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Showing posts with label blogging. Show all posts
Showing posts with label blogging. Show all posts

Tuesday, August 16, 2016 3 comments

CreateSpace Cover Calculator (Tech Tuesday)

To be honest, I’m surprised that CreateSpace doesn’t have something like this on their own site already. Any time you want to publish a paperback with CreateSpace, you need to include a cover (or pay them to make one for you). The DIY guidelines include a formula for calculating spine width, based on the number of pages and what kind of paper you’re using. But even if you’re decent at math, and I am, it can be nerve-wracking enough to double-check and check those measurements again.

Now if there was a way you could feed your page size, number of pages, and paper type to a calculator and get a no-sweat measurement that you could use for that cover…


Oh. Just look to the right. Over there in the sidebar. I’m no JavaScript whiz, but I had a clear idea of what I wanted to do and there’s plenty of information online. I had the thing going in not much time, which surprises me all the more that CreateSpace hasn’t done it. It’s been around for a month or so now, but I figured it was a good topic for Tech Tuesday.

The “Page size” dropdown lets you choose from all the standard CreateSpace sizes, plus a “Spine Only” selection if you’re using a custom page size. The widget automatically adds the 1/8" bleed to all four sides of your cover, expands to show the results, and collapses again if you click Reset. The rest of it should be self-explanatory.

Feel free to drop by and use the widget any time you need to calculate a cover. If you want your own copy, that’s fine, too. I released it under a Creative Commons attribution/share-alike license, which means give me credit and pass your changes on so all indies can benefit. Then again, I’m not sure what else it might need… except maybe a way to select Lightning Source.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015 1 comment

Cover Wars! Final Round…

Thanks to all of you, Beyond the Sea of Storms made it to the final round of Cover Wars! And so did all the covers I highlighted in my previous post.

Keep voting daily!

Wednesday, August 05, 2015 3 comments

August Cover Wars!

I entered Beyond the Sea of Storms in the Masquerade Crew’s Cover Wars promo for August. Go check it out, and vote every day:

Click the pic to go vote!
So which covers stand out for me?

My own, of course!
So I'm a sucker for gears…



Dragons… need I say more?
Takes me back to 1978!


There’s 30 covers, and you can vote for up to 25 per day. I’d appreciate it if you guys could bump me into the next round (and maybe these other three covers as well).

Go forth and vote! And do it again tomorrow!

Saturday, May 16, 2015 4 comments

Ten Years Later…

Still bloggin’ after all these years…

A lot of stuff has happened in ten years, since I began with a post about replacing rotted siding on the gables, racing to beat an incoming thunderstorm. Finding a niche for my writing and ending up with a grandkid were maybe the two biggest changes.

Still, lots of things haven't changed. The in-laws are as much of a PITA as ever, Daughter Dearest is still close at hand (although there are signs on the horizon), and I’m still working at the same place.

TFM has turned into mainly a writing blog in the last few years; I posted serials, short stories, and a lot of #FridayFlash. I plan to change that in the coming year. I got out of the habit of writing flash fiction every week—and with the demise of FridayFlash.org and its move to Facebook (a place I avoid like the in-laws avoid reality), I probably won’t be writing much more flash anyway. On the other hand, I have a couple serials in the works, and I’ll likely be posting them… at writeon.amazon.com. I’ll let y’all know when they’re going up. I’ll continue to do my somewhat-weekly Writing Wibbles on Wednesdays, and maybe an occasional flash. But I’m going to try to redirect TFM to once again being mostly a blog about the people in and around FAR Manor. I’ve made similar pronouncements on earlier blogiversary days in the past, and they didn’t pan out, but that won’t stop me from trying again.

So, here’s to all of you whose comments have kept me blogging! I leave you with the traditional video… I think you’ll guess why I picked this one when you hear the lyrics. I would have rather included this lyrics video, but it isn’t embeddable. Oh well.

And now we start the next ten!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015 4 comments

Writing Wibbles: Exclusivity, and Why it Shouldn’t be So Attractive

Last week, Indie ReCon kicked off with a talk with Mark Coker of Smashwords, called What Authors Need to Know in 2015. Of course, toward the end of the session, Coker delivered a soliloquy about the perils of exclusivity (specifically, KDP Select).

Steakburgers or dog food?
Okay, there are some really good points to make about being widely available. The problem is threefold:
  • I don’t doubt there are a lot of people like me out there, with books distributed pretty widely (thanks in part to Smashwords), who end up with over 95% of sales coming from Amazon. When I’ve sold over 17,000 Accidental Sorcerers books on Amazon, and a few hundred through Smashwords, I can’t see much downside to exclusivity.
  • There’s a big ecosystem of review and promotional sites built around Amazon exclusivity. Many promo sites are designed around KDP Select’s free days and countdown days. Some sites ask directly for an ASIN (the unique ID that Amazon assigns to each product they sell) instead of a general link.
  • There are other real benefits to being in KDP Select, for those who use those benefits. My co-op partner thinks I’m nuts for not using them, and sometimes I have to wonder if she’s right.
If Mark Coker wants a dent in KDP Select, he and Smashwords likely need to help make that dent—people aren’t going to give up what KDP Select offers without a good reason (where good reason may be defined as solid sales). That probably means sponsoring—or even starting—Smashwords-friendly review sites, and even helping to promote books that are doing reasonably well on Amazon but not on other sites.

