Tag Archives: pulp fantasy

Web Fiction: Smiling Krakken Part One

I was at a Convention this weekend, so I did not get anything done then.  So for this week’s blog post, here is the first in a Series of Web Fiction in the same world as “The Allmother’s Fire”.

The problem with sword fighting while falling from one flying ship to another was the wind kept whipping Noviani’s hair in her face.  Well, that probably wasn’t the one problem with it, the lithe Air Pirate Captain admitted to herself as she spread out her arms and legs, hoping the wind would catch her pantaloons and allow her to glide slightly to the right so that she would land on the rapidly approaching deck below her and not miss it, plummeting to her death when she would eventually fall into the Sun Below.

The large brute that was slightly above her and relatively horizontal was another problem, she conceded.  More likely the large cutlass he brandished at her repeatedly was the true issue, and she had to spastically crane her head and flail her limbs away from him rapidly so as not to lose them, breaking how she was trying to position herself to catch the wind.  Fire seemed to erupt from her shoulder as the tip of his weapon shallowly scratched Noviani there, slicing effortlessly through her silken sleeve.  Thankfully he was not of noble blood, so that fire was a figurative feeling, and not a literal flame burning her skin.

“DIEYOUSCURVYDOG” or some other such nonsense was screamed at her by the First Mate of the Sky’s Embrace, the grandiose ship the two of them were descending from.  Another shallow cut slashed through her other sleeve, and blood began to freely splash out, obscuring her vision almost as much her red hair as it sprayed out everywhere due to the wind.  It was not as much as his aim was true that allowed him to land so many blows, as it was that he had a weapon and all she had really was her pouch on her belt, her silken shirt, and her voluminous pantaloons which did not parry sword swipes well.

Noviani decided to focus on that advantages she did have before she bled to death or the big ox landed a luck blow across her neck, so she used both her hands to pull on the exterior of her pants again, this time as she locked her legs together, mildly imitating a horizontal version of the sails the flying ships those of her profession loved to use.  To her shock it seemed to do as she hoped, and almost immediately she slowed her decent.  This caused her to try to swerve her body, so she did not crash into the large bald cursing moron who was now moving slower than her.

He screamed some sort of impotent threat as she was now above him, and then he finally seemed to focus on what was below him, which was not Noviana’s ship.  This allowed new torrent of cursing to eloquently pass his lips as he missed the Smiling Krakken, and would eventually reach the Sun Below.  If the giant oaf had not thrown both of them off of his ship Noviani would have sympathy for him and his eventual fate, but as he did she allowed a small smile to curve on her lips.  Then she steered herself towards her ship, and saw to her relief the pilot Miano was trying to intercept her as well.

Novianai was definitely stunned when she hit the deck, but something about the strange properties of the wood of the ship that allowed it fly also absorbed most of her energy and she did not break any bones when she hit it.  This allowed her to sit up and laugh, as the crew crowded around her.  Donello, her First Mate approached her and held out his hand as he said, “Good job Captain, did you get it?”

She sprung to her feet, ignoring Donello’s hand and laughed a full and rich laugh as she unbuckled her pouch and responded, “Why yes I did,” and brought out from the pouch a large gold necklace festooned with gems of all colors and sizes.  It seemed to sparkle of it’s own accord, like the Allmother herself was contained within.  Not that the prior owner was particularly religious, considering Noviana had met him in a dingy dive bar on a small floating island the day before.  It had not taken long to get into his bed, and then his personal chest and run out to the deck where she had fired her musket into the sky trusting that her crew had been following the Sky’s Embrace as planned.  The powder had burned bright in the night lit only by the Sun Below, and almost immediately her ship that had been trailing far enough away and below to not be spotted moved towards her, but she had not seen the First Mate who immediately knocked her over the side after she fired the signal.

This did not bother her much now, as she was on her ship and the First Mate would soon be burnt to a crisp, or worse.  Her “Uncle” had taught her how to be a Pirate Captain well, and now it was time to pay him back, for a reasonable finder’s fee of course.  “Miano, loose these feeble dogs, and set course for Lofonzo for our meeting with Captain Bloodeyes the Allmother’s Grace.”  Being a Pirate, who stole from Pirates, to sell to other Pirates was always an adventure.  Noviana had avoided any serious consequences so far, and she was sure she would continue to do so.

He woke up feeling empty.

The screams of almost seconds ago were a fading memory, and the pain that had caused them was gone too.  Something called “The Sky’s Embrace” had meant something to him once too, but even that idea faded away.

