Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Wrong Sword, Chapter 1

I wouldn't ask anyone to buy a book blind. Especially not my first. So-
Here's the first chapter.
Don't say I never give you anything.



Chapter One: The Previous Owner

   The king stumbled down the tunnel, trailing blood. He had ridden for three days without stopping, and he could barely stand. His queen was dead. So were his sorcerer, and his best friend, and most of his capital city. His own son was hunting him, with traitors and foreign mercenaries. His dreams of uniting the land again under one pax, one law, were dead as Alexander.
   Sometimes, it sucked to be the king.
   His sword whined and muttered as he dragged himself forward, begging him not to sheathe it, to wield it once again for justice. Of course, it was the sword that had gotten him into this mess in the first place. It had taken him out of the stables, made him king, given him the power to do any bloody stupid thing he liked. A giant circular table! A Perilous Seat that only the pure could sit in! A Britannia-wide manhunt for a four-hundred year old cup! What had he been thinking?
   And the sword was still making it hard for him. The prince, his appalling son, had enough pure meanness to force the sword into obedience, no matter how the sword itself felt about it. That was the one thing the king could not allow. So instead of expiring peacefully on a couch of shimmering samite, surrounded by weeping damosels, he was limping down a Welsh burial mound, leaking fluids, hoping desperately that he'd get there before—
   "Hello, Your Highness."
   It was Hwyll son of Kaw, a nasty piece of work who loved knives and hated soap. The king had disliked Hwyll even before the knight had gone all Ostrogoth and woven those shark's teeth into his beard. And behind Hwyll, filling the rocky shore between the tunnel mouth and the lake, were a dozen private military contractors. Saxons, by the look of them.
   "Why, Hwyll, what are you doing down here? Come for the waters?"
   "Hand it over, Your Highness." Hwyll extended his hand.
   The king smiled to himself. His son might have a spirit strong enough to master the sword, but Hwyll? The knight was a dead man, and he didn't even know it.
   "You want it? Here!" The king tossed the sword into the air. Hwyll caught it, hilt-first.
   And screamed.
   He staggered backward, then shook the sword as though it were red-hot grease clinging to his skin. He screamed again, fell to his knees, and with a final whimper, shoved it point-first into the cavern floor. The blade cut into the bedrock like cheese, sparks flying everywhere, squealing against the stone.
   Hwyll collapsed, twitching. The Saxons backed away, making witch signs and muttering charms. Bloody pagans.
   The king limped to the sword and grabbed the hilt. Strength poured into him, and he pulled it effortlessly from the stone. He twirled it casually in front of himself, once, twice.
   "Right, then," said Arthur, for the very last time. "Who's next?"

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Great City

One of the neat things about living where I do is the absolutely insane wealth of antiquities you can find in the museums. If you're dabbling with Byzantium and the Ayyubids - as I am in Hero's Army - you can just walk into the BGAM - Big Giant Art Museum - and boom! There's an exhibit on the Kingdom of the Greeks (that's what the Franks called Byzantium) and the Saracens (the Moslem states, from the Umayyads to the Abbasids.) If you've been researching entirely from books and the Internet, it's an almost physical shock to see actual, tangible objects from that time.

In fact, the more you look, the more you realize that nothing appears exactly as you imagined. Take the coins. You know, intellectually, that gold was even more valuable then than it is today; still, you have this image of pirate-sized gold coins as big as your palm and thick as a slice of cheese. Then you get to the BGAM and actually see Byzantine solidi: Each one is 24-karat gold, able to buy a month's unskilled labor - and no larger or thicker than a thumbnail.

Or the architecture. You hear "Greek" and you instantly imagine white marble, but that's hooey. The reality is that there was lots of painting going on - in eye-watering color schemes. Not to mention silk hangings in twisty patterns of brick red, leaf green, and blue and gold - the disco polyester of the Middle Ages, enough to make the Ayyubids on the other side of the border look positively restrained in their decor. If the black-velvet Elvis painting had existed a thousand years ago, it would have been worth its weight in solidi.


