Ire Has a Home

I finally signed a contract. Ire will be the first book of a trilogy written for Tor. The first book is tentatively scheduled to be published in late 2020, and the other two books will follow shortly thereafter.

Working with Tor is something of a dream come true for me. I grew up reading a lot of fantasy novels, and the Tor name has always been synonymous with the kind of book that’s not just enjoyable, but that can transport you to another reality. The Wheel of Time is a series that influenced me profoundly as a young man, and continues to be almost canon to me. The Recluce series provided example after example of realistic people living realistic, (mostly) honorable lives. More recently, Tor authors like Brandon Sanderson, Brian Staveley, and many others have continued that legacy in their own ways, and now I get to add my name to that list. I’m ecstatic to have my work published, but being a Tor author means a great deal to me even beyond that.

I’ve got a lot of writing to do, and a good while until my work sees the light, but I’m stoked about the path I’m on and the people I have on my side. Huge shout out to Matt Bialer for guiding me through the process and putting in years of work with me to get this deal.

Ire is going to be awesome.

 

-Scott

Sins of Empire – A Five Star Review

Verdict: 5/5 Stars. Go read it, it’s awesome.

What I loved:

  • Characters –  The book starts out introducing each primary character in turn, and McClellan does a very good job of establishing each character outside of and while setting up the impending conflict. I thought each character had unique and interesting flaws, believable motivations, and little details brought them to life. I liked the diverse cast of characters as well – the POV characters weren’t your typical fantasy heroes.
  • Plot – McClellan intertwines his character arcs in such a way that they not only come together gradually, but so that the character growth moments also comprise the main plot. I can’t recall another book or author who has done this so well. I would really like to talk to Brian about how he plotted this book.
    • I also appreciated that Brian was able to continually raise the stakes without resorting to a world-ending threat in the first book. He went from personal stakes and interesting side-quests for the primary characters to those side-quests turning into a large scale conflict. Even better, the personal stakes and side-quests stayed away from typical fantasy tropes, for the most part.
  • Pacing – I think Brian encountered an issue in the first 10% of the book that almost all speculative fiction authors have to deal with: hooking your readers while also setting up the world and characters. To me, the pacing for the first 10% was above average, but the remaining 90% was superb. Not only did the plot move forward extremely well, but switching through 3 primary POV characters was handled expertly.

What I liked:

  • Style: the writing is clear and engaging. There were very few passages that I either glossed over because the words were unnecessary, or that I had to read twice because it wasn’t as clear as I’d like it to be, and the few I encountered could easily have been due to my own user error.
  • Worldbuilding: SoE builds off of the world created in the first Powder Mage trilogy, which I really like. I’ve seen a few complaints about the interwebs regarding logical inconsistencies in how the magic system(s) work. Really, people? You have no problems with alternate universes where unexplained magic can be used indiscriminately, but the fact that gunpowder has magical properties is a problem for you? C’mon man. I like it. It’s fun and makes for a great story.

My takeaways as a writer:

  • I loved seeing someone execute a near-perfect blend of plot and character in an interesting world. I’ll be tweaking my plotting process as a result of reading SoE.
  • The treatment of POV characters was awesome, and convinced me that a measured approach to switching between a small number of POVs can work very well.

-Scott

Food Hour: Hickory Planked Salmon

I’ve recently decided to start writing blog entries about a bunch of things I enjoy besides writing. I think this will be good for all of us – you aren’t bombarded with post after post about writing techniques that are probably only situationally interesting to most, and I get to share more of my interests.

I’m starting with a post about Hickory Planked Salmon for a few reasons:

1) I made it for dinner last night, so I have pictures available.

2) I’ve talked to a few people lately about cooking and recipes I like to make, and this is a great place to start.

3) From what I’ve seen, most people eat nasty food and it’s not necessary.

4) It’s likely going to be more useful than me telling you about how much I love Ron Paul.

Okay then, let’s get to it.

Hickory Planked Salmon

The first step will involve the hickory plank. Cedar planking food has become popular lately, but I think cedar is too harsh of a taste, and reminds me of the smell of the wood I have used to build fences. I strongly prefer hickory, which gives a nice sweet smoke that will remind you of bacon. You are supposed to soak the board in water for 2 hours to prevent it catching on fire, but I usually only think to do it 30-60 minutes ahead of cooking, and it always turns out great. I buy these things in boxes of 30 rejects (they are slightly misshapen or have the whole foods brand screwed up on them or something usually) for $40 or so from Amazon.

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I start with New Zealand King Salmon, if I can. We get it from Aquarius Fish Market in Downtown Salt Lake City. We like it because it has a very high fat content, it tastes very clean, and it’s raised the right way. Trust me, this fish is worth the $15 or $16 per pound. One pound is likely to feed around 3 adults, so it’s not like you are selling the farm to buy this awesome fish. Aquarius does a nice job keeping their fish fresh, if you are local to SLC. I’m sure coastal towns in particular will have even better options.

