Monday, December 26, 2011

Royal Blood. Tower of Elves – The Riyria Revelations comes to Poland

I can’t say enough fantastic things about my foreign rights agent. Not only has she done a great job finding new markets for my books, but has a superb eye for picking “the right” publishers.  As I recall there were three publishers in Poland who had expressed an interest in my books and I couldn’t be happier with having signed with: Prószyński i S-ka. They recently (October 2011) released Theft of Swords as: Royal Blood. Tower of Elves. Yeah, interesting, huh?

Much like Orbit, Prószyński i S-ka is intererested in more than just  “putting a book out there.” They have placed my short story,  The Viscount and the Witch in one of Poland’s Fantasy Magazines and are also releasing some of my writing advice blog posts as well.

I’m sure that readers here in the US may not be familiar with Prószyński i S-ka, Polish Publishers doesn’t often come up in idle conversation. But they have some great US titles such as: 11/22/63, Stephen King’s latest book on the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and in the fantasy genre they represent Terry Prachette, Ursula K. Le Guin, Orson Scott Card, and fellow Orbit author, Gail Carriger. 

So, as authors are often known to do I googled: Królewska krew. Wieża elfów. And to my genuine surprise I found hundreds of hits returned (More than 100 pages). I did a bit of exploring using the translation feature of my browser and discovered:
  • Many book reviews by online fantasy sites and individual book bloggers
  • A number of forums that were discussing the books
  • Multiple places where excerpts were posted
  • Tons of on-line booksellers with the book for sale.
  • At least one site where the book made a “Top 10 List”
  • A Goodreads-esque site (  where people are reading and rating the book (21 ratings, 10 reviews,  71 people marked to read)
In summary…the same type of thing that can be found in the US. While I shouldn’t be surprised at this I was. Prószyński i S-ka is obviously working hard to publicize the book and from every indication I can see they are doing a great job of it.

So I’d like to thank  Marcin Zwierzchowski (my contact person for Poland) and Mark Edward Szmigiel (translastor) and all the other people at Prószyński i S-ka whose names I don’t know but who have my heartfelt gratitude for all the hard work you have done, and are doing, on behalf of my books. I really appreicate your efforts and hope you find working on this project fullfilling—or at least amusing. How well do Royce and Hadrian jokes play in Poland?

Thursday, December 22, 2011


This post isn’t about writing, my books, fantasy books, or books at all. It’s a little about me, but mostly not. It is semi-historical, perhaps a bit informative, but mostly it is a review…but not of a book. In short, this post is something out of left-field. There are two reasons I am writing this post. The first is that it’s the Christmas season and often that means toys, and this post is about a game. The second reason I’m writing this, is that my wife asked me to. Robin feels that if I admit to playing games, it will make me appear more human. Robin is obviously under the impression you all think I’m an alien.

I can guess that many of you are wondering what this is all about, while quite a few others have been nodding at the computer screen since reading the title. Let me explain and to do that we need to go back in time to the era when MTV was as big as Twitter, HBO was brand new, and no one knew if VHS or Beta would win the war. 

I got my first computer in 1983. It was a Compaq (because the Apple Macintosh wasn’t invented yet, and thus I was trapped into using Windows machines for the rest of my life) with a floppy drive, separate monitor, and a ruby monochrome screen that ran DOS. I wrote novels on this using SAMNA a now forgotten program that was ahead of its time and so much better than a typewritter. I also played a few computer games, but I cannot stress enough how different computer gaming was back then.

In the early days there weren’t even graphics. Everything was just text. Glowing green or, in my case, orangish text on a black screen. It took years before the most rudimentary images appeared. At first they were flat monochrome. Later they developed color. If you’ve seen the Tom Hanks movie Big, you have an idea what they were like. The game in the movie isn’t real but mimicked games like Ultima and Wizardry. This was the silent movie era of computer gaming. But starting in the 1990s, gaming shifted into high gear and took off. The 1990s became the golden age of computer video games and gave birth to a large number of game developers and publishers such as Activision,  EA, Blizzard, and ID.

