Daniel M. Ford

Author of The Paladin Trilogy

Daniel M. Ford is a teacher, poet, writer, and author of The Paladin Trilogy, forthcoming from SFWP.

Stillbright Audio!

Hello folks! It's been a while. And for most of that while, the most common question I've been getting asked....on twitter, via this website...is when is the audiobook of Stillbright: Book 2 of The Paladin Trilogy coming out. And I promised an answer as soon as I knew. 

Well, I've got one. 

 

Tuesday, October 17! 

Let me tell you, I'm listening to Michael Kramer's narration as I write this, and if you enjoyed Ordination, you won't want to miss it. 

If you haven't nabbed the Audio versions yet, but you do have the Kindle version (or feel like spending a buck to get it) check out the kindle whispersync available from Amazon. Check it out here. 

Hopefully you'll hear some more in this space soon, or perhaps I'll see you at the upcoming Hockessin Art and Book Fair (November 4) or Thy Geekdom Con (November 5). More on those later. 

 

Reviews and Appearances

Hello all! It's been some time, but I couldn't let today go by without sharing some news. 

Namely, as it says right there in the title, today Stillbright received its first press review, and I've been celebrating it all day. 

Publisher's Weekly has given Stillbright a starred review. You can read the entire thing here

I'm probably not supposed to admit how good that feels, but it does. I've worked on this story, lived with these characters, basically nonstop since August of 2011, and to get that kind of reception is validating. It may not seem like a big deal to some of you, or to more seasoned authors. But that review hones right in on many things I cared about, and thought about, while writing the books. I wanted a good story, characters that readers cared about, and to ask some questions. I know there's places I could've been more successful, but right now I feel better about The Paladin Trilogy than at maybe any point since I started writing a story about a beat up old knight running away from his life and finding a burnt-out village. If you haven't read Ordination I hope you do. If you have, thank you, and please enjoy Stillbright

And now to the second part of this post: upcoming appearances!

March 26: Griffincon, Williamsburg VA. I'll be selling and signing copies of Ordination. I also think I'll be debuting a talk on writing fight scenes, and how to take lessons from RPG combat into writing action scenes in fantasy. 

April 8th: CecilCon, North East MD. I'm definitely doing the panel I mentioned above. Panel time is 1 pm in Room B. I'll also be selling and signing. I hope to be giving away an ARC of Stillbright, with entries earned by purchasing copies of Ordination

April 29th: Artomatic, Arlington VA, at 7 p.m. I'll be part of a panel on character-building in fantasy with the amazing Kathy MacMillan, author of Sword and Verse. You do not want to miss this. It's going to be great. 

May 20th: Release Party! at The Barking Dog in Bethesda, MD, 7-11 pm. Celebrating not just Stillbright but all of SFWP's spring releases, including Kate McCahill's travel memoir Patagonian Road, AA Balaskovits' collection of fractured fairy tales Magic for Unlucky Girls, Tara Laskowski's flash collection Modern Manners for Your Inner Demons, and a spate of releases from Stillhouse Press, especially We All Scream, the harrowing memoir of my publisher, Andrew Gifford

I'm hoping to build on the above list as the summer goes on and moves in to fall, so if you know of any literary or SFF events or bookstores that might put up with me, please give me a shout. I'm also looking for more review outlets for Stillbright so if you're a blogger, podcaster, reviewer, or bookseller please get at me! 

As soon as I have any more info on the upcoming audiobook of Ordination from Podium Publishing, I'll pass it on immediately. 

 

Hark, An Announcement!

Hello all. I hope this Boxing Day or Kwanzaa or Monday December 26 finds you well, and that this season has seen you enjoying exactly the Holiday celebrations you wish with the people you treasure. 

Folks who follow me on Twitter may have noted a few cryptic "I have cool news I can't announce yet" tweets in the past couple of months. I wasn't exactly under an NDA or anything, but I wanted to keep this under my hat until I knew it was truly happening, and now I do. 

I've signed an audiobook deal for The Paladin Trilogy with Podium Publishing. 

This happened several weeks ago and I've been keeping it fairly close except largely for family members and beta readers. The even more exciting news than that it's happening is that they are going to be narrated by none other than the amazing Michael Kramer, who has narrated the work of Robert Jordan, Brandon Sanderson, Ken Liu, and countless others. It's an honor and a pleasure to know that Ordination is in his hands and that he will be bringing Allystaire, Idgen Marte, Torvul, and Mol to life. 

I want to thank all my original readers and everyone else who has read Ordination, written reviews, foisted it on friends and family members, talked it up to other fantasy readers, left ratings on Goodreads or reviews on Amazon so far. I also especially want to thank Andrew Gifford and the entire team at SFWP for all the work they have put in as well, and for having had the belief in my work to put it in print in the first place. 

I don't yet know a release date, but as soon as I have one I'll be sharing it with everyone. 

Thank you, and Happy New Year. 

 

Crawl Out Through the Fallout (of Disappointing Narrative)

Let me preface everything I'm about to say with this: I think Fallout 4 is a fun game. I've played hours and hours of it since its release. I bought the Season Pass and played most of the DLC. It is, in fact, the final piece of DLC that has led me to the following conclusion:

As much fun as I've had with it, Fallout 4 is still a disappointing piece of storytelling in many ways.

When it comes to my gaming habits, I am a Narrativist through and through. I don't care nearly as much about mechanics as I do the story the game tells me or allows me to create. I love the Fallout series and have intensely played and replayed all of the core games; Fallout, Fallout 2, Fallout 3, Fallout: New Vegas and so of course I was slavering for Fallout 4. I was dazzled (and intimidated) by the construction system, I enjoyed the combat, and I found most of the companions interesting, if a little bit thin.

But ultimately, now having played Automatron, Far Harbor and now Nuka-World, I ultimately feel disappointed by the storytelling in this entry, both at a macro and micro level. I'll start with the latter.

Let's talk about two specific locations; Easy City Downs and The Combat Zone.

Easy City Downs is a former horse track (I actually thought dog track, but it seems that the Fallout Wikia disagrees) taken over by Triggermen in order to stage robot races.

What a great idea! That is thoroughly Fallout to me. Repurposing the things and ideas of the shattered world. Repackaging its vices. Yes. I dig it.

But!

It is purely a combat encounter. That's it. That's all. There are lots of different approaches you can take, but they come down to this; when you show up at the Downs, you're going to kill a bunch of Triggermen and raiders and robots. The means and method is entirely up to you, but that's all that's gonna happen.

Is that really how this would've gone down in any previous entry in the Fallout universe? Why can't I take it over and run races? Why can't I cut some kind of deal with Eager Ernie and take a percentage off the top by promising that the Minutemen and/or Brotherhood will keep looking the other way? Why can't I scour the Commonwealth for rare robot models and modifications to bring to the races? Why can't I build my own robot using the tools from Automatron and race it to earn caps? Why not some questlines or radiants where I have to track down some raider who's fallen behind on the vig and extract caps or flesh? There are dozens of quest and story-telling possibilities with this location and the game makes use of precisely none of them. I mean, sure, there are different kinds of quests that can bring you there; kidnapping, bringing back an escaped synth, and so on. But all of them boil down to just shooting/stabbing/punching/blowing the place up.

