Spell/Sword Cover Art Revealed!

Artist - Mike Groves/poopbird
Artist – Mike Groves/poopbird

And there it is. The cover art for my book.

This is real. IT’S REAL.

Let me let me tell you why I love this art.

1. It’s fun. Looking at it just makes me smile. It’s unapologetically goofy and cartoony. Most fantasy art takes itself so freaking seriously.

2. It’s different. This doesn’t look like 98% of the fantasy novel illustrations I’ve ever seen before. Not on the shelves at Barnes & Noble, not on Amazon.com or anywhere else.

3. It’s clean. All of the negative space just pleases me aesthetically. A traditionally published novel would want to cram more information and more verbiage on there. I’ll probably have my name on their, somewhere very small, but that’s it. I also think it’ll really stand out when seen online as a tiny thumbnail on someone’s Kindle.

4. It makes me think of Chrono Trigger. My book sits very comfortably in the mental space occupied by Dungeons & Dragons, JRPGs, and manga. I adore that this would not look terribly out of place on the cover of any of those three.

5. It will make people vaguely embarrassed to be seen reading it. Not so much with the Kindle version, but people who have the paper copy. Anyone reading this will be broadcasting to the world that they are a Huge Nerd.

Huge props to Poopbird on the illustration, you should follow the link from here or the image itself and check out his entire portfolio and buy stuff from him.

I hope this gets you marginally excited about reading the book. I know it gets me far more than marginally excited about finishing it.

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The Lines

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“Sit down, Lucas.”

The young boy took his place at the keys of the grand piano. He set his fingers carefully in the proper positions, the polished bone cool to the touch.

“Now play.” The madman leered. ” Play the lines, the lines of light in the dark. Play them. Play them well, and play them now.”

Lucas Grahd tried not to think of the blood that oozed down his shoulder from the thin puncture. He tried not to think of the dried blood on his knuckles, a friend’s blood. He tried and failed, but his eyes stayed dry and his fingers steady.

“Play them now,” the masked man howled. “The lines, connect the lines!”

Lucas could feel every whorl of his fingertips, as he touched the first key.

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.

Swordpunk Manifesto in Blue

What’s the problem with fantasy?

Two great gods, hovering in the firmament.

The Rules and The Backstory.

Those are the two driving forces, theinspirado of a grand bulk of the genre. Either the writer has a really neat system of magic, combat or dragon-sex and they hammer a plot and some characters into a framework to hold it — OR the writer has a really neat world, or character, or setting for dragon-sex and they hammer a plot and some less interesting characters into a framework to hold it.

I’m not really complaining that these forces exist. [Especially about the dragon-sex.] I’ve invested a massive amount of geek-hours into consuming as much of this content as I can, and I never plan to stop. My complaint derives from the endless mimicry, and the bone-certain belief that these two masters are the only ones that the genre can serve.

That is not the case, more on that shortly. But first, a primer.

In general, there are two types of fantasy authors. Nerds and Dungeon Masters.

Nerds love their shining rules, and Dungeon Masters love their precious backstory.

So when you are reading a fantasy novel and realize you’ve just spent two pages reading about how Flame-aligned Slaughter Wizards cannot use their Flambe attack when Ice-aligned Tempest Mages have spent a fortnight attuning their Ava-crystals to the Fourteenth Ley Line —- then the author is a Nerd.

“Well, they can’t.”

Uh, thanks Mr. Sanderson.

And when you finish a blistering passage on the Archduke Sargasso and the five-year conflict he endured developing the Draconian Congress, including the Riddle-Game played in the jaws of Tyrinel the Inferno, Red Dragon Lord – with exacting minutes provided, including three water breaks and a complete rundown of the Inaugural Dylithic Council’s attire, facial hair and a five stanza limerick sung by Jargon the Time-Sworder — ALL of this read by the protagonist on a discarded scroll in the waiting room of his dentist’s office. Then, my friend, your author is a Dungeon Master.

“Roll versus Total Despair, bitches.”

Both of these ideas sound pretty awesome, and both of the authors above are titanium-plated awesome. There’s nothing wrong with either approach, and in a skilled scribe’s meaty grip each style can keep you patently enthralled. I’ve spent more than a few minutes thinking about everyday applications of Allomancy from Sanderson’s Mistborn series — and you better believe I’m far more concerned about the fate of the Iron Throne of Westeros than the outcome of the 2012 Presidential Race.

Democracy in action.

This isn’t about what those authors have already written. It’s about the fantasy that hasn’t been written yet.

The fantasy that you and I are writing.  The new fantasy, which is also old fantasy — as opposed to the middle fantasy that we’re currently sitting in. The new/old  fantasy where we basically don’t give a shit.

What am I talking about?

Swordpunk.

I have chosen this term because:

a) It sounds cool.

b) Fuck you, that’s why.

Are there rules? Yes, of course. But they are to be like a kindly sour-smelling uncle. You send them a card on their birthday, a sincere hug at Christmas — but you’re not inviting them over when it’s time to party.

Is there backstory? As long as there is linear time there shall be Stuff That Happened Before. But we shouldn’t drag it with us like those creepy dudes wearing their high school letter jacket to English 101. Leave that shit behind.

Not wearing pants.

And world building? Of course, building your own little bolt-hole from reality is the bleedin’ point. But why do we need to reinvent the wheel every time? Tolkien did it and generations of fantasy writers have been doing their best to ape him ever since. Too many fantasy writers think like Carl Sagan:” If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe”.

