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.

We Move West

And here I am, hey blog. HEY, HEY BLOG.

BLOG. HEY. HEY BLOG.

[This is what I do when I see a cow out the car window. Just replace ‘blog’ with ‘cow’ and it’s the same dialogue. It is incredibly endearing, and never annoys anyone else in the car.]

I know you can HEAR ME COW.
I know you can HEAR ME COW.

So, yeah — let’s shake some cobwebs off.  My production of Pippin is finished, so now I can reroute those system resources back to all of the other plates I have spinning in the ether. Let’s list them! YAY, LISTS.

1. Spell/Sword Zeta Draft.  This would be an amazing name for an anime. This is the big project, my  main focus. Incorporating all the feedback from my Beta Readers, and working my way to the penultimate draft. I’m planning to add about 5000 words to the draft, so I’ll need to get one last set of eyes on the manuscript before I move forward to Self Publishing Ragnarok.

2. Self Publishing Ragnarok. Also an amazing anime title. My goal is to get the book into a buy-able format, through CreateSpace and Kindle Direct Publishing through Amazon. I’m researching all of the technical knowledge needed for doing that, so when I am ready to move forward it won’t be a giant learning curve clusterfuck.

IS THE JPEG OF YOUR COVER ART BELOW THE MAXIMUM PIXEL LIMIT???
IS THE JPEG OF YOUR COVER ART BELOW THE MAXIMUM PIXEL LIMIT???

3. Cover Art.  I’ve seen some early sketches from Mike/Poopbird, and I can’t wait to see the finished product. Got to make sure I have all the specs for pixel limits, image size, etc. to make it easy and painless for him once the design is complete.

4. Titan’s Wake.  My occasional Pathfinder campaign. Time to kick it in the shins and get the PC’s moving toward something approaching the plot. Scheduling has been an issue, leading to some signal loss — gotta get the players on some sort of regular game night schedule, or the campaign is just going to fizzle.

5. The Ocean of Not. New and shiny Legend of the Five Rings campaign! Meeting with the players in early January to make characters, and hopefully kick off the game shortly thereafter. I’m planning on having a forum component for this one, and most of the players are Lodestar alumni —very excited to get back in the trenches.

6. Shadeaux Bros. Christmas Album. Got to jump on this one with both feet, as it does have a built in deadline. Unfamiliar with our previous work? Take a listen and be forever changed.

7. A Few Good Men.  I have a small part in the next Mainstage production at the theatre. I get to play an actual person, which is not my strong suit.

Broad physical comedy is what I do.
Broad physical comedy is what I do.

8. Regular Blogging. I need to get back on a regular update schedule, 3-5 times per week. Maybe I’ll bring back Story on Demand to prime the pump, but I’m hoping now that working on the book is moving back to my main creative focus, I’ll have more time and writerly thoughts to expound upon.

Lot of stuff. Lot of cows. I love the feeling of energy and mind-space coming online – really looking forward to all of these projects!

 

Three Falcons I

The Emperor waits.

White rain falls and dark earth waits.

Three falcons, red blood.

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I, of course, was not present at the Battle of Jato Valley. The Fox Clan was not involved in this skirmish between the Great Clans, and our presence would have been looked at with great anger and disdain by Matsu Tsuko, the Lion Clan general. She would have viewed the inclusion of a small clan of no particular renown in her day of glory as an affront.  And her rage at our clan being the witness to her ensuing shame would have been great indeed.

And, of course, I was only seven years old.

Jato Valley is a geographic location of little significance other than this battle. It lies between the Lion and Crane lands, in a small  bit of land flanked by a granite mountain range to the north and a small river to the south. It is the homeland of the Falcon, a small Clan similar to our own in size and influence. How could they have angered the Fortunes so? To bring such calamity into their quiet corner of the Empire? I have visited their crumbling keep many times in my studies, and the only stories that Toritaka Yaki tells with any vigor are of the Battle of Jato Valley. As if that one day of blood and sorrow has forever dimmed the past, obscuring the older tales of his clan’s former glory.

I, of course, agree with him – but I would never dishonor the elder’s clan by voicing such thoughts out loud.

