Tag Archives: Shijuren

Rob’s Update: New Mythology Press

Week 2 of 2021

Greetings all

Well, this has been a wonderful and eventful week for me. On Wednesday, Chris Kennedy gave me the opportunity to become lead dog on New Mythology Press, his fantasy imprint. This means I’ll be taking submissions and guiding the accepted books through the process of publication.

This is incredibly exciting and I look forward to bringing you all a bunch of great stuff to read.

I’ll be adjusting some things related to my weekly email as part of this. I’m going to start sending them out Thursday to better flow with Tuesday releases for New Mythology Press. I’ve added a New Mythology Works in Progress section where I’ll discuss what’s going on there. There will be more changes as I adapt to this amazing new opportunity.

Thanks again to Chris.

By the way, if you’re interested in submitting a novel to New Mythology Press here are the basics:

New Mythology Press Novel Submission 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.

However, this does not mean I’ll stop writing. Not at all. I actually had a great week of progress on The Ravening of Wolves, getting about 6k done despite not writing at all yesterday because it was my sweetie’s birthday. It’s good to get back into the groove.

With that, I better get working. I’ve already got submissions to read. Exciting stuff!

What I’m Listening To

Rush, all of it. Neil died a year ago Thursday and I’m not over it.

Quote of the Week

I’ve probably used this quote before, but it’s too powerful not to use again. It comes from the last song on the last album by Rush. Neil nurtured one hell of a garden.

“The measure of a life is a measure of love and respect
So hard to earn, so easily burned
In the fullness of time
A garden to nurture and protect”

– Neil Peart (1952 – 2020), “The Garden” from Clockwork Angels

New Mythology Works in Progress

Songs of Valor is basically complete. It goes to the editor this weekend. I’m really proud of how this turned out and you’ll want to get it when it comes out in March. Here’s the list of fantastic stories and ridiculously good author list, along with a note if they’re part of an existing series:

  • The Dragon and the Drunkard by David Weber
  • Smoke and Shadow by Jon Osborne (Milesian Accords series)
  • On a Wing and a Train by Benjamin Tyler Smith (Necrolopolis series)
  • The One You’d Least Expect by Chris Kennedy
  • Oathbreaker by Melissa Olthoff
  • Changes by Kevin Steverson (Balance of Kerr series)
  • What the Eye Sees by Quincy J. Allen (Rellen series)
  • Songbird by Jamie Ibson
  • One More Flight by Sarah Hoyt
  • A Quaint Pastime by Casey Moores
  • Backup by D.J. Butler (Indrajit and Fix series)
  • The Hill to Die On by J.P. Chandler
  • Magnum Opus by Rob Howell (Shijuren series)
  • Cranky Bitch by Glen Cook (Black Company series)
  • The Dregs by Larry Correia

I’m still amazed by this collection of talent. Truly an honor to be a part of it.

Rob’s Works in Progress

  • The Ravening of Wolves (35,384)
  • Rick Blaine (8,845)
  • CB (8,418)
  • Cynewulf (8,642)
  • Gato (2,312)

Recent Blog Posts and Wiki Additions

  • Working on other things this week

Upcoming Events

New Releases

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.

Today’s Weight: 345.8

Updated Word Count: 2,396

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: 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 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.

 

 

Rob’s Ramblings: Character Origins

Todd Searls mentioned that he liked seeing under the hood yesterday, and when I thought about his comment, I realized I love that from my favorite creators too.

One of my basic principles is to be the author I want be a fan of. Write the stuff I want to read and interact the way I want to be interacted with. So I’ll do some more of these posts, especially now while None Call Me Mother is new and fresh in my mind. In this one I’ll discuss some of the things I thought of while designing a few characters.

Irina Ivanovna

Irina Ivanovna is probably the most important character I’ve ever designed, not simply because she is the key to this story, but also because she shaped the entirety of Periaslavl and hence, much of the entire world.

I love Star Wars, but as I’ve gotten older, the Luke Skywalker character gets really boring. It’s a common fantasy trope, of course, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. How could I create a character than had all that “destiny” but knew a ton, yet didn’t know anything? That’s a thought exercise, let me tell you.

What if the character’s been sheltered? What if their limitation is that they’ve been focused on something else, not living in the world. And that led to the idea of the velikomat, or Great Mother, of Periaslavl. I won’t get into some of the reasons behind why Periaslavl made sense for this because it’d be a spoiler, but I had here a vehicle to make sure that the Great Mothers lived for a looooong time.

