Wrapping up an epic fantasy

Epic fantasy is enveloping, enjoyable and hair-pullingly frustrating to write. In order to do it well you need to be able to draw the reader in without losing them into whatever web you are weaving. This means being able to maintain your characterizations, keep the narrative consistent with regard to your story as well as the logic of whatever world and the physics of the magic system you have created. The longer the word count the more difficult continuity becomes. Writers such as Robert Jordon, JK Rowling, Ann McCaffrey, and George R. R. Martin, are proven masters of the genre. I have left J. R. R. Tolkein out of that list because the Lord of the Rings stands alone as the genesis of the form.

My own epic, The Milward Chronicles has received very good reviews, but very little in the way of exposure. Back when I was still writing the second volume, book one, Birthright managed to make it all the way to the number one slot on the Barnes and Noble Fictionwise ebook store fantasy page, and the Fictionwise site lost market. Royalties trickled away.

Good old Amazon to the rescue; seeing how the market was changing, they began putting in place tools for authors to market their works. The latest one is what I wrote about in the previous column, Author Central. And so it begins.

This past summer I finally completed the Milward Chronicles, an epic of five thick volumes with a total word count approaching one million. The last book is entitled, The Witch of Angbar, and here is the first chapter for your reading pleasure:

                                                   Chapter 1

In the land of the Maraggar, Dral-ne’talnisan, the Suldakhar holds power just below that of Tettuwain, his peoples’ deity; the Pfaldam, the living reach of his words, and the Suldam, the living reach of his hands. From the day of his birth, he was raised to rule and to expect his every word to be obeyed as if it came directly from the mouth of Tettuwain.

Dral-ne’talnisan’s mother was, on the day of her marriage to Dral’s father, the Suldakhar-tet, the greatest beauty the Pfaldam could find. The Suldakhar-tet resembled the best of the Suldam lineage and it was a near certainty that their progeny would exemplify those traits.

A dark-skinned people with silver hair, the Maraggar hold a deep love of orderliness. Their society reflected that love to the point where two different body types developed over the centuries to fit the niche into which they were born. The Pfaldam or Administrators, were typically fat to the point of obesity, their sedentary lifestyle lending much to this physique. The Suldam were the Maraggar military. Towering statues of ebony perfection, each Suldam resembled the other as each pea does its neighbor.

Maraggar architecture reflected its people’s culture in its massive size, clean blocky lines, thick walls, and meticulously maintained streets. The primary building material was white granite quarried from the central plateau. The huge buildings crouched next to the streets in ranks, as if they were an occupying force.

Melanchthon, the capital city overlooked the eastern escarpment. From the palace one could see the Channel Islands, and beyond them, the distant peak of Angbar as it jutted through the ever-present clouds of the eastern sea. Nine tiers, the holy number of Tettuwain, comprised the city proper, giving it the look of a truncated pyramid. The first tier connected to an umbilicus of sorts that ran south along the escarpment to a series of switchbacks that led down to the harbor at the escarpments base. Tall ships covered in jewels called the Eyes of Tettuwain lined the harbor. The top tier contained the palace and the Suldakhar’s living quarters. In obedience to tradition, the first tier contained the temple and all other religious offices, placing the people of the city rightfully between their deity and their Emperor.

Dral-ne’talnisan stood with his hands clasped behind his back as he looked out toward the east. Thoughts moved through his mind like Suldam on parade. The new temple in that barbarian city called Southpointe should be nearing completion. It always amazed him how little wealth it took to convince the pales to work against their own interests. A smile crossed his face as to the chagrin they would experience when the gold stopped flowing and the whips came out. The timing of the war seemed almost supernatural and that part disturbed him. He distrusted magik and those who used it. The Pfaldam and Suldam were more to his liking, efficient tools, easily controlled and understandable.

He dropped his gaze to the harbor below. The new ships were ready to sail. They lined the docks by the hundreds, their masts like reeds along a watercourse. Soon the command would be given and the age of Maraggar dominion over all the peoples of the world would begin. He smiled to himself. Even she would not be able to refuse him then.

¨         ¨         ¨

“How dare you? Oh, it’s you,” Baxtr-Kin sat back into his desk chair and, with an effort, set his features into a look of relaxed indifference. It was a bit more difficult this time. The start he had been given by the sudden appearance of a cloaked figure in his supposedly locked and guarded study had caused him to spill a few drops of an extremely rare vintage. He groused, “What do you want, Mallien?”

The cause of the start smiled broadly in an expression that would have horrified children and pushed back the deep hood of his robe. Magister Mallien pulled over one of the chairs that bracketed the window in Baxtr-Kin’s study and sat down. Mallien stared at the Ortian Councilman from behind steepled fingers. Sweat began forming on the council member’s brow. The smiled broadened. “So sorry to not knock, Baxtr,” Mallien purposely left off the honorific Kin, “but apparition was necessary to ensure privacy.”

Baxtr-Kin scowled as he glanced briefly at the golden bell on his desk. One ring would bring the guardsmen stationed outside his door, but he doubted their ability to deal with one such as the Magister.

Mallien’s grin flashed once, briefly, “Very good Baxtr, it appears you do have the ability to develop wisdom after all. I suppose you have heard something of the news from the north?”

Baxtr-Kin scowled, “Must you be so insulting?”

“Must you be such an easy target?” Mallien scowled back. “Now answer my question.” The fingers of his left hand tapped the arm of the chair.

“What news are you talking about?”

“Don’t be thick, Baxtr-Kin,” Mallien chided, “You know exactly the news I’m speaking of. You were deeply involved in our plans as far as the south was concerned.”

Baxtr-Kin’s mouth twitched in a grimace, “Oh, that.” He moved in his chair uncomfortably. “Yes, I heard. It seems your plans worked out just about as well as mine did.” He lifted the snifter to his lips. “That young fool Gerold-Lyrd and his meddling wizard ruined several of mine. Cost me several thousand golds as well,” he finished in a mutter.

“Perhaps you would be interested in satisfying your thirst for revenge, hmm?” Mallien rubbed his chin.

Baxtr-kin tossed back the rest of his brandy. He did not even consider offering any to the Magister. “Of course I’m interested. What do you suggest?”

