A blast from the past

I was working on Ascension, the sequel to Ravages of Honor: Conquest today and went looking for some references related to a plot point. Somehow I found the very first iteration of what was then the opening scene for RoH:C. I’m sharing it with you today because I want you to see what a difference a few years of writing makes. It took me almost three years to finish Conquest and then another year to publish it (slush piles will do that).

The 865-word hot mess below became the 2449-word second scene of Chapter Two. It went from being a thin, badly written, first draft to a well-written, fleshed-out piece with depth. Depth is really hard to explain but it comes down to how well you are able to pull the reader in and immerse him in your world. It is made up of thick, rich details that allow the reader to be more than a spectator watching a movie–it puts them solidly in the character’s head and heart. It is a hard-to-acquire skill. It is what makes a reader come back to a story again and again (so they can be the character) even after they know exactly what is going to happen next (the plot events).

If you go to the sample on Amazon, the final form of this scene begins with “The contours of empty, midnight-quiet passageways blurred past Darien. His bare feet struck the metal decking with a steady rhythm.” You can read the entire thing in the sample for comparison if you like.

Unlike the hot mess below–what I like to call a “first vomit draft”–the final product doesn’t open by dropping you cold into a dark room where you might as well be blind (because the details are absent). Unlike the hot mess below, it’s not full of fake details, devoid of characterization and opinions, and thin as the gruel in a Dickens orphanage.

It took three long years of listening to criticism that cut me to the bone, that made me lose my lunch, that made me curl up and cry, but it was all worth it. Which is why my best advice to anyone thinking about taking up the madness of writing is this:



“The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism.”

– Norman Vincent Peale
Continue reading “A blast from the past”

Excerpt from “Good of the Many”

I’m very excited to share with you the opening of my short story, Good of the Many, released today in Worldbreakers, an anthology edited by Tony Daniel and Christopher Rucchio.

Dedication

Greater love hath no man…in recognition of the brave souls, Peter Wang, Alaina Petty, and Martin Duque. You embraced your duty sooner than you should have had to.

There’s nothing quite like walking into a tomb, although technically—I guess—it’s not. We’re not exactly underground or under a church, even though storage unit six is part of the UENS Sanctuary (T-AH-1749) and her motto is “For the good of the many.”

That must make stasis pod 06-004 a crypt. No, that also didn’t fit. No one—not one of the hundreds of citizens—inside Sanctuary were dead. Technically.

There were two dozen sealed pods inside unit six, each one twice as wide and deep as a coffin, but not twice as long. My steps echoed as I made my way down the rows and rows of pods, trailing a pool of light cast by a lantern floating off my right shoulder. Its repulsor field made a barely audible hum as its weak light cast long shadows. Shadows that slithered in a place where nothing had moved since I was here exactly one year ago.

I shuddered, my skin crawling and dimpling into goosebumps that raised the hairs on my arms.

Get hold of yourself, Elena.

Continue reading “Excerpt from “Good of the Many””

Catching the Dark

I’m happy to present the release of Catching the Dark: An Alt History Short Story* as a standalone.

Operation Barbarossa destroyed most of the Tsarina Tatiana Romanova’s aircraft. 

Sixteen-year-old Natalya loves to fly, to soar. And now she gets to. As the youngest member of the Tsarina’s Own Night Bomber regiment.

A short story for anyone who loves WW2 alt-history, aviation, and stories about heroism.

Night Witches strike terror in the hearts of darkness.

*This short story was previously published in To Slip the Surly Bonds (Phases of Mars 2) edited by Chris Kennedy and James Young

Dominion Re-release

In the spring of 2018 I was part of a writer’s workshop that included the chance to sell stories for six different anthologies.

Dominion was originally written for a romance anthology. However, it was bought by Ron and Bridget Collins for their Face the Strange anthology. The coronapocalypse delayed the publication until 2020. By then I had already written the first novel, Ravages of Honor, and several other shorter works in the same universe.

