Wednesday, May 27, 2015

'Eight-Bit Bard' Excerpt: Disarming Traps

I said, "If we want any loot we’re going to have to take our chances. Thus we have Exhibit A, this treasure chest. Jexica, as our rogue it’s your turn to shine.”

Jexica nodded and stretched her fingers, cracking the knuckles. I held up a hand. “Before we get started, there’s two stages. Identify, and then disarm.”

“Yeah, yeah, I’ve been trained. I know how this works,” Jex said.

“You’ve been trained to identify and disarm, but did anyone mention the Committee Method?”

She paused. “No, what’s that?”

“Before you do anything, we all take a look. You’re the specialist, but the rest of us aren’t dumb. We all take a glance and tally our impressions. You get the final say, of course.”

“I like it,” Caltrop said, kneeling down in front of the chest and eyeing the lock mechanism. “Crowdsourcing is an excellent team activity. My father always had a saying, a few extra sous chefs just help make the bisque better. Hmm. Looks like a shocker trap to me.”

“I’m not really sure that’s the best analogy,” Jexica objected. “Are you sure that-”

Wort interrupted, “Well I think it’s a gas cloud.”

“No, look like dart trap,” Mulk said.

“Don’t be silly,” Wort replied. “That bladder mechanism has to be tied to a gas cloud. Who ever heard of darts coming out of a bladder?”

Siobhan eyed the chest. “I see no bladder. That is a containment bulb for a deadly Mage’s misery spell. We spellcasters must be wary.”

I pushed the elf out of the way. “That can’t be right. I’ve been in six dungeons, and I’ve never even heard of a Mage’s misery before. I don’t think that’s a real thing. It’s got to be a poison needle, if anything.”


“Gas cloud!”

Mage’s misery!

“Poison toad?”

I looked up from the chest. “What? Who said that?”

Caltrop shrugged. “If there’s a bladder and you think it’s poison, maybe the bladder’s holding a toad, so it could be a poison toad.”

I sighed. “I can assure you there’s no toad pushed into that trap.”

The others continued arguing, with alternating shouts of “Darts!” and “Gas cloud!” gaining momentum. Jexica kneeled down to eye the lock. 

I tried to explain, “Look, it really is a simple case of-”

“Okay, here goes, trying to disarm the gas cloud,” Jexica said, poking her tools into the key hole.

“No, wait!”

Too late. There was a click, and then a snick. Jexica looked down aghast at her finger tip. “Ooh, I feel a little sick,” she said, and then slumped to the floor.

“Gah. You fools, you didn’t let me finish. This first dungeon is filled with simple creatures who can’t manage complicated traps. Some of them don’t have any traps at all, but if they do, the only possible trap in the Troll Tunnels is a poison needle. My old team opened hundreds of them, and that’s all we'll see until the next dungeon.”

The noise died down. Everyone turned sheepish, except Jexica, who was turning green and moaning.

This was an excerpt from The Eight-Bit Bard. The complete novel is Kindle format through Amazon

Sunday, May 24, 2015

'The Eight-Bit Bard' is published.

As of today my newest novel, The Eight-Bit Bard, is available on Amazon

It's a fantasy story, a blend of humor and action. It's also the story of seven misfits trying to find a place for themselves in a world where the obvious good guys aren't so good, and the bad guys are the best of the worst.

For gamers, particularly retro gamers, this one is heavy on references to classics like Bard's Tale, Ultima, Might and Magic, Wizardry, and many others from that generation. For those who don't do computer games but like fantasy, I've tried to make the story stand well enough without being distracted by inside jokes.
I'd also like to note this one is a bit more family friendly than my previous novel, Chicagoland. If it were a movie, it would be PG-13, tops.

It's currently only available in Kindle format from Amazon. If you don't have a Kindle, nearly any computer can get a Kindle reader for free. If you have Amazon Prime, you can also "borrow" the book for free any time you like, no purchase necessary.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Book Description/Blurb

I've been working on what would be the "back cover" blurb on a physical book. The Eight-Bit Bard will begin as digital only so it'll just be the description used on web sites, but it's the same idea. In one of those weird ironies, it's more agonizing for me to work on two or three paragraphs that summarizes the book than it is to turn out dozens of pages of novel. I'd rather be loquacious than pithy, I guess.
The evil sorcerer Ssor Ssorensen must have attended the "freeze them with perpetual winter" school of villainy, because when he and his minions conquered the town of Noresha, the first thing he did (after taking a nice, hot bath) was encase the city in ice. Then he laid out a thirteen-dungeon obstacle course challenge, filled with mind-twisting riddles, fiendish traps, and a bevy of the most monstrous guardians a conqueror's shoestring budget could afford, because that's what the best of the bad guys do. 
Strife inevitably brings resistance. A band of heroes led by Yorel the paladin, calling themselves the Phoenix Dragons, are the front runners to challenge the sorcerer and put an end to his menace.
This is not their story. This is the story of Endrew the bard, a fallen hero and humiliated former Phoenix Dragon, who has to join up with a pack of misfits just to make it through the week. His companions include an untrained rogue, an unusually sophisticated half-orc mage, a misplaced pixie, a dwarven monk full of improbable theories, and a halfling warrior who wants more than anything just to be tough. Endrew and his unlikely crew set their sights on surpassing the champions and saving the city from evil, but before they can do that they must surmount their shortcomings just to survive. For a mismatched group that can't even settle on a party name, that may be a tall order indeed.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Book Cover Concepts

