I’ve been spending this week trying to get Beyond the Stars Beneath the Sea done so I can send it to my beta readers (the Easter half term helps with this). I’m not done yet and the biggest hurdle (aside from keeping to a word count) is to get Headhunted (a rather complex novella) and The Fourth Race finished.
I look at this image, of green and orange (by rights two of those should be red) markers and feel like I’m slacking. There’s still a tiny sliver of me which wants to get the book out to general release by June but I just don’t think it’s going to happen. I lost far too much time (three months all told) to be able to catch up and I want The Parting of the Waters to be awesome. The problem is to be awesome it needs time and the same can be said for BTSBTS.
I know it’s not going to happen but if something doesn’t go to plan I feel like I’m personally responsible, that I’m letting people down even though my lovely backers haven’t complained once (this is why they remain awesome). I just feel like the year is skipping past me and it’ll soon be summer. I just wish I could focus on one thing at a time, start and finish, rather than dancing across a dozen projects.
Originally One in Blue, The Other Green was Elyn’s tale and that was it but as I wrote it, I realised it was actually the start of my Priestess series. This is my urban sci fi tale with narrators who are clergy, most are Kashinai, some are human and not all are drawn to the Kashinai religion (Elari, for example, finds herself drawn to a Mnemosynian temple). It became the story which bridges the gap between my first trilogy and opening the wider universe up for other stories and narrators, including Shai, Natalie, Kessi and Esca.
Here’s Elyn, in her own words:
I was never a normal child. I’m sure everyone thinks that, growing up, that they’re somehow marked when in fact most children are unique in themselves. At least until, lined up together, they all fit a mould that we call ‘normal’.
Normal doesn’t exist. It’s a lie created to comfort, to establish a perimeter by which to measure existence, a baseline to the universe. I was never something as mundane, as definable, as normal and I think that’s part of why, of all the people I kind of remember being, I love being Elyn the most.
The thing was while I knew my name, the one my mother had given me and meant ‘moonlight’ in the Benai dialect, I remembered others’ as well. Of all the shadows, the half-remembered faces, the clearest was a woman called Khalyn who had loved books and people above everything else.
I remembered being other people too, some male, some female, some other and some truly alien. This was not, even for my spiritual species, a normal thing but then I was daughter of an Oracle so such eccentricities, they were almost expected.
Yet these past lives, these other names, they haunted my childhood like shades who refused to cross the River, wisps of cold mist in the moment before the sun burns them off. Sometimes they even helped me; thanks to Khalyn, for example, I never learned to read or write. I simply remembered it, from before, and was devouring scrolls in the oldest dialects from before the Changing of the Sun while my sister, Kana, was still trying to write her own name in a legible hand.
My sister was my reflection, my identical twin in the more modern parlance of Standard. She was my elder by mere minutes but acted like there were years between us and not a collection of seconds and heartbeats. She was named Kana—rainstorm—and her impatience was obvious. She’d woken our mother during the darkest part of the night when the rain was hammering against the windows and decided she’d had enough of swimming beside me in our mother’s belly.
I was our mother’s favourite, possibly because I nearly decided not to be born at all. For a few moments she thought I’d come into the world sleeping, passing on to Jaisenthia’s kerash before ever stepping foot on this shore. Eventually, after long impossible seconds, I screamed and when she saw my bright blue eyes, I think my mother was the happiest she ever would be. Us, my sister and I, we were the last thing she ever saw.
The delivery broke my mother in more ways than one and she had never been strong. Her blood-sickness had drained her for much of her life but now, with the birth of her miracle daughters, Aurelia found herself sightless and a new mother, the Mother of Visions.
I don’t remember much of that, only that I grew up in the comforting safety, the cloistered world, of the Temple in Kasan. I was always going to be a temple-child but my parents had expected to raise both of us in a Kodian temple in Benai where my mother was a priestess, albeit more a teacher, and my father a priest. Her blindness, her vision of her daughters’ future, changed all that and she became Oracle, latest in a long and distinguished line.
Aurelia had taken the name Dene upon her Ascension and yet the idea of ruling never sat well with her. She was guide of the Great Kishai and relied on her advisors more than her predecessors. After all, none of the other Oracles, not Kaiene, not Saiara, not even Jannah, had to juggle Ascension, the life-changing loss of her sight and two newborns. She managed, somehow, I have no idea how but she did it and I freely admit she was more Aia’s servant than I ever had been or ever could be.
I loved my mother for it, for her bravery and strength, but her prophecy has cast a shadow over my life, coloured every second of this incarnation and that’s not always been a good thing. I’ve spent my life running from my mother’s visions only to discover that no matter how far I’ve run, how much time, how many planets it’s never been far enough to out run Dene’s legacy or my sister’s hatred.
These other lives, they followed me but it was during the small hours of the morning when most manifested, in dreams and nightmares. When I was very small, the night before a dozen important moments coalesced in my new life, I woke from a dream in tears because I couldn’t find my loom. Kana had been roused by my sobbing and she told me off, irritable from being dragged from her happy dreams where she was mistress and I her bondservant.
“You don’t have a loom. Now shush, I’m trying to sleep!”
