dial, but the center of the room is dominated by a vast square table, 20 feet on an edge. An elaborate clockwork city sits on the table, hundreds of tiny houses, vehicles, people, all whirring and moving in perfect harmony. DC 20 Perception to notice the Draconian details to the model — tiny claws, spines on the roofs, gears shaped like dragon’s jaws, smoked glass like dragon’s fire.

Then, black blobs begin to ooze up through the floor and take the form of primal ogres, and attack. They seem to be completely focused on destroying the table.

The door evaporates when the last ogre falls.

 

Room Two:

The next room has the appearance of a temple, or cathedral. Wide pillars support an arched ceiling holding back the void. The outlines of cowled humans cluster around men with the heads of dragons, who touch them kindly and speak in hushed tones. The dragon-men beam with the expressions of proud teachers.

There are three main clusters/classes – then one dragon-man standing alone in the pulpit.

The three teachers speak in Eld tongue, the Examiner speaks in Common.

Daniele Buetti - Is My Soul Losing Control? (2006)
Daniele Buetti – Is My Soul Losing Control? (2006)

Red Teacher – DC 15 Will – 1d4 Temporary WIS drain

Fail: +1d4 PSY Succeed: +1d8 PSY

You see a vast field of lights spanning across the globe – dreaming minds slipping into the void and flying around and around the physical world, as free as the birds of the air.

Blue Teacher – DC 15 Will – 1d4 Temporary INT drain

Fail: +1d4 PSY Succeed: +1d8 PSY

You see a vast creature, a Titan — stomping across the fields of green. Decay follows in its wake, rivers fall sere and desert winds begin to blow. The people retreat to their cities, and try desperately to resist, but they are tramped underfoot.

White Teacher – DC 15 Will – 1d4 Temporary CHA drain

Fail: +1d4 PSY Succeed: +1d8 PSY

You see yourself in a cage, a cage of stone. It reminds you of the roof of the Stone Roots. Hundreds of people are crammed into the cage, they claw and bite at the bars — or simply turn their backs inwards and ignore it. You walk to the wall and step through as if it was made of water.

Gray Examiner

PSY DC 10

What is the Dream? The endless potential of the sentient mind. The Hidden Kingdom of the Dragons.

PSY DC 15

What is the Truth? The Balance is a lie.

PSY DC 15

What is the Heart? You are only caged if you choose to be.

 

The Gray Examiner steps aside , and a the dais irises open into a set of stairs leading downwards.

 

Room Three:

The stairs terminate on a featureless plain. Party makes out a faintly shining beacon to the north, as they approach, it reveals itself to be a tower with a torch on the top.

Xenon’s voice whispers in the void.

jeffreyalanlove:The Hound
jeffreyalanlove:The Hound

“You can save the planet.”

“You can undo what has been done.”

“Repair the breaking of the world.”

“You can break the Titan itself.”

“Break the Titan and break your own chains, Children of the Dragon!!!”

A second light appears at the top of the tower, and the party realizes they are looking into two burning eyes of a massive stone goliath. It pulls a vast scimitar from its chest and moves to attack! Scattered around the field are small nodes of psychic energy, a PSY roll of 15 unleashes a burst of energy against the Titan.

After defeat, the featureless plain collapses and the party slowly drifts down into a room similar to the first. Six Doors wait, each marked with an odd symbol and a word scrawled in Common on the door.

 

Xenon’s voice: Choose your name, choose your place in the Children. Choose a door and take what is offered. You are one of us now until the dragons awaken. Accept the power that is given and be blessed, or deny it and be enslaved. Or do nothing and drown. The choice is yours.

 

Beryllium – [Domingo]

Magnesium – [Rhoga]

Calcium – [Nenemi]

Strontium – [Anka]

Barium – [No-Name]

Radium – [Sir Mander]

 

The party each select a door — if they take too long, they all start to feel a pressure in their ears, and in their chest, the water is rising into their lungs. Each member goes into a door, and find themselves in a small closet. There is a stool, and a table with a chalice.

 

Those who accept the Dragon’s power gain 1d10 PSY points and Dragon Power: Telepathy 1/day. 10 min/level. you plus 1 person per 3 levels.

 

Those who resist gain 1d4. -2 Will saves against Draconic Effects.


The Dream begins to break up, and the everyone coughs and flails in the cold water they are laying in. Everyone stumbles to their feet, and see that the door of their cell lies open.

