Heroes of the Empire – The World of Oiwa

I don’t put maps in my books for a couple of reasons. One is purely practical – they’re expensive if they’re any good. The other is kind of philosophical – I think that if the book is well written and compelling that readers won’t get hung up on details of geography. I hope I’ve managed to do that in these books (and others). Geography is fun, but it’s not the story.

That said, I do tend to make maps for myself to use as a reference while I write. Here’s what’s been stuck to the metal part of my writing desk for the past six years, a map of the planet Oiwa:

The bag at the bottom is the collection of role playing dice I used to create the map. I rolled them out and traced around them to create continents and islands, then filled in the terrain. Some of it matched the story idea I was developing, but a lot of it didn’t and impacted things as they moved along.

Essentially, Oiwa boils down into three sectors, two in the north and one in the south. The one on the right is the Unari Empire, which is where most of the action of these books take place. Cye is just off the east coast of that north/south inlet at the bottom. For Widows of the Empire I wrote some about the areas called the Unaru (the very southern part, south of that big mountain range) and the Knuria (most of what’s north of those mountains). The top left contains the nations of the Western Alliance, which have mostly featured as an off-screen force in the books (from the “sometimes you build stuff for your world you can’t use” file). Aton actually goes there in a job that takes place off screen between the first two books.

To the south are the correctly, if unspectacularly named, Southern Islands, which covers everything on the bottom half of the map. They played a larger part in Widows of the Empire and do again in Heroes. As with the Western Alliance I’ve got a whole lot of lore in my head for how the various parts of the Southern Islands fit together politically and culturally, but there was never a good place for it all to go in these books. Aton spends time there in Widows and there’s action there in Heroes, too, but it’s mostly on ships and so we only get a glimpse of some of the Islander culture.

One of the cool things about writing stories that take place in other worlds is the freedom to create whatever kind of world that you want. With that comes a responsibility to bring readers into it in such a way that it feels real and understandable. Building Oiwa, including its history, has been a blast. I hope it was worth coming along for the ride.

Heroes of the Empire – Out June 7. Preorders available here for Kindle and here for other ebook formats.


Heroes of the Empire – A Second Excerpt

As promised, here’ the second of two excerpts I’ll be sharing from Heroes of the Empire this month (for a third, exclusive one, join my mailing list!). In this one, Rossum witnesses how far the Emperor will go to hold on to power.

Rossum kept his eyes on the soldiers behind the barricade, the ones who now had their rifles in their hands. Some clutched at them so tightly, their knuckles were turning white. Rossum knew that look, that pose. They were frightened, getting into something they weren’t ready for.

The soldier on the barricade yelled something again, but even with the bullhorn it was drowned out by the crowd. He flung the bullhorn to the ground and went to his belt, reaching for his pistol.

Before he could unholster the gun, a bottle flew out of the crowd. It smashed against the barricade just at the soldier’s feet, shattering into pieces. The soldier threw up his hands to cover his face, lost his balance, and fell backward off the barricade. The crowd roared a cheer of approval that gave way to laughter.

Rossum didn’t think it was funny. These outnumbered, nervous soldiers had seen one of their leaders humiliated and possibly hurt. There needed to be de-escalation of the situation, not the pouring of more coals on the fire. He started to look for the best way out of here, off the stoop and down the street to safety.

The soldiers behind the barricade were looking for guidance. Their eyes flitted from each other to the lieutenant, who had yet to say or do anything. After a long moment, he drew a sword and climbed over the barricade. About half the troops did the same.

“Go home!” the lieutenant yelled, waving his sword. “This needs to stop!”

“We are home!” someone yelled from the front of the crowd. It moved back a few steps as the soldiers advanced, but resumed the chanting. “Our street! Our homes!”

Rossum knew the lieutenant had made a mistake. Even with bayonets, the troops were hopelessly outnumbered by the crowd. It was only the threat of gunfire, with the soldiers safe behind the barricade, that was keeping things somewhat calm.

