Abracadabra

Art is a magic spell.

With each line, each lyric, each spatter of paint, each glob of clay we cast it. Careful and mad we summon the spirits once again, the true power of our race, that we may act as conduit to the Unknown. Even the dullest brute among us calls out to the demi-god of the television remote, the demon of the freeway, the howling eidolon that lurks in stones and stars and the thousand turns of dumb luck.

But artists are the true shamans.

We need it to mean, we need it to matter. With matter we shape the energy latent, the paths untaken. Some see God in the scratch of the violin, some seek God in the twist of wire and glass. Others just want to show the pain, the rain, the song of the train. All energy, all magic, passing through our hands in an instant then gone.

But if we cast proper, cast careful, cast well…the spell can linger. The shape and form of enchantment can suck in air, and its hands close as if by reflex and it shambles forward into the world to wait for a new victim, a new audience. What we make with true hearts can ward and weave the world, sing it quiet into a better form, shine as a light in the dark, cage the dark beast for a time, hum and giggle like a wine-drunk fairy.

So take it serious, take it real, pound your bones to meal. Stomp and stammer and crash and clamor.

Sing a song, write a tale, draw a thing. Dance or build or break or live.

Make it. Make the thing. Cast your spell and keep your eyes clear. Open the gate in the back of your spine and let the magic work.

I Need Reviews!

lightbulb

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

-Wyclef Jean

Spell/Sword Giveaway Final Moments

Okay, okay — I know I’ve been quiet here on the blog, but I just wanted to remind everyone of my Goodreads Giveaway! Click the image below to enter — the contest ENDS IN JUST OVER A DAY AND A HALF!!!!

 

Gundam Pilots not eligible to win.
Gundam Pilots not eligible to win.

You do have to be a Goodreads member to enter, but who isn’t these days. Also, add me on there so I can be nosy and see what books you are reading.

I promise to actually blog a bit in the next week, updates on Riddle Box progress, nerd matters, etc. etc.

Self-Publishing Strategy Guide I

[This is a work in progress, to be updated and amended as curious folk ask questions that I haven’t answered here.  Let me know what questions you have or clarifications needed in the comments below.]

So, you can now buy my book on Amazon — in Kindle and Paperback format. Just like a ‘real’ book! Or rather, just like a traditionally published novel. My book is sitting on the same virtual shelf as books published by Tor, Daw, and Random House. It’s a cool feeling. Maybe if I’d published five years ago I would be bothered by the fact that Spell/Sword will never appear on a shelf at a physical bookstore — but with paper going the way of the utahraptor or dodo it doesn’t bother me in the slightest.

So how did I get here? A lot of research, a lot of trial and error — there’s a lot of navigation and study required when you’re piloting the ship all on your own. When I first got started I spent a lot of time reading other author’s posts on publishing and found them tremendously informative.

Joe Peacock’s The Absolute No-Bulls**t Guide To Writing, Publishing And Selling A Book was incredibly helpful and motivating. I strongly recommend you take some time and give it a read — it’s straightforward, concise and utilitarian. It de-mystifies the entire process, which was invaluable for me at the beginning. I’m going to try to not go over the same ground here, but focus more on my specific experiences with CreateSpace and Kindle Direct Publishing.  I’ve begun to think of Joe as the Older Brother to the Internet — can be an overbearing prick, and he’ll kick over your GI Joes — but he always has your best interest at heart.

This guide is going to be part step-by-step How To — and partly me pontificating about my  rationale for making the decisions I did. I hope it’s reasonably helpful.

Level One: Write a Book. [Grasslands]

In whatever manner you prefer. It took me about nine months to bang out the rough draft in between day job,18a nerd pursuits, other creative endeavors and various life calamities. I’ve only done this once, so I’m in no position to offer advice on how you get this step done. Just some paltry bullet-points.

  • Write.
  • Self-imposed deadlines were invaluable to me.
  • Write.

Now that I’ve gone through the entire process, I CAN say that this is the most fun part. Remember that and enjoy it.

Level Two: Edit a Book. [Ice Cavern]

Frozen_cave_by_CORinAZONeTo the greatest level that your pocketbook and Friend’s List will permit. I employed over 20 Alpha Draft and Beta Draft readers to catch all my bonehead grammar mistakes and weak narrative. I know that this can never truly equal a professional copy editor — but I am completely confident that I’m extremely close. I have some serious heavy hitters in my rolodex: college professors, Shakespearean scholars, creative writing savants, genre nerds, gnomes. Depending on how my finances fare, I may consider going the pro route next time around. I can’t stress enough how important this step is.

To put it in perspective, I wrote the draft in 9 months. I edited for 13 months. Thirteen long, grueling months of Not-Fun.

It sucks. It’s boring. It’s frustrating.

Do it.

Level Three: Prepare to Publish a Book [Fire Volcano]

I used two services for publishing my book.

CreateSpace for the paperback.

Kindle Direct Publishing for the digital version.

Why?

