Fire, New Reviews, and Book News …

Yeah, I used the featured image in a previous post. But it remains relevant. And I miss my little dude, Luca, who likes nothing more than to watch my fingers search and destroy all over the keyboard. Or even better, drape himself on my arms so I can’t type …

I can’t help but notice my last post was in March … What can I say? I was busy. Time for an update, I reckon …

It’s fire season again, the time of year when I venture off to Wyoming and get hammered by stunning scenery and the occasional man-made or naturally started wildfire. I started work in Grand Teton National Park near the end of May. Because this is (almost without a doubt) my last fire season, I volunteered for the first Interagency (a mix of Forest Service and Park Service personnel) hand crew deployment of the season. The crew spent time in Kemmerer, Wyoming and then worked for about nine days on the Brian Head fire near Parowan, Utah. Exciting on occasion, almost always physically demanding, particularly when one is carrying a chain saw and wearing kevlar chaps … In short, I’m not 20 anymore. And I’m very much enjoying my days off, post-deployment.

Our fourth day on the Brian Head fire not long after it reared up and headed north.

On to other news … My readers came through and bumped my reviews on Amazon past the magic number of ’25.’ The following new reviews made me feel all the feels …

William Willard, Jr: Hight’s set pieces are vividly orchestrated and memorable, his dialogue peppered with believably colorful period idioms, and his fully developed characters are painted so well one fully roots for the good guys and wants to see them thoroughly trounce the villains.

Kevin Ikenberry (a fantastic sic-fi author and all-around great human being): This is a fantastic first novel by an author to watch. Nick Hight firmly plants the reader in 1377 Italy in the midst of a betrayal and revenge story that both captivates and stuns. His prose is elegant and vibrant. I found myself pulled from page to page to a very satisfying conclusion. I look forward to the next book!

Scott Keyport: I couldn’t put this book down. The subject was entirely new for me. The author clearly researched the topic in great detail. The writing was so good that I was instantly transported into the pages in the book and could hear, smell, see, feel everything. I hope there will be a second book.

Thank you for the kind words, gentlemen!

In case you’re on the fence about diving into the 14th century, check out the other reviews here: https://www.amazon.com/Vendetta-Nickolas-Hight/dp/099449114X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1499289227&sr=8-1&keywords=nickolas+hight

And speaking of VENDETTA, the audiobook version is coming along nicely and on track for release in September. Four chapters have been uploaded to ACX and after listening to them last night, I can’t say how excited I am for the process to be complete. VENDETTA’s narrator is Bob Sterry and he’s knocking it out of the park. If you want to hear his voice, check out his website: https://www.bobsterry.com

Finally, I’m getting lots of queries about VENDETTA’s sequel, END OF DAYS. All I can say is, I’m working on it. The story is there, for sure, but it’s taking its time in revealing itself. I’m writing, rest assured. Best case, scenario, it’ll be ready just in time for Christmas. For my next post, I’ll put up a sample to give everyone an idea of what Angelo and Stuart have been up to following their shenanigans in Mantua …

And now, it’s time to knock out some writing … or nap. Fire season and writing don’t mix …

 

An Anniversary …

That’s right … On this day last year, VENDETTA was published and hit an unsuspecting public. For a brief moment (like, six seconds), sales went through the roof.

Several weeks later, I would realize there’s something to the whole, “marketing and self-promotion” thing I kept hearing successful indie writers quacking about on all of their blogs and podcasts … You know, the ones with thousands of subscribers. The ones who have sold more than 100 books …

In any case, I’m not — as one might imply from my tone in the paragraph above — bitter. I wrote a book! HA! There are over 8 million of them on Amazon, but one of them is mine all mine. And soon to be joined by another. Not soon enough, as several of my readers have made abundantly clear. I’ve taken a lot of, “don’t be like George RR Martin and make me wait three years for the next book” type of comments. All I can say is, I’m working on it. Honest!

What I feel most on this, the first anniversary of VENDETTA, is gratitude.

