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January 2010:
Whether the Weather
Posted by JVJ @ 8:05 am
Jan 30th : 2010
Strange weather happening here this week. On Tuesday it was 54F and all the snow melted in a couple of hours. Lawns were uncovered. Creeks rose. Then yesterday, as I was working, the house got very dark and very quiet. A few minutes later snow began to fall. Heavily. Within five minutes the yard looked like this. Now, this morning, the temperature is a bitterly cold 5F (-10C). With a windchill factor in effect it feels like ten degrees below that. I’m not going out there. No way.
Hediondo is Spanish for smelly
Posted by JVJ @ 6:09 am
Jan 29th : 2010
Dogs the world over love to be told they’re smelly. I know it. You know it. They know it. Even when the dogs in question are Spanish-speaking Costa Rican doggies and you’re speaking English, doggies get your drift. Here I am telling one of the three doggies I picked up on a beach in Esterillos just how smelly he is. Judging by how hard his tail was wagging, he understood and appreciated the comment.
Thar be Monsters
Posted by JVJ @ 6:02 am
Jan 28th : 2010
My current gaming obsession is PixelJunk’s Monsters. It’s simple (you only need to use two button on the controller), yet deeply satisfying. You build towers to defend your nest of birdies from monsters. Build the wrong kind of towers and the monsters make it through to the nest and your birdies get the bird. I’ve stayed awake many nights this month building arrow towers, mortar towers, fire towers, lightning towers and hives (I know, a hive’s not a tower but it has awesome bat-like out-fliers that can boomerang-kill the enemy). I need to keep my birdies alive.
Hot Women, Cold Ice
Posted by JVJ @ 6:05 am
Jan 27th : 2010
Here they are, the fierce women of Sword of Shadows. Don’t mess with them. They’re armed. They have serious attitudes and fearless wardrobe choices. Be afraid, be very afraid.
First Look
Posted by JVJ @ 6:14 am
Jan 26th : 2010
Here’s the first look at the UK cover art for Watcher of the Dead. It depicts the same setting and the same two main characters as the US covert art. Two artists, two different interpretations. Wonderful and interesting. So, who is the woman in the fierce steel breastplate? No, I couldn’t possibly say. The illustration was painted by David Wyatt. Check out his website for more wonderful and fantastic art.
Sometimes you have to sit on 1,300 year-old steps
Posted by JVJ @ 10:18 pm
Jan 24th : 2010
Cenote Snorkeling
Posted by JVJ @ 7:35 pm
Jan 23rd : 2010
A cenote (pronounced sen-OTAY) is a sinkhole filled with groundwater. The word is Mayan for well. The land surrounding Tulum, Mexico is pockmarked with them. Some cenotes lie in the open, and you come upon them in the jungle. They have rocky edges, crystal clear water, and sheer and breathtaking drops. They form part of vast subterranean rivers that underlay much of the province of Quinta Roo. When I went there for a couple of days in September, I visited Dos Ojas, a cave cenote. I snorkeled under vast candelabras of stalactites, and floated over chasms so deep and black they looked as if they led to other worlds.
Watcher Watch
Posted by JVJ @ 6:40 pm
Jan 22nd : 2010
As there’s only a couple of months before the publication of Book IV in the Sword of Shadows series, I thought we’d better get started with some information. So without further ado here we go.
  • Watcher of the Dead will be published simultaneously in the US, UK/Australia on April 14th.
  • The story picks up about twenty days after the final events in A Sword From Red Ice, with Raif in possession of the sword named Loss.
  • Watcher will feature an updated “Story So Far” section, where you can quickly catch up on the action. Crunching the events of the previous three books into seven pages was quite challenging, but I think there’s sufficient information to refresh the memories of returning readers and bring new ones up to speed.
  • I cut an entire storyline from the book. We’ll call the character featured in the storyline “Mystery X”. She’s someone you’re familiar with and someone you’ll be hearing from in Book V. However, the storyline you’ll read in Book V will be different than the one I wrote for Book IV. Why? The best answer I can give is a series is dynamic. One character's actions effect others. What made sense at the beginning of Book IV made less sense toward the end.
  • With the fourth book in the series, Sword of Shadows has now exceeded 1,000,000 words.
Posted by JVJ @ 5:06 pm
Jan 21st : 2010
Here’s the snow falling yesterday in the back woods, great big flakes as pretty as can be. The second photo is from a few weeks back, when I watched three deer pick their way across the yard. They’re nervous little creatures, fey and otherworldly. As I raised my hand to take this photo, they froze for an instant, turned their heads toward me, then fled.
The Elusive Everton Falls
Posted by JVJ @ 6:24 pm
Jan 20th : 2010
Get yourself a good, large-scale map of the Adirondack Park in Upstate New York and you may, if you look hard enough and long enough, see a tiny street marked “Everton Road”. The road runs parallel to County Highway 14 for a while, a couple of miles east of the town of St. Regis Falls. In September, I headed there. I’d heard rumor there was not only an Everton Road, but an Everton Falls too. Could this be true? Could Everton FC have its very own waterfall?

