Saturday, December 22, 2012

Free Kindle Titles all Christmas Week! SSP Open House!

Passing this along from SSP!  A WEEK LONG Open House from Monday through Friday, including the first book of my Fires in Eden Series, Crown of Vengeance!  Be sure to pass the word along to everyone you know who has a Kindle or gets one this coming week! :)

From December 24-28th, SSP has an open house on Amazon Kindle including all of its authors who have eBooks available! Many genres and styles available!

All books include cover art and interior artwork from the award-winning artists Matthew Perry and Bonnie Wasson! The free books include the following (along with additional titles available for sale from each author):

Spook House by Michael West (horror, a Harmony, Indiana Novel. Other Harmony Indiana tales include the novel Cinema of Shadows, and the short stories Goodnight, and For the River is Wide and the Gods Are Hungry. Michael's urban fantasy series The Legacy of the Gods includes Book One, Poseidon's Children)

Redheart by Jackie Gamber (YA Fantasy, Book One of the Leland Dragon Series. Book Two, Sela, is available)

Haunting Obsession by R.J. Sullivan (Paranormal Thriller, A Rebecca Burton Novella. Also available from R.J. is Backstage Pass, a Rebecca Burton Short Story)

The Brotherhood of Dwarves by D.A. Adams (YA Fantasy, Book One of the Brotherhood of Dwarves Series. Book Two, Red Sky at Dawn, Book Three, The Fall of Dorkhun, and Book Four, Between Dark and Light are also available)

Angelkiller by H. David Blalock (Urban Fantasy, Book One of the Angelkiller Triad. Book Two, Traitor Angel, is also available)

Overkill by Steven Shrewsbury (Sword and Sorcery, a Gorias La Gaul Story. Other available Gorias La Gaul tales include the novel Thrall, and the short stories Author and Finisher of Our Flesh, Beginning of the Trail, and Insurmountable)

Crown of Vengeance by Stephen Zimmer (Epic Fantasy, Book One of the Fires in Eden Series. Book Two, Dream of Legends, and Book Three, Spirit of Fire, are also available, as well as the short stories set in the same world, including Lion Heart, Land of Shadow, and Into Glory Ride. Stephen's urban fantasy series, The Rising Dawn Saga, includes Book One, The Exodus Gate, Book Two, The Storm Guardians, and Book Three, The Seventh Throne, as well as the short story set in the same world, Temples Rising.)

The seven titles spotlighted above are free on Kindle the entire week from Monday through Friday! Spread the word and load up your brand new Kindles!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Worlds of Wonder Author Hop Day 7: Character Interview of King Hakon from Spirit of Fire

Here we are on the seventh and final day of the Worlds of Wonder Author Hop.  I've got a new character interview for you to enjoy, this one of King Hakon of Midragard from the Fires in Eden Series.  All you have to know for the character interview is that Midragard has a Viking-like culture, and King Hakon is an elderly king who is facing an existential threat to his people at the very twilight of his life.  He is one of my favorite characters in the series, as while his body is aged his heart and spirit are strong!

Before we go to that, I want to thank Kimberly Comeau and T.C. Archer, and Holly from FMB Tours, who put all of this together and scheduled things.  I really enjoyed participating this week and hope everyone liked the content that I contributed here.  Thank you to everyone who visitied the blog!  Be sure to stay in touch!

Character Interview with King Hakon of Midragard

King Hakon of Midragard with 2 retainers
and his wolf Heder.
Artwork by Matthew
I hope you are well, and in good health.

King Hakon: As good as a man my age can be, I suppose.  The spirit of Midragard is yet strong, and that keeps my own strength up.

And that great wolf Heder?

King Hakon: He watches over me always, and still has the energy of a cub!  That wolf has been a dear companion to me through many years.  He is not a mere animal, but rather a friend.

I know you are sensing a very dark time ahead for Midragard.  You have sent an entire fleet to the north to help the Saxans.

King Hakon: The tidings from the north are dark indeed.  A storm has broken over the Five Realms and Saxany, two realms that have Midragard's friendship.

A great force formed from many lands has invaded Saxany.  I had to act, as the Saxans do not have the strength to withstand the invasion for long.  Even with the help of Midragard, I cannot say whether they will be able to hold the enemy back.

Why did you send the fleet, and not hold it back to defend your own shores?

King Hakon: I am defending our shores by sending the fleet north.  If we stay here and do nothing, and let the allies of the Unifier destroy the Saxans and others, we will be alone when the enemy comes to our lands.   We must do everything we can to stand with the other realms that wish to remain free of the Unifier's dominion.

Aid also goes to the Five Realms?

King Hakon: Yes, from the estates of many islands along the trading routes near the Five Realms.  A good number of experienced Midragardan warriors have gone into the afflicted tribal lands.  I do not yet know of their fate.

Messages have certainly been brought to you by very unexpected messengers.  What was it like seeing an Elder?

King Hakon: Long have I known dragons.  They thrive among the Drakkar Mountains within Midragard.  But they are like cubs to a full grown wolf in comparison to an Elder.  I never thought in my lifetime I would set my eyes upon one of those majestic creatures.

Yet the appearance of The Elder in our world is a dark omen in itself.  The Elder drew back from the world ages ago, and have not been seen or heard from until now.  Only something of tremendous importance would cause them to come back into the world of humans.

Will the dragons of your lands take part in the coming fight, especially since the Elder seem opposed to the Unifier?

King Hakon: The dragons know that Midragard gave them a haven, when they could find no rest in other lands.  They revere the Elder, and I know in my heart they will not stand aside when the darkness shrouds our lands.

What are some of the other sources of strength to help defend Midragard?

King Hakon: The Berzerks, and the Ulfhednar.  The Order they are a part of is ancient in these lands, and they are pledged to defend us.  Each one of them is worth a great number of enemy warriors.

There are also many Wizards who have an affinity for Midragard, and they will not wish to see usurpers triumph.

And the Fenraren that Midargardan warriors ride into battle?

