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!