Category Archives: Aesc & Thorn Publishing

Posts related to Aesc & Thorn Publishing and various aspects of Rob’s professional life.

Rob’s Update: Thursday, Thursday

Week 3 of 2021

Greetings all

First, I want to thank all of you who’ve joined the mailing list this past week. Not surprisingly, a bunch of people are interested in New Mythology Press. Can’t blame you, we’re doing some good stuff.

Anyway, you’ll see I add a few things besides simply tossing business stuff at you. This first section is what I’m working on or things in my life. Then I’ll add what I’m listening, which will sometimes flow right into the Quote of the Week. I love aphorisms, by the way, so if you’ve got some fun ones, send them my way.

After that is when I’ll get into the meaty part. There’s a section on what’s happening with New Mythology. Then a list of my works in progress. If it’s a novel and I’ve got a title, it’s listed. Then there’s the various short story scraps that I’m messing with. These don’t always change, but I like to remind myself what I’m doing.

Speaking of what I’m doing, I then have my schedule listed. Right now, it’s basically just FantaSci, LibertyCon, and DragonCon, but I have hopes to add a number of others later in the year. As we all know, we’ll see what happens.

Next comes the New Releases section. This includes not only my own new releases, nor also New Mythology’s, but I’ve been blessed to be a part of a cool and productive writing crew and I like to brag about them too.

Finally, there are a  few counters. I like to keep track of my weight, and I might as well do it here. Then there’s my updated word count. I’m still waffling on how I’ll count edited works, as that will be more and more common, but I have goals I strive for each year. Finally, there’s a list of the number of entries on Shijuren wiki page, which tends to shoot up in bunches as I’m working on a new Shijuren story.

I’m actually working on a new story in the Four Horsemen Universe right now, the sequel to The Feeding of Sorrows. This one’s called The Ravening of Wolves, as the Foresters work with the Zuul to strike at those who’ve been attacking both units for years.

It’s a bit of a truncated week, as things get shifted around, but I’m excited where I’m going with a variety of projects and I think you guys are going to love the explosions and swordplay coming down the pike.

What I’m Listening To

Hemispheres, by Rush. Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been picking albums by Rush and just playing them over and over. It’s reminiscent of getting a new cassette and sticking it into the player on my 1969 VW Bug. Slug bug orange, by the way.

Quote of the Week

I still remember the first time I heard these lyrics. I immediately loved the way Neil Peart twisted and wove these words around into such a neat pattern. It was about this point, I started to love poetry.

Let the truth of love be lighted
Let the love of truth shine clear
Sensibility, armed with sense and liberty
With the heart and mind united in a single, perfect sphere

Hemispheres
Rush

New Mythology Works in Progress

As we’ve posted in a variety of places, New Mythology Press is accepted submissions. Here are the guidelines.

  • Novels of 80 to 120k words
  • In .doc or .docx file format
  • Times New Roman, 12pt
  • 1.5 spaced
  • Can be fantasy of any type, epic, urban, high, whatever. Needs to have heroes doing heroic things, just like you’ve come to expect from all the books from CKP.

I’m pleased to say that I’ve accepted one of several submissions and I’m about 30% through my editing pass. This is really exciting, and I can’t wait to share this great story and the others in this series. You’re going to love Responsibility.

There are currently three books on the schedule from New Mythology Press. They are:

  • 25 January: The Watchers in Exile (Watchers of Moniah, Book 2) by Barbara Evers (At the Advance Reader Team)
  • 1 March: The Watchers at War (Watchers of Moniah, Book 3) by Barbara Evers (Note this will complete the trilogy)
  • 19 March: Songs of Valor (Libri Valoris, Book 2)

There are a number of other projects in the works, including a couple of sequels in existing series and the first glimmerings of some other awesome projects.

Again, I’m honored with the opportunity that Chris gave me here, and I can’t wait to get you a bunch of cool stuff to read.

Rob’s Works in Progress

  • The Ravening of Wolves (35,863)
  • Rick Blaine (8,845)
  • CB (8,418)
  • Cynewulf (8,642)
  • Gato (2,312)

Upcoming Events

New Releases

This week’s spotlight is still on This week’s spotlight is on Christopher Woods and William Joseph Roberts, who put out their own take on the Salvage Title universe with Smuggler’s Run. You can find it here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08S71RJP5. They get spotlighted twice because of the change in mailing list days.

Also, Jon Osborne’s A Tangled Fate, the third in his Milesian Accords series, is now out in audiobook form. You can find it here: https://www.amazon.com/Tangled-Fate-Milesian-Accords-Book/dp/B0833DWSSS/.

Finally, Chris Kennedy decided to give some unknown guy a little help and wrote a book with him. The other guy? Oh, just David Weber. They just released Into the Light, the second in their Out of the Dark series. You can find it here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08BKLY24N.

Today’s Weight: 347.8

Updated Word Count: 3,602

Shijuren Wiki: 724 entries

Let me know if you have any suggestions on the website, this email, or cool story ideas at rob@robhowell.org. Especially let me know of suggestions you have for the Spotlight section.

Have a great week, everyone.

Rob Howell

Currently Available Works
Shijuren

Nick Patara, PI

  • Silent Knight (Nick Patara, PI, Book 1)
  • Under a Midnight Clear (Nick Patara, PI, Book 2) (Forthcoming)
Four Horsemen Universe
The Phases of Mars
Short Stories

If you think you received this email incorrectly or wish to be unsubscribed, please send an email to shijuren-owner@robhowell.org

Rob’s Update: Wander’d Mony A Weary Fit

Week 1 of 2021

Greetings all

Overall, this week has been fairly leisurely. I’ve taken some time off to spend with my sweetie. Been doing some reading. Truth be told, it’s been my laziest week in months.

I did get a number of things done. I have finished the new read through on A Lake Most Deep and it’ll be renewed over the next week or so. I also started with my read through of The Eyes of a Doll. Overall, I’m aiming to refresh all of the Edward books by the end of the month. Those of you who’ve purchased it already will get the new version automatically.

I started Lord of the Rings again last night. I read through the initial foreword to the 50th anniversary edition and I had to laugh. Tolkien never stopped trying to fix all the errors he found that crept in from faulty work and decisions made by editors thinking they’d be “helping.”

