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Old Tom and the Old Tome

Posted: Fri Apr 03, 2015 10:49 pm
by Thad
So in this latest episode of "I need to do something creative or I'm going to go fucking nuts," I've decided to try my hand at fiction. Below is a short story I wrote the other day. I'm curious for feedback. I'm sure I'm my own worst critic (well, actually Steve was usually my worst critic, but I'm up there) and I already have some ideas about what I do and don't like about it, but I figure I'll see what you guys think before I tell you what I think.

My tentative plan is to put this up on my website, CC-licensed with a PayPal tip jar, and also put it up on Amazon, Smashwords, and any-damn-where-else people might see it and pay a buck or so for it. I doubt it'll be a major source of revenue or anything, but hey, I made a cool buck forty-eight last month on my audiobooks.

Anyway, the story follows. I don't have a title yet. A Witch Walks Into a Bar is tempting but really doesn't seem quite right; Old Tom and the Book of Magic sounds a little too Harry Potter for a story whose fourth sentence contains the phrase "sister-fucker". Maybe something like Old Tom and the Book of the Four Elements, though that sounds pretty uninspiringly generic.

(I've got a much better, if altogether less descriptive, title in mind for my next story, a nonfiction tale of a colorful character I used to know called The Ballad of Amaroq Barnes. Which wasn't his real name, but I think it's a good title.)

Anyway. Untitled Old Tom story follows. Enjoy!


I've heard men say that history is written by the victors.

I've yet to hear a man explain why if that's true, the bards sing about the Old King like the sun shone out his arsehole.

King Arthur. Arthur Sister-Fucker. Arthur Baby-Killer. God's wounds. I've done things I'm not proud of, but I never killed no babies. Nor fucked any sisters, neither.

Arthur the Sister-Fucker weren't no victor. I was at Camlann. It was what you would call a draw.

Not that I held much love for Mordred the Hunchback. Never did understand why he tried to take the throne by force. Bastard or no, he was the King's only son, and that weren't likely to change. If he'd been a patient man, he'd have had his throne, in time.

Patience is the only way to stay alive in my line of work. Ever met a mercenary who retired and lived to a ripe old age? I aim to be the first. That's why I didn't go east. That's why I'm not out there right now, fighting the New King's war against the Turk. Not many mercs left can say we saw Camlann with our own two eyes, and even less who've still got both eyes, both arms, and both legs.

I don't see myself as a lucky man. Just a patient one. I could have gone east. Could have been a captain this time. Could have died in the Holy Land, for nothing, buried in an unmarked grave. You pick your jobs. And you don't get to be as old as I am by picking the kind where you march off to foreign lands and try to overthrow the Sultan. I already fought a war to overthrow a King once, right here at home. Only reason I'm still alive is that I knew when the war was lost. Knew when to run, and I'm not ashamed to admit it. I still know when to run, but I also know I don't run as fast as I used to.

So I take smaller jobs now -- smaller than going to war, anyway.

That's why the witch sought me out that day.

I was drinking at the Three-Legged Hog; that's where I go when I'm in Brun and looking for a job. They know me there, and they know what I'm there for.

I felt her before I saw her. She slid onto the stool next to me, and spoke in a deep voice. It sounded like a man's voice, but this weren't no man.

"You're Old Tom?" she asked me, in her man's voice. She had not removed her hood. "I was expecting someone older."

"I'm the oldest Tom here," I told her. "Old for my line of work. But you look like you've seen more winters than I have. We don't get many of your like in the Hog -- not many ladies, much less witches."

"What makes you say I'm a witch?" she asked, though she seemed none too surprised.

"I know runes on a cloak when I see them," I told her. "Even when they're black thread on a black cloak. Even when that cloak's got mud on it."

"You're right," she said, "I'm a witch. And I'm looking for something." Seemed the introductions were over and it was time to talk about the job. That didn't hurt my feelings, even if she hadn't even told me her name.

"What, where, when, and how much?" I asked.

"A book," she said. "North; Merlin's Country. As soon as you can get it." She withdrew a bag from a pocket in her robe; I opened it and counted the coins.

"You know my terms?" I asked her.

"Half your pay now, half on delivery." She knew my terms, all right; knew them word-for-word. "You will do everything in your power to retrieve the item, but if you fail to do so, you will still keep the first half of your payment." So far so good. "In return for this show of good faith, you agree not to sell the item to any third party, no matter the offer, unless I am unwilling or unable to pay you the other half of your fee."