Gratitude for the wonderful reviews I’ve received (28 on Amazon and five on Goodreads), and for the many compliments given the novel …

Gratitude for the enthusiastic, unconditional support of other writers I’ve come to know and respect …

And most of all, gratitude for a wife who supports and encourages my writing. Can’t ask for much more than that …

But I will. Buy a copy! Buy a friend a copy! Review it! Then join the throngs eagerly anticipating the release of the next book in the series, END OF DAYS …

Relax …

… There’s still time. Time to purchase a copy of VENDETTA before Christmas, of course. Why, you can get it INSTANTLY with Kindle! What better way to stuff a loved one’s stocking than with “a gripping novel of historical fiction?” (Thanks for the review M. Garvey)

And if that’s not enticing enough, there’s this glowing endorsement from J. Allen:

As a revenge thriller, it is tightly-plotted and paced, and offers everything you could want from a tale appropriately named “Vendetta” – fleshed-out, complex villains who are delightfully despicable without being cartoon cut-outs; heroes with passionate, angry, and entirely believable pathos, who are fallible enough to inject true suspense into the tale; and a very fast-moving, exciting plot, with enough surprises and twists to keep us guessing without seeming forced and contrived. 

I mean, come on. That review makes ME want to a buy a copy and I wrote the friggin’ book.

Buy VENDETTA!! Support an indie writer!! Burn a Yule log!! Guzzle spiked egg nog (blechhh)!! Throw up!! Feel better!!

Merry Christmas to all, and here’s hoping 2017 isn’t the total goat rope 2016 turned out to be …

Balance

What is the photo? It’s a shot taken somewhere in San Gimignano, back in the halcyon days of 2014, when the 2016 election season wasn’t on anyone’s radar… It has nothing, however, to do with balance …

Balance. In short, I have none. This is a result of my inability to focus on several things at once. And multi-tasking is a fallacy anyway, the classic example being driving while yapping on a phone.

But I’m talking specifically about balance and writing. Here’s what I mean.

About this time last year, I was getting ready to launch the final draft of my first novel into the hands of an editor. I lived and breathed that draft. Polishing it and prepping for publication were my focus of effort. And in mid-January, after recovering from the standard holiday season overeating/overdrinking extravaganza, it was ready. The point is, all of my attention was on getting VENDETTA into the world. And it was brought forth on 20 March of this year, after a certain amount of soul-searching, ‘hey, what the hell why not’ reasoning, and no small amount of ‘damn the torpedoes’ recklessness. And it was good. Happiness. Sort of. Because 2016 has been an emotional ballbuster of a year, filled with devastating loss for me and my family.

Balance. As an indie author, I spend a lot of time weighing the advice and web content of other writers. And at some point this summer, I lost my balance. Got fixated on shiny things. Got caught up in the websites of about fifteen different writers (all of whom seem to be making fistfuls of money) of the, ‘how to be successful at *fill in the blank*’ school of thought.

But I wasn’t writing.

After getting starry-eyed with visions of a mailing list numbering in the thousands (because VENDETTA was such an awesome book and why WOULDN’T thousands of people want to read it … even if my sales only numbered in the dozens), I scrambled to clean up my website. Got MailChimp up and running. Connected it to my website. Became fixated on building that oh so important subscriber list. And to say I’m hopeless when it comes to IT stuff is an understatement. One look at my website confirms it. That, and the fact I still can’t figure out why MailChimp and my website refuse to communicate with each other. Know how much writing I got done while jacking around with this silliness? None.

So, my enthusiasm for the mailing list idea waned. Oh! And how could I forget the YouTube channel I wanted to start? That idea was before the mailing list and fell just as flat. And I still wasn’t writing. Much, anyway. Certainly not the way I could crank out a few thousand words when VENDETTA was under development. I decided what I really needed (after consulting a few fellow writers and not heeding a word of their advice) was a Facebook author page. Because Facebook!

Well, you can see where this is going. I slapped together an author page, generated some content, ‘boosted’ a couple of posts, and got sucked into watching how many people my posts had reached. And while fascinated with watching the numbers rise, and the ‘likes’ accrue, I did ABSOLUTELY NO WRITING. Of consequence. The only real accomplishment I had was a copyright kerfuffle with a very nice man named William Quartier in either Belgium or France after someone pointed out I had cropped his signature from the photograph used as the post’s featured image. And, as an aside, William Quartier takes excellent medieval-themed photographs. I highly recommend his work. See some of it here: https://www.facebook.com/pg/ModernMedievalist/photos/?tab=album&album_id=650380664990643

The point being, when I was writing VENDETTA, I didn’t have an author page on Facebook.  I wasn’t focused on creating a mailing list. Or my website. I wasn’t worried about ‘building my brand,’ or getting my first 10,000 readers (which, admittedly, would be awesome particularly since my readers number about … well … not in the thousands). I wrote, and plotted, and revised, and edited, and tried to create the best story I could. And I was a helluva lot happier.

