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SPFBO ’18 Finalists: Where to Start With New Self-Published Fantasy

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So Self-published Fantasy Blog-Off 2018 wrapped up not too long ago, and I recently realized I never put a list together! Yes, I’ve been meaning to do this, but some personal stuff’s been eating away at my time as of late, and I’ve only now put together my summary of the finalists. There’s a lot of cool stuff to be found here though, and If you’re a new reader looking to dive into indie fantasy, these fresh new picks are a good way to get started!

For ease of browsing, I’ve separated all these into different genres. Links go to the books’ Amazon pages, and you can check out a list of the reviews and scores at Mark Lawrence’s blog. Speaking of Mark Larence, you can check out the quick interview I did with him if you’re curious about #SPFBO and how it came to be.

And with that out of the way, here’s our list of last year’s finalists!
EPIC/HIGH FANTASY

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We Ride the Storm by Devin MadsonGrim, Asian-inspired worlds of horseriders and swordslingers. There’s a preview up online that I read, and it reminds me a bit of the Dothraki bits from early Song of Fire and Ice. Devin Madson is again, no newbie when it comes to writing, and if you like Asian fantasy, she’s written other books with that theming.

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Symphony of the Wind by Steve McKinnonVast worldbuilding, multiple POVs and some light steampunk elements. If you’re looking for another deep, rich world to sink your teeth into, this novel’s worth a read!

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The Anointed by Keith Ward Some really interesting concepts here! Immortality, proxy-bodies, dragonriders and water that things cannot float on (meaning no boats — and probably no Pennywise either). This one seems to be almost a lost breed of epic fantasy, one which has almost sci-fi-esque concepts in worldbuilding.

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The Gods of Men by Barbra KlossEpic fantasy with bits of Romance, this book is highly lauded, and Kloss is already a proven author witha good track record in adult and YA lit. If you enjoy both those things, as well as fantasy in the Sanderson mold, this book’s for you.

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Aching God by Mike Shel Epic Fantasy from a Pathfinder narrative writer who went on to make his own series. Seems to have a paranormal bent, with haunted places and creepy tombs. The series seems to borrow a bit from hack-and-slash RPG sessions, and gamers will probably enjoy this one a lot.
YOUNG ADULT

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Ruthless Magic by Megan CreweFirst in a YA series about magicians living in our world. It’s described as essentially similar to the best of late Harry Potter, but with a darker edge. As someone who got fed up with the Chocolate Frogs and Whimsy-Dimsy in Harry Potter, this seems like it draws from the cooler bits. Dementors, Aurors, etc. If you like YA and Urban Fantasy, give this one a go.

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Sowing by Angie GrigaliunasDystopian YA in a secondary fantasy setting. A lot of YA takes place in our world, but I find I enjoy it more when you add a unique setting to the mix. This one I personally find really intriguing! There’s some real hype here for Angie’s world, and I’m curious to see what it’s all about. Supposedly has a Hunger Games feel, but with more fun fantasy worldbuilding elements.
URBAN FANTASY

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Sworn to the Night by Craig SchaeferUrban fantasy with other worlds, witches, NYPD officers and other bizarro elements that set it aside from the “Anita Blake Leather-Hunter” type stories. Urban fantasy is one of those things that I feel needs a really strong and unique hook to work. Something like Fables or I Was a Teenage Weredeer. If you like the weirder, dreamlike side of Urban Fantasy, give this one a go.

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Out of Nowhere by Patrick LeClerc Urban fantasy about an immortal “healer” who acts as a paramedic. Upon healing the wrong person, his life and the life of those he loves is put into jeopardy. The author himself is a paramedic, so the novel comes with a real sense of authenticity, kind of like a John Grisham law novel. Concept seems like Highlander meets Grey’s Anatomy, which is a huge deviation from regular Urban Fantasy. Probably the biggest curveball in this entire group.
OTHER

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Orconomics by J. Zachary PikeBiting social satire meets RPG tropes. If you enjoy the Discworld series, give this series a read. There aren’t enough comedic western fantasy novels of this sort out there, but Pike seems to be making a name for himself quite rapidly in that space.

THOUGHTS: Epic/High Fantasy is a genre that continues to get a lot of love in the self-pub space. To the point where even a lot of trad Epic Fantasy has its roots in indie (Licanus, Books of Babel, et cetera). What’s really cool though is the emergence of stuff like We Ride the Storm, which is a far cry from the medieval European settings of many books. Also, much like Andrew Rowe before him, we see a former writer from the gaming space (Keith Ward) going the indie route to tell his own story.

