Tag Archives: fantasy

Deconstructing the Anthology, Part 1 – TV Gods

BRIAN SAYS:

“Are we sure we want to do this?” I asked.

Chris exhaled, slowly trying to blow doubt and insecurity out of his body. His eyes shimmered with the start of tears. “I think so?”

“Oh… oh, God… no…,” Christine muttered, realization crawling up her spine like ants.

“What are we talking about?” Jeff asked.

“Jeff, run. Run, run now, run fast, Jeff, just run,” Christine whispered.

Knowing Christine well enough, Jeff heeded her warning without question. He jumped from the couch, knocking the tray table over, and stepped on the cat’s tail as he sprinted for the door. Fingertips fractions of an inch from the doorknob, Chris and I thwarted his escape by yelling in unison, “We’re going to publish an anthology and you’re going to be the editor!!”

Jeff fell to the floor and writhed, screaming, “It burns! IT BURNS!”

“Are we sure we’re ready for this next step?” I asked.

“Well, we’ve published one anthology already, as well as three story collections, and dozens of magazines,” Chris answered. “It’s the next logical step.”

“IT BURNS!! BURNING BURNS!”

“So, what’s the anthology going to be?” Christine asked.

“IT STILL BURNS! IT BURRRRRRRNS!”

I shrugged my shoulders. “How about we call it ‘TV Gods’? We’ll ask the writers to take their favorite TV shows and their favorite mythologies and mash them together.”

“BURNING ME! IT BURRRRRR… wait… that’s not a bad idea,” Jeff replied as he sat up and grabbed his mead, the aloe rub for his soul. “I think I even have a story idea already.”

Thus, TV Gods was born. The reality of how it came to be was not all that far off from the above anecdote. As we had mentioned in previous blogs, the “Drunken Comic Book Monkeys” series was an experiment. We wanted to see what it took to publish a book; a full, perfect bound, trade paperback sized book with stories and illustrations. And we did it. It was not without its pains, but we did it and it was fairly successful. People we didn’t know purchased it and liked it. It ended up on the shelves of a few book stores. Everyone involved was very proud of the finished product. So, after about ten years of being a publishing company, we decided to take a more hands-on approach to publishing an anthology where there would be more writers involved than just Chris and me. And through divine intervention, we procured a wonderful editor almost immediately. We were all but finished! Okay, maybe it wasn’t that easy….

 

CHRIS SAYS:

Fortress Publishing Inc. events are pretty simple, by and large. For instance, one of us states that a day off work is approaching and asks if there is interest in going to the lunch buffet until we are asked to leave. All hands raise in lieu of a more formal RSVP and we’re done. That’s how stories get done. But an anthology? Well suddenly it goes from “Dude, are you free on Friday?” to “Contact fifteen to twenty of your closest work associates.” Now it’s more like a daunting task. Where to begin?

Fortunately, Brian and I are quasi-likeable guys. More fortunately, we’ve been invited to participate in anthologies as contributors. First step: pull out copies of those anthologies. We learned a great deal by looking through those books, from formatting to layout to estimated page counts.

We had so much fun working with Danielle McPhail and her editorial team on the “Bad Ass Faeries” anthologies. Flipping through the pages of the actual book was a bit of a trip down memory lane for us. Brian and I have our own series of editorial steps that we use when we are working on a story, but we were able to add our experience of having gone through the editorial process that they used for “Bad Ass Faeries.” Big bonus.

More recently, Brian and I had also been in the anthology, Coven, edited by Andi O’Connor.  Again, it was a completely different process, including a virtual chat room that was set up for the day of the book release. Contributors could check into the “room” and answer questions posed by potential readers. We had a great deal of fun with that as well.

Now where to find contributors. Well, we had a good beginning spot by looking through the table of contents for “Bad Ass Faeries” and Coven as well as other anthologies that we’ve been in. But, over the years, Brian and I have done a fair number of public appearances and conventions. If we could bide our time, we reasoned, we’d be seeing some likely candidates and decided that we could corner a few of the less intimidating ones in the hallways or at a convention table. There was also our most valuable resource: the bar! Brian and I have been known to hang out there for extended periods of time in order to change a non-committal answer into “Yes, if it will make you leave!”

