View all posts filed under 'Jane Carver'

A Finger in the Eye

Tuesday, 2. July 2013 10:36

 Note. This post is adapted from the introduction I wrote for the Blackhearts Omnibus, for Black Library’s Warhammer Universe. Though originally specific to that book, it remains the best summation I’ve managed to write about my philosophy of heroes and heroic fiction.

The Blackhearts Omnibus

When I moved out to Hollywood twenty five years ago, my “big idea” was to write traditional action movies with non-traditional heroes. I loved action movies – still do – but I got tired of the heroes. Too many of them were big, square-jawed white guys who ran around like they owned the place and solved all their problems with their fists or their guns – James Bond, Dirty Harry, Commando, Rambo, Batman, Robo-Cop. They were always the biggest, toughest – and here’s the important one – the least human characters in the movie.

True, there were exceptions, and it was the exceptions that I loved the best. Aliens, Indiana Jones, Die Hard, The Road Warrior, Southern Comfort – all starred heroes that had at least some flaws and a few scraps of humanity.

I wanted to take that notion further. I wanted my heroes to be people of average ability but above-average heart – working men, house wives, punk rockers, beat cops, common soldiers, small time hoods – who were swept up in an extraordinary situation and, because they weren’t the best fighters or athletes, and because they didn’t have the biggest guns or biceps, had to use their guts and their brains to stay alive and save the day.

Needless to say, I didn’t sell too many scripts, but when Black Library asked me to write a novel for them… well, I thought I’d give my ‘big idea’ another shot.

In his introduction to The Founding, the first Gaunt’s Ghosts omnibus, Dan Abnett talked about choosing to write about the grunts of the Imperial Guard because he couldn’t relate to the ‘too perfect’ space marines. I had the same problem with Warhammer Fantasy. I loved the grim horror and grimy patina of the Old World, but I didn’t want to write about the noble knights of the Empire. I couldn’t get inside their heads. To me, they were the same big, square-jawed white guys who bored me to tears in the movies.

How could anyone care about men so brave, and so certain in their beliefs, that they never have a moment of fear or doubt. I don’t believe these people exist, and if they do, I don’t want to know them. They’re dangerous to be around and they’re boring to talk to at parties. If you have no fear of the enemy and don’t think twice about running into burning buildings to save dewy-eyed children, you’re not a hero, you’re an idiot. A hero, at least in my mind, is the guy who pees his pants when he thinks about the enemy, is terrified of burning, and yet, when faced with the choice of fleeing or doing the right thing, overcomes his fears and runs into the fire.

So, I wrote about my kind of heroes – the Blackhearts -  a noble second son turned failed student and professional gambler, a pair of sly farm boys, a field surgeon with nasty habits, a larcenous mercenary, a construction engineer, a fencing instructor, a quartermaster, a student of botany, and a handful of low ranking professional soldiers, and many others. There wasn’t a square-jawed hero among them. Of course they had the occasional heroic impulse, but those were surrounded by episodes of villainy, cowardice, self-doubt, self-loathing, self-interest, and plain old stupidity. And they rarely won with their swords. They won with guts, determination and brains – crapping themselves all the while. And, when left to my own devices, I have followed them with characters of similar stripe, a noblewoman turned vampire whose every heroic action is bracketed by fits of teenaged tantrums, a biker chick who is willing to let murderous revenge trump loyalty, friendship, and honor, and there are more to come, I hope. Many more.

There is a precedent for my sort of hero. There was a time in popular culture when the big guy with the big muscles and the big gun who beat everybody up was the bad guy, and the little guy who stood up to him and fought back with brains and heart and guts was the good guy. Those little guys are my idols – Charlie Chaplin outwitting the Keystone Kops, Robin Hood tricking the Sheriff of Nottingham, Bugs Bunny getting the better of Elmer Fudd, Jackie Chan running circles around an army of gangsters, the Marx Brothers talking circles around an army of bureaucrats, David knocking out Goliath with nothing but a rock and a leather strap.

The Blackhearts, Ulrika, Jane Carver, they’re the scrappy descendants of these little guys – hard-luck losers trapped in a world of monolithic armor-clad behemoths that care not one whit for the survival of the mere mortals scrambling desperately to stay alive beneath their enormous, iron-shod feet. I wanted the stories of my heroes to be a reminder that, no matter what insignia the behemoths may wear, or what philosophy they may spout, a bully is a bully, and no matter how much they beat you down, as long as you’ve got one finger left, you can still poke the bastards in the eye.