SimCity was released in 1989. Kings Quest V (with VGA graphics) hit shelves in 1990 ensuring graphic adventures would continue in the golden age. In 1991 came Civilization (perhaps the best game ever invented) and Lemmings. Alone in the Dark was released in 1992 a forefather of survival horror games. Wolfenstein 3D  and Doom were released in 1993, which while they did not invent the first-person shooter, if you lived back then, you might have thought so. Also in 1993 X-Wing, one of the greatest space combat simulators ever, was released. 1994 saw Warcraft one of the first real-time strategy games, and System Shock. In 1995 came Command and Conquer, and Half-life arrived 1997.

Game from the movie Big
What made this the golden age was the speed of technical advancements coupled with game desgin innovations that worked in tandem to drive each other to greater, more creative heights. There were no rules and it was as if there was this primordial soup back then where anything was possible. Every year game designers came out with something totally different. Some were crazy, some silly, some awful, but some were utter genius.  God games were breed with real-time strategy to make things like Dungeon Keeper where you got to be the bad guy while a band of heroes tried to invade your dungeon and steal your treasure. And action games mixed with adventure games to create games like Outcast,  a mystery, graphic adventure captured in an action strategy environment. 

Over time however, the possibilities began to coalesce. Like planets in a new solar system, genres were born. The Puzzle game, the Simulator, the Shooter, the Turn-Based-Strategy game, the Dungeon Crawl, Graphic Adventure, the Real-Time Strategy game, the Role Playing game, and finally the Massive Multiplayer Online game, and the Squad game.  Real-time strategy, and shooters dominated in the late nineties, but then the persistent world games like Everquest and later World of Warcraft appeared and a sort of balance was finally reached. Over the course of the next decade, games got prettier as technology continued to allow for better graphics and smoother game play, but the frothy maelstrom of inventiveness cooled.

I think part of this is that in the old days, graphics didn’t matter much. Games were simple. As time moved forward, players expected better graphics and this required artists, time, and lots of capital. One guy in his bedroom couldn’t put out a lush game like what we see today in the form of Skyrim, and simple-looking games could not hope to compete. Games became the territory of corporations, and businesses need to pay the bills. They can’t try crazy stuff because they think it could be really cool. They need to focus on putting out what is proven, and then just incrementally polish that.

This is why I stopped playing computer games back near the end of the 1990s early 2000’s. It was all just the same thing. Either it was a shooter, a RTS, or a treadmill online game, and while they all looked a little better and felt a little tighter, it was the same game I played a hundred times before. Only now they were designed for the largest audience which meant they were, in a sense, dumbed-down—slick, but lifeless.

My favorite games had been Civilization, Half-life (1-2,) Age of Empires, System Shock 2, Outcast, and Everquest.  And for more than a decade I never saw anything as good, nothing new that could capture my interest…until now.

When I first played DOOM, it was revolutionary. I was amazed at the game play, and yet it always felt like only part of a game, like a chase scene is part of a movie. Sure it was exciting, but it needed context. And even as I played it, I imagined how it could be great if only they added a story, a goal beyond survival, one that was integrated into the game rather than revealed in cut scenes. Id came out with DOOM II and later Quake, but they never did what I wanted. Then Valve came along and made Half-life. It was a huge hit and exactly what I’d hoped for.

I had the same thoughts when playing Everquest. I wanted to get rid of the treadmill, and be able to permanently change that world. I wanted to be able to cut down a tree, use its wood to make planks and then build a house of my own design. Strip back the grass and plant crops, raise farm animals. Build a wall to defend my land, create my own roads, bridges. I wanted eating and drinking to be required to survive. I wanted to suffer from the elements and freeze if I didn’t have warm clothes, or couldn’t start a fire in winter. I wanted to die of thirst in a desert if I did not have enough to drink, or was stupid enough to wear steel armor. That never happened in the MMOs. And as they advanced they offered less rather than more—less freedom.