Makes me feel a lot better about my progress as a book creator, which is different than a writer.

Anyway, I also did some more research on effective advertising techniques. If you’ve seen my name popping up here or there a little more often, it’s not an accident as I’m prowling through the best way to do things.

This, by the way, is one reason I’m updating A Lake Most Deep. I’ve got new tools to get it in front of people. Generally, to this point, I’ve relied on you all talking about my books. You’ve done a great job, and I thank all of you who’ve given me a review and pushed my stuff on your friends. Actually, I can’t thank you enough, but I’ll certainly try.

I did get some new words written on The Ravening of Wolves and I’ve thought through some of the blocks that have been holding me up. I really want to get it done quickly because I have another Edward book demanding to get written.

What I’m Listening To

It’s a great day for football! I actually got a 7-day free trial of Fubo in order to watch football this weekend.

Quote of the Week

Here’s the verse of Auld Lang Syne that seems apt this year.

“We twa hae run about the braes,
and pou’d the gowans fine;
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary fit,
sin’ auld lang syne.”
Robert Burns, Auld Lang Syne

News and Works in Progress

  • The Ravening of Wolves (29,189)
  • Rick Blaine (8,845)
  • CB (8,418)
  • Cynewulf (8,642)
  • Gato (2,312)

Recent Blog Posts and Wiki Additions

Upcoming Events

New Releases

This week’s spotlight is on Steven G. Johnson, who shows us Arthur stories still work in his Keep of Glass. You can find it here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08RMVLWXV.

Today’s Weight: 348.0

2021 Word Count: 1,467

Shijuren Wiki: 725 entries

Let me know if you have any suggestions on the website, this email, or cool story ideas at rob@robhowell.org. Especially let me know of suggestions you have for the Spotlight section.

Have a great week, everyone.

Rob Howell

Currently Available Works
Shijuren

Nick Patara, PI

  • Silent Knight (Nick Patara, PI, Book 1)
  • Under a Midnight Clear (Nick Patara, PI, Book 2) (Forthcoming)
Four Horsemen Universe
The Phases of Mars
Short Stories

If you think you received this email incorrectly or wish to be unsubscribed, please send an email to shijuren-owner@robhowell.org

Rob’s Ramblings: 2020 Review

Now that 2020 is in the mirror, it’s time for me to review my output for the year and give myself a grade.

I only published one novel, None Call Me Mother. It was an important novel and a big challenge as the third of a trilogy. I learned a ton of things writing that series and I’ll never do that the same way again.

I published another Foresters story. Actually, I published another Rick Blaine story. I think, long-term, that’s where my 4HU future really lies. I got 30k into The Ravening of Wolves and it will be as straightforward a novel as I’ve ever written. At this point, it’s about arming up too damn quickly to fight a desperate fight. The physics of the 4HU means that Blaine has to be separate.

There was another story in the We Dare series. It was a prequel to “The Chaos of Well-Seeming Forms.” I like where that universe is going and I might very well do something with it down the road. Hence, I’m calling those the “On Opportunity’s Trail” universe. There’s stuff there, once I get a chance to write in it.

I had the great honor of being the guest for the Scribblers Corner anthology Dragons and Dribbles. My first time as a “guest star.” Thanks to William Joseph Roberts for the opportunity.

I wrote several fantasy short stories in 2020. I wrote one in late 2019, “What’s in a Name,” that came out in When Valor Must Hold. I wrote another Edward-ish story for Songs of Valor. My story in Dragons and Dribbles was another Shijuren story. I also dabbled in something that’s specifically Conan-esque.

While much of the fantasy stuff I wrote will only come out in 2021, I was pleased to really start pushing more short fantasy. I’ll be doing more of that in Shijuren to fill in some of the blanks.

I did my second Nick Patara, PI story. That world is really coming into view, and I actually got about 1k written in next year’s story.

Overall, I published about 200k worth of fiction. This is lower than I want, as it only included 1 novel and 5 short stories. There were also three introductions/prefaces. I also have a couple short stories that are in upcoming anthologies. I also had about 70k on my blog, so all told I counted 268,072 words.

This isn’t enough. I’ll give myself a C here. Had I written another novel, I’d give myself an A. Missed it by 70k.

However, I will adjust my overall grade up a bit when I consider what else I’ve done. The way the schedule worked, I did most of the work for both When Valor Must Hold and Songs of Valor in the 2020 calendar year.

So, while I only wrote about 20k words in those two total, they were two full-sized projects that I’m not counting in the above 200k. I’m not quite sure how to count editing work in my word count, so that’s something I’ll have to figure out.

I also had to rebuild the wiki for Shijuren in 2020. That ended up over 100k words of worldbuilding, record-keeping, and foundational work. This made it much easier to write my story for Songs of Valor, and is really pushing another Edward story.

Also, re-doing the wiki made it much easier for me to re-edit I Am a Wondrous Thing and Brief is My Flame. That took time too. I’m in the midst of re-editing the Edward books, and by the end of January, I expect them to be fresher and faster.

I did start learning how on-line publicity works. I’m still not doing it well, but making progress. It’s not something I’ve done a ton of, and I think I’m missing some opportunities there.

Actually, now that I think of it, I did quite a bit of research during the year to turn some instinctive things into known things that I can consciously call on instead of relying upon their appearance. I’m definitely getting better.

Overall, that extra work brings my grade up to a B-.  I didn’t do awful, but I’m sure I could have done more. I’ll do another post next week about my goals and plans for 2021. Next year, I’ll try and do better.

Rob’s Update: Happy Holidays!

Week 51 of 2020

Happy holidays to everyone!

Your Christmas gift, Under a Midnight Clear, will be in an email immediately following this one. It’s a 5.9Mb Zip file with the story in .pdf, .epub, and .mobi  formats. That should cover most, if not all of you, but if you need it in another format, let me know. My e-book creation software can let  me do just about anything.

Also, if you have any issues receiving that email, including not getting it at all, problems with a file that large, or anything else. Let me know, and I’ll make sure to help you. I’ll assume, by the way, that you’ve checked your Spam directory, which it might shunt to for a variety of reasons, of course.

