So I finally have a winner after my Writing Prompt Blitz-o-Rama I conducted last month and it’s none other than multi-talented writer and artist John M. Haley. I hope to do more of these Fantasy Writing Spotlights in the future, featuring interviews and a sampling of work from the author. However, since John is my first ever Fantasy Writer Spotlight and winner of my very first Writing Prompt Blitz-o-Rama, I’m going to share an interview, his art, and the entire winning story! We’re so generous, right?
Without further ado, here’s the awesome (pun intended) story.
by John M. Haley
A deafening roar forced the entire hunting party to its knees.
The breel’s three purple eyes scanned the helpless armored figures before it: a tall elder clad in wyvernhide, a muscular youth in steel, a fat man in armor made mostly of bone and tusks, and a female wrapped in flowers and greenery.
The one in steel would be the hardest to kill. Now was the moment to strike.
The ground rumbled, as the breel’s oak-trunk-thick forearms planted themselves into the flat earth. It dragged its fifty-foot-long hindside, leaving a silver wake. Its circular mouth wrapped around the steel hunter until only his legs were out.
I see ‘im kickin’ an’ screamin’—an’ I mean see ‘im, I do—right through the translucent hide o’the breel, I see the look in ‘is eyes. Ain’t nothin’ I can do fer the lad, I fear. But that ain’t never stopped me b’fore.
I come at ‘im, the breel, an’ I whup ‘im upside ‘is ugly noggin, I do. I hit ‘im proper next time, an’ me axe is splashin’ toxic watery blood all over me skin.
“You look purty in that, Addy—”
Goros is always goin’ on ’bout me prettiness, as if me ugly lady friend back home ain’t twice ‘is strength, an’ as if I care what he thinks ’bout me looks. An’ now ‘is fat hands’re gettin’ too close t’me ass. “Bugger off!”
“—but your legs are exposed,” he says. “My faith can save you, Addy!”
An’ don’t I know it, there’d be all kinds o’fluid in me veins if not fer Goros an’ his god. But I see ‘is god cares ’bout prettiness as much as ‘is follower. Why else do I get t’go on, an’ poor Wallace the Iron Wall is halved in the maw o’the breel. Me axe ain’t nothin’ t’that damned beast, an’ now I’m seein’ poor Wallace’s better half slidin’ down the neck on a long trip t’the bowels. If we die today, does tomorrow’s huntin’ party watch Wally turn into a shite?
I see treetops juttin’ from the murky gray sand below. That breel gave me quite the slap, but I ain’t clawed. I grab hold o’me leafy skirt, pat it down where I want it b’fore spreadin’ me limbs. I got two tricks the breel ain’t considerin’. One: I can slow me fall. Little trick I learned from me little foreign’r friend who’s a fightin’ nun. Two: not as special. Good ol’ fashioned tuck an’ roll—”Shiiiiiii…!”—which was more like a slip an’ fall.
Karl Dragonsbane gets in me way, tellin’ me, “Stop playing around. This is personal now!”
Who the hell does he think he is? “Yessir,” I say ’cause I know who he is. He’s the party leader, an’ we’re as good as dead if I challenge ‘im. B’sides, ain’t on ‘im that the Wall went down. Could o’been any one of us.
I pull a lever on me switch-axe. Shock phials are loaded into me blade as it takes on its sword form. I can steady the beast—if I can hit ‘im but good! I stick ‘im in the gut, an’ yellow sparks confirm a proper thrust. Karl an’ Goros beat ‘im with longsword an’ hammer, respectin’ly, an’ I try t’pull out me blade, but I lost control. The phial explodes, an’ the sparks ain’t flyin’—but I am!
I get me footing an’ step back half wonderin’ which o’me allies is gonna die from me blunder, but ain’t that breel gaggin’ on Wally’s legs—still joined at the pelvis, so he can’t choke ’em down one by one. He coughs ’em out, an’ I take an iron boot t’the face.
Me tongue checks fer gaps where teeth should be, but I guess I’m still ‘purty.’ But it ain’t me pearly whites that’ll do in the breel. But I do see a strange device strapped t’the belt o’the Wall. The boy could carry ‘is weight an’ another grown man’s even in all that steel. I never did consider what else he ‘ad on ‘im, but ain’t this a funny crossbow or what?
“Karl!” I warn ‘im. Leader or none, I ain’t got time fer orders an’ permissives. “I got a shot an’ I’m takin’ it!”
“NO! The gun—”
I pull the trigger. With a BOOM, steel spins right at the breel’s ugly face!
“—is a grappler!”
SPLAT, right in the center eye. The other eyes show fear, an’ I see a stream of urine rainin’ down as the breel takes flight.