Mallien re-steepled his fingers and sighed, “Oh, a bit of this and a bit of that. You are I am sure, aware of the upcoming trial of the deposed Duke of Grisham?”

“Who isn’t? There has been nothing else as far as gossip is concerned since the day they brought that raving manic into the capital.” Baxtr-Kin chuckled, “The trial should be fun to watch from what I hear.”

“Yes,” Mallien answered dryly, “it should.” He stood and began pacing. “I propose to add some additional spice to the entertainment. In addition to the fun of listening to a madman, what would you say to the possibility of watching your young tormentor being led from the council chamber in chains after being accused of the assassination of the emperor?”

Baxtr-Kin leaned forward, an evil glint blossoming in his eyes. “Say on,” he murmured.

Mallien nodded, “First, tell me if you have any of your counterfeit gold marks left.”

“That was an outrageous lie!” Baxtr-Kin blustered. “Counterfeiting is a capital offense and only a total fool would…”

Mallien held up a hand. “Please, do not bore me with false protests of innocence, Councilmember. I am not concerned with your little…extracurricular enterprises. I am, however very interested as to whether or not you have any of those sham marks for our use.”

Baxtr-Kin’s eyebrows rose, “Our use?”

Mallien approached the desk and placed both hands onto the polished wood. He leaned forward and hissed, “What would the authorities say if they discovered several thousand marks worth of counterfeit gold in your nemesis’ vault? How would they react to also finding proof that those marks were payment for slipping a very deadly, but tasteless poison into the Emperor’s symbolic flagon of water at the Duke’s trial?”

Baxtr-Kin’s mouth worked as he ran this scene through his mind. His eyebrows narrowed and he slammed a fist onto the top of his desk. “Yes! Scrood the bastard for a pullet, I’ll do it!”

Mallien glanced at the door leading to the study. Apparently, the guards were used to outbursts from the fat councilmember; the door remained securely shut. “Very good, Councilmember, now this is what we shall do…”

¨         ¨         ¨

“Alford the twenty-third, Emperor of the Southern lands, scion of the house of Galtihedrion,” Duke Bilardi breathed the words out as if they formed the foulest curse he could imagine. “What ill fortune brings you to my humble office?” He giggled on the word, office. The brittle edge of madness lay in the sound.

“Please leave us Cremer,” Alford said quietly.

The Emperor’s aide balked. “…Sire, I…”

“I will be quite safe, Sobret,” Alford interrupted, using his aide’s informal name, “the bars are protection enough.”

Cremer bowed and, casting a look of distaste toward the prisoner, left the cells.

Duke Bilardi called after the departing Cremer, “Yes, leave us Sobret. You don’t want to be found in the presence of fools and madmen now, do you?” He giggled again, grasping the bars of his cell tightly enough to whiten the knuckles on his hands.

Alford looked at the Duke. In spite of efforts to allow the man every amenity, including a bath, soap and clean clothes, Bilardi refused to make use of any of them. The guards said he even refused to sleep on the mattress he had been given, choosing rather the stones of the floor. Alford’s glance passed over the rumpled blanket lying next to the bed, the pillow off to the side against the wall.

Duke Bilardi was filthy and his beard had begun to mat. Only his nose and the skin around his eyes showed from behind the wild black thatch of his hair. The eyes gleamed too brightly and the teeth, white when the Duke was delivered to the prison, were nearly buried beneath a thick layer of brownish tarter. His odor was less than pleasing.

Bilardi grinned at the Emperor through the bars. “Does my beauty please His Excellency?”

Alford ignored the taunt. “I am here on a duty, Your Grace,” he said. “I bring news of your son.”

“I have no son!” Spittle sprayed with the force of the Duke’s scream.

“Nevertheless,” Alford replied calmly, “the duty must be fulfilled.” Bilardi began screaming inarticulately as he danced around his cell, overriding the Emperor’s words. Alford carried on and passed on the information regarding the Duke’s son, Bilardi and the coming betrothal to the Lady Charity.

When he finished, Alford left the raving Duke and walked tiredly back up the stairs to where his aide waited.

Cremer held his Emperor’s cloak outward with both hands and placed it across Alford’s shoulders and said, “A distasteful duty, My Lord.”

Alford sighed, “Yes, but one that had to be done. Now all that remains is his trial”

“One doubts the Duke will ever regain his sanity in time, my Lord,” Cremer murmured.

“An opinion, Cremer?” Alford looked at his aide in surprise.

“An observation, my Lord,” Cremer demurred. “General Jarl-Tysyn awaits, my Lord.”

“Ah yes,” Alford replied, “matters of state.” He smiled, “I’m not sure which duty is the more distasteful.”

Cremer followed Alford as the Emperor made his way up the several flights of stairs from the dungeon to the Royal offices. Jarl-Tysyn stood before the Emperor’s desk as stiffly erect as if a rod had been affixed to his back. The white bristle of his hair gleamed with fresh oil. The nickel and bronze of his breastplate had been polished to a mirror-like sheen.

The Emperor shook his head and then composed his expression into one of seriousness as he rounded the desk and sat down. “Sire General, so good of you to come by. I expect you have your report ready to deliver?”

“I do, Your Majesty,” Jarl-Tysyn replied as stiffly as he stood.

Alford had been rifling through papers as he asked the last question. The tone in his General’s voice caused him to look up. “What’s going on?” He asked.

The twitches of Jarl-Tyson’s face attempting to maintain composure told Alford most of what he wanted to know. He held up the sheaf of papers in his left hand as he gestured with his right toward the armchair positioned before the desk. “Sit General, that is a royal command by the way, and tell me what is eating at you before you explode all over my palace.”

Jarl-Tysyn hesitated only for the briefest moment before sitting into the chair. He managed to give the impression of still being at attention while seated. “It’s…about that lad up north, Your Majesty,” the words came out slowly, as if they were forced.

Alford sat back in his chair and asked, “Lad? Which lad? From what I understand, a few million people live up north. Which one of them concerns you?”

“This one carries a certain sword, Your Majesty.”

Alford smiled. “Well that narrows it down a bit. Can you add a few more specifics?”

