Story Inspirations -Venice

I’ve written before about how travel has inspired many of my story ideas.  Now that Mountain of Daggers is just about to arrive, I want to share how much Venice Italy has influenced it.  In fact, if wasn’t for Venice there would be no Black Raven series.  I’d originally written a single story, Birth of the Black Raven, and intended it to be a stand-alone.  Then in February 2006, my wife and I honeymooned in Italy, spending the majority of our time in Florence and Venice.  When I returned, I immediately started writing new adventures, starting with Race for the Night Ruby.

Venice CanalsCanals:  You simply can’t talk about Venice without addressing its most notable attribute.  If a movie is set in Venice, you can be pretty much guaranteed a boat chase (and a moment when a speedboat cuts a gondola in half). The canals have served as the city’s primary means of transportation for a thousand years. And while they’re no longer the open sewers as they were once, you wouldn’t want to take a dip in one. But they’re as beautiful and as haunting as can be imagined. The city of Nadjancia has a canal system like Venice and is the setting for both Race for the Night Ruby and the Ferrymaster’s Toll.

 

 

Venice StreetsStreets:  While the canals are Venice’s best known feature, the streets themselves are a bizarre maze-work of narrow lanes. There are no straight lines in Venice, and trying to walk from one place to another will quickly get you lost, even if you have a map. Many of these streets, even main ones, are so narrow that  I could easily touch both sides at the same time.  You can see this in Race of the Night Ruby.

 

 

 

Masquerade BallsMasks:  Venice is known for its beautiful masks.  They give a sense of mystery. The veils worn in Race for the Night Ruby and The Ferrymaster’s Toll were my own spin on Venetian masks. In 2012 we returned to Venice for Carnival and attended some of the masquerade balls. Shortly after, I wrote Temptation’s Proposal, which centers around a masked ball.

 

Venice Island of DeadIsola di San Michele:  This walled island serves as the city’s cemetery.  The idea of an “Island of the Dead” caused me to write The Ferrymaster’s Toll.

 

 

Venice HorsesHorses of Saint Mark:   These four bronze horses decorate the front of Saint Mark’s Basilica.  They have a facinating history of being looted from Constantinople, then by Napoleopon, and then returned to Venice.  The part that stuck with me most was that they once had ruby eyes (stolen by Napoleon). The idea of a statue overlooking a street with ruby eyes appeared in City Beneath the Kaisers and The Noble Hunter.

 

 

 

 

Of course the single most influential place was the Doge’s Palace, which I dedicated an entire post to.

Venice is one of the most beautiful places that I’ve had the pleasure to visit, and I’m excited to share what stories that that single city has inspired.  I hope you all enjoy them and I hope maybe they’ll inspire someone to visit the city that brought them to you.

-Seth

 

 

Mountain of Daggers Cover Revealed

In February 2008 the Black Raven made his first appearance in Flashing Swords magazine. MikO sketched the very first picture of Ahren in that issue and the feeling of getting to see him for the first time was incredible.  Several very talented artists have drawn and painted him since, but now, seven years later, Alex Raspad has given me the most spectacular of them all.  Between Alex’s beautiful art, and Shawn King’s cover design, I’m proud to reveal the final cover for Mountain of Daggers.

Mountain Cover Front

I love this cover. Absolutely. Love. It.

I want to thank Alex Raspad, Shawn King, and everyone at Ragnarok Publications for this.  They’ve done an amazing job and I look forward to sharing Ahren’s adventures when Mountain of Daggers comes out next month.

Mountain Cover Side

 

 

2014 in Review

2014 was a spectacular year.

Dämoren was released in April and reception was incredible.  I’ve been blown away at how well it’s sold and how many wonderful reviews have been written.  Thank you, everyone.

My wife and I purchased a new house, and I got to experience all the joys of moving, and seeing just how much crap we’ve accumulated over the years before purging it.  The house is great, and no doubt it will provide years of projects, cursing, and trips to the hardware store.

I finished Dämoren’s  sequel, Hounacier, and Ragnarok has signed it. As of now, everything is good for a March 2015 release.

I also wrote three new short stories. Two of which are Valducan tales, as well as a new Black Raven adventure.  So far one of those has sold, and I’m optimistic on the others.

