Gods of the Empire FAQ

As we get closer to the release of Gods of the Empire, I thought I’d take some time to answer some basic questions about it that might have popped into your heads.

Where did the idea for Gods of the Empire come from?

Oddly enough, the spark that led to Gods, and the rest of the Unari Empire Trilogy, is a character who doesn’t even make an appearance in this book (although he may show up in the next two). I had this idea of a character who was an exile who was growing increasingly tired of being sought out for his opinions on his former homeland. He fled the place then is put in the position of being its de facto defender.

That led to me thinking about what his homeland was like and what kind of world had grown up around it. The end product was a world with a single superpower, the Unari Empire, that has started to show signs of coming apart. The why of that was where the story for the entire trilogy began to take shape.

Where’s the center of the action for Gods of the Empire?

 A lot of the book takes place around the expanse of the Unari Empire and its client states, but the heart of the Empire itself, and the story, is the capital of Cye. It’s there that Emperor Chakat sits and where Lady Belwyn begins her story. It’s also Aton’s home town and a place he has some connection to.

If you’ve read any of The Water Road Trilogy, you may recognize that I named a lot of places after musicians. Cye continues that tradition, as the name comes from a obscure (even by progressive rock standards) band from Switzerland of that name. They released one album, called, appropriately enough, Tales.

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There’s even a little story in the liner notes about a character called Cye, but it doesn’t have anything to do with Gods of the Empire. I always liked the name, though, and finally found a way to put it to use.

Who are these “gods” you’re talking about?

There are gods on Oiwa, the world where this trilogy takes place. Or, at least, there were. Thousands of years before the events of the trilogy an alien race visited to the planet, setting up shop and staying for a while. Eventually they left, leaving behind various artifacts, as well as deposits of the powerful element bosonium. Why the gods left, and whether they might come back, is one of the major theological questions facing the various religions that have sprung up since their departure.

Who is Aton?

Aton Askins is one of the main characters of Gods of the Empire. Aton grew up in Cye and works as a “finder” – sort of like a private eye, but he specializes in finding things and people. He has a daughter, Kaisia, who was born the day of the blast and, as a result, is generally bed-ridden and sickly. Her mother, Mara, the love of Aton’s life, died in childbirth. All Aton wants to do in the world is care for his daughter, but his line of work makes that difficult. So when someone comes to him with a job that pays really well and would be only the first of many, he can see a settled future opening up for him and his daughter. But at what cost?

Who is Lady Belwyn?

Lady Belwyn is the other main character of Gods of the Empire. She was born in the Knurian lakeside retreat of Annanais, but came to Cye when she married Oudrick, Crown Prince to the throne of the Unari Empire. He was killed in the blast and she was seriously injured, leading to the amputation of the lower part of her right leg. As a result, she’s spent the years since the blast as a recluse, interacting with the public only when absolutely required. When the book starts she’s just starting to break out of that funk, driven to find out why the investigation into the blast hasn’t found out, after all these years, who the perpetrators were who murdered her husband.

What is “blast” everyone keeps talking about?

The blast is a shorthand way of talking about the Port Ambs bombing. Port Ambs is to the Unari Empire what 9/11 was to the United States. The town itself is a port built near Cye. Seven years prior to the events of the trilogy, the port was being opened by the Emperor Hoban III, with the Crown Prince and other in attendance, when a huge explosion ripped through crowd, killing and wounding dozens. The blast put Chakat on the throne and, in a very real sense, is where the story started.

Chakat? Who’s Chakat?

That’s Emperor Chakat to you, buddy! Chakat was the second son of Emperor Hoban III, younger brother of Crown Prince Oudrick (and, therefore, brother-in-law of Belwyn). Since he was the second born he was never raised to be prepared to become the emperor. As a result, he doesn’t really have the skills to run the Empire. Nor does he have the temperament, as he’s got a paranoid streak that expresses itself in dangerous ways. His reign has noted mainly for his repeated fruitless military excursions in pursuit of the Port Ambs bombers and his failure to identify an heir (or produce one the regular way).

That’s the  basics – to find out more you’ll have to buy the book!

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Gods of the Empire Excerpt

If you’ll recall, my new book, Gods of the Empire, comes out in a couple of weeks! To whet your appetite a bit, here’s an exclusive excerpt.

