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Guest Blog by Robert J. Duperre - My Basics for Playing God


Please welcome Robert J. Duperre to The Qwillery. Soultaker, the first novel in the Knights Eternal series, was published by Ragnarok Publications in July.



Guest Blog by Robert J. Duperre - My Basics for Playing God




MY BASICS FOR PLAYING GOD

People are always telling me, “Wow, Rob, you’re so awesome at world building! How do you do it?” Of course, “people” actually means “two individuals,” and no one’s ever asked me how I do it, but hey, I thought it would make an interesting blog post, so here we are.

The truth is, I think I am pretty good at world building. I mean, if a well-known author seeks your help to expand upon and define the universe of their books, it must be true, right? Of course it is. So with that being said, here’s my own personal five-step process to playing god, a.k.a. inventing a believable and intriguing fictional universe.


Know the Location, Dammit!

Whether my story takes place on Earth in the current day or on some completely fabricated other world, understanding the lay of the land is important. Be it a post-apocalyptic wasteland, an epic fantasy kingdom, or a city as normal as Richmond, Virginia, knowing where everything is and how the landscape looks can help to heighten realism within the framework of the story.

I base even my fictional worlds on real-life counterparts. As an example, for an island territory in an upcoming book, I used the street layout for Los Angeles and went from there. When my setting is a real place that I’ve never been to and am unable to schedule an adult field trip, I put in tons of research, download maps and pictures and street views, read up on the history of the area, and visit message boards to get a sense of the surroundings and the commonalities I might see there—such as fashions, popular types of food, ethnic breakdown, stuff like that.

This attention to detail, and drawing maps of everything (even diagramming interiors), is one of the more tedious aspects of story prep that I put myself through, but I have to. From just a spatial relations standpoint, I can become inconsistent, and get myself lost, without it. Have you ever read a book where you can’t tell how far it is from one point to the next, or when, during a fight scene, you completely lose track of where a character is standing in relation to the action happening around them? That sort of thing drives me nuts, and when I was younger, I fell into that trap all the time.

Not anymore. Is mapping out everything like that a bit of overkill? Maybe. But, by and large, the advantage to both my mental wellbeing and my eventual product means that none of my time has been wasted.


A Rose is a Rose a Dandelion.

Names can be tricky. Modern humans have gotten more and more creative as the years have gone by when naming their children, but there’s still a sort of collective similarity, even with the newer names, that can tell you almost immediately either where a person is from or what religion they practice. Someone named Jokubas is probably from the Balkans, a girl named Ji Yeon is most definitely from South Korea, while a bloke who goes by Jaxon is quintessentially American.

Most of my fantasy includes various ethnicities and distinct locales, so creating diversity in names is important. Again, I often take examples from the real world, altering them just slightly, if at all. Do I have a society of devoutly religious people? I’ll use variants on Latin names. How about a warlord troupe? Then, maybe take some Irish or German and twist them around a bit. Or maybe, if I’m being daring, I’ll create a culture that has its own naming customs, such as one in which all names are symmetrical, such as Sabaz or Iallai, for example. Given the sheer number of names out there, there is almost no limit to what I can do.

I have a somewhat different convention for naming locations, and in that case, my personal mantra is the simpler, the better. If I have a town at the mouth of a port, maybe I’ll probably call it Portsmouth. A village founded by a guy named Adrian Lem? Lemsburg will work. I’d never dub something like that Indigotown. Well, not unless I want ridicule. But then again, I’m a glutton, so you never knew.

The key is to be consistent, no matter what it is I’m naming. The one thing I don’t want to do is have a bunch of people named Ahaesarus, Azariah, Judarius, and Mordecai, and then throw a Davey into the mix. There’s no better recipe for jolting readers out of a story than that.


Central Conflict, anyone?

We all know that you need conflict to help drive a narrative forward. Conflict between characters is obviously important, but I’ve always felt that, when creating a setting to plop those characters into, it’s just as vital to define the conflicts going on around them, if only to create a sense of realism. Every society has warts, after all.

Is there a religious struggle happening? A racial divide? Is one huge corporation bogarting all the salt in the region? Is political corruption the norm? Are the poor being forced to mine for diamonds? Or maybe a water shortage where the rich control what few resources there are left?

These are just a few of the scenarios I mull over when playing god. There are so many different narrative directions I can push my characters toward, and when I create a world rife with discord, I can use that conflict to help give the characters further definition. There has never been a person who grew up in a war zone, after all, for whom war hasn’t affected their outlook.

Plus, the world would be boring otherwise. Hazardous to my health too, because just the thought of putting my heroes and villains in a cardboard, ill-defined world makes me ill.


Rules Are Important

Nothing throws me out of a story quicker than inconsistent physics. Continuity matters.

If I’m crafting a world where supernatural abilities exist, I write out exactly what feats are possible, how those feats are performed, and the “science” behind why they work, while still allowing for ambiguity. If I were creating a simple magic system for a high fantasy universe, for example, then maybe I’d make it known that the magic is made possible by ancient runes carved deep into the mantle of the land. That way, it’s not necessary to reveal whether these magical abilities stem from gathering energy from different dimensions or are funneled from some hidden reservoir of power hidden in the planet’s core. I mean, I can go there and explain those aspects away if I want (and I often do), but once the delivery system is revealed, it isn’t truly necessary to explain further.

In the case of inventing a more realistic world, I find it important to stick with known conventions, even if I have miraculous events occur. There can be power in describing the fantastic in accepted terms, and I often find it adds a layer of believability to the tale. But the readers’ faith in what I’ve created can be easily squashed if I don’t stay consistent, which is why I need to research. Say I were to create a series of books that explored a scientifically plausible explanation for vampirism, and I succeed. How much of a mistake would it then be for me, the writer, to later on in the story have a very unrealistic portrayal of, say, nuclear power? While it’s true that some readers might gloss right over what I’ve done, some attuned bookworm will surely find my mistake and probably let me know.

Which, trust me, is something I very much want to avoid.


The Mundane Matters.

What do you do every day? Do you eat breakfast in the morning? Kiss your significant other goodbye when you go to work? Pray around the dinner table or before bed? Kneel facing Mecca? How much do you enjoy your job? Do you relax with a cold beer or a hot cup of tea when the day comes to a close?

Fictional characters, just like us, are defined by their routines, while the routines themselves are defined by the world in which they live. That’s why, to me, the most important aspect of any universe I’m writing in are those tiny, unremarkable moments that fill up my characters’ lives.

I always make sure to explore their political or religious beliefs (whether real-world or fictional), what kind of employment they have, their relative standing in the socioeconomic system I’ve set up, how they deal with law enforcement, relationships they have with their neighbors, what they do for fun, how they connect with their friends, how their upbringing affected their identity, and on and on and on. This all happens before I even type the first word of an outline, because if I don’t, then what will come out on paper might very well end up being a hollow shell, a bag-o’-bones, instead of a fully-formed, fleshed-out character. After all, if I, the writer, can’t connect with these people as, well, people, then how could I ever expect my audience to?

Which is important, because the audience is what matters most of all.





Soultaker
The Knights Eternal 1
Ragnarok Publications, July 25, 2017
Trade Paperback and eBook, 342 pages

Guest Blog by Robert J. Duperre - My Basics for Playing God
It's been a thousand years since the Rising.

Earth is a wasteland, and a holy order of knights is all that stands between what remains of civilization and the brigands and demons trying to bring it all down. When the oldest of these knights, Abe, isn't trying to keep his brothers in line, he's tirelessly attempting to decode the riddles that have guided the Knights Eternal for the past two centuries.

The visions Abe's been having aren't helping matters.

The latest riddle sends the Knights Eternal after a prophet and his band of Outriders. Or is it sending them to seek the Prophet's aid? It's a question Abe needs answered. With his sanity fleeing, more demons than ever rising from the Pit, and rumors circulating of an army of risen dead, failure for the knights might end the world this time once and for all.