"You know the words," I said. "Now finish them."

"I will tell you everything you need to know in order to get my item and bring it back safely," she said. She drew two rolls of parchment from another pocket, and unrolled and flattened the first. It was a drawing of a book.

"That's what I'm looking for, is it?" I peered at the drawing. It looked to be thick and fancy, with ridges around the edges and a clasp across the front. The cover said The Four Elements, though I didn't let on that I could tell; I know my letters well enough, but I like it better when people don't know that.

"That's what you're looking for," she echoed. "Tom, can you read a map?" I nodded, and she laid out the second parchment. "This is the Dark Forest. Do you know it?"

"Not well," I said, "but I know someone who does, and I know where to find him."

"Good." She pointed at the X marking the map. "This is where I think the book is. There used to be a school there."

"What kind of school?" I asked. "And what kind of book?"

"A school of magic and a book of magic." This was good. She was answering my questions, no hesitation.

"Why do you want the book?" I asked. "And what makes you think it's still there, if the school is gone?"

"I want the book because magic is fading from the world of men," she said. "Merlin is gone. The Fay-Folk have crossed the sea. The last of the dragons have died -- both the great wyrms and the line of kings who bore their name. I seek the book because I do not want to see the Craft die out.

"As for how I know the book is still there? It is protected by wards. It will not have perished when the school was destroyed, nor been taken by looters, nor succumbed to the elements. I have a charm which will reveal it to you, should you accept this task. Without the charm, none will ever find it."

There was one more question she hadn't answered. "Why do you need me? You know where the book is. Why not retrieve it yourself?"

"The school had defenses." She seemed to hesitate a bit before that last word. "Magic defenses. When it was destroyed, their arcane energies were sapped. There is magic in the books, and in the ruins, and in the charm I will give you. But it will not be enough to reawaken the guardians. But if someone with the Gift approached them, then reawaken they surely would. My Craft would work against me there. I need someone who is free of magic."

I looked her over. I thought about it. She seemed to be telling the truth. I drained my glass.

Rolf the Hunter looked, smelled, ate, and laughed like a goat. He was not hard to find. Or I should say it was not hard for him to find me. I set up camp that first night, at the edge of the Dark Forest, and he came bounding up to greet me. I know he could have stole right up behind me, quiet as you please, but he knew a friend when one came calling.

"Ho, Old Tom!" he called. "What brings you to my forest?"

I offered him a seat by the fire and a skin of wine; he offered me a rabbit for my supper. And I told him my tale.

"Aye, I know the place," he told me. "Animals don't like it much. Grass and moss and ivy like it just fine."

"I expected such," I agreed. "I left old Gnash stabled back in town."

"Good old Gnash!" Rolf laughed. "Give him an apple for me when you see him again."

The fire crackled and Rolf told me tales. He apologized for the meager fare he had supplied for my supper, and told me of days of plenty and the giant boar he had once slain that kept him in salted pork for a month. Next morn, we awoke and he told me the tale of the day he'd spent fishing, only to have a hawk swoop down and make off with his trout, with the line and pole still attached. He led me on into the forest, and he told me the tale of the time a bear had caught him without bow or knife and he had been forced to wrestle it. He showed me the scar. I wondered, sometimes, what Rolf did during the long seasons when there were no other men about to tell his tales to, and I think perhaps he told them to the trees and to the beasts. I pictured him skinning the deer whose hide he wore, and telling it the tale of the deer he had shot to skin and tan and make a coat of.

On foot it was three days' journey into the Dark Forest to the place the school had stood. Three days of Rolf telling me his tales, until all at once he fell silent and I could feel the hairs stand up on the back of my neck.

"This is it," he said, like he needed to say it.

I nodded and I reached into my pocket and pulled out the necklace the witch had given me. I hung it around my neck. I didn't feel any different.

There were scorch marks on some of the trees, and stones scattered about, some of them scorched too. I couldn't tell if the school had been destroyed from within or from without, but in any case it weren't destroyed by no ordinary fire or ram.

The form of the school loomed ahead, what there was of it. It didn't look like it had been much of a building when it had stood; it sure weren't the Tower of Merlin from the stories. It looked like it had been one story and just a few long rooms.

