Lamia’s Bane Released

A belated Happy New Year to you all!

The latest Kormak story is now available. Here’s the blurb:

A deadly lamia has returned to  the ancient city she ruled until driven out by the Order of the Dawn two centuries ago. Now Kormak must brave the haunted ruins and find out why she has come back. He is not alone — a Shadow sorceress and a necromancer’s army of the walking dead also hunt the undead temptress for their own sinister purposes.

This ten thousand word short story is available at all the usual e-tailers priced at $2.99 or whatever the  store owner deems equivalent in local currency.





If you’re interested in finding out when my next book will be released as well as in getting discounts and free short stories, please sign up for my mailing list.

A False Start

I am on holiday in the very lovely Cesky Raj and I am looking for an easy subject for a blog post. Fortunately one is close at hand. Last week I announced the release of the second Kormak short story, A Cold and Lonely Place, and this provoked some interesting discussions in the comments and emails I received.

Among the things that came up was my habit of writing first scenes of short stories that I don’t or can’t finish. The reasons for this are alluded to in the comments of the last post. What I thought I would do today is just show you one of those scenes and then talk about why it was a false start. Most of the post is already written and I get to use some writing that’s never seen the light of day. So here’s a 500 word or so opening scene from a Kormak story that never got finished.

Ready? Here we go!

In the kitchen at the back of his shop, Skardus played with his baby, tossing the laughing boy into the air and then hugging him close. He had been inspecting the one year old for stigmata and he was a little worried. The lad looked like a perfectly formed human child except for the tiny claws on his feet and his vestigial tail. It was something they would need to keep hidden until he was old enough to control the Change. Still that was a bridge they would cross when they came to it. The boy gurgled, said da-da and bit at his ear with small sharp teeth. Skardus felt very happy then his wife came into the room with that look on her face that meant there was a problem.

“What is it?” Skardus asked. “What’s wrong?”

“There’s a man out there, says he knows you, smells like trouble.” Marla wrinkled her nose meaningfully. Skardus rose to his feet and still holding the baby padded over to the doorway. The silence of his movement was negated by the baby’s happy burbling. He slid the door partially open and looked out. A big man with greying black hair stood by the polished wooden counter, a sword scabbarded on his back. Something about the stillness of his manner indicated that the human knew he was being watched.

Skardus said as quietly as he could, “I’ll hold him here for as long as I can. Take the baby and run.”

Marla made a movement with her thumb and extruded one of her claws. Any threat to her children brought out the violence that was never far from the surface among their people. She said. “He’s only a human and he does not smell like a sorcerer.”

She spoke with the confidence of one almost invulnerable to mortal weapons. He kissed the baby on the forehead and then handed him to Marla, kissing her as well.

“Go now,” Skardus said and gave her a grim smile. “That human out there could kill us both in half-a-dozen heartbeats and then butcher the little one without the least qualm. Get out! Quick!”

Marla stood there staring for a moment before she headed towards the hidden door that led down into the cellar and out through the tunnels.
It was the fear in his voice that decided her, he could tell. She had never seen him so afraid in all their years of marriage. The baby, sensing the tension between his parents, started to whimper. The sound of it tore at Skardus’s heart. At the trapdoor Marla turned and said, “Why is he here? Why now? Is it to do with our Anton and his bloody friends?”

Skardus shrugged. “Maybe. Doesn’t matter. Go!”

He watched her leave and thought of all the things he should have told her and now might never have the chance to. He fought down the acid bite of fear in his throat and the urge to extrude his own claws and begin the Change. Now was not the time to give in to instinct no matter how much he wanted to. He had not survived for so long by being a slave to the bestial side of his nature.

He smoothed his tunic down with the flat of his palms, opened the door and strode through into the clutter of his shop, knowing he looked every inch the fat successful all-too-human merchant and not in the least like what he truly was. As he got close he caught the scent that had upset his wife. The man smelled of demon blood and ancient darkness, of agony and terror and endless war.

“Sir Kormak,” Skardus said. “This is an unexpected pleasure.”

Eyes cold and grey as the winter sky looked down at him. Very white teeth showed in a scarred, tanned face. “Unexpected? That’s interesting.”

Then and there Skardus knew it was going to be bad.

First up, let me say I actually think this is a pretty good opening. It has an interesting point of view character and the situation is fraught with story hooks and questions.

I like the way it shows us events through the eyes of someone who would normally be seen as a villain, and I like the way it depicts Kormak, who we normally see as a reasonably sympathetic and heroic individual, as quite terrifying. I had the vague idea of having poor old Skardus press-ganged into helping Kormak track down some of his renegade kin as you can tell from the mention of our Anton. So why didn’t I finish it?

