This Halloween we asked Charlie Fletcher to write about what the festival of all things ghastly and ghoulish means to him. Charlie’s supernatural fantasy novel, THE OVERSIGHT, comes out in paperback next week, with its sequel, THE PARADOX to follow next summer.
I like Halloween, for two reasons. The first has to do with being a dad, the second is a writer thing. When our kids were toddlers we lived in Los Angeles, where Halloween was a suitably big and authentic deal, the full American trick-or-treat experience, with pumpkin-carving parties (not to brag, but I’m kind of a big deal when it comes to carving a wicked Jack o’ Lantern), cool and unusual costumes and enough candy and e-numbers to stun a Clydesdale. My favorite costume ever was at a house in the Palisades: our four year old (suitably dressed as a furry bat) knocked on the door, which swung open to reveal a man sitting at a solitary table in the hallway, apparently eating his supper. He seemed the nicest Norman Rockwellish old geezer and he beckoned us to come in and choose some candy from under the domed silver dish cover in the centre of the table. When the cover was lifted it revealed neither candy-corn nor Tootsie Rolls, but a woman’s head on a bed of lettuce. A beat of silence followed. It was a very realistic head, eyes closed, dead as mutton. And then the eyes opened and it spoke to our kid. Screams, shock and finally hilarity ensued. I loved, and still love the fact that this couple built a table with a hole in the middle, and that the wife spent all evening lying in wait for the unsuspecting trick-or-treaters to scare the pants off them.
The take away from that is if you want to scare people you have to put work into it, and when we came back to Scotland we set to with a will: high points in our ignoble but committed campaign to traumatize our and others children’s childhoods was a ghost trail laid through a rambling highland lodge in the wilds of Argyll in a howling storm, with the electricity turned off. The unconscionably small children set off in the dark, alone, by the light of a single guttering candle. All the supposedly responsible adults dressed up and secreted themselves throughout the building. A hidden fiddler played the children through the house, unseen, a spectral Pied Piper, always a floor ahead of them, leading them from the cellars to the attic and back again. Almost none of them made it back to the kitchen under their own steam. We topped that with an outdoor version the following year, involving grandparents wandering around as ghostly monks and witches, and ending with a test of bravery in which each child had to descend a mossy series of steps and enter an ancient crypt-like ice-house where a single candle in a jar sat on the floor of a darkened doorway, next to a tempting pile of brightly wrapped sweets. As each child tentatively reached for them, a bloody hand shot out of the inner dark and grabbed their hand. Oh, the screaming and oh, the therapy those kids will require in the future. Worth every penny, and had I not foolishly bloodied my hand with red gloss paint and had the devil of a time getting it off afterwards, it would have been perfect. It was certainly worth crouching in the dark for half an hour or so…
And that’s the second thing I like about Halloween. The dark. More specifically being in the dark. Trick or treating in LA was fun, but in truth it was more Frank Capra than John Carpenter when it came to scary. It was Americana of most enjoyable kind, but there were no true chills. And there should be a shiver and a frisson at Halloween. It’s the start of the Dark Half of the year after all (Winter has come . . .), Allhallowtide is upon us, as is Samhain, the time when the border between us and “them” – the dead and the uncanny – thins and becomes scarily permeable. And that’s what you feel in the dark. Less rational, unmoored from the certainty of daylight. Crouching under ground, in the blackness, waiting to scare the children, I too felt the chill of the shadows behind me. It’s a good thing to do, every now and then, to let yourself be that guttering candle in the surrounding dark. There are good things there as well as bad, same as in daylight: I’ve walked alone in a deserted glen far down Loch Etive and definitely felt watched by something not entirely well disposed to me as I passed through the ruins of a tiny hamlet abandoned in the Clearances. And that was in bright noon-day sun.
