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.”


“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?”


“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.


* * *


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:




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.

Water Road Wednesday: First Excerpt from The Endless Hills

For this initial dip into The Endless Hills, book two of The Water Road trilogy, I wanted to explore one of that book’s new characters a bit. Martoh is a crook, but he’s in the kind of prison he’s never been in before, the kind that’s landed him in the infirmary. Now, with a war on, there’s a chance for him to get out:

 A few seconds later a gentleman stepped behind the curtain as someone else held it for him. He carried small wooden stool in one hand and a black leather case in the other. His black suit was neat and fresh, implying he had some kind of official position. The fine grey dust from the stones out of which the prison had been built had yet to infest his clothing. “Martoh Isukar?” He put the stool down beside the bed.

“Who are you?” Martoh had long ago learned to be wary of men in clean suits.

“May I sit?”

“Help yourself.”

The man sat down and began pawing through his case. “It really was quite a journey to reach here, you know.”

“Why is that? And who are you?”

“I’m sorry.” The man sat up straight and pulled an official looking piece of paper from his case. “My name is Anea. I am from the Ministry of War.”

Martoh rolled his eyes. “Whatever it is they told you I did, you’ve got the wrong guy.”

Anea looked at him with a frozen expression that said he knew Martoh was the right man. “You are serving a term of life in prison, is that not correct, Martoh? May I call you that?”

Martoh gave silent consent.

“Due to your sentence, you will die behind these walls. Why would I have to think anything else about you?”

“I’m not a killer.”

“It says something very different here.” Anea held up a clutch of papers and began shuffling through them, for Martoh’s benefit, most likely. “It says here that you stole some small trinket from a shop, were caught in the act, and pursued by the shop keeper. As he gave chase in the street he tripped, fell, and upon landing broke his neck. Died instantly, sad to say.”

“My bad luck.”

“His bad luck, I would say. But the court has already decided this. You are guilty of causing death while in the commission of another offense. Same as if you put a blade in the poor man’s back. However, the circumstances of your crime did, at least, save your life.”

“Put me in this cage, you mean,” Martoh said. He tried not to get agitated as any movement caused a bolt of pain to rush through his body.

“Martoh, you have never lived a life in harmony with His Majesty’s law, have you?” Anea let the question be answered by silence. “Although I suspect you never thought it would take you this far.”

“Obviously. It’s one thing to get locked in here for shooting a man or stabbing him. It’s entirely different when you’re here because of a mark’s poor foot skills.”

Anea didn’t take issue with him.

“If you are not here to pin something else on me, why are you here?”

Anea grinned, ever so slightly. “I am here to give you a way out.”

Martoh turned away from him. “I’m in no mood for games.”

“This is no game, I assure you. I am here on behalf of the Ministry of War, looking for recruits. You do know that there is a war on?”

“I’ve heard. I’ve also heard that the Neldathi might have a right to be angry.”

Anea cleared his throat in a way that suggested he would take issue with that position. “I am not here to discuss politics. I am here only in search of recruits.”

“Conscripts, you mean,” Martoh said, turning back to face him. “Typical. Use prisoners to put down an uprising caused by your own damned fool policies.”

Anea sat for a few moments. “Is everyone that cynical in your world, Martoh?”

“In the world I came from, one steals because that’s the only way he has to feed himself or his family. In the world I live in now, any other random person might try to kill me, just to prove he can. Pardon me if I seem a bit cynical when a stranger comes preaching salvation.”

Anea heaved a deep sigh. “Cynical or no, Martoh, you are not a stupid man. If His Majesty was going to conscript prisoners to go fight the Neldathi, why would I be here?”

Martoh had to concede that, but he wouldn’t admit it. “So what’s the deal?”

“Deal? There is no deal,” he said in a way that made it clear such horse trading was beneath him. “There is only an opportunity to serve your King and defend your homeland from barbarian invasion.”

“In return for what? Look, you’ve given the game away admitting that there will be no conscriptions. I get to say no thanks and stay right here. So why shouldn’t I?

“Freedom.” Anea let the word hang in the air while he got another paper from his case. “If you agree to fight, you will be free.”

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

Water Road Wednesday: All Around the World

I don’t really have anything substantive to say about The Water Road trilogy this week. Not because I’ve run out of things to talk about – far from it! But because I’m buried deep right now trying to get copies of The Water Road to all the folks who participated in my LibraryThing giveaway.