YA also had a really strong showing this year, with some titles that seemingly learned a lot from the big names (Harry Potter, Mortal Bones, Hunger Games, etc) but go in interesting and unique directions. Sowing in particular is something I’ve heard nothing but rave reviews for. I’ve even heard some folks claim it’s the next Throne of Glass, which is high praise coming from the YA crowd.

Lastly, we got some really strange but cool additions in Urban Fantasy and “Other”. Orconomics has sort of a “Discworldy” feel to it, which is quite unique in a field awash with lots of Epic and Urban stuff. And speaking of the latter, our two Urban entries are strikingly unique and a far cry from the Anita Blakes and Twilights of the genre. All in all, another really exciting year!

PERSONAL PICKS: YA isn’t really my thing, but Sowing has me intrigued. Among the Epic Fantasy books, We Ride the Storm and Aching God look the most intriguing. And while it wasn’t a finalist, D.P. Prior’s Carnifex has me intrigued. I like dwarves, especially the berserk, Warhammer Fantasy-style dwarves, so that has me intrigued. Plus, the title is bad-ass.

Also, while I’m focusing on the finalists, there’s a lot of really good books that made it to second or third place in the contest. Michael R. Baker’s The Thousand Scars gets brought up a lot by fans of grimdark, and I have that one on Kindle on my TBR list. While it didn’t make it to the finals, it does have a lot of fans, and there’s a few more books that are similarly liked that didn’t make the finalist place. If you know of any, feel free to comment below and share your thoughts!

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An Interview with Christopher Wolf, aka “Slimebeast,” Creepypasta Author Extraordinaire

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‘Tis the season for spooks and scares, which means I’ll be taking a break from my general focus on fantasy to bring you some Horror! And not just any horror, but a sneak peek at the web’s weirdest and wildest writing sub-genre…the Creepypasta. These short scare-stories often make their debut as writing simply done for fun, but occasionally go viral in a big way, propelling their authors to internet stardom.

Christopher Wolf is one such author, responsible for the infamous Abandoned by Disney short story, and writer of several other horror-themed stories. I sat down with him recently to discuss Creepypasta, how the internet shapes writing, and the viral nature of web-based media.

MARTIN: So Christopher, as a fan of horror fiction and Creepy Pasta, I’m already familiar with your work. But I’m sure there’s still a lot of folks out there who have no idea what it’s all about. Why is it creepy, and where do noodles fit into all this? Can you give us all a quick rundown of what exactly this web-based horror subgenre is?

CHRISTOPHER: “Creepypasta” began as corruption of the word “Copypasta”, or “copy/paste”. The original term referred to bits of text that could be easily copy/pasted on various forums in order to share them. Creepypasta, naturally, is the horror version. Usually short horror stories that could be spread across the web. Creepypasta as an idea has grown a bit beyond that, including a lot of different forms of creative work. People consider images and games to be part of the Creepypasta “world”, now. It has also produced a lot of sub-genres, such as Cr*ppypasta, Trollpasta, Iconpasta, and so on.

MARTIN: You’re the author of one of the more famous Pastas, Abandoned by Disney. It’s gained a bit of viral fame, with dramatic readings and reactions on Youtube. In fact, I watched a Disney Parks fan video not too long ago and even they referenced the story! How does it feel knowing that a short web story you wrote has become that huge?

CHRISTOPHER: It’s nice to know people enjoyed it, and are still enjoying it. “Abandoned by Disney” was written during a period of time when I would sit on a forum at 2AM and just write out something strange until I was tired and went to bed. So, naturally, to see any of those stories shared on a global scale, translated into various languages, and inspiring other creators, can be confusing and wonderful.

MARTIN: So aside from the aforementioned “Pastas”, what other stories have you worked on, web-based or otherwise?

CHRISTOPHER: I’ve been trying to make the move away from Creepypasta, to “FearFic”, or “Fear Fiction”. Something that will ideally provide a more open area to work in, even if it’s just a label. With Creepypasta, there’s a strong idea that you must be writing something similar to Slenderman, Jeff the Killer, and so on. When you present work that very much doesn’t fit any of those molds, it tends to be overlooked or
rejected as not following the tropes and traditions. Prior to getting involved in the genre, I wrote comic book scripts. Mostly unpublished, but a few found homes with indie presses. I wrote a tongue-in-cheek graphic novel reimagining the 1920s film “Nosferatu” as a modern film in 2010, which is probably still available online somewhere. I also have another comedic look at horror, titled “Love Monster: The Ballad of Baghead”, which is available on Amazon. Beyond that, I’ve written short fiction here and there over the years, but nothing people would probably recognize. More for my own enjoyment and local distribution through zines, and the like. (You might also find something kind of interesting if you were to look up facelessinc.com, but it’s in the middle of getting a redesign.)