King Hakon: The Fenraren are tough and noble steeds.  In each of them is an echo of the great Fenris.  We are fortunate to have them with us during this time.  If the enemy wishes to cross the skies of Midragard, they will not go uncontested.

What are some of your biggest worries at the moment?

King Hakon: Fate has seen to it that Midragard's most difficult hour arrives when my own life is at a very late hour.  I only hope I have the strength to do what is right by my people.

You are regarded as a just and good king.  Why do you think that is?

King Hakon: I do not seek to interfere with the aspirations of the Midragardan people. A king of Midragard is not like the kings I have heard of in other lands.  We are here to lead in times of war, and we are here to help build trade and keep order.  But other than times of war, a Midragardan should have little need for a king.  We are a proud, strong, and free people, and I believe a good king of Midragard allows people to live their lives without interference.

Of course, as long as they bring no harm to others.

Thank you for speaking with me, King Hakon.

King Hakon: It was an honor.  May the All-Father's grace be with you always.

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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Worlds of Wonder Author Hop Day 6: A Spirit of Fire Excerpt

Worlds of Wonder Author Hop Day 6 has arrived, and though I'm a little behind today in getting my post up, I have a fun excerpt from Spirit of Fire, the third book in the Fires in Eden Series, to share with everyone.  Dragol, the character interviewed during this author hop a few days back, is featured in this excerpt.  So is the enigmatic Wanderer, and this scene gives you a sense of the two characters, who are both prominent to the series.

The only thing you need to know is that Dragol at this point has been forced down from the skies and is wandering through enemy territory, the lands of the Five Realms.  The Trogen warrior was alone when he encountered the Wanderer, who he perceives to be an ordinary, older man.   At this point of the story, he is beginning to find out that the Wanderer is something more, as this scene illustrates.    I hope you all enjoy it!

Excerpt 2 from Spirit of Fire:

The Wanderer with the Firaken from
this scene. Artwork by Matthew Perry.
Emerging from the forest growth directly before them, without any regard for stealth or surprise, was a most fearsome-looking creature. Walking upon six sinewy legs, the beast carried an arsenal of weapons in its very step.
Each of its legs ended in broad paws, armed with an array of nestled claws, each like deadly blades unto themselves. The natural blades were partially unsheathed, the spiky ends protruding as if to herald the beast’s deadly capability.
The creature stepped with a silence hard to believe for an animal of such girth. Boasting exceptional height, its large round head was level with the middle of Dragol’s chest, even in a relaxed posture. Dark, silky fur covered the surface of its long, chiseled body, giving a rich sheen to
its muscular contours.
Piercing, feline eyes gazed upon Dragol, narrowing in the daylight to thin ellipses. The predator’s lips curled back as it emitted an eerie hiss, revealing gleaming daggers of white set into its upper and lower jaws.
A foreboding tension coalesced, setting off alarms at every level of instinct the Trogen possessed. The hairs at the back of his neck stood on end. A veteran hunter, Dragol had no illusions about what the situation before them presented. His body statue-still, Dragol made no sudden movements, but he prepared himself to dive to the side the moment the predator before them lunged.
“My friend, have no trouble with us. We intend you no harm,” the old man addressed the beast, his easygoing timbre cutting through the stillness.
For a moment, Dragol thought the old man had lost his wits, but the look in the eyes of the creature in front of them softened at the old man’s words. Its lips closed, shutting their exposure of the lethal weapons within. The sense of coiling threat Dragol had felt dissipated rapidly.
“Come over here, my friend,” the old man invited, holding his hand out towards the large predator.
Deliberately, the cat-like monstrosity sauntered over to Dragol and the old man. Despite every instinct to run off or draw his blade, Dragol kept control of himself, and remained in place.
The old man reached up, and stroked the creature on the side of its head, just behind one of its triangular ears. He worked his hand up gradually to rub the space between its eyes. The creature closed its eyes as the old man scratched, emitting a sound reminiscent of a small, purring cat, only much more resonant.
“He will not bite, or try to maul you,” the old man said, inviting Dragol over to pet the creature. “I have two wolves of my own … big fellows, and sometimes irascible curmudgeons. But they are good lads who, though they both look monstrous, can be as gentle as lambs. Appearances do not always reflect that which is true, I have long come to realize. There is nothing to fear from this one right now.”
Following the incident with the large tree, Dragol knew that reality was not being governed by the same rules he had been used to throughout his life. Though admittedly nervous, Dragol reached forward and touched the soft fur of the creature.
To his surprise, the beast lowered itself to the ground, rolling over onto its back. It folded its legs underneath, fully exposing its belly for rubbing. Dragol noticed the claws of the beast were now entirely
The old man reached out both of his hands, scratching and massaging the creature all along its belly, eliciting sounds of gratification from the huge carnivore. Dragol did likewise, though still riddled with tentativeness. He ran his hands along the fur of the creature, feeling the steely muscle lying underneath.
Dragol could not assuage his worries whenever he looked upon the creature’s wide paws, containing the host of deadly knives that could emerge in a flash, and be wielded with blinding speed. The thoughts kept his heart rate quickened.
The Trogen glanced over at the old man several times, as the mystery surrounding his companion grew. The event with the stream water, the lifting of the tree, and the peaceful interaction with a deadly predator were undeniable examples of deeper powers harbored within
the enigmatic figure.
Dragol was a hunter and a warrior. He had spent many days and nights tracking game back in his homeland, with others of his Thunder Wolf clan. His instincts had been acutely honed through war and hunts fraught with peril, such that he could recognize the confidence that came with exceptional martial capability. There was no question the elderly man with him had that sense about him; in abundance.
A part of Dragol deep inside, which he called his spirit, told him the old man would have protected them, if the creature had attacked. It also told him the old man could have driven the creature off with little trouble or disruption to their travel. Instead, the old man had chosen to invite the creature over, to have its head and belly scratched as if it was merely a tame animal.
Dragol knew he had gained further insight into the nature of the mysterious wanderer. While his curiosities were not satisfied by far, every glimmer of understanding helped make the man less of an enigma.
“You are quite large, my friend. A very big one of your kind,” the old man remarked to the beast. “Night comes in a few hours, and you will be seeking food. And this is the time of year for you to be seeking your mate. Good luck to you on that. Females can be very formidable,
of any kind.”
The old man chuckled lightly. Dragol could not dispute the old man’s last statement, humoring himself with a brief remembrance of the way his own father, a fearless warrior, was cowed into meekness in one moment by his stalwart mother.
The old man laughed more heartily, rubbing the creature vigorously on its belly. He patted the creature solidly a few times near its haunches and stood up. Though Dragol felt more secure, he took the movement as a cue and rose to his feet with him.
The creature slowly rolled over with a final, contented purr, getting slowly back up to its broad paws. It turned about, and extended its large head to the old man.
The old man looked proportionately miniscule. The creature’s massive jaws could easily engulf the skull of a human within them. Instead of threats, the creature leaned forward and rubbed its face affectionately against the right cheek of the old man. Merry laughter came from the old man as the creature brushed its fur on him.
The creature then turned to Dragol, and did the same. Dragol saw that his exposed neck was just inches away from glistening teeth that could end his mortal existence in a flash of time. He could feel the hot breath of the beast upon his skin.
Before the Trogen could worry himself too much, the forest predator then casually turned and walked off, to be lost amid the trees after a few strides. Dragol remained in place, staring in the direction the creature had gone. He kept silent for several long moments, as if
transfixed. “There is a gentle nature in all of us, great or small,” the old man
said reflectively.
“You have a way with beasts, “ Dragol observed, a wry grin coming to his face. “I am fortunate you were here.”
“He just wanted to greet us, have his belly rubbed and scratched, and go attend to his own concerns,” the old man replied with a shrug, chuckling. “Humans and Trogens always expect the worst.”

