Well, that happened.
You probably know Kai Lim’s work. You probably love it, too. He’s done a storm of brutal and brilliant stuff lately, and although he does a lot of work for several IPs and licenses (as well as his own stuff), his 40K stuff is just flawless. It’s easily among the best art that GW has ever seen.
I gushed about Kai Lim in my recent Top Five Moments of My Career (So Far…) when I was mentioning the stunning cover to Armageddon. I caught sight of this yesterday, about three minutes after it was posted on his Facebook page, but sneakily sat on it in silence while hoping to think up something eloquent to say rather than reply immediately.
Unfortunately, no such wise and illustrious words of gratitude have occurred to me, so fuck it. I’m posting it anyway. Apparently our intrepid artist just read the Night Lords Trilogy. Here’s what the man himself had to say on the matter:
“A piece of fan art after finally getting round to reading Aaron Dembski Bowden’s Night Lords Trilogy. I wanted to write a note to him, but I figured painting one would be a nicer way to express my appreciation for his amazing story.”
Holy shit. I’m feeling some weird combination of honoured, flattered, and stunned. I mean, just look at that. What the freaky-deaky am I supposed to say? That it looks great? That it captures the mood of the characters perfectly? You can already see that. It’s bloody awesome.
Thank you so much, dude. It’s breathtaking.
We drove down to Dublin for our third wedding anniversary, which included a trip to Dublin Zoo with the increasingly loud heir. There were animals and stuff. It was pretty killer.
Behold the photos downloaded from my Dropbox, and the rich, compelling narrative that they tell.
As I’m sure you’re all aware, the new teaser trailer for The Lord Inquisitor went live the other day. Just in case you’ve not magically not seen it on Kotaku, or any 40K forum, or the LordI page, or my Twitter/Facebook feed, then here we go.
It’s almost at a quarter of a million views in only two days, which is somewhere between “How interesting” and “OH FUCK ME THE PRESSURE”.
Shakes calls it “Daddy’s Movie” (sorry, Erasmus…) and I’m ashamed to say that a whole 9 of the views on YouTube out of the 250,000 are him rewatching it. I hope you can forgive me for this grievous inflation of viewing figures.
Here he is, watching the trailer.
“IT’S A ROBOT,” he announces, which I guess is kinda close to the truth. And then, gasp! A twist! “Where’s the robot going?”
Please note that at 0:50 seconds into the teaser trailer, he manages to guess the plot of the final movie.
EDIT: Someone posted this on my Facebook page, confirming Shakes’s suspicions:
It’s real. It’s actually real. And it’s looking bloody lovely too, though you’ll have to excuse the weird light glare as this was under my painting lamp.
For a zoomed-in look, you can press your face against the screen so the pixels squoosh over your eyeballs – that way the raw data bypasses your tongue, kidney stones, and bile ducts, to filter directly into the brain. Or maybe you could print the picture out and liquefy the paper as a key ingredient in some new and exciting energy drink.
You can do what you like, okay? I don’t care. That’s the point, here. I’m not your boss. I won’t judge you.
“Book I of the Black Legion Series.”
And so it begins. Series. Not “trilogy”. Series.
OH GOD THE PRESSURE.
I’m not exaggerating when I say I couldn’t be happier. It’s flawless, and I’m immensely grateful to everyone at BL who worked at the finish line to make it come out looking like this. I think the artwork just went on sale, by the way.
I’ll just head off one particular question now: “Why is it The Talon of Horus? Didn’t it used to be Abaddon: Talon of Horus“?
Nope. It was always The Talon of Horus. Look back at the 800 times I’ve mentioned it on Facebook, Twitter, any forum ever, and indeed this blog, and you’ll see that it’s always been The Talon of Horus. There’s a conflicting image on Amazon that has a mock-up of a cover, but that was an error. Amazon just took an age to update it (it still shows as A:TToH in a few places, but is mostly corrected on the various national Amazon sites). I’ve said on a few forums and on my blog that the Amazon piccy was a flub, but it’s worth reiterating because I’m sure a few people won’t have caught any of those mentions. In most places it is – and always was – The Talon of Horus.
This thrilling update was brought to you by the letters A, D, and B.
For the record, as gratifying as it will be for various folks to run to Amazon and pre-order it from everyone’s favourite tax-avoiding mega-company, I’ll just note that the more zealous and hardcore among you might want to wait until August, when there’ll be a fairly lush announcement regarding the novel. An announcement that, sadly, I’m not allowed to say a word about just yet. I asked! I swear! But the messianic overlords that stand astride BL Towers poured boiling oil down upon my hopes, using words like “marketing” and “when the time is right” and “in accordance with the prophecy”.
For now, enjoy its terrible and lovely beauty. Or don’t. That’s fine, too. Like I said, I’m not your boss. And if I was your boss, you can bet I’d tell you to stop screwing around with plastic spacemen and focus on business things, like money and dollars and perhaps even Canadian dollars too, which are apparently a real thing.
Also, if you’re interested, check out this podcast interview I did with Fifty Shades of Geek only last night, which might just be worth your time. If it’s not up right away, check back in a few hours. There’s a fair bit about current/upcoming projects, many spoilers about past novels, and incredibly features only 2* swear words.
* — I think it’s only 2. I can’t actually remember.
Sit ye down, weary traveller, and I shall tell ye a tale.
