Today I’d like to discuss how my story, Blade of the Vagabond, was created and how it was ultimately awarded an Honorable Mention in the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest.
The idea to write Blade of the Vagabond came when I noticed an open call from a major science fiction and fantasy publisher. They were looking for fantasy novellas inspired by non-European cultures. An idea hit me so powerfully that I stopped work on my novel in progress to focus on this new project.
At the time I had no hope of making the deadline, but the idea wouldn’t leave me alone. I put everything aside and pushed on.
The first inkling of a concept for this story began to sprout while taking an Arthurian Literature class at UMASS Lowell. The professor, Dr. Archer, assigned a paper where we were to write about any topic on the Middle Ages we wanted to explore. I knew exactly what I wanted to research and became excited by the prospect.
Having been a martial artist all my life, and having years of training in a system centered on Japanese Feudal combat, I decided to research Medieval fighting systems. My focus was on sword schools as there was ample woodcut evidence through surviving woodcuts that depicted the techniques.
I used books like Sigmund Ringeck’s Knightly Arts of Combat: Sword and Buckler Fighting, Wrestling, and Fighting in Armor by David Lidholm.
Knightly Arts of Combat: Sword-and-Buckler Fighting, Wrestling, and Fighting in Armor
As I crafted the paper, I thought about how interesting it would be to include realistic combat dynamics into fantasy fiction. The concept stayed in the back of my mind but remained just a potential idea jotted down in my notebook.
When I learned about the open call for non-European inspired fantasy fiction, I thought it would be fun to create a world based on ancient Japan. Although, I also drew from ancient Korea and China.
Wanting to create a swashbuckling sword and sorcery epic fantasy drama, I drew upon many inspirations including Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian and Kull the Conquer series of stories. Inspiration also came from the Seven Samurai (1954) and the Jidaigeki (period dramas) and chanbara (sword fighting Amurai cinema).
However, I didn’t want to include the samurai or the ninja as this had been done to death. Instead, I used an obscure book as my inspiration for a fighting wizard character: Leung Ting’s Skills of the Vagabonds. The book had capitalized on the 1980s ninja boom comparing the Chinese Vagabond assassins to Japan’s ninja assassins. Marketing at its finest! The glowing eyes on the cover of the book had stayed with me over the years and I thought it would be great fodder for fantasy fiction.
Skills of the Vagabonds
Delving deeply into Japanese mythology, I began to craft the story into a 20,000-word novella, the low end of the word count required for submission.
For the title, I decided on a mixture of Skills of the Vagabond and a variant of the “Swords” titles prevalent in the fantasy genre like Swords against Wizardry (Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser sequence) by Fritz Leiber and Sword of Destiny (Witcher Saga) by Andrzej Sapkowski. Blade of the Vagabond sounded like a fantasy story to my ear.
Despite the open call ending before I finished, I soldiered on completing the first draft and then shelving the project until, six months later, they opened for submissions once again.
Next time, I’ll delve into the submission process that led to receiving an Honorable Mention. I’ll also reveal the original title and how and why it changed. I hope you’ll follow my blog to find out what happened.
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