Quill Uncategorized

Quill White Box – Dwarf Karlsek to the Dark Tower Comes

The latest thing in Quill is the White Box, which adds some RPG elements and changes the setting to a classic fantasy world. Adventure follows!)

Karlsek Haukrison, motivated dwarf from the Parliament Of Beggars who is tracking down the treasure his father died trying to find. (name from donjon, background from WTFIMDC.

Adventure: The Demon Haunted Tower

To Guhlo Chom, Keeper of Tomes, member of the Parliament of Beggars,

All librarians are like to us dwarves, after a fashion. You know the value of quiet, of darkness, and of old things well-used. This natural kinship was clear as new crystal when we met in the shadows of the Haunted Forest, and it is on the bond forged in those dark events I must now rely. I write you for aid, one old Beggar to another.

I continue to search for the treasure my father failed to find, and my path has led me to a village. I thought at first a blight had fallen on the land. The little town is ringed with farms bearing no more than miserable dead crops, and this at the height of the harvesting season. But as my feet carried my past this tragic scene and into the village proper, the ill cause became evident.

A grim tower of obsidian looms over the village like stalagmite ready to fall. The people of this poor place, drenched in dread, tell me the building appeared full-formed on a moonless night some weels ago, and that they have suffered since. The crops withered. The livestock froths and stamps itself to death. The children have grown silent and cold. The dogs are gone. A clever woman like yourself knows what this must mean.

Rumors echo around this place as to who lives atop this poisonous fang, but I have come to believe a sickened weaver of magics is the cause of this. I heard tell of a band of broad-backed youths who tried to approach the tower and were surned away by an invisible magic defence. I have seen such things used by those practiced in the arcane arts.

There is one precious book in particular which has the information this suffering town needs: the Spire Libiris. You know me to be a dwarf who respects the knowledge of elders and would treat this book as the invaluable treasure it is. I must borrow it, Guhlo. This town needs to kill that blasted wizard, and I must help them if I am to find the information I need. As a Beggar, and as a one-time axe-mate against the dark creatures of the forest, I beg your aid. I ever be,


Karlsek Haukrison

Result: Guhlo wishes Karlsek well but cannot send the book. Instead he has scratched out a relevant page from the book to help. Karlsek enters the tower, faces many trials, and faces the wizard. Despite his power Karlsek finally bests him, and he agrees to leave and never return. (see QWB for details)


Quill – Warmth, Frigidity

Collection – Love Letters
Scenario – A Cruel Distance
Character – Courtier
Skill – Illumination

To Monsieur Aubrey Cornais,
The Bookbindery, Saut-Leronne 

I have set pen to paper at the very first moment I have been left alone since you bade me farewell from the docks of your river city. It is a memory that shall remain with me all my days, an image indelible of the charred Peaks of Vandrias against the gray sky, the mercilessly freezing wind whipping at your coat as if to tear it from your shoulders. A morning too cold for tears, though my eyes stung with them just the same. 

Though hardly a week has passed since our parting, I miss you so very painfully. The month we spent together, stealing moments from under the watchful eyes of our masters, seems a lifetime glittering with shining memories, each moment a facet in a gem I hold more dear than life. Were you here with me now, I would madly hold you to me, with no care for what my lady might say.

In my mind’s eye I see you now, finishing your days’s work just as I take this moment from my duties. Are you thinking of me? Do your lovely, gentle fingers remember my skin as they plait the smooth pages of some tome? Do they recall the laces of my dress as you sew up the bindings?

You must come to me. I ardently want nothing else. Your island is all cold and dampness – here with me you will know only warmth. I would walk with you in the fields of bright flowers here in the sunny afternoons of Voet’s countryside. I long to watch you bloom as they do in the uninterrupted sun of my love.

My request must not rudely tick you off, my dear one. You must leave off your pride and know that it is here with me that you belong, that you shall flourish in delights. Your books do not love you as I do. Come to Voet, where you must continue to court me publicly until my lady is satisfied and allows me to be merrily wed. Do not delay in your response my love, and better yet, forget writing back and simply bring the news yourself.

Awaiting your presence with love,
Marie-Irénée Chastel
Damoiselle to the Lady Seraphine Ferrand

Result: Marie-Irénée receives a response to her letter, explaining that Aubrey could never be with her. Her true love tells her to never write again.