Back in the hallowed histories of the era we now call 2007, I used to play the original Dawn of War on my shitty little laptop. This was a laptop that strained manfully to run the opening cinematic, and turned the in-game graphics into something resembling blobs of angry Play-Doh marching into noble battle with slightly different coloured blobs of Play-Doh. To give you a better idea of its technological might, I once tried to play World of WarCraft on it, and its reaction to that otherwise undemanding game was to turn blue, shit itself, and die screaming in my trembling hands.
But that was later. Let’s go back to 2007, and the event forever cemented in my mind as United in Hatred.
I like co-op games, which is no big secret, nor is it particularly interesting. In the case of Dawn of War, it was usually me and my friend Barney against various AI enemies in carefully arranged scenarios that essentially ended up as “How long can we hold out against X number of orks?” in some pointlessly awesome last stand. I usually played White Scars. He usually played Ultramarines.
Barney had a certain coldness to him when he played Dawn of War. Once, when I was desperately in need of reinforcements, this conversation took place over the in-game chatbox.
[Aaron]: I need reinforcements, dude.
[Barney]: Stand your ground.
[Aaron]: No, for real, though. I’m going to lose my base.
[Barney]: Hold in the name of the Emperor.
He was like this, sometimes. He still is. The alarming focus. The merciless refusal to give ground. Incidentally, the more astute among you will realise that this is indeed the same Barney I mentioned in the dedication of Betrayer:
One day, Barney suggested something new. Something bold. He suggested we play Dawn of War with his friend Greg, who I barely knew. I had mixed feelings about this. Some of those feelings were very childish and territorial. All of them, in fact. What a wondrously petty creature I am.
But we did it. The White Scars and the Ultramarines went to war alongside Craftworld Biel-Tan, standing against an unending tide of orks from various clans.
Here’s a screenshot of the White Scars and the Ultramarines on that sacred, wonderful day.
The battle played out with a strange, almost haunting sense of slowness. Very few orks attacked us. Those that did were slaughtered with laughable ease, popping open under massed bolter fire like teased, squeezed boils between a teenager’s fingertips. Where a boil might rupture with a spillage of thick, warm pus, the orks burst open with alien blood and broken dreams. It was a super deep narrative.
Barney and I did what we always did, which is to say we stuffed as many squads as possible into drop pods while defending every bridge into our territory with dug-in artillery. We built up our bases into unassailable fortresses, ready to repel any assault.
This approach, variously called “turtling” and “cowardice”, seemed to bore Greg. He gathered the forces of Craftworld Biel-Tan and proceeded to march north through the ruined city, ready to annihilate any orks that he found. Those of you with a grasp of eldar lore will no doubt be shivering in delight, thinking “Greg’s awesome. Not like those pussy Space Marines. Greg unleashed the motherfucking Swordwind.”
Greg did just that. Unfortunately, the game was bugged and the reason we’d endured almost no assaults on our pristine, perfect fortress-monasteries was because the enemy AI wasn’t spawning any units apart from gretchin, who were largely standing around and building shitty little gun towers between long bouts of sticking their green fingers up their noses.
The first ork base fell. Undefended, it burned and exploded beneath the eldar attack. Greg said:
[Greg]: that’s one
…which, again, was true. I can’t overstate the military force he’d taken north to achieve this curbstomping triumph over the defenceless orks. I don’t just mean Fire Prism tanks, either. He had an Avatar of Kaela Mensha Khaine striding around up there – a literal incarnation of the eldar God of War made out of lava and murder and really sharp knives – waving a magic sword made out of fire. As I watched him sweep through the defenceless ork settlements, I couldn’t help but wonder at how many innocent orklings and grot-babies he was culling to feed the the soulfires of this bloodthirsty war god.
At this point, my pettiness began to bubble up again. I scrolled with all the tender care of a sneering, snivelling armchair general, mousing over Greg’s empty, undefended eldar base. I remember, very clearly, running my thumb across my lips, and I remember a moment later that I said “Hmmmmm” in a way that lasted almost ten full seconds.
I clicked back to my base.
I checked what squads I had in orbit, ready to land via drop pod.
I narrowed my eyes and said “Hmmmmm” again.
Fantasies of the purest dickery swirled hot and cold through the squidgy grey slush behind my eyes. Would I do this? Could I do this? Is this who I was? Had I been alive for a quarter of a century only to evolve into this?
My cursor was over the QUIT TEAM icon when, completely out of the blue, the following message pinged into existence:
Barney has left the team.
And I knew. We’d had no communication at all, but I knew.
Aaron has left the team.
Barney wishes to join your team. Accept?
I’ll never forget the absolutely unparalleled skullfucking slaughterfest that followed. No war movie has ever quite matched it. No battle scene in any book. Sometimes people will come up to me at signings and say how they loved the battle scenes in Helsreach or whatever, and I’ll look them right in the eye as I reply. “Thanks,” I’ll say. But really I’m thinking “You don’t even know what battle is. You weren’t there that day. You didn’t see what we did to Greg.”
Drop pods rained from the sky like the fire-iron tears of weeping metal gods. The White Scars and the Ultramarines committed to planetary assault in the same moment, in the same location. I remember every thunderclap of the pods striking the earth. I remember the animation as Space Marine squads spawned from the opened pods, right in the heart of the eldar base. I remember – with a clarity no hangover can ever steal – the way all those squads shouted “SPACE MARINES ATTACK!” one after the other, over and over. It was like a prayer. A shouty, angry prayer.
