Winner Winner, Brewski Dinner

Validation at 51,714 words. Ahem, not nearly done done. But definitely took me past the doubt monster section of the book, into where things get fun. 😉

Hey! Why are you reading this. YOU SHOULD BE WRITING!!!

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The Good, The Bad, and the Catastrophic

First the Good, I’ve officially been in full writing mode again. An 18,000 word in 7 day stretch that officially flushed the Doubt Monster and saw me finish up Book 4 of my planned 5 book Epic Fantasy series. I was even motivated enough with it again to charge straight into book 5…

Except Bad: When I looked at the ending of Book 4 that I wrote, even though I think it’s awesome, I saw that I had just written something that needed another book to get to the planned finale. No time line issues or anything like that. It’s just there would be a lot of things ‘explained’ going into the last book that would’ve been better played out. One of the things that annoyed me about the otherwise excellent David Gemmell Trojan War reimagination was how the war started, and then magically we jump over 10 years of fighting (which wasn’t all siege) to get to the end. I didn’t want readers to feel the same way with this. Not after four books. That it took me less than an hour to write the 40 chapter outline only convinced me that my 5 book series needs to be 6. lol

The Catastrophic: I was writing with my fountain pen today, when pop. I unscrew the pen and inspect it, and it looks ok. Until I put the cap back on. Next time I pick it up, and the body is cock-eye. I think it might be a trick of the light, and an hour later, I take another look. Nope. Clearly bent. So I unscrew it to look for the crack, and snap. Breaks right below the retaining ring. So much for the fountain pen. Sadness.

Let’s just hope that doesn’t put the brakes on my good writing spell. I was actually rethinking not doing NaNo this year.

Solid Writing Week

First time this year I wrote over 10,000 words in a week. And that was despite being too baked to write Friday after working in the real world 11 hours. So while it’s not the pace I like to keep yet, I’m good with it.

While I was working on the Hellenist Fantasy, I thought about doing something Stormlight-Archive(ish). One thing I have had to accept by limiting the number of PoV characters is that a lot of the story is told “from the top.” Now this probably isn’t *that* unusual for Epic Fantasy. But part of what makes The Black Company and Malazan Book of the Fallen superior to most, IMHO, is that battles are told just as much ‘from the fray.’ Codex Alera was also good at this. Now for one character, this isn’t a real problem, because like his inspiration, he leads from the front. But for the Dessians, whose Legates typically watch and only intercede when the battle is at the crucial moment, it’s a tad more complicated.

So to address that, and add some color and examine the soldier’s culture & trials of the time, I’m going to add a sprinkling of subchapters, similar to the Interludes of Stormlight, but contained in the main PoV of whoever they serve under. I might do this for the political bodies as well, in order to demonstrate how they operated–or failed to operate, as the case may be. I’d write those a little more in an “annals” style. As objectively as histories in the time got (which was rarely THAT objective).

I’ll wait until rewrite to decide if I follow through on that. But right now, at least, I like the idea.

I Am Neither GrimDark Nor PollyAnna

While reading the ever-amusing Ace of Spades Book Thread http://ace.mu.nu/archives/352551.php, I followed a link to this article, where it seems that some have had their fill of Sci-Fi Dystopias. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kathryn-cramer/speculative-fiction-book_b_5916266.html

This does not surprise me, as I suspect Dystopias grew popular in science fiction for the same reason that GrimDark rose to rule Fantasy. (A fact the author of the above article misses completely.) That is, that anti-heroes have grown from a once legitimate literary device to complement the hero/villain structure, to turn all of writing into a gray ammoral world where the only difference between protagonist and antagonist is who the primary point of view indicates we should root for. A fact Sarah A Hoyt commented on in her Human Wave manifesto (indicating this is no new concern):

5 – You shall not commit grey goo. Grey goo, in which characters of indeterminate moral status move in a landscape of indeterminate importance towards goals that will leave no one better or worse off is not entertaining. (Unless it is to see how the book bounces off the far wall, and that has limited entertainment. Also, I’m not flinging my kindle.)

