Excerpt from “Empty Hands” by Joshua Blum

The following is an excerpt from the novella, Empty Hands, a stand alone interlude to The Thirteenth Hour.


Tagline: Sometimes the best weapon is nothing at all.

Cover blurb:

“…I stand before you with open hands that carry no weapons. And though they may prefer to create than destroy, when the time is right to stand, either to defend or protect, then these shall be my weapons, my empty hands …

Legend has it that during the Drawing, His Majesty’s elite, the fabled Imperial Rangers, receive sidearms magically assigned to their strengths and talents. As the first Ranger class in decades, none of the eight Rangers-in-training really knows what the Drawing will entail. In fact, Logan, the youngest, smallest, and seemingly least capable Ranger frankly couldn’t care less which weapon he’s assigned; he’d settle for surviving the rest of his training in one piece. Can he and the others work through their differences and finally come together as one unit? Can they learn enough to take their rightful place beside the exalted ranks of the Rangers of old? Find out by reading this blissfully self-aware martial arts fantasy that owes much to Saturday morning cartoons, Hong Kong kung fu cinema, Dungeons and Dragons, and 80s action films. The true connoisseur of obscure 80s trivia can find clues to a surprise bonus hidden inside the pages of this story.

Like other works by the same author, this novella is a stand-alone expansion to The Thirteenth Hour and comes with its own retro 80s concept EP so while going through the story, readers can click on embedded links to hear the digital synth soundtrack created to accompany the text.”


The punch came sailing toward my head faster than I expected.  No matter how much or how long one trained, the shock of actual combat always came as a bit of a surprise.  There really was something to that adage about falling to the lowest level of one’s training rather than rising to the occasion.  The dodge my body reflexively did at the last moment was neither particularly smooth nor graceful, but I’ll say this – I didn’t get punched in the face.

The big man who had swung the haymaker looked a bit surprised when his hand struck nothing but air, but he, too, had some previous training.  With a snarling yell, he checked his momentum enough to deliver a backhanded blow with the same hand.  It collided with my forearm hard enough to send a shock up though my arm which would have registered as pain had I not been focused on cocking my leg to my chest and thrusting my body weight forward so my heel would collide with the big man’s lead upper thigh.  At least, that’s where I aimed.  It would have made a follow-up shot to the head or neck easier.  But the adrenaline surge pushed the trajectory of the kick higher than I’d intended, and my foot hit his exposed chest instead, sending him stumbling back into the barstools.

Face red, eyes bulging, he roared something in the Capital City brogue that I didn’t quite catch.  I think the general gist was about him copulating with my mother.  Or maybe with my brother.  I don’t know.  The northern accent was still hard for me to understand sometimes.  He dusted the dirt off his shirt where my boot had left a fairly obvious imprint.  I did catch his next words: “Mind your gods damned business, small fry!  I don’t care about you!  It’s him we want!  He ooooooowes us!”

He shoved a finger as fat as two of mine at the drunken figure sitting propped up against the bar to my rear, mumbling incoherently to himself.  I’ll be honest, the guy sitting on the floor wasn’t my favorite human.  He wasn’t even a friend.  He’d been a thorn in my side since the first day I’d met him, and chances are, the bastard wouldn’t even remember I’d put my posterior on the line to keep him on this side of the ground a little longer.  But he was an Imperial Ranger, and we were supposed to take care of our own.

“Hey, I’m talkin’ to you!” the big man roared, pulling out a wicked curved blade.  “You hearing me … Aron?” 

The Ranger on the floor looked up suddenly and slurred through bloodied lips, “It’s … bronounced ‘Aay – rohne,’ you athhh.” 

“What??”

Aron spat out a mouthful of blood, coughed, and cleared his throat.  “Sorry.  ‘You ass,’ is what I meant to say.  Your buddy got me good.” 

And that’s when all hell broke loose.

********

Let’s take a step back about nine months. 

Before that fateful night at the Crimson Blade where a motley group of eight Imperial Rangers-in-training fought a band of fifteen thugs from the Tartecian underground over a monetary dispute stemming from the behaviors of a certain ‘Aay-rohne,’ that very same group of eight, eyes still full of wide-eyed wonder, were lined up at attention in the training hall deep in King Darian IV’s castle in the Capital City.  The room had tall ceilings and a large, blue carpeted training floor made for tumbling and taking tumbles, both of which we would come to know well. 

Our three instructors would eventually turn the eight of us into experienced, agile, and highly competent combatants – a far cry from our first day, when we were mostly raw recruits.  Although two of us had been in the military for some time, we were all basically foot soldiers who had received a rougher-than-rough introduction to hand-to-hand combat by the same drill instructors who been churning out infantrymen for decades.  “Pack mules ‘n arrow fodder – that’s what you is!” our drill sergeant would shout.  It was his way of motivating us to do more pushups. 

Over the next year, under the steady guidance of our instructors, we would go from arrow fodder who might as soon accidentally stab ourselves with our own spears into warriors skilled in not only all infantry weapons but unarmed combat.  Of course, it didn’t take long for some of us to realize that while hard work and repetition was unavoidable, natural abilities could significant shorten the learning curve.  This was a reality that those with natural talent, like Aron, reminded those of us with little talent, like myself, at least once daily.

“Since I’m the man, at the Drawing, I’m gonna get the double sickles for sure,” Aron would boast, referring to the rumored ceremony near the latter part of our training where we would be given weapons that fit our unique talents and personality.

We’d caught a glimpse of one of the instructors whirling around a set of those weapons when we’d arrived early one day, and since then, Aron had been fascinated not only by the flying sickles but by the Drawing.  The idea was not that a weapon was chosen for you by the instructors or the castle wizards, but rather that the weapon chose you based on some combination of your personality, fighting style, strengths, and a dash of magic.  No one was really sure how it worked, which lent an air of nonsense to the whole thing, but after the wizards mentioned it enough times, we couldn’t help but wonder when we looked at the display rack of weapons beside the blue carpeted floor.

“In the days of old,” Wally the wizard said after one training session, “when Rangers started their training in childhood, the Drawing was the ceremony that signaled that a Ranger was no longer a child.   He or she was now a fully-fledged Imperial Ranger fit for active duty.  But, that was long ago.  We have shortened the training down to the barest essentials with your class.  As you know, there haven’t been Rangers in many years.  And now …”  He cleared his throat and paused.  “And now, with the King’s decree to reinstate the Rangers, we felt there should be at least some of the traditions of old.  And so, for the first time in decades, there will be a Drawing ceremony.  It won’t serve as your graduation, but it will signify the start of the more advanced aspects of your training.  After which, you will be fine-tuning the basic skills you have acquired up until now.”

After Wally left, we milled around the wall of weapons, chattering excitedly.

Lance, who had been a fencer prior to joining the Army and already favored the sword above all other weapons, said, “I hope I get the sword.  I’d have to change my whole way of fighting if it were something else.”  He employed the same lunging attacks for unarmed combat as he did with the sword, and even though it wasn’t always effective, since his only real weapon was a lead-side punch, it was a strategy of sorts and kept his style consistent regardless of whether there was a weapon in his hand or not.

“I’m sure you’ll get a sword,” said Ben, a tall, sturdy fellow who moved and talked slowly.  “And if not a sword, at least something you could use like one.  A stick or club, maybe.”

“Hmm, not the same,” Lance said, nervously eyeing the other choices.  He reached out to finger one of the blades hanging on the wall and, in the process, knocked over a staff that had been balanced precariously near it.

Aron caught it and smirked.  “Like I always say, it’s all in the reflexes.  Let me tell you what else I usually say in situations like this …”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” said Jake.  There was no official leader of our group since all had the same rank, but if there were one, he’d be it.  His leadership didn’t extend to offering me a spot at the card table at night, but then again, he’d never denied me a spot, either.  “We know.  You’re the man.”

“I am.  And let me tell you.  Those twin sickles are a man’s weapon,” Aron said with a nod.

“Why do you guys want to get so close?  I like my opponents right where I can see them – far away,” said Blake.  “Give me a bow, crossbow, or blowgun any day,” he said.

“Yup,” said Phil.  “Second that.  Hell, I’d take a shepherd’s sling and a few rocks.  You guys can keep your sticks and swords.  I don’t go in for that caveman stuff.”

Aron shrugged.  “Real men know where it’s at.  Ain’t that right, Logan?” he said, jabbing me in the ribs with the point of his elbow.  I stumbled to the side, and Allan, the largest Ranger, caught me.

“Why must you insist on tormenting him?” Allan asked Aron, looking him square in the eye.  Aron eventually started to squirm under his intense gaze and muttered something under his breath about me reminding him of his kid brother, who “is also kind of an idiot.”

Like Ben, Allan spoke and moved slowly.  Fighting him was like hitting a tree trunk – the guy just didn’t budge.  But as he often said himself in his deep, slow voice, “I detest violence.  I would much prefer a more civilized way of dealing with problems.” 

“I think you’ll get one of the staves, Allan,” Jake said, referring to the selection of magic weapons adorning the shelf.

“Ahh, yes, I do hope so,” Allan said.  “And what about you, my friends?” he asked, referring to Jake and Ben.  As the heavyweights of the group, they were typically matched together for most of our sparring drills and were alike in the amount of damage they could dish out.  Although our trainers suggested that hitting each other full contact all the time was not a great idea, we sometimes forgot, especially in the heat of a match.  I learned quite quickly that the best way to stand a chance against big men like Jake, Ben, and Allen was simply to stay out of their way.   

“I like the quarterstaff,” Ben said.  “It’s simple, and I like the fact I can make one easily from any stout hardwood branch in the forest.  And, I’m not as fast as some of you guys.  So it gives me a reach advantage.”

“Hmm.  Good points.  I’m tempted to say the staff as well.  Or maybe the twin rvygerns,” Jake said pointing to the curved Elven blades that were part bush knife, part short sword.  “I really like how they fit my hands.”

“Yeah, that’s a good choice,” nodded Aron.  “Don’t get me wrong; I’ll take the sickles any day.  But the rvygerns are solid.”

“Glad I have your approval,” Jake said, rolling his eyes.

The voice of Clavus, one of our instructors, suddenly came from behind us, startling everyone.  “Don’t get too attached.  You’re still expected to pass proficiency tests with all the basic weapons and unarmed combat prior to graduation.  You’ll just be spending a bit more time with the weapon you’re assigned following the Drawing.  But remember, the idea is to be able to use any of these.”

In decades past, the instructors would have been former Imperial Rangers who’d managed to live to the age where they could still do the physical skills required of the profession but also had enough experience to teach it to a new generation.  But since there had not been Imperial Rangers in years, our trainers were pulled from other parts of the Imperial Army.   Clavus, our lead instructor, had been teaching King Darian’s all-female Imperial Guard hand-to-hand combat prior to this assignment.  Rizor had been a weapons instructor for the regular Army, and Tershel, who’d been an acrobat in a travelling circus prior to joining the Army, was teaching physical fitness to the regular Army when the wizards came with orders direct from the King.

Although none of them were Imperial Rangers themselves, they were better instructors than any of us had ever had up to that point.  Unlike the “pack mule ‘n arrow fodder” attitudes of the senior officers and drill sergeants who had taught us in regular Army basic training, Clavus, Rizor, and Tershel weren’t just there for the paycheck.   They could also each do everything they asked of us and perhaps because of that, gave direct and practical advice. 

“The first thing I want you to do is burn that damn thing,” Clavus had said on our first day as Imperial Rangers, when we’d entered the training hall carrying the little manual we’d used during basic training.  “I’ve been trying to get the Army to rewrite it for years.”  He took one of the manuals and started flipping through the pages, shaking his head at the combat techniques illustrated with black and white line drawings.

“That technique is garbage.  That one might work with a compliant partner.  And this one … this one will probably get you killed.  Burn it.  Make a gods damned bonfire and stay warm tonight.  That’s about as much good as this shit will get you.  We’ll have to start from the ground up.”

True to his word, we had.  Forgetting the techniques we’d learned in the crash course on being a soldier hadn’t been hard for me since I had no basis for comparison and could never get any of it to work anyway.  It was a bit more difficult for Jake and Allan, who’d been in the Army for years, but they were naturally bigger, stronger, and more coordinated, so they relearned fast.  They very rarely got the critiques of, “No, that’s not right.  Again!” that I did every few minutes. 

Looking back, I have to commend Clavus, Rizor, and Tershel for having superhuman reserves of patience.  Not only did they endlessly correct incompetents like myself, they very rarely became angry or flustered.  They might have gotten irritated when we did something truly boneheaded, but it was usually to teach us a lesson.  I’m not so sure I could have been as accommodating. 

As a case in point, one afternoon many months into our training, we were working on a sparring drill where one partner would advance with a series of attacks.  The defender had to either counter, parry, or avoid the blows.  “Every move you make should have a purpose!” Clavus shouted amid the flurry of arms and legs.  “Remember, economy of movement!”

“Aron!  Go easy on the jumping, okay?  Remember, at the very least, you’re probably going to be carrying 10-15 pounds of additional gear with your uniform, boots, and survival belt.  And a few times that amount if you’re wearing packs, not to mention body armor.  If you’re going to jump, at least cover some distance or use it to gain height to do an attack you can’t do with your feet on the ground.”

Aron bounced like a human pogo stick, shadow-boxing in place, while repeating “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” in a monotone suggesting lip service compliance only.  He then adjusted his pads and readied himself for the next flurry of attacks from Blake, his partner for this round. 

Blake advanced with a jab to Aron’s head, which Aron avoided by leaping backwards, putting him a bit too far out of range to effectively counter Blake’s next move, a lunging side kick done in an unsuccessful attempt to chase Aron down the floor.  Aron skipped backwards again, then delivered a jumping roundhouse kick to Blake’s head followed by a jump spinning backfist – both of which missed, by the way.  This didn’t stop Aron from congratulating himself. 

“Yeah.  Nailed it,” he said as he continued hopping from foot to foot. 

Clavus looked on the verge of saying something in response but seemed to contain himself.  “Time!” he shouted, and we all stopped.  “Blake, if you’re going to go chasing Aron like that, at least don’t leave yourself wide open.  Aron, you had a perfect opportunity to capitalize on Blake being overextended and off-balance.  Here, do the same attack at me, Blake,” he said.

Blake threw the same lunging side kick.  Instead of leaping, Clavus simply slid back with both feet still on the ground, shifting his hips back to avoid the kick.  For a split second after his kick missed, Blake was off-balance, making it easy for Clavus to bring his lead arm down to both parry and strike the incoming leg, making Blake hop, then stumble to the side.  With a few deft movements, he mimed a few follow-up counterattacks.  “It doesn’t have to be so complicated, Aron.”

“But what happens if you can’t avoid the kick in time, Sir?” Blake asked, rubbing his calf.  “You’ve obviously practiced that and knew what I was going to do.”

“Yup,” Clavus said, with a shrug.  “What happens if you can’t avoid it?  You get kicked.”  He shrugged again.  “Remember, the Imperial Rangers are not foot soldiers.  Your main goals have historically not always involved fighting.  We spend a lot of time on fighting, yes, but that’s just insurance.  It’s also why we say avoid fighting unless you have to.  Because if you can’t, you’re probably going to take some damage, as most of you have already figured out – even in here, where things are relatively controlled.  Imagine I were doing this in the snow or in mud.  What then?”

“I don’t think I’d be kicking,” Blake said.

“Probably not,” Clavus said.

Aron continued shadowboxing in place, exhaling forcefully though his mouth with every strike.  Clavus gave him a slow burn with his eyes before continuing.  “After the Drawing, we’ll lower the amount of contact you’ll be doing, but you’ll be training in all the gear you’ll normally be wearing – your uniform, survival belt, boots, your preferred weapons, and body armor.  “Things may be a bit different then.  You’ll need to move differently based on the extra weight.  It’s fine to try the fancy stuff or the more advanced techniques here – you have to work on them somewhere – but just remember, things don’t always go as planned.  In a stressful situation, you don’t rise to the occasion.  You just fall to the lowest level of your training.”

Aron’s hand shot up.  “I know you always say that, Sir, but shouldn’t it be ‘to the highest level of your training’?” 

Clavus shook his head.  “I say ‘lowest’ since, in a stressful situation, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to pull off something that you haven’t learned very well.  But you’ll be able to rely on a basic technique that you’ve drilled a thousand times or more.  And keep in mind that your ‘basic’ is going to be much more refined than the ‘basic’ of a raw recruit.  Yeah?”

There were nods of understanding.  Even Aron stopped bouncing around and seemed to be contemplating the answer to his question with some consideration.  Clavus raised his arm for the drills to recommence.

Tershel chimed in, “Hold up, Clavus.  Before we start again, Logan, show me what you did with Lance.”

I paused.  I wasn’t entirely sure what I’d done.  “Ahh, I …”

“What did you do with your glove?”

“Oh.  Well, it … came off, Sir.”

“Yea, in my face,” Lance sputtered, twitching his moustache. 

“Oh, really?” Tershel asked.  “It just happened to fly off his hand into your face then.”

“Yes, he threw it or something, Sir.  It was unfitting behavior for someone of our station … and very unsporting,” he said with a nod of his head and a swipe of an imaginary saber.

“Really?”  Tershel exclaimed with a wide grin. “You know, that is … fascinating.  Now, I’m no Imperial Ranger, and after you graduate, you gents can do whatever you want.  But, for now, indulge me,” he said, eyeing every single one of us, “exactly how ‘sporting’ do you think anyone you face out there is going to be?  You think, for example, that some giant Nevan weighing a deuce and a half who’s used to eating Imperial Army soldiers for breakfast is gonna … care about your code of conduct?”  Tershel shrugged while we all squirmed.  “I’m just saying.  So – you two, show us slowly what you did.”

Lance repeated his usual lunging punch attack but at half speed.  I blocked his arm, and Lance advanced again with the same lunging lead side punch.

