Cover Concepts: Visualizing a Theme

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If there is one thing I am guilty of in my writing (ok, there are quite a few, but one specifically that I take a small amount of pride in), it is my attempts to tie a number of individual stories into one powerful theme.  I feel that cover art should be the reader’s first opportunity to recognize that theme because quite contrary to popular opinion (and possibly contrary to good sense) we most certainly do judge a book by its cover.  So when I go about sketching my crude designs for a cover I know that not only does the art need to connect with the story, it has to tell the story with a single glance.

The cover for Master of the House essentially ends up being one of those portraits that wealthy families or corporations commission of their important people to denote success. It is a snapshot in time that says, “Look here.  We are powerful and we will be remembered.”  Master of the House is a hard luck story of people overcoming adversity and their own failings even as the world around them descends into very dark times.  The book itself ends with a warning about how bad things will be for them going forward.  In a sense, the cover art, the portrait of those characters is the high water mark for their success amid the criminal empire of Seaside.  It also hopefully begs the question of the reader as to how the guy in the suit gets to be the one with power when surrounded by such obviously dangerous individuals.

Now we come to the sequel, House of Cards and the dire warning left for things to come:

No one, could have foreseen how quickly the delicate house of cards we had built would fall apart.

We were set against a creature whose designs on the world included the death of a God.

We would not escape unscathed.

Now I edited that slightly to avoid any real chance for spoilers, but between that passage and the title of the book, the reader knows things are about to fall apart.  The over arching story and the saga in Seaside in particular use the progression of the Fool in Tarot readings for its symbolism in accordance with growth and struggle.  With that being the case and this book being about a massive reversal of fortunes, I devised a cover scheme that would mimic the traditional callings of the Wheel of Fortune cards in Tarot decks.

Let’s go ahead and look at the first draft layout sent to me by my artist Josh.

HoC Rough Draft

So, the first thing to keep in mind is that this is a draft (a damn good one, but still a draft).  A few things, like the center character image, are only place holders.  Likewise, the character in the lower right corner just ended up disturbing the composition of the piece and was later removed.  Let’s talk about the symbolism for a moment and the not so obvious things.

One thing that I like in particular here, is the complicated steam and gear mechanics in the background.  The technology of this world is rooted in steampunk concepts and tropes, but it is played subtly, as if it is just something to accept.  The steampunk stylings are not the core concept of this world, but because there are some major technological intrusions in this story, I felt that placing the hint of it all there to be seen after the fact was a nice touch.  Especially because the actual wheel of fortune in this instance is a gear.  When the significance of this is revealed late into the book, I think anyone who notices all this will get look back with one of those ‘ah ha’ type moments.

Fortune-JacksonNow, the Wheel of Fortune is the card or event that symbolizes a turning point, the rise and fall of people and forces via events beyond our control.  Depending on the time period, the artist, and the style; the card will always depict a few central characteristics.  A heavenly presence, a central figure in or controlling the wheel (usually Fortuna), and one person rising on the wheel while another falls.

Knowing that this is the story about how things fall apart, there are some ominous tidings already in the cover that an attentive reader will pick up on.  Envy is clearly at the center of the wheel, marking her influence on the events that have transpired or will transpire.  Worse yet, is that the heavenly figure is replaced by a dragon who looms over every thing below, both good and evil.  Yet still through it all, despite his haggard appearance, it is Julian who is rising on the wheel of fate, showing that while things are certainly not good, hope has not yet died.

Of course, that leaves the fate of the character on the other side of the wheel entirely in question.  Someone is falling from grace while Julian is rising out of the fires.  Blame has to fall somewhere for such an occurrence and when your villains are incarnations of sin…we can be sure that the heroes will be held responsible somehow.

tarot-art-nouveau-italiano_MLA-O-89844479_8856So what of style?  The last cover held a very detailed, very oil painting like quality that marked the pomp and circumstance of Julian’s Syndicate.  This cover will diverge from that significantly.  After carefully considering the options and discussing the matter with Josh, we agreed that an art nouveau style was the perfect way to implement the sweeping changes that the picture was to depict.  I’m told that unruly lines and curves denote this style and that fit perfectly into my desire to see a cover that was more or less out of control (and to color outside the lines).

