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Preparing for launch

It’s time to rouse the hounds and change the oil in the media machine! The Pagan Night launches in January, and I need to start planning my blog tour and related internet activities for that critical end-of-month period. If you have a venue that you think would be improved by my shining presence, please contact me and let me know! I’d be happy to do guest posts, interviews, podcast appearances, and psychically projected dramatic readings of all kinds.

Warning: the psychically projected readings have some… lingering effects.

Windy all up in this Con

I’ll be appearing at Windycon this weekend, in glamorous Lombard, Illinois. Come to the Yorktown Westin and listen to me spout profoundly about religion in fantasy, fantasy in religion, and sometimes even writing stuff! If you come to my reading on Saturday you can hear the first chapter of The Pagan Night, and if you come to my signing you can watch me sit awkwardly in complete isolation! Here’s my schedule:

Friday 4:00 Respecting Religion in Fiction: Lilac B: Whether it is Judaism, Christianity, Shinto, Islam, or Bahai, how does an author ensure that they are respectful of their own and other religious beliefs?  And when and how should the author not be respectful? T. Akers (M), M.K. Bohnhoff, M. Huston, C. Moore, Gene Wolfe
Saturday 2:00 Is World Building Necessary?  Lilac C: Fritz Leiber, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and others created their worlds as their works evolved.  Can that technique be used by modern authors whose readers have modern sensibilities? T. Akers, P. Anderson, R. Frencl, T. Trumpinski, Gary Wolfe (M)
Saturday 6:00-6:25 Reading: Boardroom, T. Akers
Sunday 10:00 Autographing: Hallway: T. Akers, M. Crowell, G. Wolfe
Sunday 1:00 Does a Good Novel Really Need a Plot? Lilac B: Many readers put plot ahead of all else, but novels include much more to a novel:  characterization, themes, setting…Can a novel lack a plot and still be a good novel? T. Akers, W. Boyes, P. Eisenstein, C. Gerrib, C. Moore, K. Swails (M)

Final Cover Reveal

This month has been taken up with the rather hectic business of getting The Pagan Night into its final fighting trim for the January release, as well as launching in on The Iron Hound. But I finally have the final cover for The Pagan Night! Check out those blurbs!

I will also be sharing some of the beautiful interior illustrations in the coming weeks, so watch this space!

 

Pagan Knight_cvr

Why Fantasy

From pretty much the beginning of my writing career, I’ve gotten the question of why I write fantasy. Sometimes it’s asked harmlessly, but sometimes it’s meant as a slur. Why don’t you write something serious, they mean. Why don’t you write something that will matter. And it’s not a terrible question, as these things go. After all, most people view fantasy as a passing entertainment, or something that kids enjoy. I have a lot of conversations about my work with friends and colleagues that end with something along the lines of “Oh, my kids love this stuff.” It drives me nuts.

So why do I write fantasy? I guess my basic reason is that fantasy is my native language. It’s the mechanism I deploy whenever I’m trying to get at an idea, either simple or complex. I find that it’s a more nuanced tool than anything reality can offer. Since a lot of my writing is about religion, and people tend to be sensitive when it comes to their belief systems, it’s easier for me to form a complex metaphor around an idea and then approach my point through illusion and phantasm. You can ease people into a sense of comfort, then confront them with ideas that, if presented in real world terms, would cause them to immediately throw up their shields and ignore your point. In our modern partisan era it’s almost impossible to have a nuanced conversation about religion and politics. But it can be done through fantasy. And, if done well, you might not even know you’re having that conversation.

By the way, one of the things that I don’t like about a lot of message fantasy is that it’s not subtle enough. It drags the narrative through its point like a drowning rat. It sacrifices story, and it ruins the metaphor. The only people who are actually going to enjoy those stories are people who already agree with you. And while it’s nice to give them something to read, it doesn’t really advance your message. A friend of mine once described my stories as an idea engine that had been drilled to save weight. I like that.

I meant to write something here about elves, but I didn’t. Maybe next time.

Character Creation

I’m in a strange lull right now. The Pagan Night is with the copyeditor. ARCs are being printed, but have not yet arrived. The outline for book two in the series is on my editor’s desk, but actual writing can’t begin until that’s approved. I have more time to read, but still want to spend part of my day writing. So what to do?

What you do in this situation is work on getting better. While talking to a good friend of mine, I expressed frustration at how each stage of my writing always feels rushed. I spend a lot of time looking at the mistakes in a book and trying to find some way to patch them up, always thinking “Well, hopefully I’ll do this better on the next book.” And, frankly, I get frustrated that I’m not yet as good of a writer as I want to be, which is probably something most writers feel. We started talking about perceived weaknesses, and he was able to outline for me a couple things that I should be working on. And now we’re engaging in a series of exercises aimed at improving those weaknesses.

The biggest in my mind is character development. I have this tendency to develop a world, and then a plot, and then the characters necessary to fulfill that plot. I would like to work in the opposite direction, but it’s tough when your first instinct is world creation.

For the first installment of this exercise I wrote a scene with a character I knew nothing about, in an empty world. I was intentionally leaving out fantastical elements, because as soon as I drop any of that stuff into the narrative I immediately start to spin the world up, and that can change the character. Here’s the result.

“I don’t think that matters.”

“I do. I think it’s the only thing that matters,” Frank said.

“Sure. Sure you do,” he answered. The man in the hood turned away from the river, rubbing his face. “But I don’t think it matters right now.”

They were quiet for a long moment, listening to the waves slap against the pier, watching the city lights dance across the waves. Frank stretched his hands, balling them into fists and cracking his knuckles. They were getting nowhere.

“Let’s just forget it. They’ll bring the boxes or they won’t, they’ll honor the deal or they won’t.” Frank folded his hands beneath his coat, fiddled with his belt, then lay his palms flat against his thighs. The scarred mass of his knuckles hung like tree roots from the tailored cuff of his suit. New suit, new city, new worries. “So what can we do?”

The man, unknown to Frank before this morning’s call, let out a long and withering sigh. He turned back to the river. Frank caught a glimpse of black eyes, black hair. The moon flashed off his smile.

“Plan as if the box is lost. Assume we’ve already been burned,” he said.

“You know something I don’t.” Not a question.

“No.”

“If the box is gone then we should be gone. There’s nothing to plan. If the box is gone then we stop having this conversation and we leave. Quickly.”

“And how would you do that?” the man asked.

“Seriously? You need instruction on how to stop talking? You just… fucking…” Frank realized his fists were bumping together again, the meat of his knuckles clumping loudly against his scarred wedding ring. He took a deep breath and smoothed out the creases of his jacket, pressing damp palms into the still-slick fabric. “You stop talking and you disappear. The second you know this deal is fucked, that’s what we do. So if you know something…”

The man made an elaborate gesture with his thin fingers, a glitter of rings along his knuckles, all silver and gold.

“You need to be ready for betrayal. That is all I want from you, today.” The man’s pronunciation was sparkling, as though he were a virtuoso in enunciation, and wished to showcase his talents. “An assurance that, if everything goes to shit, you will be able to disappear. Because if they do not bring the box, the best thing for me is that you are never found.”

“By them?” Frank asked. “Or by you?”

“I do not make threats.”

“Only promises?” Frank laughed. “Fucking bosses and their fucking promises.” He waved his hand, the wide fan of his fingers bent and crooked. “Leave that to me. I’ve fallen out of more cities than you’ve seen, mister. Things go south, I’ll be fine.”

The man was still for a moment, bent toward the river like a heron, the peaked cap of his hood nodding slowly. Finally he laughed.

“Very well. Alexander will be in contact. Not before Sunday, but no later than Tuesday. Anyone comes to you outside of that time, assume they’re trying to kill you.”

“I don’t know anyone named Alexander.”

“Alexander knows you.” The man raised a pipe from his pocket, tapping the bowl against his sleeve. The air immediately smelled of roasted apples and ash. “Let us not forget the purpose of our deal, Mr. Franklin.”

“Right,” Frank said. He spat into the river and turned down the bank. “See you later.”

“Gods pray not,” the man said, then disappeared.

It’s a very modern situation, with a few fantastic elements. But you can see that dialog is my primary entry into character, along with some description tags. Things like Frank’s scarred wedding ring, his crooked fingers, nervous hands and suit so fresh that the creases are still in all communicate the character without saying anything specific. I feel like it’s a good scene.

For the second exercise I started including fantasy elements without overwhelming the character. I stayed in the same character-space while leaving Frank behind. I think the differences are clear. Here it is.

 

Cassus stood in front of the mirror, carefully disentangling his fingers from the rings of his bondspirit. Long, clotted streamers of blood dragged from the teeth of each ring as he twisted them free. He dropped them into a pewter bowl filled with ice wine, the pale golden surface quickly clouding into rust.

“It went well?” Lorren called from the other room. The last ring plopped into the wine, taking the final measure of Cassus’ sacrifice.

“He will do. Without trust or loyalty, but he knows his job.” Cassus dipped his hands into a different bowl, this one of chilled water and rum, wincing as the spirit stung his wounds. He dried his hands and turned to face the door. The room was crowded with trunks, each overstuffed with books and clothes and the remnants of a larger life. Lorren’s shadow moved against the white tiles of the bathroom. “The product of a wretched life, that one.”

“A wretched life is a better education than most schools,” Lorren said. He came into the room dressed in embroidered silk, his hair freshly oiled and black as a raven’s wing. Cassus suspected the poor man had started dying his precious locks, though he would never mention this. Lorren frowned when he saw the bowl of wine and blood, and the awkward way Cassus was holding his hands, palms up, fingers curled delicately around the injury.

“I hate those things,” Lorren hissed, hurrying forward to take Cassus’ hands in his own, rubbing thumbs into palms, tutting all the while. “I wish you could leave them somewhere else.”

“And where would I leave them?” Cassus asked quietly. “Not like I can call the butler and have him store them with the rest of the silver. Besides,” he gently pulled his hands free and slid past Lorren. The smell of the man’s hair, rich as mahogany, wafted through the air. “They ask little enough of me these days. Just happy for a home, I think.”

“Yes, well. Anyway.” Lorren drifted to the vanity and dropped a silk kerchief over the bowls, hiding the blood and silver. “Do you ever wonder what became of Hammond? A good man, and loyal. I would hate to think of him out of work because of us.”

“You were always so kind, my dear. I’m sure he’s fine,” Cassus said. He knew that Hammond had slid smoothly into the service of a barrow merchant upriver, even with the stain of House Frael on his record. Cassus had tracked all the servants of his former estate far enough to know they weren’t vulnerable to bribes or the temptation of treachery. He had removed those few who had fallen too far to be trusted. “Have you already taken your dinner?”

“Yes, sorry. But I put some aside for you.” Lorren went to a cabinet by the door and removed a tray covered in silk. He arranged two of the wayward trunks to form a table then pulled a chair from the corner and motioned for Cassus to sit. He did, and Lorren swept the silk away to reveal a bowl of cream soup and an apple. “Not the Kelling’s, but still a good soup. I’m afraid it might have cooled a bit.”

“I prefer it cold,” Cassus said.

“Wait, wait,” Lorren said, fluttering Cassus’ hand away from the spoon and disappearing into the other room. He returned a second later with a small vase, which he set beside the soup with a flourish. Then he produced a folded paper rose from his sleeve, bowing has he balanced it in the vase. “There. Ideal.”

“Lorren!” Cassus said. He plucked the rose up and turned it in the light. It had been made from a waxed candle wrapper, the chandler’s logo tucked into the delicate petals. “You made this?”

“I have to do something with my time,” Lorren said demurely, a slight blush on his cheeks. “And you’re always so glum after these sorts of meetings.”

“How could I ever be glum?” Cassus asked. He set the rose on the table and drew Lorren’s face to his own. “Where is there room in my life for tears, with such a rose in my heart?”

Lorren laughed and pushed him away. “Eat your soup, and think no more of this business. You’re too kind for such things.”

Cassus smiled, tucking into the soup. It was good, even cold.

Again, character names and things like the bonded rings say something about the world, but not as much as they say about the character. And I tried to say a lot about the character without yelling.

This is a good exercise, and one I recommend. Another dozen or so of these and I may have a story. But more importantly, I’ll have a character.

Heading back to Gameville

This is kind of a last minute addition to my schedule, but I’m going to GenCon this year. I haven’t been since they moved to Indianapolis, having put dreams of being a famous game designer behind me in the late nineties. But the writer’s track and support for authors has grown exponentially in the last few years. So this is going to be a business trip, wrapped in nostalgia, soaked in mainline geekery. I’m looking forward to it. I have no schedule going in, so feel free to stop me on the dealer floor or in one of the many bars. I’m totally approachable. Here’s what I look like, in case you don’t know:

mad_tim

 

Almost exactly like that.

Covering The Pagan Night

I just got my hands on this, so rather than posting something substantive, I’m just going to give you this and then run gleefully around the yard. Ladies and gentlemen, the cover for The Pagan Night.

Pagan Night

Politics by way of DnD

Dungeons and Dragons has an interesting alignment system that charts your character’s moral and philosophical standing along two axes. Axis one is Good vs. Evil and axis two is Lawful vs. Chaotic. The first standard is both common and long standing. Though the precise definitions might change depending on religion or culture or time period, the concept of good versus evil should be familiar to everyone.

It’s the second axis that makes things interesting. Apocryphally, the idea was stolen from Michael Moorcock. Hell, that might be canon, I really don’t know. But it expresses a relation to cultural and societal rigidity (or structure, depending on your viewpoint) that really makes the game fun. The difference between Chaotic Good and Lawful Good can be considerably more evident than between Lawful Good and Lawful Evil, for example. That said, people tend to identify more strongly along the Good versus Evil axis than the Lawful versus Chaotic axis. It’s just a more familiar concept.

Political stances are similar. We spend a lot of energy talking about conservative versus progressive, or right versus left, or fascist versus commie. But I would contend that there is a second axis: Rational versus Reactionary. Or, as it works in my head, Reasonable versus Screaming Internet Monkey Shitting All Over The Nice Things.

I will proudly state that I am left of center. Not very far left, not by the absolute partisan standards that get applied these days, but solidly left. Solidly progressive. But more and more, I’ve started to identify along that other axis. I think I have more in common with reasonable conservatives than I do with reactionary liberals. And there’s no one further from my standpoint than Internet Monkey Shitters of any stripe.

I’ve said all of that to say this. There is an organized boycott of Tor books, starting tomorrow. I think this is irrational. The organizer and lead proponent of this particular internet shitting is Vox Day. He is the Internettest Shitter of them all. His support for a cause should be reason enough to oppose it.

So I encourage you to go out tomorrow and buy books. Tor books, if the mood graces you, but mainly just books. Vox’s only stated goal is to destroy the science fiction community. And there’s no better revenge than living well.

Also, everyone knows you don’t let Chaotic Neutral into your party.