Saturday, May 28, 2011

Telling Secrets

I want to send many thanks to Dave for granting me use of his soapbox here to shout out the last 40-odd hours of my Kickstarter campaign.

For those who’ve not heard of Secrets, like Dragons… or me, here’s the synopsis: I’m Steven Schend, an old editorial colleague of Dave’s from TSR and Wizards of the Coast. For the past month, I’ve been raising pledges for money over at so I can publish a 400-page fantasy novella collection called Secrets, like Dragons…. Working with me on this project are authors Ed Greenwood, Jaleigh Johnson, Rosemary Jones, and Joe Martin. There will be at least two or three artists (yet to be determined) adding their expertise within its pages.

At the heart of Secrets, like Dragons… is the Akanri Order, the mysterious spies-soldiers-scholars within each of the five novellas as protagonists and antagonists alike. After all, no one said to make it easy identifying enemies and villains. At one corner of the continent, people hail these figures of all races and genders as heroes, while they are reviled as villains of nightmares across much of the rest. But who can predict a group whose members might do any of these actions?

• Translate and record any text he can touch without the use of pen and ink;
• Ensorcel a leather cloak to reflect a Star-Mage’s flame blasts back upon him;
• Heal a room of plague victims without touching any of them at the cost of his own life;
• Unify soldiers’ mounts in a powerful charge at unbelievable speeds to shift a war’s result;
• Reinforce city walls with the energy in his and others’ bodies enough to resist a siege;
• Unburden a lost soul of its guilt and pain to dispel hauntings of many lifetimes; or
• Transform everything touched by his aura into water to drown his family’s slayers despite being in the deep desert.

Intrigued? I hope so. All of these are hints of characters within the Akanri Order, or at least they’ll become characters when and if their stories are demanded. As the title of the book hints, the Akanri have their secrets, and more than a few of both can be as dangerous as any dragon.

The work of writing and illustrating the book’s five novellas doesn’t start until funding comes together, but this is a world I’ve been preparing for some time now. Previews and more information on the fantasy world of Kharndam have been posted at my website in small doses over the past month. That flow of information will expand over the summer, both to fuel interest and to let people get excited over possibilities in the stories and bits of world-lore that have been unveiled. Here’s one big secret up until now—Frequent commenters and visitors can influence which information gets revealed soonest, as we want to encourage an active community of fans and readers around Kharndam and its characters. Come early and often and help shape the world that’s to come…but only by your participation and patronage.

I’m writing this on Friday evening, and the funding drive ends at mid-day on Sunday. Thus, time is of the essence to bring your support to our small publishing house’s launch product. Please visit the link below for more details and pledge whatever you can if it’s of interest to you.

Thanks to any and all for their time and interest in reading this, and I hope to hear from some of you very soon at any and all of the linked websites mentioned above (or after you get to read of the excitement and dangers long hidden in Kharndam)!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Sample of The Worldwound Gambit

My fellow Pathfinder Talespinner Robin D. Laws created a robbery team for his latest novel, The Worldwound Gambit. While its leader, Gad, is Golarion's version of Danny Ocean, some of his specialists are my favorites: Hendrigan "The Distance Man" and Vitta "The Lockbreaker." Both feature in the sample chapter now available free at

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Before Prince of Wolves

Many first encountered Count Varian Jeggare and his henchman Radovan in Prince of Wolves, but the novel is actually the third story featuring the boys. Originally I created them for a six-part serial appearing in the Council of Thieves Adventure Path.

Now you can buy the novella separately in ePub format. Each story is independent of the others, although "The Lost Pathfinder" leads directly into Prince of Wolves. Here's what's available so far:

“Hell’s Pawns”

“The Lost Pathfinder”*

Prince of Wolves

“A Lesson in Taxonomy”* (in the free Wayfinder #4)

Also check out the other Pathfinder Tales available both free on the Web Fiction tab and in ePub or PDF format in the store. If you like them, please leave a comment or a review.

* Also still available for free at Paizo's Web Fiction page.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame

I almost wish I'd seen Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame before writing Master of Devils. The titular Di Renjie is an exiled investigator, not unlike my Count Jeggare, and I now see Andy Lau's striking face whenever I envision the venture-captain.

Some call Detective Dee a Tang Dynasty Sherlock Holmes (the Guy Ritchie version), an apt simplification that covers both the premise and details such as a hint of steampunk and the occasionally dodgy CGI. I Sammo Hung's action choreography and the breathless blend of action and magic that recalls director Tsui Hark's classic 1990s fantasies.

Based on the novel by Lin Qianyu*, the plot offers an excellent template for a Pathfinder adventure. Commanded by the Empress to investigate apparently supernatural murders, Di and a pair of suspicious assistants (including Deng Chau, pictured) explore such exotic locations as a colossal Buddha, the Imperial city, and a subterranean Phantom Market. If the procedural elements are not always convincing, the intrigue, spectacle, and over-the-top action more than make up for the fuzzy border between logic and magic.

Gamers will enjoy the fantasy elements, my favorite of which is Di's sword-shaped mace, able to detect the weak point of any object and destroy it with a blow. Spontaneous combustion, magical disguises, clockwork traps, and conjured animals fit neatly into a Pathfinder game.

At film festivals, I usually skip movies I've already seen or expect to see soon. I'm making an exception for Judge Dee, since I'd like to see it among fellow fans in anticipation of Pathfinder's Tian Xia setting this summer.

* Western audiences met Di Renjie, inspired by an historical figure, through the pulp novels of Robert van Gulik, who called him Judge Dee. Other characters from the film, including the Empress, are also based loosely on real persons.

SIFF & PaizoCon

My last visit to the Seattle International Film Festival was in 2006, so it's high time I returned. Happily, my fabulous wife, the Queen of Edmonton, gave me a SIFF membership for the holidays. Tomorrow night I head down for three weeks of total movie immersion.

Most literary influences on my writing wormed their way into my brain so long ago that I'm no longer conscious of them until someone else points one out. More often I'm aware of inspiration from a film. Everything from a character name to an eloquent gesture can float up from memory to fix itself onto a story. The names Azra and Malena are two examples.

Sometimes an entire genre influences a book. Prince of Wolves owes more to Tod Browning's Freaks, the entire canon of Universal horror movies, and Christophe Gans's Brotherhood of the Wolf than to any prose fiction. Likewise, the upcoming Master of Devils is my love letter to Chinese fantasy and action movies from the Shaw Brothers and King Hu to Tsui Hark and Zhang Yimou, albeit channeled through the sword & sorcery attitude of Robert E. Howard.

After the movies, I'll attend PaizoCon in nearby Bellevue. I'm sitting in on a couple of panels, and I plan to read from Master of Devils on Friday and Saturday. If no one stops me, I'll read from Chapter Five, revealing the third point-of-view character who joins Radovan and the Count on their latest adventure.