I've been working on some cover concepts for the novel. I think I've mentioned by now it's a fantasy novel with themes related to classic computer games, particularly role-playing games. I'm fairly well set on the title, The Eight-Bit Bard, to evoke a blend of older electronics and fantasy. 

You can click on any of the images to get a larger pop-up to see them in detail. I'd love to hear your preferences.

Concept 1: A classic graph-paper map to further emphasize the computer game roots.

Concept 2: A lute and sword for the bard, but pixelated for a hint of computery-ness.

Concept 3: Simpler, cleaner. More old-time bard, less emphasis on computer.

Concept 4: More colorful, bringing back the sword.



Monday, May 4, 2015

Fun with Grammar Check

Before letting anyone else see your writing for the first time, it's always a good idea to run a spelling and grammar check. For a project the size of a novel, this generally means clicking Ignore several hundred times to ferret out a few dozen mistakes. Note that by this point I've reread the thing multiple times, checking all the red squigglies as I go; don't think for a second my first draft doesn't have a lot more mistakes than that.

I'm probably not the only one, but when I write I make choices that the spellchecker doesn't always agree with. Creative names, an accent that calls for innovative spelling, (parenthetical clauses the spellchecker can't follow), and cutting short a spoken sentence--all of these can bring out a swarm of red or blue squigglies. Most of what spellcheck flags can be chalked up as a difference of opinion. For the record, I'm looking at red squigglies under the word "squigglies" right now ... and I'm okay with that.

The grammar checker, though, now that one can be fun. More than just suggested improvements that I'm declining out of some sense of artistic freedom, in many cases it's flat-out wrong, sometimes outrageously so. I know the tool has gotten better over the years. Back in the late nineties I remember a version that would throw out objections like, "This sentence does not appear to have a verb," even when it clearly did. I told myself one day I'd run some great works of literature through a grammar checker and reprint the most hilarious annotations as it corrected Hemingway or Steinbeck, Fitzgerald or Salinger. (I was about to throw out a name like Joyce, but we already know his grammar is intentionally broken; that's part of his charm, so using him wouldn't be playing fair. Same for Kerouac, or even the heavily accented dialogues of Twain.)

But that was nearly two decades ago, and I still haven't managed to get around to the project, so in the stead of laughing at grammar check failing to handle fine literature, I'll use my own writings instead.

We'll start small. Very small: it's. According to the stats, I used "it's" 319 times in my upcoming novel, tentatively titled The Eight-Bit Bard. Of those instances, spellcheck is convinced 11 cases ought to be its instead. These include selections like, "It's okay," "You think it's poison?", "I don't think it's working," "It's part of the job," and "It's his map." All of these cases I do mean it is, and not "belonging to it." Oddly, the software never once flagged one the other way around.

Did it have some troubles with statements and questions? It did. "Next to him lounged a halfling in reinforced leather" doesn't need to end in a question mark, no matter how much grammar check begs. Likewise for "I was happy to let him have it."

Since this is fantasy, I can see how it might try to replace the word "mages" with "images" occasionally, but that's not going to improve the story. And while "I was a bard back then" might trigger the same skepticism, trying to replace it with "I was a bad back then" isn't helping. And, frankly, "I could see a rend in the ectoplasm" is not secretly supposed to be a trend in the ectoplasm. My characters are adventurers, not business analysts, by Infernus.

As for pronoun-verb agreement, I think grammar check has been taking notes from my four-year-old, who still starts sentences with "him went" or "us are". Suggested corrections included, "I was willing to grant the idea that, on a purely aesthetic level, man-flesh tasted much well than troll flesh," "Don't let they touch you," "Teleport we back outside," and the surprisingly simple, "Neither did me."

Homophones are knot just for humans. Grammar check suggested that rather than a whine, the dog sank to the ground with a wine; I cannot tell you know came over me; combat broke lose; and the dwarf has got away with people. The computer has got a way with words, for sure.

Saving the best song for last: who wouldn't want a finely tuned arm, rather than a finely toned one? Right?