How Did You Get Started on This Stuff?

Two_birds_300px_1Aside from Tom Swift books (which I read alongside the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew in third grade) and Silverberg’s Revolt in Alpha C that I got through the Scholastic books program at school (and recall liking a great deal), I did not start reading a lot of science fiction until the summer after fourth grade.

That was when my dad was in Viet Nam and my mom insisted that, for every two Hardy Boys books I checked out of the library, I had to get and read one book that was something else. When she called me away from the Hardy Boys shelf at the library to check out I panicked and grabbed the nearest book I could find. This turned out to be Danger: Dinosaurs! and I became thoroughly hooked on science fiction.

I don’t believe my mom was too thrilled by this, at least not up until the point that all that reading got me a perfect score on the vocabulary portion of my SAT. For all of that I was still a pretty ignorant kid and snubbed most fantasy (with a few favored exceptions such as Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain series, and the first six books of Narnia). This continued until I got hooked on Dungeons & Dragons my freshman year of college at Auburn and then started “researching” source material—it was only another two years before I met Gary Gygax and got him to sign my Dungeon Master’s Guide.

It probably helped that my absolute favorite author at the time, the epitome of hard science fiction writers, Larry Niven, also wrote fantasy. Another two years saw me at a tiny convention in Columbia, Missouri where I got to talk with him and, very briefly, with Jerry Pournelle. Also there was Glen Cook (not as guest of honor but running a used paperback booth!) who was (and remains) one of my favorite writers of fantasy even if it does tend to be darker and grittier than my own. I recall we (by which I mean mostly I) talked a bit about how very cool the scene where all of the Ten Who Were Taken started bursting out of their imprisonment in the wildly frightening Barrow Lands. The passage isn’t very long but the buildup over the course of the book makes it absolute soul-chilling when it finally happens. In his reserved way, he seemed fascinated by my enthusiasm at it and it wasn’t long before I started seeing more of the Black Company books from him (granted, he undoubtedly had a lot of other fans urging  him on).

Sidenote: I still love hard science fiction, too, but it’s hard to find these days. Most of what passes itself off as that is actually space opera (a kind of fantasy, with gadgets in place of magic, and aliens in place of elves and giants and trolls and goblins and such). A lot of that space-opera these days is a sub-genre called military sci-fi. I enjoy it, too, but in moderation. The same way I like pizza but don’t want to eat it every day, or even on the majority of them. There is definitely room for more hard science fiction. I’m eager to write one myself, but not until Tethera’s tale is done and (hopefully) done right.


Meanwhile, deep in chapter five . . .

Just to reassure folks that George R.R. Martin I am not. Progress is being made and I should have the book out in plenty of time for inclusion in the mini-series. This has not even been proofed yet so don’t judge me too harshly; the ink is still wet.

Ver-4---Cut--200x300---The-Queen-of-Deceit-CoverHe had just passed the outer barbican when he saw the returning patrol. They were eleven riders, lightly armored and armed, and at their head rode his twin sister, Llewellyn.

Llew started and almost panicked before he realized he had little to be concerned with here. If she recognized him then he had nothing to fear, but if, as seemed almost certain, she did not, then that was only as according to plan. He would be just another nameless stranger on the road. With his head up, making no attempt to hide, he made to ride boldly past her as closely as possible, given the patrol following her.

The princess had evidently been deep in thought for she only looked up as he was already fairly close. Her eyes widened in shock when she saw him and Llew got a bad feeling. She stared a moment longer at him while he endeavored to hang on to his anonymity, even going so far as to dip his head and tug a forelock at her.

Then she found her voice. “Seize him!” she screamed, and drew her sword. Llew’s heart quailed in his chest. Never mind the patrol that accompanied her, there were few things in life he was willing to admit, even to himself, that he was frightened of, but Llewellyn’s blade was certainly one of them.

And Survey Says?

ToT-Alt-Cover-Cut-400x600pxFinally deciding less is more, this is the one I went with. My original thought was to have vast numbers of opponents on both sides (at least a dozen) but not only is that hard to show in silhouettes (and I wanted to keep to the same style as the The Forged Prince cover) but, on a cover, it seems like simplicity is more important. More than three elements plus the background is confusing and most often seems jumbled.

A cover should state genre and attract interest, or so I am told. An armored figure with undead should say epic fantasy and the simple Welsh valley backdrop should betray the setting somewhat. As always, the protagonist is accompanied by a black bird, denoting nature, armed combat, and mystery.

