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

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

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

The Last Book of Realmwalker Publishing Group

Mine was the last book published by Realmwalker Publishing Group.

It came out April 5th, about a week and a half after the company imploded over a series of business fall outs and other concerns. Keeping up with a jam-packed schedule of releases led to a build-up of pressure akin to the leakage of gas, while problems with payroll provided the incendiary match. Everyone could smell the sulfur, everyone could hear the hiss – but when the fireman among you says not to worry, your worries dissipate. They creep back later when the intrusive sensation persists, but for the moment you are placated. After all, they are the fireman. This is what they do.

By the time of launch all my rights were returned to me, and while my novel gives publishing credit where it is due, I essentially was and am now a self-published author.

Not the kind of thing I envisioned upon signing. The requisite time to produce my debut properly was divvied to newly-acquired authors whose re-releases could theoretically be republished in short order and with less effort. With the principal cover artist on holidays for March, a replacement was found who hailed from Brazil. Some miscommunication went down between he and RPG, and after two weeks he had produced nothing but the .PSD of a pre-existing picture of his. Company president James Drake was sufficiently horrified as to not let me even see it. With two weeks to go I had no cover. I enjoy the grit and fanfare of the cover I have now, but it would be a lie to say it was not a last minute thing.

When the whole community went belly up a few days later, there was lots of driftwood and silt to sift through. My book vs. the outrage and confusion of a whole body of newly published authors. It did not stand a chance at seizing the time necessary to be properly produced. With the release date looming, Drake and I worked an inordinate amount of hours–From the morning of Sunday, April 3rd, to midnight on April 5th, I was awake 58 of 60 hours –to no avail. In the end Purge of Ashes mostly missed its release date, took yet more time to get a softcover online, and then had some last minute issues still being resolved. Oh, and because of this the shipment of softcovers inbound for my book launch spent the party in a cargo container at Pearson Airport in Toronto. I called every company involved a billion times, but UPS was incapable of getting them for me on a Friday night and refused to work Saturday. Not one deadline hit.

The release of Purge of Ashes was an unmitigated catastrophe. Any momentum I had built through posting my 30 Days of Balance articles and hoopla over on Twitter was erased by the miasma of confusion over if and when the books were available. This was rotten. With tales like these one might imagine me fuming and irate – but that’s not me, and what’s more there was plenty of good that came from the mess of the last three weeks.

  1. For one, James was good on his promise to work diligently on my book regardless of the status of Realmwalker. While there was a foreboding sense of ‘too late’ hanging above everything we did, he did produce a book for me which has a solid cover and looks GREAT in the interior. He listened to my many questions and included lots of my suggestions, even for little things like the imbalance icons for the page count. He spent 56 of those 60 hours awake as well, doing most of the actual work. And as a pardon for the payroll flames of yester-week, did so entirely for free.
  2. Things could have been A LOT worse. The book did, in fact, get finished. I did not lose any money. I did not have to explain to everyone I know about why I actually wasn’t going to have a book in under a week. RPG could have fled with its tail between its legs and left me stranded, instead of admitting defeat and facing the fall out. A small consolation given what happened, but a consolation yet.
  3. I take being an author much more seriously. When I first got in contact with RPG Imbalance had been collecting dust. I was torn between pushing for representation and self-publishing. I was part of no communities. I was just a guy who had spent the better part of his free time for seven years completing a works. Now, in the process of promoting my release, I have met a cool cadre of authors, read a lot about the publishing industry, and dealt with much of the ever-present flak of being a newcomer. Everything has worked to aid me in better managing the project. Six months ago I had no such insight.

My only real concern is that fantasy aficionados who follow the ins and outs of the industry will look at RPG’s broad collection net and decide that, by virtue of being a new author hired in such a sweep, my novel is but krill.

While this concern is real to me, it is likely unfounded. From what I can tell experienced authors have seen it all before and offer guidance instead of scorn. Other authors pushing the self-publishing Sisyphus boulder raise their fists in solemn salute. To their credit, Realmwalker held off branding Purge of Ashes with the company logo to help ensure the novel did not suffer by association. This was a venerable act that further indicates the tragic nature of the implosion.

How much was smoke and mirrors? Somewhere more or less than we authors all thought, no doubt.

But I’m pretty proud of the accomplishment of the fellow I see in the mirror, and to the Purge go the smoke and ashes.

JM

30 Days of Balance #26: Writing vs. Worldbuilding

What do you value in an author, craft or story? When I was a teenager my favourite fantasy series was without doubt The Wheel of Time. I read and reread books 1-6 until I knew every inch of the map, every obscure Aes Sedai. I never thought twice about the writing – I was so focused on how cool 13 evil mages called The Forsaken were.

When I was a teenager I also read The Fionavar Tapestry by Guy Gavriel Kay. I did not care for the premise. Real people sucked into fantasy worlds never appealed to me. It made the other world small. Then the story had Guinevere and Lancelot in it and… nope, not for me. How could it compare to The Wheel of Time with so much less worldbuilding?

Well, there was Kay himself. His prose was smooth like silk, and brought emotion to the fore. It did not hide behind tropes or long drawn out teenage awkwardness. It elevated the text itself, elevated the ideas it presented and elevated the reading experience. My father never read fantasy – he found Jordan fun but Kay art. I didn’t quite know how to engage with this at the time. I had no register upon which to compare writing ability. All I knew was action, story, monsters, heroes. Kay’s works since The Fionavar Tapestry are books I have not given enough of my time, but if The Lions of Al-Rassan is any indication, as I imagine it is, he has improved upon his earlier works – in content certainly while I’m not sure how room there is above his formative style to begin with. The Fionavar Tapestry (I had an omnibus edition) is still the only fantasy novel to make me cry.

