All 99-cents All Month!

To celebrate the successful end of NaNoWriMo, and in an attempt to spread a little bit of holiday cheer, I’ve lowered prices on all my books to 99 cents across all platorms for the entire month of December!

That includes Moore Hollow, the entire The Water Road trilogy, and even my short story collection, The Last Ereph and Other Stories.

Get ‘em for a friend, get ‘em for yourself!

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Water Road Wednesday – The Bay of Sins Is Here!

Today’s the big day – after several delays (sorry about that), the saga of The Water Road trilogy is complete:

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The Bay of Sins is now available from Amazon in both eBook and paperback form! For just 99 cents!

In fact, for the next few days, in celebration of the trilogy being complete, you can get each volume for just 99 cents.

The one that started it all, The Water Road:

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The follow up that tackles the costs of war, The Endless Hills:

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Each just 99 cents!  They’re not likely to be this price again for a very long time.

Next week – final thoughts on an 8-year journey.

Water Road Wednesday – Final Excerpt from The Bay of Sins

In this final excerpt from The Bay of Sins, Hirrek scours the Neldathi city of Albandala for information about the murder of a thek. He needs to ask questions some people don’t want to hear. They’re happy to vent their displeasure toward him:

The continued celebration made the enclave louder than the others he had visited. It was nearly impossible for him to hear what people around him were saying as he passed by. The crowd was thick enough that just moving through it without running into people was a challenge. Without knowing it, his avoidance maneuvers eventually took him to the outskirts of the enclave, near the edge of the city itself. He breathed a bit more easily there, enjoying the open space. The din of the crowd rumbled in the background.

That was how they took him by surprise. The first blow knocked him to the ground, his face landing hard on dirty packed snow. He managed to roll over and see three people standing over him. All had the green and white Elein stripes in their braids.

“Keeps poking around,” one of them said. He was younger than Hirrek and not as big. “Like he’s got a right to know something.”

“You’d think he’d learned by now that nobody wants to talk with him,” said another. He was older and standing back from the other two a bit.

“People can talk to whomever they want,” Hirrek said, getting ready to stand up.

The third one, about Hirrek’s age and even bigger than he was, kicked him in the side. “How’s that for talking?”

The first one laughed. The older one didn’t. Hirrek made a note of that as he crumpled to the snow and tried to catch his breath.

“If you have nothing to say, that’s fine,” Hirrek said after a few moments, managing to make it to his hands and knees. “But you have no right to keep me from talking to others.”

“Who gave you the right to start asking?” asked the second man. The third one kicked Hirrek again, sending him back to the ground, face first.

Hirrek spat dirty snow from his mouth and did everything possible to hide the pain he’d endured so far. “The Maker gave me that right, as she did for all of you.” He didn’t expect that to work, but wanted to see what they said at the mention of the Maker of Worlds.

“A blasphemer as well,” said the first man.

“One goes along with the other,” said the third.

“You see?” said the older man. He looked to be the leader of this little group. “This is what you get when you give yourself over to the blasphemy of one god. This one’s from Clan Dost, not that you’d know it to look at him. He’s free to do whatever he wants, but what right does he have to tell us?”

“Yeah!” the other two said.

“He thinks just because his father pretends he’s jeyn now he can go anywhere he likes.”

“My father doesn’t think he’s jeyn, and doesn’t pretend to be,” Hirrek said, slowly getting back to his hands and knees.

“What does he think he is, then?” asked the second man.

“He thinks he’s doing his best for his people,” Hirrek said, speaking slowly and trying to get a good feeling for where his attackers were. The two younger ones were on either side of him now, while the older man stood a few feet in front of him. They weren’t thinking this through very well. “The best for the Neldathi people. All of them.”

“He’s not got the right,” the third man said, before he tried to kick Hirrek one more time.

This time he was ready. Hirrek lunged forward just as the kick came. The man’s foot glanced harmlessly off his lower leg while Hirrek sprang on the older man. He was taken completely by surprise and was driven to the ground by Hirrek’s charge. Hirrek wasted little time exploiting his advantage, punching him twice in the face and knocking him out.

He stood and readied himself for the others, but neither had come to the aid of their master. They stood with fists raised, poised on the balls of their feet, but neither moved.

“I don’t have any business with you,” Hirrek said, eyes flitting back and forth between the two men. “But him, I need to talk to.” He kicked at the foot of their master. “That means either you can leave or I can make you leave, since I don’t need either one of you to make it through the night. Understand?”

