Hey Friends. The Qwillery (an awesome blog page and all round amazing website) just published an interview we did with them about the release of The Darkest Lord. Take a look and leave some feedback if you have a chance.
We just posted a new blog entry about “the trials of trilogies” on the Qwillery blog. If you get a chance wander over a take a look.
A blog about books and other things speculative
We are now 5 days to the launch of the final chapter of the Avery Stewart trilogy, and I want to turn your attention to one of my favorite parts of writing the Mysterium books: the references. If you have had a chance to read any of the Mysterium Chronicles then you know that scattered throughout are references to books or games or movies that have made up our life’s education in the sci-fi, fantasy, wargaming, and roleplaying universe. Some are obvious, like the Dimensional Macrocosm Guide or DMG that Eldrin was constantly referencing in The Dark Lord. As Avery explains in Chapter 6:
A DMG is a manual of sorts (in official parlance a detailed log of experimental requirements, parameters and procedures) that has to be written by every Mysterium researcher that wants to conduct an experiment on a subworld. In theory, nearly any question about the world (its people, geography, religion, climate, etc.) can be found in the researcher’s DMG. However, the comprehensive nature of the document means that its utility is almost entirely dependent on how well it is organized (how thoughtful the table of contents is and how thorough the index). I wrote those key portions of my DMG in a mad rush about twenty-four hours before I was due to start my experiment, a fact Eldrin was keenly aware of.
This of course is a reference to one of my favorite gaming books of all time: the original 1st Edition DMG for DnD.
The 1st Edition DMG was a bizarre book with an awesome cover. (I mean look at that crazy muscled demon with the lightning coming off of its body.) The reason I loved this book is that it really did have everything. Tables for treasures. Tables for clothes. Tables for monsters. Tables for weather. Tables for animals. Even tables (and I am not making this up) for random harlots. What is more, these tables really were scattered about without reason or logic. As a kid growing up it was the ultimate Easter egg hunt, only where you might find something to inflict on your players. Like pgs 13 and 14 that had tables for, among other things, chances for parasitic infestation. (What only a +1% chance for parasitic infection after being exposed to raw sewage? Come on!)
Inserting these little tidbits into the Mysterium Chronicles was not only a great way to take a walk along memory lane, but also to learn new things. Like in Chapter 21 of The Dark Lord where we had to figure out the geometric names of all the DnD dice: pentagonal trapezohedra, tetrakis hecaderon, deltoidal icositetrahedron! Or in Chapter 10 of The Darker Lord where, in researching different names for types of books, I discovered that the term “libram” was coined by some fantasy or roleplaying author because it sounded cool.
Still my favorite references are those that trigger some memory. Trevor and Tanner in The Darker Lord (Chapter 14) discussing their KHAAAAAN! theory. Or the many books Avery and crew raced through in their mad flight from Moregoth later in that same book. In each case the hardship was not in coming up with lists and lists and lists of possible references, but in deciding which ones to cut. In the end, we tended to err on the side of nostalgia.
In fact, one criticism we’ve received about the Mysterium Chronicles is that our references tend to the “golden age” of sci-fi and fantasy and omit more recent creations. It’s a fair point. We like to bring up the Kirk-era Star Trek more than the Pine-era. (Although as you know from The Darker Lord, Dawn does enjoy the “cute Spock” quite a bit.) Likewise, our literary references tend toward Tolkien and Zelazny, Donaldson and Moorcock rather than Rothfuss or Martin. Some of that is us showing our age, but some is a sense that references work best when a novel or a movie has had time to settle into the collective consciousness of readers and viewers. While I know what to say about Harry Potter or Rand al’Thor, I’m not sure what will become of Kvothe or who will even be alive at the end of the next Song of Fire and Ice novel (presuming Martin ever chooses to grace us with another one). And so, in The Darkest Lord, when Eldrin waxes poetic about the 1979 war game The Campaign for North Africa, know that it comes from a place of love for the absurd in all of us that keeps the memories of these old, and sometimes bizarre, creations alive.
