The #SPFBO Enters Its Final Round

510zQwueCNL._SX351_BO1,204,203,200_Mark Lawrence’s Great Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off is entering its final round, with the last of the ten finalists due to be announced tomorrow morning at the latest.

Matthew Colville’s Priest narrowly beat out James Islington’s The Shadow of What Was Lost and my own Exile to be Fantasy Faction’s SPFBO finalist.  So first and foremost, congratulations Mr. Colville!

I had thought I would be far more disappointed than I am, but the honest truth is I had a wonderful time throughout this whole contest and look forward to seeing who wins.  I made several friends, got my work reviewed by a major fantasy website, interacted with a lot of wonderful people, and learned a lot about what it’s like to be a writer.  My heartfelt thanks go out to Mark Lawrence and all of the wonderful bloggers and authors who participated.  My dearest hope is that we will see the SPFBO become a regular event!

22860215Once the list of the top ten finalists is complete, each of the bloggers participating in the contest will read and review all of the top ten on their sites.  They will have another six months (if I remember correctly) to accomplish this.  When all of the finalists have been reviewed (and presumably given a score out of 10), the novel with the highest score will be announced the champion.

You can find a chart of the top ten finalists and their respective scores here.

Exile AMZN-EPUBAlso be sure to check out D. Moonfire’s excellent online database of all of the SPFBO entries.

I’ll keep reporting on the status of the SPFBO as the contest moves forward.  I’ve also participated in a couple of interviews, one with Fantasy Faction and one with Fantasy Book Critic, so stay tuned for links to those when they are posted.

Congratulations to all of the top ten finalists and best of luck moving forward!  You have my sword, and Islington’s bow (I’m sure), and Colville’s axe (undoubtedly), and…well you get the picture.

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?

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.

Fantasy-Faction Reviews ‘Exile: The Book of Ever’

Exile AMZN-EPUBThe award-winning fantasy website Fantasy-Faction reviewed Exile: The Book of Ever Part 1 and liked it!  The review was part of Mark Lawrence’s Great Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off (#SPFBO), an ongoing tournament-style competition where a number of well-known genre websites review and choose the best of a long list of self-published fantasy novels.  Sonia Grace of Fantasy-Faction gave Exile 3.5 out of 5 stars, and had this, among other things, to say:

James Cormier’s Exile pleasantly surprised me…Cormier’s story grabbed my attention right away, and within a chapter I realized that I’d be reading the whole thing without putting it down.

The writing was solid and the characters had distinct voices and personalities. I loved the post-apocalyptic setting in particular; it was well thought out and well executed. I hope that in future books we learn more about the history of what actually caused the collapse of the world, because the bits of knowledge we got were extremely cool.

Read the full review at Fantasy-Faction.com.

You can find Exile on Amazon in ebook and paperback formats.  It’s also available free for Kindle Unlimited subscribers.

You can find Mark Lawrence’s work anywhere books are sold.  Follow the hashtag #SPFBO on Twitter for up-to-the-moment information on the contest and the front-runners.

Introducing ‘The Doktor’s Spyglass’

The Doktors SpyglassI’ve decided to take something I’ve been working on and serialize it.  It started as a short story but has turned into something quite a bit more interesting.

The Doktor’s Spyglass is a fantasy detective novel, and will be available a chapter at a time on Wattpad.  I will update it with new chapters periodically, but no less often than once a month.

Here’s the blurb:

When an eccentric inventor is reported dead, consulting detective Irik Thijis is called in to investigate. He soon discovers that Doktor Keynish Helg is not as dead as he seems, and that something much stranger than simple murder is afoot.

The Inspection Service of the holy city of Oridos is about as useful as a horseless carriage when it comes to solving crimes, and Thijis is used to sorting out their cases for them. But what he discovers lurking in the Doktor’s mansion soon finds them all out of their depth.

As Thijis probes deeper into his strangest case yet, he realizes that blood and death are only the opening gambit in a play that may cost him not only his livelihood, but his life.

If you like steampunk, noir stories, and hard boiled, harder nosed gumshoes, you’ll probably like this.

The first chapter of The Doktor’s Spyglass is available now on Wattpad.

1980s Fantasy Movies That Influenced A Young Me

342613Gather around children, and let Old Nuncle Jim tell you a tale.  Selfie sticks down.  Turn your phones on vibrate.  Pass me my beer and turn that Queen album back up.  Ahem.  That’s better.

