The Backdrop of History in Iron Will Rust

Francis I - 1515

Francis I - 1515

A NEW KING

On January 1, 1515, Louis XII died with no male heir, so his daughter, Claude, became heiress to the Duchy of Brittany and essentially, the Queen of France. This meant her husband; Francis of Angoulême became king of France, considered as Francis I. Francis is a major character in Iron Will Rust.

The novel begins essentially a week before Louis XII’s death. Francis I is young and ambitious. Educated by the best, he embodies modern views on art, architecture, and the Renaissance. He’s athletic and competitive, tall, boyish, idealistic, and anxious to do something dramatic to build his legacy. When the ambassador of Venice comes calling,  he seizes the opportunity to form an alliance. This gives Francis the additional military power he needs to do what he dreamed of - conquer Italy all the way to Rome.

SFORZA

Duke of the Duchy of Milano, Massimiliano Sforza

Duke of the Duchy of Milano, Massimiliano Sforza

Francis sets his sights on the city of Milano, the center of the Sforza family’s power, now under the youthful guidance of Massimiliano Sforza. Massimiliano is also quite young at this stage of his life, like Francis. In essence, this is to be war between two nations, each under the crowns of young men less than twenty-two years old, but with deep history, heritage, and power.

His father was Ludovico Sforza, a well-known figure in history who was captured by Louis XII years prior in the year 1500. He eventually died in a French prison in town of Loches. Massimiliano was on his own for most of his life and most of his political guidance came from Cardinal Matthäus Schiner, who oddly enough, is a visceral leader of Swiss cantons with plenty of military battle experience. Both play important roles in Iron Will Rust.

INVASION PLANS

Francis I with his new Venetians allies forms grand plans to invade the Duchy of Milano. To pull this off, he has to cross the Alps. His predecessor, Louis XII, earned a reputation for war mongering across Italy and The Duchy of Milano and Republic of Genoa, both of which were previously under French possession. Francis has a surprise however in the form of over seventy bronze cannons. Up until now, no general in history has crossed the Alps with heavy artillery.

CANNONS & PHALANX

In fact, cannons are a new thing in military history in 1515. Most warfare in continental Europe relied on the phalanx, where soldiers wield long eighteen-foot pikes, devastating to cavalry. This tactic dates back to the Ancient Greeks. The side of Francis I's Tomb gives us a glimpse of this and is also a scene in Iron Will Rust, the climactic battle just outside Milano, The Battle of Marignano.

Relief of the Battle of Marignano on the side of the Tomb of Francis I in the Abbey Church, Saint-Denis, France. Francis is to the left on his horse using a lance.

Relief of the Battle of Marignano on the side of the Tomb of Francis I in the Abbey Church, Saint-Denis, France. Francis is to the left on his horse using a lance.

HANNIBAL & NAPOLEON

Prior to Francis I, only Hannibal crossed the Alps with armies and for him that included elephants in 218 BC while battling the Romans in the Second Punic War. Later on in history, we see Napoleon do a similar feat at Saint-Bernard Pass, on November 9 1799, probably inspired by the achievements of Hannibal and Francis I.

IRON WILL RUST

The story in Iron Will Rust has our hero, Lazzaro Dominici and his family, embroiled in the grand invasion plans of Francis I, but not by choice. Murder strikes close to home and an assault on his daughter Mercede, sparks this adventure that takes you across Italy, France, The Mediterranean, and the Alps with the climax at the famous battle of Marignano itself. Characters both historical and fictional weave in and out of the tale, settings the stage for a continued series of showdowns that only rapiers can resolve.

History in Iron Will Rust serves as a backdrop for conflict for the characters. The real story lies in the challenges facing Lazzaro as he goes head to head against contract killer Alessandro Dumaine.

Francis I Orders His Troops to Stop Pursuing the Swiss Painting by Alexandre-Évariste Fragonard

Francis I Orders His Troops to Stop Pursuing the Swiss Painting by Alexandre-Évariste Fragonard

Behind the Face of a Hero

Behind the man of honor and justice.

When I first started writing Iron Will Rust back in Germany of 2005, I knew I wanted the hero to be a grand-master with a rapier. He had to be incredibly talented with proven experience. Here is a sketch my long-time Art Director friend Steve Ogden whipped up for Lazzaro! I think Steve captured that fatherly look that’s a blend between hero, champion, and instructor, while making sure that any sign of torment is far below.

