Tag Archives: Writing

Into The Weird: Exploring The Swords and Sorcery Genre

So I’m nearing the completion of Warglaive Volume One’s second draft. As this is a book largely inspired by Sword and Sorcery (and to a lesser extent Planetary Romance) , I wanted to explore some of my favorite aspects of this once-popular genre. What makes it distinct from the Tolkienesque or D&D-inspired fare of today? Here’s a few thoughts on what I feel are the genre’s essential elements.

The Weird, Pulpy Settings

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One of the things I find really lacking in much of “modern” fantasy is the sense of the truly weird. Fantasy nowadays is filled with familiar tropes and archetypes such as your orcs, elves, dwarves and manual monsters. Back in the 20’s and 30’s however, these tropes weren’t anywhere near as prevalent. Before the widespread appeal of Tolkien and D&D, pulp fiction authors came up with a weird cocktail blend of jungle opera, cosmic horror and mythic adventure.

You never quite knew what you were going to get with a “fantasy” story, as the “genre” wasn’t playing by any rules yet.  One story might have wizards in an Aztec-style temple attempting to stop a giant ape, while another might have Throngar the Barbarian astrally projecting himself through NYC’s Central Park. One of my favorite author quotes comes from an interview with Michael Moorcock, where he compares fantasy to early rock n’ roll. This was back in the day when “rock n roll” meant everything from Black Sabbath, to Led Zeppelin and DEVO.  And in his words, when you know what to expect from rock n’ roll, “the rock n’ roll dies.”

There were downsides to this approach, namely that the worldbuilding was usually far less rigorous than that of Epic Fantasy. Fantasy readers, especially in the age of the internet and wikis, tend to enjoy more fleshed-out and lore-rich worlds like Middle Earth. However, Tolkien’s influence is a double-edged sword, in that most of these secondary worlds look suspiciously like Frodo’s.

One thing I think many people forget is that despite coining the term, Tolkien’s Secondary World really isn’t one in the strictest sense. Like Hyboria and the world of the Wheel of Time series, Middle-Earth is meant to be our world from a long-forgotten age. The trend these days however, is completely different universes, such as World of Warcraft’s Azeroth. These worlds tend to have a very “familiar” feeling though, which makes me wonder…what happened to the fantasy? For such a fantastical genre, it can be awfully derivative at times…

Which leads up back to pulp Sword and Sorcery. While it does have its tropes, said tropes are spread out across a million genres ranging from horror to sci-fi, dark and heroic fantasy, sometimes crossing into full-blown slipstream. And that’s something I really love about this style of fantasy fiction.

Speaking of which…

The Sci-Fi and Horror Elements

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I’m the sort of person who really likes sci-fi peanut butter in my fantasy chocolate if you couldn’t tell. The juxtaposition of science and sorcery is one of my favorite tropes, and something I feel the writers and creators of the 60’s and 70’s really took advantage of. Ralph Bakshi’s excellent film Wizards is a microcosm of the cultural struggles and fears of the time, pitting an evil Nazi sorcerer against the good Fey folk of the woods.

Horror is yet another major influence in the S&s genre. While I previously discussed the “weird” aspect,  Gothic, Post-Apocalypse and other Horror tropes are also present. A good example of this is the influence of the “mad scientist” trope in games like Path of Exile, where ancient temples and eldritch horrors coexist with frightful technology. Creeping crypts, horrific monsters, unspeakable cults and dark magic are all common fantasy tropes “borrowed” from the horror side of Sword & Sorcery. Which is something largely born from pulp authors borrowing from one another’s respective settings.

When I first started writing, I started writing horror. Halloween’s always been tied with Christmas as my favorite holiday, and I’m pretty sure I’ve seen every episode of Tales From the Crypt. Which is why the horror stuff in pulp fantasy appeals to me so much. There’s just something really bad-ass about heroes going toe-to-toe with monsters that utterly terrorize in other stories. Sure, the vampies in Salem’s Lot are spooky, but Conan has f*cked vampires up beyond recognition and that’s just cool.

Individual Heroes Struggling Against a Dangerous World

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Though it’s the third item on this list, individualism is arguably the most important facet of this genre. According to an article on the genre by Black Gate Magazine:

“Sword and sorcery tells the tales of men who are free from all constraint. Their stature and skill mean they are free from the tyranny of other men. Their birth and raising free them from the morals and mores of society, and the lack of higher powers unbinds them from any concept of fate. Thus the heroes of sword and sorcery become the true representatives of free-will, and through their stories, readers are able to imagine the capabilities and the triumphs of men who are completely free to chart their own destiny.”

