Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Recommended Reading - Tesania - Trannyth's Keep

View this book

Tesania is a book that has it all. Magical beasts wipe out a village. The only survivor picks up a magic sword and sets out looking for revenge. It's a sprawling epic, well over 400 pages, and loaded with action.

To be perfectly honest, the prose is less than dazzling. Grant E Brazell could use a good editor. However, tastes vary, and you may like the book a lot. He's gotten some very good reviews from people who found the book very entertaining. Plus there's a map. Fantasy epics with maps are always cool.

Check it out.

View this book

Monday, May 30, 2011

Recommended Reading - The Morcyth Saga

Check Out the Morcyth Saga

The Morcyth Saga is no-nonsense fantasy epic from indie author Brian S. Pratt. There are seven volumes in the Morcyth saga, each one stripped of flowery prose and crammed instead with action. They're nice, thick books, most of them running to well over 400 pages. If you're looking for sword-and-sorcery adventure with the emphasis on excitement, Pratt is your man.

Brian Pratt started writing in a serious way when he got tired of waiting for certain other fantasy novelists to finish their multi-book epics. Robert Jordan in particular was exasperating him. Not only were years passing between instalments of the Wheel of Time series, by the middle of the series the books just weren't to Brian's tastes. He headed for the keyboard and set to work rectifying the problems as he saw them.

First of all, Pratt is very prolific. He writes his books rapidly, and he finishes the entire series before he releases them. There's no waiting around to find out what happens next.

He wrote with certain priorities. There is action in every chapter. There is one main character and he is in every chapter. There is no more description than absolutely necessary.

His books are certainly not for everyone. The Morcyth series is written in the present tense, and the writing distinctly lacks polish. You won't have any doubt that you are reading an indie author. This is not the kind of prose that you'll get from Tor.

However, Pratt has thousands and thousands of dedicated fans. Clearly he's doing many things right. If George RR Martin's books seem fancy and pretentious to you, if you think the Wheel of Time turns too slowly and could use more mayhem, then Brian S. Pratt could be just what you're looking for.

The best part is, you can check him out for free. The Unsuspecting Mage, book 1 in the Mocyth Saga, is available from Smashwords at no cost. Yes, it's a marketing ploy to get you hooked and make you buy the entire series. If it works, you won't mind in the slightest.

Check Out the Morcyth Saga

Thursday, May 26, 2011

An Interview with David Dalglish

Try A Dance of Cloaks

I recently had the privilege of interviewing David Dalglish, author of the Shadowdance series (reviewed a couple of days ago), the Half-Orcs series, and more.  David is not only a superb practitioner of his craft with a high degree of professionalism, he's also an excellent fellow who's generous with his time and insights.  Even if he was a jerk I would still feature his books here, because they're really good.  The fact that he's a nice guy with interesting things to say is an added bonus.

Your heroes tend to be the characters that other writers use as villains.  The Shadowdance series is about an assassin.  The Half-Orcs series is about, of course, half-orcs.  How you choose your protagonists? What draws you to these darker characters?

When I look at an overall story arc, there's usually a couple larger themes I like to incorporate. One is a David Gemmell style "us vs the world" conflict, a brave few making a potentially pointless stand against many. The second, and what tends to have heroes like that, is that I like taking a hero and rising them up above their background, their birth, their race, their training, their beliefs, and having them become something special. Forget regular farmboys who start out perfect and end the book still perfect, but now also carrying a magical sword and a talking pet. I want the lowly, the ragamuffins, to succeed, to find redemption.

You've written short stories, stand-alone novels, the Shadowdance series, and the Half-Orcs series, which is at five books so far.  What is your process like for writing short stories versus longer works?  How do you design a multi-volume epic?

I love short stories, though I don't write them too often, and never in fantasy. With them, you've got a little snippet of time, usually a single character or two, and a razor-sharp focus on those events. With stand alones, you just have to make sure the ending is solid so people don't yell at you. Dance of Cloaks was originally a stand alone, but there was clearly so much that could happen, reviews started griping about it. Well, heck, I'm happy to oblige. For a series, this is just the easiest for me. I read so much of the Dragonlance and Drizzt series that telling a story this way is just second nature. You just keep adding in new villains, or redefining the old ones. Shift people around, introduce new heroes, and then throw 'em in a big battle and see who lives. I can do it for years.

