Sunday, March 28, 2010

No Really, I’m Big in Czechoslovakia

Getting published is hard; not laying asphalt on a city street in August hard, but nearly impossible in ways pouring concrete isn’t. Every aspiring writer knows there are generally speaking, two steps. First, you must obtain an agent, then that agent helps you get a publisher. It is also well known that getting an agent is just about as hard as getting published. In some ways, it is like having to do the impossible twice just to prove it wasn’t a fluke.

My first book was shopped around by my agent to a few major publishers and turned down. Then it started visiting the independents and landed with AMI. So it began its published life handicapped with an unknown publisher and virtually no marketing except what my wife and I could do. Despite this, a little more than a year later, Crown is doing remarkable well. It has hundreds of very positive reviews. It sold out its first printing, and has a consistent Amazon sales rank that beats most of the major published works that I tend to follow. Now publishers are making offers for the foreign language rights. I have received unsolicited inquiries from major houses in Spain, France, Germany, and Poland, and have received offers from two publishers in the Czech Republic.

But despite all this, despite the awards, accolades, and sales figures…I still can’t get an agent.

I had one. She was brilliant, but she left the industry before I was published. Since then I didn’t feel I needed one, but now with the advent of requests for foreign language rights, I think I could really use someone who understands this part of the business. I’ve sent out several queries listing the merits of the series and an explanation that I need them to negotiate existing foreign rights offers—what I would think should be instant money to anyone willing to represent me—and still I am being rejected. Talk about a tough industry.

So if you’re an unpublished writer with little or no credentials looking to find representation for your novel…well, maybe you shouldn’t have read this as it might cause an upsurge in creative writers laying roads this summer.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Round 3!

I am surprised to report that Avempartha has survived its second round in the BSC Tournament and is now one of the remaining “sweet sixteen.” With all the recent reality tv shows, I almost imagine all these books being forced to live in one drama-filled house as they compete daily, and forced to undergo bizarre challenges. There aren’t too many literary-based reality tv shows however, probably a reason for that.

Now, Avempartha is up against Cherie Priest's Boneshaker.

This matchup is particularly rough as I recently bought Boneshaker for my daughter who was interested in Steampunk. I chose it because I thought it sounded great, the first few pages were wonderful, and because of the numerous positive reviews. So this is a real good book. Just to add to the challenge my daughter informed me I might be in trouble because Boneshaker has zombies.

Voting is open and will remain open until 8:00 PM EST on 3/31.

So you have a little less than a week to decide to go with Steampunk zombies or Sword & Sorcery thieves.

While this contest has been great fun, as it consists of people voting for books and expressing why they liked them, and to an author that’s pretty nice to see, it has mostly come down to exposure, which is unfortunate. In a head-to-head matchup, people most often vote for the book they read and against the one they did not. At least in my matchups, only a rare few have read both. I expected this, but I expected to be slaughtered in the first round because all the other books have a much higher profile than mine. These are all big books, and big name authors released through major publishers. How I’ve survived this long is bewildering. Bewildering, but nice--very nice. Even if this is where I get voted off, the exposure has been great, and I can’t complain about the company. (Can you believe that Gathering Storm lost in the first round?)

Thanks to everyone who has supported me, and to BSC for including my little book.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Final Edits, Superpowers, and the Bermuda Triangle

As we come down to the wire I am receiving the final edits on Emerald Storm from proofreaders. As they do, I am adding to my list of mistakes I consistently make. I do this in the hopes of learning to avoid them in the future. Sometimes this actually happens.

I was a notoriously bad speller in high school, to a point where my friends referred to the stories that I wrote back then as being written in “Sullispeak” a language each prided themselves on being the greater scholar at. I was so bad that I spelled “evil” wrong. This was baffling to my friends who maintained it took real talent to screw up a word with only four letters. (I spelled it “eivl.”) This, above all, was what convinced me at the age of eighteen that while I had written three full-length novels, I could never be an author. That is how I ended up in the fast lane to artist. As you can see, I wanted nothing to do with a career where I might make money or even find employment.

It wasn’t until the advent of computers and spell-check that I contemplated writing again. Well, I never stopped writing, but for the first time I thought seriously about trying to publish something once I had a Sullispeak to English computer program. Back then, this was a DOS-based word processor called SAMNA. The intricacies of grammar came much later and I’m still struggling with its nuances. The good news is that, as an author, I have the Marvelesque superpower to defy grammar rules and even invent new words (like I just did with Marvelesque—impressive huh?) Still, it is better to know the rules before you break them; otherwise it’s just a mistake. Turns out spell-check is a great teacher. I can now spell evil…see.

