I’m sick this week. Nothing fun to say, just...sick.
It’s this cold/flu/ancient curse that’s been going around lately, and it’s made the last few days pretty miserable. Hoping to shake it by this weekend.
Until then, I’m basically just coughing up lung after lung. Eventually, I’ll run out of spare lungs.
EDIT: The story is away! If you were signed up for the mailing list by 9:30 EST tonight, you should have already received it! If not, fear no more, sweet child: send me an email at <firstname.lastname@example.org> and I will deliver it to you with my own hands.
You remember a few weeks ago, when I asked you for short story ideas? I took one suggestion from among them and made it into reality. It's coming tonight!
There were a lot of intriguing ideas in your comments, and I actually found several ideas I wanted to pursue. For instance, several people suggested following major events from the perspective of minor characters. Not A Raccoon (who is probably a raccoon) requested a day in the life of an ordinary servant in the Emperor's palace from Elder Empire. Mick wanted a Traveler's Gate story from Lycus' perspective, Q wanted a Cradle story about Fisher Gesha's life, and more than one person asked about a Traveler's Gate story from the POV of random non-Valinhall Travelers.
I feel like this could be a short story collection: extraordinary events as seen from the perspective of ordinary people. I'll come back to this topic in the future.
Several people wanted something entirely new, which admittedly was my first instinct as well. I haven't written anything outside these three universes in a while, and while I love them all like my children, sometimes you need a break from your kids. Kaden and the Godking of the Outer Lithosphere both suggested original stories, though I'm pretty sure Kaden is already the Godking of a different layer of the Earth, so they may have colluded.
But by far the most common request was for a scene with Simon conquering a room in Valinhall. It would be churlish to ignore the will of the people, and I don't think of myself as a churl. So...Ben, you're the winner! As are the rest of you who specifically supported this idea--Oliv, Dragon, Anon, Nightwold, Shantanu, Nikk B, Chris, Zach, Blake, and Shane--and all the rest of you who generally voted for Traveler's Gate (too many to list).
Simon feels the love, though he's shy about it. Leah is going to try to recruit you all for Damasca.
Tonight, through the mailing list, I will release The White Flame, a short story about how Simon earned a power from the forge between Crimson Vault and City of Light. For those of you disappointed that this story isn't set after CoL, don't worry--there's new material in here, I promise. You'll be pleased.
If you're not signed up for the mailing list yet, I've got good news for you! Scroll down to the bottom of this very page, and enter your email into the field provided. If you're using a Gmail address, sometimes it eats my emails, so add <email@example.com> to your contacts.
Short story will be released before midnight EST! Enjoy!
I had another blog post planned out for tonight, but in a happy coincidence someone actually sent me some Cradle art last night!
A fan who wishes to keep their True Name closely guarded commissioned this piece just to show what the Cradle main characters look like!
Here's the artist's page, for those of you interested in their other work.
I thought it was awesome!
I'm still catching up on everything, so in the meantime, here's the new cover (with no type) for Of Shadow and Sea!
I'm back, more or less alive! And because I have a ton of emails and comments to catch up on, not to mention a bunch of writing to do, I'll keep this brief.
Here's what we'll do: I'm going to release a new short story this month, and you guys can tell me in the comments what you'd like it to be. If there's one clear winner, I'll do that, otherwise I'll pick. I might pick anyway, because this is a dictatorship.
Anyway, let me know in the comments what the short story should be about!
And it's great to be home.
As we speak, I'm headed out the door for a two-week trip!
Week 1: New York City, where I fully expect to meet the Ninja Turtles. If there's time, I'll hop on over to the neighboring New Donk City to see Mario.
Week 2: Israel, where I don't have any idea where we're going and will leave that up to the tour guide. If I meet the Ninja Turtles there, I will be surprised.
I'm coming back on February 1st, but between now and then, I will be dead. RIP.
Know that I died as I lived: on my laptop.
I made a post about this on Facebook already, but I was told to put it on the blog as well, and so I shall!
Reddit's r/Fantasy hosts a contest every year called the Stabby Awards. It exists to promote excellent fantasy content across a bunch of different categories, and the mods of the subreddit work very hard at this every year. Each winner gets a real, no-kidding, metal dagger mailed to them with their name, work, and category printed on it; I have one myself, hanging on my wall, from when House of Blades won Best Indie / Self-Published in 2013.
The contest has gone on every year since, but I've never promoted it before, because it feels...inappropriate. Like I'm linking to it just to say "Hey, vote for me and not these other guys!" Also, I just don't care much about contests or winning contests in general, and I usually don't follow them myself.