“My glove started to come off here, Sir,” I said, looking down at the lacings going up and down my forearm.  “I couldn’t get back it on in time so … I ripped it off, and I guess I kinda threw it.”

“You ‘kinda’ threw it.”   

“Well.  I meant to throw it on the ground and just get out of the way.  But it ended up going a bit higher, Sir.”

“I see.  But you didn’t stop there.”

“Well.  He was open, so …”

“So, you took the opportunity to kick a distracted, helpless man.”

“I … I … um.  Well, I guess I did, Sir.” 

Lance sniffed and wiggled his moustache indignantly.

Tershel looked at the other Rangers then stared at me.  I could hear Aron stifling a giggle, and I felt my ears going red. 

Tershel finally nodded.  “Good,” he said, and I snapped my head up, confused.

“Keep in mind that the pads you wear on your arms and legs are there not only for protection in here but also because they simulate the body armor that you might be wearing out there.”  He walked over to the weapons wall and picked up one of the gauntlets that covered the knuckles, wrist, and back of the forearm.  It was made of layered sheets of steel riveted together on top of a fine layer of chain mail to protect the areas that needed to bend.  Underneath the metal was a leather and cloth-padded area to add a cushioning layer between metal and body.  He tossed it casually from one hand to the next then flung it to Phil.  “Here, catch,” he said.

While Phil fumbled with the gauntlet, Tershel said, “It ain’t light, is it?”  Phil shook his head.

“Now imagine getting whopped in the face – even lightly – by something like that,” Tershel said, eyeing us closely.  “I’m making a point here because even though Logan losing his glove might have been an accident, things like that will happen, and you can use them to your advantage.  Like I said, there might be rules in here.  There are none out there.” 

Tershel let that sink in for a moment before noticing Aron’s hand.  “Yes, Aron?”

“Sir, if these pads are supposed to simulate body armor, why is it I don’t got nothing to protect my nuts?  The regular Army guys do.”

Tershel looked at Rizor and Clavus.  They shrugged and smiled.  Tershel turned back to Aron.  “That’s the first sensible thing I’ve heard you say today, Aron.  I don’t know.  You guys didn’t historically wear that much armor, including helmets, from what I can see in the texts.  We have you wear headgear in here for safety, since it’s what we do with the regular Army guys.  But as far as we’re concerned, you can wear whatever armor you want in here or out there.  Just remember that you’re going to need to move differently with it on, though.”

After we’d finished for the day, I eyed the wall of weapons.  Frankly, I wasn’t especially attached to any of them.  Not the way Aron was to the sickles or Lance to the sword.  In fact, the idea of cleaving someone open with a bladed weapon and seeing their tortured expression was nauseating.  I’d grown up around bows, since they were tools to put meat on the table, and while the Army ones were nicer and more powerful than the rough ones people in my village had used, I didn’t think of them much differently than, say, rakes or fishing poles.  The only one I’d taken any interest in was the sling, and that was only really because in order to use it, we had to go hunting for smooth stones to use as ammunition.  The stones reminded me of one of my favorite pastimes as a child – skipping rocks over the water – though my accuracy was so horrendous that I might as well have thrown the damn things. 

The only weapons exercise I actually enjoyed didn’t even involve weapons in the traditional sense.  It was a weekly session jointly taught with the wizards where we were given random objects from daily life, like umbrellas, gardening rakes, toothbrushes, and in one case, potted plants.  We then had to defend ourselves from a partner coming at us with a haymaker or an overhand sword strike (supposedly the two most common attacks we would be facing).  You could use whatever orthodox unarmed or magical techniques you wanted to defend yourself … or you could think fast and come up with a creative way to jury rig the household item you were given for your defense.  I was only fair with the unarmed stuff and horrible with magic, but coming up with a new way to use an ink bottle or a folding chair for self-defense was probably the only fun I had in our combat training.  However, that was a very small part of the curriculum, and before long, it was back to more repetitive drills with the sword or spear.

Of course, there were no household items on the weapons rack for the Drawing.  Like I said, the whole thing seemed overhyped to me.  But I did have to admit, I was attracted to the idea of how the Drawing worked.  Did the weapon pick its wielder?  What about that person made an inanimate object gravitate toward him or her?  Did the weapon actually float to its new owner?  Was there a flash of light or some other magical sign that signified what had happened?  Finding answers to these perplexing questions made me look forward to the ceremony regardless of what weapon I was assigned.

I’d asked Wally the wizard about the magic behind the Drawing at one point, and he’d simply smiled and said that I’d find out in due time, which wasn’t very helpful.  When I’d asked one of the Imperial Guards that I sometimes ran into, she’d just shrugged and had said it was a weird Ranger tradition and was probably a crock cooked up by some wizard a long time ago. 

“No offense, kid,” she’d said.  “But the Rangers have always done some really cockamamie shit.  If there were any left, you could ask them, but … you guys are the first ones in a long time.”  Then she’d thrown in her usual line about Rangers not living very long and how I’d better take my opportunities now if I wanted to reproduce. “Better get with the program, kid; you might not be around tomorrow, you know?  Make those gorillas take you along with them next time they hit the pubs.  You never know.  You might get lucky, eh?”

She’d taken her own advice and had three rambunctious little ones of her own that were constantly getting in trouble during mealtimes.  I’d once asked why their father never seemed to be around to help out.

“Fathers,” she’d corrected.  “One dead, second a deadbeat, and the third – disappeared.”

“Oh,” I’d said.  “Sorry …”

“Nah!  The hell with those guys.  Never did a damn thing to help anyway.  I get plenty of help here during the day, and the kids get free schooling.  Better than anything I ever got as a kid.  And as for the menfolk, let’s just say I’d like to think I have higher standards now than when I was younger.  Hope I learned a thing or two.  For everything else,” she said with a wink, “there’s my stash,” she said, holding a finger over her lips as she referred to her secret trove of ragged pornographic magazines she’d somehow acquired and hidden in a treasure vault only known to the Imperial Guard.  I’d accidentally stumbled on one location a number of months back, resulting in its relocation, but the new spot was unknown to me.

“So,” she’d said, “you looking forward to the Drawing?  Rumor has it everyone has already picked out which weapons they want.  We girls are placing bets.”

“With who?  Aron?”

“Naturally.”

I’d shrugged. “Of course.  I don’t really care which one I get.  I’m more interested in seeing the magic behind how they match the weapon to the person.”

The guard had nodded.  “Yeah, me too.  I’ve never seen one of these ceremonies, so it’ll be a first for me as well.  Hey – I gotta run and get the kids down for a nap.  Good luck at the Drawing if I don’t run into you before.”

As it turned out, I needed luck a little sooner than that.  At that afternoon’s training session, Rizor was leading us through another spear drill.  The spear was the standard infantry weapon, and its natural reach advantage meant that we tended to spend more time with it than anything else, but to be honest, it bored the hell out of me.  In retrospect, boring would have been preferable to what happened next.

The drill had been a simple one – parry the incoming spearthrust to the midsection by side stepping and deflecting the spear with your own followed by some kind of counter attack – and we’d done it hundreds of times.  We weren’t wearing any protective gear, since we were told to stop any attack short of actual contact, and in a way, perhaps that led some of us to pay less attention than we should have.  I’m not sure if it was my natural disinterest or the fact that I was still in the post-lunch slump, but I never even saw the tip of Ben’s practice spear until it nearly skewered my ribs.  Even though the tip and edges of the spear were not sharpened, the spearhead still managed to rip a hole in my shirt and leave a long gash on my abdomen.  An inch to the left, and my ribcage would have had a painful new addition.  I felt the glancing impact, but the pain of the cut didn’t immediately register.  It was mostly shock that caused me to gasp and drop my own weapon, grabbing onto Ben’s spear for stability. 

“Hey, let go, Logan!” Ben shouted amid the din of clanging weaponry when I continued clinging, stuck in a catatonic freeze.  At least that’s what I thought he said.  There was a whooshing ringing in my ears that muffled everything.  “Let go!” I think he yelled again.  I detected anger in his voice, but my body seemed to be moving in slow motion.  To emphasize his point, he jabbed again with the spear, overextending himself.  Following the path left by the previous blow, it missed me but ripped an exit on the other side of my shirt.  I felt my knees buckling. 

“Time!” I heard Rizor yell, but it seemed a long way off.  “Get a medic!”  But in anger and desperation, I don’t think any of that registered.  Survival mode kicked in, and I continued with my own counterattack.  I tugged the spearshaft towards me, then slingshotted the butt-end back towards Ben.  It was more a reflexive shove than anything.  I don’t know if his hands were sweaty, making his grip faulty, or whether he was caught unawares in his off-balance position, but the shaft passed through his hands, and like a pool cue striking the last ball home, came to rest firmly in the pocket of his groin.  Despite the pain that now registered in my abdomen, I winced.  Ben’s eyes bugged out a minute, and he slowly sank to his knees, head to the floor.

“Make that two medics!” I think I heard Rizor yell.  Ben’s face, now a snarling crimson red, lifted, and he looked at me with bulging eyes, spitting through clenched teeth, “That was not a good idea, pipspeak!”  Anger was inescapable in our line of work, and Ben had a temper known to all of us.  But I had never, ever seen Ben this angry before, and it was the first time I’d ever heard him insult someone, which was impressive given that we were surrounded by guys like Aron who dropped insults every five minutes.  Then again, I did ram the butt-end of a spear into his genitalia.   Most men are protective of such things.

With a primal scream, Ben lunged forward at me, both arms outstretched.  He caught me around the neck, slamming me to the floor before I knew what was happening.  The floor was matted, but it still knocked the wind out of me.  As I gasped, my vision started to go spotty as Ben’s massive hands squeezed for what seemed like forever.  A few Rangers tried to pull him off, but he bucked and elbowed them away.  I tried levering the point of my chin under his hands to give me a little more room to breathe, but he was too strong, and I was too late in attempting it to do much good.  With my remaining strength, I tried slamming my hands down on whatever parts of his body I could in a vain effort to get him to let go, but it was no use.  I saw a few of the other Rangers standing over me, doing not a damn thing.  I remember thinking, “Screw you guys.  Why don’t you help, you bastards?”  I would have shouted it if I weren’t dealing with a 250 pound gorilla, teeth clenched, face contorted in rage, trying to choke the life out of me.

More black spots danced before my eyes, and my head started to swim.  It was hard to form thoughts, and my mind and body seemed to slow to a crawl.  The only thing keeping me going was some primal urge from deep within.  Perhaps it was a small inheritance I had received from my parents and those innumerable generations before, going back to when the world was young – that little bit of instinct that we humans still retained – the will to do whatever it took to preserve life.   

My hands, empty of anything that could help preserve whatever life they still carried, finally settled on something small and hard – a rectangular amulet Ben wore around his neck that was now dangling in front of me. “For good luck,” he often said.  That day, it may not have been lucky for him, but it was for me.  I couldn’t see it from where I was, but my fingers wrapped around the thin metal bar.   I blindly tried to ram the end into his Adam’s apple.  The amulet hit the soft pocket of skin below instead.  He yelled in pain but only applied more pressure.

I was desperate now, and for better or worse, I did what desperate men do – the same damn thing over and over, hoping despite evidence otherwise that it will work.  With every strike, I could feel myself growing weaker, and by the last one, there was barely anything left. 

But it must have been enough, because Ben sputtered, loosened his grip, and, color draining from his face, let himself be pulled away by Jake and Allan.  He clutched his neck, which had started to bleed, and sat on the floor, rocking slowly back and forth as he panted heavily, eyes shut, sweat dripping from his brow. 

It was hard for me to move, and as I welcomed gusts of cool, wonderful air, I was only dimly conscious of a medic ripping open my shirt to clean the wound on my abdomen.  The medic was a grey haired woman wearing an officer’s uniform sporting a long scar along one cheek, leaving a pale slash in her otherwise dark skin.    

“I’m Captain Hayes.  You were lucky.  A little more this way,” she said, motioning to the wound, “and …”  She didn’t finish.  “It’s not too bad, though.  I don’t think I’m going to put any stitches in.  It’s not really deep enough, and you’ll just blow through ‘em.  Just try to keep it clean and wrapped tight.  Come back tomorrow, and I’ll change the dressing.  How’s your head?”

I croaked out something that must have satisfied her while she looked at my neck, eyes, and in my mouth. 

“Aside from a few burst vessels in your eyes, I think you’ll be okay,” she said, shaking her head.  I recognized her as one of the Imperial Guards.  Although we didn’t share practice sessions with them, we did sometimes cross paths, and a few of them moonlighted as medics or Army instructors to make a little cash on the side.  We had gotten to know a succession of medics in our training, though this was the first time I’d met Captain Hayes. 

She and a few of the other Rangers helped me into a seated position against a stack of mats, and then she stood.  Looking straight at Rizor, Tershel, and Clavus and then at the rest of the Rangers, she shook her head, and said, “What little I saw, I did not like.  Lieutenants Rizor, Tershel, and Clavus, please explain.”

I could see their faces reddening.  Either they were embarrassed or weren’t used to being questioned.  Maybe some of both.  Our medics weren’t usually senior officers, either.   

“It … it was an accident, Captain Hayes,” Tershel said quickly.  “We probably should have had the men use the fencing gear,” he added, motioning to a pile of protective equipment at the base of the weapons wall.

“That’s up to you.  Look, I’m not here to police you.  I’m here as a medic today.  But a word of caution coming as a fellow officer in this Army.”  Her eyes narrowed as she glared at our trainers.  “Accidents, like anger, are unavoidable in our line of work.  But what I saw, men cheering on the equivalent of a schoolyard brawl, was avoidable.  There is a difference between battle and training.  In battle, all the animal instincts come out.  It is unavoidable.  But that is what the training is for.  We train for control.  To control ourselves.  In a few months, these men will be on their own.  They will need to work together, as a unit.  Clearly, they are not there yet.  But you have time.  You three can still shape them.  Am I clear?”

Our instructors weathered the critique with silence and slight nods of assent, which clearly did not convince Captain Hayes.  She continued staring them down until Rizor finally started, “You make good points, Captain.  I … I think …”

Aron, who had been jostling side to side like a Labrador itching to be let out, shot his hand up at that moment, blurting out, “This all would have been avoided if we had something for our nuts, Ma’am!  Maybe you can tell the King that we …”

He was silenced by incredulous glares from the instructors and an upheld hand from Captain Hayes.  “Thank you for that enlightening piece of information, soldier.  But were we talking to you?”

She held his gaze until he ground his foot in the mat and said with downcast eyes, “No, Ma’am.”

Captain Hayes turned back to Rizor. “As you were saying, Lieutenant?”

Rizor nodded.  “Thank you, Captain.  With the Drawing coming up, perhaps we should be thinking of ways to have the men function more cohesively rather than pitting them against each other.”

The Captain shook her head.  “That is not what I meant.  People in this Army have always learned soldier against another.  How else are they supposed to?  Training dummies,” she said, pointing to a worn, stuffed mannequin suspended from the ceiling that we used to practice strikes, “don’t hit back.  Look, like I said, it’s your job to teach these men.  I’m not here to interfere.  What I’m saying is that …” she paused, sighed, and looked around to see who might be listening.  “… there’s a lot of shit in this Army, especially at the top.  But that doesn’t make it right.  Any monkey can learn to use a spear.  But not everyone can use it in the right way, at the right time, and know when to show restraint.  We don’t always expect this of our regular rank and file.  But we do of our Imperial Rangers.  Or, at least, we used to.  Do you catch my drift?”

The instructors mulled this over and straightened up to attention, saluting their assent.  As if on cue, at that moment, Ben, who was still rocking on the floor, vomited.

After Captain Hayes examined and bandaged him, she motioned for us all to come over.  She looked at Ben, put a hand on his shoulder, and said, “Son, I’m not trying to make an example of you or embarrass you.  But this is one of those things that … happens.  Aside from your neck, your body is fine.  But the part of you that makes your body do what it needs to – the nerves, they’ve had a shock.”

Ben nodded, eyes still on the mat, drool dripping from his lips. 

She turned back to us. “Have you seen a stress dump before?”

“Sometimes when I’m nervous, I get the shits,” Aron blurted out.  Clavus turned sharply to him, mouthing an incredulous “why?” and put a finger to his mouth.  “Please, Aron.”

Captain Hayes smiled.  “It’s alright, Lieutenant.  That wasn’t the kind of dump I was thinking of, though I suppose I set myself up for that one.” 

She turned to the rest of us.  “After the battle is over, assuming you lived, sometimes the body rebels.  Occasionally, it’s just fatigue.  But at other times, the hands start to shake, the legs twitch, and the stomach flips flops.  And, yes, Aron, sometimes so does the rest of the gastrointestinal system.  And that is to say nothing of the mind.  Sometimes the body heals fine, but the mind, which you can’t see, does not.  The point is, the more you understand these things, the more you will understand yourselves.  And the better you will understand your enemies and how to defeat them.  If you can get some sense of that and how to work together as a unit in these final months, this Army will have done its job.  Got it?”     

“Thank you, Captain Hayes,” our instructors said. 

Then Tershel added, “We appreciate the impromptu lesson, Ma’am.  I’ve never been sure why you have not been added to the training curriculum.  I mean, that would only make sense.”

The Captain smiled and shrugged.  “Politics.  And … to be honest, I’m out of date.”

“The basic training methods haven’t really changed, though, Captain.”

“Well, tell that to the King.  Besides, I’m mostly retired these days.  I just help train the Guards and do occasional medic duty.”

“Well, it’s not like we have a whole lot of guidance on how to do this job, Ma’am, so … any time you want to drop by and … drop a little wisdom, I know we’d appreciate it,” Clavus said.

“Thank you, Lieutenant,” Captain Hayes said, smiling warmly. 

When she was gone, Clavus turned to us and said, “Captain Hayes is the only surviving Imperial Ranger trainer.  I think she did their hand-to-hand training back … well, that must have been forty years ago or so, right?” he said, looking at his co-instructors.