I began the story some time ago, round about the time I was writing City of Strife. I had the idea of using the story to get some insight into the character of the main antagonists in the novel who were were-rats. When the novel took off on its own merry path, I put the short story on the back-burner. The vision of the ratkin revealed in that book made what I had written here obsolete and kind of burned me out on the subject matter. There was a sense of been there, done that by the time I had completed the novel.

The opening does need some work. It’s a bit vague in terms of its setting and some of the language is a bit clunky, but reading it again I did feel the urge to tinker and maybe get back to it one day. Hey, it took me 8 years to get back to the rough draft of the second Kormak novel. I might manage to get back to this story in a shorter time.

If you’re interested in finding out when my next book will be released as well as in getting discounts and free short stories, please sign up for my mailing list.

Lawrence Block on the Renaissance of the Short Story

Over on his blog the great Lawrence Block is talking about short stories. He thinks that ebooks might be the salvation of the form. If you’re interested in the short story I urge you to go ahead and read what he has to say. Block is, in my opinion, one of the greatest living writers and the very definition of what it means to be a professional. What he has to say is always worth hearing. I’ll still be here when you get back.

When I was starting out a quarter of a century ago, I wrote a lot of short stories, maybe 40 in about two years. There were a lot of reasons for this. Writing novels was intimidating. Writing short stories was much more manageable. Believe it or not, there was a time when I struggled to finish anything over 2000 words.

Magazines were accessible. Their contact details were right there on the editorial page and they positively encouraged you to submit. And hey, I read those magazines anyway so I could not help but notice. I saw people my own age, without any previously published work, breaking into print in Interzone and I thought maybe I could do the same.Trying this was a lot less daunting than submitting a book to a publisher. I did not even know where to find those. In the days before the Internet this sort of information was harder to get hold of. I never even knew that books containing this stuff existed.

You could write short stories quickly, sometimes at a sitting, and you did not need to have a grasp of the complex architectural process a novel demands. One of the common career paths for SF writers of my generation was to get some attention for your short stories and then sell a novel. It worked too. I can remember talking to editors at conventions who had a vague idea of who I was because of the short stories I had written. Eventually short stories got me a gig writing for Games Workshop.

Over time I drifted into writing novels. They paid more money up front and more to the point, there was a chance, just a chance, that they would stick around. Back in the day, when you wrote a short story, it appeared and it vanished. If you were lucky it might be reprinted somewhere in a Best Of anthology (I had this good fortune a couple of times with my first published story) or in a collection of your own shorter work. In general though you sent a short story out into the world and it sank without trace. A book could, if you were lucky, stick around for longer. If you don’t believe me, go read George RR Martin’s introduction to his collection Dreamsongs. In it he talks about how many of his short stories simply disappeared after the first printing. And in a world where that could happen to Mr Martin what chance do your stories have or mine?

I am not saying I stopped writing short stories.  If I had an idea I really liked for one I would sit down and write. If someone asked me to write a short story for a magazine or an anthology I would do that too, but it was hard to motivate myself to write short stories when the path to fame, fortune and even solvency was lined with novels. There was once a time when F. Scott Fitzgerald could support himself while writing The Great Gatsby by dashing off shorts for the Saturday Evening Post. Our age was not like that. If you wanted to be a professional writer, it was pretty much novels or nothing.

Ebooks may change that as Lawrence Block points out. One of the pleasant surprises of the last month has been how well my short story Guardian of the Dawn has sold. (91 copies in a calendar month.) Quite honestly when I first noticed this trend, my jaw dropped. As LB points out, you only earn 35 cents a story so it’s a very slow way of getting rich, but, as he also mentions, that is not the point. If this trend continues the Guardian of the Dawn will earn me 30 dollars each and every month. That one short story I wrote 7 years ago,if it keeps on selling, potentially represents $360 a year for the rest of my life. Now I realise that’s a lot of big ifs but again if it sold 10% of that it represents $36 a year for quite some time.

It’s a game changer in terms of the economics of writing short stories. So far in this second month, sales of Guardian are holding up and sales of The Graveyard Night are following a similar pattern. If this trend keeps up, the financial disincentive of the vanishing short story has, well, vanished. And short stories still have all of their old advantages. They are fun and they are a great place to try out new ideas for things like series. (Gotrek and Felix were born in short story form and stayed alive in it for a decade, one way or another.) Guardian of the Dawn just got a five star review over on from someone who said he would like to see more stories about this character and the sales would seem to bear out that there is an audience for Kormak. That being the case, I have started work on a second story The Stealer of Flesh and we’ll see how that does when it comes out.

Some of my favourite sword and sorcery series started out in short story form: Kull, Conan, Kane, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, Elric, Imaro…the list goes on and on and on. Who knows — maybe some new heroes will emerge in this new age of publishing. I certainly hope so.