[Now that you’ve read about a couple of our favorite references, why not tell us about yours. Or, tell us about what references you hope will be coming in The Darkest Lord. All submissions give you a chance to win amazing prizes from Jack. You may even win an “Avery Lives” t-shirt, which is of course another reference.]
Jack said let their be many prizes handed out. I want to thank all those that left comments on our website. I also want to thank everyone that engaged with us on Facebook or shared our post with others. All of you are eligible for swag!
For those of you who signed up for our news letter, old Jack will be sending you a personal email to see what size shirt you wear and where you want him to send it! For those of you that used Facebook expect a message from a Jack with the same request.
For those of you that haven’t engaged with us, let this be a reminder that Jack believes in the power of free stuff! And, that it isn’t too late to get in on the action. There are still 11 more days to count down to the Darkest Lord.
Tomorrow, join us as Jack’s West Coast arm discusses the state of Avery as we enter his final chapter. It’s a bit of a recap with perhaps a few hints as to what might be coming up as Avery comes face to face with The Darkest Lord.
All the Best,
Hey all, it’s your good pal Jack. I realize it has been some time since there has been any activity on the blog and website. The reason for that is three-fold. First, I was trying to get The Darker Lord out, and then second had to turn immediately to writing up the final chapter in the adventures of Avery Stewart. The good news is that we are in the homestretch on edits for the next book in the trilogy, The Darkest Lord, which will be coming out in January.
Third, in addition to these writing activities, I’ve been in the midst of a complete redesign for the Jack Heckel website. I am happy to reveal it today! In fact, I am so excited about the changes that I am going to be giving away some free stuff to celebrate. Now, while your good buddy Jack is a magnanimous fellow (as anyone will tell you) he isn’t a fool. So, here is what you must do to claim your prize:
- Anyone visiting the site and sending me a personal message will receive a free e-copy of one of my novels (your choice).
- If you also comment on a blog entry I will instead send you a physical copy of one of my books (again your choice).
- If in addition, you leave a review for one of Jack’s books on GoodReads or Amazon, Jack will send you an “Avery Lives” shirt from his newest line of clothing.
- If you do all the above you can get a super cool Mysterium University sweatshirt!
- Different sizes are available, but in limited quantities and, as you might expect, we live in a first come first serve world!
Check back frequently as we begin tomorrow counting down the 12 days to The Darkest Lord! In a new twist, we will also begin posting excerpts of novels we are working on. I hope you enjoy this newest iteration of the site.
All the best,
Life rises out of death, death rises out of life; in being opposite they yearn to each other, they give birth to each other and are forever reborn. And with them all is reborn, the flower of the apple tree, the light of the stars. In life is death. In death is rebirth. What then is life without death? Life unchanging, everlasting, eternal? –What is it but death—death without rebirth?
-Ursula K. Le Guin
There is a lot one could write about Ursula K. Le Guin. She was a trailblazer in so many aspects of her life. She was a woman science fiction and fantasy author in the sixties when the genres were dominated by male voices. She was a feminist, an activist, a philosopher. She wrote deep thoughtful books in ways that were both accessible and engaging. You could spend pages diving into any one of her novels or causes and only scratch the surface on her impact on literature and culture more broadly. But, today I want to talk about what Ms. Le Guin meant to me, because even though I never met her, she is one of the few authors I feel a personal connection with.
Deep relationships are formed over many years. The first time I read about Frodo and Sam, a boy of ten sitting with my father’s red leather-bound copy of The Lord of the Rings splayed enormously in my lap, they were just characters in a story. By the time I was fifteen, I read the stories, not to see how they ended, but to spend time with old friends. Every time I got to the end and Sam said, “Well, I’m back,” I knew that was just his way of saying good-bye.
Some books take longer for me to connect to, and some will always remain remote. I could read Elric’s saga a thousand times and never find peace with his strange otherness. This separation between reader and subject is not uncommon. In most fantasy, strange creatures abide in strange worlds: orcs and elves and dwarves live in places where dragons fly and vast armies battle and mountains of doom smoke ominously. The Earthsea Trilogy is different. Great deeds are hinted at, but the real focus of the books is on the same struggles that regular people have to deal with every day: paying for your mistakes, discovering your place in the world and learning that it may shift underneath you at any moment, facing your own mortality.
