Charlatan’s Magic: Cover Art Reveal


I wanted the cover of this book to be dark and dirty, like the cobbled streets of Rathlera late at night. The shadowy figure of Ming Loo was always the right choice for me as far as who to feature. It isn’t simply because he is the titular charlatan. His plotting is what drives the other characters to change themselves, for better or worse.

“Do you believe in magic?”

He offers up the amulet. It looks tempting.

Please share feedback at #CharlatansMagic or in the comments below.


Charlatan’s Magic is available April 1!
The perfect read for April Fools.

Preorder now at Amazon and get the ebook for only $0.99


The Pen, Mightier Than the Keyboard?

penThis article by Holly Lisle titled How to Revise a Novel is an excellent read. There are lots of good ideas and it’s well worth your time. I would like to focus on one particular part of her process that is entirely alien to me. Ms. Lisle makes prodigious use of both pen and paper.

I have written a few manuscripts with, admittedly, much revision still left to do. However, in the process I have developed thus far, I do not use any kind of hard copy revision. To me the method is antiquated. It robs a writer of the benefits that technology has given us. Is there merit to what Ms. Lisle says about being able to catch things in print that you cannot on a screen?

Admittedly, I have issues that might not assail most writers. My eyesight is extremely poor. The ability to increase font size when reading is doubtless not as important to you as it is to me, but there are a number of other advantages that we all benefit from. Why put a mark on a page to remind you of a change you will make later, when you can simply make that change right then and there? Why carry around a ream of paper when your documents can be accessed from anywhere on any device at any time?

I use Google drive when making revisions. I have a long commute to work in the mornings on the train. I could use that time to mark up a manuscript but then I would have to find time to sit down and make those changes at some point. Revision on the go is the name of the game. Another benefit to revising electronically with Drive is that I can share documents with my beta readers. I can leave comments. They can leave comments. Whether it’s simple spelling errors or huge continuity issues, everyone can include their thoughts at their own pace. When I’m ready to deal with them, I can open up my document, sift through the comments and make immediate alterations. Now that’s collaboration.

Some might argue that there are drawbacks to such immediacy. Can it lead to over-revising? When you can change things on a whim, it might lead to a lot of fiddling where it may not be necessary to fiddle. We all know that the manuscript is never really satisfactory. You need to be careful not to play with it endlessly. There is a certain finality to the printed word that can help avoid this. Even when you know you can change it later, you will probably be more selective about what you alter. It forces you to see that many of your ideas were good as is. Add this to Ms. Lisle’s assertion that some mistakes are more easily seen on the page, and one can see where pen and paper might come in handy.

If you are one of those who revises the old-fashioned way, I’m sure you have a few other good reasons. I would love to hear them. If it’s about the way it has always been done, however, I feel the benefits of technology are too great to put aside simply for the sake of nostalgia.

Now, revision aside, can you believe there are actually some crazies out there hand-writing their first drafts in notebooks? Wow. I’m sure you folks have your reasons. I’ll leave you to them but if you start using a quill and an ink well, I’m going to raise an eyebrow.

Critique My New Cover Art

imageIn anticipation of launching Wind Rider in print, I have created a new cover image. My first image struck me as cartoonish once I starred pruning it out and looking at proofs . This time I chose to go with an image I created originally for the header of my website.

This is an image of  pyramid cave, one of the red smoke seeps in the book. It started as a base photo of a cave mouth. The result came many many layers later.

My concern is that I have been too close to it. So I want you to tell me your thoughts. What do you think of the art? What does it lead you to expect inside the book?

Washer Woman (The Bean Nighe)

baen-nighePlease enjoy this dark tale and share it with others.

The blade is not mine.

Or it was not. I have taken it so now it is mine as much as my worn shoes, battered hat and thread-bare coat, which I draw more tightly over my prize as I creep beyond the edge of town.

Never have I held something so fine, encrusted with gems, hilt and sheath. A blade the length of my hand, of a silver that casts back the moonlight as I pause to admire it.

