Take to the Skies to Save your Hometown–in my first-ever game!

Skystrike: Wings of Justice, with cover art by Kim Herbst

Today’s the launch date for my interactive superhero fiction, Skystrike: Wings of Justice! At over 330,000 words long (!!) this is my longest work of fiction. But…you might want to play through a few times to read more of them. Remember the Choose Your Own Adventure novels from way back? It’s like that–only the computer remembers your choices, and the choices you make affect the work you read.

One of the most fun parts for me was developing four different origin stories–then playing out those choices through the rest of the game. I answered some interview questions for the Choice of Games blog about my process, so if you want to know what was going on in my head, you might want to read that!

Head over to the official launch page to find out all the details about the game–which is 25% off for the launch period! Or go straight to Steam, Apple, Googleplay, or wherever you purchase online games, and get playing.

Thanks for helping me celebrate this new medium–let me know what you think!

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Flying in with a New Adventure!

Hello, friends and fans! It’s been a little while, hasn’t it? Sorry about that! I have not been idle, I assure you (I’ve written at least two manuscripts unlikely to see the light of day, fled the path of a hurricane, into the aftermath of a fire–and wrote my first game!–which is what brings me here today.

Skystrike: Wings of Justice is an interactive novel in which *you* are the hero. The game launches officially on November 10th, from Choice of Games, but it already has a page on Steam, where the preview is now available so you can play the first chapters and get excited for the rest. There will also be a live playthrough on Friday, October 7th. I’ll be there, hanging out in the chat and ready to answer your questions.

Yes, this is a bit of a departure from historical fantasy, or even archaeological thrillers. Everybody picked up something new during the pandemic, right? This was mine.

What to expect: Remember those choose-your-own-adventure novels? Or not…in this interactive fiction, you take on the role of Skystrike, a superhero who’s come home to roost. You select your origin story–spooky museum, meteor crash, biochemical laboratory, or Victorian mansion–and choose how to confront the RatKing, a sinister newcomer threatening your home town. It’s a new adventure every time! Check it out on Steam and add it to your wishlist! (cover art by Kim Herbst)

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Everything Drakemaster (or Nearly So)

My latest historical fantasy novel is hitting the shelves! Along with that, are all kinds of podcast, interviews and blogs! So, you can now buy the book! find it on Amazon| Barnes and Noble| Apple| Kobo or order from your local indie store! And also learn more about it, the history and research that inspired it, and my process.

Thank you so much for reading!

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DRAKEMASTER! Forthcoming historical fantasy

I am thrilled to share the cover and concept for my next historical fantasy novel. Set in China during the Mongol invasions, DRAKEMASTER brings together an unexpected team of rivals to find a mechanical wonder based on Su Song’s astronomical clock of 1090 CE.

The year is 1257, the place, Mongol-occupied Kaifeng, China:  a captured bellmaker, the warrior who enslaved him, an astronomer, a monk, and a spy race to uncover a clockwork doomsday device that draws down the power of the stars. This epic novel unites my enthusiasm for early technology, Mongolian culture and history, and human dynamics. I hope you’ll love it!

Want to find out more about the book? Drop by the publisher’s website, Guardbridge Books!

You can also download a free sample including the first three chapters. DRAKEMASTER comes out on April 14! And here is a drawing of the astronomical clock that inspired the book. According to the historians of the day, Su Song left out a few key details from his diagrams so that his work couldn’t be imitated. Alas, that meant, when the clock was disassembled from Kaifeng to be moved south, even his own son was unable to put it back together again.

As ever, thank you so much for reading! Want to follow all things E. C. Ambrose? Sign up for the newsletter and get three free stories!

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“There are More Important Things than Living.”

In this time of pandemic, it seems curiously appropriate to re-open a blog that began with books set during the Black Death.  When the Lt. Governor of Texas, Dan Patrick, in pushing to relax guidelines about social distancing and reopen business, remarked that “There are more important things than living,” it got me thinking.

Many people were infuriated by this statement, because it implies that it’s okay if more people die as long as the economy goes on.  But the statement itself hit me rather strangely because I’m a novelist. I write commercial fiction about vast conflicts, impending doom, and moral crisis, often involving larger-than-life characters.  In many of the situations I write about, my task as a novelist is to convince the reader that there are, in fact, things worth dying for, and that the cause the hero fights for is one of them–the goal is so important that the hero is willing to risk their life to achieve it.

