"For the sake of humanity, join in Bitterwood's revolt." - Kirkus Reviews

Monday, November 26, 2007

The Solaris Book of New Fantasy

For those of you who can't wait until July 2008 for your next glimpse of the world of Bitterwood, I'm pleased to announce the release of the Solaris Book of New Fantasy. It's chock full of top notch authors and has been getting excellent reviews, including this detailed, story by story review from Fantasy Book Critic.

My story in the anthology is "Tornado of Sparks." It's set 15 years before the opening of Bitterwood, on the night that the sky-dragon wizard Vendevorex first presents himself to Albekizan as a wizard. It's the story of why Vendevorex decides to raise the human infant Jandra as his daughter. The sun-dragon Zanzeroth has a major role in the story. The story reveals which member of the human cast Jandra is secretly related to. The events serve not just as a prequel to Bitterwood, but also play into a major plot thread in Dragonforge.

The full table of contents is:

Who Slays the Gyant, Wounds theBeast – Mark Chadbourn

Reins of Destiny – Janny Wurts

Tornado of Sparks – James Maxey

Grander than the Sea – T. A. Pratt

The Prince of End Times – Hal Duncan

King Takes – Jeff VanderMeer

In Between Dreams – ChristopherBarzak

And Such Small Deer – Chris Roberson

The Wizard’s Coming – Juliet E.McKenna

Shell Game – Mike Resnick

The Song Her Heart Sang – StevenSavile

A Man Falls – Jay Lake

O Caritas – Conrad Williams

Lt. Privet’s Love Song – Scott Thomas

Chinandega – Lucius Shepard

Quashie Trapp Blacklight – StevenErikson

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Sci-Fi Chick Winners, and off to World Fantasy

The contest is over at Sci-Fi Chick, and I'm heading out right now to send a signed copy to a winner named Asara. See other winners at Sci-Fi Chick. And, of course, you should check out her blog on a daily basis for other interviews and giveaways. Her site rocks!Asara is also a blogger. Check out her musings over at Asara's Mental Meanderings.I'm off to World Fantasy after I stop at the post office. I can't believe how rapidy this week as flying past. I also can't believe I'll be driving when I should be home giving out candy! I have a panel at the con Sunday at 11, Ghost Stories without Ghosts. If you're at the con, come on by.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Rewrite Blues

No more word count updates for a while. I finished my first draft, at least to the point where I'm able to start the second draft. I didn't write the last two scenes of the book. I know broadly what happens in each of them, but decided to let them simmer a while longer before I commit to certain events. The ending(s) I've outlined make sense and are satisfying conclusions to the storylines, but I'm now weighing the ramifications of possibly twisting these endings. I don't want Dragon Forge to be a cliff-hanger book. I want it to be a complete reading experience, with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Still, I have to be mindful that there's a book following this, and one possible ending that has caught my imagination kills off a character I have plans for in the third book. Luckily, the final deadline is over two months away. I have two long drives coming up this week in which to ponder events, twelve hours to World Fantasy in New York, then twelve hours back. I had originally planned to fly, but some last second plot twists in my own life turned my plane tickets into useless scraps of paper. So, now I'm driving, a full cumulative 24 hours behind the wheel.

Luckily, writing is more than just typing. Twelve hours of monotony behind the wheel can sometimes be a writer's best vacation.

Even in the second draft, daydreaming is important. I've got six chapters finished and many of them have entirely new scenes that I've reimagined to better stage the characters for future events I wasn't fully aware of in the first draft. I'm happy with the way things are shaping up, but still a little frightened by all the work left ahead of me. Second drafts are more nerve-wracking than first drafts. My first drafts are all about momentum. I just try to pour as many words on the page as quickly as possible. I don't worry about formatting. I change continuity on a whim (one of my characters changes from a teenage boy to a teenage girl to an adult woman over the first draft as the role I needed her to play in the final scene shifted). If I'm writing dialogue that sounds clunky, I don't stress out. I'll catch it in the second draft.

The hardest part of the first draft is pulling all the raw material for the story out of thin air. (I need Pet to talk to a fellow survivor of the Free City. What's his name? What's his history? What's he look like?) Even with an outline, it's impossible to plan for all the people, places, and events that go onto the page, and 90% of the time I never know the exact shape of my scene until I sit down and actually start writing it. Ill sit down, thinking, "In this chapter, Jandra rescues Bitterwood from his injuries and introduces him to Hex." Somehow, I turn that into 5000 words.

The second draft isn't so much an act of creation as an act of refinement. All that continuity and consistancy I didn't worry about the first time around now has to be hammered out. For instance, in my first draft, I had one fight scene early on where Bitterwood had a bow. Then, in a later fight scene, he doesn't have a bow, because I remembered he didn't have one in his final scene in the first novel. So, this draft, I have to make all this consistent, and completely rewrite one of these scenes. On a larger scale, the second draft is where the characters really get locked down. I have a character called Burke the machinist that started the story as a relatively minor player, but kept growing in usefulness as the story advanced. His backstory kept becoming more fleshed out as I wrote about him. Now, all his early scenes will need to be redone from scratch, since I finished the book writing about a different man that I started the book writing about. This always happens (to me, at least) with characters. You start with one idea of them, but the more you write them the more they start exerting their own personalities. The stressful thing about second drafts is that the decisions on this pass will make or break the book. The plot gets tighter. The characters are locked down into their roles. The more you write, the harder it becomes to change things without the whole novel falling apart.

While I do tighten up the prose a lot in the second draft, I try not to get too stressed out by flat and awkward passages. I try to sharpen the dialogue and make the character voices consistent, but a lot of sensual details remains fuzzy. The third draft is where I start stressing about the story at the sentence level.

Man, January is coming at me fast.

Sunday, October 14, 2007


So darn close to being done, yet, I'm not. At least two more chapters in the book, though I'm only going to write one more before I start on the rewrites.

