Fan Casting and other fun stuff

Let me begin by apologizing to any regular readers of my site. As I plunged myself deeper and deeper into the final rounds of revisions and edits on my latest novel, The D’Karon Apprentice, I somehow shifted to doing my updates almost exclusively on social media, particularly Twitter and the Facebook Fan Page. If you don’t follow me there, you’ve been missing out on the day-to-day nuggets. But lately the flood of updates has been coming at a stiff enough pace that I can’t really justify packing the info into a single Facebook post, and spreading them out to even on a day is causing me to fall behind. So it is time for the official site to triumphantly surge back to life again! (At least for this one post. I don’t anticipate turning over a new leaf.)

Where do we start?

Well, let’s start with The D’Karon Apprentice, shall we? If you’ve been keeping your eyes peeled, you’ve already seen a neat (and rough) little sneak peek of this story, which is a direct sequel to The Battle of Verril. It releases November 12th, 2015, but the pre-order is available now: iBooks, Barnes and Noble, and Kobo. Check out the exceptionally bland Placeholder cover!


There’s a lot to do in order to prepare this for release, but it’s already churning through the patented Lallo Literary Mill. The first round of beta readers are looking at as I type this, my editor is ready to get it at the end of the month, and my cover artist already has the rough idea of what I want on the cover. Once that cover shows up, we’ll kick this thing into high gear. And roundabout August it’ll go into pre-order on Amazon and I’ll really start promoting.

But that’s only the tip of the iceberg! Newsletter subscribers got their hands on a fun little side project (hopefully the first of many) called Entwell Origins: Ayna. This is a novella focusing on, you guessed it, Ayna. It tells of her history and how she ended up in the role of Highest Master of Wind Magic in Entwell. It was great fun to write, and as my schedule permits, I’ll probably pick other Entwell natives to write about. Solomon and Calypso leaped to mind, but I’ve since had a request for Azriel, which could be a fun one too. Here’s the cover art for Ayna’s story. It’s by my new cover guy (not a replacement for Nick, but in ADDITION to Nick), Georgi Slavov.


And all of this digging into the Book of Deacon setting has sparked something in a long time and cherished fan (and beta reader, by the way), who has begun fan casting/face claiming the Book of Deacon universe bit by bit. Here are the first two batches:

The Chosen

The Entwell Dwellers

So good. Some really inspired casting in there. I HIGHLY approve.

Last but not least, something to help non-fans get into the series without having to hunt down and arrange every Book of Deacon title.


Yep! I’ve created a Book of Deacon Anthology! This collects every story from the first five years of Book of Deacon releases, including all three books of the Trilogy plus Jade, The Rise of the Red Shadow, and both previous Newsletter perks: Entwell Origins: Ayna and The Stump and the Spire. Every book involved has received a slight to major formatting upgrade including (gasp) chapters! Yes, The Book of Deacon Trilogy and Jade are split into chapters in this book, addressing one of the most frequent complaints about the series. It’s been submitted for pre-order, but oddly enough, Google Play is the only one to get it through so far. Correction, Amazon has it too, and iBooks! It releases June. 25th on all major retailers. The value of the books within is $10, not to mention it includes two very hard to find stories that have (so far) never been sold separately, but I’m charging $6.99 for it. If you’re a long time fan and have read all of my stuff, there’s not much in there to make the purchase worth your while. I’ve added a short foreword to each book, but those tell anecdotes you’ll have heard a dozen times if you follow me, and there’s a “Message from the Curator” which introduces the series and sets a bit of the timeline, but you can read that in the preview on the sites once it shows up. HOWEVER, if you’ve got friends or family who are interested int the series but haven’t picked up anything (or perhaps only picked up the free book) this is a great way to get the series so far in an easy to consume and economical package.

Character Interview: Captain McCulloch West

Better late than never! As voted by the fans, the latest character interview is of the gruff but capable Captain McCulloch “Cap’n Mack” West, from my Free-Wrench and Skykeep books! I hope you enjoy it!

In the Captain’s Quarters, which served double duty as an office and a bedroom, McCulloch West was as near to sleep as he tended to get. The gentle motion of the airship in flight rocked him back and forth like a child in a crib. For a man who devoted himself as deeply to his role as captain as he did, one would expect sleep to be a black, dreamless thing. Not so for Captain West. The light tap of knuckles on his door were enough to bring him to full wakefulness without so much as a groggy slur to his voice when he answered.

“What is it, Ms. Graus?” he asked.

“How did you know it was me?” she asked through the door.

“You’re the only one who would knock. The rest of the crew would barge right in if it was something important or leave me be if it wasn’t.”

“Do you mind if I have a word with you? It is about what I’d discussed before.”

He heaved himself from the hammock and climbed down into his chair.

“May as well,” he said.

Nita pushed the door open and marched inside. She was dressed, as she tended to be, in her work gear, a leather and canvas ensemble that stood up well to the assortment of tasks that were expected of her. A strange addition was a small folio of loose, blank pages and a fountain pen.

“Refresh me, Ms. Graus. What’s this about?”

“As you know, my father is working to convince the council that the Wind Breaker deserves safe harbor. I’ve vouched for your character, but in doing so, I realize I your character is effectively the only thing I know about you. He’ll have questions I can’t answer. So I thought I’d ask a few questions that I’ve been wondering about, and I’ll record the answers for posterity.”

“Posterity ain’t something I’ve put too much though into. By matter of course it doesn’t concern me. But you Calderan’s have your own way of doing things. Ask.”

“Thank you very much. My first question is about Butch. I’ve always wondered, why did you divorce Butch?”

“… And this is about us getting safe harbor?”

“It further speaks to your character.”

He crossed his arms and leaned back. “You know the way it goes. There’s only room in a man’s life for one great love, and I had two. Butch and the sky. There comes a time when a woman gets tired of sharing her man. Can’t say I blame her. More curious, I reckon, is why she saw fit to say ‘I do’ in the first place. Can’t say I was any more devoted back then. Just a bit more… vigorous. We both were.”

“Do you ever miss being married to her?”

“Ain’t much room in a hammock for two, though we did have an awful lot of fun trying… But then, that’s not really talk for mixed company. Simple answer, you can’t have a woman as a wife and as a crewman. A crewman’s got to follow orders. I ain’t met a fella who found a wife that’d do that. Near as I can figure any wife who’d follow orders like a crewman hasn’t got enough life to her to be worth having. To each his own, though. Fact is, she’s more good to all of us cooking meals and cleaning wounds. If I could either have her by my side or at my command, the command is the better choice. Not having to put up with me in her off hours probably added a few years to her life, too.”

“I think I understand. Now, another question I had. How did you get the Wind Breaker?”

“Rich fella, over on the north end of Circa. Lots of plateaus that way. Lots of farming. Nothing like you’ve got in Caldera, mind you. But enough to feed the local folk with enough left to ship and sell. Any man who does enough shipping’s bound to run into wailers and suchlike. So a man with heavy enough pockets is best served to pick up a couple escorts. That’s when I first set foot on the old girl. Wasn’t called the Wind Breaker back then. Fella called it… Madeleine or some such. Name of his daughter. Anyhow, I kept my heap together a few years. Kept the raiders and them off his veggies. Time came he gave farms, the ships, the whole mess to his daughter. Not Madeleine, the younger one. Her husband and her reckoned they knew better than her old man, decided to sell the escorts. Everybody knew the two of  ‘em didn’t know the value of a good ship, but sometimes that’s a good thing. Like when you’re fixing to buy one from ‘em, for instance. Picked her up good and cheap, with enough left to keep the crew on. For a spell, anyhow.”

“I see. What made you start your life of crime?”

“Didn’t get started with that until roundabout when this young lady who was too smart for all our own good came aboard and put the thought in our heads about a heist.”

“I meant your smuggling and black market sales.”

“Ain’t nothing illegal about a little free enterprise. If you folk considered that spot we tie up to be a part of your land, you’d plop one of them cannons in front of it. Far as I’m concerned we’re just offering a service.”

“But why that service?”

“Takes money to keep a ship in the air. Something I worked out on my own when I was a boy, you want to get paid more than the next fella, you need to do the sorts of things he won’t. Same goes for a ship. No one else was willing to swing around them cannons and give you good folks a taste of Rim. Least ways not as often as we were. So that’s what we did.”

“And how did you assemble your crew?”

