‘Exile’ Is Free for Kindle Tuesday through Thursday

I’m doing a free promotion for Amazon Kindle starting this Tuesday (tomorrow), August 18th and continuing through Thursday, August 20th.

Now’s your chance to start the The Book of Ever for the low, low price of absolutely free.

Exile is currently in the running for Mark Lawrence’s Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off (#SPFBO).  Fantasy-Faction called it “well thought out and well executed,” and “extremely cool.”

Exile AMZN-EPUBCenturies after the Fall, the United States has been wiped away. The crumbling remains of the great American empire are home now only to savage, lawless tribes and packs of ravening Damned—the twisted children of the apocalypse. Most of those few who survived humanity’s destruction spend their short lives in a violent struggle for survival. But some light still flickers in the darkness: the Blessed of Bountiful live in seclusion, relying on walls both physical and spiritual to protect them from the Desolation that their world has become. Among them are the Saints, those few men and women born with superhuman abilities that the Blessed see as gifts from God.

The violent apostate tribes of the Northeast Kingdom have always been a danger, but up until recently its small size and the vigilance of its people have made Bountiful an unappealing target. As attacks on the community grow harsher and more frequent, however, even the steadfast Blessed are forced to start preparing for the worst.

With her home’s very existence threatened, seventeen year old Ever Oaks, a Saint with the power to heal, is forced to make a difficult choice, one that may come to define her people’s future…

The Bottom of the Iceberg

Mark Lawrence recently wrote a blog post for Bookworm Blues on worldbuilding in fantasy, an aspect of writing fantasy that I think he’s quite good at.  He uses the metaphor of the iceberg to discuss the topic, referring to the wealth of backstory, culture, and history that goes into creating the worlds of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings or George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire.  Both of these authors are well known for having created reams of information about their respective worlds, most of which never sees the light of day in their actual novels (or doesn’t until, whether due to death or superstardom or both, this content becomes desired and profitable).  But Lawrence takes a step further, asking the question of whether the bottom of the iceberg actually needs to exist, or whether it’s enough that it seems to exist:

But … is the rest of the iceberg there? Does it need to be?

Perhaps GRRM takes 5 years to write his books because for each of them there’s an unseen bulk of background material, floating there in the depths. Maybe one day there will be a ‘Game of Thrones’ Silmarillion. Or perhaps there’s just a scaffold, a skeletal support propping up the edifice, just as when you step behind the stage sets for the TV series there’s a mess of struts, plywood, paint tins, and four Irish workmen sitting down to a pot of tea.

The important question is really – does it matter if the rest of the iceberg’s down there? I would suggest the answer is ‘no’. We want to feel as if it’s there, but if the writer has the skill to give the impression of all that hidden detail … it’s fine with me if it’s not really there.

Mr. Lawrence is particularly adept at this type of world-building: giving the reader the impression of depth and history and backstory, without actually having to start by writing that all down.

It’s all a question of process, really.  Maybe you’re a writer for whom it’s helpful and inspiring to draw up genealogies and write world history, or maybe you’re one who, like Mr. Lawrence, sits down and starts writing.  I fall somewhere in between, myself.  I have copious notes about my worlds, but they’re not terribly organized.  I don’t know the specific backstory of every character I write about, or their family histories or power levels or the origin of every minor artifact.  As Mr. Martin has been quoted as saying, when I need that information, I’ll make it up.

What about you?  What’s your worldbuilding process like?  How much of it do you know beforehand?  Does the bottom of your iceberg exist yet?

Destiny: I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change

I have a confession to make.  I’m one of those sad people still playing Destiny.  I’ve played it since I got my Xbox One, and despite having never even reached the level cap, I’ve quite enjoyed it…most of the time.

When it comes up in conversation I often tell people I have a love/hate relationship with the game, which is accurate: there are parts of it that I love, and parts of it that I love to hate.

