Brown River Queen cover art

Friday, February 17, 2012

Cheap Date

No one needs to remind me that times are tough, and 'extra cash' is quickly gaining the same mythic status shared by Bigfoot and Nessie.  In fact, the last time I saw a hundred dollar bill, it was blurry, poorly lighted, and being photographed wandering in a thick alpine forest.

So, in the interest of offering you, Gentle Reader, something for very nearly nothing, I'm going to list some very cheap books below. All written by me, naturally, and they can be yours for about a buck. Kindle, iPad, Nook -- name your poison.

I'm not just shoving old trunk stories your way, either.  Well, okay, that's exactly what I'm doing, but these are all anthologies of short stories that were published back in the 90s, when I was just beginning my rise to the lofty position of fame and vast wealth I now enjoy (that's industrial-grade snark, by the way).  These are stories editors deemed worthy of publication, and paid for, and printed. I'm offering them now because the rights have reverted back to me, and I hope by selling them on the cheap I might snag a few more fans. Hey, I'm nothing if not honest. But these aren't rejects that never quite found a home!

I'm proud of all these stories.


First of all, let me introduce you to Wistril, the White Chair wizard, and his sharp-tongued apprentice Kern. I wrote a trio of Wistril stories, back in the day, and they've been popular with readers ever since.

The stories in the anthology Wistril Compleat are my homage to the traditional high fantasy that I devoured as a kid. I added my own twist to the genre, though, by making Wistril a cranky, reclusive gourmand who wants nothing to do with adventure or power or politics. What Wistril wants is four meals a day, a steady supply of beer, and lots of peace and quiet.

As you can imagine, he gets little to none of the latter.  Complicating matters further is his status as a White Chair wizard. White Chairs refuse to use any offensive magics whatsoever, which leaves Wistril a staunch pacifist in a world filled with swords and hostile magics. Luckily, Wistril's wits are as sharp as any blade.

But what sets the Wistril stories apart is the friendship between grumpy Wistril and snarky Kern. That's always been my favorite aspect of the stories, too.

You can get all three Wistril stories in Wistril Compleat for only 99 cents.

Wistril Compleat at Amazon for your Kindle

Wistril Compleat at Barnes & Noble for your Nook


Wistril isn't the only wizard I've written about, either.  Meet Mallara, my first female protagonist, who appeared in five short stories published back in the nineties.  Mallara isn't a moody recluse who hides away in a mountain keep, though.

Instead, Mallara is a Royal Sorceress who patrols a regular beat. It's up to her, and her invisible assistant Burn, to keep the magical peace in the Five Valleys region of the Kingdom.  And while the Five Valleys appear to be nothing more than a string of sleepy little hamlets at first glance, Mallara keeps busy. Oh yes she does.

Whereas Wistril and Kern are fast friends, Mallara and Burn are co-workers, and not even born into the same species. Burn is a Shimmer, which means his 'body' is composed entirely of microscopic convection currents powered by tiny magical heat sources.  As a magical being, Burn can do no magic himself, lest he simply vanish in a puff of brief but intense heat.  Nevertheless, he and Mallara find themselves coming face to face with a variety of threats, and again, in the end it's their wits that are tested the most.

Again, you can get all five Mallara and Burn stories for the bargain-basement price of 99 cents.  How do I do it?


Mallara and Burn: On the Road from Amazon for your Kindle

Mallara and Burn On the Road from Barnes & Noble for your Nook


Passing the Narrows is a single short story, so you may be wondering 'Hey Frank, why would you even put a single short story out there by itself and then charge a buck for it? Who do you think you are, Stephen King?'

Fair question.  Passing the Narrows appeared in Weird Tales magazine, though.  The Weird Tales magazine, in which the works of Stephen King have also appeared.  And I didn't just appear in Weird Tales -- the story was voted best in that issue by readers.  So yes, I think 99 cents is perfectly fair, because Passing the Narrows is a great story.

Here's the Amazon blurb, so you know what the tale is about:

Passing the Narrows' is the tale of a haunted American South, an ancient evil, and a defeated yet defiant riverboat crew. The stern-wheeler Yocona has been ordered by a Federal sorceress to make a 
frantic run to Vicksburg via the Yazoo River, and that means passing the Narrows on a moonless night, a passage every riverboat master knows is suicide...

Passing the Narrows is, quite simply, one of the best things I've ever written.