Speaking of the Black Raven, Ragnarok Publications picked up my two Black Raven collections from Rogue Blades and those are both slated for 2015.  The first, Mountain of Daggers, will also be coming out March 2015 (March is going to be a busy month for me, to be sure.)

Campaign Coins is almost done with the Tyenee medallions for my Black Raven release.  Here’s a picture of the final 45mm versions alongside the original 35mm I showed before.

 Tyenee

I’ll be posting up ways to score them as we get a little closer to release date. If reception is good, I hope to make all the different colors from the books available.

I’ve also started writing out the first few parts for the third Valducan novel Ibenus. It’s still in the beginning phases, but everything is coming together pretty smoothly. 

Aside from moving, releasing a novel, and writing a novel, 2014 has also been spent reading.  I read a lot last year.

 My 2014 reading list:

Sword Sisters – Tara Cardinal & Alex Bledsoe
The Black Company – Glen Cook
Nameless: The Darkness Comes – Mercedes M. Yardley
Those Poor, Poor Bastards – Tim Marquitz, J.M. Martin, Kenny Soward
The Ten Thousand Things – Tim Marquitz, J.M. Martin, Kenny Soward
The Devil Rides Out – Dennis Wheatley
Gateway to Hell – Dennis Wheatley
Storm Front – Jim Butcher
Fool Moon – Jim Butcher
No Sympathy for the Wicked – Joseph Albert King
Night of the Long Knives – Fritz Leiber
Hour of the Dragon – Robert E. Howard
Vampire$ – John Steakley
Dune – Frank Herbert
Demon Squad: Armageddon Bound – Tim Marquitz
Apocalyptic Montessa and Nuclear Lulu: A Tale of Atomic Love – Mercedes M. Yardley
The Art of War – Sun Tzu
A Princess of Mars – Edgar Rice Burroughs
The Gods of Mars – Edgar Rice Burroughs
The Warlord of Mars – Edgar Rice Burroughs
The Forty First Wink – James Walley
The Dark Tower 1: The Gunslinger – Stephen King
The Dark Tower 2: The Drawing of the Three – Stephen King
The Dark Tower 3: The Waste Lands – Stephen king
The Dark Tower 4: Wizard and Glass – Stephen King
The Dark Tower 5: Wolves of the Calla – Stephen King
Imora – Daniel S. Connaughton
Legion: Skin Deep – Brandon Sanderson

 Overall, 2014 was a fantastic year.  Thank you everyone for all your support. With three upcoming releases, I hope to make 2015 even better.

-Seth

Hounacier, The Black Raven, and Other News

After some unfortunate delays, Mountain of Daggers has found a new home over at Ragnarok Publications and should be coming out this  March. To celebrate the Black Raven’s  appearance, I have a little sneak peek of something the lovely folks at Campaign Coins has been working on with me.

Dagger Sample

 

Look familiar?  If not, here’s another look at the Mountain of Daggers art by Didier Normand.

MOD - Cover art

That’s right!  We’re making Tyenee medallions!

Now the sample above is just a prototype.  We’ve got a couple little tweaks to do before the final version is ready, but that’s pretty much what it will look like. Once they’re ready, and we get a little closer to release day, I’ll let everyone know where to find them and I’ll be giving some away.  For the moment, I can’t easily express how incredible it is to see something that I made up become real.  I love it.

On the Hounacier-front, we’re looking good.  My editor, Tim Marquitz, was pleased with it, and everything appears on schedule for a Spring 2015 release.  I’ll be posting more on this later as things get closer.

In the meantime, this morning I received a wonderful review from author Caleb Pirtle III over at Venture Galleries.  In it he says,

“Seth Skorkowsky has written urban fantasy, to be sure.

But his vision of the genre takes on a whole new look. He sees it with a different pair of eyes, the kind of eyes that Tolkien used when he looked into the mystical troubles strangling The Middle Earth.”

You can read the whole review HERE.

Also, I have a Guest Blog over at RisingShadow.net all about monsters.  So drop by and check it out.

