Tag Archives: Devin Madson

Con Magic

It’s been four days since Supanova Sydney packed up, and I’m sufficiently recovered to write a little somethin’-somethin’ on why conventions are not just fun but necessary. When I was a kid, there was no real gathering place to get your geek on. Sure, there were comic book stores a-plenty, but most didn’t want you hanging around all day after you’d spent your meagre pocket-money on the latest edition of Wonder Woman, Batman or The Tomb of Dracula and the like.

Relegated to the back carpark of the local council while we read and traded and talked all things comics as we skateboarded, it was the closest thing to a ‘con’ we had. And we revelled in it. Halloween wasn’t a thing when I was kid, so the opportunity to ‘cosplay’ was rare to non-existent.

Fast forward more years than I care to admit, and the culture is celebrated in all its glory – it’s a wondrous thing, filled with joy and excitement and acceptance. Yes, there are still issues with misogyny and inclusion and consent, but overall my con experiences have been positive (I’m aware this is not the case for all).

While the last few years I’ve been herding cats… sorry, my kids and their mates through conventions such as Supanova and ComicCon, this year I was on the other side of the Supanova table helping kick-arse author Devin Madson hawk her book-wares, and specifically her new book We Ride the Storm. As you can see by the table display below, the artwork is amazing (book covers matter, kids!), and the stories within are just brilliant.

devin table

The great thing about being on the other side of the table – apart from being surrounded by amazing artists (which we were) – is chatting with people about their love of books, of stories, of the art of writing and how much the tales they read and the characters they discover are very much a part of them. As someone who has a passion for both writing and editing, seeing that same passion in readers, of those who want to be writers, is an incredible thing to be a part of. No back carparks for these folks, they are out and proud in the geekdom, and it lifts the soul.

Cons allow writers to indulge in our love of all things books, to reunite with ‘our people’, and I even managed to scarper over to Alan Baxter’s table and pick up the promised books (The Book Club, Manifest Recall, and Hidden City), all signed, of course. And got to side-eye Raymond E Feist who was sitting next to Al – the line for Feist’s signature is definitely something to aspire to!

I also picked up issue #1 of Melbournian artist and writer, Mark Sheard’s, new comic The Flower of Rhode, plus a set of six funky coasters he’d made – of course I need funky coasters to rest my coffee mugs on. And I watched on as he created new characters for the next issue of his comic. The man has talent to spare.

Yet it’s the fans, those who love everything about books and comics and gaming and movies, of art and artists and the incredible creations found in Artists Alley that make the cons what they are – they’re the heart of fandom, who make creators keep creating.

We met kids scouring local author tables looking for their next read, we spoke to book lovers and voracious readers, and chatted to an ex-MMA fighter who proudly showed the dress he’d sewn for his daughter (in two days!) and was specifically looking to buy from Australian indie writers as a way of support – he was an awesome human.

We saw Deadpools and Doctors, Wonder Women and Wonder Men, Jedis and Stormtroopers and all manner of Darths. There was anime and My Little Pony, Aliens and Ripleys and Lara Crofts, superheroes and villains and a horde of Vikings that truly took it to another level. Everywhere you looked was another amazing outfit, another intricate piece painstakingly hand-made. Not once did I see a kid turned away from wanting their photo taken with a character, not once did I see someone mocked for their attire – it was a delight.

But I think it was best summed up by a grandmother I was chatting to while we both waited on our caffeine fix, and who was attending her first con with her grandchildren. Her eyes sparkled as she looked around at everything, her lips spreading wider in smile as her gaze lit upon the elaborately hand-made cosplay of ‘Big Daddy’ from Bioshock.

“It’s magic,” she said, her whisper filled with wonder. “In a world sorely lacking it.”

She’s not wrong.

Festivus Book Pimping: In Shadows We Fall by Devin Madson

It’s time! Festivus Book Pimping for 2017 is here! Damn right I’m excited. This is where I get to pimp the books I’ve enjoyed this past year, give you some recommendations, and hopefully have you fine folk make an author very Festivusy (so a word) by buying their book. It’s a win-win! Or… a win-win-win, perhaps.