There was one thought, one image in his mind.  She had red hair, a pouch that he needed back, and aship that was soon to be dead.  A thing with the memories of the First Mate got to his feet and started to climb up from the well he found himself in.  His fingernails tore, and blood slowly leaked on his hands as he moved up to the surface.  He could feel her approaching, and hopefully it would only be days before his fingers could wrap one final time around her laughing throat.



Much of my advice often follows the path of finding a middle between extremes in your styles of writing.  This allows the use of all sorts of techniques that hook some people but not others.  If a particular style you are using does not appeal to someone, if you keep a lot of your writing in between using too little or too much of something they will probably like some other aspect of your writing.  Most readers often fall inbetween this point too, that a lot of what they like to read are techniques used enough to highlight aspects of the book, but not over take it.  Sometimes however, it is both fun and rewarding to throw all the other advice out the window and just write with certain styles and techniques cranked all the way up with no middle ground.

Many popular sub genres fall into one of these extreme writing styles.  For example Pulp writing tends to have very little of the following: dense continuity, character growth, interior monologues – but tend to have lot of action, adventure, and character actions that seem familiar or repetitive (favorite lines or battle techniques, situations that follow similar patterns, familiar types of background characters occur, etc).  By hewing to these extremes of very little of some themes and quite a lot of others a very different writing style can be made.

Another popular sub-genre is POV fantasy books.  This style often goes over the same events through different eyes, with new discoveries made each time.  In this genre inner monologues occur often more than dialog or action, dramatic irony is used very frequently, but pacing is much slower than normal.  Even with only three aspects being more extreme it still sets the tone as something very different than most narratives.

One great way to see what types of writing you like to do with certain aspects over the top is to write short stories. This is better than investing the time into long novels and then realizing you don’t write in that style well.  Another way to experiment with it is to write certain chapters with certain elements ramped to eleven.  The main hero has seen all of her family die, all of her plans go to waste and the person that did it is right in front of her with only a dozen guards standing in her way.  In that case, even if the rest of the chapters have balanced action and dialogue, that specific chapter might have no dialogue at all, and just be one descriptive action scene after another as she hacks her way to the ultimate confrontation.  This technique allows you to use a lack of moderation to enhance only one part of a narrative, without making the whole work done in a specific style.

Going to extremes isn’t something I would recommend without a plan.  I wouldn’t just say to yourself  “I want to do a book with tons of dialogue and a lot of humor, and practically no inner monologues or descriptions at all, just funny witty things said the whole time  and also make it a 1000  page epic!” just to try to create a new genre.  There will be people that like that style of book, but probably much more that will find it off putting.  Also along the lines of above, it is more palatable if only a few things in the book are extreme.  See each aspect of a book (methods of writing, subjects focused on, action to interaction quotient, tone, amount of humor, levels of irony, popular tropes used, etc) as different “dials.”  If only a few dials are ramped up, then it is easier for people to take then the whole book being completely out of the norm to the point of alienation.

So in the end I guess I am recommending even for extreme writing, to have some moderation.  How surprising.

I have not received a lot of complaints about the lack of poll, so I will do without it again.

World Info for Allmother’s Fire:

Travel times between most islands is measured in days or weeks.  There are some large islands that seem to be more out in the periphery which take closer to a month, but those are only gone to very rarely, as the rewards are not normally worth the extra costs of stocking up for months’ worth of supplies for your crew.  Getting to one specific island may take you a month if it follows a different path than yours, but on its way you will probably cross at least 3 or 4 other islands that you can stop and get new supplies.

There are horror stories of those running out of supplies and not even being  able to hook any flying animals enough to get food, but clouds when passing by ships seems to automatically refill barrels if treated right by Woodsingers, so running out of water is never an issue.  The only reasons people would risk going long without supplies is if they have no place they think is a safe haven nearby (which some rather aggressive Air Pirates with notorious ships do) or if exploring for legends.  It is said some where is an island that the true daughters of the Allmother live on, and whoever goes there will receive her blessing.  No one has gone there and returned to tell the tale, even if everyone is sure they heard of a friend of a friend of a friend who thinks they saw that island once.

Interview with Christopher Kellen

Today’s Interview is with Christopher Kellen, the author many books, including the highly popular “The Arbiter Codex.”  I conducted this interview after reading Elegy, and it is not necessary to have read the novel to enjoy the Interview.

MD:      Central to your entire novel is the concept of manna.  It drives everything about the plot and characters of this world.  Can you please describe it, and the things that make it a unique magic/energy source in contrast to things it may be compared to?

Christopher: There are many fantasy stories and worlds that deal with some kind of life force, some central source of energy that wizards or others can draw from. When I began writing ELEGY, my central hypothesis was: what if that life force was actually deadly to everyone it touched? What if it drove them mad, turned them into monsters, outright destroyed them?


