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Winner of a Fantasy Flash Fiction Contest Judged by Five NY Times Bestselling Authors

Panelists

During the Fantasy Literature panel I moderated at Comic-Con, five New York Times bestselling authors humorously created an ad hoc passage from a short phrase I provided:

She noticed a hint of movement beneath the starlit trees. But, that was nothing compared to the trail of blood that led out of them. And there were seven bodies left behind. He was afraid to move. The knife might come out of his stomach. Fortunately, the song he was humming provided the power to keep him alive. Then moonlight glinted on antlers in the trees.

Flash Fiction Contest:

Contestants were asked to submit flash fiction based on that passage. We received a number of submissions, some referencing Santa Claus, some referencing Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, but all very creative. Three finalists were selected, and then Zac Brewer, Kami Garcia, Jonathan Maberry, Brandon Sanderson, and Maggie Stiefvater voted for their favorite. The piece with the most votes was declared the winner. And there was much rejoicing. Thank you to the esteemed judges and to all our participants.

The Winner: Woodsong by Jack Glasken

She stepped lightly through the forest. Her feet barely touched the underbrush as she silently made her way through the deepest part of her domain. This night seemed like any other except for a scent on the wind and a sound in the trees. They were whispers from the other creatures.

Humans they told her. There are humans here.

That could not be, humans hadn’t entered this domain in centuries. None had ever been sighted this deep into her home. It was no matter, she could not be bothered by such things. Her work was far too important. If humans did enter her woods, she could deal with them. She had dominion over all manner of life in this place.

She caught the scent again, it was unmistakable. Something had been bled very recently, or was bleeding still, but the scent was different. Knowing instantly that it was from a creature not of her woods, she decided to find her way toward the scent. Her ears were perked up and her head was raised, alert to any danger. This place was hers, and she must protect it.

She came upon a copse of trees deep in her domain. The scent grew stronger as she drew near. It assaulted her this close for it was foreign to this domain. Human blood.

Cautiously approaching the glade, she could hear breathing. It was labored. One of them still lives, she thought. Peering through bushes to remain hidden, she saw a scene that cooled her blood.

At least half a dozen humans were dead, their blood seeping onto the ground, staining it. They lay about as if they had been chasing something. Then she saw him, a human that was not yet an adult. He lay against a tree, his breathing deep and arduous. She saw one of the vile human weapons buried in his belly and felt pity. Poor child… but why has he not begun the Transition?

She heard him humming, and could feel the power of the forest being drawn to him.

Impossible! She thought. Wanting to inspect him, she used her huge antlers to push through the brush and reveal herself.

Why are you here? She spoke directly into his mind.

Seeing her, his eyes widened in fear and he recoiled. Moonlight shown through her antlers as she towered over him.

Do not fear, child. Tell me why you have come.

His humming continued to draw power from her woods, sustaining him.

The Woodsong is not for humans… How do you know this power?

Fear consumed the boy, and tears filled his eyes as she approached. “Please don’t let me die,” He pleaded between verses.

Remembering that humans didn’t understand the Transition, she consoled him, Die? Death is not the end, child. Let go, and you will undertake the Transition. Then your journey will truly begin.

Knowing he had no choice, his tears streamed down his face. Trusting her, and unsure why, he took one last breath and stopped singing.

The Runners-Up:

Phillip Stephens

She noticed a hint of movement beneath the starlit trees. But, that was nothing compared to the trail of blood that led out of them. And there were seven bodies left behind. He was afraid to move. The knife might come out of his stomach. Fortunately, the song he was humming provided the power to keep him alive. Then moonlight glinted on antlers in the trees.

What began as the perfect night for the rite of reckoning—a harvest moon, a cloudless sky, Jupiter in ascension against Sagittarius—turned to heated blood and anarchy. All because she walked into a thicket head held high and found seven interlopers around the stone circle where she was to offer prayer.

Nor had she noticed, as she focused on her chants, the transformation overtaking her. She clutched the rabbit to her chest, along with the ornamental stone knife, and repeated the mantra to send her mind into a transcendent state. She expected to find the circle unattended, not in a thick grove but in full view of the mother of all things.