The Combat Zone (the reference in the name to Boston's former red-light district is one I only got because I've read so much Robert B. Parker, but I chuckled) is in the same boat. You walk on in there and watch Cait knock the crap out of some nameless, faceless raider, or you would, if you weren't busy getting attacked by the entire audience the moment you walk through the door. Again, it's not hard to see the narrative potential here, for fighting, betting, moving up in the ranks, working with or against Tommy Lonegan. A friend of mine (incidentally the same guy who did the wonderful map for Ordination and the future books in The Paladin Trilogy, to whom you should pay money to create maps for your own books and/or RPG campaigns, I can put you in touch with him) suggested that Cait should only have become available as a companion if you worked your way up through the ranks in a series of Combat Zone fights.

While Cait's story (why is it that some companions here have involved stories and questlines and demonstrate growth, but most don't?) is really interesting to me, the Combat Zone is just more wasted potential.

I think I can sum up my ultimate disappointment in Fallout 4 this way: instead of using its best ideas to ask “what kind of story can we create for the player here?” the game only asks “what kind of firefight can we have here?” or “what kind of settlement can you build here?” Can we say that's true of previous entries in the series? Sure, in any prior Fallout game you could waltz in and shoot up the place. But it seems to me as though 3 and New Vegas really did a lot more storytelling with their locations and ideas than 4 does. Is there any place in 4 as charming and memorable as Little Lamplight? Do any of the gangs or raider groups in the base game have the life and depth of the 3 Families of the Vegas strip? I would certainly say no.

Now I know the settlement building really works for a lot of people. And I played around with it, and it can be fun, but I never played with Lego and I don't want to play Minecraft. Sure, custom designing my character's home (and eventually building huge pegboard walls to display my massive collections of weapons) was kind of fun. But why can't I just appoint someone to run a settlement for me, like hiring a steward for my Manors in Skyrim, once I have it up and running? Also how in holy hell am I supposed to get a settlement's happiness above 85%, which I have absolutely never, ever achieved?

These are rhetorical questions, so please don't feel a need to answer them. But if you've got a good answer, feel free to share.

This brings me to Nuka-World, which I think I finished this morning. Yes, it just came out. No, I didn't find that it had a heck of a lot to do other than “go to an interesting location and kill everything in it.” The amusement park setting was a really neat idea, but since most of the park is not operating when you show up (and likely is not going to be until you finish almost all of the quests) it's mostly just new scenery to kill ghouls and robots in. And I think there is a huge problem, this late in the game, with asking the player to suddenly work on behalf of some very thinly sketched raider gangs.

The problem is that up until this point (you have to be at least level 30 to go to Nuka-World, and more than likely a player will have completed the main game at least once by now) raiders have been nothing but faceless enemies. Sure, there are a few named raiders here and there, and they are humanized a bit by reading some notes or some terminal entries about how they interact with one another. But a player has to seek that information out, and it has zero impact on how the raiders will act in the game.

After about the first hour in Nuka World, you're introduced to 3 groups of raiders; the Pack, the Disciples, and the Operators. And after dozens of hours of killing raiders at every moment, of them being absolutely nothing but enemies, you're suddenly supposed to see these 3 gangs as people you're supposed to care enough about to do jobs for them, ensure their survival, and balance their ambitions.

Or, of course, if you are horrified by them, you absolutely can get a quest option to kill “just the leaders.” Guess what happens if you kill any one leader of any gang? Every single raider in the park goes nuts attacking you. And you then don't get the option of doing most of the quests in the frickin' add-on. You go and kill the leaders and you report to someone for having done it and that's that.

Let's say you really consider the motives and actions of your character in Fallout 4. Let's say you took seriously the idea of bringing back the Minutemen, and you built settlements, and you defended them, and you wore the Minuteman General's Armor (one of the coolest looking get-ups in the entire game and you can't put ballistic fiber in it, FOR SHAME) and got a Colonial haircut and mastered the laser musket and the revolutionary sword and by God you built enough artillery to blow the goddamn Prydwen out of the sky after you destroyed the Institute and everything it stood for.

Why on earth are you suddenly going to even consider conquering settlements you built for a raider gang? Why are you even going to consider working for the Disciples, a gang whose whole schtick is so putrid and cliched that they feel like they were conceived by the kind of grody gamer whose room is covered in posters saying WHY SO SERIOUS and  Hellraisers? I mean, literally, their hideout is full of mutilated corpses, has prisoners shackled to a wall for everyone to torture freely. Their footsoldiers walk by saying things like “that last one died too quickly.”

Now, I get that playing evil is an option some people enjoy. Not quibbling with that. What I am quibbling with is that Fallout 4 has only given you the option of playing mean and then wants you to go 0-60 on evil as soon as you walk into Nuka-World. Previous Fallout games gave you the option of going this way from the moment your boots hit the ground. Want to be an unrepentant asshole in Fallout 3? Blow the shit out of Megaton and watch Mr. Tenpenny applaud from his veranda. In New Vegas you got a good early look at what the Legion were about, and you could absolutely sign up and be a sadistic, awful bastard if that's how you wanted to play. I never did, but if that's your bag I'm not here to judge.

While I do think The Institute is ultimately evil in Fallout 4 and I have yet to complete a playthrough where I sided with them, I can at least see the argument. I can see the space that would lead a person to take that route, genuinely believing they were doing what was best for the Commonwealth, and especially with the added weight of your long lost son giving the sales pitch. I think it's a facade of bullshit and self-interest, and the self-awareness of the Synths you interact with throughout the game (and especially in Far Harbor, which I think had more interesting storytelling than the rest of the game) but I am willing to hear the argument.

You can absolutely miss me with arguments that suggest that Caesar's Legion in New Vegas is anything but utterly, knowingly, deliberately evil.

But with Nuka-World, nothing in the hours of gameplay prior prepares you for suddenly taking charge of raiders, improving their conditions, listening to their dumb justifications for their behavior (after I mowed down the Operators I found some holotapes that I assumed speak to their origins and I rolled my eyes so hard I almost passed out) or doing anything but eradicating them from the Commonwealth. And doing that is exactly what the DLC really doesn't want you to do. The game does not in any way position you to accept raiders as heroic, marginalized, misunderstood, or worthy of your admiration, pity, time, sweat, effort, caps, or thoughts. It positions them throughout as enemies, plain and simple, and then wants to pull a 180 degree switch once you walk through the doors of Nuka World. It hasn't earned that switch. Not even a little bit. The flat, stale storytelling of Nuka-World is probably the most disappointing part of a game that I still enjoyed, but can't love the way I do its predecessors. I go into a Fallout game expecting my choices to matter. Fallout 4 gives you one big choice; side with the Institute or against it. Blow it up or don't. Sure, the faction you do pick then decides whether you blow up the Prydwen or shoot up the Railroad HQ. And seriously, why couldn't I at least try to hammer out peace between the Brotherhood of Steel and the Railroad? You could get the Brotherhood and the NCR to play nice in New Vegas. It was tricky, but it could be done. This entry in the series just gives you straight up or down choices that don't feel like they make a difference except in terms of which bodies hit the floor. I expected more than that.

And seriously, why can't I put ballistic fiber in any damn piece of clothing or hat that I want? WHY?

So what's your experience with Fallout 4? Enjoy it more than I do? Think it's the best entry in the series? For my money, New Vegas is tops, and probably one of my top 5 of all time.  