That was always the problem. From the very start most all of these games were long corridors that you, as the player, were forced to walk down. There was no turning from the path set before you. Occasionally a game like Elder Scrolls pretended to provide freedom by including tons of repetitive villages and repetitive side-quests that let you deviate from the main storyline. And some allowed for multiple endings, two or three if you were lucky. But the games still locked you in, a prisoner forced to play how they wanted.

With multi-play games that problem was helped as the games became merely settings where live opponents came to compete, but that did nothing to benefit those who weren’t onto competing, those who enjoyed exploring, creating, and more contemplative games. Each year offerings sported slicker, more photo-realistic graphics like in this year’s Skyrim, (which looks beautiful) but it is still the same old game.( I have to admit I have not yet tried Skyrim, though I have watched my son play it.)

I had all but given up, believing that since corporations were in charge nothing revolutionary would happen. Then a year ago my son was in the car with me. We were driving a friend of his home and on the way they were talking.

“I went to sleep in my own house and I was killed,” my son’s friend said. That right there will catch your attention. 

“You had a door right? And it was closed?” My son asked. 


“Did you have torches? You have to make a small room and put your bed in it then circle it in torches or they find you.”

They? I thought. This wasn’t the typical teenage conversation and it caught my attention. When I inquired what the heck they were talking about, my son explained it was a new game he had downloaded called Minecraft. When we got home my son showed it to me.

I think I might have actually laughed at the pathetic graphics. It was all blocky and crude. There was no detail, and it had none of the lovely atmosphere and realism of the newer games. It looked like a children’s cartoon where people had square heads and dots for eyes. Then he showed me how it was played and I stopped laughing.

This was it. This was something different.

It wasn’t made by a corporation, which explained the graphics. Minecraft is an indie computer game originally written in java by its single creator, Markus Persson, or “Notch” as he is known. It is what’s called a sandbox game, in that there is no point to it—no goal, no finish line, no levels to achieve, no classes, skills or races, no opponent to beat—anymore than there is a point to playing in a sandbox. For the most part you make your own fun, which might seem a cop-out on the part of the game designer...until you try it.  

Player made castle in Minecraft
The thing with Minecraft is that you exist in a world that is completely transfigurable . You can dig a hole in the ground and use that dirt to build a wall. You can cut down a tree, turn the wood into lumber to make a house, or tools like a hoe that you can use to clear land and plant seeds. You can divert rivers, set trees on fire, create stoves. You can kill pigs then cook pork chops in that stove you made or smelt iron ingots from iron ore and use that to make armor or tools. You can even create rudimentary electrical circuits to power devices. You can, in fact, virtually do anything you want and the world works in a very logical manner. Put sand in a hot stove and you will get glass. Jump off a cliff and you will die. And you have to eat, or you will also likely die. It is good that things are sensible because the game has no directions—no manual. You have to figure everything out, or go online to do research, which surprisingly, is part of the fun. Although, honestly, it is best to watch an introduction video or better yet, have someone show you the game as this is not WoW, and Notch doesn’t hold your hand at all.

Nature in Minecraft
This is gaming the way it used to be when people of vision and little money took crazy chances to make things that made you forget the crappy graphics because you were having too much fun playing the game. And actually, after just a little while, you imagine the graphics as being oddly beautiful. Minecraft is a throwback to the golden age of gaming, an Indian summer popping up in the 2010s. 

There is one more thing, and this is where the spice comes in. In this world of Minecraft, there are days and nights. This cycle works just like it does in the real world except that a day lasts only ten minutes, thankfully so does the night, because at night, monsters come out. They come in a variety of types. Zombies, skeletons (who use bows and arrows,) spiders that can climb walls, Creepers that have a nasty tendency to sneak up behind people and explode. Most monsters catch fire in sunlight like a Buffy vampire, but not all, and the challenge of the game is to create a defense against the night. So as the game begins you are Charleston Heston in Omega Man and have ten minutes to build yourself an adequate shelter before night falls. After that you’ll be left blind and defenseless in the darkness as monsters roam the world. This is no easy feat for the newbie, as just learning how to gather resources, make simple tools, and construct a hut can take more than ten minutes.

