Sunday, October 16, 2016

nysta #6: sea of revenants - behind the scenes

The sixth book in the Nysta series is out now. I've had some great comments on Facebook, some cheerful waves on Twitter, and the reviews are starting to drop onto the Amazon site.

If you've been enjoying this series, please consider picking a prong on the old social fork and letting people know. Word of mouth is the only real way for us Indies to get ahead.

That aside, I thought I'd tell you a little more about the book from where I sat writing it.

It was, of course, influenced by Lovecraft and Zatoichi in equal measure. In particular, Zatoichi in Desperation. But there were some other heavy influences. This book was actually written a lot of years ago and the original scene had Nysta riding a ship as it slowly sank. The ship had been victim of pirates with her as the sole survivor. She then dove into the water and swam through shark-infested sea with the darkness within giving some assistance to her passage before being rescued by an ork.

In a rowboat.

Because Rockjaw in the original was a fisherman.

In a rowboat.

I liked that scene, but then something happened.

Pirates of the Caribbean came out. And Johnny Depp stole Nysta's entrance. I'd also used more pirate themes, with a small gang of goblin pirates and the entire island ruled by a Pirate King. Naturally, I had to throw all of that out for now. We still need some breathing room before I can continue with that tack.

I decided, then, to take more influence from Norse sources. Why not? I love them, and the Fnordic Lands is mostly built around it. I read a lot about the kinds of raiders who nipped at Britain in the early days, touring the coast for booty to take home to their families. I liked that idea, and ran with it. I read a few history books for the journey, too. Mostly The Northmen's Fury by Philip Parker and The King of the North by Max Adams.

For a fictional aesthetic, I dabbled in reading some of The Executioner series by Don Pendleton. I still love pulp fiction, and have turned a little into crime during the writing of this book. I have found a particular love for Chester Himes, and if you can find some of his books you'll be doing yourself a great service by reading them. There's some near-absurdist scenes in them which are magical and he has a way of bringing alive a truly seedy underbelly with anti-heroes of the finest ilk.

Music also plays a big part for me when I'm writing. I usually slap on my headphones and pick a genre of music for each book. Some writers find sound distracting when they create, but for me it's almost like I'm writing with a soundtrack.

For this book, I listened to a lot of stoner instrumental metal. My top five bands for Nysta #6 were;
Yuri Gagarin
The Spacelords
Mother Engine

I found these albums extremely helpful when trying to conjure the more Lovecraftian imagery. There's some gorgeous guitarwork from all these bands and the pace and tempo of their songs inspired me greatly. Some afternoons, I kick back on the couch and plug myself in to just let my brain spear off into another world thanks to this music.

No drugs required. I like my brain as it is.

While writing, I was thinking a lot about Nysta #7, and how to lead into that from Nysta #5. She's in the Fnordic Lands now and needs to move back into what could loosely be described as civilisation. This book, then, shows that bridge by drifting from the more isolated landscape of the sea to the more urban imagery of a seaside town. I also added more characters to try and fill it up a little more. Give her a few sparking attempts at relationships.

Given things changed so much from the original vision of this book, I thought I'd give you a quick list right here of some of the more interesting pieces which didn't happen:

* The original book had no draug or Lovecraftian entity as a major character.
* Rockjaw didn't play any real part of the original draft.
* The Pirate King was having problems with a town on the other side of his island. That town was where the action was going to be focused, with Nysta discovering it as a springboard for the Caspiellan spy network into the Fnordic Lands.
* Nysta originally only meets Lux after rescuing him from those Caspiellans at the end of the draft.
* Her main companions were goblins. I felt I didn't want to overdo my favourite little critters, so didn't use them for this book.
* Lux was originally a lot more friendly and somewhat zenlike. He chuckled a lot.
* The ending of that book involved the Caspiellan using an old pirate artifact to raise a cthulhuesque entity from the deep who ended up going a little crazy and killing everyone. Including the Caspiellan leader.
* The goblins in this draft had been written prior to Nysta #3, so Quietly was a character in this one. Quietly died in this draft by being picked up by the cthulhu entity and flung so far into the distance that no one heard him land. Presumed: splatted. Reality: didn't.

As you can see, a lot of things can change when you write drafts. This book was once where I thought the Nysta series would begin. With her coming out of nowhere, fully formed and ready to fight. My problem was I felt I had to keep explaining pieces of her past and how she got to the island. Why she was travelling. Why she hated Caspiellans. All that.

It was easier, then, to go a few steps back.

And, speaking of going back, those of you reading will no doubt have noticed there's a lot of threads which SEEM to go nowhere or not get overly explored. In Nysta #6, one of these gets exploded in your face. This is because I consider every book to be a garden. And every garden works well when you seed it for the future rather than just work on making it look neat for today. I am lucky enough to know exactly where I'm heading with this series, so seeding these bombshells involves a healthy amount of sadistic glee.

Trust me. You ain't seen nothin' yet.

Nysta has a long journey. It has only just begun.

Saturday, September 03, 2016

nysta #6 sea of revenants - release date: september 4th

I apologise for some lengthy lacking of updates, but I recently suffered some chronic computer crashes and formats/reformats and the like. You know the drill, and I won't ruin it all by giving you my Microsoft rant.

Happily, though, my book was kept alive and has been edited to my satisfaction and a release date was offered. September 4th.

Why September 4th?

Because Lovecraft. On September 4, 1925, his story The Temple was published. This seemed too convenient a date to pass up.

Despite the problematic opinions of race and culture in Lovecraftian universes, and perhaps because of it, I wanted to write a book with a bit of a Lovecraftian influence. While not an overtly horror-theme, it's got the whole sea-god thing going and I hope that while it's not a Lovecraftian novel, its influences shine for you. As does the way I've tried to undermine the racial prejudices Lovecraft obviously held.

But Lovecraft isn't the only influence in this book. I was deeply moved by Zatoichi in Desperation, which is a great film. I have always loved Zatoichi, and I couldn't bring myself to write this entire series without making oblique references to him at least a hundred zillion times...

In other news, I've also updated my website. Check it out at and tell me what you think! Thanks to that go to Amir Zand for the awesome art and James Cardell-Oliver for the music. That piece just seemed made for my site, and when I heard it, I knew I wanted to use it.

Also, I am currently submitted in Mark Lawrence's SPFBO2, which is in progress. I am lucky number 97 and am looking forward to being shredded by one of Fantasy's most ruthless review sites, Elitest Book Reviews. I took a bit of a risk submitting to this list, especially given the rather out-of-the-box style of fantasy I've chosen to write, but I hope it at least helps some readers find me who would have otherwise missed me. I'm also hoping not to hurt too much when Elitest tear me a new one. I have my balm ready...

Finally, if you haven't pre-ordered or it's after September 4th when you read this, please check out my book on Amazon and get it if you can!

Sunday, August 21, 2016

my war on pronouns

I listen to a lot of punk music. Growing up, I listened to a lot of metal. I wore the torn jeans. Had the long hair. I never quite grew up, in fact. I still don’t like collared shirts and I’ll never work in a job which requires a tie. I’m not sure that I ever consciously wanted to rebel against society by refusing to start wearing plain clothes and listen to Bon Jovi with wistful nostalgia, but I’ve always had a hard time bending to the pressures of growing up and giving in.

Of getting a mortgage.

And, while sometimes I have my regrets (I’ve ‘ad a few – but then again, too few to men-shun – ha ha ha), I don’t regret the paths it has led me to explore over the years. While I encourage all the younger people I know to get real jobs, I couldn’t face doing it myself. And, if I could go back, I’d probably only do something worse and live in a trailer beside the beach somewhere. Again.