This example of art nouveau to the left captures the colorful movement and lack of crisp boundaries that we’re moving towards with the cover for House of Cards.

Stepping away from the thematic now, I thought it might be fun to give a look into how or why characters look the way they do and the way in which the discussion with your cover artist can influence that look.  For this example, I’m going to use Envy as the character in question.  I like to start general with the description, hitting the important notes and then working from there.  So, this was my initial description of Envy:

EnvyShe should look enticing, sexy even.  My idea is for her to be in a slender green dress that accentuates everything, blonde hair with sharp elven features.

One thing that I really have to point out here, and something that Josh would probably note as well, Envy aside, I have purposely avoided selling these covers to the audience by sleazing up the female cast members.  I really can’t stand the books that sell their story through the image of a female knight baring a midriff or who wears thigh high boots sans pants.  Point being, when I purposely noted that this charcter was meant to be alluring, it is to accentuate the fact that she is a Deadly Sin.

What I got back in regards to Envy’s distinct look was varied and provided a great range of choices.  Let’s look at them now, starting with the ones least fitting and ending with the option I eventually chose.

Envy3e

Let’s call this the “coy tom-boy” look.  To me, this is a very specific kind of appeal that doesn’t exactly hit the legendary beauty or temptation mark.  She is also somewhat more aware and smug than I wanted to show here.  The eyes and expression show off a threat that the heroes might understand, but is too well defined in the context of the story for now.

Envy2d

Here we encounter the same issue as before.  She is too assured, too outwardly dangerous or smug.  The most dangerous thing about this villain is her ability to use your own failings against you.  It is difficult to think that the clever character in the book woudl not immediately recognize this kind of character as dangerous.  In my mind, this was the “Spider Queen” look, very suitable for other ideas, just not right for this one.

Envy1aThis picture here, which I think of as the “Vallejo” look, is a perfect example of how your own discussion or idea can go just a bit too far in one direction despite being exactly what you were looking for.  The larger image of Envy here is enticing and she has that classic fantasy beauty to her.  It’s a great image, but it is also not exactly what I was looking for.  She’s cold and distant despite being attractive.  That being said, I almost went with this one because I am certain that colored in pastels, it would look amazing…

Envy1c

A surprise runner up, yet completely out of contention, I love this “Wild Child” look.  It was not Envy.  I knew that as soon as I saw it, but at the same time, I knew that this look could and should be recaptured for some other characters, likely the Shadow Elves.  She’s not prisitine enough here and there’s too much nature in the hair and gentle eyes.  I would love to use this as a base for other elven characters, especially the heroic ones.  She’s just not evil enough for Envy.

Envy1bAnd now we arrive at the chosen entry to represent Envy on the cover of House of Cards.  This particular look at her really captures the essense of this complex villain and her venomous allure.

This example nails the classic beauty ideal head on.  The slight tilt of her head and focused eyes portray the idea that she is considering her subject but do not betray the dark intent behind those thoughts.  Further, there is an innocence displayed here that in my mind, differs from the previous example with the “Wild Child”.  The innocent glance here is almost practiced, purposeful even.  This is a woman who has learned to destroy people by suggesting it to them as a best course of action, not someone who has to compell or force her victims into ruin.  When I think of dangerous beauty, this is where it takes me.

Thanks for taking a look at the design process and thanks to Josh Beach for allowing me to use some of the draft material in the discussion.  I hope to preview the cover a little bit prior to the book’s release this month.

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Weekend Edition Part 8: Those Characters That Stick With You…

I read some comics during my youth.  I never really got into them on account of the cost and the fact that I was one of those kids who did not really get an “allowance”.  The reason I mention this is because I think a lot of people who find interest in the fantasy fiction genre kind of get their start with comic books.

For me, it was something else entirely.  Right around the time High School began for me a collectible card game called Legend of the Five Rings came about.  It’s a game about samurai and feudal civil war with a strong mix of the fantastic thrown in.  Players take on the various factions and the decisions the players make over the course of the game’s life have ramifications on the characters within.