I picked up my brother’s copy of A Wizard of Earthsea when I was eleven. It was a tumultuous time for me. My parents had just separated. After spending my elementary years in public school and attending church only on Christmas and Easter, I found myself enrolled in a Catholic private school where church and belief were mandatory. I was struggling in ways that were disorienting. Never having been in the principal’s office, I spent my first several months of school in constant trouble. It was nothing that legions of middle school kids haven’t faced before, but it was all new to me and seemed insurmountable. This was my life when I met Ged. I identified with him immediately. His joy in magic. His restlessness. His feelings of inadequacy. His need to prove himself. This was not some ancient wise man I could never aspire to be, like a Gandalf, but a young man who went to school and made mistakes and got in trouble. He was me, and he lived in a world and faced problems I could identify with.
If stories about young wizards going to school sounds familiar—cough, Harry Potter, cough—you can thank Ged, or more appropriately, Le Guin. Before she burst on scene with A Wizard of Earthsea, mages were almost universally old white men with beards and heroes were larger than life. Her works opened the door to fantasy heroes of any gender, any age, any color, and just as flawed, and weak, and, yes, mortal as we are. In fact, mortality is a theme that is woven through many of Le Guin’s books. We are introduced to that shadowed world and its low stone wall early in A Wizard of Earthsea, and we learn quickly that there are places even mages cannot go. In The Tombs of Atuan she tells us that there are beings that cannot die, but neither can they live. This idea, that death is necessary to the existence of life, is the theme at the heart of the last book in the Earthsea Trilogy: The Farthest Shore. It was a hard lesson to learn when I was young and very much frightened by the idea that our time on this Earth was limited, and I imagine it is a truth that will be harder to accept as I grow older and that end comes nearer. There is a Paul Simon verse from his song The Leaves That Are Green that runs around my head every time someone I feel a connection to dies:
Hello, Hello, Hello, Good-bye,
Good-bye, Good-bye, Good-bye,
That’s all there is.
And the leaves that are green turned to brown,
And they wither with the wind,
And they crumble in your hand.
In its brutal succinctness, it may be one of the most despairing bits of poetry ever written. We are born, we connect ourselves to other people, and then they are taken away from us one by one. We lost Richard Adams in 2016, and I couldn’t help but be sad for Hazel and Pipkin, and all the rabbits of Watership Down. This summer, while I was in London, Michael Bond passed, and it seemed inconceivable that Paddington Bear’s creator was no longer with us. Now, I must say good-bye to Ms. Le Guin, the author that created one of my oldest and best friends. It would be easy to despair. Yet, in one of those strange coincidences that makes you wonder if serendipity and fate are not long-lost siblings, I have been reading the Earthsea Triology with my eleven-year-old for the past couple of months. We were about half-way through The Farthest Shore when we heard the news about Le Guin’s passing. That night we read the following passage:
I, who am old, who have done what I must do, who stand in the daylight facing my own death, the end of all possibility, I know that there is only one power that is real and worth the having. And that is the power, not to take, but to accept.
There is no way I could have said it better. Rest in peace, Ms. Le Guin. You will be missed. Now, I need to go and spend time with my old friend Ged. I understand that he and Tenar have some unfinished business to attend to on Gont. Some advice old friend, I think she’s a keeper!
She was my first princess, and she is still the image I carry in my mind when the word princess arises in any context. The year was 1977 and I was eight when Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope was released. I watched in awe as Princess Leia and Luke and Han and Chewie zoomed across the big screen. A few years later when The Empire Strikes Back was released I would learn that my heroes could be cut and they could bleed and they could lose, but in that first movie they seemed indestructible. Darth Vader couldn’t catch them. The trash compactor couldn’t smash them. No matter how many blasters were aimed at R2D2 none of them would ever hit him. And the Death Star… well let’s just say it was no match for my heroes.
