Fantasy Fantasy Fridays Novel

Road of Leaves- an excerpt

Today I thought I would share a short section from my latest fantasy novel, Road of Leaves.  This snippet comes from the middle of the book, providing a humorous side story. Our main character, Thomas the magician’s apprentice, has just survived a harrowing journey through the first leg of the Road of Leaves. Thom and Francis, a monk from his traveling party, are trying to relax for the night on the Travelers’ Field, when another of their party shows up.

Road of Leaves cover

* * *

Thom looked to where the monk pointed and saw Geoffrey trudging onto the traveler’s field, appearing dejected. The youth looked around the meadow, spotted them, and headed their way.

“He’s coming to us,” said Thom with a slight frown. He had no desire to put up with that silly rooster.

“We’re the easiest to spot, being away from the crowd. You should have hid among all the others if you didn’t want to be noticed,” said Francis cheerfully. “Just be glad it’s not Iago coming over to sneer and insult.”

The noble’s son walked near but then stopped, apparently unsure if he would be welcomed.

“Lord Geoffrey, this is our camp,” said Francis. “If you come as companion and fellow camper, then welcome. You may come and join us. If you are looking for servants to order around, then find some other group because we are freemen.”

“I am simply looking for a place to sleep,” replied Geoffrey, raising both hands in protest. “Have I ever tried ordering either of you? I do not expect to be waited on. I just don’t want to be alone.”

The monk strode over and put a welcoming arm over the youth’s shoulder. “Then join us, my son. Set your saddlebags down and find some soft grass to cushion your blanket. You will have a more comfortable bed than most in that overcrowded inn, though maybe not as fine a dinner.”

Geoffrey dropped his bags and all three settled in to eat a cold meal, sharing what they had. Afterward, an awkward silence settled on them until Francis made a suggestion. “Why don’t the two of you go visit the pixie gathering? Tonight promises to be a boisterous one with such a large crowd of travelers. I will stay and watch our camp.”

Thom wasn’t certain he wanted to go carousing with a noble.

However, before he could demur, Geoffrey spoke up. “That is a wonderful idea. Always before, I have traveled by the Road of Waters to Camelot but this time I wanted to see a Pixie Eve. The other boys speak of it so highly. Let us go, Thomas.”

“Have fun,” said Francis. “I will enjoy some quiet for my prayers. But be wary of the Pix Ale, for its potent enough to make a bear drunk, let alone young fellows like the two of you.”

Geoffrey headed off, now excited, motioning for Thom to join him. The apprentice felt he had no choice but to go along.

“Oh, and one more thing, Thomas,” said Francis as the two left. “Pixies are drawn to music and to magic, so if you don’t want them pressing in on you, avoid crafting any enchantments.”

“No matter how hard anyone begs, they’ll get no magic out of me tonight,” said Thom. His ability to hear magical elements still had not returned, but he didn’t want to say so in front of the nobleman.

Francis gave him a frowning nod, apparently understanding what he meant.

* * *

The walk helped to clear Thom’s head, the dizziness fading. However, he was still deaf to magic. He tried his best to ignore that loss, concentrating on the darkened village they were passing through.

Sometime during their walk over to the Pixvale green, Geoffrey started treating Thom like a fellow squire. He shared his excitement of intermingling with pixies and experiencing their native customs. “I heard from David that a pixie girl’s kiss is as soft as a puppy’s fur but will set your lips to burning.”

“Don’t try stealing any kisses,” urged Thom, imagining the young noble angering the whole assembly. “We are in their land now and not your father’s.”

Geoffrey giggled nervously. “I would not be so bold a thief even at my father’s court. Do not worry, Thomas. I will not molest any pixie’s lips, though I will certainly not refuse any kiss offered.” Again he giggled with excitement.

Thom heard more outrageous stories about the powers and proclivities of pixies, all sworn true by various squires of the court and not one of them believable. As Geoffrey bantered, Thom listened without much comment. By the time they reached the commons, Thom was convinced that the Goat Woman was not disguised as the young noble, for he doubted anyone could keep up such an act.

On the community green, the pixies had already started their evening competitions. Thom heard music, singing, and laughter. Tall torches stood everywhere, giving the area an abundance of light. He saw pixie men sitting in a circle for some sort of drinking game. Apparently humans were welcome, for three men sat among them, towering over the smaller folk. A pair of pixies marched around the outside of the circle carrying a large pitcher and, whenever the singing stopped, they grabbed the nearest sitter and pulled his head back, pouring a dark, foamy beverage into his mouth.

