The Bend

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Jeffrey Alan Love

A little background. I was running a Pathfinder game for some friends a few months ago. A neophyte-friendly, short campaign to introduce a bunch of youngsters to the hoary arts of dice rollin’. 

I got busy, and they got busy — and is all too often the case, we never got to the end of the story.

This weekend, out of the blue, one of the players emailed me. Warming the cockles of my wintry aorta — they asked how the story was going to end.

I stared at the email on my phone and mouthed the words, “How am I supposed to know?”

Maybe I’m a bad storyteller, or a bad DM – but my brain doesn’t operate the way. I can only see so far ahead of the players, just one bend ahead. That’s half the excitement for me — finding the story. Getting little glimpses of the horizon. Broken snippets, and flashes of moments, and vague ideas that will only fall into place when the time is right.

I mean, I generally know the end. The big events, the major developments — but the steps that link these, the tiny choices, human moments that connect them? Who knows?

And this, of course, made me think about Spell/Sword.

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CASUAL SEGUE.

Because I do know the end of that story. And it’s horrible. The adventures of Jonas and Rime do not end well. Their tale ends in shadow.

Maybe that’s why I’m so excited to tell their story. I know where they end, but I don’t know how they got there. And as long as I don’t know, then it hasn’t happened yet. Maybe it doesn’t have to happen?

It does have to happen.

But they will shine before the end. That’s all that I ask. For the book, for this dimension, for everything. Because everything ends. The sum total of human expression: the light we emit before nightfall.

Running away from the end, running away from maturity. This is a feat that I am familiar with — maybe I can help them run faster than I did?

Well, this turned maudlin.

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RETROGRADE SEGUE

I was staring at my phone, at the email — wondering what to tell the player. Then I knew, I knew what to tell him. I turned the bend, and there was the answer like I had always known it, like I had outlined it carefully on graph paper in my head. Fortunately for this story, it’s not a true ending — more of a End of the Beginning. The end of their first adventure, and a hook into the next. 

Here’s what I told him.

The Heroes of Riddlewood [you guys] would have explored the ominous manor of the Count, encountering many strange things and perils in their search for the kidnapped adventurer, Martin Wise. They would have located the prisoner behind a secret wall that lead to a high tower. Under the cover of night, the party attempts a daring rescue mission, only to do battle with the supernatural minions of the count – undead primarily, along with a couple of lycanthropes. They break out Martin and race back through the manor to escape, where they are caught by the Count himself. The Count attacks, revealing several dark powers, that seem to emanate from a gauntlet that he wears. The young heroes are overwhelmed by the assault — until reinforcements arrive in the form of the elder adventurer, Dennis Wise and the local magical instructor, Vurbane and his Mouse Brigade. The two old men work together to seal part of the Count’s dark power, allowing the party to fight back on even ground. The final blow falls and the dark gauntlet shatters — a phantom erupts from the Count’s body, and shrieks promises of revenge into the abyss.

The Count awakes, and thanks the heroes from saving him from the spirit that had possessed him for many months. The source of the possession was obviously the gauntlet, but the Count shares disquieting news…the gauntlet comes from a larger suit of armor unearthed from his family crypt. He had terrible nightmares about the armor for weeks, until he felt compelled to put on the gauntlet. He has no reliable memory of his time under the dark spirit’s control — but he has a terrible feeling that he spent some time sending pieces of the armor all throughout the land….

Another story leading off into the unknown, a story with no end — just a beginning. 

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Spell/Sword Cover Art Revealed!

Artist - Mike Groves/poopbird
Artist – Mike Groves/poopbird

And there it is. The cover art for my book.

This is real. IT’S REAL.

Let me let me tell you why I love this art.

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.

Deadline Magic

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Running against the clock always galvanizes me. Just the idea that the entry window for the Amazon contest might close before I get done editing, is pushing me to untold heights of GONZO EDITING.

“Oh, I really like this section. Too bad it’s boring.” CUT.

“You know, my Beta Readers were right, this chapter has all the exposition and it’s buried 50 pages in.” CHAPTER MOVE.

“Why’s Jonas so freaking emo in Chapter One?” INSERT JOKES.

“Huh, I never did really explain why Cotton hates wild mages so much.” BACKSTORY INFUSION ACTIVATE.

“Hmm, these two chapters are kinda thin now that they’ve been trimmed.” CHAPTER FUSION DANCE.

It’s liberating, at the very least. Only a couple more days of anxiety about it, before I have to bite the bullet and send my entry to Amazon. All of these changes needed to happen, nothing like a little bit of panic to spur me to make them.

Blech. This is why I like theatre. There’s a built in deadline:Opening Night. You can work and agonize on a novel FOR ALL OF TIME.

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. 

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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.