The Riddle Box – 300 Words or Less

A manor. A murder. A mystery. The doors are closed, best keep your eyes open.

Jonas and Rime arrive at the House of the Heart-Broken Lion, interrupting a play and an opulent dinner party. An actor falls dead on the stage, the doors

Gustave Doré Plate XX - “Lancelot Approaching the Castle of Astolat,” circa 1867-69
Gustave Doré
Plate XX – “Lancelot Approaching the Castle of Astolat,” circa 1867-69

are locked, the authorities summoned. Rime has one night to solve the mystery and escape before too many questions are asked and her wild magic is discovered. Jonas is just excited that there’s really good cheese.

Thirteen guests in the manor. All the doors are locked. One of them is the killer. Can she solve the case before dawn?

A sea-elf shaman, a wood-elf scholar, a bard with an electric guitar. A gentle priest, a vicious trader, a rude dwarf who does not speak. These guests have secrets, could there be a secret guest?

Blood in the shadows, a killer stalks the halls of the Heart-Broken Lion.  How can Our Heroes triumph against a foe that neither spell nor sword can catch?

  • Secrets of Jonas’ past revealed!
  • [Not all of them, but, you know, some!]
  • Rime has a crush!
  • Cryptic clues!
  • Red herrings!
  • Partial nudity!
  • Bedroom hi-jinks!
  • Sweet guitar solos! [Described.]
  • A giant cow!

A truly original mystery shamelessly cribbed from Agatha Christie, Colombo, and N.C.I.S. Fantasy fiction bent into a new, strange shape.

Can you solve The Riddle Box?

[Argggg. I hate writing ad copy. This is my first stab [of many] getting Riddle Box into something easily marketable. Back of book, Amazon description, etc. I am shit at the elevator pitch — comments and reactions very much appreciated!]

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The Riddle Box: First Read Impressions

I like my book a lot. More than I did Spell/Sword the first time I read it.

Now, the caveats. I am obviously the least objective reader this novel will ever have. The very first draft of Spell/Sword was an unqualified mess. I had never writtenriddlecover1a book before, after all! I wrote it in sequential order from beginning to end, with only a very loose idea of where I was going and what I was doing.  I write in third person – limited omniscient — but my character POV/ focal point would wander like mad. I didn’t write in chapters, just one long narrative, with horizontal lines when I hit the end of a scene, or the location shifted. The jokes were terrible — or rather, it sounded like me telling the joke, instead of the characters. The plot stutters along in fits and starts, and only really gets cooking half-way through the book. [It’s when Jonas and Rime wake up in the caverns, if you’ve read it.] I had no idea what the Gray Witch was about, or the Brothers Jack, or my fixation with wyverns.

But I loved it of course.

And hated it, too. That’s how my brain works. My normal relationship with any art that I make is to despise it and beat it into shape via cruelty and malice. [Ask anyone who’s been in a play that I’ve directed.]

So, I edited. For months on end, and then I sent my darling into the caring hands of my Alpha and Beta Readers. They liked and hated it too. I learned more from their feedback, suggestions, and — let’s be honest — frank corrections than from any writing tutor or English Professor. Probably because many of my Alpha/Beta Readers are writing tutors and English Professors. I moved chapters and deleted chapters and chiseled and filed.

This is to indicate, that a lot of the reasons why I’m so happy with my second book is due to the lessons I learned the first go-around. I’m reacting primarily to the absence of the same stupid mistakes I made when writing Spell/Sword. For starters, The Riddle Box had a structure from the beginning. When writing a murder mystery, you kind of need to know whodunit from the outset.  Then you reverse-engineer the plot to reveal the suspects, clues, red herrings in a semi-logical fashion. I purposefully wrote in chapters. I had a very specific – GASP – theme that I was trying to get across. This is a very personal book, in a very strange way. [I’ll save that topic for further woolgathering at a later date.] The first draft of The Riddle Box is a book instead of just a pile of pages, I feel, and that makes me very proud.