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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Worlds of Wonder Author Hop Day 5: Short Interview

Here's the fifth day of the World's of Wonder Author Hop, and for this one Holly presented me with some questions for a short interview that will hopefully catch you up to where I'm at right now, give you some insights into my feelings about speculative fiction and why I write it, and also give you some of my thoughts about the nutty world of publishing authors have to deal with nowadays.   There are some sobering things to think about, but I've always preferred straight talk, so I hope you both enjoy and find value in the things gleaned from my experience.

Holly: Can you tell us some of your latest news?

Stephen: Right now, I’m working on the 4th Rising Dawn Saga novel, as well as polishing up several short stories.  I have new ones coming out soon for the Chronicles of Ave Collection, the Annals of the Rising Dawn Collection, and some horror short stories for a brand new themed collection called the Hellscapes.  The latter will be very intensive, inspired by my loves of Paradise Lost, Dante's Inferno, and Clive Barker!

2013 is poised to be a fairly busy year, with the 4th Rising Dawn Saga novel and hopefully a new Fires in Eden novel coming out, as well as more short stories, and perhaps the first book of a new cross-genre YA series.   I’m also looking forward to the latest Harvey and Solomon story coming out in the third Dreams of Steam anthology, and plan on doing more with those two wonderful characters in 2013 as well. 

When there are enough short stories in one of my collections, a single-author collection in print is very likely too.  So as you can see, a busy year ahead indeed!

Holly: Why do you write in these genres?

Stephen: Speculative fiction is truly without limits, especially when writing in an epic scale like I do with the Fires in Eden Series and the Rising Dawn Saga.  You can go from the cosmic to the intimate, and everything in between.  Similarly, you can focus on themes involving life’s big picture, or more personal ones, with a full range of tools to address them. 

I like that kind of freedom and creative possibilities.  Further, creative arts allow you to transcend the mundane, so I am drawn towards speculative fiction because it allows for the existence of worlds of wonder, magic, and all things supernatural. 

Holly: Do you think you may ever go into other sub-genres?

I certainly intend to, as I’m not afraid to try any other sub-genre.  At the heart of every story you have to have good characters and a compelling plot.  If you have that foundation, the elements unique to various genres can be brought into the mix. 

I can say for certain that I have a space opera series mapped out.  When I get the time, it won’t take long to immerse into writing the first installment of that series.

Holly: What is your favorite part of writing?

Stephen: The actual writing is my favorite part, when I have my music playing, a cold can of Monster Energy on my desk, and am in a good flow.  The actual creative moments are by far the most rewarding.  

Some days I find myself tilting a little more towards J.D. Salinger in that I am tempted to just write a story and enjoy it for its own sake, and not worry about going through all the mess that goes with the chaotic world of publishing today.

I have often described my zone like being in a mild trance, in terms of seeing the stories transpiring mentally and then working to depict them with words.  Being in this zone is just wonderful. 

Holly: Can you tell us a few do’s and don’ts for aspiring authors?

Stephen: Understand the publishing process and the value that others bring to it, whether that involves editors, cover artists, layout/graphic design artists, blog reviewers, publicists, or anyone else who have a part to play in the publishing and promotion of a literary work.  The more you respect and value this process and the parts that others play in it, the more professional and considerate you will be while interacting on all levels.  Not everything goes smoothly or perfectly, and the more you understand how things work the more reasonable you will be when you encounter bumps on the road.  

I also think it is a good idea to keep your writing and promotion/publicity worlds separate.  I write on a separate computer, in fact, one that is not hooked up to the internet.  In this way, I help to keep my full focus on my writing, and keep potential distractions at bay that might otherwise become problematic if I was doing everything on the same system. 

Finally, I’m not a big fan of word counts, and believe it is more important to write regularly than it is to obsess over a certain number of words per session.  If you write regularly, the word count will largely take care of itself. 

Holly: What are some of the pro’s and con’s of self-publishing verses being published by a publisher in your opinion?

Stephen: There’s far less of a stigma about self-publishing than there was before, but it is important to emphasize that good self-publishing approaches publishing in the same manner that an independent press would.  From editing, to layout, to marketing, every stage of a book’s production and release must be executed properly.  Effective self-publishing assembles the right team to achieve all stages at a professional level of quality.

Publishing at the moment is really chaotic.  Old models are no longer applicable, and the ground is anything but stable. 

There really is no rhyme or reason why some things take off and become blockbusters.  Take 50 Shades of Grey for example.  There is no question there are many, many far better written books out there with the very same kind of themes, but for whatever reason this one trended and became the “hot” and “must read” release.  There was nothing unique or special the author did with 50 Shades of Grey than other peers of hers that write on the same themes.  It just happened. And the fact that a major press picked it up and put it out is no reflection of the quality level.  It merely reflects that they calculated they can make good sales with it.  I can give many more examples of titles that are not even well-edited that have sold in droves versus works of a very high literary quality that struggle to make sales, despite authors doing everything right promotionally. 

It has been one of the more gloomy realities I have discovered over the past few years, but if you want to do this as a career it is better that you understand that there is a lot of great stuff that struggles, and a whole lot of crap that sells.  And even when you understand this, it can still be a bitter pill to swallow.  I recently read two works by authors who are truly elite in their craft.  Elegant prose, spectacular word choices, loads of thought into plot and character.  Really quality literature, with depth, by two authors who have honed their craft to a razor-sharp edge. Yet they struggle to sell when a derivative urban fantasy clone of a best-seller thrown up without even having professional editing sells in the thousands.  

Go figure.  But that's how it goes. There really is a luck factor these days, but you still have to put yourself in the best position for that luck to strike. 

You are dealing with a tsunami of releases, as everybody and their cousin, brother, and mother are putting up eBooks these days, and it is indeed hard to gain attention in such a churning sea.  You are going to run into many people throwing eBooks up on Kindle and Nook thinking lightning is going to strike and they’re going to get rich.  This type does just enough to put out eBooks, and really don't have a passion for storytelling.  I see it all the time.

I’m not being pessimistic, it is just that this is the simple reality on the ground when there is zero gatekeeping for getting to market.  This is the glaring con side of the brave new world of digital publishing.   And if you remain inert, even if you have an absolute gem, the sad truth is that the legions of the mediocre will drown you out. 

Basically, if you have a passion for being a writer and a storyteller, you should just work on being the best writer and storyteller that you can be.  Understand that most likely it is going to be a very frustrating process with all the demands of promotion, social media, and the like.  Know the business as best you can, engage in regular promotion and publicity activities, but the priority should always be your stories and your writing.   After all, your love of writing is what took you on this path to begin with.    

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Monday, December 10, 2012

Worlds of Wonder Author Hop Day 4: Welcome to Ave, a World Like No Other

Welcome to day 4 of the Worlds of Wonder Author Hop!  For today's installment, I was asked to write about the world of my Fires in Eden Series.  I hope today's post gives you a good introduction to Ave, and I invite you to explore this world extensively in my novels and short stories!  

Welcome to Ave, a World Like No Other

Ave is the world that the Fires in Eden Series is set within.  It is pronounced “ah-vay”, just like the Latin term it is derived from.  The word itself means “hail”, and in the world of ancient Rome one would use it to greet someone of great distinction, such as an Emperor.

In the context of my series, the idea the name is getting at is a dignified greeting of life itself.  Not life in the way that most of us know it, with death, disease, and all of the brutality inherent in nature.   Rather, it is a hailing of existence over non-existence, the uniqueness of each individual spirit (whether animal, human, or other), and an unsullied state of nature like one that we humans on earth have not experienced.  It is life in its most vibrant state, a transcendent one that bears no corruption.

Obviously, in the series Ave is under assault from the same things that we are in our own world, and this is discovered by the small group from Earth who go into Ave during the first sections of Crown of Vengeance.  Aside from the struggles inherent in nature itself, such as famine, drought, disease, earthquakes, and other calamities, it is filled with cultures both human and non-human that are part of a lengthy history covering several thousand years. 

There are immortal races within Ave(But not eternal, there is a distinction between the two.  An immortal does not age or get sick, but they can be killed by violence).  They include the Wizards, who are a race of beings imbued with a variety of incredible powers.  There are also the Elves, who are quite different in outlook from those in other series like Lord of the Rings.  The Elder, a race of titanic dragons whose impact in Ave was something to behold in its first era, are another.

Beyond the immortal races there are a great variety of mortal beings and creatures populating Ave.  When it comes to the humans, many of their realms reflect cultures that we might know from our own history.  In Crown of Vengeance alone, the reader encounters and learns about cultures existing in Ave based upon the Normans, Saxons, Iroquois, Byzantines, medieval Russians, medieval Islamic world (from the Moors to the Fatimids), Vikings, and more.  As the series grows, many more are revealed.  The short story series set in Ave, the Chronicles of Ave, has also introduced the reader to other parts of Ave that resemble medieval China, sub-Saharan Africa, Ireland, and others. 

Just like earth, Ave is comprehensive in its range of cultures and ethnicities.  Book Three, Spirit of Fire, finally gave the reader a map of the lands involved in the series to that point, but it is by no means a complete map of the entire world.  There is much more ahead. 

In addition to human cultures inspired by ones from our own world, there are many non-human cultures that readers are encountering for the very first time in this world.  The underground-dwelling Unguhur, with their mushroom forests and dwellings carved out of rock are one example.  The Trogens, a brawny race of creatures with short, thick muzzles that give them a pit bull-like countenance, are perhaps my favorite.  The rat-like Atagar, the huge Gigans, the desert-dwelling, long-limbed Khala (revealed in a Chronicles of Ave short story called Land of Shadow), the bull-headed Burujin, and many, many more strange and exciting non-human cultures populate Ave and come into the story told in the Fires in Eden Series. 