Paper Version — I did a fair amount of research onto several online presses. The other main one I considered was Lulu.com. They are really great if you want to order in bulk and warehouse the product yourself. They have tons of paper and trim options – soft cover and hard back. But that’s a pretty big if – especially when you’re in my position. A total unknown pushing some wacky genre fiction. As much as I would love to have a hard cover of my book, it just didn’t make sense to lay out the startup money for something that was going to sit stacked in  my breakfast nook.

I slowly shifted my thinking towards CreateSpace as they print on demand, and sell directly through Amazon.

Artist - Hugo-H2P
Artist – Hugo-H2P

You establish the cost of your book through the size, page count, etc. — then you set the list price at whatever you want.  Anything above cost is your profit. [Pro Tip]: The cost of your book increases if its sold through Amazon, instead of bought directly through CreateSpace. This wasn’t an issue for me, as I really wanted the legitimacy of an Amazon storefront, but it may be something to take into account if you have your own webstore.

Finally, the website was easy to navigate,  except for a few minor snags — I’ll talk more about that later.

Kindle Version – Or rather – Why not on Nook, Kobo, Smashwords, etc. etc.?

One reason: the Kindle Lending Library. It makes my book free to the thousands and thousands of Amazon Prime members. At this phase it is far more important that people read my book than people buy my book.

I know there’s a lot of discussion about Amazon’s draconian domination of the e-book Wild West — but from my perspective it’s hard to argue with that kind of market share. The Kindle is the dominant e-reader on the market, and anyone with a smartphone or tablet can read just as easily using their free app.

Level Four: CreateSpace [ Sky Platforms]

19858-103095-LHSE1jpg-468x

Okay. You’ve got the book all edited and shiny, now it’s time to set everything up with CreateSpace for the paperback. The site is very user-friendly if you are reasonably proficient with the internet and simple online interfaces. I’m a giant dork so I had little trouble, only occasionally having to use the forums, Help section, and one quick phone call to Customer Service. It leads you step by step through the process.

1. Birth Certificate – Name of your book, author name, synopsis, all that sort of thing. Pretty self-explanatory.

2. Print Specifications – Selecting the size of your book, whether or not you have color images to print inside, etc. I didn’t have any interior artwork for Spell/Sword so I selected Black and White printing — and the smallest book size, because my novel isn’t particularly long. I’m sure there’s a lot of reasons for all the different sizes, but I didn’t put much thought into it. I like the size my book is, end of story. Take that reasons.

3. ISBN Number – This is a little complicated. And once you decide your book is locked to that number [oversimplification, I know] so give this some serious thought and research.

  • CreateSpace owned ISBN: Free! But…it sets the publisher of your book as CreateSpace, and limits your distribution options later. There is a little bit of a stigma to services like CreateSpace and Lulu, and if in the very remote chance that you want to sell your book to a traditional publisher later you can’t just move your ISBN, you’d have to make a whole new edition with a new ISBN number.
  • CreateSpace licensed ISBN: $10.00. Same problems as above, but frees up most of your distribution options.
  • Personal ISBN purchased through CreateSpace: $100.00. But you personally own the ISBN number for your book, and can set the publisher of record. My book is published by me under the name Lodestar — which is the small business I’ll be setting up to handle my paltry revenue.  It also means that I can move my book to any other printing service, or use another service concurrently with CreateSpace whenever I need. I’m also thinking about having it tattooed on me somewhere.
  • Personal ISBN purchased directly: I…didn’t do much research on this. You can get it cheaper buying it yourself, then inputting it into CreateSpace . But it meant using another site, and another process so I just went ahead and bought my personal ISBN through CreateSpace. To me, the convenience was worth whatever markup they have.

4. Cover – Now, CreateSpace does offer a free cover generator as well as professional design services. I used neither. Don’t be a chump and use the free cover generator — it’s fine if you only want your mom to read the book. I’m sure the professional services they offer are fine, but I’d much rather give the artists that I know personally my money.

The layout of the cover is extremely important as CreateSpace needs it to match exactly with the specifications for the cover — most importantly the spine which is a function of page total. There were lots of numbers and jargon, my designer knew what they meant and put it all together for me. I’ve noticed that many self-publishers take the DIY part of this route a little too much to heart. I recognized that I knew virtually nothing about layout and graphic design and paid a skilled friend to handle it, same goes for the actual cover design.

Cover Design/Layout: margaretpoplin.com Illustration:poopbird.com
Cover Design/Layout: margaretpoplin.com
Illustration:poopbird.com

5. Setting up the Template – Okay, this part was a little convoluted.

You need to have your book laid out on a PDF to upload to CreateSpace for review. When I first started playing around, I just exported a PDF from my Google Drive and uploaded it to see what it would look like.

It was a hot mess.

My mother is a graphic designer and printer, so I have a vague understanding of margins — but clearly not enough for these purposes.

Luckily, CreateSpace offers Word document templates. It took some grunt work copy and pasting each part of my book, chapter by chapter into the template — but it ensures that the printed page comes out correctly. Also, print is set with a ‘justified’ margin as a default. I had to go through several times to find all the places where the spacing was weird and correct.

Review the template again and again … then five more times. You’ll never catch everything, but you have to put in the sweat equity to get as close to flawless as possible.

