Thursday, November 29, 2012

Brand new Interview with William Kenney

Shortly after I took up Jeremy Laszlo's invite to join the Skulldust Circle I decided the read what my fellow authors were writing. Gary's Ashenclaw work and Jeremy's Blood and Brotherhood debut were featured on my book blog, The Roaring Mouse, and so now it's William Kenney's turn.

William is one of those astonishingly talented types that you meet very so often that thrives in his creativity. As well as his great writing he also excels at artwork and muisc. In fact it was through admiring his covers that I first connected with him on Twitter, well before the Skulldust Circle formed. His covers grace the books of Gary Vanucci, as well as his own work and they evoke the superb fantasy art of the sixties and seventies which adorned the fantasy and sci-fi novels most of us grew up with,

Dreams of Storms is the first book of the 'In the Shadow of the Black Sun' series. It's a high fantasy series with a distinctly dark edge to it, not perhaps to the degree of Martin or Abercrombie, but enough to tell you it ain't for the little ones. It tells the story of Hagan, a former hero, now trying to live a life of refuge away from the lands and city that made him famous. However crisis returns to the lands and an old comrade (the awesome stone troll, Gorin) is dispatched to convince him to return. The pair set off with Hagan's younger brother, D'Pharin, in tow. On the journey to the city of Harquinn, they meet Vasparian, an Elven veteran and Windenn, a Woodwarden (kind of like a ranger-druid). But things are not quite as they expect- the evil Malhain is at large and has dispatched his sinister Inquiti after the companions.

There are all the hallmarks of good heroic fantasy in here--the quest, the interplay between human and non-human races, excellent world-building. In many ways William draws on the traditions of Tolkien, Brooks and Eddings, with the multi-skilled group and their dialogue. But what made the book for me were the more original touches-- the hostile and decaying city of Overbrook; the mystery of the seer, the Wisp; the guilt and ruminations of the troubled hero, Hagan; and the Inquitis, probably the scariest opponents since the Nazgul got drowned by Elrond's daughter. The dark atmosphere is there but it never overpowers, rather it bolsters the authenticity of the work, and makes you nervier as you're never sure that all the comapnions are going to be all right or not.

I took the chance to throw a few questions at William the other day:

Me: I was (pleasantly) surprised by how much 'dark' fantasy mixed with your traditional high fantasy story. Are you a fan of the darker end of the genre?
WK: Absolutely. I've always felt that the evil element in the story should be as dark and nasty as possible. The reader should fear them, loathe them and want them defeated. The reader is walking in the characters shoes and should feel the ultimate desperation of facing the bad guys. The good guys will only truly shine in the presence of absolute darkness, right?
Me: There's a definite feel of DnD in your work. I know our friend Gary is a big gamer, is it something you've done/do and does it influence you?
WK: I played quite a bit when I was a teenager. We had a group of guys that would play all-day marathons, sometimes getting so involved that we would forget to eat. I'm sure my mother remembers us taking over the dining table with maps and hardcover rulebooks. Eventually, a friend and I built a custom DnD table to play on. It was divided into four sections with a built-in box at the center with a lid. We kept dice and figurines in there. DnD and role-playing games in general really spark the imagination. I use to be the DM (GM now) back then and really had to think quickly while taking the others through the adventures. The DM is essentially a storyteller after all.
Me: Your covers are simply astounding. If you had to choose which one you enjoyed more- writing or painting/design- what would it be and why?
WK: Thank you very much for the compliment, Ross. That would be a difficult decision. I've done both since I was a boy and both feel very much like a piece of the same thing. To me, they are both art. I'm also a musician and treat it in the same fashion. I start with a small idea and continue to add pieces until I have a cohesive finished product that hopefully creates some sort of emotional response in people. Of course, painting is more immediate than writing, but they are both rewarding to me.
Me: I'd just noticed you also write a YA series. Tell us a little about that.
WK: I created the Tales of Embremere series as a break from the In the Shadow of the Black Sun series.I was writing such a complex dark fantasy story, that I wanted to create something more relaxed for a change. I wanted shorter stories that could be read in one sitting and I plan to do more in the future. The characters in the story are teenagers living in the Under. Beneath the city of Embremere, which is constructed on an immense platform above the surface of a lake, the less fortunate have built their own city from the discarded refuse tossed away by the city-folk above. The main character, Grivvin is the last of the Wychan, the wizards of the world. During the opening of the first book, he is cast out and into the dark world of the Under.
Me: Fun question- who was your favourite author and why?
WK: I would have to say Tolkien. Reading The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings when I was young changed my life without a doubt. From there, I devoured as much fantasy as I could find. My literary diet consisted of Terry Brooks, Michael Moorcock, Stephen R. Donaldson, Robert E. Howard, etc. Fantasy created such a magical atmosphere for me that I immediately wanted to tell my own stories. I still have pieces of novels that I started when I was roughly 15 years of age. No one will ever see them, of course. Very crude, but still some interesting ideas.
Me: What are your feelings about the increasing popularity of the fantasy genre with the success of Game of Thrones and Peter Jackson's Tolkien adaptations?
WK: I love seeing so much fantasy on television and in the theaters. When I was young, it was so hard to find anything like that. Any new fantasy-related film or series was a godsend to my friends and I. I didn't care how cheesy or ridiculous it was, I would watch and re-watch it. The Sword and the Sorcerer, Krull, Hawk the Slayer, Dragonslayer, Conan the Barbarian. I loved them all. We can only hope that with the added exposure, people that have never been exposed to it, will give fantasy novels a try.
Me: How excited are you about the Hobbit?
WK: Well, I can't wait to see it. What Peter Jackson did with the trilogy was truly mind-blowing. Those are some of my favorite movies without a doubt. So much detail, it's insane. I'm hoping the magical feeling of The Hobbit, which definitely has a different atmosphere than the Lord of the Rings books, translates to the screen. I keep waiting for someone to bring a decent Elric movie to the screen or the Shannara stories.
Me: And, finally, what's the current work in progress?
WK: Currently I am writing the third book of my In the Shadow of the Black Sun series. I've just scratched the surface with it and am feeling a certain amount of pressure. I feel that the first two books in the series are great fantasy tales. I am my biggest critic and hold my stories up to a pretty high standard. I spend a lot of time thinking through different possibilities for the storyline. What if I took the story this way or that? So many ways for the tale to go. Which works best? I've got so many stories to tell, some fantasy and some not. There is simply not enough time to get them all written.
Check out William's amazing work and excerpts from stories at
If you wanted to check out A Dream of Storms then click here for Amazon UK and here for Amazon US
Next time on the Roaring Mouse we're going 'down under' for a date with True Blood devotee and Mistress of Mutants, Rachel Tsoumbakos.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Infinity Bridge

Lest you think we at the SkullDust Circle have been asleep all summer, or worse resting on our laurels at the completion of our awesome anthology I shall quote the Mighty Thor...
"I say thee nay."

Which translated means 'No.' Whilst Emperor Vanucci, Sir William of Kenney and Lord Laszlo have all been scribing the next installments in their fantasy epics, for my own part I have completed my edit on DR3 and released a brand new book- The Infinity Bridge.

I wrote the book in response to complaints from my two eldest kids that everything I wrote was too grown up (i.e replete with long words and graphic fight scenes) for them. So I set to work in creating a MG/YA story with all the Dr Who-esque elements I knew they liked, set in a place they've visited with kids they could identify with (like Green Day and computers). I threw in a dash of Steampunk (clockwork androids and air-ships), some alternate worlds and even good old Merlin, re-imagined for the modern age.

