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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:

Singular First Person

Sunday, 2. June 2013 16:44

brokenlanceI love books told in first person. I love the conceit of someone telling you a story, directly, like you were sitting in a bar with a loquacious stranger. I love it for the intimacy and immediacy, for the personality and the limited point of view.

Some of my favorite writers have worked best when they worked in first person – George MacDonald Fraser with Flashman, P. G. Wodehouse with Bertie Wooster, Kazuo Ishiguro with Stevens in The Remains of the Day, Emma Bull with Orient in her novel, Finder, and I have always found it a very comfortable to write that way myself.

So, how do you write first person well? I’ll give it to you in one word – voice.

In a third person novel, a character’s character can by revealed in several ways – by what others say about her, by their reactions to her, by her reactions to them, and to what happens to her and around her. When the writer turns to other subjects, however, the character building often stops. The descriptions of the world, of the situation, of the action, are in the writer’s voice, and often reflect the writer’s personality, rather than the character’s.

But with first person, a writer has the opportunity to reveal his protagonist’s character not just when they’re the subject of the scene, but in every single word, because every single thing that happens in the story is told in the protagonist’s voice – every description of what others say about her, their reactions to her, what happens to her and around her, of the world, the situation, the action – all are filtered through her unique perceptions, and thus reveal what she thinks about these things. The character’s personality is showcased on the page, rather than the writer’s.

It’s important then, to find a good and entertaining voice to showcase. Some people work out detailed character sketches before getting started, figuring out who their protagonist is, what they believe, and how they would react. Lazy bastard that I am, I tend to do it the other way around. I start writing in what I feel is an entertaining voice, and let it start to tell me who the character is, and what’s right or wrong for them. After a chapter or two of that, I’ll have a pretty good idea if the voice is going to be interesting enough to carry a whole novel, or if I need to trash it and come up with something else.

And once I have a good one, the voice tells me everything I need to know about what the character would or wouldn’t say in a given situation, how they would react, how they see the world and other people. All of a sudden I have a fully fledged character without really trying, and the second hardest part of writing – after plotting – is all taken care of, and I can just get on with telling the story – coloring it with my main character’s voice.

Category:Warhammer, Writing | Comments (2) | Author:

Angels and Pins

Sunday, 19. May 2013 13:00

Gotrek-and-Felix-4-C-formatThis column was originally a Night Bazaar weekly topic that asked all the Night Shade authors to examine the following topic: “Lightspeed vs. Landlock – Intergalactic Travel vs Mundane Fantasy.” I wasn’t honestly sure if I was supposed to contrast these two things, pick one over the other, or what, so I just ran with my first impression and made some shit up.

The first thing the topic called to mind was my time writing tie-in fiction for the Warhammer table-top battle games. Now, I don’t know if you’re familiar with the games, but Warhammer comes in exactly two flavors. You have Warhammer Fantasy, which is basically humans, elves, dwarfs, orcs and gribbly chaos beasties all running around in a fantasy version of early renaissance Germany, or you have Warhammer 40,000, which is basically humans, elves, orcs and gribbly chaos beasties (no dwarfs – for some reason the poor wee bastards never made it off planet) all running around in a gothic, Imperial Rome meets the thousand-year-reich version of space opera.

I always wrote on the fantasy side of the Warhammer coin. I’m just more at home with swords and spells than with bolt guns and spaceships, but I loved the lore of 40k (as they call it) just as much as I did Warhammer Fantasy. The fans of Warhammer fiction, however, were constantly arguing in the forums over which setting was better. This is fairly standard forum behavior, and I generally paid it no mind, but one of the arguments the 40k guys wielded against the Fantasy guys struck me as sillier than average.

“Fantasy is too limited!” they would say. “It’s just one world! In 40k there is an entire galaxy to explore, with thousands of worlds. Millions!”

Which leads me to the allusion I make in the title of this post. How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? How many villages can you fit into an imaginary country? How many caves can you fit into a fictitious mountain range? How many unexplored cellars can you fit into an invented medieval city? How many taverns? How many secret cults? How many heroes and villains?