Impressions

  • I was very worried that there wasn’t a big fight early in the book. I think Spell/Sword readers will expect a certain level of skulduggery and action from the sequel, but it just didn’t serve the narrative this time out. [*pushes up monocle*] There’s a murder right off the bat, of course, and plenty of Agatha Christie intrigue — but no standup fight until about 1/3 of the way through. After the first read, it didn’t feel like a long time before the first true fight, so that pleased me. And don’t worry, the last third of the book is non-stop He-Man Action Figure smashing time.
  • Also, no Random Encounters this book. I loved fighting the dinosaur and the frog-men, but all of the combat in this book is against named characters and directly serves the plot.  I know. I’m disappointed in myself too.
  • As opposed to the first book, which is a ‘road picture’. The Riddle Box is a closed-room murder mystery. The entire novel takes place in one location, over one night. I kept the location details fairly consistent throughout, but I marked tons of places to double check. For example, mid-way through the draft I started referring to the ‘black and white marble floor of the Lobby’, but I had been very clear at the beginning that it was all white.
  • Need to work on character voice. There’s a lot of characters in this one, and some of them I didn’t find their voice until near the end, I need to go back to their first appearances and keep that voice consistent. Also, character voice got very wonky during the MAD DASH, need to polish those sections as well, especially the big soap opera moments.
  • The Mad Dash: The draft is 160 pages long, I wrote the final 60 in a week. It was the most startling experience, and I loved it — but there are some dodgy, dodgy bits. Mainly some of the chapters are more than a little breathless as I tried to write and stay on top of the wave. Some sections it adds, but the climax and the denouement need some room to breathe.
  • Speaking of soap opera! I love the trappings of Victorian and Agatha Christie mysteries — and I also have started to embrace the need for some light romance in my genre fiction. CALM DOWN. Whatever you are thinking, I didn’t do that.  Jonas and Rime are never getting together. I introduced some potential crushes for our heroes and watched to see what happened. In brief, it was fun times. I need to work on the resolution of Jonas’ romance subplot though — it is super damn creaky. The intent is correct, but I was throwing bricks at the hoop for that section of dialogue.
  • Aufero World History: I’m mostly pleased with the world-building stuff I put in this book. Lots of stuff about the Precursors, the further history of Aufero, Wood Elves, Sea Elves, the Nameless God, Gilead, bards, and the Seafoam Trading Company. As with everything, there are some creaky bits, but I wanted to give plenty of nerd fodder for the readers who wanted more world information. It still is secondary to the plot, where it shall ever remain in Swordpunk.
  • Back Story: Huge reveals for Jonas’ dark past! I was surprised by what I wrote down, which is always a neat feeling. I knew the basic outlines of course, but a couple of salient details completely floored me. Oh, Subconscious — you are a tricksy devil.
  • Jonas’ Master – I love names. I love coming up with good names. I’m more than a little proud of the names I come up with. I AM HAVING A TERRIBLE TIME COMING UP WITH THIS VERY IMPORTANT CHARACTER’S NAME. I used a placeholder, Sir Bentwight, in the draft — but I am having a miserable time with this one.  To me, names are very intuitive. I think of the character, and make an empty place in my head – -and generally a name falls right in. But not this time, man. I can be a little metaphysical about my craft – so maybe it’s not time for me to know this character’s name? Maybe I’m forcing it?
  • I really like all of the new characters, even though I kill off a fair amount of them — even my favorite. 😦
  • It works. The theme works. The machinery of what I want to say is there. Just got to make it look prettier.
  • There is a character in this book that I am literally terrified of. I can’t say more until people have had a chance to read the book, as it is a major spoiler. Here’s how scared I am of this character: Soon I will be recording an audio track of the draft to help me with editing. I honestly don’t know if I can read this character’s lines.
  • I high-fived myself four times while reading.
  • Beta Readers better get ready — I am very, very eager for feedback and praise.  And critique! I will be lurking in your shrubbery watching you read.

Okay, enough for now. Back to editing!

 

Spell/Sword Housekeeping and Editing Strategic Planning

This will probably be boring. This is one of those ‘announce publicly my rough schedule and plan so I feel obligated to stick to it’ sort of posts. It may be helpful to other writers or indie-publishers who want a window into the behind-the-scenes process, or if you’re just curious where my next book is on the assembly line.