Where did this character come from? How do you create a protagonist? In this article, I’m going to go back in time to twelve years ago and perhaps even as far back as forty years ago to search for the answers. Commence boyish childhood flashbacks!

Lazzaro had to be the kind of man that could go toe-to-toe with Michael Moorcock’s Elric of Melniboné, Robert E. Howard’s Conan, or R.A. Salvatore’s Drizzt Do’Urden, but at the same time, be a man from history – a real man. He had to have skill with a blade as opposed to physical stature.

He had to have intelligence and wisdom as opposed to despondent reliance on the removal of souls of others, as we saw with Elric and his black sword, Stormbringer. He had to have a normal life, punctuated by good, by family, by devotion, and by hard work, not by a brutal childhood frequented by matriarchal upheaval with a lot of spare time in caves for epistolary Spock-like musings on the meaning of racism and friendship. (No offense Drizzt!) No, my hero would never be that memorable, that fantastical, or that unique. I love grand fantasy, but I wanted my cast of characters to weave with real history, dramatically.

 Lazzaro had to be a hero with fatherly instincts in direct conflict with his unwavering belief that he must punish evil and that it is his responsibility to do so as gratitude for his gift of swordsmanship, as if God gave him the task of the angel of justice. Something a literature class might say is a character flaw.

 A flaw perhaps pointed out by Cyril as they crossed the Alps in the chapter, Decisions.

Even so, I cannot take the chance. I have thought about this during this journey across hell. I know that he wants me. I just do not wish to see my family his prisoner or hostage for his death game. He knows he is no match for me. He never fights with honor.”
“Lazzaro, honor has nothing to do with winning.”
It was then that Lazzaro came to realize something. His stubborn honor and his sense of justice guided him his whole life. He lived to bring pride to his father; he honed his skills with his rapier to win with honor. Cyril’s words pained him and at first. He wanted to ignore and push them aside, but the truth hit him like an ironsmith’s hammer in the chest.

Lazzaro is a honorable version of an an old AD&D character of mine, but instead of wielding the diabolical ego lusting sword, Blackrazor, pilfered from White Plume Mountain, he needed a blade that spoke of craftsmanship, honor, prestige, and elegant power. I never wanted my first novel to be in an imaginary world, I wanted my characters to live in the real world with imagination. At the same time, his weapon of choice needed to put the Sword of Kas to shame and make Twinkle look shabby.

He held the silver basket-handled rapier in a traditional ready stance. The gold cross-guard sported a pair of eagle claws, each with outstretched talons scattering the sunlight into a dazzling array of speckles on the ground.

Lazzaro's life is built around fencing. Rapiers are lightning fast, thin swords, not thick brutish claymores used to cleave men in two. In the year 1515 when Francis the I invades Italy by crossing the Alps, the rapier was still a relatively young civilian weapon of less than 150 years old. Mastering a weapon against an enemy when neither of you are wearing armor, meant the blade itself is both a device of offense and defense. Footwork and parrying is king.

Lazzaro needed to be a master. The kind that inspired the Bolognese swordmaster Antonio Manciolino to jot a few techniques down. To give Lazzaro that foundation, I fabricated the Prova dei Campioni or “Test of Champions,” an annual fencing tournament in Genoa, Italy. The best-of-the-best fighters would go against one another, not in a fight to the death, but to disarm, finish, or wound. Think of the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) which I am a big fan of, and what it means to mixed martial arts. The Prova dei Campioni was the free-for-all meaning anyone could enter and use any martial weapon. The winner won a cash purse and a magnificent commemorative sword.

Isabella looked at the case next to her, unclasped the latches, and tilted the top open. Inside, an ornate silver short sword rested like an entombed king, its jet-black scabbard glistening with oil. Its cross guard styled as a falcon with its wings spread outward, each feather hand-etched in minute detail. Vertically along the blade were the numbers one, five, zero, and two. It was the prize awarded to the winner of the Prova dei Campioni fencing tournament and it was a gift to her by the winner – her husband.

Lazzaro’s reputation is wide spread. Much in the same way, one might know of sports hero such as Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, or Conor McGregor, except he lives in a world of no media, no sponsors, with only word of mouth notoriety. He has no vanity nor is there a need to maintain a marketable image. Instead, he is a silent winner, competitor, living his life for his family and his passion. When Cyril Levesque, part of the Sforza dispatch/spy network saves Lazzaro’s life, their first meeting is rough around the edges until that respect arrives from reputation. Lazzaro's fame works for and against him throughout the book.

