Thursday, December 6, 2018

Fade to Black

So, it's time for those end-of-the-year lists, and one of the classics is the Bad Sex Award, and this year it's some really glorious badness.  Looking at these ignoble entries, I'm reminded of why I tend to err on the side of "fading to black" when things are going to go much past kissing. 

Of course, anything resembling erotica or explicit sex would not fit in with the tone I've set for the Maradaine books.  Those tend to fit in the same category as PG-13 movies/primetime television, in terms of what I'm going for with them.  Not quite YA, but certainly friendly to a YA-seeking audience. 

BUT-- I've got a non-Maradaine project on the horizon, just in the planning stage, and I think the tone and feel for that one is going to want something a bit more explicit.  We'll see.  Still sorting it out, but I'd like to think this is an opportunity to build a new set of tools for my writing toolbox.

Or an opportunity to make that year's awards. 

But that's a challenge for tomorrow.  Right now I'm working on Shield of the People and The Fenmere Job, both of which will have their share of kissing and fading-to-black.  Who's kissing who, and when do we fade?  Well, you'll have to see.  But I will say that characters who were noted by some readers as not getting to kiss anyone in earlier books will be kissing people in these.

Back to work.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Holiday Books

So, I have to confess, I'm not much of one for holiday books.  I certainly would struggle to pick a favorite.

Of course, I do have a deep fondness for A Christmas Carol.  It's a fantastic story, that's at the same time deceptively simple in structure, yet rich and complex in execution. And I kind of love that it went from concept to in-stores in six weeks as a "damn I need some fast money" ploy.  Which: mad respect.

On a simpler level, I love A Visit from St. Nicholas.  It's such a pure and delightful story of Christmas joy, and there was a time when I could recite it for memory.  Now I might stop and stumble a bit if I tried.  But as a story, as a piece of poetry, it's a deep favorite for me. 

I think both, for me, represent something fundamental and pure about my feelings of the season.  Like: hey, here's a little bit of the magic of Christmas, and maybe, just maybe, experiencing it will make you a slightly better person. 

That's how I like to think of it, at least.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

TITANSHADE: The Debut You Should Get Next Year



Happy Thanksgiving, all!  Today I am thankful for all the love and joy that I have received this year, and especially in the last week.  PhilCon was a lovely time, and the folks running it were all wonderful.  Plus I got to see some old friends that I hadn't seen for decades, which was lovely as well.  And now I want to pay that love forward, by talking about a new debut that you should put on your radar.

I am talking about TITANSHADE by Dan Stout.  This book looks like a heck of a lot of fun.  When I read the description I jokingly called it Scorcesepunk, but it is a secondary world fantasy of tough street-cops in a world of 8-tracks, disco and sorcery.  It looks like everything you wanted Bright to be if it had been made in 1976.  I am deeply excited for this sucker to come out, and it will on MARCH 12th, 2019.  So GO PRE-ORDER THIS BABY.

This noir fantasy thriller from a debut author introduces the gritty town of Titanshade, where danger lurks around every corner.

Carter's a homicide cop in Titanshade, an oil boomtown where 8-tracks are state of the art, disco rules the radio, and all the best sorcerers wear designer labels. It's also a metropolis teetering on the edge of disaster. As its oil reserves run dry, the city's future hangs on a possible investment from the reclusive amphibians known as Squibs.

But now negotiations have been derailed by the horrific murder of a Squib diplomat. The pressure's never been higher to make a quick arrest, even as Carter's investigation leads him into conflict with the city's elite. Undermined by corrupt coworkers and falsified evidence, and with a suspect list that includes power-hungry politicians, oil magnates, and mad scientists, Carter must find the killer before the investigation turns into a witch-hunt and those closest to him pay the ultimate price on the filthy streets of Titanshade.
Happy Thanksgiving!  Give thanks, read books.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

PHILCON Bound

Hey all!  I'm off to PhilCon this weekend, and if you're around, please come say hello.  Here's my full schedule.   And what's my Special Presentation?  It's a surprise!  (But it'll involve a selection of readings.  And almost no Rat Pack singing.) 

Fri 8:00 PM in Plaza III (Three)—Fantasy Without Fantasy? How much actual supernaturalism or other fantastic elements (dragons, magic, elves, etc.) does a fantasy story require? There are examples of books marketed as fantasy, set in imaginary places, that contain no fantastic elements- How do they function within the genre?
Jim Stratton (mod), Ken Altabef, Sally Wiener Grotta, Carl Paolino, Marshall Ryan Maresca, Anna Kashina

Sat 10:00 AM in Plaza IV (Four)—DCEU: A Light at the End of the Tunnel? We all know that Warner Brothers has had a bit of the problem with their DCEU movies. But the latest trailers for Aquaman & SHAZAM look like they’re finally turning the page to a Brand New Day...
Barna William Donovan (mod), Marshall Ryan Maresca, Andre Lieven, Orenthal Hawkins

Sat 12:00 PM in Executive Suite 623—Readings: Saturday Noon Marshall Ryan Maresca (mod), Sally Wiener Grotta

Sat 1:00 PM in Grand Ballroom A—Presentation by Special Guest Marshall Ryan Maresca Marshall Ryan Maresca (mod)

Sat 4:00 PM in Plaza II (Two)—The City As a theme and an image in science fiction. Think of Ghost in the Shell, Blade Runner, New York 2140, and Metropolis. How does the nature of a city inform the stories set within it?
Carl Paolino (mod), Marshall Ryan Maresca, Tom Purdom, Kim Kindya, Eric Parmer, Ty Drago

Sat 5:00 PM in Autograph Table—Autographs: Saturday 5pm Marshall Ryan Maresca (mod), Chris Kreuter

Sat 10:00 PM in Crystal Ballroom Two—Shows We’re (Still) Not Over The Endings Of Whether it was because of a surprise cancellation that left us with a massive cliffhanger, or the intentional plotting of a Machiavellian team of writers, some series ended in ways that- even years later- make us want to shriek. What finale left you agape?
Tony Finan (mod), Marshall Ryan Maresca, Alyce Wilson, Hildy Silverman, Tee Morris

Sun 11:00 AM in Plaza V (Five)—Writing A Film-Friendly Novel What elements should you keep in mind while writing a novel if you're hoping to eventually see it onscreen?
Richard Stout (mod), Elizabeth Crowens, Barna William Donovan, Marshall Ryan Maresca, Carl Paolino, Michael D'Ambrosio

Sun 1:00 PM in Crystal Ballroom Three—When Less Is MoreWe've talked a lot over the years about how to avoid infodumping, or at least, giving your readers information in a way that is entertaining and easy to parse. But sometimes the question you ought to ask is not how to insert all the facts about the world you've built, but "is it necessary?"
Vikki Ciaffone (mod), Steven Brust, Marshall Ryan Maresca, Bernie Mojzes, Danielle Ackley-McPhail

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Embracing the Hostile Read

There's an old saying, "No text can survive a hostile read." 

I also like this exchange from the West Wing, when Sam Seaborn is told that a passage from a speech given by the First Lady has angered an activist group.
SAM: I don't see it.
CJ: You have to want it to see it.

Here's the thing about writing anything: everyone is going to come at it with their own biases, their own take.  Once you send it out into the world, you have no way to control how people are going to take it.  And, more specifically, if people are going to want to misread your text, bring their hostile read to you, you really have to just take it.

I'm not saying this to address any specific or recent review-- in fact I've been quite pleased with the recent reviews for THE WAY OF THE SHIELD-- but more as a sort of zen reminder that people will find the things that they connect to, that they can interpret with their own biases, and even though it doesn't match my intentions... that doesn't matter.

I'm kind of arguing for "the death of the author", I know, but the point is, all I can do is put it on the page.  If the reader finds something there I didn't intend, that's how it is.  In fact, I think it's great to embrace that, and see what I can learn.  Isn't that what it's about, after all?  Constantly trying to learn, grow and improve?