There are peaks and valleys while writing … just like with everything else, of course. But when things have been at their nadir, I’ll get encouragement from a friend or a family member. Or a fellow writer. And sure enough, someone has found a way to perk me up despite the gut-wrenchingness of this year’s events.

No more worrying about my brand. No more figuring out subscriber’s lists. No more Facebook tunnel vision. No more searching for my readership. No more sweating over market trends in my genre. And no more focusing on what has worked for other people …

Thank you, Aaron Michael Ritchey, for delivering the existential face-slap I so desperately needed. Your recently shared blog post from the good old days of 2013 was my call to action! Find out more about AMR here: http://aaronmritchey.com

Now, if you’ll excuse me … I have a sequel to finish.

 

 

I’m an idiot …

… so don’t do what I did. I pulled a photo from the web and jammed it into a blog post. And it doesn’t matter that I searched for ‘free photo stock.’ Nor does it matter that I never intended to steal someone else’s work.

What matters is I didn’t pay attention to an artist’s copyright/watermark, cropped it out of the photo, and used it as the header for my blog …

My apologies to William Quartier, whose image I took, and thank you to the gentleman who pointed it out to me.

Don’t do what I did. Credit the artist or ask permission to use their work … There’s no such thing as ‘free content.’

First Chapter Excerpt — END OF DAYS

Several posts back, I said my intention was to release a few lines from the sequel to VENDETTA. Then life happened. In any case, it’s a little late but here you go …

**Full disclaimer: this content might vary drastically in the final draft. It probably won’t, but story lines begin with the best of intentions. Then the Good Idea Fairy hits you over the head with a sledgehammer, and you wave bye-bye to your carefully conceived plot and character arcs. Also, this is an excerpt and in my current reckoning excerpts are short.

Fun factoid. The featured image of this post is the watchtower above the village of Brisighella mentioned in the excerpt. I took the photo in October, 2014.

If you’re unfamiliar with VENDETTA, the events in it take place mostly during the month of May, 1377 in the Romagna region of Italy.

I’m done yapping. Enjoy.

Angelo Anchioni and Stuart Heton — defrocked squires of the Hospitaller Order and through sheer recklessness, and no small amount of luck — in the employ of the feared condottiere and captain-general, Sir John Hawkwood, had been content to observe the hill for a number of days. They had enjoyed the assignment, for it allowed them to escape the stifling heat and incessant bugs of the plains and fens of the Romagna. The foothills of the Apennines were instead washed with cool breezes from the sea, heralding the onset of autumn. From their perch they could see the towers of Faenza three leagues northeast, and when the wind was right, hear the incessant, frenetic racket of hammers shaping iron, the crack of stone, and burr of saws as the city (sacked and gutted by their employer the previous year and again not two months past) was rebuilt. On clear days, they could could see Forlí to the east. Beyond it the grim ruin, blackened and silent, that was Cesena, and the shimmering Adriatic. 

Hawkwood told Anchioni, “Watch, listen, and do not be seen.” The captain-general of the Company of St George delivered this instruction over an armored shoulder, mounted on a foul-tempered blood bay courser. As was his wont, he had appeared of a sudden at the villa the squires shared on the outskirts of  Bagnacavallo. It was late July in the Romagna, a bright Tuesday morning just after Prime, and he had an escort of fifty lances in his wake. Anchioni and Heton found it remarkable, for the last word they had received of the captain-general was that he was in pursuit of Bretons in the employ of the Papacy, and many leagues south and west.

While his escort fanned out in search of shade, the Hawkwood strode through the cool courtyard, scattering pullets and ducks. He hammered on the doors, burst in without waiting for acknowledgement, and made himself at home in the squire’s white-washed solar. He noted with approval the floor tiles had been swept and scrubbed. Dried lavender and rosemary hung from the eaves, along with bundles of other herbs. The fire in the hearth was banked and all appeared neat and tidy. 

