Aura Lockhaven Trivia

 

Aura’s surname began with her giant of a warrior ancestor, the Locchaefen. In old Ayrdic, the name meant Lock on the Haven, and was given to him as the defender of the port town of Vine Haven more than 200 years earlier.

Aura’s name was supposed to be Aurora. Her mother Aurora died giving birth to her. Her sister Ester suggested naming the baby after their mother, but had a hard time saying the name. Their brother thought she said Aura. Their father Henry liked the way it sounded, so that’s what he named his newest daughter.

Aura was born on Haemmont 1.* It is also the first day of summer, and Parin, or the old feast day of Ystlena, the goddess of love.

Her astrological sign is Erasto, the sign of the lovers. ** It is the only dual sign in the zodiac. An Earth sign, most born under this sign are extremely tactile, somewhat slovenly, irritatingly stubborn, and rigorously sexual. However, being born on a change of the Wheel of the Year (Parin), Aura acquired some of the traits of the two signs at 90 degrees, which are both Fire signs. That gives her a speed, fastidiousness, and somewhat volatile temper not known in others born during this 28 day period.

Aura’s necklace is known as the Sacred Star. It is a septagram, with each of its seven points representing one of the elements; Air, Fire, Water, Earth, Metal, Light, and Spirit. Usually, the elements are assigned to directions: Air to east, Fire to south, Water to west, Earth to north, Metal to below, Light to above, and Spirit to center. On the Sacred Star, however, they are arranged simply by which element gets along with which.

She is a fantastic cook, having learned from her father and older sister. Her specialties are roasts and stews.

She eats and drinks too much simply because she adores the way things taste. If they’re good, that is.

Aura is famous as an ale fiend. Lesser known is her fondness for nutbreads and berry tarts, particularly from her own oven.

Aura grows her own herbs, for both culinary and magical uses.

Aura brews her own ale at home, from her father’s recipe.

She loathes any form of seafood, but will eat it if offered by a hostess. That is only good manners. Except for lamprey and eel. Those things look like worms, so “No thank you, I’m allergic.”

Other than carrots and potatoes, Aura is not fond of root crops. Radishes and turnips taste like dirt.

It’s a good thing Aura walks the mile into Hartshorn, and back, and performs her own chores. Otherwise, she might weigh considerably more than 150 pounds. At least a big chunk of that chunk is muscle.

Her favorite animal is a cat. She loves their aloof sense of independence.

Her second favorite is the raven, although she is fond of any bird.

The only animal Aura fears is a spider. Her fear borders on an obsession, and causes her to panic and hallucinate. The hand sized raft spider is the worst. Spindly cellar spiders aren’t much better. She has no fear of the small jumping spider, however. They’re cute, like grumpy old men with bristly moustaches.

Although Aura doesn’t own a horse, she is an excellent rider. She thinks bits are cruel and prefers to guide a horse with her legs and hands.

Her grandfather, Grimchester Lockhaven, built much of Hartshorn, or at least financed its construction. His crowning achievement is Fourth Wharf and Warehouse, commonly called the Lockhaven Dock. Aura visits the wharf whenever she needs to connect with her family.

Her other place to connect with her family is the Lockhaven plot in the temple cemetery, which has too many graves to suit her.

Aura inherited her nose and height from her father. Her face, figure, hair color, and eye color come from her mother.

Aura’s home is known locally as Big Hedge. It was probably a farm at one time, but no one remembers when that time was. It is 60 acres of untidy old growth forest, blackberry brambles, and fields that have not been cultivated in decades. The house has a stone first story and a waddle and daub second story. The roof is wooden shingle. A narrow tower is attached to the western side. Of course there is an ale cellar.

The house does have a shower out back, an outhouse, and an indoor sink in the kitchen. Aura’s master Sagacius, the wizard who taught her and owned Big Hedge before her, is the brother of a mad inventor after all.

She speaks five languages. She is fluent in Ayrdish, obviously, and Nebelish. She is also fluent in the Coadic variant of Tangoi, which makes her capable of communicating with the people of Garrania and Caillia to a fair level, and surprisingly Ogres as well. She thinks she’s fluent in Flumentine and Sollantine, but her stilted diction and syntax cause native speakers to almost die of laughter. Her competency in Karanthek extends only as far as being able to cast spells in the ancient language. ***

While normally a calm and loving woman, Aura can be riled. This is known as getting her Lockhaven up, her father’s term for blowing his stack. When that happens, she has the most vile mouth imaginable. Her ability to string together obscenities, and make them up, leave most people breathless.