During the events in None Call Me Mother, Irina is 140 years old but her body is still that of a teenager. M-a-a-a-gic. If it’s a fantasy world, I should darn well use it.

Making her a ruler with all this experience and power meant she knew all sorts of top-end things. How much food an oblast would need to make it through the winter. How many troops Periaslavl could support. What was the Empire going to do? Or Svellheim. And so on.

Yet, of course, she’s never really been a person. She was chosen at 16 to be the Great Daughter, and for 124 years her life has been nothing but ruling Periaslavl. It’s a great set of experiences for a character, but it’s also a great set of non-experiences. I had a ton of fun playing with those things she never experienced or, more importantly for one kinetic reason, didn’t remember.

So there’s my callow character of “destiny.” I really have a problem doing the easy thing, don’t I?

One last note about Irina. My mom’s mom’s name was Irene. Yeah, I’m shallow, but I loved making that connection as the “Great Mother.” You should all expect this, by the way, because my mom’s dad’s name is Edward.

Eleonore Drechsler

The second character I’m going to look at is Eleonore Drechsler. I’ll start with her name. I use a random generator on Behind the Names. It’s a fantastic site, one of the most useful on the internet. I had to laugh at this name when it came up, because one of my favorite basketball players ever is Clyde Drexler. Ha! I slay myself.

Anyway, in many ways she draws from the same sort of fallen paladin ideas I often love. In some ways, she’s a hard-edged version of Edward. Sometimes it’s fun to write a good guy doing bad things. Really bad things.

Eleonore had to be a great warrior. More important, a skilled leader. I needed to inject a bit of skill into the cesspool that is the Kreisens anyway, and Demmenkreisen, as one of the largest and most powerful Kreisens was a good place for it. That it was in the exact right place (thank you, Adam, which I might touch on in a different post), was a bonus.

Part of the reason that it was important to me that she was a leader is that I needed that to be able to break her down. She has to take a path, not an easy path, but the one that seems easiest for someone who’s enraged. I think most people get enraged not on their own behalf, but on behalf of those close to them.

Her character arc, then, is to screw up but then spend the rest of the series overcoming her mistake. In many ways, this is my favorite arc because it’s something we all do. Her part of the epic battle is perhaps the most subtle, as she cannot win her fight. She can, however, slow the magic that’s attacking her and thereby give the others a chance to win. I probably make this too subtle in the book, because as a set of actions it’s not terribly active, but I, at least, know what battle she faced, and it’s one that I rather enjoyed.

Etain Muirghein

Many of you know the story behind a bunch of characters that appeared in Brief Is My Flame. These were a bunch of redshirts as part of a fundraiser for a great guy who had some health issues.

Obviously, I won’t go into these characters’ origins, because if you know the person redshirted, you’ll catch the references and if you don’t, you won’t care. However, I did want to touch on a few ways these redshirts helped shape Shijuren and the story.

Etain Muirghein was a character I mentioned briefly in I Am a Wondrous Thing. As the Thalassocrat of the Western Isles, she had a part to play in the political maneuvering between realms. However, I didn’t say anything else about her at the time.

Then I was asked to redshirt someone I really respect who helped shape Calontir. Etain suddenly became a great vehicle for that, and so I put in all of her I could. Feisty, tough, awesome. I even added her dog, sort of. It’s named Madra Te in the books, which is a great pun for those who know her.

Anyway, that meant I had to put Etain into some of the action. I hadn’t anticipated that I’d do anything really involving the Western Isles or anything on that end of the Kreisens, but in the end it became a fantastic vector to get to the end.

Plus, I got to write fantasy ship battles using another redshirt, and have both die gloriously. Man, that worked out well, and it’s all because I had to fit this redshirt somewhere and Etain was the absolute right place.

So there you go. A bit of a sketch behind three of the most important characters in the series. There was some serendipity involved in these characters, but at least I was smart enough to recognize it when it hit me upside the head. Serendipity’s got a punch, let me tell you.

Rob’s Ramblings: Climbing the Mountain

Greetings all

None Call Me Mother comes out tomorrow!

I keep talking about how much I’m excited about this release, and it’s all true. I have scaled this mountain.

There were times I doubted I’d make it. However, it’s here, and it’s good. One of the reasons I think many people become authors is that they want to write the stories they want to read. I have re-read all of this series in the past week and it’s my kind of story.

Anyway, I thought I’d take a moment and talk about some of the things I discovered while writing this series. This series, more than anything else I’ve written, changed my processes.