For the Battle of Jato Valley did much to obscure the light of many great samurai, and as my studies dare to suggest – continue to darken the honor of many of the Great Clans.

My apologies, honored reader. I write these words as if all were clear to you. We always write as if our time in this world is the only time,  and that the things we deem of import shall remain so on down the ever spinning gyre of the wheel. As a young student I was often keenly aggravated by the ancient scholars prattling on for turns and turns of the scroll, before finally making it clear the thrust of their tale. So, I shall speak as if I am long dust, and you know nothing.  For, if I may politely remark, when I was a student I knew a great deal of nothing myself.

Please accept my profound apologies. I am certain you are a credit to your clan, and your ancestors.

The Battle of Jato Valley is a riddle. A circumstance that still troubles the students of bushido, the priests of the kami, and lowly scholars such as myself. It concerns the most grave breach of the Celestial Order – a betrayal beyond the ken of the Sun and Moon.

The Emperor had three sons. And then he had three enemies. Blood against blood, the most shocking sacrilege.  They fled the Voice of Heaven and took refuge with their allies in the one place they knew would receive them. The hall of Toritaka Yaki, their archery instructor as children — and a defensible position. None of the Great Houses would have dared to shelter them — but the Falcon spread its wings and brought them into the nest.

Hantei Pono. Otomo Tekiko. Otomo Yoru. 17,15 and 10. The heir to the throne and his two younger brothers – the greatest criminals the Empire has ever known.

I take quite a risk writing their names, here in fresh ink. The Emperor has made it a crime to ever refer to them from now until the End of Time.  If I were a wiser scholar I would blot them, but I have an unfortunate flaw in my character. I pray that my honored reader will do their best to ignore my indiscretion.

When the Hantei himself stood over their broken bodies, he is said to have called for fire. He took the brand in his own hand, and poured the pitch over them — taking great care, of course, to never touch them. The flames burned for hours, leaving only their bones. The Emperor had their remains put into three jars and had them painted with the mon of the Falcon.

Matsu Tsuko carried the jars herself, and laid them at the feet of the Falcon daimyo and spat in his face.

“The Emperor commands you to keep these urns with you always.” She is recorded as saying. ” These Falcon traitors, these three sons of Toritaka shall forever be a reminder of the dishonor you have brought to your Clan.”

The Lion general then turned and stalked out of the hall, speaking no words of her own dishonor that day.

For the overwhelming force she had brought to bear against the pitiful rabble that had dishonored themselves so greatly to serve the Three Falcons had paid dearly for her arrogance. The Battle of Jato Valley is one of the few defeats that the Matsu had ever experienced, and with such high stakes – the very honor of the Emperor himself, ah. She had thought to fight an easy skirmish, outnumbered her enemy five to one.

The Matsu’s army won the day — but only at the price of half her army. The Three Falcons and their allies, ronin all, fought like gods of death.

They showed the truth in their souls. And for such dishonored men to show such strength, is perhaps the most disturbing portion of this tale for many of my respected colleagues.

Honor is the samurai’s might. How could these vilest of traitors have faced down so many of the Empire’s best?

I, of course, have a notion.

 

– Kitsune Miho

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?

Knight of the Scroll IV

Gustave Doré
Plate XX – “Lancelot Approaching the Castle of Astolat,” circa 1867-69

Write only what you know. You are in danger, Scholar Dryden.

My name is Emory Dryden.

I sit in my study in the East Tower. I am left-handed, and have to hold the quill carefully to avoid getting ink on my palm. The fire has died to embers. There is a brown plate to my right with a stale piece of bread on it.

It is two hours before dawn, by my estimation.

I can remember my training, and my years of service in the Legion.  The Iron Legion of Gilead. The surplice that I wear is a faded green, the color of my order. The Knights of the Scroll. Those that rise above the rank and file of the Legion join one of four chivalric orders. The Scroll, the Bow, the Sword, the Wand.  The Scroll is the order tasked with military intelligence — espionage and research.

I am studying a recording. A recording recovered frm aaaa

I am sitting at my table, in the center of my chamber. The fire has died to embers. The brown plate, the stale bread.

My name is Emory Dryden.  I am a Knight of the Scroll.

