11/21/17

Emaculum Audio Book is Here!

I might have missed the deadline on this by a tiny little bit…

So, first, the official announcement:

And second, an acknowledgement that this audiobook  might have taken a *tiny* bit longer than I intended. Like two years longer. Okay, like…um… three years longer. I could talk about all the reasons for this — delays from actors, life challenges, agent changes, my general stupidity, to name a few — but I won’t. The bottom line is that I dropped the ball on this. Thankfully, I have good friends.

Enter Lynn Roberts, a reader of my books who has followed me since the first of my Scourge books. Lynn’s helped me out in more ways than I can count. He’s been so awesome that I made him the captain of my street team, The Knights of Calas. A while back ago, I was bitching talking to him about the problems I was having with the audiobook. And Lynn stepped in one more time.

“You know,” he said, “I used to do some radio work. If you want, I could do it.”

Lynn doesn’t have an English accent, but he’s got an impressive, deep voice. And I know he is passionate about The Scourge, a quality that is far more important than anything else. Also, each of his biceps is bigger than my chest and he could kill me if I said no. So I played it safe and gave him the go-ahead.(Obviously I’m kidding–I was stunned and awed, and grateful that he would want to take it on).

Lynn sat in his makeshift studio for an ungodly number of hours, recording take after take of each chapter and sending them to me for approval. He had to suffer through my draconian criticisms and endless nitpicks for months, and he did it without a single complaint. I can’t thank him enough for his work. It’s because of him that this audiobook exists.

I’m sure some people will fault the book because Lynn does not have an English accent, like Nico Evers Swindell, who read Scourge and Nostrum (and did a fine job). But Emaculum is read by someone who loves the series, someone who has been consistently loyal to me, someone who stepped up to help me when I needed it.And if anyone complains about the accent, Lynn will probably crush their spine with his pinky toe. (That’s totally not true. Lynn is too classy for that. He would use the pinky on his hand.) Also, because the rights to The Scourge series have reverted to me (have I not talked about this? I guess I have another blog post to do), the first two audiobooks are no longer on sale.

So I guess Lynn and I will have two more books to do…

Hallelujah.

11/14/17

Tails From Above…

Hey Everyone. Apparently I’m still alive, and, even more apparently, something I’ve written is being published! The story is called The Weight of Hunger and it’s set in The Scourge universe. It’s being published in one of the popular Chronicle Worlds anthologies, and I’m in fantastic company. The book features the works of twelve other writers, including several USA today and Wall Street Journal bestselling authors.

So, what’s with the bird on the left? Well, the anthology isn’t your normal, run-of-the-mill collection of short stories. It’s a collection of short stories told from the point of view of animals. Yeah, I know. Sounds crazy, right? Yes it is. And I mean crazy good. These stories are amazing. Writing from the point of view of an animal creates interesting challenges and possibilities that bring out some unique and truly sharp writing. And allows you to make loud, screeching noises in your living room and at Starbucks without anyone thinking you’re weird. Okay, people may have thought I was weird. But I assured them I was completely justified in making those noises. The manager at Starbucks said he absolutely agreed with me as he escorted me out, so I have his support.

Anyway, the anthology is called Tails of Dystopia, and my story is about Eglantine, a kestrel falcon. The Red Plague that swept across England has transformed Eglantine’s world into a place of horror. She searches for her master–a noblewoman who disappeared from the manor house–while trying to avoid the plagued predators that hunt her. She finds a group of survivors and travels with them for a time, but learns that humans are as great a danger to her as anything else that roams the plagued landscapes of her homeland.

Alright, so, to be honest, I bitched a lot when I started writing this story. A story told by a bird? Seriously? I promised myself I’d never drink before accepting commissions in the future. But you know what? I love Eglantine’s story. It’s sweet and dangerous and sad, and it’s now a part of The Scourge universe, and I couldn’t be happier.

Oh, I almost forgot, proceeds from Tails of Dystopia will help veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder get trained therapy dogs. An organization called Pets for Vets makes this happen, and I’m so proud that my work is helping them out. So, if you needed another reason to buy this anthology, there you have it. The book is only 99 cents, so even if you have no interest in reading these stories, please consider picking up a copy. And if you have no interest in reading these stories, you don’t know what you’re missing.

