Just wanted to update you all that I am currently working on putting together a new collection of my short stories. The title will be Through a Distant Mirror Darkly and it will collect all my short fiction set in a Medieval setting. Here’s the blurb and cover:
Not all is as it seems in this collection of dark tales from the Middle Ages.
Mark Lord, the author of By the Sword’s Edge and Hell has its Demons, weaves five Medieval short stories to excite, scare and enthral you. From the vicious struggle of the Hundred Years War, to legends of werewolves and rumours of necromancers and ghosts, to the bitter conflict of a castle under siege, the action and adventure never stop. These five fast-paced short stories will keep you on the edge of your seat and turning every page until you reach the end. In “Stand and Fight” Richard Hope must overcome treachery to defend the castle of Montmal from the French. Jake, an English archer in “Chivalry” must choose between his comrades and the path of honour. In “Bird Talk” a young priest discovers the woman he loves may also be a necromancer. Frederick II, the “Stupor Mundi”, the wonder of the world, is haunted by the ghost of his dead chancellor. And in “Bisclavret” a French noblewoman discovers there is more under the skin of her English husband than she could imagine.
Only a few words since Saturday. Definitely seem to have a problem picking up the writing at the moment. I think it’s because with Dragon’s Above it is very much a blank canvas. I know where the first chapter is going to end, but that’s it.
Well I have finished the first chapter now, so that leaves the rest of the book. Rather than just wade into the next chapter, I decided I might be better motivated if I do a little bit of planning. Not a lot – just get to know something about the characters I am going to write about – or at least the main character of the next chapter. What I am trying to avoid is doing loads of outlining. Dragons Above is the short novel that I am writing to keep myself writing every day while I more thoroughly plan the next installment of Stonehearted, which as its a historical novel I need to do research on (to some extent at least).
So I have made some notes this morning and feel pretty happy that they give me some basis to keep moving forward, and what’s more I am quite excited with the ideas for the characters and setting that I came up. I don’t think they’re groundbreaking, but they’re of enough interest to me to keep writing.
First a little update on words. 109 since Saturday – that’s it!
Here’s the stuff I came up with for Dragons Above.
Dragons Above – Main Characters – their conflicts.
Injured in dragon bombing attack
Wants to get back home to Throfunar to marry his betrothed, Frea
Do his duty for the dwarves – but not sure as to the point of the war.
Technical interest in defeating the dragoneers
After his injury he becomes obsessed in engineering and how to come up with a weapon to defeat the dragoneers bombing.
He is crippled by the attack – wheelchair and partially deaf.
He thinks Frea won’t want him. Throws his energies into weapon design.
He’s a love-smitten technie nerd.
Field Marshall of the Alliance. Currently appointed field commander of the Army of the North.
Responsible for protecting the borders of the Locked Kingdom and has been charged by the Garland Council with the ultimate defeat of the Lord of Despair and his armies.
Maximilian is a famous general, who in his prime was an undefeated leader of men – during the Wars of the Hundred Cities and the War of the Intercession, he never lost a battle. Called out of retirement by an Alliance sick of defeat after defeat, Maximilian has struggled to rediscover his lost successes. He is old, and his memory is not as good as it was. He wants to rediscover his lost powers of leadership and generalship, but he knows that he can’t.
Against the effects of old age – he is proud and can’t let go and admit himself incapable. He is too hard on himself – he has something to offer, but the pressures of leadership are too great for him.
To hold the Alliance of men, dwarves and elves together.
To defeat the Hosts of Despair.
To protect his son who is anxious for a field command.
Hosts of Despair
Religiously motivated, end-of-days militants who believe that the peoples of Midgard must pay for the offences to the gods with blood.
Armies consist of human, dwarves and elves who have lost hope or that are just cruel enough to love killing.
Lead by the Lord of Despair, an unseen warlock of unknown provenance – at least by his enemies. The Alliance spy services are intent on finding out more about the Lord of Despair and have attempted to capture high-ranking Host generals to question them and also to infiltrate into the Lord of Despair’s Headquarters, but without any success so far.
The Lord of Despair supplements his followers from the three main races of Midgard (humans, dwarves and elves), with other creatures – dragons and various other monsters of the northern mountains where his fastness is located. He also works in uneasy alliance with the enemies of the free people of Midgard – orcs and goblins, who now invest much of the Locked Kingdom. He sees these creatures as a punishment from the gods and sees no harm in encouraging them, although they are opposed to any alliance or control by him – as yet.
