Greetings and Salutations!

Welcome to the longest-running* yet least-read** blog on the internet! Here you'll find me writing about all the things that I write about, which strikes me, just now, as somewhat recursive. In any case, enjoy :)

* not true
** probably true

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

2016: What to expect, writing-wise, from moi

First off, there are two more covers to reveal in the Amra Thetys reboot, but instead of showing them here, I'll just direct you Ragnarok's Amra Thetys page. Luscious, ain't they?

So in 2016, Book 4 of the Amra Thetys series will be released (The Thief Who Wasn't There), probably sometime around September. The other books will be re-released March-ish? When I know, I'll certainly tell you!

In addition, here's what I've got on my plate, and hope to accomplish in 2016:

I've already started on the fifth book in the Amra Thetys series, but realistically, it won't see publication in 2016 considering book 4's late release. I don't have a title yet, clever or otherwise, unless "The Thief Who Did Something" counts.

I've got two urban fantasies that I'd like to get out of my system, one set in Singapore and the other in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. They share Southeast Asia as a setting, so I might well put one out under a pen name. I'll let the market decide which I should turn into a series, if it comes to that.

I'll be publishing at least two Amra Thetys novelettes, and hopefully more, to fill in the long lag between books 1-3 re-release and book 4's release. The first is called "How To Make A Killing In Kirabor"and is set before Amra met Holgren, when she was still fairly new to Lucernis. The second will likely be a peek into Holgren's past, just to balance things out. Or if the writing gods smile, I might manage to write a little series of interconnected novelettes focusing on Amra's actual thieving exploits.

I've got a short story in the works set after the events of Amra 4, so I'd best say not much about it, other than that it follows the fates of a few minor characters from books 3 and 4. If you liked Keel, you'll probably like this story, though :D

I'm also committed to finishing a very different kind of fantasy tale this year, for personal reasons. It's called "All That Glitters." This one is a lot more intimate, and it goes back to fantasy's fairy tale roots as inspiration rather than sword & sorcery action/adventure. It's bittersweet.

I'm currently cleaning up the mess I made of the Sword Monk 2: Weaving Steel. I'll re-release that one when I am satisfied it won't embarrass me to do so. When I released it originally, I must have been out of my mind. I was definitely sleep deprived and emotionally low, but that's really no excuse. I'm fixing it, and I will prod Amazon to push the updated version to those kind souls who bought it the first time around.

If there's still some free time (ha!) I've got lots of other projects I could be getting on with. I've been threatening for years to write a sequel for Waste Land, my free sci fi story that does so well at the iBookstore. I've made several stabs at it, but haven't been satisfied. It's a difficult story. Maybe it just hasn't fully germinated in my subconscious yet.

And that, as they say, is enough to be getting on with for 2016.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Cover reveal #2: The NEW Thief Who Spat in Luck's Good Eye

Behold! (that's me trying to make an eye joke)

The second Shawn King cover for the series re-release. When I first saw the covers I told him they were so good I wanted to eat them. His response was, paraphrased, 'I don't approve, but you do you.'

The Thief Who Spat in Luck's Good Eye by Michael McClung

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Cover Reveal #1: The NEW Thief Who Pulled on Trouble's Braids

So as you folks know, the Amra Thetys series has been picked up by Ragnarok Publications and will be re-released this year. It'll be available to bookstores and libraries and suchlike, even!

As part of this new chapter in the life of the series, the books have gotten a new cover treatment, thanks to Shawn King, cover designer extraordinaire!

Here is the new cover for "Trouble's Braids" just to give you a taste :)

The Thief Who Pulled on Trouble's Braids by Michael McClung

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Hard post

There may be a few of these over the next few weeks. We'll see.

This one has to do with Sword Monk #2 - Weaving Steel, which was recently released on Amazon.

Frankly, I think it sucks, so I'm pulling it.

Longer form is like this: I got in a rush to complete the instalment before the preorder was due to go live and released a book I'm not proud of. I should have delayed it.

For those who bought it, I apologize. When it's up to a standard that is acceptable, I will post a link to a free copy here on the blog alongside SM #1.

Sorry guys. Won't happen again. I'd rather people were unhappy that they had to wait for something good than disappoint.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Genre and same-old same-old: random pondering

Occasionally I see reviews (not my own yet) that say something to the effect of "while this story doesn't bring anything new to the genre..." and it always gets me to thinking. Is it the default opinion out there of reviewers that a genre story should always be pushing boundaries? And if so, when did that happen? I sort of understand the mentality when it comes to sci fi. I mean, really the whole genre is about pushing boundaries, or at least can be legitimately be seen in that light. But for fantasy,  I've never seen the reinvention of the genre as a critical function of the writers of said genre. And yet, change, carefully applied, can be a breath of fresh air in a stale genre.

