Sometimes you just want something short.
Fantasy books are getting longer. I enjoy Epic fantasy, but sometimes I want something a little grittier, a little shorter, and something where the fate of the kingdom or the world isn’t at stake. It’s a lot like when I’m trying to find a recipe and have to scroll through someone’s entire life story before I get to the directions.
Cue Sword & Sorcery.
I’m not going to give you a primer on the history of the S&S or what defines it as a genre, mainly because that’s already been done by other people more knowledgeable than I am. Suffice to say that one of the main divides between S&S and other genres of Fantasy is the scope. This is both why S&S was generally confined to one or two protagonists and also confined to short stories. There is no overflowing cast of characters, nor sweeping scope (though some series built to larger things over the course of their runs). In that sense it is the exact opposite of Epic fantasy and shares only some qualities with Heroic fantasy. Even one of its closest relatives, Dark fantasy, only partially resembles the source material. Others say that Grimdark fantasy is close, but that only really describes a tone.
Sam, this post is cool and all but what are you going on about?
Well, in one short week I’m releasing, Death without Direction, the first episode of my monthly S&S serial, A Battleaxe and a Metal Arm. I’m calling it “Modern Sword and Sorcery”.
An elven sorceress with a prosthetic metal arm and a towering human barbarian are in for the dungeon crawl of their lives. They know nothing about how they got there, nothing about each other. They barely remember their own names.
Helesys can feel the latent arcane energy—the wand—housed in the center of her forearm—its power just begging to be unleashed. The outlander ripples with the strength of a bear. Their abilities and their memories slowly come back to them as they delve deeper and deeper into the unknown horrors, searching for a way out.
As her power and magic come back, Helesys feels confident that the two of them will make it out or die trying…
But even death might not be an escape.
Each episode will follow the sorceress and barbarian as they search for a way out, and each will take place in a different part of the dungeon. In the first episode, the heroes find themselves in a flooded portion of the dungeon and stumble on a temple filled with bloodthirsty fishmen.
The series is going to be a return to the short stories and small-cast roots of old. The story focuses on both characters and how they deal not just with the dangers but also their recovering memories. Each episode will be filled with wonder (and more than a little violence) as they uncover unexplored areas of the dungeon, and even stray into cosmic horror (as proper S&S does).
Why a Serial?
Honestly, because the story lends itself perfectly to the format. I’ve played around with the idea of serializing stories before but most aren’t made that way—most are structured as a novel, then cut up and served chapter by chapter. Most novels don’t work well as a serial.
The opposite is true for A Battleaxe and a Metal Arm. The chapters are perfectly self-contained. There’s definitely going to be some threads to tie everything together, but each episode could be read in isolation. If anything, they’ll probably seem a little strange if they were grouped up into sets of 5 (which would be 75,000-80,000 words, standard novel length). At some point I may play around with the idea of bundling, but probably not until the story is done and with any luck that is too far down the road to think about.
How often will these be coming out? How many episodes do you have planned?
Every month. Each episode is approximately 15,000 words long—something you can knock out (or slice through) in an afternoon. Maybe one day I’ll put them out faster than that but with a day job I’m not comfortable promising more than 1 episode a month. This pace should also allow me to knock out some of my other projects in a reasonable timeframe.
As for how many I have planned, more than 10 and less than 100. In all seriousness, I see this going on well past 2021 and into 2022. I’m in this for the long haul (barring some cataclysmic act of god). And no worries, I know how it’s going to end—so don’t worry about this turning into something with a shit ending or no ending at all. Exactly how many episodes it takes to get there… well, that’s another story.
How much will each episode cost and where can we find them?
Originally, each episode was only available through Amazon, but that has changed…
AUGUST 2021 UPDATE: I plan on keeping the first one at $0.99 for the foreseeable future. I can’t justify more than that because they aren’t full-length novels. Honestly, I’m still experimenting with pricing so this may be subject to change.
You can now find Ebook copies at most retailers. Print versions can be found in Amazon, but also through most other distributors via IngramSpark. This Fall, keep an ear out for the audiobook versions.