We will arrive long before Alessandro will even reach Genoa, unless he has left Marseille already. Does he know exactly where your family lives?”
“I do not think so, but he could find out in Genoa easily. Our wine is popular and I have an excellent local reputation.”
“A wine maker. Great.” Cyril’s voice dripped with sarcasm.
“I also hold twelve Prova dei Campioni medals. Do not judge me by my domestic trade.”
“Hold on. Did you say your last name was Dominici?”
“Yes.”
Cyril laughed. “I cannot believe it. I am in the presence of the Lazzaro Dominici, the Grandmaster of Prova dei Campioni? Well please forgive my terse words and lack of respect. I fought with you in 1505 and you beat me in less than eight moves. You are a tricky one indeed.” Cyril exhaled breath out his nostrils in three quick jets as his smile squeezed in mirth.

Forty years ago, maybe more, what was it 1977? I was 12-13. I first started reading fantasy novels in middle school (Late 70s.) I grew up on paperbacks printed on coarse yellow paper that would tear if you so much as sneezed on them, and of course, they all came used from someone’s hole-in-the-wall used bookstore in Tallahassee, Florida. I could never afford a new hardback from Dubey’s Book Land, but it was always fun to gawk at the hardbacks. Note how in the adjacent photo even when the shop is closed, the damn lights are on full blast behind museum glass. All part of the plan to torment little kids.

Beyond paperback novels, I absolutely loved the Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian, consumed as fuel for First Edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons adventures. As the neighborhood Dungeon Master, I loved every hero, but as any DM will tell you, the real drama is in the evil, after all that’s the side you’re technically on – the bad guy’s. The players are the heroes, fumbling about, flubbing simple puzzles, picking locks, hiding in shadows at the sound of bats, double guessing themselves, over analyzing what spell to lob next, paralyzed in indecision, stepping on trap triggers, and rolling saving throws – badly. There is a level of childcare necessary when ensuring your group feels challenged and that comes from how well you direct the bad guys, preying on you player’s weaknesses, forcing them to face their fears, so success is something they savor.

Our connection for the hot off the presses AD&D stuff was none other than Little Folk’s Toy Store. (Again that evil glass wall of torment) A fella named Tom, an ex-Marine, had already put up with us Shannon Forest war-rats buying World War II Tamiya models for five years, so when he added a new shelf with Dungeons and Dragons and Traveller stuff, the world changed forever. My $5 a week allowance was nowhere near enough cash!

I was not always the DM. I played through The Steading of the Hill Giant Chief, Glacial Riff of the Frost Giant Jarl, Hall of the Fire Giant King, Shrine of the Kuo-Toa, Descent into the Depths, and the eternal classic, The Vault of the Drow, all with a different neighborhood buddy acting as DM. Our group of middle school/freshman high-schoolers played religiously. Those adventures stuck with me forever.

During those early days on AD&D, you developed a character that would be your own personal take on a hero, perhaps inspired by the novels or comics you read. Although the Lord of the Rings jumped in popularity after Ralph Bakshi released the animated version of the first book and a half, our heroes we nothing like the reluctant and relatively useless sniveling Frodo. You have to face it, the hero had a ring of invisibility and never used it offensively. Sheeesh WTF! As young boys, we loved over the top heroes who were bad-asses and could kill shit. Natural 20s critical, double damage, loot, drool! We loved Conan taking on packs of baddies, Elric’s Stormbringer plunging deep into the heart of nightmarish beasts, and years later, an appreciation for that lone drow’s scimitar skills, although he was too emo for us because we were in our twenties by then. But still, you have to give R..A. Salvatore credit! His tales are absolutely FUN and all his characters wallop face.

I think Lazzaro Dominicio and Alessandro Dumaine (Hero and Villain from Iron Will Rust) are a blend of both a player’s hero and the DM’s evil. Funny how the little kid inside secretly has influence of our imagination. There was something magical about that era, that is worth hailing for its creative influence, imaginations toking flames, and endless adventure.

 

Thank you, UK reader.

As a writer, you weave tales because quite simply, it's a hell of a lot of fun. You think you have complete control over every detail, yet at the same time, those details, and especially the characters, seem to breathe and take over. Then you realize that this is magic and you're a passenger, or engineer in the steamboat belly. You start to feel like a medium speaking with the dead, except those characters are alive and well. Over the years of working on Iron Will Rust, I wanted the writing to be my best first attempt, which is why it probably took so long. In between the eleven years of on-again and off-again, I worked on eleven different games too! I still see a few mistakes, but damn it felt good to get it where it was with no professional help from anyone.

