“On a Black Tide” Excerpt & Free eBook!

A few years ago, I wrote a novelette called “On a Black Tide” for Privateer Press, which was included in an anthology of novelettes called Rites of Passage. Privateer Press has given me permission to post an excerpt from “On a Black Tide” and to tell you that you can download the entire novelette from Amazon for free for the next five days. In addition, Rites of Passage is now available from Amazon in print. The anthology is a fantastic introduction to the steam-powered fantasy world of the Iron Kingdoms and features stories by some great authors, including Douglas Seacat, Darla Kennerud, Matthew D. Wilson, Oren Ashkenazi, William Shick, and some dude who runs a blog about rejection. 🙂

Here’s the cover and back cover text for “On a Black Tide.”

 

They say the waters of Cryx run black with ancient evil . . .

In the port city of Blackwater, deep in the heart of the Nightmare Empire, life is short and brutal. Murderous gangs rule the streets and surviving to adulthood means being more vicious and uncompromising than those around you. The only hope of escaping the gang-infested streets is to join one of the many pirate vessels that launch raids from Cryx against the mainland.

For Aiakos, a strong yet undisciplined street thug, the opportunity to join the pirate ship Scythe in a trial by combat is the chance of a lifetime. But as he soon discovers, fighting his way onto a Cryxian pirate vessel is only the beginning of the bloodshed.

When the Scythe is drawn into the schemes of the powerful Satyxis Admiral Axiara Wraithbane, Aiakos once again has a chance to improve his station . . . or die trying.

The novelette “On a Black Tide” is a preview of Rites of Passage, a novel-length collection featuring five additional tales about the grueling trials of novice warcasters in the Iron Kingdoms.


Blackwater, Late Summer, 605 AR

Aiakos watched the Scythe limp into port like a great, wounded beast. The thick ironwood planks of its hull were shot through in many places, and the ship sat low—too low—in the water. Its main mast was gone; only a cracked six-foot stub remained where the massive beam had once stood proud and straight. Rigging and torn sails lay in a tangled snarl on the decks. The ropes had soaked up blood leaking from dozens of broken bodies, turning them pink so they looked like great heaps of intestines. The paddle wheel and the steam engines that powered it were intact; otherwise, Aiakos surmised, the Scythe would be at the bottom of the Meredius.

“That’s Bloodbrine’s ship,” Dasko said, pointing his dirk at the lumbering pirate galleon. “Shot to hell and gone, looks like.”

Aiakos nodded. “Just like Baros said. He’s headed for our pier.” He took a few steps down the pier as the Scythe came to a stop and the few men on her deck cast hawsers to waiting sailors on the pier. Once the ship was moored, its surviving crew shuffked down the gangplank. Every one of them bore some injury, mostly deep cuts and bullet wounds, the mark of pistol and cutlass.

“That he is,” Dasko said. “Baros had good information. That’ll earn him a few more coins.”

Aiakos glanced back at the gang leader, who was now worrying a bit of meat from his teeth with the point of his knife. Behind Dasko twenty of their best lads waited, clubs and knives in hand. He and Dasko had run the Quay Slayers for the last five years. They’d both joined the gang as a means of survival. Aiakos had been forced onto the brutal streets of Blackwater at eleven, Dasko at twelve. This was the way of things in Cryx. Once a child was deemed old enough, he was forced to fend for himself. The only real way to avoid death was to join one of the countless street gangs and learn to be as vicious and cruel as everything else in Blackwater.

What remained of the Scythe’s crew had now disembarked, and the captain himself, Grivus Bloodbrine, was making his way down the gangplank. Captain Bloodbrine was tall, gaunt, and hollow-cheeked. His clothes, although of fine make, were spattered with blood and scorched, and he cradled one arm against his chest, bloody bandages shrouding the limb completely.

Aiakos made his way down the pier, pushing through the line of injured sailors leaving the Scythe. Bloodbrine saw him coming and put his good hand on the heavy pistol shoved into his belt. This was how most people greeted Aiakos—with suspicion and an expectation of violence. Aiakos was large and strong, and he’d earned a reputation as a formidable fighter: relentless, uncompromising, and brutally skilled. He approached the captain slowly, his own weapons—a whaler’s harpoon balanced over one shoulder and a long flensing knife at his hip—at the ready but not overtly so.

“And who might you be?” Captain Bloodbrine called out.

“I am Aiakos, second in the Quay Slayers. You’re moored on our pier, Captain.”

Bloodbrine smiled. “Is that so?”

“It is,” Aiakos said. “But your ship is in bad shape, so we’re willing to let you remain here and offer our protection.”

“What would I need protecting from?” Bloodbrine asked, tapping the butt of his pistol with one finger. Behind the captain another member of his crew had come down the gangplank. She wore closefitting leathers and carried a brace of pistols across her chest. She held a gaff pole in both hands, its blade hooked and gleaming. Unlike the other members of the Scythe’s crew, this woman bore only superficial signs of combat—torn clothing and a few scrapes. The fact that she was uninjured meant either she’d avoided the fighting or she was very good at it. By the way she carried herself, Aiakos assumed the latter.