Brain is fried. 14k words in one week. Next weekend, I'm sleeping around the clock.

Tomorrow, book signing at the Barnes and Noble in Burlington, NC, 7pm, with Lisa Shearin, author of "Magic Lost, Trouble Found."

Ongoing: Don't forget about the Bitterwood giveway going on at Sci Fi Chick. It's not too late to enter for a free signed copy. See the previous post for the link.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Sci-Fi chick interview and giveaway.

An interview of yours truly went live today over at the Sci Fi Chick. Tomorrow, she's announcing a drawing for a free autographed copy of Bitterwood. In the interview, I give the most details I've given to date about the plot line of Dragon Forge. I'm planning to lock myself in the house all weekend to get as close to the end of the book as humanly possible. I'm not even planning to sleep. I wonder what a case of that Red Bull stuff costs? Nah, Red Bull isn't my style, to be honest. I'm a southern guy. I'll just brew up a gallon or so of iced tea for the needed buzz, enhanced by impending deadline panic!

Sunday, October 7, 2007


Just over 9k words this week. I continue to get the feeling that the more I write, the more I have left to write. I'm only contracted to turn in 120k words. I honestly don't know if I'll finish the first draft in the next 15k words. I suppose I should contact Solaris at some point and tell them to order more paper....

I have a book signing on October 15 at the Barnes and Noble in Burlington, NC. I was hoping I'd have the first draft finished by then. I suppose it's not impossible. I'm down to five or six big scenes. If I forego sleep this week, I just might make it.

Sunday, September 30, 2007


The final scenes edge ever closer. Looking forward to rolling over the 100k milestone this week. I could have probably written a bit further this evening. But, I made the strategic decision to stop with details of a scene still in my head to get me writing quickly the next time I sit down. I'd really like to get out at least 10k words this upcoming week. We'll see.

Sunday, September 23, 2007


About 9k words this week. Lots of fight scenes. I suspect in the rewrites I'll be looking to cut the use of the word "blood" by about half....

A few weeks ago I wrote up a list of scenes I still needed to write. I'm down to ten, although the list may grow. Still, the end is in sight.

Sunday, September 16, 2007


I end the week with 80183 words. I got off to a slow start, but had a productive Saturday and Sunday. Of course, the trade off has been that I haven't left the house on what is probably the nicest weekend we've had in three months. August and the first half of September were just brutal here in NC. No rain, and day after day of heat topping out around 100 degrees.

So, even though it's early and I could probably finish off the chapter I've started, by reward for rolling over the 80k mark is going to be to leave the house and take a walk.

The week ahead of me will, I hope, be a productive one. It' s the first week in a long time when I have nothing scheduled on any night after work. Hopefully I can get a little bit done each night. And, it helps that I've reached some of the intensive action chapters again. Most of the last ten thousand words has been filled up with characters talking to one another and learning important secrets. Now, it's time for the characters to take these secrets and go out and hurt each other with them. It's also time for Blasphet to have his biggest scenes in the book. Those are always fun to write.

Signing Photos

I had another signing this week, at the Cary Barnes and Noble, this time a joint event with Lisa Shearin, author of Magic Lost, Trouble Found. I started reading her novel this weekend--it's got a very different tone from most fantasy novels. It's not an outright comedy like a Terry Pratchett novel, but it is a remarkably light and playful voice. Some fantasy chokes beneath the weight of its own self-importance. This is a book that reads as if the writer had a lot of fun writing it.

The event drew quite a crowd, and the Q&A session after the reading was a blast. Lisa and I had never met before, but our approaches to writing are both similar enough and different enough that we played off each other really well. We're going to do another signing together October 15th at the new Barnes and Noble in Burlington, and there may be other joint events after that. Watch this space.

Sorry for the fall off on posting here and at Whateverville. Still cranking away on the first draft of Dragon Forge. I have a personal deadline of the end of October to complete the first draft, but I also have a good chance of finishing it much sooner than that, possibly by October 15. I'd love to go to that reading and be able to say I'd just finished the first draft of the sequel.

In the meantime, if a picture is worth a thousand words, here are three thousand words of blog post: (Click on the photos for larger versions.)
Signing fever!

Lisa Shearin and I take part in a Q&A session.

This is actually from the signing in Durham. Don't I look like a real writer?

Sunday, September 9, 2007


Made it to 72015. Didn't get as much done this week as I would have liked because of the two book signings. The booksignings were important, though, and I'm told that a significant chunk of stock was sold from both stores, and I have a report from the Cary Barnes and Noble that sales of my book have been strong leading up to this Tuesday's signing.

I feel caught in a Catch-22. The time frame for writing Dragon Forge is so tight that I have to stay at home and work on it most nights of the week. I'd love to travel around more and do more signings, but finding the time is a real problem for me. On the other hand, if I don't travel around and do more signings, am I undercutting Bitterwood's chances at success? At my signing last Thursday, I was told the store had ordered about fifty books in advance of the signing and sold half from the in store display leading up to the event. I sold another five or six that night, and signed all the rest, and Angela, the community relations manager, seemed pretty confident they would sell out of these in a few weeks.

Selling fifty books from a single store seems pretty good to me. I mean, it's not Harry Potter numbers, but if I could get out there and visit twenty bookstores in the next couple of months, that would be a thousand books sold that might not have sold if I hadn't made the effort. Realistically, my schedule is going to limit me to stores within an hour or so of my house... I doubt there are a dozen, let alone twenty. Still, nights when I stay home and write, I feel guilty that I'm not out there doing signings. Yet, nights that I'm out doing signings, I find myself feeling the pressure of words unwritten.