There are aspects of Ave beneath the waters and in the skies that come into play, but I won’t comment much on these due to the major spoiler factor.  I will say that the Fires in Eden Series is able to take the action into unexpected environments, as there are supernatural factors, as well as races of flying creatures that many realms have trained as steeds, and other things that enable characters to engage environments that are not often encountered in other epic fantasy series.   The wars in Ave truly take place on land, sea, AND air!

I have been developing Ave ever since the series began in the mid-90’s, and I can assure the reader there is a lot more ahead than what they’ve already seen in the novels and short stories released so far.  In terms of content, I have yet to find or hear of another fantasy world with the richness and depth that Ave contains, or the sheer variety of cultures.  In this sense, I am very confident when I tell new readers who enjoy epic fantasy that they have a world like no other to explore and adventure in.  So I welcome you to Ave, a world like no other!

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Sunday, December 9, 2012

Worlds of Wonder Author Hop Day 3: Character Interview with Dragol of the Fires in Eden Series

For day 3 of the Worlds of Wonder Author Hop, Holly from Full Moon Bites presented these questions for me to give to one of the characters from the Fires in Eden Series. I was able to reach Dragol, a Trogen warrior of the Thunder Wolf Clan. Trogens are tall, muscular beings with faces that have short, broad muzzles, almost like a pit bull. In this series, they are one of the many lands who have come to fight on the side of the Unifier in a war intended to end all wars, and usher in a new order.  When you first meet the Trogens in Crown of Vengeance, they appear pretty harsh and brutal, but there is a lot more to them, and I hope this interview with Dragol gives you some deeper insight to one of my absolute favorite cultures in all of Ave!

Interview with Dragol of the Thunder Wolf Clan:

 Holly: What single thing or goal do you want most in life?

 Dragol: I want to live a life of honor.  What a Trogen means by honor may be different from what you might understand.  I have found the ways of humans very different from those of Trogens.  Human honor may be different from Trogen honor.  But living an honorable life is the highest goal of a Trogen.  A Trogen with honor will find a home in Elysium in the next world.

 Holly: What do you fear most? 

 Dragol: I fear what every Trogen fears. To never be tested. To never be measured. To never know if my heart is strong or not.  To never know if I am truly worthy of being called a Trogen.  Those are the things to be feared. A life untested is a life not worth living.  I believe it is even worse than it is to fail.

 Holly: What’s your world like? 

Illustration of Trogen upon a Harrak from
Crown of Vengeance.
Artwork by Matthew Perry
 Dragol: The Trogen lands are to the north and west of Kiruva, a human realm, and west of the lands of the Gigans. The Trogen lands are filled with hills and great mountains. Many powerful beasts dwell there, many who our great clans are named after. The Blood Boars, the Forest Wolverines, the Mountain Bears, and others. We live in villages, but we live in the shadow of an ancient enemy.

 The Elves have long oppressed the Trogens. They sailed the seas, flew upon their steeds in the skies, and mastered weapons before my kind existed. When we settled our lands, they attacked us. They have raided us throughout the ages. When part of our lands were found to be rich in the things valued by them, metals and gems, they took that land and enslaved a great many of my kind.

It is not Trogen weakness that keeps us from freeing them. We could not build a fortress, or ships. The Elves would attack in great strength to destroy them before they were completed.

Blade to blade, we can fight them.  But we do not have their high walls or their ships.

We were able to master sky steeds, and we fly upon the great Harraks who dwell in the mountains of our lands.  Since the time of the warrior Marragesh, we have challenged the Elves in the skies.

We live at all times under threat, but our kind are strong, and we have endured.   One day we will find a way to liberate the Trogens held captive.

Our path is not an easy one.  Like a longblade, a Trogen is forged.  The world that we live in is the fire that shapes the iron of who we are.

Holly: Are you presently in love, or do you hope to find someone special? 

Dragol:  It is hard for me to understand what humans mean by love.  Do you mean a mate?  I have yet to find a mate. I will not do this until I know in my heart that I am fully worthy of being a Trogen Warrior ... fully worthy of being one of the Thunder Wolf Clan ... fully worthy of being called a Trogen. Any sons or daughters I have must be born to a father with honor, as I was born to a father with honor and a mother most strong.  I must be worthy of the respect of my mate.  I must be strong for her, as she must be strong for me.

A Trogen life is not an easy journey.  A family is a great responsibility.  Sons and daughters are reflections of those who give them life.  And they are reflections of the clan.  It is not the duty of others to raise our offspring.  It is our duty to raise them and prepare them for whatever may come.  This great responsibility is one that must be shared fully by the two who are mates.  This is why the choosing of a mate is no easy thing, for a female or a male of the Trogen kind.

I do hope that when I return to my kind I can find a mate.  I want to have strong sons and daughters, and a mate I respect, honor, and share life with.

Holly: Sum up your life in the last few weeks in 150 words or less. 

Illustration from Spirit of Fire of a
Trogen Warrior in combat against
a knight.
Artwork by Matthew Perry
Dragol: The fighting had just begun over the tribal lands, the place the humans call the Five Realms. While protecting the huge Darroks sent by the Unifier, the warriors under my command did not heed my command and became reckless when I saw a great force of Midragardan warriors approaching through the skies upon Fenraren steeds.

I did not wish to throw my life away so uselessly when they went against my command and rushed to certain defeat. I landed my steed on the ground and took to the forests where the enemy dwelled.  It was there that I met the Wanderer. He is of human appearance, but I believe him to be a Wizard as he has done much to show he has great powers.

He was like a guide to me, even to the moment when I was taken captive by tribal warriors.  Much has happened since then, and I am still held by the tribal humans as another journey begins.

 Holly: Do you have any words of wisdom you think everyone should live by? 

Live always with honor.  It is hard to explain this to humans.  Trogens do not care for the gold and silver that seems to rule you.  You deceive each other, kill each other, steal from each other over metal from the ground.  The worth of a Trogen has nothing to do with what things they possess.  The worth of a Trogen is measured by what they have done.  Courage ... strength ... loyalty ... these are some of the things that are part of living with honor.  It is earned.  It is built.  It is forged.  It is not given.