Other characters to develop later in the novel
Lord of Despair
A mother character – mid-30s? Which side? What’s her role? Minding the castle/farm while her husband is at war?
I have instituted a new cover style for my self-published short stories with Bird Talk and Bisclavret being the first examples. The main purposes was to make the author name (sounds horribly egotistical!) more prominent and also of a consistent style. My decision to do this was influenced by Dean Wesley Smith’s post about how self-published authors shoot themselves in the foot by not acting like a proper publisher – one example he gave was by not having a consistent author brand on covers, so this is a change I decided to make.
Hope you like the results!
And for reference here are the old covers – similar style as each other, but to my mind not as effective:
My fantasy short Demon River is now free for Kindle for three days, from 2nd March 2012 to 4th March 2012. Enjoy!
Set in a fantasy world of dark magic, Benetus, the King’s chancellor, fears the return of a rival he had thought banished from court. Benetus turns to the help of demons to rid himself of his enemy. But things are not always as they seem in the spirit world.
“Recently I had even felt the beginnings of optimism. After years of cloud and storm, the sun had broken through and I could at last bask in the success that I deserved. After all, who else now stood between me and the ear of the King?”
Capital reads: What are Edinburgh's best bookshops? STV Local The award for best name goes to Pulp Fiction on Bread Street which has shelves stuffed with genre fiction; an abundance of sci-fi, fantasy and graphic novels, as well as a place to sit down and sip a coffee. Plus, temptingly, “cakes may be present”.
The Fantastical World of Imaginative Realism The Epoch Times Science fiction, fantasy, and magic realism make up a huge genre in movies and literature, so why should it not be the same with painting, drawing, and sculpture? Accepting this imaginative style of art as a legitimate form of human expression will …
The io9 Guide to Science Fiction and Fantasy in March! io9 March brings a lot of excitement to the universes of science fiction and fantasy. At the movies, there's The Hunger Games and John Carter. On television, almost all of your favorite shows are returning. And there are new books by Naomi Novik, …
Lois Tilton reviews Short Fiction, late February Locus Online Matters are looking good until the story takes a sharp and disappointing turn into a particularly lame fantasy, whereupon my interest crashes and burns, never to recover. Although the narrative is ostensibly a letter written by the protagonist, …
When Genres Collide: JK Rowling to Write Adult Fiction Salon (blog) Despite an attempt to make YA fiction more sophisticated today, to make it more “literary,” the attempt has only succeeded in driving the YA audience toward the more edgy, “problem” novels of fantasy, adventure, and “chick lit.
Mercer sixth-graders become authors/illustrators Cincinnati.com The students were permitted to choose one of the five sub-genres of fiction – mystery, historical fiction, realistic fiction, fantasy or science fiction. After making the selection the fun but tough part began, deciding on a main event on which the …
10 Weirdest Science Fiction Novels That You've Never Read io9 Like hallucinogenic spores in a subterranean cavern, the most mind-bending science fiction books can take some digging. We asked around, and here's what we came up with: the 10 weirdest science fiction (and fantasy) books that you've probably never …
Tracking Teens: NJ author Matthew Quick has another novel on deck Philadelphia Inquirer The books that people think of are "Harry Potter" or "Twilight" or "The Hunger Games." But to see realistic young-adult fiction is really exciting and I'm glad to be a part of it. Q. Is it difficult to compete against fantasy young-adult lit?
Real-life Watership Down fights housing development The Guardian Fiction is fast becoming fact in Newbury, Berkshire, where the setting for the best-selling children's fantasy novel Watership Down may be concreted over to provide land for 2000 houses. In the novel, written in 1972 by Richard Adams, …
Author's second fantasy novel Leigh Today She said: “I've a bee in my bonnet about creating interesting roles for older people,” Adele is also a short story writer and poet, chairs literary group Riverside Writers, and runs an annual festival of horror, fantasy and science-fiction in Wirral.
I have rewritten a story previously entitled Tale of Tiel and published it as an eBook for Kindle. To celebrate the publication I am making it free from five days (from 2nd to 6th February 2012).