As a little boy I identified with Luke—even though I really wished I could be as cool as Han. And, of course, I fell in love with Leia, and by extension, Carrie Fisher. She was beautiful to be sure, but she was far more than just beautiful. She was tough and sharp-tongued and quick-witted. She was a rebel bad-ass who could take it and dish it out with the best of them, and was also more than a fair-shot with a blaster. She survived the worst torture that Vader and that sinister, floating, needle-carrying bot could dish out, and still didn’t give up the location of the rebel base. She watched her planet get blown from existence and still did not break. Even after what must had been a soul-shattering experience she was game enough to carry-on. It was she, not Han or Luke, that led them to escape through the trash chute, and it was she that ultimately brought them and the plans to the rebels giving the galaxy that “one-in-a-million” chance to defeat the Empire. In other words, she was an ideal princess for a new age.
How appropriately ironic that this princess of mine would—Sleeping Beauty-like–slumber for thirty-two years only to awake again in the aptly named Force Awakens episode of the Star Wars saga to thrill us once more. And, if she was less prone to wise-cracks and swinging across chasms, then so was I. She may have been sadder and wiser, but she was still my princess, and every time she was on screen I was reveled in her presence there. I also knew more about her. From her many autobiographical books like Wishful Drinking, and semi-autobiographical books like Postcards From the Edge, I knew that Fisher herself embodied many of the traits I admired in Leia. As Brian Jay Jones wrote in his new biography, George Lucas: A Life, “Fisher had a wicked sense of humor and a foul mouth — fueled at times by a drug habit she managed to keep mostly hidden — and she had no trouble at all playing a tough-talking princess.” If anything, the knowledge that she, like so many, had struggled to find their place in the world, only helped to make her more real, and more identifiable.
Today my princess left this world. Like all great fairytale characters she will live on forever in the stories she left behind, and she will continue to bring joy to millions, but knowing this doesn’t make today feel any better. She was my princess, and I will miss her. Rest in Peace, Carrie. Wherever you are may you live happily ever after, and may the force be with you—always.
It’s out!!! Check out the Harper Blog today!
There are times that the inspiration of a story can be traced to a single point in time. Stephanie Meyer has revealed that her Twilight series was born from a dream in which she saw a person in a meadow who was “fantastically beautiful, sparkly, and a vampire.” Frankenstein is said to have resulted from a ghost story challenge among friends that itself arose from the boredom brought on by the extended winter of 1816. Most famously, Tolkien’s entire pantheon apparently sprung from a single sentence that popped into his head one day while grading English papers: “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” Unfortunately, I have no pithy way of explaining the germinating idea for my forthcoming fantasy novel The Dark Lord, because the novel itself is a kind of aggregation of a lifetime of influences.
I was born into the world of the late-1960’s, and came of age as fantasy fiction (heralded by Tolkien’s works) emerged from the shadows and went mainstream. In my youth I marveled every time I read the slogan “Frodo lives” on the wall of a bathroom stall, and wondered why someone wouldn’t know that, but also how mean it was to give the ending away. From my earliest reading memories I can recall coveting my father’s beautiful green and red leather-bound Houghton Mifflin editions of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and though I know there are those that think it is sacrilege to actually read these volumes, from age 9 or 10 onward (as soon as my parents thought me responsible enough not to destroy them) my summer ritual involved reading both volumes cover to cover before school began again in the fall. And, Tolkien was just a gateway to an amazing run of fantasy literature authors like Le Guin, Pratchett, Eddings, Donaldson, Moorcock, McCaffery, Brooks, Jordan, Anthony, and so on that spanned my formative years.
An obsession with fantasy literature led me, as it did many children in the late 70’s and early 80’s, into the world of Dungeons & Dragons and roleplaying. These games opened up another layer of fantasy culture to me. I would rush to the hobby shops each month (when I had a little money to spend) to find new supplements and adventures to buy (or at least covet). I thumbed through every issue of Dragon Magazine I could get my hands on trying to learn about the latest spells and the newest (and sometimes silliest) monsters until they literally disintegrated from over use. I went through reams of graph paper and graphite pencils designing my own nefarious dungeons and adventures, most of which never went off exactly the way I’d planned. And my friends and I spent late nights surrounded by well-worn dice simultaneously laughing over the preposterous situation presented by the module we were being run through, and simultaneously terrified that we wouldn’t survive it.
