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 practice – prologue

More writing practice! This time I’m getting an idea of what to do for the book’s prologue.

Saint Know-All’s also been prepping for NaNoWriMo with excerpts.

The pair lugged machinery across the spring countryside, mud and newborn grass, sunshine and hesitant rain, clean air and a brisk chill to the wind. Maxwell carried his cane and silk hat in one hand, a cracked leather pack of his favorite tools in the other. Uriel followed. His load was so heavy that even the large man should have struggled with the weight; Uriel only worried about keeping his footing in the sodden earth. He did not have much to his name, and covering his breeches in mud did not appeal to him.

Maxwell stabbed holes in the ground with his cane as he trudged. “How much further?” he demanded.

Uriel blinked slowly. His gait did not waiver. “Approximately three kilometers, two hundred and four meters from where you stand, master.”

“Good. My arms feel like lead.” Maxwell shifted his pack from one hand to the other, trading for his cane and hat. “Worse yet. Take this, Uriel.”

Uriel took Maxwell’s pack.

Maxwell stuffed his silk hat atop his head, covering wild black hair. They started off again. Soon, “How much further now?”

They took a break when the church spire came into view. It was a humble building, painted, then forgotten about. A simple stone angel prayed over the deserted road from the spire, the church itself infrequently visited. Its windows had been shuttered, its stairs un-swept and covered with last fall’s leaves. One last icicle clung to a corner of a crooked gutter rail.

Uriel sat on a convenient stone.

Maxwell paced, back and forth, back and forth. He stabbed the ground and trampled little plants, all the while muttering to himself. Occasionally he would turn on Uriel with questions– ‘What is the ratio of a healthy body to the blood it contains?’ (about thirteen to one, by volume) and ‘At what temperature does a body react best after coming out of cryo-freeze?’ (entirely dependant on the desired effect, but given the history of Maxwell’s work, a centigrade of ten degrees). Uriel’s red eyes would dilate in and out, then produce the answer. Maxwell kept pacing.

Uriel let the sun warm him, eyes closed, almost at peace. He stretched his arms and legs, felt his muscles flex and his gears rotate about to facilitate him.

They were one hundred and twenty-two meters from their destination now, and Maxwell was taking quite a long break for a man who was to be impatient to arrive. Finally, Maxwell stopped pacing. “He would be thirteen?”

He had not asked Uriel, but Uriel answered anyway. “Discounting the time spent during his deaths, Leo has lived approximately fifteen years, seven months, and twelve days, master.”

“Fifteen. Really. … I thought he was younger. Fifteen?” Maxwell stabbed the ground, one swift, brutal stroke purposefully aimed at a mushroom growing by the side of the road. “Well. Let’s see the boy, shall we?”

That was not a question. That was an order.

Uriel obediently shouldered both packs.

pre-nanowrimo snippet– the barn raising

Still practicing Leo– I wanted to see how he got along with his father, while I was at it.

While the four Soarin brothers danced to fiddle music and neighbors in dirty work clothes helped themselves to the food laid out on the baled hay, Leo had taken refuge in the loft above the barn proper. He could see everything from there– Merrily was laughing and clapping beside her niece, Mathew’s eldest son restrained a small herd of children while his youngest sneaked extra helpings of cherry pie. The barn vibrated with the beat of men and women clapping and stomping their feet in time to the fiddle. Noisy, dirty, enthusiastic farmers, unlike anything Leo had ever grown up with. He found himself partial to them… not their noise, or the hours they kept, or the distance from any real civilization, of course. That wouldn’t do. But there was something there, a common bond between them.

Leo didn’t see his father on the floor. He noticed this a moment before Maxwell marched up the steps, still wearing his immaculate blacks, somehow still free from dust and straw. “I see you’ve found the best place in the barn,” Maxwell said. He’d meant, of course, that the loft was as far away as they could get from the party without leaving.

Leo shrugged and glanced down at Merrily. Maybe now, or when the music died down a little. Or maybe it would be better after. But would she be tired after? She was in a good mood, but she had that niece-friend Nancy with her now, and she got to see him more than most of her extended family. He glanced up at his father. Maxwell raised an eyebrow.

“I can’t talk to her,” Leo blurted out.

“It’s a blessing. She’ll try to make you one of them,” Maxwell said.

“I don’t know if I can do the dances.”

“You, out on the floor with that lot?”

“What if I ask and she says no?”

Maxwell took a look at the girls from over the rail. Merrily with her brown skin and nappy dreadlocks was plainly visible, still in that yellow dress. Did she own any other clothes, Maxwell wondered. All Maxwell could see of Nancy was her long auburn braid, but from what he recalled she was a lot better looking. “Your mother was a pain in the ass, Leo. If you must shackle yourselves to one of them, at least try to pick a handsome girl.”

Leo didn’t even know why he was telling his father this. “Miss Soarin is the most wonderful lady that I have ever met. I don’t care what she looks like.”

As if on cue, the violin’s piece cut off and the boys began whooping. Leo turned and headed down to the ground, as if he’d only sought a quiet word with his father, aware that Maxwell was probably still looking at him with some sort of disgust. It served him right, though, for saying that about mother… but the barn was smaller than Leo had thought, and abruptly he found himself face-to-face with Merrily again. Nancy smiled at him, then cut off mid-conversation. Merrily looked at Leo, waiting, expectant.

Leo opened his mouth. “Er.”

Nancy giggled.

“You’re gonna ask me to dance,” Merrily said.

“I am?” Leo asked. He was? Was that why he came down?

“You are.” She grabbed his wrist and dragged him to the makeshift dance floor. Leo’s feet hardly kept up, stumbling after her. He looked back, most likely from some latent instinct to seek shelter in a moment of terror. He caught sight of his father instead, leaning on the rail above them. The artificer mouthed, ‘I told you so’.

Why did he keep doing this to himself? Why?

old art, from ‘the artificer’s angels’

Sortof like the scrap I found not long ago, I came some of my old ‘Artificer’s Angels’ art in a packed notebook. Some of these were neat enough to share. 🙂

Who doesn’t love airships?

Air ships and gliders!

My heroine’s family is mostly dark skinned; her second-eldest brother has a polished version of this tattooed over his heart in white ink.

Matthew's Tattoo

Violetta (pencil)

A color image of the last one:


And finally… that old digital painting of my villain. Or, one of the stories’ three villains. I think Uriel has the purest motivation of the lot, yet he’s still somehow the most evil.

Uriel (recolored)

nano practice

Still trying to get down characters, setting, and feel for my new novel. I’ve never written steampunk before, but this was immensely enjoyable.

“Are you certain that this is a good idea?” Paul asked.

Abraham’s hand, covered in grease smudges, did not waver. He had careful hands, good hands; a good mechanist could keep a level palm as the world collapsed around him. He paused, said, “Yes,” and flipped the switch. The wires trailing from switch to device swayed. Electricity arched, hit the grounding wires, and dissipated.

At the Soarin farm, Leo stopped halfway between the coop and the farmhouse, a basket of eggs in hand. It was all he could do to keep the basket held up as he collapsed. He hit his head hard on impact, but he saved the Soarin’s breakfast.

Fifty seven miles away, the lights in Maxwell’s secret laboratory shut off one section at a time as it lost power. Five blocks of white lights, then a panel of red glowing buttons, then one last green light by the back wall flickered and died. For a moment all was still.

Then a steel marble, freed from its magnet, ran along the metal track, into a cup, tipped over a weight, triggered a line, and turned on the backup generator. The emergency systems hummed, then roared back to life.

Uriel started the rebooting process. First his core functions, the platform that supported power, air intake, communication lines. His fingers moved on their own as the system checked each component of his rebuilt body. Red eyes glowed briefly in the dark, dilated in and out. Uriel looked down, where his hands were forced to rest at his side by electro-magnetic cuffs.

But electro-magnets needed electricity to run.

The beep behind his ear signaled the start of his auxiliary functions. That included links to the artificer, access to Maxwell’s private data files, locked tools… but it also included a behavior control procedure.

Uriel ripped his hand free of the cuff, grabbed the first tool on the nearby bench– a brass compass fit with a charcoal pen, and rammed the sharp point of the instrument though his temple, several inches into a mechanical brain. Uriel’s right half went numb, and he lost vision in that eye. Auxiliary booting halted mid-procedure.

He screwed off his head and placed it carefully on the table, pried out his left eyeball and navigated his way through the room to the emergency kit. He took two mirrors, four beeswax candles, a pair of candle-sticks, fancy matches, and set up his workshop: one candlestick for the light, the other to perch his red eye on. Uriel opened his own head from the back, pulled away the hair, and began to repair the damage, adjusting the angle of his eye by hand every few minutes. If he’d had his mouth, he would have whistled.

Free. Free. Free.

Back in the study, Abraham wiped his hands on his work pants. “Power off. I told you I knew what I was doing.”

how do you prepare for nano?

Personally, I’ve been haunting the fantasy forums and coyly posting whenever I see some opportunity to show off (at least I’m honest?), then wondering if I could be writing out a detailed plot. Notes on the church bulletins during the announcements, daydreaming situations… really, though, I think the best way to set out a tone is to write out bits and pieces.

I had an idea for a scene and tone that I liked a short while ago. I can’t write for nano yet, but so long as I don’t use my samples for my wordcount, it’s all good.

Here’s something that I came up with:

“You’re going to spar, Miss Soarin?” Leo asked, and forced a smile. He stepped carefully away from Merrily, hands held behind his back in what he considered a respectful pose.

“Yep!” Merrily hoisted up the hem of her lemon-yellow gingham skirt. “I’ve got trousers on. See?”

Her trousers were brown, the sort of stiff canvas that the Soarin boys wore about the yard. The garment fit her so well that the cut suggested tailoring. He could imagine a healthy Misses Soarin laboring by lamplight with measuring tape and needle… Leo stopped his imagination there and tried not to think about Merrily’s legs. “But… why not just wear trousers? You might take off your skirts…”

Merrily’s smile turned at once, and she sent him a pointed glare, dropped the hem of her skirt, and marched off toward her brothers and their sand bag targets.

Leo fumbled, grasped for something else to say. He certainly hadn’t meant it as an insult; he needed to make it better. “… Mechanics wear trousers!”

That probably wasn’t it.

So… anyone else doing NaNo want to write snippets along with me? Comment with a link; I’ll post them on my site.

nano plan

It’s a bit early for it, but with National Novel Writing Month a bare month and a half away, I thought that I’d outline my project and a few of the details. Anyone participating in NaNo is welcome to add me to their buddies list– [my profile].

The Artificer’s Angels
POV: Third person omniscient. Currently out of fashion, but nonetheless holds promise.
Rating: PG – PG13. I’m in the mood for something lighter.
Genre: Fantasy.
Sub-Genres: Magical-steampunk, action/adventure, romance.

Most grave robbers take the jewelry. This one stole the body.

On a tour of a mechanist’s laboratories– her brother’s workplace– Merrily Soarin wanders off, peeks into an ajar door, and discovers a boy in a glass tube. Just before Merrily is caught, she could have sworn that he looked at her. As if he were still alive.

Enter master artificer Maxwell Gallows, once famous, now infamous. He’s been looking for his son’s corpse for a long time, and meeting Merrily Soarin was the best thing that had yet happened for his search. But there are a few problems.

Maxwell Gallows would rather kill Merrily than repay her for her help. The mechanist is an old enemy, and won’t back down from a fight. Resurrection is illegal, and protocol dictates that the recipient be destroyed. Leo, the artificer’s son, is so damaged that his next death will be his last no matter how brilliant his father. To make matters worse, in an attempt to steal some of Maxwell’s old projects, the mechanist accidentally activated one.

Major Characters:

Leo Gallows – Leo has a good, level head on his shoulders, and unlike his father, he has a strong conscience. He’s unbearably shy around girls, and doesn’t take well to Merrily’s constant hugs. He’s on his way to becoming an artificer in his own right.

Maxwell Gallows – Manic, driven, brilliant, but also self-centered and elitist. He doesn’t take well to being helped by a farming family, much less a religious one. He’s killed Leo twice in lab accidents.

Merrily Soarin – Cheerful, impulsive, accepting, and the bringer of hugs. Merrily spent half of her childhood working on the farm, a quarter taking stupid dares, and another quarter trying to resuscitate injured animals. The family has a little graveyard beyond the garden where Merrily buries the ones that don’t make it.

Paul Soarin – One of Merrily’s five older brothers, Paul bears the nickname of ‘Shadow’ for his tenancy to conform and follow.

Abraham Gennyson – A strong mechanist, Paul’s boss, and one of Maxwell’s old rivals. Abraham is brilliant at clockwork, but does not understand biological engineering or magic.

Uriel – The prototype Maxwell used before he tried to rebuild his son after his first death. Maxwell pulled Uriel out of a hospital morgue, but in the process of resurrecting him, erased his memories. Maxwell thought it was ironic to give him the name of an angel.

they’re just that good

Last week, I rented one of my favorite movies, “V For Vendetta”, as my boyfriend had not seen it and was sure to like the intellectual anarchy. Well, it’s two days late now, and I’ve found myself rewatching it a few times as I work on my book. It’s a good strategy– watch part of a movie, go back to the story, flip again. Especially an intelligent film that keeps your mind working.

I’ve noticed something that the movie does, though, that never occurred to me before I started watching it back to back.

The writing almost never includes setup, or how anything was accomplished.

For instance, in the very beginning of the story, V is introduced as a hero, madman, and genius. And strangely, this is all done in stylized dialog.

“Voilà! In view, a humble vaudevillian veteran, cast vicariously as both victim and villain by the vicissitudes of Fate. This visage, no mere veneer of vanity, is a vestige of the vox populi, now vacant, vanished. However, this valorous visitation of a by-gone vexation, stands vivified and has vowed to vanquish these venal and virulent vermin van-guarding vice and vouchsafing the violently vicious and voracious violation of volition.

“The only verdict is vengeance; a vendetta, held as a votive, not in vain, for the value and veracity of such shall one day vindicate the vigilant and the virtuous.

“Verily, this vichyssoise of verbiage veers most verbose, so let me simply add that it’s my very good honor to meet you and you may call me V.”

I could probably spend a good couple of posts going over the stylization, alliteration, and concept of strong, over pronounced dialog as a form of characterization. Let’s skip all that for now, and move on now that anyone who hasn’t seen the movie has an idea of V.

V proceeds from there to lead Evie to a rooftop, where he speaks with her for a moment before Big Ben chimes midnight, then pretends to conduct an orchestra. The police-state broadcast system starts playing classical music, the building beside where V stands is destroyed with explosives, and fireworks are set off, the biggest and last being red ones that form a ‘V’ with a circle about it at the end of the show.

So… to do this, this character is assumed to have hacked into a high-security government system, sneaked into a building, rigged the entire thing with explosives that would destroy that structure and only that structure, added a fireworks show, and set everything to go off in sync to a timer set just after midnight. Later, we find out that V is badly burned, and the mask isn’t just for decoration.

And the audience just accepts that he can do this. V is brilliant. We’re convinced. He’s just that good. Excellent characterization and genius in details and small things can override logistics and improbability. When weighed against other factors, it turns out that the logistics just aren’t important.

Inversely if V were written by anyone else…? I doubt it would have worked at all.

In fact, imagine that we had a weak character and a full description of exactly how said person managed to do A, B, and C. I think it would fall flat, even as a perfectly plausible chain of events. Mystery versus description, the mystery has a much stronger case than one would think.

new query letter!

I’m just about to finish up chapter seven– six more to go, but I’ve been having trouble motivating myself to finish the last thousand words before I get to the fun, violent part of the book.

So instead, I took a break to write a new query letter (minus the boring title-genre parts). I think they’re getting better; feel free to tell me if I’m completely deluded. 😀


In Marla, wars are fought with assassins, not armies.

The duke of Marla’s northern providence had been in the king’s disfavor since the duke married the king’s sister. The king’s opinion worsened when the duchess died suddenly and without explanation.

Duchess-to-be Wyrren Jadis is the king’s niece, but very much her father’s daughter: honorable, unsubtle, and with a firm sense of duty. Twelve years after her mother’s death, the king uses a mounting revolt on Jadis lands as an excuse to have his niece kidnapped and brought to his underground city of Vastii, which struggles to recover from plague, famine, and violent objections to their unfair monarch. Armed with a formal education, a specialty in a non-combative magic, three talented maids, and a high-ranking slave, Wyrren isn’t quite prepared to be her father’s assassin. But the king means to use Wyrren to accuse the duke of murder regardless of guilt, and he isn’t above making examples of her maids, or her slave, the man she secretly loves.

In the deepest tunnels of Vastii, far from the palace gentry, red crosses are drawn in chalk where effects of the plague have been seen. Wyrren’s slave is also a doctor, accustomed to slums, and has evidence to support a friend’s theory that this plague might have been started intentionally months before their arrival, and not by the king.