Eldar buildings cracked, crumbled, detonated. Land Raiders and Predators began to rumble in from the east and west as our battle tanks pulled up a few seconds after the first wave of orbital deep strikers. Lascannons flashed across the screen in their blue-white retina-aching resonance. The poor Bonesingers responsible for eldar base construction ran for cover, only to be cut down by merciless torrents of bolter fire. The orks had escaped Imperial rage on account of an AI bug. The eldar would not be so fortunate.
And then… this.
[Greg]: hang on guys
Not even a full-stop. Not even, as our American friends would say, a period. Just that one request, delivered as the eldar army was in the north, doubtless seeing the horizon light up with their burning homes in the south. And that’s when I felt myself infected with the tendrils of true dickery. As if this humiliating betrayal wasn’t enough, I actually answered in-character. Barney’s cold-hearted immersion ran through me. I became more than a traitor. I became a fuckhead.
[Aaron]: The alien speaks our language, Brother-Captain.
[Barney]: Then we shall deliver unto him the Emperor’s message.
I’m ashamed to admit that by this point I was laughing so hard I was having trouble seeing clearly, let alone breathing. The possibility of actual asphyxiation through wheezing, painful, gut-clenching laughter was a very real threat. It was all I could do to focus through the tears of mad laughter to click on new eldar buildings to destroy.
Craftworld Biel-Tan brought its army back south, but by then it was far too late. The eldar Avatar led its warriors into the craters where its base had been, only to be confronted by two fully-deployed and dug-in Space Marine armies. We took minor casualties… and wiped the eldar from the face of the planet, like excrement from a power-armoured boot.
I remember two specific things before it hurt too much to continue. The first was the Avatar itself, down on its hands and knees and turning to ash, one hand reaching up in futility to an uncaring sky. The Space Marines surrounding it had already turned their bolters away, firing elsewhere, bored with the death animation of an alien god.
And the second, as you might imagine, was this:
Greg has left the game.
I won’t lie to you, dear readers. Greg and I haven’t talked much since then.
United in hatred, brothers and sisters.
Remember this tale, for in such moments are the truest friendships forged… and the darkest enemies made.
My first novel was published five years ago. Like all of my books, I can’t stand to think about it for too long, let alone actually read it, because all any writer ever sees in their own work are the holes, the missed opportunities, and the things you’d do differently if you just had one… more… chance… to edit the motherfucker.
But five years is a good benchmark. It’s not entirely accurate, as Cadian Blood came out in October 2009, so it’s only 4 and 1/2 years really, but these days I take any inspiration to blog as regularly as I can without the temptation to keep putting it off.
It’s a list that starts in 2009 CE, which is when my first novel hit the shelves. Obviously I’ve existed as a semi-coherent entity before that date. This is just, y’know, my novel career. Not the video game and RPG stuff that came before it. Five years is a decent enough landmark in the timeline to warrant making a list, and by the gods do I ever like making lists.
Here’s one for you now: In five years, I’ve made 404 posts on WarSeer, 423 on Heresy-Online, and 2,070 on Bolter & Chainsword. I started tweeting regularly in 2011 (only about 10 tweets before that, for all of 2009 and 2010), and I’ve got 1,882 tweets, with 3,649 followers. I started my active Facebook page on October 11th 2011, and have 6,763 Likes as of a few minutes ago. I’m listing all of this so I can have something to look back on in five years, when those numbers either seem perfectly sane… or the stuff of star-lit dreams from my new home in the gutter.
Also, this is my 200th blog post. Woo and yay.
That’s not a smart list, though. What that is, dear friends, is a lot of time I probably should’ve spent writing instead of on forums and social media, lamenting the fact I can’t paint black.
But anyway, here are the Top Five Moments in My Career (So Far…). There’ll be a follow-up post, no doubt cunningly called “Part 2″ or “Honourable Mentions” or something equally unexciting, as there was way too much to say in one post, and several things weren’t exactly moments in the strictest sense. They were more like… perks, or just generally awesome things, like getting to hang out in Forge World’s office behind the scenes and make a break to flee with their storm bolter.
Or perhaps when I high-lariously didn’t shave my head for ages and fucked around with the camera before shaving it again:
But no. Those were foolish trifles, and not of the calibre I’m talking about. I’ll save the Honourable Mentions for next time, in Part 2.
For the record, these aren’t in any real order. I’m just not that organised, no matter how awesome I think lists are.
Let’s do this.
- #5 – Sabbat Worlds.
Getting invited onto Sabbat Worlds was for me, in a weird way, more about me and Dan than anything related to my career. It’s so trite to say “it was an incredible honour”, because of course it was. That should go without saying.
Dan and I need to Skype this week, as it happens, to discuss various projects and stuff. That’s normal. That’s work. But that’s now. That’s after five years. Back when I was invited onto Sabbat Worlds I’d only met Dan a handful of times, and the mild shame of me losing control of my voice and practically shouting “HI DAN ABNETT” when we first met was still pretty fresh. I was still more of a super-fan than his colleague, but he asked me onto the book anyway.
There’s the mundane angle that BL may have politely asked Dan to put me in the anthology as a means of boosting my name, as I didn’t have much out by that point and even The First Heretic was still in the misty reaches of the release schedule, driving its way towards publication. (As it happens, Dan was the first human being to read the synopsis and the first three chapters of TFH. Now you know, and knowing is half the battle.)