Once the book was done in February of 2015, it must have been a year-and-a-half of Sharon and I reading printed proofs, marking up the pages, and then making corrections and improvements, slashing across the completed ones with a highlighter. it's gratifying to turn a book from 60% red to 60% yellow the first time, the second time from 20% red to 20% yellow, and finally 0% red to 0% yellow.

So it was a joy to ask some of my industry friends, Facebook friends, and family to read my novel and post an review. One of my friends actually did both. And although there is probably a touch of solidarity and reciprocity hidden in there between gentlemen. But hey, I'll take it.

Thanks dude for the review on Amazon.co.uk. Read it here.

 

 

 

Daughter of the Fencing Grand Master

My friend, Steve Ogden, whipped up another character ink, this time it's Mercede Dominici, the daughter of the protagonist, Lazzaro. The events in Iron Will Rust are ruthless to her, taking her to dark places no one should endure. Steve captured that struggle in her eyes perfectly.

Before all the darkness arrives in the wake of our villain, Alessandro Dumaine, she's full of life and playfulness. In the below excerpt, Mercede returns from her ride in the mountains only to find her brother, Vico, lounging around on the terrace. Having just spent the afternoon fencing with his father, Vico feels a bottle of wine is his reward and his alone. I think Mercede has other plans.

Outside, Vico reached grabbed the bottle of wine. He watched Mercede ride in and knew she would head straight over.

“So, drinking and playing pretend sword fighter again eh? You better not drain that bottle until I have a sip.” Mercede clomped onto the stone terrace in her riding boots and halted. Leaning on one leg, she twirled a gold figure of a prancing horse between her fingers, tugging on the chord that held it around her neck.

Vico smirked and slouched in his chair, a blanket tossed over his legs.

Her cabernet hair, tousled and wind-blown from her ride, framed her determined look. She advanced on him, her gloves held menacingly. Mercede had a presence about her that could command nations, a charismatic forcefulness that caught most boys off guard, but not her overconfident brother.

“Ah. You’re back just in time to watch me finish the rest of this for myself.” Vico feigned placing the entire bottle to his lips like a drunkard.

“Give me that, you fool.” She lunged forward, her forest green eyes squinting in admonishment as she made a grab for the bottle, knowing he had no intentions of sharing.

Vico just laughed, turning his shoulder and keeping it at arm’s length away from her.

Frustrated, she swatted him on the head with her gloves hard enough to sting.

“Ow! Damn you, I’m not your horse!” Vico’s breath puffed out like smoke.

She snatched the bottle out of his hand and leapt away like a lithe deer.

Vico scowled.

“Ha-ha! To the victor go the spoils!” She laughed, raised the one-quarter full bottle to her lips, and took a long slow and deliberate swig of the wine. As she finished, she smirked at her older brother, still rubbing his head and one eye closed like a pirate missing his eye patch.

He gave her a mean look.

 

Visit Steve's sites and check out his illustrations, comics, and other awesome stuff!

Steve's Amazon Author Page

Steve's Books at Wish Tales Publishing

 

 

A Villain You Can Love and Hate

Years ago when I worked at CYAN, the creators of MYST, Riven, realMYST, and more recently, Obduction, I had the pleasure of working with one of those most incredible artist and illustrators in the industry, Steve Ogden. Steve works at Firaxis Games with Sid Meier and we’ve stayed in touch over the years, so when we were chatting about my book, he offered to do an ink sketch of one of my characters in Iron Will Rust, it had to be Alessandro!

Alessandro Dumain by Steve Ogden

Absolutely brilliant.

In Iron Will Rust, Alessandro Dumaine is a swordsman and agent-for-hire under the employ of Marco Diamante, the Venetian Ambassador to France. Over the course of writing the novel, I wanted him to be someone you could love and hate. He had to be just as smart and just as skillful as the hero, yet driven by a personal blackness that we only get glimpses of. His actions are both heroic and ruthless.

The protagonist, Lazzaro, is a man of honor, a family man who respects his legacy, a skillful artist with the rapier. He has a keen eye for clues, evidence, and human behavior, giving him that relentless police detective vibe backed up with real skill. When the hero is so perfect, the best way to break him down is to destroy everything around him and allow his honor to be his undoing. And that’s exactly what Alessandro does.