Where else will reincarnated musicians become gun-slinging knights to patrol a post-apocalyptic wasteland? Only in Soultaker. This book by Robert J. Duperre takes a pound of Game of Thrones, a few cups of The Wild Bunch, a dash of Doom, and a sprinkle of Doctor Who, and mixes them all into a fun, horrific ride.





About Robert

Guest Blog by Robert J. Duperre - My Basics for Playing God
Robert J. Duperre is a really great guy. Actually, he's not. Though he is the author of eight novels that offer a mix of horror, science fiction, and fantasy, and co-wrote The Breaking World with David Dalglish an epic fantasy adventure series published by 47North. Robert lives in rural Connecticut with his wife, the artist Jessica Torrant.






Website  ~  Facebook

Newsletter  ~  Twitter @ robertduperre


The Answer is Always Giant Robots by Jeff Somers


Please welcome Jeff Somers to The Qwillery!



The Answer is Always Giant Robots by Jeff Somers



The Answer is Always Giant Robots
by Jeff Somers

Like most people, as a youth I ignored the advice to go into a field that might be of practical use and lucrative earning potential, preferring to play video games and write novels. This means I’m more or less entirely dependent on the folks who can actually do math for just about everything I need in life, leaving me free to be one of the least useful things on the planet: A futurist.

All sci-fi writers are in some sense futurists, of course; we’re paid (sort of) to imagine what the next five minutes, five years, or five centuries will be like. Which means that when I was approached by Ragnarok Publications to contribute a story to their Mech: Age of Steel anthology it was the perfect partnership, because Mech: Age of Steel is all about giant robots, and according to my research when it comes to questions about what the future will be like, the answer is always giant robots.

Problem-Solving with Giant Robots

Question: Is there anything that can’t be solved with giant robots? Answer: No. There is nothing that cannot be solved by the generous application of giant robots. Let’s examine some of the problems facing humanity now and in the future.

Death. This, in my opinion, isn’t getting nearly enough attention. As shocking as it is to discover that, say, Britney Spears is going to die someday, it is almost twice as alarming to discover that I might die someday. Luckily, the solution is pretty simple (at least according to all the comic books and cheap paperbacks I read as a kid): Pop our brains into giant robots, preferably robots with missiles mounted on the shoulders and jet engines in the feet. Or butt. I’m flexible on the placement of the jet engines.

War. Needless to say, if everyone was either given, assigned, or placed inside a giant robot that could fly and had missiles on its shoulders, war would quickly be a thing of the past, if only because so many people would be dead from vendettas, grudges, and drunken brawls within months of the robot bodies being handed out.

Dancing. I think all reasonable people can agree that watching other people dance is an affliction to the soul. This applies equally to your inebriated relatives at a wedding and the endless procession of “crews” on televised variety shows; every pop and lock just erodes our will to live. Luckily, however, dancing in enormous armored robot bodies is almost impossible. In an alternative future where not everyone gets a giant robot body, the rest of us can apply our shoulder missiles to eradicating dance crews everywhere.

Disease. Having your brain housed in a huge robot body means you eliminate the main vector for disease: Your disgusting biological body (and man, it is disgusting). If science can simply upload your brain to the robot, even better! Though the possibility then exists of a computer virus getting into your source code and assimilating you into a hive mind, but at least we will never have to deal with a runny nose ever again.

Parking. Every year the average adult spends about two years looking fruitlessly for parking spots in major urban areas. If we’re all just flying around as robots, we won’t need cars any more, or parking spots. Although there will be an increased risk of drunkenly crashing into buildings, plus all the associated destruction when we collide with each other in the air and riots break out, destroying entire downtowns in mecha-brawls. Well worth it, if you ask me, a man who once aged ten years seeking a parking spot after 6PM in Hoboken, New Jersey.

I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point: Very soon all of our problems will be solved via the liberal application of giant robots. Which makes Mech: Age of Steel a useful primer on what life will be like when this glorious future comes. Buy one copy for your crapulent current physical existence so you can read it in the bathroom, and buy a digital copy for easy uploading when you wake up to discover you’ve been upgraded overnight.





Mech: Age of Steel
Tim Marquitz and Melanie R. Meadors, Editors
Ragnarok Publications, June 20, 2017
Trade Paperback and eBook, 658 pages

The Answer is Always Giant Robots by Jeff Somers
MECH: Age of Steel is a collection of 24 mecha-inspired short stories in the spirit of Pacific Rim, Macross, Transformers, Robotech, Gundam, Evangelion, and more.

The MECH: Age of Steel anthology features a vast array of tales showcasing giant human-piloted, robot war machines wreaking havoc in blasted cities, or on dystopian landscapes, or around space stations and asteroids against a cosmic backdrop, and more!

MECH is anchored by authors such as:
  • Kevin J. Anderson
  • Scott Sigler
  • Ramez Naam
  • Jason M. Hough
  • Jeremy Robinson
  • Jody Lynn Nye
  • Peter Clines
  • Martha Wells
  • Graham McNeill
  • Jennifer Brozek
  • James Swallow and more!
This anthology also features illustrations for every story and is the perfect companion to its sister title, Kaiju Rising: Age of Monsters. So strap in. Activate your interface array. And let's rock!





About Jeff

Jeff Somers (www.jeffreysomers.com) was first sighted in Jersey City, New Jersey after the destruction of a classified government installation in the early 1970s; the area in question is still too radioactive to go near. When asked about this, he will only say that he regrets nothing. He is the author of Lifers, the Avery Cates series from Orbit Books (avery-cates.com), Chum from Tyrus Books, and the Ustari Cycle from Pocket/Gallery, including We Are Not Good People (wearenotgoodpeople.com).

Jeff’s published over thirty short stories as well; his story “Sift, Almost Invisible, Through” appeared in the anthology Crimes by Moonlight, published by Berkley Hardcover and edited by Charlaine Harris and his story “Ringing the Changes” was selected for Best American Mystery Stories 2006. He survives on the nickels and quarters he regularly finds behind his ears, his guitar playing is a plague upon his household, and his lovely wife The Duchess is convinced he would wither and die if left to his own devices, but this is only half true.

Today, he makes beer money by writing amazing things for various people. Favorite whiskey: Glenmorangie 10 Year. Yes, it is acceptable to pay me in it.

Facebook  ~  Twitter @jeffreysomers  ~  Google+

Guest Blog by James Walley


Please welcome James Walley to The Qwillery. The Fathom Flies Again, Wink 2, is out now from Ragnarok Publications.



Guest Blog by James Walley




At the weekend, I threw caution to the wind and booked a vacation for later on in the year. The world is a sombre and fragile place at the moment, so I figured that could be tempered by the prospect of incoming shenanigans in the not-too-distant. My destination? Well, that much was set in stone from the moment I stepped off the plane back in Blighty last September, after a week in Orlando. Some more of that, please.

Spending a magical seven days with my other half, scampering around Universal Studios like excited children is something that left an indelible stamp on me. Some people love sun holidays, sand holidays, sangria holidays. Truth be told, I am fairly partial to all of the above, but what I got under the baking Florida sun this September past eclipsed all of that. Fun, and ultimate escapism. As a writer, I spend most of my time creating places to escape to, unlikely, larger than life vistas in which to lose myself even as I build them. This, however, was an opportunity to play in someone else’s sandbox, and they had left all of their toys out for me.

For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure, the two theme parks hold everything from superheroes to wizards, giant robots to dinosaurs, and all so immersive that you catch yourself grinning every other minute, as something else that until now only resided in your mind, in a book, or a silver screen walks up and gives you a high five (No mean feat for a T-Rex). This was what I strive to achieve with the words I put into sentences, something so immersive and joyous, that people would want to explore these realms too, if only in their minds. Obviously this wouldn’t work in some genres, or so I thought until the sun went down.

