Friday, April 30, 2010

The Shard Cast - Edo and Orcbait

See earlier posts for more characters.

I am posting these two together because they represent an unusual situation - Edo is the standard POV character (meaning, for any who don't know, that everything in his chapters is shown directly from his viewpoint), yet Orcbait is the true hero character of this particular storyline. The reason for this will be apparent if you read on.

Edo - a 53 year old ranger who works out of East Gate, the huge fortress that guards the only major pass through the Helisgaard mountains. He was left as a baby near East Gate, most likely by a barbarian woman who had been raped by one of the Greatlanders. So, Edo grew up cleaning stables and running errands at "the wall" (another of East Gate's many names). He eventually befriended an elderly ranger who helped him get into the corps.

Edo isn't a particularly good ranger. He can't hit anything with a bow, and he is merely passable with a sword. He has a decent heart, which is probably the best thing that can be said about him.

Orcbait - of unknown age, but certainly in his early 50's. No one knows Orcbait's real name. He was sent to East Gate from a tiny farming village located on the southern edge of the Black Woods. He is mute and hideously ugly. He owns few teeth, and those he still has are all blackened stumps.

He was picked on terribly when he arrived at the wall. He got his nickname from someone who said his mother would have done him a kindness to "leave him out in the woods as orc bait." A commander who didn't want Orcbait wrecking his unit's morale pushed him off onto the ranger corps, and since Edo's partner had recently died of old age, Edo inherited Orcbait. He was really upset about this and harassed Orcbait terribly, but it didn't take long for Orcbait to demonstrate real skill at ranging. Orcbait is the best natural tracker of the corps and a crack archer, too. Now the pair have worked so long together that there is an unspoken language that passes between them, and Edo can readily speak for Orcbait in most situations.

As my story opens, the two old rangers are guarding a merchant wagon on its way to the barbarian city of Dryn Hador. They are summoned before the king of the Alsean tribe, who asks them to rush a message back to their commander - a strange and deadly army is pouring out of the far east, destroying any tribe that gets in its way, heading relentlessly toward East Gate. The Alsean king wants refuge for his people.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Shard Cast - Xaxanakis

It looks hard to pronounce, but it’s not. Xaxanakis is pronounced Zax-AN-a-kiss. Anyhow, he goes by the much shorter 'Xax' to his friends.

His name is really Artyom Vasiukov, and he was a Russian scientist back on earth. His story is long, complex, and I am covering it in my second book that I am writing now. What matters is that he and his fellow scientists arrived on this new planet 6,000 years before my story begins. They were in shock that the flora and fauna of this world were nearly identical to that of earth; it's not how evolution is supposed to work.

Over a great length of time the scientists found that they had the ability to 'see' the energy that flowed through every atom. The elves they met called it magic. No one born on the planet could use it directly, though elves and dwarves could incorporate small amounts in the goods they manufactured. The scientists learned that they could actively manipulate the magic, though it was physically exhausting to do so. Thus, the scientists became the wizards of this world. This was when Xax decided to pick a name that sounded like a good 'wizard' name (in reality he would have chosen something like Merlin or Gandalf, but we can't go there in our own fiction).

They quickly discovered that much was different on this world - gunpowder wouldn't work properly; the same with electricity. Time itself appeared to move far slower for them than for the inhabitants of the world. In that 6,000 years Xax appeared to age only around 25 years. At the time my story begins, Xax believes he is the only remaining survivor of his group.

As my story opens, Xax has had a vision that leads him to believe that the Known Lands are in great danger from a mysterious invader, and the only way to stop them is to find a sliver of crystal that was lost in the Helisgaard mountains nearly 800 years ago, when the elf hero Kathkalan attempted to slay the deadliest dragon ever known to man.

Now Xax must seek aid from those he believes may be strong enough to recapture the lost shard and save the Known Lands.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Introducing the Cast of The Shard - Lord Welby

So, I have been posting a bit recently about my first book, The Shard, mainly because I put the first 13 chapters up at Authonomy and have been rabidly following it's sluglike crawl up the charts. I get the impression that few people on the site are really into fantasy, or at least adult fantasy. I have had nothing but great comments so far, but every book that has been uploaded after mine has risen far faster.

