Posts Tagged ‘Dark Arts’

See me on Russ’s Rockin’ Rollercoaster

A week from tonight, I’ll be the guest on the next Zoom-powered episode of Russ’s Rockin’ Rollercoaster, an Internet-based half-hour interview/talk show run by my pal Russ Colchamiro.

We’ll talk generally about my writing for science fiction and fantasy, and specifically about my work for Star Trek and my original fantasy series Dark Arts.

If you want to watch the show LIVE and take part in its Q&A portion, you need to register in advance here. You’ll get the viewing link after you sign up. But be chill—the tickets are FREE!

If you miss the live show don’t sweat it; Russ will post it a few days later to YouTube.

I hope to catch some of your crazy cats live on THURSDAY, JULY 30, from 8:00pm – 8:30pm EDT.

The Shadow Commission Spotify Playlist

In the past couple of years, I’ve brought you Spotify playlist guides for my first Dark Arts novel, The Midnight Front (see its Playlist Guide), and its sequel, The Iron Codex (see its Playlist Guide). To complete the trifecta, I bring you the series’ third playlist, for book three, The Shadow Commission. (Visit its Spotify playlist now.)

Music is invaluable to me as a storyteller. It inspires me with new ideas, and when I’m working, movie soundtracks often help me maintain a consistent frame of mind and emotional state that’s suited to whatever I’m working on.

Once again, to give you a look into my brain’s creative relationship with music, and how it connects to the stories that I write, I have assembled this guide to The Shadow Commission’s playlist. Not all chapters or scenes have specific tracks associated with them, but those that do, I’ve done my best to annotate accordingly.

A review of the playlist reveals that the biggest musical influences this time, as with book two, were spy-movie soundtracks. Specifically, Skyfall and Spectre by Thomas Newman. Also making numerous appearances are tracks from the various Avengers movies’ soundtracks, as well as from some sci-fi classics and cult films, such as Children of Dune by Brian Tyler, Donnie Darko by Michael Andrews, and Stargate by David Arnold, among others.

The Shadow Commission will be published on Tuesday, August 11, 2020, by Tor Books.

Nota Bene: Not all of the listed tracks are available for playback on Spotify, due to ever-changing licensing permissions, etc. Those of you who collect movie soundtracks might own one or more of these discs already. If you can compile your own local playlist based on this, all the better.

Also note that the playlist guide contains spoilers, especially for the end of the book. This is meant as a companion piece to be enjoyed after reading the novel.


Murder in the Morning
“Even for You”
Avengers: Infinity War (Alan Silvestri)


Cade and Anja Get Bad News
“Wish You Were Here”
Avengers: Age of Ultron (Brian Tyler)


The Kennedy Assassination
“War Begins”
Children of Dune (Brian Tyler)

A Cardinal Demands Answers
“Child Emperor”
Children of Dune (Brian Tyler)


Cade’s Fears Made Manifest
“Sins of the Mother”
Children of Dune (Brian Tyler)

Dallas Ambush by Hammers
“Exit Mr. Hat”
The Matrix (Don Davis)


The Dark Circle Begins
“Je Suis de Sole”
Mission: Impossible – Fallout (Lorne Balfe)


Exploding Mirrors
“Quartz Shipment”
Stargate: The Deluxe Edition (David Arnold)


The Siege of Naxos
“Fighting Back” / “Uprising” / “Outlook”
Avengers: Age of Ultron (Brian Tyler)


Talking to Oswald
“Keys to the Past”
Avengers: Age of Ultron (Brian Tyler)


Stealing from the FBI
“Springing Erik”
X-Men: Days of Future Past (John Ottman)


Briet vs. the Golem
“Man vs. Beast”
Kong: Skull Island (Henry Jackman)


Zona Rosa
“Welcome to Cuba”
Die Another Day (David Arnold)

Searching Rocha’s Pad
“Unauthorised Access”
Casino Royale (David Arnold)


Luis’s Vision
“Living an Illusion”
Dark City (Trevor Jones)


Silo Under Siege / Frank’s Death
“A Lot to Figure Out”
Avengers: Infinity War (Alan Silvestri)

Miles Is Summoned / He Says Good-bye
Avengers: Infinity War (Alan Silvestri)


Miles Underground
“What Did It Cost?”
Avengers: Infinity War (Alan Silvestri)

Demonic Delivery
Blade Runner 2049 (Hans Zimmer & Benjamin Wallfisch)


Razing Monte Paterno
“I Am the Storm”
Mission: Impossible – Fallout (Lorne Balfe)

Plotting Cade’s End
“Carpathian Ridge”
Donnie Darko (Michael Andrews)


Ammo Factory Showdown
Thor: The Dark World (Brian Tyler)


Cade & Briet in the Lake
“Camille’s Story”
Quantum of Solace (David Arnold)

Luis’s Disciples in Rome
“Goodbye, My Son”
Man of Steel (Hans Zimmer)


