R.A. McCandless
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1863 Samurai at the Sphinx, Photo by Antonio Beato

There’s a story behind every photograph. Some photos aren’t interesting to everyone, whether that’s Aunt Jenny at the Hootenanny, or Uncle Jim at the Barn-Raising. Others are fascinating for the sheer fact that they exist at all. Take the above Samurai Posing by the Sphinx, shot in 1863.


Just wow.

All we need now are some ninjas, and this photo achieves transcendence. There may be ninjas there already. I’m told there are three in this article!

How many stories could you tell without actually knowing the history behind a photo? …

Prologues: How to Prologue Without Prolonging the Pain

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Photo by Andre Benz on Unsplash


Prologues have such a bad reputation — hanging out on the wrong side of the tracks, smoking cigarettes and getting tattoos — that some readers will roll up the windows and drive past quickly.

Never in the history of humankind has there been a more divisive subject.

There has never been a war, a battle or a barroom brawl without first some poor soul uttered the word, “prologue”. Don’t bother looking it up. That’s a fact.

And yet, here we are.

Here we are —

Prologues are loved/hated depending on the individual and I’m not here to tell you…

Keeping it Real: Why “Bad Guys” Do Bad Things

“It was in keeping with the practice of mankind for us to accept an empire that was offered to us, and if we refused to give it up under the pressure of three of the strongest motives, fear, honor, and self-interest.”
— Thucydides: History of the Peloponnesian War 1.76

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Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Villains, enemies, allies, and friends should all act with motivation. It’s easy to tap into with the “good guys” but it becomes trickier with antagonists. This largely stems from the fact that we don’t really want to sympathize with the Big Bad. …

Quarterly Performance All-Hands Conference, About 8:07 am

They may be called the Palace Guard, the City Guard, or the Patrol. Whatever the name, their purpose in any work of heroic fantasy is identical: it is, round about Chapter Three (or ten minutes into the film) to rush into the room, attack the hero one at a time, and be slaughtered. No one ever asks them if they want to.

― Terry Pratchett, Guards! Guards!

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Castle photo created by wirestock

Alright lads and ladies, I know these dungeon guard meetings are boring, but they’re important so pay attention. First, a quick moment of silence for our newly departed: Guillaume, Bob, and Pedro. …

The Under-Used but Super Cool Parrying Dagger

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Photo by Tobias Cornille on Unsplash

One of the coolest fighting styles — a real, that is — is sword and parrying dagger. Writers who are looking to engage the Rule of Cool, but also remain steadfastly in the realm of historic reality should really jump on this one. Shields often get a the short end of the spear, because they seem bulky, and bulky is generally not cool in a fight. But parrying daggers are fast and nimble, which means your fighter can be fast and nimble while dual wielding, which is always cool!

If you’re like me from back in the day, you hear…

Or How I Stopped Worrying and Learned How to Crush My Enemies, See Them Driven Before Me, and Drink Their Tears

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Photo by James Pond on Unsplash

Congratulations! You’ve completed your manuscript, your best friend, spouse or boyfriend/girlfriend has given you their obligatory ego-stroke, and you’re ready to experience what readers “really think”. You’ve engaged beta-readers or signed up for Critters Workshop. The future is so bright, you’ve gotta wear shades!

But, before you open that email, or login at Goodreads, you should prepare yourself . . . for your eventual fame, of course!

Here’s a step-by-step guide of how to get ready.

Step One — Drink

This is not advice. This is mandatory. Sit down with a shot glass and a bottle of something at least 80 proof. Price is…

Why Breasts on Breastplates? Part the Second

Head, Shoulders, Chests and Those!

Don’t forget to read Why Breasts on Breastplates: Part the First Worldbuilding With Female Characters.

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Photo by Birmingham Museums Trust on Unsplash

Breasts are a wonderful topic, and in my previous article on worldbuilding with female characters, I briefly touched on a subject that is sore among some writers. It also nicely highlights exactly what I was talking about in regard to world and character building. If you have a child-like character, why is he able to go out to the forest, rip up the biggest tree, and then start slaughtering armies? …

Worldbuilding With Female Characters

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Photo by yogurt on Unsplash

There have been, in almost any era, women warriors: Harriet Tubman, Fu Hao, Tomoe Gozen (of whom I’m writing a book), Boudicca, Arachidamia. They generally stand out as the exception, rather than the rule, rendering them even more exceptional. Tomoe Gozen was said to have been incredibly strong, not just carrying a sword, but one that was oversized. That we have so few suggests that due to social and cultural constraints and pressures — as a particular lens was applied to the investigation and writing of history — many women warriors have been relegated to the…

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Photo by Johnny Briggs on Unsplash

The story of James P. Blaylock and his quote for my book is crazy. Not literally crazy, but close enough that you don’t need to correct me with “figuratively”. It’s almost, but not quite, the kind of story where at the end you close with “. . . and a star was born.”

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Photo by Alice Alinari on Unsplash

With “The Tudors” and “The Borgias” I would have thought the question of premarital sex during the Medieval era (or really any era) would have been answered. Heck, basic human behavior, which certainly hasn’t changed much in 500 years, let alone 50,000–100,000 years, should have answered the question from a common-sense perspective. Alas, fantasy writers, usually wonderful people with very open minds and inquisitive natures, seem to have locked this one down and thrown away the key without ever looking inside the chest.

R.A. McCandless

Award-winning author of steampunk and urban fantasy.

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