San Diego’s been fun — and many other positive things which I will be able to relate, soon — but now I need to find my way back home to the family. You all have a good Sunday. I’m getting on a plane.
There are worse places to be. Today I have business meetings and time with high school friends. Hopefully the former will be productive, and the latter, relaxing. We’ll see!
Catch you all later.
Walk to go get a hat and a Coke Zero. Walk back to hotel. Walk to go find out where my event is. Walk back to hotel to hang out at the Wired Cafe. Walk to event. Walk back to hotel. Walk to bar to hang out with friends. Walk with friend to his next appointment. Walk to the Balboa Theater for w00tstock. Walk from w00tstock to the LA Times Hero Complex party to give away books. Walk from Times party to the Geek and Sundry party. Walk from G&S party back to w00tstock. Walk from w00tstock back to G&S party. Dance a bit. Walk friend back to her hotel. Walk from her hotel back to my hotel.
Sleep until my feet no longer hurt.
Wake up. Get ready to walk to breakfast.
Hope you’re getting your exercise too.
I’m quoted today in this Los Angeles Times piece on San Diego Comic-con and issues of harassment. It’s an interesting article and worth reading if you’re not up to date on the issue. I have a couple of addendums to it which I think I worth noting briefly now (I will have some longer thoughts on the whole subject, but they will have to wait until after this weekend):
* The article notes that SDCC for the first time sent out e-mails to badge-holders pointing out that it doesn’t tolerate harassment. And you know what? That’s an excellent move and a good way to make the point to 100,000+ people that harassment won’t fly at the convention. I have nothing but positive things to say about that. So good on SDCC for sending those e-mails. I should also say I think SDCC is actively thinking about harassment issues this year, both as a matter of course and because others outside the convention (aside from me, I will note, and in a much more publicly active way than I) are making noise about it. That’s good too, and credit where credit is due.
* However, SDCC still doesn’t actually say on its site (or otherwise as far as I can see) what it thinks harassing behavior is. Which is a really big problem in my book — it leaves no guidance for attendees. Not all harassing behavior is as blatant as a grope; attendees on the receiving end of unwanted attention may not be aware that their harassment qualifies under SDCC standards — nor in the absence of guidance may they be convinced, if they feel harassed, that SDCC will agree with them. That’s a huge hole. I understand SDCC reasoning for not offering that guidance, but with due respect for the thinking behind it, it’s flat-out wrong in my opinion. Not having that language makes the convention less safe, not more. It’s the reason you won’t see me at the convention center or on the floor of the show.
* That said, I noted earlier that my event today, which is off campus (it will be at the Horton Grand Theatre at 1:30pm) was affiliated with SDCC in some way. Certainly the tickets to the event note that affiliation:
I think it’s better for me to put these tickets on the table, as it were, than have someone else do it. As I noted earlier, doing this particular event off-campus allows me to keep a closer eye on things (or as I wrote previously, “if someone acts like a harassing asshole at my event, I can have them bounced and reported”). I’m very sure SDCC knows my thoughts on harassment, in any event.
* What I hope is that all of this helps to make this particular SDCC the safest one so far — and thus the most enjoyable SDCC so far for a large number of its attendees — and keeps the momentum going for the convention to continue making improvements in this area. As I said earlier, the e-mails are a start, and a start I can applaud. There’s more to be done.
And you are looking lovely this evening.
I am in town. I have signed books for Tor to give away at its booth. I am going to get something to eat, and then I am going to go to sleep, because my brain is still in the Eastern time zone. See some of you, hopefully, at my reading tomorrow (details here). Or later today, since this is likely to go out with an Eastern time zone timestamp. You know what I mean.
I am in the sky as you read this, headed to San Diego. While I fend off gremlins, please enjoy this latest stack of new books and ARCs that have arrived at the Scalzi Compound. If you see something that looks excellent to you, share with the class in the comments.