  • Finish rough draft of The Riddle Box.   [COMPLETE.] – 9/24

  • Revamp of print and Kindle versions of Spell/Sword

  1. Contact and recruit Copy-editing Strike Forcebriton6
  2. Print/order copies of Spell/Sword for copy proofing.
  3. Distribute to CSF, then collect edits when complete
  4. Enter corrections into CreateSpace template, then submit to service for re-release and update of Spell/Sword.
  5. Print Version first, then Kindle, so there is always one version available for sale during review downtime by CreateSpace and KDP.
  • Contact prospective Beta Readers for The Riddle Box

  1. It will be nearly a month before The Riddle Box is ready for review, but some may need time to make sure they’ve read the published version of Spell/Sword.
  2. Also, consider inviting a Beta Reader who has not read Spell/Sword, to see how well the book plays without preamble.
  • All of previous steps must be complete before beginning to edit rough draft. [!]

  • Rough Draft Editing

  1. Print out paper copy and read with a brightly colored Sharpie in my hand.  Story edits, logic fixes, detail matching. Cut or add to draft based on this pass.
  2. Read updated draft and record audio. Listen to audio while editing. Major grammar problems, sonic issues, repetitive language, wonky rhythms, things that just sound stupid when said out loud. Cut or add to draft based on this pass.
  3. Depending on severity of changes, potentially re-record audio for new/fresh pass.
  • Cry for a little while. Quietly and softly.

  • Distribute to Beta Readers for review. (Give readers a deadline?)

  • Anxiety Demons Jamboree [!]

  • Contact illustrator and cover designer to begin work on new cover art and cover layout.

  • Respond to edits submitted by Beta Readers, update the draft.

  • Place Final Draft on CreateSpace template for print.

  • Distribute template to CSF [Copy-editing Strike Force] for Quality Control

  • Submit Final Print Edition to CreateSpace and KDP for review and publishing.

  • Promote launch of The Riddle Box.

  • Begin work on third book, Asteroid Made of Dragons

Genre Legends Given Brief Reprieve by Vainglorious Upstart

I’m too busy learning lines to work on Riddle Box this week, I’m behind schedule and that sucks for me.

But it’s good for you — I’m talking to you, the Joe Abercrombies, Neil Gaimans, and Patrick Rothfussessess of the world.

I’m giving you a break – I’m slowing down my minotaur-octane fueled march to genre supremacy, for like two weeks or

The devil's gaze!!!!
The devil’s gaze!!!!

something.  You have some time without me BREATHING DOWN YOUR NECKS.

Use it wisely. Build  the walls of your worlds tall and strong. Give your protagonists the most fiendishly devised magical weapons, backstories and clever sidekicks. DRAW A FANCY MAP OF YOUR BEAUTIFUL CITY WITH ITS RICH PAGEANT OF HISTORIC LORE SO I CAN KICK IT DOWN.

Because I’m coming. Me, Jonas, and Rime. And Sideways. And the pigs. And the magic chickens. And my rock and roll bard crooning on his ebony guitar, Lady Moon-Death.

WE ARE COMING. SWORDPUNK IS AT YOUR EXQUISITELY CHISELED AND WELL-WRITTEN GATES.

But you know, not for a week or so.

Consider yourself advised.

Self-Publishing Strategy Guide I

[This is a work in progress, to be updated and amended as curious folk ask questions that I haven’t answered here.  Let me know what questions you have or clarifications needed in the comments below.]

So, you can now buy my book on Amazon — in Kindle and Paperback format. Just like a ‘real’ book! Or rather, just like a traditionally published novel. My book is sitting on the same virtual shelf as books published by Tor, Daw, and Random House. It’s a cool feeling. Maybe if I’d published five years ago I would be bothered by the fact that Spell/Sword will never appear on a shelf at a physical bookstore — but with paper going the way of the utahraptor or dodo it doesn’t bother me in the slightest.

