Water Road Wednesday – Rand McNally Edition

Just when I thought I was done, then keep pulling me back in!

I’ve had more than one reader ask about whether there are any maps of Altreria, the land that’s the setting for The Water Road trilogy. Strictly speaking, in terms of something I’d be happy putting in the back of a published book – the answer is “no.”

However, in the spirit of sharing my work and showing how I do things – I’ve dug out a couple of hand-made maps from my notes. These are what I used to keep myself oriented in the world of The Water Road. At least at the beginning.

In the spirit of Michael Feldman, three disclaimers:

First, these are crude, hand drawn, and simply photographed. They’re not great quality, but I never expected anybody aside from me to see them. Judge accordingly.

Second, place names and such are noted in my horrific hand writing. Enter at your own risk (although I’ll be happy to translate, if asked).

Finally, I made these before I even started The Water Road and while I added to them on occasion afterwards, I didn’t change things on the map to match the text. As an example, “Port Keneally” became “Port Jaray” in the books (Keneally just didn’t feel right, when push came to shove – sorry, Mike).

With those disclaimers, here we go . . .

A map of the continent of Altreria itself:


A few highlights. The long blue ribbon running across the continent is, of course, The Water Road. The two north-south tributaries are the River Innis and the River Adon. The Guildlands are west of the Innis and the Kingdom of Telebria is to the east of the Adon. In between is the Confederation of the Arbor. North of the rivers are the Badlands. The little speck of land in the Bay of Sins is the island city of Tolenor. South of The Water Road, of course, are the Neldathi mountains.

And here’s a different view of the Neldathi mountains, with the great circuit of each clan drawn in:


For those scoring at home, here’s how the numbers match up to the clan:

  1.  Dost
  2. Haglein
  3. Chellein
  4. Volakeyn
  5. Mughein
  6. Kohar
  7. Akan
  8. Uzkaheyn
  9. Elein
  10. Sheylan
  11. Paleyn

This one also gives you a better idea of the names of the mountain ranges and Islander cities. Yes, many of them are named after musicians. Albandala, the city Antrey founds in The Water Road is somewhere near the Hogarth Pass.


Water Road Wednesday – Thank Yous

The first time I had something called The Water Road in my (virtual) hands was the fall of 2009. The book was my NaNoWriMo project that year, my second “winner” (the first is in the back of my closet, probably permanently). The process started some time before that, what with character sketches and some basic world building.

But the very first thing I remember writing was a Neldathi creation myth. It poured out in a very un-fantastic place.

Every year my office and our Federal Defender counterparts in the Northern District of West Virginia put on a two-day seminar for private attorneys who handle court appointed criminal cases. We alternate hosting and in 2009 the Northern District hosted up in Morgantown. Through the day and a half of the seminar (on breaks or during sessions that didn’t really apply to me), I sketched out this story about the Maker of Worlds and how she created this world in which I was going to tell this story.

Naturally, I had to account for the titular river, as fantastic a thing as there is in The Water Road universe. It was not born of a pleasant impulse:

Eons passed before the Maker of Worlds remembered her watery creation with the one continent upon it.  In the time that had passed, The Land had become full of life.  Not only animals and plants, but intelligent beings, who lived together in communities and created a society.  The Land was rich and plentiful, but its inhabitants still found things to fight about.  They constantly warred, on upon the other, seemingly without end.  When the Maker saw what had become of her world, she was depressed.  And she was angry.

In her anger, the Maker of Worlds lashed out at her creation.  She drove a single finger into the soil on the east side of The Land.  Then, she drug it across the entire breadth of The Land, changing it forever.  In the wake of the Maker’s finger came Great Basin Lake and The Water Road.  To the south of the river, great mountains heaved up from the soil, all the way south to the cold southern seas.  To the north, The Land cracked and two great rivers were formed as water rushed into the fissures.  The far north, beyond the reach of the waters, became barren, dry, and unhospitable.  The people of The Land were likewise shattered, north and south, divided by the The Water Road into Neldathi and Altrerian.  Many multitudes died.

Much as I enjoyed pulling that together, I knew it wasn’t part of the story itself. It was essentially a note to myself – something I didn’t intend anybody else to see. But it started something inside me, lit a fuse that wasn’t going to go out. It got so insistent that when the final session wound up I plopped myself down in a big chair in the hotel lobby, pen in hand and a legal pad, and scratched out:

It had been ten years since Gaven had been confronted by an angry Neldathi with a gun.