Thoughts on West Ham's Loss to Chelsea

I realize I mostly blab about books, writing, reading, RPGs and such here, but I right now I just have so many feelings about West Ham's first league game of the new season. I realize that "American fantasy author" doesn't scream "expert on football" and I am not claiming to be! I am learning. It's a process. But I do watch every game that I reasonably can, I stick around till the end (in this case I was out the door after Chelsea's second goal, but only because I had a professional obligation and had to get on the road) I have done as much reading as I can manage about English football in general and West Ham in particular, I follow several of the major West Ham blogs and social media sites religiously even if I don't comment on them. In no particular order: 

-Of course Ayew got hurt inside his first half in claret&blue. Of course he did. That is the most West Ham thing possible. It is maximum West Ham. 

-Even when he was out there nobody seemed to have any ideas in the final third other than "give it to Carroll and pray" and it didn't work at all. Why does West Ham have so many damn wingers if none of them can get a cross into the box for Carroll to do something with?

-Antonio is not a RB. His confidence is shattered. Would anyone really blame him if he actually turned in a transfer request because he's tired of getting played out of position and being mercilessly picked on by every opposing offense? 

-Costa should have been red carded for his attempt to break Adrian's ankle. 

-That being said, Adrian needs to reign it in and stop trying to be cute. Pick the damn ball up. That is literally the advantage you, and ONLY YOU as a keeper are given in that area of the pitch.

-Valencia is unplayable. Sell him for a bag of practice balls. Take the first offer that comes in. I admire his approach and professionalism but he was a net negative today. 

-I do not believe that the club are "happy with our attacking options," when the Ginger Pele scored the only goal on the only real threat. I love Collins but he shouldn't be our best attacking threat. 

-Did Tore do anything positive?

-Nordtveit was dreadful. 

-Lest anyone think I'm just picking on the new signings, Noble and Kouyate seemed overmatched. 

-Masuaku was pretty decent. 

-For the love of all that is holy please let Byram start the next game at RB and let Antonio play forward, where he belongs, and might actually create a scoring threat. 

 

There. I don't know if I will do this regularly, or ever again, but this stuff needed to get out of my head. 

Summer Update and Appearances Info

Greetings!

Been a while since there was any action on this blog, but I thought I'd catch you up on a few things. 

First, any reviews on Amazon or Goodreads are still appreciated. 

Secondly, I've got a big stack of bookplates just waiting to be signed and affixed on your copy of Ordination. To get one, all you have to do is any of the following: 

Follow me on Goodreads or Twitter and send me a message with the address to ship it to

Tweet a picture of your copy of Ordination and send DM me an address (again, DM on Twitter or email me through this site). 

Last, I've got a few appearances already scheduled for the end of summer and fall and hopefully more to come, but for now

Monday, August 15 at 6 pm: 5th Annual Space, Magic, and Swords at the North East Branch of the Cecil County Library. I'll be a special guest, and a signed copy of Ordination will be given away as a prize. Details here

Thursday, September 29 at 6 p.m.: I'll be on the SFWP Panel at the Fall for the Book Festival at George Mason University 

Sunday, October 2nd at 2 p.m.: There is an SFWP reading at The Writer's Center in Bethesda! Details here

Saturday, October 22 at 11 a.m: The Hockessin Book & Art Fair. I'll be exhibiting, selling Ordination, signing books, and who knows what else. Best please to get details on the Book & Art Fair is on their Facebook page, here

I'm hoping to add more appearances. Got a book club, library, fantasy bookstore, gamestore, or comic book store within a 2 hour drive of New Castle, Delaware (longer also possible)? Let me know. I'll come and talk your ear off about Allystaire, Idgen Marte, Torvul, and company. 

 

Stillbright Cover Reveal

Greetings! 

Well, the release of Ordination: Book I of The Paladin Trilogy is imminent. The official release date is June 1, but Amazon is going to be shipping pre-orders this coming week (so make sure to get yours in today and take advantage of the ebook sale if print is dead to you). 

With that being said, I'm going to be off selling and signing copies for the second time this spring, and since so many of you are going to be meeting Allystaire and Idgen Marte in the next few days, I thought I'd reveal the cover of Stillbright: Book II of The Paladin Trilogy

 

Largely, I'm happy to let Kerem Beyit's beautiful art speak for itself. What I love about this image the most, besides the simple fact that it features Idgen Marte, who I hope many of you will come to enjoy as much as I do, is how much of her character this image manages to showcase. Whatever is happening out of frame, she knows about it, has assessed it, and is readying herself to deal with it, while Allystaire has barely noticed anything. 

 

What I've Been Reading and Watching

I thought I would ease back into blogging today with a little look at what I've been reading and watching lately, though with luck some of this might spin out into longer reflection. First up, the books!

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nahesi Coates. I read this more or less in one sitting and I almost never do that anymore. I should probably read it again. I don't know what I can or should say about it except that if I had to tell almost everyone I came in contact with to read one book this year it'd be that one.

World War One in 100 Objects by Peter Doyle. Kind of an interesting if not necessarily deep look at specific examples of objects from WWI; helmets, hats, badges, weapons, the car the Archduke was assassinated in.

World War 1 by S.L.A. Marshall. I've probably read more books about WWI than any (non-Irish) historical subject and I'm not entirely sure I was enriched by this one. Marshall was the official U.S. Army Combat Historian of WWII and Korea and his methods and legacy have been sharply questioned. Really hard time getting stuck into it. At times his voice is interestingly dry; at others it was 'oh I've been drooling facedown on that page for five minutes' dry.'

The Last Days of Innocence: America at War 1917-1918. Still trying to really get down into this one, but I will eventually; grading for school, baseball, working on Stillbright and another book project keep getting in the way.

In terms of comic books, nothing much has changed for me; still mostly looking forward to Rat Queens, Saga, Star Wars and G.I. Joe every month. I have gotten into Patsy Walker, AKA Hellcat! by Kate Leth and Brittney Williams and the new Black Panther by Ta-Nahesi Coates and Brian Stelfreeze which had a beautiful first issue that I unfortunately tried to read with a massive headache, and will have to go back into later. I'm willing to take recommendations on new Marvel books to jump into; I abandoned ship from Marvel years ago. I am, sadly, deeply skeptical of whatever new relaunch D.C. is doing, but I'll at least give you an ear.

In terms of television watching, well, I don't watch as much as I might like, but something's got to give every night before I go to work on a book, and baseball fills up a lot of time prior to that. I thought Daredevil Season 2 was actually superior to Season 1; making the legal drama about the Punisher was the smartest choice it could've made. Supergirl is easily my favorite of the superhero shows on these days, and I'll probably only catch up with Arrow, Flash, Agent Carter and Legends of Tomorrow by late in the summer; they're packing the DVR right now. Two things I've watched recently stick out; the Jackie Robinson documentary by Ken Burns is predictably amazing, but I think you can hardly help but be amazed by Jackie's life and legacy. If you tried to write a novel or a screenplay today featuring a person who was tremendously athletically gifted, as brilliant, as resilient as Jackie Robinson was, you'd be told it was wildly unrealistic.

