I Need Help

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I need help.

You are my people. You are my ragtag band of adventurers, wizards, lawyers, normal humans, and mutants. And I need your help getting my art out in the world.

Tomorrow is release day for my book, THE RIDDLE BOX. It’s the sequel to that other book I won’t shut up about, SPELL/SWORD. I’m extremely proud of it. Enough so that I’m able to compel myself to do this. To unabashedly ask for help. I’m an indie writer. My books are completely self-published, leaning on my artist friends and my word friends to get me much closer to the professional quality level than I ever could alone. After that I’m the salesman, the marketer, the head of the fan club.

I’m really bad at it. Or rather I’m incredibly eccentric and inconsistent at it. Which amounts to the same thing.

Tomorrow I need your help. If you’re buying the book, I need you to make noise about it. On Facebook, on Twitter, on Ello, on Tumblr. I need you to pester other nerds and readers and reader-nerds. From what I learned on the first book, tomorrow will be the biggest sales day this book may ever have – and the higher we can get in the Amazon rankings, the more it will show up in stranger’s searches and get suggested to other customers that like manticores.

And after that I need you to do more. I need you to write a review. On Amazon, on Goodreads, on your own blog. Anywhere online or in print. The couple of dollars I’m going to get from you for buying the book is FAR outweighed by the value of a review – EVEN IF YOU HATE THE BOOK. it’s a funny thing that whatever made you hate the book may be the very reason that someone else will love it. I love getting 3 star and 4 star reviews – it seems like you are giving me legit criticism, and when outsiders read them it hides the fact that you are all my marauders.

Please help me. My art is weird. I know if we keep at this eventually we’ll tumble into some sort of larger presence on the web and in the genre – or at the very least some literature-archaeologist is going to stumble across the oddest of diamonds in the far flung future.

There are sample chapters of both books here: https://spell-sword.com/buy-the-book/

And the money link to Amazon for the ebook and paperback is here:http://www.amazon.com/Riddle-Box-Spell-Sword-…/…/ref=sr_1_1…

[As a reward for reading this far, I’ll let you in on a secret. You can order the Paperback right now. You don’t have to wait until tomorrow if you don’t want to.]

So thank you. I assume you will all now follow my whims like automatons, but thank you anyway. Thank you for reading this far. In this post, and in the books. It means so much to me when I see you guys posting nice things about the book, or commenting on my book related posts, or sending me cool pictures of you and the book in France. Anything and everything you do that shows support is deeply appreciated.

Let’s do it! Please?

Continuity

Artist - Abe Taraky
Artist – Abe Taraky

I get asked this question a lot: How many books are there in the Spell/Sword series?

Well, not a lot. Eleven times, tops.

People ask because they want to know what they’re getting into, I suppose. Or just figure out how many years they have to deal with me explaining my fiction with wild-eyed elan. On the site so far I have three titles listed: Spell/Sword, The Riddle Box [PREORDER IT OH MY GOD PLEASE IT COMES OUT ON THE 26th]and Asteroid Made of Dragons.  These are reasonably set in stone – first one is out, second one next week, and I reference the title of the third book IN the second book so those are visible within the Narrative Fog of War. But, as I’ve always said – this is not epic fantasy, I’m not writing a trilogy. The story doesn’t end in the next book ( though you can safely consider AMOD as the end of an arc, or more correctly, the end of Disc One).

So, how many books will there be?

I should really only ask rhetorical questions that I know the answer to.

More than three, obviously? Seven seems like too many, but five might not be enough. BUT who writes a six book series?!? Is that a hexology? Wait, that kind of sounds badass, maybe it will be six books.

See, you would think I’m in charge of these things. But I’m kind of not. I know the tale I’m telling, I know the end. But the path to get there — there’s still plenty of shadows and fog, which is the way I like it. I’m a ‘pantser’, a ‘discovery writer’. I ‘don’t know what I’m doing’. I don’t know what I’m doing. Is there anything more wonderful or grand than that statement? I just point my antenna towards Aufero and pick up the broadcast and try to type fast enough to keep up with it — at least for the rough draft. Part of me wants there to be 10 books, because the last one is so sad.