The soldiers and the crowd had now realized the situation. After retreating a few steps, the chanting crowd started to inch forward again, back toward the barricade. The soldiers stood their ground for a moment before they started shuffling backward toward the barricade. Members of the crowd had started to pick up rocks, bottles, or any other items they could lay their hands on.

The strange, slow dance continued until what Rossum had thought inevitable happened.

One of the soldiers, sliding back on his feet, backed up until he ran into the barricade. He lost his balance and, without thought, pulled his trigger. Thanks to his falling backward, the shot fired harmlessly over the crowd’s head, but it didn’t matter.

Rocks, bottles, and other projectiles flew out of the crowd toward the soldiers. None found any particular target, but it prompted the lieutenant to start barking orders. In rapid fashion the soldiers still behind the barricade raised their rifles and fired into the air.

The ragged report of gunfire caused the crowd to stop, but only briefly. Another salvo of rocks emerged and the mass of humanity surged forward, sending the front rank of soldiers finally scrambling back over the barricades.

Rossum surveyed the block again. If he could get into the crowd and make it through to the other side, he could slip down an alley. He didn’t know where it went, but it would provide better cover if the troops started shooting. He could feel in his gut that they were going to.

He stepped off the stoop, down the street, and plunged into the crowd. He began to pick his way across, fighting the flow of the human stream like a salmon heading home to spawn. He brushed past two people, touching them, but neither seemed to notice. They were too busy chanting and pushing toward the barricade. Then he ran straight into someone without looking, knocking the other person down.

Rossum stopped and extended a hand to help the young man back up. His eyes went wide when he saw the man’s face. “Moth?”

“Rossum?” Moth said, grinning as he got back to his feet. “You’re one of us? I knew it!”

“Look, you need to get out of here,” Rossum said.

“No way,” Moth said, shaking his head. “We need to stand up to these animals. We have to show them that we won’t be frightened.” Moth’s voice started to waver just a bit, like he was trying to convince himself.

“You should be frightened,” Rossum said, nerves on edge as he listened for the next volley. “They’re going to start killing people.”

Heroes of the Empire – Out June 7. Preorders available here for Kindle and here for other ebook formats.

Heroes of the Empire – Vigram Rossum

One of the cool things about writing books – a series of books, especially – is that you have characters who grow into the story in ways you never imagined when they first showed up. For the record, I’m not one of those authors who anthropomorphize my characters – I made them, I’ll do with them what I damned well please – but that doesn’t mean small characters who weren’t intended for big things can’t surprise you.

I had that happen in The Water Road books. Part of The Endless Hills, the second book, dealt with the aftermath of the sack of a city called Innisport. When I had the main character tour the devastated city I wanted a local to call her out about what her troops had done there. That character was called Mida and all I intended for her to be in one a single scene in that book. Turns out in the final book, The Bay of Sins, Mida not only came back but had a significant storyline of her own, which I used to explore how the people of that city were trying to process what had happened there. Vigram Rossum turned out to be a similar character for me in the Unari Empire trilogy.

I created him originally to be a foil for Aton Askins, the main character who spends most of the story finding ancient artifacts for a mysterious employer. Rossum was the head of security for the person from whom Aton, um, “liberated” his first artifact. Beyond Rossum trying to track Aton down to get it back, I wasn’t sure he’d play much of a role.

Turns out, I liked the idea of Aton having a foil. Not someone who was working against him, at least directly, but who was sort of in the same line of work. The fraternity of those tracking down ancient artifacts of the gods for wealthy patrons isn’t that large, after all. More than that, I liked the idea of having Aton’s foil know precisely what he was doing. Aton has always kind of worked in a state of what we lawyers call willful ignorance – he’s willing to do the job and make the money and not think too hard about where it all comes from. Rossum knows and he thinks Aton needs to know, too. In other words, I liked the idea of Rossum almost becoming a form of Aton’s conscience, getting under his skin and making him reconsider how he’s making a living.

Rossum wound up hanging around, to the point where he’s one of the many point-of-view characters in Heroes. Not only do we get his view of the events in Cye as the story barrels to a close, we learn some more about how he wound up working for his employer in the first place. Rossum was once an Imperial Marine who got caught up in a bad situation and made it worse by doing the right thing. His future employer plucked him from the brig and gave him a second chance, but now Rossum is having second thoughts. Will his current actions echo his past?

Heroes of the Empire – Out June 7. Preorders available here for Kindle and here for other ebook formats.

Heroes of the Empire – An Excerpt

Here’s the first of two excerpts I’ll be sharing from Heroes of the Empire over this month (for a third, exclusive one, join my mailing list!). In this one, Belwyn shrugs off an old nemesis and is introduced to a new ally.

As Neven approached, Belwyn asked, “Is there a problem?”

“Only that you haven’t signed on yet,” Neven said. She was more pleasant than Belwyn remembered her ever being in Annanais. She was enjoying this. “I realize that’s not likely.”

“The gods returning to Oiwa is more likely.”

Unfazed, Neven said, “I wanted to thank you, before we’re done.”

“Thank me?” Belwyn chuckled. “For what?”

“You did the right thing, much as it surprised me. Not when you ran away from us and not when you put this rabble together, but at least when you realized where all this might be heading, you finally did the right thing.”

“And where is this heading?” Belwyn was generally curious what Neven might know, or just suspect, since she was apparently still in Chakat’s good graces.

“I don’t know,” she said with a sigh. “These loyalty oaths are not coming as quickly as was hoped. The emperor himself is going to relocate to the Imperial offices in Jerrod Square to take them personally. He thought it was going to bring the Empire together, but there is so much unrest out there.”

“That’s because the Empire is pulling apart,” Belwyn said. She was already an outlaw, what additional risk was there in telling Neven what she really thought? “It’s largely Chakat’s fault, of course. If he’d listen to the peoples’ complaints . . .”

Neven put up a hand. “I’m not here to talk politics, Lady. All I’m saying is that the women who stay behind, including yourself of course, will continue to be outlaws. If the emperor feels the need to deal with you more forcefully, he won’t hesitate.”

“That’s the risk we’re willing to take to get the answers we want, the change we need.” Belwyn did her best not to show that she was getting sick to her stomach. Visions of soldiers with more loyalty to Chakat gunning down ranks of marching, chanting women filled her head.

One of Neven’s underlings got her attention, and, without saying any more, she returned to her post.

Belwyn walked back into the woods, telling Valpari to come find her if anything else happened. She went to her tent, where Coleman, Granger, and a few others she didn’t recognize had congregated.

“How goes collaboration with the enemy?” Granger asked with a sarcastic smile.

“I’m giving the women who want to leave the chance to do so without risk,” Belwyn shot back. “I genuinely care for their safety.”

Before Granger could say anything else, Coleman jumped in. “How many are leaving?”

“Some,” Belwyn said, being deliberately vague. “When all is said and done, we’ll still have a sizeable host. And we’ll know that everyone left is completely committed.” She decided to shift the focus of the discussion. “Neven told me that Chakat is going to start taking these oaths in person?”

One of the young men Belwyn didn’t recognize nodded. “He’s moving to Jerrod Square in the next few days.”

“Then it really isn’t going as well as Chakat thought,” Belwyn said. “At least that’s something.”

“It’s promising,” Coleman said, “but it’s leading the vigilance gangs to step up their patrols, recruit new members. Now they can demand papers, require people to show their loyalty cards, and hand out beatings to those who don’t have one.”

“Good gods,” Belwyn said, leaning against the end of the table. “Don’t people have more time to sign them?”

