Steve Vera: Five Things I Learned Writing Blood Sworn

Only scattered groups of exhausted heroes remain… 

Veteran police chief Skip Walkins has really done it this time. After crossing realities to fight the onslaught of the Drynn, the spawn of the Underworld, he’s one of only a few motley survivors of an epic massacre. By his blood, he’s sworn to unite with Shardyn Knight Gavin Blackburn against the armies of Asmodeous the Pale, Lord of the Underworld and ruler of the Drynn. The two must seek resistance fighters wherever they can—even in Vambrace, among those who killed Gavin’s father.

Reformed sociopath Donovan Smith has traveled to Vambrace for his own reasons—the new voice in his head claims that there he will learn how he came to be the Antimage, impervious to the deadliest magical attacks.

Donovan’s secrets may hold the key to defeating the Drynn, but they may upset the delicate alliance of the Blood Sworn in the process. And if Skip and Gavin can’t fight together as one, the Drynn will attain total victory over Earth and its magical twin, Theia.


You’d think I had five eyeballs or something for saying this but according to the Twittersphere and my own little unscientific poll, most authors prefer editing to writing. That’s just craziness. My childhood vision of author-hood was of me sitting at a computer blurring my fingers across a keyboard while laughing maniacally. Not quite. Sure, editing can be gratifying, sculpting my thoughts into strings of rhythms and cadence, but after a while, my brain melts. To me, editing is like taking out a load of laundry without a basket—there are always a couple of socks that want to squirt out. Thank God for awesome editors.


So there I was, my head a Roman Candle, my brain spontaneously combusted. Looming deadline, panic setting in. Solution? Why, the Rocky IV training montage, of course. I had no choice. For two weeks I wrote in an artist’s sanctuary cabin, (thanks, Abby!) way out in the woods, all by myself, in the dead of Autumn. It was stupendous, yes, but those nights when the words on the screen would wriggle and my thoughts would leak out of my ears, I’d step outside onto that porch into darkness so black it had weight, and after listening to the night for several long minutes (it was creepy out there, when muskrats sound like grizzlies) I’d put in my headphones, let the music pour into me, and refill my wellspring with Rocky, Chevelle and O Fortuna. After twenty minutes or so I’d open the door, step back into the light and go for another round. Over and over again. I need some new playlists, by the way, if anybody’s feeling generous or has some suggestions…


Come again? How can a character, something I created turn around and teach moi? If I may? One of the arcs in Blood Sworn is that a sociopathic murderer is forced to become one of the greatest generals ever to live. Somebody’s got to fight off the Underworld. Anyway, whether he can actually suppress his violent impulses is a secret, preciousss, but one of his gifts is a photographic memory. And our dark hero is well-read. In his mere twenty years of life he has studied The Art of War by Sun Tzu, as well as Clausewitz, Jomini, Machiavelli, Thucydides, Robert E Lee and a slew more. Long story short…he knows his shit. Of course, in order for him to know, I have to know. Anything less would make me a fugeize-face. Here’s the interesting part. In my research, which was rather extensive, I found myself becoming more strategic, better equipped to deal with the challenges life was throwing at me—even made me a better chess player. I found that simply by being in proximity to so many masters actually influenced me. I won’t plunge you all into detail, but every morning with my coffee (light and sweet, baby) I read the Denma translation of The Art of War as well as the three essays that accompany it. Part of my life now.  And I beat Jerry’s butt all the time in chess —mwa ha ha, I mean, er, it’s good.


“Exertion is never giving up, but it isn’t wearing oneself out. It’s more like riding the wind than pushing a rock uphill.” I got this little beauty from one of those essays I was just talking about and man—life-changer. I figured if I didn’t quit…I wouldn’t fail. Worked quite nicely. (Denma Translation Group. “The Sage Commander.” The Art of War: The Denma Translation. p.109)


Not even a contest. In college, I learned what a gerund is and how to dismantle a compound-complex sentence. Need a prepositional phrase to go with that BLT? Here ya go. Important for a writer? Sure, bordering on of course. But as a Dungeon Master, I learned something far more important…how to tell a story and how to research. I’d spend a month setting up a quest, researching medieval cities at the library (back in ancient times before the internet), creating voices for characters; I’d know every tavern owner, weapons smith, evil sorcerer, and drool-spitting troll right down to the eyelash. I loved the expressions on my friends’ faces when their eyes would widen and their mouths would part as I calmly explained to them that there was a long, brittle scratching coming from behind the door they were supposed to go through followed by a deep growl. And then I’d wham on the table! Priceless. Wouldn’t change those memories for the world. Take that, college.