But for some reason, it's the more humble stuff - the carved wood and bone, the potsherds (ostraka) - that really convey just how distant it all is in time. With wood and clay, it's easier to imagine the hands of the men who shaped it.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Book Two on the Front Burner

So while y'all are devouring The Wrong Sword, Book One (Devour it! Devour it, I say!) I'm hard at work on the sequel, Hero's Army. Now, I don't want to give anything away, but I have just one little word for you: Outremer. Look it up.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Writers, Assemble!

I've posted about writers groups before - some suggestions for making them useful and fun. But how do you get them going in the first place? Especially if you don't live in a big city? Well, there's good news and bad news.

Let's start with the bad news. Some of the traditional venues for writers groups have gone the way of the dodo. Indie bookstores used to be the perfect place to gather ink-stained wretches. You'd meet fellow enthusiasts browsing the stacks, and many of the stores had bulletin boards for just this kind of thing. Of course, Barnes & Noble killed the indies, and Amazon killed Barnes & Noble, and then cable TV and the Xbox dropped a neutron bomb on everything that was still standing, so the bookstore as writer's agora just ain't what it used to be.

The good news (at least as far as writers groups go - I can't do anything about declining readership) is that there are substitutes, analogues, and that overall gap-filler, te interwebz.

Substitutes - the sci-fi bookstore may be gone (adios, Dangerous Visions; farewell, Change of Hobbit) but comic and gaming stores remain. Any store that features games in the basement or back room on weekends, or has a bulletin board up front or an event calendar - in short, any store that tries to become more involved with its patrons than just shilling the latest graphic novel - is a possibility. The staff may allow you to meet in the back room; they might know about regular customers who also want to write; they might allow you to post a notice on their bulletin board; they might have other suggestions. They're a resource.

Of course, if you do try to use them, be cool. Don't ask for their help the very first time you enter the store. Make a point of going to the store long enough to establish a relationship; buy some merchandise; smile; be friendly and low key. Once they say "Hi, [your name here]" when you walk in the door, you can let them know you're a writer looking for other writers. And don't disappear after you've gotten what you want. Maintain that relationship. It's the classy thing to do. It's also the smart thing - you might both be able to help one another again. And looking for people through the game store might take some time and patience - so you don't ever want the staff to become sick of you.

But what if your suburb/small town/soulless urban wasteland doesn't even have a comic shop? Maybe it has a university or community college. Campuses are great places to go looking for fellow writers and nerds. Not only can you count on at least half of the students being able to read; colleges usually have organizations devoted exclusively to extracurricular activities, calendars of student events, and - wait for it - bulletin boards.

Say you struck out at the college and comic shop? Some cities - usually the larger ones, alas - have "adult enrichment" or "continuing education" programs, private and public, that feature writing classes. (In my glorious home town we have everything from the New School to CUNY to the Gotham Writing Workshop - but I'm lucky.) Obviously, a class is a pretty damned good way to meet candidates for your group. The caveat with classes, however, is that not many writers in a general writing class are likely to be interested in or good at F/SF. Writing spec fix takes a specialized knowledge base and an unusual set of interests; it's not blazingly likely you'll find a lot of like-minded folk at a general class. Of course, if you can find a class geared toward fans...

Which brings us to conventions. Cons are a hail-mary pass if you attend as a guest. You don't have a lot of time to look for writers, most of the attendees won't be living near enough to become involved in your group (unless it's a small, very local con), and everybody is distracted with panels, parties, cosplay and booths. However, if you volunteer to be one of the organizers, the picture changes. You hang out with fellow enthusiasts for long enough to become acquaintances - maybe even friends. You are plugged into the net of gossip, information and possibilities that swirls around any big event. Possibilities may open up that you would never have known about otherwise.

The same rules apply to volunteering that apply to the comic shops. Be cool. Don't be there just for your own purposes. Make sure to give help as well as seek it. Be present, and be happy to be there. If you can't do that (and we all have times in our lives when we can't) then pass on this possibility for now and try something else.