But what to do with the more intimidating folks? Hmmmm. We went to our usual thinking place. We did our usual thinking tasks. We ate pizza rolls by the box. We drank beer by the pitcher. And then it came to us like a power surge on an otherwise dreary day: Jeff! We’d get Jeff to do it!!

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Deconstructing the Second Novel, Part 2 – The Devil’s Grasp

BRIAN SAYS:

I have four Red Sonja statues and two posters in my house. I once knew the real names of all the female American Gladiators. Don’t bring up Tonya Knight or Cory Everson around Chris unless you have a few hours to listen to exultation. He and I would watch Xena while wearing giant foam fingers that read: “#1 Warrior Princess.” We both like strong women – physically strong women – so there was no way we would write a high fantasy novel without having one. In The Devil’s Grasp, we have Dearborn Stillheart.

Dearborn is the Sergeant in the king’s special band of soldiers called the Elite Troop. As the daughter of a blacksmith who lost his wife, Dearborn gained muscle very early in life, and after an accident in her father’s shop left him struggling for money, she decided to join the army where she could use her size to her advantage. Being taller and more muscular than many of the men, she climbed through the ranks until she found herself second in command of the Elite Troop. She’s great at what she does, and that makes her feel uncomfortable.

With Dearborn, we wanted to explore some more modern issues that many of us, especially women, feel in our day-to-day lives. We all have our talents, special skills that come to us a little easier than to others, and sometimes we feel uncomfortable about that, maybe even a little guilty. Dearborn has great success as both a fighter and a tactician, skills that she seems to be blessed with. As a modest individual, she doesn’t like to better the men in her Elite Troop, but she will if she has to.

Another modern concept that we explore with her is career versus family. Most modern adults face this dilemma, one particularly affecting many women. All of us try to balance the two, but inevitably there are times when we feel like we have to sacrifice one for the other. With Dearborn, career is thrust upon her, because she feels she has no other option, no chance at family. She’s beautiful, but she is physically larger than most potential suitors. Even though she has the ability to better any man she meets, she lacks the confidence that a man would be able to look beyond warrior façade and see her for who she is.

Dearborn may be a warrior woman in a high fantasy novel, but she has plenty of qualities to make her many readers favorite character. How does it turn out for her by the end of the book? Well, we certainly aren’t going to tell you that here!

 

CHRIS SAYS:

I love to read. In fact, I have always loved to read. My educational background is a hodge-podge of various literary styles and traditions, timeframes and points of origin, but my earliest and longest running love of reading is rooted in fantasy and science fiction. By sixth grade I had discovered role playing games, a burgeoning love affair that continued to blossom long after college had ended. It should probably come as no surprise then that the paths of my early life led me to discover Robert E Howard, Fritz Leiber, Ursula K LeGuin, and Michael Moorcock, with the later additions of Raymond E Feist and David Eddings. All of these writers drew upon the strength of a central core of strong characters (usually human characters), but they also created wonderful support with their use of non-human characters.

Bale Pinkeye is an ogre. He is also a bumbler of great proportions, not just in terms of his physical size, but in relation to his bumblings, as well. He and his band of compatriots provide an excellent foil (and sometimes motivational point) to a group of ne’er-do-well thieves even as they provide us with some comic relief, not all of which is intentional on their part.

Bale isn’t exactly the brightest of fellows, so we needed to find a suitable motivation for him to stay involved with the proceedings of the book. Nevin and his friends provide that. Bale can’t stand to see the group of thieves “one up” the ogre and his little group, so he is constantly trying to think up ways to get one over on the elf, Nevin, and his human friends. Brian and I wanted their spatting back and forth to be fun and light-hearted, but as the thieves become more embroiled in the happenings of the book, then Bale, too, had to remain integral to the plot for more than just a mispronunciation of a word here and a stepped in road apple disaster there.

In order to do that, we created a character that was, at his core, meant to be likeable. He’s not formally educated, but does have some gems of “a priori” ogrishly wisdom that he occasionally shares with us anecdotally. He’s not a kind hearted sap, but he’s very content to keep his competitiveness non-lethal. If anything, he admires Nevin and his group and yearns to be more like them. And, as we learn throughout the book, despite his often gruff manner, he cares very deeply for his friends and displays an unwavering loyalty to them.

