An Author’s Monster Manual

One of the fun things about table-top roleplaying games is the ability to stretch imaginations and have encounters with the most unique of creations. Dungeons and Dragons even has books dedicated specifically to the creatures that the unwary player can accidentally antagonize, the most well-known of these books being the Monster Manual.

As creative as the thingies found in the Monster Manual can be, they can’t hold a candle to the amazing creatures encountered in a myriad of novels written by extremely talented authors, some of them even inspired by TTRPGs played by the authors!

I somehow managed to convince an amazing group of authors and bloggers to help me discuss creatures in books and how they would transfer over to a TTRPG campaign setting. Keep your eyes open: the talent popping up on the blog over the next little bit is astonishing!

There are so many creatures in fantasy books that I would love to see in a TTRPG setting! When thinking about this series, two books in particular came to mind: Bloody Rose by Nicholas Eames and The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart. Both have amazing creatures that jump off the page.

I wouldn’t want to make the ink witch from Bloody Rose angry. Tattoos that can attack seem both brutal and pretty stinking clever. Can you imagine being in the middle of an honest tavern brawl, and all of the sudden your character finds themself facing a butt-kicking in the form of body art? That encounter would be the sort that players talk about for years.

And who wouldn’t love to have Mephi in a TTRPG? I’m still not entirely sure what he is, other than loyal, brutally protective, and absolutely adorable but seeing him pop up during a game session would be so much fun.

Honestly, though, having Hobbes (of Calvin and Hobbes fame) in a TTRPG would absolutely make any campaign a delightful one, in my opinion. I took a stab at a Hobbes STAT Block. I owe a huge thank you to my amazing husband for helping me bring this to life!

Fan STAT Block made by Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub

There are so many creatures brought to life by authors that would make for incredible additions to a late-night game session! Over the next several days, we will get to meet some of them, with introductions and STAT Blocks created by the authors. Grab your dice and let’s have an adventure!

The Satanic Panic…in 2022?

Book banning, the Salem Witch Trials, twenty-sided die, and the Satanic Panic: what do these things all have in common? Fear and misunderstanding. While everyone knows about the Salem Witch Trials, and the attempt to ban massive amounts of books is still alive and kicking, the Satanic Panic pretty much ended in the 90’s. Right? Unfortunately, while things evolve to fit the times, the Satanic Panic is alive and well and continues to target table-top roleplaying games.

TTRPGs, or table-top role-playing games, have found themselves in the mainstream recently. From streaming shows such as Critical Role to the Netflix hit Stranger Things, suddenly TTRPGs have stepped out of basements (or den, in my case) and into the limelight. While there are many positives to its recent popularity, it seems that those old fears and overreactions have made a resurgence as well.

I play TTRPGs. I use them in my homeschool. Let me tell you, I’ve never summoned so much as the bag of Doritos from the kitchen (or would that be using the Force?), much less a demonic entity. TTRPGs, simply put, are fun. They give adults permission to do what children do all the time: use their imaginations.

My love of Dungeons and Dragons started in the mid-to-late 90s, so I only caught echoes of the panic that seemed to be everywhere in the 80s. By the time it got to me, it seemed everyone knew someone who was related to someone who played with “a guy who got sucked into the occult through D&D”. Usually, these “true stories” ended with injury or disappearance. To me, these tales felt very similar to Bloody Mary or other stories told at sleepovers.

If a teenager can see the ridiculousness of some of these fears, why couldn’t adults? And why was Dungeons and Dragons such a big target?

Margaret Weis, author of several bestselling series, including Dragonlance, was in the middle of it from a creator’s standpoint. I asked her what the Satanic Panic looked like from her perspective, as someone involved in the growing popularity of both TTRPGs and fantasy in general.

She remembers, “I was working at TSR at the time. I remember we watched the 60 Minutes show where they interviewed a mother of a young man who committed suicide and she was blaming it on D&D because she found a lot of D&D books in his bedroom. His death was tragic, but when you listen to his mother, you start to realize he was suffering from a great many problems that went unrecognized. Then there was the religious tract “Dark Dungeons”. People would place those inside D&D books at the local bookstores. We read that and honestly couldn’t believe people would think that D&D would give a person real “evil powers”. As one of the game designers said, if we really could gain such powers, why would we be working? Why weren’t we ruling the world?”

The suicide in question, that of Patricia Pulling’s son, is absolutely a tragedy. However, while he did play D&D, there has been absolutely nothing to suggest that a game of imagination caused his death. Pat Pulling was a grieving mom looking for answers and I don’t fault her for that. The problem is the answers she chose had no basis in reality and ultimately led to a spike in fears over TTRPGs and their supposed role in the occult.

Patricia would go on to form Bothered About Dungeons and Dragons (or BADD), a group that would fuel the flames that consumed reason and understanding in so many people. There was also a handy-dandy (and completely bonkers) pamphlet written by Patricia called Dungeons and Dragons: Witchcraft, Suicide, Violence. Thanks to The Escapist, I was able to get a look at this pamphlet. It’s so ridiculous, it would be funny if so many people hadn’t bought into it!