Yet the air about it still crackled with something, something that was keeping the animals away. And there had been guardians, sure enough; we saw two stone gargoyles on the approach. One had been cracked into a thousand pieces so's you could hardly tell what it used to be, but the one next to it still looked like a gargoyle -- knocked over on its side, with maybe some fingers and toes missing, but still eerie in that way that it didn't feel like it should be here in the forest.

We walked passed it. Even Rolf couldn't think of nothing to say; he just gave a low whistle.

The front doorway to the school still stood, but part of the wall and most of the roof had caved in. There was a pile of rubble just inside and I didn't know if I'd be able to squeeze past it. But I could hear somebody singing on the other side.

"Rolf," I said, soft as you please, "do you hear singing?"

"No, Tom," he said. "I hear creaking."

And then I heard it too.

I turned back, slowly, and I saw it: the gargoyle, the one that was still one piece, was starting to flex its wings and its arms, and push itself up off its side.

"That bitch lied to me," I cursed. "The guardians are still active." I threw my pack to the ground and drew my sword. The singing seemed louder, but that weren't my concern right then.

Rolf unslung his bow and loosed an arrow, quick as a flash. His aim was true; he hit the beastie right between the eyes. For all the good it did. It weren't the sort of arrowhead that could pierce stone or enchantment.

"Run!" I screamed, and I did. I didn't see the gargoyle leap at Rolf, I just felt the earth shake when it landed. I heard him choke, and I heard a crack, and I hoped it killed him quick because I knew it hadn't given him the sort of wound that was going to get better.

I was already in the doorway, hacking at thatch and frantically moving stones, seeking to make a big enough gap that I could squeeze inside. The music was coming from inside, and I had a feeling I knew what it was.

I sucked in my belly and just squeezed in. The beast had done with Rolf now and was on my heels, but it were bigger than me. I heard it snarl as it started tearing at the stones and heaving them away, to clear a path so it could follow me.

I followed the song. Into the room, 'round collapsed beams, through straw and dust and rubble. And there it was. The book called to me, and I was going to have it if it was the last thing I ever did. Which seemed likely.

The gargoyle was through the doorway. The book was in my hand. It flew open, it showed me a page, and I started reading.

The wind picked up. Not from outside, but inside the half-collapsed walls of the school.

The gargoyle lunged at me, but it couldn't push against the wind. I kept reading. I didn't know these words, and I couldn't tell you today what they were. But I could read them, and I did. The wind pushed the gargoyle back, and back, and then slammed it into the wall.

I reached the end of the page and I started back over. The wind kept up and it slammed the gargoyle into the stones again, and again. Its teeth rattled and its joints creaked, and it fell to pieces.

The wind stopped, and all I could hear was the blood pounding in my ears and the sound of my own gasping breathing. I curled up into a ball and whimpered, I'm not ashamed to admit it, and I don't know how long I stayed there.

I carried Rolf far enough that I couldn't feel the tingle of the magic anymore, and I buried him. I built up a cairn of stones and leaned his bow against it. I think he'd have liked it.

I buried the gargoyle, too, the parts of it that were small enough for me to move. It felt like something had passed out of the world, never to return, and I felt a sadness for that. I think Rolf would have liked that too, strange as that may sound. Way I figure it, it was just a dumb beast; he wouldn't blame it for doing what it did any more than he'd blame a bird or a bear or an Irishman. I know that, had he lived to tell his tale, he'd have told it loud and often to every tree, fern, and mushroom in the Dark Forest.

I packed the book, and as many other books as I could find in that school and fit in my pack, and I took leave of that place.

I had plenty of time to think, before I got to meet the witch again to give her what she'd asked for. I kept thinking on what I'd shouted when that gargoyle woke up on us: That bitch lied to me. The guardians are still active. If that were so, then I would find a way to make her pay, witch or no. But I weren't so sure, anymore. My gut was telling me she'd have been just as surprised as I was.

And so when we sat back down to settle up, back at the Three-Legged Hog where we had first met, I asked her.

"Did you know that gargoyle was going to wake up and come at us?" I asked her, soft like, and I watched her face.

"No." She didn't look surprised the way most people look surprised, but she looked curious. I believed her.

"Did you know I could read the book?" I asked her. I opened it up and showed her the page I'd read; I would never forget that page. "Did you know I could cast this spell?"

"Tom," she said, "I didn't even know you could read."

"So I can do magic," I said. "And I didn't know it, and you didn't know it."

She closed her eyes. She seemed to be thinking, feeling. It felt like something brushed me but she hadn't moved.