“You have no right to be here,” she cried, not noticing her voice had fallen two octaves.

“We worship the mother just as you,” their elder said. He showed her their offering of bread and wine, already prepared for the sacrifice. She grabbed her knife, her hand suddenly larger, her wrist thicker, and charged into the circle only to be caught in the tree limbs by her new antlers as the transformation completed.

Realizing he was one with the stag he slashed at the interlopers—a throat, a chest, between the ribs. He grabbed one by the sleeve and pulled him close, dragging the knife from ear to ear. In their confusion the interlopers piled into each other rather than breaking free and even turned their weapons onto each other until every tree in the grove spilled blood onto the ground.

Only then did she come to her senses.

What blasphemy had she committed?

She shook her head to free the antlers but they were wrapped so tightly nothing gave. The pain from his wound shot through his body. He willed his body to perfect stillness. The elders told him to heed the litany, but until tonight he’d only heard buzzing words, “Prayer, patience, penitence.”

The transformation ritual required her to enter praying, not chanting. To be patient, and, being patient, she would question not challenge those who, like her, came to worship. Being penitent she would bow her head so her new antlers wouldn’t ensnare her in the trees.

In the distance she heard the horns. The elders approached. She wouldn’t ascend to the elder council tonight. She failed utterly. She was hermaphrodite and centaur, but not sanctified as she was trained to become. They would cut her free and release her into the forest to forage and be hunted with the demons and ghosts in stories told to scare their children.

Survival Song by Kenneth Olson

Her breath comes in quick, labored snorts, not much better than his own. The sharp thing in his stomach shifts every time he moves but he knows he can’t stay here. The Two-Leg will find them, and when it does it will kill them just as surely as it killed the others. As it nearly killed him with the sharp thing.

He doesn’t understand. Two-Legs usually brought their thunder when the leaves became bright and the ground turned hard. Never before had any come in the hot times.

He staggers upright. The sharp thing slips from his belly and something inside goes with it.

Alarmed, she lifts her head. The stars reflected in her eyes turn into galaxies. He hums to her. Be still. She lays her head back onto the forest floor and he turns away. His humming becomes a survival song. It is a mantra, taking on the rhythm of a heartbeat.

Live, protect. Live, protect. Live, protect.

He bounds onto the trail. Thunder rolls and lightning flashes from his right. The Two-Leg has seen him. Good. Away from her, he sings to it. Away, away.

He leaps into the bushes opposite. Thunder booms. Something hot and hard and heavy enters his flank. His legs crumple beneath him, no longer able to support his weight. He goes down, muzzle slamming into the forest floor. Sticks crack beneath his weight. Flailing, he manages to turn himself over. He tries to get back to his feet but his hind legs don’t seem to work anymore. Too weak. He is getting cold. Things continue to fall from within him.

The monster crashes through the bush in that clumsy, heavy way all Two-Legs possess. It stands for a moment, then utters something in its horrible language before raising the hollow stick it carries. It will kill him, and then it will kill her. His Mate. His Life. And it will not stop there. He cannot allow that.

He lunges, managing to get enough use from his back legs to power him forward. He cries his frustration, pain and horror to all that would hear. The Two-Leg stumbles back, surprised by the sound and sudden movement. Had it not, had it held its ground, he would be dead. The movement creates an opening, and he lowers his head. Moonlight flashes across his antlers, his own lightning, before slamming into and through the Two-Leg. The creature drops the hollow stick and they both fall to the ground. Antlers dig and gouge and dig again until the Two-Leg lays still. And then he lays still, too, gathering his strength for one last act.

Her breathing has calmed, her struggle with the birthing over. The Born lies near her belly, suckling wetly at one teat. He lies nose to nose with her and hums. Over. It’s over. He closes his eyes as she gently sings him to sleep.

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San Diego Comic-Con Panel: Science Fiction & Fantasy Literature

comic-con

I’m excited to announce that I’ll be moderating a panel “Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature” at San Diego Comic-Con. The panel will be held on Thursday, July 24 from 11-noon in room 5AB. This panel will comprise the award-winning and New York Times bestselling authors shown below. After the panel, from 12:30 – 1:30 pm, the authors will do a book signing in room AA09. Which authors, you ask? These award-winning and New York Times bestselling authors!