“Aiakos here says we’re on his pier, Nyra,” Bloodbrine said as the woman came up beside him. “What do you think of that?”

Nyra stared at Aiakos with cold, appraising eyes, her face unreadable. “Pay him what he wants. Someone has to watch the ship while repairs are made,” she said, then pushed past Aiakos.

“My first mate says pay you,” Bloodbrine said. His smile soured. “But what if I’ve got twenty fighters waiting in the hold to protect what’s mine?”

Aiakos glanced up at the decks of the Scythe and quickly counted thirty bodies; there were likely more in the hold. Bloodbrine was in a bad position and vulnerable. The pirate captains were certainly a notch up on the food chain over the street gangs, but any wounded beast was likely to attract scavengers. Aiakos took the risk, weighing his words carefully to imply the threat. “You don’t, or some of them would be with you now. We’ll make sure the shipwrights do their work without interruption while you fill out your crew.”

Bloodbrine grimaced and then spat. He knew his vulnerability was obvious, and in Blackwater that meant he was prey. “How much?”

“Twenty gold crowns a day,” Aiakos replied. “I’ll take today’s payment now.” He held out his hand.

Bloodbrine shook his head and dug into one of the pouches hanging from his belt. He pulled out a handful of gold coins and shoved them at Aiakos, who dropped them into his own pouch.

“Good,” Aiakos said. “Have someone here with the next payment tomorrow at the same time.”

“Do you think you could keep them off the ship?” Bloodbrine nodded at something over Aiakos’ right shoulder. He turned and saw a trio of awful figures moving down the pier. The necrotechs were bulbous, fleshy things upon a tangle of metal spider-like legs. They moved toward the Scythe, a small mob of shambling thralls in their wake. The undead masters of necromechanika were always on the lookout for fresh supplies. Word had obviously reached them that the Scythe was, for the moment, a floating abattoir.

Aiakos suppressed a shudder as the necrotechs approached. The undead were part of everyday life in Blackwater, but most of the living stayed out of their way lest they, too, be considered raw materials for the flesh foundries. Some in Blackwater saw undeath as a way to accumulate power and rise in station; certainly the armies and navies of Cryx contained powerful undead, not to mention the almost god-like power of the lich lords who controlled everything. To Aiakos, though, the thought of surrendering breath and blood for the cold eternity of undeath was abhorrent. Worse yet was that many were thrust upon that path unwillingly, robbed of their free will to serve as mindless and disposable cannon fodder.

“No,” Aiakos said and stepped out the way of the necrotechs and their thrall servitors. The rotten stink of their passing made his eyes water and his gorge rise. “They always take what they want.”

Bloodbrine watched the necrotechs clamber aboard his ship, their spidery legs making a dull metallic clacking noise as they scuttled across the main deck. “The shipwrights will be here tomorrow, after they’ve”—he jerked his head toward his ship—“taken what they want.”

Thralls had already begun to drag the dead from the Scythe, leaving bloody smears across the pier. Many of the corpses were in various states of dismemberment, as the necrotechs cut away the burnt and mangled pieces, leaving the choicest bits intact.

Aiakos nodded, then turned and walked back to Dasko. Bloodbrine remained, watching the necrotechs with a scowl. Aiakos felt a twinge of sympathy for the captain, a well-known and powerful pirate now forced to stand by and watch the real power in Blackwater take what it wanted from him.

“What did he say?” Dasko said as Aiakos approached.

“He agreed. Twenty per day,” Aiakos replied.

Dasko smiled and rubbed his hands together. “The lads were hoping for a bit of sport, but I’d just as soon have the money without a fuss. Hand it over.”

Aiakos dug the coins from his pouch, counted out his cut, and passed the rest to Dasko without a word.

“We talked to a few of Bloodbrine’s men as they passed,” Dasko said. “He’ll be looking for replacements. They’re gathering at the Black Hold. Should be quite a spectacle.”

Pirate captains looking to replace men lost in battle often announced their intentions and gathered potential recruits into one of the many fighting pits around Blackwater. There, the poor and desperate would fight one another, sometimes to the death, for a chance at a life at sea. Crewing a pirate vessel was not exactly easy work, but the chance to get off Blackwater and at least have the opportunity to amass wealth and prestige was often considered enough to die for.

Aiakos was no stranger to the fighting pits. He fought regularly, both to earn extra coin and to keep his battle skills honed. His many victories only enhanced his reputation among the Quay Slayers and the rival gangs they often battled. “I’ll meet you there,” Aiakos said and walked past Dasko. He turned and looked at the Scythe. The ship was swarming with activity as more thralls arrived to cart away the dead. Beyond the ship was the Meredius, its waters stretching to the horizon in a flat, grey expanse. To Aiakos the sea looked like a blank slate, pure and filled with untold possibilities. He turned back to Blackwater, grimaced, and pressed on.


If you’d like to read the rest of the story, you can download “On a Black Tide” from Amazon absolutely free for the next five days. And if you dig my little tale of piracy, undead, and general mayhem, you should absolutely check out the other five stories in Rites of Passage, also available in eBook and print formats from Amazon.

