Friday, May 1, 2015

A Dark Road Is Back

Well, it turned out to be a lot more than 3 weeks. Pretty much everything that could go wrong work-wise, did. Then more went wrong.

I'm back again now, with the 6th installment of Hengist of Tintagael, The Dragon Princess, now queued for publishing on Amazon. The pdf's available right now for free in Free Stories.

Hengist has now reached the Tarim Basin as he travels the Silk Road east in search of the waters of the dawn, and freedom from Dionysos.

On the way he meets a Princess of Lop Nur, daughter of a hequin princess who became queen, a blind sword saint and an Assurian sorcerer in the pay of the advancing Kushan army.

And, of course, the Old Tochari vampire queens.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

A Dark Road is on haitus for 3 weeks

Due to my day job commitments I'm pushing my publishing schedule back by 3 weeks. Story 6 will be due on Sunday 15/03/15, and the remaining stories each week after that.

I'm not too happy about this but realistically its the way it's going to be. There's only two of us in my team and when 1 goes on holidays everything doubles up. I knew my coworker was taking leave during my writing sprint but I'd planned to tough it out for 3 weeks.

Well, turns out not. As things would have it we also have our busiest time of the month now, plus several business-critical changes to our statement process, plus our contractor is leaving at the end of Feb. So kind of a perfect storm for late nights and weekends Charlie spends not-writing. I tried to get no 6 out last week. Not only didn't I make it but I hardly saw my wife or the kids all week. I swear if the dog goes unwalked for another week his legs will evolve into pouffes.

So, onward to the 15th!

Monday, February 16, 2015

The People Of The Abyss Is on Amazon!

Warning: mature themes. The People Of The Abyss circles the Ganymede myth, so Hengist's love interest this time is another guy. As with The Sword From The Sea's Medea / Goddess theme, the sex isn't in any way graphic but it is an explicit part of the story.

Other than that it's business as usual. Hengist continues east across a sword-&-sorcery Silk Road mashup of the ancient world, the dark ages, and the crusades. He's trying to rid himself of the influence of Dionysos whose three gifts come at a price Hengist no longer wants to pay.

The basic plot is classic pulp sword and sorcery: Hengist is stuck in the mountains (probably the Pamirs or the northwestern Himalayas) when a storm forces him into a jade-walled palace sitting on a spire of rock rising from a bottomless chasm. As the mise en scene suggests, a brush with sorcery & Netherworld denizens soon ensues.

Will Dionysos help Hengist as he's done in the past, or will Hengist be left on his own in his most desperate hour?

Sunday, February 15, 2015

What I Learned Writing The Burning Sand

The Burning Sand (here on Amazon) was both the hardest and the easiest of all the stories of A Dark Road so far.

Easiest: the writing. I spent far less time actually writing that the previous 3 stories - maybe only half as much. It flowed. I didn't sweat over it for hours cutting it from 7,500 words to 5,000. There was no agonizing over what to take out. The whole thing came in just over 4,500 words and it didn't feel forced in any way.

In hindsight that was due to two things. First: the story is extremely linear. It's simple. There's not many moving parts to figure out and allot screen time to. Second: I'm actually getting better at recognizing what's essential to the story I'm trying to tell and what's extraneous to it. I did very little backtracking. I recognized the blind alleys in my head much sooner, rather than following them for hundreds or thousands of words before I saw it. Although that wasn't something I noticed at the time it's very cool to see it now.

Hardest: despite it being dramatically less work I slipped by an hour submitting to Amazon. I was still up at midnight on Sunday night. The the better the writing went, the less I was able to keep myself at the desk actually writing.

On the plus side I got the pool filter cleaned and the lawn mowed on Sunday. That might not sound like much but mowing our lawn is something of an adventure. Especially after four weeks of high rainfall, lots of sun and zero attention. I had knee-high trees growing out of it (true).

The weird thing is that right up to the weekend I always felt like I was ahead on the writing. Even though I'd taken my foot off the gas I convinced myself I was tearing up the tarmac. By Friday I was only halfway through at best with no sense of urgency.

While that warm self-deceptive glow is a lot more pleasant than drowning in doubt and self-disgust - this is total shit, I'll never be a writer, actually I've never wanted to be and so on - functionally it's identical. I wasn't finishing my shit.

But I got it done. It's up on Amazon next with it's three predecessors. I'm proud of that.

Monday, February 9, 2015

The Burning Sand is on Amazon!

Like all the Hengist stories this is set in an imaginary sword-and-sorcery version of a real place. Here it's Kyzyl Kum, the Red Sands desert in Turkmenistan, and the giant eternally burning crater known as The Devil's Gate in the neighboring desert of Kurrakum, or Black Sands**.

Check it out on Amazon
 Hengist has three gifts bestowed on him by Dionysos: the gift of tongues, the gift of music, and the gift of killing. But gifts from the gods come at a price, one Hengist resolves to pay no more.