The story is called Forged in Blood and it’s my attempt to provide part of the mythological background to the world of Ladmas, a secondary fantasy world, in which I have based the occasional story – such as Demon River, and the beginnings of a novel. Forged in Blood is about a cruel and stupid god called Tiel, who is the god of the forge – an equivalent if you like to Vulcan. He lives in the mountains and despoils the lands all around. But Tiel finds love of sorts and almost becomes benign for a while until it all goes wrong and his desires become too much for him.
I tell a tale of long ago, of the daughters of stoop shouldered Tiel, god of the forge. Blood maned Spera, Iana, ice-friend, and strong-armed Tera the three daugthers of Tiel, smith of the gods, forger of metals. Listen now to my tale, of the deeds of a god and his daughters begotten on a mortal woman – the Enbreeda as they were known. Their name lives for the deeds they did amongst the iron-spiked towers of the Fortress of Tiel, home of the forge. Be patient and I will tell you a great tale of danger, greed and revenge.
Some years before the recording of time began, Tiel came down from the mountains, down from his iron towers and took the bounty from the low lying hills and meadows. He took cattle for his table, squeezed dry bunches of grapes and fruit for his wine, and took the wives of mortal kings for his pleasure. The people of the lands below the mountains were scared and did not resist him. Their warriors and kings and proud princes were afraid and ran when he came and offered tribute against his wrath lest he swing his great iron-forged axe against them. Tiel was happy that the men of the low lands saw his power and quaked in their boots, he began to enjoy their feeble efforts to appease him. After he had taken many head of cattle, many gallons of wine and several of the prettiest of the kings’ wives, he told the men of the low lands that the time had come for them to be ruled by him in their kingdoms, that they were weak and needed a god as strong as Tiel to lead them, so that they could worship him and bow down to him. The kings and proud princes of the low lands gladly accepted the offer of Tiel, although their wives and their farmers were less happy.
Tiel, with his great axe made a road for the men to walk to his fortress in the mountains – he chopped down the trees and used his powers to make great holes in the mountains where no road could go. The men of the low lands could now come to him to give tribute and hear the wisdom of Tiel. Every year the greatest kings and the proudest princes of the low lands below the mountains came to the Fortress of Tiel, climbing the steep road through the forests and newly cut gorges. They brought their followers and courts and tribute, each trying to outdo the other in winning the favour of Tiel. Tiel was content to take the tribute from the kings, but they also brought with them questions, decisions to be made. These topics bored Tiel, the petty squabbles of these men did not interest him. Did they expect him to decide everything for them? The audiences with the kings lasted many days and the sounds of their voices became like hornets nesting in his ears.
One day Tiel had enough. He stood up from his great iron throne in the highest of the iron-spike towers of his Fortress and called for the kings to stop their talking, their arguing and their bickering. ‘No more of this! You must all provide me with twice the amount of tribute next year unless you can decide your own petty problems.’
With this the kings were dismissed and began to leave the hall of the higest tower before the great iron throne of Tiel. But one of the kings, Jelistin, was clever and wise and perhaps more foolhardy or braver than his fellows. He paused and bowing as he walked, approached the iron throne of Tiel. ‘Great Tiel, Lord of the forges, dispenser of wisdom, I have an idea to stop the squabbles.’ Tiel glanced at Jelistin, frowning his great creased brow and bent towards him, his stooped shoulders bending higher than his head. Jelistin told him his thoughts. He should nominate one of the kings to act for him, to decide the petty squabbles of the men of the low lands, to keep order and peace for him for there were many wars now in these days that prevented the gathering of tribute for the great Tiel. Tiel thought well of his idea. But who could he trust to act in his interests? Jelistin replied that he must choose the best of the kings, the one who had always given him good counsel, maybe he could put himself forward as the possible candidate for this position. ‘Yes I like this idea and you would be a good choice, but I do not trust you, less than the other kings in fact. I will take your wife as hostage for one year as a guarantee of good behaviour.’ Tiel had stopped taking the wives of the kings and princes as in recent years he had grown bored of prim aristocratic ladies, instead prefering now and then to take a peasant girl from the fields. But the wife of Jelistin, Quarona, was unknown to him until this session of his court – he had glimpsed her earlier that day walking with her maids and decided that he must have her one way or another, for she was a great natural beauty.
