Release Day Round-up

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By , February 26, 2013

It’s a big day for the Foreworld Saga. The Mongoliad: Book Three is out, rounding out the adventure story that began last year. This is a big one, nearly as long as the previous two volumes put together.

Also, Seer—the latest of the SideQuests—is out today as well. This time, we follow Andreas on an adventure in the Pyrenees shortly before the events of The Mongoliad.

Over the last few weeks, we’ve been busily prepping a bunch of PR material. Here’s a quick list of those articles and where you can find them.

Cooper Moo and Erik Bear on “The Twelve Steppe Program” [via Boing Boing].

We love gallows humor — the darker the better. Bonus points if you have the presence of mind to wisecrack in the face of certain death. You may recall this most excellent exchange on the eve of the Battle of Thermopylae:

Native of Trachis: “The Persian arrows are so numerous they block out the sun!”

Spartan Dienekes: “Good. Then we will fight in the shade.”

It’s not that we make light of situations we “can’t handle”. Rather we are accepting the challenge while giving fate the finger. Gallows humor is a perfectly legit tool for dealing with death, divorce, and all manner of dereliction – even addiction.

Joseph Brassey on the “Nine Most Memorable Fight Scenes In Literature” [via Huffington Post].

There’s a quote in an old fighting manuscript from the fifteenth century fencing master Fiore de Liberi that my first instructor liked to drill into me over and over and over. It goes, roughly; “Train slow, because anger will give you speed in the fight.” My first teacher drilled me with it so often because like any enthusiastic student with a sharp, pointy thing in his hand, I was prone to energetically trying to replicate what he was showing me at light-speed. That’s not really conducive to learning how to do anything properly. Learning any sort of physical motion effectively requires you to calm down and understand the pieces of the movement, then practice them until they’re programmed into muscle memory, then you should be able to replicate it effectively when you’re in the adrenaline-driven insanity of fight or flight mode. It’s also a good way to avoid cutting your own ear off.

There is another lesson I took from this quote, however: Sword fighting, and its pursuit, is about passion.

Ben Rhodes interviews Cooper Moo [via Fanboy Comics].

BR: The thing that most impresses me with The Mongoliad is that you guys have made the Mongols and the Shield-Brethren sympathetic and interesting characters. Was this a conscious decision or a result of writing in groups?

CM: Thanks for the compliment – this was a conscious effort. History is written by the winners. No doubt the Mongols felt they were destined to rule the globe, just as every other world power thinks at some point. To write something more interesting than basic “black hats vs. white hats” or “east vs. west,” we needed fully developed characters on both sides. This way the reader gets invested in both story lines and has to wrestle with their own internal conflict at the end of the series.

Nicole Galland is interviewed at Night Owls Review [link].

To be honest, my “difference” was only partly about gender; it was equally that I was not practicing Western Martial Arts with them, that I was 3000 miles away and had never met any of them in person for the first 6 months I was involved. Even when I went out there and we all worked in the same room together, the difference was less about male-vs-female and more about tone, specifically martial-vs-anything-other-than-martial. The guys created the project specifically IN ORDER TO write the martial-prowess material. For me, those bits are a lot of work, but relationship-oriented scenes, especially involving humor, come naturally.

Nicole also offers a piece on the delightful inventiveness of secret histories [via Suvudu].

After staring at a blank piece of paper for quite a while, I decided there wasn’t much of a difference. History is full of secrets, so what does it matter if the secrets of any given story are far-fetched or not? I was ready to argue that The Mongoliad is every bit as “truthful” as any historical novel you’ll ever read. (In some ways, more so, because we’re honest about how much reality we are inventing.)

Then I realized that such thinking is a terrible disservice to the magic inherent in “secret history.” I don’t mean that a secret itself has to do with magic – there is no overt magic in The Mongoliad, for example (although Book 3 hints at certain mysteries to come). It is the very existence of a secret – any secret, really – that opens the trapdoor for magic to slink in.

Mark Teppo talks about “Building the Library of Violence” [via io9]

Wildly inaccurate portrayals of sword fighting in the media are nothing new. Recently John Clements dropped by io9 to debunk modern sword fighting, and Martin Page and Guy Windsor talked to IGN about the problems with sword fighting in video games. These guys know sword fighting. Me? I’m just a writer, trying not to embarrass himself on the page when it comes to a bit of the hack and slash. I’m the showrunner for The Foreworld Saga, a secret history of the Western martial arts, and one of the writers of The Mongoliad. I’ve been party to writing a few sword fights, and I’ll let you in on a little secret: they are an incredible pain in the ass to write.