Of course, if my past self were here right now, he'd dope slap me for complaining about this. This is exactly the sort of problem I dreamed of having for well over a decade, to be under contract for multiple books. And, 72015 words written in under three months is nothing to sneeze at. I just need to schedule as many signings as possible, keep punching the keys, and think about sleeping sometime in early 2008.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Thoughtful review

A review of Bitterwood has just appeared on a blog called "Thistles for Breakfast." It's a pretty well thought-out review. I'm particularly intrigued by his thoughts on the human traits displayed by my dragons. I confess, my dragons can come across, at times, pretty much as just big, scaley, winged people. In Dragon Forge, now that I have more room to explore and expand upon dragon cultures, I think that we'll continue to see a lot of areas where human emotions and dragon emotions overlap, but we'll also start seeing some interesting divergences as well. The interplay between male and female sky-dragons is going to be a good deal different than the normal interactions between male and female humans, for instance. And wait until you see what's considered a good child rearing practice among earth-dragons.

Just shy of 1500 words written today. Little by little, the writing gets done.


I've been publishing my Dragon Forge word counts every Sunday, but yesterday I was driving back from Dragon Con so I was too wiped out by the time I got home to update. Anyway, I've arrived at 66357. The con ate into my writing time, I'm afraid. This week, I've got two reading/signings lined up, which will also take a chunk of writing time away from me. Still, next weekend is relatively open, so we'll see. To stay on my official schedule, I have to be at 90k words by the end of September, so, roughly 24k words this month, or 6k words per week, which shouldn't be that tough, even though September is a relatively tough month at my day job as compared to August.

Now that I'm past the middle of the book, things are becoming slightly more difficult in some ways and slightly easier in others. In some ways, writing a novel is a little like building a jigsaw puzzle. Unfortunately, you don't get to look at the picture on the box. Fortunately, you do get to make the puzzle pieces into any shape you want. So, in the first half of hte book, I can place down my pieces--the scenes, characters, and plot points, pretty much as they come to me. I have an outline, but the actual writing is driven almost purely by imagination. In the second half of writing a book, imagination is still important, but so is continuity and logic. You aren't so much pulling things out of the air as puzzling out how all the things you put in the first half snap together into a coherent and satisfying plot in the second. Right now, I've scattered my various groups of characters all around the Bitterwood universe. From this point on, I've got to work on bringing them back together, and the choreography of getting character A to point B so they can fight character C can be surprisingly complicated.

By the way, some months back, I gave a little hint about a contest I was thinking of running. I said there was something important in my novel that I hadn't named, but didn't say what that was, because it was something of a spoiler. But, at this point, the book has been on the shelves for a few months, and plenty of reviews have now spilled the beans that the fantasy novel is actually set on a post-apocolyptic Earth. Specifically, Albekizan's kingdom encompasses the states of the American south--from what is now Virginia stretching down to Georgia. Climate change and a few other forces have radically altered the map. The area north of Washington DC is known as the Ghostlands and dragons seldom travel there. They also don't much venture west of the Appalachian mountains, for reasons I will reveal in Dragon Forge. Florida has pretty much vanished beneath rising seas, leaving only a series of swampy islands. Some of today's place names endure--Richmond and Conyers, for example.

In Bitterwood, I never refer to this area as anything other than "Albekizan's kingdom." I had thought of giving the kingdom a name that bore some phonetic similarity to America--Merka was one of my early options--but in the final draft I removed all place names because they were either too obvious or perhaps a bit silly. So, I still haven't decided on a name for my fantasy setting. Fortunately, I don't need one quite yet. The lack of a name for my setting hasn't hurt Bitterwood as far as I can tell, but it would be nice to include a setting name in the second book. So, start thinking of names. After I finish my first draft of Dragon Forge, I'll announce an official contest and some prizes for people who take part. The main prize I have in mind would be copies of the upcoming Solaris Book of New Fantasy, which contains a Bitterwood story, but since it's not out until early next year, I'm jumping the gun a bit if I start the contest now.

So... watch this space.

Sunday, August 26, 2007


I end the week just shy of 63k words. Wrote some good Jandra scenes this week--I like the way she's shaping up in the second book. In the first book, she was the one human character with classic "good" goals. She wants to fight for the survival of humanity and is willing to put her life at risk to do so, but she didn't have a very good tool kit to turn her desire into reality. Her "magic" was pretty minor compared to Vendevorex. In the second book, Jandra finds her mastery of her powers greatly expanding. As she becomes aware of just how powerful she truly is, she's growing both more confident and more full of doubt, if that makes sense. She's knows she has the power to change the world in her fingertips, but she doesn't know if she yet has the wisdom to use that power.

This coming week I'll get a few more thousand words out. I'll definitely push past 65k, but I don't know if 70k is in reach since I'm going to Dragoncon on Friday. I'm losing a big chunk of the day Friday and Sunday to driving to Atlanta and back. I'll have my laptop with me, of course, but I'm not sure how much time I'll have to actually write while I'm at the con. At least the long drives are useful day dream time. Even if I'm not typing, I can still be getting a lot of story construction done in my head by imagining the upcoming scenes in greater detail and figuring out the best way of staging these scenes.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Sci-Fi Wire article about Bitterwood

Sci-Fi Wire's John Joseph Adams has just posted the interview we did back in July. Click here to read it.

An article at such a prominent venue is going to take a chunk out of my productivity at work, I fear. Now that the book has been out for almost two months, I actually have some days where I'm able to go ten or twelve hours without checking my Amazon rankings. The first weeks the book was out, I couldn't got ten to twelve minutes. Alas, the Amazon rankings are one of the few tea leaves I have to try to discern how the book is doing. The Amazon UK rankings are normally more healthy than the US rankings, but it's tough to read too much into this, since the book seems to be selling okay in actual bookstores due to its cover. My biggest paranoia isn't the rankings so much as it is the fact I've gotten so few reader reviews to date. On the other hand, I have gotten a fair number of mention in people's blogs. So I'm wondering if reader reviews in general are starting to shift, as the sort of people who would offer their opinions online have turned to blogging instead of product reviews. Nobody Gets The Girl got a dozen reader reviews in the span of a few months, but hardly any mentions in blogs, while Bitterwood has gotten roughly a dozen blog posts about it, but only a few reader reviews.