I am pleased to see those who hailed the arrival of these ‘ambivalent heroes’ now finally come to the ground we have held for most of a decade. I find it amusing that of all people to blame for no longer envisioning big futures, ASU’s president picked Neal Stephenson. Whose Anathem was probably his biggest and most optimistic future, set well after the more dystopic cyberpunks that made him famous. And even his retro-futures, Cryptonomicon and The Baroque Cycle provide optimistic glimpses of science, finance, and the progress of society. There are MUCH better targets to aim this charge at than Neal Stephenson. Also, at this point, I remind you of my posts on dystopic Sci-Fi’s mystic cousin, Grimdark fantasy here: https://tariencole.wordpress.com/2013/08/17/how-grim-is-too-much/, and here: https://tariencole.wordpress.com/2014/08/05/i-am-over-grimdark/. Blatant pessimism, moral ambiguity for ambiguity’s sake, and no attempt to even FIGHT for a better world does not make for an entertaining story. Not fantasy, not sci-fi. And the prevalence of this nonsense is a large part of the reason for Mysteries being the big genre fiction for profit today. At least in those, there is closure, resolution, and a knowledge that justice has been done.

I don’t like them, by and large. As they are too formulaic, and the contrivances of the genre do nothing for me. However, their elevation at a time that Speculative Fiction is screaming ‘Diversity” and “realistic characters,” and hemorrhaging readership all the while, probably hints at a problem in the mindset. A problem that runs through the love of Dystopias, antiheroes, and an unwillingness to embrace a true heroic journey. You see, if you’re committed to moral relativity, there can’t be heroes. Everyone is just a different point of view. We can’t accept that some things are legitimately beyond the pale. A mystery gets around this by having a protagonist who is only judging the ‘facts.’ But what speculative fiction writers have to realize is that sympathetic aspects to a culture, or a villain, don’t make them heroic, as such. Just like flaws in the hero don’t make for anti-heroes, as such. A hero seeks to overcome their vices via their best qualities (and often they have the vices of their virtues). A villain makes a virtue of his vices. A hero admits there is darkness and accepts a measure of (gasp) hypocrisy in any moral creature is unavoidable. A villain spreads his arms like Don John and says, “At least I am plain dealing!”

Yeah, that doesn’t commend him much. This isn’t to say villains can’t be redeemed (over time), or that heroes won’t fall. This isn’t to say people can’t die trying to change the world, and the villains maybe even win. It means that we accept that morality exists outside of who wins or loses. And that the true hero may calculate the odds, but that doesn’t mean they refuse to do the right thing because of them. Or for comparison, let me leave with this:

A hero: The Iron Code of Druss the Legend: Never violate a woman, nor harm a child. Do not lie, cheat or steal. These things are for lesser men. Protect the weak against the evil strong. And never allow thoughts of gain to lead you into the pursuit of evil.

An Antihero: Jayne Cobb from Firefly: “Like my Daddy used to say, ‘If you can’t do the smart thing. Do the right thing.”

A Villain: “Kneel Before Zod!”

Objects in This Article Are Not to Scale

One of the recurring arguments I hear is the Low Fantasy/Epic Fantasy argument. That is, does the audience want small-scale stories where we spend time close to a few (or even one) character. Or is the balance in favor of the traditional Epic Fantasy (“saving the world”)?

This article is relating to games. But it dredges through this argument on the side of Low Fantasy/”small scale” story telling again. http://toybox.io9.com/im-sick-of-saving-the-world-the-case-for-smaller-scale-1631918032?utm_campaign=socialflow_io9_facebook&utm_source=io9_facebook&utm_medium=socialflow

Here’s the first thing I’d say: It doesn’t matter.

No Really. This is a Much Ado About Nothing debate. Execution matters more than scale. Characters have to be memorable in either setting. And there has to be stakes, or we’re in the realm of navel-gazing lit-fic, and while you might get an award, you won’t have enough readers to buy you a pack of K-Cups. If the story isn’t something that resonates with the reader, it doesn’t matter if you’re a hacker hiding from the Corps in a CyberJungle, or off on the world-saving quest.

Furthermore, there is plenty of evidence for an audience for both. Especially in books: Urban Fantasy sells. So does Game of Thrones, Wheel of Time, or Malazan Book of the Fallen. Execute your vision well, market the story strongly, and there will be an audience. No, you won’t win everyone over. Guess what? No story does. But write your story with ambition, drive, quality characterization and a taut plot, and you have a chance. Don’t, and you won’t.

In games, I think it’s a little harder to prove. Everyone remembers Planescape. But it never really sold well, especially in comparison to the other Golden Era of Infinity Engine Black Isle/Bioware titles. The games we know: Mass Effect, Baldur’s Gate, Knights of the Old Republic, Neverwinter Nights, Fallout, Diablo, and the Elder Scrolls series. They are all ‘save the world’ games. Set against that Planescape, a fine, if quixotic game. And if we’re being generous the Witcher series, which even here has a ‘global’ component to it. Now, do I think a smaller scale COULD work? Sure. But again, it has to be executed well.

I don’t buy what the article says about more ‘variety’ in smaller scale stories either. The only thing constraining either small or large scale stories is the imagination of the writer. Indeed, a large scale story can be comprised of several ‘smaller’ ones as subplots that tie into the overarching one. And a seemingly small scale story can blow up into a world-spanning one (See Dresden Files).

And as The Black Company showed, and Daniel Abraham is doing now with The Dagger and Coin series, one can write a seemingly large scale story from a constrained cast. Thus we see the universe as it effects each of the personal issues involves. Babylon 5 did this exceptionally well also. Londo and Mollari forming the heart of the story that the rest of the universe circled around.

So not only is this a Much Ado About Nothing Argument. In a very real sense, it’s an argument from a generation ago. This isn’t the Speculative Fiction environment anymore. Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser CAN save the world.

Book Review: The Widow’s House, Daniel Abraham

The latest entry in The Dagger and Coin series by author: Daniel Abraham finds the strong point of the series where it has been: Exceptional Characters. No one makes living, breathing, flawed, believable, and yet sympathetic figures like Daniel Abraham.

Geder is by turns bloodthirsty and compassionate, and believable in each role. When he makes his confession at the end of the book, my heart felt for him, despite everything. Cithrin goes through despair to find a weapon to use against the enemy. But one entirely different from that Marcus Westin and Kit sought. Even the Dragon, Inys, proves to be both more and less than expected.

Despite this, I found it slightly slower going at first for this book than the previous installments. It felt like a lull until the first battle. And then the plot begins to move, but never at a pace that even matches the 2nd and 3rd books of the series. This isn’t a bad thing, as this leaves room for the internal machinations on each side. It also allows a fascinating and intelligent discussion of markets and currency that most fantasy writing, even literary fantasy, would not be learned enough to indulge in. And it’s done entirely in character, and with legitimate character conflict, so it never feels like a ‘lecture.’

What knocks this book from 5 stars for me has nothing to do with the author as such. But the editing. It is, frankly: Slipshod. Duplicated words, misspellings that *spellcheck* would have caught, but the editors were too lazy to fix. After all the time Orbit (through their Overlords at Hachette) has spent telling us how important authors find their editors, and professional editing is, to turn out a work as POORLY edited by this in a major release is frankly pathetic.

I can always tell when a series has changed from ‘Investment’ to ‘cash cow’ in the eyes of the publishers. Because they stop caring about editing, since they know it’ll sell no matter what. Wheel of Time and Game of Thrones both contracted this illness, and both bloated, with WoT in particular becoming error-filled in the middle volumes. The errors Orbit let through are as bad as anything I found there. And it was only the skill of the author, over their incompetence, that makes this a Four Star book instead of one I angrily tossed across the room.

