Spell/Sword in 300 Words or Less

[ 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.spellsword

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.]

Moving Chapters

Moving chapters all at once is TERRIFYING. 

Catbus laughs at your Editing Anxiety.

Just that moment when you’ve cut one chapter, and it’s hanging in word processing limbo before you paste it into its new location — WHAT IF. What if someone bumps your hand and it vanishes forever?

Coupled with the terror of change — the TERROR OF CHANGING THINGS.

No wonder writers drink.

Ramble Roses

Editing on Spell/Sword continues this week. I’ve stalled long enough, picking at the edges, making the easy fixes. Time to get in there — not with the fire and sword — but with the spade and the watering can. I will be cutting a few sections – mainly when I combine two chapters into one.  I come to raise Caesar, not to bury him. Time to make the good stuff — GOODER.

Most of my problems are with the first eight chapters. The story doesn’t really settle into a groove,

Artist Unknown
Artist Unknown

and “become good” until a third of the way through the book.  That’s, you know, kind of a problem.

The first chapters aren’t bad, per se. Just a little unfocused. I need to clarify the positive, and beat back the connective tissue. It had to be there to get me far enough into the book to know what it was about, but now it disgusts me. DISGUST.

Now that I’m getting closer to actually publishing the thing, I find myself worrying about the classical forms. Stupid, I know, for a book that heavily features wyverns. All of the great tales are a circle, the heroes return to the beginning with the Elixir and the world is made anew.  The full arc of Spell/Sword is a tragedy of course, but this first episode is tangentially heroic. Or faux-heroic?

Ha, do I even know anymore?

It’s a story about two people, two kids. Two people that are doing pretty shit-tastically on their own. They meet, become friends, and learn that together they can incrementally reduce their level of life pooch-screwing.

In classical terms: No Big Whoop.

Two characters, incomplete.  Then two characters, complete.

With no romance.  Moirails, to use the excellent term that Homestuck provided.

Blah, blah — time to get to it.

Judge the Book by its Cover

I am beyond excited….and more than a little terrified. I actually have an artist working  on the cover art for Spell/Sword.

Cyberman – Mike Groves [poopbird]

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.

But at least the cover is going to be boss.

The Pitch

An act of salesmanship is never an act of truth.

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?

Throw Up My Skirts

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.

To the Crew of the Lodestar: Don’t Stop.

Seriously. Don’t.

Don’t stop writing. Don’t stop telling stories.

You are in the enviable position of having formed a habit that most aspiring writers would kill to obtain. Or pay untold amounts of money on tuition for Creative Writing degrees, or workshops, or storytelling camps.

For the past two years, you have written, on average, 1374 words every week. Rain, shine, babies, heartbreak, plays, shows, gigs, arguments, new games, new books, new lives….every week. That means each of you wrote 142,896 words. Three novels or one massive tome.

Just by not stopping. By continuing to go.

For most humans, it takes 10 weeks of uninterrupted routine to form a habit. The habit is there. Don’t break it.

Right now, like me, you’re starting to feel the itch. A vague restlessness, an unease.  A vacancy.

I have Spell/Sword to work on. What are you working on?

Open a Word Doc. Open a Google Doc. Open a notepad. Open napkin. Open your phone and email it to yourself.

Today, not tomorrow. Now, not later.

And start. Don’t stop.

It helped me to have a schedule. It helped me to have this blog. It helped me [eventually] to own the task, to admit to myself what I was making. Do all of those things, or none.

Just don’t stop.

Because, as unbelievable as it may sound. No one but us will truly ever read Lodestar. No one will ever hear your voices.

Unless you keep singing.

I can hear them. I have heard them for two years. It would be a great loss for them to fall silent.

Write. Tell stories. Write a book.

Because you already have. Three times.

Write another one.

And then don’t stop.

With friends like these…

Two more of my Alpha Readers gave me their criticism on the book, and I’m still picking the shrapnel out of my ego. I picked my first readers well — they’re good enough friends to call me on my shit. And called it was indeed. INDEED.