With some urging from a friend of mine, I took up the Crane Clan, a group based on politics and art…in a game where brutal military force was the best option early on.  Well, the champion of this faction was a character named Doji Hoturi.  He was a samurai of refinement, arrogance, culture, and ultimately…a force for good.

Because the majority of other players disliked the Crane and especially Hoturi, the game itself turned on him.  Hoturi was cast down, vilified, and hunted.  Those who represented the Crane knew that Hoturi was a character who was getting a bad shake.

For three years we watched and waited.  The story and the game played out and still we waited.  In that time we learned the reasons why this plot had been hatchet against him and it made the character and story all the more tragic.  The truth of the matter was that he had been made to suffer for inadvertently killing his own son, whom he was entirely unaware of.

The end of Hoturi’s story results in his death, but not before accounts are settled, relationships reconciled, and his story is concluded.

Conclusion.

It’s the difference for me.  It’s the finalized story.  The punctuation that makes the character relevant.  I mentioned comics at the beginning of this.  I actually loved the X-Men cartoon during middle school and later on during college I would eventually read all those comics I missed out on.  In some ways they were very relevant still.

The difference is that those stories never really end.  They drag on.  They re-boot.  They find a way to continue with the status quo and in doing so, nothing you read really has any lasting impact.

Hoturi’s story mattered to me.  It stuck with me far longer than any other exploit of a character because it was final, real, and the time invested reading and following mattered for something.

I think this has been something of a guiding principal for me over the course of writing and creating my own characters and story.  There has to be a willingness to let characters go, to fail, to die because that’s what makes them stay in your mind after they’re story is gone or done.

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New character profiles added

As of today I have began updating the site with information pertaining to The New Potential.

The two small updates on the site are for the characters Eric Sturgg and LeLayhilani.  I have yet to really nail a format down for these pages so they may evolve over time to something I am more content with.  For now they serve as a brief bio and introduction with a little of what went into the process for creating/designing the character.

I’m sure this sort of thing will be looked at more carefully when and if I manage to get these books out to market.  ^_^”

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Another Day and New Potential

The story begins here.

This week saw the culmination of a project began earlier this year.  My follow up work to Master of the House finished its initial draft.  Initially the book was to be titled “Children of the New Potential”.  I’ve decided to change that and use the series title along with a shorten version of that tentative title. That being said, I am happy to announce Legacy of Shadow: The New Potential (TNP) is complete and ready to face the challenges of the market.

So, how do I explain this book?  TNP is the story of a group of characters who make a similar decision to walk away from the lives they are leading into the unknown.  Each of the characters does this for a different reason but as they end up on the same path, together they are given a warning that the answers each of them seeks rest at the top of a frozen mountainous wasteland at the top of the world.  Over the course of a week these characters fight against the forces pursuing them, against their own fears, and against the fear of passing the point of no return.

Laylani is an Elf of Deep Shadow who has taken up a burden that was not her own.  Her arrival in Britania spells doom for its people and spreads fear that the City State is under attack from the undead forces at its door.  She has come seeking refuge after her failures in the northern lands.  Laylani finds no refuge in Britania but manages to regain control of her destiny and perhaps the friends who will see her through it.

Eric is a Templar in the service of Britania.  He is smart, skillful, and has a promising career ahead of him however a nagging sense of worthlessness and isolation leave the warrior feeling as if there should be something more.  When he comes face to face with Laylani and senses something familiar and kindred in the supposed threat to his homeland, it becomes the catalyst that will either ruin his life or save his soul.

Vavian is a free-wielding mage who works and lives outside the control of Britania’s Magi Guild.  He is a sought after criminal.  He is a threat to the social order.  He knows what the Guild has in store for the downtrodden of Britania.  Using the chaos around Laylani’s arrival to move on his own plans, he becomes hopelessly wrapped up in a struggle that he could have never imagined.

Dempsy is a wealthy ‘Copter pilot with a keen eye and a strong distaste for the law.  He plans to help Vavian escape Britania and life a life of comfort, ease, and coin but when his friend returns to him and reveals that their plans have changed, Dempsy has a choice to make.