      

Acts of War: Aftershock – Week 22 & First Excerpt

Hey, folks, the book is in editing, so I don’t have the usual update for you. My work on Aftershock is pretty much done save for any questions the editors might have for me as they go through the manuscript. What I do have for you, though, is the first full excerpt from the novel. Yep, no 200-word mini-excerpt this time. I’ve got 2,700 words of Ashlynn d’Elyse action for you.

So, without further ado, let’s head to the city of Rynyr and check in on our favorite Llaelese warcaster.



 

Rynyr, Occupied Llael

How do people live here? Ashlynn d’Elyse thought as she approached the outer walls of Rynyr and the smothering heat and smoke that poured from the city. Calling them walls was not really accurate, though; Rynyr’s foundation was a deep volcanic chasm, crisscrossed with catwalks and gantries that connected clusters of buildings, constructed on jutting rocky outcroppings or directly into the side of the chasm. The lowest point in the city was still an arduous climb up the side of a mountain where she knew a garrison of Khadoran soldiers awaited her.

The way up was steep and narrow, and though it was wide enough for the battalion of soldiers she’d brought with her to walk three abreast, her warjacks—especially the heavy Mules and Nomads—seemed in constant danger of plummeting from the mountainside. She kept in nearly constant contact with the ’jacks, guiding their steps when necessary.

The Khadorans wouldn’t expect an attack from this direction. The pass was too narrow for a sizable army to assault, but it presented one advantage. Just before the plateau, an enemy would have an unrestricted field of fire if they could lob their artillery high enough. In addition, the canyon walls would prevent the Khadorans on the plateau from returning fire effectively. The angle was wrong, as the plateau hung over the pass, and targeting those on it would mean firing straight down, something multi-ton warjacks and artillery emplacements were not designed to do.

“We’ll be fish in a barrel when we make the plateau, Marshal,” said a tall man in an officer’s uniform standing next to Ashlynn. Major Heward Cocteau had been part of the Llaelese Army before the occupation, and he carried the same rank now that he was part of the Llaelese Resistance.

“We’ll lose some men,” Ashlynn agreed. “But if the reports are accurate, most of the Khadoran troops were pulled to Laedry when they evacuated Rynyr. We should encounter only a small force. And we can hurt them before they can shoot back.”

Major Cocteau pulled aside the thick and water-soaked black cloth he’d wound around his mouth. The fumes that permeated Rynyr were nearly unbreathable. He grimaced but nodded. He was not only a veteran soldier, he’d also been part of the Resistance for a long time. When in the army he’d been a friend of her father’s; Benoir d’Elyse had inspired many to throw off the yoke of Khadoran oppression, and Ashlynn had been following in his footsteps for over a decade. Cocteau was similarly committed to her leadership.

The squat garrison buildings were now visible, their slate grey tops peering over the horizon. Behind them, Rynyr loomed, miasmatic clouds of dust and ash hanging like globs of phlegm in the sulfur-yellow sky above the city. The late summer heat was tolerable, even to soldiers in armor, but it would be like fighting inside an oven once the battle began in the city.

She called a halt and glanced back at the force she was leading: five-hundred infantrymen armed with rifles and short swords, two hundred halberdiers, and two hundred heavy horse armed with blunderbuss and long axe. The horsemen and halberdiers were drawn entirely from the ranks of the Steelhead chapter in Merin. While the Steelheads were good soldiers, she was hesitant to use men not completely loyal to the cause. Yet she and the other leaders of the Resistance had had little choice. Her greatest asset was two squads of Thorn gun mages drawn from the old Loyal Order of the Amethyst Rose. Each was the equivalent of five ordinary soldiers and utterly dedicated to Llael. Lastly, she had her warjacks: two Mules, a Nomad, and a pair of Vanguards. They were old warjacks—in fact, the Mules and Nomad were positively ancient, each more than a century old. Despite their age, all were in good fighting condition.

“Let’s get the Mules up here,” she said to Cocteau. “The Khadorans have to know we’re here, and I want to start shelling those barracks so our infantry can advance under their fire.”

“A sound plan, Marshal d’Elyse,” Cocteau said. “Shall I have the horsemen charge up first to make a hole for the infantry?”

She nodded. “Go pass the order along.”

It sometimes felt strange to give orders to men who had served with her father. She remembered them as larger-than-life figures who had helped begin the rebellion, the military of which she now led. Her warcaster ability and her many victories spoke for themselves, so the men who once followed Benoir d’Elyse now gladly followed her. Major Cocteau was no different.

Cocteau left to dispense her orders, and she reached out to the pair of Mules towering over the column of soldiers behind her. Their minds were old and slow; it was like pushing through a layer of mud to reach their cortexes. They were reliable machines, but the technology on which they were built was nearly two hundred years old, and they lacked the speed and precision of newer warjacks. Still, these two had served her well for many years. She called them Soldier and Crash—the former for a strange habit of seeking her permission to enter combat and the latter because it liked to use its body more than its mace to smash enemy warjacks and the occasional building to pieces.

The two Mules made their way up through the ranks with no small amount of her direct guidance. They were careful, and she could feel a faint trepidation through her connection with them; they wanted to avoid hurting their brothers in arms. The soldiers in their way did their best to move aside, flattening themselves against the canyon wall or ducking between the warjacks’ legs to avoid their passage.

