Friday, December 28, 2012

AMA: Answers Part FINAL!

What a fun series this has been, and such great questions! I'll TOTALLY have to do this again soon, but for now, let's wrap up the year by wrapping up the questions,

the superhero princess said: Rachel, I'm curious about your thoughts on villains (a subject that fascinates me). Some of my favorite characters in film/literature are villains/anti-heroes (Loki, Gollum, and Snape come to mind) and I've always thought there were two (or more) types of villains (the sympathetic and the truly evil) -- what is some writing advice/general thoughts for creating a great villain? (How did you think about yours)
I've always felt that villains make the series. While protagonists labor under the onerous of being, while not necessarily good, at least redeemable, antagonists suffer no such restrictions. They are free to be as amazingly interesting and terrible and messed up as you could possibly imagine, often end up being everyone's favorite characters.

As I mentioned on day 1, I'm planning to do a big post about them soon. With that in mind, I'm not going to go into too much detail here, but to answer your question, here's a quick look into what I think about when I create a villain.

First off, I always craft villains and heroes as a matched set. Even if they don't know each other and are completely unrelated except for the fact that their goals conflict, you'll always get better villain/hero interactions if you think of them as being in relation to one another. I didn't do this with Eli and Renaud in The Spirit Thief and Renaud ended up being forgettable  However, I did do it with Josef and Coriano and I still get emails about that sneaky swordsman. I also did this with Eli and the Duke of Gaol, and I think OCD Edward is my favorite "mini-boss" of the series.

So I try to develop villains and heroes together, focusing on how they relate, how they play off each other, and how they will ultimately come into conflict. The better they fit, and the more interesting both characters become.

This relationship also determines what favor of villain I'm after. Roughly speaking, villains come in two types: redeemable and irredeemable. Redeemable doesn't mean the character has to "turn good," just that you can see how they could if given the right chance/motivation. Irredeemable villains on the other hand are completely beyond hope and actively delight in their villainy. Redeemable villains tend to be more sympathetic and deep, but irredeemable villains tend to be more fun.

For my money, the best villains are the ones that could be heroes themselves if only they'd stop being so ruthless/stubborn/proud/etc. That one moment when the villain and hero face each other and you can just see how, if things had been different, they could have been allies, that is character GOLD. Snape had this in spades, and I think that's why everyone stuck by him/loved him so relentlessly.

But as deep and complex as a redeemable villain can be, unrepetent evil is its own special kind of blast. For example, Maleficent is one of my favorite villains of all time even though she had next to no development beyond "looks cool, says awesome stuff, turns into bitching dragon." For a story as simple as Sleeping Beauty, that's all you really needed. For a more complex (and hilarious) example of this type, I point to my other favorite evil lady, Yzma!

Black hearted villains are often much more straight forward characters than the ones who are simply misunderstood or wrong minded. Their ability to captivate readers comes from tapping into our power fantasies rather than our sympathies. Using a simple villain like this can give you a lot more room in your story to focus on your heroes, but you do have to be careful not to make your villain TOO simple lest they end up a cackling evil stereotype instead of a character.

This is the most The absolute most important thing to remember when creating a villain is that you aren't creating an antagonistic force of conflict, you're creating a character. Your villain should be every bit as developed as your other MCs, even if they don't get much page time. They need their own goals and motivations and circumstances. Their actions should make sense to THEM, even if they don't make sense to anyone else. Most importantly, your villain should have a life outside of their villainy and an end game that reaches past the protagonist's story. In short, they need to act like a real person, not like a roving wall that only exists to block your protags.

Again, more on this later when I can get my thoughts more in order!

Anonymous said: Are there any fun facts about any of the main characters that didn't make it into the books?
Yes! The biggest one was that Miranda originally had a love interest. He was a wizard baker in Zarin whose shop she frequented when she was in town and he had a huge crush on her but she was too busy to notice (though her spirits did). I always meant to write him in, both as some cute non-duty related character stuff for Miranda and to show how normal, non-Spirit Court, non-crazy wizards lived their lives (he made happy bread in a bakery full of awakened equipment), but I just never got the chance. I can't even remember his name now actually, poor fellow.