-Seth

Journey of The Black Raven

 

The upcoming release of Mountain of Daggers is a dream come true.  A dream I once feared would never happen.  But like it’s titular hero, it has overcome all obstacles.  In honor of its release, I wanted to share the Black Raven’s journey.

The Black Raven started with a little short story I penned.  Birth of the Black Raven follows a sailor\pickpocket named Ahren who is framed for murder by a nobleman.  Trapped in a foreign city, injured, and unable to speak the language, he finds himself under the care of a crime lord.  Ahren manages a level of vengeance, but the cost is that he’s pressed into the service of the Tyenee, an international crime syndicate.  I intentionally left an open ending to the story, and swore I would never continue it as a series (obviously, I was wrong).

A year or more later, I went to Venice.  While there, I was inspired to write a thieving story, and the Black Raven was the perfect hero for it.  The story would take place years after the first, and Ahren would now be a master thief.  Race for the Night Ruby is still one of my favorite Black Raven adventures.  After it was completed, I had no choice but to continue the series.  I was hooked.

Porvov300dpi4x6My plan was to publish a series of adventures in various fantasy magazines, and anthologies, then eventually publishing a collection.  I submitted Birth of the Black Raven to a few different magazines, but no one wanted it.  Eventually, I submitted it to Flashing Swords Magazine.  The editor, Crystalwizard, sent me a message saying that she loved it, but the open ending (the one that I thought was brilliant) would just leave the reader feeling unfulfilled.  She suggested I either change the ending or write a series.  I told her that I had a series planned and had six stories already.  Intrigued, she requested the second story.  I did, and she sent me a contract almost immediately.  The Porvov Switch was published in Flashing Swords #9 in 2008.  MikO’s illustration of Ahren wasn’t exactly true to how I imagined him, but that didn’t change the joy of seeing my first character illustration.

Reluctant Assassin-color

Flashing Swords purchased six stories total.  The second, The Reluctant Assassin, was the featured story for Flashing Swords #11.  I got to work with artist Johnney Perkins for both the cover and interior picture.  That was a real treat.

Crystalwizard introduced me to editor Jason Waltz to discuss publishing a Black Raven collection after all six stories had hit print.  Things were moving so much faster than I had dreamed, and I was fervently writing out new adventures to fill the collection.

FS12After Flashing Swords #11, the magazine sold to Daverana Enterprises.  After a slow start, issue #12 came out 4 months late.  The interior was poorly laid out, and it wasn’t marketed very well.  Even my contributor’s copy incorrectly has Issue #10 printed on the cover.  That issue contained Race for the Night Ruby, and I was terribly disappointed that my cherished story had such a bad run.

Flashing Swords #13 looked pretty good.  Ahren’s adventure, The Ferrymaster’s Toll, was to be the featured story.  Sadly, Flashing Swords went under before it hit print.  It was a good magazine.  I’ll miss it.

However, I do have a proof image of the cover that never was.  flashswordscovermockup13

Meanwhile, Jason and I continued to plan for our Black Raven Collection under Rogue Blades Entertainment.  I had 13 stories, and we’d decided on the collection’s title.  We chose Mountain of Daggers, which is the symbol stamped on the medallions of the Tyenee. I’d also sold a 14th adventure, The Second Gift, to the Time in a Bottle Anthology.  

Then, at Dragon Con, Jason met with the editor of a large publisher that was interested in a sword and sorcery rogue. Because the larger publisher would be a better opportunity for me, he selflessly pitched Mountain of Daggers to the editor (earning himself my sincere loyalty and gratitude) and they were interested. We sent the editor the first story, they liked it and requested the full manuscript.  Things looked promising.

Two years later, they still hadn’t made a decision on it.  Frustrated, I withdrew the submission at the 24-month mark.  Rogue Blades still wanted it, but said it would be a while before print.  So again, The Black Raven waited.

 And eventually it happened. Jason Waltz sent me a message saying that Rogue Blades was ready to roll with it. We decided that instead of just a single book of 90,000 words, to add the additional Black Raven stories I’d written in the meantime, and divide it into two collections of 70,000 words each.

The joy in seeing Didier Normand’s cover art for Mountain of Daggers was incredible. After four years, I didn’t believe I’d ever see it come.