Cade & Anja by Moonlight
Skyfall (Thomas Newman)


The Bank Job Begins
“Frankenstein’s Monster”
X-Men: First Class (Henry Jackman)


Cade Faces the Old Man
“Kite in a Hurricane”
Spectre (Thomas Newman)


Yasmin Conspires with Niccolò
“Recruiting Psylocke”
X-Men: Apocalypse (John Ottman)



“The Mission Is Terminated”
Mission: Impossible – Fallout (Lorne Balfe)


Cade Breaks Free
Skyfall (Thomas Newman)


Monks and Mages Arm for War
“Steps Ahead”
Mission: Impossible – Fallout (Lorne Balfe)


Alpine Combat / Hellhounds
“Snow Plane”
Spectre (Thomas Newman)

Violent Attrition
“The Bloody Shot”
Skyfall (Thomas Newman)


Cade & Lila / The Old Man
Iron Man 3 (Brian Tyler)

The Betrayal and the Sacrifice
Spectre (Thomas Newman)


Spirit Hammer
“Can You Stop This Thing?”
Avengers: Age of Ultron (Danny Elfman)

Cade Dies
Mad Max: Fury Road (Tom Holkenborg)

Anja & Briet Take Revenge
“Darkest of Intentions”
Avengers: Age of Ultron (Brian Tyler)

Leveling the Chalet
Stargate: The Deluxe Edition (David Arnold)


A Tragic Return
“I Feel You”
Avengers: Infinity War (Alan Silvestri)


A Bittersweet Homecoming
“What Beach?”
X-Men: Apocalypse (John Ottman)


Anja’s Warning
“The Grim Reavers”
Logan (Marco Beltrami)


Three Sisters Scatter
“Don’t Be What They Made You”
Logan (Marco Beltrami)


End Titles
“Gimme Shelter”
The Rolling Stones, Let It Bleed

Art is a Kind of Magic, Magic a Kind of Art

Making good art is hard.

That turned out to be a key concept in my new epic fantasy novel about a secret war between Allied and Nazi sorcerers during World War II, but I didn’t know that until after I had started writing it.

When I began working on The Midnight Front, my goal was to tell a secret-history adventure that transplanted Renaissance-era ceremonial magic into a 20th-century setting. For those who are unfamiliar with the precepts of ceremonial magic from the Christian tradition, its central idea is that all true magic (as opposed to stage magic), from the smallest trick to the grandest miracle, is predicated upon the conjuring and control of demons. The terminology of this style of magic is highly technical and antiseptic, and its practitioners treated the exercise of magic like a form of science (possibly because magic during that period was connected closely with the practices of alchemy, the forerunner of modern chemistry).

To make my novels’ system of magic more cinematic (and therefore better suited to a fast-paced action narrative), I grafted onto it the concept of “yoking,” in which a magician binds one or more demons to his or her mind and body and, for as long as he or she is able to maintain control over the spirits, wields the demons’ powers as if they were his or her own.

In the interest of limiting my characters’ ability to wield such powers I imposed certain consequences upon this practice. My characters soon learn that yoking demons is a miserable experience, one that comes with such side effects as headaches, nosebleeds, intestinal distress, obsessive-compulsive habits, self-harm such as cutting and hair-pulling, nightmares, and other such unpleasantness.

Consequently, my characters swiftly take to self-medication to mitigate the side effects that come with yoking demons. Alcohol, cigarettes, marijuana, opium—whatever dulls the pain and quiets the voices, my characters make use of it so that they can yoke more spirits, gain more power, and try to win the war. So far it seemed to be shaping up into a well-balanced and narratively workable system of magic.

Then, one night a few years ago, I was describing the magic system to a friend at a party, and I experienced a revelation: the system of magic I had concocted, and the manner in which my characters coped with its deleterious consequences, mirrored my own creative process.

When I stepped back from my story and examined its moving parts, I realized that magic, which my characters sometimes call simply “the Art,” was a metaphor for all types of creative art. The notion of having to perform exhaustive research and preparation, and to master the fundamentals of the process before being able to use magic professionally was no different from the learning curve experienced by any artist. Writers, painters, musicians, actors, sculptors — any artistic discipline that I could think of fit this paradigm.

Then I thought about what demons represented beyond the context of my story, and I saw that they were metaphors for those forces that drive artists to create, to reshape reality. Some of those forces are benign, but others are not. How many artists have spoken of grappling with their “personal demons” during the act of creation? How many of us find the inspirations for our art in the darker corners of our psyches?

Even my characters’ coping mechanisms are hauntingly familiar to anyone who knows people who make their living in the arts. The creative professions sometimes seem almost synonymous with substance abuse. Opiates and music have a long shared history, as do writing and alcohol. I’ve never made any secret of my own proclivity for drinking; I have long practiced the edict “write drunk, edit sober” (a saying often attributed, possibly in error, to Ernest Hemingway).