My mind is my weapon. I will not surrender.

There is something inside me. The plate is brown. I must remain calm. The bread is stale. I must keep writing. I am sitting at my table. Understand and defeat this enemy. The fire has died to embers.

The words. The words of Teon. They have infected my mind. Somehow, I don’t knowwwwwww. The plate is brown and my surplice is green and the bread is stale and the fire has died to embers. Is this what he meant? It isn’t over. The plate, the green, the stale fire has died. Is this the Dark ooooooo—- the green plate fire has died of stale, the fire green plate has stalled and died, I am Emory Dryden I am Emory Dryden and I am a Knight of the Scroll -fire plate stale green brown died embers, embers the embers, the embers the EMBERS I must fire stale bread, stale bread must fire embers burn, embers burn, embers burn, embers burn——-the plate the bread me the tower the embers the knight the night the hand the left the right the stale the end the fall the flwr–

it isn’t over

 

Knight of the Scroll III

Inconsistencies: There are several portions of the recording that do not seem to bear up to scrutiny. Without further knowledge of the events surrounding Teon’s death, I am unable to know whether to attribute these inconsistencies to his delirium, or to perhaps some sort of metaphorical meaning.

At the beginning of the narration, Teon insists that he brought the darkness with him from the Precursor’s Home. He seems to be drawing some sort of


Library by daRoz

connection between this darkness and the ‘evil’ in his left hand.  This evil seems to be the influence that lead him to creating the Machine, and the ultimate destruction of his civilization.

But then he speaks of the tree.  And my credulity is overtaxed.

I can stomach the idea that somehow he survived a fall from several miles height in the atmosphere, the physical might of the Arkanic’s is referenced in several bits of lore from that period. But, the idea that a root of a tree maliciously grew into a spike in the exact place where he would land is absurd. Even if we accept the thesis that somehow the tree has sentience enough to  do so, and the foresight to prepare this trap in advance — that Teon’s falling body could somehow manage to fall exactly onto that spot is simply unbelievable. The odds against it are astronomical.

Once again, I must return to the speaker’s state of mind. He was a man at the end of his life, in a great deal of pain — remembering another moment of incalculable trauma.

But, accepting Teon’s story at face value for the moment — I am still left with several broken chains of reasoning. He claims that he brought evil with him — and the root’s placement through the left side of his chest is not lost on me — but somehow the tree germinated that seed of evil into a blue flower. When Teon is saved by Jalyx, he takes pains to mention that the flower ‘disappeared somewhere in my chest.’

So, the tree was evil, and Teon brought evil, and the flower was evil and the flower was evil and the flower was evil and the flower was evil and the flower was evil and the flower was evil and the flower was evil, but somehow it took hold of him, leading to the evil in his left hand — and the downfall of his race?

So much is unclear, if only he could have spoken more plainly — or if I had the wit to decipher his warning.

Ah, but I must remember to keep a proper skeptical outlook — as much as I feel empathy for this being’s plight, I am sadly making my way to the conclusion that he was mad when he recorded these words.

Summation:

Dozed off for a moment, only a bare hour or two before dawn. Must forge ahead.

I find his description here most chilling.

“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.”

How horrible. To find every work of your hand turned to your downfall. And for the present time, where Arkanic relics are of supreme value this is a most unsettling thought. Many of our cities are built on or near Arkanic ruins — and much of our mechanical lore is developed from recovered technology. Crudely, all admit. We do not have the spark of genius and mastery that they did — but every year we grow more clever in our copies and begin to make our own innovations.

If what Teon said was true – if everything the Precursors built had a flaw, a ‘shadow’- then we may be marching our way down a path lined with bones.

I find myself at a loss. What can I possibly report to my superiors? I can conclude nothing from this recording, but it suggests so much — so much that my soul tells me is of vast import. We discovered this recording as part of a different investigation. Reports of a manor in the hills south of Carroway, a place of horror. The local populace filled my agents’ ears with tales of demonic forces, lost children, sickness and death. Could there be a connection between the mnr—-

My quill stutters as I write. I know I just had a thought, but I can feel its absence in my mind. What is happening?