Both young men stood before him dressed in brown hose, belted tunics, and boots, all well made but without ornament or embroidery. Heton wore a leather jerkin over his tunic, while Anchioni chose to wear a brown capuchon. Both young men wore plain hats, though Heton’s sported a jaunty eagle feather. Their Hospitaller garments, ravaged by travel and battle, had been carefully mended and stowed in a chest, buried far from prying eyes under blankets and broadcloth.   

Hawkwood was attended by his chancellor, the Lucchese exile Jacopo da Pietrasanta, and accoutered for a campaign: cuirass, spaulders, vambraces, cuisses, greaves, and sabatons, all of Milanese make, the finest armor in Christendom. A bascinet nestled in the crook of his arm. On his head was a faded, dusty gray chaperone. He looked vigorous and fit, dark eyes agleam. His chancellor, however, was rumpled and unhappy, his robes and beret sweat-soaked and streaked with grime. 

The captain-general settled himself on a bench with a clank and rattle. Feigning outrage, he demanded hospitality in flawless, Florentine-accented Tuscan. “By Cuthbert and Barnabas, is this how a lord is treated by his vassals?” Using a foot, he shoved a chair toward Jacopo. “Sit before you fall on your face. We must harden you, Jacopo. After all these years, a night in the saddle shouldn’t trouble you so.” 

The chancellor settled himself and responded with a brittle wheeze. He waved away a cup proffered by Angelo, and instead sat, legs splayed, one arm dangling and the other across his breast, gripping a large leather satchel. His dark woolen robes and hose were coated with horse hair and from him emanated a warm, damp fog. 

While removing his gauntlets, Hawkwood said, “I believe poor Jacopo will never forgive me for this latest outrage on his well-padded frame. Messer Angelo, that basin and pitcher if you please. I’ll have a wash before dining. Young Heton, you seem to be moving well. Your legs have healed, then. And the beard suits you. What of your hand?”

“My thanks, Sir John,” replied Stuart Heton with a nod as he bustled about the table placing chargers, cups, spoons, a salt cellar, and knives. The tall youth walked with a slight limp. “My legs have healed; I can ride and run. But I’m still unable to hold hilt, axe, or lance.” In Mantua two months past, shortly after rescuing Angelo Anchioni, Heton had been on the losing end of a duel with a skilled, savage Breton mercenary. The cuts on his face, shoulders, and legs had knitted. But a stab wound through his right forearm remained unresolved.

“He can manage a bow well enough,” said Anchioni as he placed a linen towel and chunk of soap in front of Hawkwood. 

“Indeed?” Hawkwood cocked an eyebrow. He placed his bascinet on the bench and laved his hands in the basin. “What is this, Messer Angelo? Snow melt? Do I not deserve a bit of warm water? Lay the board and then we can discuss your first commission.” Switching to English, he said, “Why do you not have any servants?” 

“We’re rarely here, as it is, milord,” said Heton. “And we feel it’s not right to pay someone to do things we are capable of doing ourselves.” 

Hawkwood grunted. The squires had been warned of his impending arrival the previous evening by messenger, and so were neither flustered nor unprepared. While the captain-general washed, they completed laying the table: fresh bread, still warm from the town ovens; pottage; honey; favas in broth; eggs both fried and hard-boiled; and a roasted chicken. To drink there was mead and wine. 

The captain-general thumped the table, which startled Jacopo da Pietrasanta into awareness. “Sit! Messer Angelo, be a good lad and bless the food. By God, I haven’t eaten since before Compline yestereve.”

Angelo Anchioni delivered a brief blessing. The four men turned their attention to the food, Hawkwood with great gusto. They ate in relative silence. Heton had thrown open the weathered oaken windows and along with a soft breeze came an occasional burst of laughter, the scrape of steel on whetting stones, the scent of fresh turned earth and manure, the jangling of harness and nicker of horses. From further afield came the cries and songs of contadini busy at work in the fields and orchards around Bagnacavallo. 

