Fantasy of the Future

I want to talk about a trend I’m seeing in fantasy of late: No one takes it seriously for what it is. That’s a weird thing to say for me, because for as long as I can remember, fantasy has been perceived as a thing for slackers, goofballs, and dreamers. People for whom reality is just a chore, and the stereotype is that they spend much of their free time pretending to be a knight or an elf or a princess. But for me–and for many of the fans who love “old school” fantasy, it never was that. Fantasy is a place of complex character dynamics and intertwined plots. Of forces beyond human control vying for supremacy and proving that even the most insignificant among us can make something better, even if only for a few.

And then there’s the new Willow.

Let’s talk about Willow

I have genuinely enjoyed the new Willow so far, but I don’t know that I think it’s a good show. It has the same problem that the first installment of the Hobbit trilogy had. There are moments that speak to the core of me and draw on everything I love from fantasy. Bilbo Baggins runs head-first into fire and danger to defend Thorin Oakenshield despite everything, knowing he’ll die but unable to abandon someone he so admires. Kit defiantly insists she’s going after her brother whether her mother wants her to or not because that’s her family and family is everything.

But right before Bilbo saved Thorin, The Hobbit spent an entirely too long scene as a silly 1980’s side-scroller video game in the goblin tunnels. And when Kit is desperately trying to find her father, save her brother, and find a way to believe in the woman who’s going to save the world, we take a random detour to have a fist fight with no stakes that pops up out of nowhere and no one cares. No trolls show up in the middle of the fight to bring them to their senses. Willow himself just kind of shrugs. It’s comic relief of the worst kind: The kind that assumes no one actually cares what’s going on. The point of comic relief is to break the tension and give the audience a break, but this comic relief breaks the entire story. Nothing really matters anymore because, if something gets too serious, we’ll just pause for a random aside with some silly antics and then we’ll move on. Often everything is magically fine again afterward.

This is deeply infuriating to me, because I so love the good moments that I can’t just ignore the bad, weird, or random moments. Instead, they take something exceptional and tear it to pieces and I just want to shout at my screen for the writers to care about what they’re making, dammit! And yet, I enjoyed both The Hobbit and the new Willow. I rewatch The Hobbit somewhat regularly, and I’m interested to see where the new Willow goes, pretty impatiently awaiting the next episode’s release.

Nettle & Bone

This is actually similar to my opinion on a newly released book called Nettle & Bone that I recently read for a book club. I don’t feel like it’s well written from a story construction perspective–I make that distinction because each individual scene is exceptional–but it is a very, very fun book. I am having a lot of fun with this book, but I don’t actually care about any of the characters.

Nettle & Bone is a fairy tale retelling about a princess who goes on a quest to murder her sister’s husband because he’s an abusive spouse, and it has some really interesting potential. It completely ignores all of it. Instead, the entire book is an endless string of quippy one-liners and the MC feeling shocked, confused, scared, horrified, or some combination of those emotions. It is astoundingly shallow, and somehow delightful.

But it feels like a movie trailer.

Surely there is more to this still coming, right? Not so far as I can tell, and that is the thing that infuriates me about it. It feels like this author–who is clearly extraordinarily talented at writing because, as I said, each individual scene is exceptional–just didn’t care about writing a complete book. Now, I don’t believe that of the author, mostly because of what I know about the author world and how difficult it can be to craft the story you want others to see. I think this author was going for a light-hearted retelling that had a unique flavor all its own and still kept the feel of a fairy tale. The problem is that it feels too much like a fairy tale in all the wrong ways.

Instead of feeling wondrous and heavy with meaning, if feels shallow and uncertain what elements are truly important. As pointed out by my book club, the author didn’t even name the three primary kingdoms. Just “the Northern Kingdom”, “the Harbor Kingdom”, and “the Southern Kingdom.” That’s perfectly common in fairy tales, but it adds to the shallowness that steals so much of the potential of this book.

This book could have been great. Not just entertaining, but truly, deeply amazing, rewriting the way that we as a reading audience view story-telling. The author has that skill. Instead, this is the Bullet Train of fairy tale retellings. It’s not good, really, but it was pretty fun.

Make Fantasy Real Again

I’m not actually posting this to complain about The Hobbit, or the new Willow, or Nettle & Bone, all of which I enjoyed. And I’m definitely not here to point fingers at any of the other TV shows that have come out recently that have taken this problem to much worse extremes. Those I didn’t even enjoy, and most of them I couldn’t finish. My point is simply to say this.

I want my fantasy back.

I want the real stuff, where characters dealt with difficult problems and struggled against them, sometimes failing because of their own flaws and often being forced to live with the regret of the things they couldn’t change.

Don’t take that to mean that I think all fantasy should be a Game of Thrones clone, where the world is brutal and one minor error can cause you to be murdered unceremoniously (I did also enjoy the Game of Thrones TV show….until no one cared anymore). I want absolutely nothing to do with gore for the sake of gore like we saw in The Boys.

