Category Archives: David J. West

Hearing Whispers Out of the Dust

IMG_3384Whispers Out of the Dust
David J. West
ebook $3.99, paperback $14.99

Take the Mormon settlement of the West, mix in some M. R. James and H. Russell Wakefield, throw in a healthy serving of H. P. Lovecraft and a dash of Robert E. Howard, stir in Native American lore, bake in the desert heat and wash down with a lake formed by a damn, and what you’re likely to come up with something that resembles Whispers Out of the Dust.

David J. West has begun to build a body of work in the subgenre known as the weird western, and his most recent book is a solid addition to the field.  It’s also one of his most ambitious projects to date.  (And I absolutely love that cover.)

St. Thomas, Nevada was settled by Mormon pioneers, but the area had been home to the Anasazi and other tribes long before.  The Mormons, many of them anyway, moved away when they discovered they were in Nevada rather than Utah and Nevada wanted to collect several years of back taxes.  Still, the town survived until the Hoover Dam was built, and the waters of Lake Mead covered it up.

That much is historical fact.  What David does is add a dose of fantasy which he blends so smoothly that you find yourself believing things you know can’t really be so.   (At least you don’t think so.)  The footnotes (endnotes, really) certainly add to the feeling of verisimilitude. David includes a number of photos he’s taken, which give you an idea of what the area looks like. Continue reading

The Next Big Thing Blog Chain

I was chained to this by David J. West, author of Heroes of the Fallen and numerous short stories, including one in the forthcoming Space Eldritch.

What is the working title of your book?

I’m not actively working on any novels at the moment, although I have a couple in different degrees of completion I hope to finish/polish after the first of the year.  In addition to some stand-alone short stories (science fiction and fantasy), there are two series I’m working on, both fantasy.  The epic fantasy series doesn’t have a working title at the moment.  The sword and sorcery series is The Chronicles of Roderik and Prince Balthar.  That’s the one getting most of my attention right now.

Where did the idea come from for the book series?

I don’t recall what gave me the initial idea for the characters.  There was a comment on the Black Gate blog a couple of years ago in a post about a fantasy magazine that shall remain unnamed.  The magazine had folded, and in one of the comments, someone said this particular publication didn’t have enough tomb robbing heroes.  Now I really enjoy a good tomb robbing.  Somehow I came up with the idea of a prince and his squire who were into a little cemetery burglary.  The only reason they would do this (that I could think of) was the prince is under a curse to murder his father, something he desperately wants to avoid doing.  So he and his squire are voluntarily exiled from their home until curse can be broken.  The court sorcerer is trying to find a way to break the curse, and it often involves having our heroes liberate certain items from their eternal resting places, usually at great risk to themselves.  The stories are written from the squire Rodrik’s point of view, and all of the ones I’ve worked on so far start with the words “The Chronicle of” in the title.  Rogue Blades Entertainment was accepting some submissions about this time, and I wrote the first story in the series.  Jason Waltz liked it enough to buy it for the Assassins anthology.  I’ve placed a second story in the series with him, and I’ve got four more I need to finish, plus a two more to plot and write.

What genre does the series fall under?

Sword and sorcery, definitely.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

 I have no idea.  I see so few movies these days, I’m not familiar with many of the younger actors.  The characters are both young men, so most of the actors I’m familiar with are too old for those roles.

What is a one-sentence synopsis of your series?

An exiled prince and his faithful squire travel their world seeking to break a family curse while there’s still time.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Self-published.  I’m not convinced agents bring enough value to the table in the current publishing climate to justify 15% of the earnings for the number of years they want to receive commissions.  Since everything I’ve written in this series so far is either short story or novelette length, I will try to place them in top markets.  If I’m not able to, I’ll put them up myself.  And of course, I’ll collect them and publish them in bundles.

How long did it take to write the first draft of your manuscript?

The first story took a couple of weeks working in the evenings when I didn’t have other commitments.  The others have been stop and go, except for the second I finished.  It’s been accepted, although I have no idea when it will see print.  That one had a deadline and took a week or two once I got past a couple of false starts.  The others are longer, so they’ve been start and stop affairs.

What other books would you compare this story to in your genre?

Who or what inspired you to write this series?

This may be cheating, but I’m going to combine the answers to the two previous questions since the works to which I would compare these stories are also some of the main inspirations.  First, I’m a huge fan of Robert E. Howard’s Hyborean Age.  I love how he mixed and matched different historical periods in an imaginary fantasy setting.  I also love how the stories are mostly episodic in nature and for the most part can be read in any order.  The setting of The Chronicles draws a lot on that template, although the world isn’t a carbon copy of the Hyborean Age.  On the other hand, there have been so many imitations that I didn’t want to create another Clonan.  I wanted a civilized hero or heroes who were forced to act at times in, if not uncivilized ways, at least ways that wouldn’t meet with civilization’s approval.  There’s probably a little Fafherd and the Grey Mouser in the inspiration somewhere, although I’ve not read that series in years, and there are more F&GM stories I haven’t read yet than there are ones I have.  I also try to read across multiple genres, so you can see the influence of Arthur Conan Doyle in the structure.  Roderik is Watson to Balthar’s Holmes, in that Balthar is supposedly the hero whose exploits are detailed by his faithful companion.

