To The Core – A Fantasy Short

[This story was originally written by Michael K. Eidson and previously published October 16, 2012, on Burrst. About 1000 words.]

Wearing a long cloak in hot weather wasn’t always a sign you’re concealing something or intend to, thought the elder Cornraind as he watched the younger Nachford walking amongst the carts and stalls in the marketplace. Cornraind had seen Nachford around here before, knew the man to have only half a brain and no couth. The older man had not seen the younger one take anything from a cart that he hadn’t put back, but Cornraind was still suspicious. Not that it was his duty to patrol the marketplace, but even in retirement he had the mindset of a City Guard.

Cornraind stayed his distance, but maneuvered his way through the stalls to keep Nachford in sight. Something didn’t look right about the young man. Cornraind couldn’t put his finger on it; maybe Nachford had put on some weight, or grown an inch taller. Maybe he had already stolen something and carried it under his cloak. But it wouldn’t do for Cornraind to confront the young man; any ensuing incident would have bad consequences for Cornraind even if Nachford were concealing stolen goods. The City Guard would lock away anyone for the night, even a former City Guard, who caused a disturbance in their fair city without due cause.

Shrill laughter cut over the noise of the crowd. Nachford had apparently just told one of his strange stories to Pwervara, an older woman selling apples. She held out an apple to Nachford, and the man placed both hands on it, one on either side. He bowed to the stall owner and kissed her wrinkled hand as she released the apple.

At the same time, a hand covered with mottled gray skin snaked out of a pocket of Nachford’s cloak, grabbed another piece of fruit from the apple cart, and hauled it into the pocket. As Cornraind hurried closer, he could hear munching from Nachford’s direction. When he stood right behind Nachford, he heard a belch and saw an apple core thrown at high velocity out of the pocket.

Cornraind had just witnessed what was obviously a theft of an apple, and he clapped a hand on Nachford’s shoulder.

The young man turned around with an inquisitive look, holding the apple Pwervara had handed him. “Yes?”

“Excuse me, young Nachford, but your stowaway stole an apple from this nice lady.”

“Stowaway?”

“The gremlin in your pocket.”

“Gremlin?”

“In your pocket.”

Nachford reached into his pocket and turned it inside out. It was clearly empty.

“I know what I saw.” But doubt gnawed at Cornraind’s gut. Had he been wrong? Was his sight playing tricks on him? He looked for the discarded apple core, but didn’t see it anywhere.

“I think you need some herbs and prayers, old man. You’re either seeing things or you’re possessed.”

Pwervara shooed him away with her hands. “Nachford was just about to buy an apple, and I don’t need you ruining a sale for me. Or should I call the real City Guard and have them carry you away? Guard! Guard!”

“I’m sorry,” muttered Cornraind, and he trudged away, his conscience weighing heavy in his chest. He’d been so sure of what he saw.

As he passed another apple cart, one belonging to Raugal, a man about Cornraind’s age but too poor to retire, the mottled gray hand reached out of one of the lower pockets of Cornraind’s cloak and snatched an apple. He heard munching and crunching, and then the apple core went flying. “Why you little…” he shouted, and dove a hand into his pocket. His hand met no resistance other than the cloth of the interior of his pocket. He turned the pocket inside out, and it was empty.

“Can I help you?” Raugal stepped around the cart and looked askance at Cornraind.

“I saw it again,” mumbled Cornraind. “It stole an apple from your cart.”

Just then a hand reached out of one of Raugal’s pockets and grabbed another apple. Cornraind moved quickly. If he could catch it while it was eating, maybe it wouldn’t have a chance to get away.

“Get off!” Raugal shouted, striking Cornraind over the head and shoulders as the retired City Guard bent over and stuffed a hand into Raugal’s pocket.

Cornraind clutched something hard and clunky and drew it out of Raugal’s pocket. Coins fell from his clenched fist.

“Thief!” shouted Raugal.

Cornraind dropped the coins and ran. He managed five quick strides before he collided with a cart loaded with fish. He and the fish and the fishmonger landed on the ground in a tangled, smelly mess.

A stern voice boomed over him; it belonged to City Guardsman Gavaeld. “What is going on here?”

“The old coot tried to steal from me,” said Raugal.

“He’s ruined all my fish,” said the fishmonger.

“He interrupted my making a sale,” said Pwervara.

“He accused me of stealing,” said Nachford.

“Come on, old man,” said Gavaeld, hauling Cornraind to his feet. “Of all people, you should know better than this.”

“But I–”

“Save it. You can sleep it off in a cell tonight, and Chief will decide your fate in the morning.”