Aura is competent with a quarter staff and a dagger. She is also a capable brawler, with powerful arms and legs honed from chopping firewood and gardening. She is totally incompetent with a sword or bow, although she has her late brother’s sword.

If she charged fees for her spells and charms, she might be modestly well off. As it is, the townsfolk insist on paying her with services and food. Right now, they’re rebuilding that ramshackle old farmhouse of hers. It’s a good thing, too. The roof has started to leak, and Aura is no carpenter.

 

 

* Our equivalent date: May 1. It is also known as May Day or Beltane (one sexy holiday). In older calendars it was the first day of summer.

** Our equivalent astrological sign: Erasto loosely translates into Taurus

*** Our equivalent languages: Ayrdish = English. Nebelish = German. Tangoi = Celtic. Coadic variant = Welsh. Flumantine = French. Sollantine = Spanish. Karanthek = Greek.

 

What wasn’t established in A Path of Stones will be in The Fires of Tallen Hall and Crimson Cloak. The fourth novel, The Enchantress of Hartshorn, will open with Aura being driven to distraction by the din of One-Eyed Rupert building her a barn, without any instigation on Aura’s part.

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Language in Fantasy Fiction

Recently, I read a blog post by a fantasy fan, in which the person lambasted the Sword of Shannara TV series for its language. The writer said it was too modern. No one talked like that in the middle ages. Harrumph!

The blogger had a point. One. The rest was actually off the mark, historically. According to the blogger, all fantasy should be written in J.R.R. Tolkein’s formal English, especially the dialogue. Sorry, blogging fan, but that’s just wrong.

People in the past did not use perfect diction. They did not speak in formal language. They peppered their sentences with as many slang terms, colloquialisms, sentence fragments, and clichés as we do. The only people who spoke in formal language were nobles, priests, and scholars. Soldiers, farmers, merchants, and everyone else who made up the bulk of society jived like the rest of us today.

Here is a case in point. If you want to understand the English Renaissance, read William Shakespeare’s tavern scenes, especially in Henry IV, Part One. Many mavens of old lamented those scenes, wishing Shakespeare had stuck to the courts. As my Shakespeare professor said, “If one king says the crown weighs heavy upon my head, they all say it.” No, Shakespeare lived in taverns. That was his world. Those scenes are alive! His tavern scenes are chock full of common slang and clichés from the times. In fact, Shakespeare made up his own.

If that was the Renaissance, the era of Elizabeth I and James I, then why wouldn’t the times of Charlemagne and William the Conqueror be the same? Or any other era commonly used in fantasy stories? Egyptians, Babylonians, Greeks, Chinese, Hittites, Huns, Anglo-Saxons, and Vikings were every bit as prone to slang, sentence fragments, and vulgarities as we are today.

When Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl was first released in English, the editors thought the subject was too important and heavy to leave in its original language. It was translated into formal English. In doing so, the story lost its energy, and even the true point-of-view of a teenaged girl. Recently, it was re-translated, just as Anne Frank wrote it. Now, it is alive and vibrant, full of the hopes and dreams, fears and anxiety, of a teenager in harrowing times. The blogger may not have intended this, but his view of language in fantasy would create stories like the original version of Anne Frank; lifeless and stilted. We readers want the second edition, with all its raw life and energy.

The blogger was correct, though, about one thing. It is important. That is the use of our contemporary slang and word usage. This is not correct: “You’re a wizard. Not!” This is better: “You’re a wizard. I don’t think so!” Using our 20th and 21st Century phrases is an issue. Using slang, colloquialisms, and contractions is not.

With the exception of urban fantasy, most fantasy stories are set in alternative worlds. Do you mean to tell me that all alternative worlds follow the linguistic patterns of the Earth we live upon? Now, that isn’t fantasy. It’s delusion! An alternative world will develop its own linguistic patterns from ours, as much as Japan is different from France. In fact, we see it within languages. Compare Great Britain to the United States and Australia. They speak the same language? Well, technically, all three speak English, but at this point, Canadians walk away shaking their heads and New Zealanders are overjoyed to live in the isolation of their islands. If the speakers of the same language use different linguistic patterns from each other, why would we expect less from the speakers in Middle Earth, the Four Lands, and the D’Haran Empire.