Other tidbits include outing Alber Whitefall as gay and the fact that he has a long running antagonism with the series's other old queen, Giuseppe Monpress. I didn't get to do nearly as much as I wanted with these guys! Also, Morticime Kant's name was a giant set up for a joke I never got to make. See, when Illir revealed himself as Morticime Kant, author of those horribly inaccurate books on wizardry, Miranda was supposed to sputter something like "you can't do that!" to which Eli would answer "Looks like Morticime CAN!" and it would have been terrible and hilarious. Alas, the scene never worked out, so now you lucky people are the only ones to know the true extent of Eli's terrible puns.
Laura Stephenson said: I'm with OathBreaker wanting to know if you plan on writing a book with dragons. They're my favorite fantasy element, and I think you could make them appropriately sardonic and full of themselves.
Did you see my answer to him in Part 2? Yeah, I can't wait to show you peeps my dragon series. It's going to be an ensemble cast story like Eli, but near future, cyber punky Urban Fantasy with dragons and awesome. A hot mess of badassery, in other words. Of course, I have to write it first, and sell it, but if I can manage to work it out OMG it's going to be so amazing. Snarky dragons will reign forever!

And finally, I have two questions about Eli's sexuality that I'm going to answer together. HOWEVER! Since the answers delve deep into Eli's upbringing, I can't help but make them EXTREMELY SPOILERIFIC. So, to protect those of you who don't like to be randomly spoiled, I'm hiding the rest under a cut. Read on at your own peril!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

AMA: Answers part deux!

Lying in bed recovering from the Christmas hauling/mauling and a sinus infection and slightly high on cough syrup, let's answer some questions! (Note: All the following answers are cherry flavored. For those of you who prefer the green Nyquil, apologies.)

To business!
Jessi said: I was one of those wrimos who constantly posted on the NaNoWriMo forum. I've come to bother you, yet again :P 
Almost done with book 3 of Eli. Did you know that some of this big world building stuff was going to come together the way that they do when The Spirit Thief was still in the works? I started reading Spirit Thief before the 4th and 5th came out, and I can see how awesomely epic The Spirit Eater acts on it's own within a trilogy. Im excited to see where 4 and 5 go from here! 
How many rewrites does it take for you to reach the point where the story really starts to cinch together, and the writing doesnt feel like gobbledygook? I'm on a second rewrite, and after moving around time, things are working quite nicely.
Thanks for doing this!
Thank you for helping me out of a bind! (Seriously, writing things people actually want answered? SO MUCH EASIER than coming up with stuff on my own!)

I'm so glad you'r enjoying The Spirit Eater! Nico has a very special place in my heart, though it took me much longer to get a feel for her than for my other characters, mostly because she was so quiet and Eli was the opposite of quiet. To answer your question, you got me. While I always knew the general meta plot of the Eli series, Book 3 was where everything really started coming together. Before I was always hinting at larger things, but Spirit Eater was where I had to start actually ponying up on those promises, which meant I, as the author, now had to know exactly what I was doing.

Looking back, I consider The Spirit Eater as my trial by fire. It was where I first realized just how absurdly ambitious I was being, first saw the enormous scope of the work ahead. Honestly, it scared the shit out of me. I was absolutely convinced this was it. I was going to mess this up and everyone would finally realize I was a hack who didn't know what she was doing. I was also pregnant, and the combination of dread and hormones was murderous.

But I didn't have a choice. I had a contract, I had to write this book. More than that, I owed Eli and everyone else this story I'd dreamed of for so long. So I did it. I wrote and rewrote and pretty much forced myself to figure everything out. Spirit Eater was the fourth book I ever finished, but in many ways it felt like the first because by the time it was over, I felt like I'd really mastered a book for the first time.