Holly:  If you could change one thing of your past would you? If so, what would it be and why?

There is nothing I would change.  I may know and realize more now than I did before.  But the path that led to where I am today brought me what I needed to have the understanding I have in my heart now.  I have always sought to be true to myself.  I have made unwise choices, but I have learned from these times and grown.

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Friday, December 7, 2012

World of Wonder Author Hop Day 2: Spirit of Fire Excerpt!

Here we are on day two of the Worlds of Wonder Author Hop, and today I am excited to be able to present an excerpt from Spirit of Fire, the third book in my epic fantasy Fires in Eden Series. Containing an ensemble cast, loaded with action, featuring diverse cultures, set in an extensively developed world, and carrying a balance of inventive, uncommon, and traditional fantasy elements, my Fires in Eden series has been near and dear to me ever since I began working on it in the mid 1990's.

 Crown of Vengeance started the this fantastical journey, and landed me my first literary award with the Pluto Award for Best Novel in 2010 (an award centered on speculative fiction in small press/indie press). The second step of the series was taken with Dream of Legends, and the third step with Spirit of Fire. As of now I project about seven novels in the series.

I will be presenting a little more about my series during the author hop, but I think it would be good to give you a taste of the book itself. I do have to give you a minor spoiler to help you place the setting of this sample, which I also chose because you do not have to know too much of the story to enjoy this particular section.

This excerpt starts off Spirit of Fire, and gives you a feel for some of the more dangerous elements in the book. A malevolent and powerful being called an Arcamon, a servant of the Unifier, prepares to unleash a deadly and terrifying weapon against an underground dwelling society of creatures called the Unguhur, who intervened on behalf of the human Saxan kingdom during an invasion by forces loyal to the Unifier's will. I hope you enjoy this sample, and if you do I invite you to begin your journey with Book One, Crown of Vengeance, which is available in softcover and eBook formats!

 -Stephen Zimmer

Synopsis of Spirit of Fire: A maelstrom of war engulfs the lands resisting the designs of the Unifier to bring about a new order, of a kind that has never existed within Ave. Battered by a massive invasion force from Gallea, the tribal people of the Five Realms and their Midragardan allies are being driven eastward, towards the sea, while the Saxan lines are wearing down ever thinner on the Plains of Athelney. Time is running out quickly, as an ancient creature of legend soars through the skies with a brave young Saxan. They carry the desperate hopes of two realms sorely beset by a voracious enemy. Diabolic entities conduct a great hunt, as a malignant darkness deepens across all of Ave. The exiles from another world must gain refuge, or find themselves ensnared by the long reach of the Unifier. The very nature of creation itself stands in the balance. It is a time when the honor and fortitude of many are put to the test, and terrible prices are paid for resisting great evils. It is also a time of awakening for many, old and young alike, some of whom may yet discover the spirit of fire that lies within. The third installment in the Fires in Eden series, Spirit of Fire is richly imagined epic fantasy with a diverse ensemble of characters that offers a new world to explore for the readers who enjoy large-scale tales along the likes of George R.R. Martin, Brandon Sanderson, Steven Erikson, and J.R.R. Tolkien.

Excerpt from Spirit of Fire:

