IRON AND BLOOD: Thrilling Conclusion to THE IRON RING, Releases Tuesday!

Haven't read it yet? Now has never been a better time!

Haven’t read it yet? Now has never been a better time!

THE IRON RING introduced you to a world of industrialized magic, sorcerous enlightenment, and a seedy underworld of smuggled monsters, alchemical narcotics, and mirror-armored wizard/cops. You met Tyvian Reldamar – criminal mastermind, smuggler, and impeccable dresser – and watched him writhe in frustration as some fool’s idea of an external moral compass in the form of a plain iron ring was bolted to his hand. Struggling through the desolate winter countryside, a street urchin and a vengeful mother gnoll in tow, he tried to evade capture from the Defenders and secure vengeance upon the partner who betrayed him – that wretched, ink-thralled mercenary, Zazlar Hendrieux.

And then the book ended…

Frustrating, I know. If it’s any consolation, I was frustrated too – my publisher wanted it that way – but now, oh boy, do I have good news for you!!

IRON AND BLOOD, Book 2 of the Saga of the Redeemed, is releasing on June 2nd and (checks watch) that’s only four days away, friends!

Yup, in only four (4) days you’ll get to find out what happens!

(WARNING: Mild spoilers below if you haven’t read Book 1) 

Pre-order now! It's almost here!

Pre-order now! It’s almost here!

Will Hool be reunited with her lost pups?

Has Artus survived the night?

Will Myreon manage her escape?

Will Tyvian realize Carlo’s betrayal in time?

What horrible plan does Sahand have cooking, anyway?

Can Tyvian juggle all the threats that surround him to achieve revenge?

 

Is the ring actually making him a better person AND can he ever get it off?

Well, you folks have only four days to wait until you can find out.

I’m really excited! Are you really excited? I hope so! Finally, after a long, long wait, everybody will finally get to see this story wrapped up as I intended it to be.

Oh, yeah, and there will be third book coming out soon, too.


In Other News

I will be signing books at the Prudential Center Barnes and Nobel tomorrow, Saturday May 30th, from 2-4pm. Most of my family and many of my friends came to the last one, so I’m relying on people I don’t know personally to come and keep me company. I promise I’m nice. And not entirely unattractive. No, seriously. I mean, I could stand to lose a few pounds and I haven’t hit the gym too often recently, but still. I’ll shave, okay? Deodorant, decent shirt, the whole nine yards.

Anyway, see you there, okay? I’ll sign your book. Maybe it will be worth money someday. Or maybe you’ll be able to trade it for something useful in a post-apocalyptic scenario of your choice. You never know, right?

The Halls of Ignominious PC Death

Oooo! Spooky!

Oooo! Spooky!

Last night I finished up my involvement in a D&D campaign run by my friend, Fish. It ended poorly for my wizard, the elderly Baltigast – he took a pair of bad draws from a Deck of Many Things as a last ditch effort to recover his lost power and prestige, and instead wound up a toothless old madman without a penny to his name. Ah well.

Tomorrow, I start running my own D&D campaign (which was the reason I left Fish’s game – I like running better than playing, and I can’t wait anymore). So, today, in memory of those PCs who came to bad ends and in anticipation of those PCs who are going to, let me tell you some stories about the miserable ends some of my players have fallen victim to over my 23 year history of running RPGs.

In no particular order:

Barooza, 3rd Level Half-Orc Berzerker, Amedio Jungle, Oerth

Barooza foolishly drank an Elixir of Madness, making him…unreasonable. An unreasonable berserker in a dungeon crawl is a dangerous prospect, and so the other players tied him up. Now, however, they had a thrashing, 250lbs half-orc to carry around, and nobody felt up to it. “Hey,” said the pirate, “I’ve got this Bag of Holding! We can just stuff him inside and carry him around!”

Yeah, that Bag of Holding? Actually a Bag of Devouring. They stuffed poor Barooza in head-first, and he only had time to scream once before he was consumed by an extra-dimensional predator. Bummer of a way to go.