I didn’t want to get my hopes up. The drive north was long and winding. Everton Road works hard at being elusive. Was I on Red Tavern Rd, County Highway 14, or Everton Rd? No signs existed to guide me. There was a river running parallel to the road which seemed promising. After all, you can’t have a waterfall without water. Finally, as I drove past a T junction, I spotted a brown-and-gold sign. Not exactly Everton’s colors, but Everton’s name was printed boldly on its face none-the-less. I stopped the car. “This must be documented,” I told myself. “This is huge.”

Further investigation led me to a car parked about half a mile down the road. The vehicle boasted Canadian plates (I was a mere 15 miles from the border). As I approached the car on foot, I witnessed the return of its driver and passenger. “Nice falls,” the couple said in greeting, emerging from the brush at the side of the road. “How far?” I asked tersely, betraying just how much I wanted this. “About five minutes down the path,” came the reply. “Everton Falls?” I pressed. The couple shrugged. They were on vacation. They hadn’t grown up supporting Everton FC. What did they care?

I took the hike. It was short. The falls themselves were shallow and broad with about a twelve feet drop. Here I am at the top of them, on the dam. Are these the elusive Everton Falls? Judge for yourself. Evidence would suggest so, but I cannot categorically state this as empirical fact. One day I’ll return for the rematch.
It’s a jungle out there
Posted by JVJ @ 5:52 pm
Jan 19th : 2010
Here I am in November in the rainforest. Costa Rica has wonderful national parks. That day I saw this little fellow below--a three-toed sloth--two types of monkey, a deer and lots of wonderful birds.
Tessa from The Barbed Coil
Posted by JVJ @ 1:29 pm
Jan 17th : 2010
This lovely creature is Tessa from The Barbed Coil as shown on the new French edition of La Peinture de Sang (The Painting of Blood). It shows Tessa running along the causeway as the tide closes in from both sides.
Watcher Excerpt
Posted by JVJ @ 2:43 pm
Jan 16th : 2010
         Raif Sevrance returned from the deerhunt to find the lamb brothers breaking up camp. A sharp wind cutting from the east pushed the men’s dark robes against their longbones. The rising sun shone along the same path as the wind, creating shadows that blew from the brothers like sand off dunes.

         Four of the five tents had already been reduced to skeletons. Hides and guideropes had been stowed. The corral was still standing, but the mules and the ewe had been strung on nooselines and led to graze. Frost had grown overnight on the tough winter rye, yet the lamb brothers’ animals knew enough about hardship to take their meals where they found them. Warmer temperatures during the day had melted most of the surrounding ground snow, but lenses of ice were still fixed between the rocks.

         Raif approached camp from the forested headland to the east. He’d opened and drained the deer carcass, but he could still smell its blood. It was a yearling. In a moonless hour past midnight he’d found her stealing milk from her dam. Her mother had just given birth and by rights the milk was for the newborn. The yearling had other ideas, and kept butting aside her younger brother to get to the udder and the rich green milk leaking from the teats. It had been a difficult kill. Three hearts beating in close proximity. Raif had known straight away which animal he wanted--the newborn and the dam were not for him--and he had been forced to wait under cover of a stand of hemlock until his target moved clear of the group. He had thought about taking the shot when the yearling stood directly in front of the dam. Part of him had wanted to test himself. See if he could skewer two hearts with one arrow. Yet if he killed the dam he’d have to kill the newborn--it wouldn’t survive a day without milk or protection--and one man without horse or cart could not bring back three kills.

