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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.