Wheeler, 5th Level Mage, Crystalmist Mountains, Oerth

The party was in a large, hollow tower. They could scale the walls up to the top, but the walls were crawling with nasty critters that would try to eat them. The alternative? Well, Wheeler wanted to levitate straight up the middle of the tower and, once he reached the walkway at the top, he could let down several coils of rope for the rest of the PCs to scale. The trouble, of course, was they hadn’t really done the math on how far Wheeler could levitate for the duration of the spell and whether that would be sufficient time to reach the walkway. It was not – he came in ten feet shy. He then fell a couple hundred feet to his death. At least the prophet at the top was good enough to resurrect him.

Mac, Sergeant, Xplore Corporation, Abandoned Eridani War Cruiser, Fornax Galaxy

The party was being shot at from the floor below by war bots that were pumping plasma up through the deck plating, leaving molten holes in the steel floor. Mac attempted to drop a grenade through one such hole, but instead of dropping it through, he decided this was the time to play a game of hoops. He shot from half-court, the grenade took a very bad bounce, and landed at his feet. Boom. His internal organs were pulped, and so ended Mac.

Nameless XF Inc Mercenary, US Naval Base, Lone Wolf Planetoid, Wolf-359

So, after attacking an armored US Marine with a kitchen knife (and barely surviving), he and his compatriot were cut off in the detention wing of the facility, with their only possible escape route being a cargo elevator. Into the cramped elevator they crammed and slowly began to ascend to the laundry room, however, the marines had reached the elevator and were guiding it back down. The elevator was a cage, and there was just enough room to stick a pistol out to maybe shoot out the counter weights to release the elevator. The other guy took the shot. After much random ricocheting, the bullet hit the mercenary between the eyes.

Major Russ Carmady, Olympus, Groomsbridge 1619

Major Russ was a big fan of planning out his defenses, so when they landed to secure a drop zone on a strange alien planet, he ordered the whole area littered with antipersonnel mines – just in case, you know? Cut to a few days later, when they are being bombarded from orbit by a Chinese battlecruiser and actual extraterrestrials are about to storm their base, and what does Russ elect to do? Well, he obviously can’t be captured, so he makes a run for it. This was my question:

So, do you remember where you placed your own mines?

No. No he did not. Kablooey.

Got any other ridiculous tales of PCs’ untimely demises? Share them here!


Publicity News

Say, did you miss my last book signing? Feel guilty? Well, have I got some good news for you! I will be doing another book signing at the Prudential Center Barnes and Nobel in Boston this coming Saturday, 5/30, from 2pm to 4pm. I will be signing copies of the Writers of the Future Anthology, Volume 31, so come on down!

No, seriously, come on down. I don’t want to be lonely. I want the nice people at Barnes and Nobel to appreciate my business. I’ll have cookies and stuff. Just show up and let me scribble on your book!

How Dinosaur Train Drives Me Bonkers

If you don’t have small children, you probably haven’t encountered the PBS Kids show Dinosaur Train. Let me tell you about it and why it gives me the shakes while I watch it.

For starters, let me say that it is a wonderfully educational program about the lives of dinosaurs and, more broadly, an introduction to natural history and evolution. It is not doing children any disservice by watching it at all and, indeed, my kids watch it plenty. The show does, however, give science fiction and fantasy writers the heebie-jeebies, and here’s why:

Pictured: a giant can of

Pictured: a giant can of “WTF?!”

The show’s premise is that a family of Pteranadons and their adopted T-Rex son (no, not the crazy part yet) go on vacations (yes, but wait for it) during which they ride a train (yes, a train) that is run and operated by other dinosaurs (I know, I know) and takes said thunder-lizards on a tour of the land, introducing them to other species of dinosaurs. Oh yes, and just so they can visit dinosaurs from every historical epoch, THE TRAIN TRAVELS THROUGH TIME.

Yes, that’s right: A dinosaur owned, built, and operated time-travelling railroad that takes other dinosaurs on vacations. This is where I start losing my mind.