MARTIN: As a horror writer, do you ever feel that Creepypasta or horror fiction in general is a current target of scapegoating or censorship? I recently watched the HBO Slenderman documentary, and while I found it interesting, I also felt the film carried with it a slightly unfortunate message. The idea that internet-based independent entertainment is “dangerous,” especially for children. It almost feels as if it’s a modern (albeit less prevalent) version of the EC comics scare. Would you happen to have any thoughts on this?

CHRISTOPHER: In this case, I think Creepypasta benefited a lot from being a largely unknown genre. At least as far as mainstream news and entertainment was concerned at the time. Blaming video games, movies, and music brings in a lot of interest. Creepypasta, not so much. I think that, at a certain point, the majority of the “controversy” was coming from the community rather than outside sources… Sort of like a major PR issue would actually validate us. It was a weird time. I feel like we’ve successfully gotten past the problem. Slenderman as a character will always have the stigma, but I think the general realm of Creepypasta is unaffected, personally.

MARTIN: Can you tell us a bit about your Kickstarter project? Looks like some scary fun!

CHRISTOPHER: A few years ago, I wrote a story that “explained” where lost episodes of TV shows and movies come from. Essentially, it was a meta origin for a really popular sub-genre of Creepypasta. People would write stories about haunted VHS tapes, episodes of cartoons that suddenly turned scary, and so on. In my story, they were all created by a single person who was obsessed with re-cutting and replacing recordings of popular media. So now, I’ve sort of expanded on that general concept with the Creepypasta Field Guide. It lists 30 (or more, based on stretch goals) Creepypasta monster and killer “types”. The Stabby Teen, the Faceless Stranger, the Redactive Researcher, and so on. I then gave them various original origins and histories. Each character is described in detail so any prospective “victim” can identify them on sight. Basically, I’ve tried to disassemble all of the cliches and tropes regarding Creepypasta characters, and form them into a fun, funny read that will show off just what makes each type of creature unique… or not so unique, in some cases.

I’m hoping to fund the book well enough to commission an artist named Nikita Kaur to illustrate each of the original entries in the book. I feel like it lends an additional “Monster Manual” style to the project. Hopefully, this book will be something to go back and read over and over again as time goes on. Every time you see a new Creepypasta Icon emerge, you can go back and determine which type it is!

MARTIN: So what are some future projects you’d like to work on, or are currently planning?

CHRISTOPHER: Right now I have a bunch of projects going. I launched TooSpooky.com a while back as a place for authors to show their work, get critique, etc. without having to be “ready” to post them to other Creepypasta sites that require a finished version. There’s also FearFic.com, where I’ve enabled people to archive stories without the fear of having it deleted by staff for “not being horror” or being unrealistic, etc.
Beyond that, I’ve also launched a “Fear Fiction Podcast” on YouTube along with Abysmii and Dead Palette. We essentially take a look at any and all horror-related stories from the internet (even romantic fan fiction) and just have a good time discussing the content… and our reading errors. Pretty much anything I’m doing is linked at my main homepage, Slimebeast.com. Every so often I write an original story “inspired by” a popular pre exsting tale. I’m thinking of working with Eyeless Jack next.

MARTIN: How do you see the Internet affecting writers as a whole in the future. Like you said earlier, you were just writing these stories for fun, and they really kind of blew up. But with the advent of Youtube, Podcasts, Self-Publishing and even web serials like Worm, what do you feel the future of writing will be like?

CHRISTOPHER: I think the internet makes it a lot easier – and harder – for authors. It’s easier because anyone can (and should) publish their own work online, quickly and easily. It’s harder because that makes it very, very simple for others to take your work and use it inappropriately. For example, a Halloween mask company recently not only made a bootleg mask of a popular Creepypasta character (Laughing Jack), but actually had the audacity to copyright it. We’re in a weird place where creator’s rights are being trampled on a large scale. Since we’re talking about amateur authors for the most part, there’s little they can do about it. I feel like the future of writing on the internet will end up skewing toward authors becoming well-known/popular and then moving to closed platforms like Patreon. The more people are punished for freely sharing their art, the more we’ll all move away from the public forum. At least, that’s my personal prediction.