I was drawn to it, I think, for approximately the same reasons other gamers were: it was a sci-fi game by the makers of Halo and had many of the elements of an MMO, but was console-based and therefore more accessible.  I hoped it was also more accessible internally as well: I played World of Warcraft for years without ever really committing to it.  I only hit the level cap with one character; I dipped in and out of guilds; I never raided.  First I was in law school, then I was a practicing attorney, then I was married, and now I have a son.  And it’s not just a responsibility thing: being a hardcore MMO player, showing up for raids or whatever at a specific time on specific nights just seems too much like a job.  What if I don’t feel like it?  Then I’m letting people down who might care a lot more than I do.  I’m fickle when it comes to entertainment; what occupies me completely one evening might not the next.

TL;DR: I want all the live action, dynamic content, and glory of an MMO without any real social responsibility.

And I love the game.  The gameplay is excellent.  Destiny might have the best gunplay I’ve ever experienced.  The world is beautiful, the graphics excellent, the loot crave-worthy.  It’s difficult enough to be challenging without being frustratingly difficult, for the most part (again, I haven’t done a raid, and I haven’t done much Nightfall for the same reasons).  And overall there’s a good balance of direct and indirect multiplayer.  I even like the story, to the extent that there is one.

Which is a good segue into what I hate, which for the most part is what everybody hates about the game.  The story is minimal, at best, and what you do get isn’t particularly engagingly told.  The first and second expansions didn’t do much to change this.  The most recent expansion pretty much ignored the story entirely, and neither The Dark Below nor House of Wolves featured new cutscenes of any kind.  Story is incredibly important to me in video games.  I’m a writer and reader first and foremost, and gaming medium is primarily appealing to me for its capacity to tell an interactive story.  Games with no story or a bad story lost my attention real quick.

Which is why it’s so crazy that I’m still out there capping Dregs with my Titan Striker.  What’s really frustrating about this game isn’t that the story is thin or bad, it’s that Bungie created a very detailed, rich world and then decided to share practically none of it in the actual game.  If you spend any time reading the Grimoire (and I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t), the archive of online lore (found at bungie.net) which Bungie decided to upload to their website in place of telling an actual story, you quickly realize how much backstory they created for this game world, and how little of it made it onto your screen.

But the two biggest pet peeves I have about Destiny are far more irritating than the lack of story, and they are inextricably intertwined with one another: the paltry social features of the game and Bungie’s refusal to introduce automatic matchmaking for most endgame content.

Let’s start with the latter.  I understand, without condoning, the arguments behind not having matchmaking for raids and similarly difficult endgame content like Nightfall Strikes, and more recently, Trials of Osiris and three-fourths of Prison of Elders.  For one, ad hoc fireteams of randomly matched players are unlikely to have the skill or teamwork necessary to defeat the game’s most difficult content.  Secondly, requiring a modicum of team-making effort in order to gain entry to Destiny’s hardest areas preserves a sense of elitism, making the most advanced content and its rewards a privilege for the most dedicated, experienced players.

To which I say: bullshit.  At best this is Bungie’s attempt to encourage communication and teamwork in endgame content (by forcing players to form their own groups), and at worst it’s fan service for hardcores.  But shouldn’t it be the difficulty of the content itself that filters out randoms and flakes?  Wouldn’t Vault of Glass or Crota’s End or level 35 Prison of Elders be all the more daunting and impressive if you gave less serious players a chance to try it via matchmaking and see how hard it is?  How necessary it is to have a fireteam that communicates and understands what’s going on?  One of two things would happen: either they’d get out quick and realize they’re in over their heads, thus leaving in awe of endgame content, or it would make them try all the harder to defeat it, making them more invested in the game.  Either way, serious players are still validated, because they’re the ones able to complete it.  Why require a golden ticket to even see the good stuff?  Shouldn’t I be able to throw my stupid ass in front of Crota if I want to, and watch it get shredded?

This problem is exacerbated by the fact that there is no in-game social functionality to speak of.  World of Warcraft, the most successful MMORPG ever created, has all the same restrictions Destiny does, and more (or at least, it did last time I played), but it has a built-in chat and guild system that lets you find friends and join a group or guild (clan) from right in the game.  This is sorely lacking in Destiny.  Yes, it’s a console game, so chat might be a bit complicated, but I’d happily buy a peripheral if it meant I didn’t have to put down my controller and open up my laptop in order to join a clan.

