Writing Excuses 9.43: Writing Mysteries

Live from Westercon 67 and Fantasy Con, Mette Ivie Harrison and J.R. Johannson join us to talk about writing for the mystery genre. We begin by talking about the key differences between thrillers and mysteries, and then move into how this understanding can drive our story structures. We discuss how characters with arcs and iconic characters drive different types of stories, and how each of us go about building these kinds of things.

via Writing Excuses 9.43: Writing Mysteries » Writing Excuses.

Want to see the original Glamour in Glass outline and the synopsis with which we sold it?

Yesterday, I posted the Shades of Milk and Honey outline. Today, I have two things for you.

First, is the synopsis with which we sold Glamour in Glass. Now, I need to be clear that this was part of a two book deal and that even now when I’m selling a new book to a publisher with whom I have an established relationship, that I write a significantly more detailed synopsis.

In the reprieve after Napoleon abdicates, Jane and Vincent go to the continent for their honeymoon. While there, the deposed Emperor escapes his exile in Elba, throwing the continent into turmoil.  With no easy way back to England, they struggle to escape.

When Vincent is captured as a British spy, Jane realizes that their honeymoon had been a sham to give them reason to be in Europe.  He has been using a new technique to capture glamour folds in glass in order to send vital information back to England, where the court has great interest in the politcal unrest in the region. Jane is angry, not at the reason for going to Europe, but that Vincent had lied to her.”Had I know, I would have come willingly. Do I not love King and Country as much?”

Jane must use all the glamor at her disposal to rescue her husband from the prison.  In doing so, she creates a glamour in the glass to disguise herself. Inside, she finds that Vincent has been tortured and is in shockingly ill health.  As she helps him from the prison, he stumbles, causing her to drop the glass.  Their illusion broken, Jane and Vincent work together to flee, narrowly escaping to the coast, where they are returned safely to England.

From there, I had to expand it into an outline. So…

This is the original outline for Glamour in Glass. There are two things I want to call your attention to before you take a look at it.

First thing: People talk about outliners vs. discovery writers, as if there are only two ways of approaching writing. Outliners plan and then begin writing. Discovery writers (or pantsers) launch in and discover the novel as they go. I think it’s a spectrum. While I am more heavily on the outliner end of the spectrum, I also discovery write parts of the novel, too. For instance… there’s a chapter than consisted entirely of “Sailing!” I knew that I needed to get my characters from point A to Point B and that this was the job of the chapter. Within that, I just needed to make it interesting.

Other chapters have a more complicated job, by which I mean, they tie in to previous chapters and later chapters in ways that will cause the story to break if I get them wrong. Those often get more detailed outlines.

Notice that M Chastain’s family is NOWHERE in the outline. I discovered them while I was writing, and worked them into my plans later.

Second thing: You’ll see numbers below. Those aren’t chapter numbers. I often don’t figure out chapters breaks until I’m in the process of writing, because they exist to control pacing. For instance, Number 1 wound up being two chapters long. While 2 and 3 got rolled into the same chapter.

Here’s the email I sent to my editor with the outline when I turned it in.

Here’s my preliminary outline for “Glamour in Glass.”  Left to my own devices, I would start writing from this and fill in details, adjusting as I worked. I can see that there will likely be an additional chapter or two and a minor subplot, but until I get into it, I likely won’t know exactly what those are. I’m guessing this’ll come in around 80k.

As I researched I decided to move the main action from France to Belgium to take advantage of events leading up to Waterloo.  The border region, in particular, had strong tensions between the Bonapartists and the Royalists.  Binche is a border town on the route that Napoleon takes as he marches to Waterloo.  People living here would have been able to hear the gunfire during the battle.  Plus, it has a mask festival that’s been going on since the 1400s which provides some nice local color.

Overall, while you are reading the outline, the arc I’m looking at for Jane is that she’s struggling with in this book is her role as a wife vs. her role as a glamourist.

And now, the outline itself.