I thought I should introduce my cast of characters. The book cycles between a number of main characters, so to keep this reasonably brief I will introduce just one of them. Note the picture I use in my blog header? It was the inspiration for this character. It's a statue from Zagreb, Croatia, and I really loved the posture of the figure on the horse, as it showed far more world-weariness than such statues typically do. The only thing wrong is that he is wearing plate armor, while my knights stick to chain.

Lord Midas Welby - a minor noble, born in a small fishing village in the Westlands region of the Known Lands. At 16 he served his required two years of duty in the army at the capital city of Pangalia. He proved to be very capable and reliable, so he came to the notice of Havlin Tathis, the ruler of the city of Iskimir. Midas quickly rose to become the captain of the city guard and a confidante and friend of Lord Tathis, and eventually he was married to Lord Tathis's daughter Rina and given a tiny province. As is the fashion of the Westlanders, he gave the province his own surname - Welby.

Midas and Rina had four children, three sons and a daughter. The story opens three years after the tragic death of their eldest son. With his marriage on the brink of collapse and the realm slowly descending into chaos, Midas is torn between his responsibility to give his teenage sons the experience they need in order to develop into great leaders, and his fear for their safety.

Welby borders on Laithtaris, the last remaining stronghold of elves in the Known Lands. The elves have withdrawn from contact with mankind, so Midas knows them only by the legends. Elves are known to be the greatest force for good in the world, so Midas is shocked when he finds five men slain by elven arrows on his border with Laithtaris. It is clear that the men were sent by someone to deliberately sabotage the peace that has held for centuries. Midas sets out to prevent the situation from escalating into war, only to find that the king - widely considered to be one of the wisest that the Known Lands have had - seems to desire a war with the elves.

By the way, the very first scene I wrote for this book was based on the statue I mentioned above. The way the figure slumped in his saddle made me envision the scene in my book where Midas is sitting on his horse staring at the corpses of five men slain by elven arrows on the border of his province.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Cover Art for The Shard

I didn't like the generic covers Authonomy had available for use with books, so I had to mock one up really quick. I wish I were better at doing these sorts of things. I didn't know what kinds of fonts or colors would be best, so I picked things that looked semi-decent though I know any pro would cringe. 

This picture wasn't meant to be a cover. The art was done by Shane Tyree. It works better as a fold-out piece of art within the book. Here it cuts off the head of the dragon. Also, I don't think book covers should give away important plot points, such as the fact that the big, bad dragon has been dead for a long time already.

I think Shane did an excellent job of capturing the way this moment looked to me in my mind. This scene is where the elf Alvanaria and the minor noble Midas creep into the lair of the dreaded black dragon Kathkalan. They figured the dragon must be away since they couldn't hear anything, but they were still terrified as they stalked into the pitch black room.

Alvanaria figures out the truth first and lights a torch, nearly frightening poor Midas to death.

Click to enlarge. I also have an earlier post that shows a version of the whole picture, though that's a not-quite-finished version. Anyhow, I encourage people to look through and comment on earlier posts; I wrote many of my most passionate thoughts early on before anyone was reading.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Fantasy and Young Adult

I've been watching my book on authonomy when I get the chance. It is interesting, if a little sad, to see how books do on a site where social networking skills are far more important than the quality of the story and writing.

The most interesting thing I have noted there, however, is that when I take a look at novels listed under Fantasy, by far the vast majority of them are also listed as Young Adult. I suppose this must be what the market says it is after these days. I know that if one wishes to have a mega-blockbuster the book better capture both YA and adults.