Heroes such as this are notably different from those in Heroic and Epic fantasy stories, who often work in service of a higher power. These stories are often inspired by myths and epics, while Sword and Sorcery’s roots lie largely in the culture of the Pulps. Stories written for and by working-class individuals, from the same cultural landscape that brought us heroes like Superman.

And ultimately, I feel that’s why the archetypes of Sword and Sorcery (if not always the genre itself in fiction) has lasted as long as it has. Conan for all his failings, was a hero of the downtrodden, freeing slaves and saving those who needed his help. Is he a selfish character compared to say, Superman? Hell yes. He was after all, created as a power fantasy for the dock-workers, factory men and youths who flocked to his stories. But beyond that, he and other heroes like him represent the power to affect change (good or ill) of their own volition, free from (and often against) the will of deities, daemons and meddling kings. Which is just as powerful and timeless a message as you can get.

The Bad and the Ugly

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There are of course, issues with the genre despite all my gushing. And while some of the decline of Sword and Sorcery can be chalked up to over-exposure in the 80’s, there are other reasons.

One of the biggest culprits in my opinion is the pulp short story format. The formula where Conan, or other pulp heroes like The Shadow would encounter an enemy/trial, defeat it, and repeat the cycle anew. While great for one-off stories in the era of newsstands, in today’s Netflix-and-Kindle focused landscape, this sort of storytelling is sub-optimal. People love progression, and characters that dynamically change over time. Which isn’t to say that Robert E. Howard’s characters never changed (Barbarian to Pirate to King). But said stories were done in a very episodic, almost monster-of-the-issue sort of way.

Nowadays with the aforementioned Netflix and Kindle, it’s much easier to include story and character progression without having to worry if you missed an issue of Weird Tales. And as a result, modern readers have begun leaning more towards doorstopper epics and even web serials.  Although one notable figure who transitioned to new online stardom is H.P. Lovecraft, whose work was introduced to many a modern kid via the “creepypasta” (necro)phenomenon.

There’s also the overexposure the genre had in the 1980’s, after a glut of genuinely terrible films like Deathstalker, Ladyhawke, Red Sonja, Krull, Conquest, Hawk the Slayer (it’s rubbish, deal with it) and many more. There were also a number of knock-off Conan characters in toys, comic books and novels that sanded off the bloody, sexual edge and made it woefully PG-rated. By the time the 90’s rolled in, everything “cool” about Sword and Sorcery had been cannibalized by both Heroic Fantasy (Barbarian characters, big monsters, epic adventures) and Grimdark (all the violence, sex, nudity and horror).

Sadly, the sense of the truly weird got lost as a result, as did many of the strange and alien locales. Gone was the sci-fi, and the weird horror. And while there are many aspects of Sword and Sorcery that can use an update, I feel there’s still a lot of elements unique to the genre that can still work. Whether they be other genres borrowing from the classic pulps, or new takes on old styles of storytelling, there’ll always be a future for Swords and Sorcery!

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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!

Why I’m Self-Publishing my Fantasy Novels

So back when I started this blog and began the first draft of The Shrouded Emperor, my intent was to go the traditional route. Pitch to agents, cross my fingers and hope my manuscript didn’t find a home in File 13.

However, as I began joining author communities, I began to notice something very interesting. A lot of self-published authors were very active members, mingling with traditionally-published names and promoting each others’ work. Up until this point, I’d always considered self-publishing to be a repository of sorts for bargain-bin trash, Twilight knock-offs and ideas too weird to be mainstream. Sure, you’d get a Wool or Riyria Chronicles, but those were exceptions to the rules, right?

More and more I find that’s simply not the case. There’s bad books too, and the werewolf/Santa romance novels are still inexplicably being made by some madman/woman I pray I’ll never meet. There’s also some more indie-centric genres like LitRPGs that I’m personally not super into. But there’s also some really, really unique and exciting stuff out there. And given the decline of brick-and-mortar retailers and the rise of Amazon as a hub for books, it’s a shift that makes sense. Even New York Times bestsellers like Brian McClellan are jumping on the bandwagon, and self-publishing stars like Rob Hayes get featured by Barnes and Noble’s website. The landscape is changing rapidly, and after weighing all my options, I decided a while back, that going the independent route is what makes the most sense for me.