Book Feels

spellinside

It’s still very surreal to have the proof of the book here. That this thing that’s lived in my head for years is now a physical object. That I can reach into my bag and pull it out and touch it. That it can prop open a door, hold down the corner of a picnic blanket, serve as a completely ineffective projectile weapon.

I took some quick pictures to share on the Facebook Page [What? You haven’t liked Spell/Sword on Facebook? NAUGHTY.] Like a proud papa I want to make sure anyone who follows the blog gets to see them as well.

Such a tall genre-busting fantasy novel!
Such a tall genre-busting fantasy novel!

The book it’s standing on is the new Lemony Snicket book, and it’s super awesome by the way. It was just a convenient stand, my book is not trying to establish any sort of dominance in the pack.

Mobile Suite pilots are my core demographic.
Mobile Suit pilots are my core demographic.

People have asked me how I feel — and as usual I don’t have a ready answer. Proud? Yes. Excited? Yes? Terrified? More than a little.

So close to the finish line. One last pass through the proof to catch any errors or formatting issues — and to have a crisis of faith on the quality of innumerable facets of the narrative. After that, just a few more days and the release date will be set.

A Succinct List of Why the Spell/Sword Cover is Awesome.

Cover Design/Layout: margaretpoplin.comIllustration:poopbird.com
Cover Design/Layout: margaretpoplin.com
Illustration:poopbird.com

1. Mentions witches.

2. Has a sword on it.

3. Look at those crazy numbers! What’s that all about?

4. Well designed shoes.

5. Legible.

6. I mean, for real..those numbers! They are so interesting and strange. I’ll be the author is pretty cool. And handsome.

7. That girl looks pretty mean. I’ll bet she’s a badass.

8. What’s up with that kid’s hair? Ha ha ha…I mean, really.

9. Where can I get some of those shoes?

10. Ten reasons seems pretty arbitrary.

11. Why not eleven?

12. Seriously, kid. Get a comb.

13.  It’s not hip. It’s not cool. It’s not edgy or geek chic or expansive. It would look completely out of place next to a Wheel of Time cover, a Game of Thrones cover, and the Name of the Wind cover. It would look completely out of place on the Fantasy shelf at Barnes & Noble. And that’s the point.

14. It’s simple. It’s clean. It’s dorky. It delights me that people who read the paper version will be slightly embarrassed to have people see the cover. It raises a giant Nerd Flag and waves it for all the world to see.

15. Wait. What’s the weird little symbol on the spine? Mysterious.

16. It’s distinct, it’s different, it’s memorable.

17. Kind of like that kid’s hair.

18. For better or worse the cover is exactly what I want. It’s exactly what you’ll find inside. A weird, off-kilter world just shy of a cartoon fever dream. Things are silly, things are odd, things are real. Silly things matter even though they shouldn’t.

19. Oh, hey! It’s got witches in it.

 

Spell/Sword Inspiration

Aragorn.
Aragorn.

“Why’d you write the book?”

“Huhn?” I said, cornflakes falling from my surprised mouth.

“The book. Spell/Sword. Why did you write it? What inspired you?”

“Uhhhh.” The spoon hovered over the bowl. “Look, my cereal is getting soggy and you know I am borderline neurotic about that, so…”

“Fine. I was only showing a little interest in your work, a little curiosity if you will. Thanks for responding so elegantly.”

My mouth was already full of more cereal, so it took a moment for me to respond. I munched furiously and swallowed, pointing accusingly with the spoon — then took another bite. My hatred of soggy cereal is a cruel mistress.

“You’ve never cared before! Why the interrogation all of a sudden?” I demanded through half a mouthful of cornflakes.

[It actually sounded more like “Myouff nevarr cared befoo! Ay the inrerroration paul of a suddeth?”]

The orange cat flicked its tail and said nothing. I hate it when he’s like this. Aragorn is more sphinx than

Aragorn.
Aragorn.

housecat, a grand old lion and shaman of the Cat Tribe — but he can be a proper bastard when the mood strikes him. Like most cats.

“Hey…look. I’m sorry.” I took one last quick bite of pre-soggy cornflakes. “It’s just a big question.”

Aragorn eyed me, green eyes level.

I wiped some milk off my chin. “It is!”

The orange cat sighed. “You don’t have an answer, do you? People like to know where books come from, what motivated the author, the journey from idea to page to finished product. You should have a short, easily-digestible sound bite prepared for this question. Don’t you know anything about marketing? Prospective customers want an easy hook when purchasing from an artist online. Young Genius, Aged Artist Returning to the Craft, Nerd Royalty, Passionate Young Woman/Man, Social Justice Crusader, Super Cool Hipster, Erotic Smut-Peddlar. Pick an easy bucket and climb up in there, silly human. You should really have all this figured out—you are self-publishing after all.”

