Brown River Queen cover art

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Bugs, Poems, and Waxings, Though Not In That Order.

Fig. 1: The author's new haircut. Does it make my thorax look fat?
First things first -- the new Mug and Meralda book, All the Turns of Light, is done. No more pronouncements of 'nearly done' or 'almost finished' or 'surely this week, it will wind up.' The first draft is in the can. The new book weighs in at eighty thousand words, which is a perfect length for a novel as long as most of those 80,000 words are the right words. But only time, a couple of editors, and readers can determine that.

Now that All the The Turns of Light is done, I've picked up the new Markhat book I finished a few months ago. I'll give The Darker Carnival another long hard look, and when it's ready to strike out on its own I'll send it on the good folks at Samhain Publishing, who will then decide whether A) it's a worthy addition to the series or B) Frank has finally jumped the shark and needs to take up knitting. 

I hope to have The Darker Carnival out in a couple of weeks. Then I'll give All the Turns of Light its turn under the harsh, unforgiving light of editorial scrutiny, and then it'll be shipped off to my beta readers, who will return their own judgment regarding sharks, jumping of, or going on to the next step.

Then, it will be time to start a new book -- either the next Markhat, or a new Wistril the Wizard, I haven't decided which yet. Those are my next two books. Just not sure of the order at the moment.

The image at the top of the page is a bug. I took it through my new microscope a few minutes ago, because who among us doesn't love magnified views of big bug heads? Oh? Really? That many?

Sorry. You'll be happy to know he's a nice bug, and that I put him under some bark after I made his portraits. 

I wasn't the least bit surprised to find him coated in pollen. Everything is coated in pollen around here. Most particularly my nostrils, but don't worry, I will not be posting any images of those.

Below is a thistle, which blew away before I completed half a dozen photos. Even the flying thistle-bits have pollen all over them.

Nature is, if I'm any judge, far too amused with pollen.

In Which I Wax Poetic

Someone asked me recently if I wrote poetry.

Nay, quoth I, for poetry is the language of the soul, filled with, er, what are those things called? Feels? You know, the source of tearful eyes and quivering lips -- emotions, yes, feelings, those sorts of things, and I don't have any, so there.

But it later occurred to me that I have in fact written the odd bit of doggerel, strictly in the service of a story. 

For instance, here are the opening lines from The Harper's Lament, sung by Jere the castaway harper at the opening of my short story The Harper at Sea.

I am a luckless vagabond,
bereft of land or country,
Unchained, unbound by love or law,
unhomed till death does take me.

Jere was a recurring character back in my early short-story days. I think my favorite story of his was The Truth About Arphon and The Apple Farmer's Daughter. Without giving too much away, Jere finds himself trapped in a shadow world, with only a numberless horde of ravenous ghosts for company. He remembers a tale told by the legendary harper Arphon, who claims he held a mob of ghosts at bay with wholesome, cheerful songs of summer and daylight. Naturally, Jere tries this approach, beginning with a merry dance tune, Vival's Dance. 

I wander fields, I wander woods,
I wander sky and sea,
I wander lone beneath the stars
Come wander, lass, with me.

The ghosts are not impressed. Neither do they appear amused by any of the other songs Jere plays. Despairing, and nearly frozen solid by the press of the ghosts and their frosty exhalations, Jere's magical harp moves its own strings, and Jere sings along, not realizing at first just what song it is he's beginning to sing...

The apple farmer's daughter
was all alone one day,
When Og the mighty hunter happened by the way...

As the song progresses, Jere sings along, horrified but unable to silence his harp. 

Mighty Og spied lovely daughter,
and his blood did right quick boil...

I'm not going to post the whole thing here, because Jere and I share a similar respect for decorum.

The daughter grinned and fanned her skirts, 
and mighty Og did shout....

At this point, Jere begins to suspect the legendary Arphon lied about a thing or two concerning his encounter with ghosts.

Mighty Og began to weep, and lovely daughter laughed,
I'll not be shamed, the hunter roared, one boot upon one foot...

As the last note of the infamous Apple Farmer's Daughter song dies, his harp selects even worse songs, including Queen Mavan Tames the Dragon, The Happy Donkey Song, and, worst of all, Lords Love Ladies. 

I won't tell you how the story ends. If you're curious, it's here in my The Far Corners anthology.

I believe there's a single nursery rhyme in All the Paths of Shadow, a rhyme that sticks in heroine Meralda's head as she winds her way up the Tower's long, dark stairs. It went like this:

The old, old wizard goes round and round the stair,
The old, old wizard goes sneaking everywhere,
The old, old wizard goes where you cannot see,
The old, old wizard is sneaking up on me!

The Markhat books also feature songs, now and then. Brown River Queen is set aboard a lavish gambling riverboat, and part of the floor show includes a black blues singer named Miss Rondalee. Miss Rondalee, like Mama Hog, commands a magic uniquely her own, in that Miss Rondalee's songs are touched with power. For instance, no two people will hear them quite the same way, because no two people need to hear the very same song. Here's an excerpt from Brown River Queen, in which Miss Rondalee's lyrics foreshadow things to come...

From Brown River Queen:

The music faded away, and the spotlight flared to life, and a tall black woman in a long white gown took the stage as the musicians tapped out a rhythm and began to play. 

The Queen lurched—just a bit, but enough to cause the remaining pair of formal dancers to stumble and lose their place. The lights even flickered.

And then it was over. The sounds of dice clattering and wheels spinning and gamblers shouting and cheering never faltered, not even for an instant.

“Did you see that?”

“I did.” I felt Darla’s heart beat faster. “Trouble?”