It’s always cool to see where people who request the book are from and this batch is the most diverse I’ve ever had, with winners as close as Ohio and Kentucky and as far away as Tunisia and Malaysia! In fact, I think I’ve hit every one of the soccer confederations (much more important than continents) this time except for Oceania. Over the course of three books, I’ve had winners from 24 states and 9 other countries (10, if you separate out Scotland).

Speaking of next time – tune in next week for more Water Road Wednesday! Upcoming weeks will have some excerpts from the second book, The Endless Hills, as well as a cover reveal. See you then!

Until then, some appropriate Paul Simon:

Water Road Wednesday: Solamo Renzi

As we continue on here with Water Road Wednesdays, we’ve moved on to characters who don’t actually appear in the first book, starting with Solamo Renzi. That wasn’t always the plan – I initially conceived of The Water Road as having four main characters, but Antrey and Strefer kind of muscled in and took over the joint. The other got shuttled off, but do make an appearance later.

Renzi is one of those. In fact, his story that would have been in The Water Road forms a novella that will be released next year called The Badlands War. As you’ll know if you’ve read The Water Road, the subject of the Azkiri nomads who roam the red wastes up north was a topic of conversation before the Grand Council. The Badlands War takes up that tale. In the process, it gives some background on Renzi.

He comes from a wealthy Telebrian family, although it’s new money, which means they don’t have the pedigree of the rest of the upper crust. Renzi’s father got rich in business and, naturally, intended that his son would follow in his footsteps. Renzi had other ideas and chose what he thought would be a suitable alternative career – the military. Although he wanted to make his own way and work his way up through the ranks, Renzi’s father used his influence to get his son a prime posting as an aide to the general in command in the Badlands.

Renzi stepped right in as a captain, but found himself hamstrung by his superior’s traditional thinking. While he was part of the Telebrian high society, Renzi wasn’t beyond noticing that the Telebrian strategy against the Azkiri continued to fail, over and over again. When he got the chance to see how a Guilder unit faced the same foe, he jumped at the chance.

The end result, as The Endless Hills begins, is that Renzi is now a colonel and in command of his own unit. Funded by other wealth Telebrians, Renzi’s Rangers (he hates the name) is a unit unknown to the Telebrian army – a unit that moves quickly on horseback, but dismounts to fight on foot. He leaves his new wife behind to fight in a war where he may never get to show off all he’s learned.

Thinking on it, Renzi is unique in The Water Road trilogy, as he plays a large role in The Endless Hills (he’s one of several point of view characters), but he doesn’t appear at all in The Water Road and only very briefly in The Bay of Sins. Most other folks tend to hang around a little longer. Make of that what you will.

Remember, The Water Road is now available at Amazon!

Water Road Wednesday: Hirrek of Clan Dost

First contact is usually a story that plays out in science fiction stories, but it’s just as likely to pop up in fantasy or other genres, too. As you can see from the third excerpt from The Water Road, it’s got a kind of first contact story, when Antrey, after years of living among Altrerians in Tolenor, first encounters the Neldathi from Clan Dost.

The Dost roam an area squished in between the Kelly Range to the north and west , the Levin Mountains to the west, and the sea on the east. It’s not the largest of the Neldathi clans. The area its great circuit covers is one of the smallest, in fact. But it’s in a particular location, about as close to the Triumvirate as you can get, that makes it especially important.

Yet, when Antrey makes first contact with the Dost (by accident, it has to be said), it isn’t with a thek or a war leader, but with a hunter. After all, a clan has to eat to keep moving.

The one who put the elk out of its misery was Hirrek, Master of the Hunt of Clan Dost. Not only does he hold an exalted position in the clan, but he comes from an important family within the clan. His mother, Ushan, is thek of Clan Dost. His father, Kajtan, is war leader. Although most Neldathi clans, including the Dost, work on a democratic level when it comes to selecting a thek, being the son of such powerful parents should go a long way.

Needless to say, Hirrek is a little suspicious of Antrey. She’s a complete stranger, for starters. But more than that, once his mother begins to listen to Antrey’s story, Hirrek is able to see that his world is about to be up ended. Neldathi life was always changing – it’s the nature of being nomads. But at least Hirrek has some idea of the path his life was going to take. His world was his clan and that was it.

Then he gets roped into something bigger than himself, bigger than his clan, and bigger than his imagination ever could conceive.

Remember, The Water Road is now available at Amazon – just 99 cents for the rest of June!