The Scribe Cycle is Coming!

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It’s been a while, but I’m back in the proverbial saddle with some incredible news: my dark fantasy series, The Scribe Cycle, has officially been green-lit for publication through Kensington. The first novel, aptly named Scribes, is on track for a February 2018 release, which is phenomenal. And terrifying. And a bit like holding rabid butterflies in your stomach. BUT MOSTLY PHENOMENAL.

“But what’s it all about?” you whisper softly.

Seeing as we’ll be spending some quality time (in other words, three full novels and potentially other material) in this world, I might make a separate post talking about the setting of The Scribe Cycle — its religions, its locales, its entirely inconsequential nuggets of world-building that really have no place in a proper narrative. This time, however, I’d prefer to lay out the story and general predicament of Scribes.

Rzolka is not in flames, but ashes. Born into the ruins of a brutal civil war where magic has begun to sprout with violent repercussions,  Anna has never known peace. Her and her fellow scribes, able to grant invulnerability through scarring, are desirable, rare, and powerless. Despite granting their protection to others, however, scribes can never be scarred. Most survive at the mercy of power-hungry rulers and flesh-traffickers. This fear is heightened for Anna, whose scars grant seemingly infinite protection. But everything changes on a foggy autumn morning. Her life, once confined to a remote village, is torn asunder when an exiled war criminal offers her a choice: create an immortal army in the northern sands of Hazan, living in decadence, or forfeit your brother’s life. Amid northern luxuries, the contract’s true horror comes to light. Unstoppable hordes slaughter beyond reproach, ransack cities, and launch a merciless campaign to retake her homeland. Guided by a cryptic Hazani assassin, Anna must master her scars and fight back before she becomes the architect of an apocalyptic war. In a world where everybody wants you, it’s only a matter of time until persuasion becomes a blade at your neck.

Sound good? Thrilled to hear it. In fact, I’m even more excited to share this world — a sort of hodgepodge of Baltic, Slavic, Middle Eastern, and Central Asian cultures — with all of you. As soon as we finalize a cover design, you’ll be the first to know.

I truly couldn’t be more ecstatic, nor more eager to share the journey of crafting the next two novels in the series. You can count on plenty of writing posts, real-world topics related to the content of the books, and generally more frequent updates as we move forward.

And as a final message, a sincere and heartfelt thanks to some very important people: Lindsay Mealing, my fabulous agent, who has always been so encouraging of me and my weird ideas. James Abbate, my eternally helpful editor for Scribes. My close friends, who know their own names and have always inspired me to be better. Last, and certainly not least, my family members, who expertly walk the line between embarassingly supportive and loving beyond belief. None of this could happen without you; I’m just the one who put my fingers on some keys.

Love, peace, and hope for all of you lovely people out there.

Just had “The Call.” Officially an Agented Fantasy Writer!

Now that I’ve stopped hyperventilating, I figured I should make a brief and self-congratulatory post for all of you wonderful people.

I finally have a literary agent.

Just like anyone else will tell you, this is the day that a writer dreams of since they’re old enough to understand the abstract concepts of publishing, marketing, and selling. Revisions are certainly on the way for my latest work, and I’m so excited to share details about it with all of you as it comes closer to being shipped off to publishers’ desks.

Excuse me while I cry like an emotionally unstable kindergartener, please.

And, if you’re so inclined, follow me on Twitter here!

Angst-Powered Thunderbolts: A Cursory Glance at the Mechanics of Fantasy Magic

Welcome back, fellow warriors, bread-bakers, and students of arcane scrolls. I’m no longer part of the latter category, actually, seeing as I just graduated from university. Hip-hip hooray, or somesuch! The burdens and impending panic associated with adulthood have yet to hit me, so let’s write about magic as a form of escapism (and while still riding the euphoria of post-grad freedom).

Magic is a strange topic, in many ways. Firstly because it’s about as varied as fantasy elements come, ranging from city-destroying megaspells to little sleights of hand. Any accomplished D&D player can tell you about the more creative use of minor light spells, reading arcane writing spells, or fly-unzipping spells (may or may not exist). The point is, magic tends to be a branching and endless category for the writer, and the only limits to your story’s magic exist in the boundaries that you wish to construct for it.