All of these influences over all those years went into writing The Dark Lord. The novel is my ode to the genre that has given me so much joy over the years, and springs from all those observations and questions any avid consumer of fantasy culture from the past forty years is bound to ask:
“Why does every world seem to have elves, and why are they always so much cooler than everyone else?”
“Why do dwarfs tend to drink so much? Is it an inherited trait, and if so should we try and get them some help?”
“Why don’t they print book covers like this anymore?”
“Why are there so many underground tunnel systems of such immense complexity, and why are they so often filled with vicious monsters or diabolical traps or both?”
“Why must our heroes always have to venture through those aforementioned vast underground complexes to get whatever it is they are looking for, and why don’t the aforementioned monsters, being as greedy and seemingly amoral as they are, never seem to grab whatever it is the heroes are trying to get first?”
“Whatever you want to call him, her or it, whether that be Sauron or Torak or the Dark One or Lord Foul or Voldemort, who are these villains? What are their motives? Why do they so often like to live in tall dark towers and breed orcs or goblins or the like?”
And, of course the ultimate question, “Do they think they’re evil?”
With respect to this last question, I turn back to my earliest roots. Most people would consider Sauron to be a being of pure evil, but Tolkien himself did not. In his letters to his son the author wrote:
In my story I do not deal in Absolute Evil. I do not think there is such a thing, since that is Zero. I do not think that at any rate any ‘rational being’ is wholly evil. Satan fell. In my myth Morgoth fell before Creation of the physical world. In my story Sauron represents as near an approach to the wholly evil will as is possible. He had gone the way of all tyrants: beginning well, at least on the level that while desiring to order all things according to his own wisdom he still at first considered the (economic) well-being of other inhabitants of the Earth. But he went further than human tyrants in pride and the lust for domination, being in origin an immortal (angelic) spirit.
In The Dark Lord I try to ask and answer as many of these questions as I can. And, I also ask a new question: What if Tolkien is right and all of it, all the bizarre magical rules and weird creatures, all the strange quests and legendary weapons with funny names, what if all the evil and strife suffered by all the inhabitants of all those imaginary worlds was less the result of a sociopathic mastermind, and more the product of someone trying to do the right thing very badly. Oh, and what if his name was Avery, and when he wasn’t terrorizing worlds he lived in a dorm with his best friend Eldrin (who is an elf, and really cool and beautiful… of course).
In less than a month, the ebook of The Dark Lord will be available (November 1st to be exact!) We are very excited, but we’ve also realized that other than the cover reveal, we haven’t posted much about it. Time to start fixing that…
The Dark Lord is the first of a new series where we have fun with epic fantasy, much in the way The Charming Tales twist fairy tales in amusing ways. It’s part Lord of the Rings, part Dungeons & Dragons, a touch of World of Warcraft, a hint of Magic: The Gathering, and a wee pinch of Amber, just for good measure. Oh, and college, because what better place for fantasy than a university?
Our protagonist, Avery, is a grad student at the mystical Mysterium University (worthy of its own blog post) attempting to complete his dissertation. He wants to take the sub-world of Trelari, a dimension of lesser reality and ‘innoculate’ it from the forces of evil. In order to do so, he uses himself as a vaccine. He becomes The Dark Lord, and unites all the powers of darkness. This inspires the forces of good to unite to oppose him and allows the Heroes of the Age to assemble and ‘defeat’ him. Good triumphs over evil and all is right with the world. Avery returns home and looks forward to his graduate degree. Life is good.
Until Avery succumbs to temptation and allows an undergrad to steal Trelari’s Key to Reality. When she enters the sub-world, Avery has to follow. His only true ally is his roommate Eldrin, and without the Key to Reality, he has to unite with the heroes who opposed him when he was The Dark Lord.
It’s a more serious novel than The Charming Tales, although it’s filled with some amusing characters including a Semi-Lich and the Master of Dungeons. There are also possibly gelatinous polygons. If you ever played fantasy roleplaying games or read epic fantasy, we hope that you’ll give the novel a try. You will laugh and probably reminisce quite a bit as you catch our references.