         You kill it, you butcher it. Da’s words concerning hunting were law.

         What would Tem Sevrance make of his son now? What advice would he give to a man who could heart-kill any target he set in his sights? What laws governed Raif Twelve Kill, Watcher of the Dead?

         Resettling the butterflied carcass on his shoulders, Raif entered the camp. Tents had been raised twenty days earlier on new-cleared softwood. The stumps were still oozing pitch. Circles of matted yellow pine needles marked the former positions of the tents, and potholes of blackened earth told of longfires, cookfires and smoke pits. One of the lamb brothers was filling in the latrine. Another was using a long pole to unhook a slab of bear fat from the safe tree.

         Raif shivered. Waiting in the pines had chilled him. The air had been still in the early hours before dawn and the frost smoke had risen: white mist that switched between ice and vapor and then back again. Five hours later and he could still feel it cooling his burned skin. The damaged muscle in his chest had shrunk and stiffened, pulling on the sutures and creating tension between his ribs. The wound on his left shoulder, where the lamb brothers had drawn out the splinter of unmade horn, was healing in unexpected ways. The skin above the exit wound had knitted closed, but the wormhole underneath remained open. Raif doubted it would ever heal. He was not and would never be whole.

         All of us are missing something, Yustaffa had said that four months ago in the Rift. He had been talking about the Maimed Men and their practice of taking a pound of flesh from anyone seeking to join them--Raif himself had lost half a finger in one of their initiation ceremonies. Yet he now understood Yustaffa’s words went beyond physical damage. Maimed Men were outcasts, orphans, fugitives, runaways: they had a world of things to miss beyond flesh.

         Drey. Effie.

         Raif named his brother and sister in his head and then pushed all thoughts of them away. He had developed a sense about when it was safe to think of the people he loved, when it was possible to picture them in his mind without the pain of losing them. Today was not such a day.

         “Got yourself a pretty doe,” Addie Gunn called in greeting. The Maimed Man had led the ewe to the sole hardwood stump in the camp, and the creature was lipping the reservoir of hardened sap that had pooled on the flat surface. “Sheep like their sweeties,” Addie said, scratching the back of the ewe’s neck. “Milk’ll be like honey tonight.”

         Raif made no reply. Bending at the waist, he shucked off the yearling and let it fall to the ground. Her fawn spots were nearly gone and the white mating blaze on her rump was beginning to come in. She’d fallen with her eyes open--a steel arrowhead piercing the right ventricle of the heart rarely gave a creature time to do anything save die--and her gaze rested on a fixed point in the distance. Raif wondered if the point marked his position as he lifted his finger from the bowstring. Had she heard the soft twang of the recoil as the arrow shot toward her heart?

         Reaching down, he closed her eyelids. “We leave at noon.”

         Addie’s hand stilled on the ewe’s neck. He looked carefully at Raif before nodding.


The day I got chased by wild pigs
Posted by JVJ @ 2:33 pm
Jan 15th : 2010
I admit it, this is just a flimsy excuse for another waterfall shot. Here I am by an unnamed falls deep in the Costa Rican rainforest. Never, in my entire life, have I ever been as hot as I am in this photo. Dressed in waterproof rain-gear in hundred percent humidity, I hiked up a mountain to reach these falls. On the way down, I disturbed a pack of wild peccaries (pig-like creatures) in the bush. You see the red umbrella in the photo? That was my peccary repellant. To scare off the pigs, I opened the umbrella, suddenly appearing larger, redder and more dangerous than before. The peccaries fled and I completed my hike, another waterfall under my Steed-like belt.
Where The Spirits Carry You Away
Posted by JVJ @ 1:34 pm
Jan 14th : 2010

“They built the doorways low,” says Antonio, our guide, as we approach a Mayan ruin in the middle of the mangrove, “to force us to bow as we enter.” I bend at the waist and enter the center door of the temple. It’s cool and dim. Bats are roosting in the inner chamber. “It is a place of power,” Antonio murmurs. “Can you feel it?” I nod my head softly. I’m in Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, one of the largest protected areas in Mexico, and suddenly I believe in ghosts.
Three hours earlier, I’d arrived at a small office in the sleepy two-rode town of Tulum in Quintana Roo State. Time runs differently here. Printed schedules are regarded as admirable things, but no one expects to follow them. I wait, chatting to Miguel who is the reserve’s unofficial spokesman. Like all the people who work here, he is passionate about the environment. “We teach the local children how to preserve their land,” he tells me. “We show them how to retrieve hatchling turtles that have fallen to the bottom of the nest. Once you’ve saved a turtle you’re an environmentalist for life.”

Finally, we’re on our way, motoring along a road so dusty that the surrounding jungle is tan. We’re a small group, just six and our guide. The reserve is serious about conservation. We stop briefly in the midday heat to cool ourselves in a cenote, a sinkhole filled with shockingly cold water. I peer through the crystal clear depths and can’t see the bottom. The cenotes of Quintana Roo form a network of underground rivers and caves that stretch for miles. Much of it is still unexplored. As I walk away from the sinkhole, I imagine there are many places in Sian Ka’an where spirits can hide.

A brief trek through the jungle takes us from the Caribbean to the milky green waters of Lake Capechen, a freshwater lagoon fed by underground wells. We board a boat and our captain, an expert helmsman with the inscrutable expression of an Easter Island stone head, steers us into the heart of the mangrove. Ancient Mayans travelled these narrow channels, floating logs downstream, bringing skins and woven baskets to trade with seafarers from the East. It’s so quiet you can hear yourself breathe. A blue heron perched on a tree is so still that only his color gives him away. We find ourselves slowing down along with the birds, bending to the tide of this vast, wetland wilderness.

By the time we come upon the ruin, everyone in the boat is speaking in whispers. We alight onto a small dock and walk straight into the past. Perhaps it’s the sudden change from water to land that makes us lightheaded. Perhaps it’s the heat. Part of me wants to curl up in the temple’s inner chamber and sleep. This place is old and long-abandoned, but you can still see scraps of blue paint on its sun-bleached walls. You can still feel its purpose.
We’re reluctant to leave. Antonio, our guide, knows this and has a final surprise up his sleeve. “Into the water,” he tells us, handing out lifejackets. “We’re going to float downstream.” I jump from the dock into the channel. The water is as warm as lemonade left out in the midday sun. I open my mouth to taste. Its sweet and fresh, filtered by the limestone bedrock and the salt-thirsty leaves of the mangroves. The current tugs me, and I close my eyes and mouth, lean back, and float toward the sea.

Later we’ll re-board the boat and be whisked to a perfect white-sand beach for dinner. We’ll eat corn chips with pumpkin seed salsa, and locally caught fish. We’ll drink mango juice as rich as wine as the sun sets over the lagoon. For now, though, I give myself over to the mangrove, letting its shadows and scents charm my senses. Sian Ka’an is Mayan for “where the sky is born”. This is a fact and I’ll not argue with it, but I humbly contend that it also means “where the spirits carry you away”.
The cover that never was
Posted by JVJ @ 6:34 pm
Jan 13th : 2010

Here’s a detail of illustration that was originally intended to be the US cover to Fortress of Gray Ice. It features Ash and Ark Veinsplitter, battling the Unmade. As the artwork was commissioned by Time Warner Books and the book was eventually published by Tor, the cover never made it to the light of bookstores.
More Fortress
Posted by JVJ @ 1:07 pm
Jan 13th : 2010

Here’s a detail from the second of Marc Simonetti’s illustrations for Fortress of Grey Ice. Here we see Raif in the Great Want at the ruined gate of the fortress, the Forsworn sword in one hand, the Sull recurve in the other. The arrow with a name is at his back. Marc expertly captures the mood of the scene along with Raif’s state of mind. Watcher of the Dead has never looked more alone.
“The fortress glowed red beneath the God’s Light’s, like something built from frozen blood. Raif was calm as he walked toward it. It should have been dark in the Want by now yet light persisted. The clouds had withdrawn and the sky was clear. Stars turning within it were clustered into constellations shaped like wolves. Raif did not know these stars. He wasn’t even sure what world he walked in anymore.”
JV’s first cake: A Story of Revenge
Posted by JVJ @ 12:48 pm
Jan 12th : 2010

Feast your eyes upon this beauty. The first cake I have ever baked. Really. It’s a pineapple upside down cake, baked in a skillet. The pineapple came first. I saw one last week in the market and, as it seemed a reasonable price (three bucks), I bought it. So there the pineapple sat, on the kitchen counter, looking as tropical and impenetrable as a Mayan fortress.
“What do you do with a whole pineapple?” I asked people. “Make pina coladas,” said one person. “Hawaiian pizza,” said another. Dissatisfied with these answers, I emailed an old school pal. “Got any ideas for my pineapple?”

“Julie, I know you,” she replied. “No good will come of you having a pineapple in your kitchen. Put it in a padded mailer and overnight it to me.” Thems fighting words in my book. I responded hastily, “Will not send pineapple. Will bake a pineapple upside down cake instead.”

The gauntlet had been thrown. And now I must bake a cake, the first one baked by a Jones since WW2. And not just any cake, my friend, but a cake requiring the dissection of a fresh pineapple, the preparation of superheated caramel sauce, and the deadly “plate inversion” required to upend the finished (and still superheated) sauce-and-cake combo onto a severing platter, thereby revealing its magnificent pineappley backside.

Needless to say, I had few of the correct ingredients. “All purpose flour” was substituted for “cake flour”. Brown sugar was subbed for white, buttermilk became sour cream. “One tablespoon of dark rum,” morphed into “two tablespoons of brandy and Bacardi”. Yes, my friend, I was surfing the extreme wave of cake-making. There were sharks in the water and pebble-sized lumps in the brown sugar, but I rode that gnarly pipe to shore.

So how was it? Modesty prevents me from telling you it was tasty, moist, delicious, syrupy and mildly boozy. So I’ll just say this: Go buy yourself a pineapple. When your friends and family mock you head directly for the kitchen and start to bake. An hour later, when the entire house/apartment begins to smell of caramelized pineapple and fragrant steamed batter, those friends and family will be eating their words. And you, my friend, will be eating cake.
The strange case of the missing potato chips
Posted by JVJ @ 5:51 pm
Jan 11th : 2010
The scene. I was strolling down the beach in Manuel Antonio at 1200 hrs on November 26, 2009, admiring the green water and gray sand, when I spotted this fellow on a piece of driftwood. He looked shifty, but as he’s a capuchin monkey and I’m not familiar with capuchin monkey facial expression I doubted my own instinct.
Nevertheless I had the presence of mind to take out my camera and document the shady individual. As I was closing my lens, the monkey made a dash for the beach. “Interesting,” I thought, What’s he up to?” As I hastily snapped some shots, the monkey headed not for the water, but for a backpack that had been left temporarily unattended on the beach by a nice couple from South Carolina. The couple, who had been in the water, ran toward the monkey, arms flailing. But to no avail. The monkey grabbed and upturned the backpack, snatched the booty and scarpered high into the trees.
So what did the little fellow make away with? After making an inventory of the remaining backpack contents, we discovered the capuchin had taken a bag of potato chips and a ladies sun visor. So somewhere in the Costa Rican rainforest, there’s a monkey with high cholesterol wearing a bright pink hat.
Watcher of the Dead
Posted by JVJ @ 5:21 pm
Jan 10th : 2010

Watcher will published in mid-April in the US, UK and Australia. So far, I haven’t seen the UK cover, but here is a detail of the US one to feast your eyes upon. It’s painted by J.P Targete, who used a portion of the early manuscript for inspiration. It captures a lot of what happens to Raif in Book IV; his transition from Raif Sevrance to Watcher of the Dead, and the cost of wielding Loss. I will say no more, JV.
Hanging Bridges
Posted by JVJ @ 5:16 pm
Jan 9th : 2010

Here’s the final two shots from Costa Rica: the La Fortuna Days. As I mentioned earlier, this small town northwest of the capital is a great base for viewing volcanoes, birds and waterfalls. Here I am at the base of La Fortuna Falls, happy, bruised and bug-bitten.
And here I am suspended high in the canopy on one of Costa Rica’s famous hanging bridges. The bird, monkey and sloth action all happens here. It being the rainforest, I dressed accordingly in full rain gear.
The return of the Golden Bramble
Posted by JVJ @ 8:04 pm
Jan 8th : 2010

Put the French name of The Barbed Coil into a translation engine and it spits out the magnificent title The Golden Bramble. In France, the Bramble is split into two books. Both of these have been dusted down and given new, ravishing (and dare I say sexy) covers. To start with I give you Book I. Ravis in all his cool and masculine glory. Enjoy.
If you are the artist: thank you for two wonderful covers. Apologies for not including your name. If you're reading this: email me so I can right this grievous wrong.
Where do you put your camera?
Posted by JVJ @ 4:58 pm
Jan 7th : 2010

I only got a couple of shots of the hotsprings. When you’re wearing a bikini and soaking in hot water where do you put your camera? I had to get mine from the locker to snap a few shots. Here’s one of those exhausted French highschool girls who took over the springs like a flock of bright birds, calling to one another in high chirps and preening endlessly. It was their senior year class trip. To Costa Rica. My highschool class trip was to Wales (twenty-five miles by van).
*I’m so hot I’ve forgotten about my exams
It’s Alive! It’s Alive!
Posted by JVJ @ 7:10 pm
Jan 6th : 2010

Yes, we wired up the electrodes and shocked the Journal back to life. Chief scientist, Paul, worked overnight in the lab. He got the generator running, filled the tubes with CO2, and cranked the capacitors. So far, the hastily assembled body parts are looking good. Here’s hoping they don’t blow.
Hoping this doesn’t blow either. Here I am in November standing in front of Mount Arenal, Costa Rica’s most active volcano. I stayed in the area for three days but never once saw the top of the crater. Pesky clouds barred my view. If the clouds had cleared, I would have seen molten orange lava erupting from the top. Until July 1968 Arenal was considered inactive, but a powerful eruption which destroyed the nearby town of Tabacon put an end to that theory.

The most delightful side effects of the eruptions are hot springs. Hot, fresh water now wells from the ground in several places. I visited one of these springs and spent a wonderful couple of hours soaking in a steamy pool surrounded by jungle and French high school girls.
Below is a photo of the view from the motel where I stayed whilst attempting to view the eruption. That’s La Fortuna’s town square and church below you. It’s one seriously excellent town. Tasty rice’n’beans, volcanos (they have more than one), hot springs, waterfalls, hikes and bird watching. What more could anyone want?
Writer Returns
Posted by JVJ @ 11:20 pm
Jan 5th : 2010

Hail and well met. It’s been a while, I have no excuses. I was playing pirate over at Twitter (my alter ego is named after a cookie), busy finishing Watcher of the Dead, and traveling to places both hot and cold. There’s so much to pass along I think I’d better do this in stages. First things first: waterfall photo. Here I am in November at the La Fortuna Falls in Costa Rica. The hike down to the waterfall was pretty steep and you had to pay ten bucks for the privilege. Was it worth it? I’ll let you judge that one for yourself. More on the Costa Rica trip to come.
Moving quickly along let’s talk about Watcher of the Dead. Yes, it’s finished and yes it will be published this year. April in fact. Not a very long wait at all. I hate to give anything away and spoil surprises but I will say that all those people who have been writing to me asking "What happens next with Angus Lok?" may well have their question answered. I’ll post more about the book in the coming weeks. In the meantime, I give you this. A detail from the magnificent cover art for the French edition of A Fortress of Grey Ice, painted by the amazingly talented Marc Simonetti. Marc also did the artwork for George R.R. Martin’s French editions and the beautiful results, together with the full-size, uncut version of Fortress can be viewed here.
I’ll leave you for today with the reassuring information that although Biggie hasn’t been fed a crunchie since the Summer of 2008 she has still somehow managed to gain weight. Feel free to poke round my twitpic page for Biggie photos, ski jump photos, waterfall photos, book cover photos, gumbo photos, shoe photos, monkey-stealing-chips photos, etc, etc. Happy New Year, JV.
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