A friendly reminder to you all that my pals Paul & Storm have a new album out called Ball Pit, and it’s terrific and funny, and I’m not just saying that because it features two songs I commissioned from them (“Fuzzy Man” and “(The Shadow War of the Night) Dragons of the Night”), nor am I saying that just because they paid me a shiny penny to say it, although they did, and to be honest, the penny is only moderately shiny. Well, you should buy the album anyway. It’s available at Bandcamp, iTunes, Amazon, and Google Play as downloads, with physical CDs coming soon.
If you get it and you like it, Paul and Storm would be obliged if you posted a review of it and/or tell other people about it. Because that’s how people find out about these things.
And yes, they paid me another shiny penny to tell you that. And this penny isn’t shiny either. Damn it.
(Seriously, though: A fine album which I like a whole lot. Get it!)
People have asked me if I have any particular thoughts on Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited subscription plan, and whether my own work will be on it (and one presumes, on other similar subscription services, like Oyster and Scribd). So, some thoughts:
While one should never say never, I don’t anticipate any of my novels being on subscription services in the immediate future, no. One, Macmillan, who has published all my novels to date, hasn’t started working with any of the subscription services. Speaking with no direct knowledge whatsoever of their corporate thinking on the matter, it seems unlikely to me that they will, unless there’s a clear economic benefit to them in doing so. Two, even if Macmillan decides to opt in, contractually they’ll probably have to ask my permission first — at which point I have to decide whether there is a clear economic benefit in doing so.
And is there a clear economic benefit to me putting my novels on a subscription service right now? At the very least, some early analysis suggests there would be a better economic benefit for me than for many self-published authors, thanks to the fact I am “traditionally published” — an irony for those who still labor under the impression that publishing is an “us vs. them” sort of business — but I have to say I would want to see some actual, useful data on how writers actually get paid from subscription services before I’d want to jump in with the novels.
Part of that hesitation is based on the experience of musicians with their own streaming services, such as Spotify or Rhapsody — many musicians earn substantially less from streaming than from sales, and unlike musicians, most writers can’t really try to make money from touring (some could. Not many). Now, to be clear, early reports say that the subscription services credit a full sale after someone reads 10% or so of a work (although how much a “full sale” counts for seems to be contingent on several factors, including whether one is “traditionally published” or not — again, see the link above).
That’s not bad. But I’m less than entirely convinced that there won’t be near-immediate pressure to push that compensation downward; say, by trying to cut into the money credited for a “full sale,” or by pushing back the percentage of a book read before a “full sale” to 25% or 33%, or by any other number of ways which I can’t now think of off the top of my head but which the subscription model will in some way enable. For me the question is not if such a push will happen, because it will. The question is when.
So the question becomes: Why would I want to do that?
(Note: This question is asked not in the “why would I want to do something that stupid?” sense but in the “so, what’s in it for me?” sense. As is the next question –)
Why would I, as a writer and a businessperson, want to enable a model that introduces another layer of opportunity for others to drive down the amount I can make from my work? The uninformed may fulminate about how publishers are parasitic middlemen, but in point of fact my publisher does a lot of work for me: Editing, copy-editing, art and design, marketing and publicity and distribution. I argue with my publisher on what my cut of the takings should be (these are called negotiations) but there is an exchange of services. So what is the exchange of service a subscription model would offer me? Does it offer enough to compensate for another potential slice to be taken out of my income? Does it offer enough to replace or at least augment the distrubtion model which already exists, and from which I benefit?
If it does — and it might! — then that’s great. Let’s get to it. If it doesn’t, however, then we have a problem.
(This line of inquiry does not consider at all whether a subscription service might be good for readers. It may or may not; I suspect the answer will entirely depend on how many books one actually reads a month. Be aware that buffets make money because they charge you more for the food you eat than you the amount of food you can on average consume, and that this is a buffet, with books instead of crab rangoon. Also be aware, in the case of Amazon in particular, that the long term plan is to make it so you never ever have to go anywhere else to buy anything, ever, and that running Kindle Unlimited at a loss for a while would be fine if it serves that long-term goal. Neither of these things are particularly good or evil in themselves — once again Amazon (and other subscription services) is acting in its own self-interest, as businesses do.