At its best, fantasy encourages the reader to change the world. While the reader may not have Aragorn’s steel or Gandalf’s magic, he or she does have Frodo’s courage, Sam’s loyalty, Merry’s intelligence, and Pippin’s optimism. Fantasy helps the reader realize that he or she can use those to change the world, if only the world immediately around the reader. Often, that is enough. At the least, fantasy diverts the reader from the angst of the evening news. Such stories need to be as alive as possible. This is modern myth-telling, and myth conveys deep truths in the form of enchanting tales. There is no room for formal language, if that formal language stifles the energy.

Something the blogger did not mention is the use of words that obviously belong to a particular language, other than the one in which the story is written. That is a common trap. A case in point is the word mercenary. It is blatantly French. That word belongs to our Earth, and not in a story set in an alternative world. Oh, you can get away with it, but it may be glaring. George R.R. Martin uses the word sellsword, meaning a sword for hire instead of one sworn to a lord. I use the term free lance. It’s the actual origin of our contemporary word freelancer. It means a knight whose lance does not bear the banner of any particular lord. In other words, a mercenary, by another word. Other words are solstice and equinox. Many fantasy writers use them, but I find them a bit too Greek and Latin for my tastes. That is a personal choice. It isn’t as jarring as using the word guerilla.

Other examples are plants and stones. An emerald is an emerald. It’s universally understood. No need to change it. Amazonite, however, is named for the Amazon River, and not likely to be found on any other world or planet by that term. The same with Icelandic Spar. Lapis lazuli stands between those two extremes. Lapis is Latin for stone, and lazuli comes from the Arabic for the place where it is mined. In classical literature, such as the Bible, lapis was called sapphire. The problem with using that word is we now have an entirely different gem named sapphire. If you’re writing sandalpunk, you might want to use it. For the rest of us, that would cause too much confusion. Despite being Latin, the word lapis is common enough to use, but it is probably a good idea to just call it lapis. Readers will understand. A rose is a rose. By any other name. Belladonna, however, is a blatant Spanish word. It means beautiful lady. Science fiction writers can use it, because Spanish is likely to be taken to other planets in the future. We fantasy guys can’t get away with it, unless we’re writing urban fantasy set in 21st Century Topeka. It’s better to change the name to sorcerer’s nightshade.

There is a movement called Anglish. It’s goal is to eliminate all non-English words from the English language. It’s an experiment, mostly. I thought writing A Path of Stones in Anglish would not only be interesting, it would be more accurate. It’s too bloody difficult! Even though I have a master’s degree in English, I had no idea just how many of our words are French, Latin, Greek, or Asian. Not only that, but the old Saxons didn’t have words for some of our contemporary concepts. The concepts themselves come from Romantic, Slavic, or Asian nations, and bear their names. Try removing those and see what remains. One chapter was enough to convince me to abandon the idea. Besides, I approach the story as if I’m translating it from Aura’s Ayrdish into our English. The effort did, however, coach me in catching foreign words that could be a slap in the face to the reader.

 

Self Publishing: Book Size and Prices

I’m still examining the option of Self Publishing. It looks more and more feasible.

Today, I’m thinking about book size and price.

A Path of Stones is 160,000 words. That’s slim for a fantasy novel these days. In fact, keeping it short was one of my primary goals. There are two major complaints among us fantasy fans: the books are too fat, and the story is all about saving the world. Not mine!

Still, 160,000 words equals 500 pages. Certainly, that is 12 point, double spaced, 8×11 paper. Standard draft format. I reformatted it for a 6×9 book (when I was an editor, I always loved formatting), 11 point type, 1.5 line spacing, standard commercial margins of .75 inches top and outside, with .85 at the bottom and 1 for the gutter. Tonight, I will sit down with several commercially published novels and measure the margins and type size, so this is just an estimate. Even with the reformatting, the book comes out to 500 pages.

500 pages isn’t that fat, compared to something like George R. R. Margin’s A Dance with Dragons, but it’s overweight compared to anything in Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files, or Kim Harrison’s Hollows series, and the Aura Lockhaven Chronicles more parallels the last two than any epic fantasy.

I thought about splitting A Path of Stones in half, to make the book slimmer and more affordable. There is an excellent place to do so right around page 245. Perfect. So, how would two books stack up compared to one, in terms of price per unit?

Lulu has a pricing calculator. I can’t find CreateSpace’s, but if I Self Publish, Lulu will handle the hardback option as CreateSpace doesn’t offer one. So, this is a far calculation.

