Judge Me By My Cover – Day 4

And now we’re back to the ‘bride’ – I was a little bit nervous about not putting Jonas and Rime [Our Heroes] on the cover, but our earlier discussions about a truly ‘evocative’ cover gave me courage. Here are two different versions of the ‘bride’ that Mike developed.

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

More of the ‘floating numbers’ from the cover of Spell/Sword – and the appearance of the secret symbol! It’s massively important to the plot of The Riddle Box, and also to other stories beyond for those that have been following since the Lodestar days.

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

I don’t know what the flowers are all about – but they look great. I also really started to enjoy how the Bride’s ‘skull’ could read as her literal skeleton or as some sort of creepy mask. Also the decolletage and blood – so tasteful.

[Sketches for the cover illustration of The Riddle Box, my upcoming novel. I’m showing off the design process and sketches this week before the final reveal of the cover.]

Final Cover Reveal: 7/12

The Riddle Box – Click the link to add to your Goodreads!

Judge Me By My Cover – Day 3

And then things got a little weird. As often happens, Mike surprises me with a design that I love, but has very little connection to what we had originally been working on.

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

 

Now, I love this illustration. We had some discussions about going with a very evocative image on the cover, instead of something directly related to the plot. The mystery transpires in the Manor of the Heart-Broken Lion in the novel – and Mike really responded to that. We ultimately decided to go back to the original trajectory, but SPOILER ALERT: this sketch will find its way onto the back paperback cover of the book and potentially tattooed into my flesh at some point.

[Sketches for the cover illustration of The Riddle Box, my upcoming novel. I’m showing off the design process and sketches this week before the final reveal of the cover.]

Final Cover Reveal: 7/12

The Riddle Box – Click the link to add to your Goodreads!

Judge Me By My Cover – Day 2

Never forget the wooden pigs.
Never forget the wooden pigs.

After the initial thumbnail, Mike got very fixated on the exact design of the ‘bride’. [Sort of like how all he wanted to draw for the first book was wooden pigs. It’s a long story.] He has a dozen different takes in his sketchbook, but here are the ones he sent me next for feedback. I, of course, was tremendously helpful – most of my notes disintegrated into – ‘looks awesome’ and ‘god I wish I could draw.’

 

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

You can start to see the signature ‘numbers’ creeping into the inked sketch.

[Sketches for the cover illustration of The Riddle Box, my upcoming novel. I’m showing off the design process and sketches this week before the final reveal of the cover.]

Final Cover Reveal: 7/12

The Riddle Box – Click the link to add to your Goodreads!

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!

 

You Must Understand

http://sanskarans.deviantart.com/
http://sanskarans.deviantart.com/

The world was different then, you must understand. You have never known the sound of a river or the sigh of the breeze through the canopy, you have only ever known sand and stone. The world was beautiful, you see – green and abundant with life. It was my joy to touch each green leaf with my heart and know its secret song, a melody that has grown all too quiet in these dusty days. The days that I brought, that I bought with blood and death.

You must understand. As beautiful as the world was, it was not ours. We lived and died and even dreamed at the will and sway of the Dragons. Can you imagine? Every day you served and worked at the masters’ bidding, and in your sleep not even your own brain was free to wander. They kept our dreams hedged in by their field, by their Great Dream – the better to winnow out the rebellious, the mad, those who shone most brightly that could have lead us out of slavery. You know, as a young person you find someone that you fancy, your dreams fill with simple joys – but imagine if an alien intelligence decided who you would have these dreams of, who they thought best for you to fall in love with? Every daydream was a lie, drawing you further into the comforting truth of their dominion. We sang songs to them – songs that they put in our heads, and we believed that we had created. If a man cannot even trust his own thoughts, he is nothing. Generations of us bound in their dark web, living and dying without ever truly existing. Without truly living.

There were those that worshiped our masters as gods – and even now, who am I to argue? Their power was beyond our ken, beyond anything I have truly understood. They seemed to live in two worlds, one of body and one of mind. And those that pledged themselves to the Dragon gained a measure of freedom in both, but a deeper slavery in the quiet of their souls.

And I? I was no one special. Only through pure chance did I find a way out.

I worked on a farm. I see you smile. Yes, then as now I was a farmer. Attending the slow rituals of living things was my deepest joy. Some other workers and I were sent to till a new field on the edge of a great city. It was known that it would take some time to properly prepare the land, the soil was rocky but rich. We pitched our tents on the edge of the field, and spent the first few days in simple labor and easy joy. You felt so good when you followed orders, you see. A slow pulse of pleasure that kept a smile on every face.  But then on the third night, nature intervened – a boon from the Balance to save us. A storm – rain and lightning and the howling of the wind. Our tents were ripped asunder, and in casting around for shelter we found a cave.

