Judge Me By My Cover – Day 1

And so it begins. I am beyond excited to reveal the cover to my upcoming novel, The Riddle Box…but I have been over-quiet on the blog of late – so I’m going to need to ramp up to it. Just clog up your feeds with me for a few days, that’s basically what I want. I thought it might be fun to show a little bit of the process by releasing the sketches that lead up to the final design, before revealing the final cover on Saturday.

First the OG cover design, made by yours truly. YES, bask in its awfulness.

Or maybe it was a reanimated Jackson Pollack.
Or maybe it was a reanimated Jackson Pollack.

I think it’s safe to say that this cover is amazing. Sadly it requires a refined artistic sense to truly appreciate, so it’s probably for the best that I went for something a little more mass market.

All of the art you will see henceforth in this series will be from my illustrator, Mike Groves.spell_sword_cover_final [poopbird.com]. You should immediately click over there and take a gander at his work – it is delightful and amazing. The sketches I’m sharing here are rough and you should do  yourself a favor and look at more of his finished stuff. He is the perfect person to draw zombies or robots for you. Fans of the first book will immediately recognize his style from the cover of Spell/Sword – I was really fortunate that he had time in his hectic schedule to work on the cover for The Riddle Box.

And now – the first sketch.

 

Design Sketch - Mike Groves @poopbird
Design Sketch – Mike Groves @poopbird

I can tell you, my heart skipped a beat when I saw this thumbnail. The book’s lived in my head for so long, to see even this sketch of my heroes got me ludicrously pumped. The final design came a long way from this starting point – here would be a good point to thank Mike for his patience with my endless vague emails and texts during the design process.

Stay tuned throughout the week for more sketches and then…DUN DUN DUNNNN…the Final Cover Reveal.

Final Cover Reveal : 7/12

The Riddle Box — Follow the link to add the new book to your Goodreads!

 

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The Audience

Who do we write for? Who do you imagine when you type the words in the glowing white box of your choice?

Maybe it’s a side-effect of my own checkered past in the theatre, but I spend a lot of time wondering about them, out there in the darkness.  In all my art 2014-02-27 23.36.04[ARTZ tm] there’s a need for the receiver, a tacit covenant with the other end of the line. I cannot transmit into a vacuum, I have to know that someone, somewhere is tuning in – and like many monkey-brains I need immediate verification of that fact. The few times I’ve tried some mediums without that component I’ve felt like my feet are nailed to the floor.

I worked for a radio station for a brief stint, back in college.  Even got a few shifts here and there on the microphone – but it made my flesh crawl. I knew intellectually that people were listening, but me – alone – in a booth, cracking jokes to the empty air is my idea of purgatory. Something about that strange Limbo where I knew there was an audience, but I could neither see nor verify them drove me batty.  Once again, a mutation derived from the stage – if you land a joke and nobody laughs – -did you really land it? Without that feedback loop, I feel myself diminish, crawling ever inward to my own navel as THE FIRES OF UTTER DISDAIN CONSUME MY FRAIL PSYCHE.

Ahem.

Which brings me to Twitter. I’ve been on there since January, in fits and spurts. I keep jumping out there on the dance floor, but then become immediately self-conscious – the death of rhythm.  I keep asking Who am I talking to? What is the purpose of this space? Who is the audience? How does speaking hear differ from other spaces? What do I gain by speaking here?

So, sure, I’m over-analyzing, but that’s what you get, son. It’s clear that most people use it for riffing – humor noodles tossed against the uncaring internet wall. And some people use it as a pressure valve, an easy space to vent their frustrations. And for some it’s a stream-of-consciousness companion, recording the banal and profound events of their lives as a record of validity. Or some strange combination of all three. Or the people that just PIMP THAT SHIT.

When I want to say funny thing, I pull up Twitter. But where do I go when I have some serious feels? Here? Eh, I know I’ve emoted plenty here, but it feels unguarded. I could ramble on my Twitter – but then, even more  of a ‘no audience’ vibe. But should I really need an audience when I’m talking about private matters, or just want to spill out into text?

When I want to ‘unpack my heart with words’, why don’t I just jam it out onto Twitter or WordPress or Tumbler or shudder Facebook?

Because I need to feel the audience out there, shifting in their seats – but I don’t trust them.

Here’s where I would make a joke about Google+…but why mock the lumbering undead as they unquietly writhe in the shadows?

 

 

A Century of Pennies Minus One

Spell/Sword Kindle Version – .99 

Kindle Version
Kindle Version

Gasp! It’s happened. In preparation for the release of The Riddle Box, I am permanently reducing the first book down to .99 on Amazon for your shiny Kindle. I’m also going to be removing the Kindle exclusivity this summer, so Spell/Sword ebooks can be made available on Smashwords and iTunes. The paperback will remain available on Amazon, but can also be ordered through Barnes & Noble, or your local bookstore. I personally recommend Avid Bookshop if you live near Athens, GA – it’s my ‘home’ bookstore, and the paperback is the lowest cost on the planet there exclusively. I can also walk over and creepily watch you buy my book, if you’re into that.

Look, it's my whole fandom! This was a picture I took at my reading at Avid Bookshop.
Look, it’s my whole fandom! This was a picture I took at my reading at Avid Bookshop.

Here are some quick links if you’re still on the fence now that I have reduced my brain-baby to a paltry dollar. One is to Goodreads, where there are a pretty wide-spread of reviews, one is to a mystery location that has nothing to do with my book at all.