I liked the Harry Potter novels, but overall YA is not to my taste. I wonder if there is any benefit at all to me for having written a novel not aimed at YA at a time when the fantasy slushpile is mostly YA? Perhaps some fantasy agent will be so tired of seeing nothing but YA that my adult novel will be refreshing. Perhaps they will recognize that a fresh wave of interest in fantasy must surely be coming with the pending release of The Hobbit movies. With all of those fantasy fans having already purchased the Lord of the Rings novels after those earlier movies, I expect they will be searching for other epic fantasy books that can fulfill their craving for all things Tolkien. Now if only an agent would realize this is coming and check out my book.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Shard - first several chapters

I'm nervous! I just put out the first few chapters of my epic fantasy novel The Shard at Authonomy.  I don't know how cool the reviewers are there, but I figure I can always delete it from the site if I don't like how things are going. I don't intend to network, as I strongly believe that a book should sink or swim based solely on its own merits, not on how strong a networker I happen to be. I sure wouldn't mind some honest opinions on it. I want to find out whether people will truly want me to post more chapters or not.  Warning - many people are sick and tired of Tolkienesque worlds, especially elves and such; this book is for those of us who love such worlds.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Oust These Words!

There are some words that I have long believed shouldn't exist in the English language. I'll mention two of them today.

SUPERNATURAL - Yeah, I know what the dictionary says, that it merely relates to 'an order of existence beyond the visible observable universe' (Webster Dictionary) or appearing to transcend the laws of nature. In my opinion, though, this word incorporates human ignorance, naming something to be outside of nature simply because we do not yet understand it. I think it is very simple - if something exists, then it is natural. It does not matter whether we currently understand it or not. If ghosts or demons or anything else that we call supernatural actually do exist, then they are obviously natural.

PULCHRITUDINOUS - Ugh! What a horrid word. I know about its Latin origins, but I dare you to go up to a woman in a bar and tell her how pulchritudinous she looks to you. I bet she slaps you. The very sound of this word makes me imagine rotting corpses with maggots crawling through the bloody muck of their intestines. How this word could possibly have the meaning of physical beauty is beyond me. Either remove it from English, or change its meaning to be just what it sounds like, i.e. something to do with decay.

Thursday, April 15, 2010


I'm too tired from work to say anything interesting today, but I was looking through some recent photos and thought some animal lovers might like this shot of our cockatiel, Gosha. He's quite moody, but he can be really friendly and talkative when he wants to be.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Do YOU Know Where I Am?

I have lived in six countries so far, and travelled to many more, but the country where I currently live, Azerbaijan, is the one that gets the most blank looks when I mention it to people. It seems that very few Westerners know where Azerbaijan is located. Do you know where it is?

Baku is the capital city. It lies on the western shore of the Caspian Sea, and it is a huge oil producing region. It is one of the fifteen former republics of the USSR. To the north of Azerbaijan is Russia; to the south is Iran; northwest is Georgia, west is Armenia; and southwest is Turkey.

The majority of cititzens here are Muslims, though it is not so hard-line as many such countries, probably due to Soviet influence. Official languages are Azeri and Russian, but many young people are studying English these days.

The city needs some work to fix some of its issues - grime, crazy drivers, decaying infrastructure, and insane prices - but it can be nice, too. It has never felt dangerous to me, and it can be surprisingly colorful in places.

One pet peeve my family has here, though, is that they don't have normal (by Western standards) parks. Their idea of parks here is that they are places to admire, not places to play and relax. Therefore, I cannot take my kids to a park and play on grass. Grass is not to be walked on! My poor sons so miss going out to play soccer or baseball in the park.

Not far from Baku is a fascinating place called Gobustan. It has thousands of petroglyphs from around 10,000 B.C. That's right, around twelve thousand years ago. In the same area is also a piece of writing carved in stone done by the Roman 12th legion. This is the farthest east that Roman legionary writing has been found.

Here is an example of petroglyphs at Gobustan.
Also near Baku are mud volcanos and a fire mountain, where natural gas is seeping from a hillside and has caught fire, thus the 'mountain' burns at all times.

The most famous person born in Baku may depend on one's point-of-view, but to me it is clearly former world chess champion Gary Kasparov. He was born here, though he is actually Armenian/Jewish.