After I solidified that idea in my head, I realized that if the good side of the life force (which I decided to call ‘manna’) was deadly, then the bad side must be even worse. If it also had a bad side, there must be someone who was immune to the deadly power.


As of my latest Arbiter Codex book, LEGACY, more about the source of the manna, where it came from and just why it’s so deadly have been revealed, but I’ll avoid going into more detail to avoid spoilers.


MD:        The title of the series is The  Arbiter Codex.  Could explain the roles of Arbiters in this world?

Christopher: Corrupted manna (that is, the ‘bad’ side I mentioned above) creates monsters. It turns normal things into hideous versions of themselves, and has actually nurtured strains of monsters going back generations that have become separate species.


The Arbiter’s job is to hunt down the places where the life force has become snarled. Normally, it flows like a river, but if someone exerts too much force on it, or if someone attempts to hoard it, the power spoils and becomes corrupted. This usually results in a great many terrible things: walking corpses, horrific monsters, and otherwise rational people gone insane. The Arbiters, working from their Tower, seek out those places, destroy the monsters, and return things to normal.


MD:     The Arbiters have a few unique pieces of equipment and the way they interact with manna.  Can you let us know of the heart blade, the manna blade and other things the Arbiters use to carry out their duty?

Christopher: I’ve dreamed about a crystalline sword for a long time. I have story fragments going back ten years or more that feature this particular concept, but none of them worked until I started writing ELEGY. There is heavy color symbolism featured in The Arbiter Codex, and the glow of the crystal manna swords represented it perfectly. It allows them to be instantly recognized, for no normal person could carry the power of the manna so closely to them.


The heartblade came out of a need to explain more about how the Arbiter’s world works. I debated heavily on just what it was that allowed the Arbiter to be immune to the power of the manna. Originally, the plan was for them to have been exposed to the power in small doses starting at a very young age, but that didn’t provide enough of the ‘hopeless world’ feeling that I wanted. Instead, I turned them into addicts; the heartblade is a tiny, needle-like blade that recharges itself over time (from a specific place, not from the manna as a whole) that must be driven into the Arbiter’s heart. It both recharges them and re-ups their immunity to the manna’s deadly influence. Without it, they would die.


MD:       The Pulp influences on your novels is very visible.  Let us know why you love this style of writing, and ways you incorporated it into your novel.

Christopher: I wrote ELEGY in 2008, for National Novel Writing Month. At the time, I had just finished a two-year stint as a graphic designer and formatter for a small press that was working with public domain properties like Tarzan, John Carter, and Lovecraft. During the process, I had learned a lot about the old pulp stories, and got introduced to Howard for the first time. I can’t really describe how immediately and thoroughly Howard’s work spoke to me. Around that time I was also introduced to Karl Edward Wagner, whose Kane stories I also count among my biggest influences, and I also discovered the work of Andrzej Sapkowski, the modern-day pulp writer of The Witcher.


From the moment I began writing, I imagined D’Arden Tal as a combination between Geralt of Rivia (the Witcher himself) and Solomon Kane – a religious zealot who is also an outsider, thought of with suspicion even though he is the only one who can save them.


Reading the pulp stories has led me to where I belong, I think. I’ve grown tired of stories where a ‘farmer’s boy’ finds some magic MacGuffin and saves the world from an overbearing evil. I like it when my characters are already competent before entering the story, when they’re already world-weary or at the top of their game. They face down some horrific evil, and they may change, or they may not. Conan took the crown of Aquilonia, but it never changed him. Wagner’s Kane was an immortal who never changed, no matter what he went through – he was always a magnificent bastard. Those are my favorite characters, and that’s what I’ve been striving for.


MD:      The novel moves along at a very steady pace that makes it hard to put down.  Is there anything specific you did to keep it that way, such as cut things out after your wrote it, make a conscious decision to not write anything that does not directly move the narrative along, etc?

Christopher: Well, I’m definitely glad that you feel that way!


Actually, ELEGY is sort of an interesting beast, because when I wrote it, I struggled for every word; and not in an angsty, ‘it-has-to-be-perfect’ way. For many years, it was very difficult for me to write any work, because they always came up short on the word count. I’d write what I felt was a complete short story and it would be 1,100 words. I’d try for a novel and get 13,000. Thankfully, this has now changed, but at the time it was very difficult.


Honestly, the reason that ELEGY is so tight is because every bit of plot was necessary to keep my words coming to hit the 50,000 goal for NaNoWriMo. In fact, in its first incarnation, ELEGY ended at precisely  50,000 words. I cleaned up a lot of the NaNo-isms and revised it so that it all flows together much more solidly now (and changed the ending significantly, which seems to be a theme for me) and it turned into a very tight, fast-paced (but short) novel.


