Book Review – Deadly Troubadours

dtroubadour

Full disclosure:  The author of this book is one of my closest friends. I’ve written plays with him. We’ve have swung imaginary swords together in many strange lands. I have eaten his mother’s chewy ginger-snaps. Whether that makes me meaner or nicer is best left to your judgement. From a writing standpoint, our worlds are kissing cousins at the very least – linked by Pratchett’s ‘consensus fantasy universe’ and a shared wavelength of universes touched by the Fall of Gilead and the breath of the Red Wizard. Don’t know what I’m talking about? Well, Brent does.

Non-spoiler Review:

 Absolutely top-notch world building and character work. Strong dialogue, clean action scenes. Brent has a patience that I lack, really drilling down into the core of his world — each location breathes, the thought and care put into each is delightful. It’s a fantasy where most travelers will feel at home, and that’s no easy feat. Also, really badass, involved descriptions of some magical rituals and arcane machinery – that may be a ‘writer’ sort of thing to say, but those things are a beast to write and way too easy to make boring. Brent keeps them engaging throughout, and any writer that can make logistics interesting is one to wear in your heart’s core.

Our Heroes are a ragtag band, but not of misfits. Misfits suggest a lack of competence, or a fringe status in this world – nay, they are perfectly shaped. Though I quickly found myself favoring Kestra over the other characters – your reaction may differ. I like stoic gladiators, perhaps you will prefer the wily thief-mage, Demetrius or the scholar, Talbert.

The narrative structure flips between the present, where our group has embarked on a quest of more than usual danger and foolhardiness — and the past, where we learn more about the three main characters in a series of ‘Origin’ chapters. Taken as their own, the flashbacks provide the novel’s strongest writing – but the chapter order was one of my main complaints, especially early in the book. You go from the present, to the recent past, to a flashback, to another character’s flashback, then return to the present. It was like Brent kept handing me different action figures – and let me assure you I wanted to play with each one! – but just as I would start having fun with them, he would knock them out of my hands and push another toy at me. I found myself wanting to sink deeper into each story only to be jerked out too soon. This could just be a ‘me’ thing and may not bother other readers, but by the end of the book I was only nominally interested in the present-day plot  [and there’s a fucking dragon in it!] – I was much more looking forward to the resolution of each of the Origin plotlines.

This is rock-solid fantasy writing – and I have no problem saying it holds together much better than my first attempt.  You all need to buy this and love or hate it – but support the writer. I want to read the next one, the next one’s what it’s all about. There’s some dark, beautiful things in that head and we’ve only gotten a glimpse.

Spoiled Review:

This is mostly ‘inside-baseball’.

Your heart is in the past, Brent. Those Origin chapters are so fucking good they shamed the rest of the book.  You are at your best when your characters are growing, changing – in pain, in woe, in transformative joy. You write the hi-jinx stuff fine too, but it doesn’t have the resonance, it doesn’t have the ‘THIS MATTERS’ bell that goes off when you read something real. I want to read further adventures of the DT, but I’d love to see you sink your teeth into a single protagonist YA. That’s what the Origin chapters and half your novel really were.

I liked most of the one-off characters, but Carradam just didn’t work well enough for me as a villain – maybe he’ll be better if he comes back as more of a Zenigata-type for the team. But he didn’t hold a candle to the witch, or Pho, or Tate’s avaricious mentor.

Loved the ‘interior’ dragon chapters, I wanted to experience the battle a little more from her perspective.

So get back to work and write me another book.

BREAKING – SyFy’s Pilot of ‘The Magicians’ Cancelled – Replaced with Spell/Sword Series Order

Syfylogo

Producers Janice Williams and Michael London announced today that they were halting production on the anticipated pilot immediately. The adaptation of Lev Grossman’s bestselling fantasy series had been gathering a great deal of interest and excitement from fans. Williams spoke to reporters, “Everything was going great. Casting, script-writing, sets were built. But then we came to work yesterday and found the power had been cut and a team of carpenters dismantling the front steps of Brakebills. All they would tell us is they had a work order to re-purpose the lumber for use on ‘Helix’.”