“Yeah, probably.  Right before they were disbanded,” Tershel said.

“She was a Ranger, Sir?” Jake asked.

“No, just a regular soldier.  Like us.  It wasn’t always easy to find Rangers to do the actual instructing, so … sometimes they pulled from other parts of the Army.  One of those people was Captain Hayes.  Somewhere around here, there’s a picture of her,” Rizor added, waving his finger around, scanning the plaques on the wall.  “You’ll see it if you look.  She’s a little younger there,” he added.  “So, hopefully you took something from what she said.  It’s given us a few things to think about as well.  It’s not like we always know exactly how to train you.  There haven’t been Imperial Rangers in a long time.  Speaking of which … back to the present.  Logan, Ben … what are we going to do with you guys?”

Ben and I looked at each other until he averted his eyes to the puddle of vomit on the mat.  He took a towel someone had given him and started mopping it up.

“Don’t worry about that, Ben.  I think we should probably stop for today,” Rizor said.  “Why don’t we wrap up with the usual conditioning exercises.  When you guys are done, meet back here to stretch out.  Ben and Logan, stay here a minute.”

While the rest of the guys went off to do pullups and other calisthenics, Rizor took us aside.  “Alright, look.  I realize this is awkward given that you two, umm … just tried to kill each other, but … you guys got to work this out.  Like the Captain said, at the end of the day, you eight are just going to have each other out there.”

After an awkward silence, I said, “I guess Aron was right … groin protection and all.  I’m sorry, Ben.  It was more a reflex than anything.  The butt end of the spear to the … cockerel region, I mean.”

Ben gave a short laugh and shook his head.  “It’s okay, Logan.  I’ve been hit harder there before; I don’t know why it made me so mad this time.  When I get like that … it’s like I have blinders on.  I had no idea I’d skewered you with the spear.  I’m sorry about that.  I just …”  He paused and stared at his hands, which were trembling.  “I just can’t … I can’t believe … Logan, I … I was going to kill you.  That was the only thought going through my head when I had you on the ground.  I almost killed you, Logan.”  There were tears forming in his eyes when he turned to Rizor, and his voice choked when he said, “I don’t know if I can do this, Sir.  I think … maybe I should have been a farmer like my father said I should’ve.”

Rizor nodded.  “Well, to be fair, there are a lot of things you’ve said your father told you to do that …”

Ben nodded.  “… yeah, that weren’t that great.  But … maybe he was right on this.  He always said my temper would be the death of me.”  He gave another sad laugh and looked at the mat.  “I got my temper from him.  Except I don’t need to be drunk to lose it.  Thanks, Pops,” he muttered, giving an imaginary toast.

Rizor put a hand on Ben’s shoulder and squeezed.  “You know, my first commanding officer was in the Army since he was kid.  Lied about his age to get in.  He’d been in for, I dunno, twenty years by the time I was assigned to his unit.  He taught me most of what I know about the sword.  And it was all practical stuff – what I try to teach you guys now – learned the hard way.  But anyway, after this battle – my first – he looked out on the battlefield, and it was just … blood, guts, fire, smoke, crying, and screaming … all the stuff no one ever tells you about when you enlist and get the shiny boots and polished armor.  And there he was, looking out on it all, and I’ll never forget what he said.  ‘Boys, I got you through this – at least most of you – but the fact remains that I also carried out the orders that did this.  And I can’t do it anymore.’  He took off his sword belt and his officer’s insignia and threw them in one of the fires burning near us.  ‘It’s been an honor to serve alongside you,’ he said and then turned around and started walking the other way.  And I never saw him again.  Of course, there was all the usual shit.  Desertion charges and all that.  But I don’t think the Army ever found him.  Or if they did, they didn’t get any help from us, because we certainly weren’t going to rat him out.  I guess that’s a roundabout way of saying we all have our limits.  Like fire, a temper, Ben, can be helpful in certain situations, assuming you can control the blaze.  But you probably stand a better chance of learning to control it here than in a lot of other walks of life.”    

As I was leaving for the barracks that evening, Rizor pulled me aside.

He looked a bit uncomfortable, as if not sure how to begin.  Finally, he said, “You know, I didn’t get a chance to say this before, but you did alright today, Logan.”  His words didn’t really register at the time, since our instructors seldom doled out praise, and what little there was had generally been for the ears of other men.

I must have looked at him dumbly, so he continued.  “I’m sure it doesn’t feel like it.  But you fought a man who wanted, however temporarily, for you to no longer be in the land of the living.  And, by your own hands, you lived.  No one will give you a trophy, and there won’t be any fanfare or celebration like at the Drawing.  Your reward is another day on this side of the ground.  A lot of times, that’s all that counts, Logan.  Do you get what I’m saying?”  I nodded but left as confused as ever.  In time, I would understand.  I don’t know if the others ever got that lesson.  Sometimes, even now, I wonder and wish I could ask them.  But it’s too late.

And although Ben’s neck and my ribs healed after a few weeks, as Captain Hayes alluded to, the mental side of things took much longer.  I would see Ben’s face, contorted in rage, at random times in the day, and sometimes I had to stop what I was doing at the moment and try to clear my head.  And although we were paired together for drills and sparring matches a number of times after that incident, Ben was never quite the same around me.  It was as if there was always a part of him that was afraid the same thing would happen again.  And, if I could talk to him knowing what I now know, I’d tell him not to worry, to live every moment fully, since, as we were often told, the typical Imperial Ranger didn’t come with a long life expectancy.  But that’s another story told elsewhere.

********    

That evening, I was sitting outside, looking at the stars.  Although I was generally left alone since the others were busy playing cards, tonight, I had purposefully sequestered myself under the awning on the far side of the barracks.  I could dimly hear the sounds of the men laughing over their poker game but could not make out any words.  I let out a sigh that had been building up since the incident at the training session. 

The night sky had always been a source of comfort for me, having grown up mostly without the comfort of a mother or father’s embrace.  There had been a big window near my bed at the Aquarian orphanage where I’d been raised, and sometimes, when I hadn’t been able to sleep, I would look out into the distance, above the tall treetops, into the void.  The little orbs of light, ever glowing, were small sources of security.  Sometimes, my childhood friend, Aurora, who was two years older and had been in the orphanage even longer than I had, would join me next to the window, and we’d sit there until the morning rays peeked through the clouds.   

I’d known Aurora since I entered the orphanage at age five, and the last time I’d seen her was when I’d left for the Army at eighteen.  She had been such a consistent part of my life until that point that sometimes I forgot she was elsewhere and got excited, hoping to tell or show her something.  Then I’d realize I couldn’t and wasn’t sure of the next time I could, which filled me with a mix of sadness and a kind of bittersweet longing that I wouldn’t understand until I was a bit older. 

I wondered what she would have said had I told her about the events of that afternoon.  Could I have even explained them?  I looked down at my hands, which had started to tremble slightly, and recalled the time when I had left the orphanage for the Army, when Aurora had taken my hands, placed her favorite skipping stone in my palm for luck, and closed my fingers over hers.  She had held them there against her chest before giving me a sad smile to send me off.  Perhaps because of my early childhood, crying was not something that came especially easy for me as an adult.  But that day, it had been easy, though I had tried my best to conceal it.  And now, as I looked down at my trembling fingers, remembering Aurora’s hands cupped around mine, I felt tears welling up in my eyes again.  There, under the eaves in the stillness of the night, I hunched over my knees.  Covering my eyes with those same hands that had given me “another day on this side of the ground,” I wept.  

Afterwards, I continued sitting outside until my eyes grew heavy.  Eventually, I stumbled off to bed.  In the morning, I did feel a bit better.  The other Rangers never mentioned the incident again.  The only person who ever did, strangely enough, was the Imperial Guard I sometimes ran into.  She was coming out of Captain Hayes’ office when I stopped by for my follow-up visit, and after greeting me, she stopped, as if not quite sure what to say.  Finally, she asked, “You alright?”

I asked why.  She simply said, “Heard you got into some shit.  Are you … alright?”

When I didn’t answer, she said, “Well, none of my business, I guess.  But, let me ask this – are you gonna be alright?” 

That I was confident in, so I said yes.  She nodded, and that was that.


Thank you for reading this excerpt. To read more of Empty Hands, look for it for the Kindle on Amazon.

You can listen to the soundtrack that was composed for the book, to be listened to concurrently, here.

The Case of the Grandmotherly Ghost Finale

Not long ago, my brother and I wrapped up the last installment in our second homebrew D and D roll20 campaign that my brother created based on The Thirteenth Hour.   This one was quite different from our first – more traditional, I suppose, in that it took place in the wilderness, had monsters, and more fantasy elements, like barbarians, magic spells, faerie circles, and dragons.  Unlike our first adventure, where our adventurers remained in the confines of a city and the enemies were more of the 2 legged human variety, this adventure also had a number of traditional D and D “monsters” (for lack of a better term).  Our heroes even got to adopt one (a griffon), and it will be interesting to see what that means in the future.  There was still a human element, though perhaps Stephen King described it best in writing about all the horror in just human nature that can exist below the surface in your typical small town (in this case, Aquaria, the sleepy hamlet that the heroes of The Thirteenth Hour, Logan and Aurora, come from).

Check out this blog post Jeremy wrote about this adventure to get a more behind the scenes look at what he was aiming for when writing it.

Click on the links below to watch all the episodes on youtube or just listen to the audio podcast style (most episodes run about 1.5-3 hrs).

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Some of the creatures encountered on this mission – owlbears and griffons!

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A scene from the final battle – sea serpent vs. mechanic dragon!  (Basically like a Godzilla movie)

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The town of Aquaria gets to know their barbarian neighbors in the Wild Lands and try to settle their differences. img_6124img_6122

Stay tuned for the next adventure in the land of Neva!  There will undoubtedly be some throwbacks to the foes seen in our first adventure, which can be found here.

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The Case of the Grandmotherly Ghost 8

Catch the latest updates of the homebrew roll20 campaign my brother created based on The Thirteenth Hour. In this episodes, our heroes replenish their supplies and get some new gear while not only avoiding getting taken prisoner by a group of barbarians but then forming a kind of friendship with them.  In addition, there is the taming of wild horses found in the Wild Lands, a barbaric part of the world filled with savage humans and wilder beasts.

img_5822img_5825img_5823img_5824You can watch episode 8 by clicking on the title picture above.

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The Case of the Grandmotherly Ghost 6 and 7

Catch the latest updates of the homebrew roll20 campaign my brother created based on The Thirteenth Hour. In these two episodes, our heroes chase a group of men who kidnapped orphans and may just be selling them and have to jump into a fairy circle that transports them to the Wild Lands, a barbaric part of the world filled with savage humans and wilder beasts. Lester and Claudia both almost die in combat several times – good thing they thought to bring emergency rations!

You can watch episode 6 here:

https://youtu.be/xcS17inf1sI

Watch episode 7 here:

https://youtu.be/q8wAZqvy38U

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The Case of the Grandmotherly Ghost 5

Catch the latest update of the homebrew roll20 campaign my brother created based on The Thirteenth Hour. In this episode, Lester and his crew infiltrate the now creepy Aquarian orphanage and do battle with otherworldly shapeshifters!

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Jeremy based the shapeshifters on this passage in The Thirteenth Hour:

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You can watch the entire campaign here:

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The Case of the Grandmotherly Ghost 4

Catch the latest update of the home brew roll20 campaign my brother created based on The Thirteenth Hour. In this episode, Lester pulls an all nighter with two wizards to try to get to the bottom of the ghostly business baiting Aquaria. He ends up being able to communicate with the dead! Bet he didn’t bet on that when he took on this case.

In the course of the episode, there were choices about whether to go to sleep or stay up to investigate (involving sneaking around in and out of peoples’ rooms like a total creeper, kind of like in the game The Last Express, discussed here.

You can watch the entire campaign here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8YvpOEIaBF4&feature=youtu.be

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The Case of the Almost Assassination 9

lf you’ve been following along here, you might be aware that my brother and I have been involved in a Dungeons and Dragons campaign that he created set in the world of The Thirteenth Hour.  It’s a bit of a steampunk mystery set in a fantasy world, if you can imagine that, and it’s drawing to a climax. We recorded the next chapter in our Roll20 D and D adventure recently, which you can watch below.  In this episode, our heroes infiltrate a party in the fancy part of town, and our protagonist, Lester, goes in drag as an old lady with a touch of the dementia.

Lester as himself (top) and as his geriatric gender-flipped alter-ego, Ms. Nan Leslie.

It’s a bit easier for Lester’s assistant, Claudia, who lets her hair down and doffs her usual duds for formal dress:

The episode was cut short about two hours in due to technical issues, right in the middle of a battle when our heroes get ambushed in the midst of their snooping – we’ll pick up there next time!

And, by the way, if you listen closely at around 1:00 and 7:20 min into the episode, you may catch Nan Leslie going on about her younger years, where she was “showed the ways of the world” by a certain mysterious character she remembered as “The Scissorwulf!” Could it be the same masked hero in the furry loincloth?

Maybe so! There are worlds beyond worlds, and to allude to Stephen King (from The Dark Tower books), sometimes they collide … learn more about the Scissorwulf through his creator, Chad Derdowski, who was last on the show on episode 119.

Click on the image below to watch:

Infiltrating this high class party to find out the murky dealings of the hired help requires forging an invitation …

In the midst of a battle …

And if you enjoy other retro 80s things, one of the first tracks I did for Long Ago, Not So Far Away, “I’ll Fly Away,” recently got a 12″ Remix. Listen here and catch the video below:

 

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Between Two Worlds, the synth EP follow up to Long Ago Not So Far Away is now out for streaming on Bandcamp.  

The bonus track, called “Flight of the Cloudrider” has a 80s movie mashup music video (see if you can identify all the movies!) which is available on youtube.   This app was largely created with the iphone app Auxy.

between 2 worlds EP cover 2

Stay tuned.  Follow along on Spotify!  There is also a growing extended Thirteenth Hour playlist on Spotify with a growing number of retro 80s songs.

Check it out!

As always, thanks for listening!

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The Case of the Almost Assassination 9

lf you’ve been following along here, you might be aware that my brother and I have been involved in a Dungeons and Dragons campaign that he created set in the world of The Thirteenth Hour.  It’s a bit of a steampunk mystery set in a fantasy world, if you can imagine that, and it’s drawing to a climax. We recorded the next chapter in our Roll20 D and D adventure recently, which you can watch below.  In this episode, our heroes infiltrate a party in the fancy part of town, and our protagonist, Lester, goes in drag as an old lady with a touch of the dementia.

Lester as himself (top) and as his geriatric gender-flipped alter-ego, Ms. Nan Leslie.

It’s a bit easier for Lester’s assistant, Claudia, who lets her hair down and doffs her usual duds for formal dress:

The episode was cut short about two hours in due to technical issues, right in the middle of a battle when our heroes get ambushed in the midst of their snooping – we’ll pick up there next time!

And, by the way, if you listen closely at around 1:00 and 7:20 min into the episode, you may catch Nan Leslie going on about her younger years, where she was “showed the ways of the world” by a certain mysterious character she remembered as “The Scissorwulf!” Could it be the same masked hero in the furry loincloth?

Maybe so! There are worlds beyond worlds, and to allude to Stephen King (from The Dark Tower books), sometimes they collide … learn more about the Scissorwulf through his creator, Chad Derdowski, who was last on the show on episode 119.

Click on the image below to watch:

Infiltrating this high class party to find out the murky dealings of the hired help requires forging an invitation …

In the midst of a battle …

And if you enjoy other retro 80s things, one of the first tracks I did for Long Ago, Not So Far Away, “I’ll Fly Away,” recently got a 12″ Remix. Listen here and catch the video below:

∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞

Between Two Worlds, the synth EP follow up to Long Ago Not So Far Away is now out for streaming on Bandcamp.  

The bonus track, called “Flight of the Cloudrider” has a 80s movie mashup music video (see if you can identify all the movies!) which is available on youtube.   This app was largely created with the iphone app Auxy.

between 2 worlds EP cover 2

Stay tuned.  Follow along on Spotify!  There is also a growing extended Thirteenth Hour playlist on Spotify with a growing number of retro 80s songs.

Check it out!

As always, thanks for listening!

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The Case of the Almost Assassination 8

lf you’ve been following along here, you might be aware that my brother and I have been involved in a Dungeons and Dragons campaign that he created set in the world of The Thirteenth Hour.  It’s a bit of a steampunk mystery set in a fantasy world, if you can imagine that.  We recorded the next chapter in our Roll20 D and D adventure recently, which you can watch below.  In this episode, our heroes pick up from the cliffhanger ambush we ended with last time in episode 7 and start off was an epic graveyard battle that nearly kills them…   Find out how it goes by clicking on the picture below:

And if you enjoy other retro 80s things, one of the first tracks I did for Long Ago, Not So Far Away, “I’ll Fly Away,” recently got a 12″ Remix. Listen here and catch the video below:

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Between Two Worlds, the synth EP follow up to Long Ago Not So Far Away is now out for streaming on Bandcamp.  

The bonus track, called “Flight of the Cloudrider” has a 80s movie mashup music video (see if you can identify all the movies!) which is available on youtube.   This app was largely created with the iphone app Auxy.

between 2 worlds EP cover 2

Stay tuned.  Follow along on Spotify!  There is also a growing extended Thirteenth Hour playlist on Spotify with a growing number of retro 80s songs.

Check it out!

As always, thanks for listening!

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Article with an Interview with Brad Fiedel, Creator of the Terminator Theme

This is an interesting interview on the making of the score for The Terminator, https://www.spin.com/2016/04/brad-fiedel-terminator-interview/ –  to piggyback off this week’s podcast episode. Part 2 coming next week!

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Between Two Worlds, the synth EP follow up to Long Ago Not So Far Away is now out for streaming on Bandcamp.  