Mountain Cover 1st Dr

We’ve already reviewed the concept sketches for the second collection, Sea of Quills, and it looks even better than the first.  I can’t wait to see the final version of it.

One of the first lessons I learned in the publishing industry is to be patient.  My very first short story took 30 months from the day it sold to the day it printed.  It’s just the nature of the beast, and I never hesitate to warn other authors that patience isn’t a virtue, it’s essential.

The Black Raven’s journey isn’t a story of setbacks and defeats.  It’s a story of publishing.  Sometimes things move in a whirlwind and the author is racing to keep up to meet deadlines, but most often it’s waiting.  For any new authors out there, please remember that.  Be patient.  It will happen, but it can take time.

-Seth

 

Black Raven Revealed – February in Review

Hi All,

Well, the past few weeks have been extremely busy.  I’ve gone through a couple rounds of Dämoren revisions, and she’s looking pretty good.  There’s more editing and changes left to do, but it’s coming along very nicely.  Of course, novel revisions have eaten into a lot of my normal writing time, but I still found time to knock out Chapter 5 of Hounacier.  I’m about 25% through the first draft, so I’m pretty excited to see it shaping up.

But what gets me the most excited is this…

MOD - Cover artHiya, handsome

That, ladies and gentlemen, is the cover art for Mountain of Daggers, and I think artist Didier Normand did a fantastic job.

Ahren looks great, and that Tyenee pendant…wow.  I mean…WOW!  I love it.

I’m already discussing with a couple places the details for having that pendant made for real.  I can almost promise that myself and my editor, Jason Waltz, will be getting one.  That medallion is just too pretty not to exist.  Pricing, of course, will determine if other medallions will available, and if so, expect some contest prizes. 

The picture seems to be cut off though, doesn’t it?  What’s Ahren doing there?  What’s in his hand? If only the picture kept going, maybe wrapping around the rest of the book, we could see what he’s up to.

Oh wait, never mind, it totally does…

 

Mountain Cover 1st DrIs just a few short moments, three people will need to roll some Saving Throws

 

That picture makes me happy.  It makes me very, very happy.  I want to thank Rogue Blades Entertainment and Didier Normand for making that picture a reality. 

The last update I can give for the month is that last night I outlined my next Black Raven adventure.  Very Lovecraftian.  I can’t wait to start writing it out.

-Seth

 

Editing and Ice: A Summary of my January

Hi all,

The past month has been eventful.  Hounacier is coming along quite nicely.  I’ve broken the 20,000 word mark and am plugging away at a good speed.

Early in the month, Old Man Winter blessed our house with this little present.

StupidPipeBurstThe pipe says:  “Boooooshhhh!”

 It might not look like much, but that teeny tiny hole was quickly able to turn our downstairs into a small lake.  Fortunately, my wife was home at the time it blew, otherwise it might have destroyed our house.  The pipe itself went to an outside faucet, and yes, I had put one of those insulated covers on it.  The problem was that the people who built our home never really considered the possibility that Texas would get that cold, so they were a tad lax on installing anything that resembled wall insulation.  (It was the 1980’s then, a strange time when bathrooms were carpeted, and insulation was just a suggestion.  Both those issues have now been addressed.)

Dämoren revisions are underway.  So far, we’ve trimmed over 2,000 words.  Right now I’m just waiting for the next round.  Most authors I talk to really hate the editing process.  Not me.  I dig it.  My reasons for that could fill an entire blog post (Note to Self: Write a post about this), but the short of it is that stories look better after they’re professionally edited.  Yeah, it can hurt some, but so can all sorts of other things we do to make ourselves presentable.  I trust Tim Marquitz, and together we’re going to clean her up and make her shine.

The cover art for Mountain of Daggers is just about finished.  I saw it last week and absolutely love it.  There was just one minor change I requested before it’s complete.  Hopefully, I’ll get permission to share it soon.  Mountain of Daggers has been a long-time coming, and seeing the art actually gave me chills.  The focal point of the cover is a pendant depicting a mountain made of upturned daggers.  Seeing that symbol (drawn well, and not my own terrible sketches) was by far the greatest part.  There is a slight (98.42%) chance that I may have a pendant made for myself.