As you might expect, as they come in, I watch for similarities in the editor’s comments. You would be surprised at how often professional editors contradict or debate each other. One editor will remove all the commas that another editor put in. As a result, I look for the commonalties, those aspects that all editors do the same. What I found was not a matter of grammar at all, and not a spelling error, not even a typo.

The one common standard I found consistent to all the proofers was their uncanny lack of any corrections in certain areas of the book. Always the same areas. It is as if there are little Bermuda Triangles in my story where editorial marks disappear. It could be that I merely succeeded in writing perfectly in these areas…but I know that’s not true because I found mistakes in the Triangles myself. No there’s a much simpler explanation.

They are the exciting parts.

I just hope my readers suffer from the same inexplicable phenomenon.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Round Two!

Thanks to those of you who voted, Avempartha won the first round of the BSC Tournament. Yet now Royce and Hadrian have moved to round two and the competition is strong. This time Avempartha is up against “Finch” by Jeff VanderMeer.

To vote

Voting is open from 3/20 to 8pm 3/25.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Royce & Hadrian Face Their Greatest Opponent Yet

Unbeknownst to me, my second book Avempartha has been included in the annual tournament competition on the BSC website where they pit 64 books released in the previous year in bracketed elimination match-ups.

I received this email from the organizer yesterday:

Good day Mr. Sullivan. Hopefully my use of 'Mr." won't cause this to fly into your spam filter. In any case, I wanted to let you know, on behalf of that your novel Avempartha is one of 64 books that we selected to be voted on, starting Thursday, March 18th, in our book tournament for the best new genre release of the year 2009.

You can see the details of the tournament here

We invite you to encourage your fans to come vote in the tournament on your website, forum, Goodreads, or what have you, and we would be thrilled of course if you dropped by to promote your book.

The opposing book in the first round is Tanya Huff's The Enchantment Emporium and the thread where people will vote and debate the books will be here

The first round will be the shortest, beginning the morning of 3/18 and ending around 8:00 PM EST on 3/19. The winner will then move on to the next round starting the morning of 3/20 and that round (as well as each subsequent round) will run for six days.

I wish your novel luck in the debates to come and hopefully we will see you on the forum!

I expect to be trounced as all my competition appear to be from major publishers with much more exposure, but I must say—and not at all in an Academy Award way—that I really am honored--no--stunned just to be nominated.

Thursday, March 11, 2010


Yes the rumors are true—I paint my own covers.

When I was eighteen and on scholarship at art school, being a book cover artist was my dream job. I imagined myself leisurely reading wonderful novels in the park and then spending a month doing grand oil paintings in a sky-lighted studio listening to jazz and drinking wine. I was living in a fantasy world even then.

Turns out illustrators rarely have the luxury of actually reading a book, but then I never got that far. My illustration skills were only good enough to do comps. Finished art was beyond my capability. Keep in mind this was at a time when cars were still often painted rather than photographed and they had to look as realistic as a photo…only better—hence why they didn’t just shoot it. Instead I worked as a designer, a job for which, my illustration skills were overkill.

It wasn’t until my first book, The Crown Conspiracy, was published that my mind returned to this dream. Only it wasn’t a dream anymore; it was desperation that drove me. I had explained what kind of cover I thought the book should have. In my mind I saw it as a loose watercolor, the kind of thing that Alan Lee did for The Lord of the Rings, series, that faint, hazy, mystical look. I pointed out that I really did not want a cartoonishly tight illustration of the characters on the cover.

I’m guessing focus groups have indicated that covers laden with characters attract American readers, as this is what modern marketing dictates for fantasy books. As a seasoned advertiser I knew that it was better to stand out than blend in, but honestly this was a personal desire on my part. Sales be damned, I wanted my books to look nice. Also as a reader I don’t like seeing characters before I know what they look like, and I didn’t want an artist (even if that artist is me) to control the imagination of a reader. I think people will envision what they want, what they like, and what they are comfortable with; this is far better than anything another person could ever achieve with an illustration.

I compiled a list of images that depicted the idea I was after, and my publisher being most polite, listened to my comments then hired an artist.
I soon received this rough sketch and became concerned. As an author, I had no control over the cover or even the title. This was something the publisher’s art director was quick to point out when I protested. But my publisher didn’t know about the dreams of an eighteen-year-old art student.

