Writing The Dark Lord

  • Posted by Angela Craft on Oct 31 2016

eonly-9780062359339-coverWe, John Peck and Harry Heckel, are the writing team known as Jack Heckel. In our first series, The Charming Tales, we fractured fairy tales. In our second series, we want to give epic fantasy the same treatment, so here’s a brief summary of our newest book, The Dark Lord, out tomorrow.

For his dissertation project, grad student Avery Stewart is trying to prevent an impending catastrophe from occurring on a “sub-world” called Trelari. To do so, he has set himself up as the Dark Lord. His plan is to engineer his own defeat at the hands of Trelari’s greatest heroes—a loss which he succeeds in pulling off. Arriving back on campus after having been gloriously routed, Avery takes his roommate Eldrin to a local pub to celebrate. Unfortunately, his night of celebration goes awry when Vivian, an undergrad, steals the key to Trelari’s reality and flees into the sub-world. Avery returns to Trelari without his key and discovers that the only way to stop Vivian is to do what all fantasy heroes must do: form a group, explore ridiculously deadly dungeons, quest for a loquacious magical artifact—

John: And cast it into the fiery depths of Mount—

Harry: No, that doesn’t happen! Well, maybe it should have. Anyway, our novel is a combination of humor, fantasy tropes and university life, with its roots in how we met. In my freshman year at American University, the major gaming group on campus had an established Call of Cthulhu campaign. It was almost impossible for a freshman to join that group, so I started a Dungeons & Dragons game. My setting was an epic fantasy world of my own creation. John lived on my floor and asked to come to the games just to watch. After three or four sessions, I convinced him to play and we became good friends.

John: Truth be told, no convincing was necessary. I may be revealing more than I ought, but I stalked my way into Harry’s gaming group. I lived across the hall, and I wanted nothing more than to be in his D&D campaign. So, I sat in every night until Harry took pity on me and told me I could join. Roleplaying, at its best, is shared storytelling, and Harry is a master at the form. And, for whatever reason, our similar sense of humor, our shared love of British golf announcers and Southern high school football commentators, our deep and abiding hatred of golden mushroom soup, from the beginning Harry and I have had an ability to complete one another’s thoughts, to build and embellish upon the other’s ideas, and create stories that are a combination of the two of us. Many of the themes in The Dark Lord come from those early gaming days. In The Dark Lord, Avery and his group of adventurers must track down a powerful magical artifact, an artifact my own half-elven ranger wielded in Harry’s campaign, a battle-axe only known as Justice Cleaver.

Harry: The grad students in our novel, Avery and Eldrin, live in a room inspired by our old college dorm, down to the door knob that kept falling out and my personal penchant for constantly setting up wargames. Despite its flaws, that room was the birthplace of many stories, multiple roleplaying campaigns and a plethora of debates about our favorite books and movies. I’d write up backgrounds for our games, with legendary characters like the Heroes of the Age in the prologue for The Dark Lord.

I had been waiting years of their time for this meeting. I recognized them all through the tales of their deeds, of course. There was Feldane the Archer, scion of the elves; Mad Jarl of the Dwarf Mechanism with his living armor (it was a bit squatter than I thought it would be); St. Drake the Suffering (the gibberlings and I liked to call him St. Dork the Insufferable); the masked rogue known only as the Weasel; Mystia, sorceress of the Enigmatic Isles; and Valdara.

John: Those lines brought up so many memories for me. I could see each of those characters so clearly in my mind, and I knew that anyone who has read fantasy literature or roleplayed in a fantasy setting would recognize the archetypes at once. It inspired me to want to use them throughout the novel, to play with their clichés and see how they would respond.

Harry: It’s another example of our cooperative storytelling. Initially, I was planning on creating another group entirely from scratch for Avery’s return, but your idea to keep them worked much better. I can’t imagine the book without Drake. And Valdara might be my favorite character. I see her as representative of the struggles that women in gaming face, as she journeys from Avery seeing her as simply beautiful to realizing that she controls her own destiny and is as much as part of the quest as he is.

John: The dynamic between the characters, and Avery’s growth as he begins to realize that it isn’t possible (or good) to boil everyone down to a stereotype was the most satisfying part of the story to see come together. However, the best part of writing The Dark Lord was finding ways to sneak in little references here and there from a lifetime of reading fantasy fiction and gaming with Harry.

Harry: It’s true. We’ve filled the book with references from our favorite authors and our favorite games, from the authors of Mysterium University’s textbooks…

John: To dungeon names that recall such places as the Mines of Moria and the Tomb of Horrors…

Harry: And we put in plenty of monsters-we have lizard men, trolls, gelatinous polygons, a wicked witch, a semi-lich, and many more.

John: Basically, if you like epic fantasy…

Harry: Or if you’ve ever played fantasy roleplaying games…

John: And especially, if you’ve ever wondered, who built all those absurd dungeons, and why the rules of magic are always so peculiar, and why elves are so insufferably cool, then pick up The Dark Lord.

Harry: You can find us at www.jackheckel.com. Please comment on this blog or reach out to us at our own website. Thanks for reading and we both hope you enjoy The Dark Lord.

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The Weaver by Emmi Itaranta sweepstakes!

  • Posted by Angela Craft on Oct 26 2016


Emmi Itaranta’s new ecological dystopia tale The Weaver will be available November 1st, and we want you to have a chance to win a copy plus a gorgeous handmade coral jewelry set!

Enter now on Facebook for your chance to win, PLUS all entrants will receive the first three chapters of The Weaver to start reading now.

Learn more The Weaver by Emmi Itaranta.

The author of the critically acclaimed Memory of Water returns with this literary ecological tale in the vein of Ursula K. Le Guin and Sheri S. Tepper, in which an innocent young woman becomes entangled in a web of ancient secrets and deadly lies that lie at the dark center of her prosperous island world.

Eliana is a model citizen of the island, a weaver in the prestigious House of Webs. She also harbors a dangerous secret—she can dream, an ability forbidden by the island’s elusive council of elders. No one talks about the dreamers, the undesirables ostracized from society.

But the web of protection Eliana has woven around herself begins to unravel when a young girl is found lying unconscious in a pool of blood on the stones outside the house. Robbed of speech by her attackers, the only clue to her identity is one word tattooed in invisible ink across her palm: Eliana. Why does this mysterious girl bear her name? What links her to the weaver—and could she hold Eliana’s fate in her hand?

As Eliana finds herself growing closer to this injured girl she is bound to in ways she doesn’t understand, the enchanting lies of the island begin to crumble, revealing a deep and ancient corruption. Joining a band of brave rebels determined to expose the island’s dark secrets, Eliana becomes a target of ruthless forces determined to destroy her. To save herself and those she loves, she must call on the power within her she thought was her greatest weakness: her dreams.

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Lost Gods and Altered Starscape on sale now!

  • Posted by Angela Craft on Oct 25 2016


A young man descends into Purgatory to save his wife and unborn child in Lost Gods, an illustrated tale of wonder and terror from the mind of master storyteller and acclaimed artist Brom.

Fresh out of jail and eager to start a new life, Chet Moran and his pregnant wife, Trish, leave town to begin again. But an ancient evil is looming, and what seems like a safe haven may not be all it appears . . .

Snared and murdered by a vile, arcane horror, Chet quickly learns that pain and death are not unique to the living. Now the lives and very souls of his wife and unborn child are at stake.To save them, he must journey into the bowels of purgatory in search of a sacred key promised to restore the natural order of life and death. Alone, confused, and damned, Chet steels himself against the unfathomable terrors awaiting him as he descends into death’s stygian blackness.

With Lost Gods, Brom’s gritty and visceral prose takes us on a haunting, harrowing journey into the depths of the underworld. Thrust into a realm of madness and chaos, where ancient gods and demons battle over the dead, and where cabals of souls conspire to overthrow their masters, Chet plays a dangerous game, risking eternal damnation to save his family.

Lost Gods by Brom is available now in hardcover and ebook editions. Purchase your copy now.


Altered Starscape by Ian Douglas is the start of a thrilling new military sci-fi series, as the last humans in the universe face off against a new threat.

2162. Thirty-eight years after first contact, Lord Commander Grayson St. Clair leads the Tellus Ad Astra on an unprecedented expedition to the Galactic Core, carrying more than a million scientists, diplomats, soldiers, and AIs. Despite his reservations about their alien hosts, St. Clair is deeply committed to his people—especially after they’re sucked into a black hole and spat out four billion years in the future.

Civilizations have risen and fallen. The Andromeda Galaxy is drifting into the Milky Way. And Earth is most certainly a distant memory. All that matters now is survival. But as the ship’s Marines search for allies amid ancient ruins and strange new planetary structures, St. Clair must wrap his mind around an enemy capable of harnessing a weapon of incomprehensible power: space itself.

Altered Starscape is available now in paperback and ebook editions. Purchase your copy now.

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3 Problems With Superhero Novels (And Why They’re Not Problems)

  • Posted by Angela Craft on Oct 10 2016

y648-64When I wrote Superheroes Anonymous, it didn’t occur to me that I was veering off the path. Superheroes- and Supervillains Anonymous and now How to Save the World, they’re all listed in the urban fantasy genre. They contain magic and powers, larger than life fight scenes, and grand old good vs. evil showdowns that you find in a lot of urban fantasy novels. But when people think of superheroes, they just don’t think novel.

At home, I have a cabinet full of superhero glasses, a DVD collection jam-packed with caped wonders, and an entire drawer set aside for comics. Slowly, a shelf of superhero books is creeping into that collection, showcasing books like Carrie Vaughn’s After the Golden Age or C.B. Lee’s Not Your Sidekick. I have space set out for my own How to Save the World, which I think will be in tremendous company next to Sarah Kuhn’s Heroine Complex. But of all of my collections, that shelf is the smallest one, and I think it’s because people have a hard time wrapping their heads around superheroes in novel form. I can see three reasons for that.

1. Superheroes are visual. What are these words doing there, clogging up the page?

Superheroes are by and large a visual medium. They lend themselves to awesome drawn and scripted fight scenes, cool special effects, and bright, candy-colored costumes. Translating that from the screen to the written word can be immensely difficult.

But it can also be incredibly fun.

While it’s true that the visual quality can be a difficult one to lose—I salivate every time production photos of a new costume are released—I think superhero novels make up the difference. A deft hand for description is required, obviously, but comic books rely on imagination of the reader to work, and so do novels. Novels have one advantage over other mediums: they can delve deep inside a character’s head in a way comic books don’t have time to do. With a novel, you can be inside every visceral punch, in the hero’s shoes as he or she flies to save the day, or experiencing the freak-out over new powers. See? I told you. Fun.

2. Superheroes rely either on grit or on candor and both can be hard to swallow.

Whether you’re a Watchmen fan or a Christopher Reeves Superman junkie doesn’t matter. My favorite superheroes trade on heartfelt optimism and the battles between good and evil. My best friend loves the Christian Bale Batman tales for how bleak they are.  Both of these tones can be difficult to nail in novel form! The Superheroes Anonymous trilogy trends to the positive. Even facing overwhelming odds like being wrongfully accused or squaring off against a telekinetic villain, my hero Gail Godwin finds reason to hope in the darkness and fight back. In movies, this is accompanied by swelling music, in comics the art gets brighter or darker to compensate. In books, these moments are reserved for the high fantasy genre a lot of the time. But I think with this new spate of superhero novels, we’re reclaiming our own. And the best solution for that is to write more of these novels to make this feel normal—and read more, of course. Which is great since I have a new book on sale today.

3. Superhero novels can be considered a little too “new” for nostalgia.

This isn’t a problem for me, but I can understand why it would trip people up. There’s a reason Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman are so popular: many people grew up with them. And these superhero novels that are slowly hitting the shelves are either about new superheroes or they’re a new twist on an old favorite (check out Gwenda Bond’s amazing YA Lois Lane duology to see what I mean). That really messes with the nostalgia factor and trust me, as somebody who bounced in her seat when the Wonder Woman trailer played, I get that.

But I think that these novels are doing something to make up for it: they’re bringing new takes on superheroes to the table. Heroine Complex and Not Your Sidekick feature Asian-American superheroes that we don’t get to see on the silver screen as often. My Superheroes Anonymous series has a strong social media component, exploring what superheroes would be like in modern society. Even the Lois Lane books I mentioned above set Lois’s world in high school, super-sleuthing her way through homeroom and trig homework. I would argue that these books have a chance to step away from the nostalgia and into a new era.

And the best part? Look at my superhero collection that I talked about. We’re in a glut of superhero options right now. I can turn on my TV and watch Barry Allen or Daisy Johnson or even Legion, I can go to the movies and laugh at Ant-Man. And now, I think, I can go to my favorite place in the world—the bookstore—and read all about superheroes in the novels that I adore above all else.

You should pick up a superhero novel today. One of mine would be great! But there are so many good choices available now, and even more coming. And isn’t that awesome?

lexie-dunneLexie Dunne is a life-long winner of the coveted trophy for participation and author of the SUPERHEROES ANONYMOUS series. By day a mild-mannered technical writer and by night a writer of masked crusaders, she hails from St. Louis, home of the world’s largest croquet game piece. Follow her on Twitter @DunneWriting.


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FLASH GIVEAWAY! Have a Complimentary Harper Voyager e-Book in Honor of NYCC!

  • Posted by CPerny on Oct 07 2016

Flash giveaway slothIt’s a flash giveaway! If you couldn’t make it to New York Comic Con this week, Nova the Sloth doesn’t want you to feel left out–so grab anyone of these free e-books, which we’re also giving away at NYCC, courtesy of Harper Voyager, The Mary Sue, and Instafreebie. It’ll be just like you’re there…minus the crowds and the lines and the waiting! Please note that there are a limited quantity of e-books, so this giveaway is only good for as long as supplies last!

When it comes to out-of-this-world SFF reads, we have your back! Enjoy any or all of these 4 amazing science fiction and fantasy titles (while supplies last). If you didn’t get a chance to download one of these great books, don’t worry–extended three chapter excerpts of each of these will be available here once supplies run out.

To keep the geeky goodness going, be sure to check out our partners’ websites, The Mary Sue and Instafreebie. Download your free copy by clicking on the links below the book cover, and stay connected with Harper Voyager through our newsletter!


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