But I didn’t care, and still don’t. Getting invited onto Dan’s flagship series and getting to play around in his own personal crusade was an awesome honour, and a sign that he thought I could write well enough not to spoon up his personal project. In my short story ‘Regicide’, I showed the death of Warmaster Slaydo, the death of Archon Nadzybar, and I also got to show the first ever appearance of Warmaster Macaroth. Anyone who knows the Gaunt’s Ghosts storyline will know that this isn’t exactly small-fry stuff in the lore – Dan trusted me with some insanely major stuff, with no real requests beyond not fucking it up. He could’ve said “I want to see this, and this, and this…” and “This character is like X, and this character is like Y…” but instead he just let me run loose, with a single line of how he imagined Macaroth to be in-person.
I like to think he was happy with the results.
Since I joined Black Library, Dan’s been a consistent mentor as well as a friend, with plenty of phone calls advising me on the ins and outs of a career I still barely understand. When I’ve been pissed off, he’s calmed me down. When I’ve been confused, he’s enlightened me with insufferably patient and wise counsel. When I’ve banged on and on about how Carl Thonius is the best character in Black Library history, he’s kept his bored sighs to a minimum.
- #4 – Games Day UK 2010.
I went to Games Day 2009 for no reason beyond the fact that Black Library asked me to. Cadian Blood wasn’t even out and no one had any idea who I was, so I was sat between my editor Nick Kyme and my girlfriend Katie (before the Marriage Times) for several hours,caged by these two enforcers and signing random flyers every once in a while, or the rare pre-release copy of CeeBee a month before it went on general release.
Here we are, way back in the mists of time.
So I was basically sat there for half the day, doing nothing. I also lost a hat, and Katie lost one of her really expensive cameras. But the Bugman’s after-party was absolutely righteous, so the good and bad comes out as a wash, there. That was Games Day 2009.
And then came Games Day 2010.
Cadian Blood had been out for a year. Soul Hunter had been out for almost a year. The Sabbat Worlds Anthology and The First Heretic were both on pre-release right then and there – the former being an absolute honour to be part of, and the latter being my first Horus Heresy novel.
From the opening of the doors to the moment they sealed shut, I was sat there signing, and signing, and signing, and signing. It was freaking insane. It was actually the day I realised I didn’t think I could survive another full day of signing and shaking hands and yelling about Warhammer 40,000, so every time since then a succession of pleasantly understanding Black Library staff have been cool about breaking up my signing hours to something more Aaron-friendly. I did nothing but sit there that day, but I’d never been more tired in my life. If you think I look like a sleepy sack of shit at a Weekender event (and you’re right, because I do) that one day at GDUK2010 eclipsed anything else.
It was the first time one of my own friends stood in my queue to come and get something signed. That was as creepy as balls, and never gets any less creepy-as-ballsy. My brother’s done it to me since then, at a signing in Dublin. My good friend (and Deathwatch GM) Mark did it to me a few days ago at the Horus Heresy Weekender. It never ceases to be weird, with a vague undercurrent of guilt.
I even got hooked into a brief interview with SFX Magazine. Imagine how surreal that felt.
This was also the first time my family came to see me “at work”, and was a huge boost to my mum and stepdad getting an eyeball on this being a career, rather than me dicking around with toy soldiers. My mum even sat with me at my table for about an hour, which I’m sure looked terminally lame to outsiders, but I thought it was ace. We were coming out of a long ten-ish years of not getting on all that well, so her showing up and seeing what I did for a living was a big deal for both of us.
Katie, Nik Vincent-Abnett, and a bunch of readers/fans (several of whom would later become my pals) dressed up as a Titan crew, which was pretty rad.
By this point, I still didn’t know many of the other Black Library authors very well, mostly hanging out with Jim Swallow and Dan Abnett. Graham McNeill still terrified me. Chris Wraight wasn’t even there; he was still an English teacher. Clearly, this was a grimmer and darker age than the glorious golden era in which we live now.
I met Matt Farrer that day, who was (and indeed, most likely still is) one of the most charming and eloquent creatures that abides upon this Earth. Sadly I’ve not seen him since, though he sometimes shows up on Twitter to be terribly mysterious and say adorable things.
You may have noticed – keen-eyed souls that you are – that I tend to stand up at signings these days rather than sit at the desk. I’ve been doing that for a couple of years. People shuffling up to me and abasing themselves while I’m enthroned is something King Conan of Aquilonia would expect of his subjects, whereas standing and chatting feels less… creepylicious.
Games Day 2010 was also notable for the first time I met this smarmy-looking gentleman:
While I was hanging out with Jim Swallow in Bugman’s Bar post-Games Day, this random guy standing near us turned and said “Do you mind if I talk to you?” As opening conversational gambits go, this was intriguingly direct. He was clearly bored and/or waiting for someone else, and it was as if his impatient isolationism snapped in a moment of savage, social English pressure.
“Sure,” said Jim.
“Mnnnnuh,” I said, which represents the very apex of my ability to be friendly to strangers. I glared at this newcomer, suddenly fearful. What if he tried to tell me about his RPG characters? Even worse, what if he wanted to touch me? And not in an excitingly gay way, either. What if he wanted to touch me in bad ways? Would anyone ever find my body?
That person turned out to be John French, who is now one of my closest friends, a fantastic author, and among the finest human beings I know. He didn’t tell me about his RPG characters, nor has he (to my knowledge) touched me in any ways that seemed particularly exciting or overtly murderous in the four years since.