“‘Less you’re in the military and doing some drafting, ain’t but one way to put together a crew. Set down in a port, look for folk looking for a job. If they don’t die or quit, that’s your crew. Though… come to think of it most everybody died or quit. I ain’t the easiest man to work under, I’m sure you noticed. Gunner used to work for a fella I knew back in the Madeleine days. Heard I was lookin’ for a man who could do the work of three or four good stout deck gunners. Gunner, for his part, was lookin’ for a job that’d put his finger on the trigger a bit more. Turned out to be a good fit.

“I went through three or four cooks and a dozen medics before I finally found out Butch was running short of money and hadn’t found a new husband to help her make ends meet, so I asked if she wanted to handle the knives for me again. Turned out to be the best offer on the table. I reckon that doesn’t say much for the other offers. Or the table for that matter.

“Then Coop and Lil had that problem with their herd and a wind storm while I was nearby. Did a rescue, saw the whole herd got wiped out. They weren’t going to last long without some money coming in, and I figured I could use some extra hands. The pair ended up following orders better than the boys I already had on, so I kept ‘em on.”

“What were your first impressions of the crew?”

“Well, Butch is Butch. Just about the only thing that’s changed about her since I first met her is the size of her jowels. Not that I’m one to talk. Gunner struck me as a bit too full of himself. Boy leans more on that education of his than he ought to. Still, most of the things he blows up are on other ships, and to his credit, even if he says nay to almost every order that comes across, he still does as he’s told. Coop and Lil? Didn’t expect them two to survive two weeks in the air. Lil didn’t have the stomach for it. The fish got more of her meals than she did in the beginning. And the both of them were quicker to tackle an order than to figure out how they were supposed to do it. To talk to ‘em, you’d think they wouldn’t have half a mind to split between the two. But hammer something into ‘em hard enough and they’ll learn enough of it to get by. And I swear them two have got their own personal angels watchin’ over ‘em. The doings they get up to… I seen folk get killed for even coming close to what they do day in, day out. But I’ll be damned if they didn’t take to it after a fashion. Best deckhands I’ve had.”

“What do you like most about this crew?”

“I don’t have to think about ‘em. Doesn’t matter the job that needs doing. I say the word and I know they can handle it. Don’t need to tell ‘em how. Don’t need to tell ‘em why. Just need to tell ‘em, and they get it done. If I told my crew to bring me the devil’s tongue I’d have it by sunup, and a couple of his teeth besides.”

“Is it true what I’ve heard? That you’ve spent some time in prison?”

“It is.”

“How did that happen?”

“It was nothin’ I didn’t earn. This was in my military days. Westrim Navy. I was pretty high up on one of them frigates they run. Nothing so substantial as the dreadnaught, but ship enough to keep a few dozen hands busy below deck when cannons start boomin’. We were over on the East side of Rim, I was… How old was I? … Old enough to know better regardless. I was running messages for the first mate, and on that ship the cap’n said he ran things, but the truth of it was he ran things above deck and his mate ran things below.

“We were called in to settle a disagreement. Couple folks felt they owned this patch of the sea or that. Fuses got lit. Navy had to tend to it. Turns out when we showed up, half the mountain had joined in. Air was thick with cannon balls, bullets, nails, anything one boat could heave at another.

“The mate had more than he could handle, and he started ordering things that’d get folk killed at best, take the ship down at worst. I thought his orders were damn fool orders and told him so. He told me if I didn’t like the way he ran things I could return my last month’s pay and resign. I did.

“In those days they paid us in silver victors. I kept ‘em in a wool sock, and when I returned ‘em, I did it in an awful hurry, and right upside his head. He went down like a sack of potatoes. Like I said, I was running messages for him. Him not being awake to give orders didn’t seem to me to be a good reason to stop delivering ‘em. So I started handing out the ones I thought’d keep us alive.

“By the time he came to, the fight was clearing up. Out of the three frigates that ended up gettin’ called in, ours was the only one that didn’t lose any crew. Even so, there’s an awful lot of names for a man who’d do what I did, and none of them is sailor. They locked me away for a bit. First man I saw when I got out was Cap’n Dahl. Same cap’n who was running that ship. Seems he never forgot what I got up to, and decided if I could see my way clear to keep from swinging my pay around this time, maybe I’d like to give a tour as first mate a try. The other fella, to no one’s surprise, didn’t last too much longer after I got locked up.”

“I’ve heard whispers about the boiler being overfed once? What’s the story?”

“About what you’d expect. I wanted more speed, the general thinking from the crew was more heat and more water’d do it. It did. For a bit.”

Nita paused for a moment, as if debating on whether to ask the next question. “Do you remember when we figured out the truth about Wink?”

“I do.”

“You said you had more to say to him, but you sent me away before you said it.”

“If I’d’ve meant for you to hear it I’d’ve said it while you were still about.”

“If you’d rather not tell me, that’s certainly your right.”

“… I suppose there isn’t any harm to it. Wink’d always been an important part of the crew. But figurin’ the little bugger wouldn’t know what I was sayin’ if I said it, I never let him know what I expected of all the folk who work under me. So I let him know. And I let him know what’d happen if I didn’t get it from him. In words that it ain’t fit for a man to use in front of a lady.”

“A lot changed that day.”

“A lot changed once you set foot on my ship.”

“That’s true… Do you ever regret taking me on?”

He was silent for a few moments. “Every man’s got problems. When I took you on, I swapped out the ones I was used to for a whole new set. But if I were to lay it all out, I’d say you pushed us a lot further forward than you set us back. Not so fond of needing you as much as I do, seeing as how without you we ain’t got the knowhow to keep the Wind Breaker in the air, but before you we had the same situation with the fuggers, and I’ll take you over the fuggers eleven times out of ten. Plus, one of these days the rest of us’ll work out what needs working out to look after ourselves. That wouldn’t’ve happened without you. Regrets come pretty often, I guess, but they go pretty quick too.”

“I really appreciate that,” she said. Again she though long and hard before speaking again “I’ve never heard you say much about when you were younger. What was your childhood like?”

“Didn’t have much of a childhood. I was near the middle of a batch of youngsters that was closer to a dozen than most families get these days. Ma and Pa had their hands full keeping us from starving and/or killing each other, so they couldn’t care less if we got to mischief. By the time I was seven I was spending half my time stowing away on airships. I was pretty much a regular member of the crew of this one scout ship, the Quarrel, by the time I was ten. My folks were just happy to have to put one less plate on the table most nights. Come my fifteenth birthday I had more time in the air than half of the officers, and I finally made it official and enlisted.”

“Is that how you learned to fly the ship so well?”

“No crew would let a boy take the wheel. What I know about flying and running a ship comes from that man I mentioned before. Cap’n Dahl. First man to put the wheel of a ship in my hands, and to not take it out even after I almost crashed the thing. Had more close calls that year than in the last twenty. Every moment I’m above deck, I’m doing my damnedest to be half as good as him.”

“The man must have had an eye for talent.”

“I think it had more to do with how often he was into the bottle. Probably something he taught me that I’d have been better not learning.”

Nita wrote a bit more on her pages. “I’m sure you’d rather be resting than answering these questions, so I suppose I’ll make this my last one. Why did you let the Wind Breaker get in such bad shape? It’s clearly your whole life. Why was it so run down when I joined the crew?”

“You’ve had the good fortune of not having to do much business with the fuggers. They have two prices for fixing a ship. Good enough to keep running is one, and that’s as much as most folk can afford. Almost as good as one of theirs is another price. Seems like every time I ask, the fuggers give me a number that everything I’ve got, plus a few hundred for good measure. Never had much of a choice to get her working better than she was until you showed up.”

“But what about how it looked? Surely the Fug Folk let you make cosmetic improvements.”

“Well, see there, that’s your Calderan talking. I got a list of things I care about. How something looks ain’t on it.”

“I suppose that’s fair enough.” She scratched down a few more lines. “Thank you for taking the time to answer these. I think it will really help my father understand what sort of man you are.”

And that’s that! If you like the character, be sure to check out Free-Wrench and Skykeep, both of which are available now!

“I reckon understanding what sort of man I am is just about the last thing we’d want if we were after safe harbor, but he’s  your Pa. You’d know better’n me.”

Book of Deacon 4 Sneak Peek: The Villain Awakens

I realized a little while ago that I’d been writing this big long Book of Deacon story and I don’t think I’d actually shared any, as I had in the past. Time to rectify that. I might pick out one or two more before the release, but for now, here’s the villain scene.

Somewhere deep in the arid wastes of the southern shore of Tressor, a woman lay sleeping. Hers was a deep, dreamless slumber, a slumber unbroken for years. The woman was frail and forgotten, a motionless bundle of ragged cloth and withered flesh. If undisturbed, she might never have awoken, sleeping blissfully until the end of time without troubling the world or its people. But this was not to be.

Piece by piece her body flickered to life, like soggy bits of firewood sluggishly taking to flame. Her lungs took the initiative, deciding that shallow breaths were simply not sufficient. And so she breathed deep, quickly releasing it as a painful cough. Next her eyes grew weary of the darkness and slid open, feeding her mind images that it was not quite ready to comprehend. Her fingers twitched, her cracked lips parted, her dry tongue smacked, and slowly a word formed in her mind. It took several minutes of effort before it worked its way to her lips.

“Thirsty,” she croaked in a voice from the wrong side of a grave, startling a nest of mice that had made a home in her hair.

She slowly scraped together enough of her wits to sit up, stiff joints crackling with every motion. The light was dim, filtering in from the mouth of a low-roofed cave. She swept her eyes around until she found beside her a small cup caked with sand and dust. Beside it was a cork-topped wine bottle. It took three poorly guided grasps before she was able to close her bony hand about the bottle’s neck, and four tries to manage the complex maneuver of pulling its cork free, but persistence earned her a long swig of vinegary swill.

One need dealt with, her body quickly alerted her of another.

“Hungry,” she stated, her voice a shade closer to human now.

Again she scanned her surroundings. There were empty bags chewed through by rodents and the bones of a dozen assorted animals that had been picked clean. Nothing even resembling a meal had been in the cave for years. For a moment she contemplated climbing to her feet and seeking out some provisions, but having only just managed to work out how to use both arms at the same time, she felt the task of walking was one that would be easier to work out on a full stomach.

She picked through the mound of bones nearest to her. Though it was an uphill struggle to work out the proper sequence of opening and closing her fingers that as necessary to grasp them, oddly she found identifying them was utterly effortless.

“Skull of a jackal. Where is the jaw? Here. Good, good. One of its legs too. Don’t need the toes. A few rat spines, yes. Ah, perfect, a serpent skeleton. Intact, save the head. That will do nicely.”

Like a child with a new set of building blocks, she merrily began to fit the bits of carcass together. Under her breath she uttered arcane words, conjuring black tendrils that fused the bones to one another. After a few minutes she had assembled a creature that could only have been borne of madness.

The jackal skull sat atop the long, narrow spine of a snake. Ribs, femurs, and claws were linked together into a set of six spidery legs that linked to the curving spine a third of the way down. The rest of the serpent’s spine formed a curled tail. She dangled the horrid concoction by the spine, eying it critically.

“A motley bit of odds and ends, but it will have to do… Now, live.”

Inside the hollow skull, darkness began to swirl and coil. The edge of the tail twitched and the mismatched legs quivered. Two points of violet light sparked to life in the jackal’s eye sockets. She lowered it to the ground and watched it shudder, quake, and finally hoist itself to its feet, twisting its oversize head toward her and sweeping its tail in expectation.

“Good. Now listen closely, Motley. You will fetch me food. Meat. Something large, lots of blood, lots of skin, lots of bone. Bring it quickly and I’ll be sure to give you the bits that I don’t need.”

The abomination pranced in place for a moment, radiating delight at the chance to serve, then rattled off toward the mouth of the cave. When it was out of sight, the woman ran her fingers through her scraggly white hair, combing away any other creatures that might have taken up residence.

“Now then… to work. I suspect there’s much to be done.”

She looked beside her and found a tall ivory-white staff. It was intricately carved with runes and sigils, and the top was set with a deep violet gem. She pulled the head of the staff to her lap and worked a simple spell. Inside the gem there was a muddy red glow and she felt her thoughts grow sharper, if not more orderly. Yes… her name. She was Turiel. Her task. She was prepare the second keyhole. Her masters… Why they not woken her? And why did something feel lost, something missing. She reached out, seeking guidance, but there was no answer.

“Something has happened… I’ve slept too long… Need answers… Something must be done…”

And there we have this story’s villain. Sort of a change from the trilogy, but hopefully she’ll do the job. What do you think?

The Unified Lallo Universe

Okay, folks. I’ve got some bad news. I’m afraid I’m having too much trouble keeping up with all of the various settings and series I’ve been writing. I know some of you really love the sci-fi, and others really like the fantasy, and there are even some die hard superhero fans. But if I’m going to be successful as an author, I’m going to have to focus on a single setting.

What you see is the first official story in my last surviving setting. Hopefully you will all think of this as the beginning of something great, rather than the end of something you loved.

“All things being equal, the more exposed wiring I see, the less comfortable I am about testing an apparatus,” Lex said, gazing around at Karter’s latest contraption.

Whatever the device was, it certainly didn’t give one the impression of something that had reached any appreciable level of completion. There were bundles of cable held together with, in the best of cases, plastic tie-wraps. In most other cases the cables were held together with hasty loops of black electrical tape and in at least one notable instance a few strips of blue painter’s tape. The cables had been affixed to a bent rebar scaffold of sorts that traced out the rough wireframe of a sphere. It was just off center in a large stainless steel laboratory. Joining him in the room was Karter, the device’s creator, and Solby, his genetically engineered pet. Solby was, as usual, riding across Karter’s shoulders and looking on with manic enthusiasm.

“Hey, I’m paying you top credits for this testing gig, so you don’t get to complain,” Karter said, tapping some commands into an old fashioned mechanical keyboard that had been attached to the side of a more modern control panel by way of duct tape.

“Just because you’re paying me doesn’t mean I don’t get to voice my concerns.”

“Ma! Did he sign the release?” he shouted vaguely at the ceiling.

“Yes, Karter.”

“Good!” He looked back to Lex. “You’re right. You get to voice your concerns, but I don’t have to pay attention to them.”

“Why is there so much old fashion technology involved in this one, Karter?”

“BECAUSE OF SCIENCE!” he growled. “Now shut up and listen to the briefing. Ma! Do the honors.”

A piecemeal female voice spoke through the speakers in the far corners of the room. “Karter’s modifications to the confiscated transportation device should facilitate a greatly extended maximum range and the removal of previously required target locator beacon. The modifications come at the cost of a small degree of positional accuracy and a greater amount of pre-transportation calibration. This calibration includes microgram-precision measurements of mass within the active field of the transportation chamber. Improper mass calibrations can cause fluctuations in the quantum alignment of the spacetime bridging phase.”

“Okay, what does that mean?”

“It means if the mass measurement isn’t just right, you’ll end up someplace else,” Karter clarified.


“The hell if I know.”

“So… we’re sure this is safe, right?”

“If we were sure it was safe, we wouldn’t be testing it right now, would we?”

Again Ma spoke. “The device affixed to your wrist is a failsafe return beacon. In the event of teleportation destination mis-targeting it will attempt to restore quantum alignment with periodic synchronization pulses. These will slide you progressively closer to ideal quantum alignment.”

“And that means?” Lex said.

“It means ‘Quit your bellyaching because it’s time to earn your keep.’” Karter explained.

“I have initiated the capacitive loading. From this point forward my sensors in the room will be inoperative,” Ma said.

“Now let’s get started.” Karter pulled a pair of goggles from a pocket of his jumpsuit and slid them on. “Initiating mass scan. You’re gonna want to take a deep breath and hold it.”

“Wait! Do I need goggles too?”

“Probably. Mass scan commencing.”

Lex pulled in a deep breath. A laser line began to sweep swiftly around him.

“Keep holding. Don’t exhale until after the flash,” Karter said. “Test begins in five…”

He flipped a switch and the air was suddenly alive with humming and buzzing with energy. Lex could feel the hair on his neck stand up.


The humming turned onto a sizzle. Lex’s tongue began to tingle, like he was licking a battery.

“Three… Two…”

At this point, something began to happen that Lex saw but Karter did not. Solby, who had been getting incrementally more spastic with each passing moment since the activation, was beginning to waggle his little hindquarters, a sure sign of an impending leap.


Lex’s eyes opened wide and he prepared to yell for the countdown to stop, but for a split second he hesitated, worrying what sort of consequences he’d incur if he stopped holding his breath long enough to blurt a warning. The hesitation was just long enough for Solby to leap.


Lex shut his eyes and cringed. An instant later there was a burst of light so powerful he could see the arcing shape of it even through his eyelids. Then something warm, fuzzy, and vibrating with excitement struck his face and tumbled to the ground with the soft crunch of fresh snow.

That was the first indication that something had gone wrong. Lex didn’t have the best eye for detail, but he was reasonably certain there hadn’t been any snow in the lab when he’d closed his eyes. The next indication of mishap was the suddenly frigid air that whisked away the warmth of the lab. In seconds he was shivering. Hesitantly, he opened his eyes.

