Jaime Lee Moyer: Midnight Secrets and Lies
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I was just guessing at numbers and figures, pulling the puzzles apart

A Parliament Of Queens still loves Coldplay best of all. “Spies” is still Owen’s song, and “The Scientist” is still Rosalind’s song. My brain is never subtle.

Since last we gathered around the old blog, I finished revising The Brightest Fell and sent it off to a patient beta reader. This long suffering friend is bringing fresh eyes to this story. Since I added a little over 10k to this book, it really is a story now and not a skeleton scampering in the woods.

Or at least that’s what I hope. Until my friend tells me the story works, or is a dismal failure, hope will keep me going.

I think I gave myself a whole 24 hours off before diving right back into Queens. It’s utterly amazing how time away from a book that was kicking my ass brings perspective. I saw holes and filled them. I saw places where the tone was all wrong, and I fixed those.

Most of this was in the last few scenes I wrote. That was in the middle of holiday madness at work, so I’m not at all surprised. I wrote those chapters in my sleep. That, gentle readers, isn’t hyperbole. I fell asleep at my keyboard almost daily. It’s not fun being that exhausted and I don’t recommend it for creative endeavors.

The book isn’t fighting me now. I’m counting that a victory and I take my wins where I can find them.

A darling, and then I’m off to bed. I can’t write if I don’t sleep. That’s a proven fact.

Goodnight stars.

The bedroom was lit by one small alchemist blub in a bedtable lamp. Dim light was kinder on Owen’s eyes, she knew that, but Ros wished the shadows weren’t falling over his face, hiding his expression as she crossed the room. She sat on the edge of the bed and took his hand. Owen smiled, chasing away the last of her fears, and making her cry in the bargain.

Ros kicked off her shoes and slipped under the coverlet, carefully molding her body to his so that she wouldn’t hurt him. He’d been her best friend since sixteen; her lover since she’d turned nineteen. This was how they’d always been, holding tight to one another in the worst of times and their deepest troubles. She felt foolish for thinking the world might push them apart.


We all know what they did to witches

Ah spring, that silly season of award lists, recommended reading lists, and erasure. Time for my annual blog post, for lo, nothing ever changes.

Erasure is such an ugly word, with all its connotations of non-existence, of wiping out accomplishments and work and history. At times an ugly word is exactly the right word. Erasure is so much more than “forgetting” to add women (including QUILTBAG and minority women) to a list, or not being able to think of any women who’ve written even a single worthy book.

And let it be said that I don’t buy the chorus of baffled–and totally disingenuous–cries of “but I don’t understand why you’re angry.”

Bullshit. You do understand. Every single one of you. And that in a nutshell is why I’m angry, and why so many women writers are angry.

Women understand. Erasure is nothing new for us.

Marion Langhorne Howard Brickwedde (1909-1997) with Ferdinand G. Brickwedde (1903-1989)
This photograph of Marion Langhorne Howard Brickwedde (1909-1997) with Ferdinand G. Brickwedde (1903-1989) was published with the caption: “Dr. F. G. Brickwedde and his wife with the apparatus for making heavy water.” Marion Brickwedde earned a B.S. in chemistry (1929) and M.S. in physics (1930) from the University of Georgia. During her career, she taught physics at George Washington University and Pennsylvania State University, and was on the research staffs of the U.S. National Bureau of Standards and Los Alamos National Laboratory. Pictured with her husband, those accomplishments vanished.

Bertha Parker Pallan [Cody] (1907-1978)

Bertha Parker Pallan [Cody] (1907-1978) is considered one of the first female Native American archaeologists. The caption to this photograph said that Bertha Pallan was an “expedition secretary” who was demonstrating “the difference in size of early type [small] and large type atlatl darts from Gypsum Cave.” Bertha Pallan’s knowledge and field experience vanishes by labeling her a secretary and not an archaeologist.

Ruby Hirose

Biochemist and bacteriologist Ruby Hirose researched serums and antitoxins at the William S. Merrell Laboratories. The original caption for this photo read: “Dr. R. Hirose, American-born Japanese girl scientist on the research staff of the Wm. S. Merrell biological laboratories” I can’t even believe the dismissive and racist “Japanese girl scientist” label stuck on Dr. Hirose.

