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.

The Second Book

I’ve heard people say that the “sophomore novel”, particularly the second in a series, can be the most difficult book an author will ever write. Until I started writing mine, I thought that those claims were exaggerated. To some extent, I still do, but the second book does present some unique challenges.

The writing itself isn’t any harder. The process is the same, or at least very similar. I am a much better writer than when I started my first book, so in fact this book should be easier to write. I believe that it will be much easier, faster, and a better product when it’s done, but there are a few challenges that I didn’t anticipate.

The first challenge is motivation. I write because I love to create with words, I’m making progress, and I’ll likely finish at least three books in this series regardless of the outcome of any submission to publishers. But I’m a results-oriented man, and I can’t wait to get a contract and be able to see my publishing future clearly. Until that point, which will hopefully happen sometime in the relatively near future, I’ll likely spend as much time dreaming up my next project as I do writing the second installment of this one (Scandinavian/Native American Mythology themed contemporary fantasy, anyone?). Nothing wrong with that, I suppose, but I would like my focus back 100%. The “Infusion” world that I’m currently writing in is awesome, and deserves my undivided attention.

The second challenge I’ve come up against is indecision. Do I structure the book in the same way that I did the first to deliver a similar reading experience while furthering the overarching plot and character arcs? Do I let my characters take the book over and allow the series to devolve into a GRRM/Wheel of Time-esque monstrosity? Somewhere in the middle? My current plan is to use roughly the same structure as the first book to keep the writing tight and deliver another fast-paced, engaging story. But I am going to give other characters more screen time and explore the world slightly more than I allowed myself in the first book. Hopefully as time and my writing career progress, I don’t fall into the trap of letting my world take over the story. Keep me honest on this, people.

So, what do you think? What are some of your favorite sophomore novels, particularly that fall in a series? I’d love to hear about them and why they worked for you. I’d also love to hear what you’d be interested to read about on my blog…without a book out for you to read (or even a sample…hopefully I can provide that much before the book is out), I often struggle to come up with a blog topic that I think people will be interested in. I love to write these, though, so if you’d like to see a blog post on something specific, please comment or message me.

The Query That Worked

Hey.

I should have done this long since, but I thought I’d post (most of) the successful query letter that I sent to Matt last year. I know that when I was putting together the query for the book that I’ve worked so hard on, finding query letters that were successful (especially recent ones) was like finding a bag of cash lying in the street. A lot of cash.

So, here’s mine (below). I’ve generalized some parts, even though I only ever queried one agent. Keep in mind that I wrote this entire query specifically to target Matt, but if I’d had to move on to the other agents on my “A List”, I likely would have sent out versions of the same letter. I could (and am tempted to) go into detail about each piece of the query, but really I shouldn’t. I’m not the expert on it, I just happened to write one that worked. Visit queryshark and just google how to write a good query. You’ll find many examples and advice from agents. Some of them will contradict each other, but you should get a good feel for what you want to do.

Dear [Favorite Agent],

[Insert paragraph personalized for each specific agent. If you can’t put your reason for querying that individual into words, I wouldn’t bother querying them. For Matt, I mentioned that I met him at a convention and that I had done homework on his work with other authors and appreciated his work on their behalf.] Please consider my fantasy novel IRE, complete at 162,000 words:

Emrael Ire is a young man of many ambitions, despite being so poor that his boots are more hole than leather. He and his genius brother Ban work hard to build themselves a better life at the Citadel, a school that teaches Infusion crafting and military arts. Emrael may lack his brother’s ability with Infusion crafting, but that doesn’t stop him from finding a way to succeed as the most dangerous warrior in the school.

He is well on his way to earning the title of Master of War and the inevitable wealth it commands when the power hungry Lord Governor of a neighboring Province attacks the Citadel. Emrael narrowly escapes, but Ban and other Citadel students are captured and enslaved for their talent as Infusion crafters. A desperate struggle to rescue Ban turns into a conflict that threatens to tear Emrael’s world apart.

IRE is the tale of a man who will stop at nothing to protect his family and achieve his dreams, even when suspiciously coordinated disasters leave Emrael with no choice but to try to save his brother on his own – no matter the price.

IRE will appeal to lovers of fast-paced fantasy series like The Dresden Files and The First Law. It is the first novel for which I am seeking publication, and I am currently working on the next book in the series.

I have attached the first three chapters of my book per your submission guidelines. May I send you the full manuscript?

Thank you for your consideration.

 

Scott Drakeford

[Other personal info here]

Scottdrakeford.com

 

Finishing Books and Other Stuff I Like

I just finished my book… again. There will be plenty of tweaks to make still, but I’m starting to look forward to when my agent will submit the manuscript to publishers. It may still be quite a ways out depending on how we feel about the current state, and there’s no way to know how it will go. But here’s one author’s account of how the process went for him.

That type of contract would be a dream come true. It will allow me to make writing my primary pursuit sooner rather than later, and start pumping out books like crazy. I hear of authors like Sanderson and Larry Correia writing 2-3 books per year, and that sounds freaking awesome. I’m fairly certain that I can produce at or near that level if the finances are there to free up the time.

I’m doing what I love, obsessed with quality and success (ask my wife, apparently it gets old), willing to put in silly amounts of work, I signed with a great agent who not only knows the book business but is a great resource in improving the quality of my work, and most importantly: my wife is incredibly supportive. No matter what, I’ll make this work, and in five years I’ll have a solid writing career and several books “on the shelves”. The quality of the upcoming contract really just affects the number of books I’ll have on the shelves in five years, and how quickly I’ll be able to dedicate a large number of hours to writing all of the books that I’d like to write.

— Okay, now to ramble about some stuff I’ve enjoyed lately —

Speaking (or typing?) of Jay Kristoff, he’s an awesome person and everyone should check out his books and his blog – if you enjoy nerdy writing blogs. I received his latest book Illuminae as a Christmas gift (thanks Molly) and I’m really enjoying it so far. I’ll rate and review when I finish.

I feel extremely fortunate to have an awesome agent – Matt Bialer – who provides valuable feedback on my manuscript. I honestly don’t know what the “norm” is for agents, but he’s great. Assuming that one day aspiring authors read this, I’d highly recommend submitting to him. I hear his junior agent Lindsay Ribar is also awesome, but I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting/corresponding with her yet.

George R. R. Martin – So I’ve intended for quite a while to get actual reviews of his books up, but haven’t found the time. Wife, Baby, my book, work, and actually reading for fun (I’m still an addict) have all taken precedence. I’ll write an actual review someday, but for now let me just say that George is so damn good at what he does. All of his acclaim is very justified. I held off reading them for years because I figured that people only liked them because of the HBO series, and because he takes like 6 years to write each book and I can’t handle another multi-decade “wait for it…”marathon like the Wheel of Time ended up being. But I read the first book and was hooked. They are SUPER not family friendly, especially later books, but holy cow that old man can write. His world is believable and incredibly well thought out, his characters are “real” and unpredictable, and the storyline is somewhat predictable as an overarching plot, but everything in between is up for grabs. So if your soul can withstand a little (okay, a lot of) horrible language, check it out. ESPECIALLY if you watched the HBO series. I haven’t watched it but I guarantee the books are better. They are like the Bible for writers who want to learn how to handle a true epic fantasy series with tons of POV characters. Yeah yeah, I hear you bitching about how “nothing happened” and “all my favorite people died” and “the last two books weren’t as good”. Well, shut your mouth, because this crazy old man just did the literary equivalent of dunking over every other epic fantasy author ever, and sadly that includes Robert Jordan, as much as I still absolutely love the Wheel of Time. (Yeah, that’s right. I dare you to get that picture out of your head now. George RR Martin dunking on you. Flamed-out suspenders and goofy hat and all. And probably unholy amounts of belly sweat like this.) Even after killing everybody we cared about, YOU STILL KEPT READING, and you WILL buy the next book(s). He owned you/us. Pwned, even.

Phew, okay, breathe. Last, but certainly not least, Larry Correia. I saw him at Salt Lake Comic Con and thought he seemed like a pretty cool dude. And he pronounces his last name like “korea” and I’m pretty sure he knows he’s saying it wrong – it’s (Co – Hey – Uh) and you know it. Say your name right, LARRY! Own it, man. Anywho, that’s why I even remembered this guy. I’m not super connected with the fantasy world and still haven’t heard of a lot of great books/authors, but honestly I’ve been burned on a lot of books I’ve picked up that turned out to be really bad, though other people inexplicably like them. I won’t be specific about any of them, because that’s rude. Okay back on track. Long story short, Larry Corriea is an awesome writer, and the first book of his Monster Hunter International book is free on Kindle. Go get it. Now. Sure, his prose isn’t “refined” and he doesn’t “follow all of the rules” and his plot lines are “predictable”. But he is SO GOOD at building a good story, with great characters, and most of all – he KILLS at emotional and fast paced fun-readin’. And apparently this dude lives in my home state. I’m hoping to run into him and talk shop someday.

Alright, that’s enough for today.

-Scott

More Editing: Cutting the Flab, etc…

I can’t believe it’s been almost five months since I last posted on the blog. Not much of consequence has happened in that time, however, so I suppose the lack of activity here is justified. I’m not going to write a blog post just to write a blog post. But now I’ve re-submitted my book to my agent (Matt Bialer), so I’ll tell you a bit about what I’ve been up to.

I’ve spent nights and weekends for the last five months editing my book more. Much of the editing was spurred by Matt’s suggestions, and I’m very pleased with how things have turned out. I’ll try to hit on the major points that I’ve taken into consideration when editing through this last pass. Perhaps any writers reading this will find my approach and/or Matt’s advice useful.

  • Deepen the story – My agent called this “dropping more breadcrumbs” and this was one of my favorite pieces of advice he gave. With my first several drafts, I was so excited about the story surrounding my main character(s), that I missed the opportunity to build a deeper, fuller story by giving a peek into what other characters, particularly the “bad guys” are doing.
  • Cut the flab – My original manuscript was 684 pages long in standard manuscript format. My goal was to cut that down to 625 or even 600 manuscript pages. The primary reason was to improve the pace of the story, as this series (and particularly this book) are meant to be very action oriented, exciting books. The secondary reason for cutting is that apparently, publishers are more open to shorter books from first time authors. As a general rule this makes sense – fewer pages to edit/print, less money that goes into producing an uncertain product. But the strength of the work is my primary concern, and I hope that it will speak for itself.

It was very difficult for me to balance the need to cut scenes that didn’t advance the plot whilst retaining insights into the world and characters, but in the end I believe I succeeded, and it was the best thing I could have done for this book. My story-deepening (see bullet point above) bulked my story up to 720 pages or so, but from there I managed to cut the manuscript down to 669 pages. Not quite my goal of 600, but it was a net cut of over 50 pages after my additional scenes were written, and what’s left behind is a great story told with strong writing. (Though I may be a bit biased)

  • Development of secondary characters – This is an area that gave me a bit of heartache with Book 1. I really like my cast of characters, and each serves a purpose in the first book and in the story arc I have planned for the series/trilogy/however long this ends up being. However, in an action oriented book where I’m trying REALLY hard to allow readers to get to know and love my main character, Emrael, I find it difficult to develop secondary characters without giving them their own POV and page time, which would only serve to make my book even longer and slow down the pace. In the second book that I’m writing right now, I’ll be introducing more robust POVs for secondary characters and secondary story lines just because of the nature of the story progression as currently outlined, so I’ll be battling to keep the pace of the story strong while juggling multiple story lines. I’m shooting for about a 75% share of page time for Emrael in Book 2. I’d estimate his page time at around 85-90% in Book 1, so it’s not much of a reduction in his page time.

Last thoughts:

I continually evolve as a person and as a writer: my environment changes, my emotions change, the seasons change, etc. Consequently, I could hang onto this book forever, making changes and believing that I’m improving the book. Therefore, I won’t be upset when I get a contract with a publisher and they have their own feedback that will set me up for more editing. I want this book, and every book I write, to be the best it possibly can be.

That said, I’m very pleased with the state of the book as it currently exists, and I think you’ll like it too. I’m hoping to get it into your hands before too long. And by “before too long” I mean sometime around 2017. I still don’t know exactly what publishing timelines look like or when my book will be ready for that step. Fingers crossed.

