The seventh adventure of Lex and the gang, check out a world-jumping adventure today!
Joseph Lallo yawned and looked at the clock. It was just before dawn. His alarm would go off soon. The first early morning of his first day back to work. He’d expected to dread this day, but there was a dash of excitement to it. Like the first day of school after summer vacation. It was the end of a long period of freedom, but tempered by that dash of anticipation. But there was little reason to go back to sleep now. Besides, there were some people he had to check in with.
He booted up his computer and sent out the group invite for the call. One by one, familiar faces popped up. Faces that had no place on a computer screen. Like himself, he would have expected them to be more morose. At least what had happened to Jo was his own doing, more or less. What was happening to them was… also his doing. But the group, for the most part, looked fairly up beat. Still, it was best to address the elephant in the room.
“Hey folks! So, uh… As you guys know, I’ve had to divert some of my mental resources to preparing for going back to the day job. And since you are all products of those mental resources, you kind of… came along for the ride.”
It was an occupational hazard of being a fictional character. When your creator does something, you kind of have no choice but to go along with it. But even Jo didn’t expect getting a day job to take so specific a toll on his imagination. To be blunt, when he got a day job. They got day jobs.
The first one to speak seemed to be having the best time of it. She was a crackling ball of energy and a sparkling ball of sunshine, almost frustratingly chipper for a Monday pre-dawn. Her foxy muzzle was curved into a grin, white fur wreaking havoc with the cheap webcam’s contrast.
“Hey, Ivy,” Jo said.
“Hi, Jo!” she said in a sing-song tone. “It’s so exciting, isn’t it? A brand new day! Brand new things to learn, and people to meet!”
She held up a brightly glowing, LED bedazzled keyboard.
“I get to use a computer! Modern magic! Deacon is so fascinated.”
“Why isn’t he and Myranda on the call?” Jo asked. “I would have expected Myranda to be the first one to show up.”
“Oh, she’s home taking care of Leo. She’s a work-from-home therapist now. And she’s so good at it. If she could help me find peace, she can help anyone. And Deacon’s a librarian. Probably the best they’ve ever had.”
“And what are you up to?”
“I’m a DJ!” she squealed, bopping up and down with all of the enthusiasm of someone proclaiming they’d won the lottery. “Whole rooms full of people and I get to pick the music that moves them! It’s amazing, Jo. The beat thumps through the whole crowd. They move as one. I thought I’d miss playing an instrument once I learned that most DJs don’t actually play one. But the audience is the instrument. I’m conducting an orchestra of souls living for the moment. You really should come to the club one of these days. By the end of the night my mood is so good people are healing up years-old injuries. Someone said I should be called DJ Furst Aid! With a U! Like Fur!”
She leaned closer to the camera.
“Did you know there are people who dress up like malthropes in the real world?” she whispered conspiratorially.
“I think it’s more generically anthro than specifically malthrope.”
“Still! It’s a much warmer welcome than back home. But I don’t want to hog the call. Who’s next? Who’s next?”
“Let me get it over with,” grumbled Karter.
He was the one person on the call who didn’t seem terribly pleased with the situation.
“Something wrong, Karter?” Jo asked.
“Listen,” he said. “If you had to let the cheese slide off your cracker and backburner the whole ‘maker of worlds’ gig, you could have at least parked me in a part of your imagination with worthwhile technology. The ram in this thing is still measured in gigs. And what’s the idea of dumping us all into your reality.”
“I’m just not up to ginning up complex fictional worlds right now. I guess ‘Modern AU’ is like the low-power mode for my imagination.”
“Modern for you maybe. This is the dark ages for me. Frickin’ Gigabit Fiber. I may as well be rubbing two sticks together.”
“What’d you end up doing?” Jo asked.
“What do you think? I became a mechanic. I tried for military contractor but apparently the modern military is weirdly skittish about hiring ‘sociopaths.’ As if the sociopath to normie ratio at the pentagon isn’t approaching one. But I got fired.”
“You got fired? I figured you’d be an excellent mechanic.”
“I got a Tesla to go 435 miles per hour. Then it exploded. I’m not convinced it wasn’t going to do that anyway, but the owner didn’t see things that way.”
“What’s Ma up to?” Jo asked.
“She’s an image generator now, or as she says, ‘an artist.’ Frankly, I don’t like her palling around with ChatGPT. That guy is a weirdo. Bad influence. Now if you’ll excuse me, if I’m going to be stuck in the twenty-first century, I’m going to have to get cracking on wireless charging. And a decent photosynthetic polymer so we can keep you idiots from roasting the planet before you can escape it.”
He logged out.
“Who’s next?” Jo asked.
For a moment, the focus switched to a large, slightly-crispy-looking dragon. The fact the screen had highlighted was likely less due to Blodgette the Pizza Dragon purposely taking center stage and more because she was curiously poking the keyboard with her pudgy digits. She burbled and trilled pleasantly, eyes focused on the screen. Though she wasn’t verbal enough to explain her situation. She didn’t need to. A cap with the logo of a restaurant called “San Vito’s.” Something off camera caught her attention and she happily turned and opened a hatch on her tummy. A wooden pizza peel slid in and removed a steaming, bubbly masterpiece from her built-in oven. She signed “You’re Welcome”, then turned back to the keyboard and fudged her way to disconnection.