* * *

Steve’s just a guy who wishes he could fire lightning out of his fingertips. Afflicted with wanderlust at the age of seventeen, he’s lived in seven states, briefly served in the U.S. Air Force as a Pararescue Trainee, and has a profound aversion to mint chocolate chip ice cream. Steve currently straddles two worlds—one foot in his hometown of Elmwood, CT, the other in Sunnyside, Queens, NY. What bio would be complete without a cat? Steve has one. A great, fat, good-for-nothing but entirely lovable furball who has his own gravitational force. If Steve could go back in time and be anything, he’d have been a P-51 Mustang fighter pilot or a knight. Being an author is pretty cool, though.

Steve Vera: Website

Blood Sworn: Amazon | B&N | Books-A-Million | Carina Press



  • Good post. I agree that the most important quality in a writer is relentlessness. It’s hard not to give up, but also not to wear yourself out working crazy hours. Good advice.

  • Loved it! Any post that recommends the Rocky IV sound track for inspiration is GOLD in my book. Never tried D&D but do have some World of Darkness rule books and find them awesome for generating (or stealing) ideas. Similar premise, I guess.
    ‘Two worlds collide, rival nations’ ….. :D

    • Right on, Lee! My favorite movie of all time. And to switch it up, sometimes I’ll play the WAR montage of the big fight at the end–gets me just as fired up. As for D & D…after a twenty year hiatus, I’m back at it with a new crew in NYC who were curious. Now their addicted which is huh-larious considering we’re all grown up. Allegedly. :) ‘It’s a primitive clash – venting years of frustration’… Hoo-ya!

  • I love this – ” I figured if I didn’t quit…I wouldn’t fail.”

    As for the writing vs. editing part, we’ll have to agree to disagree. I LOVE revising and editing. Writing first drafts is hard! :)

    • Thanks, Caitlin! Yeah, I’m a weirdo. :) Everybody seems to love editing more but when I edit I feel like I’m being surrounded by my own thoughts and they’re trying to push me around. What colors did I use again in describing that etching on that scabbard? And did I already explain the bone density of the Drynn or was that another draft? And where did I leave that little tidbit about how to move silently in a forest? Blech. I just wanna WRITE! Oh, and I appreciate your love of my motto on not quitting. :D Saves my butt all the time.

  • I just heard a radio story that talked about a number of former dungeon masters who became very well known writers, among them George R.R. Martin. Like you said, they learned how to tell a story. So you’re in very good company! I love your #4 – relentlessness. So true. I think I need to print that sentence and stick it next to my computer. But writing a first draft vs. editing? I think we’re going to have to agree to disagree. There’s magic in the revision stage, Steve!

    • So I’m told, Jana, so I’m told! And I do like editing…to a point. ;) It just makes my brain fry quicker. And I didn’t know George R.R. Martin had been a DM too, very cool to know! As for #4, it’s the only way I made it through on those days when you look yourself in the mirror and say, “You sure about this?” Thanks for digging it and for chiming in. :)

  • “I need some new playlists, by the way, if anybody’s feeling generous or has some suggestions…”

    I have about a dozen playlists for writing. Here’s one of my favorites:

    1. When the Levee Breaks – Led Zeppelin
    2. The Way – Fastball
    3. Misirlou – Dick Dale and his Del-tones
    4. It’s Too Late – Carole King
    5. Pennyroyal Tea – Nirvana
    6. Little Green Bag – George Baker Selection
    7. Girl Like You – Edwin Collins
    8. Iron Lion Zion – Bob Marley and the Wailers
    9. Radio Nowhere – Bruce Springsteen
    10. Losing My Religion – R.E.M
    11. Horse With No Name – America
    12. Ballroom Blitz – Sweet
    13. For Whom The Bell Tolls – Apocalyptica
    14. Till I Collapse – Eminem
    15. Doom and Gloom – The Rolling Stones
    16. Pumped up Kicks – Foster the People
    17. Long Cool Woman (In a Black Dress) – The Hollies
    18. In My Time of Dying – Led Zeppelin
    19. Naked and Famous – Presidents of the USA
    20. Welcome to This World – Primus

  • Great post, Steve! Related like mad to all five of your things (even if I haven’t got a writing retreat in the woods – but now I WANT ONE!)

    The Witcher and Witcher 2 Soundtracks are great for blood-pumping, atmospheric music –

    The Witcher soundtrack is on this YouTube link:
    The Witcher 2 soundtrack is on this YouTube link:

    And there are plenty of sites you can download both in full – most of them for free.

    Thanks for your words of wisdom – inspired me to get going on my own w-i-p right now…

    • You couldn’t have given me a bigger compliment, Wendy. *humble bow* I think that jazzes me more than anything, that by sharing my passions and experiences to another artist that they’d be inspired to jump back in the arena…it’s my pleasure. Aaaaaaand, thanks for the suggestions on the Witcher soundtracks! Can’t wait to check’em out. I am in diiiiiire need of new music.

    I’ve been seeing more and more people talking about how ‘eh, writing – editing is my favorite part!’ Meanwhile I’m sitting over here mucking happily around through my first drafts, then staring dolefully at ‘how to edit’ checklists.
    Heh, I listen to a lot of 8tracks playlists while I write – I’m shy about recommending anything, but since you asked I’ve been listening to this one – – a lot recently. Puts me in the mood for dark stuff.

  • Thanks for a great post! It was neat to think about how much you learn as a writer when you’re studying for your characters. I just switched camps. I used to love first drafts more than editing, but I’ve come to realize I like it when I already have words to play with and ideas on the page. First drafts are hard because you’re constantly making decisions, and I have to force myself to not worry so much about being wrong.

    And dude, I am all over music while writing. My books wouldn’t be the same without music. A lot of times it helps me clarify what my character is feeling. Or I’ll hear a song and think, “Man what would a person have to go through in order to feel that way?” (ie: Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight”) And then I get an idea and it’s off to the races.

    I divide my music by ambient background music, and songs to inspire me. I’ll list off some of both.

    Ambient Background Music:
    Anything by Mogwai. “Mr. Beast” is my favorite album. My favorites are “Auto Rock” and “Team Handed”. You can find them on Youtube easily if you want to check it out.

    Philip Glass sounds sort of classical, but he’s also very moody with his solo piano. Youtube “Metamorphosis I”

    Celldweller. Celldweller is totes amazing. I cannot rank them highly enough, especially if you want science fiction feels. He has some pure instrumental stuff like “Birthright (Beta 1.0 – Instrumental Trail Mix)” and some songs with words like “Switchback”.

    If you like Celldweller even a little bit, you’ll like Apoptygma Berzerk. “In this Together”, “Kathy’s Song (VNV Nation Mix)”, and “Love Never Dies” are my favorites.

    The Pirates of the Caribbean Soundtracks are very good, in particular “One Day” and “What Shall We Die For”. Very epic.

    Songs for Inspiration:

    Most songs that I find inspiring are either moody in sound and create a certain feeling, or it’s because of my personal take on what the song means. I also group music by what sort of emotion I want. I write stuff that’s post-apocalyptic, and stuff that’s straight urban fantasy, and those two playlists sound very different.

    Judging from the tone of BLOOD SWORN, I’m going to lean more towards the gritty apocalypse stuff.

    Underworld soundtrack. This is dark and broody goodness. Puscifer’s “Rev 22.20″ and Johnette Napolitano’s “Suicide Note” in particular.

    Anything by Nick Cave (the soundtrack he did with Warren Ellis for The Assassination of Jesse James is particularly amazing. Listen to “Rather Lovely Thing” first to get a feel for it.).

    VNV Nation! They have some amazing stuff. Check out “Testament”, “Dark Angel”, “Standing”, “Beloved”, and “Illusion”.

    I cannot in good conscience talk to other nerds about music without mentioning The Protomen. They were in music school and decided the world needed a tribute band to Megaman. They were right about this desperate need. They write all their own songs, and play their own instruments, and they are super talented. They’ve got two albums out, the first being the “story” as they see it, behind the rivalry between Dr. Wily, and Dr. Light. It’s a very harsh electric sound, but they say some really chilling and powerful things about the nature of being a hero. Listen to “The Stand: Man or Machine” off the first album to see what I’m talking about.

    Their second album is a prequel, that sets up how the machines got made, and why Wily and Light hate each other. It’s got a different sound, more like really good 80’s music. Check out “Breaking Out” and “Keep Quiet”. Or listen to the entire second album over and over like I did. :D

    If you are looking for a specific sound or a certain type of song, hit me up on Twitter (@ElizabethJPoole). As you can see by my super long comment, I can talk music for books for hours. ;)

    • Woooooow, now that’s what I call a system. THANK YOU, Elizabeth, for such an informative and enlightening comment! I think the only song I recognize is IN THE AIR TONIGHT by Phil Collins–I get to explore all of these suggestions! And their broken down by mood too–awesome. I think we’re definitely kindred spirits because when I hear a song I see a scene–whether it’s action packed or poignant or something else entirely–and I just start fleshing it out. Who’re the players? Why are they speeding down a highway in a car with no doors? Who’s that with the machete and why in the world is that rabid koala bear trying to bite that Velociraptor? A song to me is the kernel, the “Uranium isotope” of a scene (got that one from Donald Maass) and it infuses feeling into the story. Thanks again for sharing, Elizabeth!

      • That’s exactly why I like music so much. I hear a song and see something happening…I love the idea of the music being the “uranium isotope” of a scene. That’s perfect. I’ve long thought that my subconscious communicates to me through songs, so it’s a good short hand to have.

        Also I would totally pay good money to see a rabid koala/Velociraptor cage match.

        • Seconding Protomen in a big way. Saw them play in Australia as part of my bucks party day two. Helmets and nerf miniguns spray painted silver, and all manner of awesome rock opera tunes.

  • Haha YES! DM beats college, or in my case Uni, hands down. And editing sure is exhausting. I can just about keep myself from biting off chunks of my keyboard, provided that I break the job up into lots of little targets. Get rid of plot inconsistencies in chapter X. Remove all reference to the clown character using Ctrl-F. Making the first page shine like a freshly licked cat.

    If you need some seriously ballsy inspirational tunes, there’s an Austrian Folklore (read Arnold Schwarzenegger) based band with really pumping inspirational classics, that I like to listen to mostly for working out, but I’m assuming it would work for writing-based pumps too.

    They’re called Arnocorps. Here you go. You will grow hair listening to this.

    Going to check out your work. Write on, sir.

    • “…like a freshly licked cat.” I love that! Thanks for chiming in D.R. Sylvester, I’m wicked psyched (doh! Gen X’er alert) to try out all this new music. Austrian folklore?? I don’t even think I know what that sounds like but I sho’ am gonna find out. Arnocorps, here I come. And much obliged for checking out my work, sir, hope you love it! And I’m always down to talk shop if you feel so inclined so hit me up on Twitter or FB or straight up email. Cheers, mate!

  • July 31, 2014 at 11:40 PM // Reply

    Charming, insightful post, Steve. Even considering the inaccurate statement: And I beat Jerry’s butt all the time in chess. NOT TRUE! For shame! But I forgive you.

    • Heh heh heh, I’ve been found out! Well, for all of you reading, Jerry and I have been playing Chess on FB for like 3 years now. It’s been total war and too much fun but as it stands…he’s actually got the edge. It’s 21 to 19, soon to be 21 to 527!! *narrows eyes* See you on the battlefield, bro…

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