Glamour in Glass outline

  1.  Jane and Vincent at dinner with high society in a home where Vincent has been commissioned. They are still but recently wed and it is their first joint project. As the dinner continues, we meet the Prince Regent, who has made the commission. Discuss Napoleon’s abdication and the end of the war. Rumblings of Bonapartist’s who want to put his son on the throne. The prince shuts down the conversation as not being suitable for ladies. Dinner ends and the ladies exit to the drawing room. As they exit, the men immediately begin talking about the situation in France again.
  2. The conversation in the drawing room consists, as it always does, of gossip. One woman comments that she wishes she could do glamour like Jane can. When Jane says that it is a matter of practice, the woman replies that the doctor won’t allow her and Jane realizes that she is with child. This is shocking since the woman is unwed and Jane realizes that she’s talking to someone’s mistress. It causes her to reevaluate her position since the only person freely talking to her is also somewhat shunned and yet also has more social power than Jane does.
  3. The men reenter the drawing room, and have clearly been talking about the commissioned piece. Jane feels left out of the conversation and struggles with the fact that it is supposed to be a collaboration between Vincent and her.
  4.  Vincent suggests they go to France. He has a colleague, Mssr. Chastain, that he hasn’t seen since they studied together with Herr Scholes. Plus he and Jane haven’t had a honeymoon and it seems like an ideal time with Napoleon in exile.
  5. Sailing!
  6. Welcome to France! Meets Chastain.
  7. In their rooms, the maid drops something and apologizes in English. Jane is delighted that Chastian arranged for an English speaker. This is Anne the daughter of an Englishwoman who was left behind back in the French Revolutionary war. She offers to help Jane navigate the social differences.
  8. Gets idea for glamour in glass from prism. Can’t find Vincent to tell him about revelation initially. When she does find him, he is vague about where he has been.
  9. Social scene. Struck by how differently women are treated in France.
  10. Try fail cycle to tie off a simple glamour in glass. Tries an invisibility bubble, because the shape lends itself naturally to blown glass but it’s still a failure.
  11. Jane faints but isn’t doing glamour. Anne runs to fetch Vincent, who should have been in the lab, but isn’t. The doctor is called and realizes Jane is with child. She’s now unable to do glamour. Struggles with this disassociation from self identity. Will Vincent love her without her glamour? When he arrives, he is deeply apologetic for being away and delighted with the news.
  12. Work scene where she can only offer suggestions but not actually do any labor. Frustrating for both.
  13. There are hints that Vincent is keeping something secret from her. But he has much interest in her day, which mostly consists of conversations she has with Anne and other ladies so she tries to make the best of it, while feeling certain that he’s lost interest due to the pregnancy.
  14.  Takes bubble out into sunlight. Vincent comes looking for her and doesn’t see her. She realizes that the glamour in glass needs strong light to work.
  15. Napoleon comes out of exile. Subject of much conversation.
  16. Privately, Vincent tells Jane she must leave France. She points out that they are out of the line of Napoleon’s march and that she is not worried in the least. If Vincent feels free to stay and study, of course she will too. He finally confesses that he is there to spy for England. Someone in Chastain’s household is a Bonapartist and so Vincent must stay to keep an eye on things, but it means that they are in more danger if discovered than other Britons. Jane is extremely upset, not that her honeymoon has been co-opted but that Vincent has been systematically lying to her by omission. “Do I not love King and country as much as you?”
  17. Interesting scene which builds tension with local characters. Jane realizes that Anne is the Bonapartist and has been using her French-English connections to help with the overthrow of Louis XVIII. Tells Vincent her suspicions. He is impressed with her wit and Jane realizes that she might have something to offer besides glamour.
  18. Napoleon’s soldiers come for Vincent. He realizes at the last minute that it’s because of the military potential of the glamour in glass. Hands it to Jane, yanking the velvet covering off and shoves her into the sunlight where she disappears. Jane watches him taken away, muffling her sobs with her hands and wishing she could do glamour to save him but knowing that she has to keep the glass safe.
  19. Finds out he’s being taken to the front lines to work the invisibility glamour for Napoleon. Has to wait for a sunny day to attempt to rescue him.
  20. Jane confronts Anne, who denies spying on them. Not believing her, Jane explains that she is with child and that she is now in exactly the position that Anne’s mother was in when her husband was killed in battle. Crumbling, Anne protests that she didn’t realize they would take him, when she told Napoleon’s men about the invisibility glamour. Had she known, she would never have done it. Jane says, “And now you do, so will you help me?” Anne agrees to help, despite her loyalty to Napoleon.
  21. When they find him, Vincent in bad shape from being forced to overdo glamour. As they are leaving the sun goes behind a cloud, revealing them. Sun comes out and they are again invisible. Run frantically. Vincent stumbles, the glass drops and breaks.
  22.  Jane works the spell herself, knowing the risk it places on her unborn child. Both of them loaded into Anne’s laundry’s cart and hauled away. Chased. Cart breaks axle. Must flee bareback. Barely escape but catch up with English army.
  23.  Report situation to General Wellington.
  24. Jane miscarries. She is heartbroken and yet filled with relief that she will be able to do glamour again. The guilt at the relief is very strong and, as Vincent is trying to comfort her, she confesses it to him. He kisses her and reassures her that she will be his muse always, whether she is doing glamour or not. She takes some comfort in this and falls asleep in his arms.
  25. Back in England at dinner. Prince Regent says that he wants to hear a full report while the ladies withdraw. Vincent asks Jane to stay. “I have learned that it is to my folly to do anything without my wife.” Happily ever after.

A brief list of my events between now and the end of the year.

Want to see me Live! In Person! Here’s where I’ll be between now and the end of the year.
  • Chicago: Tues, Oct 21, 2014 – Story Club south Side, 8pm, Co-Prosperity Sphere, 3219-21 South Morgan Street, Chicago, IL 60607
  • Surrey, BC: Fri, Oct 24-Mon, Oct 27, 2014 – Surrey International Writers’ Conference, Sheraton Vancouver Guildford Hotel, 15269 104th Ave, Surrey, BC, Canada V3R 1N5
  • Chicago: Sat, Nov 1, 2014 – Chicago Humanities Festival: Chicks Dig Time Lords, 1:30pm, School of the Art Institute of Chicago Ballroom, 112 S. Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60603
  • Washington, DC: Tues, Nov 4-Mon, Nov 10, 2014 – World Fantasy Convention, Hyatt Regency Crystal City, 2799 Jefferson Davis Hwy, Arlington, VA 22202
  • Chicago: Tues, Dec 2, 2014 – Reading at Wit Rabbit, 7pm, Quenchers Saloon, 2401 North Western Ave, Chicago, IL 60647

Will I see any of you at any of these places?

Want to see the original outline for Shades of Milk and Honey?

I know a lot of you are getting ready to begin NaNoWriMo. I’ve mentioned before that I wrote Shades of Milk and Honey for it. I’ve also mentioned before that I had planned a completely different ending for the novel. COMPLETELY DIFFERENT. Since this was the first time I’d written to an outline, I stuck with it through the end of November, even though I had a sense that I wanted the novel to be doing different things.

At the end of the month, I read my 50k words, thought “Yep” and tossed 20k to get back to the point where I was still excited. In subsequant years, I go ahead and revise the outline and count those words towards my overall total. The moral of the story is that if your outline isn’t pleasing you, change the outline.

Edited to add: Bear in mind that this was my first outline for a novel. When writing now, my outlines are longer and, at times, more detailed.

And now… Here is the original outline for Shades of Milk and Honey.


