Wednesday, 2 February 2011

I blame Tolkien!

So, yesterday I found myself in a big chain bookshop. I don't normally frequent such places, but – well – it was raining, and seemed more interesting than the greeting card shop next door. Naturally I went to the 'Fantasy and Science Fiction' section (because of course, these genres are the same) to see what was on offer.

Doorstops. Nothing but doorstops. The science-fiction wasn't as bad here, and at least there were a few books that I wouldn't need a back-brace to pick up, but I don't think I saw a fantasy novel weighing in at least than seven hundred pages...and most of them were part of trilogies or longer series! When I look at the old Robert E. Howard, Jack Vance and Fritz Leiber paperbacks on my shelves at home, I am led to wonder how we got to a situation where apparently a fantasy novel must resemble a brick!

The rot started with the 'Lord of the Rings', I think. As with any successful work – and no-one can argue that Tolkien represents a critical aspect of the fantasy genre, though I must admit I personally think that he is a tad over-venerated, there were bound to be imitators. Now this is bad enough when it is taken in terms of style and setting – how many pseudo-Tolkien sagas set in fantasied European settings are there out there – but that was not the only 'lesson' that was taken. Big is Good! The more pages the better! And the result – huge, heavy books that tell no more story than a writer like Clark Ashton Smith (who could do in a short story what took Tolkien a trilogy), but using about a hundred times as many words.

OK, I admit it, I'm biased here. I'm a freakisly fast reader, but darn it all, I don't like large paperbacks! The spines crack in the middle, they are cumbersome to read, and never mind the fact that such rambling plots never seem to go anywhere! Give me one of the old Sphere Conan paperbacks any day of the week.

So that's what I intend to do. No hundred-thousand-word epics for me!

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

The Retreat...

I've decided to bite the bullet and set myself up in a situation when I can get 'The Wizard Slayer' out of my system quickly. Being able to write for me requires total concentration for an extended period, I dare say that is true of almost anybody who writes, so I'm taking myself off on a 'writing retreat' for a week at the end of the month.

I have booked myself into a lovely B&B I know in the Peak District, with a ruined castle on the opposite hill and a series of spectacular caves to wander round, with the goal of writing 8,000 words a day for six days...completing the novel in one quick burst. (Well, at least the first draft, in any case!)

This means a slight change to some of my earlier plans. What is of paramount importance between now and then is that I plan out the book in pretty extensive detail, producing not only a decent outline of the plot and characters, but also a detailed outline of the shape the novel will take. If I have it all planned out before I go, and then follow that plan while I write, everything will go a lot easier that if I try and do it free-form...this could well be the difference between finishing and not.

So this week, my posts will focus on crafting the structure of the book.

Friday, 28 January 2011

The Frozen North

I’ve been fascinated by the idea of a ‘fantasy Arctic’ setting for a very long time now, and I’m finally beginning the process of turning into reality with both my new campaign, and my novel, now both intended to be based in this setting. The key vision is of course a Viking longboat sailing through icebergs, but there should be a good deal more to it than just that! I really want to do a ‘Robert E. Howard’ or ‘Clark Ashton Smith’ with this setting, evoking that same sense of grandeur, mixed with horror, adventure, and action. Along with the ‘Eldritch Horror’ that tends to go hand in hand with such a style, and which I want to feature in the setting.

So I need dark, twisted cities well into the ‘decadent’ phase of civilisation, strange cults worshipping dark and sinister gods, and strange sorcery that boils down to ‘that which man is not meant to know; I plan to make magic the equivalent of studying the Necronomicon, with potentially the same consequences. Lots of focus on summoning strange creatures and the like!

As for creating the world itself, I’ve decided to basically do it as I go. For the campaign – now just a week away – I need the Fortress-Town of Imrae, the dungeon underneath it, and perhaps a small map of the local area. Though given that it is essentially barren wasteland, I’m not sure a map of it is necessary! The book will rove over a slightly wider area, and any subsequent books will flesh out the world further. I have a vague idea of what lies in four directions, and in my head the landmass is analogous to Greenland – and yes, this means that the other Arctic lands are in play. (And yes, I know that Clark Ashton Smith’s Hyperborea was essentially set in a Greenland analogy. Some of his most brilliant work – I only hope that I can write half as well as he. A quarter.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Bring on the ‘Zines!