What are your goals as a writer? What do you want readers to take away from your stories?

As dark and grim as my works are, I've always wanted them to be positive. I try not to be preachy, and with how much blood and death people may think I'm insane, but when you step back, the good guys won, the bad guys lost, and characters that could have chosen a darker path instead chose forgiveness, or were themselves forgiven. There just may have been some casualties along the way. Other than that, my main goal is to entertain. A reader may get ticked off at me, or think I'm an idiot, but as long as you're not bored, I'm fine with that.

I know you've been asked about your cover art before, but let's face it, it's fantastic.  How did you choose your cover artist?  How do the two of you work together to create your cover images?

I found Peter Ortiz after several hours of scouring deviantart.com. I sent him a message, asking for a price, and it was waaaaaaaaay lower than I expected. Working with him is great. I describe a scene, the characters, what they look like, but intentionally leave things vague. I trust Peter's artistic skill, and his overall visual sense, to know when something won't work. Most of the time, when he sends me a rough and something is wrong, it is because he's trying to accommodate something I requested. Once you find someone who knows how to draw, how to tell stories with images, then trust them to know what they're doing...that's why you contacted them in the first place.

The Shadowdance series takes place in a wonderfully rich world.  How did you create that culture?  How did you build the world?

Well, as I said above, it was supposed to be a stand alone. I wanted to detail some of the history of one of my more popular characters. Of course, what was supposed to be a simple, 80k novel ended up approximately 240k words so far, with a third book to go. Stupid assassins. As for the culture and world, it is pretty basic. I read Game of Thrones, followed by Night Angel Trilogy, and felt freaking pathetic. I looked at my own world and it seemed so...shallow. So Dance of Cloaks was my first real attempt to develop families, places, politics, etc. As with all experiments, there's plenty of places where it just simply doesn't work, or gets over-complicated. I learned plenty, and I feel Dance of Blades is a significant step up in that department. Other than that, I tried to lessen the magic that ran rampant in my Half-Orc series. Hard to make an assassin feel special when an elf's standing beside him hurling ice boulders, you know?

Try A Dance of Cloaks

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Recommended Reading - The Journey

Buy The Adventures of Jecosan Tarres. Book 1: The Journey

Today's recommendation is another series by the talented Laura Lond.   The Adventures of Jecosan Tarres starts with The Journey, a heart-warming story of a boy and his dog.  It's also a pretty cool adventure story with a plucky orphan, magic, a kingdom in peril, and a growing threat of war.

In The Journey we meet young Jeco, an orphan who fends for himself, gathering mushrooms in the forest and selling them in the local village.  His only friend is Gart, a loyal and remarkable dog.  Gradually Jeco is drawn into the society around him.  It's a coming-of-age story, a tale of a boy learning who he is and what his place is in the world.  There's no stuffy navel-gazing here, though.  He's soon off on a dangerous journey to see the king and try to prevent a war.

It's an engaging, entertaining story with an irresistibly likeable young hero.  It's cheap, too.  Just a buck.  Check it out.

Actually, right now is a great time to pick up The Journey.  Surf over to http://excusememissptd.blogspot.com/p/99-cent-ebooks.html and check out the "Buy one, get one" blowout.  Buy a book for a buck and get a second title free.  My book Lord of Fire is there as well.

Buy The Adventures of Jecosan Tarres. Book 1: The Journey

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Recommended Reading - Vengar the Barbarian

Buy Vengar the Barbarian

I challenge you to read the opening paragraph of this brilliant heroic fantasy parody and not keep reading.  Here it is.  I dare you.

