Friday, 20 May 2011

Windchaser Character Bio: Darkmalian

Darkmalian was born on the island Shire of Riis off the southern coast of Coriathir. Orphaned at an early age, he was raised by a grizzled old soldier who he knew only as Uncle Athartes. Growing up in the foothills of the mountain range known as Magg's Spine, Darkmalian knew peace only in his early years.

Athartes taught him many things as a child, from basic fisticuffs and woodsmanship, to reading, writing and arithmatic. However, at the age of seven, Darkmalian's Jhi ignited, attracting the attention of a daemonic xavant and the Wraithlord Aesric.

Aesric arrived to collect the boy in the company of the Windchaser Arius Jhaydn, but too late. The xavant had already killed Athartes and was about to kill the boy, but Arius saved his life - an action that would form the basis of a lasting friendship.

Taken by Aesric into the Half-Realm of Na'ath, Darkmalian's Windchaser training was harder than most. Constantly harangued by the Loro'cai fledgling Luhzael Nu'Madryn and unable to control his fiery, unpredictable rage, Darkmalian struggled to unlock his potential. A Windchaser's power comes from Jhi, and Jhi is most poten when summoned in rage - making the ability to control and tap into one's rage of the utmost importance.

After 7 years, Aesric was forced to put Darkmalian through the "Trial of Rathrock", a Loro'cai training technique that forces a prentice to rely entirely upon their rage to survive. As a result, Darkmalian was "darkened", his soul infected with ethereal shadow. Three years later, his feud with Luhzael reaching a dark and unexpected conclusion, Darkmalian was banished from Na'ath without being taught the final meditations that would allow him to heal his soul and replenish his stamina.

Shortly thereafter he met the Windchaser Shara Belayn, whom he fell in love with; and Warwick Munmartyr, a young Windchaser who became his best friend. When Munmartyr fell to Havoc and turned Rogue, he took Shara with him and the two embarked on a debauched, blood-thirsty affair. The betrayal led to Darkmalian severely wounding Munmartyr, forcing the latter to flee with Shara and not return to Darkmalian's life for several years.

After an altercation with a daemon inside the walls of Lothos Par led to the accidental death of a young woman named Marni Valentine and Darkmalian's banishment from the city, he went south, becoming a bounty hunter for the Snike spymaster Val Khali. However, when the bounties turned to assassinations and the targets became personal and not political, Darkmalian left Khali's service and journeyed north once again - a course of action that led to him returning to Lothos Par in breach of exile, directly before the events of The Heartstone Chronicles.

During the events of Windchaser, Darkmalian is described as tall and lithe, his body balanced and powerful but slim - the body of an athletic dancer or martial artist. His hair is jet black, his jaw angular but strong. His eyes are of such pale green that they give the impression of ice, and are so cold and remorseless that they earn such a comparison. He fights daemons with twin shadowsteel blades, and mortals with a pair of ornate shortswords named Malice and Torment.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Typos Ate My Manuscript (and Other Issues)

Polish, polish, polish... That's the advice they give you when you're planning to submit a manuscript to anyone. And you should, too. Whether you're planning to show it to an agent, publisher or the drunk guy who keeps playing with your underwear while it hangs on the wash line.

It's good advice, but it's like saying to someone "Cut me a piece of string. I won't tell you how long it's got to be, but you'd better get the right length." I originally began sending Windchaser to agents in the winter of 2009. Of the nine I approached, eight replied. Of those, six were full of praise and encouragement and "please do try other agents" and the usual nonsense auto-printed on pink slips.

I decided not to attempt sending out unsolicited manuscripts to publishers or even to lay myself on the bloodstained altars of anymore literary agents. Instead I opted for the indie route. Eek! To cut a long rambling a little shorter, that meant editing, editing, editing, all on my own.

Thankfully a good friend of mine, and an editor of some experience, stepped into help guide me through the minefield of past perfect tenses, dreaded colon / semi-colon conundrums, the occasional "I before E" cock-up and more than a few plotholes. What neither he, nor I, nor anyone who has read it since was able to do was spot all the typos.