How many of you have heard of Jacqueline Cochran? She was the first woman to break the sound barrier.

Or Katharine Dexter McCormick? She was a U.S. biologist, suffragist, philanthropist, and funded most of the research necessary to develop the first birth control pill.

Margaret Harwood directed the Maria Mitchell Observatory on Nantucket Island, and ran its female-founded and female-run nonprofit science education institute.

Beatrice “Tilly” Shilling was a prize-winning motorcycle racer and aeronautical engineer.

Maud Slye was a pathologist and noted cancer researcher She was also a prolific published poet.

Mary Roberts Rinehart, is considered to have invented the “Had-I-But-Known” school of mystery writing. She also created a costumed supercriminal called “the Bat”, who was cited by Bob Kane as one of the inspirations for his “Batman.”

I could name hundreds of women scientists, mathematicians, artists, activists, pilots, and writers who accomplished amazing things, and wrote amazing books, during their lifetimes. And for every one of these women, whose lives aren’t close to ancient history, you have to dig into historical newspaper and Smithsonian archives to find mentions of them. Sometimes you have to dig deep.

This isn’t counting the thousands of photographs I found doing novel research where women’s names, their identity and history, has been erased. These women are only remembered as wife of Mr. Whatever, or listed as wife and daughter of Senator Importance. They don’t exist as individuals, as people.

Which brings me back to women genre writers. Given the surface evidence, we don’t exist either. Other than one or two names that appear again and again, we don’t make recommended lists, award lists, year’s best lists, or most anticipated upcoming books lists.

And I’ll tell you, each and every time I see lists, or blog posts, written by other women who list nothing but books by white men? I don’t even know what to call that feeling.

The erasure of women is built into the system, from the marketing level on down. Our work is considered lesser and slight, but if you do write anything with any meaning or depth, then you’re boring. The message from people who should be our peers is stay in your place, and don’t try to play in the boys’ sandbox. Women don’t write “real” SF or epic fantasy, or even real fantasy–whatever that is.

You have to be the most thick skinned, stubborn, and determined person who has ever lived to stick with this. At times you have to nurse that tiny flicker of anger into a roaring bonfire and hold it close. Anger is a survival skill for women writers. Anger can lend you strength.

Luckily, women are good at surviving and holding each other together. We’ve had more than enough practice while dealing with attempts to wipe us off the publishing record. Most of that ongoing support happens in the background, where no one but other women can see. Much as I’d like that to change now, today, even in 2016 it’s still the wiser move to go slow.

Because if women writers are too public about supporting each other, or network too much where others can see, they tend to be viewed as conspiring to bring down all the men. Words like equal shares of marketing budgets, fairness on award lists, and balance in numbers of reviews are interpreted as “Mine, mine! All of publishing belongs to meeeeee!”

That unleashes all kinds of hell falling on women’s heads, again from people who are supposed to be our peers. Anger can keep you strong, but it can also level major cities.

One would almost think women writers were witches, with the ability to erase men’s accomplishments and deny them a career.

And we all know what they did to witches. They cursed them with the need to write.

2015: I’m erasing myself from the narrative….

“Hamilton”, and Eliza, may have been my happiest discovery of 2015. The songs have given me a thousand story images and endless lines to quote. In a year that was a disaster on all levels, I’m clinging to all the positives I can find. I’ve never been a fan of musicals, but Lin-Manuel Miranda’s words and music have made me a big fan of this one.

Friends know what went on last year, but this is the first time I’ve written about any of this publicly. I thought long and hard about putting any of this out into the world, especially the professional disasters, but I’m really sick of tiptoeing around the truth. I’m too damn honest for my own good, but that’s nothing new.

As far as personal disasters, I’m still everyone’s bad example. Don’t be me, kids.

2015 brought the third Gabe and Delia book, Against A Brightening Sky, into the world. I’m not the only one who thinks it is the best of the trio, but how good a book is has little to do with how it fares in the world. I still have hopes for this book I love most of all. That might be silly, but there you have it.