Character List:

Miss Jane Wentworth – The oldest daughter of Mr. Charles Wentworth.
Miss Melody Wentworth – Her younger sister. A great beauty.
Mr. Charles Wentworth – The second son of an old British family, presiding over an entailed estate. Respectable, gentlemen farmer.
Mrs. Charles Wentworth – Much given to neuralgia and vapors.
Mr. Edmund Dunkirk – The eldest son of the Baronet of Downsferry. Stands to inherit a sizeable estate.
Miss Elizabeth (Beth) Dunkirk – The only daughter of the Baronet and sister of Mr. Dunkirk.
Mr. Christopher Dunkirk – The younger son of the Baronet of Downsferry
Lady FitzCameron of Banbree Manor- Dowager with an eligible daughter.
Miss Livia FitzCameron – Daughter, known to use magic to cover her horse teeth.
Mr. David Vincent – Artist who creates murals with magic for nobility. Currently in residence at Lady FitzCameron’s
Captain Harold Livingston – The nephew of the Lady FitzCameron

  1. Jane Wentworth has an attachment to Mr. Dunkirk, as does her sister Melody. Jane determines that she should suppress her own interests in him, so as not to hurt her sister’s chances.
  2. Jane comforts Melody.
  3. At nuncheon, the family learns that the FitzCamerons plan to hold a ball to welcome home their nephew, Mr. Harold Livingston, a Captain in the Navy.
  4. In which Jane and Melody go to town to pick fabric for new dresses for the ball. Mr. Dunkirk is there escorting his sister for the same purpose.
  5. Dunkirks come to call. Melody is jealous. Jane faints.
  6. At the ball, Jane sees Mr. David Vincent, an magic arts muralist (glamourist) who is creating a diorama for the FitzCameron’s dining room. Captain Livingston flirts with Melody.
  7. Berry-picking party. Jane is pressured into creating a pantomime with Mr. Vincent.
  8. Berry-picking party continued. After the pantomime, Mr. Vincent takes his leave. On the way home, Melody falls and sprains ankle.
  9. Livingston and Dunkirk come to call on Melody. Some posturing between them. Jane realizes that Melody has not sprained her ankle after all.
  10. At home. Jane evades Dunkirk, believing that he has come to call on Melody. Spends time with his sister instead. Mr. Vincent arrives at end of Chapter
  11. Mr. Vincent has been sent by Lady FitzCameron to amuse Melody. Jane goes to check on her mother. Captain Livingston arrives, both men flirt with Melody.
  12. Jane goes to Dunkirk who and spends time with Miss Dunkirk, who hints that she is in love. Receives invitation to FitzCameron dinner party.
  13. At dinner party, Jane is seated next to Mr. Dunkirk. After dinner, when the ladies retire to the drawing room, a chance comment, overheard, hurts Jane’s feelings. “Plain Jane? I should judge her fortunate if she were only plain.” She flees to the garden where–
  14. She seeks seclusion, but is almost caught (in an overwraught state) by unknown people, so she uses the invisibilty thingie to hide. Overhears lovers, uses invisibility thingie. Realizes that it is Captain Livingston, but not certain who the girl is. He is apologizing for paying attention to Miss FitzCameron, but must in order to keep their love secret until its proper time. Jane is appalled. Lady FitzCameron asks her and Mr. Vincent to do another tableau vivant for them.
  15. Mr. Vincent collapses from the effort of too much glamour. Jane, as the next most experienced glamourist, is pressed to service as his nurse until the surgeon arrives. Over the course of the next several days, Captain Livingston brings word as to Mr. Vincent’s recovery. Jane is praised as having saved his life by her quick thinking. She and her father arrange time for Captain Livingston to be alone with Melody, thinking he might propose.
  16. Melody and Jane escape Mrs. Marchand’s recital of her ailments and have a conversation in the garden, during which Melody admits to having a secret lover, but will not admit who.
  17. Lady FitzCameron, removes to Bath, taking Mr. Vincent with her. Several days later, Jane goes to Robinsford Abbey where Mr. Dunkirk says that he is worried about Beth and confesses her history to Jane. They agree that she probably had a one-sided attachment to Mr. Vincent and that the immediate danger is past now that he is gone. Mr. Dunkirk accidentally calls her by her maiden name, apologizing by saying, “Forgive me, Beth so often calls you by your Christian name that it has become familiar to me. I apologize deeply for the presumption.”
  18. Jane calls the next day, as she arranged with Mr. Dunkirk, but Beth is in deep melancholy. She soothes her.
  19. Beth awakes. More comfort. Mr. Dunkirk gives her a horse.
  20. They all go riding.
  21. .Jane talks to her father about Melody. They both agree to keep an eye on her.
  22. The Dunkirk parents arrive, and other guests for a house party to keep Beth amused.
  23. Soon hear that Captain Livingston has returned to Banbree Hall on business for Lady FitzCameron. Daily expect him to call.
  24. Jane wakes and hears Melody slip out. She has conversation in the garden with Captain Livingston. Jane captures their words, hardly knowing why, and ties the thread off in the garden, making a silent loop.
  25. Jane learns that Captain Livingston has asked for Miss Dunkirk’s hand and that she has accepted. Jane realizes that Livingston is making love to both Miss Dunkirk and Melody, and that Miss Dunkirk is the young woman that she saw him with. In turmoil, realizing that it will destroy the girl’s happiness, and also knowing that it is a conversation which she has no right to have possession of she asks Mr. Dunkirk to the garden to listen to the recording. Devastated, he determines to write to their father and tell him to deny permission for the union.
  26. Jane returns home to tell Melody of Miss Dunkirk’s engagement to Captain Livingston.
  27. Miss Dunkirk runs away.
  28. She is found.
  29. Recovering, Miss Dunkirk receives Jane and in passing mentions that she hopes to be well by the time of her brother’s marriage. “Oh, yes. They settled the engagement in Bath.” Scene where Jane congratulates Mr. Dunkirk on his good fortune. He is confused and then says, “Oh, my dear. My younger brother is marrying Miss FitzCameron.”
  30. She winds up with Dunkirk and her sister winds up with Vincent.

