Thursday, September 30, 2010

Behold Now the Behemoth

Sheesh! I've been blogging like crazy today, it seems, but stuff keeps coming up.

Just found out, my fantasy short story Behold Now the Behemoth is now available for pdf download at the new Iron Bound online magazine.

Thanks to Jesse Dedman for the magazine and for accepting my story.

No. 25 - In the Realm of the Wolf

In the Realm of the Wolf (Drenai Tales, Book 5)
by David Gemmell

Started: September 30
Finished: October 16

Notes: I just finished reading War and Peace, and was looking for something a little lighter but filled with action and easy to read. I spotted this novel in my to-be-read pile and thought, "Why not? I like Gemmell's writing." Also, for those in the UK, the UK title of this novel is Waylander II.

Mini review: I hate to say it, but this is the first time a Gemmell novel has let me down. I liked the characters a lot, but the plot was disjointed and all over the place. I felt there were a lot of scenes left out that should have been included, with characters jumping around all over the place without any details of how they got there. I'm not suggesting I want hundreds of pages of characters riding through forest or some such, but just having characters appear from one place to another was a bit disturbing. There were even many potential great scenes glossed over, battles and skulkings and the like. So far, this is the only Gemmell novel I've read I didn't much care for.

Pubit now available

For those of you who publish online, Pubit from Barnes and Noble is now available as of today.

What is Pubit?

It's an online site that allows you to self-publish your own e-books, somewhat similar to Amazon's DTP site.

So, if you already publish online or are thinking about it, check out Pubit and let me know what you think.

I'm testing the waters with one of my short story collections. So far the setup was pretty easy, but it probably helped that I'd been through this before with Amazon. I'll update as the situation goes along.

But while we're waiting, I will outline the basics of how the money works with Pubit:

Publishers get 65 percent of the cover price for prices between $2.99 and $9.99.
For all price below or above that range, the publisher receives 40 percent.

So, it's pretty comparable to Amazon at this point.

100 Days of Fantasy: Day 52

This is an ongoing series looking at books that have influenced me as a fantasy author.

Fight Club
by Chuck Palahniuk

Fight Club: A NovelIf you're only familiar with Fight Club as a movie starring Brad Pitt, you're missing out on a great read.

Yes, the basic plot is pretty much the same as the movie, though the ending is quite a bit different. And the movie version does contain a fair amount of the wittier lines from the novel.

But you're still missing out if you've not read the book.

It's not just the story and the characters, though those are great. The prose, the writing, of Fight Club is what makes it awesome literature. In my opinion, Chuck Palahniuk is one of (if not the) greatest literary authors of modern times.

His style of writing in Fight Club is somewhat conversational, but it would be a conversation with someone who isn't quite right in the head and who is more than likely heavily medicated. But it would also be a conversation with someone who has a touch of the genius, who can see the world without the blinders most of us seem to wear most of the time.

Palahniuk continued this writing style through several of his other novels, though in more recent years he has opted for more straight-forward prose. Why? Likely because of criticisms that all his early novels sounded the same, as if they were being told by the same protagonist, and there is some truth to this. But still, it's a great writing style.

For me, Fight Club the novel was kind of an awakening. The book came out while I was in my mid-to-late 20s, and it reminded me of things I truly felt were important, things that couldn't be bought in catalogs, things that couldn't be collected or sold away or even given away.

Some have dubbed Fight Club an anti-capitalism novel, and though there's a touch of truth in that assessment, anyone who believes only such is missing the trees for the forest (yes, not the other way around). At its core, this novel is about how men connect with one another in the modern world, in a time when masculinity is often frowned upon, and it's not always a pretty picture.

If you are up for expanding your boundaries, Fight Club could be the novel for you. But even all you do is see the movie, that's okay, too, because it's a kick-ass movie.

Up next: Zodiac

100 Days of Fantasy: Day 51

This is an ongoing series looking at books that have influenced me as a fantasy author.

Armed and Dangerous: A Writer's Guide to Weapons
by Mike Newton

Armed and Dangerous: A Writer's Guide to Weapons (Howdunit Series)I've read my fair share of books on writing over the years, probably at least a couple of dozen, maybe more. Most of them are repetitive, and a good number of them offer silly advice.

This isn't one of those books. But it is a book about writing.

Specifically, this book covers the basics about weapons, mainly dealing with firearms.

A lot of beginning writers might think this information isn't needed by them. They've seen enough action movies. They know what a pistol looks like. Right?

Wrong. Unless you've spent some quality time studying and using a variety of weaponry, if you're a writer writing about weapons, you need to know this stuff. Weapons are quite common in horror, fantasy, Westerns and even science fiction, and they're not uncommon in thrillers, drama and even romance tales.

Why is it important to know about weapons if you write about them? Because a certain percentage of your readers will know about weapons, and you don't want to look like a fool in front of them. If you write some mind-blowingly stupid, those readers are likely to get a chuckle out of it, but some of them might get more than a little ticked and might start passing around word about how much of a fool you are. You don't want that. You want your readers to trust you so that they'll come back to you and read your next book or story.

Some of this information might seem a little nit-picky to those not familiar with weapons, but still, it's stuff you need to know. For example, do you know the difference between a revolver and a pistol? If not, you might need to find out.

Also, I want to add that this was one of the more fun books about writing. It's a quick read, not boring at all, so give it a chance if you stumble upon it.

Up next: Fight Club

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

100 Days of Fantasy: Day 50

This is an ongoing series looking at books that have influenced me as a fantasy author.

by John Gardner

GrendelI discovered this novel more than 20 years ago while in college. My main educational focus at the time was upon writing, history and philosophy, and a professor suggested Grendel as it wrapped together all my interests.

I couldn't have picked out a better novel for myself.

This novel is a re-telling of the Beowulf epic poem, told from the point of view of that poem's first antagonist, the monster Grendel.

Right up front I'll you this is not the easiest novel in the world to read, though it is short (for those of us with limited attention spans). It will help the reader to be more than a little familiar with the Beowulf poem, with astronomy, philosophy and to lesser extent history and literature. Gardner does not make this an easy read, but it's not meant to be; Grendel is ultimately a tale of woe that crosses the borders of sanity into existentialism and beyond, even into nihilism.

Don't expect happy endings, and don't expect a fun read. But you might find it an interesting read, perhaps even an enlightening one.

I've also found this novel an odd curiosity because Gardner himself carried a dark side, probably in part due to his involvement in the accidental death of his younger brother, though he also he a quite strong conservative streak.

If nothing else, this novel is an interesting re-hash of an epic story. It's not for everyone, and it's not entertaining reading, but it will get you to thinking.

Up next: Armed and Dangerous: A Writer's Guide to Weapons

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

100 Days of Fantasy: Day 49

This is an ongoing series looking at books that influenced me as a fantasy author.

Batman: Gothic
by Grant Morrison

Batman: GothicWith superb artwork by Klau Janson, Batman: Gothic is one of the most compelling tales of Batman I've read.

The plot surrounds a mysterious figure called Mr. Whisper, who has links to Bruce Wayne's childhood and who was apparently murdered by a group of criminals years earlier. Somehow, Mr. Whisper survived the earlier attempt on his life, and now he's back in Gotham City some 20 years later, and he's seeking vengeance upon the mobsters who tried to whack him.

Or so you think. Actually, the plot goes much deeper, back several hundred years to a monastery in Europe where a monk made a pact with the Devil for three hundred years of life.

There. That's all I'm going to say on this story's plot, but I'll add that it's a fantastically eerie tale that should be a draw for any fans of gothic literature, even fans of horror, dark fantasy and ... yep, graphic novels.

