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Odds are you don’t need me to tell you that 2016 was a rough year. Even leaving aside any political… happenstance, we lost a lot of great people in 2016. Some were losses shared by the world, others hit closer to home. But if I restrict my sights to only those things that were localized entirely within the walls of my house, 2016 was actually a pretty good year. Freelance work picked up considerably from its low point in 2015, Grace got a new job that she is extremely happy with, and I published two books: Monsters from the Vault, a collection of my Vault of Secrets columns from Innsmouth Free Press, and The Cult of Headless Men, a chapbook novelette from Dunhams Manor with an incredible cover by Michael Bukowski.

Since my first collection, Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings had fallen out of print at the end of 2015, this past year also saw the launch of a successful Kickstarter to get it back in print in a deluxe, fully-illustrated hardcover edition featuring killer art from my good friend MS Corley. The new edition is due out sometime this year from Strix Publishing, and should be available for order direct from them for those who missed the Kickstarter.

Following on the heels of the Kickstarter, the last few months of 2016 were a little hectic for me. I ended September with a tonsillectomy, which more or less put me out of commission for the month of October, and then spent November and December writing my first novel in only 53 days! For those who missed the previous announcement, that novel will be a Protectorate of Menoth novel set in the world of the Iron Kingdoms from Privateer Press. It’s the first in a proposed series called Fire & Faith, and the book itself is going to be called Godless. It’s due out later this year. I’ll be posting a lot more about it–and the process of writing it–once things have gone a little farther, but for now you can read a brief interview with me over at their blog.

Over the course of the year, I published only 6 new short stories (not counting The Cult of Headless Men), but I’m pretty proud of all of them. They showed up in venues like Autumn CthulhuSwords v. Cthulhu, Children of LovecraftEternal FrankensteinThe Madness of Dr. Caligari, and Gothic Lovecraft. (Lots of “Lovecraft” and “Cthulhu” titles this year.) Thanks to Children of Lovecraft, I finally got to check my lifelong dream of appearing behind a Mignola cover off my list, and my story from Autumn Cthulhu made the Bram Stoker Award reading list, which I think is a first for me. I also made my debut in the pages of Nightmare magazine, albeit in nonfiction form, writing an entry for their H Word column about creating and consuming horror that isn’t meant to be scary.

I didn’t read very many books in 2016 (a little less than 30, most of them graphic novels), but of those, a few were actually published in 2016 and were legitimately great, perhaps most notably Matthew M. Bartlett’s Creeping Waves and Jon Padgett’s The Secret of Ventriloquism. I was also lucky enough to provide blurbs for a couple of books that came out in 2016, including Pete Rawlik’s most recent addition to his rollicking Wold Newton-ish universe Reanimatrix, and Jonathan Raab’s The Lesser Swamp Gods of Little Dixie. (Though really, with a title like that, why do you need a blurb from me to sell it to you?)

I did watch a lot of movies in 2016, however. 333, to be exact. 47 of those were in the month of October, which is what happens when you have a tonsillectomy and can neither sleep nor do much else besides lay on the couch and watch movies. In continuing my efforts to see more movies that I haven’t seen than ones that I have, 197 of those movies were new-to-me, though of those only about 25 actually came out in 2016. Nothing I saw in 2016 ever managed to beat the first movie that I saw in theatres last year, so The Witch is probably still my favorite movie of the year. Other good ones that I saw include Green Room, I Am Not a Serial Killer, Ouija: Origin of Evil (yeah, I’m as surprised as you are), Captain America: Civil WarThe Nice GuysZootopiaThe Shallows, and the first half of The Autopsy of Jane Doe. The last movie that I watched in 2016 was Blood Diner, and the first one that I watched in 2017 was Cellar Dweller, so that seems about right.

In breaking with my annual tradition, there probably won’t be a Year in Creatures this year because, frankly, I just didn’t see enough movies in 2016 that had creatures in them. The big alien in Independence Day: Resurgence was totally wasted, and besides it and a few ghosts there was, what, a shark and that thing from I Am Not a Serial Killer? I guess Black Phillip would about have to be the Monster of the Year in 2016, though if there are good creatures I’m missing in movies that I didn’t see do please let me know, because I want to track them down!

In 2017 I’m hoping to read more books, which may entail watching fewer movies, but we’ll see how the year pans out. I’ve already picked up my full-weekend pass for Panic Fest this year, so that’s a pile of movies I’ll probably be seeing later this month. There’s a lot of cool stuff in the works for 2017, including that aforementioned novel, so you’ll be hearing from me more down the line. For now, let’s finish kicking the detritus of 2016 to the curb, and set our sights on getting through the next few days, months, and then years.

