prelude to a sting

Do you remember the girls on the slave boat, up on the lake? When I think about what I have done, I think of the plan they sculpted from whispers out on the dark water. The slavers had bought the police, of course, and the girls themselves were part of the currency; but that meant the girls could whisper to the police as they did to one another, and if the police learned something valuable enough, they might do a favor even for a slave. We listened to them so long that we grew parched and drank muddy water from the lake shore, and watched the kiss they shared, and then crept back to camp, and a few weeks later the Dwarf Island sting was all over the papers and the entire Shore Force was bathing in gold and glory.

I like to think the wit and bravery of those whispering girls bought their freedom. But, even more than that, I like to think that freedom went to the dimmer, more timid children, who could not buy it but were owed it anyway.

To me, this explains what I have done. More likely, the turns of mind that bring someone so sharply up against her trade and country are not so cleanly drawn. But I am satisfied.

(From the story in progress, tentatively titled “Continents of Summer, Firmaments of Sun”)

“keynote speech…” free on amazon through monday!

For anyone who missed the free promotion of BLOOD, WAX, MIRRORS, I’m now offering the first story, “Keynote Speech: Fourth Annual Symposium on Information Toxicity, Inaugural Section on Reverie Syndrome” at a 99-cent discount from its usual price of 99 cents until Monday, August 12. Here’s a brief passage:

I blame my wife for Kieran.

I’m not saying it’s fair. I’m sure I’d find my own excuses if it’d been my womb he’d grown in, and God only knows the Internet has said some uncharacteristically accurate things about my own role in the whole nightmare. I’m not saying you should blame her. But I do.

I’ve done this enough, I should be better at it. Here we go: Thank you, Dr. Desai, for your gracious introduction. And for such a distinguished physician-scientist to say such things about a humble carpenter, well, the heart just swells.

I am here behind this lectern because I famously sued several flagships of the insurance industry to medicalize reverie syndrome, an act of ham-fisted legal terrorism that Dr. Desai has elegantly edited to suggest that I was trying to set something right in the world. This, naturally, is arrant bullshit. Dr. Desai seeks to elevate both our fortunes by representing that we are in some alliance to improve your lives, him through medicine and me through stumbling around drunk on stage and telling you horrible things about my son. But I am impoverished by this ordeal, and I wish only to get paid—a disposition, incidentally, not entirely alien to Dr. Desai, who makes a fuck of a lot more from insurance payouts at his glittery new practice than he ever did running his cute little patient studies at the National Institutes of Mental Health.

So perhaps you now have some idea where I stand.

Should you download it, read it, and enjoy it (a tall order, I know, but I have faith), please consider following the blog for future announcements, purchasing the collection in which it skulks, or writing a review on Amazon or Goodreads. Thanks!

ed robertson on starting up as an indie publisher

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

All worth reading. The “nuclear option” in Part 3 is an intriguing idea—definitely the opposite of my approach. I guess I’m worried about the preoccupation that the SPP started to develop in maybe late 2012 or early 2013—the idea that free used to be useful, but now (due to algorithm changes and miscellaneous jiggerypokery) isn’t worth the risk inherent in training your readers to expect all your work to be free at some point. But the SPP has always been in favor of permanently free books used as low-friction introductions to series, and that is essentially what Ed’s talking about.

I think the insight comes down to: If you’re a new author with just one title, or (if you’re me) a few unrelated titles, you’re not going to make any money anyway. So you might as well do what you can to get readers, and free is one of the more powerful things you can do.

At the moment, I’m not sure I have the cycles to devote to making a book permanently free in any case—honestly, I’m not sure I have the cycles to reformat THE DANDELION KNIGHT for Smashwords, much less execute any price-matching trickery correctly. And I’m not even working on the sequel to TDK right now, so permanent free isn’t going to buy me any follow-on sales for a while (although it could drive sales of BLOOD, WAX, MIRRORS or a subsequent collection). Still, it’s at least good practice to think about all this.

I think I’m on the final 10,000 or so words of THE EIGHTH KING. Two weeks’ work, in theory. We’ll see.

new book, free book

BLOOD, WAX, MIRRORS is free on from 8/6-8/8!

bloodwaxmirrors DKcover_1563x2500

Not entirely coincidentally, THE DANDELION KNIGHT is now available on for $4.99! The plan is to get it to other distributors as well, but that’s going to take a bit of time. What I’d really like you to do, naturally, is to view this as an opportunity to get $8 of books for $5, rather than $3 for $0—but if free’s all you’re up for right now, I’ll take it.