The next video feed popped to focus. It was a burly fellow in some uncomfortably ill-fitting coveralls.
“Fel!” Alan said. “You must be having fun in the modern world. So many new contraptions to study.”
“Uh… Yeah, not really. Dad’s all about it. And Ally immediately found work at a bar, big surprise. But the contraptions are a little too… fiddly for me.”
“Having trouble finding a job?”
“Eh, I was working at the same auto-mechanic shop that Karter was, but they asked me to leave when Oiler started fixing people’s cars out in the driveway free of charge. Bad for business. I’m thinking of giving professional gambling a try. Poker seems like Grum with easier rules.”
“Yeah, it basically is,” Jo said. “I hope luck is with you.”
“If I can find a casino that’s okay with lighting candles, I’m not going to need luck.”
Jo laughed. “Casinos have been getting pretty good at spotting cheaters, but I’m willing to bet they’ll never figure out a candle is the gap in their security. Who’s next?”
“Me! Me! Me!”
The three voices were simultaneously referring to three separate people and the same person, as they were Right-Rill, Rill, and Left-Rill respectively.
“What’s up, Rills?” Jo asked.
“All of the science-type stuff works here!” Right-Rill said.
“Philo says this is ‘basically’ home. He’s so happy,” Rill said.
“Yeah. And so’s Trixie,” Left-Rill said, clearly less thrilled with that particular turn of events.
“I would have thought Trixie would have had a hard time fitting in.”
“She has a fan,” Rill explained.
“… One fan?” Jo said.
“Her only fan,” Right-Rill said. “It sounds kind of sad, but he must be rich, because he pays her a bunch.”
“Onlyfan,” Jo said. “Okay, so, what she means is… Actually, you know what? We’ll skip it. Do you have a job?”
“We sing at weddings!” Right-Rill said.
“People love us,” Rill said.
“They call us a ‘gimmick.’ Shows what you humans know. We’re a human.”
“Water dragon,” Rill corrected.
“Well, I’m glad you’re having fun. Who’s next?”
“I guess that’d be me,” Nita said.
“How are things for you?”
“To be honest, I’m a little disappointed that airships aren’t a thing here. I’d really gotten a taste for them. But I got a job at the same auto-mechanic that fired Karter and Fel. I was able to keep the job, though.”
“How’s the rest of the crew?”
“Pretty good. Mack and Butch are retired. Lil, Coop, Wink, and Nikita are teaching kids about animals on something called ‘morning television.’ I don’t know what Gunner’s up to these days. But he was quite interested in civil war reenactments as a pastime.”
Jo furrowed his brow. “Weird. Um… Alan! You’re next.”
Perhaps the only person who looked at home in modern attire shrugged. “I’m a photographer. Nothing changed,” Alan said.
“Ah… yeah, I guess not.”
“Oh! Except Blot’s the only shade around these days.”
“Nah. She’s got a blog now. And an instagram. And a twitter. She’s an influencer. It turns out, no longer having to hide to avoid being killed by a ten-car pile-up of people hunting her kind down has a way of freeing someone up to explore their more social side.”
“Glad she’s fitting in. And… it looks like the last video is empty?”
Suddenly, the full-screen video was filled with a single, massive, golden eye that jumpscared the stragglers in the call.
“Holy heck!” Jo said. “Myn, you startled me!”
The huge eye rose out of the shot again, giving a brief glimpse of red and amber scales. Her form lumbered away, revealing that she was in some sort of high-roofed building, like a hangar or a parking garage, though it was not clear from this angle. When she was far enough from the camera, she turned. Her look was… distinctive, to say the least. She was wearing a T-shirt, something that probably used as much fabric as the average tent and most certainly had been custom made. There was no need to question who had made it, though. Because like her it was red and gold, though in this case the gold had formed a pair of golden arches.
“You work at McDonalds?” Jo said.
“Mascot?” Myn said, as though she was uncertain of both how to say the word and what it meant.”
“Of course,” Jo said. “I’m surprised there wasn’t more of that going around.”
“What are they paying you?”
“French Fries,” Myn said.
In this phrase there was no uncertainty. There was only reverence. Myn closed her eyes and repeated it.
Jo grinned. “Keep living your best life, Myn. Same goes for the rest of you. I have to earn a wage. But I’ll be getting you back home as soon as I can.”
Myn leaned closer to the camera, close enough to reveal the glisten of salt on her lips.
“Take your time…”
Hey folks! I’ll give you the tl;dr up front. For the next three weeks or so, you can support artists, donate to charity, and get a stack of great comics at StoryBundle via The Underground Comics Bundle.