Jarl-Tysyn glared as he ground out, “I saw the skrudding thing, Majesty. It was Labad’s and it was strapped to the hip of the boy who opened a bloody great skrudding pit with a wave of his hand. Later on, he closed it with the help of that bloody Wizard. That’s the lad I’m talking about…Your Majesty,” he finished in a more subdued tone.

Alford nodded. “Ah, I see. And the fact that this…lad is wearing a sword you identified as being the sword of Labad and that he is also capable of magik, such as that self same Ortian Emperor, leads you to the conclusion that he is a danger to my throne.”

Jarl-Tysyn shrugged, “It has been preying on my mind a bit, Your Majesty.”

“You spoke with this…lad?” Alford asked.

“Yes Your Majesty.”

“He has a name, I suppose?”


“That’s all, just…Adam? You heard no surname, no hint of family lineage? Alford shook his head. “For a potential threat to my throne that sounds like very little to base a case upon. Swords can be made and the Wizard Milward has proven the existence of magik beyond all doubt.”

Jarl-Tysyn surged to his feet and slammed his fist against his breastplate. “I saw the skrudding thing! I know the difference between a flicking copy and the real thing. I saw what this boy can do and I saw his effect on the people around him. If he isn’t Labad’s heir, I’m a Maraggar doxie. Besides that, he has the Dragons at his beck and call.”

“Dragons,” Alford mused, “I would have loved to see that.” He looked at Jarl-Tysyn through lidded eyes, “What do you propose I do with this news General?” He asked quietly.

Jarl-Tysyn had no answer. He looked at Alford helplessly. After a long uncomfortable silence, he spread his hands. “I…I don’t know. I like the boy…when it comes down to it. I’d even trust my granddaughter to his care with no reservations. You should have seen it, Your Majesty. He’s as humble as a monk but somehow manages to shape the people around him into…I don’t know, believing in him, I guess. Folks just want to please him and because of that, they try harder.” The General’s voice became more animated as he spoke.

Alford’s smile grew. “Perhaps I should abdicate.”


“What about going to war then? He is a threat, as you say…after all.”

“We just fought a skrudding war! You signed onto the flicking accord!”

“Yes, there is that.” Alford stood and moved out from behind his desk. He walked over to where he looked into the General’s pale blue eyes. “I signed onto the accord. I wasn’t there, but you were, as my extension. My signing it after the fact is no less binding under Ortian law than if I had been there and witnessed the marvels you had the good fortune to see for yourself. I will not break our law, General. Will you council me to do so? This Adam, from what you tell me seems a good sort. Someday I might even have the ability to meet him. If, as you say he is associated with the Wizard Milward, I probably will. Perhaps we could even become friends.”

Jarl-Tysyn nodded, remaining silent.

Alford went on, “Now, enough of that. Let’s move on to these accords I mentioned. I signed them, but I wasn’t there. What hidden concessions did I agree to without knowing it?”

Back in more familiar territory, the General relaxed, muttering, “None, your Majesty.”

“What? I find that hard to believe. You were there, Jarl-Tysyn. What did you hear?”

Jarl-Tysyn related with impeccable accuracy the context of the meeting between himself, Derric-Hess, the current Duke Bilardi and Adam. He ran through the text of the accord verbatim, including the punctuation marks. When he was done, Alford shook his head. “Unbelievable. You do realize, General that this is the first time in recorded history that neither we nor our treaty partner has not tried to pull a fast one?”

Jarl-Tysyn’s face settled into mask-like stiffness. “I would not presume to say so Your Majesty.”

“No, I suppose not,” Alford said, and then broke into a grin. “I can just imagine the look on Gephard-Pries’ face when he was excluded from being a signatory on the accord.”

“Yes, Your Majesty,” the mask relaxed into the briefest of smiles.

“Yes…” Alford moved back to his chair. “Now,” he said, resting his forearms onto the desk, “on to future matters, the upcoming trial of our mad Duke.”

“Ortian law requires that the accused be present during the proceedings, Sire, even if he is not competent to be a participant.” Jarl-Tysyn added.

“Not competent,” Alford repeated. “Now there is an understatement of vast proportions.”

“The guards have made preparations to prevent disruption, Your Majesty.”

“He cannot be bound or gagged General. The law doesn’t allow that, not during a trial.”

Jarl-Tysyn shook his head. “This is going to be a flicking circus.”

“Not if we can help it, General. Cremer!”

Cremer appeared in the foyer leading to the Emperor’s rooms and asked, “Sire?”

Alford pointed a finger at his aide. “Have the legal staff search the regulations, rights, policies and statutes in regard to the treatment of the accused on trial. I want to know if there is anything we can do to curtail the ability of Duke Bilardi to disrupt his trial.”

Cremer bowed, “At once sire,” and left the room.

“By Bardoc I hope this works,” Jarl-Tysyn said under his breath.

“So do I General,” replied Alford, surprising Jarl –Tysyn with the acuity of his hearing. Now, what can you tell me about the situation in Southpointe?”

Jarl-Tysyn looked quizzical. “Situation, Your Majesty?”

“Ah, it appears word hasn’t reached you.” He reached into a desk drawer and pulled out a sheaf of papers sealed with a burgundy ribbon. “While you were enjoying yourself up north, an old acquaintance of mine paid me a visit. Do you know a ship’s Captain by the name of Larl-Brin?”

Jarl-Tysyn had said the last syllable of the captain’s name along with his Emperor, but he said it with considerably less aplomb. “Yes, Your Majesty, I know the man.”

Alford smiled. “I see you do,” he said, tapping the papers against the desk. “The good captain has done a few favors for me over the years. While you were up north, he brought a couple from Southpointe to me. The tale they related was quite disturbing. If their story was to be taken at face value we are being invaded.”

“Invaded?” Jarl-Tysyn’s voice rose in pitch, “By whom? Where? When?”

“Yes, we don’t know yet, Southpointe and apparently it started right about the time the bulk of our armed forces were camped outside of Grisham,” Alford replied matter-of-factly.

“Well…” Jarl-Tysyn ground out, “We have to do something. The army must be re-mustered. The navy refitted and sent on the next tide. This invasion has to be driven out at once!”