However, none of that conversation is of interest to me when I have my “working writer” hat on. My immediate focus is my own interest — whether a subscription service is good for me, and my business, and my ability to make a living. And you may see this as immaterial or even selfish, especially if you like the idea of drinking from the book subscription firehose. But I gotta tell you, if the amount I can make writing fiction falls through the floor, so will the amount of fiction that I write, as my time will have to be spent doing things that pay my mortgage. We do not live in a glorious socialist paradise here in the US; I have to make money. So do other writers.)
The flip side of this is that every new distribution model offers opportunities tuned to that particular model of distribution — the question is whether one is smart enough to figure out what the strengths of any distribution model are, and then saavy (and lucky) enough to capitalize on them. For example, I think a subscription model might be a very fine way to make money from shorter works: short stories, novellas, less-than-book length short fiction and so on. That’s something I could definitely see pursuing aggressively, while (if necessary) keeping longer-length work in distribution channels that are more profitable for it.
The key is not seeing any distribution model as a threat, even as you’re looking at it critically, but in finding the way it can work for you, and how you can take advantage of it. Right now, I’m in the “still looking at how it can work for me” phase of things. We’ll see how it goes from here.
Spoiler: The neighbors’ mailboxes lost.
We have of course informed the neighbors of the event, and have told them that we will gladly pay for the repair/replacement of the boxes. Because, duh. This is our fault. And that’s what you do when something is your fault.
Yes, I’ll be in San Diego this week, and all my events are on Thursday, the 24th. Here’s where you will find me:
1:30pm: Reading at the Grand Horton Theater, 444 4th Avenue (between Island and J streets). I’ll read a bit from Lock In, or I might decide to do something else. You never know! Be on edge!
9:00pm: I’ll be making an appearance at the LA Times Hero Complex party.
Thursday evening I may also be making appearances at w00tstock and/or the Geek and Sundry party, depending on several factors. Twitter will be the best place to find out where I will be that evening (and if I know earlier than that evening, I’ll note it here).
I’ll also be in town Friday and Saturday. Much of that will be for private business — I’ll be having meetings, y’all — but I might decide to park myself somewhere and do “office hours” at some point. Again, Twitter will be the place to learn about that. If I do office hours I will be happy to chat and/or sign books.
I will not be at the convention center or on the SDCC floor. Here are the reasons for that.
If you can’t/don’t see me this week in San Diego, I will be back on September 8, 7pm, at Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore as part of my Lock In tour. Details on my official tour schedule.
See you in San Diego!
I’ve been getting requests for the set list of songs that went into the 80s dance I DJ’ed at Detcon 1. I had a source list — songs that I selected as the ones ready to queue up — of 346 songs, with everyone from Africa Bamabaata to Cher to Stephen “Tin Tin” Duffy to Ozzy Osbourne on it. Of those, I ended up playing 45 songs, or about 13% of the available playlist. Those songs (as best as I can remember them — I was busy DJing at the time) are listed below, alphabetically by song as opposed to by order of play.
For those wondering how I chose which songs I was going to play, the answer is outside of the first two songs (“Let’s Go Crazy” and “Dancing With Myself”) two songs at midnight (“Time Warp” and “Rock Lobster”) and the final song (“Smells Like Teen Spirit”)*, I just read what the crowd seemed to be into, and also took requests. The overriding DJ philosophy was to give that particular crowd at that particular dance as much fun as possible over the course of three hours.
And now, without further ado:
The Detcon 1 80s Dance Set List!