My rebellion isn’t one of in-your-face two-finger salutes. It’s more cynical and quiet. Kind of nerdish. I refuse to listen to the radio. I don’t watch TV with advertisements. I do not own a Che shirt. Some of my friends joke that if something is popular it means I will automatically hate it just on principle.

They might be right.

It was only fair, then, that I brought this instinctive rebellion to my writing. I remember writing a lot during my teens, thinking I was awesome. And it might surprise you to learn I cut my teeth on horror stories despite wishing I could write scifi. I never felt good enough to write scifi. Horror was where I began. Specifically, vampire stories at a time when vampires weren’t very popular. This was just before that grey time when the Interview With a Vampire movie came out and turned vampires emo. It’s what I was reading at the time, too. I was enjoying the Necroscope series by Brian Lumley, the Don Sebastian Chronicles by Les Daniels, Chelsea Quinn Yabro’s more historical romance St Germain Series, and even the Anne Rice novels.

My favourite was Poppy Z. Brite. She brought a kind of street edginess to the genre which was refreshing in a big way. I loved her goth style as I’d just exited a goth-industrial phase (surprise!), and also liked her imagery which seemed to grab from all over the place. I loved Lost Souls. It embraced being different, which is pretty much the chorus to every goth’s life.

It was from these horror stories, and my dream to write just like them, that I learned the value of well-placed gore…

When I made it to Uni, I was 21. I had left going for a long time while I explored art and the usual teenage angst things you do when you leave home at 15 and don’t really know who or what you are, let alone what you want to be. It wasn’t so much exploration of myself as much as a desperate need to not self-destruct.

I remember by the time I made it to Uni I already considered myself to be too cool for that school. I was obviously far too awesome and there was nothing I needed to learn. Luckily, unlike most people with an ego the size of Jupiter (and a love of heroin spoon stories), I lost that misconception pretty quickly after I got to one of my poetry classes tutored by Zan Ross. I remember Zan being enthusiastic about editing your poetry. What I took away was the need to cut words. To slash the poem down to its core, gutting it of unnecessary words. Any useless description or pretty language which acted only to be pretty. Adverbs seemed to warrant particular slashery. Show, don’t tell was the mantra at my Uni at the time.

I worked hard on that, because I could actually see the point of it. It was one of about three important things I think I got from my Uni when it came to wrestling with my own writing. I really admired the idea of ripping prose apart to bare its bones. I wrote my first books with this in mind. While not very good books (another lesson I learned was that you could pretty much accept that the first book you write is shit – and I feel this is true), they explored this sense of sharp prose. I aimed for shorter sentences. Less adverbs.

Then, I discovered Eric Dando, whose work Snail is one of the single-most important books to me as a writer. Eric (his works can be found on Smashwords) has been criminally neglected by local publishers. His book was pure poetry. Fragmented and hilarious segments interwoven into a story. Almost a diary. It’s gentle and humorous. It’s a work of absolute art despite its subject being what it’s like to live in share housing in the 1990s. I have no idea why this book was abandoned by Penguin and why He Died With A Felafel in His Hand became more well-known. Dando’s book was better. It was also where I learnt you don’t need impressive words to make a great story. Dando used simple language, but well-constructed in tone and texture. I could rant about it for days, but it was the book which taught me: keep it simple, stupid, because simple is not always stupid.

When writing my first drafts of Revenge of the Elf, I took a lot of the lessons I’d learned over the years and tried to weave them into something every writer yearns for: my personal style. I took a real risk with this, because though I wanted to write something accessible to a larger audience, I couldn’t bear to give up my rebellious streak. I tried very hard on the first draft to be “normal”, and failed. I failed because I couldn’t be normal. I’m not normal. I don’t imagine myself to be any kind of literary writer by any means, but I do try to be an artistic one where I can. I try to fill your head with imagery, even if that imagery is distasteful and melodramatic sometimes.

So, what led me to slash pronouns?

Again, Zan Ross’ poetry classes are to blame. I have become allergic to repetition in my writing. If I see the same word repeated, I start breaking out in pimples. I can’t stand it. I can’t stand every sentence beginning with a pronoun. I can’t stand them ending on pronouns. I can’t stand them being filled with pronouns. I couldn’t bear it. So I cut a few.

And then a few more.

And found I really did like the way it made the action POP. It’s like it turned it into a comic book. Or a fast stream of conscious poem fuelled by energy and violence. A list of scenes crashing into each other with frenetic pace.

I loved it. Along with my allergy to adverbs when describing speech, I feel it has defined my style and turned what might have been a bland page-turner into something I’m hoping could be seen as violent expressionism. Splashes of sentences slapped across the page in glorious colours.

Mostly red.

- published 09/12/2014

series review: a tale of the final fall of man by andrew hindle

When you're forging a career as a writer, it's sometimes painful to have writer friends. Especially when they want you to edit or read their work. I've always got a few excuses ready. Some of them are genuine. Andrew and I have been friends since Uni and, by rights, I should have an excuse ready for him, too. But I never need one, because it's always a pleasure.

I was entirely unsure what to expect when he first turned Eejit over to me. It was, he announced, the first in a new series for him. A scifi series which is set during the aftermath of some terrible Event. So, it's kind of a post-apocalyptic survival story set after some mysterious armageddon. In space. Okay, says I. Sounds fun.

To provide some background, I have to mention that in all my life, I've never met anyone who can churn out stories filled with humour like he can. He has a blog which you can read if you're interested. He posts short stories, background reading to his books, chats about general stuff and influences and you'll also get a look at what it's like to be an immigrant, since he packed his bags and left Australia for the rather cooler climate of Finland. Madness, I tell you. Without an ounce of Finnish language to his credit, he's managed to build what could only be considered a nerdy version of the perfect family life. And considering he's gone through (at last count) 2-3 bouts of cancer to various parts of his body, he's not doing too badly at all. He also met Christopher Lee.

If he weren't my friend, I'd hate him just for that.

In any case, I turned the first few pages of Eejit (links to the books below) with more than a few chortles and, before I knew it, I was finished. And wanting more. Let me tell you why.

Scifi, for me, is these days too influenced by Star Trek, Star Wars, or Neuromancer. If it's not boiling with fairly simplified fantasy plots set in space, it's going the route of Peter Hamilton (who admittedly blows my mind but you need to take a few weeks off work to read him and try to keep up with all the characters - the first books for which I've ever actually needed the Wiki whilst reading). Andrew decided on something a little different. Something softer in pace and more quirky in tone. I've described his books often as something like Red Dwarf crossed with The Office, buttered up with a few scraps of Iain M Banks and then put in the oven for a few hours until its juices leak a little Asimov. Sprinkle with a delicate touch of Douglas Adams and serve with a side of HOLY FUCK THERE'S FUCKING SPACE SHARKS IN THIS THING!

I kid you the fuck not. Space sharks.

Now, I honestly don't know who could have pulled this off with as much class as this. Also, instead of throwing them in your face, they're used with such exquisite scarcity that their menace is made even more powerful. Introduced over time, and even given a book devoted to learning more about them (Fergunakil), they work to provide a disturbingly effective dark side of the universe in a way I can't even begin to describe. These space sharks have ships. They fly about and eat people. Fucking amazing. I wish I'd thought of this. If I ever get a TARDIS, I'm going to go back in time and I'm going to steal this idea.

Space sharks.


Anyway. It's not all about space sharks. They're not even the central focus of the story. It's also not all about massive cube-shaped telepathic refrigerator people. Or insane computers, Walt Disney merged with Skynet, or spacey wacey timey wimey what-the-fucks. There's more than that. There's even some characters in this series. A lot of them, actually. And what I find remarkably pleasant is the fact that they all get their Avengers moments. They all have something to bring to the table which makes them interesting. And, with a seriously erratic and quirky humour, hilarious. Especially, and I say this because I'm me, the wonderful psychopathic doctor Glomulus Cratch. Actually, no matter who you relate to you're going to be satisfied.