If you are interested, I’ve also posted the outline for Glamour in Glass, and the synopsis with which we sold it.

Seeking recommendations for writers and historians in Haiti, Jamaica, and Cozumel, Mexico.

I could use some help… When Writing Excuses goes on the cruise next year, we’re going to be docking in a couple of different countries and are hoping to line up authors and historians as guest speakers. I can research names, what is harder is finding out who is a good teacher. Particularly when I’m looking at a country where I don’t speak the language.

So… people of the internet.

Who would you recommend that we try to contact in the following locations?

  • Labedee, Haiti
  • Falmouth,Jamaica
  • Cozumel, Mexico

We’re looking for people who are able to unpack their craft and relay their theories to students. Not all writers can do that. If you have personal experience with a teacher, that would be fantastic. If not, someone whose writing you admire.

We’re also looking for historians who can give an insider view of local history.

In both cases, someone who is a geek and digs science fiction and fantasy would be a bonus. So… got any recommendations for us?

Marlowe, Sadie and the mystery of doors.

Sadie and MarloweMarlowe is very sweet and tractable, but not always the brightest cat. At the age of 15, he still has no figured out that you push doors open from one side and pull from the other. My other cats have all figured out that if you hook a claw under the door, you can pull it open.

So, this morning, Marlowe followed me into the bathroom, as he does. And the door shut, but didn’t latch behind him. He did his usual routine of standing on his hand legs and pawing at it to get it to open, which only makes it thump repeatedly against the frame.

And then the door magically opened.

Sadie, standing on the other side, pushed the door open and let him out. So… okay. Fair enough, Marlowe. When you bat the door long enough, it WILL open.

Sadie, by the way, is starting to reach for the doorknobs. It’s a good thing she doesn’t have opposable thumbs, is all I have to say.


SALE! “Like Native Things” to Asimov’s

I am very, very happy to have sold this short story to Asimov’s. I have to give a really big thank you to all the people who beta-read for it when it was titled, “Wary of Iguanas.” In particular I need to thank Daniel, who finally unlocked a problem with the story for me.

It’s like this… For months I’ve been trying to fix a problem with the story. There’s a type of power station that takes its energy from ocean waves, and I have one in the story. I kept getting comments like, “I don’t understand why the wave generator is such a big deal.” So I kept trying to tweak it to make the wave generator’s importance to my main character clear.

Then Daniel commented, “So to me, wave generators, are things found in amusement parks, and scientific reproductions, it would be pointless in open ocean.”

D’oh! All of those people thought it was a machine that created waves, not a power station.

God. I could fix that with three words. MONTHS of effort because of a definition.

Meanwhile… here’s a teaser.

The iguana was probably some kid out for a joyride. A wetware patch covered nearly its full back in a web of gold and silicone. Tilda opened the window and leaned out to pluck the iguana off the branch. Thank heavens animals with amateur mind-riders tended to have slow instincts.

She dropped the iguana into a carry-crate and threw a cloth over it. “No trespassing signs apply to anything with an intelligence on board, but I’ll drop your critter near a street sign.”

“Most people would euthanize the thing.” Helmut pulled a fresh wetware patch out of the fridge and opened the sterile packet. “You’re a softie.”

“It’s not the iguana’s fault his person is an idiot.” Still, given the nature of her contract with the government, it was better to be on the safe side. Tilda carried the crate past the row of benches that dominated the saddle room and set it outside in the hall. “Go ahead and start calibrating and I’ll join you in a minute.”

My Favorite Bit: Michael R. Underwood talks about THE YOUNGER GODS

My Favorite Bit iconMichael R. Underwood is joining us today with his novel The Younger Gods. Here’s the publisher’s description.

The first in a new series from the author of Geekomancy (pop culture urban fantasy) and Shield and Crocus (New Weird superhero fantasy).

Jacob Greene was a sweet boy raised by a loving, tight-knit family…of cultists. He always obeyed, and was so trusted by them that he was the one they sent out on their monthly supply run (food, medicine, pig fetuses, etc.).

Finding himself betrayed by them, he flees the family’s sequestered compound and enters the true unknown: college in New York City. It’s a very foreign place, the normal world and St. Mark’s University. But Jacob’s looking for a purpose in life, a way to understand people, and a future that breaks from his less-than-perfect past. However, when his estranged sister arrives in town to kick off the apocalypse, Jacob realizes that if he doesn’t gather allies and stop the family’s prophecy of destruction from coming true, nobody else will…

What’s Michael’s favorite bit?

The Younger Gods-c1 (1) (1)


The Younger Gods is a supernatural thriller that combines elements of Greco-Roman Mythology, Abrahamic Cosmogonies, Lovecraftian Cosmic Horror, urban legends, and other world folkloric traditions, to create a single, integrated magical world, where the white sheep from a monstrous family has to stop his sister from ending the world. That’s My Favorite Bit about the novel – the conceptual bricolage that forms the underpinnings of the world and the impetus for the story.

Let’s unpack that a bit. When I was in undergrad, I came up with the whacky idea to create my own major. I wanted to combine elements from Creative Writing, Classics, Folklore, Anthropology, and more to make a degree in Creative Mythology. I got leave to study mythologies, cosmogonies, and hero tales from around the world, trying to find commonalities and to learn ancient storytelling lessons from world cultures.

Add a M.A. in Folklore Studies on top of that, and it’s almost inevitable that I would end up writing a novel like The Younger Gods, stitching together various traditions to form a new but familiar cosmology for a contemporary fantasy series.