Quill Uncategorized

Quill – Suspicion

ScenarioThe King
CharacterThe Knight

To His Majesty King Gerald, Master of the Independent State of Prian,

Please forgive me for writing you, Gerald, and not one of your underlings. This is a matter of importance. It will not wait to be passed along by bureaucrats who will only do so when it they can gain some advantage from it. I hope that the fact that we have met face to face will excuse my directness. You and I spoke for a moment at the Lights Festival three years past, when you commented on my horse’s grooming. I do not mean to insult with over-friendliness after such a brief encounter, but I have seen something frankly alarming.

I was on my way to patronize my blacksmith yesterday evening. The path from my estate into the city leads down from the fields and along the farm fences of some half-dozen of my peers. I have ridden this path scores of times. I recognize every building, every rick, the children of every farmer. As I passed the weatherworn barn that belongs to the Ninstock family, I saw something I did not recognize.

Just inside the door there was a funny hooded man crouching over something. The first thing I noticed was that he was a dreadful big bloke. I’m not one who looks for a fight, but if one finds me I prefer it to be over quick, and I’ve no need to prove myself by squaring off against some giant.

I leapt my horse over the stile and rode up to the barn door. A lot of times just the sight of an able man on horseback is enough to scare off any vagrants or bad-doers. This fellow, though, just straightens up and looks at me. This gave me a good look at the blighter’s face, which might be useful. He’s got a deeply buggered face, all scars and burns. Out of that messed-up skin he still managed grow a furry lip.

He grins at me and tries to run past me. He’s a fast one, but I manage to get hold of his cloak as he darts past me. To my shame, I lost him in the fields. I thought he might have been some thief, but I found sneakily hidden in a pocket of the cloak a bottle of what I think must be some evil poison! I knew then he must have been an assassin on his way into the city to kill you. Who else would carry such a thing? I wrote you straight away. Please heed my warning and set your guards looking for a man of that description for your safety.

Your loyal knight,

Sir Antoine de Feuille

Result: The King does not respond. Several days after Antoine sent his letter, he is visited by the royal guard and brought to prison for his disrespectful letter.


Quill – Loss and Adoration

Scenario – The Father
Character – The Poet
Skill – Inspiration

My dear Louale –

As the weather of this city night turns to an iron downpour, it grows closer to matching the color and intensity of my crippling sadness. I write you with the worst of news. Your son, your beautiful son Mauro, has been found dead.

The fateful event transpired just yesternight. I had nearly returned to my rooms from one of my haunts, a cozy drinking establishment down in Dockside which fear I never shall find the strength to patronize again, when I espied a knot of youths gathered at the yawning mouth of an alley. A guard stood sentinel over a crumpled form.

That form – I gasp to even write it – that sad form was the pale body of your dear, beloved son. O Mauro! Snatched from us in the very bloom of youth! None saw you fall. There is no one to relay to us the words of your final breaths. They say you stumbled, that you simply fell, and fall you did; you fell from the height of virtue like a meteor which burns too bright to flare for long.

Forgive me, my Louale. I weep as I scrawl these words, so unequal to their purpose. Mauro was found unconscious, and guard believes he had somehow tripped and stuck his head on a stone. To be stolen by such a trifle, such a mundane thing. The sight of it was brutal. I take consolation in knowing that he is now in heaven with the saints.

My infinite condolences for your loss, my good, great friend. I have made arrangements for a box and for your son’s transport back to your lands. I will visit your home as soon as I am able, but I knew the courier would reach you before I could. I hold you ever in my heart. Know that I grieve with you.

Yours in sadness,

Result: Anthony commends you for your letter and wishes you to speak at his son’s funeral.

Got some good rolls on this one.


Quill – A Potential Buyer

Scenario – The Art Dealer
Character – Monk
Skill – Augmentation

To Mme. Arcpont,

The blessing of St. Emilien be upon you, and upon our correspondence. My abbot has requested I contact you regarding a painting of our saintly Prince. He gave me two reasons for this, as he often does with the tasks he gives us. First he wants me to tell you we are interested in discussing the terms of purchasing this work. Second he asks that you lend we poor, unworldly holy men your skill in a delicate matter.

Even here in our humble mountain home we know the sins man can do. Our kind are not immune from the snares of dishonesty, and there are those in our history who have made fakes of our pieces of art and even our holy relics. I’m sorry if I am rude, but I must ask if you can verify the provenance of this painting you are selling. We hear the saints have granted you great abilities in such matters.

Before we come to discussions of price, please send us your assessment of the truth of the thing. Bidault’s work is known to be very good. There must be no shortage of forgers who might try to pass off their paintings as his. Please be sure to look at the size of the brush strokes to make sure they match the choppy style Bidault is known for. Also check the blues, because they fade with age more than the rest of the colors.