As you possibly figured by the mention of some of the more exotic aliens above (SPACE SHARKS!), the array of alien and technological life in this series is spectacular. The depths to which Andrew chooses to explore cultures and give you a genuine feel for each alien race shows an incredibly deft hand when it comes to world-building.

Each book in the series could arguably stand alone, but there's a definite sense of progression and character development within their arcs. Many characters have mysteries and secrets, not least the reclusive and manipulative Captain. You get a real sense this series is driving toward something rather explosive and I, for one, can't wait for it.

If you're looking for a new scifi series which is well-written, somewhat like Lost in space (ha - see what I did there?), and doesn't treat you like a moron, then this is it. This is the one for you. And, as a bonus reward for reading it, you'll be getting SPACE SHARKS! What more could you want????

Space sharks.


review: lady of the helm by t.o. munro

When I first started writing Nysta, she wasn’t an elf. For a long time, she was human. I set it in a city of alleys and there was no magic. That changed when I decided I was sick of elves. Sick of Tolkien-style elves, anyway. What’s with the bows and the overly-graceful descriptions? They’re fantasy’s angels, and I’d had enough of that.

So, I made Nysta an elf. And messed with all expectations of what elves might be. It’s also why I pluralise them as elfs. Because I know how much that irritates a lot of people who don’t know that was a Tolkienism.

What has this got to do with T.O. Munro’s Lady of the Helm? Well, Munro has added something you don’t normally see in a fantasy setting. And he’s taken it from its original source and completely redefined it to suit his world. Yet, where I chose an elf, he chose a medusa. That’s right. Right out of Greek myth, and he threw it into a world which is so far removed from Greek myth that it’s got more in common with Tolkien. It even has elves in it.

Sure, she’s not the main character, but Munro’s medusa is probably the most intriguing character of his series. I’d have read a series devoted just to her. Her story, one of being cursed, exiled, then reforming her own legend as she rises in the ranks of an army of evil-doers, is a story which would be well worth the read and, after finishing Book 1 in this series, I was a little disappointed to not have had more of her story. However, given the Medusa theme to the next title, I’m certainly looking forward to reading Book 2.

If I told you the plot of this, you’d yawn at me. You really would. Essentially: Niarmit, the haunted heroine, reclaims her way after straying into rogue-style shenanigans, searches and finds mystic artefact only she can use to defeat the evil and then confronts said evil at the end.

Yawn, I hear you say.

But that’s not quite how it happens. Munro tips your expectations on the head and cleverly defies conventions to come up with something raw and new. I can’t tell you, because you need to read it yourself. But I can say it’s not quite how I expected this to end. Especially given the chaotic central character. Chaotic not at her core, but in that she begins the story as a priestess throwing off her healing powers to become an assassin, only to pop back into her dress for some reason and become a priestess again. Sort of. I don’t really know what she’s doing and I’m personally hoping we don’t go down the path of woman-as-nurse. So far, Munro has avoided that, but it scares me when female characters have uber-powerful healing abilities. Reminds me too much of my younger days of mmo gaming where people would show up with “Hi, I’m your DPS for the day. This is my girlfriend. She rolled a priest because girls love to play nurse.”

But that’s a different rant and is unrelated (reading this now, I think it was unfair to have written that minor rant in here, but left it in because I'm strange like that...) to anything Munro has written in Lady of the Helm. Also, given that there's more than one central female character, you can't accuse him of going down the route of casual cliche. (T.O. Munro has written about the challenges of writing female characters in a blog post on - read it here)

The magic artefact? That was brilliant. And brilliantly described and executed. Probably the finest example of what you should be doing with magic artefacts in a fantasy setting these days – push the boundaries of expectation. I felt pushed right up against the wall and prodded with a fist to the face.

I read this one really quickly and I really liked it. I loved the fact you saw both sides of the action, not just the good guys fighting faceless evils. As such, I never felt he was bound by the rules which often tie fantasy down. Especially when you're using elves (elfs - ha!). He keeps the action flowing, the dialogue going, and the intrigue building to an epic climax. You can’t go wrong with it.

Get it before it turns you into stone.

- published 25/05/2014

I'm joyfully happy to say you should TOTALLY be reading this series. T.O. Munro is a name I am certain will come up more often in the future. As Indie writers jostle for supremacy and recognition, I can't see him being ignored. This series is an amazing story and you really need to give it a try. Some of the more common Indie writers these days are writing in the familiar grooves which show definite influences from gaming (Skyrim, mostly) and some television, but T.O. Munro is entirely in a class of his own. This is what you get when Indie writers do it right. You get something special and genre-bending.

Trust me. You need to read this.

Check out The Bloodline Trilogy
Out NOW on Amazon

the challenge of getting honest reviews

I’ve had my first book out since the end of May and the second, Duel at Grimwood Creek, came out last week. Sales have exceeded my expectations. While I certainly can’t retire on them, they’ve been reasonably constant and much more than I had hoped. My problem is reviews. Other authors new to the biz seem to have literally dozens. And some authors seem tagged up their behinds with twice as many people upping their tag count than are putting up five-star reviews. But I only have five reviews, and all of those for the first book. And only one or two people tagged the books. (Tagging is no longer a thing on Amazon. - Lucas)

So where am I going wrong?

Well. Nowhere. There’s some maths out there somewhere which says for every 10,000 downloads of your ebook, you’ll get one honest review. And it won’t be guaranteed a five-star. There’s a movement starting at the moment which is pretty much creeping into Amazon, which is the search for an “honest” review. And those won’t be achieved in a quick space of time. I personally feel if a book has too many five-star reviews in a short period of time, then chances are most of those reviews were sourced. A look at the history of the reviewers also adds to this suspicion. Though, having said that, I know with some of my reviews, people didn’t necessarily review any great number of other books.

Then there’s the flipside of the coin where some people (possibly rival authors), put up one-star reviews out of spite. These, too, are more often than not made with a dummy account which reviews one or two books (usually their own with five-star and yours with one). It’s a trend which is slowly being noticed and given the appropriate snort it deserves. (Both sides of this issue, now referred to as Sock Puppetry, have pushed Amazon into changing many of its policies and there have certainly been many improvements since I wrote this article. - Lucas)

So, what makes an “honest” review? It’s hard to say. Not every review will be valid criticism. A review is, essentially, an opinion and on Amazon it certainly doesn’t have to be constructive. At the end of the day, Amazon is a shop, not a review site. Your book is an item and shoppers are simply expressing their satisfaction or dissatisfaction. And they won’t always be polite about it.

For me, I feel there’s a pressure put on ourselves to be somehow validated by reviews. We feel the hurt of a one-star, and seek to find out why anyone would say such a bad thing about us, but we can easily forget it’s not a personal attack. Indie writers in particular are very sensitive to these reviews. But we shouldn't be because they're just an opinion of your work. And some people don't like it in the same way some people don't like Cubism.

I still think the Amazon system is a great idea. Letting customers offer their opinions is what helps to unearth nuggets of pure gold which exist among the flotsam and jetsam. We might all hope to be that gold, but we can’t all capture the hearts of all our readers. Sometimes we have to admit we’re not mainstream enough to inspire a good number of reviews. And it’s a shame we feel that pressure and look to borderline unethical processes to provide a source of self-validation.

My personal attitude is patience. Wait for a review. Don’t push for it. I’ve had enough people send me notes via Facebook and email even, to know there's rare people out there who like my work. And that should be enough for me. That some people get it is good, right? In a way, I have begun to fear reviews more than want them. I fear the attention of the dreaded one-star army. And I fear the landslide of five-stars, because then I worry people will think I have family and lots of friends writing my reviews.