Beyond the psyche-bruising, all this feedback is making me really excited to get back to work on editing. So far, all of my readers have overall enjoyed the book — and the problems they’ve called my attention to are concrete. Maybe not easy to fix — but definitely doable. I can see multiple ways to change things to evade their criticism, but I’m going to let all of it settle a while longer. I’m still waiting on feedback from a third of my readers, and I don’t want to over-react to the first criticism I’ve received.

Admittedly, a fair amount of the criticism are ‘no-argument’ types. Grammar flubs, word repetition, confusing passages, jokes that didn’t work, etc. Those will be fixed — -it’s the things that deal more with overall structure and style that I’ll need to carefully ruminate on.

Sorry I can’t be more specific yet! Still drafts out in the wild.

Alpha Readers Responding: 4 out of 12

Parallelogram’s Report

I write these words in haste, the Lodestar flies at sundown and I plan to be on it. After the siege of Starmhill I intend to be on something well-defended and mobile until the end of this war.

Interesting query. ‘this war’ – no nomenclature has developed among the participants. What will this war be called by the survivors? I imagine that depends entirely on the victors, in the usual fashion.

No time for digression. Four words that fill my scholar’s mind with dread. If this world falls to the devils, I fear there may never be time for digression ever again by any human mind.

My studies have long concerned the different planes of reality, with a focus on the Umbral Plane — the Shadow Dimension. In the past month, my knowledge went from blood-crucial to trivial. The events that transpired at Kythera, and the city’s subsequent destruction have severely diminished the connection between our world and the shadows. Saving the world from a great threat, certainly — but also curtailing my further studies.

Logically I should be glad, but my mind still aches that I will never journey into the Umbral Realm and divine its secrets.

And in the wake of the destruction of the Arkanic capitol — a new foe has appeared, and moved with precision and menace across the globe. The forces of Hell, iron-clad legions of perfect evil and regimented sorrow. They serve Fairchild, the King of Glass.

‘The King of Glass’ is an imperfect translation into the Common tongue. The Infernal language is far more gifted than ours in conveying levels of meaning, especially in relation to pain and suffering. A more unpacked translation would be – The King of Breaking Glass, the taste of copper in the back of your mouth when you hear the sound, the alarm that all mortals feel when they hear the sound, the knowledge that everything can be broken.

Though, to be exact – Fairchild is not truly a king. He is a prince. The devils are not native to our world, they traveled here from some unknown place beyond.  I’ve looked through dozens of scrolls and tomes this afternoon, looking for more information – but there has been no conclusive evidence found that clarifies what drew them here. Many sources corroborate that there was once a true King of Hell, a godlike being of pure malevolence. Either he died or was left behind in their travels, and his royal court arrived in Aufero with no clear leader.

Reports vary, but most seem to say there were nine princes of hell. A few reports set the number at seven, and a few as many as thirteen. Regardless of the original number, they immediately gathered their supporters and vassals, and descended into a vicious civil war. Devils are creatures of law, for their society to function, there must be an absolute authority – there can be no gaps in the system. They needed a King. After several centuries, Fairchild was triumphant – subjugating his brother and sister princes through trickery, seduction and force.

Another digression. This is not a history of the royal court of Hell. This is about the methods available to them for visiting our dimension — and the unbelievable way they have found to subvert them. My time grows short, the sun is near the horizon.

Devils cannot visit our world without aid. It is a function of the laws of our world, by which they must abide. A mortal agent of some sort must choose to let them in. Choice seems vital, according to all of the texts I’ve studied. Whether through a spell, or a contract, or the construction of an elaborate portal — the mortal soul must knowingly choose to allow the devil in. Folklore is full of tales of devils tempting the people of Aufero with all sorts of earthly pleasures in return for entry — and our history [especially recent] has shown the great time, patience and planning the devils have devoted to building Hell Gates. Brimhorne, the Piccan Undercity, the ruins of Thay, the great dam of Jacra. Mortal agents, toiling sometime for generations — choosing again and again to give the devils sway.