What else about your book series might pique your readers’ interest?

This series is intended to be fun.  I’ve griped at times about how many authors seem to be writing with a political or social agenda, at least judging by their blogs and tweets.  While I certainly don’t begrudge these authors their right to say whatever they like in their works, I maintain that the primary purpose of fiction is to tell an entertaining story, not convert me to your way of thinking.  With that in mind, I want to write some things that people will enjoy reading, hopefully to the point they want to read more. 

I’m also using this series as an opportunity to challenge and stretch myself as a fiction writer.  It would be very easy to get stuck in a rut and write formula stories, so I’m trying to do something different with each installment or to work on some technique.  For instance, the story I’m trying to finish in time to submit to a market by the end of the year focuses entirely on Roderik.  He and Balthar are in serious trouble, and Balthar has been taken out of commission.  Getting them out alive is all on Rodrik’s shoulders.  He doesn’t have much to work with or much time, either.  There’s also a market coming open after the first of the year  The story I’ve got in mind for it isn’t told by Roderik (or Balthar), although he and Balthar are central to everything that happens.

Now I have to chain people to this thing, so…I’m going to I’m going to list several authors whose work I enjoy and want to read more of:

Joshua P. Simon
Ty Johnston
J. M Martin
Mark Finn

New Online Magazine: Swords and Sorcery

I don’t remember now how I became aware of it, but there’s a new online fantasy magazine entitled Swords and Sorcery.  It’s a monthly, and the March issue is the second issue.  I read the two stories in it last night.  Here’s my overall impression.

The first story is entitled “Redwater” by Noleen Cavanaugh.  It’s about a lowland woman named Sorcha who is a guest in a highland home.  While there, the homeowner’s cattle come down with a disease called redwater, which similar to mad cow disease, except it’s a lot more fast-acting.  The homeowner is an old woman who has the ability to bind the disease.  It turns out Sorcha does, too, which is something that has almost been eradicated from the lowlands by the Red Priests. 

This story, while competently written, didn’t do as much for me as I’d hoped for two reasons.  For starters, it read like a first chapter in a novel, and there were parts of the backstory I would have liked to have known.  The crisis only serves to bring Sorcha into contact with the person who reveals to her the abilities she didn’t know she had, but other than that, we don’t learn much about her.  Based on the ending, there is clearly going to be more to come.  The second reason this one didn’t do a lot for me was that I’ve seen enough variations of the wise woman taking in an apprentice who was totally unaware of her power to get too excited about it again. 

Who the Red Priests are, or why Sorcha is in the highlands is not information we’re given. I’m assuming that information will be imparted in future installments.  I can’t imagine this story not being the inaugural installment in a series given how it ends.  In spite of this one not being entirely to my taste, I see a lot of potential here.  Kavanaugh implies that Sorcha is quite powerful but also lacks control of her abilities.  It would be nice to see a sorcerer/mage/adept who is either unable to control her gift or has some other obstacle to overcome in order to use it.  I’m sure that type of story is out there, but I’ve not seen much of it.  Since Sorcha has only discovered her talent, neither she nor the reader really has a clear idea of the extent of her abilities.  Depending on how Kavanaugh chooses to develop Sorcha’s talents, this could be a breath of fresh air, in spite of my previous comments.  I enjoyed the writing enough to be willing to read one or two more installments.

The other story in the issue was more along the lines of what I look for in a fantasy story.  “Hel Awaits” is a historical adventure by David J. West.  While David and I share a last name, we have never met in person, and we are not related (as far as I know).  Whereas “Redwater” had no physical action, “Hel Awaits” was brimming over with it.  It’s the story of Tyr, a Norse mercenary who has been hired to assassinate a caliph. 

The Robert E. Howard influence can be seen in this one, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  This story moves at a breakneck pace, and I found myself being swept up in the action.  While Tyr is almost more superhuman than I like at times, the tale had a nice twist at the end, where we learn why he accepted a commission to assassinate the caliph.

There were no fantasy elements in this one, or if there were, they were so minor that I missed them.  It was all straight-out action-adventure in a historical setting.  That’s not something you see much of these days, and I for one would like to see a lot more of this kind of thing. While the first story emphasized the sorcery, this one emphasized the sword.

So, overall, what did I think of this issue of Swords and Sorcery?  I liked it.  Will I read the next issue, or go back and read the first issue?  Yes.  In addition to trying to support a new S&S publication, I enjoyed the stories, even if one of them wasn’t entirely the type of thing I generally read.  These aren’t award winners, but with a new publication, that isn’t surprising.  The authors are more than competent storytellers, which is more than I can say for some of the work I’ve seen printed in more prominent publications.  I hope Swords and Sorcery succeeds.  I’ll be adding it to my list.