Henchmen rev B.

Henchmen was released almost exactly a year ago.  I won’t say it was released to much in the way of fanfare, but it was released and some people liked it, so I decided to write a sequel.  The sequel, Arise, will be along shortly, probably by the end of this month.  I’m waiting for some input from a final beta reader who’s input I really trust.  Anyway, I like the way Arise turned out.  It’s a good story and you should get a copy when I release it.  Trust me, it will make life worth living.  Since Arise is pretty damned good, I decided Henchmen needed some work.  A little fine tuning, know what I mean?

A month and some change later I dropped a chapter, added a chapter, and rewrote a huge portion of Henchmen so it actually makes sense.  In the final count I dropped a thousand words or so and added a few thousand more, redesigned the cover (again), fixed a short ton of errors, and expanded the story.

It’s available on Amazon for $1.99.  That’s right, less than two bucks for a pretty damned good story.  Amazon hasn’t updated the cover on the page yet, but the new is below.  Go now.  Read and enjoy and ponder.  I promise you cool characters, a good story, and a bunch of stuff will get blowed up REAL good.

wpid-wp-1415472877414.jpeg

“Rewritten and expanded for November 2014! Now with more action-packed adventure! Gods, guns, secret bases, bad guys, and a small group of people with one simple task: Kill Congress.
Steven’s boss is a seven-foot-tall blonde with supernatural powers and a penchant for parking-lot hookups. His coworkers include two hackers in love, a biker who loves guns, and a former nude model with an unexpected propensity for violence. They’ve all been hurt before, and now they’re poised to strike back. They’re done pulling small jobs. Now they’re aiming for the top – because why bother robbing jewelry stores when you can topple governments?
Yakuza gang fights. Incursions into high-security, top-secret government buildings. Picking fake fights with losers in bars. A psycho ex-coworker who has some strange friends. And a well-dressed older gentleman who haunts dreams. It’s all in a day’s work for Steven…one of the world’s most dedicated and dangerous…
HENCHMEN”

Also, don’t forget I’ve got an author page with a bunch of funny stuff.  Drop by and say howdy some time.

Yikes

The sequel to Henchmen will be called Arise rather than Henchmen: Arise.  The compound title just didn’t work for me.  That story is done, edited, changed, edited, modified, edited, and pretty much ready to go.  I’ve got one guy still doing a beta read and I’d like his input before I publish, so I’m holding off for the time being.  I’m pleased with the way it turned out, but knowing me I’ll make another pass or two through it before I publish.

After I was mostly done with Arise I looked back through Henchmen, looking for some bit of trivia I had forgotten and was thoroughly disgusted at what  I found.  There are some good moments in that novel, but damn, the intro sucks ass.  So, since Arise is coming out I decided to do some clean up on Henchmen.

I’ve been doing clean up for nearly a month now.  It’s got a whole new first chapter, huge parts of the second and third chapters have been stripped out or rewritten (or both).  I hadn’t really doubted it, but some of the criticisms I got were spot on: takes to long to get started and is very ambiguous about the formation of the group.  It starts with more of a bang now, there’s more interaction between the characters, less exposition, and generally more reasons why things are happening.

I’m tentatively targeting late November for re release of Henchmen and release of Arise.

FREE!

Henchmen: Awaken, which covers Dreamer’s awakening in the facility beneath Albuquerque, NM, is free on Smashwords.  Go get a copy and learn the hideous truth.  I was trying to make it free on Amazon, too, but I’m not sure why it won’t let me.  Once I figure it out, I’ll post an update here.

NOTE: This story has since been pulled down.  It’s undergoing some serious revisions and will be one of the stories in The Clock Man.  To those of you who bought it (both of you) you’ve got a piece of history.

AwakenCover

Cover and Plot for Henchmen 2

First off, the actual title is Henchmen: Arise.  It refers to the changes in the power structure in the Henchmen world.  You’ll just have to read the story to get the details.

My old graphic design teacher used to tell us if we had to explain a graphic we had failed in the design, so I’ll forgo any explanation other than the technical description and some of the inspiration for it.  Everyone can decide for themselves if the cover “works,” so to speak.

Early this year, I stumbled across a series of comics called “God is Dead.”  The premise was interesting; the gods came back to Earth.  All of them.  And when they came back they started tearing the place up and, of course, immediately fighting among themselves.  The whole series is kind of an indictment on how we envision our gods and what we expect from them.  It’s seriously a good series and Hickman, as usual, writes some good stuff.  What caught my eye about it, though, was the minimalist cover art.  Most comics have extremely dynamic covers, filled with action and promises of an exceptionally engaging story.  “God is Dead” had some of those as well – remember the days of comics having a single, titular covers are gone – but the minimalist imagery is what caught my eye.