MD:       Are all your novels set in the same world?  If not where else are they set in, and if so how do they tie together?

Christopher: Ever since I was very young, I’ve dreamed of having a world in which I could set multiple stories, at multiple times, in many different places. A world that I could explore, with characters that I loved.


At last, I think I’ve found that place, although I never expected it to come from where it did. When I wrote ELEGY, it was never supposed to have a sequel. It was just a discarded NaNo project. When I started revising it for submission to a now-defunct webzine, I began to realize that there was more potential in it than I had originally thought. It took a lot of thinking, but I finally decided that I would call the world “Eisengoth” and give it a heavily-Germanic influence.


Right now, I have three series set in this world of mine: The Arbiter Codex, The Elements of Sorcery (book 2 launched July 20, 2012), and Tales of Eisengoth.


The core story is found in the Arbiter Codex. The Elements of Sorcery is exploring the history of one of the secondary characters, the sorcerer Edar Moncrief. The Tales of Eisengoth contain other stories about the world, the characters, and their history.


MD:        The instant feeling a lot of people get when reading your novel is “Conan meets Star Wars.”  How would you describe your series in your own words, and how much of the above description seems true to you?

Christopher: I don’t disagree with that assessment, although the quasi-religious wanderer is inspired less by the Jedi than it is by Solomon Kane. The crystal swords certainly do evoke the idea of the lightsaber, which wasn’t entirely unintentional. I mean, come on. There’s pretty much nothing more awesome than a lightsaber!


Really, though, I like to think of my work as a spiritual aspirant to the great pulp work that has been mostly forgotten. People don’t think of Conan when they think of fantasy (a string of miserable adaptation attempts to bring it into the modern consciousness doesn’t help), they think of Tolkien, and Dragonlance, and Harry Potter (high fantasy, Dungeons-and-Dragons-derived-high-fantasy, and modern fantasy respectively).  I want to bring the idea of heroic fantasy back to life in my work: Howard, with modern sensibilities; and Lovecraft, with just the terrifying monsters, and without the horrifying racism.


MD:       What is your background with writing?  Any formal training, influences, or early projects you did that drive how you write?

Christopher: The only training I have is the thousands of books and stories that I’ve read. I’ve never formally studied the writing process, but I started reading very young, and I’ve never stopped.  I was also very fortunate to get brought into my parents’ D&D group at the tender age of 6, and when my Dungeon Master moved away, I became the DM for my group of friends at about age 12. That started me on the world-building process, and to this day I absolutely love gaming and collaborative storytelling.


Unfortunately, there’s also a downside to that last part: the tropes and methods of role-playing are so deeply ingrained in my consciousness that I often have to struggle against those instincts in order to write!


I started doing NaNoWriMo in 2005, and it was mostly just a way to have some fun during the month of November, since I kind of liked to write (but I would never finish anything that I started). Doing NaNo was really the propulsion that led me toward where I am now, and I would never have done that without my then-girlfriend (now my wife) telling me that I should.


All of those things combined, plus a healthy love for the methods of storytelling, some of Holly Lisle’s no-nonsense writing techniques, a deep desire to communicate, and a lot of encouragement are really what keeps me going.


MD:       Do you have any dream projects you would want to work on? This could include original takes on existing properties, genres you have not written in before, etc.

Christopher: Well, I wrote a science-fiction short story (available as Dutiful Daughter) which I need to turn into a full-blown novel at some point. That’s definitely on the horizon.


I’ve never been overall too comfortable working in other peoples’ worlds or with their characters; I’ve always preferred to work with my own. Still, as a creative exercise a few months ago I re-structured the plot of the video game Mass Effect 3 to fit my sensibilities, and that was a lot of fun as a thought experiment.


Right now, my dream is really to keep learning and growing; to try out different genres and different kinds of stories, and to keep improving my methods. If something else should come up along the way, I’ll take a look at it.


I’d also like to (at some point) do a collaboration with another author. I think working on story genesis with another person would be a lot of fun!


MD:     Do you have any novels coming up?  If so let us know more about them.

Christopher: Well, I just released Sorcerer’s Crime, which is Lesson II of the Elements of Sorcery, on July 20. Right now I’m back in the planning and initial drafting phase for a project which I’m tentatively describing as a ‘steampunk/fantasy political thriller’, which will be significantly different than anything I’ve done before.  Since it’s just in the initial phases, it’s hard to say when(or if, frankly) it might be done.


My short-range plans (next 6 months or so) also include the next entry in the Elements of Sorcery (since short fiction is much easier to write, edit and publish), and then I’ll get started on Book Three of the Arbiter Codex. Farther out than that… who knows?

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