“What d’ye mean, grappler?” I wanna know, but I find out b’fore Karl can tell me. There’s a rope, an’ I know I can let go o’the gun, but I ain’t thinkin’ ’bout that. I’m thinkin’ the breel ain’t gonna land in one piece.
Me switch-axe is mechanical, so I think I got this grapple gun figured proper. If pullin’ the trigger sends the rope one way, pushin’ it reels it back in. An’ so it’s what I do, ain’t it then?
The slack from the rope is gone, an’ I’m gainin’ on the breel. I get right on ‘is head now, an’ I don’t need me switch-axe—which I left on the ground—’cause I need one hand on the gun. I pull out me knife fer carvin’, an’ I dig me way t’ the breel’s brain.
It ain’t an easy kill, but the breel’s twistin’ an’ floppin’ an’ even barrel rolls can’t shake me off. I got me a fellow hunter to avenge, an’ ain’t no stoppin’ me as long as blood flows through me veins.
I realize too late the toxic blood is soakin’ into me skin! I leap off the breel an’ catch a glimpse o’him spiralin’ into a rocky hillside. I slow me fall, an’ like usual, I muck up me ol’ tuck an’ roll, an’ I taste the muck ’cause I’m face-down in it. Fire taints me insides an’ me lungs’re fillin’ with swamp water. Sleep’ll grant me a merciful death.
* * *
Sausage fingers grope me breasts, an’ don’t I know it b’fore me eyes open, it’s Goros. Me right hand finds ‘is left cheek, but I stifle the slap an’ let me hand give the fat faith healer a light touch. “Thank ye,” I tell ‘im, an’ don’t ‘is face turn bright red.
He says “Thank you” back, explainin’ “because you didn’t slap me. It hurts every time I heal, and you were so far gone I thought for sure at least one of us would die.”
I get into me clothes an’ tell ‘im, “Ye’re a fool fer lovin’ me, Goros. Ye know I ain’t after a man, an’ I’m as big a fool as ye are fer it, ’cause me big lady friend is a friend an’ ain’t never gonna be nothin’ else fer me neither. Ye call me ‘purty’ but I ain’t that at all. Ye shouldn’t o’risked it all fer me, ’cause I ain’t a damsel t’rescue an’ be yers.”
“But… Addy!” He clams up.
I feel fer the fool, ’cause I ain’t no different, fallin’ fer a lass who can never take an interest.
He goes on, “I didn’t save you because you’re a great lady. I saved you because you’re a great hunter. The best I’ve ever seen!”
“Huntress,” I say, an’ I give ‘im a kiss. A friend can give a peck on the cheek an’ it don’t mean nothin’, can’t she? “An’ ye’re the greatest friend a Huntress can ‘ave.”
I walk with ‘im out o’the healin’ tent, an’ don’t I see all the scribes who wanna hear o’me deeds. I figure Goros’ll come t’me rescue again, but not with our fearless leader ‘ere t’get some press.
“I will field the questions,” Karl says. An’ he’s asked ’bout the names o’the huntin’ party that took the breel. “Wallace the Iron Wall died honorably, and we are indebted to him for his sacrifice. The one who finished him is Addison Lane.” He gives me a respectin’ nod. “Her name means ‘awesome warrior.'”
Hope you enjoyed the story! As a follow up, here’s an interview I did with John M. Haley recently.
PHILIP OVERBY: So for those new to the name John M. Haley, please introduce yourself and tell us a bit about your quest to be a writer.
JOHN M. HALEY: Online, I’m called Legendary Sidekick. I’d like to say that it symbolizes the complexity that is John M. Haley—a ‘legend in his own mind’ who acts as a humble servant, or some crap like that. But, really, it’s just part of the name of my first novel, Legendary Sidekick—in 4D!
So, on my creative side, I started off wanting to design video games, then realized I can’t program or create art beyond conceptual quality, so after I moved to Hong Kong, had a wife and a new career as a teacher, I decided my talents may be best for writing a book and that I could do it without quitting the day job.
I gave myself a year, and in a year and five days I finished a 155K-word book. If I had considered length and aimed for a proper 80K, I could’ve made my self-imposed deadline. In my defense, my first daughter was born in that year, and I also moved back to the US before writing the last chapter.
But enough about me.
PO: Uh, no, more about you…Congrats on winning the first ever Writing Prompt Blitz-o-Rama!
JMH: (Oh. Right. Interview. This is all about me. Excellent.)
PO: Your story “Awesome Warrior” was, well, awesome! Please share with us how you came up with the idea.
JMH: Addison Lane was originally the unnamed party leader in “Barbarian Schoolgirls,” an RPG inspired by paper dress-up dolls, only outfits change skills, not just looks.
