In The Company of Maps!

REMINDER: In the Company of Strangers, my Patreon-exclusive novella, will drop this Tuesday. It’s definitely not too late to subscribe ($5 and up gets the novella!) and get the story!


Here’s a map I drew specifically to make sense of what I was writing for In the Company of Strangers, so I thought I’d share it with you. I love maps, and I tend to sketch them as I go, and then refer to them as I revise to make sure what I’m writing makes sense. It gets really iterative–I end up adding to the map as I revise, too, because there are little details I write in that I’ve forgotten about (like the grain fields).

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From my Patreon:

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It’s done! It’s polished; it’s edited! It needs all the finagling and publishing stuff. You know, a cover. Book layouts. Conversions to .mobi, .epub, .pdf. I’ll record an audio version. All of that prepping and production and finagling will probably take a couple of weeks, but I JUST WANTED TO LET YOU KNOW.

Y’all, I really like this one. It’s all political machinations and obliterating self-truth-revelations and unlikely friendships. I hope you like it, too.

It’s titled “The Adviser and the Diplomat”, and it’ll be delivered unto by the end of the month, cross my heart.


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This story will be accessible to subscribers at all tier levels of my Patreon, starting at $1. For more information about my Patreon tiers and rewards, go here.

ARIAH Countdown: ARIAH and Overlapping Timelines in Aerdh

click through to pre-order!

click through to pre-order!

As I’ve mentioned in other posts , Ariah is set in the same secondary universe—Aerdh—as many of my other pieces of fiction. If curious to see where Ariah fits in chronologically to those other pieces of Aerdh-based fiction, check out this handy timeline I made below!

click to enlarge

click to enlarge

The width of the boxes above corresponds to the timeline below: longer boxes mean the story covers more years. The height of the boxes corresponds to the word count of the piece: taller boxes mean the story took more words to tell.

The blue boxes are “canon” works—those which have been published or accepted for publication. I consider something canon when it’s accepted for publication because that’s the point at which I stop fiddling with it, and it becomes a fixed point in the world of Aerdh; these works serve as scaffolding, or the ‘bones’ of the other works.

The gray boxes are unpublished works that are ready or very nearly ready to be submitted for publication. They’re included to give you a sense of scope and the degree of overlap between my Aerdh-based fiction.

ARIAH Countdown: The Value of Magic

click through to pre-order!

click through to pre-order!

A defining trait of Ariah is the presence of magic. It’s a key element of the world of Aerdh, the book’s setting, and it’s a defining feature of the titular character. The fact that Ariah is, among other things, a magical creature, gets the narrative going—the book starts with him seeking out a mentor who will guide him to mastery over his magical gifts. Such training is traditional for Semadran elves like him, and his particular combination of gifts are rare enough that finding a suitable mentor takes him far from home. Ariah’s gifts are strong enough, formidable enough, that he eventually must take on a second mentor even farther from home to fully understand himself.

Writing fiction is an art defined by choice. So, what drove my choice to weave magic into this book, and to place it so prominently? What makes magic, as an idea, valuable to the reader? And what makes magic, as a fact in Ariah’s world, valuable to him and those around him?

The truth is that magic as an idea is only as valuable as I make it to the reader and to Ariah. It is a clear case of “show, don’t tell.” I can tell you it’s valuable—but unless I shore up that claim with worldbuilding and details and narrative tension then you, as the reader, won’t feel that value. It won’t add anything to your experience of the book.

For Ariah, the value of his magic is a double-edged sword: on the one hand, it grants him great insight into those around him. It makes him prescient; it makes him astute. Given his social position as an elf in a Qin-led society, there is value in this. Anyone who has ever been marginalized knows that it pays to pay close attention to those in power. It’s always useful to be the most knowledgeable man in the room. Over the course of the book, his magic saves his life and others’ lives quite literally.

But there is a danger to his magic, too. As protective as his magic can be, the use of Ariah’s magic has the potential to get him arrested, impressed into military service against his will or rejected by friends and loved ones. The use of it sometimes comes at a steep cost for complex, layered reasons: issues of personal privacy, issues of cultural confusion and purity, issues of outright oppression. All of these things weigh on Ariah’s mind in the moments when he must decide when to use his magic and when not to.