To the northeast of the Plains of Athelney, a motley assemblage sprawled across an expanse of open ground. Located adjacent to a lake, upon the outskirts of an extensive range of forested hills, the gathering was not too far removed from the place where one tendril of the invasion force had already run into stout Saxan resistance.
The surface of the water was choppy, buffeted frequently with brisk surges of wind. A considerable tension clung to the steadily cooling, evening air, empowered by what had taken place, and what was to come.
The earlier thrust of the Avanoran invaders had endured an unexpected, thorough destruction. Battered survivors trickling back spoke with shaky voices, and wide, frightened eyes, telling of brawny, non-human warriors with gray hides. A horde of the creatures had emerged seemingly out of nowhere, without warning, to shatter the Avanoran encampment and slaughter all but a remnant of the force.
The Saxans that had been arrayed in the hills presented no threat anymore, having been broken and scattered just prior to the deadly ambush. But the brutish interlopers that had decimated the Avanoran force were still an obstacle to be wary of, and reckoned with. They were about to be countered with a most chilling solution.
The deepening unease gripping the assemblage was enough to rattle the nerves of even the most seasoned, hardened of veterans, whether Trogen or human. The disquiet had a single, dreadful source, one that was living, or at least animated to a mockery of life. It was hard to discern which, as the normal vibrancy of life was not present within the hooded being standing tall among the throng of warriors.
The grave apprehension was deepened even further by two huge objects borne into the midst of the warriors, at the dark figure’s command. The winged monstrosities that had carried the pair of elongated shapes to the lakeside now rested on the ground, their vast wings tucked in.
The two Darroks were intimidating sights to behold on any occasion, but they were not the cause of the elevated alarm and distress pervading the scene. Between the Arcamon and the hellish cargo of the Darroks, the gathered warriors were truly caught between a hammer and anvil of cold fear. Mounted upon the Darroks’ backs were immense cages, fashioned of timber and iron. The interior of the cages was hidden from view, with long horizontal planks of wood affixed to their frames, the timber lengths fully covering the sides.
The cages themselves were of a respectable height, enough that the tallest amongst the Trogens could walk into them with ample headroom to spare. But the great length of each cage was what made them most unusual.
The ongoing work involved with the pair of enclosures was conducted with extreme diligence and focus. The assiduousness was bolstered by the fact that most of those laboring with the cages wished to keep their attentions diverted from the foreboding entity silently watching over their progress.
With the ends of its long, dark cape undulating in the winds, the Arcamon sat astride its infernal steed. Exposed so prominently atop a small rise in the middle of the host, the entity conveyed an image of authority. The Arcamons raised hood was a mercy to the surrounding warriors,  shrouding  the  entitys  nightmarish  face  within  caliginous
The glowing embers of the Arcamons gaze were fixed upon the mass of individuals handling the makeshift network of ropes and pulley-driven cranes, the latter similar to those used on ships at quays, to lower the giant cages.
The Arcamons  grotesque  winged  steed,  scaly,  sinuous,  and     serpentine, followed its masters every directive with rigid discipline.          It was now brooding and silent, patiently awaiting its masters next command.
Though the shrouded figure appeared impassive to all eyes, a mounting impatience was welling up within the Arcamon. Of the four of its kind loosed at a tremendous expenditure of energy from the fiery depths of Jebaalos realm, two were now aiding the assaults upon the Saxan kingdom.
That alone  reflected the  tremendous  importance  the  Unifier placed upon subjugation of the Saxan lands. The invasion was a pivotal element of the final series of conquests, which would bring all of Ave under one authority; outwardly that of the Unifier, though truly, through the Unifier, Jebaalos.
The Arcamons fury had soared throughout the report informing of the sudden Unguhur attack, which had blunted the Avanoran efforts to break through to the northeast of the Plains of Athelney. The force should have been able to hook around through the mountains, to pour down and ambush the main Saxan forces on their exposed right flank, out on the Plains of Athelney.
The worst aspect of it was that the Saxan ranks arrayed to oppose the Avarnoran maneuver had been dislodged and broken, leaving the way clear for all aims to be achieved. All had been thwarted by a horde from a brutish race that now held the Arcamons malefic ire.
At the moment, the battle at the Plains of Athelney should have been over, and the interior of the Saxan lands left wide open. The Kingdom of Saxany had likely exhausted itself in the musters for the Plains of Athelney, and for the smaller force deployed to face the woodland incursion.
Unlike the Trogens, humans, and others around it, the Arcamon knew much about the Unguhur. The primitive creatures had emerged from the depths of their underworld dominion, having been well-hidden from the extensive scouting from the skies and on the land. The human and Trogen leaders had been confounded. To the few that had even heard of the underground race, the Unguhur existed only within legends, or as wisps of tales. Things of legend and myth were certainly not foremost on the minds of the invasion forces command.
In a practical sense, the existence of an underground population of Unguhur, right under Saxan lands, was something entirely unknown; and altogether unaccounted for.
Nevertheless, the Arcamon had confronted many of the Avanoran lords after the terrible debacle. Its dark presence had driven each one of the fierce, haughty commanders to become sniveling, groveling fools in mere moments. Mortals confronted by an immortal from the afterworld itself, its very existence boggling to their minds, several had broken out in cold sweats. Others had openly trembled, unable to stifle the terror wracking their spirits
Failure for any reason was never to be lightly taken, whether in the infernal realms or in Ave. The Arcamon had faced the Avanoran lords  as if they were going to be made to answer fully for the considerable losses.
Using mystical arts from the abyssal depths, the Arcamon had implanted stark images directly into the minds of the Avanoran lords, one by one. Shadows of madness, visions of monstrosities in chasms of sentient blackness, and searing vistas of blood-drenched infernos filled the thoughts of the Avanoran lords, as they were given the briefest of glimpses into the nether kingdom of Jebaalos.
They were unable to avoid the terrifying spectacles by shutting their eyes, forced to endure the waking nightmares for what threatened to be an interminable ordeal. A couple openly wept, others shook as the cold sweats streaked down their faces, and still others collapsed to the ground in quivering, sobbing heaps. The Arcamon knew their minds
were not equipped to handle such sights for very long.
After their humiliating, terrifying experience had reached the very edge of a place from where it could not return, on the brink of madness, the Arcamon finally, and suddenly, withdrew its hellish grip. The entity consigned the horrific visions to the subconscious regions of their minds.
The Arcamon knew every thought going through their minds as they were loosed. The seeds of many future sleepless, nightmare-flooded nights had  been  sown,  but  the  Avanorans  had  blinked  and  gasped in surprise, and relief, as they were released. They quickly regained their focus, but found to their great agitation they had absolutely no recollections of the previous several moments.
For them it was as if time itself had skipped forward. Greatly disconcerted, their hearts still beat rapidly as an icy fear danced on the edges of their awareness. The Arcamon had then turned immediately to the issue set before all of them, breaking the defenses of the Saxans, and those that aided them. Whether the main invasion force had broken through or not out on the Plains of Athelney, it was advantageous for the Avanorans to secure an open passage into the northern lands of the Saxan kingdom.
The Unguhur were the only real threat standing in the way. To confront them, and root them out from their underground domain, the Arcamon quickly settled upon a strategy that would exact a terrible vengeance in the process of achieving their aims.