Once the template is complete, you save it as a PDF, then you’re ready for upload.

6. File Review with CreateSpace

Once the files are uploaded, you’ll be able to view the book page by page online.

You can’t directly adjust anything at this step. Anything you want to change, you have to go back to your template — make the change — then upload a new PDF.

Spell/Sword doesn’t have any interior images — so I’m no help there.

7. Proofing

Once you submit everything for review [Interior and Cover], CreateSpace takes 24 Hours to review and make your book ready for proofing.

You have two options here:

  • Paper Proof: This is what you want to get the first time around. An actual, honest to god copy of your book. You get it, you hold it in your hand. You get to go through it with a colorful marker, hunting for every typo and spacing issue that you missed on the template. It’s truly a wonderful moment. [You do have to purchase your proof, it’s the established cost of your book plus shipping. ]
  • Online Proof: It’s identical to the Interior Reviewer you used earlier. 

If you need to make changes after reviewing your proof, you have to back to the template and resubmit it all again, and wait 24 Hours again. For Spell/Sword I got the paper proof first, then after making all the corrections I felt confident that the Online Proof was sufficient.

PRO TIP: Even after your book is published you can ALWAYS make corrections and go through the process again — it will just mean that your book is not available for sale while it’s being reviewed and proofed again.

8.  Final Thoughts/ Issues

After you approve your proof, your book becomes available for sale within 24 Hours. In my case it was up on CreateSpace itself within an hour — than on Amazon later that night.  The site was very helpful guiding you through the rest, deciding on distribution channels, etc. I freely admit I kind of glazed my eyes and picked the standard options.

Now, some grousing!

  • Shipping through CreateSpace is a little stupidly expensive — especially when you’re an Amazon Prime member, used to getting 2 day shipping for free.  I understand that it probably has something to do with preventing you from purchasing too freely through them instead of Amazon, their parent company — but still! Spell/Sword is 8.99 on Amazon — if I want to buy someone a copy and send it to them, it’s actually cheaper and quicker to buy through Amazon then get copies at cost through CreateSpace.
  • Friends have ordered copies through Amazon, and they arrive in a standard Amazon box – but the books are completely loose. None have been damaged so far, but it made me raise an eyebrow.

Royalties: I actually haven’t been published long enough to get my first check — I’ll update this when I have more experience.

Level Five: Kindle Direct Publishing [Ghost Carnival]

Almost as an afterthought, CreateSpace guides you into the warm clutches of KDP.  They export all of your information about the book, the interior, and the cover all in one go. All of the info and cover exported fine — but I quickly discovered that the layout for the print version looked crazy weird on the Kindle.

I actually found an easy workaround – I directly uploaded my CreateSpace Word document to KDP, and it looked fine. I’ve experienced a fair amount of paranoia, because the Kindle comes in so many sizes [including native apps on iPad and PC] that making sure that there were zero formatting issues.  I’ve read the book on my 3rd gen Kindle and it reads just fine at various sizes, and none of my E-Readers have complained YET. YET.

When you start obsessively searching your book on Amazon [not that I did, that would be silly] you may notice that the Kindle and Paperback versions initially have different pages — just give Amazon 48 hours, they automatically group them together. I also noticed that initially when searching my book titile, it came up fifth — but after a few days of sales, it populated first. Admittedly I picked a weird ass name for the book — that slash in Spell/Sword plays hell with some search algorithms.

 

Yowza! This thing got involved . I think I’ll keep this going as I plunge further and further into Self-Publishing RPG. Let me know if you have any questions in the comments below!

Future Topics

  • Marketing
  • Begging
  • Winning the Internet
  • Deceit
  • Tomfoolery

And That’s It, Right?

The book is out. Time to lean back and watch my inevitable rise to literary, internet and financial domination.

Picture of my Excitement Level, despite the Tawdry Real-World pitfalls of Self-Publishing
Picture of my Excitement Level, despite the Tawdry Real-World pitfalls of Self-Publishing

That’s how it works, right?

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.
  • Mike Groves / Poopbird for his amazing cover art.
  • Margaret Poplin, my designer, for her calm, efficient management of my insanity and quick, thorough, excellent work on the layout and design of the print cover.
  • My beloved for not strangling me during this entire process.
  • The Crew of the Lodestar for letting my try out lots of stupid stories and characters on them.
  • Joe Peacock for giving me the push at the right moment.
  • And you — whoever you are, reading all the way to the end. I’m going to need your help the most from here on out.

Spell/Sword Released.

Print Version
Kindle Version – 2.99

Spell/Sword is now available in print and e-book exclusively on Amazon.com.  Follow the image above to order. I’m linking the digital version first because:

  • Duh. Cheaper.
  • Amazon Prime members can borrow and read it for free.
  • Anyone can sample the first couple of chapters using the ‘Look Inside’ feature.
  • It’s the future!

If this is your first time visiting the site, please poke around. Plenty of my various ramblings in the archives, and several examples of my fiction through the Short Stories and Scenes/Microfiction links above.  I know you’re taking a chance on me — thank you for even considering it.

More information about Spell/Sword itself is available on the [Buy the Book] button above.