London added “It was a SyFy level decision – not us, we were going to show the world something special with this show.” The series was being produced by Universal Cable Productions.

the-magiciansWhen reached for comment, SyFy president, David Howe, just sort of shrugged in between bites of a massive roast beef sandwich, “We had hoped that Lev Grossman’s blend of magic and realism would capture the imagination of a new generation of viewers and further strengthen Syfy’s ownership of premium quality sci-fi fantasy drama. But then we realized CHOMP – this shit is depressing as hell. We already punish genre fans enough with our content, I don’t think we need to have a show that actively mocks them for liking the concept of Magic.”

To fill the gap in the upcoming schedule, SyFy has greenlit a 26-episode adaptation of Spell/Sword – a self-published fantasy novel currently ranked #2,108,408 on Amazon. Howe assured reporters that the book was ‘rad as hell’.

The author of Spell/Sword, and it’s even less well selling sequel The Riddle Box could not be reached for comment as he is currently embedded within a small plate of green Jell-O for reasons of national security.

I Have Only Read 1.5 Terry Pratchett Books.

The Color of Magic and Good Omens.

That’s it. That’s all I needed to know. That I would live my life writing in his shadow. That I would have to wait until I was not writing fantasy for a while before I could read more, because I would copy. Copy copy copy. Some without realizing, some with avarice and the bandit’s dagger bit between my teeth.

Artist -  Molly Crabapple
Artist – Molly Crabapple

I’m sure you’re surprised. The closest comparison people have had for my stuff is ‘Are you trying and failing to do some sort of weak-sauce Pratchett thing?’. And the answer is yes. Of course it’s yes. Even without reading more, he’s everywhere – his essays, his presence, the quiet vibration in the air when I write. I’m not the first explorer, far from. He marked these paths for me, he’s already traveled further than I ever will. He already said the things, he already made that joke, he already saw, he already wrote it better than I ever could. I’m a candle and he is a bonfire.

It made me jealous, it made me depressed, it made me feel safe. I struggled to articulate the core concept of my fiction for months, he laid it out in 1000 words thirty years ago. I seethe on the border of the city he built, a useless rebel. I stare at his mountain of work with pickle-green envy.

And now he is gone. He left as he wished, in the manner he chose.

And now the road is less. The way is less. The worlds beyond are darker, and the paths out of ours harder to find. His light remains but it is distant, like the time-phase of starlight. And I feel alone. I have his whole canon to enjoy one day and that is a blessing, but out here in the woods between the wind is colder and I am bereft of the traveler who I envied and barely knew. He left his light in a tower of words, but his campfire out here in the dark has gone out and all I can smell is smoke.

With temerity and gall I claim kinship, with grief I join my voice to all that mourn.

Diagnostic

B_WtFziVEAEpEnGLet’s see what still works.

do re me fa so very far I fall when the wind stops blowing

held aloft like tinsel, like tin planes made of memory and bone. ten planes or eleven or six or seven while all bad dogs are barking at heaven

Run through the manger howl and stammer

break up the night but don’t mind the grammar

I tap the strings and shake off the moss

i hold nothing but the Songs of the Lost

the wires are heating and the sheep are bleating and light bends the heart into lines and vibration

change the station

The peak of the mountain was oddly shaped, like a malformed muffin discarded by an unknown baker.

Her smile was daggers and her dagger was laughter.

The steel circle meant nothing to her, not yet.

He picked up the faded staw hat as if it were made of cold rain.

The dog was made of glass. It had no heart but Purpose, no mind but Will. And it could hear it’s master’s call.

“Is everything okay?”

“Getting better, I’m just a tad sensitive about how my mind works. I’ve taken some blows up there, medical and otherwise – and the medication I’m on adds to that feeling of being…disconnected.”

“From the Force?” Obi-Wan, who is also Neal, probed carefully.

“Yeah.” I sighed, rubbing my eyes with the heels of both hands. “Things come out of nowhere, I’m always swiveling my head. I’m always on tip-toe.”

Always the dawn finds us scraping our heels on the edge of the fire, singing our skin as the dark retreats, as if we can burn the memory of shadow-lessons into the mute pages of form.