For that instant I could remember looping threads I’d dyed and spun myself through my fingers, the lullabies I’d sung to the young ones of the Edoi, the traveling songs echoing as we crossed miles of blue grassland that I couldn’t remember ever having seen with my own eyes. Before I found myself in the temple, of course, and that’s perhaps why I wanted to run from it, from the responsibility as Oracle which blighted my mother’s last years. I’d been called and the burden, the mistakes, had weighed heavy on my soul.
I couldn’t understand what Kana was saying and garbled on regardless:
“But, it’s precious, I can’t have just lost it.” I said, still half-dreaming. “Garrin’s father needs these quilts before his caravan sets out with the dawn. I have a dozen of them left to finish. I’m never going to do it in time!”
Kana muttered an oath, turned over in her pallet and I was left with her literal cold shoulder in my face.
Around us the rest of the children’s nursery was strangely quiet. The odd snore or mewl here but otherwise the only noise was the movement of the drapes in the open window. There were less than a half dozen children in the nursery, the eldest three having moved up into the neophyte dorms as they went through their Keran Meiat. I wasn’t sure exactly what that was yet, only that it was something to focus on, a light in the distance which would mean adulthood.
Another night and there would be a new occupant of the dorms, a temporary visitor travelling down from the north with her mother and someone who sounded important by was never addressed by name, she was simply called the Pilot and I’d only inferred her gender by the languages used.
Restless and unable to get back to sleep, I left my reflection, my elder twin, to her sleep and wandered into the halls.
The temple was quiet and I liked it this early, Thaeos hadn’t risen yet and the moons were still hanging, the watchful eyes of the two eternal and beloved sisters who took their names from my mother’s predecessors. The complex was quiet, people in the pallets and the lights dimmed to their lowest setting. In ages past there had been sconces, lightstones and candles, their flames moving gently. Now we had lightbulbs and posts, a modern if natural addition to the beauty of the house of Aia.
I was still in my long palletclothes, my tail tracing the stone floor behind me in a way that made me shiver. I could feel the cold of it against my feet and the tip of my tail as it crept up my spine. I hummed a line from the morning offices, feeling the unspoken syllables dance through my skull.
I walked under the cloisters, watching lightflies and nightmoths fluttering across the coolness of the pre-dawn morning. The fish in the ornamental pool occasionally broke the surface when a tidbit took their fancy but were almost silent shadows in the dark water, only the noise betraying their presence at all.
In the main worship hall the candles had been extinguished, incense waiting to be lit with the morning. There wasn’t a spot of dust or candle wax, the wood pews had been polished, cushions in place for the first service and moonlight still down down through the spiralling stained glass embedded in the ceiling. A hundred names, maybe more, recorded in glass from Saiara to my mother’s own. Even the forgotten sisters like Lyse and Shaari were immortalised, those who should have been Oracles but never ascended.
“I remember when there were lightgates.” I whispered.
Ishvei is our most beloved deity, the one the legends say chose our world above all the others floating in a star filled sea. As a result, it was she who had pride of place in front of the pews, her statue towering over us with a gentle smile and a mother’s benevolence. The other deities, the other archetypes, of our pantheon, had smaller shrines. I could name them just by looking; there was Jaisenthia, Ishvei’s elder twin, and her Ferryman, there was Arvan, her beloved, and her best friend, Uryen. There was blind Cerasei, Lady of Justice, and Kodia, the Lady of Joy.
I wasn’t sure which of them to appeal to, at first. Arvan is master of souls and keeper of records, he’s the one who records our deeds. I could pray to Jaisenthia, Lady of the River that drifts between this realm and the others, but instead I found my eyes settling on Ash, her companion. We’d never named him, not until Jaisenthia walked among us in Kashinai form during the Changing of the Sun. She had been unable to remember her soulmate’s name and so gave him a new one. As a word ash refers to endings, to death, in all the dialects.
I lit a candle using one of the flints. I shouldn’t play with fire but I was very careful to snuff the spark when I was done. I set the little votive candle down carefully so not burn myself on the pool of wax and spoke the traditional words as if I’d known the prayer my whole life. Moments passed in silence and then:
“You’re up late, little one. Though perhaps it’s just very early.”
The man was sitting in the back row and, for a moment, I wondered if he’d been sleeping there. The temple was seldom locked and I was too young to understand what my own daughter’s teachers call ‘stranger danger’. For us, strangers are just family you’ve not met yet.
He was Kashinai but not a priest. He wore white, like a caretaker, one of the clergy who assist the Mothers and Fathers of Mercy, Jaisenthia’s chosen avatars. The white gave him away but he also wore a pendant around his neck which marked him out as a priest of Jaisenthia. His long silver-white hair was in a queue between his shoulders and he seemed far too comfortable and pleased to see me, as if we were old friends reacquainted though I was sure I didn’t know him.
“Do you think the gods hear you, little one?” he asked. “Who were you asking for?”
“I don’t think they’re gods.” I said. “My mother taught me they’re just perfect idols to aspire to.”
“No one’s perfect, little one.” He chuckled at this. “And your mother would know. Oracles remember so much and see despite their blindness.”
I frowned. “I didn’t call you.”
“No, you didn’t.” He replied and I knew he was the Ferryman, clothed in a body just so he could talk to me. “Not like most people do. You’ve got a long life to live yet, Elyn. So, tell me, what can I do for you?”
“Why do I remember?”