That RPG never happened, but I liked the characters and wanted to name them. All of their names have meanings, and since Addy’s a freckled redhead, I was looking up Celtic names for her. Lane meaning ‘warrior’ was cool, but when I saw Addison meant ‘awesome’ I loved the way her full name came out.
The story itself is inspired by Monster Hunter. As a gamer, I like that you can’t die. As a writer, there’s no way hunters take on these monsters and are rescued by cats, so the first thing I did was kill a hunter. From there, I totally made up the story as I went along.
I know Addison’s voice well. I’ve had a year to think on it. But the story itself was written on September 7th. Even the phrase “as long as blood flows through my veins” becoming meaningful was spontaneous. Her aha moment was mine. I knew the breel’s defenses well enough that I should’ve known the danger Addison put herself in, but I was thinking for the character: avenge the fallen hunter. Live up to your name.
One way to live up to her name was to use the switch-axe. It’s a laughable premise: an axe that turns into a sword, but I love silly extremes like that so it was my MH weapon, and it had to be Addison’s. Paralysis phials were the most fun, so that was her phial. The elder had a longsword because that’s what the party leader would have, and the fat guy had a hammer because he’s goofy-looking, as is any hunter with a hammer.
Writing FPOV is in my comfort zone, but her heavily-monologued ‘Irish brogue’ was experimental. That this one even made the top three was a pleasant surprise for me. I had this unknown character baring her soul, and I wondered if anyone could even understand her. Couple that with a title that declares “she’s awesome,” which is probably the worst thing you can do for a character who has yet to prove her awesomeness. I figured anyone can read this and say, “No, she isn’t.” My experiment was doomed to fail!
Yet, the entry won, so she’s more awesome than I thought. She earned me coffee!
PO: Yes, I could see how the experimental nature may prove difficult for some readers, but I thought the character felt fresh and different for me. This wasn’t your only experimental piece though as you had fourteen stories in all. How did you feel about coming up with so many stories in two weeks? Did you find it difficult, rewarding, insane, etc.?
JMH: When I read about the challenge, I was intimidated. Then I said, “I’m in.”
The first two stories were me getting my feet wet. Dragons like wasps—I’d done that before. A crystal ball that’s like Facebook where some jerk going through a midlife crisis hits on your wife—couldn’t resist. After that, I started getting into different characters and playing with different writing styles. First-person, third, present, past, play format, straight dialogue, lyrical poem, shaped text… it was fun. I was glad you let me submit in Japan time so if I wanted to write two stories in one sitting, it wasn’t cheating. I knew ahead of time that #11 would be the orcan bards talking about the orc POV song for #6, but I waited until the 11th to write it. Same with #14, which would gather characters from past entries. But who those characters would be was decided on the 14th as I wrote.
I love making stories up as I go, which works for hundreds of words or a couple thousand words. I made it a point to wait for the day, then write. No old stories would be recycled for this. Winning didn’t matter as much as writing in the spirit of the challenge. Write every day; follow the prompt for that day.
It gave me confidence that I can write. I converted some stories to script format so I can apply for a game writing job. Maybe I won’t even get an interview, but I’m going to have samples ready for similar jobs that come up. I wrote over ten thousand words in two weeks, and even if I ended up with no prize to show (which can still be the case if I spill $25 worth of coffee), having written so much, experimenting in different styles… that alone is an accomplishment I can take pride in. That alone made the challenge worth the time and effort.
PO: I’m glad you found the challenge worth it and you were able to go outside your comfort zone. Would you be interested in writing another story with this wild character Addison Lane?
PO: Tell us a bit more about her if you can.
JMH: She’s a huntress who isn’t the overpowered hero I normally like to write. Her Barbarian Schoolgirl friends tread that fine line between super-heroine and D&D character with an eighteen in a physical trait or two, but not Addison.
As you pointed out, she’s not a Mary Sue or author’s wish-fulfillment. I outed her as a lesbian in this piece, but I would rather have her feelings wasted on her big lady friend (who is manless, but straight) than hook her up with a bunch of naked natives in a hot spring. Men may be attracted to her or underestimate her because of her skirt, and nothing will come of it, just like nothing will come of her own desires.
I think she needs to hang onto the grappler gun. Of course, the gun was there because the prompt required a gun. But now she has it, and I think there are plenty of uses for that weapon, depending on the monster. She’ll have to hunt more monsters, then get back with her big lady friend and hunt bigger game, like demons.
Her inner monologue shows a softness underneath a rough exterior. She clearly doesn’t care for the leadership of Karl Dragonsbane. (That’s like being named Joe Ironballs.) But she doesn’t fault Karl, the person, for the young hunter’s death. I’ll leave it to the reader to interpret whether Goros uses his healing touch as an excuse for the occasional cheap feel or whether he truly cares for Addy. In any case, Addy tells him to “bugger off” but feels sympathy and gratitude even if she doesn’t always express it.
PO: What are some projects you have going on or something you’re interested in doing in the future?
JMH: I definitely want to write for games or design games. Video games or RPGs… either would make me happy. If I can sell anything with Addison, that’ll make me very happy.
PO: I’d personally love to see that. Where do you see yourself as a fantasy writer going forward?
JMH: I want to focus on writing strong female characters. I have three daughters, so maybe that’s got something to do with it. Addison and the others aren’t necessarily role models. They’re not sex symbols either, though.
I think it’s a pet peeve of mine that female characters almost always have some kind of sexual history that you learn about seconds after you’re on a first-name basis, where a guy is introduced as a barbarian, a knight, a wizard, and you could read a trilogy still wondering if he’s a virgin or a philanderer or what. I don’t know if I’m a hypocrite since I did throw Addy’s unfulfilled desire into her intro story, but my point is that I don’t want a shocking past to haunt my character, and I don’t want to use her homosexuality as an excuse to throw women on top of each other.
No matter what I write, I hope the reader doesn’t see it coming. I hope the reader enjoys the character and the world, and when I stray from the obvious path, I hope the reader enjoys the surprise—or appreciates it, if tragic (or severely lacking in naked women).
PO: That was one aspect I really enjoyed. She was a female character that was strong and brave, but it didn’t focus on how sexual she was. I’d be interested to see what other readers think about her portrayal. I’d also would be interested to know what readers think of the breel, a grotesque worm-like monstrosity in your story. What are some of your favorite fantasy creatures?
No, seriously, I’m coming up blank here. When I read that question, what popped into my mind was the villain from Dragon Tears (Dean Koontz). He had four testicles and no penis, which made him an unhappy man, and he could stop time. Imagine playing a video game, and while the game is paused, a villain walks up to your guy and rips his arm off then shoves him leaving your one-armed hero half tipped over. This villain did that, and it was just some girl at a dance club. He wasn’t even mad at her, and I never did see if the poor girl got help when time was un-paused. I read that nearly two decades ago, and haven’t forgotten this minor scene, so he made an impression!
Yeah, that deformity doesn’t make him a ‘creature.’ I was thinking ‘monster,’ and what makes a monster is how cruel he can be, so when I created the breel, I wanted his victim to be seen struggling inside the monstrous creature through translucent skin. Anyway…
The aliens from Aliens are my favorite creatures that are creatures. I hate to pull my best answer from a sci-fi movie, but it’s a creature conceived by face-rape and born by bursting out of your chest. Between the rape and inevitable death, you’re stuck to a wall moaning, “Kill me.” That level of cruelty is just to keep the species going!
In JRRT’s work, Gollum is my favorite creature. He was the least scary in the traditional rip-your-limbs-off-and-eat-you sense, but he had character and motive. And a catch phrase. Gollum is everybody’s precious!
PO: Gollum is infinitely quotable, “tricksy hobbitses!” Addison Lane is quite a quotable character as well. What’s your favorite quote from a book/movie/TV show?
JMH: “Never compromise. Not even in the face of Armageddon.”
~Rorschach, Watchmen, 2009
This is what makes a hero. I’ve heard Rorschach described as an anti-hero. No, he wasn’t. He was a hero. The rest of the Watchmen were villains and chumps. Dr. Manhattan can swing his blue dick all he wants. It defines him. He IS a blue dick.
PO: Anything else you’d like to share?
JMH: I’d like to share my story, “Awsome Warrior,” with your readers. You did that anyway, but I’d like to invite your readers to comment.
If you wanna see more of Addison Lane, what worked for you? If it’s not your cup of tea, speak freely.
Here’s a question that I always love asking my readers because no two have the same answer:
What was the movie in your mind like?
(Not the whole story. Just a scene or the way you pictured a character would do.)
PO: It felt like a wild ride. I could see myself in the thick of it, watching Addison battle with the breel, its squirming body coming towards the hunting group. It put me on edge throughout for sure. I’m looking forward to future adventures for Addison and company.
Well, that brings us to a close. Thank you very much for the interview. I thoroughly enjoyed talking with you about your writing process and some of your inspirations.
JMH: My pleasure.
PO: I’d like to add, you have a wild, wacky talent that I’d love to see more of in fantasy writing.
JMH: So would I. I guess I better get cracking, then!
I hope you all enjoyed John M. Haley’s story, art, and interview. Keep an eye out for more future work from him and other writers I’ll be featuring on my Fantasy Writer Spotlight.
Until next time, remember all fantasy, all the time!