Cornraind knew better than to argue. If he were still with the City Guard, he’d have done no differently than Gavaeld, given the same circumstances. He went along, keeping his mouth shut, and stood there looking forlornly through the bars of a cell with no furnishings except a small straw cot against the back wall. Gavaeld turned the key in the lock to the cell door, wagging his head in pity but not speaking one word of comfort to his prisoner. Cornraind knew he wouldn’t receive even a morsel of food until morning; it was part of his punishment.

As Gavaeld turned to walk away, a hand zipped out of his pocket and threw an apple through the bars. The fruit landed at Cornraind’s feet. The retired City Guard picked it up, rubbed it on his cloak, sat on the edge of the straw cot, and quietly yet gratefully ate his meager dinner. He even ate the core, eliminating any evidence that he’d somehow avoided a part of his expected punishment.

Hooblaport City Center Square – Map

I’m going over the latest draft of my debut novel, looking for any inconsistencies in the story. To aid me in this endeavor, I’ve created a map of one important location in the novel, City Center Square in Hooblaport. I thought I’d share the resulting map here with any who might find this sort of thing interesting.

If the map looks small, click the image to see it at full-size.

Hooblaport City Center Square

Notes:

The map isn’t entirely to scale, though it’s close. I’ve left a few buildings off the edge of the map, where I’ve not decided exactly what’s there. Some of the buildings that made it onto this map aren’t referenced in this first novel, but they may make appearances in later novels. Time will tell.

Note that Main Street runs through Wizards Emporium at ground level. The Emporium is six stories tall. Main Street cuts through the first two stories of the building.

Judging a Book by Its Cover – 17 Typical Features of Fantasy Covers

I’ve been thinking about book cover art for fantasy novels a good deal lately. So I found this analysis of fantasy cover art trends written by Nicola Alter of particular interest.

Read the post: Judging a Book by Its Cover – 17 Typical Features of Fantasy Covers.

Or read about my muck-up:

I tried to reblog the post of the above name written by Nicola Alter on her Thoughts on Fantasy site. I don’t know why it didn’t work. I haven’t reblogged any other posts before, so didn’t know exactly how it worked. I suspect I had a problem because I hadn’t logged into my site before I tried to do the reblog from her site. Seems like WordPress would have asked me to login if necessary when I clicked the Reblog button, but it didn’t. And clicking the Reblog button again had no effect. So I messed up. Next time I try to reblog something, I hope I remember this experience and will login to my site first. Maybe it will work then.

If you’ve read my little blurb here, I appreciate it, but now, if you’re interested in the topic listed in the title of this post, please jump over to Nicola’s site. You can tell her I sent you.

UPDATE: I managed to get the link on Nicola’s site to my so-called reblog of her post to point to this page, by making the title match and backdating this post to the day I tried to reblog. Go, me! 🙂

Role-Playing and Writing: the Storytelling Intersection

Hello, friends. This time, we have a guest post from Coyote Kishpaugh, co-author of The Order of the Four Sons series. He will tell us about the connection between role-playing games and writing fiction. As I mentioned last time, when his co-author, Lauren Scharhag, graced us with her guest post on creating fantasy worlds, I received an advance review copy of the first book of the O4S series (book one is out now as of this writing), and I recommend it to anyone who likes fantasy or horror or other forms of speculative fiction. It also has a touch of science fiction, crime and history. I’m looking forward to further journeys in this universe they have jointly created, which has many similarities to our own, but tons of differences too. I hope you’ll give the series a try. Links to book one are in Lauren’s guest post, the link to which is at the bottom of this post.

Before we hear from Coyote about his experience with rpgs and fiction writing, let’s get to know him a bit. I asked him and Lauren both the same set of questions, and they agreed to answer them without consulting each other about their answers. Fun, fun, right? Coyote’s answers are below. A link to Lauren’s answers and her guest post are at the end of this post, so you can easily compare to see how close their answers are. Continue reading “Role-Playing and Writing: the Storytelling Intersection”

Home Sweet Universe

Today’s guest post comes to us from Lauren Scharhag, co-author of Order of the Four Sons, Book 1. Much of the story takes place in Excelsior Springs, MO, not far from where I grew up, and near where some of my family still live and work. I received an advance review copy of the book (it’s out now as of this writing), and highly recommend it to all lovers of speculative fiction. It has touches of science fiction, fantasy, horror, crime and history, all wrapped up in one little package. It’s the first book of a series, and I’m looking forward to book 2 and further journeys in a universe not quite ours.