“Look! A Draught Circle. Jacob claims to have won at that last year, winning a keg and a pixie’s kiss.”

Thom sensed that the squires of the royal court spent as much time dreaming about cuddling a girl as they did dreaming about becoming a knight. He had no such luxury. He was still just an apprentice and of no interest to any woman looking for romance. Following a few more years of total poverty, he had another decade as a journeyman. The only women trying to kiss him wanted something, be it money or a potion to curse their enemy. When they learned he had neither to give, they quickly lost interest.

As they stepped onto the grasses, Thom noticed a line of canopies where the visiting nobles congregated. “Do you want to go over there, my lord?”

“Me? Not likely,” said Geoffrey, frowning. “I would be spending the whole night running errands and fetching drinks. I might be a squire at Camelot, but here I would be just another lad to order around. Besides, some of them are the louts I was traveling with when my horse faltered. They denied me aid when I needed it, so I have no desire to be in their company. I am a gentleman, but they might provoke me to call them out for their boorishness.”

Thom doubted that a mere squire could demand a fight from his betters, but he was no expert on noble customs. Frankly, he gave Geoffrey’s words little hearing, for he was distracted by one of those walking among the canopies. She moved gracefully through the crowd, carrying a full flask of wine but spilling not a drop. She took it to a middle-aged woman reclining on a campaign chair under the middlemost tent. The maid poured into a waiting cup, expertly anticipating her mistress’ tendency to jerk the target as she watched the festivities. When done, the maid stepped back out of the way to await her next order.

Thom remembered her face, her smile, her vibrant personality.


(Buy your own copy of Road of Leaves and enjoy the whole tale)

Road of Leaves cover





Thanks for reading.

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Fantasy Fantasy Fridays Story Lines world building

Why Read the Whole Fantasy Series?

One of the wonderful things about Fantasy noels is that many of them are part of an extended series of books. I love being able to dive into a new world and staying there for an extended period of time. It is one of the things I look forward to creating as I write more books for each of my two fantasy series (the Cirian War Saga and the the Ways of Camelot novels). With multiple books, there is the opportunity to discover so much more about a new world and to watch as characters grow and change. Done well,  a lengthy Fantasy series will gain my loyalty.

However, there are quite a few series that I have failed to finish. Some of them I really tried to enjoy but just couldn’t. I have the third book of a trilogy sitting on my nightstand right now that I have been trying to finish for months but it just cannot hold my attention. I greatly enjoyed the first book and I really wanted to like the whole series, but I found that it just became stale. The story couldn’t sustain itself over that many books.

Personally, I can think of five reasons:

1. Delays in Publishing. The longer the delay the greater the odds of readers moving on to something else. Whether the delay comes from a publisher wanting to space out their release dates or from an author being slow to produce, the result is the same.  Who wants to read a book when the next one could be years away from release?

2. Repetitive Stories.  I have abandoned numerous series because they start feeling like a summer rerun. I will leave when a story drags on, seeming to loop back to repeat similar quests or battles or wars. Life can be a repetitive drudgery; the books that I read shouldn’t be.

3. Stunted Characters. When the main characters never change or mature, then a series will start feeling like a soap opera: lots of words and fake drama but no real advancement in their life story. After ten years of sword fighting, your guy should be a changed man (older, more experienced, hardened, disgusted, crazed…  something, anything)  Trauma should alter a character’s actions, emotions, and life-goals.

4. Stuck in Glue. There are some great Fantasy series out there that have become bogged down in details. The forward motion of the main story arc almost stops. I get disappointed whenever an author writes a whole novel that is only a side-trip. Maybe the houses are nicer looking on a cul-de-sac, but you certainly aren’t going to get very far driving down that dead-end street. Get the main story moving! Leave off all those side stories that don’t really get us anywhere.

5. Betrayal. This is more of a complex issue. Whenever I feel that an author has set me up, then I will be hesitant to ever trust him or her again. I have had authors create worlds and then mock those creations (and me for naively believing in them). I have had authors lure me into caring for characters and then wantonly kill them off. I have started series where the first book creates a certain mood and then the author (maybe out of boredom) decides to do something completely different with the sequel. Radical change is fine for stand-alone novels but not within a series. Labeling that book as part of a series means that you (author) are promising to uphold the ambiance, the mood, the characters, the brand of the previous book(s).  A television series doesn’t shift from romantic comedy to police procedural to nature show each week. The TV show doesn’t alter its main characters halfway through the season. That TV show holds to a similar feel from episode to episode. Your Fantasy series needs to do likewise.

