Feb 24

Short Stories, and an Announcement

I've put three short stories up on Amazon as a collection for 99c. I plan to publish more short stories this year - potentially, I'll add them to this same collection, and get Amazon to alert purchasers to an "update" so that people who've already bought them get more stories at no extra charge. (Edited to say: There's at least a possibility that the small press HDWP Books will bring out an anthology collecting the stories I've done for their Theme-Thology volumes as well as some other short stories of mine later this year, so I've pulled the mini-collection. Further details in this follow-up post.)

The three stories are:

Good Neighbours: An elderly woman must answer the classic question: Who is my neighbour? (Formerly appeared in New Realm magazine in December 2013.)
2700 words.

Vegetation: In an old Elvish city, plants are everywhere. And goodness knows, someone has to look after them. A lighthearted, Wodehousian piece.
2300 words.

Gnome Day: An idealistic young clerk helps out on the night the gnomes are freed, and meets three people who will change his life.
6000 words. (This story is available for free to subscribers to my mailing list.)

Speaking of writing, I've been accepted as a contributor to the popular Fantasy Faction fansite. I'll be sharing some of my reviews there, and I also hope to publish some blog posts. These will be posts that I would previously have put up here with the category "Manifesto-esque Rantings" or "Craft". Instead of publishing those posts here, I'll focus more on making this a site for my readers, not so much for fellow writers. I'll share any Fantasy Faction posts as they're published, via my Google+ profile. I may also make a page on here as a directory to them.

Fantasy Faction gets about 2000 visitors a day and has already won a couple of minor awards, so I'm pleased to be writing for them. Since what I write for them will be reviews and posts I was going to write anyway, I promise it won't slow down the production of Gryphon Clerks fiction.

 

Jan 31

New Release: Hope and the Patient Man

Hope and the Patient Man is out today, and you can get it on the Kindle Store.

This is the sequel to Hope and the Clever Man. I've already referred to it as "Hope 2: The Patienting" and "Hope 2: Compressed-Air-Powered Boogaloo", but it's quite a different story. The potential romance at the end of Clever Man becomes actual, though there are several knotty problems: Hope's splashback curse from when she cursed her first boyfriend, a fairly serious head injury that indirectly results from it (I don't count that as a spoiler, since it happens practically on the first page), and the mystery of why her mother is so hostile to her.

I started writing it in August, while my beta readers were looking at the first Hope book, because the characters would not shut up. This is a good thing.

I now need to decide what's next. I have a largely drafted book set in the same time period as Realmgolds and most of the first Hope book, but it has multiple issues (as they say on Wikipedia). I'll probably toss it over to my miracle-working editor and she'll give me a two-page summary of how to rescue it and make it my best book so far. This is likely to involve several months' work, of course.

There are two more books to come out of the Hope characters. One is hinted at in Patient Man, and involves Mister Gizmo the gnome and his team as they try to rediscover the techniques for making an ancient elven material that will indirectly help the cause of gnome freedom. I've got a few chapters drafted, but it's not really singing to me yet.

The other involves Bucket, the Clever Man's gnome assistant, and Hope's best friend Briar as they navigate the choppy waters of politics.

Then I've got a heist novel planned, and then a kind of steampunk Star Trek airship voyage of discovery and diplomacy. Somewhere in there there may be another book or two that I'm currently vague on or unaware of. There's a general plan, but I uncover the details as I get to them.

All of which to say: the Gryphon Clerks series continues, there's plenty more to come, but right now, Hope and the Patient Man is fresh and new and I'd love you to take a look at it.

(Edited to add: With excellent timing, and much to my flattered surprise, the New Podler Review of Books has included Realmgolds in their Best of 2013 today!)

Jan 30

Sir Julius Vogel Awards

So, I'm a New Zealand citizen who has released speculative fiction in the year 2013, which means my work is eligible for the Sir Julius Vogel Awards. These annual awards are named after an early Premier of New Zealand who wrote science fiction - proto-feminist science fiction, even. How cool is that?

The beautiful trophy for the Sir Julius Vogel Award

The SJVs, since they're run by New Zealanders, are more relaxed than the Hugos. I don't have to be sprinkled with the special big-publisher or big-magazine fairy dust to be eligible, I just have to have published. Here's what I've got that's eligible (in the format specified for nominations):

Novels:
  1. Name / Title of work: Realmgolds
  2. Name of Author: Mike Reeves-McMillan
  3. Novel
  4. Year of First Release: 2013
  5. Publisher / Production company name: C-Side Media
  6. How to contact the producer / author: mike at csidemedia.com
  7. Professional awards
  8. GENRE - fantasy
  1. Name / Title of work: Hope and the Clever Man
  2. Name of Author: Mike Reeves-McMillan
  3. Novel
  4. Year of First Release: 2013
  5. Publisher / Production company name: C-Side Media
  6. How to contact the producer / author: mike at csidemedia.com
  7. Professional awards
  8. GENRE - fantasy
Short Stories:

  1. Name / Title of work: Not Like Us (included in the Theme-Thology: Invasion anthology)
  2. Name of Author: Mike Reeves-McMillan
  3. Short Story
  4. Year of First Release: 2013
  5. Publisher / Production company name: HDWP Books
  6. How to contact the producer / author: mike at csidemedia.com (author); books at hdwpbooks.com (editor/publisher)
  7. Professional awards
  8. GENRE - fantasy
  1. Name / Title of work: Good Neighbours (published in New Realm magazine, Vol 2, No 3, December 2013)
  2. Name of Author: Mike Reeves-McMillan
  3. Short Story
  4. Year of First Release: 2013
  5. Publisher / Production company name: fictionmagazines.com
  6. How to contact the producer / author: mike at csidemedia.com (author); doug at fictionmagazines.com (editor/publisher)
  7. Professional awards
  8. GENRE - fantasy

(If you want links to any of the works, they are all on my books page.)

