Can’t wait for September!


Look at this cover! A three-eyed cat! A woman who looks like the Lady! A man that has to be Croaker! A pair of kids, one demonic, the other — sort of nice, if you’re into that sort, and whatnot.

It’s dark, it’s stylish, it’s of great quality! Do the job! Get paid! Survive!

I’m beyond excited. So much beyond excited, I can’t even begin to describe it!


Have an excerpt, which I totally didn’t steal from

The chimes turned orchestral as she stepped down from the carpet. A gust tossed her hair in streamers as black as her clothing, but shining. Her hair included several intensely scarlet streaks. A silver and lapis lazuli butterfly clip sat at the root of the boldest red stripe. She was as slim as a maiden but her face suggested past strains beyond those of any maiden’s years.

So, truth absolute. She was Taken. She had gone to the Tower. She had come out of the Tower a bespoke servant of shadow.

Nobody moved to greet her. Nobody doubted what she was, either, though no Taken had visited us in months. The Limper had been the last.

She turned my way, frowned slightly, then smiled just as the sun sneaked out from behind a cloud. Its light kissed her. Her face suddenly seemed coated with white makeup on which thin blue lines had been sketched. The light faded before I got a good look. Then I got distracted by the cat that ambled out of her shadow.

It was a three-eyed cat. You do not see many of those. It was as black as her hair. The rationally placed eyes were yellow, except when they looked straight at you. Then they became a pale lilac rose, and glowed. The third eye, above and between, was a slit visible only from straight ahead. It shone crimson for a moment, then purple.

Excerpted from Port of Shadows, copyright © 2018 by Glen Cook.

Book Recommendations: Moving Pictures (Discworld #11)

After Sir Terry Pratchett passed away, I thought to honour him by exploring his Discworld in a chronological order.

Moving Pictures was where my ten-book long Discworld reading spree came to an abrupt end, sometime in 2015–or was it 2016?–I really wish I’d recalled. Something about the beginning of this book didn’t click with me back then. It was a bit too slow, perhaps. Bit more set-up than sometimes, a weaker hook.

Whatever the reason, I am happy to say, I got over it and I’m back in the Discworld!

Moving Pictures is the first in the Discworld’s loosely-connected ‘Industrial Revolution’ books. Its topic could not be clearer!

The entire novel is, in a way, a riff on Hollywood. Holy Wood is a place, but it’s also an entity, personalized and ever-present. It dreams, it moves, it does things. Strange things, nearly Lovecraftian in their nature, but always very, very funny.

The characters are both newcomers and familiar faces: Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler, who you can’t help but love whether you’ve encountered him in Guards! Guards! or not, plays the role of the big Holy Wood hot-shot producer/agent. His sleazy, perfectly selfish self is such a perfect fit for the role, too!

Our heroes are Victor, an apprentice wizard whose laziness is a thing of great beauty. Victor is the kind of clever wee lad that realizes all the dangers that come with being a wizard, and so he much prefers to stay apprentice. There’s also a favourite uncle’s inheritance in the mix, with a very specific clause to it; he’s the kind of clever protagonist I can get behind.

Ginger is a young girl from a village of milkmaids and cousins getting married. As you might expect, she’s not too excited about going back. Not that I’m judging all y’all cousin-marrying cousins in far-off milkmaid villages! You do you!

At any rate, Ginger quickly becomes the leading lady in all the Holy Wood ‘clicks’ and that’s where our two lovely young protagonists meet. What happens next includes trolls, old wizards pretending to be fake wizards in strange and ingenious ways, and horrible Things from Outside all reasonable existence.

Moving Pictures riffs on all things Hollywood, like action flicks, Disney movies (a bunch of sarcastic arsehole animals; a mouse, a cat, a grumpy old dog, and many more!), a constant, all-consuming lust for greater and more grandiose spectacles. It’s beyond funny, and I can’t recommend it enough.

At its core is an appreciation for the magic of film; a very different kind of magic from the traditional wizardly sort. Moving Pictures may not be among my favourite Discworld novels, but it is a treat that plays with a real-world concept in imaginative, funny ways.