For me, a recurrent theme in Ariah is the toll exploitation takes on marginalized people. This is best captured in the relationship the Qin Imperials have towards the Semadran elves’ magic—they use it, constantly, to improve the Empire, but berate it, constantly, as unclean and impure. Elves with a facility for what is called patternwork (something akin to real-world engineering) are assigned work in research laboratories and paid a pittance to design bigger, better factories and military machinery. Those elves continue to live in the ghettos while the Qin profit off their magically influenced creations. Ariah and his mentor, Dirva, get work as linguists, helping to translate in diplomatic parleys between far-flung ambassadors. That Ariah and Dirva know these languages and can learn them extremely quickly due to their magical biological wiring only seems to matter functionally insomuch as it means they can be paid very little.

The Qin have evolved religious reasons why magic is impure. Rationales always spring up to explain away injustices and support the status quo; this is a social fact. By the time Ariah tells his story, these rationales have been ensconced in law, codified and enshrined. His life is structured such that the Qin are able to get the maximum value out of his magic while he reaps the least amount of profit from it—because he is impure for having magic in the first place.

But magic, because it so totally shapes how Ariah perceives and relates to the world around him, also becomes a primary means of his small acts of resistance against the system exploiting him. In the doing, Ariah exists in that tension between the value and the danger of his magic for much of the book.

ARIAH Countdown: Building a Genderqueer Culture

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Being gay, lesbian or bisexual isn’t an issue. Homophobia is the issue. While it’s a significant problem in the real world, I think that leaving it behind in a fantasy world is a wonderful and empowering way to say that being gay really is OK.

The above quote was written by Malinda Lo in regard to her novels Ash and Huntress. She writes about how in creating the secondary fantasy worlds in which her queer characters live she as the writer was presented with a choice—are these worlds homophobic, or are they not? Will her characters experience stigma for their queerness, or will their queerness simply be another kind of love?

I read Lo’s article just this week, but it got me thinking about why and how I created one of the cultures within Ariah. Towards the end of the book, in desperate straits, Ariah is forced to wander the eastern grasslands where the nomadic Droma elves live. The Droma elves are a hunted people—taken as slaves by both the Qin Empire where Ariah himself hails from and by the pirate colonies to the south of the Empire. The fact that they are hunted makes them necessarily wary of outsiders. The fact that they trickle into the Empire as slaves means that Ariah, who has a great facility for languages, has already learned to speak Droma by listening to the slaves at market.

One thing about the Droma language that has fascinated Ariah long before he ever meets the Droma in the grasslands (he keeps his distance from the slaves) is that they do not define gender as he himself does (or as most people in the real western world do):

And there was the question of gender, too. At first, it seemed binaristic like most other languages, like Qin and Semadran. There were terms for male and female, differentiations I heard the slaves use for those not of their culture and for animals. But I never heard them use such distinctions towards themselves. It took me some time to parse it, but it became increasingly clear that the Droma did not understand themselves as men or women, but simply as people. The slaves in the city, likely as a means of survival, acknowledged that we divided ourselves as such, and they must have understood that we divided them that way, too, but in the conversations I overheard they only ever used variations on the word voe—the Droma word for “person”—to refer to other Droma and themselves. It fascinated me—how could something so fundamental and so obvious as gender go unseen among them? And what did it mean? How could I be myself without being a man? I wanted very much to understand it, but it was elusive and exotic and always just out of my reach. I couldn’t help but gender them while listening: that one is a male person who is speaking to a female person went my thoughts.

Once Ariah is out in the grasslands, his only hope of survival is to be adopted by a Droma clan. When, by a stroke of luck, he is adopted by a Droma clan, he is confronted with this question of gender (or, rather, the lack of it) again:

I remembered the strangeness of Droma gender. I tried very hard to ignore all the signs of biological sex, to see the child as a person, as voe. If I was to encroach on their lands and ask for their help in survival, I felt the least I could do was get this one basic thing right. But it was hard. It took a very long time before it was easy, or natural, and even then it was hard.

So, here’s the thing about the Droma: to many of you out there they may seem strange. To me, they don’t. I’m genderqueer. I would fit right in. I didn’t set out to build a culture around that, one where I would fit right in—and actually I probably would only fit in in terms of gender because I really hate moving and am otherwise unsuited to a nomadic lifestyle. But the Droma evolved into an agender/genderqueer culture in my worldbuilding quite naturally. When it came time to decide, explicitly, whether they had genders it was easy for me to decide that they didn’t, largely for the reasons that Lo cited above.

Being trans* and/or gender-variant isn’t an issue. Transphobia and unexamined binarism is the issue.

Now this is already a long post, I know, but if you want to know more about what I mean by that, feel free to keep reading. I take a very materialistic approach to worldbuilding, especially as it regards to gender roles within a given culture. And, historically, cultures marred by a lack of resources—cultures characterized by lack and want—develop into very rigid gendered structures. Protection of lineage, parentage, and all that.

But the opposite often proves true as well. If the population is small, and if resources are abundant, then there’s no pressing need to pay strict attention to gender—note that paying strict attention to gender is code for controlling women’s bodies. But it could also mean literally just noticing and codifying gender period.

So, for the Droma, for whom the grasslands provide plentiful resources, and for whom roles in the clan are divvied up based on age and skill, gender literally doesn’t come up. Food and other resources are shared. Childrearing is communal, so lineages are not tied to inheritance or wealth or even parentage the same way they are in, say, the Qin Empire. It is a culture in which gender does not make sense. Even though the Droma have the same biological plumbing as Ariah (as you and I do), it’s still a culture where gender as a social construct does not make sense.

One wonders what kind of culture shock this means for the Droma who get taken as slaves—this is not yet something I’ve explored in my writing. Something I do know is that it has created a kind of minor reverse culture shock in some of my beta readers. At least one of the quotes above was added in edits due to feedback received because a reader thought Ariah adjusted to the Droma’s concept of gender too quickly.

I’ve said before that I like speculative fiction’s ability to pose radical ‘what ifs’. I think this is one of those for me. What if such a culture existed? What would it be like? For me, those are powerful questions worth asking.

ARIAH Countdown: A Short History of ARIAH

Today’s post is essentially a post-mortem. This is a short history of how Ariah the book came to be written, and then how it came to be published. I am always interested in that kind of contextual backstory, so I thought maybe some of you out there might be interested in it, too. Remember, you can pre-order Ariah here!

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ARIAH Countdown: What you missed on Radio Z

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click through to pre-order!

In case you missed it, I was invited to participate in The Written Word, Zharmae’s weekly radio show. The live show took place yesterday afternoon, and the focus was on food in fantasy book. Both Christy Jones, author of Trinka and the Thousand Talismans, and I discussed food in fantasy literature in depth–everything from GRR Martin’s love of bacon to the way food symbolizes trust in fairy tales. The episode is definitely worth a listen, and you can hear it for free here!

I wanted to make sure my faithful blog readers were not left out of the Radio Z fun, though. On the show I shared this excerpt from Ariah:

I wandered east, endlessly east. After three days of travel, just as my supplies began to run out, I found a river and followed it further east. I survived mostly on edible water grasses and fish. I felt guilty about the fish until I managed to snare and eat a rabbit. I wept when I killed it and skinned it, and wept again when I ate it. It was a struggle to keep the meat down; the wrongness of it was overwhelming. Still, I needed the protein badly. After that first rabbit, I became carnivorous and killed and ate whatever animals I could.

This scene takes place nearly three-quarters of the way through the book. Ariah has faced capture, and has just managed to escape. By this point in the book the reader knows that Ariah was raised in a vegetarian culture–we have seen him turn down meat dishes politely, thoughtlessly, out of habit more than once.

Semadran culture, in which Ariah was raised, lives under the thumb of the Qin. The level of structural oppression the Semadran elves like Ariah live with due to the Qin leaks into every part of their culture–right down to the food they eat. They live in poverty, so richer and more caloric foods (like meat) are much harder for Ariah’s community to come by. Ariah’s people live in restricted neighborhoods with enforced curfews, far from the fresh markets, so food that spoils quickly is not practical, either. A plant-based diet is more practical.

But on an ethical/spiritual/political level (these things are tied together in complex ways for Semadran elves), there is another level of meaning here. Semadran elves are decidedly nonviolent, and this extends to their diet. In a social position where they find themselves mercilessly beaten, imprisoned, executed often by the Qin, one form of resistance may be a refusal to eat another being.

All of this rushes to the surface in this scene where Ariah, forced by circumstance, first eats a fish and later eats a rabbit. He has to do it. He has to eat that rabbit to stay alive. He knows this, but in the doing, he confronts a lifetime of enculturation. And he comes undone.

He comes undone, but his body overrides his shame and guilt. He so badly needs the nutrients and the protein that his hesitance is quickly overcome. This becomes the new normal for him at a pace which disturbs him.

ARIAH cover reveal!

ARIAHCoverI CANNOT TELL YOU ALL how much I love this cover!! The cover art was created by the enormously talented C. Bedford, and I am honored to have my book represented by her work. If you, too, are enamored of the magic she worked with ARIAH’s cover then I heartily recommend a stroll through C. Bedford’s deviant art page here.

One of the reasons* I signed with LSM/Zharmae was, honestly, the quality of their cover designs. Despite the old adage, everyone really does judge a book by its cover. Covers are important–they communicate the level of professionalism that has gone into the book. They communicate the artistry of the book, the genre, conventions adhered to or broken. They can describe or mislead you about the book’s protagonist. Getting a good cover for ARIAH was important to me.

One of the big decisions, when you write a book nowadays, is whether to go solo and self-publish or to sign with a house. The houses, be they big or small, generally cut the authors out of the cover design process. So if you’re a control freak (and most authors kind of are, especially about how their books are being portrayed) then this part is hard. Trust is involved. Trust is not always easy to have. This time the trust totally worked out.

Zharmae did a wonderful job finding and hiring on C. Bedford. C. Bedford did a wonderful job capturing my characters and my book. Thank you to all parties involved! you about the protagonist.

On Finishing THE INCOMING TIDE

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According to my meticulously kept daily writing records, I started planning out The Incoming Tide last October two days after finishing Extraction. The records show fairly steady work on it, interrupted now and again for a burst of short stories or focused edits on other projects further down the publishing pipeline. Still, I didn’t finish the first draft of The Incoming Tide until May 22nd. It clocked in at 70k words, which is on the slim side for a novel. It took me seven months to crank out 70k words. Maybe that’s not slow, but it certainly felt slow to me—Ariah is a hefty 128k words and I wrote it in a little under three months. Ariah is nearly twice as long and took half the time, so what gives?

The Incoming Tide was an altogether different beast. Ariah was a second draft. It was a substantively rewritten second draft, but still it was a second draft. I knew the characters. I knew the shape and color of the narrative. I knew, in short, what I was writing. So there’s that: first drafts feel different, and for me, they often take a little more time to get out. And, actually, referring once again to my copious records, The Incoming Tide is the only first draft of a novel I’ve written since I started trying to get my work out there. Everything else had been rewrites. Extraction, the volume preceding Tide in the Tale of Rebellion series, is on its fourth draft.

But it was more than that. Tide felt sometimes hard to write. I felt a weird pressure while living in that book. Drafting and redrafting and redrafting Extraction meant that I could never quite move past it. Tide was like a light at the end of that tunnel. Tide was the promised land. It’s strange, you know, getting finally to that blinding light. It takes awhile for your eyes to adjust. It took me some time to find the rhythm of Tide, to find the style and voice of it.

Of course as soon as I finished Tide I started planning the follow-up book, The King and His Makers. Of course I did. But I’ve taken a couple of weeks off from it to queue up blog posts, to work on edits for Ariah, to ponder life. A little bit of space, I think, will take the edge off and make the first draft of King a little less scary.

Call for Beta Readers: EXTRACTION & THE INCOMING TIDE

Hi friends!

I’m looking for a few brave and candid beta readers to provide feedback on the first two novels in a series. I’m sketching out the third novel in the series, and I’m 99% sure there will be a fourth volume as well. Leave a comment or use the form below if you’d like to get in on the ground floor of this series!

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Times are desperate for the red elves: a generation of rebellion has brought them nothing but a decimated population and a shrinking army plagued with low morale. Dealing with heavy losses and now out of options, the elvish captains retreat to devise a new strategy which just might turn the tide of the war to their favor. While the captains bicker about theoretical tactics, their beleaguered soldiers are left behind to hold off the Lothic Army.

EXTRACTION follows the Cardinal’s Clutch: last fighting band of elvish guerrilla strikers left on the front lines. Old loyalties are sorely tested when their captain, Li, returns with orders for a suicidal mission. As the strikers of the Clutch travel across mountains, through deserts and back into a country that would see them dead, three of Li’s soldiers—the young and ruthless interim captain Rethnali, the bitter medic Sellior, and Li’s old friend and confidant Vathorem—begin to suspect this last mission is not what it seems.

Set in the unique and finely realized fantasy universe of Aerdh, EXTRACTION is the first of a series of books about the Lothic Elvish Rebellion. EXTRACTION is about the toll of war, the price of loyalty, and the cost of building a better future.

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As hard as guerrilla warfare on her own turf was, negotiating with pirates is far worse. Following the events of EXTRACTION, Rethnali finds herself and her crew mired in deadly pirate politics, surviving a sea voyage and finally laying siege to an unsuspecting port city. Lives are lost and new lives come into the world. Friendships splinter, and new ones blossom in their place. Everything changes.

Set in the unique and finely realized fantasy universe of Aerdh, THE INCOMING TIDE is a completed fantasy novel 70,000 words in length and the second in a series of books about the Lothic Elvish Rebellion. THE INCOMING TIDE is about victory, grief, and hope.