You see, we chose to visit Universal in September, because that is when the nasties come out to play, after the kiddies have been ushered off home, and the attractions are much more likely to eat you. Halloween Horror Nights, they call it, and it put me in my place with regard to exactly how far escapism can take you.

Sure, I’ve harboured secret fantasies about loading up my boomstick and striding out into the zombie apocalypse to have some good old fashioned hijinks with the undead, who hasn’t? What lay in wait for us as we crept back around a transformed amusement park however, was so much more. Exorcists, serial killers, boogeymen, ghosts, banshees and demonic gingerbread men (Yes, that’s a thing) were around every corner, waiting to scare the snot out of anyone who had been brave enough to stick around.

And it was flipping incredible.

Again, meticulously created and flawlessly executed - We were actually there, being chased, lunged at, generally ooga-booga’d to ‘shriek like a pre-schooler’ levels. I don’t think anyone heard me though.

I don’t know why I was so surprised, having grown up on a diet of horror fiction and being utterly exhilarated by it. People love to be scared, as much as they love to be wonder struck or delighted, even if it is in an environment where you know you’re not really going to be possessed, gutted or otherwise horribly dispatched.

I put a little more of a creepy element into The Fathom Flies Again for that very reason. Even if it does stand beside silliness and folly, it serves as a reminder that we love to be given a poke in the feels, whether they’re comfortable or not so comfortable.

Last September, I’d never felt so connected to the things that I had until then only imagined, and it gave me motivation to go deeper down the rabbit hole, paint on a bigger canvas, and yes, use some darker colours where needed. Perhaps that will have a knock on effect in the, as yet untitled third instalment of the Wink trilogy, which I am working on at the moment. Maybe a second trip this coming September will serve to further stoke the creative fires.

At least then I can pass off charging around like a squealing kid on a sugar high as “Research”.





The Fathom Flies Again
Wink 2
Ragnarok Publications, February 1, 2017
Trade Paperback and eBook, 286 pages

Guest Blog by James Walley
It's time to wake up and smell the carnage. Just as every night gives way to dawn, all dreams yield to the break of day. For Marty, that's kind of a problem. When you've fought killer clowns, sailed the seven skies, and generally laid waste to your own dreamspace, real life can be kind of a drag. At least, until your nightmares crawl through the cracks and shadows, and take a liking to your town.

When the jesters come a knocking, it's time to man up. When the unmentionables under your bed come a biting, it's time to grab your trusty, pint-sized pirate compadre and lead a charge against the night terrors.

What does this mean for Marty? It means the crew of The Flying Fathom are back, surfing on rainbows, swashing their buckles, and saving the world, one sleepy little town at a time.

Book one of this series, The Forty First Wink brought you a glimpse of utter, rum-swilling madness. Now& The Fathom Flies Again, pushing you over the edge and chuckling at your plummeting screams, before scuttling off to find something shiny to steal.

Remember, if you hear something under your bed, don't move. Don't make a sound. Draw your cutlass and think of something devilishly witty to shout, because things, my friend, are about to get all too real.




Previously

The Forty First Wink
Wink 1
Ragnarok Publications, June 16, 2014
Trade Paperback and eBook, 214 pages

Guest Blog by James Walley
Marty is having a bad morning. Roused from slumber by a gang of polo mallet-wielding monkeys and a mysterious voice in his wardrobe, he must quickly come to terms with the fact that the world outside his door is now the world inside his head. Lying in wait amidst bleak, gloomy streets, deserted theme parks, and circus-themed nightclubs, lurks the oppressive shadow of a myriad of giggling, cackling pursuers, hell bent on throwing a custard pie or two into the works.

Assisted by a string of half-cocked schemes, a troupe of tiny unlikely allies, and (literally) the girl of his dreams, Marty sets out on a heroic quest to wake up and get out of bed.

Early reviews have compared it to Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams. Equal parts epic, funny and dark, The Forty First Wink plummets headlong into the realms of askew reality, adding elements of the macabre, and squeezing in an unlikely love story for good measure. It will take you on a journey where not even the sky is the limit, and literally anything could be around the next corner. The question is, do you have the guts (and the sanity) to find out?





About James

Guest Blog by James Walley
Hailing from the mystical isle of Great Britain, James Walley is an author who prefers his reality banana shaped.

His debut novel, The Forty First Wink, released through Ragnarok Publications in 2014 scuttles gleefully into this bracket, with a blend of humour, fantasy and the unusual.

A clutch of follow up work, both short and long (including books two and three in the Wink trilogy) are in the offing, and have a similar demented flavour.

When not writing, James is partial to a spot of singing, the odd horror movie or ten, and is a circus trained juggler.

Facebook  ~  Twitter @JamesWalley74  ~ Goodreads

Guest Post by Alan Baxter - Actually, I’m really not a psychopath.


Please welcome Alan Baxter to The Qwillery. Bound, the first novel in the Alex Caine series, was published in the US by Ragnarok Publications on December 20th.



Guest Post by Alan Baxter - Actually, I’m really not a psychopath.




Actually, I’m really not a psychopath.
Guest post by Alan Baxter.

I’d like to thank The Qwillery for hosting a guest post from me today. I thought maybe I’d write about how I’m totally not a psychopath. Bear with me, it really is related to writing.

It might seem like a strange thing to write about, but when you’re an author of dark fantasy and horror, you’d be surprised how often people expect you to be Hannibal Lecter, or worse. So many times I’ve had people say to me, “Wow, you’re so normal!” which is actually rather offensive, but I know they don’t mean it as an insult. Normal? How very dare you!

Or people say some variant of “You’re so much nicer than I thought you’d be.” It’s weird, because I bet people don’t go up to science-fiction writers and say, “Oh, you’re not an astronaut?” Or approach romance writers with a nervous, “Sorry, are you having sex right now?”

Yet people seem to regularly expect writers of horror and dark fiction to be nasty, grim, nihilistic people. We’re not! We’re lovely, I promise. (Well, most of us.) My pal, Kaaron Warren, one of Australia’s most amazing horror authors, has a theory. (Incidentally, you’ve read Kaaron’s work right? If not, go and read it now. No seriously, right now. This post will still be here when you get back.) But yes, Kaaron’s theory. She says that the nicest people in the world are plumbers, butchers and horror writers. They all spend so much time elbow deep in shit, blood and… well, horror, that they get it all out of their system. It’s not festering away in there. When you spend large parts of your life in those conditions, any time you’re not buried therein, you’re tip top. Happy to be out in the sunlight, among people who aren’t trying to eat your face.

I don’t know if it’s entirely true, but I think Kaaron is onto something. And it’s also why so many people like to read dark fiction. We go on a rollercoaster to experience the thrill of almost certain death – how can this train possibly stay on the rails, we’re all going to die! HAHAHA! Then it’s over and we’re all shaky and grinning at each other like loons, saying, “We survived!” Then we look shiftily left and right until someone says, “Let’s go again!” In the same way that a rollercoaster reminds you you’re alive by artificially putting you so close to death, so does dark fiction help people process the genuine shit in life by putting them so close to fictitious monsters in the safety of their armchair, reading a book.

And for those of us who write the dark stuff, while we may put ourselves into the shoes of villains and monsters, killers and demons, we only wear those shoes for a little while and, when we take them off again, we’ve benefited from the catharsis of the experience. It makes us even nicer people than we were before. So honestly, I’m not a psychopath. I just pretend to be one for a while here and there in the privacy of my own study. Hopefully the results are entertaining for anyone who subsequently reads my books.


Alan’s award-nominated dark fantasy thriller trilogy, The Alex Caine Series – Bound, Obsidian and Abduction – gets its US release with Ragnarok Publications, starting on December 20th with Bound. Books 2 and 3, Obsidian and Abduction, will be out in July 2017. Ask your local store and library to get copies in if they don’t have them.