As for promotion, Amazon has a huge mailing list that they use to target books to potential readers. My books have appeared on mail blasts a number of times. What is Smashwords doing to get books noticed? I don’t just mean the top sellers (which usually don’t need help), I’m talking about titles with decent sales that might become a top seller with a little help.

Until Mark Coker can answer those questions, KDP Select will continue to be a popular choice for many indies.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015 No comments

Writing Wibbles: Chomp?

So, there’s an interesting blog post out there.

Nora Roberts tells her critics: Bite Me.

Wow. Just wow. Apparently, someone left some silly (but rude) comments on her Facebook pages, and as they say around here, she “didn’t cotton to that.”
The reader is not my employer, my teacher, my mother. This is not my hobby, this is my profession, and in this profession I have an editor. I welcome her constructive criticism. I have an agent. I welcome hers. Readers, having those opinions that will vary dramatically from one to another? Not welcome. Not asked for. Not accepted. 
Because you use a sink do you get in the plumber’s face and advise him how to fix it? … If the plumber isn’t doing the job to your standards, find another plumber. …
A book doesn’t come with a suggestion box, and the writer is not obliged to sculpt a story to your specific needs. 
Readers read. Writers write. Readers can voice their opinions in appropriate areas, to their friends, to their bookclub and so on. But those who insist on coming into my spaces with their negativity are going to be called out for it.
A friend of mine on Twitter pointed to the blog post and said in effect, “Nora Roberts is the only woman writer who can get away with that… any other woman would have a shitstorm on her hands.”

Well hey, I’m a guy. I might as well use that male privilege thing for a good purpose for a change, right? So I’ll just say: I can see where she’s coming from. Even if I wasn’t writing my own stories, I’d get it. I’ve had people who know less than I do about something try to tell me how to get it done, whether it be fixing a pipe or running wires or what have you. There’s nothing that irks me more than someone who can’t, or doesn’t want to, do something but feels free to tell you how UR DOIN IT W0RNG.

But reviews? Reviews on review sites (or in the reviews section of a book page) are pretty much sacrosanct, and I think Ms. Roberts agrees in the last paragraph I quoted. Not everyone will like a story, and that’s okay. If everyone liked the same kind of story, then only one kind of story would ever get written. Reviews are (or should be) for other readers, to help them decide whether a particular story is going to suit. The common wisdom is “don’t respond to reviews at all,” and some writers don’t even read their reviews.

On the other hand, a writer’s blog (or Facebook page) is a place for writers and readers to meet and discuss. That “don’t respond to reviews” thing doesn’t apply on those spaces. Someone wants to get snippy with Nora Roberts in her space, and she has every right to respond.


There are other spaces where readers and writers can get together. I’ve actually had the most interaction with general readers (i.e. non-writers) in the forum on my Amazon author page. I certainly wouldn’t mind some (polite) back and forth here on the ol’ blawg, but I’ll take what I can get.

Where do you like best to interact with writers and readers? Floor’s open…

Wednesday, September 03, 2014 1 comment

Writing Wibbles

I finally updated the progress bar(s) over the weekend. Beyond the Sea of Storms is the working title for the sixth Accidental Sorcerers story, and I have two months to finish the first draft to stay on schedule. I have a vague idea of what I want to do for the seventh book, but I haven’t started anything yet. Oh well, I have a week of vacation next week, too close to the inlaws to be completely relaxing, but I should have a couple days free to write.

Meanwhile, Lost in Nightwalk is off to the beta readers. I have two old and two new folks working on it, and I’m interested to see how it goes. I will soon have Marginalia and The Magic App Store sent off to interested parties. I envision them as the anchor stories in a Termag-based anthology.

Tag! I’m it!

I was tagged by +Philip Overby for the Not-so-Accidental Blog Tourist hop (huh huh, he said “accidental”). You know the drill by now: answer some questions, tag some new victims, will the circle be unbroken by and by…


1. What are you working on now?

There’s that little cluster of progress bars up and to the right, that lists my active projects and how far along I am. ;-) But seriously, the important thing right now is Beyond the Sea of Storms. I’ve also written a couple pieces that will end up in #FridayFlash this week and next. About dang time, it’s been two months since my last flash.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I don’t know of too many Fantasy books where the main characters are citizens of a matriarchy (one that isn’t a “yeah we got a queen but the guys run things anyway” variety). It’s lots of fun figuring out all the implications, and sharing them with readers. Culture shock! And the women (or girls) aren’t sitting around waiting for the guys to rescue them. A recent reviewer said “my daughter and I love reading these,” and that put a smile on my face.

3. Why do I write what I do?

The squeaky wheel gets the grease, and the stories that clamor for attention are the ones that get written. I wrote White Pickups and Pickups and Pestilence because they would not leave me alone (and kept growing) until I finally finished them. In the case of our Accidental Sorcerers, one thing tends to lead to another, and the stories just flow.

There are other things I want to write—some more stories in The Crossover line, some short stories, a new and completely different series—but the stories that sit back and wait their turn aren’t the ones getting any keyboard time.

4. How does my writing process work?

For certain values of “work,” I assume.