The most vital parallel between my perception of artistic expression and the depiction of magic in my Dark Arts series lies in my main character’s moral conundrum: How can he do good in the world when his power is derived from a source considered to be the ultimate incarnation of evil?

The answer, both for my character and myself, is that what matters most is not the source from which one derives power, but what one ultimately does with that power. That’s as true for artists as it is for magicians. Even when our inspirations are drawn from the darkest places, what’s important is that we use our gifts to shed new light — and that we do our best to burn brightly.

The Midnight Front: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound | Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

This blog post originally ran on the Unbound Worlds blog in January 2018. That site no longer exists, so I have reposted my essay here.

The Shadow Commission delayed until August 11

For those who have pre-ordered The Shadow Commission, my upcoming third Dark Arts novel from Tor Books, be informed that due to the effects of the ongoing pandemic on the publishing industry and related businesses, the release date of my book (and many others) has been delayed.

Originally scheduled to publish on June 9, 2020, The Shadow Commission is now scheduled to debut on August 11, 2020.

I know it’s a bummer, but there’s really nothing that can be done about it. Many publishers, including Tor’s corporate parent company, Macmillan, are laying off employees and reducing the salaries of those who remain. Printers are running out of paper to print books, because the supply lines for their just-in-time inventory model have been disrupted. There are fewer truckers to cart books from printers to warehouses, and from warehouses to retailers. And the brick-and-mortar retailers are mostly closed, and the biggest online retailer isn’t accepting books right now.

Kind of a perfect storm of suck, really.

At any rate, please be patient. Here’s hoping that when the book arrives at last, you’ll all agree it was worth the wait.



Iron Codex on sale, plus Dark Arts news (#SFWApro)

If you’ve read The Midnight Front, Book 1 of my Dark Arts trilogy from Tor Books, and you want to read more of my black-magic secret-history series, eBooks of Book 2, The Iron Codex, go on sale this Friday, October 25, 2019, for just $2.99.

The Iron Codex is a classic Cold War-era spy thriller, in the style of John Le Carré or Ian Fleming, mixed with Renaissance-era ceremonial black magic. I like to describe it as “Hellfire heats up the Cold War.”

The fine folks at Tor Books are offering U.S. readers an unbeatable price on eBooks of The Iron Codex, this Friday through the end of Halloween.

With Dark Arts, Book 3, The Shadow Commission, recently back from copy editing and slated for publication on June 9, 2020, now is a good time to get caught up on my action-packed series.

If you’d like to know more about the Dark Arts series, check out this new video interview of yours truly, conducted by Carl Birkmeyer of the Baltimore County Public Library. We talked about the origin of the series, its magic system, and its principal themes.


The Iron Codex is up for a Dragon Award

My secret-history fantasy thriller The Iron Codex has been nominated for a 2019 Dragon Award in the category of Best Alternate History Novel!

I’m grateful to all the fans who signed up and nominated my book for this honor. Of course, my tome is up against some serious heavyweight competition, so the odds of me taking home the award are slim, at best.

Still, I urge you, whoever you are, to sign up to vote now if you haven’t already — it’s free, and all it takes is an email — and please, if you think my book deserves it, give it your vote as Best Alternate History Novel.

In addition, some of my friends have works on this year’s final ballot, in other categories. If you’re willing, I hope you’ll consider casting your votes for their works, as well:

Best Military SF Novel: Uncompromising Honor by David Weber

Best Media Tie-in Novel: Star Trek: Discovery – The Way to the Stars by Una McCormack

Best Horror Novel: 100 Fathoms Below by Steven L. Kent, Nicholas Kaufmann

Best Graphic Novel: Monstress Vol. 3 by Marjorie Liu, Sana Takeda

Thanks to all who have supported my work up to this point, and to all who vote for it to win!


Interview on The Skiffy and Fanty Show Blog

Over on the blog of The Skiffy & Fanty Show, Paul Weimer has published an interview with me about my Dark Arts series, with a focus on its most recently published volume, The Iron Codex.

We got into some fairly substantial questions about the series in general and the new book in particular. If you have a moment, give it a look.

Here’s an excerpt of one part of the Q&A:

PW: You’ve penned sequels and follow-on novels in the various fictional universes you’ve written in before. What was different about your process in tackling The Iron Codex?

DM: Adding stories to the ongoing literary continuity of Star Trek, as I’ve been doing since 2001, is very different from writing a sequel to my own original novel.

When I write a Star Trek novel, I’m able to take advantage of the fact that many ideas and concepts don’t need to be explained in great detail, because readers of Star Trek novels are already familiar with the series’ setting and characters.

When I started plotting The Iron Codex, I had to deal with challenges that were new to me. One was that I needed to quickly refresh readers’ understanding of the complicated system of ceremonial magic I had developed in the first Dark Arts novel, The Midnight Front. But I also wanted the plot of book two to move quickly, in the style of classic Ian Fleming spy-thrillers.

It’s live now. Go check it out!