When Soldier and Crash reached her, Soldier brought its mace up to its head in something like a salute. That was a new quirk, though it fit the old warjack’s regimented personality. Crash vented steam in an irritated rumble. She could feel its aggression like an old attack dog kept in its pen too long. It wanted to break something.

Each of the Mules was armed with a primitive cannon that used pressurized steam to launch an explosive projectile. Usually, the range was very short, certainly not enough to reach the Khadoran barracks above them. Given time, though, the steam could be allowed to build and a shell launched farther, but the steam cannon’s primary benefit was that it could lob artillery at a very high angle. She mentally ordered the two Mules to aim their cannons. The steady hiss of building pressure was audible, and Crash’s frustration that it wouldn’t see the carnage it was about to inflict on the enemy was like a hive of bees in her mind.

“Don’t worry, old man,” she said out loud. “Plenty of opportunity for close work ahead.”

The cannons had reached the correct pressure, and she saw a line of horsemen behind the warjacks, ready to advance, all of them veteran mercenaries. They would fight hard, but she’d need to get her infantry up to the plateau as soon as possible to bolster them. Mercenaries would not fight a losing battle.

Fire.

The steam cannons weren’t as loud as traditional cannons blasting powder munitions, but they still made a deep choonk! sound as they released their cannonballs.

She had guided the Mule’s aim with her magic, and the two projectiles sailed high and at the arc she wanted. They were loaded with two pounds of blasting powder each, and when they hit, the resulting double explosions sent shockwaves through the ground.

Screams and shouts from above followed, and now the horsemen moved past the two Mules—there was just enough space to let them through—and up toward the enemy. She pushed Soldier and Crash to fire their cannons again, and two more explosives sailed up and over. She estimated she could get three volleys launched before the horsemen reached the plateau.

She was right.

After the third round of explosions, she heard the telltale clash of steel on steel. The horsemen had made contact.

She drew her mechanikal sword, Nemesis, and held it aloft. “For the Resistance! For Llael!”

She charged up the steep pass, Soldier and Crash pounding along behind her. As she did, she made contact with the rest of her warjacks, the sword-wielding Nomad and a pair of Vanguards armed with guisarme and shield cannons. They were a bit farther back with hundreds of infantry between them. She’d planned it that way: to hit the Khadorans in waves.

Soldier and Crash were excited, as excited as two ancient warjacks were likely to get. They were about to do what they had been built to do, and the likelihood of battle filled them with something akin to joy. They vented steam in long angry blasts as they thundered along.

She made the plateau and saw something she did not expect. There were Khadorans here. Ranks of Winter Guard poured out of the barracks, six squat buildings pressed against the wall of the canyon. Another steep pass rose behind them, this one leading to the city proper.

There weren’t enough enemy troops to hold their position, and they seemed to possess only a single warjack, a Juggernaut that looked to have seen better days, judging by the condition of its hull, which was cracked and warped in many places.

She realized her force outnumbered the Khadorans by two-to-one at least. She’d expected a roughly even fight and had hoped her surprise attack would give her the advantage. But it had done more than that: it had put her in a position to annihilate the enemy.

Ashlynn didn’t stop to wonder at her good fortune. There was still a battle to fight. Ahead of her was roughly a hundred yards of open ground, and the Steelhead horsemen roaring across it turned it into a dustbowl.

The Winter Guard fired their rifles, and she saw horsemen tumble from the saddle. The Juggernaut was controlled by an officer, a man with a black fur hat and a saber. He was no warcaster but a ′jack marshal, directing his machine’s actions with shouted commands and hand signals. The Juggernaut waded into a knot of horsemen, its ice axe glowing bright blue as it simultaneously cut and froze. Limbs snapped off or shattered, as if the warjack were dismembering lifelike ice statues.

That was where she needed to be.

She summoned her magic, the spell runes forming in swirling gold around her sword blade. She directed the spell at Crash, quickening the old Mule’s movement and reaction time with sorcerous augmentation.

“Get him, old man,” she said, directing Crash to do what it wanted to do: to slam into the enemy warjack as an eight-ton battering ram.

She directed Soldier to fire its cannon at the Khadoran buildings. If more enemy were inside, she could delay them from coming out, perhaps even kill or trap them in the barracks.

Soldier’s cannon fired, and the explosive whistled into its target, blasting apart the roof of one of the barracks.

She ran behind Crash, and the Juggernaut’s ’jack marshal saw her coming and began screaming orders. The Juggernaut turned just in time to catch Crash’s armored shoulder in its chest. Sparks and scraps of metal flew in all directions. Crash’s joy reached almost human levels of ecstasy as the Juggernaut slammed backward, trampling a Khadoran soldier beneath it. The enemy warjack did not go down, however, and in a straight-up fight, a Mule was at a disadvantage against a Juggernaut. Not that Crash knew or cared about this.

Ashlynn forced Crash to use its mace, and it reluctantly stepped forward to engage the Juggernaut. Behind her, the infantry had arrived—she could hear Major Cocteau shouting orders and then the staccato rattle of rifle fire.