Another thing to look for is the accuracy of the depiction of the placid Fountain of Aleah behind the Prince. I read a biography of Bidault that said he never went to Soucisse, and had to guess what the fountain looked like. A genuine would probably have the water gushing into the air. That and the inscription should be looked at closely for signs of falseness.

Once you have sent us your evaluation, we will be better equipped to talk about the money. Please understand that it is only to avoid embarrassment on both of our parts that we take such precautions. The abbot and I would sooner insult my mum than offend you.

May the saints guide your hands,
Gaétan Meyet
Monastère de St. Emilien

Result: Arcpont’s response is mild, but she has clearly taken some offence. She will sell the painting, but for double the price.


Quill – A Scholar’s Condolences

Scenario – The Archduke
Character – Scholar
Skill – Illumination

To Cisco Vallon y Bedel , Archduke of Cambrona,

You might not remember me from our youth, but nonetheless I write you with my respectful condolences on the passing of your sister Maria. She and I were schoolmates at the academy at Mola during the years 1212 to 1216. This was a time the memories of which I cherish with great fondness, and such feelings are in large part due to my friendship with Maria. If you think back to those years, you may recall a slight, nervous student who was ever calling your sister down from fences and out of mud puddles. That was I.

The very first time your sister spoke to me, it was to bring me to see you. I was barely seven when I was first sent to the academy. You would have been fifteen then, nearly a man and already well-ensconced in the heady matters of the Corte. Maria and I had been sent to fetch water from the well across the heather fields behind the school. She had volunteered for this wretched duty. Our teacher sent me with her, stating I needed some sun on my face and air in my lungs. As soon as we out of the building she gripped my wrist and said she had something exciting to show me. Fearing the teacher’s reprisal, I let her drag me out to a slim path leading into the town. We waited in the lazy heat and listened to the chirruping of the crickets in the grass, not speaking once. A noise interrupted the peace – it was you and some friends, riding horses down the road with the easy vigor of youth. Maria waved and waved.

The teachers at the academy had their hands full with your dear sister. Where I was ever attentive, she was impassioned. If I had the correct answer, she had the funnier way of saying it. When the scolding old servants had to all but drag me from some hidden nook in the library come the closing bell, they had to spend hours trying to find Maria in the nearby forest where she took great pleasure in scaling oaks barefoot. And for all my natural inclination toward the scholarly life, they all loved her more. It brings me a wistful pleasure to say we all did.

If I may indulge in another anecdote – my students would tell you I can hardly be convinced to keep my illustrative stories to myself, and I fear they are correct in that assessment. Maria must have felt the same way when we were children, but she always listened to every mundane tale of mine to the end – my best memory of who your sister was as a person, the first glimpse of the woman she would eventually become, involved a half-dozen ducks and young Sarro of Mieri. While Sarro would rise to some stature upon inheriting his mother’s mercantile fleet, as a boy he had very little concept of matters nautical. Our class was watching some ducks on a pond, and Sarro puffed himself up to tell us the birds were floating along in the same formation as the vanguard of the armada. Maria questioned him on that, having seen said vanguard herself more than once. When Sarro realized his boasting was failing, he began to whimper. Maria tackled him into the water and thrashed about like a buffoon until he laughed. She told me later she did it to make sure he was so wet no one could see his tears.

If I see you at the Cathedral of Light, I hope you will not think me too bold if I present myself to you after the funeral. Your sister was a dear friend, and I wish only to share my memory of her with one who she loved so greatly. As the Book says, she has taken her right place among the angels.

Your humble friend,
Mire Andagon
Professor of Crafts
University at Torrecon



Result: The Archduke thanks Andagon profusely for his excellent letter and promises that he will be repaid for his kindness with a gift of great worth.


Quill – Single-player Letter-writing RPG

I recently finished a major draft of the novel I’ve been working on, and as I hit that last Save, I promised myself I would do other things with my life for a while than worry about writing stuff. After a few weeks, I picked up Quill.

Quill is an RPG where your write letters. Pick a character, select a scenario, roll some dice, pen a missive.

It’s also writer crack. World-buildy, characterizationy, playing-with-voicy crack. What better way to itch the authorial scratch is a non-stressful way? And I don’t even have to buy pizza.

I’ll be posting my “sessions” here under the unsurprising category Quill.



Tiny!fic – Clockwork

Yoon Ha Lee’s doing some tiny!fic writing prompts on Patreon. Here’s one of mine.


