Your Musical Community Is Where You Find It

Music as a communal event is difficult for someone like me, who doesn't play any instrument and doesn't (or shouldn't) sing. I've attended concerts where the sense of community was created by the shared music we all knew, or by the intense efforts of the performer to make sure that connection happened. But for the most part, I've always Read more

Help Plot My 2015 Reading Tour

Would you like to hear me read Long Black Curl to you this summer? Maybe ask me some questions in person? If so, here's what you need to do.  Go to your local bookstore, ask if they'd be interested, and if they are, send me the contact info, including the name of the person in charge of author events. Don't Read more

Why I Haven't Blogged Lately

I haven't blogged in a while, so I thought I'd blog on why that is. Enjoy the brisk taste of meta. Primary among my reasons for not blogging is the continuing work on Long Black Curl, the third Tufa novel that comes out in May. You'd think it would be done by now, wouldn't you?  Alas, 'tis not the case. Read more

Win an advance reader copy of Long Black Curl

The third Tufa novel, Long Black Curl, doesn't come out until May. But you might win an advance reader copy right now by leaving a comment below telling me about your favorite folk song (new, old, original, traditional, it doesn't matter). I'll be giving away eight copies, so pass the word and let everyone know. Deadline is midnight on Read more

Win a copy of Mythica!

Recently the good folks at Arrowstorm Entertainment were kind enough to give me a sneak peek at their latest production, Mythica: A Quest for Heroes.  You can read my review of it here, and an interview with two of the stars here. Short version: I found it very enjoyable, with a terrific main character (played with full-on commitment by Melanie Read more

The Next Big Thing blog tour

Posted on by Alex in authors, Burn Me Deadly, Dark Jenny, dragon, Eddie LaCrosse, fantasy literature, fiction, film noir, King Arthur, movies, novel, release date, Robert B. Parker, Shakespeare, Tor Books, Wake of the Bloody Angel, writers, writing | 3 Comments

My friend from the Heroic Fiction League on Facebook, Violette Malan, graciously invited me to participate in The Next Big Thing blog series. Each author answers the same set of questions, and passes them on to five more authors, who post their answers the following week and pass them on to five more authors, and so forth.

You’ll find Violette’s answers here, and my list of invited contributors at the bottom of this post. My answers begin right here.

What is your working title of your book?

It’s currently called He Drank, and Saw the Spider. I’m batting .500 in my initial titles making it to print (for example, Wake of the Bloody Angel was originally called The Two Eddies), so we’ll see how this one does. This time, my title is both a line from the book, and also a shout-out to the source material.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

It was inspired by The Winter’s Tale, one of Shakespeare’s last and most complex plays. It’s a genre-bending story of betrayal and reconciliation, and a real head-scratcher the first time you read or watch it. It’s best known for one of its stage directions: “Exit, pursued by a bear.”

My initial idea was, “What if Eddie was dropped into the Autolycus role in the plot?” The final book is considerably different, but that was the inspiration.

What genre does your book fall under?

It’s sword-and-sorcery, but crossed with a healthy dollop of pulp detective fiction; “sword noir,” I guess. One reviewer called it, “Sam Spade with a sword.”

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I’ve said elsewhere on this blog that the ideal casting for Eddie LaCrosse is Alien-era Tom Skerritt.

But otherwise, I prefer not to lock down the images of the characters. Each reader will have his or her own ideas, and I don’t want to get in the way of that. I’ll worry about it when an actual movie deal happens.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

As a young mercenary, Eddie LaCrosse saves an abandoned baby from a bear; sixteen years later, now a private sword jockey, he has to save her again, this time from a complex plot involving magic, murder and an insane king.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

It will be published by Tor in 2014.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

About eight months. A lot of that was research, reading up on Shakespeare, rereading his plays and internalizing a lot of Shakespearean scholarship. It may seem simple to take a plot or character from Shakespeare, but to do it justice you also have to understand what that character means, and how he or she functions in the play. For example, there’s a character loosely based on Caliban from The Tempest; Caliban has been used to represent everything from Irish bog people to a half-human fish monster to the plight of third-world citizens under Western occupation. If you’re going to put someone like him in your book, you have to decide what he represents for you, and how that affects the story and the other characters.