He answered with a question. “Would you rather not?”
That made me smile. “But memories make you and if I didn’t remember, I wouldn’t be me.”
“You’ve answered your own question then.” Ash sat back, watching the flicking shadow of the candle flame. “Elyn, some people remember because they’re just too old to forget. The road is too familiar to ever be alien again. You’re gifted and gifts always come with heavy prices. I know you’re strong enough to walk the road though and you’ve earned the memories you carry.”
“You’re the Ferryman, the Shepherd, Jeiana’s true soulmate.”
“Titles, Elyn, are as fleeting as memory.” He offered his hand in a form of greeting I didn’t recognise until I moved to Earth. “She calls me Azrael. I quite like that name, just as you quite like your corporeal form. Both are as substantial as the time you invest in them.”
“You won’t take me?” I said, indicating his hand with little more than a nod.
“You don’t want to die so I have no power over you. It would be … rude to presume.”
“What are you?”
“I used to be like you, once upon a time. But it was very long ago, before the current universe was born. Now I’m something else.”
“I’m a servant of the universe. I’m an Elder of the Ashterai.”
“That sounds hard.”
“It can be, you’re as much a servant as your mother is. I’m looking forward to seeing who you become, Elyn.”
“Elyn!” My mother’s voice sent a jolt of panic up my spine. I heard her footsteps and her staff scrapping against the stone. “What in Aia’s name are you doing up this early?”
Azrael chuckled. “Good morning, Aurelia.”
My mother felt her way to the pew, even as her expression broke into pleasure at the sound of an old friend’s voice. “Azrael, what brings you to Kasan?”
“A moment’s respite, dearest.” He spoke to my mother as an old friend, a beloved companion. “Your youngest had questions and I had answers. It seemed polite, at the time.”
“Child, you shouldn’t call.” My mother reached out for me. “You know him, eh?”
I nodded. “Yes, mother.”
“And yet your sister would walk right by him. Such is life. Azrael, dear, I apologise. Go back to your soulmate and son, I’m not ready just yet. Soon but not yet. I have daughters to raise and affairs to put to rest.”
“No apology needed, my friend. Call when you’re ready then, I’ll wait.” He was gone in a moment of candle smoke and shadow.
My mother moved hair out of my face as if she could see me. “Daughter, summoning one of the guides is a serious thing. They seldom come to simply chat. Except him, he does, but that doesn’t mean you should call for him as you do your sister.”
“Yes, mother.” I quietly focused a thought: I’m sorry, Lord Azrael.
“Hush, child.” Laughter in my head. “We’ll speak again. We always do.”
“Come back to bed, daughter of mine. The hour is early and I have a full day of audiences ahead.”
My mother led me back to the nursery and sleep came much easier the next time I lay down, morning would come all too quickly and so would the end of my childhood.
* * *
My mother held audiences each day she was able. Her condition moved depending on her own internal clock and the seasonal shift. Though she would never had more children, she still bled and her sickness was one closer to anaemia, it was a wasting of her body but not her mind. Today was something special; the pilot was coming and her condition could be ignored for a few precious hours as my mother became the Oracle everyone had expected her to be.
I wasn’t forced to go to services, no one was. We went because we wanted to and, on this day, because my mother asked nicely. I saw them in the next row, a young girl my age and two adults, one in a physician’s red uniform and the other in a hakashari that she didn’t remove, even in the worship hall.
The girl smiled when she realised I was looking at her, waving quietly. I didn’t recognise her or know her name but she was my age, weeks and miles separated us. Only later would I find out her name was Caelen and she was the daughter of the physician in red, in the years to come she would be the sister I chose and not the one I shared a womb with.
After the service, my mother took breakfast with my father and then had her audience with the strangers form the north. This audience was different and so important that my mother insisted an image be taken for the archives, so my mother and her visitor, as well as myself Kana and the new girl, found out way into the temple’s meticulous records and, eventually, onto a museum wall.
Afterwards, my sister and the new girl, played in the courtyard, throwing stones and playing hopscotch. It was innocent and sweet and Kana had no time for it; she had asked to sit in on audiences to prepare her for the day when she’d surely become Mother of the Aian Order.
“My name’s Caelen,” the girl said as we tossed the stone across the courtyard. “Daughter of Sora of the Ifunareki.”
“Elyn.” I said. “I have no Edoi clan to call my own, only my parents’ names, Aurelia and Biran.”
“Aurelia is prettier than Dene.” Caelen observed, almost as an after-thought.
“Real names often are.” I said. “Aurelia died when I was born; Dene was forged in her ashes and remains to this day. As Oracle.”
“I was Oracle once.” Caelen said. “During the Reclaiming. I remember An’she and her sister. I remember you too.”
“Wait, you mean the pilot?” I asked.
“Yes.” Caelen said, smiling. “Andellashe of the Seaborn.”
“Whoa,” I whispered; that made her older than Kasan. “Truly? That’s who your companion is? An’she?”
“I swear it. You don’t remember, sister? You were my scribe then, my dearest friend as well.”
I shook my head, the lie sweet as shamir honey. “No.”
“You do, you’ve just listened to your sibling. It’s okay.” She hugged me. “I remember you.”