The Younger Gods came out of a smaller idea – the white sheep in a family of apocalyptic cultists. When I started moving forward with the idea for the novel, I had to fill out the background. Who did Jake’s family worship? What kind of apocalypse were they trying to usher in? And to understand an apocalypse, the ending, you have to understand the beginning, aka the cosmogony. It was then that I put my comparative mythology hat on in a big way, stitching together the idea of succession myths (where the younger generation of gods overthrow their parents), the story of the Garden, as well as a war between different sub-sets of divine beings (Aesir vs. Vanir, Gods vs. Titans, Angels vs. Demons, etc.), and the Lovecraftian idea of sleeping gods who will destroy the world when they finally awaken.

Add that all together and you get the cosmology of The Younger Gods, with my hero, Jacob Greene, placed smack dab right in the middle of it all, hailed as being part of the Greene family prophecy that will awaken the Younger Gods and bring about the end of the world.

Small problem – Jake doesn’t want the world to end. And roll tape. One totally overwhelmed sorcerer caught in the middle of a complicated cosmology.

That’s My Favorite Bit.







Michael R. Underwood is the author of Geekomancy, Celebromancy, Attack the GeekShield and Crocus, and The Younger Gods. By day, he’s the North American Sales & Marketing Manager for Angry Robot Books. Mike grew up devouring stories in all forms, from comics to video games, tabletop RPGs, movies, and books.

Mike lives in Baltimore with his fiancée. He is also a co-host on the Hugo-nominated Skiffy and Fanty Show. In his rapidly vanishing free time, Mike studies historical martial arts and makes homemade pizza.


Pictorial evidence of the difference three months can make in the life of a cat.

This is Sadie when we brought her home on June 27th. She’d been living on the street before being taken in by CARF. Her fur was coarse and had no undercoat at all.Meet Nellie, our new kitteh. Marlowe hasn't met her yet, but they've sniffed at each other under the door.

This is Sadie on October 10th. While she’s put on a little weight, going from seven pounds to nine, most of what you’re seeing is the recovery of her fur. She’s so soft that it’s like petting a warm cloud. And she purrs now. She didn’t when we got her.

Sadie put on her winter coat while 8 was away.

Why is the Writing Excuses “Out of Excuses Retreat and Workshop” now on a boat?

Well, for the first two years, we hosted it at my parents’ home in Tennessee. The location had a lot of things going for it, but we had to limit attendance to 24 people because of the size of the venue. This meant a lot of stress for people as they tried to register for those few slots. We sold out in less than three minutes last time.

So we wanted a bigger venue, but we also wanted to address the other things that keep people from being able to attend workshops. One of those is that people get limited vacation time, and taking a week off to be away from family is hard.

Being on the ship means that you can bring your family with you. We have a dedicated space for the seminars, but the rest of the ship is designed for vacations. There’s even a complimentary Adventure Ocean® Youth Program, so your kids can have adventure while you’re improving your writing. There’s a discounted rate for family members, and while all ages are welcome on the ship, we particularly want to encourage young writers. So anyone between the ages of 12-17 can attend the seminars at the family rate, instead of paying full price.

One of the things that’s hardest about being a professional writer is learning to balance family and fiction. It only makes sense for us to help that balance from the get-go.

There’s a ton of other reasons to be on the ship. Like… the Caribbean.

For those of you who haven’t cruised before, allow me to say that I poo-pooed the idea before I started going on the Steampunk Cruises. The ship we’re on is like a giant floating resort, and every day we have a different tropical destination outside our door. So we’ll have instruction, time to write, inspiration, and time to unwind.

You can read all about it at the registration page for the 2015 Out of Excuses Workshop and Retreat for, but if you have any other questions, ask away.

Where I’ve been for the past month

So, for those of you wondering where I’ve been the past two weeks, I will tell you.

First, I went to NYC and read at KGB Fantastic Fiction with Leanna Renee Hieber. You can listen to our reading on the Fantastic Fiction at KGB website. And yes, Leanna and I both dressed for the event. I write novels set in the Regency, she’s writing Victoriana. I start at about 5:00. I read from the first chapter for Of Noble Family and the first chapter of Ghost Talkers.


Second, I went the Oregon Regency Society Retreat at the Oregon Caves, where I spent four days in the early 1800s.The last day of the Oregon Regency Society retreat. Heading back to the 21st century.

Third: I went to Chattanooga, where we threw the Out of Excuses Writing Workshop and Retreat for 24 students. It was an amazing and intensive week.

These are my notes from my clad on outlining. It's all clear now, right? #Wxr14

I’m home until Monday, when I’m off to Michigan to record an audio book, but that’s only three days so it almost feels like a it doesn’t count.



My Favorite Bit: Lesley Smith talks about THE CHANGING OF THE SUN

My Favorite Bit iconLesley Smith is joining us today with her novel The Changing of the Sun. Here’s the publisher’s description.

The world is shifting and only the blind have eyes to see it.

In a seaside village, a woman has come back from the dead, the only survivor of a tsunami which wiped out her clan. When she speaks, it is of things no Kashinai should know. She says danger is coming and only an Oracle can save them…one who has not yet been called.

In Aiaea, a city infected by fear, a priestess finds herself blind and afraid. Denied her mantle, Saiara is imprisoned by the woman who should have been her teacher. What Saiara has seen cannot be stopped and unless she acts, an entire world and its people will burn.

Their only safety lies in sacred caverns far to the north, but first Saiara must escape captivity with only the aid of a former High Oracle, a healer, a bondservant, and a Seaborn woman who is indwelt by the goddess of death.

Oracle and indwelt, healer and nomad, child and adult…the Changing of the Sun is coming. Will they be ready? Will you?

The Changing of the Sun is the first installment of a breath-taking trilogy that spans lifetimes and ages from veteran journalist turned author Lesley Smith.

What’s Lesley’s favorite bit?



Finding your favourite bit of your debut novel is hard. I don’t write in order so it took me a while to really look at the final narrative and fine one thread I truly loved. Of course, once I saw it, it was completely obvious. It’s a minor arc belonging to a character called Nahris. She’s a bondservant, an indentured slave to a minor merchant, who escapes her master to join the final waves of the Great Exodus on a world about to be ravaged by a cataclysmic solar storm.

In February, as I was finishing up the final draft of The Changing of the Sun, I did a Kickstarter campaign to raise the funds to pay for the e-book costs, including editing and a trilogy’s worth of beautiful covers by Jason Gurley. Doing this took a lot of work and effort, as well as a lot of soul-searching on the nature of crowd-funding and a desire to be open and honest as possible. I’m retired, blind and living on a very low income so a funded Kickstarter meant I’d able to publish the book in six months rather than a year. Anyway, I accrued some amazing backers—sixty two of them in fact—and most of them I don’t know. The whole thing was a rollercoaster of ecstatic and terrifying emotions which reminded me the world is filled with amazing people, many of whom I’m now privileged to know.

The Sunday the campaign funded, I spent the day hammering the net and raised the last £440 ($725) I needed in twelve hours. A family member, lacking understanding of the modern world and the concept of crowdfunding, had just accused me of begging for money and I hadn’t taken it very well.

My one fault is that, if someone tells me I can’t do something, then I do it just to spite them. The same applies when someone tells me I’m doing it wrong; I will do things right and I will do them well. Because I can, because I’m stubborn and it got me through uni, it allowed me to survive being a journalist and now it just keeps me semi-sane.

I hit Twitter and Facebook and I raised the money. Changing funded that evening and I promised whomever pushed me over the £1250 funding goal would get a bonus Tuckerisation. A friend of mine, whom I don’t see nearly enough of, raised her pledge not once but twice. She didn’t want the fictionalisation but she did want me to succeed.

Changing is out because of her and the people like her. That’s where Nahris came from, originally she was a placeholder character with a name which sounded good as it rolled across my tongue. Through my friend’s selflessness, she allowed me the freedom to follow Nahris’ journey, I wanted her to have a micro-arc but for it to still be important. To matter in the narrative, even though she’s not a seer or anyone special, she’s just a servant who decided to escape and could smell doom on the air.

We meet Nahris over half way through the story and Saiara has quit the city with her band of faithful followers. I know that when decisions are made, when exoduses happen, not everyone agrees or chooses to leave. Rather than Nahris’ simply staying (I left that dubious honour to Jashri, the former High Oracle who next life will be haunted by screams and water) I wondered what would happen if the last wave got lost and took the wrong road?

What if, rather than going right and following Saiara’s caravan through the desert on the Oasis Road, they instead went left and chose the River Road? Nahris became my viewpoint character for a tragedy of heart-rending proportions and while her part in the story is brief but I actually didn’t know how her arc was going to end. When it finished, her demise snuck up on me so quickly, I cried.

She was marked out from the start as a dead girl walking, she was never going to survive but her death surprised me. It also broke my heart.

Nahris followed people who wanted to live but instead made a stupid mistake and stuck with them because that’s what we all do, we cling to our own and hope it’s going to be okay. The herd mentality offers safety but also invites doom, a scant chapter’s worth of misery and fleeting thoughts as a girl makes the wrong choice for the right reasons. Not everyone gets to live, not in any story and that’s why this is my favourite bit of The Changing of the Sun.


Lesley’s official site





Lesley Smith worked as a journalist for nearly a decade before reinventing herself as an author of science fiction and fantasy. She lives in a quaint Norfolk town with three cats and her guide dog, Unis.

She is currently crowdfunding the sequel, The Parting of the Waters, and is asking everyone—rather than buying her book on Amazon—to pledge to her Kickstarter instead and get a signed paperback or e-copy that way.

My Favorite Bit: Alma Alexander talks about RANDOM

My Favorite Bit iconAlma Alexander is joining us today to talk about her novel Random. Here’s the publisher’s description.

My name is Jazz Marsh.

I am a Random Were, which means I am a Were of no fixed form – like all Random Were, my family can become any warm-blooded creature which is the last thing they see before they Turn. For me, when my time came, that meant… trouble.

I was quite young when I lost my older sister, Celia, and my family never spoke about her. It was only when I found the secret diaries that she had left behind that I began to discover the truth behind her life and her death.

I never understood what drove my moody and dangerous older brother until I began to get an inkling about his part in Celia’s death… and until, driven to the edge of patience and understanding, he finally had to face his own Turn problems… and disastrously took matters into his own hands.

One thing is clear.

Everything I thought I knew about Were-kind was wrong.


What’s Alma’s favorite bit?



I have a bad habit of riding storyhorses without tack – that is to
say, I frequently find myself setting out to write a short story but
before I know it I’m 20,000 words in, clinging on for dear life, as
the thing simply decides it wants to be a novel and sweeps me right up
with it.

The tale that became the Were Chronicles started out in exactly that
way – it began as a short story slated for a specific themed anthology
(about Were critters), and it began ‘funny’. It started out as a
humorous little tale. Honestly. And then it did the *thing*, and by
the time I was hitting 5000 words I realised I hadn’t said hello yet
properly and this thing – much darker and more vivid now than  what I
had started to write –  just would NOT be stuffed into a short story.
It wanted to be a novel. And then, in short order, as the idea evolved
and grew like a mushroom in a nice cool dark place, not one but THREE
novels. And off we went.

I just finished writing book three in the series. The Were Chronicles,
all three of them, are possibly the best thing I’ve ever written, with
some of the best characters who ever walked my stories. And you know
what the best bit is? That I finally did a full circle and went back
and used the “wasted” education – I hold a MSc in Molecular Biology,
which I’ve barely used as and of itself,  and here I was, writing
fiction which returned to my scientist days and carved out a
magnificent storyline from REAL SCIENCE, stuff that could indeed be a
Real Thing (TM) in our own world, if our own world was just a TOUCH
more weird and wonderful than it truly is.

I delved into and created a solid  scientific background for the Were
kind. Their genetics. Their physiology. And there they both are, the
two great passions of my life, yoked up together, pulling in tandem,
making each other better.

Sometimes life just ties a bow on a gift and presents it to you. These
books… were a gift.

There are some excerpts online right now, at
– one from “Random”, book 1 in the Were Chronicles, due out in late
October, and a sneak-peek excerpt from book 2, “Wolf” which is to
follow soon. They’re too long to include here – but do swing by and
take a look at them there. Enjoy. (And you have to read the rest of
the book(s) for the deeper scientific details…)


Alma Alexander
Buy the book


Alma Alexander is an internationally published novelist and short
story writer who has been wrangling words for a living for over 15
years. Readers and reviewers have compared her work to Amy Tan, Haruki
Murakami, J K Rowling, Octavia Butler… at the same time as insisting
that she is wholly original and unique and only, ever, herself. She
shares her life between the cedar woods of the Pacific Northwest
(where she lives with her husband and two cats) and the wonderful
worlds of her own imagination. More about her at

My Favorite Bit: Katharine Eliska Kimbriel talks about SPIRAL PATH

My Favorite Bit iconKatharine Eliska Kimbriel is joining us today with her novel Spiral Path. Here’s the publisher’s description.

“The world is woven of secrets.”

Ritual magic mixes dangerously with wild magic. Yet Alfreda Sorensson’s talent has grown until she becomes a target for worldly and unworldly powers. Now, to save her soul, she must leave her pioneer home in the Michigan Territory to take refuge at an elite New York school, where her wild magic places her in direct conflict with the ritual taught to young Americans and Europeans.

Alfreda suspects that half the professors may not be human at Windward Academy. It’s a curious place, a last chance for students who can’t control their powers, and a place where everything is a test, in one way or another.

At first Alfreda thinks her greatest challenge will be mastering ritual. Then she learns that traitors have infiltrated the school–and the new nation. War looms between the United States and England, and Alfreda answers the call. Only after she spies her way into an enemy magician’s estate does she learn the true challenge of her own power–

Because when dark magic finds her, she’s utterly on her own.

What’s Katharine’s favorite bit?



What happens when your life changes in the course of a single night? When the world splits open and reveals something so dangerous, that the people who love you immediately take action to protect you from it?

This is where Spiral Path, the third book in the Night Calls saga, begins.  Thirteen year old Alfreda Sorensson lives in an alternative pioneer America right on the cusp of the War of 1812. There are strong practitioners—magic users who are also gifted with knowledge of herbs and healing—who protect the communities out in the territories.  An old soul, Allie has bloomed into a potential power, and that is attracting people—and entities—who would like to use her.  Although she has learned the first notes of her family’s dark legacy, Wild Magic, she knows no ritual magic.

Ritual magic may be the key to her survival.

Alfreda is packed off to Windward Academy, where her mother’s elusive cousin Esme, the wizard of Manhattan, is training the loose cannons of this generation’s magical elite. But Windward is nothing like Allie imagined, and nothing is quite what it seems.  The powerful students are least in sight, the fringe students mostly ignore her, and her professors are by turns distant and too friendly—and probably not human.

She’s there to learn ritual magic, and finally we get to the scene that may be the heart of the book, one of the scenes I return to when I look for the meaning of Spiral Path.  Allie meets the rituals teacher, an arrogant young man of great power and seemingly little empathy.  He wants to know if Allie has any ritual training at all—he was told she did not, but she can see that there is something printed in her rituals book.  It should be blank to her until she casts her first spell.

However, Alfreda has had the first great lesson of a practitioner—she has called Death and introduced herself to him. More…Death knows Allie quite well, as he taught her the core of Wild Magic in Kindred Rites.

To gauge her skill, Professor Tonneman tells her to summon Death.

You never summon Death unless you have a question only Death can answer.

Here is where everything begins to go wrong, or right, depending on your point of view. Because the ritual teacher always summons obstacles to that attempt to demonstrate ritual potential. And Alfreda is a pioneer, a child raised first to survival and then to absorb as much civilization as her family could tote along to their new world.  She’s smart, stubborn, and insanely curious—and as time goes on, she learns more and more about when to hang onto her polish of manners, and when to cast it off again.

For a moment I could not remember which way was east, and panic froze me. Then I remembered, and sprang over to the eastern side, to slice Raphael’s sigil into the space between the lines. The archangel who is the great healer first, who holds the trumpet of the Apocalypse, Raphael’s name was one I knew as well as my own. Then the warrior general Michael for the south—

Something pale and green flashed. I leapt away from it, careful to remain in the circle. Dropping the athame into the goblet, I grabbed one of the longest logs, whirled and slashed at the dripping, glowing thing—arm. The blow connected with a satisfying, terrifying thud and crunch.

Oh, Lady, it’s real, it’s real, it’s real

She’s going to summon Death, all right.

Most of us in the Western world are civilized by our families. Allie is thrust into the game of new cultures and rules even as she learns that a sharp young woman with power needs to know when, and how, to thump things that go bump in the night.

I thank her for the lesson, because my family did too good a job teaching me to follow convention.  There is a time and place for obedience, and I hope Allie’s adventures remind readers that being good people who look out for themselves and others does not always mean following the rules.

She’s only been at Windward for seven days, and she’s opened more than a few windows in some lives—and had a few doors opened for her. I can’t wait to see what she gets up to next.



Book View Cafe


KINDRED RITES (Night Calls 2)

Book View Cafe


SPIRAL PATH (Night Calls 3)

Book View Cafe



Katharine Eliska Kimbriel reinvents herself every decade or so.  The one constant she has reached for in life is telling stories.  “I’m interested in how people respond to choice.  What is the metaphor for power, for choice? In SF it tends to be technology (good, bad and balanced) while in Fantasy the metaphor is magic – who has it, who wants or does not want it, what is done with it, and who/what the person or culture is after the dust has settled. A second metaphor, both grace note and foundation, is the need for and art of healing.  Forthcoming stories will talk about new things that I’ve learned, and still hope to learn … with grace notes about betrayal, forgiveness, healing and second chances.”  A Campbell Award nominee.

My Favorite Bit: Dru Pagliassotti talks about CLOCKWORK SECRETS: HEAVY FIRE

My Favorite Bit iconDru Pagliassotti is joining us today with her novel Clockwork Secrets: Heavy Fire. Here’s the publisher’s description.

The final book in the Clockwork Heart trilogy.

Framed for regicide and trapped on a ship crippled by enemy fire, Taya and Ondinium’s diplomatic contingent seem helpless to prevent the well-engineered war their enemies have put into motion. While Alzanan and Demican armies march across Ondinium’s borders, Taya and her husband fight airborne battles from the tropical islands of the Cabisi Thassalocracy to the war-ravaged mountains of Alzana. When Taya falls into her enemy’s hands, she fears that nobody will be able to save Ondinium from the devastating weapon about to be plunged into its mechanically ticking heart.

Books in the Trilogy:

Clockwork Heart
Clockwork Lies: Iron Wind
Clockwork Secrets: Heavy Fire

What’s Dru’s favorite bit?

Clockwork Secrets Cover


My contract for Clockwork Secrets: Heavy Fire limited me to 100,000-110,000 words, which I found very constraining. Since I had to cut some of the things I found most delightful, I’m glad to have this opportunity to write a little more about the Cabisi Thassalocracy, which main character Taya talks about in Clockwork Heart and finally visits in the new book, Clockwork Secrets. So here it is: more detail describing the new culture of the Cabisi Thassalocracy. These details are My Favorite Bit.

One thing readers may find interesting is that Cabisi speak in the present tense, which led to some rather oddly phrased sentences in the novel and many grammar-geeky internal debates (“would it be acceptable to use past-tense verbs to form present-tense conditional statements?”). I did my best to keep the Cabisi grammar consistent; please don’t tell me where I slipped up!

Which comes first, language or culture? I wanted to depict the Cabisi culture as accommodating and appreciating what it is and has now … as opposed to Ondinium (where Taya is from), which clings to its imperial past while constantly striving for a “better” (more controlled) future.

To that end, Cabiel is a sociocratie, with no heritable rank or caste. Communities nominate justiciars from their own membership to interpret the Code. What this means is that the Cabisi make decisions by consent, informed by an ancient code of law that includes rules for judicial dueling. On the other hand, Ondinium rules from the top down, and it values a level of efficiency, conformity, and uniformity impossible to attain under the Cabisi system. It’s a good thing Cabisi don’t travel to Ondinum very often; they’d find it oppressively restrictive.

Another image that I wanted to share with readers was that of the outer gallery of the Impeccable Justiciary’s meeting hall, which was inspired by Sanj?sangen-d? in Kyoto. It is a long hall containing a thousand statues of Kannon covered in gold leaf. The Cabisi deity portrayed by the statues, The Dancer, was inspired by the androgynous form of Ardhanarishvara, half Shiva and half Parvati, except that instead of being split neatly down the middle, the Dancer is depicted as either hermaphroditic or asexual. Like Shiva in his Nataraja aspect, the Dancer both creates and destroys. The Cabisi, living on tropical islands, accept the balance of the ebb and flow of life, whereas the Ondiniums and their deity, the Lady of the Forge, living in a chilly mountain range, constantly strive to construct better and stronger defenses against loss and danger.

The Cabisi consider aesthetics an important cultural value and, appreciating the bright flowers and birds around them, are especially fond of using color in their architecture and clothing. Taya’s husband, Cristof, argues that Cabisi artisanry isn’t cost-effective, but the Cabisi would never buy an unadorned rifle or bare-bones analytical engine. Taya’s own Ondinium is gray and bare by comparison

The kattaka’s whip sword is based on the urumi; if you want to see some thrilling martial arts, look up “urumi” or “kalarippayattu” on YouTube. I really, really, really wanted to write a scene in which Jinian uses the sword in combat, but for various reasons it never worked out; her nearly single-handed attack on the Indomitable occurred off-screen, although I promise it was epic.

Speaking of weapons, the Cabisi may live in a beautiful tropical setting, but an island nation faces many threats. The Cabisi believe that their culture of dueling keeps them independent; both as individuals and as a nation. Ondinium takes the opposite view, strictly controlling weapons to keep the peace.


The Cabisi Thalassocracy was intended to be an alternative to smoky, overbuilt Ondinium, that gritty urban setting so common in steampunk. My goal was to link its geography and climate with its people’s language and culture in a believable manner and show that although it faces many of the same problems as Ondinium, its very different situation has led it to solve those problems in very different ways. I’m glad I was given this chance to point that out more clearly here, and I hope you enjoy visiting Cabiel in Clockwork Secrets!






As a child I discovered that I was happier alone than with others. Words were my best friends, and the secluded laboratory-fortress in which I exercised my crazed imagination was constructed of typewriter keys, paper, and ink. Within its protective walls I created and destroyed individuals, civilizations, and entire worlds for my personal pleasure — a practice I’ve learned to share with others as a tabletop game master and a published writer. But on the whole, I’m afraid that I’m still more comfortable alone with the written word … and maybe a reptile or two.

I can be found on all those online places you’d expect (Website, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads) and can be emailed at my name at gmail dot com.