If that tickles your curiosity buds, or if you've got kids age 10+ who like sci-fi/fantasy then click below and download a sample. The blurb for the book kinda says it all....

Sam: likes loud music, wears black eye-liner... and sees monsters.

Nick: wears Che Guevera knit-wear, big specs, loves sci-fi... and designs computer viruses.

Annie: dresses like a Sunday evening period drama, lives with her granddad... and fights like a ninja.

When Sam helps out the mysterious Annie, he and his cousin, Nick, are drawn into a world of excitement and danger. Terrifying androids roam the streets of York seeking the awesome power of the Infinity Bridge, a device that could signal the end of our world as we know it. All who stand in their way are being eliminated.

The three teenagers are propelled into an action-packed race against time, involving alternate realities, airships, clockwork killers.... and Merlin.

Sometimes the monsters are real....

To find on Amazon UK
And on Amazon US

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

On Carrot Noses and Holy Avengers

I came upon Poul Anderson quite late in the game compared my reading of other authors that were big influences on the DnD game. Anderson’s books Three Hearts and Three Lions and the Broken Sword both pop up in the reading list in the 1st Ed DMG, but it was one of those books that never seemed to populate UK book stores.

Being a classic of its type (modern man transported into fantasy alternate world a la everything from Mark Twain to CS Lewis) it was re-published as part of the awesome Fantasy Masterworks series, some of which have now drifted onto Kindle.

The book tells the tale of Holger Carlson, a Danish agent in WW2 who is flipped into a fantasy world by an explosion. He finds he has taken the role of a holy knight, who is known in the world, and whose recollection slowly returns. Along his journey he meets dwarves, faeries, cannibals, witches and trolls. Ultimately he finds that he has been previously involved with Morgan Le Fey, and she plays a key part in the latter part and the conclusion to the book.

The book is a cracking read—although the plot is linear (and given it was a serialised novella, that’s not too surprising) and some of the dialogue grates (especially the pseudo-Glaswegian of Hugi the dwarf). It is a surprisingly energetic and contemporary feeling fantasy, which given it was released just prior to JRR Tolkein’s work, is surprising.

The influences on the DnD game are numerous, perhaps almost as many as Tolkien and Lieber’s work, considering it was only a single novel. The most significant, and this was further extended by Moorcock in Elric, was the alignment system: Anderson describes Law and Chaos in his book (which was later modified in AD&D to include the –good and –evil suffixes). Gygax cited Anderson and Moorcock in his creation of the system. By all accounts, and Gary Vanucci is the man to ask here, the 4th Ed has merged them all together to create a sort of spectrum from lawful good, to good, to neutral (couldn’t give a monkeys) to evil, to chaotic evil (proper naughty).

Anderson’s book gave us two more icons of the DnD world—the Paladin and the Troll. The Paladin character class was majorly influenced by Holger and his knightly values, which in turn was a representation of classic virtuous knights from the Arthurian legends (Gawain, Lancelot, Galahad). For my own part I really liked the Paladin characters for all the awkward situations you could toss them into. And the fact they could walk amongst scrofula-ridden peasants with little fear of infection. And laugh at mummies.

And the troll. Oh, the troll. Not the bulky boulder headed ‘oh, they have a cave troll’ type-troll, but the authentic 100% genuine carrot-nose rubber flesh variety. The inspiration of the seminal Tunnels and Trolls (OK, I made that up) and the unbeatable basis of many a horror film-style trap in DnD. We all did it—troll fingers frozen in a chest, thaw out when opened, grow new troll. I think it was even in some of the modules! And the punk new wave haircut... genius

A perfect note to end on (as if I get going about AD&D artwork I’ll be here all night).

Next time, got to be Fritz Leiber, and the Grey Mouser.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

A Gathering of Dust

The writers of Skulldust Circle have assembled a collection of short stories (some based on existing novels) for your reading pleasure. It is now available for the Kindle and is selling for $5.99 on the US site. 
Some of the stories are companion pieces to the writer's existing novels and expand upon their worlds. Others are stand-alone tales.

If you've read book 1 of my In the Shadow of the Black Sun series, you are aware of the character Trune. He is thought by most to be nothing more than the town drunk. Nothing could be further from the truth. Find out the secrets of his past and the true reason that he wound up in Lauden. All of this can be found in my short story entitled Shadewraiths over Pandaria as part of A Gathering of Dust. 
Click the link to have a look.

A Gathering of Dust

As always, I appreciate your support and look forward to your questions or comments.

Walk with the Wind


Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Roaring Mouse Interview with Gary Vanucci

Gary was interviewed on The Roaring Mouse book blog by Ross last week. Here is the interview for the followers of SkullDust Circle.

In the endlessly running sitcom ‘Friends’ there was an episode where Joey was in Vegas and saw a croupier with the same hands as him. He dubbed him his 'hand twin.'
In a similar fashion, via the medium of Tweet I have located my author twin-Gary Vanucci.

Gary writes fantasy with an unashamedly DnD influence, focusing on detailed action and intricate world building. His Wothlandia books are set in the Realm of Ashenclaw, a land populated by adventurers, dwarves, elves, demons and dragons.Gary has developed a wealth of material to support his books- a DnD sourcebook, a great web-site, and a fantastic partnership with author-artist William Kenney. The covers are fantastic, bringing to mind the classic sixties and seventies styles that adorned sword & sorcery classics by Moorcock et al.
But a book is far more than its cover, and Gary's work doesn't fail to impress. My first exposure was one of his prequels (now collected in a single volume) and from that I went on to read Covenant of the Faceless Knights.
Covenant tells the tale of Garius, a rather dour Inquisitor, who assembles a group of disparate heroes to accompany him on a mission to rescue some priests. The heroes struggle to integrate initially - as you'd expect from a barbarian, a thief and an elf alchemist. However their journey brings out their extraordinary talents and they knit together as the story progresses. In the backstory we have a demonic warlord making alliances with succubi queens, evil dwarves and a lich. Yep, a lich! Only one down from a beholder for sheer classic DnD! The main purpose there seems to be to set up books 2+, which is something that I (as well as authors like Martin and Erikson) like to do.
The characters are great: lots of fun, interesting, with abilities verging on super powered. In fact I could pick up a big comic-book influence in Gary's style ( just like me :-D ... Truly we are author twins).
I felt genuinely curious about what happens next when the book finished, and look forward to reading the sequel. I interviewed Gary about being a self-pub author, so without further ado, over to my US 'twin.'
Me: Where did you draw the inspiration for the Wothlondia series from?

Gary: I wanted to do a series of prequel short stories that actually added not only history to my world, but character development. I am attempting to set the characters up in the mind of the reader to allow them greater depth, motivation and a sense of what makes them tick. The whole series came to me from decades of writing my own D&D adventures, campaigns, etc. Most of the story, background, maps, etc. came from those years with quite a bit of tweaks and changes to give them the feel of the Realm of Ashenclaw setting. All of the characters are my own creations. They are not old characters.

Me: You've assembled a great cast of characters. Who do you like writing the most out of them all?