I’m talking about Lord of the Rings–the real one made by Peter Jackson before he was forced to bleed the franchise dry. I’m talking about Wheel of Time–the books, where Matt was a deeply traumatized person struggling to control the corruption that had gained power within him, Perrin was haunted by the terrifying wolf dreams he didn’t understand and had to go on a quest to control them, Thom mattered like, at all, and the story of Egwene and Ninaeve was about them deciding who they wanted to be, not deciding which men they wanted to fall over.

I grew up on fantasy that had something to say, not because someone somewhere was trying to shove a message into that fantasy, but because the people in those stories were deeply flawed and their challenges came as much from themselves as from the world beyond. Those are the stories I loved, and those are the stories I miss. I’m trying to write those stories and I know I’m not the only one. But I sure do miss that little stretch of time where the world took us seriously, and the stories we loved were treated with respect.

Happy New Year!

Hey everyone. Hope everyone had a great holiday season and has some exciting plans for the new year. I had some big plans halfway through 2022 and then…well…life happened. Again. Sorry for going AWOL a second time. I do still have plans for book releases and I want to update everyone on that. I also will be making a few changes to my blog/website and my writing schedule to make sure I’m getting content to my fans more consistently. Those plans are a bit in the wind right now, but I will let you all know what’s coming in the next couple months. But now for the thing I care about most:

Writing Update

First… I have been writing! My draft of the second book in the Artifice of Power saga is moving slower than I’d hoped, mostly because of issues with my day job and stress from that. However, progress has been made and I hope to have it out to beta readers later this year. That will push back the release until at least mid 2024 (I am very sad about this) but the better quality book will be worth the delay. Closer to now, I had planned to put out my first collection of related short stories, Tales of the Laisian Empire, volume 1 last year. I sent it to a new editor in September and she found a lot of ways to improve the content, so that went back into revisions. That process is closing up, so my current goal is to have that collection ready for release in April or May. Here’s an updated estimate of my releases in this series:

Placement in storyTentative release plans
Tales of the Laisian Empire, Volume 1All content occurs before the beginning of Wake of the Phoenix, book 1 in the Artifice of Power sagaPlanned for mid 2023
Artifice of Power saga, Book 2Direct sequel to Wake of the PhoenixTentatively planned for mid to late 2024
Tales of the Laisian Empire, Volume 2All content occurs between the end of Wake of the Phoenix and the beginning of Artifice of Power saga, Book 2Tentatively planned for early 2025
Artifice of Power saga, Book 3Direct sequel to Artifice of Power saga, Book 2Release not yet planned
Tales of the Laisian Empire, Volume 3All content occurs between the end of Artifice of Power saga, Book 2 and the beginning of Artifice of Power saga, Book 3Release not yet planned
Artifice of Power saga, Book 4Direct sequel to Artifice of Power saga, Book 3Release not yet planned
Tales of the Laisian Empire, Volume 4All content occurs between the end of Artifice of Power saga, Book 3 and the beginning of Artifice of Power saga, Book 4Release not yet planned
Artifice of Power saga, Book 5Direct sequel to Artifice of Power saga, Book 4Release not yet planned
Tales of the Laisian Empire, Volume 5All content occurs between the end of Artifice of Power saga, Book 4 and the beginning of Artifice of Power saga, Book 5Release not yet planned
Artifice of Power saga, Book 6Direct sequel to Artifice of Power saga, Book 5Release not yet planned

What ever happened with SPFBO?

That competition is a lot to keep up with. It is really exciting and I encourage everyone to check it out, but it turns out I didn’t have the time last year. Also, as Mark Lawrence says on his website, it is not perfect. No competition can be. I was a bit miffed, myself, that Wake of the Phoenix got assigned to a blog which promised to post at least a summary review of every book it received and then never posted even a summary review of my book. Did they not get it? Did they run out of time? Was the file corrupted? Did they read the entire thing, hate it, write a scathing review, and then decide to be nice and keep it to themselves? I’ll never know. And somehow it’s a worse kick to know that Wake of the Phoenix was one of only 2-3 books they didn’t get to. I don’t blame the blog, although I wish they’d said something a little less definitive about getting to “all the books they were assigned”, but it was a blow to my self esteem that I didn’t expect. And, full disclosure, that’s part of what happened last year.

To give a quick shout-out to the good things from SPFBO, I met a lot of other writers and made some great connections. Also, Bristolcon recognized the SPFBO finalists last year and all finalists got a commemorative coins. I found a book I love to plug: The Assassin of Grins and Secrets. This is a weird recommendation from me because I haven’t read the entire book yet and it has an element that I genuinely dislike (one of the characters attaches a color to everything she experiences), but the quality of the writing is so good that I have to recommend it anyway. It’s near the top of my TBR this year and I’m very excited to see where it goes.

Are you going to any events this year?

I don’t have my full year planned out just yet, but I am going to San Francisco Writer’s Conference in February and will attend Pikes Peak Writers Conference in my hometown of Colorado Springs in April. I’d love to attend more events, but most likely those would have to be in the second half of the year, after I have some other things back under control.