The woman who was Andellashe of the Seaborn was talking to my mother as if she was family, up in the audience room which overlooked the cloisters. I listened to the words, heard the nuances and wondered, quiet as they were, how longer she had left in this world.
When An’she finally lowered her hood, I saw her pale, star-kissed skin and how think she was, more like a delicate branch reed to snap in a gust. She was too old for this world, too out of touch with it and way past reintegration even as she’d tried so hard. It was her Azrael had come for and not me, though I think, in the end, both of them waited for her. She was done, it just took her a while to realise it.
The hakashari hid her pale skin that not even Salve could colour and a strange piece of Union technology, braces on her legs which allowed her to walk and move when her own body should have protested and failed. My mother had asked to see the extent of An’she sacrifice. Her muscles had atrophied, her hands shook and the brace gave her a kind of movement that allowed her to walk unaided, even if the hakashari only hid some of it.
“Caelen.” I whispered, remember another time for just a moment. “Is that her?
She sat on the stone floor and spoke to me as you might a friend. “She’ll come when she’s finished.”
An’she eventually walked down the steps from my mother’s audience chamber which, in later years, would become Kana’s office. The window was wide and spanned half the length of the room, arching gently at the top so it met somewhere between circle and rectangle. Crawling vine and silver leaves had clung to the wall, framing the dark polished wood and smaller panes of glass. Jannah had built it, calling it her ‘viewing window’ and I had always loved it.
“Caelen, we can go now, if you want?” An’she smiled. “Why hello. Are you Dene’s child?”
“Yes.” I said and cocked my head. “Can you guess which one?”
Her eyes smiled, tail flicking with curiosity as she thought though her answer. Most people couldn’t do it, they didn’t pay enough attention to our personalities or the colour of our eyes. “You’re Elyn, aren’t you?”
“Yes.” Caelen said. “Kana has green eyes.”
“I think you’ve found yourself a friend here, Elyn. Caelen’s smart and loyal.”
“You were an Oracle once long ago,” I whispered, for a moment I could taste her name and feel the cold cave air on my skin as my heart slowed in my chest. “You were so young and I was so old. I left you because I had to, because you had to stand alone.”
“You were a good teacher.” She agreed. “But you’re someone else now, just as I and Caelen are, just as your mother is. We can never be them again.”
“But we still learn.”
An’she laughed. “I believe that’s the idea! Now, would you like to come and have lunch with me and Caelen, Elyn? Your mother’s given her permission.”
“I’d like that. I don’t get to leave the temple that often. Greatmother Jannara sneaks us out sometimes, for the festivals, when she comes to visit at New Year.”
“Do you have plainclothes?”
“I can find some.” I said without missing a beat, there were some kept spare in the servant’s dorm and I knew I could sneak a set without anyone noticing or questioning.
That was how I spent an afternoon with a legend. It also turned out to be one of An’she’s last meals but we didn’t know that, not until after the fact. I learned then that Caelen had come to the capital for the traditional ceremonies, to receive an inkbrush and take a week’s worth of lessons within the temple. Sora, her mother, was trying to get reassigned and my mother was in need of a patient physician and she took an instant liking to her.
“I met a boy.” Caelen explained as we talked over the food. Around us the festivities were still going on, even if the three holy days and the New Year has just ended. No one quite wanted to return to the boring ennui of normality just yet. “His name’s Ani and his mother is teaching me to bake.”
“You should stay in the city then.” I said. “You’re to stay in the temple tonight?”
“Well I was supposed to but Ani’s mother wants to show me how to be a baker. I need to sleep over to be up early enough to start.” Caelen replied. “But it’s going to take a couple of days for my mother to find lodging. She and Aunt An’she are staying at a temple of Kodia behind the temple, there’s nowhere else with rooms free because of New Year.”
I nearly choked on my food. There was only one reason you stayed in a temple of Kodia and a lack of pallet space in inns and taverns was never it. I might not know the ins and outs but I knew that much. An’she continued eating, enjoying Caelen’s naivety, and didn’t say anything other than to pour water into a glass and bid me drink it.
“Are you all right?” Caelen looked scared. “Elyn?”
I coughed until I felt a little better. “Thank you, An’she. I’ll survive.”
Only much later, when we were both older, Caelen finally told me that she’d been having bad dreams since coming to the city. A part of her knew what An’she was going to do even though An’she had only told my mother her intentions; that she was going to walk into the sea and disappear.
Drowning is harder when you’re an amarai, a free-diver, from what I knew someone like An’she could hold her breath for nearly fifteen minutes. At least she had been, before her stint as Elys’ pilot. At first I didn’t understand why, if she truly wanted to end her life, she didn’t just speak with one of Jaisenthia’s Order, and partake in the Ashenvey but she had her reasons.
An’she was scared that if her body was found, that she’d be memorialised as Cerasei the Innocent had been in Cerasan, the town where Sora and Caelen had lived before An’she had Fallen with Elys and, against all the odds, survived.
People filed past Cerasei’s ashes, entombed in the town she loved, during all three seasons and the idea repulsed Andellashe of the Seaborn, amarai and pilot. An’she wanted to be forgotten, to let the water take her and to pass from the world as she had entered into it and find a fresh start elsewhere.
Young and old as I was, I understood her reasons and grieved her passing.
We would meet again but then, souls like us, we always do.