With encouragement from my wife, I very quickly painted what I wanted to see on my cover. To sweeten the pot I offered it to them for free. I even did a layout of the cover placing the title, my name, and the blurb. They decided to use my artwork although they altered the layout slightly. Having done the first cover they wanted to make them consistent and so I had a lock on all of them. And that’s how I came to have the lucky advantage of controlling the first impression readers have of my books.

I sought to establish a “look” or brand to the series, but I also wanted to separate them from each other in some way. I settled on keeping them all in a similar loose landscape style, but making each in a different color scheme. The first was gold, the second in blue, the third in green. That left me red, purple, and orange. None of them worked. Red, orange, and purple lacked the natural earthy quality of the others. Also the first three reflected the seasons the stories took place in, fall, spring and summer, and Storm took place in fall again. This caused me to consider repeating the colors.

The Emerald Storm became an instant problem because of the name. It should be green, only I don’t want to do two green covers in a row. Moreover, green would be perfect for Percepliquis, and Wintertide must be blue (I knew that from the start.) This left gold for the seafaring novel. As it can be imagined as a sunset or sunrise, I think it works. Still there was that annoying name. I actually considered changing the name for a brief time and created a comp of the cover calling it The Golden Storm. I knew that was wrong, and changed it back. My wife, Robin, eager to show off the new cover posted a copy of the image and it was promptly picked up and has been copied on a few blogs. So if you spot an image of the cover of The Emerald Storm with “The Golden Storm” on the spine, that’s why.

The symbols found on the spines and in the layouts are also my designs and reflect the general concepts within the books and also embody the idea of the medallions given to the heir and guardian.

In case there are those out there interested if your suspicions are correct about the cover images:

The Crown Conspiracy
The cover depicts Essendon Castle on the front cover and on the back is the river Galewyr that leads through the wilderness to the Winds Abby located on the hill on the upper left.

This is a rendering of title’s namesake tower with the Gilarabrywn in the distance. On the back, although not easily seen on the book, is the trail Royce uses to travel between the village and the tower each day.

Nyphron Rising
The image on the front cover is of Amberton Lee and is the scene Royce and Hadrian might have seen as they approached it that night.

The Emerald Storm
I suppose I should wait on explaining the Storm’s cover. No need to give anything away when we’re so close.

So as long as this series is in production I have a pretty steady job as a book cover artist, the trick it turns out is to write your own books.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


I recently received this and with the writer's permission will reply to it here:


Hope all is well. I imagine Ridan is very busy with the approaching release of "Emerald Storm". Whenever you can spare a moment, I was wondering if you could share where do you turn for research for your books. It struck me how much of everyday life in your world you showed in your work, particularly the little village in "Avempartha" and the city scenes in "Nyphron Rising". Can you share where do you turn for research? Perhaps a blog post, or just a couple book recommendations. I am sure many readers and new writers like me would find it very helpful.



I became serious about my writing career back in 1985, back in the days of continuous-feed, dot matrix printers, amber screens—and no Internet. I feel this is somehow analogues to Mark Twain reminiscing about the days before the typewriter. And yes, I had to walk through the snow to the library, uphill, both ways.

In the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, where I lived during my most productive writing years, (prior to giving up the dream of ever getting published,) the nearest library was two hours away, and they wouldn’t let me check the books out. This made research a challenge. To make matters worse, at that time I was writing contemporary/realistic novels. Just about everything I wrote I needed to fact check. This slows the creative process dramatically. Here you are cruising along and your main character is thrown into the back of a police car. It is at that point you realize you’ve never been in the back of a police car and haven’t the slightest idea what one looks like. Are there handles on the door? Window cranks? Seatbelts? I can’t imagine a police officer buckling a cuffed suspect in, but who knows. It seems silly to visit a police station and ask to view the back of a squad car in order to write a single paragraph of description for a novel about gargoyles. On the other hand, you are acutely aware that there are many people who will read this who know exactly what the back of a squad car is like. This makes writing this kind of novel a pain, and it’s why when I threw the yoke of trying to get published off and decided to just write for fun, I chose to write a fantasy series set in my own invented world. As long as I stay consistent, no one can ever prove I am wrong.

Initially I wrote off the top of my head. The Crown Conspiracy is almost total imagination. I did go back afterwards and introduce a few more accurate words, but nearly all of it is pure invention. By the time I got to Avempartha, I discovered Google.