Radd Plateglass stood on the edge of the Red Tower and tuned his violin. The place he stood was not really called the Red Tower, but as a Name it was certainly evocative enough. The host of bright death that gathered in the streets below had destroyed many Names this night, this lyric of nights, and he was too exhausted to decipher the rubble and smoke to truly know where he stood. Except he knew where he stood, in the ruin of Gate City, the cracked bell of the world that would peal no more. A thousand-thousand strains of melody and light and song and memory had been born and treasure-troved in these streets, hidden and en-wombed by the endless night that covered all like a protective mother-spirit. Blood dripped onto the violin from his forlorn eye, the quiet dark circle of empty ravage the green skeleton had gifted him before tossing him aside. In days gone he would wipe the filth from  his instrument, but it was no matter. It had gone beyond the chance of repair. If only it would play true, that would be more than enough.

All Bards of Gate City had but one goal if they were worth their staves. That their death-song be true. Grand, yes. Better than all others, of course. The summation of a life of skill, beyond question. But true. Above all true. No lies in the soul of music, not from a true Bard of Gate City. And even if there would soon be no more Gate City, Radd’s song would be true true true.

The bard raised his bow and swirled the black smoke around as if to gather his audience and began to play.

Play the lines, play the lines

Play the times again Lucas.

the Machine is waiting

but light is fading

and sleep is gathering around like a constant vassal with poison in his teapot

i had it for a moment there

which is all i’ve ever been able to claim

so good enough

it will have to do

i have an oak tree root in my heart

and it groans in the wind

The Bellinora

She leaned on the Sword, breath ragged.

The place where she was rang hollow and empty, alone. An alone-place. It

by Rahmatozz
by Rahmatozz

would serve.

The Sword hummed and shook, but her grip was sure. Even in exhaustion, even at the edge of night, she would never let it go.

She fell on a stack of tiles, the ceramic crumpled underneath the weight. She folded her body around the Sword, rags falling over her thin form and ash-covered face. Sleep came just as her heart still beat – slowly, painfully, without the promise of rest. It was a thing that happened, easier and easier to ignore.

The Bellinora slept. But the Sword did not.


A group of children passed an empty house, it had been abandoned for several years. They had taken to throwing rocks at it in idle moments, but today the house seemed different. Peter lobbed a pebble absently while Dala and Wrench were clambering over the broken fence. His pebble shattered a snaggle-tooth window, as his bullets had a dozen times before – but something seemed different. A thrill went through his stomach, and Peter felt afraid. As if some great beast had made the abandoned house its lair.

Peter grabbed his friends and dragged them protesting away from the house. His mother had taught him well. ‘Humans can take no chances, Peter’ she had said. ‘Every hand is turned against us. You feel funny or worried, even if you can’t see the reason. You get as far away from it as possible.’

The three human children trotted away from the house, further into their neighborhood, the claptrap shanties and hovels that their race was bound to.

Peter did not mention the house or the feeling of fear. But he did not forget.

[Just a little bit I wrote for my Pathfinder campaign today. I liked it and I haven’t updated blog in a bit so HERE YOU GO.]

World Map Unlocked!

Or found rather! On my hard-drive. This is a few years old at this point, leftover from my Lodestar campaign. Some of the names have changed in Spell/Sword, and the locations shifted slightly [mainly because a lot of them are from other stories and intellectual properties. Some from homage, some just because I was lazy.]– but for those of you wondering what else is out there in Aufero, here’s a reasonably accurate peek.

Artist - W. Steven Carroll
Artist – W. Steven Carroll

Click to see real honkin’ big version.

Michael’s Blurb

 

My fandom is very small. A hardened band of adventurers, rogues, miscreants, and malcontents. AKA mostly my friends and the few poor strangers who’ve stumbled into the books online. They are not a forgiving sort – what they like they tell me. What they hate they INSCRIBE IN THE DARK BOOK OF TORMENT. [The Dark Book of Torment is my anxiety riddled ego.]

