Updates + Review

I start a new job tomorrow. As well, as per a post a while ago, I now have a newborn in the house. Such conditions are not prime for writing. I am doing a writer’s disappearing act for the next few months while I ensure my teaching skills are back up to snuff, and my newborn gets closer to sleeping through the night. Do not fear! I’m so far away from done.

While I am gone, the following will occur:

  1. I will continue reading sweet self-published fantasy novels from community peers.
  2. Tim Marquitz will finish editing Purge of Ashes to perfection.
  3. I will be posting about an upcoming essay I am writing for TOR.com

It would be IDEAL if I had a BOOK out around the time my article for TOR goes live, but alas it was not to be. Persistence is always key. It is known. Stay tuned and to the faithful go the spoils.

The good news is I got this solid review as a kiss to send me off. It pretty much sums up much of what I set out to do.

Be seeing you in mid-fall (besides a booster for the TOR piece, natch)

JM

Coup de Grace

So I have had some pretty bad news lately, as documented and documented, but ‘everything comes in threes’ as people like to say. Fortunately, as far as news goes, I was saving the best for last.

I am glad to announce I have been offered a guest opportunity to write about fantasy for TOR.com regarding the magnificent opus The Malazan Book of the Fallen. I am really looking forward to praising the virtues of what I believe is the greatest fantasy books of all time, and determined to convince those on the fence of why they need to tackle the monster series. At least one other friend is also gearing up, so it is going to be great fun. Even more importantly to me personally, this chance has come right when my prospective publishing future seemed most daunting (hehe, naw, Imbalance will be one way or another, no worries) and I see it as surefire proof my prose is not so deplorable.

More on the matter to come, and I’ll be sure to direct you to the essay when it is published in September!

JM

The Sixth Reason: SPFBO 2016

I mentioned a sixth reason for taking Purge of Ashes off the market yesterday, and that would be its elimination from Mark Lawrence’s Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off competition for 2016.

It is not official yet, as The Qwillery is yet to post their results, but it’s true. Unfortunately, I found out in a rather nasty way: by Goodreads rating. Surprised at a low score, I looked up the reviewer only to find her profile mentioned she blogged for the Qwillery. It was not hard to make the leap in logic. Later, I found entries on the site which gave me further insight into her reasoning. The good news is that she only read 20 pages and therefore has virtually no impression of what the series is all about.

Ironically, back in May all I hoped from SPFBO 2016 over on Twitter was my allotted blog read Purge of Ashes all the way through to attain a fair review.

The bad news is that it only took 20 pages to turn off a reader, and not just any reader, but an enthusiastic one who reads multiple books a week. That won’t do, but that’s why I hired Tim Marquitz (see ‘Downtime’) – to smooth out the ruffles in the opening and generally ensure my structure alienates as few people as possible. I had been waiting in vain curiosity to gauge Purge of Ashes‘s potential before closing a potential inroad for new readers, but freed of this deadline I can get on with refurbishing my debut.

Like the debut itself, it appears the book was not fighting fit for competition yet. What say you, Mark, can a newly-edited version enter the competition next year? Only 3% read…

Best of luck to everyone still in the contest. I’m currently really enjoying What Remains of Heroes by last year’s runner up David Benem and it’s a blast.

JM

Downtime

So after these few months of silence I also have some grim news regarding Imbalance. At least, grim for now. Daunting, say. “The times they are a-getting very different.”

I am taking Purge of Ashes temporarily off the market.

This is for multiple reasons, each more reasonable than the last, but underneath all the reasonableness is a small piece of heartbreak. I knew what Purge of Ashes needed to be successful and somewhere along the way with getting a three-book deal from my old publisher I stopped checking to ensure such necessities were being met. A more bulldog-ish type of person would likely have called foul and cancelled that premier, but I was unable to think that way, and am now left with this last resort four months later. So here we go, five reasons:

