Here’s one of my current newer projects – building a new world based on a foundation of high fantasy combined with concepts from Altered Carbon.

This world, Stoneghar, is controlled by a number of golems, constructs made of iron, wood, crystal and other materials. Each of these golems were once mortal rulers who have undergone a transformation to gain immortality and tremendous power. They no longer have normal flesh bodies but are mostly just suits of armor, animated by sheer willpower and magic. Some of them have contents within their armor but it is not a weight-bearing body, just an occupant. While they all achieved their transformation in similar conceptual ways, they are each unique in their capabilities and power levels.

The ambient struggle that is the theme of global conflict is natural-life versus life-without-flesh (e.g. creatures vs constructs). This also extends into transferring life between flesh vessels (aka sleeving). While the “Golem Kings” are the most prominent examples of this, there are others. Overall, it’s a stigmatized ability due how against nature it is.

The creator of the soul gems was Maldagon. He was not the first test subject, but he was the only survivor among the first test subjects. It is rumored that he lives still, having changed bodies many times over the centuries, but remaining anonymous and secret in his movements. He was a famed alchemist, tinkerer and magi.

Maldagon was the personal mystic for the most powerful king of his time. His goal was twofold – elevate the king to immortality and benefit himself. Several other kings were elevated at the behest of the Lord King before war broke out and Maldagon disappeared into obscurity. His research was eventually uncovered and successfully reproduced, but less perfectly. This is the basis for the soul gems of the current day, and has limitations and drawbacks. The crystals are called “kruos” which is derived from Ancient Greek “kruos” meaning “icy cold”. The sensation of acclamating to a new sleeve is like coming out of hypothermia.

There are cults and organizations that are built on the use, creation and trade of kruos, some of them owned by golem kings. There are fighting pits, assasins, bodyguards, soldiers, trans, spies, and all manner of users.

I have a vast collection of ideas for this world to expand into and look forward to the building of the world!

Respect the Short Story

I’ve been a fan of short stories since I was a kid. I have predominantly read science fiction, fantasy and horror, and I think the short story form suits those genres particularly well. I suspect other genres work just fine but I don’t have the same breadth of experience there. Today, I’d like to just express a few of my thoughts on why short stories have more value than people tend to think.

Explore ideas faster – In my favorite umbrella genre, speculative fiction, I tend to think of stories as extensions of interesting ideas. And for better or worse, ideas come to me faster than I can possibly keep up with. If I were to write a novel wrapped around every fascinating idea, I would never get to explore a fraction of them before I die of old age. I need to be able to crank out stories based on these ideas quickly and move on before three more ideas spring into place. My muse is merciless – it’s like a damned hydra.

Focus on the idea – In the course of writing a novel, the reader expects many things. You must have a well-developed plot, satisfying character arcs and development, twists, drama, comedy, action and a whole host of other things. But in a short story, you’re generally allowed to pass over all but a few items on that list. Due to the restrictive word count, you need to focus – either on the characters, the plot, the setting, the atmosphere, etc. If you try to do it all, it will either be bloated, or just feel thin across the board. For me, being able to focus on the idea that won’t leave my brain is the key element. I can just create enough dressing around the idea for verisimilitude and then really wallow in the idea itself. So much fun!

Greater variety – For any given author, depending on their level of prolific output, they need to settle into a niche or formula, otherwise they have difficulty perfecting the recipe that their readers have come to expect. A short story writer does not necessarily have to deal with this. Given that the stories are shorter and faster to write, they can afford to stray from the beaten path constantly because the stakes aren’t as high as alienating your entire audience. The spice of life, indeed.

Experimentation is key – Too often I see writers producing the same safe stuff over and over, because of the level of commitment involved and the need to succeed. If they spend years on a project and it really just doesn’t work for anyone, then they’ve almost wasted their time. I say “almost” because I think that time actually did achieve something, just not what they intended. With the short story, it’s liberating in that experiments are fast and cheap. If it doesn’t work, move on and spin up a new experiment. That’s how mad scientists are made!

Subverting Expectations

This is just a rambling post, because reasons.

One of my favorite things, in fiction, is the unexpected. I think it stems from my voracious consumption of books, television, and movies over the decades. I started reading young, and I started at the deep end of creative works – science fiction, fantasy and horror. As a result, I often feel like I’ve seen and heard it all. And do you know what? Unfortunately, I really can’t stand to see the same recipe playing out over and over. Mixing metaphors, I can do, so try to stay with me. Recurring plots and themes are just so exhausting. Now, I know they say “there’s nothing new under the sun”, but I really think we can do better than 400 uninspired ham sandwiches in a row.

The downside of having consumed so many stories, other than being tired of rehashing, is that I can’t bring myself to rehash anything. New ideas come and go daily for me, most of them discarded because I’m convinced that it’s been done before. They weren’t bad ideas, just not unique enough for my taste. I put a lot of value on originality, and when I encounter something that’s genuinely new, it’s like Christmas. Even if the execution or delivery is mediocre, I walk away thinking “at least it was original and creative”.

If I look back at my fiction, poems, world-building and characters – they all share that same characteristic; they are different, often very different from the usual cookie cutter content. Sometimes I even look back at my work from long ago and think “Err, I don’t know where that come from – it’s kinda out there. Alrighty then.”

I have several decades to go before I hang up my writing shoes (whatever that means) and I suspect it is going to get stranger and stranger. Buckle up, future self, and don’t forget your hazmat suit.

Step right up, stories big and small!

An interesting thing happened this past Christmas. An old friend of 30 years decided to send me a gift that I really never would have expected. He paid my admission fee to a short story contest called the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge. What was this? A little bit of research was in order. It turns out it’s a creative writing competition in which the writers are placed randomly in heats and then assigned a random genre, subject and character assignment. They are then given 8 days to write a short story, no longer than 2500 words. If you place high enough in your heat, you get placed into a second and third round respectively, each time with a new assignment and less time. Sounds fun right? Of course. I suspect the “challenge” part of this challenge is the random assignment — what if I get romance or political satire? Yikes!

Anyway, as I’ve mentioned in other blog posts, I do have short stories very much in mind this year. My books in the Supers & Sorcery series are novellas and there are plenty of characters and plot threads to expand as separate short stories. I believe those will be welcome by the readers who want more detail, more backstory or just more side trips. I’ve already completed one called Shallow Grave and I’m making it available here on the site for those that wish to join the mailing list. It’s just over the upper limit of a short story, according to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) definition – it’s just inside the novelette range. This got me thinking about the variety of story sizes and the new desire to continue writing in every category: flash, short, novelette, novella, and novel. I will be writing a longer novel-sized book this year, but first I need to choose which story!

Outside of writing prose fiction, I have an interest in writing screenplays. I’ve always been a movie-goer and have developed a critical voice of my own. I’m not saying that I know anything about anything, but I know what I like. There have been daydreams of being a director, how I would do things differently – cuts, camera shots, casting, story choices, etc. I’m sure it all extends from the same place as being a prose writer. While I don’t think I would actually enjoy being a director, a lot can be accomplished in the screenwriting itself. I’ll try my hand at it some point, whether it’s this year or further in the future. I guess we’ll find out!

Book 3: Tempest of Chaos progress update

For book 3, I’m trying to use what I’ve learned with the first two and keep the story from being too large to fit comfortably within the 20K word limit. Unfortunately, it seems that the stories that I want to tell are just larger than this chosen format. I’m going to do the best that I can, but I think my next project will not have such a restrictive word count.

There are a couple of threads that are carrying over from earlier in the series, namely the relationship between orcs and humans, as well as the relationship between the Warped and normal people. There was a character referenced in Book 2 named Helsin that got no “screen time” but will play a more prominent role in this story. He is a non-warped human that resents the Warped and has dedicated his career to forming his own elite team of problem solvers but, for them, the problem is anyone that is Warped.

And we haven’t seen the last of Banning and Kardu, of course, but what does that have to do with Helsin? And what about the political turbulence that was uncovered beyond the city of Dramis? Right, we have to get the dwarves mixed up in this too. Don’t know much about them, do you? I’ll tell you now that they don’t conform to cookie-cutter dwarves in other stories. Oh, and King Osric may make an appearance which terrifies most of the human kingdom. Why is that?

Naturally, it all gets even more complicated when Dragon throws a tantrum, Aratus outdoes Gandalf and yeah, war is declared. Such fun!