I have to grab odd moments to write—lunch time at work, and home after Mason goes to bed, are the two primary blocks of time I have. I don’t write linearly, and I use only the barest sketch of an outline. I keep most of the story line in my head, where I can play with it pretty much anywhere (often while commuting).

When I actually begin writing a story, I start with pivotal scenes, then figure out how the characters get from Point A to Point B to Point C. I’m one of those blasphemous “edit as you go” people, a habit begun I don’t know how long ago, and it works for me. Maybe when I get out the old typewriter to see what stories want letters to physically hit the paper, I’ll change my ways.

After I finish a draft, I let it sit for a month. Then I self-edit and send to beta readers. I apply the feedback, then off to the editor. Finally, format and launch!

OK… who’s next?

Well, +Angela Kulig is a little reluctant, but if y’all raise a clamor, she might be talked into it. Might as well add +Tony Noland and +Loni Flowers to the list too… and if you want to do it, jump right in!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014 3 comments

Z is for: Zharcon the White (#AtoZchallenge)

Whew!



Zharcon the White is the leader of the Westmarch Conclave, and the mentor for Mik’s friend Charn sim Bas.

Accidental Sorcerers does not record it, but Zharcon met Bailar the Blue at the annual Gathering of the Conclave, through their apprentices Mik and Charn (who quickly became friends). The two sorcerers soon began a Conclave Romance, a temporary liaison that is common at the Gathering. In cities like Westmarch, many local sorcerers are at least distantly related to each other; thus, sorcerers will marry non-sorcerous folk (as did Charn’s father) or carry on temporary relationships with sorcerers from far away. The Conclave encourages the latter, as it is the most reliable way of finding children with Talent; it is considered an honor for a sorceress to bear children. (Some members of the Conclave are a little overzealous about such, and have urged Bailar to encourage his apprentices to mate as soon as possible regardless of how it might impact Sura’s studies… as you might expect, Bailar responded with strong words.)

At home, Zharcon has a delicate position. The Conclave is the only remaining vestige of Camac’s culture that still assumes absolute gender equality. Westmarch (known as Westmark in the time of Camac That Was) was re-settled after a rebellion was put down early in the Matriarchy’s history; the losers chose exile and founded their own nation. Thus, Westmarch is nearly as patriarchal as Stolevan is matriarchal, and their government has a hard time accepting a woman in charge of such an important organization.

On the other hand, the Conclave (since The Treaty was ratified) developed a policy of serving the greater good of all Termag above national or local loyalties. The Westmarch sorcerers are less than enthusiastic about Prince Nalfur’s expansionist ambitions; they were glad to see the winter campaign against Stolevan thwarted, and even happier that the Mik had technically not violated The Treaty in doing so. For Zharcon, the refusal of Westmarch’s government to take her seriously as a leader diminishes any nationalist feeling among the sorcerers. It’s not that they are disloyal to Westmarch; both Zharcon and the other sorcerers do think a strong but peaceful Westmarch would be a better counter to any potential Stolevan expansionism, and work toward that end.

Monday, April 28, 2014 3 comments

Y is for: Yes (ways to say it) (#AtoZchallenge)

This post is really about dialects and idioms. Although Camac’s empire is long past, the language that it spread across the world either replaced local languages or is kept as a trade language. Still, over centuries, local dialects and idioms have developed. In my Termag stories, the way that people say “yes” is perhaps the most obvious example. In the southern nations, the Stolevan Matriarchy and the Alliance cities, urban and educated rural folk say “indeed” (although “yes” is used to mean “it will be done”); rural folk use “yar.” Northerners say “aye,” and Easterners say “yes” (or “oh, yes” for strong agreement).

Rural folk often use Low Speech (or Old Speech among scholars), a form of the Western tongue that was likely spoken through The Lost Years. The distinguishing feature of Low Speech is that speakers put the verb phrase at the end of their sentences. There are plenty of examples in Water and Chaos, as Mik’s aunt (and to a lesser extent, his father) both use Low Speech. Some folk, including those who speak Low Speech, consider it a mark of ignorance and are embarrassed to use it among more educated folk.

Idioms

Idioms can be a challenge (and fun as well) for writers. Done right, they convey the meaning without too much explanation, while emphasizing the “you’re not at home” feeling. Common idioms in Termag’s Western tongue include:

  • Peace and harmony: a formal greeting, once a way to offer a temporary truce to an enemy. “All peace unto you” is the expected response (and the old way of accepting the offer of truce).
  • Longest journey: a euphemism for death, taken from a line of an epic poem: “I will soon begin the longest journey, the one from which there is no return.” (The poem in question survives only in fragments.)
  • Lucky man’s supper: fish, leeks, potatoes. Used mostly in the rural parts of the Matriarchy. This may refer to a “lucky man” bringing home both fish and leeks from the river, saving money that otherwise would have been spent at the market. (Most rural folk have a potato patch.)
  • Making the wind: idle chatter, like we might say “shooting the breeze.”
  • The tide comes in, the tide goes out: acknowledging that events are beyond one’s control. Similar to “what will be, will be,” or “roll with the changes.”
Next: Z is for: Zharcon the White

Saturday, April 26, 2014 7 comments

X is for: Xorsecc (#AtoZchallenge)

This was actually a place (with a name) before I started the Challenge. It’s the ancient town in Water and Chaos.