- #3 – This Cover, Right Here.
Choosing a cover to rank as The Very Totally Best is no easy feat, because I’ve been extremely lucky with my covers to date. Some people have suspected me of kidnapping various artists in order to get the covers I’ve got, while others simply ascribe it to a particularly bloodsheddy combination of shadow-voodoo and black magic.
I have a weird relationship with cover art, one I think many authors share with their own front-facing, word-selling artwork. When people ask me “What does [Insert Character Name] look like?”, the bare naked truth of the matter is that I don’t really care. I don’t care what Sevatar looks like. I don’t care what Talos looks like, or Argel Tal, or Khayon in the forthcoming Black Legion Series. When I write anything, I’m not writing to explain exactly what’s in my head – whether it’s a location or a character or a mood. I’m writing to give the reader enough information to paint their own picture. I don’t want a reader seeing exactly what I imagine; I want them seeing what my words inspire them to imagine.
To that end, it comes down to key features. I don’t care what Grimaldus’s face looks like – I care that you know he’s one of the most zealous warrior-priests in existence, yet he has strangely kind eyes. The first part implies something fairly clear, and the second part clarifies a strange contrast that’s easy enough to imagine – or at least interesting enough to think about. Similarly, I don’t care what Argel Tal’s exact expressions look like – I care that you’ve got enough context to imagine someone that looks Persian or Babylonian, who cares for an injured prostitute-priestess, and who watches and thinks about things much more often than he speaks about them. You can imagine his expressions from that context, because you’re human and humans are (by and large) intelligent creatures. You can imagine what a man like that would look like. You don’t need me harping on about his angular cheekbones or his rad(?) sideburns(??) every six pages.
I’ll use Talos as a more detailed example. With his rune-scarred armour, as he carves his prophecies onto the ceramite when he’s suffering his fits; the fact he would’ve been handsome before he was changed by the VIII Legion gene-seed; the Nostraman sigil on his skull-painted faceplate; the hammer-broken Aquila on his breastplate; the scavenged and stolen weapons… That’s Talos. You know he’s a not a pristine-looking guy fresh off the parade ground. You know what he looks like, and just as importantly, you know how other characters in the novels will see him. What I imagine Talos’s exact armour pieces to look like is irrelevant, because beyond the characteristic and unique details, I don’t care. The unique aspects tell the story and show the character. They’re what matter, and what inspire the image in other people’s heads.
I’ve always thought good writing refuses to tell you what to think – instead it gives you enough information for your imagination fill in the blanks.
I’m the same with art. The cover for Soul Hunter is a great example, because Talos looks nothing like that in my head, and I couldn’t care less. That’s what emerged from the imagination of John Sullivan, one hugely talented fellow, based on the key points of description of Talos’s appearance and personality. I couldn’t be happier with it.
A lot of my covers are like that. Neil Roberts, John Sullivan, Raymond Swanland… An indescribable amount of my work sold because of their artwork representing it. Authors live and die wishing for cover artists as great as the ones I’ve had the pleasure of working with.
Some of those covers deal with characters that are deeply entrenched in the Warhammer 40,000 license (at least visually), so what they look like is largely determined by their past rather than anything else. That’s all good, too. Two of my very best covers – The Talon of Horus and Betrayer went down that road, and they’re two of my absolute favourites. They’re also two that I did lead-up teasers for ages ago, with my incredible skills in MS Paint.
You may remember them. These… these avataric slices of excellence.
It doesn’t matter that Abaddon doesn’t have his daemon sword in the first Black Legion book, or that The Talon of Horus is largely about finding Abaddon rather than his actions as the main character – it’s the first book of the Black Legion Series, and it had to have him on the cover. All good. That’s sane, reasonable, business sense. No complaints there.
The very rare times I’ve been less than thrilled with my artwork is because key details went ignored, usually despite me directly mentioning them as pertaining to the character, or the final pieces just weren’t my cup of tea. Win some, lose some. Or rather, win most, lose a couple. Just the way the world works.
I got in a brief argument once over a piece that someone elsewhere in the publication process claimed I didn’t like purely because it didn’t match the image in my head. That’s the exact opposite of how my brain works with these things. I didn’t like it because I knew later representations of the character were going to look completely different to avoid repeating that image, and because I just plainly thought it wasn’t all that great a piece of art. But frankly, with Armageddon, BL can do stick-men covers for the rest of my life and I’ll go to my grave thanking them for how amazing Kai Lim has made Grimaldus and Dubaku look right there, back to back, ready to die fighting.
Holy shit, do I ever love that piece. Everything about it is divine.
Maybe I’m biased, though. Taken together, I think the Night Lords Trilogy is the series with most evocative and killer covers that BL has ever done (I profusely thanked John in the Omnibus foreword for his blood, sweat, and tears) and as for Neil’s work on the Heresy? Well, I think one of my covers ended up being the best in the HH series, as well.
- #2 – New York City.
Something that can be easy to forget in the daily haze of deadlines and emails is that Black Library have treated me pretty damn well. In the space of five years I’ve had the chance to go to Amsterdam, Chicago (twice), New York, and Banff in the Rocky Mountains – not counting the trips to Dublin, Belfast, London, etc.
Those were the ones I said Yes to, and there have been several trips I couldn’t make for various reasons as well. Each of those was awesome in their own way, but going to New York for Book Expo America was something truly special.