Here is a snippet featuring Alessandro after killing Captain Dubois, a pirate out of Sardinia.

Alessandro fastened the jeweled rapier scabbard to his belt, checking the weight and balance. He grinned, happy with his new prize. He always loved dual wielding, even if he had not done so for a few years. Maybe it was time to sharpen those skills again. He moved his main gauche scabbard to his right hip and secured the hooks to his belt. He sheathed Dubois’ rapier with a sharp scraping click and then withdrew it with the main gauche together in a cross draw. He replaced the blades and snapped them back out numerous times. One last minor adjustment and he then locked the scabbards on his belt, satisfied.

The rapier was heavier than most, almost a straight cutlass of sorts. He sharpened it for a few minutes until the edge gleamed of new metal. To test it, he gave it a ceremonial chop of the anchor rope of the Aquila Velocehi. As the rope spiraled into the sea, the sails curled in red flames, black smoke billowing from its aft castle. The ship began to drift away, and like a panther, Alessandro skipped back across the gap onto the Zaffiro Perso with a spring-like leap. He turned, grinned, and dusted his hands together.

Visit Steve's sites and check out his illustrations, comics, and other awesome stuff!

http://steveogden.com/blog/projects/

https://www.facebook.com/SteveOgdenArt

https://twitter.com/SteveOgdenArt

Thanks, Steve! Now, how to trick you into doing Lazzaro!

 

Goodreads Book Giveaway!

I’m giving away two copies of Iron Will Rust at Goodreads through their Book Giveaway Program. Look for link below to go right to it and enter! Two winners each get a trade paper back format copy for free at no shipping costs. (Pictured below) Giveaway ends November 15th. Have fun!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Iron Will Rust by T. Elliot Cannon

Iron Will Rust

by T. Elliot Cannon

Giveaway ends November 15, 2016.

See the giveaway details at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

Calling all Renaissance era rapier-slinging heroes. Must enjoy crossing the Alps, ambitious kings, murder, political manipulation, alliances, and the Ligurian Sea. Warning. Not for the faint of heart. The potential for Swiss Phalanx, German Landsknechts, pirates, and wounds, loss of family, friends, and honor abounds

Iron Will Rust Sequel - Book II Planning

Time to start plotting and planning the follow-up to Iron Will Rust! if you missed Book I, get yours today at Amazon.

Here's a snippet from Iron Will Rust where Vico faces off against Alessandro and first hears about the location for Book II.

From the Chapter "Cornered."

Alessandro slapped the boy’s attacks away, twirled them, and scraped them free and clear. Moves that would disarm most men. He could tell the boy was good, for he altered the sword angle the moment he felt the resistance of the parries.

“Tell me where or I’ll kill you.” Vico lunged and turned the tip up at Alessandro’s face at the last second, but the main gauche caught it inches from its target.”

“Nice touch on that one. Quite a touch. Daddy teach you that? You like last minute tricks don’t you? Dishonest if you ask me.”

“Tell me where or I’ll cut you.”

“I doubt it. You haven’t cut much of anything by my scorebook.”

“Where is Mercede? Damn you.”

“God, you’re persistent. Brotherly love and such.”

“Where!” Vico slashed his sword and Alessandro allowed it to come close to striking him before he locked it casually and pushed the angry attack back harmlessly.

“I sent her away. She’s off to school.”

“Away where? Venice? What?”

“Venice? Don’t insult me boy. Venice, right. The only thing she’d learn in Venice is how to lie. Thysdrus. It was once the grandest Roman city in Afrika and even has a coliseum.”

Vico wrinkled his face, confused.

Used to be a gladiator school for slaves back in the Roman times. Not today, though, it’s much better than that. It’s a respectable institution. The best school in the land if you ask me, especially for a comely girl like your sister.”

“She’s a slave in Afrika? Where is this place?”

“I just told you, idiot. Thysdrus. Not much homeschooling working on a farm as a pretend fencer’s daughter now is there? The locals call it El Djem. My dear friend Khalid has her in training there in the Hafsid Kingdom. I’m sure one day she will surprise us all!”

“How long ago?”

“I’ve told you enough. Be sure and tell your father. I bet he’s dying to know. I bet he will worry what all those dark skinned men will do to her when they get their hands on her.” Alessandro laughed and feigned lowering his guard.