If you like Pratchett, or cinema, or just enjoy sharp wit, you’ll want to pick this one up! I’ve gone out of my way to avoid spoilers and the plot, but don’t you worry — there’s plenty of it! That, and banged grains. Those go along quite well with those clicks the young people’re all about, nowadays.

Oh, and did I mention the Archchancellor-Bursar comedy duo? There’s a lot of laughter to be had every time the lens moves to Unseen University, what with these two going at each other’s throats like a married old couple.


Thank you for reading! I’m looking forward to writing about more of the Discworld novels as I read them chronologically, mostly. I’m skipping #11, which I’ve read, and heading straight to #12, Witches Abroad! Already 10% in, I’m thoroughly hooked!  

Book Recommendation: Jhereg by Steven Brust

I took a big chunk of time of last October and November to re-read most of Steven Brust’s excellent Vlad Taltos novels. I loved the first few novels as a child when I had read them in Bulgarian. I must’ve been between nine-ten, maybe eleven when I first held Jhereg in my hands. It was a spellbinding experience, the kind that speaks to you on a very deep personal level.

But that was a long time ago.

I do a lot of writing — never as much as I want, and not always as much as I should. I’ve learned a lot about it from reading, naturally. The fact is, one of the major POV’s in my novel is in the first person. During ye olde case of writer’s block, I decided to revisit Jhereg, discover how my adult self would take to a book I loved as a child, and maybe even find out how it holds out.

What we love as kids, adulthood sometimes takes away.

But boy, is Jhereg good!

Vlad Taltos is an Easterner (read: human) in a world of humans (read: elves, or Dragaerans). He is a baronet in the Imperial House of Jhereg, but don’t let that fool you — the title’s been paid for with coin and means next to nothing. The Jhereg is one of seventeen Great Houses of the Dragaeran Empire. The Great House which deals in just about every illegal thing you could think of — gambling, prostitution, assassination and so much more!

Vlad Taltos is an Easterner, and a Jhereg, and he’s a small-time boss of a small-time criminal organization, which owns several districts worth of criminal activities (read gambling dens, restaurants and whorehouses) in the capital city of Adrilanka. He’s pretty good at maintaining his business, for an Easterner, considering their life spans.

Vlad Taltos is the head of security to Morrolan E’Drien, a Dragon and close friend to the Empress, and the single Dragaeran to have a floating castle in the air. It’s called Castle Black, and the colour of magic is Black, and that says something for Morrolan, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Castle Black just so happens to be the safest place in the Empire, unless you’ve got the Imperial Orb looking out for you.

Vlad Taltos also happens to be a killer for hire, and that, most would argue, is where his real talents lie. He’s not a spectacular fighter — although he can hold his own — so much as he’s exceptionally crafty and very, refreshingly clever. The fencing and witchcraft he picked up from his grandfather don’t hurt one bit when handling the larger and stronger Dragaerans, used to a more brutal sort of fighting by far.

Vlad Taltos just so happens to get hired for the most complex job he’s ever had to perform. To kill a member of the Jhereg’s own Council, a member who’s done away with the House’s coffers. A man whose tenacity might very well surpass that of Vlad’s — for this man is a guest of Morrolan E’Drien and the Lord of Castle Black lets no one harm his guests.

The clock is ticking — and if Vlad doesn’t take care of the problem, two mighty Houses go to war. One is the House of some of Vlad’s closest friends, and the other is his own.


It’s a great book, worth every minute, every cent. A great starting point to a rich world filled with colourful characters and hours of action and tear-jerking comedy. This book reads like a detective story; the way Vlad works is very much like an investigator, and the books are all the better for it. Steven Brust’s use of language is beyond comparison.

But hey, I’m subjective. I love Vlad. Don’t take my word for it — check it out for yourself!


Thanks for reading! I’ll see you next time! Any books you’d like me to read and share my opinion on? Let me know in the comments! A like would also be appreciated! 



Reader’s Diary #001: I got Hart, Yo!