A cavern of stone, suddenly quiet after the storm’s wrath. We huddled together and fell into an exhausted slumber.

And we dreamed. We dreamed our own dreams for the first time in our lives. Something in the stone shielded us from the psychic grip of our masters. Something in the stone set us free.

Dreams of anger. Dreams of grief. Dreams of simple oddity that the brain can unspool. But our dreams – the dreams that the Dragons had kept from us.

And I? I dreamed of the Titan.

It was just a Shape, then. But it burned into my mind like a torch.

We awoke into a new world. We could see the bars of our prison – see the bondage that all our races were under. We went about our work that day out of habit, but each of us made sure to lay our bedding in the cave. Plans were laid, each of us discovering his own intelligence, her own will. The preparation of the field took longer and longer, we delayed in every way we could, terrified to leave the only free space on the planet, as far as we knew. It was Rose that mastered her mind first – learned to keep the masters’ psychic grip at bay – at least the passive one that filled us with work-joy and kept our minds inert. She taught us all, and we each swore to teach this new trick on other farms.

We became liars and thieves and rebels. The rats in the walls. Over time, our numbers grew. We scavenged technology, we learned as much as we could about the stone that protected us, we —

Ah, I see. You grow impatient. You asked where the Titan came from, how we built it. I will explain as best I can, though you may find it wanting.

I saw it in my dreams, you see. You must understand, every night, the Shape. Vague at first, but growing sharper and sharper as I found materials and technology of the Dragons to use. I had no great skill in science – Jeffrey, Bantam, and Merrick all outstripped me there. But when I worked on the Titan, my hands knew where to go, I could see where each piece would fit. Even at the time I couldn’t explain it – except to say: the Titan wanted to be built. The Shape was already there, I just put the pieces together. And when I witnessed the power it brought to bear…

I do not know, even now, where the Titan came from. But I do understand its purpose – to set us free. To bring an end to tyranny, to break the chains of this world.  You must understand, now that it is yours to wield. You must understand. You must understand.

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.

Wordy-type Makings: A Blog Hop

 

2014-02-23 14.32.39-1

And now I catch the baton from my friend and sadly distant conspirator, Leigh from her blog Fun Things To Do While You Are Waiting. You absolutely should navigate your web-machine to her and Coralie’s site – it’s a lifestyle blog with tons of crafty adventures and receipes — much more regularly updated than my site. I’m terrible at these blog chain letter sort of things – the fun premise will quickly descend into navel-gazing, but I’ll try to keep it frothy.

What am I working on? 

I am working on the final re-writes and edits on The Riddle Box, the sequel to my previous novel Spell/Sword.   I’m hoping to have it ready to publish in another month or two. This brings to a close several months of editing — AKA the part I hate. I’m very excited to get it out there for people to read – but more excited to be able to start work on the third book, working title: Asteroid Made of Dragons.

Side projects — writing for three Pathfinder campaigns, game prep, world information, and forum play.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I’ve expounded on this at great length in the past, but let me boil it down. I’m a special snowflake and everything I do is unique and wonderful.

The name I’ve given it is ‘Swordpunk’, but through my research I’ve found that Terry Pratchett has a much better term for it – the ‘consensus fantasy universe’ – that place we all understand instinctually without need for qualification or endless description. Dragons can fly and are mean, a hero with a sword is generally a good thing to have on hand, witches are potent, elves have pointy ears, etc. etc. etc. As much as I love the current heights of epic fantasy [Martin, Rothfuss, Sanderson, Abercrombie] – I’ve grown weary of the genre taking itself so seriously. Also by traipsing in this ‘consensus’ universe, I don’t have to waste any time or reader brain wattage to re-invent the wheel. We can jump right in and get to the action.

Also my work is not particularly popular, so there’s that.

 Why do I write what I do? 

HRMMM. That’s kind of a brain bender. I don’t know if that’s even the sort of questions I’m equipped to answer. Who knows what strange events and mental misadventures have resulted in my own particular output?

I do know that the forms of fantasy make sense to me. As a writer you’re usually trying to express something – something simple, or something profound – and you grab whatever tools are at hand to get the point across. Swords make sense to me, magic is the perfect metaphor. I think if I tried to write a story set in modern day about emotions, or culture, or banking — I would only make it a few thousand words before goblin-gunners start erupting from storm drains or roc’s land on the top of city buses.

