Dragon Awards Gladiatorial Face Off – Setting the Stage

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A while back I noted that my friends Declan Finn and Brian Niemeier both got nominated for the upcoming first annual Dragon Award in the same category. Being a good and loyal friend, this forced me into a conundrum: who to vote for? There is only one way to settle this – gladiatorial combat! The authors have now submitted their champions.

Declan Finn

HonorAtStakeAmanda Colt. Vampire.

100 years old, give or take. Russian. Her CV is extensive. She’s served as a spy and a soldier on multiple continents and wars. She’s also Catholic, religious, and has alternate blood supplies. She has mastered more combat systems than even she remembers, if only because of professional interest, and she has the time on her hands. She’s smarter than the average bear, and has several bachelor’s degrees, and a smattering of Masters degrees here and there. She hasn’t bothered with any PhDs that I know of, but characters sometimes don’t tell you everything.

Her powers are standard vampire: seriously strong, seriously fast, and has teeth. At this point, she can turn to mist, but probably can’t take her clothes with her. She can become a rat or a bat, or a wolf. She is eye-blink fast when she wants to be (as in: she’s in front of you, you blink, she’s behind you breaking your neck). She is allergic to sunlight, wood, and silver. If she’s set on fire, she can put it out, but she has to do it fast, or she goes up like flash paper. Her exposure to low-level sunlight won’t kill her, but direct sunlight will burn her, and she has seconds to get to cover. Religious objects will not hurt her, because of her moral / ethical / alignment. And of course, cutting her into little pieces or cutting her head off will kill her.

Brian Niemeier

Souldancer by Brian Niemeier

Souldancer by Brian Niemeier

Astlin Tremore, Souldancer of Fire.

The Souldancer of Fire resembles a slight teenage girl with shoulder-length, deep red hair and incandescent blue eyes. Clad in asymmetrical leather armor haphazardly fashioned from the tanned hides of otherworldly beasts and strewn with metal fasteners, rings, and buckles.

In truth, a souldancer’s outward appearance is merely a shell Worked to contain the merged interdimensional rift/soul of its true being.

Special Abilities:

  • Healed by elemental/magical fire at a 2:1 fire damage to HP recovered ratio.
  • Cannot be healed by healing spells/ordinary medical treatment.
  • Immune to all poisons and disease.
  • Immune to natural cold.
  • Doesn’t need to eat or drink, but still requires sleep.
  • Acid and Electricity Resistance 21
  • Magic and Power Resistance 26
  • Takes double damage from magical cold and water attacks.
  • Flame Cascade x1/day: fire burst centered on the Souldancer in a 10′ radius rising 30′ high. 11D6 fire damage. Targets can save for half.
  • Fire Portal: If a Fire Souldancer dies, everyone nearby has a very short period of time (1D6 rounds) to flee from the area as the souldancer’s body begins to come apart. Once the body has completely broken apart, a screaming gate to the Plane of Fire opens, releasing a level of heat that can only be found in the heart of a volcano.
    Everything in 30 feet of the portal takes 20D6 fire damage, this damage is reduced by 1D6 for every five feet beyond the 30 foot point. This opening is not merely a portal, but the soul of the souldancer, continually torn and twisted in pure metaphysical agony. The souldancer cannot be brought back to life by anything short of a Wish, and this agony will continue until some way is found to close the portal. Even after the portal is closed, the souldancer still cannot be brought back to ‘life’ by anything short of a Wish.
  • Insanity: Astlin suffers from severe post-traumatic stress, as well as a grab bag of psychoses and emotional disorders.

The First Challenge!

barbed_devil_tinyThe arena goes dark, lit only by tiny torches ringing its vast combat field and the twinkling of the stars above. The audience quiets in anticipation. Bones of fallen gladiators litter the field, punctuated occasionally by the random piece of arms and armor. Our champion steps onto the field, ready for combat, and they erupt in raucous cheers

A dark, robed figure stands above all on a floating dais: the Gamelord. He makes a gesture with his hand and the audience goes silent. The ground rumbles. Across the arena from our champion smoke billows out from below. A creature appears. From the tip of its lashing tail to the serrated features of its fang-filled visage, this fiery-eyed sentinel bristles with barbs. Hell itself has come alive. It drools and snaps its jaws. It sees our champion and lashes out, straining to reach her. An invisible force holds it at bay.

The Gamemaster raises his arm and the audience goes wild. His face remains hidden under a thick hood, yet our champion can feel his malicious grin through the cloth.