 

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01/25/17
GatesofHell

I’m in Hell…

Yeah, sort of literally. You see, I’ve been writing a story that takes place in Hell. It’s been an interesting ride, this tale, a completely unexpected thing. One of those stories that slips through the shadows and wraps its arm around your throat from behind. I felt the cold blade on my back and knew I had to either write it or see a psychiatrist. Therapy is hell.

Okay, there’s only so much mileage I can get from Hell puns. I’ll leave you with an unedited excerpt from The Children of Gehenna. Lionel is the protagonist, a former knight of Burgundy. Etienne is a mysterious Frenchman. Brandon Harper is a U.S. Marine. Thermodosa is a Sarmatian from the time of Augustus. And, yeah, they’re all dead. And naked, for the moment. They are trying to escape from Hell, starting with Korbos, the place that’s served as Lionel’s prison for hundreds of years.

Talk soon.

We reach the crest of the new ridge and turn to look down upon the entire valley. Black shapes move swiftly through the purple darkness far below us. Like dark clouds tumbling across the landscape, except these clouds contain tiny specks of molten orange. Eyes of liquid fire.

“If we die away from Korbos…” Thermodosa’s gaze is on the billowing advance of the exiguus.

“If we die anywhere in the hells, we return to Korbos, like hawks to the mews,” Etienne replies. “Except hawks don’t return to the mews when they die. They simply plummet to the earth. Unless something eats them, in which case, they still plummet to the earth but the process takes a bit longer.” He climbs to the other side of the ridge and begins a belly-up crawl downward. “Yes, we belong to Korbos. If we die, we return there, and the memory of this escape will be scoured from us.

“How do you know this?” Thermodosa asks. “How do you know so much about Hell?”

“Self-preservation,” he replies. “If night is your future, you study the stars.” He pauses and stares up at us. “There is an expression I know from a very old story: ‘flectere si nequeo superos, Acheronta movebo.”

I work at the Latin in my head, piecing it together like broken pottery. “‘If I cannot bend the will of Heaven, I shall move Hell.’”

“Accurate enough, Sir Lionel.” Etienne resumes his climb. “I knew from an early age what fate awaited me. And so I learned how to move Hell.”

“The fuck’s that mean, anyway?” Harper replies. “You’ll move Hell?”

“It means,” Etienne replies. “That you do what you must to get what you need. For example, at this very moment, fleeing is vital to our escape. Not sure If I have made that perfectly clear yet.”

New screams rise in the distance— soul-burning cries from the children of God. Not the tormented chorus we heard from the settlement, but singular cries. The exiguus are in the hills, finding the scattered flock, returning escaped souls to Korbos.

We pause to stare in the direction of a shriek. A woman dies slowly, her cries high-pitched and desperate. The shrieks continue for a half dozen heartbeats, then grow muffled, before ceasing altogether.

“Perhaps that clarifies things a little?” Etienne says, scrabbling down the hill. “The river is a mile from here. There is no time left to us. Alez!”

“A mile?” Brandon Harper looks from the surging cloud of the exiguus back toward the crawling Frenchman. “We can’t outrun those fuckers for a mile!”

“Then you must outrun each other.” Etienne rises to his feet and bounds down the slope, skidding and pulling tiny rockslides with him.

Harper drives his shoulder into me, knocking me onto my arse. He scurries down the slope as I sputter. I roll to my feet, but not before Thermodosa bounds past me. She puts her back to the slope and skids down on hands and feet.

I follow, brushing pebbles from my buttocks and cursing Brandon Harper, but I cannot blame him. If I had been quicker, I would have done the same.

Etienne reaches the base of the slope and sprints along a narrow track between two hills. Harper scrambles to his feet and follows, with Thermodosa close behind. I am halfway down the slope when the cry of the exiguus erupts behind me. The power of that cry impales me like a thicket of spears. I glance back and see the rolling silhouette of the exiguus cresting the slope. They are small, scorched creatures, with molten eyes, and taloned hands far too big for their bodies. But it is not their appearance that sends the spike of fear into my heart—it is their number. They are like a plague of locusts. Like a cloud of despair. Some crawl with terrifying speed. Others sprint on wobbly legs.