In other news, I've made it past the halfway mark in Dragon Forge. Forward!

Sunday, August 19, 2007


I end the week with the halfway mark just outside my grasp, at 56636 words. The writing is slowing in part due to a fairly complicated timeline in the middle of the book. My three main plot lines will collide soon, and getting all the characters to the right place at the right time is proving tricky. I'm also discovering, as always, that some characters have minds of their own and aren't cooperating with my plans for them in quite the way I expected.

The rest of the month is looking complicated. I know I'll make it ot 60k, probably this week, but my original hope was to be closer to 75k at the end of August and I just don't see that happening now. But, maybe I can make it to 65k, and try to recapture momentum on the weekends in September. I still have a week's vacation banked up as well, so I'm thinking of using that in early October, but I'm worried about using it up too early. I'm still on track to finish my first draft by the end of October, and I may find a week off more useful to me for crafting the rewrites than for banging out the first draft.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Septemeber Events

A whole slew of events in September

September 1-3
Atlanta, Ga
Mysteriously, I was never given guest status this year, despite being a guest in 3 out of the last 4 years when I had much weaker publishing credits. I was never denied guest status either, mind you. I submitted my application, have made all the requisit follow up emails... nothing. At this point, I'm assuming that the volunteer staff was simply overwhelmed by guest applications and follow ups and I've been lost in the shuffle. An event this size run by all volunteers is going to hit some snags. Still, I'll definitely attend if only to hang out in the hotel bar and chat it up with the Solaris Crew and myriad Codexians.

September 4, 2007
Friendly Shopping Center
3102 North Line AveGreensboro, NC 27408

September 6, 2007
South Point MallDurham, NC 27713

September 11, 2007
Joint signing with Lisa Shearin, author of Magic Lost, Trouble Found
760 SE Maynard
Cary, NC 27511

September 27, 2007
Panel discussion with NC State Professor Stacey Cochran and Baen Books contributing editor Gray Rinehart to the Raleigh Write 2 Publish Group.
CAMERON VILLAGE LIBRARY, Room 202a1930 Clark Avenue, Raleigh Raleigh , NC 27605
For more information about the event see:

Sunday, August 12, 2007


I conclude my fiction writing week at 50925 words for Dragon Forge. Writing from an outline is proving useful in keeping the words flowing. That, and ignoring the rest of my life. My plants are wilting, my laundry is piling in great heaps, and my refrigerator's been empty for about five days now. So, despite the fact I still have several hours of day ahead of me, it's time to leave behind the world of dragons for a while and return to the world of chores and grocery shopping, at least for a brief visit.

Sneak preview of Dragon Forge

Solaris books has a forum for people to write in with comments on their publications. There's a forum here for Bitterwood, and recently someone started a forum just for the discussion of the character of Blasphet, the Murder God. In recent weeks I've been writing about Blasphet's further adventures and decided I'd give the Blasphet devotees out there a bit of a sneak peak. Of course, I posted this last Monday and it seems to have killed the thread... oh well. Still, if you'd like to see a 1000 word excerpt from my current project, follow the link to the forum here.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

E.E. Knight and Dragon Protagonists

E.E. Knight has a few thoughts on Bitterwood at his blog. He writes the popular Vampire Earth series and a series with dragons as protagonists called "The Age of Fire." I'd been told about these books before but haven't picked up a copy, although I'll definitely be checking it out now.

Another novel I've been told about with dragon protagonists is Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton, which also goes on my reading list.

Other obvious examples of dragon positive books are the Pern novels and Eragon. Beyond these, what am I missing? Can anyone recommend other books where the dragons are fleshed out as full fledged characters?

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Bitterwood at Tales from the Raven

First, a correction: It turns out my reading isn't conflicting with George R.R. Martin's. They moved his to a later time in the day (2pm, I think) but hadn't updated it on the main page of the website at the time I wrote my post.

Yesterday, Suanne Warr wrote a review of Bitterwood on her blog. It was overall positive, but she mentioned being annoyed by the frequent POV switches. It's a fair criticism, and I wrote a response on her blog explaining the trade offs I made in using so many different POV characters. You can read the discussion between Suanne and myself at her blog Tales from the Raven. This was my first visit to her blog, but I see that she collects links to weird science stories, so it probably won't be my last.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007


This weekend I'll be a guest at Trinoccon in Raleigh.

Here's my schedule:

Fri. 6 PM, Ballroom I: MOD Age & Longevity in SF
Fri. 8 PM, Ballroom I: Meet the Guests
Sat. 11 AM, Oakwood: Reading (w/ Kessel)
Sat. noon, Ballroom I: MOD Politics in SF
Sat. 1 PM, Ballroom I: Religion/Spirituality in SF
Sat. 5 PM, Dealers: Signing (w/ Wold)Sun. noon,
Ballroom I: Building Bridges

I'm reading at the same time as GOH George R.R. Martin, so I may be playing to an empty room. Still, I'm anticipating it being a fun con. I'm on panels about politics AND religion. Chairs may be thrown. Good times.

Sunday, July 29, 2007


I finish the night with a wonderfully symetrical word count for the new novel of 36863. That's a bit over 8k words for the week. This coming week will be a bit more challenging, since I have Trinoccon coming up next weekend, so I essentially lose a weekend of writing. Fortunately, I'm taking the Monday following the con off.

This is perhaps news more appropriate for my Whateverville blog, but my writing time is currently in competition with home improvement time. I'm selling my house, and so a lot of things that were set aside last year when I did the major improvements--new floors, new walls, painting, etc.--are now finally being tackled. Tiny stuff, like fixing the deadbolt on the backdoor, where the lock and the receptacle plate were out of alignment, and painting small bits of trim I never got around to painting, fixing small gap I had left where the new tiles in the bathroom didn't quite meet up with the new linoleum in the office. No huge projects--most of these things are taking me ten minutes to tackle. Just the sheer number of details to tackle makes it overwhelming.

