Welcome to my worlds!

I'm James Maxey, author of fantasy and science fiction. My novels include the science fantasy Bitterwood Saga (4 books) the Dragon Apocalypse Saga (4 books), numerous superhero novels including Nobody Gets the Girl and the Lawless series, the steampunk Oz sequel Bad Wizard, and my short story collections, There is No Wheel and Jagged Gate. This website is focused exclusively on writing. At my second blog, Jawbone of an Ass, I ramble through any random topic that springs to mind, occasionally touching on religion and politics and other subjects polite people are sensible enough not to discuss in public. If you'd like to get monthly updates on new releases, as well as preview chapters and free short stories, join my newsletter!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

First Dragonseed Review!

Woohoo! The first review! Cindy Hannikman at Fantasy Book Critic writes:
In the end, Maxey lived up to my expectations in Dragonseed. I loved the fact that readers get to learn more about the characters that they have spent 2 books learning about and even grow closer to these characters. There are definitely a number of twists and turns in Dragonseed that bring an element of surprise and action to the book.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

We Shall All be Healed

Yesterday, Books for Breasts passed the $1000 mark on funds collected, and I still have about 20 books left to give away!

Back in 2004, the Mountain Goats put out an album titled We Shall All be Healed. I suspect they borrowed the phrase from the prayer, "Heal us, Lord, and we shall be healed." I first listened to the album in Laura's bedroom. She was on chemo at the time, and was spending much of the day in bed. The album is mostly about the self-destructive behavior of drug addicts, but there are some lines within it that filled me with neo-religious visions. In one of the songs, John Darnielle sings, "I dreamt of a factory, where they manufactured what I needed, using shiny new machines." He's talking, in the context of the song, about methamphetamines, but I would find myself dreaming of men and women in white lab coats, toiling over test tubes and microscopes, typing data in to computer terminals. These were the invisible soldiers in the war on cancer, and it filled me with the hope that any day I would pick up a newspaper and find that there had been some breakthrough, and Laura's cancer could be healed. I knew of people who'd lived with cancer for ten years and more. If Laura could hold out ten years, I was certain she would beat the disease.

She didn't, alas, make it ten years. And, if she had, I no longer believe the cure is going to be found tomorrow, or the next day. The last five years of research have yeilded important discoveries, the chief and most important of which is that we still have much more to learn.

But, when America was discovered by Europeans, it took them a while to figure out what they'd found. They set up colonies before they really even understood the shape and scope of the continents they'd encountered. I feel like we are in a similar stage in the understanding of cancer: We are still making maps of its boundaries. We are still sending surveyors into its interiors. We do not yet know all there is to know, but we are daily pushing the frontier ahead of us. And, just as we continued to improve the technology to map America--today, I have the ability to look down on the roof of my house from space!--we are only going to increase our understanding of cancer. Even discovering our ignorance, learning, for example, that a drug wipes out cancer in rats but does nothing for people, is progress. As we seek to understand what doesn't work, we gain insights into what will work.

So, on this warm June Sunday morning, I'll give a little prayer of gratitude to those unknown explorers in their lab coats who are seeking a new, cancer-free world. And, I extend a great big, heart-in-my-throat thank you to everyone who's donated this past week. You've done a good thing. You've put your money where your heart is.

The day is coming. We shall all be healed.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Dragons take flight!

I see this morning that Amazon has changed the status on Dragonseed from "Not yet published" to "In stock," with shipping available for Monday delivery. This meshes with what I was told at Barnes and Noble earlier this week, that the book had an on-sale date in their chain of June 29. I'd love to hear from folks when they start seeing the book in stores, just so I can put to rest my phobias that the book won't be as widely distributed as the last two due to the economic downturn.

And, of course, the "Books for Breasts" campaign is still active if you'd like a signed copy of Dragonseed. After just four days, I've given away 25 books, so there's still plenty left for those who wish to support an important cause. See the links at the top of the page for more information.

Next, I just got contracts yesterday for French editions of my books! I've been sitting on this news for month. Somehow, the thought of Blasphet speaking French gives me chills.

Finally, I'd like to offer congratulations to my cover artist Michael Komarck, who this week received a nomination for a Chelsey Award for best paperback cover for Dragonforge! I really hope he wins, not just because it's the cover of one of my books, but because it really is an amazing bit of art in its own right.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Dragonseed Chapter Three, with director's commentary

Chapter Three
The City as a Heart

Jandra looked down at her notes on the thick oak table beside her. “Unlatch safety,” was underlined. “One second delay between spark and shot,” was underlined twice. “Keep butt of gun against shoulder,” had four thick lines beneath it.

She looked back across the spacious loft at the target, a round wooden shield balanced atop a stool about fifty feet away, with a feather mattress behind it, and a thick brick wall behind that. She braced herself as she aimed, gritting her teeth as she pressed the butt of the weapon firmly against her bruised shoulder. She pulled the trigger. There was a flash, a hiss, a curl of peppery smoke, then BOOM. The force rattled every bone in her body, but she kept her balance. A cloud of thick white smoke in front of her hid the target for a few seconds. When it dispersed, she found the target gone, reduced to splinters jutting from the feather mattress. A few puffs of down floated in the air.

“Bull’s-eye,” said Burke. “That’s how it’s supposed to work.”

Anza had her fingers in her ears. Her nose wrinkled as the acrid smoke reached her.

“Does it have to be so loud?” Jandra asked.

“Yes,” said Burke. “The cannon I’m building will be even louder. It’s the sound of the future, girl. Get used to it.”

Jandra tried reloading the weapon the way Burke had shown her, stuffing the wad of powder-filled cotton down the barrel with the ramrod, then stuffing the shot bag in with it. She tapped some fresh powder into the flash pan, and inserted a new fuse.

“This isn’t exactly a fast weapon to reload,” said Jandra.

“I’m still working on a percussion-activated cartridge,” said Burke. “In the Human Age, guns took centuries to refine. I had a week.”

“I wasn’t criticizing your work.”

Burke sighed. “Sorry if I’m defensive. I’ve had almost no sleep in the last week. It’s got me on edge.”

“Is your leg keeping you awake?”

“That’s part of it. The bigger part is trying to keep this town running. Ragnar’s management skills are somewhat lacking. He had no plans for securing resources like food and water, let alone coal and ore. We’ve had some lucky breaks so far, but it’s only a matter of time before the dragons reorganize and set up a blockade. It’s what I would do. Holding onto the town isn’t enough. We have to be able to project force.”

Anza set up a new target, the top of a crate on which the crude outline of an earth-dragon had been drawn. Jandra looked toward the fireplace, where Lizard, the earth-dragon child, sat on the hearth, staring at the flames. The scales on his back shifted slowly through shades of dull orange and red. If Lizard had been frightened by the rifle shot, he didn’t show it. She wondered if he’d even recognized the outline on the board. Once Anza was clear, Jandra pulled the trigger again. She clenched her jaw as the fuse sizzled… BLAM! Her shoulder felt bruised down to the bone. Again, though, she was pleased with the results. The target was shredded.

“Okay,” Jandra said, lowering the gun. “This gives me the firepower I need if I get into a bad spot. And, I still have this if I need to turn invisible.” She raised her left arm, sporting the silver bracelet, the ring of invisibility she’d created for her sun-dragon friend Hex. Her former friend, to be exact, now that Hex had stolen her genie, the source of her powers. Jandra had charged the bracelet with enough reflective nanites to work a half-dozen times. Hex had used it once, to her knowledge, meaning she had five chances to vanish from sight if needed.

Burke said, “Anza will be along to help remove obstacles. I’m also sending Vance.”

“Vance?” Jandra asked. Anza glanced up from the stack of targets, looking as if she, too, was surprised by this news. “The short guy with the bad mustache? Why him?”

“He’s the best archer we have with a skywall bow,” said Burke. “Also, I like him. He’s got a good heart. I trust him.”

Anza made a flurry of hand signals toward her father. Burke frowned. “How can you say he’s just a kid? I think he’s the same age you are. He’s definitely older than Jandra. He’s going. I don’t have the energy to discuss it further.”

Anza scowled. Though Anza’s feelings were easy to interpret at the moment, Jandra worried more about Anza as a companion than Vance. Anza didn’t speak, and Jandra didn’t understand her hand signals. Without Burke around to translate, she was worried about how they were supposed to communicate. Jandra was also worried about Burke’s health. He was sweating despite the frigid drafts that cut through the loft. If she still had her powers, healing his leg would be a simple matter. She was frustrated that he had to be in such pain.

There was a knock on the floor. The trap door swung open, revealing the bald pate of Burke’s chief foreman, a portly fellow everyone called Biscuit. “I know you said no visitors, Burke, but I think you’re gonna want to talk to this guy. He says he’s an escaped slave from the College of Spires. Used to work for Chapelion himself.”

Burke raised an eyebrow. “Of course. Bring him up.”

The man who followed Biscuit up through the trap door was dressed in a fine red coat with shiny metal buttons. The coat was mud-flecked and covered with brambles and small rips. Despite the poor state of the coat, it reminded Jandra of the finery she used to have access to growing up in the palace. Unlike many of the rough, rugged rebels who populated Dragon Forge, the new arrival looked as if he had at least a passing familiarity with soap. His bright orange hair was pulled back into a short braid with a black ribbon. He was young, in his early twenties perhaps, quite tall despite his atrocious posture, and too thin for his height. His face had a slightly feminine quality, perhaps due to the unusual fullness of his lips; his cheeks were dotted with freckles.

The new arrival cleared his throat. “You must be Kanati,” he said, addressing Burke. “My name is Shay. I can’t believe I’ve actually found you.”

“Nobody calls me Kanati anymore,” said Burke. “I left that name behind when I fled Conyers. I don’t miss it. Call me Burke.”