Addicted to Love — Robert Palmer
Beat It — Michael Jackson
Bizarre Love Triangle — New Order
Blister in the Sun — Violent Femmes
Call Me — Blondie
Cars — Gary Numan
Dancing With Myself — Billy Idol
Dead Man’s Party — Oingo Boingo
Don’t You (Forget About Me) — Simple Minds
Genius of Love — Tom Tom Club
The Glamorous Life — Shelia E
Head Like a Hole — Nine Inch Nails
Hungry Like the Wolf — Duran Duran
I Feel For You — Chaka Khan
I’m So Excited — Pointer Sisters
I Want Candy — Bow Wow Wow
Jungle Love — The Time
Just Like Heaven — The Cure
Kiss — Prince
Let’s Dance — David Bowie
Let’s Go Crazy — Prince
A Little Respect — Erasure
Lucky Star — Madonna
Master and Servant — Depeche Mode
Mirror in the Bathroom — English Beat
Miss You Much — Janet Jackson
My Sharona — The Knack
Pour Some Sugar On Me — Def Leppard
Relax — Frankie Goes to Hollywood
Rock This Town — Stray Cats
Safety Dance — Men Without Hats
Sexual Healing — Marvin Gaye
Situation — Yaz(oo)
Sledgehammer — Peter Gabriel
Smooth Criminal — Michael Jackson
Super Freak — Rick James
Tainted Love — Soft Cell
Take On Me — a-ha
True — Spandau Ballet
Under Pressure — Queen with David Bowie
Walk Like an Egyptian — The Bangles
We Got the Beat — Go-Gos
* There were three songs not from the 80s that were played: “Time Warp” from the Rocky Horror Picture Show (because it’s a Michigan SF/F convention tradition to play that song at midnight); “Rock Lobster” by the B-52s (because I thought it the best song to follow “Time Warp”); and “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana (because it was the last song of the dance, and I think the song pretty much closed the door on the 80s era of music).
Also, because I haven’t said it before: Thanks to the Detcon 1 folks, and particularly Detcon 1 head Tammy Coxen, for asking me to DJ the dance. I had a ton of fun doing it, and I think the folks at the dance had a lot of fun as well. It was a personal highlight of a convention that was already pretty damn terrific.
I spent the weekend at Detcon 1, the North American Science Fiction Convention, held this year in Detroit, and had a pretty fabulous time. The convention was held at the Renaissance Center in downtown Detroit, and it was the first time I’ve been downtown Detroit for a couple of decades. Those hoping for a report on a blighted hellscape will be disappointed — we walked around downtown quite a bit and it was was perfectly fine; a decent number of restaurants and shops and such, with the extra added benefit of Canada on the other side of the water. I’d be happy to visit again soon.
I kept myself busy at Detcon 1 with several panels and events. All of my panels were good ones, which is a happy thing, since that’s not always a guarantee. But every panel had a good mix of smart panelists and engaged audiences, so I came away from each feeling pretty good about them. I also had an excellent reading, in which I was paired up with Jacqueline Carey. What she writes and what I write are sufficiently disparate that we both worked on the assumption it would be a fine time to introduce ourselves to at least some portion of the audience. It worked out pretty well, or at least, the audience didn’t divide into two camps and decide to have a knife fight. So we had that going for us.
My big event without question, however, was the 80s Dance Party on Saturday, for which I was the DJ. I had DJ’ed a dance party at a science fiction convention before — at Capricon, a couple of years ago — and on the basis of that I was asked to host a dance here. I overprepared just a bit, in that I had a playlist of 23 hours worth of music for a three hour dance, but it worked out well for me in that I had a lot of options for when the actual dance. The dance took place in a pretty ideal space (the 42 North lounge at the Marriot hotel) and the convention threw in a laser light show for free, so if I screwed it I couldn’t blame the location.
Fortunately, it does not appear that I screwed it up. The dance floor was full for the very first song (Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy”) and it was full for the last song (“Smells Like Teen Spirit,” because it was the song which officially closed the door on 80s music), and it was full for all the songs inbetween — which is, to my mind, is the relevant standard for a successful dance party. I also hopped about like a madman for three hours straight, occasionally going out on the dance floor myself, and at least once getting up on a chair to pump up the crowd. It was a ton of fun, but man, am I feeling it today. Worth it, though. And I got offers to DJ other convention dance parties, so if this whole writing thing falls through one day, it’s nice to know I have a backup skill.
