Concept Art: Just What IS Ace?

Ace is Drakern, descended of the Old Dragons of Vermillion. Just Dragons. Not a drop of Godschild–or humanoid– blood in his veins. Getting his design right was quite the adventure, too.

See, I had this idea in my head. The one you see above, from Dragon Hoard Books 9. I knew all the biology, the ins and outs of the wings, the tail, the legs, the whole form.

Yes, I’m nerdy, and I confess a certain inspiration from Disney’s Gargoyles as a kid, but I digress.

Back in September 2016, when Shay and I first started talking about this mad idea of a comic, I tried hard to put it into words, and the first result came out looking like the alien from Enemy Mine.

Ace is displeased with the first sketch. ūüėõ

That’s the incredible thing about collaboration. Once two minds really start to mesh and blend, art reaches a depth of possibility that just isn’t there with one mind alone.

As you can see with the evolution of Ace’s character design below.

I just realized how odd Ace’s legs look in this pic.


Well, that’s all we’ve got for you this Saturday! Next week, we’ll show you Cass with short, curly hair! I won’t lie, they look pretty odd. ūüėõ

I’ve got a bit on the Origin of Drakern scheduled on Monday’s Patron feed. Feel free to check it out next week!

Dragon Hoard Books: Heading Home

Yesterday was tough for me, but that will, in no way, stop this comic from coming out on time every week. Don’t forget, we are on Patreon, so drop us some change if you can spare it. If not, share away, or comment and let us know what you like!


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World Building: 3 Steps to Constructed Languages

What is a con-lang and why do some linguists hate them and others love them? I had no idea slang existed for what I wanted to do until I actually decided to start building an Elven language. What started as one become four varieties of Elven, also all the other racial languages on Vermillion. No, I don’t have all of them built yet. I’ve set myself an approximate pace of one language per book. Approximately. And eventually I’ll get to Old Elven, Ancient Elven, and all those other Middle, Old, and Ancient variants. Oh, and Dragons also have a language, though I’m not sure what the natives call it.

I digress. A con-lang is the shorthand for constructed language. Klingon, Esperanto, and Middle Earth Elven are a few common ones that come to mind. Now, I am not a linguist. Closest I ever came was taking a 301 linguistics course in which I realized I HATE the idea of attempting to apply hard science principles to soft science constructions like idioms. (Incidentally, I flunked out.)

So WHY would I bother trying to build a language, if I’m not a linguist? Well, the same reason I bought a science fiction guide to world building when I technically write fantasy. I wanted to. So welcome to my three main steps to language construction from a non-linguist.

Step 1: Understand the Framework

So, language is this funny thing that both acts as framework, and is constrained by it. First, it acts as a framework because every language has its own structure and rule set governing word use, placement, etc. Often, these rules are influenced a great deal by cultural marks and impressions. One great example is the difference between English and Japanese. Even without speaking much Japanese, I know enough about the structure of a Japanese sentence to know that, grammatically, it is possible to indicate social status simply by adding a syllable in the right place, not even an extra word. And you definitely don’t have to craft an entire extra sentence to “put someone in their place.”

It’s fascinating, really. There’s also the concept of color. It’s actually a psychological phenomenon that if you do not have a word for a given color, it’s actually harder for you to perceive or at least describe that color. Additionally, some languages have no tense equivalents for¬†things like past tense or future tense.

Some languages don’t even have pronouns English would recognize.

So, the language presents a psychological framework, and yet the culture the language is used in also presents its own framework. I’ll use quite a simple example here. Two people with Ph.D.s in quantum sciences¬†are deep in a discussion about a breakthrough in their field of study. A high school graduate interested in experimental psychology overhears them. All three individuals are native English speakers. Yet the high school graduate might understand snippets and half-sentences, because each branch of the sciences has its own unique jargon, which is in many ways a cultural use of language unique to the science in question.

So not only did I needed to understand the interplay between how language use affects our psychology and culture, and how psychology and culture affect our language. That’s Framework.

Step 2: Grammar As Groundwork

A funny thing happens when you first start trying to build a language. You take words from the language (or languages) you know, and try to make up words in the new language as literal, direct translations. This is known as re-coding. And I started re-coding English into Elven.

Well, a funny thing happens to creative writers. Eventually, our characters and places become very real to us. And my Elven characters started throwing Elven IDIOMS at me! Things that make absolutely ZERO sense translated literally! Like…if I can think of one off the top of my head, or at least the translation. Ah, yes!

Weaken their armor, sink the fangs in.

This is the closest literal translation to a Nexeus Elf saying that is the idiomatic equivalent to the English “divide and conquer.” It’s because idioms come from cultural use and other things. Most idioms make zero sense when literally translated into other languages. I was also faced with words that I had NO equivalent for. The Nexeus Elves have three different words that can be accurately translated as either marriage or civil union, yet each of those words denotes a very specific type of ceremonial promise.¬†√Üther Elves have only one word for every color past a certain level of darkness, and thus believe all those colors to be black.

So, when I realized that this re-coding thing wasn’t working, I started from the ground up. What sort of grammar structure could have one language branch off into something that holds little care for social standing and more concern for immediate survival, and another sister language so wrapped up in its own pomp and circumstance it would be next to impossible for someone not raised with it to understand every nuance of speech that could potentially be insulting?

Back to my English vs. Japanese example I found the Japanese grammatical structure. It’s served quite well as a framework.

Step 3: Syntax Specifics

This is getting long, but there’s one last step. Syntax, which is a word I might be using improperly, and I don’t care, because I need lunch. Correct me if you like, and I’ll fix it. ūüėČ

Basically, vocabulary and phonemes, because you can’t figure out vocabulary without phonemes. Stop looking at me cross-eyed. Phonemes aren’t complicated. They’re just the tiny bits of sound that make up words. Each language has a basic set of phonemes they use, and some they don’t. It’s why people have accents in different languages. Sometimes we literally can’t hear certain sounds those other languages use.

So I had to figure out the basic phonemes Elves use, then start building the words they use, and that, friends, is a far too simplistic three steps to con-langs.

Dragon Hoard Books: The Application

I don’t know that I’d apply at this bookstore, but we’ll see where it goes, eh? In the meantime, if you missed the first issue, click below to check it out, or check Shay and me¬†out on Patreon – especially our Patron-only Ask Me Anything today and monthly – to learn more about our goals for growing this comic into a genuine full-time endeavor!


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Dragon Hoard Books: So It Begins

Welcome to the beginning. If you like what you see, so far, follow the blog for more. And click one of those share buttons. Comics come out every Saturday. Unless you’re a Tier 2 Patreon Patron. Then you get them on Friday. ūüėČ

Also, pardon the dust over the next few weeks while we find our stride.


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4 Tips to Solid, Consistent World Building

It’s Wednesday, so why not? A world-building post before the new year begins. I haven’t done one in a while. Mostly because I’ve gotten some interesting reactions from Shay while we work on the first several issues of Dragon Hoard Books.

And I’ve had a variety of people in the last decade ask some variant of the question, “What’s taking so long?”

Well… World-building is taking so long.

Seems in the writing world, most people start with a genre other than fantasy or science fiction (or some odd blend of both). I suppose I’m the odd one, then. I started with an odd blend of both, because I wanted to, and I could.

Problem is, you can’t just start writing a Dragonriders of Pern fanfiction and call it your own, or pick up a drow ranger, drop him in modern times, and say you built this story. The characters have to have a world to move in, to be part of, and most importantly, to call home. You know, a world where if a major fact of it changed, they’d freak out, scream apocalypse, and panic would ensue.

In short, it’s taken me ten years to get even close to finishing novel one, because I had to learn a few things.

Stuff Authors Do For World-Building

Solidify Your Idea. Okay, so you’ve got this great idea for some sort of dragon/dragon-slayer romance set in a far off galaxy with space aliens and star ships. Great! What aliens? What star ships? How many worlds? And don’t tell me it’s Star Wars with dragons and leave it at that. Because that’s not synergy, that’s fanfic.

Research, Research, Research.¬†Raidon, Raidon, I’m writing fantasy. I don’t need RESEARCH… WRONG. Even fantasy needs research, or you end up doing silly things like, oh, I don’t know, turning a serious fantasy into a Terry Pratchett novel? Terry Pratchett is great! I love his stuff. However, his work is designed to never take itself or its genre seriously. You need to know how stuff like psychology and culture and physics work if you want to break them. At least the basics.

Build A Repository.¬†I call mine the Encyclopedia Vermillion. It’s the Scrivener file that houses books on Vermillion cultures, races and their biology, language, geography, mythology and religions, hidden organizations, and all manner of other information, including a complete directory of character profiles. (Well, it will. I’m not QUITE there yet.)

I did this so I could keep the world consistent. After all, when you know there are at least ten novels on the same world you want to write, well, it helps to have something to keep you on track. Come to think of it, I should give it its own USB drive…

Learn to Live There.¬†Yes, I do believe this is necessary, because I’m of the school of thought that thinks stuff like book covers should, I don’t know, fit the world? And that authors should be allowed to okay them. I SHOULD be able to look at a picture with the wrong color sunlight and wonder why it looks off. I should be able to see a picture of a member of one of my races and know whether it’s decently correct or not.

If I can’t, I don’t know my world very well.

In other news, I’m off to finish a bunch of stuff for said webcomic, including the Patreon, then plug some more things into the Encyclopedia. Enjoy your day. Try not to spend too much time mourning our dear Carrie Fisher.

Dragon Hoard Books: Jericho

Ace turned another page with his claw, careful not to let the paper tear. ¬†Mari bustled around the store¬†with the vacuum. ¬†Ace shook his head. ¬†What was the point? ¬†In some places, the carpet faded into bare cement patches, then back to carpet. ¬†The vacuum, in less capable hands than Mari’s, had left the bottom¬†book¬†shelves dented and chipped.

Ace dragged his attention back to the book in his hands, though the words had a funny way of moving away from his eyes. At least he knew what lurked outside, waiting for the jingle of that little bag full of cash. No one paid with checks around here. Too risky to own a checkbook. With luck, and him as escort, Mari would make it safely to the bank in a few hours, and then home unharmed. After all, both gang-bangers were Human, and they never saw him in the dark.

The whining drone of the vacuum fell silent with a click, and Mari returned the old heap to its closet. “Ace.”

“Hmm?” He looked toward the voice. Mari was back at the counter.

“You really think there’s a gang out there waitin’?”

“I saw them a few hours ago. I know Jericho. He’s been a thug since before this neighborhood went bad. No idea who the blond is. Neither of them are smart enough to stay well-hidden.”

“Oh.” She wrapped her right arm around her body, letting her shoulders droop. “What are they gonna do to us?”

“Nothing. They’ll try. I won’t let them.” He glanced to the back, the stain of Wil’s blood on the carpet creeping into his mind again.

“Ace? Ace!”

He startled, one wing knocking over a display rack of greeting cards. The cards scattered, the rack landed against a display table, sending hard covers tumbling to the floor. A pile of red envelopes slid across the carpet. Wil shouted for help from the back room. No. Wil was dead. Ace scrambled for something to ground him visually, and landed on Mari.

“Are you alright? You just,” she bit her lip, “just stopped for over a minute.”

“Fine. Fine.” He righted the rack, careful to keep his tail and wings tucked to avoid any further displacement of merchandise. The care required to keep his claws from ripping, scratching, or tearing any product¬†helped calm his nerves. After the display stood again, he turned to face Mari, “I was here¬†the night Wil died.”

She put a hand to her mouth to hid her open¬†gape. “You said it was your¬†day off.”

“It was. Didn’t stop me from dropping by for a few hours,” he shrugged. “Why don’t you get the bag ready? ¬†I just heard the back door. ¬†Cass’s here.”

“Right.” She shook her head, hugged herself, dragged in a deep breath, and let it out in a huff. “I’ll do that.”

Ace nodded once, finished straightening the display table, and sat down, picking up his book. Reading proved a fruitless endeavor. The words all blurred together, like ink pooling across a soaked newspaper. He set the book down. Mari had her back to him, hunched over the cash register. The muscles in her back and shoulders held taught, ready to run at a second’s notice. Like prey. Ace buried his face in his hands until he felt movement close to him. He looked up.

“I’m ready.” Mari stood, clutching the bag, her lips pressed thing, lines carved into her forehead. “Let’s do it.”

Ace nodded. “Thanks¬†for trusting me. Let me go first.”


He closed his eyes a moment, bringing his attention to his body, creating a barrier between his obsidian scales and the world. It may not stop a bullet, but it helped. Once finished, he tucked his wings close, and maneuvered out the front doors, keeping Mari shielded with his body as she moved out into the night.

“Wrong side, lizard boy.” The crack of a gunshot rang out.

Ace pushed Mari behind him one second too late. She cried out, and fell to the ground. He picked her up as a second shot ripped through his left wing and grazed his scales. He roared, getting Mari back inside. ¬†“Cass, call an ambulance, and get pressure on that before she bleeds out.”

“Right.” Cass nodded, purple hair¬†shading worried silver eyes. As Cass moved to Mari’s side, Ace turned to face Jericho and his new¬†buddy.

“Jericho, you’re a rat-eating son of a nethersprite, you know that?”

“Aw, did I hurt the little lizard’s feelies?”

Ace growled, fire rising in his throat. If that little bastard took one more¬†step, he’d be a roast rat.

“Um, Jer, we really shouldn’t mess with him. I mean, Drakern spit acid, don’t they?”

“Only some, and Ace wouldn’t hurt me, would ya, old pal?”

Ace closed the gap far enough for a shot, sucked in a deep breath through his nostrils, and sent it out his mouth, along with a cascade of black fire. Jericho screamed, dropped his gun, and cradled his charred arm, choking back another howl.

“You shot Wil, now¬†Mari. Take your¬†weapons and go. Your¬†little blond shadow needs new pants.”

The blond whimpered, his eyes darting from Ace to Jericho, then to Ace again. He turned dropped his gun, turned and ran. Ace walked up to Jericho, getting so close he could smell the alcohol¬†on the Human’s breath and see the patterns in his brown irises. He picked up Jericho’s gun, and dismantled it, breaking each piece and letting it fall to the ground. “Now,” he growled, letting silver smoke curl out of his mouth, “Leave, and don’t come back.”

Jericho stumbled back, turned, and ran. Ace retrieved the pieces of the destroyed gun, as well¬†as blondie’s cheap pistol, sending a silent prayer to the Creator that the ambulance siren in the distance was headed their way.

Remember, the Dragon Hoard Books webcomic goes live New Year’s Eve 2016, so check out our Patreon!

Why Can’t I Marry A Human, Mom? Genetics in Fantasy and Science Fiction

Before we begin, I must thank a few people. ¬†First, Sharon Hughson for her comment that I am, indeed, a writer who “likes to do the math.” ¬†I love to do math, at least when it applies to vital pieces of my life. ¬†From finances to science, I have an obsession with research. ¬†I freely admit, my preferred writing genre is Fantasy/SF and Science Fantasy. ¬†With that said, we all remember¬†this wonderful half-blood, don’t we?


Well, a Facebook comment got me over-analyzing again. ¬†Well, biologically, he shouldn’t exist. ¬†At all.

See, there’s this thing called blood that is vital to both species (No, Vulcans are not another race. ¬†They are another species.) ¬†Okay, back to blood. ¬†The oxygen intake mechanism in human blood is comprised of iron compounds. ¬†The metallic element in Vulcanoid blood is copper. ¬†Although one fan source claims that Vulcans are genetically similar enough to Humans to produce offspring, I have a feeling this falls in the “because Magic/Science, that’s why,” category. ¬†Copper-based blood with an unknown cellular delivery method is the first of a list of physiological and anatomical differences that just make Spock impossible. ¬†I mean, really? ¬†Vulcan hearts are where Human livers reside. ¬†How would a child like that develop without major anatomical deformities and abnormalities?

So, how does this fit into Fantasy? ‘shakes head with a sigh’

Half-Elves and Half-Orcs. ¬†How do they exist, and how do they work? ¬†The short answer is, that entirely depends on the creator of the world. ¬†Clearly, Star Trek began in a time when we didn’t understand enough about genetics or necessarily anatomy and physiology, for Gene Roddenberry to have easy access to the latest scientific breakthroughs. ¬†No Facebook, no Google or Bing, none of it. ¬†Spock can be forgiven as an anomaly of the past, a delightful Science Fiction anachronism.

Moving on.  We now understand enough about genetics to realize a few things.  A donkey and a horse will never breed true.  It will be a mule or a hinny.  End of story.  A tiger and a lion?  Liger or tion all the way.  Frankly, the response on Facebook to my last post sums it up well.

Usually fantasy has some origin story for the elves that has them a special race created apart from humanity and the other races. Krynn, the world of Dragonlance, has the gnomes splitting into the dwarves and the kender due to the interactions with a certain magical artifact. They also have Ogres as the fallen evil descendents of a good race called the Irda. Magical interference aside, I see no reason why ANY of the playable races should have a half-breed version. Unless they came from a common descent, there isn’t a chance of interbreeding possible. Same with science fiction like Star Trek. Sorry Spock, but you are not possible. Your dad could have married a sheep and the same results would occur.

~Michael Miller

Perhaps the predominant humanoid races on a world have chromosomal patterns that do match up fully. However, certain protein match-ups in the DNA strand have created enough differentiation that they are all essentially sub-species, and can interbreed, but again, you will still get something very, very different than the original parents. Additionally, there would be susceptibilities and other issues that would not exist for the parents. ¬†That’s my take on it, anyway.

What are your thoughts?