It was an empty threat. He was outnumbered and wasn’t carrying a weapon. He didn’t want to be known as walking through the city interrogating people with a knife in his hand, so he’d intentionally gone out without anything threatening in his possession. He’d give anything to have one secreted away in one of his furs. He just hoped that the others thought he was armed.

They looked at each other, then dropped their fists and took a few steps back.

“Don’t want to have nothing to do with you,” the first one said. “Right?”

“Right,” said the big one.

They turned and walked off together, hurrying but not running back to the crowd, the noise, and the fire.

Hirrek grabbed the other man, still thoroughly unconscious, under each arm and began to drag him through the snow toward the center of the city.

The Bay of Sins arrives March 22 – pre order now for the low launch price of 99 cents! Get The Water Road and The Endless Hills while you’re at it!

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Water Road Wednesday: Forlahn and Malin

Bounty hunters can be kind of messy in the real world, but they’re great characters for fiction. People who engage in the most dangerous game for a living and all that.

It makes sense that there would be bounty hunters in the world of The Water Road. Keep in mind that for all the appearance of cooperation inherent in the title Confederated States of the Arbor, the fact is that that the city states in the Arbor are happy to fend for themselves and mind their own business. Banditry would run rampant in a land without any real governing force.

Bounty hunters also tend to have a knack for being in the right place at the right time. Forlahn certainly did, much to Rurek and Strefer’s delight. Although, I suppose, he might have intervened a little bit earlier.

Once I decided to have a bounty hunter in The Water Road I decided I didn’t want him to be the typical snarky ass kicker. He had to be good at his job – very good – but I didn’t want him to be too enamored of the violence it allowed him to do.

That’s part of why I wanted him to be familiar with Oberton. The city in the trees had little need for bounty hunters per se – they don’t pay traditional bounties for killing/apprehending bandits. But they do pay for information, something that Forlahn was equally adept at getting.

That’s also where Malin comes along. A bounty hunter with a family is one thing, but a bounty hunter with a son in tow? It changes the way you look at things. It also changes the way you grow up. When we meet him in The Water Road, Malin is at once wise beyond his years when it comes to surviving in the wilderness, but it still a child.

That was the final thing I wanted to build into Forlahn – a desire to get out of his bounty hunting life. After all, you never know when the end is coming:

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When the opportunity to do that presents itself, he grabs it without hesitation. It doesn’t matter the risk. It doesn’t matter how it will upend relationships with those close to him. He’s given a chance at a way out that he’s not about to pass up.

For more information on The Water Road and The Endless Hills check out the trilogy page here, which includes links to all my Water Road Wednesday posts this year.

Water Road Wednesday: The Endless Hills Is Here!

Guess what today is? It’s release day for The Endless Hills, book two of The Water Road Trilogy!

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“But wait, JD” you’re saying to yourself, “I still haven’t read the first book yet!” Never fear. To celebrate the release of The Endless Hills I’m running a special until Sunday (September 4) where you can get The Water Road absolutely free at Amazon! Then you can go ahead and pick up your copy of The Endless Hills for just 99 cents!

For more information on The Water Road and The Endless Hills check out the trilogy page here, which includes links to all my Water Road Wednesday posts this year.

Water Road Wednesday: Third Excerpt from The Endless Hills

The final excerpt from The Endless Hills. In this scene, Forlahn and Strefer discuss their futures on a rainy day in Oberton. It’s gotten a bit tense.

He stiffened, like the question was some kind of insult. “I’ve been living my life since the day we met. Nothing’s going to change.”

“That’s bunk and you know it. I’ve talked to people around here. They say you came by regularly, but not very often, maybe once a year. You’ve been back every month, at least, to check on us.”

He looked out the window again. “Don’t you ever stop being a journalist?”

“It’s in my blood, I guess. I’d say the Guild put it in me, but I think it was there all along. Now, answer the question – you won’t keep coming back if I leave, will you?”

“What do you want me to say? That you’ve changed my life, the pattern in which I existed for years? Fine, that’s true. But it’s not the whole truth.” He paused for a moment. “I had to keep an eye on Rurek while he recovered. You see, I had been trailing you two for a couple of days. I could have made contact and gotten you off that path before you had your run-in with Spider. But I didn’t and, as a result, Rurek wound up with an arrow in his leg. What was it you were just saying about feeling responsible for people you make connections with? There you go.” He huffed and crossed his arms.

