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Of Sex and Crocodiles

Image Place holder  of - 65Written by Brian Staveley

I can never quite decide if chocolatiers are visionaries or pranksters. A glance over some of the new flavors—hand-wrapped in birch bark, one bar roughly the same price as a thoroughbred horse—makes the mind spin: Hemlock and Blood, Tears and Wisteria, Lemongrass and Cod. I used to think this was all an elaborate hoax, that a cabal of malevolent chocolatiers was hidden away somewhere, cackling over the limitlessness of human folly.

Then I tried the blue cheese and dark chocolate confection from our local crafters of artisanal chocolate. Here’s the thing: I don’t even like blue cheese. Adding blue cheese to perfectly delicious dark chocolate struck me as heresy. Extremely delicious heresy, as it turns out. The unfortunate upshot is that I now spend my royalty checks on obscure flavors of chocolate instead of things like gas, or clothes for my son. The happier result is that I’ve been thinking a lot about the beauty of improbable mash-ups.

Musicians have been hip to this for ages, of course. Witness such unlikely couplings as Nelly and The BeeGees, The Eurythmics and the White Stripes, or one my personal favorites, Taylor Swift with Nine Inch Nails. My wife thinks mash-ups like these were devised in hell, but I could listen to them all day long. In fact, my writing of this piece was badly delayed by a careful review of a few dozen of my favorite mash-ups.

When I sat down to dream up my latest book, Skullsworn, I was torn between a few different ideas. I wanted to write a political thriller about an occupied city on the verge of revolution. But I also wanted to try my hand at romance, preferably romantic comedy. And then, I was quite keen to tell a story about some mysterious killers hiding in the wilds, slaughtering all who dared intrude on their domain. They seemed like three different books, but then I thought of the blue cheese and dark chocolate, I thought of Taylor Swift and Trent Reznor, and I thought, “The hell with it.”

So I wrote a novel that’s one part Predator, one part When Harry Met Sally, and one part Michael Collins. Also, I wanted a lot of music. Did I mention the main character is an assassin?

I had some apprehensions about this at first. I worried that the jokes would play poorly against the serious political backdrop, that all the knives and buckets of blood might dampen the romance. As Pyrre, the protagonist, observes at one point, “Artistic depictions of love tend to focus on softer subjects: lush lips, rumpled beds, the curve of a naked hip. Fewer crocodiles, certainly. Far less screaming.”

A funny thing happened, however, as I started writing. When juxtaposed, the various elements became more interesting to me, more complex. Love is always complicated, but it’s even more complicated when there’s a war brewing; the sex scenes aren’t just sex scenes, and every physical act is also a statement of religious conscience or political principle. Jokes take on a new significance when everyone joking is about to die. And monsters (human or otherwise) start to look different in the presence of so much joy and delight.

It’s not for me to judge whether it all works or not, but I loved writing this book. And now, at the very least, I hope the chocolatiers might now let me in to some of their secret meetings.

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Sneak Peek: The Last Mortal Bond by Brian Staveley

The Last Mortal BondIn The Last Mortal Bond by Brian Staveley, the ancient csestriim are back to finish their purge of humanity; armies march against the capital; leaches, solitary beings who draw power from the natural world to fuel their extraordinary abilities, maneuver on all sides to affect the outcome of the war; and capricious gods walk the earth in human guise with agendas of their own.

But the three imperial siblings at the heart of it all–Valyn, Adare, and Kaden–come to understand that even if they survive the holocaust unleashed on their world, there may be no reconciling their conflicting visions of the future. Please enjoy this excerpt.

Chapter 1

Men the size of mountains plowed waist-deep through the world’s oceans. Polished blades—each one long enough to level cities—flashed sunlight. Boots crushed delicate coastlines to rubble, obliterated fishing towns, gouged craters in the soft, green fields of Sia and Kresh.

This is the way the world ends. This was Kaden’s first thought, staring down on the destruction from above.

(more…)

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Three Ekphrastic Dialogues; or NO DUAL WIELDING UNTIL BOOK THREE

The Providence of Fire by Brian Staveley
By Brian Staveley

SCENE ONE
Setting: Book One of the Epic Trilogy

In the first scene the WRITER is bright-eyed, fresh-faced, and recently showered, perhaps even wearing a jaunty blazer. The CHARACTER looks confused, wary, even a little frightened.

Character: Hey! Who are you?
Writer: I’m the writer. I made up your world. I made you up.
C: That’s impossible.
W: Amazing, right? But it’s true. That beard you have–I put it there. That mysterious dude over there–the one in the black cloak; I made him up. That suspicious ancient ruin; I made that up, too.
C: Whoa. Why don’t I…know more stuff? Why don’t I have a better sword? Why can’t I do anything awesome?
W: Like what?
C: I don’t know. Call down a rain of fire on my foes. Maybe I could defeat a dozen knights single-handed?
W: Nice try, kid. This is book one. You can’t be too cool yet. Gotta leave room to grow.
C: Can I at least shave this stupid beard? It itches.
W: Nope.
C: You’re an asshole.
W: Good! You have spirit! You’re starting to get a life of your own!
C: If I have a life of my own, why can’t I shave my…hey! HEY! What the hell just happened?
W: Your house burned down. That guy in the black cloak did it.
C: You made him do it.
W: Sorry. Needed an inciting incident.
C: Well who the hell is he?
W: No way. This is book one. You don’t get to know that. I might not even know that.
C: I think I hate you.
W: Just don’t lose that spirit.

SCENE TWO
Setting: Book Two of the Epic Trilogy

The WRITER looks more disheveled than last time–slightly twitchy, slightly confused. The CHARACTER has a larger sword now. His hand rests comfortably on the pommel.

Character: I shaved my beard.
Writer: No! That’s not until…Fuck it. Fine. I’ve got other problems to deal with.
C: Also, that asshole in the black cloak. The one who burned down my house. He’s Algar Ka, the Dread Lord.
W: What? No. He’s not. He is most definitely not.
C: He totally is. It’s obvious. Should I kill him?
W: Of course you shouldn’t kill him! Are you insane? This is only book two. You’re not even supposed to know who he is yet.
C: Well I know who he is. He’s right there, and he’s not looking. I’m going to stick him with the sword.
W: NO! What do you think we’re going to do in book three? Eat lasagna and watch cartoons for six hundred pages?
C: Here goes…Wait. What just happened?
W: He’s gone.
C: What do you mean, gone?
W: Whisked away by a greater power.
C: By which you mean you. [Shakes head] Fine. Can I do something else awesome? Maybe I’ll defeat those lizard men over there.
W: Fine, fight the damn lizard men, but you can’t be too awesome.
C: Check out this double-sword flip attack…
W: NO. No dual-wielding in book two. No flips in book two. Did you forget that there’s a whole other book after this? Can you please make this fight look difficult? It would actually be ideal if it looked perfectly commensurate with your growing confidence and abilities.
C: Sounds contrived.
W: DO NOT SAY CONTRIVED. Ginny said contrived.
C: Who’s Ginny?
W: I don’t know. Someone on Twitter. She didn’t like book one.
C: Whatever. Contrived. I said it. This is contrived…Ouch! What the hell was that?
W: Lizard man spear. In your leg.
C: The lizard men don’t have spears, you asshole.
W: That one did. Anyway, it’s book two. You needed to suffer a setback. There you go. Setback. Now go get the mysterious cloaked guy.
C: You mean Algar…
W: [Singing loudly] MYSTERY! MYSTERIOUS!
C: I know who he is…
W: Shut up and get him.
C: Where is he?
W: [Whistles innocently] Other end of the continent.
C: The other end of the…why?
W: This is book two. You need to do some walking. Everybody walks a lot in book two.
C: I really hate you.

SCENE THREE
Setting: Book Three of the Epic Fantasy Trilogy

The WRITER looks crazed, even a little demented. Hair is unwashed. Clothes are unwashed. There is a coffee pot filled with stale pizza crusts next to the computer monitor. The CHARACTER, on the other hand, has never looked better. The leg is healed, leaving a nasty scar that does nothing to slow him down. His stare is so hard it might have been hammered out on an anvil.

C: Ah, the Golden Western Sea. Almost as impressive as the Mountains of Night.
W: What? You saw the Mountains of Night?
C: [Patiently] Yes. Chapter twenty-two of Book Two. I defeated the Ice Demons there?
W: Right. Shit! [Scribbles madly on a notecard while muttering] He already saw the Ice Demons? That means none of this works. This whole chapter doesn’t work!
C: Hey, there’s an evil army over there.
W: What? Who are they?
C: You let them loose in Book Two. Said something about needing to set-up the big, set-piece battle.
W: Holy hell, I did. But….
C: Don’t worry, I’m on it.
W: You’re going to attack the army alone?
C: Sure–I got the blessing of the goddess. Plus this orcish gizmo that fits on here, like this. Plus, double battle-axes.
W: NO DUAL….
C: It’s book three.
W: What?
C: I said, it’s book three. I can dual wield now. I can do all the stuff now.
W: [Reverently, to self] It’s book three. We can do all the stuff.
C: There. I routed that evil army. Wait, what is that?
W: [Cackling madly] ANOTHER EVIL ARMY! It’s book three!
C: [Sighs. Annihilates second evil army.] Now what?
W: Kiss your love interest!
C: Did that in book two.
W: Right. Right! Have sex with your love interest! Here–have a whole chapter, just for that.
C: Cool….
W: Now fight these guys!
C: I’m still….
W: Now fight those guys!
C: Fine….
W: Destroy that fortress.
C: Don’t you think there’s been enough violence?
W: IT’S BOOK THREE!
C: Good point. Done. You want me to get Algar Ka now?
W: THERE ARE TEN OF HIM AND HE’S UNKILLABLE.
C: I think you need to take a break.
W: HE’S A THOUSAND FEET TALL. AND GODS. AND MONSTERS. AND A TIDAL WAVE.
C: I’m unleashing the ancient powers.
W: UNLEASH THE ANCIENT POWERS. AND THOSE OTHER POWERS THAT ARE EVEN MORE ANCIENT–UNLEASH THOSE, TOO! IT’S BOOK THREE. UNLEASH IT ALL. IT’S BOOK THREEEEEEEEEEEE!
C: Done.
W: [Reeling.] Done?
C: It’s done. I did it. I won.
W: We won.
C: Well, you went sorta crazy while I did the work, but yes. Now I want to eat lasagna and snuggle my love interest. You should get some sleep.
W: Sleep? [Shakes head slowly, in a daze.] No sleep. I need to start on the PREQUEL.
C: I hate you.

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More from the January Tor/Forge newsletter:

2014 Goodreads Choice Awards Nominees

Lock In by John ScalziThe Emperor's Blades by Brian StaveleyWords of Radiance by Brandon SandersonThe Goblin Emperor by Katherine AddisonEarth Awakens by Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston

The nominees have been announced for the 2014 Goodreads Choice Awards and fiveTor titles have made the cut!

 In the Science Fiction category:

Earth Awakens by Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston

Lock In by John Scalzi

In the Fantasy category:

The Emperor’s Blades by Brian Staveley

Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

In the Debut Goodreads Author category:

The Emperor’s Blades by Brian Staveley

Voting is open now! You can check out all the lists here.

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