The Juggernaut’s ice axe smashed into Crash’s hull, nearly severing its left arm and the steam cannon attached to it. She guided the return stroke and crumpled the Juggernaut’s hull above its cortex, knocking it back again.

She needed to remove the Juggernaut’s ’jack marshal before Crash took more damage, but half a dozen Winter Guard stood in her way. That worried her little. She advanced slowly with measured steps, keeping her sword in long point, hilt at shoulder level, blade projecting toward the enemy. She called forth her magic again, and runes formed once more around Nemesis. This time she used the spell on herself, so when she reached the Winter Guard, she was a blur of silvery death. She took one soldier through the throat, pulled her blade free, and slashed open the chest of the man next to him. The Khadorans tried to bring their axes to bear, but they moved as if trapped in thick mud, unable to intercept or ward off her flickering sword. She knocked an axe aside with the strong of her blade, raised her hands high over her foe’s guard, and rammed Nemesis through his chest. She then lunged forward and skewered the man behind the one she’d just killed. The final two Winter Guard gave ground, allowing her to finally reach the ′jack marshal.

The Khadoran had drawn his short heavy saber and was waiting for her. He’s a brave one, she thought. Yet he was at a severe disadvantage; his weapon was shorter and slower, to say nothing of her years of training and her warcaster ability.

Ashlynn drove forward with a thrust at the ′jack marshal’s throat. He knocked it aside with a short crisp parry, binding Nemesis with his heavier blade. It was good form but not good enough. She allowed her blade to be pushed away before snapping Nemesis out of the bind. The Khadoran had been using too much pressure, and his blade dropped for a split second without her weapon to resist it. The opening was small, but she was quick, and Nemesis removed the top half of the Khadoran’s skull in a fountain of blood.

She leaped back, blade up in a defensive guard. Even mortally wounded men could strike one more blow before death claimed them. But she needn’t have worried. The ′jack marshal’s eyes rolled up in his head, and he toppled over.

The battle had ebbed around her. With the infantry and the rest of her warjacks behind them, the remaining Khadoran troops were being slaughtered. There was still that Juggernaut to deal with, however.

She turned her attention to Crash, quickly checking the Mule’s condition through her link with it. It was suffering. Its hull was torn in many places, and it was leaking fluid from multiple ruptures in its hydraulic system.

Soldier had reduced most of the barracks to rubble, and Ashlynn pulled it away to help Crash. Her Vanguards began to pepper the remaining structures with their smaller shield cannons while her Nomad brought its battle blade to bear against the remaining Winter Guard.

Something like concern flowed back through her connection with Soldier, concern for its fellow Mule, which was in real danger. She pushed Soldier into a charge, and the big warjack came hurtling across the battlefield, its mace whistling down with earth-shattering force. The Juggernaut had raised its axe to deliver a finishing blow to Crash, but without a ′jack marshal, it was operating purely on instinct and didn’t see the peril it was in.

Soldier’s mace smashed into the Juggernaut’s head, tearing it off and sending it sailing away. The loss of its head was not fatal to the warjack, though it was now blind and deaf. The Juggernaut stumbled, swinging its axe wildly, cutting in half a Winter Guard soldier not quick enough to get out of the way.

Ashlynn urged Soldier forward and aimed the next blow with its mace at the Khadoran warjack’s chest. The weapon hammered down, crushing the hull and the cortex beneath it. The Juggernaut collapsed to the ground, nine tons of smoking wreckage.

“Good work, Soldier,” Ashlynn said and moved up next to the warjack, taking cover behind its huge frame as she surveyed the battle. It was over; it had been a complete rout.

The remaining Khadorans threw down their weapons and surrendered. Now that the adrenaline rush of battle had faded, she could analyze the situation.

Why was this pass so poorly defended? It was a question that demanded answering before she committed her troops to anything else in Rynyr.

***



If you have a question or comment about the book or my writing process, ask away in the comments section below. And if you’ve missed the updates for the previous weeks, you can find them right here:

Week 1 Update Week 11 Update
Week 2 Update Week 12 Update
Week 3 Update Week 13 Update
Week 4 Update Week 14 Update
Week 5 Update Week 15 Update
Week 6 Update Week 16 Update
Week 7 Update Week 17 Update
Week 8 Update Week 18 Update
Week 9 Update Week 19 Update
Week 10 Update Week 20 Update
Week 21 Update

 

 

Acts of War: Aftershock is available for preorder in print and digital from Amazon, and you can buy and read the first book in the series, Acts of War: Flashpoint, right now.

          

 Buy Print – $14.99                                Preorder Print – $15.99

 Buy eBook – $7.99                               Preorder eBook – $7.99

Acts of War: Aftershock – Week 21 Update

Twenty-one weeks into the production of Acts of War: Aftershock, and we have completed a very important step.

Progress: The first and certainly the most extensive round of revisions on the novel is done. After adding a lot of new material and rewriting a number of scenes, the novel has grown a bit. It currently stands at 102,000 words. It’ll likely shrink some in editing, but it should be an easy 350+ pages in its final form.