Bound
Alex Caine 1
Ragnarok Publications, December 20, 2016
Trade Paperback and eBook, 338 pages

Guest Post by Alan Baxter - Actually, I’m really not a psychopath.
Alex Caine is a martial artist fighting in illegal cage matches. His powerful secret weapon is an unnatural vision that allows him to see his opponents’ moves before they know their intentions themselves.

An enigmatic Englishman, Patrick Welby, approaches Alex after a fight and reveals, ‘I know your secret.’ Welby shows Alex how to unleash a breathtaking realm of magic and power, drawing him into a mind-bending adventure beyond his control.

And control is something Alex values above all else…

A cursed grimoire binds Alex to Uthentia, a chaotic Fey godling, who leads him towards chaos and murder, an urge Alex finds harder and harder to resist. Befriended by Silhouette, a monstrous Kin beauty, Alex sets out to recover the only things that will free him – the shards of the Darak. But that powerful stone also has the potential to unleash a catastrophe which could mean the end of the world as we know it.





About Alan

Guest Post by Alan Baxter - Actually, I’m really not a psychopath.
Photo by Nicole Wells
Alan Baxter is a British-Australian author who writes supernatural thrillers and urban horror, rides a motorcycle and loves his dog. He also teaches Kung Fu. He lives among dairy paddocks on the beautiful south coast of NSW, Australia, with his wife, son, dog and cat. He’s the multi-award-winning author of several novels and over seventy short stories and novellas. So far. Read extracts from his novels, a novella and short stories at his website – www.warriorscribe.com – or find him on Twitter @AlanBaxter and Facebook, and feel free to tell him what you think. About anything.




Guest Blog by Jennifer Brozek - The Perfect Line in the Sand


Please welcome Jennifer Brozek to The Qwillery. The Last Days of Salton Academy was published in October 2016 by Ragnarok Publications.



Guest Blog by Jennifer Brozek - The Perfect Line in the Sand




The Perfect Line in the Sand
Jennifer Brozek

I used to wonder why anyone would like zombie books and movies. Zombies are too gooey, messy, and gory for my literary/visual tastes. I tend to avoid zombie-based entertainment, especially when they focus on the beginning when everyone is alive and being snacked upon like popcorn.

Later, it occurred to me that what makes the traditional zombie so attractive is the fact that they are a simple monster to understand and deal with. There is no black or white when it comes to a zombie. They are the perfect line in the sand. There is no trying to reason with them. There is no trying to see the other side. There are only three options:
  • You can kill the zombie.
  • You can escape the zombie.
  • You can become the zombie.

That’s it. Everything else is detail.

What attracts me to a zombie story are the survivors. Where zombies are a line in the sand, the survivors and their actions are nothing but shades of grey. The moral compass of society is mutable, malleable, and flexible in ways it could never be in a civilized world without an unrelenting monster.

It’s this conflict of the hard line monster clashing against the morals of a civilized society that intrigues me as a creator and consumer of media. Most of the time, when I read a zombie book or watch zombie TV or movies, I tend to skip over the gory parts and focus in on the character interactions. Agonize with the characters over the choices they are forced to make. Agree or disagree with them, then watch the fallout of their actions.

When I write about them, zombies are the everyman and the nobody rolled up in one. They are moving scenery that bleeds and kills. Just a bit more mobile and flexible. The best thing about them is that they can be killed. That option allows heroes to be heroic and survivors to survive.

Zombies are now part of our collective unconsciousness of fears. Like all of the classic monsters—vampires, werewolves, mummies, ghosts, sorcerers, cryptids—they will remain in the cycle, waxing and waning as the fickle mainstream audience allows. They will stay in the cycle because they bring something to the table that no other monster does: the hard line in the sand. Fast or slow, zombies cannot be, and will not be, reasoned with.

I don’t think I’d have it any other way.





The Last Days of Salton Academy
Ragnarok Publications, October 25, 2016
Trade Paperback and eBook, 186 pages

Guest Blog by Jennifer Brozek - The Perfect Line in the Sand
“The Last Days of Salton Academy is a dark, twisted rollercoaster of a book. Jennifer Brozek knocks it out of the park.”
— Stephen Blackmoore, author of City of the Lost and Broken Souls

It's referred to as 'The Outbreak,' and it happened just over three months ago, casting the world (or at least this part of it) into a state of powerlessness and chaos. The Salton Academy has become a rare sanctuary for those few students who remained behind over fall break.

As winter approaches, cracks are revealed in the academy's foundations as it's discovered someone is stealing food, another is taking advantage of a captive audience, and yet others have banded together and are thinking about mutiny, even murder. One thing's for certain — a supply run must be made soon, or everyone will starve before winter's end.

Oh yes, and then there’s the matter of the headmaster’s son and his undead dog…

The Last Days of Salton Academy is a classic tale of horror in the spirit of Night of the Living Dead meets Lord of the Flies, featuring an ensemble cast and written by Hugo Award-nominated editor and award-winning author, Jennifer Brozek.





About Jennifer

Guest Blog by Jennifer Brozek - The Perfect Line in the Sand
Jennifer Brozek is a Hugo Award-nominated editor and an award-winning author. Winner of the Australian Shadows Award for best edited publication, Jennifer has edited fifteen anthologies with more on the way, including the acclaimed Chicks Dig Gaming and Shattered Shields anthologies. Author of Apocalypse Girl Dreaming, Industry Talk, the Karen Wilson Chronicles, and the Melissa Allen series, she has more than sixty published short stories, and is the Creative Director of Apocalypse Ink Productions.

Jennifer is a freelance author for numerous RPG companies. Winner of the Scribe, Origins, and ENnie awards, her contributions to RPG sourcebooks include Dragonlance, Colonial Gothic, Shadowrun, Serenity, Savage Worlds, and White Wolf SAS.

Jennifer is the author of the award-winning YA Battletech novel, The Nellus Academy Incident, and Shadowrun novella, Doc Wagon 19. She has also written for the AAA MMO Aion and the award-winning videogame, Shadowrun Returns. She is the author of The Last Days of Salton Academy, published by Ragnarok.

Website  ~  Facebook  ~  Twitter @jenniferbrozek

Guest Blog by Michael McClung - Character Counts: Introducing the Amra Thetys Series


Please welcome Michael McClung to The Qwillery. The Thief Who Wasn't There (Amra Thetys 4) was published on November 15, 2016 by Ragnarok Publications.



Guest Blog by Michael McClung - Character Counts: Introducing the Amra Thetys Series




Character Counts: Introducing the Amra Thetys Series

Sometimes an idea for a novel (seemingly, at least) jumps out of a writer's brain fully-formed, like Athena springing from Zeus's forehead. Other times, it can start with a single image, as John Fowles's The French Lieutenant's Woman is said to have done:
John Fowles often found his storytelling skills inspired by mental images, scenes that evoke a sense of mystery and demand an explanation. In December 1966, he had one of these charged visions. “A woman stands at the end of a deserted quay and stares out to sea,” he later recalled. “This image rose in my mind one morning when I was still in bed half asleep.”
The creation of the Amra Thetys series bears more resemblance to Fowles's Sarah Woodruff than any Greek creation myth. I was sitting in my terrible motel room-turned apartment in Austin, Texas. It was 2001 or 2002, and I was trying to teach myself how to write fiction on an old Brother word processor. I don't remember if I was lying down or taking a shower or eating a sandwich over the sink (the apartment was small enough that I could almost have been doing all three at once), but I do remember that first image: A person standing high up in a broken tower, surveying a storm-lashed, deserted, ruined city. This person's back was to me, and at first I thought it was a young man (I knew somehow already that this person was a thief) Then I realized it was a woman who was not effeminate, either in looks or demeanor, and that she was starving.