Category:Jane Carver, Movies, Warhammer, Writing | Comments (2) | Author:

How to Build a World

Monday, 1. April 2013 20:11

How to do it?

1 – Start with the kind of story you want to tell, the mood of it, the point of it, then shape all the things that make up a world – the geography, the economies, the cultures, the politics, the religions, the peoples, the flora and fauna – so that they reinforce the story.

2 – Remember that world is slave to the story, and not the other way around.

Why to do it?

I’m not so sure.

I have a world. It’s called Ehre. A few years ago I spent an incredible amount of time and energy building it from the ground up. I bought a program called Fractal Terrain Pro so that I could make a realistic globe, with rivers and mountain ranges that made geological sense, and from the simulations it created drew world maps and named countries and cities and peoples. I invented seven thousand years of history, the pantheons of several different religions, a system of magic, numerous forms of government, a number of currencies, the naming conventions of half a dozen cultures, some social hierarchies, a few different slangs and cants, the rules for a gambling game, and a detailed map of the city in which I intended most of my stories to take place.

I did all this because I only wanted to do it once. I figured, if I was going to write fantasy, I would set all my fantasy novels in the same world so that I wouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel every time I started a new book. That would be the smart, efficient thing to do.

Anyway, like always happens with this sort of thing, I ran out of steam after about half a year, and decided I would use what I had to write a novel set in my shiny new world.

I had a lot of fun writing that novel, lacing it with all the lore and culture that I had spent so much time and effort creating, and I was very pleased with the end result. Unfortunately nobody else was. It got turned down by two big publishers, and my regular readers had their reservations as well. Everybody hated my main character. That’s all they ever talked about. They didn’t take any notice of all the effort I put into creating the world.

Cut to last year. I sold Jane Carver of Waar, my ten year old first novel, to Night Shade Books.

When I wrote Jane I literally made the world up as I went along. If I needed a god or a monster for the next scene, I’d come up with one on the spot. If I needed a town, or a race, or some little detail to bring a scene to life, I wrote it on the fly. In fact I still did that as wrote the second book. For instance, there are Seven Gods on Waar, but I’ve only bothered naming two of them – the ones I needed for the plot. The rest are still a mystery to me.

Nobody who’s read Jane has ever commented on how little effort I put into creating the world, but everybody loves Jane. That’s all they ever talk about.

So, by all means, build worlds if you like to. I had a blast doing it, but remember that, no matter how often people pin the map of middle earth to their wall – like I did when I was a kid – they wouldn’t have fallen in love with that world if they hadn’t liked Frodo and Bilbo enough to follow them through it.

Category:Jane Carver, Reading, Writing | Comments (6) | Author:

Dragon or Spaceship

Sunday, 3. March 2013 14:40

I have been neglecting this blog for too long, so, starting this week, I’ll be posting a new blog post every Sunday. Woo!

(Full disclosure – these posts all originally appeared on Night Shade Books’ Night Bazaar Blog, but I don’t think too many people saw them there, so I’m taking the liberty of republishing them here.)

Right. Here’s the first one. Enjoy!

A SILLY STORY ABOUT GENRE BOUNDARIES

I once worked part time in a friend’s bookstore, and one day she gave me a box of used books she’d just purchased and told me to shelve them while she went to lunch. No problem, I said, but when I looked through the box, I found myself in a quandary. They were all paranormal-ish, with covers full of brooding, half-shadowed guys and tough chicks with swords and knowing looks, but I wasn’t quite sure where to shelve them.

Well, I didn’t want to be a pest and call the boss while she was eating, so I took the initiative and tried to decide for myself. Did they go in fantasy, because they all featured werewolves and vampires and travels to magical lands? Or did they go in Romance, because they featured strong love stories?

In the end I picked a completely arbitrary, but I thought pretty safe, indicator and used it as my guide. If the books had men’s abs on the cover they went into Romance. If they didn’t, they went into Fantasy. Boom. I was done in five minutes.

A NOT QUITE SO SILLY STORY ABOUT GENRE BOUNDARIES

JaneCarverofWaar_CoverHaving sold Jane Carver of Waar to Night Shade Books, my agent asked me what else I had lying around that he could read. I sent him a novel I’d written a few years back about an ex-cop who is asked by the ghost of his dead ex-partner to solve her murder. He read it in a weekend and wrote back to tell me he loved it, it was a really great story, but… he wasn’t sure how to sell it.