But among this rabble, there is one person that I truly answer to. My Core Demographic, as a refer to him. It should come as no surprise that My Core Demographic is an eleven-year-old kid.  When others complained about the lag waiting for ‘The Riddle Box’ to come out, I ignored their pleas. When Michael took me to a nice dinner of hot wings and soda to take me to task for my sloth, I was shaking in my boots. In desperate panic, I gave him what I had – the first three chapters of Book Two. I waited by the phone, by my email, by the window to hear his response. If I ever lose Michael, I might as well pack-in this whole silly affair.

At last he has responded!

mikeI was lucky enough to receive an advanced copy of the first three chapters of The Riddle Box. After reading Spell/Sword, I was looking forward to finding out where Rime and Jonas’ journeys would take them next. Adams did not disappoint! After a long trek, we catch back up with Rime and Jonas at the home of Lord Bellweather. Their arrival coincides with a murder at the home, and Rime and Jonas set about trying to unravel the mystery. The first three chapters kept me engaged and curious. I was drawn in by the very first page. One of my favorite aspects of Adams’ writing is the way I instantly care about and am interested in the characters’ fates. I was on the edge of my seat the whole time wondering which paths Adams will take with these characters. If you love fantasy or mystery – or if you’re just in the mood for a good, fun read- The Riddle Box is for you!

Michael Niedzwiecki-Castile, age 11

Now that’s a freaking blurb! With better grammar than I usually muster!

I am beyond relieved that Michael enjoyed the first three chapters – and I understand he received the full book as a Christmas present and has already devoured it. I can only hope that I will be summoned to another eldritch feast in his court to discuss his thoughts and responses to the entire novel.

Spell/Sword and The Riddle Box can be found on Amazon for purchasing with money. They are .99 on Kindle, substantially more for paperback. Free [!] on Kindle Unlimited.

End of Year Shareholder Meeting 2014 – Location: My Head

shareholder

[The following is the transcript of a recording smuggled out on the person of half-orc/goblin J.J. Smith. Mr. Smith did not intend to record the proceedings. He had a new phone and thought he was playing Peggle, but actually activated a recording application. Some of the recording is garbled due to Mr. Smith’s unfortunate habits of humming to himself, prolonged burping, and atonal flatulence.]

G. Derek Adams: Okay, everyone take a seat so we can — so we can get started.

[milling around noises, wooden chair legs scraping on floor]

GDA: Okay, are we all settled?

Izus Torrossian: I don’t want to sit down. It’s too far away from the doughnuts.

GDA: Goddamn it, Izus. Would you please just sit the fuck down?

IT: Here? Or here? Is here good?

GDA: Just sit. Sit. Sit! NO. In the chair, don’t spin it around like you’re Fonzie.

Rime Korvanus: I don’t think Fonzie ever sat that way.

GDA: Not … literally. Okay. Okay, fine. Sit however you want.

IT: Thank you, m’lord.

Brian Cactus: Heh, heh.

Jonas: That guy is cool.

Xenon: Meh.

IT: I am, like, so cool.

Sideways: Ironic high-five!

[A loud smack of palms. Various laughter and groans from the assembly.]

GDA: This is it. This is my nightmare. It’s like teaching high school all over again. I’m going to take a breath and then we’re going to get started.

Linus: I hope [XXXXgarbledhummingXXXXX] the severity of this meeting. It has been a long year. I have concerns. I know the rest of you do as well.

[Awkward coughs. Shifting of wooden chair legs. Mr. Smith burps.]

GDA: Thanks you, Linus. Okay. I’ve called you all together here to talk about the past year. Things we accomplished, problems we encountered, and goals for the next year.

RK: [inaudible]..problems.

J: Rime, c’mon.

GDA: AND there will be time where you can just piss and moan at me, but now is not that time. I would especially expect those of you who’ve had a big launch this year to [XXXXXXXXXXXX] back and at least hear me out.

Mallora Crandall: We are listening. You are waving your arms around a lot. This is not a witch hunt—

[Sudden uproar of voices raised in alarm. Heavy feet pound across the room.]

MC: What? What?

BC: Oh yeah, you’re new here.

J: Never ever say – you know – the ‘w’ word.

S: [from a distance] Door’s still locked. I think we’re okay.