The panel will also feature a sneak preview of the upcoming fantasy anthology, Beyond the Pale, with stories from Saladin Ahmed, Peter S. Beagle, Heather Brewer, Jim Butcher, Kami Garcia, Nancy Holder, Gillian Philip, and Jane Yolen!

BrinDavid BrinExistence BrinPostman
Dr. David Brin

Dr. Brin has won the Hugo, Nebula, Campbell, and Locus awards. His book, The Postman, was made into a major motion picture.

ButcherJim ButcherPrincepsFury ButcherSkinGame

Jim Butcher

The Dresden Files series is required reading for urban fantasy aficionados. It is a perennial New York  Times bestseller. The latest in the series is Skin Game.

author Roxanne Carson at home CaineGlassHouses CaineIllWind

Rachel Caine

Rachel Caine is also a New York  Times bestselling author of the Weather Warden series and the Morganville Vampire series. She’s authored over 40 novels.

HoughJason HoughExodusTowers HoughDarwinElevator

Jason Hough

Jason Hough is the New York Times bestselling author of the Darwin Elevator series.

LuMarie LuYoungElites LuChampion

Marie Lu

Marie Lu is the New York Times bestselling author of the Legend series.

MaberryJonathan MaberryPZ MaberryFA

Jonathan Maberry

Jonathan Maberry is the Bram Stoker award winning and New York Times bestselling author of the Rot & Ruin series and the Joe Ledger series.

HerzHenry HerzMGNR HerzBtP

Henry Herz

Henry Herz writes children’s books, and has edited a YA fantasy anthology, Beyond the Pale.

Click to Tweet: San Diego Comic-Con Panel: Sci-Fi & Fantasy Literature at http://wp.me/p31Xf4-FM via @Nimpentoad


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Cosplay Tutorial: Making Hei’s Daggers from Skyrim

The following tutorial is courtesy of Bill Doran from Punished Pixels at http://props.punishedpixels.com/2013/04/02/darker-than-black-heis-daggers/

A couple of months ago I got my hands on a commission to build Hei’s Daggers from the anime show Darker than Black. Fortunately for me, my pal Harrison from Volpin Props had already made the dagger and has blueprints available for an insanely low price of $5. Having the blueprints already done usually saves me 1-2 days of research and drawing. I have my own blueprints available for sale here!

Hei's Daggers - Finished

I printed up the designs full scale and got started! My plan for this was pretty similar to the way that Harrison built it. I planned out several layers of PVC sheet and styrene in different thicknesses.

Hei's Daggers - Design

Most of the pieces were cut out with an X-Acto knife. Some of the thicker parts were cut out with my scroll saw. The layers were all epoxied together.

Hei's Daggers - Layers

Hei's Daggers - More Layers

The beveled edges on the side of the dagger were filled in with Bondo. I also added more styrene to the blade tips to reinforce them.

Hei's Daggers - Bondo

Hei's Daggers - Filled

Once it was all filled in and sanded down, I got it all primed up and did some more sanding.

Hei's Daggers - Primed

At this point, it was all ready for molding! Originally I thought I would need to cast it with some steel wire inside of the plastic for strength. This actually made the blades bow quite a bit, so I tried casting one without the wire. The non wire blade casting was incredibly durable and didn’t bow at all!

Hei's Daggers - Casting Wire

The finished blades were cast from SmoothCast 300 with a little bit of SoStrong black tint.

Hei's Daggers - Cast Blades

With the pieces all cast, they needed just a little bit of sanding and some paint! The base color was a rattle can metallic paint. Then I masked off the edges of the blade to paint the rest of it black.

Hei's Daggers - Silver Paint

Hei's Daggers - Painted

After some clear coating, I did some light touch up weathering with a dry brushed black paint and some silver leaf Rub ‘N Buff.

Hei's Daggers - Weathering

That’s it! All done! Nothing to see down here!