And now this gate in Gilead. The description provided by the barbarian, Agnar was evocative enough, but sadly lacking in technical information. I’m including it here for later reference.

“Two pillars,” Agnar blurted. “Two pillars of thick crystal-looking stuff. But not showy crystal, like fancy ladies wear. More like the crystal that bends and shapes sunlight, breaking it into colors. Edges cut perfect, each pillar a mirror of the other, angling up from the floor then towards each other. Wedged between the points of the pillars, a ring of metal that glows blue from some enchantment, and chained within that ring is the Browncloak. Golden light— thick, like liquid sun— pours out of his chest like a waterfall, and through that waterfall walks the devil legions.”

I have dug through scroll after scroll, leaving the stacks in such awful disaray. When the Tomemasters return, they will be sickened by my clutter — but I was desperate to find some mention of this, and I think I have been successful. One fortunate benefit of the vicious battle today — the Forbidden Texts Repository was left unlocked, and unwatched. I have dreamed of being within this tiny room for years, so many questions that could be answered, so many scholarly riddles finally unwound! Frustrating to finally be inside, but have a time limit and one narrow field of inquiry.

A stone tablet, conservatively dated at -13289 VA. Thousands of years before the coming of the Lost [Precursors, Arkanic Civilization] — the Time of Dragons. I almost couldn’t decipher the text — it is a primal form of Draconic, beyond ancient in syntax, and the tablet has suffered much to the ravages of time. The tablet itself is incomplete, only a third of what was clearly a much larger piece — and many of the ideograms have been completely blotted by wind and water.

It seems to be a codification of the laws of Aufero — almost a charter of sorts. The author is unclear, but it seems to speak of some sort of meeting place, or place of judgement . All of the strange travelers who had found their way to this world, having the rules explained to them. Perhaps I read too much into some of the nouns, inadequate time for a proper analysis.

The main section that caught my attention was a reference to a Circle of Gold – it reminded me of the barbarian’s description. The author of the tablet seems to be recounting a question asked by some sort of lord — the question directed to the higher power that presided over the judgement, or meeting. The following translation is incomplete, and hopelessly innacurate – but I believe that it catches the gist of the exchange.

Lord: But why must my people be kept outside the walls?

Higher Power: That is the way of it.

Lord: Is there no way we may enter into the city?

Higher Power: Only at the citizens’ invitation. Only at great cost. Only through the proper ways. And never for more than a [period of time].

Lord: This is unjust. All of the other lords have been treated fairly, as is their due.  It is not right that we should be so denied. All others are welcome in the city, is there no way that we may not become citizens ourselves?

Higher Power: You speak true. A balance is required. Through one door only can your people forever enter the city. Through a Circle of Gold. 

After this, the gathered personages all nodded as if this ‘Circle of Gold’ was a common term, that required no further explanation. The rest of the tablet makes no mention of it. On a hunch — and truly, out of desperation — I searched through a series of lexicons dated from the founding of Valeria. I only found reference to something known as a ‘Circle of Power’, a magical construct that could bridge the gulf between worlds — the interesting section was that it required something of both worlds to operate, a willing sacrifice.

My hypothesis is as follows. Somehow, Fairchild discovered the existence of this Circle of Gold — a loophole in the very fabric of this reality. The man referred to above as the ‘Browncloak’ [Izus Torossian, infamous assassin] is the willing sacrifice from our world — but what was the sacrifice of Hell?

I am certain the process was far more complicated, but I have no more time to study. I will grab as many books as my arms can carry on the subject, and transport them to the Lodestar — in hopes of continuing my studies on this matter. I cannot swing a sword, or lead an army — but if my knowledge or scholarship can aid our world…. I pray that it might.

Parallelogram – Scholar in Absentia, Primex Loghain