Okie doke! So way back in 2019 I got the idea for doing a webcomic/underground comic bundle. I’m friendly with the StoryBundle folks. And for MONTHS I tried to find enough folks who both had top notch comics and didn’t think I was running a scam in order to assemble a bundle.
But in the years that followed I became increasingly friendly with comic creators, and when the time came for round 2, I struck pay dirt. I am beyond proud of this lineup, which I feel provides a great little taster to what you’ve been missing if you haven’t been watching the state of indie comics. You can click through to see the goodies (and pick the whole shebang up for as little as $20). But here’s the list.
- Three books of Gastrophobia by Daisy McGuire
- Two books of Vattu by Evan Dahm
- The comic AND novella of Weird Nothing by Joseph R. Lallo and Adam J. Hall
- Umbagog by Fable Siegel
- Wanderlust by Jay Miller
- The God Machine by Chandra Free
- Supercell by BM Brice
Here’s a quick one. The Bygone Way, book six of The Greater Lands Saga, is available now!
This is intended to be the final book in the series, though some of the early readers have suggested I might have to throw in a seventh, for reasons. Here’s the blurb!
When the world gets smaller, enemies get closer.
For once, things seem calm for Fel Masker and his family. But the dark schemes of a shadowy mastermind are ready to hatch. Ancient foes are on the move in the Greater Lands. Uncovered secrets cast doubt on a long-trusted adviser. Hidden threats lurk beneath the cities of the world. Forgotten armies rise to march again. The Maskers will need to travel to the four corners of the world to keep from tumbling into ruin. It will take every trick Fel has learned and every friend he has made to push back the rising tide of a bygone era.
For the past to return, the present must fall.
This is available, like the rest of the series, exclusively on Amazon. Pick it up now, and if you like it, leave a review! Thanks again.
This is a thought that has been on my mind lately, so I thought I’d say a few words about it.
I’ll attempt to avoid spoilers below, but there will be discussion of The Book of Deacon Series in general and the character of the Red Shadow in particular. If you have not finished reading the first three books of The Book of Deacon and haven’t read The Rise of the Red Shadow, you may encounter some spoilers.
Right now, I’m working on Rise of the Red Shadow 2. It has been eagerly requested by fans more or less since the release of the first Rise of the Red Shadow, and I can certainly understand why. Lain/Teyn/Leo/The Red Shadow is a popular and compelling character. People want more. But the issue is, The Rise of the Red Shadow was a prequel. Which makes The Rise of the Red Shadow 2 a sequel of a prequel. Now, I could discuss the marketing difficulties presented by trying to sell a book that should only be read by people who have read the spinoff prequel of a 10 year old series–it certainly weighs upon my mind as I chip away at this–but for the moment let’s ignore that. Structurally, an in-between-quel is a sticky wicket. In the case of a sequel, you know where the story begins, but not where it is going. In the case of a prequel, you know where the story ends, but not where it came from. For a sequel to a prequel, you know both where the story came from and where it is going. The bulk of the potential to surprise and intrigue the reader is removed. That’s challenging.
In and of itself, this isn’t an insurmountable goal. The sequel problem isn’t a problem at all, as after the first chapter of ANY book, you know where you started. The prequel problem is a little more tricky, but not overly so. After all, any good story is about the journey, not the destination. Experiencing the connection between points A and B is where the entertainment comes in. The problem, really, is a problem of character.
The Rise of the Red Shadow was about Lain. It was about where his story began, beginning effectively with his birth, and ending as he makes a decision to defend something he loves even if doing so deprives him of it. The story, in effect, takes Lain all the way from blank slate to the character we roughly expect from The Book of Deacon, set more than a century later. Not a lot of people realize that, by the way. The Book of Deacon is set LONG after the end of the Rise of the Red Shadow. This presents both opportunities and obstacles. The opportunities are clear. With a lot of time, there is a lot of chance for interesting things to occur. There are certain aspects to Lain’s life that we’ve yet to see take shape in the Rise of the Red Shadow. The obstacles come in the form of character growth. If Lain ends the Rise of the Red Shadow as the character we meet in the Book of Deacon… what does that mean for the character in the years between?
A character arc is a technically optional part of a story–insomuch as ANY part of a story is technically optional. You can make a fun, entertaining, well-constructed story where the main character learns nothing and doesn’t change. There are enough other aspects of a novel that can provide entertainment value that any one of them, or even several of them, can be absent or subdued so long as the others are good enough to make up for the missed opportunity. But the more good stuff there is, the more good stuff there is, so I always prefer to see at least some aspect of growth for the principle cast. Do I always succeed? Probably not. But that’s beside the point. The idea is, it SHOULD be there, and it is always my intention to put it there.
Character growth doesn’t need to be obvious. Drawing attention to it can actually feel a little forced, for example. A common-to-the-point-of-cliched way to illustrate character growth is to place the character in a similar situation at the beginning and end of an adventure and have them react differently thanks to the experiences they’ve had along the way. It’s, in fact, so common that it’s a part of the Hero’s Journey. “The Hero Returns Home, changed.” But like all cliches, it’s common because it’s good, it’s effective.