Travelling as an adult has never exactly thrilled me. I was born in London, but by the time I was 11 I’d been to about 25 different countries. I’d seen Tutankhamun’s mask, the pyramids, and the Taj Mahal. I’d ridden an elephant up a mountain in India, crossed from Europe to Asia on the Bosphorous Bridge in Istanbul, and secretly fed the holy monkeys in the Swayambuhnath Temple in Nepal. All of that was amazing as kid but it’s given me a certain blase’ deal when it comes to travelling now. New York totally annihilated all of that in one fell swoop.
Part of it was that I was travelling with Katie which added a certain newness to it all, but it mostly came down to how overwhelming New York really is. I remember getting out of the cab for the first time on Fifth Avenue, and just… looking up. And up. And up. I’ll never forget that. Weirdly, I liked looking up in New York more than I enjoyed going to the Top of the Rock and looking down.
We did all the utterly obvious tourist stuff… and loved every second of it. Sushi for lunch; dinner in Chinatown; a cannoli in Little Italy; a walk in Central Park; shopping on Fifth Avenue; staying in the New Yorker hotel; eating at the Tick-Tock Diner; going to a rooftop party… Name a tacky tourist destination and we almost definitely saw it, did it, and loved it. The weather was beautiful. The company (being my good pal and fellow author Andy Smillie, as well as BL’s ex-American Sales guy Vince Rospond) was the very bestest.
I also got to see (and sign books in) one of the American battle bunkers, which are absolutely, totally, ruthlessly awesome. Such a great atmosphere for gaming. I left feeling really jealous that we don’t have anything much like that in the UK, even though I’m not exactly hurting for tabletop opponents. It was the vibe that I loved.
Bizarrely, one of the most powerful memories I have of New York City is that it’s where I bought the most comfortable trainers I’ve ever owned in my life.
Another weird one that sticks out is in a street-corner pizza parlour where the girl behind the counter asked why we were in the city, and I admitted my publisher brought me over to sign some books at the Expo and in a few stores. She gave us free pizza slices. I realise it all sounds tediously touristy when relayed like this, but imagine yourself standing there with your future wife in New York City, with your wedding in a few months time, surrounded by photos of all the celebrities that had eaten there over the years, and getting free slices of huge American-style pizza while the girl behind the counter congratulates you on “making it”.
It didn’t matter that it was just one of the first steps in my career and I may never end up as Stephen King or Robin Hobb. I’ll never forget that trip.
- #1 – When This Happened Last Night.
I’m a big fan of the Axis of Awesome. Everyone and their dog knows them for the Four Chord Song, with its eighty-one bajillion-squillion views on YouTube.
Way back when Katie and I were trying to decide on the song for the first dance at our wedding, we considered the Four Chord Song for the fact it’s 1) awesome, and 2) loads and loads of songs in one, saving us the choice. I got it into my head that I’d actually email the Axis’ website and ask (read: beg) their manager/agent to see if they would ever play at our wedding. It was the longest of long shots for obvious reasons – bands that size would never play a wedding and they’d cost infinity Australian dollars for every three seconds of their time, but nothing ventured, nothing gained. It would’ve been the best thing ever. That’s what counts.
One of the first posts on my Facebook page back in 2011 references this failed stab at ultimate glory. You may remember it:
Last night, as I was catching up with The Independent Characters (which is a great podcast you should totally listen to on your wireless headphones while dealing with your toddlers at 5am every morning…) I came across a recent post on their Facebook page where Jordan from the Axis of Awesome brought his fucking Death Guard army to play with Carl, one of TIC’s hosts.
How killer is that? (Spoilers: The answer is “very killer”. I’d also accept “seriously cool” and “the raddest”.)
I realise that I should be cool about this. I should be calm, collected, and super-suave. But I can’t, because if you want to know what the for-really-reals best thing in this whole list is, it’s this:
Y’know, I’ve still not stopped grinning.
Things are pretty weird right now. The Horus Heresy Weekender is in a few days and I’m caught in the strangest situation where three unprecedented things are all taking place at once.
- Firstly, I’m not currently late with any work, which is a miracle in its own right – one that I’m pretty sure deserves some kind of shiny-ass medal. That’s a shiny-ass medal and not a shiny ass-medal. Those are entirely different things awarded for entirely different achievements. I’ve also got a non-Black-Library short story on the go, which I’ll talk more about when I can.
- Secondly, I’m actually doing hobby stuff again rather than making endless plans and then throwing a shit-fit when I decide I hate my kitbashes / paint scheme / my current hat / whatever else. I’ve talked a lot about my various army failures on Bolter & Chainsword, and I’ve not got the heart to repeat myself just yet. If I can find my previous lamentation, I might jazz it up and repost it, but if you imagine me kneeling in the scything rain and crying my helpless rage up to an uncaring sky, you’ll be zeroing in on just how shitty I usually feel about this stuff. Fuck, I’m the celebrated master of unpainted armies. If I can’t turn that around this time, I’m just going to give up and… I don’t know, throw rocks at cats. Is that a thing? I feel like that should be a thing.
- Thirdly, I’m up to my throat in the delicious back and forth of Heresy planning, as Master of Mankind pounds its way towards its inevitable, eventual realisation. I had an early Skype call with Nick (of Clan Kyme) this very morning, throwing specifics at each other for… various projects… and there’s been a mountain of emails, text messages, and Facebook chatter between me, Laurie, and John French regarding the details of the Emperor, the Webway, and the girls and guys shedding blood in its webbish, wayish tunnels.