UPDATE: Joe and Cooper interview each other for Fade into Fantasy [link].

Cooper: This sword-fighting group eventually included most of the authors for The Mongoliad – including you, obviously – and the rest is history. Alternative history, in fact. So the answer to the question how did I come to be an author on The Mongoliad is — writing & fighting. And blind-ass luck.

Down on the Farm

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By , February 25, 2013

Working on the Foreworld has been an eye-opening experience. The crew on the Farm ranges from legendary writers like Neal and Greg to rank beginners like Linda and I. Watching these people interact and brainstorm ideas is amazing. Seriously, they could sell tickets.

At the time that I got involved I thought that my own fiction-writing days were long past; I was there as a martial arts and sword consultant. I was teaching a class on sunday mornings for the crew at eight AM (yuck) and occasionally getting called in for day-long sessions of choreography or video shoots. I think that I mentioned that this whole thing started with a movie concept? Well, they had a producer interested but they wanted co-producers. That apparently was a hard sell.

“We want to make an Historic European martial arts movie!”

“They had Martial Arts in Europe? What the hell are you talking about?”

So we wound up making a movie about how we would make a movie, sort of, for the producer to show to other producers. A lot of it revolved around choreographing a bar-fight, and since my credentials also include theatrical fighting and choreography I was in the thick of it.

Then came the Meeting. A bunch of ridiculously smart and creative people got together at Neal’s house and suddenly they were discussing not just a movie, but a first-person authentic sword-fighting video game, a serialized online novel, graphic novels etc. I nodded a lot and tried to look wise but in fact I felt like a monkey in a room full of physicists. This is not a feeling that I am accustomed to…

Encouraged by my wife, Linda, I started hanging out at the writer’s meetings after class occasionally, offering helpful suggestions, history-geek jokes and generally distracting the real writers. Since they were all doing the same thing I fit right in. ‘Herding Cats,’ Mark calls it… How charmingly optimistic of him!

If you hang out with car thieves sooner or later you’re going to steal a car. Same thing with writers… sooner or later you’re going to want to write, and they encourage this of course. I started writing an unrelated novel in my spare time (still unfinished) and then got a shot at writing for Foreworld, which resulted in The Shield Maiden.

The original story concept was built on shaky history, and we did manage to twist it into some semblance of a workable story but it just wasn’t very good. New writers, forced plot elements, trying to fit both history and Foreworld ‘canon’… it could only end in tears. So Mark told us to chuck the first plot and started over with a fresh story. You can read the results.

This got us into the habit of writing every day and established our process. Linda and I were hooked, so after the novella was published we started in on a new, more ambitious project of our own. A full length novel, a genre-bending heroic fantasy called, Diaries of a Dwarven Rifleman. We started just after Thanksgiving 2012 and are publishing it very soon. Oh yeah, we’ve got it bad…

Once Upon A Time

By , February 21, 2013

When I was a kid, I didn’t have many good friends who weren’t imaginary. Sure, there were schoolmates, and fellow members of a Cub Scout troop, but I’m not talking about percentages here, but quality representation. And far and away, my finest and most loyal daily companions were fictional.

Bilbo Baggins and I battled together against the chicken pox. Aquaman, Green Lantern and the Phantom helped me recover from an accident which came close to killing me. I traveled through the wardrobe with the Pevensie children, went down the rabbit hole with Alice and over the rainbow with Dorothy Gale.

But my most boon companion of all was a gentleman captain from Virginia, who through no fault of his own found himself millions of miles from home fighting against injustice and for the love of an incomparable Martian princess.

With these men and women of “character” at my side, from the time I realized where books came from my course in life was set. I was a Writer, and one day I’d work alongside other writers to chronicle the universe.

Fast forward a few years. I’m working as a warehouse manager, making good money and responsible to no-one but myself. I’ve written some very bad books, a selection of decent (and humble) poetry, and a few short stories that workshopped well but never really went anywhere. I’ve learned how to fight both in and out of armor, and am ready to ride whenever adventure may call.

When a friend offered me the chance to come work in the publishing industry, I gladly said goodbye to a quarter of my income, packed my life into my car and drove on towards destiny.