Image credit: Amazon

YoDanno, a Twitter friend who is incredibly knowledgeable on the history of Dungeons and Dragons, kindly sent me an article by Michael A. Stackpole, debunking her many claims in no uncertain terms (you can find that full article here). Not only did she make some choices of questionable legality, she also flat-out lied to add some semblance of credence to her accusations. Michael A. Stackpole concluded, “Her methods and tactics, at their very best, taint any evidence she might offer and, at their worst, construct a monster where none exists”.

Panic over the years often comes from a simple and even admirable trait: the desire to protect our children. Of course, we want our kids to be safe and loved. The problem arises when we have no idea of the reality of what we are condemning. How can anyone judge TTRPGs they’ve never played, or call for the banning of books they haven’t read with any sort of authority? (I’ll do my best to spare you my thoughts on book banning, but no promises because it is coming pretty dang close to the Satanic Panic in proportion).

“Experts” were quick to harshly judge what they had little to no experience in. According to Texe Marrs, author of Ravaged by the New Age: Satan’s Plan to Destroy Our Kids, “This game is nothing more than an introduction to the occult. Fantasies the players involve and indulge themselves in include murder, rape, arson, pillage, terrorism, brutal torture, etc. ” (Marrs). Um…no. Nothing in that statement is close to correct. I do my absolute best to avoid reading books with r**e in them; I definitely wouldn’t play a game that would glorify it or encourage my son to play.

I asked Ms. Weis, “Did stigma against your profession bleed over into your personal life and in what way?” Sadly, it did affect her on a personal level.

“I remember the elders in [coauthor] Tracy’s church (Mormon) wanted him to quit his job at TSR because they feared he was being corrupted. He invited them to play the game with him and if they still thought it was evil, he would quit. He ran an RPG for the elders one night. Not only did they not make him quit, they asked him if he would run a weekly game for them!
My son came home from junior high one day to tell me that his teacher had asked if he tortured cats. He was astounded and asked why she would say such a thing. She said she assumed he must be a devil worshipper because his mother worked for TSR!”

All because people chose fear over an attempt to understand or learn something new.

I also asked Margaret Weis’ thoughts on why TTRPGs have been, and continue to be, such a target.

She answered, “I remember someone theorizing that the reason people latched onto D&D as being Satanic was that parents didn’t understand it and didn’t bother to take the time to learn about it. All they saw was their kids playing a strange fantasy game for hours or days, a game that didn’t have a board, used weird dice, and had its own language. The best way to deal with
this is to invite these people to play! Like Tracy did!”

Of course, this article won’t stop the judgment that seems to once again be growing in volume. People are going to overreact and condemn what they really don’t understand. But here’s a thought; just ask. If you don’t know what playing a TTRPG entails (imagination and math, at its core), how on earth can you really judge it?

Works Cited:

Marrs, Texe. Ravaged by the New Age Satan’s Plan to Destroy Our Kids. 1708 Patterson Road, Austin, Texas 78733, RiverCrest Publishers.

“Michael A. Stackpole: The Pulling Report.” Www.rpgstudies.net, http://www.rpgstudies.net/stackpole/pulling_report.html.

‌“The Escapist – as BADD as It Gets.” Www.theescapist.com, http://www.theescapist.com/BADDbook01.htm.

A Letter to Self-published Authors

Banner credit: Fantasy Book Nerd

Dear Self-published Authors,

As Self-published Authors Appreciation Week wraps up, I want to pause for a minute to say thanks. One of the astounding things about self-published books is the time, creativity, stress, and hard work that go into them. Self-published authors do it all, and it’s amazing.

There are so many self-published books that I have been blown away by and this week has barely scratched the surface. There are other books I’ve loved that I haven’t had the chance to write about yet and still more waiting for me to discover them. Contests like SPFBO, SPFSC, and BBNYA constantly add to my “to be read” list with the sheer number of gems in them. Book reviewers add even more.

I want to offer a heartfelt thank you for sharing your visions, for creating fantastical new worlds or showing us this one with new eyes. Thank you for the words that cause chills, for the raw honesty in your writing, for the hours of entertainment and excitement. Thank you for taking the time and effort to put your words onto paper and inviting us to enter your world for a while.

What you do is something special.

Sincerely,
Jodie

Let’s Talk About: Self-Published Authors Appreciation Week

Banner Credit: Fantasy Book Nerd

If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you’ll know that I have been lucky enough to read many indie/self-published. I love the creativity and uniqueness often found in self-published books. Last year was the first ever Self-Published Authors Appreciation Week, during which I was joined by many amazing bloggers, podcasters, and Youtubers, all sharing their appreciation for great self-published authors. Well, guess what? We’re doing it again this year!

This year Self-Published Authors Appreciation Week will run from July 24th-30th. How can you get involved? Read self-published books, review self-published books, shout about great self-published authors. You’re welcome to use the above banner (created by the awesome Fantasy Book Nerd) and if you tag my Twitter @WS_BOOKCLUB, I will add your posts to a blog hub and share those posts on my Twitter. On Twitter, you can the hashtags #SPAAW, #SuperSP, and #IndiesAreAwesome.

For those of you who would like to see some of the amazing pieces published during last year’s SPAAW, you can find them linked here: Self-published Authors Appreciation Week Hub.

I hope it will be even bigger this year. Let’s shout about self-published authors!