Batman: Gothic was originally released as a five-part series, but is more commonly viewed today in its graphic novel form.

The Batman here is a little different, though recognizable, from his more common comic bookish persona, a bit darker with a touch of sadness and empathy. But that doesn't mean he won't kick butt when necessary, and can't be quite harsh at times.

One of the things I always loved about this tale was that it's not really one genre. It mixes so many different elements from horror and spandex heroes and fantasy. In fact, this tale mixes these elements so well, it makes a great primer for writers wanting to learn how to incorporate the different speculative genres into one tale.

Up next: Grendel

Monday, September 27, 2010

Dear Smashwords

I used to love you.

Really, I did.

I would come home from a hard day's work, and there you would be, waiting for me to upload my latest e-book. You were simple, uncomplicated. You were fun.

Then a few months ago, I noticed you began to change. "Growing pains," some might call it. "Overextending," was another word I've seen.

Whatever it is, it's getting to the point where soon you will no longer be meeting my needs, and Smashwords, at that point I will say goodbye.

Yes, it's fine and dandy that Smashwords has hooked up with all these different distributors and can make one's e-books available on a bunch of different sites.

The problem is what the writer has to put up with to get that distribution. There comes a point when enough is enough, and I'm rapidly nearing that point.

What are my complaints?

1.) It shouldn't take months for changes to appear on distributors' websites. Yes, I'm fully aware each distributor has their own different rules. Guess what? I don't care. I realize that sounds harsh, but with today's technology, there's no reason there couldn't be some consensus formed among distributors, perhaps one implemented by Smashwords. It needs to happen. I tend to have wandering eyes, and your competition doesn't seem to have this problem, though I realize they aren't distributing to others.

2.) The meatgrinder has become an utter pain. Once upon a time it was actually helpful, pointing out errors in formatting and the like. Nowadays, it's become a formatting Nazi. It shouldn't be that difficult. It doesn't need to be that difficult. If distributors want everything Smashwords has to offer, then they should be the ones bending, not Smashwords expecting all its submitters to have to meet more and more nonsensical guidelines. Don't get me wrong. Some guidelines are good, but it's gotten beyond that. And suggesting that all Smashwords submitters should just use Microsoft Word is an idiotic option, unless that is you're willing to give each of us the $150 it would cost to purchase Word. Sure, business costs money and those who are serious about publishing with Smashwords should be willing to fork out some dough, but again, your competition doesn't expect this.

3.) The customer service from Smashwords has been pretty good, but it still needs improvement. If it weren't for all the newfangled changes to the meatgrinder, this wouldn't concern me at all. But considering every little bitty thing that's now having to be formatted, there needs to be faster turnaround time on customer service. Instead of waiting for an e-mail response that can take days, if it ever appears, there needs to be at least one online representative available at all times, and it should be someone who knows what they're doing and not some intern working for free who's just going to tell everyone "we'll get back to you."

I've mentioned your competition, right? Guess what? More is coming. And once they're available, Smashwords isn't going to look so good.

My apologies if this hurts your feelings, but I've grown tired of waiting and waiting and waiting while you're busy expanding the e-book universe. If my sales were better, I'd rethink this. And one could say it's all my own fault for my sales not being better. But again, that's not a problem over at the competition where I sell as many e-books in a day as I do in a whole month with Smashwords.

So, I hate to say it: But I'm looking.

I'm not leaving you just yet. I'll give it a little more time to see how things work out. But I am exploring other options, and frankly, most of them are looking better than what you've got to offer.

P.S. While the distribution possibilities of Smashwords are quite impressive, taking into account the frustrations and the weeks and sometimes months it takes to actually get an e-book distributed, the possibilities will remain just that. Possibilities.

P.P.S. I realize there's a habit in the distribution world to look down upon product suppliers.  I have worked white collar jobs and in retail, so I've seen this kind of thing happen. I'm not accusing Smashwords of this kind of attitude, but I hope that's not what lies ahead. Yes, customers are customers. But in a way, so are suppliers. With all the changes and possibilities in today's publishing world, there are plenty of options, more of them every day. I desperately want Smashwords to be my main option. But right now, I'm not seeing it.

100 Days of Fantasy: Day 48

This is an ongoing series looking at books that have influenced me as a fantasy author.

The Bonehunters
by Steven Erikson

The Bonehunters [MALAZAN BK06 BONEHUNTERS] [Mass Market Paperback]Other than the occasional read, I pretty much stayed away from fantasy literature for most of the 1990s and early 2000s. But I also wasn't writing much in the early 2000s.

Finally, about 2004 or so, I decided it was time to get serious about my writing once more. But I needed something to get me back into writing. For me, that was screenwriting. It was a new way of looking at writing, and boosted my imagination.

After writing a couple of screenplays, I switched over to prose writing once more. I put together a few short stories, got some sales, and decided it was time to get back into novel writing.

Before then, I had attempted to write two novels in my life. The first one was called The Storm, and it was a horror novel I'd tried writing when I was about 20. I'd gotten to 70,000 words of that novel, then life intruded with college and jobs, and I never got back to it (perhaps I will one day). The second novel was a sort of military thriller titled Project Greenleaf, of which I wrote about 30,000 words, but again, never finished. Maybe I will eventually.

But when I was getting back into writing, and wanting to start a novel, I wanted a fresh start. I wanted a new beginning. So, even though I considered myself more of a horror writer at the time, I felt a fantasy novel was just the thing.

That novel soon turned into a trilogy. Much of the story and it's characters wasn't new to me as I'd had the basic ideas in my head for years.

Since I was writing fantasy, I decided it was time I became familiar again with the genre. After skipping most of fantasy for at least a decade, I had a lot of catching up to do.

A publisher suggested I give Steven Erikson's Malazan series a try.

I did. But instead of beginning at the start of Erikson's Malazan series, I kicked things off by buying and reading the sixth book in the series, The Bonehunters.

To this day, I've been thankful for that publisher's suggestion. And I've gone back to read the first five books in the series, with plans to read more of the novels.

The Malazan books are not simplistic reading. There are tons upon tons of characters, some who don't appear in all the books, some who appear for only a short period, and others who appear in most of the books. The plots are complex, intertwining all the characters and different lands, even continents. Back story can sometimes take up a whole novel, and not all the tales found in the Malazan books are told in sequential order (though most are).

In other words, the reader really has to pay attention and have a good memory when reading these novels.

Obviously, these types of tales aren't for everyone. I've known more than a few readers who can't stand Erikson's long-winded tale.

But I'm not one of those. I love the stories found within, and there's plenty of sword-slinging and magical action for those who enjoy such. There's also sometimes social commentary, and philosophical debates, but this comes rarely and doesn't linger around to bore the reader.

Over all, an enjoyable read for me.

The Malazan series of novels really opened my eyes to the possibilities of modern epic fantasy storytelling. My outlook will never be the same, and as an author I've studied these books to see how the complex plotting works with so many characters (literally hundreds). It can be done. I believe I can even do it, and maybe I'll give it a try with a fantasy series of my own.

Up next: Batman: Gothic

Saturday, September 25, 2010

100 Days of Fantasy: Day 47

This is an ongoing series looking at books that influenced me as a fantasy writer.

Killer's Choice
by Ed McBain

Despite the fact I don't consider myself well read in hard-boiled fiction, I do love the genre. There's just so many other genres and books to read!

But to remind myself of how much I love hard-boiled detective stories, from time to time I make sure I pick on up.

And that's how I fell in love with Ed McBain's series of 87th Precinct novels that take place in the fictional city of Isola, which is a disguise for New York City.