"Keeping the Peace" -- The Troll War is over, save for a lone sorceress and the renegade general she's spent years tracking down. But the general holds a secret...

"The Harper at Sea" -- Jere the Harper, afloat on a raft, in the midst of the Great White Sea. His only hope is rescue -- but will the merfolk be his undoing?

"Waking the Master" -- The old wizard's house is clever, hard-working, and eager to please. So when the Master oversleeps, the House decides to take charge.

"The Truth About Arphon and the Apple Farmer's Daughter" -- Jere the Harper once again finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. Can he sing his way out of trouble, or has the harper sung his last?

"One Such Shore" -- Silicy takes to the Sea to pursue her dreams. But the Sea is a perilous place, and the storms Silicy faces may force her to seek a new shore.

"Tinker Bell, Cannon Dale, and the All Wheeling Nick of Time"-- Elves. Bicycles. Shotguns. Whiskey. Just another day for Tir Na Nog's foremost bicycle repairman -- but a night is falling that will change him

Anthology 1 from Barnes & Noble for your Nook


And now you're in for a treat.  Okay, we've left the realm of the 99 cent ebook, that's true. But we've entered Markhat country, and since my Markhat the finder series is six books strong and growing, I'm happy we've arrived.

And so, for anyone out there who hasn't had the pleasure of joining Markhat as he walks the mean streets of Rannit, I give you The Cadaver Client. We're talking a couple of bucks and change, which I consider a more than fair price for what you'll get in return.

Humans, Trolls and even the halfdead have all passed through Markhat’s door—more than once—seeking his services as a finder of missing persons and lost loves. This is a first, though. This time, his client is a dead man. At least that’s what Granny Knot claims. But as long as the coin is real, Markhat has no trouble working for a guilt-ridden ghost.

Trouble is exactly what he finds, and soon he suspects his client, ghost or not, has darker motives for finding his estranged wife than the reconciliation he claims. Left with a cadaver for a client, a spook doctor for a partner, and Mama Hog as advisor on all things spiritual, Markhat must unravel a dark mystery ten years old, and do it before another grave is filled. Maybe his own.

Warning: This work of fiction involves the occult, several rather questionable uses of stuffed birds, the release of sarcasm inside a cemetery and numerous disparaging portrayals of wood elves.

The Cadaver Client from Amazon for your Kindle

The Cadaver Client from Barnes & Noble for your Nook

So there. You could buy -- heck, you should buy -- everything I've listed for around seven measly, no-good dollars.  How's that for a bargain?

And those aren't even all of my books!  There's more Markhat, there's a brand new YA fantasy called All the Paths of Shadow -- visit my webpage at to see it all in glorious hi-def color!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Tragic Thursday Horoscopes, Blood Loss Edition

Be warned -- the heavens are especially surly today! Even the mainstream scientists at Pasadena's JPL Planetary Science Division agree that Mars, which usually displays all the geological activity of a bowl of ice cream, is "in a floor-banging wall-chewing four alarm snit."  

My advice to most of you would be to stay not in the bed but under it. Except in the case of Taurus, the bull. You Taurans might as well crash-land fuel planes into Mexican fireworks factories because baby, the stars have got it in for you...

ARIES (March 21-April 20)
Your love life will see big changes next Tuesday, which is also the day you are introduced to the harsh reality of a federal Supermax prison.

TAURUS (April 21 - May 20)
Your Thursday really isn't that complicated, if you break it down step by step. Cab veers off street. Scaffold collapses. Gas main ruptures. Explosion hurls manhole cover. Magician asks for volunteers. I'm sure you can figure out the rest.

GEMINI (May 21 - June 20)
Your generous and compassionate nature is the theme for your wake next Monday, though several speakers allude to the previously docile nature of Korna the killer whale, and speculate on its sudden unstoppable  outpouring of rage.

CANCER (June 21 - July 22)
You've heard about airplanes making forced landings on busy streets, but until the nose landing gear crashes through your windshield next Tuesday, you always thought the stories the stuff of urban myths.

LEO (July 23 - August 22)
Well, now you know exactly how long it takes to fill a subway car with water.

VIRGO (August 23 - September 23)
Sadly, you'll realize too late that you truly can't pick the serial killer out of the crowd based on his looks.

LIBRA (September 24 - October 23)
What's most surprising about your case, says your HazMat suited doctor from behind the protective shatterproof glass wall, is how how aggressive this strain of the Plague has become.