The only downside to Detcon was that on the way home I seem to have been hit with a case of sudden onset con crud and ended up crashing out in the back bench of the minivan for most of the ride home. I’m still fairly out of it; I suspect tomorrow will largely be spent sleeping and staring glassily into the TV. Again, worth it for such a fine weekend. I would do it again.
Having a great time, wish you here. Unless you are here, in which case, hey! Glad you’re here!
And if you are here, a reminder that I am DJing an 80s dance tonight at 10pm, in the 42 lounge. Be there!
In the foreground of this picture is the United States; in the background, and unusually, south, is the great Nation of Canada. From these facts you may ascertain that I am very near the waterfront in Detroit. Also, when Steve Perry sings of someone being “born and raised in South Detroit,” he may be speaking of someone growing up, Eloise-like, in this very hotel, because as far as Detroit goes, this is as south as it gets.
Detcon1 is a very good convention so far; I had one panel yesterday which seems to have gone well, had dinner in Greektown and then hung about in the bar with friends until it was time to lose consciousness. In all, an excellent day. Today I have two panels, a reading and I’m taking part in the mass autographing. Which is to say a pretty busy day. I’m gonna get to it.
By the time you read this, I will either be at or be very near to Detcon1, this year’s NASFiC (an acronym which, if you already know what it means, suggests you are exactly the sort of geek who will be at the convention already). Once there, I will commence with four days of general nerdery, and I will speak on panels, read from my work, sign books, and DJ what is sure to become the most infamous 80s dancein modern history. Can’t wait.
It does mean that posting here is likely to be sparse through Sunday (the end of the convention), however. As always, in trying times such as these, I suggest keeping tabs with me through the magic of Twitter. The last few tweets of mine are always on the sidebar here, but here’s my actual Twitter page. Keep it open and with you at all times (or, you know, just follow me on Twitter, which is the less dramatic but probably easier option).
Have a good weekend, y’all.
On the road again — or perhaps, on the road for the first time? Sarah McCarry is a writer who perceived a certain lack within a particular narrative trope. Dirty Wings is her attempt to address it; here she is to tell you about it, and the book.
When I was nineteen or twenty I used to drive up and down the west coast like the length of the 101 was a trip to the corner store. I had fallen in love with someone who was good at getting into trouble, and then it turned out I had something of a knack for trouble myself. Out there at the edge of the world with the silvery mass of the Pacific at my feet, a wilderness of stars pricking to life in a darkening sky so big the bright spark of my own life shrunk to nothing—out there it was easy to believe that nothing much mattered, that any want I dreamed up was a reason to keep going, that running away and running toward were only different ways to tell the same story.
We don’t tell girls to set themselves free. My own life, up until the moment I left home, was a more or less ordinary one. I wanted something bigger, but I didn’t have the words to name the shape that size might take. When I was very young, I believed in dragons, thought there was one out there waiting just for me—waiting to pluck me out of the mundane (tormented on the playground, awkward, too mouthy, too smart, not quite right for a girl) and carry me into the fantastic, where the qualities that made me unwelcome among my peers would reveal themselves to be a hero’s gifts. But in a few years I saw that the idea of a story with a girl like me at its center was itself so fantastical that the dragons would’ve been more likely. I hankered after far horizons, but good luck getting there, young lady: the road is no place for a girl. There was a home in the world for clever girls—that I didn’t doubt. But I wanted to be more than clever. I wanted to be bad news.
“When a man steps onto the road, his journey begins. When a woman steps onto that same road, hers ends,” Vanessa Veselka writes in “Green Screen,” her magnificent essay on the lack of female road narratives. The older I got, the more often I met girls who were living the stories I wanted, the stories that taught me how to make my own life in their image: girls who hopped trains, hitchhiked alone across continents, vagabonded through other countries, bicycled solo for thousands of miles, wandered without company through wildernesses. But for the most part, those girls’ stories—our stories—are left off the printed page. We get dragons, sure; we can be sorceresses and princesses, witches and swordswomen, assassins and vampires and robber brides and queens. Sometimes we even get to be monsters. But a girl whose heart’s too big for her body, a girl whose whole self says go out the door and keep going—that girl’s still got to write her own book.