I guess if I had to give “advice” to anyone hoping to post “Creepypastas” or other creative work on the web, it’d be this… Enjoy yourself, do it for your own pleasure, and be ready to fight for your work. Don’t be shy about telling people what you do or don’t want. Look into Creative Commons licensing and pick the license that works best for you, then attach it to your work wherever you post it.

MARTIN: Aight, now for a spooky Halloween Question! As of now, you’re trapped in a room with the last horror monster you read about. You have at your disposal an iron crowbar, a crucifix, and a small bowl of mellowcreme pumpkins. On a scale of 1-10, with 1 being “not very” and ten being “I’m already dead,” how screwed are you?

CHRISTOPHER: I’d use the crowbar to open the door. 🙂

Christopher’s latest spooky creation, The Creepypasta Field Guide, is currently up on Kickstarter. With 40 days to go, there’s still plenty of time to jump on in and get yourself some backer rewards! You can also check out his website at http://slimebeast.com, or check out a narrated version of his original viral story for free on Youtube. Also, please consider liking and sharing this post on social media. Every share helps me get the word out about writing, and keeps the man with the traffic-cone face far away from your vital organs. Your precious…slippery vital organs….

And remember…avoid mirrors at 3:45 AM, or else ✡︎□︎◆︎🕯︎●︎●︎ ♌︎♏︎ ♐︎□︎❒︎♍︎♏︎♎︎ ⧫︎□︎ ❒︎♏︎♋︎♎︎ ■︎□︎⧫︎♒︎♓︎■︎♑︎ ♌︎◆︎⧫︎ ⧫︎♒︎♏︎ ♏︎❖︎♓︎●︎ ♍︎♒︎♓︎♍︎🙵♏︎■︎ ♌︎♓︎⧫︎ ♐︎❒︎□︎❍︎ ⧫︎♏︎❒︎❒︎⍓︎ ♑︎□︎□︎♎︎🙵♓︎■︎♎︎🕯︎⬧︎ ⬧︎⬥︎□︎❒︎♎︎ □︎♐︎ ⧫︎❒︎◆︎⧫︎♒︎📬︎

An Interview with Scott Oden, Author of A Gathering of Ravens

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Scott Oden is a historical fantasy author, a fan of the Sword and Sorcery genre, and an avid gamer since 1979. Publisher’s Weekly called his work “…complex as an old tree’s roots, and a pleasure to read,” in a starred review. He’s gained a reputation for combining historical fact with fantastical elements more commonly seen in a Tolkien or Dargonlance book, yet his stories are grim, gritty and frightfully realistic. I reached out to Scott to get the scoop on his books, as well as his thoughts on historical fantasy, getting published, and the works of Robert E. Howard.

MARTIN: So Scott, can you tell us a bit about your writing journey? What led you to become an author, and who or what are your biggest influences in your genre?

SCOTT: I first got it in my mind that I wanted to write as my profession back in 1981, at the age of 14. I recall seeing something in an old issue of my brother’s Writer’s Digest about authors being paid and I was, like, “say what? People pay you for that?” My brother was already a journalist with dreams of writing the Great American Novel, so he had a few books on craft; the rest I gleaned from skimming WD and from emulating my favorite author — Robert E. Howard. I embarked upon a thoroughly inconsequential short story career, after that, ultimately writing 30-odd short stories that earned me nothing but rejection slips over the years. I turned my hand to novel writing, choosing as my debut a pastiche Conan novel I intended to write for Tor Books (they were unaware of my intent, by the way; younger Scott was all about asking forgiveness rather than begging permission). A friend had recently hit the big leagues with his third or fourth novel, so I harassed him for feedback on my three Conan chapters — which had been endlessly written and rewritten over the past years. He took me to task: “It’s decent, but what will you do if you can’t sell it to Tor? Write your own characters, man!” He said a lot more, but that was the gut punch.

So, I regrouped. I went back to the drawing board, and in December of 2000 I started writing what would become Men of Bronze — which is barbarian fiction in the guise of a historical novel. A string of bad life events had left me extremely depressed at the time, so my motivation was literally “write or die”. I do not recommend this route, by the way. It is neither glamorous nor romantic. It is asking for trouble, really. Somehow, though, I pulled it off. Wrote my first novel by Spring of 2002, had an agent by 2003, and sold it in early 2004 to a small start-up publisher called Medallion Press. I have been under contract to various publishers since.

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