"It was the third week of the Hyperbolic Age and things were going just terribly. In fact, if the previous two weeks were any indication, the Hyperbolic was a real stinking crap heap of an age, rife with senseless wars, vicious earthquakes and great belching, burping volcanoes. It was pretty much the worst thing to grace a calendar since the abominable eighth day of the week, whose vile name is best left forgotten."

I laughed out loud on pretty much every page.  I recommend this outrageous, hilarious tale to you without reservation.  It's short, a couple of dozen pages, in that grey area between long short story and short novella.  It's cheap, too.  A buck.  You can't go wrong.
Buy Vengar the Barbarian

Monday, May 23, 2011

Recommended Reading - A Dance of Cloaks

Buy A Dance of Cloaks

Don't get started on this trilogy if you have plans for the day.  These books are hard to put down. 

David Dalglish has created a fascinating, complex world in this series, with characters who are complex, ambiguous, and evolving.  It's also crammed full of cool stuff.  Assassins.  Thieves.  Torture, poison, and betrayal.  Here is the author's description:

“I cut off his hand, yet he thanks me for not doing worse. That is the power you must one day command. Let them think every breath of theirs is a gift, not from the gods, but from you.”

Thren Felhorn is the greatest assassin of his time. Marshalling the thieves' guilds under his control, he declares war against the Trifect, an allegiance of wealthy and powerful nobles. His son, Aaron, has been groomed since birth to be his heir. Sent to kill the daughter of a priest, Aaron instead risks his own life to protect her from the wrath of his guild. In doing so, he glimpses a world beyond poison, daggers, and the iron control of his father.

A DANCE OF CLOAKS by David Dalglish

Assassin or protector; every choice has its consequences.

It is clear that Dalglish takes the profession of author seriously.  His writing is polished and assured.  Every element is handled well, from a fast-paced plot to elaborate, logical world creation, to characters who feel like real people and speak with distinctive voices.  He populates the book with familiar elements from the sword and sorcery genre, but most of it feels fresh and unpredictable. 

The writing could benefit from a little bit of polishing.  There are some ambiguous pronouns and a few phrases that feel clumsy.  Overall, though, it is an excellent novel that will keep you turning pages. 

Buy A Dance of Cloaks

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Recommended Reading - My Sparkling Misfortune

Buy My Sparkling Misfortune

I think I may have a new favourite author.  Her name is Laura Lond and she's brilliant.  Seriously.  This lady writes some great stuff.  Hilarious, exciting, original, quirky, endlessly fun...  I'll be following her writing career with interest.  Expect to see more about her here.

In this interview she talks about My Sparkling Misfortune, the first novel in her new series.  I'll let her tell you about it in her own words:

Tell me a little about yourself. I grew up in a family of engineers who loved to read. I picked up the love of books early on, they had become my best friends, especially since I was the only child. Almost right away I knew that I wanted to write my own stories, too. I guess I was born with it. I couldn’t find satisfaction in anything else, no matter what I did. I got a degree in history, my first job was at a literary museum. It was good, but not good enough. I moved on to work for a Christian mission -- once again, a good job that had taught me a lot, but not something I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Then I had entered the world of corporate business, working for large companies like Xerox Ltd. Same story. Great jobs, great opportunities, but I didn’t care to climb the corporate ladder. All I wanted was to write books, and I did that every spare minute.

  How long have you been writing? I’ve been scribbling something all my life, it seems, but if we’re talking about serious writing, with the purpose of making it a career in mind, it’s been over 18 years.

  Tell me about your books. I write mostly YA fantasy. The Adventures of Jecosan Tarres trilogy is about a young blacksmith’s apprentice who is visited by a supernatural messenger and sent on a dangerous mission to prevent a war between two powerful kingdoms. Another fantasy series I’ve just started, The Lakeland Knight, features Lord Arkus, a villain, as the main character. In Book 1, My Sparkling Misfortune, he wants to capture an evil spirit who would make him nearly invincible, but he messes up and catches a Sparkling instead -- a good spirit who helps heroes. That makes his life rather interesting.