Why was it only available through those couple of stores?
Long story short, with the way the publishing industry is these days it’s just easier for us newbies to get started on Amazon. As of 2020, Amazon accounts for 83% of all Ebook sales in the U.S., and as of 2017, they already accounted for 50% of all print books sold in the US. Unfortunately, to be part of their Kindle Unlimited (lending) program, the Ebook has to be exclusive with Amazon. It’s easier for us newbies to get borrows under the Unlimited program than actual sales. Borrows/sales eventually lead to reviews and reviews help drive exposure.
As for print, IngramSpark is one of the largest distributors and has centers in other countries outside the U.S. They also distribute to libraries.
So why call it Modern Sword & Sorcery? What’s with that?
I’m glad you asked. Part of my childhood was growing up with pulp S&S as well as Hack and Slash video games. There was (and is) still plenty to like. Getting to be the strong barbarian and slaughtering monsters and saving babes. There was a sense of adventure and cosmic horror. My family and friends got into Dungeons & Dragons and I just got done running a two year campaign for them. I’m rereading the collected stories of Conan now and rekindling some of that old joy and wonder. I’m making progress but still not done yet. I have a lot less time for reading now that I write regularly but I digress…
I bring this up because I’m glad I can read the entire Conan collection on an Ebook. One, it’s much easier to hold an Ereader than it is to hold the doorstopper print version. Two, there’s no nearly-nude woman hanging out on the cover as I read it.
That second point was a big decision I made when writing A Battleaxe and a Metal Arm.
Everyone has their tastes in literature (or entertainment as a whole) and I’m not about to tell people what to read and what to like. But as a writer, I’m going to avoid the sexualization and fanservice that underpins S&S—and I mean in the story itself, not just on the cover.
But Sam, isn’t a little titillation a part of that sweet, sweet wish fulfillment?
Sure, I guess. But I propose that of all the pieces that go in to make S&S, titillation is by far the tiniest piece of the puzzle (even tinier than those chainmail bikinis).
So A Battleaxe and a Metal Arm is going to be titillation-free, harem-free and (more than likely) romance-free too. There’s more than enough of that on TV, in the old school S&S, and in the aforementioned harem stuff that’s everywhere these days.
Don’t worry though—there will be plenty of everything else that makes S&S great!
But seriously, why though?
Because I’m old, married with children and a buzzkill.
Jokes aside, it’s hard to read some of those print books with the chainmail bikinis on the cover now that I have three girls. I want to write Sword and Sorcery that connects with more than just men and on more than just a wish fulfillment level. I also don’t plan on taking the easy route and writing a female character that’s merely wish fulfillment for them either. Cheap thrills are cheap thrills and cheap characters are doubly so.
As I alluded to earlier, I’m axing (heh) the titillation because it’s a cheap thrill. And I think S&S is better than that. At its core, the genre is about badass characters surviving with nothing but their wit and their weapons, taking on forces that run the spectrum from ferocious jungle cats, monsters from a lost age, and nigh-unstoppable cosmic horrors. Exploring strange and wondrous lands. Seeing heroes grow beyond something of mere mortals and into legend.
Fantasy isn’t just for us dudes anymore. I want to write characters that my girls can (one day) relate to. That way we can all go along on that same badass journey.
But dude… boobs…
Yeah, I know. They were hard for me to let go of too (heh). Just, uh, pick up your battleaxe and go adventuring or something. You can revisit the old classics, if you want—and seriously, there’s nothing wrong with that. They’re classics for a reason. I’m still going to hack and slash my way through Conan’s stories, then Fafhrd And The Gray Mouser, Elric Of Melinbone, and Imaro (some of which I’ve just now discovered). And then afterward I’m slaughtering my way through the newbies… Well, you get the idea.
Maybe when you’re done with the classics, you can check out A Battleaxe and a Metal Arm. A new Sword and Sorcery serial to quench your bloodlust.
Get a new story—get your fix—every single month.
BAMA 1: Death without Direction will release next Friday, April 2nd
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