This year, I've changed my mind. As a community, r/Fantasy has supported me to a frankly surprising degree ever since the launch of House of Blades. Thanks to many of you, I'm sure, my books get mentioned on the subreddit every few weeks, and recommended to people more often than that.
So this time, I'm going to do what I can to spread the word for them instead of the other way around! This is a cool thing they're doing, and it's worth promoting; there are tons of great authors on there, and you can upvote multiple people in each category, so it's easy to scroll down and support everyone you like.
Plus, I always find some new things to read on here. So that's new.
Here's the link to the voting page for the 2017 Stabby Awards, which also explains how to vote and how the contest works.
The r/Fantasy community is very supportive of independent authors, mainly because everybody wants more fantasy to read, and /u/elquesogrande, the moderator running the show, is particularly awesome. I've had interactions with him in the past, when doing AMAs for reddit, and he's got a heart of gold and eyes of steel. Or...wait.
Anyway, check it out, support some cool authors, and at the very least get an idea of some more stuff to read. Plus, support the people who are running r/Fantasy, because they deserve it.
Or don't. I'm not your dad.
EDIT: Since everyone involved in this is a volunteer, they've also set up a GoFundMe page to fund the contest. Just getting that out there.
You remember how I told you I was going to edit and re-cover the first four Elder Empire books before releasing the last two?
Well, here's the first one. Enjoy the cover art for Of Sea and Shadow! The type is a work in progress (it probably won't just be plain white lettering in the final version), but the art is final. And awesome.
Cover art by Micah Epstein
Graphic design by Patrick Foster
Now that we've all survived the relentless onslaught of Christmas elves, we're about to welcome a new year! I hope you enjoyed my Christmas "story," those of you who are signed up for the mailing list (and if you're not, you can sign up on the bottom-right of this very page)! I also hope that you received your heart's desire from Santa this year, and not your nightmare's greatest fear from Krampus.
In the spirit of providing what people asked for, here's another thing some people requested of me on the blog: reviews. I've tried reviewing some things in the past, but I always feel awkward doing it, because in the end my opinion is only my opinion. Why should it be any more valuable than yours?
Well, I'm going to start sharing what I thought, if only so that you can form a better picture of my aesthetic tastes and what I like, don't like, look for, and try to avoid in stories. If you disagree with me about a work, no problem!
Without further ado, I'm going to start with the most obvious target for a review this season: Star Wars Episode VIII, The Last Jedi.
[Major spoilers follow. I'm sure you've seen Star Wars, because slightly more people have seen that movie than currently reside on Earth, but if you haven't...well, I'm not going out of my way to ruin the movie for you, but I am going to be talking about specific scenes in the movie. Which includes the end. You have been warned.]
I didn't like it.
You can now feel free to skip to the comments and tell me what a terrible or awesome person I am, depending on your position.
I know everyone has a strong opinion about this movie, and I'm no exception. While it had some awesome scenes--the appearance of Yoda, the incredible hyperspace suicide run, and Rey and Kylo Ren fighting together all spring to mind--the impact of each of those scenes is weakened by context.
First off, there was a problem going into this movie: Episode Seven didn't explain to us who the First Order or the Resistance actually are. That was a minor weakness in Seven, but it becomes a huge flaw in Eight, when we don't know what the Resistance is actually fighting for. Or against. Is the First Order a galaxy-spanning super-Empire greater than the Emperor's dreams, or is it a fractured cult using the remnants of the Imperial army for terrorist ends? We don't know.
I know there is an answer, and in fact I know what the answer is because I've read some of the books, but that doesn't help. If the audience has to do their homework in order to answer a basic plot question like "Who is the bad guy and what does he want?" then you've made a mistake.
So that's the foundation on which this movie is built, and it only splinters from there.
We don't know what the good guys or bad guys are after, so we don't know what's at stake on a broad scale. However, we're soon shown what's at stake for the heroes: a First Order fleet is bearing down on the Resistance and will kill all the good guys in one fell swoop. Great! Clear threat, timeline established.
Now we break into three plotlines: Rey trying to convince Luke Skywalker to come back, Finn and Rose trying to stop the First Order from tracking them through hyperspace, and Poe trying to save the fleet from an incompetent and possibly self-serving vice-admiral.
...they all fail. And yet it doesn't matter.
Sure, some of the faceless, nameless members of the Resistance die, but everyone we care about survives. We also still don't know the purpose or scale of the Resistance, so being left with like twenty people is...fine? Did they lose ten people, or two hundred? Or two thousand? Not sure. And what happens if they're destroyed, does the galaxy end? Don't know.