But, of course, there's a parallel there with writing, in that writing any given word on a page isn't tough--most of them flow onto the page without my even having to stop and thing about them. Occasionally, I'll be slowed down by trying to think of a name for a character, trying to figure out what something that doesn't exist in our world might feel or smell or taste like. Any given detail isn't that hard to tackle, but they really accumulate as the scenes and chapters build up. The trick is to set aside the final goal and sit down with a micro goal--one more scene tonight, or just write enough to turn the odometer on the next thousand words. Tomorrow, I'll sit down and think, "Two hundred and thirty seven words to go to 37k. Barely half a page, single spaced. Just a few paragraphs. You can tackle this. Then, once I'm typing, I'll start trying for the end of the scene, or the end of the chapter if its near enough.

Little by little, the writing gets done.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

My first negative review

A reader named ASL sent me an email letting me know he loved Bitterwood, but his cat, Isaac, just wasn't as interested. Maybe he was put off when he learned that the dragon queen Tanthia likes to snack on baskets of white kittens?

Back from the Beach

I'm back from the beach. I've had very little access to the internet, so I plan on getting quite a few updates posted here and at whateverville this weel. I've come back from the beach with about 12,000 words written on my new novel, bringing the total to over 28,000. Only 97,000 to go!

Saturday, July 14, 2007

I feel as if I've done my job

Pat Esden on her live journal has provided one of my favorite quotes about Bitterwood yet, and she hasn't even read the book! She attended my reading at Readercon and writes on her blog: James Maxey read the beginning of his novel “Bitterwood”. It was great and convinced me to move the novel higher up in my stack of summer reading—and gave me a craving for barbequed dragon tongue.

Really, that's pretty much what I consider the key to engaging writing... leaving the readers with cravings. It's been twenty years since I read Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean Aiule (I'm sure I just misspelled her name). Yet, I can still recall vividly her descriptions of the food the cave men gathered, all the fresh green sprouts and pungent roots and giant fish. I remember going to a salad bar and loading up on bean sprouts and bamboo shoots and thinking, "a caveman would enjoy this salad." (Though I'm not sure they had ranch dressing.)

I said in my recent Solaris interview that my first goal as a writer was to entertain the reader. I also said I tried to make my writing thought-provoking. I left out my other important goal--make the reader hungry. A useful goal to remind myself of now, since I'm well underway with my next novel for Solaris. I've finished four chapters and am almost 17,000 words into the project. I'm leaving on vacation this week, and hope to get through at least two more chapters, perhaps even a third. I'm guessing there will be a feast in there somewhere.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Bitterwood Live!

While at Readercon last week, I got to do my first live reading from Bitterwood. Click here for the MP3. Also live as of this week is the "Talk about it here: Bitterwood" thread at the Solaris Books forum. Anyone interested in carrying on an online conversation with me about Bitterwood and what comes next can post their questions and comments there. I'll check that thread often and respond as promptly as I can.

The thread is also a great place to get news about other Solaris titles including the wildly popular The Summoner by Gail Z. Martin and Jeffrey Thomas's critically acclaimed Deadstock.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

SFRevu likes Bitterwood

Paul Haggerty has published a review of Bitterwood at SFRevu.

A brief taste: "There are clues scattered throughout the beginning of the book, and practically handed to the reader later on, that the world is not what it appears to be. But the secret isn't really important over all, it just adds to the richness of the setting. While the setting and plot entertain, it's ultimately the characters and their interactions that matter the most. This is no quest novel where the various personae are brought together to find that they're more than the sum of the their parts. Half the characters hate the other half and would like no more than to see them dead as soon as possible. There are heroes and villains on both sides of the conflicts, and plenty are scheming for what will profit them the most. Pretty much like real life, only with dragons."

Also, yesterday I did my first Bitterwood signing, at this year's Odyssey Workshop. For pictures of the event, head over to Whateverville.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

We're number 2! We're number 2! revewed Bitterwood a week or so ago, and now Bitterwood has claimed the number 2 position on her list of Best Books of the First Half of 2007. Hopefully my next book can make it to number one on her list.

"Next book?" you may ask. Yep. Two books, in fact. However, details are still being worked out. Hopefully I'll have an anouncement by the end of the week.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Building a Better Dragon

I was in high school when Dungeons and Dragons was first breaking into popular culture. I bought the boxed set with the red dragon on the cover and was hooked. When I went to college, I devoted roughly 20% of my intellectual energy to classes, 30% to playing spades, and the remaining 50% to running D&D games. I was never the sort of dungeon master who invested any money in pre-made modules. For one thing, I had no money. For another, I liked crafting my world to provide unique challenges for the people playing in my games. And the name I gave my D&D universe? Dragonsworld.

I know. Not terribly imaginative. I introduce this bit of ancient history primarily to explain how I came to spend so many hours thinking about creatures that didn’t exist, and wondering if they ever could exist. Could there be a dragon lurking somewhere in a jungle, waiting to be discovered? Or, could a dragon evolve from an existing animal, if not through artificial selection, then by the careful manipulation of genes? Back in the mid-eighties, the scientific world was abuzz with discussion of the genetic code, and it seemed like any day we would learn to rewrite DNA and make our own monsters… within limits.

