1. It’s fun. Looking at it just makes me smile. It’s unapologetically goofy and cartoony. Most fantasy art takes itself so freaking seriously.
2. It’s different. This doesn’t look like 98% of the fantasy novel illustrations I’ve ever seen before. Not on the shelves at Barnes & Noble, not on Amazon.com or anywhere else.
3. It’s clean. All of the negative space just pleases me aesthetically. A traditionally published novel would want to cram more information and more verbiage on there. I’ll probably have my name on their, somewhere very small, but that’s it. I also think it’ll really stand out when seen online as a tiny thumbnail on someone’s Kindle.
4. It makes me think of Chrono Trigger. My book sits very comfortably in the mental space occupied by Dungeons & Dragons, JRPGs, and manga. I adore that this would not look terribly out of place on the cover of any of those three.
5. It will make people vaguely embarrassed to be seen reading it. Not so much with the Kindle version, but people who have the paper copy. Anyone reading this will be broadcasting to the world that they are a Huge Nerd.
Huge props to Poopbird on the illustration, you should follow the link from here or the image itself and check out his entire portfolio and buy stuff from him.
I hope this gets you marginally excited about reading the book. I know it gets me far more than marginally excited about finishing it.
We work so hard to build this little world. A better world, a world of lights and shadows. The world we all want to live in. Our Twilight Kingdom.
And it is fleeting. From its birth, it begins to decay. To fall through the sand-glass. We pour energy into it, it shines. We dance, we sing, we appear. We wear the clothes of our better selves, or the masks of our hidden villains.
But then it ends. Fade, extinguish,explode. One way or another. We leave the Kingdom with nothing.
So be it.
Come and burn with me.
Come and fly.
But only for a little while.
If you’ve been wondering why the blog has been so quiet — here’s your answer. I’ve been directing a production of this musical at our Friendly Neighborhood Theater, the Town & Gown Players.
Here’s the part — were I a normal human being — where I would gush about the show. Partly from genuine excitement and pride; partly in a cynical, manipulative attempt to convince you to come see the show.
But as this blog provides ample evidence, I am not a normal human being. I have a complicated relationship with positivity. Most evident in creative projects where I am invested. I have a, shall we say, extreme reluctance to speak without restraint, to truly commit to the excitement. How about a list of your neuroses related to this, I hear you all shouting with animation and curiosity at your computer screens. Okay!
1. Pure superstition. If I say that the show is good, amazing, colossal, etc. etc. I’m calling down the attention of the gods. I live in Athens and hubris-smiting is most definitely on the menu. A musical is a super-complicated, involved creative endeavor with thousands of moving parts. Everything has to gel – the music, the movement, the acting, the vocals. Layered on top of that is the spiritual mumbo-jumbo of any community – you want every person’s chi to align just so. I do not need Hermes to start
feeling capricious or mercurial[HAR HAR HAR] and throw a wrench up in my show, just for giggle-shits.
2. Cynical Directing Style. I’m not quite sure where I picked this up — but I truly believe that if I tell an actor that what they are doing is good, they will immediately get worse. As an actor myself, fear is the best motivator. If you believe that you are doing a good job, you will stop working to get better – you will relax, get comfortable. It’s a short trip to Craptown. Every rehearsal, every performance you should be striving to exceed your previous attempt. Add to that the weird parental aspect of being a director — actor-children work much harder when they are unsure of Daddy’s approval. It’s cynical, but it works. Most of us performers have some sort of approval-need or bone-deep insecurity, as a director you might as well plug in to that and use it to get them to do sharper pirouettes. I’ve actually made a point to get better about this one, giving GRUDGING positive notes. Baby steps!
3. First Impressions. The beginning of a play is a holy moment. The moment when the lights go down — it’s pure, unbridled potential. Anything could happen — a whole new world is being born right in front of you. I treasure that moment, and I hate to pollute it. Especially with generic ‘Rah-Rah Show’s SO AWESOME’ posturing. So, if I started rambling on about how great the show is, or how much I like X scene, or Y song — then I’ve put things in your head. Expectations, judgement, etc. The less said the better. Come to the temple with your eyes unclouded.