So Writing vs. Worldbuilding. Where do you fall on the spectrum? Are you a Kay type, literary and leaning towards immaculate works of high language and high emotion, rich in vocabulary and deep in subtlety? Or are you a Jordan type where you can withstand any amount of braid tugging to enjoy the concept of a Myrddraal, the trappings of the Forsaken, or the powerful mysteries of the Aiel Waste and Shadar Logoth? I often see a writer’s craft as being a gift, some ephemeral quality that has been with them forever, while their worldbuilding stems more from dedication. Of course, some authors, like Erikson, are so much of both they break the graph.

Here is an imperfect layout of how I rank the authors I have read most. If authors push left or right, it’s not really a critique of what they can’t do but rather an emphasis on where their strength lies. Sorry for ditching on Sanderson.

Author-Graph

JM

30 Days of Balance #25: Pronunciation + Pronunciation Keys

I’m hopping a few days ahead of schedule, but my cover is coming tomorrow and I want to fit in my favourite topics prior to April 5th: The Birth of Imbalance.

Pronunciation is one of the best things about fantasy novels. Some people hate it, finding all the strange names intolerable and all the extra apostrophes silly, but I find a great amount of joy in the game. Fantasy names are weird. They’re foreign. If they are not like this it usually grates on me greatly (for example, all the simple our-world names of Kingkiller Chronicles – especially when the protagonist has one of the awesomest fantasy names in ‘Kvothe’ – or the ungainly ‘Kyle’ from Ian Cameron Esslemont [long story that one]).

I love the power that comes with reading a name. It is mine to say aloud. If I want to pronounce ‘Daenarys’ as ‘Day-nair-E-us’ or ‘Dan-air-E-us’ it is up to me (unless HBO says otherwise, and even then it is still up to me.) The author can pronounce it one way and readers another. It is written. It has no breath to speak of beyond your own. I noticed this recently listening to the Grim Tidings Postcast featuring a two-part interview with Joe Abercrombie where, in reference to a new character from the upcoming short story collection Sharp Ends – ‘Shevediah’, the hosts kept saying ‘Shev-eh-DIE-ah’ and Abercrombie kept saying ‘Shev-EH-dee-ah’.

No live discussion of a fantasy novel is complete without both people being completely confused because they pronounce a name differently and can’t figure each other out.

For the ‘ell of it, here is a brief pronunciation key for Purge of Ashes’s 3 most baffling monikers:

Asma(thalyne) Madrejingo – [ACE-ma(tha-line) Madra-JING-go]

Rafien Jorgamund – [RAY-fee-en YORG-a-mund]

Xi’ar Chukkundah – [Zire Chuck-KUN-dah]

and for fun,

Arch Deacon Kravroar Bryce Matmas Slyne – [CRAV-roar Brice Mat-mus Sline]

JM

30 Days of Balance #22: Birthday Promo!

I turned 34 at 6am.

I slotted this post to be a simple promotion so I would not have to work too hard. As it stands, I may have to abort my ’30 days’ deal due to my efforts being required for the creation of the book itself and the managing of the release party. I had not anticipated having so much to do in the final week before release. So: the skinny.

PURGE OF ASHES, Book One of the Imbalance

RELEASED: April 5th on Amazon

BLURB TO END ALL BLURBS

SAMPLE PAGES

Boom. Done. I’m out.

JM

30 Days of Balance #19: Fantasy vs. Horrible Fantasy Covers

Yes, a post about fantasy covers without actually showing any covers. There are plenty of ways to take a gander at some horrible (and excellent) fantasy covers without me spending my night collecting them for you. For the readily mockable, this place.

It is also well documented how vital a quality cover is to sales, and how vital a brand is to advertising. The cover is a form of brand for an author. It adds to a novel’s ‘collectable’ nature. Weaving themes through the covers of a series is very attractive. It implies to the reader that there is consistency within the novels as well. It shows planning and foresight. It can also be exceptionally cool or clever.

Of course, the covers can also be duds.

The ones that stick out to me are the ones with lizard men on them. Every time I want to mock a fantasy / sci-fi cover, I think lizard men. Usually either a) holding a screaming woman overhead, or b) being shot at by a woman in a silver space suit that ignores the shoulders. I also despise covers that are trying to sell fantasy using sex, because it rings of the ’80s and ’90s stereotype of fantasy lovers as basement nerds who require titillating covers to feel connected to a woman’s curvature. It rings of pulp. I want my fantasy to defy pulp. One of my favourite things about Game of Thrones on HBO is that it opened the world’s eyes to the very idea that fantasy is more than cliches and cheese. That the political machinations in Westeros can be as interesting and rich as ones in the White House.

The fantasy covers I prefer are more minimalist, have symbolism, and are connected to the story itself. They are never of massive battles, dangerous duels or nasty monsters – just a symbol and a correlated theme. The best example of this difference is between covers for Malazan Book of the Fallen:

The Bantam cover is everything I like. A backlit throne held by an imposing warrior? All in. Especially when the next few novels follow this pattern of black + coloured smoke + ominous central figure.

The TOR cover is everything I dislike, although this one is better than most of the others. Carriages just aren’t that interesting. The action scenes rarely capture any of the energy of battle, but instead tend to showcase characters like action figures. Plus every time I see a character in full light I immediately think “That’s not how I picture them.” Especially our good friend Silchas Ruin here as TOR’s covers came later than the original Bantam run.

By this time in my 30 Days of Balance schedule I was supposed to have a cover ready. It would not be a stretch considering Purge of Ashes is being released in less than two weeks to say it is late. What matters is that it is finished and ready for press time. Alas, this may not be the case. Here’s hoping this crisis yields opportunity, because I can’t imagine looking at my first novel, finally done, finally fit for print, finally ready for the world – and be repulsed by the face it wears.

JM