“By whatever name, it’s an honor, sir,” Shay said, crossing the room and extending his hand. Burke reached out and grasped it, giving it a good shake. “Chapelion wrote the history of the battle of Conyers. Even though Chapelion wrote from the perspective of the victors, you remain a sympathetic character in his narrative. Chapelion respects genius.”

Burke cocked his head. “You can read?”

“Yes sir,” said Shay. “Chapelion used me as a living quill. He would dictate his books while eating his dinner, or taking his bath, or simply walking the grounds of the College. I faithfully followed behind, recording his every thought. In the hours when his duties took him elsewhere, I had access to his private collection of books, some of the rarest manuscripts in the kingdom.”

“How rare?” asked Burke.

“From the Human Age.”

Shay slipped his leather pack from over his shoulder and sat it on the floor. “I stole several works from Chapelion before I escaped,” he said, pulling out books one by one. The tomes looked ancient; Jandra noted the titles: The Origin of Species, The Wealth of Nations, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Leviathan. The fifth book was comparatively new— A Glorious Victory: The Defeat of the Southern Uprising. Shay held this book out to Burke. “I’ve marked the pages documenting your role in the rebellion.”

Burke didn’t reach to take the book. “Why would any man want to read a catalog of his failures? My sole claim to fame before Dragon Forge has been losing a rebellion.” Burke shook his head, then glanced toward the fireplace. “Now I fear the next history written about me will say I learned nothing from my mistakes. They’ll note how poorly planned our uprising was, and how little thought was given to what would come after we took Dragon Forge.” He took off his spectacles and cleaned them on his shirt. “It’s bad enough that people who don’t read history fail to learn from it; how much worse is it that the men who lived it are unable to gain any wisdom?”

“The blow you struck here is still echoing through the kingdom,” said Shay. “The dragon hierarchy is on the verge of collapse. Sun-dragons plot to seize advantage over other sun-dragons in this time of turmoil. And now, Chapelion has allied himself with the valkyries and plots to overthrow Androkom as High Biologian, risking a civil war among the colleges. The dragons are so busy with their intrigues, you may never face an attempt to retake Dragon Forge.”

Burke shook his head. “We can’t count on that. If it does work out that way, I still don’t expect to wind up as a hero in anyone’s history. Ragnar is going to get all the glory.”

As if the sound of Ragnar’s name had summoned him, a voice boomed from below: “All glory belongs to God!” The elevator that carried Burke’s chair up to the loft rattled as the chains lifted it. The bushy, unkempt mane of hair that wreathed Ragnar’s leathery face came into view. As usual, Ragnar was naked. He’d taken a sacred vow not to wear clothes or cut his hair until the last dragon was slain. His body was crisscrossed with scabs, souvenirs from the battle to capture Dragon Forge.

Jandra cast her gaze at his feet. Ragnar was her brother, though they’d been raised apart. As an orphan, she’d dreamed her whole life of finding a blood relative, someone who would instantly resonate as a member of her true family. Now that she’d found one, it had left her feeling even more orphaned than before.

Ragnar hadn’t arrived alone. He was surrounded by eight burly warriors in armor he’d taken to calling his Mighty Men. The biggest of these, Stonewall, was a true giant—easily seven feet tall and thickly muscled. Unlike the other Mighty Men, veterans of battle whose grizzled faces were marred with scars, Stonewall’s face was pristine, youthful, and clean-shaven, beneath wavy black locks.

Frost, the man she’d shot, stepped from behind Stonewall, looking furious. His head was wrapped in bandages, and brown blood stained the cotton gauze where his ear had been. Jandra felt a twinge of guilt; she’d only intended to frighten Frost. If she still had her powers, she could have grown him a new ear. Of course, she would likely have been denounced as a witch for the effort.

“Burke,” Ragnar growled. “My tolerance has limits. Your usefulness as a weapon maker doesn’t give you the right to shelter a witch. This is to be a holy city; turn over Jandra, that she may face the fitting punishment for her kind.”

Jandra used the ramrod to slide a new bag of powder down the muzzle of the gun.

“I’m not a witch,” she said, calmly. “And I’m not Burke’s to turn over.”

“If you’re innocent you have nothing to fear,” said Stonewall. His voice was as deep and smooth as a sun-dragon’s. “There are tests we will apply to determine whether or not you’ve been touched by the devil.”

Jandra pushed a bag of shot into the gun.

Suddenly, there was a heavy weight clawing up her back. Lizard, the dragon-child, scrambled onto her shoulder and flashed the same shade of green as her coat.

“No eat! No eat!” he hissed at Frost.

“And now you harbor dragons?” asked Ragnar.

“Where did that come from?” Shay asked, approaching Jandra. “Did it just change color?”

“He was sitting by the fireplace,” said Jandra. “He blends into the background when he’s not moving.”

“Remarkable,” said Shay. “The chameleon mutation is exceedingly rare; fewer than one in ten thousand earth-dragons display it. When he’s fully grown, he’ll become part of the assassin unit known as the Black Silence.”

Jandra already knew more than she wanted to know about these assassins. She’d nearly died when one of them had slit her throat.

“If he’s one of those monsters, it’s all the more reason to kill him,” said Frost.

“And all the more proof that you are a witch,” growled Ragnar.

“Consorting with dragons doesn’t make one a witch,” Shay argued. “I’ve been a slave of dragons since birth, yet I’m not a witch. I’ve come to volunteer for the cause. I confess I’m lacking as a warrior, but I have other skills that may prove useful. I’ve brought books, great works from the Human Age.” He held up a tome by Charles Darwin in one hand and by Adam Smith in the other. “If there are children here, I could set up a school. I want to lay the foundation for a new golden age of humanity.”

Ragnar walked toward Shay, his eyes contemplating the books. He picked up the copy of The Origin of Species. The book was over a thousand years old. Shay held his breath as Ragnar opened the yellowed pages. Jandra’s finely tuned eyes could see the dust that showered down from the book as it was opened, fine flecks of the ancient paper crumbling away.

“It’s very fragile,” Shay said softly, as if fearing that his own breath might damage the pages. “Please be careful. I intend to transcribe it before I—”

“The world needs only one book,” Ragnar said, closing the pages with a violent clap. He flung the tome into the fireplace.

Shay sucked air, as if he’d been punched in the stomach. He dived for the fireplace, reaching into the bright flames to retrieve the book. He snatched it out, but it was too late. The ancient paper flared as quickly as gunpowder in a flash pan. In seconds, all that remained of the manuscript was a mound of black ash.

“You monster!” Shay, shouted, spinning around, his fists clenched. “Do you know what you just destroyed?”

“Useless old words by a man long dead,” said Ragnar. His Mighty Men drew their swords, ready to strike if Shay approached.

Jandra raised her gun. Frost stepped back behind Stonewall.

“Stop this!” Burke snapped, wincing as he shifted in his seat. “Ragnar, you’re not taking Jandra. She’s brought us the secret to gunpowder. Right now, I’m designing and testing weapons that will make the skywall bows seem like toys. She and I are the only two people who know the secret. If you so much as lay a finger on Jandra, I’ll have Anza slit my throat. I won’t use my talents in the service of a man dedicated to launching a new dark age.”

“Suicide will damn your soul to eternal torment,” Ragnar growled.

“And it will rob you of the weapons that will let mankind rule this world. I’m a pessimist, Ragnar. I’ve anticipated that you’d ruin this since the day we met. I’ve been in constant, nonstop, pain since Charkon ruined my leg. Don’t think I wouldn’t welcome death.”

Ragnar glared at Burke, as if trying to determine if the machinist was bluffing. Ragnar frowned; no doubt in his mind all heathens were unstable enough to kill themselves out of spite. The prophet turned his gaze toward Jandra. Lizard hissed at the hairy man. Glowering, Ragnar looked toward Shay, then to the pile of books beside the leather backpack.

“Take the books,” he barked to Stonewall.

“No!” said Shay, rushing to grab the pile.

“Let him have the books,” Burke snapped. Anza leapt forward, sword drawn, putting herself between Shay and the bag. She shook her head slowly as she eyed Shay.

“These may be the only copies of these books left in the world,” Shay said, on the verge of begging. “You can’t let him take them.”

“Books aren’t equal to human lives,” Burke grumbled. “Ragnar, take the books. Use them to wrap fish for all I care. As for Jandra, she’s leaving Dragon Forge before nightfall. You won’t have to worry about her witching up any more of your men.”

“I’ll allow her to leave,” Ragnar said, “provided she doesn’t return.”

“Fine,” said Burke.

“But—” said Jandra.

“Drop it,” Burke said, through gritted teeth. It was obvious that the stress of the encounter was causing him great pain.

Stonewall gathered up the books and went to Ragnar’s side. Ragnar and his Mighty Men turned and went back to the elevator. He glanced back over his shoulder.

“Burke,” he said. “Don’t think I will tolerate your blasphemy indefinitely. I can be pushed too far.”

“So can I,” said Burke, narrowing his eyes. The elevator rumbled, lowering Ragnar and his men from view.

Shay fell to his knees in front of the charred remains of the book on the hearth. “This book survived twelve centuries, only to vanish at the whim of a fanatic. Why did you give him the books, Kanati? I would have thought you, of all people, would have valued those writings. Aren’t you one of the Anudahdeesdee? The tribe that calls itself the Memory?”

“The Anudahdeesdee have copies of all the books you showed me,” said Burke. “I’ve got a collection of over two-hundred manuscripts in the basement of my tavern. The physical books you lost were rare, but the information inside them is more than just the paper they’re printed on. Information is essentially immortal with a little technological assistance. At my tribal home beyond the mountains, my people maintain an old press to preserve copies of essential works. We lost nothing here today.”