When it comes to throwing around his weight, Bale isn’t opposed to dishing out a backhand slap or breaking a limb or two. Intimidation is ultimately not his strong suit, though, and so he usually abandons the strong arm tactic in favor of something less suited to his physical attributes, which we hope lends itself to more fun for the readers. Occasionally he finds himself in the right place at the right time, though he’s usually standing on the wrong foot when he does. How does this all work out for him? Well, as the ogrish philosopher, Liber Praelectio, was fond of saying, “If you want to know how a book starts, read the beginning. If you want to know how a book ends, skip to the end. Those who actually want to learn something between the beginning and the end of the book read the middle.”

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Deconstructing the Second Novel, Part 1 – The Devil’s Grasp

BRIAN SAYS:

Tom looked at me, nodded his head toward Chris, and said, “You know he writes, right?”
I replied with, “Ummmmm… no.”
Turning to Chris, Tom pointed to me, and asked, “You know he writes, right?”
Coincidently enough, the reply Chris gave sounded oddly familiar. “Ummmmm… no.”
Tom then summed up the future partnership that Chris and I would form with one word: “Idiots.”

That little tale about the endeavoring spirit of human nature took place almost fifteen years ago, about ten years after we first met. Yes, I just said that it took ten years for each of us to figure out that the other wished to be a professional writer, which only happened by the assistance of a third party. Not only is it a testament to how well men actually communicate with each other, but even if the conversation somehow came close to the subject, then inevitably something would distract us from it. One time Chris and I accidentally forgot to go to the local bar to pick up women [The Ferrell/Kattan skits you’re envisioning now really aren’t too far from the truth], because we got past a difficult level in the latest Star Wars video game and wanted to keep playing. Why is any of this relevant? Because the first thing Chris and I worked on together was The Devil’s Grasp.

Of course, before we put the proverbial pen to paper, we sat down and compared notes: How long we’d been writing, where we’d gotten published, what we liked to write, how many more levels there were in that damn Star Wars game, why the beer pitcher was always empty. We discovered that we were in the same stage of our writing careers – a few things published in small magazines. So, the next obvious step was to write a novel together.

By this point in time, I had already written two novels; one solo, one with another writer. Neither amounted to anything more than experience, beer drinking, and good times. Luckily, I was able to bring all of that to the table when Chris and I FINALLY stopped playing Star Wars and started talking about the novel.

CHRIS SAYS:

Testing! Testing! Is this thing on? It is? Well, hi, folks! Let’s see here… video game… beer pitcher empty… be right back! I’m not so sure this thing truly holds 64 ounces!

While we were walking around the used car of our writing aspirations, randomly kicking tires and jumping through open windows, we discussed genre and found that we both have a keen interest in fantasy, though we had largely gotten there via different paths. As a kid I had read the “classics” and many of my days had been wholly consumed by them. Tolkien, Le Guin, Leiber, Howard… they made me want to swing a sword, to hurl spells of magical creation, to be the size of a mouse running from dark wizards, or to be seeking the advice of an alien seer. Brian was familiar with more modern, but not less important, works found on the cinema screen or comic book pages.

As we were discussing tropes and quests and magic, we also confessed to each other that we both had an interest in horror and here seemed to be a way to differentiate our piece from other more mainstream fantasy. As all of this involved far more discussion and learning about another dude that either of us had done in quite likely our entire collective lives, we took a break and went to our respective homes to do more thinking. We both typed up a short page or two – essentially of list of “do’s” and “don’ts”. This is really how we began the process of collaborative writing. Passing chapters back and forth, each trying to outdo the other by putting characters into perilous situations and challenging the other to save them.

Over the next few weeks, we established goals and outlined chapters. Afterwards, we each picked a chapter that we wanted to work on and set monthly word count goals. On the designated day, we would meet up and go over what we had done and where we envisioned the characters going next. We always outlined a good 5-6 chapters in advance and worked on different chapters, writing towards the day of the inevitable passing off of a chapter to the other person, back and forth until revision time… I still get chills thinking about revisions… slimy, putrid… out of what miasma they crawl, I know not, but they are certainly welcome to go back whence they came! I think I got some miasma on me….

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