By way of introduction to Lauren and the O4S universe, I’ve asked her a few questions and posted her answers below. Following the interview is her guest post on creating believable settings for fantasy worlds and the universes they inhabit. Continue reading “Home Sweet Universe”

My Trouble With a Single Viewpoint Character

I’ve been working on my debut fantasy novel for too long. This will be my seventh and last draft. There will be beta reading and editing, but I’m never writing this thing from scratch again. Seven drafts are enough, even if a couple of them were not complete.

I’ve written 40,000 words on this latest draft. That’s half what the experts recommend for a first novel. But I’m only a quarter of the way through the story. So my novel will be twice the length the experts recommend, unless I cut a lot, and even then, what remains will exceed 80,000 words. It will be what it is, and I won’t cut so much the story suffers for it, regardless. I plan to self publish this sucker, so it’s not like I have to adhere to someone else’s ideas of what’s best.

I’d thought about breaking the book into two or three books, but some people don’t like reading a book, even one that’s part of a series, that can’t stand on its own. I’m not that way, as long as all the books in the series are available to me. If I can’t find one or if the author stops writing the series partway through, then that irks me. With that in mind, I think it best to make this novel a standalone story, even if it’s 120,000 to 160,000 words. I intend this to be the first book in a series, but I want it to be a complete story in itself.

The previous draft of the story was meant to be the one I’d edit for publication. But after it went to beta readers, I discovered they all agreed on one thing: Alonso, the male human protagonist, was not a good viewpoint character. I’d been shooting for an antihero, and that’s what I produced. He was just such an antihero that the readers couldn’t relate to him or, worse yet, root for him.

The problem I face with not using Alonso as the point-of-view character is that he’s so central to the story, whatever viewpoint character(s) I use need to know about Alonso and be able to observe his actions in so many different venues. To sufficiently cover all significant aspects of his tale, I determined that I needed three viewpoint characters: Ngozi, the shadow elf woman married to Alonso; Locket, a nearly-twenty-year-old dream walking human gal who’s been told to spy on Alonso in his dreams to help facilitate his death; and Gabriel, a teen-aged human girl with a secret or two and a grudge against Alonso from her previous life as a jackal. The tale will be told without either the protagonist or antagonist being used as a viewpoint character. Other authors have pulled off this type of story. The tales of Sherlock Holmes comes to mind, those narrated by Dr. Watson.

I’m staggering the chapters, writing one from one character’s viewpoint, the next from the second character’s viewpoint, and the next from the third character’s viewpoint. Repeat to the end. I like this approach in that it gives the reader information from different perspectives, and the reader comes to understand all that’s going on before any of the individual characters. I think this helps with the suspense, because it’s questionable whether each character will discover what they need to know in time to save themselves and those they love. Before, with only Alonso as viewpoint character, it was unclear exactly what the threat was against him — or if there was any threat — until late in the story. Without knowledge of the threat, it was difficult to root for Alonso, especially with his being such an antihero. The way the story is written now, the reader will have other characters to root for, and whether they root for Alonso or not won’t matter much.

It will now be clear to the reader from the outset that someone wants Alonso dead and for him to endure a lot of physical and emotional pain in the dying. Not all of the characters, especially Alonso and Ngozi, will know this. The reader will understand why Alonso is being treated so nicely by certain people he interacts with, whereas the beta readers of the previous draft had confessed to wondering at Alonso’s great luck in certain situations. One beta reader had even admitted to feeling a bit jealous of Alonso’s luck. That shouldn’t be the case now.

Initially I’d thought that using a single viewpoint character would be the only way I’d want to tell this story. The reader could delve deep into one character’s psyche and get to know the character well. That’s cool if the character has a psyche you want to visit for an entire novel. Alonso wasn’t like that. All of the three viewpoint characters I’m using now are likable in their own ways and more likable than Alonso. Gabriel was singled out by one of the beta readers as a favorite character. Another beta reader singled out Ngozi. Locket is one of my personal favorite characters from the story, and is suitable in the role of main character. So there you have it. Three viewpoint characters.

In writing the story from these different viewpoints, I’m finding the need to fill in some details that I hadn’t bothered with before, partly because Alonso had paid them no mind. I’m also finding that using these characters is invoking a better understanding in me of events that before had transpired in the background, but which now make sense to flesh out to further the stories of the viewpoint characters. There are times while writing this new material when I feel a flush of excitement as I realize that I am coming to understand these characters better and loving the cool new stuff I get to write because I’m using their viewpoints. There is a whole side to Gabriel that never came out in previous drafts, because Alonso wasn’t privy to it. This secret aspect of her had colored how she acted in those previous drafts, and I think it was because of this that a beta reader liked her the best, even though he didn’t know her complete backstory.