I didn’t get much further than that (I was months away from NaNo), but I’d crossed the Rubicon. There was no going back after that.

All of which is a roundabout way of saying that I never really thought I’d be here, looking back on eight years of work and being “done” with The Water Road. So I wanted to take care of one last piece of business, to acknowledge everybody who helped me get here. Thanks . . .

Firstly, to my family, friends, and coworkers who put up with a “writer” in their midst, who asked supportive questions and never made me feel like I was wasting my time chasing a silly dream.

To the members of West Virginia Writers, Inc., the Absolute Write Water Cooler, and KBoards who are quick with their advice, encouragement, and support. Great writing may be mostly about talent, but being a great writer means recognizing that those others out there who do what you do are allies and colleagues, not rivals.

To Empire Books & News in Huntington, West Virginia, who support local authors not because they’re some kind of odd curiosity that draws gawkers, but because they have great stories to tell, too.

To my copy editor, Claudette, who plowed through all three books of The Water Road, helping them be the best, most professional products they can be.

To the fine folks at Deranged Doctor Designs who did the covers for The Water Road trilogy. I get compliments on them almost everywhere they pop up.

And, of course, big thanks to readers who have told me how much they’ve enjoyed these books. That’s the greatest reward a writer could hope for.

Finally, to my wife, Kelly. When we met I was someone who had  a few ideas and thought, maybe, I could write something, sometime. Back by her voracious reading habit, she’s pushed and supported me through all this, providing valuable, honest feedback and sharing in my happiness at getting this all done. I love you, sweetie.

On to new things!

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:


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:

TWR Cover

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

TEH Cover (1800x2700)

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!


Water Road Wednesday – Second Excerpt from The Bay of Sins

In this excerpt from The Bay of Sins, Rurek arrives in Modrozon Crossing looking for someone. Not a friend, but a familiar face from readers of The Endless Hills – the thief turned soldier Martoh. In between, these two have developed a little bit of bad blood.

 Martoh sits down:

“Well, well, well,” he said, looking very satisfied with himself. “I believe the words were, ‘I’ll never come anywhere near this place again, you filthy criminal.’ Was that about right, Rurek?” While he spoke, he fiddled with the bracelet on his wrist.

Rurek cleared his throat. “Nice to see you too, Martoh. Believe me, when I said that I meant it. If circumstances were any different I wouldn’t be here.”

“Then I am truly touched that, in your hour of need, you found your way back here.” He signaled to someone, and a drink, some kind of deep-green alcohol, arrived within moments. “Have you had the ordem? It is a local specialty, requires a special kind of grain that grows wild around here. Very strong, but a wonderfully complex flavor, if you can handle it.” He took a long, slow sip and set the glass down on the table. “The girl is fine, by the way. I thought you might like to know.”

“I don’t care.” That was a lie. There wasn’t a night he didn’t think about the little girl and what her life was like in Wellston. He wasn’t about to let Martoh know that, however.

Martoh shrugged. “So be it. What, then, brings you so low that you would go back on your word and return to Modrozon Crossing, to this pub, and seek me out? I hope you did not gamble away all that money. It was so hard-earned.”

“After a fashion,” Rurek said, stifling a chuckle. “I got the money I needed to do what I needed to do. Problem is, now I’m not sure what to do with what I’ve got.”

“How cryptic. If you will not tell me what the problem is, I cannot help you.”

“Except I don’t really trust you.”

“You must trust me a little, Rurek, or you would have gone somewhere else. Did I cheat you? Did I tell you I would pay and then not pay, or pay less than we agreed?”

“No.” Rurek had to admit that.

“Did I lie to you about the nature of the work? And I mean lie, Rurek, really tell you something that was not true?”

“You didn’t tell me—”

Martoh raised a hand. “I told you what you needed to know to complete the task. Entirely accurate information. That you did not ask more questions, better questions, before taking my money is not my fault. You needed the money badly enough to keep you from asking those questions.”

“You’re being overly technical.”

“Overly technical is what put me in prison. Why should I not use it to my advantage now?”

Rurek knew Martoh had been in prison before the war and that he didn’t think he belonged there, but he didn’t know details. He didn’t want to know. “If that’s how you want to live your life.”