I scan my eyes along the words I have written, but I skip over the previous paragraph. At first absently, then with a growing feeling of dread. Something is keeping me from reading what I wrte–

No. Calm yourself, Dryden. You are a Knight of the Scroll – your mind is your blade. Kept sharp and keen in service of the Legion. I know not what I have stumbled on, but I MUst remain calm. I am the master of my own will. I am the master of my mind.

Begin again.
[To be continued]

Knight of the Scroll II

Impressions of the Speaker: The Arkanic language is an oddity. Rhythmic and focused, but with a strange undercurrent – as if the speaker is humming a harmony to every word. When written, the complexity of the symbology and mathematics at work are staggering — but when spoken, it seems to hover on the edge of sensibility. As mentioned earlier, a simple Translation Enchantment is sufficient to make the words understandable– but I find myself listening again and again to Teon’s words in their original form.

Greg Guillemin

The words are alien, but I find myself deeply affected by them. Teon is clearly in great pain, but there remains a quiet beauty to his speech. I compare it in my thoughts to an oboe, old and showing the impression of many careful stains in the wood. The moments where his reverie lingers on his lost companion Jalyx, his tone lightens before dipping again into the morose chords of his tale.

The beginning  and the end of the recording, his words show clear signs of hysteria. His words crowd together, speaking too fast. Towards the end of his tale, his words grow further and further apart — until he falls silent for several minutes. When he speaks again, it is with great terror and desperation, referring to the removal [?] of his left hand. I have listened carefully to the silent minutes several times, but can detect no sounds other than a low sigh, which I presume to be Teon’s labored breathing. In the dark hours of the night, I half convince myself that I can hear a slight scratching sound on the recording — but my daylight ears can detect no such noise. I attribute this to a simple trick of my distracted imagination.

But taken all together, his words leave a clear impression. A learned, gentle man caught at the darkest of moments. I would not presume an unwelcome familiarity to such an august personage, but I must add: I like Teon. I sadly believe that much of the recording is a result of his delusions, or the pain of his mortal wound — but I still find his plight deeply affecting. It would not be wrong to say I grieve for his passing. Strange, I admit. This recording seems to come from the end of the Arkanic Civilization, which our scholars place around -1564 VA. This means that Teon has been dead for 2,729 years. But I am [perhaps?] the first to hear his valediction.

I mourn him, as if he had passed days ago. I will not mention this in my formal report, it is not germane or pertinent.

Origin of the Precursors:  It seems clear from Teon’s words that the Arkanic race came from not only another planet, but perhaps an entirely different dimension. This flies in the face of much of current scholarly hypotheses. Also, the brief mentions of their sound-based technology is fascinating.  I am not a specialist in that field, but I hope that these brief allusions will be illuminating to my colleagues.

I am uncertain about his description of how our world ‘pulled’ his ship into its orbit. Perhaps this is the memory of a child in danger and stress — being recollected by a dying man. I was startled to hear him use the name of our planet, Aufero, with practiced ease. I have never studied the origin of our world’s nomenclature, but I shall make it a point of study when time presents — but how remarkable that the planet has carried its name for nearly 3000 years.

Artist Unknown

The End of the Precursor Civilization: Here, Teon is maddeningly vague. Clearly it was a subject of great distress, but I wish he could have been more specific.  What is this Machine that he refers to, exactly? It is clear that it was constructed as some sort of implement of war to battle the ‘Dark One’ that destroyed their home world — but what was it? If it was as potent as described, how can no signs of it remain? Something created by the Precursors’ own hands, that brought down their entire civilization — surely some relic must have endured for our study.

Side note. Teon refers to the ‘Dark One’ several times, but is strangely inconsistent about his usage. Initially it seems to refer to a Death-figure, similar to the depiction in many of our current cultures. But then he attributes the destruction of his home world to this being’s forces. Regardless, this Dark One seems to be a major figure in the culture/religion of the Arkanic people — I must cross reference this with the iconography of the murals found in the Gryphon Ruins near Quorum. So much study, so many new avenues opened by this simple recording!

Inconsistencies: There are several portions of the recording that do not seem to bear up to scrutiny…

[to be continued]