At first, I used the Internet merely for ideas or for those moments when I knew there was a term for what I was trying to describe, but didn’t know it. This was the case with Dahlgren. I had no idea what medieval peasant farmers lived in. Huts seemed too tropical and log cabins too Abraham Lincoln. I wanted something more period-accurate that evoked a sense of squalor. So in this case I did a simple Internet search. I don’t recall now, but I assume it was about as sophisticated as typing “What kind of houses did Medieval peasants live in?” into Google. I saw some references to “wattle and daub” and so I did a search on this and at this site I found:

“Medieval houses had a timber frame. Panels that did not carry loads were filled with wattle and daub. Wattle was made by weaving twigs in and out of uprights. Hazel twigs were the most popular with Medieval builders. After the wattle had been made it was daubed with a mixture of clay, straw, cow dung and mutton fat. When it had dried, a mixture of lime plaster and cow hair was used to cover the surface and to seal the cracks.”

I found some images and realized this was what I wanted.

The Internet was incredible, revolutionary for a writer. I had the answers to any question just a few keystrokes away, instantaneous. Wow. This was almost prohibitive as I began looking things up I really didn’t need know and would spend hours reading about the lives of peasants when all I was after was to learn if they wore wool or linen clothes. So I began limiting my research to those moments when I was stuck or stumped.

The Emerald Storm changed things.

A large part of the story would be set aboard a sailing ship, and I’m not a sailor. This time I had to do research. So for a full year in advance of even starting that book, while I was still writing Nyphron Rising, I began reading everything I could about the Age of Sail. I read Nelson’s Navy by Blake & Lawrence, the Hornblower novels by C.S. Forrester, Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Henry Dana Jr. etc. I have notebooks full of jargon, terms and even maps of ship’s decks.

This resulted in its own problem. When you have no research, you focus on the story and characters, but neglect the setting and details, but when you have a wealth of knowledge on a subject, you tend to want to share this. The result is that you over do it. I anticipated this. It is the same concept as over-world-building, something I feel too many fantasy stories suffer from. An author works for years creating a world, but so little is really needed to tell any story that it is easy to become frustrated that all this cool stuff you spent months laboring over will never be known. It is easy to dump it in telling yourself that the readers will love the detail and depth. A few may, but I know for my own part, I prefer a story that centers on the characters and the plot and doesn’t take side trips. So I had to be careful not to include unnecessary information, that while I thought was really interesting, didn’t add to the story and was merely more words for a reader to push through to get to the good parts.

The Emerald Storm did teach me that more research could help the books, so I did begin doing more. I picked up William Manchester’s A World Lit Only By Fire, which gave me a clearer view of common life in the middle ages and the Renaissance. Sadly, I can’t recall all of them, there was a down-sizing move in there from Raleigh to DC that saw the loss of many things, but I read several other text books, and filled a moleskin notebook with notes and drawings that I referred to throughout the writing of the books.

Now this was at a time when I was writing Wintertide, and while I had an agent, I still had not found a publisher. So I could go back and add what I learned to the earlier books. This allowed me to beef up some of the descriptions and make them “more accurate,” or at least more consistent with Earth history. Then after being published, I used this information when doing edits and re-writes.

Avempartha improved from my having read that poor medieval families slept all in one bed and kept their livestock in their homes with them, and that they frequently did not have doors on their houses. Nyphron Rising benefited from learning exactly how a feudal manor actually worked, and from researching the inner workings of a castle. Most of this came from random Google searches to sites like the one I provided above. Again I simply typed searches into Google and scanned the various sites. Those that provided more detailed information I would bookmark, and I put all those bookmarks into a folder marked “book research.” Sadly the computer I had died two years ago and I lost that list. But there wasn’t anything wondrous on it. Most of the sites I found held only one or two bits of obscure information that I wanted. It wasn’t as if I had two or three sites that answered all my questions. I actually found it difficult to find hard data on the life style of the common man in the middle ages.

So to answer your question Henry, besides the listed resources, I have also read Chaucer and lots of old history text books that since I graduated high school I made a habit of reading when eating breakfast and lunch, mostly because they were big and lay open nicely, and because I like history. But the reality remains that I did very little research. I’m not sure why, but I feel that I should be embarrassed to admit that the vast majority of the series is just my imagination. Anyone one using my books to do a research paper on the life of a peasant farmer in 1100AD will be in big trouble. Despite this, I am surprised when people ask me if I am a practicing sword fighter. Some--who declare themselves as fencers or sword fighters themselves--comment on how accurate the dueling scenes in my books are. To this, I can only shrug. Who knew.