"It's small," she said at last. "You have the spark within you, but it's small. Too small to feel it, unless I was looking for it. And no, I wasn't looking for it when I met you. I didn't see any reason to."

"A good man died." I weren't accusing her, but she should know. "But it sounds like that weren't nobody's fault. We just didn't know no better."

The witch sighed. "No, but it was my mistake. I'll up your pay, of course; not that it will make up for losing your friend, but you risked more than I knew."

I nodded, slowly. "I don't want no more coin," I said at last. "But I been thinking about that school. And I been thinking about your problem, about how you don't want to see magic go away. Well, here I am -- I may not be much, almost forty, slowing down, can't hardly read, and last month I didn't even know I could cast a spell. But I'm right in front of you. And I want you to teach me."

Re: Old Tom

Posted: Fri Apr 03, 2015 11:01 pm
by Mongrel
Before I get too far in, there's a small italics error to quick-fix.

Re: Old Tom

Posted: Fri Apr 03, 2015 11:21 pm
by Thad
Thanks; fixed. It turns out Scrivener does not have a "convert Markdown to BBcode" compile option, so I had to convert all the *emphasis asterisks* to italic tags manually. Maybe next time I'll just leave it in Markdown, seeing as the entire point of Markdown is that you can read it without formatting.

Actually Scrivener is kind of pants for outputting to plain text at all; it doesn't indent or double-newline paragraphs (except for the Mac version apparently). Had to do that manually too, although that at least works with a simple find/replace.

Re: Old Tom

Posted: Fri Apr 03, 2015 11:51 pm
by Brentai
Old Tom Learns to Spell

Re: Old Tom

Posted: Sat Apr 04, 2015 12:18 am
by Thad
I laughed. I think that'd be a good title if I were putting it in an anthology, but probably not to try and get people interested in it as a standalone story.

Re: Old Tom

Posted: Sat Apr 04, 2015 1:16 am
by Brentai
Yeah you're probably right. My only other idea was that he should be referred to as "Still-Alive Tom" in the title even though he is (and should be) Old Tom in the story.

As for the story itself, I have nothing to add. I never really was in the same league as you for narrative writing, although it took me half a lifetime to figure that out.

Re: Old Tom

Posted: Sat Apr 04, 2015 1:46 am
by Mongrel
I like the concept and characterization, but I found the transitions were a bit jarring. The story felt almost... jerky, if that makes sense? I wish I could find a better way to articulate what that meant in more useful terms.

The dialogue was a bit stilted or stock at times and didn't flow as naturally as it might, but that's something I tend to focus on a lot, so don't take that too harshly.

Overall the underlying ideas are sound and works well, it just needs some more polish to smooth it out.

Re: Old Tom

Posted: Sat Apr 04, 2015 12:56 pm
by Thad
Brentai wrote:Yeah you're probably right. My only other idea was that he should be referred to as "Still-Alive Tom" in the title even though he is (and should be) Old Tom in the story.

I could probably manage some variation on "Old Tom Learns a New Trick" but I can't think of one that really rolls off the tongue.

Brentai wrote:As for the story itself, I have nothing to add. I never really was in the same league as you for narrative writing, although it took me half a lifetime to figure that out.

Whereas my weakness is world-building. Hence the fan fiction when we were kids, and my realization that, oh yeah, there are a whole lot of public domain sandboxes I can play in. (It's occurred to me that all the originally-published versions of the Conan stories are PD now; I'm toying with the idea of taking one of those and retelling it from the perspective of some random minor character.)

And my reaction to the ending of The Once and Future King was very much "Okay, and then what?" The book really has a pretty weak last act.

Actually the middle isn't so great either. There's a reason Disney adapted The Sword in the Stone and ignored the rest of the book. And it's not just that the first two things Arthur does as king are fuck his sister and murder a bunch of babies.

Aside from all that, I feel like my best stories are personal anecdotes (hence my choice of subject for the next thing I'm working on). This whole idea started out as me thinking of updating and expanding my Tempin' Ain't Easy blog post -- which I might still do, but at this point I'm more inclined to think of my temp background as a launching point for fiction. I've got a half-baked idea for something along those lines, but I'm stuck on the world-building, so I decided to write something in an already-built world first.

Mongrel wrote:I like the concept and characterization, but I found the transitions were a bit jarring. The story felt almost... jerky, if that makes sense? I wish I could find a better way to articulate what that meant in more useful terms.