In the end I even took away Helgar. The barrow warriors are naked skeletons–although one is wearing a helmet and another is wearing boots (which got cut off)–rather than armored zombies because silhouettes of zombies would have shown little of their supernatural nature.

A lot of books these days just put a sword or medallion or something on the cover and call it good to go. There may be something to that. If I finish the series and sales don’t pick up to where I feel they should be, I might have to give it a try and purchase or commission some.

Mild-Mannered Writer’s Thoughts: Style

Clark-300res200x260pxAs I get more confident of my ability to turn out reader ready prose (creating books) I have inevitably learned a few things. I’m going to attempt to occasionally share them here if there proves to be any interest. Just for grins and to indicate I’m talking about writing in general and not something specific that I have written, I’m going to call this my Mild-Mannered Writer’s Thoughts and put my “news reporter at a major metropolitan newspaper” portrait with them.

Regarding Style

Know yourself. Some writers like to describe things and people in explicit detail. Some specialize in action, and others in dialogue. For myself, I get caught up in the dialogue and action and often fail to describe appearances of things as well as I could. That’s not a bad thing and it’s not a good thing. It’s just the way I write.  For example, I only recently learned that, in the five books of Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain series, the protagonist is never, ever described at all.  We are never even told what color his hair is. This is proof positive to me that, while description is an essential part of writing a story, it’s not necessary to describe things that aren’t essential. In point of fact, a description is really only essential if it is setting a mood or dropping a hint for the reader. You can pretty much trust the reader to fill in the rest. That does not necessarily mean you should not use lots of descriptions–it just means you don’t have to. Going back to Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain books, I’ve always had an image in my mind’s eye of exactly what Taran of Caer Dallben looked like but, if asked, I would have just assumed I had read it somewhere in one of those books.

On the other side, in Simon Green’s Nightside books, he describes everything. Allow me to give you an idea of what I mean. When I go to work I plug my kindle into my car stereo and listen to books all the way in and all the way home. It’s about a twenty minute commute (which in New York means it would be about five to ten minutes in any other place that I’ve ever lived). I noticed last month, in one of Mr. Green’s books, that at the start of my drive the protagonist was hailing a cab. When I got to my parking garage that protagonist was getting out of that cab.  There had not been any action or dialogue the entire time. For that author, in that genre, it seems to work. If I did that in my books not even my dad would read them. That’s how I know its not my style.

Tip of the Iceberg?

iceberg5-200x300pxFound an iceberg graphic I made once. The surface water and the sky were taken from two separate photos I took in Florida in the summer time. I’m using it here because The Torc of Tethera got its first Amazon review yesterday and I am, ahem, hoping this is just the tip of the iceberg. Among many other nice things, perhaps the most heart-warming to a new author is, “Really enjoyed this book, read it on unlimited and liked it enough to also purchase it as I think I’ll be reading it again.” They also went on to say that it was better than the first in the series (which isn’t doing badly at all). I thought this was significant because, while I was (and am) happy with what readers have to say of The Forged Prince, as soon as I finished The Torc of Tethera I felt it was a better book and this was the same feedback I got from my alpha and beta readers. Really puts the pressure on me for The Queen of Deception!

The Forged Prince for Free this Weekend

My canny marketing director finally convinced my pinch-penny Scotsman soul that, with The Torc of Tethera now published, it was time to use the maximum time for the free promotion that Amazon allows me (5 days) and make The Forged Prince available without cost (3/10/2016 to 3/14/2016) . Response has been amazing, especially considering I didn’t plan any way to notify people of it in advance. As of this morning I’ve actually given away more copies (Arggh, the pain! My precious!) than I have sold. Correspondingly, in the two categories that Amazon allows me (Epic Fantasy and Historical Fantasy) The Forged Prince is now sitting at number 13 and number 2, respectively, in Amazon’s Top 100 List for Free Books. And I have four more days to go? Heck, I suddenly find I’m competitive enough that if I’m not getting paid I want number 1 in both!

The Torc of Tethera is Up

And we are now live with the ebook edition of The Torc of Tethera (Book Two of the Chronicles of Tethera). It’s a bit wilder ride than the first. Check it out if Welsh-myth-based-alternate-timeline-fantasy-adventure might work for you.

Paperback version should be up in a day or two if anyone still reads those, I noticed on my last book that the ebooks sold way, way better.