McBain, who is also known as author Evan Hunter, began writing these novels in 1956 and continued to write them until his death in 2005. There were more than 50 novels in the series, and several short stories.

Killer's Choice was the first Ed McBain novel I read. I picked it up in used book store because it only cost a buck, it had one of those old-fashioned pulp covers to it, and because it was a thin novel, not even 200 pages, and I figured if I didn't like it at least it wouldn't take up much of my time.

I was blown away by this book. It's fairly straight-forward detective work in the late 1950s and early 1960s, but it was interesting to see law enforcement at work in the pre-computer, pre-cell phone and pre-Internet age. These officers did their work the old fashioned way, going door to door to talk to potential witnesses, running down to the morgue or across town to talk to someone, stuff like that.

Another thing that astonished me about this novel is that it is about 75 percent dialogue, and it's quick, brisk dialogue, back and forth, back and forth. And it works. It was a great way to tell this story of murder in the big city. Often the dialogue was simply an officer asking questions of a witness or suspect.

Since picking up this book, I've also read a dozen or so other Ed McBain novels, and I plan to read even more eventually. All of them are good, and the books written in the more modern world reflect the technology and changes in police procedures, but Killer's Choice is still my favorite of the lot.

Up next: The Bonehunters

Friday, September 24, 2010

100 Days of Fantasy: Day 46

This is an ongoing series looking at books that have influenced me as a fantasy author.

Battle Royale
by Koushun Takami

Battle RoyaleThough this novel, and the movies and graphic novels based upon it, have a following, it's too bad more people don't know about it.

The plot: It's the near future. The government secretly selects a group of junior-high aged students for a test, an experiment of sorts. This experiment has been going on for years, every year. What does this experiment consist of? Dropping the students on an island. Giving them weapons and a limited amount of time. The students must kill one another. Only one person is allowed to survive. If the students decide not to participate, or attempt to cheat in any way, they are killed through explosive collars around their neck.

Sounds twisted, doesn't it? And it is.

It's also a great tale of how a group of kids try to beat the system. Do they? I won't tell. That would be giving away the ending.

Imagine a forced Lord of the Flies with guns, and you'll have a pretty good idea of what Battle Royale contains.

It's a romp of a story, with plenty of action and adventure, and more than a little gore for you horror fans. Also, if you are the type of reader who likes substance with their fiction, this novel is also for you, because it will definitely make you think about the world in which we live, our governments, our game shows, the way we treat one another and more.

One of the most enjoyable reads I've had in the last several years.

Up next: Killer's Choice

Thursday, September 23, 2010

100 Days of Fantasy: Day 45

This is an ongoing series looking at books that have influenced me as a fantasy author.

Atlas Shrugged
by Ayn Rand

Atlas ShruggedMost readers of Ayn Rand's work never seem able to distinguish her writing from her philosophy of Objectivism. And that makes sense considering Rand herself generally did not, utilizing her fiction and non-fiction writings to promote her philosophy.

For those who might not know, Objectivism is a philosophy that focuses upon the rational self-interests of individuals. In practice, if it can truly ever have said to have been practiced, this philosophy turns into a form of ultra atheistic capitalism. That is overly simplifying Objectivism to an extreme, so my apologies to anyone who doesn't care for my brief explanation, but in the interests of brevity I don't want to spend thousands of words trying to explain a philosophy that could only be done proper justice by a book-length treatise.

Back to Rand and her writings.

Since most readers are unable or unwilling to distance themselves from Rand's philosophy, I believe they do themselves a great disservice.

Rand is a good writer, perhaps a great writer. Yes, she broke plenty of rules concerning storytelling, but she did so with fantastic structure and unforgettable characters. By the end of reading a Rand novel, one is either rooting for her protagonists or ill at ease over the philosophy within.

There is rarely any middle ground.

If a writer can accomplish that, I generally consider them a great writer.

Writers and readers can learn from Rand, how to set up a story, especially one pushing a particular point of view.

The plot? An extensive outline would be too lengthy. But I'll leave it at this: A steel magnate finds himself at odds with a world where collective governments are becoming more and more common, stepping in to control business ventures. But then the world's brightest entrepreneurs and creators begin to disappear. This steel magnate eventually finds himself among this number, and is offered a future unexpected.

Sounds boring, and kind of trite. It's not.

One has to read the novel. It's that kind of experience.

I will say that Rand has not so much directly influenced my own writing as pointed out to me a different viewpoint, and gave me ideas for new ways to tell stories. While I don't personally subscribe to her philosophy of Objectivism, I do believe it has many positive qualities.

Up next: Battle Royale

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

100 Days of Fantasy: Day 44

This is an ongoing series looking at books that have influenced me as a fantasy author.

The Executioner #39: The New War
by Saul Wernick

The Executioner #39: The New WarAs I mentioned back on Day 7 of this series, I got into this series of men's action/adventure novels back in my early teens. The first thirty-eight novels were about U.S. military veteran Mack Bolan and his personal war against the mafia after his family was destroyed. Sound familiar? Maybe like the Marvel Comics character The Punisher. That's because The Punisher character was loosely based upon The Executioner, Mack Bolan.

I loved these books for all the fighting and military jargon, and for all the different guns used throughout the stories.

With this particular book, number thirty nine, the original author of the series, Don Pendleton, retired from writing about the exploits of Mack Bolan. The series now continued with new authors, usually a new one writing each new novel, and back then I seem to remember there was a new novel or two each month.

There was another major change with book thirty nine. Mack Bolan no longer only fought the mafia. Now he teamed up with some folks from the U.S. federal government to tackle terrorists, and no one could bring a fight to the enemy like Bolan.

For a young teen, it was all great fun. As I grew older, I felt the series began to grow thin. I like a good Dirty Harry quote as much as the next guy, but the machismo gets a little old after a couple of hundred pages of it.

What this particular book showed me was that a series, and even the characters within that series, could continued without the original writer. Not only that, but that new writers could bring a fresh approach to old characters and old story lines.

I'm not one much for collaborating with other writers, nor for turning over my characters to others, but it's nice to see that in can work and work well. Maybe I'll give it a try some day.

Up next: Atlas Shrugged

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

100 Days of Fantasy: Day 43

This is an ongoing series looking at books that influenced me as a fantasy author.

Foucault's Pendulum
by Umberto Eco

Foucault's PendulumI was one of those readers who had some chuckles a few years ago when Dan Brown's novel The DaVinci Code became such a huge hit because of its somewhat controversial reinterpretation of the mythology behind Jesus and the Christian church. Why did I laugh? Because all this controversy was over material that's quite old, not new at all, and hasn't been given much credence by scholars, religious or secular. To me, the big hubbub was over nothing. And honestly, I didn't think The DaVinci Code was even that great a book; Brown's novel didn't completely suck, after all it did have solid pacing and was an easy read, but the characters were not detailed and the background material seemed laughable, at least to me.

Obviously, the re-imagined history Brown presented was new to the majority of his readers (and viewers, for those who saw the movie version). Why was I one of the few who found his material lacking?

Because I had read Foucault's Pendulum nearly two decades before, and I'd studied history, the occult, religion, philosophy, etc.

The plot to Foucault's Pendulum is quite complex, and as always I don't want to give too much away, but here goes a little info on the novel: Three friends working together for a publishing company decide they've read one too many manuscripts about conspiracy theories. They decide they can create their own unique, and better, conspiracy theory. They do this as a joke, with the help of a computer. Soon, however, their constructed conspiracy theory begins to take on a life of its own. It seems to have connections to all the so-called real conspiracies. Other characters come into play, some of them quite dangerous and most of them believing in at least some conspiracy theories. These new characters want answers, and some of them are not above violence to find those answers or to do the opposite, to keep ancient secrets hidden. The original three characters find themselves embroiled within an underworld of the occult, a world where conspiracy theories are not just theories, but reality. Is this reality true? Is it really reality? Or is it all just poppycock, dreamed up by lunatics?

