Greetings and Salutations!

Welcome to the longest-running* yet least-read** blog on the internet! Here you'll find me writing about all the things that I write about, which strikes me, just now, as somewhat recursive. In any case, enjoy :)

* not true
** probably true

Friday, August 14, 2015

A craft post

Recently I received an email from a reader (hi Steven!) who is in the process of wrestling his own first novel into some sort of of obedience. He wondered what sort of plotting techniques I used. He mentioned snowflake methods and beat sheets and other assorted alchemies that I have heard of, but know nothing about beyond the fact of their existence.

Not being one to waste words that can be reused, I thought I would excerpt my reply here, for those who might be interested in how I make the alphabet turn into a novel:

I generally write from a character base rather than a plot base. I know that sounds weird considering the kind of stuff I write, but bear with me here.

Because as a reader I get serious attention deficit when I don't care about characters, I try really hard to make everybody in the story interesting for me to write about in some way, either through personality, motivation or circumstance. I figure if they're interesting to write about, then they stand a better chance not to be boring to read about. And because as a writer I kill any desire to actually write a book by outlining it, that leaves me moving through the darkness of plot, as Cory Doctorow sort-of said, with a flashlight. Just enough light to see what I need to in order to keep moving.

I start with a beginning (the closest I can get to the point where the Rube Goldberg device swings into action) (ok ok, the inciting event) in mind, and a vague notion of what kind of ending I want, and maybe a scene or three of "that would be frigging awesome/horrible hahaha." and that's it in the way of plotting for me.

What I DO do is take pains at the scene/sequel level to keep the tension at an appropriate, er, level. I make sure each scene has a question to be answered (does the character get what they want in this scene?) and I make sure that the answer is almost never yes. Yes, but... No... No, and furthermore... are the stock answers. How rough the answers are for the pov character depends on how far along the story is, of course. Since I generally write 60-80k books, it's not hard to gauge if the tension has gone off the boil. Or, uh, 'peaked' way too early.

But the main thing isn't really the scenes, but the sequels. That's where the character has to count the cost of the previous scene, be it in confusion, frustration, rage, humiliation, or ever-popular blood. That's where the character's character is revealed. That's where the writer's greatest chance lies in snaring the reader and convincing them to care about the *next* scene. Lather, rinse, repeat until you get to the climax, and the answer to the overarching story question.

Then, when I've got a manuscript that's got all the moving parts of a book, I go back and do all the usual editing stuff, with a special emphasis on cutting anything that makes my eyes glaze over. I'm pretty brutal about it. I pay for this in terms of world-building, but the reward is a more propulsive reading experience. There are no non-utilitarian bells or whistles, however pleasing their sound might be. This is also a risk/reward scenario inherent in writing 1st person pov. If the character doesn't know or care about something, it can be difficult to bring it up in general conversation without resorting to the dreaded info dump. So I work around it or I do without.

And there you have it. Except I'm gonna add more to my original thoughts:

I'm the youngest of three kids. My brother's six years older, and my sister eight years older. Also we moved around a lot, so I never made all that many friends. Despite these handicaps, I would, without fail every birthday and Christmas, beg and plead for board games requiring multiple players. I have no idea why.

I played a lot of board games by myself, against myself. I still occasionally play chess against myself. Yeah, I know.

To bring this back around to plot, I don't know if I'd say I plot unconsciously so much as I take on the role of the protagonists' unseen, Moriarity-esque opponent. Scene by scene, they make their moves in a way that fits their personality and situation, and then I deliberate on how their plans can be frustrated in the most interesting way. It really is a move-by-move sort of thing, for me.

Sure, there's a maguffin. There's always a maguffin. Who killed Corbin, does Thagoth really hold the secret of immortality, who sent Borold's noggin... but when I start the book, I honestly don't know the answers. Sometimes, maybe even every time, the answers become less important as the book rolls along and the deeper plot is revealed. The original inciting event and the ostensible story question is really just a crowbar to get Amra out of her door and into the story. Because as far as Amra is concerned, an adventure can go, uh, pleasure itself. It's like the "rules" for survival in 28 Days Later -- never do x... unless you got no choice.