This is the same approach I’ve used for my other Eddie LaCrosse novels. Burn Me Deadly, for example, is about dragons, so I researched what people thought of them back when it was believed they really existed. Dragons were never simply animals, they were embodiments of beliefs and supernatural powers. If I wanted my dragons to carry that same weight of “believability,” I had to decide what they embodied in the world of my characters.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

My Eddie LaCrosse novels are always compared to Glenn Cook’s “Garrett, P.I.” novels and Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files. The influences I’m most conscious of are two Bobs: Robert E. Howard and Robert B. Parker.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

One of the consistencies of my Eddie LaCrosse series is that each book embraces a set of existing tropes; Dark Jenny, for example, is Arthurian at heart. In this one, I wanted to put Eddie into a Shakespearean story, so I looked for the best one to drop him into. I chose The Winter’s Tale because there’s a mystery at its heart.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

It’s a fun and funny story. Eddie’s girlfriend Liz once again plays a major role, the first time since Burn Me Deadly. There’s action, suspense, magic and romance. There’s a mad king, a sorceress, and sheep. Lots of sheep.

Thanks to Violette for including me in this blog trail.  Now, here are my five awesome and talented writer friends who will be posting their answers next week.

Teresa Frohock, author of Miserere.

Kelly Barnhill, author of Iron Hearted Violet

Jen K. Blom, author of Possum Summer

Matt Forbeck, author of Amortals and Carpathia

Kelly McCullough (pending), author of Bared Blade and WebMage

Writers Day #4

Posted on by Alex in Burn Me Deadly, dragon, Firefly Witch, Tufa, writers, writing | Leave a comment


This is the fourth of a series of videos showing how a typical writer (i.e., me) works through the day.  This one is about research, something you can often do when real life intrudes on your actual writing time.

Fiery surprise: the awesome beasts of Dragon Storm

Posted on by Alex in Burn Me Deadly, dragon, dragon storm, SyFy | 5 Comments

In an earlier post, I promised to reveal the only other cinematic dragon that came close to rivaling the awesome Vermithrax from Dragonslayer. I discovered it quite by accident on a Saturday night, on the SciFi Channel (now known phonetically as “SyFy”).

Those of you familiar with these weekend original movies know they’re usually one thing: crap. Bearing titles like Mansquito, Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus and Rock Monster, these movies sport bad acting, Photoshop-worthy special effects and the same Eastern European scenery whether set in East Tennessee (Megasnake) or the mythical land of Lockland (Attack of the Gryphon). They used to be fun, in an MST3K kind of way; lately they’ve just been dreary and worst of all, boring. Occasionally there’s a great idea (as in Warbirds, in which an all-female WWII bomber crew fights pterodactyls) but it’s usually derailed by inept and sloppy execution (as in Warbirds).

And yet occasionally, like the daisy blooming atop a manure pile, you can spot an incongruous bit of beauty. Such a film is 2004′s Dragon Storm.

I’m not proclaiming this a great film; far from it. It suffers all the defects typical to made-for-SciFi/SyFy movies: bad acting, illogical writing, “kingdoms” populated by less than two dozen people and metal props so clearly made of plastic they wave in the wind. Maxwell Caufield, in a Barry Gibb wig, plays the woodsman hero and handles his bow and arrow with all the dexterity of a porpoise trying to send a text message. John Rhys-Davies, who can’t possibly need the money this bad, is the evil monarch in a crown that looks like it came from a Burger King kids’ meal. Former Playmate Angel Boris plays the strong-willed princess (there’s no other kind, after all). And the whole thing is directed by the actor who played Flounder in Animal House.

So what makes this movie so special? The dragons.