The novel's conclusions and answers are surprising. I won't give them away here.

But I will say this novel changed my life. I read it when I was 19, about a year after the book was first published in English (the author is Italian, by the way). I had always had some interests in the esoteric, and in history and philosophy and religion, but this novel opened my eyes to just how deep the world of the occult really could go. It opened me up to a lot of history that was little known, not-remembered, and sometimes not quite believable.

After I finished reading Foucault's Pendulum, I spent the next several months seriously studying much of the material this book was based upon. A lot of it I felt to be garbage, reworkings of history by lunatics or people trying to find a name for themselves or trying to make money off suckers. But some of it isn't garbage, but worth further study. And all of it is interesting.

Even after my brief period of hardcore study on the occult and odd history, I've remained interesting in the subject matter. From time to time I still read or study such subjects, sometimes quite seriously for extended periods. Will I find any answers to life's mysteries? No. But I don't expect to. For me, the journey is the thing, not so much the conclusion, which I don't expect to ever reach anyway (at least not in this life).

One of the major side effects to writing all this stuff is that it has helped me as a reader and a writer over the years. For example, if an author mentions a lesser-known, minor historical character as le Comte de Saint-Germain, I know who he or she is talking about. If, as a writer, I want to use a mysterious figure from Christian history and mythology, I'm well aware of such characters as the Wandering Jew or Simon Magus or others.

Admittedly in this day and age, finding out about such things is easy. It just takes a few clicks on the Web to discover such information. That was not the case when I was first looking into all this decades ago. And I'm actually glad my research wasn't easy to come by; it gave my studies weight, importance, at least to myself.

Up next: The New War

Monday, September 20, 2010

Interview with fantasy author David Dalglish

David Dalglish is the author of The Half-Orc series of epic fantasy novels, of which three of the eventual five novels are now available, as well as other writings. His most recently released novel, A Dance of Cloaks, is now available from Amazon.

Watching the Amazon books rankings, especially the Kindle and Fantasy rankings, will reveal David's name and his e-books often among the top books on those lists.

After seeing his name there for some time, I contacted David and asked if he would be interested in an e-mail interview. He was, and I thank him for it. What follows is that interview.

Because of your Half-Orcs series, you've kind of come to be known as the half-orcs guy, at least in some circles. So, one has to wonder, why half-orcs? What is it about half-orcs that drove you to write about them?

I wish I could give you some wonderfully interesting and philosophical answer, but instead I’ll just tell you the truth. The two main half-orcs, Harruq and Qurrah, were characters from a MUD (multi-user text dungeon with a heavy emphasis on role-playing) a friend and I played. I loved the characters, but wanted to tell a story without any confines of the game. It’s been a rather fun process, and there’s some benefits to having these half-orcs. Their dichotomy of elf/orc really plays up their conflict between wrong and right. That, and it stands out when I put it in the title. Come on, who doesn’t want to take a look at a book about some stupid half-orcs?

Your latest e-book release, A Dance of Cloaks, is now available. Can you tell us a little about it? Is it part of a series? What makes it different from your Half-Orc books?

I wanted to put out a standalone novel for those a little hesitant to start a series, so that’s where A Dance of Cloaks came from. My original intent was to tell the childhood story of one of my main characters introduced in the second Half-Orc book. It’s of a young boy, Aaron, son of the most feared assassin alive, who has trained his whole life to be his heir. There’s several interweaving storylines, but overall it focuses on Aaron’s gradual rebellion against the person he’s being crafted into by his father.

Dance has some significant differences with the other Half-Orc books. I basically read A Game of Thrones (by George R. R. Martin) for the first time right beforehand, and was given such a humbling look at how to make a truly believable, livable Fantasy world. I looked at my little world of Dezrel and went, “Hrmph.” So there’s more storylines, various intertwined factions, and magic is far more toned down. I think I go half the book before I even have someone cast a spell, whereas in the Half-Orcs I’ve got multiple characters flinging around spells that can level half a city block.

For those wanting a bit more literary writing style, stronger world-building, and a lot of relatable, normal characters, A Dance of Cloaks is it. Those wanting a more hack n’ slash feel, well, there’s still my good ol’ Half-Orcs.

Do you write only fantasy? Or do you have interests in other genres?

Amusingly enough, my first ever sale was a horror short story. My second was a humorous science fiction short. So I very much am interested in other genres, and I’ll dabble in them, but generally only with short stories. When it comes to novels, and telling lengthy stories, Fantasy is what I most enjoy.

I hope to have a collection coming out soon, a real stretch for me in that it has no magic, no sci-fi elements, just regular people struggling against a cataclysmic natural event. But I think most of my readers are quite content for me to keep cranking out elves, swords, and magic. Honestly, I’m okay with that.

Do you consider writing a hobby, something to do for fun, or is it something you would like to make your full-time job? In other words, do you have the writers' dream of only having to write for a living?

This is it. I am living my dream. I set a goal, an amount I’d need to be able to survive on my writing alone, with just a bit of extra income from substitute teaching and whatnot. Just a few days ago, I received my Apple numbers. Combined with Amazon, I’ve reached my goal in August. Unbelievable. I can’t think of a better job, and I really want to thank every single reader who has helped me live this magical roller coaster ride.

What are some of your influences? Favorite books, authors, movies, music, etc?

I devoured R. A. Salvatore’s Drizzt series while in high school. I think I’ve read the Dark Elf Trilogy at least four times. His influence on me is fairly obvious to anyone who has read his work. George R. R. Martin has been another, who I only recently discovered and wished I had read far, far sooner. Stephen King’s another, especially his whole-hearted devotion to letting the story be the boss.

Oh, and Christopher Nolan. I could watch Heath Ledger’s Joker for hours.

You're a family man, married with a child. What does your family think of your writing?

My wife is easily the most supportive person I have. A few of my characters are so clearly her to those that know us (Aurelia when she’s being supportive, Tessanna when she’s being playful). My daughter is only two and a half, so I don’t have to worry about what she thinks yet. We’ve discussed when we’ll actually let her read my books. Considering they have violence, rape, sex, murder and rough language, my wife thinks about sixteen, seventeen. I say thirty-five. Methinks I won’t be the one to win this argument.

100 Days of Fantasy: Day 42

This is an ongoing series looking at books that have influenced me as a fantasy author.

On Moral Fiction
by John Gardner

On Moral Fiction (A Harper Torchbook- TB 5069)I only read this non-fiction book earlier this year, but it left me wishing I'd read it years and years ago.

Basically, it's the late John Gardner's opinions about the ethics of art, mainly dealing with writing, and his comparison of high art and low art.

And opinionated, it surely is.

By today's standards, this book published in the late 1970s would come off as leaning toward conservatism, possibly even prudish in some places. While not suggesting Judeo-Christian theology and ethics are the end-all, be-all of morality, Gardner definitely leans in that direction, espousing religion (generally without naming a particular religion) as having its place in society because helps to keep individuals and society at large from tunneling into a pit of depravity.

I consider myself a moderate, but I can't disagree with Gardner. For all the faults one could find with religion, specifically organized religion, it also has served positive purposes upon mankind at times.