My sweetie and I opened our presents last night and snuggled on the couch watching Youtube videos of Rowan Atkinson, Monty Python, and Victor Borge. We also tried the gluten-free low-carb pork rind panko breading on Buffalo strips. Delicious.

Today we’ll be doing some Zoom calls, like I suspect many will do. I’ll do some more re-editing on A Lake Most Deep as well. Then we’ll have steak and a fixings for dinner. Yeah, it’s not traditional, but even a small turkey and ham and all the rest is too much for me. At least now. There were days in the past, though…

This was not my most productive week, but I did stuff I needed to do. Stuff that consolidated and organized a bunch of things. I cleaned up my file structure on my computers, which needed straightening up. This has the benefit of double-checking all my backups. I did, of course, finish Under a Midnight Clear and get it ready to deliver.

Anyway, I hope you all have a fantastic day and holiday season.

What I’m Listening To

Wizards in Winter by Trans-Siberian Orchestra. I’m really a fan of Christmas music, especially hard rock and metal versions. TSO is the best of this, having made a living melding genres into something spectacular.

Quote of the Week

This seems like an appropriate quote after 2020. I think we all need a little extra, and that means we all need to try and do a little extra for each other.

“Christmas is doing a little something extra for someone.”
Charles M. Schulz

News and Works in Progress

  • The Ravening of Wolves (29,784)
  • Rick Blaine (8,845)
  • CB (8,418)
  • Cynewulf (8,642)
  • Gato (2,312)

Recent Blog Posts and Wiki Additions

  • I spent the week cleaning up a few mistakes on the wiki. I did add one new page, though. Interestingly, research for that one page gave me a bunch of new ideas because I stumbled across a fable sunken city. Heck, yeah, I’m gonna use that someday.
  • Inland Seas: https://shijuren.org/tiki-index.php?page=Inland-Seas

Upcoming Events

New Releases

This week’s spotlight is on Nick Steverson, who has jumped in with both feet. This week, he releases his second novel in the Salvage Title universe, Action. You can find it here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08R7T6DP5.

Today’s Weight: 348.6 (Not a typo)

Updated Word Count: I’ve decided I need to keep track of wiki entries better. My new backup process allows me to track how many words I use on the wiki, but that is someone misleading because that includes a variety of things like “BOX(width=”250px” align=”left” float=”right” bg=”#1f2e52″ style=padding: 10px” which shouldn’t really count.

However, given some of the feedback I’ve gotten, the wiki *is* contributing to Shijuren’s readership so it should count for something, especially since part of the reason I keep these word counts is to reward myself when I do work. Hence, I’m going to start counting the Wiki word count at 1/4th. I did over 100k words, or a full novel of exposition that isn’t dragging down the stories.

Anyway, here’s the updated total: 293,605

Shijuren Wiki: 724 entries

Let me know if you have any suggestions on the website, this email, or cool story ideas at rob@robhowell.org. Especially let me know of suggestions you have for the Spotlight section.

Have a great week, everyone.

Rob Howell

Currently Available Works
Shijuren

Nick Patara, PI

  • Silent Knight (Nick Patara, PI, Book 1)
  • Under a Midnight Clear (Nick Patara, PI, Book 2)
Four Horsemen Universe
The Phases of Mars
Short Stories

If you think you received this email incorrectly or wish to be unsubscribed, please send an email to shijuren-owner@robhowell.org

Rob’s Update: Headlong Into Mystery

Week 50 of 2020

Greetings all

I hope your holiday season is going well. We’re not doing much this year, which is a bit of a holiday in its own right. We love decorating and that sort of thing, but I for one am going to appreciate not having to carry all the decorations back to their spot upstairs in January.

And that has meant more time to work on things.

Like releasing last year’s freebie for the mailing list on Amazon. Silent Knight, with new artwork from Cedar Sanderson, is now available for those who aren’t on the list on Amazon at: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08QYWB7C9.

If you read it and liked it, please leave a review. Those always help, no matter the book.

Also, those of you on the mailing list will get Under a Midnight Clear on Christmas Day. I’ll send it out in .mobi, .epub, and .pdf formats. In this one, Alley, Nick’s intel guy, is trying to help a relation of someone he once fought alongside. Nick knows there a case there, but he’s struggling to figure out just what he can do and for whom.

I’ve been cleaning up a number of other projects as well. I arranged None Call Me Mother in a more streamlined fashioned than my previous books. I may have mentioned how I updated the electronic versions of I Am a Wondrous Thing and Brief Is My Flame prior to None Call Me Mother’s release. I just finished updating all the paperback setups as well, a process that involves a lot of futzing with Amazon.

I have started another edit in my copious spare time of A Lake Most Deep, with the intent to provide fresh versions of all the Edward books in early 2021. This includes fixing all the links in the e-versions. The wiki is now mostly current, though I keep finding things I should have put in from earlier books and finding fun world-building ideas. It was always meant as a work in progress anyway and it’s serving its purpose as a font of ideas for the next Edward novel.

My next release will probably be the second in the Libri Valoris series of fantasy anthologies. Songs of Valor is basically ready to go, once I write the preface. It’ll come out in mid-March.

I’m also working on The Ravening of Sorrows. I’m at about 28k and if that number seems low, it’s because I realized what I have are two separate stories, one centered around the Foresters and Stalkers, and one centered around Rick Blaine. Rick’s storyline simply takes too long because it requires a goodly number of Stargate trips, which in the 4HU are 170 hours gate to gate plus the time to get from gate to planetary orbit. The Foresters are going to be in battle within three months of the events on Maquon.

What it really means is that you’re going to get two novels! When I finish them, of course. Updates on timing on those when I know more.

I’m going to leave you with a teaser. There are a number of things coming together in January that will be fun to announce.

And now, have a great week and a happy holiday season.

What I’m Listening To

Cygnus X-1 by Rush. I’ve been listening to Rush almost exclusively of late and probably will for a couple more weeks. I’ve set it to not shuffle, by the way, and I’m having fun listening to the albums in album order.

Quote of the Week

If you ever wondered, this is why my cars are always named Rocinante.