  1. Editing. I was promised editing from my smallpress and too late realized I got none. This problem was not exclusive to my title. To fix this issue I have hired Tim Marquitz from Ragnarok Publications to give Purge of Ashes a full edit. I’m not wasting time. He’s the man for the job. Most reviewers love the content and just need it streamlined into a more readily-digestible flow. Once the process is complete I will be able to push Purge of Ashes as I did in March and April of this year – before concerns over its perfection (in my eyes) soured my entrepreneurial spirit.
  2. Cover. The cover was literally made in 24 hours as a band-aid for a hired artist who did not fulfill their end of the bargain. While sufficiently dark and an excellent skyline, it has no element of humanity and was in no way my vision. Nor does it fit easily with the planned series of covers. To separate the second edition that is to come from its predecessor, I require a new cover – one that really Raruks up the place! I will be searching for a new artist soon. Unfortunately, it was my former smallpress who footed the bill last time.
  3. Maps. My map for Imbalance is great and I don’t care who hears me champion its virtues. Unfortunately, the maps that made it into my first edition of Purge of Ashes were far less grand. While that of Sventium is all right for black and white, the massive global map fit so poorly onto the page that almost none of it is legible and the rest a big mess. In addition to these grainy, gray versions that undercut all the work that went into my colourful, vast cartograph, came the interior ‘city’ maps. Or rather they didn’t come. Mostly because the smallpress failed to produce them, despite promises. Thus, maps for the city streets of Katolys, Edis and Remn are a must for a proper edition. I, too, will be on the lookout for a digital cartographer in the near future.
  4. Timing. Suffice to say, my three-book deal came at a bad time in my personal life. Underemployed for 1.5 years, and coming a month after my wife and I were expecting our second child, I spazzed out on promotion in March and April knowing the closer I got to the dreaded First Year of the Newborn the less time I would have to sing my book’s praises. Such time was and is needed for writing Grip of Dust (gettin’ there!) In the end, writing is a marathon, not a sprint – and there is no longer a reason to rush. I no longer have a publishing deal for three books with the second due in January. Go back. Clean. Perfect. Let Purge reach its full potential – that’s why I wrote it in the first place. Writing is an older person’s medium unless you’re Zadie Smith or John Kennedy Toole.
  5. Process. Having spent half a year immersed in the online fantasy digisphere (don’t care if this word makes no sense here, felt great) I have learned much. Most of it revolves around trust, but a lot revolves around community as well. When I arrived on the scene with a book to my credit and bright blue eyes I never claimed to understand the marketing aspect of the industry. I mean, egad, it’s enough to keep track of a non-existent universe, is it not? I just write here. But as a self-publisher there are a lot of rules that you need to follow in order to find success, both critical and commercial. By re-releasing the novel I can set my own date – one that allows for ample time to redo the cover and maps. One that lets me properly distribute advanced reader copies to the right people and shout madly at everyone else. To bray like never before! O, to know it is prepared on release day. As it stood, back on April 6th (a day late already) when Purge of Ashes was let upon the world, every aspect of dealing with the book had been crammed into the final two weeks prior to release. If I am to go it alone, nuts to that. I need a new starting line.

There is a sixth reason, but I shall save that for another upcoming post. My best writing wishes to every fantasy author out there who has hurdles to jump – and my apologies to those who purchased the underprepared first edition. All will be rectified.

JM

The Best Reason to Skimp on Site Updates

So this announcement has been pending for some time, but I went and had a baby boy back on July 14th. Coupled with my two-year old girl life has been busy and unpredictable!

Abby & Sebastian

Now I’m just softening you up. Is there a cuter pair? Doubtful.

Lots has been happening with regards to Imbalance, and a more business-minded follow-up to this post is forthcoming, but hey, as Aronan would say, ‘Family comes first.’ As it stands, this is a pretty good reason for the site’s silence in June and July (and likely August, I’m on very little sleep and the place is a mess).

JM

Grimdark

Just a quick post to note that the Grimdark Fiction Readers and Writers group is doing a wicked online AMA session today featuring some of the best current fantasy authors – and even giving away signed copies of some of their excellent books!

I already missed Michael R. Fletcher, but I’m excited to pop in for Marc Turner and Jeff Salyards.

In the meantime, I have been working on Grip of Dust as well as a few other things, but with my wife due in under a week things will be pretty quiet on the site. I will, however, post a link to my final Dork Shelf Fan v. Fan videos at some point.

JM

Discussing 609

Game of Thrones Episode 609 ‘Battle of the Bastards’ SPOILERS ahead.

Lots of people hyped about the latest episode of the best fantasy show on TV – and with good reason. It was one of the most consistently intense hours of episodic drama you’re likely to find, and with an entire season of preparation to support it – not to mention paddy wagons full of money. It is something when the unleashing of three amazingly-rendered dragons to burn a fleet of ships is the LESSER sequence.

While I make my thoughts clear in my Fan vs Fan segments for Dork Shelf, and you can watch myself and co-host Brian Crosby break the episode down by clicking this link, there are a few things about the episode I wanted to mention first – mostly to do with people’s reactions versus actual content (again, see above).

This was not the best episode of Game of Thrones.

To say so is to conclude that this show is, at its roots, a machine for big spectacles, and that is not what has brought Game of Thrones so far – for it is not of the game. No one doubts Michael Bay movies are pretty. Everyone doubts they achieve quality storytelling.

Game-Of-Thrones-season-6-episode-9-Battle-Of-The-Bastards-trailer-image

Bolton men press back Snow’s army.

Episodes like “Blackwater,” “Watchers on the Wall” and “Hardhome” are important. They are big moments with big consequences. They show off the show’s budgetal bloat. They bring the gritty nature of medieval warfare to the small screen in a way as yet unparalleled – but they are heavy clubs of awesomeness. There is nothing deft to them. There is no artful tact or careful acting or subtle direction. They scream, “Are you not entertained?” like Maximus in Ridley Scott’s Gladiator.