I can’t choose that! It’s like asking “who is your favourite child?” I do enjoy writing them all. Orngoth to me is kind of like the Hulk. I picture this massive monster of a man and go from there. Garius is your typical leader-type with very little in the way of emotion or humor. He is slightly emotionally stunted I guess, though this is a kind of social impedance in that regard. He puts his work and his devotion above all else. Saeunn is a cold, heartless warrior with a chip on her shoulder. She has suffered great loss early on, especially if you have read Tears of Blood, and it continues in Covenant. She has become very callous and guarded emotionally, aside from her mother. Elec is a kind of young adult to me. He is very naïve and growing, kind of inexperienced and yet, extremely intelligent and full of potential. He is becoming more and more addicted to the adrenaline rush of combat as well as his elixirs. It should be a very relatable tale with him moving forward. And Rose is really developing on her own, moreso than any of the others. She started out with a rough childhood, got used to a certain lifestyle afforded her by Ganthorpe and the Thieves’ Guild and currently, she is realizing that she was missing out on the action. She has a hidden side that really enjoyed working hard and she misses the ‘thrill and excitement of her youth. And, above all else, I try to write my characters so that they seem real, with real emotion and motivations.

Me: How much has playing (and presumably DMing) role-playing games influenced your writing? Do you worry that such influences may pigeon-hole your work amongst fantasy readers?

Gary: Playing and DMing has given me more to draw on and opened my mind, as has everything else I have ever done with regards to creativity and exposing myself to other imaginary worlds. All of my past hobbies have influenced me greatly. I feel that I can place a spin on the typical good vs. bad and make it unique, fun and even engaging enough to make people want to read it. I don’t think that pigeon-holing is what I would worry about. I am telling high fantasy and a reader comes along with certain expectations in that genre, which I am fully capable of providing. However, I feel that I can place an exceptional stamp on my characters, my writing and my world that will make the experience very unique.

Me: What are your big literary influences?

Gary: R.A. Salvatore. He is amazing. I have never read an author that can put so much detail in the world, speak so uniquely, introduced so many awesome characters and still give you a fight scene that is incredibly written. I also enjoy Michael Moorcock, George Martin, Terry Brooks, Robert E. Howard, Frank Miller, Peter David, and Alan Moore. There are really too many to name. Also, I must say that there are seriously tons of good fantasy writers on the indie side that need to be read as well. Mind you, there is also a lot of garbage, which is the con about self-publishing, but there are quite a few gems out there as well. Visit Skulldust Circleand you very well may find some good ones there! *hint-hint* As a side note, I am currently reading your Darkness Rising novel and feel that I must say, your writing is brilliant and elegant, and more people really need to discover your prose as I believe they will greatly enjoy it. As a fan of epic fantasy, I would recommend it!

Me: The covers are amazing- tell us something more about them.

Gary: They developed from my mind and I give Mr. William Kenney (also another Skulldust Circleauthor and my artist!) the descriptions and he churns out something amazing for me. It is truly amazing to work with someone who shares your vision on what the quality of the covers should look like, what the characters need to look like and the overall feel and ambiance of the world I am trying to create. If you need some amazing, character-focused artwork, please look him up!

Me: Fun question: in the Hollywood blockbuster who would play your main characters?

Gary: I’ve been asked this before and still have no good answers. I’d really love Olivia Wilde to play Rose in my movie. I think she would be amazing as a smart-ass rogue-type. I think I’d like Karl Urban to play Garius. The dude is extremely intense and his scowl is unmatched. Imagine him shaved bald with a long beard…lol. The elf-like character that appeared in Hellboy 2 might make an awesome Elec. Aside from a few stars to carry the movie, I’d try to introduce some new actors in an attempt to give some fresh talent a chance to make it in the big town of Hollywood!

Me: With the advent of e-publishing, people have been predicting the end of print. I recall the same predictions with the boom of multi-player Internet based gaming that the same would happen with RPG. What are your thoughts on this?
Gary: My opinion, albeit a strong one, is: It will never happen. Never. Mark it down. There will always be a want and therefore a need for publishing houses to continue on in print. It may never be lower than it is now, but it certainly will never disappear completely. I think it would be foolish, irresponsible and short-sighted. What if something happened to the internet? All we would have left would be print.

Me: So what are your current projects?
Gary: I am currently writing Book 4 in my series, called Dance of Deceit, which continues the saga of my heroes and which I expect to be released by this Christmas…if all goes well. There will be quite a few reveals and (teaser) quite possibly a death of a character in there. (WHAT?!)

I also have a short story that will be out shortly with some of the guys from Skulldust Circle! You may have heard of them. My story is the Legend of Ashenclaw (the giant red-dragon queen whose namesake is the branding of my world!) IT should be epic for any fans of my world and there are several other amazing short stories in there that need to be perused as well. I think this cross-promotion anthology will be an awesome endeavour that introduces many readers to our work that otherwise may not have taken the chance.

Thanks for having me and I look forward to an interview with you as well!

Thanks, Gary, especially for the mention of my work!!! The Skulldust anthology will be out soon, and in the interim check out Gary’s excellent style at the links below and on his website.

Gary's Amazon page

Realm of Ashenclaw website

Covenant of the Faceless Knights

Thursday, August 23, 2012

GENCON 2012...The Experience

Here's what I was doing end of last week and beginning of this case you were worried.

The bad: Surprise, surprise! The hotel and accommodations again were less than spectacular and extremely overpriced. I got slammed with a valet parking bill that was added to my bill daily for $28.00 per day. Holy crap. Lesson learned the hard way again. Oh, well.

Hey, that's my book!
hey, that's my name!

The good: Everything else!

What can I say? Awesome. That’s what.

I had an incredible time! Aside from my hotel bill…again…which I cannot seem to do anything about.

I met some amazingly interesting people that I must say were very cool. I met Jason Klimchok, (@runnetib on twitter) a fellow author who found me in Author’s Avenue and introduced himself. Very cool of him to seek me out and say hello. Mr. Erik Scott de Bie, he of the Forgotten Realms fame (game designer and author) and Shadowbane fame, made his way over to my table to chat before he went off to sign books himself in the D&D booth. I also had breakfast on Sunday with Mr. De Bie, which I will detail a bit later.

I met and introduced myself to Jeanette LeGault who runs the whole thing and who was responsible for getting me in this year. She was very kind and spared time even though she was constantly busy.

my table at GENCON 2012
Special kudos to my son, who was with me all four days (way to go, Nick!) and who endured the 10+ hour drive both up and back with me. We had a great time bonding, which I will treasure always. Nick was awesome as my ‘booth monkey’ as he so eloquently put it.

I met fellow author Chris Jackson (@ChrisAJackson1 on twitter) and his wife (Anne, I believe) and they were very nice to me as well. I sat across the way from Tammy Blackwell, a librarian and fellow author who is writing an incredibly popular coming of age series about Seers and Werewolves, which I would check out. She can be found here: Tammy was also kind enough to gift a copy of her book to my wife, who I believe will enjoy it. 

I also gave some books away to librarians, interested book bloggers and a young woman who gave me this 'token of appreciation'.

my token of appreciation
Some of the people that I met come to mind when I write this that made an impact. I met a British fella named Adam that I really enjoyed talking to. Another long-haired college kid I chatted with a few times made an impression, though I cannot remember his name. A woman named Jeanette who purchased the books was extremely nice and she came back to snap a pic of me the next day (very flattering...I think?). I met a couple who chatted with me about Pathfinder for about an hour named Blake? he and his wife are inspiring me to possibly make a Realm of Ashenclaw RPG supplement for Pathfinder... might be coming.