Typos are like muggers waiting down dark alleys to jump out at you and ruin your evening; they're ketchup stains down the front of your best tie that you didn't see because you were too busy enjoying your meal; they are flesh-eating parasites contracted during a wonderfully-romantic sexual episode in a tropical waterhole; they are a pain in the arse.

They remind me of that optical illusion: It dosen't mtater wihch odrer you put wrdos in as lnog as the fnort and bcak lettres are in the rgiht pcale. Your brain just doesn't pick up missing words like "a" and "of", or the accidental use of form instead of from. You can read sentence over and over again and not spot what's wrong with it.

So instead you over-polish. The more you read your own work, the more you spot the odd word or phrase here and there that you don't like, which in turn leads to removing entire sentences, paragraphs, pages, chapters... You alter, snip, cut, prune, and if you're not careful it becomes an obssession - a desperate longing for the perfect manuscript which, in all likelihood, doesn't exist. Seriously, read a couple of commercial large-press titles and count the number of tiny little glitches in them.

The only advice I can offer, right or wrong, is to do what I did: pick yourself a deadline for publication and stick to it. Say you give yourself 6 weeks from finsihing the novel to self-publishing it - if you can't spot a typo in 6 weeks, you ain't never gonna spot it. Then get hold of either a professional editor (often expensive) or a friend with a good editorial eye (rare) and let them give it a once over. You read and polish a chapter, they read it and polish it and then you move on to the next one, accepting that no one is perfect and errors may remain, but you've done your level best.

Otherwise you can end up in a horrendous circle of correcting typos, rewriting and adding new typos, correcting those typos, rewriting and adding ne.... You get the picture. Far more important than the aesthetics are things like character, plot and atmosphere. Nail those, if you can, and people will forgive the occasional faux pas.

A Map of Coriathir

And here's a close-up of the Coriathir subcontinent, the main setting of Windchaser, the first Volume of The Heartstone Chronicles.

Known as a "Sceptery", the kingdom of Coriathir is envisioned as around the size of Western Europe. Seperated into 11 Shires, each one governed by a Mace, the country proper is ruled by the High Sceptre.

Roughly based on the United Kingdom and mainland Europe, Coriathir is home to the Coriathi, a diverse and multicultural people.

Again, I hope to include this image in the digital copy of Windchaser as well as the print version at some point in the future.

A Map of Lor

A map of the world of Lor. This map is published in the print version of Windchaser, but due to complications and my small brain it's not in the digital versions.

I drew this from snippets of short stories and ideas set on Lor over the last few years. I'm no artist, as you can see, and it's certainly not to scale, but it's a fair indication of the geography of the world in which Windchaser is set. This, along with the dramatis personae and glossary help to add a great deal of depth to the world. I would definately recommend producing a map to any author / writer of high, epic or heroic fantasy.

In a few weeks when I've finally got the ISBN sorted, I will find a way of including this map and the map of Coriathir in the digital version, too - possibly in the appendix.

Windchaser - An Excerpt from Chapter Five

Once, Dockend had been the merchants’ quarter of Lothos Par, before the then-struggling crafters and traders who flocked to the new capital had begun to make anything but a meagre living from their wares. Almost as soon as the money began to come in to Lean Way, those who earned it moved out, heading for the shining, glorified new district on the opposite side of the city’s central island, once called High-Crescent but now renamed Farend.

What they left behind was, among other things, space. Yard upon square-yard of warehousing, lockups and workshops crowded around the docks and wharfs like empty-bellied urchins waiting to be fed. After years of standing unused, disrepair began to creep through them like a cancer, eating at their walls, dragging down their foundations until their floors sagged like warped, grimy bowls. The sea wind thrashed them, bleaching them with spray, rubbing thin the poor-quality shipboard walls. Holes opened up and were repaired with sheets of rusted tin or shards of driftwood, and upon the district settled an aura not of poverty, as might have been expected, but of struggle – of survival. If the wind blew it down, someone would stand it back up again; if the rain and lashing waves tore rusty wounds in it, someone would patch over them. For all the effort poured into destroying the squat, grey-white flesh of Lothos Par’s docks by time and nature, the district endured.