Shay perked up. “There’s a printing press in human control? That’s fantastic! I wish I could see it.”

“Maybe you can,” said Burke. “You aren’t going to be on Ragnar’s list of favorite people. You should get out of here tonight. Go with Jandra and Anza. They’ll be passing through Burke’s Tavern, my adopted hometown. Assuming the town is still standing, and hasn’t fallen victim to reprisals by retreating earth-dragons, there’s a map in my basement that would be of interest to you. It contains instructions on how to go to my homeland. It’s coded, but Anza can give you the key.”

“But… but I only just arrived,” said Shay. “I came to fight for the liberty of mankind.”

“Stay here and you’ll get your throat cut in your sleep by one of the Mighty Men,” said Burke. “You’ve never held a sword in your life, have you?”

Shay lowered his head, looking embarrassed. “No, sir.”

“You’re lucky I’ve already forged the pieces to make a second shotgun,” said Burke. “The beauty of a gun is the way it equalizes the slave and the warrior. Let me get the crew to assemble it and whip you up an ammo belt. I’ll send you off with Anza, Jandra, and Vance.”

Shay looked as if he were about to argue further, but held his tongue. Lizard, still on Jandra’s shoulder, stared intently as Burke rolled his wheeled chair over to the elevator and pulled the lever to raise the cage.

“Strong boss,” the little dragon whispered, sounding awed.


Vulpine drifted on the winds high above Dragon Forge, with Balikan a few yards off his left wing. Reports were that the sky-wall bows could reach a mile, and Vulpine took care to stay well beyond that range. He could see scores of humans armed with bows crowded onto the thick stone walls that surrounded the town. They watched him closely, though he knew at this distance he was little more than a speck.

“They look rather alert,” said Balikan.

“Alert enough,” said Vulpine. “This is why the brute strength, head-on approach of the sun-dragons was doomed to failure. Shandrazel was too eager to prove his strength and crush the rebellion in a grand slaughter, the way his father crushed the rebellion at Conyers. If he’d been more patient, he could have broken this insurgency without spilling a drop of dragon blood.”

“I was thinking the same thing,” said Balikan. “He had catapults in his army with a greater range than the bows. He could have lobbed in barrels of flaming pitch and burned the town to the ground.”

Vulpine shook his head. “There’s a difference between destroying Dragon Forge and reclaiming it.”

Vulpine motioned with his head, inviting Balikan to follow his gaze. Dragon Forge wasn’t a large town. The fortress was diamond-shaped, encompassing roughly one square mile of earth. Save for a few broad avenues, the interior of the fortress was cramped with buildings built on top of buildings, so that one dragon’s floor was another dragon’s roof. Three smokestacks dominated the skyline of Dragon Forge, belching plumes of ash high into the sky.

Outside of the walls there were hundreds of heaps of rusting metal dotting the low red hills, the raw material of the foundries. Amid these heaps were hovels where gleaners lived, among the poorest humans in the kingdom.

Threading through these heaps were four major roads. All were busy with traffic. In the absence of dragons, humans throughout the kingdom rushed to Dragon Forge. Some of this traffic, though, wasn’t here for the rebellion. Mule trains hauling wagon loads of coal wound along the western road. They cared little who bought their wares, be it human or dragon.

Along the southern side of Dragon Forge there was a river; a canal had been dug long ago to divert water into the city, where a water wheel powered the bellows that fanned the foundries. The water also served to flush the gutters and sewers of the town — crude but effective sanitation. In addition to this water, Vulpine could see a large well at the center of the town. The rebels wouldn’t perish from thirst. “With the right eyes, you can see the city as a heart. The roads and rivers serve as arteries and veins, carrying in the lifeblood, carting off the waste. Choke off the roads and the city dies.”

“But by now the rebels will have been stocking up on supplies. They could hold out for weeks, or months.”

“And is the world suddenly in short supply of weeks and months?” asked Vulpine.

Balikan clamped his mouth shut, looking properly chastised.

“In any case, I don’t think they will hold out for months,” said Vulpine. “Humans lack the capacity for long-term planning we sky-dragon’s possess. Presented with a blockade, with food and resources dwindling, they will likely turn on themselves in short order, especially once plague breaks out.”

“If plague breaks out,” said Balikan. “I must admit, it looks as if they are doing a fair job of keeping the town clean.”

“This need not be something left to chance,” said Vulpine. “Let’s pay a visit to the Nest. It’s only thirty miles away and a few dozen valkyries can easily blockade the western road and cut off the coal supply. The valkyrie engineers can also block off the canal feeding water into the town. After that, we’ll follow the Forge Road back to the Palace to confer with Chapelion and get the authority to gather all the elements I need to truly solve this problem.”

“Will he grant us this authority? We’re slavecatchers, not soldiers.”

“After I tell him his books are in the fort,” said Vulpine, “he’ll give me every last soldier in the kingdom.”
Author's notes: I've been accused of Christian-bashing in the past, and I can't help but think that this chapter will contribute to my reputation as a heretic. Burning books is probably the most villianous thing you can have a character do. Killing people is so common in books (at least in my books!) that it doesn't cause most readers to bat an eye. I'd like to preemptively say that Ragnar doesn't represent all Christians any more than Burke represents all indians, or Jandra represents all humans raised by dragons. Well, okay, maybe Jandra does deserve that label. To me, Ragnar's underlying religion isn't important. Ragnar instead represents a fundamentalist mindset that plagues many religions. He has more in common with the Taliban than with, say, James Dobson.
For what it's worth, as the book unfolds I'll try to balance Ragnar's extremism with a second professed Christian character who espouses a more liberal philosophy. Also, Burke, an avowed rationalist, is going to find himself facing a crisis of faith as he encounters evidence that there's more to a man than just his body. Stay tuned.
For those of you keeping track of religious references in my stories, the Mighty Men draw their name from the band of rebels that David built around him when Saul was trying to kill him.
Aside from ratcheting up the tension between Burke and Ragnar, my big goal for this chapter was to introduce Shay to Burke, Anza, and Jandra. Their intertwining plot threads drive the action for the first half of the book. For those of you wondering where Bitterwood, Zeeky, Hex, and Blasphet might be lurking, many are still a few chapters away, but rest assured they make up for lost time once they do appear. At least one of them drops in for a scene in the next chapter.
The second half of the chapter focuses on Vulpine and drops hints as to his plan to reclaim Dragon Forge. I think the most insightful line into his character comes when he asks, “And is the world suddenly in short supply of weeks and months?” Vulpine is someone who thinks in the long term. I find his calm patience both his most admirable attribute, and also the most chilling, given his goals.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Books for Breasts!

Followers of my blogs, and the readers who read the acknowledgement pages of my books, will know that I lost my partner Laura Herrmann to breast cancer in May 2006. I've been interested in cancer research since then and have privately made contributions to cancer related charities, but I've never put out any sort of appeal on my blogs to solicit for this cause, until now.

Last week, I received several cases of my latest book Dragonseed. One of the ongoing themes of Dragonseed is the idea of healing, both from physical and spiritual wounds. Within the book there's a miraculous object called a dragonseed: Eat the seed, and all your injuries will be healed. Even your oldest scars will vanish.

I have some science fiction hoodoo underlying the dragonseed. The technology to create a pill that will both diagnose and cure any illness is pretty far out in our future, if it exists at all. But, the part of this that isn't science fiction or hoodoo is that I believe that technology has the power to work miracles. We have MRI and PET scans that can look into a human body and see it working in minute detail. We have developed surgical tools and techniques that can remove diseased tissues from a human body without doing undo damage to healthy tissues. My father had a heart attack recently, and the doctors had to place stents in his arteries. The incision to perform the operation was small enough to cover with a band-aid. And, right now, there are researchers who are taking apart cancer cells molecule by molecule to understand the genetic engines that drive them to a degree unimaginable only a few decades ago.

We live in an age of miracles because we live in an age of knowledge. Modern computers are finally powerful enough to process all the complex data contained within a human cell. The only barriers remaining between our present understanding a cure for any disease you can name are time and money.

These are not insignificant barriers. New technologies are always expensive. And, to be blunt, the world has a limited supply of really smart people, and a nearly unlimited supply of problems for them to solve. For better or worse, money is one of the most important driving forces of where the smart people focus their energies. In the sixties, it was decided we would put a man on the moon. We threw money at the problem, and produced a glut of rocket scientists. In the eighties and nineties, computer technology was fed enormous sums of money by the stock market, and smart people focused their energies on designing hardware and software, and with the result that today my cell phone has more memory than I do. There is a lot of money today flowing into health care, but only a fraction of this money goes to research of any given disease.

I'd like to invite you to increase the fraction going to breast cancer research, both due to my personal connection to the cause, and because I think that this is the right moment in history to truly make a difference. I firmly believe this is a disease than can be cured within our lifetime. I don't know if one day we will simply swallow a magic pill and be healed, but I do know that the day will come when we will be able to profile any cancer cell and match it with the appropriate drug to wipe it out.

To help bring this day closer, if only by a minute or two, I'd like to announce my "Books for Breasts" promotion. Anyone who contributes to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation through the "Team Dragon" fundraising page will get a free signed copy of Dragonseed.

You can contribute to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer foundation by clicking here. This will take you to my personal fundraising page; just click the button that says "support James." Then, to get your signed copy of Dragonseed, just email me your mailing address to nobodynovelwriter@yahoo.com. I've set aside 50 copies for this cause; if I give them all away by the end of July, I'm pretty sure I can get my hands on another 50.

I've set up a modest goal of raising $300* through this promotion. This means I need to average contributions of $6, which is less than you'd pay for the book on Amazon. However, I'll send you a book for a contribution in any amount, even if it's just a buck. Spend a buck, get a book, save some breasts. Who's with me?