It’s a lose-lose situation. Which brings me back to the only real method of getting a truly “honest” review.


- published 04/10/2012

the smell of books: a nail in your bookstore coffin


Right. That’s it. I’m putting a nail in your bookstore coffin. I just read an article and it made me want to vomit (Are people not reading now that ebooks have become popular?). I’m really over the whole nostalgia thing for bookstores.

As someone who reads more than 2-3 books every single week, I feel pretty comfortable with wading into this stupid frikken argument with my size 8 shoes and stomping some heads. Forget my hopeful writing career. Forget that. This is about the reader in me. The person who grew up scrounging bookstores and secondhand bookstores alike.

So, I have to ask: is this kind of vomit-inducing article really necessary? It makes out that bookstores are dying because literature is dying. That Amazon, iTunes, battleshipped Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, and other ebook sites have destroyed literature. Literature. And according to articles like this, a book’s quality is defined not by its words but its smell. As though the stink of a book is its sole defining quality. And that’s just blatant bullshit. A book is defined by its words. Marketed, perhaps, by its cover. But defined entirely by its words.

Are people not reading now that ebooks have become popular? There. Right there. Did you see that? Ebooks have become popular. Which means, people are turning away from paperback and looking at their tablets or Kindles. Why? Because they’re sick of good stories? Because they’re tired of literature? Because they've devolved and can no longer read? No, you dunderhead. They’re looking for more convenience is all. Us readers are like that, you know. If we weren’t, we’d still be reading off clay tablets, because everyone knows you can’t beat the smell of clay.

You don’t believe me?

Well, just look here to your right. There’s a screenshot stolen from Amazon which shows just how many ebooks are out in every genre. Look at my favourite, Scifi and Fantasy. Look at that. There are 228 THOUSAND ebooks in this genre alone. 228 thousand. Let that sink in. How many Scifi and Fantasy books do you ever see in your local bookshop? If you’re lucky, you’ll see a hundred. Maybe a few hundred. Got a specialist shop? Couple of thousand. But you show me a fantasy bookstore with 228 frikken thousand books in it. Show me. THAT’S why we’re looking away from bookstores! There’s more convenience in carrying the device and more variety in the actual stories.

And now you’re opening your publisher-backed mouth to tell me some rubbish about quality and true literature and Traditional Publishers being gatekeepers of Gozer or somesuch nonsense just because they prefer to be called "traditional". You want to know another word for "traditional"? Boring. Or, old. Next they'll be telling me all their published writers write their books on genuine 1920s typewriters.

Now, look at the image to your left. Look. See? That shows you in the Fantasy genre alone, how ebooks were rated by those who read them. Look at it. Keep in mind, those are averages. Not the review, but the average per title. Which means there’s 95 THOUSAND Fantasy novels considered greater than 4 stars. That’s STILL more than you’ll find in any bookstore.

You’re about to say the sheer volume of titles proves it's all rubbish. Ever heard of pulp? Of course a lot of it is rubbish! But, so what? Some people like reading mindless trash. I hear romance novels sell by the bucket. And some people enjoy stories so far stuck up a genre that they practically bleed self-parody. So what? Not everyone likes the snobbery of Pulitzer winning books. Most of them made me yawn. And the ManBooker? Each book often came with free dust on it. I worked in bookstores for 12 years. I know what sells consistently and it’s not the high snobby literature you think it is, pal. It’s trash. Because we love escapism. We want to be transported to worlds unlike our own. We want and crave something new. Something fresh. Something different.

And, with 228 THOUSAND FRIKKEN books to choose from, I think I’m going to find one! It's time to face the cold hard facts. You walk into a bookshop and you’re faced with the same names as the last bookshop. Finding a new author is like finding a needle in a haystack. Sure, that never stops us looking. But it frustrates the hell out of me. With ebooks, I can spend all night sifting through author after author, reading the first chapter or two, and trying to find something fresh. Something new. Something astounding.

Some of it is complete rubbish to me, too. But out of the 228 THOUSAND Scifi and Fantasy novels, how many are going to blow my mind? Do you know? I don’t. I haven’t read them all. Yet. But I can tell you I’ve found dozens of new authors whose work has never seen paper. I’ve found authors whose creativity gives me an erection. Whose turn of phrase makes my panties drop. Whose imagery makes me shiver. Sure, they’ll never win any frikken award the salty-faced snobs obsess over, but they’ve won the biggest award they’ll get from me: my goddamned gratitude and awe. And if it weren’t for the rise of ebooks and the killing of bookstores and publishers, I never would’ve found them. Their gold would’ve remained locked away in the hills. But now it’s out. Now it’s being mined. Now I have so much to choose from and it’s making me giddy.

So, pick up your nostalgia for the smell of an old book and take it to the forest. Tell it to a trees you want to see cut down for the frikken satisfaction of having a book you put on your shelves which you probably don’t even read because you’re too busy sniffing its spine. Show your smelly library to your friends. I'm sure they think you're special. Me, I’m going to actually read a book. I’m going to find a great frikken story and I’m going to be entertained. I don't care 1 iota whether this author was published through a publisher or not. I won’t care 1 frikken molecule whether it got printed on a dead tree or not. All I’m going to care about is: did I fucking enjoy it? That’s it.

If you still think a book is somehow made better for having been printed through a publisher on a slab of dead tree with a broken spine and collecting dust, then go outside into the rain, emo pal. Find your favourite romantic-looking bookshop. And stand there. Look in through the wet window. You don’t see the underpaid staff at the counter wishing they had a better frikken job because the owners don’t pay them shit and they’ll never be able to afford more than simple frikken luxuries. You look at them and see the most romantic job on earth.

And with that kind of fantasy life, you should write your own books. Publish them on Amazon. There's a market for that, if you don't use paper.

End rant.

- published 10/07/2015

genre wars: urban fantasy vs. sword and sorcery

Okay, I admit it. I’m a genre snob.

There. That was easy. I can breathe deeply and move on now.

You’d think that, with my fourth book in the Nysta series coming out this week, I’d be focussed on marketing it. Well, you’d be wrong. Firstly, I’m hopeless at self-marketing. The best I can do is squeeze out a few Tweets and update my Facebook. I gave it a half-hearted try, once. Sent out a few reading copies to some reviewers who I never heard from again. I even got so far as considering a “blog tour” which is very trendy these days. Unfortunately, I am not very good with people so decided to simply allow my books to talk for me and pray for some word-of-mouth.

Secondly, I’ve been absorbed in how to position my book in Amazon’s endless swamp of genre codes.

At first, it sounds easy to pick a genre. I’m firmly genre fantasy. Firmly Heroic or Sword and Sorcery. I’m definitely not considered epic. I don’t have those big cartwheeling character arcs or page-counts numbering in the thousands. So, you’re thinking I just click and leave.

But I don’t. I actually am a bit of an egoist, so I try to figure out where I sit in comparison to others. It’s great to see I’m rather high on the Coming Soon charts. Yesterday, I was fourth. That gave me a grin. But when it comes to where I sit in the Sword and Sorcery genre, I am somewhat down the ranks. Sometimes I get around the 130-mark. But I can’t seem to break the Top 100 long enough to get it mentioned on my book’s page.

I can accept I’m no Joe Abercrombie or David Dalglish. I can accept Brent Weeks, Mark Lawrence and James Barclay also have me beat. I mean, they’re awesome writers. They should be up there above me. I’m proud simply to have any of them nod at my Twitterisms. I don’t expect to be among their elite cadre. But when I’m perusing the genre listing, I’m not seeing these authors. I’m seeing a ton of Urban Fantasy instead. Vampire hunters in modern L.A. or romantic liaisons between demons and their human Private Eye lovers. A few fairies. Virtually no one’s carrying a sword or an axe. Everyone has tattoos. Because tattoos are cool, obviously.