Tropes vs cliches

Now to be sure, I'm not talking about cliche'd writing being okay. I'm personally sick of farm boys who are destined to blah blah, at least in adult fiction (juvenile fiction is another matter. Those kinds of stories are important to young readers, in that starting with someone they have a chance of identifying with hooks them as lifelong readers. But even juvenile fantasy could use some diversifying). I'm not saying no one should write that kind of story anymore, but I am saying it's such a tired trope that it has become a cliche. And when a trope becomes a cliche, the writer is almost obligated to bring a twist to it so that it has new life for the reader.

But fantasy tropes, especially in sub-genres, aren't something that can be dispensed with or in my opinion even messed with over-much, else you risk writing something that's missing what the reader came to the book for in the first place. You have to respect what came before and change only what is necessary to tell your story, the story that only you can write.

(I'm gonna talk about my own writing now for a minute, simply because I know it best)

Take Amra Thetys, for example. I love Sword & Sorcery. But I wanted to avoid many of the tropes that had become cliches. The two main characters of the series do not sling swords. They are not barbarians. They do not delight in battle. One is a female thief and the other is a mage who doesn't particularly like magic. And yet their adventures, even if I do say so myself, are often every bit as insanely gory and over the top weird as anything Conan or Fafhrd and the Mouser got up to.

Or my new series, the Sword Monk. Here we have a main character whose skill with a sword borders on caricature, but what defines him is his wrestling with his faith. We also have an antagonist who starts, at least notionally, as a damsel in distress, but who has taken the idea of empowerment so much to heart that she verges on becoming a monster. And yet this series is even more true to its pulp S&S roots than Amra Thetys.

I suppose my point is this: Sometimes there is no reason to change what works. I would be ecstatic to read a newly discovered Conan story. But sometimes it's awesome to read things with a new spin.

And sometimes it's not what you add to a genre story, but what you (carefully) cut away that makes for a good read.

Friday, August 14, 2015

A craft post

Recently I received an email from a reader (hi Steven!) who is in the process of wrestling his own first novel into some sort of of obedience. He wondered what sort of plotting techniques I used. He mentioned snowflake methods and beat sheets and other assorted alchemies that I have heard of, but know nothing about beyond the fact of their existence.

Not being one to waste words that can be reused, I thought I would excerpt my reply here, for those who might be interested in how I make the alphabet turn into a novel:

I generally write from a character base rather than a plot base. I know that sounds weird considering the kind of stuff I write, but bear with me here.

Because as a reader I get serious attention deficit when I don't care about characters, I try really hard to make everybody in the story interesting for me to write about in some way, either through personality, motivation or circumstance. I figure if they're interesting to write about, then they stand a better chance not to be boring to read about. And because as a writer I kill any desire to actually write a book by outlining it, that leaves me moving through the darkness of plot, as Cory Doctorow sort-of said, with a flashlight. Just enough light to see what I need to in order to keep moving.

I start with a beginning (the closest I can get to the point where the Rube Goldberg device swings into action) (ok ok, the inciting event) in mind, and a vague notion of what kind of ending I want, and maybe a scene or three of "that would be frigging awesome/horrible hahaha." and that's it in the way of plotting for me.

What I DO do is take pains at the scene/sequel level to keep the tension at an appropriate, er, level. I make sure each scene has a question to be answered (does the character get what they want in this scene?) and I make sure that the answer is almost never yes. Yes, but... No... No, and furthermore... are the stock answers. How rough the answers are for the pov character depends on how far along the story is, of course. Since I generally write 60-80k books, it's not hard to gauge if the tension has gone off the boil. Or, uh, 'peaked' way too early.

But the main thing isn't really the scenes, but the sequels. That's where the character has to count the cost of the previous scene, be it in confusion, frustration, rage, humiliation, or ever-popular blood. That's where the character's character is revealed. That's where the writer's greatest chance lies in snaring the reader and convincing them to care about the *next* scene. Lather, rinse, repeat until you get to the climax, and the answer to the overarching story question.

Then, when I've got a manuscript that's got all the moving parts of a book, I go back and do all the usual editing stuff, with a special emphasis on cutting anything that makes my eyes glaze over. I'm pretty brutal about it. I pay for this in terms of world-building, but the reward is a more propulsive reading experience. There are no non-utilitarian bells or whistles, however pleasing their sound might be. This is also a risk/reward scenario inherent in writing 1st person pov. If the character doesn't know or care about something, it can be difficult to bring it up in general conversation without resorting to the dreaded info dump. So I work around it or I do without.

And there you have it. Except I'm gonna add more to my original thoughts:

I'm the youngest of three kids. My brother's six years older, and my sister eight years older. Also we moved around a lot, so I never made all that many friends. Despite these handicaps, I would, without fail every birthday and Christmas, beg and plead for board games requiring multiple players. I have no idea why.

I played a lot of board games by myself, against myself. I still occasionally play chess against myself. Yeah, I know.

To bring this back around to plot, I don't know if I'd say I plot unconsciously so much as I take on the role of the protagonists' unseen, Moriarity-esque opponent. Scene by scene, they make their moves in a way that fits their personality and situation, and then I deliberate on how their plans can be frustrated in the most interesting way. It really is a move-by-move sort of thing, for me.

Sure, there's a maguffin. There's always a maguffin. Who killed Corbin, does Thagoth really hold the secret of immortality, who sent Borold's noggin... but when I start the book, I honestly don't know the answers. Sometimes, maybe even every time, the answers become less important as the book rolls along and the deeper plot is revealed. The original inciting event and the ostensible story question is really just a crowbar to get Amra out of her door and into the story. Because as far as Amra is concerned, an adventure can go, uh, pleasure itself. It's like the "rules" for survival in 28 Days Later -- never do x... unless you got no choice.

Also, when I say 'deeper plot is revealed,' I mean revealed to me, as I write it. Now granted, some of this stuff comes from the vague, hazy series plot that I keep in a dusty corner of my head. There is an endgame here; ultimately this is all about Amra vs the 8fold goddess. But again, I think in terms of character. I know the 8fold's story, what she/they want, and why she/they want it. But the road traveled so far in the first 4 books is all that has been mapped. I know the destination, I can see it like Mt Fuji in the distance. There's no way I can walk there in a straight line, though, because I don't know what the terrain is between here and there. And I don't want to know; not until I write it.

Why? Because I write fantasy for much the same reason I read it. I want to be amazed. I don't want to paint by numbers, even if I'm the one who put the numbers on the canvas to begin with. Because writing, no joke, is often hard, tedious work, and what makes it worthwhile to me is writing a scene that's freaking awesome (at least in my mind).


One of my favorite scenes to write in Trouble's Braids was Amra's duel with Red Hand, and her meeting with the Guardian directly after. I knew going into that scene that Amra couldn't win, just as I knew she'd still instigate it. But I didn't know until I wrote it that Heirus would take a knife in the throat just to fuck with Amra. As soon as he did it, I knew it was perfect, and I knew exactly how Amra would react.

I also didn't know until I wrote it that the Weeping Mother statue was the Guardian of the Dead. I'd thrown in a couple mentions of the statue previously, thinking it a good bit of scenery and a nice touch of world building. But as soon as Amra wiped the blood from the back of her hand onto the grass, there the Guardian was, and it was just right. It was  an incredibly satisfying moment for me, as a writer.

Maybe I'd have come up with it if I'd plotted out the book beforehand. But I genuinely doubt it.

So. I said once before a long time ago that birds don't teach other birds how to fly. But sometimes it's helpful to observe, even if it only leads a bird to say 'fuck that noise, I'd fall outta the sky if I tried to do it that way.'

I hope all this blathering serves at least as a negative example.

And that's enough blathering for one post.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Paranormal romance/erotica has invaded my beloved Sword & Sorcery, and I'm pissed off

First let me be clear: I have nothing against paranormal romance or erotica. Hell, I've got nothing against dinosaur erotica. If that's what scratches your itch, then scratch away, my friend.

No, what makes me angry is when authors of paranormal erotica/romance stuff their obviously non-Sword & Sorcery books into the Sword & sorcery categories at retailers such as Amazon, iBooks and Barnes & Noble.

Why does this yank my chain? Because what they're doing is a disservice both to readers and to fellow authors. Specifically, they are taking spots away from actual Sword & Sorcery authors and invading Sword & Sorcery best-seller lists. Because, you see, they list their dragon/werewolf/shifter BBW paranormal urban romance fantasy in as many categories as Amazon & other retailers will fall for. And if the book does reasonably well in paranormal romance lists, it's going to absolutely rock it in S&S lists, as Sword & Sorcery is a much smaller pool.

They're gaming the system via inappropriate use of keywords, making it harder for readers to find real S&S, and they're sucking the oxygen, discoverability-wise, out of the room for actual Sword & Sorcery writers.

And I'm angry about it.

Here is Lin Carter's definition of Sword & Sorcery:

We call a story sword and sorcery when it is an action tale, derived from the traditions of the pulp magazine adventure story, set in a land, age, or world of the author's invention--a milieu in which magic actually works and the gods are real--a story, moreover, which pits a stalwart warrior in direct conflict with the forces of supernatural evil.

And now I present to you a selection of the top 100 free in kindle Sword & Sorcery stories (UK):

Moon Chosen #1 (BBW Werewolf / Shifter Romance)

Shadow of the Moon #1 (Werewolf / Shifter Romance)

Healed by the Dragon: Part One (A Scottish Dragon-shifter Paranormal Romance) 

I'm not saying that Paranormal Romance can never also be classsifie.... who am I kidding? Yes, yes I am.

Paranormal Romance can never be cross-classified as Sword & Sorcery

Let me put this another way. I hope Jessie Donovan, Mac Flynn and all the other authors who are miscategorizing their books find this, and pay attention:

You have a dragon, a werewolf, a shapeshifter in your story? Maybe somebody who uses a sword? Maybe even some sorcery? 


But of course these authors already know that. That's what makes my blood boil. They're just trying to game the system and get a bestseller in a category--any category. They don't care.

So every time I find a Paranormal Fantasy in the Sword & Sorcery subcategory, I report it.

And so should you.