Here are the best two experiences. I met a man named Tony Rodriguez who wanted the books and purchased them from me on Saturday and had me sign them to his son, Alex. He happened to bring Alex in on Sunday and he was happy to meet me, told me he’d read up to chapter 6 that morning and was loving it. Wow! That made my day. And it got better. The second was a man named Scott, who had downloaded Wothlondia Rising: The Anthology (The short story prequels) to his kindle. He went out of his way to come back on Sunday morning to tell me that he was 94% through the book and thought it was amazing…and that he had downloaded the other two books that morning!

I was again completely humbled by their expressions of how I had affected two different people in such a great way. I felt honored that they had chosen me and my writing in order to escape from reality. I was honored that they both entered into my Realm of Ashenclaw with open arms and with an open mind. I cannot express in words how that makes me feel as an author and a human being.

So, on to my breakfast meeting with Erik Scott De Bie on Sunday. I must tell you that it was a tale of mishaps and odd misunderstandings as Erik and I exchanged texts as to where to meet, but after an hour, we finally caught up at a Starbucks there. Interestingly enough, Erik is a rather tall and imposing individual and carries himself very well in conversation. That being said, Erik and I talked about many things. The most memorable to me was his advice. He gave me some constructive criticisms, advice on becoming a better writer and talked to me as a peer. I cannot tell you what his respect means. He not only gave me the critique, but he also made a point to give me the good news, and I am paraphrasing, but, it included the following: My covers were eye-catching and consistent, my branding and logo (Realm of Ashenclaw) was extremely professional and most importantly, that my writing was compelling. He went out of his way to say that I was passionate about my work, that he thought I was on to something and that he was happy to see what I was able to do as an independent author.

All of this was extremely humbling to hear from an author who works for Ed Greenwood and Dungeons & Dragons. After we parted ways, I went back to my booth for the last day and Erik stopped back one more time to gift me a copy of an anthology that he had contributed on for GenCon, which was above and beyond. I highly recommend any fans of fantasy to check him out and follow his writing, as I believe he is worthy of being included in the Forgotten Realms gaggle of writers.

Go buy his stuff! Erik’s site is here if you are interested in seeing what he is up to.

Well, that about wraps up my details. Next post will include pics of all of the scenes and costumes that I was able to get! Stay tuned.

Oh, and all of my books are currently resting at 99 cents on the kindle for a post-GENCON sale! Go download 'em before I come to my senses and raise the

Hugs and kicks,

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

A Blackrazor by any other name...

Continuing the theme of books that influenced DnD (and therefore my writing!) the next one I thought I’d tackle was Michael Moorcock’s Elric saga. A lot of Moorcock’s work in the sixties and seventies probably had a direct influence on Gygax and the other creators of the game, not least the Corum sequence and the two Hawkmoon series (The Runestaff quartet, and the Chronicles of Count Brass trilogy), but undoubtedly Elric was a key one.

Everyone who played the game in the early Eighties with me knew of Elric, although only a few of us had read it. The RPG Runequest had a particular supplement relating to Elric as I recall, and since then I think there has been a specific game around him. I got around to reading the Fantasy Masterworks collection of Elric last year, and enjoyed it. I could see why it had appealed to so many people, although I’ve never really got into Moorcock’s style (I did enjoyed Dancers at the End of Time).

Moorcock is often quoted as saying he wrote Elric as a direct opposition to the traditional fantasy works of Tolkien and RE Howard (he famously described Lord of the Rings as akin to a fantasy Winnie the Pooh). Elric, in his original inception in the nine short stories that comprised Stormbringer (re-published by Fantasy Masterworks as ‘Elric’) is a superb anti-hero. He starts the stories leading an attack upon on his own kingdom, he then proceeds to (admittedly inadvertently at times) chop up all his mates, and he becomes addicted to his magical sword, Stormbringer. Perfect for the Sixties, when people wanted their heroes rather more flawed than the idealistic Fifties!

The influence on the game is overt in a number of areas. The DnD alignment system owes a large debt to the concept of Law and Chaos that Moorcock used, although this in itself was probably evolved from Poul Anderson’s Three Hearts and Three Lions (which I’ll review next time). Moorcock took it further, and this battle between the two forces was the key plotline in the later part of the Elric saga (and continued in parts of the Eternal Champion sequence). Law and Chaos are balanced by Neutrality (the Cosmic Balance) and in his books the Eternal Champion served the Cosmic Balance. Moorcock created deities aligned to both Law and Chaos that feature in his books. It’s easy to see how the addition of good and evil created the 9 alignments in AD&D.

Stormbringer, a runeblade that is essentially a Chaos demon in sword form, was a major aspect of Elric’s saga. It was a mighty sword that could chop through anything and drank life energy to sustain Elric, in a vampyric fashion. Its sibling blade was ‘Mournblade’ which had similar powers. In the DnD game the idea of life-drinking magic swords was most obviously emulated in White Plume Mountain (S2), which to my gang was the most frequently played module next to B2: Keep on the Borderlands. I’ve still got the original pale-orange covered one at home! The sword in question was Blackrazor, one of the three personalised magic weapons in the adventure. The author of the module, Lawrence Schick, later admitted he was embarrassed by his blatant rip-off of Stormbringer (he’d thrown the module together from his favourite bits of his own scenarios). Personally I thought it was awesome, and each time we played it there was a full-on scrabble for the soul-drinking sword.

The more subtle influence of Elric on the game was the adventuring aspects of the books. Elric has a group of companions—Moonglum, Dyvim, Rackhir—with whom he adventures, fulfilling ‘missions’ and ‘quests.’ We also had a healthy collection of opposing sorcerers, and a few monsters chucked in for good measure.

There’s a criticism of Moorcock’s Elric books that the characters can be a little flat, and the dialogue a little cheesy, but I think if you read them as a fun fantasy read in instalments (as they can get a touch ‘samey’) then you’ll not go far wrong. And let’s face it we all wanted to have a character as cool as Elric... soul-drinking sword, hot-line to demons to save your arse in a fight, a goth-look that the lasses adored... perfect.

Next up... torn between Fritz Lieber and Poul Anderson....Thieves vs. Paladins...

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Amazon Gift Card Giveaway!

Start by going to my REALM OF ASHENCLAW FAN PAGE! 

SHARE THE POST pinned at the top of the page on YOUR OWN FACEBOOK PAGE for 1 chance to WIN

It reads:
≫ Let your imagination loose! Leave this world and escape to mine: Book 1 in the Beginnings series contains 6 short story prequels that give a glimpse into the history of my main characters in WOTHLONDIA RISING: THE ANTHOLOGY! Or jump right into the full-length novels with Book 2 of the saga: COVENANT OF THE FACELESS KNIGHTS. Continue the epic journey with SECRETS OF THE EBONITE MINES! Don’t have a kindle? Don’t worry, here is the direct link for downloading kindle apps to any of the following devices: iPhone, iPod Touch, Android, Blackberry, Windows 7 phone, Windows, Mac, iPAd, Android Tablet and they even have a cloud reader. ≪

Don’t want the kindle versions? Check them out in PRINT on CreateSpace!
☞ Wothlondia Rising: The Anthology
☞ Covenant of the Faceless Knights
☞ Secrets of the Ebonite Mines

CONTEST GUIDELINES: Like  My Fan Page page (if you haven’t already) and share the post pinned at the top of the page on your wall for a chance to be entered to win one of three prizes!