They also remove the pin bones – shoulder bones in a salmon… run your finger along the center line of the thick portion of the filet, and you will feel large bones that can be pried loose if your fish people haven’t already. You can see in the pictures of the planked salmon that there’s a rough patch of meat just above the centerline of the filet where Aquarius removed the pin bones for us. Mmmmm, just look at that beautiful fish. Notice the striations of fat between the layers of flesh. This is the equivalent of a Prime marbled ribeye.

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Next, I’ll rinse the salmon gently in cold water to remove scales and any fish nasties, blot dry with a paper towel, and brush on as much olive oil as I can make stick to every surface of the fish.

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Then, apply salt (I use a combo of table salt and coarse sea salt), pepper, and dill. I also like to add lemon zest from an actual lemon, but didn’t have a lemon last night so I used a store bought lemon-pepper instead. Not ideal because it has a few spices in it I wasn’t looking for, but it turned out great. Dill is really the primary spice here though: I really layer it on.

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Crying child is optional

I use a charcoal grill, because I get to light things on fire, and I think the taste is a little better. I also like being able to adjust heat sources at will. This should work just fine with a gas grill, but I’ll assume from here on out that we are using charcoal. I strongly suggest using a charcoal chimney to light your charcoal, and wait until the charcoal at the top of the chimney is lit (glowing red and/or spewing flames) for best results. Sorry the picture below sucks, it was cold outside and I didn’t have a shirt on. Don’t judge me.

Place the hickory board with the thickest portion of the salmon over the hottest coals (but not too near, don’t let your charcoal pile up right under the board), and shut the grill. Leave it on: if you lookin’, you ain’t cookin’. It’ll smoke for quite a while. I find that I have to leave the salmon on the grill for at least 10 minutes, if not 15. Caveat: if it starts billowing smoke like crazy, or if there are excessive heat waves and no smoke, you probably just lit your dinner on fire. Don’t do that. Your board should smoke, smolder, and darken, but not actually light on fire. Try not to have any open flames from your heat source touch your board. With a charcoal grill (this one is a Weber kettle grill that costs $99), you can regulate the air flow to the grill, so it’s really easy to keep it from actually lighting on fire.

Take the salmon off when the internal temperature is approximately 120-125. Yes, this is rarer than the “safe” temperature, but is the chef-recommended “medium”, and my preferred temp to eat salmon at as well. It’s nice and tender, moist, but not rare. If you want to eat “safe” food, cook it to 145. 145 will work with New Zealand King, but will probably suck with leaner fish, particularly salmons such as sockeye, coho, or even leaner king (chinook) salmon. I use a thermoworks MK4, and it’s awesome for on grill work because of its fast 2-3 second reading speed.

Notice that the thicker side (last pic) of the salmon is slightly pinker than the other, thinner side. The thin side got well past 145. The other end near the darker side of the plank reached 140-145 as well, but the thick portion in the center was around 125 finish temp. This was perfect, as I could give the “safer” salmon to my wife and child, while I ate the nicely medium cooked fish. Again, New Zealand King is the way to go, as it’s delicious even when well-done.

And that’s how it’s done. For a fast, easy side dish, we like to chop various vegetables and oven roast them (tossed in olive oil, salt, and pepper, of course) at 400 degrees. I shouldn’t have to tell you this, but line the cooking sheet in heavy duty aluminum foil for easy cleanup. I don’t know how long to cook the veggies for, but with most of them I look for the edges to start getting brown. I like my sweet potatoes in particular to end up nice and caramelized. For this meal, it was (pre-chopped, so much easier) butternut squash. And we threw some spinach in a bowl and called it a salad.

I estimate that the full cost of everything used, including portion costs of charcoal, olive oil, spinach, and spices, was probably around $25-$30. We fed 2 adults, a child, and had leftovers, so you likely come in around $9-$10 per serving with this entire meal. You can go cheaper, but for value (quality/cost), this meal is probably #1 on my list.

Items needed:

  • Salmon
  • Hickory plank (I’d also recommend alder or pecan if you can find them)
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Dill (may be called Dill Weed)
  • Lemon zest or lemon pepper, if desired
  • Veggies/side dishes, if desired

Enjoy.

-Scott

Elements of a Query Letter

Hey people – I’m part of a query workshop at LTUE on Friday at 10 AM. I’m putting this post together primarily as reference material for that event, but it should be useful for anyone writing a query letter.

General Advice:

  • Try to keep it as close to 250-300 words as possible. Shorter = Better.
  • I like to use a lot of spacing. Short sentences. Short paragraphs.
  • Have a complete work to pitch if you are a debut author
  • Follow the damn submission guidelines
  • Prepare your favorite anxiety remedy. I like chocolate.
  • Check out:
  • See my query that worked HERE 

 

Here’s the basic structure I used for my query:

1st Paragraph: Intro, or the Personal Hook

  1. Personalize the Letter:
    1. Address it to the agent
    2. Have and mention the specific reason you are querying them
      1. Also, have a specific reason to query them
  2. Intro your work:
    1. Genre
    2. Title
    3. Status (Complete?)
    4. Length in word count

2nd/3rd Paragraphs: The Story Hook

  1. Intro your primary character(s)
    1. Use the same tone/style as your manuscript
  2. Intro the scene/setting
  3. Present the conflict/inciting incident
  4. Dramatic statement

4th Paragraph: Summarize the theme

5th Paragraph: Info about you/your work

  1. Compare your work to similar works, if you wish
  2. Is this your first work, or do you have other published works of note?
  3. Do you have some relevant qualification to be writing what you are? Mention it.
  4. I chose to also mention that I’m working on the next book in the series to signal that it is not a standalone novel

6th Paragraph: If attachments or inclusions are asked for in the agent’s/publisher’s guidelines, mention them here and ask to send a full MS.

Sign off w/ your personal info

 

Good luck! Go query, my friends.

 

-Scott

Editing Is Writing

I am willing to bet that editing is what stands between most writers and their dreams.

The act of writing is romanticized at length in writerly circles, while talk of editing is typically met with derision, or at best, patience.

Editing is where the magic happens, people. Not all great writers follow this rule, but most of the writers that I hold in high regard are known to take significant time editing and perfecting everything they produce. Rothfuss, GRRM, Robert Jordan all fall into this category (at least I assume that’s what they are doing with all that time in between books). Even a writing-production freak like Sanderson has admitted that mastering the art of editing and revising is what propelled him from anonymity to the enormous success he is today.

Editing is where plot is perfected. It is the process by which characters of convenience become paper people with lives of their own. Pace can be fixed, molded to fit your narrative.

Here are a few things I include in my editing process that you may want to consider in yours:

  1. Cut >= 10% of your word count: many authors have vouched for this trick. I tried to cut on several of my previous edits, only to add more words in the name of clarity. Clarity in writing is of utmost importance and deserves an edit all its own, but when I did an edit pass with the sole purpose of cutting word count to improve pace, unnecessary words, sentences, and paragraphs started to jump out at me. I recently finished an edit pass and cut 17,500 words (12%) from my book! It took a great deal of work, but was a great experience. Precision is beautiful.
  2. Fill your plot holes: This is likely more of a problem for those who wing their books like I did with Ire. I ended up having to put A LOT of work into the book to correct plot issues and holes, and will likely never do that again. I recommend having at least some idea ahead of time of what your major plot points will be, where and how you’d like to build up to them and foreshadow, etc. But, even the best plot plan often changes, and making it bullet-proof is an opportunity that shouldn’t be passed up. This is also where smart Beta readers come in handy. Anything that any significant amount of beta readers come back with (or a particularly trusted reader) as a point of confusion, fix it.
  3. World Building and Character Elements: Writing characters is something I really enjoy and strive to do well. The danger of “knowing” your characters is that you (hopefully) write them well, but many of the endearing traits that make your characters interesting and lovable live only in your head or in your notes. Take the time to build character elements into the scenes that already exist, and to make sure that your character actions, dialogue, etc are all consistent. Similarly, this should be an opportunity to introduce any world building elements that are pertinent to your story.
  4. Read-throughs to improve flow, clarity, and continuity: The most time consuming edits for me are read-throughs, but they are also some of the most important. If your prose isn’t clear and doesn’t flow well, it’s frankly not worth reading. Everything is fair game here: grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, paragraph breaks, making your statements “active”, etc.

 

-SD

Red Rising, Golden Son, Morning Star

Stop whatever you are doing and go read Red Rising by Pierce Brown. Seriously, it’s that good.

 

My rating + review for each of the 3 books:

Red Rising – 5 Stars

The first 5-10% of the book is a little bit slow, and the “worldbuilding” elements (new words, terms, new races of humans) were a bit much for me, but not enough to bother me. Also, the first person present tense was very new for me, and took a bit of time to get used to. Then BAM, the story takes hold and never lets go. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book with such superb pacing. It has been quite some time since I’ve loved a book enough to lose A LOT of sleep to read it.

Pros: Incredible pacing; distinct, meaningful characters; simple yet sufficient worldbuilding; awesome premise; thematic parallels; complex yet understandable plot that both entertained in the moment and set up the next books nicely.

Cons: It didn’t bother me, but some people will HATE this book/series because of its obvious ties to Hunger Games. Like they are really, really obvious at times during book 1. And you know what? I liked the book even better for showing that its not necessarily a mind blowingly unique premise that makes a book awesome, it’s the execution.

 

Golden Son – 4.9 Stars

The sequel is really very good. One of the best sequels I’ve ever read, probably. And to be so consistently awesome with his pacing, Brown had to start somewhere he could launch right into the next portion of the conflict that mattered. But the character relationships that weren’t “on screen” for the first several scenes felt neglected. Particularly the primary romance sub plot. Overall though, it was incredible. Still lost a ton of sleep to this book.

 

Morning Star – 4.5 Stars

By the third book, the frequent plot twists pulled off by the character started to become obvious. Brown kills off just enough beloved characters off that you worry a bit about who is next, but by the third book you are pretty sure it’s not going to be any of the characters that the author has fallen in love with himself. I like happy endings as much as the next guy, but if I’m being honest, it started to feel like more of the same.