I stand and leap down the last ten feet of the slope. My foot hits the path hard and I tumble, rolling on my shoulder and rising quickly. Thermodosa and Harper are ten paces away, in a full sprint. Etienne is a dozen paces ahead of them, but we are closing swiftly. Thermodosa glances back at me, but does not slow.

I lower my shoulders and put every ounce of strength I have into my sprint. The exiguus tumble down the hill with surprising speed. They trample each other, more and more of them bounding over the slope like a mudslide.

Brandon Harper is strong, but not as fast as I am. I make up a few precious paces. When I am nearly at arm’s length I dive, grabbing at his feet. He is quick, and kicks his legs high at the last moment. But I get just enough to send him staggering, then tumbling onto his knees and rolling across the stones. Fire courses through my elbows as they scrape the path, but I am on my feet instantly, leaping over Harper’s grabbing hands and chasing Thermodosa.

The exiguus are on the path now, crashing side to side like floodwaters through a valley. Their screams sounds like something familiar, something that I cannot place. I do not understand how things that look so unstable can move with such speed.

Harper lurches to his feet, but limps on one leg. Blood courses down from his knees, painting his shins black in the faint light. His pace quickens, but not enough. I remember his words: He does not have a hope in Hell. Brandon Harper is my offering to the exiguus, and I pray he slows them enough.

“Motherfucker!” Harper roars. “French fucking motherfucker!”

I have never heard such efficiency of language.

Thermodosa overtakes Etienne, her red hair whipping behind. She sends another glance back at me, then toward Harper. Her eyes grow wide in the purple light, so I glance back, too.

The wave of demons is nearly upon him. One of the creatures leaps onto Harper’s back and wraps its arms around him. He straightens and slaps at the tiny demon. Another bounds forward, latching onto his leg. Harper spins, shaking his leg and wrenching at the monster on his back. “French fucking faggot!” He howls.

I look away and run. My lungs ache. Each breath is a fiery rasp. Etienne’s face is cragged with agony as I pass him. He sends a sharp look my way, picks up his pace, and we both peer back.

More than a dozen creatures embrace Harper. Their long, taloned hands scrape at his skin, not with violence, but like pups stroking a teat, like the desperate hands of a drunk working at a cork.

“Come on, then!” Harper roars. “Come on!” He tears the abominations off, one at a time, and hurls them into the ground, but the wave is upon him. They crash into him like a windblown thunderstorm, knocking him to the ground. “Motherfu…” He disappears among their grasping, flailing arms.

Thermodosa is fast. I will not catch her, but perhaps I do not have to, because Etienne stops running, one hand on his side, his head thrown upward.

The exiguus make a growing mound around Harper. His arm emerges and he pounds at the tiny demons, but they are too many. They embrace him like reunited lovers.

I turn away and run, ignoring the new tributary that has formed in that icy river of my soul.

Thermodosa slows at a rising slope in front of her. She looks back, then hurls herself at the incline and claws upward. I reach the hill a few heartbeats later and begin to climb. But she leaps back to the path. Her chest rises and falls with each breath. I follow her gaze to the hilltop. A swarm of black shapes tumbles down at us. I spin toward the slope behind us, but there is no escape from the exiguus. Our narrow valley is an island amid a black sea of death.

Thermodosa groans, and there are hundreds of years of agony in that sound. We turn and run back the way we came with no thought of strategy, seeking only to stay free, one heartbeat at a time. We reach Etienne, who stares grimly at the new wave of exiguus.

Thermodosa and I instinctively put our backs against one another. Her skin is warm and slick with sweat and the feel of it quickens my breath.

She has a warrior’s instinct. I had thought her carved body was forged by her time here in Gehenna, but I think now that perhaps she is a soldier, too. She is the second warrior woman I have known in my life. And she is a marked improvement from the first.

“We lived.” I glance back at her. “For an hour, we lived free of Moloch and Korbos.”

She clenches her fists and hisses out a sharp breath. “But we won’t remember it.”

The small creatures run and tumble and roll down the slope toward us, molten eyes leaving trails of light.

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07/25/16

Don’t be an Ejaculator

A couple of years ago, I was on a panel discussing dialog.  What? It happens. Sometimes people pity me I’m a respected, highly sought-after expert in my field. Anyway, one of the authors on the panel told the audience to avoid using bookish dialog tags, and someone asked what he meant by that. There was a momentary pause, and my good friend, author Lou J Berger, held up a hand dramatically and shouted:

“‘The front of my pants are wet,’ he ejaculated.”

