Announcing Rogue Derelict

An original story set in Lindsay Buroker’s Fallen Empire setting

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For quite a while I’ve been interested in collaborating with another author on a book. If you follow me at all, you know that my paths have crossed with Lindsay Buroker on many occassions, most notably her recruitment of me to pitch in on the Science Fiction and Fantasy Marketing Podcast. She’s basically the author I want to be when I grow up, with the dedication and prolific brain to pump out books three times faster than I could ever hope to.

Lindsay’s multiple series tend to make a pretty big splash once they build up a head of steam, and her Firefly-esque space opera known as the Fallen Empire series is so popular Amazon tapped it for their Kindle Worlds program, which allows other authors/fans/etc to write stories in a setting and split the earnings with the series creator. When she was looking for reliable authors to pen a novel for launch, I ignored the requirement that we be reliable and threw my hat in the ring. The result? Fallen Empire: Rogue Derelict. Here’s the Blurb:

Rogue Derelict is pulse-pounding side-story set in the universe of Lindsay Buroker’s Fallen Empire Series.

In the chaos following the fall of the empire, Benita Castor wants nothing more than to live a nice quiet life. She thought she made all the right decisions. What could be safer than becoming an accountant? Where could she be more secure than the industrial fringe of the empire’s most civilized planet? Yet somehow, she finds herself in the employ of a crime boss and is shipped off to audit a recent acquisition in a forgotten corner of the system.

Her new assignment is an old Kirian space station being developed by Nori Veshcha, an enterprising woman with big plans for the relic. Nori is overflowing with ambition, innovative ideas, and confidence—though her crew leaves something to be desired. Her chief technician, Blick Mathson, is a man more familiar with collecting debts than repairing ships. The only other crew member, her personal valet Lefty Hammermill, is a dim-witted but well-meaning grunt with secondhand cybernetics. Not much of a workforce to tackle the task of converting a centuries-old hunk of junk into a cutting-edge resort, but Nori is nothing if not determined.

At first, the assignment has the makings of an unpleasant but uneventful enterprise, even if Nori is somewhat overly cool, Blick is a bit overly warm, and Lefty is just overly Lefty. When a second relic of a bygone era makes an unscheduled arrival and its crew assumes Benita is their Kirian commander, she and the others realize the echoes of the past could have grave consequences for their future.

Can a mismatched skeleton crew on a malfunctioning space station rise to the challenge, or will a remnant of history remind the system that some threats aren’t gone, they’re simply forgotten?

If you’ve never read any of Lindsay’s Fallen Empire stories–first of all, you should–fear not. I chose to produce an original set of characters to play around in their setting. Though pre-existing knowledge of the setting might help you enjoy the story, I’ve endeavored to include enough context to make it enjoyable even from a complete newcomer’s perspective. (None of my beta readers have read Lindsay’s stuff, and they seemed to enjoy it.)

I hope you’ll give the story a chance. If you like it, remember there is a whole world of others, not to mention Lindsay’s original stories. Right now it is exclusive to Amazon, and also exclusive to the United States, so not all of you will have the opportunity to read it. For those aren’t chased away by those limitations, check it out along with the rest of the series. For the rest of you, I’ve got a little something to make it up to you…

All Hands Meeting

“Okay, okay. Can may I have your attention please!”

The man addressing the audience was a bit portly and unkempt. He was exceedingly hairy, though while his face and arms were visibly hirsute, the one place where hair was beginning to diminish was his head. Nonetheless, he seemed the jovial sort, and the crowd quickly fell silent in expectation of whatever reason he had for calling them all together.

His capacity to earn the respect and attention of the crowd was impressive, considering the extreme diversity of the audience. A large proportion were human beings of various races and ages, but the more notable members of the crowd included a small collection of dragons, a swarm of fairies, two or three dwarves, and quite a few beasts which defied simple classification.

“Before we get started, are there any questions?” he asked.

A white-furred hand rose from the crowd.

“Yes, Ivy.”

“Um… I hope I don’t seem too foolish for asking this,” asked the malthrope, “But who are you? You seem awfully familiar, but I’m not sure I’ve seen you before.”

“I’m your creator,” he said.

She tipped her head to the side. “Are you sure? Because I’m pretty sure Demont was my creator, and you seem an awful lot nicer than him already.”

“No, no. I mean the creator of all of you. Of all of this. I’m the author.”

“Oh,” she said with a nod. “So this is one of those… what do you call them…”

“Fourth-wall breaking, non-canon, post-modern literary experiments,” remarked a scientist among the crowd. “Figures.”

“That’s right, Karter,” the author said.

“I hate when people do that. They always think they’re being so cute, but they’re all just ripping off Chuck Jones and being self-indulgent.”

“Somehow I thought you’d be one of the more difficult ones to deal with in this process.”

“Do I have to be here for this?”

“Only if I decide you have something interesting to say.”

“Well please don’t.”

“Don’t hold your breath. People tend to get a kick out of your attitude.”

A piecemeal voice spoke up next. “I apologize for the breach in protocol, as I understand that it is typical to indicate one’s desire to issue an inquiry by raising an extremity, but I presently lack any appropriate pieces of anatomy.”

“That’s fine, Ma. What’s your question?”

“Am I correct in assuming this is not the first time I have been present at a moment that could be termed non-canon?”

“We did a character interview in which you more or less figured out your own fictional nature.”

“Such was my hypothesis. A reasonable extrapolation based upon these facts would be that, as Karter is my own creator, and you are his, I am at best two levels removed from a genuine, legitimate product of nature.”

“Pretty much.”

“That is moderately distressing, as it further reduces my already ill-defined but unenviable role in society.”

“I wouldn’t worry about it. You’re pretty much one of the most important people in your universe. Heck, people like you better than Lex.”

“Hey!” remarked a jumpsuit-clad space-jockey.

“Sorry, buddy. It’s well known, main characters in my stories are usually eclipsed by the more interesting supporting cast, what with them not having to shoulder the load of the plot.”

“And whose fault is that?”

“It’s my fault. Literally everything in all of your universes is my fault.”

A young woman dressed in an elegant cloak raised her hand.

“Yes, Myranda.”

“So it is by your will that my world was plunged into more than a century of war? That some of the finest beings I have ever known lost their lives, and my own existence has been an endless string of trials?”

“Yep.”

“All of this time I’d believed the D’Karon were the greatest evil in creation, but you are the true source of our woes.”

“Yeah. Sorry about that. See, the only way you can exist is if your world continues to be dramatically interesting to the people reading about your adventures, so I more or less have to play the ‘vile and pitiless whims of fate’ most of the time. If it’s any consolation, I’m also the source of everything good in your world. And at least your world has to make sense. Reality can be completely nonsensical, and that’s where I live. Any more questions?”

A few more hands rose.

“Uh, yes. Deacon, Philo, Lex, Non-Sequitur, what’ve you got for me?”

“Are we all the same person?” Philo asked.

“Uh… I mean… you’re the same type of person. Sort of a Lallo Archetype.”

“Uh-huh. And I’ve noticed that Garotte, Desmeres, Gunner, and—“

“Yeah, yeah. Let’s not draw too much attention to that. We’ll just say that the differences between certain groups of you are more nuanced than overt. What about you, Deacon?”

“Forgive my presumption, but was there some purpose for this meeting beyond plunging your various creations into a profound existential crisis?”

“Good question. Yes! I called you all here to discuss something very important. Something that potentially affects the future of all of your worlds.”

“What force could be so potent as to alter the path of so many worlds?” asked a dark-skinned woman in a complex leather and canvas outfit.

“I’m glad you asked, Nita. The answer is simple. Merchandising.”

The crowd collectively groaned.

“Not this again,” grumbled Karter.

“Now, now, hear me out,” the author said. “The people want merch.”

“No, they don’t!” barked a white-haired fellow with a fancy weapon.

“Come on, Dezmer, I—“

“It’s pronounced Dez-mer-ess! You created me. How can you fail to properly pronounce my name?”

“Look, my buddy came up with your name, and I misheard him. Can we please stay on topic? Now, I think the time has come to get some fun new doodads out there for the people.”

“The people don’t want doodads, my boy,” said a debonair sci-fi type. “They want books.”