Why? It wasn’t scary enough to be Horror. It wasn’t romantic enough to be Romance. It didn’t have vampires or werewolves or a kick-ass female paranormal investigator, so even though it was an urban fantasy, it didn’t fit this year’s definition of Urban Fantasy. And it wasn’t straight enough to be Crime Fiction.

Yeah. He’s still working on it.

ART AND COMMERCE

So, there you go. I’ve been on the bookseller’s side, and I’ve been on the writer’s side, and I sympathize with both.

The bookseller just wants to know where the book goes. Defining what category a book fits into is vital to sales. She can’t sell a mystery if she hides it in the fantasy section, and she can’t just lump everything into general fiction. It would all be a mish-mosh and nobody would be able to find what they wanted at a glance.

The writer just wants to be true to his muse and tell the story he has in his head – at least he does if he’s the naïve kind of writer I was back when I wrote that novel – and he doesn’t worry about what category of story it is until after he’s written it. (Which drives his agent crazy.)

Of course an older, wiser writer is aware of this problem, and begins to tailor his stories to the market. If someone says to him, “I’ll take a look at anything you got as long as I can put a dragon or a space ship on the cover,” he goes home and comes up with a story that fits the bill.

But that’s kinda sad, isn’t it? That kinda guarantees that we will all work in a very safe, homogenous genre. It doesn’t allow for wider, wilder flights of fantasy.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m okay with writing inside the lines. I’ve been writing gaming tie-in fiction for the past six years. Have laptop. Will travel. That’s me. I’m the last guy to say that one must be true to one’s art, and that commerce has no part in deciding what to write next. I’d sure as hell rather write to measure than spend eight hours a day in a cubicle farm so I can maintain my high ideals.

But sometimes even a hack like myself comes up with a story that doesn’t fit one of the preset genre pigeon holes. Sometimes he has an idea for a fantasy with no magic in it. Sometimes he wants to write a science-fiction story that features a pair of star-crossed lovers. Sometimes he comes up with an idea that defies the standard “It’s X meets Y meets Z” pitch. And sometimes he can’t ignore it. Labels be damned, he has to write it.

What I’m saying is, that once he’s written it, there should be a way for publishers to accommodate it, and for marketing departments to sell it.

And maybe, now that we live in the future and all, there is.

#INBETWEEN

Cross-genre fiction’s problem with brick and mortar stores is sections – the Romance section, the Mystery section, the Fantasy section. On-line booksellers, aping their predecessors, have adopted this model too, with sub-menus that read just like the section headers in a store.

But there are other ways of discovering books on those pages as well. There is the “customers who bought this book also bought…” list. There is the list of tags or keywords that can be used to describe the book. There are links to author pages. There are store-hosted forums where buyers can discuss books of all genres. And away from booksellers’ sites, there are all the social media hubs, blogs, message boards, fan forums and youtube channels where readers can share book recommendations.

All of these are ways to alert potential readers to books they might not find if they only searched through the genres they’re familiar with. They are the word-of-mouth and hand-selling of the digital age.

A well-tagged book, with keywords highlighting all its potential hooks – two-fisted heroines for example – might lure someone from romance to mystery, from fantasy to historical, from science fiction to thriller, or from any genre to a book that has elements of one or two, yet fits none. A word in the right forum or a review from the right blogger can get people talking about the story of the book – or the heroine – rather than its category, and maybe make it something people will cross borders to read.

And that’s the goal, isn’t it? To make potential readers aware of the stories we tell. That’s what I think this new #tag model of categorizing will do for the genre-breakers among us. It’s not as neat and tidy a system as shelves and sections, it’s harder work for publisher and author, and it’s kinda amorphous and intimidating to people used to the old way, but I think it just might save us. I think it just might be the thing that makes a book’s story more of a selling point than the dragon or space ship on the cover.

Category:Jane Carver, Life, Reading, Warhammer, Writing | Comment (0) | Author:

Interesting Times

Monday, 31. December 2012 17:35

I know 2012 was a rough year for a lot of people and in a lot of ways, and it certainly had its ups and downs for me too, but – at least for me – it ended up on the plus side, so much so that I’m kinda waiting for the banana peel and the punchline and the wah-wah-wah trombone.

