Writer Pep Talk

This Guy.Shopping for a Space Marine chapter to write about is hard.

Very hard.

From what I can tell, the first and some of the second founding chapters are the most interesting, and the ones that everyone wants to read about the most. After browsing through the Black Library’s current selection of Space Marine books, there are very few books about non First Founding Space Marine chapters.

My theory? It’s those amazing Horus Heresy stories. We associate what happens mostly to those Legions. We’re drawn to the Imperial Fists, Blood Angels and Iron Warriors, because those names have been around a long, long time. Guys like the Brazen Claws, Chosen of Nemeroth and Minotaurs? Not so much.

Take a nobody and make them interesting. That’s a big challenge.

I’ve been at this for a few years now. Only this year, I’m more serious than ever. I’ve been published a few times in other, non-Black Library anthologies and I’m going to continue to be published whether or not I ever make it into the BL. Win, lose or draw, writing is what I do and what I’m going to continue to do, big leagues or not.

A few years ago, I was content to be the same as a thousand other fans out there, who wait for the submission window, shoot them something, and then do nothing else with their career. I was content to do fan fictions before, now I want more than that. I’m serious about writing.

I’m hungry for something bigger.

I can understand how other people can be disgusted by that. The thought of writing for total pocket change. Having to not only work creative, but editing and marketing and finances. Being an artist sounds totally beautiful, but when they hear about the sheer amount of work that has to be done to get published and keep getting published, they see the ugly. The guys who try, fail and give up thought they were going to get a runaway hit.

Life doesn’t work like that. Even the best had to hammer it, and hammer it hard.

You get told you can’t do prose?
You keep writing.
You get that rubber stamp template rejection letter?
You keep writing.
Your story bombs?
You keep writing.

And you keep writing, writing, writing. And you don’t stop. No matter who says no, you keep writing.

Maybe I started this with some thoughts about writing for the Black Library. But there is so much more to it. Maybe you, who is reading this, wants to get accepted by BL, or Tor or Random House or whomever else out there. Weird Tales, Dark Moon Digest. Maybe you want Stephen King to say your work inspired him to write again. Maybe you want to write that book that is so incredible, even J.R.R. Tolkien, George Orwell and Robert E. Howard get out of their graves to go get a copy. Whoever you want to get published by is just the symptom. Writing is the disease.

Keep writing.

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The Siege of Castellax

The Siege of Castellax by CL Werner.

Earlier this year, I had said that I wouldn’t do anymore book reviews. At the very last sentence of it I had mention that, at the very least, I wouldn’t do anymore in a negative tone. 

Until today, I had kept my word on that. Today I finished reading The Siege of Castellax by CL Werner. So, in an exception I hope not to make so often, I am giving it a review. Call me a liar if you must.

For fans of Warhammer 40k, many of the Space Marine Battle Novels have  not always to their tastes. The SMBs, by their nature, have tended towards straight forward stories of two sides fighting, and some feel they lack story and character growth. 

But this book is a game changer. It is the first full SMB novel revolving around a Chaos Marine Legion instead of loyalists (Architect of Fate was a series of novellas). And above all, it has a story that delivers as sharply as any other 40k novel, or rather moreso.

Castellax is a factory world ruled by the Iron Warriors, under the command of Warsmith Andraaz. Life on Castellax somehow manages to be even more heinous than that of the Imperium. Human slaves, referred to by a resource term of ‘Flesh’, grind themselves into nothing serving the needs of the Iron Warriors, all to keep up shipments to Medrengard.

But everything goes to hell when a billion Orks attack the planet. Immediately, the Iron Warrior’s navy is smashed. Andraaz finds himself relying on his captains: Vallax and Rhodaan (pictured above) who lead the Raptors. Algol, a madman who enkoys taking the skins of interesting slaves. Gamgin, who leads the Iron Warrior’s human auxilia, Morax, who is in charge of the air forces. And Oriax, the enigmatic Fabricator and Techmarine.

