04/17/14
Graphic_Reviews

The Crazy Importance of Reviews

Hey everybody. I’m posting for two reasons. The first, to update all of you on Emaculum. But I will get to the first second, if that makes sense, because I have something really important to ask, and it concerns reviews.

Big, crazy, wibbly-wobbly, timey-whymey things are going on at 47North, my publisher. Apparently their promotional efforts for books are being prioritized by the number of good reviews. The more reviews a book has, the more they will promote it. This is huge. *HUGE*. I cannot stress enough the absolute HUGENESS of this for writers. I humbly ask that if any of you have not reviewed my novels, please do so. And if you have friends or family members or literate pets that have read my books and enjoyed them, please, please encourage them to write reviews for every one of my books they have read.

I am extremely grateful for any and all efforts made in this regard. Thank you!

Now, onward to Emaculum:

The novel is almost finished, and I’m starting to get really excited. The end is a wonderful, emotional, powerful moment that is coming at me like a waterfall on the river. It seems like Edward has been questing for so long, and now I am one episode away from the resolution of his efforts. That’s right. I’m just about at episode 8. And yes, I said the end. There may be further adventures in the Scourge universe, but Edward will probably sit them out. At least for a little while…

So, the actual update:  After editing and formatting, I’m thinking I that will have Emaculum done at the end of May. Not having the deadline pressure of a serial has allowed me to go back and change things as I write, which will make this a much better novel, but it also has allowed my OCD to kick into overdrive. I’ll have some announcements as we get closer to publication time. I’d really like to make a big splash when I launch this, and I’d like all of you to help me do it. But for now, watch this space.

Thanks again! I really appreciate all the support I get from my readers. I am touched by your emails, blog comments, Facebook posts, and the many things you do to encourage, inspire, and motivate me.

Roberto

 

 

 

03/27/14
chickenroad3

“You … you … skelm!” And other problems.

A quick vent-post about the problems I often encounter with language in historical fiction.

Those of you who read my previous post on historical language know that this is an ongoing thing with me.  But tonight, I was looking for a word that means ‘scoundrel’ but isn’t ‘scoundrel,’ because ‘scoundrel’ is a 16th century word.

So I settle on “rogue.” But Rogue is also 16th century. How about “ruffian?” Yeah, the 16th century had all the good words.

Eventually, I find “caitiff” which is a 14th century word for “scoundrel,” but is about as lively as an anvil. “You’ll not be paid a penny, you caitiff!” Doesn’t have quite the ring I was looking for. And even if I use it, half of my readers will stop, look at the camera (am I the only one who’s life is followed by movie cameras?), and say, “huh?” And the other half will just skip over it and silently curse me. No. the search must continue.

Skelm! Perfect! It’s got a nice Saxon bite to it and sounds absolutely perf… oh. Curse you, 16th century! Curse you to hell!

*mental note: My next novel will be set in the 16th century*

So, after far too long spent searching (so long, in fact, that I can’t really remember why I’m looking for the damned word), I stumble upon “Poltroon.” Good. Sounds like an insult. “You won’t get a penny! You will get justice, you poltroon!” I like it. Readers won’t know what it means, but they’ll get the gist. Think of Jesse from Breaking Bad going, “Oh, snap! He called you a damned poltroon!” In fact, I may start calling people poltroons. Help me out. Let’s bring back poltroon. Start using it in ever day life. Let’s see how long it takes for a celebrity to use it. Um… where was I? Poltroon! I check the date…Yes! It works. Happy day! It only took 20 minutes and a venting blog post about language to find one! Wait a minute. Wait a damned minute…

…in the 13th century, “poltroon” was spelled “poultron.” It was only spelled “poltroon” in the — say it with me — 16th century. Sigh. The gangsta-snap, you-been-dissed quality of “poltroon” gets completely lost when it’s “poultron.” It has that sophisticated Frenchiness that defies street cred. “Ahh, non, non. You will not get a franc! You will get zee justeese, you poultron!”

Can I just use the 16th century spelling? Of course I can. Will I be accurate? Not really. But does it really matter? Unless I write the entire book in Middle English, it will never be 100% accurate. And God knows I’ve done my homework on this word.

