The Plan for 2017

Welcome to 2017!  Sure, I’m a bit late but nevertheless here we are.  In a little over six months A Gathering of Ravens will be on store shelves, both physical and virtual.  If the past holds true, I should start to see early industry reviews beginning sometime in April.  This part of the process is much like sending a beloved child out for tests to determine if she will be lauded as a genius or locked in a basement like some Gothic monster.  But, a few very early readers have already spoken over at Goodreads.  You can read their reviews here.

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The Plan

So, while I’m waiting for the final verdict my plan is to forge ahead on the next book in the saga of Grimnir.  Not a sequel, per se, but rather a whole new stand-alone tale featuring our erstwhile protagonist.  It is called Twilight of the Gods; set approximately 200 years after the events detailed in A Gathering of Ravens, a celebrated Crusader returns to the North, charged by the Pope himself with bringing the pagan tribes around Lake Vänern to heel. Unfortunately for him, one such tribe worships the last remaining skraelingr as the worldly avatar of Loki . . .

It’s plotted out, save for the last act, and writing has begun.  My target is to have it finished by April.  After that, I’ll start plotting out the third book of the Grimnir sequence (tentatively called The Doom of Odin) and have that manuscript finished by November.  It is an ambitious plan, for me.  I’ve been a “book every two years” sort of writer for as long as I can recall.  Now, though, the market has changed.  To remain viable I needs must increase my output (or have a hit of such magnitude that I can take my time and no one will complain).

The prescription for two books a year?  It boils down to a thousand words a day.  A thousand words.  That’s an average blog post; a mere two-and-a-half pages (based on my Word settings).  Maintain that pace, I’m told by those who regularly write multiple books a year, and I can finish a book in 120 days.  Increase the pace and that window shrinks.  It looks good on paper; it looks eminently do-able, but in military circles it’s often said that no plan, regardless of how well-thought out, survives contact with the enemy.  And my enemy is what Steven Pressfield calls Resistance.  That niggling voice in the back of my mind that convinces me I’m not good at this, that I’m not deserving, that I should cut my losses while I can and get out of this business.  “Other people are writers,” my Mother told me, upon learning I wanted to take up writing as a career.  And this is the form of my destructor.

Luckily, I have an extended network of support, from my wife to my agent and right down to people I interact with online, and they think I can do it.  So I will trust them.  I will buckle down, apply butt to chair, and get the words down.  A thousand a day.

Starting now.

The Books Behind the Book

Very few books are written in a vacuum.  They are the sum total of the author’s reading experiences, both fiction and non-fiction.  Someone on Facebook asked me recently what sort of research went in to creating the world of The Lion of Cairo.  So I snapped a few pictures.  Keep in mind, these are only the books that were readily at hand.  There are several more parceled away in boxes in my office closet.

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All of these added life to the setting, to the characters; they helped define the look of the setting or deepened it by providing material for anecdotes, history, and myth.  Street scenes were fleshed out with colors, scents, and sounds drawn from first-hand accounts.  Like cooking, the key is knowing how much of any given spice to add to the broth — a skill learned over time and honed through successive drafts.

But how historically accurate was The Lion of Cairo?  It wasn’t.  I cobbled together locations from disparate sources, created composite characters, moved things around on the timeline, and transported Mameluke Cairo back 200 years to fit my needs, and borrowed liberally from both Harold Lamb and Robert E. Howard (specifically, “Gates of Empire”).

Need a copy?  Here’s a link to the Kindle version!

The Lion of Cairo, Revisited

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In a week or so, the Hollywood version of the video game franchise Assassin’s Creed will debut at cineplexes across the country.  Normally, this would have nothing to do with me.  I’ve never worked on the game, nor did I have even the slightest hand in the making of the film.  But, you see, in 2010 my third book was published by Thomas Dunne Books; this book — The Lion of Cairo –had an historical air to it, though mingled with the sort of fantasy reminiscent of One Thousand and One Nights.  It was about an Assassin who is sent on a mission to preserve the throne of the Fatimid Caliph of Egypt.  And though not widely known, it nevertheless often draws comparison, for good or ill, with the original Assassin’s Creed game.

What better time to revisit the taciturn Emir of the Knife, eh?

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The UK Cover, and author’s favorite.

When The Lion of Cairo hit bookstore shelves in December of 2010, it flailed for a moment only before slipping deep into the maelstrom at the heart of Mare Bibliotheca.  It vanished.  Fantasy fans never heard of it because it wasn’t marketed to them; fans of historical fiction scratched their heads and derided the poor history within.  Because, while it was marketed to them, it wasn’t meant for them.  Fans of pulp fiction, especially the work of Texan author Robert E. Howard, applauded it.  It did well overseas, especially in the UK and France.  But here at home, the book was dead on arrival.  Stillborn.  Dead as disco.  With nothing for it, I picked up the shattered remnants of my ego, put away my hopes and dreams for the proposed trilogy I’d hoped to spin from it, and moved on.

Then, Hollywood decided to make an Assassin’s Creed movie.  And I thought, “you know, this might be a good time to dust Lion off and see if there’s any new readers to be had.”  So that’s my task for the next week or so: guest blog, chat up The Lion of Cairo, and see if there are any new readers, or new reviews from old readers, out there.  See if I can turn the corpse of a perfectly good book, slain too young, into a resurrected creation — a Frankenstein’s Monster reanimated by a galvanic burst of self-promotion.

So spread the word, if you have a mind to.  Go buy a copy for a loved one (Kindle and various affordable print editions are still out there).  Buy one for yourself, if you be a fantasy fan with a taste for REH-inspired historical romps blended with just a pinch of the eldritch.  Here, try the first fifty pages over at Wattpad.  Kick the tires and take it for a test drive.

Once upon a time . . .

On the banks of the Nile, from a palace of gold and lapis lazuli, the young Caliph Rashid al-Hasan rules as a figurehead over a crumbling empire. Cairo is alive with intrigue. In the shadow of the Grey Mosque, generals and emirs jockey for position under the scheming eyes of a venal grand vizier. In the crowded souks and narrow alleys, warring factions employ murder and terror to silence their opponents. Egypt bleeds. And the scent draws her enemies in like sharks: the swaggering Kurd, Shirkuh, who serves the pious Sultan of Damascus, and Amalric, the Christian king of Jerusalem, whose greed is insatiable and whose knights of the Temple are hungry for a fight.

And yet all is not lost. There is an old man who lives on a remote mountainside in a distant land. He holds the ultimate power of life and death over the warring factions of the Muslim world – and decides to come to the Caliph’s aid. But he does not send an army into Egypt. He sends a single man. A prince of Assassins. The one they call the Emir of the Knife . . .

Masterfully blending history and adventure, the bestselling author of Men of Bronze brings the past to exhilarating life in a rich, exciting novel full of intrigue and thunderous battle set against the true jewel of the Arabian Nights, medieval Cairo during the time of the Crusades.

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