Xorsecc is one of the larger settlements (these days, calling it a “city” is stretching) on the Spine of the World, a chain of long mountainous islands in the Western Sea. The narrow passages between the islands are logical spots for a town, and Xorsecc is situated just south of the northernmost passage; this passage is the most direct route from Port Joy to the Archipelago (a chain of islands farther south and west). Mik’s first impression of Xorsecc is recorded in Water and Chaos:

Mik looked around the town. Everything about it said old. The stone buildings seemed to shrink into the hillsides, or sag with exhaustion. Clumps of grass grew here and there, but Mik saw no trees. The streets were flagstone, kept up as well as any street in Exidy or even Queensport.

The name is a holdover from the most ancient of Termag’s languages. The X is pronounced with a tongue click, and the cc at the end with a throat click. These sounds are not present in modern Western, and so Mik can only approximate the pronunciation as “Chakorsect.”

The Spine is perhaps the longest continuously settled part of Termag. Like everywhere else, it was hit hard in The Madness, but (as in the Alliance cities) the survivors were able to keep order. Even then, the people were at least partially Westernized. Only vestiges of the ancient tongues spoken there, or native cultural practices, remain. There is no central government on the Spine; each town manages its own affairs. Freeholder farms may or may not be under the jurisdiction of a particular town.

The Spine has no trees (mostly grass, reeds, and scrub). However, they mine a black rock called firestone that burns hotter than wood. The smoke ruins food, so they cook on top of their fireboxes.

The steep hillsides are suitable for raising goats; crops cover what flat spaces there may be. Even without trees, the denizens of the Spine build small boats; they are usually wicker frames with oilcloth or goatskins stretched over them. Others are essentially large copper bowls, and a few are even made of glass. These little coracles are the foundation of the Spine’s fishing fleet.

Xorsecc’s residents earn their living by fishing, farming, making minor repairs to passing ships, and renting houses to travelers. There are more houses than people in town, so property is cheap to either rent or purchase. Raiders and the like often have houses in Xorsecc, either as convenient quarters between jobs or as hideouts. There is little love lost between the permanent residents and these temporary denizens.

Next: Y is for: Yes (ways to say it)

Friday, April 25, 2014 5 comments

W is for: Woldland (#AtoZchallenge)

Woldland lies on the eastern side of the Gulf of Camac, a vast grassland of plains and rolling hills. The inhabitants, the Wolds, are a semi-nomadic people who herd cattle across the lands. The coastal town of Mastil serves as both a capital and a market.

Origins

In the time of Camac That Was, Woldland was divided into East Bay and Perinia provinces. Away from the coast, the land was divided into cattle ranches that provided beef to the entire empire.

The Madness, for whatever reason, did not hit the Eastern provinces as hard. On the other hand, Eastern farmers have always had difficulty in the dry weather off the coast, and mad souls destroyed many of the crops. Thus, while survivors in the West and North had no trouble feeding themselves, Easterners faced starvation (exacerbated by nascent “lords” who had little regard for the welfare of their subjects).

Before The Madness, the Eastern word wol’it (literally, a sense that anything would be better than the present circumstances) was used ironically or humorously. People would apply it to themselves (similar to how we might say “just shoot me”), or mockingly to others who were seen to overreact to minor setbacks (“drama queen”). But in the early part of The Lost Years, Easterners began to use it seriously. Westerners often pronounced the word as woldt, and it softened over time to wold and became the name of the people who migrated to the grasslands.

Meanwhile, the cattle lived on. As they broke down fences, and nobody came to repair them, they began to roam freely. Jira the White, in an attempt to alleviate the suffering (even though all the Eastern provinces had declared independence), sent word that the cattle were there for the herding (or eating). Starving Easterners began to make their way south, and over time were joined by Western and a few Northern folk.

Age of Heroes

Within a generation, the old province names were all but forgotten; the region was simply called the Wold Lands. The Wolds’ language was primarily Eastern, but mixed with Western and became its own language over time.

During this time, the Wolds were nomadic; they drove the herds north in spring and south in fall. They adapted a maze of sea caves on the northern coast as a summer home, and named it Tirfa-Wold (literally, Wolds’ summer dwelling). A large forest clearing, not far from Armyr (one of the Alliance cities), became Sufta-Wold (Wolds’ winter dwelling). These were the primary points of contact with the outside world for the Wolds; they traded cattle and exchanged news with nearby folk.

Modern Woldland

With Termag once again becoming more civilized, the Wolds found themselves needing to formalize a government, if only to have a way to communicate with other governments. Internally, each drive-clan manages its own affairs, but there was a need for an entity that could speak where needed for all drive-clans. And so, Woldland was born. Each drive-clan sends a representative to a council. The council in turn is authorized to govern how clans interact with the outside world.

Formal education is somewhat haphazard; each drive-clan decides for itself what is needed. A growing number of clans are deciding that literacy is a good idea, especially when dealing with foreigners.

Next: X is for: Xorsecc

Thursday, April 24, 2014 3 comments

V is for: Vlis (#AtoZchallenge)

In the time of Camac That Was, Vlis was a small but important city, upriver from Koyr. Surrounded by forest, Vlis supplied Koyr with the lumber needed for its shipbuilding industry. Situated near the Deep Forest, Koyr was also the primary contact (and trading point) with the Unfallen who dwelt in the forest.