So, what can I say about the show – through the net of my psychosis?
The set looks amazing. My designers really outdid themselves – I can comfortably say that it is unlike anything we’ve put on that stage in the past 10 years, easy.
The light design is also excellent. My bacon was Epic Level saved by the last minute addition of our Light Designer.
The choreography is excellent, thanks to my crack Choreography Squadron.
The band is crisp, and the musical director’s re-scoring of several key moments is inspired.
The cast? Solid. I know that sounds like faint praise — but I’ll double-down. This cast is Solid Snake.
I won’t say anything more, due to neuroses listed above. But when the curtain opens Friday night, that’s where you want to be. I want you to see what the cast has accomplished, has earned through months of hard work. I believe you are going to see something exceptional.
If you are anywhere within a 50 mile radius of Athens, GA – you should make a point of attending.
Click on the image up top to buy tickets. You can pick your seat and everything, through the magic of the internet.
I am beyond excited….and more than a little terrified. I actually have an artist working on the cover art for Spell/Sword.
I insist that you click on this super-rad Cyberman art and check out some other examples of his work. He’s got a lot of style-flexibility, but everything he does is interesting, distinctive and [as mentioned] on the north side of Rad. We had a great brainstorming session last week, and I should start seeing sketches in the next couple of weeks. I almost wrote ‘barnstorming’. I really want to have a barnstorming session in the immediate future.
Mike Groves – aka Poopbird – is a phenomenal artist, living in my hometown of Athens, GA. You should follow all of the links below and rub your grimy internet-hands all over his virtua-product. He is also an amazing tattoo artist, so if you need some ink (especially nerd-ink) he’s the man to call.
I can’t wait to see what he comes up with — even though the anxiety-engine in my head is already revving up. Cover art means we’re getting closer and closer to the book being real, and launched into the world where everyone will hate it.
A recurring complaint from my Alpha Readers — and now one of my Beta Readers, is that I don’t tell them enough. They want more details about the world, more about the history of the characters.
I have two main characters, and I sort of summarily dump them into the plot together. They both have Dark Pasts and Important Backstories [tm], but…and this is the crux, their backstory doesn’t have anything to do with the plot du jour. The amorphous goals that I am moving Spell/Sword towards are pace, energy, and involvement. I don’t want to put any woolgathering or world history navel gazing — just accept the tropes and characters as presented, and show me a little trust. Epic fantasy tends to frontload all of the exposition and world detail, I just want the reader to strap in and go along for the ride. This is episodic structure, not an epic trilogy.
A good example of this would be the pilot episode of Firefly. Admittedly, not a perfect example — that’s a vast ensemble. You’re only shown enough about the world and the character to serve the plot of the episode.
Okay, it’s in space. Mal was in a battle, his side lost. Okay, time passed. Oh, it’s the Civil War. I get it. Hmmm, Asian influences have become culturally dominant. Evil Empire, band of mercenaries and thieves. Okay, Mal’s a rogue with a conscience, Zoe’s a devoted soldier, Wash is comic-relief — oh hey, he and Zoe are married. Jane’s a thug, Kaylee’s an innocent mechanic, Inara’s a diplomatic courtesan, Book’s a priest, Simon is a rich kid doctor on the run, and River’s nuts. Oh, she’s super powerful/insane/government project — the empire is going to hunt her the entire show, hook set for the arc of the first season. Ooh, Reapers are nasty.
You don’t get the description of every major location in the ‘Verse. You don’t learn anything about the actual setup of the Alliance government, or the name of it’s ruling body. You don’t know how Mal got from being a defeated solider to captain of Serenity, you don’t know anything about Zoe and Wash’s courtship. Book has about eighteen arrows pointing towards him that say MYSTERIOUS SECRET — but, none of that resolves in the first episode. Whedon throws all these tropes into a ship, lets them rattle around a little, then unmasks the sleeper agent who tries to capture River. The character and world exposition always takes a backseat to the action of each scene — and more importantly, the character relationships. The family dynamic of the crew and the budding connections between the new passengers — and their reaction to the imminent danger at hand is what makes that episode work.