The poor settled, despite the dank clamour of the area, drawn to the atmosphere of resilience, of stubbornness in the face of crushing adversity. There were homes that needed filling and warehouses that needed occupying, and so the Concordance had no reason to impede such migrations, instead opting to monitor Dockend’s citizens as they did in the other districts. Taxes were demanded and – for the most part – paid, and there was now a citizenry in the docks to maintain repairs and man the waterfronts.

In recent decades though, the district had become almost synonymous with crime. The design of Lean Way – once merely a street name but now a colloquialism for the rat’s nest of cul-de-sacs and narrow, shadow-steeped alleyways at the district’s centre, hidden behind a mesh of shoulder-wide, litter-strewn aisles and balcony-shaded huddles – made it the ideal skulk for cutthroats, beggars and ruffians of every ilk. A day never passed that did not see blood spilt somewhere upon Lean Way’s un-cobbled roads. Those who were smart stayed well away, keeping their distance towards the riverside and steering clear of the shadows and grime, while the poor who were forced to take up residence shuttered their doors at curfew and took false comfort in the fact that they possessed nothing worth stealing.

Tonight the streets were characteristically quiet and an air of creeping menace clung to the thick, damp mist that wound through the matchbox network. Here the squeal of an alley cat baying for mates pierced the sepulchral silence; there the clack and rattle of a shutter reverberated through the cramped darkness.

Through the cloying shadows a figure strode, seemingly out of place in the garb of a Gentran noble. It was an appearance that would endure only a momentary glance, however, for a closer inspection would reveal that grease and sweat slicked the man’s fire-red hair to his skull, oil and blood soiled the laced cuffs of his billow-sleeved shirt and his cracked leather boots were caked in mud and slime. Across his shoulder was slung a heavy object wrapped in burlap, both ends hanging past his waist. A dark stain spread through the material like the blooms of a pressed flower, leaking wax-thick liquid that rolled too lazily to drip. Warm steam danced around the burlap, fading into the fog.

Coming upon the high, wide double doors of what had once been a warehouse for Delad spices and sweetmeats, Warwick Munmartyr shifted the weight of the object he carried and rapped twice upon the rotted wood. The street smelled of damp and decay, mixed with the repugnant odour of several dozen southeastern spices that had saturated the knots and weather marks of the shipboard walls. The Rogue wrinkled his nose at the sickly scent before reminding himself of his own current condition; he probably stank worse than any of the buildings in Lean Way.

He waited almost sixty heartbeats before raising his hand and knocking again. A sound came a moment later, the dragging of a heavy bulk across rubbish-strewn floorboards. An almost invisible shutter slammed open to reveal a huge narrowed eye, rheumy and off-green, framed by thick dark lashes and grey, leathered skin, pockmarked and rough. The eye stared for a moment, then blinked and vanished. A hollow rattling sounded as a lockbar slid out of rusted grooves.

Munmartyr smiled to himself. So much for pleasantries.

The door was pulled open, piling up filthy rags and shards of smashed crates as it went, to reveal a vision that put the undanoi reputation as peaceful giants to shame. The pachyderm was over seven feet tall and almost half as wide across the shoulders, dark grey all over. The thick skin around his neck and hairless head was crisscrossed with pale scars, and his clothes – a long oilskin kilt and a sleeveless black surcoat – were tattered and stained. There was a weapon hanging from his belt that Munmartyr would only loosely term a sword: the blade was almost a foot wide and three feet long, flaring at one end and razor-sharp on either edge.

The Rogue observed as the pachyderm made his way back to the table and seated himself upon an iron chair large enough to be a throne for some inglorious king. It had always seemed somehow unnatural to Munmartyr that the undanoi should walk upright, but long ago in the evolution of the species, their front hooves had split into three-fingered hands as wide as shovelheads. The giant moved slowly, even gracefully, despite his considerable size.