So on that note, I’d like to address some common criticisms of self-pub, and why it makes sense for me personally.

But don’t you want to be in bookstores? Go on book tours?

You mean those same chain bookstores that are rapidly going out of business? The ones  stock loads and loads of geeky film & TV merch and Magic the Gathering cards just to stay afloat? The bookstores where many bestsellers in the non-licensed and non-legacy SFF section were originally self-pubs?

The dark day of chain bookstores’ demise draws nearer and nearer, and while it saddens me to no end, that’s simply how things are going. Almost every book I buy, trad and self-pub alike, I get through Amazon. It’s simply more convenient (and cheaper) than getting in the car, burning gas, stopping to get a single book and then stopping to get something to eat on the way back. And look – I love the aesthetic and smell and experience of stepping into Barnes and Noble, scrolling through the SFF section and looking at all the books. I love grabbing a Tazo tea and a sugar cookie and leafing through the stuff I find. It’s a relaxing and wonderful atmosphere, but the future of publishing draws ever nearer. And it looks less like a coffee house and more like Print-On-Demand.

As for indie bookstores – well, many of them are doing alright, and some of them even feature authors like me for book signings and other events. Tours on the other hand – are best done digitally these days, unless you’re a huge celebrity who rakes in a ton of money from appearances. I’d personally rather invest in audio gear and tour digitally on podcasts, blogs and Youtube channels I know’ll get the word out. It also frees me up to pursue more platforms that might otherwise get overlooked. And granted, even with all that, bigger publishers generally have the upper hand right now. But like I said, the landscape is changing. And going indie allows me to react to said changes and keep the rights to my IP, manuscripts and cover art so I can adapt to said changes as they happen.

But what are the odds you’ll make any money?

Who knows, man? Some folks I’ve seen like Daniel Arenson have made a good deal off of self-published books. Others make an income, but not enough to go full-time. And many, many more simply don’t get a return on their investment. This however, is simply a risk of writing any sort of book, as many traditionally-published books never make back their advance. So when you get down to it, ALL publishing is gambling. ALL writers are dreamers pulling on the slot machine with the hopes of scoring a big payout. And the vast majority aren’t “big winners.”

The difference is that with self-publishing, I can at least blow on the dice a little, and in the astronomical off chance I win big, my payout is larger than most of the other guys. Also hedging things in my favor is the fact that:

A) I’m not a new writer, but have been doing comic book short stories, game writing (traditional and video), film scripts, and more for about 3+ years now.

B) I’ve gone through the submission process for all the above and have been accepted on a good deal. Most of those were for indie projects, so take that how you will. I’ve always kind of preferred indie things though, so that sort of factors into these decisions a bit

C) I’ve also worked with artists, and understand how to make a visually-compelling character for cover art and interior illustrations. Specifically in my gamedev work, I’m actually very active with the art team despite hardly being able to draw a straight line myself. I’ve worked with some folks who’ve done work even for major tabletop and gaming companies (as in, possibly some of the first ones that came to your head when i said those things), so at this point I’m confident that I can help put together cover branding for myself that doesn’t suck paint.

D) I’ve talked at length to various book industry professionals both trad and indie, and I have an “inside baseball” view on what sells and what doesn’t in the current market, both in trad and in self-publishing. That’s not to say I’m an expert, or the Grand Poohbah of book sales, but I do have an inkling of how it all shakes out.

In short, I have a leg up on a lot of other people who are diving in dry to the slippery pits of Kindle Direct Publishing. I’d rather carve out my own destiny in publishing knowing what I know, then potentially have my book get saddled with really generic cover art, or not sell to markets I know’ll buy the book.

Granted, there’s still massive success stories like Ed Mcdonald and Nicholas Eames, both of whom are newcomers (and totally cool guys to boot) and doing marvelously well in the current trad fantasy space. And were it not for certain people I know and certain skills I have, I’d still hedge my bets on trad publishing as being the best option. And let me be frank here to any potential authors reading this – for 99% of writers, it probably still is. If you don’t have experience working with concept artists, or know Photoshop well enough to make a pro book cover, I suggest you bite the bullet and take whatever cover’s given to you by a publisher who knows their stuff. It’s better than say, getting cover art that looks like this. If you haven’t talked with editors who’ve worked for some truly big writers, then it’s probably best to go through the submission process and take whatever edits are given to you.