So to answer your question, no. I didn't know how it would all come together when I was writing Spirit Thief, only that it would. By the end of Spirit Eater, however, I knew EXACTLY how Eli's story ended, and I used that knowledge to go back and make changes in the first two books that tied everything together. This was one of those times where the slow pace of publishing works out in the author's favor!

To answer your second question: one of the things I say a lot (I mean, a lot a lot, to the point where my husband finishes the sentence for me) is "the book gets written in the second draft." As we all know by now, I am an obsessive planner, but despite my best efforts, my first drafts are still giant messes. True, some are messier than others, but they're all F'ed up to some degree. This is perfectly natural. Every general knows that no plan survives the first encounter with the enemy.

This used to really bother me, but after much gnashing of teeth I finally realized that a first draft is exactly that: a first try. It's the place where you discover exactly how and why all those awesome plans fall apart. By the time I'm ready to do the second draft, however, I understand where things went wrong (since, thanks to all that planning, I actually know what I was trying to do). Because of this (and because of my extremely thorough editing process), nearly all of my books gel completely by the end of draft 2. Everything after that is fiddling with subtleties.

Of course, it's taken me many books to reach this point, but I swear you will reach it. We talk about craft a lot, but really, most of story telling is just applied problem solving. Learning how to solve your novel, to make everything click, is just as vital and hard as learning to craft a sentence or create a character. But with practice, patience, and the steadfast belief that there is a story worth telling buried under all that gobbledygook, you can make it work. Remember, in the world of your story, you are god. It is impossible for you to make a mess so huge you can not solve it. You just have to be patient, clever, and unyielding  and everything will work itself out. Scout's honor.
OathBreaker said: 1) Now that your finished? Is there anything you would change about an Eli book? Put in, take out. Give a character more page time?
2) If you were to or have written a dragon story. What kind of dragon would it be? Friendly, neutral, hostile. Color? Scaled or unscaled? Fire breather or somthing else?
3) I asked you about Warcraft once but I'm curious what other universe you'd like to write in?
1) The only real changes I'd make are both for the Spirit Thief. First, I'd make Renaud less cackling evil and the plot less predicable. Hey, what can I say, it was the second novel I'd ever written! The other change I'd make is I'd give Nico more page time. She's almost a shadow in book 1, and while that's perfectly in character for her, I really should have shown more. As I mentioned in the question above, I didn't understand Nico very well then. I should have spent more time with her. Oh, I also would have brought Sparrow in a bit earlier. Otherwise, though, I'm very happy with how everything worked out!

2) As it so happens, I AM working on a dragon story right now. An AWESOME one that I will be writing ASAP. My dragons are feathered and come in a lovely variety of colors. They are also beautiful, confusing, complex creatures who have adjusted... poorly to the modern world. Poor darlings have issues. I love them to pieces and I hope ya'll will too! But it's far too early to say more (books aren't even written, so much can change), so I'll just leave it at that.

3) I would give a kidney to write a new series of Shadowrun novels. I'm a huge fan of the SR mythos and universe, but the novels are AWFUL. I can write much better ones (have, in fact, GMed much better ones). Catalyst, CALL ME!

As you mentioned, I would also dearly love to write a WoW novel, though the Warcraft Lore is so convoluted now I don't know if it could bear more iteration. Still, I have plans to build a mountain retreat named "Thrall's Rest" one day, so don't count me out completely. I would also write a bitchin' Starcraft novel, for the record.
GodOfLaundryBaskets said: What's your favorite scene from the Eli series? Why?
Arrrgh, don't make me chose! I really do adore them all, especially the ones at the end. Hmmm, well, in no particular order: I adored Miranda's scene in the Court in Spirit's End, also her big scene with the Lord of Storms. Any scene were Eli got to be a smart ass (so, like, all of his scenes). Writing Josef being the worst king ever was amazingly fun. When Nico would stand up for herself. Anything with Banage, Sarah, or Alber Whitefall (favorite line of Spirit War: "Banage will stand on his principles until they gnaw his legs off.") I also loved writing Benehime, trying to make her understandable and sympathetic even as I made her terrible.

So yeah, there's no hope. Whatever scene I'm thinking about at the time, I can probably come up with a reason why it should be my favorite. The truth is they're all my favorites, as it should be. No one should love my writing more than me!
Sophie Dean said: If you ever switched to realistic fiction, what would you write about?
Oooh, good question. Hmmm, well, I'm not really a fan of realistic fiction, so don't have many story ideas for it. Honestly, whatever I did would probably end up having some kind of fantastical element. I just can't seem to not add magic to things. If I did end up doing something realistic--our world, no magic, no science fiction-- I'd probably try to write a smart, brutal romantic thriller in the Salt vein (though not quite so dark). But the chances are slim, there's way too much awesome fantasy/UF/SF to work on first!

**The next question/answers contains SPOILERS for the end of the series! You have been warned!**
Anonymous said: What's next for Nico? Where does her relationship with Josef go from here?
Confession: this question made me squee just a bit. Oh boy, Nico and Josef. Well, they end up happy, though it takes them a stupid long time to finally confess that they actually like like each other because Nico is so shy and Josef is... Josef. Personal relationships aren't exactly his forte.

Still, can you imagine either of them ever giving the other up? Of course not! They find a way forward. Maybe they get married, maybe they just give Osera to someone more responsible and run away to raise a bunch of of very weird, violent, but loving children. The point is they're happy and together. Forever. And Eli will just have to get used to feeling like a third wheel. Fortunately, he's too conceited to ever consider himself as such.

** Spoilers end! You may resume reading!**
Alex Omega: Here's one a bit off the wall: How did you manage to keep your Eli-verse characters from cursing?
My WIP is intended to be in the lighter-hearted vein, like Eli (or actually like Salvatore's early Drizzt novels). However, I find some of my characters are, um, pottymouths. 
Wouldn't be a problem if I were writing dark fantasy, but I'm aiming for something my soon-to-be 10 year old can read without Dad giving him the thumbs-up on using profanity. How did Eli and company wind up being PG-rated?
It wasn't easy. I'm very foul mouthed in real life. The decision not to curse in Eli was one I made very early and very consciously precisely because I wanted my books to be accessible to anyone who wanted to read them. I wanted my series to be the sort you could recommend or lend to anyone without fear of offending. Part of this was marketing, why limit your audience? But mostly I also wanted a book I could safely give to my kid some day without being held back by a bit of language. In all five books, I say the word "bitch" once, but otherwise nothing.

I got around the cursing angle in two ways. First, I used substitute curse words, the delightfully English but still very PG "bloody" and my own creation, "Powers," which also served as world building. Mostly, though, I just had my characters express their displeasure in other ways. This was good, because more often than not in writing, cursing is a crutch, a way to easily show your character's emotional state without actually having to show it. By making the conscious decision not to curse in Eli, I forced myself to be clever, and ultimately I think it served the novels well.

This isn't to say that cursing can't be part of characterization. In the series I'm writing now, which has a first person POV, my main character is a mercenary. Cursing is like breathing for her, part of her unvarnished, unrefined, aggressive charm. It's also something others gripe at her for. Instead of being a crutch, cursing is something I have her use as a form of creative expression, and I've worked really hard to make her dirty language hilarious in its own right. (She's a creative curser.)

I guess it really comes down to why are you characters cursing so much? Is it their environment? Their upbringing? Is cursing part of your character's voice? If so, then I'd hesitate to cut it, especially if you're writing fantasy for a mature audience instead of a young one. However, if your characters are cursing because you can't think of anything else for them to say, that would be a problem that you should probably think long and hard about.

And whew, I think that's it for tonight! I'll answer the last set tomorrow, but if you have something for me, you can leave it on the original thread. Thank you again for all the lovely blog post fodder, and I hope you're enjoying this Holiday Q&A!

- R

Friday, December 21, 2012

AMA: Answers part 1!

Wow, you folks are AWESOME! What great questions! Let's get started!

WARNING: Some of these contain very slight spoilers for the Eli series. Nothing big enough to put under a cut, but if haven't read past book 3 and/or are very sensitive to spoilers, you might want to exercise caution!

All good? Onward!
Paul WeimerWhat kind of genre fiction do you like to read for pleasure, Rachel? What is your favorite book you read this year? What sort of non fiction inspires you and your writing? Can you divorce the art of analyzing the craft when you read a book? 
I've always been a wide ranging reader, and since I've started writing, I've tried to reach even further. For non-fiction, I love research heavy sociological books like A Billion Wicked Thoughts: What the Internet Tells Us About Sexual Relationships (fascinating!) as well as lyrical non-fiction like The World Without Us, which (for the record) is one of the most beautiful and thought provoking books I've ever read.

For fiction, I love fantasy (duh), especially glorious epic fantasy, though I don't like really dark fantasy (bad people doing bad things for no good reason is an automatic put down for me). It's not that I hate excessive violence or gritty realism per se, I just tend to prefer lighter stories and happy endings. There's enough misery in the real world.

I also love romances, both of the paranormal variety and Regencies, Urban Fantasy, and weird, beautiful lit fic by people like Lynda Barry and Jeff Noon. My favorite authors whom I will never write like include Sarah Monette, China Mieville, and Margaret Atwood. And to balance out all that literary pretension, my favorite series of all time at the moment is Immortals After Dark by Kresley Cole. Regin the Radiant is my spirit animal.

As to the "can I turn off my writer brain long enough to enjoy a book" part of the question, the answer is... no. There is no off switch for the writer. I am constantly analyzing books to see how other authors put them together, and for the most, that's a good thing. I find all kinds of new tricks to steal! Sometimes, though, it can be annoying, but really, if the story's good enough, I get swept anyway. I have read some truly AWFUL books just because I loved the characters and wanted to know what happened. This is because, while I can never turn the writer brain off, my reader brain is by far the stronger influence, forcing me to stay up to unholy hours of the night finishing even badly constructed books because MUST KNOW WHAT HAPPENS!
ElizabethDid you write Eli as a morally grey character on purpose or did he just more or less present that way? Miranda seems to be the only.character that really balances out Eli's grey morals. Do you think the story would have been really different if their morals were reversed?
I love this question! You are exactly right when you say that Miranda balances Eli, because that's what I created her to do. From the very beginning, Miranda was meant to be the cop to Eli's robber, the hammer of iron clad responsibility to help remind him that he is actually a good person and make him do the responsible thing.

Eli came into my head fully formed, but that doesn't mean I didn't spend a lot of time figuring out exactly how he ticked. One of Eli's biggest struggles is his natural affinity for rule breaking (a direct result of his overly strict childhood courtesy of Banage) warring with his deep inner moral compass which, to his dismay, seems firmly planted on good. Eli wants to be outside the system, to steal from fools and ride high at the expense of a society he sees as overbearing and silly. He wants to do what he wants and is a fairly selfish person. But selfish people aren't always bad, and when push comes to shove, Eli always does the right thing. Miranda's role in the series is to be that shove. Without that dynamic, or even if it was reversed, I don't think the series would have been a quarter as much fun.

J. Leigh BralickWhen you wrote the Eli Monpress books, did you have all the interweaving threads that would pull together in book five identified at the very beginning? I just finished it (and ADORED it...and am working on my review!!), and am stunned and amazed and in awe of your genius at how you wove in these little elements throughout the whole series rather on-the-sly like, and then at the end they all came together in jaw-dropping brilliance. 

So I wanted to know if some of them kind of poked their heads out in the last book and waved their arms and said, "Hey, don't forget about me!" or if you knew all along that they were important. :D
Thank you so much for the kind words! And yes, I did have most everything planned out pretty early. The details came later, but the general tangle of relationships and meta plot was there in essence almost from the start and cemented by the time I finished Spirit Eater.