Exit Rewrite Mode

Two books, 215,000 words, and pretty much able to stamp “Final Draft” on Aurori’s Blood. I’m pleased with the first two books of that series now. And I have an idea how to focus the fourth book so that it’s still the series I wanted to write, instead of the crazy thing it veered into with the fifth book. Ultimately it will still get to that crazy stage. But not until I’ve exhausted the history that’s the reason I wanted to write the series in the first place. 😛

So now I’m even more in a ‘dead’ time between here and NaNoWriMo. Or at least I would be, except for my vacation in September. So I think I can be at about 50,000 words by November, and then double that in the Month of Frenzy. Maybe even finish book 4, Chosen’s Return. Besides, can I really complain about going to Hawaii? Nah. Used to live there, once upon a time, for three years. That was before donning the tophat and goggles. My writing back then was largely academic in nature. Loved semi-colons. One of the things I had to learn when switching to fiction was to crush them ruthlessly.

I’ve been meaning to add pages on the blog for all the other stuff I’ve dabbled in. That is: The Aurori, my Hellenistic Fantasy, an Urban Fantasy, and a Space Opera. Though the latter may or may not go under Tarien Cole, as such. I haven’t decided yet. Given the amount of blog time I’ve talked about both lately, they need them. 😛

Insects and Insight

This is a snippet from my Sword, Sorcery, and Sandal Epic Fantasy. Strategos Amuhan, the narrator, is the “Hannibal” of my pseudo-Punic Wars plotline. Which is fairly close to the beginning of the arc here. Enjoy!
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If I would have been forced to describe the last day’s march on Trystwy in a single word, it would’ve been ‘swarmed.’ Never have I seen so many ways to be attacked by relentless, blood-sucking insects. Leeches waited in the swamps our march skirted. Mosquitoes and black-winged moths both descended on us in fast-moving clouds, as maddening as Shahrak Horse Archers. Even Shayla, whose ebullient mood had proven infectious since joining us, frowned and muttered, “Khepra Himself must have planted His seed in this bog.”

As a third mass of bugs appeared, thick enough to conceal the sun, Tiernan dismounted from his horse snarled, “Erebus take this!”

“Run faster!” Spiros taunted. “Maybe we can use you as bait!”

When Tiernan arrived at the bank, he didn’t dive into it, instead he reached into the mud with both hands and slathered it over his exposed arms and face. Clumps rolled down his short beard and tumbled back into his hands. The Thunderbolts hooted, but Shayla leaned forward on her pony like a cat being teased until its rump raises and wiggles. He returned to the ranks with a wide, lips-sucked-in grin that resembled a matron’s toothless effort. Even I found it impossible not to shake my head at the bard.

He had the last laugh, for as the bugs feasted on us, he rode through them without so much as a flick of the finger. When next we passed a spring with sufficient bank, half the host dove for the mud. I found myself tempted to join them, but as Strategos, my duty was to bear every burden without flinching. No matter how trivial it might seem. So I contented myself with swatting those insects that slipped beneath my hood or up the sleeves. With the low shoulders of Shayla’s gown, I knew that she had to be suffering worse, despite her cloak. So I cleared enough space with a hand for me to talk. Then I asked, in a tone I thought gentle, “I’m assuming Tiernan’s remedy is part of your folklore. So why didn’t you avail yourself to it, Shayla?”

She turned up her nose at me and harrumphed, turning her pony around and disappearing into the ranks behind as I gaped until a moth found its way to my tongue. That cost me much in military decorum. Tiernan covered his mouth and chortled. “The Chief didn’t lie when he said taming that one is like saddling the wind. Be thankful she’s infatuated with you.”

I feigned a blink as we resumed our march. “What convinces you she is?”