“It is.” Martoh sat back, looked out the window, and smiled. “Now that our reunion is out of the way, what is it that you think I might do for you?”

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!


Water Road Wednesday – First Excerpt from The Bay of Sins

The first excerpt from The Bay of Sins. In this scene, Mida, the healer in Innisport who Antrey put in charge of the city, has been arrested and charged with treason and collaboration with the Neldathi. Using a code delivered via a wadded up piece of paper thrown over a wall, she reached out to her neighbor in prison:

After supper, when she knew she’d be left alone for the night, Mida moved the desk chair next to the wall she shared with C4 and waited. She wasn’t sure if her neighbor would try to make contact first, but Mida thought it wise to wait. Such communication was against the rules, and she wanted the defense, if only in her head, that she didn’t break them first. She was on the verge of giving up and getting into bed when she heard it.

Six taps, faint, like a small metal pick scratching on rock. The sound repeated itself over and over.

The night before, Mida had pried a piece of metal out from under the desk. It was part of a brace that held the desk up, but it was already lose when she found it, and the desk seemed perfectly sturdy without it. She fetched the metal from its hiding place near the toilet and tapped six times in response, then waited.

The code came, slowly and deliberately. Mida wasn’t certain if the other person was being slow for her benefit or not, but she appreciated it regardless. You are new?

Yes, Mida tapped back, quietly sounding out each letter. Two days ago. You?

Long time, came the answer, a little quicker this time. What for?

I don’t know. It was only partially untrue. She was certain it had something to do with Phichan’s need to punish those who worked with the Neldathi during the occupation, but she had no idea what the specific charges were yet. You?


War is over. Mida didn’t understand.

Not for me. Name?

Mida chuckled. They were prisoners, and, naturally, went straight to talking about why they were in prison. Small details like names were secondary. Mida Innis, Healer, she tapped back. You?

Bist, her neighbor tapped, of Clan Kohar.

The Bay of Sins arrives March 22. Get The Water Road and The Endless Hills now!


Water Road Wednesday – It Returns!

Hey, everybody – remember these? I know it’s been a while, but I am beyond pleased to announce that the final chapter of The Water Road trilogy, The Bay of Sins, is complete! It will be released on March 22, 2017.


What’s happening as the story roars to a conclusion? Glad you asked:

The war is over, but nothing is settled.

On the Neldathi side of the Water Road the clans are slowly pulling apart following a sudden murder. Hirrek is tasked with getting to the bottom of a mystery: was this killing the random act of a violent, unstable man? Or was it something more sinister, a hint of what the Neldathi thought they’d defeated during the war? The unity won in blood may be slipping away.

In the rebuilding city of Innisport, life is returning to something like normal. That’s largely due to Mida, given the task of rebuilding the city by Antrey Ranbren herself. After Mida hands power over to the Guild of Politicians, she finds herself on trial for her life, charged with treason and being a collaborator. Along the way she meets someone, a curious remnant of the war, who makes her rethink the way she sees those that destroyed her city.

In the meantime, Antrey returns from exile, escaping to the wilderness of Telebria. She gains new allies, including Rurek, and a new foe, the Sentinel Faerl. He’s best known among the other Sentinels as the man who let Antrey slip away once before, getting all his men killed in the process. Now he has a chance for redemption and revenge. But Antrey is willing to do anything to ensure that her legacy does not slip away.

The chase is on, as the saga of The Water Road barrels toward its explosive conclusion.

I’ll have more from The Bay of Sins in the next few weeks, all leading up to the big launch event on March 22.

Water Road Wednesday: First Excerpt from The Bay of Sins

The Water Road Trilogy wraps up later this year with The Bay of Sins. The bay is where the Water Road empties into the sea and is home to the island city of Tolenor, home of the Triumvirate. In ancient times it was where pilgrims would come to wash away their sins. It’s always been a place of reckoning.

 In this scene, something happens in the new Neldathi city of Albandala that will require some reckoning.

It was overcast the next day, snow spitting from the slate grey sky. Weft made his rounds in the morning, speaking with members of various clans, chatting about nothing important. He was feeling things out, trying to get information without anyone knowing they were giving it to him. He usually had better luck, but today people seemed tight lipped. Something was in the air, something Weft couldn’t quite put his finger on.

The day began to achieve some focus when he saw an old Neldathi man emerge from the meeting hall in the center of the city. The long, low log building was where the clans met to discuss vital issues. It wasn’t clear what this meeting had been about or how many people had been involved, but the old man’s bearing and entourage suggested that he was important. Weft suspected he was one of the chiefs, a thek, but he couldn’t tell from which clan. He had no painted lines in the long black and grey braid that hung down his back.

Even if he couldn’t tell which clan the thek belonged to, Weft could make a guess as to which faction could claim him. It wasn’t a hard and fast rule, but generally an unpainted braid identified one as a unificationist. If a Neldathi still wore clan colors, most likely he was an independent. This was most likely one of Antrey Ranbren’s men, come to Albandala on a mission.

Weft watched as the man shuffled through the snow. There were four younger men with him, all of them also wearing black braids. Warriors, no doubt, although none of them had weapons to hand. One had a rifle slung across his back, another a short spear of some kind. The others no doubt had knives or swords on them, but Weft couldn’t see. Regardless, they were woefully unprepared for what came next.

The thek was greeting people as he shuffled. He must have been popular, at least among some portions of Neldathi society. People gave him what looked like warm hellos, meeting him with smiles and nods. The jumble of voices overtaxed Weft’s limited grip on the language. The numbers overwhelmed his guards, who looked reluctant to try and push back the well wishers anyway. Were they obeying the thek’s orders?

One Neldathi, smaller than the others and with black, blue, and red stripes in his braid, stepped forward with another group to greet the old man. Weft had a hard time keeping sight of him, with the press of tall bodies around him blocking the view. He worked his way through the crowd just in time to see the small Neldathi raise his right arm and charge at the thek. He yelled something, low and guttural and angry. Weft couldn’t begin to understand it, but he caught the gist. There was a pistol in his right hand.

It wasn’t as loud as he expected, but the shot rattled Weft’s bones all the same. The speed and violence of the maneuver took him by surprise. He knew something like this might happen, but had no idea when. In the blink of an eye there was a cloud of smoke surrounding the old chief as he fell, clutching his throat. The snow turned red underneath him.

The shooter held the useless pistol aloft and began to laugh, loudly, in a way that proved he was out of his mind. Before he could even try to run away another Neldathi, this one taller, wider, and altogether more in keeping with the stereotype of his people, tackled the shooter, driving him to the ground.

There was no need for Weft to see what happened next. His work was done. He needed to leave the city as quickly as he could.

Get caught up with the trilogy by picking up The Water Road and The Endless Hills now.

Water Road Wednesday: Faerl Vasil

I think it’s quite natural for a book series or trilogy to add characters as it goes along. Not only does it allow for the replacement of characters who either meet an early demise or simply aren’t involved anymore, it gives the writer a chance to shake things up. I’m not sure how often one of those characters who makes a late appearance was supposed to show up from the very beginning.

When I originally concieved of The Water Road it was as a book that old the stories of four characters. Two, of course, were Antrey and Strefer. The third was Renzi, who appears in The Endless Hills. The fourth was a Sentinel who, at the time, was named Faaip (after the odd track at the end of Tool’s Lateralus album).

Faaip was going to futilely chase Antrey through the Neldathi mountains and provide a separate point of view for what she did with the Neldathi. But it became clear the further I got into The Water Road that it was really the story of two women on parallel paths after each discovered a terrible secret. Renzi and Faaip just didn’t fit into that, so their stories got cut. Renzi’s became The Badlands War, a novella that should be out next year in some fashion.

Faaip was just forgotten until I started working on The Bay of Sins. I wanted a point of view character who was leading the search for Antrey once she leaves her exile. What better person to do it than the one who failed so miserably before? I changed the name to Faerl, surrounded him with a mind walker second in command and a few refugees from Renzi’s Rangers and turned him loose.

It makes it more interesting (I hope) to have someone with a past specifically related to Antrey chasing her rather than just some goon with orders to follow. It drives Faerl to do some hard things and, in the end, seals his fate before he even gets going. But saying more would ruin the story.

This is the final Water Road Wednesday post that deals with a person or place in the world of The Water Road trilogy. Now that the first two books are out (with the third on the way!) it’s gotten progressively harder to talk about such things without running into spoilers.

From here on out it’s all excerpts from The Bay of Sins, a cover reveal, and the release of the final book in the trilogy!

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: 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:


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.