The friends turned villains theme didn’t work as well as I wanted it to, either: the outcome of the MC’s conflict with the “bads” could have been a lot more satisfying.  I get that the author is going for a realistic interpretation of how a group of friends torn apart by conflicting ideologies would/could act in war, but something about the Roque/Cassius storylines just felt… contrived. Roque’s storyline made some sense but could have hurt the feels a lot more instead of having your MC just turn into an emo bitch. And we all wanted to see Cassius come back to the fold. But the way it happened just felt sudden, and too easy.

Oh and the pacing took a hit in the third book. It was still good, better than almost any other book out there. But the break-neck speed of the other books took a back seat at times to long descriptions or exposition from the MC.

It was still an awesome book with a great ending, but at the same time I was glad that it ended after 3 books. Hence the 4.5.

 

These are the types of books that inspire me to write. The kind that drags you along for the ride, whether you like it or not. The kind that sticks with you, consumes you, perhaps even changes you in some small way.

Thank you, Pierce Brown. You talented bastard.

Writing Journal – One Big Thing

A discussion with my writing group led to a conscious solidification of a writing principle I’ve believed in for a long time but only now fully wrapped my mind around. It’s not new to the writing world, but it is new to me, so here is my take on it:

One KMAlexander suggested “One Big Thing” as a principle to follow relative to how much we can/should ask readers to suspend belief in works of fiction. This might apply to other genres, but it’s particularly applicable to Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Horror.

The idea is that all “unbelievable” elements of a story (or world in which the story occurs) stem from, and are logically consistent with “One Big Thing”.

For example, the catalyst for all of the fantastical elements in my book IRE was the idea for the spiritual metabolization (not a word, but I am trying to make it one) of energy as a magic system, which I call Infusion in my book. The theology (creation mythos) was constructed with this in mind, and the “bad guys” are all products of misuse of the direct and indirect (technology) use of this magic.

The alternative is world-building gone wild, where either the various aspects of the world feel artificially fabricated to fit the narrative, or the narrative feels fake – stretched to hit all of the world building that the author wants to introduce in the story.

Two more (somewhat related) principles that I’ve learned recently, in large part thanks to my agent’s awesome new assistant, Christine:

  1. Introduce ideas early in a book. Introduction of new characters, new civilizations, new arcs should be early enough to build to a meaningful resolution, or at least have a meaningful reason for inclusion within that book. Arcs spanning books, particularly from Book 1 to Book 2, may not be a good idea. I’m cutting a character from my book with this round of edits for this reason. A character I really like.
  2. Cut anything that doesn’t contribute to the story you are trying to tell. I’m cutting another scene with characters that I really like because their scene serves to give more depth to the world as it exists in my mind, but doesn’t contribute to the plot of this book. This is a hard lesson to learn, but a very valuable one.

 

-Scott

Plotting for Suspense

I have fallen at times into the trap of justifying plotting and suspense issues in my writing because some of my favorite bestsellers have the same issues. The problems with that line of thinking are many, but in general it’s never a good idea to ignore issues with your work just because someone else got away with it. Those bestsellers I referred to above have their faults, but they also each have great qualities that make them incredible books. Besides, a first book really needs to be as good as it can be to get attention above all of the great books being submitted to editors (or self published).

I’ve done soul-searching regarding suspense in my own writing, and here are some rules on plotting for suspense I’ve come up with for myself:

Set your stakes high and keep them high.

An interesting concept that I’ve come to understand embarrassingly late in the game is that plot isn’t all about action, or rather that action and suspense aren’t equivalent.

And lest my fellow writers think less of me as they assume I’m ignoring “suspense-fatigue” or whatever term you might want to use for unending suspense in a story, that’s not necessarily what I mean here. The point is that whatever suspense you create in the heart of the reader around your primary conflict should be kept in focus throughout the story, though fluctuations in suspense and action levels are necessary to create an engaging and enjoyable story.

Some of the most pointed (and correct) feedback I have received was about the main plot line fizzling out in the middle of the book. I figured that since my beginning and end were very related and resolve the primary conflict, the middle could wander a bit in the name of character development and world-building. But I was wrong. Which brings me to the next point:

Character development and world-building can and should happen during scenes that matter to the primary conflict.

I like to think that this is something I understood when writing this book, but again I think at times I confused suspense and continuity of primary conflicts with action. This forced me to rework or completely eliminate some scenes while editing. Therefore my mistake wasn’t (I hope) in the writing of the scenes themselves, but in the architecture of those scenes. Which is pretty embarrassing considering my whole professional life is centered on comprehensive processes (and I think a story and a process are very similar). So this was a fantastic lesson for me to learn for various facets of my life.

*I also want to call out that delayed suspense works, or is at least generally accepted in books with multiple POV’s like Game of Thrones and Wheel of Time because suspense is preserved (if done well) for each character in the story, while the reader skips to other characters and usually different stories, or at least different views of those stories. It does not work as well in books like mine where the vast majority of the book follows one primary character.

Secondary-level conflicts and story lines should be woven around (or intersect with, depending on how you want to visualize it) the primary conflict.

Because I am a nerd, I visualize this as oscillating signals, where sub-plots interact with the primary plot to form a cohesive and fluid combined oscillatory signal. If the plot lines are not aligned properly and on the same scale, it will result in a disjointed story. See visual example below.

The point is that the red line is the sum of the other two lines

Foreshadowing is your friend.

The only thing I have to add to the discussion on foreshadowing is that it doesn’t need to be complex and difficult to implement. It is generally just a matter of being conscious of your plot points and ensuring that you have a “beginning” to every conflict in which you resolve something important to your characters. For example, I’m writing an “interlude” scene to build reader connection with a character who is important to the protagonist but doesn’t appear until the very end of book 1 (and spoiler alert, he dies).

 

 

Interview with Alan Bahr – Tiny Frontiers

Hey people. My buddy and coworker Alan Bahr has a Kickstarter project active right now, and anyone who is interested even the tiniest bit in RPGs/tabletop games should go check it out. It’s already funded, and now he’s working towards enough funding to unlock all of the stretch goals that he has set. I picked up a copy – my very first rpg!: Tiny Frontiers.

Alan is a huge book nerd, a great guy, and more important to this post: he is a game-design wizard. He built the Planet Mercenary RPG for Howard Tayler of the Writing Excuses crew, and is now launching his first solo effort. I’ve never played an RPG before (is that the right term? Do you “play” an rpg, or is there a non-noob term?), but from what Alan and others tell me, he’s designed this game to be simple yet engaging enough to be perfect for beginners and experts alike.

I’m all about doing what I can for friends who are chasing their dreams, so I asked Alan if he would be willing to do an interview for my sad little blog, and he was kind enough to accept. So here be it:

 

Me: Rapid Fire: Favorite Book, Favorite Series, Favorite RPG, Favorite Video Game, Favorite Movie, Favorite Band?

 

Alan:

    • Favorite Book: Legend by David Gemmell. It’s an epic heroic fantasy, with a bittersweet but wonderful ending, and some of the most exciting characters I’ve ever read.
    • Favorite Series: Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan. Love every minute of it. Even the sloggy bad ones.
    • Favorite RPG: Pendragon, the romantic (in the literary sense) fantasy RPG based on the Matter of Britain. My absolute favorite RPG.
    • Favorite Video Game: Not a huge video gamer, but I love the Uncharted series. Lots of action-adventure-y fun.
    • Favorite Movie: Casablanca. No contest.
    • Favorite Band: Chris Botti is my favorite musician. I love trumpets and smooth jazz.

Me: Love me some Wheel of Time. Some of those other answers were a little fishy (Casablanca? Like for real?), but that saved you. To be fair, I haven’t seen it due to my rule about not watching movies older than I am. I’ll let it slide. This time. On with the interview. What would you consider to be your super power?

Alan: Probably writing lots of rules? Also, I have a pretty solid memory and head for advanced math on the fly. Dunno. Wish I could fly though.

Me: Okay Regulation-man, how did you get into RPG Game Design?

Alan: Accidentally on purpose! I just was never satisfied with what games allowed me to do, so I was always making house-rules (custom rules for my home game), and it ballooned from there. I became a pretty constant participant in open submissions and freelance stuff on the web.

Me: What’s the significance of your company name, “Gallant Knight Games”?

Alan: I’m a big believer in innate goodness and heroism, along with the capacity of humanity to strive for something larger than their individual selves. Hence the Gallant. I love Knights as an ideal of the aforementioned belief, so Knights. Games, is obvious. I make games!

Me: How many people comprise Gallant Knight Games and in what capacity?

Alan: There is myself, I handle the rules, writing, creation, creative endeavors, networking, marketing and all that jazz. Then my wife Erin who handles the finances and backend, keeps me on track and sane, and makes sure I don’t forget to eat (I do that).

Me: Where did the idea for Tiny Frontiers come from?

Alan: Well, it’s an idea spawned from the game Tiny Dungeon (made by Smoking Salamander Games), and taken to a newer level. We’ve really strived to maintain the ideas of SSG and TD, but to make it our own. So far, I think we’ve been successful.

Me: What’s your favorite setting (so far) in Tiny Frontiers?

Alan: Asking me to pick a favorite is hard. But I also can’t tell you, as it’s not been revealed yet! It’s awesome. I think they’re all interesting, and fun to play around in.

Me: For non-rpg people (like myself), what aspect of gaming is most appealing? Why should I pick it up?

Alan: As a writer, creating stories is your lifeblood. RPGs allow for you to work with a group and create a story as a cooperative team, within a framework designed to encourage imagination, while providing some guidelines to keep it fun.

Me: What does your design/writing process look like?

Alan: I generally start with the framework rules (ie. What rules does the game absolutely require), and work from there? I tend to overwrite, cut it back, overwrite again, and just keep repeating that process. The it’s buying test components and organizing gamers to play the game ad nauseum until it’s ready. Obviously, with re-writing all along the way. Every project is a little different as I’m always learning more and more about the best way to do things.

Me: How do you find vendors for printing your game manuals and fabricating the other game pieces?

Alan: Lots of research, asking those who have done this before, and just lots of mistakes. I always order a test run before I do production run, and gauge the quality myself.

Me: What does the future hold for Gallant Knight Games?

Alan: Well, I have some projects already lined up, including some licensed games for fiction lines, and some dream projects of my own. I’d really love to make an espionage RPG one day, along with a noir detective game, and a game inspired by samurai.

 

There you have it! Go check out Alan’s game!

Short Story Piece From IRE

I wrote this piece recently for a writing group exercise, and because I’ve had this short story in my head for a few years. I intended for it to be part of Book 2, but since I’m still polishing Book 1, I think I might use it there as an “interlude”, to steal Brandon Sanderson’s term. In simple terms, these are not my main characters or even on the same continent in the world of my story, but hopefully this short story gives a little more depth and color to the world and conflict of IRE. Enjoy.

ORDENAN SOLDIER INTERLUDE

Rallen Gan breathed deep as his squad’s longboat glided smoothly through the calm, fog-shrouded waters of the bay. The fog was thick enough that he could just see the keel of his boat cut through the small moonlit waves. The mist weighed heavy in his lungs, filled his nostrils with the marine scent of the coastal town. They must be close.

He looked about him, eyeing each of his squad mates. He had fought beside each of them countless times, beating back hordes of poorly armed peasants, the horrific Bound monsters their priests turned them into with their twisted Infused Binder bracelets, and even the dread black Malithii priests themselves once or twice. But none of them had been with him as long as Skinny Jack. Jack had joined the Ordenan Imperial Army in the Dark Nations at the same time as Rallen, and they had fought for their freedom together for the four years since.

Rallen nudged Jack. “Hey, boy. You shouldn’t be here. Your years fighting are up, go home and find yourself a nice willing lass. You’re a full Ordenan citizen now, there’ll be any number lining up for you, even ugly as you are.”

Jack chuckled, teeth bared in the smile that tended to charm women in moments. “You think so, you iron-faced provincial ox?”

Rallen grinned. “I do indeed. Now me, I got a beauty like you’ve never seen waiting for me, a little girl at her skirts. I just have to put in four more years, and all that Ordena has to offer is ours. But you could go back now, you don’t have to fight more years for anybody else.”

“I will, I will. But if I leave now, who’ll haul your sorry ass out of every shit fight we are thrown into? I go home, you’ll be butchered like the pig you are the next day, most like. Then who’ll take care of that beauty of yours back home? I suppose I wouldn’t mind… assuming she hasn’t already found a nice bloke to cozy up to, that is.”

Rallen slugged his friend in the shoulder. “Not my Melia, not while I’m still breathing. ‘Sides, if I die in service to the Empire, she and my sweet girl are free sooner than I could have hoped.” He smiled. “I’d rather just liberate a few of the dread black priests of their heads to earn some years off my time, and stay alive to see them again myself, though.”

Jack shook his head, his long hair swaying. “You do have a death wish. I’ve told you, stay away from those Malithii bastards if we find any in this town tonight. They aren’t usually stupid enough to come into the protected zone themselves, but I’ve seen it once. Not pretty. You are big, and good in a fight, but not that good, especially since the damn commanders didn’t send any Mages. If you want to earn extra time and stay alive, just keep collecting the Binders from their lifeless. We’ve already got enough between us to take a whole year off your time. We’ll have enough for us to go home together in no time.”

Rallen put a hand on his friend’s shoulder, trying to keep emotion out of his voice. “Thank you, Jack.”

Their captain whispered hoarsely from the back of their longboat, “Shut your damn mouths, we’re getting close enough to be heard. Silent approach from here out.”

Rallen looked to Jack, who smirked but kept quiet. The reality of their assault was beginning to set in. They’d been on plenty of raids and defense missions, but something felt different about this one. They’d heard odd stories coming out of this region for some time, odd enough that the Army command should have sent far more than three longboats with ten men each to retake a town of this size.

The rocky shoreline came into view just before they slid to a stop with a muted tinkle of rounded pebbles. Rallen and Jack jumped into the surf to help the squad pull the boat further upshore, and immediately started the boot-squelching march toward the inland side of the small but high-walled port town.

They joined the other two squads at the rally point, a small hill several hundred paces from the wall. The wall and the town within were dark and silent in the still of the deep night, but a thimble of caution was worth a bucket of blood to a soldier, as Jack was so fond of saying.

The scouts of the Ordenan Imperial Army said that a small service gate on the north west side of the wall provided their best point of attack, and if Rallen remembered the map correctly, it should be a straight shot from the hill.

“Rallen, Jack, Stian, Boral! You are on point. Have that door open within ten seconds of arrival, or I’ll stab you myself. You know the plan, each squad clears their targets and we meet back in the main square at dawn,” the Captain called.

Rallen patted Jack on the shoulder, and the four of them were off at a trot. When they reached the gate, Rallen put his big boot through one side, splintering it from its frame with a crash. Jack and the other two ducked through immediately, short spears at the ready. Rallen shoved his spear through a strap in his pack and drew his sword, a heavy, straight blade.

