It’s been horribly busy in my life outside of Darkfell, but I did manage to ut up another tutorial. I’ve also been working on re-drawing the first 6 pages of this storyline, since they were done in ball point pen originally. However, this week I did get back on track with new pages, which will start posting soon. Meanwhile, I hope this quick sketch lesson proves helpful.
Another peek into Chapter 1 of Katarina the Dragonslayer and the Secret of Kilara’s Keep…
Siawn fell to the floor coughing blood. He tried to get up, but a heavy boot planted itself firmly on his back. “Don’t bother,” Zendavian said, and looked to the shadowcaster. “Maybe we should try my methods.” He reached for the weapon at his belt.
“I wasn’t going to keep it,” Siawn conceded. “I kept it safe, but the buyer never came for it.” Focus. It’s only pain. No real damage. The curator’s got almost all his weight on me, which means there isn’t much on his other leg. No, he’d probably have his shins armored. Siawn’s looked to the floor behind the counter, just two feet away. Keep them talking.
“The second buyer, you mean,” Zendavian replied. “You killed the first one when you got a better offer from the head of the Farad High Council. Don’t try to deny it. He did, and it disagreed with his health.”
“So if he didn’t send you, and the Repository didn’t—”
The shadowcaster laughed. “You never knew who you were really working for, did you?”
Siawn frowned, and kept slowly reaching for the small square tile in front of him. “In Farad, it’s best not to ask too many questions. You know that.”
“Some would say it is better to look for answers,” the shadowcaster replied. “However, I will say we were pleased that you remained true to form in not investigating the motives and connections of your employer. Not that it would have mattered, since Behúko thought he was working for the Repository, and that silly goat of a Faradi politician thought he was in business for himself.”
Siawn looked up at his captors. “Huacal, then.” This is worse than I thought. If Huacal is involved, then …
“Now, I’m sure you have some manner of failsafe in place. Right now you are probably thinking that you will set it off once we try to make you open that little safe-box of yours, and that you’ll be able to escape with the goods. You are wrong on both counts.”
“You’ll kill me just as soon I hand it over.” Just a bit more. I can almost reach it.
The shadowcaster waved a bandaged hand carelessly. “And as much as Zendavian would like to kill you, that isn’t what we came here to do. Get him off the floor. I tire of looking down.”
Zendavian seized the elf by the scruff of the neck and hauled him to his feet. Siawn cursed inwardly and flexed his fingers. There’s still the trigger by the safe. Then I have to get Mika and make for the Hollow. I have no friends there, but they’re oathbound to protect one of their own. “You’ll leave me alone after you collect it, then? I’ve no desire to be involved further with Huacal or his order. I’ve made a good life in this place.”
“I wish I could believe that you’d hand it over so easily,” the shadowcaster said. “In any case, that decision is neither yours nor mine to make, nor is it Huacal’s. You have served a higher purpose even than that of the ku’ja, though you knew it not.” Seeing the elf’s confused look, he added, “The service of the Stone Prophets is not to be cast aside.”
“The Stone Prophets left thousands of years ago,” Siawn replied. “I’ve heard they can’t come back.”
“And yet the holiest of their kind remain with us, few in number but potent, and generous rewarders of those who serve,” the shadowcaster said. “Huacal is but one of the faithful, as are we. Faithless though you may be for now, you have been of some use to us, and we may have further use for you.”
Siawn gave the shadowcaster a contemptuous look and spat on the floor. “You speak of the tomach’nar?”
The shadowcaster rippled with darkness and clenched a fist in Siawn’s direction. The elf’s body convulsed with agony, and Zendavian let him fall retching to the floor.
“Do not ever call our masters by that name again, you misbegotten child of the woods. I do not have leave to kill you without need, but I can acquaint you with torments you could not imagine while sparing your life.” The shadowcaster looked to the back room, and his tone brightened. “Now get up. You have a safe to open, and we have a great destiny to fulfill.”
Siawn rose to his feet, holding on to the doorway for support. “The Stone Prophecy,” he rasped. “Is that what this is about?”