“Gods Amuhan!” His chest quivered. “Her eyes never leave you. Even now, she watches your back. Her hand ‘accidentally’ finds yours whenever it can, and brushes your arm or leg when it can’t.”

I tucked my head further into my cloak to hide my blush as another cluster of dried mud fell from the bard’s smirking face. “But you knew this already. Because while most Gods have favored you, Telas did not. You’re no better lying than the child caught with a chunk of bread from the oven.”

Snickering, I looked back at Shayla. Her head turned and dipped, like she was unaware of where I was. But before I returned my gaze to the road, her golden eyes belied the claim of disinterest. “Yes I did know,” I affirmed. “Though hearing you say it encourages me. One never is quite certain if a man’s heart isn’t playing tricks on him when it comes to the affection of a woman. Still, there’s something strange about her family.”

My bannerman’s face narrowed into a line. So I leaned a hand on my knee. “Let me guess: You know because it echoes the story about why you left your mother’s people?”

Tiernan winced. “I’d hoped you hadn’t seen my reaction to your analogy.”

“I did, comrade.”

After glancing over his shoulder to ensure Shayla’s pique hadn’t passed yet, the bard said, “Lord Amuhan, I’ll tell you my story. It’s up to her to tell you how close it is to her own. But I’m certain the same law is involved.”

“What law is this?” I drummed a finger on my thigh. Then flicked at another mosquito.

“Our people have a custom when duels are fought. To prevent retaliation, the victor must take the surviving spouse and any children into their own family.” His eyes flicked to Shayla again.

“That explains why she and Carii are so different in temperament and looks.” I stroked my chin. “So the Chief became her husband to guard the daughter. And she took up her training because Shayla possesses talent as well.”

“Probably,” Tiernan conceded. “I was accepted among the Lexovi because of my Mother’s talent. She had birthed me before becoming Beien Ciall to them. But another challenged and defeated her. All such duels are to the death. If there isn’t a death blow, the victor carves out the loser’s heart. “ He paused and cleared his throat, and I glimpsed a sheen over the big man’s eyes.

“And by law, you had a new mother,” I finished.

He nodded grimly. “Understand, most of the time, such ‘adoptions’ go well enough. However, in my case she didn’t want a ‘half-breed’ for a son. So I became an outsider in truth. And if a boar’s tusks were laced with poison, would any think to look before I died?”

“No, they’d never know,” I replied with a shake of the head. “They’d assume you succumbed to the wounds. So how did you—?”

“I’m not a bard because I have a strong voice and love to collect stories that can be put to song,” he answered dryly. “Mother taught me much of herblore and natural remedies. She also taught me a good deal about ritual magics.”

My eyes rounded. “Why didn’t you say this when Toi was poisoned?”

Tiernan shook his head. “You forget, he walked away. We thought it little more than a scratch. It wasn’t until the Priestess couldn’t heal him that she even thought to look for poison. By then, Toi was already dead. Besides, the chemist seemed to do a thorough enough work in identifying it. And I had never seen it before either.”

I closed my eyes and remembered the yellow ball and black bile extracted from his body. The bones broken from convulsions and contorted expression on his face as the poison killed him. There wasn’t a pit in Erebus deep enough for his murderer. And I wasn’t certain the order to kill me had come from Davos either. “I appreciate you telling me this, Tiernan. It couldn’t have been easy.”

“I’ve gone this far in disclosing the ways of Mother’s people,” the bard said with a deep frown. “You should know, even if Shayla were Carii’s birth daughter, eventually the two would become rivals. And only one could remain in the tribe.”

I hung my head. Rain Dancer sensed my distress, mincing his steps as I looked over first one shoulder, and then the other for the wilder woman. I caught a glimpse of her blond mane near Captain Spiros at the front of the Hundred Hands. A stab of jealousy pricked my side, though if I had been the newcomer, I’d be as curious as Shayla to learn of the new cultures.

“The condor was hers? Or Carii’s?”

“Hers,” Tiernan answered without hesitation. “She’s the curious one. And the birds are already bound to her arms.”