Kicking the Pimping of the Books of the Fesitvus off is In Shadows We Fall by Devin Madson. This book is a novella-length prequel to Madson’s Vengeance Trilogy (pimped here), there are no spoilers for those who have read the trilogy, and you don’t need to have read VT to enjoy this tale. And enjoy it you will.

Madson has a knack for creating characters that are not only well-rounded but also on the grey side. While this book skirts the boundaries of full-on grimdark, it so beautifully dips it toes into the genre that if you’re a fan of stories that blur the lines between light and dark then this tale is definitely one you should pick up.

Set in a pseudo-feudal-Japanese world, the Kisian empire is on the brink of war, held together by fragile threads. Nothing is ever what it seems in Madson’s books, and she doesn’t disappoint here. The language is beautiful, the rituals and ceremonies befitting when gods sit on thrones. The Eastern-flavour of this universe is refreshing, and the setting and imagery comes to life on the pages.

Blurb:

You will die. Your children will die. The empire will burn,

Empress Li is out of favour at court. Foreign-born and past her prime, she is to be set aside. But she won’t go quietly. With nothing left to lose, Li will do anything to stop Emperor Lan signing a secret alliance that could tear the empire apart. Yet when her life is threatened, old mistakes come back to haunt her and only a three-year-old boy can change the course of history.

With everything at stake, could an innocent child be the best assassin.

Shadows

 

And you can’t go past that cover. This is original artwork created for In Shadows We Fall, and artist John Anthony Di Giovanni has produced a thing of beauty that captures the essence of Empress Li. There’s always something special about covers that contain original artwork, and Madson’s cover is why.

On a Goodreads scale, I give In Shadows We Fall five stars.

Recommended for readers of fantasy, dark fantasy, political intrigue, stabby-stabby, killer magic systems.

You can read In Shadows We Fall free if you sign up to Madson’s newsletter (an ebook copy of the story will be sent to you).  You can also purchase ebook and print from the website here, or you can purchase from Amazon or wherever you buy your reading.

Cover art: John Anthony Di Giovanni

Cover design: Shawn King

Writers, Retreats, and Insane Asylums

It’s been just over a week since I returned from a Writer’s Retreat held at Mayday Hills Lunatic Asylum at Beechworth. Yep, you read right – a writer’s retreat held at an old insane asylum. It was as awesome as it sounds. Five days sequestered with other writers in a hauntingly (and quite possibly haunted) beautiful asylum is the stuff of inspiration. And personing. I did a whole lot of personing.

What made this doubly excellent was the other writers in attendance, all but one of whom were very close friends, so it was a catch-up of epic proportions. This also meant that we were all comfortable throwing around ideas and points of view, and engaging in general shenanigans. But we were there to write, to have that uninterrupted time some of us seldom get when at home. And it was glorious.

Writing is often a solitary endeavour where you live in your created worlds among created people. But put a bunch of writers together, and it’s a whirlwind of book discussions, plot summaries, story ideas, and why synopsis writing is the tenth circle of Hell. There’s joy in this cacophony; the rise and fall of voices, the quirks and strange paths conversations take that would make no sense to non-writerly folk but which feeds the soul and the muse of those who bleed ink. They will tell you why your story necessitates the killing of a character (beloved or otherwise) then offer a plethora of options on how to do so that would land them on any federal watchlist.

Just being among fellow scribes is enough to invigorate, enough to drown out that writer-imposteritis but we were also fortunate enough to have the wonderful pocket-rocket Kylie Chan providing workshops all through Saturday, which were fantastic, but always there was time to write. There’s not a lot better than sitting in a nicely heated room listening to the clack of keys in the silence as worlds and people are created – individual galaxies within a shared universe. It’s kinda cool.

But when we weren’t writing, there were historical tours of the asylum, and one very late night there was also a paranormal investigation. As much as I would have liked to go on the paranormal investigation, when it’s -4˚ outside… well, I’m staying where the heat is. Those that took up the challenge had a great time despite the sub-zero temps.