We all know right off the bat that Book used to be an assassin. That’s a trope, the holy man who put down the sword. It appears again and again. Whedon could have spent 10 minutes explaining about the Alliance Death Squad and their memorable exploits, but that’s now what makes a work of fiction interesting or memorable. What makes Book more than a trope is his relationships — his seeking out of wisdom from Inara, his antagonistic mentoring of Mal, his almost paternal relationship with Jane.
That’s how I’m trying to view this first book. It’s the first episode. Here’s my wacky duo, here’s their powers, here’s a little sniff of their past, here’s some action, here’s some villains, here’s some crazy, there’s some weird, and hey, book’s over.
One of my favorite episodic novels. The Dresden Files is a good example. I almost stopped reading after the first one, because so many pages were devoted to explaining exactly who Harry was, the various supernatural forces around Chicago, how magic worked, how making potions worked, the backstory of his cat, the backstory of his car,etc. etc. — only when I picked up book two, and all of those details were read did the kick-assery truly begin.
So — to sum up. My goal is to write my very first book and have it be just as good as Firefly and Book Two of The Dresden Files. And I’m going to self-publish. And this doesn’t sound very likely does it?
I have been listening to my Alpha Readers — there was a significant increase/clarification of world and character information in the Beta Draft. But, there’s got to be a line. There is an argument to be made that leaving my readers wanting to know more is a good thing — but I’m a little terrified of leaving them annoyed, instead of motivated.
I am courting my readers, dammit. And I’m just not the sort of girl to throw up my skirts on the first date.
Ultimately, I’m in the weird position of being beholden to no one as a self-publisher. I don’t have an agent or a publishing house demanding that I add more romantic tension between the main characters, or insisting that I cut out the Steam-Skating Frogs as nonsensical. But I also don’t have the advantage of their experience either. I can write it however I want, and no one can stop me from spending a few days on Amazon putting it into print.
Man, it must be relaxing to have an editor.
I’m just starting to get weary of eighteenth-guessing everything in the book. I have a legitimate fear of totally abandoning my own judgement and just cramming in every possible thing into the book that anyone could ever want to see. And winding up with a big ungainly, craven mess. OR not doing that, and putting out an austere, confusing desert.
“a Witch is born out of the true hungers of her time (…) I am a child of the poisonous wind that copulated with the River on an oil-slick, garbage infested midnight. I turn about on my own parentage. I inoculate against those very biles that brought me to light. I am a serum born of venoms. I am the antibody of all Time.”
― Long After Midnight, Ray Bradbury
Doesn’t that just make you sick? I have a witch in Spell/Sword, and several of my early readers have asked ‘What’s the deal with this witch?’. I’ve tried several times to explain with rambling and halting description. Then I came across this quote on Tumblr — perfectly summed it up. Freaking Bradbury.
Almost, but not quite, sensible. Approaching, but never meeting, sane.
So many pieces that don’t fit. Words, names, places, people, gods, colors, music. A world on the edge
of things, a Grand Central Station of the cosmos. A quiet shore where many lost things wash up and begin again.
What brings them there? What keeps them there?
The Lost named it, when they stepped from their silver ships. In the old tongue, it means “to steal”. As if the world itself was a bandit, reaching into the pockets of more respectable universes and grabbing everything that jingles, everything that shines. Aufero piles up its treasure, little caring for organization or thrift. Rubies bang against pennies, coarse granite against opal.
History wanders, and logic gets lost. Civilizations rise by whim, and the unlikely and strange gad about in the common streets as if protected by royal decree.
Dinosaurs moan about philosophy, while living skeletons make a proper Old Fashioned at the bar. Swaggering bravos, kings and titans of industry all plot and battle in the streets of a city where it is always night, for no particular reason at all. A patient prince of Hell lays waste to all who oppose him, cheating the laws of the universe with deadpan glee. Minotaurs play chess. Gnomes sing the blues. Friendship is real, and love is real and death is real — side by side with a thousand quiet absurdities and the hallowed mundane.