“I set a course just east of Lyra
And northwest of Pegasus
Flew into the light of Deneb
Sailed across the Milky Way

On my ship, the Rocinante
Wheeling through the galaxies,
Headed for the heart of Cygnus
Headlong into mystery”
– Rush, Cygnus X-1

News and Works in Progress

  • The Ravening of Wolves (27,982)
  • Rick Blaine (8,845)
  • CB (8,418)
  • Cynewulf (8,642)
  • Gato (2,312)

Recent Blog Posts and Wiki Additions

  • Not much this week except a bit of playing around on the wiki.

Upcoming Events

New Releases

This week’s spotlight is on Barbara V. Evers, who is showing us all how to do a trilogy right. The first book in her trilogy,

, comes out today. I believe all three of the books are in the can and they’ll come out monthly. Not stupid slow, like the way I did it. Anyway, you can find it here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08QRJTHHC.

Today’s Weight: 351.2

Updated Word Count: 262,221

Shijuren Wiki: 723 entries

Let me know if you have any suggestions on the website, this email, or cool story ideas at rob@robhowell.org. Especially let me know of suggestions you have for the Spotlight section.

Have a great week, everyone.

Rob Howell

Currently Available Works
Shijuren

Nick Patara, PI

  • Silent Knight (Nick Patara, PI, Book 1)
  • Under a Midnight Clear (Nick Patara, PI, Book 2) (Forthcoming)
Four Horsemen Universe
The Phases of Mars
Short Stories

If you think you received this email incorrectly or wish to be unsubscribed, please send an email to shijuren-owner@robhowell.org

Rob’s Update: I’m Doing This

Week 49 of 2020

Greetings all

It was a bit of a down week, though some of the reason why it feels down is that I pounded away at a bunch of details that need to get done, but which aren’t necessarily the big stuff like new words.

I got my released version of Silent Knight ready to go. Under a Midnight Clear is almost done *and* I started next year’s. Also, new artwork in this series from Cedar Sanderson.

I’ve got some stuff working on improving the Edward novels with the anticipation of another Edward book coming soon. Finishing None Call Me Mother has really opened my mind to some great plans in Shijuren.

Speaking of plans, the Shijuren wiki is now virtually rebuilt. I have ten or so entries to add that have been mentioned in the books, and they’re all minor. These will get added next week and then I’ll be laying groundwork for some future series. I’d like to have a bunch of the worldbuilding already done before I start the next series.

I think 2021 will be an amazing year for Shijuren and it will catapult into something special. I’m really excited here.

Songs of Valor, the FantaSci anthology, is *almost* done. Just waiting on a few things.

Finally, I turned my focus back to The Ravening of Wolves, the sequel to The Feeding of Sorrows.

When you lay all that out, a *down* week for me right now is still pretty darn productive. It was just a bit scattershot and I certainly took more time off this past week than I have in the previous few months. Not a bad week at all.

What I’m Listening To

NFL pregame shows. It’s a Sunday morning after all. Sorry I’m a little late from last week, mostly because I got distracted the past couple of days. Just fort that I’m giving you a quote from one of the greats of NFL history.

Quote of the Week

I think a George Halas quote is especially apt right now. I’m finally in the career I should have been in all along, though it took me to 2015 to realize that. I certainly would rather not be doing anything else.

“Nothing is work unless you’d rather be doing something else.”
– George Halas

News and Works in Progress

  • The Ravening of Wolves (33,182)
  • CB (8,418)
  • UAMC (4,785)
  • Gato (2,312)

Recent Blog Posts and Wiki Additions

  • A bunch more wiki additions. Starting next week, there’ll be new worldbuilding content that might give hints at future plans.

Upcoming Events

New Releases

This week’s spotlight is on Kevin Ikenberry, who is an incredibly smart guy. He’s the driving force behind the 4HU’s Peacemakers, which has become a great thing in its own right. Dereliction of Duty is in a different series, the Imprint War. You can find it here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08Q44Q6SZ.

Today’s Weight: 352.0

Updated Word Count: 261,189

Shijuren Wiki: 723 entries

Let me know if you have any suggestions on the website, this email, or cool story ideas at rob@robhowell.org. Especially let me know of suggestions you have for the Spotlight section.

Have a great week, everyone.

Rob Howell

Currently Available Works
Shijuren
Four Horsemen Universe
The Phases of Mars
Short Stories

If you think you received this email incorrectly or wish to be unsubscribed, please send an email to shijuren-owner@robhowell.org

Rob’s Update: To Such A Deep Delight

Week 48 of 2020

Greetings all

Really busy week going through short stories for Songs of Valor, the FantaSci anthology.

The five winners were:
Benjamin Tyler Smith
Casey Moores
Melissa Olthoff
Jamie Ibson
James Chandler

But they weren’t the only good stories. We got 37 all told and it was truly a deep delight to go through all of them.

This is going to be a great anthology. The five winners will be joined by David Weber, Glen Cook, Larry Correia, Sarah Hoyt, Jon Osborne, and more.

It’s also the first full week since None Call Me Mother came out. Wow, thanks to all of you who bought it. If you haven’t already, it’s here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08NYDC6ZL.

And if you want to start the series from the beginning, I Am a Wondrous Thing is here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01HHKZJVA.

Alright, time to get back to editing. Have a great week everyone.

What I’m Listening To

Rush’s Xanadu. Such a great song. It was the song that really got me into the depth of Rush because I already loved the poem.

Quote of the Week

Might as well do a quote from Xanadu, by Coleridge. Let’s do one of the deeper portions. I love Coleridge’s sense of rhythm and word choice.

“A damsel with a dulcimer
In a vision once I saw:
It was an Abyssinian maid,
And on her dulcimer she played,
Singing of Mount Abora.
Could I revive within me
Her symphony and song,
To such a deep delight ‘twould win me”
– Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Xanadu

News and Works in Progress

  • The Ravening of Wolves (32,068)
  • UAMC (4,785)
  • MO (9,971)
  • CB (8,418)
  • Gato (2,312)

Recent Blog Posts and Wiki Additions

Upcoming Events

New Releases

This week’s spotlight is on Charles Gannon and a collection of rogues, who released Murphy’s Lawless, an anthology of stories in his Terran Republic universe. You can find it here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08PG4N2FS.