By the way, should anyone else have a question they would like me to answer, please ask.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Deleted Scenes

You've seen them on DVDs, that extra stuff they sometimes include with a movie. Most of the time you can see exactly why it was cut from the film, but sometimes you wonder. The Riyria Revelations has had it's share of deleted scenes. Some I thought were good, but served more to distract than add to the plot. Others dragged the pace down.

What follows is what once was the first chapter of Avempartha (no spoilers.) It was cut because it failed the "hook test"--it did not catch the reader's attention in the first paragraph. I wrote it in much the same way I wrote the opening chapter in Crown Conspiracy--as the intro scene. In books this is usually the prologue, but I hate prologues, and so the scene was cut, and I think the book was better for it. Still you can see a glimpse of what life was like a few weeks before the opening of Avempartha and how it all began. So this then is the original rough draft of the first chapter of book two that I wrote in 2004. It has not been edited:

Chapter 1

The Farmer

Theron Wood was late coming home.

He had planted too many acres this year; everyone had told him that. He was trying to improve his situation, trying to gain more than Maribor intended a poor farmer to achieve. Ten acres was more than any farmer should ever need. Five acres was plenty to support his family, and five to pay to the noble lord whose land he used, but this year Theron Wood had plowed up twenty full acres—ten of which was virgin land never before turned by a plow. It had been back breaking work. There were numerous rocks and stumps that stopped the ox every few feet it seemed. Each day was a labor of pulling heavy roots or digging up boulders.

In his youth he had liked the work. The days he spent out under the sun in the cool spring weather was wonderful for a man. There was something about the air at planting time, maybe it was the scent of flowers, maybe it was the rains, but it always seemed cleaner, and fresher somehow and after a long winter he breathed it in like a parched man unable to drink his fill. He liked the feeling of an axe handle or a shovel in his hands, the worn smooth grain against his palm and he liked the feeling of sore, tired muscles after a long day. It made him feel alive, and in control. He did not own the land, and he had little in the world he could call his own, but when he was in the field the very earth was his to command. He could make it roll over, and could call forth life from the dirt; it was the one place a quiet peasant farmer could be a god.

He had to work long days since he was now racing the season. He had to be planted by the coming full moon, or chance that an early frost might take his crop, and he needed this crop. There were few chances for a peasant to climb out of the mud, but his son had just such a chance and Theron was going to see to it that his boy did not end his life behind an ox.

Out here on the frontier where things were less formal, less established, opportunities existed. Only three years old, the village of Dahlgren was a new settlement. The King of Dunmore had the same attitude as farmer Theron; he wanted more land and was looking to carve a larger kingdom out of the empty, undeveloped lands to his east. He had signed a proclamation declaring that the west bank of the Nidwalden River would be a new fief and he bestowed it on a young marquis by the name of Reginald Temptworth. The Marquis of Westbank—as the new province was called—immediately set about the business of commerce, which meant he needed to make the land profitable. To do this he enticed free men willing to hack a civilization out of the wilderness. He offered low taxes and only a 15 percent tribute for the first five years. Most of the men who came were city folk; homeless street people that knew nothing about farming. Theron had been a farmer his whole life, just as his father before him and his before that on back as far as any could remember. That was about to change.

Dahlgren was a young town. There were almost no shops; few artisans had made the move to Westbank. It was too early to tell if the village would make it and too costly for the more established craftsmen to risk a move to a fledgling town. There were smiths of course and a little mill was built last year however most everything else was made by the farmers. They made do with whatever was at hand and while they managed to get by, it was far from satisfactory. There was opportunity in Dahlgren a chance to make a mark as an artisan before the guilds took over. His son Thad had spent fifteen years achieving the rank of journeymen cooper while they were in Glamrendor. It would take another ten years of apprenticeship before he could earn the rank of senior journeymen and perhaps another ten before he gained the title of master cooper, and only then could he hope to open a shop of his own. The boy was already a skilled craftsmen, but it was obvious that the guild caste was in place to prevent a glut of coopers in any town. Thad’s rank would be held down until there was a need for another cooper and it had nothing to do with his skill. Only there were no coopers in Dahlgren. There wasn’t a single barrel maker within three days ride. If Theron could only make enough to pay for a contract and the tools Thad could open his own shop. He would not even need a building, just a lean-to and a canvas tent would work to start. The contracts were cheap right now because the marquis was trying desperately to settle the region. If the Woods were ever to climb out of the fields, this might well be there only chance. If he brought in a good harvest this year, his son would become the village’s founding cooper, and as Dhalgren grew so would his prestige. Theron saw himself years in the future in his son’s big home in a cushion chair; his feet on one of the many barrels as his numerous grand children played in their new clothes and Thad’s wife would be setting out a fine feast.