*Okay, I obviously seriously underestimated the generosity of my readers. I hit $300 in under 24 hours. So, I'm going to raise my goal to $1000. Thank you to everyone who's given so far, and everyone who has helped spread the word via blogs and twitter. If I run out of books, I've had some interest from other writers in contributing their books to the cause. I'll keep you posted if it comes to this.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Dragonseed Chapter Two with Director's Commentary

Chapter Two
Good Boss

The early morning light coming into the loft was tinted yellow by the sulfurous plumes that rose from the smokestacks. Jandra had been in Dragon Forge for a week now and still wasn’t used to the stench, the rotten-­egg aroma of coal burning con­tinuously. One of the furnaces had been transformed into a crematorium, adding a black, oily soot that coated every exposed surface and smelled disturbing­ly like charred bacon. The bacon­-stink of the crematorium swirling together with the egg­-stink of the foundry left Jandra certain she’d never want breakfast for the rest of her life. She leaned against the window, looking out through the wavy glass, her forehead touching the cold pane as she gazed toward the low hills beyond the walls of the fortress. The last of the snow had melted off, leaving the landscape a mucky, reddish brown.

She was waiting on the second floor of the central foundry, in a high­-roofed loft with exposed ceiling beams and baked brick walls. The floors were thick, oily timbers, worn smooth by centuries of constant use. Half a dozen tables had been lugged into the space and all were covered with sheets of parchment scribbled with Burke’s notes and diagrams. Across the room, coals glowed cherry red in a large open fireplace. The room was chilly despite this. She sank her hands deeper into the pockets of her ridiculously large, ill­-fitting coat. It was a dark green coat from an earth­-dragon’s formal guard uniform, designed to fit a creature three times as broad across the shoulders as she was. Beneath the coat she wore a man’s cotton shirt and baggy britches. When she’d arrived at Dragon Forge, she’d been wearing a blood­stained blanket and a dress torn down the back from neck to waist. Everything she’d worn had been so ripped or filthy she’d wound up burning it all. The only things she’d kept were the large silver bracelet on her left wrist and her knee­-high black leather boots.

Behind her the elevator chattered. The iron cage rattled as the lift chains locked into place. The door squeaked open and Burke the Machinist rolled his wheeled chair onto the thick oak planks of the floor. Burke’s eyes were bloodshot; he’d obviously worked through the night. His long dark hair was normally pulled into a tight braid, but this morning his hair hung freely around his shoulders, revealing numerous streaks of gray. Burke wasn’t ancient; he was only in his fifties, in reasonably good health despite his broken leg. A member of an ancient race known as the Cherokee, Burke possessed a sharp-­featured face with a strong jaw that gave him an air of authority. The symmetry of his features was bro­ken by three parallel scars along his right cheek. Behind a newly­-fashioned pair of spectacles, Burke’s eyes glimmered with excitement. In his lap, he carried an iron rod, the final product of the night’s work.

“We’ve done it,” Burke said as he handed the long rod to Jandra. He winced from the movement. Despite the mobility allowed by the wheeled chair, Jandra could tell his broken leg was a source of agony. He clenched his jaw and drew a long breath through his nose, then said, “It’s a fully functioning prototype.”

Jandra took the device from Burke. The rod was four feet long and quite heavy despite being hollow. One end was open, slightly flared, sporting a perfect­ly circular hole almost a half-­inch across; the other was fixed to a triangle of wood that served as a han­dle. The steel was lightly engraved with a scale pattern at the open end.

“So this is a gun,” said Jandra, turning the weapon every which way as she examined it. She stared down the shaft bored into the center of the tube. Could this weapon really change the world?

“More specifically, a shotgun,” said Burke. “And I wouldn’t look down that hole. It’s loaded. I’ve got the safety on, but there’s no reason to press your luck. Going forward, I’ll remember to mention this before I hand it to people.”

“So how does it work?” Jandra asked, examining the trigger.

“It’s a flintlock,” Burke explained, wheeling his chair around to get closer. He pointed at the small iron hammer that was pulled back, held in tension by a spring. A small sharp splinter of flint was held at the tip. “When you take off the safety and pull this trigger, the hammer snaps shut and the flint strikes a spark into the flash pan, here. That creates a small explosion and lights this fuse, which then triggers the black powder packed into the rifle itself. The black powder is loaded into the barrel from the front and jammed tightly with the ramrod beforehand.” He tapped a thin iron rod attached to the underside of the barrel.

“Oh,” said Jandra, not certain she could envision the process. She pulled out a small pad of paper from her coat pocket. “This sounds like something I should be writing down.”

“I doubt you’ll have the luxury of checking your notes in situations where you’d be using this,” said Burke. He showed her two white cotton sacks, each about the size of her thumb. “To speed the loading process and to keep the powder compact, I’ve sewed up the appropriate amount of powder into these bags. Each charge provides a serious kick. The other bag holds small lead spheres and is jammed in front of the charge bag. The explosion will produce an expanding force of hot gas that propels the spheres down the barrel at great speed.”

“How fast?”

“The balls of lead will come out of the barrel at about ten times the speed that an arrow flies off a bow. It’s going to make a crack like thunder.”

“Yowza,” said Jandra.

“Yowza?” asked Burke. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard that expression.”

Jandra frowned. “I haven’t either. It must be some­thing she would have said.”

“The goddess?”

Jandra nodded, then sighed. She already had enough problems connecting with other humans, having been raised by a sky­-dragon. The fact that her most recent adventures had left her head jammed full of alien memories only added to her sense of isolation and loneliness. Of course, having the memories of a thousand­-year-­old woman from a far more technologically advanced society had a few benefits. She now knew the long­-lost recipe for gunpowder, for example.

Burke looked concerned. He was a member of the Anudahdeesdee, a Cherokee clan dedicated to remembering the secrets of the once dominant human civilization that existed before the Dragon Age. His people had a long history of confrontations with Jas­mine Robertson, the so­-called goddess, the woman who had altered Jandra’s brain.

“So, what are these scale marks along the barrel for?” She was eager to change the subject away from her jumbled memories.

“I often design my inventions to resemble creatures in the natural world, like my spy­-owl, my chess mon­key, the time-­frog, etc. I was going to call the gun the Noisy Snake, but the scale pattern was taking too long, so I gave up halfway. It had no bearing on the function.” He shook his head as he looked at the gun. “My grandfather used to scold me for being more concerned with making sculptures than machinery.”

Jandra smiled. “Your daughter showed me the spy­-owl. I liked the attention to detail in the feathers. You’re a talented sculptor. The fact that you’ve only needed a week to design and build a shotgun from scratch shows that you’re an equally talented engi­neer. ”

Burke didn’t look cheered by her words. “I’m put­ting a lot of trust in you, placing this in your hands and sending you outside the fortress. If the dragons capture this and figure out how it works, it could for­ever change the world. Are you certain you can get your powers back?”

“Nothing in this world is ever certain,” said Jan­dra. “But, the sooner I leave, the better the odds are that no one has taken the genie.”

Burke nodded. “Anza’s anxious to leave as well. She says she’s tired of the way this place smells. She should be here in a moment. Let me—” Before he could finish his sentence, shouting erupted outside the window.

“Get it!” someone yelled.

“Circle around!” a man called out. A dozen other excited voices chimed in.

Jandra went to the window. She raised the pane and leaned out. The action was taking place only fifteen feet below her. A crowd of men were chasing a tiny green earth-­dragon. The earth-­dragon was the small­est she’d ever seen, barely a foot tall, obviously a child. Unlike adult earth­-dragons, wingless beasts who moved in a slow plod, the earth-­dragon child was darting back and forth like a jackrabbit. Despite its speed, it was pinned in by the crowd, and quickly found itself with its back to the wall directly beneath Jandra.

The men gathered round, keeping a slight distance as the small dragon opened its turtle-­like jaws wide and hissed. Its tiny claws flexed as it took up a defen­sive stance. Its long, skinny tail whipped back and forth like a cat ready to pounce.

Jandra recognized the leader of the men, a white-­haired, bearded fellow named Frost, a blacksmith from the foundry. His eyes were wide and he was smiling, as if chasing this young dragon were great sport.

“Frost!” Jandra yelled. “What are you doing?”

The crowd looked up. Whispers ran among the men. Jandra caught the word “witch” among the murmurs.

“We found this lizard hiding in a cellar! We’re going to cook it!”

In response, the earth-­dragon yelled, “No eat! No eat!”

Jandra felt her stomach turn at the thought of what these men were going to do. A month ago, the drop to the street would have looked imposing. But, in a process similar to the reshaping of her memories, her body had also been retuned, leaving her with a phys­ical prowess that rivaled even the legendary Bant Bitterwood. She leapt from the window, shotgun in hand, and landed in a crouch between the crowd and the dragon child.

“Back off!” she said. “The new rule is: if it talks, we don’t eat it.”

The men looked wary. Jandra knew it was due to her reputation as a witch… a reputation that, at the moment, was completely undeserved. Once, she’d commanded the elements, and would have been able to summon a ring of fire to shield her, or simply turn invisible to escape a fight. Unfortunately, she required a device known as a genie to use her abili­ties, and her genie had been stolen. Until she got it back, her “witchcraft” was nothing but bluff.

She stood, pulling back her shoulders. The green wool coat she wore hung down to her ankles. She hoped that the bulky coat and the thick heels on her leather boots helped hide the fact that the smallest of these men outweighed her by a hundred pounds.