The dialogue was a bit stilted or stock at times and didn't flow as naturally as it might, but that's something I tend to focus on a lot, so don't take that too harshly.

Overall the underlying ideas are sound and works well, it just needs some more polish to smooth it out.

Yeah, that's about how I feel about it. Transitions were never my strong suit. I like the narration (I know the accent is ridiculous but I figured, you know what, no matter how hard I try, I'm still a twenty-first century American trying to write a plausible English dialect representing a thousand-year-old language that doesn't even exist anymore, and it's never going to be authentic, so I may as well just embrace that and have some fun with it) but I agree that the dialogue isn't up to the same standard. (Though I like the part where they explain that Old Tom isn't actually that old, without belaboring the point.)

I feel like this is something that will get better with practice, too. My goal with this one was basically just to quit overthinking and just finish something. I feel like, you know what, I already write a hell of a lot every day, and if I can divert that toward writing stories instead of, say, rambling messageboard posts like this one, then I can crank out a lot of them. And if the early stuff is a little rough, doing it again and again should help me get better at it.

Re: Old Tom

Posted: Sat Apr 04, 2015 2:12 pm
by Mongrel
No, I get you there. I should be doing things like this too, but there's a bit of a technical barrier. I've done background fiction for games (I haven't posted them here because they would make zero sense without context). I will make a post about that elsewhere.

The accents and speech patterns is an interesting quandry and I've had a similar problem trying just to emulate early 20th century language, let alone ancient fantasy. Really, you have to be on a level with Umberto Eco to even get halfway close to coming up with something that has the right cadences, so don't sweat that too much. First and foremost, I try to make sure it flows well enough to the modern reader, because whatever language people spoke it would have flowed naturally enough to it's native speakers. Once you excise any jarring neologisms (or anglicisms, if you're dealing with a foreign language), you're really most of the way to serviceable historical dialogue even if that's a bit plain (the standard/cliched add-on to that is to use period exclamations).

Note that that's just the packaging and not the content I'm talking about here. Characters need their own voices (obv, obv) and all that.

Re: Old Tom

Posted: Sat Apr 04, 2015 3:34 pm
by Thad
Well, and it occurs to me that even regional stuff is hard to nail between two versions of the same modern language. I've been reading Stross's Merchant Princes series, which is (partially) set in America. The majority of Stross's fanbase is American, he comes to America pretty frequently, he talks to Americans online all the time -- but he still drops phrases like "car park", "aircon", "driving license", and "in hospital" in the mouths of characters who should not be saying them. And every time I hit one of those, it bumps me right in the suspension of disbelief.

I think it's probably pretty tough to get a foreign country's dialect right unless you've actually lived there for awhile and soaked some of it up, like Gaiman or Doctorow. So I figure I should either stick with twenty-first century America or fantasy locations.

ETA: I should probably also read a few of the usual books on writing, such as On Writing, maybe give Hero With a Thousand Faces and The Power of Myth a read.

Re: Old Tom

Posted: Sat Apr 04, 2015 6:04 pm
by Brentai
I love Campbell's ideas but honestly he's a pretty dry read. Very much a textbook scholar with middle-of-last-century values.

Re: Old Tom

Posted: Sat Apr 04, 2015 9:17 pm
by Thad
Oh, he's didactic as fuck. The best way to experience him is watching Bill Moyers interview him, but that takes a lot longer than reading.

And while I think his analyses were solid, I hate that people took them as such a literal damn blueprint. Being aware of commonalities across all stories is a good thing; STRIVING for those commonalities is not.

I've heard nothing but good things about On Writing. Strangely enough, I am 32 years old and have never read a book by Stephen King. I've thoroughly enjoyed articles of his that I've read, and film adaptations of his books; this is not some kind of hipster thing where I've rejected him because he's the most popular writer in America, I've just somehow never gotten around to it.

Re: Old Tom

Posted: Sat Apr 04, 2015 10:30 pm
by François
On Writing is a great read, it gave me a fair amount of "scales fell from my eyes" moments. You know these books in RPGs that give you a small bonus in one skill or some amount of experience points? It counts as one for sure.

Re: Old Tom

Posted: Wed Jul 15, 2015 1:43 am
by Thad
Old Tom and the Old Tome is kind of a terrible title but I kind of love it because it's kind of terrible. I think that's probably what I'm going to go with. When I eventually get around to actually putting the thing up someplace besides this thread.