Vico launched another series of overly advertised slashes at Alessandro’s face. The proper parry would be too easy, and that was exactly what he wanted.

Read Iron Will Rust for Free!

Iron Will Rust on Kindle Unlimited through Christmas!

Iron Will Rust_Promo_Small.jpg

Most folks shop at Amazon. Some use Amazon Prime, others have Amazon Smile set up for charities, and many enjoy the portability of electronic book formats such as Kindle. Printing books costs money, but how do writers and publishers price their Kindle books? An unknown author may set their price to $0.99 in hopes of attracting massive downloads, while another may see their work as being of a particular value due to time invested researching and writing the book choosing a price point between $2.99 and $9.99. Then we have those odd outliers who simply charge more than it would cost to actually print the book! Much to my wife's disappointment, because we both really enjoy Barbara Erskine's books. Famous, proven, best-seller authors command high prices.

Let me share a cool secret.

If you’re an avid Kindle user, you probably know about Kindle Unlimited, so you’ll be happy to know Iron Will Rust is now available for FREE for Kindle Unlimited subscribers until after Christmas. Grab a copy for virtually nothing. (pun intended) I'd love to read your review

But for those of you who don’t really read much but websites, or only pick up a paperback at the airport to kill time on a long business trip, let me show you around some little things you can do you may not be aware of. There's a fun book excerpt below so Kindle lovers can skip down if they want.

First of all is the actual Kindle App. It works on Android, iOS, and Windows and it’s free. Don't worry, that' s not the self-imploding lithium charged detonator version of the Samsung Note.

 OK back to Kindle for new folks. Let’s say you heard about a cool new book and want to read it on your phone, laptop, PC, or even an actual Kindle device. Your progress is always saved between these, and you have the luxury of adjusting the background colors, font sizes, making bookmarks, highlights, etc. Basic stuff. Almost every Kindle book created allows you to check out a free sample. This is a great way to read the first few chapters to see if the book grabs your attention. All kindle users can do this without any type of subscription. But if you are a Kindle Unlimited subscriber, which also comes with a 30 day free trial, you can read from millions of books 100% free while the author has that book enrolled. All you need to do is find the book you want.

Let’s do a fun little experiment. What’s the #1 kindle book right now?

Ah, here it is. John Grisham’s The Whistler. Famous author. The guy behind courtroom and attorney-centric thrillers that have been on the big screen for decades. Fun stuff. $14.99 for the Kindle version. It came out TODAY and it’s already #1. He’s good. I’ve read some of his books. You should too. I love how you can get a copy of the hardback used for $7.00 from the private sellers the day the book is released. If only the Classic Muscle Car shops did the same discounts, right? I wonder if there are a bunch of dudes working part-time at a book shop who load up their 4 x 4 with 45 hardback bestsellers, mark them down by $10.37 and get excited about the $3.99 they'll make in shipping. Who knows.

Anyway, back to Kindle Unlimited. The #3 ranked Kindle book is this beauty.

Bingo. The Queen’s Poisoner came out on April 1st of this year, so that’s over 6 months ago. Jeff Wheeler enrolled his book up for KDP Select, so Kindle Unlimited subscribers can read his book for FREE as long as he has it enrolled. That’s pretty cool.

So how does that help the author? Well, Amazon have a fund that use to pull from and distribute to authors based on the number of pages read and such. It also provides authors/publishers additional tools to run free promotions or discounts. The real bonus to me is that members of Kindle Unlimited can read my book for FREE. Right now in this early stage of learning how to promote Iron Will Rust, the more readers I can reach the better. So with the holidays coming, reading a book with sword fights in the mud is definitely awesome.

Here's a tease. A scene in the chapter, "At the Gates"

Alessandro and Lazzaro used every lethal attack they possessed to end the fight; side slashes followed by lunges to pierce the lungs, hilt ends whipped through the air hoping to catch the other in the face, tips sliced inches from flesh, cutting slits in fabric. Their boots slopped and slid in the damp mud of the road.

Alessandro’s unorthodox style used deception. Every attack was a ploy to force his opponent to overcompensate. Once they did, his gauche darted in for a lightning fast thrust to the chest.

Lazzaro saw the attacks in quick flashes in his mind’s eye. He parried each one with an effortless grace that had Alessandro grunting with frustration. Lazzaro’s style was different; his attacks forced his opponent to execute a perfect defense so that he might plant a seed of self-doubt. With each attack parried or deflected away, Lazzaro would use a subtle twist of his wrist or minor shift in weight to make the defender’s feel as if his defenses were slipping. The technique struck fear into the most skilled of swordsmen, for each defense met a physical slip of balance and control, and for a swordsman, losing control was death.