Also, when I say 'deeper plot is revealed,' I mean revealed to me, as I write it. Now granted, some of this stuff comes from the vague, hazy series plot that I keep in a dusty corner of my head. There is an endgame here; ultimately this is all about Amra vs the 8fold goddess. But again, I think in terms of character. I know the 8fold's story, what she/they want, and why she/they want it. But the road traveled so far in the first 4 books is all that has been mapped. I know the destination, I can see it like Mt Fuji in the distance. There's no way I can walk there in a straight line, though, because I don't know what the terrain is between here and there. And I don't want to know; not until I write it.

Why? Because I write fantasy for much the same reason I read it. I want to be amazed. I don't want to paint by numbers, even if I'm the one who put the numbers on the canvas to begin with. Because writing, no joke, is often hard, tedious work, and what makes it worthwhile to me is writing a scene that's freaking awesome (at least in my mind).


One of my favorite scenes to write in Trouble's Braids was Amra's duel with Red Hand, and her meeting with the Guardian directly after. I knew going into that scene that Amra couldn't win, just as I knew she'd still instigate it. But I didn't know until I wrote it that Heirus would take a knife in the throat just to fuck with Amra. As soon as he did it, I knew it was perfect, and I knew exactly how Amra would react.

I also didn't know until I wrote it that the Weeping Mother statue was the Guardian of the Dead. I'd thrown in a couple mentions of the statue previously, thinking it a good bit of scenery and a nice touch of world building. But as soon as Amra wiped the blood from the back of her hand onto the grass, there the Guardian was, and it was just right. It was  an incredibly satisfying moment for me, as a writer.

Maybe I'd have come up with it if I'd plotted out the book beforehand. But I genuinely doubt it.

So. I said once before a long time ago that birds don't teach other birds how to fly. But sometimes it's helpful to observe, even if it only leads a bird to say 'fuck that noise, I'd fall outta the sky if I tried to do it that way.'

I hope all this blathering serves at least as a negative example.

And that's enough blathering for one post.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Paranormal romance/erotica has invaded my beloved Sword & Sorcery, and I'm pissed off

First let me be clear: I have nothing against paranormal romance or erotica. Hell, I've got nothing against dinosaur erotica. If that's what scratches your itch, then scratch away, my friend.

No, what makes me angry is when authors of paranormal erotica/romance stuff their obviously non-Sword & Sorcery books into the Sword & sorcery categories at retailers such as Amazon, iBooks and Barnes & Noble.

Why does this yank my chain? Because what they're doing is a disservice both to readers and to fellow authors. Specifically, they are taking spots away from actual Sword & Sorcery authors and invading Sword & Sorcery best-seller lists. Because, you see, they list their dragon/werewolf/shifter BBW paranormal urban romance fantasy in as many categories as Amazon & other retailers will fall for. And if the book does reasonably well in paranormal romance lists, it's going to absolutely rock it in S&S lists, as Sword & Sorcery is a much smaller pool.

They're gaming the system via inappropriate use of keywords, making it harder for readers to find real S&S, and they're sucking the oxygen, discoverability-wise, out of the room for actual Sword & Sorcery writers.

And I'm angry about it.

Here is Lin Carter's definition of Sword & Sorcery:

We call a story sword and sorcery when it is an action tale, derived from the traditions of the pulp magazine adventure story, set in a land, age, or world of the author's invention--a milieu in which magic actually works and the gods are real--a story, moreover, which pits a stalwart warrior in direct conflict with the forces of supernatural evil.

And now I present to you a selection of the top 100 free in kindle Sword & Sorcery stories (UK):

Moon Chosen #1 (BBW Werewolf / Shifter Romance)

Shadow of the Moon #1 (Werewolf / Shifter Romance)

Healed by the Dragon: Part One (A Scottish Dragon-shifter Paranormal Romance) 

I'm not saying that Paranormal Romance can never also be classsifie.... who am I kidding? Yes, yes I am.