Right now, the people protesting in front of state houses across the country view themselves as this kind of hero. They are protesting restrictions in support of their freedom, a value they perceive as being more important than living.  They proclaim themselves willing to take this risk in order to preserve the abstract value of freedom (I am setting aside people who simply don’t believe that the pandemic is even a problem. I’m not sure that level of ignorance is worthy of response.)  For these freedom-loving Americans, restrictions on their freedom to assemble, to move around the countryside, to purchase guns, to state their claims, to preserve their livelihoods and support their families is more important than the potential risk to their lives. One recent protest sign stated, “I respect your right to quarantine, you should respect my right not to.”

Mel Gibson portrays William Wallace in the movie “Braveheart”

These people likely identify with heroes like William Wallace, represented here by Mel Gibson, in the “Braveheart” film, who notoriously proclaimed, “You can take our lives, but you can never take our freedom.”  This hero was a freedom-fighter from the early 14th century who stood up to the Man at the time, the forces of the English King Edward I. Today’s protestors similarly display their war colors, and I could see them adopting this same battle cry as they face the state governments who are imposing lockdowns and limitations.  Like Wallace, they are willing to charge into battle and face the notorious English longbows, in the form of approbation and sometimes fines, to take a stand for freedom.

But this is the thing about heroes, in literature as well as in history.  The choice they make to privilege an abstract value as more important than life itself is a choice they make for themselves.  They are willing to risk THEIR OWN LIFE in support of that goal.  Those who follow them are making that same choice, for themselves.  The same is true of our armed forces, police officers, and others who willingly place themselves in harm’s way for a greater cause.  Most people, if pressed, could name something they are willing to die for: their child, their spouse, an abstract value they truly hold dear.

People who refuse to follow social distancing guidelines, wear masks or respect business closure rules are making this choice not only for themselves, but for everyone they meet. They are risking their own lives, yes, in support of freedom.  But they are also risking the lives of their families, children, spouses, parents, care-givers, health care workers, grocery store employees, delivery drivers, and all other essential personnel, and employees who really have no choice but to be present and working. All of us who need groceries, health care, and other essential services, must sometimes enter the public sphere–hopefully while observing all the advised precautions, and also expressing our support and gratitude for the people who serve us during those occasions.  Unlike soldiers, grocery store workers did not sign up to place their lives at risk, nor are they getting combat pay for doing so.

Right now, we don’t know everything there is to know about this virus.  Epidemiologists suspect that somewhere between 20 and 30 percent of people are asymptomatic carriers (studies so far range from  17%  from testing on a cruise ship, to 50% from a lab in Iceland):  They are spreading the virus around without even knowing it because they feel perfectly fine, have no fever or other sign of sickness.

That means many of those folks who think they don’t have it already do, and the people pointing out that they don’t have an outbreak in their area, probably do or will have one shortly.  Many people who have had the virus are recovering. Low testing rates and that high percentage of asymptomatic carriers mean that the actual survival rate is probably much higher than we currently think–and also that the disease is spreading much further and faster than we are aware.  Thousands of people are still getting gravely ill, suffering permanent damage, and dying. Some of them are older or have underlying conditions.  Some of them didn’t know they had underlying conditions until they caught the virus–and some of them were perfectly healthy younger adults, until they had a stroke and died as a result of a virus they didn’t know they were carrying.

Imagine that prototypical fictional or historical hero, like William Wallace, proclaiming himself standing up for freedom and striding out to face the enemy–but instead of  attacking him, this invisible enemy, the virus, follows him everywhere he goes.  The enemy attacks his employees or co-workers. The enemy attacks his family. The enemy attacks the friends he’s been longing to see. The enemy attacks his server and fellow patrons at the restaurant he was excited to visit. The enemy attacks his co-religionists at the service he’s eager to attend.  This person who believes himself a hero, a freedom-fighter, is targeting dozens, hundreds, thousands of innocent people for possible sickness, suffering, and even death.

A hero stands up for what they believe in, and is willing to risk their own life for that value.  A hero seeks to minimize the risks to innocent people.  Someone who deliberately exposes themselves to a threat which they then pass along to so many others is no hero.