Frost was the largest of them, broad­-shouldered, bar­rel-­chested, with biceps like hams. His face was speckled with a constellation of scars, pale white splotches from a life spent hammering hot metal. While some of the men looked nervous after Jandra’s sudden appearance, Frost didn’t show the least flicker of intim­idation. He said, “Even if you are Ragnar’s sister, you have no authority to declare what is and isn’t food.”

Jandra put the shotgun to her shoulder, imitating the firing stance she’d seen in Burke’s sketches when he’d designed the gun.

“I think you’ll find this gives me the authority,” she said.

Frost didn’t look impressed.

“Is this more of your magic, girl?” Frost mocked. “Where I’m from, we burn witches. Perhaps we’ll cook the lizard over the fire we build from your bones.”

The dragon child grabbed Jandra’s coattails. He cowered behind her legs and yelled, “No eat! No eat!”

Frost took a step forward.

“Not one more step,” Jandra growled.

Frost took another step.

Jandra raised the barrel of the shotgun, targeting the empty air above Frost’s head. She pulled the trig­ger. Nothing happened. What had Burke said about a safety? She examined the intricate firing mechanism.

Frost reached out to grab the gun. Jandra slipped aside the metal latch that kept the flint from falling. She pulled the trigger again as Frost’s fingers closed on the barrel. The hammer clicked down. For half a second, there was a flashing light and a sizzle, plus a lot of smoke.

Lightning struck.

At least, it seemed like lightning, with a bright flash and a thunderous boom. The butt of the shotgun slammed into Jandra’s shoulder, knocking her into the wall. Everyone in the crowd jumped in unison, wide­-eyed.

Frost released the gun and spun away, cursing. He raised his hand to his right ear. Jandra had meant to aim above his head, but the gun had fired in a more or less random direction after Frost grabbed it. When Frost lowered his bloodied fingers, his ear was gone. Only a few shreds of bloody flesh dangled where it had been.

Jandra was disoriented. She hadn’t expected the gun to be so loud. She looked around, uncertain where the dragon child had gone. Her arm was numb from the impact of the shotgun.

She couldn’t help but wonder why the goddess had worked so hard to rid the world of guns. Of what use was a weapon that crippled its user?

The crowd grew deathly silent as Frost recovered his wits. He narrowed his eyes in anger.

“Witch,” he snarled. Jandra could barely hear him over the ringing in her ears. “The last time a woman scratched me, I tore her nails out!” He lunged toward her, arms outstretched.

Before Jandra understood what was happening, something human-­sized dropped down from above, landing between her and Frost. The crowd sucked in its collective breath.

There was a loud SNAP. Frost shrieked.

Jandra blinked her eyes. The person who had jumped in front of her was Burke’s daughter, Anza. Anza was dressed in black buckskins and had at least a dozen blades strapped to her body. It was said that Burke had trained Anza in the art of combat from the day she’d learned to walk. Frost fell to his knees in front of Anza. Anza shifted her body slightly and Jan­dra could see that she had Frost’s middle and ring fingers in her grasp, bending them back much further than unbroken fingers could possibly bend.

Anza pushed Frost away and stood between Jandra and the crowd, drawing a long slender sword from the scabbard slung over her back. The razor-­sharp edge gleamed like a mirror in the smoky light.

Men at the back of the mob looked around and wandered off, as if suddenly remembering other appointments. Some of the nearer men looked down at the ground as they, too, walked away.

Only two men remained behind to help Frost back to his feet.

Frost looked as if he were on the verge of spitting at the two women. Then, his eyes flickered upwards. Burke was at the window above, looking down stern­ly.

Frost growled, “Wait until Ragnar learns of this!”

“Why don’t you go tell him?” said Burke. “He can come to me if he wishes to discuss the proper pun­ishment for a man your age threatening teenage girls with violence. I’m disappointed in you, Frost. You’re one of the best fighters I know. But there’s a fine line between a fighter and a bully. I would advise you to learn where that line is.”

Frost glared as he turned away, leaving the two women alone.

Anza gazed up at her father, a smug look in her eyes.

“Don’t feel proud,” Burke scolded. “You just ruined the hand of one of my most experienced blacksmiths. And Jandra, that was a damned stupid thing to do. Why didn’t you let them eat the varmint? It may be small and cute, but it’s still an earth-­dragon. We killed them by the thousands to take Dragon Forge. What’s one more dead lizard?”

“This is only a child!” Jandra protested. “He’s innocent! He’s more frightened of us than we are of him.”

“Where’d the lizard go?” Burke asked. He was still in his chair, and couldn’t look straight down.

Jandra studied the area. Had the dragon slipped away while she was distracted? Finally, she noticed a shadow on the wall, and a peculiar outline. She knelt and reached toward the shadow.

The outline on the wall shifted color slightly. The eyes became visible as they looked at her. The chameleon­-like camouflage vanished as the dragon shifted back to a deep green hue, almost black. It held a skinny arm toward her, the claw at the end out­stretched like a human hand, though it had only three fingers. These digits ended in claws that any bobcat would have envied.

“No eat?” the dragon child asked.

“No eat,” said Jandra, taking his hand. “I’ll protect you.” She lifted the dragon child up and hugged him to her chest.

“Good boss,” he cooed.


It was late morning when Vulpine, the Slavecatcher General, drifted down to the rocky bank, his eyes drawn to the blue­s-caled corpses being picked at by black-feathered buzzards. The buzzards hopped away as he landed, some taking to the air to perch in the branches of nearby pines, others, more bold, backing up only a few yards to glare at him. Even though the faces were mutilated, with the eyes torn away and the flesh around the mouths pecked and peeled, Vulpine recognized these dragons, fellow slavecatchers, good and honorable defenders of order. He shivered as a chill wind stirred his feather­-scales.

There were human corpses as well, similarly muti­lated by the buzzards. Vulpine recognized them as Hemming and Terpin. The world was no worse off without them. He noted that Shay wasn’t among the corpses, nor was there any sign of Chapelion’s stolen books.

Had Shay somehow managed to kill three slave­catchers? It made no sense. It was plain that all three dragons had been downed by arrows. He’d heard about the new bow that had caused the massacre at Dragon Forge, a weapon with more than twice the range of a longbow. Dragon Forge was barely ten miles distant. Had these slavecatchers fallen victim to a rebel patrol?

He noted something odd about the arrows. He reached out and plucked one from a corpse and held it to better catch the light. His eyes weren’t playing tricks. These arrows were yard­-long, perfectly straight shafts of living wood. The fletching at the end wasn’t feathers, but fresh green leaves growing in perfect symmetry. Stranger still, the killing end of the twig showed no trace of an arrowhead. The wood simply narrowed down to a hard, thorn-­like point. What tree grew such twigs? One final artifact of the arrow disturbed him. The shaft couldn’t have been in the corpse for more than a day, judging from the con­dition of the bodies. Yet, the part of the arrow that had been buried in the body was covered with white, threadlike projections, as if the arrow had been tak­ing root. The shaft sported several fresh pale bumps, like it was budding.

Vulpine snapped the shaft. The bark that peeled away from the jagged break was bright green and full of sap. He sniffed the wood. It was an unremarkable odor; he still couldn’t identify the species. The biolo­gians back at the College of Spires perhaps could assist, though his gut told him that this was some­thing new under the sun, that no one had ever seen living arrows before. Most biologians were rational­ists, but Vulpine was old enough and wise enough to suspect there were invisible forces beyond the com­prehension of dragons. Most slaves believed in magic, in ghosts and witches, angels and demons, and Vulpine had some sympathy with these beliefs.

He felt a chill creep along his spine as a shadow passed over him. The long fringe of feathery scales along his neck stood on end. He looked up, then immediately let out his breath and chuckled. It was only Balikan, a young slave­catcher he was training, drifting down from the sky to join him. The vultures skittered back even further, but Vulpine was glad of his company.

Balikan wrinkled his nose in disgust at the odor. The corpses weren’t rotting yet, but their bowels had emptied, and the gallons of blood that had seeped into the gravel had its own aroma. Vulpine had bare­ly noticed; he’d been around corpses so often the odor had little effect on him.

“By the bones,” Balikan said softly. “Who could have done this?”

“That, my young friend, is an excellent question.”

“I don’t see Shay’s body. Could he—?”

“Doubtful,” said Vulpine. “Shay’s never held a bow in his life. Nor has he displayed much in the way of a spine. He probably groveled for mercy when the slavecatchers caught up to him. Someone else killed these dragons. They must have been hidden in the trees.”

Balikan scanned the steep bank, his eyes darting from branch to branch.

“I don’t think they’re still around,” said Vulpine. “These corpses are at least twelve hours old. Maybe sixteen.”

“How can you tell?”

Vulpine nudged the twisted talon of the nearest corpse with a hind­-claw. “They plainly didn’t die today. The bodies are cold and stiff—it takes several hours to lose body heat, although one cold night on a damp bank can do it. Rigor mortis sets in little by little—the degree these limbs are contracted tells me it hasn’t reached its peak. I also know it’s not been more than a day because the buzzards haven’t made much progress.”

Balikan shuddered. “I’ve never been around this many dead bodies.”

“Get used to it,” said Vulpine. “You’ll see many more in the coming days.”

“Why, sir?”

“King Albekizan kept this kingdom stable for almost half a century. Now he’s dead, and his son didn’t last a month before a human assassinated him. The humans have taken advantage of all this insta­bility and captured Dragon Forge, just to the west of here.” He pointed to the brownish tint in the sky, evi­dence of the distant smokestacks. “I suspect that’s where Shay is, along with Chapelion’s books.”

“Then he’s escaped for good,” said Balikan.

“Nonsense,” said Vulpine. “I’ve had a few slaves vanish on me over the years. I can’t claim a perfect record. But I’ve never let a slave go when I still had a lead simply because pursuing that lead was danger­ous. Dragon Forge is a magnet for slaves. Shay and these two fools were among the first to hear the rumors and make a break for it, but they won’t be the last. Our jobs are going to be much more difficult if the humans are allowed to hold on to Dragon Forge. It’s imperative that we sky­-dragons act now to stran­gle this revolution while it’s still in its cradle.”

“But, the humans defeated an army of sun-­dragons!” said Balikan. “They slaughtered earth­-dragons by the thousands. Why will we fare any better?”

Vulpine chuckled. “Besting an earth­-dragon isn’t so hard. In my experience, the average human is twice as smart as an earth-­dragon. Sun­-dragons might be as smart as the humans, but they’re also bullies. They’re used to winning fights due to their size, but if a few of them get hurt, the rest turn tail and run. They don’t know the first thing about real courage—and next to nothing about strategy—because they don’t need it. When evolution has left you with the dead­liest jaws in the food chain, you get used to solving all your problems with your teeth. We sky-­dragons are made of different stuff. Our brains might be half the size of sun-dragons, but we actually bother to use them. We study the world. We learn things. Brute force failed to break the rebellion at Dragon Forge. It’s time for a more thoughtful approach.”

“You have a plan in mind?”

“The rough outlines of one, yes,” said Vulpine. “This isn’t something we’re going to be able to do alone, however. We should go consult with Chapelion.”

“So it’s back to the College of Spires.”

“No,” said Vulpine. “To the Grand Library of the High Biologian. That’s where Chapelion will be by now. He’s bringing some order to this chaos.”


Vulpine ignored him. “Our second priority should be reconnaissance. Let’s study the area and gather the information we’ll need to solve this problem once and for all. They say the new bows can reach out up to a mile… but there’s a lot we can learn from over a mile away.”

Balikan looked puzzled. “Our second priority? What’s our first?”

Vulpine looked down at the bodies of the three slavecatchers. “We should build a pyre and cremate the remains of our brethren. I’ve known Zernex almost thirty years. He deserves a more noble end than to be pecked apart by buzzards.”

“Of course,” said Balikan, sounding embarrassed that this had required explanation. “What of the slaves?”

Vulpine shrugged. “Let the birds have their fill.”


Comments on Chapter Two: This chapter had two seemingly contradictory goals. First, I wanted to recap the previous book, to bring new readers up to speed and to remind returning readers of what went before. The second goal is the goal of all chapters: I have to move the story forward, laying the groundwork for what's to come instead of dwelling on what's behind.

Hopefully, I found the right balance. The dialogue between Jandra and Burke is sprinkled with information about what's happened previously, such as when Burke reminds Jandra that they killed thousands of earth-dragons to take the fort. In the Vulpine scene, he has a full paragraph where he tells Balikan about the political turmoil of the last two books. But, all of this is backstory unfolds in the context of the present. By breaking it up and keeping it brief, I hope it reads like seamless dialogue instead of an infodump.

Fans of the series will, I hope, be pleased to see Jandra back in a central role in the book. The conclusions of the two previous books have been hard on Jandra. In book one, she loses her "father." In book two, her best friend betrays her. But I like Jandra because the tragedies she experiences don't shatter her, but instead leave her a little tougher and wiser. She has every excuse to hate dragons following the events of the previous books, but her core instinct when she sees the young earth-dragon in danger is to protect him. We'll be seeing a lot more of the young-earth dragon by the way.

The other protagonists returning from Dragonforge are Burke and Anza. Burke and Anza are sort of a symbiotic unit in the second book. Burke is the brains, Anza is the brawn. Though, brawn obviously isn't the right word. Anza is precision and grace, sort of a Cherokee ninja. One of my goals for the characters in Dragonseed is to split these two characters up so that they can develop more on their own. We'll get to see Anza use her wits to think through problems, and Burke will wind up in a fight or two without his buckskin-clad guardian angel watching over him.

This chapter introduces a new character, Vulpine, the slavecatcher general. Vulpine is perhaps the most dangerous dragon antagonist I've yet introduced. Blasphet was smart and evil, but he believes his own hype. He's overconfident in his complicated schemes. Vulpine is just a dragon with a job, and that job is to keep humans enslaved. He happens to be very good at it. But, he's not egotistical; he sees himself as a servant to civilization itself, a dragon with a duty to the world. He doesn't want other dragons to sing his praises. He just wants to put the world back into its natural order, with dragons on top. I hope readers will grow to like him, despite the really awful things he's going to be doing as the book unfolds.

Rereading the chapter this morning, I note that both the Jandra scene and the Vulpine scene dwell around new weapons. Jandra gets to learn about guns. I'm nervous about the guns! I expect letters from actual black powder gun owners telling me I'm getting the technology wrong. And, I am: While I did do some research into early guns, I'm also working under the assumption that Burke has tweaked the technology some. I'm not trying to describe an actual blunderbuss, but instead Burke's reinvented device. If you are an actual user of black powder guns reading this, feel free to chime in. It's obviously too late to change anything in this book, but I'm always keen to learn more.

The other weapon we examine in greater detail is Bant Bitterwood's living arrow. Jazz, the goddess, gives him a living bow strung with her own hair in the previous book, and a quiver that continuously replenishes itself. In the last book, there's so much going on after Bant gets his bow that I don't really stop and focus on what a wierd and wonderful weapon this really is. The arrows also have an interesting symbolic value. In the first book, Bitterwood's signature is that his arrows are fletched with the feathers of dragons. The weapon helps build up his mystique as a dragon-slaying ghost. In this book, Bitterwood's arrows are green things locked in an eternal spring. Perhaps this says something about Bitterwood's mental state in this book. I should say no more.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Dragonseed Preview Chapter One with Director's Commentary

With exactly one month left until the official release date of Dragonseed, I plan to post one preview chapter each Monday until the book actually hits stores. I'm going to follow each chapter with a brief "director's commentary" feature, where I'll briefly discuss my creative process behind the chapter. I'll try to keep the commentary section spoiler free; mainly, I will be discussing things such as why I chose a particular POV character, what I know about the larger setting that didn't make it into the book, etc.
Chapter One
Hope of the Slave

Clouds the color of bruises stained the winter sunset. Shay hoped that the yellow-­brown sky meant they were near the foundries of Dragon Forge. He wasn’t certain Hemming would make it if their journey lasted another day. Shay, Hemming, and Terpin were at the edge of a pine forest on a steep hill leading down to a slow muddy river. On the other side of the water a broad, flat field had been trampled to muck. Shay wondered if this was evidence of the retreat of Shandrazel’s army. Thousands of earth-­dragons had fled on foot. The ground would surely bear witness.

“I don’t think I can go on,” Hemming whined as he slid down the bank, landing on a bed of gravel beside the river. Hemming was the oldest of the three slaves, a stooped, white-­haired man in his late sixties. In a perfect world, Hemming’s age and experience would have endowed him with wisdom and toughness, but in actuality it had left only a fragile shell of a man with an unceasing passion for complaint. “My blis­ters have popped,” Hemming moaned. “My boots are filled with blood.”

“All the more reason to keep moving,” said Terpin, sliding down beside him. Unlike Hemming, a house slave, Terpin had worked the grounds of the College of Spires. He was a short man, but heavily muscled. His wispy hair clung in a band around his ears, as white as Hemming’s more ample mane, though he was at least twenty years younger. Terpin’s face was a mass of wrinkles and he only had teeth on the left side of his jaw. His voice was authoritative and gruff as he said, “Walk while you still can, old man. If you can’t go on, we’re not going to carry you.”

Hemming’s lower lip quivered. “Y-­you’d leave me behind? After we’ve come this far together?”

Shay cleared his throat. He still clung to a skinny tree on the steep slope. The last ten feet down to the river looked particularly treacherous. He couldn’t get the memory of the horse’s broken leg out of his mind. He announced, “We’re not leaving anyone behind. I’ll drag you both if I have to.” He was the youngest of the slaves, only twenty­two. He was lanky, tall despite his hunched posture, with a thick head of orange hair bright as the scales of a sun­-dragon. Unlike the drab, threadbare outfits of the older men, Shay was dressed in a long red coat with shiny brass buttons. His black boots were scuffed and muddied from walking, but the upper parts still showed their former polish.

Shay had led a more privileged life than either of the older slaves. He’d been the personal attendant to Chapelion, the sky­dragon scholar who oversaw the College of Spires. Few humans knew how to read, but Shay’s precociousness had been recognized at an early age and encouraged by Chapelion, who’d seen advantages in having a literate slave. Chapelion had thought that his bright­-eyed favorite had been smart enough to recognize the benefits of life in his service. Instead Shay’s relatively easy life in the face of the hardships of his fellow men had only made his status all the more intolerable.

Not that his life had been easy—as a slave, he’d been subject to beatings for minor mistakes. His back bore scars from the bite of whips. When news of a human rebellion at Dragon Forge had reached the College of Spires, Shay instantly knew that he belonged there. He’d persuad­ed Terpin to accompany him, because he liked Terpin and thought the tough, worldly slave knew a thing or two about surviving in the world. They’d taken Hem­ming because the older man had eavesdropped on their plans and asked to come, and they’d both been certain he would betray them if left behind.

“Hemming, I’m as tired as you,” Shay said. “I want nothing more than to stretch out on the ground and drift to sleep. But look at those clouds. That has to be the smoke from Dragon Forge. I’ve heard the sky above it is always tinted this way at sunset. We’re close.”

“It’s Terpin’s fault we don’t have horses,” Hem­ming grumbled.

Shay sighed to hear this argument brought up again.

“Oh lord,” Terpin groaned, throwing his hands up.

“If you’d listened to me, we’d be there already,” Hemming said.

