A mission she doesn’t want,
To protect and defend a dwarf she can’t forgive,
In a city full of enemies . . .
Sentinel Marshal Sabira d’Deneith has her work cut out for her as she searches for a killer whose methods seem eerily familiar. Blending adventure fantasy and hardboiled noir fiction, The Shard Axe brings the broader world of Eberron to the setting of the immensely popular game, Dungeons & Dragons Online: Eberron Unlimited.
Make sure you stick around to the end. We’ll be giving away a signed copy of The Shard Axe.
Hello, Literary Escapists! My name is Marsheila (Marcy) Rockwell and I write, among other things, tie-in fiction. What is tie-in fiction, some of you might ask? The technical answer is that it’s fiction that ties into some other media property, like a television show, movie, video game, or role-playing game. The easier answer is that it’s the two entire bookcases in the science fiction and fantasy section of your local bookstore that are filled with Star Wars, Buffy, Warhammer and D&D books. That’s where you’ll find my latest book, The Shard Axe (and maybe in New Releases if a relative or fellow gamer happens to work at that store, heh).
One question I get asked frequently is why on earth I waste my time writing “that derivative crap.” Tie-in fiction has a reputation for being substandard – and yet, it fills up those two whole bookcases we talked about earlier. Logically, that would mean either one of two things is true – (a) readers of tie-in fiction enjoy spending their hard-earned money on awful books, or (b) tie-in books are actually quite a bit better than you’ve probably been led to believe. Obviously, I come down hard on the (b) side.
In all fairness, once upon a time, tie-in books were pretty bad, written for a quick buck by mediocre writers hiding behind pen names. But that was forty years ago. Today’s tie-ins are not your grandmother’s tie-ins, and nowadays, big name authors are falling all over themselves to get in on the action. Hugo and Nebula Award winners like Greg Bear, Vonda McIntyre, Elizabeth Hand and Terry Bisson have all take up the tie-in pen, working in such franchises as Star Wars and Star Trek. If tie-in fiction were really as awful as its press, it wouldn’t make sense for these authors – arguably some of the best in the field – to be caught dead writing it, would it?
The truth is, tie-in properties are producing some of the best genre fiction out there today. Think about it – these are multi-million dollar companies we’re talking about. Are they really going to let any old hack come in and write some drivel with their property’s name featured prominently on the cover? I don’t think so.
So that answers the “derivative crap” portion of the question, but what about the “why?” That one is even easier – and, no, before you ask, it’s not the money. True, tie-in writers get paid in advance, but a lot of times, those advances are low and they’re all the money we ever see.
I – and, I imagine, most of my fellow tie-in authors – write tie-in fiction because of a deep love for the associated properties. I started playing D&D when I was in the third grade. I still remember my first character, a halfling thief named Stoorkeeper who was pretty much Bilbo Baggins with a really bad nickname. (What? I was twelve!) When Wizards of the Coast introduced their new Eberron campaign setting back in 2004, I fell in love all over again. I mean, a fantasy-noir setting where magic took the place of technology and a hundred-year war has just come to an uneasy end? What’s not for a writer to love in that? And then Dungeons & Dragon On-line debuted in 2006, bringing a portion of that setting to life and allowing me to walk around in places I’d only been able to imagine before. A better question would probably be why wouldn’t I want to write books set there?
That’s not to say tie-in fiction is all I write, or that I don’t love the original settings I’ve developed and written in – far from it! I have a series of original sword & sorcery ebooks coming out from Musa Publishing in 2012 (“Tales of Sand and Sorcery”), and I’ve got a paranormal profiler series that I’m working on, as well. Like every other author, there’s only one reason I write, regardless of whether it’s original or tie-in work – because I love the story. And I hope you will, too.
Excerpt: The Shard Axe
Since Arach’s airship wasn’t leaving until tomorrow and she didn’t trust the dwarf farther than she could throw him, Sabira decided to do a little pre-mission reconnaissance. She headed for the House Kundarak stronghold on the opposite side of the Marketplace, taking care to steer clear of any place frequented by Deneith mercenaries. Someone trying to curry favor might easily take Greigur’s order not to help her as an invitation to actively hinder her, and she could do without that sort of trouble right now.
As she walked along Silversmith Road, the overcast sky finally delivered on its promise and cold gray rain sheeted down, soaking her through in moments. She didn’t bother seeking cover or even pulling up the hood of her cloak; the cloudburst would be over as quickly as it had begun, and in this oppressive heat, she’d be dry again in no time. Well, as dry as anyone ever got on this Hostforsaken jungle continent.
Dodging rushed market-goers whose purchases were too pressing to wait for more clement weather, Sabira felt a sudden tingling at the nape of her neck, so strong that she actually slapped at it, thinking she might have been bitten by something. When her hand came back clean, she knew that prickle had a more menacing source. She purposely stepped into the path of a harried shopper and used the resulting exchange of insults as a distraction while she glanced surreptitiously behind her. There were many cloaked figures hurrying about, but none stood out as the cause of her unease.
Apologizing absently to the woman she’d bumped into, Sabira moved on, unable to shake the feeling that she was being watched, and followed.
She snuck glances back at every corner, but saw nothing. Still, the itchy sensation at the back of her neck refused to go away.
On a hunch, she detoured into the Jester’s Haunt, taking a right at The Rusty Nail. The road here curved and then dead-ended; very few people had business here and it was the perfect place for an ambush. She slipped into a recessed doorway and pulled her urgrosh off of her back, waiting to see if someone else would follow her into the blind alley, or if she was just being needlessly paranoid.
Long moments passed, and she was just getting ready to step out of the doorway when a cloaked figure paused in front of the Nail. The gray sunlight filtering through the clouds did not reach here between the close-huddled buildings, and as the figure stepped into shadow, he – she, it? Sabira couldn’t tell from this distance, but she had a gut feeling her stalker was male – moved to the side, presumably to allow for his eyes to adjust to the gloom. Then he started cautiously down the street, avoiding puddles and loose cobblestones that would give away his position. He was on her side of the alley, which meant she’d have only one chance to surprise him.
As silently as she could, she inched her way up the doorstep until she was standing with her back pressed up against the wood of the door, knees slightly bent to pounce. A tiny splash followed by a dripping sound and a soft curse alerted Sabira to her pursuer’s nearness, and she tensed. Whoever he was, he was obviously not native to Stormreach, or he’d have known to avoid walking too close to the buildings during a downpour. Most had no rain gutters to speak of, and the chances of getting doused by roof runoff was at least as high as that of getting drenched in the street, and far more random. As her stalker had just discovered.
Well, that ruled out one of Sollego’s men, come to collect early, or anyone from the Deneith enclave. She had time to wonder if she was simply dealing with a footpad who’d picked a most unwise target. And then he was stepping in front of her hiding place, and it was time to act.
Even as Sabira sprang soundlessly from the doorstep, she realized there was something wrong about her hunter. Her low-centered leap should have taken him square in the stomach, knocking him backward and away, but instead she rammed hard into his shoulder just as he turned and saw her. As they crashed together onto the rain-slicked cobblestones, the man’s hood fell back, revealing the long braided beard and ruddy features of a dwarf.
They scrambled apart and Sabira gained her feet first. She lashed out, kicking him in the same shoulder she’d collided with, slamming him back down so hard that his head hit the street with an audible crack.
She placed one foot on his heaving chest and rested the dragonshard tip of her urgrosh over his heart.
“Now, dwarf, you’re going to tell me why you’ve been following me, or—”
“No, Saba, wait! Don’t!”
Sabira looked up disbelievingly to see the Karrnathi Sentinel Marshal running down the street toward her, panic plain on his face. The dragonmark on his jaw glowed blue, blindingly bright in the shadows.
She shook her head, thinking for a moment that she had finally lost her mind and fallen headlong into the refuge of delusion. Then Elix – who was surely no specter, for what otherworldly apparition would drip sweat with every step? – clearly misreading the gesture, shouted again, and she felt a sharp stinging in her foot.
What was he doing here? And why was he was using his Mark of Sentinel to protect the dwarf?
He reached her side, panting, and Sabira looked from him to the dwarf and back again, pulling back her shard axe a hair’s breadth, and no more.
“What are you doing here, Elix? And why in the name of Khyber are you protecting this dwarf? He’s a common cutpurse at best – maybe even a spy for the Aurum. Why would—”
“No, Saba,” Elix said with the throaty laugh she remembered so well. “He’s not any of those things. He’s the Mrorian Envoy to Karrnath. And he’s your next client.”
Meet Marsheila Rockwell!
Marsheila (Marcy) Rockwell is an author, poet, editor, engineer, Navy (Seabee) wife and mother of three wonderful sons. She is a member of the SFWA, IAMTW, and SFPA and her work has been nominated for the Rhysling Award for the last five years running. Her first novel, Legacy of Wolves, was published by Wizards of the Coast in 2007 and her latest, The Shard Axe (the first official Dungeons & Dragons Online: Eberron Unlimited tie-in novel), was just released from Wizards in September. She is currently working on the sequel. You can find out more about her latest projects here: www.marsheilarockwell.com/.
Thank you Marsheila for taking the time to stop by Literary Escapism!
Contest Time! Marsheila is giving away a signed copy of The Shard Axe. To enter, all you have to do is answer this one question: What’s the best tie-in book you’ve ever read? And if you’ve never read one before, what was it that kept you from doing so? Remember, you must answer the question in order to be entered.
Even though I’m not giving the additional entries any more, you can still help support the author by sharing their article, and this contest, on your blog, Twitter, Facebook, or anywhere you can. After all, the more people who are aware of this fabulous author ensures we get more fabulous stories.
The winner must post a review of the novel someplace. Whether it is on their own blog, Amazon, GoodReads, LibraryThing or wherever, it doesn’t matter. Just help get the word out.
The contest will stay open until October 11th at which time I’ll determine the winner with help from the snazzy new plug-in I have.
I have not been contacting winners, so you will need to check back to see if you’ve won.