“Yeah, honey,” added the soccer-mom-type by his side. “Pretty much the only thing folks really want out of an indie author is the next book. Now if you are looking to make some more money, I’ve always wanted to see what you could do with romance.”

The author shook his head. “No. No you don’t, Silo. But I admit, Desmeres and Garotte have a point. Despite some initial enthusiasm for some of my ideas, broadly speaking the only thing the readers have really wanted to do is read, and I think that’s understandable. But this time, I think it’ll be different.”

“What is different this time?” Deacon asked.

“This time I’m going to go straight to the source to come up with ideas. I’m going to ask you, the characters to pitch merch ideas.”

“But… since you created us… ain’t that just you askin’ yourself?” asked a tall deckhand.

“Yeah, this whole thing is coming off as kind of masturbatory,” added a red-skinned demon.

“Whoa, hey, let’s keep it PG, Trixie.”

“I’m a succubus. You don’t put a succubus in something you want kept PG.”

“Yeah… Yeah, I didn’t really think that through. But then, I didn’t think any of your stuff through. Between was sort of an afterthought.”

“DID SOMEBODY CALL AFTERTHOUGHT?” proclaimed a costumed crime-fighter.

“Heh. I kind of forgot about you.”

He shrugged. “You and everyone else.”

“Anyway, how about you folks get together in groups, brainstorm some stuff, and then we’ll see what you come up with.”

*** Several minutes later ***

“Everybody just about ready?” the author said.

The audience settled down again, and lined up, several of them clustered together into a series of like-minded groups.

“Okay, Ivy, Rill, something told me the two-to-four of you would pair up.”

“We think it’d be lots of fun if you released an album!” Right-Rill said.

“I agree. It’d be lovely. These three have wonderful voices. And the music from these different worlds is so different and lively,” Ivy said. “There are new instruments for me to learn.”

The author sucked his teeth. “You have no idea how much I’d like to do that sort of thing. But the price would be astronomical. As Rill found out, I’m not even technically allowed to directly quote the lyrics of the songs she sings.”

“Wait… you mean people can’t actually hear us singing?” Left-Rill snapped.

“It’s text, Rill. They only read descriptions.”

“Why do you have so many musical characters if you don’t actually have music?” Rill asked.

“I like music,” the author said.

“Well this should be a natural idea then,” Ivy said. “Maybe we could write the songs. That’d be fun.”

“It’s more complicated than that. All I have to do is say you’ve got angelic voices and a natural talent for music and you do. In order for me actually make an album, I’d have to actually have those skills, or find those who do, and that costs money too.”

“Oh. … Reality sounds difficult,” Ivy said.

“It’s surprisingly tricky.”

“Well, good luck then,” she said hopping up and giving him a hug. “And thanks for creating me.”

“Aw…” the author said. “I really should create more characters as affectionate as you.”

“Creator’s pet…” muttered Trixie.

“Hey, be nice. Ma, what did you come up with?”

“There seems to be a considerable amount of interest and success in the world of digital gaming. It is, if my assessment is accurate, one of the few areas of modern entertainment that is a match for literature in terms of the potential for success for small, independent creators.”

“Well, Ma. You’re not wrong. But again, this is a matter of finances. I don’t have any friends in the indie game biz, despite my many years of attending conventions with them. And a game isn’t something you commission.”

“It was my understanding that the focus of your education was the creation of computer hardware and software.”

“Sure, but if I was any good at that, I’d probably be doing that instead and none of you people would be here. Except for Myranda and the crew. They predate my professional author endeavors. Next!”

A young woman in a red and white latex uniform stepped up.

“What’s up, Nonsensica?”

“Two words: Action. Figures,” she said. “Imagine it, the whole ‘The Other Eight’ cast, in a big collectible play set with props and stuff. You can get the Sideshow Collectibles-style high quality things for Halfax back there, and Lain, and any of the fancy types, but for me and the gang, I want eleven points of articulation, minimum.”

“I like the idea. I really do. But…”

“Money…” Nonsensica said flatly.

“Yeah. I tried my hand at engineering that sort of thing over the holidays, and proved to myself I do not have chops for it. Considering how much I spent just getting the figurines made, and those have zero points of articulation, I hesitate to imagine how much I’d be spending for the full G.I. Joe treatment. And I’ll remind you, I didn’t sell that many of those.”

“Okay, fine. Next up, movies. Sell the rights to Hollywood. That Andy Weir guy got a movie made, and what’s-his-face with the 80s pop-culture mashup. The market is still scrambling for more superhero movies, and the Other Eight are ready to deliver.”

The author sighed. “The traditional literary world didn’t want anything to do with me. Hollywood isn’t likely to be more welcoming.”

“… Fine… I’ve got another one. Comic books.”

“Again, the literary world didn’t want me. Comics are pretty much the same level of utterly unforgiving to new talent.”

“Then do a web comic.”

“Oh, I am doing that. That’s who those two are. Say hi, Ray and Louis!”

A chubby boy and his leaner friend waved.

I’m a celebrity!” remarked the chubby boy in utter ecstasy.

“Wait…” Nonsensica said. “You have a book about superheroes… But when the time came to make a comic, you went with little kids? What’re you trying to do? Rip off Stranger Things?”

The author crossed his arms. “I’ll have you know, I wrote that comic years ago.”

“Fine, then you were ripping off Gravity Falls.”

“I never saw Gravity Falls.”

“Well you must have known about it, because I know about it, and you created me.”

“I found out about it subsequently. Moving on,” the author said.

The pair of deckhands stepped up.

“Lil, Coop, what are you thinking about?”

“I think you should make buttons or patches or somethin’,” Lil said. “The sort of stuff a body could clip on or sew on to somethin’ they already got to make it look like somethin’ they bought from you.”

“Interesting… I’ll have to look into it. Coop, you got anything?”

“Under-britches.”

“… Underwear.”

“If that’s how you call ‘em. Everybody needs Under-britches. Most folk need two or three pair. You could sell a bunch, I reckon.”

“But how would they be merchandise? Would I put logos on them?”

“I was thinkin’, since most folk wear their under-britches under their britches, can’t nobody see ’em. So I reckon you ought to do something you can tell even without seeing them. Make ‘em smell.”

“… Scented underwear… I mostly write in fantasy and steampunk. I can’t imagine there are too many people looking for authentic medieval or Victorian smell from their underwear.”

“Which one of them’s the book I come from?”

“Steampunk.”

“… You sayin’ I smell?”

“I think we ought to leave ‘em be, Coop. We said our piece,” Lil said.

“Yep,” said the author. “Um… Who else? Oh… that many… Well, we’re up over 2,000 words, which is kind of a lot for an April Fools thing, so I think we’re through being meta for today. But we can think it over off-page. Any last requests before you all head back to your respective homes?”

“Would you please consider publishing the book I’m in?” said a young man in medieval garb.

“Edge, we’ve been through this.”

“People want another story with Halfax, and he’s in it…”

“…Edge…”

“Buka’s even got art commissioned of him, and no one even knows who he is!”

“Look, Edge, you’re half the reason it isn’t out yet.”

That was before the rewrite! I’m sitting in an EDITED book sitting there collecting DUST!

“The fans said they didn’t want your book until I was done with Myranda’s story. Take it up with them.”

“I would, if you let me out more than once a year. I’m pretty sure people would want to read my story if they knew I was teamed up with—“

“Hey! I’m not wearing the spoiler hat, so no spoilers! Thanks, everyone, for coming out and sharing your ideas. See you all next year. If you’re a member of ULCA, I guess you can stick around, since you’re probably going to have your meeting here in a few minutes. The rest of you, see you in the sequels!”

How I Write: Step 4.5 – The On-The-Fly Rewrite

I’d not anticipated doing another “How I Write” article until I was finished with the rough draft, but given the major shift this story just took in my head, it’s worth doing a little addendum to my Rough Draft Step concerning when a better idea asserts itself.

The Hardware

All the same hardware as before, except this time special emphasis on the “mobile” pad and pen. Since I don’t think I spoke about them yet, we might as well talk about the authorly elements of my Everyday Carry.