All in all, it’s been a good month (Except for that broken pipe part.  That part sucked).

-Seth

 

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Book in a Drawer

Back when I first started writing, I penned an amazing dark-fantasy called Dreams of Lost Souls.  It was the first of four in my Empire of Deceit series.  Coming in at 114,000 words, it took me just over two years to write.  Once finished, I immediately started on its sequel, Divine Liberation, while simultaneously trying to pitch the first book.

I attended a writer’s conference in Austin Texas, and learned how to query and pitch my masterpiece.  While there, I heard several authors and editors all lovingly discuss their books in a drawer.  For those who don’t know the term, a Book in a Drawer is an unsellable manuscript that never sees print and spends eternity living in a drawer (or in today’s case, on a hard drive).  Evidently, most authors have a cherished work that they keep hidden away (some authors have several).  They’re considered “practice novels.”

“Fools,” I thought.  “I’m not going to have an entire book that never gets published.  I’m going to sell this baby, and then I’m going to sell its sequels, spin-offs, movie rights, and have to buy a new house just to hold all the awards they’re going to earn.”<insert evil laugh>

No one bought it.  No one even asked for a full manuscript.  I wish I could tell you how many rejections I got, but I can’t.  I just stopped counting.

rejectedI found it to be a lot easier if I just stamped them myself.

But that didn’t stop me.  I kept writing.  I kept editing. I kept writing short stories that all took place in the same fantasy world I had written.  (The concept was to create a living world that has many stories and adventures going on, not just the one epic tale)

After several more years, I found myself at the FenCon 2011 Writer’s Workshop.  It was chaired by Editor Lou Anders, who had just won a Hugo.  It was going to be 3 days of peer reviews and one-on-one with one of the industry’s rock-stars.  I knew that once he read the first 10 pages, he’d be sold.

He wasn’t.  In fact, he tore it to Hell.  I was over 200,000 words into my series, and spent three days having Lou (who is a terribly awesome guy, by the way) patiently, but brutally explain that it was sheer crap.

Some of the other authors were understandably upset having their works shredded.  Strangely enough, I wasn’t upset at all.  I was relieved.  It felt like a huge burden had been lifted off my shoulders.  I not only knew my book was bad, I knew why it was bad.  I knew why theirs were bad.  And most importantly, I knew what an editor was looking for.

The final morning of the convention, I saw Lou quietly having breakfast.  I stopped by to thank him for all his help and tell him that he’d given me the courage to put my manuscript away and finally start on a story idea that I’d been bouncing around for the past few years.  Not wanting to be a bother, I tried to make it a real quick conversation.  Lou (I can’t stress enough what a nice guy he is) asked me to sit and we then just B.S.’d for half an hour.

When I told my wife that I’d finally given up on ever selling Empire of Deceit, she was horrified.  She thought I’d be crushed.  I simply told her that it was my practice novel, and it had taught me how to write.

The next week, I started Dämoren.

I met Lou again at an Agent/Editor Conference in 2013 while hocking a freshly-finished Dämoren.  I thanked him again for giving me the courage to start this new project.  We talked shop for a bit, then snuck off, grabbed a coffee, and discussed important matters like Batman and Sci-Fi TV shows.

My name is Seth Skorkowsky and I have a book in a drawer.  No you can’t read it.  But my novel Dämoren is about to be released by Ragnarok.  You can read that, instead.

Oh, and as far as those short-stories that took place in the same fantasy world as my never-to-be-released novel: You can check out The Mist of Lichthafen, Relàmpago, or my soon to be released Black Raven Series.

So for any aspiring novelists reading this: Good luck.  I hope you sell your first novel and fill a money bin with all the fortune you deserve.  I really mean that.  I’ll also hate you with jealousy, but it will be a loving hate.  However, if you don’t sell that first novel, don’t worry, you’re in good company.

ducktales-money-binI hope this is you.

-Seth

Story Inspirations – The Doge’s Palace

Every writer can name specific things they’ve seen, or read, that eventually appeared in one of their stories, either as a central plot-point or just atmosphere.  For me, the one place that held the most kernels of inspiration was the Doge’s Palace in Venice Italy.