Episodes like “Baelor,” “Rains of Castamere” and “The Mountain and the Viper” do something else entirely. They take individual moments – essential moments for essential players – and show off the show’s far more impressive ability at achieving genuine surprise and heart-wrenching grief simultaneously. They are the delicate dance of the needle. They are the artful tact, the careful acting and the subtle direction that brings the show to another level. They are the unforgettable moments. They whisper, “Am I not merciful?” like Joaquin Phoenix.

After Season Two ended everyone thought “Blackwater” was truly an epic episode. Now it seems more a failed attack by a character bypassed by fortune. The ghost of Joffery’s decision to off Eddard Stark, and the painful witness of Arya, remain a sudden and unconscionable course of action. As someone who had read the books, the wait leading up to the Red Wedding had me fitfully gripping my cuffs and clamping my mouth shut – then the payoff ruined the night for everyone. “Watchers on the Wall” lost us a fiery Ygritte and is fun to rewatch, but it changed little.

The short is this. This episode had a near-to-perfectly executed battle sequence that challenges any movie for impressive filming – something incredibly fun (and excruciating) to watch – but it still had ugly little problems. Jon’s divine intervention (either he’s crazy lucky or he’s boringly ‘looked after’), Ramsay’s sudden ineptitude one-on-one, the minimal time given the numerous key Mereen scenes, Davos’s coincidental find, a body pile that was a bit on the ridiculous side… These all amount to points that pull the episode way from ideal. No amount of visuals should undo that. There are other episodes – big ones as named above, or smaller, simpler episodes that move the story along and provide for some great lines and acting – that have fewer negative qualms and are more worthy of the mantle. Even in Season Six one could argue “The Door” held a much weightier punch.

Of course, for me the best episode of all time is the pilot.

I still can’t get over how perfectly they got everything – and the rest flows from there.

Game of Thrones -FvF- 609- Battle of the Bastards

JM

My Interview for Fantasy Faction’s ‘Superfan’

Fantasy Faction – a wonderful online community for fantasy fans and authors alike – recently interviewed me about the Malazan Book of the Fallen, and it was posted as the first in their ‘superfan’ series. Check it out!

Here’s a sample:

So, what exactly is this series about?

The decay of gods. The history of those whose deaths shape the passage of time. The burden of suffering upon those who would create beauty. The longevity of the land’s spirit beneath the rigors of man. The plight of the unwitnessed whose struggle has been lost in the annals of memory.

If that seems poetic, heavy or massive in scope, as if I did not answer the question, then WELCOME to the Malazan Book of the Fallen!

JM

Unruly Behaviour

Game-of-Thrones-joffrey-margaery-thumb

Pretty ridiculous article making the rounds today. Just wanted to add a few thoughts about his champion Romantic Poets: Shelley, Wordsworth and Keats. I am certain I recall the broad details of my university degree as well as I think I do (?).

First of all, they all wrote poems, not novels. So it’s kind of like saying ‘don’t watch this TV show, see these movies!’ Apparently the hundreds of years comprising the canon of English literature could not provide one actual book for Whiting to offer up in contrast. Second, none of these poets taught children complacency. While Wordsworth may have had his support for the French Revolution tempered by the methods of the Jacobins, they all pushed for revolution at various points in their lives, particularly Shelley. Naturally, the zeal to cast off what they saw as oppressive weights in their society is evidenced in their works, particularly Ozymandias or The Mask of Anarchy. Third, notably absent from the list is the firebrand William Blake, whose works offer us the first instance of the word ‘Orc’ and are alive with both the fire of mystical fantasy and condemnation of the Catholic Church. Blake clearly advocated for making free and independent choices, and behaving in ways that would upset any governing body demanding subservience.

 

Now, I don’t live in England. I have heard rumour that the school system is in dire straits, but any insight I might offer is surely hearsay. Suffice to say, it seems like there is plenty of bad behavior and I understand the desire to point fingers. Rotten attitudes can snowball throughout a school year, and one bad apple can definitely spoil the bushel. If underage students are delighting in the adult content of the books A Song of Ice and Fire (or, more likely, just watching the ribald show itself) it is easy to assume pulling out the root will kill the weed.

 

But it will also kill the flower. Lumping all fantasy into one category and making broad generalizations is ridiculous. This actual argument is likely the death throes of a bleating puritan, and as such not worth addressing. Further, while I do not live in England, I am a teacher, and one who appreciates that how a teacher wishes students to act is not always parallel to what is best for them. While I’m teaching a lesson, it would be ideal for me to have 100% engagement and participation, 100% effort once the work starts. That would teach the meter of Ozymandias to an excellent degree. But social understanding is as big a part of the school system as formal education, and while challenging to listen to, cope with, suffer through for a results-bent teacher of 30 pupils, it translates into growth for the young individual. This dichotomy comes down to respect: they respect your time while imparting new information and ideas, you respect their time when they push, pull and revel in their generation’s congealing identity. As long as they are not overlapping, butt out.

 

After all, it bears mentioning that Percy Bysshe Shelley himself was expelled from Oxford in 1811 for not following the rules. He was yet to publish anything of note.

 

JM