Labor Day Weekend and some change. It coincides neatly with my trip to Atlanta for Dragon*Con — I’ll be wearing my Self-
Promotion Helm of Shamelessness +3. I’ve printed up a ton of business cards to give to people letting them know about the deal.
The ebook has always been free to Amazon Prime members, and DRM free to boot — but now I’m doubling down. Anyone and everyone can own my book at no cost other than the time it takes to download it. Even if you don’t own a Kindle, you’ll be able tor read it on your Mac, PC, iPad, smartphone, tablet, etc — via the free Kindle app.
“I suspect that via the insidious medium of picture books for children the wizards will continue to practice their high magic and the witches will perform their evil, bad-tempered spells. It’s going to be a long time before there’s room for equal rites.”
Because, here it is. In 1985, Terry Pratchett beat me to the punch. In a speech he gave at a convention he perfectly explained what I’ve been fumbling around for years trying to express. He summed up Swordpunk in an aside:
“But a part of my mind remained plugged into what I might call the consensus fantasy universe. It does exist, and you all know it. It has been formed by folklore and Victorian romantics and Walt Disney, and E R Eddison and Jack Vance and Ursula Le Guin and Fritz Leiber — hasn’t it? In fact those writers and a handful of others have very closely defined it. There are now, to the delight of parasitical writers like me, what I might almost call “public domain” plot items. There are dragons, and magic users, and far horizons, and quests, and items of power, and weird cities. There’s the kind of scenery that we would have had on Earth if only God had had the money.
To see the consensus fantasy universe in detail you need only look at the classical Dungeons and Dragon role-playing games. They are mosaics of every fantasy story you’ve ever read.
Of course, the consensus fantasy universe is full of cliches, almost by definition. Elves are tall and fair and use bows, dwarves are small and dark and vote Labour. And magic works. That’s the difference between magic in the fantasy universe and magic here. In the fantasy universe a wizard points his fingers and all these sort of blue glittery lights come out and there’s a sort of explosion and some poor soul is turned into something horrible.”
The “consensus fantasy universe’. That’s swordpunk. In three goddamn words.
He then proceeds to document the gross dichotomy of gender roles in magic. Wizards are wise, powerful and male — witches are crafty, evil, and female. And that’s troubling and stupid.
It just absolutely flabbergasts me. I’ve been floundering around with these concepts for years, since before I even started work on Spell/Sword, and to find it put so neatly when I was five years old is amazing.
It makes me feel inspired. It makes me feel — I’ll say it — proud. Proud and important, even though it’s completely unwarranted from such a silly book. I want to raise my hand from the back of the speech hall and say “I’m here, Mr. Pratchett! I’m here, and I’m trying. I’m trying to do that thing better! I have three magic users in my book and all of them are female, and through them I’m trying to explore the spectrum. Cotton, wizard of order, seer and battle-mage, the refined and learned wizard of lore and might. Rime, mage of chaos, unfettered and burning Reality like a sun going nova. And The Gray Witch, unknown and unknowable, the magic of forever, of stone and sorrow. I have a witch that is different! SO different!”
Mr. Pratchett peers over his glasses at me, and drums his knuckles on the lectern. An awkward cough fills the sudden silence.
I leap back to the present before some sort of time rift develops or I collapse from Hyper-Anxiety.
My witch is different, as I hope the few of you that have read the book can attest.
In lore and legend she is the expected crone, laughing and mad and malevolent. But when Jonas stumbles into her yard with Rime in tow, she is not what he expected — or I hope what the reader expected.
She is gray, all gray like the edge of a storm. She is nude and unconcerned, merry and strange, her brown-eyes still human but beyond that completely Other.
And she is sad. And sure. The greatest curse of all is certainty. Necessity.
The character is overtly sexual, but never in a prurient manner. Her nudity is barely described, as component as the red hat she wears in her wide-bucket garden.
I know so little about her! Writers are supposed to be God, but she eludes me. She frightens me more than a little, which is why I skitter into poetry when I describe her.
The fear and loathing that Mr. Pratchett correctly observes in the depiction of the Dark Feminine I do not truly jettison, but wrap it into the character along with all the strange unknowns of her identity. She is not a gibbering octogenarian that can be dismissed, pitied, or relegated to lesser status. She is a character of ill portent, but should never be seen as a minor force – -she is Beyond. Almost beyond gender entirely, but never quite.
I’ll try to put in some dopey male wizards next time around, Mr. Pratchett. To underline. It’ll have to wait for Book Three, the cast of Riddle Box is already set.
“I’m here,” I whisper across the years and the ocean to Mr. Pratchett. “And so is the Gray Witch. Be careful what you wish for?”
I was born in the middle of tomorrow, yesterday’s child.
My parents were Tuesday and waiting for the water to boil. The people of the village are finding me in the hay of the inn’s second stall, the one that the old gray mule calls his own. Or did they already find me?
At some point, there was I in the hay. A child in the hay, pointy ears and bric-a-brac, like Mama Troth says sometimes, or is saying right now as I fold the clothes on the square table in the kitchen, but is also still a stump oozing sap as it’s cut down in the Riddlewood.
I know I’m confusing. People think are thinking that I do it a-purpose, or as some lark. It was hard, sometimes. Wanting to carry on a palaver with all the right tenses, the words that say time like Mama Troth will teach me.
If I’m careful I can tell the pig story right. The straw, the sticks, the bricks — but sometimes I tell the wolf at the beginning,
or leave the wolf out all together. Or put in some extra wolves that people never hear of, but that’s mainly a lark.