Are there things more important than living? Yes, but what those things are are is a decision that each person needs to make.  A protester has the right to a wide variety of freedoms, most of which can be expressed and experienced without violating the guidelines, if perhaps in a different form. A protester has no right to demand that their freedom take precedence over the lives of everyone around them.  Those who fight against guidelines that are protecting thousands, or millions of innocent people, are no heroes.

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Looking Behind: Re-booting a Fantasy (or a fantasy re-boot?)

Hey, E. C., haven’t heard from you in a while–what are you working on?

I am excited to announce that I’ll have two books coming out this summer!

When Elisha Daemon came out last year, I was thrilled to finally deliver to you the series ending I had envisioned so many years ago. It was also sad and strange to have to say good-bye to Elisha because he wouldn’t be living in my head every day as he had been since we first met more than 10 years ago.  What would happen next? Where would I go after Elisha?

As Gandalf said when questioned by Bilbo about where he’d gone:  Looking ahead.  And what brought him back in the nick of time?  Looking behind.

The original cover of the Singer’s Crown, by artist Aaron Campbell

Today’s post is about looking behind, specifically to my first published novel, The Singer’s Crown. This traditional fantasy novel is a touch more gentle than the Dark Apostle books (not much medieval surgery, for example.  No necromancers 🙂  which is one reason why I used different names for the two series.  The Singer’s Crown is a dispossessed prince tale, with a twist. It was first published by Eos (Harper Collins) in 2005, and finally reverted to me last year.  Now, I’m kickstarting the re-boot of the series, now dubbed The Singer’s Legacy.  I’d appreciate your support by clicking that link or sharing this post–and doubly grateful if you could do both!  The big cover reveal is tomorrow!

Here’s a blurb about the book:

When his uncle murders his family to take the throne, Prince Kattanan DuRhys is the only royal left alive. . . at a terrible cost.  Stripped of his manhood, Kattanan travels as a court singer from one wealthy patron to the next.  Given as a courtship gift to the young Princess Melisande, Kattanan feels the stirring of emotions he thought were denied him. But her jealous fiancée has other plans–and the sinister magic to carry them out.

Must Kattanan sacrifice his song to win his kingdom, and the woman he loves?

Fans of Mercedes Lackey and Robin Hobb are likely to enjoy this one!

But wait–I mentioned I was looking both ahead and behind.  What’s ahead?  Bone Guard Two: The Nazi Skull. You asked for it–you waited for it–and in July, it can be yours!  But that’s another post for another day. . .

Thanks so much for reading!

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Elisha Daemon Launch Day!

Today’s the day! Not only is this the launch for Elisha Daemon, but this book is the final volume in the series!  If you’ve been waiting to get all five books in hand before you read, it’s time to start. And if, like me, you’ve been waiting years for this moment–then dive in!

You can buy now on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or find your local independent store through Indiebound

Here are some of the blog entries I’ve written that informed this work, yes, including my very first blog entry ever, a Grinchy Idea. . .

Which of course relates to How I Learned to love my outline

And in terms of research, here are some of my footnotes:

The problems with Medieval usage and the Plague

And how to deal with the Walking Dead in the Middle Ages

In this volume, Elisha goes to medical school at last, and is given an unwelcome refresher about the hierarchy of medical practice.

And gets to meet papal physician Guy de Chauliac, one of the most influential surgeons of the day.

He will also travel to Avignon, to visit the Pope Clement IV, and learn a thing or two about religion in service to his efforts against the injustice and prejudice of his time before perhaps becoming a victim of it.

I’m also running a giveaway.  If you post a photo of all five Elisha books on your shelf or kindle, I’ll send you a link to download the Dark Apostle prequel novella, Grail Maiden, for free!  Use #darkapostle and be sure to tag me (on Facebook or Twitter) or send me the link!

Thanks so much for reading!

If you’re inspired to buy now, here’s the book on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Indiebound!

 

 

 

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Avignon: The Palace of the Popes

One of my favorite parts of writing the Elisha series has been learning about all these fantastic places and people of the 14th century.  One of the best has got to be the Palace of the Popes in Avignon, France.  During this period (from 1309-1376 to be precise) the papacy moved from Rome, which was kind of a madhouse of baronial infighting, to Avignon, on land ultimately ceded by Queen Joanna of Naples, another fantastic character.