Click SHARE to get your name entered! 

Contest ends on Halloween, October 31, 2012! I will announce the winners right here and on my Realm of Ashenclaw Fan Page!

❖ If you would like MORE CHANCES TO WIN, here’s how ❖

Purchase any one of my books, copy and paste the Amazon Order Summary section of your receipt into the 'How may we help you’ box on my CONTACT PAGE. Fill in your name and email and I will enter your name again! If you buy all three, now you have 3 more chances to win!

❖ Want even one more chance to win? 
All you have to do is leave a review for any one of my books and send an email to with the link for the review. It’s that simple!

What the readers are saying...
❝Covenant of The Faceless Knights was an epic read that kept me turning the page❞
❝Gary Vanucci is an author to read now and look out for in the future. He has a unique approach to fantasy with his intricate characterization and his eye for the unpredictable❞
❝The writing style and everything was top-notch and I would rate it at ten stars if I could.❞
❝Strong combat scenes will keep you on the edge of your seat.❞
Best of luck!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Skulldust Circle Anthology Coming Soon!

I am excited to announce that Skulldust Circle is working on an anthology of short stories! The main goal here is to give our fans and readers who may not know us or that may only know one of us, a sampling of our writing styles. So far, we are putting together stories based on whatever worlds we’ve already created. That should be happening in the next 2 weeks or so, if all goes according to plan, so keep your eyes peeled! We are still in the latter stages of development, but once the book goes live, we will certainly let you know.

Possible titles: ‘Skulldust Circle’ (I know…weird, right?) or ‘A Gathering of Dust.’

The tome shall include works from William Kenney, Jeremy Laszlo, Ross Kitson, Ben Martin & Gary Vanucci (me) at the moment. I don’t pretend to know what the others are writing about, but I expect them to make comments possibly on what it is they are doing or even do their own posts with explanations to that end.

My story is about the scorching drake (more commonly referred to as a red dragon) that started it all: Ashenclaw! Ever want to know what happened those years ago when the land was burnt to ash by the scorching drakes? Ever wonder where my realm got its name? Wonder no more!

And the best part about the whole thing is that I involved some of my friends that I used to play certain MMO’s with and I was able to put a good deal of them into the story! It was a ton of fun to write and I hope that the readers really enjoy it, especially them! The story is simply entitled ‘THE LEGEND OF ASHENCLAW’ and it runs approximately 21K words. I look forward to feedback and would love to hear your comments about the whole Skulldust Circle project! 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Wothlondia Rising Anthology 99 Cent Sale in July!

As of today I have pulled all of my 99 cent single short stories in the WOTHLONDIA RISING series that I had released since January of this year. In their place is the Anthology, now on Amazon kindle AND in Paperback, which includes ALL 5 of the short stories (Distant Familiarity, A Rose in Bloom, Maturation Process, Tears of Blood, Strength of Faith) and includes a never-before-released story about the half-ogre barbarian, Orngoth, called Reflections.

Cover to the CreateSpace Paperback
As an added bonus, the prologue to Covenant of the Faceless Knights follows the story entitled Distant Familiarity which details the events just prior to Covenant. So, as you can see, this is a worthy addition to the Realm of Ashenclaw series and I have given it the name: Beginnings Book 0. It adds depth, history, character and gives you a glance into events that placed these heroes on the path they now walk. If you enjoyed Covenant (and even Secrets of the Ebonite Mines, which is also available), I would recommend you stepping into the past of these exciting characters and learn a bit about what makes them tick!

As an incentive, I have reduced the cost from $2.99 down to .99 cents until the end of July! I hope you take the time to check it out and look forward to any and all reviews you might give.

Friday, July 6, 2012

The Periapt of Eponymous Dweomers

There’s a list in the back of the 1st edition AD&D Dungeon Master’s Guide that always proved fascinating to me as a DnD loving child. It’s tucked away on p224, Appendix N, between Conjured Animals and Encumbrance of Standard Items (not areas of the book I used frequently it must be said).

The list is of ‘Inspirational and Educational Reading’ and was written by Gary Gygax as a sort of source guide for the things that inspired him to write DnD the way he did. What interested me as a kid was that UK book stores never seemed to have half of these authrors. The main fantasy books at the time I found were Donaldson (which I skipped), Eddings, Brooks and, latterly, Hickman and Weis’s Dragonlance. Yet I dug around then and found Robert E Howard, Michael Moorcock,  Fritz Leiber, HP Lovecraft and, of course, JRR Tolkein.

Ironically, in this series of posts on books that influenced AD&D, and thus influenced me (and I suspect most of the Skull Dust Circle) in my writing, I plan to start with books that I have read recently from that mighty list. These include Jack Vance, Poul Anderson, and Roger Zelzaney. The likes of L Sprague De Camp, Fletcher Pratt and A Merritt are on my radar to read eventually.

Jack Vance’s seminal series Tales of the Dying Earth was published over a thirty year period, with the third and fourth books (Cugel’s Saga & Rhialto the Marvellous) published in the early Eighties, and thus not a direct influence on Gygax.

The first book, The Dying Earth, is essentially a collection of linked short stories about inhabitants of an earth far into the future, where magic and science have merged together, and most recorded history is long lost. It takes a while to get settled with Vance’s prose, but once you do it is simply excellent. The tales involving mages are particularly good, and the basis of the AD&D magic system (in its first incarnation) arose here. Spells are learned, but once used disappear from the mind, until refreshed after rest. The good old Prismatic Spray pops up here, along with the penchant for eponymous dweomers (Phandaal’s Gyrator; Felojun’s Second Hypnotic Spell).

The second book tells the story of Cugel the Clever, and how he falls afoul of Iucounu, the Laughing Magician. The title ‘The Eyes of the Overworld’ refer to a magical rose-tinted lens that Cugel is sent to fetch after a burglary goes awry. He is encouraged in this quest by having a clawed demon grafted into his liver. Cugel is a wonderful anti-hero: a cheat, a liar, a coward, a rogue, a thief. He feels his wit is quicker than it is, although he still cons a fair few people on his long journey back to Iucounu. In most encounters he comes off the worst, yet you can’t but help root for him. Cugel was an evident inspiration for the thief character class in the original game, and Gygax had admitted as such in interviews he gave over the years.

The characterisation in Vance's Dying Earth quartet is excellent. He creates a selection of bizarre, verbose and articulate characters whose dialogue fizzes along. There were moments when the spectre of Blackadder rose in the verbal fencing, and I chuckled at many of Cugel's witty remarks.

Vance’s work offered a number of other things to the DnD game—Ioun stones, The Robe of Eyes, Evard’s Black Tentacles—but the influence of the magic system (and the love of eponymous spells) was the greatest contribution.  I really enjoyed reading the book and would say it’s definitely worth the time, although gentler than more modern fantasy offerings.

My review of the book on Fantasy Book Reviews is here

Monday, July 2, 2012


Gifting FREE copies of my debut novel, Covenant of the Faceless Knights thru JULY 4th in exchange for reviews. I would like to get a few more reviews up on both Amazon & Goodreads (copy and paste is fine). I would like some avid/voracious readers that can get the reviews up in 30 days or one month’s time. The limit I have set is between 50 and 100 copies, first come-first served, so you may have to hurry.