The two battled on in fury. In less than four minutes, they traded mortal blows and attack patterns that could have killed the other twenty times over. The stark contrast in styles fueled by their grandmaster skills made it impossible to kill each other. Each man saw through any ploy, through any feint, and executed counter attacks with minimal force and effort. Nothing in their toolkits would end this fight, so each fighter pressed their own creative attacks. Maneuvers they improvised on the spot.

Marrucio watched dumbfounded. Never before had he seen Lazzaro fight with such ruthless blood lust, vehemence, lethality, and hatred. At the same time, Alessandro fought with unusual combinations, using both weapons as if hinged together at the hilts. The two men locked themselves in a dance of death. There would be no victor until one of them tired and made a mistake. He began to get back up to help, but a spear tip tapped him on the shoulder.

Influencers and Inspirations

Everyone owes a little something to an influencer. I was thinking about some of the books I devoured when I was young. It was hard not to, because I was unpacking hundreds of them from a massive stack of moving boxes sealed in Texas and slipping them into new and much more organized boxes here in Florida. Unpacking old stuff is fun, as long as it’s not in the attic. You pull a book out and go, “Man, I remember this.” Then, off you go, into the next Home Depot folded coffin. Treasures. Then I start doing what I do every time I pack and unpack books – set the special ones aside. These are the timeless classics. The ones no American Novelist Professor every heard of either. None of that business. These are the books you buy, and lose, multiple copies of. Every time you pick one up, the scenes dance in full color before you. Sometimes you just want to have them nearby, in case you get the time to dig into them again and relive the fun of their stories. Here are three of those books, all by by R.A. Salvatore.

The story of Drizzt Do’Urden, Bruenor Battlehammer, and Wulfgar begins with The Crystal Shard, R. A. Salvatore’s first published novel from 1988. It’s a Forgotten Realms book from TSR. The Forgotten Realms was a campaign setting (world) for the 2nd edition of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, having launched just a year before. It was, and probably still is, their most successful to date. Even though most of my actual gaming history took place in Greyhawk, its predecessor, TSR really poured it on with novels set in their world.

Now granted, I was lucky enough to play AD&D in 1978 with the hardbacks. First edition middle school bragging rights and whatnot, right? By the time the Salvatore books came along in 1988, I was some 23 years old, still in architectural school and paying my way by working as a young draftsman at an architectural firm. My .7mm plastic lead on Mylar chisel point lines delineated everything from concrete block to 3-5/8” metal studs. I loved hanging out by the pool on the weekend with Tom Clancy books, wrenching on muscle cars, and playing sandlot football with the Bucklake Boys every Sunday. Playing AD&D was not cool in 1989 for my circle of friends, but the nostalgia for the game from the middle school and early high school years remained. These books were the first to capture the vibe of a real campaign. I remember picking up The Crystal Shard and Streams of Silver as used books and buying the third, The Halfling's Gem, the moment it came out in January of 1990. They certainly launched R.A. Salvatore into a household name. The three follow-ups below deserve even more praise.

For me, I loved the animosity between Drizzt Do’Urden and Artemis Entreri, but felt each character was either too philosophical or not ruthless enough. Then again, this was TSR stuff, designed to sell supplements, modules, and source books, they weren't going to actually kill anyone but faceless orcs. There is something about the conflict between real symbols of good and evil that is fun in any story, or in the case of Lazzaro Dominici and Alessandro Dumaine, in Iron Will Rust, blind honor and the disdain for good. Cheers to R. A. Salvatore. One of my many inspirations for the eternal kid inside. You never can have enough double-cross down parries.

Next time let’s chat about these babies.

Revamping the Dungeon Defenders II Story.

Not every story is on the printed page or Kindle screen. This past month, a few members of my team at Trendy Entertainment worked on revamping the existing story line in Dungeon Defenders II that lives in the game’s campaign. As a tower defense action role-playing game, this meant a blend between intro video, in-game clips, map mouse over tooltips, and loading screens with sequential narrative threads.

intro video.jpg

As an existing game that’s been live since 2015 with a mixed bag of one-off content, levels, maps, and boss battles, part of the challenge here came about as we examined metrics that told us that 60% of new players and returning players had not finished the old campaign, which was created before my time, nor had they gotten past level 20.