God is Dead #1.  You can find the entire series here: http://www.comicvine.com/god-is-dead/4050-67042/

God is Dead #1. You can find the entire series here: http://www.comicvine.com/god-is-dead/4050-67042/

Now, I’ve never been a spectacular designer, but I always liked bold, clean images; they’re easier for the eye to come to grips with.  You can look at a good, clean design and be able to easily process it.  Sure, there may be subtle nuances that you only get after examining it for a while, but the baseline meaning should be immediately obvious.

Book cover design should work essentially the same way as any other type of graphic design.  Grab the eye and convey a message.  There may be more text on a book cover, but the image should stand out in some kind of meaningful way.  Remember, the first thing a reader is going to see is the cover.  If the cover is crap, you’ll never get the reader to read the blurb, which is the second layer of book promotion.

The first few iteration of the cover for Henchmen were crap.  In fact, the one I first published with was crap.  The second edit I published with was crap.  I like the third one, though.  I don’t think it’s crap.  You can check the history of the covers on my website, if you’re curious.  The final one is up there, too.  The real early designs, like first gen black and white stuff obviously looked pretty lame, but I’m still thinking of getting a Henchlife tattoo.  Just a bit of cleaning up and I think it would look pretty cool.

The minimalist design that I liked so much with “God is Dead” was first explored in the Henchmen Awaken short; a story that two or three people have read and enjoyed.  It’s stark, but it works.  I took that philosophy and expanded the color palate for the Arise cover and wound up with a couple of covers that looked like they belonged together.  Unfortunately, that left a turd in the punch bowl in the form the original story, so its cover had to be altered.  So, here’s your interesting but useless bit of trivia for the day, Henchmen was the first book, but the current cover was actually designed after all the others.

So it goes and so it goes.

The “God is Dead” series used a logo and text to establish a theme and then switched the icon and colors to reflect each new issue.  I never could figure out what kind of an icon to use for a dream, short of a dream catcher (which is kind of overplayed in my opinion), so I opted to continue using my Dreamer silhouette and switch out the background art.  It’s kind of the same thing if you don’t think about it.

All the covers were done in a couple of remarkable open-source image tools: Inkscape and GIMP.  If you ever have need of a vector illustration program, it’s hard to go wrong with Inkscape and GIMP is a great photo editing tool.  Think of them as free version of Illustrator and Photoshop respectively.

So, without further ramblings about graphic design theory, here’s the new cover.

HenchmenAriseCover

I’m still quite a fair piece away from actually publishing the book, so any input is certainly welcome.

Now, as for the plot:

It starts off six months after the events of the first book.  Congress is pretty much gone (and no one really mourned their passing), D.C. is now the nightmarish home of the God of Dreams, and the group from the first book has scattered to the winds.  In releasing the Dreamer from his cage, Eve’s little group managed to piss off the gods, who have given her a choice: kill Steven as a proof of loyalty, or kill the Dreamer.  She opts for the hard path and, with some extrahuman help (and hindrance), the team gets back together to find a way to assassinate a god who can move through dreams.

From a quiet morning in Hesperus, CO to the climactic conclusion in Dulce, NM, Arise is a non-stop thrill ride filled with minions, gods, gun fights, Nazis, and monsters.  In the end, blood will spill, a god will fall, and a hero will arise.

(obviously, I’m still working on the blurb.  I’ll let ya’ll know when it’s published)

More About Miss Tall, Blonde, and Bulletproof

This wasn’t the first time Kára stretched, bent, or outright broke the rules.  As usual, the beings in charge were less than appreciative of her efforts.

“You have betrayed me again!” the voice thunders.

The owner of the voice is a large man with thunder in his eyes and ravens on his shoulders.  His anger shakes the pillars of the heavens and earthquakes ravage the world below when he stomps his feet.  He is unused to his orders being ignored.  To tell the truth, he is unused to not getting his way in all things and usually reacts violently to any transgressions against his authority.

“The man’s wounds would have killed him.  Wounds he received in battle.  He died in battle,” Kára replies, seemingly unaware or unconcerned of the man’s rising ire.

“Then explain the arrow in his back!  An arrow fired from your bow!”

The ravens are agitated now, chittering to themselves nervously.  Their tiny avian brains are incapable of any kind of advanced thought but they can remember what happened when the man was angry.

“I was putting him out of his misery.  Consider it a mercy from the gods,” Kára says.

“So you admit you killed him?”

“I admit no such thing.  He was dead already, he just hadn’t realized it.”

“You are incorrigible.  You are ungrateful.  You are reckless.  You think the rules do not apply to you, do you?”