He pulled up short after he sprung through the door when he found himself alone in the dark courtyard of a compound of warehouses that reeked of fish. “Jack?” he called softly.

“Here,” the reply floated through the night.

Rallen scanned the dark courtyard, but couldn’t see anything. “Stupid son of a bitch…” Rallen mumbled, then raised his voice slightly. “Where?”

A light-skinned hand abruptly waved at him from a shadowy alleyway, then disappeared.

Grumbling, Rallen turned back to the broken-down gate, motioning for the rest of the waiting Ordenan troops to fill the courtyard. The men wasted no time in the courtyard. Each squad formed up briefly at the gate and then was gone, marching in silence toward their targets – to clear each building in their portion of the town and move to the next until each was cleared of any enemy militants. If they were lucky, the occupiers would be regular soldiers from the Dark Nations, like their commanders had claimed in the pre-mission briefing. It was going to be a long night – or maybe a short one – if any of the lifebound monsters or their Malithii priest handlers were here.

Rallen fell in at the end of his squad’s column this time, holding his sword at the ready as he slipped out of the warehouse gate. Sporadic torches burned at seemingly random places along the street, their dancing light doing little to alleviate the darkness, but ruining his night vision every time they jogged past one. Finally, they reached their target, the portion of the town consisting primarily of small homes and dingy pubs. They would clear each of the houses – it would likely take all night, and Rallen truly hoped that none of the civilians caused a ruckus and got hurt – but their first target was the big, dark cathedral of the Fallen that dominated their side of the main square. Its ragged spires and crenelations looked to Rallen like the giant fist of some skeletal monster clawing its way free of the earth.

Rallen joined his squad in squatting behind the low wall ringing the cathedral grounds. Captain whispered orders hoarsely. “First four through the door, take the left, second four go right. Last two hold the door.”

Looked like Rallen and Jack on the door, then. Good. This doesn’t feel right. I like being close to a quick exit, he thought.

The Captain led the way, running in a crouch to the large metal doors at the front of the dark, silent building. He tested the door, found it open, and immediately slipped inside, weapon at the ready.

Rallen shook his head involuntarily in the darkness. He didn’t like it. A building like this, in a town occupied by forces that worshipped the Fallen like he drank water? Those doors should have needed a good kicking in, maybe even an axe or hammer to the hinges to bring them down. Every door worth going through in this gods-forsaken land needed kicking down, he’d found.

Nevertheless, he followed the squad inside, where he and Jack took their places just inside the doors in the large, high-ceilinged entry foyer while the rest of the squad cleared the building. Jack set his feet on the left side of the main doors, so Rallen crept over to the right side and stood clutching the hilt of his sword.

A large doorway gaped, empty and black at the other end of the foyer. Rallen stared into the darkness intently, his mind conjuring countless horrors.

A crash and a quickly-stifled scream emanated from the rooms to the left. Jack jumped, Rallen froze for an instant. They started moving at the same time, crossing slowly to the left-hand doorway. Before the reached it, however, the darkness that occupied the doorway directly in front of them writhed and became flesh in the form of two hulking figures stumbling towards them.

Rallen’s blood froze in his veins, then turned to fire, as it always did in a fight. He’d need it, today. He and Jack had faced the monstrous lifebound before, but never even numbers, and certainly not in close, dark quarters.

“Shit, shit, shit,” Jack mumbled, readying his sword and backing toward the doorway. Rallen kept his eyes on the shambling lifebound as he followed suit, backing out the doors and into the yard of the cathedral.

The lifebound followed, hefting their enormous blades like they were light as a feather. Rallen still didn’t like it, but at least out here in the yard, they could see the lifebound enough to fight them, and had space enough that the enormous size of the creatures wouldn’t doom them immediately. One of the creatures was slightly larger than the other, but both towered over Rallen by at least a head, and he was about as tall a man as most had ever met. The moonlight reflected dully off the monsters’ bald pates, sharply from their ugly weapons. Their once-human eyes stared dumbly out from faces that Rallen knew would be a sickly, mottled grey in the light of day.

Jack struck first, whipping his sword at the neck of the lifebound nearest him and retreating before the creature could react. Thick blood splattered on the stones of the walkway, and the monster slowed, but did not stop. It swung its mighty blade, but Jack nimbly stepped aside, leaving the monster’s weapon to clang and spark against the stone where he’d stood.

Rallen was tempted to continue watching his friend’s beautiful swordwork, but he had problems of his own. The larger lifebound stalked within striking distance. He brought his sword up just in time to catch the huge blade. A desperate grunt escaped his lips at the impact, his own considerable muscles straining to stop the monster’s blade. He shoved upward and lashed out with his foot. The kick was not intended to injure – the grey beasts didn’t appear to feel pain – but to create space for Rallen to use his weapon effectively.

He quickly followed the kick with a thrust to the lifebound’s midsection and was rewarded with a sickening crunch as his blade passed through his enemy’s ribcage. He took several rapid steps backward, knowing that the fight wasn’t over.