The edge of his hunger blunted, Hawkwood deigned to speak, a faint grin on his brown, weathered face. Both squires, though courteous, had been fidgeting with impatience. They had eaten as though compelled at sword point. 

“You have kept abreast of recent events? Reports have arrived?” When they nodded, he continued. “And Messer Angelo, you have followed my instruction and become familiar with the lands between Rimini and Bologna?” 

“I have done so, Sir John.” Left unasked by the squire was why he had been sent on an almost ceaseless reconnaissance. Nor did Anchioni discuss several encounters during his daily rides that had ended in sword strokes and bloodshed. Unlike Heton, Anchioni had made a full recovery as the brigands who attempted to waylay him discovered. 

“Good. There is a matter of great interest in the foothills, not far to the south. Mischief may be brewing and I would know more of it.”

Heton said, “Mischief, milord?”

“Aye, mischief. What know you of Faenza, the Este family, and Astorre Manfredi?”  

The squires glanced warily at each other and shrugged in unison. With furrowed brow and pursed lips, Anchioni regarded the contents of his cup. Heton spoke for them. “Of Faenza, signore, we know you sacked it and gave possession of it to Signore Manfredi, who aided you in the assault and is now part of the anti-Papal league. Signore Este owned it previously. He purchased it from you last year, but remains allied to the Pope. We can only assume — ” 

“Ah! Make no assumptions,” said Hawkwood. He grabbed the ewer containing mead, sniffed it, and filled his cup. “Signore Manfredi and I have an accord, it is true. We sent the Bretons around Cesena scurrying for the hills like the dogs they are. As for Signore Este, he and I also have an accord. Do not concern yourself,” he paused to wet his throat, “with making assumptions. What I need are eyes. Sharp, young eyes. On Brisighella. Eyes that can be trusted. You know Brisighella? Did you acquaint yourself with the location of it, Messer Angelo?”

“Yes, signore.” Anchioni, lips still pursed and brown eyes troubled. “It is a small village in the hills, several leagues south of Faenza. The Fiume Lamone runs through a canyon east of it. The village is not large but it’s well fortified, and the road to it is heavily patrolled. There is a stout, round tower and keep high above it. The hills are steep, though there are olives and grapes. Heavy timber, too. I spent a day watching it from the opposite side of the valley.” Once more he stared at the contents of his cup. “It was hard going, getting up there. More fit for mules or feet than horses.”

“And north of the tower and keep?”

Anchioni nodded. “Another tower, signore. Though it is smaller, as is the hilltop on which it is sighted.”

“And it is that smaller tower upon which I would have your eyes,” said Hawkwood, and rapped his knuckles on the board. “Can you manage it? What I mean is, are the two of you ready to take the field?” He turned his attention to the charger of fried eggs.

Anchioni squirmed. “Signore, when last I saw pestilence flags flew from those towers, and the town walls.”

“Yes, yes. The sable standard of warning. A subterfuge I’ve used on more than one occasion to fool prying eyes. Were there fires? And could you hear mourners howling their grief?”

“No, signore.”

“There you have it,” said Hawkwood.

“So they are hiding something or wish not to be disturbed. What are we looking for, milord?” asked Heton.

“You’ll know it when you see it, Master Heton. And once you’ve seen it, send word to me immediately.”

Heton glanced at his friend, who continued to gaze at the the contents of his cup, though now with puckered lips and raised eyebrows. He then turned to Hawkwood. “Milord, we have stood more than our share of watches on land and sea. And always knew what we were looking for. It would greatly aid our cause if — ”

“You will know it,” Hawkwood snapped. “Is it beyond your skill to sit on a hill top, remain undetected, and report all that you see?”

The young men sat erect, hands in their laps, at the abrupt change in the captain-general’s voice.

Anchioni cleared his throat. “No, milord. But such a task would be easier were you to tell us — ”

“Enough, by Cuthbert and Barnabas! If I say you’ll know it, then that is what I mean. My rede is thus: provision and arm yourselves, and get to that damned hill. I give you seven days to prepare. Jacopo will give you further instructions.” Hawkwood pushed back from the trestle and stood. “My thanks for this fine meal, but I must away. Messer Anchioni, attend me in the yard. Master Heton, do what you can to revive Signor Pietrasanta, else you’ll never see any coin. And remember Jacopo, who is to accompany them!”