The problem with Lain is, I can’t do that. Lain has set his course through life at the end of the previous book, and when we next see him, he has clearly pursued that path through life. All of the unseen events are natural outcomes of that decision. He cannot grow in visible ways because we already know that he has not grown in visible ways.
There are ways around this. He can grow in subtle ways. Aspects of his life and identity which aren’t thoroughly explored in the Book of Deacon are still up for grabs. We can also see him attempt and fail to grow. Consider making changes but either be forced back to his old ways or choose his old ways. These can be done well, but also risks causing frustration and disappointment.
I won’t go into all of the solutions I’ve found, or all of the solutions there are, because doing so will spoil a book that won’t come out for quite some time. But I felt as though it, at least, was worth taking a moment do discuss why this book has been a years long riddle that continues to kick my butt.
As I finish this little essay, I realize I was ruminating on something and not actually progressing toward a vital, interesting conclusion. And if that’s not a microcosm for the very issue I set out to discuss, I don’t know what is.
It seems like these blog posts are suffering from larger and larger gaps. Gotta get my act together. But while my promotional chops are eroding, I’m still writing like a busy little bee. Evidence?
A NEW BOOK RELEASE!
The Bygone Plague is available on Amazon today! This is the fifth and (what was planned to be) second-to-last book in the series. Here’s the Blurb:
With the sort of enemies the Fel has made, loose ends can be deadly.
After narrowly surviving their last adventure, the Masker family knows there are forces plotting against them. Worse, a precious artifact is unaccounted for, almost certainly in the hands of a dangerous foe. The only option is to head north to follow the trail of the thief. When the hunt leads them to a plague-ridden forest not far from Fel’s sister, he has to make a choice. Does he risk the disease to recover what’s his? Or does he leave empty handed?
A deadly disease. A deadlier quarantine. And deadliest of all, a mystery.
This one, if you follow me on my twitter and patreon, you know this one kicked my butt a little. As this series grew, keeping the story under control as the number of fun characters continued to grow became a real challenge. This one, I feel, expands well on the concepts introduced in the climax of the previous story. Although, I’ll be honest, Book Six is ALREADY DONE and separating the plot and characters of the two books in my brain right now is like trying to comb a plate of spaghetti.
… Not that I’ve ever done that.
Anyway, it’s available on Amazon like the rest of the series, though paperbacks are available wide.
I hope you all enjoy it!
We’ll start with the main thing. Now that The Bygone Caper is out there and its follow-up is almost done, I’m checking off the other things in my year’s to-do list. First up, The Big Sigma Collection: Volume 2.
By now, you know the drill. Just like The Book of Deacon Anthology: Volume 2, this book contains the 4th, 5th, and 6th novels in the Big Sigma series, plus a short story released in and amongst them. So if you lost track of Lex and the crew after Artificial Evolution, this is a nice cheap way to fill in the rest of the saga!
But what’s next, Jo?
Good question! If you are on my newsletter (and you really should be if you want to stay on top of new releases) and whatnot, you’d know that I’ve been mulling over a return to the “serial” format. The Adventures of Rustle and Eddy, Between, and to a lesser extent The Redemption of Desmeres, Structophis, and Top Level Player all started off as serials. The plan would be to follow the Rustle and Eddy format, a chapter of the story released in a rough state at regular intervals, and once completed it would be edited, collected, and released as a novel.
I still haven’t decided what the serial will be, but I’ve gotten a request for more sci-fi, and there’s the outside chance it’ll just be an additional Big Sigma adventure. We’ll see! But it’ll either be posted here, or else I’ll produce a dedicated social media presence like I did with The Adventures of Rustle and Eddy on Tumblr. We’ll see! Stay tuned! I probably won’t start until after The Greater Lands Series is more or less concluded, but that’s set for August, believe it or not!
It ought to be fun!
Just a quick update! If you’ve been enjoying the Greater Lands Saga, book 4 is available now! It’s called The Bygone Caper, and it follows the Masker Family as they deal with the consequences of being just a bit more enterprising than the local nobles would like.
Guy Smith nudged open the door to the rehearsal space and backed into the room. These days most of the script work was done with tablets and such, but he found he still preferred paper scripts so that he and the performers could make notes on them, so his arms were loaded down with over a dozen printed out copies of various scenes for prospective performers to read from. There were spares in his car outside if they ran out. And he fully expected to run out. This was a major project. Lots of roles to fill, and difficult ones at that. He was prepared for dozens of rejections before moving making even his first preliminary casting choice. This was his first franchise he’d gotten to work on. He was dedicated to giving it his all.
A pair of cameras had been set up. One covering the entire room, the other set up over his shoulder to film the actors. Both were piped into a laptop in an adjoining room, were other members of the production company would be watching and recording. This was something of a make or break for the production company, after all. They’d saved money by acquiring the rights for a relatively unknown franchise, but they’d committed to six full novels of epic fantasy. If it went well, they’d have another Game of Thrones on their hands. If it went poorly, they’d have another Game of Thrones finale on their hands.
“Are we recording?” he asked, addressing the camera and pressing an ear bud a little more firmly into his ear.
A rather spiritless voice replied in the affirmative.
“All right. Great.” He cleared his throat and took a sip from a coffee on the table beside him. “Book of Deacon Saga Television Series, Casting, Day One. Send in our first audition.”
He took a seat and grabbed a script and highlighter. The door opened and a very energetic young woman bounded in. She was dressed in costume, interestingly enough. Though given the fantasy setting they were shooting for, she’d missed the mark by wearing something that looked more like wild west outfit that was two sizes too big.
“Heya!” she said, marching up and extending a hand. “Chastity Cooper. Proud to know ya.”
“Uh, right,” he said, shaking her hand. “Forgive me but… you’re a character from a different book by the author of this piece, Mr. Lallo, aren’t you?”
“Oh sure.” She counted off on her fingers. “There was Free-Wrench—that’s the book, not the series—and Skykeep. Basically the star of that one. And we got, what, Ichor Well? The Calderan Problem. A whole mess of ‘em. We even did one of them shorts where you find out where me and my brother came from, ‘cept that’s sort of tucked away somewhere.”
“You realize the production for Free-Wrench fell through after that Canadian production company started getting a little questionable in their practices, right?”
She hiked a thumb at the door behind her.
“That there says Book of Deacon auditions, don’t it? You reckon I can’t read.”
“No, it’s just. I’m sorry. What role were you reading for?”
“My-randa Celest-ee,” she said with a proud waggle of her head, seemingly unaware of how far she’d strayed from the proper pronunciation.
“The starring role,” he said steadily.
“Yep! My sweetheart Nita says I’d light up any stage you put me on, and she knows art and whatnot better’n anyone I know, so I thought, why not go for the brass ring!”
“Well, if you’d like to read for the part, I’ve prepared some scenes. Let’s do one from The Great Convergence. I’ll play the part of—” Guy began.
“Don’t need it. I’ll just sort of do the part.” She cleared her throat. “Heya, all! The name’s Myranda. I got a good heart, but I ain’t got much else. Leastways, not when the story starts. But what’ve we got here? I big ol’ fancy sword! I reckon there ain’t no way this’ll get me mixed up in all sorts of nonsense.”
She marched in place for a few moments.
“We’ll wouldn’t you know it, all sorts of folks are mad at me now, and they want the sword, and now I got critter friends and it turns out I ain’t so shabby at magic on account of fate and such. And lookee here on my hand. A big ol’ fancy scar.”
Guy shut his eyes tight. “Thank you, Miss Cooper, that will do.”
“Oh, and I do my own stunts, on account of there ain’t nothin’ you’d want me to do that I ain’t already done danglin’ from one foot a couple thousand feet over the ocean anyways. And I’m a member of the Wind Breaker crew. There ain’t no one on that crew that don’t do more than one job. Why should bein’ in a movie be any different?”
“I’ll make a note of it. Thank you. Next!”
Lil bounded out of the room. A moment later, a very strange form filled the doorway. It looked more like something from a Jim Henson production than anything that ought to be auditioning for a role, standing taller than the doorway and resembling an impressively well assembled theme park mascot of a dragon made out of pretzel dough and scrap. It crouched and squeezed through the door, rattling the heavily dented and abused metal draped over its head, shoulders, and back. The room filled with the smell of fresh-baked dough. Once inside, it sheepishly tapped its pudgy fingertips together and slumped a bit, as if it was vaguely intimidated by the producer. A small plastic shopping bag dangled from the pinkie of one of her hands.
“Um…” he flipped up a sheet on his clipboard. “Blodgette? Just the one name?”
“And who are you here to read for?”
She raised a hand and skillfully spelled out her answer in sign language, something Guy had picked up in college and fully expected never to use again.
Myn, she signed.
“Myn. Right,” he glanced at the pile of scripts. “We’d been planning a motion capture and digital performance for Myn. I didn’t prepare any scenes for her. If you’d like to come back another day…”
She waved her hand, entreating him to wait, then fumbled with the plastic bag and produced a potato. After a slow breath and a moment with her eyes shut, the hulking dragon creature started to hop and prance about, threatening to knock over both cameras as she burbled with joy. She then inserted the entire potato into her mouth. From the instant it touched her tongue, she was visibly disgusted, but she wrestled a smile to her face and huffed chirped ‘happily.’
“Okay, that’s some impressive acting. Thank you very much. We’ll be in touch.”
Thank you, signed Blodgette, adding, I love you.
She stepped up to him and held out her arms for a hug. He reluctantly obliged, earning a few oily smears on his outfit. She then gently took his hand in hers, turned it palm up, and lolled her broad tongue out to let the potato roll into his hand. It was covered with a thick layer of saliva and steaming hot. He hastily tossed the now-baked potato aside and shook his hand.
“Thanks, yes. Again, we’ll be in touch. Next!”
Blodgette waddled out of the room. A soft pattering of feet thumped toward the door. When he saw who was waiting for the next audition slot, he palmed his face with his non-saliva hand.
“Oh good heavens, what now…” he muttered.
A pint sized reptile dressed in rags and sporting a silver earring scampered into the room. She gave him a manic grin and hopped onto the chair. She dropped a sack she’d been carrying.
“Hello, new friend human!” she croaked with a less than expert grasp of the language.
He pulled a hanky from his back pocket and wiped his hand clean, gazing down at the clipboard.
“Teya Kobold?” he said.
She shook her head, tousling her frilled ears a bit.
“Teya? That is who is. Kobold? That is what is,” she said.
“My apologies. And you are auditioning for?”
“Big Dragon,” she said dreamily.
“Myn?” he offered.
“Myn, Halfax, Garr, Thorn, Winsor. Any dragon. Big dragon.”
He flipped to the back of his clipboard. “I believe the intended cast only includes Myn and Halfax as named dragons. Oh! And Solomon.”
She shook her head. “Solomon, small. Dragon? Yes. Pretty, smart, powerful, grand? Yes. This one? Play big dragon. Very very.”
“As I told the last young… lady? We were intending to use special effects for the dragon roles. We hadn’t expected to cast them in the traditional sense.”
“I do scene, yes?” Teya said.
“We don’t have any scenes for–”
Teya hopped down and rummaged through the bag.
“Me? Myn. Big. During big fight. You? Dog head snake thing. Mott. Also big. End part, lots of big. Lots of angry,” she instructed, amid much clinking and jostling of items inside the bag.
“I think we’ll just chat and see what your qualifications might be.”
She raised her head, tipping her chin up haughtily. “This one? Act. You watch. And play part. Be serious!”
“All right,” he said. The quicker he played along, the sooner this would be over. “What are my lines, then?”
She gave him a blank look. “Mott? No lines.”
Teya turned, concealing both of her hands behind her.
“You? Act like this. Mott take good stone. Stone Myn like. Stomp, to make Myn mad. You do.”
“I just stomp?”
“Stomp and make angry,” she urged.
“All right. Let’s get started. And…” He stomped his foot.
Teya’s face instantly twisted to utter, boiling fury. She peeled her lips back to reveal her ferocious, teeth and threw her jaws wide in a bloodcurdling (albeit rather petite) roar.
“That’s very good, I think–” he began.
She revealed both hands. One contained a large glass bottle, the other, a lighter. Her clawed thumb popped the cap off the bottle and she took a healthy swig. Then she brought the lighter to her lips. Before he could stop her, she spat the liquid past the flame, sending a curling tongue of fire lancing through the room.
“Okay, yes, that’s very nice, we’ll be in touch, thank you,” Guy said as quickly as he could form the words.
“I do good! Can do fire, see!” Teya said,
“Yes, again, wonderful, we’ll put that on our special skills list for you. We’ll be in touch.”
She gave a satisfied nod and scurried from the room with her bag in tow. Guy looked first to the swath of charred drop ceiling, then to the camera.
“If one of the production assistants could head out and inform anyone in the waiting room that we are not interested in any props going forward that would be helpful. Also, if someone could get me the name and number of the person responsible for the final audition list for today, I’d very much like a word with them when we’re through here. And who is our next actor?”
After a brief silence, he heard some digital interference in his earbud.
“Altruistic Artificial Intelligence Control System, Version 1.27, revision 2331.04.01i, Designation ‘Ma.’ My apologies for the delay. I had to access my archived security protocols to find the proper means to interface with such an antiquated digital communication system.”
“You are… a computer program?”
“The full description and designation has been provided. Is the audio connection insufficiently clear?”
“No, right, sorry, you did say all that. And what role are you interested in?”
“Ether. You want to play the foul-tempered shape-shifter?”
“Yes. I find her particular dramatic thread, dealing with emotional awakening and coming to terms with the complexities of interfacing with biological beings as an outsider, to be one that I can identify with deeply. It is my believe that through analysis, my portrayal of such a role will be a healthy, stimulating, and educational experience.”
“Err. And I imagine this would be a voice performance? Since you don’t have a body.”
“Based upon analysis of similar dramatic productions, I had determined that a creature of such volatile form would be depicted using visual effects in post-production. Producing high-fidelity digital simulations is well within my capacity, and I would be capable of conveying the full dramatic range without the need for digitizing systems or other intermediaries.”
“See, what we have here is the opposite problem that the last few roles had. The current script treatment has substantially rewritten Ether’s role to minimize her elemental and creature transformations so that they are isolated to action set pieces.”
“That is a sound budgetary decision, though it would seem to compromise accuracy and artistic vision.”
“Film and television production is a study in compromise,” Guy said. “However, if you’d like to be on the effects crew, I’m sure we can put you in touch with the appropriate department.”
“A kind offer, but I was hoping to focus on emotion and drama. Thank you for your time.”
Another crackle of digital static signaled her departure.
“Well,” Guy said, fixing his hair. “Certainly a step in the right direction. Maybe the worst of it is over. Next?”
A dark skinned woman stepped through the door and, thanks to an outfit featuring enough leather and canvas to be a Road Warrior extra, including one of the more tasteful corsets he’d ever seen, Guy was instantly put on edge again.
“Amanita Graus?” he said.
“That’s me. It’s nice to meet you.”
“And who would you like to play?”
“Mmm. This would be a vocal and motion capture performance, as she’s a non-human character.”
“I’d assumed as much,” Nita said. “I’m actually fascinated in how that would work. I’m a bit of an engineer myself.”
“And what attracted you to the role?”
“If I’m honest, I was pushed toward it more than I was pulled toward it. You’ve just had Lil through here.”
“She’s my partner and she’s nothing if not confident. She’s been quite sure she’ll get the part ever since she read they were casting it, and she wanted to share the screen with me. Plus my mother spent time on stage, my brother and my sister spent time on stage. It’s a bit of a rite of passage for the Graus family to put on a dramatic performance at least once in their life. Ivy appealed to me because we have a similar reverence for art in all of its forms. I think I could draw upon that to enhance my performance.”
He nodded and took some notes. “I’d think I’d like to add you to the second round of auditions. Consider this an in-person call back.”
“But I haven’t performed at all.”
“Miss Graus, you didn’t try to set me on fire, you didn’t spit a side dish into my hand, and you are made of flesh and blood. Even without your pedigree in a performing family you’re still head and shoulders above most the people I’ve seen today. I’ll have a few scenes sent to you and for you to prepare and we’ll move on from there in a few days.”
“Excellent,” she said with a clap. “Thank you so much for the opportunity.”
She stood and paced to the door. Lil stuck her head in. “Ya’ll are gonna hire her, ain’t ya?”
“She’s on the short list,” Guy said.
“That good or bad?”
“Ha!” Lil said. “I told ya! You’re gonna make the folks back home proud.”
The pair walked away.
A gruff looking older man with what looked like some strangely botched plastic surgery trudged in. He was dressed in a blue pair of coveralls, had one silver iris, and was in the process of working his way through a large burrito.
“Kart… Kartero… I’m sorry, how do you pronounce your name?” Guy asked.
“I pronounce it Karteroketraskin Onesarioriendi Dee,” he said, spraying some beans, rice, and cheese in Guy’s direction as he said so. “You can just say Karter if that’s too much for you.”
“Karter. What role brings you here today?”
“Mostly I’m here because Ma asked for my help jumping universes to try her luck on the small screen, and I realized this hunk of the multiverse contains active franchises of both Popeye’s and Taco Bell. Don’t ever look that gift horse in the mouth. But I ran through the complete Book of Deacon and it seems like the only one in the whole story that acts in a way that makes any sense is Wolloff.”
“I might be able to dig up a scene or two. He does have an important role midway through what would be season one. Would you like to read…”
“No, I don’t want to read anything. Acting is dumb.”
“… Then why are you here?”
He held up the burrito. “Crunch Wrap Supreme. Plus two Quesaritos and a catering size tray of red beans and rice from Popeye’s.”
“But why are you in this room. Why are you on my audition list?”
“Oh.” He shrugged. “I wanted to see if I could hack your system. Turns out I could.”
“Grand. Well, if you’re through, I’d like to move on.”
“Yeah. Fine. Whatever.”
Karter headed for the door.
“Can we send in our next actor? A Mister,” Guy’s face dropped as he saw the name. “Turd Ferguson…”
Karter snickered. “Next time put some special characters in your password. I didn’t even have to pull out the prime sifting algorithm to get into your database.”
A young man walked in and sat in the chair. Guy furrowed his brow and looked between the clipboard and the young man.
“You’re Miss Blot?” he said.
He shook his head. “No. I’m Alan. But if you’d like to talk to her, you’ll need to turn down the lights and hold this.”
He held out a small amulet of some sort.
“Ah. It’s another one of these, is it?” Guy said, eying the amulet.
“Look, I’m as eager to get this over with as you are.”
Guy sighed, turned the camera lights down, and grabbed the amulet. The shadow Alan was casting resolved into an impish form that blinked at him with white eyes, or more accurately eyes that were sections of non-shadow within the shadow.
“You are the shadow of another person,” Guy said.
She crossed her arms. “I’m a shade and my name is Blot.”
“I see… And you’re here for the role of?”
Guy flipped through the script notes.
“Right, yes. Epidime does frequently have a shadow that is subtly different from what his body would imply. I see the logic here.”
“The logic here is that I’m perfect for the part.”
“I suppose we can give you a…” he touched his finger to his ear. “I’m sorry, the tech guy is saying he can’t hear you.”
“Uh, no. He wouldn’t be able to. I’d have to do this whole thing where I physically impose myself on the world, and even then it’s sort of fifty-fifty if people can see it and remember it.”
“… So, how precisely would you be able to perform?”
She scratched her head. “Get better cameras? There’s probably something you can do with shards of shadow that’ll–”
He raised his hand. “The budget is very tight on this, I don’t think we can justify having a whole ‘mystical’ department added just to render of one of our actors visible.”
She scoffed and turned her head aside. “Fine. The lights would have been annoying anyway.”
Alan stood and grabbed the amulet back. He marched for the door. Guy shook his head and reached for his coffee. It was not where he left it. When he turned, he found it was floating a few inches away from the wall. It pressed against the wall, seeming to vanish into its own silhouette, and slid out the door.
Guy rumbled with frustration, but steadied himself.
“This next one is the last one before I take a break,” he announced. “I know we have a lot to get through but I hadn’t anticipated this particular degree of difficulty today. Next!”
The next figure to walk through the door would have, in another circumstance, been just as unsettling as several of the others. But it just so happened, this was one of the few non-humans Guy was actually prepared for. It was a white-furred anthropomorphic fox.
“Ivy!” he said excitedly. “What are you doing on the audition list? When the team heard you were interested we were thrilled. Of course if you’re looking to reprise your role, we’ll be glad to have you. You don’t need to audition.”
“Oh, no, no, no. I’m sorry if this wasn’t clear. I’m not here for the role of Ivy.”
His expression dropped. “You’re not?”
“No, no. It wouldn’t be very challenging, I don’t think.”
He shut his eyes and took a deep breath through his nose. “And what role are you interested in?”
“Epidime,” he repeated, hoping for her to correct herself.
He took a moment to gather his thoughts. “I think perhaps you would be a poor fit for the role.”
“Well, for one, Epidime is listed as a male role.”
She smirked. “I dealt with Epidime quite a bit. And Epidime’s gender was entirely based upon the body that was currently being occupied. So he was as often as not a she. I don’t think he even really bothered making a distinction most of the time. I overheard you talking about rewriting Ether’s part. Very smart, by the way. She’s much better now, but in the early days she was very much of a grouch, so making her a little more sympathetic a little earlier is probably a good idea. But if you can rewrite her, you can rewrite Epidime, right?”
“The script is… I’m not sure we… Look, do you have a second choice?”
“Oh, absolutely! Though Turiel is,” she paused. “Well, you know the story.”
“Why are you so interested in villainous roles?”
“They have the best songs! And the best outfits. I made some sketches, if you’d like to see. I’m thinking black and violet, maybe black and gold. A little more form fitting than I usually wear. Maybe one of those skirts that’s tight all the way down the legs? And a slit up the side for when I have to dance. I like the idea of a spider web motif, maybe as the edging…”
“Ivy, I think you’re misunderstanding. This isn’t a musical. There won’t be singing and dancing. Certainly not by the villains.”
She flicked an ear and tipped her head. “You’re joking.”
“I’m afraid not. This is prestige television, not a family film.”
She tapped her chin. “Maybe it’s best if these roles go to someone else, then. I’m happy to consult and give you advice on casting and dialogue, though.”
She held out her hand.
“It was a pleasure to meet you,” she said.
“A pleasure to meet you as well. We look forward to telling your story!”
“I’m sure it will be great,” she said sweetly.
She stood and marched out the door. “Rill? Just so you know, no singing,” she said.
“What?!” came three answers in unison.
An enormous lavender serpent with three heads slithered by and left with Ivy.
“You wanna go to a karaoke bar then?” Rill said.
“Oh! Let’s do that!” Right-Rill said.
“Better than this…” Left-Rill said.
“That sounds great!” Ivy said
Guy rubbed his eyes and turned to the camera. “I think we’ll call it a session there. Two hour break. Probably a drink. This is… going to be a rough one…”
In an attempt to post more often, and generally keep you folks tighter in the loop of what I’m up to, I figured it would be wise to share my current project status.
Now that the release of The Book of Deacon Anthology 2 is complete, an The Bygone Caper (Greater Lands 4) is off to the editor, the time has come to start assembling Greater Lands 5. Traditionally the outlining step has only taken me about a week, but there have been a confluence of things which are conspiring to slow me down. I’m feeling a dash of burnout/general malaise/ennui/assorted highfalutin words for the blues that has got me hyperfixating on small, pointless things instead of big important things. I’m also sick (doesn’t appear to be COVID), and it’s really sapping my motivation to do anything. Regardless of the obstacles, I’m shooting to complete the outline for Greater Lands 5 by Sunday night so I can start doing the actual writing by Monday, with a completion date for early May, ideally.
When I have time in between the writing, I’m also going to begin my “Complete Edition” experiment. With any luck I’ll be making digital editions available directly from me for the complete editions of all of my three main series. Check out the cover!
As I believe I’ve said elsewhere, this edition is intended to be a “living edition.” New stories will be added to it as they are released, and people who purchase it once will be able to re-download it and get the new stuff, albeit probably with a pretty big delay. That’s the plan, anyway. Logistics and all that.
I have a few things simmering on the back burner as well. A mostly-written sequel to The Other Eight and a fully written Book of Deacon… sequel spin-off thing? Stay tuned, announcements as appropriate!