“I’m surprised that you know anything of it,” the shadowcaster said as Zendavian shoved the elf into the back room. “Yes. Now open the safe.”
Siawn rapped on the wall. He winced as he pulled the door open. I’m bleeding inside. Not fatal, but it will take weeks to mend, and could easily get worse.
The shadowcaster gasped, and Zendavian let out a long, slow whistle. A dark stillness washed over the room. “Yes, it is true,” the shadowcaster said at last. “The cornerstone of them all,” he whispered. “He who opens the secrets of the deepest dark is filled with light.”
Siawn shuddered. “You know what it is, then.”
“And you only think you know,” the shadowcaster replied. “It is far more than what you suspected. It is not just any riyschia of the Stone Prophets, but I am not at all surprised that you could find no use for it except to gawk at it like a dimwitted child. ”
The elf held his tongue but smiled inwardly. I have a use for it alright. And I’ll find a way to get it back from you before you reach Harkad. I have to time this just right.
Zendavian took out a square leather pouch and clipped it to his belt. He shouldered Siawn aside and gingerly lifted the cage by its handle at the top. As he opened the pouch, Siawn could see that it was lined with a heavy silver mesh. Zendavian slipped the box into the pouch. “You won’t be paid, of course,” he said with a smirk as he snapped the pouch shut. “We should kill him.”
“There’s no need,” the shadowcaster replied. As the power of the riyschia faded from the room, the dark aura that clung to him flared outward in thick tendrils, and the shadowcaster looked toward the doorway and sniffed. “There’s a residue here,” he said. “You smell it, don’t you, Zendavian?”
“Sure,” he replied. He jerked a thumb toward Siawn. His other hand stayed close to his weapon. “All Melloren elves have magic, though his isn’t much to speak of.”
“No, you fool!” The shadowcaster’s hand stroked the doorway, leaving it stained. “His magic is concealed, smothered under a piddling construct woven into a garment, or some such nonsense. I ought to have noticed it sooner. This is different, stronger. It seems weak, but only because we assumed it was coming from him, that it is the residue of someone who is here all the time.”
Zendavian took a half step toward Siawn, who did not move. “If it’s from someone who was only here briefly, then it’s strong— really strong.” He looked around. “It feels similar to Huacal’s.
“Yes!” The shadowcaster stomped his foot and cursed. “Those reports everyone dismissed were true. She’s been here.”
“She?” Zendavian raised an eyebrow.
“The Pelethite child were were told about last spring,” the shadowcaster replied. “There was some rumor that it was she who killed the Sun Dragon, but no one believed it, and we’ve had no spies among the dragons of the Covenant for some time, so we could hardly confirm it.”
“I don’t see how this matters,” Zendavian said. “We got what we came for. If Huacal wants to capture her or kill her, let him send someone else. I don’t work for Huacal.”
“There is more at stake here than what Huacal wants.” The shadowcaster pulled a small vial from his cloak and drank the contents. “The Stone Prophets themselves have an interest in this girl, and I mean to see that interest well-served.”
“I’m still not interested.” Zendavian’s voice eased into a tone that was calm and yet filled with threat. “Remember our arrangement.”
Never mind, then.” the shadowcaster said. He waved a hand dismissively at the huge man and stepped through the doorway. “I’ve no doubt that those fools who came with us on are on her track as we speak, looking to collect a reward of which they are unworthy. Stay here. We will decide what to do with this fool when I return.”
The room grew less dark as the shadowcaster left the shop. Zendavian took another half step toward Siawn, who sidled his way closer to the safe. “Maybe you’d like to try something,” he said in a friendly tone. “Maybe you tried to make a run for it and I had to kill you. Or maybe I just don’t care.” He leaned in toward the elf.
Siawn leaned against the wall and tried to mask his eagerness.For a moment, he considered his wife. I’ll come back for her after I kill this mongrel and secure the riyschia. “Maybe I don’t care, either,” he said, and reached for the pouch in a flash of movement.