Now, I'm not under any illusions that, even if people are nice enough to nominate me, there will be enough of those people to actually get me on the ballot, which is what happens if you have one of the five most-nominated works in a category. Voting is by members of the SFFANZ (the fan association) and attendees at their annual con, and frankly very few of them will have any idea who I am at this stage. But it is pleasing to think that I'm eligible.

Someday, I want to win a Sir Julius Vogel, and I think that's a realistic dream.

Jan 21

Short Story Challenge begins

Something new today. I've decided to do a Short Story Challenge this year, which works as follows:

  1. I read and analyse a classic short story each month.
  2. I take what I learned and write a short story of my own.
  3. I submit it to magazines and anthologies until it sells, or until I run out of markets.
  4. Once the rights revert, I publish it on Amazon, either alone or as part of a collection, and/or make it one of the membership bonuses for my mailing list.

Several people I know on Google+ are joining me (some of them are doing slightly different versions), and you can follow along with the hashtag #shortstorychallenge.

I'm working, at least initially, from the Oxford Book of Fantasy Stories, selected by Tom Shippey. It's a collection I own, I've read it before, and I know it has a lot of good stories in it, drawn from just over a century of fantasy literature (1888-1992).

I'm not planning to analyse every story in it, because I know I wouldn't follow through on that. Besides, I only need a dozen, and I want to throw some SF stories in later on as well (probably from the companion Oxford Book of Science Fiction Stories, also selected by Shippey, and which I also own). I may look at a detective story or two - my wife has about 30 mystery anthologies, including a couple of Oxford ones that she says are good - and possibly some mainstream short fiction, of which I also have a couple of collections. It's generally good to read outside your genre. It can freshen things up.

Here's my first analysis, then. It happens to be of a story that's freely available on the web: Lord Dunsany's "The Fortress Unvanquishable, Save for Sacnoth". I'll analyse it under a number of headings, which I'm making up as I go along, and italicise the things I take as lessons. Future analyses may differ in approach. In fact, that's highly likely.

Subgenre: Somewhere between Sword and Sorcery and Weird Tales. The events are S&S, the tone is Weird, and the combination works well. Crossing a couple of subgenres can have the effect of adding their strengths together.

Type of story: The plot has a strong Adventure core, but it's not just an adventure. It's also a Creepy Mood/Bizarre Experience story, like the ones that Lovecraft and co. wrote (going back at least to Poe). It has a Switch-up at the end, when the narrator questions whether it's an Hallucination or even a complete False Legend. This kind of category questioning is part of the Weird Tales genre, I think, and contributes to the genre's sense of confusion and fear.

Why the story works: It works more because of the atmosphere, the language and the tone than because of the plot, which is straightforward, with a minimal amount of tension in it (see analysis below). The adventure part would have made a decent story, perhaps a bit disappointing because the protagonist wins too easily. Those additional aspects make a great one. If you sizzle loud enough, you may not need as much sausage.

Language Elements: The names are the first thing to notice. The story itself is named after the fortress in it: The Fortress Unvanquishable, Save for Sacnoth. Even its door has a wonderful name: The Porte Resonant, the Way of Egress for War. Then there are the names of the other places, people, and enemies: the town of Allathurion, its lord Lorendiac, and his son Leothric (the first two sound more-or-less Norman French, the third Saxon, and all of them Arthurian); the dragons Tharagavverug, Thok, Lunk, and Wong Bongerok, whose resonant, clanking names reflect their metallic nature; the evil magician Gaznak, who sounds like a Tolkien orc;  The Land Where No Man Goeth. Take the opportunity that names provide to evoke atmosphere.

Then there are the descriptions. "Then Leothric advanced towards a door, and it was mightier than the marble quarry, Sacremona, from which of old men cut enormous slabs to build the Abbey of the Holy Tears. Day after day they wrenched out the very ribs of the hill until the Abbey was builded, and it was more beautiful than anything in stone. Then the priests blessed Sacremona, and it had rest, and no more stone was ever taken from it to build the houses of men. And the hill stood looking southwards lonely in the sunlight, defaced by that mighty scar. So vast was the door of steel." That kind of description is hard to pull off, comparing something mythical to something else mythical that you have to explain, but if you can do it, you can convey a sense of a world that extends beyond the edge of this story; that's being shot on location, not in a sound stage. Give the audience something that only appears in the corner of their eye to make the world more real.

A number of the descriptions of the evil things mention Satan. This not only gives a context (Christianity) but also ties them together through the repetition.

Dragon
wili_hybrid / Foter.com / CC BY-NC

The whole story uses an "elevated" and pseudo-antique style, the kind of style William Morris pioneered (following Spenser's Faerie Queene): "unvanquishable" rather than "unconquerable" or even "impregnable"; "save for" rather than "except for". This is incredibly hard to pull off (judging from the number of people who fail at it). You need a very large vocabulary and a good ear. All too many writers who attempt it have a much smaller vocabulary than they think they do, so they use the wrong word and make themselves look like idiots, and are prone to dropping modern colloquialisms into the middle of the high-flown prose at intervals and completely spoiling the effect. Dunsany has the linguistic chops to make it work. He knew what he was doing, and he could probably have explained it if he had to. Unless you can explain how and why this works, don't try it.

Plot: Let's attempt to apply the Seven-Point Story Structure and see where we get to.

Hook: The village by the dark forest full of fae is peaceful (paragraph 1). A little... too peaceful, if you know what I mean. Already, we're waiting for the other shoe to drop. Hint at trouble as early as you can.

Plot Turn 1: The village becomes troubled by evil dreams (paragraph 2). There we go. Don't hold off too long on the plot turn.

Pinch 1: The magician can't defeat them with his best spell. (There's actually a brief try-fail cycle here, by a minor character, the magician, who doesn't reappear later, and the protagonist isn't even introduced until it's over.) The protagonist doesn't have to do everything.

This sequence also does a lot to establish both the tone and the world: there is magic, there's a culture that crosses various kinds of landscape containing camels, elephants and whales, even a village magician commands great power. Make the minor details work to establish world and tone.

Midpoint: Leothric steps up and volunteers to go and defeat the dragon-crocodile Tharagavverug in order to get the sword Sacnoth, so that he can defeat the sender of evil dreams. We have a sub-quest. Arguably, the whole sub-quest, in which he must demonstrate tenacity and courage and therefore his worthiness for the main quest, is part of the midpoint. The points can be extended sequences, not just moments; the midpoint is a demonstration of fitness to be the hero, not just a decision.

Pinch 2: Leothric fights his way into the Fortress Unvanquishable, Save for Sacnoth. This is a kind of try-fail cycle, the kind that looks like success. He keeps achieving tasks (break down the door; scare off the camel-riders; get past the spider; pass through the hall of princes and queens; resist the temptation of the dream-women; cross the abyss; fight the dragon; fight the other, more dangerous dragon), but none of them are the task he wants to achieve: fighting and defeating Gaznak. In his talks on the Seven Points, Dan Wells alludes to the example of The Princess Bride, where the Man in Black's contests with Inigo, Fezzik and the Sicilian, and the encounters in the Fire Swamp, are "try-fail" cycles. He wins, he progresses, but he doesn't yet achieve his ultimate objective: to escape to his ship with Buttercup. Try-fail cycles can involve the protagonist winning.

Leothric doesn't have any serious trouble with any of these obstacles, yet the story remains interesting, because they're so beautifully described and everything is so evocative. This is similar to Dunsany's models, the Arthurian quests (Gawain and the Green Knight, for example, which also gets echoed later with the detachable head). Success against opposition, even easy success, doesn't have to be boring, as long as the opposition is interesting and the success isn't instantaneous.

Plot turn 2: Leothric finally confronts Gaznak, and just when it looks like he will lose (because Gaznak's sword can destroy Leothric's armour, but not vice versa, and Gaznak's detachable head trick prevents Leothric from beheading him), he figures out that Gaznak has another point of vulnerability: his wrist. This has been set up in advance, so it doesn't feel like it comes out of nowhere, and in exploiting it he adds intelligence to his already-demonstrated virtues of courage and tenacity. Set up the solution, even if only half a dozen paragraphs before. Have the hero snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. It's never too late to have the hero show another quality that's consistent with his character.

Resolution: The evil dissipates, Leothric returns home and the village is again at peace. Return to status quo ante is an acceptable resolution; the hero has changed, but the world may be back to how it was. 

After the resolution comes the little twisty doubty thing in the last four paragraphs. If anything, this makes the story more of a legend, claims for it the status of a traditional tale rather than a newly-made-up story, as well as raising the epistemological question of what is true, what is real, and how we know. Those are questions academics ask more often than ordinary people, and perhaps they were preoccupations of earlier generations more than our own. It's not necessarily something to imitate, but I think it works for this story.

So there's my analysis. Now I need to write my story. I have a story in progress, but I'm not sure that the lessons I've learned here are directly applicable to it, so I may need to start another.

Jan 17

Gryphon Clerks short fiction

One of the benefits you get from becoming a member of my mailing list (which is, of course, free) is exclusive access to short fiction, and the more people sign up, the more fiction I release.

"Gnome Day", the second piece of fiction, has just been released this week.

The protagonist of this 6000-word story started out as a face in the crowd in a scene that was first cut from Realmgolds, then moved to Hope and the Clever Man - where he ended up getting trimmed out. Meanwhile, though, I'd written his story: a tale of love, tragedy, family and friendship over many years.

It's downloadable in mobi, epub or pdf format. Check the Membership page for more information (whether or not you're already a member).

And if you enjoy that story, I also have another short, "Good Neighbours". You can wait until it gets released automatically when my mailing list gets another 30 members, or you can buy the December 2013 New Realm magazine, where it's just been published. It's also set around Gnome Day, and features an elderly lady who has to answer the classic question: Who is my neighbour?

I'm planning to write more short fiction this year, as well as more novels. I have a strategy, in fact, which I'll share in another post once it's underway.

Novel News

Speaking of novels, Hope and the Patient Man (the sequel to Hope and the Clever Man) is with my editor right now, and my cover artist Chris Howard is hard at work on the cover. Here's where he's got to so far:

Yes, that's an airhorse, as introduced in Hope and the Clever Man.

Dec 31

A Timeline of the Gryphon Clerks Books

Someone who's reading Hope and the Clever Man asked me on Google+ today if it came before Realmgolds, which he'd already read.