“Or,” Alford said, sliding the papers across the desk toward the General, “We can let our spies do their work and find out what sort of force we are going to be dealing with and then plan accordingly. Read these. Some of the descriptions seem familiar to me, but so far I haven’t found out why.”

Jarl-Tysyn ran his eyes over the top page, lifting the ribbon with a forefinger. “I’ll want to talk to this couple, Bal and Doreen,” he murmured, “Are they still in the city?”

“They are being put up in one of the inns in the first ring, near the wharf. I offered them a room in the palace but they said they would prefer more humble surroundings.”

“Sounds like a nice couple,” Jarl-Tysyn murmured.

Alford nodded.

¨         ¨         ¨

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Books on Amazon

Amazon has made buying a book, any book remarkably easy, whether it be a downloadable ebook or a first edition signed and numbered hardback. You get your book quickly and in good condition. As an author, it is the height of idiocy to ignore this market. My publisher notified me about Amazon’s Author Central and the idea of setting up an author page. I was unaware of its being available. Another author under the same publisher was not as slow and is busy counting $34,000 of royalties earned over the past couple of years. Not independent wealth, but neither is it chicken feed.

I’ve been busy working at various ways of getting my books out there, forums, emailing copies to friends, relatives and people who may or may not know me. You know, the usual routes when you don’t have a publisher with deep pockets, and major stock holding in the brick and mortar stores, and the ability to buy a spot in the New York Times Bestseller list. Yes, that does happen, more often than you’d like to think.

Reviews are nice, well the good ones are. I’ve been fortunate enough to get rave reviews, when they come in, except for that one fellow who thought Jim Butcher had a copyright on the noir fantasy genre. Seems he had no knowledge of Glen Cook’s works predating Harry Dresden by two decades, and then there was Mister Poe a century back. Writing is writing. Good writing is the difference maker.

With Amazon in mind, I’ve decided to try something different where the Look Inside button is concerned. Most publishers use it so that the prospective reader gets a look at maybe one or two pages that actually have story. The next book in the Tony Mandolin series coming out is What The Puck? In this volume, Tony has to deal with something called the Key to the Universe, and everyone, I mean EVERYONE wants it, and then there is the pregnant werewolf…

Here is the entirety of the first chapter for your reading pleasure:

Chapter 1

Ever have one of those days? How about one of those weeks? Got the picture? Now stretch that into an entire month and you can begin to see why my mood was lower than a 60 year old hooker’s expectations.

The name’s Mandolin, Tony Mandolin. I’m a private investigator and the city of San Francisco is my beat. I used to be a way for people to find things, and relatives who were lost, but a couple of years ago things shifted to the weird. That last was a huge understatement by the way; weird had somehow become the major factor, not only in my professional life, but also in my personal. My current girlfriend is a scientist who breeds highly unusual plants, and my housemate is a sometimes recovering NFL-sized, black, drag queen named Frankie.

My last case dealt with another woman of magical means blackmailing the city’s best restaurants with poison orchids. I’d had to use the services of a flock of pixies, an alcoholic wizard with a serious attitude problem and an apprentice Werebeagle – yes, I did say Werebeagle – plus assorted others to solve it. Apparently, according to Bay Area reality, not every lycan is related to wolves and Alsatians. It seems shapeshifters come in all flavors. I wouldn’t be surprised if somewhere out there is a whole tribe of weremice getting overwhelming urges to attack the cheese counter at the local supermarket just before a full moon.

That case had also taken away one of my usual hangouts, the Summersault but, cad that I am, I didn’t shed too many tears. You see, I’d found a better place literally right around the corner from my house. It was called The Snug and run by a guy with the utterly cynical name of Tiny.


The typical San Francisco summer evening, cool, damp and foggy, perfectly suited my mood, so I stuffed my hands into my pockets and mooched on over to Tiny’s place. The Snug’s owner stood just shy of 6’10” and tipped the scales, when you found some that went that high, at around 575 lbs. His usual mode of dress was a week old growth of beard, red mixed with white, light blue shirt with khakis and an old apron that must have been around when Doc Holiday met the Earp boys. He kept a sawed-off shotgun behind the bar for just in cases but I’d yet to see the time come when he had to pull it out.

Sure, things happen in the city, especially when you run a neighborhood bar. There was a night not too long ago when this addict tried to pull a gun on Tiny. They say the guy bounced twice before he hit the other side of the street, and then there was the time he punched out a troll. Yes, troll, the kind with knobby green skin and breath bad enough to use as welding fuel. When you live in the city you get your entertainment where you can.

I pushed open the door to The Snug and walked in. Discarded peanut shells crunched under my feet as I made my way over to the bar. They hadn’t been there when I discovered the place, but a couple months back Tiny took a trip up north to the lost coast. Now, every spare corner in the place had a 100lb. burlap sack of the things. I picked one of the small bowls sticking out of a bag and scooped up a portion.

“Rough day, Tony?”

“You can read my face, eh?”

He grunted.

“No, rough week.”

He grunted again. The big guy’s vocabulary would never win him any game show host gigs. He was New Jersey Irish from the other side of the tracks. Me, I’m mongrel Italian, but he’s never held it against me. “Another?”

I cracked a peanut. “Yeah, sure Tiny, thanks.” I flipped the empty shell down to join its brothers.

Tiny pushed the fresh pint in my direction. “So…wanna talk about it?”

I looked up in surprise. Tiny usually stayed out of people’s personal problems. The most common advice was a sympathetic grunt and perhaps a raised eyebrow.

“Work problems. I’ve been running into brick walls since the weekend.”

Tiny examined a thumbnail the size of my belt buckle. “Some more of that weird stuff?”

I took a sip of my beer. “Yes and no. I accepted a runaway case and I’ve been getting nowhere. You know how deeply a kid can go underground, but now I’ve got some serious heat on me to do something…or else.”

Tiny nodded. “Expectin’ miracles ’cause they believed the hype.”

I looked up. “I don’t hype my business, Tiny.”

He grunted and shook his head. “I know, but they don’t”

“Thanks for the help.”