So how did I get here? A lot of research, a lot of trial and error — there’s a lot of navigation and study required when you’re piloting the ship all on your own. When I first got started I spent a lot of time reading other author’s posts on publishing and found them tremendously informative.

Joe Peacock’s The Absolute No-Bulls**t Guide To Writing, Publishing And Selling A Book was incredibly helpful and motivating. I strongly recommend you take some time and give it a read — it’s straightforward, concise and utilitarian. It de-mystifies the entire process, which was invaluable for me at the beginning. I’m going to try to not go over the same ground here, but focus more on my specific experiences with CreateSpace and Kindle Direct Publishing.  I’ve begun to think of Joe as the Older Brother to the Internet — can be an overbearing prick, and he’ll kick over your GI Joes — but he always has your best interest at heart.

This guide is going to be part step-by-step How To — and partly me pontificating about my  rationale for making the decisions I did. I hope it’s reasonably helpful.

Level One: Write a Book. [Grasslands]

In whatever manner you prefer. It took me about nine months to bang out the rough draft in between day job,18a nerd pursuits, other creative endeavors and various life calamities. I’ve only done this once, so I’m in no position to offer advice on how you get this step done. Just some paltry bullet-points.

  • Write.
  • Self-imposed deadlines were invaluable to me.
  • Write.

Now that I’ve gone through the entire process, I CAN say that this is the most fun part. Remember that and enjoy it.

Level Two: Edit a Book. [Ice Cavern]

Frozen_cave_by_CORinAZONeTo the greatest level that your pocketbook and Friend’s List will permit. I employed over 20 Alpha Draft and Beta Draft readers to catch all my bonehead grammar mistakes and weak narrative. I know that this can never truly equal a professional copy editor — but I am completely confident that I’m extremely close. I have some serious heavy hitters in my rolodex: college professors, Shakespearean scholars, creative writing savants, genre nerds, gnomes. Depending on how my finances fare, I may consider going the pro route next time around. I can’t stress enough how important this step is.

To put it in perspective, I wrote the draft in 9 months. I edited for 13 months. Thirteen long, grueling months of Not-Fun.

It sucks. It’s boring. It’s frustrating.

Do it.

Level Three: Prepare to Publish a Book [Fire Volcano]

I used two services for publishing my book.

CreateSpace for the paperback.

Kindle Direct Publishing for the digital version.

Why?

Paper Version — I did a fair amount of research onto several online presses. The other main one I considered was Lulu.com. They are really great if you want to order in bulk and warehouse the product yourself. They have tons of paper and trim options – soft cover and hard back. But that’s a pretty big if – especially when you’re in my position. A total unknown pushing some wacky genre fiction. As much as I would love to have a hard cover of my book, it just didn’t make sense to lay out the startup money for something that was going to sit stacked in  my breakfast nook.

I slowly shifted my thinking towards CreateSpace as they print on demand, and sell directly through Amazon.

Artist - Hugo-H2P
Artist – Hugo-H2P

You establish the cost of your book through the size, page count, etc. — then you set the list price at whatever you want.  Anything above cost is your profit. [Pro Tip]: The cost of your book increases if its sold through Amazon, instead of bought directly through CreateSpace. This wasn’t an issue for me, as I really wanted the legitimacy of an Amazon storefront, but it may be something to take into account if you have your own webstore.

Finally, the website was easy to navigate,  except for a few minor snags — I’ll talk more about that later.

Kindle Version – Or rather – Why not on Nook, Kobo, Smashwords, etc. etc.?

One reason: the Kindle Lending Library. It makes my book free to the thousands and thousands of Amazon Prime members. At this phase it is far more important that people read my book than people buy my book.

I know there’s a lot of discussion about Amazon’s draconian domination of the e-book Wild West — but from my perspective it’s hard to argue with that kind of market share. The Kindle is the dominant e-reader on the market, and anyone with a smartphone or tablet can read just as easily using their free app.

Level Four: CreateSpace [ Sky Platforms]

19858-103095-LHSE1jpg-468x

Okay. You’ve got the book all edited and shiny, now it’s time to set everything up with CreateSpace for the paperback. The site is very user-friendly if you are reasonably proficient with the internet and simple online interfaces. I’m a giant dork so I had little trouble, only occasionally having to use the forums, Help section, and one quick phone call to Customer Service. It leads you step by step through the process.