This isn’t a rant about the quality of urban fantasy. I’m sure it’s great. It wouldn’t sell if it wasn’t. And, as someone writing what can only be described as cheap pulp sword and sorcery action-fantasy, who am I to make judgments? But I have to say I’m completely befuddled at why many of these books are categorised as Sword and Sorcery. Does this mean I am not what I think I am?

Have I mistaken the genre? I always thought Sword and Sorcery was, at its heart, the story of a loner or small group of heroes running about from point a to point b and killing a bad thing at the end with their swords. Add some magic thrown in for effect. Nothing complicated. Always melodramatic. Always set in a medieval or historical setting. Not in New York. I’m wondering if maybe I should classify myself as Arthurian. Or Fairy Tales. Seems to make as much sense as half the books classified as Sword and Sorcery.

Defining your genre is a painful experience for most writers, but for Indie writers it’s an exercise in trying to find your audience. Trying to reach your reader. I kind of understand the desire to blanket Amazon with your goods in order to be found, but I still don’t understand why defining yourself as a genre you are clearly not is helpful to the readers themselves who probably end up hunting you down because they couldn’t find you where they expected you to be. In the end this blanketing is blurring genre definitions, and I wonder at the longterm consequences. If vampire books, for example, are now Sword and Sorcery then why can’t Guardians of the Galaxy be considered a Heroic Fantasy series of comics? I mean, it’s got heroes in it.

I’m not as bitter or cynical as you think I am. Actually, I’m more curious about what’s actually happening. What expectations do readers have when they’re browsing genres? Do they feel satisfied with vampire and Urban Romance being classified as Sword and Sorcery? Or does it frustrate them that they have to keep clicking on ‘next’ to get past items which don’t relate to what they think they’re looking for?

And, finally, whether there’s any point in having sub-genres in the first place if the items within it are mislabeled?

- published 30/08/2014

requires only that you hate

Hugos is over. Hurrah! The Sad Puppies won. Or didn’t, depending on which website you read. This means we now have another couple of months until it starts up again and one of the SciFi community’s most hate-filled controversies can consume us all again. What fun we’ll have as both sides point fingers, scream incoherently, raise banners calling for solidarity and and end to racism, and generally blog the shit out of the internet.

As an immature Indie hack not good enough to participate in such mighty literary events, I can’t wait for the next display.

For me, though, this wasn’t the controversy of the year. I mean, I don’t go to Cons. They’re full of people. And, once you’ve worked enough retail and customer service, the last thing you want to do on a weekend is go see more people running around with their entitlement boots on no matter what character they’re pretending to be for their YouTube channel.

No, the controversy of the year for me has been one which involved a little more personal hate. It was an interesting controversy on so many levels and it’s taken me this long to even consider writing about. I’m, of course, talking about the blog Requires Only That You Hate and the subsequent “doxxing” of its author as rising star, Benjanun Sriduangkaew.

First, I’ll talk about Benjanun. I started with her novella, Scale Bright, and it’s a great piece of Urban Fantasy set in Hong Kong. The prose style is different from much Urban Fantasy, though, by being poetic. It’s more of a literary style than the majority of Urban Fantasy which is often about as literary as your average Bestseller. Aliette deBodard (whose books I really like), also did the foreward to this one. There’s some really beautiful writing in this book. It’s no wonder her career was on a steep rise. Then doxxing really hammered a few brakes into her journey and no amount of apologies from her will be accepted.

If you never knew Requires Hate, or you only heard about her from internet articles, you missed something special. Something which was out of time and place. Something which belonged in Usenet during the 1990s. If you were involved in newsgroups back then, you’ll know what I mean.

A lot of people have called her a troll, which is an easy accusation to make. I was once called a troll so much that I ended up taking it as a badge of honour. I’d argue, however, that a troll doesn’t believe what they’re writing. A troll feels no passion in their rants other than a deep belly-curdling chuckle as they laugh at the rage of those who choose to respond with reason. A troll (in the usenet sense) might have been called a Devil’s Advocate anywhere else. A sociopath in other places.

But Requires Only That You Hate was something else. She had belief. And was passionate to the point of obsession. She ripped apart novels, movies, and television. She clawed it to pieces in sharp venomous prose which exposed the guts of her prey for the world to see. She sought to show the world how racist her prey was. How homophobic. She hunted down examples which she threw in your face as proof of the perpetuation of inequality. And she did it with a rabid glee which defied understanding when taken out of context of her writing style.

Aptly named, Requires Hate was never a passive observer. She was never a defender. She attacked with everything she had, throwing sharp-tongued comments at anything which appeared to conform to a social belief she found insulting. A lot of writers were caught in her high-beams. Many took the thousand cuts and said nothing. Others tried to defend. But you can’t defend against this kind of rage. You can’t contain it. You can’t push back on it. So, you either give in, or you end up responding with the same hatred.

And, I have to admit, when that happened it sure was amusing.

These days, when you read articles on her, you can read how evil she was. How horrible her words hurt. But what you find hard to find is an article discussing what it was Requires Hate was actually raging against. It’s almost like everyone thinks her passion was misguided. Aimless. As though she was just attacking her competitors with an anarchist's fervor. Others have made the claim that, as a writer, she was simply trying to undermine her competition.

But that really wasn’t it. The spite delivered by Requires Hate wasn’t for a commercial purpose. It was purely rage against what she once described as lazy writing. For example, one of her biggest sources of rage was finding rape in a novel purely for the sake of being there. God help the author who put a rape scene in their book to make their female character suffer. Woe to that author. Woe, I say.

Here I might make quick reference to one of her more powerful critics, George RR Martin, who has been on the receiving end of a Requires Hate comment more than a few times. It’s worth mentioning that, even if you didn’t read the books, you can see why he might really ping the rape radar, and why. Because, arguably, his books tended toward rape being “normal”. It almost made it “cool”. Especially once Game of Thrones became a tv series. And I don’t think anyone can argue Requires Hate was unduly focusing on the rape in this series, because you can’t talk about the series without talking about rape. It’s practically called Rape of Thrones, and even the porn parody has a hard time trying to figure out where the source ends and the parody begins except that porn has laws which prevent aggressive scenes which are portrayed in the television series.

When I found her blog by accident (due to a writer’s sad story on their blog), I had recently completed my first two novels. I had thrown them up and was doing okay with them. I thought I was the bee’s knees (like that pun?). I had actually been looking for people to look at my work. God help me if she’d found me. No one else would help me. You see, in my first novel, I had used a rape reference. Sure, no one ever got physically raped, but the bad guys make the reference. And that would’ve been enough for Requires Hate to impale me on a legion of spearlike verbal barbs which would have really hurt.

After reading one of her rants which lashed out at such lazy writing, I actually sat back and thought about it. Here I was writing a book about a heroine stabbing the shit out of people (because I like people that much) and I was trying to make a difference in my own stupid way, and I was basically conforming to what was, essentially, a social norm for white guy writers. If I could go back, I would like to write those comments out. That’s how influenced I was by this blogger’s work. In my subsequent books, I have not once written a rape threat and I never will in my books again. Because, she’s right. It’s fucking lazy.

In every book, a male character has a thousand ways they can suffer or be threatened. A thousand ways to be given guilt, fear, revenge, and hate. They can be made victims in a wide variety of ways both physical and mental. But, in most books, women only have one. Rape. Whether threatened or real, that’s all the female characters will be presented with.

In writing my next books, I had to actually think. I had to twist my brain cells and come up with something else. Something essentially heroic which would motivate and spur the heroine to greater sacrifice and hate. And you know what? That’s a challenge. A challenge I took and have decided to keep running with.

