Fun Things to Do While You’re Waiting is a lifestyle blog specializing in clever recipes, life-hacks and general wit. It’s lovely, charming and useful — basically the polar opposite of my site. I adore that my first official interview is right next to a dynamite recipe for Avocado and Chicken Salad.
It’s also the first interview not conducted by the cat who lives with me, Aragorn.
Leigh asks some great questions, and actually manages to get me to give a description of the book that I’m satisfied with. In response to the question:
6. If you had to describe spell/sword as a meal, how would that go?
You take a sip of your cherry limeade. The condensation slides down the side of the Mason jar, drops falling unnoticed on your favorite pair of slacks.
You know the ones. The ones that make you look good. The ones that are always comfortable. The ones that you wear when you feel like the Main Character of your world.
An extremely attractive person brings you a sandwich. Not just any sandwich. The Sandwich. It glistens with all the promise that Dagwood ever salivated over in four color glory. It looks like a TV Sandwich, like a fever dream of a Sandwich, like a Sandwich crafted in the Kitchen of Hephaestus then stolen by Zeus to stuff in his brown paper bag for a big day of philandering.
You take a bite. It’s not what you expect. It doesn’t have your favorite condiment, it’s some weird European thing. You consider putting the Sandwich down, but the lettuce is so crisp, the cheese so tart. You take another nibble, and realize that the bottom slice of bread is a little burnt.
Another bite. There’s really too much meat in this sandwich. Unless you’re a vegetarian, then there’s too much avocado. And why is the tomato slice blue? Who ever heard of a blue tomato?
You set the Sandwich down. Wait, holy shit. There are hot peppers on the Sandwich, tart and alive. And someone put your favorite chips on the plate. You smile and cram them under the top slice of bread for some extra crunch. You take another bite, another, another.
One bite left. You are sweating. Not with exertion, with emotion. This Sandwich means something, it means something to you. To your life, to the mistakes, the that song you keep trying to remember the second verse to, to the combination on your bike lock. You take a long swallow of cherry limeade and try to collect yourself.
The attractive person returns. They want to hang out later. But you know, only if you’re not busy. They have an old VHS of the ‘Deadly Mantis’ episode of MST3K and they think they can get their player to work if they jiggle the cable just right.
You smile, and go to take the last bite.
But it’s gone. You ate it and don’t remember. It’s gone and you don’t remember finishing.
It’s gone. You eat the last chip and sprout wings. Feathered wings, dragon wings, wings of steel and guitar wire. The attractive person is really impressed and immediately begins to paint your portrait on the side of a 1978 Chevy Astro Van.
Here’s the link to the rest of the interview. Thanks so much to Leigh for the signal boost! Please wander over to their site, leave some comments, share their links — just generally make a mess. Please reward them attempting a serious discussion about a silly book.
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:
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.
Four men sat at a table, rectangular with knife-blade edges. Steam filled the air, blasts of heat and cold.
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.]
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?”
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.
” 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?”
“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.
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.
[ I’m entering into the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, for my chance at fortune and glory. I’m frantically making some reckless edits to the manuscript and getting it ready to upload, but the hardest part has been the 300 word Pitch that I have to include. I gave up trying to write a respectable pitch a few hours ago, what do you think of this one? Comments and suggestions are very much solicited, but on the hustle people! I’ve got to get this thing submitted before the entry window closes. Would you want to read this book if you read the description below on Amazon.com?]
Two lonely kids learn that they can be friends. That they are better together than apart. Isn’t that what all great tales are really about?
Oh, you need some sizzle do you?
There are wizards in this book. And a witch. And swords. And a minotaur, and frogs on roller skates, and bad dwarven singing. And a dinosaur. And a girl and a boy. Loss and death and sorrow and joy. A couple of kick-ass fight scenes and some witty banter.
What, you need more than that? That’s all fourteen-year-old-me would have needed.
An airship explodes. A giant robot disrupts the sale of a garish urn. The concept of a box social is thoroughly interrogated.
The Magic Wild burns and the White Sword bites and the Gray Witch laughs.