The bonus track, called “Flight of the Cloudrider” has a 80s movie mashup music video (see if you can identify all the movies!) which is available on youtube.   This app was largely created with the iphone app Auxy.

between 2 worlds EP cover 2

Stay tuned.  Follow along on Spotify!  There is also a growing extended Thirteenth Hour playlist on Spotify with a growing number of retro 80s songs.

Check it out!

As always, thanks for listening!

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The Case of the Almost Assassination 7

lf you’ve been following along here, you might be aware that my brother and I have been involved in a Dungeons and Dragons campaign that he created set in the world of The Thirteenth Hour.  It’s a bit of a steampunk mystery set in a fantasy world, if you can imagine that.  We recorded the next chapter in our Roll20 D and D adventure yesterday, which you can watch below.  In this episode, our heroes continue investigating leads in a fancy part of town and leave with the suspicious impression that all is not as rosy and gilded as one might guess, come up with disguises (Lester decides to explore his feminine side), and the defecation hits ventilation when our heroes get ambushed in a graveyard, where the episode ends on a cliffhanger. Catch the next episode here by clicking on the picture below:

Sketches of the disguises our heroes plan as they cook up alter egos to help them sneak into a fancy dress ball they’re not invited to – in the name of solving the case, of course.

The scene of the mansion where the ball will take place (by day) – what will it look like at night?

And if you enjoy other retro 80s things, check out this past Monday’s podcast episode with Adam from @mom_gave_them_away – all about 80s toys and cartoons!  Part 2 coming this Monday.

In addition, one of the first tracks I did for Long Ago, Not So Far Away, “I’ll Fly Away,” recently got a 12″ Remix. Listen here and catch the video below:

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Between Two Worlds, the synth EP follow up to Long Ago Not So Far Away is now out for streaming on Bandcamp.  

The bonus track, called “Flight of the Cloudrider” has a 80s movie mashup music video (see if you can identify all the movies!) which is available on youtube.   This app was largely created with the iphone app Auxy.

between 2 worlds EP cover 2

Stay tuned.  Follow along on Spotify!  There is also a growing extended Thirteenth Hour playlist on Spotify with a growing number of retro 80s songs.

Check it out!

As always, thanks for listening!

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The Case of the Almost Assassination 6

lf you’ve been following along here, you might be aware that my brother and I have been involved in a Dungeons and Dragons campaign that he created set in the world of The Thirteenth Hour.  It’s a bit of a steampunk mystery set in a fantasy world, if you can imagine that.  We recorded the next chapter in our Roll20 D and D adventure recently, which you can watch below.  In this episode, our heroes (below) get back to more traditional detective work by following up on some leads they generated in the underground (literally and figuratively) of the city.  Some episode highlights – happy time for an old man, a parental reunion in the dreamworld interrupted by the chiming of the Thirteenth Hour, and the reappearance of The Shadow in the Moonlight spell.  Catch the next episode here by clicking on the picture below:

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Our heroes confer with William the Wizard, one of the three elderly mages from The Thirteenth Hour.

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A midnight reunion in a dream …

And if you enjoy other retro 80s things, check out this past Monday’s podcast episode with Adam from @mom_gave_them_away – all about 80s toys and cartoons!  Part 2 coming this Monday.

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Between Two Worlds, the synth EP follow up to Long Ago Not So Far Away is now out for streaming on Bandcamp.  

The bonus track, called “Flight of the Cloudrider” has a 80s movie mashup music video (see if you can identify all the movies!) which is available on youtube.   This app was largely created with the iphone app Auxy.

between 2 worlds EP cover 2

Stay tuned.  Follow along on Spotify!  There is also a growing extended Thirteenth Hour playlist on Spotify with a growing number of retro 80s songs.

Check it out!

As always, thanks for listening!

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The Case of the Almost Assassination 5

lf you’ve been following along here, you might be aware that my brother and I have been involved in a Dungeons and Dragons campaign that he created set in the world of The Thirteenth Hour.  It’s a bit of a steampunk mystery set in a fantasy world, if you can imagine that.  We recorded the next chapter in our Roll20 D and D adventure recently, which you can watch below.  In this episode, our heroes (below) infiltrate a secret society that has connections to the criminal underbelly in the Capital City of Tartec.  Can they do it without ending up with smashed noggins or gutted intestines?  Will they finally make it out of the stinking sewers?  Catch the next episode here by clicking on the picture below:

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Will these tools be helpful in the future adventures (assuming you can make it out alive)?

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And if you enjoy other retro 80s things made new decades later, check out the synthwave tunes of Starfarer, coming tomorrow!

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Between Two Worlds, the synth EP follow up to Long Ago Not So Far Away is now out for streaming on Bandcamp.  

The bonus track, called “Flight of the Cloudrider” has a 80s movie mashup music video (see if you can identify all the movies!) which is available on youtube.   This app was largely created with the iphone app Auxy.

between 2 worlds EP cover 2

Stay tuned.  Follow along on Spotify!  There is also a growing extended Thirteenth Hour playlist on Spotify with a growing number of retro 80s songs.

Check it out!

As always, thanks for listening!

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The Thirteenth Hour Podcast #64: Audio Recording and Editing with a Minimum of Gear Part 2

Episode #64: A Behind the Scenes Look at How the Soundtrack Was Created – Recording  and Editing Audio Cheaply and Simply (2 of 2)

https://archive.org/download/Podcast64_201610/Podcast%2064.mp3

Happy Halloween!

In today’s episode, we’re going to talk about what to do with that audio file we made last week in episode #63.  Most of today’s episode discusses the use of the program Audacity, which is free and relatively easy to use.  But just because it’s free doesn’t mean you can’t use it to polish your audio track into something that is CD-worthy.  It does take some fiddling and trial and error (as all these kinds of things do), but after awhile, it gets kind of rote, and the process goes a whole lot quicker.

Here’s a link to an article I did on podcasting that may be helpful.   There’s a link to download Audacity there as well as a lot of helpful links to tutorials that discuss audio editing.  We go over some of that here, but many of the tutorials (done by people who know much more than me!) go into more detail.

As always, thanks for listening!

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  • QR code email signup Signup for the mailing list for a free special edition podcast, demo copy of The Thirteenth Hour, and access to the new upcoming retro 80s soundtrack!
  • Follow The Thirteenth Hour’s instagram pages: @the13thhr and@the13thhr.ost for your daily weekday dose of ninjas, martial arts bits, archery, flips, breakdancing action figures, fantasy art, 80s music, movies, and occasional pictures or songs from The Thirteenth Hour books.
  • Free online streaming of the growing Thirteenth Hour soundtrack: https://joshuablum.bandcamp.com/  Stay tuned to a full 45+ min album coming 11/13/16.  Join the mailing list for a free copy.
  • Website: https://13thhr.wordpress.com
  • Book trailer: http://bit.ly/1VhJhXY
  • Interested in reading and reviewing The Thirteenth Hour for a free book?  Just email me at writejoshuablum@gmail.com for more details!

New Fantasy Release – Fire and Lies

Angela B. Chrysler, who has been featured on this blog a number of times before, has a new book coming out today, just in time for Indie Pride Day and the Fourth of July (if you’re in the USA).  It’s the second in her Norse-inspired dark fantasy series, entitled Fire and Lies:

fire

Click on the picture above to go the the Amazon page

Summary:

Blood waters the fields of Alfheim. War rips across the land of usurped kings and elves. The Fae gods draw near, and Queen Kallan’s strength is tested as she follows King Rune into Alfheim. But the Shadow Beast caged within Rune’s body writhes in hunger, and Kallan’s newest companion, Bergen the legendary Berserk, is determined to end the conflict with her life.

As the witch, the king, and the berserk come together, the truth buried within the past resurfaces. Now, Kallan must master a dormant power or watch her kingdom fall to the Fae who will stop at nothing to keep their lies.

Fire and Lies (Tales of the Drui Book #2) picks up right where Dolor and Shadow left off, concluding one chapter of Kallan’s life as the next chapter begins.

Trailer

She gave us excerpts of the first novel in the series, Dolor and Shadow, in this guest post she did about the psychology behind creating fictional characters and aspects of the backstory behind the creation of the series when she came on the podcast.  You can listen to that show in its entirety here or by simply going to iTunes and looking under “The Thirteenth Hour Podcast, Ep #35).

Check out her site here,  and help celebrate Indie Pride Day by giving one her books a read!

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  • QR code email signup Signup for the mailing list for a free special edition podcast and a demo copy of The Thirteenth Hour!
  • Follow The Thirteenth Hour’s instagram pages: @the13thhr and @the13thhr.ost for your daily weekday dose of ninjas, martial arts bits, archery, flips, breakdancing action figures, fantasy art, 80s music, movies, and occasional pictures or songs from The Thirteenth Hour books.
  • Website: https://13thhr.wordpress.com
  • Book trailer: http://bit.ly/1VhJhXY
  • Interested in reading and reviewing The Thirteenth Hour for a free book?  Just email me at writejoshuablum@gmail.com for more details!

Author Spotlight – Missy Sheldrake and Her Newest Release

On this past week’s podcast, fantasy author Missy Sheldrake came on, and we had a great conversation.  You can check it out here if you haven’t listened to it yet.

Today, I’m pleased to announce that her newest book is now live!

Call-of-Brindelier-Book-Spotlight

Here are links to the purchase the book on Amazon and learn more about it on Goodreads.

Like an excerpt?  Read one here!

Below, you’ll find a number of wonderful digitally painted illustrations from this new volume.  More can be found on her website’s illustration section.

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Excerpt-3-Dub-and-Celli

Excerpt-2-Undersea-Tower

Author Bio:

Missy Sheldrake is an author/illustrator who has been conjuring images of fairies in one form or another since she was very young. The wind in the trees and the rich scent of forest earth are her most treasured sources of inspiration, and on most mornings you will find her wandering the wooded paths, dreaming of the next adventure she hopes to put to the page.

Missy was born in Connecticut and attended Western Connecticut State University, where she earned a Bachelor of Science in Art with a concentration in painting and illustration. Even then, in her free time, she was writing. She moved to Northern Virginia several years ago and lives there now, on the outskirts of Washington D.C., with her true love and their son. She published her first novel, Call of Kythshire, in March of 2015 and intends to keep writing as long as the fairies allow it.

Links to the Previous Volumes in the Series:

Call of Kythshire (Book One):
https://amzn.com/B00UVLQWGY

Call of Sunteri (Book Two):
https://amzn.com/B0187IG3HK

Snowberry Blossom (Perma-free holiday short story):
https://amzn.com/B0196P041O

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Author Social Media Links:

Website: http://missysheldrake.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/missysheldrake

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/m_sheldrake/

Tumblr: http://etsyfairydawn.tumblr.com/

FB: https://www.facebook.com/MissySheldrake/and https://www.facebook.com/muralsbymissy

GR: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/13672249.Missy_Sheldrake?from_search=true&search_version=service

Amazon: www.amazon.com/dp/B00UVLQWGY

Good luck, Missy, with the launch!  May the fairies bring good luck.

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  • QR code email signup Signup for the mailing list for a free special edition podcast and a demo copy of The Thirteenth Hour!
  • Follow The Thirteenth Hour’s instagram pages: @the13thhr and @the13thhr.ost for your daily weekday dose of ninjas, martial arts bits, archery, flips, breakdancing action figures, fantasy art, 80s music, movies, and occasional pictures or songs from The Thirteenth Hour books.
  • Website: https://13thhr.wordpress.com
  • Book trailer: http://bit.ly/1VhJhXY
  • Interested in reading and reviewing The Thirteenth Hour for a free book?  Just email me at writejoshuablum@gmail.com for more details!

Brain to Books 2016 Fantasy Book Tour

Welcome, blog tour participants!

I will be hosting you for this stop on the B2B2016 Fantasy Book Cyber Tour, getting you actual snippets to read, view, or listen to for a taste of the participating authors’ works.

Clicking on the names of the authors will take you to their Goodreads pages.  The emoticons below are to highlight the following features of their work:

Twitter Icon | Simple Rounded Social Iconset | GraphicsVibe = Twitter link

= trailer or video to watch

Full size JPG preview: Speaker volume icon= audio clip

= stand-alone sample to download (e.g. a .doc or .pdf file)

= link to Amazon to buy the book (not available for all listings) or for the “Look Inside” feature to preview a book

Let’s start with the fantasy #B2BCYCON organizer, Angela.

1 – Angela B. Chrysler:
Twitter Icon | Simple Rounded Social Iconset | GraphicsVibe @abchryslerabc

Dolor and Shadow Large

Click on the cover above to read a sample of Dolor and Shadow on Amazon.com using the “Look Inside” Feature.

 Buy Dolor and Shadow on Amazon

 Dolor and Shadow Trailer

Tune into Angela B. Chrysler’s youtube story hour channel to hear her own novel, Dolor and Shadow!

2 – C.L. Schneider
Twitter Icon | Simple Rounded Social Iconset | GraphicsVibe @cl_schneider

Magic-Price

Click on the cover above to read a sample from Magic Price.

Tune into Angela B. Chrysler’s youtube story hour channel to hear her reading Magic Price!

  Buy this series on Amazon

 

 

3 – Joshua Robertson
Twitter Icon | Simple Rounded Social Iconset | GraphicsVibe @RobertsonWrites

DyndaerCover

Click on the cover above to check out a sample from Dyndaer.

 Check out the trailer to Melkorka, the first book in this series.

Full size JPG preview: Speaker volume icon Josh has been featured on this blog before.  Check out his interview on The Thirteenth Hour Podcast!

Buy books in the Thrice Nine Legends series and other Joshua Robertson books on Amazon.

4 – Ashley Capes
Twitter Icon | Simple Rounded Social Iconset | GraphicsVibe @Ash_Capes

Ashley Capes

The Amber Isle (Book of Never 1)

Click on the cover above to check out a sample from The Amber Isle.

 Buy the Amber Isle on Amazon.

5 – V.S. Holmes
Twitter Icon | Simple Rounded Social Iconset | GraphicsVibe @VS_Holmes

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Click on the cover above to read a sample of Smoke and Rain.

 Buy Smoke and Rain on Amazon

 

 

6 – Marco Marek
Twitter Icon | Simple Rounded Social Iconset | GraphicsVibe @1MarcoMarek

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Click on the cover above to check out a sample from Hyperearth.

 Buy Hyperearth on Amazon.

Hyperearth Trailer

7 – Aldrea Alien
Twitter Icon | Simple Rounded Social Iconset | GraphicsVibe @AldreaAlien

AldreaAlien

1TRK

Click on the cover above to check out a sample from The Rogue King.

 The Rogue King Trailer

 Buy The Rogue King on Amazon

8 – Riley Amos Westbrook
Twitter Icon | Simple Rounded Social Iconset | GraphicsVibe @donttouchmyshi1

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Click on the cover above to download the anthology FREE on Smashwords.

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 Full size JPG preview: Speaker volume iconClick on the cover to read and/or listen to this book FREE.

 Everyone Dies at the End Trailer

**This novella has not yet been formally released.  If you’d be interested in reading an advance copy and offering your honest opinion in the form of a review, please contact Riley.  He’s trying to amass 100 reviews prior to launching the book.  Help Riley get to 100 reviews (64/100 so far)!  See the Twitter link above or message him on his Goodreads page for more details.

 

9 – A.F. Stewart
Twitter Icon | Simple Rounded Social Iconset | GraphicsVibe @scribe77

A. F. Stewart

Ruined City

Click on the cover above to check out a sample from Ruined City.

 Ruined City Trailer

Buy Ruined City on Amazon.

10 – Tracy M. Joyce
Twitter Icon | Simple Rounded Social Iconset | GraphicsVibe @TracyMJoyce

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 The Chronicles of Altaica: Book 1, Altaica, and Book 2, Asena Blessed (coming 5/1/16!)

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Click on the banner above to check out a sample from Altaica on Amazon.com using the “Look Inside” Feature.

 Buy Altaica on Amazon

Altaica Trailer

11 – Ed Ireland
Twitter Icon | Simple Rounded Social Iconset | GraphicsVibe @Fabsfan1

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Click on the banner above to check out a sample from The Last Ranger of Sarn.

The Last Ranger of Sarn Trailer 

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Click on the banner above to check out a sample from Blood Moon Sacrifice.

Blood Moon Sacrifice Trailer

12 – Adam Dreece
Twitter Icon | Simple Rounded Social Iconset | GraphicsVibe@AdamDreece

Along Came a Wolf (The Yellow Hoods, #1) 23156034  24316301 26247781

Click on Along Came a Wolf to read a stand-alone sample download. 

Click on the covers of the other 3 books in the series to read a sample on Amazon using the “Look Inside” features.

The Yellow Hoods Series Trailer

Tune into Angela B. Chrysler’s youtube channel to hear Along Came a Wolf being read!

Buy books from this series and other stories by Adam Dreece on Amazon.

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Thanks for stopping by!
Head on over to the next stop on the #BYBCYCON train to get access to interviews from the authors above!

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  • QR code email signup Signup for the mailing list for a free special edition podcast and a demo copy of The Thirteenth Hour!  You’ll become an advance reader and learn about future stories, illustrations, and giveaways first, plus get samples like those featured above.
  • Website: https://13thhr.wordpress.com
  • Book trailer: http://bit.ly/1VhJhXY
  • Interested in reading and reviewing The Thirteenth Hour for a free book?  Just email me at writejoshuablum@gmail.com for more details!

Preview of Weekend Festivities

This upcoming Monday, on the podcast, fantasy author Angela B. Chrysler, will be on!  She’s been featured on this blog a few times before, and she’s heading up a huge cyber convention that’s also going on this weekend: the Brain to Books Fantasy Cyber Convention, starting this Friday (i.e. tomorrow), 4/8/16.

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Click on the picture above to learn more about this novel on Goodreads.