Here are my questions, world:

1) Why did the dinosaurs build this?

There is no pseudo-modern society in this show, no Flintstones-esque tech, or anything of the kind. Why do creatures with no jobs need vacations? If they have no other visible infrastructure whatsoever, how on Earth would they hit on “let’s build a train?” Even assuming some hyper-genius dino had such an idea, how would they build it with their notable lack of things like tools, mines, quarries, a workforce, and, oh yeah, opposable thumbs? 

2) Time Travel? WTF?

So, say they manage (somehow) to build a railroad system. How does time travel get involved? What, did aliens come down and give it to them? Did some human go back in time with a time-train and give them ideas? Why would they even think to do this? Dinosaurs don’t have fossil records – there are no archaeologist dinosaurs. THEY WOULDN’T KNOW THERE WERE OTHER TIMES TO VISIT!

Why a vest? Where does the watch come from? What is it set to?

Why a vest? Where does the watch come from? What is it set to?

3) What do they buy tickets with?

Mom Pteranadon buys tickets for the kids when they go places. What does she buy them with? Does she get change? Where does she stash said change (they don’t wear clothes)? How much do they cost? What use is the money anywhere else? If this is some kind of self-contained currency system (like the tokens at Dave and Busters), how does she buy in? Maybe the tickets are free, but again, then, why the hell is this being done?

4) Why is the Conductor wearing clothes?

No other dinosaurs wear clothing. None. What is with this guy? Even assuming somebody had the idea for clothing, what purpose would it serve? Dinosaurs are exothermic, so it isn’t like it would keep him warm, precisely. Of course, we also get back to the question of who makes the damn stuff. Is there a dino-tailor somewhere?

5) What happened to predation?

When the family meets an apex predator (like a T-Rex), why does the scene never end with the family being devoured? What’s going to happen to this family when their T-Rex “son” grows up and eats his “sister?” Why doesn’t anybody talk about this? How are they all still friends, dammit?

My Working Theory

So, retain my sanity, I have developed a working theory, here. It’s a bad one, but still:

Honey, did you let Verne play with the time circuits again?

Honey, did you let Verne play with the time circuits again?

Okay, take for granted that the dinosaurs can talk to each other – that’s just a gimmie. Turns out all paleontologists are wrong on that for some damned reason or we’re dealing with a hyper-intelligent subset of the dinosaur population that had a monolith dropped in their midst or something. Anyway, in the midst of their prehistoric savagery, in pops Doctor Emmett Brown on his – you guessed it – his time travelling train. Now, they’re stuck in the Cretaceous Period with no train tracks and, therefore, no way to get up to 88 miles an hour and out of there.

The solution? Well, they make contact with these hyper-intelligent dinosaurs and screw up history something fierce by teaching them to build a train system. “But what’s in it for us?” ask the dinos. Doc comes up with a plan to create a kind of dinosaur utopian state wherein these hyper-intelligent dinos agree to only feed upon their less intelligent brethren. Doc leaves them with a means of scientific discovery (a duplicate train), a framework of an economic system, and a basic social order in exchange for him, Clara, and the boys escaping back to modernity.

The only question left is this: Did Doc tell them about the asteroid? Did he?

Somehow, I think not.


Publicity News

  • I’d like to thank Elisa Birdseye and the Adams Street BPL for hosting me for my “Building the Fantastic” talk and reading. It was tons of fun to get to cut loose with a captive audience about things I’m passionate about. I hope to be able to do it again sometime.
  • If you haven’t bought Writers of the Future Volume 31, you’re missing out. Don’t listen to me, listen to Dave Farland.

My Favorite One-Liners

Maybe I should have baked cookies?

Maybe I should have baked cookies?

Ding-Ding! The contest is over everybody! THE CONTEST IS OVER! SETTLE DOWN!

(looks around, sees there are only three people here)

Oh. Oh, I see. (puts away microphone)

Well, I can’t say competition was fierce, exactly, but here are the big winners of my little book giveaway:

1) TR Napper (who is a friend and wonderfully talented SF writer in his own right–check him out here)’

From Empire Strikes Back:

Leia: “I love you.” Han: “I know.”

