Many (Many) (Like 12) Months of Books

Well! It’s been awhile since I’ve done one of these, mostly due to grad school and work devouring the whole of my attention, but even while I was doing said grad school and work, I did manage to read quite a few books new to me (I try not to feature too many rereads on this, since I tend to reread when stressed, and I have been quite stressed). You may also see a certain trend of the kind of book I’ve been consuming lately. Mostly “cozy.” A lot of cozy.

This shall be a very long post. Please keep your hands and feet inside the ride at all times.

The Hands of the Emperor by Victoria Goddard: My favorite, favorite book discovery this year is, hands down, The Hands of the Emperor. It is THE most delightful, wholesome doorstopper of a book. It’s the Goblin Emperor but, like, leveled up, and a thousand-ish pages of heart-warming, with amazing characters, relationships, and people who are in government bureaucracy who are…actually and actively trying to make the world a better place in tiny increments. It’s also the only fantasy novel where you have radical communist communes and tax auditing right next to flying sky-trees that can be turned into sky-ships and the literal god of the sun incarnate, where magic and myth and mysticism are just as real as grant applications. It’s also about culture and family and work and trauma and healing from trauma and deep, deep friendships that exist in defiance of taboos and—oh, so many things. I admit, the beginning is a bit, all right, not sure where this is going, but the second Cliopher sees that summer mansion and makes his plan to invite his emperor on vacation, I was utterly hooked. And then I loved it so much, I read it twice! It’s a beautiful book. I absolutely cannot wait for At the Feet of the Sun*.

Petty Treasons by Victoria Goddard: A companion/prequel to The Hands of the Emperor that adds the delightful (and often aw-inducing) context from the emperor’s perspective. Highly recommended, but definitely to be read after reading THotE, otherwise, it’ll make only a marginal amount of sense, and it’s really designed as a supplement—the moments that made me gasp with recognition and realization wouldn’t quite have the same punch without seeing those same moments from Cliopher’s mildly unreliable point of view (he really does downplay things). But! I would say read this one before Return, if only to get used to this other narrative style.

The Return of Fitzroy Angursell by Victoria Goddard: AKA, The Return of Spoiler Spoiler. While technically it can be read alone, it has far more significance when read after THotE. Like THotE, this was an absolute delight, but for different reasons, and it’s wonderful to finally have a viewpoint character who is able to experience the magic, and I adore the idea of a wild mage being the reason narrative conveniences occur—because they’re wild mages, wild coincidence just happens, and that conceit is delightful. This one sort of has the feeling like a retired D&D group is coming together again, but they were adventurers in their twenties and thirties, and now they’re in their fifties and sixties, and have lives and careers and spouses and children, but want to have just one more adventure together. And they will, it just might take some time, because they’re still trying to fit each other into those thirty-year-out-of-date versions of themselves, and haven’t quite got a handle on who everyone has become. I also have theories for why this one is in first person.

The Redoubtable Pali Avramapul by Victoria Goddard: I devoured this one in a day, then went back and read it again. Ooooh, what Goddard does that is amazing is having the same scene told from two points of view, and realizing that, um, yeeeeeah, from another vantage, that had a totally different result. I look forward so much to Pali meeting Cliopher again, I really do. And whether or not she’s gonna murder him. But that’s neither here no there. Really, the character work in this series is extraordinary. These people could just sit in empty rooms and talk and I’d be riveted. And there are so many moments where, as a reader who has read the others, I knew why one character was doing something, or what they might’ve been thinking, and oh, the heart-wincing I endured as Pali…couldn’t pick up on the subtext. Also, Tor needs a hug. But. Um. Maybe with a lot of advanced warning…

The Assassins of Thasalon by Lois McMaster Bujold: Wow, it’s been a-while since I’ve done a Month of Books post. This one came out ages ago, but it would appear, I never featured it on this mini-series of blogs. Unlike the rest of the series, this one is novel-length! A short novel, but still a novel! It also ties together so many of the dangling threads laid out in the other novellas, and feels, half the time, like the end of the series (it isn’t though!). The other half of the time, there’s a bit of a recap on how demons and sorcerers and saints work, but as it centers on a very intriguing abuse of the demon-sorcerer system and the powers of a saint, the retread isn’t unwelcome though if, like me, you chose to reread the whole series in preparation for Assassins, you might find yourself skimming a little of the education-during-the-carriage-ride scenes, but I still enjoyed them. Also, there’s quite a few familiar faces, which are always a treat, and a few characters whose names we’ve heard but never met being onscreen.

Knot of Shadows by Lois McMaster Bujold: This one was the surprise gift. I totally thought Assassins was the end of the series, and then, ‘lo and behold, Knot of Shadows is released, which ties the Penric and Desdemona novellas to The Curse of Chalion in a way that it hadn’t before (Pen and Des are more obviously connected with The Paladin of Souls, for obvious, demonic reasons) and re-explores that central concept of death magic/the miracle of justice (along with a threat/concern introduced in TCoC which was a source of tension but not, er, something that came to pass). It also makes me cry. I’ve read it twice now. I still cry. As always, anything by Lois McMaster Bujold is gold.

Paladin’s Hope by T. Kingfisher: Another paladin book! This time, it’s a romance between a berserker paladin with night terrors and a coroner with the ability to touch a dead body and experience their death (there’s a reason he’s a strict vegetarian) as they work together to escape a trap-filled dungeon, and is just filled with those tiny references to RPG-related logic holes…like why would you have lethal traps in a place people walk around in? Unless, of course, it was never designed for people… Also, the developing tensions and relationships between humans and gnolls are fascinating to me, and I thoroughly enjoy how the world shifts and changes as the series(es) progress. Another absolute delightful installment of the series, and routinely laugh-out-loud funny.

The Grief of Stones by Katherine Addison: So I appear to have a thing for protagonists that understate the situation a tad, and Celehar very much understates. But now he has a partner! Who is marginally more emotive than he is (though there’s this delightful moment where he has a moment of weakness and laughs and…everyone else is like, “…I’ve worked with you for years. You have never laughed.” “I’m a little stressed.”) The slow-burn relationship continues to be very slow-burn. It’s possible in a book or two, they might even hold hands! Maybe. But I am a sucker for the “shift from last names to personal names” trope. The mysteries weave together nicely, and I devoured the whole of it in a day. And that one development! It was both surprising but inevitable, and leaves me hungering for the next to see how this plays out. (Trying not to spoil!)

Sword Dance by A. J. Demas: I stumbled across these in a “Books Like” list as I was looking for cozies to scratch the itch left by The Hands of Emperor, and ended up falling in love with this series of very queer, classic era-Greece analogue fantasy that almost, almost reads like historical fiction except…not. There’s some nice echoes here of Swordspoint, but also locked-room historical mysteries (murder! in a villa! but the murder doesn’t happen till the 1/3 mark and the first third is setting the stage and letting you get to know the players and the suspects) and romance (and these two people who are awkward around each other work together to solve the mystery and end up falling in love!). This one hit so many of my personal “favorite tropes,” and I love that it’s so casually queer, with a romance between a bisexual man (Damiskos) and a genderfluid enby (Varazda).

Saffron Alley by A. J. Demas: Book 2! Varazda invites his lover to his home to meet his family–and his family, er, have a range of reactions. Like Sword Dance, there is a mystery element, though unlike the first book, there isn’t a, ah, body, so to speak. More delightful coziness of the two’s deepening relationship as Damiskos is vetted by Varazda’s family, and still so wonderfully casually queer (especially with the found-family and adoption aspects). Mostly, everything here is still just sweet and makes me smile. (Also, just as a note, for all of these books, there’s a massive content warning for slavery and trauma and questions of consent; A. J. Demas’ website lists the content warnings for each book, which is both helpful and considerate.)

Strong Wine by A. J. Demas: And the conclusion of the series. Book 3 alternates from Varazda’s and Dami’s viewpoints, and Varazda now gets to meet Damiskos’ family (who are…odd). Once more, it has that combination of murder mystery, romance, and historical fiction-textured secondary world fantasy which works so very well—but now with courtroom drama! And you have no idea how refreshing it is to have a character introduce his boyfriend (sometimes girlfriend) to his family, and they’re just like, “Oh, you usually don’t bring your lovers by to meet us,” and that’s it, that’s the extent of the drama. Although, I do have to warn, there are some unpleasant insults thrown Varazda’s away about his gender presentation (but by the book’s antagonists, so I feel like that’s a given?) Oh! And quiet autism rep, which is also refreshing (the parents are vile about it, but are the disapproved-of minority). I enjoyed these three so much, I read them twice.

Legends & Lattes by Travis Baldree: You may have noticed a trend to my reading lately, and that is cozy fantasy, and if you spend any time in cozy fantasy circles, you will hear of Legends & Lattes, and for good reason. It is the epitome of cozy. It also is full of RPG references (I mean, even the title is riffing off of Dungeons & Dragons) and coffee shop AU tropes, and is just, frankly, wholesome and pleasant to read. Yeah, sure, you kind of suspect the conflict and, like me, you might catch early on what’s going to happen to that coffee shop, but it’s the kind of comfortable predictability of a romcom; you know it’s coming, and that’s part of the pleasure of it.

A Strange and Stubborn Endurance by Foz Meadows: This one…I’m a little conflicted about, but I think the root of it is that I went in expecting one thing (political-leaning fantasy with rich world-building, assassination plots, and a slow-burn MLM arranged-marriage romance) but got something very different different (light world-building, political-leaning but in the background, an assassination plot that ran tangentially to the romance, but the two seemed a bit…disconnected? Not as enmeshed as I would have preferred). I was very committed to the first 30%, but the general feel started to shift around the 40% mark, and by the end, I wasn’t as invested as I would have liked. However, a friend of mine adored it (for many of the reasons I didn’t!). The hardcover edition, by the way, is gorgeous. I do recommend it for fans of Winter’s Orbit who are looking for that same MLM arranged-marriage, sweet slow-burn romance with a backdrop of politics and a central mystery, but fantasy rather than space opera. CW, though, there is an onscreen rape of a viewpoint character within the first 30 pages**.


* All right, yes, I can wait, and will wait as much as necessary, but the anticipation! Aaaaah! Also, I’ve been foisting this book and the rest of the series and parallel serieses on anyone foolish enough to get me on my new favorite topic. Consider it foisted on you.

** Honestly, what is it with MLM romances and rape? I can name half a dozen off the top of my head where this is either a plot point or a backstory element.

Reflections Post-MFA: Or, Should You Get a Degree in This or Not? (Answer: It depends)

So periodically, I see this question comes up online of whether or not a writer should (or shouldn’t) go for an MFA. And there’s always a chorus of replies either for or against, and I always think I’ll chime in, but never do. So instead, I’m just collecting all my unsaid thoughts and reflections on a BA and an MFA in creative writing in a single post, and admittedly, it’s been a few years since I graduated, so everything that follows has a retrospective tinge. This is a long one, so strap in.

First and foremost: no, attending an MFA program will not automatically make you a great writer.

Or, rather—not the way you think. You CAN get things out of an MFA program that WILL make you a stronger writer, a more efficient writer, a more confident writer—and a more precise critic and a more active reader.

In my six years of formal education in creative writing, I wrote just shy of 2 million words. I totted up my word count back when I was graduating from my undergrad, but I didn’t precisely tally what I did for my grad program, but it’s probably around 2 mil. And much of that word count was produced on tight deadlines.

I often joke that my undergrad program was a crucible and my grad program a forge—because for my undergrad, I typically had to produce about 3k-15k a week for four years, often following strict prompts, with little time to revise or edit, so it better be right—or, at least, something I could live with—the first time. I didn’t have the luxury of multiple drafts. I produced a fuck-ton of wordage. Most of it utter garbage, but some of it salvageable. I’ve sold a few short stories I wrote in undergrad to magazines and anthologies, but what my undergrad really did was built up my writing muscles to the point where knocking out a 7k short story following a strict anthology theme prompt a week before the deadline is not hard.

It also built the habit of writing, and now I don’t feel right or comfortable with myself if I haven’t written in a few days (unless I’m pouring my creative juices into some other expression, like painting). Writing is my joy, my happy place, and what I turn to when I’m stressed. Something which I probably could have built up on my own without the undergrad BUT doing the undergrad caused it to happen in a FAR MORE COMPRESSED amount of time. It did have the severe drawback of ridiculous stress and bouts of depression and anxiety that took a few years to work through, but hey.

Grad school had looser deadlines, but a greater focus on honing the edge of my skills and helping me figure out who I am as a writer, what it is I’m trying to do. For that one, it was bizarrely based on page count, not word count, with 30 pages a month, one major 30-something page dissertation paper, and one 120-page minimum thesis.

Basically, in short, the BA and MFA made me work, and it made me learn how to write while having other commitments. I currently have a full time job, am a full time student for another program (in support of the job—will be done in three weeks, woo!), and of my current novel, I’ve written about 130,000 words in less than four months. True, I don’t have many friends I see in person but, hey, pandemic times? Would this regimen work for everyone? Fuck no. It worked for me, but even while having a good end result, it wasn’t what I’d call a comfortable experience. So. What did I learn from those six years of schooling?

1. How to write a lot, and the benefits of quantity over quality. For a very long time, I wrote pulp stories. I embraced that, and wrote a lot, much of it terrible, but a lot of it, not, and on that foundation of what was not, I built my craft. You can get there with quality, it just tends to take longer, and in my personal opinion and experience, it’s easier to get to quality by going through quantity than to get to quantity through quality. Not that it can’t be done, but…easier.

2. Schooling did teach me to “hear” the rhythm and poetry of words. Now, I’m not a poet, but I appreciate the poetic beat—which, by the way, is why I will FIGHT YOU if you say, “high word count? just remove those filler words like ‘that’!” because those “filler” words have a purpose beyond the baseline of creating clarity, they also create rhythm, and I can TELL when something is over-edited. Why? Because it’s arrhythmic. It doesn’t “sound” right to the inner ear. Usually because words have been cut out with a search/find tool, so the sentence rhythm and structure has been changed…but all the sentences surrounding it haven’t, so there’s this discordancy where the sentences don’t mesh. Going to cut out words? Do a full read-through as you do it to make sure your words are still dancing to the music of the whole narrative.

3. How to critique—both how to give it and how to receive it. Most MFA programs are workshop based, and the more you do workshops, the more you learn there are different methods and approaches and which ones work for you (and which ones really don’t). The gift of tons of workshopping hours is that…I’m far less critical. Because I’ve seen that there are so many ways and methods and approaches, I’ve given up the whole idea that there’s a right way to do this. Really, there’s just many ways, and it’s highly individual; what’s right for someone else isn’t necessarily right for you. Which is frustrating, at first, because people tend not to like ambiguities. But, to quote Barbossa, “They’re more like guidelines.” It teaches you how to separate personal taste from the writer’s vision, and refine your ability to give feedback that strives for that vision, rather than what you, personally, would like. Yeah, sure, of course, this isn’t 100%, and critique will never, ever, be truly impartial, but practice helps get you a bit closer.

4. How to receive critique…and not be rocked off course. Schooling helped me figure out what I want from my writing and what I want to do, and taught me how to listen to critique, say thank you, that’s an insightful reading and has give me much to consider…then not act on it at all. Because the critique in question wasn’t helping to further my vision and bring my work closer to what I conceptualized it to be. It helped me figure out what were my hills to die on…and what is just stubbornness and being enamored with my own work. I’m more centered now, more grounded. I have a better idea of what I’m doing and what my intent is, and have learned how to define it, if only to myself.

5. How to reverse engineer other people’s writing! Like, other people talk about how studying writing or becoming a writer ruined books for them and they can’t just read for fun. Au contraire! You can read to reverse engineer and revel in the recognition that someone else is doing something a fuck-ton better than you can…and then you can figure out how they did it and do it for yourself. It isn’t theft! You’re acquiring a new tool for your craft.

6. I’m going to be absolutist and talk about extremes, but there are two kinds of writers: those who love the act of writing and those who love to have written. Of course, this is really a spectrum, and people fall everywhere in it, but the strategies for finishing your work can be different depending on where you fall.

Those who love to have written tend to be more productive when they have deadlines, prompts, and often, an outside force goading them on. Many of these sorts, if they don’t end up finding a community of like-minded writers in their MFA programs, tend to stop writing after getting their degree.

Then there are those who love the act and will do it regardless…but not necessarily see projects to completion. Because they have a thousand ideas, and chase plot bunnies with abandon. They, too, benefit from deadlines and outside forces placing constraints to keep them on track, and after they finish their program, while they may continue to write a fuck-ton, they might struggle to complete things.

So what can MFA programs do? Help you figure out where you are on that spectrum and give you strategies and tools that you can do beyond the program—this might take the form of dedicated spaces, writing goal tools, communities, workshops, a regular submission routine to agents or editors or markets. Whatever fuels you.

And, while we’re on the topic of finishing: yes, finish your shit. Because the more you finish, the more you’re able to recognize the feeling when something is finished. And the easier it becomes to replicate. Also, if your goal is publication, you can’t usually publish something without it being finished. So. Finish things.

7. Rules are bullshit. No, really. They don’t actually exist. EXCEPT! When you’re starting out, you NEED the rules, because the rules create context which, until you get more experience, you’re not going to have. So rules = necessary, but also rules = illusionary. When it stops shoring you up and giving structure and instead starts stifling and constricting you, and you find yourself having to do writerly gymnastics to get around it, jettison it. You don’t need it anymore.

8. The philosophy of “Fuck it.” It’s so very freeing to reach a point where you just yeet all those rules into the very sun and scream, “Fuck it!” and do what you want. Also, writing, like any art, doesn’t end. You always have a new bar to strive for, a new goal. Which…can be intimidating and defeating, at first. But eventually, you might, like me, come to the conclusion that it’s a hell of a lot more fun if there’s no level cap.

So are MFA programs necessary? Of course not. And they tend to be very expensive, and for the most part, if you are driven and dedicated and have the support—either from yourself, from those around you, from a larger writing community—you can easily replicate the lessons an MFA program can teach you for free—or nearly so. But is it worthless? Also, no. But the caveat is, you tend to get back what you put in. Although, if you’re willing to go $20k into debt with student loans, I hope you’re willing to put in the effort. ‘Cause with that kind of money, you could instead take out a loan for a good car…

Would I trade my BA and MFA? No. Because they worked for me. However, I do want to note that while I do have some short stories published and regularly submit to agents, editors, and markets, I haven’t sold a book, I don’t have an agent, and I’m not popular. So having a degree in this is not going to guarantee you success or a book deal or whatever. That’s a separate, though closely parallel, thing. Same way attending that prestigious workshop isn’t going to get you a book deal, either. It can, however, help you build a community, a network of fellow writers and, sometimes, agents and editors. It can help you get perspective not just on your work, but also the industry.

But, honestly, as stressful and intense as it can be, MFAs and workshops and classes can also be fun. ‘Cause you’re basically in a room with a bunch of people with brains that work like yours, that see stories and patterns and the rhythm of words, and are bursting with ideas and characters and plots and metaphors. You ain’t alone, is all I’m saying.

Anyway, my nearly two thousand words of two cents. Congrats! You made it here (and I honestly have no idea why you put up with me…?). Have a cookie. 🍪

Cross-posted on Reddit, thus, the Reddit cookie emoji.

Updates! Including an Unexpected Novel Ambush, Discussions of Food, and Some Art

*creeps out of stress-cave*

*attempts to dust blog off with dirty rag*

Well, hi! Um. I may have neglected this blog a bit these past many months. Life has been…hectic. While I hope that it will soon become less hectic, it’ll probably remain fairly hectic for the next few months, though I’m hoping to restart the Month of Books series. I miss the Month of Books and I’ve read some fantastic stuff recently that I’d like to share.

I also may have been ambushed by a new novel. There I was, working on Prophecy’s Incarnate, when out of nowhere, I introduced this one-off side character who gets mentioned but never is on-screen, and I found myself wondering, Huh. Who’s this guy? Aaaaand next thing I know, I’m writing a spinoff prequel novel that, in the space of slightly less than three months (egads), I have written over 100,000 words of. Yes, I almost succeeded in two consecutive NaNoWriMo challenges, though sadly not in the month of November.

Is this stress-related? Oh, definitely. Am I enjoying it greatly? Also, definitely.

For unlike Gev’s story, Asheru’s is…almost entirely plotless. It’s just this guy. Living his life. Doing things. Having tiny adventures. Mostly just living with his family. Very slice-of-life. Where Gev is my under-emoting potato, Ru is my exceedingly emotive dandelion who has feels about everything and opinions. Mostly about cooking. Why, yes, I am currently writing a character who is 100% in love with food—the eating of it and the making of it, and I get to write about cooking.

*whispers* Spoilers, but I love to cook. I also love to eat tasty food, so you have no idea how much of a joy it is to write a character who understands food and can describe it to an excessive degree. Gev? He eats and it tastes good more often than not, but he doesn’t describe it deeply. My previous book, Dead God’s Bones? Kossa mostly eats because otherwise, he’d starve and die? It’s a means to an end. Maiv has a similar kind of single-minded focus, but can at least describe a nice take-out dinner. Luko likes to eat, but lacks the vocabulary to describe it in any depth, because why would he? The book before that? Bunch of semi-immortals on a mostly liquid diet, so food…wasn’t really a high point.

It is so much fun to write a foodie who rants philosophic about chili oil.

So I’m a 100k into an unmarketable spinoff prequel that takes place about six years before Prophecy’s Exile and I have no idea what I’m going to do with, but hey! It’s a thing. I’m aiming for about 160k, but it might end up longer. Since it’s utterly unmarketable by itself, I’m caring less about fitting it into the proper boxes for a query and more about just writing the story however I want. It’s gloriously freeing.

Speaking of things, I also decided to paint what had started as a sketch of an Indros warrior on a war-garn that was mostly for me to work out armor and saddle designs, and it, er…got out of hand.

Cue random lore-dump: It’s a bit tricky to see, since the rider’s leg is shadowed, but he is buckled into the saddle. Because garn, particularly war-garn cavalry, pitch and rock and rear and jump nearly twice their height from a standing position, and the most common injury for Indros cavalry are broken legs if their garn rolls and they don’t have time to release the saddle straps. The saddle is designed for one rider, and has a high back like a chair. The armor is a lacquered wood laminate, which can basically be painted pretty much any color they wish, though it’s usually in family/bloodline colors. The wealthier the warrior (or their family) the more intricate the carvings and inlaid with more gold and enamel. End of lore-dump.

As I was painting this, it occurred to me it looks almost exactly like a Magic: The Gathering card illustration, so for the fun of it, I made it into one. I have been told it’s a rather expensive card for what you get, but in my defense, it’s been easily a decade since I played.

In other news, a short story of mine is slated for inclusion in Neon Hemlock’s Luminescent Machinations and, I am told, will have an accompanying illustration that I absolute can’t wait to see. More on this as things progress.

Still querying Dead God’s Bones, but it’s quieted as I’ve started to question the trajectory of my career and what I want as a writer. More and more, I question if I need the validation of a traditional publishing deal, or if what I really want is someone (preferably many someones) to read what I’ve written and—my hope—enjoy it. And whether or not I need a traditional publishing deal to accomplish that desire. I’ve been mulling. My mulling has, so far, been rather fruitless. I watch developments on Twitter with a mounting sense that something in publishing is going to give and change of some sort is immanent. But we’ll see.

So that’s it for now.

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