I first visited it during my Honeymoon in 2006.  My wife and I were to take an all-day walking tour of the city.  It started extremely early one cold February morning, and we were on time in getting to the starting point.  Then, half-way there, we realized we’d left the tickets back at our hotel.  In a frenzy, we rushed back, grabbed the tickets, then ran across town to where the tour was (not an easy task, since there are no direct paths anywhere in Venice).  We missed the tour by five minutes.

Since we were up, we decided to make the most of it, and wandered into the Doge’s Palace.  We figured it would be two, maybe three hours, then we’d explore somewhere else.

We spent nearly the whole day there.

Later, many of the things I saw ended up in my fantasy stories.   Most I hadn’t taken pictures of at the time, but when we returned again in 2012, I made sure to snag some shots of the things that directly inspired me.

Mouth of TruthMouth of Truth:  Once upon a time, Venetians could denounce criminals by writing the lawbreaker’s name and crime on a note, then slipping it through the open mouth of this carved face.  Think of it as the original ‘Police Tip Line’.  I used a similar device in my story, ‘The Porvov Switch‘.  In it, I referred to the Mouth of Truth by a much less romantic name:  The Rat Hole.

 

 

 

 

 

Trapped BoxTrapped Box:  This nasty little box appears like any other casket for money or treasure.  However, the treasure this box holds is DEATH.  When opened, it fires 4 bullets simultaneously, two out the front, one out of the left and right sides.  I used a similar device in my story, ‘Race of the Night Ruby‘.

 

 

 

Trapped KeyTrapped Key:  The picture really doesn’t capture the mechanism involved, but the idea is quite devious.  The key is a trap.  When used, a button at the tip fires a spring-loaded spike out through the shaft and into the user’s hand.  Not enough to kill anyone, but definitely enough to ruin someone’s day and to identify who stole your key ring.  I used a similar device in ‘The Ferrymaster’s Toll‘.

 

 

 

 

Prison HallPrison Window:  There is a prison linked to the Doge’s Palace (which is a lot like having Gitmo being a wing of the White House), and while touring it, I saw these windows along the halls that peered into the different cells.  Normally, in TV and movies, cell windows are either set into the door, or look outside (where our hero inevitably befriends a bird or stares up at the moon).  These windows allow guards to easily observe what was going on inside the cells (useful for determining if the prisoner is hiding beside the door with a shank, waiting for you to open it).  In ‘The Raven’s Cage‘ I used a cell window like these as a central point.

 

 Prison Graffiti 2 Prison Graffiti 1Prison Graffiti:  With nothing much to do , prisoners would carve very elaborate graffiti in their cell walls.  Some of it is actually quite impressive.  Like most graffiti today, there are quite a lot of penises.  I made mention of the abundant graffiti in ‘The Raven’s Cage‘ as a way to add atmosphere.

 

 

  There were of course many other things that caught my interest at the palace, several of which will appear in future stories.  But as of now, a single missed tour led me to a place that I can identify four different stories that benefited from our forgetfulness.

-Seth

Making Headway

Hi all,

Well 2014 is off to a great start, so-far.

The website is looking better (still need to acquire some more pictures).

The wonderful, Hugo Award winning, Elizabeth Bear has agreed to let me use little a quote of hers for DÄMOREN.  That being said, check this out!Damoren Cover
I really can’t describe how nice that is to look at. When Ragnarok sent it to me, I just stared at it for… a while.

Moving on.

I’m over 12,000 words into HOUNACIER, my DÄMOREN sequel, and have now sent the first chapter off for Round 1 of peer-reviews (technically I’ve finished the first 3 chapters, but I like to let them sit a while before letting others tear them apart). The bulk of the story takes place in New Orleans.  I’d written a bunch of ideas, and descriptions when I was there last Spring, it’s becoming more and more clear that I need to go back. Not for more research (which is always handy) but because I miss it.

I’ve started going over MOUNTAIN OF DAGGERS covers with the artist. We’re still trying to get a good glyph for the Tyenee symbol. Hopefully I’ll be able to post some images soon. Right now, the pictures are still in the ‘super-rough concept’ stage.

Not too shabby for four days in to the year.

With nothing more to say, I leave you with this:Damoren Cover
Damn, that’s pretty.