Paranormal Romance can never be cross-classified as Sword & Sorcery

Let me put this another way. I hope Jessie Donovan, Mac Flynn and all the other authors who are miscategorizing their books find this, and pay attention:

You have a dragon, a werewolf, a shapeshifter in your story? Maybe somebody who uses a sword? Maybe even some sorcery? 


But of course these authors already know that. That's what makes my blood boil. They're just trying to game the system and get a bestseller in a category--any category. They don't care.

So every time I find a Paranormal Fantasy in the Sword & Sorcery subcategory, I report it.

And so should you.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Blood Tempered has been released into the wild

So Blood Tempered is live. What's Blood Tempered, you ask?

  • It's the first book in a five part series called The Sword Monk Saga
  • It's super-uber sword & sorcery pulp, and unabashedly so
  • It's multiple POV, and not 1st person. That's a new thing for me
  • It's $2.99
  • It's available at all the usual suspects

Monday, June 08, 2015

Here's the big thing I'm working on next

Yes, I'm still hard at work on the Amra Thetys series. I'm also putting out the first book of the Sword Monk saga in a couple of weeks--June 6th is the release date for that one. And I've got a couple of longstanding projects that are puttering along as well (Comes the Conqueror, Tarot Quest).

But this is the next full-length novel series I'll be putting out:

It's urban fantasy, set in Singapore. Here's a bit about the protagonist:

My name is William Langston King. You can call me Will if you really feel the need, but skip Bill or Billy or god forbid Willy, unless you want me to call you something nasty right back.
I used to be one of the Magi; unarguably powerful, supposedly wise. I have had dealings with powers and dominions whose names have never been spoken, because they are impossible for a mortal mouth to speak. I have traveled kingdoms and principalities you will never find on any map. I know things, I have seen things... well, let's just leave it at that.
Now I'm just an uncanny gumshoe, a supernatural private eye. Most of my power has been stripped from me, one way or another. Now I'm in Singapore, hiding from a doom that I couldn't beat or trick or buy off. The Ban Sidhe spoke my name, and all the Seelie and Unseelie Courts, and all their allies, are bound to heed that call and end my life. But Singapore is the Switzerland of the supernatural realm. As long as I stay within the boundaries of this ultra-modern city-state, all those would-be assassins can go pound sand.
But I still need to make a living. So now, instead of putting my thumb on the scales of power, I chase off things that go bump in the night. Then I chase clients for payment. When I have clients to chase, at least.
I am many things, just as we all are. But what I got printed on my business card is “Private Supernatural Detective.” If you want something done right, you generally have to do it yourself. Except when it comes to dealing with all the many deadly, nasty, dangerous Others. And printing. I tried making business cards at home on the little laser printer, and man did they look like crap.

Friday, June 05, 2015

The Book That Wasn't There

There are now 32 people in the whole wide world who own The Thief Who Wasn't There. They're the only people who will, until October. That's when Ragnarok Publications will re-release the first four Amra Thetys books, with awesome cover art and professional editing.

So, you know, in case you were wondering why you can't buy book 4 and stuff, that's why. And also you should totally sign up for the mailing list if you haven't, so I can let you know what's going on as it goes on. It's right here:

And that's alls I gots right now.

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Amra 5 snippet

***Minor spoilers for Book 4 below***

“Right, then, let's see what a mage packs when he goes to hells.” I stuck a hand in his pack, and was met with a sticky, tacky residue of something that seemed to cover everything inside it. “What the hells got in here?” I asked, pulling my hand out and wiping it on the rag.

He coughed slightly and shifted himself higher in the bed, then leaned back against the pillows. “There was a river of blood. I had to cross it.”

“Oh.” What do you say to that? I opened the pack wider and started to pulling things out, wiping them cleanish as I went.

“Oh, look. A monster's head under glass.”

“Amra, meet Halfmoon. Halfmoon, Amra. He's not very nice. He wants to eat my brain.”

“Well who wouldn't? It's a very clever brain.” The thing blinked its dozen eyes and ran a long, gray-blue tongue along the glass. I shuddered and put it aside. Facing the wall. “Mages,” I muttered. I rooted around a bit more and came up with a small glass vial.

“Anonymous powder,” I said. “Let me guess, an ingredient for a spell.”