It is perhaps worth saying that BLOOD, WAX, MIRRORS is unlikely to be free again in the foreseeable future. For those not conversant with how Amazon works, there are only two ways to make it free: (1) Put it up free somewhere else and wait for Amazon to price-match it, or (2) Enroll it in KDP Select, which allows me to make it free for 5 days out of each 90-day enrollment period in exchange for exclusivity on Amazon. BLOOD, WAX, MIRRORS is now in KDP Select, but I don’t want to keep the book exclusive to Amazon, so I don’t plan to re-enroll it. After I’ve built up my library a bit, it’s possible that I’ll go route (1), price-matching to free—but I think I need more books and stories out before that starts making sense.

This reminds me, I really need to see whether I can publish “Statler pulchrifex” and “Wormwords” on Amazon; those would be neat to have as permanently free promotional stories, since both are available for free online anyway. I’m reasonably certain I’m allowed to do this, but I’ve lost track of the contracts, so I should probably contact the editors at NATURE and COSMOS to be sure. Also, I need to set up proper affiliate links and update the DANDELION KNIGHT page on this here blog.

Also, I have a kid and a job. Well, one step at a time.

kindle worlds

Poking around Amazon for some unrelated purpose, I found the Kindle Worlds page. I’d read about it on John Scalzi’s blog a little while back, but it never made any real impression on me, perhaps because the last time I had any real impulse to write fan fiction was in middle school (and even then it was my own characters in a not explicitly but nonetheless pretty obviously D&D-oid setting, wherein the Drizzt love was not explicitly but, again, pretty obviously running rather hot). But it’s interesting to look at and think about. The royalties are worse than you’d like (35% on most work, less on work under 10,000 words, versus potentially 70% in KDP), and Scalzi’s misgivings about the rights situation are spot-on, but the value proposition is potentially interesting—if these worlds can exercise the kind of quality control that supports a fan base, the exposure angle might be enough to justify the lower royalties and vulnerability to idea-pillaging. That seems like a big “if” to me… but, again, I’ve never really been involved in fan fiction, and I know there are thriving communities where people voraciously consume all sorts of stuff, with no QC at all beyond upvotes by readers.


I suppose this once again highlights the usefulness of always having something else to sell. You don’t want your Foreworld Saga fanfic to be the only thing you have to offer the world; you want to use it as a way to direct people toward the work you control and can make a proper profit on. And, of course, a Kindle Worlds submission is a double down on Amazon, which has its ups and downs.


The only worlds I’d currently be interested in are the Foreworld Saga, the Silo Saga, and Valiant Comics; I don’t really know how to write horror, thrillers, or mystery, and I’m not sure I’d be up for teen drama. But I haven’t read THE MONGOLIAD, WOOL (beyond the first story), or any of the Valiant Comics, so I’d need to do some up-front investment before writing in those universes anyway. That puts more pressure on the value proposition for exposure—so it probably won’t happen any time soon.


It’s pretty interesting to look at the different “Additional Content Guidelines” for the different universes. Valiant Comics has so many stipulations on what you can and can’t do with the characters that it comes off almost as a voluntary Comics Code—various characters must be culturally sensitive, chaste, morally upright; “The Kindle Worlds work must present the protagonist(s), supporting character(s), and antagonist(s) in-character.” (Interestingly, though, it doesn’t specify that the work has to be a comic. I imagine it does, but I’m almost tempted to submit a prose piece and see what happens.) By contrast, see Hugh Howey’s guidelines for Silo fiction. The timeline and events of the universe are up for grabs, and slash is explicitly condoned; “other than [not using anything that’s unique to a derivative property], the world is yours to play in as you see fit.” You can guess who I’m rooting for there, but perhaps more to the point, it’s interesting to see how the stipulations for a world echo the history of the original work’s form.

die word beast die


Something gave the Worm pause; Datang shook her head when the words ceased, as though waking from a dream. When it spoke again, the words were mere sound, if puissant enough to loose knuckle-sized chunks of mortar from between the tower’s bricks. It looked down at something on the rim of the Gorge.


“Lin Gyat,” said Datang. And, indeed, the giant capered at the firelight’s edge, and she could hear the bellow of his own voice in a whisper, echoing from the mountains and the Gorge:

“Come, vermin! But beware—we clerics of Uä are tougher bits of gristle than once we were!”

