On A Field Sable

This one I’ve been working on for some time now; I’ve written over 200 pages.

Mareet found herself looking up at a man’s face, but it was neither her father’s, nor that of Lord Salchen, the sorcerer to whom she was to be apprenticed. This was a stranger’s face, broad and bearded and blond, with intensely blue eyes that were staring into her own. His skin seemed unnaturally pale, though a slight flush reddened his brow, and his deep-set eyes appeared almost inhumanly large.

“Father?” she asked, turning her head away from that fearsome gaze, trying to make sense of her surroundings. She was not sure whether she had just awakened, or undergone some more curious transition. Her memories seemed oddly fragmented and uncertain, and she had no idea where she was, or how she came to be there.

“No,” the blond stranger said gently, in a voice that did not match his strong features. Despite his foreign complexion he spoke flawless, unaccented Walasian. “I am Barzal of Blackfield, and I have just bought your contract from Lord Salchen.”

“But… where’s Father, then? He was to negotiate the terms.” She did not look at the blond man, but at the room in which she found herself.

She was in a stone chamber, one that looked somehow familiar, though she could not remember where or how she might have seen it before. Sunlight slanted through a row of windows in one wall, illuminating rich red-and-gold carpets and a row of heavy chairs of what appeared to be finely-carved walnut, but the light brought little warmth. A strange, acrid odor hung in the cool air.

She was sitting in one of the chairs, slumped down in it, her hands clutching the arm-rests, and the big blond man was standing just a foot or two in front of her, looking down at her with an expression of concern. He was, she realized vaguely, finely dressed, in green velvet and yellow satin, and carrying a carved walking stick.

At one end of the room, a dozen feet away, stood a black-robed, black-haired figure – Lord Salchen, she belatedly realized. He looked somehow different than he had when last she saw him…

“Your father isn’t here,” Barzal said. “This isn’t what you think; it isn’t when you think. I’m afraid I’ve taken the liberty of erasing your memories of the last two or three years. This is the fourteenth day of autumn in the twenty-third year of the Emperor at Lume.”

Her eyes turned forward and upward and met his again. “No, it’s the seventeenth of spring in the twenty-first – ” she began.

“No,” he interrupted firmly. “It isn’t. You simply don’t remember the two and a half years you have dwelt here.”

The Siege of Vair

Here’s another opening scene.

Virit looked up as another fireball came over the wall. She paused and watched as it arced across the sky, trying to estimate where it was going to hit. The catapult crew had probably been aiming for the market square, but even Virit, who was not at all familiar with the city, could see they had missed badly; the fireball sailed well beyond the market. She tried to remember what lay in that direction, and guessed it was headed toward the street of the jewelers.

She supposed that jewelers, due to the nature of their business, generally had good protective spells, but someone should still do something…

But then a dozen voices called, and alarm bells sounded, and Virit decided she was not needed. The locals could take care of themselves. She turned and resumed her interrupted journey, back to their lodging.

Zalgar ti-Partha was standing in the door of his shop, staring down the street, watching people hurry past. When he saw Virit he waved. “What’s happening?” he demanded.

“Another fireball,” Virit told him, pointing. “Down that way, maybe near the jewelers.”

“But the gates are still shut?”

“So far as I know, yes.” Virit did not stop as she answered the old man’s questions, but rounded the corner and hurried up the stairs that led from the alley to the rooms above the shop, lifting her skirts so she would not trip on them.

The door was unlocked, and she stepped in to find her grandfather seated in the big rocking chair by the front window while their host, her distant cousin Burud kif-Lessi, stood beside him and stared out at the street. He turned as Virit entered. “I heard the alarms,” he said. “What happened?”

“Fireball,” Virit said, as she tried to catch her breath.

“Where?” Burud asked.

“I suppose they were aiming at the foundries,” her grandfather said.

“No, Grandfather,” she said. “I think it came down near the street of jewelers.”

“They don’t want to damage the foundries,” Burud said patiently. “That’s what they want for themselves. Capturing them intact is the whole point of the siege.”

“Hmph.” The old man turned to his granddaughter. “What did the captain say?”

Virit hesitated, then admitted, “He wouldn’t talk to me.

Her grandfather straightened in his chair. “What?”

“He wouldn’t talk to me. He sent me to talk to a lieutenant – Lieutenant Aggris. I told him I represented a visiting dignitary, and he said he didn’t care who I was; he took his orders from the Master of the City, and nobody else.” She did not mention the open contempt that both the captain and the lieutenant had displayed when she said she was speaking on behalf of an Elder of the Surushalla; that would do nothing but upset her grandfather.

She saw the expression on Burud’s face, though, and thought he could guess what had happened.

“You told them who I am?”

“Of course, Grandfather. I used your full title.”

“You told them we are Surushalla of the mountains, and not the decadent knaves who live in their filthy city?”

Burud’s mouth tightened, and it was at just that moment that his assistant, Ganur kif-Tsashu, appeared in the kitchen doorway holding a teapot in one hand and a stack of cups in the other. He exchanged glances with his master, then cleared his throat. “Tea, anyone?”

“Yes, please,” Virit said, before either Burud or her grandfather could say anything that might antagonize the other. “Let me help.” She hurried to take the cups.

As she and Ganur poured, she said, “Grandfather, I told them exactly who you are. They said it didn’t matter. Nobody goes in or out of the city without the Master’s permission. They said that if you want to leave, you’ll need to talk to him or his courtiers, not the soldiers at the gate.”

“It’s foolishness! We have nothing to do with this war.”

“I don’t think they care, Grandfather.”

“Of course they don’t, Elder,” Burud said. “They’re concerned with their city, not with us. It’s not as if you were the Walasian ambassador; you’re just a tribal leader from up in the mountains, visiting his cousin. You claim to be a dignitary, but you didn’t present yourself at court.”

“Why should I?” the old man demanded, thumping his fist on the arm of the rocking chair. “I didn’t come here to trade compliments with some confounded Chordravine overlord! I came to discuss the future of our people.”

“And that’s the problem, Elder Turunis,” Ganur said. “The Master doesn’t care any more about you than you care about him, and opening the sally port for any reason could be dangerous.”

“Hmph,” the old man said again. “Then we’ll talk to this Master.” He turned to Burud. “Arrange it, Burud.”

Swordsmen of the Fallen Empire

A change of pace tonight — the opening scene of a novel I’m working on.

Footsteps echoed from the marble walls as the two men strode along the gallery, their red cloaks billowing behind them. The older man glanced at his companion, at the youth’s eager expression. This was still all new to him, new and exciting.

The younger man noticed the other’s gaze, and broke into a grin.

“Now, now,” the older man said. “Let’s try to maintain decorum, shall we?”

“Yes, sir,” the younger replied, trying to smother his smile.

Then they were at the door they sought, and turned to face it. Both men composed themselves, straightened their cloaks, threw back their shoulders; then the elder rapped sharply on the polished wood, three quick knocks.

“Who is it?” a woman’s voice called from within.

“Guards!” the elder answered.

“You may enter.”

The elder swung the door open, then led the way into the sunny, richly-appointed salon. Three women were clustered in the center of the room, two seated on a small couch and the third standing close by. All were young, beautiful, and dressed in wonderful flowing gowns, but one of the seated pair was clearly in charge, and the other two her attendants. A gentle spring breeze stirred the gauzy draperies that hung in the doorway to the balcony.

“Your highness,” the elder guard said, with a sweeping bow. The younger hastily bowed, as well.

“Ah, Third,” the woman said. “Who is this?”

The elder guard straightened, but did not reply; instead he stared straight ahead, stone-faced. The two attendants looked puzzled by his silence, glancing from him to their mistress.

She cocked her head to one side, so that a torrent of silky black hair spilled across her shoulder, then smiled. “My apologies – I had forgotten the date. Second, is it?”

“Yes, your highness.” The elder guard relaxed and smiled, then turned to his companion. “Allow me to present the Sixth of our order. Sixth, may I present her highness Princess Sharva, the granddaughter of our beloved Emperor.”