So, we took a look at all the content and wove an adventure story over the course of 18 levels and changed how the game plays with much more frenetic pacing, leveling players to 50, filling their bags with loot for their full hero deck, and streamlining the flow for the entire quest chain. It’s really made a big difference and we’re super excited to get it in the hands of our players next week.

As a veteran video game designer, this comes easy. As a writer, I had to work with existing media such as the old intro video, which established the inciting incident of the game and the backdrop of the world, along with key characters. From there it was a task of looking at all the levels, the locations they represented, and mapping out a journey for the core ensemble cast. In many ways, the “fellowship” needed to face immediate problems, bump into new mysteries, and ultimately defeat the nemesis of the entire franchise. The writing developed needed to tease what the player was about to play.

This technique happens in classic games such as Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale, and classic remakes such as Pillars of Eternity. The player arrives in a new location and needs to know why. They need accolades for their previous victory, but at the same time, teased about how everything is starting to fit together. In many ways, this is similar to the challenge of some of the series type programs we’ve seen over the last few years from The Tudors, to Vikings, to House of Cards, to True Detectives. Along the way, you have enough information to know what’s happening in the present, but only a vague idea of how it all fits together.

Now granted a paragraph of story line on loading screens is of no comparison to the incredible scripts of these multi-million dollar and award winning programs, but as a writer, you have to leverage the small spaces in between actual game play to create a story that starts with words and a few key images, but crystallizes in the player’s mind.

I think our team did a great job on this and that this was worthy of a blog entry!

Death of a Writer's Retreat

As a game designer in the video game industry, I am stuck in front of monitors all day, and many times, all night long. So whether getting up to write in the morning, late at night, or on the weekend, it ends up being the same thing. Monitors. Monitors by blank walls and monitors near windows with views of nothing inspirational can foster looks of anguish as you mull over every single word. Getting in the zone and focusing is a major battle.

The goal is immersion, but how?

There are many chapters in Iron Will Rust with scenes by the Ligurian Sea near Albisolla, Italy and along the coastline of France near the Cape d’Antibes. Two-masted caravels of Portuguese design, pirates from Sardinia with jeweled rapiers, French warships on their way to Venice carrying haughty ambassadors, and furtive night landings all appear in various chapters where Lazzaro Dominici pursues the Venetian killer, Alessandro Dumaine in the year 1515.

2013 - Saint George Island, Florida

2013 - Saint George Island, Florida

With about two hours of battery power per session, (great time to grab a beer as the laptop recharged and hang out with my mother-in-law) I wrote at the below shack on the Gulf of Mexico, doing my best to pretend I was not looking south towards Cuba, but towards Corsica in the Mediterranean. No power outlets, plenty of azure sea and breezes, a folding table, and of course, a security dog from Nuremburg.

St. George Island is a magical place for my wife and me, but in 2013, a storm swept that tattered frond-roofed gazebo away. Imagine how my heart sank upon my return with my laptop clutched like a kid when my favorite writer’s retreat was nothing more than chain-sawed 4”x 4” pressure treated pine. I think even the sea cried that year. Note how its face shifted from aquamarine to dull green.

I rigged up an umbrella anyway.

Amazon Release

IRON WILL RUST - The Dominici Fencer – Book I

I’m happy to announce the release of my debut historical fiction novel, Iron Will Rust, now available on Amazon around the world. Grab a copy today!

       Kindle USA

       Kindle USA

           Kindle UK

           Kindle UK

January 1515 and Louis XII is dead. The newly crowned king of France, Francis I prepares to invade Italy with his eyes set on the city of Milano, but the only way there is across the Alps, a feat not attempted since Hannibal. The Venetian ambassador, Marco Diamante, promises detailed surveys that reveal every goat trail, crumbling Roman road, and jagged mountain pass in exchange for an alliance. Francis agrees. Battle plans begin and armies assemble. Marco dispatches his ruthless agent, Alessandro Dumaine to procure the maps by any means necessary.

After the murder of a local priest and an assault on his daughter, Lazzaro Dominici, a retired fencer from Genoa turned winemaker, becomes embroiled in the political intrigue surrounding the theft of the alpine maps. Facing off against contract killer Alessandro, entangles him in the French and Venetian invasion plans. What begins as a fight to save his family and bring a killer to justice becomes a personal mission affecting a war between nations.