I never see you on Twitter anymore….

That’s true, and you probably won’t very much. I check it occasionally and respond to discussions that interest me, but honestly, with everything going on, I don’t have a lot of time for Twitter. I wish there was a better place to connect with my readers. Feel free to shoot me a message on Goodreads or Twitter. I will likely see it in either place, but for the next couple months I’ll be pretty busy getting writing ready for release.

A Final Plug

If you’ve stuck this post out this long, first, thank you. Second, I’d like to make a request. This is something I’ll be doing and I’d love to build some support for this movement. In short, the request is: Buy Brandon Sanderson’s “secret project” audiobooks on Speechify or Spotify. I, personally, don’t like audiobooks (the format doesn’t work for me) and I don’t enjoy Brandon Sanderson’s books very much (it’s not a content thing, I just don’t connect well with his writing style), but I will be doing this because he’s placed them on Speechify and Spotify for a reason. That reason is that Audible, the uncontested leader in the audiobook world, is very, very unfriendly to indie authors. As a quick sneak peek into that, the standard, industrywide royalty for a independently published creative work (from video games to e-books) is 70%. Audible offers 40%, and only offers that if you go to exclusive with Audible. If you want your books available on other platforms, that royalty drops to 25%. I know this personally, having released my audiobook for Wake of the Phoenix last year. My narrator did an exceptional job and not only could I not pay him up front, he made almost nothing on the sales of my book. I chose to invest my time into this endeavor, hoping to build an audience, share my worlds, and maybe be able to do it full-time. My narrator is working a job and not getting paid. Brandon Sanderson has a much more in-depth discussion of this issue in a video he released in late December of this year. If you’re interested in hear his full discussion, it begins around time code 7:20 here.

Thank you again for reading this far. I plan on more frequent updates throughout this year and will keep you posted on the upcoming release of my story collection and sequel.


Lord Phoenix—

My family wish yours well, though we sorrowed to hear of your recent tragedy. Farm’s keeping well despite the pests. Lads are getting grown enough to cause trouble ’round town, but there’s work enough to tire them out. Love to share a keg of ale with you, if you’ve a chance to come see the new fields. Reckon my lads would get some good out of seeing a proper leader—

Saylina Sentarsin flipped the paper over, checking the seal again. There couldn’t be a reason to send this mundane gossip under an official, private seal. But there it was. Feathered wings rising from the outline of flames, pressed into a complex pattern of colored waxes. Red, orange, and gold glittering in the candlelight around the seal Arkaen had reserved for use only by his personal guards from Serni for the most private of messages. She wasn’t even supposed to know about the decree. A secret Caela had pried from the closemouthed foreign guards after years of building camaraderie. And then she’d died at the hands of a brutal boy and his minions, all to prove a point to Arkaen that had never been made. A pang of grief shook her. Caela, who had stood by her side since she was old enough to have a servant of her own, gone. The lump in her throat choked her breathing, dragging the fresh sting of unshed tears to her eyes. Unsheddable, if she wanted any respect from the lower lords. Nobles didn’t cry over servants. Not even the ones they’d grown up with, close as sisters, and lost to a senseless brawl.

And then, barely weeks after the deadly fight at her uncle’s former estate, this letter arrived for Arkaen under his most private seal.

A single knock, barely a breath of pause, and a servant swept the study door open and stepped in with a tray of steaming tea. Saylina glanced up from the message before her, fighting back her pain to nod in acknowledgment.

“My lady, you have a visitor,” the servant said, crossing the room to lay out the tea, sugar, and a gilded spoon on her desk. Saylina shuffled the books and papers aside to make room. “Count Brayden Skianda has requested your attention. He is just outside, but I can send him away if my lady is too busy.”

“Did he—” Saylina cut off with a scowl. She didn’t know this man, and while he might be loyal, she couldn’t trust anyone yet. Besides, he likely hadn’t even thought to ask why Count Skianda wanted a private audience. “Send him in.”

Saylina waited until the servant stepped outside before scanning the message again, hunting the meaning as the murmur of the servant’s voice drifted in. Arkaen would read something here beyond an update on a small farm, and that meant nothing was as it seemed. A farm with pests—bandits, maybe? But it could just as easily refer to a disagreement between wealthy landowners. The “lads” must be some form of servants, but without knowing the author’s status she couldn’t guess what specific threat “cause trouble ’round town” might imply. She folded the note, setting it aside among a pile of her own, more personal papers. A mystery to unravel when she’d dealt with this request.

Taking a sip of her tea, Saylina waited for her guest. It was only moments before Count Skianda followed the servant back into the room. And he stood, silent and patient, until the servant left again. Saylina gestured him toward a chair.

“Please, sit, my Lord Count,” Saylina said. “Tell me what the province can do for you.”

He smiled. “I’m not here to ask a boon of my province.” Count Skianda stepped around the chair and sat, waiting as if he expected some form of response. When she offered none, he continued. “I came to discuss a matter of some delicacy related to the stability of our home.”

“Well that sounds rather ominous, Count Skianda.” Not that Saylina disagreed with the sentiment. Arkaen had certainly left the town a mess, and the lands beyond suffered for the turmoil of their capital. “What specific issues concern you?”

Count Skianda stared at her, the edges of his eyes narrowed as if he couldn’t quite decide what to tell her. Saylina busied her hands organizing her papers and hoped her anxiety didn’t show.

“Before the rather… explosive events of the past weeks, your brother came to speak with me.”

Saylina let a frown cross her lips. “I recall. I advised him against it. What did my brother promise in that meeting?”

She hated to have to ask. A loss of her power in this negotiation, since he could say anything and she’d never know what was a lie. But Arkaen had been too busy to share the details, and then she’d had that tea with the princess.

A shudder ran through her at the memory. Ropes tight on her wrist. Hands dragging her past Caela’s body, the blood still flowing fresh from her head. The bitter liquid her captors had forced down her throat—

“Apologies, my lady.” Count Skianda leaned forward over her desk, face pained with concern. “I’ve no wish to bring that time back to your mind so soon. May I get you anything?”

“No, thank you.” Saylina pulled back, hands trembling as she dropped cubed sugar into her tea and stirred the liquid. The clink of the spoon against porcelain, gentle swirl of the dark liquid. A distraction from the memories she couldn’t allow right now. “I’m well, my Lord Count. What did my brother say?”

“Well.” Count Skianda hesitated, worry still sharp in his eyes, but finally resumed his seat. “It’s not about what he promised me. He asked my opinion on naming you, my lady, as his heir. He’d clearly been thinking about it some time.”

Saylina nodded. “He made a few comments to similar effect in our discussions as well. He was under a great deal of pressure. I’m certain the appeal of a living sister several years his junior seemed an easy solution to a problem he didn’t care to manage.”

“If you’ll pardon my audacity, I don’t believe that was his reasoning.”

“You flatter me.” Saylina smiled, but she could see the beginning of a suggestion she wasn’t going to like. “I’m afraid Sentar tradition is rather intractable on the matter. Women do not inherit. Certainly not when they’ve an elder brother able to wed and provide a proper heir.”

“But what if your lord brother has no desire to wed?” Count Skianda fixed her with an intense look that hinted at exactly which rumors he meant to reference.

“You’re edging dangerously close to an inappropriate accusation, Count Skianda.”

“To something inappropriate, my lady?” he asked. “Or to something you’d rather not admit? He’s spent these weeks refusing the care of the physics, closeted away with that demon of his. Talk spreads too fast for you to have missed it.”

Saylina rose, heart pounding. Of course she’d heard the whispers, growing since Arkaen’s last public display of womanizing. And he’d thrown oil on that fire when he’d demanded Kilasha stay by his side and refused any other visitors. He might just want the protection. No one could forget the speed with which Kilasha had crossed the crowded great hall where Arkaen had dueled Oskari, knocking a crossbow bolt away from Arkaen’s heart before it could hit home. But politics thrived on scandal, and Arkaen’s seclusion with only a foreign-born, terrifying man for company had sparked every scandalous rumor the nobility could imagine. She needed to nip that in the bud, regardless of who stood before her making the accusations.

Laying a hand on the desk, Saylina leaned forward to catch Count Skianda’s attention. Not precisely towering over him, but enough to emphasize her power in the situation.

“My brother is high lord, Count Skianda. Confirmed by the high lords’ council and supported by our high emperor himself. Any challenge to his rule, any accusation that he isn’t honoring his duty to our province, is treason.” She paused just long enough for him to begin to speak, cutting him off before he voiced a reply. “You’re not engaging in treason, are you, my Lord Count?”

He smiled at her. “I am not, Lady Saylina. Which is precisely why I brought the matter to your attention.”

He leaned back in his chair, waiting for her to sit. She straightened, looking down her nose at him. Another smile, slightly less condescending and more conspiratorial.

“To be honest, my lady, I don’t care what he’s doing with the man,” Count Skianda said. “Arkaen’s done his best by this province despite my initial fears. I wouldn’t call him a good ruler, precisely, but he’s certainly tried to do right by us. I’m only suggesting that he might welcome the opportunity to pass that responsibility to someone better suited to it.”

Saylina hesitated. Still treason, technically, but… You’re my heir, Sayli, he said. Arkaen couldn’t have meant that if he’d planned a full reign. She be far too old to inherit by the time his natural reign ended, and no doubt settled as someone’s wife besides.

“Are you suggesting I ask my brother to abdicate?” She took her seat again, frowning at the thought. Impossible. Too many of the lower lords would protest her coronation while Arkaen lived.

“I’m suggesting that you may not have to ask,” Count Skianda replied. “He’s already convinced the council to accept you as interim high lord while he recovers. We’ve had no objections so far.”

“That’s only a matter of time.” Saylina already knew of several petitions that had been retracted when the complainants had discovered she’d be hearing the claims. If she announced Arkaen wasn’t returning to the seat at all, those slights would quickly become dissent. “A lady has never been confirmed by this council.”