He was standing—or rather, sinking—in snow that reached about his mid-calf by the time he’d settled down into it. Solby blasted up out of the snow and onto his shoulders, then bounded off again and sprang through the snow like a lunatic.

“Oh Jeez… this is… this is bad,” he said, hugging his arms together to preserve some warmth. “I mean… It could have been worse. At least there’s a breathable atmosphere. Hopefully he just zapped me to the top of a mountain on Big Sigma or something.” He started to look around. “Though the air seems a bit fresh… for…”

Lex trailed off as he realized that to his left was a crushed stone road that led off toward what might have at one time been a quaint—albeit medieval—village. Now it seemed to have fallen upon hard times, though an assortment of workers seemed to be doing their best to rebuild at least the parts nearest to the wall.

“Oh, hello there!” said a bright, friendly voice on the other side.

He turned to the source and promptly released a startled yelp that he hoped didn’t sound nearly as girly as it did in his head.

Standing before him, smiling pleasantly, was something that was wholly and entirely not a human being. It was white and furry, sporting pointed ears, a long canine muzzle, and a pair of pink eyes blinking with curiosity. She, and the gender was a guess based on the overall shape of her body, was dressed in neat and warm layers of thick clothing. The general impression was of a particularly well-dressed werewolf with a pigmentation problem. It was standing a few meters away on a cobbled road.

Having already been assaulted by a flash of some sort of (hopefully mild) radiation and then subjected to arctic temperatures, Lex would have had a hard time scraping together the wits necessary to have a normal conversation with Michella, let alone this… thing. He took a step back, patting his jumpsuit’s pockets to see if he had something with which to defend himself, just in case the man-sized carnivore decided to do what most man-sized carnivores would do.

“Where did you come from?” she said, tipping her head to the side. “And why aren’t you dressed properly? You’ll freeze out here like that. You should probably get inside.”

Lex’s response to the hospitable offer was to utter three or four variations of the word “Guh.” Solby, for better or worse, decided to take on the ambassadorial duties personally. He bounced through the snow until he tumbled out into the road, then sniffed eagerly around her legs. She raised a foot cautiously at first, but then crouched down to inspect Solby more closely.

“Well you’re a friendly one!” she said.

Solby responded by rolling to his back and offering his tummy for a rub, which she eagerly obliged. As she giggled and cooed at the bundle of fluff, the bits and pieces of Lex’s sanity slowly slid back into place.

“Um… Where exactly am GAH!” he blurted.

His attempt at communication was cut short when a few additional figures stepped out from behind the city walls. Two of them, an attractive redheaded woman and a young man, were fairly normal if perhaps a bit more “renaissance faire” than you might expect to see under usual circumstances. The other, which must have been just barely hidden behind the wall this entire time, was instantly recognizable as something which Lex knew did not and could not exist. It was a red and yellow dragon. A very large red and yellow dragon. Those were all of the details he was able to absorb because, let’s face it, what more did he need to know?

“Ivy, where did he come from?” said the woman.

“I don’t know. He’s not very talkative,” said the white-furred creature. Ivy, it would seem.

“There aren’t any footprints leading to where he’d been standing…” observed the man.

The dragon stepped forward and lowered its massive head to sniff at Solby, who responded with a playful lick to its snout. There wasn’t anything particularly aggressive about the way the dragon was moving, but a multi-ton reptile moving at all was a bit more aggressive than Lex was willing to tolerate. His body wisely took the initiative and he took off at a sprint.

He burst onto the road, scooped up Solby, and fled as though he were on fire. Behind him, he could just barely hear a worrying statement by the woman.

“Myn, fetch him. Gently. In light of recent events, I’d rather not let the sudden appearance of a strangely dressed man pass without determining his intentions.”

What came next was the earthshaking thunder of a galloping dragon quickly closing the distance between them.

“I knew Karter would eventually get me killed,” he huffed desperately as an imposing shadow began to close in above him. “But eaten by a dragon? I didn’t see that one coming.”

The pounding steps stopped briefly, and for a moment Lex hoped the dragon had lost interest. The next instant the ground practically jumped out from beneath him. A rush of snow blinded him, and a moment later he crashed into a wall and fell back. When the kicked up snow had cleared, he discovered that the wall he’d struck was actually the dragon. It had managed to leap over him and pivot in midair, blocking his path. As he blinked up at the towering head that stared down with an almost endearing look of pride, he couldn’t help but wish he’d been someone watching that maneuver. Not only would it mean he wouldn’t be the one getting eaten, it would certainly have looked really cool.

Solby, who had been tucked under his arm and had been spared the brunt of the collision, wriggled free and stood on Lex’s chest. He stood stiffly and planted his feet, growling at the dragon.

Before the little funk could unleash its fury on the unsuspecting beast, the device on Lex’s wrist released a buzzing whine.

“Oh thank God!” Lex said, when a familiar sensation made his hair stand on end again.

The potent flash returned and the feeling of icy ground on his back dropped away. This brought a millisecond of relief, followed by a flood of fresh panic. Nothing had replaced the icy ground. He’d gone from lying on the ground beneath a monstrous dragon to plummeting with nothing but sky above him.

Safety-wise it was at best a lateral move.

He screamed helplessly for the longest two seconds of his life before his back stuck something with a hollow, echoing thump. Whatever had caught him was mercifully giving, which sent him rebounding back upward. At the apex of his rebound the furry form of Solby struck him firmly in the stomach. He grabbed Solby tight and wrapped around him, plummeting back down onto the rough, taut surface below.

When he landed the second time, the surface below him had a steeper slope that sent him sliding. Reflexively he threw his hand out to the side and groped for something to hold onto. Just as his slide began to accelerate he found a rough, slightly sticky rope set into the surface.

His backhanded grip just barely brought him to a stop. After some awkward shuffling of Solby, he was able to quickly reverse his grip, get his feet under him, and haul himself back up to the flatter portion of his landing platform.

Without the imminent threat of a plummeting demise to distract him, Lex took a moment to assess his latest predicament. He was now on the top of what was almost certainly a vehicle. The springy surface that had saved his life was a red, very weathered cloth. It looked almost like canvas, except there was a very faint golden metallic sheen to it. The ropes were old-style hemp, coated in tar. The “vehicle” assessment was based on the cluster of brass turbines that were affixed to a wide metallic band at the center of what he supposed must have been the balloon of a blimp. They were high enough that nothing even resembling ground was visible. Above was cool blue sky, and below was an unbroken blanket of clouds.

The rushing wind and whirring blades, coupled with the complete lack of solid ground, seemed to have finally exceeded Solby’s comfort level. He snuggled close to Lex and trembled lightly with anxiety.

“You and me both, buddy,” Lex said, hooking his leg around a place where the anchor ropes of the blimp looped upward. “Don’t worry, though. The safety return doodad seems like it works. Or at least it seems like it does something. So I guess we just have to wait and it’ll eventually flick us from the frying pan into the fire a few more times before we get home. Let’s just cross our fingers and hope nothing ridiculous happens before the next flash.”

It took nearly forty seconds before those hopes were thoroughly dashed, as a scratching sound behind Lex drew his attention to a creature which, to his mild relief, seemed to at least have been based on something earthly. It might have been a lemur, though its flappy nose gave it a distinctly bat-like inflection, and the color seemed off.

The thing jumped back, looking almost reproachful, as though his appearance was a cruel and uncalled for prank. It drummed the surface of the blimp with one of its long, mildly grotesque fingers before scampering back down the side. Lex sighed as voices below became just barely audible.

“We’re probably about to have company, Solby. How much you want to be whoever it is will try to kill us?” Lex said.

The general vibration of the balloon was quickly joined by a rougher, rhythmic thump. A scruffy-looking young man with goggles and otherwise vaguely wild west inspired attire poked up into view. A rifle was strapped to his back.

“Told you,” Lex said, twisting to face the man.

“Well dang it, the little bugger was right,” the man called down to someone below. He peered up and around, then scratched his head. “Just where did you come from, fella?”

“Uh… based on the general level of technology, I’m guessing ‘the future’ is about as close as I can get to a useful answer.”

“The future? I reckon that’s not so much a where as a when, ‘less I miss your meaning.”

“Sometimes it’s both.”


Lex shrugged. “Science.”

“Oh. I don’t go in for that fancy book learning much,” he said, seemingly satisfied with the highly unsatisfactory answer. “You know it ain’t good manners to just drop down onto the envelope of a ship without asking the folks in charge.”