I pivoted and made an interrogative grunt. He shook his head. “Now I am getting perilously close to discussing secrets Mother made me swear I’d never share. If she wishes, Shayla will explain herself.”

With a sigh, I answered, “For an explanation, this isn’t helping me understand her very much.”

Tiernan chuckled. “Lord Amuhan, I may be a bard. And I certainly know the ways to woo women. But I’ve never made claim to understand them.”

I laughed so hard, I nearly swallowed a mosquito.

Something I’ve Discovered

Devoted Editing to two straight books in full rewrite mode saps the enthusiasm. I’m almost to the end of the second now. So there’s no reason to set it aside. But I don’t think I’ll do this again. Write one, rewrite one works better for me. Especially since I usually am editing a project while I write anyway. Though nothing as full-bore as I’ve done the last couple months.

I started compiling notes for Book 4 of the Hellenistic Fantasy. After the full-scale war of the last book, this one will be a bit more maneuver and counter, though with a dark adventure for a second plotline. Yalissa’s not-so-pleasant discoveries continue to accumulate. But at least she gets to ask questions in person this time around. Not sure she’s going to like the answers, though.

I made pilgrimage up to Sporting Park in Kansas City to watch Sporting KC throttle Toronto FC 4-1. It’s always fun to watch a game there. In fact, I’d call it the best venue for any sport in the country. And the team is the defending champs, so no reason to complain there, either.

But my real countdown is to vacation in Hawaii. Three weeks tomorrow. I lived there for three years back before Tarien Cole was a name to use. I’ve missed it often, but hadn’t had a chance to go back yet. It’ll be sad to miss the rainy, stormy, part of the year for sun and the beach. Oh darn. I may even get some writing done on it. If my wife will let me. 😉

I Am Over Grimdark

It’s Official. I’ve picked up three straight “Grimdark” books in a row. Two of them highly acclaimed, near-5 star books on Amazon, and failed to finish ANY of them. I just can’t take the unrelentingly unsympathetic characters, the idea that somehow modern profanity in a Renaissance context makes for ‘deeper’ writing, and how no one is capable of doing the right thing for the right reason. EVER. Unless they are there to die like the rube they are.

Look, I get it. Grimdark started as a subversion of traditional fantasy. And the Heroic Journey NEEDED subverting. I’m not saying we need to go back to two-dimensional heroes that don’t face doubts or have flaws. I *like* flawed heroes. But there’s a distinction between flawed hero and slightly-off-black anti-hero. Sure, I have Baron Camuel in my Aurori series. And everyone loves the badass vampire who has no problem leaving a trail of blood in his path to accomplishing his ends. But the guy gets his fair share of thumpings too. Of course, I torture my heroes as well. So *everyone* gets it.

I believe in Earning Your Happy Ending. That’s a GOOD thing. But frankly, Grimdark has become the Dark Age Comics of Fantasy. An annoying cliche that is nothing more than glorying in the inverse of the heroic journey. It’s boring. And the practitioners have every bit as much an obligation to liven up the subversion as the traditionalists did to twist their own stories.

Even Steven Erikson, who frequently gets lumped into the Grimdark writers, saw this. The Parans and Fiddler represented tortured heroes, with real flaws. But they were legitimate heroes, and they represented–with Itkovian and Whiskeyjack–the moral center of the series. For all the glory of Rake, Karsa, Apsalar/Sorry, and yes, Quick Ben and Kalem, the world may have been Grimdark, but it was shot through with hope. It wasn’t gleefully crushing every moment of joy the reader could find.

I’m tired of the soul-sucking, darkness where the only difference between any of the characters is who the protagonist is and perhaps some hint of modern sensibilities that’s supposed to ‘tell’ us who the ‘good guy’ is, even when in the context of the story, they’re all bastards of the 1st rank.

Really, it’s over. Start subverting what you created with the abandon you took to hacheting traditional fantasy.