There was a time, long before iPhones, long before the Internet, prior even to the advent of the DVD and stadium seating in movie theaters, when fantasy movies were not the big budget blockbusters they are today.  Before Peter Jackson was ordained from on high to grace us with a (relatively) faithful, three-film adaptation of The Lord of the Rings, fantasy as a genre in Hollywood was pretty dead.  The 1990s in particular was a drought of fantasy so extreme that people did crazy things, like listen to Limp Bizkit and dance the Macarena (Wikipedia those if you have questions).  There weren’t even any good B movies; the fantasy movie-going public were left with pitiful dregs the likes of Dragonheart, Kull the Conqueror, and Encino Man.  (Just kidding about that last one.  Encino Man is a documentary about Pauly Shore.)

But let’s go back a decade, to a more magical time: the 1980s.  Yes, that one, the one you know from theme parties and Taylor Swift’s new album.  The one with music made by people older than your parents.  This was Nuncle Jim’s early childhood, a time of Transformers and Capri Sun and Ronald Reagan.  People still smoked cigarettes indoors, back then, and there were payphones.  There were actually quite a few fantasy movies made during the ’80s.  It was a good time for fantasy, in the sense that at least it was getting made.  This was probably due both to legitimate popularity (a lot of modern classic fantasy novels were written or begun in the 1980s), and the fact that Hollywood still made movies that weren’t expected to make $1 billion internationally.  Like I said, it was a different time.

And in addition to all the wonderful books Nuncle Jim read, there were lots of wonderful (and not so wonderful) movies that he watched that influenced the geeky course of his life going forward.  And if he’s being honest, he probably owes just as much to these pulpy, low-budget films as he does to the books he’s read.  So here’s a list of the ones that stand out in Nuncle Jim’s memory.

I will now end this belabored narrative device and switch to the first person, so as to list the influential movies in question, which are listed with a short explanation in no particular order.

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Game of Thrones Season Five

As a fan of George R. R. Martin’s novels, the fifth season of HBO’s Game of Thrones was in many ways the most interesting to date: it was the first in which the show truly diverged from the books in a major way, and the first in which the story progressed chronologically beyond them.  It’s well known at this point that Martin informed the show’s creators (D.B. Weiss and David Benioff) of the major plot developments and endings for the main characters, but what isn’t known is which parts of the show represent the showrunners’ inventions and which represent revelations from Martin himself.

Season Five saw a lot of major plot developments, including (apparent) endings for a number of characters, so the question of who influenced these events is particularly interesting.  Spoilers abound for the books and the show, so if you don’t want to know, stop reading here.

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Four Mistakes ‘The Lord of the Rings’ Films Made

My obsession with Tolkien’s Legendarium has never needed much encouragement, but Peter Jackson’s film adaptation of The Lord of the Rings understandably stoked the fires.  My sophomore year in college was a relatively lonely time in my life: a lot of my friends had transferred to different schools, I was living with a difficult roommate, and I was feeling the warning rumbles of a quarter-life crisis that would, in many ways, define the next decade of my life.  The opportunity to lose myself in Middle-Earth, especially in such an exciting new way, was a welcome one.  I don’t even remember how many times I saw The Fellowship of the Ring in the theater, but it was often alone, and it was often in the middle of the night.  Which was by choice: going by myself meant I didn’t have to worry about someone else.  I didn’t have to keep up a conversation, wonder whether they were enjoying themselves, or generally interrupt my own rapt ingestion of the film to concern myself with the presence of another human being.

Yeah, I was a pretty self-absorbed guy back then.

I didn’t go in to the movie expecting much.  The Lord of the Rings was, after all, the defining literary experience of my life at that point (and at every point afterward).  Mostly, I was just hoping it wouldn’t completely suck.  I couldn’t stomach the idea that millions of people who hadn’t read the books might be introduced to the story for the first time by way of an adaptation that was insipid, depthless, or just plain bad.  It was too important to me, and I felt like I had been defending its artistic validity for too long to have Hollywood screw it up.

Obviously, I was pleasantly surprised.  Stunned.  Enraptured, even.  It was actually good.  And not only was it good, it felt like Tolkien.  It felt like reading the book.  There are so many things, in Fellowship in particular, that Jackson and company just got right.  I could list half a dozen moments when I found myself thinking: this is exactly as I imagined it.  I won’t, because if you’re reading this I’m sure you had a similar experience.  But the quality was there, and the feeling was there, and I was hooked.