SCORPIO (October 24 - November 21)
Bear traps? Who leaves bear traps lying around? You have every right to scream.

SAGITTARIUS (November 22 - December 21)
Your inadvertent foray into the illegal human organ trade is lucrative, yes, but sends you scrambling to the internet to determine if one can survive with half a liver, one kidney, no spleen, and only 14 feet of small intestine.

CAPRICORN (December 22 - January 19)
The Bomb Squad transports all their confiscated explosives out to the desert once a year, in an armored truck you won't quite see until it's far, far too late.

AQUARIUS (January 20 - February 19)
Turns out there are good reasons you've always been afraid of clowns, heights, and chainsaws, and they all make terrible sense next Friday.

PISCES (February 20 - March 20)
The chalk outline drawn around your body will briefly become a celebrated internet meme.

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Zombies Got One Right

An unholy combination of cough drops, cough medicine, Vicks Night-time Flu Relief, and a pinch of mummy dust sufficed to ease the infernal sneezing from yesterday.

It also caused me to temporarily lose about 150 IQ points.  At least I hope this is a temporary loss. True, I don't use my brain very often, but it's nice to know it's there, should I be confronted with algebra or a life or death game of Pictionary.   

I feel obliged to give a bit of praise to the writers of last night's episode of The Walking Dead. One scene in particular stands out to me as a writer, and I'll tell you why.

Without giving too much away, Rick, Glen, and a grieving Herschel wind up in an empty bar in the walker-infested town they normally avoid.  To say they've had a bad day is something of an understatement.

In walk two strangers. Living strangers, not walkers.

Both groups are wary, sizing each other up. We get a sense that the two newcomers are up to no good.  Rick refuses to tell them where the farm is, or how many people are there.

The pair insists in asking.  Their manner is almost jovial -- but sinister.

Now, as a writer, I was thinking this -- how could let my readers know just how depraved and vicious these newcomers are?  How can I communicate to the readers how much danger they present to the characters we've come to know and love?

I could have the pair brag about their murderous exploits, I suppose.  Or have them make all manner of brutal and terrifying threats.  I've seen that done, time and time again, in movies and books.

But it would have been all talk.  Scary, maybe, but just some guy talking, all the same.

The show took a much more direct approach.  In the middle of the terse exchanges of dialog, one of the newcomers simply stands up and proceeds to urinate right there in the floor.  He never seeks cover.  He doesn't turn away.  He doesn't even stop talking.

He just relieves himself right there, as though doing so is the most agreeable and natural thing in the world.

That single act told us, the audience, everything we needed to know about these two strangers.  Told us that they were so far gone beyond the bounds of normal society that they had no limits.  These were men for whom any act, no matter how unspeakable or vile, was just another part of just another day.

And that makes what happened next not just plausible but inevitable.

So I tip my hat to a TV show, and that doesn't happen very often.  

And now, since I'm still loopy, I'm going to post another excerpt from a book. This one is from The Banshee's Walk, one of the Markhat books.  Enjoy!


But Gertriss wasn’t listening to me or looking at me anymore. “What’s that?” she asked, taking a step off the trail toward a big swaying pine tree.

I followed her eyes.

The pine had sprouted feathers. Black feathers, crow’s feathers, three of them arranged in a neat triangle right about eye level.

Gertriss touched the ends of them just as something streaked past her shoulder, close enough to ruffle a few strands of her hair.

I was maybe three long strides away. She saw me coming and put up her hands and that’s all she had time to do before I hit her midways and took her down. We rolled, and she snarled and clawed. Despite my weight and experience the only way I got her to be still was by pinning her shoulders and head with my rucksack.

“That was a crossbow bolt,” I said. “Shut up and be still.”

She growled something that didn’t sound much like assent but at least she quit trying to knee me in the groin.

I rolled off her, kept low and kept my rucksack in front of me, and peeped around the big old pine long enough to scan the woods before I pulled my fool head back. I’d seen nothing but trees and scrub, heard nothing but wind and the far-off lowing of cattle, but I knew at least one crossbow-wielding Markhat-hater was lurking somewhere near.

Gertriss scooted closer, biting her lip. I felt blood running down my face, shrugged. “Hush,” I said. “You didn’t know.”

“How many?” she whispered.