And boundaries, I submit to you, are really what transform magic from a story’s “crutch” into its sense of realism. Fantasy worlds are entirely constructed by the writer, so we should be responsible and put a lid on our mad-scientist-vials from time to time. Build walls (even if only you know what they are) to keep your magic consistent and engaging.

“But wait,” you grunt, slamming down your stein full of lager, “I don’t want magic to be controlled. I want it to be MAGIC, not another technology!”

Ah, there’s a point to be made there. This is probably where magic should be split into two headings: wild, and tamed. These types of magic have nothing to do with leopards and their behavior, although your story might draw that connection. These two groups are totally arbitrary, and constructed by me to prove my own point. Logically flimsy, and ethically dubious, but bear with me.

Wild magic, in my eyes, is never explained with a comprehensible structure. It’s used to create a sense of awe and mystique for wizards, mages, and other enchanted beauties, and relies on magic being used like a liquid, filling in whatever mold it likes as required. This type of magic crackles from fingertips and radiates from chosen ones, causing typhoons, or fireworks in the sky, or stampedes of armadillos. There’s no rhyme or reason to the magic, and its main purpose is to remain, in a purist’s sense, magical. By its very nature, it’s beyond human understanding or metaphysical laws.

The second type, which probably seems like a balding and flat-toned biology professor by comparison, is tamed magic. Tamed magic has definite laws and rules that are (mostly) followed throughout the story, perhaps broken once or twice to illustrate extreme power or unpredictability. Harry Potter and Brandon Sanderson’s works follow this concept, relying on systems of memorization, prepared spells, physical training, or other methods of organization to bring magic into the world. The role of this magic is specified, understood, and studied, and it can be manipulated like any other element.

I personally fall into the second camp for most of my works, since I enjoy being able to pore over my own magic system like it’s a legitimate field of study. What a narcissist I am – a brilliant and handsome and funny narcissist, but a narcissist nonetheless.

Now, what exactly should magic do in your story, or for your characters?

You tell me.

It’s always fun to start a story by kicking around concepts of magic, since magic and otherworldly creatures tend to be the defining traits of fantasy (and some science-fiction). By creating magic that filters through your whole world and impacts its development, you’ll be able to sink more deeply into the story and the reality of your characters’ plight. You’ll give their world some logic, and some grounding, and of course, a kick-ass magic system for the denizens to use like a playground.

If you want to create a system of magic that relies on sacrifice to call down powers, then consider this: would people have more children to use as “fuel?” Would people sell their children, or kidnap others as slaves? Would the local governments carry out these kidnappings as “war munitions?”

See? There are plenty of intriguing questions to ask once you consider the implications of something in magic. Ask yourself how people solve a particular problem, then imagine them doing it with magic. Imagine what the consequences are. Ask yourself how long the magic has existed, who holds it, who doesn’t hold it, who wants it, who hates it, and so forth.

In essence, have fun with your magic, whether or not it’s tamed. Consider the butterfly effect when placing it in your world, and be curious about how your characters would interact with it.

I also leave you with a few sample ideas to try your hand at magic creation:

  • Magical aptitude is tied to how limbs have been severed.
  • To use magic, one must transfer their spirit into an inanimate object.
  • Magic is granted by departed spirits who do your bidding. The catch? You have to kill the spirits’ owners to make them serve you.
  • Alcohol grants magic.
  • Magic ability increases as you become sleepier.
  • People “outgrow” their ability to use magic.

Go forth, create magic, and enjoy your summer, my friends. Peace, love, and joy ❤

Another Brief Apology and Approximate Coordinates for Future Material

Greetings, friends and fellow travelers. This will be a short and bittersweet post. The bitter portion is an apology for how absent I’ve been recently. I’ll be fresh out of university in just a few weeks, and the prep work is a bit overwhelming (by which I mean head-being-forced-under-academic-paper-water).

The good news, however, is that my brief moments of mania have led to some ideas for upcoming posts, and I’d like to gauge your interest(s) in these areas.

