Friday, October 11, 2013

Comes The Conqueror: New epic fantasy serial

New to everywhere but the inside of my head: Comes The Conqueror, an epic fantasy in serial form. This one I started more than a decade ago, but it was so vast in scope, and so strange in its premise (no spoilers, sorry) that it frightened me, and I shelved it.

Things are different now. I can write it, which I had no confidence in being able to do more than a decade ago. I can also self-publish it, which means I don't have to rein in the weirder aspects of the story in order to get it published by a traditional publisher.

The first two episodes are free, and live at Smashwords in your favorite flavor of format:

Episode 1: Blood & Roses

Episode 2: Dead Birds

Episode 3, in case you were interested, is called "The Knot" and will be available in a few days.

Oh, and Episode 3 is where the weirdness really starts to kick in.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

37,109

After years of telling authors they could not give out the numbers of free downloads at the Apple iBookstores, a few days ago Smashwords downloaded all this information to authors' accounts, apropos of nothing. I won't get into bashing Smashwords; it does no good and changes nothing. Instead, I'll focus on the numbers:

My 2012 Apple sales (free and paid), were 37,109. Subtract the 385 paid downloads I had there last year, and that's 36,724 ebooks given away at Apple, globally. Throw in another 8,000 and change from Barnes & Noble, and I gave away damn near 45,000 ebooks.

I'm still trying to figure out what this means, to be honest. My stated goal was to break out of obscurity. I don't see how I could have done much better than that: There are tens of thousands of people who've read (or at least downloaded) my stuff now, who hadn't in 2011.

Maybe this means it's time for 'free' to come to an end. Maybe I should be contrarian and give even more stuff away for free. Maybe it means nothing at all, except people will, hoarder-like, take whatever you're passing out, whether they intend to read it or not. I don't know.

I do know that I've got some writing to do.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Amra #3: An excerpt