As Munmartyr entered the warehouse and closed the door, the one-horned undanoi watched him steadily over the curved beak of his mouth, his narrow eyes barely visible due to the curvature of his skull. His left ear, standing out from his head horizontally, fluttered twice; of the right, only a ragged flap of scar tissue remained. A candle thicker than a man’s forearm guttered upon the table, casting a frantic orange glow across the undanoi’s right side.

Munmartyr glanced around, eyeing the litter and refuse scattered on the floor: shattered packing crates, strips of mouldy paper, and a dead seagull lying prone in one corner, a feast for maggots and flies. The table and chair were the room’s lone furnishings and the only light beside the candle flame oozed through a grime-caked square window in the back wall, thick and pale and blue.

‘Well,’ the Rogue said, ‘I see you’ve moved up in the world, Rhaat’Arat’Khu.’

The undanoi snorted and twin plumes of steam rose above his sloping head. ‘And Munmartyr, as ever, does no better for himself,’ he retorted, his voice a deep rumble that hissed and laboured around the shape of his mouth.

‘Now, now, Khu,’ the Rogue warned with a false smile. ‘Don’t get personal. We don’t want a falling-out, do we?’
Khu answered with a second snort. ‘Without Rhaat’Arat’Khu, who to supply Munmartyr’s trinkets? Who to wipe blood from Munmartyr’s careless treads?’

‘Very true, very true.’ He crossed the room, heaved once and tipped his cargo onto the table. It slapped down with a meaty thud and continued to steam.

The undanoi leaned forward, not taking his eyes from the Rogue, and sniffed twice. ‘Preserved in cantus oil, Rhaat’Arat’Khu thinks. Costly.’

‘And thawing quickly – so get on with it.’
‘Munmartyr preaches haste,’ Khu said absently, now inspecting the burlap-wrapped object with questing fingers. ‘Much time yet. Rhaat’Arat’Khu sees no plats.’

Munmartyr reached into the doublet he wore over his once-fine shirt and produced a clanking bag full of slim, knuckle-sized platinum bars, each one worth a hundred copper ren. He dropped it onto the table. ‘I thought your people traded in sand and stars.’

‘Sand and stars have no power in Coriathi lands. Plats have power.’
Munmartyr smiled. ‘Now can we get on with it?’

‘How long since shell was emptied?’

‘You mean how long ago did I cut the bastard’s throat? A few weeks. And I had to follow him around for several moons beforehand, reading him like a student with an encyclopaedia. Why?’

‘Smells funny.’

‘Well, what did you expect?’

The undanoi ignored him and sniffed the body again. His beady eyes widened and he sat back. ‘Munmartyr said man.’

‘It is a man. Well, it was a man.’
‘Not man. Windchaser.’

Munmartyr laughed, hopping up to perch on the edge of the table. He slapped a hand down on the sack-wrapped corpse between himself and Khu. ‘What’s the difference? And please spare me the mystic mumbo-jumbo you people wax so lyrical upon.’
‘No mumbo. No jumbo. Simple. Dead Windchasers bring live Windchasers.’
‘Then hurry up and torch the body. I killed him out on the Middlesea, twenty leagues from land. He’s been hidden for a while and none of the House’s puppets have come anywhere near him. I doubt he’s been mourned at all.’

Khu’s unconvinced gaze lingered upon Munmartyr a moment longer, then he reached under the table and produced a simple, unadorned square box. Setting it down he flicked the catches on its front side and swung back the lid. Munmartyr peered inside to see a bundle of muslin, tied with twine.

‘And you are sure it still functions?’

Another grunt rumbled from the undanoi. ‘Why does Munmartyr question Rhaat’Arat’Khu? Has the second ever failed the first?’

‘I don’t think you have ever sold me anything this old. Where did you find it?’