Today’s Weight: 354.0

Updated Word Count: 261,189

Shijuren Wiki: 678 entries

Let me know if you have any suggestions on the website, this email, or cool story ideas at rob@robhowell.org. Especially let me know of suggestions you have for the Spotlight section.

Have a great week, everyone.

Rob Howell

Currently Available Works
Shijuren
Four Horsemen Universe
The Phases of Mars
Short Stories

If you think you received this email incorrectly or wish to be unsubscribed, please send an email to shijuren-owner@robhowell.org

Rob’s Ramblings: Only *This* Story

This week I’ve been pleased to receive a whole slew of short stories for the FantaSci anthology. All told, we received 37 entrants, which seems like a good number to me. Chris and I are still discussing the ones we’re going to choose, so I’m not going to talk about results just yet.

However, since it’s fresh on my mind, I thought I’d go over some of the things I saw in this process. At this point, I’ve read a bunch of short stories over the years, written a dozen or so, and am in the process of editing my second anthology. There are many out there with more experience than I,  but this contest really helped coalesce my thoughts on short stories to something more concrete, so I’m going to post on this as much for me to remember as to help you all.

Let me lay down one overarching principle: “Only *this* story matters.” There’s your TL:DR of this post. Only this story matters and anything that’s extraneous drags it down.

First, let’s talk about exposition. The vast majority of stories that got put straight to the bottom of our list explained too much. There’s little that’ll bring a story to a screeching halt like a sizable infodump near the start.

Yes, readers need to know stuff. They’ll get frustrated when something isn’t explained. However, you want to only explain what you have to explain for *this* story, even if you have plans for that story being a part of a larger setting.

If you plan to compile a collection of connected short stories into a novel, you can come back and add exposition later if needed. But that’s part of that process, not this story.

Readers don’t always need to know technical details or the physics/metaphysics underlying a universe. They need to know only if the plot twist turns on it. Most of Asimov’s robot stories turn on the Three Laws, so the reader has to know them. But details how robots work? Not as much.

It’s really easy to throw in details the author thinks the reader needs to know. It’s rare, especially without more experience, for an author to limit that exposition to actually what is needed for *this* story. Believe me, I’m as guilty of this as anyone, and it’s a major part of my editing process to cut that sort of thing out of my own stuff.

For Songs of Valor, authors had 7-10,000 words to strike with. And I mean strike! Short stories work best with action, in my mind, not explanations of this and that. That especially includes a bunch of stuff about what the character is thinking. Show, don’t tell, the character as much as possible.

Now I don’t mind a character parsing through tactical choices a bit. “I did this to learn this and then did that to get this reaction.” This is, I think, especially useful in first person noir style stuff.

But even that’s a balance. For None Call Me Mother, a novel which needed more tactical discussion than a short story, my editor told me I’d gone overboard and I cut back on them dramatically to get a faster, sharper story. Editors are nice like that and the 148k original draft that seemed bloated ended up as a 124k sleek creature I’m pretty pleased with.

Tell us what we need to know and nothing else. And whenever possible, weave it into conversations and side notes in the story and avoid a major infodump.

But that brings up an obvious question, how do you know what the reader needs to know?

For me, short stories have a soul. This is true of all stories, long or short, but I think it’s more important with shorter stories because you have to focus on that soul and nothing else. With novels, you want to have some misdirection, extra plants, and some additional frippery. There’s simply not enough time for much of that in shorts.

The problem is that “soul” is such an amorphous term. I’m a pantser, especially with short stories. It is extremely rare that I know the soul of the story when I start it. It’s happened once, with my story “Far Better to Dare” from Those in Peril, but that’s it.

Most of the time I write at least 4-6,000 words before I realize what the soul of the story really is. Then I realize that much, if not most, of what I’ve written so far is not actually relevant to the soul of *this* story. Maybe I had to write it out to know the character well enough, or the events underlying the story, or whatever, but all that stuff is just background and I have to cut some, if not nearly all, of what I’ve written.

This is hard. You have to be ruthless with your own writing and take extra stuff out. Don’t delete it, of course, you may use it later elsewhere, but not here.

Of the stories we received that I thought had potential but weren’t in our top 4 and thus a part of the anthology, I would say nearly all of them suffered from too much exposition that didn’t matter to that story’s soul. In some cases, this exposition was the kernel of the story, and hence the author thought it had to be in the story. However, that’s not always the case, and took away space for action without adding as much as the author realized. That chunk mattered, because it drove the character, but the reader didn’t need to see all of it, just hints of it.

Let me give you an example from my story from this anthology. Its POV character is Katarina, the chaotic evil crime boss from Achrida who Edward has to deal with far too often. I initially started with a thread of her comparing people around her to those she’s murdered in the past. Number twelve, number two, number 47, etc. It’s a fun thread for this character and I had to have it in mind as I was writing from Katarina’s point of view as the most unlikely/reluctant hero I could think of, but those words were wasted in this story.

Don’t worry, I have all those murders saved and listed.

But what’s the soul of the story? That’s hard to determine and it could be really far afield from where you started.

When I started writing “Here Must We Hold,” my story about the Battle of Maldon in Trouble in the Wind, I wanted to write a version where Byrhtnoth’s decisions weren’t because of “ofermod,” or hubris, but rather from smart strategic thinking that gave up a tactical advantage. That’s there, of course, but in the end, it became about something else, a pure redemption arc I won’t spoil by describing here. That forced me to change the entire structure of the story, remove some particulars, and add others.

My story in We Dare, “The Chaos of Well-Seeming Forms,” is a version of the Finnsburh Episode & Fragment, or Romeo & Juliet if you prefer, set on Mars. That was all, but in the end, it became more of a story about the hero in the Wanderer or the Seafarer, two of my favorite Old English poems. That, too, forced a series of changes, cuts, and tweaks. I didn’t realize that until I reached the absolute end of the story and needed the extra gut punch.

I could describe the journey of each story I’ve written, but I think you get the point. Be open to finding a soul of the story after you’ve written it, then shaping the story around it.

