Inspiration Strikes at Odd Times

So, you know how I’ve released two volumes of the Unari Empire Trilogy, right? That would be Gods of the Empire and Widows of the Empire.

What about the final volume, you might ask, Heroes of the Empire? Any update on it? Yes, friends, and it’s good news!

But first, some context.

Although Widows just came out last fall, I’ve been working on Heroes since about a year before that. It was my NaNoWriMo project in 2020, so I started writing it in November of that year. I “won” that year, but the book was nowhere near finished, so I kept working on it into the new year. By June of 2021, according to a timestamp on the Word file, I had something saved as “First Draft.” Except it really wasn’t.

What had happened is that I got about 80% through the draft and my creativity came to a complete halt. I didn’t have a good idea of how to bring things in for a landing, so rather than try to push through the end, I took a different approach.

In my day job, sometimes I take pieces of legal writing from others in my office and synthesize them into a single brief. It’s safe to say that each of the attorneys in my office has a different voice and just cutting and pasting won’t work to produce a clear, readable final product. So I have lots of experience rewriting the words of others to produce a smoother end product.

When I wrote Moore Hollow and The Water Road I did the same thing – I took my first draft of each book and rewrote them completely, filling in any shallow bits and using the quicker pace to connect up things better. It worked well, but I hadn’t felt a need to write that way for the other books that followed.

Until Heroes. Since I was stuck I decided to pull a Bruford and go back to the beginning again and rewrite the first draft. According to yWriter I started that process last April and everything went swimmingly for a while, until things bogged down again. In particular, when I got to that ending, I just completely lost momentum. It wasn’t that I didn’t know where the story was going to end up, I just didn’t quite know how it was going to happen.

Last week I was bogged down (again) in what I thought was the next-to-last chapter. It shifts POVs a lot as the climax happens and that made it hard to write, anyway. Otherwise, I was just kind of drifting.

Then I got up to take a piss one night.

I was up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, my mind barely functioning, when it hit me. This was out of the blue inspiration of the kind I don’t generally have. The solution was simple – a short time skip to move straight to the consequences of what we’re seeing, rather than the details of the incident itself. I was so stoked I couldn’t really get back to sleep (which made work the next day quite a drag).

This is a long way of saying, this past weekend, I finally put the final words of the first draft of Heroes of the Empire into yWriter! It’s finished! Well, I mean, it tells a complete story. Now comes the fun part, the several rounds of edits, but at least I can see the end of the process at this point.

Thus, coming late this year or (more likely) early next, the final, gripping part of the Unari Empire story, Heroes of the Empire.

Short Fiction Update (With Very Short Story!)

It’s been a while since I had something to say about my short fiction, so here’s an update and a bit of free stuff to read to boot (in this post and the next).

New Story Coming Your Way!

The update is that I’m very happy to have a short story that will be a part of a collection published this fall by Speculation Publications. They do volumes dedicated to a particular weird phenomenon filled with speculative stories explaining that phenomenon. This volume is about the “dancing plague” of 1518 in Strasbourg (in what is now France).

My story took inspiration from the great Fritz Lang film M, in which a group of mobsters unite to catch a serial killer because all the extra police attention is bad for business. More details the closer we get to release day – put on your dancin’ shoes!

More New Stories – One Right Here and Now!

I’ve also got a couple of stories I can share just for the hell of it. They’re both things I wrote for NYC Midnight competition, which I’ve mentioned a couple of time before. This one was written for the microfiction contest earlier this year. Microfiction, in this context, is 100 words or less. For the contest the assignment was to write a ghost story that involved putting flowers in a vase and used the word “free.” Here it is, “The Flowers in the Window”:

Something transitory, a final moment of beauty, is what the medium said. That meant flowers. Rhea had clipped a few stems with brilliant purple blooms from the lilac bush at the corner of the house and put them in a plain white vase on the table by the front window.

That night, she and Jason slept better than they had for months, since the accident. It was a night free from strange noises and freakish breezes.

In the morning, Rhea went downstairs, to the front room. The flowers were gone. She said a silent thanks. Her daughter was finally free.

Short but bittersweet (I hope). Click over to the next post for another new story.