I am thrilled to bring Dominion to you as a standalone. It allowed me to further explore the origins of the donai, something that I was still fleshing out in 2017. 

Like all of my works, Dominion and its companion works are all complete, standalone works, with a beginning, middle, and end. 

There are no cliffhangers. 

You do not need to read any of the short stories or novellas in order for them to make sense.

Available now from your favorite retailer.

Audio version of “Bonds of Love and Duty”

I’m a very visual person and always have been. If I see it I can memorize it, learn it, remember it, etc. But listening has always been a bit more challenging. I get distracted–usually by visual stuff.

But I really wanted to hear my short story, “Bonds of Love and Duty” being read. It’s been out in Fantastic Hope (edited by Laurell K. Hamilton and William McCaskey) since April. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I can tell you that I got chills. I’ve held copies of the book in my hand, I’ve seen it in stores, but listening to it still made quite an impression.

And it did bring up a question for all of you. I remember audio books as being read/narrated without “voices.” In other words, the narrator would read them with emotion and a bit of “acting” but not attempt to impersonate the characters’ dialogue. Does a man reading a woman’s dialogue as falsetto, or a woman reading a man’s dialogue by lowering her voice bother you? I can see lowering the voice for a whisper or raising it for a shout, but if a character is gasping for air, or crying, do you want to hear that re-enacted? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Excerpt from Caliborne’s Curse

The mechanics of creativity is very interesting. We–meaning a bunch of us writers–were judiciously avoiding the actual act of writing on a chat and the subject of urban fantasy tropes and heroines came up. I then casually mentioned that I not only own a sword but have been known to use it. This would not come as a surprise to my social media friends, but it may come as a surprise to some of my readers and it was a surprise to the writers in the chat.

Caliborne’s Curse was written on a whim in 2017 because of this chat but stayed in my pile of unpublished works because genre-wise it doesn’t quite fit in anywhere. It’s kind of tongue-in-cheek as it pokes at the tropes of the Mary-Sue urban fantasy heroine: she of the magical combat-only coordination; she of the plain-but-gorgeous visage; she of “the one” with the man-harem.

But when Jim Curtis approached me about this anthology and said I could submit anything, regardless of genre, I realized that Caliborne’s Curse had found a home.


No way this ends well.

Mallory Caliborne winced as she lowered the sword and reluctantly looked up. Dried paint and plaster drifted down like fine snow. Except it wasn’t snowing. And the six-inch slash in the ceiling was no cloud, silver-lined or otherwise. 

The powder settled like dandruff atop the black CitroLu spandex of her tee-top. The Italian woman on the television kept going, slashing the fourth of an eight-cut sequence, all set to music, in some high-end studio filled with mirrors and overly coordinated fitness-types. And very high ceilings. 

Mallory muted the sound and set the old katana on the second-hand couch she’d pushed to the wall to clear enough space to “Forza her way to fitness” as the DVD cover promised. She’d done a decent job of rearranging everything. No sense in slicing through the television. But she hadn’t thought about the ceiling.  

The previous four lessons had all used angled cuts like two-to-eight or ten-to-four but today, her caffeine-fueled straight up and down cuts had been … enthusiastic. 

Sure. The landlord will buy that. 

She saw her deposit shrink to zero. After the flood, the fire, and the frogs, she thought she’d used up a lifetime’s supply of bad luck. What was next? Fiery hail? Locusts? Darkness? Come to think of it, there had been that three-day power outage starting on the day she’d moved in. Cross darkness off the list. Only two to go. She sighed.

The house had been a bit of a wreck to begin with, but she’d been desperate and a six-month lease was hard to come by. Great location. Good price. Vacant. Furnished. The previous tenant had been a packrat—an eccentric packrat. Borderline hoarder, probably. But, no dead bodies had been unearthed after she’d taken possession. That would’ve been too much. Even for New Orleans.

She could put up with almost anything for six months. 

All the clutter had given her the impression that some old person had once lived here, some collector or academic. She hadn’t even begun to deal with the walls and walls of books, other than to note that not a single one was written in anything even resembling the Roman alphabet.

The sword had seemed like one of those cheap props you see at uber-geek conventions. Until she’d found the DVDs. Some were serious training videos, all in Japanese, featuring men who never smiled, realistically hacking at each other with curved wooden swords. No samurai movies though. Not a one. The workout video was the only one in English. So very strange. 

She turned the television off and put some water to boil in a kettle.

Maybe the previous tenant had been an urban fantasy fan-girl with a cargo-cult belief system. The kind of woman who fancied herself a warrior by virtue of having a katana laying around for no reason. Said belief system hoped that the virtue of having something like said sword would result in the delivery of a desired cargo. In the urban fantasy context that would no doubt consist of a man-harem. 

She smiled. Oh, that wouldn’t be bad. Not bad at all. Mmm. Better than fiery hail and locusts any day. And with all the clutter around here the honey-do list could be long enough to justify a whole harem. Maybe the previous tenant hadn’t been so crazy after all.  

The kettle whistled and she set about making jasmine tea. Of all the kanji-bedazzled tins in the cupboard, she’d been brave enough to try only the one with a prominent jasmine flower on the lid. No sweetner. She added sugar to the top of her shopping list. Just for grins and giggles she added condoms.

Hand wrapped around the tiny cup, she returned to the living room to pack up the sword and rearrange her furniture before heading to the hardware store for a ladder. 

She moved the cushions around, looking for the cond—she shook her head and her grin widened—the pretty silk sheath that she’d found the sword in.

Ouch.

The cup wobbled, spilling tea.

Great. Now she had a cut and a burn.

Several drops of tea swirled on the end of the bloody sword-tip. Frowning, she bent to get a closer look at the play of light as she sucked her finger.

“Please,” a deep voice rumbled from behind. Mallory pivoted and scrambled backward, knocking stuff over as she went, the bloody finger preventing a scream. 

“Allow Ambrose to do that for you,” the heavily accented voice added.

Bloody hell. Some vampire-movie reject from the theme-bar down the street had walked right in. She inched away, eyeing the distance to the couch where the sword lay. Too far. She threw the cup at his drop-undead-gorgeous head, and ran for it. On cue, she pulled a Mallory special, tripping over her own two feet like she was some young-adult novel heroine—except that she was clumsy all the time, not magically coordinated for all combat scenes. Of the many leaning towers of books gave way. She ducked underneath her crossed arms as the books pummeled her, one after the other. 

Thunk, thunk, thunk.

Continue reading “Excerpt from Caliborne’s Curse”

Excerpt from “Terms of Surrender”

Brennan turned, blue eyes full of mischief, a twist of a smile on his face. It was the trim beard that had thrown her. But she’d recognized those sky-blue eyes that promised storms and lightning. 

The noise of the terminal faded to nothing. The crowd did too, becoming shadows without substance, a tide that parted for her as if by magic.

Her feet carried her towards him as if they had a will of their own.

His hands were in her hair, strong fingers pulling her up towards his mouth, their hearts resonating through the fabric of their clothes. His scent—oh, she’d missed that clean, man-smell so much—floated around her.

Their lips and tongues met—collided, dueled, renewed their acquaintance—and then retreated. He trailed a kiss down to her neck, tucking his head into the bend above her shoulder.

“I’ve missed you so,” he whispered, the sound of it rumbling against the hand she had on his chest.

Wrapped in the safety of his arms, her doubts and fears melted away like tears in the rain. It was what he did. Made her feel safe and loved and valued in a way no one and nothing else could. It was a different kind of “safe” from the one that she could create for herself.

Yes, power was an aphrodisiac, alright. The nature of power, however, remained tenuous, undefined … raw.

Read the rest in Men in Uniform.

Excerpt from The Cerberus Project

David Weber and I both have stories in Robert E. Hampson’s upcoming The Founder Effect anthology (coming from Baen books in December). We thought it might be fun to share excerpts from our stories with you. You can find the excerpt from David’s story, Kamekura, here.


For Norman Borlaug, the man who saved a billion lives.

***

Mina squinted into Cistercia’s dawn as she pulled her scarf up and over her nose. Moisture settled into the corners of her eyes. The wind tugged the wetness across her chilled skin like tears.

Above, TRAPPIST-2 was at its zenith, very much like the Sun in Earth’s sky. Wispy clouds were drifting in, promising another chilly day. 

They had been lucky. Cistercia was so Earth-like, so promising. An ideal candidate, as it were. Or as close as humanity had found.

It had taken two days to climb up the foothills overlooking Antonia, the colony’s primary landing site.

Terraforming packages had landed on Cistercia years before. They had been followed by pre-landing drop-pods. The drones had cleared and plowed the surrounding land for agriculture. When the colonists landed, prefab domes and shelters had been waiting for them. They now squatted in the distance, neatly arranged with the larger dome in the center.

Still like a lake, Cistercia’s ocean shimmered on the other side of Antonia. No moon meant no tides. Of all the things Mina had thought she’d miss coming here, the Earth’s moon had not been one of them. 

A warm weight leaned into Mina’s leg. She petted the ewe’s curly head and earned herself a happy bleat. 

The thunk-thunk-thunk of a four-legged robot approached, its body slung low, just like a border collie in intimidation mode. It growled and barked at the ewe. Mina was standing close to a ledge and since the sheep had poor depth perception, One was simply doing its job.

The ewe retreated into the safety of the flock, nudging aside several sheep to put as much distance between herself and the odd thing that looked and behaved like a dog, but didn’t smell like one.

“Good d—robot,” Mina said.

No anthropomorphizing.  She’d promised. They all had. The Cerberus robots were to remain simply, One, Two, and Three. The numbers were even painted in reflective safety yellow on both “shoulders” and atop the domes of their heads.

The robotics people had outdone themselves. At first, they’d tried simpler robots that only resembled dogs because they had four legs, but the sheep didn’t respond to them. Herding worked only because sheep responded to the herding dog’s body-language. So the robots had been upgraded and made to look as much like a dog as possible. The servos, motors and hydraulic lines were covered in a pliable material that allowed them to move like dogs. Instead of fur, they were covered in segmented armor.  

During the final testing phase, the robots had been sent out among the colonists. Their dog-like facial movements were real enough that the colonists quickly fell into the habit of treating them as if they were actual dogs. It didn’t seem to matter that their cybernetic lenses didn’t have the warmth of a dog’s eyes, or that their bodies weren’t soft and yielding to the touch, or that the sounds they made were mere recordings. It didn’t matter that they didn’t pant or lick.

Inevitably, people would pat them on the head or cuddle them. There had been multiple attempts to teach them to fetch, shake, and roll over. Someone had even hacked into the behavioral programming to make them circle three times before laying down, supposedly as a joke.

Alysster Wallace, the chief roboticist, had turned purple and sputtered with rage. It had taken him days to calm down. After the “sabotage” of his heuristics he’d wanted to start over, but the need to move the sheep upland was too dire. The Cerberus robots wouldn’t be getting the ideal of the brand new million-trial education that Dr. Wallace wanted. 

Cerberus Three was bigger than One and Two. Closer to the size of a Great Dane, it doubled as a pack animal, carrying essential supplies for Mina and the smaller do—robots. 

She tugged at the strap of her shotgun, repositioning it from where it had shifted so she could pull out her whistle. It was old and worn, but it had served her family for five generations. If Mina had her way, it would serve them for five more. 

Leaning on her shepherd’s crook, she took a deep breath and put her tongue up against the inside curve of the whistle, drew it into her mouth and made the two short spurts of the “walk up” command. 

Like shepherds of old, it was Mina’s job to take her herd to better pastures and return with a larger, fatter herd.


Can’t wait to read the rest? You can get the advanced eARC of this great, new hard-SF anthology today from the Baen website.