As Tiny turned back to polishing glasses, I looked over towards the chess set he had put next to the fireplace. Hand carved. Whoever had done the carving sure took their time. Each piece was a miniature portrait of a middle-ages figure down to the last detail. The white were Saxon, the black–Norman. Every time I picked one up I saw another detail I’d missed before. Me, I couldn’t whittle if you spotted me three notches, but I do appreciate talent.

Since I lived around the corner it had become my habit to decompress by going against Tiny with that set even though the games were usually short and to the point. The point being me taking another beating. So what, where else can you play by a fire and drink beer? Besides, I thought that perhaps the exercise of planning a few moves ahead would help me break through my figurative wall. You know what they say about plans…

Against most of the other regulars I could hold my own, except of course Ursula Ignatova and her fiancé Paul. Ursula is the medical examiner and Paul runs a lab over at Berkeley doing terrible things to moss and mildew. And then there was the old man I met after the Summersault burned, Doc Lamoreaux. He was one of the few guys who could even whip Tiny. Of course Doc has the patience of the grave on his side, he’s a zombie, but he prefers the title life-challenged. He belongs to an association of life-challenged folks, the Brotherhood o’ Non-Living Entities Reanimated or BONER for short. And yes, he got the joke. He was originally from New Orleans and still had the Cajun in his voice.

I snatched up some more peanuts, letting the shells fall to the floor. Tiny ignored my sloppiness. He says the crunch underfoot adds atmosphere along with the ability to absorb spilled beverages. Anybody will find an excuse for not doing janitorial work.

I finished my beer and signaled Tiny for another. Then I blinked. “Hey, Tiny, who’s the little guy over by the chess set?”

“What little guy?”

“Your eyes going bad on you, Tiny?” I picked up my mug. “Over there by the chess set. About four foot nothing with a dark green coat? ”

Tiny gently, but irresistibly pulled my mug out of my hand, “Time to go home, Tony.”

I looked back at the chess set–nothing. I did a quick scan of the place; nope, just me and Tiny. The other two customers had finished their business and gone. I knew it wasn’t the beer. Two pints did not do that to me. I turned back around on my stool and leaned my elbows onto the bar.

“Tiny. You know I haven’t had enough to start hallucinating.” He just looked at me and went on wiping glasses. “Tell you what. If I can hit two bull’s-eyes out of six will you believe me?” I might not be much of a chess player but I can throw a decent dart. The Sung had a board hanging in alcove off the bar, pub style with foldout doors and a boar’s hair target over an inch thick; well away from breakables, and the odd customer.

He looked me up and down, measuring. Then he sighed. “Yeah, go ahead.”

“Some darts, please?” Every Thursday night Tiny holds a darts tournament. The winner drinks for free the rest of the night and the losers pick up his or her tab for the time prior to the match. Not a bad deal for Tiny. It usually makes for a very busy Thursday and being a work night, most winners aren’t too interested in greeting Friday morning with a roaring hangover.

Tiny handed me my darts. I toed the line and threw. Seeing that little guy must have shaken me more than I thought. My first dart stuck firmly into the middle of the left door. Tiny grunted and started to pour out my drink.

“Hey! Whoa there, Tiny! I’ve got five to go.” Tiny grunted again, unbeliever. I took a deep breath and some extra time to settle the flutters. I could feel the dart sink into the 50 before it hit. I looked at Tiny and gave him my winner’s grin. He grunted noncommittally but it didn’t matter. I was in the zone. The second one I tossed without even really looking. It slid in next to the other dart with a satisfying metallic ‘zing’. Tiny pushed the mug back over to my stool. It was a good thing I hit the zone when I did, because as I looked back over to the chess set, the little guy was back. If I had to toss another dart right then I couldn’t promise you it would land anywhere near the board. What made it worse was he waggled his eyebrows at me. Tiny had his back to the bar just then so he didn’t see my hand shake when I took a drink.

The front door opened and closed. It was Heather, the girl from the antique shop a couple of blocks down the street. She must’ve seen something on my face when she slid onto the stool next to mine.

“Bad week?”

“You can tell, huh?”

“You’ve got one of those faces, Tony. You’d make a lousy poker player.”

I took another drink. “Yeah… guess so.”

“He been like this all night Tiny? Irish coffee please.”

Tiny started his mixing and grunted an affirmative.

She nodded back.

I looked. The little guy was gone again. I was starting to wonder if my brick wall problem was affecting more than just my personality. I grabbed another bowl full of peanuts and sat down with my back to the wall next to the fireplace. The chess set was arranged on the table before me. The playing surface was inlaid into the oak tabletop, squares of white birch and ebony. As I sat down the front door opened again and Doc came strolling through. He pulled his right hand out of his pocket and gave me a jaunty wave.

“Tony! You’re not ready for another shellacking already, cher?” I made the mistake of playing Chess with Doc Friday night. He caught me in his own version of fool’s mate after five moves. No, I wasn’t ready to face him again. Not for a long time. His voice had that usual dry, raspy grave quality. It smoothed out after a couple of drinks.

“No, Doc. The fire’s kind of peaceful. It’s a good place to do some thinking.”

He looked at me for a few seconds then nodded. “Yes…do you some good, I t’ink, cher.” Now what did he mean by that? I shook my head and turned back to the fire. Everyone seemed to know me better than me. I think that was part of the problem. What was bugging me was work, or rather work not working out the way it was supposed to. It used to be that I could find anything, even if the thing needing finding didn’t want to be found. Over the years I’d gathered my fair share of lumps because of that, but still…it was part of what made me, me. And now I had this runaway to find, not to mention the knockdown, drag out I’d had with Alcina the other night because my temper got the best of me. I tried to piece together the reasons as to why.

No, I’m not some psychic detective and I don’t have any magical powers. What I am is stubborn and over the years I’d developed a knack for being able to turn over what others have missed, sometimes even when those others didn’t want me to. Getting nowhere, I scooped up some more peanuts and ordered another brew.

I spent the next half hour having a discussion concerning my shortcomings with myself. I considered closing up shop and trying my hand at managing a pizza parlor. But reason intervened and convinced me that even with all its problems I wouldn’t be happy doing anything else.