This was arguably true, but Shay didn’t think it mattered. They’d left with two horses, with Hem­ming and Shay sharing a mount. On their first day out, they’d pushed too far. Terpin had assured them the horses could go another mile, then another, and he’d beaten the horses with branches to keep them moving. After hours of rough treatment the horse that carried the two of them fell dead, its heart burst. The next morning, they’d taken turns with the last horse, and as Terpin rode down a ravine the horse had stumbled and broken its leg. Shay knew they had made mistakes that cost them dearly, but he couldn’t see any advantage in dwelling on them, not when they were so close to freedom.

“What’s past is past,” said Shay. “We’re all cold and hungry. Dragon Forge will have fireplaces, and food to fill our bellies, and it wouldn’t surprise me if there’s whiskey as well. It’s worth another hour of walking, even in the dark.”

“Whiskey gives me heartburn,” Hemming grum­bled. “And you think they’re just giving out food? You think they’re going to welcome three runaway slaves with open arms?”

“It’s a rebellion. They need soldiers, and workers, and cooks, and any other talents we can bring,” said Shay. “They’ll feed us. Especially once they see what I’m carrying.”

He tapped the leather pack slung over his shoulder. It had been a heavy burden to tote all this way, but he thought the contents were the most precious thing in the world. He held onto the faith that Dragon Forge would welcome them with the same certainty that dawn would follow the night. Hemming didn’t look convinced.

“You youngsters think you’re immortal,” Hem­ming said. “But if we’re stumbling around out here in the dark with numb feet, we’re likely to break our legs. You remember the horse, don’t you? You remember the way that bone jutted through the hide, the way that blood shot out in a fountain?”

Shay did remember this. Any time he closed his eyes, he could see it. This was one reason he was still clinging to the tree instead of jumping down to the gravel.

Perhaps sensing he was touching Shay’s fears, Hemming went on: “None of us can see worth a damn in the dark, but the slavecatchers can. They’ll find us while we’re lying there in the open field with broken legs. Those bastards have eyes like cats.”

“Our ears are rather sharp as well,” said a voice overhead.

Shay looked up, his heart in his throat. Perched in the gnarled branches of a towering pine, he spotted a pair of golden eyes glowing in the last rays of the sun. The blue wings of a sky­-dragon unfurled against the dark sky as the beast rose and glided down to the gravel bed, landing ten feet away from Hemming. The old man trembled. A high­pitched cry erupted from his lips, a sound like a rabbit shrieking in the jaws of a hound.

The slavecatchers were frequent visitors to Chape­lion’s chambers, and Shay recognized this one as Galath, a fairly young and inexperienced member of the trade. Perhaps they still had a chance. Hope faded as a second sky­-dragon glided down to join Galath. This was Enozan, a much older and more experi­enced slavecatcher. Still, it was two against three; not all hope was lost. In the air, sky­-dragons were much larger than men, with their twenty­-foot wingspans and long whip­-like tails. On the ground, however, standing on their hind­-legs like oversized blue jays, the two slavecatchers were no taller than Hemming. Perhaps this gave Terpin courage because, as Hem­ming fell to his knees to beg for mercy, Terpin grabbed a fallen tree branch and wielded it like a club.

“Stay back!” he shouted. “Or I’ll knock your brains out!”

There was a rustling in the tree behind Shay. A third dragon had landed in the branches. Shay rec­ognized him immediately—Zernex, one of the most feared slavecatchers employed by the College of Spires, second in cruelty and cunning only to Vulpine, the infamous Slavecatcher General.

Zernex spread his wings wide and stretched his neck as he stood on the swaying branch, perhaps for balance, perhaps to emphasize his size. While sky-­dragons were small compared to sun­-dragons, they were still fearsome beasts. Their heads were the size of a large ram’s, with jaws that could open wide enough to close around a human throat and sink into it with gleaming rows of saw­-like teeth. Their talons may have been little larger than a man’s hand, but they were tipped with sharp­-hooked claws that could slice through flesh with ease. Zernex raised the fringe of long feather­-scales that ran along the back of his neck as he snarled at Terpin. “Drop the branch, slave! I’m paid the same whether I bring you back alive or dead. I won’t hesitate to gut you.”

Shay shouted at Zernex. “If you don’t care if we’re alive or dead, why bring us back at all? Leave us alone! The College of Spires won’t miss three slaves!”

Zernex glared at Shay. “Do you think we’re fools, boy? You’re running off to join the rebellion. You think we’re going to let you go get armed with a bow and arrow so you can kill dragons? Besides, we both know you aren’t merely escaped slaves… you’re thieves as well.” His eyes fixed on Shay’s leather backpack.

Despair welled up within Shay like a black fog. He looked at Hemming, groveling on the damp gravel, his hands clasped behind his head. A small hard knot formed in Shay’s belly. He’d never been in a fight in his life. He’d never even thrown a punch. But he’d been running away to become a rebel, hadn’t he? He spotted another fallen branch on the slope below him. He let go of the tree and slipped the leather pack from his shoulders. He jumped down to the gravel, grabbing the branch. He stood back to back with Terpin and shouted, “You’ll never take us alive!”

“Take me alive, please,” whimpered Hemming.

The branch that Shay had grabbed was damp and half­-rotten. He cast his eyes about for another weapon, but it was too late. Apparently emboldened by Shay’s defiance, Terpin lunged, hacking out with his more sturdy club. It was a powerful swing, but easily anticipated. Galath, the target of the blow, flapped his wings once and darted backward as the club passed through the air where he’d stood.

Terpin, off balance, didn’t show a similar talent for evasion. Enozan’s toothy jaws shot toward him in a serpentine strike, clamping onto the bald man’s windpipe. Terpin unleashed a gurgling yelp as the dragon shook his head back and forth. Enozan kicked out with a hind­-talon, sinking his hawk­-like claws deep into the man’s belly. In seconds the fight was over, as the dragon dropped Terpin’s lifeless body from his jaws.

Shay fought to keep from dropping to his knees as the older man fell.

“Oh god oh god oh god,” prayed Hemming, his head pressed into the gravel.

Galath hopped forward and opened his reptilian jaws wide. He snapped them shut on Hemming’s skull with a horrible crunch. Hemming’s whimpers suddenly went silent.

“Why?” Shay shouted, dropping his useless branch, clenching his fists. “Why’d you kill him? He wasn’t fighting you!”

From the branch above, Zernex answered. “It’s a long way back to the College of Spires. It’s easier to carry just the heads.”

Zernex dropped from the branches onto the bank, grabbing the leather pack Shay had dropped. He held it up, his eyes fixed on it hungrily as if he appreciat­ed the importance of its contents. “This is what Chapelion cared about most. And while I won’t hes­itate to kill you, Shay, I think your master would prefer to see you alive. I imagine he’d like the satis­faction of watching you flayed. Honestly, you’ve known Chapelion your whole life. Did you truly think he’d let you get away with even a single book from his private library?”

“I know the truth about those books!” Shay protested. “They were written by men! For men! In a time before the Dragon Age! They shouldn’t be part of a dragon’s library!”

“If dragons can own men, why can’t they own their books as well?” Zernex asked in a condescending tone.

“You can’t own us!” Shay shouted, reaching down and grabbing a smooth river stone the size of his fist. “You can only enslave us!”

Shay hurled the stone with all his strength at the hated slavecatcher. Zernex lifted the leather bag in his fore­-talons, blocking the stone before it collided with his chest. Shay knew he had no chance in a fight. He turned toward the river. He didn’t know how deep it was. Could he dive and swim downstream? Lose his pursuers in the dark? Or would he only freeze to death in the icy water? What choice did he have? Better to drown a free man than ever to face the lash again. He darted toward the water.

Behind him, there was a hiss as a dozen feet of leather sliced the air. His charge was brought to a sudden halt as the tip of a whip curled around his neck like a noose. His feet flew out from under him and he slammed to the ground on his back.

Zernex loomed above him. The other two slave­catchers drew close, forming a rough triangle as their golden eyes looked down. Above their shadowy forms, a few dim stars glowed through the haze of clouds. Shay clawed at the loop of leather around his windpipe, trying to pry it free. He couldn’t breathe. The gravel beneath him was ice cold as dampness seeped through his coat.

“Hmmph,” Zernex sneered, looking down. “Chapelion should have known teaching a human to read was a waste. Even if your kind is smart enough to recite the words, you plainly lack the capacity to understand them. A truly educated being would have known that nothing but death awaited him if he stole from his master. I think there’s a famous quote from a human holy book about this, isn’t there? ‘The wages of sin are death?’”

Shay had heard the quote, but wasn’t in a position to discuss its significance. His eyes bulged and his lips felt numb as he found the tassel at the end of the braided leather around his neck and tried to untwine it. No matter how he pulled, it only grew tighter.

The dragons chuckled softly as they watched his struggles. He could barely hear them over the pound­ing of his heart. When a new voice from the trees spoke, he heard the words almost as if they were part of a dream. Unlike the reptilian voices of the dragons, the new speaker was plainly human, a male, his voice chill as the winter wind.

“Nothing true in this world has ever been written in a book,” the man said. The three dragons whirled toward the slope, looking for the source of the voice. Black spots danced before Shay’s eyes as he suddenly found a way to tug the whip that produced slack. He fumbled with trembling fingers and worked the leather loose, until he drew a long gasp of damp air.

“Death has nothing to do with sin,” the man con­tinued, still invisible in the shadows of the trees. “Death claims the righteous as surely as the wicked. It awaits the slavecatcher as certainly as the slave.”

“Who’s there?” Zernex growled. “Show yourself, human.”

“These have been the last words of many of your kind,”’ answered the voice.

“Spread out,” Zernex commanded Galath and Enozan. “Search the hillside. I would like to meet our mysterious philosopher.”

Galath spread his wings, flapping, rising up ten feet. A whistling sound rushed through the air and his wings went limp. He fell to the gravel bed, unmoving. The bloody tip of an arrow jutted from the back of his skull, having come all the way through after entering his eye.

Shay kept still, wondering if the dragons even remembered him.

Enozan leapt into the air. There was a second whistling sound, and he, too, fell to the gravel, though he was still alive. He was only a few feet away from Shay, down on all fours. An arrow was buried deep in his left breast.

“What?” Enozan gasped, looking confused as he twisted his neck to study the shaft that jutted from him. Perhaps it was a trick of the light, but the fletch­ing on the arrow looked to Shay like living leaves. They were bright green, as if they had been plucked in spring. It was the dead of winter. What tree had fresh green leaves this time of year?

Enozan spasmed. He coughed and pink saliva sprayed from his toothy jaws. His strength failed him and he collapsed, one of his broad blue wings drap­ing over Shay. The dragon shivered; blood gushed from his wound with each heartbeat.

Zernex snarled. Shay was dismayed to discover he hadn’t been forgotten after all. The slavecatcher reached down and grabbed him by the collar of his bright red coat. He yanked Shay to his feet, pulling him around to serve as a living shield.

“You obviously care about this slave!” Zernex shouted, his fore­talon pressed against Shay’s jugular. “Show yourself, or I’ll slit his throat!”

From the dark hillside there was no sign of move­ment.

“I mean it!” Zernex screamed. The dragon’s claws hooked more deeply into Shay’s flesh. A bead of blood slid down Shay’s throat.

Zernex’s demands were met with silence. Cold sweat trickled down Shay’s face as Zernex’s eyes darted back and forth, searching the shadows. “Come out,” he said, fear reducing his voice to a trembling whisper. “Your surrender is this slave’s only hope.”

In the branches of tall pines, a shadow separated itself from the others rising, taking on the form of a man.

“Do not speak to me of hope,” the dark figure said. “I am not the hope of the slave. I am the shadow on the stone. I am the black unbroken silence. I am the Death of All Dragons.”

“Bitterwood?” Zernex whimpered, sounding as terrified as Hemming had moments before. His claws began to tremble. His grip slackened. Seeing his chance, Shay grabbed the talon and pushed it away, dropping down, freeing himself. He leapt away as Zernex spread his wings to take flight. The slavecatcher let out a pained grunt. Shay tripped on the gravel and rolled to his back. Zernex had an arrow in his left leg, buried in the meatiest part of his thigh.

“Bitterwood?” Zernex whispered again, sounding like he was in shock. Terror flashed into his eyes. He craned his neck heavenward, and beat his wings in a mighty down thrust. He lifted from the ground, his tail swinging around toward Shay. Acting on pure instinct, Shay grabbed the slavecatcher’s long tail and yanked hard, with his full weight. Zernex was thrown back to the gravel bed, landing on his left wing with a sickening snap.

Shay rose to his knees and saw a smooth river stone before him nearly as large as a skull. With both hands, he lifted it above his head and hurled it at the slavecatcher, who was struggling to stand. The heavy rock caught the dragon in the side of his jaw. Zernex’s head was knocked back to the gravel. He still wasn’t dead. He lifted his long, serpentine neck, his jaw bleeding and broken, and looked toward Shay with murder in his eyes.

In a flash, there was an arrow sprouting between those eyes, the green, leafy fletching shuddering from the sudden halt of its flight. Zernex’s golden eyes crossed as they tried to examine the object between them. Then they fluttered shut, and the slavecatcher’s head dropped. Shay grabbed another good­-sized rock and lifted it, holding it for a moment above his head, waiting for any sign of life. At last, he dropped the stone before him. Zernex wasn’t breathing. The dragon would never catch another slave.

Shay rose on unsteady feet. He was breathing hard, his heart racing. The last five minutes of his life seemed disconnected and unreal. The bodies of three dragons and two men sprawled before him, their dark blood blending with the gathering shadows. He saw the leather satchel and lifted it, slinging it back over his shoulder.

He looked up toward the hillside, searching for any signs of movement among the black branches of the pines. The shadow he’d seen earlier was gone.

“A­-are you really Bitterwood?” he asked.

No one answered.

“Are you… are you going to Dragon Forge? To join the rebellion? I’ve read about you. You fought at the last rebellion. At Conyers.”

Shay listened hard, certain he heard movement.

It was, perhaps, only the rustle of trees in the win­ter night. Shay waited for several minutes, until the cold set his teeth chattering. He knew his only hope of surviving the night was to keep moving. He turned up the collar of his coat against the breeze. He rubbed his windpipe, feeling the indentations on his throat where the slavecatcher’s claws had been. When he lifted his fingers, the tips were red and wet. He turned toward the west, and saw the clouds above the distant foundries glowing brightly, reflecting the furnaces of the rebellion.

Shay took one last glance at the pines, shifted the pack to better balance it on his back, and walked toward the glow on the horizon. The foundries of Dragon Forge burned like an eternal sunrise. This was the hope of the slave. With numb feet he stag­gered forward, freedom bound.
Director's commentary: Readers may be surprised I opened with a new character, given the already large cast available to me. I had several goals in mind when I created Shay.
First, I wanted to make the book easy to read for new readers to the series. As a new character, Shay is useful since, as he meets the existing cast in the next chapters, he'll provide a convenient gateway to explain these characters to new readers, as well as perhaps refreshing the memories of readers of the previous book who read it last year.
Second, I felt like my core cast of Bitterwood, Jandra, Hex, and Burke are all a bit larger than life. This is fine, I designed all of them to be dominated by certain traits. Bitterwood, obviously, is defined by his hatred of dragons and his talent for killing things. Jandra is meant to be a peacemaker, a character who straddles the divide between humans and dragons and longs for a world of justice for all races. Hex defined himself in the last book as a warrior philosopher, and will continue this role, both as a big toothy monster who is good at chomping his enemies, and also as a political radical who distrusts anyone who claims the right to rule over others. Burke, of course, is defined by his inventiveness and his rather complex relationship with his daughter Anza, who he has trained from birth as a warrior. All of these characters have their roles to play, but Shay is someone who doesn't come into the book with any special powers or abilities (well, aside from the fact he can read). He's brave and idealistic, but this doesn't make him any better with a sword. He's an ordinary man swept up in extraordinary circumstances. I think readers will quickly grow to like him.
Third: Speaking of the core cast, I wanted to open with a Bitterwood scene, to establish that Bitterwood is still out there killing dragons. I think some of Bitterwood's best moments in the trilogy come when we see him (or fail to see him) through the eyes of others. I enjoy the moments when Bitterwood performs for his victims, quoting scripture to them before he riddles them with arrows. Shay gave me a good witness for Bitterwood in his Ghost Who Kills mode.
Fourth: Slavecatchers! As an escaped slave, Shay gave me a great excuse to introduce one of the books main villians. Why I mention human slavery in the previous books, I really don't dwell on it in any great detail. I decided to change that in this book, and explain more about the roles that slaves fill in dragon society. I decided that there would be a special class of enforcers among the dragons, the slavecatchers. I didn't want to give the role to an earth-dragon, since I wanted the chief slavecatcher, Vulpine, to be really brainy (he's mentioned in this chapter, and will play a major role throughout the book). The job also seemed like it was a bit beneath the dignity of a sun-dragon. So, while I'd said that all the male sky-dragons were scholars, I decided I'd allow for exceptions in their ranks for the career of slavecatcher. I really think that the Vulpine will prove to be the most formidible foe the humans have yet faced. I really can't wait for you to meet him.
Finally, I think that Shay's reference to the books being from the "human age" should raise questions in the minds of new readers. As for what books the pack might contain... stay tuned!

Monday, June 1, 2009

SFFE, The Future and You

Today marks the launch of a new site called Science Fiction and Fantasy Ethics. I'm a member of its editorial board, though what that entails, exactly, is still a bit vague to me. I think at some point I might be supposed to contribute an article or something. Anyway, the site has been established to celebrate the positive in Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror. By celebrate the positive, I don't mean that it will only talk about happy, upbeat fiction and films. Instead, the site is intended to be a place where people talk about what they love in the genres instead of what they hate. We aren't going to waste energy convincing people that the latest Hollywood movie is awful SF, or the latest best-selling teen-oriented fantasy is literary drivel. Instead, we'll turn our energies to talking about what a terrific film "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" was, or the thrill we felt when we first read "Snow Crash." I'm looking forward to seeing how the site moves forward with its mission. I'm reminded a bit of my attitude when I started my small press zine "Pursuit" back in the 90s. Then, I was bugged by all the dystopian futures I saw, and wanted instead to publish stories that imagined worlds where libertarian ideas had finally triumphed. The motto for the zine was "Imagine freedom." It's very easy to attack the things you don't like in this world. It sometimes requires a little energy and thought to instead promote the stuff you love.

And, speaking of things I love, I love science, and I love hearing myself talk. Fortunately for me, Stephen Euin Cobb runs a podcast hosted at Baen's Universe called "The Future and You" where he invites science fiction writers (and actual scientists) to discuss trends they anticipate in the future. My interview was supposed to last a little under an hour. Instead, I .... well, lets just say I ran over my time a bit. Or a lot. And instead of filling up one episode of the podcast, I'm going to be featured in three episodes. I do talk a lot about the future, but I also talk about circus freaks and angels. It's tough for me to stay on topic. Anyway, I think the episodes may be of interest to folks who enjoy my writing, either in my books or my blogs. You can find my episodes under the master list of episodes of "The Future and You." After you listen to my episodes, be sure to check out others. Cobb is a terrific interviewer, and, I can now attest that he has excellent taste in guests....