An interesting and disturbing rumor dates back to the beginning of The Madness. Shortly before people began going mad, Red Vlis (a title meaning roughly “Lord Mayor of Vlis”) gathered a few hundred citizens, who boarded barges going downriver. Anyone who asked was given the same explanation: “we seek haven.” The refugees debarked at the north landing and marched north on the Royal Road, but none of them ever arrived in the Northern Reach. They seem to have disappeared; the most common explanation is that The Madness took them and they perished in the middle of nowhere.

Near the end of the Age of Heroes, Captain Chelinn (whose official domain included Vlis) attempted to resettle the city. The attempt ultimately failed. Soon after, Chelinn wrote: My error was this: instead of finding people who were for Vlis, I gathered those who were against Ak’koyr. Animosity was not enough to overcome the hardships. Still, the effort was not all waste. For one thing, Chelinn stumbled upon the last settlement of the Unfallen, dwelling nearby in the Deep Forest. For another, he wrote copious notes about the resettlement, and his great-granddaughter Captain Rietha used that information wisely in her successful resettlement of Stolevan (Queensport).

In the modern age, Koyr has begun resettling Vlis, once again to provide lumber for shipbuilding (and for structures in the rapidly growing city). With Koyr actively providing resources, it seems that the resettlement will be successful this time around.

Next: W is for: Woldland

Wednesday, April 23, 2014 3 comments

U is for: (The) Unfallen (#AtoZchallenge)

Quoting the creation myth: “The Evil One persuaded many people to worship the lesser gods, but a few refused. Those few withdrew from others, and the Creator brought them together as a new people. These, the aelfi’in (Unfallen), the Creator gave long and vigorous lives, and their children as well… The people were jealous of The Unfallen, and some sought to kill them, so they hid themselves away in the Deep Forest…”

Among the many misconceptions that folk have about The Unfallen is that they were elves, or immortal, or angels, or Makers. Only the latter was partially true; some Unfallen were Makers, but so were some folk. What is true is that The Unfallen had a much deeper communion with the Creator than did other folk (i.e., the descendants of the fallen). Their lives were truly long, without sickness, the way the Creator originally intended for all people. But over centuries or millennia, Unfallen would grow weary of their earthly existence and yearn for the life they knew was to come, so the Creator made provision for them to lay down their lives. Not all Unfallen were perfect; but for them, each sin was an original sin to be atoned for before the Creator. Theologians continue to wrestle with the implications.

Early on, The Unfallen made their way to the Deep Forest, a vast region extending from the northwestern coast past the Wide River, and a little beyond. Over time, the trees awakened; they would warn The Unfallen of intruders, and even defend against the hostile or discourteous. To this day, few are foolish enough to take from the forest without permission. (The Deep Forest is not so much enchanted as self-aware, although there is little effective difference.)

Toward the end of the Age of Heroes, Captain Chelinn began his unsuccessful attempt to resettle Vlis. Through the age, the Deep Forest expanded a little, near to the ruins of the old city. Exploring the immediate area, Chelinn stumbled across the last settlement of Unfallen. A few of the younger, more adventurous Unfallen befriended Chelinn and traveled with him after he again abandoned Vlis. He attempted to pass his silver-plumed Captain’s helm to Evin, claiming that a resident of the district should have the honor; Evin returned the helm to a protesting Chelinn on the eve of the battle that secured the Seventh Trumpet (Evin was one of the two Unfallen who winded the Trumpet as well).

Soon after the sounding of the Seventh Trumpet, the last of the Unfallen transcended, leaving behind only legends and a forest that is still awake.

Next: V is for: Vlis

Tuesday, April 22, 2014 5 comments

T is for: (The) Treaty (#AtoZchallenge)

Its official name is A Compact Among the Civilized Nations, Concerning the Use of Magic in Battle, but sorcerers (and nearly everyone else) simply call it The Treaty. Signed in the ruins of Camac That Is, dated Year 3825 of the Pearl Throne (PT.3825, or SM.348, as years are reckoned in the Matriarchy), The Treaty forbids the employment of sorcerers in combat, both as sorcerers and as common soldiers.

The Treaty was first proposed by Ak’koyr in PT.3820, after a battle near the market town of Anlayt. The Northern Reach was threatening to overrun Anlayt, which would have left the road to Ak’koyr itself clear. Amon the Red, a sorcerer in Ak’koyr’s military, knew about the bones of a Firedrake nearby; in desperation, he awakened it and ordered it to destroy the Valiant Men of the North (the Reachers’ army). Not knowing the necessary binding spells, nor having pure motives, the dragon killed Amon and then wreaked havoc on both armies. With fighting forces depleted, the two countries called a truce and agreed to remove sorcerers from military service. (The cannon was a recent invention, which made sorcery in wartime less necessary anyway.)

Afterwards, both nations (especially the Northern Reach) championed the idea of a general worldwide ban on sorcery in battle. The Conclave of Sorcerers, whose numbers had begun to decline, embraced the proposal. Other nations were at least agreeable to the idea, and sent delegations to Camac to hammer out the details. The Conclave sent a delegation as well, and inserted a clause that allowed sorcerers to use magic to protect themselves or family members in any conflict. Another exception allows sorcerers to serve in non-combat roles; for example, calling the wind on a naval ship or aiding Healers. Still, the Conclave has since pursued a policy of putting the needs of all Termag above the needs of any nation or locale. Some folk consider the Conclave to be a de facto nation, whose population is scattered among other nations.