First and foremost, I screwed up at the start of all this. I’m a pantser, meaning I write by the seat of my pants.

For the Edward stories, this works great. However, part of that’s because everything in those stories comes from the single window of the first person POV. The author can have a more limited view because both the character and the reader have that same limited view. We all expect certain things to happen off screen.

The Kreisens has a completely different structure. Yes, I want the character and the reader to have limited views, but for those limited views to mesh at the end required me to know everything behind those views.

I didn’t do this well.

I came close. I didn’t have to retcon anything important. I don’t see any huge plot holes, and neither did my editor. However, I missed opportunities for fun plants and hints in I Am a Wondrous Thing that I really regret. I also have great plot ideas that in the end I couldn’t use because to do so would have required major retconning I wasn’t willing to do.

So the first thing I will change the next time I write a multi-book story arc will be to either plot significantly (unlikely), or write all of it at once and release the trilogy (or whatever) in sequence with little need for change. A series is one kind of animal. A trilogy is another.

Second, my production process was flawed. Some of this was experience. I’ve gotten better at writing blurbs, for example. It’s its own craft and one I continue to practice.

However, I’ve never been pleased with myself in my original release of I Am a Wondrous Thing. A Lake Most Deep suffers from a number of issues, but that doesn’t bother me as much because it was my first book, and first books *always* have issues. Live, learn, get better.

But I Am a Wondrous Thing was book three and I just simply didn’t do a great job producing it. Of all my books, it had the most typos/mistakes. I would have made a much more active cover. It had the most extraneous words. The blurb wasn’t great.

It’s especially frustrating now because I see these things so clearly and at the same time I see a great story.

The good news about being an independent writer is I can fix some of these things relatively easily. Live, learn, get better, after all. I Am a Wondrous Thing made me do all three.

The biggest change was to add a verbal read-through editing pass. I now print off the entire book or short story and read it out loud (when the cats let me). While my editor does a great job, this pass lets me catch some things simply because I’m reading the page differently. Also, it helps me see words that aren’t necessary. Most importantly, I think, is it shows me when I’ve arranged a sentence badly, something I am wont to do. If I can’t read it out loud smoothly, then it needs to be rephrased or cut.

This one thing has dramatically improved the quality of my stuff, and I’ve done it with everything I’ve written ever since.

As part of the None Call Me Mother release, I wanted to make sure both I Am a Wondrous Thing and Brief Is My Flame matched.

So I did a verbal read-through editing pass on I Am a Wondrous Thing. It’s much stronger now, much sleeker. As I said, I didn’t retcon anything major, but I did add a few hints and plants that mesh better with the events in None Call Me Mother. In many cases, this was literally changing one word to another, even to the point of changing an “and” to a “but.”

Along the way, I also realized my method for novel organization had flaws. I like having a section where I can discuss the people who helped, things about the current book, and that sort of stuff. That’s why I wrote a Foreword in the first place. However, that gets in the way of the reader reaching the story. so I changed it to an Afterword.

All three novels now have the same internal structure on the electronic versions. There are some challenges to making that true for the print versions, but those will be completed by the end of the week, I think. All three will look and feel the same inside, except of course for the story itself.

Side note: This may or may not show up yet with existing readers by the way. There’s supposed to be an update feature with Amazon so you get the latest version. However, it’s not working on my copies, so I’ve sent them a message to ask what’s going on. Also, this obviously doesn’t change the physical copies. Keep those. They’ll be collector’s items someday.

In the past, I have put dates and locations on each chapter. I have also gotten feedback that this distracted the reader without really adding anything. Some of you will prefer having those details, and I will continue to make sure the time continuity works on my initial drafts, but they make the story ponderous at times.

A third thing getting in the way of readers were the wiki links.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the wiki is a great thing. For me, it’s a place to do my world-building, serves as my bible, and gives me a bunch of story ideas. For readers, it allows them a chance to really grok Shijuren. Again, my basic philosophy as a writer is to provide the content I want from those authors I love.

However, the links *in the prose* got in the way of some readers. Hence, I’ve done a compromise. The story itself has no links, but the appendices do.  It’s all in the wiki, and you can go directly to it from the appendices, but there’s no link distracting the reader in the middle of a sentence.

Readers are, after all, what’s important in all of this. All of these changes are based on comments made to me by you guys and I haven’t even touched on my changes to my prose. I continue to work toward streamlined, faster prose because again that’s easier to read, but I also strive to produce the books well. I’m getting there.