That's my goal, at least.
--
Hey, are you in the northeast?  What are you doing next weekend?  Me, I'm the Special Guest at PhilCon!  If you can, come on out, and come say hello!   

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Point of View and Trust

Point-of-View is one of those funny things writers get very worked up about.  And I’ve noticed, reading through some older books I have, making concrete POV choices is a relatively recent development.  I mean, yes, certainly, the distinction between first-person and third-person (and the rare second-person) was always clear.  But third-person was often more of a muddled third-person-omniscient instead of the discrete multi-person third-person-limited, where individual scenes have a clear POV character.  Even the idea of a “POV Violation” as a writing mistake seems to be a relatively new thing.

Because, let me tell you, a lot of classics are just loaded with POV Violations.

However, the standard today, when writing third-person multiple-POV is for clear, discrete definition of whose head your in for any given scene or chapter. George R. R. Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice books do this explicitly, telling you who the POV character is instead of a chapter title.  I hear a lot of “rules” of how to do a POV character, who can be one in your book and when you can let them be one.  I’m of the opinion that who can be one and when is whoever you need it to be for the scene, whenever you need that scene to be.   Frankly, one of my favorite bits in The Holver Alley Crew is when Mila steals the dress from the rich woman, because it's from the woman's POV.  She's just a one-off character, that scene alone, and some people will tell you it's against the "rules", but I say BAH.

My big thing with POV is trust.  Unless the Unreliable Narrator is a technique you’re utilizing, then you have to present your POV character in an honest way.  You have to have trust in that character and their engagement in the plot.

Now, that doesn’t mean the POV is limited to the “good guys”.  I love my antagonist POVs, as long as they are antagonists that I can trust are being honest with how they engage in the plot.  If I have a character who is against the hero privately, but acts as his friend, and I don’t want the reader to know that… then that character can’t be a POV character.  But if I want that betrayal clear, then that’s exactly who I want as POV.

This was especially hard for me in A Murder of Mages, which is probably my most constrained work, POV-wise, in that I only have Satrine and Minox as POV characters.   This is because, at its core, it’s a murder mystery, and if you go into the head of murderer, then the mystery is given up.  By limiting the POV to my two Inspectors, then the reader has the same set of data that they do.
In The Way of the Shield, it’s more complicated than that, but similar rules of not using a character for POV apply.  There are people whose motivation and trustworthiness I want the reader to keep in question, even in a subconscious way.  Ideally, when their truths come to light, it will hit the reader like a hammer, because they might not have even suspected it.  That's where a lot of the fun is.

Right now, I'm working on The Fenmere Joband I've imposed one rule regarding POV on myself for it, because I think it's the best choice for the story.  But I might decide over the course of things to break that.  If that's what's best.   We'll see. 

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Portrait of the Writer as an Odd Kid

So, let's talk a bit about Marshall Was A Weird Kid. 

(I know, you're probably shocked.)

Now, despite the fact that I spent a good chunk of time watching and rewatching a bunch of bad movies, I did, in fact, have other activities, including going to summer camps.  One of the day camps I went to regularly was structured thusly: it had two-week sessions, in which you would register for a single course, be it theatre or computers or filmmaking or auto mechanics or what have you.  Whatever you signed up for? That was your morning for the two weeks.  The afternoon, though, was a little more loosely structured, in that there were a handful of varied activities, and you chose, daily, which ones you were signing up for.  One of the most popular afternoon ones was the limited-capacity trip to the local state park for swimming, which my sister made a point of signing up for Every. Single. Day.

That?  Was not me.

In fact, my first year there, I was seven, which was itself a bit odd because the camp was for 8-14 year-olds, and I think my mother got an exception made for me because my sister was there as well.  So there I was, the only seven-year-old among older kids, looking at choices for afternoon activities, most of which were outdoorsy and/or athletic, to which I was nope.  But then one caught my eye.

Typing.

Seven-year-old me signed up for a goddamn typing class that was mostly populated by teenagers who were there for summer school (the camp was held on the campus of a private school), and I'm pretty sure I was the only one from the camp who signed up for it.  But I signed up for it EVERY SINGLE DAY of my first session there.

Every day. Typing. At the age of seven.  And this was 1980, so it was on a typewriter.  That's how and when I learned, and obviously it was a valuable skill that stuck with me.

BUT, since that's how and when I learned, you're just going to have to accept that a double-space after a period is simply embedded in my muscle memory.  It's there, and there's no dislodging it.  So there we are.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

You Can Write The Book

So, here's the question put forth this week:  What do you want to tell someone who says 'I always wanted to write a book'?

My answer is always, YES DO IT.  DOOOOOOO ITTTTT.

DO IT.

Yeah, I'm not subtle about it.

And this is because I'm well aware that the world at large, not to mention those ugly voices that whisper in the night, is constantly sending a message that it can't be done.  That YOU cannot do it.  DON'T EVEN TRY.

I'm not about that.  I want you to do it.  I want you to try.  I want you to point to the damn bleachers and then swing as hard as you can so you'll crack that baby out of the park.

I've got an old friend from High School who recently got back in touch, and that's largely because he saw that I have a whole mess of books out there and he was all, "Well, damn, Marshall actually did it.  I always wanted to do it."  AND NOW HE IS.  He's pretty much got a completed draft and he's doing the research in the business end and asking the right questions and I COULD NOT BE PROUDER.

That's a big reason why I've made a point of working things like the ArmadilloCon Writers Workshop and the Writers League of Texas Conference.  Because I know that this "writing a book" thing is a brutal goddamn marathon and the least I can do is be there with water every few miles.

So you think you wanna do it?

DO IT.

Monday, October 1, 2018

THE WAY OF THE SHIELD releases TOMORROW

Happy October!  I'm happy to announce that THE WAY OF THE SHIELD is here!  I'm very excited, and I hope you are as well.  And if you haven't pre-ordered it yet, here's your last chance.  With the launch of this book and this series, we're starting the fourth (and final?) facet of the Maradaine sequence.   I'm hoping you'll love Dayne, Jerinne and the rest of the Maradaine Elite cast as much as you do Veranix, Kaiana, Satrine, Minox, Asti & Verci and Mila and the rest of the characters that populate Maradaine.

And if you are in the Austin area, I will be at the Barnes & Noble in Sunset Valley (5601 Brodie Ln #300, Austin, TX 78745) tomorrow, October 2nd at 7pm.  Come out, I've love to see all of you.
If you still need convincing, there's an excerpt below, and links to buy The Way of Shield at all your favorite online vendors.

READ AN EXCERPT
---
Dayne Heldrin always dreamed of being a member of the Tarian Order. In centuries past, the Elite Orders of Druthal were warriors that stood for order, justice, and the common people. But now, with constables, King's Marshals, and a standing army, there is little need for such organizations, and the Tarian Order is one of the last remnants of this ancient legacy. Nevertheless, Dayne trained his body and mind, learned the arts of defense and fighting, to become a candidate for the Tarian Order.

When a failed rescue puts Dayne at fault for injuring the child of a powerful family, his future with the Tarians is in jeopardy. The Parliament controls the purse strings for the Order, and Dayne has angered the wrong members of Parliament. He returns to the capital city of Maradaine in shame, ready to be cast out of the Order when the period of his candidacy ends.

Dayne finds Maradaine in turmoil, as revolutions and dark conspiracies brew around him, threatening members of Parliament and common people alike. Dayne is drawn into the uproar, desperate not to have one more death or injury on his conscience, but the Order wants him to stay out of the situation. The city threatens to tear itself apart, and Dayne must decide between his own future and his vow to always stand between the helpless and harm.
Goodreads Page for THE WAY OF THE SHIELDAvailable at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, IndieBound and more!