Fantasy Focus: Urban Fantasy Featuring Matthew Samuels

This year I’m doing a new series on my blog: Fantasy Focus. Each month, I’m focusing on a different fantasy subgenre. Fantasy is such a broad genre with so many different things to offer. So far, there have been focuses on Comedic Fantasy, Romantic Fantasy, Grimdark, and Epic/High Fantasy.

Today I have the privilege of chatting with Matthew Samuels, author of the excellent urban fantasy, Small Places.

Hi Matthew! Thank you for being willing to talk about urban fantasy!

My pleasure! Thank you for having me on your site 😊

Will you introduce yourself to the readers and talk about your writing a little?

I’m Matthew Samuels, and I write sci-fi and fantasy; I’m the author of the solarpunk / hopepunk exploration books Parasites and Dusk, and urban fantasy title Small Places, which is about a guy who meets a cranky old witch, who is investigating the source of highly irregular weather in the UK. I live in London, UK.  

Small Places is interesting in that the main character, Jamie, is dealing with adversity in his “real life” which is sort of echoed in the adversity in the fantasy element. How did you go about keeping that balance between the two kinds of struggles?

Despite the challenges that writing urban fantasy presents, it does also lend you a hand, because you can reflect on how regular people would act if confronted by these things. So yes, Jamie meets some fantastical creatures and a witch, but his mum is also very sick and there’s a girl he likes in town, and these things are always going to creep into your mind, however all-consuming the other stuff is. Sometimes – like in real life – one of these things takes up more brain space than others, and other times, things get completely pushed to one side and Jamie feels guilty for forgetting about it. I’m not quite sure if there’s a trick to keeping this balance; it’s really just about trying to keep it believable, given everything that’s going on! A good editor definitely helps – my partner read Small Places quite carefully, and some parts of the book changed quite a lot afterwards. 

I really loved the divided attention and subsequent feelings of guilt that Jamie experiences in Small Places. It’s such a completely human reaction. Do you feel that urban fantasy allows for a deeper exploration of the human condition?

Yes and no – I don’t think it’s unique to urban fantasy. Some of my favourite reflections on the human condition come from sci-fi books like the Rama series by Arthur C Clarke and the Galactic Mileu set by Julian May, but I also love what Charles de Lint has to say about absolution, forgiveness and dealing with difficult circumstances in life, in an urban fantasy setting. I do think that sometimes genres outside of low fantasy can get sucked into the ‘we’re in a supernatural setting, so we should focus on heroes and adventure and all this amazing stuff’ but if the Marvel Universe has shown us anything, it’s that adventures are more satisfying and believable when they’re about ‘real people dealing with issues who happen to be superheroes, rather than superheroes just being superheroes, which I think is where some of the DC films come unraveled. Urban fantasy is in a good place to start these reflections because you’re dealing with regular folk from day one, rather than people who regularly leap tall buildings and zap aliens, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s exclusive! 

Small Places is an urban fantasy. How would you define that subgenre?

In my mind, urban fantasy is a section of low fantasy, which takes place in ‘our’ world. Urban fantasy is distinct from the likes of Harry Potter only because it takes place in urban environments, rather than separate places like Hogwarts (or in the countryside!).  

What drew you to writing urban fantasy?

One of the first fantasy novels I read growing up was The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and the idea that there could be something fantastical just around the corner was an absolutely magical prospect to me. After I’d read it, I spent quite a lot of time poking into old wardrobes or opening doors several times hoping that there’d be something back there! As a teenager I watched the BBC adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, absolutely rapt for much the same reason (I don’t think it’s aged well, but the book is obviously fantastic) and then discovered Clive Barker’s Weaveworld as an adult, not to mention Charles de Lint, Erin Morgenstern and Laurell K Hamilton. 

Perhaps more to the point, urban fantasy stretches your mind in a way that other genres don’t, because of the possible believability (more on this later!) – after all, there are weird, wonderful and beautiful things in the regular world. I used to spend quite a lot of time in a club called Shunt, which was a performing arts club underneath London Bridge Station, with just the strangest selection of artwork and things to explore. There’s also the Vaults under Waterloo, and experiential events like Secret Cinema. I’m quite a big fan of urbex photography (in particular, RomanyWG’s work), which continues to be an inspiration for any long-forgotten places that I’m writing about. 

When you put all of this together, urban fantasy has the ability to conspire in your mind and whisper ‘what if…?’ in the dark hours of the night.  And I’ve always written, for as long as I can remember (I still have some of my early works which I’d describe as either ‘loving fanfic’ or ‘hideous and derivative’ depending on my mood) and with inspirations like that, how could I not want to write in the genre?

What are some obstacles to writing urban fantasy?

Believability is key. When you’re blending the real world and a fantastical world, there’s the question of ‘why haven’t they been detected’? The memory charms in Harry Potter are a bit of a quick fix around this, but in Small Places, we have very well hidden and virtually inaccessible faerie realms. The first rule of the faerie is often ‘stay out of the way, but in an urban setting that’s much, much harder. Books like the Rivers of London series bypass this by simply having the magical world ‘out’, whereas in Neverwhere it hides much more carefully, and has people fall between the cracks and vanish if they do pick up on it, which is a slightly terrifying prospect.

I agree with you on that! The idea of a person just disappearing mysteriously if they pick up on the “other” hidden in plain sight is definitely a scary one. Did it take some time to decide how your faerie realms would exist in conjunction with the real-world setting?