Paperback Version
Paperback Version – 9.99

Spell/Sword Critical Reception

Four men sat at a table, rectangular with knife-blade edges. Steam filled the air, blasts of heat and cold.

Sean Andrew Murray - Artist
Sean Andrew Murray – Artist

They each wore floor-length white robes with deep cowls. Runes shone on the edge of each cowl with a fiendish light. Their names were known to each other, their proper names, the names that the world spoke in tones of fire and glory. But when they met here for their Conclave of Secrets and Power they took great care to use their Names of Secrets and Power.

“Where is he?” the One Called Wizzle said.

“Late. As usual,” the One Called [(4x) + 17.3y] sighed.

“I’m sure he will be among us at the proper time. When the moon and the wind and the turning of this fragile earth sing together in perfect harmony,” said the One Called Jambalaya, in between noisy bites of a pine cone.

Wizzle and [(4x) + 17.3y] rolled their eyes. Jambalaya was something of a wood nymph, only occasionally interfacing properly with reality. The fourth man said nothing, but continued to scribble frantic notes on a stack of napkins in front of him.

“How’s that coming, Fardancer?” Wizzle asked.

The One Called Fardancer hissed and wrapped his free arm around the napkins.

“Okay, then.” Wizzle stroked his beard in consternation.

A moment of quiet floated across the table, sickly and ominous like a vomiting ghost. The only sounds were the crunch of Jambalaya finishing his pine cone, Fardancer scribbling and muttering, and the other two men adjusting their cowls to better disguise their features.

“Okay. I can’t wait any longer, we’re just going to get started.” Wizzle oriented his beard at the other three in turn. “Does anyone have a problem with that?”

“But the winds, the winds are not yet proper! Our art will be forever marred and turn the gyre—”

“Can it, Jambalaya.” [(4x) + 17.3y] crossed his arms.

“I think we all know why we’re here,” the beard continued. “A new power has arisen in the South, a troublesome upstart.  His followers are legion and the blasphemy that he spews grows and grows with each passing hour. It is a dark fungus, a creeping creep of untold crep. If we are not careful than it will spread beyond our ability to stamp out, much like the the weeds that grow in my garden. Oh, did I show you the picture of me and my son in the garden? Oh man, he did this ridiculous thing with some dandelions, you guys are going to love it.”

Wizzle pawed at his robes, searching for his phone. [(4x) + 17.3y] leaned across the table and shook the bearded man’s shoulders kindly but firmly.

“Please stay focused, my friend.” [(4x) + 17.3y] straightened his glasses. “We do not have time for one of your famous digressions.”

“You’re one to talk.” Wizzle retorted. “How about you explain to me how water flows downhill for thirty more pages?”

“That’s not germane. And a misrepresentation. The water flows uphill in my world due to the reversed polarities of gravity on fluid. It’s why it was so important that my Aquaemancelers could make the water flow downhill, as was prophesied in the 12,785th year of the Jtang Dynasty. Maybe if —”

“Oh god, you’re about to get out a chart, aren’t you?”

[(4x) + 17.3y] folded his hands neatly on the table. “I…might have a few charts in my robes, yes.”

Wizzle pressed the heels of his hands into his forehead and groaned.

“Maybe…” [(4x) + 17.3y] continued. “Maybe when you’ve written more than two books, you’ll learn to appreciate the efficacy of a well-made chart.”

“Excuse me?!?” Wizzle’s head popped up.

“Don’t you see, my friends?” Jambalaya cried, brushing pine cone debris off his black robes. “It’s this new book. This Spell/Sword! It’s tearing us apart!”

Wizzle and [(4x) + 17.3y] stared hard at Jambalaya.

“Weren’t you wearing white robes…before?” the glasses-wearing man tried to appear polite.

“Oh. Yes. That happens.” Jambalaya managed to look slightly embarrassed.

“Jambalaya is right.” Somber Wizzle rapped his knuckles on the rectangular table. “I don’t know why, but somehow this silly little book, this freaking Spell/Sword is tearing at the very fabric of–”

“You boys need a refill?” The waitress leaned over the cramped table with a coffee pot.

The white-robed men blinked at her for a moment. Her brown and white apron was freshly pressed, her gray hair tightly wound in a neat oval. The Waffle House was empty except for the four of them, their thick girth and arcane robes crammed into a corner booth.

“No, thank you, Glenda.” Wizzle managed.

The other three men shook their heads as well, and Glenda smiled and floated away.

“Why do we meet here, anyway?” [(4x) + 17.3y] complained. “None of us even live in this state.”

“Don’t you see. That is the thing. The very thing.” Jambalaya smiled, one tear rolling down his cheek. “Only outside of ourselves can we see ourselves.”

“Time for me to talk.” Fardancer interrupted, displaying his stack of ink-daubed napkins with pride. “I’ve prepared a solid list of reasons why Spell/Sword sucks. As soon as I post this online, the world will know that it sucks, and we can go back to our lives without a further thought.”

“Uh…arr. I’m not sure it’s quite that straightforward, Far–” Wizzle began.