Lastly, and really this is the thing I can't stop thinking about, is the FX show Baskets. Zach Galifianakis is extremely hit or miss to me, so I didn't jump right into that show. I started watching it On Demand on my spring break and I am obsessed with it now. That show is odd all the time, painfully beautiful in certain moments, savagely funny in others, and fully humanizing at its best. I might write a longer essay going over my reactions to it, which began with cautious interest, grew to surreal fascination, and ended in total devotion. I may watch the entire thing again before I write anything too in-depth about it. I'll say this; it certainly seems like certain characters on that show are going to fit a specific, cliched type – Penelope as the unattainable, emotionally distant object of desire, for instance – only for that type to be undercut with humor, honesty, and even tenderness later on. But even those moments aren't allowed to last too long, because at the end of the day our main character, Chip, is too self-involved and too much of a dyed-in-the-wool fuckup to learn from anything for much longer than a few minutes. Also that show has a few moments where it revives the absolutely lost art of making smoking on-screen look beautiful and desirable. 

There you have it; are there any shows I should be watching that I'm missing out on (if you say Agents of SHIELD consider yourself forewarned that I'm going to ignore that suggestion), books I have to read, comics I should take a first or second chance on? Let me know. 

Role Playing and Learning to Write

I am pretty deep into the first big developmental and copy edit of Stillbright: Book II of the Paladin Trilogy and let me tell you, trying to get a nearly 600 page novel into shape is no easy task. This is hardly the first time I've been through it; naturally it's undergone several revisions from the first draft I wrote in the winter/spring of 2012 (I know I began it in February of 2012 but am not entirely sure when I finished it). 

Revising  is different from editing. Sure, I would try to clean it up and fix mistakes, but revision, as I mean it anyway, is mostly about consistency and story. Now that it's been through the hands of an editor, it's a whole different ballgame, and there's work to do on nearly every page. 

But that's not what this post is about. No; what it's about is that I've realized how much of my writing style has been influenced by something I spent a lot of time doing back around the turn of the century: MUSHing. 

No, it has nothing to do with sled dogs. 

A MUSH or a MUX or a MUD (or MU* as I'm probably going to use it from here on out) is essentially a text-based online roleplaying game inhabited by multiple player simultaneously. Yes, I said text-based. Back in 1997, we didn't any of your fancy graphics to kill Orcs or pretend to be Jedi. 

The games I mostly played on were Star Wars based; I'd played (and still do!) play the old West End Games (WEG) d6 Star Wars RPG, and finding out that I could, through the magic of the internet, open up a screen and essentially be playing that very game with dozens of other people at any hour of the day was pretty transformative. There is an enormous difference between MU*ing as I experienced it and playing a tabletop session, though; in a tabletop session you generally expect some action or plot to occur every time you pick up dice. On a MU, in large part, you were simply engaging in roleplay, developing a character in concert with other people. There were plots (or TinyPlots, for reasons I'm not entirely sure about) that would involve combat and conflict and possible PC death, but those were fairly few and far between, especially compared to tabletop roleplay. 

I knew at the time that I wanted to be a writer, and so playing on MU*s felt like writing every day. I wouldn't consider them that now, but we're talking nearly twenty years ago now, so bear with me. 

What I'm getting at is that as I'm revising Stillbright, it has occurred to me that a good deal of my writing style, things I do well and things I need to work on, was developed in those days, with the patience and collaboration of a whole host of other roleplayers. 

For the most part I played on a game called Star Wars: The Minos Cluster. I played, briefly, on the game known as Star Wars I, a bit on Star Wars: Brak Sector, and a little more than briefly on Star Wars: Legacies.   I played on a few fantasy games here and there, but never as long or as devotedly as I did on Minos Cluster (MC). There were a couple other SW MU's I'm failing to remember adequately; one that was post Return of the Jedi but ignored the continuity of the growing Star Wars Expanded Universe and posited the Empire splitting into factions, each controlled by different Dark Side disciples of either Palpatine or Vader. And another, the name of which I cannot recall at all, where I continued playing the character I played the most, from the Minos Cluster. 

What I took away from the hours (you could honestly count it in days; when I fall for something I fall hard) is dedication to character building and the importance of dialogue. If you can't keep people interested you're not going to find much RP on any given day. When I'm working on a story and I don't know what to do next, I just have two characters talk until something happens. The reason for this, I think, is that's generally what you did in any given RP session on a MU. You logged in, went somewhere other people were hanging out, and figured out a way to interact with them. 

Now, this has its downsides; because when you're posing your character on a MU, you want to give everyone interacting with you something to react to, you use a lot of character tags, a lot of movement, a lot of description. At least, I did. So this has filled the early drafts of my books with a lot of people moving their hands and their eyes and their brows and their mouths, and in a story that's just not interesting or necessary. In a collaborative setting where the story is being made moment to moment, you want to be clear about what you're doing, how, why, who you're looking at, how you sound, and so on. By the time I stopped playing on MU*'s, perhaps a decade ago, I wrote all my character's poses entirely in "emits," where I could churn out a paragraph (or more) of movement, reaction, dialogue, expression, and so on. I never tried to spam anyone by over-filling their screen and I hope I generally made RPing with me pleasant and entertaining. 

I know for a fact I was terrible when I started, and it was only the patience and the continued good modeling of the people I played with that made me any good. I do think by the time I was done I was at least pretty good at it, given how often I could find folks to RP with. Who was I, and who were they? My most-played character was a Devaronian (the race in the cantina in ANH with horns; they look like devils) with one missing eye and one busted horn named Ereqai Du'Hrollac. Yeah, the apostrophes; in my defense, I was continuing a naming convention given to a Devaronian character in a really solid piece of Star Wars short fiction called "Empire Blues: The Devaronian's Tale" in Tales from the Mos Eisley Cantina.  I enjoyed that story so much I even tied my character's backstory to it. He was a hard-nosed career military man (alien) with a drinking problem (because of course) and some war crimes in his past (read the above story, it's honestly quite good) who knew more than his share about blowing things up or stopping things from blowing up (I put a lot of points into Demolitions, is what I'm saying). Eventually he went from being "the EOD guy" to an MP and an officer leading a New Republic Spec-Ops team. 

The point of this blog post, besides reminiscence, is really just to say thanks to all the people I played with back in those days. I used to talk to some of you on AIM or in email, and more than once wound up meeting them in person. A couple, I'm friends with on Facebook. One was already a lifelong friend and one became a lifelong friend (and another I married, but that's a long story I'm not telling). I'm going to attempt a partial list here of people I played with who really stuck with me (by character name, naturally). If I forget you, it's not, I swear, personal; it's just that this was a long time ago and I spent ten years in college (you do the math). So, thank you to; Kylariss, Boon, Bourne, Jervis Ishner, Bec, Hollifeld, Ril, Nahren, Val Zular, James Ravis, Terre, Fontane (played by the fellow who drew the amazing map for Paladin!) Nadirehs, Valdetta, K'rrayn, Harbinger, Pryden...I know I'm forgetting folks from Minos Cluster but that's all I can dredge up right now. Thanks, all of you! 

On other games: Legacies, I mostly played Droshka, an Ubese conspiracy theorist and arsonist, who worked for the criminal cartel run by a Falleen (played by my IRL pal and roommate named above) along with the greatest Gamorrean character of all time, Arglebargle, and a half cyborg badass whose name I cannot, for the life of me, remember. I tried dredging old email accounts but they appear to be gone; I know there are logs on the hard drive of an old computer but I just don't have the time to drag them out just now. We even met up and hung out at the Maryland Renfaire one day long ago. Thank you. 

On another game where I continued playing Ereqai, only now out of the military and working as a detective; Selynn, who once sent me a great piece of art of her character and the above named pal's character who ran a bounty hunter's guild she was a part of. There were definitely other people I played with there, and you were great, and I'm ashamed that I can't remember your character's names. Thank you. 