Programming Change

I know that I decided this was going to be my month of lists, but other writing circumstances have conspired to push the final two installments back a week (or two). I’m working on a short story (with an interesting subject) to submit to an anthology that’s due on May 24. I need to focus my energies on that until then, so while I will be back with lists of favorite movies and books, they’ll be delayed a bit.

Wish me luck!

May – The Month of Lists!

I recently read Steven Wilson’s semi-memoir Limited Edition of One.

I say “semi-memoir” because interspersed with more typical chapters detailing the history of his career with No-Man, Porcupine Tree, and as a solo artist, Wilson inserts chapters where he discusses his views about the music industry and other things. It’s a pretty good read, particularly if you’re a fan of his music.

One of the recurring themes of the book is that Wilson loves making lists and several chapters are given over to lists of various things. In one chapter, he rips of lists of his favorite (?) songs, films, and books. As I listened to his lists, I noted that he and I had some common tastes and I thought, “there’s some blog fodder here!” I’ve done similar things at the close of the 2020s and on my old blogs as well.

Thus, here we have arrived in what I’m calling “The Month of Lists.” For the rest of May, I’ll be laying out my favorite songs, movies, and books in the same numbers Wilson did – 100, 20, and 10. The length of any list like that is arbitrary, anyway, so why not? In each post, I’ll explain the criteria and limitations I used to put together my lists and provide some brief explanations. Should be fun, right? Here’s hoping.

On to list-o-mania!

Come See Me!

Holy hell, it’s been a while, huh?

For the first time since the COVID pandemic hit, I’ll be taking part in a convention, the annual HerdCon at Marshall University on Saturday, March 5.*

It’s full of fun stuff related to pop culture – cosplay, panels, games, and lots of vendors. I’ll be there with a table full of books, including my latest, Widows of the Empire.

The fun starts at 10am at the Memorial Student Center. See you there!

* Fun fact – my wife got me a nifty collapsible cart to help haul my books around with for Christmas of . . . 2019. Now I finally get a chance to use it!

Widows of the Empire: The Southern Islands

As we continue hurtling toward release day for Widows of the Empire, I wanted to return to the issue of geography that we touched on a couple of weeks ago. In that post I talked about the geography of the Unari Empire itself, but this time I want to journey a little further afield.

Gods of the Empire all took place on the single, large continent that dominates much of Oiwa’s northern hemisphere. Aside from that one, across which the Empire sprawls, there are two other smaller continents to the west, sort of Australia sized. The nations there have formed the Western Alliance in the years since the Port Ambs bombing and Chakat’s becoming Emperor, as a way to check his global reach.

The southern hemisphere of Oiwa is an entirely different kettle of fish, as it’s composed entirely of islands. A couple of them are largish, but nothing so grand as to earn the label “continent.” As a result, the Southern Islands (as they’re generally referred to when lumped together) are wildly diverse and independent, without any of the kind of trans-national alliances you find up north. That’s allowed Chakat to roll in with ships and Imperial Marines and cause more than a little havoc in these islands without any real consequences.

Like Ruttara Key, not much more than a speck on the map in the far southern part of the hemisphere. Sure, it would be a perfect place for some of the Port Ambs plotters to hide out, but it was also home to hundreds of ordinary people just trying to live their lives. They saw their fishing boats sunk, their villages burned, and people indiscriminately shot for doing nothing at all. At one point no one on Oiwa had heard of the place. Not so any more.

The closest you get to an alliance to rival the Western Alliances is the Relevan League, based around the city of Releva. A commercial and shipping up in the northeastern part of the islands, it’s kind of the jumping off point for travelers from the north. It’s as large as Cye, but spread up and down the coastline instead of packed into a grid of urban streets and with clear skies, given the lack of industries. Of course, everything smells of fish which, as one observer notes, is “overwhelming.”

The Southern Islands are also full of small islands, not much more than rocks jutting out of the water, that hold unknown treasures, such as ancient lost cities. Or places like the Grim Islands, so named because there’s nary any vegetation or life on them, but they do provide a good hiding place for pirates and other rabble rousers.

Given that there are thousands of islands in the south, it’s not possible to chart all of them. That’s created a fertile territory for explorers, seeking to make their name and their fortune. One of the most famous is Stanley Glass, who has won renown for several discoveries in the Southern Islands. His finds are so spectacular that they let most people overlook the horrible toll his expeditions typically take on his crew. Long-term employment isn’t in the cards when you sail with Glass – so why is Aton so willing to sign on?

Widows of the Empire
Out November 10
Wherever fine ebooks are sold

Widows of the Empire: The Unaru & the Knuria

In the run-up to the release of Widows of the Empire, I wanted to highlight a few things about the world of the Unari Trilogy (for more background on the trilogy, the setting, and the characters, see this post I did before Gods of the Empire came out). Today, we look at the two largest and most important parts of the Unari Empire – the Unaru itself and the Knuria.

Being an empire, of course, the Unari Empire is composed of several disparate regions, all brought under Imperial rule. That said, there are two main ones that occupy a lot of the history of the Empire and the books in the trilogy.

The Unaru is, essentially, the original Unari Kingdom, composed of the areas around the Imperial capital of Cye. If we’re going to analogize to the Roman Empire, then Cye is Rome and the Unaru is the Italian peninsula. It’s made up of a fairly homogenous people in terms of culture and ethnicity with historical ties to the area and to the rulers who have sat in Cye for centuries.

The Knuria, by contrast, is a vast expanse of rolling farmland and rugged hills, without any real coherent cultural identity. Conquered during the expansion of the Empire, it has had second-class status ever since. If you remember when our heroes (well, some of them) wound up near a mined out bosonimum pit in Gods of the Empire, with its crumbling mining town nearby, you can get a sense of what I mean. Likewise, if you detect a bit of West Virginia in the Knuria you’re not wrong. It’s a breadbasket and extractive resource region of the Empire. Going back to the Roman Empire comparison, the Knuria is like the other parts of Europe that the Romans eventually conquered – culturally and ethnically diverse, brought to heel by force.

An aside here to say that, when I was conjuring up the Unari Empire, I was less inspired by Rome than I was by the Soviet Union. In a way, the Unaru is like Russia proper, the Knuria like the other Soviet republics – part of the USSR, but arguably separate states – and then there are other states that are within the sphere of influence. For the Empire that includes the states north of the Knuria, where some of our heroes found themselves in the second part of Gods of the Empire.

The Unaru and the Knuria are separated by two major mountain ranges. The smaller of the two, the Rampart Mountains, is north of Cye and forms the northern border of the Unaru (along with the related Rampart River). The much larger of the two, the Granite Curtain, is a huge range that runs most of the rest of the border between the Unaru and the Knuria. They’re basically impassable, a favorite hangout for outcasts and, once upon a time, gods.

Given all that, people from the Unaru look down on those from the Knuria a bit. It’s less an active discrimination than a deep-seated belief that the Knurians are just a little less developed, less civilized. It’s the urban/rural divide writ large, as there’s no place in the Knuria that can come close to Cye.

We see that a little bit with the contrast between Aton and Belwyn, our two main characters. Aton is a Cye native, an Unaru, who really hasn’t travelled outside the city (and the surrounding area) before his current work hunting down ancient artifacts of the gods. He’s “worldly” in the sense that he grew up in a large, bustling city. Belwyn, on the other hand, is Knurian, having grown up in the small lakeside town where, at the start of Widows of the Empire, she is imprisoned. That said, they both start their stories as a little bit sheltered to the realities of the wider world. They both get an education during Widows of the Empire in a way that, I hope, broadens and deepens the world they’re moving around in.

The bottom line is that the Unaru needs the Knuria and the Knuria needs the Unaru. They may not quite realize it yet.

Widows of the Empire

Out November 10

Wherever fine ebooks are sold

September Siesta

Not really, but I am going to be taking a break from the blog for this month. I’ve got some traveling to do, a couple of big work things, and the next draft of the final book of the Unari Empire Trilogy that all need attention this month.

When regular programming resumes in October it’ll be focused primarily on Widows of the Empire as we move closer to the November 10 release date. What do you want to know about the new book before it’s released? Let me know!