For the record, the WIP thread of my Blood Angels Successors can be found right here. Feel free to bounce in and say various words of your own choosing, or ignore it in the previously vindicated belief that all my hopes of progress will crash and burn. I won’t judge you.
Not out loud, anyway.
I’ll post updates here, as well. Right now I’m waiting for a bunch of bitz so I can kitbash the other three models of the First Five, which will comprise 3 Assault Marines, 1 Tactical Marine, and 1 Devastator crewman for my Rapier Laser Destroyer battery.
I need very specific parts for this to look the way I want, especially for the RLD array. I’ve got some swish ideas for that, based on this old chestnut:
When I get to my first major Angels Numinous post, I want to post some of the classic Rogue Trader and Second Edition stuff I’ve got in my inspiration folder, to give you an idea of where I’m going with this. For now, I’ll stick with vague intentions and hopefully stun the world with some actual progress relatively soon.
As for what I’m writing right now, it’s a cross between picking the nits off sections of The Lord Inquisitor: Prologue, and something non-Heresy-related that has the following words featuring pretty heavily: “Blackmane”, “Space”, “Wolves”, “Dark”, and last but not least, “Angels“.
Oh, and “Duel”.
Before I flee (and speaking of LordI) you may be interested in the following little slices from the update cake:
+ Thought for the Day: Bait, Beat, Retreat, Repeat. +
Chuck already said this better than most – and certainly better than I’m about to – but it’s a big deal in my crackly-crunchy brainjunk and I wanted to get some words onto a screen about it before it’s just a memory. I’ve not worked for White Wolf for a long time, but it still feels bizarrely personal. I found myself starting and stopping posts about it yesterday, and essentially getting nowhere. Now, I want to take Chuck’s words on all of this and use them to help frame my context for it all, because we’re coming from the same place.
As you may have heard, CCP axed the World of Darkness MMO.
Take it away, Chuck:
“I don’t know what this means for the larger WOD brand, or what happens to the ragged tatters of the company that has been frayed and shredded over the years since the EVE Online developer bought the pen-and-paper company. I know it means layoffs, so, fuck. I also know that, at present, Onyx Path continues to roll out its gleaming obsidian walkway of horror-fantasy gaming delights, acting as the spiritual and also literal successor to the White Wolf voodoo — and according to Rich at Onyx Path, everything shall continue apace.“
From the outside looking in, those are some important points to clarify first and foremost. Onyx Path is still releasing the RPGs on its own terms, and there’s little effect on the customer in terms of tabletop gaming – at least from what’s in the public eye. And I see no reason to believe otherwise.
Acquaintances and former colleagues have been given the chop, and that sucks. No way around that. I hear that CCP is usually very generous and helpful in terms of severance, so there’s that. But it still sucks.
“It’s worth taking a moment, maybe, to note that White Wolf is part of my DNA. I grew up reading D&D, but I grew up playing White Wolf games. My first Vampire: the Masquerade character was a pre-made Nosferatu named “Sewer Billy.” (I still have his character sheet around somewhere.)”
Sewer Billy. He called his first V:tM character Sewer Billy.
That name is the most Chuck Wendig-style name (a Wendiggian monicker, if you will) in the history of absolutely fucking forever.
My first character… I can barely even summon the strength to devote thoughtspace to my first V:tM character, let alone actually type it out, because it was such unbearably self-conscious wish fulfilment. He was a horror novelist who also happened to be amazing with a Greek shortsword (because… reasons?) and was in love with a beautiful nurse, and wore trenchcoats, and had the Animalism discipline so he could ride the horses he owned, and Jesus fucking Christ just shoot me now. Even my 17-year-old brain conjured up something beyond my ambitions (which, at the time, were to be a fantasy novelist and a paramedic) and took it all the way to 11. Even my teenage thought processes realised my dreams somehow weren’t metal enough – weren’t stupid enough – and glazed them in a thick layer of raw, dripping pretension.
I remember even at the time thinking “This is a pretty stupid character…”, and that’s from the mind that at age 9 brought the world Shandaric Darkspell von Shadowblade, Level 11 Elf Ranger.
“I loved those games so much that I knew as I got older if I was going to continue playing them while maintaining the illusion of being an adult, I had to monetize that experience, which I did by writing for the company.”
I did that, too.
I loved White Wolf’s games. They didn’t fill any void in my awkward teenage soul, or help me become a complete person, or any of that desperate solace stuff you often find in commentaries and author intros. But they called to me all the same – as great games with intuitive, smooth systems, and beautifully-written books. I loved the Gothic-Punk vibe and the way the books detailed the richness of that theme in terms of a real world atmosphere. I loved the clans, the histories, the tribes, the possibilities.
I’m not ashamed to say (and I doubt I’m alone in this) that I often enjoyed the books more than playing the game itself. Depending on the group I was with, of course.
White Wolf was, for want of a better term, cool. It took itself seriously without being too self-conscious or too preening. It didn’t hide and apologise a la D&D often felt like it did, and it never relied on the (incorrect) fallback stereotype of losers wanting to feel empowered. I loved that. Even when I was making the most stupid character when first learning the character creation rules, I still loved it, even if I was useless at realising it until I made my second character.
Also, now that I think about it, I think my first V:tM character was also a bodyguard for Madonna in the 80s. I never even thought Madonna was that hot. What kind of weird wish fulfilment was this? Whose wishes were getting fulfilled!?