Anchioni followed the captain-general into the courtyard, on his left hand and half a pace behind the rapidly striding Englishman. At the sight of their commander, Hawkwood’s escort immediately began making ready to depart. His squire remained in the shade and held the reins of his master’s snorting courser. 

Without a backward glance Hawkwood thrust his bascinet at Anchioni and grunted, “If you please.” Abruptly facing Anchioni he tugged on his heavy gauntlets and in an undertone said, “I can tell by the set of your jaw, Messer Angelo, that all is not well. What concerns you more? The health of your comrade, or the distinct lack of Visconti blood on your blade?”

Anchioni turned the helm in his hands, admiring its heft and the spare yet expertly wrought silver and gold chasing. Its visor bore the stamp of a forge from a renowned Lombard armorer in Villa Basilica. In an equally low voice, he said, “You said I could count on your aid, milord.” 

Hawkwood nodded and checked the fit of his spurs. With practiced ease, he removed the scabbarded arming sword from his belt. “Just so. I did.” In June, the Englishman had promised to assist Anchioni in exacting revenge upon Bernabò Visconti, the ruler of Milan, under whose order Anchioni’s parents had been slain in Barletta the previous year.

“When shall we strike then?” He frowned at the taller man. “When shall I have my vengeance?”

“Patience, Messer Angelo,” Hawkwood chided. He grasped the sword hilt and exposed a third of the blade, examining its edge and scanning for rust. “I am newly wed and have a campaign to manage. There is also the welfare of my men to consider. There aren’t many months left in the fighting season. Arrangements must be made for garrisoning the Company of St George. And there is the problem in Brisighella. It is of great interest, as I said. Consider it a measure of your abilities, if you like. Should you perform well, I’ll be moved to aid you that much quicker.”

“Milord — ”

“Enough.” Hawkwood raised a hand. “I know your aim. And my wife, Lady Donnina, affirmed my thoughts on this matter. You have recovered from the wounds you received in Mantua?”

“Yes, milord.” Anchioni shuddered with rage as remembered the dank, dark cellar where he had been imprisoned and savagely beaten, nearly two months past. He had ultimately avenged himself on his hated half-brother, Romigi, for it was he — with assistance from Milanese agents and Genoese mercenaries — who had plotted the death of his mother and father.

“And what of Master Heton? Do you believe him fit or is this task beyond him?”

Anchioni’s dark eyes narrowed. “If watching is all that needs to be done, aye, he can manage, signore. He has not yet regained his full strength, or wind, though. I worry about his sword arm. It may never be the same.”

Hawkwood passed the sword to his attentive squire. Shading his brow, he checked the angle of the sun and disposition of his escort. “There is more?” he asked. “Speak now, Messer Angelo, for only God knows when next you’ll have me thus.”

Anchioni considered, also watching the activity taking place in the villa courtyard, gut churning with indecision. “No. No, signore,” he finally grated, unable to look the captain-general in the eye.

“Good.” Hawkwood motioned to his squire, who helped his master mount. “My helmet, Messer Angelo. Fear not. I am not one who forgets those who aid me. And I do not forget a promise.”

Anchioni lifted the sturdy helm but would not relinquish his hold once Hawkwood grasped it. The Englishman frowned at Anchioni, and his hard gaze was met by Anchioni’s grim countenance. “Nor do I, signore. Nor do I.” With that he released his grip and backed away from Hawkwood’s irritable mount.

Hawkwood grunted and eyed the younger man. “May your saints watch over you, Messer Angelo. And do not fail me.” Turning to the commander of his escort, he snapped, “Sound the advance.” And amidst shouted commands and a brazen fanfare of trumpets, Hawkwood led a handful of horsemen out of the courtyard to join the rest of his escort. The column ambled south toward Faenza, the points of lance and spear flashing, helms gleaming, raising dust and scattering folk from the narrow, rutted road.

Swiftly ascending the villa’s narrow watch tower, Anchioni watched the cavalry dwindle into the haze and in the column’s wake, those it had displaced regained the road and continued their travels. The former squire stood, arms crossed over his broad breast, the hood of his simple brown capuchon tugged by a warm mid-morning breeze that carried the salt tang of the sea. “Nor do I,” he muttered.