I have done those things though, and I also have knowledge of platforms like Youtube, which are criminally underused by booksellers and publishers. There’s also Discord, which is a really amazing tool for building communities of folks interested in your work. Going indie means I have the freedom to experiment with these new platforms, as well as utilize platforms like Youtube Live/Twitch, blogging networks, and more. In other words, I can afford to move at a speed the rest of publishing can’t, at the expense of not getting as much “traditional” coverage as other authors.

But what about the self-pub stigma?

Oh gee, you mean that thing that doesn’t actually exist in 2019?

Yes, long ago, there was a time back when the Amazon store was flooded with quite a bit of vampire novels and cheap monster smut. Everyone had a nice hearty chuckle at them…but then something interesting began to happen. Books like Wool and The Martian got critical acclaim, and more serious authors began considering it as a viable alternative. Come 2018, some of SFF’s boldest voices are coming from the self-published scene, and are winning real awards. Even the covers on some of these books are significantly better than many trad offerings, even those of NYT bestsellers.

And when you get down to brass tacks, Sturgeon’s Law is a thing even in trad publishing. A stroll down Barnes and Noble’s shelves will yield not only some really solid and great books, but terrible-looking Urban Fantasy novels, and even secondary world fantasy that doesn’t look that far off from dollar store romance novels. On the other hand, nobody’s turning their noses up at The Crimson Queen, Paternus, Arcane Ascension or Manifest Delusions. ALL these books get high marks among core fantasy readers, and I when I talk to people about interesting worlds, magic systems or other fantasy elements, I see these books get brought up with increasing frequency.

I think in the end, it all boils down to making a quality product. Cover, internal formatting, editing, the whole nine yards. There isn’t really self-pub stigma now so much as there is bad book stigma. And trust me, there’s plenty of (if not necessarily more) trad published books that miss the mark in spectacular fashion. Editorial weeds many of these out, but as of now, Self-Pub has proven to be a perfectly adequate vehicle for good SFF in recent years. It’s not an editorial and commercial greenlight per se, but it’s also not a death sentence either.

Part of the reason I chose to self-publish is because I have the means to control many of these quality elements, and have a product I know will be both what I want, and optimized for the market.

Okay, but didn’t you say curation was a problem for indies?

Eyup. And sadly, that’s gonna be one of the big issues I face going forward. For those of you who don’t know, I wrote a post about self-publishing a while back. In it, I said the biggest problem with the self-pub space was the lack of “curation” or “brands” that people could associate with different products. So for example, TOR is well known for their epic fantasy series, while Baen has a loyal fanbase of gun enthusiasts, veterans, engineers and hard sci-fi fanatics. Their logos aren’t just mindless branding, they’re an assurance to said fans of a certain quality and expectation.

So when people go through the fiery hoops of agents, publishers and editors, they’re not just doing it to “appease gatekeepers” or gain a fat paycheck. They’re doing so to help get their book to a publisher that’ll act as a curator and promoter for their content. And one of the big, gaping problems with independent books, is that you’re going out there without that curation. Orbit books are different than TOR books, which are different than Baen books. But when you join Amazon KDP, you’re thrown in with vary flavors of whatever genre you’ve chosen.

There is one major element of curation you’re seeing more of though, and that’s book blogs and Booktube (aka book Youtubers). These independent reviewers, as well as larger sites like Kirkus and Fantasy Faction, are responsible for driving many sales and informing the wider market of new and hot books. And in may cases, a good self-published novel can get as much coverage and care as a trad book. That said, self-publishing actually opens some doors into markets that otherwise might not be explored, while many of the big review sites might still review my stuff.

…But You’d Still Accept a Publishing Deal if Offered, Right?

Actually…yes! Though perhaps not in the way you’d think…

You see, I want creative and editorial control (to a certain degree, anyway) of the two fantasy series I’m working on currently. It’s deeply important to me, and not just something I’m writing for cash (although cash is a wonderful thing to have). However, if there’s interest in my work from traditional publishers, I’d be more than happy to work on exclusive books specifically for that market, or translations of my indie books into other languages. If there’s territories that might enjoy my work but don’t speak much English for instance, I’d strongly consider a foreign publishing deal if I was hypothetically approached. And while the chances of that are very slim, it is something I’ve still considered nonetheless.