I joined White Wolf as a freelancer very late in the show. The end of the World of Darkness was already a murmur behind the scenes, and although I got involved with the very tail end of the classic game lines, I spent most of my time on the new ones. Werewolf: the Forsaken rather than Werewolf: the Apocalypse, and so on. I thought the new lines had a lot going for them. They were brilliantly written in terms of accessibility and player use, and made for great Storyteller toolkits. But I don’t think that’s what people (at least not the people around me) wanted. They wanted to belong to the World of Darkness, not make their own version of it.
So I liked the new games, and loved the old ones.
My first ever writing gigs were for White Wolf, and there were plenty of them. I reached the point a lot of authors reach where – in some indefinable moment – you stop owning absolutely everything with your name on it. The feverish need to Have It All To Show People At Some Point finally eases off, and you stop worrying about it quite so much. It’s enough that you’ve done it, and you reckon you could get hold of it. It’s no longer a disaster if you don’t have it on hand to show at the drop of a hat.
I also reached a point of turning projects down if they didn’t appeal to me, rather than accepting everything blindly because Oh God, I’m Getting Published and Oh God, This Is My Dream.
Two distinct writing career stages, all before I even wrote a novel. That’s some scary perspective.
“The games always amazed me and as I worked more and more with them in a freelance capacity, I got to see exactly why they amazed me — because some truly amazing people were making these goddamn games. Fellow freelancers and developers: Ken Cliffe, Justin Achilli, Ethan Skemp, Aileen Miles, Aaron Dembski-Bowden, Eddy Webb, Mur Lafferty, Will Hindmarch, Matt McFarland, Jess Hartley, Rose Bailey, Mike Lee, Patrick O’Duffy, Travis Stout, David, Filamena Young, scads more. So many of folks I count as friends even still.”
I know a lot of those people.
One of those names is mine. It looks weird. And too long.
“I learned to write better during my time freelancing. I learned discipline with deadlines. I found out what appealed to me about games, story, character, and horror. Really fundamental stuff.”
More wisdom. Except I also started failing to hit deadlines with White Wolf, so let’s consider that a third (and unwanted) stage in the career.
“When they got bought by CCP I was hopeful, you know — more money for them, plus hey, who didn’t dream about a World of Darkness MMO? Turns out, it wasn’t to be. I don’t know why, really. From the outside, it’s easy to suggest that it was fumbled and mishandled — and, actually, even from my limited glimpses inside it looked that way, at times. But I also know that not everything works out and sometimes, shit happens, so who knows? What I know is it’s sad to see good people let go, and sad that the dream of a WOD game is now shriveled up and going dusty like a sun-cooked vampire. Eve was never a game I could really understand, but I loved how player-driven it was, and hoped to see the same here.”
Here’s where I start to sigh, just a little. I realise MMOs are a very, very, very tricky area to get into, let alone to enter and sustain yourself while clad in the illustrious monthly riches that developers use to buy fast cars and tiny dogs. I also recognise that, at this stage of my existence, I’d probably not have played it at all. I think a lot of people would, and I think it’d have been a haven for a lot of folks’ online fantasies, for better or worse. I can’t imagine, given the way pop culture is sliced around vampires and werewolves these days, that it’d have had a small user base. But what do I know? I’m just some guy.
The soreness comes from the fact that, from the outside looking in, White Wolf itself sort of… died for this. There was a huge shift from tabletop RPGs to the MMO, and then seven years of silence, rumour, and fuck-all else. It felt like every year or so, there’d be another round of layoffs announced at CCP, and more resources pulled from the WoD MMO, with yet more talk about focusing on EVE. And between the reality of the situation, deep in those nasty cracks, was the tumorous feeling of “So it was all for nothing. Whether White Wolf was sustainable or not in the RPG market, it’s dying by inches for what we can plainly see is vapourware.”
I’m not saying White Wolf was sustainable in the RPG market, of course. And CCP hardly bought the license just to let it lie untouched. There were a lot of smart, creative people on that project, and it’s an injustice to say we all knew it was vapourware, when we didn’t really know shit. But the uncomfortable feeling remains. White Wolf is no more, and this was a truly shitty ending.
“What I will say is, White Wolf has left an enduring legacy behind — the last couple days I was up in Erie, at Penn State, where students read my book, Blackbirds as part of a women’s studies / female superheroes unit (whee!). And while there, I had people still want to talk to me about gaming. I had one professor show me his first edition copy of Wraith. I had one student — college-age! — want me to sign several White Wolf books for her gaming group. Exciting stuff, and makes me proud to have been a part of all that.
*pours a cup of d10s on the curb for the World of Darkness MMO and White Wolf in general*
To those gone: best of luck to you going forward.
To those who still play the games: fuck yes.
To Onyx Path: keep on kicking ass.”
Just a quickie.
I figure some of you might be interested a certain fellow shown in this artwork…:
Here’re the details of BL’s blog post on the subject, relating to the HH Weekender.
And for no reason, here’s Shakes dressed as Spider-Man:
And now… away!
Shakes turned 2 last month. On that note, you may remember this, from a year ago.
Here’s the inevitable sequel, with a much (much…) more Irish song this time around. And just like last time, please excuse the shaky iPhone footage, several of my relatives holding their phones vertically, me being too sleepy to edit that, and Windows Movie Maker’s truly woeful options for cutting and fading.