As combat magic was a large part of sorcery up to this time, The Treaty actually accelerated the decline of sorcery (rather than protecting the existing numbers, as the Conclave had hoped). Major combat spells were put aside entirely, while simpler spells were repurposed to peaceful use. In the modern age, new and old enemies are driving a renaissance in combat magic. An untrained boy, who awakened an ice dragon to defend his besieged town, triggered the renewed interest—but those stories are available on most eBook sites. :-)

Next: U is for: (The) Unfallen

Monday, April 21, 2014 6 comments

S is for: Sorcery (#AtoZchallenge)

Sorcery, harnessing the classical elements (Earth, Air, Fire, and Water) to produce a physical result, is one of several kinds of magic known on Termag. Others include enchantment (imbuing an object with magical power) and witchcraft (harnessing nature, and working around the edges of Chaos magic). In ancient times, Making was a power both coveted and feared, as Maker could create anything they could imagine. Chaos magic (the polar opposite of Making) includes weather control; it is known, but not understood. Sorcerers generally believe that the rules of Chaos magic are too complex for the human mind to grasp, and attempts to harness it tend to prove that theory.

The Three Principles govern sorcery (and to a lesser extent, other kinds of magic). These principles are:

1) Principle of Necessity—there must be a need for the magic performed. Many sorcerers point out that the principle itself is rather loose at times, and includes the need to practice (especially for apprentices). Rogue sorcerers have a very loose interpretation, that allows them to use magic for unethical purposes.

2) Principle of Power (or Intent)—some suggest that this should be two principles, but traditionally they are combined. It does make sense: the person performing sorcery must have both the Talent for sorcery, and the intent to produce some result.

3) Principle of Closure—a spell begun must be closed. Some spells close themselves; for example, a Finding spell is closed when the sorcerer locates the missing object. Others (like Sleep or the False Dawn) must be explicitly closed. Any open-ended (permanent) spell must be cast as an enchantment.

A sorcerer typically undergoes six years of training as an apprentice. The distinctions of junior, intermediate, and senior apprentice are a rough guide to the capabilities of an apprentice, and each period lasts roughly two years. Intermediate apprentices begin to learn more complex spells that combine two elements, and can maintain two to four spells simultaneously. Some seniors can hold up spells in their sleep.

After six years, apprentices appear at the Gathering for testing. The testing is more practical than theoretical, and those doing the testing note how well the apprentice does with each element. In the end, if the apprentice passes, the testers choose a “primary element” for the new sorcerer, and indicate that primary element with a colored sash: brown for Earth, white for Air, red for Fire, blue for Water. The sorcerer then takes the color of that element as a title; for example, Bailar the Blue or Jira the White.

Next: T is for: (The) Treaty

Sunday, April 20, 2014 4 comments

R is for: (Captain) Rietha (#AtoZchallenge)

Captain Rietha may well be the single most influential figure of the modern age. Born Lady Rietha, of House Chelor in Dacia, Rietha was Chelinn’s great-granddaughter (through his adopted daughter Sarna). As a child, she learned a great deal about tactics from the retired Captain Chelinn, and grew into an excellent soldier and tactician.

In those days, skirmishes and raids against (and by) the other cities of the southern coast were common, and Rietha’s competence in battle meant she advanced quickly. In her twenty-third year, she was granted the silver-plumed helmet of the Captains—and by coincidence, the same helm had belonged to Chelinn in his day. Rietha was assigned an unpopulated region—in her case, Stolevan, a few days’ sail west of Dacia.

As was common for Captains with unpopulated territories, she set out on an exploratory tour; they sometimes found a purpose on these journeys. Sailing east and south, her caravel was caught in a major storm and blown aground in the South Sea Islands. The ship required extensive repairs, which gave Rietha time to observe the local customs. To her surprise, she found that the Islands were a matriarchy. It was then that Rietha asked her crew the famous question: Must women rule only in the south? Why not in the west as well?

Returning to Dacia, she made careful plans. Her great-grandfather had attempted to resettle his territory in Vlis, upriver from Ak’koyr, in his day, but had failed. So Rietha gathered people, both women and men, who shared her vision of a new kind of nation. About eight hundred people from the coastal cities answered the call.

The phrase “social engineering” is unknown on Termag, but Rietha’s attempt at it was successful. To establish the tradition of women in charge, from the household to the throne, she used laws until they were set enough to become custom. Compulsory education, both for children and immigrant adults, was an innovation that has been copied by several other nations (most notably the Northern Reach); besides letters and numbers, schools taught history and the social norms of the Stolevan Matriarchy. Thus, the Matriarchy has a very high literacy rate. (In the Matriarchy, it is a truism that since men cannot fight for status and position, they devote their energies to the good of the nation, and all prosper as a result. Scholars in other nations suggest that universal literacy may be the actual key to the Matriarchy’s strength.)

