Category: Martin’s Tale


I’ve talked a lot recently about the cover of The Mason of New Orleans. Here’s a related point: The image of Martin it portrays.

Martin, as envisioned by cover artist Drew Baker.

Martin, as envisioned by cover artist Drew Baker.

So one of the interesting things about commissioning a piece of artwork like this is seeing someone else’s vision of the people and scenes you’ve created in your written work. Oddly (perhaps), I have a clear vision for some of my characters. If I were casting the movie version of The Mason of New Orleans, for example, the role of Madeleine would go to Naomi Rapace. (I wasn’t really familiar with her before Prometheus, but when I saw that I was all like, “Holy crap, that’s Madeleine!”) But in other cases—including that of Martin—my vision wasn’t so clear. I didn’t know exactly what Martin looked like, so this image of him was sort of a surprise to me.

I think it works. Heck, I’d go so far as to say it’s helped me firm up an image of him in my mind. And now it’s got me thinking who I’d cast in other roles. Celestine? Stephan? Gaspard?

What are your thoughts? Is that the Martin you’d pictured? Who would you cast in some of those other roles?

Writers live and die by the feedback they get from their readers, so I’d love your comments—there’s a little link just down below to the right. Also:

  • Receive an email notification of every update to this site by subscribing (see the link to the right)Follow me on Twitter at @charlesmryan, where I post lots of game, writing, and geek news and can often be dragged into conversation
  • Follow my writing diary on Facebook at Charles M Ryan, where I post frequent short bits on the writing process and state of my current projects
  • Encircle me (is that right?) on Google+, where, like most people, I have no idea what I’m doing

The process of commissioning cover art is an interesting one. In the old days, it was pretty simple for the author: The publisher handled it. Maybe you got a chance to comment on or even approve the choice of artist or the design, but if you weren’t Stephen King, you probably didn’t even get that. Hopefully you liked it, but in the end what matters to the publisher is not that it’s true to the author’s vision—or even true to the story—but that it sells books. We’ve all read books with covers that seemed barely related to the content, and that’s why.

As a self-publishing author, I had the chance to right that wrong—but at the same time, I lost the author’s luxury of caring only about my vision. Like the publishers of yore, I had to worry equally—or perhaps moreso—about selling the book.

And what sells a book? Opinions vary, and sometimes it just comes down to a certain magic, but I think a cover painting needs to convey atmosphere. It needs to be colorful and eye-catching (in the world of electronic publishing, it has to look good at many sizes, all the way down to icon scale). It needs to tell just a bit of a story. It needs drama and tension. Most importantly, it needs to ask questions, so the reader wants to crack that book open in search of answers.

Way, way down at the bottom of the list, it needs to represent something that happens in the novel.

The Mason of New Orleans cover

Unless this is your first visit to my site, you’ve seen this already. More times than you probably want to. So, what the heck, here it is again.

The events in my cover “happen” in Chapters 10 and 11, so if you’ve read the book (or the chapters I posted here on this site) you might recognize that stage of the story. But you might also notice that no scene exactly like this occurs: The bloodied arm, the hunted skulking, and the frescoe of St. Martin don’t all occur at the same exact point in the story. As the reader, should you be outraged? Should I, as the author? Not, I think, if the painting has achieved the goals I mention above.

So what do you think? Did the fabulous Drew Baker (who, unlike many cover artists, did in fact read a draft of the book before composing this) knock it out of the park? Is this a book you’ve gotta read? Or should I have insisted on something right out of an actual scene?

