Monday, August 25, 2014

A Bit More on that Sequel

As I explained  before, Gifts pretty much said everything I wanted to say about my four changeling characters. Thus, initially, I considered the novel a complete, standalone product. Since my primary interest is in SF with a political or police-procedural bent, having completed my first Urban Fantasy was something of a relief.

It's not that I didn't enjoy writing the book. I got to know and respect my characters; some of their voices I'll probably be hearing in my sleep for years to come. Creating a system of magic, however, and maintaining a semblance of verisimilitude in descriptions of that system is something of a pain in the ass. It's rather like creating a new branch of science, complete with axioms, laws, and theorems. Just the simple act of keeping in mind which principles are inviolable and which are merely traditional becomes something of a headache. I solved a large set of problems by simply postulating that my system of magic would not violate the First Law of Thermodynamics. Of course, most magic in epic fantasy is designed precisely to allow violating that Law, so I was, in a sense, making things hard for myself. It's not all that difficult to manage, though. It's just a matter of controlling the scope of the system in any given conjuration. Of course, that's only one aspect of the magical system I devised. I also had to specify—off-stage, so to speak—classifications of magic, sources of power, methods of spell casting. I had to decide whether names like mage, sorcerer, witch, wizard, and thaumaturge had any caste significance (they don't) and how I would differentiate between conjuration, manifestation, transformation, glamour, illusion and how or in what manner I would invoke clairvoyance, clairaudience, prescience, and telepathy.

Ultimately, it was that system of magic (and two other lacunae I'll address in a moment) that convinced me I still had a wealth of story-potential begging to be tapped. Before I could get the continuation of Gifts corralled into some semblance of plot, I had to come up with a framework. The system of magic provided that framework. Actually, it was a combination of the system of magic and the politics of the collective of mages (which—both the politics and the collective—I only hinted at in Gifts) that gave me the outline for the series, which I currently plan to include Talents and a third book yet to be named. In Gifts, one of the first claims Melchior makes is that no written record exists describing the Supernal Fyrd. No histories; no biographies; no directory of mages; no books of spells, runes, incantations; no compendia of rules, regulations, laws, traditions, best practices—not even a (much needed) glossary of magical terms. Now, while it's easy to justify such a tradition, it's damned near impossible to police it. Nor, in a world of 10,000 mages hiding among seven billion mundanes, is consensus on such a practice likely. Zane, the antagonist of Gifts, says he doesn't consider himself a member of the Fyrd nor subject to their legislation. Surely, I thought, others would share this attitude. I began compiling a likely structure of the politics of the Fyrd, and the plot followed.

As for those lacunae, first, I wanted to explore at least one case of the opposite transformation: one female-to-male transition. The patriarchal hegemony is, sadly, alive and—eh, I wouldn't say it's "well," but it isn't showing many signs of dying. The vast majority of US Senators are male. We still haven't elected a woman president or VP, and the average woman in the US still only makes $0.79 for every dollar her male counterpart makes. Sexism alone might be enough to make remaining male worthwhile for a woman magically transformed to male. Of course, the transformation is still difficult, energy intensive, and would likely require a loss of life to accomplish. All good reasons not to try reversing such a change.

The other lacuna I meant to address in Gifts (it just never seemed to fit anywhere) is a matter of how people in a supposedly-scientific, civil society react to magic. I think magic could easily be all around us, and that we ourselves would provide the majority of the propaganda of disbelief as a matter of course. If, for example, a man were standing on a sidewalk in the downtown area of any major city and suddenly collapsed into a pile of serpents, which then wriggled out of his clothing and writhed en masse into the gutter and down a nearby storm drain, how do you think onlookers would respond? I believe they'd applaud. Even if several people videoed the entire event on their smart phones, pundits, panelists, entertainers, and "experts" would spend the next day or so dissecting the event on the news. Every unexplained glint of light would be proof of mirrors. Speculation would abound that this event was advertising for a coming movie, TV special, or broadway extravaganza. Holographic projection and such names as Chris Angel, David Copperfield, and Penn & Teller would be bandied about. Do you seriously believe anyone would openly say, "I think it's a magical transformation"? Of course not. Everyone knows such a thing is impossible. Denial is a powerful weapon, and we tend to wield it against ourselves.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Writing a Sequel

So, I finally got the trade paperback version of Gifts (publication on demand) up and for sale via CreateSpace.
Kathy did a brilliant job on the book design. Take a look with the Amazon LookInside feature to get some idea how the whole thing turned out.

Also, if you buy the trade paperback, the Kindle version is free.

For the past few months, I've been trying, off and on, to write a sequel to Gifts. I say "off and on because" I've also been working on another novel (a very stubborn novel) and occasional short works. Anyway, I'm finally making progress. The sequel has a definite direction, so to celebrate, I've put the ebook version of Gifts on sale for the following week. Act early this week and get the electronic version of Gifts for just $2.99.

Gifts concentrated on the effects of a curse on four men turned into women and unable to turn back. Their experience was my primary concern in Gifts, but in thinking about following up with a continuation of their story, the scope has expanded considerably. In Talents, Angelica and Georgia are still major players, but their personal interests are less important. Talents is about the larger question of how to survive as a mage in a world where, generally, only the gifted know that magic is a real possibility. I'm calling the series the Unofficial History of the Supernal Fyrd of the Gifted and Talented. The book I'm currently writing, Talents, will be book two of a trilogy. Book three is not yet named.

Just as a taste, here's the opening paragraphs of Talents.

Angelica closed her eyes and saw the man as clearly as if he stood there in the closet-sized space with her: head shaved a few days before and now covered in a thin scurf that outlined a receding hairline, taller than average height, thin but strong, the tendons on his wrists standing out like tram cables. The tension in his wrists was because of the guns. They looked light, plastic, almost like boxy toys, but the strain in his arms told the truth about their weight. The guns fired, one after another. She could see each bullet, as though they were spaced a second apart and flying with no more speed than a badminton bird. The screams of the retreating audience reverberated in low tones—another effect of everything moving so slowly. Angelica could feel her guitar strings, could hear the strumming, but she didn’t know what she was playing. This wasn’t one of their songs—one of the band’s numbers. This was something from deep within her psyche. She didn’t know what or why, but she knew she had to play it. She felt Slim’s strong hand grab her ankle, heard him shouting to getdownAngelOGodgetdown, but she had to keep playing—had to play the bullets back whence they’d come.
The detonation blossomed slowly, time-lapse film of an opening flower, the split black strips of gunmetal—the broken barrel of the blocky machine pistol in the man’s left hand—opening like black sepals beneath the expanding, brilliant blue-white rose petals of unexpected pyrotechnics. The bloom expanded improbably large, already a yard wide and spreading to blot out the gunman’s face.

Angelica opened her eyes. She crossed herself and began, “Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. It’s been—quite a long while since my last confession.”

Sitting in the dark booth, looking down, Angelica could see the tops of her thigh-highs peeking out from her black skirt and wondered if her attire was quite as appropriate as she’d initially hoped. This was, after all, the same outfit she’d worn a month before to her own funeral. Even with black stockings, she wondered, Am I dressing appropriately? Is this too short for church? What a stupid thing to fret over.

The heavy shadow through the screen shook with silent laughter. Angelica couldn’t make out any kind of distinct silhouette through the screen, but the priest was a huge, warm, imposing presence. She could feel his every exhalation—slow, ponderous—hear his seat complain with every tiny adjustment. “Come now, Child, the formula is there for a reason. How long—ah—roughly, is ‘quite a long while’? Weeks? Months? A few years?”

Angelica frowned and did the math. She could feel the heat of her reddening face. “Sorry, Father. It’s been twenty—uh, twenty-five years since my last confession.”

The confessional echoed the silence of the entire church—tiny sounds creeping in—footsteps in another space, sparrows rustling in the rafters, wind cutting across the buttresses, traffic on some distant freeway.

The shadow cleared his throat. “I see. Tell me, my child, are you carrying any sort of identification? A driver’s license? Passport? Something like that?”

Angelica frowned. “Yes. Is it standard these days to card penitents in confessional?”

“Tut. What is the—ah—date of birth given on that ID?”

“June 29th, 1991.”

“I see. Well, that answers a number of my questions.”


The shadow chuckled, a heavy but warm rumble. “I think you know what I’m getting at, Child. You asked for me by name, but I only do a limited number of confessions these days. I’m a supernumerary apostolic protonotary—something of a glorified accountant for the see.”

Angelica could feel her face heat with unseen blush. “I’m so sorry, Monsignor, I didn’t realize.”

“That’s fine, Child. The—ah—folks in this church have explicit instructions to contact me, immediately—ah—if anyone requests me by name. You say your last confession was before your registered birthdate. Thus, I think you know at least one of the—ah—reasons. Now, who gave you my name?”

Angelica sighed softly. “I know him only as Melchior.”

“The adjutant. No doubt the recommendation came with warnings. May I ask what those warnings were?”

Angelica blushed. “He said I should avoid talking Fyrd politics with you, but I don’t know anything about Fyrd politics. Nor do I care.”

The monsignor chuckled. “Typical. All right, then, let’s start with who and what you really are. So, what was your—ah—original date of birth? Don’t worry, no one else can hear you.”

Angelica swallowed. “August , 1952. Terrence Murphy.”

The monsignor hmmed. “Interesting. I’ve never known a Talent who—ah—who could change genders. Unless this is a glamour, of course.”

Angelica shook her head. “No, father. No glamour. I’m still not clear on what that means, actually. I was caught in the crossfire of a curse. It’s a long story.”

“And not, I take it, the one you’re here to tell. I apologize for interrupting, Child. Please—ah—continue.”

“Monsignor, I believe I’ve committed a mortal sin.”

The confessor remained silent.

“Monsignor, I think I killed a man.”
That's just a small chunk of the first chapter. I might add a bit more over the next few weeks. Meanwhile, check out Gifts on Kindle, on sale for a limited time.