Thursday, March 27, 2008

Vermont and Rhode Island Suck

And now for something completely different. Google Analytics has revealed, by way of a curiosity induced search of all traffic to my blog, that no one from Vermont or Rhode Island has ever visited. Now remember, I'm talking about internet traffic patterns. I don't care where you were born, I just care where you were sitting when you clicked. If anyone has friends in either of those two states (or within easy commuting distance) please tell them that I dislike seeing empty spaces on the pretty map that Google shows me and ask them to fix it. Thank you.

RotS Reviews IV

The Red Worm’s Way- This story was impressive for two reasons. It was well written with engaging characters and it was quirky but held my attention all the way through in a way that quirky stories seldom do. Quirky humor is very hard to pull off but this story is laced with it. That is, if you find the eating of dead human flesh funny. What makes the story such a great success is the dry and rather world-weary protagonist, Morlock Ambrosius. “Defend this body against a bunch of ravaging corpse eaters? Sure, why not. Is the pay good?”

To Destroy All Flesh- This is the story I was really looking forward to and it definitely does not disappoint. Michael Ehart does it again with a tale of the Servant of the Manthycore. The Servant is on her way throughout the land in search of a means to free herself and the lover of her youth from bondage to the vile Manthycore. This story will be especially enjoyed by those who have bought and read Michael’s book. They will appreciate the subtlety of the tale as they see another chapter unfold in the life of The Servant and her daughter. Oh, and you’ve just got to love the props in this one. Doesn’t everyone have a huge ancient boat just laying about the place?

Guardian of Rage- A hero on the run through sewers, dragging along a scared little girl, and chased by the dead and a demonic tentacle beast. This has al the makings of a bad day getting worse. Our hero, Jack Spryte, clearly wants to be somewhere else but has to survive long enough to accomplish that. The story moves along at a good clip, the villain is appropriately nasty, and a couple of neat fight scenes make this a good all around tale.

Monday, March 24, 2008

CSFF Tour for March

This month the CSFF blog tour is highlighting On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness by Andrew Peterson. Here is a chance for you to read a great tale of invaders, lost treasures, toothy cows, secrets, and ex-pirates. C'mon, the cows alone make it worth the read.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

RotS Reviews III

This Easter morning I have decided to celebrate the bodily resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, thus defeating Satan's plan for the world and ensuring victory over the power of sin, by reviewing three more stories of blood and mayhem from Return of the Sword.

Mountain Scarab- This is one great story. Sigurd Grimbrow and a band of savage raiders attack a caravan and steal the goods. One of the goods is a feisty young woman who realizes she must stay by Sigurd’s side in order to stay alive. The interaction between the two characters was an absolute joy to read. Sigurd is also one of the best sword and sorcery protagonists I’ve encountered. He doesn’t hesitate to kill anyone he thinks needs some killing but is basically a good guy at heart. The author, Jeff Stewart, got everything right in this one.

Lair of the Cherufe- Here we have a story that is fun to read, with several clever elements and some good hack and slash style fantasy. The virgin princess, stolen from her father’s castle, is to be sacrificed to the great beast and the hero has to save her. I have to admit I started laughing uncontrollably to myself when I realized a major flaw in the plot: The sacrifice has to be a virgin, right? Well, there’s an easy way to fix that… But the hero made a promise to her father and so he goes through all the steps to get her back with virtue intact. This includes searching for objects of power in scary places with mythical guardians, fighting the evil Prince’s henchmen, and facing off against said scary beastie. This story is good solid sword & sorcery, through and through.

To Be A Man- This is a difficult story to review because the subject matter is almost entirely sexually oriented. It is well written but it’s not for children. (Funny that I seem to think violence and bloodshed are OK for kids but that’s a different discussion.) The characters here are amazingly well drawn, the female lead is so over the top it’s a smashing success, and the story moves along and has some truly funny moments.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

RotS Reviews II

What Heroes Leave Behind- A very satisfying story of an old warrior facing yet another challenge that should be left to the young. It is a great read that suffers from a terrible title. Yuck. But other than that I loved it. Hawkins hits all the right marks in telling the tale of a hero near the end of his days. The fear of encroaching death, not by glory but by simple frailty, is a powerful presence and rings true throughout. The action is well told and delivers plenty of punch while you follow the hero all the way to the end.

Fatefist at Torkas Nahl- Grand armies and evil tyrants. This is the stuff of epic sword and sorcery tales. With the backdrop of a huge battle before the gates of a nigh impregnable city comes a story about a warrior monk who is the Fatefist of the Mikari. What makes him a great character is the conflict within him as he is seduced by the power of a demonic sword that wouldn’t mind changing owners. While he duels the tyrant he is lured by the call of glory so there are actually two fight scenes in one. The large battle movements are really only hinted at but that’s fine because it’s the scenes revolving around personal battles that are the best and capture the intensity of the moments very well.

Deep in the Land of Ice and Snow- This is a pretty straightforward story of a young warrior who seeks the counsel of a sage before claiming his kingship. It is well done and has some cool scenes with witches and wolves. The exchanges between the characters are interestingly relayed and the end brings a smile to your face. It’s a simple tale and a pleasure to read.

RotS Reviews I

The first in a series of reviews for Return of the Sword.

Altar of the Moon- A story about the aftereffects of a sword of power and the person forced to wield it in order to save a kingdom. Just one problem, the burden of bearing the sword becomes unbearable and it won’t let itself be cast aside. This is a good emotional story with two characters that struggle with each other but are not technically enemies. Both protagonist and antagonist are sympathetic and the ending is written well. Two swords up.

The Wyrd of War- Bill Ward delivers an outstanding tale of dark magic and violent war. A doomed army defends against the mindless onslaught of an eldritch horde, twisted and corrupted by a mysterious evil. The thing that stands out immediately in this story is the use of language and mood. The hero faces impossible odds and is driven on by precious memories of a past denied him. It’s the kind of thing I was trying to do with Raven Kill and it’s done better. This could be my nomination for best of the book.

The Last Scream of Carnage- This is an interesting and odd story. The protagonist is definitely not heroic in any way. He’s simply arrogant and violent and looking for the next thing to kill. What makes for compelling reading here is the physical arrangement of the prose, often assembled in poetic forms. You get the feeling you’re reading something special and that must be why it is the feature story for the anthology. It is cleverly crafted but doesn’t leave you with a character to care about so the impact it makes is not personal but rather an appreciation of its clever crafting.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Battle of Raven Kill (Author's Commentary)

I have no way of posting this side by side with the opening scene so you have a little work to do. (Like opening my blog in two windows.) Here's what I was thinking when writing this passage.

For the introduction of the story I wanted to start in full despair mode. I wanted to capture the hopelessness of the situation. I also wanted to hint at things to come by referring to the rocks in the river like 'knuckles of the Earth.' I liked that first line so much it became the only thing in this scene that survived.

Now we have the first of many extraneous characters make an appearance. I used the scout character to bring the readers up to speed on what sort of odds the clan is facing.

The medicine woman comes next and I really liked her as a character. She was intended to be my method of hinting at what Oth was capable of. The first simile I came up with for her medicine bags was 'hanging off her like dead rats' but after some thought I came up with the pine cones. Not everything's a gem in the rough draft.

The exchange with Oth about being empty and searching for something useful was another way to illustrate the bad situation they were all in. At the same time I wanted to show her as a capable healer and valuable member of the clan, respected by the men who are clearly in charge. Serle's wound exists for no other reason than that.

Then we get to the line I stole from Terminator 2. The scout needed to show the reader that things were bad and getting worse. Without still knowing the full reason for the clan to be on the run, what could be worse than the number of enemy pursuers to be 'all of them?' I think it says "We're in deep kimche" better than "Oh, about a hundred or so." It also tells the reader something about the relentless nature of the bad guys which becomes important later on.

While this is not specifically a Christian tale, I can't seem to keep references to God out of my writing. At this point I am layering on the despair by having a character claim to be forsaken by God. I wasn't exactly sure of the type of God I wanted in this story and it took a few passes and some great advice by a sharp eyed beta reader for me to zero in on it.

This argument between the man and the chieftain points out one of the growing problems I was having with this opening. None of the characters except Oth and the scout have names yet. I tried it but names kept leading to descriptions and descriptions kept leading to histories and I wasn't getting to the story I wanted to tell.

Then I have Oth finally announce the plot. He stays and fights. Everyone else, move along. Simple. That was supposed to be the whole story but as I started writing I just kept including things to set up the situation and the characters. Also here, I was trying to establish that Oth is quite confident that he can hold off the bad guys but it might be difficult for him.

The crafty, unnamed medicine woman knows instantly what Oth is going to do. She's in on it. This was just a device to clue the reader into something special happening.

The unnamed chieftain gets his longest speech at this point as a way of establishing Oth's street cred. The name 'Othren Four-Scars' did not survive the final draft because it was actually an idea I had for a different story of a character with ritual scars from personal duels to the death. I simply threw it in here because I needed a full and important sounding name at the moment and didn't want to stop typing long enough to think of one.

By this point I was realizing that I was really struggling with getting the clan on the road and letting Oth unleash on the Pechts. It was a time where these stupid characters kept arguing and strategizing and I'm flat running out of pages that I can devote to them. Oth also foreshadows his own doom, which is necessary.

So the rough draft of this section had a couple more arguments back and forth but in my first attempt to salvage these pages I cut them and replaced them with the chieftain holding up his hand and essentially saying, 'shut up, let's go.' And then everyone leaves. It was the only way I could get them to just move along but I didn't like it.

Even as I was hastily ushering the clan off stage right I knew that Oth would have no one else to talk to for the rest of the story. That becomes a problem for writers everywhere because important plot points now have to be thought by the protagonist and they usually ring hollow. So I have the crafty medicine woman, still unnamed, come right out and admit that Oth has some kind of secret. I'm doing a tap dance here and hoping that the reader won't call me on it.

I also take a little time to hint at the value of steel and therefore the value of steel spear points later on.

All these discussions of Oth's chances at victory are designed to plant the seeds of doubt in the reader. No matter how big and strong your protagonist is, the story's just not interesting if there isn't the real chance for him to fail.

The unnamed man who stops at the very tail end of the clan to wish him well serves two purposes. First, I loved the line 'frayed to the last twist' and was trying desperately to work it into this passage. Second, Oth needed a shield and I still hadn't figured out where it would come from.

Then Oth gives an Arnold Schwarzenegger line and we're done.

So that was it. Four pages of delay and set up before Oth gets down to business. As it is the story still has a couple of pages before the Pechts begin to show up. After cutting this scene I decided to bring in an idea that had been rolling around inside my head. Oth's daughter. She, in just a few sentences, sums up the despair of the clan and the mysterious secret that Oth holds. In order to avoid all the questions about family and wives and such, I made her adopted.

But to find out the full extent of her role in the story... You'll have to buy the book.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Battle of Raven Kill (Deleted Scene)

Today is the day that Return of the Sword is released to the eagerly awaiting public. As promised, here's the DVD bonus features. First up is the opening scene that I struggled with, rewrote a few times, and then finally cut.

Rocks withstood the incessant crush of the swollen river, pushing above the roaring water like knuckles of the Earth. About two dozen women and children huddled on the smooth dirt leading up to a low stone bridge. Oth stood, one foot on the bridge and one foot on the dirt, blood caked on him like muddy rivers of his own. He watched the remains of his clan; some drank from or filled waterskins, some comforted babes that had long ago stopped crying, some knelt and stared at the dirt around them. Of the handful of men that remained, none spoke.

Oth saw a figure loping out of the darkness beyond the riverbank, favoring his left leg. He nudged his chieftain, a man who’s beaded sash of office had been converted to a bandage on his upper right arm. “Serle’s back.” Oth’s voice was tired and course. “Wounded.”

The woman closest to them turned her head. Her silver hair was tied back into a braided tail that hung to the small of her back. She wore clothing of rough brown fabric and had several leather pouches hanging from her like pine cones on a gnarled tree. She reached for one as she stepped into the group of men. Her hand closed around the leather and squeezed. She let out a sigh and shook her head. “Empty.”

Oth reached over and put a gentle hand on her shoulder. “We’re all empty.”

She raised the back of her hand to her eye and wiped away a tear. “No, no. I… I must have something here.” She absently checked her other pouches as she stifled her sobs. “I must have something.”

The other men murmured assurances to her as Serle limped up to the group. “I’ll be fine. I just twisted my ankle in the dark.”

The woman moved over to him and prodded at the gash on his bare arm. Blood ran heavy through the dirt and sweat until it dripped onto the ground. “I can still tie a bandage.”

The scout looked up at the others while she went to work. “They’re still coming.”

The chieftain asked, “How many?”

“All of them.”

Oth could read the men’s stunned silence in the darkness. They all had the disbelieving look of a drowning man being handed a millstone. One of the men looked up at the black sky. “We’ve been forsaken.”

Some women nearby looked over at the men with renewed fear in their eyes. The chief reached out with his good arm and grabbed a fistful of the other man’s tunic. “Don’t ever say that! When God provides trials, God provides solutions.”

“Solutions?” asked the man. “What solutions do we have except more death?”

The men began to talk at once but Oth stepped apart and stared down at the bridge. Then he cast his gaze across his clan sitting in the cool night air like a collection of dirty tombstones outside a forgotten church. When he spoke, he filled the air with a confident rumbling. “I will stay here and stand in the gap. You will take the clan and flee.”

The men began to argue again. The medicine woman stopped tying the bandage and looked past them all, straight into Oth’s eyes. He ignored the voices around him and met her admonition without blinking. When the chieftain held up his hands for silence she turned away.