2) Maryam

From Birdman (Or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

“If you weren’t afraid, what would you want to do to me?”
“I’d pull your eyes out of your head…”
“That’s sweet.”
“…and put them in my own skull, and look around, so I could see the street the way I used to when I was your age”

3) Eenand

From Fahrenheit 451

With school turning out more runners, jumpers, racers, tinkerers, grabbers, snatchers, fliers, and swimmers instead of examiners, critics, knowers, and imaginative creators, the word `intellectual,’ of course, became the swear word it deserved to be. You always dread the unfamiliar.

I will be in contact with you soon to discuss getting you your e-book. Thank you for playing!

Now, since we’re on the topic of one-liners, I figured I’d share a few of my own favorites. Enjoy!

 

From Casablanca (I could pick any dozen from this movie, but still):

Ugarte: You hate me, don’t you Rick?

Rick: I probably would if I gave you any thought.

From Pirates of the Carribean:

Norrington: You must be the worst pirate I’ve ever heard of.

Jack Sparrow: But you have heard of me.

From Commando:

From The Princess Bride:

Life is pain, Highness. Anybody who says differently is selling something.

From The Wheel of Time:

Rand al’Thor (after crushing the crown of Cairhien in his bare hands before the newly crowned Queen) Anything done (uses the Power to reform the crown in his hands) can be undone.

From Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch:

I wouldn’t shit on his head to give him shade from the sun.

 

I could keep going (like, forever), but that’s enough for now. Back to Actual Writing!


Publicity News

  • Tonight, at 6:30 pm, I will be doing a reading of The Iron Ring and giving a presentation on world-building in scifi/fantasy novels at the Adams Street Branch of the Boston Public Library. The event is free and I’ve been made to believe there will be refreshments.
  • On May 30th, from 2pm-4pm, I will be signing copies of The Writers of the Future, Volume 31 anthology at the Prudential Center Barnes and Nobel in Boston. I will bring candy.
  • Don’t forget to preorder Iron and Blood, which comes out on June 2nd (less than a month away!).

Getting Out of the Writing Basement

Since The Iron Ring debuted and especially since attending the Writers of the Future Workshop and receiving my award, I’ve been running into more and more people who are reading or have read my book. Not “want to read,” not “been meaning to read,” not even “have it on my Kindle,” but actually in the process of reading my novel. Like, if I were to quiz them on the main character’s name, they’d actually know what I’m talking about.

This is both (1) awesome and (2) really weird. I mean, yeah, it’s what I’ve always wanted, right? Culmination of a life-long dream and all that. The thing is, though, that I’ve been alone with this story and these characters for so long and I’ve been writing my stories and novels in a vacuum for so many years that to have people actually be aware of what I do is…well…is something I have to get used to. I really wonder what my face looks like when people congratulate me on my success. I’m guessing it looks something like this:

 

What...seriously? Are you screwing with me, or what?

What…seriously? Are you screwing with me, or what?

I didn’t introduce myself as “a writer” or “an author” until a year or two ago, when I figured that I had enough publications to make such a claim plausible to an outsider. The immediate follow-up question to the statement “I’m a writer” is “really? What have you written?” I always felt that, if the response was “fantasy short stories nobody has bought and exist in a shoebox beneath my desk,” it would be embarrassing for both of us.

I became used to the idea that my writing was a private and solitary enterprise that I was embarking upon more-or-less alone save for the loving support and understanding of my wife, who is probably the only person I discuss my daily writing problems and anxieties with. Beyond the two of us, I was just an English Professor at a university that doesn’t even have an English major who, in his spare time, wrote stories about spaceships and goblins that nobody really read.

Not the case anymore. I am an author and, indeed, part of my job now is making sure people know it and making sure people buy my books. It turns out that I’m sort of unprepared for this on an emotional level. I am constantly surprised that people are reading my book (and like it, too!). I am so surprised that, sometimes, I secretly doubt their veracity. “They’re just being polite” is the constant refrain of a little voice in the back of my head. “Fool,” it says, “nobody is actually reading your book. Get back in your attic, weirdo!”

I need that voice to shut the hell up. This blog post is me putting that stupid voice on notice.

In my classes, I sometimes give my students a little primer on public speaking. One of the key criteria, I tell them, is confidence. You need to believe in what you say (or at least look like you do) if you are going to expect other people to believe it, too. I need to take my own goddamned advice. When people come up to me and say “Congratulations on your book!” I need to stop shuffling and “aw-shucks-ing” my way through the conversation. Sure, I’m not exactly storming the bestsellers’ lists (well…not yet), but I’m an author, dammit, and people are reading my work. This shouldn’t be a shock or surprise – I’ve worked for this for a long time, and now I’m actually doing it.

I need to own my own success and take credit for what I’ve done. This, it turns out, is harder than it sounds. It must be figured out, though – and I’m guessing I’m not the only person trying to do so – because we can’t stay talking to ourselves in our basements forever. Sooner or later, we need to go into the world and be proud of what we’ve wrought, even if it’s only the beginning of a much greater work.


Publicity Notes

  • I will be giving a talk on world-building in fantasy literature at the Adams Street branch of the Boston Public Library this Monday, 5/18, at 6:30pm. The event is free and refreshments will be served. I will also be doing a reading from The Iron Ring.
  • I will be doing another book-signing of the Writers of the Future Volume 31 anthology on May 30th from 2-4pm at the Prudential Center Barnes and Nobel in Boston.
  • Pre-orders for Blood and Iron, part 2 of the Saga of the Redeemed, are still for sale everywhere e-books are sold! Get yours today!
  • I’m still holding my contest for the Best One-Liner to win a free copy of The Iron Ring. Contest ends Monday, so enter now!

Book Giveaway Contest: Best One-Liners

Hello there, friends! Say, have you heard I have a novel out? No?! Heavens to murgatroyd, wherever have you been? Well, no matter, no matter – we’ll fix things up right soon. Here’s what I’m going to do:

I’m going to give you a free copy of THE IRON RING. Yes, that’s right – give you one. For free.

I’ve got a bunch of copies of THE IRON RING to give to you good people. Why? Well, it just so happens the sequel to THE IRON RING is coming out on June 2nd, and I want to give some people a chance to read the first one before they read the second, right? Only seems fair, and time is of the essence, my friends.

Now, obviously this is such a stupendous deal that I might be inundated with requests for that limited number of free copies, and then I’d have to break the hearts of so many fine people. So, instead, I think we’ll have ourselves a little contest to make it more fair. After a week, I will pick the best entries to be the winners, and they will be set on their way to adventure, intrigue, and whimsy in the world of Tyvian Reldamar. Since Tyvian is, himself, something of a pithy one-liner artist, I’ve devised the following:

movie-james-bond-quotes-sayings-trade-egg-sarcastic_large

Thing the First: Post your favorite one-liner from a book, action movie, video game, or what-not in the comments below (or tweet at me – @AustonHab – with the hashtag #bestoneliner). Think James Bond, Conan the Barbarian, John McClane, Locke Lamora, Kvothe, Rand al’Thor – what line of theirs made you smirk with it’s awesomeness? Put it in the comments. Give some context if needed. Heck, if you want, go ahead and make up your own! If it’s awesome, I’ll give it a prize!

Thing the Second: Sign up for my e-mail list on the right sidebar and/or follow me on Twitter (so you’ll know if you won).

The Rules

  1. The contest will run from today (5/11) until next Monday (5/18). I will make a post here listing the winner’s names and we can then arrange a way to e-mail you your book.
  2. 3-4-13-b

    Let’s get this one out of the way, shall we?

    One prize per person, please. If you enter a whole bunch of times, I’ll just pick the best one. You can’t win a bunch of books.