We ate, slept and created together… wait, let me rephrase. Look, we bunked down in the same room, wore pretty much all the clothes we’d brought with us when it was time to venture outside – hell, I even wore my slippers out to dinner because damn it was cold. We took the piss out of each other, we laughed, and we revelled in our own and each other’s weirdness.

And the location was everything. The asylum has a melancholic beauty about it.  The history is both shocking and sad, with desolate and worn-down buildings that hold memories that are like scars. For my mind, pain and suffering has a tendency to linger, to echo long after people are gone, and I don’t doubt there is fear and horror etched into some of the walls, the cells of the asylum.

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Too soon the time was over, and I had to take a tiny plane home, but those five days were like manna from heaven. I came away with so much more than just a honed story premise and structural architecture (and glow-in-the-dark skeletal gloves), but a renewed vigour for writing. I can’t wait to go again next year. And I can’t thank all the people involved enough, but let me try.

To Geoff and Dawn for organising and running the reatreat – you two work immensely hard not only on Asylum Ghost Tours but Cohesion Press as well. You two rock. (Special shout out to Mandy and Leah for all they did over the five days as well.)

Now I’m going to list the writers at the retreat – they are an amazing bunch and you really should be reading their work. They’re incredible and diverse storytellers, and there should be something in here for everyone.

Kylie Chan

Devin Madson

Marty Young

Andrew McKiernan

David Schembri

Fiona Shearer.

And for all those writers out there, find a retreat, a place that evokes inspiration and puts you around others who not only share your passion to create, but will encourage and badger you to do so.

Whispers in the Void

A couple of months ago, Mark Lawrence launched this year’s Battle of the Bards competition ‒ write a flash fiction piece (300 words or fewer), for a chance to win signed books from some of the giants in the grimdark/fantasy genre.

My friend, Devin Madson, won that comp with her incredible piece ‒ Between Lanterns and Corpses. It’s a brilliant story, and I was so chuffed she’d won. You can read it here, along with the short-listed entries. For those familiar with Devin’s work, this story is set within her Vengeance trilogy universe, and this post explains the origin of the winning flash piece. You should be reading her work, she’s quite the storyteller!

I, too, gave the competition a whirl, but alas, no free books. While a ‘loss’ in the literal form, it was a win in the time-to-write column. Yes, it’s only 300 words (good words, I think), but it was more the act of creativity that soothed my soul ‒ that’s always a win.

The story I wrote has also brought into sharper focus one of the characters of my WiP, so I’ve gained another win (two ticks in the win column ‒ I’m on a roll!). Writing tight forces those essential traits, the… trueness of a character and lets the world see it.

So, if you’ve read this far, then perhaps you can read another three hundred words.

Whispers in the Void

Wren knew this wasn’t the last of the dead they would stitch beneath her skin. This night the soothsayer would be forged into the finest jewel, and Wren would carry that hateful woman for all time. Already the sickly-sweet scent of roasting flesh clogged her throat.

Anointed in oils, Wren had been left to commune with the souls she carried, but never had their voices been quiet. Never had they let her be. Silence, how she craved it. Nights undisturbed. Days, her thoughts her own. But the people had cut and carved and delivered their dead ‘til she was a shadow within a shell. Infested. Infected. The slow death of self.

Escape was all she had. And freedom meant retribution. With no Journeywoman to replace Wren, the clan’s spirits would be unprotected. Ripe for the Undergod’s pickings.

Beneath the Spirit House, blisters bloomed on her skin as she dragged herself past the furnace where the soothsayer sizzled and spat. May the Undergod never shit you out. Wren stifled a cry; lances of fire a thousand-fold speared through her, the spirit-gems enraged at being so near their creators. Life-eternal they’d been promised, yet prisoners they’d become in an unwilling crypt.

They blazed their fury, but freedom meant pain. They would soon understand.

At the slag pit’s egress, the light of day stung her weeping blisters, and glinted off the jagged spears of metal below. Thousands of spirits she’d been burdened to carry. She would carry no more.