In this scene, Aton responds to a note that will change his life forever:

The Hotel Voisine traded in discretion. Aton could tell that from the exterior of the building, which had almost no ornamentation on it at all. It looked more like the anonymous Imperial buildings nearby rather than the other luxurious hotels. Unlike the Hotel Woodburn across the square, with its ostentatious arch and bizarre carved faces, the front door of the Voisine was simple and did not announce itself. On closer inspection, one would see the fine grain wood used in the doors and the gold plating on the fixtures. But the only real sign of exclusivity, of upper-class opulence, was the doorman.

He wore a uniform of deep green, with bright yellow trim and immaculately polished gold buttons. He was six inches taller than Aton, if not more, and weighed another fifty pounds, all of it seemingly concentrated in his arms. Aton showed him the envelope, but before he could try and talk his way in, the doorman opened the door and tipped his cap. “Welcome to the Voisine, sir.”

Inside, the reserved nature of the design was inverted. The entryway was five stories high, with great skylights in the roof that allowed the afternoon sun to fill the place with light. It looked like any other hotel lobby—there were a pair of couches and some large, comfortable chairs with end tables—only taken to the most luxurious extreme. Aton wanted to stop and just pet the nearest couch, to try and divine which rare animal had given its hide for the comfort of the Voisine’s guests. But the moment he slowed his walk, he felt the eyes of every one of the half-dozen people in the lobby on him. He didn’t make eye contact, but he didn’t have to.

A smiling older gentleman stood behind a pink marble counter at the end of the lobby. “May I help you, sir?” he asked as Aton approached.

Aton showed him the envelope, but didn’t pull out the note inside. “I was told to meet a Mr. Laffargue here? Didn’t say where, no room number—”

The man cut him off. “Of course, sir, Mr. Laffargue. He is expecting you in the meeting room on the second floor. Upstairs, then left, then through the double doors.”

Aton paused for a moment. Surely there had to be something more. He was a stranger to these people, a nobody from off the street. Yet he was being treated as an honored guest. Aton decided to go with it. “Thanks.”

He turned at the top of the stairs and found the double doors. He almost walked directly in, but thought better of it and decided to knock. Anybody who could afford to set up shop at the Voisine could afford a goon or two waiting inside to break the leg of any unwanted, or at least unanticipated, visitor. He knocked, then went inside when he heard a muffled reply.

The room was deep and narrow, with a long table of dark, polished wood taking up much of it. The table was surrounded by about a dozen chairs. It was the kind of room where a board of directors might meet. Yet there was only one other person in the room. He was sitting at the far side, but not at the head of the table itself, as if he didn’t quite rise to that level. A stylish bowler hat sat on the table next to his chair.

The man stood up. He was shorter than Aton and about ten years older. He wore the girth of a comfortable life. “Aton Askins?”

Aton nodded.

“Please, come sit.” The man waved to the chair across the table from him, then sat back down.

Aton sat down. “Mr. Laffargue?”

The other man dipped his head. “Indeed. Pleased to meet you, Mr. Askins. Can I offer you a drink of some kind? Just a word and they can pour anything you’d like.”

“No, thank you,” Aton said, trying to get comfortable in his seat. He put the envelope on the table.

“You know why I’m here. That gives you a leg up, so why don’t you tell me what I’m doing here?”

Laffargue grinned. “My, my, why the hurry?”

“I’m a working man, sir. I’ve come considerably out of my way to this meeting, so I need to know, sooner rather than later, whether it’s worth my while.” In truth, he had nothing else to do, but he wasn’t about to let a potential employer know that.

“I can respect that,” Laffargue said, shifting in his seat. “I have a job for you. A long-term proposition, something that would require exclusivity until it was complete. Would that be a problem?”

Aton was thrown off balance by the suggestion. Usually he had two or three jobs going all at once, although now he had hit a bit of an empty patch. “As it happens, I do have an opening in my schedule going forward. However, if you want me to turn business away, I’d need to be fairly compensated for that.”

“Oh, I don’t think compensation will be an issue,” Laffargue said. “But before we talk specifics, I need to know if you’re interested. If not, there’s no point.”

“How long are we talking?” Aton was intrigued.

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Gods of the Empire, book one of the Unari Empire Trilogy – coming October 1.

Preorder your copy now.

My New Book! Coming In October!

I’m a little excited.

Very happy to announce that my new book, Gods of the Empire, will be available everywhere fine eBooks are sold on October 1!

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What’s this one about? Glad you asked:

Aton Askins finds things and people that don’t want to be found, but is barely making a living. Now if he takes a new mission for a mysterious, wealthy patron, to find lost artifacts of the gods who left Oiwa centuries ago, he could make a life for himself and his sick daughter.

Lady Belwyn lost much in the Port Ambs bombing seven years ago – her husband, her right leg, and her confidence. Fitted with a new mechanical leg and taking her first steps back into society, she begins to ask questions about Port Ambs and why the perpetrators have never been caught – questions others don’t want to be answered.

While the Unari Empire begins to pull itself apart, two people will search for their own truths and learn things about their world that will change their lives forever.

For links where you can preorder the eBook edition, click here.

As you can see from the cover (another stunner from the folks at Deranged Doctor Designs), this is the first book in the Unari Empire Trilogy. The first draft of book two is almost done!

If you’re interested in paperback versions, you can get signed copies (at very reasonable prices) at my two upcoming appearances. One is next month at the West Virginia Book Festival, the other is in November at the  West Virginia Pop Expo. More details about those in the coming weeks.

Weekly Watch: Deadwood

So, somehow, I completely missed Deadwood during its run on HBO. By the time the wife and I decided we should check it out – largely on the strength of all the people in it who went on to other great shows – we couldn’t find it streaming anywhere. Luckily, when HBO premiered the follow-up film (creatively called Deadwood: The Movie) a little while back they ran the entire series on one of the subsidiary channels. We loaded up the TiVo and, over the last few weeks, worked through all 36 episodes and the movie.

My general impression? Expectation is a hell of a drug.

I’ve seen Deadwood called one of the greatest TV shows of all time and a singular achievement. I’ve seen fans still in thrall to it on the Internet for years after the show ended prematurely (the plan, as I understand, was for it to be a four-season run). All that led me to expect, to want, a really profound viewing experience, something to stick away in my pantheon of all time greats. It’s probably not surprising that, to my mind, it doesn’t measure up.

To be sure, there are a lot of great things about Deadwood. The main characters – and the actors who play them – are great. Al Swearengen is one of the best “evil motherfuckers with a heart of gold” ever conceived. The arcs of reforming prostitute Trixie and (multiple) widow Alma are excellent. Law man Bullock is kind of a killjoy, but at least he’s consistent about it and struggles with it.

A large part of what makes them great are the words creator David Milch and the writers put in their mouths. Deadwood is downright Shakespearian at times, if Shakespeare had grown up listening to George Carlin records. The show is famous for its cursing, even though its particular verbiage might be a bit anachronistic. The show also got a jump on Game of Thrones’s famous “sexposition,” with several scenes where Swearengen waxes poetic about his back story while getting an unsatisfactory blowjob.

If not precisely accurate, the language is part of the overall feel of the show that makes it seem a lot more realistic that your typical western. People piss in buckets (or the street) and cough up lungs. The murdered die slow, bloody deaths. Pigs are used as waste disposal tools Tony Soprano would envy (fun fact – my wife and I also discovered this while simultaneously watching Gentleman Jack, set a few decades earlier). Everything’s small, dirty, and cramped. Deadwood starts in a kind of state of nature, so it’s only natural that life there is often (to borrow a phrase) violent, nasty, and short.

But here’s the thing – most of what happens in that milieu and most of what’s propelled by those awesome words isn’t really that compelling. In reviewing the movie the AC Club said that the “cowardly murder that follows forms the spine of the movie’s second act, but any narrative is just gravy.” That’s in an otherwise positive review, but it seems true to me of the entire series. The show doesn’t seem so much interested in where it’s going, so much as how we get there. I can appreciate that, but it doesn’t thrill me. And it leads to times where the narrative jumps for no good reason other than it has do (I still don’t understand how the big elections in town first don’t happen, then become county-wide later in the third season). Beyond that, the plotting and scheming that everybody gets up to gets a little tedious, particularly since there’s very few people involved to actually root for.

And when those schemes involve those outside main characters, things get rough. For some reasons, many of the minor characters (like the “mayor,” E.B. Farnum and any of Swearengen’s goons – and why they hell did Garret Dillahunt show up three times playing three different characters?) begin as a kind of comic relief, a release valve from the swaggering fuckery of the main characters. But as the series goes along they move from pleasant respite to broad cartoons that don’t really resemble human beings anymore. This is where the very stylized language hurts, because coming from the mouths of those characters it multiplies the cartoonishness.

Which all ends up with Deadwood being a series that I admire for large swaths but didn’t really love. The movie, for what it’s worth, is basically more of the same and while I can see why fans were happy to have it back, if only for a little bit (I love Serenity, after all), reviews I’ve seen saying that it provides “closure” must have a different meaning of the word than I do. I’m glad to have caught up with it and seen what all the fuss was about. If nothing else, it’s added “hooplehead” to my vocabulary, so for that I fucking thank it.

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