Lost in his dreams Theron had not noticed the sun drifting behind the hills until he was nearly done with his last row. He set himself to the plow and urged the oxen forward. By the time he had the furrow finished the face of the sun was gone and only the light remained.

The farmer quickly unhitched the plow.

The light would not last long. The shadows were long and stretched and in the trees it was already night. He removed the harness from the ox and considered taking the plow back, but as the darkness grew, he knew he was being foolish. He left it behind and began leading the ox up the slope.

He should have been home by now.

The darkness was coming on too fast, and he knew he would lose this race. He realized his folly and grew frightened. He would never make it back in time. The thought came over him so suddenly he half-considered abandoning the ox as well and just trying to run, but that was panic talking and Theron was not the kind of man to panic.

Most who knew Theron thought of him as a rock, an unmoving, indelible wall of stubborn tenacity. Theron stood over six feet with shoulders as broad as a yoke and hands the size of shovel heads. His face had weathered like fractured granite, pitted and lined and often bore an expression that was as hard as stone. He had spent a lifetime warring with the elements of nature. He had seen his three oldest sons die due to illness and a drowning. He had survived four floods, a brush fire, and a winter so cold it killed all his livestock. He had survived being nearly crushed to death by a dead wood fall by crawling through the snow to his home. He feared he would pass out and freeze to death in the cold, and never could remember how he crossed the last hundred yards to the house. That was the worst day of his life, still if he had a choice he would choose that cold day over this spring night.

The western sky turned gold, then red and then faded to a dull gray. The shadows reached out and swallowed the land, and as they did he could see stars appearing. He had not seen stars in weeks. No one in Dhalgren had. No one in Dhalgren was ever out after dark.

He cursed himself and urged the ox forward.

It might be all right, the marquis had vowed to stop it. He and his knights had recently left the fort and the garrison was last seen riding east to the river. Theron liked the young marquis; he was an ambitious fellow. He did not wait around for others to act and he rode at the head of his own troop. The marquis had seven good knights with him, strong men, and capable men. It would be all right, it would be safe. He would make it home.

The last of the evening light faded as Theron was climbing Stony Hill. No one else called it that, it was just his name for it. He had dubbed it so for obvious reasons which he discovered when he tried to plow it the first year. He thought he had been clever building his house on the hill to avoid a flood, but there were no floods and instead it merely meant a longer walk to the fields. He was just seeing the lights in the windows of his home when he heard something coming at him.

It was a rustle in the grass; the sound of footfalls on the stony ground. Theron looked around. He pulled his shovel from where it was stored on the ox pack. His heart began to pound. He tried to remain calm, to breath, to think.

No one had ever seen anything they said. No one had ever lived that had been attacked. There were never any survivors.

If he was going to die, he damn well was going to go down swinging. He raised the shovel high as suddenly he saw her running at him.

“Thrace!” the farmer shouted.

“Daddy!” she cried and threw her arms around her father. “Thank Maribor I found you. I was so scared something had happened.”

“Why are you out here?” Theron shouted at her more out of fear than anger. “It’s night you little fool!”

“I know, I know,” the young woman continued to cry. “You’ve never been late getting home before. I thought you might have had an accident with the ox. Maybe you broke your leg and couldn’t get back. I remember the time in the snow. I couldn’t wait in the house, I had to look! I couldn’t sit there with the others wondering if—”

“Shut up!” Theron hissed at her suddenly. “Listen!”

The girl held her breath.

“I don’t hear anything,” Thrace whispered.

“I know,” Theron whispered back. “The crickets stopped. The frogs stopped with them. Something is here—something not natural.”

Theron looked around him. The two stood on the leeward side of Stoney Hill in the darkness. The grass there was tall and weaved gently in a soft breeze brushing their legs. Farther away, they could see the trees, a dark curtain against the star filled sky. Nothing besides the grass moved.