Medieval Swordplay

It’s November, that dreaded month when writers hurl themselves down the abyss of NaNiWriMo. Uhh, I tried it last year. Didn’t end well. Turns out my writing benefits from a lack of deadlines, vice an associated time-crunch. But to all of those who signed up and are plugging away, I wish you the best of luck. I should be posting about NaNiWriMo and how awesome it is, but instead I want to talk about: medieval swordplay.

When I first started writing VENDETTA, I had a few nifty ideas for the fight scenes. Like just about everything else when it came to researching the period, I discovered I had probably watched ‘Conan the Barbarian’ — the original — one too many times. I also read a lot of Robert E. Howard growing up and through my brothers, was introduced to Conan comics, which probably scarred me for life in really interesting ways, but also misrepresented authentic medieval combat. I mean, burly dudes weren’t running around in 1377 wearing nothing but bearskin loincloths and boots (and sturdy bracers), while effortlessly taking apart armored foes with a trusty broadsword.

I wanted my fights to be fairly authentic, with just a smidge of melodrama added for good measure (à la Errol Flynn and Basil Rathbone in ‘The Adventures of Robin Hood’). Fortunately, there are numerous resources available. Talk about going down a YouTube rabbit hole … I spent more time researching medieval combat/fencing than anything else. It didn’t take too long to find a couple of solid sources. One was ARMA — the Association for Renaissance Martial Arts. The other was HEMA — Historic European Martial Arts.

ARMA is based out of the US and its prime mover is a guy named Jon Clements who is an expert on late-medieval and Renaissance period combat (just ask him; he’ll tell you). What I gleaned from watching ARMA demonstration videos was the exhaustive nature of sustained swordplay, how the environment can impact a fight, how a sword fight — like most fights — would usually end up with the combatants on the ground, and the speed/accuracy one can achieve with lots and lots of training. But, while I totally respect his knowledge and skill, I find Jon Clements a bit abrasive. So, I learned what I could and continued searching. That’s when I found HEMA.

HEMA proved to be a wonderful source for video re-enactments and interviews with armorers, wordsmiths, bowyers, and archers. Because, lets’s face it — Europe is sort of where the whole medieval thing took place and it’s chock-full of re-enactors and period martial artists. I found one guy in particular, though, who made relatively short and very informative videos on YouTube. His name is Matt Easton and he runs a HEMA group in England called Scholagladiatoria. Check out one of his videos here:

And there are plenty more … If you don’t want to watch videos and can decipher Latin, French, German, and Italian, a number of medieval fighting treatises still exist and you can find them on the interwebs. Do enough Google searching and you’ll run into them. One of the more famous ones was written by Johannes Lichtenauer. Wouldn’t you know it, Matt Easton made a video about it, right here:

In any case, both ARMA and HEMA inform the descriptions of medieval fencing in my writing. If you’re shooting for authenticity in your own work, or just want to learn a little bit about how gritty hand-to-hand combat was back in the day, without any of the silliness demonstrated in movies and television, do yourself a favor and check out some of the sites I mentioned above.

 

END OF DAYS teaser: Brisighella

No, it’s not a funky and virulent contagion. Nor is it related to mortadella. It is not, in fact, a cured meat.

Brisighella is a small town in the foothills of the Apennines, about ten miles southwest of Faenza. There are three promontories overlooking it. One holds a small fortress, another holds a clock tower, and the third (and highest) has a chapel.

The fortress (Rocca Manfredi): img_0659

The clock tower: img_0693

The chapel … maybe … ? img_0698

No that’s definitely the chapel, as seen from the castle.

At any rate, Brisighella was such a cool town we visited it TWICE. The second time was primarily for a festival involving a specific kind of pig. Everyone was friendly and welcoming and for that reason — along with it’s topography — I decided it needed to figure prominently in the beginning of END OF DAYS, the sequel to VENDETTA.

And oh my droogs, will it be one hell of an explosive beginning …

Stay tuned …

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Research

When people find out I write historical fiction, there are a couple of statements they throw out (after the initial, ‘whoa, you’re a writer’), almost without fail.