The undanoi issued a series of clicks that Munmartyr knew to be tutting. ‘No stories. Munmartyr knows the rules.’
Reaching into the box, the Rogue removed the muslin-wrapped contents and laid them down. He loosened the twine and smiled. The object within was a piece of mesh comprised of hundreds of hair-thin metal strands, shaped like a theatre mask. The inside was bare metal, whilst the outside was painted red with decorative eyes of black.

‘It doesn’t look like much,’ he observed.
Khu gently took the mask from Munmartyr’s fingers. ‘It is same for all artefacts of great power – uglier it is, more it is worth. Now Munmartyr must stand back. Rhaat’Arat’Khu summons ancient Craft.’

The Rogue stood up and took a step away, watching intently. The undanoi were a fascinating race; they were only mortal species to retain a powerful affinity for magic after the Cataclysm. Where the Windchasers relied upon the severely limited capabilities of Jhi, and magickers used the weakening Essa, the undanoi were still able somehow to combine both, enabling them to practice Old Realm Crafts lost to all other mortal races since before the Cataclysm. It was, in Munmartyr’s belief, a skill wasted on the desert-dwelling pachyderms. They were too peaceful to truly make use of such a gift, too passive to glory in their power, and too guarded to share it with other races. Even Khu – pirate, thief and swindler that he was – was unwilling to use such crafts against other living mortals or impart the secrets thereof; and Munmartyr had personally witnessed him smashing in more than one head with that brutal blade of his.

A sudden penumbra formed around the undanoi, a sharp-edged aura of pale blue that rose and dipped in time with an unheard rhythm, dragging Munmartyr’s focus to the magery taking place before him. Unlike some, the Rogue had never felt uneasy around the arcane. Daemons had a power all their own, not spawned from anything as pedestrian as magic, while Essa was merely the manipulation of Allarei and a Windchaser’s Jhi was internal – but the concept of magic, perhaps a memory of the arcane power that still throbbed and swirled beneath Lor’s crust, had never frightened him. Munmartyr was interested only in power, and cared not whether it was knowledge, standing, money or magic that brought it to him.

He watched with interest as the undanoi laid the mask upon the face of the dead Windchaser. The glow deepened, covering the corpse, brightening and pulsing; then it faded, the shimmering halo around Khu and the cadaver dropping away like a discarded shroud to vanish amongst the dingy shadows. The undanoi looked up, his exhaustion showing in the ripples of black and pale grey that crawled over his skin.

‘It is quickened,’ he announced, raising the mask.

Munmartyr grinned, reaching out to accept the offered device. He hefted it, eyeing it suspiciously as its icy coldness seeped into his skin. ‘How long will the effects last?’

‘Seven sunsets. Then power curdles, and Munmartyr finds himself trapped and maddening.’

‘Maddening, eh? Interesting. If official reports are to be believed, I am already mad.’

The undanoi shrugged. ‘Munmartyr’s risk now. Rhaat’Arat’Khu has completed his task.’

‘Indeed you have,’ the Rogue agreed, rewrapping the mask and placing it back in the box. He looked sideways at the undanoi. ‘Usually, it is customary for me to kill anyone who has helped me as you have. Old habits and all that, you know. But you have always been useful, Khu, so I shall let you live to prove such usefulness again.’

The undanoi seemed unconcerned by the threat. ‘Rhaat’Arat’Khu says nothing of Munmartyr’s business – Munmartyr pays too well.’
‘That he does, Khu. Now finish the job for which you were paid – and burn that stinking corpse.’

Friday, 6 May 2011

Are you using that adjective? I collect them.

Purple prose is what happens when a writer overwrites. Characterised by a use of unneccessary or surplus words, using too many adjectives and descriptors and generally waxing poetic when there's just no need. It's apparently frowned upon, viewed with disdain, about as popular as a lerposy-stricken masseuse.

But I've got to be honest: I love it. I'm a fan of Edgar Allen Poe and HP Lovecraft, writers who knew their craft and revelled above all else in the use of imagery to convey atmosphere. Was their prose purple? Arguably. Not a viewpoint that will make me popular, I imagine.

Anyway, before I begin to sound like someone who knows what he's talking about (I'm not, and don't), I'll get to the point. I like describing things, I like to tell my readers that the sunset is painting the distant horizon in deepening shades of pastel violet; I like to play with commas and punctuation, crack open a thesaurus once in a while and avoid the mundane. I love imagery, I love carving a story from a hunk of unformed language with the grace of a sculptor. Or trying to, at least. 

Succinct sentences have their place. Like there, for example. And there. But what makes authors stand out is individual style: Steven Erikson and Robert Jordan are famous for writing in the same blanket genre (which fantasy undoubtedly is), but they're very different scribes. The late, great Jordan was a perpetrator of the "info dump", often accused of spoon-feeding readers with info and exposition, where as Erikson will likely be buried with the cliff notes to The Malazon Book of the Fallen. The point is that one man's purple prose may be another man's perfect pitch, one man's info dump is another man's welcome elaboration.

Again, not pretending to know what I'm blathering about, just tossing out some jabberwocky in the hopes that some of it makes sense. What I think I may or may not be trying to say is that I will be accused many times throughout my career (I say career on the off-chance that I eventually have one) of using purple prose, info-dumps and being generally far too free and easy with the adjectives, and if that shrinks my target audience, so be it. I feel that working too hard to change my style would be to remove the positives (of which I hope there at least an equal amount) as well as the negatives.

Instead I'm trying not to focus on such concerns and instead worrying more about the content of the story, the characters, the thread of the plot, the flow of the narrative (purple or not). Will overuse of imagery and adjectives put off critics? Undoubtedly. Will it put off readers? Perhaps. But only perhaps. Some readers just want a good story, regardless of the colour of the prose.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Sporadically Proactive

Fired off a round of review requests today... I don't know why but I always feel as though I'm slinking up to these websites, cap in hand, begging for a scrap of attention. That's probably what I'm doing wrong (he says, with the clarity of reflection).

Maybe I should instead be cartwheeling up to them like a child of divorce working his ass off for some genuine attention from his estranged parents. Swinging my arms and raising my voice like the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world my generation apparently is (according to Tyler Durden, anyway).

Self-promotion is turning out to be harder than I expected. I've had some wilder ideas, like sky-writing the name of my book over London on a busy day, or maybe ninja-mailing a copy to every single publisher, agent and coffee shop within a hundred miles of my home - maybe tattooing the entire manuscript on my body and going on Britain's Got Talent as the Human Novel... No, that's a bit silly.

The whole point, though, is that when I think of self-promotion I think of grand gestures as opposed to the more understated options. I didn't even think of posting an ad on goodreads, for example, when thoughts of full-body tatts and skywriters were going through my mind. It's the old "hear hooves, think zebras" problem. Half the time you can't see obvious solutions cuz you're too busy thinking of intricate, elaborate plots to advance your claim to world dominance.

Which is kind of the crux of my problem. I'm clueless. Mostly uneducated (a senior-school education superceeded by reading as much good literature as I could stomach, as much violent heroic fantasy as I could find and as many comic books as my eyes could take), mostly unconnected (I write for a couple of gaming websites, but none of us is taking paycheques home of a month) and mostly inexperienced (I've been writing for years and years, but whether any of it is any good, whether I'm making consistent improvements or steadily getting worse, is beyond my ken), I'm not exactly poised to hit the industry like a ten-tonne bomb. I don't even have that many friends who read.

So I muddle on, people. I send out sporadic requests for reviews, sporadically post on the Amazon forums, and update my blog, well, sporadically, I guess. I imagine I'll pay for sporadic ad campaigns, too, and hope that somehow happy happenstance conspires with funny fortune to make George Martin, Rihanna Pratchett or Bono stumble across my work and say "Hey, this kid (I'm 30, but they don't know that) needs a break - he's got a surefire hit on his hands!" and drop me a life-changing email.

Until then, I'll carry on being sporadically proactive and consistently clueless.