I thought I’d write a wee diary. Not the ‘Dear Diary, a madwoman in the bus told me they were listening in through my headphones!’ kind, but a journal about what I read on a day-to-day basis. The sort of content I can put on my blog when I don’t have enough time to put the work necessary in a ‘Writing Advice’ blog post on a Tuesday — which is what I should be writing instead.

You’ll survive another week, no doubt.

But if you don’t, I’m sorry.

Today, I went through twenty-something chapters of Kevin Hart’s I Can’t Make This Up: Life Lessons by Kevin Hart. I’m listening to the audiobook even as I write this, and it’s both entertaining and educational. He’s a great comedian, but this book shows him as a cool human being, too — a guy who’s made many mistakes in his time, but always struggles on. Hart is tenacious, someone who’s gone through a crapload of hardships. A loving, but deeply religious mother, a destructive relationship and later marriage, a lot of sleeping around, a few nights spent in a cell over domestic violence.

But through all the bad shines through an incredibly resilient, even singular, force of will. You’d have a hard time finding someone who wouldn’t be inspired by Kevin’s journey from a talentless swimmer to shoe salesman to young comedian working on his style, to…well, Kevin Hart.

It’s very good, this autobiography. I’ll probably finish it before night’s out — or tomorrow, at the latest. I’ve taken my time as is.

Warning: if you end up reading it, you’re in danger of random fits of giggles while writing blog posts!

I also read two short stories from this month’s Clarkesworld issue, Deep Down in The Cloud by Julie Novakova, and Obliteration by Robert Reed.

I enjoyed them both, but not too much. Both these stories were dystopic. Obliteration in particular reminded me of Black Mirror’s first season finale — technology has advanced to the point that all memories are stored in miniature hard drives, and can be relived instantaneously. The protagonist’s hard drive, and backup hard drive both get smoked via some sort of…I want to say hacker attack, but I’m not a hundred percent sure. Something like that, at any rate.

Deep Down in The Cloud is interesting. It’s a story about the loss of freedom, which begins with the fall of net neutrality — the main character seems to have grown up in our present, or close to it, and still remembers that time. She’s a freedom fighter, hacker, diver.  Interesting characters, mystery.

Both endings are ambiguous and the language is excellent. I’m interested enough to check the respective authors.

That’s it, the end to my first Reader’s Diary! Thanks for reading!

How about you, what did you read? What’re you planning on reading? If you were to live in the world of a book you read over the last week, which world would you pick?


Book Recommendation: Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer


I enjoyed my time with Annihilation.

The plot of the novel takes place in Area X, a self-contained environment quite capable of winning the 2015 Nebula award for science fiction. More important, Area X is home to a mysterious tower that goes not up, but down into the ground. This tower houses unusual, even alien life. . . and other mysteries, besides.

Characters: Our lead is the biologist, a woman detached from the world. She is one part of a four-woman expedition into Area X, the twelfth known expedition so far. The previous expeditions all ended in failure.  The three other members of the team are the psychologist, the surveyor and the anthropologist.

No pressure.

The biologist is an unreliable narrator. Her actions are the drive of the story, and her descent into greater and greater isolation makes for a thrilling character journey. In a place that defies a person’s entire life, the biologist desperately needs a ‘slice of reality’, as someone on Goodreads said, to use as a bridge to understand just what the hell is going on.

Atmosphere: There really isn’t much I can tell you about this book without spoiling it. Then again, I’m not sure that to spoil it would take away from the tension. A lot of people who’ve posted opinions and reviews about Annihilation have called the title ‘horror’. I was never once scared. Rather, I’d make the argument that Vandermeer’s novel is a venture into the unsettling.

What this reminded me of, in a very peculiar way, was Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness. That, too, wasn’t scary as much as it was profoundly weird and deeply fascinating.

The prose is wonderful, flowing easily and creating suspense with a masterful stroke. This is my first Vandermeer novel but his prose would be reason enough to investigate his titles further, even if I hadn’t liked this particular one (which I did).