“Begin!” he calls out. The monster moves, as if invisible bonds have broken.


The first challenge is a Barbed Devil inside a darkened, star-and-torchlit arena at night.

Sentinels of the vaults of Hell, jailers of the darkest souls, and living weapons of the infernal forges, barbed devils—known as hamatulas to diabolists—enforce the strictures of the damned and safeguard the nefarious works of greater devils. A hamatula enjoys the feel of warm blood on its spines, and prefers to leap into melee when presented with an opportunity for battle.

Hamatulas are collectors and organizers, and are favorite allies of greedy summoners as they often bring with them tempting treasures from Hell’s vaults or know the paths to deadly riches. Left to their own devices, the lairs of these devils often bear the pierced trophies of their past victims, hung like perverse bug collections on bloodied walls. Most barbed devils stand upward of 7 feet tall and weigh 300 pounds, though their leanly muscled bodies appear much larger due to the constantly growing and adjusting spines that protrude from their razor-sharp bodies.

Both champions face the same challenge, one at a time. The fights will be posted in the order in which they are received. Authors are encouraged to be creative, over-the-top, and above all awesome. The Gamemaster reserves the right to require edits to combat under the standard Gamemaster “no, it really happened this way” clause. The more entertaining, exciting, and awesome the feat is, the more likely it is to be approved. Stats of the creature are available at the link in standard D20ish format, but there is absolutely no requirement for the combat to stick to D20 rules. Descriptions of D20 rules are discouraged; they make for great gaming but boring reading.

Go!


If you enjoy these characters, please remember to stop by and patronize the authors by buying their books. And please consider both of them as worthy contenders in the upcoming Dragon Awards!

Special Note: Brian Niemeier’s Souldancer is currently free and will remain so until the end of the week. You can’t beat that!


Freedom From Bandits

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banditsOne thing we take for granted in the modern first world is freedom from bandits. In the US and western Europe, they’re simply not a thing.

This is a huge historical anomaly. We are, of course, familiar with the idea of bandits from watching westerns. But bandits weren’t just an artifact of the wild west. Throughout most of human history, bandits have been the norm, not the exception. Bandits arise whenever a few simple conditions are met.

  1. People travel long distances, out of easy reach of population centers.
  2. The average traveler is defenseless.
  3. Law and order decays, law enforcement becomes lax, or bandits develop an easy way to avoid reprisal.

We very seldom even talk about bandits in the modern world. Yet the contribution our bandit-free culture gives to our culture is enormous. The economy benefits thanks to a reduction in deadweight loss. The people benefit when they don’t live in constant fear. People work harder when they can hold onto their earnings, and they travel farther for trade when the risks are lower.

The benefits are massive.

Unfortunately, our days of being outlaw free may be coming to a close. The news media, and even the “alt news” media, is treating the recent Calais attacks as a migrant issue. They are not entirely wrong. But they’re also missing a huge issue, because what we’re witnessing is the return of banditry to western civilization.

This is bad. It’s really bad.

It’s begun as a migrant issue. We’ve allowed in immigrants from areas of the world where banditry is common. They’ve brought the practice with them. At the same time, law enforcement has gone lax – especially against certain subgroups. When individual law enforcement agents have more to fear from appearing “racist” than they do from allowing bandits to run wild, well, you get more bandits.

But the real problem runs far deeper. If we allow this new wave of banditry to continue unchecked, before long the local ruffians will join in. “Bad boys” aren’t limited to the migrants, you know. Every culture has its share. And the locals will bring better organization, logistics, and armament to the game. Why? Not because westerners are inherently superior at these things. It will be because the locals won’t be migrants who have left everything they own behind to move to a foreign land. They will have friends, family, and support networks. They will have wealth, built over generations. And they will know the land of their fathers inside and out.

Banditry begets more banditry. We must crush it ruthlessly in the gestational phase. The Romans learned this lesson the hard way. The British learned it the hard way. The nations of the west sure seem about to learn it again – the hard way.


Babylon 5’s “Trinity”

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babylon5Damn you, Declan Finn. Your incessant tweets and Facebook posts on your re-watch of Babylon 5 have left me with the urge to re-watch the show. It may, in fact, have to go in my queue as the next binge watch.

The problem is that this is a show I’ve already seen all the way through 2.8 times. Yes, 2.8 times. I watched the first four seasons live as they aired. Then they switched networks – from the doomed-from-the-start PTEN network (aired on Fox in my local viewing area) to TBS. As a poor college student who couldn’t afford cable, I spent years desperately longing to see how my favorite television show of all time (a title it still holds to this day) ended.