There’s a massive book giveaway as part of the convention.  You can see the books here.  I’ll be donating an e-copy of The Thirteenth Hour.  You can enter the contest here.

Speaking of which, I’ll have a “virtual booth” at the convention, as well, which will mirror real life, since I’ll be at a library event on Saturday.

I have a free raffle for both events going on using the same Rafflecopter.  You can win one of the three ebooks:

 

 

See you at one of these events!

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Your Star Will Glow Forever – Free x 48 hrs!

The illustrated children’s book, Your Star Will Glow Forever, that I wrote and illustrated this past fall as a Xmas gift for my daughter is now up for grabs on Amazon free:

http://amzn.to/1RzlrFI

This is a little essay about how the book was created:

http://marthareynoldswrites.com/2015/11/28/nov-28-meet-ri-author-joshua-blum/

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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New Release: Strong Armed by J.C. Boyd

On Monday, fantasy author Joshua Robertson will be appearing on the podcast.  One of his co-authors from the first book in one of his trilogies, Anaerfell, J.C. Boyd, has a new dark fantasy novelette out – Strong Armed, set in the same universe.

StrongArmedCover

Book Summary

Balvoc had always earned his bread with blood on his hands. But when he is forced to protect an amoral merchant to keep his wife safe, he must decide whether his wife’s life is worth the havoc caused by Sin-sim’s greed.

Author Bio

J.C. lives in the Midwest with his wife and two dogs. He recently earned his MA in English Literature and is working on his debut novel for his own fantasy world. Despite growing up with Dungeons & Dragons, Lord of the Rings, and a collection of both Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms novels, J.C. has an abiding love of classics and spends his free time reading anything he can get his hands on.

Author Interview

When did you start writing?

As I recall, my brother suggested we write stories one lazy, summer afternoon. I thought the idea was ludicrous, but being the younger, I followed his lead. The memory still lurks in the back of my mind as one of the best. Over the years, Joshua has continued to push me to write, so it is only fitting that my first published work, Anaerfell, was co-authored with him.

That lazy summer afternoon was in about 4th grade. I started writing my first novel, a horror story which featured kids from my class. Unsurprisingly, I did not finish. A similar attempt with a fantasy novel in junior high brought similar results. Not until my fourth attempt at writing did I finish my first novel, completing it my senior year of high school. The final product still makes me cringe, but elements, themes, and even characters from that book still creep into what I write now.

What motivates you to write?

After I had first put my highly illegible pencil to paper, I never really put it down again. While my brother certainly pushed me, he knows as well as I do that I don’t do anything I really don’t want to and his task would have been fruitless if I didn’t find something engaging in the task.

In the end, what motivates me to write is, well, everything about the process. I love putting down the first words as much as I do the last. I cannot help but getting swept away in the imaginary world I create with the characters I craft to face that world. I enjoy tropes as much as I enjoy turning tropes on their heads—one of my first pieces in the fantasy genre featured an evil Gandalf character, seeking to betray those he was meant to help.

However, the ideas and characters only inspire me as much as the words themselves. In fact, my family still pokes fun at me about reading the dictionary during my high school years. While I, like many of my contemporaries, list Tolkien as a major influence, I like to think I do so from the evidence of his philological background within his works rather than his epithet as the Father of Modern Fantasy.

What genre do you write in and what made you choose this particular genre?

While much of my reading has been in Epic Fantasy, High Fantasy, and Sword and Sorcery, I tend to lean (quite heavily) toward Dark Fantasy. I don’t know that I really chose Dark Fantasy. I simply realize that this is the genre in which I write. Because I like to play with certain tropes, I tend to lose traditional aspects that make me a writer of other subgenres. As I mentioned earlier, it is not so much that I dislike these tropes, but I cannot always reconcile myself to them within my stories. I have a desire to have exceptionally flawed individuals and, coupled with my rather morose outlook on life, they generally fail or step on others to achieve their goals. Real heroes are both rare and special. I simply haven’t found one in anything I write.

What is your goal in writing? Do you have dreams where your writing should take you?

I want to write stories I can stand behind with which people can identify. But I want my readers to have to think. I want more than simply a good book. I have read plenty of good books, at the end of which I can exclaim, “Thumping good read!” I then put down the book and never open it again. I don’t want to be in that stack. I want my readers to finish my story and immediately hand it to a friend (or stranger) and say, “Read this and then come talk to me. I need to discuss it with someone.”

Ambitious, I know.

Do you ever suffer from writer’s block and if yes, how do you deal with it?

I would like to say that I don’t, but it just wouldn’t be true. I have simply figured out an effective way of dealing with it for myself. When I encounter writer’s block, I usually end up pacing. I walk back and forth in my house and talk to myself. A lot. Usually I talk through the plot, themes, character motivations. And my workout ends with me spouting dialogue back and forth to myself. I have found that the most people deal with their problems by talking and if I let my characters talk to each other, I usually figure out what had me stumped to begin with.

What advice would you like to give new, hopeful authors?

Start over. I have seen too many authors carrying the same novel around in their back pockets for years, trying to get it published without luck. They edit the piece over and over again, but can’t get it accepted. I am sure there are plenty of people who would like you to stick with your tattered manuscript, but throwing it out and starting over is usually best. If you are married to the story, read a chapter and re-write from memory. Don’t keep editing. You are a better writer at the end of your novel than you were at the beginning, but editing can only do so much.

Please, tell us about your work.

My first published work is Anaerfell, co-authored with Joshua Roberston, in the Thrice-Nine Legends setting. Strong Armed will be released on 08 March 2016 in the same setting. Meanwhile, Joshua and I are working on another co-authored novel, which will take place in a setting of my own creation. 

Thank you for being my guest. It was such a pleasure to have you here!  Check out the links below for more info.

 _________________________________________________________________

LINKS

Order Strong Armed on Amazon

Order Strong Armed on Smashwords

Website

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What Would A Thirteenth Hour Game Look Like?

All the reminiscing about past video game making (mis)adventures recently in the podcast with my brother and the accompanying post got me thinking – would it be possible to actually make a game to accompany The Thirteenth Hour?  Given that I originally thought of parts of the book more as moving pictures sequences rather than text suggests there are some parts that could translate well into a game, but I think it might be overly ambitious to try to create the side-scrolling Final Fantasy style RPG I originally envisioned.  It’s no wonder I couldn’t finish that thing.  I can’t even finish a Final Fantasy game someone else has made! 🙂

But since I already have a 2D sprite of Logan flying on his hoverboard, Lightning, it might be possible to create a little one-level game where he’s flying through a 3d landscape, like in the trailer I made:

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The player would control him in an over-the-shoulder view, trying to fly above or below obstacles, like sea serpents jumping out of the water or rock formations jutting out of the rocky coast:

There would also need to be a sort of artificial “ceiling,” to keep the player from just flying over everything.  Flying too low would result in a fiery crash (if over the beach) or a watery crash (if over water).  Sea serpents popping up randomly would also preclude simply skimming over the water.  There could even be an evasive maneuver, like a barrel roll, to fit though tight places or avoid the sea serpents.

In order for there to some sense of urgency, each run could be timed.  Logan’s first experience with flying on Lightning in the book occurs when he sets off to find Aurora, so the driving force of the game could be that Logan needs to get to Aurora as quickly as possible, which would be consistent with the actual story.  So a quicker time would be yield a better score.

Other ways to keep gameplay interesting: trying to snag powerups (infinity signs!) that would give Lightning some special ability.  Lightning doesn’t really have equipped weapons in the book, but maybe the powerups could cut seconds off your time or render you invincible to obstacles for a period of time.  Or, they could help you regenerate health, which would be depleted if you bump into something.

I guess, in many ways, this sounds like those endless runner style-games that are so popular for mobile phones.  However, I think the ability to fly keeps it from being entirely rail-driven … at least, the player would hopefully perceive more freedom because of flight (that’s my theory, anyway).  The one thing about those games is that the environments are often randomly generated, giving you limitless replayability.  Programs like Unity give you the ability to make apps for phones, and getting an app on the Google Play store is not very expensive.  It might be a fun little promo item that’s good for quick play on the go.  Plus, since I already have music written for the book, I could just use the soundtrack I have already created.

However, the big obstacle I can see so far is that even if I retaught myself how to use programs like Multimedia Fusion, I don’t think they can do 3d landscapes easily.  I’m sure there might be a way to jury-rig something to create the semblance of 3d, kind of like how we had to jury rig Klik ‘N Play to make side scrolling levels, but I’d need to do more research into it, and I doubt an environment could be randomly generated.  However, that doesn’t necessarily mean this is all for naught.  Just another idea on the backburner until technology catches up to the power of imagination 🙂

If you’re reading this and thinking, “I could do that,” check out the games idea page – feel free to leave suggestions or ideas there as well!

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The Thirteenth Hour Podcast #30 Bonus Track: Homebrew Games – Tomb Raider, Chimp Fighting, 80s Bboying, and The Thirteenth Hour

As mentioned in the 30th episode of The Thirteenth Hour podcast, my bro and I tried to make video games when we were kids.  Tried is the operative word, since many didn’t get finished.  My brother completed more than I did, but unfortunately, they’ve been lost to the ether of the internet, at least for now.  So instead, this is a page of games I worked on.  I doubt I’ll get around to finishing them since I’ve basically forgotten how to use the programs we used, Klik ‘N Play (KNP) and The Games Factory (GF), so this is a of museum of sorts.

I don’t know if you can find these programs easily today, but you can download a more advanced, free version called Clickteam Fusion (CF), which I think should open any of the game files below.  There are links to compressed folders below where you can run the .exe file to play the game (if it was completed); you can use CF, GF, or KNP to open the .gam file to see the levels and the sprites.  WARNING – these games don’t run very well on today’s computers!  Just a warning that the gameplay, which was never stellar, is even buggier than it was back in the day …

If you wish to use any of these sprites or elements of these games in your own indie games, please feel free to do so; I only ask you please link back to this page!

Tomb Raider: The Unicorn Quest

You can download this game here.

My first completed (fan) game, finished in 1999 or 2000, where a young Lara Croft goes on a search for a unicorn with her mentor.  Not long after they find one, their guides turn rogue after deciding they want the unicorn for themselves.  Lara’s mentor is killed, leaving Lara stranded in the woods.  She decides to save the kidnapped unicorn and avenge the death of her mentor.  I hand drew the animations for Lara, as well as a first person point of view perspective of her shooting dual pistols.

Sounds better that it really was.  The gameplay, 20 years later, is basically ASS 🙂

Nonetheless, here are some screen shots:

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The title screen

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The intro

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Lara’s job interview – how she finds a mentor

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Lara’s mentor gets in trouble

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The first level

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Lara flips while facing the first boss

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One of the mindless bonus levels where Lara gets shot out of a cannon (?!) and goes flipping around a room getting power-ups.

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Lara’s in trouble!  3 motorcycle riders with machine guns are racing to find her, in true 80s movie style.

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Lara steals one of their bikes …

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… you get to this very frustrating level to play – you control Lara as she rides along the desert landscape trying to inexplicably avoid boulders falling from the sky.  I programmed it so the boulders with target your movements, but due to the shite control, it is irritating to play. 

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Like a retro Lucasarts game, you don’t really die in this game … if you run out of hearts, the level basically restarts.  In the interim, you see this screen.

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First person shooting in a boss level – the animations of the guns (slides going back, shell casings ejecting, etc) were hand drawn, then compiled in the games program.  

Tomb Raider: Shadow of the Wolf

Never finished, but you can download the working .gam file here, which you can use to make a game of your own.  For animated gifs, see the post immediately below.

I wrote about this game here, so won’t repeat myself, but the story (I think) revolved around Lara trying to recover a mythical sword rumored to be part of the Regalia of Japan before a group of ninjas intent on finding it first do.  ‘Nuff said!  I do, however, have a little backstory script written for the plot which I may add to and make an actual fanfic short story one day, which may give me something to do with the pictures I drew.

Chimpoeria

You can download it here.

This was the second game I finished – a chimp fighting game.  As a play on the Afro-Brazilian martial art, capoeria, it’s called Chimpoeira.  The game doesn’t run very well on today’s machines – the movements and controls are too erratic to be very enjoyable, but on the 200 MHz machine I had in college, I had a lot of fun playing this game after I made it.

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The graffiti style title screen

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The training screen

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Fighting the grey chimp – you ever-present arch enemy

 

The Drummer’s Beat

Never finished, but you can download the working .gam file here, which you can use to make a game of your own.

While I was working on the above games, I was also working on a bboy game where you play a kid in the early 80s running around the Bronx learning how to breakdance.  You have to convince a group of local bboys to teach you in exchange for helping them find a place to practice (a constant real-life hassle for most bboys and bgirls).  The title comes from the Herman Kelly and the Life song “Dance to the Drummer’s Beat,” a good old school breaking beat.

This ended up being a pretty ambitious project, since in addition to making all the animations for the dancers and a breaking battle engine, I wanted to make a city for your character to run around in to give it some RPG elements.  Interestingly, the latter part was what I got hung up on and eventually stalled the project.  The battle engine was more of less done, though it wasn’t great in terms of gameplay, and most of the animations – arguably the more tedious and time consuming part – were done, so if someone wishes to make a 2D breaking game, please feel free to use the above file.  I’ll be first in line to play it!

(If you’re interested in playing an actual, finished bboy game, I’d recommend Bboy for the PSP or PS2, especially since actual OG bboys were used as character models. Unfortunately, that game hadn’t come out at the time I was working on this.  It does most of what I was trying to anyway.  Though I haven’t played it, I heard the PSX game Bust a Groove is another, earlier game where you can apparently bboy).

I didn’t have a chance to go through the myriad animations and turn them all into animated gifs, but here are two:

6step animated gifone of the footwork animations

mills animated gifthis windmill-nutcracker-backspin combo took forever to animate!

Here are some screenshots:

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Intro screens

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Your main character is the kid on the left, watching the bboys practicing outside your apartment.  Little do they know you’ve been trying to do what they do in your room.

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Eventually, you get up the guts to ask them to teach you something.  They sort of agree, once you show them what you’ve been trying to do.  Ah, hip hop, the great social equalizer.  However, they’d like your help in finding a better place to practice …

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… so you start running around the city, where you can enter stores and talk to people.

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Unfortunately, if you get hit by a car, you end up in that big cypher in the sky.

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You could eventually earn some cash, which you could spend on things like apples for more energy or better clothes to make it easier to do spinning moves.  OR … you could apparently blow it all on a prostitute, haha!  I totally don’t remember adding any of this but laughed out loud when I found the “Death by Prostitute” level I had apparently included.

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If you blew your $$$ on a hooker, though, things didn’t end so well for you in this depiction of pre-AIDS antiretroviral medication (a midi file of “Sexual Healing” would be playing on this screen).

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However, if you managed to avoid these temptations and kept practicing, you’d eventually be rewarded with more moves and better gear.

 

The Thirteenth Hour Game

Although I’ll have to do a separate post on this later, I originally thought The Thirteenth Hour might be best as a game rather than as a book (before I knew about ebooks), so I set out on the ambitious task of making it into a video game.  Not surprising I didn’t finish, but given the length of the book, I’m impressed as how much time I managed to sink into this clearly unrealistic goal.

output_B3j4UO  I modified a Mega Man 2 character sprite to make the main characters – here’s Logan and Aurora on Lightning.

logan lightning animatedThis one is different.  I think I drew this one from scratch and have since used it in the original trailer and other videos.

Here are some screen shots:

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The intro, with lyrics from Alphaville’s “Forever Young” (playing in the background, of course)

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The classroom scene – seen out of Alfred’s eyes as he gets drowsy …

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… and falls asleep.  In the background, you can hear 13 chimes going off to mark the ringing of the 13th hour.

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Once asleep and dreaming, Alfred encounters two shadowy figures who tell him the tale of The Thirteenth Hour

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At some point, our heroes will encounter this guy …

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This grainy animated gif shows the little intro to the cast of characters …

I’ll have to go back and take a closer look at this pre-game, so for now, to be continued!

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Win a Free Copy of The Thirteenth Hour

You can win a free Kindle copy of The Thirteenth Hour in this rafflecopter that author Kelly St. Clare was kind enough to host on her site:

Enter the Raffle Here!

Not sure what this is all about?  Inspired by 80s fantasy, scifi, and teen movies, The Thirteenth Hour is a fairy tale for adults about growing up, staying young, and finding the unsung hero inside.  And you can get a copy free by entering this free raffle.  There are a few little tasks to do that helps determine who wins.  You’ll be awarded points depending on what you choose to do. Some activities are worth more than others. The more points you get, the higher your chances of winning!

For example, tweeting a message earns you 1 point. Leaving a comment below an article on Kelly’s site gets you 2. Subscribing to the free weekly podcast on iTunes yields 3 points, and so on.  You’ll see when you enter the raffle.  All activities are pretty painless, and none require to do anything idiotic like give your phone number, credit card info, or the usual internet marketing rigmarole.

The contest runs for a week, until 2/29!  Good luck!

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Now Available! Thirteenth Hour Throwing Cards – Instructional Kit and Handmade Training Cards

Now you, too, can throw playing cards like you favorite superpowered mutant.  Like I mentioned in this previous post, it’s not hard to learn to throw playing cards like Logan does in The Thirteenth Hour.  But it does help to know a little about the technique and have the right cards.

Wait no longer.  Thirteenth Hour throwing cards are now here.  You throw heavier, more rigid cards first in order to get the technique down, then work your way down to lighter cards until you;re throwing regular playing cards.  This kit is essentially a pair of “training wheels” to jump start your throwing while keeping your confidence up and frustration low.  They’re handmade and contain pictures from The Thirteenth Hour and come in different weights:

1.) laminated cards with Thirteenth Hour illustrations (weigh 5 g each) x 2
2.) unlaminated cards with Thirteenth Hour illustrations (weigh 3 g each) x 3
3.) regular playing cards (weigh 1 g each) x 3

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So you start with #1, then go to #2 when you have the throw down, then go to #3 when #2 is too easy.  At that point, you’ll be able to use a regular deck of playing cards you can find anywhere.