Certainly there were things I missed, portions of the book that I knew, academically, couldn’t be included: the deliciously tense, years-long period between the Long-Expected Party and Frodo’s departure from the Shire; Farmer Maggot; Fatty Bolger and the house on the Brandywine; the Old Forest, Tom Bombadil, and the Barrow-wight; Glorfindel and the torturous flight to the Ford.  And that’s just in Book I of Fellowship.  I understood, as any realistic fan and especially any realistic aspiring artist had to understand, that sacrifices must be made for the sake of time, clarity, and pacing.  Realizing that was the beginning of realizing that it was possible to love both the book and the film, that they were each their own animal, and that I didn’t have to choose between them.

The films became a new way to enjoy my favorite books.  I lived to watch and rewatch them, often pointing out the allusions to the larger world of Tolkien’s creation or even little inaccuracies when they popped up.  But over all I loved them, and didn’t spend much time focusing on the rare flaws.

But almost fifteen years and innumerable viewings later, I feel like I finally have enough distance to confidently point out a few of the mistakes Jackson made in bringing Tolkien’s magnum opus to life on the screen.

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‘Exile’ in Mark Lawrence’s Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off

Exile AMZN-EPUBSo I’ve entered Exile: The Book of Ever into Mark Lawrence’s awesome Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off, which I talked about here just a few days ago.  (Exile is free for Kindle through this Monday, by the way.)

My book got sent over to be reviewed by the excellent people at Fantasy Faction, which is very exciting for me, as I’ve been a reader of theirs for quite some time now.

dragonlogo2

Mark Lawrence will be updating his post (linked above, and here) as reviews start to trickle in, and you can also check the individual blogs for updates as well.  If you happen to be talking about the Blog-Off on Twitter or another social media site, be sure to use the hashtags #SPFBO and #SelfPubFantasyBlogOff!

Mark Lawrence is Sponsoring a Self-Published Fantasy Reviewing Contest

mark-lawrence-authorMark Lawrence, renowned author of the excellent The Broken Empire series, starting with Prince of Thorns, has rounded up ten of the most popular fantasy book bloggers on the web and convinced them to participate in a review contest featuring exclusively self-published fantasy fiction.  You can read the details of the contest here, but it’s very simple: you submit your finished book, the bloggers get the chance to decide if they want to read it, and then they sponsor or “publish” it to the next round.  It’s essentially a bracket system, resulting in a final ten novels that will be reviewed by all ten bloggers.  This is an incredible opportunity if you’re a self-published fantasy author: a bestselling, traditionally published author is giving you the opportunity to get your work in front of a group of respected book reviewers.  As Mr. Lawrence said himself, “you can’t buy better publicity than that.”

The reviewers participating are:

1./ Sarah Chorn of Bookworm Blues
2./ Steve Diamond &co at the Hugo winning Elitist Book Reviews
3./ Mark Aplin &co of the award winning Fantasy-Faction
4./ Mihir Wanchoo of Fantasy Book Critic
5./ Lynn Williams of Lynn’s Books
6./ Milo of The Fictional Hangout
7./ Bob Milne of Beauty in Ruins
8./ Ria of Bibliotropic
9./ Tyson Mauermann of The Speculative Book Review
10./ The guys at Fantasy Book Review

If Mr. Lawrence and I lived on the same continent, and I swung that way, and it didn’t constitute criminal assault, I would kiss him for this.  As every self-published author knows, even in this, the golden age of self-publishing, it is still very, very hard to become accepted by the literary establishment.  Most respectable book bloggers aren’t interested in self-published work (usually for understandable reasons), to say nothing of getting your book noticed or reviewed by more traditional publications.  And traditionally published authors* tend to range from openly hostile to politely disinterested in self-published writing, so it’s incredibly spirit-lifting to find one who not only embraces self-publishing but wants to help.  Bravo, Mark Lawrence.  To quote Jorg Ancrath, “This is where it starts. When they write the legend, this will be the first page.”

As someone who chose self-publishing not because there weren’t other options but because I thought it was the best choice for me at the time, I’m overwhelmingly grateful for this kind of effort to reach out to new writers.  It’s rare to find someone who is confident enough in his own accomplishments to be able to serve as a mentor, as a champion.  As a leader, if you will.  Because after all, “You got responsibilities when you’re a leader. You got a responsibility not to kill too many of your men. Or who’re you going to lead?”

You’d be downright dumb not to take advantage of this opportunity if you’ve got a fantasy book ready to submit.  I only wish Karthanas were ready to storm the gates!

* Obviously there are exceptions to this rule, including traditionally published authors who started out self-pub