A 500 page 6×9 hardback published on Lulu is $ 22.65, cost. The paperback version is $ 8.00. I’m thinking of sticking with a low royalty rate, to keep the price lower and move books. So, that would be a hardback of $ 27 and a paperback of $ 12. I could round it up to $ 30 and $ 15 respectively and still not be a greedy little hermit.

That isn’t bad, really. But what if I cut A Path of Stones in half?

The hardback would be $ 17.95, while the paperback would be $ 6.25. With my royalties, that is $ 21 and $ 9 respectively.

I don’t know about you, but a 250 page hardback at $ 21 seems like a rip off compared to a 500 page hardback at $ 27, or even $ 30. That paperback however, takes me back to the early 1990s.

The lower prices would move more books. Also, by splitting the book in half, I would double my royalties because I’d be selling two instead of just one. In other words, I’d make $ 6 for the same story instead of a mere $ 3. And at the lower prices, I’m likely to attract more readers and buyers. There is some good business sense in this idea.

I don’t know about ebooks. Those tend to be almost giveaways, even with steep royalties added on.

There is another consideration. The spine. I am concerned that at 500 pages, the paperback would split anyway — literally. Even the best paperback spines are not as invulnerable as their hardback counterparts. At 250 pages, the book is likely to last more than one reading.

Of course, this would mean I freak out my poor artist. “Dude, I need four covers instead of two.” If I split the first book, then I definitely split the second, thicker, book. And I have to buy twelve ISBNs total (it seems better for me to buy my own and be listed as the publisher, than take the free options offered by Lulu and CreateSpace and have them listed as the publishers).

Just more things to think about.

 

Reconsidering Self Publishing, Part Two

Self-published books are not limited to cookbooks and family histories. There are quite a few self-published books that became famous. Some of them are the entire Chicken Soup for the Soul series, the Bridges of Madison County, What Color Is Your Parachute, the Martian, the Celestine Prophecy, and Still Alice. For better or for worse, the list also includes the dismal (in my opinion) the Shack, and the worse (in my opinion) 50 Shades trilogy. The majority of what we now consider classics written prior to around 1850 were self-published, and even some later, such as James Joyce’s Ulysses.

So, fame via Self Publishing* is a possibility. Fame is one of my criteria for what I want for Aura Lockhaven and myself. The other criteria include Artistic Control, Quality Control, Availability to the Reader, Marketing, and Revenue. Yesterday, I discussed what Self-Publishing can offer me in Artistic Control and Quality Control. Today, I discuss Fame and Availability to the Reader.

Availability to the Reader: What I mean by this is the time lag between the total completion of the book (when I have made all the corrections suggested by my second beta reader and it is ready for submission) and it appearing in marketplace for the reader to buy. This criteria is second only to Artistic Control.

In Traditional Publishing, the time required between acceptance of a novel and it appearing in a bookstore is sixteen months to two years. That is outrageous! It made sense thirty years ago, when editors worked with writers to polish a book, and offset printing required metal plates that were made by typesetters, rekeying the entire book one word at a time. With the less involved editorship prevalent today, and the technology of the 21st Century that can take a PDF manuscript file and translate it directly to the printing press, I have to ask why does it take so long.

It doesn’t have to. When Sarah Palin was nominated for the vice-presidency by the Republican Party in 2008, three books about her were on the shelves within six weeks. That was eight years ago, when printing technology was still primitive compared to today. Certainly, those books were full of errors, but they were rushed from first draft to stores to take advantage of Palin’s momentum. If they had been properly edited and polished, turnaround time for those books could have been six months. So, a fast turnaround time is possible. It just isn’t done.

Not so with Self Publishing. The time lag between incorporating the second beta reader’s suggestions and the book resting in the hands of a reader can take anywhere from one week to one month. The time between is spent formatting the book for hardback-paperback print versions and e-reader versions (they are totally different) and preparing the cover art. If I’m smart, I will be working with the artist while the beta readers are doing their jobs, and both cover and text will be ready simultaneously.

One month is a good turnaround time.

So, for Availability to the Reader, Self Publishing wins hands down.

Fame: Yes, I want to be famous. I want people to know my name, and moreso, the name of Aura Lockhaven. It would not hurt my feelings if Aura Lockhaven entered the pantheon of popular culture and stood alongside Kirk and Spock, Sherlock Holmes, Tarzan, Wonder Woman, and James Bond.

On the other hand, I don’t want them to know my face all that much. Writers have an advantage over actors and musicians. Stephen King can go to a restaurant and be left alone. He may look familiar to the other diners, but they don’t know exactly why. Jennifer Lawrence and Bruce Springsteen can’t say that. I value my privacy, but I also enjoy meeting new people. Being a writer gives me the opportunity to choose which I wish on any given day.

Fame is one of the two criteria where I balk at Self Publishing. The other is Marketing, which I will discuss tomorrow. The two are actually linked.

The people involved in Traditional Publishing (agent, editor, publicist) will go to great lengths to ensure a high profile for a writer that they believe has a modest success on his hands. The agent and publicist will arrange book tours, interviews, and reviews. They will recommend that bookstores promote new books. It is up to the writer to establish connections to the readers, but agents and publicists provided the open doors.

As of 2012, that was not true at all for Self Publishing. It offered absolutely no book tours, interviews, reviews, and no self-published book appeared in any bookstore.

Even a writer of a modest success (say, sales of 65,000 copies) is taken seriously. His fame grows exponentially. His books are in bookstores. He has the opportunity for movie deals (that is where the big fame and money lie). Self-published writers are not taken seriously by the press, the movie industry, and especially by other writers. Their book aren’t in bookstores, so how is a reader going to find them? No movie producer even looks at self-published books. Some self-published writers have sold millions of copies, but I cannot name one.

I’m still thinking like it’s 2012. All of that could have changed in the past four years.

A few nights ago, I said to my wife, “I could sell 100,000 copies of A Path of Stones through Self Publishing, and still no one would know my name!”

Do you see the logical fallacy? If 100,000 people have bought my book, then 100,000 people know my name. That is a sizeable readership. Yet, I cannot get that through my skull.

What does Self Publishing in 2016 offer in terms of the potential for fame? I have no idea. This will require further research and serious contemplation.

Go back to the criteria of Availability to the Reader for a moment. In Traditional Publishing, I could sell a book to a publisher, know it will be a best-seller, but have to wait two years before anyone knows who I am. During those same two years, through Self Publishing, I can publish three novels and be well on my way to being somewhat known by the reading public.

Ultimately, the responsibility for my name being known rests with me.

For the criteria of Fame, Traditional Publishing wins by a slim margin, solely because of its promotional campaigns. That is, it wins today. I will reevaluate this criteria as I learn more.

Tomorrow, I will discuss the final criteria: Marketing, and Revenue.

* If you notice, I spell self-publish with a hyphen, but Self Publishing without it. That’s just my personal choice. To me, self-publish is a verb, while Self Publishing is a noun describing an industry.

Reconsidering Self Publishing, Part One

After six years of work, my first novel, A Path of Stones, is ready for the light of day. Before I set it out on its own path to the fantasy fiction reading public, I want to finish the second book, The Fires of Tallenburgh Hall. That book is halfway written, and I anticipate a completion date for the first draft of December 1. That gives me time to consider exactly which of the three available publishing routes I want to pursue.

The three are Traditional Publishing (agent-editor-publisher), Self-Publishing (print-on-demand), and Independent Publishing (through one of the small, independent houses springing up).  Each offers a nice set of positive features, and an ugly set of negatives. So, my final route will be the one that offers the best positives, and the most workable negatives. In this series, I want to discuss the middle route, Self-Publishing.

Self-Publishing is no longer a case of the writer maxing out five credit cards to have a local print shop prepare 1,000 copies of a book that is only going to sit in the garage because the writer cannot give it away. This was known as vanity press, and usually the purview of genealogists (the only ones successful at it) and poets with more ego than talent. Not so today. In the past fifteen years, Self-Publishing has become inexpensive, thanks to print-on-demand systems that require no money up front by the writer, and no inventory. It has become legitimate, as more good writers turn to it as an alternative to Traditional Publishing, a corporate enterprise ruled by five massive multinational publishing houses who look for overnight bestsellers and not likely to take risks. The big names in Self-Publishing are Lulu, Blurb, and CreateSpace (Amazon). Each has been around long enough to gain some heft and a nice share of the market.

In the past, I’ve held a grim opinion of Self-Publishing. In 2012, for my final class in my master’s program, I wrote a paper and delivered a presentation on the subject. To me, Self-Publishing seemed like a highly viable option for the niche writer and the artist who wants a portfolio, but not so much for the writer of genre fiction. There were too many headaches, notably that the writer had to do all his own marketing, and that Self-Publishing was still just vanity press.