He presses east, determined to find the waters of dawn spoken of by the oracle that will free him from Dionysos forever. When he enters the red sands it's People know as the World, he thinks he's done just that. He learns how to live as one in the desert and believes his old life is behind him forever.

Dionysos, however, is not the only power from beyond the walls of the world - nor the most terrible.

The Burning Sand is the fourth in A Dark Road, my 10 stories in 10 weeks project featuring Hengist of Tintagael's odyssey across a sword-&-sorcery dark-ages/crusades Central Asia analog.

** In our world Kyzyl Kum and the Devil's Gate are way too far apart for Hengist to walk between them the way he does in the story. It seems the two worlds are not an exact copy of each other after all.

What I learned about writing The Sword From The Sea

I broke the rules with The Sword From The Sea. It's just over 5200 words, and according to the rules it has to be between 4500 - 5000.

My previous 2 stories in the sequence, The Iron Casque and The Gate In The Void, both came in at 7500+ in their drafts. I worked hard to slash the word count down to 5000 for both of them. Although it was tough I succeeded, and the stories were stronger because of it - it forced me to look at extraneous plot choices and indulgent passages.

 With The Sword From The Sea, I didn't cut it below 5000. I tightened up everything I could but there just wasn't the fat in there that the other two had. I couldn't keep cutting without removing vital pieces of plot structure.

Some years ago I wrote a novella called Brand Of Cirgyl of around 23,000 words. I later decided it had to be under 20,000. I attacked it ruthlessly over about a dozen rewrites. At the end I'd taken out so much that it was essentially gibberish. I realized I'd broken it, although not how or why, and left it to gather dust. It never got under 20,000 words.

So in The Sword From The Sea, when I couldn't take out any more plot-related elements, and I realized I'd reached the limit on how much style and setting I could remove without maiming what I'd left behind, I stopped. I could feel that I was close to the edge of the precipice that had caused Brand's demise. The Sword From The Sea was 5200 words, which broke the rules (but left, I hoped, my story intact) and promised my self that I'd do the next story in 4800 words.

By now The Burning Sand is done. It came in at 4500 words.

Review Of Trey Causey's Strange Stars

I'd seen the Strange Stars buzz but the product didn't grab my interest. To unpack that a bit: I don't play space rpgs regularly, I've never run one and have no real plans to do so, and to be brutally honest I just didn't find the cover appealing. This last doesn't signify much, except as an observation that art and taste are intensely personal and this didn't intersect with mine.

Chris Kutalik's interview with Trey at Hill Cantons changed my mind. Partly that was Chris' recommendation, which I value, part was the glimpse I got of Trey's professionalism in his approach to production, and partly it was his comments, which resonate with my own thoughts right now, around pulp-era-inspired paring back of the word count in a way that boosts rather than sacrifices impact.

I bought the pdf, which is normal for me. I like pdfs. Shipping to Australia isn't cheap and my shelf space isn't unlimited.

These are my thoughts.

The Material
The material is 5 star scifi. I don't say that lightly. It reminds me of George RR Martin's scifi setting (A Song For Lya, Dying of the Light, Sandkings, Tuf Voyaging) with a dose of Gibson's Sprawl. Both of these are to me masterpieces of sf setting. I really think Strange Stars approaches that level.

The Layout
The layout is inspired. It's done in illustrations with paragraph-length text inserts clustered around them. The presentation reminded me of Marvel Hero Rpg datafiles and it works. As an aside, my first thought was that this concept is quite limited in terms of what types of products it will work with - that it works great for a scifi setting book but wouldn't work at all with a module or full length game, or anything to do with fantasy - but now I'm not so sure.
In Strange Stars, it's a clean and powerful way of delivering the infodump. This is more subtle that the material's wall of gorgeous but as time passes I'm beginning to think its equally inspired.

The Art
I found the art competent and professional. The cover art is a solid indicator of the aesthetic you'll find inside, which for me is a big tick and a strong endorsement of the art direction choices.
The amount of art used is a standout: every page bar the two end-pages and the second-last page is built around a piece of artwork and/or color diagrams. These aren't random inclusions, either.  It's very obviously a conscious design choice made to present the content in a very specific way. It's coherent and extremely effective.

The Chasch
In my book any product that includes a Chasch-analog (the Ssraad, p27) gets an extra star right there.

Use At The Table
Something you need to be aware of if you're not already is that this product is not a doorstop-style sourcebook, or a list of canned adventure seeds. It's a reference tool of inspirations for a rich scifi setting. The good news is that 1) there are a ton of adventure ideas embedded in the text, and b) the setting, though only offered in glimpses, is both deep and consistent.

I paid 9.99 for the pdf. I've read some comments claiming that's steep for a product of 30 pages. I don't think so. This is an art-heavy product with professional layout, neither of which come cheap. I'm satisfied I've gotten and will continue to get my money's worth.