Zendavian was faster. He knocked Siawn’s hands aside and delivered a open-handed strike to the side of the elf’s head. Siawn, crumpled to the floor under the safe, and Zendavian laughed. “Did you really expect to be able to pull that off?”
“No, but I had to try.” And I had to really let you hit me for it to be convincing. Siawn passed his palm over a blue tile. A section of the floor swung downward, and Siawn rolled into the darkness as the failsafe erupted, engulfing the shop —and Zendavian— in sheets of green flame.
In recent months, I had the privilege of making encountering Matt Posner throughTwitter, and I have to say I’m glad that I did. His School of the Ages series gives us a fresh, and beautifully written look into a different take on magic and fantasy fiction, and I believe he’s bound to become on of the true masters of the genre. As if that were not enough, this brilliant writer has of late been working a project for a great cause: Kindle All-Stars 2: Carnival of Cryptids, a charity anthology, with all proceeds going to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
Be sure to download your copy, and keep up with him at the School of the Ages website!
Follow him on Twitter: @SchooloftheAges
Visit his Amazon page HERE.
1. First things first. Who are you, where are you from, and do you still ring people’s doorbells and run away? (just kidding on that last bit, unless of course that was you).
I’m Matt Posner, a teacher from New York. I’m originally from Miami, Florida, but now firmly settled living in Queens and working in Brooklyn. When I was younger, I followed the dream of being a novelist like all the authors I read in the 1980s, such as Piers Anthony, Fred Saberhagen, Alan Dean Foster, David Eddings, Stephen R. Donaldson. Life intervened, as it does, and I wound up in a union teaching job in NYC, where I will remain till I am old or a millionaire. I don’t ring people’s doorbells and run away, but only because I can’t run that fast.
2. How would you describe your work to someone who hasn’t yet read it?
I write in any genre I feel like. Most of my work lately has been for young people, which is an obvious fit because that way I can write books like the ones I loved as a kid. The School of the Ages series is about a magic school in NYC, but it’s multicultural and has good world-traveling elements too. I’m a little burned-out on dark lords and such, so I am writing a series which essentially overlays magic upon real-life situations and real-life feelings. I have also co-written Teen Guide to Sex and Relationships, in which Jess C. Scott and I try to share our knowledge and ideas to help young people with the most challenging questions they face in managing their romantic and physical relationships.
3. If you were on a major talk show to promote your work, what would you want the show’s theme to be?
I think a major talk show appearance should focus on Teen Guide, which brings together a wide range of questions into a single volume, questions that a lot of adults aren’t willing to tackle these days without pushing particular agendas.
4. Every writer has a story behind how they started out. What’s yours?
I was born with the instinct for narrative. Even my play with toys was cinematic. My toys were consistent characters who had ongoing adventures. I’m talking about when I was six and seven and eight. I read voraciously, sometimes two to three books a day on days off from school, and absorbed the lessons of literature through aggressive osmosis. It pretty much comes naturally to me now. When I started doing it, I already knew how to do it and it was just refinement and maturity I needed.
5. How did the idea for School of the Ages come into being?
I was working in a yeshiva high school and I saw that the job was going to end and I thought, “I need to write something commercial.” I had been kicking around an idea for a novel with a wizard and a few apprentices embedded somewhere in the world doing missions that involved interacting with cryptids (sasquatch, Nessie) that would turn out to be nature spirits not living animals. But I had learned so much about the odd culture of Mishnaic Judaism that I wanted to use it in my next book, so I made my wizard and apprentices into a school that was half Orthodox or Chasidic Jews and half non-religious. This is why the first book, The Ghost in the Crystal, has a lot of material from obscure Jewish texts. The shocking event at the end was still fresh in my mind when I was writing it; some object to it, but at least one person has been positively moved. I still cry myself when I read that part. The book took seven years to finish, so it wasn’t that quick cash opportunity I was hoping for, but at least it’s out there now, and I can see ahead to the time the series is finished and I can start something else.
Once I had my roster of characters established, I moved forward to seek other unusual ideas to make adventures for my young magicians. Book two, Level Three’s Dream features themes of learning disability and Alice in Wonderland. Book three, The War Against Love, is full of kick-ass battles among magicians (adult and student) elementals, and monsters, with a strong romantic plot and a lot of European travels. Book four, which I will publish this summer, is all about India, modern and ancient. Book five uses Islamic themes and mythology.
6. Every writer’s got their own creative process. Some are orderly and even OCD, others can be very chaotic. How does yours work out?
I’m chaotic. I write in notebooks which are widely scattered, and my second draft consists of typing up the notebook. I have in the past written multiple novels in the series at once, although as I have only two books left, that is less the case now and I am mostly on book four with only the occasionally dipping of the narrative toe into book five. As a younger writer, I used to get stuck at a particular point and not write till I broke the block. I decided at a certain point that I would rather just work on whatever part I have creative flow to work on and assemble the fragments later. Usually I can fix the seams fairly easily when typing up. I recently started using Scrivener, which suits this style of writing because it lets me keep the incomplete parts compartmentalized till I have finished them.
7. The dialogue in your work, in Ghost in the Crystal, for example, is very sharp and authentic. Can you give us some detail as to how you developed your ear for how people speak, and how your writing grew in this area since you started?
Thanks for the compliment, Sam. Back at you – as I’ve said before, your characters in the Darkfell stories speak what Lin Carter called “the authentic elfland accent.” Where does my ear for dialogue come from? I can only speculate. I know my mother read books aloud to me when I was a toddler, so that probably helped with character voice. I also think a lot of this skill comes from watching well-written TV comedies in the 1970’s and 1980’s, such as All in the Family, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and Barney Miller. Most of my comedic dialogue comes from Lewis Carroll, Woody Allen, and Monty Python. So in summary, it’s all osmosis.
Me, Interrupting: I just KNEW Monty Python had to be in there!
8. I have to admit, I love beginnings (I have quite a few written myself for books I may not even write). Is there a particular beginning to one of your books that you’re especially proud or fond of?
I like the opening of book 3, The War Against Love, in which I aspired to a more intense lyricism than my usual narrative voice, by having Simon reflect, after the fact, upon the sadness of the story he was about to tell and talk about the nature of the universe.
Book 4 is not published yet, but I am doing this again, with an opening modeled on the opening of Huckleberry Finn, which points toward a series of picaresque (not picturesque) adventures Simon has during the story.
9. What would you say is the most important thing you’ve learned about writing over the years?
I’ve mostly stopped kicking myself about not being an all-rounder in fictional technique, and now I am content to exploit my strengths fully (dialogue, character development, plotting) and accept that I cannot match some writers’ strength in other areas (descriptive writing, elaborate focus upon observational minutiae). Not that I’m bad at anything, you understand. It’s just that some parts of technique come naturally and others take intense focus and concentration to achieve, and, well, fuck it.
10. Is there a genre you haven’t yet tried but would like to try in the future? If so, why?
I would like to try many genres. I’ve made plans to collaborate on a mystery with Jess C. Scott, but we’re both too busy with other projects, so we haven’t started it yet. I think mystery and thriller have large audiences into which I would like to tap.
I will certainly write more nonfiction also.
11. What got you writing your first novel?
I was in seventh grade in a gifted class and had to come up with a long-term project. So I decided to write a “novel.” That means that I made a commitment to be a writer when I was twelve: fairly early, I guess. The resulting project was only 80 pages and was too much like Star Wars for its own good, but it was enough to proven that I had chosen the right path for myself. Since it exists only in a typescript I don’t have at hand, I can’t share any with you, but when I find it, I’ll get it scanned/OCR’d as an interesting artifact.
12. What are you working on now, and where do you see your writing going in the next ten years?
Right now I am working on the promotional launch for Kindle All-Stars 2: Carnival of Cryptids. This is a charity anthology, with all proceeds going to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. It’s the brainchild of bestselling novelist Bernard Schaffer, and features seven stories about mysterious animals, all by working pros. My particular story is about an underground TV cooking show in which the flesh of the animals is cooked, and each chef eliminated gets attacked by knife-wielding children. It’s violent, gross, and also snarky and funny in ways I can’t be in School of the Ages.
Besides this, I am working on School of the Ages 4: Simon Myth. Very hard book to write. I am seeking such an epic scope as far as plot and characters that I have been feeling overwhelmed by the magnitude and left it alone a lot. But now I write at least a few lines per day, and that does add up. By summer it should be ready.
13. Of the whole process of writing a novel, what is your favorite part? Your least favorite?
My favorite part of writing a novel occurs when I write a scene of either emotion or action that I find moving and exciting. The feeling of being “in the zone” makes me high while in process and then pleasingly drained afterwards. My least favorite part is formatting, because MS Word is the most awful tool for formatting that can be humanly imagined. Ever try to remove tabs? Can’t do it. The software is designed so that they persist and there is no way to clear them, ever, ever, ever, even by using those tools that purport to be able to do so. And when you convert Word with tabs to another format, the tabs unpredictably change. Sometimes they indent extra, sometimes they vanish. I just don’t understand why the software is written so poorly.
14. In writing, it’s often said ‘show, don’t tell.’ Some would say that there is a place for telling, for a narrative voice distinct from the characters in the story. What’s your take?
I came out of the academic fiction departments of two southern state universities, Florida State (Go Noles) and Alabama-Tuscaloosa (Roll Tide) both of which firmly indoctrinated me in ‘show, don’t tell.’ It’s all very Hemingwayesque. But you know what? Hemingway may have been a great writer, but we don’t all have to write like him. His own contemporaries of equal statue, Faulkner and Fitzgerald, certainly did not. And Raymond Carver, who is intermediary between big H and us, and who carried the banner of ‘show, don’t tell’ to my generation, was not really that kind of writer at all: it was his editor at New Yorker, Gordon Lish, who cut his prose to be so reticent and tight. Telling, and lyricism in general, may be back in vogue. Cormac McCarthy, whose writing style is staggeringly mighty, is like the honey badger where this maxim is concerned: he doesn’t give a shit. Salman Rushdie? All subjective voice. Jhumpa Lahiri? Pages and pages of telling not showing, brilliant and moving storytelling. (She’s also luminously beautiful, by the way.) And so on and so on.
Me, interrupting again: I’m digging the Honey Badger, but now picturing one hammering a way at a typewriter and chomping a cigar.
A young writer reading this had better damn well master the ‘show, don’t tell’ style, which is fundamental to success in both genre and literary writing; however, if you have it firmly under your belt, feel free to try out telling also.
15. For many writers, there have been some events, incidents, and life milestones which have been critical to how we develop in our craft. Tell us, if you will, about one such incident in your life.
When I did my tour of duty in Viet Nam, I… (cough cough) Okay, that war ended when I was a toddler. The loss of my parents was… (cough cough) No, they’re both still living and teaching music lessons in Durham, NC. Wait, wait. When I made my first million, I had to sacrifice my… (cough, cough) No, still middle class.
Seems like, notwithstanding personal traumas and learning experiences with no broader dramatic implication, I just read a lot and wrote a lot. I have my Gladwellian 10,000 hours, and that’s the explanation. If only I had 10,000 hours in book marketing also!
Me, once again: Wow, 10,000 hours already? People are usually in their 50s by the time they hit 10,000 hours.
16. Where do your characters come from? Are they in part based on real people in any way, or are they more the children of your mind?
I always say that all my characters are me, including the villains. A person may inspire me by giving me a particular feeling, but the resulting character is not a pastiche of the person. Rather, the character reflects my feelings about that person.
This may translate oddly when one looks at a particularly horrendous character. For example, I have a vicious creep in The War Against Love — a snooty French Nazi. He calls himself “The Connoisseur” and uses expressions like “you dirty Jew.” Those things, clearly, are not my personality. I chose Nazis as the villains in the book specifically because it is so easy to celebrate when they are killed. But I think it would be freeing to act superior and condescending, as The Connoisseur does, just as a way to release frustration at the way people disappoint you in life. I can’t do it, because I’m a moral and empathetic person, but I can certainly imagine doing it, and that’s good enough.
17. You’re from New York, Queens in particular, and the life of your city comes through in your work. Tell us something we might not know about New York that found its way into your fiction.
Queens Hospital Center, located at 164th street between Union Turnpike and the Grand Central Parkway, is as active and busy as any hospital in Manhattan. I used to live across the street from there and to compete with nurses and orderlies for parking near my apartment. At the time, you could walk on a ramp between buildings of the hospital to get to the bus stops on 164th. That walk gave me an eerie feeling early in the morning.
18. What are you reading right now?
I read The New Yorker magazine as my primary source of intellectual content across genres. Besides that, I mainly read indie authors who I actually know. It happens that I have J.K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy on my desk as well, although I had to take a break after the first fifty pages, and when I returned to the book, I had forgotten who the characters were. Very dense book. Well-written, but dense. So I have to start over.
19. Is there any advice you’d give to other writers?
Don’t expect to make a living at it. Very few people do anymore. The majority of us indies use our books as supplemental income. You need a job that pays what you need to live well, and you need the heart and guts to keep working and publishing for no reward and not much recognition.
Publishers do not have your best interests at heart. They will screw you, either on purpose for their profit, or because they don’t give a flying purple fart about anyone but their star authors, or because they are poor and get in over their heads, or because they are bumblers.
Literary agents only care about big hit books. They don’t care about the midlist because their percentage of such books doesn’t give them life-sustaining income. If your book isn’t a celebrity blockbuster, they will resist signing you, using some bullshit code language like “I really have to believe in something before I can sell it.” Agents who offer to sign unknown authors should be checked out thoroughly to make sure they are really honest and legitimate and have a track record. In other words, don’t trust an agent who would take you as a client.
20. Is there anything specific you’d want to say to your readers?
First, I’m happy to hear from readers. I have many public venues where you can talk to me, and I tend to respond, and I’m thankful to those who have a good word about my writing.
Second, if you like one of my books, please review it on Amazon or wherever you bought it, or in your blog, or anywhere people will see your review. Indies like me, with no advertising budget, have to rely on word of mouth to find their readers.
Third, please consider buying the upcoming anthology Kindle All-Stars 2: Carnival of Cryptids, as described above. All the money goes to charity, and you will enjoy what you read, which makes you a winner all around. It should be for sale by the end of the month.
It’s been a while since I’ve blogged, and for this I apologize. It’s been beyond hectic, with my car dying, my getting sick, and then managing to injure my drawing hand as I now have done at this time of the year for the third year in a row. I have however, set my mind on the various stories going on during this season of apparent setbacks, and so while I’ve not written or drawn very much, a great deal has gotten ‘done’ in the sense of some of the subtler aspects of where the stories are going. I’ll admit that writing about Katarina at 22 years old, going on an adventure with Gladden while at the same time writing about her at age 12 is challenging, even frustrating at times. I went in this direction initially to give myself a sort of target in respect to where Katarina’s personality was going, since the novels start with her at 11 years old or so. I still think it was the best decision; it’s just tricky switching between the two.
I’ve been stuck in chapter 1 of the second novel for a good while now, though I suspect that once I get past the final scene and rewrite some of the earlier ones, the next few chapters should go by pretty quickly. In fact, with Katarina the Dragonslayer and the Foebreaker’s Curse, most of the the book was written from May to July, including a rewrite of the first chapter and a lot of editing… so there is hope
For the curious, Book 2, Katarina the Dragonslayer and the Secret of Kilara’s Keep is where the storyline starts to get a bit more complex, and Kat begins to know a bit more of the world as the affairs of the Empire, the intrigues of the Stone Prophets, and the scheming ways of one badly behaved elf come together to unravel the ancient mysteries of the ancient Pelethite Stronghold. We’ll also get to see more of how magic works in their world, and there will be some revelations about who the Stone Prophets were and what they’re up to.
May the Maker find you fighting,