A month or so before the pub date for Sky arrived, Tor informed me of some decisions they’d already made. They were delaying publication of the tradepaper of the second book, A Barricade In Hell, for two full years. Not long after that, I got another email telling me “the time had come” to pull all the hardcover stock of books one and two and sell them to a remainder house. While ebooks of Barricade would still be available, there wouldn’t be any new print copies available.

That happened about a month or so after Sky’s release. From the limited information I had, what looked like rising, good sales for all three books stopped. As in, they all stopped selling completely. With the middle book of the trilogy unavailable that was exactly what I expected to happen. My expectations were met with interest.

Since I got serious about writing I’ve said that failure wasn’t an option. For the last two months I’ve spent a hell of a lot of time thinking about what exactly constitutes failure. Given the emails I’ve gotten, and the lines included in reader reviews, asking me to please write more Gabe and Delia books and keep the series going, I have a hard time thinking of these books as a failure.

And sometimes, failure has help. See previous blog posts about invisible women writers.

One thread that has run through a lot of reviews I’ve seen is that Against A Brightening Sky didn’t feel like the end of the series, or tie up the characters in tidy little packages. There’s a reason for that. When I wrote Sky I didn’t know it was the last book. I have two more books and a Dora novella plotted out, but for now all I plan to write are the novella.

Isadora Bobet in a very noir 1940s Los Angeles helping an old friend solve a mysterious disappearance, and a brujo searching for his granddaughter, is too good to ignore. This one treads dangerously close to full blown horror. I think I’m okay with that.

The bottom line is that the Delia series didn’t make as much money as Tor wanted to make. They’re moving on and so am I.

Moving on was the theme of 2015.

For those who don’t know, I booted the roommate out of my life and he moved out last April. More than six years after meeting him, and four years into the relationship and living together, he told me he’d only been biding his time to find a connection in town. As soon as found someone to buy from he went back to drinking and doing drugs 24/7.

His favorite place to buy was our living room. I wasn’t even remotely okay with any of that. His response was to make my life hell and do all he could to keep me from writing.

You know you’re living with a true addict when he starts stashing dope in the freezer and scamming his doctor for Vicodin. Did you know you can crush and snort Vicodin to get high faster? Neither did I. I also didn’t know you could take five or six at a time and not OD.

So that was fun. Moving to Texas was my idiot decision of the decade, but pathological liars are really damn good at what they do, which is lie and convince you they mean every word. The scariest part was researching sociopaths for my books and ticking off all the personality traits of the man sitting in the living room.

But I survived. I moved away from the place we’d shared for five years in the fall. He doesn’t know where I am and I’m determined to keep it that way. He’s blocked from all my social media, my email; everything.

I have friends from work that live nearby now, and actually get to spend time with them. I have no money, but I have peace. I’ll take it.

2016 has nowhere to go but up. New books, new stories–a life that includes more fun and less stress.

It might even include more blogging. We’ll see.

A con schedule of my very own

Still not dead. Just up to my eyebrows in life and far too busy. I think about blogging every single day, but sleep keeps winning.

There will be a real update on writing and stuff before I leave for Austin on Friday, but for now my Armadillo Con schedule. Not that many–or any–of you are in Texas, or will be at Armadillo con, but it’s been a while since I had a schedule to post. Seize your opportunities where you can and all that.

I might be a little giddy about going to a con after so long.

Fr1700E Researching Your Book
Fri 5:00 PM-6:00 PM Ballroom E
Jayme Lynn Blaschke, J. Kathleen Cheney*, Jaime Lee Moyer, Cary Osborne, Lee Thomas, Ernie Wood

Where to look, who to ask, what to do? How much is too much? What do you do with all the research that doesn’t fit in the book?

Come hear me, and others, talk about research. I love research. I bet none of you knew that about me, but it’s true!

Fr1930L Meet the Pros Party
Fri 7:30 PM-9:30 PM Lobby
Here’s an opportunity to meet your favorite author or artist.

I plan to be there, at least for a little while. How long depends on who I find to talk to. So come talk to me so I don’t sit in the corner, alone and watching Austin revolve around Wes Chu.

Sa1200DR Autographing
Sat Noon-1:00 PM Dealers’ Room
Lou Antonelli, Cassandra Rose Clarke, Tess Mallory, Jaime Lee Moyer, Alan Porter, Ernie Wood

I’ll be the one in the blue feminism tee shirt.

I will have bookplates for Against A Brightening Sky to sign and other bookmark type things. If you happen to have one of my books, I’ll sign those too. I’ll sign almost anything–but I draw the line at body parts. No signing those.

Sa1700A Poetry Round Robin Reading
Sat 5:00 PM-6:00 PM Southpark A
Tess Mallory, Jaime Lee Moyer, Michelle Muenzler, Juan Perez*, Rie Sheridan Rose, Katherine Sanger, Adrian Simmons

Panelists take turns reading their poetry.

This could be the year to read bitter poetry. We’ll see.

Su1130CC Reading
Sun 11:30 AM-Noon Conference Center
Jaime Lee Moyer

I’ll be reading from Against A Brightening Sky. The first three chapters are up on my website, so I plan to pick another chapter to read from. It should be a nice sneak preview for those up before noon on Sunday morning. I’ll arrange to have chocolate or some other goodie there too. Yes, I’m not above bribery to attract an audience.

Su1400F Book Covers: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Sun 2:00 PM-3:00 PM Ballroom F
P. J. Hoover, Rocky Kelley*, Rick Klaw, Jaime Lee Moyer, Willie Siros, Jacob Weisman
How does a cover artist balance creative impulses with the imperative to create a cover that sells books? What are the notable successes and failures?

A bookseller, the guest artist, some editors and an author–me–will talk about cover images. I know the kinds of covers I love and why they work for me, or cause me to pick the book up for a closer look. I need to think a little harder about covers that don’t work for me and why.

If you are at Armadillo Con and you don’t find me in any of those places, look in the bar. Above all, I plan to have fun at this con.

Questions of science, science and progress, do not speak as loud as my heart

So this book I’m writing, the one I dream about? I want it to be everything.

I want it to be the book everyone wants to read, the one they talk about, lust after, can’t wait to hold in their hands. I want people to reach the end and sigh, that little Oh… that means they felt something, they’ll remember this story and these characters. I want this book to be THAT book.

In their honest, middle of the night moments, that’s what every author wants for their book. Otherwise, says I, why write this book, or any book, at all? Long term, cool and collected professionals never admit to any of this, but I am always undone by honesty.

No one should doubt this is a fantasy novel when they read it. No slipping into the cracks between genres this time, no pretension to literary grandeur or confusion about what this book is. All my stories are love stories, even the ones full of magic and alchemy, but anyone who’s been around here more than a nano second knows that.

I always share pieces of a WIP. I haven’t shared any of this one, mostly from lack of time and lack of blogging. A few rough, raw, and subject to revision darlings below.

Goodnight, stars.

She was already asleep when he came out of the washroom, curled around a pillow she’d hugged to her chest and fresh tears drying to salt on her cheeks. He’d no doubt those hours of not knowing if he was alive or dead were responsible for some of those tears. Owen stood at the side of the bed, watching her, before slipping under the covers.

He’d take away all her hard days if he could, but that wasn’t possible. All he could do is try not to add to their number.

Jared stood watch outside while Rosalind recited cantrips older than the city of Scio, trusting the magic would work even if she stumbled over words. The protection spells were keyed to her family, her blood, and only a family member could activate or take them down again. She felt the watchers stir and stretch, and their awareness begin to fill the palace. Rosalind thought of herself as a scientist, but she couldn’t dismiss the itching feel of magic opening eyes in every leaf, every pebble on the garden path, and every stone in the palace walls.

Ros had stayed in the room after the watchers awakened, struggling with an unexpected surge of grief and loneliness. Over the years she’d grown accustomed to missing her parents, and the distant ache that never truly left. Her brother Jakob’s death was still an obsidian knife, slicing bits of her away each time she thought of him. All the years she’d used alchemy to keep from conceiving Owen’s child — a child her husband Roland would have gleefully, maliciously, claimed as his own — now loomed as a huge mistake. She was the last of her bloodline. No matter how brave the face she showed the world, or how strong she was, Ros couldn’t deny the truth. If something happened to Owen, she’d be utterly alone.


Ophelia chose that moment to hoot softly and tip her head to one side, begging for another treat. Tomas fed her, his expression stubborn and determined. “When I’m king I’ll have all the owls I want. No one tells Papa what to do.”

“Kings do have more freedom, Tomas. But they also have a great responsibility.” Rosalind put Ophelia back on top of the wooden perch next to her chair, but kept a tight hold on her tether. She didn’t want the owl to swoop at Tomas searching for more treats, and frighten him. “Ember and Ophelia are very good at keeping the older sections of the palace free of mice. But do you know why owls are such successful hunters?”

Curiosity brimmed in Tomas’ eyes. He shook his head. “No, why?”

“The shape of their wing feathers. A mouse never knows Ophelia or Ember is anywhere near until it’s too late.” Ophelia was well used to being handled. The little owl swiveled her heard to watch as Ros extended her wing and gently ran a finger along the edge, but didn’t try to pull away. “These feathers break up air currents in a way that allows an owl to fly silently. I want to learn how that works and try to find ways to shape airships so they fly just as silently. That’s a much more important reason for me to have owls than Ember catching a few mice.”

Tomas studied Ophelia’s wing and frowned. “Because you’re the queen.”

“Yes, because I’m the queen, and because I’m a scientist. Discovering ways to make our airships better is one of my great responsibilities.” Ros smiled and released the owl’s wing. Ophelia immediately began preening and arranging her feathers. “But watching Ember and Ophelia fly is a lot of fun too. I let them loose in the King’s Ballroom every afternoon. As long as your mother says it’s all right, you can come with me tomorrow. Would you like that?”

Easy for you to say, your heart has never been broken, your pride has never been stolen

So I’m writing this book, A Parliament Of Queens, and it’s edging up toward 20,000 words, and I’m deeply deeply in love with this story and the characters. There’s magic and technology both in this world, alchemy is science, and I get to make up so much cool shit. My characters like each other. And in their darkest hours when all seems lost, someone who loves them is there.

Still writing the world I want to see. Any resemblance to reality is a happy accident.

I’ve written books in the past that were always “on”, meaning that anytime I sat down to write, the story was pulling on the reins, ready to run and go on. This book requires quiet, stillness, and thought. Odd how writing anything requires thinking, but this book requires more thought than others.

As I scramble for every quiet minute I can steal to write, telling this story feels a bit like an act of rebellion. It’s another book full of women characters. They do things. They have opinions and feelings. And, stars help me, there are children involved.

Writing this at the end of one year and the start of another, aka Award/Best Of List Season, is eyeopening in a whole new way. I knew I was one of the Invisible Women, as most women writers are invisible, but the extent that some quarters will go to in order to keep women in their place is boggling.

And if I wasn’t the most stubborn, determined person on the planet, I’d wonder what the point is. There are plenty of people around that are willing to tell me, often to my face, that I’m wasting my time.

This is the trauma of being a woman SFF author in 2014/2015, watching almost every woman writer I know, including myself, scramble for any scrap of attention we can get, and fight to sell every single copy. I’ve seen women openly discussing doing a slow fade off the internet and coming back under a male pseudonym. Others who haven’t been published yet plan on having their books come out with a man’s name on the cover.

Watching that over and over this last year was not my idea of a good time. I totally understand why they feel this way. These are excellent writers, some of whom have had books out for years, but they’re women writers. The simple fact of publicly identifying as a woman–and using women’s names–means that in today’s world their books don’t sell as well as a book written under a male name.

Quality of the writing or the story has nothing to do with it. Nothing.

The universe sends women writers, especially SFF writers, lots of messages. At times those messages are delivered in person; the majority of the time the deafening silence surrounding you and your work is the message.

Men get talked about, get reviewed, make award lists and best of the year lists, and are featured at huge comic cons. Women writers, with rare exceptions, don’t.

Don’t even get me started on the most anticipated books of 2015, or the people declaring in January that they’ve already read the best book of the year.

Award lists that are all male, the lack of reviews for women writers, the dismissal of what you’ve written as not being worth noticing–I can tell you that the messages are overwhelming at times. Depressing. The majority of those things conspire to make you feel about as worthy as pond scum to call yourself an SFF writer.

I have a message of my own for the women making their debut in 2015, and for the discouraged women who’ve been around for a while.