I’m trying to get some work down on this novella, Perihelion, before Uni goes on her hols tomorrow and I switch to The Parting of the Waters and Beyond the Stars Beneath the Sea. As I mentioned in earlier posts, my Ashteraiverse is split into sub-series and covers multiple genres. I’ve started finding myself trying to fill in some gaps and the Mihari provide a much-needed antagonistic role in both books. With that in mind, I’ve given the series—given it’s own name of The Fall of the Mihari—it’s own page as it includes not just Perihelion but also The Soulless: A History of Zombieism in Chiitai and Mihari Culture, The Fourth Race, Headhunted and a couple of other long and short form pieces that I’m outlining.
Of all the covers for A World of Strange New Things, the one for the omnibus edition was the one I could see clearest in my head. The Seattle skyline is somewhat iconic but I wanted a different view and the one shows the city at sunset, cars moving while the city seems to remain suspended and that, folks, is Zoe. She’s suspended whilst time moves around her.
Here’s the concept for the final cover (as in the one I’m going to go with). These are just concepts Scarlett has done, it’s going to be a while (and £2500) before we get the final edition but, for now, it’s something for me to pin to my fridge and drool over while I finish the serial and set up the dominos for When Darkness Eclipses Light.
What do you think?
I check my KDP reports now and again, I’m not particularly bothered about selling books, about money, but I am interested in data and what seems to be popular. Oddly that seems to be my two-shot serial The Carrion Files. I have no idea why, only that people continue to buy it two years after I burned out on the story and put it onto a long-term break.
So I’ve added it to my project roster on Patreon. I figure I can do a couple of instalments a month on top of The Music of the Spheres and Perihelion but only if people want it and that’s how I’ve structured the tiers, depending on what people pick I’ll be able to tell which they want to read and work accordingly. I hope this works, I hope people want to read this.
I knew when I started writing A World of Strange New Things that it was going to be a duology, a two book series, even if the storyline continues in Lesser Evils, An Inherited State and Breaking Point (I am toying with having Zoe join Chaya and Josh as narrator for the final book though I won’t know for sure until the second book is finished). Zoe’s second book is When Darkness Eclipses Light and it’s a much darker story than the first volume. I’m currently outlining it and it’s looking to be split into three parts (each around 35-40k) but I do know that it’s serialisable, I’m just not sure if that’s something I’m going to do.
To Err is Human deals with Contact’s fall out and the First Wave, seeing Elyn visiting Zoe and the two of them traveling to San Francisco to visit the Kashinai enclave there. While in San Franciso, Zoe gets to witness the hostility the Kashinai members of the First Wave are having to deal with as humanity splits into factions, some welcome the aliens and others are afraid. In the midst of this the Human Isolationist Movement gains prominence and they don’t want Earth to join the Union or have dealings with aliens, especially not the hedonistic Kashinai.
On a more mundane level, Zoe has to deal with the prejudice of being seen (and worse) in an alien’s company. She’s bisexual, openly polyamorous in her affections and happily swings xeno (especially when Elyn is concerned) so when a parent spots her meeting her friend at Sea-Tac it doesn’t go down well, particularly not when Elyn guest-teaches an art class at the school where Zoe works. Zoe queries which is worse: the fact she was seen kissing a woman or an alien and remains convinced a male alien would have illicit slightly less of a fuss. Similarly Elyn, living in London where alien-human relationships are illegal, finds herself freed from constriction and able to be herself for the first time since arriving on Earth months before.
Vox Populi is all about humanity and the election called to decide if they should join the Union. The democratic nature means that a majority vote wins (hence the title: Latin for ‘Voice of the People’) and it’s led to a summer of bombings, civil disobedience, racial and cultural tensions. Humanity shows the Union it’s worst side but also the best, to a point where everyone concerned starts to wonder if Contact came far too early. Some members of the Union, however, think that this period should just be rushed in order to save trouble, that humanity should be swayed to join to save themselves from the Mihari menace growing on the doorstep of the solar system. An Atridian named Seeva is especially keen to force humanity to accept the Union’s technological improvements. She implants a semi-sentient virus into Terran technology that can only be solved up a forced upgrade which means Zoe has no choice but to get Josh involved in order to restore some semblance of choice to proceedings.
A Game of Many Pieces finishes the arc about BEAR and reveals the murky nastiness behind the powerful Van Buren Group. In the wake of Seeva’s attempt to force humanity to join the Union, Senator Nathan Van Buren has pushed forward in his campaign to be elected president and top of his campaign list is an isolationist policy which will see America refuse to join the Union and so into seclusion. Zoe recognises this as the seeds of the one thing she and the other Ashterai are trying to prevent: the Terran Schism (which is due in 2028 and nearly rips Earth apart, ushering in a dark and unpleasant future that they will do nearly anything to prevent). Determined to make sure this doesn’t happen, Zoe has to figure out her abilities and the only was she can do that is with help from her perceptive soulmate, still recovering from the events of A World of Strange New Things.
While the duology ends there, the storyline isn’t quite resolved until Breaking Point (which is set during 2021 and the Three Day War between the Union and the Mihari Empire). I’m really excited to work on those books but I need to finish Zoe’s story first. If things go to plan, I’ll serial this next year (via Kickstarter) and then release it generally in the second half of the year. That’s the worrying bit for me, it’s only March 2015 and I’m booked, book-wise, all the way through till the end of next year. That said it’s going to be worth it and I enjoy serialising, even if it’s more expensive, it’s certainly more satisfying.