Generally, the author's overall thesis is that art, good art, gives positive examples of how we should interact with one another and possibly with a supreme being. Good art gives examples of morality. Bad art, on the other hand, shows us nothing or worse, celebrates "ugliness and futility, scoffing at good."

But Gardner does not relegate writers to the position of a priest. He clearly separates church and art. "Religion's chief value is its conservatism; it keeps us in touch with what at least one section of humanity has believed for centuries. Art's chief value is that it takes nothing for granted."

So the artist is there to question, to question everything, from our values to our ideas and onward. Religion, on the other hand, is there to strengthen certain core values.

Regardless of one's personal beliefs on religion or society at large, I believe most writers would agree that artists are meant to question. Even artists who might not consciously attempt to do so, would have to agree that many artists have attempted to question everything, from standards to values and so forth.

In a way, Gardner places the artist on the same pedestal as priests, though with a different job. He suggests that artists, at least true artists or good artists, question but also hold up a higher level of ethics. "It can be shown by infallible or at least official logic that values are all a matter of opinion, that what seems good in one culture ... seems unpleasant to another. It can be proved positively that everything is relative. But not to an artist."

I like that.

Of course, others will disagree. And that's all right. All of us are allowed our own opinions, despite certain elements of the modern world constantly trying to stamp out the ideas of others. One can always question. Or, at least, an artist can.

Up next: Foucault's Pendulum

Saturday, September 18, 2010

100 Days of Fantasy: Day 41

This is an ongoing series looking at books that have influenced me as a fantasy author.

Stranger in a Strange Land
by Robert A. Heinlein

Stranger in a Strange LandOne of the things that has always fascinated me about late author Robert A. Heinlein is the breadth of his themes within his own writing. Looking at it from an early 21st Century point of view, it's amazing the same person wrote Starship Troopers, which today would be judged a pro-conservative and pro-military novel, and Stranger in a Strange Land, which by today's standards would be a pro-liberal if not out-and-out hippy novel.

I'm not suggesting either of these two novels completely fall into those categories, but mean my remarks as a general observation. I'm not trying to offend anyone, or sway their personal viewpoints or their viewpoints of either of these books.

But even if you disagree with what I have to say about these two books, you'd have to agree they are widely different from one another.

As I've covered Starship Troopers already, today I'll focus upon Stranger in a Strange Land.

This novel takes place in the future, when mankind is sending explorers to the planet Mars. The first ship to the red planet never comes back. The second ship finds Martians, and a human, Vincent Michael Smith, who is an orphan of the first human crew to come to Mars.

Being raised by Martians, Smith is quite different from other humans. He has some psychic abilities, and his mindset is not that of a human, but of a Martian.

He is brought to Earth, where he becomes a pawn of various governments, and eventually he starts his own religion.

I won't give away further details. You'll have to read more on your own. But this is a seminal soft science fiction novel, one of the best ever written and one of Heinlein's best books.

If you've ever heard the word "grok," which sort of means "to understand," then you've already been influenced by Stranger in a Strange Land. Heinlein created the term for this book, the counter culture of the 1960s picked up on it and the term is not uncommon today.

I'll also add that this novel was a Hugo winner, and in my opinion is one of the few Hugo winners I've read that I actually felt deserved the award.

Up next: On Moral Fiction, by John Gardner

Friday, September 17, 2010

100 Days of Fantasy: Day 40

This is an ongoing series looking at books that have influenced me as a fantasy author.

Shadows of Sanctuary
edited by Robert Lynn Asprin

Shadows Of SanctuaryShadows of Sanctuary was the third book in the Thieves' World series of fantasy short story collections. Each story was by a different author but all of the tales were in the same world, pretty much within one town, the city of Sanctuary.

This book is my favorite of the series, with the possible exception of the first book. Here, in Shadows of Sanctuary, a few of the events that happened in the earlier two books culminate in some pretty big, and powerful stories. Authors such as Diana L. Paxson, C.J. Cherryh, Lynn Abbey, Janet Morris, and my personal favorite, Andrew Offutt, brought their work to this collection.

The short stories in this series pretty much stand alone from one another, and from book to book, but as can happen, events and characters from earlier stories are related to most of the tales found here. It's a pleasing read, bringing back some familiar faces in a familiar world but also bringing plenty of great Sword and Sorcery action.

I first learned about Sword and Sorcery, a sub-genre of fantasy, from these books. And this particular book solidified for me the idea and possible popularity of serial characters, especially protagonists who appear in story after story. My favorite character from this series has always been Hanse Shadowspawn, the dark-garbed thief who has multiple daggers strapped on his body and who was a creation of Andrew Offutt.

If you are a fan of Sword and Sorcery literature, or just of action reading, do yourself a favor and check out these books. Start from the beginning and read through at least the first three books. After that the series begins to go down hill a little, but books four and five aren't too bad.

Up next: Stranger in a Strange Land

Thursday, September 16, 2010

100 Days of Fantasy: Day 39

This is an ongoing series about books that influenced me as a fantasy author.

Tales from the Vulgar Unicorn
edited by Robert Lynn Asprin

Tales from the Vulgar Unicorn (Thieves World II)As I've talked about before, the Thieves' World series of books of Sword and Sorcery short stories was great reading in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The original series ended in the late '80s with an even dozen books, then came back again a few years back with a few new collections and novels.

I was still a kid back in the late '70s, and I was just getting into fantasy literature. When I discovered the Thieves' World books, of which Tales from the Vulgar Unicorn is the second book, I fell in love.

The Thieves' World books were really my first foray into the fantasy sub-genre of Sword and Sorcery, and the tales within the books' pages were quite mysterious, and even dark, for the kid I was then.

The first book was the most mysterious of all, filled with strange sorcerers and hardy warriors in a land and city new and unfamiliar to me. The second book, Tales from the Vulgar Unicorn, was a little different. It was still mysterious, but not quite as mysterious, not quite as ethereal. Some of the characters from the first book returned, so this eased some of that eldritch spirit, and it was nice to follow up as if catching up with old friends. But slowly, gradually, the world of this universe was becoming clearer to me, more understandable. I was beginning to know what was going on.

And that is one of the strengths of Tales from the Vulgar Unicorn, it takes the familiar and spins it on its head a bit so the reader never knows quite what is going to happen. Also, with this collection, the various stories and characters interacted a little more with one another, giving this fantasy world a reality, a depth that the first book hadn't quite had.

Still, more than thirty years later, there is some great reading to be found within the pages of this book, and in the other books in this series.

Up next: Shadows of Sanctuary

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

100 Days of Fantasy: Day 38

This is an ongoing series looking at books that have influenced me as a fantasy author.

Interview With the Vampire
by Anne Rice

Interview with the VampireVampires seem all the rage nowadays, but back in the 1970s then Interview With the Vampire came out, this novel was pretty unique. There was some vampire fiction back then, but most of it was pretty straight-forward horror stuff. Anne Rice's tale of vampires was different, making vampires seem quite human, a trend that has stuck with these monsters ever since to some extent or other.

Let me say right here, I do like the movie version from the early '90s starring Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt, and the film does cover the basics of the plot. But it also leaves out some things.

Which is better, the novel or the movie? Most people generally believe the books are better than the movies, whatever the tale, and I have to agree that most time they're right. In this instance, I tend to think of the novel and movie separately; each had different tasks, and each performed those tasks quite well. The film version tends toward the modern, in my opinion, while the novel is solidly focused on the past, at least thematically and in expectations.

I first read Interview With the Vampire when I was in high school. I was just getting into horror fiction, had read Dracula and Salem's Lot, and was looking for something else vampire related to sink my teeth into (yes, that pun was as intentional as it was mundane). Since there weren't a lot of vampire options at my local book stores, I settled upon this Anne Rice novel. And back then, there was just this novel. The sequels wouldn't start coming out for another year or two.