George Washington wearing a clown nose.
Do you want to go?
[Just some navel-gazing about my main story-world.]
But I was editing, black and white photo soldier guy, who I hope is not some sort of war criminal! I can see that ceremonial dagger on your belt, and I’m sure you’d like to dispense some pre-Internet justice, but hear me out.
In between normal life errata and work neccesity, my creative-time has been in short supply. Lodestar has taken a turn for the awesome as we rocket towards the conclusion – and I’m determined to deliver on the storytelling and gameplay promise of the campaign and not leave my players disappointed when it wraps up in September. On top of that I’m running a short side-game for some neophyte nerds in the neighborhood, plus planning for my Top Secret Next Campaign. Compounded with time rolling in the floor with the new puppy, and other general puttering about – I’ve been swamped.
I finished the rough draft of Spell/Sword back in April, then put it away for as long as possible before diving into editing. I made it a full four weeks, which was torturous indeed.
True editing began in May, here was my process:
1. Print out the draft, and read through it. Making only absolutely necessary notes in the margins.
3. Read through it again, making nit-picky grammar notes.
4. Take all of the comments/edits from the paper version and add them to my Google Doc. “No argument” edits were implemented immediately. [Grammar fixes, word choice, spelling mistakes, erotic centaurs scene] More complicated edits requiring more thought or massive chapter-spanning revision entered as Comments onto the G-Doc.
5. Man, there’s a lot of these Comments. [63 total, only 17 of which were related to petticoat description. ALWAYS NEED MORE DESCRIPTION OF THE COURTLY LADY DRESSES]
6. Worked in fits and starts on the larger edits. The easy ones first, picking at the edges — then finally dived into the more serious ones in June.
7. Anxiety Quicksand. Edits seem to be making book worse. Every thing I read seems to be terrible, even if not explicitly marked for revision. I hate the book, and spend a lot of time polishing a terrible, shiny thought. Writing this draft was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done — a goal in my life that I never imagined I would accomplish. To have made it this far is nothing short of miraculous — but the book still might not be any good. Effort does not equal excellence in writing, or any art. I might have a completely unusable draft, rotten to the core. I might have written a book and still not have a book.
8. Kept editing.
9. Started to lose the feeling of forward momentum, so I engaged the Saving Grace of Art. A deadline. Contacted my Alpha Readers, and let them know that I would be printing the draft the first of July to send them copies for review. I embrace that deadline, and editing redoubles in ferocity.
10. I like the book a little better. Well, let’s be serious — I love the book, but understand that I have lost any objectivity. I’ve read it too many times, I’m way too close. I finish up major edits, with the salve that I’m going to go through this whole process again once my Alphas have a crack at it. Only they can tell me whether or not my child is a Goofus or a Gallant.
11. I have one last brainstorm for my editing before releasing it to the Alphas. I read the entire draft out loud in one sitting. I catch innumerable grammar, tense, spelling, and logic errors in the process. Best thing I’ve done, next time around I’m planning on doing this much, much earlier. I also record me reading it [TECHNOLOGY!] for further review.
12. I like the book.
13. I send the draft to be printed for Alpha Readers. I feel a sense of pride that my closest friends and advisors will soon know how fucking clever I am.
14. I listen to the recording, and immediately catch a dozen glaring syntax and logic problems.
15. Cry a little bit. But you know, in a badass way, like Chow Yun Fat in The Killer.
I know I’m not unique in my process, or in my reactions — I know my colleagues and associates are sick of my talking about these things like I invented Author Malaise. But, you’re my blog and this is my first time up this thorny path — so get prepared for some serious whining and navel-gazing.
Also, some ruminations on various literary and genre concepts. I’ve been struggling to put my novel in context with others in the genre, and I’ve had some thoughts. SOME THOUGHTS, I SAY.