If he hadn’t been intimately familiar with the lifebound, he would have been amazed that the monster continued forward after a mortal blow. It lurched, slowed by the blood loss, but swung its blade at Rallen with clumsy strength. Rallen stepped out of range, then struck with a mighty overhand blow that severed the lifebound’s head from its corpse in an eruption of thick, putrid blood.

Nauseated, Rallen checked on his friend. Jack still battled his monster, stabbing and moving, stabbing and moving. His way would work, but it would take forever. Luckily, the remaining lifebound has its back to Rallen.

He covered the distance in a few powerful strides and sheared the beast’s sword-arm from its shoulder. Before its arm hit the ground, Jack’s sword ploughed through its neck but stuck when it hit the spine. The monster’s remaining hand grasped at Jack, seeking to crush the life out of him. Rallen roared as he leapt forward, reaching up to hook his fingers in the lifebound’s eye sockets and pull back with all his might. He felt a snap, and the monster’s head rebounded violently when it hit the stone covered ground – Jack’s sword still in it’s neck, blood oozing around a horrendous wound – but still the damn thing clawed toward Jack.

Rallen reversed his sword and planted the point through one of the lifebound’s ruined eyes. It lay still.

Sweat dripped from his brow and his breath came heavy as he leaned down to wrench his friend’s sword from the beast’s neck. “Might want to hang on to that in the future. No good wrestling them.”

Jack gasped a laugh. “Damn things have bones thick as oxen. Thanks, Ral.”

Rallen took a knee to recover the Binder bracelets from the monster’s wrists – Command would pay good money for them, or take time off his service – and to catch his breath for a moment. “Don’t mention it. Just don’t make a habit of it. C’mon, let’s go see what our boys ran into.”

He heaved himself to his feet. Jack followed closely back through the door into the deep darkness of the cathedral of the Fallen. “Captain?” Rallen called softly. “Tomar? Stian?”

Nothing.

He approached the left hand doorway slowly, Jack swinging wide to cover him and get a better view of the room beyond. Something normal man-sized moved just inside the doorway.

“Cap?”

Rallen caught the brief glint of moonlight flashing off metal streaking in Jack’s direction. Without thought, Rallen lunged.

Pain lanced through his chest. He hit the ground, hard. He couldn’t breathe. Someone screamed with rage. A cold laugh echoed through the chamber.

Rallen turned his head feebly to see Jack spring toward a shadow, blade raised. No, not a shadow. A dread black priest who met Jack stroke for stroke with a much smaller blade, almost a dagger.

He forgot his pain long enough to feel nothing but fear for his friend. They were going to die, or worse, end up as one of their mindless lifebound monsters, enslaved by evil Binder bracelets. Rallen wished for death to take him before he could be turned, before he had to see his friend be killed. Everyone knew that facing a black priest alone was a sure way to die or be turned.

But to his surprise, Jack wasn’t dead yet. In fact, he seemed to have the upper hand. Still screaming with rage, his blade moved faster and faster, keeping the shadowy priest on its heels. The mind-numbing flurry of activity ended when Jack lunged, thrusting his blade through the priest’s midsection. It hunched over and fell, clawing at the blade impaling it. Dangerous they might be, but they were still subject to the mortal limitations of normal humans.

Jack bent over to retrieve his sword, and cried out, a hand to his thigh. The bastard priest had stabbed his friend, intent on destruction even in the throes of death. Jack hacked at the priest with his sword over and over, until the form lay still.

His friend limped over to him and knelt, inspecting whatever had hit him. “The sumbitch’s sword is stuck in your shoulder, Ral. You saved my life, twice over. No chance of me winning if that bastard has his sword. Can you stand?”

Rallen summoned what strength he had left and surged to his feet, swaying. “Find me a wagon, Jack. I won’t make it twenty paces.” He already felt like he was going to empty his stomach, and the sword stuck in his shoulder hurt like a bitch.

Jack wasted no time on talk. He wrapped Rallen’s wound as best he could around the blade protruding from him, then sprinted away to look for a cart, a horse, anything.

Rallen must have passed out, for the next he knew, he was bouncing along in the back of a haycart outside the town walls, speeding toward the longboats just as fast as Jack could lead the cart horse.

“Jack!” Rallen called, but he couldn’t put enough force behind it for Jack to hear him. He lay back, closed his eyes, and tried to focus on anything but the pain radiating from his shoulder. His wife’s face, and his daughter’s floated to him from the warm depths of cherished memory, and for a time he lost himself in them, their look, their feel, their smell. It was almost as if he were with them again. He missed them so much.

“Ral! Rallen Gan, don’t you damn dare go on me yet, I just hauled your huge ass out of that town and onto this longboat, and there’s a healer on the galley. We’re no more than a quarter hour away, even with me rowing meself. Just hang on.”

Rallen reached out from where Jack had set him on a bench of the longboat. He grasped with the hand that still worked until he found Jack’s leg and gripped with all the power he had left to him. He felt the blood from Jack’s own considerable wound, warm as it trickled over his fingers. “Jack,” he grunted. “Find my girls, Jack. Keep them safe, keep them happy.”

He closed his eyes.