One of the first things I did was fulfill my childhood promise, and began working on licensed game products in the Marvel Comics, DC Comics, Star Trek and Dune universes. I came into the office every day and rubbed shoulders with writers and editors, and when we left for the night we lifted glasses and talked about our childhood friends.

Wouldn’t you know it; I’d had company on those journeys into imagination. Especially when the Warlord and I saved the atmosphere factory, and the girl.

Since then, I’ve worked on dozens of products in about as many universes, eventually making the leap into the world of massively multiplayer online games. I went back to the creative well early and often, drinking deep from the fountain and bringing my friends back to life as best I could in new places and times.

Sometimes in life, we lose track of those who’ve shaped and guided us. While I’m not the best of correspondents, I’m happy to say that hasn’t happened to me. Looking up from my desk at a room full of books, my friends are there looking back, waiting to ride again into the unknown.

Won’t you come along with us, and save the world?

Hanging Guns on the Wall

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By , February 20, 2013

When we started The Mongoliad, we had a few conversations about whether we were writing a secret history or an alternate history, as well as a lengthy digression or two as to the difference. It’s a fine line, really, and I’m sure we’ll cross it a few times during the Foreworld Saga, but the main distinction comes down to whether a story maps to existing history or diverges wildly. Oddly enough, it would seem that we’re mappers—archeologists, detectives, and amateur historians. We like to explore the dusty edges of history and ask what if? when we find places where the stories don’t quite come together.

The first what if? was to extrapolate on the death of Ögedei Khan, building the basis for what would be The Mongoliad. Along the way, we dug into the dusty archives of 1241 and discovered a few other interesting stories—notably the story of the sede vacante in Rome. Cardinals imprisoned in an abandoned temple, forced to vote for the next Pope, a man who was Pope for only two weeks and then died, but not before performing a single important act as the head of the church. How could we not fold this in to our narrative?

The Mongoliad is, in many ways, a fairly straight forward narrative. The Shield-Brethren have a plan; they go on a long ride wherein hijinks ensue; they attempt to execute that plan. We built it as a year-long serial adventure, and along the way we made sure to leave some hooks from which we could hang other narratives.

(It’s an old riff on something Anton Chekhov once said: never hang a gun on the wall if you’re not planning on firing it.)

Long form narratives—and mostly, I’m referring to television serials—tend to be written with an awareness of the long term plan and some awareness of the short term paths that will be followed, which is why you’ll see narrative opportunities planted early on. Not all of them will be taken up by the writers, but they’re there, right? You hang a number of guns; when you need one, it’s there for the taking. The trick is, of course, not putting so many guns on the wall that you forget the texture of the wallpaper.

With the SideQuests, we’re using some of those hanging guns, and we’re putting others up on the Foreworld wall as well. When it came time to write The Beast of Calatrava, I had two notes to work from: set the story in Iberia and 1212. As I started to do research on both the place and time, it was like stumbling upon a hidden cache of guns to hang on the wall.

  • Prince John sent an envoy to Muhammad al-Nasir with an offer to make England a Muslim kingdom in exchange for various concessions. The story is sourced back to Matthew of Paris, who was the medieval version of National Enquirer, so take this story with a grain of salt, but you can see the what if? potential, can’t you?
  • Sancho VII of Navarre was Berengaria of Navarre’s older brother. Berengaria was married to Richard the Lion-Heart. Berengaria’s role in Lion in Chains is minor, but important in that gun hanging sense.
  • Did you know that Cistercian leader Arnaud Amalric was the one who coined the phrase “Kill them all; let God sort them out”? It was said during a campaign in 1209, a few years before he lead a large party of Templars into Iberia.
  • These Templars weren’t too happy about not being able to loot wantonly as they moved south. As a result, they took their toys and went home, leaving the Castilian and Navarese armies woefully outnumbered by the Almohad army massing on the other side of the Sierra Morena.

Most sources report that the Christians were led through the Sierra Morena by an unnamed shepherd, and the big what if? that powered The Beast of Calatrava was to give that shepherd a name. Once he had a name, he needed some back story, and the rest is, well, Foreworld history.

The Beast of Calatrava is out now from 47North. You can get it here.

The Oakeshott Typology

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By , February 14, 2013

Lets face it. Most of us that write for the Foreworld series are geeks—specifically sword geeks. As such we’re likely to ‘geek-out’ about swords, referring to them by their ‘Oakeshott Type.’ What is that, exactly?