I never could have imagined how difficult writing this book would be.  It was not that the actual writing, typing, and plotting were hard, overcoming doubt was the challenge.  Master of the House lent itself to an ever tightening plotline and left plenty of room for character evolution.  TNP is a lead off book, meant to spark a whole series but still be self contained.

I had to capture a world, introduce new characters, justify motivation…  Of course every book does this.  I’m not complaining, not at all.  What I wish to express here is that this book is the first step in a bigger story.  This overall story is something I have captured in my mind and now had to find a way to condense the important parts into an opening act.

I was not even sure I liked my own characters as I wrote the book.  That’s a hard pill to swallow.  (Rest assured they ARE awesome and the book turned out great.)  It’s simply that when you are inside a story, crafting it and setting the stage for later, you know who these characters WILL be.  As you write them, you see them only as they are on the first page or first chapter and it feels wrong.

The further along I traveled in this book, the better it felt.  Not only were my own fears unjustified but many of them were incorrect too.

I plan to do some site expansion and add information about these characters in the coming weeks.  I will also post my query that I will send out for this book for anyone to see and comment on.

I should really take a lesson from Dempsy.  He pretty much nailed it:

 “You can never bake the same cake twice. That’s a life lesson. Don’t forget it.”


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Giving It Away

Character knowledge versus reader knowledge, what is the proper balance?

The title of this post references the idea of giving away your “catch” in a story.  How does the author do this?  When is the right time for the author to drop knowledge?  When one character is in possession of more information than others, how long can the author strike a balance between giving away the major plot points and keeping a reader interested?

Complicating the matter further, at the beginning of a complex narrative, how does the author establish a basic understanding with the reader for the book to move forward?

These were all easy questions for me to answer when writing Master of the House.  That book being heavily character based allowed me to pair up the reader with Julian from the beginning.  As the reader developed questions, so did Julian.  There was parity there.  To keep things interesting for the reader, to keep them feeling intelligent and as if they were in a superior position, Dori would reveal other information in scenes apart from the main cast.  Turnbill also served this purpose but in a contrasting way and after the crux of the conflict was revealed, Envy participates in this dialog with the reader as well.  From a writing standpoint, the questions at the beginning of this post were never an issue.

Now, my follow up work, tentatively titled Children of the New Potential, faces a far more challenging method for delivering information and foreshadowing.

In this new book, I have the challenge of informing the reader of a vast and sweeping plot/concept and at the same time, I have characters who are learning the same things as the characters.  The difficulty comes in how to deliver plot information and still have it be believable.  This applies both to the reader and characters as well.

I am working within a fantasy realm here and the crux of any issue has to be…well, fantastic.  Trying to preserve character motivation and rationality in this environment is difficult.  If one character reveals critical information but does it such that it is presented flatly as an explanation, it sounds crazy.  I don’t mean “crazy” to the reader, they are reading a fantasy novel and have already suspended their disbelief.  I mean that a character is just as likely to say, “Right, right, end of the world…dragons, wizards, threat to all mankind… Piss off you crazy kook” as they are to say, “Let me go get my sword”.

So, to move a complicated plot forward, information has to be presented in a sane manner to the characters so that the reader can understand their motivation in context of the situation.  Think about Star Wars.  Even with Luke’s desire to leave his home planet, Obi Wan’s initial offer to travel away for adventure is rejected as “impossible”.  Only when it is shown that Luke has nothing to stay around for because his family has been killed does he make the decision to leave.  That example carries through this whole discussion despite Luke’s final choice being so obvious.  (Removing ALL other choices is a somewhat blunt way to show motivation but it works)

For plot driven stories, the author must strike a balance between showing and telling.  Too much telling and you give away not only the plot but all the suspense that builds up to the conclusion.  Too much showing robs your characters of an ability to mold the events in their own perception.  Go back to the above example of Star Wars.  Obi Wan tells Luke a whole lot in the scene after rescuing Luke but he tells the events from his perspective.  There’s clearly more to what’s going on than the viewer knows and there’s more going on than Luke knows but the plot has moved more into focus.  We know that this character Darth Vader is not only bad but is tied to Luke’s history from what we have seen and now heard.