“Of course,” Granger said, “but Chakat isn’t getting the obeisance he wanted, and the vigilance gangs are an extension of his dissatisfaction. He wants more oaths, given more quickly. How better to assure that than to throw in the threat of a random beating?”

Belwyn shook her head. Things were getting worse. “We can’t keep waiting for some perfect situation to move. Are your people ready?”

“Almost,” Coleman said. “Another few days.”

“I’m not sure we have it,” Belwyn said as Brixton ran up, out of breath. “What is it?”

“Someone to see you, says he has an offer,” he said. “He managed to get here from Cye without being seen and avoided the queue out by Neven’s table, all her men.”

Belwyn stood up, scowling. “Another offer? About what, this time?”

Brixton shrugged. “Hagan’s waiting with him near the edge of the camp.”

Belwyn was bone weary from the day. She didn’t want to deal with another distraction, but what choice did she have? “No more than a few days, Coleman. We can’t let things get away from us.” She left without giving him a chance to object.

Brixton led her through the camp, to the opposite edge from the location where Neven’s sign-ups were underway, where the valley met the high hills that helped define the outskirts of the city.

When they arrived, Hagan was standing with a thin man about her age, with prominent ears. No hat.

“Lady Belwyn,” he said, extended a hand. “Or is it just Belwyn these days?”

“Just Belwyn. And you are?”

“Aton Askins,” he said, shaking her hand. “I think we might be able to help each other.”

Heroes of the Empire – Out June 7. Preorders available here for Kindle and here for other ebook formats.

Coming June 7 – Heroes of the Empire

I’m very happy to announce that Heroes of the Empire, the final installment of the Unari Empire trilogy will release on June 7 on Kindle and other eBook formats and then in paperback shortly thereafter.

The world is falling apart around Aton Askins. His childhood friend is rotting in a cell for a crime she didn’t commit. There are soldiers in the streets of Cye and an army of angry widows waiting outside the city. His mystery employer might be using him to gather artifacts of the ancient gods to build some kind of weapon. Now he’s been given one last job, one last artifact to find, supposedly on a mythical floating island halfway around the world. He needs to stay in Cye to help his friend, but he needs to finish his work so he has the money to take his family away from the city. Most of all, he needs to keep those he loves safe from what’s coming.

The Widows Army is restless and may be slipping away from Belwyn of Annanais. Stuck outside of Cye, unsure of what to do next, she needs to do something, anything, to make sure the promise she made to these women to find answers about their loved ones doesn’t go unmet. When an unlikely ally presents himself, she uses the opportunity to enter the city and finally find the evidence she needs to show the world the truth of the Port Ambs bombing. All the while, the currents of protestors and revolutionaries are threatening to overtake her.

Lives collide and the fate of an empire hangs in the balance in this thrilling conclusion to the Unari Empire Trilogy.

It Is Finished!

After what seems like a really long time (but it was really only a little over two years), I’m happy to report that I’m finally done with Heroes of the Empire!

This is book three in the Unari Empire trilogy, which means the saga is complete. From here it needs proofed by my editor and get finally assembled, but I can saw with confidence that the book will be released later this spring. Whee!

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.

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!

Can’t Talk – Writing

Hey, gang. Guess what time of year it is?

I mean, yeah, there’s an election that’s probably not going to be over with for a while, but beyond that, it’s November which means . . .

It’s National Novel Writing Month!

That’s when folks, including yours truly, take the month of November to focus on writing the first draft of a novel – well, at least 50,000 words of it. I’ve done this several times and it’s a great way to jump start a new project. So, this year, I’m going to be writing the third book in the Unari Empire trilogy, Heroes of the Empire (yes, yes, I know, Widows of the Empire isn’t out yet – it’s with beta readers, so it is coming), thus bringing the whole thing to a thrilling (?) conclusion.

Which means – it’s blog silence for me for the rest of the month (at the least). Stay safe and I’ll see you on the other side.