First up, the memo pad. All the same requirements here as in my “Bird’s Eye View” section, but scaled down for portability. I like those little 3×5 memo pads, because they fit nice into my back pocket. Since they tend to get pretty beat up over the course of a few months, I invested in a cheap leather cover for mine, which tends to extend their operational lifetime. Eventually they get ragged regardless, so be sure to go through and transcribe your ideas periodically.

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Try to ignore the specific contours on the one on the right. That lives in my back pocket, so it’s sort of… conformed.

Another thing that works well is one of those little bitty moleskine notebooks. They’re sturdier, the pages tend not to rub against each other as much so the writing doesn’t get smudged, and the pages don’t tear out so it’s better for saving for posterity. But it’s not top bound, so I find I have trouble writing in it sometimes. Also, I do like being able to tear out pages if needed. The ubiquitous “Field Notes” books have the same pros and cons, though I’ve never owned one, so they may be moderately improved over the vanilla moleskines.

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From left to right: Inka, Golf Pencil, Fisher Space Pen. I suspect you could have worked that out on your own.

You’ll also need something to write with. The standard is the marvelous Fisher Space Pen. While it doesn’t fit my usual “left-hand friendly” requirements, it’s convenient and high enough quality that I let it slide. Nice and small, writes on anything (within reason) starts easily even after not being used for a while. Another excellent option is the Inka pen. It fits on your key chain, basically writes the same as the fisher space pen (I think they take the same refills) but with a bit more time it can be converted into a full-size pen far more effectively than simply slapping the cap on the other end. I carry both at all times, and yes, I’ve had to use both of them on more than one occasion. You’d be surprised how often you find yourself in a situation where suddenly everyone has to write and there aren’t enough pens to go around. In a pinch, you can get a ton of golf pencils for super cheap, but then tend to rub off for me.

Special bonus to this section, since the rewrite usually comes to me while I’m taking a walk, something to play music/podcasts. Be it a cheap mp3 player or your phone, I can’t tell you how often I broke a stubborn bit of story while taking a long walk and letting my mind wander.

The Software

Again, all the same deal here, but you might want to pick an app on your phone for note taking. I’ve never had much luck doing decent writing on my phone while I’m on the go—hence all the pads—but google docs (or whatever they call it now) has ended up being the app of last resort for jotting down short stories more than once. I like that it backs up to the cloud automatically. Alternately, you can just do voice recordings.

The Content

Maybe you’re better at outlining than I am, but I find no matter how much time I spend working out the beats and whatever other phrases author-type people use to dress up the process of make-believe, I always find once it starts forming on paper I’m about a thread and a half short of making the story flow correctly. Normally, this takes the form of my first act being a very step-by-step “getting the good guys to the place where the bad things happen” without much to break it up and keep it interesting. Also, while things frequently work in my head, once the characters start laying out what’s going to happen and why, I start to question their motivations. Remember, “because that’s what needs to happen to make the plot work” is never a good enough reason for someone to do something. They need to act in a way that is consistent with their character and in a way that makes logical sense in the world. You can get around this if the character is insane, but take it from me, having an insane person driving the plot can get old in a hurry and write you into some weird corners.

So, what do you do when you realize the book is missing something? Add it! Ideally this would have happened in the planning stage, but at this point we’re into the meat of the story, so you’ll have to “do it live” so to speak. It’s not really a big problem, and frankly I often find doing it this way helps catch far more issues than doing it beforehand. The process is simple. Utilizing the methods in the last section, drop down some ***NOTE TO SELF*** entries—either in the text itself or in a separate note document—and lay out the proposed additions/changes. In my case this is usually a whole new thread in a different location, or a minor side thread happening between two supporting characters. This will help you fill in those ***Another scene?*** placeholders that may or may not pop up when other scenes are taking too long, and will either give you a nice breather to space out action, or provide a pop of action to spice up character/drama scenes. Hooray for contrast!

A few things to watch out for. While this may technically be playing the role of “filler” (a very dirty word) in your story, don’t make it feel like filler. It’s easy to keep it from being filler, by the way. All you have to do is give it a reason for happening. Let’s say you want to have a side thread of a character investigating a robbery. If the people responsible are part of the main plot and this thread turns up some useful clues, congrats! Not filler! Or if the people responsible aren’t involved at all but the investigation reveals something useful for the main plot anyway, still not filler. Maybe the character, alone for once, has a few moments of introspection and decides to go help her friends after all, then shows up at a key moment, not filler. And perhaps most importantly, if the spare thread simply reveals aspects of the character we’ve never gotten to explore before because the plot didn’t allow it, that sure isn’t filler.

A mildly spoilery example from my own story, The Battle of Verril. People who have read my Book of Deacon trilogy (of which The Battle of Verril is the third part) know that books 2 and 3 are darn action-heavy. There’s a scene I lovingly refer to as “the farmhouse scene” in which some of our heroes take refuge at a farm and have a run-in with the woman in charge. It is a quiet moment, one that lets us see that even amid the global conflict they’ve been called upon to solve, our heroes care enough about each other and the people of the world to solve a small, personal problem. Buried in probably 100 pages of running and fighting, I think it’s possibly the most memorable part of the book besides the climax.

So, don’t be afraid to add an extra thread if the story needs it for contrast or pacing. Just make it count, and make sure to blend in the edges during the first revision to make sure it’s not glaringly obvious that was an afterthought.

How I Write: Step 4 – The Rough Draft

Now for the part of being an author that most authors thought was the only part of being an author before they got started: Writing. In an ideal world, this is what you would spend most of your time doing. In the real world, a high writing-to-other stuff ratio is best, but unless you’ve got “people” to handle all of the other stuff and you’re a pure pantser, then you’re probably going to have to slice out chunks of your schedule for the nuts and bolts of being an author. But those are the other chapters. Let’s get to the good stuff.

The Hardware

There’s not really anything new, hardware-wise, for this step. You’ve got your keyboard, you’ve got your monitor. You’ve got your comfy chair. That’s all you need. I like to keep a pad and pen around for keeping track of things that pop into my head, but you should already have that as well, so we’re all set.

The Software

Again, there’s nothing here that we haven’t covered elsewhere, but rather than leave this space blank, let me throw in a recommendation for an optional but very useful add-on.

If you’ve gotten this far, and particularly if you get much further than this, you should probably think about getting a decent backup option to make sure you don’t suffer a catastrophic hard drive failure and end up losing all of your hard work. You can pull this off in a number of ways, including regular backups to thumb drives or spare hard drives, a nice backup server, emailing things to yourself (don’t laugh, I’ve done it as a last ditch method of recovering older items). My personal favorite method is the cloud drive. There are a few options—Google Drive, OneDrive, Dropbox—but they are indispensable parts of my infrastructure now. If you have a cloud drive and an internet connection, your computer can burst into flames in the morning and by the afternoon you could be on a loaner laptop, back to work, with nary a single word lost. The free version of any of those I mentioned is more than enough to keep your most important files backed up. I coughed up the couple bucks a month for extra storage so I could keep all my art and other book-related stuff there as well.

The Content

The content of the rough draft is your entire story. If you’ve followed the previous steps, then you’ll have everything you need to be relatively certain what needs to be written in any given writing session, so from this point forward it’s all up to your imagination. That said, there are a few techniques I’ve found useful.

First, if you’re like me, keeping the flow going is the best way to get a heap of writing done in a day. The first step to doing this is keeping track of how much writing you’re actually doing. To this end, I like to hit Ctrl+, in Scrivener and set myself some project goals. The total word count is a nice thing to set, I guess. I’ve yet to come anywhere close to my estimates, routinely overshooting by a multiple and rarely undershooting by tens of thousands of words. But hey, it’s nice to keep track of your overall progress. More valuable to me is the session word count. This thing zeroes out every time you close the program and keeps track of every word you’ve typed since you re-opened it. When I talk about “hitting my word quota,” this is the harsh taskmaster that I’m talking about.

This screen will be calling the shots for the next few weeks

This screen will be calling the shots for the next few weeks

I’m a full-time author, so anything less than 3,000 words a day feels a little thin to me. Many of my peers are boasting averages in the 5,000 to 7,000 word range, and some routinely surpass the 10,000 word threshold. Those people fill me with a burning, vicious envy. One day, people. One day… But that’s just me. If you’re part time, getting any words in on a given day can be a triumph. So think of it this way. There are 365 days in 2017. Let’s say you average 300 words a day. At the end of the year, that’s over 100,000 words. More than enough for a novel. And how much is 300 words? Well, from the beginning of this section to the end of this paragraph is 375 words. That means writing three little paragraphs a day will get you 140,000+ words. That’s one healthy novel or two lean ones. If you play your cards right and have a little bit of luck, that’ll pay the bills for you. This is doable, trust me.

Once you’ve set your daily goal, work toward that goal. I like to wake up, clear out my email, burn a few minutes on social media, then dig into the writing and finish my quota before lunch. That’s what I like to do. What I usually do is wake up, clear out my email, burn a few hours on social media, watch a bunch of Youtube, eat lunch, then start writing. But however you do it, do it. Something that helps to keep me writing is to set a mini-milestone any time I get the urge to do something else. “I’d like a snack. … I’ve got 1,124 words written. No snack until I hit 1,500 words.” It’s a small thing, but it squeezes a few more paragraphs out of me before I goof off.

Once you start writing, try to avoid breaking your rhythm. And you’d be surprised at how easy it is to put the breaks on a writing groove under the auspices of a necessary activity. Forget checking your email or stopping to watch some cat videos. There are writerly things that could wreck your flow.

  • “Oh, I need to go check this from an earlier chapter.”
  • “I should really do some research and see if I’m writing this correctly.”
  • “Hey, this is a good idea, let me go back and fix it so it flows better.”

Every one of these thoughts is a good thought. And you should do every one of them. Later. Don’t interrupt a good writing session in the middle to indulge these thoughts. I’ve lost whole afternoons because I thought it was a good idea to stop mid-sentence to figure out what happens when you try to boil water in space. (It’s really cool, by the way.) Here’s what I’ve learned to do. When you have a thought that would otherwise derail you from the current scene, put an easily searchable sequence of text right where you are that details the thought you had, then keep writing. I use “***” on either end of just such a note. This works in any word processor, and makes it easy to go back at the end of the day or the end of the week or whenever and find your notes. Better yet, it’ll leave it right in context of when you thought it. Handy. I use this for things as complex as ***GO BACK AND REMOVE ALL REFERENCES TO THIS CHARACTER, FROM THIS POINT FORWARD WE’LL CONSIDER HIM TO BE PART OF THE OTHER THREAD. GO BACK AND ADD HIM TO IT*** to as simple as ***VILLAIN NAME*** or ***CITY NAME*** for person/place I’ve either neglected to name yet or can’t remember the name of. I plop it down, forget about it for now, and go blasting through to the next paragraph. If it’s a big change, act as though simply writing that line down implemented the change and move forward as though it’s been done. If it’s a small change or a little piece of information, treat the placeholder as the info until its replaced. It won’t take you any more time to fix that later instead of now, and you’ll end up with more words at the end of the session if you don’t interrupt yourself.

One possible interruption you might consider, and only if you do it quickly, is to make a note of the minor characters you conjure up that you’d not included in your outline.

Naturally you can’t always do this. Sometimes failing to do the research now will mean that almost everything you write for the rest of the day will need to be rewritten. (Honestly, this isn’t the end of the world. I’ve done it.) So, what do you do if you can’t move forward without a major interruption? If you’re writing multiple threads, jump to another thread. This is also a decent way to get unstuck when you’re not sure how to finish/start a certain scene.  It isn’t perfect, in the best case it can make it difficult to line your threads back up. In the worst case, it can lead to you writing all of the easy/fun scenes first and getting stuck with the hard stuff at the end, which is a great way to never finish a book. But if it’s the difference between writing something in a day and writing nothing in a day, it’s an easy decision.

A few other things to watch out for. I don’t recommend editing as you go. It really slows things down. Instead, at the beginning of the writing session I prefer to re-read the last two or three paragraphs I wrote, to reset my context. If I find an error or fix a phrasing while doing that, so be it. Then I start writing. All the rest of the fixing can be done in the edit.

Sometimes, in writing a story, I’ll realize one of my blocked-out scenes is way too big, or requires a division that’s too jarring to be in a single scene. In scrivener, I hit Ctrl+K, which splits the scene at the current point, and start writing the next scene. Later this may or may not need to be slid around, but again, that’s for later. (I find when writing that most of the big decisions I have to make are deciding what exactly “Future Jo” is going to have to deal with.)

And that’s it. Do this for however many days, weeks, months are necessary and eventually you’ll have a rough draft! And once you get a story that far, finishing it is pretty simple!

How I Write: Step 3 – Setting the Scenes

By now, I’ve got the overall story roughly sketched out in outline form. If I was a more skillful writer, I’m sure at this point I’d have all that I needed to start writing. Indeed, it’s common for me to just start writing at this stage, but lately I’ve started doing one more step. I like to take the story I’ve sketched out and start creating individually summarized placeholder scenes. This gives me a good idea of how the story will flow. It helps me to visualize how much actual space an idea is going to take up, too, and lets me rearrange things to better position scene changes.

The Hardware

This is an optional execution which I personally have never done, but as you’ll see in the software screenshot, this there is a physical way to handle this that people have been doing for ages. All you need is a stack of index cards/post-its, and a big ol’ wall. Throw in a roll of tape/box of thumb tacks and a nice pen, and you can do everything down there in the content section in the real world. I’d do this, except for the fact that my handwriting is lousy and my walls are already covered with art.

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The Software

If there was a single selling point for Scrivener over a standard word processor like Word or LibreOffice, this would be it. Up at the top of the window when you’re working in Scrivener are three little view buttons. The one in the middle looks like a bulletin board. Click that and you’ll see… a bulletin board. This puts every item in the active outline level on a little index card.  So, it is exactly like the hardware version, but without the need for a big wall and good penmanship. Let’s put this stuff to use.

Capture

The Content

The goal here is to try to figure out every scene I’ll need to tell the story I outlined in the previous step. I do not get this right on the first try. Most of the time I underestimate how many scenes it’ll take to get a point across. Sometimes I create a whole scene for something that can easily be handled in a few lines of another scene. None of that matters, you can fix it later. Just start writing.

In Scrivener, every document has a name and a description, both of which are visible in this “index card” layout. What I do is click the “add item” button (a green plus sign in a circle at the top of the screen) to create a new card, give it a straightforward name (Introduction of the cat and John), and then write down a few sentences about that scene. Normally the location and cast of the scene are obvious, but if they bear special mention I’ll write them down. Then I write a few lines about what happens.

At this point, it’s a good idea to start thinking about some other things that Scrivener can do for you. If you right-click the index cards on this screen, you’ll see a “Label” section of the dropdown. This section starts out with some colored squares and stuff like “notes” and other potential classifications for text. I don’t use those, but I do use that little “Edit” option. From there, I make entries for all the different threads I planned back in the outline stage. Broadly speaking, you want to switch between threads often enough to keep the reader up to date on what’s going on. Switching threads is also a good idea when time needs to pass, travel needs to happen, etc., etc., etc. In any case, color coding them will help you see at a glance if too many of the same thread are bunched up, or one thread has been abandoned for a few chapters. If you’re not using threads, or keeping track of threads isn’t a problem for you, this color coding scheme is also useful for classifying action scenes and dramatic scenes, so you can unfocus your eyes and figure out if you’ve got big gaps between action sections. Handy!

The really useful part of this view is the ability to physically move scenes around. I do this a lot. Move this scene back to break up these two. Make this happen before that happens. Make this a flashback at the end. Stuff like that. It’s loads easier to do—and harder to screw up—than cutting a block of text, finding someplace else to put it, and pasting it in. And yes, you can slide these around just as easily once they’re full of story.

If you’re particularly energetic—I am not—you can plan the chapters at this point. In the program, they’re just folders that you drag things into. I’m sure most professional writer-type people make sure that every chapter has a strong, well-established theme and a clear beginning, end, and dividing point. I am not one of those writers. Until my fifth book, I didn’t even bother with chapters at all. These days I understand their value, but they tend to end up pretty arbitrary for me.  Good places to put chapter breaks are major shifts of POV, long periods of time passing, and other things of that nature. Picture scene transitions as commas and chapter transitions as periods. That’s the ideal usage, anyway. For the current story, I just grouped them into sets of three and moved them into numbered chapter folders. I can fix the whole mess later, if it doesn’t work out well in that way. It’s just some dragging and dropping.

It is also possible you’ll notice at this point that certain threads need to be broken up more than they are, and there aren’t enough other threads to break them up. I like to drop in blank “ANOTHER SCENE?” placeholders when one is really needed. During a typical story for me, I end up with four or five of them by the time I’m done. Most show up during the writing, rather than during this step.

But that’s about it for prep work! Next step, you start writing…

How I Write: Step 2 – The Outline

I don’t always do an outline, but lately I’ve found that having one makes for a faster writing process and shorter overall books. Shorter books, naturally, aren’t always my aim, but if I’m in a time crunch or if I want to write more than a book or two a year, keeping a book from wandering off and inflating to 200,000+ words is useful. Outlines also help to get the timeline of the book settled, and can identify plot holes and pacing problems early on. What I’m going to describe here is sort of the best case scenario of my version of outlining. I don’t always distill things down as well as I describe here. Once you’ve been writing for a while, you’ll start to know what the trouble areas will be and what will be easy to deal with as you go, so you’ll self-calibrate your outlining method. Also, if you’re a pantser, picture taking the individual elements of this step and the next one, throwing them in a blender, and using them to fill in the cracks in step 4 (which will be the actual writing) as you go along.

The Hardware

You can write out your outline on paper—I’ve done so plenty of times—but typically this is the point at which I like to move over to the computer. As such, this seems like a good time to give you a rundown of my writing rig. This is the monster at which I spend 8-10 hours a day, at least. Ostensibly that time would be entirely spent writing, but a disproportionate amount of time is spent watching YouTube, browsing social media, and becoming increasingly despondent over current events. None of the following is necessary, my first five books were written with run of the mill stuff. But since this is the “How I write” series, why not tell you exactly how I write?

For a keyboard, any old keyboard will do, but like with the fancy pens I bought, once I started writing seriously, I splurged on a high-end piece of equipment. I like the DasKeyboard 4 with the Clicky keys. This is not a paid endorsement, I just like the keyboard. The keys have a nice, heavy feel and a rewarding snap with I press them. It sounds silly, but the machinegun rattle of the keyboard when I’m in the groove, and the fact I can feel the key actuation even when I have headphones on, is super satisfying. I got mine on sale.

I have a 24” Asus monitor. Again, not a paid endorsement, just letting you know what I have. This is less critical to me, but a nice big monitor with high brightness is good to have.

Possibly the most important part of the whole setup is the chair. No fooling, consider getting yourself an office chair with a mesh seat and back. I don’t know which model mine is, as it was a gift, but trust me, it was worth it whatever the price. The moment someone plops down in this thing to use my computer for even a few minutes, they’re struck by how comfortable it is. And it breathes, so no sweatiness in the summer. Mesh, it’s the best.

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That noble beast has supported my ponderous keister for many a year

The Software

As above, any word processor will do, once you get started. I wrote about half of my books on OpenOffice/LibreOffice and it was perfectly fine. But recently, I moved over to what seems as though it’s becoming an industry standard, Scrivener. At first glance it seems a bit unwieldy and excessive for something as simple as writing, but if you’re settling in for a long project, it can be very useful. We’ll go into the various features as we use them. For the outline, at least this stage of it, we’ll be using it just like any other word processor. A single file with bullet points. If your processor has that, you’re good to go.

The Content

The first thing I like to write down is a list of “things that must happen.” This is particularly useful if this is part of a series arc that will last more than one book. Once I’ve got those points down, I like to start with a big, meaty synopsis. Lots of it. Just keep writing. At least a page, but as long as you care to make it. It doesn’t have to be in order, and don’t bother wasting your time going back to find a good place to wedge in a new idea, just write it when you think of it. Rearranging comes later. If you’ve finished the synopsis and you haven’t hit all of the bullet points in your “things that must happen” list, either decide if they REALLY must happen, or synopsize some more.

Once I’ve got that written down, I pick through it and decide what new characters I need to make that story happen. If this is your first story, then you’ll need all new characters. Do yourself a favor, flush them out at least to a basic degree now. Far too many times I’ve created a character on the fly and then had trouble remembering basic details later on and had to sift through what I’d already written to see if they’d been established. So here are a few points you’ll want to hit:

  • Full name
  • Basic appearance
    • Height
    • Build
    • Age
    • Hair color
    • Eye color
    • Standard attire
  • Background
    • Birthplace
    • Occupation
    • Significant family members

If you’re using scrivener, you can throw this all into the “Character” section over on the left. They even give you a nice little template to follow. (Just click on Character, then press Ctrl+T,Ctrl+N. I’m a windows user. If you’re not, I’m sure the non-Ctrl-based shortcuts are similar.)

To the same degree, you’ll want to hammer down things like new locations. (A map isn’t a bad idea.) Any organizations, languages, technologies, foods, anything plot critical should be jotted down for future reference and consistency. At this level you might not need to know all of this, but if it comes up in the synopsis, jot it down with enough detail to jog your memory.

Once you’ve got that figured out, all of the characters, the synopsis, the locations, etc., it’s time to start the outline. I’ve done it two ways, and I’m not sure which is my favorite. One way, which is only necessary with multiple viewpoints, is to plot the different threads as essentially their own stories. The other is to just do it beat for beat and keep track of which beat is in which thread. Because plotting the threads separately can make it hard to align their timing for when they cross, this time around I’m going to do it beat for beat as one plot.

What I do here is start at a high level and subdivide.  I’ll throw down an entry for every major event, which could honestly be as basic as “Act 1,” “Act 2,” and “Act 3.”

  • Act 1 – The cat gets chased up the three.
  • Act 2 – The people throw rocks at the cat.
  • Act 3 – The cat gets out of the tree.

Then, I slice them up into key things I think will be necessary to set those events up and connect them to the next event.

  • Act 1 – The cat gets chased up the three.
    • The cat was sniffing around the milk on the table.
      • John placed it there, but had to leave suddenly because the baby was crying.
    • It knocks it down, angering Mean Aunt Maggie.
      • Mean Aunt Maggie has a drinking problem and has been spoiling for a fight since she was twelve.
    • Maggie chases the cat up a tree.
      • The tree is in front of the house and is notoriously difficult for people to climb.
  • Act 2 – The people throw rocks at the cat.
    • Maggie rounds up an anti-cat posse.
      • She’s got a group of friends who are pretty much all sociopaths, and she’s the alpha.
    • They get some rocks.
      • The landscaping uses rocks.
    • They try to knock the cat down.
      • They miss a lot, breaking the windows of Maggie’s own house and those of the neighbors.
  • Act 3 – The cat gets out of the tree.
    • The cat escapes via a roof nearby roof.
      • The thrown rocks chase it to the end of a branch overhanging the house.
    • The police come and arrest Maggie.
      • Property damage.
    • The cat drinks the milk.
      • John, while talking to the cops, didn’t have time to clean the milk up.

 

Then I slice those up into smaller pieces, if necessary, and keep going until you reach the point of simplicity. Read it through from beginning to end as you go. Does everything have a cause and effect? Those causes and effects don’t need to be explicitly written down, but they should be obvious to you. And not just obvious NOW, by the way, but still obvious in two weeks or two months. If it all links together nicely, then congratulations, you’re done. If there are gaps or points of confusion, either start slicing it up finer to add inciting incidents and connective tissue, or revisit the synopsis to see if the problem is with the main idea. The goal is to eventually have “everything that happens” figured out. This doesn’t mean more stuff won’t happen, or there won’t be gaps you missed at this point, but at the very least you won’t be at a loss as to what happens next. And don’t worry about being too exhaustive. You don’t have to get it down to the point that someone ELSE could write the book. (Though if you did, good job!) Mostly you just want to get it so that that the book you had in mind has a shot of hitting the page intact.

How I Write: Step 1 – Bird’s Eye View

Intro

While I’ve been lucky enough to be a full-time author for a few years now, I’ve never had any formal training in creative writing. My “system” for writing a story has evolved out of trial and error. I can’t say for certain my way is particularly efficient or likely to produce a masterpiece, but it’s worked well enough for me. So, I decided it might be worth writing it all down so that aspiring authors, or curious readers, can see how the sausage is made at Casa De Lallo.

My hopes (assuming I don’t run out of steam) are to take you through every step of a book’s development from writing to publication and promotion. I make no claim of being an expert, but I am technically a professional. I wouldn’t call this a how-to. This is more of a how-I-do.

Step 1: The Bird’s Eye View

I’ve certainly written stories where I didn’t plan anything out beforehand. They’ve got a shot to come out good, but more likely they’ll be a bit aimless for a while and need some serious revision to flow properly once they’re complete. Thus, I find it useful in any project to at least get an idea of where we’re starting, where we’re ending, and who’s involved. All if it can change along the way as better ideas come along, but just getting those written down is a great way to know what you’re getting into.

The Hardware

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Pictured is the OTHER book I’m prepping at the same time. It’s not very far along.

For me, writing a book almost always begins with good old pen and paper.  Maybe it’s because my first three books, The Book of Deacon Trilogy, were written as one monstrous longhand tome. Maybe it’s because the slower rate at which the words come out and the inability to revise them easily forces me to develop an idea a little, then commit to it. Regardless of the reason, I find that ideas flow most swiftly when I’m holding a pen and writing on paper.

Let’s talk specifics for a moment. The only real requirements here are comfort and quantity. You want something that’s convenient for you to write with, and sufficient to get your ideas down. For me, that means a black pen with a fine point. (Something in the 0.5 mm range.) I’m partial to rollerball or gel pens. The ink type and tip width are important for me, because as a lefty who wasn’t really taught the proper way to write left handed, I have a terrible tendency to drag my hand across anything I write in pen. Rollerball and gel pens with fine tips tend to dry very quickly and indelibly, meaning I don’t have to consciously lift my hand as I write. Color is arbitrary, but I just think black looks better. Sometimes, I’ll throw in red for corrections/notation.

Since I’m an author, and thus writing is my living, I decided to treat myself to some fancy pens. I’ve got a few machined from brass, and one machined from aluminum. A brass pen has a nice weight in my hand, and I feel like a big shot when I write with it. They’re all made by Karas Kustoms, though the exact models I have may have been retired. But truth be told, my favorite pen of all time is the Pilot P-500 Extra Fine. I buy these things by the box and usually have a few within reach.

Of less importance is the paper, but I’ve got preferences here, too. A top binding is my favorite, since not having to deal with a binding on either side is handy. I like spiral so I can flip a page and write on the other side without tearing it out or waste any space if I intend to leave the pages in the book. Perforated sheets are fine for note taking if I’m going to discard or separate stuff, and a nice sturdy clipboard is handy to remove the need for a table or desk. In certain special situations, I’ll go for a quad-ruled page (graph paper), but that’s usually when sketching is involved.

The Content

Today, I’m starting The Book of Deacon 5. (That’s the working title. I usually don’t know the official title until I’m doing a revision or planning the cover.)  If this were a completely original story, I’d start brainstorming with what sort of setting I was interested in writing, or what sort of characters. Since this is a sequel, the process is a little different. I obviously already know the setting, so we can skip that bit, and naturally most of the main cast will be returning in some form or another, so we’ve got that handled.

The overall story comes next. Again, we’re working with a sequel, so it’s usually useful to figure out which dangling threads from the previous story I’d like to tie up. If there aren’t any good threads, I’ll look at where we ended the last one and see where that momentum might carry us. Sometimes things got wrapped up nicely, or any threads would need some time to “ripen.” In those cases, which I sort of consider to be the case this time, I’ll just look at someplace I haven’t gone and see what fun can be had in that direction.

Since I know the overall direction I want the story going, there are a few “arc beats” I can pick from to include here, things that will move me closer to the conclusion of the multi-book storyline. Which ones I choose will determine how much longer the series will run before I make a major change to it. Beyond that, this is where I’ll write down ideas I have and identify the possible problems so I can start coming up with solutions.

“They haven’t gone to X location yet. Let’s have them go there. What reason would they have? Who would be there? How would they get there? What would be happening back home?” If you ask and answer enough of these questions, and the answers are interesting enough, you’ve got a plot. If you can’t answer or the answers aren’t interesting, ask different questions.

The things to keep your eye on, particularly if the story is more than a book or two into the series, are as follows. You want everything to follow logically from what’s come before. The course of the world and the lives of the characters can’t just abruptly shift to suit your whims unless there’s a potent force from the outside to facilitate it. You don’t want things to be repetitive, obviously, and you don’t want them to be contrived.

From here, I like to divide things into threads. Typically, this’ll boil down to which characters are grouping up and why. Eventually these will become parts of a mini-outline, but for now they’ll probably only get a sentence or two. What role do they have in the main plot? What’s the sub-plot they’re dealing with, at what points do they cross with the main plot?

Sometimes I’ll take a moment to decide what growth and change we’re expecting to get out of our characters in each thread, generally that’s obvious from the obstacles.

The last step here is to list any lingering problems/elements I need to work out. If you’ve got a line like “They have something the other people want,” but you haven’t decided what that thing is, make a note of it here, and any other lingering problems. Having them separated out will make it clear at a glance what you should be chewing on once you’re done for the day.

Character Interview: Azriel

Here’s the Character Interview I’d promised a while back. Sorry it took me so long. As with all interviews, this is technically non-Canon. It also contains potential spoilers for nearly all currently released Book of Deacon stories, and my just hint at things to come. I also decided to try something else with this one, and write it in second person, present tense. So YOU are the interviewer. Enjoy!

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Image by Bri Mercedes

Ahead lies a door, built from stout wood and aged to a pleasant gray color. Mounted in its center is a heavy brass knocker. You grasp it, feeling the cool metal in your grip and let it fall. The crisp, sharp knock prompts a muffled stirring from within.

As you wait, you take in your surroundings. It is a gorgeous glade, idyllic. The sun is warm, but lacks the harsh bite of the deep summer. The grass is a rolling carpet of feathery blades, extending to the mountains in the east and plunging down to a forest to the west. You stand barefoot upon a pathway of cobble stones, smoothed by the centuries. And before you, the cottage, wholesome and cozy, its thatched roof the playground of chirping birds and scampering squirrels.

The door opens to the dim, flame-lit interior of the cottage, and a woman steps forward to great you. She is at once matronly and grand. Her face is creased with the lines of many years, and yet strangely ageless. She looks upon you with a knowing, welcoming gaze and gestures for you to enter. In sweeping her arms to invite you inside, she spreads her billowing robe, jet black and embellished with white flame that shifted as though it truly burned.

“Welcome,” she says. “I have been expecting you.”

“You have?” you say, stepping forward and trying to take in the cottage’s interior.

Your mind is slow to place the strangely unsettling feeling the place gives you. There is nothing terrifying or foreboding about it. A small side table stands before the crackling fireplace. It is set for two, simple clay mugs waiting to be filled from a teapot, steam curling from its spout. Slices of brown bread and dishes of butter and jam lay upon a tray, waiting to be served for the forthcoming chat.

It isn’t until you turn about and take in the rest of the cottage that you realize the source of your unease. It is large. Larger by far than it would seem from the outside. Doors lead to rooms filled with book cases, and others offer glimpses to things that look like art galleries or trophy rooms. There is motion within one of the rooms, the half-heard turning of pages and thoughtful murmurs of someone deeply in study.

“Sit,” she says. “I have some time for a chat before I continue with my duties.”

“Yes… Yes, of course,” you say.

You take a seat on one of the chairs. She sits in the other. With a gesture, the pot rises of its own accord and pours out a delightfully aromatic herb tea into her own cup. When it shifts to fill your cup, you find the warm liquid has changed. It looks and smells precisely of the precise warm drink you’d been craving for ages.

After a sip confirms she’d somehow plucked a beverage from your memory, you glance down to find notes upon your lap. They are the notes you’d gathered from your own curiosity of her life and history and from others like you. Though you remember jotting the notes down, you don’t remember placing them on your lap.

“When you’re ready,” she says sweetly.

There is no threat in her words, but you feel oddly compelled to avoid further delay.

“I suppose a good place to begin would be your name.”

“Azriel,” she says. “Arch-Mage Azriel, if we are being formal.”

“Is that your full name? Do you have a family name?”

She sips her tea. “No. No family name. Not a permanent one, at any rate. It is difficult to say I truly have a home—I traveled quite a bit in my upbringing, but my parents spent much of their lives in a village in the Eastern end of the Daggergale Mountains. They had something of an odd tradition, one that I’ve grown quite fond of in the years. They felt that you do not belong to anyone or to any place at the time of your birth. Though you may have a family, and though you may love them, and though you may take great pride in the land of your birth, as a child you are not who you will become. Only time can uncover who you truly are, and where and to whom you truly belong. Thus, your proper name is earned, it is revealed by the choices you make and the things you achieve.”

She took another sip. “I am told it is a tradition that comes from the dwarfs of those mountains. It shows, I suppose. Half of them are Ironhammer this and Copperworker that.”

“Then what name did time uncover for you?”

“Ah, yes, of course. I’d wandered a bit there, didn’t I. The mind tends to travel a few extra garden paths when I think of the old days. It can be fairly said that Entwell is both my home and my greatest achievement. Azriel of Entwell then. Again, more formally, Arch-Mage Azriel Num Entwell Num Garastra.” She shook her head. “A terrible mouthful, that.”

You spread some jam on a piece of bread and take a bite. It is startlingly good, once again like the most delicious breakfast from your memories has been plucked free for you to relive.

“I seem to remember Deacon having a similar reply regarding his own name,” you say, doing your best not to spray crumbs as you speak.

“He has a good head on his shoulders, that one.”

“You… you aren’t his mother, are you?”

She chuckles. “No. I’ve not been terribly interested in dalliances of the sort that might result in children for some time. Well before his birth.”

“I see. I wonder, would you care to share what your upbringing was like? Your teenaged years?”

“My teenaged years? Odd to focus on those. Aren’t we all little more than animals at that point? Excepting, of course, fairies. By their teens most of them are as wise as they are likely to get. But, if you must know, those years were spent much as the rest of the first thirty years or so of my life were. My parents had seen in me an aptitude for magic, and so I was sent to apprentice to the best practitioners in the world.”

“So you were always as powerful as you are today?”

“I was born with the potential, certainly, but if I’d not been pushed to pursue it. I might have ended up sweeping alleys or cooking stews if the keen eye of our local conjurer hadn’t seen a strength in the spirits of my family. We had the means to develop it, for my sister and I, so off we went.  Kenvard, Vulcrest, Tressor. I was even lucky enough to spend a few years working my way up from the tip of South Crescent and back. By then I was in my twenties, mind you.”

“How did you manage that?”

“I was a court wizard for the King of Kenvard at the time. Situated as his kingdom was on the wrong side of the continent to have any contact with the Crescents, he decided I should represent the kingdom and financed my trip. Quite a forward-thinking man.”

“And you’d mentioned Tressor. Was that not problematic, with the war?”

Again she chuckles. “It is delightful to have one’s age so thoroughly underestimated. This was over four hundred years ago. Well before the Perpetual War.”

“Ah, that’s right. It is easy to forget that, since. Well… a word, if it isn’t to bold, about your appearance?”

She raises an eyebrow. “So long as it is diplomatic.”

“As a wizard, as ancient as you are powerful, surely you are able to choose how you appear.”

“One need not be particularly ancient or particularly powerful to achieve that. Manipulating one’s appearance can be learned quite early in one’s career if one is not so foolish as to turn one’s nose up at the treasure-trove of Gray Magic.”

“What I mean to say is, though I have seen you appear both young and old, why do you prefer to look as you do?”

“As you see me is as you see myself. When my feelings change, so too does my appearance.”

“But why not always appear young?”

“What, precisely, makes a youthful appearance preferable? And more to the point, if one is not limited by the whims of nature to one’s appearance, why limit oneself to a single appearance?”

“I hadn’t thought of that…”

“Few young people have.”

“I’d like to speak about when you first entered the cave of the beast. What were you seeking?”

She sighs. “Ah… I wish I could tell you it was something more complex or noble, but I came seeking the same foolish nonsense that most others did. I sought to earn the glory of defeating the Beast of the Cave. I felt it would establish to all, and perhaps most importantly to myself, that mine was the greatest power, the greatest knowledge. A waste of time, honestly. But again, the greatest trick our creators played upon their children was to curse us with so many, many years before we finally reach the age of reason.”

“And what age is that?”

She smiles. “I am not entirely certain I’ve reached it yet.”

“And the beast, it existed even then?”

“In so much as it ever existed. Dozens of the greatest warriors had sought to do as I had done. None had returned. If the cave’s treacherous nature can truly be considered the beast we all believed we were braving its depths to find, then I imagine I can rightly be called the one who finally bested the monster. When I dragged myself, barely alive, to the place we now call the belly of the beast, I could see that I was the first to discover it.”

As you listen, you enjoy another slice of bread, this one spread with the most delightfully creamy butter you’ve ever tasted. You almost hate to pause long enough to ask your next question.

“You have had an eventful life. Seen many sights, met many people, encountered many creatures. Some have been good, others evil.”

“Most assuredly.” She sipped her tea.

“If it isn’t too forward to ask, where do you stand on that spectrum?”

“On the spectrum of good to evil?” She sets down her cup. “That is a matter of perspective, don’t you think?”

“From your perspective, then.”

“From our own perspective, we are all on the side of good. I suspect I am a good deal nearer to the center than most would prefer.”

“Why do you say that?”

“My focus can be quite narrow. I seldom feel compelled to inflict my considerable will upon the world, in one direction or the other. For those who feel the weight of justice upon their shoulders, I am sure my inclinations can be frustratingly neutral.”

You take a breath. The hesitation must be showing on your face, she prompts you.

“Please. Despite what you may have heard of my temper in the past, you are not a student of mine.” She rolled her eyes. “I am between students at the moment, thanks to a minor disagreement with the Elder. Regardless, I know not to show my claws to the uninitiated.”

“Where, on the same scale of good and evil, do you feel your sister stands.”

“Ah… And so I understand your hesitation. Turiel is a rather sore subject at present, isn’t she? And where does she stand on the scale of good and evil. A good deal further from the center, I would say.”

“On which side?”

“Again, that depends upon from which side she is being viewed. But I believe she is good.”

You sit forward, disbelief evident on your face. “Good? You honestly believe your sister is good.”

Azriel’s face becomes stern. The world outside the windows dims, as though a dark cloud had rolled past the sun.

“I am always honest, and quite certain of my beliefs.”

Your next words are hasty, and drenched with nerves. “I meant no offense, but… Azriel, you claim you consider yourself to be largely neutral. If I understand you correctly, you consider Turiel to be more virtuous than you are.”

“I absolutely feel that way.”

“But… Turiel summoned the D’Karon. She battled the chosen!”

Azriel shuts her eyes. “She has made regrettable decisions. But good and evil are about intention. There is no denying she brought a blight upon the world. But it was all in the aim of learning, of bettering herself, and to my great shame, the aim of that improvement was to bring closure to the great unanswered question with which I had left her. She wanted, like me, to defeat the beast.”

“But why do you believe she is better than you? Why is she further from the center?”

“Because my own thoughts through most of my life have, as I have said, been largely focused quite narrowly upon myself. Turiel’s thoughts have always been focused upon others.  The darker results of her efforts were hidden from her for most of her life. Her more recent decisions were shortsighted, but even then she truly believed she was bringing about a great good, not a great evil.”

“Her behavior… Azriel, she had no regard for innocent life. Surely that is evil.”

Azriel shakes her head slowly. “Not so. Turiel is a necromancer. Not only does she know the precise value of life, in terms those less versed in her arts could never hope to understand, she comprehends how thin the line is that separates life from death. And she doesn’t view life to be superior to death. This view, I will admit, is a view that pushes her a bit further from pure righteousness than most would prefer.”

“Did you have any clue what she’d done with her misguided anger?”

“Her anger was directed at the creature she believed had killed her sister. In my opinion it was misguided only in that she was mistaken about my fate.”

“But… you say she didn’t see much difference in life and death. Why would your death affect her so?”

“Because she could not feel me. The mountains hit my spirit from her, and hers from me. She should have been able to commune with me, even in death. That she could not, in her mind, could only have meant the beast had imprisoned my soul in some way, or perhaps destroyed me utterly. This was a fate she could not abide for her sister, or a crime she could not allow to go unavenged.”

“Did you have any idea what she was doing on your behalf.”

“In the earliest days, the ones just following my own arrival here, I was barely alive. And in the years that followed, Turiel was barely alive. And as Entwell grew and its possibilities blossomed, it shames me to say my thoughts seldom drifted to her. Again, she is far further along the line of virtue than I, even if her dedication brought about terrible results.”

“That brings me to my final question, and it deals with those very deeds. The arrival of the D’Karon. Why, after they arrived, after you finally learned beyond a shadow of a doubt that they were present and what they intended to do, did you remain behind and do nothing to stop them?”

“Didn’t I? You’ll recall I helped deliver Deacon.”

“Certainly, but you didn’t take any direct action yourself.”

“Didn’t I?”

“… Did you?”

Azriel topped off her cup of tea. “It, I think, is a tale for another time. But for now I shall leave you with this. There are some questions of the Chosen and their victory that have yet to be answered. And for some of these questions, the answer is Azriel.”

“But what does that…”

Before you can finish your question, the world seems to shift around you. The cottage wafts away like colored smoke. The only thing that lingers, and only for a moment, are Azriel’s grinning eyes. For a few seconds you exist in a void of black, then slowly the world resolves again and you are precisely where you had been before you resolved to question the Arch-Mage. You shakily take a seat, and lick your lips, where the flavor of her refreshments remains.

 

The Lone Wolf Anthology

A Dark Fantasy Story Collection

Check it out, a new, Amazon Exclusive book featuring some Book of Deacon lore!

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A while back, a fellow author named Derek Siddoway approached me to make a pair of contributions to an anthology of short stories he was putting together. He was calling it The Lone Wolf Anthology, and thus the theme of the anthology should be pretty easy to figure out. This one’s all about characters who prefer to work alone.

It’s a pretty darn good lineup, so before I talk about my contribution, look at the authors in this thing, here paired up with their most famous series:

  • Introduction by Michael Fletcher (Manifest Delusions)
  • Ben Galley (Emaneska, The Scarlet Star Trilogy)
  • Derek Alan Siddoway (Teutevar Saga)
  • James Downe (Legacy of Ash)
  • Joseph R. Lallo (The Book of Deacon)
  • Jeffrey Poole (Tales of Lentari, Bakkian Chronicles)
  • Timandra Whitecastle (The Living Blade)
  • Michael D. LeFevre (Ghost of the Black Bull)
  • Damon J. Courtney (Dragon Bond)

Nice, huh? It seemed like it would be a fun project, so I put some thought into it and asked a few fans. Naturally one character in particular comes to mind when one uses the phrase “lone wolf” in my stories… though maybe “lone fox” would make more sense. Alas, Lain is still slotted for a few LONGER stories, so I felt the short should focus on someone who has never had the spotlight. Thus, a character which is technically named Rasa but is known by some fans as “The Frozen Chosen” got his moment to shine. I call the story The Rules of the Game.

However, I was asked to write two stories. For the second one, I decided to adapt one of those famous “Bad Idea Exercises” that had clogged my brain for far too long. Originally it was an idea slated for Ivy, but trying to work it into one of the other stories really felt like it was a stretch, so I set it aside. Now it is a standalone story with a musical twist that I call The Dwarfendam Run.

Both are short stories, somewhere in the 8,000 to 10,000 word range, and they join a host of other great tales. Right now the book is available exclusively on Amazon and you can read it for free if you’ve got access to Kindle Unlimited, so check it out!

A New Sci-Fi Bundle

Well what do you know, two newsletters in a row about bundles!

Hi everyone! For a while, I’ve been downright taunting you with a gorgeous cover for the Big Sigma Collection: Volume 1. Well, good news. The wait is over. But, even better news, that book is not coming going to be alone!

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I’m pleased to announce the latest of the bundles I’ve curated for StoryBundle. We’re calling it the Sci-Fi Adventure Bundle, and it might just be the biggest and best bundle I’ve put together so far. If you’ve been following me for any length of time, you’re already aware of StoryBundle. For the newcomers, here’s the quick version:
StoryBundle puts together collections of books to be sold for a limited time at a price of your choosing. These are eBooks, free of pesky DRM, and usable on just about any ebook platform you’re likely to have. There’s an entry level which you can get for as little as $5, and a bonus level starting at $15 that’ll get you a bunch of bonus books, and you can even designate a slice of your payment to go to one of the associated charities.

So, what have I picked for you good people? Oh, I think you’ll like it. In the $5 base bundle you get:

  • Cyborg Legacy by Lindsay Buroker
  • The Big Sigma Collection: Volume 1 by yours truly (more on this in the next section of this very email.)
  • Undersea by Geoffrey Morrison
  • Shifting Reality by Patty Jansen

If you’re feeling like a big spender and have $15 or more dollars to toss around, you get this whole haul:

  • Brining Stella Home by Joe Vasicek
  • Temporal Contingency by me again.
  • Undersea Atrophia by Geoffrey Morrison
  • Oasis by Dima Zales
  • Stopover at the Backworlds’ Edge by M. Pax
  • Ambassador 1A: The Sahara Conspiracy by Patty Jansen
  • Contract of Betrayal by Tammy Salyer
  • Scavenger: Evolution by Timothy C. Ward

And if you’re on the StoryBundle mailing list, you got TWO MORE BOOKS, Seeing Red by Patty Jansen and The Backworlds by M. Pax.

Pretty good, huh? I handpicked these authors either because the book itself is top notch or because they have proved time and again that they are masters of the genre. “But Jo,” you may ask, “Does that mean you haven’t read every one of these books?” As a matter of fact, I haven’t! Because Cyborg Legacy didn’t exist until shortly before this bundle was ready to launch. That’s right, Lindsay Buroker is debuting that title right here in the bundle. And let’s not forget that The Big Sigma Collection is debuting here as well! Scroll down to read the details about that little title, but not before you pick up the bundle!

The Big Sigma Collection

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Like The Book of Deacon Anthology, The Big Sigma Collection is intended to be a starting point for people who want to read my sci-fi stories but don’t want to have to buy a whole stack of books. The collection includes all three of the first books in the series: Bypass Gemini, Unstable Prototypes, and Artificial Evolution. But rather than just gathering together a bunch of stuff you’ve already read, I also took some time last year to write three brand new stories:

  • Squee’s Day Out – An unlikely short story about Squee the Funk’s mischievous adventure while Lex and Michella are away.
  • Building the Perfect Pet – The untold story of how Solby the Funk came to be.
  • Beta Testers – A novella detailing the first time Garotte and Silo worked together in an unsanctioned military operation.

Combined, these new stories total about 75,000 words. For people who write normal length books, that’s a whole new novel. For people like me who tend toward the longer stories, it’s about half of one. Either way, a few hours of fresh reading for you.

Here’s where the bundle above comes in. It would be a pain to have to buy three books you already own just to get the new short stories, wouldn’t it? Well, if you buy that bundle, whether you get the standard or bonus bundle levels, if you pay the lowest amount, that works out to about a dollar a book. Which means you can get the collection for about a buck, which is a fair price for a trio of brand new short stories, I’d say.

“But Jo,” you might object, “I don’t want to have to pay for all of those other books, regardless of how good you claim they are.”

Well, Mr./Mrs. Doubter, I’ve got good news for you! Once the bundle is over (next month), there will be a very short pre-order and then this book will be available for $7.99 in all the usual places, purchasable by itself on the device of your preference.

“But Jo,” you might further object, “What if I don’t want to have to pay so much just to get a few extra short stories?”

Well, my frugal friend, there’s a solution for you as well, but it involves that rarest of traits: patience. Over the course of the next five months I will be rolling out one story per month as newsletter perks. This will include all three short stories included here, plus a pair of fantasy stories we’ll discuss in the weeks ahead.

So there you go! Pick up the Bundle to get this for a price of your choice (as little as $5 for it and four other books), buy it in February for $7.99, or wait and get the new stuff for free. Whatever you do, I hope you enjoy it!