“RESPECT THE LIST.” Fardancer slammed the napkins down on the table, neatly overturning the sugar dispenser. “Okay. Verbal List Power Activatus!

1. No one’s ever heard of it, so it can’t be very important. Only things that people have heard of are worth discussing. I’ve talked to all the very important people I know on Twitter, and none of them have heard of it, so it’s nonsensical to keep discussing it.

2. Even if it was important, it’s different and weird and silly. All of us have worked very hard to earn a little respect and credibility for genre fiction. To have this weird kid come along and try to make what we write about silly again undoes years of work. I like getting paid for my work, and I can’t keep getting serious-work money if all of a sudden people think we’re silly again.

3. Wil Wheaton said he thought it sucked.

4. Spell/Sword can eat my poop.

5. And by my poop, I mean the poop that comes out of my butt.

6. And by my butt, I mean —

“That’s enough, Fardancer!” [(4x) + 17.3y] waved both hands. “I think we get the gist.”

“Yeah, thanks.” Wizzle patted the napkins respectfully. “All good here.”

“Well,  I’ll go ahead and put this up on my blog, that ought to take care of things.” Fardancer pulled a smartphone, two tablets, a Chromebook, a Macbook Air, a TRS-80, and an abacus out from under his robe in quick succession.

“I like to write on oak leaves.” Jambalaya said, lost in dreams. “Oak leaves, just as they turn scarlet. I write with a grasshopper’s leg dipped in some Faerie Inkque that my beloved brought me from—”

The newly black-cloaked man’s words were cut off  by hellfire engine roar. A massive black motorcycle tore into the Waffle House parking lot, chrome and leather and a Valkyrie’s virginity.

“He’s here.” Wizzle said.

The motorcycle pulled into a spot and then hopped up on the sidewalk. The front tire crashed into red-flecked newsbox. Bent metal and flying newsprint filled the air. The rider got off the bike, and stalked in through the glass door entrance. He wore a sailor’s cap, and his white robe thrown around his shoulders like a cocksure cape. In his hands he carried a massive two-handed hammer, something that would be more appropriate at Medieval Times than Home Depot.

“Darklorrr.” [(4x) + 17.3y] said nervously.

“Coffee!” the One Called Darklorr bellowed as he stumped over to corner booth. “And four waffles on top of five other waffles. No syrup, just bring me some melted butter and three mugs filled with chili.”

Darklorr tossed his hammer onto the table and surveyed the other four men with a paternal eye. “I know I’m late. Deal with it.”

“We were just talking about Spell/Sword, Darklorr.” Wizzle gingerly pushed the hammer off the hem of his white sleeve. “And how we needed to handle it.”

“Handle it? Spell/Sword? HAR.” Darklorr laughed, pushing his sailor’s cap back. “Listen close, boys. I already know how to handle this. I’ll do what I always do with things that people love.”

The four others leaned in close with expectant horror.

“Kill it.” Darklorr smirked.

He picked his hammer back up and leaned it on his shoulder with a cavalier air. Then he started to laugh. The other four men looked at each other uncertainly, then echoed his laughter with their own.

[(4x) + 17.3y] quickly scribbled something on a spare napkin, and slid it across the table to Wizzle.

OR GO ON A TWO MONTH PIZZA TOUR, it read.

Wizzle shrugged in response, but continued to echo Darklorr’s amusement.

The Conclave of Secrets and Power had convened. They had made their decision.

Spell/Sword didn’t stand a chance.

[Just me throwing some eggs at some author’s that I respect, admire, and envy. I’ll send a free Spell/Sword button to the first five people who can name all five.]

Spell/Sword Explanation

“Okay, let me play this song for you first.”

Aragorn sighed and hopped up on the desk. He folded his paws underneath his grand orange and white chest and surveyed me with stern iceberg-disdain.” I just wanted to know what your book is about. Why are you playing me a song? Why can’t you just answer the question?”

Aragorn
Aragorn

Maybe I should have put on pants first. When you’re trying to get an audience to follow you on a train of thought it helps to up your Dignity Quotient. I clicked around on the laptop for a moment before I finally found the song I was looking for.

“It’s a metaphysical thing! This song makes me feel Spell/Sword, makes me feel the long journey of Jonas and Rime. If you’ll just listen…”

“Not going to happen,” the orange cat said.

“Aw, c’mon. It’s this fascinating acoustic piece from the 60’s. It’s not very long,  just give…”

“Look, human. I have other things to do. Important cat things.  My interest in this project only extends so far as my dinner bowl. If you market this book successfully that will lead to an increase in your income. This will lead to an increase in the quality and amount of the food that I am provided with. A new mousey would be pleasant, as well. I don’t want to hold your pitiful human paw and gaze soulfully into your eyes. Just tell me what the book is about and why people should buy it.”

“Damn, Aragorn.” I leaned back in my chair. “Damn.”

The cat lashed his tail. “Who are Jonas and Rime?”

“I can’t just leap into it like that! You have to understand the context of the fantasy genre, and why they are interesting subversions of pre-existing tropes.” I began to list of details on my fingers. “You see, for most genre conventions–”

Aragorn stood up suddenly, and tilted his head to the left. The cat stretched out and stared intently at his dinner bowl. “Hmm. All that doesn’t seem to be putting any exotic meals in my dish.”

“Fine.” I threw my hands up. ” The book is about a boy and a girl. They don’t get along, then they do. Friendship triumphs. The End.”

The cat seemed amused. “Come now, don’t be petulant.”

“Can I just put a little English Major frosting on this explanation? It really helps me to get going.” I begged.

Aragorn began to groom his right paw. I took that as tacit assent.

” There are two tropes in fantasy that I’m trying to subvert.  The All-Powerful Wizard and the Young Hero. I won’t name any examples, I promise.” The cat stopped grooming for a moment and shot me an appreciative look. ” The All-Powerful Wizard can topple kingdoms with a thought, summon dragons from thin air, knows the answer to every question, undoes the riddles of an age. The Young Hero is the gifted one, the child of legend with shining sword in his fist, he rises from obscurity to shake the pillars of destiny.”

“Merlin and Arthur. I get it.  You’re not the only one who’s read Joseph Campbell.”

“Right.” I was a little taken aback. The cat who lives in my house is surprisingly well read. “Rime is my Semi-Powerful Wizard and Jonas is the Young Idiot.”

“Losing interest…” Aragorn muttered, rising.

Jonas and Rime
Jonas and Rime

” Rime is a wild mage – an abomination that breaks all the rules of magic! She can do anything, everything — bend the forces of reality to her whim. But then she burns out -her body goes unconscious, loses use of her limbs, nosebleeds, headaches – really bad headaches! And on top of that she knows that all wild mages eventually go insane and use their power to butcher as many people as possible in the most creative way their madness can devise.” I gesticulated with desperation.

“Okay. That sounds half-way engaging,” the orange cat settled back down to listen. “And the boy?”

“Jonas is a kid with a sword. And he gets the crap kicked out of him most of the time. He’s not handsome and he’s not all that skilled and he’s not particularly bright. ”

“Hmm. That doesn’t sound as engaging. Why is he in this story?”

“Because.”

“You’re getting petulant again, human.”

“Aragorn, please.” I walked into the closet to gather my thoughts and some bottom-wear. I grabbed a pair of reasonably un-frayed khakis and pulled them on.

“The problem with the original tropes is when they are introduced the reader automatically recognizes the shape. They know how this character will act and, more importantly, they know how the story will end. Success is guaranteed for the Hero and the Wizard. It will be an interesting journey, but the reader knows the end of the tale.  The golden, shining end.” I yelled back into the bedroom, zipping up my pants. “And I find that boring. I want Jonas and Rime to have some serious weaknesses, that way you can’t be sure whether or not they will succeed. There’s actually a large chance they will fail.”

“People like Superman for a reason, human.” Aragorn’s bored voice came from the bedroom. “People don’t want stories about losers, or stories about failure. There’s enough of that in the real world.”

“But they don’t fail! They succeed and they become friends. And it’s that much more meaningful because they actually had to work for it.” I walked out of the closet, my Dignity Quotient through the roof.

“Does the book have a happy ending?” Aragorn was unimpressed by my rockin’ DQ.

“Define ‘happy ending’.” I said.

The orange cat splayed his claws and hissed. Aragorn is not a small cat, and when he puffs up he can be quite intimidating.

“I cannot believe this. How can you expect people to buy the book if it doesn’t even have a happy ending.” Aragorn’s eyes pulsed with feline rage.

“But it does.” I quailed. “Friendship triumphs, remember? The end of this book is good for Jonas and Rime, very good! Please calm down.”

The orange cat did not. “You’re dancing around the subject. What aren’t you telling me?

“Nothing. I don’t want to spoil it for you is all…”

A claw lanced out, narrowly missing my hand.

“..it’s the very end that’s bad! Not the end of this book, but the very end of the story! It’s bad, okay — it’s very, very bad!”

Aragorn seemed to calm slightly. “So you’re going to write more books, then?”

“Yes! That’s the true subversion of the trope. If instead of victory, the heroes are doomed to failure. To a pre-destined fall. It’s actually an older trope, most commonly seen in Greek tragedy and…”

“I’m bored now.” The orange cat hopped down off the desk. “I’m going to go bask in the sun, and pray that many monomyth and genre convention enthusiasts buy your book. Clearly we’re never going to see any sort of Hunger Games money, so I’ll just hope for a small trickle of improved finances coming to our household.”

I sighed and sat down at the desk. I watched his orange tail slink around the corner and disappear. Maybe I should have told him about all the fun things. The ridiculous encounters, the dance-lock, the dinosaur battle, the frogs on roller skates. But those are just trappings, my little sally against the pomposity of Fantasy. Somewhere along the way we all decided that Orcs and Elves and Dragons aren’t silly. But they are. They are silly. And glorious.

“That’s what I think about, when you ask me what Spell/Sword is about.” I said to no one. ” The long journey into the dark. The long journey of Jonas and Rime.”

I clicked ‘Play’ on the song I’d pulled up earlier, and listened to the heart of the tale.