From there the questions flowed – what was she doing there? If she was starving, why didn't she leave? What was she looking at? In time, all the questions led to answers which led to more questions, and soon enough I had a little fourteen thousand word novella, a couple of characters that I really enjoyed writing about, and the makings of a world that, while it wasn't very deep, was really quite broad. Soon enough after that, the novella had expanded into a novel (now titled The Thief Who Spat in Luck's Good Eye).

Now it's coming to the end of 2016, and there are four Amra Thetys books out there in the wild; people seem to like them okay, for the most part. The Thief Who Pulled on Trouble's Braids (first in the series, second written) won Mark Lawrence's SPFBO for 2015-2016, and Luck's Good Eye (then titled THAGOTH) was a Del Rey Digitial First Novel Competition winner in 2002.

Very little of the writing in the Amra Thetys series was ever done with a conscious eye toward the market, or trends. They're short books, for the fantasy genre – south of three hundred pages. They're first person point of view. They're much more sword & sorcery, and even noir/hardboiled detective, then they are epic fantasy, at least on the surface. They've even been accused of having steampunk elements.

None of these elements, needless to say, are calculated to give George R.R. Martin a run for his money. So why then, have they enjoyed the small but real success that they have? The author is probably the worst person to answer such a question, but I think that the appeal of the series is all in the characters.

The fact is, Amra and her companion Holgren aren't perfect people. Sure, they're smart and capable, and on balance you'd have to tip them into the bucket marked 'good guys' (though both would go screaming their protests, and try to claw their way out as soon as they landed). But what I like about them is their humanity – they both have parts, both physical and emotional, that have been broken, and have healed imperfectly, and it shows in their thoughts, their dialogue, their choices and actions. Paragons are widely admired, but seldom liked. Amra and Holgren are far from paragons.

I think that any fiction, be it written or filmed, has a much better chance of meaning something to readers if the characters who inhabit it are believable. That's why I've worked very hard to make sure that every character in the series – even the ones with walk-on parts – are constructed with something sturdier than cardboard. Many of them are pretty despicable, and at least a couple are definitely insane, but I made a point to try and make them interesting and believable.

My personal preference is for stories about people, rather than plot-driven tales. If you as a reader have the same taste, I hope you'll give the Amra Thetys series a try, and tell me what you thought.





The Thief Who Wasn't There
Amra Thetys 4
Ragnarok Publications, November 15, 2016
Trade Paperback and eBook, 348 pages

Guest Blog by Michael McClung - Character Counts: Introducing the Amra Thetys Series
Bellarius, saved from utter destruction, is now plunged into vicious civil war. Amra has vanished, and while Holgren has a plan to find her and bring her back, his plan teeters between impossibility and insanity.

Before he can even implement it, Holgren will have to deal with three separate armies vying for control of Bellaria, all of which view him as either a threat, an inconvenience, or a potential tool.

Meanwhile, Holgren seeks to trap one of the monstrous rift-spawn — abominations born of the Telemarch's madness and power — and bend it to his will. Then, he intends to descend into the eleven hells to steal an ancient artifact of incredible power from the dire halls of the Black Library.

Oh, the things we do for love.

The Thief Who Wasn't There is the fourth volume in Michael McClung's Amra Thetys series.





About Michael

Guest Blog by Michael McClung - Character Counts: Introducing the Amra Thetys Series
Michael McClung was born and raised in Texas, but now kicks around Southeast Asia. He's been a soldier, a cook, a book store manager, and a bowling alley pin boy.

His first novel was published by Random House in 2003. He then self-published the first three books of the Amra Thetys series, the first being The Thief Who Pulled on Trouble's Braids, before signing them and the fourth book (The Thief Who Wasn't There) with Ragnarok.

In Michael's spare time, he enjoys kickball, brooding, and picking scabs.

Website  ~   Twitter @mcclungmike





Previously

The Thief Who Pulled on Trouble's Braids
Amra Thetys 1
Ragnarok Publications, September 1, 2016
Trade Paperback and eBook, 298 pages

Guest Blog by Michael McClung - Character Counts: Introducing the Amra Thetys Series
"They butchered Corbin right out in the street. That’s how it really started. He was a rogue and a thief, of course. But then, so am I. So when he got himself hacked up in front of his house off Silk Street, I decided somebody had to be made to pay. They thought that they could just sweep him away like rubbish. They were wrong."

Amra Thetys is a thief with morals: she won't steal from anybody poorer than she is; of course, anybody that poor generally doesn't have much worth stealing.

When a fellow thief and good friend is killed in a deal gone wrong, Amra turns her back on burglary and goes after something far more precious: revenge. Revenge, however, might be hard to come by. A nightmare assortment of enemies, including an immortal assassin and a mad sorcerer, believe Amra is in possession of The Blade That Whispers Hate—the legendary, powerful artifact her friend was murdered for—and they'll do anything to take it from her.

Trouble is, Amra hasn't got the least clue where the Blade might be. She needs to find the Blade, and soon, or she'll be joining her unfortunate friend in a cold grave rather than avenging his death, and time is running short for the small, scarred thief.

The Thief Who Pulled on Trouble's Braids is the first volume in Michael McClung's Amra Thetys series.


See Melanie's Review here.



The Thief Who Spat in Luck's Good Eye
Amra Thetys 2
Ragnarok Publications, June 1, 2016
Trade Paperback and eBook, 286 pages

Guest Blog by Michael McClung - Character Counts: Introducing the Amra Thetys Series
Amra Thetys is a thief with morals: she won't steal from anybody poorer than she is; of course, anybody that poor generally doesn't have much worth stealing.

Holgren is a mage with a distaste for magic and a soul bartered away to dark powers. Together, they embark on a quest for the fabled city of Thagoth, where the secret of immortality is rumored to be hidden.

Yet, Amra and Holgren aren’t the only ones after the secret. Many others seek to utilize the hidden magic for their own twisted ends. Waiting in the ruined city with dark plans for the world are the twin gods Tha-Agoth and Athagos, a brother and sister whose illicit passion is as destructive and vengeful as they are.

Now, as potent sorceries clash in a violent struggle for dominion over all that lives, Amra and Holgren face a choice between the unthinkable and the unbearable—with the fate of the world hanging in the balance.

The Thief Who Spat in Luck's Good Eye is the second volume in Michael McClung's Amra Thetys series.


See Melanie's Review here.



The Thief Who Knocked on Sorrow's Gate
Amra Thetys 3
Ragnarok Publications, June 1, 2016
Trade Paperback and eBook, 250 pages

Guest Blog by Michael McClung - Character Counts: Introducing the Amra Thetys Series
After surviving Thagoth and returning rich to Lucernis, Amra and Holgren have settled down to a very comfortable, if decidedly unexciting life—until the night Amra receives an old enemy's head in a box. A longstanding debt calls her back home to Bellarius, the scene of many childhood horrors she would much rather forget about.

Yet, as bad as memories of the past might be, present-day Bellarius is rapidly becoming worse, for the Eightfold Goddess has not forgotten about Amra, and another of Her Blades, the Knife that Parts the Night, has been discovered and threatens to tear the very fabric of reality apart.

All that stands in the way of utter destruction is one small, scarred thief and her mage companion.

The Thief Who Knocked on Sorrow's Gate is the third volume in Michael McClung's Amra Thetys series.


See Melanie's Review here.





Guest Blog by Seth Skorkowsky - Mixing Story Styles


Please welcome Seth Skorkowsky to The Qwillery. Ibenus, the 3rd novel in the Valducan series, was published on September 1st by Ragnarok Publications.



Guest Blog by Seth Skorkowsky - Mixing Story Styles




Mixing Story Styles.

When I wrote my first novel, Dämoren, I wanted to capture a certain feeling that I enjoyed from my favorite monster hunting movies and shows (Hellboy, Blade, Hellsing, and a few others). What I ended with was a solid action/adventure story.