When I finally graduated, my aunt gave me the best gift ever: a giant box of VHS tapes, containing the complete run of the entire series. DVDs existed, of course, but television on DVD was not yet a thing. I had a job on offer, but it hadn’t started yet… and I didn’t actually have an official start date yet. I had moved back in with my parents for my last year of college. So what was I to do? I binge watched the entire series, of course.

[Aside: This is one more area where modern television lovers can thank Babylon 5. Its fans (“we”) petitioned Warner Brothers to release the entire series on DVD. We spent years pushing for it. Then, slowly, they trickled it out. One disc (2-4 episodes) at a time. Myself and many other fans painfully shelled out for each of those discs. Finally somebody hit on the plan of releasing the entire season in a set. It sold like wildfire, and eventually every other show followed suit.

B-5 may not have been the absolute first show to be released in season packs. Even so, I remain convinced that we never would have seen the phenomenon develop if the fans of B-5 hadn’t pushed – and paid – for it.]

A few years later I rewatched the series with my wife Morgon, who had not yet seen it. There’s your 2.8.

A week or so ago I watched as Declan let out tweet after tweet, quoting a line here, referencing a scene there. Every single time I knew exactly what scene he was referring to. I’d read the tweets and think, “Dang, that show was so awesome!” Then I’d see a few more tweets and think it again – shortly thereafter followed by, “And he’s only on season one!

However, this particular tweet came through my feed over the weekend and I had to take a slight issue with it.

One of the greatest things about the show is that its creator, J. Michael Straczynski (known to fans as JMS because his name has, in his own words, “ten thousand consonants and no vowels”) was one of the first show creators to heavily interact with the fans via this newfangled thing called “the internet.” There are huge archives out there of all of his postings on Usenet and other forums related to the show. Like many, I read them in real-time.

And if you read them in real time, one thing that’s painfully obvious (though he never quite said it), is that the concept of the one radically changed during the course of the show. Given everything else he said, it had to have.

In the original 5 year Babylon 5 arc, Sinclair was clearly planned as the commander for all five seasons. It shocked everyone when they replaced him in season two. Then the official explanation came down: the studio wanted someone with “more charisma” in the lead. We all bought it. It sure sounded like something the studio would do. Lord knows they’ve done it before. It wasn’t until many years later that we found out the real truth: Michal O’Hare had a horrible degenerative brain disease that would eventually kill him. He couldn’t continue with the show.

JMS talked all the time in the forums about his “escape hatches.” Episodic television is a massive logistics nightmare, you see. Actors may not return. People can die… or get horrible degenerative brain diseases. So he’d written in a “way out” for each character. If something happened to the actor, they could switch the plot into a different direction. One of the best known is the example of the telepaths. Lyta Alexander was replaced by the telepath Talia Winters because the actress became unavailable in the dead space between the pilot episode and the filming of season one. But the actress who played Talia, it turns out, couldn’t get along with anybody on set. She was eventually fired… and the actress who played Lyta was available again, and magically worked back into the story. Genius, right?

I’m willing to bet that he used a lot more of these than we, the audience, ever knew. Babylon 5 was a massive project, on a scale never undertaken by anyone else – before or since. But the concept, storyline, and execution of “The One” was, by far, the clunkiest use of these trap doors.

Read between the lines and it’s pretty clear what the original intention was. Sinclair would command the station all the way through all five seasons. Almost all of Sheridan’s arc (perhaps slightly tweaked in some cases) would have happened to him, instead. Then, at the end, he would have vanished into space – just as Sinclair did. But instead of merely being taken away, he would’ve been taken back in time to become Valen.

Oh, wait, you say. Isn’t that last bit what actually happened? Yup. But it happened nearly three years early due to O’Hare’s declining health. And they had to split the character – he could no longer be the same character who had fulfilled every aspect of the original intent. At the same time, Sinclair had to be the character who went back to become Valen. Sheridan’s temperament simply didn’t fit the role. But more importantly, Sinclair had already been the one shown in possession of a Minbari soul.

And yet dialogue already recorded and aired – in one of Babylon 5’s best known episodes, no less – had well defined that there was a character of, “The One.” What to do?