  3. If you win, you’ll be getting the book direct through Harper Collins, so you might need to download their special reader app for your phone/tablet/ whatever.
  4. All comments need to be made either here on this post or Tweeted at me (@AustonHab) on Twitter with the hashtag #bestoneliner.
  5. I am the sole arbiter and judge of the contest.

Okay, ready? Go!

So I Says to the Guy, I Says…

Out at the Writers of the Future workshop, we had a couple sessions with Orson Scott Card. In one in particular, he explained to us (in great detail) why he felt the only POV and tense we should write in is Third Person Limited Past. The others, he asserted, were amateurish, gimmicky, and hard to work with and generally not worth the time. Now, a number of us present (judges as well as winners) disagreed with him to varying degrees. It’s notable that a number of us won the contest with first person narrations, at any rate, and that a great many good books have been written in present tense and with first person, and occasionally with both.

One thing I don’t think anybody is going to disagree with Card about is that writing in first person or in present tense is difficult. Deceptively so, actually, since it creates all kinds of narrative problems – in first person, you are locked into one character’s viewpoint with no real way to show anyone else; in present tense, it is very difficult to talk about the past (or the future), since you are so grounded in the immediate. So, unless you really, really know what you’re doing, you’re probably better off avoiding those odd POVs and tenses.

This is the tense and person of the stories you hear everyday, right?

This is the tense and person of the stories you hear every day, right?

All that said, I’m in the process of writing a novella told in first person and, in large part, told in present tense. I’m not doing this as a gimmick so much as to capture a certain voice. I’ve had this character and this voice kicking around in my head for some time now, and I’ve been waiting for a good way to work it into a nice, meaty story. The novella is proving difficult, in part because of the tense more than anything else. See, this is a character telling us his life’s story, but he isn’t doing it in the exclusive past; he frequently forays into the present, especially when describing individual scenes. This is a kind of anecdotal style that we tend to use a lot in speech, but not in writing.

By way of example: If somebody starts a story by saying “let me tell you about this one time I…” and then breaks into “so this guy is, like, six feet tall, ya know? And his little dog is growling and barking and I’m like ‘control your dog, man’ and he’s like ‘make me'” and then they wrap up with “so that’s how I lost my left ear,” it all sounds natural to us, doesn’t it? We slide from the present to the past in speech all the time. We do it to convey a sense of immediacy. We stand up and start gesturing, trying to bring our audience to the edge of their seats. There’s a certain magic there. Consider this clip from Seinfeld, and notice how the writers have Kramer drifting in and out of past and present tense seamlessly:

There’s no confusion caused there. Nobody is under the impression that Kramer is driving the bus at that exact moment, nor are they confused over the timeline of the toe, the mugger, the bus, and so on. There’s gotta be a way to capture this kind of storytelling on the page, isn’t there?

Well, turns out there might be, but it ain’t easy, let me tell you. I’ve been breaking my brain over this thing for a couple days now, and progress is slow and occasionally frustrating. I’ll keep you posted. The point here is that I think it’s possible and, furthermore, worthwhile. I’d read a story narrated by Kramer, wouldn’t you? That would be a gas.

I mean, assuming it were done well.


Publicity News

Given that I seem to be inundating this space with basically self-promotional spam, I figure it might behoove me to just set up a little section here at the bottom of my posts to update you folks on the latest. Here we go:

  • Hey! I’m at 1,002 followers here! Happy dance time!
  • Pre-orders for my novel, IRON AND BLOOD, are on sale now! This is the second part of THE IRON RING, which together comprise the first chapter of The Saga of the Redeemed.
  • The Writers of the Future Anthology, Volume 31 is selling well, but if you haven’t gotten your copy yet, you’re missing out. Come check out this incredible group of writers and learn a little bit about how to write scifi/fantasy along the way! Win/win!
  • Speaking of which, Daniel J Davis and I will be signing copies of WoTF31 at the Barnes and Nobel: Prudential Center (in Boston, MA) tomorrow, May 9th, from 2pm – 4pm. Stop on by! I’ll have free candy! Dan will have dog pictures!
  • Finally, I will be giving a talk on world-building in fantasy novels at the Adams Street branch of the Boston Public Library on Monday, May 18th, at 6:30pm. The event is free and I’ll be doing a reading from THE IRON RING, so it should be tons of fun. Hopefully I’ll see some of you there!