That was 2012. It is 2016 now. The world has changed. Self-Publishing has changed. Readers have changed. I have changed. It is time to reassess Self-Publishing for me, the writer of fantasy fiction. It’s time to stop thinking like a graduate student (let’s face it, we can be snobs), especially since I earned my degree four years ago. It’s time to stop thinking like an old fart who looks down his nose at this here young whippersnapper technology. Perhaps telling Self-Publishing to get off my lawn is a case of cutting off that snobby nose to spite my face.

I am reassessing Self-Publishing, beginning with a serious study of how it works in 2016.

What can Self-Publishing offer Aura Lockhaven and me? My criteria are: Artistic Control, Quality Control, Availability to the Reader, Fame, Marketing, and Revenue. Oddly enough, considering this is the greedy 21st Century, money is not at the top of the list.

Today, I want to look at the first two items on that list, Artistic Control and Quality Control.

Artistic Control: Self-Publishing gives me absolute artistic control. Nothing goes into the book unless I want it to go into the book. By the same token, nothing comes out, either. No editor telling me to remove a character, or worse, insert a politically correct token. I’m not sure if Traditional Publishing editors do the latter, but in our terrible socio-political environment, it is possible.

Editors certainly do tell writers what to take out! George R.R. Martin is leading off The Winds of Winter with chapters he had to remove from A Dance with Dragons. And there are the notorious times when editors totally rewrite stories as L. Sprague DeCamp did to Robert E. Howard, after he was long dead, and Gordon Lish did to Raymond Carver, while he was still alive.

In the last night of the last class of my master’s program, my professor said “Write what you love to read.” I follow that advice. A Path of Stones is what I want to read, and hope that others share that desire. There is no character or event in the story that I do not want in the story. What may appear to be a superfluous moment or name is a seed for a major event or character that will appear in a future book. An editor does not need to remove those moments and names for the sake of streamlining, nor insert new ones for the sake of trendiness.

If I self-publish, I won’t have to worry about any of that. So, for this criteria, Self-Publishing wins.

Quality Control: This is a dicey subject. Editors at Traditional Publishing houses don’t. They used to, but not much anymore. Cases when heavier editing would have been nice include the atrocious expository in the Harry Potter series and the fawning redundancy of the Twilight series. Granted, both could be examples of editors saying “this is good enough for kids.” That is an insult to tweens and teens, who really should be given the finest craftsmanship possible. Despite the “take it out, George” approach of George R.R. Martin’s editor, far too many gaffes slipped into the A Song of Ice and Fire series. Most notably in one instance, Martin switches from third person narration into second person narration then back out. I will give Martin an excuse. He was far too close to the book by then to catch the error. But that is what an editor is supposed to do.

Now, after saying all that, I would like to point out that Traditional Publishing offers better quality control. The Self-Publishing world is rife with examples of writers publishing their first drafts, without any serious editing for punctuation, much less consistency and continuity.

Here, I have an advantage. I’ve been a professional editor, and I was darn good at it. My clients cringed at my pickiness, but they ended up with quality books as a result. My wife, who is my first beta reader, is better than I am. The closest we’ve ever come to an argument is when she tells me I need to change something, I dig in my heels, and she ends up proving herself right. My second beta reader has an extremely sharp eye for redundancies and artifacts, often catching things that slip by the two Boutwells. Even as my wife is reading through the final draft of A Path of Stones, I am too, and I caught a few inconsistencies. So, whether I publish through the traditional route or the self route, I can guarantee the book will be the best I can possibly deliver.

As for physical quality, I can’t speak for CreateSpace or Blurb, but I know Lulu’s quality. I’ve self-published through them before. I expected mediocre at best, especially in the binding. No. The books they printed for me would be right at home in any Barnes and Noble.

For this criteria, it’s a draw. Both Traditional and Self-Publishing offer good quality control, mostly because I demand the best of myself before it ever leaves my home.

Tomorrow, I will discuss criteria three and four; Availability to the Reader and Fame.

A Tribute to Robert E. Howard

Robert E. Howard and I share a birthday. We also share a passion for fantasy stories. Although this is three days late, I thought it a perfect opportunity to pay tribute to one of my three icons.

To call Robert E. Howard an icon is an understatement. Like Frank Frazetta and J.R.R. Tolkien, he is the reason I write fantasy fiction today. Also, like Frazetta and Tolkien, I discovered Howard courtesy of a tenth grade English assignment. To read about that, check out my post on Frazetta.