Ewart Oakeshott (1916-2002) was an English sword collector and scholar. He was one of the first to take the view that swords had been made to be used, and should therefore be classified according to not just their rough appearance but by their intended uses. This is sensible; swords designed mainly for cutting are very different from swords designed to stab through the chinks in armor. The typology that he codified in his 1988 book Records of the Medieval Sword has become the standard of the ‘sword world.’ Here is a diagram of the typology, courtesy of the Oakeshott Institute:


In the interest of brevity I have restricted the descriptions to the swords used in The Mongoliad. Since the primary defensive armor is mail these swords are primarily cutting swords, too flexible to reliably thrust through mail. The typology is for double-edged swords, by the way.

Type X : Type X swords are cutting blade characterized by having a broad blade with relatively little taper in profile, usually with a broad fuller running from 3/4 to the full length of the blade. Average lengths seemed to have run about 30-32 inches. Rounded spatulate points are common though more acute points are seen as well. Swords of this type seem to have been made predominantly from the late 9th and into at least the 12th century.

Type Xa: The Xa type is broadly similar to type X except in that the fuller is narrower being approximately 1/3 the width of the blade or less. Longer on average than Type Xs and hilt-forms are similar. By and large these swords are the contemporaries of the Type X from approximately 1000AD on.

Type XI: These swords are rather like a longer, narrower version of the Type Xa. Blades range from 31-37 inches in length. Their period of use seems to have been from around 1050-1125 AD.

Type XIa: This Type is similar to both Type XI and Type Xa—it possesses the narrow fuller in a broad blade and these swords are rather shorter on average than type XIs. I’m a little bit at a loss as to what differentiates these swords from Type Xa unless it is a greater prevalence of acute points and the presence of engraving. 13-14th C.

Type XII: These swords had shorter fullers and more profile taper than the swords above.Blade lengths ranged from 30-36 inches in length. Swords of this type seem to have been in use in the 10th Century and continued until well into the 14th Century.

Type XIIa: These swords,. like the Type XIIIs, fall into the class of “Greatswords.” They are like a type XII, but longer and with a hand-and-a-half or two-hand grip and usually a more pronounced profile taper. Blades range from 35 to 45 inches. Fullers seem to commonly run from 1/2 to 3/4 of the length of the blade. These swords often exhibit somewhat less distal taper than Type XIIs though I have viewed too few of them to be certain that this is the general rule. Guards are typically straight and variants of the wheel pommel predominate. Their major period of use seems to have been from the 13th Century until the dawn of the 15th century.

Type XIII and XIIIa: These are the Middle Ages two-handed swords referred to as “Greatswords” or ‘Gran Espee de Guerre (Great sword of War.) These swords possess a broad, spatulate blade with little profile taper, a rounded point and a fuller running 1/3 to 3/4 of the blades length. The main difference is that the XIIIb has a shorter hilt. Blades lengths can range from 30 to as much as 50 inches though in practice they seldom exceed 40 inches. Their period of use began as early as the 12th Century and ran to the end of the 14th Century, perhaps even into the 15th Century.

Type XIIIb: These are a shorter version of the Type XIII with a single-hand hilt.

Type XIV: These blades range from 26 to 34 inches with the bulk of surviving examples weighted towards the shorter end of the range. They are characterized by a blade that is very broad at the base which then tapers rapidly to an acute point. Fullers ran from 2/3 to 3/4 of the length of the blade. These swords seem to have been in use between the mid-13th to the mid-14th Centuries.


Previously . . .

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By , February 13, 2013

As we ready ourselves for the release of The Mongoliad: Book Three, I thought it would be helpful to recap some of the previously offered commentary by the authors.

Cooper Moo on rooftop sword fighting. [ Full piece @ ]

In 2004 I joined a fight club. It was more of a sword-geek guild, really. We met every Sunday morning in a nondescript warehouse in Seattle’s industrial district, made our own weapons, and fought with them. It was gloriously homegrown and savage. Olympic fencing this was not.

We beat the hell out of one another every Sunday, went to work bruised and bleeding on Monday, and came back the following Sunday to do it all over again. This went on for almost two wonderful years until, one fateful day, Neal—one of our founding members—had some bad new for us.