The first down-swoop of the year was losing the Gotrek and Felix franchise. Then the up-swoop of getting my first original novel, Jane Carver of War, published and garnering a host of positive reviews.Then the down-swoop of being so broke I had to go back to working for a messenger company in order to pay the bills, and thinking I was going to start my fiftieth year working for less than minimum wage.

But then, round about the middle of the year, all the swoops were ups.I started working for my pal Steve Wang as a shop assistant at his special effects shop, which didn’t make me a rich man, but paid better than delivering packages, and was infinitely more fun. I got to work at a monster shop! Who could hate that? Next, through the mysterious offices of my pal Kitty, who tipped me to the job opening, and to my pal Mike Stackpole, who gave me the nod, I started working at my dream job, writing scenarios and dialog for a computer game called Wasteland 2 at InXile Entertainment. On top of that, my second original novel, Swords of Waar, came out in November, just in time for my 50th birthday, and I’m playing in a band with musicians so talented I feel like I don’t deserve to be in front of them.

And to crown it all, I am still the world’s luckiest boyfriend, the guy who gets to love the beautiful and talented Lili Chin, who has stuck with me through all the up-swoops and down-swoops and loop-de-loops of my unstable, unpredictable life.

Thank you, Lili, and thank you, 2012, which like a good novel, had a lot of cliff-hangers and drama, but ended on a high note.

Here’s to another happy ending next year, with maybe a few less bumps along the way….

Category:Jane Carver, Life, Reading, Rock, Writing | Comments (10) | Author:

Jane Rocks!

Wednesday, 7. November 2012 23:39

A while back I asked around for suggestions for a Jane Carver playlist – a Waar mix-tape if you will – and I got some great responses, and they in turn sparked some ideas of my own. So here it is, to celebrate the official release of Swords of Waar (okay, so it was yesterday; there was some kind of election going on yesterday, so I thought I’d wait ’til it was over) these are the songs Jane would be blasting as she headed out on the open road on her big ‘ol Harley.

Born to be Wild – Steppenwolf

Devil Gate Drive – Suzi Quatro

Call me the Breeze – Lynyrd Skynyrd

Move Over – Janis Joplin

Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man – Bob Seger

Real Wild Child – Joan Jett

Flirtin’ with Disaster – Molly Hatchet

Nutbush City Limit

Highwayman – The Highwaymen

So whaddaya think? A true representation of Jane? Any that I missed? Let me know in the comments, and don’t forget to pick up Swords of Waar!

Damn. That last one always makes me cry. Sorry.

Category:Jane Carver, Rock, Writing | Comments (3) | Author:

Swords of Waar available today!

Monday, 8. October 2012 10:39

Not sure what happened, but who am I to complain? Even though it says right on the page that Swords of Waar is coming out Oct 23rd, apparently it’s available on Amazon right now! That’s right, you can buy the sequel to Jane Carver of Waar today! Be the first one on your block!

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Jane Speaks!

Friday, 24. August 2012 7:26

Jane Carver of Waar has become an audio book from Audible.com, and it’s great! I’m listening to it right now and really enjoying it! Dina Pearlman doesn’t have a southern accent, but she does have all of Jane’s bad-ass attitude and charm, and really brings the book alive. I stayed up until 3am listening last night. Go buy it now!

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Me and Dave and Jane

Monday, 16. July 2012 13:22

Finally met the mighty Dave Dorman face to face at Comic Con, and got to thank him for his great work. Here we are holding the amazing covers he painted for Jane Carver of Waar and the upcoming Swords of Waar. So cool to see them in the flesh… so to speak. Thanks, Dave!

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Swords of Waar Cover!

Wednesday, 18. April 2012 11:10

Jane flies again! Night Shade Books just revealed the cover of the second Jane Carver book, Swords of Waar!

So exciting! I’ve been waiting a long time to show it. Have a look!

Category:Art, Jane Carver, Reading, Writing | Comments (2) | Author:

The Black Gate Interview – Part One

Tuesday, 13. March 2012 17:53

Black Gate Magazine it putting up a multi-part interview with me about Jane Carver, writing in the Warhammer universe, and writing in general. Here’s a link to Part One.

Really enjoyed doing this, and there’s more to come. I’ll post the links to the other parts as they’re posted.

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