How about we just have apple pie? You know, the apple pie that is at the store and we’ve all had it and we all know what it is?

Swordpunk is all about just eating the fucking pie.

I think the fear that fantasy writers have is that if they don’t reinvent the wheel, they won’t be taken seriously. Like Tad Williams is going to roll up and revoke their Fantasy License. [I’m imagining him in a lime green golf cart and wearing a jaunty scarf. Are you imagining it that way? Just me? Okay.]

The worlds are there. The tropes are there. It’s all in how you use them. I think there can be more power in connecting to the old stories, then running down the street and trying to start up your own Disneyland. “Oh, no — this ain’t Mickey Mouse, this is my own character Mouselord McQueen. He’s totally different.”

I don’t want to waste energy convincing you that my world is more clever or more original or ‘waaaaaay fucking different” [WFD] from any other fantasy author’s world. That’s a fool’s errand, and honestly more than a little outside of my skillset.

When I have a hero step forth and raise his sword, I don’t want to try to sell you on how he’s different than the inumerable sword-slingers in the genre. I want you to think of them. I want you to think of Sturm Bright-blade, Simon Mooncalf, Logen the Bloody-Nine, Brienne of Tarth, Lancelot, Garet Jax, Neville Longbottom, Reepicheep, Paksenarrion Dorthansdotter and Conan the Barbarian,

Pictured – License to be snooty and pedantic.

himself. I want you to think of them all. I want to connect to that resonance, that legacy of character.

Is it getting a little Joseph Campbell-y in here?

Beyond that, fantasy needs to be more of a wackadoo fever dream. I want more Fritz Lieber and Michael Moorcock – more Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, more Elric of Melnibone.  Beautiful little offshoots of the genre, grand and strange, bizarre and gleefully weird.

That’s what I’m trying to do at least, with Spell/Sword, my first novel. And if I can keep going, I’ll keep trying.

My book has rules. My book has backstory. [Shit, you better bring some Post-It Notes, dog.] I’m a Nerd and a Dungeon Master, just like all of you.

But thinking about these things, and giving them a silly name made me feel free. It made me feel empowered, it made me write the book I wanted to write — not the one that I thought would ever sell.

I hope it makes you feel the same.

Swordpunk

1. Eating the pie is more fun than making the pie.

2. No one cares about about your character’s grandfather.

3. Only trot out the Rules on special occasions.

4. Don’t let anyone tell you how to make your art. Make it. Make it scream and bleed, make it shine and shatter. Be true to the moment, to the beauty of it — and make no excuses for putting it on the page.

5. There should always be more minotaurs. Preferable riding on cherry-red mopeds.

And if Brandon Sanderson wants to start an internet feud, he can GET IN LINE.

Thanks for reading my ramblings. This is what happens when I’m not editing.

Star Prophet II

Cold walk, warm house. My uncle’s third knuckle on the right, potato-sack lumpy and his red voice and the fall of the Roman Empire. The stars were out, but I was in.

Humans do these things. They do these things to each other every day.

My face was bent. I rolled next to the couch and waited, while meteors impacted on the surface of Mars.

The press of headphones, the music and the moon  – I lay with the sheet over my head and lost myself. The rhymes, the words – the quick symmetry of the drum and the strange keen of the electronic flute.

I think about Star Prophet’s planets — about the songs he hears. The whirling slide of space and time, the spaces, empty – now full. Jupiter turns his face, and Saturn hula-hoops across the dance floor. The blood on my pillow is red. The rains of Mercury and Venus, the broken canyons hidden beneath the cotton-wool cloud.

[I’m really not happy with this section. I’m used to bla-bla-blahing my way, spitting out a few hundred words like it was nothing. This sucker’s fighting me. I’m going to keep working on SP in dribs and drabs, then do a massive revision when it’s all done. This is what I get for actually thinking about a story.]

The Knot

Talitha ran through the cargo bay singing. A simple tune, she skipped to the beat and spun around a rail and danced around the engine’s console. She passed right by a narrow alcove, in between two bays. She didn’t notice anything hanging in the shadows — only crinkled her nose absently at the foul, acidic scent.

A lump of bone and dissolving flesh hung there, that had once been … many things. A squire, a traveler, a hero, a monster, a murderer, an uncle, a terror, a friend.  A knot at the center of him was all that remained — holding out against the decay, the rot. The knot heard the song, and finally began to unwind.

But, he did not die. The shadow poison fell away, washed clean by a little girl’s song.

With the poison gone, his flesh remembered and returned. Green sparks sizzled and popped.

Izus rose from the tatters of fabric and twine.He patted his chest experimentally, and looked around for a moment.  He snapped his fingers, and a brown cloak jumped to attention. It wriggled down the hallway, the steps and across the cargo bay, and into the little alcove where the villain had lay dying. It folded itself neatly over his arm, and Izus tossed it over his shoulders, fastening the clasp without a thought.

He could still hear the girl’s song.

“Goodbye.” he said, and stepped through the world and was gone.

Haiku on Demand?

The beard of pain falls.

A meteor ends the foul

bug-eyed shinobi.

 

 

The famous  red can

is my soul’s mate and lusty

metal sin. Chomp chomp!

 

 

 

 

 

[Kind of a cop-out, I know — but they’re haiku!  You have to like them, or you are disrespecting thousands of years of Japanese culture. With regrets for H.N. and Jeremy.]