Revision Roundup: Let’s talk about story, the third major focus for the revisions in this round. Much of what I did revolves around the pacing of the story, especially in the third act. Notes from the editors highlighted a potential issue that could slow the story down and lessen the impact of the tension I’d built in the previous two acts. I did a lot of work to address this issue, but I’ll likely continue to fine tune when I get the manuscript back for another, shorter, round of revisions.

Of course, I couldn’t help but do some general clean-up on the manuscript before I handed it back to the editors. As I was reading through the novel again, I noticed a bunch of my personal authorial bugaboos throughout the manuscript. This was primarily stuff like passive voice and overuse of certain adverbs or descriptive words. So, I spent a full day just fixing those issues. By no means did I catch them all, and I’ll go hunting for them again in the next round. Additionally, Mike Ryan, who is quite familiar with my work, will be on the lookout for these problems when the book finally goes to edit.

Mini Excerpt: Everybody loves a mercenary, right? Well, maybe not, but the Iron Kingdoms is home to many well-established mercenary companies that operate like armies for hire. The Steelheads may be the most well known example, and they can offer their clients real battlefield versatility with their halberdiers, heavy cavalry, and rifle corps. In Aftershock, Ashlynn d’Elyse uses a large number of Steelhead troops commanded by Captain Reece Keller. Today’s mini-excerpt features Asheth Magnus’ first encounter with the mercenary officer.



“Okay, that’s far enough,” the voice said. “Stay put, and don’t do anything fast or stupid.”

Magnus held his hands up in what he hoped was a peaceful gesture. “You have my word.”

“I hear that’s not worth much,” the voice replied, and the man it belonged too appeared out of the ruins along with six riflemen. He was armored in heavy plate fitted with articulated faulds, the kind of armor you might wear when mounted. He carried a long axe over one shoulder, a cavalry weapon, and he wore a blunderbuss on his right hip. His breastplate was emblazoned with the stylized helmet of the Steelheads.

Magnus smiled. A mercenary. This was the kind of man he could deal with.

“I’m Captain Reece Keller, Steelheads, Merin Chapter,” the man said and walked to within a few paces of Magnus.

“You don’t sound Ordic, Captain,” Magnus said.

“I was born in Ceryl, but, as I’m sure you know, Ord’s a bit friendlier to mercs, ” Keller said. “Now what are you doing here, Magnus?”



One quick revision note. Some of you might remember this particular Steelhead captain from an earlier update. At that time he was named Artis Keller. It’s been changed to Reece to avoid confusing him with an existing Iron Kingdoms character. Remember when I said don’t get attached to anything in these mini-excerpts? 🙂

If you have a question or comment about the book or my writing process, ask away in the comments section below. And if you’ve missed the updates for the previous weeks, you can find them right here:


Acts of War: Aftershock is available for preorder in print and digital from Amazon, and you can buy and read the first book in the series, Acts of War: Flashpoint, right now.

          

 Buy Print – $14.99                                Preorder Print – $15.99

 Buy eBook – $7.99                               Preorder eBook – $7.99

Acts of War: Aftershock – Week 20 Update

Twenty weeks into Acts of War: Aftershock and revisions continue. Here’s how the week went.

Progress: I’ve done quite a bit of work on the book in the last week to ten days. I started by going through the manuscript and addressing all the editors’ comments and suggested changes. Most of that consisted of straightforward and even simple changes, but there were a few scenes I needed to rewrite extensively. Next, I wrote three additional chapters designed to increase the presence of certain characters and solidify their role in the plot. This week, I’m going back through the manuscript again, word for word, chapter by chapter, cleaning up the changes I made and making sure they’re consistent throughout the manuscript. I have one major scene to rework in the third act, and then the first round of revisions will be done.

Revision Roundup: Today, I’m going to talk about another of the three major areas of focus for the revisions: character. As I go through the manuscript, many of the notes from the editors address a character’s dialogue or actions that aren’t quite in line with how they’ve been presented both in Flashpoint and elsewhere in Iron Kingdoms fiction. These types of adjustments are somewhat unique to writing media tie-in, where characters, like Lord General Coleman Stryker, Asheth Magnus, and Ashlynn d’Elyse, have been shared by multiple authors. So, even though I might come at a character differently than another author, he or she still needs to be recognizable to those familiar with the setting.

I’ve also been working on adding new chapters that give some characters more time in the spotlight. For example, I added a chapter about Ashlynn d’Elyse that reveals more about her motivations and how she interacts with the Llaelese Resistance. The antagonists can get this treatment too, and the entire purpose of Irusk’s new chapter, for example, is to give the reader a glimpse into why he made certain decisions that, viewed from afar, could be seen as quite villainous.

Mini Excerpt: One of the cool things about Ashlynn’s new chapter is it lets me spend a little more time with some of the awesome and unique troops that fight for the Resistance. The following mini-excerpt focuses on one of those Resistance powerhouses: the Thorn Gun Mages.



The face of one of the buildings ahead exploded outward in a plume of dust and smoke, disgorging a massive crimson warjack. The towering machine lumbered through the remains of the structure that had been hiding it, bringing its arms together in front of its body with a reverberating clang. The jack’s limbs were covered in slabs of heavy plate steel, like shields, and when locked together they made an impenetrable armored shell. Ashlynn knew the Khadoran design well. In her experience, it often lived up to its designation. Devastator.

Lieutenant Waevyr and her gun mages reacted to the appearance of this new threat as they’d been ordered, and their magelock pistols unleashed ensorcelled ammunition in a thundering volley. The Devastator was huge and slow moving, and the gun mages could not miss at such close range. Magelock rounds hit the target in a strobing flashes of blue and red. Some of the gun mages had fired thunderbolt ammunition, but the Devastator was simply too large and heavy to push back, even with the powerful enchantment. The rest had fired incendiary, and flames engulfed the warjack. The fire would have little effect on the Devastator with its armored shell engaged, but Ashlynn knew if she could force it into close combat, it would emerge from its steel cocoon, and the sorcerous flames would take their toll.



You know, I’ve never used that particular warjack in any fiction. I won’t say it’s the only reason I put a Devastator in that scene, but it didn’t hurt. 😉

If you have a question or comment about the book or my writing process, ask away in the comments section below. And if you’ve missed the updates for the previous weeks, you can find them right here:


Acts of War: Aftershock is available for preorder in print and digital from Amazon, and you can buy and read the first book in the series, Acts of War: Flashpoint, right now.

          

 Buy Print – $14.99                                Preorder Print – $15.99

 Buy eBook – $7.99                               Preorder eBook – $7.99

Acts of War: Aftershock – Week 19 Update

Week nineteen, and I am neck-deep in revisions for Acts of War: Aftershock.

Progress: I’m very pleased with the progress I’ve made so far. I’ve revised over a third of the novel at this point, and that includes rewrites of two major scenes. I’m on pace to put this round of revisions to bed in a total of two weeks or so.

Revision Roundup: Today, I’d like to talk about one of three major areas of revision I mentioned in last week’s post: setting continuity. These are often little tweaks and adjustments that ground the story more firmly in the Iron Kingdoms, or, sometimes, fix outright errors. I’ve been working in the IK for seven years now, so I’m very familiar with how things work in the land of steam and steel, but I do make mistakes, and luckily Doug Seacat and Matt Goetz are there to catch them.

Here’s an example a fairly minor continuity issue that I’ve already addressed:

Original text: The Chargers’ cannons went off first, and he aimed the explosive shells at the towers atop the gate, guiding them with his will.

I had been using these cannon blasts to kill multiple foes, and Doug Seacat had this comment on the text: Chargers don’t have explosive shells. Sentinel guns would work better for clearing groups of infantry, whereas Charger cannons are better to hit individual targets harder. If you want light warjacks with explosive shells, have him take Grenadiers instead of Chargers.

Revised text:  The Grenadiers’ grenade launchers went off first, and he aimed the explosive shells at the towers atop the gate, guiding them with his will.

The solution: An easy one. I changed the Chargers to Grenadiers in this scene, changed the words “cannons” to “grenade launchers,” and problem solved. This is one of the small details even someone well-versed in the setting can overlook. You see the word cannon, and you think explosion, but as Doug said, that’s not really what Charger cannons do. Grenadiers, on the other hand, are a great fit for this scene.

I needed to do some additional adjustments in the scene to replace the Chargers (and let the Sentinels mow down some infantry), but it was all pretty easy stuff. I would say about twenty five percent of the changes I’ll be making in the manuscript are similar to this example. Next week, we’ll get into some of the more complicated revisions.

Mini Excerpt: Hey, let’s take those new Grenadiers for a test drive!



The Grenadier swung its mattock at a Winter Guard officer locked in a saber duel with a Resistance soldier. The pick blade of the oversized weapon struck the Khadoran in the back, passed completely through his body, and burst from his chest in a spray of blood. A slight pulse of irritation flowing back through the warjack’s connection with Magnus as the Grenadier hoisted the dead soldier from the ground, now pinned to its weapon, and shook the corpse free like a man trying to dislodge a bit of trash from the bottom of his shoe.



Often when you revise a scene, you end up liking the revision way more than the original. Of course, this makes Grenadiers seem like jerks, which, hey, maybe they are. 🙂

If you have a question or comment about the book or my writing process, ask away in the comments section below. And if you’ve missed the updates for the previous weeks, you can find them right here:


Acts of War: Aftershock is available for preorder in print and digital from Amazon, and you can buy and read the first book in the series, Acts of War: Flashpoint, right now.

          

 Buy Print – $14.99                                Preorder Print – $15.99

 Buy eBook – $7.99                               Preorder eBook – $7.99

Acts of War: Aftershock – Week 18 Update

Here we are at week eighteen into the production of Acts of War: Aftershock. These updates are going to change a bit as I start working on revisions. More on that below.

Progress: I’m starting revisions on the novel this week–today, actually—so my progress reports will reflect where I’m at with rewrites, scene additions, scene subtractions, and all the myriad little tweaks and adjustments that will turn the book into the final product you’ll be reading on July 12th.

Revision Roundup: The editors at Privateer Press have given me extensive notes on what they’d like to see changed or adjusted in the next draft. I’ve worked with all of these folks many times on long and short fiction, and the level of notes and requested changes are what I expected. There’s work to do, but it’s not overwhelming, and much of it entails adding material, which, in my opinion, is the easiest type of revising.

There are three primary, broad-strokes areas I’ll be working on in this round of revisions: story, character, and setting continuity. All three involve changes big and small, and I’ll detail some of those changes in the coming weeks as I work through them, but here’s a little taste. After reading through the draft, the editors at Privateer Press all came to the same conclusion: more Ashlynn d’Elyse. That suits me just fine. She’s a great character, and I’ll be adding a scene or two with the Llaese Resistance leader in this next draft. In fact, that’s gonna be the very first thing I do!

Mini Excerpt: Since the editors want more Ashlynn in the next draft, here’s more Ashlynn in this week’s mini-excerpt AND on the awesome cover of Aftershock (courtesy of the extremely talented Néstor Ossandón).

 



Another volley from the two Destroyers came shrieking down from the wall. The shells detonated in front of Ashlynn, pelting her power field with debris. Her Vanguards absorbed most of the blast, though one of them suffered for it. Damage reports flowed back through her connection with the warjack; its right leg had been severely damaged. She ordered it to fall back and protect the troops behind her.

She was close enough now that Crash and Soldier could reach the top of the wall with their steam cannons. She urged them to fire, and the explosive shells arced high and exploded against the hull of one of the Destroyers. Khadoran warjack armor was thick, but the twin blasts sent the great red machine stumbling backward, and then it disappeared. Ashlynn smiled at the thought of the ten-ton warjack plummeting forty feet to the ground below. Hopefully, there would be Assault Kommandos to soften its landing.



I like to think some proud son of the Motherland, a kovnik maybe, had a bunch of Winter Guard at the bottom of that wall waiting to soften the fall of such valuable equipment. 🙂

If you have a question or comment about the book or my writing process, ask away in the comments section below. And if you’ve missed the updates for the previous weeks, you can find them right here:


This week marks a special occasion. Acts of War: Aftershock is available for preorder in print and digital from Amazon! Choose your preferred format and click the link below.

Preorder Print – $15.99

Preorder eBook – $7.99

Acts of War: Aftershock – Week 17 Update

Seventeen weeks into the production of Acts of War: Aftershock, and the revision process is about to kick into high gear.

Progress: Tomorrow, I’m heading into the Privateer Press offices to discuss revision notes on Aftershock with publications director Mike Ryan and the continuity team, which includes Doug Seacat and Matt Goetz. One of the handy things about living in the same city as your publisher is you can have a face-to-face meetings to make sure we’re all on the same page with any big changes. After the meeting, I’ll start revisions in earnest with a goal of completing them by the end of the month.

The Best Part: Help is on the way. One of the great things about writing for Privateer Press is that I have access to a fantastic team of editors and continuity editors. I can get questions answered on just about anything Iron Kingdoms-related from arguably the best source on the planet: Doug Seacat, the sage of the IK himself. The man is a literal encyclopedia of Iron Kingdoms lore. Mike Ryan and Matt Goetz also help out with continuity, and, even better, all three of them are accomplished writers with a great sense of story and characterization. So, in other words, I’m in good hands, and the changes I’ll be making will only improve the final product.

The Hard Part: No, mine! With revisions on a novel this size, you’re going to have minor disagreements from time to time. I’m not talking about the cut-and-dry continuity stuff that’s either right or it isn’t; I’m talking about more nuanced things like characterization and narrative pace and structure. Occasionally, they’ll want me to change something I’d like to keep. It could be a small detail, like the description of character, to something a bit bigger, like that character’s motivation. Invariably, the editors are open to discussion, and if I can make a good case for leaving things the way I had them, they’ll remain unchanged. On the other hand, the editors often make such a compelling argument, even on a point I’m fairly passionate about, that I’ll come around to their line of thinking or at least find a workable compromise.

Mini Excerpt: As many of you know, Asheth Magnus, one of the heroes (?) of Acts of War: Aftershock, is not a “whole” man. His right arm has been replaced with a mechanikal prosthetic, which, as we see in the excerpt below, he has been known to use creatively.



“I know who you are,” Kovnik Narova broke in. “A murderer, a traitor, and a liar.”

Magnus chuckled. “Well, I can’t deny all of that,” he said. “But I’m glad we’re well acquainted.”

He squatted down in front of the Khadoran, ignoring the pain it wrung from his braced leg. He reached out with his right hand, a mechanikal prosthetic, bulky and crude but effective, and laid it on the kovnik’s shoulder. The man did not flinch or pull away, but he would feel the weight and strength of that hand. “I have some questions for you,” he said and squeezed, not enough to hurt yet. He could feel Dane’s eyes on his back, watching, evaluating.

“I will tell you nothing,” Kovnik Narova said.

“I understand,” Magnus said with a sympathetic nod. “You are a good soldier, and you must say that.” He tightened his grip, and the Kovnik winced. Bruising pressure now. “Here is the first question.”



I recently broke my collarbone, a painful experience, and one that I drew upon quite a bit in this excerpt . . . and what comes after. 🙂

If you have a question or comment about the book or my writing process, ask away in the comments section below. And if you’ve missed the updates for the previous weeks, you can find them right here: