Second, I do the fantasy casting for the movie-of-the-book thang at My Book the Movie. Not something I actually gave any thought to while writing the Godless World, but I think some of the casting possibilities I came up with are quite promising. And - I only realised after I'd finished - it's shaping up to be an all-Brit cast, which either means I'm terribly parochial or that we've got all the best actors. I incline towards the latter possibility.
Third, someone else does the review thing for the small press anthology Rage of the Behemoth I've got a story in, over at The Cimmerian. A fitting home for a review, given the anthology's focus on heroic fantasy of the sort Robert E Howard excelled at. Nice, too, that the book gets the thumbs up. I've been gradually working my way through my author's copy, and can confirm there's some fun stuff in there for fans of this kind of thing (i.e. warriors, monsters and mayhem). Copies still easily available for purchase in both the UK and the US.
Some minor stuff about me, me, me - specifically my recent adventures in short fiction - that's shown up on the web.
First off, I answer some questions over at the Rogue Blades Entertainment site, partly relating to the story - 'Beyond the Reach of His Gods' - I've contributed to their Rage of the Behemoth anthology. Imminently available, I believe.
Second off, Pat of Fantasy Hotlist fame provided a brief update on progress regarding the anthology he's editing for Subterranean Press, titled Speculative Horizons. As reported there, I sent in my story for the anthology - 'Flint' - a little while ago. Some minor tweaking is currently underway, but Pat's basically given it a thumbs up. No confirmed publication date for this one yet, as far as I know, but it shouldn't be too long.
(And since I've been poking around Pat's site to find that news update, I might as well indulge myself by pointing out his jolly nice review of Fall of Thanes, too.)
About time we had something a bit different around here, I figure.Couple of weeks ago, someone got in touch with me via Facebook (the Winterbirth fan page, to be precise), and I thought the story they had to tell was so interesting that ... well, here it comes. Meet Richard Alvarez, a real live knight in shining armour. Some of you, it turns out, know exactly what he looks like already. He'll introduce himself, and then I'll pitch him a few questions. Hope at least some folks find this as interesting as I did!
(Note, the photos appearing are, in order of appearance, by and copyright Cat Connor, Ron Koberer and Linda Alvarez. No use without permission, please).
RA: I've always been fascinated by the renaissance and medieval eras. In college I studied fencing, and went on to pursue teaching as a Classical Fencing Master. Simultaneously, I've pursued my interests in media production, theatre and film. This parallel track led me to performing at the first Renaissance Festival I ever attended in Houston Texas, back in the early seventies. A friend and I formed a Dueling Team we called "Triomphe".
We performed as "Triomphe" for eleven years at the Texas Renaissance Festival. In the early eighties, I met four young men who had been hired to perform the joust. A few years later, they invited me to joust with them at a show in Chicago that summer. 'I can't ride,' I told them. 'That's okay, we'll teach you.' So in the summer of 1984 I started my career as a professional jouster. A few years later, I was asked to take over the managing duties of the company, and I formed "International Action Theatre". We had three companies of men, with four to six horses each - touring the country all year long. In addition to renaissance festivals, we did Wild West shows and stunt work for films and theme parks.
In 1994, I officially retired from the renaissance festival circuit. I have focused on my filmmaking and screenwriting endeavors for the most part since then, though I did manage to merge my two interests in 2005, when I produced my award winning documentary American Jouster.
A few weeks ago, I was sitting at home when I got a text from a friend. It was a jpg, and I couldn't quite make out the image. I handed my phone to my son, and he squinted at it saying, 'It looks like YOU! Yeah, I think it is you, on a poster or maybe a book cover ... Fall of Thrones? No, the Fall of THANES?'
I downloaded a larger image from your website, and couldn't for the life of me remember where the photo came from. I know I didn't pose specifically FOR the cover, so the photo had to be an old one. I began to scour my hard drives, trying to match the shot on the cover with something I might have on hand.
Bingo! In 2005, I responded to a call from a student filmmaker, John Joynert, who was working on his senior thesis film. It was called Pro Meus Rex - and the story centered on two live chess pieces who meet in a fantasy forest setting to battle it out. I played The Black Knight and another actor played The White Pawn. During that shoot, unit photographer Ron Koeberer took a number of still photos (Ron does amazing work, and you can view some of his shots at www.koberfoto.com). It turns out that Ron had listed a few shots from Pro Meus Rex with stock photo companies online. Apparently whoever did the layout for the cover of Fall of Thanes licensed the image through one of the stock agencies.
And that is how I wound up on the cover of Fall of Thanes.
BR: Given that you started out as a classically trained fencer, to an outsider like me it looks like a pretty radical shift in weaponry and fighting style when you get into the medieval end of things: possibly in my ignorance, I imagine much less finesse and much more brute force being involved. To what extent are skills or instincts or techniques transferable between the fencing and the medieval side of things?
RA: "Mixed Martial Arts" is a very popular form of sport entertainment right now. You see fighters combining different skill sets from different martial arts training against competitors with other skill sets. This is possible, primarily because the main component is the same for all martial arts - The Human Body.
In terms of using a blade - the target is the same regardless of era - the weapon has a point and/or edge. The human body moves the same regardless of era. What changes are the tactical applications of point and edge - especially in response to terrain and armor. So it really was just a matter of understanding what the weapon was designed for, and what the target area was supposed to be. Probably the most difficult of the medieval weapons to master (for me personally) was the flail - damned unpredictable rebound. And of course, getting used to wearing armor and the limited visibility of a helm.
BR:I'm fascinated by the practicalities of this whole business. The horses in the jousts, for instance. How much specialised training is needed to get a horse to do what you need it to do? Can any horse be suitable, or only those with particular physical or mental attributes?
RA: We have always selected horses primarily for their temperment. They have to be sound of course, and capable of supporting the armored rider. (Rule of thumb - a sound working horse can carry/work with one third of it's own body weight ... this is a 'rule of thumb' - not a hard and fast law). Breed was not as important as temperment. We 'auditioned' horses by asking them to do a specific set of drills. Such things as passing another horse, riding with flags, riding close to/at a man on the ground. The horse didn't have to perform well, it just had to show an aptitiude to be trainable. We didn't always have the luxury of time in training horses.
BR: There must be risks involved, no matter how skilled and practised someone is. Have you ever been injured yourself or - and I suspect this might be even more alarming - inadvertently injured someone else?
RA: Bumps and bruises happen every time you fall off a horse, and we did scheduled falls in every show - so sure, people got bumps, bruises, scrapes and the occasional dislocation or break. In stage combat - you can generally expect to get the odd scraped knuckle and bruise from your partner - but you really do train hard for safety's sake.
I've probably given my share of knicked fingers, and clipped hands - but I don't keep track of those any more than I keep track of the ones I've recieved. It's part of the game. My own worst personal injury came fom a 'knee to knee' collision in a cantering pass with another rider. We were NOT armored - this is the same sort of injury one typically gets in playing polo.
BR: I know you played a specific character during your jousting career - Sir Richard, Early of Greyhame. Is this name just an identifying badge, or did you have personalities (good guys and bad guys!), plots and backstories developed for the characters you all played? I guess I'm interested in how much of this is theatre - complete with fictional narrative - and how much is demonstration, stunt show, sport etc.
RA: The character I portrayed "Sir Richard - The Earl of Greyhame" was usually a bad guy. Tall dark and bearded - yeah, I looked the part. And lets face it, it's more fun to be the bad guy! Our shows were carefully choreographed, and scripted. There was always room to ad-lib lines with the court and each other, but we all knew where we were going, and what was supposed to happen on the field.
In the jousting business you will sometimes hear the distinction made that a particular company does 'Theatrical Jousting' while another company does 'Sport Jousting'. What this usually comes down to is whether or not the hits delivered during the joust passes are choreographed or spontaneous.
In a theatrical joust the hits are planned, usually a specific number of hits, with a 'dismount' at the end. This is a running, full speed fall. The fall is followed with horse to ground combat - and another dismount - followed by ground combat and possibly a bloody 'kill'. (Depending on the philosophy of the company and/or the faire regarding kills and blood).
In a 'full contact' or 'sport joust' show the jousters are trying to unhorse each other. Again, there is usually a prescribed number of passes. They may or may not succeed in unhorsing their opponent. They may hit, or miss. There may or may not be a fall. After which, they will usually give a demonstration of combat that may or may not be choreographed.
Understand, the EXACT SAME SKILLS are needed in either version of the show. You MUST be able to controll your lance to hit a target, and control your horse. You must have an excellent seat to maintain or deliver a hit. THE HORSES DON'T KNOW if the combat is real, or 'choreographed'. They are being asked to perform the same tasks either way.
BR:Given your professional involvement in film and media, have you got any particular favourite movies set in the medieval or renaissance eras, either in terms of entertainment value or the vividness or accuracy with which they capture those eras? How about books, fiction or non-fiction?
RA: My favorite fight choreographer has got to be William Hobbs. (A Brit as it happens). His best films in no particular order - Robin and Marion - the end fight between Sean Connery and Robert Shaw as the aging Robin and Sherriff is a classic (One of my all time favorite films too). The Three and Four Musketeers - Dick Lester's version - shot as one film but released as two, starring Michael York as D'Artagnan and Oliver Reed as Athos. Still some of the best rapier work on film. The Duellists - Ridley Scott's first feature film - and the film that turned me into a Napoleonic Era buff. Excellent smaill sword and sabre work - and the best film ever for capturing the gut-wrenching terror of personal conflict. All these films are William Hobbs work. (He also did Zefferelli's Romeo and Juliet and the latest Count of Monte Christo and Man in the Iron Mask - so yeah, if his name's on it, I'll watch it).
Best written description of the mindset and action of a duel ... for my money, is the final duel between Oscar and The Eater of Souls in R. A. Heinlein's Glory Road. Of course, Heinlein was a sabre fencer - and it shows.
For just plain fun, and insider's reference - The Princess Bride - the book and the film, with their reference to actual period fencing masters and books. The fight in the film is also extremely well done - in the classic Old School Hollywood tradition.
As for recommended reading - one should read the actual period fencing manuals. Many are now available on-line. (Back in my day, you had to got to a real library, and check out the books IF you could find them).
BR: Thanks, Richard. I'm very grateful to you for taking the time to satisfy my curiosity! And to round things off, a nice clip of Richard talking about his film American Jouster, and the life of a touring knight:
Sometimes it's hard not to be a bit despondent about the way bookselling is going. Latest manifestation of the increasingly uphill slog bookstores are facing in the UK is that Borders UK seems to be heading for the exit. (Not the same company, incidentally, as Borders in the US, which is having it's own possibly even more severe problems). I know this is just the market doing what it does, and I know online book sales, and the brutal discounting of best-sellers in supermarkets, and eventually - even in the laggardly UK - the rise of e-books all have their pluses for the consumer, but it still feels regrettable that it's becoming so difficult for even those with some scale on their side to make money out of bricks and mortars bookstores. I can't help but think that the domination of the mass bookselling market - online and offline - by so few players is not going to prove an unreservedly good thing (to put it mildly) for either readers or authors in the long run.
On a more cheery subject, one of the entirely unpredictable amusements the internet offers is provided by the mindless working away of the automatic translation gremlins. Latest manifestation I've noticed is a version of an sf signal mind meld I was involved in the other day, on the subject of gloominess in sf. It's clearly been translated into French and then back into English again, with the results that I apparently said, amongst many other similarly weird things:
The unhurt put candid, in its chichi quieten, is a youngster of the 20th century
When writers are more interested in how lavish shades of bloodless they can reproof up with than in hellish and unblemished, you inevitably aim up with a more less rose-tinted phantom of charitable possibilities.