I’m going to use it. Damn it all to hell, I’m using it. And when some poltroon decides to post a public tweet saying: “@robertocalas, in Emaculum, you used word poltroon, but in 13th c. waz actually spelled, poultron. just saying.” I am going to call them a filthy, damnable skelm.

Although it will have to mean filthy in the physically-unclean sort of way, because the “morally unclean or obscene” meaning of that word wasn’t around until …Yeah. You know the rest.

 

 

01/14/14
entertained

Hello, and a Flourish

Hey everyone! Been enormously busy with Emaculum, but wanted to get to the surface and say hello. The third and final book of the Scourge is well under way, although I may not have it finished until March. Self-pubbing a book takes a little longer when you have to do all the work yourself. But I shouldn’t complain. You guys helped fund the publishing costs, so the whining stops right now.

I’ll be publishing a humorous short story I wrote very soon. It’s something a little different. A sort of modern-day fairy tale reminiscent of The Princess Bride. Some of you who pledged a certain amount in the Kickstarter campaign will be getting a free copy.

Lastly, I sometimes get people asking me questions about writing. I really don’t do enough about the craft of fiction here on my blog. I will try to do a little more of that, for those of you interested in that sort of thing. But I won’t flood the blog with it, for those of you who are not. So, to begin, I’m reprinting a post I wrote for Jeff Wheeler (of Muriwood fame).  The post is about writing with a touch of style. If you haven’t read it yet, I hope you enjoy it!

The Flourish

So, you’ve been writing stories since high school. Or maybe you just started recently. You’ve got a Nanowrimo or two under your belt and you’re starting to find your groove. And now, you’ve decided to get serious about your writing. I applaud you for it. And I will give you one piece of advice that took me years to learn:

If you want to separate yourself from the crowd, you need flourish.

Readers can choose from thousands of different stories. Hundreds of thousands. But what they want is a story that will jump off the page. They want to be entertained. You are not a writer, you are a literary gladiator, thrilling the crowds as you knock down one sentence after the other.

“Are you not entertained? Are you not entertained?”

The writers of the movie Gladiator might have been speaking through their protagonist with those lines. For those who haven’t seen Gladiator, Proximo is an older man, a former gladiator who won his freedom. He owns his own gladiators now, and he tells one of them (Maximus, the story’s protagonist) this:

 “I was not the best because I killed quickly. I was the best because the crowd loved me. Win the crowd and you will win your freedom.”

That line has always resonated with me, because it applies to every type of creative writing there is. Do not write quickly or dispassionately. Thrill the crowd. Make them love you and you will win them forever.

Maximus takes Proximo’s words to heart and when he next marches into the arena, he takes on a handful of men and kills them in dramatic and acrobat fashion. After he does so, he holds his hands up to the crowd in a moment of self-loathing and asks, “Are you not entertained?”

We have to make those acrobatic kills with our writing, but fortunately we don’t have to hate ourselves for it. Because … well … this metaphor is falling apart isn’t it?

Okay, so, how do we, as writers, make the crowd love us?

We do it with flourish, my friends. We do it with flourish.

I know my own work best, so I will provide an example from my novel, The Scourge. The protagonist, a knight named Sir Edward, is trying to goad a mob of mindless, zombie-like demons to a battlefield where his allies are outnumbered. He hopes the demons will even the odds. Here’s a section from that scene:

They pour from the millhouse in an endless stream of madness, their noses flared to the scent. I nod to Tristan and Morgan. “The mint works.”

We trot our horses away from Corringham. The legions follow behind us, staggering and screaming.

Fairly straightforward, no? Any middling writer could churn that out. It’s solid and quick. But I don’t want to kill quickly. I want to thrill the crowd. I want flourish.

At this point I guess I should explain what flourish is. Here’s how I see it: It’s the crescendo of music that gets your heart racing while you watch a movie. It’s the magician throwing his arms into the air after a masterful trick. It’s the horse rearing and pawing at the sky while the cowboy waves his hat and whoops at the top of his lungs. It’s that touch of pizazz. It’s flourish.

I wanted flourish in my scene with Sir Edward, so for the paragraphs immediately following the example above, I let my protagonist take over. And he did his best to thrill the crowd:

 In France, I often led companies of men. At Nájera I commanded the entire left wing of our formation. But I have never led an entire army out to battle. It has been a secret desire of mine. To thunder toward the French with five thousand howling men at my back, our wind-whipped standard held high above my head.