I love reading a good Fantasy series. I often reread the better ones. Sadly, though, there have been many trilogies and sagas that I have never finished just because the author failed to hold my interest over the long run. I don’t desert stories lightly, but I also cannot stand it when a Fantasy series fails to be entertaining or to be loyal to the world the author crafted in book one.

When it comes to my own Fantasy series, I will strive to be respectful of my readers and do my best to avoid the five shortcomings I mentioned above. Will I succeed? I hope so.


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Business News Future of Writing Publishing Writer Resources Writer Struggles

Will Traditional Publishing Ever Become Author-Focused?

Advice to Publishers. Well, it is that time of the year when the consultants trot out their predictions for the year. What will be the hot trends for 2014? Every consultant in the publishing industry hopes that he or she will be that trend-setter, reaping bushels of cash as a result.  Having just read another such a prediction by consultant George Lossius at Publishing Perspectives (5 Trends for Trade Publishing in 2014), I was disheartened that the biggest game-changer was simply ignored: authors are now able to build a decent writing career without ever entering any agreements with a traditional publisher. This is true for genre writers and will become more so for non-fiction writers too. Authors can now prosper without publishers.

Currently, I have no desire to enter into a contractual relationship with any traditional publisher. Who would? It would be like entering a marriage and your spouse demanding that you be forever faithful to them (non-compete clause) and financially supportive until well after your death (life-of-copyright) while they can fool around with whoever they want as often as they want. All the while, as they are spending all the money your hard work brought in, they are telling you how lucky you are to have been chosen by them.  Actually, I think the better analogy would be entering a harem instead of an “open” marriage, and I have no desire to be anyone’s concubine. I mean, really, have you seen my photo? I wouldn’t be the cutest one the empress’ harem- so how often would I get her attention? No marketing budget for you, buddy. We gave your book a homely cover to match your looks. No thanks. I am happy with the micro publisher I founded, Reader Hill.  At least I can earn a decent percentage on every sale and I can control the quality and content.

Nonetheless, I am disheartened by traditional publishing’s refusal to face this huge shift in their own industry, for it means that so many hopeful authors will never be able to make a living off of their craft. I am saddened for the thousands of writer-brides still being conned into such a one-sided relationship, where the publisher gets almost all the benefits off of the writer’s months or years of labor. I just hope more of those once-naive writers realize their awful state and escape from the empress’ palace.

So what did that consultant focus on, if not the paradigm shift that is giving authors real career choices for the first time in decades?  Mr. Lossius had five of them (see the article link above for the full list), but I will just touch on a couple of those points: big data and developing new apps.

Starving for Data. Retailers do NOT release the details of their customers’ shopping habits. To do so would risk their competitive edge. Publisher, you will not get your hands on any worthwhile data like search terms, purchasing history, or where that customer came from.  Amazon will not release it, but neither will Barnes and Noble, Waterstones, Walmart, or even sickly Kmart-Sears. It ain’t happening, so why talk about it? Even Google is starting to mask the search terms people use to find your website. If you want this kind of data, you will need to own the retailer. If you really want it, go buy BN or Kmart, then invest a few million more creating the infrastructure to utilize the data. Don’t worry, thousands of wholesalers survive without ever getting such granular info, but they’ve learned to woo their top customers. Go visit Rogers, Arkansas and see how its done.

Creating Apps. Mr. Lossius starts off good, talking about making e-books available in all formats for all reading environments. He also mentions the ability to speed up traditional publishing’s very looooooooooooooong turn around time from manuscript to finished product, though he talks more in terms of responding to trends. His pet term? Agile publishing. However, then this consultant turns into a comedian, talking about publishers creating their own apps.  He suggests they create apps so that people can discover their company easier. Its just like all those consultants who talked manufacturers into putting a QR code on their chips, shampoo, and cereal box because everyone is rapt to read some boring corporate website in hopes of finding a coupon or becoming a Facebook fan of their brand of toilet paper. Does he want the publisher to create a retail website behind those apps? If so, do publishers really think they can do better than Amazon, Apple, Kobo, or even What would entice customers to enter your little secluded garden, no matter how pretty it is? Scholastic can do this stuff, but they have spent 50 years building their own school-oriented customer base. Randy Penguin? Not so much.