Every major Iron Warrior character has their own fetish or intrigue. While the Orks tend to be more of a plot driving element than a character driven force, the story is told in the form of endless scheming and conniving amongst the Iron Warrior ranks. Grand plans to usurp positions of leadership, attempts at rebellion and revenge abound everywhere, as the psychotic antics of the legion repeatedly undermine their efforts to stop the greenskins. These characters create several of their own plot lines, that tie together and could never end happily.

A rare spectacle of the book can be explained in one word: Obliterator.

Indeed. Chances to read about an Obliterator in action, or even converse with them, don’t come often from the works of the Black Library. But Werner has given us the rare chance to witness the horror these eclectic behemoths inflict upon both enemies and allies. The scarcity of these monsters alone makes the book worth reading for anyone who has pondered these walking arsenals.

CL Werner crafts rare stages for combat, unusual circumstances that you wish would you could not just read or see on the screen, but play in a video game. Trains that dump cars and sacrifice their desperate allies to pick up speed. Raptors diving down massive cannon barrels to destroy them from within. Having to subdue a rampaging Obliterator. Perhaps the guys who are tinkering at the next Warhammer 40k game will pick Werner’s brain for ideas.

The Siege of Castellax satisfies and more. It hits every note that Black Library readers want: tight battle scenes, detailed settings that strongly interact with the story. Gripping, intriguing characters who spin and drive their own plots. Rhodaan will be a character who inspires modelist for months, if not years, to come. Chaos and its themes rule the day. 

It’s everything you want a Space Marine Battle novel to be. It’s a great book, and hopefully the start of even more amazing things to come from the SMB series. Be sure to grab a copy for the holidays.

Black Library Weekender

Friday night, I arrived at the Belfry hotel. Having checked and taken a seat at the bar, I noticed Sarah Cawkwell talking with friends and family. Another gentleman looked familiar, and after a drink and a though, I realized it was William King.

Brother Jhonas here was actually quite chill.

I let them be for the time being, waiting for fans to show up as I read Fear to Tread and sipped on beers. Soon, other fans started showing up. It didn’t take long to identify each other. I wasn’t the only American there, about three others showed up that I know of, probably a few more.

Then the gold tickets showed up with the other Black Library authors. I recognized faces immediately. Dan Abnett, James Swallow, Aaron Dembski-Bowden, Graham McNeill, Andy Smilie, Chris Wraight. Sarah came over and we chatted for a bit. Then Clint Werner showed up and I had a chance to meet the man face to face.

The BLW hadn’t even started and it was already awesome.

Saturday morning, everything was set up. An Ultramarine statue was in the lobby. Rachel (known on the Bolthole as “Raye Raye”) worked with several other staff members to sell various merchandise, ranging from the most recent novels, art posters, hardback chapbooks and novellas. Before going crazy, I decided to get some breakfast.

Although not all meals at the Belfry were equal, the breakfast was fairly good. A buffet offered many basics, ranging from cereal to fruits, baked goods (the croissants with the filling were most excellent). Various meats and items were available which I tried including the black pudding (not to my liking) and a special salami (very much to my liking.)

Now, I would love to burden your eyes with photos of the various seminars and events they had. Truth be told, the lights that were over the speakers and authors gave them an overbearing shadowy look that did not come across well on the camera.

I’ll have to ask Cawkwell what she calls this pose later.

But the seminars were impressive and information. There was the “Writing for the Black Library” bit, where we covered a range of basic do’s and don’ts. Although I had done some strong research into writing for them, I learned several new things about submitting my work. There was the “Space Marine Battles” feature, where we had a chance to dive into the critical differences between regular Space Marine tales and these particular events. I scored an autograph from Gav Thorpe, though I wish I brought my copy of The Last Chancers.

There was Q&A with Dan Abnett. Signatures with Swallow, Werner and Sarah Cawkwell. That night we had an amusing quiz session with teams of the authors which, of course, the audience won.

I skipped the pitch proposal, where fans had sixty seconds to shoot a story idea.  I wanted to play, but a combination of jet lag and homesickness struck, so I sat at the bar and just drew for a while.

