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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.

Category:Life | Comments (2) | Author:

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!

Category:Life, Reading, Writing | Comments (6) | Author:

Clean Slate

Thursday, 13. October 2011 8:55

Let’s get cracking.

Category:Life, Writing | Comments (11) | Author:

Conan vs. Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser – A Cover Story

Thursday, 11. August 2011 9:12

I was having a conversation the other day with Howard Jones (whose The Desert of Souls is cracking sword and sorcery by the way. Pick it up!) about the importance of cover art, and I mentioned that I thought Fritz Leiber had got a raw deal with his Fafhrd and Gray Mouser covers, and that if those books had featured the heroes front and center, like the orignal Lancer Conan books had, Fafhrd and Mouser might be as well known as Conan is today.

This got me wanting to do a comparison of the books, and here it is! What follows is a cover by cover comparison of the first five books in each series, which I believe shows why the Conan books sold more. Two things first:

1 – Yes, I know the writing has something to do with the books’ popularity. But here I’m just talking about what would make a 13 year old boy pick the books up off the shelf in the first place.

2 – I’m not putting Jeff Jones down as an artist. I love Jeff Jones. Nor am I comparing him to Frazetta. This isn’t about art as much as it is about art direction.

Okay, here we go.

Conan the Adventurer vs. Swords and Deviltry

Conan – hero facing viewer, hot chick, dead bodies, skulls, flames, muscles!

Fafhrd and Gray Mouser – Some guy (Mouser?) facing away, big spooky guy, no indication of hero’s personality.

Conan the Warrior vs. Swords Against Death

Conan – Hero picking a guy up by the neck and killing him with an axe!

Fafhrd and Gray Mouser – A boat being threatened by a giant with a trident. Heroes too small to be seen.

Conan the Conqueror vs. Swords in the Mist

Conan – Hero charging a million guys on a leaping stallion!

Fafhrd and Gray Mouser – Some guy (Fafhrd?) writhing in pain and holding a smallish sword

Conan the Usurper vs. Swords Against Wizardry

Conan – Hero facing away from viewer – but he’s got a giant snake between his legs!

Fafhrd and Gray Mouser – A wizard and a planet. Heroes not even in the picture.

Conan vs. Swords of Lankhmar

Conan – Hero killing a crazed ape with a dagger! Lots of red.

Fafhrd and Gray Mouser – A guy in a space suit on a sea-serpent. Heroes nowhere in sight.

So there you go. What do you think? Would Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser have benefited from more commercial/traditional covers, or am I just a bitter old Leiber fan who doesn’t know when to quit?

Category:Life | Comments (7) | Author:

Bloodborn wins a Scribe Award!

Monday, 25. July 2011 9:13

Woo hoo! Just got back from Comic Con in San Diego where Bloodborn won a Scribe Award. The cherry on the top of a great weekend. Isn’t it pretty!
Bloodborn Scribe

Here’s the full list. Congratulations to my fellow winners!

WARHAMMER: BLOODBORN: ULRIKA THE VAMPIRE by Nathan Long (Best original novel, speculative fiction)

SAVING GRACE: TOUGH LOVE by Nancy Holder (Best original novel, general fiction)

THE WOLFMAN by Jonathan Maberry (Best adaptation)

DUNGEONS & DRAGONS: ALDWYNS ACADEMY by Nathan Meyer (Best young adult novel)

Category:Life | Comments (8) | Author:

Thoughts on Writing and Art

Thursday, 7. July 2011 11:22

I stole this from my old Live Journal blog. I was thinking about it all again and decided to repost it. It’s about communication in Art and Writing.

The end product of all art (writing/painting/sculpture/film-making/etc.) is NOT the book or print or statue or movie the artist made. The end product of all art is the reaction that the book/print/statue/etc causes in the heart and mind of the person who looks at it. (laughter/tears/rage/joy/horror/etc.)

Art is just a way to take the pictures in your head and the emotions in your heart, and put them into the head and heart of someone else. It is communication. Pure and simple. If you want a person who looks at your work to see what you had in your mind, and feel what you had in your heart, then you must learn to communicate clearly and powerfully.

In illustration, that means learning to draw and paint as well as you can, because if you’re thinking like Frazetta, but your fingers are only making stick figures, no one is going to see it like you saw it.

In writing, it means learning to think clearly and write cleanly. If you’ve got a great epic fantasy novel in your head, but your fingers type “…some doods went to teh forrest and totally killd some Orkz” no-one who reads it is going feel it like you felt it.

So, to sum up. Art is communication. Knowledge and technique help make that communication clear.


Category:Art, Life, Writing | Comments (1) | Author:

A Working Class Writer

Friday, 24. June 2011 11:44

Feeling grumpy over my currently impoverished state, I wrote a parody of an old John Lennon song. If you want the inside scoop on the day to day glamor of writing for a living, hum along.

Here’s the original:

And here’s my parody:

to the tune of ‘A Working Class Hero’
with deepest apologies to John Lennon

You think when you’re published, you’ve got it made
After so many tries, you’ve at last made the grade
Then you bankrupt yourself while you wait to get paid

A working class writer is something to be
A working class writer is something to be

At first it’s a thrill to see your name on the page
And you write in cafes, think you’re free of the cage
But when you add up the hours it’s not minimum wage

A working class writer is something to be
A working class writer is something to be

Your fans think you’re rich and they want stuff for free
Your family thinks you’re a celebrity
But you still schlep your clothes to the coin laundry

A working class writer is something to be
A working class writer is something to be

At conventions you sign your books like a star
And you buy drinks for agents you meet at the bar
But you don’t have the money to fix up your car

A working class writer is something to be
A working class writer is something to be

There’s room at the top they’re telling you still
But first you must learn how to be your own shill
If you want to steal money from the kindle-nook till

A working class writer is something to be
If you want to be a writer, well just follow me

Category:Life, Rock, Writing | Comments (4) | Author:

Adepticon, here I come!

Thursday, 24. March 2011 11:08

Hey all,

Just wanted to let folks in the Chicago area know that Dan and I are going to be at Adepticon next weekend. Click on the skull below for details.

It’s in Lombard, Il, just a little ways outside of Chicago proper, and we’re going to be there all weekend, hanging out, signing, etc. I’ve even signed up to participate in some RPG madness. So if you’re in the area, come on by and say hi!

Category:Games, Life, Warhammer, Writing | Comment (0) | Author:

My First Blurb

Wednesday, 9. February 2011 14:29

This is so cool! A while back, Howard Jones honored me by asking my opinion and advice on an early draft of his novel, The Desert of Souls, and today I got an advance copy – with a blurb by me on the back! It really is a terrific tale of ancient Arabian sword and sorcery. Check it out of you like thrilling, old-school adventure!

Category:Life, Reading, Writing | Comments (1) | Author:

Happy Holidays!

Saturday, 25. December 2010 13:02


This year and every year

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