I was pleasantly surprised by Rice's tale. I had expected horror, and though there are elements of the genre within this novel, for the most part the tale here was dark historic fantasy tinged with shades of what today we would call paranormal romance. It was a different way to telling a story at the time, one new to me at least, and I loved it. It was something fresh, something different, another way of telling a story. And I always like finding new ways of telling a story.

Over the last few decades, this type of tale has become common (too common, in my opinion), but back in the day it was something special. I'm glad I discovered it before the wave of vampire and dark romantic stories began to multiply to the point of being practically the norm for dark literature.

Next up: Tales from the Vulgar Unicorn

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Interview with Indie Author B.V. Larson

B.V. Larson is a name becoming recognized in the world of indie authors, especially as he now has 14 digital e-books available for reading on the Amazon Kindle.

On his blog, indie author B.V. Larson claims more than 1,000 downloads a week for his e-books, and that’s no surprise considering the diversity of his work. Unlike many writers, Larson writes and publishes in a variety of genres, including fantasy, horror, thrillers and more.

His most recent e-book releases are Velocity, a collection of short stories mixing science fiction and horror, and Blood of Silver, the second book in his paranormal romance sequence, the Seeker Series

Recently I e-mailed him asking if he would be willing to answer some questions for a short online interview. What follows are the questions and his answers.

Here's what everyone seems to want to know: Is it possible today to make a living as an indie writer? What are your thoughts?

Thanks Ty for this opportunity to talk directly to the readers. I think it is possible to make a living as an Indie writer; there are quite a few of us doing it (Joe Konrath being an obvious example). I would expect that goal would only be achievable for perhaps one percent of the Indies, but that’s still better than it was in the past. I recall reading that the average pro fiction author made less than $10k per year, and that there were less than five hundred people in the entire U.S. living on fiction sales. That doesn’t sound too bad, until you realize there are more pro football players than that. A lot more. To live off fiction, you had to be nearly one in a million. Now the odds are better. The improved odds are due to two simple changes: much higher royalty percentages and the removal of the gatekeepers.

For myself, I doubt I’ll be reaching that goal soon, mostly due to my position in life. I have a lot of kids and payments. A younger person just starting out could reach the goal sooner. But no one should expect it to come from one hit book. You will probably have to write a lot of good books to do it.

You write in multiple genres, which is uncommon for many authors. Do you find this limiting in any way, perhaps in promotions? Do you love the freedom of it? Basically, what gives?

In this area, I’m a weirdo. I didn’t know it for a long time, but after comparing myself to the majority, it’s abundantly clear. In my defense, when I look around at other authors’ works, I shake my head in bewilderment. How can so many writers stand to write what amounts to the same book over and over? Yes, that is often what the fans want, but it would drive me nuts. Perhaps I’m an ADD case, but I love to try new things. I’m easily bored, and worse, when I see something interesting, a desire grows in my heart to try it. When I play an MMO (like World of Warcraft, for instance), I’m the oddball who has to try every race/class combo the game has. In my own career, this has resulted in a lot of variety as well: I’ve worked in 38 states and 15 countries, for over 75 companies... Okay, a lot of that was short-term contract work, but still, you get the picture.

When it comes to fiction, the results have been the same. I like multiple genres and feel compelled to write in them. When I get bored, I switch. The result is I have books in YA, middle-grade children’s, paranormal romance, horror, science fiction, fantasy and thriller-crime fiction. Worse, many of my titles are cross-genre. I’ve got something for everyone!

In short, there was no grand plan; I’m a victim of a flawed personality.

What do you hope your e-books bring to readers that they can't find elsewhere? In other words, what makes you unique as a writer?

Finally, a hard question. I would say my books have a higher pace than most, things happen fast and often, but always for a reason. There is always a lot of energy, a lot of tension, a lot of conflict. No one gets along happily. My heroes are generally driven people, tormented by dilemmas and obstacles to their goals.

Besides pace and conflict, another consistent element of my style is an effort to move the reader emotionally. Almost any emotion will do, but I try to get a response out of the reader with each story. Some of my books reflect this with strong reviews, both positive and negative. People love it or hate it, but they always have an opinion. Few are feeling “blah” at the end. As I’ve said, I’m easily bored and hate a boring read. My stories rarely bore people. Being boring is the ultimate sin as a writer, in my opinion. People aren’t paying me to yawn and fall asleep.

One of the genres you write a lot in is fantasy. Why fantasy? What draws you to the genre?

I think I have more fantasy titles than any other genre, unless you count all the cross-overs mixed with horror. Quite simply, I love fantasy. When I read a book, play a game or watch a movie, it is most likely to be SF, fantasy or horror. To me, these are closely-related genres. They deliver a similar experience, but with different settings and tones. What is a light-saber, after all, but a magic sword?

Who are some of your favorite authors, and favorite books?

Stephen King, Roger Zelazny, Jack Vance ... Favorite books (from the same authors in the same order): Salem’s Lot, The Amber Series, Maske: Thaery. Those are books I’ve reread excessively. If you can get a squirrel like me to re-read your book for years, you must be doing something right. That’s a very thin list, however. Looking over my head as I type this, I see at least five hundred titles looming above. They aren’t all dusty.

There often seems to be a lot of conflict, sometimes even vileness, directed toward indie authors in various online venues. How do you feel about this? How do you deal with it? Or do you ignore it?

I have not yet personally experienced this, but I suppose I will if I continue to be successful. I plan to nod, smile and try to be gentle with those I’m replacing. I think their anger is very easy to understand. If all the current trends continue, we stand ready to inherit an industry. We represent the end of the old regime, the changing of a tide that has lasted at least a century. Imagine if you were a teacher, and someone started selling a robot that did a better job. You would hate it and slander it at every opportunity.

For the most part, we threaten the legions of middle-men. By the old system, the author got a pittance for their work. Seven or eight percent. The other ninety-plus percent went to a very long line of reaching hands: editors, stock-holders, sales people, printers, delivery truck people, etc. (And yes, I get regular royalty checks for print books I’ve sold under another name, so I know the biz.) Now, in a vastly stream-lined process, there is only the author, the reader, and an online retailer. The customer gets the product, the author creates it and markets it, the online retailer provides the platform. The money is split two ways, and there is no more fuss about over-printing and “returns”.

>Google is killing research libraries. Netflix is killing video stores. In the same manner, ebooks and online booksellers will likely kill mega-bookstores and mega-publishers. It’s simply a better approach to solving a distribution problem. Naturally, existing authors don’t want the competition. Publishers and bookstores don’t want to be replaced.

I wouldn’t like the robot, either ...

Sunday, September 12, 2010

100 Days of Fantasy: Day 37

This is an ongoing series looking at books that influenced me as a fantasy author.

I Am Legend
by Richard Matheson

I'll say right up front, this is my favorite vampire novel. Forget Anne Rice. Forget Dracula, even. I Am Legend has been my favorite vampire novel ever since I read it nearly 30 years ago.

I Am LegendIf you're only familiar with the movie versions of this tale, you're missing out. Read the book. It's much, much better, though I did like some of the movies for what they were. But they weren't the book. The movie that comes closest to the book, in my opinion, is 1964's The Last Man on Earth, starring Vincent Price, and even that pales in comparison to the novel.

The plot? Basically, everyone on the planet except for one man has been turned into a vampire. At night this lone fellow barricades himself in his house, then during the day he comes out to go from house to house, building to building, in search of vampires to stake.