Although Rietha renamed the city Queensport, using the old name for the nation as a whole, she never took the title of Queen. Respecting her decision, she is simply called the First Matriarch. After the Council of Captains agreed to dissolve, Rietha sent her helm to House Chelor, where it has a place of honor alongside Captain Chelinn’s sword. When she died, her final resting place became a shrine of sorts; women (and some men) leave prayer candles with requests for guidance and wisdom.

Next: S is for: Sorcery

Saturday, April 19, 2014 4 comments

Q is for: Queensport (#AtoZchallenge)

Queensport, formerly Stolevan, is the capital of the Stolevan Matriarchy in the modern age.

In the time of Camac That Was, Stolevan’s population was even larger than Camac’s, and was the most important city in the southern half of the empire. Farms sent massive amounts of grain and forestry products down the Wide River, and Stolevan’s shipbuilding facilities rivaled Koyr’s. The important Conclave of Sorcerers had its headquarters in the Great Keep, standing guard over the mouth of the Wide.

Like most cities, Stolevan was devastated during The Madness. Protector Kontir was able to preserve the Keep, but soon abandoned it for the relative stability in the Northern Reach. Old Stolevan remained largely empty throughout the Age of Heroes, sheltering only the occasional raider or squatter.

About a decade before the Council of Captains agreed to dissolve, Captain Rietha established the Stolevan Matriarchy. Once the population began to spread north, she renamed the city Queensport, using its old name for the entire nation. With an agreeable climate, and plenty of good farmland nearby, immigrants poured in (many of them the poor of Ak’koyr and women of the East, with hopes of freedom and land ownership).

In modern times, Queensport is once again Termag’s most populous city. Again, the city distributes the bounty of upriver farms across the world, builds ships, and is the home of the Conclave. Rietha established a tradition of open borders; citizens are free to emigrate, and foreigners are free to immigrate. (Often, men leave and women come, both seeking opportunities they do not enjoy at home, but the ramifications of the Matriarchy’s social structure could easily fill two or three blog posts.)

Next: R is for: (Captain) Rietha

Friday, April 18, 2014 7 comments

P is for: Protectors (and Captains) (#AtoZchallenge)

Maintaining a far-flung empire without instant communication and rapid transport has always been a problem. Rulers, of necessity, have to delegate. Camac’s rule was no different: it was up to trusted governors in remote areas to uphold the law and keep the peace. However, Camac added a second layer of insurance.

In the time of Camac That Was, sorcery was an integral part of the military. All sorcerers were expected to serve time under command, and were subject to be recalled in time of need. Indeed, the leadership of the Conclave of Sorcerers, the Protectors, were also among the highest-ranking officers of Camac’s military. The nine Protectors were stationed in keeps, scattered across the empire. The First Protector, the acknowledged leader of leaders, dwelt in Camac’s Imperial Keep. Protectors wore a cape, rather than a sash, as their badge of office, taking the color of their primary element.

Under each Protector were five or six Captains, fifty in all. The title of Captain was given to those officers skilled in strategy, tactics, and diplomacy (similar to Knights in medieval Europe). They had no rank in the regular military hierarchy, but were authorized to call up to 10,000 soldiers to serve as needed (which gave them a rank equivalent to Grand Commander). The Captains were distinguished by a helmet with a silver plume.

The function of Protectors and Captains was to act in the name of the Pearl Throne during any local or regional crisis, greatly reducing the time that the empire needed to mobilize to meet a threat or emergency. Five Protectors in remote or restive (i.e. Eastern) provinces each had one of the Eyes of Byula; the First Protector in Camac had the sixth. The Eyes allowed their possessors to speak directly with one another, further reducing reaction times.

After The Madness, three Protectors and ten Captains survived. After the greatest crisis of all, it was up to them to preserve the empire. In that they failed, but they did manage to preserve some knowledge and culture for future generations. The Protectors continued to be, as of old, equally women and men; the Captains less so, but it was not uncommon for women to wear the silver-plumed helm. Unfortunately, the rest of the world descended into patriarchy through The Lost Years.

Through the Age of Heroes, Protectors and Captains were seen as essential peacekeepers and diplomats, even if they did not always live up to expectations. But with the Goblins finally exterminated for good, and the dreams of Camac Reborn fading, Protectors became little more than leaders of the Conclave of Sorcerers. Toward the end of the age, many Captains began to view their office as little more than ceremonial, a vestige of a bygone empire with no modern function.

In the ruins of Camac, the Council met—as it turned out, for the last time. The words of Captain Rietha (by then the founder and ruler of the Stolevan Matriarchy) describe the sentiment of most at that last meeting:

We have fought the good fight. We could not restore that which was long lost, but we preserved what we could. We kept the peace where possible, and maintained order where necessary. This was an age of heroes, but it is time for a new age. Folk will always look to Camac That Was as a golden age, and we can go our own way, knowing that women and men live on to remember those past glories.

Shortly after, the Captains voted to put aside the silver-plumed helm. But for many, the words of Rietha resonated, and the phrase “age of heroes” stuck.

Next: Q is for: Queensport

Thursday, April 17, 2014 7 comments

O is for: Oakendrake (#AtoZchallenge)

[I had a different O entry written, but I think more people will like this one.]

Oakendrake: see Deep Forest Tree Dragon.