Once it was finished, I started work on a sequel. Having just spent over a year on action/adventure, I needed something different. I didn't want to just rehash the same thing, so I wrote Hounacier as a mystery/horror. It was undeniable a sequel to the first novel, but of a very different flavor.

Once Dämoren hit print and many readers praised the action and international adventure, saying how they couldn't wait for the next one, I started getting a little scared. What if people wouldn't like me mixing up a winning formula? That fear welled into full blown terror by the time Hounacier was completed. I loved the book. It was exactly what I intended, but it was also extremely different than its predecessor.

I sent it in to Ragnarok Publications, wondering when I'd receive the, "What in the hell is this?" reply. Instead, on Thanksgiving night I received a message from Tim Marquitz saying that he loved it. For the first time, I voiced my concern and Tim waived that off, saying that the book was solid.

That eased my fears until a few weeks before publication day when the pre-release jitters stated up. (Seriously, if you ask any author in the two weeks before release, "Are you nervous?" you'll be answered with maniacal laughter. Or maybe that's just me.)

Reception was amazing. While some readers were disappointed that Hounacier wasn't the same as Dämoren, most were even more complimentary of the sequel than they had been for the first novel. I had effectively switched genre styles while maintaining the overall feel.

It was a great relief, especially since I'd already begun writing the next book, Ibenus, where I mixed it up again. For the third book, I decided to make it more like Dämoren with a large cast, plenty of action, and a European setting. But I also made a few significant changes.

For one, it's multiple point of view. That's a fairly drastic change, but the story demanded it. Now, instead of following a single demon hunter, we follow three.

The biggest change is the mood. Ibenus mixes the action of Dämoren, the horror of Hounacier, but has a new flavor: Romance. While the other novels had love interests, the romantic relationships were never the focus. But a central theme to the Valducan Series is the idea that our heroes are essentially married to their sacred weapons and often have difficulty with human relationships. This was a theme that demanded exploration. So, while we have all of the shooting, screaming, monsters, and action that makes the series what it is, the central aspect is romance.

I wouldn't dare call Ibenus a Romance or Paranormal Romance, not by a long shot. It's not going to draw romance novel readers into the Valducan world. It's simply a new flavor to the overall story and gives its readers something fresh.

Does mixing genre themes frighten me? You bet it does. But it's also rewarding. I never want any of my books to feel like the "same old thing." Readers would get bored and so would I. It also forces me to stretch my author wings because writing each novel feels almost like my first. My Beta Readers have gotten used to the disclaimer, "OK, I'm trying something new."

Currently, I'm working on my 4th Valducan novel. As always, I'm mixing genre styles. This time I'm toying with Spy Fiction, but that's a blog post for another day. Right now I'm enjoying the thrill of something fresh and hope my readers will, too.





Ibenus
The Valducan 3
Ragnarok Publications, September 1, 2016
Trade Paperback and eBook, 410 pages

Guest Blog by Seth Skorkowsky - Mixing Story Styles
After surviving a demon attack, disgraced police detective Victoria Martin tracks down the Valducans in search for answers. Recognizing her potential, and despite the warnings of the other knights, Allan Havlock, protector of Ibenus, takes her in as his apprentice.

As the Valducans travel to Paris to destroy a demon nest infesting the catacombs, the knights find themselves hunted by an Internet group intent on exposing them. Victoria, who belongs to this group, must desperately play both sides to not only protect herself, but Allan, whom she has begun to love. Ibenus, however, has other plans

Ibenus is the third book in the Valducan series, for which Skorkowsky was shortlisted as "Best Debut Author" in the 2014 Reddit Stabby Awards.





Previously

Dämoren
The Valducan 1
Ragnarok Publications, April 16, 2014
Trade Paperback and eBook, 406 pages

Guest Blog by Seth Skorkowsky - Mixing Story Styles
In the same vein as SUPERNATURAL, HELLBOY, and BLADE comes...DÄMOREN.

A secret society of monster hunters.
A holy revolver forged to eradicate demons.
A possessed man with a tragic past.
A rising evil bent on destroying them all.


MATT HOLLIS is the current wielder of the holy weapon, Dämoren. With it, he stalks and destroys demons.

A secret society called the VALDUCANS has taken an interest in Matt’s activities. They see him as a reckless rogue—little more than a ‘cowboy’ corrupted by a monster—and a potential threat to their ancient order.

As knights and their sentient weapons begin dying, Matt teams up with other hunters of his kind such as LUIZA, a woman with a conquistador blade; ALLAN, an Englishman with an Egyptian khopesh; MALCOLM, a voodoo priest with a sanctified machete; and TAKAIRA, a naginata-swinging Samurai.

As the hunters become the hunted, they must learn to trust one another before a powerful demonic entity thrusts the world into a terrible and ageless darkness.




Hounacier
The Valducan 2
Ragnarok Publications, March 15, 2015
Trade Paperback and eBook, 356 pages

Guest Blog by Seth Skorkowsky - Mixing Story Styles
Eleven years ago, atheist MALCOLM ROMERO met a god. Now he’s a demon-hunting voodoo priest armed with a holy machete named Hounacier.

After the murder of his mentor, he returns to New Orleans to catch the killer. But more is at stake when Malcolm finds himself betrayed, and his holy blade stolen. Now Malcolm’s only hope to save his soul and to recover HOUNACIER, is the Valducan knight sent to kill him, MATT HOLLIS, wielder of the holy revolver DÄMOREN.





About Seth

Guest Blog by Seth Skorkowsky - Mixing Story Styles
Seth Skorkowsky is a writer that gravitates to the darker sides of fantasy, preferring horror and pulp heroes over knights in shining armor. He is the author of Dämoren and Hounacier, both titles in the Valducan series. Seth has also released two sword-and-sorcery collections in the Black Raven series, Mountain of Daggers and Sea of Quills. He lives in Flower Mound, Texas.



Website  ~  Twitter @SSkorkowsky   ~  Facebook


Guest Blog by Lian Hearn


Please welcome Lian Hearn to The Qwillery. Lian writes The Tale of Shikanoko series (among others) and has a short story in the upcoming Hath No Fury anthology, which will be published by Ragnarok Publications. The Kickstarter for Hath No Fury may be found here. Check out the fabulous author list on Kickstarter. (Note: I'm a backer!)

Hath No Fury is a collection of fantasy, science fiction, and urban fantasy tales by some of the leading proponents of female characters in the industry. These stories feature leads inspired by women from literature, history, and film—exciting and intriguing characters in the vein of Ellen Ripley, Lara Croft, Joan of Arc, Marvel’s Black Widow, La Femme Nikita, Katniss Everdeen, Hermione Granger, and Furiosa. ~ from the Kickstarter



Guest Blog by Lian Hearn



‘I’ve learned women and girls are as dangerous as men…more dangerous as they are so often overlooked.’

Masachika in Autumn Princess, Dragon Child. The Tale of Shikanoko


My latest novel, The Tale of Shikanoko, like the Tales of the Otori, is set in a feudal world based on medieval Japan. Over the years I’ve explored the tension that lies between being true to history and writing for modern audiences who expect their female characters to have power and self-determination. However, even when women appear to be completely submissive in a culture, that is never the whole story. Because sexual desire lies at the basis of all human history, there are always some considerable powers that women can wield.

When I was a child almost all my favourite books had male heroes. I identified with them and was always a boy in my make believe stories and games. I was like George in the Famous Five. I could hardly imagine what it would be like to grow up as a woman.

The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen made a deep impression on me. The boy, Kay, becomes mean and cruel but Gerda’s love and innocence save him. This is a recurring pattern in Western folk tales but not one that I was particularly comfortable with. I admired Gerda’s courage and perseverence, but the character that really captured my imagination was the Little Robber Girl. She not only did exactly what she wanted but she carried a weapon and owned a reindeer. Perhaps this gave me an inkling that there were other tribes and other ways of life where women and girls had power.