When will I be done writing this book? I think I’ll finish writing this last draft by the end of 2015. But the beta reading and editing will go into 2016. So I’m setting a goal of mid-2016 to publish. I will have to stay focused, which is difficult at times. I’m easily distracted by the lure of doing something new.

I love receiving words of encouragment from others. They really help motivate me. Got any such words for me?

Eposic Character Art Now Available on DriveThruRPG

If you’re an individual or self-publisher who could use a bit of royalty-free fantasy character art, check out the Eposic store on DriveThruRPG. I’ve put up a couple of art packs at a price anyone can afford: Pay What You Want. Even if you’re just curious, you can grab it for free if you like. Decorate your web site with it, put it on a roleplaying game character sheet, use it in your self-pubbed fiction or game books.

Sample image from the Dark Jasmine art pack:

Dark Jasmine sample art

There are two art packs available now. Grab them both at the Eposic store on DriveThruRPG.

Love After Death – Cover Art

Love After Death cover art So here’s my first stab at a cover for my debut fantasy novel, Love After Death. Click on the image to see a larger version. I rendered the 3D portion of the cover in DAZ3D Studio using the Genesis model. Postwork and titling were done in Serif PhotoPlus X5. The title font is Showcard Gothic. The font for the rest of the text on the cover is Century Gothic.

It’s not easy picking fonts for cover art. You want them to stand out even when the cover is displayed at a small size. I think the fonts I chose will work well for that. LoveAfterDeath-5 Here’s a smaller version of the cover art, at the size you’d expect to see used in an Amazon ad or brief listing for a published book. I have to lean close to the screen to read the text at the very top of the image, but I can definitely make it out. I can read the title okay, but then I already know what it says.

What do you think of this cover art? Does it pique your interest in the novel? What kind of story does this cover make you think the novel will be? Any suggestions for changes?

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Love After Death – A Synopsis

Here’s a synopsis of my debut fantasy novel, “Love After Death.” That’s still a working title, but I’m thinking more and more that I’ll keep it. See what you think.

The story takes place on a world called Pharas, where magic is the norm. Humans on Pharas are said to have come to the world from Earth a couple thousand years ago through a magical portal that is still operational. The protagonist is a thirty-two-year-old human man named Alonso. He’s married to a shadow elf woman, Ngozi, whom he’s known since he was sixteen. They are childless and since being married have discovered they can’t have children. They own a tower by the sea and now they are broke. Ngozi works but Alonso doesn’t because he’s too depressed. Alonso wants a daughter, and although he has secretly “adopted” the ghost of a twenty-year-old woman as his “daughter,” he wants a flesh-and-blood daughter.

Tax time is coming soon, and Ngozi isn’t making enough money to pay the taxes. So she takes the initiative to find Alonso a job that she is sure he can do: a job delivering hats in the nearest city, Hooblaport, which is where Ngozi works. The city was founded by a lizard-like humanoid kindred called the hoobla, hence the name Hooblaport. Alonso’s employer is a hoobla milliner, but it’s a human sorceress called Lady Ryley who got Alonso the job, and she has some requirements of her own. It turns out that more is expected of Alonso on the job than he or Ngozi realized. Alonso is expected to do a little more than deliver hats.
Continue reading “Love After Death – A Synopsis”

Sex Scenes in Fantasy Novels

I need your help, big time. My debut fantasy novel, now tentatively titled “Love After Death,” includes a number of explicit sex scenes. I’ve written them this way because that’s how they flowed onto the page. I have no qualms myself about publishing the novel with the sex scenes remaining as explicit as they are currently written. But I know there are some readers who are turned off by the inclusion of such scenes. Are there that many readers who feel that way, or just a few? I’m at the point where I’m ready to revise as needed and I’d love to have your input.

When it comes to sex scenes, I see four basic approaches:

  1. Not having any sex scenes at all, not even to mention that sex happens
  2. Mentioning that sex happens or alluding to the fact, but not describing any details beyond kissing, hugging or other activities that many people might do in public
  3. Describing or alluding to actions that most people would not do in public, but glossing over the specifics, and not mentioning people’s private parts in any way
  4. Placing no restrictions on descriptions of the actions involved during sex, typically being specific about what is done to or with people’s private parts

I say these are “basic” approaches, because between any two of them, there are many degrees of explicitness.
Continue reading “Sex Scenes in Fantasy Novels”