Is this really that big of a deal?  Maybe, maybe not.  Some might say that I’m bitching about nothing.  That it’s not really that hard to go online or use an app and find teammates that way.  But it takes me out of the game in more ways than one.  When I put that controller down, my interest and focus fades quickly, and I’m taken out of the story entirely.  I want at least a passing acknowledgment of the fact that I’m playing a fantasy character here; I’d like to be able to pretend the group I join to take out the world’s greatest boss is a little more than some Call of Duty clan.

The problem with all of this, of course, is that you can’t hit max level without endgame loot, and you can’t play endgame content without five friends who also play Destiny (on the same console as you).  And you have to be either lucky enough to have such friends in real life or go through the annoying process of finding them on an online forum.

But I’m still here, and I’m still playing, and Bungie’s recent announcement about the changes coming in The Taken King was very exciting.  No gear-based progression system means it’s a straight grind to hit the level cap, which I vastly prefer, for reasons stated above.

And see?  I’ve just written over 1,200 words about Destiny.  I can’t stop talking about the damn thing.  Stupid Destiny.  Stupid awesome game.

The Eberan Whiskey Sling

IMG_0368Arven Mallick runs The Fourth Tribe, the nicest dive in the Warrens, making it the nicest dive in Oridos.  If you’re a friend, and you ask nicely, he just might make you his signature cocktail: the Eberan Whiskey Sling.

Consulting detective Irik Thijis, the protagonist of my serial fantasy novel The Doktor’s Spyglass, swears by them, when Arven’s nice enough to give him one on the house.  Eberan whiskey’s hard to come by, you know.

I promised my Wattpad readers the recipe, and today I deliver.  Thijis asks Arven at one point, and Arven told him, but we can be fairly certain, knowing Mr. Mallick, that he didn’t give away all of his secrets so easily.  The exact recipe may remain forever a mystery, but if you’ve been to the Tribe, and you’ve got a well-stocked bar, you can still make a passable representation of what has been called “the drink that wars are made on.”

The recipe is as follows.

Eberan Whiskey Sling (as made by Arven Mallick)

Fill a shaker with ice.  Add one measure of Eberan whiskey, half a measure of sweet vermouth, at least six dashes cherry bitters, and a dash of simple syrup.  Shake vigorously.  Strain into a short glass, then remove the strainer and add in some of the ice.  Garnish with an Oridosi blood cherry, crushing it against the side of the glass with the back of a spoon.

As it’s unlikely that you have immediate access to Eberan whiskey, feel free to substitute your favorite rye or, if you must, bourbon.  Blood cherries are close to extinct, even in Oridos, but in a pinch a Bing cherry will do just fine.

Arven thunked a large drink down in front of him.

“So what’s this?” Thijis asked, bending his neck to look through the thick glass. It was a dark red color, and there was something floating in it.

“Eberan whiskey sling,” said Arven, using his faithful rag to wipe a wet ring out from under the tumbler he’d mixed it in.

“Eberan whiskey? Not sure I’ve got the crowns for liquid gold today, innkeeper.” Real Eberan whiskey was either hundreds of years old, pre-Fulkawer, or smuggled in fast sloops down the northern coast, by pirates who risked their lives to trade with the remaining Eberai tribes. Either way, it was damned expensive.

“It’s on the house. It’s an experiment. And you look like you’re having a hard day. Plus, I’m bored.”

Thijis sipped it. The muscles in his face had been tighter than he’d known, and they relaxed as one with the first sip.

“This is good,” he said. Arven snorted and walked to the end of the bar to arrange bottles. Thijis took another drink, rolling the liquid around on his tongue. It was sharp and sweet and dry all at the same time.

This is the last thing you need. Gebbing wants you gone, fast. You fucked up on this one. Didn’t pay enough attention and someone fleeced you. You’ll be lucky if they don’t find you face down in the Inner Sea within the week. Stay out of it this one fucking time.

If there was one thing Irik Thijis wasn’t any good at, it was staying out of it.

“What’s in this, Arven?” he asked.

“The whiskey, cherry sugar syrup, a few dashes of bitters of my own making,” Arven called out.

“What’s this floating in it?”

“A blood cherry. I’ve got a line on them, fellow down in Emmerline,” the bartender said.