JMS turned to religion, in a quite clever move, and created the “Trinity” of Sinclair/Delenn/Sheridan. It works. But honestly, it only ever barely worked. It sounded cheesy and clunky the moment it aired, and it still sounds cheesy and clunky twenty years later. I give him mad props for making this work. It had to have kept him up at night until he worked out the solution. If you want to talk about JMS and religion, stick to episodes like “Passing Through Gethsemane,” which is so deep and profound that it actually played a role in my conversion to Catholocism. For an atheist, he certainly gets and understands the best that religion has to offer.

But let’s not give him props here for more than he actually deserves. Babylon 5‘s “trinity” was a cheesy hack. A really good cheesy hack, but still a cheesy hack.


First Annual Dragon Award Nominees Announced!

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DragonConLogoThe nominees have been announced for the first annual Dragon Awards! You can hop over to the page and see the full list for yourself, but I’d like to call out my friends John C. Wright, Declan Finn, and Brian Niemeier on their nominations!

However, this does lead me to a serious conundrum. My friends Declan and Brian received nominations in the same category! Whom to vote for?

There is only one solution – an author gladiator contest!

Here’s how it works:

Each author picks a character of his choice from his nominated work. That character enters the arena, prepared to do battle with whatever creature I (as the GM) throw at them. Each character will face the same creatures. The author must write out his character’s response in 1000 words or less. The submission must show the final exchange of blows – but it must also leave off the results of that exchange. That is for the GM to decide. There is no time limit, except that if the authors wish to encourage fans to vote for them for the Dragon Awards… well, they only have until voting closes for that.

I will announce the creature here for each round. Each author will then e-mail me their submission (at their own pace), and it will face the judgment of the GM. I will judge entries based on creativity, over-the-topness (a plus, not a negative!), plausibility (only a minor part of the total score), and sheer awesomeness. We shall go best two out of three – so if there is a clear winner after round two, we won’t have a third. But I, for one, will be awfully disappointed if we have a clear winner after two rounds.

The authors shall own all rights to the submitted works except for granting me the right to post them here on this blog.

Let the games begin!


All Politics is Self Interest

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meBryan Caplan suggests that he is aware that normal human beings value group identities, yet he is still solidly in favor of open borders. Vox Day retorts that this is not so much a sign of logic as of other things. In his own words:

I don’t buy his answer. I have a much more logical one. Bryan Caplan grasps the massive political effects of group identity, but remains a cosmopolitan and open borders advocate because he sees it as being in the interest of the group with which he identifies.

I’m going to take the reply even a step further. I believe that more or less everybody ultimately subscribes to the politics of self interest. Some examples:

  • Some states in the US spend as much as $20,000 per student annually on public education. Every state spends at least $6,500 per student annually. New York spends enough to put each student through the best private school in my area. Utah, at the bottom, still spends nearly enough to send every child to the well regarded local Catholic school. Yet every single teacher I’ve ever met still supports higher spending on education.
  • I’ve never met a defense contractor who honestly supports lowering military spending.
  • Single women vote overwhelmingly for social programs that help unmarried mothers. Married women vote overwhelmingly against them.
  • Warren Buffet is a big proponent of raising taxes on the rich. He made the core of his fortune in insurance, predominantly by helping rich people structure their wealth to avoid taxes.
  • Bill Gates loves to push technology as the solution to everything.Almost all libertarians are successful people who can handle (and even thrive in) open, minimally regulated environments.

In every one of these cases you can make an argument in favor of the positions being adopted. Indeed, the people who fit the criteria laid out above almost universally consider themselves principled people. They always do make better arguments in support of their opinions. And yet their opinions always seem to match their own self interest.

I’ve even watched people completely change their (supposed) deepest political convictions as the group they identify with changes. Every time they’ll give you an argument about how they’ve evolved and grown as a person. Every time, their positions (both old and new) magically correlate to their life circumstances.

There are very few people out there who are truly principled in their beliefs. Very few. It is simply the way of the world.


My Best Day At The Gym Was The Day I Failed At Everything

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At least I didn't mess up as badly as this guy.

At least I didn’t mess up as badly as this guy.

Last Saturday morning I had one of my best days ever at the gym. It was also the day when I failed at everything.

Summer is drawing to an end. I’ve been working a new routine all summer, ever since I posted my last PRs, and I wanted to see how it had worked out. Unfortunately, I had also been away from the gym for the last two weeks. I’ve been extremely busy, primarily with the dojo merger. But things are settling down a bit, so I went in.