“He is mad,” Kalsang said in awe.

“Of a certainty,” said Datang. “Shoot the Worm before it proves him wrong.”


“Cursed!” Lin Gyat’s reply came back in that same echoed murmur. “And a spicy curse it is, pest! You think yourself a lengthy snake? Behold a lengthy snake!”

“No,” murmured Datang—but, of course, there could be no intervening. Lin Gyat flung his robe wide; his breechclout fell in the dust around his ankles.

“Marvel at the Python of Degyen, beast!” Lin Gyat cried. “Thick enough to choke the Hinge-Gullet Goat of Tanggang, and cursed from tip to tail! I abjure you: Recede into your lair, or it will throw open the diseased gates of your jaws and fill your brain-pan with its pearly venom!”

Silence hung heavy in the unnatural night that veiled Pongyo Gorge.

1300+ words on the train this morning. Pyrotechnic fantasy shoot-em-up denouement with dick jokes == motivation.

slithy, frumious, vorpal

If I ever have a hundred hours that cry out to be wasted, the first thing I’ll do is write an urban fantasy series where the secret magical underworld is populated by creatures from JABBERWOCKY.


The more I think about it, the better it fits with the tropes. There are lots of different societies of creatures (toves, borogoves, mome raths) and unique foes (the Jubjub bird, the Bandersnatch, the Jabberwock). The obligatory alternate dimension can be the Tulgey instead of the Fey. The protagonist has a special weapon and a beloved parent, and slays the big boss at the end. Then, of course, we can subvert it, so the protagonist is a skinny woman in a tank top with a big sword and the Jabberwock is largely humanoid (or a shapeshifter) with six-pack abs and “slaying” takes on a whooooole new meaning. The first trilogy could be SLITHY, FRUMIOUS, and VORPAL. If it takes off, I could hit up THE HUNTING OF THE SNARK as an encore.

… since I started writing this post a couple of months back, I actually went much of the way to a treatment for the thing, some of which may be entertaining or interesting enough to post. I think the question, if I were ever to do this, would be how straight to play it. I can’t quite tell whether the underlying premise (magical creatures harmed by logic) is self-parody enough, or whether something more would be needed. Anyway, here’s what I’ve got.

IDEA: Urban fantasy based on JABBERWOCKY.

Trenton. (“It is a truth universally acknowledged that Trenton makes and the world takes.”)

Carla Ludovico Dodson, MC. Assistant professor of mathematical logic at (the fictional) Trenton State University, but gunning for Princeton. Poet, puzzlemaker, amateur magician.
Walker Abberline, campus security guard w/abs of steel. Notional love interest, wannabe cop, Segway stunt rider.
Alvise Ludovico, Carla’s father. Mental patient.
Grimus, the Jubjub bird.
Orlando, the Bandersnatch (“Orlando Frumioso”).
Rum, Carla’s Tove love interest. He returns her interest, but she stays away in the interests of neutrality.

the Toves — devious, stealthy creatures with the attributes of snakes and foxes. Naming convention: Politicians, thinly disguised (Rum, Chain, Bomb, Bide, Bush).
the Borogoves — whimsical creatures with the attributes of deer and songbirds. Naming convention: Punchlines and comedians.
the Mome Raths — angry creatures with the attributes of bears and eagles. Naming convention: Wesley Willis song titles.

Trenton forms a natural nexus between the Mome Raths’ New York territory, the Borogoves’ Philadelphia territory, and the embattled but entrenched Toves’ territory in central New Jersey (encompassing the major universities, Princeton and Rutgers, as well as a lot of pharma and high-tech). The tribes currently operate under an uneasy peace, the balance of power such that no one wishes to draw the ire of the other two. What are their objectives? They need food and shelter just like anyone else, and that’s an issue, but they’re running up against a bigger problem, which is their vulnerability to logic. The application of methodical thought and inference to them makes them sicken and eventually die; if humanity were to become conscious of them, it would be like smallpox blankets. So they are trying to inoculate themselves to logic by controlled exposure to it, courtesy initially of Alvise Ludovico and now Carla Dodson. Carla has learned to control her thoughts so she doesn’t harm them too much; Alvise slew a lot of them before he went insane enough to help, but now he’s too insane to help.

So Carla is trying to help all three, and in particular to keep them away from the brink of mutually assured destruction—if any tribe outed another tribe to the humans, they would probably all die. Trenton is a DMZ in which ambassadors from the tribes meet, negotiate border conflicts, and seek out Carla for inoculation.

What we need is for Carla to start on a quest to hunt the Jabberwock. And I guess the reason for it is that the Jabberwock is hunting Toves. [redacted for spoilers.] How has XXXXX persuaded the Jabberwock to kill Toves? Well, the Jabberwock is accustomed to hunting the sick and weak, which (historically) have been those afflicted by logic — so it can smell logic. But it doesn’t differentiate sound logic from faulty logic—reasoning that’s mostly good but fatally flawed. But it’s sound arguments that kill tribesmen. So XXXXX pulls them in with Internet trolling. It’s amusing and nonfatal to tribesmen, but it puts the scent of logic on them, which makes them targets for the Jabberwock…

I suppose that, if I were going to start with an homage to Jane Austen in the first line, I could just take the plunge and write the whole thing with the tone and diction of a nineteenth-century novel of manners. But that might be a bridge too far. (Get it?)


blood, wax, mirrors

Here commences the experiment:

I’ve made a small collection of my short fiction available on Amazon. It’s called BLOOD, WAX, MIRRORS and retails at $2.99. The stories are also available as singles for $0.99 each. It is far from inconceivable that some or all will be made free for some duration at some point, but I haven’t hammered out a schedule for that yet (all are enrolled in KDP Select). THE DANDELION KNIGHT will follow (possibly after a final edit), as will more short fiction, probably at a longer latency.

That’s the methods section. What follows is the introduction.

Earlier this year, it became pretty clear that THE DANDELION KNIGHT was not destined to be picked up by an agent. I think this is down to a lot of things, and I think none of them is “it sucks.” In that situation, self-publishing is self-evidently the next step. This is a point it took me a while to come around to, but I’ve come to believe it quite strongly: No matter your view on the relative merits of traditional versus self-publishing, if you wrote a book, and you think it could sell, but you can’t get a publisher’s support, there is no reason not to put it on Kindle. It’s revenue-neutral in the worst case; the best case is improbable, but in it, there’s literally no limit to the upside. The only reason to hold back is if the results of your query rounds make you question the quality of the book. I’m not Gene Wolfe yet, but I have more faith in my work than that. So KDP it was.

But I’m talking about THE DANDELION KNIGHT, which I’ve just said I haven’t released yet. Where did BLOOD, WAX, MIRRORS come from?

Well: Although I hadn’t given up on TDK’s prospects for traditional representation until recently, I always knew I might get hosed. In fact, I’ve always been aware that I might never get a traditional deal; most don’t. So I’ve been keeping up, in a highly unsystematic way, with what people are talking about in self-publishing, and one of the commonest of denominators is that the best way to market your book is to write another book. J. A. Konrath has said this more than once; Phil Tucker pointed it out with the example of Cameron Jace’s Grimm Diaries Prequels; the treed Goths over at the Self-Publishing Podcast serve no god but word count.

I don’t have another book. I took the normal path for aspiring writers: I wrote short stories on the regular for three years or so before I started TDK. I sold a couple, but most are still sitting on my hard drive.

Which is, obviously, another way of saying “I do have another book.” Perhaps more importantly, I have other titles. A pretty fair number, actually.

Once I got that in my head, the rest was pretty straightforward: Pick a few short stories, edit them once more into respectability, compile them and release them, singly and collected. I made a cover template that links the collection and the stories, while clearly differentiating the one from the other, and a few days ago I pushed the fateful button. Now I have six “books” on Amazon, and that’s before publishing TDK. A few weeks’ editing and a couple of hours on the GIMP, and I’ll have another six. None is related to TDK, which is suboptimal from a marketing perspective, but again: as with the decision to self-publish in the first place, the question is whether to try to optimize everything ab initio or to do what you can with what you have.

This all said, done, and planned, I’m still aiming for a traditional deal. There’s a reason I decided to devote my post-TDK efforts to my wuxia novel, THE EIGHTH KING, rather than the sequel to TDK: I can’t sell a sequel to a book I couldn’t sell, and I think a lighthearted high-concept fantasy is a lot more likely to grab an agent’s attention than a post-apocalyptic Orwellian science fantasy. But if demand starts pouring in for the sequel, I can pivot. Likewise, if the shorts start selling really well, I can write more.

Not unrelated, I’m still going to aim to publish short fiction in traditional markets; I have a novelette in the slush pile right now. Having the self-published content actually makes me more motivated to sell short fiction, because it’s like getting paid to advertise: I get a one-time fee for the story, but every reader now represents a potential sale (or, eventually, sales) over and above the story itself. The other difference is in the cycle. Now, instead of ratcheting gradually down in the quality of the venues I submit to (and waiting weeks for every rejection letter), I’ll just submit to a few high-profile venues and self-publish in the event of no joy.

I’m not kidding myself about making a living from this any time soon. If I were, I’d be more serious about marketing. But I am enjoying the control, and the sense of possibility. I have something that people can buy; for the moment, that’ll do.

a thinner of pests

From The Eighth King:

He motioned her toward the forge, and she came. The Judge took a length of metal resting on the great anvil before the forge; it was a blade without flaw, Jangmu saw, a gleaming silver-white at the tang that faded softly to black at the forked tip. Jangmu took a long look at it and shook her head; but there was no mistaking the appraisal in her eyes, nor the desire. “I cannot do justice to such a weapon,” she said, “even if I were trained in the use of the forked sword.”

“Ah,” said the Judge, “but the blade will avail no one else. It is balanced for you, Unerring, and fashioned to mimic the tongue of the inkwell snake. You see how it complements my snake-head glaive,” he said, using the blade to indicate his own weapon. “My secretary may go armed if she must, but I will not have a servant with an undistinguished blade.”

“The Ratter flirts with blades like a lecher, and like a lecher, each of his fixations is more dubious than the last.”

“The Ratter’s blade is his nature,” said the Judge. “All of these ‘fixations,’ as you so charmingly term them, are merely material extensions of that nature. A blade of quality would wrong-foot the hooligan as surely as two left-footed boots.” He picked up the hilt nearby it, evidently a cousin to the snake-head glaive, though there were no red or yellow scales decorating it, only black and white. The quillions took the shape of fangs, which faded to black toward the tips in the same manner as the blade. “I will join blade to hilt when I am done filing this motion.”

“What motion?”

“A motion to establish a new species.”

Jangmu allowed herself a small, conspiring smile. “I had wondered how, in eight generations of wandering, I had failed to so much as hear of the inkwell snake.”

“It will be a well-wrought serpent,” said the Judge, “of pleasant length and girth, preying on the plagues of cities—rats, lapdogs, drunks. It will be bright white at birth, with no trace of black; even its eyes will be blind white. It will feed on its mother’s black milk as it grows, and its scales and eyes will gradually turn black, as will the tip of its fangs and tongue. In its prime, its white scales will be the cream-white of paper, and the dark ones cavern-black; in its dotage, the white scales will crack and brown, and the black scales, now faded to dark grey, will predominate, and when it is nothing but faded ink it will die. Its black venom will seize the power of speech from anyone unlucky enough to be bitten.” Reverie dropped from the Judge’s face, revealing a grim satisfaction. “It will prefer the fragrant air of temples and the dry dark of libraries, and while it will meet daylight with supreme equanimity, it will give no quarter to those who penetrate its lairs with lanterns.”

“A noble addition to the serpent kingdom,” said Jangmu, unsure what else could be said.

“A thinner of pests,” replied the Judge.

from the cutting room floor

I’m working on a short story that I think is called “Sunshowers.” It’s really slow going. I think this won’t be in it, but I like it anyway.

I launder Keisha’s clothes at the hospital and throw them out with all the other rags and shrouds ruined by the touch of substances never meant to leave the body. I have a series of thoughts, philosophical and literal in an uncertain mix: The body breaks like glass breaks, screaming. The body lashes out when it breaks, blighting everything it touches. The body speaks when it breaks; blood howls its exile, bright as bells. The only thing blood doesn’t stain is skin. Stain is history, and skin spurns history. Skin is immemorious. Skin bathes in blood and forgets. The porcelain carapace of our shower will remember Keisha’s husband’s blood longer than her skin will. You can pull the blood from the body and the vessels will be a white web, innocent as plastic. I look straight at the sun, not thinking, and it doesn’t even leave an afterimage. I think of a book I read a long time ago, written when nuclear winter was a bigger threat than global warming, about a world where you could look directly at the dying red sun in the twilight of what passed for noon. I’m destroying evidence of a murder, and I tell myself that it’s because I know he had it coming, but that isn’t true. If it were true I would have pressed Keisha on it, I would have tried to be sure. But the truth is that I don’t care if it was the blood of thirteen nuns on her clothes. We take care of each other. That’s all I know and all I need to know.