Thursday, January 3, 2013

A Year of Winter

Strange days mark the passage of two years of Winter's Riddle.  Though the official anniversary lies on December 12th the calendar’s end is the true terminus.  Instead of the usual update, late as you can see, I wanted to post a little retrospective for my pulp fantasy serial.  There will be art and a slight drawing of the curtain on the storied process.  I want to make a habit of this, both for my sanity, and to break up the pace of the storytelling.  Two years is a lot.

-In all its glory-

There it is, Winter's Riddle.  When I set out to publish my first ebook I had little clue as to what I was doing.  I understood writing well enough, but there is so much that goes on into the presentement of a work, such as the cover.  With only myself and the bare resources of the old family pc known as the Admiral I created the bare minimalism seen above.  I won't tell you which program I used but it involves the word "pain."
Much love went into this first almost-novella.  Chapter one seemed to flow out of the keys, as if I had been waiting to write this story for some time, and I had, as anyone who reads the introduction included in this volume will know.  There are also many errors, still evident after a year.  Though the version in Echoes of Nightmare and Song is cleaner something endearing remains with this rough start.

-As the words fall so falls the giant-

Chambers of the Heart, my second book, was an ambitious child.  I imagine some time passing for the Fencer and the Trumpeter.  They have gained in their troubles and met the icy civilization scattered across the southern continent of Barant, with violent results.  Growing comfortable with the project I added many more characters, asides, and depth.  Here we meet Yogo and Clea, Icle and Lord Vael, elements which inform the future, an incomplete and open road.  

This second cover is much like the first.  I'm inspired by minimalist design as well as the surreal covers of new wave SF pulps from the 50's, 60's and 70's.  Looking back this one reminds me too much of Christmas.  Still, this work was a great victory in meeting my daily writing goals consistently. 

-Dreams ascend the mountain of words towards the pinnacle-

If time passed from Winter's Riddle to Chambers of the Heart then time jumped between that second serial and The IceMummies of Haga Ephos.  I wanted to leave open space in the tales and confine events with only a loose chronology.  I would make use of this in the coming months but for some 25 weeks of 2011 I lived and breathed mummy dust from the magic mountain.  Here I was leaving the comforts of the frame I set for myself to venture on with the Fencer and the Trumpeter into the unknown north.  My first full novel seemed like it would never end but end it did, high up in the concepts which I hope mark this series of strange magic and desperate action.

On display is the last of my minimalist covers and the beginning of new and better things.  Though the title bears the same design scheme I had a new picture to show.  Buried deep in the weekly chapters was the first piece of Winter's Riddle art created by Justin M. Lewis, of a lemur-man, fittingly.  For a time I wanted to include a picture with each chapter, complete with a slightly incorrect text box below, just like in certain copies of A Princess of Mars or other pulps.

-They came hopping in the night, eye aglow, eager for death-

By April the project was in full swing, my goal so very possible.  At the start of the publishing process, back in January, I resolved to publish one ebook a month.  Not all were full novels in length and I felt, as I still do, that the e-reader format works well with shorter works.  By early estimates I could see no problem getting something out each month.  At this point I had two novellas waiting to be released but decided to produce something different.

Echoes of Nightmare and Song combines the first three Winter’s Riddle stories in pursuit of the Stranger, the blue youth of chaos tying the narrative together.  I took this opportunity to re-edit the stories, with the help of some friends who read my work and offered input, something I encourage.  Also, this collection was the first to feature a real cover: the very portrait of a lemur-man which had secreted within the course of The Ice Mummies of Haga Ephos.

Yet I wanted to do something more than just cobble together a collection.  A new story was added, one written for that very volume.  “Syzygy” is a tale outside the realm of the Trumpeter and the Fencer, a story of the Uplifting, when magic was brought to heel by a magician known as the red demon.  The story has its roots in a writing exercise I did as part of the Lincoln Fantasy and Science Fiction club writers group.  It is a strange thing, one of radiant inhuman beings, and human otherness.  Of all my works this one remains the most mysterious and a fine way to herald in the coming month.

-Eager in its lusts, the all-consuming eye drinks in the world-

May bloomed warm.  At a whim I decided to finish another writing project as part of Winter’s Riddle.  This became Shaperof Souls, a story of Summer.  The project had its start upon the floating continent and here I wanted to delve back into that realm, to expand the horizon of Winter.  Elu, the androgynous magician of inconstant heart, formed the basis for this tale of mindscapes and war games.

This book featured the first cover by Justin M. Lewis designed specifically for that title.  To this day the giant eye remains a favorite, watching Elu’s journey into the workings of a false world.

Shaper of Souls was also my first foray into the realm of KDP Select, an Amazon program which allows a work certain promotional deals at the cost of a more restrictive publishing agreement.  Downloads were minimal but still in the hundreds.  I had much hope for this.