Writers live and die by the feedback they get from their readers, so I’d love your comments—there’s a little link just down below to the right. Also:

  • Receive an email notification of every update to this site by subscribing (see the link to the right)
  • Follow me on Twitter at @charlesmryan, where I post lots of game, writing, and geek news and can often be dragged into conversation
  • Follow my writing diary on Facebook at Charles M Ryan, where I post frequent short bits on the writing process and state of my current projects
  • Encircle me (is that right?) on Google+, where, like most people, I have no idea what I’m doing

It has been a week since The Mason of New Orleans went live on Amazon, and I have been incredibly fortunate in that several people have taken the time to review it. Even more incredible: They seem to like it! The novel has received nine reviews as of this writing, with a very gratifying average of 4.8 stars. Here are a few snippets:

amazon-4-star“The story vividly evokes medieval times from the point of view of a modern mason, magically thrust upon the twelfth-century scene. His character made it easy for me to get into the book because Martin’s reactions seemed to mimic how I might face troubles like swords, horsemanship, cults, ruthless nobles and more: with wit, courage and modern knowledge, applied as best he can. The twists in Martin’s adventures were always fresh, and I never got caught in a trope trap. Indeed, it is not going too far to compare this to “Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court,” yet it’s all the more enjoyable because it embraces the opportunities rather than using them as a foil or for commentary on modern life and troubles.”

amazon-5-star“I have a degree in history, and I loved the historical accuracy of the setting. The author clearly researched what life was like in medieval Europe, which of course really makes Martin feel like the fish out of water that he is. It’s easy to settle in and view the world from Martin’s perspective. What is foreign to you is foreign to him. And in Martin’s new world, not everything works out the way it would in our more relaxed society.”

amazon-5-star“Martin was a well-written character and hearing his internal dialogue gave the book a great sense of humor as well as an enjoyable take on the time-travel genre.”

Now here’s the thing: Most of these reviews were written by beta-readers of the novel—people who responded to my call back in July and received ARCs in trade for a willingness to review the book when it came out. Just one or two are by people who read the book since its release. Which begs the question: Where is your review? So here’s an offer:

Read The Mason of New Orleans, then post a review to Amazon or any other public forum (EN World, anyone?) where interested readers might find it. It’s easy. Then post a comment below letting me know that you’ve done it, and where people can find it. You are under absolutely no obligation to say nice things—if you don’t like it, feel free to say so.

I will personally send the first three people who do so a giant kiss. A giant Hershey’s Kiss, that is. (Offer valid only within the US of A.) Along with my undying gratitude. Because:

Writers live and die by the feedback they get from their readers, so I’d love your comments—there’s a little link just down below to the right. Also:

  • Receive an email notification of every update to this site by subscribing (see the link to the right)
  • Follow me on Twitter at @charlesmryan, where I post lots of game, writing, and geek news and can often be dragged into conversation
  • Follow my writing diary on Facebook at Charles M Ryan, where I post frequent short bits on the writing process and state of my current projects
  • Encircle me (is that right?) on Google+, where, like most people, I have no idea what I’m doing

And It’s Live!

The Mason of New Orleans is now available at Amazon.com:

Click through to Amazon.com!

Click through to Amazon.com!

If you’ve followed this blog and maybe read a few chapters along the way—or if you’ve ever enjoyed any of my work on D&D, Deadlands, d20 Modern, Star Wars, The Last Crusade, Millennium’s End, Hell on Earth, Psychosis or anything else—I urge you to check it out. Of everything I’ve written, this is the one thing I may be most proud of.

C’mon, it’s $3.99. What do you have to lose (you know, other than $3.99)?

Writers live and die by the feedback they get from their readers, so I’d love your comments—there’s a little link just down below to the right. Also:

  • Receive an email notification of every update to this site by subscribing (see the link to the right)Follow me on Twitter at @charlesmryan, where I post lots of game, writing, and geek news and can often be dragged into conversation
  • Follow my writing diary on Facebook at Charles M Ryan, where I post frequent short bits on the writing process and state of my current projects
  • Encircle me (is that right?) on Google+, where, like most people, I have no idea what I’m doing

The novel goes on sale tomorrow. TOMORROW!

Here’s the cover for you:

The Mason of New Orleans cover

Awesome cover art by the fabulous Drew Baker!

If you like the cover painting, I strongly urge you to check out the terrific work of fantasy and gaming artist Drew Baker. Drew has been a favorite of mine for many years, and it’s a real honor to have a piece of his on the cover of this novel. (In case you missed it, many moons ago I posted some early sketches for this piece.)