There seems to be some kind of poetic, profound wisdom hiding in there somewhere: much more poetic and profound than what I said in the original interview. Perhaps I should put all my answers through a couple of rounds of online translation before submitting them in future?
And finally, I was pleased to discover that one of my favourites amongst the innumerable cgi shorts that show up on the internet these days is moving towards expansion into a full movie. Here's the original short, a fun slice of sf:
Item 2: According to this review of Fall of Thanes, it appears I might have made someone cry. Good. I mean that in the nicest possible way, obviously.
Item 3: I did an interview at a slightly more unusual venue than my usual online habitat of sf/f book blogs: Grinding to Valhalla, which as far as I can tell is a sort of mass interview site for mmo bloggers/podcasters. As a result, there's a little bit more in there about my gaming habits/history than is usually the case.
Item 4: And finally ... well I'm not really sure what to say about this (found via CBR), other than that I am at once strangely fascinated and strangely repelled:
A whole load of other interesting people have also been interviewed there- at least I know some of them are usually interesting; whether they're interesting or not in this particular case, I can't be sure, since I don't read Dutch. Heck, I can't even be sure I was interesting, but there I am, chatting merrily away in a foreign language.
And in case anyone missed it in the comments on the previous post, first review has showed up for the previously mentioned Rage of the Behemoth anthology, over at the jolly good Grasping for the Wind blog. Modesty prevents me from pointing out which of the stories gets the biggest thumbs up. No, really. It does. Big bully, that modesty stuff.
World's briefest interview! In terms of the number of questions asked, at least; not in terms of my answer. While you're at that site, check out the huge library of links to online reviews of fantasy novels in the sidebar. Very handy if you're wondering what to buy next.
I've got to admit I'm not a big fan of Torchwood. Not even a small fan, really, though I kept watching the occasional episode in the vain hope of falling in love with it. But I quite like this idea: a special radio episode to mark the switching on of CERN's now famous Large Hadron Collider. You can download the mp3 of it here, but only for the next five days or so. It's not remotely enough to turn me into a fan, but it does make me wonder: might I actually have liked it more if Torchwood was a radio series instead of on TV? On this evidence, I think there are ways it benefits - or could benefit - from the different constraints and opportunities of the audio medium. And from having to comply with the requirements of a pre-watershed broadcast slot, for that matter.
And this is my idea of a top quality movie trailer: Quantum of Solace. I'm looking forward to this more than I've looked forward to a Bond movie in ... well, ever. Although there were a few doubting voices when he was first cast, Daniel Craig now looks - to me, anyway - as though he was born to play the role. The tuxedo fits.
A variation on the standard interview: the Bookgeeks put me, Alastair Reynolds, Jeff Somers and Jaine Fenn together in a virtual room, asked us questions and then cruelly forced us to comment on each other's answers. The topics under discussion are maps, cover art, illustration, that kind of thing. The results can be seen here.
It's a double dose of interview action this week, as I have also been answering questions over at the website of fellow Orbit author Jennifer Rardin (author of the Jaz Parks series, which involves the CIA, assassins, vampires, demons, witches and - in a future instalment - Scotland. Excellent location choice there, Jen.) It's a fun little number, covering such never-before discussed topics as why I think Aeglyss might enjoy talking to dogs, and which planet I'd like to visit.
I've been interviewed at mighty length over at A Dribble of Ink. Go have a look, if you like.
Plus, we're now in the final week of the great big Bloodheir giveaway on Facebook. Three lucky winners have already been picked out of the hat (actually, rumour has it they're being selected using an old set of D&D dice, but I don't know how credible such rumours are ...). One more chance to win, this Friday, so if you like the idea of getting your hands on a signed, dedicated hardback of Bloodheir, go sign up as a fan at the Winterbirth page on Facebook. You've got to be in it to win it. Or something like that.
In honour of the release of Winterbirth as a US mass market paperback, I have been interviewed over at mania.com. There's also a review up over there, which is generous enough in its praise to make me blush (you can't see me, but I'm blushing. Really).
Seems a bit self-indulgent to take up blog space just for that (I know, someone with a blog suddenly starts worrying about being self-indulgent. Imagine that. Next up: a politician admitting they have no clue whatsoever how to solve a problem). Anyway, since I'm here, a handful of other webby things:
I've been interviewed over at the Grasping for the Wind blog. Includes some mutterings about free will and prophecy in fantasy, an explanation of why Taim Narran is one of my favourite characters in the trilogy, and some vague hints about what's to come in Bloodheir.
Jeff VanderMeer, author of some rather fine books himself, interviewed a whole bunch (well, four anyway) of more or less new fantasy authors for the Amazon book blog: me, Joe Abercrombie, Karen Miller and Brandon Sanderson. So that's four sets of answers for the price of one. Part One of the interview, and Part Two. Plus, as an added extra, the out-takes.
In other news, it looks like the German edition of Winterbirth is gradually emerging into the daylight: if a certain well-known online translation engine can be relied upon, Amazon.deseems to be saying it's in stock, at least. That doesn't necessarily mean it's out there in Germany's bookstores just yet (although it might be - any info from German informants very gratefully received!), but it should be imminent.
It never occurred to me, when idly dreaming of one day being a writer, that it would entail answering questions about haggis and Edinburgh pubs. Funny how things turn out.
Mister Roy, the very same marketing professional I mentioned in the last post, has been talking about Winterbirth again, only this time it's a plain old reviewrather than a dissection of the 'to buy or not to buy' decision-making process.
The rather fine Fantasy Book Critic blog also has a review of Winterbirthup. Earth-crumblingly important and fascinating as that is, even I'm prepared to admit that another item on the blog might be of even more interest: an outrageously generous book giveawaywhere you (so long as you're a North American resident) can win no less than six books from the Orbit US launch line-up.
It occurred to me there might be one or two new visitors to the site, what with UK paperback and imminent US publication of Winterbirth. Also, thanks to the miracles of modern technology, this blog is now syndicated on Amazon.com, so maybe some folk will stumble across it over there (waves to anyone who happens to be reading it over there!). All in all, I thought a little welcome and orientation might be in order, so this is it. Hello and Welcome.
This blog is a fairly random mix of news, rambling, links to things elsewhere that I find of interest. Entirely normal bloggish stuff, in other words. I mentioned some reasons why I blog here, but if you like you can also regard it as my indirect means of answering the frequently author-targeted questions 'Where do you get your ideas from?' and 'What are your influences?'. Partial and vague answers are scattered throughout this blog, a bit like bones buried around a garden by an over-active and forgetful dog. (Do dogs actually do that outside of cartoons? I've never owned one, so I don't know whether it's a myth or not.)
There is a feed thingy, to which you might want to consider subscribing (and if you're not using those things yet, why on Earth not? I love my feeds, I do. Whoever invented RSS should get a Nobel prize, or a knighthood, or something.)
Elsewhere on the website, the Gazetteer section has some (spoiler-free) info that fills in a little of the background to events described in the books. Stuff gets added to it now and again - in fact it's just been updated with a note on the Kyrinin clans. Another new addition is something that's almost but not quite like a cover gallery: all the covers so far stuck onto Winterbirth can now be viewed on this pagedeep in the bowels of the website, which is also the place to go for anyone who's curious about non-English language editions.
Should you be yet to buy the UK paperback, and be tempted by the thought of a signed copy (or a signed copy of the UK hardback, which is still available and might actually be of more interest to those of you who like signatures on their books), see here for details.
Oh, and interviews with me have been sprouting across the internet like an infestation of pernicious mushrooms recently. Should you not yet be sick of the sight of me rambling on, there's one here: part oneand part two, and another one here.
And that was the Welcome Message. Consider yourself welcomed, and thanks for listening.
At the very end, there's a plea for someone to get out the thumbscrews and extract an answer from me to a particular question. In an effort to cut out the middleman, and because one or two other people have been curious about the same subject, I thought I'd short-circuit the system a bit and do a quick interview with myself. So here we go ... Oh, this will make basically no sense whatsoever to anyone who hasn't read Winterbirth, by the way. Sorry.
Q: Is there going to be any more information on the Anain, Saolin or Whreinin?
A: Well I don't want to stray into spoilerish territory. The safest thing to say would be that a little more info on all the races can be found in the Gazetteer on this very site, and more is likely to appear there eventually.
Q: 'Little' is a very accurate description of what's currently in the Gazetteer. You can surely be a bit more revealing than that?
A: Okay, okay. First off, the Whreinin are extinct, so the chances of them taking an active role in this trilogy are ... slim. They may get talked about now and again, though. For those interested in the archaeology of the writing process, back in the mists of time there did once exist a draft of Winterbirth, and a notional outline of the next two books, in which there was considerably more stuff about the Whreinin floating around. It didn't survive the slaughter that is revising and rewriting.
As far as the Anain are concerned, the short answer is yes, there's more to come on the subject of the Anain in both Bloodheir and Book 3. The focus stays on humans and Kyrinin, but the Anain won't be staying entirely passive. What part they play, I obviously can't tell you or I'd have to kill you.
Q: That's slightly more illuminating, I suppose. Still seems a little coy as answers go. You haven't even mentioned the Saolin, for example. Couldn't you ... Hello? Hello? Oh, our interviewee seems to have gone off to boil the kettle. I guess that's the end of the interview.
The interview is at A Dribble of Ink. The longest one I've done to date, as far as I can remember. I was feeling talkative evidently, but despite that it turned out reasonably well, I think. There's a lot of other good content at A Dribble of Ink, so have a look around while you're there.
The signed books are at Transreal Fiction. Anyone who would for some reason like a signed (and optionally, dedicated, dated, whatever) copy of the Winterbirth paperback can order one from Transreal - details on their website, or you can e-mail enquiries[at]transreal[dot]co[dot]uk for more info. Cost is cover price plus p&p.
To my surprise, interest in signed copies of the hardback hasn't quite died down yet either, so just to confirm: you can still get signed hardback Winterbirths from Transreal too, although I'm not entirely certain how long it will remain available now that the paperback's out, so now's the time to buy if you're so inclined.
Apparently, getting a starred review in Publishers Weekly is what is known as 'A Good Thing'. Pleased, therefore, to say that Winterbirth has got one, about two-thirds of the way down this page.
It talks about the 'unapologetically stark yet darkly poetic narrative' and seems to predict a 'fervent audience', which sounds slightly alarming if you ask me, but I imagine I could live with it should such a thing come to pass.
Also, if anyone feels like they have an unrecognised talent for interrogation, there's an invitation to submit questions for an interview with me here - don't seem to able to link directly to the specific post, but it shouldn't be too hard to find, since it's got a great big picture of the Winterbirth cover.
EDIT: Things change fast in internetland - I can now link to the specific post about interview questions so here it is.
2.Winterbirth has made it to the far side of the world (i.e. Australia) and judging by this and by this, it might get a slightly warmer reception than the England cricket team, if nothing else. (EDIT: the first of those links no longer connects with the relevant review. But it was a rave. Really. It said everyone should immediately go and buy Winterbirth. At least, that's how I choose to remember the sense of it...)
3. This last week, for the first time in what feels like ages, it has been neither wet nor windy nor cloudy hereabouts, which meant it was actually possible to enjoy a stroll in the great outdoors. England has evidently been submerged beneath an ocean of inconvenient fog, but here: