Tuesday, April 26, 2011

An Exercise in Futility by Steve Thomas

Beyond the borders of the mighty Kalharian Empire, the Tribes of Gurdur wander a vast plain. When the border falls under dispute and his tribe prepares for war, Ezekiel is left behind to train with his mysterious uncle. There he learns the art of necromancy, and begins to wonder: If a man can be brought back to life, why not a civilization?

Steve Thomas lives in Central New York. “An Exercise in Futility” is his first novel.

What will readers like about your book?
My novel is fantasy written for the disgruntled fantasy fan. I tried to avoid or subvert most of the more common fantasy tropes (like secret destinies, the struggle between good and evil shallow villains, etc), so some readers may find it refreshing. Readers who enjoy fantasy for world-building will also be pleased.

Why did you self publish?
I have a very strong anti-bureaucratic streak. That was really the main factor. I didn’t want to have to deal with submissions, contracts, and editors, so I decided to do it myself.

What is your writing process?
I write in my free time, which is usually an hour or two before bed, or during my lunch break. I tend to have a general idea of where the story will go, and the major plot points, but I don’t like to create detailed plans more than a chapter or two ahead. I’m too prone to changing my mind. I do most of my planning when I’m in line waiting for something or during my commute, basically whenever I’m not otherwise engaged. When I actually sit down to write, I have one rule: if I open the file, I don’t close it until I’ve written something. It’s a good preventative measure for writer’s block.

I also have a friend who is willing to listen to my ideas and read chapters as I write them. He goes a long way to keep me motivated.

How long does it take you to write your first draft?
My first novel took me about a year to draft. The second took six months. At this rate, projections indicate that my 10th book will take less than a day to write.

What inspired you to write this particular story?
Like many fantasy novels, this one has its roots in a game of Dungeons and Dragons. My turn as Dungeon Master came up, and for a few weeks, I was eyebrows-deep in developing a setting: The Kalharian Empire. One of my players was particularly interested in political intrigue, and this novel grew out of a piece of the history I created especially for him to play with. As I wrote the book, the Dungeons and Dragons influence largely withered away.

On top of all that, I started having more and more trouble finding fantasy books that I actually liked. I was particularly frustrated with cliché-filled tales of child heroes saving the world from arbitrarily evil emperors, or magic systems consisting of one spell: Summon Deus Ex Machina. One day, I threw up my hands and said, “Fine! I’ll write my own!” (Fortunately, I’ve found authors more to my taste since then.)


Emperor Kathelm II smiled to himself as he reclined on his golden throne in the Grand Palace of Kalhar-Neg, in the province of Kura. His gold-plated ceremonial breastplate clanged against the back of the chair, despite the black cape’s attempts to cushion the collision. The emperor held a crisp apple in his left hand, and a paring knife in his right. It was his habit to eat an apple every morning in the throne room. He hadn’t the time for a full breakfast.

Messengers and advisors would soon stream into the great hall to bring requests before him. Before the day was over, he would approve funding for academies and museums, order the construction of miles of highway, grant land to retired soldiers, and donate huge sums of money to the sick and the orphaned. In so doing, he would bring peace and comfort to all his people, as an emperor should. And with that accomplished, he would retire to his private chamber for lunch and spend the rest of the afternoon hunting.

The double-doors of the hall opened outward, and the two guards instantly crossed their halberds. Just as quickly, they snapped their weapons back to vertical, letting the man enter. He wore blackened armor adorned with shimmering patterns of gold embossment. Kathelm smiled as he sliced off a piece of apple. This was the armor of a general. Perhaps his day would not be so peaceful after all.

“Ah, General Meunig,” the emperor said. “Welcome.”

Meunig bowed at the foot of the dais and presented a letter. “My Lord, I bring news from the Donovan province.”

“Please, sit,” the emperor said as he slipped the chunk of apple into his mouth. He waved his hand, and two yellow-robed servants rushed forward with a bench.

“Thank you,” Meunig said as he took a seat, his eyes and words never straying from the throne. “I received this letter from Lord Donovan, my Lord. They are having border troubles.”

“Interesting... The Tribes of Gurdur, is it?” Meunig nodded. Kathelm leaned forward and smiled. He hadn’t expected this opportunity to come so soon. The lands north of Donovan might be conquered years earlier than projected.

“The border villages have been complaining about disappearing cattle,” said Meunig.

Kathelm paused for a moment. The Gurdur were nomads. They had no use for cattle. They could barely herd goats. “Leave us,” he said, and the guards and servants skittered through the doorway.

Kathelm stroked his beard. “The Gurdur aren’t actually stealing cattle, are they?”

The General sat back and removed his gold-plumed helmet. “Of course not,” he said. “It’s probably wolves. The Donovans on the border hate the savages so much that if a wolf eats one of their chickens, it only takes a week before they’re spreading rumors that the Gurdur stole entire herds of cattle.”

“So Marcus decided it was time for me to honor his treaty?”

“You did promise to help him fight off the tribes when he offered to surrender.”




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