On Sunday, we were invited to one final presentation before the BLW came to a close. By now, the cat is out of the bag, but the announcement was the new Horus Heresy Musical, directed by the Coen brothers.

I kid.

A mix of the Bolthole crew.

The Horus Heresy graphic novel. During the conference, we heard one of the editors talk about how expensive it was to produce the art. That prose is so much more cheap than art. Apparently, they had to say a lot of things in order to side step and not give away the big surprise.

But the surprise is fairly big. A 100 page graphic novel of the Horus Heresy, at least the first we’ll receive. It may not be a movie or a Horus Heresy game, but it’s definitely something far more visual than the books and audio we’ve been receiving.

It was great to put faces to names, hang with fellow nerds and chat a bit with the creative minds who write such awesome fiction. Given the cost of traveling to England, I probably won’t be able to do it again for sometime.

So I’m going to end this blog post with a straight gallery of various pictures I took below. I’ll do a ‘cut off’ for the slower machines, so it’ll be up to you to see the rest if you want. But I hope every Warhammer fan gets a chance to attend the BLW someday.

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Warhammer Movie Ideas

The old debate for a Warhammer movie felt put aside after the release of Ultramarines. The feeling I got was Games Workshop declaring, “We’re doing this only for the fans.”

It was not a gigantic attempt, like as a $50 million dollar summer blockbuster. A rumor over at DakkaDakka put the budget for it at around $14 million (£9 million). I gathered that it was not for those uninitiated into the 40k cult. But an idea had been boiling in my head to consider trying my hand at a fan made film someday.

But then I thought about Damnatus, the fan-made unofficial 40k movie that was… “unreleased” a few years back. Story goes that Damnatus was supposed to be a strictly fan made movie with respect to Games Workshop’s IP permissions. The problem came about when it was discovered that German IP laws would require that the movie and its content would belong to the creator of the movie. This loophole was cause enough for Games Workshop to deny permission for its release.

The ugly lesson learned is that time would have to be spent reviewing the differences between the IP laws of England and the United States before even attempting.

Putting aside the legal groundwork of such an endeavor, I began to think about a lot of the technical details to make a film possible. The first issue was choosing which of the two universes I would prefer, be it Warhammer 40,000 or Warhammer Fantasy.

Although there’s more excitement for 40k, I think that Fantasy would be easier to do overall. We can thank Tolkien for giving us a lot of the settings and concepts within WHF, although the Black Library has added its own ugly details, such as the politics and religions, various races both original and not. Still, I believe that the backstory would be easier to settle into over 40k.

Another reason for choosing WHF is the physical settings themselves. Both 40k and Fantasy call for urban settings and for backwater locations. Both Altdorf and any hive would be almost too much to reproduce on a limited budget, so an urban location is not preferable. And 40k often has the Imperial stamp over everything. Landing pads, the aquila, all the vehicles… it would be an awful lot to reproduce even if it takes place in a rural area.

I have recently started reading Brunner the Bounty Hunter, by C.L. Werner. As I ventured through the short stories, it quietly dawned on me that this would be good material to craft a movie from.

Not pictured: His marvelous singing voice.

Not pictured: His marvelous singing voice.

First, many of the stories started with some scholarly character who took down Brunner’s tales. This gives the director the option of using a narrator to fill in the details and explain any issues that may not be easily shown on the screen. These stories aren’t overwhelming with the details, and they are both faithful to the source material and easy to spoon feed to the uninitiated.

Second, Brunner’s tales thus far (I’m three and a half stories in), have taken place more on along the frontier than anywhere near Altdorf. Finding a place to shoot hills and forests would be much easier than constructing huge keeps and streets, especially on a fan’s budget.

Third is the fact that the tales don’t have to be made into a full length movie. The short stories could probably be made into 30 minutes-to-an-hour in length. This reduces the investment of time and money. Rather than banking too much , the success or failure of it can be recognized on a bite-sized piece of film craft.