With Unknown Sagas, there are now at least six ‘zines in the OSR (Fight On!, Knockspell, NOD, Oubliette, Encounter being the others I am aware of – if I’m wrong, let me know!) Is this a bad thing, fragmenting the industry too much? Not in the slightest. If anything, there are probably too few ‘zines out there at the moment, not too many! The fanzine / semiprozine is a wonderful part of the hobby that I think the internet did quite a bit of damage to over the last couple of decades, not only for the reader, but also for the participant. The plethora of fanzines in the early years of the hobby were a wonderful resources of ideas and inspirations, as well as providing a training ground for many of the best authors in the industry in their formative years.

If anything, the Internet should have made fanzines available to a wider audience than ever before, but somehow, it didn’t seem to happen. Though I am quite sure that there are still a selection of fanzines out there, they rarely seem to attract a widespread amount of attention. If you are running one, publicise it! Put up a PDF, and shove it on the internet, let people see it!

There is room out there for as many fanzines as there are people who are willing to put them together. On the one hand, you have some zines where every article is written by a different contributor, magazines such as Fight On!; on the other extreme, you have some such as NOD that are the work of a single person. And both of them are equally as good in their own special way. A ‘zine can quite easily be done as the work of an individual group of friends, or even an individual, and I believe still remains an excellent way of spreading ideas and inspiration, even in a world of blogs, websites and wikis. Self-publishing tools have made it easier than ever before to launch such publications.

So let’s make 2011 the year of the Fanzine!

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Terrific Response...

Whenever you announce a project like this, there is always at the back of your mind the fear that no-one but you will have any interest, and that you are just firing a shot off into the darkness. I must admit, I had this fear again with Unknown Sagas.

And it has already turned out to be totally unjustified. The submissions are already coming in thick and fast, both in terms of articles and artwork. Forty-eight hours and I already have a backlog to work through! This is absolutely brilliant. But please keep it up! More submissions, please!

Everything seems to be going pretty well right now. I have a 'gamer retreat' scheduled for late April that promises to be lots of fun, and progress on the novel is going on right now – I can't wait to actually start typing next week! (New title – The Wizard Slayer.)

Monday, 24 January 2011

The Big Announcement!

OK, I've been promising the 'big announcement' for a couple of days now, so here it is...

I am launching a new fanzine, to be called 'Unknown Sagas', that will cover Swords & Wizardry: White Box. I aim to publish this fanzine quarterly, at least for the moment, and it will be produced in the digest-sized format, to match the newest release of the White Box rules, which are impending. This magazine will be distributed for free in PDF format, and a hardcopy version will be available through Lulu at cost – this will be a free fanzine, just as in the earliest days of OD&DITIES.

Now, naturally, such a fanzine is nothing without submissions, so I'm calling for writers and artists! No submission restrictions on content, this fanzine is to be by the fans and for the fans; that's the whole idea of a fanzine. I'll take spells, monsters, adventures, house rules, classes, rants, poems, campaign write-ups, short stories, anything in fact that the readers wish to send in! The rules system used in any article should be 'White Box', naturally, and submissions, ideas, questions and comments should be in Word, Open Office or rtf format, to

'm still working on the novel at the same time, of course; having three new projects in the fire will make life interesting. The first book, 'The Forgotten Tomb', will be out in April-May, more details to follow in the coming months on this. All I will say right now is that it is intended as very much in the spirit of the OSR – my intent from moment one was to write a series of 'OSR' books, in this case especially inspired by White Box.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Another great day – and a nice surprise!

Well, I thought the session on Saturday was good. And so was the session on Sunday! I blew up the Enterprise, killed off Picard, and that was just in the first half hour! That's one Star Trek universe that will never be the same again. Star Trek: TNG desperately needs a reimagining, and if you get into its guts and reach in for the good stuff, there are some excellent possibilities for interesting storytelling and dramatic potential. Rather a pity that in the actual series they killed most of the drama with the three evil words, “No Character Conflict.” I mean, seriously. Imagine someone pitching a show today saying that this was the 'core concept'. They'd be laughed out of the Writer's Guild.

Seriously, though, a fantastic session. Looks like we're definitely going ahead with the 'gamer retreat' we have planned for April, soon as we get the actual days nailed down, so definitely something to look forward to there. And in even better news, that 'IRC' Swords & Wizardry game I was planning to run has materialised into a face-to-face game! I spoke to the two players in the weekend group who were interested, said something like, “Of course, it would be great if we could do this face-to-face”, and the response boiled down to, “Why not?” So a Thursday night campaign is born, and already three people are signed up to it! Fantastic.

Big post tomorrow. Really big. Watch this space.

Interesting day...

Well, yesterday was extremely interesting, one of the best sessions of D&D I've played for a couple of months. The campaign really seems to be shaping out nicely; the DM, Mark, opted to throw the party back five hundred years from what effectively was 'Armageddon' to give us time to gain in power and abilities to prevent it from happening. Of course, I died again, but I'm already getting rather attached to the new character, so that's not a problem. To anyone who says games like Swords & Wizardry are lethal, I am forced today to scoff. 3.5 is just as lethal!

Looks like I'm going to be starting my new campaign online, and in the not-to-distant future, maybe as little as a couple of weeks! More details to follow on that one within a couple of days, but I definitely will be posting for players all over the shop. It'll be interesting to see what sort of response I get! First choice would probably be a face-to-face game in all honesty, but the logistics of setting that up would be extremely difficult as things stand. IRC has worked well for me before, it will again, I feel.

Star Trek today, and what promises to be an excellent session. I should probably share the link to the wiki with you here: Running a campaign wiki has so far proven to be an excellent experience, I'm not sure whether I'll do anything like as extensive for the online campaign, but certainly keeping the character sheets on a wiki for easy access is probably a good idea! (Not to mention useful as a memorial to the many dead...)

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Where do I come from?

OK, reaching back into the mists of time here. I've been giving a bit of thought to my early influences in both the fantasy genre, and gaming in general, and they seem to focus on one particular series of books – the Fighting Fantasy series. Millions of them sold around the world, but for the unfamiliar, these were essentially 'interactive fiction'; the reader picked his own path through the book with a series of different options along the way, and fought battles using dice as he went. These game books tended to be somewhat lethal on occasion, not to mention extremely difficult!

The first of the books – and the one that set the tone, was the legendary 'Warlock of Firetop Mountain', where the reader's character had to inflitrate the fortress of the evil Warlock, Zagor, to obtain his treasure. I must have read the book countless times, but I never actually managed it! You had to collect these keys as you went, was a bit of a nightmare, really. 'Citadel of Chaos' the next in the series, felt like a revolution – you actually had spells!

My favourites in the series tended to be the ones that pushed the envelope a bit. 'Forest of Doom' was an excellent wilderness adventure, and though 'Caverns of the Snow Witch' began conventionally enough, it rather rapidly turned into a mad dash to find someone would could cure your curse, before time ran out. 'City of Thieves' was an urban-based adventure. Looking back, it is totally obvious that these are entirely D&D-inspired, indeed these have strongly informed the games I have run over the years.

These weren't the only game books – TSR had a go with the 'Endless Quest' series, but they made less of an impression, and 'Lone Wolf' stood out, but it seemed to just go on for far too long, the character getting more and more powerful until it seemed ludicrous that this 'Grand Master of the Kai' would spent time sitting in a tavern. Lots of fun though.

Best part is – they aren't out of print! New editions are still coming out, even new books completely. In fact, you know what, I'm going to pick up a couple and see if they are as much fun now as they were back then. I suspect that the majority of the buyers will be people my age (28), unfortunately, who were hooked first time round. The curse of World of Warcraft may well have ensorcelled the younger generations forever!

Friday, 21 January 2011

Today – plotting! And scheming!

One point I have to clear up in my own mind is to what extent I want the campaign to mirror the events portrayed in the book. I have a fairly clear storyline in mind for the first book, which plays rather well into at least the first half of the second book; to a large extent, this will lead to a lot of detail being added to the world 'on the fly'. There are, I can see, three options available to me at this juncture, one of which I intend to discard immediately.

Option 1: Write the book with the PCs as the core cast. This is a nice idea in a lot of ways, but this is the one I am opting to discard. I may well use the PCs as secondary characters in the book, that would be wholly appropriate and a great tribute to the players in the campaign, but I would lose a great deal of plot control if I simply opted to write 'the adventures of the PCs'.

Option 2: The PCs have one set of adventures, the characters in the book have a different set. Interesting option, as it allows me to employ the PCs in the book, and also have them hear of the 'other adventuring party' as well. Some of the background material I will be able to employ, but obviously that relating directly to the novel characters I will be unable to use.