Re: Old Tom and the Old Tome

Posted: Tue Nov 03, 2015 2:13 am
by Thad
Haven't gotten back to this in awhile, partly because I've been busy and suffering from frequent headaches and partly because I've got a tendency to overthink things and, much as I enjoy writing, I'm not much looking forward to the work part of this (creating a cover, working out the copyright page, converting it to decent HTML/EPUB/MOBI formats, proofing them to make sure everything looks the way it's supposed to, etc.).

Couple of good things have happened as a result of my waiting, though; one is that a new version of Scrivener's finally been released, and another is that...well, you know how sometimes if you take a break from something for awhile and then come back to it with fresh eyes, you immediately figure out what the problem was?

Well, my big problem with outputting the file was that it didn't recognize my linebreaks as new paragraphs, even though the editor shows them as such. (It's similar to MS Word; when you hit Enter it doesn't just start a new line, it also automatically indents.) Here's me talking about it in April:

Thad wrote:Actually Scrivener is kind of pants for outputting to plain text at all; it doesn't indent or double-newline paragraphs (except for the Mac version apparently). Had to do that manually too, although that at least works with a simple find/replace.

Well, tonight I realized within minutes why it wasn't working right, and it was my own dumb fault.

If you just select "HTML" as the output format (or, I assume, EPUB or whatever), it does properly parse the linebreaks as new paragraphs.

The reason it wasn't is that I told it to parse my text as Markdown.

...and duh, Boyd, of course it won't read a single linebreak as a paragraph break in Markdown; you need to do a double-linebreak because that's how Markdown works.

So obviously I need to make a formatting decision: either I stick with Markdown for formatting and start ending every paragraph with a double-linebreak, or I just use the GUI for formatting and use the I button to make my text italic instead of *asterisks*.

On the one hand, I kinda dig Markdown as a quick and easy way to format stuff while still leaving it legible in plain-text format; on the other, it's not like hitting Ctrl-I at the beginning and end of an italic phrase is any more work than hitting Shift-8 at the beginning and end of same.

(Also if I tell it to use the Markdown -> HTML converter, it fucks up the smartquotes. But there's a "convert smartquotes to straight quotes" toggle and I think I probably want to do that for the HTML version anyway. Smartquotes look better in an ebook but I've never liked them on a webpage, and they fuck up searches.

The downside of doing the default "Output to HTML" option -- not the "Markdown -> HTML" one -- is that it adds a bunch of bullshit inline styling. If I'm going to skip Markdown, then I need to find a way to turn that nonsense off.)

Anyhow, it'd be nice to get this thing buttoned up and get to work on the next one, whatever that may be. Right now I'm leaning toward the original plan to expand Tempin' Ain't Easy into something more book-length, though my Urban Fantasy Temp idea is still percolating.

Ballad of Amaroq Barnes kinda stalled out early. My initial plan was to write the whole thing out from memory without going back through any of the old posts or E-Mails, but that's turned out to be harder than I thought it would. I still might do that for a first pass and then go back, read the relevant posts and E-Mails, and flesh it out, but man, having to do research for a book is bad enough when it's not research into your own embarrassing teen self. (When I finally managed to recover my old E-Mails and reassemble KateStory IX, I cut out a whole lot of cringeworthy off-topic sniping. It's been seven freakin' years since that but I'm still not in a terrible hurry to go back and do something like that again.) I still think it's really fertile ground for a story, but it occurs to me that I'm not really the storyteller, AQ is, and that puts me in the awkward position of mostly paraphrasing a bunch of shit he wrote. The story boils down to "When I was a kid, I knew a guy who told a bunch of crazy, entertaining, occasionally traumatizing lies. Here are some of them." know, now that I think about it, it almost feels like it would work better as a series of disjointed comic strips, like Hark! A Vagrant. It could be like Little Nemo in Slumberland, except with much worse art and about a guy telling fantastical stories on the proto-Internet. I'm not a great artist and don't have any gear for drawing a webcomic anyway, but I'll file that under "Maybe someday." Meantime...yeah, I should get Old Tom ready to roll out, and then consider what to do next.

I don't see me writing a novel in NaNoWriMo, but maybe I'll self-publish a short story.

Re: Old Tom and the Old Tome

Posted: Thu Nov 12, 2015 6:35 pm
by Thad
Thad makes a generic fantasy cover:


(Click for full-size 1400x2100 version.)

Some alternate color swatches:

Image Image Image

And an alternate font for the title:

I think I'm leaning toward the maroon at the moment.