Award Winner player made building
The best materials like iron, red stone and diamond are found by digging down into the earth, but underground it is dark, and in the dark, the monsters live. Sometimes you stumble on monster’s lairs where if you kill them you can take their horde for your own. There are also abandoned mine shafts alternate dimensions like the Nether and the End, and special hidden strongholds which can be found by creating Eyes of Ender, letting them fly and following them. 

Player built mine?
So adventuring and exploring are important parts of the game, but an equal, and perhaps greater part is creating—building homes, farms, towers, villages even whole cities. It is as if you were dropped on a new planet all alone and had to learn how to survive. The game is at its most entertaining when you are trying to do a simple thing. You want to add something to your house, you need a to make a tool to do it, to make the tool you need to get a mineral that is found underground. 

You dig and find an abandoned mine. You’re curious so you explore—just a little, then you fall. You plummet four stories. You’re still alive, but you’re in the dark and only have a couple torches. You only have a stone sword and not much food because you never expected to be trapped in a mineshaft. The adventure you go through just trying to get home is epic. You have to fight through nests of posion spiders, figure out how to build a stairway up. You get lost but discover a random chest with some food to keep you alive and steel to make a better sword. You fight zombies and skeleton, and it is a heartpounding thrill ride, but perhaps the best part is that you know this isn’t scripted. This isn’t some preordained plot. This is all just the result of an accident—your own foolishness, and that makes the game more real than the most photorealistic graphics ever could.  
The game can be played singularly, or on a server with others. I visited one where the players had created an entire working city with skyscrapers, paved streets with signs, banks and libraries. Others have wars where people create armor and swords (or in some cases guns,) and attack each other. And as the game has an endless supply of randomly generated worlds, and as each world is infinite (you can just keep walking and it will just keep getting bigger,) so there is plenty of replay value.

The kind of city people make on multiplayer servers
I started playing a year ago when the game was in beta. This past November the game was officially released. So besides distracting me from writing, and proving, as my wife wanted, that I am human with other interests, why mention this here? There’s a certain kinship factor. Minecraft is an indie produced game—self published if you will. Persson made it himself and it caught on. With no publisher and no commercial advertising or backing, he sold the alpha and beta versions of his game by word-of-mouth and (at this time) he’s sold around 4 million copies. This has allowed him to start his own gaming company while he continues to refine and add to the feature set of Minecraft.

So, in return for providing me with something new that I can talk with my teenage son about, I felt Notch deserved a plug, even though his audience is way bigger than mine.

At present, my son, his friends, Robin and I all play together on my own server. At least I know where my son is on a Saturday night, and exactly the kind of monsters he’s likely to meet. He also has dreams of being an architect and I can think of no better past time for that.

So if you’re looking for that last minute Christmas gift that someone will smirk at, roll their eyes and say, “Are you kidding?” and then disappear playing for years to come. You can buy a gift code for Minecraft for $27, and they can download the game Christmas morning (which usually takes five minutes.)  Setting up your own server so you can play together can be a herculean odyssey, but that too is part of what the golden age of gaming was all about.

Happy Holidays 


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Can’t Beat That With a Swizzle Stick

Yesterday Theft of Swords went live on the Starbuck’sDigital Network. What that means is if you’re in a WiFi enabled Starbucks, when you log in to the Internet you will be greeted by a splash screen asking if you’d like to read my book…for free.

That’s right, for the next two weeks you can read the entire novel for free on your computer, tablet, or phone. So if you’ve been wondering if my books are worth buying, or if there is someone you want to get interested in the series, now you can do it for the price of a cup of coffee—actually no purchase is necessary, but given that Starbucks is being nice enough to host this, I don’t think buying a cup of coffee is too much to ask.