I was left feeling like most of the movie was a waste, like all the heroes could have stayed at home and accomplished the exact same thing (because, in at least one case, that's true). It's a long movie, and it feels long, because no one accomplishes anything.
I could go into specific complaints, but then this post would get really long. So I'll just say that it's a shame where this movie ends, because now I'm not excited to watch Nine.
At the end of Empire Strikes Back, going into Return of the Jedi, we have the following specific questions we want answered:
--What can Luke do as a trained Jedi?
--How will Leia escape?
--How will Han escape the carbonite?
--How will the Rebellion beat the Empire, now that the Empire has demonstrated control even over Rebel allies (Cloud City)?
--How will Luke beat Darth Vader, now that he's demonstrated he can't beat him in a fight?
--How will Luke beat the Emperor, who's even more powerful?
At the end of The Last Jedi, we don't have any of that.
Rey has been Kylo Ren's equal from the very beginning, and has gotten the better of him in every exchange...with zero training. So I have to assume she's going to keep beating him and win with no effort.
The Resistance has lost...some portion...of its membership, so maybe we want to see how the Resistance could possibly beat the First Order. But I still have no sense of the size or purpose of either organization, so as far as I know, the First Order has even fewer ships and people left.
Plus, as far as I know, both organizations are equally to blame for the state of the galaxy. The only explicit villains we see are war profiteers, who sell war materiel to both sides, leaving the Resistance just as culpable for the suffering in the galaxy as the First Order. Why am I rooting for these guys?
This movie has given me nothing to look forward to in the next installment. But I'm obviously going to see it anyway.
It's Star Wars.
When I asked last week about blog topics that you most wanted me to cover, there were a few common responses. Some people wanted to hear my opinions on books and movies and so forth, some people wanted writing advice, and some people wanted to hear more about my writing process.
This suggestion came in that last category. A friend of mine, after reading the blog post, texted me suggesting that I should post a brief history of how I came up with some of my characters.
I thought it was a good idea, and I figured a natural place to start was with my first protagonist: Simon, son of Kalman, hero of the Traveler's Gate trilogy.
Traveler's Gate started out as two documents. The first was a file called Rivals.rtf, which was a very broad three-paragraph outline about a story in which two boys were competing to see who could save the world first. The second was a few brief notes on what would become the Territory magic system, but I'll probably cover that in a future post.
In the earliest parts of the story development process, I usually refer to characters by role. In this case, Alin was Hero and Simon was Rival. I wrote down the whole broad shape of the plot (which I usually don't do) and left it there.
In 2012, when I was first facing down the prospect of really writing a book, I decided to go with the concept that I thought would be easiest for me to finish. Not necessarily my best idea, just the one that I believed I could execute. When I looked through my notes and found Rival.rtf, I knew I had something that I might at least get to the end of.
First, I gave Simon a name. I named him after the main character of Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann.
That's about as complicated as it gets.
"Simon" is simple and easy to pronounce or remember, which was my priority. It's also Greek in origin, which gave me a basis for naming the entire rest of the region. I used mainly a mix of Greek-origin and Hebrew-origin names, though with a heavy dose of fantasy-ization and a side of "whatever sounds cool."
The entire time, I intended for that to be only a placeholder name. One of the last things I did before putting House of Blades up for production was try to come up with a more original name for Simon, but by the time I did that it was too late. His name was Simon.
As for his personality, I knew he was going to end up as a pretty standard hero--he uses a big sword, hits things really hard, and does the right thing--so I tried to give him a little twist in the other direction. He's awkward. When he doesn't know what to say, he doesn't say anything.
This was all in the service of bringing him to life as an individual a little bit, rather than leaving him feeling like a vehicle for the plot. However, it meant that he was too...quiet, really. He didn't interact with the other characters enough, which left him feeling detached.
He needed somebody to talk to.
The dolls were a happy accident that I might go into at a future date, but basically they were the result of my general philosophy that I put in anything that sounds fun. I needed someone for Simon to play off of, and if they can needle him a little bit and make it so that he's not just the brooding anime antihero with the huge sword, so much the better.
Interacting with the dolls helped me define Simon's personality, because he gets to open up around them. His dialogue and his choices interacting with him help make him more vivid and more human, which is something that I often struggle to communicate in main characters. My side characters are always lively, but my protagonists can be a little stiff.
The rest of him--his history, his family, the choices he makes during scenes--were the result of me repeatedly asking the question "What kind of person would do these things?" Who would set off to Valinhall without a group of friends for support? Who would try and save the day even though Alin was already around to do those things? What kind of a person would do well in Valinhall, even if he wasn't some kind of genius?
"Calder straightened his back, focused his mind, and opened the door."
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