We were doing it wrong.

Mark Teppo talks about the medieval arms race. [ Full piece @ ]

Part of our purview on the project, an interactive story that’s being turned into a book trilogy, was to portray Western martial arts correctly. Thus began my crash course in the evolution of arms and armor over several centuries of medieval life.

One of the most fascinating aspects of this education was charting the changes that occurred as a result of this medieval arms race. Let’s start with the Battle of Hastings, in 1066, as recorded by the Bayeaux Tapestry, which is more than 200 linear feet of embroidered pictures of men in armor.

A little insight into the workings of the writers’ room [ Full piece @ ]

I like to joke that ninety percent of my job is herding cats, and there’s a little cry for help in that joke. Because really? Keeping a room full of writers on task is EXACTLY like herding cats; it’s only worse in the sense that a great deal of the magic of a writers’ room only happens when your cats have gone and gotten very distracted. Writers, as solitary thinkers, tend to spin stories out of nothing but moonbeams and cobwebs and whatever the latest Internet meme is that is keeping them from doing pay work. You put a bunch of them in a room, and the story generation becomes exponential. In many ways, the easiest part of managing The Mongoliad was letting the ideas in the room run unhindered.

Joe Brassey talks about the origins of the Circus Branch [ Full piece @ ]

Three days earlier, and I’m in the meeting where I got this assignment. The upstairs office is a big room with a big, long table at its centerpiece. A pink box of doughnuts and pastries sit in the center, and various books on the Mongol Empire, medieval fighting techniques, and the events of 1241 are scattered here and there. My laptop is humming along as I try to keep pace with the jokes and the story-plotting that’s thrumming along as seven writers plus a few other brain-storming minds toss out ideas. Words fly left and right as our Canon Master Mark Teppo attempts the admirable and unenviable task of herding a bunch of inquisitive minds like cats fighting over a piece of string and keeping us all on task. That’s important today because he’s bringing up a point that is going to change our course a bit. Up until now The Mongoliad has consisted of three branches of story weaving together. In meeting cadence, they’re called the Brethren Branch, the Mongol Branch, and the Rome Branch. Mark is about to turn that all upside down.

A brief essay about what genre The Mongoliad is. [ Full piece @ Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist ]

Here’s the thing: I understand labels. I understand genre marketing. I get that people like to put things in neat little boxes so that they know how to approach them. I also started off my career writing “urban fantasy” books that don’t have werewolves, vampires, or the undead in them. I call the Codex books “occult noir” and no one understands what I’m saying; I say “urban fantasy” and we have, at least, a general starting point.

For a moment, then, let’s consider this claim that The Mongoliad is an epic fantasy. What’s epic about it is the amount of research we did. We wanted to write a Western martial arts adventure story, one that was true to the actual fighting techniques of the time. Fighting techniques that are, only now, being rediscovered and taught in martial arts schools around the world. You know what? There’s a lot more to fighting with a sword than simply hitting the other guy first.

And, finally, here are a few of things that have been said about the previous volumes.

  • “An outstanding historical epic with exceptional character development and vivid world building… In addition to the heroic battles–including swordfights, archery, wrestling, and martial arts–romance, political intrigue, and promises of betrayal and rebellion are suffused throughout this cinematic tale…Stephenson and Bear & co. have set the bar high for the series.” – Publishers Weekly
  • “Story lines abound but interconnecting them all is the fascinating evolution of sword fighting… sf and military-history buffs will devour this genre-bending saga.” – Booklist
  • “This off-beat alternate history of Eurasia could be your new obsession.” – io9
  • “Stephenson’s knack for dense historical detail combines with lots of sword-swinging adventure…As it stands, the book itself is a romp through this thinly fictional historic period, one that is full of well-described swordplay and richly imagined characters. The transitions between the voices…is seamless. The Mongoliad: Book One feels like the start of a truly epic adventure.” – Locus Magazine
  • “The pacing is taut throughout…the fight scenes in particular are written exceptionally well, with a clarity and subtlety missing from just about every other representation of medieval warfare in prose or on film. The authors have clearly done their homework on the period, but they wear their collective education lightly; the result is a world with depth and texture, not a history textbook.” –
  • “Recommended for readers of alternate history and military fantasy‚
    and fans of Stephenson.” – Library Journal
  • “…A collaborative epic unlike any other that will enthrall fans of fantasy, martial arts, and historical fiction.” – SF Signal
  • “This story is pure adventure, with much swordplay and swashbuckling.” – Kirkus Reviews