1. Birth Certificate – Name of your book, author name, synopsis, all that sort of thing. Pretty self-explanatory.

2. Print Specifications – Selecting the size of your book, whether or not you have color images to print inside, etc. I didn’t have any interior artwork for Spell/Sword so I selected Black and White printing — and the smallest book size, because my novel isn’t particularly long. I’m sure there’s a lot of reasons for all the different sizes, but I didn’t put much thought into it. I like the size my book is, end of story. Take that reasons.

3. ISBN Number – This is a little complicated. And once you decide your book is locked to that number [oversimplification, I know] so give this some serious thought and research.

  • CreateSpace owned ISBN: Free! But…it sets the publisher of your book as CreateSpace, and limits your distribution options later. There is a little bit of a stigma to services like CreateSpace and Lulu, and if in the very remote chance that you want to sell your book to a traditional publisher later you can’t just move your ISBN, you’d have to make a whole new edition with a new ISBN number.
  • CreateSpace licensed ISBN: $10.00. Same problems as above, but frees up most of your distribution options.
  • Personal ISBN purchased through CreateSpace: $100.00. But you personally own the ISBN number for your book, and can set the publisher of record. My book is published by me under the name Lodestar — which is the small business I’ll be setting up to handle my paltry revenue.  It also means that I can move my book to any other printing service, or use another service concurrently with CreateSpace whenever I need. I’m also thinking about having it tattooed on me somewhere.
  • Personal ISBN purchased directly: I…didn’t do much research on this. You can get it cheaper buying it yourself, then inputting it into CreateSpace . But it meant using another site, and another process so I just went ahead and bought my personal ISBN through CreateSpace. To me, the convenience was worth whatever markup they have.

4. Cover – Now, CreateSpace does offer a free cover generator as well as professional design services. I used neither. Don’t be a chump and use the free cover generator — it’s fine if you only want your mom to read the book. I’m sure the professional services they offer are fine, but I’d much rather give the artists that I know personally my money.

The layout of the cover is extremely important as CreateSpace needs it to match exactly with the specifications for the cover — most importantly the spine which is a function of page total. There were lots of numbers and jargon, my designer knew what they meant and put it all together for me. I’ve noticed that many self-publishers take the DIY part of this route a little too much to heart. I recognized that I knew virtually nothing about layout and graphic design and paid a skilled friend to handle it, same goes for the actual cover design.

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

5. Setting up the Template – Okay, this part was a little convoluted.

You need to have your book laid out on a PDF to upload to CreateSpace for review. When I first started playing around, I just exported a PDF from my Google Drive and uploaded it to see what it would look like.

It was a hot mess.

My mother is a graphic designer and printer, so I have a vague understanding of margins — but clearly not enough for these purposes.

Luckily, CreateSpace offers Word document templates. It took some grunt work copy and pasting each part of my book, chapter by chapter into the template — but it ensures that the printed page comes out correctly. Also, print is set with a ‘justified’ margin as a default. I had to go through several times to find all the places where the spacing was weird and correct.

Review the template again and again … then five more times. You’ll never catch everything, but you have to put in the sweat equity to get as close to flawless as possible.

Once the template is complete, you save it as a PDF, then you’re ready for upload.

6. File Review with CreateSpace

Once the files are uploaded, you’ll be able to view the book page by page online.

You can’t directly adjust anything at this step. Anything you want to change, you have to go back to your template — make the change — then upload a new PDF.

Spell/Sword doesn’t have any interior images — so I’m no help there.

7. Proofing

Once you submit everything for review [Interior and Cover], CreateSpace takes 24 Hours to review and make your book ready for proofing.

You have two options here:

  • Paper Proof: This is what you want to get the first time around. An actual, honest to god copy of your book. You get it, you hold it in your hand. You get to go through it with a colorful marker, hunting for every typo and spacing issue that you missed on the template. It’s truly a wonderful moment. [You do have to purchase your proof, it’s the established cost of your book plus shipping. ]
  • Online Proof: It’s identical to the Interior Reviewer you used earlier. 