Criteria: This is pretty simple
  1.  Must have an active Amazon account
  2.  The account must be in the United States of America
  3.  Must visit ƦЄƛԼM ƠƑ ƛSĦЄƝƇԼƛƜ and click on the CONTACT tab at the top right (Or simply click this to bring you to the CONTACT PAGE) and fill it out. Under the 'How may we help you line', simply put: Send me my FREE book! 

That’s pretty much it!

In order for redundancy, please leave me a comment here on the blog and say ‘I’m in’ or ‘Yes, I’ll review it for you’ or something along those lines as well as your name. I will look for your email to send you out a copy.

This is not until Sunday, so if you feed me your information before then, I will be better prepared! Hope to see plenty of contact forms before Sunday!

Friday, June 29, 2012

Covenant of the Faceless Knights Weekend Sale!

Through the weekend and until Monday, ƇƠѴЄƝƛƝƬ ƠƑ ƬӇЄ ƑƛƇЄŁЄSS ĶƝĮGĦƬS, Beginnings series BOOK ONE  is ONLY $2.99 on KINDLE! This Weekend ONLY! So, if you were on the fence about buying it before, here is your chance to get it at a reduced rate!

Some details about the book:
4.9 out of 5 stars on 14 reviews through Amazon~EPIC FANTASY SERIES and it is available in the UK, US, Germany, France, Italy and Spain. I have linked the US and the UK (Though the US is outselling the UK by far...they need to step it



When a dangerous artifact goes missing from the Temple of The Shimmering One, the high priest in charge of the artifact's protection realizes that he will not be able to retrieve the stolen relic without help. Calling upon Garius, the man who was once his own apprentice, Tiyarnon the High Priest enlists the aid of a man who is now an Inquisitor among the Order of the Faceless Knights. Garius, now a man of power and prestige, gathers a handful of allies to help complete his quest—but who among them is worthy of his trust? Aided by the mischievous Rose, a rogue among rogues, the stoic and blood thirsty Saeunn, and a promising but naive elf named Elec, Garius hopes his training as one among the Faceless Knights has prepared him to keep his small company in check, let alone survive the trials to come. Garius must lead his band of allies into dark regions to recover the artifact before it falls into the hands of the evil being that once held it in order to ensure the continued safety of the Realm of Ashenclaw.

 Begin your journey into the Realm of Ashenclaw TODAY!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Summertime Blues

Hello, Gravelings! Here we are just after the summer soltice (longest daylight of the year) and for those of us who do not enjoy light, it was harsh. However, now we can comfort ourselves in the fact that the days will be getting shorter and the nights longer...and we do so love the nights, yes? I feel the first stirrings of autumn in my heart and long to walk the forests at midnight.
anyway, just a note to let you know Blizzard of Glass is still under construction...somewhat distracted by the fact that Deathknell is recording again. On The Wings Ov Ravens will be available soon as well, so keep watching-the spirits are moving and dark works are being done...
til next time...

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Upcoming Promos & New Release!

SЄƇƦЄƬƧ ƠƑ ƬӇЄ ЄƁƠƝƖƬЄ MƖƝЄS is on SALE NOW! In honor of this I have done a price reduction on ƇƠѴЄƝƛƝƬ ƠƑ ƬӇЄ ƑƛƇЄŁЄSS ĶƝĮGĦƬS for the kindle version. Since it is BOOK! in the series, ut will be $2.99 for a week, starting the day I release Secrets, so keep your eye on Twitter, Facebook and here!

This is to entice any who are going to purchase the new novel to get the first one too!

AND, I have reduced the price of ШΟΤΗLΟŊÐΙΆ ŔΙSΙƝԌ: ƛƝƬĦƠŁƠGƳ to $2.99 for the foreseeable future! What more could a fantasy fan want?

So, if you wanted to read the prequels and get all 5 of the Wothlondia Rising short stories PLUS the FREE extra one (REFLECTIONS), there has never been a better time!

Here is another sample of Secrets of the Ebonite Mines to whet your fantasy appetite:

“How long has it been since we left that sickening temple?” asked Rose Thorne who sat lazily at the small table in the center of the wagon. She held the magnificent dagger Zaedra—one of a pair with Avorna—in her left hand, admiring its expertly-made hilt and blade. She absently twirled her long, red hair sporadically with her right hand as she looked out the porthole, waiting for an answer.

Saeunn sat in a chair to her right while Orngoth lay down on the floor where the group had spread out several bedrolls in an attempt to make it more comfortable for the giant half-ogre. The three apprentices were present, including the badly injured but recovering Rolf, who was not in the best of shape, but whose condition was stabilized at least.

Elec Stormwhisper and Garius Forge moved about the caravan, pacing back and forth. Garius was brooding and Elec seemed to be suffering from an intense nervousness of some kind.

Rose regarded Garius just then, inspecting silently the powerful Inquisitor from the Order of the Faceless Knights, a very esteemed and feared organization. Garius continued walking the floor with ease in his heavy plated armor, seeming not to tire. He wore it as effortlessly as a sage might wear a robe, Rose noted. She found herself, strangely enough, wondering what his body might look like beneath it, lean and full of muscles, she guessed.

“Two days now,” Garius suddenly answered her question. His words startled her and she happily disengaged from her embarrassing line of thinking.

“We near the northernmost section of the Oakcrest Mountains,” stated the Inquisitor as he paused to stare out the porthole opposite Rose, “as you may be able to tell from the sudden rumbling of the wagon rolling over the uneven road below. We shall be reaching that point within the next half day, and then will be heading back due south around the mountain. Once we hit Heartwood Valley, beyond the Oakcrest Mountains, we will stop for several hours where you will be able to stretch your legs. The road should become less treacherous, too.”

Rose peered outside and watched as the sun disappeared behind a cloud, pondering the recent events that had brought them here. They had been traveling for two days straight and planned to go another before stopping so that they could eat something other than dried bread or stale fruit. The construct that drove Nimaira’s magical caravan continued onward, seemingly paying no heed to those within.

Garius turned from the porthole and regarded the half-ogre, who occupied a huge portion of the caravan’s floor in front of the alcove where their beds were kept. His battered leg was elevated and resting on a chair. They’d all taken note that Orngoth’s leg was mending at a much faster rate than they’d anticipated but it seemed that the bone was fusing in an uneven fashion. They had not gotten the chance to set it properly after the escape from the temple and now it appeared it was too late, which Garius explained that he did not fully understand. Rose’s ankle and Saeunn’s elbow, however, were completely healed now thanks to a combination of both Garius’ healing abilities and Elec’s alchemical ointments.

They trudged along for another day. Elec conversed with Saeunn, in between his lengthy disappearances into his extra-dimensional lab space. When the barbarian did speak to the inquisitive elf, he intently consumed the information with an attentive gaze. But Rose spent all of that time in deep consideration as to why she kept thinking of Garius. And in ways she’d never thought possible after their initial encounter in the conference room of the High Council.

Final stage of cover art by William Kenney

Don’t forget to join the blog @SKULLDUST CIRCLE and know that we are preparing another anthology that will sample as many of us as possible. We are still trying to iron out the details as to when we can expect to have this book ready for you as all of us are feverishly working full time jobs as well as continuing our own sagas! I can tell you that my story will revolve around the history of the big, bad queen of the scorching drakes. So be prepared to have fun reading The Legend of Ashenclaw soon enough! Excerpts of my compilation will no doubt soon follow,

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Quick Announcement!