IT: Yeah, I think we’re good. She must be occupied elsewhere. We caught a break.

GDA:…[audible gulp]…okay. Okay, good. Don’t stress out about it, Mallora. I can explain a little better after the meeting.

J: Or I can explain it! I’m..uh…really good at explaining. Things.

RK: [audible facepalm]

GDA: Moving on. Look, I think I already know what some of your concerns are. I really didn’t put many of you to work this year. We bought a house, I was really focused on editing ‘The Riddle Box’.

RK: You bought a PlayStation 4.

GDA: That…is…true.

RK: You also spent how many hours at your desk? Just scrolling through the internet? How many hours on your couch watching Buffy: The Vampire Slayer?

GDA: I hadn’t seen it before! It was, uh, ‘cultural research’.

RK: You also watched Angel at the same time.

GDA: Uh.

RK: You found a site on the internet that told you how to watch them in the ‘correct’ order. You made a chart to make sure you did it correctly. A chart.

GDA: Well.

RK: [scrape of chair leg, presumably the speaker stood up] And even worse? How many  nights did you lay in your bed, just staring at your phone? Just numbly scrolling. Not interacting or communicating, just moving your thumb? How many?

J: Rime. Ease up, okay?

RK: No. It’s not okay. We have one avenue, one port of entry into this world. And it’s this guy’s head.

S: Not the best head. 6/10. There are better heads out there.

RK: This one breaks a lot. It gets distracted. It always crammed full of sleep and noise. It’s always right on the point of fucking dissolving.

IT: And the drinking! The drinking! Have you given any thought to the drinking? WHY ISN’T THERE MORE OF IT?!?

RK: And don’t think I don’t know why my head is like it is. It’s because you used this dump as a model. This twisty, useless place that–[XXXXXXgarbledflatulenceXXXXXX]..only way. He owes us more.

GDA: Okay. Okay. Point made. I don’t know why I kept expecting someone to have some sympathy or take my side.

L: You only make villains, son. We have our own weight to bear.

GDA: Fair. Look. You are right. I could have done better. I can do better.

J: Yeah!

[awkward silence followed by snickers and hoots]

GDA: Uh, thanks. All that is fair, and I hear you. I will try to do better. But let’s not wallow in it, okay? We’ve done some good work together this  year. We’re chipping away at that wall! I know it’s hard when we only have a few hammers working from this side – but there are more and more people working on it Earth-side. You are in people’s heads! As weird as it sounds, people other than me know about you. Well, most of you.

MC: Hmph.

GDA: That’s how it works. Each person on the other side is like a tiny point of light. Each light a beacon. And slowly as we find new readers, more and more light.

J: Wait, are they hammers or beacons? Because–

All: Shut up,  Jonas!

GDA: And just think, if we keep plugging away. One day you all could be as real as Harry Potter, or Kvothe, or Bilbo Baggins!

X: Or..some goddamn female characters?

GDA: Hermione, Aerin, Arya, Lyra, Lisbeth Salander! Look, I’m working with the same head that you all are. The fact that we made it this far is pretty goddamn amazing. So. Get off my nuts about it is what I’m saying. Rime.

RK: Hey!

GDA: Most of you are going to work on ‘Asteroid Made of Dragons’ – well except you guys who are technically dead. I’ll throw you some work, but you’ll have to disguise yourselves. The rest of you I can at least work on some short stories – give you all a test drive.

Sasparilla O’Shaugnessy: What about me?

GDA: Oh Sasparilla. I think you know that you’re going to be riding the pine a long, long time. Oh Sasparilla!

[Sarcastic laughter from assembly]

GDA: Okay, I think we’re all on the same page now. I know you are the best characters for the job.  Which brings us to the last question: Is it weird that I talk to you guys like this? I mean, it can’t—

[sudden knock at the door]

GDA: Shit! She’s here. Sideways, you get the door. Be polite.

S: Why do I have to do it?

GDA: She likes you!

S:That is a fucking lie. Fine.

[pained silence, the almost silent pad of feet towards the door]

[another knock]

S: Yes? Who is it?

[muffled response]

S: Are you shitting me?