Option 3: Parallel universe, in which the PCs 'take the place' of the novel characters in the same setting. This is another good option, in that I can save a lot of work by using most of the material for the novel in the campaign I am writing – characters, settings, dungeons, plots, and so on. Of course, it is highly likely that the PCs will diverge from the plot as written, so this won't work perfectly, but I can use some samples of dialogue, player ideas in response to plot elements, and the like, at will.

On balance, I think I'm going to go with Option 3, with a hint of the other two options as well. Option 1 in that I will introduce the PCs as cameo characters, certainly in the first book and probably later on, Option 2 in that I can use the novel characters to cameo in the campaign, which should be interesting. This maximises the point of running a game in the setting in the first place!

Next time: Focused world building!


Well, a little bit of progress today. I did 'the world' essentially to my satisfaction last night, but came up with another 'great idea' late last of course, I had to get up at 5:30 am and get to work on it! I seem to do my best work when it is dark outside, so it is probably just as well that I work nights!

A '0.9' version of the setting is now in the works, but I have drawn the third (and final) draft of the setting map, and this one I am satisfied with. Now to complete the remainder of the preparations. Running the setting as a campaign comes first; this will allow me to define the parameters of the setting. The plot is essentially 'ticking over' at the back of my mind at the moment, and my current plan is to spend the next two days fleshing out the setting a bit, and then the next week or so firming out the outline of the plot. After that, I can start to work!

As to when I will run the campaign, that's largely in the lap of the gods at the moment, probably a couple of months from now. I'd like to start the novel first, and then use the game to explore other areas of the setting outside of the narrow confines of a focused plot; though I am expecting that the campaign will provide more than a few interesting scenes and characters that can transfer directly to the books. I'm also almost at the point of deciding to focus on this for the first couple of books at least, and get started on a 'fantasy series'.

The plot? Well, obviously at the moment I can't go further than a short outline, largely because I haven't written anything more than a short outline! I do know that I want it to be informed by my experience within the fantasy genre, and these have largely been game-related in the past, so a lot of this is going to play in.

The focus is on a forgotten tomb, “Tomb of the Forgotten”, where legend has it a magnificent treasure can be found. Our heroes will almost by accident stumble upon the location of the tomb, and organise an expedition to explore it, and find the ancient treasures that lie within. Of course there is a hell of a lot more too it than that – I've left out the evil cult, the romantic subplot, and other elements, but that is essentially the core concept.

I may have something else in the works as well. More on that later.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

So Today I Built A World!

Well, I said I would, and I did! I was surprised how comfortable it was, and how easy it flowed. I won't go into more detail myself; instead I'll let a old, battered Halfling adventurer tell the story of the setting I have created!

Lenrath's Tour of...

The Silent Coast

This humble pamphlet represents my guide to the land I love so well, the wondrous and treacherous Silent Coast. I who, in the service of accumulating lore and wisdom, have ventured far and wide across this land, do share my meagre knowledge with the hope that not only will you profit by what little I know, but that you may visit me in my humble dwelling and share other tales and ancient secrets you may discover with me over a flagon of ale and a well-stuffed pipe.

For many years, I have made my home in the fair town of Prydonis, and it is there that I will begin my imaginary journey across this realm. Prydonis is regarded far and wide as a bastion of law and order in these dark lands, and is protected by the Emerald Guardians, a resolute band of gnomish warriors who have often been tested in battle. Indeed, the famed Museum of Deeds is a popular attraction for travellers who pass this way, depicting scenes and showing relics of some of the many battles fought over the long centuries.

Prydonis was established by Gnomish peoples more than a thousand years ago, and was built out of the very stone of the earth; it is said that a small mountain was slowly carved to form the town we know today. Certainly the architecture is exquisite, though perhaps a little on the (ahem) short side for the bulk of the peoples of the coast! This unfortunately renders such amazing sights as the

Thousand-Facet Inn available only for the Gnomes and Halflings, as well as the occasional short Dwarf. A substantial 'human quarter' exists for the rest of us, however, and features such wonders as the Pyromancer's Guild, a major institute of learning and wisdom, where I have opted to make my residence for many years. The Guild caters for wielders of Elemental Fire, a popular art in these parts, and suppliers many battle wizards who fight alongside the Gnomes of the Guard!