The answer is, of course, as many as you want – an infinite amount. I invented new towns and new locations for every Warhammer book I wrote. I invented what I needed, and found a place to squeeze it all in around the already existing bits. The point, of course, is that scale in science fiction and fantasy is just frosting, just like the difference between swords and blasters or magic and high tech. Lightyears equal years. Planets equal countries. Vast, starless voids equal vast, trackless mountain ranges. Spaceport bars equal village taverns. The worlds of fantasy and science fiction are equally infinite, equally capable of accommodating any size story. And if you want some proof of the elasticity of an apparently contained setting, have a look at literary fiction.

Twenty centuries on, and the clever fucks who write that stuff still haven’t run out of stories to tell set on that one tiny little planet they call Earth.

Category:Warhammer, Writing | Comments (4) | Author:

Love Will Tear Us Apart

Sunday, 14. April 2013 21:31

bloodforgedMaybe it’s because I cut my writing teeth in Hollywood, where no movie is complete without a dollop of “boy meets girl,” but there is always a love interest in my stories. Even in my Warhammer books, where the testosterone levels were so high that I had to shave twice as often while writing them, I still slipped in a little romance. Yes, even in a world of gore-caked battle axes and deathless demons of destruction, love blossoms.

Or maybe it is because romance is the greatest conflict generator of all time. A feud between two rival families in Italy? Boring. But what if a boy from one family and a girl from another love each other? Instant intrigue. A princess has second thoughts about assuming her throne? Dull. But if she meets an American reporter in Rome and has to chose between him and her crown? All at once we want to know what happens.

Romance adds human emotion to any situation, and therefore human interest. The tug between love and honour, love and duty, love and loyalty, love and cultural mores, has been grist for conflict since the days of Greek drama, and since fantasy fiction is already a very romantic genre, a genre about the triumph of spirit and emotion, about irrational hope winning out over cold reality just because it should, Romance with a capital R is a perfect fit. It gives heroes a reason to fight and strive. It gives villians a reason to be jealous. It makes tragedies deeper and happy endings more joyful.

It also works very well to personalize a broader conflict. Last year’s prize for best journalistic photograph went to a picture of a mother holding her wounded son after a battle. Why is this more powerful than a photo of a hundred wounded men laid out side by side? Because it shows love. It allows the viewer to identify with the pain of the mother who does not know if her son will live or die. Do you want your reader to feel the conflict you have created? Don’t tell them about the movements of armies. Tell them about a wife searching for her husband amongst the stream of refugees fleeing a battle. Tell them about the soldier forced to go to war against his lover’s country. Tell them about a pair of lovers who steal money to buy passage out of the warzone and end up jailed seperately.

Some may deride romance as cheap melodrama, but I say if it was good enough for Shakespeare, it’s good enough for me. It is one of the most powerful tools in a writer’s toolbox. Learn to use it well, and you will live – or at least write – happily ever after.

Category:Warhammer, Writing | Comments (2) | 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!


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.


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.


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.


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:

Bloodsworn in Britain!

Monday, 4. June 2012 13:55

Amazon UK is showing that Bloodsworn, my third Ulrika the Vampire novel, is now available for sale. And doing quite well, actually. As I write this its Amazon ranking is 1971! Woo hoo!


Category:Art, Warhammer, Writing | Comments (15) | Author:

Bloodsworn released in US today!

Tuesday, 29. May 2012 10:02

The day has finally arrived! Bloodsworn, the third Ulrika the Vampire novel has been published in the US! So excited to finally be able to share the bloodsoaked culmination of the trilogy. Yay!

Category:Warhammer, Writing | Comments (2) | Author:

The Trilogy is Complete!

Tuesday, 27. March 2012 12:18

Finally got my author copies of Bloodsworn and I had to lay it down next to Bloodborn and Bloodforged just to see ’em all together. Don’t they look fantastic? So pleased with Winona’s art and the overall look and feel of the series. I am also pleased at the critical reception it has received so far. Here’s hoping Bloodsworn does as well!