The first would be about how to effectively DM (dungeon master) for Dungeons & Dragons games. Not conventional tips about dice mechanics or anything, but how to involve your players in a storyline, and how to immerse them in different situations.

The second, which is more directly related to fantasy writing, would examine The M Word. Yes, magic. Magic is a huge topic, and perhaps this post could explore the various uses of magic, and how to keep it fresh in your world.

The third concept would be more mechanically-oriented, in some ways. How to actually begin your story. And by begin, I mean prose-wise. Do you start with dialogue tags? A thrilling situation? Backstory? Maybe people would be interested in it, maybe not. I lack telepathy, unfortunately, so I must pester you for feedback.

Love, joy, and good fortune, my friends.

Morality in Fantasy

My, what a can of worms that title truly is.

(And what a truly strange return to form after a string of self-promotional “MY BOOK IS OUT” posts).

On its own, there’s nothing inherently wrong with it. After all, codified morality is something that we tend to associate with a given culture, and we base our world perceptions around “is this right, or is it horrendously dinosaur-extinction-causingly evil?” So, what’s so wrong with writing morality into a fantasy story? Why would people get so upset over it?

Ah, yes. The issue of historical relativism.

If we want to trace the roots of this problem back to the proverbial source, we should begin by acknowledging that much of fantasy has been informed by human history. Medieval Europe, Qin Dynasty China, et cetera… wherever we point our fingers and say “aha! Inspiration!”, we generally run the risk of adopting only the favorable aspects of that society. We can have pretty knights on horseback, and flourishing swordplay, and all manners of fair maidens being rescued, but what about the raping and pillaging and more raping?

Those things are decidedly terrible, from (most of humanity’s) moral standpoint.

Now, we should also note that authors tend to place their own thoughts and feelings into their work sometimes, and readers tend to look into a book’s intentions and feel something in their own way. A writer may be hesitant to write a scene of graphic violence toward children, since they perceive that as their own moral failing or admittance of perversion. Readers, likewise, may not feel comfortable praising a work that contains such subject matter.

That’s normal, after all. There’s a reason my latest novel, “Chainsaw Deathpocalypse 3000 2: Infant Wars” has yet to hit the shelves.

The reason I bring up these things is simple: morality is important in our fiction.

Fantasy, by and large, is set in a world that we’ve left behind. Some of the terrible aftertastes of this romanticized worldview include the aforementioned rape (which occurred at a repulsive rate in various ancient wars, and even modern ones), slavery, and the marriages or relationships involving children (or young-ish people). All of these things happened at some point, somewhere, and although our modern tastes stand in firm opposition to them, I’d argue that we need to approach these things as we approach modern day controversial fiction.

We have to use some tact. Tact, understanding, compassion, and respect.

Many fantasy authors will likely paint their hero as being a staunch advocate of freeing slaves, which puts them at odds with their surrounding estate lords / zebra groomers / snotty family. After all, what author would write a character that embraces slavery?

Well, perhaps an author who acknowledges that a character’s world views are invariably the result of their conditioning and upbringing.

I’m certainly not saying to make characters who own slaves and romanticize the process just to appease me (oh lord, no). I’m saying that we should examine the cultures found in our fiction, think about the true role of slavery or servitude or whatever you might have, and ask: would my protagonist want to free them?

There’s a lasting and understandable appeal to the Spartacus approach, which states that slaves must be liberated at all costs. But Spartacus was a slave himself, not a slave-master. A hero who profits from the ownership of slaves probably has a very different (and perhaps jarring) view of the situation.

Make these things part of your world, not a sideshow attraction to make the reader cringe.

Rape, too, is another suitably taboo topic in fantasy. Martin’s Game of Thrones certainly exposed the general reading public to this nasty bit of historical truth, and Lawrence’s Prince of Thorns showed us a protagonist who was actively involved in these horrors. What can be said of this?