Comes with a set of instructions showing the basic throw and grip variations.

You can get them on the eBay store here or on my Square online store here.

UPDATE (2/15/16): Well, the first time I posted these on eBay, they were removed since eBay doesn’t allow weapons to be sold, and I guess “throwing cards” were flagged as potential implements of destruction.  It probably goes without staying, but I’ll paraphrase what’s said on the packaging on the cards themselves:

These aren’t intended as weapons!  Even in the book, Logan uses them as a distraction.  The idea that could you could seriously injure someone from thrown paper playing cards is not without its legends (see the original post for a book by magician Ricky Jay about it), but if you have any doubts, check out this Mythbusters episode where the myth of the lethal throwing card gets busted.  Ricky Jay actually makes a cameo as well).  However, you should still exercise caution, since if you get really good, you can cause small paper cuts, and walls and doors may get chipped.  That said, these are primarily novelty items.  If you’re seriously looking at them as a way of defending yourself, I wish I could say different, but there are many, many more effective ways!!  Throwing cards for self defense is probably best left in the realm of fantasy unless done for distraction, like Logan did in the book.  Of course, a handful or dirt or some coins to the face would do the same with much less practice, too.

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This clip, posted on Instagram and on the Youtube channel, shows the creation of the drawing used for the label:

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UPDATE (2/18/16): There’s now a video showing the cards in action!

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Interview With Author Coreena McBurnie

Today, I’m delighted to present to you a recent interview I did with mythological fantasy author Coreena McBurnie.  She interviewed me on her blog a few days ago, so today, I get to return the favor.  Coreena is also interested in appearing on the weekly podcast, so watch for those details soon.   But without further ado, read on below for further details on how she successfully turned a Greek myth with controversial content into a young adult novel, what she wished she’d have known before starting her author’s journey, and where she’d go if she could time travel for one day. 

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How did your book come to be?

I have always had a great love of ancient Greek mythology and studied Classics in university. While there I read the Oedipus plays by Sophocles. I was immediately taken with Antigone, Oedipus’ daughter — she’s strong, stands up for herself, and does what she thinks is right even in the face of death. When I was looking for a novel idea several years ago (because I was participating in National Novel Writing Month — a challenge to write a novel in November), I thought it would be fun to write about Antigone. I wasn’t sure how to go about it, especially as a young adult novel because some of the subject matter is delicate (i.e., she’s the child of an incestuous relationship), but finally decided just to tackle the story head on and not to make any apologies for what is the in the myth. Once I did that, Antigone found her voice very quickly.

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What’s it like to tell other people you’ve written a book?

It’s an interesting thing, this sharing of a story that is a part of you, but then it’s out there for the world to see and critique. I’m quite an introverted person, so I actually don’t bring it up much. I get really nervous when I tell people, but so far, everyone is very supportive and happy for me.

If you could share a meal with any of your characters, who’d it be and why?

Antigone. I think she’s fun and amazing. And how great would it be to participate in an ancient Greek feast?

What are your influences?

I love the ancient Greek and Roman stories and they inspire a lot of my writing. My favourite book is probably Homer’s Odyssey. Growing up I loved CS Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe series, along with anything by Agatha Christie or Douglas Adams. Recently, I’ve read Kristin Cashore’s Graceling series, Neil Gaiman, Rick Riordan, Eoin Colfer… One of the things I’ve really been enjoying is reading so many new and innovative indie authors.

Your hobbies?

Hobbies… Well, I love to read and I’m trying to learn to paint a bit, though this is more of a creative exploration than a mastery thing. I enjoy being outside around trees or water. I also have three kids, so is taxi driver considered a hobby? And recently I’ve become addicted to Supernatural on Netflix.

How do you find readers for your books (i.e. your audience)?  Friends?  Family?  Social media contacts?  Local library?  …?

This is my first published book, so I am still working on that. Family and friends are definitely my first readers. I’m having a book launch party in a couple of weeks, which hopefully will attract some attention where I live, and I’ve donated a copy to my local library. I’m also working on social media by reaching out to book bloggers who might be interested in reading my book and offering them review copies. So far, all of this is slow, but building (I hope).

What’s one (doesn’t have to be just one) thing you wish you could have told your pre-published author self?

Get beta readers sooner. I spent a lot of time editing and perfecting things, just to have the beta readers point out changes that needed to be made, and then I had to change everything again.

Your spirit animal is _____ and why.

A black jaguar — I dream about them a lot and love the protective, shadow qualities of a jaguar, especially a mother. When I am stressed out, I imagine a black jaguar looking out for me. I know it’s strange, but there you are.

How do you feel about clowns?

Really not my thing, they’re kind of creepy.

You see your book being sold on ebay.  You are ______ (fill in the blank).

Happy. Someone read my book and thinks it has enough value to resell it. Now maybe someone new will read it, someone who might not have otherwise found my book.

Your superpower of choice is:

Flying. I would love to see the world from high up, like birds. There is also a certain freedom to flying that is enticing, being able to go anywhere, any time.

Now imagine you’re a time traveler for a day.  Where and when would you go? 

To Alexandria right before they burned the library and find a way to stop that somehow. Can you imagine what was lost there?

Thanks for having me here today, it was fun! I love to connect with other authors and readers, so feel free to email me: coreenamcburnie@gmail.com

Other ways to connect with me:

Website & Blog: Coreena McBurnie

Facebook: Coreena McBurnie, Author

Twitter: @CoreenaMcBurnie

Goodreads: Coreena McBurnie

Amazon: Coreena McBurnie

Tumblr: Coreena McBurnie

Newsletter: Coreena McBurnie

Thanks, Coreena, for joining us today!  Congratulations on your debut book and wish it the world of success.  Looking forward to having you on the podcast!

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Joshua Blum Interview by Author Coreena McBurnie

Thanks to Coreena McBurnie, author of the mythological fantasy book Prophesy, Book 1, Antigone: The True Storyfor featuring this interview of me on her blog.  I had a chance to talk about topics like the creation of The Thirteenth Hour, how it was influenced by 80s fantasy, scifi, and John Huges teen movies, and how I envisioned the characters, especially their struggle to become adults in a world that doesn’t quite know what to do with people that are not quite teenagers but not yet firmly ensconced in the supposed security of middle adulthood (kind of like our actual world).  Watch for Coreena’s interview coming here soon as well as her appearance on the weekly podcast!

http://coreenamcburnie.com/2016/02/10/author-interview-joshua-blum/

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Guest Post by Kelly St. Clare: THUNDERCLAP CAMPAIGN: IS IT WORTH IT?

Today, fellow fantasy author Kelly St. Clare, author of the Tainted Accords series, and I are doing post swaps.  I’m doing a post on podcasting for her site, and she’s writing about her recent experience with Thunderclap for the recent release of her third novel, Fantasy of Fire.  Given that we both did Thunderclaps around the same time, I was excited to know what Kelly’s experience was like.  Thanks, Kelly, for sharing your thoughts!  Those of you considering doing Thunderclaps in the future will definitely find her insights helpful.  

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Thunderclap was founded in 2009 and has gained popularity in the last two years. The site claims to help “Generate major awareness for event announcements.” In a nutshell, anyone can start a campaign by creating a message for their event; a concert, book launch. Object of the game: To collect at least 100 supporters over Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr so your message is sent once via your supporter’s social media.

 

Setting up your Thunderclap

The process to create your own campaign is straight forward. You head to https://www.thunderclap.it and click ‘Start a Thunderclap’ – It requires you to create an account (free) and you have the option to make a profile. You will also need a Facebook, Twitter, or Tumblr account.

After this you need to create a message. Luckily, this is easy as well, with the examples provided by other authors and artists.

Once completed, you will be given an option to select whether your campaign is small, medium, or large. Respectively, you will need to get 100, 250, or 500 supporters. Depending on your audience, select the appropriate size. Remember, it’s hard to get followers to actively support a link! As a guide, I have 350+ subscribers, 800+ facebook likes, and 2500 twitter followers, and I selected the small campaign (100 supporters). Because herein lies the catch. If you do not get your pre-selected amount of supporters, your message will not be sent out. In other terms: If only 99 people support you, no thunderclap.

Tip: Include a couple of hastags in your message.

 

Promoting your Thunderclap

You have your campaign. Now you need to gain supporters. Below is a list of what worked well for me with my young adult fantasy readers.

Tips:

  • Lengthy messages to explain what a Thunderclap were less effective than posts with short messages. My most effective post message was “I need more clicks. Time is running out!”
  • I got a higher rate of supporters from my viewers sharing posts (i.e. A viewer shared my post and their friends then supported my campaign).
  • My posts were more successful when I specified supporting was free.
  • Making Thunderclap support a condition of entry into a small giveaway gave me 1/5 of my campaign goal (I offered an e-book).

It is HARD to get people to do more than a simple ‘Like’ or ‘Retweet.’ Remember, you are competing against everyone else who needs support; the marathon runners, those with sickness, and charities. These are worthwhile campaigns! And it means your followers are probably overwhelmed with requests to help on a day-to-day basis.

But with any self-made luck you will get there. Once you have achieved the minimum amount of supporters, Thunderclap will send you a message saying your campaign is 100% successful. Celebrate when this happens, because you will be one hundred percent over Thunderclap by this point.

Tip: If you are struggling for numbers, check out the facebook and goodreads groups dedicated to supporting thunderclaps.

 

Did My Thunderclap Campaign Help My Event?

I managed to convince 104 people to support me. This gave me a ‘Social Reach’ of 133,995 across Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr.

My message was sent out and…

Top rankings: 662 paid listing (#3 Bestseller in Dark Fantasy, #11 Bestseller in Adventure)

Which is great! But the total clicks from my Thunderclap Campaign…

Total clicks: 242

Now, this is where Thunderclap tells you to upgrade in order to get your campaign analyzed. It was $45 to do so – needless to say for 242 clicks I chose not to. Without the analysis, all you will get is number of supporters, social reach, and total clicks.

What does 242 Total Clicks translate to?

Best case scenario for my Thunderclap campaign: 242 downloads (DL) of my new release.

Let’s compare this to other campaigns I have done for nearly zero effort or a small fee.

– Amazon Free promotion day: 4700 DL, with increased sales for 2 weeks afterward.

– Book Promotion Sites (Awesomegang, bookbub, kboard) priced between $10-$30. Result: 300-1000+ discounted DLs.

 

Conclusion

242 clicks. Better than nothing! But was it worth the effort of promoting and – although not spending actual money – spending the time to generate supporters? Time which could be spent writing and…well, earning money!

But who cares? Because when I was promoting my Thunderclap I was still promoting my book! Right? To test this theory I analyzed my facebook statistics.

THUNDERCLAP PROMOTION POSTS: 32-44 reader views.

NORMAL PROMOTION POST (with review excerpt and buy link): 177-200 reader views.

(NB: A small giveaway increased numbers of both THUNDERCLAP and NORMAL posts)

Looking at the above, Thunderclap campaign posts were seen by less than a third of readers than my usual posts.

There is no doubt that 242 clicks to my Amazon page would have helped my rankings there. And these clicks may have resulted in sales. However, I feel this effect would be negligible when compared to my pre-order numbers and other release day promotions.

 The real question is: Do I think my Thunderclap campaign was worth it? Or, better yet, would I do it again?

No to both.

Perhaps results vary between different professions. Perhaps a change of message would result in more clicks. Or maybe if it was sent at a different time of day and time. Maybe a different picture. Maybe if the first in a series were promoted (I did my third book) then the results would be better. Seeing as I made no mention of the series placement in my message, I doubt this. However, these are all variables which could potentially increase the Total Clicks.

The Total Click yielded was pitifully small considering the Social Reach. And the work I did to generate support was not as effective as my normal posts which contained direct buy links.

You now have the details of my experience with Thunderclap, so the decision is yours. Will you be Thunderclapping your next release?

If you enjoyed this post, then please check out my other Dear Aspiring Author blogs.

Thank You to Joshua Blum for having me!

Kelly St. Clare

Kelly St. Clare

Author Biography

When Kelly St Clare is not reading or writing, she is lost in her latest reverie. She can, quite literally, drift past a car accident while in the midst of her day dreams, despite the various police sirens and chaos. 

Books have always been magical and mysterious to her. One day she decided to start unravelling this mystery and began writing. Her aim: To write stories she would want to read. As it turns out, this failed miserably. Do you know what it is like to read something you’ve written? Impossible. Not to mention, the ending is ruined before you’ve begun. Never-the-less, Kelly loves it and wishes she had more time to squeeze it in between her day job as a physiotherapist.

Fantasy of Frost, the first title in The Tainted Accords, is her debut novel. Two of the three sequels, Fantasy of Flight and Fantasy of Fire, are now available. 

A New Zealander in origin and in heart, Kelly currently resides in Australia with her soon-to-be husband, a great group of friends, and some huntsman spiders who love to come inside when it rains. Their love is not returned.

Follow her via Newsletter at www.kellystclare.com, and find her on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.

If you would like to read her coming-of-age epic fantasy novel, Fantasy of Frost, then you can view it here. Or read the first five chapters on Wattpad.

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Blog Tour Con’t: Featured Author – Joshua Robertson

This blog recently hosted three authors in the #NYNB2016 blog tour.  I’m going to continue the author-featuring with this post, though it technically isn’t part of the past tour (though it could have been).  Today, we’ll be taking a look at epic fantasy author Joshua Robertson’s work, especially his book launching today, Dyndaer, Book 2 in his Kaelandur Series.  (Pictures below direct to Goodreads.)

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Book Spotlight _ Dyndaer

Dyndaer Excerpt One

A woman, unlike any Branimir had ever seen, emerged from the crowd and occupied the remaining chair. The bow slung over her shoulder, and the quiver on her back were the last things Branimir noticed. She was shorter than most Anshedar with an oversized head, a scrawny neck, and a sickly, thin frame. Yet her skin, smooth and colored a reddish brown, darker than Branimir, caused him to lean toward her. A sash, red as blood, hung across her shoulder, angled over her small chest.

She sat with her back stiffened and chin jutted forward. Pushing long black strands behind her ears, she introduced herself, “Hanna Bretka, daughter of Briv, from Danduher in Haemus Mons.” She sloshed her mug onto the table after taking a gulp.

“Branimir and Dorofej,” Bran said, “And, excuse my asking, but what are you?”

Her eyes swelled like an owl, a circular black center and the rest filled with a cerulean orb. The colored ring twinkled like the Ojenek in his pocket. “What do you mean what am I?”

Adamus and Dorofej merged in laughter.

“Kras,” she said, “I am a Lilitu. How would you not know my kind? The Kras frequent trade with the Lilitu in Halderon.”

Branimir rubbed the back of his neck with a crooked smile, and meekly shrugged. He could not take his eyes off of her.

What are you?” Adamus repeated, wiping a tear from the corner of his eye. “Best thing I have heard in two months. Having you travel with me never tires, Hanna.”

“Glad to please you, Adamus,” Hanna muttered, rolling his name off her tongue. “Is this why we detoured to Cavell? I thought we were aiming for debauchery, not expanding on our alleged friendship.”

Here’s what one pre-release reader thought:

… Robertson writes unlike any other author I have read. He engages the reader quickly to draw them in, and keeps them there! There was even a part in the book when I was reading where I found myself in the story with the characters. I subconsciously slowed my breathing and was afraid to make any noise because I didn’t want the characters to get caught! I have never felt that way in reading before. I was speechless after reading it.

Dyndaer Excerpt 2

“You told me that I would never find joy,” Branimir went on. “I can’t help but think the rune staves might be right, mainly when I think of these past several weeks.”

“Oh.” Dorofej shuffled out from the shadows, rejoining them near the fire. He appeared disgruntled, despite his words. “We have shared pleasant times together, yes? I say, do not sum up all arduous times to be grievous.”

“I was only telling you what I was seeing,” Drak explained. “I did not mean anything by it.”

“All the same, your words have stayed with me,” said Branimir, scooting over to make room for Dorofej.

“I say, Hanna did warn us that we may create our own future by thinking that we know what to expect, yes? Emotions can create your reality if you are not careful,” Dorofej softened his gaze.

Drak sniffed through his nose. “The rune staves tell what will happen. Branimir cannot change it, no matter how he feels about it.”

Dorofej furrowed his brow. “Know that for certain, we do not. Regardless, whether our paths are fixed or not, we choose how we walk them. Dangerous, it is, to find comfort in sadness. Leads only to more sadness, it does.”

“I like that thought,” Drak granted, and then grinned wide. “Feelings are unseen and untouched by anyone or anything. Fate cannot tell you how to feel.”

Branimir held his face, pondering the wisdom of the two. “Telling yourself how to feel seems easier to think about than to do.”

“Such is the task of the living, yes? I say, our minds are riddled with grand ideas and limited enthusiasm to see it done. Driven towards the things we wish to avoid, men are. Drink, does the drunkard; fight, does the warrior; and on and on, it goes.”

“Is it not what they want?” Branimir asked.

Dorofej lifted his eyebrows, “What do you want, Branimir?”

“I want…” Branimir may have never thought about the question before. He had always been entertained with trying to survive, the question of what to live for was beyond his knowing. Yet, upon taking a moment to think, the answer was not hard to come by. “I want happiness, Dorofej.”

Dyndaer Buy Links

Amazon

Smashwords

Barnes and Noble

Website

As you can tell from the pictures above, there are a number of other books in the series – Book 1: Melorka, as well as the stand-alone volume, Anaerfell.  If you enjoy Joshua’s writing, as his readers seem to do, you’ll want to check out his extensive back-catalog of books!  And, for the authors among you, make sure to check out his youtube podcasts (link below).