I Am Legend is a short book, and can easily be read in a day or two, but it packs a lot of punch into its pages. Also, without hitting the reader over the head with it, this is one of those classic novels that makes you think. I wouldn't say it's themes are necessarily political, but they are definitely sociological, and are worth thinking upon.

Some of the science mentioned in the book is a little iffy, but keep in mind this novel came out in the 1950s. It's kind of funny to read the goofy (by today's standards) science portrayed in the book.

I discovered this novel more or less accidentally in the very early 1980s. It was one I purchased as a member of a book club, and I've been glad I picked it out ever since.

I Am Legend is truly a masterpiece of speculative fiction.

Up next: Interview with the Vampire

Saturday, September 11, 2010

100 Days of Fantasy: Day 36

This is an ongoing series looking at books that have influenced me as a fantasy author.

Kingdom Come
by Alex Ross and Mark Waid

Yes, I'm still covering some comic books / graphic novels that have influenced me, with a focus on the writers.

Kingdom ComeKingdom Come was originally a four-issue limited series by DC Comics that came out in 1996, then was later released as a graphic novel. It was one of DC's Elseworlds books, which meant it was a story that did not take place within the general, accepted worlds and time lines of the regular DC super heroes universe.

The story of Kingdom Come takes place a few years in the future. The major super heroes all of us know, such as Superman and Batman and Wonder Woman, etc., have mostly retired or gone into hiding or just plain aren't around all that much. A new breed of heroes has mostly replaced them, heroes who are barely heroes, making it harder than ever to tell the difference between the good guys and the bad guys. Seeing the dangers brought about by these new super powers, a band of the more familiar heroes (again, Superman, etc.) try to step back into the fray and to calm down the youngsters. It doesn't go very well. A war among the super beings erupts. Meanwhile, Lex Luthor and some other bad guys are waiting in the wings to steal power for themselves. And Batman ... well, Batman is biding his time doing what he does best, lurking in the dark waiting for the right moment to make his own moves, even if he is now an old man.

I love this story for several reasons. One, the artwork is perhaps the best I've seen in a comic book, ever. Alex Ross was also the primary artist on this series, and he actually painted all the art in gouache, visually giving our heroes a classic artistic look, almost as if the art was painted by a classical painter.

Second, another reason I love this story is it's just a darn good tale, pitting the old crew of good guys against darker, more violent and younger super heroes. It's a clash of the ages, of styles, of viewpoints, of 50s America against 90s America.

Third, and most importantly, I love Kingdom Come because it plays with readers' expectations of the classic super heroes. As always, I don't want to give anything away, but this story deals with super heroes in a realistic emotional manner. How would Superman deal with all the violence upon our Earth? What would Batman be like as he grew old? Stuff like that. Also, there's the relationships between super heroes, and perceptions of these are questioned at times.

If you know all the old favorite DC heroes, but have gotten away from reading them, Kingdom Come might be a good place to pick back up again. But fair warning: Don't be surprised, because the DC universe portrayed here is not the one we all knew as kids.

Up next: I Am Legend

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Get STABbed!

STAB: six tales of horror ("S" Collection Horror Trilogy)My latest mini-collection of short stories, STAB: six tales of horror, is now available in e-book form at Amazon for the Kindle and Smashwords for online reading. It should be available for the Nook and other e-reading devices within the next month or so.

The difference between this latest collection and my earlier ones, SEVER and SLICE, is that the six tales found here are all brand new, written specifically for this e-book, and have never appeared anywhere else before now.

The six tales in STAB, and a little information about them are below:

Screaming Right to the End
The zombies have risen, but can three rooftop survivors survive one another?

Born to Bring Trouble
A mage-turned-biker finds himself facing off with members of his own gang.

Where the Baptized Drown
A preacher in 1880s Texas performs his own unique brand of the baptism ceremony.

Midnight in Oplontis
It's 80 A.D., a year after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, and a couple of treasure hunters go digging in ash.

The Happiest Day of Her Life
A woman's wedding day turns nightmarish when her past comes rushing back.

When the Cows Come Home
A farmer discovers an unusual, ancient artifact out in his field, and suddenly lights are coming in his barn every night.

If you'd like to read short stories in the horror genre, check out STAB at the links below:

STAB for the Kindle at Amazon

STAB for the Kindle at Amazon UK

STAB for online reading at Smashwords

100 Days of Fantasy: Day 35

This is an ongoing series looking at books that influenced me as a fantasy author.

Hellblazer #63
by Garth Ennis

If you like dark fantasy and/or urban fantasy, but you're not familiar with the Hellblazer comic book, you need to kick yourself.

Hellblazer is about a modern-day mage named John Constantine. No, John doesn't go around wearing robes and waving magic wands. The closest he comes to wearing a robe is his trademark trench coat. The closest he comes to waving a wand is by flicking one of the endless cigarettes he smokes. He's also a Brit, and he generally has a fairly bad attitude, but he's also quick witted and smarter than the average bear.

One of the funny things about John is, you never really know how powerful he is. Sometimes he gets his ass kicked by some street thug, but at other times John has been known to go toe-to-toe with the powers of Hell itself and walk away. Of course he never walks away smiling, but that's usually because all his friends have been killed and he's bleeding from internal wounds and maybe he's lost a limb or is haunted by a ghost or demon or something.

All great fun, right?

The series has had a number of writers and artists over the years, but my favorite run on Hellblazer was back in the early 1990s when Garth Ennis was doing the writing and Steve Dillon was doing the artwork. I won't go into all the details about what John Constantine was into at the time, but for a while it involved neo-Nazis, an Irish girlfriend and Satan. But not all at once, and not necessarily in that order.

Issue 63 of Hellblazer has long been one of my favorites. For that one issue, it steps out of the continuing storyline and features Constantine on his 40th birthday. He's alone. His girlfriend is out of town. He wakes up late and pops down to the local store to buy some smoke and a big bottle of hard liquor. He's basically planning to spend his birthday alone and drunk.

Then his friends show up, and people he didn't even know were his friends. There's a priest, a magician, ancient gods, a talking rabbit, even Swamp Thing. Hilarity ensues. Believe me, lots of hilarity.

But between all the laughter and hi jinks, there's a story about a man growing older and facing troubled times ahead. It's actually a touching tale in many way.

This story helped me as a writer in that it taught me not to show all my cards at the table, meaning that as a writer I should only give the readers the information they need at any given moment within a tale. You don't want to cheat the reader by surprising them late in a story with information they obviously should have known early on, but suspense can be built by slowly reeling out needed information throughout a tale. Hellblazer is a great comic book for such, and this particular issues really brought it home for me.

Up next: Kingdom Come

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

100 Days of Fantasy: Day 34

This is an ongoing series looking at books that have influenced me as a fantasy author.

Captain America #226
by Roger McKenzie

Right off the bat, let me say that I realize comic books are a collaborative art form. The writer is not the only one steering the wheel. Often the artists, inkers, editors, etc. have major influences upon the story. But as a writer myself, I'm focusing on the writing aspects alone for the most part, which is why I only list the actual writers and not the others involved with the work.

Next, one might ask ... comic books? Really?

Yes, really. Comic books had a major early influence upon my young self, but even back then I wanted to be a writer. When I was a kid, I spent hours and hours and hours drawing and writing my own comic books. I wish I still had those comics today, but alas, I do not.

But what was special about issue #226 of Captain America?

A few things.

For one, when I was a very young kid, I had read a lot of the good Captain's early tales, but I had gotten away from reading him. In 1978, when this particular issue came out, I was 9 years old. And I got back into Cap with this issue, and continued to follow him through my early teen years.