Like everyone else, I’m grieving Terry Pratchett’s passing. I’ve not read his books, though I plan too, but the mythology is something I know a little about (I’m often more interested than that, in the nuts and bolts, than the canon of literature). I read the obits and Death came up, as Death does. I think He is one of the most memorable characters ever. A quick Wikipedia and I saw Azrael’s name mentioned, he’s the boss of all the Deaths in Discworld (the Death of Universes) and that made me smile so I started writing. In my Ashteraiverse, there’s an Azrael too, also a psychopomp. He flits in and out of stories but never takes centre-stage … today though, I thought he should, just this once:
* * *
To watch and never be involved, to step apart and remember, to bear all the burdens through time. A bargain, if you ask me, for bringing death, cessation, into the world . It hadn’t been there, not originally, and that was a Very Bad Thing (the capitals are required, just this once).
That burden, it was one I couldn’t allow her to bear alone. What is love if trials are not shared, if each doesn’t support the other? It seemed so long ago but it might as well have been a moment before. That’s the nice thing about not being contained by linear time, by the vice-like grip of anything even remotely looking like reality, everything is relative.
The soul in my care was tired. In that moment, at least, they change so quickly. Life can be … exhausting. I might not live, might seldom walk the ‘real’ world but I remember being mortal, I remember thirst and hunger, pain and exhaustion but I choose to devote myself to duty, to helping my beloved bride, my dark-haired princess, bear her burdens for longer than eternity. I understand what is to want respite, even for a moment.
“Come.” I said, trying not to sound bossy or threatening or as if I spoke in capitals. Most don’t need to be ushered but some are a little overwhelmed; Deathshock affects everyone differently but this one, he knew the path and it was now coming back to him. “Lead the way.”
His species, they didn’t see a boat or a vehicle, there was no tree-lined avenue with the sun peaking through heavy branches or ocean of sky filled with clouds or even, in the rarer and oldest cases, blue-white stars.
Each soul, sometimes influenced by species, will see the crossing and us as well, as they do choose. It was be … presumptuous to force appearance and reality open those reeling from the knowledge they’ve just died. So we let them choose, some older ones can mould the place between but most, instead, fix on what their religions tell them or a happy memory. This one saw stars and infinite worlds and reality tangible as his own remembered form.
Sometimes people ask us for our names. We have a collection, defined by memory, imagining and popular mythology. We are male and female, both and neither, between and apart. I’ve never looked good in black, with a scythe, or riding a skeletal horse. I like the idea of black wings, though, but they look better on Cas than they do me. I’m too old for such things and children can get away with a lot more than their parents.
This soul was content to walk, to move through the blinding light that didn’t have form or substance, that seemed to emanate from every atom but still be bearable to the eyes. I let him lead the way and followed, seeing scenery because I like variety. I let him walked until he was ready, until we’d traveled enough, gone everywhere and nowhere. Life is one shore, death another and so there has to be transition, movement, even when you don’t actually have to take a step.
Light is, to many cultures, linked with goodness, with positivity and higher powers. I think that’s part of the reason the whole black robe thing fell out of fashion; death is still scary but the more enlightened races understand it comes with the package: if you live then you must die also. The multiverse constructed demands it and we, as it’s keepers, are just as bound by the rules, even if we were the ones who made them.
Not me, personally, but you get the idea.
My bride and I (she changes names as often as the weather shifts so it seems inappropriate to list them even if she will answer to one and all) we always stood apart. It was our bargain: as she brought death into being, so she would serve as it’s harbinger and I demanded to be with her. The others, they meddle, they balance probabilities and side with those who need help, we simply watch and wait, serving only to accompany those who must make the transition from this shore—to borrow a lovely alien parlance—to the other.
No one should bear that loneliness, that sorrow, alone. It’s not all bad; some souls recognise us and run, joyful, into our arms as if we were the oldest of friends. I enjoy see those people, listening as they tell their stories knowing we’ll remember long after they forget themselves and become someone or something else. We endure, semi-static, while everything else around us changes.
Our boy, Cassiel, he’s got a little of us but for now he’s happy to play. Eternity, the cosmos and the unimagined multiverse can keep a child occupied for longer than you might think and as everyone gets to choose their desire, so will he one day be offered employment and purpose, everything has to have a point after all from concepts down to individual souls.
As I walk this soul to where he must go, I remember when she left my side for a time to become Jeiana. Now herself again, she still retains that form whenever a Kashinai son or daughter comes to us. That life, the muddling of herself with the form she’d borrowed to help her sister’s chosen people, it had lingered long after she stopped being Jeiana.
Now she was herself again but she’d been ever changed by the experience.
This soul, he was a special one. I can tell when they’re ready but Chaya had always spoken to me before I even stepped into the mortal world to retrieve him. She told me she wanted to offer this one employment on her staff. That was no small achievement, it takes a very particular kind of person to be a muse. An exquisite mind, a desire to mentor others even as they’re not aware of it, to act as a celestial sounding board and, sometimes, to whisper in the ear, to solve a riddle, to cut through a knot that has bound the plot.