The Papal Palace, exterior

The opulent palace built by for the popes, and expanded continuously over the period, became the heart of a new explosion of growth as the College of Cardinals, too, had to move to be close to their leader–along with all of their retainers. Then they needed lodgings and services for all of the pilgrims and supplicants who came to visit, and before you know it, a small town in the south of France became a major city and future tourist attraction.

A view of Avignon from the rooftop of the palace

It all started with a French pope, Clement V, who refused to move out of France, and began decades of French influence over the papacy, a situation of great concern to the rest of the world, especially people like Holy Roman Emperor Louis IV, who decided to have his own pope instead.  One of the reasons that folks like the poet Petrarch pushed for a Jubilee Year in 1350 was to try to get the papacy to return permanently to Rome.  Alas, it failed.

A portrait of Pope Clement VI

 

During the period of my books, Pope Clement IV reigned over the church. He was said to be a prince of the church, who enjoyed rich feasting, hunting, and fine clothes, and his chambers in the palace certainly reflect that.  However, he also pushed back against some of the tyranny of his time, with things like two papal bulls defending the Jews against accusations that they had started or perpetuated the Black Death.

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Arisia Convention This weekend!

Are you coming to Arisia, or thinking about it?  Here’s where to find me on panels, with some fantastic people!

Friday

If You Didn’t Know, Now You Know: SFF Divination Marina 2 (2E), 5:30pm – 6:45pm

Charlie Boatner (moderator), Heather Urbanski, Greer Gilman, E. C. Ambrose, Heather Albano

SFF Authors use foreknowledge of events, whether predictive models, visions, or prophecy, to give characters future knowledge, often to solve story problems. In this panel, we’ll look at the problems this foreknowledge creates, for the characters, for the author, and for the reader.

Saturday

The Mushy Middle: Conquering the Midpoint Swamp Marina 2 (2E), 10am – 11:15am

E. C. Ambrose (moderator), Victoria “V.E.” Schwab, Lauren M. Roy, Greg R. Fishbone, Ken Schneyer

What happens when you come up with an intriguing premise, but around page 50, your story falls apart? Our panelists will discuss the pitfalls of navigating the second act swamp; how they plot; ways to clarify your hero’s journey; coping strategies including beat sheets, the mini movie method, and mirroring; various ways to brainstorm past a block; and other ways to cut the flab from that mushy middle.

Emotional Impact — How to Make Readers Care
Faneuil (3W), 1pm – 2:15pm

E. C. Ambrose (moderator), Timothy Goyette, Jess Barber, Jeanne Cavelos, Morgan Crooks

No matter how great your plot is, if the readers don’t care, you’ll slip to the bottom to the to-be-read pile. Come learn how to use emotional stakes to add conflict to every page, use transformational arcs to create an inner struggle, delineate compelling flaws without losing reader sympathy, make your audience connect on a primal level, and create stories and characters that break readers’ hearts and keep them turning pages.

SFF Relationship Goals Bulfinch (3W), 4pm – 5:15pm

Julia Rios (moderator), Grant Carrington, Diana Pho, Meredith Schwartz, E. C. Ambrose

SFF doesn’t always have the best reputation when it comes to depicting romantic relationships, but that doesn’t mean that respectful, loving partnerships are nowhere to be found. In this panel, we will explore the good ones, where to find them, and what commonalities they might share. What can authors do to feature good relationships in their stories?
Sunday

Writing Heart-Pounding Sci-Fantasy Thrillers
Douglas (3W), 1pm – 2:15pm

E. C. Ambrose (moderator), Don Chase, Timothy Goyette, Keith Yatsuhashi, John Sundman

Everyone loves action that doesn’t quit. Our panel of thriller writers will discuss how to create a compelling, fast paced narrative, including how to jump-start the action in the first 5-page. Learn how to weave in character backstory and dialogue so it doesn’t slow down your plot. How does thriller worldbuilding differ for the sci-fi and fantasy genres; including high stakes, misdirection, and “ticking bomb” to keep the reader invested until the last page.