I’m also thinking about pulling my old weekend STORY ON DEMAND out of mothballs, now that I have a little more brainspace to spare.
Some sheep pens, a general store, well-wrought houses and a good deep well. It was Victor’s home, and he loved it fiercely.
The blacksmith stood next to the stockade, a few paces into the dark so the torch would not rob his eyes of sight. The wood was still green, hastily hewn from the nearby pines. It was ramshackle, quickly slapped together — it made Victor’s hands ache to see such shoddy workmanship, but they’d had little time, and the crude fence had helped them turn the first dozen assaults. As if the green pines had kept a little of the love of the land in their bark, and were just as determined as Victor and the people of Starmhill to weather the vicious assault that came once, twice …sometimes three times a night.
“Vic. Vic!” The portly shepherd Kanley called from behind the stockade. “You see anything?”
“No. Nothing.” the blacksmith switched his two-handed sledge to the other shoulder but did not move.
“Maybe they’ll give us a night off. Three hours til dawn and nothing tonight.” Kanley said. Victor heard the sound of scratching. The boy was still worrying at that vicious rash on his neck, the creature’s hands had left blisters and boils even as it died. Kanley’s friend Jak had taken the beast in the back with a spear, a relieved grin on his long-jawed face. That was three nights ago, Jak had been dead for nearly twenty hours now.
Victor took a long look down the stockade. Tired men and women moved their patrols with the half-stutter shamble of sleepwalkers. He had tried to enforce strict sleeping schedules during the daytime, but with the constant grieving and the endless fear — he himself had found sleep an elusive phantom.
We can’t last much longer. Two days, three — four at the outside?
At the barest edge of the torch’s light, he could just make out the slow turn of the giant floating obelisk — Starmhill’s one claim to fame. It moved in and out of shadow, as careless as a leaf floating in a stream.
“Vic, you need to get some sleep.” A different voice, a younger voice — an irritating voice. Della Akson. The blacksmith turned in anger, to see her young face approaching through the narrow opening in the stockade. She wore a crude black-iron sword on her shoulder.
“Girl, I told you to guard the church.”
“There’s plenty of people to stand guard. That crazy old wizard, and the book-girl — they’re driving me plain witless with their rambling talk.” Della sqauared her shoulders and put her hands on her hips. Victor noticed that her left hand was inflamed and red, still swollen from the loss of her last three fingers. “And you need sleep most of any of us.”
“Della …you are too young to be on the front lines, you can be most helpful where I told-”
“I’m the best sword-swinger you got, Boss. Sad as it may be…I think it’s time you stop pretending otherwise.” the young girl’s face was stern and sure.
How old is Della now? Is the thirteen? Fourteen? Victor tried to think. Lord of the Crook, I’m so tired.
The blacksmith ran a weary hand down his face. He made himself smile at the girl. What a man can do, he should do …as Victor’s father always taught. “All right, Captain Akson – I guess you’re right about that. Why don’t you walk the stockade and make sure no one is nodding off. Splash a little -”
Victor’s words died in his throat. A snapping branch whipped his head into the darkness, and he saw it.
A tiny green flame, just a pinprick the size of a wyrefly. It was about to begin. Victor took his sledge in both hands and called down the lines.
“All right people — here we go, you know your jobs well, you’ve had plenty of practice these nights. We are Starmhill. We will hold them. WE ARE STARMHILL.”
The cry went up, ragged but strong down the green pine fence. Fewer voices than their had been, but enough. Victor prayed that there would be enough for tonight, tomorrow would have to wait.
The blacksmith’s cry died out and the defenders looked out into the darkness. The first prick of green light had become a field of green stars. Bright and shining and drawing closer.
For the first time this night, he heard it. Every night when they attacked, again and again ripping and tearing at the flesh and wood of his home — every time as they came, they sang. They sang the same song, merry and bright like a knife-cut.
“King of Glass, hear our prayer — King of Glass, take our gift — King of Glass, sing our song — King of Glass, blood and fire! Blood and Fire! Blood and Fire!”
