Judge the Book by its Cover

I am beyond excited….and more than a little terrified. I actually have an artist working  on the cover art for Spell/Sword.

Cyberman – Mike Groves [poopbird]

I insist that you click on this super-rad Cyberman art and check out some other examples of his work. He’s got a lot of style-flexibility, but everything he does is interesting, distinctive and [as mentioned] on the north side of Rad. We had a great brainstorming session last week, and I should start seeing sketches in the next couple of weeks. I almost wrote ‘barnstorming’. I really want to have a barnstorming session in the immediate future.

Mike Groves – aka Poopbird – is a phenomenal artist, living in my hometown of Athens, GA. You should follow all of the links below and rub your grimy internet-hands all over his virtua-product. He is also an amazing tattoo artist, so if you need some ink (especially nerd-ink) he’s the man to call.

Poopbird.com

Tumblr.

Deviantart.

I can’t wait to see what he comes up with — even though the anxiety-engine in my head is already revving up.  Cover art means we’re getting closer and closer to the book being real, and launched into the world where everyone will hate it.

But at least the cover is going to be boss.

The Pitch

An act of salesmanship is never an act of truth.

That’s not to say that it is a falsehood, or a pure fabrication. Certainly there are many who call themselves salesmen that deal in outright deceit, but they’re just liars. Plain ordinary liars.

No, salesmanship is all about awareness. Complete knowledge of the product: it’s particulars, benefits, problems, logistics and idiosyncrasies  and your most reliable perception of the character of your customer. Everything you say, everything you withhold is an attempt to calmly weave the product into the customer’s needs and desires. You concentrate on what you know about the product, and carefully present only the parts that you intuit will be attractive to your mark. You are creating a narrative, a workaday tale — a story with purpose. To make the sale. To win.

This is antithetical to the creation of art. An act of art should always be an act of truth. Individual truth — the opening of the inner eye and allowing the energy of your private whirlwind to express into your medium:something. Anything. As long as it’s true. Or real. Or important.

I’m still a ways from publishing Spell/Sword — but I’m already thinking about how I am going to sell it. The plan remains to self-publish, then grassroots my ass up the zeitgeist to something more than a blip. Financially and culturally. So I need to be able to sell the book. To other artists, to family, to friends, to total strangers, to people who love fantasy, to people who hate it, to people who never read. But every time I approach the problem in my head, I feel this enormous lassitude. It feels wrong.

In my day job, I am a salesman. I’m extremely good at it. But the key seems to be my total lack of concern. Apathy towards the product, and disinterest in actually making the sale. It allows you to be dispassionate and objective — truly focused on reading the situation and the customer. But with the book, where I’m hopelessly invested in the product and emotionally overwraught in the sale – it’s much more difficult.

It doesn’t help that I’m specifically trying to find my own little niche in the genre. It feels cheap to say “Oh, it’s just like ‘X’ and nothing like ‘Y’, and if you like ‘Z’ then buy, buy, buy!” But when I try to pitch it on its own terms, it just sounds hollow and uninteresting.

There’s a guy, and he has a sword. And there’s a girl and she’s got magic. They don’t like each other, then some shit happens and then they do. Also: hi-jinks.

I could do a laundry list of the random things in the book.

Electric-Eel Powered Jukebox. Prescience. Dwarven ghosts. Lesbian bards. Sweaty wyverns. Hangovers. Friendship. Mailboxes. A devil-spawned assassin. Fairy tales. Horse euthanasia. Wizard duels. Mysterious backstories. Prophetic dreams. Cheese. Plot-holes. Garden plots. Sorcerer bondage. Magic swords. An ogre with red boots. A blue fish. A white bridge. A first kiss. A last breath. Hyper-intelligent frogs with steam-powered roller skates. Banter.

Okay, I wound up kind of liking that one.  But still, the problem remains. All that sounds fun, but I don’t know how convincing it is. Part of me wants to sell the book the same way that I wrote it. Honestly, with great love and with no artifice. Well, maybe a teensy bit of artifice.