Well, I’m too nervous about tomorrow (that’s when my novel comes out) to write anything more.

Did I mention when the novel comes out? In case I didn’t, it’s tomorrow. TOMORROW!

Writers live and die by the feedback they get from their readers, so I’d love your comments—there’s a little link just down below to the right. Also:

  • Receive an email notification of every update to this site by subscribing (see the link to the right)Follow me on Twitter at @charlesmryan, where I post lots of game, writing, and geek news and can often be dragged into conversation
  • Follow my writing diary on Facebook at Charles M Ryan, where I post frequent short bits on the writing process and state of my current projects
  • Encircle me (is that right?) on Google+, where, like most people, I have no idea what I’m doing

Release Date: 11 December!

Yes! After letting The Mason of New Orleans languish for three months, despite being pretty much ready to go, I am finally unleashing it on the world! Barring some unforeseen catastrophe, it will hit Amazon on Tuesday, the 11th of December.

If you have ever enjoyed any of my creative work—particularly the excerpts I’ve posted here over the past two years—I ask you to check it out. You’ve nothing to lose but a paltry $3.99. As I tell my kids when they’re hesitant to try a new food (as kids are wont to be): “Go on, give it a bite. If you hate it, it’s all over in a moment. But if you like it, you may have a new favorite thing for the rest of your life!”

You could do me an even bigger solid by helping to spread the word a bit. In this day and age, there are thousands of new books released every month. To stand out in the crowd, a new book needs to be good—but it also has to generate a little buzz. Any time someone mentions The Mason of New Orleans in a conversation—online or off—the book gets one teeny, tiny boost in it’s chances of breaking out of the pack.

So if you get the chance to say something about it, please do. If not, hey, that’s OK too, but I hope you’ll check it out for yourself. Thanks!

Writers live and die by the feedback they get from their readers, so I’d love your comments—there’s a little link just down below to the right. Also:

  • Receive an email notification of every update to this site by subscribing (see the link to the right)
  • Follow me on Twitter at @charlesmryan, where I post lots of game, writing, and geek news and can often be dragged into conversation
  • Follow my writing diary on Facebook at Charles M Ryan, where I post frequent short bits on the writing process and state of my current projects
  • Encircle me (is that right?) on Google+, where, like most people, I have no idea what I’m doing

A few months back I shared a couple of sketches for the cover art for The Mason of New Orleans. Thanks to the awesome Drew Baker, that cover art is now complete.

Two Martins for the price of one!

If you don’t know who Drew Baker is, chances are you’ve never played a CCG. Drew has done incredible work for Legend of the Five Rings, Warlords, and of course the granddaddy of them all, Magic: the Gathering. Among others. His work is always detailed, dynamic, atmospheric, and true to the material. If you haven’t really looked at his stuff before, run—don’t walk—to his website (not really up to date, but full of incredible pieces) or blog, and check it out.

Typical Drew Baker coolness.

Drew and I go way back. Many moons ago, as an unpublished artist, he contacted me out of the blue wondering how he could get a gig doing illustration for Millennium’s End. The unsolicited samples he sent through were some of the best Millennium’s End illos I’d ever seen, so I hired him in a heartbeat. Unfortunately, Chameleon Eclectic closed its doors six months later, and his work never saw publication.

But that wasn’t the end of it. One of my favorite games at the time was Ars Magica, and I was writing a sourcebook for Atlas Games about that time. A year or two after my brush with Drew’s work, that book (the Triamore Sourcebook) came out. I received my author’s copies, cracked them open, and lo and behold there were a bunch of Drew’s pieces! I had no idea he had been hired to illustrate it, he had no idea I was the author, and the developer at Atlas Games had no idea we even knew each other.

Drew and I have kept in touch over the years. Back in those early days he was doing interior art in pencil. He later moved on to full-color card and cover art, and I have his first-ever oil painting hanging in my living room. He was the first guy I thought of when it was time to commission a cover for The Mason of New Orleans.

In my next post I’ll share my thoughts about this painting. (Spoiler: I really, really like it. But there’s more to say than that.) Before I do, though, I’d love to get yours. So tell me: What do you think?

Writers live and die by the feedback they get from their readers, so I’d love your comments—there’s a little link just down below to the right. Also:

  • Receive an email notification of every update to this site by subscribing (see the link to the right)
  • Follow me on Twitter at @charlesmryan, where I post lots of game, writing, and geek news and can often be dragged into conversation
  • Follow my writing diary on Facebook at Charles M Ryan, where I post frequent short bits on the writing process and state of my current projects
  • Encircle me (is that right?) on Google+, where, like most people, I have no idea what I’m doing

It’s been a long time since I posted—perhaps I’ll blog about why sometime soon, but not now. The important thing is that while there was also a long lull on work on The Mason of New Orleans, that lull was not as long as the blog post drought. Progress was made, and I’m now just about closed in on a final draft.

Would you like to read it—the whole thing in a final, polished state? If so, drop me a line. You can reach me by email: my first name at my full name (including middle initial M) dot com. I’ll be distributing electronic ARCs (that’s publishing-industry lingo: Advance Reader Copies) to interested readers in a week or so.

This free offer is not entirely free, though. ARCs serve a specific purpose in the publishing business: They drum up early enthusiasm for a book. About the time I ship these out, I’ll set a release date for the novel—probably in late August. I’ll ask the ARC readers to help me with that launch, by spreading the word about the book. If that doesn’t seem to onerous, I’d love to get a copy in your hands!

Drop me a line if you’re interested!

I sat down with my kids to watch Big Trouble in Little China this past weekend, and I was struck by how that movie went about solving a problem in very much the same way I did in The Mason of New Orleans. Here, let me (or, rather, someone else—I didn’t put this video together), demonstrate:

 

 

You may ask what problem, exactly, is being solved in that clip. (Go ahead, ask. I’ll wait.) The problem is that of immersing the audience in an unfamiliar setting filled with cultural nuance and iconography and intricate backstory, and getting that audience fully invested in the story without a lot of off-putting exposition.

Put another way, the writer has given us a bug dumb guy to act as a proxy for the audience. Every time the audience is likely to say “Huh? What’s going on here?” the big dumb guy can say it for them. Then someone explains things to the big dumb guy, and the audience gets the answers in the form of witty dialog instead of boring exposition. Probably before even consciously forming the questions.

Martin is my big dumb guy. OK, not really that big, and hopefully not really too dumb, but he’s sitting in the same role.

When I first started dreaming up the story that would become The Mason of New Orleans, it didn’t actually involve a time-traveling character. I had Madeleine and Stephan and Gaspard and an unbuilt castle and an antagonistic Count and satanic devil worshipers and Templars and pretty much everything else, but the story was contained within the 12th century.

But as much as I was fascinated by the setting and wanted to really breathe life into the medieval experience, I really didn’t want to saddle the reader with a tale that was too dry or technical or alien or all three. I didn’t want it to read like it was by and for history dweebs. I sure didn’t want a lot of exposition to explain things that would need no explaining to the characters in the book. So I needed a filter—a way to let the reader see this unfamiliar world through his or her own modern eyes. A proxy who could experience all this stuff on behalf of the reader, not just through what he sees and does, but also through how he reacts to it.

I do not recommend blithely adding time-travelers to your novel just to get this effect. (Hmm. Actually, there are a few novels I can think of for which this might be an improvement. . . . ) In my case, however, I had a bit of an “aha!” moment when this idea hit me. Although it’s not obvious early on, Martin’s presence in the events of this story—and the reason for his 800-year journey—fit the grand plotline like a particularly good-fitting glove. The story was improved, and I got a big dumb guy to say “what?” a lot on behalf of the audience.

Jack Burton may not have been put on this earth to “get it” (to quote Lo Pan), but the audience needs to. And that’s where a big dumb guy can come in real handy.