After college, I made up for some of the education I’d lost to D&D by reading a lot of non-fiction. I loved the writings of Stephen J. Gould, a biologist who explained genetics and evolution in terms even I could understand. One lesson I carried away from his writings is how constrained evolution can be. Who your ancestors are sets limits on what you (as an organism) can become. For instance, vertebrate life, since it crawled out of the seas, has been limited to creatures with four limbs. These limbs can turn into an amazing number of things—arms and legs and wings and flippers—but, for hundreds of millions of years, four’s been the limit, because whatever first crawled out of the sea all those years ago had four limbs, and all birds, reptiles, and mammals descend from it. Once you tune into this fact, it’s easy to wander through a zoo and see how everything is connected. You can look at a bat wing and see the same bones you find in a chimp's hand, stretched and distorted and with a different set of pulleys, but still, under it all, the same shared framework.

Unfortunately, the four-limb rule was bad news for the dragon that sat atop that pile of gold on the D&D box set. It had six limbs—four legs, two wings. Also, let’s face it… the typical fantasy dragon just wasn’t terribly aerodynamic. It was pot-bellied and had kind of stubby wings. The only way they could get off the ground was in a magical world, unbound by the laws of physics we operate by on Earth.

The challenge to my imagination became to design a creature that would be instantly recognizable as a dragon without requiring any new rules of biology or physics.

Here are the assumptions I made:

  1. My dragons would have two legs and two wings, like birds and bats. Birds and bats use the bones that make up the fingers of our hands to form wings. I wanted my dragons to have hands as well. So, a thumb and two fingers would be devoted to a clasping hand, and the remaining two fingers would become wing struts. (See figure 1.)
  2. My dragons wouldn’t breathe fire. Yeah, I can think of some scenarios where this is vaguely plausible, but earth to date hasn’t evolved any fire breathers and I don’t think it will any time soon. Acid and poison spitters, sure. But, fire’s a no no.
  3. A tiny dragon isn’t much fun. I wanted these beasts to be big. Unfortunately, flight seems to favor the small. Still, there have been some big flying creatures in the past. The biggest I could find was the Quetzalcoatlus. It had a forty foot wingspan. This gave me my upper limit on size. I have evidence that creatures this big can fly here on Earth.
  4. Just why were dragons always sitting on top of piles of gold? Seriously, what did they need it for? It wasn’t as if they were going to go down to the town square and buy melons in the market. Or, could they? Accumulation of wealth implies a societal structure… money has meaning only in the context of civilization. So, why couldn’t dragons be civilized? If you’re smart enough to know the value of money, you are smart enough to know the advantages of working together, using tools, etc. Dragons are also traditionally portrayed as being able to talk, and in our world, talking leads to culture. This meant my dragons probably had mythologies about their history and strong ideas about their place in the world--ideas that might be in stark contrast with other talking creatures, like humans.

With these as my guidelines, I started imagining a dragon that was something between a bird and a lizard. Fortunately, the fossil record has a couple examples of just such creatures, the most famous being Archaeopteryx. Archaepteryx wasn't very big but if you supersize him and make him a little scalier, you get a pretty passable dragon. Throw in "hands" in the middle of the wings and you're pretty close to the sort of winged dragons that haunt the world of Bitterwood. (Figure 2) In Bitterwood, if frequently refer to "fore-talons" and "hind-talons." These are the draconian equivilents of hands and feet. However, dragon hind-talons are much more dexterous than our feet, since they use them to carry weapons, live-stock, virgins, etc. when they fly.

As long as we're looking at pictures, at Ravencon a few months back, I ran into an artist named Christina Yoder who had a fantastic sketch of something she called a "parragon" in her portfolio. (Figure 3). I was excited when I saw this picture. It's obvious Christina has studied anatomy, and I found this sketch to be a very plausible interpretation of a dragon. She tells me she's drawn the details from her pet parrot and from bats that flit around where she lives. It's not hard to imagine this creature in the real world, if not today, then in the past, sharing space in the sky with Archaopteryx.

Finally, the ever-talented Mr. Cavin sent me this collage of a dragon, taking quite literally my wishes to show the underlying biology of the beasts. (Figure 4.) The thing I love about this picture is that it's easy to look at the dragon's face and see its shared genetic heritage with a chicken. Should you ever find yourself confronting a dragon with a forty foot wingspan, a useful tactic might be to shake your fists at it while shouting, "You don't scare me, you big chicken!" It's still going to kill you, of course, but at least you'll impress your friends with your knowledge of anatomy. "He was smart," they'll say. "Shame he got eaten."

Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Dragons are Here!

So, I mentioned in an earlier post last week over at whateverville that I had gotten 4 copies of Bitterwood. On Friday, I got an additonal 40. They now stand in my living room, an impressive little wall of books that leaves me feeling a little numb, to be honest. I only got a handful of contributors copies of Nobody Gets the Girl. I've never been in the presence of 40 copies of anything with my name on it. I know it's silly, but I look at a stack of 40 books and wonder... are there that many people out there who want to read this? 400? 4,000? Even 40,000? More?

The thing that is most frightening about being an author is the fact that your fate depends so much on the actions of strangers. I go to a lot of conventions and talk to a lot of audiences, but, realisticly, even if I did this every weekend, I probably wouldn't meet 4000 people. Even if I could magically persuade every person I meet over the course of a year to go buy my book, it would probably only sell 1/10 the number of books I need to sell for this thing to be considered a success. In the end, the book is going to rise and fall on the actions of people I don't meet, readers who are going to walk into bookstores without knowing who I am, spot my book, pick it up, and decide to buy it based on the cover art and the text on the jacket.

Luckily, my book has a truly eyecatching cover by the insanely talented Micheal Komarck, and the hardworking crew at Solaris has put the whole thing together into a wonderful looking package. The teaser text on the back accurately captures the conflict of the book without giving anything away, and the front cover has a special printing varnish that gives the eye of the dragon a glossy finish. They eye actually looks wet, enhancing the effect that you are seeing Bitterwood's reflection. I think a lot of people are going to pick up this book once they see the cover.