An argument often made by authors is “But this is what would have happened. It’s realistic.” You hear it so often, especially in defense of the rapes portrayed in the aforementioned Game of Thrones. And I’ve been examining that, too. In my novels, my books aren’t set on earth. People aren’t earth people. So, do they need to think this way? We’re writing SciFi and Fantasy. We don’t need “realism” on any scale. And, given the complaints about the use of the word fuck in my novels by an elf, I’d say realism is a poor excuse for anything.

Requires Hate scared people. She brought waves of razorblade comments and inspired more hate. She hurt a lot of people thanks to her sharp uncontrolled manner. But what she was trying to stand for was something most fantasy writers often say they stand for and may not always show in every aspect of their writing. I’ve heard rumours that a strong female character doesn’t have to be a rape victim. I know. Crazy, right? But this is why she screamed for equality of representation and a more positive portrayal of sex, race, and gender identity. Because it’s still so common for these elements to be used in a negative way in what can only be described as a dangerous cliché. I never understood some of the responses to her, which could have been curbed by, “You know what? You’re actually right. I did that and it’s fucking lazy.”

She was also quite open of her opinions of pretty much any white hetero male. Woe to us. Woe to me. But given the message she was trying to push, it’s no surprise. She saw inequality everywhere. Saw injustice in everything. Felt those injustices as a personal attack on her and, rather than cry in a corner, she lashed right back. There’s a lot of power in that. Power which can be frightening to some. Why didn’t I feel as negative to her as others? I should. I am, after all, a white hetero guy. I tick so many boxes of her sins that I can’t even begin to redeem myself. I wrote about rape, once. My sense of humour also wobbles deep into the territory commonly known as black. And if anyone ever doxxed me (yay, usenet!), Requires Hate would definitely want my testicles on a platter. Again.

I guess I admire her because I’m jealous of Requires Hate. Jealous because she had a belief she could remain true to. I wish I could feel that same drive. I’m not her, I never felt what she felt. I don’t possess the same focused rage. And, I see even on her twitter, Benjanun still holds her beliefs out there for all to see. I hope she lets Requires Hate back out of the box some day. Because we need her. The prevailing conception of people fighting for rights is that they should be peaceful. They should have clever memes of sunsets and asian people holding hands with white people. They should have pictures overlaid with rainbows. And, like lost hippies, they sing songs of love and acceptance. They stand in front of rabid racists and hate-filled Westboro monsters with silent reproach and a near-maternal sense of welcoming.

Requires Hate, however, stood there with knives. And said, “Fuck that bullshit. Bring it on.”

What’s amazing is the amount of hate on the internet left for her. There’s still people doing their best to worsen her reputation. To drive her back underground (where they argue she belongs). They call her the names she called them. Racist. Misogynist. Bigot. But the argument is real that she used their language. Their tools. She used the bigot’s arsenal right back at those she perceived as bigoted. It’s an interesting technique.

There’s no argument that if she wanted to be taken seriously, she went about it in a strange way. But, love her or hate her, I hope she made you think.

- published 30/08/2015

Sunday, July 03, 2016

a male writer's perspective

Don’t ask me why, but I was reading a Guardian article today. About the Arthur C Clarke awards. I’d like to quote the following;

International debutantes – two of them women – make up half of list, joining established writers in race for UK’s foremost science fiction prize

Do you see that? Two of them women. Joining established writers. Established meaning “male”. Because to be “female” means you are not established as a writer.

I’m not normally inclined toward judging a person’s occupation by their gender, so I found it suddenly strange that most occupations actually are. For example, you get a “politician” who is considered by default to be male so the gender-balanced job title is “female politician”. You get a “policeman” and a “female policeman”. You get a “soldier” and a “female soldier”. A doctor” and a “female doctor”.

This works the other way, too, in that you can have jobs seen as female by default. So you get “nurse” and “male nurse”. “Prostitute” and “male prostitute”. Of course, most of the jobs requiring the “male” prefix generally seem to be in the sex industry which might also be saying something about our expectations as to who is the default gender for what.

For me, I felt a little surprised that we have so many “female writers” and so many “writers”, but we do not have any “male writers.” This supposes the default gender for a writer is “male”. Which, if you go to your nearest bookstore, seems a little absurd in this day and age. Possibly it’s the same for those other hand-picked occupations I listed, but I’m not currently working in those fields.

In any case. While reading that article on the Guardian, I wondered if the article upset the “female writers” being used in the article as some kind of target. It smacks of an accusation of tokenism just by the way they present it. Which it shouldn’t, because I know for a fact that the whole charade of having a decision should be done away with and Kameron Hurley should just be given the prize as, let’s face it, her books are the best thing to come out of Science Fiction in years.

Thus, by simply showing some stats and holding up their “female writers” to the crowd, the award promoters and the newspaper blogger (I couldn’t dare call these people, who get their stories from twitter and facebook, journalists these days any more than I would expect someone to call me an author), is belittling and completely dismisses the actual quality of the work which is being awarded even if this was not the intended result.

Instead of “This ratio carried through into the final six shortlisted titles, two of which are by new female authors,” said Hunter.“, it should have read; “There was no need for ratios because we chose the best fucking books we read this year.”

Followed by “And the award goes to Kameron Hurley.” But that’s a given. I’ve already prepared my congratulations tweet. (update: Kameron Hurley was ROBBED! ROBBED, I tell you...)

I’m also looking forward to any “She olny wun it cuz she a chix” arguments. Note the lack of spelling. Bigots can’t spell. That, too, is a given. (This attitude is already evident in the subsequent comments of that post with such awe-inspiring leaps of logic as “I didn’t find last year all-male shortlist sexist. This pandering on the other hand…“)

For myself, who will no doubt go on to win a generous helping of zero awards (hey, us hack writers look forward only to the sound of crickets and the odd titillating review on Amazon), I feel only respect for all the writers who were chosen. I respect their skills because, whether I like that person’s writing or not, they’re on their game. They work hard and bleed for their art. They struggled to get where they are. They endured criticism as much as encouragement and lived to tell the tale. And besides, writing is an art and thus you don’t have to personally enjoy something to respect its value to the genre.

Therefore, it is not fitting that one group of writers is defined by their gender while the other can happily go on about their business. That by not having to tack on a default gender to their occupation, they’re automatically deemed worthy to be included in any awards shortlist without sneering accusations of tokenism.


Hello, my friends. I am Lucas Thorn and I’m a male writer.

- originally published 22/03/2015 on

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

nysta #6: sea of revenants - the inspiration

I'm still plodding away with Nysta #6, and it's coming along nicely. In case you haven't heard it yet, you can still listen to unedited versions of the Prologue as well as the First Chapter as read by the inimitable EdPool here. It's well worth the hilarity.

For the record, viking sails were made of wool. I googled that shit before I wrote it...

Which brings me to the reason I'm writing this little post. Influences. When you're writing the 6th in a series, you're looking around for inspiration in some remarkable places. Sure, I was lucky to have already written this book inside my head (actually, I'd written it almost halfway through), but I still needed something to help with the overall feel, and some of the side-stories for characters getting involved.

For example, I've roped in an ork who is a returning character whereas he wasn't there in the first draft. In fact, he was actually in the first draft for Nysta #4, but I replaced him with Hemlock and Melganaderna. In this one, he's replacing what was a small mob of unruly pirate-themed goblins because I didn't want to overdo the goblins by having them in every book.

This meant changing so much of the original story to fit him in. Which meant hitting the drawing board...

I knew with this book that I wanted a more pirate setting. Originally, I had a more Caribbean feel but, and this is true, I'd written it long before Johnny Depp impressed us all. So, I had to throw that out because I didn't want to be accused of ripping it off. Wondering what to replace it with, I thought of a documentary I'd just watched on vikings. And it made me think of how they'd go off for seasonal raids and I wondered if that'd work here. Perhaps my raiders lived in an archipelago and floated south to raid Rule's kingdoms in the summer. And perhaps they were kept safe from Rule's ships by an ancient power living in the sea off the coast.