Book 2: Tempest of Betrayal is complete

The second book in the Supers & Sorcery series, Tempest of Betrayal, is now complete and has been posted for distribution according to the pre-order timeline. I’m already working on the story structure of the third book, but again I’m bringing along some learnings. Once again, I tried to tell too large of a story in the second book, despite thinking I’d learned my lesson before. We’ll see if the third time is the charm. I was glad to be able to incorporate more magic in this book (the sorcery part of Supers & Sorcery) and will explore this further in the third book. I really want to have the super powers and sorcery go head-to-head in an epic way. Once again, I did not pay an editor and I made the cover myself. I continue to focus on the content of the story and spend more time on the characters which deserve more attention. Anyway, onwards and all that jazz!

Book 2: Tempest of Betrayal progress update

With the first book, I believe one of the mistakes that I made was using multiple points of view. The goal was to keep the book short and I think that the story could have been told better and had more narrative cohesiveness if I had stuck to one point of view throughout. There just aren’t enough pages to accomodate parallel threads that are told separately and tied together later on. It would be fine if I were planning 400 pages and not worried about an economy of words. So, for Book 2, I had to completely rearrange the scenes and story points to accomodate all the same events and subplots but tie them together into fewer scenes and use only a single POV.

The overall effect is that the story is a little more complex, given that the main plot and all subplots are basically woven together from the beginning. That doesn’t mean their connectedness is revealed in the beginning, just that I, as the author, have to consider it all even before the story starts. It isn’t a problem for me, personally. I’ve spent decades being a story teller for players of RPGs and I revel in twists and connecting seemingly unconnected plots. The challenge is really just the timing. I had a plan for getting the first draft done by a certain date and I thought I had a solid outline when I set that date. As it turns out, I spent some of my writing time actually rebuilding the outline. Fortunately, I have a daily writing quota that will get me to the finish line in time, and it’s really not even a problem – assuming that I stick to my quota going forward. Speaking of which: back to the manuscript!

Book 1: The Dragon Tempest is complete

The first book in the Supers & Sorcery series, The Dragon Tempest, is now complete and has been posted to the various retailers while I finalize the plot and beats for the second book. I have so many plans and ideas for the upcoming sequels, it’s hard to know what to do next. The first five books are already prepped in my queue, but I want to create a world guide written in narrative form from a character’s point of view within the world.

I want to write ancillary short stories that are sometimes interviews with the characters and sometimes just exploring their lives and backstory further. I’ll probably bundle these things in with novels but also make some available on the website and others available only to members of the readers group. I will be up front about the production for this first book and say that I did not pay an editor and I made the cover myself. While I think it is important, long term, to hire an editor and a professional cover designer, I simply can’t afford the cost in the short term. In the meantime, I’m focusing on the content of the story and that’s certainly where my passion is.

The Supers & Sorcery series is under way

This year, I’m kicking things off with a series called “Supers & Sorcery”. The initial book should hit the market by the first week of February. The first in the series will be called “The Dragon Tempest”. The idea for this Dragon Tempest saga came from the personal desire to use a role-playing game world that I’ve been building, off and on, for years.

Once upon a time, when I played role-playing games excessively, I found myself too be the game master of multiple campaigns back-to-back. And after a while, I wanted to do something different than usual. There were lots of ideas, but one that really appealed to me was having the actual X-Men* be magically transported to the Forgotten Realms* and deal with hordes of orcs, giants, dragons and mad wizards.

So, I cooked up a world that was pretty typical for fantasy roleplaying, with the usual elements like humans, elves, and dwarves but decided to twist all the tropes slightly. Additionally, instead of magic being a thing and characters being standard classes (e.g. fighter, rogue, wizard) they would instead be superheroes with superpowers. If someone wanted to make a parody of an existing character from their favorite comic book or television show, it was allowed.

And once they had their “warped” character (rather than “mutant”) we set out to turn stereotypical fantasy adventures on their heads. That goal hasn’t changed with me writing these books. I’m still a fan of subverting tropes, so that’s what is going to happen here. Welcome aboard and have fun!

*: X-Men and Forgotten Realms are property of their respective owners, and likely registered trademarks in multiple countries.