Closing thoughts:

Annihilation is a very atmospheric novel, and the opening act to a trilogy which, I hear, doesn’t close quite as strong as it opens. Perhaps I’ll see. Truth be told, though, I’m not entirely sure I want to delve further into the mysteries of Area X. I quite like them as they are.

P.S. I just solved one of the mysteries the book offers, while writing this. You have to love books that offer you clues to a given question but don’t spell out the solution.

Thank you, friend who gave me this book, for giving me this book. It was a fun read. This one lies somewhere between sci-fi and mystery, in my opinion. You might also find it in the horror section, if your librarian looks like he scares easy.


Writing Advice: The Seven Key Steps of Story Structure (Chapter 3 of The Anatomy of Story)

Welcome back to my summary of ‘The Anatomy of Story’ by John Truby. Today we’ll take a look at Chapter 3, which deals with the steps of story structure. Let’s get to it! 

When we talk about the  structure of a story, we talk about how a story develops over time.

A story has a minimum of seven steps in its growth from beginning to end:

  1. Weakness and need.
  2. Desire.
  3. Opponent.
  4. Plan.
  5. Battle.Thgfgfgga
  6. Self-revelation.
  7. New equilibrium.

(Magnus Commentary: Sound bit unclear? Don’t worry, we’re gonna breeze through these!)

These seven steps aren’t arbitrarily imposed from without, the way a mechanical story structure such as the three-act structure is. These seven stop are based on human action, and are organic.

1.Weakness and need.

From the very beginning of the story, your hero has one or more great weaknesses that are holding him back. The need is what the hero must fulfill within himself in order to have a better life. It takes change and growth to overcome weaknesses.

Need is a wellspring of the story, and sets up every other step. Keep two important points in mind:

Your hero shouldn’t be aware of his need at the beginning of the story. 

If he’s already cognizant of what he needs, the story is over. The knowledge comes at the end, after the hero’s gone through a great deal of pain or struggle.

Give your hero a moral need as well as a psychological need.

Psychological needs involve overcoming a serious flaw that is hurting nobody but the hero. In better stories, the hero has a moral flaw in need of overcoming; a character with a moral need is always hurting others in some way at the story’s beginning.

(Magnus Commentary: I’m interested to see a character begin without a moral flaw but develop it as the story progresses.)

Giving your hero a moral need also prevents him from being perfect or a victim. Both are the kiss of death, storytelling-wise.

Keep the problem simple and specific.

The problem is also present from page one, but it isn’t as important as the weakness and need. Crisis defines a character very quickly.

Technique: Creating the moral need

Remember the rule of thumb: To have a moral need, the character must be hurting at least one other person. The moral need usually comes out of the psychological need. The character must be hurting at least one other person. The moral need usually comes out of the psychological weakness that leads him to take it out on others.

  1. Begin with the psychological weakness.
  2. Figure out what kind of immoral action might natural come out of that.

A second technique for creating a moral need is to push a strength so far that it becomes a weakness. It goes like this:

  1. Identify a virtue in your character; then make him so passionate about it that it becomes oppressive.
  2. Come up with a value the character believes in. Then find the negative version of this value.

2. Desire

Desire is what your hero wants in the story, his particular goal. A story doesn’t become interesting to the audience until the desire comes into play. It’s the driving force in the story, the line from which everything else hands. It’s intimately connected to need.

One of the biggest mistakes a writer can make is to confuse need and desire or them as a single step.

Need has to do with overcoming a weakness within the character. A hero with a need is paralyzed in some way by his weakness. Desire is a goal outside the character.

Need and desire also have different function in relation to the audience. Need lets the audience see how the hero must change to have a better life. It’s the key to the whole story, but it remains under the surface, whereas desire is on the surface, a thing that the audience wants along with the hero.

Your hero’s true desire is what he wants in this story, not what he wants in life.

Technique: Starting with desire

Careful — you might think to jump past the need and weakness and straight to desire. It’ll start the story off quickly, but it might very well kill the payoff, the ending of the story. Step 1 makes it possible for your hero to change at the end. They’re what makes the story personal and meaningful. And they’ll make the audience care. Don’t start with desire, not ever.

