Post from November, 2011


Wednesday, 30. November 2011 12:17

Black Library have finally posted the cover art to BLOODSWORN, the third Ulrika novel, which will be available in June 2012, so I can at last share the amazing art WINONA NELSON did for the cover. I think it’s her best cover yet!

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Stopping the Car

Thursday, 10. November 2011 12:49

As a State College hometown boy and PSU alumn, I’ve been reluctantly following the Penn State scandal, and it’s got me thinking about what makes a hero a hero.

I write what is often called Heroic Fantasy, which generally involves strong, active men or women running around killing monsters or evil villains with swords or axes. These are known in the trade as heroes. But those kinds of heroes are usually people who have been left with few options.


They killed his family and burned his village.

He had two choices, give up and die…

Or seek vengeance!

When you think about it, that’s kind of an easy choice. What was shown to me this morning while reading John Scalzi’s essay on the PSU situation (which is much better than this one, by the way, and you should go read it) is that a true hero is a man or woman who makes a hard choice.

It’s pretty easy to go after the bad guys when you’ve got nothing left to lose, right? But what if you’ve got everything to lose? Imagine you are a man in a comfortable position, doing a job you love, and that you have thrived in for more than forty years. Imagine you are living in a nice house, with a nice family, in town so serene and secure they call it Happy Valley. Next imagine you discover that a friend and employee has done something horrible to a child. Then imagine what will happen if you say something. The confrontation with your friend. The disruption of your job and your life as investigations begin and the media swoops in. The uncomfortable public conversations about topics men of your generation just don’t talk about. The damage to your community and the image of your much-beloved institution.

To throw your life and the life of everyone you know into chaos, upend the routine of your job, expose a man who had been your friend, and start shouting things in public that you don’t even like to talk about in private until the victims are saved and your friend is caught is a hard choice – a heroic choice. Paterno didn’t make that choice. That doesn’t make him evil – but it doesn’t make him a hero either. He’s just a man, and after all this time as JoePa that’s kind of hard for us old Penn Staters to accept.

What’s even harder to face this morning is that I can’t say, putting myself in the same circumstances, if I’d have made the hard choice either. How many times have you been driving somewhere and seen something that wasn’t right – somebody sideswiping a parked car and racing off, somebody else graffiting a home or business – and thought about doing something about it, but then the light changed and the guy behind you started honking his horn, and you were late for your appointment, and getting involved would mean talking to the police for hours and hours, so you drove on, feeling guilty and hoping somebody else would do something about it.

You’d like to think that, with something more serious, you’d actually stop the car, but would you?

As writers, I think we owe it to our readers to force our heroes into making hard choices – even in fantasy fiction – because, while it’s unlikely that those readers will ever be faced with a slavering monster while armed only with a sword, there’s a very real chance that someday they might learn that something terrible has been happening under their noses, and have to decide whether or not to stop the car and do something about it.

A good story could help them make that choice.

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The Missing Step

Tuesday, 8. November 2011 11:12

For the past couple books, I have been writing directly from my layout of 3×5 cards. I now think this was unwise, and cost me time and effort later on in the process – fixing things that I didn’t notice were wrong at the beginning, and realizing that things I thought were cool in concept were actually unworkable messes. Thus my eureka moment – laying out the plot on cards is an essential step for me, but there should be another step before beginning to write.

When I first started writing for Black Library, they insisted I do detailed synopsises and chapter by chapter breakdowns. I thought it was an unnecessary pain then, but now I see that it helped the novels. When forced to turn the sketchy notes on my cards into a document that somebody else had to read, I would find holes and bits that didn’t work, and was able to put them right before I got too deep into the book. Now I’m writing that detailed breakdown for myself, and it’s already helping me fix the weave and smooth out the rough corners of the new novel.

Note to self – hubris and laziness are a writer’s worst enemies. Do the fucking work!

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A fantastic World Fantasy!

Wednesday, 2. November 2011 7:28

What a great weekend! Four days of books, book people, and book conversation. What could be better?

I had a blast reconnecting with old friends – Happy Birthday, Alice! Happy Anniversary, William and Peggy! – and made a whole crop of new friends as well, the first among many being Howard A. Jones, to whom I credit my sale of my novel, Jane Carver of Waar, to Night Shade Books. He was as generous and gentlemanly in person as I expected him to be from all out skype chats and emails, and we had a great time exploring the sales room together and forging through the various con suite parties, questing for food, drink and conversation.

It was also wonderful to catch up with my mentors and friends Emma Bull and Will Shetterly, who, ten years ago, helped me take Jane Carver from a short, sloppily-written porn-parody to a fully-realized adventure novel, and just as importantly, took me aside one night after class and told me I had what it took to make it as a novelist. Those words, coming from them, gave me more confidence than anything else anyone has said to me in my long and bumpy career.

The other thing I was looking forward to at WFC was meeting my new publishers, the Night Shade Books posse, and the posse did not disappoint. Jeremy Lassen and Jason Williams, the NSB bosses – otherwise known as the guy in the suit and the guy in the hat – were as wild and welcoming as could be, and made me feel part of the family right away.

As did Ross Lockhart, my wonderful editor, with whom I had a long and fascinating discussion about Fritz Leiber, Stephan Donaldson, and the difference between high and low fantasy. He in turn introduced me to the terrific Liz Upson and Tomra Palmer, who handle Night Shade’s publicity and marketing, and who had me fetching drinks and snacks before the weekend was out. That is the author’s job, right? My new friends wouldn’t take advantage of my youth and naiveté, would they?

In addition, I got to meet several of my fellow Night Shade authors, including Stina Leicht, Jonathan Wood and Rob Ziegler, and had some great conversations with John Hornor Jacobs, whose book, Southern Gods, I stole off the NSB sales table. Shhh! Don’t tell anyone.

Between panels and parties and getting lost in the maddening maze that was the Town and Country Resort Hotel, I slipped away for clandestine meetings with Bob Vardeman and Mike Stackpool in which we plotted plots and schemed schemes that will hopefully bear hideous and fertile fruit in the near future. There were also hushed whisperings of springtime signing tours with Maryelizabeth Hart, and covert planning and conspiring with R. Scott Taylor and John O’Neill, but that was so secret I can’t talk about it. Lets just say, fingers crossed, it looks like 2012 will be a busy year.

Okay, that’s my report. There’s more I could mention – the party where we took turns reading the naughty bits from paranormal romance novels (and which got shut down by security), staying up ‘til 4am talking games and geekery with Doselle Young and Stephen Blackmoore, but this post is already too long. I better wrap it up and say goodbye.

I only wish I could hang out with all the cool and talented people I met at the con all the time, instead of just once a year in some hotel lobby, but I guess I’ll have to take what I can get. And no, chatting on the internet just isn’t the same.

Thank you, WFC! Can’t wait for the next one!

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