“I figure two,” I whispered back. One to reload. One to fire. If they were smart they had at least two crossbows, probably sturdy, quiet army-surplus Stissons.

“What do we do now?” asked Gertriss. She was eyeing my rucksack. It dawned on me that they’d wanted her dead first so she wouldn’t scream when I went down.

I shook my head. “Crossbows trump swords,” I said. “So we wait.”

Gertriss frowned. “Wait for what?”

I heard a tromping in the woods. They were on the move. Hoping to flush us out, flank us, just walk up and bury a pair of black-bodied oak bolts right in our chests.

“Keep your head down low,” I said. “Sidestep every third step. Move fast, be quiet, and don’t stop, not for anything.”

Gertriss went wide-eyed. “But—”

“Just do it.” I fumbled in my rucksack, found Toadsticker and yanked it out in a shower of fresh socks and at least one clean pair of underpants.

I stood, pulled Gertriss to her feet and gave her a shove.

Then I took a deep breath and stepped out of cover.

A couple of things happened then, more or less at the same time. First, a muddy, wild-eyed bull calf came trotting out of the trees on the other side of the old road and sauntered right toward me, bound, I suppose, for anywhere but the cattle-paths and the stink of the slaughterhouses and the city.

Next, from the ruined road that lead south toward Wardmoor, a pair of skinny, cloak-clad teenagers trotted up, jaws agape, their pimpled expressions those of confusion giving quickly way to fear.

Finally, and much to my relief, dogs started barking. Out of sight, but close and loud and getting closer and louder. I knew the Watch uses dogs outside the old walls, and I knew my crossbow-fancier knew that too.

The kids stopped, eyed my sword warily. The bull calf snorted at me and without slowing, ambled past, passing so close I could have patted his muddy head had I been so inclined. I suppose bleeding man, indifferent cow and upraised sword made quite a scene, because the youths exchanged looks and took a step back before speaking.

Neither held a crossbow. Neither would have known what to do with a crossbow had they held it.

“We’re looking for a Mr. Markhat,” said the taller of the two. He had long greasy hair and his boots didn’t match. “We’re supposed to meet him and take him to Wardmoor.”

“We don’t have any money,” said the other kid, quickly. “And we didn’t see nothing, either.”

I listened. Wind and trees and barking dogs. No telltale whisking of bolts through pine needles, no clunk and throw of a Stisson. But I did hear the rattle of a wagon, just around the bend, and a man urging on a horse and another man yelling something as he laughed.

“Gertriss,” I said.

“I’m here,” she replied. I didn’t think she’d taken more than four steps despite my shove and my warning. She had a big stick in one hand and what appeared to be one of Mama’s well-worn kitchen knives in the other.

“Come on out,” I said. “Let’s get moving. It’s bad business to keep the client waiting.”

“So you’re Mr. Markhat?” asked the tall kid. He didn’t try to hide a frown. “We made it over the old Bar bridge after all, got further than we thought. What happened to you?”

Gertriss stepped out into the road, her hands suddenly empty, pine needles in her hair, dirt on both the knees of her good new britches.

“Nothing,” I said. A fat drop of blood formed at the tip of my nose, and I wondered just how deep and long my new scratches were. “The cow made lewd remarks about my apprentice. We had to have words. How far to House Werewilk from here?”

The wagon rolled into view. Two men rode the wagon, one driving, one stretched out in the back with his hat covering his face. By now I was sure that my new friend with the crossbow and the grudge was halfway to the cattle-road if not already across it. Three barking jumping mutt-dogs followed, nipping at the wagon wheels and yelping at each other and even though they were not and would never be huge somber-eyed Watch dogs, I could have hugged them all.

“Not far,” said the greasy-haired kid, who was already eyeing Gertriss with the kind of leer she’d teach him to regret if she caught him in reach of those finely sharpened claws of hers. “You and the lady can ride.”

I hefted my rucksack, and only then did I discover the crossbow bolt lodged deep within it. I’d later find it had penetrated two boot soles and a book before stopping, as well as my best white shirt and a wool sock embroidered by Darla with my initials.

The kid saw and went pale. I shrugged. Let them think I spend every day casually picking crossbow bolts out of everything from my laundry to my oatmeal. If I needed to shake in fear, I’d do so later, in the privacy of my own locked room.

Gertriss came to stand close to me and wiped pine needles and loam off her knees. “They’re gone?” she whispered.

I nodded. “For now.”

I could tell by her look she was having second, third, and possibly fourth thoughts about life as a highly paid finder. But in the end, she picked up her bag and made for the wagon, giving the leering kid a good hard country glare as she marched.

I followed, and we got ponies and dogs and wagons turned around then headed down the ruined road toward the Banshee’s Walk.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Sneezing My Head Off

Here's my life at the moment:

Type type sneeze type sneeze type type sneeze sneeze type.  Glare at empty antihistamine package in disgust.

Type sneeze type sneeze. Repeat.

These are the kind of days that truly infuriate me. I had a very rare block of time. This afternoon should have been productive. Instead, after four uninterrupted hours at the keyboard, I'm left with the kind of red nose one normally associates with circus clowns and a page and a half of lackluster prose.

In all likelihood, I'll be lucky to salvage two paragraphs from today's miserable writing session.  Maybe less.  In retrospect, I probably should have just taken a nap.

Sigh. I was looking forward to writing this part of Brown River Queen, too.  Markhat and crew have just boarded the Queen, and are seeing her interior for the first time.  She's quite a boat -- four hundred feet long and a hundred feet wide, every inch of her devoted to gambling, boozing, and comfort.

I'm basing her on the real gambling boats that plied the Mississippi in the 1800s. My research into steamboats was fascinating; I had no idea such large, lavish craft existed. The steam engines themselves were marvels. Deadly dangerous marvels, sure, but marvels nonetheless. Our forebears not only laughed at danger, but spent a lot of time giving it face-slaps and yanking its nose, ala The Three Stooges.  When those boilers blew, they made impressive holes in the landscape.

But never fear, Markhat fans -- I'll hopefully wake up tomorrow sneeze-free and ready to work.

Until then, since I'm incapable of extended coherent original thought, here's a brief excerpt from the work in progress, Brown River Queen:

“I’m here to hire the famous Captain Markhat on behalf of House Avalante.”
            “Didn’t you read the placard?  I’m a humble finder, not a Captain.  My marching days are done.  I’ve taken up pacifism and a strict philosophy of passive non-violence.”
            “What’s your philosophy on five hundred crowns, paid in gold, for taking a relaxing dinner cruise down the Brown River to Bel Loit and back?  With meals, booze, and as many of these cigars as you can carry thrown in for free?”
            I blew out a ragged column of grey-brown smoke.
            “I’m flexible on such matters.   But I’m troubled by the offer of five hundred crowns.”
            “Make it six hundred, then.”
            “I will.  If I decide to take it at all.  Because that’s a lot of gold, Mr. Prestley.  Even Avalante doesn’t just hand the stuff out to see my winning smile.  What exactly is worth seven hundred crowns to House Avalante?”
            Evis winced.  “You are, believe it or not.  Look.  This isn’t just any old party barge outing.  The Brown River Queen is a palace with a hull.  The guest list reads like Yule at the High House.  Ministers.  Lords.  Ladies.  Opera stars.  Generals.  ”
            “And?  You said it was pleasure cruise.  We won the war and didn’t lose so much as a potato wagon.  Handshakes and promotions all around.  Why do you need me, for eight hundred crowns?”
            Evis lifted his hands in surrender.
            “Because the Regent himself is coming along for the ride,” he said, in a whisper.  “Yes.  You heard me.  The Regent.  For every ten who love him there are a thousand who want to scoop out his eyes and boil them and feed them to him.”
            “On your boat.”
            “On our boat.  This is it, Markhat.  It’s the culmination of thirty years of negotiations and diplomacy and bribery.  House Avalante is a single step away from taking its place at the right hand of the most powerful man in the world.  He’ll have his bodyguards.  He’ll have his staff.  He’ll have his spies and his informants and his eyes and his ears, and that’s just fine with us.  But Markhat, we want the man kept safe.  We want trouble kept off the Queen.  We want a nice quiet cruise from here to Bel Loit and back, and the House figures if anyone can spot trouble coming we don't see it’s you.”
            “When you look at things that way, nine hundred crowns is really quite a bargain.”
            “Nine hundred crowns it is.”  Evis blew another smoke ring and then sailed a second one through it.  “And one more thing.  Bring the missus.  She eats, drinks, stays for free, courtesy of Avalante.  Is that a deal?”
            “An even thousand crowns for watching rich folks drink.  I think you just bought yourself a finder, Mr. Prestley.”