“Either your information is bad or you’re a plain idiot.” The enchanter’s knuckle-runes glowed a shade darker as he whispered, making the sheets of metal the green of old glass. “This is spring steel. The Cadois aren’t making weapons out of this.”

The spy smirked. An enemy ship’s hold was no place for an argument. “Just do your job.”

As the ‘chant worked his fingers and mumbled his spells, the spy did the thing he hated most — he explained himself.

“The Great Horloge needs a new mainspring, and this metal is going to be used for it. Every clock in Cadogna is set to the Horloge. Your enchantment is giving us control over the entire country’s time. So do it right.”


Review: Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom by Bradley W. Schenk

Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom by Bradley W. Schenk

Advance reading copy provided by publisher


I came across Schenk’s work through his illustrations, mainly the Pulp-O-Mizer cover generator (if you haven’t tried it, rectify this omission immediately). Given that, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the novel; how would the style of Retropolis make the transition to a full-length piece?

A little background first. Retropolis is a highly-stylized retrofuturistic concept based in the adventuresome fun of old pulp sci-fi stories, and that light, tongue-in-cheek style is handled with great discipline and consistency. The rules, as I see them:

  • Technology and science are fun, not evil. No Ewoks in Retropolis.
  • Chrome glistening in the sun, not oily old hulks.
  • It should all seem plausible based on 1940’s technology, with the addition of some big leaps (lighter-than-air metal, e.g.)

Given that by design the work is meant to remind us of slim, disposable volumes of tales featuring derring-do over character, how does this translate to a contemporary novel?

The answer: quite well.

Schenk presents a healthy smattering of fun characters, each with their own take on a world of impossible technologies. I mean, there’s a guy who keeps a slide rule in a hip holster — awesome. The humor is wit, not camp. As we slide steadily toward a world of AI, the moral question of the book (no spoilers) is timely and well-handled. And Schenk’s prose is absolutely lovely. This is an action-packed romp with more heart than grit.

If you’ve ever sat up watching old B-movies and laughed at the titles, go pick this book up.

publishing writing

Interview with Lesley Conner, Managing Editor of Apex Magazine

Apex Magazine is doing mad good work. (You may have noticed one of their novelettes in the latest Hugo finalists, for a recent example). They are currently running their 2017 subscription drive, which you should check.

So, how does the magic happen? Who are these diligent humans who spin slush into gold?

One of them is Lesley Conner, who was kind enough to answer a few of my more pressing questions.  What follows, Dear Reader, is a tale of horror, social reading, bees, Michigan, and the mind-bending term “goldendoodle”. You will not be the same at the end as you are now, at the blameless start.

Let us begin with Lesley’s bio, which I tore from the Apex site like Marty McFly with a  phonebook.

Lesley Conner is a writer, social media editor and marketing leader for Apex Publications, and Managing Editor for Apex Magazine. She spends her days pestering book reviewers, proofreading, wrangling slush, doling out contracts, and chatting about books, writing, and anything else that crosses her mind on the @ApexBookCompany Twitter account. Most of her nights are spent with a good book and a glass of wine. Her alternative history horror novel, The Weight of Chains, was recently published by Sinister Grin Press. To find out all her secrets, you can follow her on Twitter at @LesleyConner.

Now that we have all been introduced, the interview:

Tell me about the release of your first novel in 2015. How did it go? What did you and the publisher do to get the word out? Did you have a launch party? Were there cupcakes?

Lesley – The release of my first novel The Weight of Chains … was odd. You’d think that I’d be use to novel releases—Apex releases several books a year and I’m involved with each and every one—but with my own novel I was a mess! I was simultaneously afraid people would read it AND afraid no one would ever read it. So weird! Or maybe that’s how every author feels and I’m just used to seeing things from the editor perspective.

As for what I did to get the word out, I treated The Weight of Chains much the same way I do every Apex release. I reached out to reviewers and bloggers that I would with for Apex’s releases and humbly asked if they’d be willing to look at my novel. Since I already had a working relationship with many of them, I was able to set up a good numbers of reviews—many of which said something to the effect of “Lesley seems so nice … Where the hell did this novel come from!?!”

It’s funny that you ask about cupcakes. Have you read The Weight of Chains? Cake plays a very nefarious role in the story. When I sign copies I typically write “Welcome to the castle of my imagination. Enjoy your stay, but don’t eat the cake!” I didn’t have a launch party, but I really wanted to … and serve cupcakes that I’m then warning people not to eat. Yeah, it’s possible I’m slightly evil. LOL!