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Interview with Mouse Guard graphic novel author David Petersen

David Petersen is the creator of the Eisner Award winning series ‘Mouse Guard’. After attending Mott Community College and graduating from Eastern Michigan University with a Fine Arts degree in Printmaking, he self-published his first issue of ‘Mouse Guard’ which was later picked up by Archaia. Archaia has published four hardbound volumes of the popular all-ages series. David lives in Michigan with his wife Julia and dog Autumn. Although he is busy getting ready for San Diego Comic-Con, he has graciously agreed to answer a few questions.

PetersenDavid

For what age audience do you write?

I think of myself as writing for everyone, but I suppose that’s not entirely true. I want my books to have wide appeal, but never by becoming a collection of lowest common denominator ideas. I don’t write down to children, but there is nothing in my books inappropriate for children. I just do my best to write something I know I would have enjoyed and something I would enjoy sharing with other adventure fans. “Mouse Guard” is somewhere in the fantasy adventure genre. The fantasy aspect has mostly to do with the characters being walking talking mice who wield swords, but beyond that, the world acts as our natural world with threats coming from weather and predators. Survival becomes a big focus and no supernatural elements ever come into play (other than some ghost stories the mice may tell each other).

Henry: Let me just add that David’s artwork is spectacular. He makes sword-wielding mice look both heroic and believable. The clever details and color work are magnificent.

Tell us about your latest effort

My latest work is a prequel book to my previous ‘Mouse Guard’ books called the ‘Black Axe’. It tells the story of a mouse named Celanawe (Khell-Ehn-Awe) as he goes on a quest to retrieve a mythic weapon, honor his ancestor’s heritage, ventures beyond any mouse-maps, and encounters predators galore. It was a challenge to write something where the readers already know some of the outcome (based on the other books). I focused on making sure that if I was showing something in the past, it added weight, new understanding, and importance to the facts from the earlier books.

What do you hope readers will get from reading your work?

Mainly I hope that they have a good time reading it and that they get some emotional tug (joy, relief, sadness, etc) in that parts that touch them. I also hope readers minds swirl with questions about what I didn’t tell or show in the illustrations, what lies beyond that hill, or around that corner.

What aspect of writing or illustrating do you find most challenging?

Getting it all to fit visually is a struggle for me. Drawing comic pages means that the panels need to be arranged in an order where the reader always knows which panel comes next…but if I need to have a very tall panel in the middle of that page, it can make getting everything else for that page included a real trick. I can spend a few days laying out just one page if I get stuck. I think it’s the part that takes me the longest, and is the most difficult for me. But in many ways, the page layouts and what goes in each panel is more important than the final drawing.

What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being an illustrator?

I’d say it’s the effect an illustrator can have on a reader. I’m amazed when I hear from readers saying my stories (specifically some of the illustrations) had them crying over certain characters or events. In one issue, a crow is killed by some large weasels. The bird was a companion of one of the main mouse characters, and I had to carefully figure how to show that without going too far. I never showed a weasel actually touching the bird, and I also focused on the reaction of the mouse witnessing it….a very Hitchcock approach. But fans told me how they cried and were so sad over the bird’s violent death and how graphic it was….but it wasn’t graphic, they filled in the gaps I didn’t show in their mind.

Henry: Don’t think less of me, but I’m dabbing my eyes right now.

What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been a writer/illustrator?

All of my interactions with fans and teachers and librarians are important to me, and would have never happened if I hadn’t ever written or drawn anything. If I had to single out one moment though, it would be getting to talk about image making and storytelling with Mike Mignola. Hellboy is my favorite comic, and I’d met Mike several times before, but one morning before a convention we were both in the same coffee shop and he sat with me and we chatted. It wasn’t about me being a fan and him being the Hellboy guy…we were just talking about methods of telling stories as casually as two other guys may talk about baseball.

Henry: I loved the Hellboy II movie. PLEASE tell us that a Mouse Guard movie is in our future.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors or illustrators?

I’d say that you have to work very had to get better, but know that you need to start your project (and ultimately end it too) before you feel ready to. If you wait to create something until you feel your skills are at their peak, you will never start. And the best way to improve your skills is to start and finish an entire project and then review it with a critical (but kind) eye.

Henry: That reminds me of the saying, “Perfect is the enemy of good enough.”

Do you have any favorite quotes?