That said, I still want control over my IPs whenever possible. So in most cases, the answer would still be no, unless it was a deal no sane person could refuse. I love indie art, indie films and indie fiction. More and more I find myself reading indie fantasy, which is increasingly topping the bestseller lists of Amazon. And while there’s no guarantee I’ll be successful or popular with my work…hey, it’s worth a shot.

Rising of the Shield Hero Watch-Through Episode 2: “The Slave Girl”

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So, continuing where I left off, I’ll be analyzing the anime “Rising of the Shield Hero” and explaining how western SFF writers and readers can learn from Japanese “Light Novels”. If you’re not a writer, and simply want my thoughts on the show, then feel free to skip the last bit.

Again, you can watch the show here, or buy the novel on Amazon. If you enjoy my posts and haven’t yet checked out the series, the show is free to watch on Crunchyroll, though delayed by a week.

So with that out of the way, onto the summary! Also, obligatory spoiler warning.
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Rising of the Shield Hero Watch-Through Episode 1: “The Shield Hero”

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Japanese “Light Novels” are something I’ve been wanting to cover on this blog for quite some time. Essentially a cross between pulp fiction and YA, they’ve grown hugely popular in the last few years, and are starting to affect the western book market, especially in fantasy. Like LitRPGS? You can thank Sword Art Online and Log Horizon for that. Like Sufficiently Advanced Magic?

Recently, a show based on one of these Light Novels popped up, and has garnered both praise and controversy. Like the LN Goblin Slayer before it’s become very popular very rapidly due to some of the initial backlash it’s received. And since it’s somewhat topical at the moment, I’ve decided to dive into Shield Hero to dissect both the good and bad of Light Novels, and what western writers can learn (and avoid) from them. After watching a couple episodes, I feel Shield Hero is one of the best series for dissecting the tropes and elements of Light Novels, and what western authors can gain from them.

If you want to read the book, you can get it on Amazon here. If like me, you plan on watching the show, you can do so legally on Crunchyroll. There are massive spoilers ahead, so unless you’re okay with that, I recommend you check out the source material first (Crunchyroll is free but ad-supported).

For the sake of my more book-focused audience, I’ll be staying away from any terms or anime-specific wording, and will treat this as if I were discussing a western fantasy book or story. The one exception to this rule is the term “Isekai,” a LN genre where characters from Earth get transported to another (usually fantasy) world, often after dying and being reincarnated. The Chronicles of Narnia and Thomas Covenant series are kind of similar, but Isekai has its own tropes, such as the earth-heroes being reincarnated, or the world looking less like Middle-Earth and more like Dragon Quest.

Anyway, with that out of the way, let’s get on to the episode’s summary.

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New Year, New Title Reveal!

So it’s 2019, and looking back, I’m honestly a bit stunned at all the stuff I’ve accomplished with writing. I released my short horror story, and a sword and sorcery one is coming next. I started author interviews with folks like Mark Lawrence, Christopher Wolf and Alec Hutson. And I’ve started work on not one, but two books I plan on releasing this year. So I thought I’d share a bit about what I’m cooking up, revealing a title and the ideas behind both books.

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The first is The Shrouded Emperor, an epic fantasy story inspired by late 17th century America and paranormal horror. It contains all the elements you’ve come to enjoy from the genre such as warriors, wizards, questing, battles between good and evil…the whole nine yards. However, there’s a bit of Lovecraftian horror thrown in the mix, as well as firearms and some old-timey tech. Think Johnny Tremain meets Wheel of Time with a dash of Call of Cthulhu and The Nightmare. Weird stuff, but I’m seriously digging what I’m writing, and I think you’ll really dig it if you’re a fan of more Robert Jordan/Tolkien side of things.

The second is a swords-and-sorcery inspired novel. Very much a Conan-style “wandering warrior beats the sh*t out of wizards” kind of deal, but set in a trippy setting that’s less like the middle ages and more like a prog rock album cover. Morrowind, Pirates of Dark Water and John Carter of Mars were all inspirations for the setting, a weird, almost alien world of brass cities and perilous sorcerers. As this is a tribute to Moorcock, Conan, Lieber and other such writers, it’s going to be very short and very weird. Like, I know what I described above sounds a bit out there, but this one has it beat by quite a lot. Maybe play some Pink Floyd in the background when reading this bad boy. Title is still TBD, but very close to being picked.