“Sorry about that. I won’t be here long,” Lex said.

“Coop, what did you find?” called a gruff voice from below.

“There’s a fella up here, Cap’n! Says he’s from the future,” Coop called down.

“That’s a when, not a where,” the captain replied.

“That’s what I said, but he said it was on account of science.”

“Is he on the ship?”

“More or less.”

“And did he get our permission?”

“No, Cap’n.”

“Then what does that make him?”

“Stowaway, Cap’n.”

“Then you know what to do.”

“Aye, Cap’n!” He climbed the rest of the way with remarkable ease, hooked his feet under two separate lines, and raised his rifle. “Sorry, fella. We ain’t got the coal or the grub to be hauling around extra passengers.”

“Whoa! Hey! You don’t have to shoot me.”

“No, I reckon I don’t. I do have to get you off this here envelope, and most folk won’t do it without a little coaxing. Long as you get off, it don’t make much difference to me if you do it with or without extra holes in you.”

“Then can we just wait here for like two minutes?”

“I can’t imagine that’d make much of a difference.”

“Trust me, I’ll be out of your hair in no time.”

Coop mulled it over, then flipped the rifle back onto his back. He spoke in a low, conspiratorial tone. “It’s this or scraping out the pots and pans, so I’d just as soon take it slow.”

Both men waited quietly for a moment.

“So… what’s that critter you got there,” Coop asked.

“It’s called a funk.”

“That anything like a skunk?”

“Yeah. A little different though. This one’s got some fox mixed in.”

“… That must have been a laugh, watching a skunk and a fox gettin’ together like that.”

“That’s not how we mixed the fox in.”

“How then?”


“Ah,” Coop said, nodding knowingly. “Useful stuff, that science…”

Lex’s device began to buzz.

“Ah. That’s about it for me. Thanks for being reasonable,” Lex said.

“It weren’t nothing. Good luck with the science.”

“That doesn’t seem very likely…”

The flash of light came and went, and suddenly Lex found himself… sitting on a reasonably well manicured lawn. There was no wind, the temperature was warm—even a little muggy—and there was a distinct lack of whirring brass turbines.

“Okay… So far so good,” Lex said, cautiously looking around.

Nothing overtly unusual presented itself. At least not immediately. There were a few cabin-style buildings. Off in the distance was some sort of obstacle course, and a short fence ringed the entire complex. It had the look of something between a summer camp and minimum security prison, which he supposed meant it probably landed in the military spectrum.

“Oh no way!” came a voice from behind him.

Lex spun around and immediately deflated a bit.

“Fantastic,” he muttered. “Didn’t dodge the weirdo bullet this time either.”

Running up to him was a short young Asian woman in a shiny, rubbery suit and red goggles. She was wearing a pair of boots that looked a few sizes too big, a pair of gloves that he would have associated with an MMA tournament, and had what he believed was a set of nunchaku hanging on her belt.  Her face was plastered with a look of combined excitement and irritation as she stomped up to him.

“You got transportation powers? You are so frickin’ lucky!” said the woman.

A similarly enthusiastic fellow of some sort of Latin or Spanish extraction ran up and practically jumped up and down. He was wearing a green shirt with a white G on it. “You can transport! Do it again!”

“Uh. In a minute,” Lex said.

“That is a total class C power,” said the man. “You need a sidekick?”

“A sidekick?” Lex said.

“He’s obviously already got one,” the woman said, looking at Solby. “Though I don’t think the ‘wonder-pooch’ angle is going to fly these days. The animal cruelty people will be all over you. What’s your name, anyway?”

“Lex,” he said.

“Pfff. Lex. I don’t care about your phony made up secret identity name. What’s your codename?” she asked, crossing her arms squeakily.

“… T-Lex?” he offered.

“And I guess the T stands for transport? Good luck hiding from your arch nemesis with a codename that includes your real name.”

“Johnny on the Spot’s got his name in his name,” the man said.

“Yeah, and he’s an idiot. Plus with his luck, people will assume he made it up anyway,” she said, before turning to Lex again. “And what’s the pooch’s name?”


She nodded. “That’ll probably catch on. But you need something better than T-Lex. I mean, you’re dealing with Nonsensica—“

“And Gracias!” said the man.

“Yeah. You’ve got to step up your game if you want to do the hero gig at our level. Except you can’t. Because the recruitment round is over. So you may as well pop yourself out of here and come back next year.”

The buzzing returned. “Oh… well, it looks like I’m about to.”

“Oh, and work on the costume. Jumpsuits are totally passé. Unless you’re going for one of those zeerust pulpy retro-future deals.”

“Noted,” Lex said before muttering under his breath. “This was a strange one.”

The flash came and went. Replacing the military base was now a pine forest. He slowly spun around.

“Okay… Still not Big Sigma. But what don’t we have? No dragons, that’s good. I’m on solid ground twice in a row now. I’m liking the trend. No one in wacky costumes. Looks like this one might be…”

He stopped turning when he realized, a few steps behind where he’d originally appeared, there was a chubby little boy in a slightly askew baseball cap.

“Hiya!” said the boy with a cheerful wave. “My name’s Lewis! What’s your name?”

“You mean, like, my codename? Or my real name?” Lex asked.

The little boy’s eyes shot open with excitement. “You have a codename?! Neat! HEY RAY!”

“How many times do I have to tell you, my name is Raymond,” moaned an unseen voice.

A skinnier child of about the same age crunched out from behind some trees. Unlike the chubbier of the two, this one didn’t seem excited at all by Lex’s sudden and unexplained appearance. If anything he seemed annoyed.

Ray crossed his arms and looked Lex up and down critically. “So… what’s your deal?”

“He’s got a codename! And this weird puppy thing,” Lewis said.

Solby tried to wriggle free.

“Oh no. You’re not going anywhere, Solby,” Lex said. “I don’t want to end up leaving you behind.”

“What’s your codename?” Lewis asked, bouncing up and down.

“T-Lex,” he said.

Lewis made a bizarre squealing sound of utter excitement. “That’s the coolest name I ever heard.”

“See, Nonsensica didn’t like it,” Lex said.

The chubby boy’s mouth dropped open. “That’s even cooler.”

“Well, it’s not that cool…” Lex said.

“This is kind of a tame one, as these things go,” Ray said. “You’re basically just a person.”

“A person who just appeared out of nowhere!” Lex said. He was feeling oddly defensive about the strangeness of his current situation. It didn’t seem fair that these kids would be taking it in stride.

“They all just appear out of nowhere,” Ray said.

What ‘all just appear out of nowhere’?” Lex asked.

“The Weird Nothing Things,” Lewis said.

Lex stared at him. “Was that supposed to be a sentence, or just a bunch of random words?”

“Ignore him,” Ray said. “All you need to know is that you popped up, and then in a minute you’ll probably pop away.”

“I know that. But how do you know that,” Lex said.

“It happens all the time with us. So what are you, anyway? And what’s the puppy? It looks like a Pokémon,” Lewis said.

“You look kind of like a janitor,” Ray said. “What’s with the fancy overalls?”

“It’s a flight suit. I’m a freelancer.”

“Freelance what?” Ray asked.


“So you’re a delivery boy?” Ray said.

“Yeah, but in space.”

Ray tipped his head back and forth. “That’s pretty cool, I guess.”

“Are you a spaceman?” Lewis asked.

“I guess?”

“Lewis, he’s clearly from Earth,” Ray said.

“No, see, I’m not from Earth. I’m from Golana. My family is a few generations removed from Earth.”

“So you’re an alien?!” Lewis said. “I always thought those were fake!”

“No, I’m not an alien. I’m a human of extra-terrestrial origin.”

“… You’re not making sense anymore, T-Lex,” Lewis said.

Ray turned to Lewis. “It’s not that hard to understand. If your parents moved from Morningvale Hills to, I don’t know, France—“

“That would never happen, because Col. Grampa says people from France are all ‘ungrateful for us pulling their butts out of the snail-pot during the Big War.’ …”

As the boys continued to argue, the buzzing noise returned and shortly after brought with it the flash. When Lex opened his eyes this time he saw… nothing.

It wasn’t the blackness of night. And it wasn’t an endless deserted field. It was nothing. A white void in all directions. No ground, no sky. No sun, no moon. Nothing. He didn’t even feel like he was falling. He was just hanging there.

“Okay…” Lex said. “I’m not sure how to feel about this…”

For the moment, he was willing to accept that, at the very least, being surrounded by nothingness meant there also wasn’t anything bad, so he decided not to look a gift horse in the mouth.


About six hours later his opinion had changed markedly. It was only about six hours because the slidepad in his pocket, which would normally tell him the time, had entirely stopped working. And even if the time wasn’t exact it had certainly been more than a few minutes, and thus far longer than it had ever taken for his faithful wrist device to zap him to someplace new.

Solby, predictably, was entirely unconcerned by this turn of events, and had spent his time happily gnawing and nibbling at whatever bit of Lex’s body he’d not remembered to defend.

“I’m really thinking this might be it for us, Solby. And here I was thinking the weirdest way to go would have been that dragon. Wasting away in utter oblivion is one I never would have even though of,” he said, more than a little bit of stress weighing upon his words.

If he’d not been an avid space traveler, he probably would have lost his composure quite some time ago. As it was, the very real possibility of being left adrift in the void of deep space for days or even weeks at a time meant that anyone applying for a solo pilot’s license had to do a five session “sensory deprivation” class to test one’s mental fortitude for such things. He’d scored rather high.

Solby gave him a lick on the nose, then glanced over his shoulder and began to yip and yap.

“Is something coming!? Don’t screw with me on this one, Solby. I can’t turn around. I don’t think I could handle false hope at this point.”

The funk continued to bark, a decidedly happy and excited bark rather than the warning bark he gave from time to time, so Lex was at least confident that something was really on the way. Solby’s excitement at its approach didn’t do much to ease his mind that it wouldn’t be a threat, since the creature had been perfectly happy to cuddle with a werewolf and a dragon so far. But at this point anything would be an improvement to more nothing.

He reluctantly stood by that assessment even after the unseen savior finally circled into view. It was what could probably be called a sea serpent, though he would have imagined one to be green rather than the lavender color this one turned out to be. It also had three heads and three tails, but if he’d already accepted the concept of a purple sea serpent, he certainly wasn’t going to spit hairs on the topic of head count. He was more confused how it seemed to be swimming through the air as though it was water, but it wasn’t something he felt inclined to investigate at this point.

“More giant reptiles,” Lex said, sighing shakily. “This chaotic journey of madness is beginning to repeat itself.”

“Water dragon, actually,” said the center head.

“Or hydra,” the one on the right added.

“Goodie. You talk. That’s a new twist,” Lex said.

“Do we have to be nice to this one, too?” asked the head on the left, poutily.

“Well, he’s acting a lot like Philo,” said the center head.

“He’s dressed like Philo too. Is that a uniform for humans or something?” the left head asked.

“And he’s got the messenger with him,” the right head said.

“Oh, yes! What are you doing out here, Messenger?” the center head asked, addressing Solby.

The funk gave the center serpent a lick in reply.

“Come on then, let’s get you back home,” the center serpent said.

“Wait! Where’s ‘home’ exactly? This doesn’t involve feeding me to little baby snakes, does it?”

“No,” said the center head before snatching him up by the collar of his suit. Her tone suggested it wasn’t an entirely unreasonable question.

“Why do people always think we’re going to eat them?” the left head asked.

“Sometimes we do eat them,” the right head said.

“Only when they’re small and they can’t talk… or when they’re annoying and useless. Or when they…”

Lex tried as hard as he could to ignore the steadily expanding list of acceptable meals from his “rescuer.”


Sometime later—and Lex was slowly becoming accustomed to the concept that “some” was about as accurate as time was going to be for a while—they came to a place which should have been a mindboggling sight. It was a huge spike of stone, orbiting around a miniature planet far too small to have enough gravity to hold it in place at such a speed. When one’s mind has been getting progressively more boggled for the last few hours, however, something like this had little effect.

The serpent swept him toward the pointier tip of the orbiting black rock spike, where an assortment of disparate structures stood. There was also an assortment of additional bizarre creatures milling about, but Lex was trying to ignore them. All of this “trying to comprehend the impossible” was psychologically exhausting. Instead he focused on the one thing in view that was undeniably normal. It was a human man, about his age or maybe a few years older. He was dressed in a white and blue jumpsuit, and was staring up at the serpent, waving happily.

“Welcome back Rill!” he called.

“Look what we fetched!” the right head said. “Another science-type in a funny outfit!”

“Iv hih yrrr brvvvrrr?” slurred the center head, his collar still immobilizing her mouth.

“No, I don’t have a brother,” the man said as she thumped down beside him. He held out his hand. “How’s it going?”

“Been better,” Lex said wearily shaking hands.

“I can imagine. People don’t usually enter Between under the best circumstances.”

“You must be Philo,” Lex said. “The snake was talking about you. I guess she’s named Rill?”

“Yeah, that’s Rill. Normally I’d have been with her when she went to get you, but they told me to sit and wait for the Messenger. He didn’t… Oh, he’s right here.” Philo said, looking at Solby.

“Yeah,” said Rill’s right head. “And there’s one coming over there, too.”

All eyes turned to where that head was indicating.

“Oh, what the hell,” Lex groaned.

There comes a point, when someone has been relentlessly assaulted by the increasingly impossible, that the only thing that could possibly surprise someone is a familiar face. So naturally, that’s what he saw. Trotting happily toward him, excited and eager as always, was Solby. The fact that Solby was also tucked under his arm didn’t seem to matter in the slightest.

At the sight of himself, the other Solby—which Lex decided he may as well think of as “Messenger,” since that’s what everyone else called him—sprinted up and leaped up and down. Solby finally escaped Lex’s grip and dropped to the ground.

“Solby, what are you doing here?” Lex asked.

“Solby?” asked Philo and the Rills simultaneously.

“Solby!” said… the funks simultaneously, each in an identical raspy little voice, each seeming to be referring to the other.

Lex slapped his forehead. “And now they’re talking…”

“Well of course they talk,” the center Rill said. “How else would he be able to tell people who he was delivering messages to?”

“The real question here is why there are two of them now,” Philo said.

“Yeah… that’s the real question,” Lex said. “Not any of the rest of this crap. The thing that throws you off is the presence of a clone, which is the only part I actually understand!”

“I think you should probably start at the beginning,” Philo said.


“… and then this thing on my wrist decided it wasn’t going to bring me back. A couple hours later Rill picked me up, and that brings me to right now,” Lex finished.

“Yes, well, unfortunately technological means to return don’t work here. You don’t happen to know how that thing works, do you?”

“Science,” Lex said.

“No, that’s how it doesn’t work,” the Rill on the right corrected.

“Do you remember anything about what this Karter fellow said when he explained it?” Philo asked, twisting the gadget on Lex’s wrist side to side.

“It was Ma that explained it. She said… hang on… It was… quantum alignment… and then something to do with synch-“

“Synchronization pulses,” Philo said with a happy nod. “The Cwimbic that brought me here works on the same principles! This thing probably…”

As Philo excitedly explained his theory on the device’s functionality, it started to buzz again.

“Whoa! Hey! It’s working!” Lex said. “Solby, get over here!”

Not one but two balls of fluff burst up and tried to muscle their way onto his shoulders. Lex pulled the messenger down. “No, no. I’m leaving with the one I came in with.”

“Bye Solby!” said Solby.

“Bye Solby!” said the Messenger.

Again the flash came, and when it subsided, Lex found himself standing in the center of a rebar sphere, listening to Karter rant.

“-cking told Solby a thousand times, don’t jump around when I’m working on the… Oh, he’s back,” Karter said.

“Lex,” said Ma’s voice. “It is a profound relief to find that you’ve returned safely. We were under the mistaken belief that Solby had learned to stop jumping into the device while it was in operation.”

“Yeah yeah yeah, we’re all so happy he’s back,” Karter said, walking up to Lex to take Solby from him.

He handed a clipboard and a pen to Lex. On the clipboard was an old fashioned paper questionnaire.

“I want you to write down everything you experienced before returning to this laboratory,” Karter said.

Lex glanced up at Karter, then down to the page, and finally to the pen, which was stuck to his hand by a lingering layer of tar. “… I think I’m going to need a few extra pages.”


Thanks for reading.

Skykeep is available now!

Cover, as always, by Nick Deligaris

If you’re already a fan of Free-Wrench, then all you need to know is you can now buy the sequel Skykeep on iBooks, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, Google Play, and just about anywhere else TODAY! For the rest of you, read on to understand what this is all about.

It is truly astounding to think of it, but something that was just the vague thought “maybe some steampunk would be fun” back in October of 2013 is now officially a series with two complete books!

If you’re not familiar with the series, it is about Amanita Graus (pictured below in a bit of reference art by a very talented fan.


Nita’s a skilled engineer—specifically the jack-of-all-trades sort of worker that her employers call a free-wrench—who was raised in an isolated island nation called Caldera that reveres art and artists above all else. She’d not given much thought to the outside world, other than to acknowledge that it was comparatively savage and boorish. Much of the main continent had been ravaged by the appearance of a toxic fog that the locals called “The Fug” centuries ago. These days the people of the rest of the world made their homes on the mountains and made their living in airships. Rather than have them attempting to lay claim on Caldera and its pristine soil, a battery of large cannons and a clear willingness to use them was developed by the Calderans to dissuade visitors.

In the first book of the series, Free-Wrench, her pleasant little life took a sharp turn when she realized that the worsening illness that was threatening to claim her mother might actually have a cure elsewhere in the world. She maneuvered her way onto the crew of a black market ship called The Wind Breaker in hopes of securing some of the medicine, and so began her adventure.

Skykeep continues her story. The whole crew: Cap’n Mack, Gunner, Lil, Coop, Butch, and Wink are still on the job, though the events of the first novel have led to some fairly sweeping changes. One can’t make a splash in the world without getting the attention of the other major consequence of the Fug’s arrival; the fug folk. They’re a race of manipulative and power hungry inventors who aren’t pleased with what the Wind Breaker crew were able to do in their last adventure. Skykeep is the story of facing the sequences for those actions.

If that sounds like your kind of story, once again you can buy Skykeep on iBooks, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, Google Play, and just about anywhere else TODAY!

Not only that, but if you missed out the first book in the series, for the next few days Free-Wrench will be FREE on all of the same sites! (iBooks, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, Google Play)  Get it before April 1st, when the price starts to rise back to $2.99.

FREE-Wrench and other bits and pieces

Wow, okay. It’s been a whole month since my last blog post, eh? Shame on me. I suppose you folks are wondering what I’m up to! Or to be grammatically correct, you are wondering up to what I am. (Grammar is stupid sometimes.) Well, here’s what I’ve got!

Free-Wrench is now FREE(-Wrench)

To celebrate the upcoming release of its sequel, I decided to make Free-Wrench free for the entire month of March. Astute observers might recognize that it isn’t March yet. This is so, but Amazon can sometimes be sluggish about noticing price drops, so I started the ball rolling early. And boy oh boy, did it pick up some momentum!

Hi Lindsay. Just visiting. You’ll have the top of the Steampunk list soon enough.

It turns out Pixel of Ink picked up the sale and mentioned it on their blog, and as a result, more than 2800 people have downloaded Free-Wrench in the past few days. That’s enough to make it #63 overall in the free store and the number one Steampunk novel on Amazon right now. Not bad!

You can of course find Free-Wrench on all the usual sites: iBooks, Amazon, Smashwords, Google Play, etc, etc.

If any of you good folks are reading this post because you read Free-Wrench and loved it, THANKS! I’m glad you liked it. If you are reading it because you read Free-Wrench and hated it… First, I’m rather curious why you would seek out the website of a book you hate, and second, I’m sorry you didn’t like it, but thanks for giving it a chance.

All of this attention that Free-Wrench is getting is good news for me, because…

Skykeep releases on March 26th!

Yep, I know I’ve said it before, but gosh darn it, it bears repeating.

Cover, as always, by Nick Deligaris

Cover, as always, by Nick Deligaris

The sequel to Free-Wrench, Skykeep, is still available for pre-order, and in less than a month it will release worldwide. I’ve shared it with a few beta readers and early reviewers, and I’ve got to say, folks have some really nice things to say about it. I think this is the fastest I’ve ever written the sequel to a story (not counting The Book of Deacon Trilogy, which was complete before it was released). Something tells me this isn’t the last you’ll be seeing from this setting.

I don’t want to give too much away from the plot, but let’s just say a few of the accidental “Joseph Lallo Mandatory Features” are alive and well. A dash more hard science than necessary. Check. A cute, cuddly character? Double-check. Banter between characters? Lots of checks.

It’s a little short, as my stories go, with just about 83,000 words, but when you factor in the original word target of 50,000 words, that’s right about where we’d expect it to be. If it sounds like your cup of tea, go ahead and pre-order on iBooks, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, or Google Play. And don’t forget that the previous installment is free for March.


Yeah, I love Nick’s stuff, but he’s a big successful artist-type person who has plenty of other clients and jobs to worry about. That means I can get covers done by him only when he’s got a spare moment. In the past that’s been no problem, but since I quit the day job and started polishing off all of the minor stuff I’ve been working on, I’ve run into the need for more art than he can provide. So I’ve decided to add another artist to my roster, and that artist is Georgi Slavov. Georgi’s done some great fan art for me in the past, and his style is reminsicent of Nick’s in a few ways, so I thought he’d be a good fit. Let’s see if you agree:


Ayna, looking rough and ready.

Well, I’d say he managed to make one of my least popular characters look pretty darn impressive, wouldn’t you? That’s Ayna, and believe it or not, the weapon and armor are both present in a short origin story I’ll be releasing in the not too distant future.

Here’s another one:


What are you up to now, Desmeres?

What do you think? I could be wrong, but this may well be the first image of Desmeres ever made, canon or otherwise. This too is for a short story I’m working on, showing off what he’s up to in the weeks and months following The Battle of Verril.

BoD 4

People who have been paying attention have heard me talk about an untitled sequel to The Battle of Verril, but you may have noticed I haven’t spoken about it recently. Have no fear! It is rolling along nicely. Recently it’s been sharing a little too much of the calendar with smaller projects, but once I polish those off, I’d like to really buckle down and get it down. Right now the story is 70,000 words and climbing, and it’s really scattered and wacky. It’ll need some work to congeal into something that makes sense, but I’m doing my best to make it a worthwhile continuation of the story.

Science Fiction and Fantasy Marketing Podcast

Every once in a while someone will comment that they’d like to know what my voice sounds like. I’m not sure there’s much value in that, but if you’re really interested, you’ll be happy to know that for the last few months I’ve been co-hosting a podcast. I share the hosting duties with Lindsay Buroker and Jeffrey Poole, and we mostly talk about ways in which we can spread the word about our books. It’s geared toward other authors, but if you’d like to hear how the business end of indie-authoring works, I’d like to think it’s a good resource. Here’s a link to a recent episode in which we interview Tammy Salyer, my current primary editor!

And also Between

I’m still writing Between most weeks, so if you’re longing for new Lallo writings, Between is one way to get your fill.

Five Years in Self-Publishing and Other News

Five Years

Then and Now

Then and Now

Yeah, I know. I can’t believe it either, but as of this morning I’ve been self-publishing for FIVE YEARS. The Book of Deacon (which is the namesake of this site and the thing that paid for my HOUSE) was published January 28th, 2010. That was the day after my 27th birthday, by the way, so do the math and you know how old I am.

Did I think five years ago that by 2015 I would be chugging along as a professional author? Not at all. Ask my friends. My highest goal for my books at that time was “I hope this doesn’t somehow ruin my life.” So, mission accomplished on that! To be perfectly honest, if I’d not written the Book of Deacon trilogy in its entirety before publishing the first book, I might never have continued the series. I recently ran the numbers and in 2010 I sold a grand total of 9 books. It wasn’t an encouraging start. But I’d already written the others, so there was no reason not to publish them. And hey, I wrote them because I enjoyed writing, not because I wanted to get rich.

In the four years since 2010, a lot has changed. I’ve got ten books personally published,and an eleventh on pre-order, plus enough in the pipeline that I’m actually starting to lose track of them! (That’s bad. Must get organized.) I have sold a total of more than 235,000 ebooks via Amazon and Smashwords. That doesn’t even count the tens of thousands of copies that I’ve sold via semi-pro methods like StoryBundle and multi-author books I didn’t publish personally. Pile on top of that the nearly 700,000 people who have downloaded my books for free and that makes just about 1,000,000 times that someone looked at one of my books, shrugged, and said “Why not?”

For all of this, I have many people to thank. I’d like to thank the friends who have relentlessly hounded me into making virtually every good book decision I’ve made, going all the way back to the decision to foist them onto an unsuspecting public. Sean, Cary, Chrissy, and the rest, I tip my hat to you. There’s also the early readers who contacted me and gave me the confidence to keep writing. Karen and Alicia, I’m looking at you! There are the spectacular artists I’ve worked with: Nick, Aimee, Jay, Bri,  and Adam to name just a few. We can’t forget the fan artists like Katie and Lily who blow my mind each and every time one of my characters or stories inspires them to draw something I could never hope to create on my own. I’d like to thank Gary for being a part of the nonsense schoolyard game that would eventually mutate into these stories. I can’t forget the business folk like Jason and Mark who took their chances with me to help promote and sell my stuff.

There are so many more than I’m sure I’m forgetting, but most of all I would like to thank the hundreds of thousands of readers who have read my books, and the dozens who have enjoyed them. (I kid. It is more than that… hopefully.)

But I’m sure you don’t visit this site hoping to read my incredulous musings about my book career. You want to read about what I’ve been writing! So let’s get down to the good stuff, shall we?


In what might be my fastest turnaround for a book EVER, the story I wrote in November of 2014 is going to be available (if nothing goes wrong) on March 26th, 2015. You can actually pre-order it now!


Cover, as always, by Nick Deligaris

Cover, as always, by Nick Deligaris

This is the sequel to Free-Wrench. It is a steampunk adventure telling the continued story of… actually, I’ll just plop the blurb in here:

It has taken some adjustment, but Nita Graus has made quite a home for herself among the crew of the Wind Breaker. Under her skillful care it has become one of the only airships to stay aloft without the continuous repair and oversight of the vile and manipulative fug folk. Word of her adventures with Captain Mack, Gunner, Lil, Cooper, and Wink has made the whole crew into living legends among the residents of the mountain towns of Rim, but in doing so it has also made finding safe harbor virtually impossible. Agents of the fug folk and those working on their behalf hide in every cloud and skulk in every shadow.

Only one town, a place called Lock, is willing to welcome the Wind Breaker into port. Most of the townspeople have already been shunned by the Fug Folk, and as such have little to lose in aiding and abetting the crew. Captain Mack, mindful of his advancing age and the risks he’s had to request of his crew time and time again, has begun to plan for his retirement. Plans are swiftly derailed when the fug folk hatch a plan of their own, splitting the crew and locking Nita away in the floating prison known as Skykeep.

Skykeep is the second book in the Free-Wrench saga and continues to chronicle the adventures of Nita and her new crew as they continue to clash with the twisted figures who control the destiny of a continent.

Sound good? I sure hope so. You can pre-order it at the usual places, including on iBooks, Amazon, B&N, and Kobo (soon). NEAT!

More Projects

January Patreon - Joseph - small

Art by Bri Mercedes

Since I can’t afford to lose track of a whole book and have it flounder for years without being published (again), here’s a list of other projects that are underway, and approximately how far along they are.

Seeking the Shadow (100% written, awaiting publication in Blackguards Anthology)

Untitled Ayna Origin Story (100% written, in editing and revision)

Untitled Desmeres Serial (Chapter 1 of ? 95% written)

Untitled Book of Deacon Sequel (30% written)

Untitled Entwell Project (10% written)

Untitled Big Sigma 4 (planning phase)

Untitled Myn Children’s Book (planning phase)

Untitled Second Trilogy (30% written, requiring major rewrite)

Weird Nothing (100% written, awaiting rewrite and illustration)


Updates, Goodies, and Suchlike

I hope everyone has enjoyed their holiday season, and their entire year for that matter. As many of you know, after 31 years of life I finally got to Disney World. It was, as should be expected, magical. Now that I’ve been jarringly thrust back into the real world, I’ve decided it is time to give you good folks a long overdue update on various things on the various burners of my proverbial stove.

Book of Deacon Stuff

First, the stuff you’re probably here for. Book of Deacon has been heating up here in the Lallo compound. First of all, I got some really cool art, both of the commissioned and fan variety. Let’s start with the first ever BoD full animation.

Art by the brilliant ProjectEndo

I sincerely didn’t expect I’d ever be able to see one of my characters animated, but there’s Lain, tossing daggers, courtesy of ProjectEndo. If you don’t follow him, you should. Seriously pro, very talented, and many other complementary things. I’m beyond pleased. This was a commission, but commissioned art isn’t the only art I got recently. A long time fan, Mexe Robinson Garachena, sent me these cute little figurines of Myn and Ivy!


So cool. It came with candy and cookies and stuff, and now resides with pride upon my shelf of awesome things.

But art is not the only motion in the BoD front. I have been soldiering away on the story with the working title “BoD 4”. The going has been slow, because vacation and holidays interposed themselves, but I’ll be firing up the engines on it again soon.  The only other thing which might sideline it is a new, currently secret, BoD novella that I may have agreed to write in the next few months. It’s got to be a standalone story in the 30k word range. Still hammering out the details, but that’s a pretty short story, so I might be able to make short work of it.

Other things involve the potential creation of an “Anthology of Deacon” featuring all of the currently available Book of Deacon stories, and by extension my first release on Google Play. Many good things on the horizon!

Free-Wrench 2: Skykeep

The NaNoWriMo project I was working on, a sequel to Free-Wrench, is now complete and in Beta. It was originally going to be called The Phylactery, but after I realized that choosing that name would be a marketing disaster (try spelling that or telling people about it) I did a little massaging and came up with Skykeep. You’ll all be getting a look at it soon (in relative terms), since I’ve been asked to get this one out on a really short turn around. I might actually put it up for pre-order in a few days. Hopefully the Beta’s are enjoying it.

When next Nick has an opening, I’ll have to get a cover made, and there’s still the matter of writing the blurbs and what not, but the hard part is done… Unless the Beta’s universally hate it, then the hard part is just beginning.


After far too long, I took a day to format ALL of my books for paperback release. That means everything from Jade to Artificial Evolution is going to be available for autographs and such. It’ll be a little while. I need to get cover art done, and that means finding more time in Nick’s schedule, but it’ll happen!


Since I’m pro now, I’m trying to split my time in more productive directions even when not writing. Right now I’ve got a few maybes. Perhaps you would like to weigh in? Which of the following would you most like to see me work on in my spare time?

  • Audio Books for the rest of my catalog (including the sci-fi)
  • Non-Plush merch like posters and bookmarks
  • ???

That question mark is there for people with suggestions. Let me know what you think!

Thanks for reading.



Artificial Evolution Officially Released!

Hi everybody! After a lengthy pre-order period, the wait is over! Artificial Evolution, the third book in my Big Sigma series, has finally released!

Look out. Michella means business.

I’m very proud of this book. It is one of my longest to date, and it brings back all of your favorite characters from its predecessor, Unstable Prototypes. The story picks up a few months after the previous story left off. Michella’s career has continued to blossom, Lex’s career has continued to stagnate, and Garotte and Silo have continued their campaign against the Neo-Luddites. Life has continued pretty much as expected, but things change when a representative of VectorCorp starts meddling with the lives and livelihoods of both Lex and Michella. The intrepid reporter hatches a plan to continue covering the Neo-Luddite story despite pressure from her superiors, and in doing so finds that she’s become involved in something even larger and more dangerous.

Unstable Prototypes was a story focused on exploring Ma and Karter as characters in addition to Lex and his adventures. This time around our focus is shifted a bit to Silo and Garotte, and as you can see by the cover Michella gets to mix it up a bit as well. As you read, you’ll discover that the events of the first two books are more tightly connected than it first appeared. I really hope you’ll like the story. Those of you who pre-ordered should already have the book, and those of you who didn’t can order now! Links are below.

Barnes and Noble

Thanks for reading!

iBooks Best of 2014

Way back in July I was honored to have one of my novels, Free-Wrench, selected as one of the Best Books of the Month in the AU/NZ iBooks Stores. It earned me some wonderful distinctions, including an editorial blurb and a place in the promotion beside some authors with which I never would have dreamed of sharing the spotlight. Today I am doubly honored, because I have learned that Free-Wrench has earned a place among the iBooks Best of 2014! Free-Wrench is prominently featured in their Sci-Fi and Fantasy category beside brilliant authors like Joe Abercrombie! This promotion celebrates not only the best books, but the best music, apps, podcasts, movies, and TV shows from iTunes, iBooks, and the App Store. It’s unreal to be included in such a group!


Click for AU/NZ Promo link!

Can you believe it! It is so thrilling to know that half a world away my books have touched the hearts and minds of so many. I’ve heard from many readers in Australia and New Zealand since I was first featured, and the reviews have been wonderful. If you are in Australia or New Zealand, you can find the iBooks Best of 2014 here. If you’re from my side of the world, here’s the stateside iBooks link, or you can click the cover below!


Perhaps the most wonderful thing about this is the knowledge that all of you who voted for this year’s NaNoWriMo project had excellent taste, because Free-Wrench 2 (that’s a working title, still choosing the final name) was completed ten days ago and will be available next year!



Once again I’d like to thank the fantastic iBooks Team for their support. I feel blessed.

As always, thanks for reading.