Let’s pretend. Let’s pretend there are going to be ten books. Here’s what they will/could be.

  1. Spell/Sword
  2. The Riddle Box
  3. Asteroid Made of Dragons
  4. Paper-Thin Harry Potter Parody*
  5. Wild Magic and Mild Salsa
  6. Suddenly the Robots
  7. Ecclesiastical by Jonathan Franzen
  8. The Archivarium Saga : Secret of the Wonderblade**
  9. Swordroom – Adventures in Financial Diplomacy and Corporate Espionage
  10. The Fall

* There will be a year ‘in-world’ gap between the events of AMOD and Paper-Thin Harry Potter Parody

** I think this is the one where they get Bird!

Shit, maybe I will write 10 books. I need to hurry up and become famous so I can write these faster and stop wasting time ‘feeding and clothing’ myself.

The Holy Detective

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Close your eyes. Okay, wait, open them again. You can’t read with your eyes closed. Are you reading this now? I guess I’ll need to wait for you to get bored and come back and read this.

Okay – welcome back. Now, metaphysically close your eyes. What do you see when you read the word ‘detective’? YES I KNOW YOU SEE LETTERS.

You are impossible to blog at. Simply impossible.

Now most normal people probably see Sherlock Holmes. Or Batman. Or Sam Spade. Or Tracer Bullet. Or Kay Howard. Or DCI Jane Tennison. Or Columbo.

Or any other number of gumshoes, thief-catchers, and head-scratchers. The ones who find. The ones who put the pieces together. The ones who solve the puzzle, catch the crook, go into the dark place and shine their big-ass X-files style flashlight on the things we’re afraid to look for.

All the way from Sgt. Cuff in The Moonstone to the watered down latter day sleuths that tromp across primetime underneath their personal assortment of L.E.T.T.E.R.S. — we love them. Or at least I love them. But I would make the argument that in our modern minds the role of detective has taken on a religious bent.  When they appear in a story we know their purpose, we understand their function. And when they succeed, when they drag the truth to light,there is a feeling of our faith being rewarded.

Humans have always used stories to understand the world that surrounds us. I find it interesting that so much of popular fiction in one way or another features this figure: the Detective as Hero. True Detective on HBO explored this trope in several fascinating ways — overlaying the mechanics of a procedural on the Hero’s Journey. As a side bar, I also found it interesting that the grungy, dystopic world of that show culminated in a moment of true, non-ironic hope and peace.

Maybe that’s why the popularity. If Campbell is to be trusted [ AND HE FUCKING IS] the mono-myth appears again because it mirrors the operation of the human psyche. Mapping the Hero’s quest to Detective stories is a natural pop-culture tic. The Call is some dead body in an alley somewhere, the Underworld an interrogation room, the Elixir a confession, a signed piece of paper, vengeance wreaked, the sound of the cuffs as they click closed. Across the board we make a solemn grunt of satisfaction as the Detective solves the case.  Other heroes have their battles take many forms, but for the Detective it most often boils down to ‘ Figure This Out.’ Maybe I just find mental battles more interesting in my dotage.

What do you think? Close your eyes again. [Metaphysically you ass.] When you see your Detective, are they outlined in a holy fire? Or, as is all too often the case, is it just me having a weird fixation?

Because I see it. Bayless and Pembleton, Mulder and Scully, Watson and Holmes. When the Detective appears I am on board. I lean forward, towards the TV or the page, eager for the first move to be made. I want them to get out there, out there in the dark and get on the trail. I want the hounds sniffing at the scent, I want the board covered with pictures and yarn, I want the detective to drink her coffee grind away at the problem. FOLLOW THE LEADS, GET IT WRONG, TRY AGAIN.  Play the violin and stare at the drop of green ink on the handkerchief and realize that the priest was blind so there is NO WAY HE COULD HAVE KNOWN THE KILLER HAD RED HAIR.