In The Oversight the Sluagh inhabit that unlit space; they stalk the book as Shadowgangers and Nightwalkers, and they certainly came out of the darkness into my head. As to whether they are evil – as some readers have asserted – time (and The Paradox) will begin to tell. What they certainly are is ‘other’. And though they are not quite the same as the Celtic fairy host of the undead sinners that share their name, they do of course owe a big debt to them. One of the reasons I avoid the F-word in my books is it has become too overlaid with ‘cute’ and winsome (for which we can start by blaming the Victorians, as with so much, and then proceed to Disney and the Dreaded Pink Aisle in Toys’r’Us). But as someone who spent way too much of his third year at university reading about the Fairy faith in Celtic cultures I do like the muscular fear and healthy wariness about the unseen and what might lurk there that used to fill people’s heads. Not because I think people should be scared all the time, but that in thinking about the dark they can exorcise those fears a bit and realize they too are a candle against it.
And then again. Halloween is the traditional day of the year when those older Sluagh ride. So watch out when someone knocks on the door tonight. It could be a sugar-crazed toddler in a furry bat-suit. Or it might be the darkness calling . . .
In ICE FORGED (US | UK | AUS) and REIGN OF ASH (US | UK | AUS), Blaine McFadden is sent into exile in an arctic prison colony for murdering the man who dishonored his sister. When a war destroys mankind’s ability to control magic and bend it to their will, out-of-control wild magic brings deadly storms, monsters pulled through rifts from other realms and a madness that drives its victims to violence. Blaine discovers that he might just be the only one who can put things right.
In WAR OF SHADOWS, Blaine and his convict friends discover that plenty of people are trying to kill them. Blaine’s attempts to fully restore the magic affect the new status quo. With the king and nobility gone, there’s a power vacuum, and some ruthless players have decided to fill that gap themselves. As warring factions fight over territory in the kingdom of Donderath, Blaine emerges as a warlord trying to restore the rule of law, amid betrayal, intrigue and opponents who will go to any length to see him dead.
I’m not nice to my characters. It’s true. Blaine’s had a rum go of it. Raised by an abusive father, forced to make a choice no one should have to make in order to save his sister and younger brother, condemned by the king and exiled to the edge of the world—it hasn’t been a good seven years. Yet Blaine rises to the challenge, not because he covets power, but because he doesn’t want to live in the world as it is, and someone has to step up to make the difference.
Blaine doesn’t go looking to be a hero. In fact, when he kills his father, he fully expects to die for the crime to spare his sister and brother from further abuse. An act of ‘mercy’ commutes his sentence from hanging to exile, but the Velant prison colony is known for its inhumane, grueling conditions. But Blaine finds it within himself to adapt, and that ability to change lies at the heart of the series. Blaine and his convict friends, as well as the survivors back in Donderath, find strengths they never knew they had when confronted with challenges they never expected to face.
Blaine’s story is also about the power of ‘the family you make.’ In the brutal environment of Velant, and then later as colonists in the harsh environs of Edgeland, Blaine survives because of the ‘family’ of loyal friends who band together to protect each other. Back in Donderath, his ‘found’ family combines with what remains of his blood family, and several key people are added to the group. Blaine’s companion’s skills, courage and loyalty make the difference for his survival and for having a chance to fix the magic and set things right.
I’m also having fun looking at how a kingdom reacts in the face of overwhelming disaster, destruction of both economic and governmental infrastructure and continued instability. That ‘perfect storm’ combination affects everything from food production to religious identity to social cohesion, turning everything that people thought they knew upside-down. It’s a crucible from which everyone emerges changed—if they emerge at all. And whatever solution is found, one thing is certain: nothing will ever be the same as it was before the disaster.
Depending on your view, that’s either a terrifying statement or the glimpse of hope at the end of the storm.
War of Shadows isn’t the end to Blaine’s story. I’m working on Book 4, SHADOW AND FLAME, right now. So there is more to come. Because surviving is just the beginning of the journey.
My Days of the Dead blog tour runs through October 31 with never-before-seen cover art, brand new excerpts from upcoming books and recent short stories, interviews, guest blog posts, giveaways and more! Plus, I’ll be including extra excerpt links for stories and books by author friends of mine. You’ve got to visit the participating sites to get the goodies, just like Trick or Treat! Details here: www. AscendantKingdoms.com.
Trick or Treat: Enjoy an excerpt from Ice Forged, and a bonus excerpt from Reign of Ash.
- - October 29th, 2014
It’s a rough life being an adventurer. The pay is shit, and every job has the potential to prove fatal, but hey, it beats sitting behind a desk all day!