If you need to make changes after reviewing your proof, you have to back to the template and resubmit it all again, and wait 24 Hours again. For Spell/Sword I got the paper proof first, then after making all the corrections I felt confident that the Online Proof was sufficient.

PRO TIP: Even after your book is published you can ALWAYS make corrections and go through the process again — it will just mean that your book is not available for sale while it’s being reviewed and proofed again.

8.  Final Thoughts/ Issues

After you approve your proof, your book becomes available for sale within 24 Hours. In my case it was up on CreateSpace itself within an hour — than on Amazon later that night.  The site was very helpful guiding you through the rest, deciding on distribution channels, etc. I freely admit I kind of glazed my eyes and picked the standard options.

Now, some grousing!

  • Shipping through CreateSpace is a little stupidly expensive — especially when you’re an Amazon Prime member, used to getting 2 day shipping for free.  I understand that it probably has something to do with preventing you from purchasing too freely through them instead of Amazon, their parent company — but still! Spell/Sword is 8.99 on Amazon — if I want to buy someone a copy and send it to them, it’s actually cheaper and quicker to buy through Amazon then get copies at cost through CreateSpace.
  • Friends have ordered copies through Amazon, and they arrive in a standard Amazon box – but the books are completely loose. None have been damaged so far, but it made me raise an eyebrow.

Royalties: I actually haven’t been published long enough to get my first check — I’ll update this when I have more experience.

Level Five: Kindle Direct Publishing [Ghost Carnival]

Almost as an afterthought, CreateSpace guides you into the warm clutches of KDP.  They export all of your information about the book, the interior, and the cover all in one go. All of the info and cover exported fine — but I quickly discovered that the layout for the print version looked crazy weird on the Kindle.

I actually found an easy workaround – I directly uploaded my CreateSpace Word document to KDP, and it looked fine. I’ve experienced a fair amount of paranoia, because the Kindle comes in so many sizes [including native apps on iPad and PC] that making sure that there were zero formatting issues.  I’ve read the book on my 3rd gen Kindle and it reads just fine at various sizes, and none of my E-Readers have complained YET. YET.

When you start obsessively searching your book on Amazon [not that I did, that would be silly] you may notice that the Kindle and Paperback versions initially have different pages — just give Amazon 48 hours, they automatically group them together. I also noticed that initially when searching my book titile, it came up fifth — but after a few days of sales, it populated first. Admittedly I picked a weird ass name for the book — that slash in Spell/Sword plays hell with some search algorithms.

 

Yowza! This thing got involved . I think I’ll keep this going as I plunge further and further into Self-Publishing RPG. Let me know if you have any questions in the comments below!

Future Topics

  • Marketing
  • Begging
  • Winning the Internet
  • Deceit
  • Tomfoolery

Spell/Sword Released.

Print Version
Kindle Version – 2.99

Spell/Sword is now available in print and e-book exclusively on Amazon.com.  Follow the image above to order. I’m linking the digital version first because:

  • Duh. Cheaper.
  • Amazon Prime members can borrow and read it for free.
  • Anyone can sample the first couple of chapters using the ‘Look Inside’ feature.
  • It’s the future!

If this is your first time visiting the site, please poke around. Plenty of my various ramblings in the archives, and several examples of my fiction through the Short Stories and Scenes/Microfiction links above.  I know you’re taking a chance on me — thank you for even considering it.

More information about Spell/Sword itself is available on the [Buy the Book] button above.

Paperback Version
Paperback Version – 9.99

Spell/Sword Critical Reception

Four men sat at a table, rectangular with knife-blade edges. Steam filled the air, blasts of heat and cold.

Sean Andrew Murray - Artist
Sean Andrew Murray – Artist

They each wore floor-length white robes with deep cowls. Runes shone on the edge of each cowl with a fiendish light. Their names were known to each other, their proper names, the names that the world spoke in tones of fire and glory. But when they met here for their Conclave of Secrets and Power they took great care to use their Names of Secrets and Power.