It was the least, sometimes, that the universe could offer, payment almost for services rendered without realisation you were ever doing something worth renumeration. It still amused me but we had a way to go, many things to speak off, before that offer was accepted. So we walked on, into the nothing and something between this shore and that, the soul in my charge and I, as it was always fated to be.
I’ve been meaning to try and figure out how to give my regular fans a way to get more than just Kickstarter (which is every quarter, give or take) or by buying my novels. I also wanted to look at some other long-term projects that, because I’m used to either working to a real deadline or there are funds involved, fell by the wayside. So I’ve returned to Patreon.
What do you get? Well this is the fun part! I’ve got four tiers and three of them are focused on specific mediums: poetry, short form fiction and longer serialised stuff. At the moment there are a couple of poems up there and I’ve also outlining plans to serialise The Music of the Spheres into a full novel and a new short story called Perihelion, set in the Ashteraiverse. The idea with the short stories is that I’ll serialise a section and once the story is done collect it, publish it if it’s long enough (and we get enough people/backers) or I’ll submit the story for publication somewhere or include it in an anthology. The last tier is for the folks who like world building, who want to know the secrets behind the prose, where the inspiration comes from …
From you I get cash I need to do these things, like get my beloved editor on retainer and also give me focus outside of my own stuff. I want to finish these projects but knowing you want me to write them that’s half the battle.
I am sick unto suffering. Eugh. Uni has stolen my bed, I’m too ill to actually compose words into proper sentences (fictionally at least) and my other various ailments seem that bit worse today due to having a cold/bug/nasty thing. Still Scarlett sent some concepts over which does a little to make me feel slightly less like death warmed up.
I love world building. It makes me tick, it makes me happy. The problem is it’s never just about building worlds, books have to fall into neat categories. Genre, is basically, a way to classify books, to put stories in little compartments that allow the reader to know if they’re going to like them … horror, romance, erotica, thrillers and then there are the snootier versions like literary fiction (I still have no idea what that actually is aside from the one you write if awards are important to you).
I met my parental unit yesterday, we’ve not spoken in a year (I took being told that my Kickstarter campaign was essentially begging very badly) and one of the things she said to me was that my books were so niche they were doomed to fail. The thing is, it didn’t bother me because I don’t write for other people, rather I write for me. Except it did leave me thinking: are my books niche?
The answer to that is: Are any?
I write series, I write umbrella universes which allows me to cross over lot of genres. For example let’s take the Ashteraiverse, earlier I worked out every book I’m writing, outlining or planning.
They’re split like this:
The Changing of the Sun Trilogy:
- The Whispers in the Desert (fantasy),
- The Changing of the Sun (fantasy),
- The Parting of the Waters (sci fi/space opera), and
- The Shadow of the Stars (sci fi).
The Fall of the Mihari Series:
- The Soulless: A History of Zombieism in Chiitai and Mihari Culture (horror) and
- Misplaced (biography/memoir with dashes of horror, politics and sci fi)
The Soulmate Duology:
The Contact Trilogy:
- Lesser Evils (political technothriller)
- An Inherited State (political thriller) and
- Breaking Point (political thriller)
The Priestess Series:
- One in Blue, The Other Green (sci fi biography/memoir)
- Blood and Starstone (urban sci fi detective/medical thriller with adult leanings*)
- Sacred and Profane (urban sci fi political thriller with adult leanings*)
- The Fading of Sora Cerasan (sci fi biography/memoir)
- Heart and Soul (societal thriller and coming of age with adult leanings*)
- Yesterday and Tomorrow (Coming of age)
- Beyond the Stars Beneath the Sea (various)
- In the Blackness of His Eyes (horror) and
- A Star Filled Sea (political thriller, detective story).
*this sounds better than erotica but they’re not that, there are just plenty of adult situations.
That’s quite a mix of genres and it’s one of the reasons I like working with such a large universe, there’s plenty of room to try things new. I’ve never written anything political or societal before and religion/belief is going to play a massive part, for example, in the books after Shadow. Similarly some books are straight biographies, others are more complex. Urban sci fi is a genre of my own invention and I intend on making it my own. Aliens instead of unicorns … a darker bite but all the unfamiliarity of a modern world twisted by science, Contact and foreign faith.
I’m trying to be an organised author but, as usual, life is running away from me far too fast. I wanted to quickly lay out a couple of questions people keep asking me:
Q): How many books/stories are there in the Ashteraiverse?
A): A lot. So far we have:
- The Changing of the Sun Trilogy: The Whispers in the Desert (novella), The Changing of the Sun, The Parting of the Waters*, and The Shadow of the Stars*.
- The Fall of the Mihari Series: The Soulless: A History of Zombieism in Chiitai and Mihari Culture* (short story) and Misplaced* (so far).
- The Soulmate Duology: A World of Strange New Things* and When Darkness Eclipses Light*.
- The Contact Trilogy: Lesser Evils*, An Inherited State* and Breaking Point*.
- The Priestess Series: One in Blue, The Other Green, Blood and Starstone, Sacred and Profane, The Fading of Sora Cerasan (novella), Heart and Soul and Yesterday and Tomorrow (so far)
- Misc: Beyond the Stars Beneath the Sea*, In the Blackness of His Eyes* and A Star Filled Sea* (so far).