But I have scaled this particular peak. As of tomorrow, The Kreisens is a complete unit, freshly touched up, and fully annotated in a revamped and improved wiki. Best of all, I love it.

What a great thing to be able to say.

 

 

Rob’s Update: Great Feast for Ravens

Week 45 of 2020

Greetings all

What a really productive week here in Robland. I finished my read-through of None Call Me Mother, and I’ll have all the tweaks and details finished on the manuscript no later than Monday. Probably tomorrow. That’s even with taking time off today to game.

It was actually the swiftest verbal read-through I’ve had so far, in part because I kept wanting to read more. I still cry at the spots I want to cry at and I get excited in the battle scenes. One of the reasons I think writers start writing is they want the kind of fiction they want to read themselves. I love this series. I’ve hated writing it at times, but now it’s something I’m really proud of.

I also had time this week to finish another Shijuren story, this one set in Achrida involving Edward and the characters there. It’s a twist though. Let’s just say, I chose the most unlikely, most reluctant hero I could think of for my entry in the anthology. Anyway, it needs editing, but it’s not vaporware.

Speaking of which, I got completely caught up on that, too. What a week. We even decided upon a title. The title of Libri Valoris II will be: Songs of Valor.

I did some work on the wiki, too, of course, though a lot of it was to create links and placeholders to finish a hyperlinked version of the manuscript. That’s what I’m going to be doing today.

I stacked a lot of productive days this past week and it’s time for me to start on next week.

What I’m Listening To

Songs from the Wood by Jethro Tull. It should come as no surprise that I really enjoy Tull’s weird combination of music. Skating Away on the Thin Ice of a New Day is in my top 10 ever.

Quote of the Week

This week’s quote comes from the Ruriksaga. What’s the Ruriksaga? Glad you asked. It’s the story of how Periaslavl came to be in Shijuren. I thought it was time to use my poetry skills again so I added part of it to the story.

Volodomyr spoke,            son of Rurik
Here my father fell,          fated for Woden’s hall
Our ring-giver gifted        great feast for ravens
His spear shattered          his sword sundered
In the flickering                 of flame’s glory
We shall remember           rightly of his deeds
Now feed to fire’s wrath   my father’s life-house
And here a hall                  high shall we raise
He shall be called              king in mind-songs
Ruriksaga

News and Works in Progress

  • The Ravening of Wolves (32,068)
  • ACP (10,077)
  • CB (8,418)
  • Cynewulf (8,642)
  • Gato (2,312)

Recent Blog Posts and Wiki Additions

  • Lots of Wiki Additions.

Upcoming Events

New Releases

The first new release is from a very old friend, Kirsten Tautfest. I remember us not quite being of age drinking at Kirby’s, still one of the coolest bars ever. Anyway, she just released the 15th in her Red Tales series, called Red Tales: Compartment Syndrome. You can find it here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08N5L1Q6J/.

There’s also a new 4HU story out this week! This one is by Casey Moores, and it’s got a new company that has a different mission than all the other merc units. It’s called These Things We Do: The Story of Bull, and you can find it here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08N5ZJRYV.

Today’s Weight: 353.8

Updated Word Count: 244,421

Shijuren Wiki: 376 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: 2020 Visions

Greetings all

Last week, I did a post on just how good 2019 was for me. You can find it here: http://robhowell.org/blog/?p=1912. My conclusion? 2019 was my best year ever.

2020 will be better.

Let’s start with None Call Me Mother. I should have that to my editor within a few weeks. I know it’s been slow. I wanted to have this done in 2018, much less last year. Stuff happened and I apologize. But it’s coming and it’s good.

What will happen in Shijuren after that?

Glad you asked.

This fall I’ll be working on the next Edward novel. I don’t have a working title yet, but it’ll be a bit of an homage to Dick Francis. There’s trouble at Achrida’s Hippodrome and it might hurt horse-racing across the entire Empire of Makhaira if Edward can’t figure it out.

Then, I’ll start another trilogy in Shijuren with different characters based in Amaranth. I’ve said a number of times that chickens are coming home to roost all across Shijuren, and this will tell of roostings in the south.

My plan is to write one Shijuren novel a year, alternating between an Edward novel and whatever other series I’m working on at the time, at least for now. It may end up being one Edward and two series novels, but we’ll see.