The door blew open with a bang.

“Frankie! Easy on the door. OK?” Tiny called out as my partner came in.

“Damn wind. We have a real blow working up out there.” Frankie, besides being my housemate and an NFL-sized ex-drag queen was also one of the best decisions I’d ever made in my business. I’d already lost count of the number of times he had saved my life and, if memory served right, he’d started doing that before I’d hired him.

He has one of those mercurial personalities of the born performer. When I’d met him he was doing a show at one of the SOMA clubs catering to fellas who don’t swing in the same direction the rest of us guys. During the last case he’d wiped out a high-ranking member of Queen Medb’s court with the swing of a chair. Faeries are tough, but Frankie is one of those folks who could give Tiny a run for his money in the brute strength department. Unlike Tiny, though, Frankie cries during romance movies.

He shook out his umbrella and said, “So…what’s new, guys?”

He received an assortment of noncommittal shrugs and grunts and then ordered a pint. After it slid to a stop in front of him he joined me by the fire.

“Alcina called.”

I did not want to hear that. The other major failing I have is that I can’t switch off a mad the way most women seem to be able to do. Of course, being of the male persuasion, I am guilty as charged when I act like a man. Alcina was, more than likely, waiting for me to admit that I was wrong and I wouldn’t ever do it again. The worst part of it was…she was right. I imitated one of Tiny’s grunts.

“I…spent some time checking out the shelters,” Frankie said tentatively, turning the pint in his hands.

“Yeah,” I drank, already knowing what was coming next. This girl had vanished from her parents’ home over a week ago. I usually solved such cases in less than a couple of days, three if the kid was real good at hiding. But, not this time. Somehow this girl had managed to disappear into the city’s background and pull it in after her.

“I showed the managers the photo. None of them had seen her and it didn’t look like any of them were lying.”

“Yeah,” I nodded.

“Do you think…” Frankie began the question with his attention focused on his drink.



“No, Frankie. Not if Hell freezes over, and I’ll say the same thing to Alcina. I am not going to ask him for help, not this time. He scares the living crap out of me.”

This ‘he’ was the reason for the fight Alcina and I had. Landau Bain, San Francisco’s resident wizard was also an unrepentant alcoholic and scary as hell. Both Frankie and Alcina were convinced that simply because Bain had saved my worthless hide at least three times during the last case that I should forget the time he fried my nerves with a wave of his hand. They were convinced that Bain, being a wizard and all, could solve my problem with another wave of his hand. They were probably right. However, the last time I’d gotten mixed up with him I’d wound up as the sacrifice du jour for a witch and her acolyte.

I went back to my self-proclaimed gloom and nodded at the appropriate times while Frankie dispensed what he thought was helpful advice.

After a while Julius ambled in complaining about the rain. Julius is the Werebeagle I told you about. He had one of those faces that make you think about a hound dog when you look at him and if you did so in a good light, you’d see a subtle patterning in his skin that spoke volumes if you knew what you were looking at. He also had the most incredible sense of smell I’d ever seen put to work. He’d been out of the city for the past couple of months so I hadn’t been able to use him on the case. For the first time in a while I saw a potential ray of sunshine in my future.

I waved Julius over to where Frankie and I sat and offered to buy him a drink.

Julius was immediately suspicious. His experiences with the last case he’d helped me on hadn’t been all that enjoyable, even though he did get paid.

“I…didn’t see you guys sitting here,” meaning that if he had we would have been seeing his backside exit the bar.

“Hey, I paid you, didn’t I? I think I almost remember putting a little extra in,” I motioned to the empty chair next to Frankie. The case had paid extremely well. Antonio Luccesi, the city’s crime lord had been very generous since it turned out most of the restaurants affected by the blackmailer were under his control.

Julius nodded, “Yes, yes you did.”

“There, you see? Now don’t worry, I have no intention of getting mixed up in any case that involves, witches, wizards, warlocks or trolls, ok?” I managed a pretty phony smile.

Frankie chuckled disbelievingly, the ingrate.

“Who’s the little guy with the green suit?” Julius asked.

I whipped my head around so fast I almost gave myself an injury. “You saw him?”

He wasn’t there again. Damn.

I turned back to face Julius. “You saw him,” I made it a statement that asked questions, “You really saw him.”

Julius reared back at my excitement, “Y…yes, so what? Lots of little people live in the city.”

I glanced over my shoulder, “Is he there now?”

Frankie asked, “Tony, what’s going on?”

I told both Frankie and Julius about the little guy, the green coat and the wagging eyebrows. I even mentioned the disappearing act. Since they both had witnessed as much weirdness as I had, I figured on a little understanding at least.”

This time I’d figured right.

“You know…this sounds familiar.” Julius scratched his head, grimaced and rubbed his chin. “I…don’t…. …. know…it seems I’ve heard or read about something like this before.”

“One of the tabloids, maybe?” Frankie reached for a peanut.

“I remember!” Julius slapped his forehead. “My uncle, Pontius the Finder, mentioned it, oh…about six or seven years when he was telling me all about his trip to Ireland.”

“Go on,” I encouraged.

“Did you see if the hair was red?” Julius asked with his head tilted to one side.

“What does that have to do with–?” Frankie began.

I stopped him with a held up hand, “Yes, I think so. I couldn’t get a real good look.”

“Then I think I’ve got it now. According to what my uncle told me, we’ve just seen a Leprechaun.” He held his chin up in smug pride.


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Random thoughts and Lucky Stiff

I’m currently working on my fifth Tony Mandolin mystery/fantasy. I call the genre noir fantasy because it’s the closest short term definition I can think of. Think Phil Marlow meets Gandalf and you’ve got yourself in the neighborhood. The most difficult thing for me in writing, and writing well is to maintain the consistency and the logic system I build into the world I create. What makes it rather more difficult is I made a vow to never stoop to foul language or graphic sex to bulk up my page count. Believe me, doing that is stooping, even if you feel offended by the accusation. Writing for the lowest common denominator is easier than writing a good story. If you are still scowling, consider Josh Whedon, that is how he writes and he finished directing the most successful moneymaker in movie history, The Avengers. Every R-rated competitor wasn’t even in the lineup.

Luck Stiff, still centered in San Francisco, still with the cast I’ve built up over the previous four books, and still using a lot more humor than any other writer in the same genre, deals with a couple of issues. The first is based on a question I’ve wondered about over the past several decades, does luck exist, and if so, what happens to the universe if the unluckiest person there is becomes able to change it? The second one deals with B.O.N.E.R, the Brotherhood o’ Non-Living Entities Reanimated. Is a fine upstanding organization that helps zombies get reintegrated into society. And yes, the is a huge difference between innuendo and over the top coarseness.

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Dealing with the internet

Today’s writers have a much larger (potential) audience than those in the days of paper books. Conversely, today’s writers can also be lost in a crowd of not millions, but billions, putting down prose worthy of a Nobel prize that no one with the connections ever reads.

So what do you do?

The first thing is to become a nuisance on the internet, if you want attention and you want to be read. If you are concerned about making friends, become something other than a writer. If you want readers, become noticed (without becoming a criminal). Some sites will temporarily block you and some may blacklist you. If that occurs, publish that action and name names. Nothing spreads faster than supposedly malicious gossip. Don’t believe me? Ever hear of Robert Murdoch? The largest selling papers by far, and the New York Times or the London Times are not even in the race, are the supermarket tabloids. You may be writing superb, intelligent and noteworthy stuff but it will be ignored unless someone talks about it.

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Expanding Your Audience

The one thing that hobbles most writer’s recognition is the crowd they are lost within. If the literary world were at all honest (which it is not) it would admit that Hemingway was not unique and neither was Poe. For every top seller there are at least a hundred undiscovered writers of equal or better quality. Even Tolkien and Rowling fit into this category.

Now this is not to say that what those previously-mentioned folks did not turn out quality stuff, not at all. What it does mean is that somewhere along the line they either got lucky or someone involved in the publishing world decided to take a chance and give them some much needed exposure. Once exposed the rest was as easy as falling downhill. Good writing sells itself, once it is out of the crowd to be seen. So if you cannot find an agent or a publisher with a pair, and more and more they simply do not exist, how do you rise above the crowd? That’s a very good question.

Here’s a suggestion or two: Consider an E Book publisher. With the advent of the Kindle, the Nook, the iPad and about a dozen other reading devices there is no reason to insist on the traditional brick and mortar publishing house. In fact, there is every reason to believe that eBooks will outnumber paper in the next very few years. Because the cost to publish and distribute a eBook is so much less than even a paperback more and more publishing houses are quite willing to give the unpublished writer a shot. It is something to think about.

Create a website for your writing: think about it, even dead authors have websites and since more people search the web than buy newspapers your potential audience is literally in the billions. If even 1% of that audience likes your stuff you are suddenly more popular that the number one New York Times Best Seller. My site is http://www.tonymandolin.com

Back up your site by joining forums, adding a blog, social media etc: I’m still working on this one as, as is the case with most writers, I’m not all that gregarious except on the keyboard. This type of publicity works well because you can post samples, get feedback and actually generate the beginning of a fan base, and believe me, it is out there just waiting to be groomed.

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Creating a laugh

I have always preferred writing that brings out a smile or even provokes a laugh or two. This is why my favorite authors are the humorists, Sir Terry Pratchett being at the pinnacle of that heap. Editors may not believe it, and I think that is how they think because the number of depressing authors far outnumber the humorists, but it takes far more talent as a storyteller to create a laugh than it does to invoke a tear.

An important point to consider though is the quality of the humor. It is all too easy, especially with the sort of laughs Hollywood goes for these days. Situation is far more difficult to write successfully than the cheap scatological reference and even more difficult than descending into the gutter of profanity. Yes, I have also read those critics who have managed to convince themselves that adult writing requires what is called adult language. I have also rejected their premise utterly since the market has also proven not only that less is more but forcing profanity into a manuscript just to create shock value cheapens the work rather than improving it. Some may disagree, but this is my blog. write your own if you think differently.

Here is an example of a funny scene out of the second volume in The Milward Chronicles:

Jerrold leaned on his halberd and listened to the clamor coming from inside the city on the other side of the gate. “No one allowed in or out?” He called over to his partner in the outside duty.

            “Them’s the orders.” His partner spat a bit of the weed he was chewing off to the side. “No one in or out, no matter what.”

            “The Sarge say why?” Jerrold shifted his weight to the other foot.

            “Naw,” Another spit, “just said to keep an eye out, an’ skewer anythin’ that tries ta climb the wall.”

            Jerrold considered, “I ain’t never skewered anythin’ afore.”

            His partner spat again. “Ain’t nuthin’ to it, ya just shove.” He demonstrated with his halberd. “Want some chew?” He held out the pouch to Jerrold.

            Jerrold shook his head. “No thanks, makes me see things that ain’t there.”

            His partner was impressed. “No kiddin’? All’s I ever gits issa nice buzz. What kinna things ya see?” Sput!

            “There’s a woman ridin’ a Dragon!”

            “Wow, wish I could see stuff like that. Like I said, all’s I ever gits issa nice…”

            “There’s a…flickin’…woman…ridin’ a flickin’ Dragon! Right…flickin’…there!”

            The weed chewer looked up and his eyes bugged. He took out his stash and looked at the bag. “Good stuff,” he murmured.

If you look closely at the blocking of the scene you will see similarities with that used in The Big Bang Theory. No, I did not copy them. This scene was written five years before the show aired.


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Writing in all three dimensions

Right now I am working on the fourth Tony Mandolin mystery, Hair of the Dog. The plot involves werewolves, vampires the last of the dragons, a compact administered by a wizard who happens to be a recovering alcoholic and a witch doctor with a serious issue with revenge. As with all of the previous books, it is important, very, very important to correctly paint the scene for the reader and that means writing in all three dimensions.

Writing in three dimensions describes the process of taking into account all of the factors you may experience if you were actually there. When you experience a given situation you take in data with all of your senses, taste, touch, sight, sound, tactile or feeling. If it is at night and your character is in the midst of a storm that came out of the north you would describe the temperature, the feel of the raindrops, either hard and biting or soft and damply chill. There would be the sound of the rain, the taste of it or anything that may have blown in one the wind and then the sounds come into play, rain can either patter or drive against the pavement with the sound of a million tiny jackhammers. See?