The first is, “I don’t know anything about the fourteenth century.” I’ve got nothing for that. I mean, if you’ve heard of the Black Death you know a little something about the era. And it’s kind of a big deal. I mean, about one-quarter of the world’s population was wiped out. It’s an important factoid.

The second is, “Wow, you must have done a ton of research.” THAT is an easy one to respond to.

“Yes,” I say. “Not only did I do a ton of research. I did a SHIT-ton of research.” So not only do I validate a person’s assumptions, I teach them a snappy new adjective … shit-ton. It’s an old Marine term …

I’m hard at work on Book the Second: plotting, strategizing, outlining, character sketching … and *groan* researching. Because despite the fact I’m using a lot of the same characters from VENDETTA, and despite the events in END OF DAYS taking place in the same year as VENDETTA (at least, initially), our heroes have an awful lot of adversity to overcome, new enemies to beat the snot out of, and new ground to cover.  Places to go, things to do, wrongs to right, feelings to hurt …

While beating my head against the desk one day — because, quite frankly, reading about the Papacy and the conclave process is like putting railroad spikes through my skull — I looked at the giant stack of books that all provided fodder for VENDETTA, one way or another. It put things into perspective. I went through a lot of books; the real deal (I’m old school and like holding a book in my paws) and ebooks. And a large number of websites, too.

A lot of this … img_1766

… got squeezed into this:

img_1768

No wonder I can’t remember where I put my car keys …

#writerslife, #amwritinghistoricalfiction, #VENDETTA

 

 

 

 

 

VENDETTA Milestones and other news

I couldn’t help but notice the dates on my previous posts, and how they correlated to when fire season went from ‘busy’ to ‘downright aggravating.’ It was hard to get excited about the continuing hijinks of Angelo Anchioni and Stuart Heton when fire was so unrelenting in GTNP this season. Not complaining, mind you … Love fire-fighting. I’m just saying …

On to other things!

With all of the fire business (the Berry Fire, in particular, had my number) it was hard to focus on maintaining interest, drumming up sales, doing that whole f&@^#%* marketing thing.

As a brief aside … Wanna be a writer? Then don’t do it the way I did it. 1. Write a book. 2. Come up with a marketing plan. 3. Query hard. 4. Get an agent. 5. Get published. Repeat one, two, three, and five. I’ve been pin balling all over the place. Know nothing about marketing. It’s like ‘Opposite Day’ with me and publishing. Do as I say, not as I do …

Anyway, two nights ago I happened to glance at Amazon and POW!! VENDETTA had twenty reviews … This morning, twenty-one. And there’s really twenty-three if you count the pair of reviews from the Kindle version.

For the four people reading this, you’re like, “*Yawn.* Now what are those whacky Kardashians up to today?” HA! And you’d be right to wonder what they’re up to. For the rest of the mortals who don’t have gobs of money thrown at them for breathing valuable oxygen, let me elucidate.

Twenty-plus reviews on Amazon means VENDETTA will start appearing in the ‘readers also read this’ banner which appears under your book purchase. Or whatever it is you’re purchasing.

Thank you so much to everyone who wrote reviews! And don’t worry — I’ll continue to gently cajole all of the hold-outs. And you know who you are … Really, though, I don’t know who you are. But if I did … Well. Hoffa. Cement boots. Lead pipe diplomacy. A tune-up from my boys Rocco and Gino. You get the drift …

Speaking of drift, work on END OF DAYS is going in fits and starts. I’ve taken a different approach to this book and have actually created a premise, a synopsis, an outline, plot lines, character arcs, the whole shebang. I was talking about this to my wife a few nights ago and she said, “You wrote an entire book without an OUTLINE!?! I can’t believe you did that. How did you keep everything straight in your head?”

She got the standard reply: “Magic.”

Honestly, I don’t know how I managed it. Sheer force of will, maybe. In any case, thank you KL Cooper  https://twitter.com/undercoverklc  for turning me on to Chris Fox and his ability to break down outlining, Barney-style… Check out Chris Fox (he writes sci-fi and horror) on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCu6RYg6_-pTQxLVq3Fv6lYg and at his website:  https://chrisfoxwrites.com

I’ll have an excerpt from END OF DAYS by the end of this month. That is the goal/plan. And a mailing list! Which is what I intended to do before writing this post …