There's a complicated answer to that. So complicated, that I drew this diagram:

OK, the answer to that specific question is relatively simple. Clever Man starts before Realmgolds (in Hope's childhood), includes some of the events shown in Realmgolds from a different perspective, and ends after the close of Realmgolds. It's when you take the other books into account that it gets complicated.

I won't give you a blow-by-blow of everything in the diagram. The books you can check out on my Books page, which will also explain a lot of the other references, apart from the later ones because of potential spoilers. The Technology section shows when the various technologies that are significant in the series start to be developed and are successfully launched.

Farviewers, if you haven't read either of the books released so far, are basically magic mirrors that allow you to talk to someone far away. Flight crystals are the means by which the skyboats fly (they're antigravity, more or less). They already exist as of Realmgolds, but they're unreasonably expensive; the line shown is for the process of making them more efficient and cheaper. Hardlac is a light, strong artificial material (probably some kind of polymer) made by the ancient elves, who deliberately kept the secret from their human slaves. Its rediscovery, along with cheaper flight crystals, is key to one of Victory's cunning plans, and is detailed, unsurprisingly, in The Rediscovery of Hardlac. Technology, in the Gryphon Clerks books, is never there just to be cool. It always has social and political implications.

The Assembly is a new body of elected representatives, and in Mister Bucket for Assembly, we see the first election, with two characters from the Hope books standing.

The Unification War is the one that takes place in Realmgolds, though it's not called that there (it's a label that gets applied afterwards). The Underground War is the economic struggle between Realmgold Victory and the dwarves. It's kind of like our world's Cold War in that it's only a war metaphorically.

Obviously, this is all subject to change. Of the unreleased books, I'm nearly finished with Hope and the Patient Man, and it should be out in early 2014 (exactly when is partly reliant on my cover artist, who is backlogged for various highly legitimate reasons, though there are still several rounds of edits to go, too). The others range from "I have a draft that I'm not happy with" (Beastheads) through "I have a reasonably clear idea how this will go, but the devil's in the details" (The Rediscovery of Hardlac, The Great Gnome Heist) to "I have a concept and not much more" (Underground Railroad).

You'll notice a lot of overlap in the timelines, particularly early on (no guarantees that I won't add more books later and do the same thing, though). This is because my world is a large one, there's a lot going on, and I like the idea of looking at events through different sets of eyes via characters who occasionally cross paths. I'd also rather write three 80,000-word novels, each with one clear protagonist, than try to twine them all together in some 250,000-word chihuahua-crusher.

I haven't been watching closely, but I did happen to see that Hope and the Clever Man briefly made it to #90 in Steampunk on Amazon thanks to my post-Christmas sale. It's still going on as I write this, so if you haven't yet picked up Hope and the Clever Man or Realmgolds, those links will take you to them.

Dec 27

Post-Christmas Sale, and an Excerpt

As I write, the latest Gryphon Clerks novel, Hope and the Clever Man, is on a Kindle Countdown Deal over at Amazon. That means it starts out at 99c and goes up by a dollar every couple of days until it's back at $4.99. The sooner you get over there, the better the deal, if you don't have it already. (Realmgolds is still on sale at half price, too.)

I'm using some of my holiday time to work on the sequel, Hope and the Patient Man, so I thought I'd give you an excerpt from Chapter 1. To find out how these two characters get together, and how Hope got herself cursed, of course, you'll need to read Hope and the Clever Man.

---------------------------------------

They’d had a delicious dinner at one of the more expensive Gulfport restaurants, and shared a bottle of excellent wine. Judging by the way Hope was walking, it was more wine than she usually indulged in. She took Patient’s right arm and stumbled against him, laughing.

“Careful,” he said, flinging out his walking stick to keep himself from falling, and mentally cursing his weak leg. The carved dragon head of his stick dug into his hand as he used it to lever his weight, and Hope’s, to the right.

“Sorry. It’s these shoes.” Her own footwear mostly had steel toes, so she had borrowed a pair of shoes for the evening from her best friend and flatmate Briar.

“I thought it was the wine.”

“And the wine. Shoes and wine, Briar’s two favourite things. What are your favourite things, Patient?” She laughed again. He would almost say she giggled, except that Hope didn’t giggle. Her large dark eyes met his with an unguardedness that he hadn’t seen before. Pale as she was from working indoors, her flushed cheeks brought her back to a more usual skin tone, and her black hair, gleaming and herb-scented, fell across one side of her face. She blew it away and laughed again, and his heart contracted sharply. He was still not used to the idea that such a beautiful woman wanted to spend time with him.

“I don’t think you should get on that airhorse,” he said.

“No? You’re probably right. But how’m I going to get home?” She stretched out the last word, crooning it.

“You could stay in town here and go home in the morning. Probably not much more expensive than a ferry back to Illene, then a ferry back here again to get the airhorse.”

“And how’re you going to get home?”

“I could take the ferry, I suppose, and walk.” Patient’s home in Redbridge, a village not far north of Gulfport, lay near the river that also ran through the city and through the university town of Illene, where Hope lived. Even with his leg, he could walk between the ferry dock and his cottage without much discomfort.

“Or you could stay in town too. Should we get one room, or two?”

“Now I know you’re drunk. Which means that the answer’s two.”

“Oh, come on,” she said playfully, and swung around in front of him on the pavement, seizing both his forearms. “We’ve had a nice night. Let’s live a little.” She slid her hands up his arms to the shoulders, stepped in, and raised her face to his. Startled, he let the kiss begin.

She screamed, convulsed, and collapsed. He staggered as he grabbed for her, trying to keep her from falling, but his weak leg folded under him and they both stumbled to the ground. Her head struck the stone kerb and rebounded.

“Hope!” he shouted. She was whimpering and twitching in some kind of fit.

He heard running footsteps from behind him as he tried to keep her head from impacting the hard surface a second time. They hadn’t walked far from the restaurant, less than a block, and he recognised the doorman as the man leaned over them.

“What is it?” he asked. “What’s wrong?”

“Not sure,” said Patient. “Some kind of fit. Help me get her safe, put…” but the doorman was already whipping off his jacket and wadding it up to put under her head. They got her stretched out and waited for the fit to be over, Patient pulling himself round to sit with her head in his lap while the doorman crouched next to her shoulder. Patient’s leg had woken up and was proclaiming its tale of woe, but he ignored it.

After what seemed like much longer than it probably was, Hope gave a gasp and her eyes came back into focus. She made gagging movements, and he rolled her quickly onto her side, whereupon she threw up a gourmet meal and half a bottle of expensive wine onto his new trousers.

When the vomiting was over and her breathing had settled down, she tried to get up, and he helped her as best he could. The doorman was more help; he had leverage, and heaved Hope to her feet.

“Are you all right, Mage?” he asked. The silver bracelet on her left wrist, proclaiming her status as a full mage, glittered under the street lights, and the gems set in it sparkled. She nodded mutely, clutching her head.

Patient had reclaimed his stick, and was trying to regain his feet. He nearly slipped in the puddle of vomit before the doorman, still propping Hope up with one arm, heaved him upright with the other.

“Thanks,” he said, trying to ignore the unpleasant dampness seeping through his trouser leg.

“Sorry,” said a still drunk-sounding Hope. She gently disengaged from the doorman and stood, a little shakily, on her own feet.

“What was that?” he asked.

“Oathconflict, I think,” she said. “Curse it.” Her voice came out toneless and dull, unlike her usual rich mezzo.

“Well, I think that answers the question of whether you go home tonight,” he said. “The answer’s no. Where can we find a hotel?” he asked the doorman.

“Just round the corner,” said the man. “You want me to walk with you?”

“Stone?” called a man’s voice from behind them. “Everything all right?”

“The lady and gentleman had a fall,” the doorman called back. “I’m just going to take them round to the Peerless. Can you watch the door?”

“All right,” called the voice.

“The Peerless?” said Patient, a little nervously. “That sounds expensive.” The doorman looked puzzled, as far as Patient could tell under the dim lighting, and rightly so. The restaurant they had just come out of was hardly Fat Berry’s Fry Shack, and if you could afford to eat there, you could afford to stay at the Peerless. He thought of explaining that their meal had been paid for by Realmgold Victory.

“Don’t worry about it,” said Hope in a shaky voice. “I can cover it.”

Patient opened his mouth to argue, decided that it wasn’t the time, and shut it again. He and the doorman began to help her down the street, one on each side. She walked like a woman with three times her not-quite-24 years, but they turned the corner at last, and Stone the doorman called to his counterpart at the front of the Peerless.

“Hey, Willing! Come and give us a hand, mate.”

The other doorman hurried over, and helped Hope into the reception area, where another uniformed hotel employee bustled round the desk in concern.

“Should I send for a healer?” she asked.

“If you would,” said Patient quickly, before Hope could say no. Not that she looked as if she was going to. She even shot him a look of thanks.

The receptionist rousted out a youth from the room behind the desk and sent him on the errand, while the two doormen seated Hope in a chair in the lobby.

“Thank you, Mister… Stone, is it?” said Patient to the restaurant doorman.

“My pleasure to assist, sir,” said the man. Patient dug in his pocket and found some coins. He gave him the two biggest pieces, equivalent to a quarter of a silver hammer, and Stone seemed happy enough.

“I hope your lady’s all right, sir,” he said, and ran off to resume his duties round the corner.

“Sir, would you like us to assist you with your trousers?” said the hotel doorman. The receptionist was fussing over Hope.

“Eh? Oh, yes, thank you,” he said. “And we’ll need a room. Um, two rooms. No, better make it one room. I don’t want to leave her unwatched.”

“Are you all right yourself, sir?”

“Yes, yes, fine,” he said. “An existing injury.”

“In the war, sir?” said the doorman. Patient looked up and caught a look that combined respect and pity.

“Yes,” he said shortly. “As it happens. How far does the healer have to come?”

“Not far, sir, there’s a healer just two blocks over, and he’s contracted to the hotel. Did the lady have something that disagreed with her?”

There was a distinct tang of wine in among the vomit, and the doorman was clearly being tactful.

“More than that, I think,” said Patient. “She’s a mage, and she was involved in a kind of magical incident some years ago that has left her with… I suppose you’d say a curse. It got triggered.” His tone was curt, partly with worry for Hope, but mainly because it was none of the man’s wretched business.

“Ah,” said the doorman. “Well, sir, if you’re all right I’ll go and watch for the healer, shall I?”

“Please.”

With the doorman gone, Patient limped over to the chair and carefully lowered himself to one of the arms, trying to keep his spattered trouserleg well clear. “How are you doing?” he asked, while going through a checklist in his mind. As a former part-time village warden, he had been trained to deal with emergencies, and he was trying to remember what you did for someone who’d just had a fit.

“Thirsty,” she said.

“I’ll get…” began the receptionist.

“Let’s wait for the healer,” he said. “I don’t think we should give her anything until he gets here.”

Before either woman could argue, brisk boot-heels rang on the marble of the foyer, and the healer arrived, the round hat of his profession askew and his coat and trousers pulled on over a nightshirt. The boy entered in his wake, and the receptionist made a curt gesture sending him back to his lurking place behind the desk, while hovering herself.

The healer knelt and took Hope’s wrist, reading the state of her body while asking, “What’s happened here, then?” in a calm professional voice.

Patient fell into the rhythms of an incident report, giving an unemotional summary of events. He included the fact that Hope had had an oathconflict reaction, though he didn’t go into the background. He wondered if he should, because not doing so risked the implication that she was oathbound to someone else and seeing him behind her oathmate’s back, but decided that it was nobody else’s business and he didn’t care what they thought. The healer, who hadn’t previously looked at him, shot him a sharp glance, flicked his gaze briefly at the stick, and nodded, without apparent hostility. He touched the side of Hope’s head where it had met the stone kerb. The skin was unbroken, but reddened, and she winced away. He closed his eyes to concentrate, sensing underneath the skin.

“There’s a bit of bleeding under there,” he noted. “Not a lot, but enough to be of concern. Merriment,” he called to the receptionist, “send your boy for a cab, will you? We need to get her into the healing house overnight.”

“Oh,” said Patient.

“Sorry, sir,” said the healer. “Not something to take lightly, a head injury. I’d deal with it myself if it was most other things, but head trauma wants a specialist. I’m afraid your evening is rather ruined.”

Patient smiled grimly. “Thank you,” he said.

While they waited for the cab to come, he leaned down awkwardly next to Hope. “I hate to mention this,” he said, “but I don’t have enough money to tip all these nice people, pay the healer, and pay the cab.”

She fished out a purse and handed it over.

“Thank you,” he said again, and circulated, handing over money to the boy, the receptionist, the healer (rather a larger amount) and the doorman.

“Oh! Your trousers, sir,” said the receptionist. “The cabbie won’t let you in like that, I’m afraid, or he’ll charge you extra. I’ll see if I can find you a pair. What’s your waist size?”

Patient told her, and by the time the cab arrived he was in a pair of the hotel’s uniform trousers which were attempting to cut him in half, the closest pair the receptionist had been able to find, and she had taken his away to be cleaned. He made arrangements to pick them up next day and slipped her more copper.

He had never, he reflected, spent so much money on what was supposed to be a free evening, a reward for Hope from the Realmgold for working so hard last year. He returned to her side in time to help her to the cab. The cabbie looked at him oddly when he got in, with his stick and his too-small trousers, and again when he paid from Hope’s obviously feminine purse, but he was well beyond caring. He had fallen into the mentally distanced state that they taught in the military and that he had held onto through much of the war — especially the part after his injury. It allowed him to move on to the next thing that needed doing, and put off anger, fear and frustration until later.

The night staff at the healing house were quietly efficient, and a young healer came and sat beside Hope in one of the tiny treatment rooms, using her gift of Invisible Touch to stop the bleeding inside Hope’s head and ease the pressure. Patient leaned against the wall, giving them as much space as he could manage. He shifted his stick uncomfortably, trying to ease his throbbing leg.

“All right,” said the healer eventually. “I’ve done as much as I can for now. Let’s get you to bed.” Patient helped Hope walk along the gleamingly clean corridor in the impractical shoes. They helped her to a washroom to clean up, and Patient stood outside while the healer helped her change into a nightgown, then returned to assist with getting her into bed. She looked grey and exhausted.

“I’m going to give you the Healer’s Sleep now,” said the young woman, and worked a spell with the confidence of someone who performed it multiple times a day. Hope’s strained face relaxed as her eyes closed, her breathing deepened, and she fell into a deep sleep almost instantly.

“That should hold her until well into tomorrow morning,” said the healer. “You’re her… what? Oathmate?” She glanced at their hands, obviously checking for rings and, of course, not finding any. “Promised?” she amended.

“No.”

“You’re courting, then?”

“I’m her… friend,” he said. This, at least, was true. He wasn’t sure what else they were.

“Would you mind staying the night with her?”

“I’ll insist on it.”

“All right, let’s set you up with a pallet. You’re injured?”

“I got a knock to my bad leg,” he said, “but nothing new.”

“Let me take a look.” She sat him down in the corner and ran her hand over his leg above the borrowed trousers, eyes closed.

“That’s been well cared for, considering what a nasty injury it must have been originally,” she said. “Was it the war?”

“Yes,” he said, in the tone he used to discourage people asking anything more.

“How’s this?” she said, and he felt the cramped muscles relax and the damaged flesh flooding with warmth, as if he was in one of the herbal baths his local healer made him take. His pain eased.

“Oh, that’s helping,” he said.

“Good. I’ll send someone in to do your pallet. Do you think you can get to sleep?”

“Yes, I should be all right.”

“Good. I don’t want to give you the Sleep, because having you in here with her and able to wake up is an extra safety measure. Not that I think anything will happen overnight, but just in case. Someone will be with you very soon.”

Of course, with the best of intentions, it was actually some time before one of the healers’ assistants came in with a pallet for him, and he was able to take off the terrible trousers and fall onto it. Whereupon he lay awake late into the night, listening for any shift in Hope’s breathing.

She was still breathing steadily when he finally drifted off in the deep hours of the early morning.

Dec 02

Hope and the Clever Man is released

I'm happy to report that Hope and the Clever Man is now available from Amazon.

It took a little longer than I had originally planned, largely because my development editor, Kathleen Dale, suggested a rewrite that strengthened the story considerably and gave more weight to the characters' actions.

Here's the blurb:

An act of powerful magic in a moment of rage almost destroys Hope's magical career before it starts, leaving her even more determined to prove her worth.

Her chance comes when she's assigned to work for the eccentric inventor known as the Clever Man. The magical technology they create together could change the course of a war and help an oppressed people plan their revolution, but wealthy and powerful interests will fight to put it down any way they can.

If you've read Realmgolds, this book's timeline includes the entire timeline of that first book. It's the story of the people behind the scenes who made some of what happened in Realmgolds possible. You don't have to read Realmgolds first, but if you haven't read it yet and you want to, I have it at half price while I'm promoting Hope. That's $6.98 for both books.

I'm going to drop the Chris Howard cover here yet again, because I love it so much. If you look at that cover and think "That looks like a book I'd want to read," you're very probably right, because Chris followed my art direction closely and gave me a cover that was exactly what I wanted and represents the book perfectly.

Hope and the Clever Man

I'm very happy with how it's come out, and looking forward to getting on with a less comprehensive but still significant rewrite on the sequel, Hope and the Patient Man.

Those links again (they're Amazon affiliate links, so buying through them gives me more of the sale price even than normal):

Hope and the Clever Man 
Realmgolds

Sep 10

My Accidental Romance

I haven't blogged for quite some time, and for the best of reasons: I've been writing the next Gryphon Clerks novel.

Actually, I've been writing the one after next. The next one (Hope and the Clever Man) is with my beta readers, and while I waited for their feedback I had some ideas for the sequel, and as I write this post I'm about to pass 70,000 words - all written since I started nine weeks ago.

This is a surprise. I've not written this fast or this easily before. I think it's because I've never written a series before, and now that I have a good run-up, and the characters and world are clear in my head, they're producing the story for me much faster.

Now, I know that I am actually producing the story. It's a useful fiction to say that the characters are doing it. Useful, because it describes the experience I have when I'm writing a scene and a character suddenly starts talking about a painful experience earlier in his life that I was not expecting him to mention in this context, one that I knew would eventually come up but which I hadn't worked out in any detail, and I'm writing away thinking, "I wonder what happens next?" And as I continue writing, I find out. That happened in the new book, and it was wonderful.

Although I'm making more use of outlining than I used to, I'm still what's politely called a "discovery writer", which means that for me, story generation happens mostly while I write. This has its drawbacks, in that I don't always know what happens next and can get stuck, but it also has its advantages, in that I don't always know what happens next and can be pleasantly surprised.

One of the surprises has been that Hope and the Patient Man (the current work-in-progress, sequel to Hope and the Clever Man) turns out to be a romance. I did not see that coming, though I probably should have, given the young man who turns up, unexpectedly to everyone including me, late in the first Hope book.

One of the current kerfuffles in the spec-fic field is over an article by an academic named Paul Cook on the Amazing Stories website called When Science Fiction is Not Science Fiction. In it, he basically says that he likes adventure stories, and that is what science fiction is, and ones with romance in them are for girls and not real SF. It's not a sophisticated argument, and rather than dignify it by linking to it I'll link to Lois McMaster Bujold's excellent commentary on the issue. (I've chosen the Goodreads version of her post, because she also has some interesting exchanges in the comments.)

What I write, of course, isn't science fiction by pretty much anyone's definition, including mine (though it's more sciency than most fantasy; I do have an approximate theoretical basis for the magic which kind of maps to some real-world science if you don't look too closely, rather than just saying "a wizard did it"). It's steampunkish fantasy, and to that I now need to add to the word "romance", apparently.

Prarie Dog Love, #2
Thomas Hawk / Foter / CC BY-NC

Some things about that. Firstly, it turned into a romance because I think relationships are important. I'm married (15 years come February), and that relationship is extremely important to me. A friend of mine, who I met on our first day of high school in early 1981 and have stayed in touch with almost continuously since, has recently moved back into the same country as me, and bought a house in the same city that I live in, and we're hanging out, and that's reminded me of the importance of friendships for helping define who we are. How relationships define us is a bit of an emerging theme in the second Hope book, in fact.

It's often said that characters are defined and revealed by taking action, by what they do in response to circumstances, and that's true. It's especially true in an action novel. In a novel that has more to do with relationships than with adventure, though, it's also true that characters are defined and revealed by their connections to one another.

These are not exclusive categories. There are novels that are high-action and low-relationship, and vice versa, but most occupy some kind of middle ground, especially in the spec-fic field. Some of my favourite characters, like Lindsay Buroker's Amaranthe Lokdon, Carrie Vaughn's Kitty Norville, and (to choose a male character by a male author) Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden, are remarkable because of their ability to collect people who are linked to them by ties of friendship, or at least shared interest, and who act as force multipliers for the characters when they want to get something done.

I'm grateful to the pioneers of the New Wave in the late 60s and early 70s for injecting more relationship into what had been a largely action-oriented genre, because personally I find relationships interesting as well as important. At the same time, I'm not going to go all Paul Cook and claim that only novels that deal with relationships are X (where X is members-of-genre-I-like, good, enjoyable, valuable, or other, as Lois McMaster Bujold puts it, valorising adjectives).

I do want to say a bit about romance as a plot element versus romance as a genre category, though. Romance as a plot element appears in all genres. Romance as a genre category has its own tropes, its own rules, its own recurrent themes, and I'm not planning to take all of those on in my writing.

I'll freely admit that I've read hardly any genre romance, and am poorly qualified to comment on the genre as a whole, so I won't. I will mention, though, particular kinds of romance that I find in other genres I do read, such as steampunk and urban fantasy, and some of the problems I have with them, and why I won't be doing that.

Before I do, though, I think it's uncontroversial to say that romance is largely written by women. Men who write it sometimes use feminine pen names, just as women who write science fiction sometimes take masculine pen names (or use their initials rather than their names). I'm not going to talk right now about whether that's good or bad or problematic; it's a thing that happens. Now, I'm a man (a cis man, if you like, meaning I was born male and have always identified as such; also a straight man; also a white, middle-class man, and yes, that's relevant). It would be somewhat surprising, our society being what it is, if I approached writing about relationships exactly the same way a woman would, because I've been raised with a different perspective.

I also identify as a feminist ally, and as such, I find some of the romance plots I encounter in steampunk and urban fantasy problematic. Tracing, no doubt, a lineage back to Mr. Darcy and Heathcliff, among others, the "heroes" of these romances are often unpleasant human beings. They treat women poorly, but are forgiven because they rescue them when the women do foolish, headstrong things that place them in danger, and because they have firm muscles that make the heroine's heart beat fast despite herself.

Now, I understand that there has to be a reason why the couple doesn't just get together right away, otherwise what you have is not a plot, but an incident. However, it's not essential or inevitable that this reason should be "it's actually a bad idea to be with this guy". To me, that's simultaneously naive and cynical: naive, in expecting a relationship with such a flawed man to work out anyway, and cynical, in that it assumes that men don't get any better than that.

I'm not going to point to examples of what I'm talking about, because they aren't that hard to find and I don't want to single out individual authors just because I've read them, when there are much more egregious examples that I haven't read. I will, however, point to a counterexample, an urban fantasy series in which there's a strong romance thread, in which there's a clear reason why the couple doesn't get together straight away, in which it's not because he's a cad and a bounder and a deceiver, in which the woman has agency and makes smart decisions and can rescue herself quite competently. I'm talking about Christine Amsden's Cassie Scot series. This is how you do it! </Randy Jackson>

So, anyway, the romance part of my writing works like this. There's a magic-based but in other ways realistic reason why the couple can't just get together. They work on it together, because he's a decent guy and thinks she's wonderful and worth the effort, and she appreciates this. Along the way, he contributes to resolving some other issues, both inside and outside her head, but she is ultimately the one who has agency. He's not trying to control her or live her life for her.

Part of the way that stories work is that they help us develop problem-solving skills. I have a real concern about some of the romance stories that are around, for that exact reason. So if my book is turning into a romance, I'm going to give my perspective - as a man, happily married to a woman with a master's degree in marriage and family therapy, who's also studied some psychology himself - on what a good relationship looks like. My hope is that it educates while entertaining.

In case it's not clear from what I've said above about my writing process, I'm not forcing this stuff into the book. It's coming up by itself, because I'm following the old principle of "write what you know".

If all goes according to plan, you should be able to read Hope and the Clever Man sometime around November this year, and Hope and the Patient Man early next year. To get announcements when they're published, sign up to my (low-volume) mailing list in the sidebar of the site.

Jul 08

News: Reviewing, Award Longlist, Book Progress, Cover Reveal

So here's what's happening.

1. Reviewing. I've decided to press pause on the reviews-by-request for a while. I currently have a huge backlog of books I want to read, including some by several of my favourite authors, and some by people who could turn out to be new favourite authors. At the same time, review requests have been flooding in. Even though I turn down a lot of them, it's becoming too much.

Also, I want to step down as a Kindle Book Review reviewer for a while, because...

2. Award Longlist. Realmgolds is on the longlist (they call it the "semifinalists", but it's a longlist) for the Kindle Book Review's Best Indie Book Award. Even though any perception of conflict of interest would only be a perception, perceptions are important.

Being on the longlist means that I paid my $20 to enter and at least two out of three screeners liked the first few chapters enough to let it through. The shortlist, which is decided in September, is based on the whole book, is much shorter (five books in each category), and means a lot more.

Hugh Howey's Wool won the sci-fi/fantasy category last year. I don't seriously expect to win, but it'd be nice to get to the shortlist for my category.

It feels like Realmgolds is vanishing into the rearview mirror already, though, because...

3. Book Progress. I've written close to 70,000 words of Hope and the Clever Man. There's still some more to go, between 10,000 and 20,000 words by my definitely unreliable estimate, but I think I have all the main plot threads teased out now. The hard work will be next: weaving all those threads together into a cohesive story with a beginning, a middle and (especially) a satisfying ending.

I'm seriously considering buying a piece of software called Aeon Timeline that will enable me to organize it visually in multiple arcs and by date, using my invented calendar. It's slightly overpriced, I think (it costs as much as Scrivener, which is a lot more useful), but it may be what I need. Part of the challenge, since the timeline overlaps with that of Realmgolds, is to keep the two of them consistent.

And speaking of the new book...

4. Cover Reveal. If you're on Google+ you've already seen this, but it's so beautiful I want to show it to everyone as often as possible. Like the Realmgolds cover, it's by the talented Chris Howard.

Hope and the Clever Man

My art direction to Chris included the phrases "a man and a woman collaborating...on some kind of steampunk device". I also described the characters in some detail, and he's captured them wonderfully: the scruffy inventor and the beautiful magus.

Now, back to telling their story.