In Japan I have fairly often come up against the problem of pollution. I have been told I can’t listen to male monks chanting or I can’t walk on a certain mountain path because I am a woman. Shinto is a religion obsessed with purity and cleanliness, and even though the foundation goddess Amaterasu is female, childbirth and menstruation, as well as death, are considered polluting. This is a belief echoed all over the world and to me it is the supreme example of human wrong thinking. The gift of life is carried within a woman’s body. Women are expected to receive the penis with its dangerous, life threatening, life changing cargo. Childbirth is a far more arduous, painful and risky business than most men will ever experience. As any one who’s had to clean up after them knows, men and boys can be gross and smell vile, yet what comes out of them – piss, shit,sweat, snot, vomit – is common to all humans, and non human animals too. Is it any less polluting than menstrual blood? Women’s blood should be worshipped if we are going to worship anything – it is what gives every one of us life. It is not Christ’s blood that streams in the firmament, it is woman’s.

My story in Hath No Fury in set in an area of lagoons around the mouth of the River Murray in South Australia called the Coorong. For many years I explored it by kayak and came to know it well. It’s a moody and unpredictable landscape, inhabited by thousands of shore birds whose arrivals and departures signify the changing seasons. Some come from Northern Siberia, some from Hokkaido where there are Ramsar wetlands - protected sanctuaries as the Coorong is. Nevertheless Australia has lost 50% of its natural wetlands. The birds are on the verge of extinction because their way stations in China, South Korea andVietnam, have been destroyed by land reclamation and pollution. A pattern of migration that has been in place for hundreds of thousands of years will soon be no more. We have simply no idea what this will do to all the interlocking ecosystems. Meanwhile we exist in a state of mourning for the vanishing.

In the Coorong the weather can change in the blink of an eye. You learn to be very sensitive to small signs in wind and water. Perhaps the germ for the story came from an encounter with two men in a small boat with an outboard. The tide was going out and we could see they were about to run aground. We called to warn them, but they did not want to listen to two old women.

In my books I try to suggest that what is needed in male-female relationships is the balance that comes from true equality, the yin and yang essence that underpins the universe. Like the soul within each of us, the writer has no gender. We are all made up of ‘male’ and ‘female’ attributes. Our overcrowded panic-stricken, status obsessed world shows all the symptoms of unbalanced masculinity, with its violence, gun culture, pornography and denial of women’s rights. Everyone is striving to hang on to their fragile position.

Samurai culture has some similarities to the ideals of chivalry: the cultivation of respect, loyalty, self-control, humility, courage: all the qualities that make up character. Yet it can also be distorted into a hypermasculinity with its cult of death, its misogyny and its fetishisation of the sword. My story is about the clash of a man from that culture, cast adrift in a timeless feminine landscape where women have the status more often accorded to men. But no culture is ever static; they are always changing and being reshaped, often by one individual act, in this case subverted by passion, tenderness and pity.

Guest Blog by Rob J. Hayes - Gather Around and Let Me Tell You a Story... or Two


Please welcome Rob J. Hayes to The Qwillery!



Guest Blog by Rob J. Hayes - Gather Around and Let Me Tell You a Story... or Two




Gather Around and Let Me Tell You a Story... or Two

Today I want to tell you a couple of stories. True stories though at first they may not sound like it, but I assure you these events really took place.

First I want to tell you about the time I got horrifically drunk, went on an adventure, and ended up stealing a goat. Now I should point out that I do not remember this happening due to the aforementioned being very drunk. But when I woke up I discovered it was true. There I was, naked as my name day, and being accused of stealing a man's goat.

I was shocked, slightly appalled at myself, and honestly wondering where in the Hells was the goat. Bits an pieces of my night before started coming back to me and I used them to retrace my steps, to find out just what had gone on the night before.

Long story short, I discovered I had given the goat to a giant. A honest to the Gods 30ft tall giant. He was not of the mindset that giving the goat back was beneficial to him.

We fought. It was an epic battle. I peppered him with arrows from my glass shortbow, he swung a tree trunk at me. Harsh words were exchanged. I may have said some things that hurt the giant's feelings. But not to worry because he was dead just a few minutes later. I emerged victorious.

I collected the twice stolen goat and determined to deliver it back to its owner. The journey was long and arduous and along the way I truly became attached to the goat. He had a way about him. A way of listening. He knew when to bleat and when to shut up. We became fast friends. I named him Alphonse. It pained me to let him go, to deliver him back to his owner, but a promise was a promise and he was never my goat to begin with.

We were within shouting distance of Alphonse's farm when an ear-splitting roar shattered the quaint, picturesque scene of rolling grasslands. The roar was soon followed by the beating of great, leathery wings and the I looked up just in time to see a dragon crash down on top of Alphonse, tear into his flesh with massive claws, and then beat its wings once, twice, and was gone.

I stared at the bloodied patch of ground where Alphonse had been just a few moments earlier. There was nothing for it. He was gone from my life forever. A sad day. I had thought, after delivering Alphonse back to his rightful owner, I might visit from time to time. No more.

The owner was there, watching from the relative safety of his fenced home. I approached, ready with my excuses. After all, I had done everything I could. I had vanquished a giant to return the man's goat. Was it my fault if a dragon decided to ruin all my good work? Apparently it was. The man only held out his hand, palm up.

I paid the man for his lost goat. A hefty sum if truth be told. Then I turned and went on my way, I had other quests to complete after all. Still, it hurts to this day. That man lost a goat and gained a few gold bits. I lost a friend.

It's possible some of you recognise most of that story. It's a quest from the Elder Scrolls game Skyrim. For the most part that story is a scripted event, playing out the same for everyone that plays it. The dragon was a random element that happened in my game alone and it's that element that made it so memorable.

My second tale concerns my younger years. I was a callous youth, cruel in some ways though I liked to pretend I was valorous. I had a peculiar pastime which involved hiding in bushes. Strange, I know, but hear me out.

There were 3 of us, a small party of like-minded individuals. We sick of being picked on by those stronger than us and were determined to take a measure of revenge. But we weren't willing to start a fight, that would be unheroic, villainous even. No, we decided to trick others into starting fights and then band together to end them.

This is where the hiding in the bushes comes from. I would find a suitably sized shrubbery and hide within it, axe drawn and ready to charge at the first sight of aggression. My friend, Bliv, was a druid and thus able to transform into a panther and stealth, remaining even more hidden than me in my bush.

The third member of our little party was... well he was bait. A young Gnome by the name of Ultimate Dragon, wearing armour that was little better than rags and carrying no more than knife. He would sit out in the middle of the road, deep into the Orc's territory and wait.

Eventually an inexperienced Orc or Troll would happen across the Gnome. He probably looked a tasty snack even to the weak prey we were hunting. We would wait while our prey taunted the Gnome who would wave timidly and beg mercy. Inevitably our prey would attack. They always attacked.

Like heroes of legend, my druid friend and I would rush to the rescue. I, erupting from the bushes with a charge and battlecry, and Bliv leaping from the shadows to rend our prey with claws and teeth.

As we looked down upon the corpse of our prey, we would cheer and laugh. Then we would run because chances are that dead Orc would be back soon enough and with friends. Maybe not the heroes of legend. Maybe not heroes at all. Looking back now, I'm fairly certain we were the villains.

This tale was another true story from my days playing World of Warcraft (WoW). It was one of the many experiences I had on that game that has stuck with me over the years.

Why have I shared these two stories? Because they are just some of the things from those two games that have inspired me, that I have taken things from in my own writings. Because they prove that playing games isn't just about walking along someone else's story lined out for you. You get as much out of them as you want, as you are willing to take.

Would my Skyrim tale have meant as much to me if I hadn't named the goat and formed a bond with it? Probably not. Would I have learned a lesson in the morality of would be heroes from my devious endeavours in WoW had I not created a heroic backstory for my character? Unlikely.

