The Sharp End of the Stick

Please enjoy this full disclosure: My favorite webcomic is running a contest and I’m entering this blog post in hopes that flattery will get me everywhere.

A few years ago, a friend of mine made an incredibly fateful, off-hand remark. He mentioned a podcast called Writing Excuses.

Within days I was completely hooked and felt like my practical knowledge of writing had been tripled. The podcast was (and continues to be) better than any writing class I’ve ever taken or book I’ve ever read on the subject. Seriously.

One of the things that made the podcast so unique was the regular inclusion of a webcartoonist. I’m sure I thought something like, “What could this joker provide besides punchlines and coloring advice?”

While it’s true that Howard is constantly on the giving and receiving end of jokes (most of them scalp or pants related), he’s brought much more than that to the table.

I became so invested in the podcast that I wanted to experience the writing that Brandon, Dan, and Howard had to offer. I jumped right into the Schlock Mercenary webcomic at the beginning of Book 8, the “Sharp End of the Stick.” (It’s nowhere near as racy as that first comic makes it sound, and if it seems like it jumps into the middle of the story, that’s very much the “point” [bada chsh), keep reading). I enjoyed it so much that I’ve read the archived chapters and kept up on it ever since.

What does this have to do with anything? Howard and Sandra (his wife and business-savvy partner) are currently taking pre-orders for the printed copy of “Sharp End of the Stick.” The thing I admire most about Howard and Sandra, is their [insert crude analogy] bravery. They give their art away for free and ask for support in return. This seems at first glance to be a terrible business model but they apparently do alright.

The second thing I admire most about Howard and Sandra is their determination to give back to the community. I’ve experienced this firsthand both with Writing Excuses and when Howard was a good enough sport to jump on a sci-fi panel with me at Dragon*Con 2011, despite being exhausted from the whole weekend. In an effort to give back to these givers back, I’m happy to help spread the word about the comic and the pre-orders.

Because it was the first storyline that I read, and because Howard’s efforts to pay it forward in the artistic community have had such a deep impact on my life, the “Sharp End of the Stick” will always be stuck in my heart.




PS Howard’s brilliant style of punchline-meets-story-progression directly inspired the way Bree and I are working on the Equal Opportunity Adventurers Guild. You can see some of Bree’s efforts by clicking on the “Concept Art” link above.

I’ve Won a Contest!

At the beginning of February, a whole slew of authors and other creative types held a contest called Crossing the Streams (apparently a Ghostbuster reference).

The author whose contest I won was Howard A. Jones, author of The Desert of Souls. He asked the entrants to to detail their favorite character from fiction. My response was this:

My favorite fictional character of all time is Pug, from Raymond E. Feist’s Riftwar Saga. My favoritism for Pug has less to do with literary merit and everything to do with intense personal feelings.

After my mother read me The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, The Riftwar Saga was the first Epic Fantasy I remember tackling on my own. To me, Pug’s transformation from orphaned kitchen boy to squire and then slave to magician is the quintessential hero’s journey. At that age, clichés didn’t exist for me, only characters and places that took my breath away and tugged at my imagination.

I still pull out The Riftwar Saga and read it from time to time. When I read about Pug, I can feel the enjoyable discomfort of reading a book up in a tree on a summer day. I get a little of the giddy triumph that comes so easily to children and so arduously to adults.

Pug is endeared to me for another reason; he never ends up with the girl he desperately loves in the beginning of the saga. When I read about Pug and Princess Carline, I can still smell the shampoo used by the first girl I ever kissed. Not that I long for her, but that I’m sometimes nostalgic for the furious jumble of adolescent emotion that makes us reach for things like science fiction and fantasy to make sense of the world. I suppose I’m something like the mighty sorcerer, Milamber. Wherever we go in life, whatever we become, we’ll always carry a little bit of a kitchen boy named Pug.

Here’s an excerpt from the email Howard sent me after the contest:

Hi Michael,

You’re one of the winners of the contest I held, because I thought your answer was the most heartfelt of all those I received, and among the best written besides.

Warm Regards,


Within a couple of weeks, Howard will send me a free copy of The Desert of Souls which was on my reading list anyway. The free book is nice, but the chance to interact so positively with a professional author was the real prize.

WotF at the buzzer…wait, I already used a title like that…

The deadline for the Writers of the Future 1st Quarter of 2012 was last Saturday. I did get my story in on time, only a few hours before midnight.

The tragic thing is that I finished that story in mid November. Then I sent it to my readers with no real deadline to respond. Then I got busy with the Holidays. Then I realized that it was due at the end of the weak and I quickly gathered what responses I could from my readers just in time to edit, polish, tear apart, and rebuild my story in time to turn it in.

So far my goal to turn in a story every three months is intact.