In short, these authors were willing to follow the story and capture the essence of their world. They used human experiences and voices to speak about unbelievably horrific things that happened in the framework of a fantasy tale. In a longer explanation, I might also add that rape is often used in a shockingly trivial manner by some films and books, and that we need to have an extraordinarily understanding and compassionate point of view to even broach these topics with a twelve-meter pole. If you think rape or sexual violence needs to be explored in your story, ask yourself these two questions: is it absolutely essential that this content be included? Can I defend my use of this content to anyone, including readers who may have actually experienced sexual violence?

If you answered no to either of these questions, then put it back on the shelf and take one, two, or even 15,000 steps back.

Lastly, the concept of war is a widespread topic in fantasy, but I often find that it’s lacking in gravity. War should do more than just stand still and look pretty. It needs to represent the truth of things: the heartbreak, the small glimpses of humanity, and the immense suffering that pervades large-scale conflict, both for the soldiers as well as the civilians. In a world that tends to mix televised award ceremonies with news about mass graves, I think literature has a cultural responsibility to keep awareness where it belongs. Show war through the eyes of your characters, but remember not to gloss over the cost of conflict that you’ve seen in your own life. War is hell, not just a plot device.

These things may not be fun, or pretty, or even redeeming to write…

But they’re true to the story, and that’s the core of the matter, eh?

Peace, love, and non-extinction for everybody, dear friends.

By the wayyyyyy
My novel has finally gone live on all major retailing sites, including Barnes & Noble, Google Books, Smashlit, and many more. Here is the Amazon link:

CLICK ME!

My Novel is Live! Pick Up GRID Here

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Hello, esteemed comrades. If any of you have been annoyed by my recent self-promotional posts, here’s just one more to take the sting away. My novel has finally gone live on all major retailing sites, including Barnes & Noble, Google Books, Smashlit, and many more. Here is the Amazon link:

CLICK ME!

Any and all support is greatly appreciated, and I’d like to thank all of you for making it happen. You’re all wonderful and creative people, and I wish the best on you.

I’ll get back to my normal doom and gloom posts after a round of champagne.

Peace, love, and prosperity, my friends.

Are You Writing Fantasy, or Science-Fiction?

Whenever somebody asks you the title question, you should be aware of one thing: this person is passionate about their genres. They may not maintain a Berlin Wall of genre divisions, but they have an interest in finding out where your story falls on the speculative fiction fiction chart, and you should indulge their curious question. Genre seekers are a rare and misunderstood bunch, commonly regarded by the writing community as a group of impish pot-stirrers on forums and social media posts.

“No!” cries one of the genre dividers, “you’re writing science-fiction, because there’s no magic within your story.”

Is that really the case? If there’s no magic, are you writing science-fiction, even if your world is based more in grain markets than interplanetary stock conglomerates?

Well, maybe.

As you might guess, I’m one of these rare and tortured genre dividers, and I’m here to represent my kin to the best of my abilities. it should be noted that (most) of us are pedantic, but not malicious. There’s a real sense of wonder in any form of fiction, and especially in the more bizarre arenas of science-fiction and fantasy. Finding out where a book falls is more for general knowledge than for marketing (or snide remarks about the role of spice in Dune).

One of the most common points I’ve heard in the debate revolves around setting, and for the majority (read: the non-pedantic members) of book and film consumers, this is a perfectly clear and workable distinction. Does your story use laser beams or two-handed axes? Does it contain thatched roofs or alloy solar shields? Do the characters wear threadbare tunics or composite Kevlar exoskeletons?

The use of setting for genre division is interesting, but it can sometimes fall flat when examined critically.

Why is that?

Well, for one thing, science-fiction has always been about the science aspect of its name, even if the science sometimes strays into unfamiliar territory. The science presented in the film or book was what drove the plot, and without its inclusion, the story could not function. 2001: A Space Odyssey is not considered a classic among fantasy film buffs, for obvious reasons. Even though there’s a floating space baby and an acid-induced trip down a rift in space-time, viewers generally accept that there may be alien forces at work throughout the universe, and that some technologies are simply beyond the scope of contemporary imagination. Isaac Asimov’s robots were not powered by Zoraxalon crystals, forged in a dragon’s liver – they were sentient machines, dreamed by up Asimov and given realistic rules to fit a future society.