I may have a problem.

So yeah, I like mysteries a little. And detectives a bit.

When I realized that the most logical sequel to my fantasy novel was an Agatha Christie locked-room murder mystery, I was to put it mildly: NUCLEAR LEVEL STOKED. Just throwing all those toys in the box and rattling them around was exciting enough, but the idea of my hero becoming the Detective was the most exciting. Rime is a character defined by her intellect, the idea of matching her up against this type of puzzle was very exciting. Also, finding out that Rime has the same nerdy love for mystery stories that I do was another nice surprise. She’s so excited to step into that role. If I may put it mildly, she is a huge dork about it. Another surprise: Rime is not the greatest detective in the world. I wouldn’t say terrible exactly – but definitely not on speed dial for Commissioner Gordon.

So, what do you think? Is the Detective ‘holy’? OR HAVE I JUST GONE MAD.

[This post is a naked attempt to promote my new book, The Riddle Box. The first two chapters are free here and you can pre-order the ebook here. DON’T FALL FOR MY TRICKS.]

Lunch with a Villain III

I saw him a few other times. I carefully averted my eyes or tucked my chin to my breastbone. He knew I was there of course, but gave no sign. His narrow shoulders square in his brown cloak, his grin cutting the light from traffic signs, from reflected glass, from the glow of smartphones. After my narrow escape at the pizza parlor, I figured we were done with each other. He leveled a small shoe-store with his might, Chuck Taylors screaming in agony – I was in no hurry to repeat that encounter.

But still. You can’t just ignore your creation, villain or no. So yesterday when he swaggered into Popeye’s and took the booth catty-corner to mine I wasn’t truly surprised.

I finished my mashed potatoes and gravy before I acknowledged him. I would need the energy if it came to battle and it gave me a moment to collect myself. Plus I really like mashed potatoes and gravy.

“What?” I laid my plastic fork on the table.

“Why does their have to be a what? Maybe I’m just here to dine,” the villain scratched his stubbled cheek.

“Bullshit, what do you want?”

The villain hissed through his teeth, sucking in air. He seemed uncomfortable, pressing his abdomen against the garish plastic table. Waves of malice began to radiate, and his grin forced itself wider.

I did my best to remain calm. I looked him in his no-color eyes. “What do you want, Izus Torossian?”

“What do I want, what do I want? Oh nothing, nothing.” he crooned. “Or at least nothing I’ll admit to, nothing you’ll ever really give me. But I have come to bend knee, like the Daemon following the good doctor on that ship in the ice. Isn’t that what you wanted?”

“I…” A pang of sympathy and fear. “You…you want a new story, don’t you?”

The villain sprang to his feet, scattering napkins and packets of salt. His brown cloak coiled around him like a hungry thing. His grin was so bright and fierce it split the world in two. He did not respond, but the empty hunger in his eyes was answer enough.

“Uh..okay. I guess I can do that. A short story, a long story, a song? Cowboys, ninjas, corporate America? Where can I send you, Browncloak? What world can I lend you that you won’t break?” My forehead throbbed, but suddenly I knew. I heard the melody.

Izus leaned forward, the villain and fast food. We are close, he and I, he could see the road unspooling in my head. His curly hair crackled with eagerness.

“Okay, hear me out. You’re going to have to change a bit, of course. No magic where you’re going — and can you drive? How do you feel about vans…or station wagons? And I don’t think the cloak can come–”

“Cloak has to come,” the villain grunted.

“Okay, okay…we’ll work on that part. But, that’s not the really hard part.” I folded my hands with unease. “Izus, I think this time you may have to be the Hero.”

“Oh man,” he chuckled. “This is a terrible plan.”

-End-

‘Gamer’ Has Never Been Enough

I’ve never liked the term ‘gamer’. It’s reductive and bland, all too obvious. A ‘gamer’- one who games, or plays games. Such a strange banner to throw up over our heads. I play most types – video, tabletop, mind, board, social, classic, etc, etc. etc. — but I’ve never been able to bend a proper term into shape for that identity. ‘Player’ sounds weird – and a little 90’s BET. ‘Gamester’ is lame and acronyms make the world yawn. But at the end of the day, it wasn’t that important of a question. Everyone plays games – all humans, everywhere, forever. There’s no need to draw a circle, no tribal totem to shake. 

But now this #gamergate nonsense.

These sweaty children smearing their foreheads with war paint and screaming across the digital savannah. Hatred and fear disguised as a righteous fury. They wrap their fingers around that empty little word ‘gamer’ and wield it like a cudgel.

You are using a meaningless word, which is appropriate for your drivel. Let me tell you a thing, let me whisper you one of the secrets of the clan you claim to represent.

‘Gamer’ is not enough. It is not enough name for who and what we are. We need more – more names. Mario. The Grey Warden. Dragonborn. Malrock the Magnificent. Lara Croft. Dogfish. Nathan Drake. Commander Shepherd. More names are needed, more ways to see the world. Terra. Samus Aran. Luigi. Wander. Sommerset the Stray-Dog,  Pac-Man. More names, groups, armies, comrades, unions. The Alliance. The Horde. Blue Team. The Lodestar Crew. The Turks. The Jedi Academy.

We are the dreamers, the walkers in strange lands. We are the people of Many Names, of Many Eyes, of Endless Lives. We are the point in the dark, the moving hand, the twist of the brain that learns and remembers. We learn, we grow, we return again and again.

This is who we are, this is who all humans are. And we who are so fortunate to play in strange worlds unnumbered are always eager for anyone who needs a new name. That’s all ‘gaming’ is really – another chance, another way to see the world, another chance to Get It Right.

So those of you hiding behind the word ‘gamer’ as an excuse for misogyny and intolerance – it’s time for a new name. It’s time to Try Again. You know how. It’s as close as the Reset button. If you are human, you play games. If you play games, you can learn. So learn. Do better. 

There is no banner. There is no tribe. Only you and your warped cadre bleeding and gibbering on the people who love what you love.

Lunch with a Villain

We met on the patio of Agua Linda – well, it’s not much of a patio, just some plastic fencing, plastic chairs, plastic tables with plastic umbrellas. But it’s outside and it’s nice, so let’s deem it a patio. I got there early and ordered a beer and munched on chips until he got there. I half expected him to fly down from the sky on his golden roc or just freaking teleport in, gleaming yellow and green. But no, he  walked up off the street, turned the corner of the building and sauntered right up. He was smiling, of course. Villains always smile – true, proper villains anyway.

He tucked his brown cloak over the chair back and helped himself to some chips. He started to speak, but instead leaned over towards the glass doors that lead inside and signaled for his own beer. His smile was 1000 watts of teeth.

“You look older,” I said.

“Well, that’s hardly surprising. You’re older too,” the villain crunched on a chip dripping with red salsa. “Just as much gray hair on your head as on mine.”

It was true. His hair was thick and wild, the kind of white-boy afro you rarely encounter in the wild — but silver winked from many places in the brush.

“This already isn’t going like I thought it would,” I said and took a sip of my beer.

“Hey, I just work here,” the villain spread his hand expansively, then folded them behind his head.

“Look, I wanted to talk to someone and for some reason you were that person. I don’t even know why. We haven’t worked together in a while and you’re sort of dead?”

“I was defeated. Not killed, just sort of removed from the scene. It was all pretty vague. What is it with you and these metaphysical—?”

A large frosted glass of brown beer clunked onto the plastic table. The villain winked at our waitress and proceeded to snag the grass-green lime from the rim and toss it into the parking lot.

“I don’t even know why they give the lime. It doesn’t do a damn thing for the taste, in my opinion,” the brown-cloaked man took a long, slow pull at glass.

“It’s nice. I like it.” I waved the waitress away with an apologetic smile. “No food today, we’re drinking our lunch.”

The villain clinked his glass against mine. “As I was saying, I wasn’t really killed so much as expunged. Two ways to look at it, creator mine. From one angle, I was never a real person – just a personality construct created by the sudden influx of infernal might and superior intelligence on a pre-existing mental framework. The boy made his choice and became me. Then at the end of the tale that girl unmade his choice for him and he became him again. I’m like an alternate personality – or a mask the boy wore for a while. So you’re just talking to an old mask, I’m afraid.”

“You said two ways to look at it.”

The villain snickered and took another long draw of his beer, then leaned back out into the aisle to signal for another. He held up one finger, then after giving me an appraising glance raised a second.

“I think you know the other way. All just actors, aren’t we? Playing this role then that role, then we hang out in your head until it’s time for auditions. I had my time on the stage and now I’m back in the wings – is that what this is about? You need a proper menace?”

He leaned forward almost hungrily. I felt a little guilty.

“No, that’s not what this is about.”

“Whatever,” the villain finished off his first beer, then smiled at me through the glass bottom. “Or do you want to wear the mask? Do you want to be the villain for a while?”

“Uh-“

“I’m not really the seductive type –“

“God, shut up,” I sighed. “This was a bad idea.”

The waitress brought our beers and departed in the silence that crouched on our plastic table.

“Do you want to get drunk?” the villain asked.

“Yeah, okay.”

State of Ruin

How does one begin a story?

With thunder and lightning and rain? With the song my mother sang that last night, that last night before I ran away? Should I begin with the ravagers, their black cries and crude crush and stomp through the white-knacker arbor? The blood in my teeth, the blood on my hands, the frantic knot of my scarf around the gate? The trees and the night and the thunder, the lightning, the rain?

Did the story really start there? Did I start there? Or was it when I first laid my hand on the sword?

– – scrap of a journal, found in the Idolobha Mirror

Why are all my heroes runaways? Will this whole post be a series of questions?

I’m in a mood, so strap on your cummerbund and cravat, I need to lay in a bower of lilies and emote with an absinthe-soaked hanky over my face for a bit.

I am creative wormwood at the moment. I’m chugging along in my various storytelling

Artist - Phil Noto
Artist – Phil Noto

projects [tabletop games, mostly], but the big weight on my brain isn’t moving anywhere. By this I mean The Riddle Box – slowly moldering in Edit Hell. I’ve been chipping away at it in fits and starts, even got some seriously potent advice on the first couple of chapters from my supremely advanced colleagues Rachel and Michael — but still it lays there in the hopper, just getting more and more razor-edged by the moment.

I have some legitimate excuses – we just moved, bought a house in the bargain, day job trips, etc. – but I know the real problem is my heart isn’t in it. I kind of despise this type of writer fluff – writing is a craft, you should do it when it’s time to do it, but I’ve just felt gutted and hollow lately and I want to weep on my tortoise-shell mirror, okay?

I know the answer is just to keep moving forward and not beat myself up about it, but when does being understanding and supportive of your own depressive tendencies just morph into bullshit laziness?

 

The Audience

Who do we write for? Who do you imagine when you type the words in the glowing white box of your choice?

Maybe it’s a side-effect of my own checkered past in the theatre, but I spend a lot of time wondering about them, out there in the darkness.  In all my art 2014-02-27 23.36.04[ARTZ tm] there’s a need for the receiver, a tacit covenant with the other end of the line. I cannot transmit into a vacuum, I have to know that someone, somewhere is tuning in – and like many monkey-brains I need immediate verification of that fact. The few times I’ve tried some mediums without that component I’ve felt like my feet are nailed to the floor.