Gaming is a great source of inspiration for me, not just because of the worlds and the visuals it can impress upon me, but because I get so much more out of those games if I use my own imagination to flesh out the bits that are lacking. And I wouldn't give away those experiences I have earned for all the world.





The Bound Folio
Ragnarok Publications, June 1, 2016
Trade Paperback and eBook, 228 pages

Guest Blog by Rob J. Hayes - Gather Around and Let Me Tell You a Story... or Two
The world is full of heroes, villains, and all the shades in between. The Bound Folio tells their stories from the tortured childhood of the legendary Blademaster the Sword of the North, to the humble origins of the Queen of the Five Kingdoms, to the death of one of the world's greatest assassins.

This anthology collects together eight dark stories of swords, sorcery, and seduction from First Earth, the setting of The Ties That Bind trilogy and the forthcoming Best Laid Plans duology.





About Rob

Guest Blog by Rob J. Hayes - Gather Around and Let Me Tell You a Story... or Two
Having served in a hundred different offices as a keyboard monkey Rob J. Hayes finally decided to follow his lifelong passion of daydreaming. After writing a small horde's worth of short stories, he released his debut trilogy The Ties that Bind in 2013 as an indie publication and followed it up with the standalone release, The Northern Sunrise, in 2014.

Having signed a deal with Ragnarok to re-release The Ties that Bind trilogy, Rob is happy to announce his follow-up series, Best Laid Plans (set in the same world), will also be released by Ragnarok starting in 2016.

When not writing Rob is usually found either card gaming, computer gaming, board gaming, dice gaming, airsoft gaming, or pretending to be a Viking.

Website  ~  Twitter @RoboftheHayes  ~  Facebook

Guest Blog by Kirk Dougal - Trilogy or Three-book Series: Aren't they both just three books?


Please welcome Kirk Dougal to The Qwillery. Jacked will be published on May 31st by Per Aspera (Ragnarok Publications).



Guest Blog by Kirk Dougal - Trilogy or Three-book Series: Aren't they both just three books?




Trilogy or Three-book Series: Aren't they both just three books?

By Kirk Dougal

        Recently I was finalizing plans for an appearance at a library to talk about my young adult/thriller novel, “Jacked” (Ragnarok Publications/June 2016), during their YA Week later this summer. As the lady in charge of scheduling the library's events and I were winding down our conversation, she asked if any additional books were planned for the Jacked universe. I answered that the novel was the first of a three-book series.
        “Oh,” she said. “A trilogy.”
        “No, a three-book series.”
        After a few seconds of silence, she whispered into the telephone, “Is there a difference?”
        There is, of course, but I think the logical next step to her question was more important: Does the difference matter?
        What separates a trilogy from a three-book series—or any -logy from a series—is fairly easy to define but can quickly descend into murky waters when an attempt is made to apply it. For the purpose of this discussion, I am going to use these definitions:
        -logy – A line of books where the driving story arc takes place over the course of the entire set, making it the primary reason for the reader to move from book to book. Although every individual book may have its own smaller conflict, these are typically decided by the end of each. At times the author may leave the long arc on a cliffhanger at the conclusion of a book.
        Series – A line of books where the primary story arc is self-contained within the individual editions. Although a series may have a long-term issue for the protagonist to solve, it is a secondary thought to the individual plot lines. In fact, the overriding issue may not even be concluded by the final book.
        The Coldfire Trilogy by C.S. Friedman is a good example of the -logy definition. Although there are individual tasks for Damien Vryce and the Hunter to complete in each book, both “Black Sun Rising” and “When True Night Falls” end with the action hanging in the balance. It is Vryce's mission to balance the Fae's energy with mankind and the Hunter's search for redemption for murdering his family for power that drive the story forward. J.K. Rowling's heptology of Harry Potter acts in the same manner. Although Harry, Hermione, Ron, and the rest of the Hogwarts gang need to solve problems in each individual book, it is the re-emergence of Lord Valdemort and their need to defeat him that is the overriding story arc for all seven books.
        By comparison, Jim Butcher's Dresden Files falls in line easily with the definition of a series. Although Harry Dresden has recurring issues with his family and the pain of his past, each book is its own story with a beginning, middle, and conclusion.
        But some books fall into gray areas when they are being classified. Isaac Asimov's “Foundation,” “Foundation and Empire,” and “Second Foundation” were often labeled a trilogy but the three books were actually comprised of several short stories and novelettes. Asimov confused the issue even more when he added additional works to the Foundation line later in his life.
        J.R.R. Tolkien would have been surprised to hear anyone label “The Lord of the Rings” a trilogy. He intended the work to be one book but a variety of factors, including an abnormally long length for its time and the cost of paper during a shortage, led his publisher to print the one book as three—meaning that in reality LOTR was neither a trilogy or a series.
        So in the end, does any of this mean anything to readers and, consequently, authors?
        I think it does which was why I so carefully labeled Jacked as a series. Calling a line of books a series makes certain promises to the reader and authors need to deliver or they will wonder why subsequent books do not perform as well as they would like. Books in a series must deliver a certain individual finality, a self-contained story with a clear end. When a reader returns for the next book, it is most likely because of the characters or world, not any overarching theme or arc.
        But a trilogy promises something else. An early book must come through with action in the story arc but only a step forward or back, not the full conclusion. The reader needs to reach the end of the book and then stare at the wall, fretting over their favorite character, wondering how they will ever reach their final goal.
        It is that anxiousness, the driving need to know that also brings in the final factor for a -logy: time. I believe the urgency a reader feels translates today into a shorter period of time they are willing to wait before the next book is released. We see that when fans raise an outcry, demanding the author deliver the next book... now! George R.R. Martin has certainly felt that heat in recent years with his “A Song of Ice and Fire” novels. Originally intended to be a trilogy with “The Winds of Winter” planned on being the third and concluding chapter (according to reports), the book is now the sixth with “A Dream of Spring” intended to be the last in what is now a heptology. Martin's intricately weaved story and use of perilous circumstances with cliffhangers has done nothing but fuel his fans' passions even higher. The expectations have been a burden for Martin to endure but then, would ASOIF be the same if it had been structured as a series? Perhaps not.
        And that difference certainly means a lot to his readers.





Jacked
Per Aspera, May 31, 2016
Trade Paperback and eBook, 310 pages

Guest Blog by Kirk Dougal - Trilogy or Three-book Series: Aren't they both just three books?
In the near future, fifteen-year-old "Tar" Hutchins is a fixer.

He can repair technology just by touching it. That's a dangerous thing to be in a world after The Crash, an event that left millions dead or little more than empty, mindless shells. In the aftermath, a new regime hunts down technology and destroys machines with ruthless zeal, even executing fixers like Tar.

And Tar has caught their attention

Now, he's running for his life, desperately searching for other fixers, avoiding the engineers responsible for The Crash, and hoping to save those whose minds have been lost. In his flight, Tar must grow up and come to realize his ability to manipulate tech is more than just "some neat trick.

Can a teenager, even a gifted one like Tar, hope to survive — much less be victorious — when an entire government is deadset against him?





About Kirk

Guest Blog by Kirk Dougal - Trilogy or Three-book Series: Aren't they both just three books?
Kirk Dougal has had works in multiple anthologies and released his debut novel, Dreams of Ivory and Gold in May of 2014 through Angelic Knight Press with a 2nd edition in February 2015. His YA science fiction thriller, Jacked, leads the launch of Ragnarok Publications' Per Aspera SF imprint in 2016. He is also waiting on the publication of his SF/LitRPG novel, Reset, while completing the sequel to Dreams, Valleys of the Earth.

Kirk is currently working in a corporate position with a group of newspapers after serving as a group publisher and editor-in-chief. He lives in Ohio with his wife and four children. Discover more at his website or hanging out on Facebook and Twitter.

Website  ~   Facebook  ~   Twitter @kdougal

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