What made me pick up this particular comic book?

That's an easy one. The writer lived right down the road from me.

I met Roger McKenzie through a garage sale. His own. He was selling tons upon tons of comic books. Discussing comics was how I got to know the guy a little. We never became best buddies or anything, he was a grown man at the time and I was a kid, after all, but I did get to go inside his house and see his gigantic collection of comics (literally wall to wall) and comics artwork he had hanging on his walls.

Even at that tender age, I knew I wanted to be a writer of some sort, a teller of tales. So meeting an actual writer was like a dream come true, and he lived just down the street from me!

Roger didn't stay in my neighborhood long. I believe he moved away just a few months later. But I always remember him and his run on Captain America.

But concerning the actual story of issue #226? Briefly, the Captain is aboard a spaceship and loses his powers while having to fight a gigantic robot. Simple straight-forward comic book stuff, right? Yes, but there's also lessens to be learned here. The Captain wins, of course, because he's the hero and the comic goes on for hundreds of more issues, but this issue showed me at an early age to kick your protagonist when he's down. Then kick him again. And again and again and again. Then let him work his way out of his troubles with his own skills, abilities and sometimes even just plain old willpower or smarts.

Thus, I was learning about writing at an early age.

Up next: Hellblazer #63

Monday, September 06, 2010

100 Days of Fantasy: Day 33

This is an ongoing series looking at books that have influenced me as a fantasy author.

by William Shakespeare

Hamlet (The New Folger Library Shakespeare)Most readers are familiar with the play Hamlet; if not the actual play, or the script for the play, then one of the movie versions. The basic plot is: king of Denmark dies, his ghost visits his son and seeks vengeance, madness and bloody chaos ensues as the son goes after his father's killer.

Okay, it's obviously more complicated than that, but I always fear giving away too much for those who don't know a story, especially as great a story as this.

Hamlet has always been my favorite of Shakespeare's tragedies, though MacBeth is a close second and I do have some fondness for Romeo and Juliet. For the curious, my favorite of Shakespeare's comedies is Much Ado About Nothing.

Why do I love Hamlet so much?

As with many such thing, it's complicated.

For one, I tend to like ensemble pieces in which everyone dies in the end. The Wild Bunch. Reservoir Dogs. Those kinds of stories. What sick, twisted side of me is it that likes these tales? I'm not sure. Perhaps it's a darker side of me that is reflective of a certain amount of chaos, futility and banality in our lives. Not to get all existential, and not that I'm a constant downer kind of guy bordering on emo or goth (I'm definitely not), but I do find those aspects of humanity intriguing to study. Maybe I'll even do such a story some day.

Another element I like of Hamlet is the possibility of madness within the main character, Hamlet himself. In the play, after a certain point Hamlet tries to portray himself as insane. But as the story grows deeper and darker, the viewer or reader is left wondering if Hamlet hasn't truly crossed the borders into insanity. Is Hamlet insane, or is he acting? It's a question that can never be answered, perhaps not even by Shakespeare himself. To my way of thought, Hamlet had to be at least a little bonkers just to follow through with many of his actions in this tale.

If you like darker tales, play, or are just a fan of Shakespeare, you need to read this play, or see it performed. I personally love to see it performed nowadays, having read it a couple of times already in this lifetime.

And my favorite movie version? Actually, Mel Gibson's portrayal, though he's obviously 20 years to old to play the lead character.

Up next: Captain America #226

Sunday, September 05, 2010

My big disappointment of the year

I had one big goal for this year. I wanted to attend the World Fantasy Convention in Columbus, Ohio, in October.

That's not going to happen.

I love Columbus, and I've always wanted to go to a World Fantasy Convention, but it's not in the cards, mostly due to financial concerns. But I've also got some ongoing health issues with which I need to contend. Such is life.

On the plus side, I'm writing and editing and working on a ton of projects as an indie writer/publisher, as well as sending out a few short stories to publishers.

Maybe I'll get a chance to attend another World Fantasy Convention some day.

Friday, September 03, 2010

100 Days of Fantasy: Day 32

This is an ongoing series looking at books that have influenced me as a fantasy author.

by Syd Field

Screenplay: The Foundations of ScreenwritingFor this series about books that have influenced my writing, I've mostly stuck with fiction. But I've also been influenced by a good number of non-fiction books.

Screenplay by Syd Field is one such book.

I've mentioned elsewhere how screenwriting, specifically this book, helped me to have some sort of a mental breakthrough about 10 years ago, allowing me to get post something akin to writer's block that I had had for about five years at the time. For that very reason alone, I have plenty for which to be thankful when it comes to this book and Syd Field.

But I think what was the big mind-clicking moment for me was when I realized the basics of storytelling. Not good storytelling, necessarily, but storytelling in general. The basics of how a story works, how it should flow.

The secret? Quite simply, it's this: A story has a beginning, a middle, and an end.

There. That's it. Sounds dumb, doesn't it. But this book engaged my mind by making me realize what actually should come in the beginning of a tale, what should be in the middle, and what should be in the ending.

For me, it was almost like breaking down storytelling into a simple mathematical formula, one I could grasp.

Of course there's more to it than that, really, but it helped me break my writer's block and I've been writing like crazy ever since.

And if you are a prose writer, don't be turned off because this book is about screenwriting. Though Screenplay can be a bit dry in places, it definitely can help with creating characters, plot development and the like. Give it a try if you're looking for something different to read about writing. You'll even learn a good bit about actual screenwriting.

Up next: Hamlet, by Shakespeare

Thursday, September 02, 2010

100 Days of Fantasy: Day 31

This is an ongoing series looking at books that have influenced me as a fantasy author.

Cerebus: High Society
by Dave Sim

High Society (Cerebus, Volume 2)Cerebus is difficult to explain, both the character and the graphic novels.

I'll start with the character. Initially Cerebus lives in a fantasy world familiar to the tropes of the Sword and Sorcery genre. In other words, he's a barbarian living in a mostly barbaric world. He fights demons and evil wizards, goes in search of treasure, beds wenches, etc. But Cerebus is also a short, gray aardvark. Let me repeat that. Cerebus is a short, gray aardvark.

Yes, you read that correctly. Cerebus is also an expert warrior and a great shot with a crossbow.

Eventually, as the comic series continues, Cerebus the title leans away from Sword and Sorcery and enters the lands of satire and pastiche. Cerebus the aardvark finds himself embroiled in political workings of various city states, and eventually he becomes involved in the religious spectrum, though mostly from a strictly political point of view.

Cerebus even eventually becomes a prime minister. And then a pope.

You can stop laughing now, because while it is all hilariously funny, it also has it's darker sides. But I won't go into all of that for fear of giving away too much.

This comic book originally ran for 300 issues, and it has been re-released in full in graphic novel formals. In my own opinion, and that of many fans of the comic, the first 150 or so issues were fantastic, the last 150 not so much because the author put way too much of his own personal biases/beliefs into the storyline.

Cerebus: High Society is one of the graphic novels, collecting issues 26 through 50 of the comic book. It details the aardvarks entrance into the city of Iest and his eventual, mostly accidental, involvement in the city's politics. It sounds a bit boring, but it's not. It's great fun, and will have fantasy fans (and fans of the Marx Brothers) laughing out loud on almost every page.

As a writer, Cerebus taught me a lot, especially about humor and satire. Plot development, specifically complex plot development, also was a highlight of these books, mostly beginning with the High Society stories.

If you're a fantasy fan and you're in the mood for a good chuckle, you won't find any funnier reading than theCerebus graphic novels.

Up next: Screenplay, by Syd Field