Whatever I’m writing, I constantly think about Raghunath Rao. He’s a character from the Belisarius series by Eric Flint and David Drake. He is fond of saying, “Only the soul matters in the end.” Not a bad thing to remember when writing short stories.

Returning to “The Chaos of Well-Seeming Forms,” I mentioned I thought it needed an extra gut punch and that’s because I think short stories need a twist. Something at the end that forces the reader to think and want more. I get this philosophy from one writer in particular, my favorite writer of short stories ever, Randall Garrett.

He was about as flawed a man as he could be, which is why many of you have never heard of him. He wrote only when he needed drinking money. However, he was so good he could go to John Campbell and ask for an advance on a story and get it! What a crazy thing, especially in the era of the pulp magazines of the 50s and 60s.

If you ever see a copy of The Best of Randall Garrett paperback in a used book store, get it. Even if you already have a copy so you can gift it to someone. There’s an e-book on Amazon with the same title, but it’s not the same as the paperback, though the two are linked. Here’s the link for the paperback on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Best-Randall-Garrett-1982-01-01/dp/B01K3JZWX2. Again, the e-book version is not the same.

That paperback has the single best collection of SF/F short stories I’ve ever found. Every story in here is absolutely amazing and powerful. And they all have a twist at the end, some which have never stopped resonating with me since the first time I read this collection in the early 80s. I would never suggest anyone emulate Garrett’s life, but his skills as a writer of short stories are hard to match.

So I try to have all my stories have some sort of twist at the end. It could be just a subtle thing like the last word in “Far Better to Dare.” It could be big like the gut punch at the end of “The Chaos of Well-Seeming Forms.” The twist in “What’s in a Name” is the word “Deor,” which is an odd word in Old English, but which added a neat addition to the redemption of Edward, provided the title, and shaped the soul slightly.

Doesn’t really matter what the twist is, nor is it necessarily a requirement. However, I think we can all understand that a story that hits you at the end with something extra is likely to be more memorable than without. In an anthology where you’re surrounded by great stories, it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle. And if you’re in a muddle of 37 stories for a competition, it’s even more important.

Finally, I’m going to touch on something that’s important, but which *can* be overcome, and that’s the use of language.

This is a fantasy anthology. We got a variety of definitions of fantasy, which was great, but of course some of it was medieval fantasy. There were a few of these submissions that suffered because the language was too modern for the setting. Imagine, if you will, Gandalf saying, “Well, hindsight is 20/20.” Wait. What? That totally throws me out of the story.  So does “OK.”

Likewise, if you’re writing an urban fantasy or SF and the characters speak in a Shakespearean style, the readers are going to wonder what the heck is going on. It might work, like David Weber’s Jiltanith character from his Mutineer’s Moon series, but it has to be explained.

It may seem cool, but that exposition might take the place of action later on or confusing the soul of the story. In other words, getting in the way of the story’s power.

Now, sure, an editor can go through and edit all of the modernisms out of a medieval fantasy story, or whatever other oddnesses might be there, but in a contest, it’s a factor from the editor’s point of view. It means your story has to be clearly one of the winners. In a tie or close race between two stories, it will matter more. It’s quite literally part of the discussion Chris and I are having right now.

So to sum up, here you go.

  1. Only *this* story matters right now.
  2. Exposition only as needed for *this* story.
  3. Only the soul of *this* story really matters, in the end.
  4. Find a twist to give *this* story extra punch if you can.
  5. Use only the language that makes *this* story work.

Yeah, sure, these targets are amorphous and difficult to hit. I’m also not perfect at hitting them. However, I know that when I have these principles in mind, I write better stories. I also know that those stories submitted for this anthology that matched these principles got noticed more.

Again, you’ll find others out there with more experience than me, and also more success. You should absolutely pay attention to them. Also, there’s one true way of writing, and it’s whatever works for *you.* Still, I would say you wouldn’t go wrong at least considering these five things as you write short stories.

 

Rob’s Update: Stories, Magic, and Books, Oh My!

Week 47 of 2020

Greetings all

What a great week here, what with Thanksgiving and the release of None Call Me Mother. Thanks to all of you who’ve supported me along the way. I really appreciate it.

It’s great to have it finally finished, in part because it’s like finishing three books at once. Here’s the whole series, by the way:

I Am a Wondrous Thing: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01HHKZJVA
Brief Is My Flame: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07F1BQPNC
None Call Me Mother: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08NYDC6ZL

As I’ve said before, I’m really pleased with how this story turned out. I’ve re-read them all in the past week and they still entertain me and make me care about the characters.

This week I’ve been going through some of my writing notes, talking about some of my processes. I do this with every novel released, because each one teaches me something new or, at the very least, hammers in a point more than before. I touched on this in this blog post: http://robhowell.org/blog/?p=2163.

This seemed to spark some interest, so I then did a sketch of some of my thoughts behind a few characters, Irina Ivanovna, Eleonore Drechsler, and Etain Muirghein. You can find this post here: http://robhowell.org/blog/?p=2166.

Then finally, at least for this week, I will talk about the evolution of Shijuren’s magic system tomorrow on both my blog and on Mad Genius Club.

Honestly, I should get back into the habit of doing a Monday Ramblings post. I have lots of thoughts, and often these posts help me think through them all.

Also this week, I basically finished two short stories. Both just need their print and read editing pass. Both turned out well, I think. You on my email list will get to see one for free on Christmas Day. The other will come out in the anthology.

I’ve also started cleaning up the Edward books to match my new improved arrangement. That’ll take whatever time it takes. I’ve found of late I can use the verbal editing pass as a good way to relax before going to bed, oddly enough. I read through a few chapters and my brain is done for a bit.

*And* on top of all of that, I keep adding to the wiki. This has become a relaxing process as I start playing with world-building ideas. I have more series to write in the world, and I’m about to do some more Edward stories, so it’s really giving me ideas.

What I’m Listening To

Lost in Germany by King’s X. I can remember the exact moment I first listened to King’s X. A buddy had suggested it and I picked up their CD Gretchen Goes to Nebraska. This is a fantastic album, and the first song, Out of the Silent Planet, just blew me away. If I have to pick a Best Rock Band Ever (Non-Rush Category), they’re in the running.