An assassin. A seer. A knight. A squire. A coward. A girl with the power of sun and winter and death held lightly in her hands.
An improbable mailbox. Poor dental hygiene. Hangovers.
And friendship. That’s what it’s really about.
Rime is the girl, a wild mage. She can bend the very fabric of reality, but at a cost – a cost to her health and her sanity. Her power is unstoppable but it leaves her empty, weak, and often unconscious. Jonas is the boy, a squire on the run – running away from the shadow of murder. They travel together to find the one person that can save Rime from the wild magic, from the inexorable madness and death that comes to those who are born to ignore the rules of the universe. The Gray Witch of the Wheelbrake Marsh, a creature out of a fairy tale.
The anti-epic fantasy, the nascent genre of Swordpunk: Fantasy Action A La Carte. Earnestly written in the shadow of Lieber and Moorcock.
[It’s actually only 299 words, so if you see where I can squeeze in one more, I’d love to hear it.]
That’s not to say that it is a falsehood, or a pure fabrication. Certainly there are many who call themselves salesmen that deal in outright deceit, but they’re just liars. Plain ordinary liars.
No, salesmanship is all about awareness. Complete knowledge of the product: it’s particulars, benefits, problems, logistics and idiosyncrasies and your most reliable perception of the character of your customer. Everything you say, everything you withhold is an attempt to calmly weave the product into the customer’s needs and desires. You concentrate on what you know about the product, and carefully present only the parts that you intuit will be attractive to your mark. You are creating a narrative, a workaday tale — a story with purpose. To make the sale. To win.
This is antithetical to the creation of art. An act of art should always be an act of truth. Individual truth — the opening of the inner eye and allowing the energy of your private whirlwind to express into your medium:something. Anything. As long as it’s true. Or real. Or important.
I’m still a ways from publishing Spell/Sword — but I’m already thinking about how I am going to sell it. The plan remains to self-publish, then grassroots my ass up the zeitgeist to something more than a blip. Financially and culturally. So I need to be able to sell the book. To other artists, to family, to friends, to total strangers, to people who love fantasy, to people who hate it, to people who never read. But every time I approach the problem in my head, I feel this enormous lassitude. It feels wrong.
In my day job, I am a salesman. I’m extremely good at it. But the key seems to be my total lack of concern. Apathy towards the product, and disinterest in actually making the sale. It allows you to be dispassionate and objective — truly focused on reading the situation and the customer. But with the book, where I’m hopelessly invested in the product and emotionally overwraught in the sale – it’s much more difficult.
It doesn’t help that I’m specifically trying to find my own little niche in the genre. It feels cheap to say “Oh, it’s just like ‘X’ and nothing like ‘Y’, and if you like ‘Z’ then buy, buy, buy!” But when I try to pitch it on its own terms, it just sounds hollow and uninteresting.
There’s a guy, and he has a sword. And there’s a girl and she’s got magic. They don’t like each other, then some shit happens and then they do. Also: hi-jinks.
I could do a laundry list of the random things in the book.
Electric-Eel Powered Jukebox. Prescience. Dwarven ghosts. Lesbian bards. Sweaty wyverns. Hangovers. Friendship. Mailboxes. A devil-spawned assassin. Fairy tales. Horse euthanasia. Wizard duels. Mysterious backstories. Prophetic dreams. Cheese. Plot-holes. Garden plots. Sorcerer bondage. Magic swords. An ogre with red boots. A blue fish. A white bridge. A first kiss. A last breath. Hyper-intelligent frogs with steam-powered roller skates. Banter.
Okay, I wound up kind of liking that one. But still, the problem remains. All that sounds fun, but I don’t know how convincing it is. Part of me wants to sell the book the same way that I wrote it. Honestly, with great love and with no artifice. Well, maybe a teensy bit of artifice.
This is important. This is true. This book is real. It matters. Or at the very least, I need it to matter.
So, yeah. Buy it or whatever.
Oh, my. This question is in bold. On WordPress, that’s like a Tumblr post dissing Doctor Who — it demands a response. What do you look for on the back of the book, or in a sales pitch for a book, when you’re considering reading something from an unknown author?