Thanks, I mean it, to all the above named people AND all the folks I'm forgetting. I knew I wanted to be a writer, but all of you helped me become one, a pose at a time in a galaxy far far away.  

If any of you read this, stumble across it, have thought about any of these old games or all the roleplay we did, please don't hesitate to say hi. 

Reviews and ARCS and Appearances....

This week represented a pretty significant milestone for Ordination: Book I of The Paladin Trilogy. 

I got my first review, from Publisher's Weekly. You can read it here.  They liked it! They call it promising, single out characters and dialogue, two things I work really, really hard on. I'm not gonna lie; this was pretty exciting, and I must've read the paragraph two or three dozen times by now. I know I should probably be acting cool and composed about it, acting like I've been here before, tempering my enthusiasm...but you know what? 

Screw that. 

I haven't been here before. This is my first novel, I've been working on it since August of 2011, and getting a good review right out of the gate from a big publication felt great.

I only let it feel great for a day, though, and went right back to working on Stillbright: Book II of The Paladin Trilogy which is now in the developmental/copy edit stage. I'm not going to bore you with craft talk (I'll do that some other time) but this is easily the most difficult part for me. It's no longer in the fun, creative, anything-can-happen-and-who-knows-what-it'll-be-stage. It's a real thing that I'm working on with other people, with expectations, with professionals involved. Thankfully they're brilliant (just like they were with Ordination) and working with them makes me a better writer and produces a better book. But it's harder than just writing; it takes more care, more precision, more cooperation. 

Also making sure every character's got the same color horse and the same color of eyes and nobody changes their handedness or other salient features across a 500 page novel isn't the easiest task in the world. And now's the time where I've got to make sure it's all getting neatly sewn together. Details; they're evil, but also the most important part of any craft or art, if you ask me (a theory I might expound on later if you're willing to listen). 

So a good review is great, but the thing I can control is how hard I work on the next book. So that's what I'll focus on. 

By the way, I'm still looking for opportunities for appearances; I'm booked the weekend of April 9, May 21, and October 8. Some other dates, I'm hoping, will get blocked off soon. But there is no convention, no book festival, no gathering of fellow writers, readers, and nerds (I use this word out of love; I am a nerd) I can drive to that I'll turn my nose up at. 

I still have Advance Reader Copies of Ordination to give away, so if you're a blogger, podcaster, librarian, bookseller, reviewer, or just someone who wants to stand on a corner, real or otherwise, and shout about my book, get in touch! 

Oh, and while I'm linking things, check out the latest issue of the SFWP Quarterly, wherein yours truly is interviewed, along with fellow spring 2016 fiction writers and GMU MFA alums Tara Laskowski and Brandon Wicks. If you want a little peek into how the Paladin sausage is made (it involves a roomful of action figures, earbuds, and a lot of swearing) or what I've been reading, give it a look. 

 

The Sword's the Thing: A Look at How I DM

If you know what a Paladin is and that's what brought you here, then chances are you know what is meant by “DM” in the above, but in case you don't, it's shorthand for “Dungeon Master,” the storyteller, arbiter, and referee who runs a typical Role Playing Game (RPG). Probably more often than not, among the various groups of gamers I've been lucky enough to be a part of, I've taken on that role. Not always, but with a natural bent towards storytelling and a willingness to spend more than my budget should really allow on gaming books, it's often fallen to me to provide the backbone of story for the friends I game with. I have no complaints about this; the DM or GM's role is a complex and challenging one, but it has its benefits. For one, they can't play the game without you, so your scheduling matters. Two, and this is key, it has undoubtedly made me a better writer. A good DM learns to gauge an audience, work a room, manage expectations, drop the right kind of clues without giving up the plot, build characters out of thin air, and develop an instinct for killer story moments, the kinds of things players talk about for years after the fact.

If I had to break my DMing approach down into a few rules, they'd be as follows:

1. Let the dice fall where they may; what happens happens when the dice hit the table. This goes both ways! If the players cook up a clever strategy or simply get hot and roll a spate of Nat 20s to take down my big bad, so be it. But I won't pull my crits either.

2. The game – that means the DM – should reward risk-taking. Overly cautious play grinds the game to a halt and turns every dungeon crawl into a dice cleanse.

3. The player characters should get their time to shine, their chance for Big Damn Hero moments. What else are you playing the game for, if not that? Obviously if you're running an 'evil' campaign this may have different wording, but I don't care to run or play that kind of game, generally.

4. The PCs aren't heroes without the real threat of death. I do not think I've ever run a campaign that didn't wind up with at least one player death. I have, essentially, run a campaign that ended in a TPK, or close enough to it that we never picked it back up. I will reward risk, but I won't wave away stupidity, bad choices, and remember what rule #1 up there says.

5. Magic and treasure are one of the most fun parts of the game. I find this to be true as both a player and a DM. There's almost nothing I enjoy more than building a treasure hoard for a significant encounter, or designing specific magic items for player characters.

To that end, I recently designed a weapon for a new character for my current campaign, The Dragon Seas, a homebrew world for 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons. In another post some day, if there's interest, I'll go ahead and post up some info on that world and you can tell me what you think. For now, though, I'm just going to give what info is necessary. Be warned; the following is deeply nerdy. I mean, to the point of containing words in Elven. Errors in grammar, spelling, or usage there are entirely mine and not the fault of my source, which is https://www.elfdict.com/

The character coming into the campaign is new, but the player is not. In fact, we've been gaming together since 1999. His first PC in this game didn't die, but voluntarily retired due to recent actions by the rest of the party and the dictates of his own conscience. The new PC is going to be an Elven Barbarian. Barbarian by class, mind you, not by instinct or social role; I am pretty liberal in terms of the presentation of a class. So long as we're not altering the actual functional abilities, I don't really care if your barbarian is a gentleman of perfect breeding and impeccable stock who carries a heavy walking stick and has occasional episodes that end with blood under his fingernails and some ruffians beaten to a pulp. In this case I imagine the character is going to be much more like a samurai whose 'rage' abilities are more like a trance he deliberately induces in battle. Nothing changes about the class, only how it's role-played.

So, he's going to be entering the campaign at a pretty high level, 8. His previous character had some pretty sweet items, and took every one of them with him. This new character needs to bring some firepower to replace the old one, and some of that needs to be represented in his weapon. Now, I know that you technically don't need magic items to function in this version, not in the way you did in 2nd and 3rd.

But who doesn't want magic items? I know some folks prefer low magic settings and they have all kinds of good reasons for that.

I'm not one of them.

Give me the flaming sword and winged armor for my paladin every time. Give me a wizard with so many ioun stones orbiting his head he has trouble seeing through them, or a rogue with so many stealth-boosting magic items that a guard can be standing on his foot and still miss him. That's just how I like to play, and your mileage may vary. Besides, the more powerful the PCs get, the more force I can bring to bear to crush them and everything they love.

Now, given the level, and the nature of the campaign, I want to give this new character a solidly powerful sword, one that will remain useful for the entirety of the game. We started last April and I imagine we'll still be playing for several months yet, approaching level fifteen or sixteen by the time we're done.