Fourth is the fact that Brunner himself is such a powerful, interesting character.

Rather than a tiring origin story or extreme development, Brunner simply is. His motivation is clear. His appeal obvious. That steely action-hero glare just draws you in, regardless of whether you have any idea what Warhammer is.

But despite these points, there are hang ups and considerations for a short movie. Of the three stories I’ve finished thus far, two of them involve non-humans. Beastmen and a werewolf. How would I make such monsters on the screen?

It’s possible to try CGI if I know the right people, but I’ve never been terrible impressed by that sheen that appears on the surface of digitally made objects. Besides, it would be more interesting to come up with the right costumes and the right camera work to create beastmen. CGI has its place, but I want that place to be as minimal as possible.

Although the frontier setting would be much easier to recreate, there are still medieval/colonial settings that would have to be made. This is where being an American on the east coast pays off, as there are many historic locations that might work for this effort. Indeed, I feel the setting is more a matter of research and creativity than stage construction.

Another concern is the sheer number of props. Some of it can be alleviated by contacting a group of local LARPers (Live Action Role Players). These guys buy and craft weapons and armor for their sessions, sometimes looking quite authentic and dirty. I’m sure they’d jump at the chance to put together a movie.

That would solve many of the problems, but not all. Brunner, for example, would need a well made costume. His sallet and armor would have to be carefully made. He’s also a walking arsenal, frequently described as having multiple throwing knives, a falchion, crossbows, a knife for combat and beheading and black powder pistols. Rather than a single special or weapon, Brunner comes equipped for almost any situation.

Another concern are horses. While a horse farm would be willing to provide horses for a price, many scenes involve horses being spooker or involved in combat. And there is absolutely no way I’m going to risk the safety of amateur actors around a large, scared animal.

Which brings me to my final concern for the moment. Finding good actors. Brunner has an advantage in that his face is frequently hidden by his helmet. All I’d need is someone capable of portraying a general badass for a few hours, no heavy emotional scenes or points of incredible drama.

I think there’s a part of me that would want to try it myself, but being a main actor/director has always struck me as a somewhat vain pursuit. And besides, for a first effort I think it would be best to try just the directing. And everyone else? Well, it depends on the role and whether or not I can find people skilled enough to fill it.

I think this Halloween, I’ll keep my eye out for particularly talented costume makers. Who knows? It may solve at least one of these issues.

Watching THQ

Gaming companies are definitely losing steam. In particular, Radical Entertainment has lost out on what it once was. And Kaos Studios closed its doors. Ben Kuchera over at The PA Report covered this with more detail. While I’m not about to make claims about doom and gloom, the fact is that something is wrong when companies are folding.

In my mind, I can see a good half a dozen reasons why games are suffering.

First, there’s the ongoing economic situation. There seems to be some remaining back-and-forthery about whether or not it’s still a recession. But while people can drown their sorrows in games for a while (better than booze), they cannot continue to shell out $50 to $60 for every great title that comes along.

The second aspect that is changing this is the available of SmartPhone and indie games. Most of these games are free or very cheap, and although aren’t as hardcore as console/PC games, are still quite fun especially among friends.

A third thing to consider is the ease of DRM software like Steam, which allows players to purchase old, classic titles for extremely low prices. Why play new games when you have a catalogue of older classics you need to catch up on? I know this very well as I have been downloading games I never got around to trying, like Bioshock.

Then there are the usual factors. A dash of piracy, people can’t afford to be shelling out money, so on. Perhaps the thing to consider here is that the gaming industry isn’t as immune to the recession as we were first led to believe. It certainly lasted far longer than most industries in the midst of rough economic times, but sooner or later you have to pay the piper. The field is shrinking.

Which brings us to the central focus of this blog. THQ.

THQ Inc. has actually been around since 1989. When I was a kid, I played their interesting Home Alone games back on the old 8-bit NES. Today, they’re responsible for the Red Faction series, Saints Row and especially the Warhammer 40,000 line up of games. Recently, THQ made news twice over, first by turning their UFC series to EA. And then a strange, reverse split restructuring of their stocks, consolidating shares at a rate of 10 to 1.