So I did.
Dirty Wings is about a lot of things: it’s about love and death and music, and it’s about what happens when old stories catch up with new ones—the old story, in this case, being the death-tinted romance of Persephone and Hades. Underworlds both literal and imagined, labyrinths within the heart and below the earth. It’s about the magnificent allure of truly bad decisions, and it’s a little bit about magic, and a lot about friendship. It’s about the wide salt home of the Pacific, and that ribbon of the 101 that’s stitched still, forever, through my heart as much as it is the hearts of the girls I wrote about: Cass and Maia, new friends and twinned spirits on a road trip that will alter both their lives.
But really what it’s about—what it’s about for me, anyway—is being that girl with her eye on the edge of the world, that girl who says yes to all the wild things, that girl teaching herself how to run for the sake of running, choosing the uncertain, writing her own rules. Telling her own story, drawing her own maps. That girl who decided not to wait around for dragons. I wanted a story about girls who made their own trouble, and so I wrote it. Here’s hoping you like trouble, too.
One of those “post once for future reference” posts.
I’m getting a lot of requests for book reviews, many from indie/self-published authors who are, understandably, hoping to see their book talked about, but also from editors/publicists from established presses. So please allow me to note:
I do not regularly, nor do I plan to in the immedate future, review books here on Whatever.
The primary reason for this is simple: I have a finite amount of time, and that time needs to be spent on my own books. I don’t get paid for reading books; I get paid for writing them. The secondary reason for this is that I’m not a gentle critic, and I don’t expect that people asking for reviews would be happy with what I have to say if I don’t like their books.
This does not mean that I don’t read other people’s books; I do. I read them for fun and enjoyment, not with an eye toward formal reviewing. I may from time to time write a quick review or comment here about a book I particularly liked (or, and rather substantially more rarely, gripe about a book I didn’t like). This should not be construed to suggest I intend to regularly review books here.
In lieu of regularly reviewing books, I do the following:
2. I (usually weekly) note new books/ARCs that are sent to me, both here and on my Twitter account. As I take a picture of these books/ARCs, a physical copy of the work is required. Here is how to be considered for this particular feature. This is open to any author.
Either or both of these achieve what I suspect is the goal of most people asking for reviews, which is exposure here on Whatever. It’s also easier for me. Everyone wins.
Requests for reviews will largely be ignored. I don’t have time to respond to each review request. Sorry.
Editors/PR folks at established presses, I understand review requests are part of your boilerplate. However, please take a moment to update your contact information about me. I’m happy to consider your authors’ works for inclusion in the Big Idea feature, but please note that I will not request their participation. You (or they) must ask. Thanks.
The video for “Dancing in Heaven” by Q-Feel:
I actually really like the song, but I did not know the lead singer (Martin Page) looked like a stretched-out Oompa Loompa with a John Waters mustache. This video makes me question everything I knew about the 80s.
My daughter now has her learning permit to drive, and I have co-signed to be the parent responsible for her learning how to drive (she will also need to take official driving classes). I am proud, and hope my car survives.
(P.S.: Athena wishes you to know that she was squinting into the sun when this picture was taken. That is all.)
Author Sebastien de Castell dislikes knights — well, dislike may be too mild a word for it — and loves justice. Does that sound mildly contradictory to you? De Castell explains why it is not, and how his novel Traitor’s Blade aims for that justice through a new and unexpected class of hero.
SEBASTIEN de CASTELL:
I hate knights.
How is it that the biggest bunch of self-involved bullies in all of European history became the most prominent heroes in fantasy literature? These are the same brutish and brutal thugs who murdered, raped, and pillaged their way across Europe and the Middle East in the name of God (thanks a lot, Pope Urban II). Which pre-Madison Avenue public relations firm managed to convince us that knights – I mean, fucking knights - were the paragons of honour and virtue in the Middle Ages?
