Prophecy’s Exile Updates!

So! After many, many weeks of first-pass revisions, Prophecy’s Exile finally had all its placeholders replaced with actual words! Bringing the wordcount up to *cough* 167,000. And so the first-pass reading and editing commenced and brought the wordcount down to (drumroll please!):

Exactly 160,500 words (excluding the header and contact info and such).

I swear, that was pure chance.

It is now ready to begin its rounds with beta-readers, and is in the hands of three so far. And, because I’m extra and I enjoy making maps, here’s the novel’s map!

So this is the island nation of Odiřa (which looks a bit like a jalapeño, no that wasn’t intentional), where the VAST majority of Prophecy’s Exile takes place (there’s a bit at the beginning in Remdar, but only two chapters out of twenty-six). Not all locations are named (yet), since Gev mostly sticks around in the middle-western region in the mountain foothills between Emarazet and the Umoreshca camp, with some detours. The second book, Prophecy’s Incarnate, will go more into the eastern coastal areas, so all those places will get actual names rather than just be…dots on the map. You can probably track Gev’s travels in this book purely by what places I have proper names for so far (well, mostly). Secretly, Exile is a homage to 90’s epic fantasy travelogues, while also poking fun (a lot) at 90’s epic fantasy travelogues.

I also realize all those islands should be named. Am I going to name all those islands? Maybe. Just…maybe.

And, for the sake of “it’s fun,” the blurb!

The Remdari Empire needs a spy, an ambassador, and an accomplished fraud. With the first choice dead and no one else on hand, what they get is Gev Hyromius Caerus, a 40-year-old quartermaster with more of a talent for the logistics of supply lines than hoaxing prophecies about killing literal gods. Gods of living flesh and probably mortal, but still gods.

Abducted from Remdar, deported to an ancestral homeland he’s never seen, and magically branded a criminal exile, Gev is pressed into service as an imperial agent—supposedly by clandestine order of the emperor of Remdar (a mistake, surely). His task: fake fulfilling a prophecy foretelling the return of a dead war hero who will kill the gods to teach them true divinity. At least, long enough to finagle an alliance with the xenophobic island nation of Odiřa. Succeed, and the exile brand will be removed and his old life reinstated. Problem is, though he might look the part, he knows next to nothing of Odiřa—its culture, its language, its people—and he has less than a year to accomplish his mission. 

Worse yet, that prophecy isn’t so apocryphal. It has a mind of its own, and it wants to be fulfilled.

Though I know it’s generally discouraged, I have, um, started writing book two, rather than start something brand new. Because I just am really, really enjoying this world, these characters, this story, and I want to stay in it a bit longer, especially since Exile, unlike my previous novels, is definitely designed as a book one and I’m itching for book two.

The short pitch for book two, by the by, is “Gev does side-quests.” And is, exactly, that.

A Cold Dark Line to Cross | Wicked West | Out Now!

My teenage necromancer and zombie outlaw in a weird, somewhat dysfunctional found family in the wild west story, “A Cold Dark Line to Cross,” has found a home in this wonderful anthology! Which has released *drumroll* today!

Universal buy link: https://books2read.com/u/3JZrLA

And here’s a little taster of “A Cold Dark Line to Cross” for your reading pleasure:

Gabe scratched at his forearm and a finger-length strip of his own dry-as-jerky skin flaked free. It fluttered, landed in a puddle of moonlight that spilt in through the room’s lone window. A more considerate man might’a picked that up, but he figured this flophouse floor had far worse than bits of his decaying carcass ground down in the cracks between the floorboards.

And, all things considered, if he’d been a more considerate man, maybe he wouldn’t be dead in the first place.

Your mama—God rest her soul—raised you better’n that, Gabriel Dunn.

He bent, scraped up the scrap, and flicked it out the open window.

In the bed opposite his, Delia twitched and mumbled in her sleep. Snuggled down deeper into the flat straw mattress that she complained smelled of mould and piss. Gabe had taken her word for it. Not like he could rightly smell nothing anymore. Or taste nothing. Or feel much of nothing.

Which, depending on your point of view, could be a blessing. At this time of year, right smack in the middle of the Mojave, the days were hot as the Devil’s own breath and the nights cold as the deep heart of winter.

Delia’s magic kept him from rotting like normal, else he’d be bloated and stinking at this point. This… shedding, though, didn’t bode well. Getting worse, getting faster. Soon he’d be nothing more than a bundle of bones with his soul branded into the marrow, trapped this side of death. No moving, no screaming, no nothing.

Don’t think about that. It wouldn’t go that far. Just one more name to scratch off Delia’s list, one more man to put in the ground, and she’d set his soul free. She’d promised.

And that’s what it’d come to? Trusting some bloodthirsty fifteen-year-old girl’s promises? Hah. The Gabe Dunn of a few months ago would be calling this Gabe a damn fool. But he had nothing else. Only the ’mancer who did the working could unbind the magic wrapped around his bones. And she’d put four men’s lives as the price for that freedom.

Tonight. This ends tonight.

“A Cold Dark Line to Cross” by R. J. Howell, Wicked West

Long Time, No Post

Well, it’s been a minute.

I haven’t updated this blog much, mostly because of a tandem of life events. If life events are meh, skip ahead to the more writing-related sections below.

The first: I now work full time and have health insurance through my job! Woo! As a person with chronic health conditions, health insurance, or the lack thereof, has been a fear hovering over my head since I was 14. For the hell of it, I once calculated what the uninsured cost of my life-preserving meds would be for a year (just the meds) and it came out to $136,000. Which is just, um, terrifying. And that’s just for the one condition (the MS) and for a good year (just the “keep it controlled” meds, not the “save me from my own rebellious immune system” meds, which are a great deal more expensive). To my everlasting gratitude, my work has promoted me to full time and now I health benefits!

Which neatly brings me to the next life event: part of the deal for full time was to also get my Master’s in Library Science, so I’m back in grad school and trying, oh so hard, to finish this whole program by summer of 2022. Because I refuse to turn 30 and still be working on (another) Master’s. I have rules. They may not be wise rules, but I have rules.

And thirdly, I gave myself the self-imposed deadline to finish drafting the current novel within the year. Because it would mean that I wrote a novel in a year, which is often the timeframe of publishing contracts, and my last, er, four books were each written over the course of two years+ (I think a year and a half was the shortest, but most averaged two and a half to three years). Specifically, I set December 10th as the deadline.

WHICH I HIT! AHAHAHAHAHAHAAA!

*ahem*

Though I failed in my original endeavor of writing fanfiction, I did, however, succeed in writing a 157,000-word novel in a year (started Jan. 6, finished Nov. 27). Well, I say finished, but it’s quite ready yet for beta-readers. I still have to name things. Because proper nouns are my great enemy and there are a lot of placeholders waiting for proper terms to be created. And in order to create those terms I, er, have to invent a language. So the draft is done, and hypothetically, you could read it through and it would make sense, it just…would have a lot of random ______ lines everywhere. Because that’s how I make placeholders. ______. Basically, the book looks like an a giant game of adlibs right now, but I’m working on it! Goal is to have a finalized, legible draft by January, and start lining up beta-readers for it.

Tentatively titling it Prophecy’s Exile. So, er, PE for short?

And because I can, the (also tentative) query blurb:

The Remdari Empire needs a navy to cover their retreat from an ill-advised war. The island nation of Odiřa has such a navy, but no reason to lend its services to their expansionist imperial neighbor. As the decennial treaty renegotiations loom, an alliance could be finagled—and naval support procured—if only Odiřa’s negotiator wasn’t a xenophobic nationalist whose most ardent prayer is for the entire Remdari Empire to sink into the sea.

Odiřa does have a prophecy, though, one foretelling the return of a great war hero who will kill the gods to teach them true divinity. Anyone attempting to fulfill it gains near instant renown, the kind that may stretch so far as replacing a certain anti-Remdari negotiator with one secretly loyal to the empire. The Remdari need a spy, an ambassador, an accomplished liar and cheat.

What they get is Gev Hyromius Caerus, a forty-year-old quartermaster with more of a talent for supply line logistics than killing mortal gods. Abducted from Remdar, deported to an ancestral homeland he’s never seen, and magically branded a criminal exile, Gev is pressed into service as an imperial spy. His goal: fake the prophecy long enough to earn a place at the negotiating table and save his empire’s ass. His reward: removal of the exile brand and the reinstating of his old life. The problem: that prophecy isn’t theoretical.

Bonus points if you can guess what IP sparked the idea for the failed fanfic that ultimately led to the novel.

I itch to start edits on it, but must wait till I complete this semester. Soon, though! Very soon. All those placeholders will be removed, words cut, words added, y’know. The usual.


I also attended my first in-person convention (WindyCon) since before the plague. It was good. It was also a bit nerve-wracking. Still not used to large crowds yet, and I question if I ever will be. However! The experience was incredibly validating for a multitude of reasons.

  • I sold books! Myself and a few other local writers often split a dealer’s room table to sell our books, and I not only sold out of the stock I’d bought for the convention, but made a good dent in my back-stock from pre-Covid times. I, shockingly, even managed to make a profit. Egads.
  • I did panels! I was even a surprise panel moderator (surprise, as in, surprise to me) on a panel with two highly successful professional authors and I was scared out of my wits! Wee! (Jody Lynn Nye and Seanan McGuire, who were both lovely to interview for this panel but also, -hyperventilates slightly-)
  • I received a contract for a story I sold and signed it! (More on that at the end of this post)
  • I received a partial request from an agent! Aaaaaah!
  • A representative from the convention art show tracked me down from one of my freebie bookmarks and demanded to know why I didn’t have my art in the art show. Which…I mean, there’s no actual reason, I’m not boycotting it or hiding from it, it just wasn’t on my radar? However, I did promise to submit my art to the show next year, so that’s now a thing? And it also gave me the impetus to pick up the digital brush and start painting again, which, I’m happy to note, that even after a year of stagnation, my skills haven’t atrophied. The muscles in my right hand, however…

DGB Query Trenches Stats:

  • 20 Queries Submitted
  • 2 partial requests (1 rejection, 1 pending)
  • 1 full request (ultimately rejected, but a nice one!)
  • 11 rejections
  • 9 still pending

I’m going to take a break for the holidays and come back to this in January, especially seeing that quite a few agents on my to-be-queried list have closed for the holidays as well. I’ll be honest, I’m actually rather shocked by my request rate, seeing that this book is an “unsalable” 186k words. 15% ain’t bad!


And lastly! My weird west short story, “A Cold Dark Line to Cross” will be published in Wicked West: A Summerstorm Press Anthology on December 1st! Sometimes, being dead gives someone a chance to be a better person than they were in life. To earn his permanent death, undead outlaw Gabe Dunn has one last member of his former murderous crew to kill, but doing so will mean confronting the man who made him into a monster. Teenage necromancers out for revenge, their personal ex-outlaw attack zombies, magic users with strange powers over animals, all chasing each other across the Mojave Desert in an alternate late 1800’s.


Here’s where I’ll wrap up. Happy holidays to those celebrating holidays during the coming season! Maybe next year (ye gods, I’m not ready for that!) I’ll finally reintroduce the month of books wrap-up posts. Or maybe I’ll try something new.

Either way, signing off.

-dun dun dun- The Query Trenches!

The first batch of queries for Dead God’s Bones have officially been submitted! The novel has embarked upon its journey to agents and I am now, once more, wading into the query trenches. The number of submissions this time around is, quite honestly, small, but I’m trying a new approach to querying. With In Blood, I tended to shotgun query (even when they were personalized, they weren’t, per say, strategic). In the end, I submitted 43 queries, had two partials and one full request, but ultimately shelved the book.*

With DGB, I’m going for strategic. I am also trying damn hard to not only choose agents to submit to with intention and careful consideration of who and what they represent and what I, personally, am looking for in an agent, but to actually express this in the query letter itself. The letters are, by extension, taking a great deal longer to write, but I feel a more confident in the submission. With IB, I always feared I was pestering. With DGB, I have done my homework and chosen these agents specifically, so I feel less like I’m wasting their time. What will the end result be? I have no idea, but the immediate effect is that I feel more centered. So there’s that.

Fly, novel! Fly to inboxes! Fly and be read! And maybe garner a request or two!

In other news, still plugging away at the new novel. At 110K or so, and things have, necessarily, slowed. Because I need proper nouns. Like names. And locations. And words in this conlang I’ve been putting off semi-constructing. So! For the past week or so, I’ve been poking at phonetics and grammar and working on making it have a consistent “sound” so I can mash consonants and vowels together in a way that has an internal rational behind it so I can finally name some things. So far, I have letters and phonemes. Rules for what can and can’t follow certain things and what syllable you stress. Most of this will not be in the book, but I need to know something of it, otherwise, it’ll all be a garbled mess.

As for drafting, I’ve gotten to the point where the book starts drawing in some horror elements. My main character, Gev, has a sixth finger growing out of the back of his hand and can’t touch anyone, else he’ll curse them with extra unwanted digits sprouting from unexpected places. Soon, he’s off to meet the wizard in the magic, floating rock-castle-thing for a consultation. Drama will occur. The finger will be addressed. And then it’s smooth-sailing to the end of the book.

Well.

Smooth-sailing for me. For Gev? Not so much.

Also, have a potato-Gev, courtesy of a joke with a coworker that led to some spudsy doodling.


* This was not due to rejections, but rather, a new understanding that, really, that book, as much as I love it, had little marketability and wasn’t up to snuff, not for publishing. So it has been shelved, but fondly.

We Have Crossed the 100K Barrier!

New novel is officially long for it has crossed the 100,000-word line. Though I still aim for 140k, I have to admit, it might possibly weigh in at a bit heftier. I still have the other half of this fight scene, the aftermath, the reporting-back, the off-to-see-the-wizard section, then you-might-be-the-chosen-one-I’m-too-sober-for-this aftermath, then the last scene of proving chosen one status, and end of book. Which, um, sounds like a lot, I realize. It’d be nice for it to be 140k, but we’ll see.

Screen shot for proof:

Forgive all the placeholders. Proper nouns are my arch nemesis and usually the last thing I work out in a draft, so everything just has hundreds of ________. Also, the precision of the word count meter wasn’t intentional. I knew I was getting close, stopped to check after finishing a sentence, and ‘lo and behold, it was 100k exactly, so I screenshotted. Because how many times will that happen when the word count falls on such a nice round number without it being choreographed or cut off mid-sentence?

Endgame begins. My writing soundtrack has shifted from ESO ambiances to Witcher III combat music.

Aiming also to have this book done and polished by the end of this year. It’s been a personal challenge to see if I can (finally) write a novel and finish it in the time constraints of a typical publishing house contract, since most of mine have taken between two years and three, but I’ve never dedicated the whole of my attention on the one book. Previously, I was writing the novel while I was doing creative writing grad school work, and while I’m still doing grad school work (though for a different degree), the fact that I started writing this book the first week of January, it was too tempting to see if I could finish it in a year.

It might happen. I want it to happen. I’d be really happy if I could finish the initial drafting by the end of August and move on to fixing all those proper noun placeholders and doing revision work to the beginning in the fall, but best laid plans and all that.

Anyone else hitting fortuitous word counts that make nice screenshots lately?