3. Opponent.

See the opponent not as an evil cliché, but structurally, in terms of his function in the story. A true opponent not only wants to prevent the hero from achieving his desire, but is competing with the hero for the same goal. The opponent thus links with Step Two: Desire.

It’s this link that forces hero and opponent to come into direct conflict. Two separate goals mean…the two characters can each get what they want without coming directly into conflict.

To find the right opponent, start with your hero’s specific goal — whoever wants to keep him from getting it is an (or The) opponent.

4. Plan.

Action isn’t possible without some plan. The plan is the set of guidelines or strategies, that the hero will use to overcome the opponent and reach the goal. Linked to both the opponent and the desire. The plan should always be specifically focused towards reaching the goal and defeating the opponent.

5. Battle.

The final conflict between hero and opponent; determines which of the two characters wins the goal. The final battle may be a conflict of violence or of words.

6. Self-Revelation.

The battle is an intense, painful experience for the hero. The crucible for battle causes the hero to have a major revelation about who he really is.

Much of the quality of your story is based on the quality of your story. Good self-revelation, like need, comes in two forms — psychological and moral.

In psychological, the hero strips away the façade and sees himself honestly for the first time. The stripping away of the façade isn’t passive or easy. It’s the most active, difficult and courageous act the hero performs in the entire story. As need is the beginning of the hero’s character change, so is self-revelation the end-point.

7. New Equilibrium.

Everything returns to normal, and all desire is gone, except for one difference. The hero has moved to a higher or lower level as a result of going through his crucible. A fundamental and permanent change will have taken place, either positive or negative.

The hero will therefore either move to a higher level, or — if he’s committed a terrible crime that exposes a corrupt personal flaw — will fall and be destroyed.

That’s it for this week! Hope you find my summary of Chapter 3 an interesting one: here’s to next week, which’ll be centered on Chapter 4: Characters! 

There are plenty of interesting examples and exercises in the book, which are also worth a look. As always, I don’t fully agree with the premise of the novel — that this is the best way to write; but it’s an interesting and educational experience, reading this!

Writing Advice: Premise (The Anatomy of Story, Chapter 2)

There are many ways to start the writing process. Some writers prefer to do it by breaking the story in its seven primary steps–to be explored in Chapter 3. Most begin with the shortest expression of the story as a whole, the premise line.

The premise is your story stated in one sentence. As soon as you decide to pursue one idea and codify it within your premise, you’re locked into it — so you better be happy and certain with your choice.

What you choose to write about is far more important than any decision you make about how to write it.

Premise is the one decision on which every other decision you make during the writing process is based. If your premise is weak, there is nothing you can do to save the story.

Premise is a classical example of the dangers of a little knowledge, its inherent structural weakness is found in the fact that it offers you only two-three scenes; the scenes just before and after the twist that makes your premise unique. A novel’s premise may have double-triple the number of scenes that the premise of a movie.

You have to remain flexible and open to all possibilities. This is where using an organic, creative method as guide is most important.

Developing your premise

Step 1: Write Something that may Change Your Life

If a story is that important to you, it may be that important to a lot of people in your audience. When you’re done, no matter what else, you’ve changed your life.

To follow this particular step, you need to know yourself. For that, you need to explore yourself. Get some data on who you are, via these two exercises:

  • First, write down a wishlist of all the things you’d like to see in a book. That’s what you’re passionately interested in, and what entertains you. You might jut down imagined characters, cool plot twists, great lines of dialogue, themes you want to explore or care about. Write it all down without worry for organization or any considerations.
  • The second exercise is to write a premise list. Write as many premises as you want, as long as they’re one sentence each. This’ll force you to be clear about each idea. It also allows you to see all your premises together, in one place.

After that, a look at the key patterns will start to emerge about what you love. It’s your vision in its rawest form. The exercises are designed to open you up and to ingetrate what is deep within you already.