 

durantart03So, I’ve been a little scarce the past couple of weeks months, for reasons both good and (more often) not-so-great. Some of them you already know–I’ve been working on a long freelance project, I had a tonsillectomy–while others (both good and bad) I’ve been keeping under my hat. So now the time has come to talk about at least a few of them, and I’ll start with some of the good news:

That long freelance project, which has, up ’til now, been secret, is I suppose secret no longer, since the official announcement and an excerpt from the work-in-progress has already gone up on the publisher’s website. So what’s the word? For the past two months, I have been working non-stop on a full-length Protectorate of Menoth novel, due out later this year from Privateer Press and Skull Island eXpeditions. Those of you who have been following along for a while know that I’ve written several things for Privateer Press before, including my heretofore longest published work, Mutagenesis. But this is my first novel. Not just for Privateer Press. Ever.

I’ll talk more about the process of writing it, and what the future holds (both for it and for me) later on, but for now, I know that I’ve been pretty coy about this project for some time, and I’m very happy to finally be able to announce what it is.

For now, the book is going to be called Godless (which sounds nicely like the title of a KMFDM album), and it’s the first book in a proposed series called Fire & Faith, focusing on the Protectorate of Menoth. You’ll learn more when I have more to announce. In the meantime, I’ll get back to that bad news I mentioned up above sometime in the next few days, and then after that I’ll probably try to do the obligatory year-end wrap-up posts before we get too far past the end of the year. More (hopefully) soon.

Though I have played tabletop role-playing games most of my life–and spent more than my fair share of that time as GM–I had never actually written an adventure until I was asked by Matt Goetz of Privateer Press to put together a campaign to cap off the forthcoming Iron Kingdoms Unleashed expansion Wild Adventure. In some ways it was the perfect place for me to start, since I love pretty much everything about Unleashed and this adventure let me throw together some of my favorite things, including a mad gatorman bokor, dark rituals, swampy ruins, and lots more. Wild Adventure is due out in May, and I’ll talk more about the contents of the adventure when the book is closer to release.

Between the time that I wrote “Blood Runs Cold,” the campaign that I contributed to Wild Adventure, and the official announcement of the book’s release, I was actually asked by Matt to write another adventure, the second I ever wrote, though it was actually the first to be published. This was to be an adventure for the Iron Kingdoms RPG themed around the Llaelese Resistance, which they were generous enough to let me call “Once Upon a Time in Khadoran-Occupied Llael.” It was released in No Quarter #65, which hit local gaming shops this month.

When I’m running games, I tend to have very little in the way of story line and even less in the way of specific in-game events planned out in advance. I run games a lot like how I write fiction; I have some idea that I want to hit, and from there I tend to play it by ear, letting the game evolve organically. So it was a definite change of pace for me to write adventures, but I had a lot of fun doing it, and thankfully every time I introduced some element that I thought was going to be too over-the-top, Matt would come back with a note that basically said, “I like it, but can we have more of that over-the-top thing?” And I was like, “Hell yes we can!”

I’ve been doing a lot of writing for Unleashed and the Iron Kingdoms RPG lately, including working with Matt on a five-part series in No Quarters 61-64 (he did the first part in issue 60 on his own) bringing the Legion of Everblight into the Unleashed rule set. As a lifelong fan of role-playing games and a fan of the Iron Kingdoms setting for as long as there has been such a thing, it’s been a real pleasure working in the IK RPG, and I hope that I’m far from done.

Mutagenesis is my second collaboration with Skull Island eXpeditions, the fiction publishing arm of Privateer Press, and it is now loose in the world. It’s also the longest finished thing I’ve ever written, clocking in at over 30,000 words. (And hey, as a bonus, it’s got three really fantastic, full-color interior illustrations that I didn’t even get to see until I was looking at my author copy!)

Mutagenesis_cover

Back when I talked about writing “Under the Shadow,” the first thing I did for Skull Island, I mentioned that one of my favorite things about Privateer Press and the Iron Kingdoms setting was how they handled dragons. IK dragons are beasts of such inhuman age and cunning that they approach the quality of Lovecraftian god-monsters, and of course that goes right into my wheelhouse. Apparently, my editors as Skull Island liked my take on dragons and the relationships that their mortal followers have with them in “Under the Shadow,” because I was allowed to play some more in that particular sandbox with this project.

With Mutagenesis I got to tackle a much more direct relationship between a character and a dragon, as I told the origin story of Thagrosh and, consequently, the Legion of Everblight. For those who don’t play the game, the Legion is one of the core factions, one based entirely around a dragon, and Thagrosh is their flagship warlock. So this was a lot of fun to do.

Mutagenesis was also an interesting experience for me in terms of the writing process itself. Since this was only my second time doing licensed work, I was definitely still learning as I went. Normally, when it comes to writing, I’m not much of a planner. I write stories by feel, sort of like walking through an unfamiliar room in the dark. I’ve never been someone who did a lot of outlines or note cards or that kind of thing. I take notes for stories, but they tend to be more disorganized; snippets, thoughts, sections of story written all out of order, kind of whatever I think of at the time.