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Dyndaer Excerpt 3

The demons of the Netherworld chased him. Four-legged, wolf-like creatures, known as Dreka, rammed their goat horns at Branimir. The gray, wrinkled skin clung to their gaunt frames. Thin lips were stretched back giving sight to the rows of teeth on the tops and bottoms of their bloodied gums.

Branimir tumbled, swinging his weapon and feeling it tear through flesh as easily as a hot blade through frost. For a moment, he may have heard Dorofej’s riddlesome voice—no, his cry—but Branimir had not the time to listen. Bran had to scramble, and sneak, and stab.

And stab. And stab. And stab.

The urgency of the battle and the demons thumped inside of his head.

“Stop!” A familiar voice, again, cried in desperation.

Crimson splattered his vision as his dagger cut through skin once more. His blade loved the taste of blood; he felt the need to drench it again.

Pain stung his leg, but it was quickly forgotten as demon after demon lunged for him. The Dreka were ever persistent in their attack. He spun, and twisted, and disappeared to avoid every demonic beast soaring through the air, vicious teeth aimed for his throat. They would not reach him. For a moment, he thought he saw a flash of Hanna’s wide eyes, but they looked unfamiliar. Treacherous. Evil. Besides, his dagger was already cocked behind his ear and he felt incapable of restraining himself.

Author Bio

Joshua currently lives in Alaska with his wife and children. In 1999, he began crafting the world for Thrice Nine Legends, including Melkorka and Anaerfell. He is also the author of the A Midwinter Sellsword and Gladiators and Thieves in the Hawkhurst Saga. His short story, Grimsdalr, is inspired by the tale of Beowulf.

Social Media Links

Amazon

Goodreads

Facebook

Twitter

Youtube – The Writer’s Edge – for all you authors out there, check out this podcast Joshua and his fellow authors have.  Here’s a link to an episode where they discuss how to write a fantasy novel:

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New Year, New Books Tour 2016 – Featured Author: Malinda Andrews

Today, we wrap up the #NYNB2016 Blog Tour with sword and sorcery fantasy author Malinda Andrews.  (In case you missed the first two, features for authors Joe Jackson and Lo-arna Green can be found by clicking on their names).

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Beautifully drawn and painted artwork from Through the Mountains, Book 1 in Malinda’s Incalescent Trilogy.

Let’s start out with some words direct from the author herself!

Where are you from?

I am originally from Washington state just to the west, across the Puget Sound from Seattle. I remember growing up with the large evergreens, and playing in the parks around Mount Rainier. We moved out to Wisconsin in ’97, and have stayed here ever since. I enjoy having 4 seasons, including the snow!

Tell us your latest news?

My latest news is that the second book in the Incalescent Trilogy, Across the Sea and Hills, as well as a novella titled Fire and Snow are being released the first weekend in February! I should be getting the cover art in the next two weeks.

How did you come up with the title?

Titling works are hard for me. I’m not sure why, even when I wrote short stories for college I always struggled with narrowing down the titles. So with these books I actually googled how to title something. Weird, I know. I decided to go with titles that reflect the physical location of the characters: Through the Mountains, Across the Sea and Hills, and coming in the summer of ’16, Over the Plains. Not the most exciting titles, but they stand out and are easily abbreviated.

 

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Look for these additions to the series coming soon.

 

What are your current projects?

Currently I am working on revisions on the third book in the trilogy (The Incalescent Trilogy which is a part of a series title The Ryder Chronicles), and also on another novella that will hold two short stories to be released with the third book. I also participated in NaNoWriMo for the third time, and wrote the 5th in the Ryder Chronicles series, of which Through the Mountains was the first.

 

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Curious to know more about Through the Mountains**?  Aside from checking out the Goodreads profile by clicking on the cover above on on Amazon (link below), Malinda sent me a sample excerpt that you can check out here.

 

Do you see writing as a career?

Writing is most definitely a career. As an adult it has been the only career I have wanted. I never wanted a big job with a cushy office. I’d rather be at home or the local coffee shop working on my craft and spending time with my characters. I love being able to share my stories with others.

Who designed the covers?

The design of the covers is a template from CreateSpace. Though all the colors and fonts I chose. I have a family friend that is an artist, so I commissioned him to create a one of a kind piece of art for each of the novels. I actually have the first book’s art framed and hanging in my home office.

What real-life inspirations did you draw from for the world building within your book?

I took a lot of archaeology and anthropology courses in both high school and college and studied a lot of different cultures. But the Celtic phenomenon on the European continent as well as the British Isles has probably influenced my world building the most. I use my school reference books to help give my cultures more depth as well as some fantasy writing reference books.

If you couldn’t be an author, what would your ideal career be?

I have always wanted to write, but when I was younger I actually dreamed about being an Orca trainer at some wildlife center or Zoo. I love animals. I know some people disagree with the concept of Zoo’s and wildlife parks, but I think when run well and with the animal’s well-being at the forefront, they provide a center of learning for children and adults. Some days, when the writing is hard, I still wonder if I would have been better at that…

What do your plans for future projects include?

Currently I plan to finish the Incalescent Trilogy, and then honestly I might take some time away from the fantasy series and work on a romance that I started during NaNoWriMo in 2014. I enjoy writing across several genres as each has its own unique set of challenges. In November I’ll probably slip back into fantasy and finish out the third book in the next trilogy in the Ryder Chronicles series.

What is your preferred method to have readers get in touch with or follow you (i.e., website, personal blog, Facebook page, here on Goodreads, etc.) and link(s)?

I blog twice a week, and have started doing a book review (that centers on self-published and small press books) on the first Sunday of each month. I also have a Twitter, an Instagram, a Goodreads account, and a Pinterest. Their links are down below.

Blog- http://malindaandrews.blogspot.com/

Twitter- https://twitter.com/OnADragonsWing2

Instagram- https://www.instagram.com/onadragonswing2/

Pinterest- https://www.pinterest.com/Onadragonswing2/

Goodreads- https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/14197340.Malinda_Andrews

 

**Synopsis of Through the Mountains:

To Riona, life was simple. She and her mother lived on the outskirts of a village in the secluded Rhal-Dages Mountains of Bjergen. They grew, or hunted what they could, and traded for the rest. Her best friend for the twenty years of her life, Damien, and his family were there for her without question. At least until a mysterious figure reveals something within her, setting in motion events that sweep Riona into a conflict decades in the making. After another figure’s unexplained visit, Riona is required to accept that the abilities she has had for so long, and tried to hide, come from magic. But since Moriel destroyed the legendary Ryders and their powerful dragons twenty-one years prior, magic was something to be feared by the people. Magic was dangerous, and those using it were sought out and killed. Forced to leave her home, Riona is stalked by nightmarish shadow figures, as she tries to uncover the truth of who she is. Her choices, and discoveries, could mean the destruction, or salvation of the people she loves most.

Here’s an excerpt of what one reviewer on Amazon thought: Written with such care for imagery and with beautifully interesting character details, I can only HOPE that this series/series-to-be will materialize onto the big screen- because it will be AMAZING!!

Check out Through the Mountains on Amazon

Enter this free Goodreads Giveaway for the chance to win a copy of Through the Mountains.  

And speaking of giveaways, remember …

 

BLOG TOUR GIVEAWAYS – FINAL CALL!

Don’t forget to sign up at the Rafflecopter link below for a chance to win some free stuff supplied by the authors themselves.

https://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/6ac455060/

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Thanks for stopping by and helping to support this blog tour!  Many thanks to the organizer, Ama et Bemma, for helping to bring exposure to all us independent authors.

Stay tuned over the next three weeks for individual featurettes on these works and authors on the weekly podcast.

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New Year, New Books Blog Tour 2016 – Featured Author: Loarna Green

If you missed the first stop on the #NYNB2016 Blog Tour, click on this link to check it out.  (There’s also an introduction to the tour on the podcast that came out yesterday.)  We’re switching gears from last time’s focus on epic fantasy toward the other end of the spectrum, in a way, toward books that are more fairytale romance oriented.  As before, book covers link to Goodreads for more info.

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What a great cover!  You can tell by looking at it that it’s probably going to be a romance, but the colorful painted swirls that might be a dress or wings, worn by the dancing woman at the center give it a lyrical quality that suggests it’s something more.

Synopsis:

Jazz lives her life according to colour.
She vibes off people’s colour.
Her world is happy, bright, fluro. Until her sister goes missing, followed closely by her mother.

She moves across the country and starts a new life. Some of it good, some of it a little bad. All of it colourful. It is there she meets a man who makes her question herself, her previous life and where she is going in this one. Jazz wants to move forward but she also can’t forget the mystery surrounding her mother and sister.  

Here’s what one reviewer on Amazon thought about this book:

“All the Colours is the “indie film” of romance novels. There’s no better way to describe it …  If you are looking for a simple plot where the heroine meets the hero and pursues a courtship, this book delivers so much more than that (and probably much more than what you want to sift through.) If you are ready to be engrossed in a book that explores friendships, love and family in an authentic way, you will be very satisfied with this story.  Lo-Arna Green does a superb job of capturing the voice of her characters. The people of her story are believable and vibrant, leaping off the page with so much life force that they seem like people you know personally.  At times, the writing is so honest that it breaks away from the “romance novel” mold completely and evolves into a character study.”

All the Colours on Amazon 

The next book in this synesthesic series just came out (1/7/16) and takes the opposite end of the spectrum – darkness, giving it more a more gothic feel while still the overall character of a fairy tale romance.

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Synopsis:

Nate knew a life of colour when he had Stella by his side.
Now she’s gone, her life cut short, he sinks deep into darkness when he discovers who is responsible.
He leaves town and leads a quiet life keeping to himself, not feeling he deserves anything more than just merely existing, in all the darkness.

Edie is trapped in her life, made prisoner by those who are meant to love and protect her.
She is drowning in a quicksand she can’t breathe in. She’s lost her voice, her strength, her self-esteem.
When these two cross paths, they’ll both wonder if they deserve happiness. Can they make their way out of the darkness and to happiness with each other?

How do we convince ourselves we deserve happiness? How do we live with the dark acts we have committed?
All the Darkness explores the parts of our minds we try to keep hidden, even from ourselves.

Book 2 in All The Colours series.

Here’s what one reader on GR wrote about it:

“Lo-Arna has again captured the intricacies of her characters, making you hurt and love right alongside them. I especially enjoyed Lo-Arna’s portrayal of Nate, I love his character and admire his loyalty. I think Lo-Arna has written him to perfection.  A must read for those who like their romance with a side of darkness.”

All The Darkness Facebook Cover Art

All the Darkness on Amazon

If these books looked intriguing, you’ll be happy to know that Lo-arna has many more books in the pipeline for 2016!  (You can sneak peak the covers on the Smashwords link below.)  Check out the social media links below for more details:

Website: http://www.lo-arnagreen.com/

Read Lo-arna’s interview at Smashwords

Follow Lo-arna on Twitter @loarnagreen

Facebook: www.facebook.com/loarnagreen

Watch for more discussion on Lo-arna’s work on The Thirteenth Hour Podcast – date pending.

BLOG TOUR GIVEAWAYS

Don’t forget to sign up at the Rafflecopter link below for a chance to win some free stuff supplied by the authors themselves.

https://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/6ac455060/

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Thanks for stopping by!  Next stop on the tour will be Malinda Andrews, author of the Incalescent Trilogy – coming 1/22/16!

Stay up-to-date with the latest blog info at the main page here.  Stay tuned!

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New Year, New Books 2016 Blog Tour – Featured Author: Joe Jackson

The first stop on the #NYNB2016 Blog Tour stars Rhode Island based epic fantasy writer, Joe Jackson.  All pictures below link to Joe’s Goodreads pages for the books.

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Now here’s a fight you don’t want to be stuck in the middle of!  Unless, of course, you have a howitzer or something …

Synopsis:

The War was over, the Devil Queen cast down.

In the wake of the Apocalypse, veteran demonhunter Karian Vanador understands that the vigilance of her Order means there is rarely any time to rest. Even with a paragon of evil cast down, it isn’t long before another rears its head, and for Kari, the War never ends.

She will head into danger again, for it is the life she’s chosen and the only path she really knows. Along the way she will face the tests of friendship, the fires of love, the heat of battle, and the limits of her faith, and in those trials, she will seek the answer to her most pressing question:

“Why was I resurrected?”

Here’s an excerpt of what Joe has to say about the story: “The end result is a story of courage, love, and trust, with a strong female protagonist that both men and women should be able to identify with to some degree.  Whether it’s the sword fighting, the magic, the alien races, or the depth of the characters, I believe Salvation’s Dawn has something for almost everyone, and I hope you join me on Karian’s adventures.  Right now, the Eve of Redemption series is planned for thirteen or fourteen books, with many spinoff possibilities as the series unfold.”

Salvation’s Dawn on Amazon

Joe recently (1/5/16) added the second volume in the series, White Serpent, Black Dragon, that brings back Karian, the main character from the first volume.  At 180k words, you’re really getting your money’s worth with this one!

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Ouch.  Don’t think a trip to the dentist is going to fix that …

Synopsis:

Things have been quiet since the incident on Tsalbrin, but veteran demonhunter Karian Vanador recognizes the calm before the storm all too well.

When one of the Order’s most prominent mortal enemies arrives on campus demanding help with an underworld threat, Kari knows there has to be a connection to the incident on Tsalbrin. Harried by a deadly foe, Kari must call upon friends old and new to track down a serial killer from the underworld.

Along the way she must figure out: are the killings just the act of a depraved demon, or an ingenious plot to shatter the barriers between Citaria and the underworld? And will the people she goes to help prove to be her allies or her enemies in the end?

White Serpent, Black Dragon on Amazon

Be sure to check of Joe’s blog for an impressive amount of background history he created for the world in his books.

Follow Joe on Twitter: https://twitter.com/ShoelessAuthor

Watch for more discussion on Joe’s work on The Thirteenth Hour Podcast – date pending.

BLOG TOUR GIVEAWAYS

Don’t forget to sign up at the Rafflecopter link below for a chance to win some free stuff supplied by the authors themselves.

https://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/6ac455060/

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Thanks for stopping by!  Next stop on the tour will be Loarna Green, author of the All the Colors series – coming 1/19/16!

Stay up-to-date with the latest blog info at the main page here.  Stay tuned!

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New Year, New Books Blog Tour 2016 + Giveaway

Over the next two weeks, I’ll be featuring three independent fantasy authors as part of a blog tour called New Year New Books 2016, arranged by Ama et Bemma, who keeps a book review blog herself.   As part of the lineup, The Thirteenth Hour will be featured on Joan’s Fiddler Blue blog.

(**If you have no idea what a blog tour is, you are not alone.  I had zero clue a year ago.  In simple terms, it’s where bloggers feature other authors’ work on their page.  It’s called a tour since there are usually a whole slew of blogs all doing this at the same time, all linked together under the same organizer.  Plus, if you’re an author, your book may be featured more than once during the rotation.  There is sometimes a significant financial investment required in order to join.  However, this one is free.)

Here are the authors who will be featured on this blog (covers from Goodreads and the authors themselves):

1/16/16: Joe Jackson, author of the Eve of Redemption series.

Salvation's Dawn White Serpent, Black Dragon (Eve of Redemption, #2)

1/19/16: Loarna Green, author of the All the Colors series.

All The Colours All The Darkness

1/22/16: Malinda Andrews, author of the Incalescent Trilogy.

Through the Mountains: A novel of the Ryder Chronicles (Incalescent Trilogy Book 1) IMG_4121 IMG_4120

I’ll also be talking more about their work on the weekly Thirteenth Hour podcast – probably a segment of each show over the next three weeks (one author per show).

BLOG TOUR GIVEAWAYS

Don’t forget to sign up at the Rafflecopter link below for a chance to win some free stuff supplied by the authors themselves.

https://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/6ac455060/

I have a Thirteenth Hour magnet and a dropcard containing the book in various ebook formats with some bonus media in the raffle.

Stay up-to-date with the latest blog info at the main page here.  Stay tuned!

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Launch Day is Here!

It’s finally here!  The 3rd edition of The Thirteenth Hour is finally official.  I created a new trailer, which you can see below:

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There are currently three book giveaways going on now, two on Amazon and one on Goodreads.  Check them out for the chance to win some free books!

Amazon Giveaway for the print edition of The Thirteenth Hour

Amazon Giveaway for the print edition of A Shadow in the Moonlight – ending 1/18/16

Goodreads Giveaway for the print edition of The Thirteenth Hour open on 1/16/16

Other ways to get a sample of the book and see if the writing style is to your taste:

->download a sample on amazon

->download a free copy of the prequel, A Shadow in the Moonlight, on Smashwords or Amazon

->download a free copy of the standalone short story, “Falling Leaves Don’t Weep” (may contain vague, obtuse spoilers) on Smashwords

->email me for a sample chapter @ writejoshuablum@gmail.com

->email me @ writejoshuablum@gmail.com if you’d like to review the book – you get a gift copy for free.

->download the first 15 episodes of this podcast on itunes (granted, an earlier draft of the book, but it’s all there, start to finish), where you can also check out the weekly podcast, now on episode 22!

Interested in purchasing a copy?  Go here.

Stat tuned for more info over the next week!

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Amazon Giveaway for Two Copies of The Thirteenth Hour

Win a copy of the 3rd edition of The Thirteenth Hour direct from Amazon by participating in this free, no-purchase-necessary Amazon Giveaway, now live, until 1/171/5.  Two winners will be selected at random (according to some Amazon algorithm) from a pool of up to 5000 people.

Here’s the giveaway link:
https://giveaway.amazon.com/p/3a7e4f1045b8b0b9

Good luck!

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Promo: The Thirteenth Hour Featured on DigitalBookSpot

 

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Visible at http://digitalbookspot.com/ – a great spot for more free and discounted books!