We inhabit this universe exercising all five of our senses, unless something went wrong and all five of those senses occupy all three dimensions. It is good to consider that a you pen the next NY Times Best Seller.

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The Value of Friends

Every writer has a resource he or she desperately needs to utilize, friends. An addition set of eyes, especially if those eyes can view your manuscript with the mindset of a fan is beyond price Every dedication page of every book ever written contains a reference to such a resource, some more concise than others. There is a reason for this. In the case of authors who write in a similar genre to mine, the published manuscripts would be little more than a loose-knit collection of slightly related scenes connected by a string of utterly incomprehensible holes in logic.

No one with any sense believes that top-selling fantasy authors such as JK Rowling, Modesitt, Cook and Butcher send their publisher first drafts devoid of typos. Of course not. There is a reason why the mainstream publishing houses have an extensive staff. A good number of those positions are filled in the form of minimum wage “readers”, folks who sit and read new manuscripts and report on any gross holes in the overall plot. After they do their job the editors take over and clean the thing up, send it back to the author who accepts or rejects the “cleaning” and then sends it back.

Those of us who do not have multimillion dollar publishing contracts have to rely on a resource a bit closer to home, our friends. I have one in the persona of Robert Freeman, esq, yes, he is an attorney and that makes him an ideal reader. One, he has the same tastes in literature and entertainment as I do. He is also an unrepentant punster. Two, he has an intellect that also contains an imagination nearly as overactive as mine. The fact that he has all of these gifts and is still interested in acting as a pre-publishing reader is unbelievably valuable. If you need legal help in the Los Angeles area, he’s your guy.

The first two Tony Mandolin Mysteries were rushed through by my publisher, no fault is imposed on any party, is just happened for a variety of reasons. The third book was, thankfully, placed into the hands of a very experienced editor of was, to be frank, flabbergasted at the coarseness of my ham-fisted typing. Let’s just say she was less kind than my friend in her notes.

An aside at this point: If you can get past the comments on your spelling and grammar and put the suggestions to good use you do wind up with a far more readable and therefore salable book.

The other thing she found was a few gaping holes in continuity, what I call holes on logic. If this happened, why? It was the work of a couple of minutes to fix them and time very well spent indeed. This brings me to my friend Robert. He has an eye to the type of story I write that, for one very good reason is paramount in its importance, he enjoys my writing. If he did not the surge of typos and holes in logic would overwhelm him, and with those taken care of my overworked editor has a much more enjoyable and easier job.

As to why those typos and holes appear in the manuscript there are a number of very good, and quite frankly unavoidable reasons they do, and for the most part are as inevitable as the tide. One, as an author you are far too close to the book to see those errors. The story is there in your mind as you check over the work. You read it as it should be, not as it is. (I wish editors would understand this before typing comments) The other and equally valid reason is that life happens. Things get in the way, even if you have a mountain retreat in the Catskills. Sometimes a few days, or even a week or more can pass before a scene is completed, and if that is the case you may have forgotten an allusion you had planned to build upon later and the editor is left wondering, “Why in the hell did he put that there?” And the list goes on, but it all boils down to one thing, you sent in a manuscript that needs cleanup. It even happens when you have the help of friends, but the manuscript doesn’t need as much mucking out if they weren’t there.

So where does that leave the writer? If you have finished the next greatest novel and your host of friends have done their very best to bruise your fragile ego with questions and suggestions, what then? I suggest a healthy swallow of pride and a large dose of listening, note taking and consideration. Your friends are your friends for a reason and I would imagine they have an ever greater desire for you to succeed than you do. Being able to nod appreciatively, even if you don’t mean it at the time and to jot down notes as they offer their help does nothing but improve your value as a friend in their sight. You can have your temper tantrum later, when you are all alone. Once that is done, take the time to look over your precious work and see if they may have a point. There is a greater than 99% chance they do.

I know, I’ve been there.

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A Slight Case of Death

This is what I put together as an example of the opening credits sequence for A Slight Case of Death.

Two funding campaigns have been started to see if the web series can actually be created. Kickstarter is at: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/952237481/a-slight-case-of-death

Indiegogo is at https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/a-sight-case-of-death/x/7600964

heck em out and let me know what your thoughts are. Even better, sign on as an investor.

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Expanding the market

If you have spent any time at all watching current television programing and if you are an experienced writer you, like me have been rather disappointed in what constitutes plot development these days. One of the reasons for this is there is no talent whatsoever residing in the studio and network board rooms. Talent is not allowed there as the focus would shift from affordability and profit to quality. This state of affairs would be intolerable if it were not for one thing, the broad band internet.

If you have some time and the capability of streaming videos online check out YouTube with the search term “webisode”. What you will be introduced to is the new frontier for writers of fiction. Most networks and studios have a habit of placing anything they cannot see as immediately making them wealthy into development hell, a sort of limbo world where promises come on a daily basis but nothing is ever decided, sort of like Washington DC. In the world of the webisode there is no such thing and because of the various public funding sites now online the writer need not even approach the studio or network at all, not even for handouts.

The science fiction show  Sanctuary, starring Amanda Tapping from Stargate SG1 began as a series of webisodes and was picked up for network broadcast. Amy Berg, one of the pioneers of webisode broadcasting put together a team of young actors from shows such as Leverage, Justified, Days of our Lives and so on and has produced Caper, a show about super heroes needing to steal to pay their rent. The possibilities are endless and if the writing is quality there is a very good bet the production will be as well.

As anyone who follows this blog knows, I am a writer of two fantasy series, the Milward Chronicles and the Tony Mandolin Mystery Series. I have begun exploring the possibility of creating a weisode series based on the first Tony Mandolin book, A Slight Case of Death. In doing some research it appears that the quality of writing and the potential for capturing a sizable online audience is quite significant. Those who choose to take their entertainment online tend to prefer science fiction, fantasy and horror as well as humor. A Slight Case of Death entails all but one of those elements. This could be interesting.

I would appreciate your thoughts on this.

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