For those of you who don’t know, Robert Howard created Conan the Barbarian and Solomon Kane, and is credited with creating Red Sonja (although the Sonja we know is a composite of his characters Red Sonya and Black Agnes by Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith). He is considered the father of barbarian and sword-and-sorcery fantasy. In a career spanning a brief decade, he published 800 stories, mostly in the pulp magazines of his time. Howard wrote in every genre of his day: fantasy, science-fiction, romance, adventure, horror, western (his personal favorite), and even contributed a few entries to his friend H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos.

As a writer of sword-and-sorcery stories, I see Howard not just as the founder of my sub-genre, but as someone whose character types are desperately needed in our jaded times. His protagonists were good guys and gals. They stood for something. They fought against overwhelming obstacles, sometimes within themselves, and often lost. But they kept trying. I emulate that basic archetype within my own stories. If I wanted to write about protagonists who were indiscernible from the antagonists, and acted with less moral certitude — in other words, the style that has overtaken the fantasy genre today — I would simply transcribe the evening news. That is not to say that Howard’s characters are nice. I would not want Solomon Kane for a next door neighbor!

Despite Hollywood’s portrayal, Conan was not just a slab of beef. He solved his problems more with his brains than his brawn. He feared only one thing — poets. He was a barbarian simply because he was an outsider to the various civilizations he visited. Yeah, I can relate to that.

My interest in Howard is much deeper than his stature as a writer and an icon in my craft. We share a number of eerie similarities.

We were both born on January 22. An Aquarian born on the cusp with Capricorn explains much.

He died in 1936, and I was born in 1963.

We are both only children.

We both suffer from chronic depression.

We are both notorious coffee addicts.

We both grew up and lived in small towns we despised, although I got out.

We both have overly protective mothers with too much of a Fundamentalist Christian bent.

We both revere the old Saxons, Celts, and Germans, and think “barbarians” are much better people than the so-called “civilized” folk.

There is a divot in my skull at about the spot where Howard placed the barrel of a pistol.

I now live 100 miles from his home in Texas.

It’s almost enough to make me believe in reincarnation, except for the differences. Howard shot himself at age 30. At age 52, I’m still going strong, despite days when the chronic depression becomes physically painful. He died an unmarried virgin. I just celebrated my 28th wedding anniversary, and no, we do not have a celibate marriage. He published 800 stories by his 30th year. I have … uh … one to my credit. Finally, why on this green Earth would I want to try it again! Besides, there have not been enough celebrities or people of fame throughout history to provide reincarnated souls for the sheer number of folk claiming to be them right now. Out there somewhere are probably at least twelve people claiming to have been Robert E. Howard. I will leave his reincarnation to the realm of Weird Tales, and to overdoses of mescaline.

The following photograph is still one of my favorites. It was taken on June 12, 2011.

Howards Desk

That is me, sitting in Robert E. Howard’s room in his house, now a museum in Cross Plains, Texas. The docent was kind enough to let me inside the roped off room, which was a rare opportunity. Sorry for the bluriness of the photograph. It was hard to focus my Nikon in that light. That is Howard’s desk, although not his typewriter. I swear, I could hear the tromp of Conan’s boots, see the sun glint off Red Sonja’s chain mail, and feel the righteous indignation of Solomon Kane in that room. Howard’s room had once been the sleeping porch, walled in by his father to give him his own bedroom. Howard wrote 800 short stories and one novel in this room. This proves that one can write anywhere, even in a space no larger than most apartment kitchens.

When we visited Howard’s grave in 2011, someone left a paperback book as tribute. It was a copy of Conan the Adventurer, the very book that started me on the path I now find myself. If we are still in Texas this coming June, we shall have to pay another visit to Robert E. Howard Days (Cross Plains’ annual celebration of his life), and visit his grave again. This time, I will leave my own tribute. Perhaps a coin. Perhaps a stone. Perhaps a small picture of Aura Lockhaven. Just a way of saying thank you to one of the three men who started it all for me.

FANTASY IS A LANGUAGE

Fantasy, as in fantasy fiction, is a language.

It is not the language of mere children’s stories or mindless fluff for entertainment. It is much more than that, for fantasy is the oldest form of storytelling. Yes, fantasy entertains, but it also edifies, exhorts, encourages, and educates. Fantasy does not mean a flight of fancy, but a daring dream of desire and delight and destiny. It is the language of change.

Fantasy is the language of those who desire a better world. It is the language of those who came before us, and spoke of the world as it is, and the world as it could be. Then, it offered us the tools to change the world into that dream, whether the tools be swords, spells, amazing animals, the assistance of kind deities, or cunning of our own minds and strength of our own bodies. It is the language of courage.