Strefer couldn’t help but laugh. “Don’t be angry, tough guy. I was just asking a question. Which you still haven’t really answered, by the way. I know they pay you for information here, but not as much as you make for bounties handed out by the other cities.”

He stood up fast, like he wanted to leave, but the pouring rain kept him planted. “Which is why this was going to be my last visit here, at least for a while.”

“Oh?” Strefer shifted onto the edge of the bed.

“Rurek’s healthy. You sound like you’re ready to move on. It’s time I moved on, too. There’s a new bounty that’s been announced, a big one. It could really change things.”

“I know I’m valuable, Forlahn, but really, you wouldn’t cash in a bounty on me, would you?” She was fairly certain she knew the answer, but couldn’t be sure.

He reached into his jacket and pulled out a folded piece of paper, yellowed and wrinkled. He handed it to her.

She unfolded it and a surge of anger rushed through her. It was a wanted poster, very much like the one Spider had once shown Strefer with her own name on it. She looked up at Forlahn. “This is a bounty to kill Antrey Ranbren.”

He avoided her gaze. “It’s a wonder it took them this long to issue it. They must have intelligence that she’s come north.”

“So you’re going to track her down and kill her?” It was all she could do not to jump off the bed at him.

“We’re at war, Strefer,” he said as he snatched the paper back. “That presents opportunities that I can’t ignore.”

“Of course you can! You’ve told me over and over about how there are people out there who think the war needs to end, that there needs to be a peace between the Triumvirate and the Neldathi. They’ve made the decision not to get involved in all this.”

“They do it from the safety of their salons or newspaper offices in Greater Telebria or Ventris or Nevskondala. Ask the citizens of Innisport – the ones who are left – whether they think a negotiated peace is possible.”

She sat, stunned, and unable to figure out what to say next. It didn’t take long. “Didn’t you listen to me? Didn’t you hear me tell you what I saw? What I told you about that red notebook? Do you not believe any word of it?”

“This isn’t about you, Strefer.”

“Of course it is! You think I helped unleash all this, don’t you?”

“That’s preposterous. You reported about the past, things that were already done. You didn’t take action because of them. But you’ve gotten too close to things, too close to this woman you’ve never met. You’ve got nothing in common with Antrey, yet you feel the need to defend her.”

“I can still think the war is a bad idea and that she will have to answer for that someday without thinking she needs to have a bullet put through her head some random morning.”

“Why?” he asked, pausing briefly for an answer. “If I could end this war tomorrow with one shot, why shouldn’t I? Why should hundreds, thousands more, have to die instead?”

She didn’t say aloud what she thought of that argument. This was no use, and she had lost any patience for it. “Get out.”

“What?”

“The rain’s let up,” she said, pointing out the window. “Best leave now while there’s a break.”

He looked at her, mouth open, but said nothing. He put his coat on and opened the door. He stopped as he left, as if he might have one more word to say. Whatever it was, he decided not to say it.

Preorder The Endless Hills now and get it when it’s released on August 31!

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Water Road Wednesday: Martoh & Wahat

I think it’s a law of nature that as you go forward in a series you have to introduce new characters. Not just ancillary people in new places your old characters go, but new folks that bring something to the story in their own right. The trick is making sure they have a purpose in the narrative, rather than just being there to be shiny and new.

The Water Road has, essentially, two points of view (putting prologue and epilogue aside for now). The Endless Hills, by contrast, has eight point of view characters (again, putting prologue and epilogue aside). Some of them were bound to be newbies, so I wanted to use a couple of them to get a different perspective on the world-shattering events taking place in these books. A perspective from lower down the food chain, if you will.

One of these was Martoh, who you’ve already met through the first excerpt from The Endless Hills. When we meet him Martoh is definitely a thief, but he draws the line at any worse. How did he wind up in a Telebrian prison scrapping with psychopaths, then? Here’s how he explains it in a passage in The Bay of Sins:

Not long before the war, I robbed a small shop in Rearson, in Lesser Telebria. Nothing major, just a couple of small silver objects, enough to sell and keep me going for a week or so. For some reason, the proprietor of the shop decided to give chase. They rarely did, you know. This one, he was not cut out for it. Fat man with failing health, you could tell by looking. He did not catch me, of course, but the hue and cry he raised got others involved and I was caught. More to the point, the stress of the pursuit caused the old man’s heart to go out. He died right there on the street.

Martoh’s place in the war is won out of necessity – he needs it to escape his probable death in prison.

His Neldathi counterpart, Wahat, comes from a completely different perspective. He’s young, head filled with tales of bravery and horror from the Speakers of Time. But he hasn’t experienced any of that when we meet him in The Endless Hills. Instead, he’s engaged in combat of a different kind – pasro, an ancient Neldathi game Antrey rejuvenates as a means to let the clans batter each other somewhere other than the battlefield. Wahat wants nothing more than to go to war and fight for his people.

In a story that’s mainly about a woman leading an uprising, I wanted to include two people who were doing the dirty work, a pair who might face each other on the battlefield. Martoh and Wahat have a meeting of sorts, at a crossroads town called Tivol Market – where everything comes to a frightening, bloody climax.

Remember, The Water Road is now available at Amazon as well as in the real world at Empire Books & News. The Endless Hills will be released on August 31!

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Water Road Wednesday: Second Excerpt from The Endless Hills

The second excerpt from The Endless Hills brings us back to Antrey, who has now come north from the Neldathi mountains to come face to face with the war. In this excerpt she’s touring the bombed out shell of Innisport, one of the Truimvirate’s largest cities. It’s been an eye-opening experience.

There was a dull murmur that rose from the crowd. Not angry, but curious and agitated. It lacked energy and didn’t strike Antrey as threatening, although she noticed Effar and the other guards stiffen in alertness. The carriage came to a halt when the driver could no longer pick his way through the mass of people.

“You there! Clear the way!” Kajtan yelled to a group of Neldathi warriors who had congregated in front of a ruined building. They leapt into the street, pushing and shoving people out of the way. No one put up any real resistance, but the warriors used force all the same. When one woman stumbled and fell onto the street, a warrior raised his musket as if to smash her face with the butt of the gun.

“Don’t touch her!” Antrey yelled, jumping up. The warrior stopped, musket raised, and looked at her, dumbfounded.

“Jeyn, this is not wise,” Kajtan said under his breath. “Please, sit. You are far too exposed.”

“These people belong to this city,” she said in Altrerian, ignoring Kajtan and raising her voice. “They have a right not to be brutalized.”

“Aren’t you here to kill the rest of us?” someone, a woman, shouted from the crowd.

Antrey turned and saw an older woman with light green skin standing on a stoop outside a building. Her clothes were ragged and smeared with blood, although she didn’t appear to be injured. She stood straight and as tall as she could. “Why would you think that?”

“You’re the one who started all this,” the woman said. “The one they call jeyn.”

“I am Jeyn Antrey Ranbren, yes.”

“Then why ask if we think you might be here to kill the rest of us? Look around. See what your barbarians have done. Admire their handiwork.” The crowd buzzed, heads nodding in agreement. The mood caused two of the warriors to charge up and grab the woman by the arms.

“Stop that!” Antrey said in Neldathi. “She is not a threat.” They released her and walked slowly back to the street.

“You know my name,” Antrey said, switching back to Altrerian, “may I have the honor of knowing yours?”

“Mida Innis of the Guild of Healers. I’ve lived in this city all my life. It breaks my heart to see what your kind have done to it.”

“This is a war, Mida. Did you know that for a century your people had sown discord between the Neldathi clans, causing them to fight and kill each other in the name of your security? You are in no position to judge.”

“How can you say that? They say you only discovered this because you found a secret book locked in a Triumvirate vault. If that’s true, how does it convict me? The Sentinels and the Grand Council might have known, but not the common people, not these people. Why punish us?”

Antrey knew that Mida had a few details wrong, but on the whole she had a point. This wasn’t the time for a fight. “Are you hurt?”

“No.”

“What about the blood?” Antrey asked, pointing to the stains.

“That’s from my patients.”

“Are they close?”

“Of course.” She jerked her head toward the building behind her. “Why do you care?”

“I came here to see the progress of the war for myself, firsthand. That means seeing the damage done, which deeply saddens me. That also means seeing those that have been injured. Can I meet them?”

Mida stood, frozen, for a moment. “I don’t want all of them in here,” she said, pointing to Antrey’s guards.

Antrey pushed Effar aside and stepped down from the carriage. “Of course.”

“Don’t do this, Jeyn,” Kajtan said, following her out to the street.

“I have to,” she said. “Keep things orderly out here. I won’t be long.” She walked toward Mina. The buzz of the crowd was gone, replaced by a still, uneasy calm.

“Lead the way,” Antrey said to Mina.

The building was red brick that had been rubbed smooth over the years. It was four stories tall, but at least the upper floor appeared too damaged to be useful. Mida opened the front door and Antrey followed her inside.

Remember, The Water Road is now available at Amazon as well as in the real world at Empire Books & News. The Endless Hills will be released on August 31!

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Water Road Wednesday: The Endless Hills Cover Reveal & Release Date!

Has everybody had time to digest The Water Road? If not, better get cracking, since before you know it it’ll be time to grab hold of The Endless Hills, the second volume of The Water Road trilogy.

Just so you know what to look for, here’s the cover for The Endless Hills:

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Once again, this cover is by Deranged Doctor Design.

When will you, dear readers, be able to get your hot little hands on The Endless Hills? It will be released in eBook form on August 31, with the paperback to follow a few days later.

Remember, The Water Road is now available at Amazon as well as in the real world at Empire Books & News.

Water Road Wednesday: Law & Order In Altreria

I’m a lawyer who writes fiction, but that doesn’t mean I write legal fiction. I’ve got nothing against it, but I’ve got a special place in my heart for lawyers who become writers and don’t fall into that genre (think Felix Gilman or Stephan Pastis). That being said, “the law” does tend to rear its head in my stories more often than not.

Obviously, when it comes to The Water Road Trilogy, there’s a lot of lawlessness involved. Insurrection, war, and the like tends to upset the regular business of things, after all. But that doesn’t mean that the law, criminal law in particular disappears.

As we saw last week, one of the new characters for The Endless Hills, Martoh, is, in fact, a criminal. We meet him in prison, fighting for his life. He gets the opportunity to wipe his legal slate clean by volunteering to go fight the Neldathi. That’s not a new idea – for generations people have been given the chance to improve their social status by serving in the military (it’s a path to citizen ship for immigrants in the United States, if I’m not mistaken). And it’s got antecedents in speculative fiction. I wanted to use it to have a low-level soldier’s point of view, a soldier who chose to be there, but didn’t really have much of a choice.

We spent relatively little time in prison with Martoh, however. In the third book, The Bay of Sins, one of the plot threads involves a trial in Innisport for one of the viewpoint characters (a new one, essentially, although she makes a brief appearance in The Endless Hills). For most of the book she’s incarcerated in a prison of fairly recent vintage built on the edge of Innisport. Putting a character in a cell for a whole book meant I had to have a good idea of what the place looked and felt like.

One of the cool things about writing fantasy is that you get to make up whatever you want. Still, it’s interesting to use the real world as a jumping off point sometimes. Several years ago my wife and I were in Philadelphia. On our way out we stopped at the Eastern State Penitentiary. The place was ahead of its time. As I wrote on my old blog:

It was called a penitentiary because the core of its approach was to force prisoners to be penitent, or humble and regretful, about their sins . . . er, crimes, rather. To accomplish that task, prisoners were kept in isolation from one another at were required to remain silent at all times.

 

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The system employed at Eastern State didn’t catch on in the United States very much (a similar system that emphasized work over penitence won out in Gilded Age America), but it was popular overseas. That being said, the general look and vibe of the place is similar to a lot of American prisons built not too long after, including the old West Virginia Penitentiary at Moundsville.

It was also technically innovative:

It had a system of steam heat and running water (sort of – guards flushed the toilets twice a week, IIRC) long before most of the young United States did. The design itself, with its central control hub and cellblocks spiraling out from there. It allowed for maximum visibility with the fewest number of watchers.

Now it’s a semi-ruin and creepy as hell:

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It’s also great fodder for the imagination. So when it came time to imagine where this character might be doing her time, a modified version of Eastern State leapt to mind. It was fun to run with it, tweak it as need it, and see how the characters in my world dealt with it.

World building is the foundation of writing fantasy and science fiction. Law (or its explicit absence) is as important to any world as any other part of society, even if it doesn’t drive your story. You don’t have to be a lawyer/writer to realize that.

Remember, The Water Road is now available at Amazon as well as in the real world at Empire Books & News.