I don’t know how they managed it, since the rest of the movie looks like it cost about five dollars. But the dragon effects are absolutely top-notch CGI. Somebody clearly went above-and-beyond the call of duty here. The beasts are designed well and logically, they’re composited into the scenes with care, and they have a tangible reality that many of the flesh-and-blood actors don’t manage.

The credits list Yancy Calzada and Stephen J. Brooks as the visual effects team leaders; I can only assume one or both of them has a soft spot for dragons and put in lots of overtime to make these look as good as possible. They look so good, in fact, that they make the rest of the movie appear even worse. It’s as if Industrial Light and Magic designed the UFOs for Plan 9 from Outer Space.

Here’s the trailer, with glimpses of what I’m talking about.

If you’ve seen a SciFi/SyFy original movie that surprised you by being, at least in some aspect, actually good, leave a comment about it before 10 PM Saturday and you could win a signed copy of my upcoming novel Burn Me Deadly.

The lair of local dragons

Posted on by Alex in Burn Me Deadly, dragon, Little Norway | 3 Comments

Two weeks ago, I described my quest to discover the origin of the Norwegian dragons lining some of the roofs in my new home town of Mount Horeb, WI. My quest led me to a secluded valley outside town where I found Little Norway. Immediately I knew I’d come to the right place: note the dragons along the top of the visitors’ center:

These aren’t the original dragons, though, that inspired their kin in Mount Horeb. Those are found guarding Little Norway’s crown jewel, the Norway Building:

The Norway Building was constructed for the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. It was designed and built in Norway, then disassembled, shipped to Chicago and reassembled. After this it was moved to an estate near Lake Geneva, WI before being purchased by Isak Dahle and moved in 1935, for the final time, to its permanent home outside Mount Horeb.

(The history of this extraordinary building is covered in great detail in The Norway Building of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.)

And the dragons?

In 1992 the building went through a major restoration and refurbishment. For this first time since it resided at Lake Geneva, dragon ornaments graced all three roof levels. These dragons were crafted and installed by Scott Winner, Little Norway’s current owner:

“Dragons were put on buildings and vessels to ward off evil spirits,” Winner told me. “The dragons originally on the Norway building had rotted due to old age, and were replaced with identical new carvings treated to make them more durable. This included six coats of Lucite paint.”

And the dragons in Mount Horeb? They were created using templates Winner provided to the industrial arts department at Mount Horeb High School.

So my quest had ended. I knew the origin of these enigmatic guardians. But this knowledge made them no less impressive, and not one bit less magical. How could they be anything else?

On the trail of local dragons

Posted on by Alex in Burn Me Deadly, dragon | 2 Comments

I knew about the trolls. They’re all over town. And the Mustard Museum, for a while at least, remains here in Mount Horeb, WI.

But I’d never noticed the dragons.

That’s irony for you. My upcoming novel BURN ME DEADLY deals with a belief in dragons, and here I was in a town that actually harbored some. I’m sure I’d seen them before, lurking from the eaves of the Chamber of Commerce building, or stretched along the top of the Military Ridge Trail shelter. But somehow, they didn’t register. And then, as if some sort of magical cloaking spell had been broken, I saw them looking down at me, belching their stylized fire.

They look harmless enough. And their Scandanavian origins were plain. But there was mystery afoot, because when I asked at the Chamber of Commerce, no one knew where they came from. They couldn’t remember a time when they hadn’t been there. They pointed me toward City Hall, where my luck was no better. I left my phone number in case anyone did recall, but I didn’t hold out much hope. Clearly the dragons were experts at hiding in plain sight.

A visit to the Prairie Bookstore and a talk with its wise bearded proprietor gave me my first clue. The dragons, he said, were inspired by those of nearby Little Norway.

So, accompanied by my ferocious Viking sidekick…

…I pursued my lone clue and headed for Little Norway.

To be continued in two weeks….