If you read this far- it's the titular track on Harry Taussig's hidden masterwork - 'Fate Is Only Once'
If you read this far- it’s the titular track on Harry Taussig’s hidden masterwork – ‘Fate Is Only Once’

I Dreamed the First 5 Episodes of a TV Show

I’m a quasi-lucid dreamer, so its pretty common for me to have a reasonably solid recall of what I dream on any given evening. Especially if I discuss it with someone immediately upon awakening, it helps to lock in the memory as a narrative. My beloved was treated to just such an incident Sunday morning when my late morning wanderings through the Dreamworld left me with a pretty solid outline for a television show.

“It’s a CW show, I think. Or at least a faux CW show. Part of how the show works is to get the audience invested in 147_jeffreyalanlovewithspearandswordweba certain style, then slowly subvert it.”

Dead silence for several moments, then my beloved stalked into the bathroom. I heard the shower turn on. Fair enough.

I’m putting  a brief description here on the blog for several reasons:

  • Sweet idea.
  • Some lonely TV exec might stumble across this and want to steal/buy it.
  • I can only pimp Spell/Sword so much in a given week.
  • My memory is a cagey beast. It’s good to get some things down while I still have it in my sights.

So, my dream centered around a group of high school kids travelling on an oversized school bus. They traveled from school to school, encountering a different wacky circumstance each week. Teen angst, unrequited love, all the tropes you can stomach. That’s where the CW idea came in — just a bus full of pretty, pretty folks. Except for one weird dude [more on him later.]

Admittedly, in my dream-logic — the kids went to each school to go to some sort of convention. Very DragonCon — lots of people in costumes, events, performances, etc. Clearly that won’t work for the television show, so I think a good conceit would be that the kids are from a Performing Arts Magnet School – they spend 4 months out of every year travelling from school to school, putting on shows.

The goal is to have the first 4 episodes be like Glee — but first half season of Glee when it was actually charming and good. Musical numbers, dance, scenes from famous plays, the works. We’ll get to know the main cast through their roles in the troupe — Lead Actor, Lead Actress, Tech Kid, Beautiful Wallflower, Soulful Fat Kid, Hyper Nerd Girl, etc.  The first few episodes are almost pure cotton candy — the kids have a demanding show to put on, and they pull themselves together at the last moment. One of the kids falls in love with someone at one of the school – but OH NOES, they have to leave on the bus at the end of the week . An Important Lesson is Learned About Disabilities/Drug Abuse/Gender Roles/Topic Du Jour.

I think the idea of the ‘School a Week’ premise lends itself well to the format. Lots of opportunities for Special Guest Stars, Themed Schools [Oh NO, this is the Racist School!], etc. For the show to work, the trope must be perfectly executed — the audience must be purely committed to this bubblegum pop show.

Which brings us to Episode Five. And the Weird Dude.

The one kid that doesn’t fit with the group, on the bus, on this show always wears black. The size of a linebacker, he wears a black trench coat with the collar always pulled up, obscuring most of his face almost like a mask. He has a battered backpack that he keeps near him at all times. He never speaks. He always wears black dirt bike gloves.

In my dream, the other kids just seemed to accept that he was there. All of them avoided him, of course, but there wasn’t really an explanation for why he was on board. I think for the show we”ll need some sort of contrivance — maybe he’s a kid from a bad past, who’s on the trip for rehabilitation? Maybe he’s the bus driver’s son — the teacher’s son? Or maybe no explanation at all – the kids think of him as That Weird Kid — accept his presence, but ignore him most of the time.

During the first four episodes, the audience is treated to a few glimpses of him. Staring out of windows into the dark, sitting silently in crowded lunch rooms. A few of the younger Kids on the Bus try to befriend him, but are met with stoic silence.

Artist - Jack Foster
Artist – Jack Foster

Most disturbing, the audience sees the Weird Kid collect a weird assortment of what could be considered weapons. Paper weights, letter openers, the arm off a desk — all crammed into his ratty old backpack.

The goal would be that astute viewers feel a growing sense of unease about the Weird Kid, a dark undercurrent to all the wacky hijinks ensuing each episode. Is the show working towards some sort of Colombine/Newtown sitiuation?

Finally, Episode Five.

The episode transpires very much like the first four — the Kids on the Bus arrive, and put on a performance for the school, in between trying to bone up on their course material for the EOCT on the horizon.  The main conflict is between them, and the entrenched theatre kids already at the school. They resent these fancy-ass kids coming in and stealing their thunder — but then they learn an Important Lesson about working together, and team up to put on the Best Show Ever.

After the last commercial break, we come back to the lunch room. The Kids are being congratulated by their new friends after the performance, and are packing up their things to get back on the bus. In the midst of this jubilation  the Weird Kid stands up and speaks for the first time.

Or rather he screams. A primal yawp, a guttural cry of absolute frustration and pain. The lunchroom goes silent, and shocked students pull back, giving the huge kid in the trench coat a wide berth. Some go for their cell phones to call 911, but they are stopped by the icy gaze that Weird Kid fixes on all of them. He looks at them with a deep well of sadness, pity and contempt — and slowly begins to stalk out of the school A long tracking shot of him walking through the halls, all who encounter him quail and make way.  Not a word is spoken — this should be a long sequence. A total departure from the frenetic, happy fun-times of the show previously.