I'll finish with a photo of the most famous landmark in Baku. It is called the Maiden Tower. The main part of it was constructed in the 12th century, though its foundation may go back to the Sasanids. There are conflicting stories for how it got its name. Some say a maiden threw herself from the top of the tower. Others say it has never been taken by force. Anyhow, the photo doesn't quite do justice to how tall it is.

I enjoy living in well-known countries (China, Russia, Iceland, Croatia), but it is also fun to get a chance to live in a country that few know much about.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Music To Die For

I am a great music lover. My tastes range from classic rock (Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Who, The Beatles) to heavy rock (Tool/APC, Ministry, Green Day) to grunge and other rock (U2, Soundgarden, White Stripes, Stone Temple Pilots, Filter, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Coldplay) to easy listening (Simon & Garfunkel, Cat Stevens, Leonard Cohen, Cranberries, Kris Kristofferson, Tom Waits). There are really too many favorites to list.

I don't like most music these days, especially hip-hop or girly- or boy-bands. I prefer the days when people had talent and genius for instruments and writing and performing their own music. About the only genius bands these days are a few listed above, such as Tool and Green Day.

Strangely, though, when I imagine my death, I want a memorial with the loveliest music from my collection. Besides the previously-mentioned 'Council of Elrond' by Enya, I mostly want played some of the amazingly-gorgeous songs from the most brilliant soundtrack ever made - Blade Runner (apologies to the wonderful soundtrack to The Big Chill).

Vangelis disappointed me by not including my favorite piece of music from the film - 'Main Titles & Prologue' - but you can find it on the web if you look for it. However, there are still several five-star songs in this collection, and when I am in a peaceful mood I play this music over and over. The best songs are 'Memories of Green', 'Main Titles', 'Blush Response', 'Love Theme', 'Blade Runner Blues', and 'Tears in the Rain'.

If I had to limit myself to three songs at my memorial, they would be 'Council of Elrond', 'Main Titles & Prologue', and 'Memories of Green'. Check them out if you love breathtaking beauty with a hint of science fiction or fantasy.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Writing and.......Basketball?!

When my favorite literary agent Nathan Bransford blogged about his 2nd Annual Blog Bracket Challenge, naturally I joined in. I didn't expect to do well. I followed college hoops fanatically for years, but it has become harder and harder to do so as I have moved from country to country for my work. This year I haven't watched any games and barely followed anyone other than my poor Arizona Wildcats, who didn't make the Big Dance for the first time in ages.

When I filled out the bracket I didn't know much about the teams. I looked up what I could about them on the web and then filled in my bracket. I decided to pick fewer upsets than I usually do, figuring that it would average out in my favor in the end.

Well, after the first round I was way down in the standings. I didn't pay attention after that, at least not until the final 4, when for some reason I checked back in and was shocked to find I was tied in 6th place. Now I am even more shocked, because after the semi-final results, I am currently tied with one other person for 1st place!

Wow! Isn't it ironic to have one of the best things that could happen to me in my brief writing career come down to the result of a basketball game? If Duke wins, then another person comes from behind and takes it, but if Butler pulls off the upset then I remain tied for 1st. I don't remember Nathan saying if there is a tiebreaker or not. The prize he is offering is a personal review of a partial, which I assumes means 50 pages or so of a manuscript. That would be tremendously helpful, as all of the feedback I have so far comes from friends and relatives. I need to know from some expert where I have some weak spots or amateurish moments. If I got that, I could really strengthen the book. Go Butler!!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Favorite Writing Song

I don't often listen to music when I write, but I often do while editing. Since I have mainly been working on a fantasy work, the song that I play over and over again is my edited version of Enya's "Council of Elrond".

This is one of the most beautiful pieces of music I have ever heard.  Oddly enough, I don't much like Enya's other work, especially those songs with choruses. I do like the other song she did for LOTR, "May It Be", but not nearly as much as I love this song. Unfortunately I have no way of letting you hear my edited version, which I much prefer to the long one. The real song goes on far too long, while I fade it out just after the last vocal. I think it is perfect that way.

I like to put it on repeat and just work away on my book with the music playing in the background. It's funny, but even though Enya is singing in English, it sounds so Elven to me. I think it would have worked well in Gaelic also.