The blacksmith went to work, and prayed with a sick heart. To hear this song again was agony, but he prayed to keep hearing it, for as many nights as his strength could stand to protect his home.
The wind whipped through the empty streets choked with dust. A chill was present, but not enough to
penetrate the thick jacket that the bard wore, bright blue collar pulled nearly to her nose. Elora Delcroft leaned into the wind, and ran through her set list.
The Doctor Dances, that’s always a favorite, even in a tiny spot like this. Then Measuring the Marigolds, followed by the short cuts of Western Shores and My Lady, She Burns off the Coast. I’m only here for a night, so I suppose I should pull out all the stops.
Elora chuckled into her collar. Zebulon was not the worst place she’d ever performed, but only if you squinted. The town seemed mostly empty, only a half hundred old men and women, a few exhausted families trying to pull in a meager crop. She had to be the first bard to wander into town in months, if not years — the barkeep’s eyes had widened like moonrise upon seeing her silver Harper’s pin. He had turned quickly away, and dabbed at his eyes. “Hard times, miss — we’d be sure glad to have you sing a bit tonight. I can’t offer you much, just a clean bed in my attic across the way, and all the stew and ale you care to eat.”
The half-elf scratched the tip of one pointed ear, loosening an earring from where it bit. She had watched from her window as what seemed the entire population of Zebulon had crammed into inn, heads bowed underneath the odd sign that swung at the entrance. A massive stuffed claw, covered with scales, ending in three chipped talons. The barkeep claimed it came from a dragon, Elora had smiled and allowed that it surely did.
A little boy waved as she approached, and ran immediately into the bar, yelling “She’s here — she’s here, the singer-lady’s here!”
I wonder why people still live here? So close to the Black Fog, and the fallen country of Gilead? Elora pushed through the doors of the Three-Toed Claw, into a throng of tired, but smiling faces. I must add some songs for the children, after the intermission. Songs that everyone knows and can sing along. Soppin’ Gravy, and Mune the Moonchaser, perhaps.
She whipped her blue coat off with theatrical panache, and slung it ably on a hook. Her lute case seemed to fly open as she made her way through the crowd, lute gliding into her hand free and easy. The room was silent as she mounted the crude stage, two tables pushed together , rude boards and fresh nails.
Elora said her pleasantries, and her mind and fingers loosened. Her voice fell into the opening patter that she had said a thousand times, she smiled at the crowd. This was why she took the long way — to find the tiny little towns where music was needed more than water in the Sarmadi Desert. The entire population of Zebulon was crammed into the tiny common room, but there was still space to spare. The barkeep pushed himself out from behind the bar, eager and smiling.
The bard noticed a man sitting at the bar, his back to the stage. Elora felt a prickle of professional irritation. This would be the finest show that Zebulon would see in many moons, and this lout was hunched over the bar, completely oblivious. She sniffed, at the pile of empty clay cups at the man’s elbow, the black bottle gripped in his right. A man losing himself to drink, no excuse to miss her art’s charms.
“I see there is one among you who is not a music lover!” She called, playfully. “Come friend, come and join us — please choose the first song I will play for all the fine people here assembled.”
The crowd’s attention spun to the man, and several people snickered. This man was clearly a stranger.
The man raised his head, and slowly turned to face her. He had a plain face, and ordinary features.
But his eyes. Elora’s fingers tightened on the lute. Shelyn protect me, his eyes.
Unbidden, the bard’s fingers began to move. An old, old tune spilled over the crowd and Elora sang, unable to look away from the man at the bar. Company, always on the run Destiny, oooh, and the rising sun I was born, six gun in my hand Behind the gun, I make my final stand That’s why they call me Bad company, Oh, I can’t deny Bad, Bad company
Till the day I die
Rebel souls Deserters we are called Chose the gun And threw away the sword All these towns They all know our name Six gun sound Ooh, is our claim to fame Bad company, Oh, I can’t deny Bad, Bad company Till the day I die
Elora sang, tears running down her cheeks.
[With respect to Bad Company — wherever they ride.]