nano excerpt

My latest NaNo excerpt:

The Crooked Cabaret.

Three establishments, all sharing the same space and name, none of the lot respectable.

Entertainment! Singing women wore too little behind guarded doors, windows blacked out with board and paper to keep High Hope’s decency laws. There the girls wore too much makeup, and during the shows in the middle of the night they would remove their stockings and put legs up on chairs, showing glimpses of their thighs to titillate and delight a male audience. Back stages doubled as brothels– a portion of the girls sold themselves on the sides. Muscled bouncers stood guard over the doors, exterior and dressing rooms both. They were paid extra for the latter.

Alcohol! While not illegal in High Hope, the bar in the second subdivision of The Crooked Cabaret could make a man go blind, and moonshine was illegal. Not that they called it that. Not that they bought it, or had it tested– the bathtub and a second-hand water extractor was the beating heart of the establishment. Sticky floors and sticky bar stools, grubby coins and the smells of urine and vomit lingered at the edges. A few drinks of the house special, though, and none of that shone through.

Miss Polly Owens was in the last portion, nestled in the back between the two others. Near enough to hear the drunks shouting nonsense, near enough to hear the singers in their backstage rooms. Red fabric pinned to the walls, old pillows in piles– nothing more to the furniture but a few candles. Polly leaned up against her cushion and blew opium smoke from her mouth, eyes shut and peaceful. Others about did the same, all in silence. Someone sang one room over. Polly didn’t care to open her eyes, nor discern whether it was a drunk carousing or one of the ‘real’ singers. It all sounded the same after a while.

… I wonder where this story is trying to take me. It’s already ramping up to look far longer than I’d intended.

nano excerpt

Maxwell’s goal was the very back of his laboratory, next to the drafting table. Uriel’s hibernation put him standing against the wall. For extra safety, Maxwell had had him strap himself into a set of electro-magnetic cuffs at the wrists, the waist, the neck. “This is Uriel.”

Samin looked the man up and down, more than a little disturbed.

Uriel looked human.

He was a big man, just about the same age as Samin if looks were to be any judge. His skin was tan, and because Uriel wore a worker’s undershirt Samin could see that Uriel was heavily muscled. His hair was black, pulled back into a knot behind him, his nose and jaw very strong. He looked like a beast of a fellow, someone Samin would want his axe nearby should he prove unfriendly. Samin turned back to Maxwell. “What is this?”

“He’s… we’ll call him my servant.” Maxwell reached around the back of Uriel’s head and tapped a button he’d installed there– a ‘kill’ switch, should Uriel ever become dangerous. Now Maxwell mostly used it as a way to shock him out of hibernation.

Uriel’s eyes opened. They were red, and they glowed slightly.

“So… is he human?” Samin asked. “I can’t tell.”

“He used to be,” Maxwell said. “I needed a prototype to resurrect after Leo died. I couldn’t try blind on my son.”

“He’s a dead man?”

“I didn’t kill him, if that’s what you’re asking. Filched him out of a hospital morgue. There were some problems, of course, with doing it that way. He’d been dead for at least an hour, and he’s never remembered anything about his life.” Maxwell gestured with his cane brandishing it up and down Uriel’s chest. “This man can carry over a literal ton, and yet delicate enough to reassemble eggshells. Mind like a calculator, memory like a written book. A few extra toys built in here and there. I think this is the pinnacle of my life’s work.”

Maxwell walked to a control booth well away from Uriel and flipped a lever. Uriel’s cuffs were released.

“Why do you keep him locked up?” Samin asked.

“Because he’s dangerous,” Maxwell replied. “Most great artificers are killed by their own creations, you know. I mean to see that that does not become me. Uriel…” Maxwell handed him the list he had written. “I need these things. Load up the crab and ready the hatch doors.” Uriel nodded and left to start collecting things. Maxwell frowned and turned back. “Except for Leo’s personal effects on the bottom… I’ll get those.”

Maxwell seemed to have forgotten about Samin– he left him in his laboratory alone with Uriel.

Samin was fascinated and horrified at the same time. “But…” he finally said, “What is the difference, then, between what Maxwell has done to you, and what Gennyson has done to Leo?”

He hadn’t expected an answer.

“I’ll need a detailed description of what Gennyson did to the younger Gallows before I can answer that,” Uriel said without breaking his work. “But given context and the evidence of grave robbery combined with Gennyson’s history with Maxwell Gallows, I suspect Gennyson had stolen the boy’s body?”

Samin blinked. “Stole, stored, deconstructed, cobbled together badly.”

“Then the difference is that Maxwell is better at his art than Gennyson. In matters of freedom, I have more– the difference between slavery and prison, retrospectively. In situation, his was the better, as Leo continues to have allies after his remaking.” Uriel mounted the ladder at the far side and began to pull it back and forth, taking parts and pieces from selected shelves, packing them into bags for transportation.

“You’re a slave?”

“Yes and no.” Uriel hopped down from the ladder, slammed the stone floor with both feet on landing. “The technical definition of slavery is, ‘a person that is owned by another’. Now, if that definition was expanded, all machines and devices of civilization are the slaves of men, as are all beasts, pets, livestock. The question you must ask is, ‘am I human, or not?’. What is a person? Is it a mind, or a will? Can a dead man yet retain a soul? What is the elusive quality that defines humanity?”

Samin’s mouth was dry. “Do you want out?”

For a brief moment, Uriel stopped working. His voice had such intensity that Samin stepped back. “Yes.”

Samin did not interrupt Uriel again.

I love my villains.

nano excerpt

(My apologies if the names are hard to keep straight. It makes complete sense in context.)

Merrily took them to the town’s bar first, shrieked and tried to tackle the bartender as soon as she passed through the doorway. He caught her in one arm without spilling the drink he was pouring. “Gamble!” he roared, slid the drink down the bar counter, capped the bottle, and gave her a hug. Leo was beginning to see why she had grabbed him that morning in the woods. He had hardly been able to bring himself to talk to her since then.

“Trouble!” Merrily called, entirely louder than needed. Her brother set her gently on the ground. “Trouble, listen. We got an artificer.”

Her brother’s head snapped up, and he looked beyond the bar at Maxwell and Leo. After a moment’s consideration, he stepped forward and offered Maxwell his hand. “I’m Matthew Soarin,” he said.

Maxwell didn’t shake his hand. He tried to stare Matthew down.

Matthew stepped close. “You think you’re better than us, don’t you?”

“Don’t you shoot my brother, Mister Gallows!”

“I don’t think his hand could get to his holster in time, Merrily.” Matthew’s eyes did not move from Maxwell’s. “Mister Gallows. Welcome to Rathberry. I can tell that you don’t want to be here, so I will be brief. My mama means the world to me. You are going to take very good care of her. Is that clear?”

Maxwell nodded.

“Good.” Matthew stepped away, returning to a polite distance. He looked askance at Leo.

“Leo Gallows,” Leo said, and was quick to offer his own palm.

Matthew shook it. Leo noticed that he kept a blade in his sleeve. “I’m very pleased to see you. I hope the farm is to your liking.” Matthew returned to the bar and hugged Merrily again. “You have a way to get home?”

“Not yet.”

“I’ll pass word around the patrons that you’re looking for a ride. Stick around for two hours, and I’m sure I can get you the back of a cart at worst.”

“I’m visiting Joel and Marc first. Send them on over.”

“Right.” Matthew turned and grabbed a bottle and a short glass. “Before you go…” he poured one drink in, then a bit of another, handed it off. Merrily grinned and poured it down her throat.

She started choking almost immediately. “Gah!”

Matthew laughed. “That’s what you get!”

“Trying to poison me…”

She was still rubbing her neck when they left the bar, muttering uncomplimentary things under her breath about Matthew’s sense of humor.

Maxwell cocked his head to look back at the tavern. “I like him.”

“Why do you call him Trouble?” Leo asked.

Merrily made a face. Her mouth was still burning. “Why do you think?”

“I very much like him,” Maxwell said. “Fine gentleman.”

nano excerpt

Though granted, it’s a rather small one.

Chapter Two
In which illegal activities are pursued with the very best intentions.

Maxwell Gallows was in the habit of seeing people with labels above their heads.

His butcher and grocer at home, for instance, had had the label ‘food source’ hovering over them. His wife had had several labels before she’d died, including, ‘bed companion’, ‘house cleaner’, and ‘constant source of irritation’. Uriel had been given the high honor of ‘living calculator/ongoing experiment/baggage service’.

Miss Soarin’s title was still pending, but as present Maxwell had given her the tentative title of ‘Map*’, beneath which the footnote read, “* Violent – Not to be touched.”

starting the 3rd draft

I’ve started the 3rd draft of Blue Crystal today.

I haven’t finished my plot-scrub. I’ve made some changes, questioned some motives, filled in several characters, but the detailed chapter-by-chapter plot lies incomplete on my notebook. I think it’s time to admit that I’m not much of a plotter. Which isn’t to say that I won’t be using all the ideas that I did come up with for those chapters.

I’m resetting the word count bar. I’m also putting up the first five hundred words in my excerpt page. Go take a look– I think this draft is already much better than the last.

an excerpt

I’ve been having trouble with a fight scene, so I went back to try it again, focusing more on the set up this time. Better, I think.

The chamber that Rylan stepped into was large, over twice as long as it was wide, and their path was a set of gallery railings that ran along the walls. Halfway through the room a walkway spanned the width and divided the room in two, and two jeweled chandeliers hung down on either side, ropes of glittering diamonds and sapphires dangling almost carelessly. The lights were pinpricks of gold from the candles that spanned along the rail, just enough to see the stairs across the room. “That one?” he whispered.

Dacha panted louder than he spoke, slightly bent and shrugging her shoulders in time with her breathing. She nodded. Rylan took the lead, and chose to walk around the wall and avoid the walkway. Saffira’s lantern behind him threw a giant’s shadow on the far wall. Dacha may have been out of breath, but adrenaline gave Rylan the impression that his heard had moved behind his ears. He moved at a walk for Dacha’s sake, both swords free of their sheaths and his eyes scanning to and fro. There were four doors on the upper level aside from their intended staircase, one at each corner. Four silent, black mouths.

Two footsteps beyond the first corner, Rylan heard an extra set of feet on the tile floor. “Saffira!”

The wild woman spun between her companions and the open doorway, and she blocked high. The black axe crashed onto the large knife and forced Saffira to her knees. Two other guards moved past him with short swords in hand, and Rylan heard the sound of crossbows loading across the room.

villian: kione remerdii: introduction

Kione Remerdii, lord of blue crystal

“Those that protested, ‘I had no choice,’ obviously lacked an imagination.”

Kione Remerdii

Kione’s family are not noble; the Remerdiis are what is known as ‘Landed Gentleman’, which means that they get a surname, but are barred from officially naming their territories or taking on slaves bound in gold. For services to the king, Kione was promoted to the rank of pseudo-nobility, given the title of ‘Lord’… but his home and lands were not given an official name. Instead, after a bit of social fumbling he was nicknamed ‘Lord Kione Remerdii, of blue crystal’ after his new crest, a piece of celestite shining in the dark. This combined the gentleman and lordly titles, and aside from some prestige bestowed very little special privilege. Given the service he was performed in exchange, some might even think that he was robbed. Kione accepted graciously instead.

The hierarchy, to be clear: Royalty > High Nobility > Nobility > Landed Gentleman > Gentleman > common men.


When Kione was eight years old, he was put in charge of his family’s dogs, to teach him to rule. Dogs, his father theorized, were the perfect way to raise his son: they would flock for food and favors, and were easily trained, easily led astray. This was much how the senior Remerdii saw his people, which he organized into strict routines and rigid groups, all heavily moderated. Kione adopted the same practices, training the animals, then using them for mundane labor.

Two years later, Kione was with his animals when a much younger boy– probably five or so, and noble-born on top of it– thought it would be fun to run among them and hit them with a heavy stick, normally used for chastising the dogs. Kione caught and held him, wrenching his stick away from him and demanded that the child desist and leave. The boy swore and refused, reaching back to take back his weapon as he struggled. Then the boy’s father came into view.

Immediately the child threw himself on the ground and began sobbing. The father shouted and scooped him up, asking his son what had happened and giving Kione a very unpleasant expression as the boy pointed a finger at the stick, but seemed too wrought to make out the words. Kione’s explanation seemed to be disregarded.

When Kione’s own father called on him later for an answer, Kione again tried to explain that he had not been in the wrong. His father cut him off, affirmed that he already knew what had really happened. Then he went on to explain that it was unimportant. Truth was, ultimately, less important than appearance. He was to find other ways, other options, but always must appear blameless, regardless of his intentions, the presence or lack of guilt. Then Kione was punished as if he had attacked the little noble, to the satisfaction of their guest.

Kione learned his lesson, and did not make that mistake again.

a quick note…

I’ve posted a small piece of my second draft under the ‘excerpt’ page of my blog. Anyone who wants to read the very beginning of what I’ve been prattling on about can now do so.

I’ve also just posted my query letter to Janet at Query Shark, a blog that takes query letters and critiques them. I spent fifteen minutes nit-picking my already nit-picked letter, and it took pure force of will just to hit the ‘send’ button while I could feel my heart tightening with every beat. My hands are shaking, I can barely type, and I’m having difficulty breathing. This isn’t even a real query. How the heck do professional writers do this?