Is your dog named after the character from Buffy?

Lesley – Haha! Yes, my mini goldendoodle puppy Oz is named after Seth Green’s character in Buffy. I recently introduced my 14 year old and 9 year old daughters to the series and they love it as much as I do. When we brought home the fuzzy-faced puppy, naming him after the werewolf seemed like a perfect fit.

Of course, shortly after that the girls started saying we needed a second dog so we could have a Willow. I am not ready to have another dog yet so they’re going to have to hold off on that for now.

What is your process for finding cover art? 

Lesley – I rely heavily on sites such as DeviantArt. When we need to line up a couple of covers I will pour myself a cup of coffee and start plugging random search terms into the site. Science fiction, robot, bees … whatever I think may lead to some interesting images. Then I just browse. Some days I find nothing we can use; other days I find too much! I send links to pieces I think would work as cover art to Jason Sizemore and he narrows that down to the ones he likes. After that I approach the artists and see if they’d be interested in selling us nonexclusive rights—this is why you may see artwork that has been featured on Apex Magazine or one of our books elsewhere, we buy nonexclusive rights so the artist is free to sell those rights again. Luckily we haven’t had much trouble finding beautiful artwork by artists all over the world. Being able to work with so many talented artists and hopefully helping them find new fans is amazing!


Reading as a social activity — reading sentences to someone nearby, etc. A lost art?

Lesley – Not in my house! I’m constantly reading passages from whatever book I’m reading to my husband. Honestly, I’m not sure he always appreciates it—I probably shouldn’t interrupt the shows he’s watching—but I can’t help myself, especially when I’m reading a book that I know he isn’t interested in reading himself. I want to share funny lines or characters that I think are amazing. He’s a good sport and puts up with it.

It’s a habit that I’ve seemed to have passed on. My 14 year old daughter will come out of her room and sit next to me on the couch so she can read a passage she thinks is particularly clever. And both of my daughters want me to read books that they’re reading. They want to discuss them and have conversations, so I end up reading a LOT of YA fiction.

I’m also a Girl Scout leader, working with the middle school age girls. There are times when our meetings end up devolving more into a book club because they all want to talk about what they’re reading. I am not going to discourage that!

From my perspective, social reading is alive and well. You just have to know where to find it and how to foster it. Or read everything you’re reading aloud to your spouse whether they like it or not …


Have you seen changes to the industry from crowdfunding and subscription-based funding models like Patreon? 

Lesley – Crowdfunding and subscription based funding models allow writers and publishers to take chances on projects they may have shied away from in the past. Those quirky book ideas—the ones authors are really passionate about but aren’t sure anyone else will be—are suddenly a possibility. You want to write a weird western about a fairy who wants to be a train conductor? Instead of trying to sell the idea to a publisher who isn’t sure there’s an audience for such a book, you can put together a Kickstarter. It allows you to feel out interest without fronting the money, and in the end this means a greater number of books about niche topics end up being published. This is definitely a good thing!

But there’s a downside as well. More and more often a lot of publications rely on crowdfunding, subscription drives, and Patreon to keep their doors open. These promotional pushes take up a huge amount of time and energy, and in many cases they can make or break a publication, or at least dictate what a publication is able to do between now and the next promotional push. I don’t think anyone will be surprised when I say it’s stressful. But there’s also something exciting about doing a drive like the Revive the Drive event we’re running for Apex Magazine right now and it gives us the chance to put together amazing double issues like the one we’re setting up for January 2018.


Do you get to conventions at all? Which is your favorite?

Lesley – I don’t get to as many conventions as I would like to. There are a lot of reasons for this, with kids, money, and serious social anxiety being at the top of my list, but I really want to go to more.

This year I made it to ConFusion in Michigan. A lot of Apex people who I haven’t seen in a while were there and it was wonderful to get to catch up. Plus, it was an awesome con. If you’ve never been, I’d definitely recommend going. Great mix of writers and fans. The programming covered a wide range of topics. The consuite was amazing! And the con is very family friendly. I would definitely like to go back in the future.

Other than that, the only other con I’m planning on attending this year is Scares that Care. I’m not going in any official Apex capacity, but instead just to enjoy the event. I haven’t done that in a while, so it should be fun.


A big thanks to Lesley for her time, insight, and unflagging love of Californian vampire slayers*.  Be sure to swing by Apex’s Revive the Drive site and bear witness to the fantastic goodies on offer.


*that being either “slayers of Californian vampires” or “people from California who slay vampires”.