Fantasy, in contrast, has always had an air of the unexplained. Fantasy does not make apologies for the mysteries of magic and otherworldly creatures, nor does it (typically) attempt to offer any explanation for their existence. While science-fiction frames its stories using real-world understandings and physics, fantasy is not bound by these laws. Anything, should the author will it, is free to happen.

Demonic rifts? Sure.

Talking swords? Sign me up.

Things get very murky when we begin to mix aspects of genres together, and many people use the setting as the primary decider for the genre. Star Wars, for instance, is often lauded as a science-fiction masterpiece. But let’s think closely about that. There’s a magical Force, knights wearing armor or robes, swords, and even a healthy dose of princess-rescuing. There might be robots, but there are also a dozen competing elements from fantasy at work. Star Wars was never about the science aspect of its world, and its plot could have operated, more or less, on the same grounds if it had been placed into a medieval European setting.

Dune is often seen as the opposite, with its mystical “spice” being considered a magical element in the plot. However, I’d say that Dune is squarely science-fiction, since the plot does delve deeply into how mysticism, prophecy, and the spice are all products of science and knowledge (meditation, even, has many real-world benefits that come into play through Herbert’s prose).

To that end, I would conclude that there are two main things that distinguish science-fiction from fantasy:

  • A reliance upon current or future technology (capable of existing in the real world) while constructing the story
  • A lack of magical forces (if these forces do seem to exist, they must be explainable – and must be attempted to be explained within the story – using real-world physics)

There is no shame in writing either genre. While many see fantasy’s “freedom from science” as an excuse to simplify worldbuilding, I would argue the opposite. Both systems require a complex and detailed knowledge of their associated worlds, and the author must succeed in either selling the science or enchanting the reader, depending on the genre.

And as for me, I read (and write) in both of these fine categories. A good story is a good story, regardless of genre. So go on ahead, ignore those genre tags (and pedantic whiners) and write what you want. Make it fun, make it exciting, and make it your own.

Make it a world full of mechanically-powered siege engines and magically-guided spaceships.

Love, peace, and happiness, dear friends!

And in case you missed the most recent update, my novel is finally up for preorder on Amazon (fangirl squeal!):

CLICK HERE ❤

GRID Listed on Amazon! (I’ll be quiet now)

Well, who thought we’d see this day arrive, eh?

I’m sorry for the recent swath of self-promotional posts, but as you all might imagine, it’s quite a fangirl-scream-inducing moment to see your name listed on Amazon beside a book that you wrote. All of my WordPress readers are like an extension of my family, so I’m really honored to be able to share these developments with you, and to have such receptive and supportive readers.

I promise, the regular schedule of fantasy and science-fiction advice will continue soon! If anybody has anything they’d like to know or read about, feel free to comment it, and I’ll do my best to tackle the topic!

Hope all is well, dear friends.

Peace, love, and happiness to you (and your kin).

GRID’s Release Date Confirmed: March 17th

Hello, ladies and gentlemen. Long time, no talk, eh? Today I’m bringing you a not-so-shameless update about my own work. My novel, Grid, will be released on March 17th, and it should be available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble’s website, and a few others for its initial run. Print copies may follow in the ensuing runs.

The best way I can describe Grid is as a post-post-apocalyptic (no, not a typo) story. The world suffered a tremendous upset with the failure of power grids internationally, but it has managed to rebuild itself into a (more or less) working society. Power grids have been repurposed as high-tech castles, staffed by private militias and providing power to the outlying regions. Trains connect the grids by ferrying supplies and refugees from one zone to the next.

You won’t find nuclear radiation, zombies, or Mad Max-style crazies in Grid. Its real villains are normal, well-to-do leaders, who have found their borders creeping far too close to one another.

Long story short, Grid has some of my favorite things. Reactivated drone warfare, fork-selling conductors from Brazil, and German Shepherds.

How could you not love it?

If anybody’s interested, I could post up the preview cover art and prepurchase links, once they’re available from my publisher. I’m also willing to provide a free copy for anybody who wants to review the book on their blog, or to generally post about it and state their dissatisfaction with the lack of cowbell.

Have a safe, happy, and productive week, everyone!