“The only rule I believe in is the one you imbued me with when you created me; I believe in creating an army to fight the final battle.”

“The rules exist for a reason!  We only take those who fought valiantly and died bravely,” the voice says quietly.

The words, and the quiet way he says them, fill Kára’s heart with ice.

“He did fight valiantly, my lord,” she says with her head hung.  “He died bravely.”

“He died with your arrow in his back, crawling back to his wife and son.  He might have made it, too, had you not decided to intervene.”

“He was the greatest warrior at the battle.  He will be a great asset.”

“He will be a great asset, but his son would have been better.  Now, his son will grow up without a father to train him in the arts of war and we have potentially lost a hero.”

“The child,” Kára asks.  “What will become of him?”

“We’ll do the usual, send a hero to train him, hope the damage done hasn’t been too extreme.  His anger might cloud his judgment, though, and a warrior cannot afford outside anger.”

“Who are you sending?”

“Knut or Ivar, I haven’t decided which yet.” The man says.

“Either would be an excellent choice, my Lord, but…”

“But what?”

“Consider sending me instead.” Kára says quietly.

“Why you?”

“Knut and Ivar are great warriors, but I’m better.”

“Why should you wish to do this, Kára?  It’s not your place to train heroes; it’s your place to choose the dead.”

“Consider it an act of contrition,” Kára says.

“You’ve never shown any sign of being sorry in the past, why start now?”

“Perhaps your wisdom is rubbing off on me.”

The man smiles at that.  While his anger is an all-encompassing force, his ego truly knows no bounds.  Kára knows this and has no compunction about using it against him.  In her mind, he’s a doddering old fool, focused on his power and his control and with no eye for the future.

In some ways, she’s correct.  He is an arrogant bastard who has become so focused on his power that he has forgotten the goal.

His goal is now, and always has been, preparing for a fight at the end of time.  Over the years, though, his training has fallen off.  He hasn’t picked up his spear, save to run through those few that dared piss him off, in years.

Kára knows the enemy trains relentlessly and that’s why she practices constantly.  One woman, no matter how tough, might not change the tide of the war, but she’s not going to be the one that loses the final battle.

“Fine then, Kára, you shall train young Einar in my arts.  Make me proud.”

Eve

If you haven’t read Henchmen, you won’t know Eve.  She’s one of the main characters and I intentionally left her somewhat mysterious throughout the story.  I had intended to flesh her out more in the sequel and accomplished some of that, but her back story didn’t fit smoothly into the rest of the narrative.  I’m trying to flesh out some of the back stories of the characters, tell some of their tales and breathe a little more life into them through a series of short stories.  The first one is obviously Eve.

Here’s the first part of Eve’s story – bonus points for anyone who can figure out which character will ultimately evolve into Eve:

 

The battle rages in the way that only Viking battles can rage.

The Romans codified warfare, and they were brutally efficient at it, partially because they loved it so much.  The Vandals and other associated groups that tore down the Roman Empire bit by bit, learned some of the art of warfare from the Romans, and added their own ferocity to it.

The English, and the other European empires that rose up slowly after the Romans collapsed into a vile heap of complacency and corruption, took what the Romans had done and expanded on it.

But the Vikings were special when it came to fighting.  It wasn’t just that they were good at it, wasn’t just that they enjoyed it; to the Vikings it was religious and the only way to get to Valhalla was to die in battle.  If you died in battle and made it to Valhalla, you got a shot at the fight that would come at the end of the world.  It would be a chance to fight side by side with Thor and Odin, taking the battle to the hated Jörmungandr and ensuring an eternity of peace.

Valhalla was the place to go in Viking mythology.  It was constant drinking and eating and fighting and fucking.  A heaven for a group of people who would find the idea of floating on a cloud and playing a harp to be a form of Hell: The Hell of Boring Eternity.

So, the Vikings fought and fought well.  In fact, they were the scourge of most of Europe during their day.  The only real reason the Vikings didn’t conquer their part of the world was they couldn’t get along long enough to actually take over.

Most people don’t realize it, but the Vikings had a martial arts system.  Actually, they probably had many of them.  Most of their systems focused on the use of weapons because, as Odin had decreed, a Viking should always have a weapon handy.  There was an unarmed form of combat, too, called Glima – which means “In a Flash” – that consisted of a lot of throwing opponents around.

So now, the battle rages.  Large men, and some fairly tough women, hurl spears, smash each other with hammers, slash and cut with swords.  Those who have lost their weapons are busy chucking each other around with a manic frenzy.  The blood is thick on the ground, mingling with the frozen turf and making the ground treacherous.

Trip over a body here – and there are many dead or dying dotting the landscape – and someone will slide a blade into you.

