Monday, February 27, 2012

If You Forget the Future, You Are Doomed to Lose It

There are some folks out there whose knowledge of speculative fiction starts in the '70s. Peter Jackson is the only thing that lets them know there was F/SF before The Elfstones of Shannara. I find their lack of knowledge...disturbing.

There have been so many amazing stories in the last eighty years, but if you go to the F/SF bookshelves at your local bookstore (assuming there's one left in your neighborhood), you see why the suits at Bertelsmann call their offerings "content" or "product."

Because that's what it is. Not stories.

Rant complete. We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

TXT Changes Back to TWS - Woo-Hoo!

Hey, Gang-

We've decided to move back to the original title of The Excalibur Trick. It's going to be The Wrong Sword from now on. Please make a note of it.

I think it's a better title. So do Matt and Michael (my editor and agent).

It's a good thing.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Classic F/SF Ideas: Dystopia

Ah, dystopia!

Desert of the Real, anyone?
A dystopia is a future in which things are going very, very badly for humanity – and it's usually our own fault. Dystopian stories have been around forever, but they became especially prominent in the late 1960s and early 1970s. They tend to function as satires of ideas or social trends occurring at the time they were written.

Brave New World, Aldous Huxley, 1932
1984, George Orwell, 1949
Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury, 1953
A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess, 1962
Stand on Zanzibar, John Brunner, 1968
Soylent Green, film, 1973 (based on Harry Harrison’s Make Room! Make Room!)
"The Machine Stops," E.M. Forster

My personal favorite out of all of these - Stand on Zanzibar. It was clearly written in the '60s, but it's still ghastly fun, and written in a very interesting style.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

April 13 Is the Big Day!

The ides of April.

That's when The Excalibur Trick makes its debut. Mark it on your calendars!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Pitching a No-Hitter

Turns out that Matt's edit of TXT was only for house style - changing hyphens to em-dashes, and so on. No textual changes at all.

That's the writerly equivalent of pitching a no-hitter. Oh, yeah, I'm a big ol' baddy.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Welcome to Stage Two!

Matt Teel, my Dark Overlord at Urania (apparently that's what they call editors over there) has started the first round of edits on The Excalibur Trick. Once those are done, I'll also insert a few retroactive edits to reflect historical facts I've gathered since I first began writing TXT. Like, f'rinstance, that troubadour I mentioned in the last post, Bertran de Born. (Or Bertran the Bastard, as I like to call him.) Or changing a particular princess from purely fictional to only partially fictional.

Then we do the second round, and the fun begins anew!

I'm really looking forward to the cover art. I am indeed.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Jerks With Swords

Bertran in Hell, according to Dante
Seriously, that was the working title for The Excalibur Trick. And if you want to know why, you just have to look at the documents  (those primary texts!) left over that were actually written by the nobility. My personal favorite is Bertran de Born - a troubadour and a minor noble. He actually called Richard the Lionhearted "Sir Yes and No" because he thought Richard was too cowardly and indecisive. Here's a taste (in translation, of course):

It pleases me immensely
   when I see rotten rich people
   suffer, the ones who make
   trouble for noblemen, and it-

Friday, February 17, 2012

Medieval Heuristics

They didn't have any in the Middle Ages. Or at least it seems like that sometimes.

Heuristics are "experience-based techniques for problem solving, learning, and discovery," according to Wikipedia. They're methods to help you separate true from false, among other things. Of course, it's not fair for me to say that Medieval scholars had no way of telling true from false - after all, Occam's Razor, one of the most famous heuristics of all time, was first elucidated by William of Ockham, who lived in...wait for it...the Middle Ages.

But then take a look at this entry in a medieval bestiary: "The he-goat is a lascivious beast, known for its lusty nature. This nature makes the he-goat so hot that its blood can dissolve diamond, a stone neither fire nor iron can harm."

Bestiaries were the National Geographic of the Middle Ages, describing beasts both fabulous and mundane from around the world. The author might be forgiven for describing an immortal, fiery bird that lives in the deserts of Arabia - after all, he's not going to travel three thousand miles to confirm the existence of a phoenix. But a goat? That is not a fabulous creature. There were plenty of goats in medieval Europe. But the author of this bestiary couldn't be bothered to actually draw off a flask of ram's blood and see if it was hot or not. I mean, if he were correct, he could have kept the blood on his desk and used it as a hand-warmer for those cold winters.

Aristotle did the same thing, coming up with the most remarkable baloney about female anatomy. Women have fewer teeth than men, said "The Master of Those That Know"...despite being a married man himself.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Devil's Brood, Part 5: Revenge of the Momma's Boys

Henry the Young King. Richard the Lionhearted. Geoffrey II, Duke of Brittany and Earl of Richmond. John Lackland.

They were the four legitimate sons of Henry II who survived until adulthood. Three of them, at one time or another, were kings of England themselves. And they are baffling.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Valentine Ain't Nothin' but a Martyred Roman Saint

St. Valentine of Terni & Entourage
None of the Catholic Church's fourteen Saint Valentines had anything to do with romance (and the more you read about the medieval church, the more you understand why). There *might* have been some fertility rituals going on in pre-Christian Rome about that time, but they had faded from memory long before Geoffrey Chaucer was born.

Chaucer gets the mention because he makes the first known, verifiable link between Love and St. Valentine's Day, in  The Parliament of Fowls, in 1382:

For this was on seynt Volantynys day
Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.

("For this was on Saint Valentine's day/ When every bird cometh there to choose his mate.")

And after Geoffrey, the day went from strength to strength, until it became the candy-coated, ribbon-bedecked, flower-killing juggernaut we know today.

My personal opinion: Chaucer accidentally conflated Saint Valentine with Ermintrude, patron saint of easily forgotten ritual obligations.

Yes, I am single. Why do you ask?

Monday, February 13, 2012


Today I just resolved the major plot points of Hero's Army, the sequel to The Excalibur Trick. It's not like I've actually finished the book, but I have put a spine in place; I feel more secure about the direction of the story.

Of course, major changes, additions and subtractions are still possible. Hell, they're likely. But they will be changes to an already existing structure, and plotting is always the hardest for me.

Aahh...first step taken. Only 1,000 more miles to go.

Sunday, February 12, 2012


Or at least, pretty neat.
It's a sort of  Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought feature...but with authors, not books, and a nice graphic representation.

Go to this webpage:

Type in the name of your favorite author and see what happens.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Damascus Steel

We have this notion of history as uninterrupted progress. It isn't, of course. Europe regressed between 300 CE and 1000 CE; the Americas are littered with the cities of civilizations that rose, thrived, and collapsed even before the Europeans arrived on the scene. (And not just the Toltecs, Olmecs and other Meso-American empires; check out the Moundbuilders on the Mississippi. Much respect!)

Damascus Steel Blades
The notion of progress is itself pretty new. The Classical Greeks saw history as cyclical. Medieval Christendom believed history was divided into three parts - before Jesus, his ministry, and then everything after - bounded start and finish by the Garden of Eden and the Day of Judgment.

So the fact that our predecessors knew how to do some things that we still haven't figured out shouldn't be too surprising.

That's not to say that the Egyptians had space travel, or the Mayans could predict the future. It just means we haven't recovered the processes by which they made things like Greek fire, layered stained glass and Damascus steel. (Of course, napalm does make Greek fire seem a little old hat.)

And for the really impressive pre-industrial stuff, check out guys like Heron of Alexandria.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Primary Sources

I LOVE those things!

They are the documents left behind by the people who actually lived in a particular time and place (as opposed to stuff written by historians). They're often a window into weird corners of thought and fact that you might never see in a secondary text.

For instance, there was this nice rabbi, Benjamin of Tudela...

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Make Your Writing Group Work

One of my friends in Los Angeles is trying to set up a writers group - and, knowing that I used to set up writers groups for a nonprofit, she asked for some advice. And then I thought...why not put it up on the blog? So...

Monday, February 6, 2012

Another Medieval Recipe...

...from Guillaume Tirel.

Here is how you make the pottage called menjoire:

Firstly, the meat needed is young peacocks, pheasants or partridges, or if you can find none of these, plovers, cranes, larks or other small birds. Roast the meat on the spit and when it is nearly cooked, dismember them (especially the large birds such as young peacocks, pheasants or partridges), fry them in lard in an iron pan, and put them in the pot in which you wish to make your pottage...

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Powerful and Limited

That's best kind of magic. Powerful because, well, power is cool; and limited because the more restrictions there are on it, the more interesting magic becomes.

Ursula LeGuin's Earthsea trilogy is still the peak of magic in fantasy, because her system was both powerful (magicians could do just about anything) and limited (everything was bound by two great rules).  In Roger Zelazny's underappreciated Jack of Shadows, the Powers are only great within their own domains; and the nightsiders pay for their immortality by being soulless.

For every advantage, a disadvantage. Nihil gratis.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Classic F/SF Ideas: Dragons

Speaking of dragons-

The Hobbit & Farmer Giles of Ham, JRR Tolkien
The Dragonriders of Pern, Anne McCaffrey
Beowulf, traditional
The Volsunga Saga, traditional
St. George and the Dragon, traditional

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Will There Be Dragons?

Probably not.

One of my younger cousins who's looking forward to the first Wrong Sword book asked me if there would be dragons, dragon-slaying, and perhaps even dragon BBQ. Sadly, no - not in this series, anyway. There's a single root to all the "magic" that happens in The Excalibur Trick and its sequels...and I couldn't figure a way to include dragons in it. Ah, well.