Quote of the Week

Here’s a taste from Upon a Midnight Clear, the free story I’ll be sending out to those on my mailing list. If you want to get it for free, just go to www.robhowell.org and fill out the form on the left.

An embarrassed elf stood at my door amid swirling snow.

This wasn’t as uncommon a thing for me as it was for many people, but it’s never a good thing for your intel guy to look embarrassed.

Upon a Midnight Clear

News and Works in Progress

  • The Ravening of Wolves (32,068)
  • UAMC (4,785)
  • MO (9,971)
  • CB (8,418)
  • Gato (2,312)

Recent Blog Posts and Wiki Additions

Upcoming Events

New Releases

This week’s spotlight is on Benjamin Tyler Smith, who just released Blue Salvation, the 13th in Christopher Woods’ Fallen World universe. You can find it here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08P49L1D3.

Today’s Weight: 355.0 (A bit of a step back, but Thanksgiving will do that)

Updated Word Count: 250,745

Shijuren Wiki: 543 entries

Let me know if you have any suggestions on the website, this email, or cool story ideas at rob@robhowell.org. Especially let me know of suggestions you have for the Spotlight section.

Have a great week, everyone.

Rob Howell

Currently Available Works
Shijuren
Four Horsemen Universe
The Phases of Mars
Short Stories

If you think you received this email incorrectly or wish to be unsubscribed, please send an email to shijuren-owner@robhowell.org

Rob’s Ramblings: Casting a Spell

I’m going to continue with this thread of posts going under the hood of my writing process with None Call Me Mother and the now-completed trilogy, The Kreisens, with a discussion of my magic system and what thoughts went into its creation.

By the way, if you want to see the first two of what is becoming a series, here they are. On Monday I talked about improving my production process at: http://robhowell.org/blog/?p=2163. On Tuesday, I went through my thoughts creating three of the characters in this series at: http://robhowell.org/blog/?p=2166.

Also, I want to take this moment to thank Cedar Sanderson and the crew at Mad Genius Club for cross-posting this as a guest post over there. You can find them at: https://madgeniusclub.com/. Also, check out Cedar’s page at: https://www.cedarwrites.com/. I’m not saying that just because she advertised None Call Me Mother there.

Anyway, back to this topic. I’m quite pleased with my magic system. I wanted to have a system that was easy to write, made every mage a little different, and forced wizards to make choices. It also had to have limitations and it couldn’t be pure handwavium. At the same time, I wanted to have something that connected with traditional magical depictions and expectations.

The roots of this system go all the way back to 1980 when I first played D&D. I was always a guy who enjoyed breaking things down and I had always wanted to design a magic system that was plausible and powerful.

The first challenge to me came from looking at the huge spell lists of various RPGs. From the standpoint of a game, discrete spells are a great thing. They allow for the kind of immediate choice needed for any turn-based system.

But I don’t like them from a writing point of view. I’ve enjoyed  various game-related books over the years like DragonLance and the Forgotten Realms books, but I’ve always struggled a bit with the prose describing these discrete spells in action.

So my system had to be a little more free-form from a writing point of view. On the other hand, that vast list of spells does includes just about every magical effect one could want, so I had to consider it.

I also didn’t want to break things down the same way as D&D. The divine/arcane magic system works great from a game point of view, but I just sort of think magic should be defined by its processes, not its source.

So what are the processes of spells? Not the idea of components, but how does a spell do the thing it does?

The first, and possibly most important, set of spells I broke down were the cure spells. I started with them because there has to be healing, if only because I tend to hammer my characters.

Now, hit points are a simple concept that handwaves over a bunch of stuff. Is a person harder to kill as they gain skill? Undoubtedly. Does the amount of physical trauma required to kill that person increase dramatically as their skill rises? Well, that’s a different question. I don’t want to dive into that philosophical discussion, but it’s useful to remember this question here.

The easy thing, and first to come to mind, is the concept of Life Magic. From a healing standpoint, it’s obvious. But it’s just as easy to harm. Excellent. I’ve now got a starting point for magic to be just a tool to be used as a character wants, good or bad.

But “life” is such a huge word, and I started spinning off idea after idea. I still do, by the way. Magic traditionally assigned to druids like controlling animals and plants, for example, is easy.

Yet there’s even more. I said I wanted something that made each wizard a little different, and Life Magic ended up being about variable as them all. Some cure well, but can’t hurt and vice versa. I’ve got Life Mages who really can’t do either, but can do other things really well. One essentially talks to bees. Connection to a single animal like a familiar. Some plantlords.

And I’ve got fun ways I can describe all of this. One of my standard things is for healers to step in and stop the bleeding and minimize the chance of infection. Obviously, they don’t have the same basis of medicine that we do, but people have known about infected wounds long before germ theory.

I also use Life Magic in a forensic way, having some Life Mages specialize in tracking traces of evidence off bodies. This is great for my Edward books, which are fantasy/mystery/PI hybrids. Again, they won’t know DNA per se, but they can track bits and pieces that give some clues. Great from my perspective.

Every aspect of life has its own calling, so I’ve hit on one magical process that works great. Life Magic works with life in every form but is individual to the mage. It can’t, however, deal with inanimate objects unless it can get a life form to do something to it, like say having a tree push its roots to destroy a rock.

That’s a great start, but clearly, I needed more types of magic.

Again, the question of cure spells guided me. How does one increase morale with magic? I’ve seen it happen with a group singing a song or following a banner. With speeches and theater. With rewards and gifts.

All of these things had effects as symbols greater than their intrinsic value as things. Magic, then, could push these symbolic effects to even greater heights and we’ve got so many traditional things to draw from here.

Bardic spells, so music and song. Religious ceremonies. Any kind of ceremony, actually. Runes and arcane scripts. Banners. Flags.

These things can influence just about any endeavor. I have never come up against a limitation of what symbolic magic could do. Heal, harm, teach, warn, refrigerate, heat, attack, whatever I wanted.

That’s a great thing, but from a story standpoint is a problem. All of the wizards had to have limitations, and so did Line Magic, which is what I ended up naming symbolic magic.