Yes, it was a tricky one because – especially in very urban settings like London – it’s hard to do anything completely out of sight! Neverwhere gets around this very neatly by having people just ignore the things that are uncomfortable to them (which we all do sometimes) but it was hard working up a mechanism that would be secure, unlikely to be triggered by accident, and also relatively easy to conceal. The ‘fantastical combination lock’ idea eventually appealed because it seemed to tick a number of those boxes all at once, whilst still giving some narrative flexibility. 

What is the best thing about writing urban fantasy?

It’s really the same thing: believability. If you’re writing something fantastical that’s also set in the real world, there’s a small chance that a question worms into your brain – as Morpheus says in The Matrix, ‘like a splinter in your mind’. That question is ‘what if there is something else?’ and I think that’s both terrifying and wonderful to consider at the same time. The other (non-low fantasy) genres are great escapism, but urban / low fantasy can just feel a bit more real. I’ve walked past the spot in London where Richard meets the Marquis de Carabas for the first time in Neverwhere, and I love that flicker of slightly disquieting recognition that you get, that feeling of ‘well, maybe?’ that sticks around no matter how old you get.

You also write science fiction (books one and two in The Navigator series are available now). Are there similarities between how you write for those two genres? Or are they completely dissimilar? 

There are definitely common elements in terms of the need for good plotting and characters, but with sci-fi, you have a lot more flexibility because you set the rules. Being able to create entire planets, space stations and alien creatures gives you a lot more wiggle room than being stuck on earth in a contemporary setting!

Who are some of your go-to authors?

Where to start? 😊 As well as the guys I’ve mentioned previously, I’m a huge fan of Iain M Banks, Jacqueline Carey, Julian May, Steph Swainston, Jay Kristoff, David Wong, Becky Chambers, Brandon Sanderson and Laini Taylor. I’ll also read outside SFF, and am a big Tana French and Stephen King fan.

Do you have anything interesting coming up that you’d like to talk about?

 I’ve just published the second book in the Navigator (Sci-Fi) series, and was hoping to continue my other long-suffering urban fantasy title, Wild Court, which takes a fantastical look at the decline of empathy in society, and is two-thirds written, but my brain has refused. Instead, I’ve been spending time planning out a high fantasy title exploring the war between heaven, hell and mankind, featuring a devious demonic heroine with a disability who teams up with a captured warlock’s apprentice in an effort to escape from hell. I’d done some planning on it a while ago, but had a sudden realization about the MC, then things started to fall into place, and before I knew it, I’d written four thousand words of plan. There’s still a fair bit to do, but I scribbled down the opening line “When I was growing up, I had six brothers and sisters; by the time I was 16, I’d murdered three of them” and knew it was something I really wanted to explore more.

That’s a killer line, in multiple senses of the word. I’m excited!

Thank you 😊

To Purchase Small Places:

UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Dusk-Matthew-Samuels/dp/B09XSZPLWK/
US: https://www.amazon.com/Dusk-Matthew-Samuels/dp/B09XSZPLWK

Let’s Talk: Self-Published Authors Appreciation Week

Banner Credit: Fantasy Book Nerd

If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you’ll know that I have been lucky enough to read many indie/self-published. I love the creativity and uniqueness often found in self-published books. Last year was the first ever Self-Published Authors Appreciation Week, during which I was joined by many amazing bloggers, podcasters, and Youtubers, all sharing their appreciation for great self-published authors. Well, guess what? We’re doing it again this year!

This year Self-Published Authors Appreciation Week will run from July 24th-30th. How can you get involved? Read self-published books, review self-published books, shout about great self-published authors. You’re welcome to use the above banner (created by the awesome Fantasy Book Nerd) and if you tag my Twitter @WS_BOOKCLUB, I will add your posts to a blog hub and share those posts on my Twitter. On Twitter, you can use the hashtags #SPAAW, #SuperSP, and #AwesomeIndies.

By the way, the Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off contest is a great place to go for self-published book suggestions. Follow along with this year’s contest here. Here are a few self-published books that I recommend. I stopped myself at twenty, but there are so many amazing sp books out there! What’s the best self-published book you’ve read this year?

Jason and Rose Bishop- The Call (Storm’s Rising #1)

Lee C. Conley- A Ritual of Bone

Susanne M. Dutton- Sherlock Holmes and the Remaining Improbable

Jami Fairleigh- Oil and Dust

Jonathan French-The Grey Bastards

Sean Gibson- The Part About the Dragon Was (Mostly) True

 Bjørn Larssen- Why Odin Drinks

Randall McNally- Shadowless

Marcus Lee- Kings and Daemons

G.M. Nair- Duckett and Dyer: Dicks for Hire

Roland O’Leary- The Hand of Fire

Thomas Howard Riley- We Break Immortals

Kirstin Espinosa Rosero- Burn Red Skies

Patrick Samphire- Shadow of a Dead God

Matthew Samuels- Small Places

Emma Shaw- Sacaran Nights

M.L. Spencer- Dragon Mage

Luke Tarzian- The World Breaker Requiem

Keith Tokash- Iliad: The Reboot

M.L. Wang- The Sword of Kaigen

Fantasy Focus: High & Epic Fantasy Featuring Coby Zucker

This year, I’m doing a new series: Fantasy Focus. Each month will have a week-long focus on a different fantasy subgenre- fantasy is as varied as its creators’ imaginations! If you’ve missed them, here are links to my fantasy focuses on comedic fantasy , grimdark and romantic fantasy.