Which, of course, led me to Lovecraft.

Originally, I didn't have much in the way of horror. Or Lovecraft. But I decided I wanted to get a feeling of madness to this ancient power, and then I thought I might as well just slap some Lovecraft in anyway. Not too much, because I don't want it to BE Lovecraft. But just enough to give it colour. Feel. And it gives the added bonus of seeing Nysta in a world she hasn't been before. Still a little out of her element as she heads to the joyously urban and ruthless city of Dragonclaw.

Bringing back draug was a no-brainer, but I thought I'd add a twist to it. And make them draug of the sea, as they are in many Norse legends. I was inspired a little by this website, which listed some Norwegian creatures. While I'm not going with their description, it was a platform for thought...

I spent some time brushing up on the Cthulhu mythos, of course. More to look at how Lovecraft described his architecture than anything else. I had thought of having strange creatures in this book, but I decided against it, instead keeping the hints to the next books coming.

And speaking of hints, I've been looking forward to this book because it resolves one of the greatest mysteries Nysta doesn't know she's a part of. A mystery I've often placed in front of you in some ways. And I hope the payoff is worth it. It's something I was inspired to do by reading, of all things, a book on Nazi Germany and the evils that live inside us all. I'm reading a lot on this terrible era at the moment, for obvious reasons. I'm looking forward to introducing some of the Fnordic Lands' more powerful and influential organisations. Their versions of population-controlling military and paramilitary. With spies, assassins, thieves and brutes of all sizes.

Other things which I will nod to influencing me at the moment are the music of Tom Waits, Andrew Hindle's the Final Fall of Man series, and the Mack Bolan executioner series!

So, there you go. That's what I'm thinking about while writing this book. It's coming soon, I promise.

I hope you will enjoy it!

Finally, a quick shout-out to T.O. Munro's review of Nysta #2! Check it out! T.O. writes amazing articles with more thought than I can manage, which explains the genius behind a man who can slip a medusa into a European-influenced fantasy series without it being out of place! I highly HIGHLY recommend his series.

Monday, March 21, 2016

special youtube edition sneak peek at nysta #6: sea of revenants

Whenever I'm getting close to finishing a book, I like to share the cover and the Introduction chapter as a way of drumming up some lust for both my body and my book (I'm now officially as hot as Mark Lawrence, you know...).

This time, my friend EdPool had an idea. Essentially, he's celebrating a milestone on his site (his 1000th post) and he wanted to play with YouTube. He is considering reading extracts from books while wearing his infamous spandex Deadpool costume. I say infamous because, well, you have to see it, I guess.

I figured, sure. It's a great way to share my Introduction chapter. I wasn't sure, however, if it was enough or whether he'd get some material out of it, so I gave him both the Introduction AND the formal chapter one, and said go for it.

Fortunately (unfortunately?), he used both. In 3 parts.

So, if you'd like to check out the sneak peeks of the upcoming book, Nysta #6: Sea of Revenants, check out the YouTube videos below as EdPool reads them with his patented version of commentary and editorial criticism...

As always, if you enjoyed these, check out his blog and his own series of scifi (much more intellectual than my pulp offerings), beginning with the first, Eejit. Also check out my Facebook page or Twitter Page where you can get notice of these kinds of things long before I pull my finger out of my lazy ass and blog about them...

Saturday, March 12, 2016

tom clancy's the division - a rogue gamer's opinion

Those of you who know me, know I love a bit of gaming. And I'm always up for some pvp.

Looking at The Division, I thought I'd find myself swept away by its 3rd-person style. I mean, I used to love shooters, but as games got better post-doom, I found myself more and more falling victim to travel sickness and unable to play shooters. But, for some reason, my brain doesn't gunk out when playing 3rd-person.

I've been mostly rocking single-player games this past few years, as my wife's been at uni and unable to devote time to playing the mmos we normally play. I figured we'd try this together. Got a copy for myself first to make sure she'd like it.

And this is, then, my review.

Now, when I first loaded up the game, I wasn't impressed. I was looking at an entirely black screen with a mouse triangle in the centre. Sure, the mouse icon is amazing, but I would have preferred to play the game. A little internet research shows this is a bug which has been around since beta and which ubisoft didn't think was worth fixing. Probably because it's a PC thing and they prefer console "gamers".

Anyway, it's easily avoided with a bit of alt-enter and some editing of setup files, so meh.

Finally, I got to character creation.

Seriously. That's what they call it. It's mildly amusing and has less options than Mortal Kombat. For a game wanting to be an mmo, this is cute. It's the kind of thing you expect from an indie production which could only afford to animate two models and had only one artist to quickly knock up a few extra shirts. So, you rock into the collective area and see everyone's a clone. Even the NPCs.

Also, you can't actually NAME your character. It's an RPG and you can't even name your character. I mean, that's just bizarre beyond bizarre. No customising in any way, and it wants to pretend it's a MULTI-PLAYER RPG?


Well, I'll give.

I logged in.

Sort of.

Eventually got in past the queue. Meh, I forgive them that. I've played plenty of mmos in their first week. But this isn't really an mmo, is it? It's a single-player game with a few multiplayer elements.

Anyways, I find there's a living breathing world. Not. There's some civilians. You can't kill them. Why can't I kill them, ubisoft? I want to kill them. I can kill pigeons, though. I found that out. That's a nice touch. Still can't kill the people. That's disappointing.

Open world, they call this. In other world, it's a large map with 5-10 quests on rails but you can choose where you want to go first. It has a real similar feel to City of Heroes. Which is kind of sad, because that's, like, old.

Also, I discovered that the server sometimes kicks you. Given you're playing a single-player game (haven't got into any multiplayer levels), this is frustrating. More frustrating than you think because when I logged back on again (straight away and confused), I found I was dead and had to respawn and start again. Nice. Real classy.


Anyway, I'd like to get more in depth, but to sum my experience with this game so far today, I'm going to leave you with a small handful of screenshots I've taken. As you can see, the game has some really immersive graphics...

Thursday, March 10, 2016

nysta #6: sea of revenants - cover reveal

Rumours of a Cover Release for my next book, Nysta #6: Sea of Revenants are true!

You can get a taste of it in the banner above, and if you'd like to see the amazing superb image in its full frontal glory, visit my Facebook Page and see it there.

It's once again designed by Amir Zand, who makes this look effortless. His blog showcasing more of his art can be found here. I've worked with a couple of artists over the years and I have never had the pleasure of someone so creative and innovative in what they do and how they challenge themselves.

I give very little in the way of outlines to him. For this, he only got a very basic : Ummm, there's a sea in it. And ummm, zombies. And, ummmmmm, islands. Lots of islands. Yeah. Cool.

I'm the world's worst client. And he still comes up with amazing ideas which often work to shape my final edits as I get inspired in turn by the cover.

The new book is also hoping to have a slight Lovecraftian touch, so the cover also helps to sell that, I think. There's an almost classical touch to it as much as a misty mountainous island belched on by Cthulhu feel.

Brilliant stuff.

Now to make the contents match the cover!

Sunday, March 06, 2016

rebels in a literary class war: how contempt ignites pride in indie writers

When I first imagined myself as a writer, I wanted to be the kind of writer who wins a Pulitzer. I didn't want to write fantasy, though I read it with rabid pleasure since I was 9. I wanted to write something literary. Road stories with deep and meaningful lyricism in the prose.

When I left home, I discovered that dreams don't pay bills.