This isn't to say a lot of plot threads didn't suddenly pop up and scream "YOU FORGOT ME!" all through the series (Oh god, they did) but because of my publication schedule (the first three books came out in three months at the end of 2010) I was able to go back and plant seeds in the first two books while I finished the third. This was PRICELESS. Without the ability to go back and put fix things like I did, the series wouldn't have been nearly as complex.

Even though I've written 6 books since I finished Spirit's End, I consider pulling off the end of the Eli series as the highest achievement as a writer to date. I've never wanted anything to work as much as that final book, and the fact that you and others think it does makes me want to sing for joy. Part of me is terrified I'll never be able to pull off a balancing act ike this again (the Eli series was its own breed of magical unicorn for me in a lot of ways), but then, at the time, I didn't think I'd ever make Eli work either. Just goes to show you never know what you can do unless you reach for it.
BGI think you said you were planning to write about antagonists. I'm interested in reading what you have to say about that.
I still intend to do a big post about bad guys (and not so bad guys) in the future, so I'm going to hold off on getting into this too deep. The basic gist, though, is that the villain is the other half of your story. The heroes drive the story, but the antagonist drives the conflict. Boring villains make for boring books, but since your villains don't get nearly as much page time as the MCs, making them interesting or even sympathetic requires some pretty clever writing.

One of my favorite sayings is "every villain is the hero of their own story." This was why I softened Benehime instead of making her just plain crazy evil. In her mind, she was the victim and she deserved freedom and happiness, and really, she did, she just went about it all wrong. Methodology is often the only thing keeping a villain from being a hero. The ends don't justify the means.

For example, in my new series, one of the antagonists is working toward an unarguably greater good. If circumstances were different, he would be one of the heroes, but he isn't, because to get to that greater good he ruthlessly stepped on others and caused enormous suffering. This was a line I drew. I could have easily justified his unsavory actions to the reader just like the character did in his own mind. But I didn't, because I was trying to make a point.

These are the sort of things you can do as an artist when you start really digging into and using your villain role. There is such a huge breadth of moral complexity and depth in the way we frame who is a protagonist vs. who is an antagonist. Everyone can hate a cackling evil villain. It's easy, nothing is challenged  But when your antagonist is a reasonably good person does bad things in pursuit of a greater end, or who was forced to do bad things by terrible circumstance, then the reader has to think. You're forcing them to use their own moral judgement along with your protagonist to figure out what really is the right thing to do, and that right there is where the book hooks in deep.

So there's a teaser! I'll be doing a much more thought out and in depth post on this in the weeks to come.

WyndesWhy do authors make their blogs hard to read by putting white text on a black background? I know that sounds facetious, but it seriously is a question that I'd love the answer to. I get why designers do it -- hey, it looks cool -- but it impairs readability dramatically, making it harder for every person with astigmatism (50% of the population!) to read the words. It seems like such a strange choice for the people who should care about the words first. I write this as someone who is seriously considering changing a title because I can't find a capital "C" that I like, so it's not like I don't understand putting design first. I just don't get why so many writers do it.
I'm afraid the short answer to this is: I like it. My eyes are very sensitive to light and I find reading white text on a black screen much easier than dealing with a glaring white or patterned background. That said, as an author who was a graphic designer and has an astigmatism, I'm deeply sympathetic to your plight. If it really bothers you, my suggestion would be read the blogs that give you trouble on an RSS reader (there's a link to my feed on the sidebar marked FEED ME RAWR!) where you have complete control over the color scheme. I personally like Google Reader, but there are many lovely free readers to choose from. Sorry for the eye pain!

And that's it for today! Again, thank you for the amazing questions, y'all really saved my blogging bacon! I'll be getting to the rest next week. Until then, if you have a question you'd like to add to the pot, please feel free to leave it on the original post.

<3 Rachel

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Ask Me Anything!

Sorry about the sudden dearth of blog posts. The dry spell is a combination of family health problems (nothing too serious, just frustrating), a looming deadline and my seeming inability to figure out the right ending for this book (plotted ending looked great on paper, but now that I'm in it, many problems have appeared and solving those problems is proving very frustrating), plus a simple lack of anything really to say.

SO, since I hate an empty blog, I'm opening up the floor to you lovely people. If you have any questions about Eli, writing, publishing, or which dessert is the BEST dessert (flan, hands down) I will answer it. (FUN FACT: the first time I wrote the sentence above, I wrote "which desert is the BEST desert?" and the answer to that is the Taklamakan Desert in Western China. Come on! Its name means "you go in, but you don't come out" and it has sand dunes the size of mountains.)

Anyway, is this a lazy way to get out of thinking up my own blog subjects? Absolutely! Do I feel shame? NONE! So ask away, and if you'd like to see me answering some other questions, please check out my (seven page!) NaNoWriMo thread.

Answers go up this week and next week if I overflow. As always, thanks for reading!

- R

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Official Rules for Daggerback

Sorry I've been away so long! I'm finishing up a book and that always makes me more hobbit-like than usual (why yes, I DO live in a hole in the ground! It's cozy, and there's tea.) But, since some people have been asking, I'm popping up to do a post with the official rules of Daggerback!

For those of you scratching your heads, Daggerback is the gambling card game Eli likes to kick Josef's butt at. This isn't Josef's fault since the skills required to be good at Daggerback are a head for percentages and the ability to bluff, both of which are areas where Eli has him beat. (Really, Josef should probably just stop playing, but he's too competitive to ever say no.)

A Daggerback deck consists of the following:

4 Kings, worth 2 points
4 Queens, worth 3 points
6 Wizards, worth 4 points
8 Knights, worth 5 points
and, of course, the three trump cards, the Hunter, the Weaver, and the Shepherdess, which are worth 1 point each.

Just like in Hearts or Gin Rummy (my favorite card game), lowest hand wins in Daggerback. Hands are played thusly:

At the beginning, everyone puts their beginning ante into the pot in the center. Once everyone's put in their money, the dealer deals everyone two cards, one face up, two face down. Once everyone has their cards, the play begins in earnest.

Since everyone has one card visible and one card hidden, players try to bluff each other on their hidden card. For example, in The Spirit Thief, Eli knew Josef's hand couldn't be any good because he was showing a knight, the worst card. But, Eli being Eli, he wheedled Josef into bidding higher than he should have. This bidding stage is also where players who know they have low hands can choose to fold and forfeit their initial bid.

This first round of bidding only goes around once. Once everyone has thrown in, the dealer deals the final cards and the final round of bidding begins. Unlike the first bids, which were capped at one per player, this second round of bidding continues until all players are done. It can go on for a while, especially if you end up with two players who both think they have winning hands.

Players must keep bidding to stay in the game, either matching or raising the bid before theirs. If they can't, they fold and forfeit everything they've put in. If none of the players can match a bid or if all players agree that enough's enough, the bidding ends and everyone shows their cards. The hand with the lowest total points is the winner and gets the pot.

So, as you see, not a complicated game. The hands are fast and the rules are simple, making it a favorite among the caravaners and bar room types, especially since all the cards use pictures meaning  you don't have to be able to read to play (a big concern back before the Council of Thrones improved literacy rates).Naturally, no one of any money or breeding would be caught dead playing Daggerback, which is part of why Eli loves it so much. That, and it's a bluffing game. It was practically made for him! (The fact that the deck is small enough to fit in his pocket doesn't hurt either, Eli has a highly mobile lifestyle).

And that's Daggerback! Of course, I'm an author, not a game maker. I created Daggerback as a way of slipping the three Powers in early and to show the Eli group's dynamic. With this in mind, I can't vouch for Daggerback being a good game, but if you want to fleece a Josef of your own, now you know how.

For the record, it is totally possible to create your own Daggerback deck out of two decks of playing cards, so if you give the game a try, let me know! Also, if of you are game theory fans who can think of a way to make the game more interesting without changing the cannon rules that appear in the novels, please let me know.

Final note: a huge shout out is due to StellarFour who did an amazing review of Spirit's End! I am blushing, I am! Thank you everyone who helped launch Spirit's End with a bang!