“One doesn’t discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.” –Andre Gide

Henry: Nice. There’s also “A smooth sea never made a skilled mariner.”

Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you write or illustrate?

I don’t like to re-do things. If I’ve drawn something one way, I don’t want to repeat it again (unless I have to for effect). Same with writing. I like doing a strong initial pass on something and then only make minor tweaks…re-writing something gets me to feel like I’m rehashing old thoughts and taking the life out of them. I’m sure I have more…

Henry: I write with the help of my kids. They don’t like to re-do (i.e., edit) either. Why can’t it be right the first time? 🙂

If you could have one superpower, what would it be?

Invisibility used to appeal to me when I was younger. I had thoughts of being able to escape places I didn’t want to be without being noticed (school, my room if sent there for punishment, etc.) I also figured that since I was pretty small and weak, I could still exact revenge on bullies using strategic invisible tactics. Now I’d rather have the ability to freeze time so I could perhaps cacth up to all my deadlines and still have time for a campfire.

Henry: Freezing time is a surprisingly common author response to that question.

If you could have three authors over for dinner, who would it be?

That is a very hard question…partly because if it’s to be a good dinner party, I’d want to make sure the authors would find each other in good company as well (without large language or cultural barriers) I’m going to go with all living 20th+ century writers I admire who I think would keep each other entertained: Stephen King, J.K Rowling, & James Gurney. I really admire King’s ability to set a time and place so vividly you have nostalgia for it as you read it. I love the way J. K. wove details and history and events that all interconnected beautifully over the course of seven books without ever losing sight of making her characters relatable and interesting. And James Gurney because I’m a fan of his blog where he shares his writing and illustrating process. He’s the kind of person who studies physics to be a better painter.

Henry: I have this vision of Stephen King bringing rubber eyeballs and spiders to slip in the others’ food when they’re not looking.

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?

In general terms, I have to go with talking animals. Part of why I do ‘Mouse Guard’ is because I really enjoy them myself: Wind in the Willows, Aesop’s Fables… But if I have to list one specific creature, I’m also a big fan of dragons. They have a mix of majesty and terribleness that’s hard to beat.

Henry: Well, I’ve seen a Mouse Guard riding a vulture, so why not a Mouse Guard on a dragon? You’re welcome.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing/illustrating?

I enjoy building things with my hands, spending time with my nieces, and playing board games.

Henry: Readers should not that David has created a ‘Mouse Guard’ role-playing game.

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

“It matters not what you fight, but what you fight for”

Henry: I just got back from Europe, and one of the things that caught my eye was a postcard with a cartoon monster holding a kid. The kid is firing suction cup darts at the monster. It reads: “Dans la vie, il faut toujours se battre!” (In life, we must always fight!). I also like “It’s not the size of the dog (or mouse) in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.”

Where can readers find your work?

My books are available from your local comic or book shop but can also be found online through comixology, Amazon, and the ‘Mouse Guard’ website. Readers can also follow me on my weekly blog and on Twitter. At the upcoming SDCC, I will be at Artist Alley Table GG-09 most of the Con.

Henry: Some of David’s signed prints also hang in my office, but that doesn’t really help, does it? However, here are some more examples of his stunning work:

Fall 1152 cover

Fall1152 Saxon, Kenzie and Lieam, three of the Guard’s finest, are dispatched to find a missing merchant mouse who never arrived at his destination. Their search for the missing mouse reveals much more than they expect, as they stumble across a traitor in the Guard’s own ranks and a plot to overthrow the Guard itself.

Winter 1152 cover


Winter1152Mouse Guard, the indie hit of 2006, returns with a second series! In the Winter of 1152, the Guard face a food and supply shortage threatening the lives of many through a cold and icy season.

Black Axe


BlackAxeThis prequel set in 1115, fulfils the promise the wise oldfur Celanawe made to tell Lieam of the day his paw first touched the Black Axe.

Legends of the Guard

LegendsA storytelling contest at the June Alley Inn is the backdrop for this anthology Mouse Guard series.

Mouse Guard Role Playing Game

MG_RPGAn all ages role playing game which uses a modified version of game designer Luke Crane’s Burning Wheel rule system.

This article is also posted to the San Diego Children’s Books Examiner.