Writers live and die by the feedback they get from their readers, so I’d love your comments—there’s a little link just down below to the right. Also:

  • Receive an email notification of every update to this site by subscribing (see the link to the right)
  • Follow me on Twitter at @charlesmryan, where I post lots of game, writing, and geek news and can often be dragged into conversation
  • Follow my writing diary on Facebook at Charles M Ryan, where I post frequent short bits on the writing process and state of my current projects
  • Encircle me (is that right?) on Google+, where, like most people, I have no idea what I’m doing

I need your help. I’ll tell you why and how in a minute.

Three months ago I announced that I’d typed the words THE END at (of course) the end of the Mason of New Orleans manuscript. It was a huge milestone, but, as I mentioned at the time, it didn’t mean I had a complete novel. There were holes to be filled in: scenes I’d skipped because I didn’t quite know how to handle them (or they were giving me trouble and I didn’t want them to bog me down). Scenes I didn’t know I needed until much later. Places where I couldn’t find the right turn of phrase, so I left myself a note to come back to it. Subplots that materialized in mid-subplot, without being properly set up. Characters whose motivations weren’t sufficiently explained. Stuff that prevented an almost-complete story from being a complete story.

I began the novel sometime in September of last year (you first heard of it, if you were paying attention, in almost a year ago to the day—October 4th, to be precise), so, approaching the end of the summer and not having finished off these bits, I set a goal of wrapping up a complete draft by the end of September. That would let me imagine that it hadn’t taken more than a year to write this novel. I made that goal—by all of 23 minutes—finishing up at 11:37 Friday night.

So what now? That’s where you come in.

Before publication, The Mason of New Orleans (remember, that’s a working title) will go to a professional editor. Before it does, I’ll reread and tweak it, so that what my editor receives is as close to perfection as I can make it without his input. And I hope you’ll give it a read, too, and let me know in what manner it can be improved. (Note: “Throw it in the rubbish bin and never, ever touch a keyboard again” may prove to be a valid comment, but try to think of helpful alternatives as I’m determined to move forward.)

Sounds great! you’re  thinking. Can’t wait to get started! Awesome, and I can’t wait to hear from you. But there are a few things you should know:

  • This is an ebook. I can send you a file for iBooks or for your Kindle. Or as a PDF.
  • Time is of the essence. I need all comments within one week. So you really need the time and commitment to read a 473-page novel over the next seven days. To put it in context: I’m an average (I think) reader, and it would take me 8 to 10 hours to read this book.
  • I’ll need concrete, actionable comments. Everything from typos to continuity gaffes to “this chapter is sooo booooring” is fine, but “I liked it” or “it’s not very good” isn’t really all that helpful.
  • Obviously, I’d be trusting you not to pass the file on to anyone else. I’m not going to require an NDA or anything, but I do ask that you not share the file or your thoughts on it at this point. (OK, if you want to tell everyone it’s incredibly awesome and they should run out and buy it the very minute it goes on sale, that would be all right.)

I’m only going to choose a limited number of alpha-readers. If you’ve helped out over the past year (maybe contributing ideas or input when I’ve asked for it on this blog), there’s a good chance I’ll include you if you like. I’ll probably also pick a handful of readers at random from the other requests I get, so please don’t be shy about asking. Either way, though, please keep the above points in mind. If you don’t think you’re up to it, please let me choose someone else.

If this interests you, please go to my Facebook page and let me know in the comments of the post there about alpha readers. I hope you like it!

Writers live and die by the feedback they get from their readers, so I’d love your comments—there’s a little link just down below to the right. Also:

  • Receive an email notification of every update to this site by subscribing (see the link to the right)
  • Follow me on Twitter at @charlesmryan, where I post lots of game, writing, and geek news and can often be dragged into conversation
  • Follow my writing diary on Facebook at Charles M Ryan, where I post frequent short bits on the writing process and state of my current projects
  • Encircle me (is that right?) on Google+, where, like most people, I have no idea what I’m doing
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