“Welcome to our household!” The woman rose to her feet with a single graceful movement, and held out her hand.

The younger guard stepped forward, knelt, and kissed her fingers. He was mildly surprised to see she wore no rings or bracelets, but naturally did not let that surprise show.

“Rise, guardsman!”

The Sixth obeyed, clicking his heels and coming to attention.

“So you’ve only just given up your name, and begun your tuition?” the princess asked.

“Yes, your highness,” he answered.

“You have thirty years of service ahead of you. That must be a daunting prospect.”

“Not at all, your highness. I look forward to every minute of it.”

She smiled, then she turned her attention to the elder guard. “And why have the two of you come to see me today?”

“Primarily to present our new Sixth, your highness,” the Second said, with a wave at his protege. “It will be his duty to guard you in the event of any disturbance. But also, your highness, I came to report that there is a disturbance on the Promenade. As yet we do not believe there is any danger, to you or anyone else, but matters may develop quickly. It’s possible that it may become advisable to leave your apartments on short notice, so we ask that you do not involve yourself in anything that would make a quick departure inconvenient – a bath, for example.”

The two attendants exchanged worried glances, but neither of them spoke. They had not said a word since the guard’s knock.

The princess frowned. “What sort of disturbance?”

“Nothing new, your highness,” the Second replied. “People are concerned about the recent disappearances, and are demanding the government do something – bring back the missing, provide an explanation, something.”

“I don’t blame them,” Sharva said. “I find the disappearances worrisome myself.”

“Then you don’t know what’s causing them?” the Sixth asked.

She shook her head. “No, of course not,” she said.

“If you will forgive me, your highness, none of the rest of your family seems very concerned,” Second said. “I had assumed they knew something the rest of us do not.”

The princess grimaced. “If they do, they have not deigned to inform me of it.” She shook her head. “I agree they do not seem worried, but I don’t know why. Much as I love them, I sometimes find my father’s family hard to understand. Perhaps I shouldn’t admit it, but I think I take more after my mother. Wizards often baffle me as much as they baffle anyone.”

“But…” Sixth began, then stopped, looking confused.

Sharva smiled at him again, and leaned in close. “You know, Sixth, as a member of the Imperial Guards you’ll be expected to keep many secrets.”

“Yes, your highness.”

“Well, here’s one of them – I’m not much of a wizard. Oh, I can do a few spells, but no more than some of the better sorcerers.”

“But… you’re the Emperor’s granddaughter.”

“Yes, I am. And my father is a mighty wizard indeed, as is my uncle, the heir to the throne. But whatever you may have heard to the contrary, my mother is merely human, with no magical ability whatsoever, and as I said a moment ago, I seem to take after her. My brother is more fortunate, and seems to have a gift for magic, but even a simple binding can confound me.”

The Sixth’s mouth opened, then closed, then opened again. “Yes, your highness,” he said.

“Come on, then,” the princess said, turning toward the balcony doors. “Let us take a look at this disturbance.”

“Your highness, I am not sure that is wise,” Second said.

“It probably isn’t,” Sharva replied, without looking back. “I’m going to do it anyway.”

The coming of Vika’s Avenger!

Well, I’ve gone and done it — I’ve just launched my Kickstarter campaign to finance the publication of my science-fantasy novel, Vika’s Avenger. You can get the details on the Kickstarter page, but here’s a little about it:

On a distant planet, 12,000 years in the future, a country boy named Tulzik Ambroz comes to the ancient city of Ragbaan seeking the man who killed his sister Vika. Ragbaan’s civilization has risen to astonishing heights of power and technology several times — and then collapsed each time, so that now most of the city is abandoned and empty, and the three million remaining inhabitants make no distinction between magic and technology. How can a stranger, with only a portrait his sister drew to identify his quarry, hope to find a single individual in such a place?

And if he does find him, what will he do about it?

If you want to have a chance to read the story, come pledge something. You have just thirty days.

To Kickstart or Not to Kickstart?

I have an unpublished novel, Vika’s Avenger, sitting around unsold. It’s a science-fantasy story with detective elements and a revenge motive. Two different editors have been interested in buying it, but were overruled by higher-ups who couldn’t figure out how to market it; a third editor turned it down but had some useful comments about it. While it may have other failings, the largest problem seems to be that it doesn’t fit any current known market niches.

I thought about self-publishing it, but my track record there is less than stellar. I thought about sending it to a smaller publisher, such as Wildside. I thought about serializing it online, as I’ve done with recent Ethshar novels. I haven’t ruled any of these out, but none of these options has me wildly enthused.

And I’ve also thought about trying to launch it on Kickstarter.

If I do that, I’ll have some interesting options. For one thing, if it makes the basic amount I set (which would probably be $10,000), I could then set stretch goals that would include such things as commissioning a David Mattingly cover painting. I’d probably rewrite it — some of the creative choices I made when writing it were based on my perception of the market at the time, and obviously didn’t help sell it, and that third editor’s comments, along with some other events, have me thinking of ways it could be improved.

But if it doesn’t make the nut, that could be embarrassing. Not to mention that running the Kickstarter and then publishing the book would be a significant amount of work. And that $10,000 would need to cover producing and distributing the various incentives, so my net proceeds wouldn’t be all that much.

So I’m waffling. Do I try to Kickstart it, or not?

One-Eyed Jack

Since I wasn’t especially impressed with the terms offered by interested publishers, I’ve decided to take a plunge into the brave new world of the web. I’m self-publishing my latest novel.

One-Eyed Jack straddles the line between urban fantasy and horror. One of Gregory Kraft’s high school teachers meddled in what she thought was witchcraft, and cursed a handful of her students. From there, matters got worse.

The survivors still suffer from her spells. For Greg, that curse took the form of the ability to see the ghosts and monsters around us by night. He’s afflicted with prophetic dreams as well.

In one such dream he sees a lonely, emotionally-abused boy named Jack who has been befriended by a hungry ghost that calls itself Jenny — a ghost whose only food is human children. Jack has been appeasing the ghost with parts of himself, but he can only give up so much. He needs to find her another source of food.

Jack knows there are other desperate children…

As mentioned, Greg can see the monsters, but ordinarily he can’t affect them. He can’t stop them. This time, though, he’s determined to stop Jenny — but how?

The trade paperback edition is $14.98.

The Kindle edition is $5.99.

The NookBook (ePub) edition and Smashwords edition are also $5.99.

The trade paperback edition should be available from Amazon soon, and I believe it can be special ordered by traditional outlets — the ISBN is 9781466291539. (It’s possible it isn’t available to them yet, but, as with Amazon, it should be soon.)

Check it. Hope you like it.

Is This What Will Be, or What Might Be?

In theory, I’m currently writing a YA fantasy novel called Graveyard Girl, about fifteen-year-old Emily Macomber, who inherits a rather unpleasant psychic ability. I have 14,000 words of a planned 65-75,000 written. My wife and agent are both enthused about it, and I admit it’s probably going to be a good story, but it hasn’t really taken off yet. Partly, I think the high expectations are discouraging me.

At any rate, after almost two months of very slow progress, I decided that maybe if I had multiple projects going (as I often do), then I would at least get something done, even if it’s not whipping through the rest of Graveyard Girl. Rather than start yet another new project, though, I decided to pull out some I’d started previously. So I went looking through my “works in progress” folder, which has a few hundred projects in it in various stages of development, and pulled out some I thought were promising.

Well… that’s not quite all of the truth. I also started some new ones. My trip to San Diego for the Comic-Con spurred some ideas, and I indulged myself a little. There’s also one project that was prompted by an editor’s remark on what he was looking for.

So I’ve now written the first draft of an all-new Christmas story with the working title “Best Present Ever,” and scribbled an outline for Crosstime Charlie and the Helium Barons, and written the opening of an untitled mystery starring a guy who calls himself Bob, who only investigates murders the cops say weren’t murder. That’s the new stuff. (I’m not counting the two story ideas that never got past quick notes.)

And the old stuff — I was pleasantly surprised, looking at some of these. I think they’re pretty good, and I’m looking forward to working on them.

There’s The Dragon’s Price, a good old-fashioned fantasy, first in a series called “Signs of Power,” about Malborn Knightsbane, who was born with the magical ability to reshape his own flesh under certain circumstances. I have 16,000 words of an estimated 150,000.

There’s Tom Derringer and the Aluminum Airship, which was originally intended to be a YA steampunk novel to cash in on the trend, but which mutated into something else. I have 27,000 words of a planned 75,000.

There’s On A Field Sable, continuing the series begun in A Young Man Without Magic and Above His Proper Station. The viewpoint character isn’t Anrel Murau, though; it’s Mareet Saruis, who did not appear in the first two novels, though her father’s name was mentioned. Anrel has a small role. I have 41,000 words, a detailed outline, and extensive notes; I think it’ll run about 150,000 words.

And then there’s Ethshar — I’ve worked recently on Ishta’s Playmate and The Sorcerer’s Widow, but neither of them has gotten all that far yet.

Most of these older projects were put aside as not what the market wanted, but at this point, my attitude is, “Screw the market.” I’ll write what I please, and if no one in New York wants it, there are small presses that will, or if worse comes to worst, I can self-publish.

But I don’t know which of these, if any, I’ll actually finish. We’ll see.

Shifting Gears

I’m trying to adapt to the changed realities of the publishing business. While I’m certainly not giving up on traditional publishing — I have a novel out to market right now, and am working on another intended for a major publisher — I’m also putting some real effort into getting my backlist out there in e-book form, and in doing some of my own promotion. It’s also entirely possible that I’ll be publishing new stuff through the small press (mostly Wildside Press and FoxAcre Press) and self-publishing (under the name Misenchanted Press).

This means that instead of having a new novel to announce once or twice a year, I have a bunch of small projects working their way through various pipelines that I want people to know about.

I’ve therefore decided to attempt something many authors have been doing pretty much since the introduction of e-mail — a newsletter. So far it has the inspiring, stunningly original name “Lawrence Watt-Evans: The Newsletter,” and I’ve sent out two installments a week apart. I know I don’t like being barraged with promotional material, so I’ve decided that it will go out only when there’s something to report, and no more than once a week unless I need to make a correction to something that was in error or has changed.

If you’d like to receive this newsletter, e-mail me at lwe@sff.net and let me know, and I’ll add you to the list. I also have a second list — people who only want to receive it when there’s news about Ethshar — and you can sign up for that instead, if you want. (It’s the same newsletter either way, it’s just that the Ethshar list won’t get some issues.) If you sign up now, you won’t receive an issue until at least Lammas — i.e., August 2 — so if you don’t hear anything back, don’t worry right away.

If you’re already getting it and have any comments, this would be a good place to make them. I’d be happy to have some feedback, and discuss possible improvements.

Meanwhile, here are some of the projects in the pipeline:

The Final Folly of Captain Dancy and Other Pseudo-Historical Fantasies is a collection of four old stories, published by FoxAcre, available for the Kindle, and with a paper edition now available from Barnes & Noble. (Why Amazon doesn’t have the paper edition and B&N doesn’t have the e-book yet I don’t really know.)

How to Prosper During the Coming Zombie Apocalypse, by Nathan Archer, is a 6,000-word bit of silliness available only as a 99c e-book.

In the Blood collects all my vampire stories to date — twelve of them. Originally I was only planning an e-book, but on a whim I added a paper edition from Lulu.com.

Tales of Ethshar will be a collection of the eleven short pieces of Ethshar fiction I’ve written to date. It’s been accepted at Wildside, but contracts aren’t signed yet.

Split Heirs, the humorous fantasy novel I wrote with Esther Friesner, has been accepted for reprinting and publication in e-book form by Wildside Press. Again, no contracts or other details yet.

The Unwelcome Warlock is scheduled for September publication, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it’s pushed back a month or two.

And I think that’s all for now.

Please Advise Me

I find myself in a situation regarding character names that I’m not happy with.

This is for an urban fantasy where the protagonist is named Wayne Ellsworth, for good and sufficient reasons. For equally good and sufficient reason, his girlfriend/fiancee is named Georgia Fenton. These aren’t negotiable.

However, there is a third major character — probably the title character, in fact — who I have reasons to name George, specifically that he’s named that because his original given name is completely unpronounceable, and the person re-naming him was a fan of Warner cartoons, such as the Bugs Bunny one with the Abominable Snowman who wants to make Bugs his pet bunny, “and I will hug him and squeeze him, and I will call him George,” or whatever the exact line is.

I had originally thought that Elmyra Duff, from Tiny Toon Adventures, also called her pets George, but that appears to be incorrect.

So. Is having major unrelated characters named George and Georgia going to be too confusing/distracting? If so, any suggestions on what to call him instead of George? (Georgia, as I said above, isn’t negotiable.)

Sorcerer’s Bane

[This is another book in the “Fall of the Sorcerers” set — in fact, I think it comes before Mareet Saruis’ story, a.k.a. The Golden Wyvern. I’d originally thought Sorcerer’s Bane was the second book in the series, but now I think it’s first.]

The coachman called to his team, and the vehicle rolled to a stop on the wet cobbles, almost directly in front of a young man in a green frock coat. “Alzur!” the driver called as he set the brake. “This is Alzur!”

The door banged open, and a head thrust out. “Indeed it is,” the new arrival said, looking around the square. “It hasn’t changed a bit, has it?”

The man in the green coat hurried toward him. “Anrel!” he called. “You’ve made it!”

“Hello, Fal,” the passenger said, clambering down. “You haven’t changed, either, I see.”

“Ah, so it might appear to the casual glance,” Fal said, clapping his friend on the back, “but I think that when we have a chance to talk a little you’ll see just how different I have become. When you left I was a child, Anrel, and I like to think I am rather more than that now.” He glanced around. “This way, I think – I believe the rain could start again any second, and I would rather not be halfway up the hill when that happens.”

“I am entirely at your disposal,” Anrel said, “once you let me retrieve my baggage.” He turned to the driver, who had untied the canvas and was heaving a leather-bound traveling case to the cobbles.

“Of course!” Fal said, hurrying to snatch up the first bag.

The coachman handed the next directly to Anrel, who nodded, and passed the man a coin in exchange.

“Is this everything?” Fal asked, hefting the traveling case.

“Indeed it is,” Anrel said. “I am, after all, only a poor student, not a mighty sorcerer like yourself.”

Fal punched him lightly on the shoulder. “Sorcerer, pfah! I am a man like yourself, Anrel. Are we not all the children of the Father and the Mother, and heirs of the Old Empire?” He began marching across the square, toward a pair of small tables set beneath a broad sky-blue awning.

“Some of us are the more favored heirs, Fal, while others are but despised cousins,” Anrel said, following his companion. “Your magic gives you a status most of us can never aspire to.”

Fal glanced back over his shoulder. “I think you may misjudge the situation, my friend. What our fathers dared not dream of, our sons may take for granted.”

“You have certainly achieved what your father did not,” Anrel said.

“Pfah!” Fal waved his free hand in dismissal.

A moment later the two of them had taken seats beneath the blue awning, setting Anrel’s luggage to one side. A woman in a white apron hurried from the door to their table side and said breathlessly, “Lord Fal! How can I serve you?”

Fal looked questioningly at his companion.

“I dined at the Kuriel way-station,” Anrel said. “Just a little wine to wash the road-dust from my throat would be fine.”

“A bottle of Lithrayn red, then,” Fal said. “And a plate of sausages, and some of those lovely seed-cakes from…” He stopped, frowning. He had turned to point to a nearby shop, but now he broke off in mid-sentence and asked, “Is the bakery closed?”

The woman followed his gaze and said, “Hadn’t you heard? Lord Balutar caught the baker’s son stealing from his herb garden, and has sentenced him to death. The whole family is up there now, pleading for his life.”