Don’t listen to the voices who say your words aren’t equal or important, or that you don’t belong. Don’t believe any of them. They’re dead wrong and it’s utter bullshit.

Women’s voices and women’s stories are important. The world would be a poorer, bleaker place without them.

What can you and I, or any other woman writer do to overcome the silence?

Support one another, spread the word about women writers and their work, keep one another strong. If you have trouble with shameless self-promotion when it comes to your own writing, promote another woman.

Probably most important of all: Make noise. It’s harder to ignore someone who refuses to shut up.

Visuals coupled with a few words have the power to convey strong, often lasting messages. A Tumblr post I saw a while back has stuck with me. Overlaid on the images of women being strong, battling for what they believe in and not giving up–surviving–were the words, “Woman? Is that meant to insult me?”

And at the very bottom is a quote: “Some women are lost in the fire. Some women are built from it.”

That might come across as corny, but it comes with a serious question.

Which will you be?

The fire will make you stronger, if you let it.

An end to 2014–I realized that you were an island, and I passed you by

Last year wasn’t easy, not for me, not for a lot of people I know. It was a year of disappointment, dashed hopes, conflict and tension, stress and exhaustion. 2014 was a year full of loss and anger, and so so much grief. It was a year of coming to terms with a hell of a lot, of looking failure in the face and not blinking.

One probably shouldn’t wish years of their life to vanish, but holy crap, I could not wait for 2014 to be over. It’s on the top ten list of worst years in my life.

The day job dug a hole ten feet deep and tossed me into it. My schedule–which is carved in freaking granite–means I’m gone ten to eleven hours a day, and exhausted when I get home. Finding a way out of that hole is a major goal in the new year.

Writing last year was strange. I wrote all the time, thousands and thousands of words, but I didn’t finish a new novel. I revised, I copy edited, I wrote blog posts, I got projects started to come back to later–so many words. Part of the feeling of failure comes from not being able to point to anything and say See? That’s what I did, that’s how I spent my time.

My second book came out in 2014. That was amazing, thrilling, and exhausting (the theme of the year) for me. The amazing and thrilling part might only apply to me. But it’s my book, so that’s probably a given. Another goal for the new year is not to let the disappointment of others get to me as much as it did last year. Because being able to feel disappointment rolling toward me in fucking endless waves,from several different quarters, did get to me, and it ate into my confidence.

The anger I’m keeping. Scratch the surface of almost any woman writer and you find anger. Feminist rage even. Those are blog posts of their own. There will be more blogging this year, as in days of yore. Buy a helmet.

2015 is one day old. A fresh year and a fresh start, a time to begin again.

Against A Brightening Sky comes out October 6th. It is my favorite of the three Gabe and Delia books, the one nearest to my heart. I refuse to believe that the fact it means something to me is the kiss of death. What that truly means is that I put all that I had into this novel and lived to tell the tale.

Whether all that I had was enough for readers is a tale to tell at the end of 2015. I’m not going to apologize for the rock solid relationships, the mutual respect and love the characters have for each other, the fact my characters serve as the best examples of their time and not the worst, or that my human monsters do violent, monstrous things.

These are the stories I have to tell, made of truth and lies, sorrow and a dash of love.

Kinda like life. Onward.



I could say a lot about Ferguson, Michael Brown and his family, and the Grand Jury’s decision, but I won’t.

These Last Words say it all.

Ways you can help the people of Ferguson:

You can donate to the Ferguson Library. They stayed open for the children of Ferguson when the schools closed.

A fund has been set up to help Ferguson teachers obtain technology and books for their classrooms.

The Ferguson Defense Fund

Another not-a-book-review

4 1/2 stars This might have been 5 stars but for a couple of spots (short spots) that dragged for me and had me skimming.

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch has been sitting on my bookcase since it came out in 2006. Many, if not most, writers go through a period when they are learning to write where they find they can’t read novels. I certainly did, and with me it lasted over two years.

Lies came out smack dab in the middle of that time period. I tried, and failed, to read this book back then. Not being totally dim, I kept the book, and I bought the next two books as soon as they came out.

When I picked Lies up this time, I fell right into the story, and fell in love with Locke, Jean, Bug, Calo, and Galdo. And I get it now. I understand the fan art, the cosplay, the devotion–all of it. In understanding all of that, I learned a lot. The best books are the ones you devour and that make you a better writer at the very same time.

The lines “Oh please,” said Locke. “It’ll ever happen.” made me cry. You’ll have to read the book to find out why.

Don’t wait as long as I did.

Layering: Part two of Building A Better Princess

The beginning of this blog post is partly (or mostly) me talking to myself. Not only is writing this story fun, but it’s making me think about how and why I do certain things when I write.

Learning is never a bad thing, and improving is a worthy goal no matter where you are on the curve. I’m pretty sure I want to keep learning more about writing, and improving, my entire life. I want my next book to be better than my last, and the one after that to be better still.

As soon as I posted the first part of this story, (which I’ve decided to call City of Jewels) I saw a whole list of things I needed to add to the beginning. Most of what it needed were a lot more details and information.

Other writers might give this process a different name, but I call what I’d doing layering. Think of pastry built from filo dough, with all those thin, nondescript layers adding up to something rich and full. That’s how I’ve always thought of adding details to a story.

Beginnings of stories have to carry a lot of weight. I need to introduce the main, most important characters, establish the setting and start worldbuilding–which I always think of as letting the reader know they aren’t in Kansas any more. I have to start revealing plot and planting narrative questions in the reader’s mind.

You–meaning me–have to start establishing and front loading conflict, both the greater, overall conflict arc, and the internal conflict arc as well.

A beginning needs to start letting the reader know what the stakes are, large and small. How large and how small depends on the story you’re telling, but the stakes need to be there. I ask myself who is in danger? Why is what’s happening important to these people? How are the goals/wants/needs/desires of my protags conflict with those of my antags? How do I make readers care?

All of this needs to start from the first page. And it’s a balancing act between presenting enough detail–enough layers–to hook a reader and keep them reading, and overwhelming them to the point of boredom.

There are other things to think about, such as pacing, voice, and making your characters more than a micron deep, but I’ve already listed more than enough.

I looked at the beginning of City of Jewels that I posted and realized I’d left out way too much information, and left far too many unanswered questions. Why was Arlandria climbing to the top of this building, and for that matter, why was she in this city? Scaling a building in the dark implies not wanting to be seen, and maybe even underhanded motives. What did she and Mishka hope to gain?

There were other questions, other missing layers of detail. I needed to go back and clue readers in to what was in my head.

In the process the beginning almost doubled in size. It’s richer and fuller now, closer to what I want–but it’s still a first draft. If someday in the far, distant future I revise this, I’m sure I’ll see ways to make this better.

And at the end of this section I introduce Prince Rory Alexander, and more of what’s at stake. The story also begins to get creepy at that point.

Hey, this is me. What did you expect?

**** **** **** ****

Scrambling over rooftops wasn’t new, but the rounded tiles glistened with fresh rain, slippery and treacherous. Arlandria took her time climbing, using every trick she’d learned over the last three years. Mishka struggled to find his footing right behind her. He swore each time either of them slipped, the curses he called down on Prelate Manley’s head growing more colorful as the ground got farther away.

“Save your breath for climbing, Mish.” She found a stable handhold and hauled herself up another few inches. “You can curse the prelate later.”

They reached the roof’s peak and she leaned against the largest of five chimneys to catch her breath. The Sea Trader’s Hall was the tallest building in the city, the view unobstructed in all directions. From here they could map the boundaries of all the different districts, see which had spread, and which had gotten smaller. Getting their bearings before going after Rory would help them plan escape routes, and avoid being trapped.

Cold wind whipped Arlandria’s dark cloak around her ankles and worked its way under her clothing, a minor discomfort she chose to ignore. She wanted to savor her first glimpse of home. Three years was a very long time to be away.

The sleeping city of Talen sprawled before her, both deeply familiar and strange. Lapis blue lights still glittered along the harbor’s jagged edge, bright as the sea at midday. The tanner’s district was smaller then she remembered, but shone with the same faint golden shades of citrine. Emerald and jade lights burned for merchants’ shops and the homes of guild masters; amethyst for taverns. Each district gleamed with a unique color all its own, a piece of the founders’ craft that had endured more than a thousand years. Talen was the jewel city in truth as well as legend.

At the center of the city, lights the deep red-orange of carnelian pulsed, a beating heart that pushed back against the night. The color was closer to blood red than she’d remembered, but her father’s murder was likely responsible for the change. He hadn’t passed his kingdom to an heir. She wasn’t even sure the prelate’s soldiers had bothered to bury him before burning the manor.

Surrounding the bright carnelian was a void, a ring of nothingness that held no color at all. Watching how the darkness drank light made her shiver.

“I expected more changes. This is one time I’m glad to be wrong. Maybe the prelate isn’t as powerful as we thought.” Arlandria gripped the pommel of the short sword at her side. The blade woke, whispering Rory’s name and promises of revenge. “Rory’s down there, Mishka, somewhere on the other side of that dark circle. And he’s still alive if the sword can be believed.”

“Believing the ravings of a fae blade will get you killed, Highness.” He stood behind and to one side of her, tall and strong, watching Arlandria’s back as he had since they were children. “One day you’ll listen to me and toss that cursed thing into the ocean.”

Mishka had arrived in her father’s court the year they both turned seven, a scrawny, frightened orphan sent to be fostered by strangers. She’d become his friend and his champion within a day. Arlandria defended Mishka against anyone who’d mocked his accent or his clothes, not caring if those she fought were older or stronger. Her father hadn’t interfered unless blood was spilled.

“And one day you’ll learn the difference between curses and fate. Finding the blade was fate. That it talks to me is all the proof I need.” The sword purred under her hand, a cat who loved being stroked. “I need to talk to Callie when we get back to the inn. She might know what that dark ring means.”

He scowled. “It bothers me that we haven’t heard anything about this. The lights going out in a section of Talen is worthy of dozens of rumors.”

“That worries me too.” People should be talking, if not inside the city, then visitors who’d come and gone. Changes to a legend didn’t go unremarked. She pulled her cloak tighter. “There used to be a market full of weavers and booksellers’ stalls just inside the prelate’s district. We’ll find our way there after breakfast. Three more shoppers won’t attract attention. I want to see what the dark area hides.”

Mishka edged his way over to a smaller chimney a few feet to the right. He pushed against it, straining his muscles and putting all his weight on the mortared stone. When the stonework proved sound, he unhooked the coil of rope attached to his belt and looped it around the chimney three times before tying it off. The balance of the rope snaked down the roof tiles, and dangled off the edge, giving them an easy drop into the alley. “Nothing good. Definitely not anything I’d want to confront unprepared and at night. I must admit to a certain relief that you don’t want to charge in immediately.”

“Fate doesn’t make you stupid, Mish. If anything it makes you more careful. With Callie’s help we’ll find a way in, but first we need to know what we’re facing.” She tugged her leather gloves up tight before waving him toward the rope. “You first. If we fall I want something soft to land on.”


Prince Rory Alexander woke choking on panic and unable to breathe. Chains tethering him to the wall pulled him up short as he came up off the wooden pallet, the sharp pain in his shoulders and arms waking him completely. He flopped on the edge of what passed for a bed, panting and watching blood from reopened wounds on his manacled wrist flow down his hand, and wondered if he’d finally gone mad.

The whispers filling his cell lasted longer this time, words twisting around each other. He heard his name spoken in a harsh voice he didn’t recognize, a voice that uttered vows for vengeance against those who’d made him suffer, and made Rory’s heart pound in terror.

And this time he imagined hearing Arlandria’s voice amidst the tangled whispers. She was coming to find him, making plans with Mishka to take him out of this filthy cell and away from Prelate Manley’s tender ministrations and periodic rages.

That more than anything convinced Rory he’d lost his mind. Arlandria was dead and Mishka with her. He’d seen their bodies.

A deeper cold filled the cell, followed by the shuffling sound of something moving across rough stone floors in the corridor. Rory managed to pull the blanket around himself in time and lay down with his face toward the wall. Manley’s creature, a misshapen thing that might once have been a man, slid open the grate near the top of the door, peering at him through the metal mesh.

The grate closed and the creature moved away, but Rory didn’t dare move even after the room warmed again. He couldn’t risk attracting attention in the dark.