Children of the New Potential has a character named Laylani in it.  She is an Elf of Deep Shadow much the same as Rozalin and LeShaitan from Master of the House.  Her role in the story is that of messenger.  She knows far more than any of the other core characters in the book.  The adventure that Laylani will lead them on is based on this knowledge.  To advance the plot, Laylani has to act on what she knows.

Laylani becomes my voice as the author amongst the group where plot is concerned.  She understands the threats they are facing and knows enough to explain the immediate problems that they are facing.  Just like Obi Wan from earlier, the information she reveals is colored by her own perception of things.  In her case, she thinks that she knows more than she really does.

This becomes for me, what I started to question at the beginning of this post, how to strike a balance.  Laylani reveals what she knows to the other characters and to the reader.  However, the reality of the world and the threats they face become the “showing” that keeps the plot from being revealed too early or too easily.  The “showing” also reveals that Laylani may not have as tight a grip on things as she first thought.

A far reaching and plot-centered as Children of the New Potential is, my main method for delivering information to the reader and other characters is preserved from merely being a plot device by her own vulnerability of not having the story as correct as she thinks she does.  Slowly, she will come to find that the clear lines she has established in her head to go about her tasks, are not so clear.  The understanding of it all that she shares with the readers becomes a point of sympathy for her when the reality of the situation is shown to differ from the reality in her mind.

Tough subject matter to be sure and writing about it without the source material being available for review at this point is even more difficult.  I apologize for that.  Much of what appears here and what will appear in this blog is a way for me to organize thoughts as I write and look back on it to explain my thought process as it moves forward.

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Villains

Most stories live and die by the worth of their villains.  They are in one way of looking, the reason for telling stories.  There are rare exceptions.  Stories of self exploration and mastery, biographies, etc can all circumvent the need for an outside actor to move the plot along.  When it comes to fantasy fiction the need for an evil, an obstacle, or person of ill intent is key to the genre.

I think it can be very easy to slip into the trope of the mustache twisting black hat villain in fantasy fiction.  To avoid this, I think that rooting your story in the antagonist motivation is critical.  When I began conceptualizing the Legacy of Shadow series, I honestly did not have a set direction for it.  The world came first and presented me with problems that really bothered me and somewhat ruined the rationale for such a place.

I knew that I wanted some omnipresent force to oppose the heroes.  I knew that I wanted this force to be something that did not have to confront them directly, but that could corrupt their very reasons for stepping into the field of conflict.  My first attempt at the character who would become my ultimate villain for this series was known only by title: “The White Witch”.  Please bear in mind that at the time, I had absolutely no knowledge of The Chronicals of Narnia.  Seriously.  I didn’t.

This character was aloof and distant and somehow responsible for the trials and tribulations of the world I created in the Legacy of Shadow series.  She was generic and…boring.

So, I began to ask myself questions about her.  What had she done to be responsible for the undead curse placed upon the land?  Stepping back, I had to ask, what is she to begin with?  ”Elf” was the answer.  More specifically, a “Light” elf when compared to the thus far heroic “Dark” elves that this world and its characters encountered.  Then came the inversion, the typically heroic by nature good-guy forest elves would somehow be responsible for…what?  Or should it even be all of them?  Why not just one?  What if one member of this otherwise pristine race of creatures did something so terrible, that…

That what?  What could one character do that would be so condemning to vilify that character for all time?  The answer was:  she is responsible for the death of her entire race.  Already there were no light elves in the story but there were uncountable undead creatures.  So, this character became responsible for the death of her entire race and that genocide resulted in a world ravaged by undead hordes of elves.

Now we were getting somewhere.  It wasn’t very far down the road but the wheels were spinning.

What would make a character commit genocide on their own race?  Would it be purposeful?  Or would it be accidental?  Well, one thing that was certain in my mind was that this villain would be something that a reader could understand however, sympathy was not something I wanted to extend to her.  Accidental was right out.  Purposeful?  This was a more difficult thing to accomplish.

I was stuck.  I needed something beyond petty vengeance, something grand something…that was eluding me.  That’s when Jimi Hendrix happened to me.  That’s when I turned up the music in my car and happened to turn my ear at the right moment to hear the lyrics that unlocked the remainder of my story.

“Anger he smiles, towering in shiny metallic purple armor. Queen jealousy, envy waits behind him. Her fiery green gown sneers at the grassy ground…”

It wasn’t much but the idea of sins personified struck me just the right way.  It’s been done countless times, sure.  This time though I felt I had found a unique hook.  This “White Witch” became Envy in my mind, the personification of a unique and deadly power.  (Her color happily changed in my mind as well.)

What would the personification of Envy possibly find herself jealous of?  What would a creature with immense power and a hatred of anything more powerful than it turn its attention towards?  God.  That personified sin would turn its rage towards the one thing that truly held dominion over it, in this case God.  Now the genocide of a entire race could make sense within the context of one powerful entity looking to dethrone another.

Thus my Deadly Sin Envy, the Queen of Jealousy was born.

The reasons that surround her actions and the way in which she achieves her goals are all details that play out in the book but the important thing here is that the villain’s motivations are genuine and even though a reader would not agree with her actions, they can understand those motivations never the less.

I began this by commenting that a villain’s actions are the driving force for most plots.  While this is true for Envy’s actions as the story moves forward, she is still a somewhat distant, a force that can not be engaged for most of the tale.  Her motivations and the way by which she seeks to achieve those goals create a dread and even outright fear in other characters lending credence to their own actions.  This does not even speak to the ways when Envy does reach out into the moral realm, how characters who are directly touched by her actions take on a villainy all of their own.

Creating a complex villain on an epic scale has allowed me to tie characters, places, and most importantly a plot of epic scope into a story that has its roots in a concept that everyone can identify with “Too much is never enough”.

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Short Story Friday: Of Things to Come

Today’s short story is from my current work.  There’s a few concepts that are introduced prior to this that are just thrown at you here.  I’ve linked to them where I can if you’re interested in furthering your reading on the setting of this world.

Of Things to Come

He was trying to let it go. After all, it did not matter to him who he was married to. Any of the possibilities he might be faced with were pretty much the same. Spoiled girls with bad attitudes wrapped up in expensive dresses and pretentiousness…it was best not to think on it for too long.

His intended sat with him in the parlor and talked non-stop about herself. He was uncertain if she was trying very hard to convince him that she was worthy of his affections or if it was simply a matter of poor upbringing. He closed his eyes briefly and took a deep breath. “My dearest Katherine…I’m afraid I must return to my duties. The evening has gotten late before either of us took notice of it.”

That was a lie. The minutes had been dragging on for him since he entered the room.

The girl’s eyes flashed, “Oh my, of course. How embarrassing would it be for me to delay a Templar from his duties? We could not have your soon to be wife tarnishing such a promising career.” She appeared concerned that she had erred.

Eric knew the concern was only for his standing and position within the Central Government. Katherine’s family had fallen on hard times recently and her betrothal to a promising young Templar would go a long way to returning her family to prominence.

“Certainly not. It has never the less been an…enlightening evening.” He forced a smile and bowed slightly to the young woman. She replied with an exaggerated smile then blew a kiss in his direction. From the parlor door her parents appeared almost immediately. Eric was certain they were eavesdropping the entire time. As he made his way towards the exit, her parents joined him and lavished the Templar with undue praise.

Eric did his best to be courteous but the entire ordeal was trying beyond belief for him. Only once he had made his way back out into the streets of Britania did he feel alive again. The entire experience left him feeling as though a terrible weight were pressing against his chest. The thought of a lifetime with those people made him short of breath.

He felt disappointed for resorting to a lie in order to take his leave of them, but that feeling soon passed as the sounds and chaos of the streets flooded his senses. Eric was a calm, collected, and thoughtful man. He saw people, places, and events in a unique way that allowed him to quickly understand whatever he was dealing with. He did not even have to try, it was a skill that came to him effortlessly. So long as he kept his composure and sorted out the obstacles in front of him, there was almost nothing he was unequipped to deal with.