It’s RELEASE DAY

The time is now!

The time is now!

Writers of the Future Volume 31 is here! Thirteen of the best new writers in the field of Scifi and Fantasy – go check it out! Get your copy now!

“Unrefined” by Martin Shoemaker

“Unrefined” tells what happens to a visionary project when the visionary dies, and his widow and his best friend must bring his dream to life before their colony starves.

“Poseidon’s Eyes” by Kary English

In a sleepy California beach town, spirits magnify both the good and the evil in human hearts.

“The God Whisperer” by Dan Davis

Personalities clash when an ancient god becomes dependent on a modern man.

“The Graver” by Amy Hughes

In ‘The Graver’, the neighbors want to take your life. But only because they need it, to take your soul.

And more, more more!

Check it out, folks!

(and now I will return to my regular posting habits. Thanks so much for all your support and, seriously, go and buy the book. You’re going to be seeing these people’s names again!)

The Story Behind the Story: A Revolutionary’s Guide to Practical Conjuration

You may have all noticed that I won’t shut up about this story competition I won (preorder the anthology here! It’s awesome!). Well, for one thing that’s because the release date for the anthology is May 4th, which is also known as “this Monday,” and I’m working my little heart out here trying to make that launch a success, and this blog is probably the best way I have of doing that. That’s not all, though. I’m also trumpeting about this thing because I’m damned proud of myself and of my fellow winners, all of whom are spectacularly talented and all of whom deserve to get noticed by the reading public. This anthology is one of the best ways for our names to get “out there,” and I’m going to try and make the most of it.

However, you lovely people are probably tired of all the publicity yakkity yak, so I’m going to take a page from my friend, Martin Shoemaker, and have  substantive discussion about how my winning story, “A Revolutionary’s Guide to Practical Conjuration,” came into existence.

First, listen to the dulcet tones of Mr. Scott Parkin reading the first few paragraphs:

Michelangelo once said that his sculptures weren’t things he made so much as uncovered – they had been there all along, hiding in the stone just waiting for him to chip the extra bits away. I feel that way about my story, too. I didn’t so much “tell” this story as “find” it.

Behold the Undercity of Illin (still blown away by Shuangjian Liu's illustration of my story!)

Behold the Undercity of Illin (still blown away by Shuangjian Liu’s illustration of my story!)

The world of Alandar and, most particularly, the West is a place I have fashioned slowly over the course of more than a decade of world-building. When I create a world (and I am always creating worlds, mind you), they begin as broad, historical narratives or epic mythology – they are unpopulated, as it were. I start with the big (How does magic work here? What are the dangers of this world? Who holds the power and why? What are the world’s religions and creation myths?) and narrow it down until I get so close that, suddenly, I find I need characters to have the place make any sense. That level is usually right about at the “what kind of jobs do people do here” and “what do people eat on a daily basis” point. All of that little stuff, you see, is informed by the bigger stuff. Think of it this way: why do you eat hot dogs at a baseball game? Here’s a food imported by Germans (and adapted for American tastes) being ritually consumed at a sport descended from cricket and made popular in the late 19th century. Seems odd, doesn’t it? Yet, you can trace those things back to large religious and political movements which are themselves side-effects of things like geography, climate, and biology.

So, here we have the city of Illin. You can read my full treatise on the city and its environs here, if you’re so inclined, but in brief, Illin is a city built on the tip of a swampy peninsula commanding the outlet of a major trade river. It was designed as a way to control and limit the access the Kalsaari Empire (political and religious rivals to the Western nations) had to Western trade routes. Gradually, this city and principality became more militarized. As it is poor in material resources and arable land, it remained a poor nation propped up by its neighbors as a kind of buffer state. It has been invaded many times over the centuries, but this past time was by far the most successful and destructive invasion the Kalsaaris ever implemented. To win, they used sorcery in a way unseen in millennia. To win it back, the West did the same. Who was caught in the middle? Illin and, most particularly, its poorest citizens (i.e. the people who always pay the highest price when wars are fought).