The drop from her perch was steep, and the dead began to beg. Without her, they were just whispers in the void.

Freedom beckoned. Her life her own, however fleeting.

No longer the caged bird she had always been, Wren smiled as she pushed from the edge, and for a moment, she flew.

raven

Art by: Dimitarsizce

It Takes A Village (To Raise A Book)

You there, about to load a first or second draft to a publishing platform. Yes, you. Don’t you hit that upload button. Back away from the keyboard nice and slow. That’s it, sit back, relax, we need to have a chat. Look, I know you’re excited about getting your baby out in the world, of having it read and getting those sales, but is it the best version of your baby? Or, are you sending it out half-formed and with shitty clothes? I said back away from the keyboard.

Okay, I understand that writing is mostly a solitary endeavour but the processes of getting your book out to readers is not. Doing that alone is a fool’s errand. I’ve listened (somewhat) patiently to authors telling me they don’t need beta readers or an editor or a cover artist or a cover designer or layout artist – they can do that all themselves and not have to worry about expenditure. Technically they’re right. With the advent of self-publishing and the associated platforms you most certainly can do this alone. The question is: should you? The answer is: no.

Expenditure is an issue, I get it, but if you don’t invest in your book, don’t expect readers to invest in it either. With the traditional route, your publisher will take care of this: the editing, the cover, the proofreading et al. (Note: with traditional publishing you shouldn’t pay for any of this – money flows to the author, not away – but that’s a subject for another post.) Author-publishers? Yeah, you need to pay for this yourself.

So let’s take a look at the processes you need to put out the best damn book you can. So you’ve finished the eleventy-first draft of your story and you’re pretty happy with where it is – characters are on point, plot is kicking-arse, sub-plots are woven nicely, narrative is killer. Time to get that baby out in the world! Yeah… no. What you have in your hands is a ‘rough draft’, the foundation upon which you will build. A strong foundation it may well be, but a foundation is what it is. Write, edit, redraft. Rinse and repeat.

You’ve spent a good lot of time and effort to get to this point, so you’re well past being able to see any issues with it. You don’t just hammer out a first draft and upload it. I suppose you can do that if you like (plenty of people have), but be prepared for any reviews to point out exactly where you went wrong. Plot holes? You got them. Spelling and grammar issues? Kill me now. Point-of-view hops? What’s happening! Layout all over the place? My eyes!

gouge eyes

It’s bad reviews for you. And bad reviews, especially when it comes to poor spelling and grammar, clichéd story, Mary-Sue/Marty-Stu characters will guarantee low-to-zero sales. Readers take note of bad reviews, especially those that cite all of the above. Remember, there’s that ‘look inside’ option, and you’ll lose that potential sale right there. Not only will you not get sales, readers tend to not give you a second chance. Why would they when there are plenty of other authors doing it the right way.

Because I love the point form, here’s a breakdown of who you need in your village (just step over the books strewn about the place):

  • Beta readers: the unsung heroes of the writing/publishing process. You’ll need at least two (but no more than five), and ones with differing skill sets ‒ someone who reads in your genre, and someone who doesn’t (librarian, book reviewer), someone who has an understanding of grammar and/or story mechanics. Not your nanna. She may be lovely, but… no.
  • Editor. And by editor I mean someone with qualifications (ask to see these), industry experience, and one who understands the genre in which you write. Beta readers are not editors. Editors know structure and syntax and speech, they know consistency, cohesion, and characterisation. They understand foreshadowing, and herrings, and Chekov’s rifle. They know subjects and predicates, showing versus telling, and they know dangling participles and why you shouldn’t have them. They know language, and they will tighten the crap out of your narrative.
  • Cover artist/cover designer. These can be two different people, so make sure you know what you’re getting. I won’t go into too much detail here as I’ve covered this in my previous post: Art of the Cover.
  • Layout artist. Yes, you need someone who understands desktop publishing and has the right tools for the job. No, you should not load a Microsoft Word document to a publishing platform ‒ the internals will be off-kilter, as will your kerning and typography. You don’t want bland and vanilla internals. With the right desktop publishing tools, your book becomes a reading experience. Layout is only noticeable when done poorly. And if someone tells you differently, run far and run fast.
  • Proofreader. This will be the final point at which you can catch any small issues eg. errant spaces, widows and orphans, correct page numbering etc. This is usually done with a PDF file called a galley proof. Best suggestion is to have someone other than your editor do the proof. New set of eyes means they’ll pick up any missed issues.