Naturally, there is a substantial Halfling contingent in the town, and they are responsible for some wonders of their own. No visit to Prydonis is complete without an afternoon spent sampling the delights in the Palace of Pastry, and the Halfway Inn provides the best night's sleep one could ever hope to have in this lifetime. One should beware in these quarters, however; as many of the halflings are known to have, shall we say, light fingers, and a careless traveller may find himself relieved of his purse!

Eventually, the time will come to depart, and the traveller will make his way towards the coast; even though the Guardians patrol the lands around Prydonis diligently, there remain many threats of bandits, human and non-human. The more attractive – and safer – route is up the coast paths, watching the swell of the sea roll in. A few tiny fishing villages cling to the cliffs here, using natural caves to house their boats and steps hewn from the rocks to ascend to their shacks. Shrines to the ancient sea gods are common, and offerings frequent; here their wrath lies closest to the surface. Every fisherman has a tale to tell of the strange creatures he saw in the Crimson Sea, or of that 'one that got away'.

After three or four days travel by foot, one sights the spires of the Fortress of Imrae, the largest settlement in the Silent Coast. The first sight generally seen is the uncompleted tower of the Cathedral of St. Eudoxus, begun in the reign of the last Warlord but one, sadly neglected and underfunded since the death of that wise ruler. The Wing Guard will likely make their presence known to a traveller once he gets within a few miles of the city; the unwary are cautioned that impostors have been known to demand fictitious 'entry payments'. Indeed, a fellow traveller of mine some years ago was offered a large stack of 'paper currency' for his gold, and had to be talked out of accepting such a 'great offer'.

A room for the night is usually the first priority on entering the hive of humanity that is Imrae; the city is well served by inns and taverns, ranging from the flea-pits such as the Rusty Anchor by the docks, to more prestigious establishments like the legendary Gryphon's Rest. For those with looser morals, there are many establishments that cater towards more base needs as well; this author would not guide one to the Street of a Hundred Veils, oh no.

Most of those visiting Imrae do so to deal at the legendary market, buying or selling goods, or to visit the Cathedral as part of a pilgrimage. There are many other sights to see, however. An entire afternoon can easily be lost browsing through the worthless treasures in the Emporium, and a variety of exotic herbs can be found in Madame Moraine's. The Grand Arena hosts both gladiatorial combats and chariot races, and there are even opportunities for common citizens to try their hand in special 'free-style' bouts.

Imrae is ruled by a Warlord, the current ruler being Eldrin VIII, twentieth in the direct line from the barbarian tribesmen who first settled this land hundreds of years ago, building this city on the site of the only natural harbour of the coast. Of course, it isn't as simple as that, and a confusing melange of guilds, cults, merchants and other prominent figures vie for influence and power in the city, sometimes street to street; watching it all, however, is the Dark Brotherhood, the Warlord's legendary secret police, who keep track of everyone and everything in the service of their master.

Although the bulk of the thriving thousands of Imrae are humans, many different races are represented; it is not unusual to see exiled Elves moving about their sad and lonely business, there is naturally a substantial population of Halflings, and the tattered remnants of the once-proud Dwarven Clans scrabble here to make a living; if one is patient and shows sufficient understanding, one may receive admittance to the Hall of Ancestors, a tremendous sight, even if it is but a feeble shadow of what once was.

Leaving Imrae to the north, following the coast paths once again, after a week's march one comes to the wonder that is the Ring of Tolthar, erected hundreds, maybe thousands of years ago by the primitives who once ranged these steppelands to their pagan gods; it is still a revered place of worship to this day, to those who follow the 'Old Ways'. Tread carefully along the coast paths, for though they are the safest in the land, there are still many who would try and trap the unwary. The Inn of the Dragon's Teeth must be seen to be believed; it was built by the owner, a stout Dwarf, out of the bones of a Dragon he himself slew in his youth. There are generally tolerable traveller's inns dotted about the paths to the north, sometimes the heart of small peasant settlements struggling to raise a few goats and sheep; few of these settlements seem to last more than a few generations, coming and going with the changing fertility of the land.

Ranging west, striking inland, the roads quickly end, and the few peasant settlements grow further and further apart; this land belongs to the nomadic tribesmen, to the Centaurs, to the humanoid scum driven out of less fertile areas. There is evidence of ancient habitation everywhere, and many a night is spent huddling in the ruins of a long-abandoned structure, watching the flicking firelight as the three moons fight their perpetual war in the heavens. Be wary, traveller – some of them are occupied. Tombs to long-forgotten potentates tempt the greedy, but few of them sleep as sound as they should. Eight days march – less on horseback if such beasts can be procured, but beware the Centaurs' wrath if you do - will take you to Myrdan.

Myrdan, the 'Home of Shadows', an appropriate name for a town such as this – resting in the shadows of the mighty Giant's Teeth Mountains. The town is a wretched hive, and almost lawless; it is a haven for the criminal and the rejected, though a peace of sorts is maintained to prevent a descent into total anarchy. In comparison with the peace of Prydonis, Myrdan is a wild and chaotic town, but there are still many interesting sites to be seen, though I hate to recommend them to the casual visitor. Do not be surprised at what you see; barbarian reavers plying their wares to Hobgoblin merchants, Orcs selling Kobold slaves in the market, strange creatures shambling through the streets about their business.

One of the first ports of call for many is the famed Rogues' Rest; I found the rooms comfortable and privacy relaxing, but caution the traveller to beware its famed gaming tables; few indeed have bested this house, and all is far from what it seems. The Illusionist's Guild makes its home here, and as an attraction for scholars boasts the finest and most extensive library on the Coast, with librams and tomes dating back to the time of the Immortals. One of the most popular attractions are the feared Death Pits, a network of tunnels and caverns underneath the town that form a natural dungeon, kept stocked by the inhabitants of the city; it is possible to look down from more than a dozen drinking houses, taverns, and seedy dives on the activities on those foolish or desperate enough to try their luck.

A traveller would be unwise to have ventured this far into uncivilised regions, but some have ventured further, into the Giant's Teeth Mountains themselves. I regret that I did not venture beyond the lower foothills, but I spent many long nights listening to the survivors of some of the expeditions into the heights. The highest peaks belong to Giants and Dragons, I am told, who fight a perpetual war for supremacy that thus far has kept them to only infrequent raids on the lower regions. Their treasure piles have accumulated for centuries, and these attract many brave adventurers. Some few emerge from the mountains with treasures from a forgotten age; far more are simply forgotten themselves.

The foothills are home to a few scattered Dwarven clans, the remnants of a once-proud nation, cast out of their City by the 'Four' during the long-ago Wizards' War. Now the very location of the Fortress of the Four is lost to history, but this does not stop the few remaining Dwarves, huddled over their hearth fires, from telling stories of time long ago, and planning the day when they will return and take back what is theirs. Even these lower regions are treacherous, and attacks by Bugbears and Hobgoblins are common.

Coming out of the mountains, one finds oneself in the Forest of Wolves, a savage place that once was a shining beacon in the darkness, but now has been corrupted by evil. A few forts, staffed by fearsome Lupin Warriors, work with the Emerald Guard to try and hold back the shapechangers who dwell in these lands, but the battle will one day be lost. Some Elven settlements remain in isolated glens and dales, but they have long since isolated themselves from the outer world with spells of illusion, though the persistent traveller may eventually be fortunate to be accepted into such a settlement. Isolation has made the tribes harsh and unyielding, and those who question the wisdom of their elders are apt to find themselves exiled into the Outer Lands. Some remain in the forest and chance their luck, others go out to see the wider world, though a melancholy air for what they have lost is perpetual.

Finally, skirting around the outer edge of the Forest, the road leads back to Prydonia, back to the comfort of your own bed, a flagon of warm ale, and a good, hearty meal...not to mention the opportunity to tell tall tales to your friends at the tavern over a game of dice! Remember – though you may see amazing things and have wondrous adventures in your travels, it matters nought if you cannot tell of your adventures at the end. Be well, intrepid traveller!

(OK, once I'd done my notes and prepared a map I decided to do a little 'Rough Guide to the Silent Coast'; I think it turned out rather well, actually. There's an illustrated version here: if anyone wants to see it...)

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

So Now: I Have a Plan!

Something very bad happened a few days ago – life gave me a few days when pretty much all I was able to do was sit back and think. (So I had the 'death flu'.) And I came to the conclusion that I was not particularly satisfied with how things were going; this certainly isn't what I had in mind ten years ago. Not that I had much in mind ten years ago, I suppose...great, now I feel old. Not quite what I had in mind when I started this.