As an owner of some of THQ’s stock, I take considerable interest in this turn of events.

And as a guy who someday would like to make games, I find the whole set of news troubling. It is not an immediate dream I’d like to realize, but something I’d like to do in a few years. And I am working in that direction, bit by bit. But right now the industry is changing, adapting to a combination of new markets, fighting the effects of the recession and taking on riskier projections.

Times a changin’. Keep watching the future, folks.

No 40k MMO

"Not an MMO? Then, who am I shooting at?! ... Eh, who cares."

Word has already circled the globe and back again that Warhammer 40k: Dark Millennium Online is no longer an MMORPG.

What was interesting to me is how many fans actually greeted this news with a smile instead of outrage. It wasn’t just the Shoutbox crew, I’ve read through comments by other players and fans who are just outright glad that it will be a regular single and multiplayer experience.

I personally have mixed feelings about this. Especially in light of my recent return to MMORPGs via Fallen Earth.

I remember when World of Warcraft first came out, how so many people announced it was changing how games would be produced in the future. More than few gamers worried about MMOs being the total wave of the future and just about every company was hard at work trying to make one.

But the fears were unfounded. WoW proved to be so successful that other companies began to fear the loss of investment from the sheer development and infrastructural costs of creating an MMORPG. The market proved that there is limited appetite for MMOs, and the real winners are those who create enough social gravity to stick around, not unlike Facebook. Even different and perhaps better features aren’t enough to matter when everyone’s friends have invested too much time and money in raids to give up. Blizzard just knew how to make people stick to their games better than anyone else.

Unable to really create a run away hit large enough to steal from WoW‘s honey pot, other game developers have stuck with impressive single player experiences and multiplayer features.

Sure, there are things about MMORPGs that really annoy me. Having to juggle multiple GUI windows can be very annoying at times. The combat interface is frequently pretty cluttered. And the game is developed around several thousand people playing at the same time, so those amazing-if-simple features from single player games won’t be there. For example, you wouldn’t find yourself in some interactive cutscene where you’re rapidly tapping a button to keep a necromorph from killing you. Or trying to evade a very elaborate security system to break into a compound. Another thing I don’t like about MMORPGs is the grind. When I’ve got to kill a hundred more of whatever monster, it stops being fun and starts being work. Why in the world would anyone want to do this?

You will also never hear a more foul mouthed bunch of people than with multiplayer. I’d say that MMOs might be bad about this, but competitive FPS are worse. Still, when the sheer numbers of people in Final Fantasy XI began to dwindle, I frequently found myself working alongside folks I did not like. Soloing was possible, but not easy. They have reached the highest tiers of the game and many had become quite arrogant and authoritative. While I doubt something like this will happen with WoW anytime soon, it will likely happen with any other game.

And then there’s the inevitable drama. I myself was a victim of it a few times. I caused it once myself and I wish I hadn’t. But you see stories like the following all the time:

  1. A girl joins the guild and she’s cool. But one guy just can’t leave her alone and offers her free stuff. He tries to buy her affection. He starts to get very stalkerish, and smothers her with unwelcome attention until she leaves.
  2. Someone makes some off-the-cuff comment about politics, but half the guild happens to be members of the other partisan group. The resulting debates go on for the rest of the day.
  3. Someone trusted to a position of power kicks someone out without the guild master’s permission, simply because they do not like them. Even though this person never actually violated any guild rules.
  4. Someone trusted as quartermaster gets into an argument with the guild master and decides to empty the guild vault. Or, after some big raid, violates an agreement between all their teammates and takes the goods.
  5. A guild master tries to create the biggest guild they can, mixing the wise cracking adult-joke tellers with the family types whose kids might be watching, or other non-compatible types of people. Hilarity does not ensue.
  6. The guild master makes ridiculously high requirements and rules because they have a vision of dominance over everything and everyone. Or commands what everyone does down to the tiniest detail like they were chess pieces.
  7. That one white kid who gets on Ventrillo and tries to lead. But when things go wrong, he becomes unforgiving and grows frustrated very quickly. It ends with him calling his team a bunch of idiots and cussing them out. Team work degrades. In certain games, the situation may grow so bad that people start fragging their ‘commander.’
  8. That one quintessential drama queen who makes up stories. The annoyance increases three fold if the drama queen has attracted a boy who believes her sob stories. The irritation increases ten fold if the attracted male just happens to be the guild master himself. (Although in all fairness, I was present through one reversed example of this.)