We lost about five minutes of panel time due to uncontrollable, wall-shaking laughter. Needless to say the panel went downhill after that was fruitful and very productive.

Lou’s reply was hysterical, but it was also dead-on. There is no need for that sort of ridiculousness. In fact, 90 percent of the time, “said” is the right call. You know why? Because I said so. And you know why else? Because almost any other dialog tag that you use colors the novel with opinion. Or tells the reader how you want them to feel. Said is a fact. It is objective. It is transparent and seamless. To many of you, it may seem a bit plain or repetitive, but it’s not. “Said” fades into the background, which is the point, as I mention below…

And another thing…

Dialog tags aren’t always necessary. In fact, they are an interruption, and should be taken out whenever possible. If you write a sentence like this:

 

“How dare you steal the Eternal Llama of Youth!” Sir Galahad said, drawing his sword.

Then go back and change it to this:

“How dare you steal the Eternal Llama of Youth!” Sir Galahad drew his sword.

And consider writing a new story.

Oh, and if you do this…

“Bow, interloper! Bow to the Llama of Eternal Youth!” He hissed infuriatedly!

I’m a huge believer in Elmore Leonard’s fourth rule of good writing (the third rule talks about not using any tag other than “said,” incidentally). And that rule is: Never use an adverb to modify a dialog tag. So, if you type a sentence like this:

“Before this day is through, I will steal all seven of the Llamas of Power!” He said angrily.

…then don’t worry about deleting it or editing it in any way. Simply take your laptop into the landfill and throw it in whatever area is set aside for toxic waste. Buy a new laptop and start again, free from the contamination of that line. Jokes aside, using a word like “angrily” to modify said is worse than using a bookish tag like “he regurgitated,” or the like. But it still sucks. So don’t be an ejaculator.

’nuff said.

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04/22/16

I’m on Reddit Ask Me Anything, right now!

I’m helping Strongblade.com (who I blog for) to do an AMA on r/fantasy. If you want to ask any questions about armor, weapons, history, fantasy novels, writing, or anything at all, come on by! If you don’t have an account with Reddit, you should, because it’s an awesome resource. So 1. Sign up and 2. Come ask questions and join in the fun! If you do have an account, then skip step one and go directly to step 2. Hurry!

https://www.reddit.com/r/Fantasy/comments/4fz9ut/hail_reddit_were_strongblade_creators_of_the/

 

03/4/16
Scourgeware

The Scourge, Giveaway!

A quick note to let all of you know that I am giving away five e-book copies of The Scourge. The raffle is being carried out with the Amazon Giveaways tool, and simply requires that you follow me on Amazon to enter.

Here’s the link to the giveaway: https://giveaway.amazon.com/p/6be1876300ba5a1d

If you haven’t read The Scourge, now’s your chance to get it for free. And if you have, now’s the chance to spread my plague far and wide by giving it to your friends and family. Or something.

I’m giving this raffle thing a try, and if it does modestly well (or better) I’ll start giving away other merchandise in the future (including this Scourgeware I designed but have never printed).

Thanks, and, if you enter, may you contract The Scourge!

 

 

 

02/17/16
DontWakeTheReader

Lessons Learned: The Reader’s Lullabye

I want to start putting up little snippets of the things I’ve learned while writing. Stuff that will probably only appeal to new writers. I’d also like to play beach volleyball on Mars. Hopefully these “Lessons Learned” will come more often than my volleyball matches.

Writing should be efficient and quick. The reader needs to slip through your story as if she or he were on a waterslide. The problem, of course, is that sometimes you have approximately fifty seven things to present to the reader in each paragraph. (Well, fifty eight if you weave subliminal manifestos in your sentences like I do). These fifty seven or so things are complex thoughts. Things that could really be spread over an entire page. Two pages. Dammit, I need an entire novel to talk about these fifty seven damn things that I’m trying to tell you. Can we just Skype instead of you reading my book? Because I really don’t think I can get these ideas across in a tiny little novel.

But, as novelists, we must. We must. That is the job of a novelist.