I'll start again.

I want to be a writer. I think I'm reasonably good at it, and those who have been exposed to my work have essentially agreed. So that's what I'm going to do. End goal – to make a living out of writing. Sounds impossible, and perhaps it is, but then – perhaps it isn't. The market is changing rapidly, constantly, and in particular, the rise of the 'eReader' is gaining in pace. (You can take my Kindle out of my cold, dead hands...) And from the looks of it – and from the research I've done over the last couple of days, publishers simply aren't keeping up with this.

So here comes the plan. I think that I can write at least two, maybe even three books a year given my current amount of time off, pitched around the 40,000-60,000 word level. I'll invest some money in getting them properly and professionally produced, my research suggests somewhere in the region of £300 will be required per book for layout and cover art. The days when I slap this together myself are over; although I can put together a magazine by myself, I think the professionals will do a far better job. Editing I can do myself, proofreading – I'm sure I can con a few people into helping me out there!

So what do I write? Aside from this blog? Well, I currently have four things in mind, which I intend to narrow down a little. I know that one valuable trick is the 'series', so at least one series sounds like an excellent idea to me, and there are two possibilities for where this comes in.

So, Book 1 – which I'm going to start pretty much immediately. High fantasy, set in a land of swords and sorcery, magic and wonder. Obviously Tolkien and his predecessors are the key here, I've had enough experience with fantasy fiction, and spent enough time concocting campaigns in that genre, that I know I can come up with something special. Two keys here. One is that the preparation for the book will also be preparation for a campaign I'm hoping to run in the not-to-distant. (Don't worry, any readers in my Trek campaign, no way am I giving that one up. I'm going to do both! Yes, I am mad. Yes.) The beauty of this is that some of the material for the book will emerge out of the campaign as it evolves – as well as providing me with a lot of material for later books as the campaign continues. I have a sneaky suspicion that quite a few authors actually do this.

The other schtick here is that there is the possibility that I can turn this into tie-in fiction quite easily with one of the Old School Revolution games – D&D analogues, published legally under something called the Open Gaming Licence; I don't anticipate any problems along these lines. After I've got the book properly started - hopefully in a couple of weeks - I'll contact the publisher and see if he has any objections

Book 2 – hard science-fiction, based on a great site called 'Atomic Rockets'. That does a lot of the research allowing me to concentrate on the actual story. Which at the moment is a classic 'long con' set on Pluto and its moons – I've been obsessed about the Kuiper Belt for a long time now, and a book is a good way of working that out! Very much 'style of Firefly' here, I think, and that I reckon is key to this. I have an interesting plot in mind. No real tie-in possibilities here of course, this one would have to stand alone. The key – as much scientific accuracy as I can manage. I actually wrote a short story in this setting a few weeks ago that I was reasonably satisfied with and will post shortly.

Book 3 – Ok, so I'm a fan of the post-apocalyptic genre, whether with or without zombies. But I don't feel that the genre is being very well served at present from a literary standpoint; there has been the marvellous World War Z, but the edge of reality seems considerably blunted in many of these books. So – a realistic post-apocalyptic novel. The catch here is that it would be difficult to turn this into a prolonged series without leeching away all of the drama and interest, but for 'one big novel', there are definitely possibilities here.

Book 4 – Technically, this is two books – well, two potential books. Either one of which I could write. I've been working on my 'History of the U.S. Army Space Program', provisionally called 'Missiles to the Moon' for years now, and done a mountain of research. This one definitely makes the rostrum of books to write this year. I want to get this out of my system, and I think I can do it in fairly short-order now. The problem here is that it doesn't really mesh with much else I plan to do, and that I don't really have any follow-up books in mind. I do have 'Alternate Apollos' potential 'other takes' on the moon program in my head, but that really would include the U.S. Army stuff, and is really more of an alternative way to write that book. But I'm going to write it.

The plan is basically to write three books in three genres and see what is working. Then I turn one of them into a series and produce two books a year, whilst producing a third on a different topic to keep me fresh. Now if I was doing this full-time, I'm fairly certain I could manage five or six books a year – I may not be Shakespeare, but I am fast – but obviously the amount I need to make on this needs to be over a certain level before I can do that. Though I think it is actually possible to do.

Quite a first post.

So what am I doing today? Today I build a world. Usually takes six days, but I'm a little pressed for time.