Fortunately, I already have some evidence of this. When I got my books, they were shipped directly from Simon and Schuster, and the boxes are labled, "Do not display before June 27." But, I was at the Borders in Winston Salem yesterday, and, as I often do, I walked to the spot in the bookstore where my Bitterwood would be if it was released yet. And... they had it. Two copies. But, the way the books were sitting, it was obvious that a third copy had been sitting between the two earlier, as there was a Bitterwood-sized gap in between the two. I met my friend Greg there and he bought a copy. I checked with the information desk to see if they knew how many copies they had. As I suspected, they had started the day with three, but said they wouldn't be able to tell if any had sold until the next day.

That night, Greg took me back to Borders to pick up my car, and I couldn't resist going back inside. For one thing, my book had been sitting spine out, and I figured I'd turn the last copy cover out so that the eye-catching cover could do its magic. That turned out not to be neccessary... the book was gone. Apparently, all three had sold in a single day... at least two to complete strangers.

I swung by the Borders in Greensboro and the book wasn't out yet. The computer said it was "arriving soon."

So, I'd like to ask anyone reading this to do me a favor. Go to your local bookstores this week and let me know if you find a copy in stock. If it's sitting spine out and there's room on the shelf, I'd appreciate it if you could turn it cover out. (Don't be rude about this though... I wouldn't want you to hide someone else's book doing this.) If your local bookstore has a copy, I'd appreciate it if you'd drop me a line, or just post that information here, saying that the book is available at Bookstore X in City Y. Thank you in advance for your hard work and dedication.
There's going to be a lot of news coming up over the next few weeks as Bitterwood rolls out. I hope to have some signings lined up soon. I'll be at Readercon after the 4th of July, and hope to be doing a reading there, though I haven't got my final schedule. I'll also soon be announcing a contest. A very important element of my fantasy novel has somehow made it into print without ever being named. So, once there's been time for a decent pool of people to have read the book, I'll describe that nameless thing and explained why it remained unnamed, and hold a contest to name it. Sorry to be so vague... watch this space.

Friday, June 15, 2007

More reviews, slap-bait

A detailed review of Bitterwood popped up today at the Fantasy Book Critic site. There is a potential spoiler about the setting of the book in the review, but it's the sort of thing I've been wondering whether I should be coy about or not.

The Solaris site has also posted an excerpt from what must be a print review on their blog, under an edited version of the Fantasy Book Critic review. You can read it here, with the potential spoilers removed. A few negative comments about the book have also been removed, but I don't want to create the impression I'd rather not have you read negative comments. The review said, for instance, that the human characters were not devoloped as well as the dragons, and mentioned finding a few of the human characters annoying. I personally like all my human characters, naturally, but I can see how they might come across as less sympathetic than the dragons.

Joy Marchand is currently reading the book and is about at the midpoint, and she told me she wanted to slap one of my human characters, Pet. For what its worth, I wanted him to be slap-bait . . . there's no reason the human cast all has to be lovable.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Prime Codex review

A nice review of Prime Codex, the latest anthology I have a story in, may be found here. It says some very nice things about my story "To the East, a Bright Star." I'm still waiting to get my hands on a copy of the anthology myself, since it just launched about ten days ago, but I've read several of these stories by fellow codexians and can vouch that this anthology is going to be a good read.

I've also recently made a sale to another anthology, for my IGMS short story "To Know All Things That Are In The Earth." Unfortunately, I don't have a whole lot of details about the anthology yet, such as when it's being published or even what the title of the collection is. Watch this space.

Monday, June 4, 2007

rage, jealousy, intrigue, backstabbing, love, hate, mixed emotions, and loss of hope

Rick Novy has just reviewed an advance reading copy of Bitterwood at his blog "Frothing at the Mouth," which is, I must note, a blog name I wish I'd thought of. Check it out.

Sunday, June 3, 2007


I spent Friday and Saturday at ConCarolinas in Charlotte. This was the most panel intensive con I've ever attented. I was on 4 back to back panels Friday night, then wound up moderating 4 panels on Saturday (I was scheduled to do 3 of them, and wound up getting drafted for the last when the moderator was unable to attend the con).

Among the highlights of the con were seeing my fellow Codexians Alethea Kontis and Ed Schubert. I hadn't seen Alethea since DragonCon back in August, so it was good to catch up with her. She was there plugging her many projects, including her picture book AlphaOops, the anthology she coedited Elemental, the books currently being published by her small press Nyx Books, and, of course, her upcoming Dark Hunter guide. Ed was there promoting his work on Intergalactic Medicine show and pulled off the most impressive feat of writing I've witnessed in many years.

Ed was on the panel I had to moderate at the last second, a panel called the "Quick Write," where teams of writers have only 7 and a half minutes to write an entire short story. Ed's team consisted of Steve Cross and an audience member (who's name I didn't write down, alas). The challenge was to write a story using randomly generated prompts from the audience... and the prompt's turned out to be Napoleon, Kuala Lampoor (I'm sure I just misspelled that), an inkpen... and when I asked and audience member for a genre, he said, "musical." The team rose to the challenge, with Ed writing the ending, and managing to write actual song lyrics to bring the story to a close. I didn't write down the lyrics, alas, so I can't repeat them here, but the entire room was laughing so hard it really doesn't matter.

Of course, the in the first round the other team also knocked my socks off. It consisted of Robert Buettner, Glenda Finkelstein, and Debra Killeen. In the first round, they wrote a story about a scientist who is given a cardboard box and opens it to find a recently killed baby t-rex head inside. I've attended several quick-writes at various cons, and this was definitely the most professional sounding story I've ever seen produced in seven minutes. The amazing thing was that, for three writers, I couldn't tell where one writer's work ended and the next's began. I picked up a copy of Robert Buettner's first novel, Orphanage, and I'm looking forward to checking it out.

I also wound up on two science panels with Stephen Euin Cobb, host of the podcast "The Future and You." The two panels sort of blended together as we discussed such exotic concepts as transhumanism (which I'll loosely describe as the theory of what humans will be once they are no longer human), how to plausibly travel outside the solar system without falling back on any exotic physics like warp drives or hyperspace, and how science may be becoming indistiguishable from magic for a majority of people.

I feel a little guilty about skipping out on the Sunday part of the con. I planned to only stay Friday night so I could save money on a Saturday night hotel room. Ah well. Now I know. Next year, I'll budget the extra time and cash to get the full con experience.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Another blog review

The latest blog review of Bitterwood may be found at Nancy Fulda's Live Journal.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

If you just can't wait for July....

I just discovered two ARC's of Bitterwood for sale on E-Bay. These are the uncorrected review copies the publisher sends out, so they still have all the typos and the paragraph where I slip up and call my protagonist "Sparky" for a whole page instead of "Bitterwood." I don't frequently troll around on E-Bay, but I feel like finding my words available there is another small milestone in my writing career. It's similar to the wierd satisfaction I felt when I found a copy of "Nobody Gets the Girl" for sale at the local library used book sale and bought it for fifty cents. The author in me thinks, "Fifty cents? That's all?" while the shopper in me thinks, "Wow, what a bargain!"


I'm going to be a guest at ConCarolinas in a few weeks, June 1-3. This is in Charlotte, NC and if you're in the area the "Geek Comedy Tour" is going to be performing and is well worth the price of admission. I saw them at Ravencon and they were great. Fellow Codexian's Alethea Kontis and Ed Schubert will be there, as well, at least on Saturday. Hope I see you there!

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

When Gravity Fails: Bitterwood Gets Publishers Weekly Starred Review

When Gravity Fails: Bitterwood Gets Publishers Weekly Starred Review

A very nice review indeed, even if they did get the name of one my characters wrong. For the record, the king's brother is named Blasphet, not Blasphiel.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

The First Blog Review Rolls In...

On a writers forum I recently put out offer to send advance review copies of Bitterwood to anyone with a blog who would agree to read the book and talk about it. I told them up front I wasn't soliciting glowing reviews in exchange for a free book, just honest opinions. If they don't like the book, I still intend to link to them. The book is possibly going to be a bit controversial with die hard fantasy fans. I twist a lot of the standard expectations of the genre. I'm braced for the eventual review that says, "what the heck kind of dragons are these?" (In fact, I'm planning to soon write a post explaining just what kind of beasts the creatures running around in my book are and why I think they rightfully bear the label of dragon, just in case being big winged lizards with colorful vocabularies isn't sufficient reason.)

Tonight, the first blog review popped up, by Helena Bell, on her blog "over the cliff." I would like to correct one thing in her review. Towards the end, she writes, "Unfortunately for you, this book won’t be published until July. But when it is, you should buy it." I would like to mince words and point out that while you can't read Bitterwood until July, you can certainly buy Bitterwood right now, at Amazon and other fine internet outlets of your choosing. In fact, if you order it today, you'll probably forget you've ordered it by July, and one day you'll come home and find a package on your doorstep and it will feel like Christmas in July.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Ravencon Report

I just got in from Ravencon and WOW, it was a terrific con. Mike Pederson, the con chair, and Tony Ruggiero the Programming Director must have put in a lot of sleepless nights to pull this off so smoothly. (I don't mean to exclude any of the dozens of other volunteers by singling out these two... check out for a complete list of volunteers.) I got a bit of a pleasant shock right off the bat to walk into the dealer room and discover a bookseller with a half dozen copies of my first novel, Nobody Gets the Girl. Nobody came out back in 2003, and while you can still buy it on Amazon, it's been a few years since I saw a "live" copy of it for sale. I got an even better surprise come Sunday when I checked back at the dealer and saw they had sold most of the stack. It was a welcome turn of events not to be totally skunked when I had my signing on Sunday and actually had people show up. Also, it was fun sharing the table with the talented Christina Yoder. In theory, according to the card she gave me, you can see her at at though apparently it has a flash animation front page that I can't get past (I turned off flash because it kept crashing my browser, alas). Christina showed me a picture of a dragon that is probably about as close as anything I've ever seen to the picture I have in my head of how the Bitterwood dragons look. I'm emailing her to see if I can link to a copy of it.

After my signing, I wound up eating lunch with NASA engineer Laura Burns and having a cool discussion about dark matter, space telescopes, and future models of space exploration. I wish more SF cons would have actual scientist as guests. I like talking to other writers, but science professionals have ways of saying stuff that make light bulbs pop over my head. For instance, we were discussing why humans have evolved to see in visible light but not in UV or infrared, both of which are abundantly available on our planet. Laura wound up pointing out that our skin is an eye for infrared. I left the conversation suddenly aware that my body was covered in one giant eyeball... a thought somewhere between creepy and cool that I'm sure will find it's way into a story eventually.

I rode up with IGMS editor Ed Schubert, always a good conversationalist, and before I left today he introduced me to Dennis Danvers, author of 8 novels, who had some useful advice on the pros and cons of writing under more than one name. I also had a terrific time at a room party with some people from Capclave. I didn't catch their names, but they throw a mean party with a seriously impressive collection of booze.

The funniest thing at the con had to be the Geek Comedy Tour. This is a group of about 8 standup comics who apparently tour science fiction cons and do really nerdy jokes, and lord help me, I was so much their target audience it was scary. I laughed so hard I was weeping. If you ever see them listed as appearing at a con, you owe it to yourself to check them out.

I also passed out my last few advance reading copies of "Bitterwood." Hopefully I'll soon start having a few blog entries about the book I can direct you to.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Come see me at Raven Con!

I'll be a guest at RavenCon in Richmond, Va, from April 20-22. I have panels scheduled every day, so I'll be easy to track down. This is my first visit to RavenCon, but I'm already impressed with the work and planning that's gone into it. Check it out more about the con at their website.