The last few weeks have been spent editing my historical fantasy novel set in the Middle Ages: Hell has its Demons. At present I am half way through reading the first draft. I am not making too many edits at the moment, unless I spot a glaring typo. This is my first time editing a full novel length story, and I wasn’t quite sure how to approach it. But I have found that the most valuable thing to do is to just remind myself of what happens in the novel, what I wrote, and to get an overview of the major things that need fixing. For instance I have realised that there are a number of inconsistencies in the middle of the book – chapters out of order etc. Also there are some characters I introduce early on that die away, so I need to make a decision about whether to keep them in and develop them further in the book, or to get rid of them completely, or at least minimize their importance.
I’m enjoying this phase of the process. It’s nice to read through what I have written again as a holistic exercise rather than just reading bits and pieces here and there to check what I should be writing next. The good thing (or perhaps the dangerous thing) is that I like what I have written so far!
My experiment with writing a novel from different first person perspectives – see the Vulture posts, lead me to realize that it would be a lot of work to do this for Hell has its Demons, and I think not necessary either. My reread so far leads me to believe that the three different third person POVs will work quite well. First person POV writing gives fiction a completely different flavour, especially over an extended piece such as a novel, but I hadn’t appreciated that fully until I started writing the Vulture as an experiment. Who knows maybe I’ll take the experiment further at some point in the future, but I know it definitely has helped inform my writing of Hell has its Demons.
Here’s the latest chapter of the novel I’m writing occasionally at the moment. It features a fantasy creature that you could say is rather old hat. Should I be creating my own creature do you think, or is it OK to use this one? Read on to find out what I’m talking about, and please leave a comment and let me know what you think.
My initial reaction was to laugh at the contents of the letter and then scrunch it up and use it as kindling for my fire. If Alexia, the God-Queen of Realh Dorn was desperate enough to ask for my help, then either she was mad, or she was angling for revenge. Although I lived for fighting, I was enjoying the solitude of the mountains and I had no wish to end my sojourn to entertain some fancy of that insolent, wicked girl. I had once made the mistake of honesty with her, and I had no wish to make that mistake again. She knew the truth of my wanderings and my endless quest for blood. She knew it was a thirst I could not slake. Her mother had been the first person I had ever killed (by my own hand that is – I had ordered the killing of many from afar, bodies thrown on the pyre for their thoughts and words). I realised though that my refusal to abide by her request was not born out of arrogance, but from fear. And that is what excited me. That angry, sullen, tear-stained girl was what I feared most. Her grief erupting like a raw wound from the earth had sent shivers down me and turned my boiling rage to ice. I had fled when she came into her mother’s chamber and saw me standing over the body the bloody knife in my hand.
And now here I was sitting opposite her in a comfortable chair on a balcony overlooking the Madden valley, holding a golden wine cup that I clutched with white-knuckled hand, and a sweet cake becoming sticky in my other. At least I had something to hold, if I didn’t I might have either strangled her, or clutched at the balcony railing and vaulted out into space to be dashed hundreds of paces below on the rocks of the valley.
I had been sitting there for several minutes before she arrived. She came flanked by only a notary, who sat at a small bench and table just inside the chamber behind a curtain, but near enough to hear and record her words and commands. She glanced at me as she entered, but although I stood quickly and made to put down my drink and the cake, she did not acknowledge my efforts, but instead, sweeping her skirts to one side to sit more comfortably, sat herself, and crossed her bare legs. Beautiful legs they were, smooth and lightly tanned, with a freckle or mole or two to show that she was wonderfully human. She was her mother’s daughter in looks at least, although no more timid than a tiger compared to the mouse that her mother was.
I stuttered, but nothing came, and I sat again. She looked at me, but said nothing. She looked pleased with herself. She helped herself to a sip of wine from a cup, which a servant, appearing from nowhere, poured for her as soon as she reached for it, and then she took a bite from one of the cakes, cream and a red berry jam pushing themselves from the cake sandwich. She licked the residue from her lips. Her tongue taking its time to clean her red glossed lips.
‘You needed get excited, I haven’t brought you here to punish you,’ she said.
I didn’t have an answer for that. In a way I wish she had. A way to end the horror with honour was what I secretly hoped for.
‘My letter told you of my predicament and in general terms explained why I need you. I know I can rely on your loyalty, as you are the one who ultimately betrayed me, but also set me on my path to power. You have nothing to lose and nothing to gain, except the hope for redemption by serving me. No-one else in Realh Dorn has the same motivation of loyalty.’
I nodded at this, and I think I may have grunted something, but whether or not words could have been discerned I do not know.
‘Good. We understand each other. I won’t waste your time, and I can see that you fear to be in my presence greatly, or …’ and at this she leaned forward, the cut of her dress was revealing and when she put her hand on my upper thigh I could not help but …’Yes good, and you lust after me as well. Perfect.’
She withdrew swiftly into her chair and wrapped her skirt around the bare length of her legs, covering what I desired.
‘I have two simple tasks for you. One,’ and at this I could hear the notary start scribbling hurriedly from behind the curtain, ‘to form a cadre of men to lead my men. Not to act as officers, but I need an elite force that will inspire the others, that can break through the enemies lines, or seize a breakthrough in a siege. Men who will put their lives on the line to protect me. Men as much like you as it is possible to find.’
I uttered my first real words of our meeting. ‘I am no general, I am only a soldier, a sword for hire.’
‘Precisely. That is what I need, strong swords and the will to use them. Let me worry about the strategy.’
A woman leading an army, I had never heard of such a thing. My expression must have betrayed my thoughts. ‘You doubt my ability do you?’
‘I know only too well how able you are, Dorachi Sen. Your ability to kill and lay waste is legendary. But my aim is not simply to lay waste and destroy. I need power, and, I will be honest with you, you and the men you gather together will be but one part of my plan. Important though. You will show how determined I am to win at all costs. Men will follow me because of you. And who these men are, how many, and how you go about gathering them is up to you, only I require that have them assembled on the Sundering Plains by the waning of the next moon.’
I could not argue with her. She was right on all counts. I was a blunt instrument and once wielded I had only one purpose. ‘I have no pretensions of command. I made my last bad decision long ago now and I care not to repeat it. But exactly what do you want my men to do?’
‘You need not concern yourself with that now. Just gather them.’
‘But for nearly a month you will be without protection except for your household guard and the local militia, are you not concerned for your safety.
‘Men are not the great protectors that they always think they are!’ She half-sneered, half-laughed as she said that. Her face was ugly as it grimaced. My lust for her had finally died away. ‘You know what my mother taught me, that was partly how you justified killing her wasn’t it?’
I thought my heart was going to stop when she said those words. ‘You don’t mean …’ I spluttered.
‘Yes, and it is already begun so do not think that you can stop me. The old tribes of the mountains are already awakening. Down below in the valley, where a minute ago you thought of throwing yourself, the old Kra-Nog Orcs are birthing their yunguns, and from their they are being marched into the caves and fed on blood and gristle to strengthen them. The spawn take only a week to grow to adolescence, and that is as old as I need them.’
Orcs. The name was something of legend. How could she have done this? Even I thought it was impossible, and even though her mother and her grandmother had spoken of discovering the lore to do such things, no-one had thought they were serious. These creatures were of myth only. I shook my head at her. She could evidently read my thoughts so I did not bother speaking. My emotions must be like an open book to her, if she told the truth and had access to the Power.
‘I can see that you need a little convincing,’ she said staring straight at me. ‘Your incredulity is amusing, especially as the spawning of Orcs is only a beginning. But you will soon believe.’
My senses must have been distracted since I did not even hear the heavy tread of the creature until it’s paw was on my shoulder. My flesh crawled and I leapt aside. It didn’t let go and instead swung me until my back was against the balcony railing, and half of my body was hanging over the steep drop to the rocky valley floor below. I stared into that grey skinned slavering, huge-teethed maw, and shivered. I, who thought I had seen it all, began to shake. The Orc, for I presume that was what it was, stood eight foot tall, and was as wide as two well-built men, its biceps were the size of my waist. This was a killing machine if ever I saw one. And to think she still wanted me and a band of hired killers too?
At a nod the creature released me and trod slowly back into the chamber behind me from whence it came.
I took a few moments to regain my composure.
‘Yes I still need you,’ she said, again predicting my question. ‘Men will not follow that thing, and it is men I want to control. Plus,’ her face softened for an instant I think, in some sort of sadness. ‘There is the second purpose I have for you. I want you to find my little brother and bring him home safe.’