So you want to be an author…

By , May 2, 2013

Joe Brassey and I were occupying a corner at the Clang Kickstart Party last weekend and I was struck by a memory from a few years back of Joe and I standing on the fire escape outside our martial arts class taking a breather and discussing writing.  Joe was an un-published writer aspiring to become an author and I was an author that had given up on writing, or at least on the idea of writing and publishing fiction.  Yet here we stood, both of us now published and actively pursuing careers as writers.  I shared this with Joe and after the mandatory fist-bump we agreed that life is funny that way.

I am continually running into people that tell me that they want to be a writer.  I bite my tongue.  I don’t say, “No, you don’t.  If you wanted to be a writer you would be writing.”  Because let’s face it, all it takes to be a writer is to write.  That’s what writers do.   I’ve known a lot of writers over the years and we pretty much can’t help ourselves. I sold a couple of short stories in the early nineties, but told myself I didn’t have the drive to be a writer.  What really happened was that I had worked with people in publishing enough to see just how tough the game was and I got discouraged.  So during the ten years that I was ‘not a writer’ I  wrote online articles, magazine articles, a book about swords, automotive reviews, firearms reviews, political and social commentary etc.   I probably wrote the equivalent of a novel or two a year… but I wasn’t a ‘real’ writer.

Then we got the chance to write for Foreworld.  My wife and I co-authored ‘The Shield Maiden‘ on a somewhat compressed deadline, which got us used to writing every day and working together.  We turned in the novella, heaved a sigh of relief and went about our lives. But within days I was ‘jonesing’ to get back to the keyboard and start writing again.  I got started on a novel that I had been thinking about for a year or so and within a day Linda was saying, ‘I want in!’  Yeah, we had it bad…    Now we write practically every day on one project or another, whether it be our second Foreworld Saga Side-Quest (no,it’s not a sequel to ‘The Shield Maiden’) or other future project.

The thing is, if you want to be a writer sooner or later you’re going to have to sit down and write.  Then you will not merely want to be a writer, you’ll be one.

Set a daily goal for yourself.  Start with a block of time and figure out how fast you write, then set a’words-per-day’goalbased on a realistic estimate of how much you can reasonably write.  Then cut that in half and make that your daily goal.  You want your goal to be attainable even when things go sideways on  you.  Mind you this word count is for new content; it should not include editing and re-writing.



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…

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.


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.




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