“But the answer isn’t short or easily digestible. It’s not even coherent.” I protested. “And that is some seriously cynical e-marketing advice, Aragorn.”

“I’m a cat. We take in cynicism with our mother’s milk.”

“How does it taste?” My eyes dipped of their own volition towards the mostly empty cereal bowl in my hands.

Aragorn flicked his tail again and turned to leave.

“Wait, wait! I just don’t have an easy answer. I’m not one of those people who knew from age 9 that their dream was to write. You know? Study hard, build their craft, working slowly and inexorably towards their heart’s goal? And I’m not one of those people who were just minding their own business when a lightning bolt flash-seared their pants to the chair, and they immediately started writing a Profound Work. I mean there was some of both of that, but it all kind of happened in fits and starts — and mostly by accident.”

The orange cat looked over his shoulder with faint interest, halting his exit. I put the cereal bowl with the small residue of milk at the bottom to buy myself a little more time to prevaricate. Aragorn approached the offering, keeping his green eyes on me.

“I mean, sure. I’ve been a reader basically my whole life. I was reading my mom’s books when I was 10, way before I was ready for them. Dune, Sword of Shannara, everything I could get my hands on. And fantasy was always the thing that fascinated me. All through middle school and high school, just burning my way through every piece of genre fiction that the library and my meager funds could provide. Eddings, Tolkien, Williams – anything, everything! And maybe in some sort of vague, half-hearted way I noodled around with the thought of becoming a writer some day.”

Aragorn’s tongue rasped away at the milk in the bottom of the bowl in the sudden quiet as I took a breath.

“But never seriously, never with any drive. Sure, I wrote a few scenes and skits and short stories through high school and college, but it never even occurred to me to think of myself as a writer. Maybe because the people in my Creative Writing class who did were insufferable ponce-wicks — but also because me and the Future are always on our first date. I like her, things seem to be going more or less well, but I don’t know her at all.”

“Hmph.” Aragorn chuckled into the milk. “So, how did you accidentally write a book?”

"Stupid human."
“Stupid human.”

“Well, not really by accident. Okay — this is long and involved, let me give you the short-short version. A couple of years ago, I started running a Pathfinder campaign…”

“What?”

“You know, Pathfinder? It’s a lot like Dungeons & Dragons, but it’s more similar to 3.5 than that awful, awful 4th edition.”

The orange cat simply blinked and went back to cleaning the cereal bowl.

“Okay. You don’t care about that. Uh…okay, me and some friends started writing a story together online. We mainly did it to avoid boredom at our respective jobs, but it quickly turned into something very expansive and involved. Like, over the two years we wrote over a million words for this story.”

“Is that a lot?”

Cats. They just refuse to be impressed.

“Yes. It’s a lot, Aragorn. And in the middle of all that I developed a whole world, hundreds of characters, super involved multi-layered plots and history and backstory and..you see where this is going? I suddenly had the Stupid Epiphany: This is how novelists work. They start, and they don’t stop — then at some point they have enough words to call it a novel.”

“That is stupid.” Aragorn said.

“So, in the midst of this vague idea, I met a guy at DragonCon named Joe Peacock.”

“Is that a real person? And did you just verbally hyperlink something?”

“Yes and yes. He gave this awesome presentation on Akira–”

“Okay, stop that. Stop linking things in the middle of our conversation, it’s just rude.” The orange cat’s tail lashed with agitation.

“Sorry. Anyway, I was looking on his blog and I stumbled across this massive article he wrote about Self-

Artsy shot.
Artsy shot.

Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing. It was really cut and dried, step by step instructions. It reduced the process to something concrete — something that I could actually see myself doing. Combined with my Stupid Epiphany it got me to open up a Google Doc and type ‘Chapter One’. I’ve never started a novel because I was absolutely sure I would never finish — and if I did nothing would come of it. Now I felt like neither of those were excuse enough anymore.”

“So,” the orange cat mused. “You wrote a book to prove that you could write a book? That’s it?”

” Partly, I guess. That got me through the first chapter, but after that it was about telling the story.”

“The story?” Aragorn curled up into a more comfortable position. ” What’s your book about?”

“Oh god. Well…” I picked up the immaculately scoured cereal bowl and dropped it in the sink. “How long do you have for this?”

[To be continued…maybe? 

Take a minute and ‘Like’ our page on Facebook, that way you can enjoy my randomness at more regular intervals.]