Writing Series, Sequels, and Spin-Offs
Douglas (3W), 2:30pm – 3:45pm

LJ Cohen (moderator), ML Brennan, Victoria “V.E.” Schwab, E. C. Ambrose, Craig Shaw Gardner

It’s no secret that book series have a better chance of discoverability. What’s the secret to writing a successful series? How do you plan and develop multi-book series that sell? Create series arcs? And how do you keep track of multiple plotlines and characters across many books? How can you expand existing material to create a series? And when is it time to pull the plug and move onto other things?

hope to see you there!

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Pitching a Novel: Nailing Your Synopsis

This is the third in a series on pitching your novel, my take on the topic–for many more answers, follow the blog chain led by Joshua Palmatier, editor and author!  In the meantime, read on. . .

Personally, I think the synopsis is harder than either the elevator pitch or query we’ve already discussed.  When you have to boil down a plot to a single sentence, or a paragraph or two, you have to be ruthless–slashing, slimming, selecting exactly the right verb, phrase or plot element to reveal the entire plot.  Yes, that’s the ENTIRE plot. One of the mistakes many new authors make is to leave off the ending of their book, thinking this will make the agent or editor so curious that they feel compelled to request the complete manuscript.

In fact, it’s more likely to convince them of one of three things: 1.  the book isn’t finished at all.  2. you don’t actually know how to finish the book, so the ending is lame, and that’s why you haven’t included it. 3. you have not learned how to be a professional.  In any of these cases, they have plenty of other choices for books to request, and its highly likely they’re going to choose one of those.   If you haven’t finished the book–go finish, I’ll wait.

All done?  Good. So is your ending lame?  Ask some honest friends who read or write in the same genre to read it over and be blunt.  If your ending rocks, providing a satisfying conclusion to what’s gone before, then make it the capstone of your gorgeous synopsis.

Back to my first point, that a synopsis is hard. Because you usually have some lee-way in the length of the synopsis, it’s easy to want to include too much, or get off-track to make sure your darlings are in there.  (agents and editors often have a preferred length of synopsis and will say so in their guidelines) Yes, you want to showcase some of what makes your style and your world stand out, but don’t overdo that. Focus on delivering the key events and choices of the plot in a streamlined, active fashion.  Regardless of how the book is written the synopsis should be third person, present tense.

The best advice I’ve gotten about this is to imagine you’re telling the story of a great movie you just saw to a friend of yours.  You’d focus on the central character(s), showing their action and decisions, and the conflicts they face, then the big climax!  You’d probably talk a bit about the setting–what stands out in this milieu?  What is critical for the reader to know in order to understand that climax?

Part of the trouble that fantasy novels, in particular, have is multiple point of view characters.  How do you take a big, fat epic and strangle it into only five pages or so?  My recent approach has been to craft an initial paragraph that addresses the concept of the work, usually informed by the world-building and the principal conflict.  It’s sort of an executive summary of why I wrote the book, and what I hope will excite the reader.

Here’s one I wrote for a work in progress entitled THE FOREST OF BONE:

Kormos rose from the sea, a volcano that swallowed the gods.  A thousand years later, the children of the gods preserve their little kingdoms, playing with magic, pretending at their own godhood to the fleshborn and the mages alike, unaware that one of their number plans to raise the bones of vengeance and drown their world.

This paragraph addresses the backdrop of the world, and shows the stakes–we’ll be dealing with gods, magic, and the death of worlds.  The synopsis then flows into the plot, introducing the principal characters and showing where they are at the start of the narrative (this book has 3 POV’s), each confronting their own problems. As the plot develops, I show connections among these narratives and they begin to braid together in the synopsis. This book is about 190,000 words long, and the synopsis is 6 pages.

For my first true epic fantasy novel, DRAKEMASTER, I have five POV’s.  It’s a historical fantasy, set in a time and place many people would not be familiar with, so the synopsis is a bit unusual. It begins with an introduction to the medieval Chinese technology at the heart of the novel, then a character briefing:  a short paragraph for each of those POV’s, showing who they are and what each one faces.  I actually drafted five different synopses originally, one from the perspective of each character.  For the submission synopsis, I pulled paragraphs from each of these to reveal the overall plot as informed by my distinct protagonists.  Did it work?  Well, it got me an agent–and hopefully I’ll soon know if we’ve landed the contract!

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