The Unintended Authors

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By , February 12, 2013

How I got involved in Foreworld. I suppose that I should start by saying that didn’t intend to become an author…

I’ve been a sword-maker for many years now, specializing in medieval european and viking-era swords. Having been raised by an engineer I was always interested not merely in how these swords were made, but why they were made that way and how their intended function affected their design. How they were meant to be used is an essential element of their design, so when and as I could I studied that as well. In the late nineties I got involved with the online sword community and spent a lot of time writing posts, essays and articles about the functional aspects of swords.

After a while people started bugging me to write a book about swords. A couple of publishers hinted that they would be interested in such a book and I vaguely intended to write one some day. Fate intervened when I screwed my back up one spring. I was going to be out of work for at least a week or two, and the only comfortable place for me to spend time was my office chair. I got an icepack, took some ibuprofen and wrote ‘The Medieval Sword in the Modern World and self-published it, first as an ebook and then as a print-on-demand book. It sold quite well for a niche book and continues to do so. It is now in its second edition.

Then I met Neal Stephenson and I was introduced to his intrepid band of sword-play enthusiasts. I was teaching a class on the combative techniques found in Fior dei Battaglia at the time, and when we lost our training space it was only natural that I fell in with Neal’s merry band. When they became interested in a variety of media projects centered around Historic European Martial Arts it was only natural that they would consult me (among many others.)

So I consulted and wound up helping with videos, fight choreography etc. Occasionally I would sit in on brainstorming sessions during the writing of ‘The Mongoliad’ and I generally tried to be helpful. But while I had written a non-fiction book and had sold a short-story or two I was not a ‘real writer’ and was content to leave that to others. Then the call went out for the Foreworld Side-Quests, a series of novellas set in the Foreworld. One of the story ideas intrigued my wife and I and the Foreworld team graciously let us take a crack at it.

So we wrote The Shield Maiden. Over the course of that experience Linda and I learned how to write together without killing each other, and found that we actually enjoyed it. Linda does the research. We brainstorm the story and I do the grunt-work of writing. Then Linda steps in; she is the ‘Amnesty International’ of our efforts, rescuing my tortured sentences and rehabilitating them into something that some one might actually want to read.  With ample assistance from Mark Teppo and our editor it came out in November and has been quite well-received.

We liked writing together so much that we kept at it and have just now finished our first novel, a heroic fantasy called Diaries of a Dwarven Rifleman. God-willing-and-the-creek-don’t-rise we’ll be publishing that in late February.




On the awkwardness of self-introductions

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By , February 8, 2013

In my limited experience, people who come to the craft of writing do so via a myriad of strange ways. Moreover, very few people get there the same way. For me, it was a matter of stumbling clumsily into it because I had stories I wanted to tell and words come easily to me, except, of course, when I want to talk about myself.

But here we go. A little about me:

My name is Joseph Brassey, I go by Joe, and I’m one of the seven authors who co-wrote The Mongoliad. I’ve been telling stories since I was two years old, and writing them down since I was fourteen. When I’m not writing, I’m the domestic half of a happily married couple, keeping the house clean, the cats fed, the yard mowed and the food made. In addition to this, I’m an assistant instructor for a local Historical European Martial Arts group on the local military base.

Prior to this I’ve been a newspaper bundle carrier, worked in a plant pulling freshly painted house siding off a giant roaring machine, and stacked PVC piping in the parking lot of a massive factory who wouldn’t let me come inside to eat my lunch. I’ve worked at Subway, and served food and washed dishes in the kitchens of two hospitals. I also spent a summer working for cash-under-the-table at a gas station on the other side of the country. I grew up in suburban Massachusetts, then spent my teenage years learning to be a farm-boy in rural Washington.

All this has given me an interesting perspective on people, and one of the things it’s taught me is that intelligence is not itself a guarantee of intelligent action, and that there’s an appreciable distance between understanding the academic concept of a thing, and really grasping how its reality functions. This is true in Martial Arts, in fiction, and in history – which is is why that last one is full of wonderful examples of very smart people doing very foolish things with all the competence that might otherwise be expected of them. These two anecdotes tend to inform my work perhaps more than anything else, except perhaps my love of personal struggle and the wonderful and horrible things that happen when unfettered passion runs amok.