Now you’re probably bemoaning the processes and the associated costs, but if you want to put out professional product and be taken seriously then it needs to be done. Some editors will be happy to work with a  payment plan (and if asked will provide a sample edit), beta readers may ask for reciprocity, you can find reasonably-priced good cover artists and stock images, cover designers as well. These are processes you can’t skimp on if you want to do self-publishing right.

Check out Devin Madson’s episode on ‘Storywork’ about the 5 Steps to Professional Publishing. As a self-publisher, Devin has gone about this the right way. She gathered a village of beta readers, editor, cover artist, cover designer, layout artist around her and put out a book that rivals any published by the Big 5. Just take a look at one of the covers for her Vengeance Trilogy.

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This is author-publishing done right. Devin talks about your reputation as an author, and she’s not wrong. As I mentioned earlier, if you put out sub-par work don’t expect readers to return to your books, to buy them. Reputation can make or break you. Have it ‘make’ you.

Now before I let you return to your keyboard, think about all I’ve said, and think about the work you want the world to see. Professionally done books will bring readers back; the poorly done books will not. First impressions last.

It really does take a village to raise a book, a good book, a professional book… and when done right, you get a whole other village – readers, fans, those who will market upcoming releases for you, and who are willing to party with you for every book to come.

** Special shout-out to Adrian Collins of Grimdark Magazine for the suggestion for blog-post fodder — you rock, dude! Oh, and check out Grimdark Mag, they know their stuff!

Festivus Book Pimping – The Vengeance Trilogy by Devin Madson

It’s that time of year again, folks, and what better present is there to give someone than books. BOOKS, I TELLS YA! So in the lead up to Christmas, I’ll be pimping books and series that have impressed me, and would make great gifts and stocking stuffers. Support authors!

Now before we go any further, the path to Festivus is a shadowed one. On it you will find only those tales that sit on the darker side of genre fiction. Watch your step.

*claps hands* Alrighty then. Let’s get started.

First off the Festivus ranks is Devin Madson’s amazingly epic The Vengeance Trilogy.  Set within the pseudo-Japanese empire of Kisia, the series is told by Darius Laroth, Hana Otako, and Endymion as they’re embroiled in the fight for the Crimson Throne. While these three tell the story, it is also the tale of Katashi Otako (Hana’s cousin), Malice (Vice Master and Darius’s half-brother), and Emperor Kin – all want different things from the empire, and fight they must. Fight or die.

The first in the series – The Blood of Whisperersintroduces the reader to the players vying for control of Kisia. From the back-cover blurb:

They call him the Usurper. A man of common blood sits upon the throne. By his command the last emperor was executed, but now the empire is on the brink of war. Vengeance is coming.

BoW

The next in the trilogy is The Gods of Vice. Here, we delve more into the unique magic system Madson has created for this world, and where betrayal and political manoeuvrings mean no one is safe. From the back-cover blurb:

Two emperors. One empire. The war for the Crimson Throne has split Kisia. The storm is coming.

GoV

And the final in the trilogy has just been released. The Grave at Storm’s End is a powerful last book in the series, where none of the characters will ever be the same, and as a reader, you won’t either. From the back-cover blurb:

Vengeance has come. Katashi Otako walks with the Vices, burning everything in his path. Now the spirit of Vengeance, he will stop at nothing to destroy Emperor Kin and take the Crimson Throne. When gods fight, empires fall.

gse

 

There is no doubt in my mind that Madson is an author to keep an eye on. Her writing is beautifully crafted, and her imagery the stuff of wonder. The Vengeance Trilogy is one of the best fantasy series I’ve read in a really long time, and one that holds pride of place on my bookshelf. Oh, and those covers are just gorgeous.