I worked for a radio station for a brief stint, back in college.  Even got a few shifts here and there on the microphone – but it made my flesh crawl. I knew intellectually that people were listening, but me – alone – in a booth, cracking jokes to the empty air is my idea of purgatory. Something about that strange Limbo where I knew there was an audience, but I could neither see nor verify them drove me batty.  Once again, a mutation derived from the stage – if you land a joke and nobody laughs – -did you really land it? Without that feedback loop, I feel myself diminish, crawling ever inward to my own navel as THE FIRES OF UTTER DISDAIN CONSUME MY FRAIL PSYCHE.

Ahem.

Which brings me to Twitter. I’ve been on there since January, in fits and spurts. I keep jumping out there on the dance floor, but then become immediately self-conscious – the death of rhythm.  I keep asking Who am I talking to? What is the purpose of this space? Who is the audience? How does speaking hear differ from other spaces? What do I gain by speaking here?

So, sure, I’m over-analyzing, but that’s what you get, son. It’s clear that most people use it for riffing – humor noodles tossed against the uncaring internet wall. And some people use it as a pressure valve, an easy space to vent their frustrations. And for some it’s a stream-of-consciousness companion, recording the banal and profound events of their lives as a record of validity. Or some strange combination of all three. Or the people that just PIMP THAT SHIT.

When I want to say funny thing, I pull up Twitter. But where do I go when I have some serious feels? Here? Eh, I know I’ve emoted plenty here, but it feels unguarded. I could ramble on my Twitter – but then, even more  of a ‘no audience’ vibe. But should I really need an audience when I’m talking about private matters, or just want to spill out into text?

When I want to ‘unpack my heart with words’, why don’t I just jam it out onto Twitter or WordPress or Tumbler or shudder Facebook?

Because I need to feel the audience out there, shifting in their seats – but I don’t trust them.

Here’s where I would make a joke about Google+…but why mock the lumbering undead as they unquietly writhe in the shadows?

 

 

Egads!

2014-03-05 17.08.32Aye, forsooth! This bloggery has been a trifle thin of late. I come not to praise the lapse, but bury the hatchet. Your gentle author’s head is o’er crammed with projects both mundane and fantastical and time to devote to this shining square is easily counted on the head of an ant. [ITS REAL SMALL SON.] Worry not for things of great import and moment lurch forward to the flimsy present. A special discount on the Spell/Sword ebook next week. Editing on The Riddle Box continues apace, a rare life appearance in the misty future.

Hold me in your hearts if we be friends, or at the very least in your gentle kidneys if we be casual acquaintances.

 

Inevitable

We’re all telling the same story.

I’ve been thinking about the State of the Fantasy Genre intermittently, and I just had a thought-burst. We’re all telling the same story, the story of 1011841_189098384582884_536161209_nInevitability. Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicles, Abercrombie’s First Law, Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire.

And me.

The feeling of fate, of the dark steps at the end of the road pervades the genre — even me, who is supposedly some sort of bubble-squeak rebel scribbling graffiti on the overpass of Epic — I’m telling the same story.

To paraphrase Kvothe: ‘You know how it ends. It ends right here, with me telling you this story.” [Unless of course, Rothfuss has been misleading us all, and Doors of Stone culminates with some version of Kote yelling ‘It’s Clobberin’ Time.”]

I don’t necessarily think this is a new convention in fantasy, Tolkien and Howard laid that ground for us long before — but it feels kind of strange to feel the same cobalt melancholy hanging over so much of the field. Is it because we’re all too cognizant of the gears and automata of storytelling? Or are we all just too jaded to tell a story with a half-way decent happy ending? From whence this kamikaze-love song with the grip of Fate?

Maybe just a function of maturity, of most head-and-shoulders artists hitting the success point when they’re old enough to feel the turn of the earth in its gyre, the dusty cobwebs of age long since gathering.

Or am I seeing a correlation that isn’t there? I know the story I’m telling, the strange and dark end of my Heroes. It sits on my shoulders like a black iron mantel. So tempting to change it, to have it come out better — or cheat the very fabric of the tale.