“Don’t know.” We kept dancing. The black lady introduced herself as Lady Rondalee of Bel Loit and dedicated her first song to ‘all the lovers out there.’

“Trouble,” she sang. “Trouble, bad trouble, been dogging me all my days...”

“Well that’s comforting,” whispered Darla. 

“Ain’t no comfort, ain’t no comfort, no comfort ever comin’ my ways...”

“I think she can hear you,” I said. 

“I hear you, I hear you sayin’, sayin’ I needs to be changin’ my ways...”

Darla stopped swaying. “You don’t think—”

“I don’t. Coincidence. We’re on edge, that’s all. It’s just a song.”

A waiter pushed his way through the crowd. His starched white shirt was stretched to near bursting by his muscular physique. A scar ran all the way down the right side of his face. Something under his black dinner jacket bulged, and I didn't think it was a salt shaker.

He bore down on us, mindful to keep his hands visible and open, palms toward me.

He stopped a few paces short of us, and waited until I gently disengaged from Darla and moved to stand in front of her.

He nodded, reached slowly in his jacket, and came out with a note. He held it up and I took it from him, and he vanished into the crowd—doubtlessly to employ those muscles in the precise pouring of any one of Rannit's finer wines.

I unfolded the note, just halfway, to make sure it didn't bear hex signs. Instead, I recognized Gertriss's tall plain hand, and I opened it all the way.


Darla gasped, reading over my shoulder.

“Don’t suppose I could convince you to wait here?” I said.

“Waste of time trying, dear.” 

And we were off, weaving through the dancers, plowing through the drunks and the gamblers and their noisy entourages.

I caught one more stanza of Lady Rondalee’s song, before the din drowned her out.

“One day soon, one day soon, trouble gonna be the death of me...”

“Not tonight, I hope,” I muttered. Darla didn't hear.

I put my shoulder to the mob and charged toward the stairs.

Brown River Queen, available now!

Is Miss Rondalee due to make a second appearance in the Markhat series?

Yes she is, because she's a powerful lady with a fascinating talent. I suspect Miss Rondalee and Mama Hog will be up to shenanigans, at the very least. Oh, and by the way -- Markhat's hometown of Rannit is based (loosely) on Memphis, Tennessee. Just south of Rannit, down the Brown River, lies Bel Loit, Miss Rondalee's home. Bel Loit is my version of New Orleans.

Final Words: Did Something Actually Go Bump?

I lack a clever segue for this segment of the post, so I'll just be blunt -- for the first time ever, I got absolutely spooked at a graveyard yesterday as I attempted to capture another EVP sample.

Eerie headstone pic of gentleman who is an ancestor of mine. Note epic 'stache.

Yesterday, I returned to Midway Cemetery, where I've actually collected a few good EVP recordings.

It was a bright, warm day. Hardly a cloud in the sky. Seventy-nine degrees. In short, the day couldn't have been less conducive to spookiness had it been accompanied by a brass band and a parade.

I've been to Midway Cemetery dozens of times. Half of the plots are occupied by relatives. I have no fear of the place, or its denizens.

But when I pulled up to the cemetery gates yesterday, for an instant I was sure a man was standing at the very back, at the edge of the trees.

Let me set the scene. Midway lies at the dead (ha) end of a gravel road traveled only by cemetery workers digging the once-a-decade grave, family members going to lay out flowers and pay their respects, and mildly-deranged ghost hunters intent of waving mics about in the hopes of recording a spectral word or two.

On the way there, I saw no tell-tell traces of recent traffic ahead of me. There is no parking lot. The road simply ends at the gate. No other vehicles were in sight.

But for a split second, I was sure I saw an upright figure, featureless and dark, standing at the very rear of the cemetery. I blinked, and it was gone.

Below is a picture noting the approximate location of the figure I probably didn't see:

Part of me was suddenly reminded of pressing appointments elsewhere, and moved to table the EVP session, citing an urgent need to watch re-runs of 'Stargate SG1' at a location many miles from the cemetery.

But I made of sterner stuff (mostly sausage, cakes, and steak) so I entered the cemetery and conducted my EVP session as planned.

I wish I could report I captured half a dozen ghostly voices imparting mystical wisdom, but the truth is that I got nothing. Not a faint whisper, not a muttered monosyllable, not s single anomalous exhalation.

I walked through the headstones and stood in the very spot I didn't see whatever it was that wasn't there. Again, no EVP hits.

I took about 60 photos while I was there. Two of them show what I'm pretty sure is blurring caused by wind-induced leaf motion. It is odd that only two photos were thus affected, and both of them were taken in the spot my dark figure (aka Mr. Trick of the Light) made his brief and undoubtedly imaginary appearance.

But here are the photos, for your amusement.

The blur effect is hard to see in reduced-sized images. It's plain when I inspect the full-sized pics on my big monitor. 

In the first image, start at the lower left corner of the pic and travel about a third of the way to the right. Then look up, about three-quarters of the way to the top. Subtle but weird blur. Wind? Yeah, probably.

In the second picture, just find the tallest grave marker (can't miss it, right side, little bell-shaped thing on top) and look left of the bell-shaped ornament. 

Like I said, probably wind. I spooked myself so naturally I'm seeing things that aren't really there.

Back to Work!

Okay, it's time to get editing. Have a good week people!


  1. This blog was funny, interesting AND cool! Very excited hearing about the new books, both Markhat and Meralda. You've been working so hard, I'm sure they're going to be GREAT!

  2. I am so glad to hear you are going to be writing a new Wistril book! The wizard's tales were my introduction to your fiction and I loved them.