I have only five or six hundred soldiers behind me tonight. They are men, women and children, and they are not particularly fast. But they howl with the unholy power of hell. Their lurching footsteps thunder upon the heaths behind me. I hold no standard, only a smoldering flowerpot, but I have achieved my secret desire. I ride toward the French with an army.

An army of the dead.

I tried to use the most dramatic language I could, without tipping into melodrama (hopefully I succeeded). I tried to build up the tension slowly, raise the excitement bit by bit like that crescendoing music I mentioned earlier.

But flourishes don’t always required long paragraphs. They can come in the little details, too. The tiny touches you add that that bring a symphony-finale to an idea. In my epic fantasy, The Beast of Maug Maurai, one of the main characters is larger than life. He’s a grizzled old hero named Black Murrogar and I wanted to make sure readers knew that he was something special. So I added a flourish:

Murrogar sat with Ulrean today on the final leg of their journey to Nuldryn Duchy. The old warrior wore a new crimson tabard over the old, blackened mail of the King’s army, the Laraytian Standards. He wasn’t a Standard anymore, but he would wear no other armor. He’d be buried in that blackened chain. If anything ever killed him.

Did you see it? The bulk of the paragraph does a decent job of describing Murrogar, but it’s the little bonus at the end that adds the flourish: “If anything ever killed him.” A small fanfare that makes the passage resonate in a way that description alone could not achieve. Just five little words that I hope will thrill the crowd.

Want another one from The Beast of Maug Maurai? Here are a few short sentences with a flourish at the end. The setup is that a group of soldiers are fighting creatures called thrulls, and some of the creatures try to escape by fleeing into a river called the Serinhult:

  Jjarnee Kruu fired bolt after bolt from his three crossbows. He rarely missed. Thrulls fell thrashing into the water and the Serinhult carried them to another world.

It’s a subtle thing here, but it’s a flourish. The thrulls could have fallen, thrashing, into the water and been carried downstream. But they weren’t. The Serinhult carried them to another world. Flourish. Crescendoing music. Happy cowboy.

Are you not entertained?

12/3/13
Emaculumletterbox

The Scourge: Emaculum Kickstarter (and a sample)!

Many of you have already gotten the news, but for those that have not, 47North will not be publishing book 3 of the Scourge. I will be self-publishing the novel. This is actually a good thing in many ways. I get full creative control and I will make more money per unit sold. But it is also a challenge in some ways: I have to hire my own editors and pay for my own publicity. So, to try and raise money for those costs, I have started a Kickstarter campaign.

If you haven’t heard of Kickstarter, it’s a website that lets others invest in a project you are working on. Backers pledge a certain amount of money for the project and, in return, the backers get rewards according to the amount the have pledged. It’s a win-win for both sides. Some of the rewards include signed copies of my books, a mention in the acknowledgements, a character named after you, you even have a chance to be my patron and have the book dedicated to you. And if the campaign is successful, it will lead to the publication of the third and final book in The Scourge trilogy. And what a book it will be! I’ll have a teaser for it down below. But before I get to that, here’s the link to the project (complete with the self-conscious, badly cut, deer-in-the-headlights video that I did for the Kickstarter campaign) (may I never have to make another video again).

If everyone who has read my books donates even $1, I’ll have enough to cover my costs tenfold. But if you can’t pledge (and I know very well what that’s like), feel free to spread the word about the campaign. The more people you tell, the more chance of the book getting published at the same quality as the other two in the series. Every bit helps.

I have started writing the book already and I honestly believe that it will be the best of the trilogy. The writing is flowing. Edward is leading me and I am merely documenting the journey. I’m really excited about The Scourge: Emaculum, and hopefully you will be too. I’ve included an unedited teaser of the first three pages or so (sign up for my newsletter and you will receive the entire first chapter in the next week or so). It may change in the process, hopefully you’ll enjoy this snippet of what I have written.

Men will follow anyone.