On a hill, not far from the battle, three women calmly watch the slaughter.  Here, in this time, they’re known as valkyrja.  They’re the choosers of the slain.  They show up frequently at battles, seeking great warriors to come to Valhalla and, eventually, fight in the final battle of the world.

They’re all blonde and all wearing varying themes on leather armor.  The tallest, Ráðgríðr, wears leathers dyed all black.  Her hair is a mane of golden blonde hair that hangs down to the middle of her back and her icy blue eyes sparkle like a still mountain lake.  She’s nominally the leader, even though there’s no real sense of hierarchy among the women.  Ráðgríðr vacillates between consensus building and ordering the others, but she always gets what she wants.

In the middle, holding a bow, and wearing brown leathers is Kára.  Her hair, like the others, is blonde, but pulled into braided pigtails.  The pigtails, coupled with stormy gray eyes, manage to make her look dangerous rather than cute.  She’s physically the strongest of the group, but is considered somewhat unpredictable by the others.  Some have gone so far as to describe her as a stormy petrel.

The third is the smallest, but that’s a relative term.  Sanngriðr is adorned in deep red leather armor, covered with a fine gray chain mail.  Her hair, like the others, is golden blonde, but she wears it in a short bob that makes her look safe and charming.  Her black eyes and severe face are a stark contrast to her hair.  Sanngriðr’s black eyes have nothing that even approaches sympathy.  Under the best of circumstances, she’s not a pleasant person to be around.  When she gets angry, she can make the gods run and hide.

These are not small women, the largest stands over seven feet tall, the shortest slightly under seven feet tall.  The three of them could probably slaughter everyone on the battlefield without breaking a sweat.

So why, if these three women are capable of winning the fight below on their own, are they here seeking warriors?  It turns out even the strongest need help sometimes and wars are won by sheer numbers, not individuals.

There is a war coming, and these women intend to build an army that will win it.  In the few years they’ve been around they’ve managed to raise an army nearly ten thousand strong, which is nothing compare the army they’ll need to build before the final battle comes.  When the forces of darkness start a war, showing up with a small army is guaranteed to fail.

The battle continues for hours, neither side willing to give an inch or cede to the other.  Whatever kicked this fight off, some perceived slight or another, was too important to back down on.

At the end, as the sun is setting, a single warrior is left standing.  Well, maybe standing is too strong a term.  He’s limping out of the battlefield, one leg badly cut, and using the spear from a fallen foe as an improvised crutch.

“He was impressive,” the first woman says.

“Indeed.  It is a pity he is still alive, he would have been useful at the final accounting,” the second replies.

The man is almost out the field of battle when an arrow silently strikes him down.  Even with a slashed leg and an arrow in his back, piecing his lung, the man doesn’t collapse immediately.  He staggers several steps before falling to his knees and crawling forward.

The first two women look at Kára with something similar to shock in their eyes.

Kára lowers her bow and returns their gaze.  “He would have died anyway,” she says by way of explanation.

“Yes, but he did not die in battle.  We cannot take him,” Ráðgríðr says.

“What you have done is against the orders,” the Sanngriðr adds.

“My orders,” Kára says, “were to find soldiers for the final battle.  I just found one.”

“He did not die in battle, though,” Ráðgríðr says again.  “He cannot fight in the final battle.”

“Kára,” Sanngriðr says to the woman with the bow.  “You know the rules, why would you violate them?”

Kára glares at her sister and lowers the bow.  “I have made my choice, Sanngriðr.  His wounds would have killed him; therefore he technically died in battle.  I just hastened his demise.”

“Kára, he is still alive.  You did not kill him,” Sanngriðr says.

“Patience, sister.  His heart and will are strong but his wounds are grievous.  He will be dead shortly,” Kára tells her.

Together, the three women watch as the man struggles to find his way home.  The arrow sticking out of his back makes him wheeze and every breath feels like breathing fire.  The slash on his leg, already infected, no longer hurts, but he can tell the wound will cost him his leg.  Thormod, the doctor in his village, is all but a miracle worker, but even his skills have limits and he has no doubt the leg will be removed.

The problem is the slash on the man’s leg severed his femoral artery.  He just wants to go home, to see his wife and newborn son, but the blood pumping out of his leg won’t stop.  His vision darkens, his limbs lose all sensation, but still he keeps crawling forward.

When the end finally comes, he sees a vision of his wife holding his son and knows that he lost.  He promised Asta he would come home to her and Einar, but he has failed them.  His final thought is a desire for vengeance.  Revenge against the king that ordered him into this worthless battle, revenge against the bastard that slashed his leg, and revenge against whatever coward shot him in the back.

The man’s name was Gosta, and, through a technicality, has bought himself a place in Valhalla.