“Where is he?” the One Called Wizzle said.

“Late. As usual,” the One Called [(4x) + 17.3y] sighed.

“I’m sure he will be among us at the proper time. When the moon and the wind and the turning of this fragile earth sing together in perfect harmony,” said the One Called Jambalaya, in between noisy bites of a pine cone.

Wizzle and [(4x) + 17.3y] rolled their eyes. Jambalaya was something of a wood nymph, only occasionally interfacing properly with reality. The fourth man said nothing, but continued to scribble frantic notes on a stack of napkins in front of him.

“How’s that coming, Fardancer?” Wizzle asked.

The One Called Fardancer hissed and wrapped his free arm around the napkins.

“Okay, then.” Wizzle stroked his beard in consternation.

A moment of quiet floated across the table, sickly and ominous like a vomiting ghost. The only sounds were the crunch of Jambalaya finishing his pine cone, Fardancer scribbling and muttering, and the other two men adjusting their cowls to better disguise their features.

“Okay. I can’t wait any longer, we’re just going to get started.” Wizzle oriented his beard at the other three in turn. “Does anyone have a problem with that?”

“But the winds, the winds are not yet proper! Our art will be forever marred and turn the gyre—”

“Can it, Jambalaya.” [(4x) + 17.3y] crossed his arms.

“I think we all know why we’re here,” the beard continued. “A new power has arisen in the South, a troublesome upstart.  His followers are legion and the blasphemy that he spews grows and grows with each passing hour. It is a dark fungus, a creeping creep of untold crep. If we are not careful than it will spread beyond our ability to stamp out, much like the the weeds that grow in my garden. Oh, did I show you the picture of me and my son in the garden? Oh man, he did this ridiculous thing with some dandelions, you guys are going to love it.”

Wizzle pawed at his robes, searching for his phone. [(4x) + 17.3y] leaned across the table and shook the bearded man’s shoulders kindly but firmly.

“Please stay focused, my friend.” [(4x) + 17.3y] straightened his glasses. “We do not have time for one of your famous digressions.”

“You’re one to talk.” Wizzle retorted. “How about you explain to me how water flows downhill for thirty more pages?”

“That’s not germane. And a misrepresentation. The water flows uphill in my world due to the reversed polarities of gravity on fluid. It’s why it was so important that my Aquaemancelers could make the water flow downhill, as was prophesied in the 12,785th year of the Jtang Dynasty. Maybe if —”

“Oh god, you’re about to get out a chart, aren’t you?”

[(4x) + 17.3y] folded his hands neatly on the table. “I…might have a few charts in my robes, yes.”

Wizzle pressed the heels of his hands into his forehead and groaned.

“Maybe…” [(4x) + 17.3y] continued. “Maybe when you’ve written more than two books, you’ll learn to appreciate the efficacy of a well-made chart.”

“Excuse me?!?” Wizzle’s head popped up.

“Don’t you see, my friends?” Jambalaya cried, brushing pine cone debris off his black robes. “It’s this new book. This Spell/Sword! It’s tearing us apart!”

Wizzle and [(4x) + 17.3y] stared hard at Jambalaya.

“Weren’t you wearing white robes…before?” the glasses-wearing man tried to appear polite.

“Oh. Yes. That happens.” Jambalaya managed to look slightly embarrassed.

“Jambalaya is right.” Somber Wizzle rapped his knuckles on the rectangular table. “I don’t know why, but somehow this silly little book, this freaking Spell/Sword is tearing at the very fabric of–”

“You boys need a refill?” The waitress leaned over the cramped table with a coffee pot.

The white-robed men blinked at her for a moment. Her brown and white apron was freshly pressed, her gray hair tightly wound in a neat oval. The Waffle House was empty except for the four of them, their thick girth and arcane robes crammed into a corner booth.

“No, thank you, Glenda.” Wizzle managed.

The other three men shook their heads as well, and Glenda smiled and floated away.

“Why do we meet here, anyway?” [(4x) + 17.3y] complained. “None of us even live in this state.”