All of the books are available from Madson’s website, and come perfectly wrapped for Christmas. You can’t go wrong as a gift.

Recommended for readers of fantasy, dark fantasy, epic fantasy, political intrigue, and characters that will stay with you long after you’ve closed the book.

 

 

Art of the Cover

Covers matter. They do. That old adage: Don’t judge a book by its cover, if taken in its absolute literal sense, is utter bullshit. Covers are your visual selling point; it’s the first thing a potential reader (and buyer) sees. And if it’s terrible and/or amateurish… Behold, I will judge with all my judgey judginess! I will slam down my imaginary gavel, and I won’t buy your book.

But wait, I hear you say, what if the story is brilliant? Then invest in good cover art, dammit. Invest in it like you invested in your story. All those hours you agonised over words and plot and characters, of the sleep you sacrificed, eating at your desk, of wondering whether you showered today… or was it yesterday… (No? Just me then…), invest that same excellence in your cover art. Don’t just slap any cover on your work (and for the love of all things holy and unholy, unless you’re an artist, don’t do it yourself!), ’cause I will judge your book by its cover, and so will a lot of others.

I read a lot, and as a buyer of print books, a beautiful and/or interesting cover will draw me in as much as a shitty one will repel. And with the amount of both print and electronic books on the market, a good cover is half the battle won. I’ll pick it up, and if your blurb is good (that’s fodder for another post), then that’s a sale. When it comes to my hard-earned cash, I’m particular on how I spend it, and I’m more likely to spend on a book with a beautiful cover, than I am on one with a shite one.

For someone with a mountain of ‘to read’ books who also can’t walk past a bookstore without venturing into its delicious depths, I’m always looking for new authors to read. A cover is where it all begins. It led me to Mark Lawrence and his Broken Empire and Red Queen series, and now I’ll read anything the man writes. Seriously, go to his website and buy the man’s books. Go. Now. I’ll wait.

prince-of-thorns

<insert Muzak here>

Back? Excellent.

Another thing I often hear is that bad covers are the domain of the author-publisher. Again, I call bullshit. The advent of author-publishing and the (now-diminishing) stigma attached to it, has shown authors know the value of a great cover. There are self-published authors whose books have gorgeous covers – this tells me they’ve thought long and hard about their finished product, about their reader. And covers should reflect the content, the world and atmosphere of a book. Take a look at Devin Madson’s The Blood of Whisperers – the story inside is as beautiful as the cover. Another author whose work I will now always read.

BoW

As an editor, I understand the importance of covers, how they work to sell the story/stories inside. If you can excite a potential reader by the cover art alone, then you’re looking at sales. Sales are good. Sales mean the author (or authors, when an anthology) will be read, and those authors may begin to get a fan-base – and there’s not a lot better than that. As an editor for Cohesion Press (an Australian small press), their mantra is to always source kick-ass cover art. Great cover art gets readers excited, it builds interest, it builds sales. But more than that, it’s the finished product. Readers will appreciate the effort you put in, and they’ll remember your name.

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I know there’ll be those out there who will bemoan the cost of cover art. That good cover art is unaffordable. Well before you do that, how would you feel if someone bitched about the price of your book? Good cover art costs, just as good editing and proofreading – all essential parts of the publishing process. You want to put your best work out into the world, right? Right?

The reason I decided to write this post was the cover artist for Cohesion’s books, Dean Samed (check out his work) just yesterday had his site go live, and his cover-work is just astounding. Each piece grabs you, it takes you places, and it defines what’s on the inside pages. The last thing any author wants is a horror book (for instance) with a decidedly romance cover. That’s a betrayal no reader will tolerate.

There are amazing artists out there who love creating cover art for the books you love creating. Check out Deviantart, get onto artists’ sites, and if you like the style of a book cover, the artist is usually mentioned in the front-matter. Social media is a great way to get recommendations for artists, for those who specialise in covers, who can put the best ‘coat’ on your baby.

Do a little research, chat to artists, find great art. Your book will thank you for it.

Tusk