Later in life, when I decided to pursue this writing thing as a potential career, I still couldn't shake the dream of winning awards. Only this time, I was hunting for Hugo. Or Gemmell. Something to validate myself as a writer. To let me know I wasn't just a hack. And I knew the only way to do that, was to be published by a big publisher.

For a while, I entertained this idea. I sent my books off all over the place. Penguin. Macmillan. Smaller publishers. I still hold onto one of my rejection letters from Macmillan which advised I was "too funny" to be published through them and recommending I pursue the market via England. There was then a request from the Macmillan reader to have the rest of the book beyond the extract I had provided so they could read the rest of it because they personally liked it, but wanted to assure me there was no chance they'd publish it.

I declined sending it. You want to read it, you can pay for it yourself.

Eventually, I tired of being advised to trim the violence and lose the humour. To turn the main character into a wounded fragile farmer and give her a redemption story. To make her an assassin in name only. And I decided to leap into the new world of Indie Publishing which has been made possible by the impressive efforts of Amazon.

I still don't think the literary community has fully grasped the future Amazon is offering. It's a future in which people like myself, who write stories for genres so small publishers are reluctant to print, will earn a living. It's something we never thought we'd do. I am at the moment making enough money to more or less stay at home and write. I am working a little only to afford to pay off some longterm debts I had. But if things improve as they have been, I won't need to work. I'll finally be what I wanted to be when I was 9. A fulltime writer.

The strange thing is that even though I've had a (very) modest financial success, I am still treated with utter contempt by the publishing community at large. Every day an article is released which condemns me because my books don't smell like dust and mold. Every day I read a snide comment complaining about the quality of my writing not being good enough. Every day I am treated like a beggar as though only my friends and family would buy my book (for the record, I left home at 15 and I'm mostly a recluse so I have neither of these things). Every day I am made to feel worthless and inferior to any other writer who's managed to earn a contract with a publisher.

To me, what's occurring is a literary class war. One which positions published writers as smug lords and ladies and indie writers as less than servants. We're the lower classes. The unwashed. The unclean. Our work is unpolished and our characters unmarketable.

We keep rising. We keep standing above published authors and gaining a quiet (very quiet) fanbase. It's almost as if fans of indie authors are afraid of speaking out. And you can see that sometimes in forums when a fan mentions an indie writer. Immediately, they're accused of being the writer or the writer's family. And while sock-puppetry is indeed a thing, it's not a thing reserved solely for indie authors. More than one published author has been caught doing the same.

I've had very few reviews. I'm not mentioned in any lists. Yet, I sell pretty consistently. I enjoy a steady rise of sales which proves to my mind the fact people out there do enjoy indie writers. Probably because we take risks. We're not afraid to be bold. Our work is the work of passion unfettered. It's the work of utter devotion to our own dream without interference or outside manipulation.

It's raw.

It's powerful.

And it's often unique.

This is not to say a published author isn't as bold, but their books are more often chosen to appeal to large demographics. This is both a strength and a weakness. While some publishers (Angry Robot) buck this trend, the majority look to playing safe. And there's nothing wrong with that. There's really not. I'm not talking so much about skill as the marketability of the plot/character/stylistic choices.

As an enthusiastic reader myself, finding a gem in a haystack is an experience like no other. When you read a book which makes your heart pump, it's a gift from the writer to you. No matter how they were published. No matter how their book smells. It's a pleasure only you, the reader, can feel. One you should be proud to receive.

More of us indie writers are gaining the confidence which comes from success. While we may not be acknowledged and our works overlooked by blogs, podcasts, and magazines, we're getting where we need to be. Which is with the readers.

This class war, you see, isn't really about the writers. It's the readers. Every attack on ebooks is an attack not on the writers, but the readers who read them. It's an attack on their intelligence. Their taste. Every time an article proclaims a book is not a book unless it smells funny, it's insulting the reader who wanted a good story rather than a nasal spray. It's saying: You're not good enough to read our books.

It's snobbery at its most hardcore and only serves to reinforce the tired old stereotype of the literary writer with their nose in the air. Which I know is not how writers want to be perceived. They just want to be perceived as I did. As successful, and respected for what they do. Respected for their art. But with every volley the marketing arms of publishers let loose, it undermines everything and ensures the dividing line between traditional and indie writers stays firm and clear in the mind of readers. Demanding readers firmly choose a side in a war over profits is cynical to the point of obscenity.

I would never ask people to stop reading published novels. Why should they? I love them myself. I love any good story. I don't care who wrote it.  And while I am often highly critical of the way publishers are reacting to the rise of indie authors, I'd never heap shit on the doorstep of a single published writer. Because they're not the ones in charge of this narrative any more than we are.

Mark Lawrence recently promoted many indie authors on his blog. It was a wonderful and kind gesture from someone who had no need to do so. It raised a lot of awareness for writers who have a hard time being seen through the veil being applied to the fantasy genre by publishers intent on killing ebooks. This kind of trade between the two sides is, in my opinion, the best thing that could happen. Because it encourages fresh blood and revitalises the old. It also encourages readers to open their minds to things they might have closed them to. Which is only a great thing as it might encourage publishers to take more risks.

So, before you take up your flag and start planting it on one side or the other, give thought to the kind of dialogue you're encouraging between readers and fans. We already have the Hugos, so isn't one miasma of self-righteous grandstanding enough for our genre?

If you really want to be a rebel, then tell a new kind of story. One for all of us. In this way, we'll all feel proud.

(For the record, I did not get mentioned on Mister Lawrence's blog. But Amazon did declare me as hot as he was. And I have the photo to prove it.)

Friday, February 12, 2016

writing fantasy's most graphic violence

A lot of authors write violence into their fantasy novels. Joe Abercrombie's been leading the charge for a few years now (and it's always nice to see a fellow George G. Gilman fan), and many have followed beneath a banner of grimdark.

So, where do I think I'm different?

Well, I'm a little more graphic. I'm not sure that's something to be proud of, though, and I'd like to use this post to explain why I decided to go this route.

Firstly, I was dissatisfied. I guess I've grown up around 80s action flicks, Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, Deadpool, and horror movies. You might not know this, but I used to review horror films. This is going back to the late 90s and I've now long since OD'ed on them, but I loved watching them. Splashier the better. No, sorry, I wasn't a King fan. I was more into James Herbert.

If you haven't read James Herbert, he's an amazing writer. He was brilliant at making you care about a character in record time. In one short chapter, you'd get some backstory and enough personality that, when the rats ate that character at the end of that same chapter, you really felt bad. And boy, did he know how to make entrails glisten. Graphic as hell, he made my teen jaw drop. I'd never read anything quite like it.

When choosing how to portray the violence in the Nysta series, I toyed with a few different styles. I was originally much more subdued. The action was less stylistic, and more straight-forward. I changed my way of thinking after reading a popular author who wrote a lot of books about a supposed assassin character. Only, the twist is, his assassin character was never actually an assassin. They were the good guy, and they had honour. They seemed to only kill bad guys.


I decided Nysta would kill anybody. Just pay her enough. And, while I'm developing her code of ethics over the next few books, I already know her code won't stop her killing possible good guys. Just pay her. Or else.

With that kind of decision, graphic violence more or less becomes compulsory. And you have to be willing to get your hands wet, so to speak. Splashy. Grisly. Entrails like a busted sack of eels (loved that line).

I'm writing this because people ask if fantasy should have this kind of violence. I can only answer with a shrug and say, it depends. It depends on what you're trying to achieve. Would this work with Lord of the Rings? Probably not. Or Salvatore? Probably not. And I'm sure Eddings didn't want to go down this path, no matter what Beldin wanted.

Violence is, in essence, a character of its own. It's something which adds colour to your story, and that colour doesn't always need to be vicious and red to make your story work. Gritty is not always best. It's just one style among many. Choose it with care, because you can't escape it once you make it your own...