A horse whinnies from back beyond the last lamp lining the road out of town. Ahead of me the cobbles turn to ruts along the hillside that wander into the woods.

I do not want to enter the woods, no more than I want to face my pursuers. The trees are black in the night. They reach for me as I shuffle closer. I know dawn will come soon. The faintest touch of silver would banish the demons. But I dare not linger and risk meeting the owner of the blade.

I could not hope to explain my hunger. He would only ask why I had not taken the bread instead. I cannot puzzle out an answer even for myself. I had entered the inn with no money, only a hope for some pity. Instead, I endured glares from the start. My filthy shirt, once clean and white, was enough to earn their reproach. I might once have felt the same…before I was starving.

I saw the bread on the nearest table, the steam nearly tickled my nose. I reached for the loaf even as my eyes alighted on the blade lying beside it. Such a precious thing with which to slice bread.

Rather than the heat of the crust beneath my palm, I felt the studded handle. Then I fled. Amidst angry shouts, I fled like a thief.

My fingers close about the sheath now. I am a thief. No matter the reason. But the bread would have tasted so good. At least the proof of my crime would hide safe in my belly.

I hear the horse again and the yowl of a dog, but fortune is with me. Even as the first wet leaves brush my skin, I can see a sliver of light along the horizon. My heart beats more freely as I make for the stream. Birdsong quiets the buzzing of night insects. I can almost hear the gurgle of water. Then I see it tumbling over flat stones. I could cross it with a few quick hops, barely wetting my shoes. But I will follow it downstream instead, after I rinse the sweat and fear from my neck.

I take only one more step. I see her before I can take another. she stands, bent over in the stream. She does not see me.

How swiftly my new-found sense of peace flies away. I cannot be seen. This washer woman could sing a song of a lone traveler through the woods.

I sink back into the brush, staring at the shift that covers her crooked back. she is old. Her hair falls in white sheets over her shoulders and hides the curve of her face.

I must sneak away. I am no brute to harm an old woman.

Her work is harsh for she beats at the cloth on the stone, oblivious of my presence. She plunges it into the flow, shaking it about like a dog with its teeth on a rabbit’s neck. She draws it out, heavy with water, and holds it up to inspect.

The sleeves of her shift slide down in a wet bunch around her arms as she holds them aloft. They are strong and firm. Not bony as I would think. And now that she stands upright in the stream, the curve of her back appears natural and even youthful.

I do not know what other garments lay in the basket perched on the stone beside her, but she has done a fine job with the shirt she holds. Much like my own rag, but a brilliant white. Perhaps the one I wear now was once as white, but it has been ages since I had another to replace it.

The washer woman is not as satisfied with her work as I am. I see her shake her white locks in distaste before she plunges the cloth again.

I glance down at my own shabby garments. What will she think of me if she sees me? How many times would she want to dunk me into the water before she felt sure that I was clean?

But she cannot see me. She works diligently. She has no attention to spare for me. I can slip away easily…yet I have not done so. I stand here still watching her work. She scrubs at the cloth for a long time under the rushing water. She moves with a grace that hardly befits her mundane task.

I am moving now, but not into the brush that would hide her from my view. Instead I advance on the stream. The shirt she draws out is so exceedingly bright it hurts my eyes in the new-morning light.

Still she shakes her head. I can see no flaw in her work. I nearly say so before I stop myself from calling out. Now she turns the shirt in her hands to inspect the front.

I stop. She stands a mere ten yards away, calf deep in the stream. Now I see the spot she works so hard to remove. The front of this shirt is not so clean.

A broad swath of red blooms on the breast and runs down to trickle into the water from the hem. My eyes go wide at the sight. It runs in thick rivulets, undiluted by the wash of the stream. It is as if the shirt bleeds itself even now.

A cry escapes my lips unbidden. I think perhaps she has sliced her hand on a sharp stone. My brain needs some explanation. But the horror of it is too clear to me even now, just before she turns at the sound of my cry.

What do I expect to see? I cannot fathom. An old crone? a beautiful, young maid? Anything but this. Anything but the fiend that holds me locked in place with its gaze.

I do not trust the proof of my own eyes, for the flesh of her face appears to hang limp from her skull, caked with rot. a pigish nose leaks mucous from one gaping nostril. But it is the glare from those sockets of dead black that freeze me. They suck away all the light and relief that morning had given me.

I believe the washer woman smiles at me now. I can only imagine the hellish look is a grin. Her ragged lips part to reveal one crooked, yellow fang. she beckons to me as she holds out the bloody shirt for me to take.

I recoil from her groping. she is only inches from me. How did I get so close? I did not feel the water seeping into my shoes before now. But the cold of it wakes me.

I know that I am running. I can barely feel the branches slapping and cutting slashes across my face. I stumble on a root and there is blood in my eyes. I drag myself from the ground, unsure how I lost my feet. I thought that once I fled I would be spared her gaze but it has eaten its way into the back of my eyes.

An unfamiliar weight drags at my belt as I run. Only now do I remember the dagger. I might have used it on the woman. But what can earthly steel do to the likes of that? I pull the blade from my belt anyway, feeling the hilt, slick in my sweaty palm.

She is behind me now. I know this. I do not need to look, only run. Run and do not ever stop. I see nothing before me, as if the daylight is truly gone from the woods and I am trapped in the dark again. But I do not care about that anymore. I do not fear it. Only her.

Something heavy knocks me to the earth, takes the wind out of my lungs. I look up from where I lay and see open sky above me. The trees have broken apart to form a clearing. I lie prone at its edge, thick blades of grass poking at the back of my neck. A face appears above me, and a massive hand. It clutches at the folds of my collar and drags me to my feet.

They stand in a bunch before me. Three men. One with his fist at my throat. One as large and ugly as the first with a pair of horses in tow. The third, a squat man with an exceedingly fleshy face. This man holds the reins of a finer horse and a black dog snarls at his heel. I know his face well. I have been fleeing from it all night.

Our eyes are locked, his and mine. Then he sees the blade in my hand. A smile forms on his lips and it fills me with a new dread.

“That belongs to me.” His words come out quiet and cold.

I can only nod.

He glares at me still, taking his time. His dog wants to rush forward and tear at me, but the man holds it back. He advances on me slowly and takes the blade before it falls from my limp hand. He studies it carefully, ensuring that his property is unharmed. He slides it free of the sheath and tests the edge on his thumb.

I cannot move. I cannot speak. I cannot turn my eyes away though I know the hideous washer woman is bearing down on us all even now.

“Why did you take it?” The man speaks as if he does not much care what my answer will be.

I give him one anyway. With what little voice remains to me, I respond.

“I was hungry, starving.” Even to me the thin excuse seems paltry. It brings a chuckle to his fleshy face.

“Hungry? You cannot eat this. If you were hungry you might have taken my bread.” He casts his eyes about and takes in the trees surrounding us. “I would not have followed you all the way out here just for bread.”

Again I can do nothing but nod.

“Are you still hungry?”

I hardly notice the dull ache in my gut. It seems a tiny thing compared with these men who stand before me, and the thing that stalks us from behind.

“If you are still hungry I can fill your belly for you.” He slides his blade forward and lets it slip beneath my coat. His expression does not change.

The keen steel parts the worn cloth of my shirt, parts the flesh beneath, glides between my ribs and fills me with a terrible heat.

His expression does not change. He pulls his prize free and wipes it clean on my coat before his man lets me fall to the earth. My legs do nothing for me. My eyes already see only a dim version of the world around me. I cannot cry out for the blood welling up in my throat. If I could then I would. For now I know she will have me.

The last of the light fades from my vision and still I cannot scream. I have no voice, no ears, no eyes. Yet I know that she has me, like a dog with its teeth on a rabbit’s neck. She wonders how much effort it will take to wash me clean. I wonder too.


Like this story? Give my novels a read.

Nails on a chalkboard

Image Credit: Dolmansaxlil

We all get this feeling. Just looking at the picture starts a shiver going down my spine. But it’s not just the chalkboard that does it. It’s different for everyone, those things that grate on our nerves. For me it’s the shrill and uncontrolled laughter of pre-teen girls. Live with a few of them and you’ll quickly see what I’m talking about. For others it could be crinkling foil, or the squeal of bad brakes. And it isn’t just sounds. Have you ever bitten down on your fork or spoon in just the right way? Yeesh!

Perhaps you could share some examples that make you want to scream, but my real question is this. Can one invoke that sensation with the written word? You might ask why. Who wants to read something  like that? The answer is that we all do. Good writing takes you out of your comfort zone. It is useful to be able to bring about negative feelings in the reader, if only to offer a counterpoint to the elation you plan to offer as the payoff. I’m not  just talking about discomfort. We often want to make the reader experience pain, anxiety, sorrow, hopelessness. In fact these things are more important than all the happiness  and joy you might try to spread with your pen. we all know that adversity is what makes engaging fiction. How much better it would be if you could make your reader feel that adversity deep down in their gut.

Mystery vs. Suspense

I recently reexamined an old episode of Writing Excuses on the subject of suspense. They cite Alfred Hitchcock’s famous “bomb under the table” analogy to explain the difference between surprise and suspense. The former is a brief and powerful emotion experienced when an explosion shocks the unsuspecting audience. Suspense is a slower, more subtle beast. Continue reading

Distractions, distractions

If it’s not the job, it’s the kids. If it’s not the kids, it’s the…

Sound familiar? I could fill in the blank with a ton of different things. Most of them would only prove that at heart I’m just a lazy bum. Well, the job is a must. The kids, can’t give em back. (for the record, I wouldn’t want to) That leaves the last category of distraction left for me to work with. The lazy bum category. It’s those distractions that vie for my attention in the few hours I have remaining to me late in the evening. Continue reading

What I’m Reading: The Saxon Stories

With the impending October  release of the sixth novel in Bernard Cornwell’s fascinating “Saxon Stories” series, “Death of Kings,” I thought it might be a good idea to take a look at the books that have come before. I’m a sucker for a good first person narrative, especially when the character in question happens to be someone with as much color as Cornwell’s Saxon-born Uthred. Continue reading

On the Completion of a Novel

The inaugural post for this blog has been a long time coming. It was initially scheduled along with Wind Rider being made freely available on the site. Something big got in the way of that plan. I began work on the sequel, Deep Dweller. Now that draft one is complete and I have a moment to breathe, I thought it would be useful to start here, while I still have many of the details of the novel writing experience fresh in my mind. Continue reading

Wind Rider – Chapter 3

Comarin the hermit rocked back and forth on his heels. He rubbed the pouch containing his last pieces of root between two bony fingers.

“Not much hope really, I guess,” he muttered to himself. “No sense wasting these others if that one didn’t work. Besides, you never know when I might need em myself. Not that I’d begrudge it to you, of course.”

The old man squinted in the candlelight and bent down close to the sleeping woman’s face.

“Your name is Daesha.” He smiled. “Pretty name. Yes, and it is you isn’t it?” With one finger he brushed the woman’s hair out of her too familiar face. “I haven’t been out there alone that long, you know. I’m not all that mad, not yet. But what can I do? You need the deeproot and I haven’t got it. No way of getting it either.”

Comarin picked his stick up from where it lay beside him and jammed it into the dirt floor of the hut. It jittered under his weight as he hauled himself up. He crossed the room, refilled the wooden bowl with water from the basin and soaked the cloth again. The river water was so cool against Daesha’s hot brow that she gave a little moan and turned her head away from his touch.

“Shh. Yes, I don’t blame you.” He wiped gently, almost lovingly at her face. “What do you see, I wonder? Can’t say I don’t envy you just a little bit.”

Comarin cocked his head and listened intently. There was no sound other than the wind that nightly blew through the canyon, but the old man shook his head as though he disagreed with what it said.

“I’m old. Not right in the head, you know. What would I be able to do?” He pondered a moment more. “It will come down to the boy, I suppose. He seems a puny young thing.”


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