-A strange sister watching the flow of poison-

By high summer a certain momentum had built.  Supported by friends and the extra visibility that three hundred downloads brought into my mind I set out on the second Winter’s Riddle arc.  Taking place between Chambers of the Heart and The Ice Mummies of Haga Ephos, it was to be a series titled “A Gathering Beauty” and would detail the adventures of the Fencer and the Trumpeter as they sought to regain Clea’s legacy by tracking down numerous wondrous items she had left hidden across the land.

Now, I always envisioned Winter’s Riddle to be a free and open setting for the telling of weird fantasy, that the process could be whimsical, non-linear and unfettered.  I thought that The Ice Mummies of Haga Ephos had grown too long and that I was losing sight of the dreamy world I pondered over the course of many years. 
At the same time I didn’t want to disregard my previous work, so the whole arc would meander to the magic mountain of Haga Ephos.  A theme developed, one of memory.  Thus framed I began my June story.

The first novella in this series, The Bodies, tells the story of a hideous despot titled the Slavemaster.  He has something the Fencer and the Trumpeter want and that something turns out to be a someone.  In this madman’s palace they discover decadence and cruelty as only Winter can provide.

This story was great fun to write and managed to finish up in only eight installments.  As a shift I told the tale from the point of view of a third character, a slave freed by the Fencer and the Trumpeter.  Within the palace they discover that almost anyone can be corrupted.  To date this remains one of my favorite stories.

-There are ghosts of what we are and ghost of what we fear we will become-

Following the blood and poison of June I brought Winter back to the cold with TheSmoke Monster.  It was my stab at the amnesiac story, one which fit well with the memory theme of “A Gathering Beauty.”  Complete with an eerie cover it is one of the most solid Winter’s Riddle offerings.

A thing to remember about this whole project is that I am writing these stories eight weeks before they go to the blog, and then there could be months, even a whole year, before they are published.  But as I looked towards August I realized I had a problem: I had caught up to myself.

After writing The Smoke Monster I began a story which ended up going and going.  It was great to write another novel but it completely disrupted my goal of publishing a book a month through 2012.  Faced with this prospect I began making plans for the future.  Again I would have to write entire novellas in a month, start to finish, along with my usual writing.  I did it in May, why not all the time?

-Though the dead my be troublesome it is the mechanics of dead men which haunt us-

Pale Blank Skin again told its story from the viewpoint of a third party, this time Lumnos the Wordseller.  Marching through the words in this one proved increasingly difficult.  In it I attempted to redeem undead from the dullness they had gained in the general media while playing with notions of textuality and other aspects of narration.  Over time I’ve grown more fond of this story of the ruined city whose name was taken by magic and inky workings of the underground, but while I was in the thick of it there seemed to be no end in sight.  

-To the true immortals there are no limits-
September began my work on what became known as TheRefracted Man.  Like Shaper of Souls this would be a tale outside the main story arcs, but unlike “Shaper” this would feature the Fencer and the Trumpeter.

The goal was to finish a full novella in a month.  Work went well as I fleshed out the character of the Smyth of Glass and the Isle of Lanz, but with time things spiraled out of control.

It was a matter of the story needing more room to breathe.  The Smyth, the demon, the setting, all were good enough that a longer story felt necessary.  So, with the deadline looming I decided to split the work into two releases.  Together they would eventually form a single novel, but for now TheRefracted Man, Part I would do.

Of special note is the cover.  It’s not every day that you get to have someone fishing for a giant mutant leviathan with an immortal sorcerer’s severed head. 
-Nothing comes at us directly, we live amongst slanted light-

That was September.  October was hectic.  Events outside of writing took their toll on my time and the story just wasn’t ready for the end of the month.  So began a long chain of delays and push-backs.  Not all was lost though.

The work which was getting done was heady, strange, the very essence of what I wanted to do with Winter’s Riddle.  Science Fiction bloomed in the mix and I realized something very important.  It wasn’t necessary to finish my arbitrary publishing goal at the cost of a good story.  So all though November and December work has continued on The Refracted Man.  The cover that is waiting for its completion is amazing, the best of the whole series.

The year closes in ashes.  I have not met my goal.  But I have learned much in the passing of time.  Now I can make an ebook which looks how I wish and I have a nice backlog of stories which will flesh out the coming year.  This includes the novella Bright Eye Infinity, revised versions of my first three books, editions for Smashwords and other sites, and the conclusion to The Refracted Man.

Another goal involves the future of Winter’s Riddle.  I’d like to see the next novel taking place after The Ice Mummies of Haga Ephos be published in a more traditional format.  That novel will be called The Fire Worshippers, and in it is the future, and in it waits the dreams of so much strange joy.  The Stranger awaits and I hope you all are there to discover the secret of Summer’s Puzzle.  If you are new to the blog, the stories, the Riddle, then there is no better place to start than here.

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