“Only one other has ever tried,” Count Skianda replied. “And she had a reputation for rash, selfish decisions and a tractable younger brother. You, my lady, have neither.”

“But you know I’d face objections from all the other lords.”

“Objections are not an end to the matter if you have proper support.” He leaned back in his chair as if to emphasize the point. “Lord Arkaen had plenty of objections to his coronation, as I’m sure you’ll recall.”

“Hard to forget,” she said. “Especially when his primary critics are still awaiting burial. I’d prefer to avoid a repeat of that circumstance these next few years.”

“We both know that result was avoidable.” Count Skianda paused, glancing behind him as if concerned someone might burst into the room to interrupt them. “If your lord brother had been more prone to placating the nobility we’d likely still have a full council. His temper doesn’t suit the position well.”

“Once I might have agreed with you, my Lord Count.” Oskari’s face hovered in her memory, his frustration at Arkaen’s stubbornness plain on the lined features. Saylina shivered at the image. Oskari had blamed the entire mess on Arkaen, but his words were nothing but a traitor’s justifications for acts he knew were wrong. As she’d known it was wrong to let Kyli Andriole take her place in the imperial capital.

“You don’t agree any longer, my lady?”

Her gaze settled on the message she’d been examining earlier. A coded message to Arkaen from some unknown source warning of potential dangers. And Arkaen’s guard—Kilasha… He’d always watched the province locals like a rabid dog waiting for an attack, until Arkaen had been injured. Now nothing could pry him from her brother’s side. Like he knew the danger wasn’t truly past, no matter what the physic said. The entire time they’d been waiting for something to go wrong, and whatever it was, they didn’t think it was over yet.

“My lady?” Count Skianda leaned forward, laying a hand on the desk between them again.

“I wonder, Count Skianda, why my brother has been so quick to take offense.” Saylina pulled the paper out of her pile, examining the seal again. Too obvious for the subterfuge he’d been managing these last years. Had he meant for her to intercept it?

Saylina looked up at Count Skianda again. “I don’t recall Arkaen being quick to anger when I was a girl. Impulsive at times, perhaps, but always kind-hearted. Was I mistaken?”

Count Skianda frowned for a moment, tapping a finger on the wood of her desk as he thought. Finally, he shook his head.

“No, my lady,” he said. “He was certainly rash at times, and he’d get his hackles up if you insulted his family or friends. But he was never cruel, and he never lashed out at anyone without giving them a chance to apologize first.” He looked up, a hint of sadness in his eyes. “I told you when he took the throne that he’s not the boy we knew any longer. The boy I knew would have accepted Oskari’s surrender.”

She nodded. “But I told you when we agreed to his coronation that he’s still my brother.” An exchange so far in the past now it seemed a lifetime away. Separated from the person she was now by most of a month of captivity. “I’m more certain of that now than I was then. And one thing I know of my brother is he is not petty.” She saw the agreement in Count Skianda’s eyes before he nodded. “If Arkaen has become quick to anger, my Lord Count, then he has a reason to be angry.”

“Then perhaps it is long past time that we discover what that reason is.” He dropped his gaze to consider the message she held. “Is it reasonable to assume that is a hint?”

“If we can decipher the code.” Saylina offered the paper across the desk. “It’s some form of warning, though I couldn’t guess at the specifics.”

Count Skianda took the paper and examined the seal, his lips setting in a grim line as he opened the note. He skimmed the words briefly before looking up.

“That’s dangerous, my lady.” He tossed the page onto her desk. “I can’t imagine we’ll understand what it means without breaking his inner circle. But a coded message under that seal? You know what the lower lords will think.”

“That Oskari was right,” she said. “They’ll think he’s a traitor.”

“Are you certain he isn’t?”

She scowled. But what could she say? Arkaen certainly hadn’t confided in her since coming home.

“He wouldn’t do this.” The denial felt weak. Spoken to convince herself as much as anyone. “Kaen wouldn’t betray his home. There’s another explanation.”

“I agree.” Count Skianda didn’t sound hopeful. “He’d never betray his home. But what has Sentar Province ever done for him? Is this his home any longer?”

Arcana Hydrogista

Caryllie Shaw frowned, her hand trembling over the bucket of water on the table beside her and her nail-beds aching in the dry heat. One dip and her magic would burst free. She could feel the pressure as a writhing creature under her skin, its desires fighting her own. The dry skin of her fingers throbbed as she clenched and relaxed each hand. Just the right pressure along the edge of her index finger and blood would flow from the cracks that had formed in her skin. The council would be forced to pull her from the front.

“Dammit, Caryllie, do something.” Llyr Moreno grunted as he dropped another bucket of water beside her, splashing her thick, leather hiking boots with the liquid. “I’ve got plenty of materials for more water, but I’m running out of space to store it.”

A chorus of quick, snapping noises drifted from across Centennial Boulevard, followed by a loud pop as a burst of sparks flew into the air. Cary looked up, scanning the area.The roads had long been evacuated, but the raging forest fire crept closer to the boundary. Anyone else would have needed full fire gear with masks and still would have been forced further from the edge of the fire. But Cary and Llyr stood protected behind a wall of aerogystas, each pouring their very selves into the effort to blow the heat back and away from where Llyr and Cary worked.

“We should go, Llyr,” Caryllie said, dipping a hesitant finger into the water. Still warm from Llyr’s magic forcing it to convert from separate gasses into liquid. She glanced back, at the distant forms of vehicles approaching their location. “If the firefighters see us here—”

“They bloody won’t if you do your job.” He waved at the growing flames. “You’re the only hydrogista in a hundred miles. Get this water onto those flames or we won’t have homes to go back to.”

As much as she hated to admit it, he was right. Centennial was a large enough road it would stop most fires from tearing through the city, but this monstrosity was no ordinary fire. It grew with a speed that seemed almost supernatural, even in the parched land west of Colorado Springs on a particularly dry summer. Wind blew into her face, pulling loose strands of brown hair away from Cary’s face. And sending the sparks drifting toward the untouched greenery of Ute Valley Park.

Cary dipped another finger into the water, sending a stream out of the bucket to douse the sparks before they found purchase. But that small stream was all she could manage with her hand still clear of the water. Proper control required full contact, her hand fully submerged and becoming one with the liquid, imparting her will on the foreign substance. A tactic she didn’t dare risk. Instead, she sent another stream into the heart of the fire, cooling a flare into a burst of heat. Uncomfortable, but not a risk of breaking free. Yet. Another stream pushed the flames back from the far side, where the fire had been creeping toward the elementary school to the south. A minor shift, but enough to keep the fire moving away from the school. Firefighters had already fought for Chipeta Elementary, further south and west, the night before. Cary shifted her stance, dipping the fingertips of her other hand into the water, as well. Stream after stream, like water guns, soaked fresh fuel and cooled the edge of the flame. Not enough. Like fighting a tidal wave with sand bags. Each shot slowed the fire less as the heat burned away any moisture before she could get a second blast in.

To her left, one of the aerogystas wavered. A blast of heat swept past, tearing the breath from Cary’s throat. Llyr, beside her, gasped in shock and collapsed on the ground, sweat dripping from his face. Cary’s body would take several more minutes to realize the danger and start producing sweat, and those minutes would likely be too long. Heat exhaustion would quickly drain her of any ability to manipulate the water and might leave her unconscious. Her fingers sank further into the water, the edge just below the damaged skin on her fingers, and she splashed the water closer. First on herself, drenching her clothes from top to bottom in controlled bursts. Then the aerogysta, who was far too close to danger to wait. Several splashes and the woman rose, nodding in thanks as she applied herself to the task once more. And finally, Llyr.

Llyr stood when she was done, fixed her with a damp glare. “You’re holding back. This isn’t practice.”

“My skin’s too dry,” she replied. “If I go deeper, I might bleed.”

He cursed. “I can’t allow blood work in my region.” Llyr glanced up at the still raging fire, creeping ever closer. “But that thing isn’t slowing down. Can you use gloves?”

Cary shook her head. “I need to connect. It’s not like air work. It’s not inside me already.”

A series of shouts sounded from behind her and sirens blared over the roar of the blaze. She’d waited too long and they’d been spotted. The firefighters would be there any minute. How many of their lives would her hesitation cost?

“Do it, Cary.”

Llyr turned away, running toward the far side of the park where a half dozen officials were waving at them. He could stall them, but only for a few moments. Hold this fire back now or lose the town.

For an instant she was paralyzed. Dip her hand into the water when she knew the aching dryness like an old, long-despised acquaintance? If she bled into the water as she used it, her soul would be bound to this place forever. Any other home would feel empty, devoid of the life she’d built and savored here. Llyr couldn’t be asking her to sacrifice her freedom for the whims of the arcane council. But if she didn’t, the entire town would burn.

Drawing in a deep breath, Cary dipped her hands deeper into the water. At first, the moisture seemed to soften her too-dry skin, soothing the ache of broken skin. She smiled, narrowing her eyes as her hand clenched in triumph and the water from all the buckets Llyr had filled leapt to her command. Then the pain started. First in her fingers, where the cracks had been in her skin, then growing and radiating further. The pulsing sting arced through every muscle. Her body throbbed in time with her heart, the essence of the ground beneath her suddenly an extension of her pain. She could almost feel the heat of the fire drying the trees, the needles screaming as they burst into flame. Cary stared at the water that streamed from her closed fist, sending a torrent toward the sparks that drifted across the road. A thin, nearly invisible line of red wound through the liquid, threading its way out of a deep crack in her skin. She was bound now, for better or worse. This land was hers, and she would allow no harm to it.

“No.” Llyr’s voice was a distant plea from across the park. “Cary, what are you doing? Stay here!”

The dry ground crunched under the heels of her boots. This land was hers.

Wake of the Phoenix ARC sign-up

What is it?

Hi everyone. As the title says, I am now preparing to send out ARCs of my debut novel, Wake of the Phoenix. The release date will be at the end of September but this is your chance to get a look at an early release copy for free. All I ask is that you post an *honest* review on you favorite review website (and preferably Amazon, as well, if that’s not your go-to), and that you be specific about what you liked or didn’t like when possible. Most versions I send as ARCs will be e-books, but physical books will be available for purchase after release. Anyone with a strong audience is a candidate for a physical ARC copy.

When would I get this?

I’m starting to collect interested parties now. That means I’ll give it a week or maybe a bit more then examine the response I get and determine if I need to be selective. I would love to give a copy to everyone who requests one, so barring a pressing need to do something else, that is my plan. I’ll be contacting people about delivery of their ARCs in about 2 weeks.

What’s this book about again?

Wake of the Phoenix is an epic fantasy novel in which Arkaen, a nobleman with a somewhat questionable history, faces Niamsha, a thief trying to save her family, in an unexpected political clash.

War Hero. Thiefmaster’s apprentice. Traitors. Every title comes with a price.

Arkaen is a gods-damned saint. He sacrificed his childhood innocence fighting for the beleaguered rebellion in a civil war and relinquished a comfortable life with the man he loves to reclaim his place as high lord from corrupt nobles. Now, a hidden enemy is manipulating his lower lords into talk of rebellion, including the powerful Rogue Baron, who is slowly swaying the city into questioning every move Arkaen makes.

With the help of his near-omniscient lover’s gift of foresight, Arkaen finds a potential ally in Niamsha, a reluctant thief trying to pay for her brother’s education. But Niamsha owes an insurmountable debt to the mysterious leader of her thieves guild and failing to pay means death—for her entire family. When her guild leader demands she join forces with the Rogue Baron himself, she finds herself caught in a political battle beyond her skills. Torn between protecting her family and following her conscience, Niamsha doesn’t know who to trust.

If Arkaen can win Niamsha’s loyalty, he might just prevent a second civil war and the destruction of everything he fought to protect. Or he might get them all killed.

How do I sign up?

Sign up using the form at this link: Wake of the Phoenix ARC Request

I can’t wait to share this book with more readers and start seeing some genuine opinions in reviews (yes, even the negative ones… no book is for every reader). Keep an eye out here for a cover reveal, coming in the next couple weeks!

The Life of the Magic

By now, most fantasy writers have heard someone tell them about the importance of unique world building. Think of your world like its own character, the advice typically starts. Make it dynamic and have the world engage with the story in its own way. But what about the magic of that world? Is that just a wart on your world-character’s face? I’d argue that, for most fantasy, the magic system is more of a character than the world itself. Magic systems tend to have quirks and limitations, and most have some form of choosing who is better or worse at using them than others.

The thing that sets magic systems apart from other pieces of story creation is that we have tools for world building, for character creation, and for fleshing out characters. We even have tools for structuring and planning a plot (and some of us choose to use those tools to evaluate and edit rather than pre-plan). But we almost never talk about magic systems in this same way. Magic systems are often treated as either a mystical, unexplained pseudo-science that stands in for technology or as a flavor text that serves more as window dressing than a central piece of the story. And yet every fantasy author can pick out the magic system that captivates them years after they’ve finished reading the books. So what makes those systems so unique?

The is a question that many authors have tried to answer, and typically the answers come down the the author in question describing what their readers seems to like about their own magic systems. These answers range from Sanderson’s “A magic system is only as interesting as its limitations” response to several people who point to the sense of wonder in magic systems that create an entirely different world (think Harry Potter) and all sorts of other responses. This was a question I had rarely considered, accepting Brandon Sanderson’s commentary at face value, until I attended a workshop on magic systems at Pikes Peak Writer’s Conference in April.

That workshop was taught by C.R. Rowanson, who is a magic system enthusiast and the author of Restrictions May Apply: Building Limits for Your Magic System, a workbook dedicated to helping fantasy authors create limitations for their magic systems. In his talk, he provided two sliding scales of magic system attributes that combine into four essential types of magic with varying levels of each element. The two scales are hard magic vs. soft magic (one many of us are familiar with) and rational magic vs. irrational magic. C.R. Rowanson has a great explanation of these elements and I highly recommend anyone interested in this look up his upcoming nonfiction book on magic systems. A rough definition of his terms is that hard vs. soft magic refers to how much the audience understands about the magic while rational vs. irrational refers to how much internal logic the magic system employs (i.e., do the individual elements seem to be based on each other).

I’m going to talk about this topic in a slightly different context than C.R. Rowanson does. He focuses on explaining the characteristics which cause a magic system to have certain effects with a goal of helping writers build better magic systems. I want to talk about choosing the effect you want your magic system to have and evaluating how those effects change the type of story you’re telling.

Impact of the Magic

First, let’s talk about the impact of magic on your world and your story. There’s a lot of ways people use magic. Above I listed three: a substitute for technology in a low-tech society, a pure window dressing that rarely effects the plotline, and as a way to add fantastical elements in an effort to create a sense of wonder for the reader. Other authors use magic as a central plot element, often focusing on one or more characters learning how to master their magic in one way or another. Let’s list out a few uses of magic and discuss the effects we’re trying to create with each.

  • Magic is a tool for solving problems. This often fits into my definition of “magic as science.” Typically there are extremely strict rules to the magic system, typically the reader knows those rules, and most of the time those rules relate to each other. A lot of the thrill of these magic systems is the reader guessing how the system might be used within its strict rules to solve a problem which does not, at first, appear vulnerable to that magic. I describe these as “magic as science” because in many of these stories the magic might as well be electromagnetism. The lay-person doesn’t understand how electromagnetism works, but the rules are strict and we use it on a daily basis to create the society we understand today.
  • Magic is a source of problems. This one can go two ways. For option one, we go the same route as above (magic as science) but someone is using said “science” in an evil way or the “machine” has broken and is endangering the world. The danger comes from the characters needing to work against rules they’ve been taught to follow. Option two is actually my favorite for problem-magics: wild magic that no one fully understands. This one needs to be vague to the reader but have enough clear elements that the resolution feels believable. Unlike option one, the threat comes from the character’s needing to figure out what the problem even is, turning the story into a bit of a mystery.
  • Magic is a set piece, adding flavor to the story. This one almost has to be vague. If there is clearly defined magic in your world, then your readers are going to suggest ways to solve problems using that magic and if the characters don’t try they are going to look stupid. The primary exception is if you have a well-defined but very, very weak magic system and never put the characters in a place where that magic can be useful. If all the characters can do is conjure a cup of clean drinking water once per minute and they are never without fresh drinking water then the magic is a set piece. A kind of boring set piece, in my mind, but different readers enjoy different things. With a vague system, though, you can drop interesting bits into the world that never directly change the direction of the plot but build a certain feel for the world… Although now I’m wondering what interesting societal differences there would be in a world that is essentially mundane but never has to worry about clean drinking water. For every rule there’s an exception, after all.
  • Magic is a creator of societal hierarchies. This one is actually rather popular. It’s not that my world has a strict caste system based on arbitrary characteristics, it’s just that the people magic tends to choose are elevated to higher status. My conflict is all about how this lower-caste person is found to have magic and my society has to re-evaluate itself! While the setup here does feel a little cheap to me, it’s also pretty realistic (at least to one way of considering the potential outcomes of magic existing). Most of these stories are “this could be you” stories, which gives us two main types. Wish fulfillment stories where the magic is presented as cool and exciting, or warning stories where the magic caste is found to be terribly corrupt and the magic itself is often addictive or prone to leading people astray.
  • Magic is so prevalent as to create a completely different world. I’m defining this one a bit overly-specifically because any of the other options can have magic that is so pervasive as to completely change the world from what we know. The point with this item on the list, though, is to look at stories where the entire point of using magic is to change the world substantially from what we know. Most historical fantasy falls into this category because a lot of the stories do less looking at magic’s effects on other elements and a lot more looking at how magic would change a specific historical event or time period. The thrill of this magic system is seeing how similar things might be with fantastical elements mixed in while delighting in the changes. Naomi Novik’s Temeraire books, for example, have flying contraptions that people use for war because, with dragons, why wouldn’t that be a thing? But a lot of the rest of the world is still very similar. That dichotomy is interesting to fans of these types of magic systems. It’s particularly interesting that both historical fantasy books and many high-magic epic fantasy books fit into the same category here. With high-magic epics we’re seeing a completely re-imagined concept of what a magic world might be, where with historical fiction we’re seeing the result of one minor change. But in both the magic functions to create a sense of fascination with the magic while often not relying directly on the magic as a problem solver or creator.

Now, this list makes no attempt to be comprehensive. The goal is to look at a few categories of magic usage and discuss the effects the writer is trying to create. Every piece of magic we include in our work needs to have a purpose, but like our characters and our plot elements, that purpose can vary. No one would ever say that you can’t have side characters that simply flesh out the world without adding to the plot. We often recommend that authors add insignificant details about their world to give depth to the society. And yet we treat magic, with all its complexities and quirks, as nothing more than a tool for our manipulation.

Treat your world like a character? Sure, if it fits. A dynamic world with complex effects is great. But your magic should live, and it should breathe life into the things it touches.


All content on this blog is provided free for any readers and I’m always delighted to reach new audiences. If you enjoyed this story and are able, please consider supporting my work with a donation:

All content on this blog is provided free for any readers and I’m always delighted to reach new audiences. If you enjoyed this story and are able, please consider supporting my work with a donation:

All content on this blog is provided free for any readers and I’m always delighted to reach new audiences. If you enjoyed this story and are able, please consider supporting my work with a donation:

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Check out more free content below, and be on the lookout for my upcoming debut epic fantasy, Wake of the Phoenix.

Check out more free content below, and be on the lookout for my upcoming debut epic fantasy, Wake of the Phoenix.

Check out more free content below, and be on the lookout for my upcoming debut epic fantasy, Wake of the Phoenix.

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