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.






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.



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.









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!




Beast of Maug Maurai – Book 3 Cover Reveal

***Quick important note: I will be raising the price of Stars and Graves to $3.99 after it goes off pre-order. The book is twice as long as the first two and took twice as much work to edit, and I believe is better suited at the higher price point. But if you pre-order it, you will get it at the $2.99 price. That is all.***

After ten years of on-again, off-again work, I have just uploaded the final volume for The Beast of Maug Maurai. For some inexplicable robot-reasons, Amazon’s publishing engine needs until March 10 to release the book from pre-order status. So we should all just stare at the pre-order page until Amazon gets uncomfortable and just releases the thing.

Until then, I am uploading the cover (WordPress won’t let me add a drumroll MP3). Also, in case you missed it, I have posted an excerpt here.

Some of you might notice a bit of a deviation from the previous two covers. There are a few different reasons for that, not the least of which is simply my desire to put up a really catchy cover, with more fantasy street cred and a bit of punch-you-in-the-stomach oomph. Another reason was the fact that book 3 is all about the Beast, really. I don’t have the illustrating chops to do justice to the Beast, so I figured I would show the same snippet of forest that is on the first two covers, reflected in the eye of the monster. I also changed the typography. I have never been very happy with the type on the first two covers. It’s a remnant of my corporate design background, and it just doesn’t pop with the fantasy jazz-hands that I was looking for. Hopefully this new typography will attract more fantasy readers. Eventually I’ll change the type on the first two covers as well.

I will talk more about the completion of The Beast of Maug Maurai in a later post. Until then, enjoy the cover and thank you, as always, for your wonderful support.



Day 4. Not much different than an average facial hair day for me at this point.

Hey everyone. Just a quick note to ask for charitable donations to the Movember Foundation. I’ll be growing a crazy mustache in November to raise awareness for men’s health issues (men’s cancers, mental health, etc.). In return, you will donate $1 or $5 or $100 or $10,000 to the Movember Foundation. (Um…please?) I’m part of a team called The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Writers, and you can find us here:

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Writers

I’m the team leader, and I’m being shamed by lack of donations, so please make me look better (because the trucker-stache certainly wont. I’ll start posting more pics of the stash as it grows in.

Until then, any suggestions on what type of mustache I should have? I’m leaning toward a long, trucker-stache with a soul patch, but if someone has a better idea, post it in the comments below. And, if anyone donates $100 or more, that person can decide what style I will wear (within reason and my physical ability to grow it). Thanks! And, HAPPY MOVEMBER.



New York Comic Con – Saturday

Comic Con! I met up with 47North’s awesome booth crew–Britt, Ben, Alex and Justin– and did some catching up with Michael Underwood, author of the blindingly creative fantasy novel, Shield and Crocus. And we walked. And walked. And walked. And bought a $10 personal pizza. And walked some more.

I saw a great number of awe-inspiring, shocking, beautiful, amusing and horrifying sites, as you do at Comic Con. I figured I would roll out some of the photos for all of you, in the name of amusement and posterity. They are down below, if you’re interested. Otherwise, we will be back at the Jacob Javitz Center tomorrow for another day in the geekular dimension. Oh, and I suppose I should sign some books too. If you’re at the Con, stop by at noon to get a free, signed copy of The Scourge.