A summons had been sent by way of another of the Arcamons dark, mysterious arts back to Avalos itself. Two young Darroks were being harnessed shortly thereafter, on open grounds just outside of the great city. Though not fully trained, the pair of Darroks were the only ones out of the Unifiers brood not currently committed elsewhere.
A small crew of fiercely loyal, carefully selected Avanoran warriors had then guided the giant winged beasts to a faraway, hidden place. It was a location known to very few, and all of those were beholden to the Unifier and Jebaalos.
To  assault  something  of  the  underworld,  the  Arcamon  had chosen to send something from the darkest depths of the underworld. The creatures granted to the bidding of the Arcamon were not entirely unknown to the surface world.
Their subterranean  kind  had  risen  up  before,  making  their presence known many times over the long ages of the world of Ave. They had reached the surface through deep lakes and rivers, ascending from the gaping depths of the underworld itself, becoming creatures of great myths and legends themselves.
Two of the creatures had been obtained to serve the Arcamons bidding, each one of them a veritable juggernaut. Their bodies were akin to enormous serpents, covered with hardened scales that were collectively as good as a solid sheath comprised of the finest crafted armor.
Of massive girth, their bodies were as thick as the trunks of the oldest, largest trees in all of the Saxan forests. Neither of the fully-grown monstrosities was less than seventy feet in length.  Their appearance was also as beautiful as it was terrifying. The scales forming their natural armor were themselves comprised of a variety of vibrant colors, amid others that seemed to blaze like tongues of fire when caught by the light.
The deadly beauty reached its pinnacle atop their great heads. As if kings and queens among the ancient race of snakes, they were crowned with natural diadems. Great, sharply pointed horns sprouted up from each side of their massive heads. In the center of their broad craniums, at the forward end of a fiery red crest, was what looked to be a radiant, sparkling, crystal, bisected by a prominent, blood-red streak.
Their enormous heads contained a gaping maw lined with an arsenal of spiky, rear-curving teeth, forming an inescapable prison for anything caught within the creatures awesome bite. Two massive fangs, like  gleaming,  deadly  sabers  being  pulled  from  scabbards,  extended downward whenever the creature opened its mouth with the intent to
Just a few tiny drops of venom from one of the creatures fangs were more than enough to kill the strongest of humans. One full injection from  the dual fangs imparted a comparative torrent of lethal poison, which no creature living on the surface of Ave could withstand.
In the abysmal reaches of the underworld, the beasts could pass through great depths of water, navigate the most powerful of currents, and weather the greatest turbulence. Their bodies could handle great extremes of temperature, and withstand exceptional pressures. On solid ground, they moved with tremendous bursts of speed, dizzying to behold.
There were very few creatures in all of Ave that had the kind of size and power to even have a chance to contend with the colossal serpents; and most of those were now regarded in a mythical state themselves.
Yet  they  were  not  invincible,  having  one  major  place  of vulnerability on their bodies. Located seven spots from the base of their heads was a susceptible point where a solid, penetrating strike could instantly incapacitate the giant beasts. The knowledge of the location was largely delegated to obscure lore, known currently only to a few handfuls of people whose ancestors had encountered the horror of the deadly creatures in past times.
The Uktena were virtually without rival, exactly the kind of formidable creature the Arcamon could use to beset their underground adversaries.
In a shrouding darkness secure from the reach of the sun, the Unifier was keeping a number of the fearsome creatures. Tended closely by the Unifier’s Sorcerers, the Uktena were controllable. Using their secret arts, the Sorcerers had lulled the creatures into a deep, trance- like slumber, before a cadre of highly-unnerved Gigans had laboriously gotten them into the lengthy cages.
The creatures had not stirred in the least, as the cages were then mounted up onto the young Darroks’ backs, but the huge flying beasts instantly sensed the nature of their deadly passengers. It took a highly concerted effort from their flyers and Sorcerers alike just to calm the surge of agitation in the Darroks. The titanic steeds rumbled and snorted, loosing short, sporadic bursts of fire, even after they had been brought under an outward semblance of control.
Two of the exalted Sorcerers of Avalos accompanied the beasts on the ensuing journey, keeping the Uktena in an unconscious state throughout the entire flight. At the moment, a Sorcerer attended each cage, as they were tediously lowered and angled off of the backs of the Darroks.
Under the increasing weight of the Arcamon’s spectral gaze, the small host of men and Trogens, augmented by horses, and a pair of the powerful Gigans, continued to strain with ropes secured to the cages. The wood of their assembled cranes creaked and groaned with an unnerving tenor, the ropes taut as the tremendous weight of their burden drew the
hempen cording to the limits. Just alongside each team, the stoic form of a Sorcerer kept a wary
eye out for even the slightest sign that the Uktena might be awakening from their deep slumber. The Arcamon paid no heed to the nerve- wracked state of those handling the cages, who feared that the serpentine monsters could be roused at any moment by the jostles, shakes, heaves, and lurches that the enclosures endured. The noise generated by the effort was considerable as well, as both man and animal grunted in their exertion, and those in authority shouted out orders, whenever sudden adjustments were needed.
When the cages were completely free from the Darroks, and were finally resting upon the ground, the handlers mounted the huge sky beasts and guided them away from the lakeside. The two creatures were given a wide berth as they lumbered forward, many scrambling in haste to avoid being caught in the titanic beasts’ path.
The agitation in the Darroks, which had emanated ever since they had taken to the skies with their fearsome burden, finally ebbed as they gained distance between themselves and the cages occupants.  Yet the Darroks gazes returned to lock upon the extended contraptions, when their handlers drew them to a halt and allowed them to lie upon
the ground again.
Like a shadowy wraith, the dark figure on the rise then spurred its scaly steed to flight, and glided down to land close to one of the cages. A number of men and Trogens shuddered reflexively, as if an icy chill had abruptly fallen upon them. With the Darroks in their place, the Arcamon signaled for the cages to be fully disassembled. Only the Arcamon could have elicited the assiduous response of the apprehensive laborers, transcending the grave dread that permeated the vicinity of the cages. 
Trogens and humans opened the locks that secured iron chain links running between the long, modular segments of the great cages. Slowly, the sides of the cage sections were lowered on their hinges, the latter affixed at the bottom.
The dropping of the sides bared the lengthy, gigantic forms within to the eyes of all gathered, exposing the bodies of the Uktena to a host of individuals seeing the creatures in their entirety for the very first time. Expressions of fear and awe filled the faces of the hushed observers. Only the terrified whinnies and stamps of the frightened horses broke the silence, as their handlers labored to keep the wide-eyed equines under control.
The Arcamon felt no pity for what the Unguhur were about to be subjected to. In his view, the Unguhur should have stayed huddled below the surface, and let the matters of the surface world take their own course. The Unifier would probably have even tolerated the existence of the foolish creatures, if they had chosen to remain sequestered away from the upper world.
Their fateful decision to take the side of the Saxans in the war was now going to bring a terrible wrath down upon them. The Unguhur would reap the lethal harvest of what they had sown.
The two immense, serpentine forms, now still, would soon be brought back to full awareness. It would not be much longer before the Unguhur were introduced to the two creatures of legend, and experienced what they were capable of. The Arcamon savored the thoughts of the Unguhurs impending doom, with malice-drenched pleasure.

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