But there are things that MMORPGs do that other games don’t. They’re expansive. Not just the worlds, but the sheer number of items and ingredients and crafting recipes. Your achievements in MMOs are quite rewarding because you can show them off or help your guild or clan. The social aspect is a major draw, especially when you hit it off with some other players and become friends.

Still, I suspect that DMO saying no to MMOs is probably for the best.

Hammer Holidays Competition Reviews

What he did to your chimney is the least of your concerns, because I don't think he's bringing you coal. Anyway, click for more.

What he did to your chimney is the least of your concerns, because I don't think he's bringing you coal. Anyway, click for more.

So the reviews and scores are in. Congratulations to first place winner, MalkyDel! Second place goes to Raziel4707. You can read the holiday stories, but here are the reviews.

Untitled by Mauthos
He got caught up painting pictures. These scenes of description were both beautiful yet run-on. Chunky paragraphs were made from one sentence and a lot of commas. There’s no shame in breaking up sentences and descriptions a bit and pacing them out.

Despite their length, I loved the descriptions at the beginning. The festiveness and celebratory nature of the holiday was some of what I was looking for. But towards the middle, it began to become a touch tedious. Drinking, eating, debauchery, we’ve already covered that.

Part of me was looking for some kind of holiday tradition outside the norm, like gift giving, or beating a goblin-shaped pinata or just some event that set it aside as a holiday. We dress in costumes and give candy on Halloween. On Easter, we scavenge for hidden eggs. Christmas and birthdays get gifts. You get the idea.

The story eventually provides what is effectively two holidays. That celebrated by the dwarves and humans, and that by the lizard men. The story rounds off in a hunt hosted by the lizard men, which clarifies the seemingly unrelated chase scene.

I think there was a good idea here that wasn’t executed well, and if I were to redo it, I would have written the tale from the point of view of the lizard men and cover the ritualism and traditions of the Winter Solstice Human Hunt. Otherwise, except for the whooping at the end, why is this any different than what the lizard men do the rest of the year?

Coburnacht by Raziel4707
The thing I love about this story is that it reminds us that there is a legitimate history to holidays. We are so quick to dismiss many holidays as “inventions of consumerism” and never acknowledging that there is a legitimate, historical reason that day is observed. We frequently honor these traditions without ever knowing why! Raziel also got points for inventiveness and not forgetting holiday traditions as the gift giving and other activities.

I must admire Raziel’s clever use of the historical retelling as a means to keep the story within a Warhammer 40k context: War. It’s a shame that the story was told like a Wikipedia article instead of a tale through the vox of Rasmusson like many of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings (although a story told entirely in Dreadnaught-speech caps would… annoy, to say the least). But the tale is generally solid if Wikipedia-ish, making it a touch dry.

Grandfather’s Day by MalkyDel
I think this is our winner. A cool idea, a well told story. A sense of tradition, a touch of history and reasoning. Above all, I like that it takes place from a completely different, weird point of view.

The most interesting comments about this piece didn’t come from me, but from our mystery judge, a non-Boltholer named Jacob, who enjoys fantasy and frequently DMs his own gaming sessions. Jacob mentioned that he hates horror, but was pretty fascinated by the bizarre nature of the tale. He was very taken in with it. So well done, MalkyDel. You may have won over a horror hater.

Congratulations folks! Look forward to the next competition after the Black Library submission window!