This insight into people and the world around him was the reason he had been able to achieve the rank of Templar so early in life. He was even-tempered. He was thoughtful. Eric was a natural.

Most young men who enter into the service of Britania’s Templars carry an ego with them so large that it takes years for the training to break them down and rebuild them into something respectable. Where Eric was concerned, ego was never an issue. He absorbed the training, took his failures in stride, and encouraged his peers. In return, he was hated by those peers at every step of his training.

He had come this far in life by setting his sights on the next goal. Always looking ahead allowed him to shrug off much of the ugliness and petty behavior of those around him. Recently though, it was becoming more and more difficult to see the point in anything he did. Only the lively sounds of the streets and the people going about their lives helped to shake him out of the melancholy that increasingly dogged him.

He resolved to have a cup of strong tea to get his mind off of things. It would help to settle his nerves and to get the awful taste of whatever it was Katherine’s parents had served them out of his mouth. He found his way to the small tea house that he favored and stepped inside. At least the owners were always pleasant and genuine with him…

The drunken voice of a slightly belligerent woman greeted him, “How long was I supposed to wait for you here? You finally show up and I’m already drunk!” The small woman slammed her flask onto the table and pointed at Eric defiantly. Next to her was a thin man wearing a strange pair of glasses. He smiled at the woman’s behavior and idly shuffled a deck of cards.

Eric looked around confused. He pointed to himself wondering if perhaps the woman was yelling at someone else. “Of course you! Come over here Mr. Templar. Come over here!”

He shook his head in confusion but never the less approached the pair. “They do not even serve alcohol here. What in the world is wrong with you?” Eric was curious now. Something was different about this woman.

The man next to her kicked a chair forward for Eric to sit down in. “Care to play a game of cards?” the strange man asked.

“No thank you.” Eric sat down with them, his curiosity getting the better of him. “I can’t say I have a fondness for gambling anyway.”

The man lifted an eyebrow. “He’s the one alright.”

The woman shook her head in agreement. “He’s the one. Doesn’t look like much, that’s for sure.”

“You clearly have mistaken me for someone else.” Eric was still uncertain about this unexpected meeting but he could not sense anything remotely dangerous or threatening about the pair. Instead there was something familiar about them, at least as far as the woman was concern. It was then that the woman asked him a question under her breath that cut him deeper than any wound he had ever endured during training.

“How long Eric? How long will you go on pretending?” Any hint of intoxication fled from the woman and she leaned in closer to him at the table. Something powerful and frightening was in the air.

Uncertainty filled his voice and finally Eric asked, “W…who are you? What the hell are you talking about “pretending”?  Further more, how do you know my name?”

The man answered first, “Her name is Dori. Mine is Julian. She thinks you’re something special. Some business about the stars being aligned right when you were born or some such nonsense.”

“It isn’t nonsense Julian. You know better.” Dori scolded him.

“As strange as this has been… Let me reassure you in case you didn’t happen to think this was odd, it was. But me? I am nothing special. Another one in a long line of Templars who are here to do a job and nothing more.” Whatever frustration had built up in Eric’s heart over the years was coming out in full force now.

“But you’re better than the others, are you not? I’m not asking you as a matter of pride. I want to know your professional opinion…is there a better warrior among Britania’s Templars?” The woman’s eyes were lit up with a mischievous gleam to them that told Eric that the question itself was a trap.

“I’m just an ordinary man. Templars are not measured against one anther but against the threats we face down for your protection Miss. Now if you’ll excuse me.” Eric stood up, turned his back on the pair and walked off.

Julian looked at Dori knowingly. Dori stood up from the table and shouted so that everyone in the tea house could hear her. “The time is coming when ‘ordinary’ will not be good enough! When that time comes, you will remember this day! You can not hide from fate!”

The Templar was gone.

Dori flopped back into her seat and looked to Julian, “Do you think it will help?”

“Hard to say. I’ve seen what hopelessly lost looks like…it just sat down with us.”

“He doesn’t have a choice in the matter. He’s the only one who can match her…”

 

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What’s in a Name Part 2

Yesterday I began explaining the origin of sever character names and the reasons how those names came to be.  Let’s continue where we left off…

  • Turnbill - I needed a gangster of shadowy power, someone distant with a name that meant trouble.  It was a tough one to figure out honestly.  When I get in that trap, I often scan old fantasy stuff and look for something small to go off of.  My MtG cards had a character from the Legends series called “Riven Turnbull”, note the last name is different.  I took the idea and swapped the ‘U’ for an ‘I’ because my initial idea was for him to be a powerful bureaucrat gone bad.  In essence, he turned bills that resulted in death and dishonor.  Dumb, but it stuck and it sounded sinister like I needed.
  • Honest – Honest may be my favorite character in the book.  She’s my instigator.  Her name was meant to be a strict matter of fact.  I think sometimes using a name as a means of explaining a character is quite effective.  It plays out well as she evolves in the book as well.  Her name may be one of the most effective because a reader must constantly wonder when or if she will break from form.
  • Skylar – I really just thought up the name of the worst person I had any dealings with in high school.  This was the name of a boy so callus and selfish that he left a friend of mine in ruin for several years.  Also, I think it sounds really douchy.
  • Abiel - Another real life name brought to fiction.  This is the full name of one of my friends who goes by the shorter version of “Abe”.  Since this character is for all intents and purposes a religious nut, expanding his name to its original use carries a nice bit of odd religious weight to it.

On another note, I resolved my issue from yesterday.  It was in the lamest way possible too.  I simply reverted to the original name I assigned to the main character in my initial draft.  I was over complicating the issue.  Several of the potential names I was looking at were too long or too…much.  In the end, this character will be named Eric Sturgg.  ”Eric” has connotations of leadership behind it.  There’s an old Swedish King named Eric the Saint who worked to bring Sweden back to the old ways, which has a small thread of connection to this character.

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What’s in a Name?

I’ve actually had a great deal of difficulty choosing names for certain characters in my current project.  I just haven’t connected with anything yet that I am comfortable seeing three to five times on a given page.  Not only do names have to fit the character theme, but they have to flow with the story.  I was thinking that by reviewing the names used in Master of the House, that I might figure something out for myself here.

  • Julian - This character went through numerous names but it was part of his theme.  He was the man of many faces, always switching it up for a given situation.  Like many of the characters in this book, Julian was someone’s roleplay character to start with.  I believe his original name was “Jules” (as in ___Vern).  I wanted something more serious for my cast lead and his name was given its full length.
  • Face - Another character born of roleplay, I think the player chose this name because he had recently watched “The A Team”.  Re-branding it a bit, I found it was still of use.  The character was a bruiser, a fighter…so his nickname of “Face” was a reference to his many black eyes and split lips.  Now his real name…that’s a spoiler I’ll keep to the book.
  • Katrina - I wanted a strong female name here that could be shortened to something cute.  Katrina/Kat…it allowed me to distinguish when people were close friends of hers or not, because she would absolutely not put up with nicknames from people that were not friends.  Some early readers took exception to her last name being “O’Malley” but the idea is that the prefix to that is honorific, not ethnic.
  • Hawthorne - This name was once again chosen by a player, but his full name of Matthew Q. Hawthorne was chosen by me and a small tribute to the film Quigley Down Under.  It’s about a marksman of incredible skill who I imagine Hawthorne to be a slightly more criminal version of.
  • Dori - Dori is tragically named after the girl I went to Homecoming with my freshman year of high school who completely freaked out and hid in the bathroom all night.  She may have been very, very high.  (or I could have been a lousy date)  Girl was nice, but flighty;  creative, but cripplingly disorganized.  My Dori is all of those things crossed with a fortuneteller.
  • Tin – Tin’s name comes from a song…this is no joke now.  Remember Gangsta’s Paradise by Coolio?  ”Got my tin in my hand and a gleam in my eye…”  Just gangster tie-in stuff for me, but I liked the idea of Tin using slang terms for hand gun as his name.

I may have to come back to this again tomorrow to go over some of the others.  I still don’t have an answer for my male lead character.  Arg…

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