So have a merry caffeinated Wintertide, and—if only those people who visit Starbucks in the next two weeks take the time to read my book—so will I.  

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Writing Advice 26—Selling Yourself

 My first signing tour, fall 2008

So you got your book done. You’ve edited it. You’ve published and seen a few reviews—now what?

My wife once compared the career of an author to climbing the Blue Ridge Mountains. Every time you think you’ve reached the top you see another, even taller ridge, rising ahead of you. It never ends. Now comes the time when you have to sell yourself. You’ve spent years learning how to write. You’ve poured hours into creating a great book, but now none of that matters as you realize you’re at square-one again. Now you must learn how to be a marketing genius and a charismatic salesmen.

Marketing, publicist, salesmen? Clearly if you had wanted to be any of these you would not have written novels for the last few years. Instead you shut yourself up in a small dark room, living in imaginary worlds because you’re a sensitive, introverted, self-conscious, shy, person likely lacking in confidence. And now you have to go out in public, jump up and down, wave your hands and shout, “Look at me everyone! I’m great!”

It sounds about as much fun as six-chambered pistol roulette.

It is awkward and scary unless you have that “salesman” gene, and you know the type, the person who loves talking about themselves to a group of strangers, but hates being alone in a quiet room for more than five minutes. Without that superpower, which few writers have—given that most of their time is spent alone in quiet rooms—promoting yourself is unnatural and most uncomfortable. 

All the writers I know (including myself) begin this stage the same way—with self-deprecation. “I wrote this book, you probably won’t like it. It’s not all that good. Wanna try it anyway?” With a sales pitch like that, it’s amazing you aren’t a bestseller. Still, it feels wrong to lie, to present yourself as something you aren’t, and you know you aren’t anyone great.

This creates a negative spiral. People are drawn to people who exude confidence, (the good kind at least—because there is a bad kind.) Confidence is most often derived from experience, (the bad kind comes from an artificially inflated ego.)  This is a problem, because everyone starts with a want of experience. You need confidence to get people to read your books, but you need the experience of people reading and liking your books to gain confidence.  So how do you do it?

First you must realize that you really aren’t being honest when you undersell yourself. You don’t really think your book sucks. You wouldn’t be trying to sell it if you did. You like your book. In fact, you should love your book. You should feel it’s the best book ever written. I’m not joking. Given that you wrote your book, given that you created it to suit your own personal taste, it is like a tailor-made suit. It should fit you better than any store bought suit and as such—for you—your book had better be the best book you’ve ever read, because if you don’t love your book…how can you expect anyone else to even like it? So recognize that at least one person in the world thinks your book is the best that has ever been written. Obviously, not everyone will agree with your sentiment. Not everyone liked Harry Potter either. Yet it is a mistake to focus on this single point. Logically, if one person in the world believes it is the best book ever, then it is very possible there could be dozens who would at least like it. Maybe more. Probably more. And who are you to judge what the person in front of you will or won’t like?

I did a bookstore signing where I stood at a tiny table near the front doors. I was a veteran by this time (or felt I was,) and I had a good idea who would be interested in my books and who would not. Big guys in football jerseys and old men, always ignored me. Old ladies in clusters, and women with lots of make-up, did too. So I was trying real hard to catch the eye of the geeky twenty-something guy wandering the sci-fi stacks even though a gray-haired gentlemen dressed like a corporate banker was glancing over at me.

The old business man closed the distance and started asking questions. He was just wasting my time, he would likely have a daughter who was trying to get published and want to talk about the business, and I needed to concentrate on attracting the geek. Of course, by this point you realize what happened. The old guy was intrigued and bought my books. Later he wrote me emails of appreciation (thinking I would not remember him—ha!) He loved the books, posted great reviews on Amazon for me and is a wonderful fan. The geek, when I did get to talk to him, wasn’t interested. So you never know what people will like. You can’t predict their tastes based on how they look, anymore than a person should judge a book by…well, you know.

All this is fine, but it isn’t really going to help you the first time you have to go to a bookstore to do a cold table signing, or a convention where you man a vendor’s table, or even the first time you do a reading where you and maybe two other people are there. And how miserable might you be on a panel, sitting beside five other authors, all of whom have more experience than you? How can you be confident when people ignore you, when they sneer at your books. The answer is simpler than you might think.

You fake it.

You see, humans can’t smell fear like hyenas. You just pretend that you know what you’re doing, that your book is great, that they are missing out on the story of a lifetime if they pass this opportunity by. It isn’t a lie, because as far as you personally are concerned, it’s true. You aren’t afraid to tell a friend to go see the movie you really liked. You don’t fumble over words and say, “Well, I liked it, but you probably won’t.” No. You say, “Wow, that was a great film, you should watch it! You’ll love it!” Why is that so easy, but selling your book is hard? It’s because it is your book, your creation. So for that brief moment, pretend it isn’t. Pretend it’s someone else’s book and you’re just selling it. Instead of saying, “What I was trying to do here was…” say, “The book is about…” as if you just found the thing on a shelf, read it that moment and had to tell someone how good it was. Maybe they won’t agree, but hey, you’re entitled to your opinion.

The thing is if you act confident, and if you pretend long enough, it stops being a pretense, because somewhere along the way you actually pick up enough experience to be genuinely confident. So your first few tries at anything will be disasters. Even if they aren’t, you’ll feel they were. You’ll be terrified, nervous, embarrassed, and awkward. And the only thing you’re certain about is that everyone looking at you knows this. Each one is suppressing laughter out of polite kindness, but none of that it actually true. What people see is an author—a published author. For what it’s worth, that’s still a rank with privilege. People will grant you respect. They will be impressed even if they haven’t heard of you. There are a lot of famous authors that people never heard of—you might be one of those. They don’t see a person fumbling with words, shaking, sweating and repeating themselves. They see an accomplished author, standing in front of people speaking, talking fast because they are so smart, or slowly to help the audience understand their genius. Of course they are a genius, they wrote a whole book.

Occasionally you might run into another author, or a serious aspiring writer, and they will see through your charade, but they above all people should be sympathetic. Authors rarely criticize other authors, because we know, we’ve been through it, we’ve worn those shoes and know how that feels. Besides, there is never a shortage of people willing to try and destroy what others have built. When you live in tornado alley, you don’t rip down your neighbor’s walls.

It has been my experience that when you take a chance, when you stand up and hold out your work, people are far more likely to applaud than to throw things, and it has nothing to do with the quality of the story or the writing. Contrary to what we are often led to believe, most people are generally very nice, kind, understanding, compassionate, and empathetic.  They realize the risk, they see the vulnerability, and knowing how hard such a thing would be to do, they respect the person standing there, for doing that, for having the courage to stand in the open and reach for an impossible dream.

Looking back you might catch a glimpse of that respect and suddenly, you’ll discover you’re feeling a lot more confident. Maybe you’re worth something after all. In that moment, the negative spiral reverses itself. Positive begets positive. Invisible gifts are exchanged. And while you’d still rather be writing, well, it isn’t so bad after all.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Is Riyria Right for You?

With the new release of the books large numbers of people are hearing about the series, but don’t know if it’s something they would like. Recently I’ve seen several posts asking what people would compare it to. I normally prefer to have readers do the comparing as my opinion is bias, but I do know what others have compared it to in the past and in most cases they told me why.

So for those of you trying to determine if my books are right for you, here is a list of novels that readers most frequently used to describe my books, and my understanding as to why they did so. Following the list is my own personal summary description for those who might not be as fantasy-genre literate.

FritzLeiber/Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser: Most often compared by fantasy veterans I suspect because of the big fighter/little thief similarity, and sword and sorcery feel, but I haven’t read Leiber so I can’t say for certain.(purposely staying away from these due to the comparisons.)

Scott Lynch/The Lies of Locke Lamora: Mostly because of the thief motif, but these are  denser reads and more focused on the heist aspect, where mine are more adventure novels.