I was on Gelati's Scoop GZONE blog talk radio 6/21/12 @ 4pm doing an interview if anyone is interested in checking it out.It was a ton of fun and I had a good deal of information to share with any fans of Realm of Ashenclaw or fantasy in general. I also mentioned SKULLDUST CIRCLE and plans for me being @ GENCON this August!

The link for the show is here:

Blog post here:

Sunday, June 17, 2012


This is a sampling of my recently edited (by Stephanie Dagg)  

Secrets of the Ebonite Mines.

Cover Art in Progress
I wanted to share my comings and goings with you good people, the followers of these blogs, (Here and
ЄƳЄ ƠƝ ƛSĦЄƝƇԼƛƜ ) and give you all an exclusive sneak-peek at my next full-length novel. I have been getting a good deal of questions as to when this was coming out, so, with any luck, it will be available at the end of the month for the kindle select. I will be doing the initial 90 days through them and, depending upon how sales are, will decide whether or not to bring it to the NOOK and other venues. So, in this book, it picks up where ƇƠƲЄƝƛŊƬ ƠƑ ƬӇЄ ƑƛƇЄŁЄSS ĶƝĮGĦƬS left off and I am introducing a ton of new characters, so hold onto your hats!

There is a lot of ground to cover, several story lines going on at once, the revelation of a budding, mutual attraction that may lead to a romance soon enough, Rose's feud with the Shadowhands, and plenty of other magic and mayhem!

Here is a smattering sample of chapter 2, where I introduce you to  an integral group of Highwaymen tucked away discreetly in the mines and dilapidated village of Hollow Hill. They are the Blackstone Brotherhood. So, without further ado, meet Xorgram Eboneye! (And special thanks to Nick Titano again for his creative help with some of the characters and other things!)

Also, thanks to William Kenney for the cover art and  I've provided samplings of his WIP as well.


Xorgram Eboneye stood at the top of the watch tower, using his one good and deeply blue-colored eye to peer out over the horizon and into the morning skyline. He then removed a telescope from his backpack, lifted his eye patch and held the device over his prosthetic, very unique right eye. That prosthetic had many special qualities. The telescope, when combined with it, magnified his vision by tenfold, making things in the distance appear as if they were happening right in front of him.
The prosthetic eye, which he’d had implanted years ago, was made for him specifically by Fuddle Mucklewink using the rare shadowsteel material of the mines found below Hollow Hill. Fuddle was a brilliant gnome inventor and one of his oldest friends and allies. The new eye enabled Xorgram to somehow tap into his optic nerve, allowing him to not only obtain clear vision, but to also see into other planes if he so willed it. This particular gift required great effort and was a feat that he could only perform occasionally, and was something he’d discovered accidentally.
He surveyed the vast and many areas surrounding the dilapidated village he called home for signs of activity. Once a wagon, caravan or group of travelers was spotted, he could send his brethren to relieve them of their goods and coin.

He smiled as he thought of how smoothly their operations were going and how efficient the Blackstone Brotherhood had become here over the last few decades, perfecting their procedures and developing a careful system.  It had taken him years to come up with the proper distance, techniques and tactics with which to apply his thieving carefully enough to not be discovered. He was extremely proud of this particular group of highwaymen. This thought made him hold the smile for several more minutes before returning his attention to the valley to the north.
There was no sign of movement or life that he could see immediately in the vast expanse that was called Heartwood Valley. The valley was their usual stomping ground, sandwiched between the Oakcrest Mountains, the Amrel Forest, Hollow Hill and the eerily foggy Lake of Souls. Its proximity lent itself well to their incursions and provided sufficient cover from which to perform their raids without detection. And the mist from the Lake of Souls was just beginning to pour into the valley.
The fog derived from the warm waters that fell from the Blackstone Mountains, where a waterfall emptied into the Lake of Souls and caused a misty effect each and every morning. That was a particularly good time for the Brotherhood to execute their work—then and in the cover of night, of course. 
“Anything?” called a gruff voice from behind, pulling him from his thoughts. He turned to regard one of the coven, which is how he and the entire Blackstone Brotherhood referred to the thirteen leaders he placed in charge to help him run the day-to-day operations.
He looked down on one of his best and most seasoned raid leaders named Amtusk—a grey-skinned half-orc with remnants of auburn hair and a goatee that matched growing sporadically on his face. He spoke through a mouth framed by a pair of large tusks.
“I’m itchin’ for a fight!” 
“I’m bettin’ ye’ll be needed soon,” called back Xorgram as he stepped forward and leaned over the railing of the watchtower deck, staring wide at the ruins of Hollow Hill.  
Xorgram and his confidantes had long ago decided to leave the settlement in shambles so that any passers-by would not think it occupied. It remained in the state in which Ashenclaw herself had left it…charred ruins of a once-teeming village. 
“Why dontcha go fetch me some breakfast, instead o’ cryin’ and complainin’,” Xorgram called down once more to the half-orc, scratching his raven-black beard. 
“Aye,” called the half-orc from below as he brandished an ebon-hued axe and used it to salute Xorgram. “I’m wantin’ only to put this new axe-head to the test, if you want to know the truth!” 
“Yer time be comin’, so be ready when I’m callin’, Amtusk,” Xorgram ordered as he regarded the newly-crafted shadowsteel weapon with a wide smile. He couldn’t help but see how this most recent development by his miners and engineers would give their entire organization a major advantage—mostly in warfare—and they might even make a few coins if they could perfect the metals and sell them to the highest bidders. 
Once Xorgram sent the word out of how their new weapons worked, their reputation would spread across Wothlondia and the Brotherhood might grow into something altogether grand. With the new sections of ebonite they’d recently uncovered in the mines deep beneath their village, the head miner, Skilgo Firehammer, would certainly be busy! Xorgram had set Skilgo, a Slagfell dwarf and expert miner, to the task immediately. Not only had Skilgo been put to work, but all of the rest of the miners had been digging for months now in that section to uncover more of the ebonite veins, and they had recently revealed a mother lode!  
Xorgram also had his cousin and closest friend, Kilkutt Axegrind, the master-smithy, working tirelessly along with his understudies. They worked night and day to reshape the ebonite, reforming it into shadowsteel, which was in turn used to create some masterfully potent weapons and armor. That wasn’t even mentioning what Fuddle could do with the stuff, thought Xorgram gleefully. 
Xorgram surveyed the area carefully once more and considered that with the weather breaking, more and more caravans would be traveling within his boundaries. He whipped his head around and cleared the strings of black hair from his vision and scanned using the telescope. He panned west and then, as his gaze headed back toward the east, he could see what looked like a caravan.
“Well, I’ll be...” Xorgram muttered. 
To the north, as if in answer to his needs, came the mist from the Lake of Souls. It started out slowly each morn, but as the minutes passed, it thickened over the bottom of the valley and covered it for miles. He smirked at his good fortune and removed the telescope from over the ebon orb that sat in place of his right eye. 
 “Amtusk! Forget about me breakfast! We got us a carriage headed down from the northwestern hills!” he called out, retracting his lens and replacing it in his belt. “Get a party together with some crossbows in the hills above and get me some goods!”  
It was shaping up to be a good year, Xorgram thought.
“Aye!” Amtusk called and ran off to heed his leader’s commands. 
“The princess is complaining again,” called a silken voice from the other side of the watchtower. Xorgram stared down to see Cassia, his mistress and a seasoned raid leader, calling to him from below. Her blonde hair danced freely in the cool breeze.  
He hurriedly climbed down the watchtower and landed in front of her. He looked around to see that no one was nearby, grabbed her by the hair, pulled her low and kissed her hard on the lips. 
“Now, what ye be sayin’?” Xorgram asked replacing her into an upright position. He adjusted his leather pants and then ran his stubby fingers through his own disheveled, black hair in a vain attempt to make himself more presentable to her. 
“The princess,” she began to say with a certain malice in her tone that quickly dissipated, “requires some behavioral adjustments.” She wiped her mouth and spat at the floor in front of him.  
“Send Skuros to pay ‘er a visit,” ordered Xorgram as he smacked her hard on the right buttock. “If the taur don’t be scarin’ her, nothing will.” 
“Very well,” she agreed, looking back at him with a sly grin. “Or maybe I’ll just bleed the wench meself…” 
“Ye’ll be doin’ none o’ that, me pretty,” Xorgram ordered. “Be at me bedside tonight, though and I’ll punish ye fer mouthin’ off to me.”  
The blonde woman merely shrugged at the rugged dwarf, then called back to him. “Or maybe I’ll feed her to Iron Belly,” she teased as she departed with a glint in her light brown eyes and a cruel smile on her face that yet maintained a genuine beauty.  
Xorgram watched the woman go, thinking about the huge tyrantian worm that made its home beneath the ebonite mines with its gaping maw, huge mandibles and as yet unknown length and which they affectionately referred to as Iron Belly. He recollected the first time he had encountered the thing, which was coincidentally the same day he’d lost his right eye.  
He shook that thought from his mind as his vision couldn’t help but follow Cassia as she walked away, watching her hips moving side to side under her tight leather pants and her shapely legs crossing over in front of each other. Her twin rapiers were also hanging low on her belt, one on either side, their weight aiding in pulling down the top seam of her pants to reveal just the hint of lighter skin below her tan line. She glanced back to catch him staring at her and then turned back, no doubt smiling to herself.  
Xorgram quickly turned his considerations back to his daily tasks although his eye found Cassia’s form a few more times as she continued on her path into the mines. 
Once Cassia was out of sight, he headed toward the entrance of the village and saw the last of Amtusk’s raiding party piling out of the gates. He watched as they shut those same gates behind them.  
He breathed a deep sigh and adjusted his eye patch, giving in to the memories of the horrible troll, Bilonus that was responsible for taking his eye as well as his once-stunning features. Xorgram frowned visibly at that thought. But then a smile began to form as he recalled that the troll had been devoured by Iron Belly.  He headed back to the top of the watchtower once more, smiling ear to ear in vengeful satisfaction.