[sounds of door being unlocked]

Dayjen Moore: Oh, hi guys! I thought this meeting was at 2. So! What are we talking about? Hmmm? Oh, I brought sandwiches..but, not enough to share. Unless someone has a knife? We can cut them into tiny sandwich-slivers!

GDA: Jesus Christ, we are fucking doomed.

JingaJang Smith: *BUUURP*.

End of Transcription

The Buzz-Saw

Setting out on a mission of revenge, the hero is told to dig two graves. One for the villain and one for himself. When setting out on a mission of self-promotion I have learned to dig eight graves.

One for me, one for my dignity, one for my pride, one for that random werewolf that always attacks me, two for anxiety because that sucker is portly and depression resurrects him on the regular. Two more just because I like digging. And the eighth grave for this entire metaphor.

So, to whit: anxiety is getting out of the grave, but I defeat the werewolf?

This is my problem, you see? I’m a writer and a communicator, but my preambles are deadly. Weaponized elocution right here.

I’m the self-published author of two fantasy novels. And promoting your self is part and parcel of the experience — and something that more and more people are becoming familiar with. You can’t wander into any social media space without seeing people hawking and flogging everything from albums to alcoholic cookies. It’s something that innumerable people will offer to instruct you on in never-ending neon-rimmed posts on Twitter and FB. As the arsenal of marketing feels ever more at our fingertips, it becomes easier and easier to feel dumb for not doing it right.

I feel pretty dumb.

But this really isn’t about self-promotion. It’s about the buzz-saw.

So you make a thing. A book, a record, a drawing, a video. And then you pick it up Buzz_sawin your arms and you look at it. You like it. It’s got problems, sure, but it’s a good thing. But now you have to get that thing to other people. Fortunately, the human race has equipped itself with the most potent communication tool in history. So you put it up.

And nothing happens. Except you walk right into the buzz-saw. The deafening un-sound of one droplet in a rainstorm.

You bring the thing up at parties. In casual conversations, in careful status updates designed to hide the sales payload, in fervent harangues over too much beer, you put it up. And nothing happens. The buzz-saw whirs and more sawdust flies off of you.

There is a certain weight you need to carry your thing forward. A certain percentage of your psyche you need at fighting form. The buzz-saw cuts that weight off you. If you’re not careful you are splinters before you realize it.

You put it up again. You read guides, you watch YouTube videos, you go to conferences. Everyone tells you how to carry the thing. How to get the thing to the other people. The buzz-saw whirs. You put the thing up three times a day, five times, ten. You blog-hop and tweet and podcast and jibber. You find sawdust in your pockets and crammed in the crevice of your car’s console. You can’t use the cup holder anymore there’s so much of it falling off you.

A lot of nights it’s just you and the thing. Huddled under the brown comforter and thumbing your phone through the endless places you want the thing to be. Wistfully weighing other people’s things — things no better or worse than your thing! — and feeling the buzz-saw bite.

And you can’t stop. Not now, not ever. Because if you do, no one else will carry the thing. That light will go out and not even the dark will notice.

So you keep walking into the buzz-saw. People help you of course, it’s not all disintegration. A new review, a friendly word, someone makes a thing because of your thing [!], you get a great idea for a new thing, or a new part of the old thing, or an old thing you can do in a new way. There’s a lot of us on this side of the lumber mill and you take strength from swapping scar-stories. I’m always astonished by those that live in the teeth of the buzz-saw, mashing those buttons with fever intensity. We all roll our eyes — but I also quietly give them the gunslinger nod. They are stronger than I or less fragile or just made of more wood.

I am mostly sawdust. I am chicken-shit. I barely get touched by those metal fangs and I’m reeling back on the ropes. But — and this is the important bit — I don’t stop. At least not yet. At least not yet.

So to all who press against the buzz-saw, with their thing cradled carefully in their arms, I salute you. To all those who cannot or will not press on, I salute you. To all the things, a toast. May we all pass the metal destroyer and watch our things fly beyond us into a wider world.

[This originally appeared on Medium – is anyone else over there? I don’t really know what that place is for, if you’re over there could you help me figure it out?