On one point, I think Mr. Lossius makes a decent point. He expresses doubt about one of the big trends right now: subscription services. I think the same argument also applies to creating exclusive company apps.  He states, “There has been a lot of talk about a ‘Netflix’ or ‘Spotify’ for publishing. The hunt has been on for a subscription model that will reorder the publishing universe …  But my feeling is that this won’t stop the world from turning in 2014 – if it was going to work, really, why would Amazon, who already offer subscription based surfaces in the form of LoveFilm and Audible, not have created it already? The entrepreneurs will have to go back to the drawing board.”

Will Traditional Publishing Ever Become Author-Focused? Frankly, I doubt it will happen any time soon. They may be forced to offer better terms, but that will come grudgingly. They might be willing to pay out royalties more regularly, but I cannot see them updating their systems unless forced to be legal action. As for admitting (at least to themselves) that they are no longer a requirement for success but are only one of many avenues, that will be a truth much harder to face.  Maybe it is because of fragile egos, but traditional publishing companies seem committed to the fallacy that they should be allowed to do whatever they want and the authors should be thankful for it.  Serious counseling is needed to heal this unhealthy relationship.

The Hugh Howey Solution. Maybe Best-Selling Author Hugh Howey can start his own counseling service or weekend seminar to help publishers deal with their abusive ways and name it Escaping your Publishing Silo: the Howey Method to Healthy Publishing Relationships. Too long? Then he might want to call it Writer-Abusers Anonymous.

He made a good start with two recent posts:


Thanks for visiting,

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Fantasy Fantasy Fridays world building

Mixing Reality with Fiction

I love fantasy. I love reading fantasy and writing fantasy, for it is such a wondrous genre. My imagination can roam and romp through imaginary lands, sometimes for weeks after I’ve read a great book.

And yet I still want a fantasy tale to have some connection to reality. The protagonist doesn’t need to be from “here” like the leper Thomas Covenant in Stephen R. Donaldson’s stories, but I still need some reality to help me cross the span of imagination to that fantasy land.

Here are three areas where I like to see our reality mix into a fantasy realm:

Anthropomorphism– This term is often used when describing the tendency to give the human attributes to Deity, but I think it can also be applied to fantastic creatures. Is the writer humanizing something alien so that we, as readers, can relate. If your main characters are mice, they had better be rodents with human characteristics like our emotions, our speech patterns, our societal structures. If your characters are elves, dwarfs, or dragons and you want me to relate to them, then show them to be human-like in some way.

I know some villains are distant and their alien ways are vital to the story, but then you can’t bring the reader in close. Tolkien understood this. We never get “into the head” of Smaug or  Sauron because they are too different, but we do get close to Boromir and sense his fatal flaw of envy when he tries to take the Ring for himself and his country.

Flora and Fauna– An alien landscape should have some link to our world in how its plants and animals look and act. Frankly, it is that connection that helps to make the truly fantastic stand out, be it the magical forests in Tolien’s the Lord of Rings or the Ranyhyn steeds in the Thomas Covenant books.

It is because their land is similar to ours, that the hobbits are awed by Ents just as we are. If every tree in Middle Earth walked or grabbed people, it wouldn’t be as startling without overwhelming the story. Because the living trees are unusual in Middle Earth, it is a wonder that doesn’t take over the whole tale.

In Donaldson’s series, the Ranyhyn horses are wondrous because of how they are similar to ours and yet so far beyond any earthly equines.  Their stamina is far beyond any normal horse but we can accept their power because it first awes the protagonists and then is accepted by them too.

Geography– This is an area where I think many writers stumble. I have seen too many lands where the terrain drastically changes without any good explanation or any connection to our world.  In reality, things like oceans and mountain ranges will alter weather patterns and temperatures. I think a writer should be aware of the basics of physical geography or face the danger of creating an unbelievable land.

Tolkien made Mordor different, but he was wise enough to separate it from the rest of Middle Earth by mountain ranges and to show that it was the exception to the land’s reality.  Outside of Mordor, the land follows the same rules as ours. You don’t encounter deserts abutting rain forests or balmy mountains towering over snowy lowlands.

Reality highlights fantasy. I feel that it is the reality, well-applied, that helps to make the imaginary creatures and locations stand out that much more. It is the mundane in a fantasy world that adds awe to the wondrous places.

Interest in how I’ve mixed reality with fiction? Learn more about my first two  published novels: Road of Leaves and Fallen King

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