Pro tip: never try for personal records when you’ve been out of the gym for two weeks. The lifts I was going for were all only a few pounds higher than the PRs I posted in the spring. I failed all of them.

Every single one.

But it was still one of my best days ever at the gym.

I loaded up the bench press with 325, and called Phil over to spot me. Now, you need to know a few things about Phil. Phil is awesome. He’s that guy – the one that everybody at the gym knows. A firefighter and a former competitive weightlifter, he’s forgotten more about fitness than I’ll ever know. Even in his sixties he’s still considerably stronger than me. But he’s also got the best attitude of just about anybody I’ve ever met. He’s never met a stranger, and he loves to share his incredible wealth of knowledge. He’s always available to spot you if you need it.

I lifted the bar off the rack fine, and I lowered it well. Then I started the lift. Things were fine until I hit the zone of death – that area about a third of the way through the lift that requires maximum tricep contribution. I couldn’t quite push past it. Phil was there to barely – and I do mean barely – nudge me through. But most importantly, he was there with a huge grin and the encouragement, exclaiming profusely that I almost had it. His exact words:

“Next week you’re going to come in and nail that.”

Then I hit the squat rack. My last PR was 395. Saturday I tried for 405. I warmed up to it as always – first the bar, then I added “one plate” (gym slang for a 45 pound weight on each side) at a time. 45, 135, 225, 315. Just a few reps at each weight. Then I added the fourth plate. Again, I got the bar off the rack strong. Again, I lowered it well – strong, controlled, and deep. Then I made my fatal error. I paused at the bottom. A second later I knew I was done. I caught the eye of a fellow gym goer in the mirror and he jumped in to help me out. Our local YMCA is fantastic for having folks with great attitudes there to help.

But I was bummed out – really bummed. I almost had that one, too. But in the end, I wasn’t quite there. The iron doesn’t lie. I started re-racking the weights and preparing for my next lift (overhead press). That’s when two other young men approached. I’d never met these two before. They were young – probably college students – and in fantastic shape. And they were all smiles.

“Dude, that was awesome – four plates!

“We thought you had it, man!”

Phil caught me again later.

“We thought you were just showing off at first when you held it like that!” he laughed at me – but it was a good natured laugh. “After that, these guys loading up 2 plates just don’t look impressive anymore.”

I went on to fail my PR at the overhead press as well. I literally failed all of my PR lifts on Saturday.

But I left with pride. I left with respect – respect that I earned – and some real encouragement from total strangers. I’ve never felt better about a failure in my entire life.

Failure is part of the gym. It is part of the progression. You will never hit new records if you don’t try things that are hard. And if you try things that are hard, often you will fail. Embrace the failure. Love it. It’s the pathway to success.


Batman v Superman – MOVIE REVIEW

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BatmanVSupermanI finally watched Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice this weekend. If it seems unusual that I would wait so long to see a superhero movie – especially one about Batman and Superman – well, that’s because it is unusual. I was slightly wary of this film. None of the trailers save the last one excited me at all. Even that one only left me somewhat interested. I wasn’t overly fond of its predecessor, either. Man of Steel had some great moments but overall it was a weak film that didn’t understand its own protagonist. Trips to the movie theater are rough when you have four small children in the house, and this didn’t feel like the film to make the trip for.

I did want to see it, though. I am a big fan of both of the title characters, particularly of Batman. But a $4.99 movie rental after we’ve put the kids to bed is far easier than a $9 a piece trip to the movie theater where we have to coordinate a babysitter. Still, the film came out on video some time ago. So why the delay?

I’ve been busy. Morgon’s been busy – and she wanted to see the film, too. So we had to wait until we were both available to watch it. That turned out to be last night.

I’m glad we didn’t rush. It wasn’t a particularly terrible film, although many have made it out to be that. But it also wasn’t a particularly good film. It had good elements in it, but overall the film is quite weak. The beginning is very slow. The contrived plot will leave you groaning in many spots. In the programming world, we have a term called “happy path coding.” Everything works as long as the user follows exactly the expected series of operations. Any deviation from that and the program crashes. This movie had a “happy path plot.” The story only works if each character follows exactly the path laid out for him. And yet in many cases the viewer is left scratching his head. Why does that character follow that path? There are smarter options available – more in character options available.

And that’s the film’s biggest weakness. Zach Snyder still doesn’t understand Superman. They never should have entrusted the franchise to him. To be fair, this film makes it pretty clear that he wanted to make a Batman film. The studio let him have Batman. They wouldn’t let him have the Joker. So he turned Lex Luthor into the Joker. I didn’t mind them playing with the character. I thought casting Jessie Eisenberg was an interesting choice. The actor is fine. He clearly did what they asked him to do. But it doesn’t work at all.