Our job is not to tell a story. Anyone can tell a story.

Our job is not to dazzle with prose–that is the job of a poet. Or a politician.

Our job is to present the reader with an experience. Our job is the simple task of carrying a 200 pound reader on our back and flying them to a distant place. Our job is to put them into a dream state on that journey, except the dream is our dream, one that we have crafted with meticulous care. And the trick… the trick is to keep them from finding out they are dreaming.

How do we do this? Simple. By not letting them know we are there. There are a thousand ways a writer can intrude on his story, but the one I’m talking about today is boredom. We cannot bore the reader awake. We need to keep our readers so absorbed in the dream that they don’t have time to worry about that uncomfortable shoulder blade pressing against their butt-cheek.

But sometimes, especially in fantasy stories, we have to describe something. Setting is important in fantasy, and without it, you just have weird historical fiction.So how do we provide a description without waking up our little dreamer? With butchery, friends. With hard, pipe-hitting butchery and dismemberment.

Here’s a passage I wrote just now, in its original form (apologies for any grammar mistakes or typos):

The sun, dimmed by the ring shadows and reddened by smoke from a farmer’s distant field, seethed like a madman’s glare. To the east, the dark smudge of the Vruga mountains rose in the smoldering daylight. The Tiburcian hoof beats rang on the stony Northern Trail, leaving ghosts that seemed to bounce and tumble behind. And, up ahead, a stony mound rose from the plains.
Alturia.
The walled city rested on a hill within a loop of the Ballestra. A clutter of tightly-packed daub structures huddled within the winding curtain walls, climbing the sides of the hill. The muted sun washed rose across the white walls, the roof tiles a dull, burnt crimson.
At the center of the city—rising like a shard of glass from an ant hill—was the Cathedral of the Guardian. Five circles of shining towers and chapels, each soaring higher than the one enclosing it. And, mounted upon the highest of the towers, five silver rings facing north and south. From this distance, they looked like a single circle, glinting in the shadow of the true rings of Cerule.
“I thought we were going to ride in the foothills,” Ermenguille peered around the side of the carriage, as if armed men might appear behind them at any time.
“We will,” Tercero replied. “But there are few villages and no food in those hills. We need to buy enough to last us until we can cross into Corsyn.”

So, at the start of that section, I have three paragraphs of description, and this set off all sorts of sirens and a woman’s computerized voice saying, “Warning. Warning. Warning. Warning…”

Muted sun. Pale walls. *yawn*  Hill. Towers. *snort. Smack lips*  Five rings. More sun. “What… what am I doing up here? Who the hell’s back am I on?”

Yeah, mission not accomplished. I don’t think the passages were horribly unwieldy, but I am paranoid about waking the reader. So, I made a subtle change to keep the dream unbroken:

The sun, dimmed by the ring shadows and reddened by smoke from a farmer’s distant field, seethed like a madman’s glare. To the east, the dark smudge of the Vruga mountains rose in the smoldering daylight. The Tiburcian hoof beats rang on the stony Northern Trail, leaving ghosts that seemed to bounce and tumble behind. And, up ahead, a stony mound rose from the plains.
Alturia.
The walled city rested on a hill within a loop of the Ballestra. A clutter of tightly-packed daub structures huddled within the winding curtain walls, climbing the sides of the hill. The muted sun washed rose across the white walls, the roof tiles a dull, burnt crimson.
“I thought we were going to ride in the foorhills,” Ermenguille peered around the side of the carriage, as if armed men might appear behind them at any time.
“We will,” Tercero replied. “But there are few villages and no food in those hills. We need to buy enough to last us until we can cross into Corsyn.”
At the center of the city—rising like a shard of glass from an ant hill—was the Cathedral of the Guardian. Five circles of shining towers and chapels, each soaring higher than the one enclosing it. And, mounted upon the highest of the towers, were five silver rings facing north and south. From this distance, they looked like a single circle, glinting in the shadow of the true rings of Cerule.

Not fancy. Not glamorous. But something that breaks up the infodump with dialog. I might still cut a little more of the description. But if I don’t, I think I can still save the dream. If the reader starts snorting and waking, then hopefully the dialog will server as a lullabye.

Okay. That’s the snippet for tonight. Sleep well, my readers. And pleasant dreams.