The fun part of my work is I’m absolutely certain there’s some grand point I’m trying to get across — but I’m usually mystified about what exactly it’s supposed to be. I stumble into bits and pieces of the message as I keep rambling on, but completely by accident. My crafty subconscious has something to say, but it whispers in hindsight, in the corners of things.

Spell/Sword  is the pilot episode, so a lot of its energy is spent on getting my heroes together and starting some plates a-spinning that won’t resolve until years in the future – but I like to think there’s a nice through-line about Friendship. The Riddle Box is much more on point as I grapple with my thoughts on depression, and the sick, strange madness that haunts all human endeavor.

How does my writing process work?

I am a ‘discovery writer’ as the lugubrious buzz-term goes. I don’t plot or outline in advance, though I do have a skeleton plot in my head — or rather I have big moments and fight scenes like sign posts on the road ahead. Spell/Sword I had only the most basic of ideas of where I was heading — The Riddle Box, as a murder mystery, I had to know ‘whodunnit’ so I could reverse-engineer the plot. I know outlining is king if you want to truly focus on a marketable product – but I couldn’t go to work if I knew every twist and turn, half the fun is getting to see these moments for myself.

Beyond that, I try not to fetishize my process in any way. I don’t have a set time, or place, or a special mug that I have to have with me. I set myself easy deadlines, of between 5-10 pages a week [depending on the insanity of the rest of my life] and get to typing. I write when I have time between work and home, just as long as I’ve turned in my pages by the end of the week, everything’s kosher. Admittedly, I’m bad about putting it off until Friday or Saturday and jamming out that week’s allotment in one quick stretch. If I get in a groove and write more than my allotment – that’s great! – but I can’t bank anything in advance. Each week is always 5 pages more than where I ended the previous week. I write chronologically — mostly because I have to ‘discover’ the scene, but partly because if I wrote all the fun stuff first, I’d never go back and write the connective tissue.

That’s it – I just keep chugging along until I get to the end. [Or at least what I think is the end.]

 

Huzzar! I have completed my blog hop — of course, I haven’t had the forethought to get anyone else to take the next leg from me. So,  yeah — any of you want to take the next leg? Ping me in the comments for my thanks and blessings.

Titan’s Wake – The Story So Far

tumblr_lmoz6uD8h21qc2q5co1_500

Shining cities and tower tall,
broken at its feet they fall.
The Titan, red ash and smoke
in Cataclysm’s voice it spoke.
Then nothing but sand and wind
and death.

Then at last in caverns deep
The dwarves were first to break their sleep.
Their Empire rose in steel and stone,
bending all hidden in sand alone,
to kneel and bow to
the Lion Throne.

The Roots of Stone patient stand
until Dragon curse from human hand,
bit and tore at Secret Seal.
Druid-child born to heal,
led companions brave
across the sands.

There they found in canyon’s peace
a giant with crystal-heart to cease.
Bitter miles and hidden fear,
full of doubt but purpose clear.
They broke the heart,
to break the curse.

No curse they broke, and cursed their own
The sacred Roots a tomb of stone.
By Dragon-Word they slipped away,
awoke in chains both black and gray.
The Machine-City of Zero,
where the Dream sleeps.

Tales they heard and songs of light,
their learned much of Zero’s spite.
A story of a different sort,
the gods own ruin by Dreamers thwart.
Undo the Titan, free every mind,
at Dragons’ return.

With brittle lies and fortunes blessed,
the heroes fled from the Dreamers’ nest.
They brought their strange tales and questions meet,
to lay at Sunset Company’s feet:
The Final Seal is found,
Zero rides.

Under sand and over stone they flew,
up spire and in air they knew,
the Temple Unknown, invisible and sure
they fell upon harsh knowledge, pure.
The Mask of Six found
a new bearer.

And there they fought against the Dream
Red blood flew against Sunset’s gleam.
Fleeing death and Zero’s might
the Mask unleashed a blazing flight.
Far to the west,
beyond the moon.

Led on by words of sleeping hand,
they journeyed west to a frozen land.
Beyond the desert, beyond the glade
Seeking for both Guide and Blade.
In Raven’s Hall,
they claimed them both.

Snow and mountain spire,
their path lead to secret fire.
A hidden temple amongst the snows,
where secrets wait and death’s wind blows.
The machine flickers to life,
and the Mask shines with fervor.

Careful now, you heroes bold
for what you find down in the cold.
It’s hidden heart slowly beats
Power does not die, it only sleeps.
Words and tales and songs and lies,
the empty choice is hero’s prize.
Make your way or make your grave,
the blindfold-man is Fortune’s slave.