Buy My Sparkling Misfortune

Monday, May 9, 2011

Author Interview: Bryan Healey

I'm going to digress briefly from things fantastical and adventurous to introduce indie author Bryan Healey.  Bryan is promoting "Shattered Wings," a pretty powerful novel about addiction, homophobia, and family.  I'm going to let Brian tell you about it, and him, in his own words:

Buy Shattered Wings

Bryan says: "Shattered Wings," the story about a man named John who is struggling to reconcile an unexpected unemployment with his recollected troubles with discrimination, addiction and family issues, has recently been released and is now for sale! It is available for purchase on Amazon.com, BN.com, or directly from the author at shatteredwingsbook.com."

Tell me a little bit about the book:
"John has the life he wants: A man he loves, a beautiful little girl and a decent white-collar job. But a sudden layoff brings about financial and emotional struggle. In his inability to secure new work and a growing sense of despair, he relapses into alcoholism and faces his demons of addiction, discrimination, and regret as he tries desperately to regain the life he had."

How about you, Bryan?  Tell me a little bit about yourself:
I've been writing since I was old enough to hold a pencil, participating in poetry slams all through my younger years. When it came time to choose my college learnin', I opted for a secondary interest that seemed more lucrative: Computer Science. I went to Northeastern University, and now work full-time as a Senior Web Engineer. But that passion for literature has never subsided, and I am working diligently to turn my lust for English into a modest side career.

I'm a closet computer programmer myself.  Don't tell anybody.  This isn't your first novel, is it?
My first self-published book was called "A Line Blurred." It was about an unhappy couple that find unexpected comfort in the grips of an affair. It deals with issues of rationalization and the consequence of justified action.

What's next for you as a writer?  Any works in progress?
I am about half way through my third book, entitled "No Where." In it, we follow a man as he is fleeing with his biological son after the grisly murder of his mother and her husband, trying to escape from an unknown and undeniably dangerous adversary. Seeking the help of his brother, who uses his political influence to launch a probing investigation, he sets off across the country. But as his brother digs deeper into the man's past, some troubling revelations come to light...

Tell me what you do for fun:
I read a lot. I watch a lot of sports, mostly baseball and football. I enjoy evenings out with my wife and a coffee and a book at Barnes and Noble. I like taking photographs and eating fruit. I also play baseball, although my vision of my talent far exceeds reality. And I enjoy computers, developing web sites and playing video games.

Buy Shattered Wings

Sunday, May 8, 2011

New Covers

I've punched up the covers for all three titles currently available.  Here are the old and new versions.  What do you think?  Leave me a comment!

And now the full-size versions:

Friday, May 6, 2011

Writing Advice - Even Better with a Grain of Salt

I encountered one of the best pieces of writing advice I ever received quite early on in my "career."  When I was still in my teens I read a book called "the Novel from Plot to Print" by Robert Bloch.  He talked about when he had started out as a novelist, and a book he had read to learn how to write a novel.  This book apparently told him to fill out an endless array of index cards with details about characters, locations, and scenes.  He realized intuitively that this was the wrong approach for him, and he wrote his first novel without sullying a single index card, but he felt vaguely guilty the whole time for not doing what he was "supposed" to do.

Reading writing advice is like birdwatching.  You encounter wondrous variety and apparent contradictions.  Birds that run.  Birds that swim.  Birds with camouflage and birds with plumage bright enough to hurt your eyes.  You learn quickly that it is difficult to make generalisations.

The key point that I got from Robert Bloch is that every writer has his own method, and you must do what works for you.  There is a vast amount of excellent writing advice out there, and you can learn a tremendous amount.  Always take it with a grain of salt.  Never believe a writer who uses words like "always" and "never."  Except for me, of course.

There are some fundamental pieces of advice that you will hear over and over again, and which you should probably heed.  You should read a lot.  You should write a lot.  You should do a lot of rewriting. 

Not everyone follows that last piece of advice.  Robert Heinlein, a truly awesome science-fiction writer, wrote some "commandments" for new writers.  One of them is "Thou shalt not rewrite."  Apparently that worked for him.  In the audio book of Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury talks about meeting Robert Heinlein and confessing to him that he does very little revising.  Apparently Bradbury did only minor line edits.  Heinlein's comment was, "Why don't you write it correctly the first time?"

You are not Robert Heinlein.  You're not even Ray Bradbury.  If you're not a legend in your own time, you can safely assume that you will need to do plenty of revising.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Buy One Indie Book, Get One Free

Surf over to Thomas Duck's blog at http://excusememissptd.blogspot.com/p/99-cent-ebooks.html and check out a very neat promotion.  He's got a huge selection of indie books listed, and he's putting together a "buy one, get one" promo.  I'm going to try to get Bert the Barbarian and Lord of Fire added to the mix, but you should check him out anyway. 

Monday, May 2, 2011

Feedback to Heed and Ignore

As a writer, there are two things you need to understand about feedback.  First, it is absolutely essential.  You must heed it.  Second, you must ignore most of it. 

You can't be objective about your own work.  Not really.  And it's very difficult to see your work with a fresh eye.  One problem is that you know all the characters, all the plot events.  Everything makes sense to you. If you insert a character who hasn't been introduced yet, or get plot points out of order, it will look right to you.  There will be problems that will be glaringly obvious to every reader on the planet EXCEPT you.  You absolutely must show your work to beta readers.

And yet you must take what they say with a grain of salt.  Every book, no matter how fantastic, has its detractors.  I read timeless literary classics and find them unspeakably pretentious and boring.  The literary types find my work trite or confusing.  They don't get my jokes, and they aren't impressed by the action and suspense. 

To some extent, the most relevant reviewers are your fans.  People who like your work at least understand what you're trying to do.  My fans will tell me that an action scene is confusing, or a joke fell flat, or a conversation felt stilted.  This is stuff I can use.

On the other hand, you also need to have your work shredded from time to time by someone who doesn't like it at all.  Trust me, the problems are there in your manuscript, waiting to be discovered.  Your fans will be oblivious to them, or will overlook them.  Your potential fans, though, people who might download a sample from Amazon and look it over, deciding whether to buy, those people will notice the flaws and be put off.  A good critique group will contain people who dislike your work but are still willing to slog through it.  More about that later.

Feedback from other writers can be precious.  Writers see things regular readers don't.  A reader might say that the book just didn't work for him.  A writer will be able to tell you in concrete terms WHY it didn't work.

Be wary of writerly feedback, though.  We writers are a compulsive, nit-picky lot, and sometimes we pounce on what seem to be violations of the rules we've so painfully learned.  Passive voice!  Adverbs!  POV shift!  I think we sometimes see problems that aren't there.  We fixate on a lumpy spot on a tree trunk and don't see that it's perfectly appropriate to the beautiful forest around it.

Successful writing requires a schizophrenic mixture of hubris and humbleness.  You need a certain amount of ego.  You must believe that the words you write are going to be of interest to thousands of strangers.  Yet at the same time you have to be open to feedback or you will never grow.  Learning to pick out the useful feedback from the crap is a skill you may spend your life honing.

I have a small circle of friends I use as beta readers.  They are reasonably gentle with their feedback, but they are willing to tell me when something sucks.  If your friends are too nice, they're no use to you. 

I get the rest of my feedback online.  There are many, many online writers' groups out there.  I like critters.org.  The overall attitude is reasonably professional.  No one is posting fan fiction or journal entries.  The quality of the feedback is highly variable, but some of it is great, and the volume is high enough that you can find something worthwhile.  Your mileage, of course, may vary.  Find the group that's right for you.

There is another value to critique groups.  Most of us only encounter reasonably good writing.  Professional stuff that's been vetted by agents and editors, and polished up by an editor.  You can learn a lot from good writing, but you can learn a lot from hacks, as well. 

Every writer needs to see the mistakes the amateurs make.  Once you've been through a few really bad manuscripts, or a few stories that are reasonably good but not really up to scratch, all sorts of things begin to come clear.  You gain a whole new understanding of how a story can go wrong.  Once you learn to spot the problems, you start seeing them in your own work.  You can't fix them until you can find them.