So what is good about the film? Wonder Woman is hot, and a lot of fun in her short screen time. Zach Snyder has the keenest sense of visual film making this side of George Lucas. There are some amazing shots in the film. Batfleck is actually not bad. I actually want to watch his next outing – particularly since Snyder will not helm this one. The scene where Batman rescues [redacted] is perhaps the best Batman fight I’ve ever seen on film. It was like someone filmed a few minutes of playing the “Arkham Asylum” games, but with a ridiculously high budget. If you’ve played those games then you know that’s a huge compliment. Jeremy Irons as Alfred was great (although not quite Michael Caine great). And did I mention that Wonder Woman is hot?

She’s also barely in the film. And as great as she is, her part could have – and should have – been cut. It added nothing to the story. The fight scenes are too short. The plot struggled  (and many will argue failed) to stay coherent. I followed it fine. My wife didn’t. The two main characters spend virtually no time together on screen. Batman’s “It’s ok, I’m a friend of [Clark’s]!” line makes no sense at all given that he was literally trying to kill Clark less than ten minutes earlier – in movie world time, not real time.

This film is three stars out of five, and that might be a tad generous. Don’t rush.


An Interview With S.D. McPhail – Part 3

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Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key

Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key

Last October, by a stroke of good fortune and timing, I was offered a chance to review one of the most unique novels I’ve encountered in a long time. After a few months of discussions, my friend S.D. McPhail agreed to allow me to publish it. Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key is, without a doubt, one of a kind. I’m also pleased to say that it’s not just unique – it’s also actually good. The book is available for pre-order now, and will be available for purchase this Saturday. I highly recommend buying a copy and reading it. But if you can’t wait until Friday (and let’s face it, you really are that excited about this book!) I’ve got a three part interview with Ms. McPhail.

As with my typical interviews, one part will post each day through the end of the week. Wednesday’s Part 1 focused on the book itself. Yesterday’s Part 2 focused on Ms. McPhail’s experiences with writing and publishing. Finally, Today’s Part 3 focuses on Ms. McPhail herself. As always, these interviews are presented unedited.

 


 

Aside from authors and works previously listed as inspiration, can you tell us what your own favorite sff authors and works are?

One of my all-time favorite books is Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land. I adore Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series. I’ve been a fan of Stephen King since Carrie, although I had to take a break from him for a long time after Cujo. I’m still catching up on some of his books I haven’t read yet. J.K. Rowling is my idol. If only I could be as imaginative as she!

 

Favorite current sff show and/or movie?

Just saw Star Trek Beyond and it currently tops my favorite recent movie list. But that list is subject to frequent change and if next year’s Kong: Skull Island is as good as the trailer, it will have a turn at the top of the list. There are likely to be several at the number one spot in the interim between those two.
The other day I finished binge-watching the Netflix series Stranger Things. Loved it! Comparisons from fans ranged from The Goonies to E.T. to Stand by Me, but I found it strongly reminiscent of Super-8, another on my all-time favorites list. Just read that it’s confirmed for a second season, so go watch all eight episodes of the first season now so you’ll be conversant when everyone else finds out about this little gem.

I am also waiting, rather impatiently, for the return of Game of Thrones.

 

Favorite current non-sff show and/or movie?

Favorite TV show is Big Bang Theory. Love me some loveable nerds. As a history nerd, not to mention a fan of Matthew McConaughey, I loved Free State of Jones. Now I want to read the book it was based on.

 

Favorite current sff books?

I’ve been on a YA binge lately with books. Finished the phenomenal Ashes trilogy by Ilsa J. Bick not long ago. Just started reading White Space, a more recent book by Ilsa, and it’s equally amazing.

 

Favorite current non-sff books?

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America was fascinating. True history again, about Dr. H. H. Holmes, the serial killer whose “Murder Castle” must have been the inspiration for American Horror Story: Hotel.

 

What did you do before you became a writer?

I was a marketing communications specialist who wrote a lot of copy and created marketing materials, brochures, proposals, technical documents, illustrations, presentations, and website content for all kinds of clients.

 

Do you still have a “real” job? If so, what do you do?

Yes, I have a real job. I am a writer.

 

Do you have a college degree? If so, what in?