One of the Lesser Dragons, the Deep Forest Tree Dragon is known as the Oakendrake by most folk (and indeed, just about everywhere outside a book of dragonlore). As the stuffier name implies, it is found mostly in the Deep Forest or nearby, and makes its nest in trees. They are among the largest of Lesser Dragons; the largest are an entire reach (roughly 6 feet or 1.8m) from nose to tail tip. Their wingspan is almost twice their body length, but they fly well even through the thickest parts of the Deep Forest. They are green or brown, and can change color in that range to provide camouflage.

One thing that sets Oakendrakes apart from other dragons, is that they are often very curious and even friendly toward those humans who trek through the Deep Forest. They often follow hikers, and many folk consider that to be good luck. This behavior may be a relic from the days when the Unfallen roamed the forest. Although even Lesser Dragons are no one’s pet, many old paintings of Unfallen often include an Oakendrake lying near the subjects or even draped across their shoulders. As the Unfallen were known to commune with other forest creatures, this is not as surprising as it might seem. Of course, the dragons may now be mainly interested in what food the humans are carrying.

Oakendrakes are omnivorous, and have no known predators (although scavengers may prey on the sick or dying, and eggs unattended are always at risk). They build wide nests, high in oak trees. Some scholars believe them to be the eyes and ears of the Deep Forest, carrying important information to the farthest reaches of the forest.

Like all Lesser Dragons, Oakendrakes are thought to innately understand human speech. Legends and lore claim that those who dwelt with the Unfallen would learn to speak at least a few words.


As a child, Bailar the Blue probably saw a few Oakendrakes in his hikes into the Deep Forest. If he (and Mik and Sura) survive the battle they have waiting for them in Book 5, then they will all meet an Oakendrake in Book 6. I need to get writing!

Next: P is for: Protectors (and Captains)

Wednesday, April 16, 2014 8 comments

Guest Post: Icy Sedgwick

We pause in the headlong rush of #AtoZchallenge posts for a guest post. Icy Sedgwick has a new book out, The Necromancer’s Apprentice, featuring… mummies! Icy writes the best mummy stories, and she’s ready to share her thoughts about her favorite monsters…



It sometimes feels like horror monsters have been reduced to vampires, werewolves, zombies, demons and, at a push, ghosts. You just need to look at the classic Universal horrors of the 1930s, or the Hammer cycle of the late 1950s and early 1960s, to realise there any many more monsters to choose from. Personally, my favourite will always be the mummy. Look at Boris Karloff’s charismatic portrayal of Im-Ho-Tep in The Mummy (1932), in which the undead priest was a far more attractive romantic lead than the pathetic ‘hero’. Christopher Lee turned his Kharis into a formidable powerhouse in The Mummy of 1958. Even Arnold Loos’ mummy in The Mummy (1999) was an awesome prospect, simply because he wanted his old love back.

I love mummies for three reasons. Unlike vampires, who are the aristocracy of the horror world, or zombies who are sometimes coded as the working class, mummies are quite classless – not all mummies were royalty, after all. Mummies belong to another world, and another time, and their exoticism adds to their appeal. Furthermore, they don’t necessarily have to suffer the same limitations as other monsters. Aside from cats, Loos’ Imhotep fears nothing, and is all powerful. He isn’t restricted by time of day, or the time of the month. Finally, mummies actually exist. Granted, they’re not rampaging around a city near you, but it’s possible to visit a museum and see one for yourself. The mummy, even in its inert state, represents something more tangible than that of the vampire.

It was my love of mummies that led me to include them in The Necromancer’s Apprentice. I’ve written several flash stories about mummies in the past, and they were part of the story from the very beginning – it was after watching The Sorcerer’s Apprentice that I thought “Wouldn’t it be cool to replace the sorcerer with a necromancer, and the brooms with mummies?” They have an interesting relationship with the dead anyway, being inert until life is returned to them, yet they possess an element of consciousness that is denied to the zombie.

The mummies in the novella aren’t necessarily ‘traditional’ – the mummies are those of the royal family, and they’re kept in the House of the Long Dead, where the necromancer general acts as an intermediary should anyone need to consult with them post mortem. They appear in the story because the Crown Prince has decided he wants to include them in his Coronation parade, and so they need to be resurrected for this purpose. The job is such a big one that the necromancer general needs an assistant, and so she hires Jyx, a magickal protégée from the Academy to act as her apprentice. Of course, things don’t go according to plan but if they did it would have been a much shorter book.

I’m never sure exactly when or why mummies became viewed as monstrous, and while they are in The Necromancer’s Apprentice (although not through any fault of their own), I’ll still always have a soft spot for bandaged marauders.

What about you? What are your favourite monsters?

Bio

Icy Sedgwick was born in the North East of England, and lives and works in Newcastle. She has been writing with a view to doing so professionally for over ten years, and has had several stories included in anthologies, including Short Stack and Bloody Parchment: The Root Cellar & Other Stories.

She spends her non-writing time working on a PhD in Film Studies, considering the use of set design in contemporary horror. Icy had her first book, a pulp Western named The Guns of Retribution, published in 2011, and her horror fantasy, The Necromancer’s Apprentice, was released in March 2014.

Links

Website: http://www.icysedgwick.com

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/The-Necromancers-Apprentice-Icy-Sedgwick/dp/0615964893/

Twitter: http://twitter.com/icypop

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/miss.icy.sedgwick

Google +: http://plus.google.com/+IcySedgwick/about

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