Now, that’s just the tip of it all – there’s a hell of a lot more, but most of that world-building stuff never makes it to the page. It just exists in the back of the author’s mind, ready to be accessed if needed, but mostly there to fill out the picture of the place in the author’s mind. I’ve been to Illin, to the extent that anyone has been. I’ve run role-playing games with my friends set there. I’ve written poetry about it (bad poetry, mind you). I like to think I know how it smells.

But that’s just a city, not a character and certainly not a story.

In our workshop out in LA, Dave Farland (aka Dave Wolverton) said something that really struck me. He talked about how setting makes character and story more than anything else, so he always starts with the setting. I realized that I, also, do that (I just didn’t fully realize it). It isn’t until I have world that I feel like I could live in that I figure out who actually lives there. This is where Abe comes from. What would a young man from the Undercity think of his world? What would he want? How would he try to get it? All of these questions can be answered if the world is well-developed enough. And they were.

What’s interesting about the end of this story, though, is that I put the story down – trunked it, basically – for almost a year without an ending. I just couldn’t think of one. I’d painted Abe into such a corner that he was basically doomed (this, incidentally, was something Tim Powers told us was a good way to go, so, again, I was accidentally doing something right!). I had to put it down and walk away. When I (finally) came back, the end was as clear as day. Just goes to show you how fickle the imagination can be sometimes.

As a final note: for fans of The Saga of the Redeemed, this story is set about 12 years or so prior to Tyvian’s day and, obviously, in Illin and not Galaspin/Freegate. Yes, the man in the tooka den is Carlo diCarlo (a younger, thinner Carlo, though). Yes, that does mean young Tyvian (about twenty years old) is somewhere in Illin at that exact moment, doing something untoward. Yes, I do think of these things. Maybe, someday, I’ll tell that story too. Illin, though, does not give up its secrets easily.

More Audio Samples for Writers of the Future Vol 31

The artwork for

The artwork for “Switch” by the incredibly talented Daniel Tyka

Hi, everybody! So, yes, I’m acting like a broken record about the upcoming Writers of the Future Anthology (Volume 31), but that’s only because it’s crazy awesome and you should all get it. Not for my sake, either – my fellow winners are an amazingly talented bunch and you should get in on the ground floor here. I’ve got two for you today.

First is Steve Pantazis’s story, “Switch,” about a cop addicted to a high-tech new drug trying to solve the murder of a kid who was high on the self-same drug – a drug that accelerated the human mind to its highest potential. This is a dark, gritty tale long on style and suspense and you’ll get a kick out of it. Also, the world is the same as Steve’s novel Godnet, which means the world-building is top-notch (and I’m a sucker for good world-building, let me tell you).

Next…well…next is Sharon Joss’s story, “Stars That Make Dark Heaven Light.” She is the grand prize winner this year, and it is very much deserved, as this story is a simply magnificent tale of growing up, finding your place, and learning to love. Oh, and aliens and genetic engineering, too. Great, great story that you simply must read. For now, listen to the first bit:

Elsewhere Among My Very Talented Friends…

Liana Brooks’ novel The Day Before is out now from Harper Voyager. It’s a time-travel science fiction mystery, so check it out!

Steampunk author Beth Davis Cato has a new short story out: The Deepest Poison. If you liked The Clockwork Dagger, you should check it out!

And as For Me…

Iron and Blood, the thrilling second half to The Iron Ring is released in a little over a month. Pre-order now! Also, keep an eye on this space: I’m going to be announcing a giveaway contest soon, just as soon as I come up with a cool idea for one. I will also be at the Barnes and Noble Prudential Center in Boston MA on May 9th from 2pm-4pm signing copies of the Writers of the Future Anthology. W00t!

Exciting times, no? Go forth! Support authors! Read much!

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