I have watched fools lead battalions, and cowards command armies. I have met lecherous bishops who guide flocks upon the paths of morality, and madmen who rule entire kingdoms. And I have learned, in my days upon this earth, that it is not the wisest or bravest or even the most sensible who lead; it is the loudest.

And Sir Gerald of Thunresleam is a loud enough to wake the dead.

His mad shouts echo through the sparse forest. “No!” he screams. “In a line! Stay in a line!”

Sir Tristan and I pause at an ivy-draped alder to recover. I unsling the leather sack that hangs from my shoulder and Tristan does the same. Each breath I take sears my lungs, echoes in my helm. I am too old to be running in armor. Hounds howl and the deep thud of hoof-beats rings out behind us. The rain creates applause on the leaves above.

“Tell . . .  tell me that lovely story again, Edward,” Sir Tristan pants as he speaks, one hand on his thigh, the other holding a crossbow against his shoulder. “You had a . . . a cannon pointed at Gerald . . . a flame . . . inches from the touch-hole. I . . . I forget the next part. Tell me again what you did?”

I take great gulps of air and grunt at Tristan. He knows what I did; I lowered the cannon and let Gerald escape. I have run from Sir Gerald from the time his master, Sir John of Muckinge, died in battle. Sir John was torn apart by the mindless victims of this new plague that has rotted England. I suppose Sir John’s death is my fault – I led the plaguers to the battlefield where he died – but neither apologies nor denials will sate Sir Gerald’s lunatic thirst for revenge. The madman has tried to kill me more times than I care to recall, and when I had him in my power, I let him go.

Sir Gerald does not seem to appreciate my act of mercy.

Tristan and I left St. Benet’s Abbey two days after capturing it, and we caught sight of our pursuers after less than three miles of traveling. Ten horsemen and two dozen footmen appeared on the horizon, every one of them sworn to Sir Gerald.

Men will follow anyone.

Father Aubrey, a priest back home, once told me that men are like wolves. He said we hunt in packs so we can slaughter more lambs, and the man with the loudest howl leads us all. I smiled and asked if women were the lambs in his metaphor. A peculiar look came over him as he shook his head.

“No,” he replied. “A woman is the hunger that burns in the belly of the wolf. The hunger that makes him slaughter the lamb.”

Father Aubrey is a strange man.

My woman, Elizabeth, lies plagued in the cathedral of Saint Edmund’s Bury, and my belly rages with hunger for her. I have slaughtered an uncountable number of innocent lambs while trying to get her back, and I fear there will be more butchery before my journey is done.

Sir Gerald will be the first on that butcher’s block.

A stocky man in ring mail and a flat-topped nasal helm stumbles through shrubs and draws up only a few feet away. His eyes grow wide when he sees us. “They’re here!” He draws his sword. “Sir Gerald, I have them! They’re—”  Tristan’s dagger catches the man in the throat and the shout becomes a gurgle. My sigh is a hiss inside the great helm.

Sir Gerald will have to be the second on the butcher’s block.

The man’s body relaxes and Tristan lets it fall to the sodden earth. I notice a red ribbon tied around the soldier’s arm, his lady’s favor. A sign of the hunger that burned in this man’s stomach.  But this wolf will slaughter no more lambs.

The wailing of hounds grows louder from the east. Horsemen bob through the trees. The footmen crack branches with their footfalls and shuffle through dead leaves.

Tristan cleans the blade of his dagger on the red ribbon. He squints at the oncoming men and tries to smile. “I hear the west side of the forest is lovely this time of year.”

I take a last look at the dead man, sling my shoulder sack, and lurch westward through the forest. Cold water from the wet leaves sprays my cheeks through the air holes in my helm. I shove at the grasping branches with my shield. We cannot outrun our pursuers forever. I wonder how Sir Gerald will kill us. On our last meeting, he threatened to skin us like rabbits and piss on our pulp. He may be mad but he is creative in his madness.

I glance back at Tristan and think of all the times I have put his life in danger. Death’s skeletal fingers have brushed our shoulders too many times to count, but today I can feel his bony hand on my throat. Tristan sees me looking and blows a kiss, then picks up his pace so he is directly behind me.

Men will follow anyone.

 

If there’s any man I would follow, it’s Sir Edward Dallingridge. Thanks very much for your continued support. Let’s get Edward back to his Lady Elizabeth!