Were there any good knights? Sure. William Marshall, sometimes called the ‘Flower of Chivalry’ was probably an alright fellow, but he’s the exception that proves the rule. The vast majority of medieval knighthood was made up of noble-born thugs whose most positive contribution to society was due to the occasional accidental death that comes from charging at each other with long sticks on horseback for the entertainment of slack-jawed yokels.
The hell with knights. I’d rather write about heroes.
That little rant is what launched me into writing Traitor’s Blade. I wanted characters that I could see myself rooting for–men and women without the advantages of wealth or military power who fought in service to an ideal rather than a particular church or nobleman or even their own personal honour. In other words, I wanted my main characters, Falcio, Kest, and Brasti, to be the opposite of knights.
I took my starting point from the justices itinerant of England’s twelfth and thirteenth centuries. These were magistrates, appointed by the King and commanded to travel from village to village to hear cases, pass judgments, and ensure verdicts were upheld. A similar phenomenon existed in the United States, especially along the frontiers. In fact, Abraham Lincoln spent much of his early law career on horseback, travelling alongside a judge (the actual term ‘circuit court’ comes from the designated routes of these wandering magistrates.)
I was fascinated by how dangerous a life being a justice itinerant might be. What happens when a baron or count decides he doesn’t like your verdict? Which way might the local knight or sheriff sway when his financial wellbeing is in the hands of the man you’re ruling against? Worst of all, what happens when the sovereign who appointed you dies? Those questions became the basis of the Greatcoats – the wandering magistrates of Traitor’s Blade who dedicate their lives to bringing justice to those living under the capricious rule of the nobility only to be disbanded when the king who appointed them is deposed and killed.
With Traitor’s Blade, I wanted to explore the struggle to keep alive an idealistic view of the law that is at odds with the very foundations of a feudal society. This meant recognizing that, while Falcio, Kest, and Brasti might be heroes to me, they wouldn’t be seen that way by the majority of the population in the world in which they live. Where the knights are admired and respected as military men in service to the will of the gods (which, miraculously, tends to align with the interests of the nobles who employ them), the Greatcoats are despised by the nobility and often reviled even by the peasantry who see them as having failed to bring the justice they promised.
Creating these anti-knights also meant thinking about tactical considerations. Where knights are designed for war, especially mounted combat, the Greatcoats are trained to be expert duellists. In a society like Tristia, the fictional country in which the novel is set, trial by combat is an idea that is ingrained into the culture. It made sense that the men and women who had to hear cases and render judgments might often need to uphold their verdict at the point of a sword. So while the knights wear heavy armour, the Greatcoats wear, well, coats - long, leather coats with thin bone plates sewn inside to provide some measure of defence against the weapons of their enemies while still being light enough to manoeuvre in for extended periods of time. This also fit with the Greatcoats’ need to travel long distances at speed and be protected from the elements. Their coats contain dozens of hidden pockets with little tricks and traps and chemicals to help them survive the dangers faced by those whose role is in direct conflict with the powerful in society.
The more time I spent envisioning the Greatcoats, the more I found myself searching for other adaptations to the way laws are administered in a corrupted feudal society. Verdicts need to be remembered in order to be upheld and a large portion of the population in a country like Tristia would be illiterate. So the Greatcoats set their rulings to the tune of songs that people know – making it easier for people to remember. Verdicts also need people willing to do what’s necessary to uphold them, and so the gold buttons on the coats could be used to pay twelve men and women who would act as a kind of long-term jury and ensure the ruling was upheld after the Greatcoat left.
The process of developing a new societal role inside of a more traditional fantasy setting was without doubt one of the most fun parts of building the world of Traitor’s Blade. I doubt that the historical justices itinerant were much like my Greatcoats, just as the knights of European history have little in common with their modern portrayals. But I like to think that there was a spark of that idealism in those who once wandered the long roads in an effort to bring the machinery of justice to those who lived far outside the protection of the courts.