First dragons: Vermithrax from Dragonslayer

Posted on by Alex in Burn Me Deadly, dragon, Dragonslayer | 13 Comments

My upcoming novel BURN ME DEADLY involves, in part, a group who worship fire-breathing dragons. Because really, if you’re writing fantasy, eventually you have to deal with dragons in some fashion. They’re a trope, like swords and/or sorcery. Ignoring them would be like leaving the horses out of a western.

Not that I mind. Dragons continue to fascinate us because, much like vampires, they can symbolize practically anything a writer wants them to represent. Just look at the cultural differences between Asian dragons and their European counterparts, and the richness of the creatures as metaphors becomes apparent.

Still, everyone has a “first dragon,” the one that awoke their sense of wonder about the creatures. For many it’s Anne McCaffery’s elaborate world of Pern, where genetically-engineered intelligent dragons bond with their riders; for others it’s Smaug in The Hobbit, guarding his hoarde deep in a cave. But for me, it was the awesome Vermithrax from the 1981 film, Dragonslayer.

At the time of its release, Dragonslayer got a bum wrap for “ripping off” Star Wars. There’s a naive young hero (Galen, played by Peter MacNicol) who is mentored by an old wizard portrayed by a distinguished British “Sir” actor (Ralph Richardson). There’s a semi-magical weapon (a special lance, the “Dragonslayer” of the title) and a big, black-clad villain (Tyrian, played by John Hallam). Even Emperor Palpatine himself, Ian McDiarmid, has a small role as a village priest.

Of course, in the hindsight of twenty-plus years we can see these as simply standard fantasy elements that Lucas borrowed as well, and it’s more interesting what the film does differently. Yes, there’s a noble and strong-willed princess, but she’s not the heroine. There’s a Twelfth Night element in one bit of masquerading (the sole part of the film that simply doesn’t work). And the medieval setting is vividly realized, helped by the suitably ponderous Alex North score.

Then there’s the dragon.

First and foremost for me, Vermithrax maintains the integrity of basic biology. She’s clearly a reptile, and so has only four limbs: her wings are modified front legs, similar to a bat’s, or fossil pterosaurs. I’m endlessly annoyed by the six-limbed dragons (four legs plus wings) depicted in standard fantasy. No vertebrate has more than four limbs, and that counts wings. Saying, “it’s a fantasy story,” is a dodge, not an acceptable explanation.

Second, Vermithrax is scary. She eats human sacrifices, breathes fire and leaves a path of destruction. When she first appears, emerging from a literal lake of fire to tower over the hero, she’s awe-inspiring.

Third, she doesn’t talk. The dragons of Pern communicate telepathically, which is justified since they’re genetically engineered to do that. But the chatty Draco in the inanely hokey Dragonheart has started a trend of talkative dragons that would embarrass even Walt Disney. Dragons are reptiles: they have no lips, and no mammalian voice boxes. Again, saying, “it’s fantasy so it’s okay,” is an evasion, not a justification.

All subsequent dragons have been measured against this considerable standard. In fact, in the twenty-plus years since Dragonslayer, I’ve only encountered one other dragon that came close to equalling its impression on me (more on that in a later post). When it came time to create my own dragons, Vermithrax was my starting point.

The dragons worshipped in BURN ME DEADLY are folkloric, ancient creatures that, if they really existed, lived long before the dawn of man. They flew, and breathed fire, and laid waste to everything in their paths. They have qualities (intelligence, a compulsion to vengeance) that don’t quite mesh with reality, but much of this is caused by the way stories change over time. Were there real dragons in the story, they would be much more in line with what I describe above: plausible, genuine, and terrifying.

But there are no real dragons…are there?

Leave a comment about your own “first dragon” before the end of this week and be entered to win one of three signed copies of The Sword-Edged Blonde paperback. One lucky winner will also receive an advance reader copy of Burn Me Deadly.

BURN ME DEADLY hits stores on November 10, 2009.

(There’s a perceptive review of Dragonslayer here.)