Thursday, September 20, 2018

THE WAY OF THE SHIELD Is Coming

We're now less than two weeks away from the release of THE WAY OF THE SHIELD, the first book of The Maradaine Elite.  I'm excited to be introducing these characters and this new facet of the Maradaine saga to readers.
Dayne Heldrin always dreamed of being a member of the Tarian Order. In centuries past, the Elite Orders of Druthal were warriors that stood for order, justice, and the common people. But now, with constables, King's Marshals, and a standing army, there is little need for such organizations, and the Tarian Order is one of the last remnants of this ancient legacy. Nevertheless, Dayne trained his body and mind, learned the arts of defense and fighting, to become a candidate for the Tarian Order.
When a failed rescue puts Dayne at fault for injuring the child of a powerful family, his future with the Tarians is in jeopardy. The Parliament controls the purse strings for the Order, and Dayne has angered the wrong members of Parliament. He returns to the capital city of Maradaine in shame, ready to be cast out of the Order when the period of his candidacy ends.
Dayne finds Maradaine in turmoil, as revolutions and dark conspiracies brew around him, threatening members of Parliament and common people alike. Dayne is drawn into the uproar, desperate not to have one more death or injury on his conscience, but the Order wants him to stay out of the situation. The city threatens to tear itself apart, and Dayne must decide between his own future and his vow to always stand between the helpless and harm.
Of course, launching a new series means there will be more books, and as this book is coming out, I'm finalizing the draft of the next one, THE SHIELD OF THE PEOPLE.  What's that going to be about?  Here's my first pass at a blurb, though it will probably need some refinement:
It’s a grand holiday week in the city of Maradaine, celebrating over two centuries of freedom and the foundation of the reunified modern nation, and with that comes parades, revelry… and protests and demonstrations. As Druthal is electing their new Parliament, a dissident group called The Open Hand seeks to disrupt elections and spread their message of dissolving Druthal into independent kingdoms. Leading the Open Hand is a mysterious and charismatic man, Bishop Ret Issendel.
Dayne Heldrin and Jerinne Fendall find themselves on the margins of the Tarian Order, lauded as heroes in public but scorned and ignored in private, and their future in the Order is hazy. Drawn into the intrigue of the Open Hand and kept apart by dark powerful conspiracies that brew around them, Dayne and Jerinne must both fight for their own principles, and protect the will of the people as the election is thrown into chaos.
I've really been loving playing with these characters in this series. Less than two weeks, so pre-order THE WAY OF THE SHIELD now!
Goodreads Page for THE WAY OF THE SHIELDAvailable at AmazonBarnes & NobleIndieBound and more!

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Long Term Planning, Fall 2018 Edition

I take the long term plan pretty seriously.   This is probably apparent.  To give you an idea, here's what my big productivity spreadsheet looks like right now. (With elements redacted)

To be clear: that has 59 projects on it, ranging in completeness from "Published" to "Vague Idea".  I have nine different levels of priority (ten if you count "complete", and thus not a priority at all).  I have color coding and project codes. 

I am not lacking for things to do, certainly.

Here's a closer look, still with redactions, so you can get a sense of how I use this to plan for the short term (what needs to be done NOW), medium term (looking ahead about next steps in each thing) and LONG term, because: there's 59 things on there.  Because I need to know, what's the next month look like?  What's the next year look like?  The next five years?  And the answers to these questions constantly evolve.  Part of my system means being prepared for that. 

And the next month, as you can see, has a few things on it, so time to get to it.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Cover Artist Love: Paul Young


I've said many a time how happy I am that my covers have all been done by Paul Young.  He's created a look and feel for Maradaine, while giving each series its own flavor, and he's done that by being very aware of the nature of the work, and being receptive and giving with his talent.

Now, I could go into further raving about his work on my covers-- like ALL DAY-- but I've done that before, and I want to do something a bit different.  I want to highlight some of his other works.  Pieces of his for other covers for other writers that really worked for me.  Evocative images that draw my curiosity about the stories hiding behind them.  That's a big part of what Paul does, and I'm glad a piece of that work goes to my books.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Best Editor Sheila Gilbert

People, I'm so proud that the SFF Community has confirmed the thing that I've known for some time: that Sheila Gilbert at DAW is the BEST Editor.  She's now won the Hugo twice (and has been nominated six times), and she is hands-down amazing. 

Plus: CHECK OUT HER ACCEPTANCE SPEECH.

For real.  THE BEST.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Deadlines Looming

Let me tell you something about deadlines.

Or more specifically, let me tell how I don't get what I see other writers do with deadlines.  Like, I will see people be all, "Oh, yeah, I have a novel due next month.  I better get to work on it."  As in, little-to-no work has been done, and now that the deadline approaches, they're planning on weaponizing their panic and going into FULL POWER MODE, knocking out thousands of words each day and having a finished novel in a couple weeks.

I honestly don't understand how to do this.  Like, my brain recoils at the idea.

For me, deadlines are always a long-range thing.  I look at when something is due, and look where I am right now, and ask myself, "What do I need to do to be two months before the deadline?" and start working on that goal.  Because I know things will get in the way, I know there will be setbacks, and it's best to charge in with a plan before even getting to that point. 

I mean, people ask me what the "secret" is to my output, and a big part of that is in the planning.  I know what the core of the next year and a half looks like, writing-wise, and I plan for that.   I don't think I could do it otherwise.

And that takes discipline, and even then, the schedule slips and things get behind.

SPEAKING OF, I'm working hard on finishing The Shield of the People before its deadline, and The Way of the Shield is coming out in just a few weeks, so I might be pretty scarce here in the coming days. 

Thursday, August 9, 2018

ArmadilloCon is the best con you aren't going to, and you need to change that

This past weekend was ArmadilloCon, which truly was an excellent whirlwind of a convention.  I've been hearing a lot of positive buzz and feedback from several corners, and the phrase "best ArmadilloCon ever" has been whispered here and there.  And I think, yeah, maybe so.  It's hard for me to gauge exactly, of course.  On the whole, each year is better for me, but each year has been marking my steady transition from hopeful-aspiring-writer to pro-with-a-stack-of-books, including the con treating me like a pro when I was "guy-with-an-agent-but-no-sales", which is an incredibly strange and frustrating stage in one's writing career.

But here is the thing about ArmadilloCon: it is probably the most friendly con for the aspiring-pro-writer out there.  The writer's workshop is a centerpiece for the con, and it's probably the most valuable one-day workshop out there.  I mean, most people can't afford the money or time to do something like Odyssey or Clarion, which are multiple weeks, but even if you don't live in Texas: you can probably swing a long weekend. 

More to the point, the con is geared toward being an extended hand to people who are striving to be a professional writer.  Panels on craft, panels on business of writing, and most of the pros who go there make a point of being open and welcome. 

I mean, I've seen several cons where the "pro" space and the "fan" space are very specifically segregated, either implicitly or explicitly, and that often leaves the hopeful pro feeling left a bit at sea.  But, many of our regular pros (including myself) came up through the workshop, and we all still have vivid memories of being there.  We know how hard it is.  We want to make it easier.

Also, the con is just filled with good energy.  There's been a lot of specific steps taken to make the con more open and welcoming to people from traditionally marginalized groups, and continuing to improve and expand on that that has been a real goal. 

We, the SFF Writing Community of Austin-- as well as the greater area of Texas as a whole-- are striving to give all of you: the established pro, the prospective hopeful, the eager fan-- the best con experience we can give you.  We'd love for you to join us down here.

Plus: Tacos.  And barbecue. And did I mention tacos? 

Really.  Come on down.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

ArmadilloCon 2018

ArmadilloCon is this weekend!  I've got a packed schedule, and here it is.  Please stop by if you're in Austin, say hello, maybe even quote the Tarian Oath and win an ARC of Way of the Shield.  Here's the schedule:

Friday, August 39am: ArmadilloCon Writers Workshop
5pm: Avengers: Infinity War - Love It? Hate It? Both? And What Next?
Ballroom F
Marshall Ryan Maresca (moderator), Rick Klaw, T. Eric Bakutis, Paige E. Ewing
Our panelists will talk about Avengers: Infinity War. Is it great or terrible? Did they love it, hate it or both? Why? What do they hope for out of the planned "Avengers 4?"

8pm: Magic and Muskets
Conference Center
Marshall Ryan Maresca (moderator), Thomas Wagner, Adrian Simmons, Stina Leicht
Flintlock fantasy is a relatively new subgenre of epic fantasy (or perhaps not; there was gunpowder, at least, in The Hobbit). What are the rules for this newish (?) area of fantasy? What are some favorite examples?

Saturday, August 4
10am: Worldbuilding Techniques
Conference Center
Stina Leicht (moderator), Robert J. Sawyer, Marshall Ryan Maresca, Martha Wells, Adrian Simmons
What methods and techniques can our panelists recommend? How do they handle mistakes? Can they recommend any resources to new or struggling writers?

2:30pm: The Van Show Interviews Marshall Ryan Maresca
Southpark A, 2:30pm - 3pm
Marshall Ryan Maresca
Be a part of the audience as the Austin Public Library's Van Show puppet interviews Marshall Ryan Maresca.

3pm: Writing the Other
Southpark B
Marshall Ryan Maresca (moderator), William Ledbetter, Marguerite Reed, John Hornor Jacobs, Stina Leicht
Our panelists will talk about how you can build your skill for writing about characters whose gender, sexual orientation, religion, racial heritage, or other aspect of identity differs from your own.What resources are available? What process do they use? What are the potential pitfalls?

4pm: Best and Worst of Streaming SFF
Ballroom F
Dantzel Cherry (moderator), Marshall Ryan Maresca, Paige E. Ewing
Genre stories by definition are limited in popularity even as their influence spreads widely. With their understanding of audience, we are seeing a wealth of original and made-for-tv genre programming. How well has Netflix used its money and information to bring us shows we want to watch? What stories are they missing out on?

5pm: Autographing
Dealers Room, 5pm - 6pm
Deji Bryce Olukoton, Marshall Ryan Maresca, Jessica Reisman, Amanda Downum, Rhonda Eudaly, Howard Waldrop
Autographing

7pm: Career Management for Writers
Ballroom D
Marshall Ryan Maresca (moderator), Deji Bryce Olukoton, A. Lee Martinez, Emily McKay, Rebecca Schwarz
How do you manage your career as a writer? How do you know when it is time to switch agents or publishers? How do you manage your identity in the marketplace when you change up what you are writing? What kinds of goals and measures do our panelists set for themselves?

Sunday, August 5
1pm: Fantasy Adventure - Readings by Marshall Ryan Maresca & Adrian Simmons
Conference Center
Marshall Ryan Maresca (moderator), Adrian Simmons
Reading - Marshall Ryan Maresca

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Looking Back To The "Classics"-- Rereading my Problematic Fave

So, here's a thing that's been happening on my Twitter the past couple weeks:
At what point does something become a "classic", and how do we bestow that honor?  And when a book has a generation between when it came out and now, how does it read in the present?

These are questions I've asked myself as I've dug into a re-read of The Belgariada series that was very influential to me in my youth, but I hadn't read in years.  And how does it hold up?  How does it not?  How problematic is my problematic fave?  I've been digging into this as I re-read and livetweet the re-read.  Sometimes you have to tear down a classic, even one you love.

You can follow along with the #Belgariad hashtag, or here's a threadreader roll-up of everything so far.   Right now I'm about midway through the third book, and I've been going along at about a book a week.  (Though expect me to get a bit behind next week, because Many Things Are Happening.) 

It's all been a very interesting and enlightening process.  A lot to unpack in it all.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Putting Projects on the Backburner

If you go up to a writer and say, "I've got this idea for a book", if they're being honest, they will probably say something along the lines of "I don't need ideas, I need time."

Ideas are pretty easy.  Manifesting them is the tough part.

I rarely truly abandon projects.  I have a few "terminal cases", projects that I really have no intention to get back to any time in the near future, but are they truly "abandoned"? Or are they in a wood-lined cask, aging and ripening until they're ready? 

Not sure.

At this point, it's more a matter of priorities.  Which projects need to be done now (because, say, they're under contract), and which are for somewhere down the road.
Speaking of Down The Road, THE WAY OF THE SHIELD is out soon, and you have two possible chances to win an ARC before it comes out.  One is to come to ArmadilloCon, where I'll be teaching the writers workshop and appearing on panels.  The first person to come up to me an make a decent attempt at reciting the Tarian Oath will get one ARC:

“With Shield on arm and sword in hand
I will not yield, but hold and stand,
As I draw breath, I’ll allow no harm,
And fight back death, with shield on arm.”

Now, what if you can't come to Austin, I fully understand.  Here's the other way: below I’m going to put eight hints for the titles of eight prospective Maradaine Phase II Novels. And so we’re on the same page, these titles each would represent Book Four and Five of the four respective series, but I’ve mixed up the order so it’s not completely obvious what’s what.

Email your guesses to me before AUGUST 1st, 2018.  The entry that is the most correct (or, barring that, most entertaining in incorrectness) will win an ARC (limited to mailing in US and Canada).  Sound good?  Here goes:
The Q_____ G_____
The A_____ of C_____
The S_____ of the C_____
An U_____ of U_____ M_____
The C_____ of the C_____
A P_____ of P_____
The N_____ K_____ of R_____ S_____
A_____ and D_____

Happy guessing!

Thursday, July 12, 2018

My To-Be-Read List

My to-be-read list is shamefully large.  I have SO MANY books on my shelf that I have every intention of reading.  I really do.  But I haven't done it yet.

This is why I'm completely understanding whenever someone tells me that Thorn or Murder or Holver Alley is on their TBR list but they haven't gotten to it yet.  I get it.  This is how we all operate.  We have to make choices with our time, and for me right now, that involves drafting Shield of the People, going over the final proofs of Way of the Shieldreading and critiquing the pieces for the ArmadilloCon Writers Workshop, and also taking care of the rest of my life so I don't collapse in a heap of unhealthiness.

(My knee went out on me last week, which made life challenging.  Back up to snuff now, though.)

That said, I am currently re-reading.  Namely, I'm re-reading The Belgariadas I haven't read it in almost a decade, and diving deep into it on Twitter with the #BelgariadRead hashtag.  Come check it out.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Dishes to Bring to the Party

This week at SFFSeven, we're talking about things to bring to a party.  As it happens, I'm going to one tonight, for Austin SFF Writer Amanda Downum.  So, what am I bringing?  I'm making a cochinita pibil.  It's a slow cooked pork in an achiote marinade.  It's SO good.
Here's how you make the achiote marinade:
achiote paste
8 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 cup of white vinegar
1 cup of orange juice
¼ cup of water
all spice (8 to 10 balls)
black pepper to taste
pinch of cumin
Blend all that into a thick marinade.  Marinate pork, cut into one-inch chunks, with that good stuff overnight.  Then slow cook it in a low temperature (the hardcore way is to wrap it in banana leaves), or in a sous vide.    Meanwhile, also make pickled purple onions:
3 purple onions
vinegar
Salt
Pepper
Put a pot of water to boil. Slice the onions into thin slices and blanch in the boiling water for 3 minutes. Move to another container, cover with vinegar, and add salt and water to taste.
This makes for delicious tacos, or served with black beans and rice. 

Thursday, June 21, 2018

How to Level Up

This week's question is, how do you level up as a writer?  And that's a really good question.  For me, the big answer is by lifting EVERYONE up.  The rising tide raises all boats.

That means being a mentor for up and coming authors.  That means being a champion for new books when they come out.  That means, when you're climbing over the wall, you reach back and take the hand of the person behind you.

So, I strive to do a few things: I try to treat every hopeful professional writer like the thing they are working on is the thing that will be their first sale.  I try to treat every struggling professional like their next thing is their big breakout.  I try to treat everyone I meet in this business like they are about to be the Next Big Thing. 

To me, that's just common courtesy.

Now, I'm sure I've had moments where I've failed this metric.  There's been plenty of times where I've been in my own head and not realized how my actions could be perceived.  Trust, as the line from Twelfth Night goes, that it's something of my negligence, nothing of my purpose.

That's also why it's important to me to pay things forward.  Things like teaching at workshops, or talking to prospective SFF writers at the Writers League of Texas Conference.  These things matter. 
Because nothing helps you level up better than helping others.  So have at it.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Staying Out of those Painted Corners

If you've been paying attention to me and my various babbling on writing, you know I'm a big fan of the outline.  I try to avoid the whole "paint myself in a corner" problem by sorting out the big path of the plot beforehand.  If I know the line of things from A to B to C and so on, I'm less likely to get lost in the weeds in the first place.  Now, that doesn't mean that sometimes things don't work, or I write a bit in one direction and go, "Wait, I need to go back and thread something else in here to be the way out."  

But I know how the whole story hangs together, and that's because I have the outline.  (And the outline of the larger arcs, etc.)  And the outline tends not to have plot cul-de-sacs or corners I paint myself into because it's got a solid structure.

I've talked about the twelve-part outline structure before, and it's the basic scaffolding I use to craft an outline.  Here it is:
  1. Establishment: Show character(s) and initial situation. Here’s where you set up not only who your main character(s) is, but what the rules of the road are.  What is “normal” for your story?  If there is magic, for example, you need to let the reader know here.  Especially in a genre story, you need to make it clear what’s going on.
  2. Incitement: Incident or new information spurs protagonist. This may be interwoven with Establishment, or exist on its own, but the important this is that the something changes to throw us out of the Established “normal” and gets the protagonist acting. 
  3. Challenge: Minor antagonists come into play. You can’t throw the big guns at your protagonist yet.  Either your protagonist isn’t aware of the Big Bad yet, or doesn’t understand the scope of what is happening, or just plain isn’t ready for the big picture yet.
  4. Altercation:  Conflict with minor antagonists.  Give your protagonist a hard-won victory, even if it’s minor or only symbolic.  This lets you show your protagonist as having the competence and drive to deserve being at the center of the story. 
  5. Payback:  Minor antagonists report back to major, allowing a strike back.  That hard-won victory may have felt good, but it isn’t without consequences.  Perhaps it means that your Big Bad just re-evaluated your protagonist, and has elevated the threat level from Nuisance to Problem.
  6. Regrouping: Protagonist reacts to the payback, possibly in an ineffective way; thinks confrontation is over, relaxes.  Here is where your protagonist has another victory, but not the victory they think they’ve had.  This is where they make a mistake, be it underestimating the antagonist, or just sloppy pride.  That deep character flaw you’ve woven into them is set up to bite them back.
  7. Collapse: Protagonist loses stability and safety of base situation.  Everything falls apart.  Whatever your protagonist thought they could count on crumbles under their feet.   
  8. Retreat: Protagonist must leave base situation to escape threat from main antagonist. Deal them that serious blow.  Force their hand.
  9. Recovery: Protagonist establishes a new situation, enough to be stable and safe. You need to give them a chance to lick their wounds, figure out where they stand, and if they can accept that.
  10. Investment: Personal reason forces protagonist back into fray with main antagonist—they won’t choose to walk away.  This is where you make your heroes.  At this stage, a lesser protagonist would cut their losses, admit defeat.  Your protagonist can’t do that.  It’s time to see this to the end.
  11. Confrontation: Goes after main antagonist, partly to reclaim investment. Now you’re at the climax. 
  12. Resolution: Defeat of main antagonist, which can create a new base situation or re-establish stability of original one.
If this is a useful tool for you, by all means, use it.  I developed it because I needed it in my toolbox, and it's been a very helpful thing for me.  If it helps you as well, all the better.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Saving the Mental Energy for the Work

Everyday, my social media feeds are kind of an assault.

Like, the world is a trash fire and there are tweets and links and stories pretty much every hour on the hour (and every minute in between) reminding you that things are horrible and people are garbage.  This is both for the world at large, and in the microcosm of the SFF Community.

(Not everyone, and I do try to make a point of reminding us all of that.)

A lot of times, you pretty much have to make a choice: do you watch the trash fire, or do you do the work?  Which wolf do you feed?

(And that's not even getting into the creative-energy-drain that is other parts of life, family, finances, work, household, etc., etc.)

So how do I keep my head clear so I can work?  Honestly, a lot of willful ignorance.  A lot of deciding NOT to pay attention to the trashfire.  Admittedly, a lot of that comes down to privilege: the worst of the trashfire things are NOT attacks on me or my daily life.  I'm able to ignore it in ways others don't have the luxury to.  And I need to so I can get my work done.

There's enough horrible in the world as it is, people.  Be excellent to each other.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Announcement: Blogging Semi-hiatus

So, some seven years ago I made a decision that made a lot of sense at the time.  I had a website and a blog, but I wasn't doing much of anything with them.  After attending some seminars at DFWCon, I decided I needed to be regular and habitual about blogging, and so I pledged to blog every Monday and Thursday, rain or shine.

And for seven years, I've held to that, even when I've not really had a lot to say.  Partly for the pure discipline of it, and partly to maintain a steady presence on here.  I wanted anyone who came to my website to be able to say, "Hey, this guy is reliable, this guy sticks with what he sets out to do."  I mean, the web is littered with tumbleweed-filled fledgling-author sites where they have a flurry of "I'm totally gonna do this blog thing" posts, and then they drizzle out to nothing. 

But here's the thing: I don't have to prove, to myself or the world at large, that I can reliably work with discipline.  I've got the bonafides: between seven books in three-and-a-half years, two more on the way, and seven years of regular twice-a-week blogs, I've shown that in spades.  Plus regularly posting here is time and energy that takes away from actual writing.  Between what I have on deck and other projects I have planned, I've got enough working that I don't ALSO need to habitually blog for its own sake.  And posting-for-its-own sake was starting to feel like the signal-to-noise ratio was getting low.

So, for the foreseeable future, I won't be posting regularly on Mondays any more.  I will still do Thursdays at SFFSeven and mirror those posts here.  And I'll post when I have something significant to announce, or some topic I really want to talk about, but not to any set schedule. 

If you are looking for things-I-want-to-talk-about-not-to-any-set-schedule, of course, follow my Twitter.  It's fun and I have pictures of food.

Now back to the word mines.  See you all down there.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

It's not where you get your ideas, it's how you fuel your tank

"Where do you get your ideas?" is the question put to authors a lot, and it's fundamentally the wrong question.

The ideas are always out there.  They are almost irrelevant.  If you're looking for them, if you're thinking creatively of how to integrate them to each other, you'll find them.  What matters is how you turn that idea in to a story.

And that goes into how you're keeping your tank full.

By which I mean, as a writer, you should always be taking in input while you're making output.  That doesn't necessarily mean Read All The Books--- but you should be reading, of course-- but any other thing that can fuel your imagination: movies, television, music, art, anything.  That's what's going to give you the little bits that weave together to become new ideas. 

And you need that.  You can't keep driving on an empty tank.  It never works.

Monday, May 28, 2018

More German News



It's been a busy weekend, friends, so I'll just share some quick news.  In a couple months we'll be getting the second German Maradaine novel, DIE CHRONIKEN VON MARADAINE - DIE FEHDE DER MAGIER.  (i.e., A Murder of Mages).  Well, now I can tell you that next February Bastei Lubbe will put out the third, DIE ALCHEMIE DES CHAOS.  And it's got a pretty swank cover.
Beyond that, I've got plenty of work to get to.  Summer is around the corner.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

My current WIP: The Shield of the People

Talking about my current WIP is a bit odd, because it's the sequel to a book that you all haven't read yet.  I mean, I could talk about my favorite bits in THE SHIELD OF THE PEOPLEbut it's lacking context for you. 

One thing I am enjoying in this one-- and to a lesser degree this applies to THE WAY OF THE SHIELD as well-- is a different kind of antagonist.  At least one of them. Namely, I have an antagonist whose goal is something that is a complete anathema to Dayne, but methods that are completely in sync with him.  So Dayne doesn't respect what the antagonist wants to do, but deeply respects the way he's trying to go about it, and therefore the person doing it.

One of the things I like about this series is a lot of the characters are fundamentally good people who are trying to do good things-- but they each have a very different idea of what that means.  That leads to, for me, fascinating situations of the lines between rebellion, revolution and lawlessness, and where those lines fall when, fundamentally, you believe in the system.

A lot of that is what The Maradaine Elite series is about.
That, and cool fight scenes.  Always cool fight scenes.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Bonus Material: Maradaine Calendar

Hello, Readers: The end of May is turning into a busy time, both in terms of writing and with various things on the homefront.  (My son is graduating from high school, for one, and that brings with it a lot of stuff.) 

So, here's a bit of bonus material I can share-- the sort of thing that's in the Saga Bible.  Here's the calendar for Maradaine and Druthal for the year 1215-- the year the various Maradaine series are set in.  This gives you a sense of the bigger picture in terms of when each story is happening. (With some redactions for the future, because, hey, there's a contest going on.)

As for me, back to it.  Plenty of work to do.  See you later.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Choosing Titles

Titles are a strange beast in this business.  On some level, they're immaterial to the book, in and of itself.  The title is there for marketing purposes, a quick and easy way to set the tone of your book.  The shortest version of your elevator pitch.

But on the other hand, I think about them for a long time.

Almost every one of my books had some working title that didn't survive contact with reality. The Thorn of Dentonhill was just "Tools of the Trade" in draft.  The Holver Alley Crew was "The Fire Gig".  An Import of Intrigue was "The Little East".  And many times that working title is definitively and only a working title, one that I knew even then was not for public consumption.  Imposters of Aventil was merely "Wingclipper", as the original one-paragraph concept focused more on one of the antagonists. 

About the only one that lasted all the way through: Lady Henterman's Wardrobe.  For some reason I always knew that was the title of the second Asti & Verci story.

I've mentioned that the books up to People of the City (original working title... is a spoiler) marks the end of Phase I of Maradaine things, and if you know me, you know I'm a planner, and yes, I do have a plan for Phase II and Phase III.

And those Phase II books have tentative titles.  They still may change between now and when they are written and released, but that's the plan for now.

So, how about a little contest?  Below I'm going to put eight hints for eight prospective Phase II Maradaine Novels. And so we're on the same page, these titles each would represent Book Four and Five of the four respective series, but I've mixed up the order so it's not completely obvious what's what.

Email your guesses to me before AUGUST 1st, 2018.  The entry that is the most correct (or, barring that, most entertaining in incorrectness) will win an ARC of THE WAY OF THE SHIELD, limited to mailing in US and Canada.  Sound good?  Here goes:

The Q_____ G_____
The A_____ of C_____
The S_____ of the C_____
An U_____ of U_____ M_____
The C_____ of the C_____
A P_____ of P_____
The N_____ K_____ of R_____ S_____
A_____ and D_____

Happy guessing!

Monday, May 14, 2018

Happy (Belated) Mother's Day!


It was just Mother's Day, so what better way to celebrate than to remember my favorite fictional mother, Satrine Rainey, heroine of the Maradaine Constabulary books.  

It was just Mother’s Day, so what better way to celebrate than to remember my favorite fictional mother, Satrine Rainey, heroine of the Maradaine Constabulary books.

Especially since German Satrine has a bad-ass coat.  Look at what she's rocking.

So the Germans have to wait a couple more months to meet Satrine, but between A Murder of Mages and An Import of Intrigue AND her guest-starring in The Imposters of Aventilyou've got three books of her to enjoy before A Parliament of Bodies comes out next year.

So if you haven't checked out A Murder of Mages yet, get on that.  Here’s a few more review highlights:
First, over at Mutt Cafe:
I love a well done classic fantasy, particularly when it’s combined with my other love, mystery. A Murder of Mages, Maresca’s debut Maradaine Constabulary novel, does just that.
Next, over at Books and Ladders:
I quite enjoyed Satrine. She was a badass and did what she had to in order to survive and provide for her family. I am looking forward to seeing more of her quick wit in action because she was a treat to read about.
Chris from SFandF Reviews:
“The presence of the city, a dark, grimy, lively place, invades the reader by degrees. It’s not a place that leaps off of every page – but rather, one that seeps into your fingers as you turn those pages.”
From Bibliotropic:
“Maresca’s novels are certainly getting attention from fantasy readers, and I’d say it’s well-deserved. Quick reads, good action, and just generally very fun books to have around. I’m already a fan of both branches of Maradaine novels, and I’m looking forward to what new fun stories he’ll tell in that world in the future.”
From Bookaneer:
“Interesting characters, intricate worldbuilding, and a mystery that kept me hooked? Count me in for the sequel. It can’t come soon enough.”
From Powder and Page:
“Without hesitations, I would say that A Murder of Mages deserves 5 out of 5 stars!”
And, of course, if you want to read an excerpt, there’s one here.

Satrine Rainey: Former street rat. Ex-spy. Wife and mother who needs to make twenty crowns a week to support her daughters and infirm husband.  To earn that, she forges credentials and fakes her way into a posting as a constabulary Inspector.
Minox Welling: Brilliant Inspector. Uncircled Mage. Outcast of the stationhouse.  Partnered with Satrine because no one else will work with “the jinx”.

Their first case together—the ritualized murder of a Circled mage—brings Satrine back to the streets she grew up on, and forces Minox to confront the politics of mage circles he’s avoided.  As more mages are found dead, Satrine must solve the crime before her secrets catch up with her, and before her partner ends up a target.

READ AN EXCERPTGoodreads Page for A MURDER OF MAGESAvailable at AmazonBarnes & NobleIndieBound and more!

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Maradaine On My Mind

The question put forward this week at SFFSeven is the open-ended "What's on your mind?" (i.e., there's no real topic this week), and frankly any given week, the big thing on my mind is Maradaine.  Because, frankly, you can't write four intertwining series set in the same magical city without it occupying a fairly sizable portion of your brainspace.How that's manifesting right now is two-fold.  One is drafting The Shield of the Peoplewhich I will confess I was having some challenges with, but-- thanks to the other part of the manifestation (see below)-- I've figured out a large chunk of what my problem was and have hacked through that to see the problems in my initial outline.

It's been good stuff.

The other part has been a massive reorganization and re-examination of the material and notes.  I talk about spreadsheets upon spreadsheets, and that's key, but a good part of what I need to do is have a Saga Bible for the whole Maradaine project.  And every year or so I need to just plain STOP and clean it up, maintain it, and get it up to date.  Especially when little changes to the larger picture have created a butterfly effect.  For example, I don't have accurate summaries of THE IMPOSTERS OF AVENTIL or A PARLIAMENT OF BODIES-- I have summaries of the outline as they existed before writing the actual books. 

SPOILERS
SPOILERS
So I'm rebuilding a lot of the material in the Saga Bible from the bottom up right now.  Which is something of an undertaking, but a valuable one, because it helps keep the material fresh in my mind, and helps me see the bigger picture.  Which I needed to get through the wall I was having with SHIELD OF THE PEOPLEas well as getting me in the needed headspace for writing THE FENMERE JOB and PEOPLE OF THE CITY.  

So that's how I'm keeping my head on now.  Hope I can keep it there.

Monday, May 7, 2018

First Look at THE WAY OF THE SHIELD

This year is going by quickly-- it's already May! Since we're only a few months away from THE WAY OF THE SHIELD coming into the world.  I thought it would be a good time to give you all a little excerpt so you had a taste of Dayne and his world.  I'm excited for you to meet him, and get as engrossed in the fourth facet of the Maradaine Saga as I am. 

The Way of the Shield releases on October 9th.


The museum was on Fenyon Street, on the stretch between the Parliament House and the Royal College campus—the triangle of city blocks that wasn’t quite in any neighborhood. Upon approach, it looked like a large noble house, with wide marble stairs from the street to the giant, open doors.
Jerinne stopped on the front steps. “Who lived here?” she asked absently.
“I don’t think anyone,” Dayne said. “Most of this block is owned jointly by the College and Parliament. These houses are used as guest lodgings for scholars and other important visitors to Maradaine.”
“So the museum usurped one?” Jerinne asked.
“I’m sure that wasn’t the language used. The museum, in all likelihood, is a joint project of the Royal College and the Parliament. Not to mention some nobleman holding the purse.”
They reached the main doors, where two King’s Marshals had guard duty, in their crisp blue and white coats, matching felt caps and tasseled rapiers.
“A pair of Tarians!” one of them said, with more than a little contempt in his voice.
“What brings you two out here all dandied up?” the other asked. Dayne thought this was particularly ironic, given their standard uniform.
“We’re here for the opening of the museum,” Dayne said. “I was informed it was a public event.”
“Public event,” the first one said, with a strange nod that was half neck-crack. “But we’ve got two members of Parliament, quite a few nobility rubbing elbows in there. Care must be taken.”
“Meaning you’ve got to check your swords and shields here, with us,” the second said.
Jerinne stepped forward, “Why would we have to—”
“Because we’ve got to keep people safe,” the first marshal said. “You Tarians know about that.”
“Exactly, we are members of the Tarian Order and as such we should be given—”
“You’re not members,” the second marshal said. “You’re a Candidate and Initiate. I know blasted well what those marks on your collars mean. Now you can either turn in your arms and enjoy the museum, or you can dust your feet on the walkway.” Dayne knew pips and ranks as well, and this marshal was a marshal chief—equivalent to captain in the Constabulary. Regine Toscan, by his brass nameplate. Not worth picking an argument with over no matter what. Surprising that someone of that rank would be working the door at this event.
“It’s fine,” Dayne said, unhooking his sword. “We’re here for culture, Jerinne. Not a fight.” He passed it and his shield to the first marshal, and Jerinne did the same.
“Thank you, friends,” Chief Toscan said. “You can collect your belongings upon your exit.”
As the walked away Jerinne whispered in his ear, “That was complete posturing. They think—”
“That security of this event is their responsibility,” Dayne said. “We’re not here to use our weapons. It’s fine.”
Dayne looked around the entry hall, which truly was a grand and impressive lobby. A lot of work had to have been done to transform this building into the museum. Portraits of every king of Druthal for the past twelve centuries filled the walls. Maradaine the First hung just to the left of the door, with a brass plaque identifying him and his reign. It circled the room chronologically, with gaps at the entryways to other exhibits. Intricately woven ropes barred off entry to the other exhibits.
Along the back wall, in front of the disastrous kings of the seventh century, a small stage had been assembled. Several well-dressed people milled about up there, as well as other men in scholastic robes. Dayne didn’t recognize anyone up on the stage, but the two men in dark suits with silk cravats were clearly members of Parliament. Flanking the stage were two sweeping stairways, leading to a balcony rounding the entire room, and presumably containing additional exhibits.
Dayne searched through the crowd, looking to see if his new friends from The Nimble Rabbit were around. The crowd was diverse, though it mostly consisted of minor nobility, mixed with several students from the Royal College. But he was thrilled to see how many people were here, and the attention to detail that was being paid, both to the museum itself and the spectacle of the event.
What thrilled Dayne the most was the servers. Someone had spared no expense on this event, as a dozen servers weaved their way among the crowd with trays of culinary delights and cups of wine. The servers were dressed in authentic eleventh-century outfits, including the red neckerchiefs covering their faces. They looked exactly like the classic depictions of the ad-hoc army that filled the streets in 1009 to help reclaim the city and the throne for Maradaine XI.
Someone put a lot of money and care into making this happen.
“Dayne!” A woman’s voice called through the crowd. Warm, refined, and so very familiar. Dayne turned to its source, his heart quickening just at the thought of who it might be.
There she was, the very picture of Druth elegance, her richly embroidered peach dress complimenting her fair skin, though with her white gloves and the lace veil on her hat, very little of her skin was to be seen. Her delicate blond curls spilled down her back, and her dark blue eyes hinted at wisdom beyond her age. She cut her way across the hallway, one handmaiden at her side.
“Lady Mirianne,” he said with a bow. Jerinne, he noticed out the corner of his eye, followed his lead.
“No bowing,” Lady Mirianne said. Her gloved hand touched the side of his face, leading him back to standing. “How is it you are here?”
“I’ve only just come back to Maradaine, my lady,” Dayne said. “If I may, this is Jerinne Fendall, second-year Initiate to the Order.”
“Your servant, my lady,” Jerinne said, offering her hand.
“I have no need of more, Miss Fendall.” Mirianne took her hand gently. “Lady Mirianne Henson, daughter to the Earl of Jaconvale.”
“How is your father?” Dayne asked.
She gave a playful slap to his arm. “I’ve not seen your beautiful face for nearly three years and you ask after my father.”
“I’m sorry, my lady,” Dayne said. “I only thought it—”
“Proper, as always. Dear, sweet, proper Dayne. He’s quite well, happy at the estate in Jaconvale. He’s not a fan of traveling to the city anymore, so the household here is effectively mine.” She turned to her handmaiden. “Is he not adorable?” Her smile was a treasure, Dayne had almost forgotten how lovely she was.
“I should have asked after you first, my lady.”
“No,” Lady Mirianne said. “How are you back in Maradaine?”
Dayne glanced over to Jerinne, and at the handmaiden. “It is an involved tale, lady, and not one for public telling.”
She nodded. “Of course. I will hold you to a private counsel later.” She gave a light trill of a laugh, and a knowing wink to her handmaiden. Turning back to Dayne, she added, “I know why you are here, of course. A history museum must have been like honey to a fly.”
Dayne grinned, despite himself, taking another look around the wide entry hall. “I have to admit, this is incredible. I’m amazed at what they’ve done.”
“Thank you,” Lady Mirianne said. “It was quite the undertaking.”
“You had a hand in all this?” Dayne asked. Of course, he should have guessed it. If anyone had both the means and the desire to make a monument to Druth history, it would be the Earl of Jaconvale and his daughter. It was through them he had developed his own love for the subject, as well as the sponsorship that led him to the Tarian Order.
“Mostly organizing the funding. Professor Teal and his team were the real champions.” She pointed over to the stage, where Teal and other scholars now sat patiently behind the Parliamentarians.
“Will he be speaking?” Dayne asked. During his Initiacy he had had the privilege to sit in on a handful of lectures at the RCM. Professor Teal was a living treasure of Druth history, possibly the most knowledgeable and dynamic speakers on the subject.
“Not until the fools from the Parliament have their chance to babble,” Lady Mirianne said. She took his hand. “Let me show you something.”
“What?” Dayne asked, surprised at her soft gloved hand staying curled around his.
“There’s an exhibit you should see. Please.”
“But . . .” They hadn’t actually opened the exhibits yet. “The speeches.” He said it halfheartedly. He knew the Parliament speeches would be less than thrilling.
“It won’t take long,” she said. She turned to her handmaiden, “Jessel, keep company with Miss Fendall.”
“As you say, Lady.” Jessel curtsied.
Lady Mirianne pulled Dayne to the side as he gave one last look over to Jerinne. The Initiate merely smirked at Dayne, and then gave her attention to Jessel.
Dayne followed along after Lady Mirianne, and they slipped under one of the ropes, with Lady Mirianne nodding to one of the servants as they went. They entered a back stairwell, Lady Mirianne giving Dayne the same impish smile she would use back at her father’s manor when she snuck into the stables. As they ascended, he wondered if her intentions had anything to do with an exhibit.
“Don’t even look at this room,” she said when she pulled him off the stairs on the next level.
“But I thought—”
“You’re just going to get angry.” She went to the opposite end of the gallery.
“Why would I get angry?” Dayne asked, but then he saw the large portrait filling one entire wall. He stopped dead in his tracks and stared at the monstrosity. “The blazes?”
“I knew you’d hate this,” she said, coming back to his side.
The portrait was of ten eleventh-century figures, recognizable to even a casual student of history. “The Grand Ten? In a portrait together?”
“I know what you’re going to say,” Lady Mirianne said.
“They were never all in the same room together!” Dayne said. “Most of them never even met!” And yet, here, in the museum curated and blessed by the Druth Historic Society, the Grand Ten sat and stood together, in one enormous portrait. Of course, each one of the Grand Ten were instrumental in the Reunification of 1009, key figures in history. Dayne wouldn’t deny that. But the tendency to rewrite history, to pretend that they had been some sort of united club that organized the Reunification—that set his teeth on edge.
“I know,” Lady Mirianne said. “It was the Honorable Mister Barton’s idea. His one adamant insistence.”
“Mister Barton? Who is that?”
“He’s in the Parliament. Traditionalist from our archduchy.”
“Why did he insist on this?” Dayne asked.
“He’s very passionate about the Grand Ten. He even commissioned the portrait from his own purse.”
“Waste of money,” Dayne said. “It’s just bad history.”
“I’m well aware,” Lady Mirianne said. “Though if you look at it as an ten individual portraits put together, it is well done.”
Dayne nodded. “Individually, yes. All classically done.” They all were at their most iconic. Geophry Haltom, The Parliamentarian, with his red neckerchief, like the servers were wearing downstairs. Baron Kege, The Lord, with broken manacles on his wrists and his head held high. Oberon Micarum, The Warrior, in the full uniform of a Spathian Master. “I was just talking to the Grandmaster about how Oberon is the main reason why the Spathians still stand.”
“And Xandra Romaine?” she asked.
“And Xandra Romaine, yes.” It hurt his heart that the Order was not only considered a relic, maintained just out of gratitude to two historical figures, but that this narrative was so ingrained that they didn’t even have to explain it to each other.
Then he looked over to The Mage—Xaveem Ak’alassa—an Imach whose magical skills were instrumental in defeating the leader of the Incursion and restoring Maradaine XI to the Druth throne. The depiction of Xaveem was ridiculous: Druth clothing, and a skin tone only slightly darker than the rest of the group. Save the curved blade on his hip, there was nothing in his appearance to identify him as Imach.
“Classically done, indeed,” Dayne said. “This sort of history is troubling. It inflates the importance of some people for the sake of narrative, ignoring the important work of people like Lief Frannel or Hanshon Alenick, or—”
“Please don’t get too upset,” Lady Mirianne said, cutting him off from his rant. That was probably wise, and she knew him well enough to not let him get worked out over these things. “This isn’t what I wanted to show you.”
“Of course,” Dayne said, turning away from the aggravating painting. “Lead on, my lady.”
She took his hand. “Enough with the ‘my lady’, Dayne Heldrin. Especially when we’re alone.”
“That’s asking quite a lot,” Dayne said.
“I have the privilege of asking a lot,” she said, flashing another mischievous smile. “I am a Lady, after all. This is it.”
The new room opened up into a wide oval, with twelve mannequins on small platforms, forming a semicircle. Each mannequin was faceless, dressed with uniforms, armor, and weapons, some of which were centuries out of style. Only two had modern design, in the center of the semicircle. The one on the left wore the same gray coat and tunic that Dayne was wearing, save the coat bore the epaulets and insignia of a Master. That mannequin stood in classic Position Three, round shield high and short sword held low.
The brass plaque at its feet read “Master of the Tarian Order”.
The other mannequins each represented a different Order, almost all of which had long been inactive or disbanded—all but the Tarians and the Spathians, represented by the other central mannequin. The Vanidian—forest guardian with axe and bow. The blue uniformed Hanalian, the antecedent of the King’s Marshals downstairs. The fully armored Grennian. The healing master Ascepian. Pike-wielding Braighian. All these mighty and honored Elite Orders that had been abandoned or folded into the army or other new organizations.
“This is . . . incredible,” he said, his voice cracking just a bit in his attempt to hold back the tear in his eye.
“I knew you would appreciate it.” She came up behind him, placing her arm in the crook of his elbow. “Mister Barton insisted on the Grand Ten. This . . . this is what I insisted on.”
A smile found its way to Dayne’s lips. “You really were listening to me.”
She stepped around and faced him. “Always.”
Dayne couldn’t resist her any longer, and had no reason to. He bent down to kiss her.
Before he could, screams cut through the air.

Dayne Heldrin always dreamed of being a member of the Tarian Order. In centuries past, the Elite Orders of Druthal were warriors that stood for order, justice, and the common people. But now, with constables, King’s Marshals, and a standing army, there is little need for such organizations, and the Tarian Order is one of the last remnants of this ancient legacy. Nevertheless, Dayne trained his body and mind, learned the arts of defense and fighting, to become a candidate for the Tarian Order.

When a failed rescue puts Dayne at fault for injuring the child of a powerful family, his future with the Tarians is in jeopardy. The Parliament controls the purse strings for the Order, and Dayne has angered the wrong members of Parliament. He returns to the capital city of Maradaine in shame, ready to be cast out of the Order when the period of his candidacy ends.

Dayne finds Maradaine in turmoil, as revolutions and dark conspiracies brew around him, threatening members of Parliament and common people alike. Dayne is drawn into the uproar, desperate not to have one more death or injury on his conscience, but the Order wants him to stay out of the situation. The city threatens to tear itself apart, and Dayne must decide between his own future and his vow to always stand between the helpless and harm.
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Thursday, May 3, 2018

ArmadilloCon Writers' Workshop: A Resource for Leveling Up


It's time again for me to talk about the ArmadilloCon Writers' Workshop.  Registration is now open for the workshop, until June 15th, and if you're looking for a resource to up your writing game, this is a great one.

There are a lot of great workshop programs out there, but most of those require a couple weeks and a few thousand dollars, and not everyone can afford that kind of commitment.  This workshop is a lot more affordable, both in time and money.

I give it a lot of credit toward putting me on the right path as a writer.  And there are quite a few other notable alumni: Stina Leicht, Nicky Drayden, Patrice Sarath, Vivien Jackson, just to name a handful. So should you sign up this year?  Heck yeah.  Look at this line-up:
  • Rebecca Schwarz (Workshop Director)
  • Holly Black
  • David Bowles
  • Christopher Brown
  • Cassandra Rose Clarke
  • Nicky Drayden
  • William Ledbetter
  • Stina Leicht
  • Marshall Ryan Maresca
  • Jessica Reisman
  • Patrice Sarath
  • Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam
  • Martha Wells
  • D. L. Young
(See, powerhouse alumni come back to teach, because we believe in it.)

So if you're in or near Austin, or just needed the excuse to come, what more do you need?  More details here.