I used to be funny. Laughing and dancing down the streets of the Kingdom, with my friends and comrades. Before the war? After? I can’t be sure. Enough to say, there was an I and he was funny.
It’s hard to become this, stranger to remember. All at once and never gone. We’re going to a wedding, or have we already been?
Mama Troth told me to go to the baker and pick up some bread, but I could never figure when the place was open. I always came too late or too early, or I saw when the baker was a boy and didn’t have any bread. Or I saw him choking on that apple seed and he didn’t have any bread then either. I tried just keeping my hand on his doorknob until the time was right, but the rain was over and the rain was coming and the rain was always.
I got wet. I’m pretty sure that one already happened.
It’s going to be hard. People move so slow, but I turn and they’re gone. I send my words to where I see them, but they’re already gone, or they aren’t there yet.
Nora Hill held my hand once, but she ran off when her dad yelled. That one is the only one I know for sure is behind me, even though I want it to always be ahead. Nora is dying right now in the war, when the teeth and claws came over the wall. I don’t tell her and squeeze her hand. I should kiss her but I don’t. I see her dying right now, right before they found baby me in the hay, right after we went to the wedding, before the rain, but during the towels I fold all square and neat.
It’s hard to see. I want to shut my eyes sometimes, but Mama Troth is telling me I have to go buy some bread.
On Amazon, on Goodreads, on Facebook, scrawled on butcher paper and taped to the side of your car.
Those of you who have already finished reading — please take a second and post a review online. Even if you had problems, especially if you have legitimate criticism. I’m starting from zero promoting the book, and my best ally is word of mouth. This is the quickest and easiest way you can help me – especially with an Amazon or Goodreads review. It helps boost the visibility of the book, and helps new readers make an informed decision.
Negative reviews are no problem — what you hated about the book may be the thing that convinces a new reader to give me a shot. The initial word of mouth from the book’s release has officially subsided, and now I need to dig in for the long haul. INCREMENTAL GROWTH, BABY. So, if you’ve read the book — please, please take a moment and click some stars and type a sentence or two online. You do that crap on the regular anyway, right?
And, now on to some more unprofessional behavior, tinged by desperation.
I have copies of Spell/Sword to mail out. I will send it to your house. TO YOUR HOUSE. [US only, please.] I can also hook you up with the Kindle version if that’s your preference. If you read this far and you want to give it a shot, just drop me a line in the comments and I’ll get one shipped out. Do I want a review in return? Absolutely — but you can make it as mean-spirited as you desire.
I know the hustle’s hard, but we gotta enterprise, the carnival
It’s always a treat when you stumble upon a new facet of the characters you’re writing.
I’ve been with Rime and Jonas for a while now, through Spell/Sword and in
their far, dark future of Lodestar. As every writer must, I know a lot about them. More than I’ll ever subject the reader to, more that would remotely be germane to the narrative. But still I can be surprised, and find out something brand new about my protagonists in the process of writing.
I’ve been working on Riddle Box, the second book, and it’s a murder mystery. It’s completely different from Spell/Sword structurally, and purposefully puts the kids in a radically different situation than the first book.
Today, I discovered that Rime is a huge nerd for mystery stories.
I mean, me too — but Rime is a pretty sour sort, and can be a moody jerk. It is positively delightful to watch her get jazzed up about solving the mystery of The Riddle Box.
What’s next? Am I going to find out Jonas is an opera geek?
Oh nothing. Just my first official notes for The Riddle Box. I still need to decide on a lot of character names [probably won’t until I get into the first draft] and the timeline is wafer-thin — but here is the proto-skeletal structure of my second book.
So, for those of you finishing Spell/Sword and wondering where The Riddle Box is…whelp, this is what I have so far. And a lot of crazy ideas.
Ahhh…this is much more exciting than begging for reviews.
I feel this tremendous psychic weight taken off my shoulders. It’s done, for better and worse. This gigantic project that has consumed me for two years — and the feeling of having a ton of my system resources free up is electric.
But then there’s the new anxieties. People are reading it. Not many yet, but PEOPLE ARE READING IT. And I
need to figure out how to get more people to read it, need to market, promote, shill, all of that. Got to learn to stop checking my Amazon sales rankings, it’s like a new ant-bite, I just can’t stop scratching it.
Sprinkle a crazy busy work week plus final rehearsals for August:Osage County on top and I’m feeling more than a little rickety.
But I’m excited to get back to writing. I’m going to lay out my rough writing schedule for The Riddle Box next week, and hopefully get started before the end of the month. After the past year of editing, the thought of just throwing out some crazy ideas and poor grammar for Book Two is intoxicating. I’ve already got the first scene rattling around in my head, several new characters, the overall arc of the story. It’s a murder mystery, y’all!
You’ll notice me continuing to flounder and poke around trying to promote Spell/Sword — but I’m hoping that it can start running in the background over the next few weeks to months, so I can focus more on The Riddle Box.
I’m also thinking about putting together a big post on self-publishing in general, my experiences with CreateSpace and KDP — any interest?
The book is out. Time to lean back and watch my inevitable rise to literary, internet and financial domination.
That’s how it works, right?
Only if this was a Disney Channel movie, unfortunately. And it if was I would hope that my animated sidekick was a talking Roomba.
After two years of work, stress, and toil — I’ve taken the first step. But only the first step. And now the long, grueling march to More Than a Blip. Shuck and jive, self-promote, sing and dance and drop my pants — whatever it takes, as long as it takes. The key is to not get frustrated or discouraged — ’cause it’s going to be SLOW.
And now for some Thankery.
The Alpha Readers, the Beta Readers, the people who dealt with my endless questions and ruminations as I floundered around.