George Martin/Song of Ice and Fire: I think people compare me to this because it is what everyone has most recently read, but Martin’s work has a very different writing style, very different tone. If this is all you know, then imagine a light-hearted, version with more traditional elements (wizard/elves,) a much faster pace, humor, and easier to read, (some would say simplistic,) prose.

Brent Weeks/Night AngelTrilogy: Weeks has a similar light writing style, but his work is far darker and grittier in tone and topic—these are about assassins assassinating after all. Mine are about thieves who don’t get to do much stealing.

Jon Sprunk/ShadowsTrilogy: I would actually compare this to Week’s books more than mine, (both about assassins,) but the tone is a shade less gritty which makes it a step closer to mine.

David Eddings/Belgariad series: I think people compare me to Eddings because along with Feist, this is the last good traditional fantasy they can remember. But this falls in the “boy destined to defeat the dark lord” category that my series lacks.

Raymond Feist/RiftwarSaga: Like Eddings, this compares to mine in that it is from a time before fantasy turned cynical and gritty. Aside from that I don’t notice too many other similarities.

Robert V.S. Redick/TheRed Wolf Conspiracy: Don’t know, I haven’t read it yet.

Peter V. Brett/The Warded Man: Don’t know, I haven’t read it yet.

Patrick Rothfuss/KingkillerChronicles and Brandon Sanderson/MistbornTrilogy: I think mostly because they are both relatively new and their outlooks are less cynical.

J.R.R. Tolkien/Lord ofthe Rings: Because every fantasy is eventually compared to it.

Jim Butcher/Dresden Files: We share a similar light, casual writing style that employs humor and a quick pace. Of everyone here, I personally feel Mr. Butcher’s Dresden books read the most like mine even though our settings (his is contemporary Chicago) and stories are very different, and Butcher's books are far more episodic (he’s got like 13 or 14,) where mine, while generally complete stories, form a single series arc that is finite and therefore has a larger, single-story feel.

How I would describe the series for someone who might know very little about fantasy:
Take the movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, mix it with the television series I Spy, set it in a post-Roman era mythological Europe, and then sprinkle in the long view political-mystery-building plot of say the Babylon 5 series, with the reading ease of Harry Potter and the standard traditional fantasy elements popularized by Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, and the pace of Star Wars. That ought to do it. 

Feel free to add any additional comparisons you think are applicable.


Friday, December 16, 2011

The Good Neighbor and Another Book Release

It was the howling that first alerted me. I heard the sound of howling and peered out of the kitchen window. The dog was in the ivy, pacing and howling near my neighbor's side door. I did not see a human companion. Just the dog, bounding around and howling. Clearly something was wrong. I went out my front door and crossed to my neighbor's yard. The dog looked dubious. "Hey boy. What's wrong?" The dog bounded past me and returned, tilting its head quizzically. The side door of my neighbor's house was open. Not good. I approached and called out "Mike? Robin? You there?" No response. The dog came and went always just out of arms reach. "Good boy." I nudged the door open a bit farther with my foot. "Anyone home?" And then I saw the blood on the floor...

This thriller intro was written by my neighbor, Steven Jones. It isn’t the opening of a book, a short story or flash fiction—it isn’t even fiction. It is from an email he sent describing what happened on Wednesday. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

For those of you keeping track, this last Wednesday was the official release of Rise of Empire, the second in the Orbit Riyria trilogy, and Robin and I were in New York. While there, maybe it was the season, or the fact we took a train, but I kept hearing lines from It’s a Wonderful Life, most notably:

You wouldn't mind living in the nicest house in town, buying your wife a lot of fine clothes, a couple of business trips to New York a year, maybe once in a while Europe. You wouldn't mind that, would you, George?

New York is a giant movie set. You see scenes, or what might have been settings for films and shows everywhere you look, everything from thirties gangster films to present day romantic comedies. The city appears to be conscious of this and the stores, coffee shops, and bars play music from the forties that fit just as well with your classic holiday movie as it does with the more modern Nora Ephron film.