I don't want to give too much background on my homebrew world in this post, but two things merit a brief gloss. First, there is an ancient order of elven knights-errant (though they need not be knights; any class can be a part of this order) called the Oniranya, or 'Wandering Force.' This is taken directly from the Youxia tradition of Chinese poetry. Second, slavery is an issue of political strife in this world, mostly in the form of humans enslaving orcs, though they're not too shy about enslaving one another, either.

And in the next session – which will be the first one the new character participates in – the players are about to attempt to foment a slave revolt by freeing and arming the thralls held in the slave market of one of the two major slaving cities.

Enter an Oniranya devoted to principles of freedom and courage. Carrying his sword, En Poldor Angwendh. The Breaker of Chains. As I described it in an email to the player:

Your sword has had many names, and has known many hands before your own. Always, it returns to Dolen Caras Randhirim (note: the only elven city in this world) and is given to another Oniranya – but seldom is it passed directly from one wielder to another.

In the wars against the Unnumbered Hordes of the Goblins it was known as Dangweth,or The Answerer. Later it was known as En Felectha, The Equalizer. When it came to you while you underwent your Oniranya training in Dolen Caras Randhirim, it was, as tradition would dictate, given a new name:

En Poldor Angwendh – The Breaker of Chains

It is a +2 Greatsword that is wreathed in flames when drawn and casts bright radiance to 30 feet. When you draw it, as a bonus action, by speaking aloud the command word, you can determine what kind of bonus damage the flames do; Radiance, Thunder, Acid, or Fire. To change this in the midst of combat also requires the use of a bonus action. It does an extra 1d6 damage of this type.

Furthermore, as an action, you may use this sword to cut through any chain, lock, or bar made of iron or steel (or other mundane metal) that is being used to imprison a sentient being. There is no need to roll an attack or damage; the bar/chain/lock is simply cut. This does not effect a magically strengthened or locked door (like 'hold portal' or 'arcane lock') it does not affect anything made of mithril, adamantite, or other exotic metals (gold, silver, platinum). It does not effect doors primarily made of stone or wood (i.e., if prisoners are being held in a room with a locked oaken door, the sword can't effect the door, but if there are bars or chains or fetters binding the prisoners INSIDE that room, those would be cut).

Requires attunement by an elf of CG alignment. In the hands of anyone else it functions as a simple +1 Greatsword.

So, my thought process and some clarification; I want the players to love their signature items. I want them to be meaningful to the character, rather than some rusty old sword they found in a dragon's hoard and said, “eh, it's 5% more effective than this old thing I've been carrying through all my adventures and won fame and fortune with, so out with the old.” I wanted to give him something that will remain useful to his character from now until the end of the campaign, reflect his culture and role, and generally do cool stuff without being overpowered.

So, that variable 1d6 of damage? That's useful forever, especially in this world. Remember that mention above of goblins? They're sort of the old bugaboo that even Stone Giant parents use to scare their children with, for good reason. The first is overwhelming numbers. Individually, they're totally nonthreatening, but they don't come in small numbers. Secondly, these are not standard Monster Manual goblins; they adapt in the midst of combat to develop resistance to whatever kinds of damage are being done to them.

No, it really isn't fair. Hence an ancient elven sword designed originally to fight them called The Answerer.

But goblins aren't seen as much of a threat anymore, or haven't been for eight hundred years, and the Oniranya don't focus only on the past.

I feel like the sword's ability to cut chains is the kind of thing that's fun, and lends color to the game without breaking anything or making it too overwhelmingly powerful.

And in his first session with a new character, an old friend and player will get to immediately prove his value and his total badassery to a bunch of strangers (the rest of the party) who won't have to invent some lame reason to keep him around – one of the perils of PC mortality.

So, there you have it; a glimpse into me as a Dungeon Master, how I create items, how I try to make space for the players to do the cool stuff we all sit at the gaming table for, and one of the many reasons I keep coming back to D&D and games like it; magic swords are just cool. 

 

ARCs, Events, Promotion or I'll Even Mop the Floors

Dear readers,

Are you a bookseller? A librarian? A reviewer? A podcaster? If yes, are you interested in Fantasy fiction? I'm presuming you are or you wouldn't be here.

Even if you aren't one of those things, maybe you know someone who IS a bookseller, reviewer, blogger, podcaster, or librarian. Maybe you know some people who are attached to a Convention or a Book Festival, or work at a bookstore or a library. Maybe you run a book club (mom, your book club doesn't count) or know people who do, or are involved with a Sci-Fi or Fantasy Appreciation Club or Society and they might appreciate Ordination. 

If any of the above describes you or anyone you know, please, please get in touch with me; I have Advance reader Copies still looking for homes. 

When it comes to making appearances to do signings, give talks, or Q&As, I am willing to drive anywhere from Richmond to Philadelphia to the Jersey Shore and probably quite a lot farther than that on any reasonable amount of notice. Come the summer, I'm probably willing and able to go a lot farther than that. 

If you're wondering how I am with an audience, I talk to teenagers about World Literature and writing for a living, and I think I keep them interested. I can talk to your crowd about fantasy and about The Paladin Trilogy and, like I say in the title, I'm probably even willing to mop the floors. 

If you have any questions about any of this, don't hesitate to ask! There's a few weekends I'm already booked or unavailable (April 9, May 21, June 5 are all definitely out; May 7 may very well be). 

If you have any reasonable advice or suggestions, I'm all ears. Scoot on over here to scope out the prologue and the beautiful cover art if you haven't already. 

 

 

ARCs! Fresh hot ARCs!

Good evening folks. It's been a while since I've blogged here, I know. There were some technical difficulties that have recently been overcome (read: I bought a new computer) that should make posting here a more regular occurrence. In the next few weeks expect some thoughts on what I'm looking forward to reading in 2016, more on my writing music, possibly some scattered thoughts on the Orioles, perhaps some pictures of toys, and maybe a post introducing the editor cats. 

However, tonight's post is very simple; I still have Advance Reader Copies (ARCs) of Ordination: Book I of the Paladin Trilogy looking for good homes. If you're a blogger, review, podcaster, or general internet/literary gadabout who is interested in fantasy and would like one and is willing to review it/help spread the word, please let me know! Contact me via this website or get at me on Twitter (@soundingline). 

 

Amazing cover art from Kerem Beyit. Look him up and prepare to be wowed. 

Amazing cover art from Kerem Beyit. Look him up and prepare to be wowed. 



Writing Music

I listen to the same music, more or less, every night while I work on a book project. The same playlist, really, carefully constructed and modified over the past few years. Sometimes, new songs slip in; rarely, I take a song out. As it stands, this playlist is roughly 3.5 hours long (it's been as long as 4, I think) and since I work 2-3 hours each night (more on weekends) I tend to hear the bulk of it on a normal night. 

My sense is that 'writing music' is a fairly common part of most of the routines of writers my age or younger, but I could be wrong about that. I'm also pretty sure I hear the people saying “how do you listen to the same 3 hours of music again and again, day after day, and not get tired of it?” 

Well, first and foremost, I choose really excellent songs that no one would ever get tired of. Obviously. Secondly, the fact that I choose the same music over and over again is likely part of what helps me stay focused. If I was constantly changing it up, I'd probably be more easily distracted. My writing playlist hasn't become white noise by any stretch, but I am not paying attention to the music while I write. I'll get absorbed in writing a scene and then suddenly I'll catch the familiar strains of a song by The Decemberists or John Prine or The Indigo Girls and think, hey, it's that song, I love that song. I do, very seldom, change it up. I have an Emergency Album* for when I'm having a hard time and if I feel I need to crack the whip a bit, I'll put on a bunch of sea shanties. This has mostly happened

To a large extent many of the songs on my playlist either have a specific personal significance, are related in my mind to the nature of inspiration** or the act of creation, or help remind me why I write and how to stay honest about its challenges and my goals. 