“Othren Four-Scars, you are the best warrior in the clan. The best in the Seven Hills. None would doubt your heart or your strength. But even you cannot stand against a hundred Pechti after a day and a night of running. They will rain their spears down on you and charge you again and again until you are stuck like a wild pig in a snare. We will all fight here.” The men murmured their agreement but Oth shook his head.

“Time is slipping away from us and we cannot argue any more. I don’t have to win. I just have to hold them back long enough and this bridge is the place to do it. Take the clan and lose them in the moors. By morning it will be decided here. After that, if they continue to pursue us…” Oth stopped for a moment and looked hard into the chieftain’s eyes. “You will all be needed to defend the clan against whatever tattooed men overrun my dead body.”

The men sputtered disagreement but the chieftain raised a hand to cut them off. “He speaks truth.” With that he turned and began rousing the clan. The stunned group of men looked back and forth between their leader and Oth, who stood like a stone pillar. Within moments, they filed away and the clan trudged out across the bridge.

As the clan moved, the medicine woman stopped at Oth’s side. “If you do this here, your secret can no longer be safe.”

Oth could not meet her gaze. He hefted his clubs in each hand and swung them as if to test their strength. “This morning I was useless. Here is where I can make a difference. Besides,” he added with a smile. “There is so little firewood on the moors, I doubt anyone would burn me as a witch even if they wanted to.” He patted the woman’s arm. “Better that I stay here and give you a chance at life.”

She returned his gesture. “There will be pain. You will grow weary.”

Oth took a deep breath and looked up at the clouds beginning to part. Stars sparkled, glinting points of precious steel in the dark. “I will do my best.”

She left him and one of the last men stopped to clasp forearms with him. “Oth, my friend, we’re frayed to the last twist. Not a single one can get past you.” He left him a tower shield that had been salvaged in the rush to abandon their burning village.

“They won’t.”

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Hawk Eternal

I finished this book on the plane back from Hawaii. It is the sequel to Ironhand's Daughter by David Gemmell. It's an excellent novel about the clans of the northern mountains and their struggle for survival against the vicious invaders from far away lands. Like the first book, this one had a choppy feel to it and it bothered me until I realized that it was written like a series of episodes rather than one continuous tale. After that, I settled in and read it like I was watching a good TV series. It has a convoluted time travel plot through some Gates that were created long ago and are managed by a sect of druids. And there are the battle scenes where the highlanders kick butt. All this is good but in the end there is the story of duty and honor and sacrifice which always seems to bring a tear to my eye. This is another very good Gemmell book, which is to be expected.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

One in the Morning

As predicted, it is 1:00am and I'm reading and writing. Three stories into RotS and I'm impressed so far. I also put the finishing touches on "The Witch of the Westmoors" and submitted it to Every Day Fiction. Next on the list of things to do is eat Cup O' Noodles and assemble some notes on another Raven Kill story that links the two existing ones. Then I might stare out the window or something. Maybe take a nap. I'm sure there's no one at the USS Arizona memorial but that's probably because it's closed. Last time I was here I found a good local restaurant but that probably doesn't open until six. I suppose there's also late night TV but really I'd rather stare out the window.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Two Very Good Things

The two very good things that happened today:

1. I flew back into Hawai'i for a day.
2. I downloaded my eBook version of Return of the Sword. (You can follow the link to pre order a physical copy at a discounted price.)

Since it's 2:00 in the afternoon and I'm exhausted, it's very likely that I'll fall asleep in an hour or two. That means I'll be up and wide awake at midnight with no where to go. I'm looking forward to reading the rest of the stories in RotS; I'm impressed with the authors on the table of contents and I'd like to see how my story stacks up against theirs. I'll also be posting the deleted first scene and maybe some author's commentary in the near future. Stay tuned!

Monday, March 03, 2008

Some Kind of Zombie

The twelve hour shifts started a few days ago and I've slumped into the routine of get up, stand watch, sleep, repeat. It is that semi-living kind of status that puts you on autodrive until the exercise is over.

One thing of interest here that I've never seen before is an incident of 'yellow sand' in the air. This is my fourth or fifth trip to Korea and I'd never heard of it before now. Apparently certain weather conditions pick up huge amounts of dust from the Gobi Desert and blow it all over Manchuria and the Korean peninsula. It's a odd thing to see; not white enough to be fog but not high enough to be smog. For an added benefit, there are high levels of heavy metals and other irritants in it. Walking around in it for any length of time starts to make the back of your throat tingle like you've walked into a very weak gas chamber. One more reason Korea is a nice place to visit but I wouldn't want to live here.