“Get behind me,” Theron told his daughter, and he positioned her between himself and the ox.

They waited, listening, straining in the darkness for a sound or a shift in various grays of the darkness.

“If it comes, you run Thrace! Do you hear me, you run!”

“I won’t leave you father.”

Suddenly and without warning, the ox bolted running back down Stony Hill toward the trees. Neither Theron nor Thrace moved, they stood as still as statues waiting.

Theron looked ahead at the lights of his home. It was only a couple hundred yards away. They might be able to run for it. It would not take long, just a few minutes. He was certain he could make the distance, but feared for Thrace. How fast could she run? Would she fall in the darkness? If she did, could he save her?

No one had ever lived that had been attacked.

Something was near. Theron who had spent a lifetime in the forests and fields cutting trees, and digging earth knew all the sounds and shapes of the land. He recalled the year the wolves came down out of the mountains in search of food. The nights had been silent then as well; it was the hush of respect the wild showed to the presence of a predator.

Theron stared at the lights of his home gauging the distance but fearful to move. Where was it? He wondered. Can it see me? Can it smell us?

Then the lights marking his home, the glow of candles that spilled from the doorway, vanished. A moment later, they could hear it. The sound rolled down Stony Hill in the cool night air; it was the harsh tearing of wood. Boards creaked, splintered and cracked as they were ripped apart.

Seconds later, they heard the screams.

Theron ran for his home.

The old farmer’s long legs ate up the distance across Stony Hill. He charged past the granary, past the ox shed running full out, heedless of what may lie hidden in the dark. Though he was strong, Theron was old. The run he thought he could make in minutes took much longer than he could have ever imagined. His breath was shallow, his heart pounding in his chest and in his ears all he could hear were the screams.

There were never any survivors.

He ran past the hay barn and the coop, passed the outhouse and the well. By then the screams had stopped and all Theron could hear was the wind and the pounding of his own heart.

When at last Theron reached the house, it was silent and dark.

The walls and roof were sheered away, stone and mortar, mud and thatch were scattered across the ground. He stumbled inside panting for breath, still clutching the shovel but no longer was he holding it at the ready. His eyes had filled with tears and he collapsed to the floor sobbing. What had only moments before been his home; what had been the safe place where he stored the treasure of his family; where his wife, his son, his son’s wife and his grandchild had all waited for his return was now the splintered ruins of a broken world stretched out upon a floor slick with blood.

The silence faded as the crickets and frogs came alive again, but Theron could not hear them over the sound of his own despair.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

One Month and Counting for High Seas Adventure

If you look to the horizon, you might just make out a tall ship with flags flying and sails full, running with the wind and a following sea. That would be the Emerald Storm coming into dock after a long winter. She’s a handsome ship, I think, and in a month will be taking on passengers for what may well be the most exciting Riyria adventure yet.

As I mentioned in the last post, I’ve made a study of reviews, as well as random posts and personal comments about the series, and have come to the following conclusions. Most readers feel that The Crown Conspiracy was a fun romp, but were disappointed there wasn’t more character depth and world building. Avempartha had more character depth and world building, but like Crown, it lacked any strong female characters. Nyphron Rising had lots of depth, as well as central female characters, but lost some of the action that made Crown so much fun. Not everyone felt this way. As I mentioned previously, men don’t appear to have an issue with a lack of female protagonists and as a result loved Avempartha. Women often did not mind the slower pace of Nyphron Rising because they loved the deeper character building.

Now comes The Emerald Storm. I actually have high hopes for this one.

When I originally wrote the series, I felt Emerald Storm was the weakest of the six. Everyone who has read it so far, thinks I’m nuts. I suppose I am a poor judge of my own work since I felt Avempartha was the next weakest book, and the reviewers loved that one. In going over the book, I have reevaluated it. If I am anywhere near close with my suspicions about reader’s reactions to the first three books, The Emerald Storm might well be the best crowd-pleaser to date.

It has more action than Crown, more world-building than Avempartha, stronger female characters than Nyphron Rising, and a few unexpected twists that I suspect will catch everyone by surprise.

The book has made it through final editing and has entered the proofing stage where an army of eyes will be searching for any typos, missed commas, and any other errors they can find. Once they are done and all corrections are made, then the ship will be ready to take you aboard, so be sure to get your passports stamped, your Dramamine prescriptions filled, your sun glasses and deck shoes packed, because it is almost time to ship out once more with Royce and Hadrian on The Emerald Storm.