- Various short stories that will appear in a second anthology.
Q): What’s the Cityverse?
A): This is a sub-universe where magic exists and is basically my take on urban fantasy. There are two worlds, ours and the Otherworld and sometimes these two alternate worlds touch. Each city is given a poetic nickname by the Others, the magical community who live there. To offer examples: Kyoto is the City of Shrines, Bath is the City of Healing Waters, London is the City of Ravens and New Orleans is the City of Mauseleums. Norwich is the City of Taverns and Churches … until the resurrection of the Court of Dragons which gives the city a new moniker: the City of Dragons.
The main series (from my perspective) is set in my adopted hometown of Norwich and focuses on Djinn-in-hiding Jenna Bishop, her romance with a local mage and her uneasy life avoiding the supernatural community which straddles Earth and the Otherworld. Eventually, given all my work on The Fractured Mirror and my plans for The Crimson Sea, I’d like to open this universe up to people, to let them take a city and do what they want with it. For now there are dragons and human-eating unicorns, merrow and vampires, magi and families at war. The first book, City of Dragons, is finished and needs a rewrite but I’d like to start that series next years.
I have ten books in mind for City of Dragons (encompassing not just Norwich but visits to Devon, London and the North Norfolk coast) and then I’d like to start writing stories set in supernatural infested Tokyo, Kyoto and more rural areas as the events of the final book, The Last Djinn, affects that entire world, not just Norwich and provides the perfect chance to explore elsewhere.
Q): What’s Arisian?
A): This is a series of five books (or a serial in five parts, I’m not sure yet) set in the land of Asshad, a world dominated by there Mage Queen Kaliandra and the Glass Tree of Arisian (it first appeared in my short story The Storyteller and Chaya writes the five books of the Arisian Quintet as we progress through the Ashteraiverse novels and it ends up at Josh’s MMO of choice as we go into the Priestess series). It’s epic sci fi and I do have plans t write it …. eventually. Think of it as a mix of GRRM with Skyrim and [insert your other favourite hard fantasy series here].
Q): What’s The Carrion Files?
A): This was my first foray into serial fiction; I managed two installments before I realised serials need planning just like a novel. Oddly people are still buying them so I feel like I should, eventually, write a full novel in this universe. I will, maybe towards the end of next year, but for now this particular world needs more building and more plotting. Still I love writing it, zombies remain cool as do mutant vampire-like humans. I love the idea of the Carrion, I just need to rebuild the world from scratch.
I’m attempting to be more organised (more for the sake of my team and my crap memory) by writing series bibles. This is something I’ve touched on before and I know how beneficial they can be, my one for the Cityverse has saved my arse on multiple occasions because it saves me having trawl through a dozen files until I find that sentence that confirms an eye colour or a date. Series bibles are basically what they sound like … a collection of information from characters’ physical appearance to stuff that never appears in the novels but is vital to the world-building as oxygen is to life. In theory, if you have a world bible, you could give it to someone and they’d be able to instantly start writing in your world.
The problem is the Ashteraiverse is massive; there are multiple planets, different timeframes and this whole thing got kicked off by a tiny connection between The Soulless: A History of Zombieism in Chiitai and Mihari Culture and A World of Strange New Things. I want to have everything where I can find it and this is going to be a lot of work, hence my trying to compartmentalise a lot of stuff to ‘things I need to write down now’ and ‘synopses for stories I might not even write’. For example, this morning, I started hearing Kessi’s voice as she started narrating her book, Yesterday and Tomorrow (which is book five in the Priestess series). My brain just split between ‘hell no’ and ‘this could be fun’, except I have to write Blood and Starstone, Sacred and Profane and Heart and Soul first. I love my brain, I really do but this is not even funny.
World building is like crack cocaine for my aspie brain, I love building things, seeing how they tick and as I’m blind it’s not like I can do it in real life. So I do it in my head, in the palace in my brain. It reminds me how big my mind really is and what I can do when its running on full pelt. The problem with this is I need two things in order to it properly: peace and quiet and coffee. I need more focus to write series bibles than I do the novels they’re about! At least coffee helps, as do my headphones and a Spotify playlist. Except I’m supposed to be finishing The Parting of the Waters and I find myself justifying this … diversion because it’ll help with the world building. It will and there are parts I need to write down but it’s so easy to get distracted.
I started work on The Fourth Race and instantly I had to figure out how to get the Mihari into the story, to get through the logistics of an abandoned Mihari vessel drifting with all the slave cargo slaughtered in the most brutal fashion imaginable. The Willan plagueship Fasha Neru then discovers the carnage except they’re not alone on the ship … which is the part where everything turns into Alien. The trick here is this story isn’t about the Mihari, it’s about how the Willan find out about the Gathering; the protagonists of this story, Benic and Parva, have minor roles in Parting (Parva especially becomes a good friend of Maros’ who is grieving for An’she. They bond over grief of those close to them who are lost, either naturally or before their time).
That is not a spoiler, remember? Everyone dies and sometimes you can grieve for those who are still alive.
So that’s my thing. The week when Uni gets her holiday, which I must chase up because she deserves it, will be the week of deadlines when things are finished, when pizza is purchased, concordances are concorded and series bibles are written. For now I just have to keep writing, it’s always that simple.