So I thought when this blog opened, one interesting way to generate some discussion is to run down my writing playlist, in stages, and say a bit about why each song is on it, why I chose it, and so on. 

I want to offer a quick editor's note here; your comments are welcome and encouraged. I'd love to hear what you listen to while you work. What I'm not going to put up with are comments that say, essentially, “OMG YR MUSIC SUXXORS.” It's fine that you have that opinion. I probably don't enjoy most of the music you listen to, either. And that's ok; the world is a rich tapestry, and so on. It's just that comments like that are not useful or interesting, and this is my blog, not your personal forum. Remember that the philosophy here is talk about what we like and why we like it, not what we hate and why it sucks. 

So, here, in order, are the first five songs of my writing playlist: 

1. Ripple, The Grateful Dead – Setting the tone here. If you are not down with the occasionally noodly acoustic jam, you'd hate this playlist. So, why Ripple? Is it my favorite Dead song? No, that's probably Sugar Magnolia or Box of Rain or One More Saturday Night (I'm not AS big a Dead fan as I am of some other artists, but I will always regret never seeing a show). But this song, with its direct address of the listener; 

If my words did glow with the gold of sunshine
And my tunes were played on the harp unstrung
Would you hear my voice come through the music
Would you hold it near as it were your own?

I mean, that's what I'm trying to do as a writer, yes? Get someone else to hear my voice and, hopefully, treasure it. There's a lot of mystic stuff in there, later on (Let it be known there is a fountain/That was not made by the hands of man) that I find relevant to my experience of writing and creating. I keep coming back to the fountain and it hasn't dried up yet, and so on. I don't want to get too mystical, or write an essay about this song (Lord knows I could probably write an essay about every song on this list) so let's move on before we're both uncomfortable. 

2. He Was in Heaven Before He Died, John Prine – John Prine is the greatest American songwriter since Woody Guthrie. Fight me. You'll lose.

3. January Hymn, The Decemberists – I have a sense that other fans of The Decemberists sort of look at The King is Dead as an anomaly of an album, their 'bad' album or their 'popular' album. I'm not about to play the game of 'who's been a fan since what album.' I bought The King is Dead on release day and it has never gone out of my regular listening rotation, not ever. This song is beautiful, it moves me for reasons I can't really pinpoint. To some extent it's largely responsible for making my wife a Decemberists fan as well, as she'd found their other albums hard to get into, but fell in love the moment she heard this tune.

4. In My Life, The Beatles – Some of you are probably shocked, SHOCKED to see this appear on this list, knowing how I feel that The Beatles are endlessly overrated. I still feel that way, especially about John Lennon. I'm not going into that; remember that this is for stuff we like. I'll just say that this is easily my favorite Beatles song. 

5. Paradise, John Prine – Not his first appearance on this list and it won't be his last. I meant exactly what I said above. I think John Prine wrote more masterpieces by the age of 25 (seriously, go look at the track listing for his first album, do it, I'll wait, and note that came out when he was, I think, 24) than most people have any hope of writing in a productive lifetime. 

There is also the fact that Paradise was one of my dad's favorite songs, if not his absolute favorite (other contenders are mostly via CCR, The Clancy Brothers, or Simon & Garfunkel, but Prine is definitely the part of that list I connect with most these days). This song has the highest play count on iTunes for me, vastly higher than any other. 

Well, there you have it; the first glimpse at my writing playlist. What do you listen to while you write? 

*Takk, by Sigur Rós. Been leaning on that for writing music since my MFA days. Most of my poetry thesis was written while listening to it, for which I can only offer my sincere apologies to the fine musicians of that outfit. 

**Real Talk, and I cannot be dissuaded from this point; inspiration in the sense that people use it in regards to making art, and especially writing, is essentially bullshit of the highest order. Inspiration comes from the habit of doing the damn work. The muse finds you when you're already at your task. 

 

 

What I Read this Summer

and What I'm Reading Now

The first thing I tell students who take my elective SF/F writing class is that they can't be a writer if they don't read, and that their class-assigned reading doesn't count. When each class meeting opens I ask them to briefly recount what they've been reading in the SF/F vein that week, why, what's good about it and what lessons they can take from it.

When it comes to reading, I try to practice what I preach. And since during the school year reading is inevitably slowed down by the endless grading of papers, I have to really get after it in the summer. What follows are the highlights of what I read or reread since this summer started and am reading now that it's ending.

Nonfiction

A Distant Mirror by Barbara Tuchman.

As an amateur WWI history buff, of course I've read Tuchman's amazing account of the opening weeks of the Great War, The Guns of August. I finally decided to dive in to her account of the daily life of Europe in the latter half of the 14th century as soon as this summer began. Instantly I wished I'd read it years ago, before I'd begun writing The Paladin Trilogy. I never went into Paladin with a particular era or region in mind, but there's no doubt that Tuchman's book would've helped to inform some aspects of the world that emerged in the writing.

My major takeaway from this book is, really, that the 14th century was damned weird. That's entirely too light a summary of such a dense (meant as a compliment) treatment of the subject, but really, what was with the pointed shoes? Tuchman is constantly pointing out how the pointed shoes, or poulaines, were constantly the subject of sumptuary laws. Apparently they were considered quite the menace, and no law seemed to bring them under control.

Tuchman fills the book with rich detail; the specifics of some rituals of feudal homage are particularly bizarre. Her account of peasant rebellion is riveting, and when she shows, via primary sources, exactly what nobles thought of the poor, I felt there were some direct echoes in political rhetoric today. Even the medieval poor, you see, had it too easy, according to the rich, and required a constant and firm hand to keep their natural, habitual laziness from ruining them.

There isn't any aspect of medieval life Tuchman doesn't touch on, from the corruption and schism of the church, medicine, astrology, diet, marriage, to the ambition and over-reach of medieval warfare. The planned French invasion of England, involving a massive pre-fabricated fortress to cross the channel in several ships seems to me the ultimate expression of how the warfare of the day was largely untenable. Armies were rarely, if ever, given achievable goals or deployed using a modicum of sense. In the case of that fortress, only pieces of it got there, seized by the English and displayed as a trophy.

If you have even a layman's curiosity about medieval history and you haven't read Tuchman yet, do it now. If you want to write fantasy informed by medieval European history, it's practically mandatory.

Fiction

This spring, so not quite this summer, I read three fantastic novels back to back; Elizabeth Bear's Karen Memory, Ken Liu's The Grace of Kings and The Mechanical by Ian Tregillis. Technically they fall outside the scope of “what I read this summer,” but all of them are worth your time. All of them are on the shortlist for “Best new book I read this year.” In fact, they probably are the shortlist. The latter, in particular, has stuck with me, as it made me go back and reread (in a largely confused haze) some of Spinoza and the other philosophers whose ideas it incorporated. If you've ever wanted clockwork golems and wildly alternate history that makes you examine the question of whether or not free will can be said to exist, go read it.