When Hurvus returned it was full dark. He’d obviously filled his skin while he was out. His hands had stopped trembling. He brewed a willow bark tea for the boy and forced it down his throat, then put some foul-smelling plaster on my cheek and a liniment on my hands. Then we ate, he and I. Black bread, clam soup from a clay pot, a quarter wheel of a young gray cheese. When it was plain that Kiel wasn’t going to be eating anything, Hurvus ate his share of the soup and more of the cheese as well, and wrapped the rest up in cleanish linen.
When he’d sucked the last crumbs from his graying beard, he looked up at me with those bloodshot, still-clever eyes of his and said “People looking for you. At the public house.”
I felt a knife of fear slide into my guts, but didn’t let it show.
Do they know where to find me?”
No. Not from me.”
Why not?”
You still owe me two silver. Besides, didn’t like the look of ‘em. Or the smell.”
Blacksleeves?”
He shook his head. “No. Don’t know what. Don’t know what you’re into. Don’t want to be part of it.”
We’ll be gone in the morning.”
He nodded his head, then stoked up the fire a bit. With the falling sun, the temperature was dropping. After a time he put the poker away, put a bottle of cheap stuff by his chair and settled in.
What did they look like, these people who were looking for me?”
Two of ‘em. One a bruiser, shaved head. The other a weaselly merchant type, expensive clothes, silk and ermine and lace. The both of ‘em smelled like the marshes. Were asking after a woman looked hard, maybe with an injured gutter boy, maybe alone.”
Marshes, eh?” Smugglers? Who knew? “Did anyone else pipe up?”
They weren’t offering a reward, only threats. People ‘round Hardside, they don’t pay much attention to such. Unless they got a personal stake.”
That much at least hadn’t changed. I sat and stared at the fire while he filled his pipe, thinking. They’d get around to checking bone-setters soon enough, whoever they were. Hurvus would be on their list. Best I moved on with Keil before dawn. I couldn’t just leave the kid. He didn’t know anything about me, but that wouldn’t stop them from beating him to death to find it out, most likely, if they had anything to do with the fire. And I still had questions to ask him. I had too many questions all around.
They must have set someone to watch Keil, else they wouldn’t have known I might be with him or that he was injured. That they didn’t know if I was still with him probably meant they’d lost track of us in the confusion following the explosion. In any case, they had the brains to search Hardside. Which was too bad, really. I prefer any possible enemy to be as stupid as mossy rocks.
Well, if they were looking for me low, and I wasn’t ready to face them, then I’d hie myself up on high. I had enough to take a room at one of the posh inns near the top of the Girdle. And I had enough to hire a few thugs of my own, if it came to it. I just didn’t want it to.
Mainly what I needed was information. There was too much going on, and I didn’t understand any of it.
I glanced over at Hurvus. He had nodded off in his chair, pipe gone out and dangling from his mouth. I gently nudged his chair with a boot tip, then harder when that had no effect. He sat up, snorting and blinking.
I have a few questions. I'll give you gold if you can answer them.”
He wiped his eyes with a thumb. “I'll answer if I can.”
You heard of anyone masquerading as Ansen lately, come back from the dead?”
He snorted. “Every year, it seems. The Syndic and his Council don't get any less popular as time goes on only because once you hit bottom, there's no further to go.
So what's the story of the latest Ansen, then?”
I honestly couldn't say, beyond slogans scrawled on walls. 'Return the people's power' and such like.”
All right. What about the Child Robber?”
His face got a little hard. “Some monster's snatching children, has been for at least two years. They disappear, no sign, no clue left. And they disappear utterly. No bodies have been found. Makes me think slaver, but who knows? The marsh is frightening deep in places.”
I grunted. He wasn't wrong.
If I wanted to find somebody, on the quiet, who's the best person to talk to?”
The Hag; who else?”
Kerf's crooked staff, she's still alive?” She'd been ancient when I was a girl, and more than half legend. But I knew where to find her. Everybody in Hardside knew where to find her. It made it easier to avoid her.
Let me ask you a question,” Hurvis said. “Why do you want to know all this?”
I thought about it a long time before I answered him. Decided to be truthful, Kerf only knows why.“I was born and raised in Hardside, Hurvis. I know you know it; you can hear it in my speech as surely as I can hear it in yours.”
He nodded. “There's no mistaking the Hardside drawl, sure. Though yours has gone soft around the edges.”
I've been away a long time, and coming back's not something I ever planned on doing,” I replied.
So why have you? I know it's your business and none of mine, but if I were less of a wreck and managed to climb out, nor hells nor the dead gods could drag me back. But it's too late for the likes of me.” He took a swig from the bottle, as if to prove his point.
I have a debt to pay,” I told him, “and the marker finally got called in.”
He looked over at me, and even drink-fogged, his eyes were keen. “You sit there in your raw silk trousers and doeskin tunic, carrying knives the like I've never seen except on noblemen who had no least clue how to use 'em properly, wearing boots that cost what most people make in a year, offering me gold to telly you what anyone would tell you for the time of day, and you tell me you came to Hardside to pay a debt? Don't talk rubbish. Whatever you are, however you made your moil, you could've sent somebody else to settle it.”
I shook my head. “It's not that kind of debt. And coin won't cover it.”
What will, then?”
I don't know. Maybe nothing. Maybe blood. Probably blood. Maybe my life.” Whatever Theiner needed, I owed. And would pay. And that, I finally admitted to myself, was why I hadn't wanted Holgren along.
He was quiet for a while. When he spoke, his voice was rough with drink, and with some obscure emotion. “I had a debt like that, once.”
I cocked my head. “How'd you settle it?”
He smiled, but there was nothing of humor in it, just some old, private pain. “I never did. Or I still am. Can't decide which it is anymore.” And he took a long, long drink from the bottle and stumbled off to his bed without another word.
I banked the fire and dug out a blanket from my pack, then went to sleep there on the floor, one of Holgren’s gift-knives in each hand.

Friday, May 03, 2013

Status: Editing

Just a short note, Dear Reader, to inform you that I am still alive, and working, if only tangentially. Mostly what I'm doing is editing, going back over previously released material with a fine-toothed comb, and finding an embarrassing number of typos, especially in The Thief Who Pulled On Trouble's Braids.

It started out as a general once-over in preparation to get on with Amra #3; looking for continuity issues (did The Blade That Whispers Hate scar her hand permanently or not? That sort of thing).

I don't know if I'm avoiding the writing with the copy editing or not. I just know it needs to be done.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Status Update: functional, if not optimal

Dear Readers,

I'm alive. In some ways I'm healthier than I've been for years. I've lost a fair amount of weight, most of it fat, through a changed diet, exercise, and admittedly a certain indifference towards the gustatory arts. Physically I'm stronger and have more energy than I have had in years. I'd like to put some more weight on, this time muscle. We'll see.

What else? I sleep more now. Enough to give me mental balance, evenif it isn't unbroken or untroubled. I dislike having to resort to pharmacology to get it, but I'm not silly enough to argue with results. Emotionally I'm still pretty raw, but I've gained some real insights into what I feel and why. I no longer feel as if the simple act of waking up is waking on the edge of a precipice. If you ever find yourself in such a situation, I have only a little advice, but it is heartfelt: be honest with your self. Thoroughly honest. But infuse your honesty with compassion. Often the pain, guilt or shame you feel has its roots deep down, and springs from the actions of those around you when you were small, or vulnerable. Find compassion for the self that endured those misfortunes, and see your actions in that light. Then resolve to to act with compassion, for yourself and those in hour life, moving forward. Whatever guilt or shame you bear, don't let it smother you. You can only make amends going forward. You cannot change the past, much as you want to. You can only let the past inform your future.

Finally, writing. I'm doing a little. I write when I am moved to, on subjects that catch my interest. I'm not forcing it. I was truly afraid for a while that I would never write again, and am still easing back into it, so I have not forced deadlines on myself for all the various projects I left in medias res. they will come, in time, if they are meant to. Amra and Holgren especially I have no doubt will continue to report in, though their adventures may well not be what readers might expect. And Marie from Waste Land has been on my mind lately. When it's time for me to pick up the pen again for them, I won't keep it from you.

Before I work on their stories, though, I have to work on mine.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Grimdark: excerpt

An excerpt

They came through the Riddlemarch, as they always did, at the tail end of winter; enough had grown hungry by then to consider their offer. To see them in worn but warm clothing, riding instead of slogging through the muck, to smell venison or rabbit roasting on the spit over the fire of their camp on the village swards, and to think the dangers of the Grimdark were not so fearsome, perhaps, as the brutal chill and the gnawing hunger that was a fact of life on the borderlands.

Still, most would think once, twice, and turn their faces away from the men Lord Coalstar sent to recruit. There was a price to be paid when you took the coin, and the clothes, and the mount, and the food. There was a price that came with the plain, wicked-sharp sword, the bow of yew, the cold-iron mail. A price that, soon or late, would only be met when you breathed your last.

Many considered in the cold and the muck of the late Riddlemarch winter, but few consented.

Some, too young to consent, were given over to the lean, hollow-cheeked mean who wore the badge of Coalstar on their breastplates or tabards, and the red-gold coin was passed to a parent's grimy hand. Some cried; parents, children. But not often. The Riddlemarch was not a place that encouraged tears. And when Coalstar's men rode away with their new brother- or sister-to-be, not as many as you might think looked back on what they left, which was little enough. Yet few looked forward, either. What lay ahead was the Redoubt, and eventually, when they were deemed ready, the Grimdark. 

Jorig was one such. Neither looking forward nor back, he kept his eyes firmly fixed on the deep green woolen cloak of the man he was mounted behind, and pushed away his mother's face, and the sullen faces of his older brother and sister. Too, pushed away the words spoken by his mother when Coalstar's man had approached her.

"Aye, you c'n have him. This one thinks. Has dreams. No place for such a one here, innit? Takes him, an' I'll feed these two other posts with your lord's gold. For a time, at least."

And so it was done. 

None had spoken to him, and none would until nightfall, when the camp was set.

Jorig was the only recruit that season.

Friday, March 15, 2013

This is why I write

This 5 star review from persephone/kor at the Australia iTunes, the second Amra book. This is why, when somebody gets what I'm trying to do:

Short version: Awesome. Love love love love love and adore.

Long version: Have fallen in love with intriguing characters who seem real despite being much more awesome (or interestingly and somehow endearingly awful) than reality allows for. Fallen in love with a world created from the ground up, with a class system and values familiar enough to grasp but different enough to enjoy. Reminds me of many of my favourites, but not enough to spoil the story. Michael McClung, if you die without finishing this series, I will track you down wherever you end up and shake you. Kidding. Mostly.

Thank you, Persephone/kor. Tonight you gave me a little strength to keep on :) I hate being shaken.