You’ll be seeing more of that from me in the coming year, along with more of my voice in this blog. That’s the thing about writers: They usually have something to say, and if given a place to make their voices heard, will gladly give you quite the ear-full of opinions unsolicited and otherwise.

Unless, of course, if you want them to talk about themselves.

Building a Medieval City

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By , February 6, 2013

Running a Kickstarter campaign can be both exhilarating and exhausting. We did one last summer for CLANG, our iconoclastic approach to sword fighting, and funding came down to the wire. Exciting to watch, certainly, but there was much nail biting on our end. It is with some awareness of what these project creators are going through that we’d like to point you to TOWER and POWER.

This team is looking to create a 3D map of medieval-era Bologna, followed by a browser-based game that will drop you into the middle of noble family rivalries from this time period. In fact, and let’s be transparent about our interest here, a number of important advocates for medieval-era sword fighting came from Bologna. If you check out Tower and Power’s page on medieval fencing, you see a bit of the history that will come to life with their project.

They’ve got a little over two weeks left on the campaign. Please go visit their Kickstarter page and show them a little love if you like what they’re attempting to do.

The Foreworld Eras

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By , February 5, 2013

As we near the release of the third volume of The Mongoliad, we’re starting to pull back the curtain on the larger scope of Foreworld. In the navigation bar of the site, you’ll notice a link to the various eras. Over the next year, we’re going to start a number of stories in these time periods. The first of these is Barth Anderson’s The Book of Seven Hands, which will be out in March.

THE CLASSICAL ERA: Spartan and Athenian combat veterans, exiled from their home city-states but inspired by the ideas of their drinking buddy—a wrestler by the name of Plato—strike out into the north to explore the hinterlands of the classical world. In the mountains north and west of the Black Sea they found a new city-state called Petraathen (Athena’s Rock), topped by a towering acropolis dedicated to Athena Promachos (“Athena who fights in the front line”), an avatar of the Goddess of Wisdom dressed in a helmet and carrying a shield and spear. Conceiving of their duty as primarily defensive in nature, they dub themselves the Shield-Brethren and dedicate themselves to using their martial prowess to defend the ideals of democracy and wisdom personified by Athena and put into practice (albeit very imperfectly) in Athens.

THE AGE OF MYTH AND MIST: The classical Greek world has long since been absorbed by the Roman empire, now in decline and turning Christian. Cut off from its cultural wellsprings and trading partners in the Mediterranean world, Petraathen has dwindled from a self-sufficient city-state to a chilly fortress on top of a rock, making a living by supplying crack mercenaries to local warlords and training their sons in the martial arts. Rome gets farther and farther away, and its new religion brands the Shield-Brethren as heretics. The Shield-Brethren look to the north and forge a deep and fateful alliance with a coalition of pagan priests, druids, and sorcerers banding together in preparation for a long and bitter struggle against the people of the Holy Book. Embroiled amongst warring Goths, Geats, and Huns, the leaders of Petraathen send a team of their best warriors into the far north. Athena Promachos, viewed through a Gothic cultural lens, looks very similar to Nordic myths and archetypes of Shield-maidens, Valkyries, etc. and so the Shield-Brethren find an unexpectedly warm welcome. With local help, they found a new citadel on an island in the Baltic, named Týrshammar.

THE MEDIEVAL ERA: Bowing to the inevitable, the Shield-Brethren and the Shield-Maidens have become Christian monks and nuns. Petraathen and Týrshammar are now outposts of a Catholic military order called the Ordo Militum Vindicis Intactae, the Knights of the Virgin Defender, where the Virgin Defender is simply Athena with the overtly pagan insignia scraped off and relabeled Mary. Along with other military orders such as the Templars, the Hospitallers, and the Teutonic Knights, they have sent contingents to Crusades in the Holy Land and in the north. They are the smallest but the most accomplished of the military orders; as a consequence they have become enmeshed in intrigues and rivalries emanating from the Vatican.

THE RENAISSANCE: It is an era of intrigue and vendetta in the city-states and courts of Renaissance Italy, France, and Spain. The medieval tackle of longsword and armor is replaced by new weapons and styles better suited to the dueling field and street combat. Those who remember the OMVI of the medieval era move through the shadows, endeavoring to keep the virtues of Athena alive and in the hands of those who can make a difference.

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