“No, that's a jar full of the Road.”



I shook my head and threw it in the fire. “What, wine just not scratching the itch anymore? I take back what I said about your brain.”

“Well I never opened it,” he said, peevishly.

“Thank Vosto.”

“Yes, as a matter of fact.”



“What was that like?”

“He compared me to a turtle stuck on its back, intimated that I was pathetic and ridiculous, told me I was in his debt, then told me to bugger off. Also, he really seemed to enjoy calling me a fool.”

“Sounds like my kind of god.”

“Meeting a divine being not threatening or actively trying to kill me was a nice change of pace.”

I rooted around some more in the bloody goop inside the pack, but couldn't find anything else. “Is that it?”

“All that's left, anyway.”

“You could have told me instead of letting me play with hell blood!”

“I could have. But you said hurtful things about my brain.”

“When you get better I'm going to smother you in your sleep.”

Saturday, May 30, 2015

So yeah, book 4 is a wrap.

Just a few thoughts from the other side of writing The Thief Who Wasn't There. You know, if you're interested in that sort of thing:


Holgren, Holgen, Holgren. I think everybody should be thankful you're at least a few shades of gray closer to the light than the dark. One reviewer recently commented on Trouble's Braids that Holgren seemed a bit over-powerful, and that it might cause problems later on in the series.


One of the reasons I wanted to write Wasn't There was to show just how much of a badass Holgren really is. But I had to do it from his point of view, otherwise you wouldn't get to see the interior cost. The fact is, if Holgren had been born into an age that wasn't as magic-poor, he could have rivaled the likes of the Sorcerer-King. As it is, magic is fading, and he's still a bad-ass. He'll need to be, to face what's coming.

The other thing about Holgren that I wanted to explore a bit is that he's just as fucked up by his past as Amra is by hers. There's a line in Luck's Good Eye where the Sorcerer-King is whining about his childhood, and Amra tells him "Everybody's got it hard growing up." Coming from her, it's less sarcasm and more simple, if biased, observation: "Sure, you were born deformed and barely in control of your body. I watched my mom get killed by my dad, I killed him, then I got hunted by death squads."

In Wasn't There we get a peek into Holgren's past as well. It's not that much better.


After three books living in Amra's head, it was a little difficult to switch gears and get into Holgren's brainspace. For the first third of the book, maybe. What Amra says in three words, he'll say in five. Where Amra will leave out unnecessary words and cut to the meat of the meaning, Holgren will be more precise and deliberate. Where Amra is self-deprecating, Holgren is a little more morose, a touch more self-involved. And in many ways harder and colder. Amra cares; Holgren chooses to care, or not to care.


This book is definitely an Amra Thetys joint, don't get me wrong. Each of the three preceding books had a slightly different tone, a different focus. Book 1 was a whodunnit/revenge tale, book 2 a balls to the wall sword & sorcery roller coaster. Book 3 -- I'm not sure how to describe book 3 actually. But book 4 is something else. It's sort of an odyssey tale, I guess is the best way to describe it.

All of which is a roundabout way of saying I never ever want to fall into the trap of writing the same book but with different antagonists. I've seen that happen to too many series. Amra's not Bruce Banner, wandering from town to town. She isn't David Carradine in Kung Fu.

The series has an arc. It has an end-game. It's all leading towards something. I swear to Kerf.


It's not official, as in there hasn't been a press release, but by now most people know that the series has been picked up by Ragnarok Publications. They plan to release all of the first four books at once, in October. The deal happened after I'd put Wasn't There on pre-order at Amazon. So I put a little disclaimer urging folks not to buy the pre-order, but to wait until October when the prettily covered and professionally edited version comes out.

"Yeah, nah," said a bunch of folks, "I'm ordering this bad boy raht naow." I guess that's why Bezos created one-click ordering--people are not fond of waiting. I love you all, rebel pre-orderers. But don't come after me about typos.

And that's more or less what I got right now. I'm now finishing up the first book in a new series. I've been trying to get this one done for a few years now. I swore I'd get it done, so I'm getting it done.

But I also wrote 1200 words of Amra 5 today.  Like a warm bath, I tell ya.