“Don’t you see. That is the thing. The very thing.” Jambalaya smiled, one tear rolling down his cheek. “Only outside of ourselves can we see ourselves.”

“Time for me to talk.” Fardancer interrupted, displaying his stack of ink-daubed napkins with pride. “I’ve prepared a solid list of reasons why Spell/Sword sucks. As soon as I post this online, the world will know that it sucks, and we can go back to our lives without a further thought.”

“Uh…arr. I’m not sure it’s quite that straightforward, Far–” Wizzle began.

“RESPECT THE LIST.” Fardancer slammed the napkins down on the table, neatly overturning the sugar dispenser. “Okay. Verbal List Power Activatus!

1. No one’s ever heard of it, so it can’t be very important. Only things that people have heard of are worth discussing. I’ve talked to all the very important people I know on Twitter, and none of them have heard of it, so it’s nonsensical to keep discussing it.

2. Even if it was important, it’s different and weird and silly. All of us have worked very hard to earn a little respect and credibility for genre fiction. To have this weird kid come along and try to make what we write about silly again undoes years of work. I like getting paid for my work, and I can’t keep getting serious-work money if all of a sudden people think we’re silly again.

3. Wil Wheaton said he thought it sucked.

4. Spell/Sword can eat my poop.

5. And by my poop, I mean the poop that comes out of my butt.

6. And by my butt, I mean —

“That’s enough, Fardancer!” [(4x) + 17.3y] waved both hands. “I think we get the gist.”

“Yeah, thanks.” Wizzle patted the napkins respectfully. “All good here.”

“Well,  I’ll go ahead and put this up on my blog, that ought to take care of things.” Fardancer pulled a smartphone, two tablets, a Chromebook, a Macbook Air, a TRS-80, and an abacus out from under his robe in quick succession.

“I like to write on oak leaves.” Jambalaya said, lost in dreams. “Oak leaves, just as they turn scarlet. I write with a grasshopper’s leg dipped in some Faerie Inkque that my beloved brought me from—”

The newly black-cloaked man’s words were cut off  by hellfire engine roar. A massive black motorcycle tore into the Waffle House parking lot, chrome and leather and a Valkyrie’s virginity.

“He’s here.” Wizzle said.

The motorcycle pulled into a spot and then hopped up on the sidewalk. The front tire crashed into red-flecked newsbox. Bent metal and flying newsprint filled the air. The rider got off the bike, and stalked in through the glass door entrance. He wore a sailor’s cap, and his white robe thrown around his shoulders like a cocksure cape. In his hands he carried a massive two-handed hammer, something that would be more appropriate at Medieval Times than Home Depot.

“Darklorrr.” [(4x) + 17.3y] said nervously.

“Coffee!” the One Called Darklorr bellowed as he stumped over to corner booth. “And four waffles on top of five other waffles. No syrup, just bring me some melted butter and three mugs filled with chili.”

Darklorr tossed his hammer onto the table and surveyed the other four men with a paternal eye. “I know I’m late. Deal with it.”

“We were just talking about Spell/Sword, Darklorr.” Wizzle gingerly pushed the hammer off the hem of his white sleeve. “And how we needed to handle it.”

“Handle it? Spell/Sword? HAR.” Darklorr laughed, pushing his sailor’s cap back. “Listen close, boys. I already know how to handle this. I’ll do what I always do with things that people love.”

The four others leaned in close with expectant horror.

“Kill it.” Darklorr smirked.

He picked his hammer back up and leaned it on his shoulder with a cavalier air. Then he started to laugh. The other four men looked at each other uncertainly, then echoed his laughter with their own.

[(4x) + 17.3y] quickly scribbled something on a spare napkin, and slid it across the table to Wizzle.

OR GO ON A TWO MONTH PIZZA TOUR, it read.

Wizzle shrugged in response, but continued to echo Darklorr’s amusement.

The Conclave of Secrets and Power had convened. They had made their decision.

Spell/Sword didn’t stand a chance.

[Just me throwing some eggs at some author’s that I respect, admire, and envy. I’ll send a free Spell/Sword button to the first five people who can name all five.]