If you’re looking to escape your own desk, we recommend checking out THE CITY STAINED RED—out today in e-book for a special introductory price! Purchase it now for only $1.99 wherever e-books are sold.
The fast-paced adventure fantasy about a band of battle-scarred mercenaries is really excellent, and bestselling author Robin Hobb says it best about The City Stained Red:
When I first began reading SF and fantasy, back in the Dark Ages when I was a mere slip of a girl, one of the things I most loved about the genre was that often the tales simply engulfed the reader from page one, with no explanation of where one was or what mores to expect. I loved that sensation of sudden immersion and knowing that I knew nothing but had to trust the author to reveal as the tale unfolded.
The City Stained Red does exactly that. From the very first page, I found myself frantically swimming in a very exotic environment, accompanied by some of the most reckless protagonists I’ve ever shared a point-of-view with. I swiftly learned that most of my assumptions about who they were and what they were up to were wrong.
If you’ve followed Sam Sykes on Twitter for any length of time, you are familiar with his “Buy my book” gags. Now you can support Sam, by not only buying his book, but by becoming a supporter on Thunderclap! Details here.
Visit the author’s website to read an excerpt, discover background information on the various races and inhabitants of Cier’Djaal, and much more! Look for the print edition of The City Stained Red online and in stores this January.
- - October 28th, 2014
There are no words to express how excited I am to share the epic awesomeness that is Gail Z. Martin’s new cover! War of Shadows has it all—danger, mystery, hope, despair, and the aftermath of battle just finished… or a battle just begun. Basically, everything you could ever want in an epic fantasy.
Blaine “Mick” McFadden has scored a victory and restored the magic, but new threats rise from the wreckage of the kingdom of Donderath. While the magic remains brittle and undependable, warlords both mortal and undead vie for power, fighting for control of the ruined Continent. McFadden and his unlikely band of convict heroes must choose their allies wisely as renegade talishte take long-awaited vengeance and powerful mages seek to control Donderath’s next king. Blaine McFadden must protect those loyal to him against the coming storm, and find a way to bind magic to the will of mortals before it destroys him, because time is running out…
War of Shadows is the third novel in the fabulous Ascendant Kingdoms Saga. If you are unfamiliar with the series, be sure to check out the first two books—ICE FORGED (US | UK | AUS), and REIGN OF ASH (US | UK | AUS)
Praise for the the Ascendant Kingdoms Saga:
” The immediate action in this story pulls the reader in… And with more than a few unexpected twists, this easy-to-follow storyline will leave the reader completely surprised and ready for the next book in the saga.”
— RT Book Reviews
“There’s plenty of action and plot embroidery, and the pages turn easily.” — Kirkus
This week is Gail Z. Martin’s annual #DaysOfTheDead blog tour! Head on over to her website to check out the cool interviews, extras, and giveaways happening all week long.
Brian Ruckley, author of THE FREE – a rip-roaring tale of action and adventure – talks about magic systems, and why they’re completely unnecessary. Except when they’re not.
While I was doing the interview I did here the other day about my new book THE FREE, I left out a heap of stuff. Because you always have to leave stuff out, right? But there were a couple of topics I’d like to have kicked around a bit more, and here’s one of them: magic systems.
Role-playing games have to have their magic systematised to some degree – defined, constrained, structured, all that – because otherwise the whole thing would get messy fast. But what’s the deal with magic systems in fantasy novels?
The fantasies I loved as a kid did not, as best I can recall, generally define what magic was or how it worked in any detail. In most of those books, magic was an immanent property of the world, or of individuals, or objects. It was just there, inherent in certain people or places or things. A capacity for change that was kind of unspecified, and with inner workings that remained entirely invisible.
Which, I tend to think, is the natural state of magic in fantasy novels. Why would we want to have this stuff explained and circumscribed? The ‘magic’ of magic is in its numinous quality. We don’t need to know the mechanics of it all. That’s not really the sort of awe-inspiring otherliness and wonder we’re after in fantasy. It’s engaging the wrong bit of our brain. Look what happened when Mr. Lucas tried to escape the clutches of fantasy by midi-chlorianising the Force. He gently systematized his magic, and much wailing and gnashing of teeth ensued.
So, naturally, having said all that, I’ve got a bit of a magic system in THE FREE. As you’d expect, I have reasons (excuses?) – aside from the basic one that I’ve got a brain that tends to see, and look for, systems and processes in the world around me generally.
First up, there’s the notion of having your approach to magic fit with the tone of a book. With THE FREE, I was shooting for a fairly hi-octane adventure vibe, with grounded characters making tough choices in psychologically plausible ways. It just felt consistent to have some structure to the magic that both reader and character could grasp and – to some extent – anticipate.
Of course, I decided I could have my cake and eat it too, because I didn’t want to lose the element of surprise and wonder and pyrotechnics that magic can bring. Thus, those who use magic in THE FREE (I call them Clevers) are theoretically capable of doing almost anything. Everything – physical and non-physical, every single aspect of the world – can become a part of magic, and that makes it both immensely powerful and almost infinitely varied. So although there is a sort of rationale for what’s happening and why, it’s not a prescriptive, circumscribing one.
Second up, there’s magic as an engine of plot, story, character. I figured that if I was going to have a magic system, it might as well help me as a writer, so I tried to come up with one that by its nature embodies some tension and conflict and climax. Read the rest of this entry »
- - October 14th, 2014
The master of science fiction returns with a soldier’s-eye view of an interstellar war that has come to our solar system. This is a legendary writer at his very best.
Meet Master Sergeant Michael Venn, Skyrine veteran. The soldiers that are the greatest hope for earth’s survival:
One more tour on the red.
Maybe my last.
They made their presence on Earth known thirteen years ago.
Providing technology and scientific insights far beyond what mankind was capable of, they became indispensable advisors and promised even more gifts that we just couldn’t pass up. We called them Gurus.
It took them a while to drop the other shoe. You can see why, looking back.
It was a very big shoe, completely slathered in crap.
They had been hounded by mortal enemies from sun to sun, planet to planet, and were now stretched thin — and they needed our help.
And so our first bill came due. Skyrines like me were volunteered to pay the price. As always.
These enemies were already inside our solar system and were establishing a beachhead, but not on Earth.
Praise for WAR DOGS:
“Stuffed with adrenaline-pumping action… Bear’s series launch is a tempest of rousing SF adventure with a dash of Peckinpah.”— Publishers Weekly
“Packed with adventure and incident…and conveyed with gritty realism.” — Kirkus
“Excellent military action.” &8212; Library Journal
- - October 14th, 2014
Three things that I love in epic/heroic fantasy: action (preferably involving lots of swords), impossible odds, and genuinely terrifying magic. Oh, and a fast pace: I like stories that hit the ground running and only get faster as they progress.
THE FREE by Brian Ruckley is all of these things. The action is plentiful and extremely well written, the odds of the protagonists’ survival are very long indeed, and the magic is both deeply frightening and very cool at the same time. The novel also starts like a rocket going off, and never slows down.
All of which is extremely pleasing. Yet what I like the most about THE FREE is the sheer humanity (or lack thereof) that Brian has imbued in each and every character. This is a tale about a mercenary company – The Free of the title – and there’s no doubt that they’re hard men and women, no strangers to violence or suffering. But they’re not heartless, steely-eyed killers: they all have their flaws, doubts, and weaknesses. They’re compassionate too, and are bound by the ties that they’ve forged over many years, both on and off the battlefield. Brian’s deft characterisation lends a real emotional depth and resonance to the novel, something that is sometimes lacking in heroic fantasy.
THE FREE is the thrilling story of this extraordinary mercenary company, about what they’ve done – and, perhaps more importantly, about what they’ve failed to do – and how they plan to right past wrongs. There is blood, certainly. There is pain, and there is death. But there is also love, and loyalty, and most of all, hope.
Some bonds cannot be broken.
Praise for THE FREE:
The Free is a blast to read, merging the standard medieval fantasy with Seven Samurai, complete with phenomenal set pieces of warfare and magic’ – Justin Landon, Staffer’s Book Review
‘Mesmerising, magical and human’ – Publishers Weekly (starred review)
‘Wonderfully composed action scenes and a thrilling climax’ – The Bookbag
‘Deliberate pacing, complicated characters and vivid descriptions elevate this far above run-of-the-mill epic fantasy’ – Library Journal (starred review)
‘An engaging mix of action and introspection . . . A gripping read’ – Graeme’s SFF
THE FREE is out now in paperback, ebook and audio editions.
- - October 9th, 2014
It seems like only yesterday that we were getting ready for San Diego Comic-Con. Now it’s New York’s turn and we could not be more excited! Come see us at booth #2218. We’ll have signings, giveaways, and special promotions throughout the weekend. Below is the full schedule of events and panels.
Thursday, October 9th
SIGNING + GIVEAWAY: In-booth signing with Nicole Peeler; 2:00 PM at Booth #2218
Friday, October 10th
PANEL: Playing with Magic with Sam Sykes; 1:15 PM in Room 1A14
SIGNING: Sam Sykes and other panelists; 2:15 PM at Table 19 in the Autographing Area
Saturday, October 11th
SIGNING + GIVEAWAY: In-booth signing with Gail Z. Martin; 11:00 AM at Booth #2218
PANEL: These Are My People/Aliens/Zombies/Vampires/Dragons! with N.K. Jemisin; 12:00 PM in Room 1A18
SIGNING: N.K. Jemisin and other panelists; 1:00 PM at Table 19 in the Autographing Area
PANEL: Not Your Mother’s Fairy Tales with Nicole Peeler; 3:00 PM in Room 1B03
SIGNING: Nicole Peeler and other panelists; 4:00 PM at Table 19 in the Autographing Area
SIGNING + GIVEAWAY: In-booth signing with Andy MacDonald, artist of the graphic novel adaptation of Brent Weeks’s THE WAY OF SHADOWS; 3:00 PM at Booth #2218*
Sunday, October 12th
PANEL: How A Game of Thrones Changed Fantasy…Or Has It? with Gail Z. Martin; 1:15 PM in Room 1A05
SIGNING: Nicole Peeler and other panelists; 2:15 PM at Table 10 in the Autographing Area
*We will be giving away graphic novel samplers of The Way of Shadows at the 3:00 PM signing. The newly released hardcover will be available for purchase from Yen Press at the convention.
- - October 9th, 2014
The much-anticipated graphic novel of THE WAY OF SHADOWS, the New York Times bestselling epic fantasy of thieves and assassins by Brent Weeks, comes out this week from Yen Press and Orbit UK.
We interviewed Brent about the process of turning his classic fantasy tale into a comic book, and asked him all about his favorite examples of the medium:
JH: Was there anything that surprised you about having your work adapted into comic book form?
BW: The first time I saw Andy’s depiction of the Gyre estate, I had to stop for a second. The rest of the process had been pretty gradual—when we did character sketches, we went through a lot of emails, and a couple iterations of drawings, so they didn’t have the same surprise factor for me—but when I saw the Gyre estate, it hit me all at once. I’d described all these details; this was what I’d written about, but I’d never seen it as a whole. When your artist is talented, there are things about seeing a place that are simply better than reading about it.
The other thing that surprised me was how much little things can matter. Andy does great work with characters’ expressions, hitting just the right tone. That little extra extension on that line turns that grin from amused to sarcastic, or what have you. Similarly, something like how tight an alleyway is, can suddenly be important, because a character in a tight alley feels trapped, and acts differently than in a wide open street.
JH: Which particular character do you think has been captured most perfectly by Andy Macdonald’s art?
BW: I’ll go for a less obvious one. Roth is just the right balance of handsome and creepy.
JH: Was it a strange experience, going back so closely over THE WAY OF SHADOWS, or do you often reread and re-examine your older books?
BW: As little as possible! I always want to edit my old books. Hmm, that sentence could be tightened, couldn’t it? It was very challenging. One of the pleasures of reading my books is that there’s a ton of foreshadowing that looks like throwaway world-building on a first read that ends up being important two thousand pages later. So I had to not only load three books into my brain, but I had to anticipate how each necessary change of adapting the first novel into graphic novel form would ripple through the second and third books. “Okay, this doesn’t happen any more, and that was going to pay off in book 2 when this happens, so now, in graphic novel 2, we’re going to have to do this other thing instead… But does that cause problems in book 3?” Oh, and I was finishing a not-so-simple little novel called THE BROKEN EYE. My assistant, Elisa, was invaluable in the process of keeping everything straight.
JH: Comics and graphic novels are an essentially collaborative medium, requiring a lot of co-operation between the artist and writer. Have you ever worked on something that involved this much collaboration?
BW: Never to this degree. We made a book trailer for THE BLACK PRISM, and I wrote lots of emails and script ideas back and forth (far more than you would think necessary for a two minute trailer, I guarantee!), but that was over about a month. This was a different level entirely.
I should point out, too, that it isn’t just collaboration between artist and writer! The original script adaptation was by Ivan Brandon, and throughout my editor JuYoun Lee was invaluable in the process, not only in feedback and scripting, but also in allowing me to be the difficult artist from time to time. I mean, editors have to make the business work, so a few times I wrote to her, “Look I just added a page to this chapter. I know we’re already over, but we need a full page for this reveal, or it will lack punch. Here’s the new script.” I’m sure she knew exactly how much that was going to cost—art costs, printing costs, extra thickness to the book, possibly fewer books per box which can hurt ordering, and so forth if you do it more than a couple times—and she let me get away with it when we needed to.
That said, I try not to play the diva, especially when it’s a medium I’ve got little experience in. I was lucky to be joined in the journey by people who know a lot more than I do.
JH: Who are your favourite heroes from comics and graphic novels?
BW: Can I confess something? I’ve always enjoyed comic books, but for a long time I had a fundamental reservation about them as art. I thought they were bad art. Partly this is the fault of the whole Death of Superman debacle. Since then (if not before, I’m not an expert), but since then they’ve felt like the ultimate playground for Plot Armor. No character will ever die. No character will ever settle down with one girl, and that’s it for all time. There’s no final story, no closure, even though they pretend there is constantly. And the reason there can be no final story is because money. You can’t kill Wolverine for good, because no matter how many copies of that final plot arc you could sell, you’d be killing the goose who lays the golden eggs. Wolverine is your year-in, year-out steady earner, and he will be for fifty years. A hundred if Marvel has its way. So the story has to account for reboots, and refreshes, memory-losses and reunions. (In some cases, they do that far better than others.)
So, to purist, younger me, comics in the Marvel vein were the biggest examples of art prostituted to money I could imagine. And yet they got a pass somehow—because it’s fun and well-done, I guess.
But I had an idea recently of Wolverine (a favorite since I was young), as a mythic character, rather than as a disjointed franchise. When you read Homer’s Odysseus, he’s a complete man, perhaps the ideal man in the Greek understanding of virtue. When you read Virgil’s treatment of the same character (Latinized to Ulysses, but ostensibly the same character), you realize they have very little in common. Virgil is trotting out the Greek hero to make him look tawdry next to the real stud, Aeneas. (Who just so happened to play for the home team, Rome.) They aren’t the same character—when Virgil handles Odysseus, he handles him as a mythic type, there to be useful in setting up the story that Virgil really wants to tell.
So when you ask “Who is your favorite character?” I have to politely say I don’t believe Wolverine as Wolverine is really a character anymore. Mark Millar’s Wolverine isn’t my favorite, but the idea of Wolverine is.
That said, things are simpler where we have only one writer and artist: I really like Bode and Tyler Locke of Locke and Key by Joe Hill (amazing art by Gabriel Rodriguez).
JH: Can you recommend any comic books which are ideal for fantasy fans?
BW: If you’ve never read a graphic novel and are skeptical about the kind of stories they can tell, check out I Kill Giants by Joe Kelly, which features a fifth-grader named Barbara.
Marvel’s 1602 is a fun re-visiting of the Marvel characters if they’d appeared in Elizabethan times (and goes nicely with my thesis above!). Locke and Key is a little more on the horror side, and though I don’t enjoy horror, I thought it was amazing. Literally the best graphic novels I’ve ever read. Peter V. Brett (of The Warded Man fame) has done a 6 comic book arc for Red Sonja. As for others… well, I’m always looking!
JH: The ultimate comic book question: who would win in a fight, Batman or Superman?
BW: I think Batman would know better than get in a simple fistfight with a bulletproof flying alien, so I like to think he’d change the rules of the engagement—a fight over who makes a tux look the best, perhaps, or who can destroy a villain first. Then I’d give an edge to the subtle thinker of the two.