I also plan on writing short stories set in the universe. In fact, the first is already written and I’ll get to that in a moment. I’m really enjoying writing short stories in general, and whenever I get a chance to write one in Shijuren, I will.

But wait, there’s more. I’m making progress on creating an OGL d20 based system set in Shijuren. The first embryonic concepts of Shijuren started rolling around my head 25 years ago as a place for great D&D adventures. In many ways, it’s exceeded my expectation in that aspect alone.

The system I have in mind aims to streamline game play with a cool character creation system that allows players to mold characters to fit their own playing style.

It also aims to encourage players to try stupid but fun stuff that isn’t necessarily defined in the rules. Whether it’s trying a crazy tactic, using a skill in an unorthodox manner, or using magic in a weird way to save the day, it’ll be designed to give DMs guidelines to react to players making stuff up on the fly.

The biggest challenge I’ve faced in this so far has been how to mold my magic system into a usable system for a game. It’s a great magic system from a writing perspective, but it hadn’t been obvious how to translate it to gaming. However, I’ve finally come up with what I think is a really cool plan that ought to be a lot of fun.

Creating a game system is a big project, even with many of the basics already built in from the OGL side of things. I’m blessed to have some skilled and talented friends who will be helping along the way. I’ll tell you all more about them later.

I don’t have a specific timeline for getting this game published, but at some point, hopefully in 2020, I’ll be at cons running some playtest adventures as well as starting a home group.

What you can expect is periodic updates. I might even add a category in my Weekly Updates related to game concepts and ideas.

As you can see, though, Shijuren is going to grow a ton in the next few years. Thanks for coming along.

Of course, I’ve got a bunch more planned for 2020 than just Shijuren, including The Four Horsemen Universe. After I finish None Call Me Mother, my long form work in progress will be the sequel to The Feeding of Sorrows.

I have lots of stuff to play with in here.

  • What are Edmonds and Tahnerif going to do?
  • I promised Jackson a platoon. What’s going to happen to his momma’s boy?
  • Kiial will definitely have more to say about his uncle as his time in the Foresters continues.
  • Speaking of the uncle, Tlanit and Rick Blaine are going to work at peeling away some of the layers.

Going to be fun.

I’m actually going to describe some of this in a short story in another Four Horsemen anthology coming out in 2020. Right now, I’m playing with a number of ideas, but rest assured, there’s more happening with the Foresters.

Speaking of short stories, I’ll be contributing to the second We Dare, anthology. The story I’m working on will be a prequel to “The Chaos of Well-Seeming Forms,” my story in the first anthology. We might just find out why the Allardecks and Fieldings hate each other. This will also be fun, as I’ll be collaborating for the first time. Yvonne Jacobs is already helping me plan the story.

I intend to do four or five short stories for anthologies each year, so don’t be surprised if I announce a couple more later in the year. I’ve been asked to be a part of some others already, but I’m still trying to balance my writing schedule.

That doesn’t include, by the way, the return of Nick Patara, PI. I’ve enjoyed the response and I had a great time writing it. I also enjoyed being able to give back to you guys.

The next big news comes from a comment above, I mentioned that I’ve submitted a Shijuren story to an anthology already.

And this one is special.

Chris Kennedy gave me the opportunity to create a anthology of fantasy stories. It will be entitled When Valor Must Hold.

The writing prompt I gave the authors was the opening of Conan the Barbarian, where Akira the Wizard concludes, “Let me tell you of the days of high adventure!”

The authors have given me what I wanted: stories with adventures and action across a really broad set of fantasy sub-genres. It’s a great mix and I think you’ll like it a lot. Heroic deeds done by characters who might not start as heroes but end up in that category. The characters all face things to test their valor and we shall see how their valor holds.

The anticipated release date is 20 March, which is the Friday of FantaSci. We plan to have a great release party there and I hope to celebrate with a bunch of you.

This brings me to my plans for Howell’s Howls this year. I really enjoyed my system of having a blog post Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

Rob’s Updates will continue on Fridays. I’m going to tweak the format a bit, like including game notes each week, but it’ll continue much the same.

I’m also going to continue with the interviews. I just finished re-writing the questions I send out, so you’ll see some new interviews by people who I’ve already interviewed. I’m going to start the year with interviews of authors in When Valor Must Hold, and run those interviews as long as it takes.

Hit me up if you’re a creator of any type, and I’ll send you the questions and get you into the queue. I really enjoy doing these and hope to be more proactive about making sure I have an interview ready to go each week.