Category:Art, Warhammer, Writing | Comments (8) | 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.

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

Nathan’s Whirlwind Spring

Tuesday, 21. February 2012 10:13

This spring is my busiest yet, with more book releases, signings and appearances than I personally can shake a stick at. I’m going to have to hire extra stick-shakers, just to keep up! I’ll be posting again about each individual thing as it comes up, but here is everything in one convenient list so you can mark your calendars now.

Jane Carver Release – March 6th

Jane Carver of Waar is coming out from Night Shade Books on March 6th, available from your favorite local bookstore and on-line as well! Click on the picture to buy it from my pals, Mysterious Galaxy Books.


Jane Carver Signing at Mystery and Imagination Bookstore – March 11th

The first stop on my Jane Carver of Waar release tour will be at Mystery and Imagination Books in Glendale, CA on March 11th. I’ll be reading from the book and signing copies from 1 pm, so come on by. This is my local new and used bookstore, which, as the name implies, focuses heavily on Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and Mystery books. They are great people and a great store, well worth a visit any time.

Mystery and Imagination Bookstore – 238 N. Brand Blvd. Glendale CA, 91203

Jane Carver signing at Mysterious Galaxy Redondo Beach – March 23rd

The second stop on the release tour is Mysterious Galaxy Redondo Beach on March 23rd at 7:30 pm. This will be a tag team signing with fellow Night Shade Books author David Constantine, who will be signing his new novel The Pillars of Hercules. We will be reading from and discussing our books, then fighting for the Night Shade Light Heavyweight Championship Belt in a Steel Cage Match – if we can get the permits, that is.

Mysterious Galaxy Redondo Beach – 2810 Artesia Blvd. Redondo Beach, CA 90278

Gotrek and Felix: The Anthology release – March 27th

Gotrek and Felix: The Anthology, a collection of Gotrek and Felix short stories from various authors, in which I have a novella and a short, comes out on March 27th, and will be available from your favorite local bookstore and on-line as well! Click on the picture to buy it from my pals, Mysterious Galaxy Books. I’m really looking forward to seeing all the different authors’ takes on Warhammer Fantasy’s most iconic heroes.

Appearance and Panel Discussion at Literary Orange – April 14th

This is the biggest weekend of the Jane Carver Release Tour. On Saturday, April 14th, I will be appearing at Literary Orange, an annual celebration of authors, readers and libraries presented by the Orange County Public Libraries at the UC Irvine Student Center. I will be speaking on a panel or two and signing books throughout the day. This is the first time I’ve been invited to anything like this, and I am both surprised and honored.

And that’s only half the weekend…

Jane Carver Signing at Mysterious Galaxy San Diego – April 15th

On Sunday, April 15th, I will be at Mysterious Galaxy San Diego doing another tag-team Night Shade Books signing, this time with Carol Wolf, who will be signing her new novel The Summoning, but I also have a rematch with David “Pillars of Hercules” Constantine, this time in a no-holds-barred Texas Death Match. All three of us will be signing, reading from and discussing our new books.

Mysterious Galaxy San Diego7051 Clairemont Mesa Blvd. Suite #302 San Diego, CA 92111

Bloodsworn Release – May 29th

Bloodsworn, the 3rd in the Ulrika the Vampire series comes out on May 29thm available from your favorite local bookstore and on-line as well! Click on the picture to buy it from my pals, Mysterious Galaxy Books.


My weekly blog at the Night Bazaar

In addition to all this running around, I am also doing a weekly guest blog at Night Shade Books’ author blog, the Night Bazaar, where I tackle the weekly topic and wrestle it to the ground, often with humorous results. The Night Bazaar is a great place to meet Night Shade’s current crop of authors and get to know them and their books. Check it out!

Interviews etc.

I also have a lot of interviews and other guest bloggery coming up, but I’ll have to get back to you on those once the dates are finalized.

Wow, what a crazy spring.

I love it!


Category:Jane Carver, Warhammer, Writing | Comments (4) | Author: