WIP excerpt: The Sword Keeper

At first, Tamuna felt as if she were falling through an abyss. Darkness surrounded her, so thick she could almost taste it.

Before she could panic, her fall slowed until she was floating in midair. Her feet touched water, and a deep sense of peace swept over her, the peace that one only feels in a dream. As the darkness cleared, she found herself swimming in a clear pool fed by a mountain spring. Rugged cliffs rose behind her, while a small stone chapel stood a short distance from the shore. An eagle cried out in the cloudless blue sky, momentarily breaking the solitary silence of the wilderness.

Where am I? Tamuna wondered. How did I come to this place? If this was a dream, it felt more real than any she’d ever experienced. The water was cool and refreshing, with a bed of fine gravel under her feet. There was no danger of drowning, though the pool was deep enough that she had to swim instead of walk. She was naked, of course, but that didn’t bother her. It would be silly to swim in her clothes.

She reached the edge of the pool and climbed onto a large rock. Snow-capped peaks lined the horizon in every direction, while virgin forests stretched out in the valleys below. The view was so stunning, it completely took her breath away. She’d heard of places like this, where the cattle herders took their cows in the summer and the hunters roamed in the winter. However, when she scanned the mountains on the horizon, none of them were familiar.

“Hello?” she shouted. “Can anyone hear me?” The echo came back a few seconds later, but only the wind answered her.

She shivered and rubbed her arms with her hands. The breeze was uncomfortably cool on her bare, wet skin, but fortunately the sun was rapidly drying her. She sat down on the rock and began to wring out her hair.

She noticed a small footpath nearby, leading to the stone chapel. A set of woolen clothes lay neatly folded at the head of the path, clearly meant for her. As soon as she was dry enough to dress herself, she climbed down from the rock and slipped the clothes over her body. They were thick and warm, perfectly suited for the mountains. The embroidery was red and gold on black in the style of the Khevsurans, with a recurring cross and circle motif. She took a few moments to admire her reflection in the lake before setting off down the path.

Like most mountain churches, this one was built in the shape of a cross, with tall, narrow windows and intricate patterns carved onto the exterior. The stones were crumbling, and a long crack ran down the wall through the highest window. From the outside, it seemed to be empty.

I’m alone, she thought silently. And yet somehow, she knew that wasn’t true. Ever since the darkness had lifted, she’d felt a presence nearby, waiting for her. It felt as if she were part of a story that she was living through instead of merely hearing about.

When she reached the front doors, they swung open of their own accord, revealing a vaulted chapel that was dark and empty. Aging marble tiles covered the floor, while the walls and pillars were hewn from rough-cut stone. A ray of light shone down from the cupola, illuminating the apse at the center.

And there, embedded in a slab of pure white marble, stood the sword.

Her breath caught in her throat. Once again, she felt the call of destiny compelling her forward. She covered her head with one of the shawls by the entrance and quietly stepped inside.

“Hello?” she said aloud. Though her voice was barely louder than a whisper, it carried throughout the sanctuary.

Tamuna, a voice spoke in her mind. She froze, her blood turning to ice. Was someone behind her? She glanced over her shoulder, but saw only shadows. Perhaps the wind was playing tricks with—

Tamuna, the voice spoke again, this time as clear as if she had heard it with her ears. She spun around, but again, she was alone.

As she turned back to the apse, the air immediately in front of her began to ripple like a mirage on a hot day. The sword seemed to morph and change, until she saw two images before her: the sword in the slab of marble, exactly as before, and a tall young man with golden hair and a carefully trimmed beard, wearing a silver coat of mail and the tunic of a warrior.

“Wh-who are you?” she asked, taking a step back. Something about his gaze held her, telling her there was no need to be afraid.

“Tamuna Leladze,” he said softly, looking at her with the barest hint of a smile. “Over a thousand years have passed since mortal eyes have seen this place, now in ruins in the world of men. Many have desired to wield me, but I have refused them all. I am Imeris, the twelfth and final sword, and this is my sanctuary.”

Tamuna frowned. “The twelfth sword?”

“Yes,” said the young man. His image faded until he was almost invisible, so that Tamuna found herself staring at the hilt of the sword in the marble slab. It called out to her the way it had in the tavern, and she realized that the man and the sword were the same.

“How did you know my name?”

“I know a lot about you, Tamuna,” said Imeris, coming back into view. “Our minds made contact the moment you laid eyes on me. I know how your heart longs for adventure, how you dream of faraway lands. And yet, your unshakeable loyalty to the few close and lasting friends in your life keeps you rooted to your home.”

“You can read my mind, then?”

“Only because you are too innocent to know how to shut me out. What I read in your mind, others can easily read in your countenance.”

Tamuna gazed into Imeris’s eyes and felt as if she were staring into a mirror back through centuries of time. And yet, he looked like a man only a few years older than her.

“Why have you brought me here?” she asked.

“Do you see the inscription written on the floor beneath your feet?”

Tamuna looked down and saw an inscription, written in old, faded letters in the marble floor. She squinted and tried to make them out, but the writing was too ancient for her to read.

“What is it?”

“It is an ancient prophecy, pronounced on the day when I was forged.”

“What does it say?”

“It says: This sword IMERIS, though last to be forged, certainly shall not be the least. For in the days when the order is broken and darkness sweeps across the face of the land, it shall await the one who will wield it in truth and wisdom to free the world of men.” He paused, looking her in the eye. “You are the one of whom the prophecy speaks, Tamuna. You are the one whom I have chosen.”

A crack of thunder sounded in the distance, sending chills down Tamuna’s spine. For a brief moment, a cloud overshadowed the sun, throwing the chapel into shadow. Imeris looked up and frowned.

“There isn’t much time,” he said. “The enemy is nearly here. They will seek to destroy us.”

“D-destroy us?” said Tamuna, her knees going weak. “There must be some mistake. I can’t possibly be the one you’re looking for. I’m just a tavern girl!”

Imeris looked at her long and hard, making her flinch. “There is no mistake, Tamuna. I recognized you the moment your mind reached out to my own.”

Her cheeks paled. “But…”

“Of course, you must take me up of your own free will if you take me up at all. If you so choose, you may leave this place by returning to the pool. Once you are submerged, you will return to your home.”

Tamuna nodded in relief. So there is a way out, she thought to herself. This doesn’t have to be my destiny. But even though the realization eased her somewhat, she couldn’t shake the feeling that to do so would be a mistake.

“What about the prophecy?” she asked. “If I reject you, will you find someone else?”

Imeris shrugged sadly and looked off into the distance. “Perhaps,” he said as he faded from her view. “Perhaps not.”

She hesitated a moment, alone now with just the sword. Once again, she felt it calling out to her, though this time, her thoughts were much clearer. You must take me up of your own free will, Imeris’s words came back to her. Another crack of thunder sounded in the distance, breaking the silence that had fallen with his departure.

I can’t do this, she told herself. This isn’t for me—I shouldn’t get involved.

As she walked back outside, her feet felt strangely heavy. A part of her longed to run back to the church and draw the sword out of the marble, just for the chance to experience an adventure. But of course, that wouldn’t be right. She couldn’t just leave Sopiko like that, after all that her aunt had done for her.

She reached the water’s edge, but hesitated before climbing in. A cool wind whistled over her skin, making the reeds dance and tossing back her long black hair. The surface of the water rippled, while a mass of giant thunderheads towered in the sky. She shivered, and not just from the cold. Lightning flashed in the valley, and a shadow darker than any she’d ever seen raced across the forests toward the mountaintops. There was a presence in that shadow, something primal and dangerous that made chills shoot down her spine.

Thunder rolled across the land, giving her pause. What if Imeris was right—what if she was the one from the prophecy? And if she was, then what would happen if she didn’t follow through?

The thunderheads towered high above her now, blocking the sun, and a stiff wind blasted the lake and flattened the golden-brown grass. Something evil was in that storm. Her heart raced, and she knew that she had to turn back.

She ran to the mountain church as fast as her feet would take her. Her breath came in short bursts, and her heart pounded furiously in her chest. She sprinted through the open doorway and ran to the sword in the marble slab.

“Imeris!” she shouted, gasping for breath. “Imeris, where are you?”

The sword called out to her, just as it had in the tavern. This time, she didn’t hesitate. As the sunlight turned to darkness, she gripped the handle and pulled with as much strength as she could muster. Thunder cracked directly overhead, and the sword came free with a metallic hum.

And then she was falling again through the abyss, tumbling as if a crack in the earth had swallowed her.

Beginning of June update

So it’s the beginning of June already, and it’s starting to feel like summer here in Iowa. Because it’s so flat, the sky stays light F O R E V E R, which is kind of neat. Lots more time to go on walks, which is where I work out plot points and other stuff.

Patriots in Retreat
Phase:Draft 1.0
Due:17 hours ago

In any case, Patriots in Retreat (my current WIP) is coming along well. It’s turning out to be shorter than I’d expected; there’s only three chapters left, and it’s not quite 20k words. Will probably come in between 3ok and 25k, making it one of the shorter Sons of the Starfarers books.

Middles are tough, even for short novels. I have no idea if this draft is going to turn out clean or not. But I am trying to cycle through as I write, to minimize the number of drafts I need to do. If I can master that technique, I can double or triple my production.

The Sword Keeper is just about finished, only a few more touch-ups before I send it out to my editor. Need to get back in touch with him. We’re definitely still on track for a release this fall, and I’m super excited because I think this is one of the best books I’ve written. Look out for a WIP excerpt later on this week.

There’s a couple of short stories I really want to write, but I’m so swamped with the other stuff that I don’t know when I’ll be able to get to it. I’m not behind (yet) on my current WIP, but I need to keep a steady pace of just under 3k words to meet my deadline, which is going to take some effort.

I haven’t started writing Gunslinger to the Galaxy yet (the sequel to Gunslinger to the Stars)… well, that’s not quite true, because I have written the first line:

My name is Jane Kletchka, and I’m here to set the record straight.

…but in any case, I’m starting to get a bunch of great ideas for that one. Will probably start working on it sometime this fall.

Publishing-wise, I’ve got a ton of stuff to work on but not enough time to juggle it. Most of the stuff falling by the wayside is marketing stuff, which isn’t good, but sales seem to have picked up in the last month so hopefully that isn’t too much of a problem. Still waiting for some reviews to roll in for Gunslinger.

Major items on my publishing to do list include:

  • Write the author’s notes for “The Open Source Time Machine” single and short story bundle.
  • Compile the metadata for “The Open Source Time Machine” single and short story bundle.
  • Format and publish “The Open Source Time Machine” single and bundle.
  • Send The Sword Keeper to Josh Leavitt for editing.
  • Write the book description for The Sword Keeper.
  • Find a cover artist for The Sword Keeper.
  • Rewrite all short story descriptions.
  • Make a new cover for A Hill On Which To Die.
  • Upload all books to DriveThruFiction.

Not a small list—and that doesn’t include all the maintenance-type stuff!

So that’s the big challenge: making time for all of this while working the day job. It’s only 5-6 hours a day, but it adds up. I am saving money, though. My goal is to turn around at least $100 from my writing profits each month into investments. It would be really cool to start investing in space technologies, and the research for that could tie into my writing projects very well. Virtuous cycle and all that good stuff.

That’s what I’m up to these days. Peace, love, and penguins y’all. Thanks for reading!

End of May update

So it’s the end of another month, and I’m happy to report that things are going well. Gunslinger to the Stars has had a decent release, and seems to be on its way to grow into its natural readership. I don’t want to push it too hard just yet, better to wait until a few reviews and also boughts come in. But I can push the short story, “Jane Carter of Earth and the Rescue that Never Was.” Will be interesting to see whether that garners interest in the novel.

On the writing front, I’m making good progress on Patriots in Retreat, my current WIP. The plan is to finish the last four Sons of the Starfarers books in quick succession, in order to release them one after another in the beginning of 2018. The covers are all done, and the editing shouldn’t be too expensive, so if I can knock all these books off over the summer, I’ll be in good shape.

The goal is to write each one of them in four weeks, with a week-long buffer between each draft. I’m trying out a new writing method—actually, a method I used to use when I was a kid but laid aside when I wrote my first novel. Instead of writing several distinct drafts, I’m cycling through the previous day’s work in order to produce a more clean first draft.

When I wrote my first novel, the goal was just to finish the thing, so instead of trying to fix all the problems with it as I went along, I prioritized getting to the end. Needless to say, that hot mess of a novel will never see the light of day. But for some reason, I’ve stuck with that method of writing ever since, sometimes to great detriment. Heart of the Nebula took several years to complete because the first two drafts were full of plot holes, worldbuilding inconsistencies, and totally useless characters.

Of course, back then I was a much less experienced writer and needed some emotional distance in order to figure out how to fix my own work. But now, I think I’ve got a pretty good handle of it. So we’ll try out the cycling thing with these books and see how it goes.

I did recently reread the first book, Brothers in Exile. Have to say, it’s not my best work. Not that the story itself is bad, but the writing is pretty poor and needs a good polish. Also, some of the character reactions are off. There’s a bit more melodrama than I’d like, and not enough consistency.

Again, nothing in need of a complete overhaul. Just a touch up. And maybe this is more just a recognition of how much my writing has improved over the last couple of years (at least, I hope that’s what it is). But once the last four books are done, I plan to take a couple of weeks to really touch it up.

In other news, The Sword Keeper, my first fantasy novel, is just about finished and on track for a September release. There’s a couple of issues my first readers have pointed out, but it’s more a question of patching the sails than bringing her into drydock and building a new hull. The next big step after sending it off to the editor is to find a good cover artist. I’ll probably post a classified on Deviantart, see who bites.

I really want an illustrated cover, not one of these photo-realistic things that all tend to blend together (or worse, copy the same stock photos). Those do tend to be a bit more expensive, but for my first fantasy novel, I’m willing to pay a little more.

On the publishing side of things, I’ve got a short story single and a short story bundle lined up for June. It didn’t seem fair to release the one story as a single only to release it a couple months later in a bundle, so I’m doing them both together. The cover is pretty spiffy—I’ll be sure to do a reveal later this week.

And that just about does it. Lots of things to do on the publishing side, lots of stories to write on the writing side, but it’s all coming together and I think you’ll really enjoy how it turns out. Take care!

Thoughts on Genesis Earth

So I finished rereading Genesis Earth, in preparation for writing the sequel, and I have to say it was not what I expected.

It wasn’t disappointing. There were some annoying ticks that I noticed, like too many said bookisms or turns of phrase that I wouldn’t have written today. Also, the book was a little wordy or slow in parts, compared to my more recent writing. But those were relatively minor issues. The story was quite solid. I’d actually forgotten some of the plot twists, so it was fun to watch them unfold. A bit like reading the book for the first time.

But one thing above all else struck home: the person who wrote Genesis Earth is not the person I am today. I doubt that that person would have been able to write Gunslinger to the Stars. And if I were to go back and write Genesis Earth from scratch, it would be a completely different book in every meaningful way.

It’s bizarre. When you’re caught up in day-to-day life, you never really get a sense that you’re changing. And yet, the truth is that we’re always changing, hopefully for the best, but not always. It’s impossible to experience life and still remain unchanged.

I also got a sense of this when I finished the 2.0 draft for The Sword Keeper. Perhaps it was just me reliving my own memories from the times when I wrote it, but the first half of the book seemed very different from the second half. I wrote the first half while living abroad in Georgia, and the second half years later here in Utah.

There’s a couple of things I’ve taken away from this experience.

First, it’s not always a good idea to put a WIP on the back burner. By the time you come back to it, you may not be capable of writing it exactly the way you first envisioned it. Better to push through whatever’s blocking you and strike while the iron is hot.

Second, at anything you want to do well, it’s important to always strive to improve. Even when you’re at the top of your game (and I’m certainly not at the top of mine—not yet anyway), if you’re not always trying to do better, to learn and to grow, you’ll fall off really fast.

In reality, there is no “top,” because nothing is ever static. Improvement is a lifelong process, because the moment you stop improving is the moment you start getting worse.

One thing I really need to work on is writing every day. In the past, when I’ve been working on revisions, or prewriting, or getting a book ready for publication, I’ve slacked off on this. But the truth is that writing new words is the best way to sharpen your writing skills, and that writing every day is the best way to always keep them sharp. And there’s always something to write, even if it’s just a short story. If I could write a short story every week for a year…

So yeah, lots to think on. And I’ve got a few ideas for Edenfall as well. But first, before I move to Iowa next week, I need to get Gunslinger to the Stars ready for publication. Harder, better, faster, stronger—our work is never over!

Not a bad start

So January’s almost over, and I have to say it’s not a bad start to the year. Things are going quite well, both on the writing and publishing end, and on the personal end as well.

Gunslinger to the Stars
Phase:3.0 Draft

First off, I finished draft 3.0 of Gunslinger to the Stars last week. The final draft came in at just under 52k words, which means that I managed to cut a healthy 27% of unnecessary wordage compared to the rough draft. That’s like upgrading from chuck roast to top sirloin, or 80/20 lean ground beef to 93/7 (except I actually prefer 85/15, but you get the point).

The Sci-Fi StoryBundle is doing quite well, enough that it may be a small windfall! That’s always encouraging, especially in today’s publishing climate. I should have some guest posts lined up soon from my fellow authors, which should be fun, so look out for that in the next few days. The bundle is only available for the next ten days, so if you haven’t picked it up yet, now is the time!

With Gunslinger to the Stars 3.0 finished, it’s time to move on to another WIP. The next one lined up is The Sword Keeper 2.0, which should be a lot of fun. This is my first epic fantasy novel, and there’s a bit that still has to be cleaned up, but I can legitimately say that this is one of the best things I’ve written so far. Really excited to get it out, hopfully later this year.

I also wrote a short story last week, and I’m not quite sure what to do with it. It’s so insanely political that it will probably get me blacklisted at half the magazines I submit it to. It’s also insanely short. I’ll probably clean it up a bit, see if I can add anything, and then go straight to self-publishing. Thank goodness that’s an option!

Lots more stuff happening this week. New free books, new release, new WIP, another short story in the works… 2017 is definitely off to a good start! And on that note, I’ll leave you with this awesome Pogo mix: