Favorite Scenes — Dead Magic Edition

I promised I’d post my favorite scene from the upcoming novel Dead Magic so … here we go.

Once again, I’m not one of those people who likes spoilers  … Unless I get invested in a character, then I have to know if they survive the book/story. No, really, I flip to the end of books and hunt for names just to make sure they’re still there. I won’t read the whole thing, I’ll just check if they still have dialog and then go back to reading like normal.

I know, I’m terrible.

Anyway, I won’t give any spoilers but I will post my favorite scene. I’ll give the barest amount of setup for this one — this scene happens early(ish) in the book and I cut it off before anything major can be revealed. Fans of Witch-Born will recognize the two characters (Dorian and Elsie). These two do play a major part in Dead Magic but as I’ve said before the book itself is more focused on Winslow Agoston and Valeda Quinlan.

Why do I love this scene in particular?

I think because it’s honest. Dead Magic takes place eight years after the ending of Witch-Born. Things have changed. Relationships have strained and while the love between Elsie and Dorian is still every bit as strong as in Witch-Born, all is not perfect.

Please note that this is an unedited version of the scene. 

Dead Magic: 

“Why would you promise that woman something you know you can’t give her?” Dorian half chased Elsie around the western perimeter of the ark, thoroughly annoyed that he’d been forced to hunt her down again.

“Who says I can’t give her what she wants?” Elsie kept a brisk pace, lithely avoiding the overgrowth of jungle around them. Her black hair was pinned up in a tight bun, making the exotic, angular curves of her face more prominent. If he hadn’t been suppressing the desire to strangle her Dorian might have given her a compliment.

“The Council says you can’t.” He had to catch himself on a fallen bit of tree when she abruptly stopped. The moist ground slid away from his left foot and he quickly found a better standing spot.

The ark was built precariously close to the edge of the ridge-line, its entire circumference taking up a four mile wide, three and a quarter mile long declivity in the mountain range. The egg-shaped monolith of iron and steel was far enough from any towns that it looked like a shadowed lump of hillside at a distance. Up close, however, it was big and bulky and looked quite impenetrable. Which, he thought with a frown, was the point.

Elsie turned to an iron ladder built into the side of the wall and prepared to climb. Dorian grabbed her elbow to stop her. There would be people wherever she was heading and they needed to do this conversation in private.

“You promised, Elsie.”

“No,” she said. “As I recall it, you are the one who promised silence, not me. I stood there like an idiot, trying to remind myself why I didn’t kill them all where they stood.”

“Elsie. Think of the hysteria that would happen if word got out.” Dorian moved closer to her, glancing at her gloved hand and preparing himself for the battle he’d just stepped into. “If Valeda Quinlan publishes the fact that Magic is dead, the Untalented will panic. There will be riots and mayhem and a lot of innocent lives will be lost.”

“Even the Witch-Born will panic, Dorian. Talented or not, all of Magnellum’s fate rests on the Warding Pillars. Panic is exactly how the people should be reacting.” Elsie scowled at him but didn’t move, still poised to climb the ladder. “The Wild is coming, Dorian. It’s coming and there’s very little we can do about it.”

“The Wild has been ‘coming’ for eight years now, Elsie!” Exasperated, he let go of her and shoved his fingers through his hair. “By Fates! I’ve been listening to you for eight long years. I’ve watched you build this … this …” He waved at the side of the ark in frustration, “this insanity using resources you shouldn’t have. Don’t try to deny it, either. Delgora was rich when you ascended to House Witch, but it wasn’t this rich. You’ve been spending more money than we’ve got, insistent that world is about to end, and for what?”

Elsie blinked up at him, her caramel eyes glimmering with an emotion he couldn’t recognize.

“The Warding Pillars haven’t failed, Elsie. There’s peace in Magnellum right now. You cannot overturn society on a whim.”

Steampunk Flavor

So there I was trying to write a straight romance novel for National Novel Writing Month in 2008, bored to tears because … well, I guess I’m just not made to write romance novels … when my friend suggested I make the story “steampunk.”

I had no idea what “steampunk” was at the time, but in the spirit of NaNoWriMo I took up his challenge. The world of Magnellum, where Witch-Born and Dead Magic take place, was given a distinctly “steampunk” flavor in all its trains and dirigibles and telegrams, but it does fall short of being an actual “steampunk.”

Real steampunk would focus more on the steam-powered technology and how it works and how it affects the characters and … you get it. Witch-Born and Dead Magic do not do this. They focus more on the magic in the world, thus detracting from the steam-tech on the page.

That being said,  I enjoyed the flavor. It opened me up to new possibilities within the novels like the dirigible — because who doesn’t love a good dirigible? And it gave me Valeda Quinlan.

Valeda is a newspaper reporter. The distinctly steampunk flavor of the novels sort of threw the concept of a reporter at me. I mean, if they have telegrams then they have newspapers. If they have newspapers then they have reporters.

Yes, Valeda is unabashedly a character trope. She’s as nosy and tenacious as they come. But she gets thrown into a situation where her talents as a reporter can’t help her, which is what makes her so fun. I do love “fish-out-of-water” stories.

Valeda is also more at home with the steam-technology prevalent in her world. Where the Witches of Magnellum tend to avoid mechanical contraptions, Valeda sees nothing wrong with them, so Dead Magic explores these things a trifle more.

The original draft even had a massive clock with all its gears and shifts for me to play with, but in the end that was edited out of the book. It distracted from the main storyline and had no real purpose than to blare “STEAMPUNK FLAVOR” at you.

In fact, there were many such instances like that one where I had to walk the tightrope between too much flavor and not enough. Perhaps one day I will make a revised edition of Dead Magic that puts all of that flavor back in, should Readers desire it and I feel so inclined. For now, however, the work will stand as it is.


About Dead Magic

That’s right … I have TWO books coming out next month. I’m not even sure what order they’ll be in. I do know I wrote Deviation first, which probably means Dead Magic will come out first … just cause that’s how things go most of the time.

Dead Magic is the sequel to Witch-Born. That’s my steampunky fantasy thing about … you guessed it … witches.

Well, not the sorts of witches you and I might be accustomed to. When I set out to write the book I was tired of the stereotypes witches tend to be sequestered to. You know; old, warty, pointed hats, eating children. I was even tired of the beautiful and misunderstood witch constantly having to hide who they were to avoid burning at the stake.

So! I made my witches nobility. Not only were they revered as the upper echelon of society, their magic had a purpose — sustaining the wards that kept the people safe.

Witch-Born was a joy to write. I wrote it for the 2008 National Novel Writing Contest and, funnily enough, it was the first year I won. (Brief shout-out, if you don’t know about NaNoWriMo then please, please click through. Go see what they’re about. Because they’re awesome.)

I had no intentions of making a sequel to Witch-Born, really I didn’t. Until one day I was fiddling with an old pocket watch and it broken in my hands. I know that seems like an odd reason to start a sequel but … hey, I’m a writer. I can’t explain why inspiration hits when it does. All I know is that I was staring at the little cog-work bits in my hands and Lord Winslow Agoston’s plight against the Wild began telling itself in my head.

As far as sequels go, Dead Magic was supremely difficult to write. I knew that I wanted it to conclude the story I began in Witch-Born, I didn’t want it to be a massive series like Sedition and Tapped are turning out to be. I wanted a pair of books that fit neatly together, but I also wanted to tell a fresh story.

So, while Dorian and Elsie have a major part to play in Dead Magic, this is mostly Winslow and Valeda’s story. Fans of Witch-Born will recognize Winslow’s name, but Valeda is a new creature entirely. She’s a newspaper woman hunting down the story of Magic’s disappearance. I fell in love with her from the first scene I wrote and I hope readers will feel the same way. She’s spunky and strong without being one of those overt-fighter-women that … ahem … I tend to write a lot of.

I learned a lot of things while writing Dead Magic but perhaps the most important aspect was the issue of time. Magnellum (the world in which Dead Magic and Witch-Born takes place) has changed in years between each book. There are new buildings and new people and new conflicts brewing throughout. Focusing on how Magnellum had changed helped me immensely as I was writing, but focusing on how those changes affected each character helped the world come to life.

Science Fiction vs. Fantasy Take 1

My first official Science Fiction will be released next month through Double Dragon Publishing. (That’s Deviation, for those of you just joining us.) Also, the sequel to Witch-Born will be released next month as well through the same publisher. (That’s Dead Magic.)

One science fiction, one fantasy. (Yes, I count Dead Magic as fantasy even though it has steampunk tendencies in it. I mean, it deals with witches and magic, it just makes sense.)

It’s interesting to me to see the differences between Science Fiction and Fantasy. I know that you can find both right next to each other in the bookstore. They’re categorized as Speculative Fiction and in some cases you can find them all on the same shelf/shelves.

But they are very, very different to write.

That’s probably obvious since they’re also very different when you’re reading them. Still, there are unique challenges in both genres when you’re writing. For example, you have a little more leeway in Fantasy. Everything still has to make sense, you can’t just explain everything away through magic. Magic itself should have rules and everything in your fantasy world reacts to those rules.

However, the cultures, lands, people and other aspects of a fantasy world are primarily yours to decide. You just have to stick to your set of rules.

With Science Fiction — or at least the science fiction I found myself writing — there are already rules and parameters that you have to stick to. Such as our planetary system. I only visit one other planet, Mars, but trust me … the research involved in knowing that planet well enough to put people on it was astronomical.  (You can kill me for the pun later.)

Mars is a real place. It has terrain. It has features. (It has Mount Olympus. Seriously. Look it up. It’s this volcano that just kept erupting and grew to a major height. I totally swiped it for the book.) But because Mars is a real place all those features, all that terrain, had to be taken into account. I did terraform the planet to sustain life in the book, which altered the terrain a bit (aka — gave it plant life) but the mountains and the ridges and the canyons are all still there.

This isn’t to say that you can be lax in Fantasy. If you build a world and put The Lonely Mountain on one section of the map, you certainly cannot go relocating that mountain halfway through the book.

It’s more like this; in Fantasy you’re creating everything. In Science Fiction you’re finding ways to break or otherwise mold what already exists.


Usurper Update

A lot of people have been asking me about Usurper lately. Which, let’s be honest, makes me happy since it means everyone really, really likes Trenna’s stories and wants to see what happens next.

So! For this week’s post I’m going to go ahead and give an update on where I am and … because everyone has been so very patient … I’ll include a snippet at the end.

I am right at the end of Usurper. And I do mean right at the end.

All the pieces are in place. All the characters have made it to their destinations and are gearing up for the final battle. All I need to do now is finish that final battle. But battle scenes take the longest for me to write.

They’re also my favorite bits to write, but they still take the longest because it’s hard to bring clarity in the middle of swords clashing, people screaming, and wounds being inflicted. Every character has a different set of motivations that become all the clearer amidst bloodshed — remember the end of Sedition?

I will have Usurper’s draft completed by the end of April. It will go in to my publisher/editor people on May 1st. After that, we’ll be waiting on the publisher and all that jazz, but this publisher tends to be very quick about getting things done so … Yes, you will (should, most probably) have Usurper in your hot little hands before 2015.

But I should warn you … there’s a lot of action in this one. Trenna’s back at her prime and getting her hands dirty.

Well … see for yourself … (Please remember, this has not been edited yet. Any and all grammatical errors are the hazards of the craft.)

She spotted the assassin first. Sitting at the table nearest to the hearth, Faxon Mylonas was profile to her, looking almost exactly as he had twenty-odd years prior. Trenna felt real fear curl in her gut at the sight of her son and husband sitting near the man, but her anger overtook that emotion when she spotted Troy. Trapped between the assassin and a woman whose occupation could only be that of a Blood Mage, Troy’s eyes were puffed and swelling and he was holding a bloodied handkerchief to his face.

Liana was moving before Trenna could stop the girl. She saw Faxon tense and knew he was preparing for Liana’s advance.

“Big T, thank gods,” Barmy stood from his stool. “I tried to warn them …”

“Thank you, Mister Friggs. May I borrow your stool?”

“My stool?” Barmy’s face creased in puzzlement.

Liana drew her cutlass, which sent a hiss of alarm through the already tensed room.

“Well, yes, I suppose …” Barmy stopped when he spotted Liana’s advance, gasping with further horror.

“Thank you.” Trenna grabbed the stool and started forward. She waited until Faxon stood, until he had his full focus on intercepting Liana, before she flung the chair over her shoulder with all her might.

It struck the Blood Mage on the side of her head, startling everyone at the table. Trenna took her advantage and rushed forward. The red-headed Mage fell against the table, dazed enough that she wasn’t prepared for Trenna’s second assault. She got to the table before the mage could find her wits, grabbed a fistful of spiky red hair and slammed the woman’s head into the hard, pitted surface.

With the flick of her wrist, Trenna snagged the dagger from her belt loop and held it to the unconscious woman’s throat in clear warning.

Faxon didn’t move. Whatever attack he’d planned against Liana had ceased and his wild, golden eyes fastened on Trenna. Nelek, Kaden and Troy had moved during the attack. Nelek stood with the boys flanking him, not entirely out of harm’s way, but at least they’d have a sporting chance now. Liana’s advance had been stalled as well. Trenna saw her slide toward Troy.

“Hello, Trenna.” Faxon still didn’t move. “Nice to see you haven’t lost your civilized touch.”

(And to answer … yes, I mean the Faxon you met in Sedition.)

Sequels & Teasers

I did not finish Usurper by the 2014 deadline. I felt a little bad about that, but then I looked at all I accomplished in 2013 and decided one miss wasn’t going to kill me.

Besides, I was stuck in Usurper because I knew Trenna and company were going home to Kiavana and I needed to figure out what had changed while they’d been away.

And boy, a lot has changed.

When I wrote Saboteur and Nelek had his brief visit home I didn’t have much trouble because … well, because 20 years hadn’t passed and there wasn’t much different. But walking into Kiavana Fortress now has to be both familiar and foreign.

This is the key to sequels, I think. This mesh of familiar and foreign, the appearance of beloved characters and the surprise of new situations … this is what can make or break a sequel. And it’s supremely hard to do.

Honestly, I don’t think I quite managed it in Saboteur. In my defense, Nelek isn’t in Kiavana long enough for it to really matter. But in Usurper we get to spend quite a bit of time in the castle, and I am very excited by it.

Fans of the books should be pleased by what they find. (At least I hope they are. I was.) And because I promised a bit of a teaser on my Facebook page, I’ll post a bit of what I wrote this week.

—– NOTE: This is an unedited version ——

Troy dismounted his horse and frowned at the ruins. They’d ridden most of the night, resting the horses just long enough to eat and this was what they were looking for?

It might have been a manor once but age and weather had crumbled the walls to an almost unrecognizable state. The dilapidated building was situated on a small inlet with a wide, undisturbed lake surrounding it. The forest seemed to be doing its best to overtake the half-collapsed conical towers. Vines and weeds crawled over pale stone, and peppered throughout what he could only assume had once been the courtyard were small trees sprouting between bits of rock.

He didn’t know whether to be sad that a manor could be reduced to such a state or amazed at the relentless growth slowing eating away at it.

“What is this place?” Liana asked.

Her voice was quiet, almost reverent, and when Troy looked at her he saw her shiver. She kept hold of her horse’s reigns but her blue gaze was fixed on the highest wall. She looked unsettled, maybe even frightened, and Troy frowned some more. He looked back at the ruins, trying to see what she saw, but could only find rough rock and greenery. He wondered if something in her Eldur blood was speaking to her but was afraid to ask. He found everything dealing with magic to be deeply troubling.

“This was my mother’s home,” Nelek said.

“Grandmother Auliere?” Kaden asked as he dismounted.

Troy moved to tie his horse to the nearest tree. He felt painfully out of place and needed to do something so he busied himself with unloading his saddle bags. He knew Kaden would scoff at him for thinking it, but when it came to Dyngannon family history he knew he didn’t quite fit. He was human, the son of their mother’s rival, and while Trenna had always called him a sign of peace for the future, his love and involvement in their family could not blot out the past.

He pulled his sword from the saddle and started strapping it on, barely listening to the conversation behind him.

“Brenson and I used to spend hours swimming in the lake,” Nelek said. “There’s a river that runs just past Kiavana fortress and ends right here. One of my earliest memories of your mother is in that river. Our camp was overrun and we had to flee.”

“I didn’t take mother for the running sort,” Liana said.

“I’m sure your mother would have loved to stay and fight,” Nelek said. “But she was my bodyguard at the time. Her first duty was my safety. So we ran.”

Endings and Hate Therapy

Carver Edlund said it best in Supernatural; “Endings are impossible.”

You have to tie everything up, bring all of the characters into a place of resolution and no matter what you do it will always feel like you missed something. In fact, on the next few edits it’s very likely that you’ll find one or two subplots that never got resolved.

Don’t panic. It happens. That’s what editing is for, after all.

My first published book Sedition went through four different endings. Witch-Born had three and Deviation (due to release in 2014) had five. That’s a lot of re-writing and re-plotting. It was frustrating and I went through weeks of what I like to call my “hate therapy.”

Basically, “hate therapy” is when I become disgusted with everything I’ve written. From what I understand every writer has this problem at some point. We all come to a place where we stare at our work and can find nothing salvageable about it.

The inner critic comes out in full force, identifying poorly worded sentences, cliché’s we hadn’t noticed before, and weak characters that suddenly remind us of tin soldiers. You know, identical soldiers made of tin with no inner workings, no motivation, and no reason to exist.

By now you’re wondering why I call this “therapy.” There doesn’t seem to be anything therapeutic about loathing your own work.

I learned a couple years ago to embrace this natural period of a writer’s life. When I’m in the middle of “hate therapy” I know I am being too hard on myself and, at the same time, am able to identify some very important things.

Like tin soldiers running rampant on the page.

But instead of dwelling on how bad it is I embrace it as a challenge to fix those things I’ve done wrong.  That’s when it becomes therapy. When I turn all that angst into a productive outlet I almost always find myself enjoying the work again.

Persona is coming near to its ending. For those following it online you’re still in chapter fourteen, but I am in the middle of chapter eighteen. (By the way, I dislike chapter fourteen and will be editing it.)

I’ve always had a particular place in mind for Persona’s ending. In fact, I have stubbornly re-worked and worked again and altered my outline in order to preserve this ending. Timelines are crazy hard to keep in check when writing fiction, especially if you’re dealing with something as well documented as World War II.

But about a week ago I had a eureka moment and figured out how my characters get from point A to point B (the ending) without screwing anything up. The timeline is mostly preserved. The actions make sense. More importantly, this ending leaves a profound impact on the characters and, hopefully, the reader.

Persona and Saboteur are the only two books I’ve written where I knew the ending before I got there. To be honest, I don’t know if this is a good or bad thing. Knowing the ending still gives me a struggle because I find myself working harder to make sure the entire book deserves the ending that I’ve planned.

I still have to go through “hate therapy”, it just happens earlier on in the book. But at least I don’t have to re-write several scenes like I did with Sedition, Witch-Born and Deviation.

So … Yes. Endings are impossible. They’re heartbreaking, irritating, and hard work but if we do it right then it’s all worth it.