After a day of walking down Fifth Avenue and ogling the Christmas window displays of the major stores—Macy’s wins hands down—we met with my agent in a swank hotel bar. Everything in New York is dark inside. Every bar and restaurant I’ve been in makes me wish I brought a flashlight, and yet outside due to the electronic billboards,  its bright as day. We had drinks, chatted about the release that was only hours away, if there was any news on the movie or video game frontier, and I signed contracts for the Japanese version of the Riyria Revelations.

It all felt kind of dream-like. I suppose Manhattan can do that. You’re either walking around in a dream or a nightmare depending on your circumstance. I never bought into the vision of life as an author. I never fantasized about the lifestyle. I think there are some aspiring writers who—that’s all they think of—and maybe a few accomplished novelists actually live in that world. I personally never believed it was real and I certainly never thought I would have the chance to taste it. This idea of being wined and dined by agents and publishers as if you were famous, is the stuff of movies and mystery/detective television shows. First, I didn’t think it really existed, and second, I’m not a big name author—I’m barely an author at all. But there I was with my wife in this world of glamour, one book out and the second about to hit. In this episode of Living the Dream, the part of "rising star" will be played by Michael Sullivan.  I didn’t walk around in a daze, but every once in a while it would sneak up and thwack me on the head.

Look at you all spiffafied! Walking around Manhattan like you have a right to be here. It felt like catching a perfect snowflake. Beautiful, but you know the moment it hits your glove, the moment you have the opportunity to really see the beauty, it will melt. I didn’t want to get attached to something that was fleeting.

The next morning I was up early because a newspaper reporter was desperate to interview me before her deadline. So I sat in my tiny New York hotel room, feet up on the modern art table looking out the window at the myriad of architectural styles as I recounted my life story to Lois Lane. Yes, it’s true, I crashed to Earth in Smallville, Kansas… I sipped my Starbuck’s mocha watching as people entered their offices across the street and watered their plants, the sun glinting off a Petticoat Junction style water tank while in the background it did the same with the gold-leaf covered pinnacle of a skyscraper . This was all too weird. 

We did some Christmas shopping, and couldn’t help stopping in every bookstore to sign their copies of Theft and Rise. Store clerks can get surprisingly excited, even if they don’t know who you are. It was nice to see the books on the shelves and gracing the New and Noteworthy tables. 

Later that day we met my publisher—my editor Devi, and marketing and publicity director Alex—for lunch near Grand Central Station. Turns out Theft of Swords already sold out its first print run, as has Rise of Empire. A second print run is underway. Also Theft and Rise were number one and three on Hottest New Release in historical fantasy both in book and ebook. This had everyone at the table smiling and made for a very nice lunch.

The one hair under the iPhone protector in all this, (fly in the ointment—seems dated so I thought I’d modernize the adage,)  was an email that came in from my neighbor.

You see my wife and I have a dog. He’s an American Foxhound mix. We got him from the local pound three years ago. Hounds like packs and he hates to be alone. He’s also learned how to open the front door. Even though my daughters and son were home they were at work and school, that morning and Tobi did his magic trick. Unfortunately for him, his door opening Houdini cut his paw and he proceeded to smear blood all over the inside of the door and on the floor before getting out, looping around the neighborhood and howling. Apparently he figured we’d hear him in New York. Oddly enough, he was right. 

I received an email from my neighbor who, as you might be able to tell from the opening paragraph of this post, was a bit concerned that he should call the police. After speaking to me on the phone, Steve was kind enough to coax Tobi back in the house and lock it up, and I am extremely grateful for his help. It’s wonderful and reassuring to have a neighbor like that. I haven’t always.

So thanks Steve, thanks Teri, thanks Devi and Alex, and thanks to everyone who bought a copy of Theft and Rise. The snowflake on my glove might not last long, but you all contribute to make it awfully pretty.