Step 2: Look for what is possible

Explore your options. The Intent here is to brainstorm the many different paths the idea can take and then to choose the best one. Ask yourself “What if…?” so as to define what’s allowed in the story world, and what isn’t. Let your mind go free, and don’t censor or judge yourself. No idea is “stupid,” those often lead to creative breakthrough.

Step 3: Identify the Story Challenges and Problems

There’ll be particular problems embedded in the story idea, and you can’t escape them. You want to confront these, and solve them if you wish to execute your story well. Most writers identify the inherent problems of their stories too late (if at all). The trick is learning to spot the big ones right at the premise line. Of course, you won’t be able to diagnose every problem this soon in the process.

Step 4: Find the Designing Principle:

Problems and promises known, you now have to come up with an overall strategy for how you will tell your story. The overall story strategy, stated in one line, is the designing principle of your story.

The designing principle helps you extend the premise into a deep structure.

The designing principle is what organizes the story as a whole.

It is the internal logic of the story, what makes the parts hang together organically so that the story becomes greater than the sum of its parts. It is what makes the story original. It’s the seed of the story, in short. It tracks the fundamental process that will unfold over the course of the story.

Most stories don’t have a designing principle; it’s already abstract, the deeper process going on in the story, told in an original way.

Designing principle= Story process + original execution

It’s the “synthesizing idea,” the “shaping cause” of the story.

Be diligent in discovering this principle, and never take your eye off it during the long writing process. Don’t do as most writers do, by picking a genre and imposing it on the premise, forcing the story to go through events associated with the genre in question; draw the designing principle out of the one-line premise.

Step 5: Determine your Best Character in the Idea.

Always tell a story about your best character.

The best character is the most fascinating and challenging character, always.

Step 6: Get a sense of the Central Conflict

Ask yourself: “Who fights whom over what?” and answer the question over one succinct line. All conflict will boil down to this one issue, codified in your answer.

Step 7: Get a sense of the single Cause-and-effect Pathway

A good organic story has a single cause-and-effect pathway; this is the spine of the story and without it, the story will fall apart.

The trick to discovering this it ask yourself: “What’s my character’s basic action?” One action that your hero takes is more important than any other, and unifies every other action the hero takes, and that’s the cause-and-effect path.

Step 8: Determine your Hero’s Possible Character Change

That’s the second most important thing to gleam from your premise line: the fundamental character change of your hero. Character change is what your hero experiences by going through his struggle.

WxA=C ( Weaknesses x Action = Change )

The basic action should be the one action best able to force the character to deal with his weakness and change.

That’s the basic sequence of the human growth – what you, the writer, must express above everything else.

Write down a number of possible options for the hero’s weaknesses and change.

Remember that premise work is extremely tentative, especially concerning character change.

Step 9: Figure out the Hero’s possible Moral choice

The main theme of a story is often crystalized by a moral choice the hero must make, typically near the end of the story. Theme is your view of the proper way to act in the world. It is your moral vision, and it is one of the main reasons you are writing  your story.

Theme is best expressed through the structure of the story, the moral argument where you make a case for how to live, not through philosophical argument but through the actions of characters going after a goal.

To have a true choice, your hero must either select one of two positive outcomes or, on some rare occasions, avoid one of two negative outcomes.

Step 10: Gauge the Audience Appeal

Be ruthless in answering this question of commercial appeal. Don’t fall into the either-or trap of believing that you can either write about what matters to you or what sells. Always try to write something you care about, and also think will appeal to an audience.

Coming Next: Chapter 3 – The seven Key Steps of Story Structure

Magnus Commentary: Well, wasn’t that one hell of an interesting read? While I am far from subscribing to John Truby’s idea that his is the best way of going about writing, this is certainly a fascinating look at a methodology that I’m more than willing to try.

There is also a lengthy writing exercise which calls upon us, the readers of said novel, to attempt to follow these ten steps. It’s in the book, and you should check it out; I’m currently attempting it with an idea for a novel that’s been stuck in my head for some time now, and I’ll be happy to report my progress to anyone who’s interested. Comment below!

PS I decided to go without my own thoughts on the premise, as I’m still playing around with the methodology.