Yes, my degree is a Bachelor of Business Administration. Maybe if I had majored in English, it wouldn’t have taken me so long to discover the joys of writing fiction.

[Editor’s note: from what I can tell, majoring in English seems to have the opposite effect.]

 


 

And that’s it for this interview – but you really should take the time to check out her book!


An Interview With S.D. McPhail – Part 2

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Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key

Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key

Last October, by a stroke of good fortune and timing, I was offered a chance to review one of the most unique novels I’ve encountered in a long time. After a few months of discussions, my friend S.D. McPhail agreed to allow me to publish it. Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key is, without a doubt, one of a kind. I’m also pleased to say that it’s not just unique – it’s also actually good. The book is available for pre-order now, and will be available for purchase this Saturday. I highly recommend buying a copy and reading it. But if you can’t wait until Friday (and let’s face it, you really are that excited about this book!) I’ve got a three part interview with Ms. McPhail.

As with my typical interviews, one part will post each day through the end of the week. Yesterday’s Part 1 focused on the book itself. Today’s Part 2 focuses on Ms. McPhail’s experiences with writing and publishing. Finally, Tomorrow’s Part 3 will focus on Ms. McPhail herself. As always, these interviews are presented unedited.

 


 

What made you decide to get serious about writing?

For many years I worked in a corporate environment at various companies, sometimes in positions that were interesting and challenging, other times not so much. When the work got really boring, I started a blog where I wrote movie reviews. I discovered that I enjoyed analyzing what made me like or dislike a film. Most often it came down to how original or well-executed the story was, not the actors or the special effects. Critiquing other stories got me thinking about the kind of story I would like to write. When the contract on my day job ended, that left me with lots of time to do more than just think about it.

 

How long did it take you to write your first novel?

A ridiculously long time because I was learning how to write fiction while I was trying to write a novel.

 

How much time do you spend writing every day?

Not enough and not as much as I would like. I try to put in at least four hours a day. Some days I do well, occasionally I am elated to have spent a good six or eight hours at the keyboard. Then there are the days that life interferes, and I feel guilty about neglecting my characters.

 

Is the second one going any faster?

See the last question. The next one should go must faster because I learned so many valuable lessons while writing The Origin Key.

 

Do you enjoy the writing process or is it a slog?

There are days when it is definitely a slog. On those days, nothing seems to flow easily, the characters refuse to cooperate, and every idea feels trite or stale or obvious or boring. But when it starts to flow well and I can get into the zone, there is no better feeling. That’s when writing is most enjoyable and makes the slog to get there worthwhile.

 

Did you try submitting your works to any traditional or other indie publishers before you settled on Silver Empire? If so, what was the response like?

I sure did. And I made the egregious newbie mistake of querying agents before my novel had been edited and polished enough. I got back polite, standard rejections that showed not the least bit of interest. So I kept rewriting, found an amazing story editor, and continued to query as I made my novel even better. I still got rejections, but usually more personalized with encouraging comments such as “Even though we are not interested in this one, please feel free to query us in future with other novels.” After many, many rejections, it became clear that my story didn’t fit neatly into a single publishing pigeonhole. It blurs lines between genres and isn’t quite like anything else on the sci-fi/fantasy shelves. I believe a lot of the rejection wasn’t due to a poorly written story, but rather an unwillingness to embrace something refreshingly different or a perceived difficulty in marketing a genre-bender.

 

You’re with a pretty small and new publisher. What made you decide to go with us instead of just self-publishing it?

Even though I had heard of a few amazing success stories for self-published authors, I realized those were the exception and not the typical experience for new writers. I could have self-published, but knowing how much work an author has to put into marketing their books these days—whether traditionally or self-published—I wanted help from someone who already knew the ins and outs. I wanted a partner with publishing experience so I could concentrate on writing the next stories in the series while we developed a marketing strategy to sell books. After researching you and Silver Empire, I felt like we would work very well together.

 

How has your publishing experience been so far?

It’s been fantastic! Being able to meet with my publisher and talk in person is an enormous confidence-booster. You’ve been extremely responsive and offered some great ideas. I can’t thank you enough for being willing to listen to me and explaining the business side of things when I have questions. With a small publisher, there’s a lot more personal attention that I’m not sure I would ever get with a busy, overworked agent or a big publishing house.

 


 

That’s it for part 2. Tune in tomorrow for a bit more about Ms. McPhail herself!