-Scott Drakeford

Agent Success – Matt Bialer

Mr. Matt Bialer from SJGA will be representing my first novel, IRE. I am elated to be working with him, as he’s the agent I’ve targeted from the very beginning.

An awkward 2 minute conversation back in 2013 was the turning point that led me here.

The story begins way back in 2012 when I got serious about writing my perfect book, and making it a bestselling novel/series. Being the obsessive optimist that I am, as I wrote I also researched the process of getting published. And if one wants to be published by a traditional publisher (the books you see at Barnes and Noble, for example), you need an agent. Preferably an agent who knows what they are doing.

I compiled a short A-list and a longer B-list of agents to query when ready. I have another post about general characteristics I looked for in an agent. And then in 2013, I found out that the World Fantasy Convention 2013 was going to be held in England, and a few of my A list agents were planning to attend. On a whim, I told my wife that it might be nice to go to the conference and visit her extended family in England. To my surprise, she agreed.

In October of 2013, Kailey and I arrived in Brighton, England after much lugging of luggage in “the tube” and a train. I was very much looking forward to meeting Mr. Bialer, but didn’t know how or when I’d have that opportunity because the conference didn’t have pitch sessions or many official opportunities to meet agents. Luckily, one of his clients (Patrick Rothfuss) happens to be a favorite author of mine, and was at the conference as well.

Kailey and I attended every event Rothfuss was involved in (and even ran into him on the street), and we got lucky. Matt was loitering about outside of Pat’s reading session with a few other people. I ambushed him. Though he surely had more important people to talk to, Matt was kind enough to talk to me for a moment, and he gave me his card when I asked if I needed to win the Writers of the Future contest (like Pat did) for him to be interested in representing the book I was writing.

At that point I thought I was a few months away from submitting to agents. Well, 18 months or so later, I did submit. I sent my book to Matt as an exclusive query because I was so set on him. To my surprise, he responded immediately, asking me to contact him again if I didn’t hear from him. Most agents, including Matt, have an 8-week period during which they’ll consider your work, and if they are interested, will contact you; if not, silence is to be interpreted as a ‘no’. So I waited approximately 8 weeks (a little longer, because my wife and I had a little girl during that period), and contacted him again. Matt allowed me to send my full manuscript at that point, and approximately 2 weeks later, he responded again.

I was just about to enter an important meeting at work when I saw his response saying that he wanted to represent my book. I don’t think I heard a single word in that meeting, because my mind was racing with excitement and ideas born from Matt’s analysis of my book.

This is a good spot to point out that Matt’s email was a solid indication that he is everything I have hoped. He gave me some insight that will prove to be very valuable and will make my novel a much more enjoyable read. And when I had a follow up call with him, I was further convinced that he is a person who not only knows his business, but will be great to work with.

And so it is that I will be working with Mr. Bialer.

It’s happening.

-Scott

Review: The Emperor’s Blades – Brian Staveley

The Emperor's Blades (Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne, #1)The Emperor’s Blades by Brian Staveley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

True Rating: 4.45 – Brian, if you read this (and you won’t, because what kind of lunatic reads all of his reviews on the interwebs?), I’m sorry for not rounding that 4.45 up to a 5. But I really try to reserve a 5 rating for those books that really blow me away. Not many come to mind, but Rothfuss’s books and a few of the Wheel of Time books come to mind for me. And maybe some of the Dresden Files books.

One can learn a great deal by looking at a person’s goodreads book collection. What people could/would/should learn from skimming through mine is that I’m a huge Fantasy nerd. It’s almost sad how many Fantasy books I have read compared to any other genre or category. What’s even sadder is that when you’ve read that many great Fantasy books, it becomes difficult to find the next book that really enthralls you. Most recommendations floating around the world of geekdom either aren’t up to par, already live on the “read” list”, or just aren’t my cup of tea.

Enter, “The Emperor’s Blades”. I received a copy of this book at the World Fantasy Convention in Brighton, England 2013. I don’t think it’s an ARC, but rather an early proof copy of some kind.

The first point I’d like to make is that I think it’s AWESOME that TOR put the money and effort into printing copies to give away to fantasy fanatics at WFC.

The second is that I should have read this book much sooner. I have recently been wallowing through a few books that were mildly interesting at best, and decided to give this book a try after looking it up on goodreads and finding a large number of favorable reviews.

Okay, now to why I gave this book a 4 instead of rounding the 4.4 up to a 5 (which was not an easy decision, mind you). It all boils down to the 3 character arcs. I know what you’re thinking, the first time author must have had a hard time relating and tying the 3 arcs together. Nope, not it. Staveley actually did a really good job of foreshadowing and then tying the threads together (at least 2 of them literally converged).

The problem is that I only found Valyn’s thread truly engaging. He had a goal, believable motives, a romance interest, a heckler, a shadowy enemy/threat (who ended up fairly predictably being the heckler, one of my only knocks on this character thread), and he literally kicks ass. He’s a character who speaks to me personally, so I accept that others may have found the others delightful, but I found their (Kaden and Adare) plot lines fairly boring and their character arcs very predictable and vanilla. I found myself skimming those sections just to stay current on plot points.

The book really is very good, though. Staveley is a very solid writer. I was reading an uncorrected proof, and even still there were very few grammatical errors. I only noticed the writing when I came across a phrase that I liked, which for me is a powerful testament to Staveley’s skill. And his characterization is superb. He doesn’t have many truly “deep” characters, but give the guy a break, it’s only the first book. He is, however, very good at giving characters, even secondary or tertiary characters, a distinct on-page flavor. This is particularly impressive to me because I worry about it constantly in my own writing. I know each character and their motivations, but Staveley has succeeded in making me insecure about how each of my characters presents him/herself on page.

And that’s what I really liked about this book: It not only grabbed me by the eye sockets and pulled me along for the ride, it made me want to be a better writer and showed me something I can improve.

Many thanks to Brian for writing such a great book.

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Review: The Autumn Republic by Brian McClellan (Powder Mage #3)

The Autumn Republic (The Powder Mage, #3)The Autumn Republic by Brian McClellan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I gave this book a 5 because I enjoyed reading it enough that I finished it within a few days, and because I think that the author did a very good job with his characters in this book. The characters were moderately interesting in the previous two volumes, but I felt a real attachment to them several times in the final volume, which is not easy to do. The magic system is very interesting, and the character actions and reactions are believable for the most part.

The Autumn Republic is also a good example of why I wish there were more resolution to the rating system. 3 stars may as well be zero as far as I’m concerned, which leaves very little room to differentiate between books that are various degrees of awesome.

If I could have, I would give this a 4.5 or so. The above positive points make this a very enjoyable book, but at times I felt that the author was in too much of a hurry to hit all of his plot points. I appreciate a fast-paced book as much as anyone, but it’s unfortunate to see the continuity of the prose suffer at times. One particular example is a scene in which a main character is stabbed, and the perpetrator is then seen “running down a hill” or some such, never to be heard from again. Furthermore, there were a few logical inconsistencies and/or improbabilities that keep this book and series from becoming a truly masterful compilation. And finally, the ending felt rushed. I mean come on, nobody reading fantasy books minds if you take another twenty or even fifty pages to put together the spectacular ending that this series deserved.

Overall, a great book and series. I recommend it to all. I’ll certainly be reading this author’s future works, as he does a great many things right and showed definite improvement even just through three books.

-Scott

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Beta Readers

This has been a very big month. Early this month, I finally sent my manuscript to a small group of beta readers who had expressed interest in reading my book and giving me feedback. I’ve only received detailed feedback from one beta reader, but the opinions so far from those who have finished the book has been positive. It’s a very good feeling to have other people enjoy something that took so much time to build and write.

I chose to use 7 or so beta readers, all people I trust to give me honest feedback. They are also people who are at least passingly familiar with the fantasy genre and can thus give a solid opinion on how my book will be received by fantasy readers. Perhaps most importantly, I’m lucky to have beta readers who are extremely intelligent people who will be able to offer detailed insight as to why they did or did not enjoy the book and it’s various aspects.

I’m now just continuing work on the second novel in the series as I wait for more feedback from my readers. I’m also working on perfecting my query letter that I’ll send out to literary agents as soon as I feel the manuscript is in top shape.

-Scott