This month I’m focusing on High and Epic Fantasy. I’ve been privileged to chat with Coby Zucker author of the epic fantasy, Nomads of the Sea.

Thank you for being willing to talk about high fantasy and epic fantasy with me!

Thanks for having me!

Will you introduce yourself?

My name’s Coby Zucker. I’m a 24-year-old debut fantasy author from Toronto, Canada. For my 9-5, I’m a journalist. Currently I work in the wild west of gaming and esports. 

Can you talk a little bit about Nomads of the Sea?

I can talk a lot about Nomads of the Sea but for the sake of your sanity I’ll keep it brief. 

Nomads is an adult fantasy epic that spans continents and multiple POVs. The setting for the main plot is heavily inspired by Southeast Asia, though the world is big and also encompasses a more traditional medieval fantasy world. It’s a bit grim, occasionally funny, and—hopefully—an all-around decent read (especially if you like giant shapeshifting bears, the interplay of medicine and magic, and big beefy tomes with lots of worldbuilding). 

Have I sold it hard enough?

But yeah, Nomads is really just a passion product from a bored grad student whose summer job was cancelled during the first wave of COVID. It was my first, but certainly not my last, foray into writing novels.

What were some obstacles to writing Nomads of the Sea?

Amazingly, writing Nomads went pretty smooth. Since it was my first book I had to learn my personal writing cadence and style, but I settled into those things fairly quick. If we really want to get into the nitty gritty, one of my biggest challenges as an author was writing compelling characters that didn’t think the way I think, or act the way I act.  

Also romance. I’m not a romance person by nature so that took some trial and error. 

Really most of the obstacles came after I’d finished writing the book. Learning how to revise, compose, publish, and market a book was way harder than writing it.

What are some successes?

To be honest, just getting the novel into the world was a huge personal success. As for the book itself? I guess I’m happy with how it all came together. I like the characters, I like the world, and I’m honestly just excited with how the whole writing process went. Creating a full novel was something I’d always wanted to do, but I never knew if I had the chops.

Nomads of the Sea has been called epic fantasy. Can you explain what epic fantasy is?

Well Wikipedia defines epic fantasy as… 

I’m just messing with you.

Basically, epic fantasy is, at its core, a subgenre of fantasy defined by its scale. Epic fantasy is expansive worlds with full casts of characters, huge plots that span years, and big ol’ chonky books. Occasionally, it’s none of those things. That’s probably not a helpful answer but everyone has their own definition of epic fantasy so it’s hard to give a catch-all. For me, if it’s fantasy and it has a big scope, that’s epic fantasy. 

I’ve heard the terms “epic fantasy” and “high fantasy” used interchangeably. Do you see them as two separate subgenres?

I actually do, even though you’re right and they are often lumped together.

In your opinion, how is epic fantasy different from high fantasy? 

You already know how I define epic fantasy so I would contrast it against high fantasy, which, in my mind, is more a comment on the world of the book itself. Whereas epic fantasy is about the scale of the book.

High fantasy is often seen as “Tolkien fantasy” with elves and dwarves and dragons and all that good stuff. Really it’s a little broader and many phenomenal authors are drawing on diverse mythologies to create unique high fantasy worlds (that’s not a knock on elves and dwarves and dragons by the way. They’re still dope.)

People will use the term “secondary world” to characterize high fantasy. Basically it just means a world that’s not too Earth-y. And yes, high fantasy is often epic fantasy, which makes it all the more confusing.

Take all this with a grain of salt. I’m by no means an expert. Just a guy who likes to read and write fantasy books.

What drew you to writing epic fantasy?

It’s right there in the name. It’s freakin’ epic. 

All respect to people who want to write a slice-of-life novel about Elmer, whose biggest problem in life is he’s run out of yarn (great idea for a book by the way, someone hop on it), but if I’m writing, it’s going to be about monsters and heroes and giant battles and high stakes plots. 

Also, as someone who comes from academia, there’s nothing more liberating than making shit up (am I allowed to curse?) Obviously epic fantasy still requires research but it’s nice to not feel beholden to detailed footnotes or the laws of physics.

Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Little of column A, little of column B. But I’d say I’m mostly a plotter. I definitely need to know the beginning, the middle, and the end before I start writing. But part of the joy of making a book for me is discovering new things about the story along the way, solving problems as they crop up, and confronting situations from my characters’ POVs.  

Who are some of your favorite authors?

Anne McCaffrey, Joe Abercrombie, Jack Whyte, Christian Cameron, Fonda Lee, Robin Hobb, Brandon Sanderson, Mark Lawrence…

There’s probably others but I’ll stop myself before I just name every amazing author I can think of.

What/who inspired you to start writing epic fantasy?

There’s not really a “who”, unless you count my family, who helped foster my love of reading sci-fi and fantasy books. 

The “what” is a desire to create something wholly my own. It’s fun to delve into another author’s world but building something from the ground up was an entirely new experience. One I’m now addicted to. 

Do you have anything on the horizon that you would like to share?

Nothing in particular. I’ve been able to get Nomads of the Sea into the hands of a few awesome bloggers and vloggers so keep an eye out for their reviews. Maybe they’ll be able to convince you to get Nomads where my unhinged ramblings have failed. 

There will be more books coming from me in the future. Hopefully not the distant future. 

About the Author:


Coby Zucker is a 24-year-old part-time fantasy writer who lives in Toronto, Canada. He writes about more mundane subjects for his day job. Follow him on socials for updates about his writing. Nomads of the Sea is Coby’s debut novel.

Escapist Book Tour Spotlight: A Man Named Baskerville by Jim Nelson

I’m excited to be joining Escapist Tours in talking about A Man Named Baskerville, a book with a unique new addition to the Sherlock Holmes pastiche.

When people think about Sherlock Holmes, there are a few things that tend to come to mind: Sherlock himself (of course), Watson, a certain hat, Moriarity, and the Hound of the Baskervilles. Jim Nelson’s book, A Man Named Baskerville, takes a new look at the mysterious figure Rodger Baskerville.

About the Book:

He took on Sherlock Holmes and lost. Now he wants revenge.

In 1888, Sherlock Holmes slayed the spectral hound haunting the Devonshire moor, laying to rest the curse of the Baskervilles once and for all. The perpetrator escaped into the night and was presumed drowned, consumed by the murky bog…

In truth, the criminal mastermind survived the night to nurse his wounds and plot his revenge against Sherlock Holmes.

A MAN NAMED BASKERVILLE recounts the life and times of Rodger Baskerville, exiled heir to the esteemed family’s fortune. His journal records his adventures from the Amazon rainforests to the beaches of Costa Rica to Victorian England, where he attempts to take his rightful place at Baskerville Hall. Along the way, he peels back the layers of family secrets and scandals untold in Dr. Watson’s account of the demonic hound haunting the Baskervilles.

Most of all, he describes a Sherlock Holmes unlike the legendary detective you think you know.

A MAN NAMED BASKERVILLE retells the infamous Arthur Conan Doyle mystery in a way you’ve never read before. It’s a sizzling new take on a classic hailed as a masterpiece of the English language, named one of the most influential books ever by the BBC and Le Monde, and beloved by Sherlock Holmes fans worldwide for over a century.It’s a rousing adventure, from start to finish. What’s more—it’s a Sherlock Holmes story unlike any you’ve read before.

About the Author:

Jim Nelson’s novels include Bridge Daughter (2016, Kindle Press), Stranger Son, and In My Memory Locked.  His work has appeared in North American Review, Confrontation, Instant City, and other fine venues.

He divides his time between San Francisco and Tokyo.

Author Website: https://j-nelson.net
Twitter: https://twitter.com/_jimnelson_
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/j.nelson.net
Amazon Author Page: http://amazon.com/author/jim_nelson
Goodreads: http://goodreads.com/_jimnelson_

Where to find A Man Named Baskerville:
Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09VYVKK4H
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/60656350-a-man-named-baskerville

A Class Above: D&D Classes in Books- Paladins, Clerics, and Druids (Repost)

I had the idea to discuss Dungeons and Dragons classes (which is very similar to the class system in most roleplaying games) and its similarity to characters in books. Basically, a “class” is a set group of skills that is generally used by a specific profession. For example, “fighter class” consists of excelling at some sort of combat.

I asked for contributions from book bloggers and authors and what they came up with is brilliant. What had started out as a single post has turned into a few, with each post discussing a different set of classes. You can find my post on Fighters and Barbarians here. Today, let’s talk about paladins, clerics, and druids. Here we go!

Paladin: Take a fighter and add a fair dose of religious fervor, a strong code of conduct, and an oath to fulfill, and you’ve got the general idea. Paladins get a power boost from either their god or their commitment to their cause. Boiled down: holy warrior. Or, if you’re feeling saucy, an unholy warrior.

I’m happy to have The Swordsmith joining in the conversation :

“Firstly, I am delighted to be contributing to the Witty and Sarcastic Book club for the first time!  It’s an amazing blog that I follow and when Jodie put out this interesting call, I just knew that I wanted to be a part of this post.

I have a feeling this is going to be a great post. Jodie’s request was to match a character from fiction to a Dungeons and Dragons class and I had so many ideas!  I settled on something though, it seemed so bizarre but then thinking about it I just had to write about Murderbot from the Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells as a Paladin!

Go with me on this one as Paladins are a holy warrior class in D&D, while Murderbot isn’t the major comparison is that it always tries to do the right thing.  This is an important part of the books and the character, this part of the character drew comparisons to the Paladin class. It reminded me of one cool dude I am playing D&D with at the moment and guess what?  He’s playing as a Paladin.

Doing the right thing or what you perceive to be the right thing is tough, Paladin’s can have a very hard time in D&D and Murderbot..well the character is an interesting one because it fights for what it believes, for it believes to be doing the right thing when it does.  I can’t say too much without spoilers but I just knew that the character connotations were there.

Thank you to Jodie for allowing me to let loose my love of Murderbot and comparing it to a Paladin class, enjoy the rest of the post!”


Author Ricardo Victoria also has some thoughts on the paladin class: “This class gets a lot of flak due to its apparent rigidity, but I blame that more on the player (no offense) than on the class, as not many people know or like or can play a Lawful Good character without trying to make it a cardboard cutout. That’s why I think the best example of how a Paladin should be is Sgt. Carrot from Discworld. Strong as an ox? Check? Abides by the Law? Check. Charismatic? Check. Compassionate? Check. Innocent? Check. Can pound you to an inch of your life if you hurt an innocent? For sure. Carrot proves that a Paladin can abide by the spirit of the rule, rather than the letter, can be courteous yet dangerous, flexible when needed, and smart in an unexpected way, especially with clever interpretations of the law. But his most important trait is that he could have the power (it’s somewhat of a secret that he is the true heir to the crown of Ankh-Morpok, and he knows that). The thing is he doesn’t want it. He just wants to protect the innocent and then go home, even if he is pretty much married to his job. That, for me, is how a paladin should be played.”

Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub, on paladins: “For me, I picture Sir Gawain as the epitome of a holy warrior. In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, he is very concerned with honor and adhering to the strict code he’s sworn to uphold. There are themes regarding service to the helpless, as well as to God. His sense of morality and his code of conduct guide him in every aspect of his life.



Cleric: More than a healer, but not quite a paladin, clerics are servants of their deities. Clerics have the ability to heal as well as possibly harm through magical means granted by their god. However, unlike a priest or acolyte (who usually stay in a town or temple), clerics take their skills to the frontlines, helping those such as paladins in their holy cause.

Geeky Galaxy has some great thoughts on clerics: “Trudi Canavan has a great many series that covers every angle of character archetypes, from rogues to magicians, and the one I’m going to talk about a little more, clerics. Age of the Five #1 is called Priestess of the White and features all manner of religious icons, from cults, to gods and of course, clerics. This series is perfect if you love a rich depth to your fantasy worlds with a particular focus on religion and politics. It’s perfect for the sort of person who wants to get lost in a book for hours at a time!


Beneath a Thousand Skies 
shares her thoughts on clerics: “Anyone who’s ever played D&D has likely has the cleric call them out on their nonsense at least once. The long-suffering cleric is part healer, part priestess/priest, part counsellor, and often (but not always0 the common sense of the party. They can also pack quite a punch when they want to.

For me, that is Gilda from the Godblind trilogy in a nutshell. In many ways, she’s central to the story and plays a pivotal role in the lives and stories of many of the characters. Yet she’s also an unsung hero, and she is a perfect example of someone straddling that line between priestess, counsellor, and

healer. She might not have magic, but she has powe, heart, and that all-important common sense and she has a mean right hook when needed (just ask Lanta).”

“There’s little I understand about your religion, about why you would choose a life of fear and of pain over a world of life and light and beauty and an afterlife of joy and oneness. Because life is hard, aye, but it isn’t brutal. Brutal’s what we do to each other. Hard is what the seasons do to us.”-Anna Stephens, Darksoul

Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub says: Clerics are probably the class that I have the least experience with. However, Melisandre from George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series comes to mind. Her deity is called the Lord of Light and, to be honest, she really weirded me out.

Druid: Druids are representative of nature. They get their power- healing, magical spells, etc.- from either the land itself or from a nature deity. They can even shift into an animal form.

I love Bees and Books’ take on druids: “Were the Animorphs a huge part of your childhood? Those tattered, much loved paperbacks certainly were a staple in all of the school libraries I visited.
Prepare yourselves for a Big Brain moment but the Animorphs were just like Druids in D&D. Take the primary power of an Animorph: the ability to morph into a creature they have seen and touched, thereby acquiring the DNA of the creature permanently. The Animorph in question then can use that shape for morphing at any time, though they are limited to the time period they can stay in shift otherwise they may become stuck as that creature. The Animorph power (given to them by the alien Andalites) is similar to a class feature of the D&D Druid, namely the Wildshape feature. Wildshape allows Druids to transform into a creature that they have seen–as opposed to touch/acquire DNA from. This mechanic limits Druids to only creatures from their region, or that they see while on their adventures at the DM’s discretion. Additionally, there are limitations that lift over time as the Druid levels up such as not being able to transform into flying or swimming creatures, and the difficulty rating that Druids can transform up to. It’s relatively easy to transform into a rat, but it takes a while before a Druid can be a giant eagle. These limitations for both Druids and Animorphs mean that they can really only transform into creatures they have access to, and have to be clever when thinking about what to transform into for fighting and other adventures.
More experienced Druids also gain additional features, depending on their Druid Circle, that can boost their abilities while in Wildshape, increase the time they can be shifted, or broaden the options for what they can shift into. Similarly, as the Animorphs grow and learn their abilities in the books they become more proficient in shifting, and even find ways around tricky situations such as getting stuck in shift.”

Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub weighs in: Allanon from the Shanara series by Terry Brooks is a pretty good example of a typical druid.

Meet the contributors:

The Swordsmith is a wonderful blog focusing on fantasy literature. The posts are full of detail and so well-written! I highly suggest checking out The Swordsmith anytime you’re looking for a great new book to check out. You won’t be sorry!

Ricardo Victoria is the author of The Tempest Blades fantasy series. Book one, The Withered King, (which I highly recommend reading), is available now. Book two, The Cursed Titans will be released this summer and is available for pre-order on Amazon.

Beneath a Thousand Skies talks about all things nerdy on her blog, including books and Dungeons and Dragons. A perfect haven for those with an eye toward imaginative books, Beneath a Thousand Skies is definitely a blog to follow.

Geeky Galaxy is a great blog that covers a bit of everything, from book reviews to thoughts on book-to-movie adaptations. Her content is always fun to read, and her writer’s voice is a fantastic!

Bees and Books is a delightful blog, and one of my go-to’s for fantasy opinions. Bees and Books’ posts are so unique and always give me something to mull over.


Author Guest Post: Jason and Rose Bishop

Today I’m pleased to welcome Jason and Rose Bishop, authors of the Storm’s Rising series.

It is a story of a world torn apart and those who vow to see it healed again. It’s a story of love, scarred by centuries of tragedy and sorrow. It is a story of redemption – for our characters, for the races of Cyrradon, and for us.

THE BEGINNING

“Just throw your story up into outer space and see what happens!”

We were at the end of our wits. We were frustrated. We were feeling like we’d put so much work into our story, and we had so much more to tell…and no publishers could see the potential. How does anyone get through the minefield of query letters, endless rejections, and the carnival funhouse swarming with vanity publishers and scam artists, with scarcely a hint of a genuine soul among them. Add to it an unhealthy disdain for publishing independently, and there’s the opening chapter to our dream of becoming famous epic fantasy authors in a nutshell.

We’d been working on the story together for nearly two decades. Imagine it: a married couple, with typical married couple issues, trying to write different parts of a story alongside each other, then editing the other’s work. It was a situation ripe with opportunity for enriching and strengthening our love for one another…or quite possibly becoming something that drove us apart.

On that fateful Valentine’s Day in early 2020, though, Paul (the gentleman quoted above) spoke into our souls and redirected us from focusing on the past to being inspired about the future. I think we’re both glad it turned out the way it did. We took his advice, got over ourselves, and launched our first book into the indie heavens.

THE STORY

(With minimal spoilers) Our tale begins with a pair of elven sisters, Dia and Mea, who despite being twins are as different from one another as the meanings of their names. While on a hunt near the boundaries of the elven Ghreyewood, the sisters wander too close to the human-owned Yeoman’s Wood, and (tiny spoiler) Mea is captured. But she has unwisely brought with her a piece of their history, a tie to the legacy left for them by their mother: a brooch carrying a secret even Mea and Dia are not fully aware of.

In the nearby city of Granite Hedge, a young human thief named Lendil awakens in his flat in Gutterside when his drunkard father comes home, and Lendil recalls with disgust how far the family has fallen. His father was once a knight, a personal friend to the king, a hero about whom stories were told and songs sung. To see him like this, and his once noble mother now turned to late night carousing and whoring, is too much for him to take. A secret tragedy tore them apart years ago; a thing so painfully obvious but so long unspoken that it makes every moment pretending to be a family a lie. In one final tear-filled plea, Lendil comes closer than ever to getting an answer from his parents but fails and ends up leaving in search of his own answers and his own life.

The story begins to unfold when Lendil crosses paths with Dia in the company of two half-elf cousins later that morning. Unbeknownst to each other, they carry pieces to a puzzle none of them truly knew existed. And the answers impel them down a dark road into a world of deception, into struggles against powers they never thought to confront, toward destinies they couldn’t possibly have dreamed awaited them.”

Published in May 2020, our first novel in the Storm’s Rising series,The Call, tells the tale of Lendil, Dia, and the half-elves Antonio and Derek, seeking answers to the tragedies of their past, and discovering their paths to those answers lie alongside one another. 

It’s a coming-of-age story, a story of people dragged from simple lives to the front lines of a battle between evil kings and dark mages and the gods themselves. 

It’s a story about the breaking of the world and its restoration to the balance envisioned by Aralieth, its creator. 

It’s a story of redemption.

…And this is only the beginning.

THE SAGA

We are proud and thrilled to have published four full-length novels that follow our main characters through many trials and dangers, leading them to learn so much more about the events that brought them here, and what they must face before the end. Our story and world are richly layered with history and subculture, with very few things actually as they appear. There are mages and priests, dark fiends and ancient wyrms, underground societies and bloody cults, kings, politicians, merchant lords, covert agents and assassins. There are lands far and wide to be travelled, diverse cultures to be explored, mysteries and prophecy to be unraveled, vile horrors to be overcome, and battles to be fought.

We’re still not famous epic fantasy authors, but there’s more to it than that. My wife and I continue to write together. And though our interactions in that processes continue to evolve, we’re learning more about each ourselves and coming closer to understanding each other with each chapter. Maybe one day we’ll write a book about all the things this journey has taught us! As I said, it’s a story of redemption.

On a larger scale, we’re accomplishing our mission: we’re telling the story in our hearts, the story we would love to read, and we’re sharing that magic with others. One reader—one you—at a time.

🙚☸🙘


If you’ve read any of our works, please RATE and REVIEW them! It takes only a few moments to give a fair rating and say a few words about what touched you from our world. You’ll be blessing us more than you may know.! If you enjoyed our post, please share by forwarding, reposting, retweeting, liking, subscribing, and recommending to others! We couldn’t do this without you!

Happy Adventures!

Jason and Rose Bishop

Epic Fantasy Authors at Legends of Cyrradon

Visit our WEBSITE

Latest release: Storm’s Rising Book 4: Eye of the Witch

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