An Interview With S.D. McPhail – Part 1

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Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key

Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key

Last October, by a stroke of good fortune and timing, I was offered a chance to review one of the most unique novels I’ve encountered in a long time. After a few months of discussions, my friend S.D. McPhail agreed to allow me to publish it. Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key is, without a doubt, one of a kind. I’m also pleased to say that it’s not just unique – it’s also actually good. The book is available for pre-order now, and will be available for purchase this Saturday. I highly recommend buying a copy and reading it. But if you can’t wait until Friday (and let’s face it, you really are that excited about this book!) I’ve got a three part interview with Ms. McPhail.

As with my typical interviews, one part will post each day through the end of the week. Today’s Part 1 focuses on the book itself. Tomorrow’s Part 2 focuses on Ms. McPhail’s experiences with writing and publishing. Finally, Friday’s Part 3 will focus on Ms. McPhail herself. As always, these interviews are presented unedited.

 


 

Congratulations on the pending release of your first novel!

Thank you so much! It’s quite a surreal feeling.

 

Where did the inspiration for Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key come from?

It’s probably the culmination of a lifetime of reading science fiction and fantasy. I tend to prefer adventure stories with a hero who keeps getting back up after being knocked down and who, perhaps reluctantly at first, has the guts to do the right thing even when it’s much easier to simply walk away.

But I’m guessing you’re looking for a more specific answer than that, so here goes. I’ve always loved studying ancient cultures. In fact, my first year as an undergrad was spent majoring in archaeology/anthropology. I am fascinated by how television’s Ancient Aliens can take the most ridiculous theory and make a case for how extraterrestrials were involved in human history, with no way to prove it. I’m also a fan of classic movies, including silent features from Hollywood’s earliest golden era such as 1924’s The Thief of Bagdad starring Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. Combine all of that and add in the premise of another classic movie, 1937’s Lost Horizon about an ancient peaceful society hidden somewhere in the Himalaya Mountains, and call me inspired.

 

Which works and authors would you say influenced the book?

That’s hard to narrow down. I’m a big fan of both Star Trek and Star Wars, not to mention movies like Indiana Jones, Independence Day, Galaxy Quest, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, and Guardians of the Galaxy. Dan Brown’s books featuring the intellectual hero Robert Langdon are definitely in the mix. Someone told me The Origin Key could be described as “Aladdin meets Mission Impossible.” I can’t really argue with that.

 

What was your favorite moment of the book to write?

I had it on good authority that you know you are truly a writer when your fictional characters talk to you during the writing process, and perhaps even at random moments throughout the day when you aren’t writing. I experienced an argument with one of my main characters who refused to say the bit of dialog I was typing for him. I tried to convince him that he needed to say it exactly as I had written it, but he was adamant. He won the argument and I changed the dialog. When I realized what had happened, I was elated because I finally felt I was a real writer!

 

What was the hardest part of the book for you to write?

I could answer with “the middle” since it was a bit of a challenge to weave together a lot mystery and intrigue to keep the reader guessing about the final outcome. But what may have been more difficult was writing the fight scenes. Everything that was perfectly choreographed in my mind was not so easy to describe clearly and succinctly.

 

How many more books do you plan for the series?

Right now, I plan to keep writing about Dodrazeb and Rasteem as long as I can invent new adventures for him. I also want to feature some of the other characters, such as Laneffri or Kamran or even Vestanji as the main character in their own novel-length story. So the answer is “a bunch.”

 

Can you give us a hint of what we should expect in the next book(s)?

There will be more revelations about the complex history of Dodrazeb and perhaps what exactly it is the scholars continue to search for. My short story A Ruby for Dyree is sort of a Dodrazebbian fairy tale that Rasteem discovers may contain more fact than legend. It features a ruby that isn’t simply a ruby. Oh, and more than one white tiger.

 

Do you have plans for any more novels outside of Treasures of Dodrazeb?

As a matter of fact, I do. An idea for a cozy mystery series set in a small town in Mississippi populated by eccentric characters with crazy secrets is on my radar.

 

Can you tell us when we should expect your next novel?

I wish I could say very soon, but it might be next year. I’m working hard at writing the next Dodrazeb adventure as fast as I can, but I don’t want to sacrifice quality for speed. I want it to be as entertaining as possible, and that takes time.

 


 

That’s it for part 1. Tune in tomorrow for a bit more about how Ms. McPhail approaches the writing and publishing process!

 

  • An Interview with S.D. McPhail – Part 1
  • An Interview with S.D. McPhail – Part 2
  • An Interview with S.D. McPhail – Part 3