This is important. This is true. This book is real. It matters. Or at the very least, I need it to matter.

So, yeah. Buy it or whatever.

Oh, my. This question is in bold. On WordPress, that’s like a Tumblr post dissing Doctor Who — it demands a response. What do you look for on the back of the book, or in a sales pitch for a book, when you’re considering reading something from an unknown author?

Throw Up My Skirts

A recurring complaint from my Alpha Readers — and now one of my Beta Readers, is that I don’t tell them enough. They want more details about the world, more about the history of the characters.

I have two main characters, and I sort of summarily dump them into the plot together. They both have Dark Pasts and Important Backstories [tm], but…and this is the crux, their backstory doesn’t have anything to do with the plot du jour.  The amorphous goals that I am moving Spell/Sword towards are pace, energy, and involvement. I don’t want to put any woolgathering or world history navel gazing — just accept the tropes and characters as presented, and show me a little trust.   Epic fantasy tends to frontload all of the exposition and world detail, I just want the reader to strap in and go along for the ride. This is episodic structure, not an epic trilogy.

A good example of this would be the pilot episode of Firefly. Admittedly, not a perfect example — that’s a vast ensemble. You’re only shown enough about the world and the character to serve the plot of the episode.

Okay, it’s in space. Mal was in a battle, his side lost. Okay, time passed. Oh, it’s the Civil War. I get it. Hmmm, Asian influences have become culturally dominant. Evil Empire, band of mercenaries and thieves. Okay, Mal’s a rogue with a conscience, Zoe’s a devoted soldier, Wash is comic-relief — oh hey, he and Zoe are married. Jane’s a thug, Kaylee’s an innocent mechanic, Inara’s a diplomatic courtesan, Book’s a priest, Simon is a rich kid doctor on the run, and River’s nuts. Oh, she’s super powerful/insane/government project — the empire is going to hunt her the entire show, hook set for the arc of the first season. Ooh, Reapers are nasty. 

You don’t get the description of every major location in the ‘Verse. You don’t learn anything about the actual setup of the Alliance government, or the name of it’s ruling body. You don’t know how Mal got from being a defeated solider to captain of Serenity, you don’t know anything about Zoe and Wash’s courtship. Book has about eighteen arrows pointing towards him that say MYSTERIOUS SECRET — but, none of that resolves in the first episode. Whedon throws all these tropes into a ship, lets them rattle around a little, then unmasks the sleeper agent who tries to capture River. The character and world exposition always takes a backseat to the action of each scene — and more importantly, the character relationships. The family dynamic of the crew and the budding connections between the new passengers — and their reaction to the imminent danger at hand is what makes that episode work.

We all know right off the bat that Book used to be an assassin. That’s a trope, the holy man who put down the sword. It appears again and again. Whedon could have spent 10 minutes explaining about the Alliance Death Squad and their memorable exploits, but that’s now what makes a work of fiction interesting or memorable. What makes Book more than a trope is his relationships — his seeking out of wisdom from Inara, his antagonistic mentoring of Mal, his almost paternal relationship with Jane.

That’s how I’m trying to view this first book. It’s the first episode. Here’s my wacky duo, here’s their powers, here’s a little sniff of their past, here’s some action, here’s some villains, here’s some crazy, there’s some weird, and hey, book’s over.

One of my favorite episodic novels. The Dresden Files is a good example. I almost stopped reading after the first one, because so many pages were devoted to explaining exactly who Harry was, the various supernatural forces around Chicago, how magic worked, how making potions worked, the backstory of his cat, the backstory of his car,etc. etc. — only when I picked up book two, and all of those details were read did the kick-assery truly begin.

So — to sum up. My goal is to write my very first book and have it be just as good as Firefly and Book Two of The Dresden Files. And I’m going to self-publish. And this doesn’t sound very likely does it?

I have been listening to my Alpha Readers — there was a significant increase/clarification of world and character information in the Beta Draft. But, there’s got to be a line. There is an argument to be made that leaving my readers wanting to know more is a good thing — but I’m a little terrified of leaving them annoyed, instead of motivated.

I am courting my readers, dammit. And I’m just not the sort of girl to throw up my skirts on the first date.

Ultimately, I’m in the weird position of being beholden to no one as a self-publisher. I don’t have an agent or a publishing house demanding that I add more romantic tension between the main characters, or insisting that I cut out the Steam-Skating Frogs as nonsensical. But I also don’t have the advantage of their experience either. I can write it however I want, and no one can stop me from spending a few days on Amazon putting it into print.

Man, it must be relaxing to have an editor.

I’m just starting to get weary of eighteenth-guessing everything in the book. I have a legitimate fear of totally abandoning my own judgement and just cramming in every possible thing into the book that anyone could ever want to see. And winding up with a big ungainly, craven mess. OR not doing that, and putting out an austere, confusing desert.

Book of Teon V

My left arm is moving. Every time I blink, it inches forward. I do not have the strength to kill this evil.

I must speak faster.

Days passed, and weeks. I slept and ate and healed and learned to speak the strange tongue of Jalyx

Confession Tower by Piotr Gadja

and his people. He was my savior, my first friend on Aufero – and I swore that his kindness would be repaid tenfold.

My left hand…it moves.

So much that happened, so many years. Must speak faster. We found the survivors of the crash and the wreckage. Both my parents were dead. I found myself made Captain of a shattered craft.

Must speak faster.

With time and skill we repaired the music hall in our ship, and called the fleet to the planet. We faced many dangers and complications, but I was determined to make Jalyx’s home a paradise — a place where we could share our knowledge with any who desired it. I should have guarded our knowledge more carefully, there were many who sought to abuse it. But the years were golden, and the songs we sang knew nothing of doubt.

Inside me the flower of evil slowly bloomed.

That was the curse, the horror of it all. I can see it now. The shining cities, the bridges of purest white, the towers of glass rose again — but everything we built, everything I built had in it a flaw. A shadow. Twisted lines carefully placed by my left hand.  Note by note we sang, but each verse hid a darker chord.

And then my greatest achievement. The Machine. My left hand’s glory.

As I grew in power and fame, my people began to look to me for wisdom. In their grief the Lost could find no satisfaction in the things we built here, nor in the friends we gained. I tried to show them the wonder of our new home, but they would not listen. Their hearts grew hollow and sere — and they begged me. My own people begged me. ‘Oh, Teon – First Singer! Use your skill to take us back Home.”

‘But I cannot. The Dark One waits there, covering an entire galaxy with his malice.’

‘Then build us a weapon. A weapon of Light that can strike him down!’

I knew it was folly, but my hand itched to build it. A colossus, a pure warrior of light.  I could not see…

——

I fell asleep. How long have I been asleep? My hand.

No. No. It is gone. My left hand is gone.

The blue flower blooms.

It isn’t over.

I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.

Jalyx, I’m sorry.

 

Book of Teon II

What can I tell you about Home? I have tried many times to describe it to the people of this world, but something is always lost in the telling. Home is a feeling, a knowledge — and no matter how many times I described the towers of glass, the river bank where I learned to swim, the smell of my grandmother’s library — I could not catch it.

It was a place not much different than this world. The sun rose, the wind blew. We only had one moon instead of the three that dance in this world’s sky. Such a greedy world, this Aufero, how could it have less than three moons?

I wander. It is what I do, in speech as well as deed. Even now, even as I wait for the end. There is something to that. Something mundane and comforting.

Our world shone. That is all I can say. It gleamed more brightly in the heavens than any other star, every one of the Lost can point to it in their sleep — even though it shines no more. It was our Home, and we knew as we left it that we would never return. And we knew that we would never stop grieving the loss of it.

Desert by ~thefireis

The Dark swallowed it whole, and we fled. The entirety of my race crammed on half-a-hundred silver ships, flung into the sea of stars. But that is not the true beginning of my story.

My story begins with falling.

The fastest ships were chosen, to seek out a place to land – a place to begin again. My father was the captain and he slept not at all as our ship plunged ever forward into the dark. The far-singers hummed as we approached barren planets and balls of molten fire — every one was discordant.  Ugly noise and static.

We flew on and on, day after day. Hoping to find a place that the Dark had not touched. A whole universe of empty rock and death. In desperation we returned to the fleet and found the same answer in the weary faces of the other captains.

I remember how my father took my mother’s hands and laid his forehead on hers. They looked into each other’s eyes and she nodded. They knew what must be done, and the risks. The other ships would wait, and ours would risk Beyond.

My mother sang the Song of Away.

The universe grew thin and we slipped through the walls as she sang. I stood next to my father and listened hard for the tune of another place, any place that we could go.

I think I heard it before my father, but maybe a heartbeat before. I still remember the joy in his eyes when he heard the faint melody.

And then the melody was a march — Aufero, the greedy – Aufero, the thief — reached out and pulled us in.

We erupted into that universe like a comet being born. The silver ship bucked and spun, the songs of my people becoming screams. Through the windows I caught my first glimpse of the planet.

It was blue. I fell in love.

Then the glass shattered, and I fell towards the greedy planet.

My story had begun.

To the Crew of the Lodestar: Don’t Stop.

Seriously. Don’t.

Don’t stop writing. Don’t stop telling stories.

You are in the enviable position of having formed a habit that most aspiring writers would kill to obtain. Or pay untold amounts of money on tuition for Creative Writing degrees, or workshops, or storytelling camps.

For the past two years, you have written, on average, 1374 words every week. Rain, shine, babies, heartbreak, plays, shows, gigs, arguments, new games, new books, new lives….every week. That means each of you wrote 142,896 words. Three novels or one massive tome.

Just by not stopping. By continuing to go.

For most humans, it takes 10 weeks of uninterrupted routine to form a habit. The habit is there. Don’t break it.

Right now, like me, you’re starting to feel the itch. A vague restlessness, an unease.  A vacancy.

I have Spell/Sword to work on. What are you working on?

Open a Word Doc. Open a Google Doc. Open a notepad. Open napkin. Open your phone and email it to yourself.

Today, not tomorrow. Now, not later.

And start. Don’t stop.

It helped me to have a schedule. It helped me to have this blog. It helped me [eventually] to own the task, to admit to myself what I was making. Do all of those things, or none.

Just don’t stop.

Because, as unbelievable as it may sound. No one but us will truly ever read Lodestar. No one will ever hear your voices.

Unless you keep singing.

I can hear them. I have heard them for two years. It would be a great loss for them to fall silent.

Write. Tell stories. Write a book.

Because you already have. Three times.

Write another one.

And then don’t stop.

DragonCon

 

Once upon a time, I had certain delusions. Delusions that I would finish my book, and have nice shiny copies to hand out to random people at DragonCon. I had this really elaborate ARG I was going to set up, and it would become a viral sensation — securing my place in publishing, and I could quit my job and eat Hot Pockets on my couch forever.

So yeah, I’m still editing, so that isn’t going to happen.

But, I will be at DragonCon! Who else is going to be there?

If you can find me, and mention Spell/Sword I will be fucking shocked — and immediately anoint you as the first Slaughter Wizards of the nascent swordpunk fandom.

Star Prophet IV

Star Prophet sits cross-legged, and levitates above a green hill. I’m doing jumping jacks and thinking about what that boy said in class. About my hair, and how it smelled good. He was half asleep behind me, arm catty-corner on the desk. His fingers brushed the bottom edge of my hair, and it was a ripple down my spine. Index, middle finger, thumb – he held the tip of my hair. A LaGrange point. Straight ahead, no ripples of gravity, my eyes are moons. He said it, then let go.

Star Prophet quirks an eyebrow, and detonates a small plateau with his mind. He is displeased that I am distracted from my training.

I kick off into the air, and lightning crackles in my fist.

My fist that holds the toothbrush.

And I’m in the dark with my uncle. He slobbers and moans his way through the night, a rip red of pain in the air, dying with each bellows-breath.

I hate him like gravity. I hate him like the sun.

I stand over him, and my fist comes down.