Fortunately, the limitation for Line Magic is fairly obvious. Symbols and morale *are* limited. You can be Rudy all you want, but you still have to have a certain level of size, speed, and skill to make the NFL. So Line Magic became the most versatile, but least powerful of all my spell types.

The next spells I looked at were Fireballs and the like. They don’t really fit with Life or Line Magic, but we need something like this.

I don’t talk about it much anymore, because I’ve integrated it so fully I don’t really think about it at this point, but I have a physics layer underneath my magic system involving Shijuren’s geodynamo.

Now, I handwave a jump or two, like the old cartoon with a math equation that has in the middle, “and then a miracle occurs.” However, it’s important that I keep it in mind and make sure those miracles aren’t too miraculous.

This concept of a layer of physics underneath the magic provided the answer to the fireball. I created a magic process that is basically e to m and vice versa. A fireball is just liberating a tiny fraction of energy from matter.

But again, this gave me a whole slew of possibilities. Heat, sound, light, and so much more. Stones that warm things or refrigerate them. Stones that create light or lock doors. Listening to mountains.

So now I have Land Magic. Here’s where I made the most handwavium decision in the whole process, though. One could make the argument that since living creatures have mass than Land Magic could affect them just as easily. I decided Land Magic could only work against inanimate objects. That life, for whatever reason, resists this sort of manipulation. Yeah, it misses a bit on the logic, but it creates a distinct limitation that works well to differentiate mages.

By the way, yes I went through and came up with “L” words for each type of magic. Stupid maybe, but it seemed like fun at the time.

OK, so what am I missing? Let’s look at charm spells. To a great extent, these rely upon manipulating emotions. Love Magic! Perfect. Magic that manipulates emotion can be extremely powerful, but only with humans and some more intelligent animals.

I’ve extended this a bit as I’ve gone along, by the way, to the study of the amygdala and how humans create emotions. It’s a strange process that we don’t really understand as far as I can tell, but that’s perfect for my purposes. I can adapt as needed.

I’ve also used this as forensic magic in the Edward books, as emotions presumably spike during murders and such, leaving a residue that can be tracked.

For ease of description, I say emotions flow from a person in tendrils. Then I use Pluvchik’s Wheel of Emotion to give me guidelines. To step from one emotion to another is one degree of difficulty, as does going up and down in intensity.

From a magic standpoint it’s fairly versatile. From a writing standpoint it’s fun to describe. However, this magic system tends to lead to fewer differences between wizards since there’s only so many different emotions. There are some differences, though, as each Love Mage has their own preference. Some work best with love and some with hate. So far, this has seemed to be enough for my purposes and I’m coming up with more, like those specializing in forensic magic.

That’s a pretty good collection of magics, but I got to this point still thinking I was missing a process. Living things, non-living things, symbols, and emotions don’t allow for what D&D calls the divination school. Also, we really don’t have a that traditional long-bearded knows-everything iconic wizard. I mean, you could have that from each of the four we’ve described, but knowledge itself should have power.

This was especially important to me as a historian, by the way.

Lore was an easy L-word to use here, but it took me a while to figure out how to make Lore Magic work.

Somewhere along the way, I stumbled across the Greek concept of kairos. This gave me a kernel of an idea, especially when I considered the concept of how so many wizards in other stories often don’t do D&D style magic but instead just happen to be at the right place at the right time and do the right thing.

So maybe I have something here. The more you know and research, the more you can pick out those kairoi, which means you can influence them to come out the way you want. A Lore Mage, then sees a series of kairoi as butterfly points of potentialities. They then shape the potentialities to fit the desired result.

Wow! What a fun concept, though I will say it’s been proven hard to write with. How do you shape potentialities on the fly? This magic has to work over time, not really in the heart of a conflict. To shape a battle, a Lore Mage has to anticipate the fight then put themselves into a stronger position to win.

OK, this actually isn’t so bad from a writing perspective. I now have a way for bad guys to shape a plot and I have ways for good guys to respond. Best of all, each Lore Mage is limited by what they’ve studied, so there’s a differentiation built into it from the beginning. Plus, not every Lore Mage views how to manipulate kairoi in the same way. Veikko, for example, manipulates kairoi not be using his magic to change them but to put people in the place where they can change it for him. Nebheshu has a much more direct and arrogant approach.

In the end, Lore Magic became the single most powerful magic one can do in Shijuren. It can do just about anything. However, it requires time, often lots of time. I’ve had mages create spells that are centuries long. Of course, the shifting of kairoi can be undone by the shifting of other kairoi by an opposing mage.

Lore Magic is the hardest to write, but the most fun, when I get it to work.

We now have my Five Streams of Magic, each with limitations and options.

I then decided that those humans capable of magic could only do one of these types. I did allow for a very few exceptions, though, in part because it fits some of the hidden backstory of the world, but these are incredibly rare, in part because they are extremely powerful. Their ability to mesh magical concepts means they can do more with each because of synergistic effects.

In any case, this means that mages in Shijuren have a very limited toolbox. They essentially have a hammer and they have to figure out how to make that hammer work in the situation they face.

This has been awesome for me as a writer. I’m constantly trying to figure out ways to do this or that, based on the tactical situation and the wizard’s set of skills.

More importantly, my spells haven’t really broken down into routine from wizard to wizard. They’re not all blasting away with a fireball or healing with cure light. Sure, an individual wizard might do the same thing multiple times, like Egill and his runes, but each has a flavor and an individuality, just as I had hoped for.

There’s my system. It might not be perfect, but it’s been magical for me and my stories.

Speaking of my stories, I will take this moment to talk about None Call Me Mother. Did I mention it came out on Tuesday? No? Well, hey, just to let you know, it came out on Tuesday!

In a way, it’s almost like I released *three* books on Tuesday, because None Call Me Mother finishes up a trilogy. I also took the time a week ago to clean up the other novels in the Kreisens trilogy, which you can find here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07G8MTPP4.

And if you want to go straight to the first book, I Am a Wondrous Thing, it’s here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01HHKZJVA.

Finally, if you’ve gotten this far, I might as well just link to my Amazon author page: https://www.amazon.com/Rob-Howell/e/B00X95LBB0/.

Thanks for reading this post, and I hope you enjoy my stories. Best wishes for a great holiday season to you all.