Up next - the sequence of tubes that we call the Internet.

Monday, March 19, 2012

A Big Shout Out to the BSFWG

They're my peeps. My writing group, that is.

Writing is lonely work, and the antisocial nature of F/SF folk is a cliché with several grains of truth. Put the two together and you're in constant danger of deadly isolation. That's why, for all you F/SF writers out there, I can't recommend a good writing group enough. Next post will be suggestions for starting your own.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

I know we're mostly about the "F" in "F/SF," but-

-you have to check out this orbital delivery system at io9.com.

Pay attention to the economics projections. How cool is that?

(Of course, Heinlein predicted a railgun delivery system 70 years ago in The Man Who Sold the Moon.)

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Second Round of Edits!

We're off with the second round of edits.
Less and less to go...

I made more changes than I expected in the first round, but they were all pretty minor. I did add a little more historical detail, though.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Cover Art pt. 2

After receiving Kelly's first pass, I was a little worried. Not from a quality level - this is gorgeous work - but from a marketing level. The Wrong Sword isn't a regular epic fantasy. In fact, it's anti-epic, with tongue stuck firmly in cheek, and I was concerned that this first, beautiful cover wouldn't convey that. Any novel with a medieval food fight, rigged jousts, and the Swiss merchant marine doesn't deserve beautiful. It deserves...sarcastic. Sardonic. Subversive.

Hence pass number two. What do y'all think?
First version







Second version

Friday, March 9, 2012

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Classic F/SF Ideas: The Decadent Earth

The Decadent Earth

A post-Imperial planet or civilization whose citizens live among the remnants of a glorious past. In some novels, it can be seen as a metaphor for European decline after WWII, but its roots can be traced at least as far back as Percy Shelley's Ozymandias. The characters are often exquisite aesthetes; occasionally they also have enormous personal power.

Nightwings, Robert Silverberg
The Dying Earth, Jack Vance
The Dancers at the End of Time, Michael Moorcock
The Time Machine, H.G. Wells

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Ahh...SEO

So I've been learning the whole optimization process, so that more True Believers can find us, and I must say, SeoMoz's manual on the topic is damned helpful. White hats off to you, gentlemen.

Read the Beginner's Guide to SEO

Friday, March 2, 2012

My Friend Samuel

Trilby, the hat of posers.
Everyone needs at least one Samuel in their lives to make grandiose assertions. Samuel likes Prince Alberts (the mustache) and he thinks he's wearing a fedora when he's actually wearing a trilby. I love him like Tabasco on a split lip.

Yesterday he accused me of being a sell-out because I write fantasy, instead of something...something else, I guess. I don't know, what are the Bushwick kids reading these days?

'Cause yeah, I'm in fantasy for the money.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Ahh, Parma Tarts

Who could refuse them? Not me, that's for sure.

Parma tarts
© 2009-2011 Atof Inc (Jeff Potter)

Take mutton, veal or pork meat, cook it, chop it appropriately, spice it extremely reasonably with Fine Powder, and fry it in lard. Afterwards, have large uncovered pies the size of little platters, with pastry sides higher than for other pies, and made in the manner of crenellations. The pastry should be strong so that it can hold the meat. If you wish, mix some pine nut paste and currants with the meat, and crumble some sugar on top. Take some boiled and quartered chicken, and in each pie put 3 or 4 chicken quarters in which to fix the banners of France and of the lords who will be in the [royal] presence. Gild them with sprinkled saffron to be more attractive.

If you do not wish to depend so much on chicken, you need only make some flat pieces of roasted or boiled pork or mutton. When the pies are full of their meat, glaze the top of the meat with a little egg yolk and egg white beaten together, so that the meat will hold together more firmly for inserting the banners. Have some gold, silver, or tin leaf for gilding the pies in front of the banners.


from Le Viandier of Guillaume Tirel, aka Taillevent

For the record, I have no idea what "fine powder" might be. I'm kind of afraid to ask.