Goodreads

Link of Mystery

If you give the book a whirl, I’d really appreciate a review on any online space — it’s the author-nectar, worth more than gold or gold-plated gold.

The Riddle Box – 300 Words or Less

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can you solve The Riddle Box?

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

The Truce through the First Imperial Age

And so we burned. We fought. We bled.

We danced to the dark flute of the gods. A thousand years of war.

All blamed on us, all laid at the feet of every human that survived.

The armies of the gods fought endlessly — the worst devastation of all when one of the Four would walk the fields of slaughter themselves. What mortal can stand against Sun, against Stone? The planet would have burned to a cinder, all of the People and every beast eradicated if not for the gods’ ‘mercy’. They kept us alive, each sheltered their own — their power kept us alive to continue the fight, to keep the fires burning.

That is when this planet found a name. Cynus. In the old tongue, it means ‘ashes.’

And in every army, we were the footsoldiers — the first to bleed. Humans were to blame, so each army saved a special ration of pain for our race. If not for our cunning, our adaptability, our will — there last drop of human blood would long since have been spilled on the dry ground.

But we are cunning. We can change. Our will is strong. And after a thousand years, at long last, one of our race arose to save us all. Us, and all the People of this world.

Her name was Bex. The most gifted wizard of the age, she rose through the ranks due to her wisdom and great power. Even in those days, the People would put aside their hatred if the need was great. After many years of battle, she finally found her way to the ear of Marrus, God of the Sky. Our Lord of Winds is the most clever and cunning of his siblings, then as now, and he listened eagerly to the wizard’s words when she spoke of a grand trick.  A ruse that would bring his enemies to heel, at a place of his choosing, totally defenseless.

And so it came to pass. The word went out to the armies of the Four, a great meeting would be held at the Cloud-King’s behest. A truce! A chance to speak in safety for the first time in long centuries. Perhaps, the People dared to hope, an end to the endless war.

Each of the Four came to the agreed upon place, the Vale of Maranth. They each were suspicious, but also eager to turn this meeting to their advantage. The Four arrived in the Vale, and took their seats in four stone chairs prepared for the purpose.

Artist - 二又方丈
Artist – 二又方丈

Marrus and his servant, Bex, were the last to arrive. The God of Sky tittered slightly as he slid into his seat. “Welcome, sisters and brother! I am so glad to see you here, at this place of peace.”

“Is is good to see you,” Lady Sun agreed. “Good to see you all.”

“Yes, it has been lonely so long apart,” Sea smiled.

Stone said nothing.

“Yes, good to see you here, all comfortable in your stone chairs. The stone chairs my servant has prepared for you. The stone chairs that now hold you bound and trapped forevermore!” Sky laughed with glee, slapping his hands on arms of his chair.

Sun, Stone, and Sea seethed with rage and bellowed. The mountains and plains of the entire globe rang with their furor. Sky continued to laugh at his siblings ire.

He laughed until he tried to get out of his chair.

“Yes,” Bex said stepping calmly into the center of her trap. “You are trapped too, Cloud-King.”

“How dare you?” the Zephyr Trickster laughed ruefully. “Really, how did you do this?”

“Yes, speak quickly before we tear you apart, worm,” Jocasta murmured. “Speak quickly.”

“You cannot harm me,” the wizard said. “You are bound to my power. Of your own free will you came, of your own will you sat in my chairs of stone. Your might is caught.  You cannot move, you cannot strike. If it is my wish, I will leave you here until the Unwinding of Time. Bitter, impotent, and bound.”

“I will swallow you for this,” Banu of the Black Water howled. “I will drown you and your race, your bones will waft in my waves. I sleep in your blood and will pull you down —”

“Enough,” Bex said, and the gods fell silent. “It is not my wish to bind you here. You are necessary to this world, to lock you away would only bring a slow ruin. I have brought you here to talk of Truce. You must withdraw from the fields of this world, you must agree to a Code to govern your endless game. You do not feel as the firstborn creatures of Cynus, you know nothing of heartache or sorrow. But I plead with you to hear me now, to feel one tenth of the pain you have husbanded in the creatures that fill your armies. Look upon what you have wrought and relent.”

And the gods heard her prayer. They looked one to the other, and one by one they each dropped their head in assent.

The gods and their captor spoke for many days. A careful Truce was laid, and the laws inscribed in the very fabric of reality. All of the the People waited and hoped. At last, Bex came from the Vale, alone but with a weary smile.

And then, what a time of celebration there was! That the hated blood of humanity should be the one to broker the peace was a marvel. Despised soldiers and battered slaves were welcomed into every hall, all of the People hailed the cleverness and wit of the Human.

And so it was that Bex united the great armies and lead the new Council in all matters. She taught the People of the laws that even the gods must follow, and how it could all lead to a true Balance in their world. The gods’ followers now found their deities more remote, more difficult to contact — but no less powerful when their might was brought to bear.

There followed a great time of peace, where our race, humanity, could finally take their place in pride with all of the others. We were counselors, advisors, knights, merchants, nobles. The wizard Bex had paid our debt and we were eager to move forward.

We meant so well.

But we are cunning. We can change. Our will is strong. And as we tasted the first sips of power, we found it sweet on our tongues. And so with slow patience and eager wit we found our way to it.

Was it any surprise that our cunning would again betray? That in the wake of peace and emancipation we would walk with careful step toward dominion, toward Empire?

Ah me. What fools we humans are!

– Galad Voss, Cleric of Marrus