I'm not a graphic designer, I don't know much about color theory or typography, and this is my first try at a book cover. So, suggestions, advice, corrections, etc. are welcome, though keep in mind my budget for this is zero. (That photo is public domain; I could swap it out for any other public domain photo. I kinda like this one, though; it's simple but that glint of the sun is eye-catching. The ratio's wrong for a book cover -- which is why the title and author are on solid-color background -- but I kinda like that look, and it helps with legibility when the image gets scaled down.)

Re: Old Tom and the Old Tome

Posted: Thu Nov 12, 2015 7:58 pm
by François
I prefer the maroon too, I think the tone of the story and feel of the protagonist lend themselves well to that sort of dark earthy color. The green seems like a good choice as well. The blues, I'm not too keen on. The lighter one doesn't distinguish itself from the sky enough, and the darker one makes me think of Windows error messages for some reason. Maybe that's just me!

Re: Old Tom and the Old Tome

Posted: Thu Nov 12, 2015 9:46 pm
by Mongrel
Another vote for green or maroon, though I prefer the green a bit more. Really it's down to taste at that point.

Re: Old Tom and the Old Tome

Posted: Sun Nov 15, 2015 1:15 am
by Thad
Thanks for the feedback; maroon it shall be.

Still got some more stuff to work out, mostly fiddly formatting things.

(This is boring and I am mostly writing it so I remember it tomorrow. You can keep reading if you want. Or maybe just skip down to the part that says "ANYWAY," where I talk about next steps once the formatting stuff is figured out.)

I've written the whole thing in Markdown, because (1) I like being able to output it to plain text as-is and (2) I can export directly from Markdown to HTML.

BUT I just noticed that there is no "Markdown -> EPUB" option on Scrivener's dropdown. So when I export to EPUB, it doesn't parse my formatting (* for italic, etc.)

SO I could try reformatting the whole thing, using the GUI's formatting tools. (There is a reason I started with a short story. I did not want to finish a lengthy book and then start having these major issues.) There is a feature to automatically output the document as Markdown, so maybe that would work just fine for the plain-text-but-with-text-based-headers-and-emphasis version I want. (I will probably try with something simple, like the About the Author page, to see how well it works.)

If the Markdown output option works, then I can just format everything in the GUI and select the output for Markdown or EPUB at compile time.

BUT I really don't like the way Scrivener's default HTML output option goes. It adds a bunch of bullshit inline styling that I don't want. I want to output pristine HTML with no attributes, no CSS, and no formatting beyond simple shit like boldface, italics, and headers. HTML1 shit.

SO, if I decide to do formatting with Scrivener's GUI instead of with MD, I either have to find where the options are to turn all that shit off at compile time, OR save as Markdown and then convert that to plain HTML.

ALSO, when I select HTML output it completely ignores the checkboxes that are supposed to convert smartquotes to straightquotes. (They work for plain-text output.)

ANYWAY, the idea is to get this stuff figured out, then save in four versions (EPUB, MOBI, plain text/markdown, HTML), upload them to my site, link them here, see if you guys can find anything wrong with them (I caught one typo going through the story tonight, a "passed" instead of "past"), and then, once all that's buttoned up, add a page to my blog that links to all of them (with a donation button), and then see about getting it uploaded to Smashwords and Amazon. The thing's a pretty quick read; I'm thinking online price/suggested donation 99 cents.

Amazon's going to be interesting; I'm CC-licensing this thing and do not want DRM on it. I know that there are publishers (like Tor) that Amazon allows to release books without DRM, but I don't know if that's an option that self-publishing serfs get.

ALSO, I wrote a short synopsis to go in the book description:

Old Tom is a mercenary. In his youth, he fought for Mordred in the war against King Arthur.

But, as his name implies, Old Tom is not as young as he used to be. These days he prefers simple, low-risk jobs.

When a witch asks him to find an old book in the ruins of a school of magic, Old Tom thinks it will be exactly the kind of simple, low-risk job he’s looking for.

He is wrong.

How do you guys like that?

Re: Old Tom and the Old Tome

Posted: Sun Nov 15, 2015 2:19 am
by François
I dig it. Starting with "he fought for Mordred in the war against King Arthur" both sets up the setting and gives you that subtle and interesting shift of expectations, because you don't usually get to hear much from the people on that side of the conflict. There's a lot of flavor in not a lot of words, and that's pretty much exactly what you want.