I also read the third novel of Andrzej Sapkowski's Witcher Saga, The Time of Contempt. Like, I think, most American readers, I came to The Witcher via the video games, and have had to wait as the books become more widely available in English translation. In the games, Geralt of Rivia seems a pretty clear power fantasy, so it was somewhat refreshing in this book to see him much more limited. In fact, the bulk of the book really followed Ciri, and I felt it really helped inform my appreciation of her character fresh off having played The Witcher 3.

I also did some rereading this summer. I decided at some point that I wanted to do a big reread of most, if not all, of Guy Gavriel Kay's work. To my mind, Kay is probably the best living fantasist (other candidates; Ursula K. LeGuin and I'm not sure who else, but I'd take suggestions) and it had been years since I'd read any of his older work. I decided to start with the one Kay novel that I hadn't really sharply remembered, A Song for Arbonne.

Folks, I was so glad I did.

It was also fortuitous that I read this book shortly after Tuchman, whose treatment of courtly love certainly informed my rereading of Arbonne. I believe I'd read it in high school, so the intervening 20 years certainly made a difference as well. After this reread, it might just be vying with Tigana for my favorite Kay novel of all. If you haven't read it, or there's been a space of time since you did, go give it a first or second try. I kept stopping mid page in a mix of awe at the grace of the prose and frustration at my certainty that I'd never write a paragraph or a sentence as good as the one I just read.

On a side note, it's sort of fascinating how many fantasy novels out there treat or take inspiration from the Albigensian Crusade, huh? I can think of at least 2 others besides this, but I'm not going to name them; maybe you can in the comments.

At the moment, I just finished reading Django Wexler's The Shadow Throne, second in The Shadow Campaigns. Less military and more politically focused than The Thousand Names, it's a brisk fantasy take on the French Revolution. It's hard to talk about without spoilers, I think, but there are some fascinating things happening in this series. For one, it's hard to pinpoint any one character as the protagonist. Our viewpoint characters (specifically Marcus and Winter) are working for someone (Vhalnich) without often knowing many details of the overall plan or picture, much less the endgame. Certainly we're rooting for them, and their allies, but we don't really have a solid grasp on the motivations or goals of the man pulling all the strings. In case it's unclear, I mean all of this as a compliment. If you like flintlock fantasy, I don't think you can go wrong here; one part musketry, one part demonology, ½ part gender identity and woman-disguised-as-soldier narrative, a dash of history, shaken over your laughter at eye-wateringly stupid radicals. Smooth and satisfying.

Oh, and last but certainly not least, Joe Abercrombie's Half a War, the conclusion (?) of The Shattered Sea. I've loved everything Abercrombie's written, but I think this trilogy was, on the whole, probably better than The First Law books, with Half the World in particular being my favorite among all of his work. Again, it's hard to say too much in praise of it without spoiling. So the best thing you can do is go get all three books, read them, and get back to me.

Comics

Well this post is already carrying on a tad long, but I'd be remiss if I didn't include this here. Early on in the summer I read Nimona by Noelle Stevenson, which lured me in by playing with super-villainry and shape-changing in hilarious ways, only to try and punch me in the heart (it's doubtless shriveled and black, more a lump of coal than a vital red muscle, but it's there) later on. I mean this in the best possible way.

Monthly, I read fewer titles than I once did. If I had to give up all my hobbies – books, videogames, action figures – and eat only ramen noodles and boiled potatoes, I'd still find room in my monthly budget for Knights of the Dinner Table. Having just read #223 this week, my love for this comic and magazine is just as strong as it was when I bought issue #36 off a rack in a mall newsstand (remember those?) back in college. That #36 – and every single issue since – is long-boxed and carefully stored.

My love for G.I. Joe is no secret to any of you reading this who know me or even follow me on Twitter. I still read every monthly Joe comic, but my favorite, of course, is the continuation of the old Marvel storyline still written by Larry Hama. In the hands of a less interested, less competent, less character-oriented storyteller, the Joe book could have been simple hackwork meant to sell toys. I'll argue forever that Hama elevated it beyond that, and continues to do so. This month's issue, #212, features visual and storyline call backs to #36, from June of 1985. I was blown away by that. The continuity, not of plot, but of character and tone that Hama has achieved over decades of working with a toy property simply staggers me.

Also this summer I was sad to see my favorite hack-and-slash style book of all time end its amazing run; I'm speaking of Skullkickers, written by Jim Zub, art by Edwin Huang, colors by Misty Coats. If you've ever played D&D with a bloodthirsty group, you'll love Skullkickers. Many of the player-characters from the aforementioned Knights of the Dinner Table would fit right in to the Skullkickers milieu. The takeaway here is that you should be going to www.skullkickers.com and beginning to read it online right now, and then you should buy the trades and collected editions as they come out.

Also monthly (or as publication allows) reads; Saga, Rat Queens, Bitch Planet, Star Wars and Darth Vader. I teeter back and forth on reading Secret Wars but usually give in. I'd talk about all of these but I've already gone on too long and my kettlebells are calling. Their voice is the nightmare of iron; it is the song of ruin and pain unending, and the only way to cease the horrid wail is to go lift them. Repeatedly.

What'd you read this summer? What are you reading now? What are you excited to read in the coming months (besides Ordination, of course)? Sound off in the comments. Comments may be lightly moderated; I'm not here to run an argument clinic.

Old Man Yells at Internet

Greetings! Welcome to my inaugural blog post here on the brand new, official Daniel M. Ford, author of The Paladin Trilogy website.

That's a mouthful. Let's try again.

Hi. I'm Dan. I write fantasy novels, and I'd love it if you'd read them.

In this space, I plan to write pretty regularly about the things that interest me. Right up front I'll let you know that there'll be some self-promotion; I do want folks to read Ordination and the books that will follow it. I'll occasionally link to reviews or spaces online where I'm talking about the book, or someone else is. I'll list any appearances I happen to be making.

More than that, I'm going to use this space to talk about the things I like and love. What are those things?

My oldest persistent love is fantasy and science fiction literature, with a heavy emphasis on the fantasy end of that. I live and breath baseball, especially the Baltimore Orioles. In the past few years I've learned to love football, particularly West Ham United. I love to cook, to drink good single malt Scotch, craft beer, and local wine. I read comics, play games, watch movies, collect toys, and generally try to stay connected to the geek zeitgeist.

Right here and now, I want to make one thing clear about the approach I'm planning to take on this blog. Though I may title it “Old Man Yells at Internet” I'm really not going to do a great deal of yelling, except about the things I'm excited about. I'll yell, happily, about the things I love, in the hopes that some of you love them as well and then we can yell in joyous unison. I'll tell you about the book I just read and can't stop talking about; I'll obsess over the Orioles and what West Ham is doing in the transfer market; I'll geek out over movies and share pictures and reviews of toys I buy; I'll talk about the RPG campaigns I'm running and playing in.

But what I'm not going to do is harp about the things I don't like. I won't come on here to complain about a book I hated. I won't link to bad reviews of work I didn't like, or angrily expound about a show or a comic I didn't enjoy. There's plenty of bile and negativity on the internet, and I don't mean to add to it. That doesn't mean I won't talk about important causes or things I believe in, but when it comes to the geek stuff, let's talk about what we love and why instead of cawing angrily about what we hate and wondering how anyone can read/watch/collect/enjoy it.

What do you say, internet? Let's share what we like with each other.

All contents of this website are copyright Daniel M. Ford and may not be used without permission. In short, don't be a jerk. Background image/cover art © Santa Fe Writers Project.