Fantasy is the language of faith. The origins of today’s stories of swords and sorcerers are found in the stories of holy men and women, of priests and priestesses in Greece and India, of shamans in North America, of bards in Ireland and Wales, of minstrels in England, of wise women in Thuringia and wise men in Norway, of village magicians in Scotland, of counselors in China, and of midwives in Italy. Fantasy derives from the stories of a Persian wife desperate to keep her head for one more night, of a Greek moralist encapsulating life lessons through anthropomorphic animals, and of two brothers collecting rural folklore in Germany. It was the language of faith in ourselves, and that perhaps the deities would help us and that we had enough magic to make the impossible happen.

Fantasy is the language of dreams. It is the words heard, and the images seen, in that space between slumber and wakefulness, when everything is possible. It is that moment when we flew on a dragon, sang before a packed Madison Square Avenue, and captained a spaceship to Mars. It is that daydream we had when we were eight, the one we never should have allowed to die the slow death of practicality. It is also the language of nightmare. It is that moment when we fell off the Empire State Building, found ourselves trapped in a tree full of spiders, or walked naked into algebra class. Without it, we would never understand those dreams that left us in cold sweat. Fantasy is the language that allows us to remember our dreams and put our fears to flight.

Fantasy is the language of hope. It is that of hope that the world can be changed for the better. It is the spell cast to defeat a villain. It is the speech given by a war-weary king to an outnumbered army that rallies them to victory. It is the harangue of an ill-treated woman to her countrymen that inspires them to follow her in revolt against the Romans. It is the whisper of lovers in the night in the belief that they will always have tomorrow. It is the plans of a band of outlaws gathered together to fight tyranny and restore liberty. It is the shout of bravado of the warrior in the face of trolls and dragons. It is the language that tomorrow will be a better day, and we have the power to make it that way.

Fantasy is the language of the past. It is the words spoken by Neolithic elders to children around fires at night, those of instruction in virtue of thought and nobility of action. It is the words of just plain good stories to enthrall them. As we grew older, these words took on the forms of tavern songs, bardic missives, and mead hall yarns. Later, they took names to themselves, names such as Beowulf, Siegfried, Arthur, Finn McCool, and Robin Hood. In other lands, through other halls and temples, they took on the names of Heracles, Gilgamesh, and Aladdin. It is the language of our cultural and inherited memories, whatever that culture and inheritance may be.

Fantasy is the language of heroes and heroines. It is the language of a time when men and women were tough, strong, and resilient. It is the words of stories of men and women who stood beside each other to face danger. It is the sound of the clash of sword, axe, spear, shield, and flesh against the forces of darkness. It hails from a time when Hera, Hestia, and Demeter fought alongside Zeus, Hades, and Poseidon to overthrow the tyranny of the Titans. Its words were formed in the age of Arthur and Morgan, Siegmund and Sieglinde, Ceridwen and Cernunnos. It is the language of sons and daughters, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers, kings and queens, tavern owners and seamstresses. It is the common language of people who are people and do not see themselves in prescribed roles or preordained occupations. It is the language of people who seize their own destinies.

Fantasy is the language of a world that was not so cowardly as to disbelieve that evil had a bodily form. Nor did they believe that good was beyond their grasp. It is the language of people who did the right thing because it was the right thing to do, and perhaps they made a tidy profit from their exploits as well. It formed the songs of virtue and morality. Yes, those songs may have been sung in taverns while drinking and in brothels while wenching, but personal vice is not the stuff of evil. Evil is found in those who wish to manipulate and control the lives of others for their own personal gain. Evil is found in those who use the forces of guilt and fear to enslave people. Fantasy is the language that allows us to interpret the words of evil men and understand the fate that will befall us if we do not act. It allows us to know what to do, and how to do it. It is the words in the hearts of men and women who believe that good will triumph over evil, and know how to deal with the monsters in their midst.

Fantasy is a language that our world desperately needs. In our time of dehumanizing technology, threats from shadows of night, and the wickedness of the artificial constructs of politics, economics, and religion, we need to believe that we can change our world. We need to believe in dreams again. We need to believe in hope again. We need to believe in the lessons of the past again. We need to believe in heroes and heroines again. Without those dreams, hope, lessons, and heroes, without that language, we are but drones to the forces that see us as existing only to give them our money and our votes.

Come! Let us ride a dragon together and believe once again in a better world. Then, we can transform what is into what should be.