That brings us to Mondays. Mag Reviews take a ton of time, too much for just a regular blog post. I’m going to replace them with Rob’s Ramblings, which will be a catchall thing for whatever interests me. including reviews of movies and albums, snippets, poems, sports topics, or whatever. This week, it was my ShadowCon AAR. One post you can expect in March is an AAR about creating When Valor Must Hold. It’s already taught me a bunch.

This does not mean Mag Reviews will go away. They take too long as a blog post, but there’s a still a place for them and I’m playing with some ideas.

Overall, my online presence will continue as it has been. In September, I stopped reading my Facebook News Feed. This was a great decision on my part. I miss out on a number of things, but that News Feed brought me down.

I check my Facebook Notifications consistently, though, and that’s been enough. If you want me to see something, please tag me and I’ll check it out. Otherwise, I’m almost never going to see anything.

I originally planned to limit my Facebook posts to business-related things, but I think I’ll start posting about the same frequency I did prior to last September. I’ve missed chatting with people about a variety of fun things and while I’ll never go back to reading the News Feed, I’ll get back to posting fun things along with my professional stuff.

The same is basically true on Twitter. I have always limited my Twitter feed to focus on some excellent sports bloggers and other interests like that, along with professional stuff. I will continue to look at those sorts of things, so if you want me to see something, you better tag me.

I’ve played around with MeWe, but the interface has yet to click with me. I’ll keep trying though. I’ll also keep dabbling in Instagram. This might expand with some of the other things I’ve got going on. I’ll also keep my eyes open for better social media options.

My appearance schedule in 2020 is going to be amazing. The biggest news is, of course, I got accepted as an Attending Professional at DragonCon this year. What an amazing honor. I will do my best to reward them for giving me the chance.

I also received word this weekend that I’ve been approved as a vendor at Dagorhir’s Ragnarok XXXV in June. This is a major LARPing event and I am excited to meet a bunch of people and introduce Shijuren to them.

I’ll be at LibertyCon again. None of what’s happened above would be possible without the lessons and experiences I’ve had at LibertyCons past. It’s really pushed me along and I’m incredibly grateful to Brandy and her peeps.

The expansion of Drix’s shop at Pennsic last year went well, and it’ll be even better this year. We’ve had a great time there and sales keep inching up there for me.

As I mentioned, we hope to have a great release party for When Valor Must Hold at FantaSci. I picked FantaSci over Gulf Wars, Planet Comicon in Kansas City, and a bunch of other events on the weekend of 20 March. Why did everything have to be then? In any case, even without the release party, I would go to FantaSci. It’s already a great con.

My next event is ChattaCon in a few weeks. It’ll be a blast, in part because Lani Brooks puts me on a bunch of panels.

Let’s see, do I have my yearly goals covered in 2020?

  • 2-3 novels: Check. I hope to have two by September and be working on the Edward novel in the fall.
  • 4-5 short stories (plus Nick Patara): I have one in the can, two planned, and some opportunities to juggle. I can’t say this is fully laid out, but I anticipate no real problems.
  • 3 blog posts per week: Mag Reviews made that really challenging, and I expect to be more consistent here. I won’t stress too much if I miss out on one of the weekly standards, but it’s a reasonable, feasible schedule
  • Figure out a way to make Mag Reviews work: I’m playing around with this. Probably won’t happen for a while, but there’s value here.
  • Make progress on the RPG: Meetings are scheduled and I anticipate consistent activity on this front. Again, I don’t have a realistic timeline, just a plan to turn it from vaporware into something real.
  • Create a smart travel schedule: Spring is fairly light, and will be productive from a writing standpoint. Summer will be go go go and I’ll have many miles on the road. Fall will be light, much like spring. This past fall, I didn’t go to any cons after September. I will add a con or two because I think more than three months is too much of a break from going to a con.
  • Take care of myself: I’m starting with being more conscious of things, as shown by pacing my travel schedule better. I’m also going to adjust my summer production expectations to match reality. Finally, I’m going to schedule some down time/vacation/retreat type things. No details yet, but they’ll be there.
  • Get back to fighting: This includes working out and losing weight. I’ve a helm on order and I can’t really fight until it gets here, but I can work out. I’ll have a plan for that soon.

I look at these goals and am getting even more excited. None of them seem outlandish and if I complete them, it’ll make 2020 amazing.

Now that I have a plan, I think I’ll watch the Blues and play a game for a while. Then, tomorrow, write a chapter or two in None Call Me Mother.

It’s going to be a great 2020.