Cover Art Stage 2~Is that a Dire Bear? Yep!

I hope you enjoyed the sampling and keep your eyes peeled for more excerpts and news!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Tome of Inspiration +5

I blogged recently (on my random mescaline-addled blogspot) about inspirations that have guided my writing--and within that is not just my published fantasy work, but my YA sci-fi story currently lurking in a slush-pile somewhere nowhere near you. The blog noted the key influence of comics in my style, focusing particularly on the work of John Byrne.

But if I had to cite one key formative step in my writing there is no doubt that it would be role playing games, and of them all (and believe me I played almost all of them in the Eighties) it has to be Dungeons and Dragons.

This will come as no surprise to those who read Skulldust Circle, and indeed I know that at least one (if not most) of my six buddies owe allegiance to the frothing offspring of E Gary Gygax. This is the "I'm Spartacus" moment when they all concur....

[Echoes of fervent agreement as I level my Crossbow of Author Castrating +2]

I first observed the DnD phenomenon via my mate Nick Earnshaw's brothers' piles of DnD stuff. They were placed around his house, in little piles, under tables and cabinets- enticing mounds of graph paper, funny dice, rule books and modules. This was in c1981 and thus we are talking old school first edition AD&D here. I properly got into it when (a) I started on the Fighting Fantasy books and (b) got intrigued by The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. Ralph Bakshi had released a cartoon of LOTR and i recall seeing a recovered LOTR book at my mate's house (and indeed, we later played Middle Earth RPG). I started, as many did, on Basic D&D, moving onto Expert and from that, Advanced. I spent my life savings (about £30) on the Dungeon Masters Guide and the Players Handbook, doing without the Monster Manual for  year or so (creating many odd interpretations of the monsters found in that big table in the appendix of the DMG).

And the creativity began. We played a lot of the modules at first: The giant and the Drow ones (G1-3, D1-3, Q1) I ran with my younger brother. We played White Plume Mountain about ten times over (how cool was Black Razor? Like bloody StormBringer), Tomb of Horrors, one of the A ones (I forget which) and... as time went on, and the adventures got cooler, the UK modules and Dragonlance (and of course, Ravenloft).

But the real fun in the game was the real creativity--the writing of my own adventures, the generation of a campaign. Although through the Eighties we played dozens of other RPGs (Runequest, Traveller, Star Frontiers, Gamma World, Call of Cthulhu, Paranoia, Dr Who, Star Trek, MERPG, Toon, Judge Dredd, Bushido, Marvel Superheroes, Villians and Vigilantes, the time travel one, a gangster one too....) DnD was always my favourite. What we created changed with our tastes, or maturity and our outside influences. In the beginning it was daft, far-fetched, almost cartoonish--i recall a repeat-action crossbow that we loved in Hawk The Slayer, that half the characters had. Later we would weave together intricate campaigns, with fully realised histories.
I was never one for using TSRs campaign worlds (Greyhawk, Forgotten Realms) although when I ran a campaign in 1988-1991 i used the Fighting Fantasy sourcebook Titan as the basis for the adventures. But the story became personal, almost like a soap opera, with marriages, kids, relationships. old family feuds, arch-enemies and recurrent villains. Like a story, like a RPG should be.

Then I hit medical school, and we all moved apart in the country. Bar one or two sessions we all accepted that we'd not play again and, when wives and kids arrived, it seemed even less likely.
Around 5 years ago, bored one evening, i began to write a quick story about the characters we used to play with. I e-mailed it out to the guys and they loved it, and so I began to write a story as if we were playing the adventures again, with all the references to the characters histories.

It felt great, creating once more, breathing life into dialogue and action. The 300 pages the story ran to taught me a huge amount about writing, about structure. As it was concluding one of my mates, Ant, commented that I should tackle something brand new... something not related to our prior campaign.

So it began with a map... and now its a six book saga.

It took a while to escape the complete DnD influence. The first draft was very DnD style, with the magic derivative, and the characters almost having classes and levels! It took a bit of discipline and merciless use of the Red Pen of Sorrow +1 to tame the bias in the text.

But despite the modifications and moderations, it is unashamedly a book written by a DnD player (and Dungeon Master). I'm proud of that fact, and proud that I'm now starting a campaign with my kids (aged 10 and 8)... and White Plume Mountain awaits....

Over my next few posts I thought I'd bring it full circle. When I began playing DnD it inspired my reading of fantasy. The books I read then had a huge impact on me and I've continued my love of the fantasy classics that shaped the DnD games recently with a few books that I always meant to read. For fun I'm going to talk about them as i read them over the next six or so SkullDust posts I'm writing. Hope it'll be interesting fro gamers and fantasy buffs alike.