I’ve long said that the original Star Trek had some of the finest, most memorable music for any television series, ever. I’ve sometimes wondered if it’s so hummable just because I’m used to it, having seen the shows so many times, but I don’t think that’s the real story. There truly was gripping background music tracked through the first two seasons, and among the finest was the music originally composed for my favorite episode, “The Doomsday Machine,” and used in numerous episodes thereafter.
My brand new copy of The Mighty Warriors turned up in the post yesterday. I can’t remember when I had a NEW anthology chock full of sword-and-sorcery. I mean, I’ve had old anthologies that were new to me, but not one that was hot off the presses.
I’ve been friends with two of the authors for years, Charles Rutledge and Paul McNamee. Charles is the fellow who spoke so highly of Shotokan karate and therefore helped me choose which school to attend many years back (and I’m STILL there). I’ve known Paul since I used to edit the old Flashing Swords e-zine. He helped manage the related web site for a while when I was busy with grad school. Yet I’ve never read any of their work! Now I have the chance, because they both have a story in the volume, along with one of my favorite writers, Charles Saunders, my friend David C. Smith. There’s also work by friendly acquaintances and industry standard bearers. I’ve been hearing good things about Adrian Cole’s Elak pastiches for a while, so I’m particularly interested to see what he’s cooked up.
Anyway, I’m pleased to have a copy and eager to get to reading. Your own copies can be found here.
Maybe I should label this novel as “2.5” because I’d started my second Dabir and Asim novel, The Bones of the Old Ones, before I set to work on Plague of Shadows. But I set Bones aside and gave this one my attention all through the summer.
I didn’t write it as I’d written my first novel, in part because as a work-for-hire, I had to present an extremely detailed outline and get it approved before I started working. That meant I had a pretty solid blueprint, even though that blueprint ended up changing a lot as I went. It was a little harder than my first novel, but not so hard as the next one would be, probably because of that outline, one that a talented editor had provided me with feedback for.
Why was it a little more difficult? Well, the characters and their relationships were all brand new to me, so it took a little writing and rewriting to get used to them and how they’d react, something I hadn’t had to do much with The Desert of Souls.
The most obvious lesson in writing Plague was to be flexible. Somehow I managed to roll with the punches on this one far faster than I’d roll with challenges in later books. I was about a third of the way into the draft, about 30 thousand words, when I heard from James Sutter. James, by the way, is a great editor — and a talented writer as well — and this wasn’t at all his typical way of communicating. But the Paizo Pathfinder novel line was new, and they were still working on marketing. He said that they had realized that novels with dragons on the cover sold better and asked if I could work some dragons into the plot. I said sure, I already had one, but he wondered if I could have a big fight with a dragon. So I said sure, why not? And I found a way, and I think it ended up strengthening the book.
You may have noticed from the increased activity that I’m rethinking how I use my web site. I’ve got some more novel writing posts ready to go, and that will be a regular feature on Mondays for the next several weeks. I’ve also started exchanging notes with Tales From the Magician’s Skull contributors for the opening salvo in a new Friday feature I’m tentatively calling “Creatives Corner.” The plan is to post interviews or occasional guest posts on many Fridays, and I’m starting with some of the people who’ve worked with the mighty Skull.
The object is to point visitors to neat sites, good writers, editors, and fans. If you have ideas about questions you’d like me to ask, guests you’d like me to invite, or even subjects you’d like to cover, please let me know.
Likewise, if you have questions about writing or publishing, keep them coming. I’m still working on answers to a few that were asked last time I mentioned this, and I’m eager for more ideas.
I hope to hear from you. So does The Gorn.
Tonight I’ll be dropping by Night Moves Radio to chat with hosts Josh and Ariana about sword-and-sorcery, its authors and its tales, and the writing and editing of the same. I hope you’ll drop in for a listen!
The show starts at 7:00 Central time and it’s going to be held live! I’ve been on plenty of podcasts before, but never a live one, so this should be different!
My friend Troy asked the other day about my ” ideas on usage of language – how you change it per the setting and world you are writing in, how you find not only the narrator’s voice, but the voice of your characters.”
When it comes to altering language for the setting and world, most of the time I turn the dial only a little. The big exception would be the historical fantasies I’ve written in the voice of an 8th century Arabian swordsman. In preparation for writing those I read a lot of translations of work written from around the same time I set the stories in, and that prose was a lot more formal. Many of the writers were also highly religious, sprinkling in praise to God every few sentences or so. I knew that if I wrote in exactly the same style I’d put off modern readers and erect a barrier between them and the work, so I wrote in sort of a faux version of that. It’s a little more formal and flowery, so that it sounds different without (hopefully) being too distant. I mention praise to God every now and then but far, far less often, and the sentence structure is more varied.
When I stepped up to be the Managing Editor of Black Gate, I started running a live journal. It seems hard to believe that was already so long ago, but when I got to looking up a post I’d written that might be of interest I saw that it dated from 2007, which kind of floored me. The years have sped past.
Anyway, prior to this post I had just finished reading through a big batch of Black Gate submissions, and the percentages of rejections I discuss seemed to hold in the years going forward. I expect they’ll be true when I start reading magazine submissions again, so I thought I’d give you a behind-the-scenes look at what it’s like to pull manuscripts from the envelopes, or e-mail. Have a look at what kind of things I found there, and perhaps most importantly, what submitters have done wrong. Better than learning from your own mistakes is learning from those that other people have made, right? That’s less painful.
Believe me, when we finally get around to asking for subs for Tales From the Magician’s Skull, these are the things writers really need to be aware of.
Before I ever got to the first published novel I had at least five others that didn’t make the cut. I write “at least” because three of those five were rewritten numerous times, sometimes nearly from scratch, so maybe the total is more like ten or twelve. Yeah, that many.
I am reminded of what I heard as a creative writing minor in college when a published author dropped by to talk to us. He said that it might take us multiple novels before we got published, and he cited a figure close to ten, because that’s how long it had taken him. I remember thinking to myself that I would certainly figure things out faster. Hah! The arrogance and optimism of youth. I sure thought I was special (even as I was brimming with insecurities that I really wasn’t). Would I have stuck with it so long if I’d known success wasn’t waiting around the corner? What if I’d known the advice I later heard, about having to put in about 10,000 hours before you were good enough to be professional with a skill? I think that little gem is probably pretty accurate for most of us, as it turns out.
Probably I’d still have kept at it. I’ve always wanted to be a storyteller, even if I thought I had more of a natural knack that wouldn’t require quite so much time to get right. Of course, some people get it right the first time out of the gate, like Lynch and Rothfuss. That wasn’t me, alas. Maybe to write your first one it helps if you’re a more seasoned human being, because some of my challenge was that I hadn’t experienced enough life to write a convincing novel when I was in my teens or early 20s.
So what did I learn in the writing of my first published novel, The Desert of Souls?
One of the things I liked best was that the backstory wasn’t front loaded into the plot. I think a lot of modern writers would have spun it out twice as long and shown us a bunch of scenes of the youthful years of the character as he experienced the things that shaped him. Instead, the story starts with Jake Wade’s new identity already established, then the threat to that identity is introduced. The story is in motion from the very start and anything we don’t know acts as an enticement to find out the secrets behind it all. Boy do I love that style more.
I wonder if it says something about the era in which I grew up, where as a boy I admired and emulated men who had still waters that run deep, and didn’t talk about problems. Not that I was successful, because I tend to wear my heart on my sleeve, but I aspired to be more like that. Those were the models I saw around me and those are the models I saw on television and in the movies. Of course those models had some things wrong with them, too — the inability to communicate, for instance — but I still admire the habit of not spewing your problems and backstory over everybody you meet. Maybe the tendency to do that in some modern fiction is a backlash against being too closed in.
Anyway, two thumbs up for The Law and Jake Wade, and I’m looking forward to seeing the movie now, which is supposed to be a pretty strong old western.
It’s not until page 134 (of those 142) where we finally get a little window into how a man who’s good now ended up running with a bad bunch in the past, because it’s necessary for Jake to try and explain himself to the woman he loves over breakfast before he makes his final goodbye. Here, I’ll excerpt this text from Marvin Albert’s book:
I wanted to point everyone to the new sword-and-sorcery anthology, The Mighty Warriors. My old friend Paul McNamee has a story within — along with David C. Smith and the mighty Charles Saunders and other talented folks– and it is graced with a Bruce Timm cover. Visit Paul’s web site for a lowdown on the table of contents and a good look at the artwork.
It’s gotten me thinking about sword-and-sorcery anthologies and mulling which old ones are my favorites. What about you?
As I’m away from home right now I can’t step over to look at my bookshelf to search through individual volumes. I know I was always a little disappointed in the Flashing Swords anthologies, and fond of the Swords Against Darkness collections. As to single volumes, though, it gets tougher. How to judge? Some are strong collections but hold stuff I have in other collections. Doesn’t mean that they’re not a strong sample of the good stuff…