My swords-and-sorcery book’ll most likely come out before Shrouded Emperor as it’s one third the size. I’m working on cover design for that right now, and the cover for SE is already done. I’ll be revealing that later on in the year however, around mid to late summer 2019. Expect a cover reveal for the swords-and-sorcery book in the next couple months.

Author interviews will continue, but in the months leading up to the release dates of my books, they’ll decrease somewhat. I will however, be bringing some really cool ones to the table, including the #SPFBO finalists and a few more. So stay tuned for that as well!

Overall though, 2019 will be the year this blog focuses more on my content, now that I’m beginning to release it. I’m really looking forward to sharing these stories with you all, and hope you enjoy them when they’re out!

#SPFBO Interview: Mark Lawrence, Author of Prince of Thorns

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Mark Lawrence. If you’re familiar with the “grimdark” subgenre of fantasy, you’re probably well aware of his work, most notably the international bestseller Prince of Thorns. He’s up there with some of the best and most well-known fantasy authors out there. However, as I got into the indie fantasy scene, I noticed him being brought up with even more frequency.

As it turns out, Mark doesn’t just work in the trad publishing space, but also hosts the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off, a contest for indie genre authors. Having covered the SPFBO a bit in prior posts, I was curious to see what inspired Mark to start it, as well as his thoughts on other related topics.

MARTIN: So for those who are new to all this, what exactly is SPFBO?

MARK: The Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off is a contest that exists to shine a light on self-published fantasy. Ten blogs judge 300 books each year to find ten finalists and one winner. It exists to find excellent books that might otherwise have gone unnoticed. It aims to help readers select, from the enormous range of options, books that have a better chance of entertaining them than a random choice, thereby increasing reader faith in finding a quality self-published read.

MARTIN: As most fantasy readers are no doubt aware, you’re traditionally-published, and an international bestseller. So what got you into the indie scene?

MARK: I think it arose through a combination of survivor’s guilt and the fact that I enjoy competitions. I always felt traditional publishing to be a lottery and, when I got a “big” book deal, I never believed it to be because I was somehow head and shoulders better than all the others striving to be in the same place. I encountered a number of self-published authors after being published myself and, before being published I interacted with many unpublished writers on critique forums, so I knew that the reservoir of top class talent out there was huge. I also saw how hard it is for a book, regardless of quality, to somehow show itself above the noise barrier when so many titles are competing for attention. A brilliant book can fail utterly, but that same book, with even a modest publicity push can take off.

The SPFBO was just a small way of offering an extra chance, a way to find great books irrespective of the author’s personal marketing skills and to bring them to a wider audience. It’s also a method to filter some excellence from the sea of self-published offerings so that readers could feel more confidence when committing to them – which then steps toward giving self-published titles in general a better reputation and helps all of them engage new readers.

MARTIN:  So onto your books! You latest novel, Grey Sister, came out this April. For those of us who are new to your books, can you give us a quick pitch of the series?

MARK: Gay murder nuns. You said quick.

MARTIN: Short and to the point. I like it! But now, on to the books you’re a fan of. Are there any indie titles in particular you’d recommend to self-pub fantasy newbs, SPFBO or otherwise?

MARK: I’m a slow reader with limited spare time so I’ve really not read many self-published fantasy books, and almost all of those are SPFBO finalists. My big favourite is Senlin Ascends (now traditionally published). The three winners so far all have much to recommend them. The Grey Bastards (also now traditionally published) is excellent.

MARTIN: What advice would you give any readers here who might be considering a SPFBO submission of their own next year?

MARK: I don’t think any advice other than “do it” is required. Otherwise it’s the same things you would do if you weren’t entering. Write a great book.

MARTIN: And for our last question…you’re well-known for fantasy books classified as “Grimdark.” As many SFF and gaming fans know, the term had its origins in the Warhammer 40,000 franchise. So I’m curious…do you have a favorite Space Marine Chapter?

MARK: I’ve never read a Warhammer book and know nothing about them. Though, oddly, I was invited to write for them recently.

Mark Lawrence’s next book, Holy Sister, arrives March of next year, and is available for pre-order. You can also check out his Amazon Page to get caught up on his prior work, or his blog for updates on SPFBO and other topics. Also, please consider liking and sharing this post on social media. Every share helps me get the word out about writing, authors and other topics related to genre writing!