The Weird Kid slams the doors of the school open and walks out into the late afternoon sun, fall leaves are drifting through the air. He looks up into the sky, lost in thought. The two youngest Kids on the Bus [AJ and AJ] creep up to the Weird Kid, and stir up the courage to ask him what’s wrong.

The Weird Kid places a gloved hand on each of their shoulders, and shakes his head. He leads them to the bus as he speaks quietly. “You can not understand. The time is upon us. The dark time, the end time. Ragnarok is a silly word, but it is the time.”

Weird Kid takes his seat and stares out the window again.

The other Kids get on the bus, and they pull away from the school.

They drive away for a few moments, then cross a bridge over a lake — seen earlier in the episode upon arrival. tumblr_lyh47jWq1H1qchs4mo1_500The bus slows to a halt, as they spot a group of people on the far side, it appears to be some sort of parade.

The parade advances — no instruments, no floats, only people in regimented lines. They wear the costumes that the Kids on the Bus wore for this episode’s performance. Their eyes are blank and empty.

And then, things begin to appear behind the parade, making their way along side. Vaguely man-shaped, tall stilt-like legs and arms, small circular heads surmounted with oblong caps.

The Weird Kid springs to action, ripping his backpack open. “Let me off the bus. It’s time, I’ll fight. I’ll fight!”

A mishmash of improvised weapons fall out, and Weird Kid grabs the two largest — he bulls past the teacher and bus driver and out the side door.

Just in time to see the tall things begin their work. They begin to eviscerate the parade – calmly, surgically — cutting off limbs, peeling off flesh, slitting hamstrings, and a dozen other horrors of torture. Weird Kid takes a step forward, but then quails as one of the tall things approach. Through a haze it seems to transform into a dark-haired man wearing the uniform of an EMT.

“You kids allright?” the thing asks. “There’s been a terrible accident, some sort of gas released in the area. Making people see things. Could you all get off the bus so we can check you out?”

Weird Kid flees back onto the bus, and slams the door behind him.

“Drive.” he says. “It’s no use. It’s no use.”

The bus driver floors the bus in reverse, and the Kids on the Bus sit back down in utter shock. The bus drives off into the gathering dark and an uncertain future.

IS THAT WEIRD ENOUGH? NOPE, I THOUGHT ABOUT IT SOME MORE.

This all made perfect sense in my dream, but this is where it really goes down to Crazytown.

All of the Kids on the Bus are the heroes of the Illiad. They are the reincarnations, avatars, whatever of the Greek heroes — and the time has come for them to stand against the might of the gods.

The conceit would be that Homer’s Illiad is a version of a real event — a showdown between mortal and immortal, with the fate of the world in the balance.

If this sounds awesome to you, then you are officially a Classics/English nerd.

The tall things are the gods, or maybe their most powerful servants — something alien and other, some powerful force that was stomped out in the time of Homer. And now its up to this bus full of CW pretty kids to step up to the plate.

I EVEN STARTED FIGURING OUT WHO WAS WHO ON THE BUS.

The Weird Kid is Diomedes [Dennis Mead], he who even the God of War fears. And interestingly enough, not the main character of the show. The two kids who try to befriend him are Ajax and Ajax [AJ and AJ], I think I would flip the script and make Achilles and Odysseus female and the leads of the show. Agamemnon is the teacher, Meneleaus the bus driver. Oh man, I could go on. Helen is male, and so is Paris. Hector is my secondary lead.

I just love the idea of establishing all the Glee/High School tropes — then cramming them into the oldest of tales, to turn back the clock on those tropes to their most primal forms.

And this is what my beloved has to hear on the way to lunch on a Sunday morning.

Names for the show:

Kids on the Bus

Heroes [oh, that one’s taken?]

Legends

Thanks for reading.

Supernatural can’t stay on forever, after all…

Book Feels

spellinside

It’s still very surreal to have the proof of the book here. That this thing that’s lived in my head for years is now a physical object. That I can reach into my bag and pull it out and touch it. That it can prop open a door, hold down the corner of a picnic blanket, serve as a completely ineffective projectile weapon.

I took some quick pictures to share on the Facebook Page [What? You haven’t liked Spell/Sword on Facebook? NAUGHTY.] Like a proud papa I want to make sure anyone who follows the blog gets to see them as well.

Such a tall genre-busting fantasy novel!
Such a tall genre-busting fantasy novel!

The book it’s standing on is the new Lemony Snicket book, and it’s super awesome by the way. It was just a convenient stand, my book is not trying to establish any sort of dominance in the pack.

Mobile Suite pilots are my core demographic.
Mobile Suit pilots are my core demographic.

People have asked me how I feel — and as usual I don’t have a ready answer. Proud? Yes. Excited? Yes? Terrified? More than a little.

So close to the finish line. One last pass through the proof to catch any errors or formatting issues — and to have a crisis of faith on the quality of innumerable facets of the narrative. After that, just a few more days and the release date will be set.