With Mutagenesis, I was not only working from a fairly detailed outline, I had a lot of input from editors and writers at Privateer Press about everything from what should happen in the story, to where things were located, what people drank, etc. It was a different experience for me, but a lot of fun, and it let me work some muscles that don’t usually get much exercise in my writing. I also think that, like with “Under the Shadow,” I was able to bring a lot of my pet obsessions to the table as well, and I definitely consider this a part of “my” work, whatever that means, and I think that for fans of my stuff, there’ll be some familiar territory here.

I love the Iron Kingdoms, and I’m happy to be returning. There’s some more projects in the pipeline, and as soon as I can say more about them, you’ll hear it here.

Under the Shadow

It’s not really a subject that I’ve talked about a lot here, but I grew up with tabletop wargaming. Warhammer was probably my biggest introduction to the fantasy genre. I didn’t have the money to play very often, and I never collected a lot of miniatures–and certainly lacked the patience and skill to paint up those I did have–but I read the books voraciously, and inhabited those worlds more than perhaps any others, save maybe those of superhero comics.

By the time I encountered Privateer Press and their Iron Kingdoms setting, I had moved as a writer away from fantasy stuff to the darker corners of the horror genre. But the Iron Kingdoms and the games set therein reminded me of what I had fallen in love with in the first place, and IK quickly became one of my favorite settings of anything, ever. I played for a while, dabbling in Mercenaries and falling in love with Trollbloods before finally settling on Gatormen as my default faction. I even bought a few of the miniatures, though I’m still no good at painting them. And once again, I read all the books I could get my hands on, voraciously.

Recently, Privateer Press unveiled a newly-minted fiction publishing arm in the form of  Skull Island eXpeditions; putting out ebook stories and novellas in the Iron Kingdoms universe. To say that I was pleased when they approached me to do some work for them would be the understatement of a lifetime.

The first product of that collaboration has now seen press. My story “Under the Shadow” is one of four stories in Called to Battle, an anthology of tales concerning solo characters from the Iron Kingdoms. Mine concerns General Gerlak Slaughterborn, a blighted trollkin who hails from the Cryx faction, an army of necromancers and undead robots that is exactly as cool as that sounds. I loved writing “Under the Shadow,” and found plenty of room to explore some of my own pet themes within the bounds of the Iron Kingdoms setting.

One of my favorite things about the Iron Kingdoms is how they handle dragons. Rather than the fairly generic critters that populate many fantasy settings, the dragons of the Iron Kingdoms are borderline Lovecraftian in their antiquity, power, and scope. Consequently, one of the things I enjoyed most about working on “Under the Shadow” was exploring the relationship between Slaughterborn and Lord Toruk, the first dragon and god-king of Cryx.

“Under the Shadow” was only the first of what I hope to be many pieces I do for Skull Island and Privateer Press, and the subject of dragons is one that I’m looking forward to exploring more in future stories. Keep an eye on this space for more news on that front. In the mean time, if you’re curious for an introduction to the Iron Kingdoms, there’s worse places to start than Called to Battle, which you can pick up from their website now.

While the big talk around these parts lately has been me quitting my day job for the life of the full-time writer, there’s also been some other major news that I’ve had to keep under wraps until just now:

I’ve been approached to write some fiction for Skull Island eXpeditions, the fiction arm of Privateer Press. Those who know me know that this is a big deal for me, because I’ve been a fan of Privateer Press, their games and settings, since about forever. So writing licensed fiction in that world is a dream come true. Aside from Mike Mignola’s Hellboy universe, I can’t really imagine a setting that I’d rather be writing licensed stories in, frankly.

The first piece I’ve written for them is going to be out soon in Called to Battle: Volume OneIt’s a 10k story about General Gerlak Slaughterborn, and I had a hell of a good time writing it. But it’s also just the beginning. There’s already been wheels set into motion for bigger and even more exciting things to come from me and the folks at Skull Island, so keep a weather eye on the horizon and I’ll let you know more as soon as I know it!

Also, over the weekend we had a little get-together in part to celebrate the beginning of my new life as a freelancer, and as part of the festivities my wife presented me with a present she’d gotten me. As part of the recent Kickstarter for the Fantastic Fiction reading series at KGB Bar, one of the rewards was the incomparable John Langan doing a story about a monster of your choice. Of course I wanted that, but I didn’t get it snapped up in time. It turns out that the reason I didn’t is because my lovely and amazing wife had beaten me to it, and at the party this weekend she presented me the award in the form of this video, which John was kind enough to put together for the occasion:

Thanks to Grace and John and everyone who’s supported me already. Only two days in to this freelancing thing, and already I feel like, whatever else happens, at least I’ll have my friends along for the ride.