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Book Barbarian Feature of The Thirteenth Hour

The Thirteenth Hour has been featured on the provocatively named blog, Book Barbarian, which features fantasy and sci-fi books.

Leopard skinned underwear and ‘roids not included, though possibly helpful!

http://bookbarbarian.com/the-thirteenth-hour-by-joshua-blum/

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Ever wanted to throw knives like Chuck Norris?

When Chuck Norris throws a throwing knife, the knife doesn’t kill his victim, the force of the air did.

The first actual martial arts movie I remember watching when I was actually studying martial arts was a 1982 Chuck Norris flick called Forced Vengeance.  If you haven’t heard of it, to be honest, you ain’t really missing much (it gets a whopping 38% on Rotten Tomatoes.  If you want to skip over the story and get right to the action sequences, watch this shorter version on YouTube.  Or, if you’re from Hong Kong, it has lots of shots of pre-1997 Hong Kong, which is interesting from a nostalgia point of view).

But when I was 13, I knew nothing about Hong Kong and certainly didn’t care about movie ratings.  This was in the days before we had internet access and demonstrations and video instruction of martial arts were still firmly in the domain of companies like Panther Videos that sold overpriced, overdubbed VHS tapes in the back of martial arts magazines.  So although I often looked at those ads and decided that one day, when I had a job, I would buy a bunch, I figured the next best thing in the meantime to supplement my current martial arts training (tae kwon do, at the time) with techniques from martial arts movies.  You can only learn so much from static pictures in books.  Sometimes you just need to see it in action.

I’m not entirely sure how I figured out which movies were martial arts in nature or when they would be on TV, since we didn’t get TV Guide or a local paper, but I distinctly remember taping a few, like Bloodsport and the aforementioned Forced Vengeance, getting up early on a Saturday or Sunday morning, putting the tape in the VCR, and holding pen and paper in hand to take notes on what kicking and punching combinations the actors used.  Yup.  I’m sure you can find a lot of weird things in that chain of events, not the least of which was that I figured if it were good enough for the likes of Chuck Norris and Jean Claude Van Damme, it certainly was good enough for me.  Of course, it never occurred to me that the least practical fighting combinations were the ones used on television, but such was life as a kid. The more jump and spin in the kicks, the cooler they were.  There were plenty of both in the movie’s slow motion intro, which, I have to admit, if nothing else, was a solid contribution to my personal inventory of 1980s cinema.

In any event, there was this scene near the end of the flick where Chuck Norris threw a knife (his only remaining weapon, by the way) at a guard standing on a cliff face 50+ feet away.

Even at the time, I assumed that when someone threw a knife, it would spin end over end like a pinwheel.  That was what happened on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles when Raphael threw his sai, which, coincidentally the cartoon made out to be a great throwing weapon that always landed point first.  Chuck’s knife also landed point first, as you can guess from the pictures, but, interestingly, it seemed to fly straight, like a dart.

And that didn’t compute at the time.  But although I didn’t know it, that was my first introduction to no-spin knife throwing.

No spin knife throwing, the subject of this post, is a technique of throwing a pointed implement like a knife so it does not rotate end over end, but rather flies straight, like a javelin.  In actuality, the term “no-spin” is a bit of a misnomer, since what the thrower really does is retard the inevitable spin of the blade long enough for it to reach the target while the point is still in front.

But first, before I progress further, let’s be real for a second.  Despite the fact that I often discuss martial arts on this blog, I’m not going to discuss the actual combat applications of knife throwing.  That’s not because I’m opposed to the discussion of activities involving harm to other people. To be clear, I don’t like that, either, but there are lots of commonly found hobbies based on activities previously used in war – target pistol shooting, javelin throwing, archery, not to mention martial arts like karate and jujitsu.  No, I’m not going to say anything about actual knife fighting since, frankly, I know nothing about it aside from the fact that I hope to never be in a situation where my one option is to start chucking knives.

The other thing I should discuss first is safety.  Although there is probably a public perception that throwing knives is dangerous for all involved (as evidenced by the fact that throwing knives and throwing stars are illegal in many areas – probably since they look dangerous in the movies), it’s less dangerous that one would think.  That’s not to say that throwing knives at stationary targets that can’t run or fight back is entirely safe, either.  But if you take reasonable precautions, it’s not much different from throwing darts.  For now, it’s probably enough to say that you’re throwing something sharp, and you don’t want the sharp end anywhere near the bodies of you or anyone else, especially vulnerable parts like the eyes and neck.  When I talk about throwing below, we’ll discuss some common sense ways to stay safe.

Now that’s on the table, let’s talk a little about what no spin throwing is, for it’s different from the style practiced by circus knife throwers that throw at set distances and must factor in how many revolutions the knife will rotate before reaching the target.  No spin throwing is defiantly not new, given that martial arts such as ninjutsu have used no spin techniques to throw bo-shuriken (spikes) for centuries.  But I will say that the majority of what I learned about it comes from the teachings of one man, Ralph Thorn, who wrote a little book called Combat Knife Throwing and starred in an instructional video by the same name.  He described a technique he created to throw a wide variety of sharp implements in a rather instinctive way from a range of distances.  Unlike throws where the knife rotates, it isn’t necessary to change how one holds the knife (handle- or blade-first) with this method.  It does have its limitations but is quite versatile and easy to pick up.

Mr. Thorn’s technique makes use of a flexible wrist motion that essentially puts some backspin on the knife to counteract the knife’s natural tendency to want to rotate when thrown.  Using this method, the knife can essentially be thrown like a ball.  Within a range of about 10-15 feet or so, if done correctly, the blade will remain flying point first.  Those with more skill and/or using longer weapons can achieve greater distances.

Interestingly, Mr. Thorn also recommends starting with larger weapons, like old bayonets or cut down swords, since the greater length naturally resists rotation more, making them easier for beginners.  But since I could never find reasonably priced bayonets, even at flea markets (and certainly had no access to old swords), I just used what I had lying around – large screwdrivers and old pocket knives.  People will always say you shouldn’t throw pocket knives, and, in general, they’re correct, since throwing is stressful for any blade, and whatever you throw will suffer a beating. However, you can often find cheap pocket knives (under $5) at discount stores or flea markets that can actually work quite well and can be thrown successfully at short distances.  When they break (as just about all throwers inevitably do), you aren’t out much money.  Not everyone will want to go cheap, but, part of the point of this article is that you don’t have to spend a lot of money to have fun throwing sharp implements.  Your throwers won’t be as well matched as buying a set of factory made throwing knives, but that can be part of the challenge.

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Knife throwing can be done with household implements.  The spike to the left is a large, heavy nail minus the flat end.  The screwdriver on the right is about a foot long and was from a dollar store.  The two pocketknives to the left were both only a few bucks each.

It’s easier to understand all this with pictures, so let’s walk through the basic overhand throw.

1.) Find an acceptable target.  Even if you own your house or are single, resist the temptation to throw knives into your walls!  Drywall makes a poor sticking surface and will make a mess.  Knives will inevitably ricochet off the target, so beware of standing too close or using something too unforgiving.  It never hurts to wear eye protection.   A piece of styrofoam insulation, a broken suitcase filled with old clothes or rage, or a stack of flattened cardboard boxes duct taped together will work fine.

2.) Find the balance point of your knife.  The balance point is the fulcrum of where your knife wants to rotate when thrown.  Control it, and, to some degree, you control the rotation of the blade.  The other reason finding this point is important is that it is a reference point for where your grip should begin.  Here, I’m using the unfolded wooden handled Aitor pocketknife referred to in this post on Logan’s EDC:

… I did, however, find a pocket knife that needed no modifications in what looked like a razed general good store … It fit well in my hand and was heavy and balanced enough that I could probably throw it if need be, but I doubted I would, as knife throwing had not been a strong suit of mine in the Army, and I didn’t want to throw a knife away now that I had been lucky enough to locate one.

To be honest, it was designed to live its life as pocketknife, and it does a fine job of that.  Like Logan surmises, it’s serviceable but not great as a thrower.  Throws with it can be successful at short ranges, which is why I’m using it – to show that even an unlikely blade can be thrown – but heavier, longer knives will work much better.

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3.) Place your index finger on the spine edge of the handle at the balance point.  Your fingers should grip the handle loosely.

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4.) Bring your throwing arm up as if starting to throw a ball and lean back on your rear foot so most of your weight is on your rear facing side.  Point the tip of the blade toward the target.

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5.) As you cock your arm back, let your wrist extend backwards like in the photo.

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6.) As you move your arm forward in preparation for the release, let your wrist uncurl and keep your index finger extended so it glides down the spine of the knife handle.

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7.) As you throw, the action involves your entire body.  Follow through after releasing the blade by letting your arm drop and swing low.  Your rear leg may even come off the ground like a baseball pitcher:

Nolan Ryan (back when he played for the NY Mets) following through on a pitch.  You can do the same with your knife throws.  

To throw larger objects, I find myself leaning back more on the initial throw and delivering the throw with more of a straight arm lob.  But the wrist motion is still the same.

Here are some video clips I captured of the throwing action described above:

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Throwing two pocket knives (the wooden handled one above is the first throw) from a distance of about 8 feet.  

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Doing the same thing on the go.  

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The overhand lobbing motion used to throw larger, heavier objects (large nail and screwdriver).  Distance about 10-11 feet.

From here on out, it is just practice to achieve consistency.  Although it’s nice to stick the knife in the target, sometimes the knife doesn’t stick for reasons unrelated to your throw.  The target may be too hard, too bouncy, too absorbent, etc.  It’s a good idea when throwing to not stand too close should the knife ricochet back at you.  For that reason, don’t throw knives if there are pets or small children scurrying around in your periphery.

So, if you’ve read this far, you might be wondering if this will one day turn you into Chuck Norris, able to sling knives with sniper-like accuracy at 50+feet.  Well, for me, using the smaller knives I have access to, I don’t have much luck successfully throwing past about 15 feet since they inevitably start to rotate at that distance or I have zero consistency/accuracy.  But that’s just me.  At this point in life, aspiring to be Chuck Norris is no longer one of my goals.  To be fair, he doesn’t really need weapons, anyway.  He’s Chuck Norris!  But if you’re an average human, a 6-10 foot range is fine for an indoor basement or kitchen type setup and makes a nice cold weather project to work on!  Check out the links below for more details on technique as well as knives to use.

Resources:

There are many great resources out there that have much better video examples starring people much more skilled than I.  I’ll put links to them below:

Ralph Thorn’s instructional video clips

Ralph Thorn’s book on Amazon and his video:

:

COMBAT KNIFE THROWING: The Video

Houzan Suzuki, a knife thrower from Japan, has an extensive youtube channel showcasing many no-spin throws inspired by traditional shuriken-jutsu.  A little different from what’s discussed above but related and amazing to watch.

Xolette (not sure how to pronounce that) has a youtube channel that highlights a lot of knife throwing videos, including this early one where she has a knife throwing range in her kitchen – it reviews the overhand no spin throw as described above.

The Combat Knife Thrower has a large collection of knife throwing videos on his youtube channel, some of which showcase and teach no-spin throwing.

Have fun and throw safely!

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Ever Wanted to Be Like Gambit? Card Throwing 101

Update (11/2022): Do you have a card with a QR code that has taken you to this page?  There’s now a video showing how to throw cards.  See below!

You can also listen to more info on card throwing in episode 82 of The Thirteenth Hour podcast.

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Ever had the desire to sling cards like this guy?

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Marvel’s Gambit does his thing.  (Image courtesy of Marvel)

Or how about this guy?

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League of Legend’s Twisted Fate does his thing. (Image courtesy of the League of Legends Wiki)

Or maybe DC comic’s Joker was more your style:

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“Pick a card … <pause> Have all the cards!”  (Image courtesy of DC and Allposters.com)

Who hasn’t?

I first learned about card throwing from some friends at a summer camp when I was in middle school, before I knew who Gambit was (League of Legends was far off in the future, but Batman: The Animated Series, where the Joker tosses cards in a scene I paraphrased above, was on TV). At the time, the trading card game Magic: The Gathering had also just become popular and plenty of kids had them and used to play them during downtime. The rest of us that didn’t have a deck would sit around trying to figure out what kind of games we could play with regular cards. The only card games I knew were poker and 52 card pickup. Poker wasn’t very popular at the time and 52 card pickup was, well, more work than fun.

As is generally the case when young boys are left to their own devices, the play turned destructive – we eventually tried throwing the cards at each other.  None of us could really do it, but we eventually figured out that our plastic IDs, rigid and heavier than playing cards, worked a lot better.  They worked great in the hallway wars sometimes had.  The only issue was if you lost your ID, you were kind of SOL.  The adult me looks back and is grateful no one lost an eye or worse.

When I went back home, I kept experimenting with throwing playing cards.  Somewhere around that time, I remember reading some old magic books that talked about magicians like Howard Thurston using card throwing in their acts.  One book even boasted of a performer’s ability to toss a playing card from the stage all the way to the end of the theater. It always seem like a fun little trick and, to me, a more interesting way of utilizing a deck of cards then playing the few card games I knew.  Not a bad way to pass the time, as evidenced by Bill Murray’s character using card tossing as one of the ways to pass the years he spent reliving the same day in Groundhog Day.  As he says, “it’s all in the wrist.”

Time and boredom is also how Logan from The Thirteenth Hour gets good at the skill during the months that he is on board the Imperial Ranger ship at the beginning of the book:

…There was always a deck of cards lying around someplace, and even though I was no more welcome at the card table now than I had been before, I did pick up one interesting skill. 

I learned to throw cards one evening after stumbling upon an adventure book in the ship’s library.  The majority of the library – if you can call one shelf of books a library – consisted of star charts and books on navigation.  But buried in between was “A Pirate’s Yarn – the Omnibus Edition,” a quasi–autobiographical account written by “J. Allsworth, former buccaneer.”  The balance between truth and fiction probably leant heavily towards fiction, but the man was an entertaining writer nonetheless and, even without embellishment, had probably led an interesting life. 

He described one encounter in a tavern where he had used a deck of cards to save his life.  At the time, Mr. Allsworth, broke and haggard, was strongly considering giving up the frenetic life of a pirate–on–the–run and was thinking about a stabler career, perhaps in forgery or counterfeiting.  He had just hocked his sword for one last night of drunken debauchery at the local tavern when his past caught up with him in the form of several soldiers holding a warrant for his arrest.  Unarmed and inebriated, Mr. Allsworth reached for the only weapon he could find – a deck of cards.  With a few flicks of the wrist, he send cards spinning into the faces of his captors, allowing him to make his getaway with flying colors, or at least, flying cards.

The book even had a few pictures showing how he did it.  Mr. Allsworth didn’t say whether he acquired the skill on the spot or whether he’d picked it up at some earlier time.  The book leans towards the former, but after trying it out myself, I vouch for the latter.  Most of the time, the card would just flutter off like a wounded bird, and you had to hold and fling the thing just right for it to fly straight.  But I had lots of time to practice, and eventually got to the point where I could toss cards the length of the deck.  I lost more cards that way.  I never really could hit what I was aiming at, but then again, I never was drunk and surrounded by soldiers that wanted to arrest me.  Perhaps under that kind of duress with the magic of alcohol, accuracy would assert itself. 

He ends up later finding another pack of cards that he utilizes successfully for distraction in a fight near the end of the book.

And with some practice, you, too, can learn how to throw cards like Logan, though I can’t promise it’ll be anywhere as useful for you in self-defense (or offense) as it was for him, Gambit, Twisted Fate, or the Joker. But, like Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day, it can provide you with endless cheap entertainment.

Below are the steps to follow, accompanied by pictures.

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1.) Get some cards to throw. I’m using a pack of Bicycle playing cards here, always a good choice. Avoid the ones made out super thin pieces of plastic found in dollar stores and the like – I’ll tell you why in a minute, but suffice to say, they are too light to learn on.  The stiffer and heavier the card, the easier it will be to throw and the more accurate and consistent you will be.  In fact, old baseball cards, used plastic gift cards, or those fake credit cards that come in the mail are even easier and are not a bad way to start out.  Then you can progress to standard playing cards if you want.

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2.) Here’s one basic throw (there are many – this one will just get you started).  It will be like tossing a frisbee.  There are also multiple ways to grip the card, but here’s the method I use.  Hold one edge of the card loosely between your index and middle finger.

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3.) Like Bill Murray said, it’s all in your wrist. Curl your wrist back as if throwing a frisbee. To throw, curl your arm back at the elbow so it is bent like you were showing somebody lying on the ground the size of your biceps.

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4.) Uncurl your arm and wrist to release the card.

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To make this throw more powerful, you can use more than your arm.  I find that if I rock my body back and forth (back when cocking the arm and forward when releasing), it adds more power due to more body weight behind the throw.  However, the most important thing is still the wrist flick, since without that, the card will, as Logan mentioned, “flutter off like a wounded bird.”

Once you have that basic throw down, you can try some variations.  Sometimes, instead of holding the card between my index and middle finger, I use this grip instead:

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This grip might be more intuitive for some people, since it uses the thumb and middle finger for support while the index finger helps to add spin.

Another way to grip the card is this way:

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This method uses the outside corner of the card.  I find I get more spin out of using the inside corner, but it’s all personal preference.  Try them all and see which way works best for you.

The last method I use, which I find works a little better for accuracy and power, is to hold the card vertically instead of horizontally, like this:

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I use the same curling and uncurling movement of the arm to throw, but everything is in the vertical plane.

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I also find myself standing differently for this one – in the frisbee throw above, my throwing hand is my leading hand.  In other words, for a right handed throw, I’m also standing right foot forward.  In the vertical grip, my throwing hand is in back.  In other words, for a right handed throw, my left foot is in front.  I find I can really wind up and get more of full body throw this way.

From here on out, it is just practice, as consistent throws are the hard part, especially if you have subpar or worn cards. It won’t be long before your cards start to look like this, all bent at the corners from colliding into walls and doors: