Gentleman Jim Speaks Out

The Rowankind books, Winterwood, Silverwolf and Rowankind (the latter due in December 2018) are narrated by Rossalinde (Ross) Tremayne, but every now and then one of the other characters likes to have his say. You can find Corwen’s piece here. This time it’s the turn of pirate captain Gentleman Jim…

stormy ships

James Mayo isn’t my real name and I never intended to become a pirate, but things happen.

My family had—still have I expect—a plantation in Virginia. With three older brothers, I was never in line to inherit much, so my father determined I should have a profession. He sent me to be educated at the College of William and Mary in Virginia, to study divinity can you believe? Unfortunately that was very shortly before my country had a serious argument over taxation with King George, and I absconded to join a militia.

If I have one very serious piece of advice it’s never to get roaring drunk with your comrades in a seaport while the fleet is recruiting. Portsmouth, Virginia was my downfall. When I came to my senses the ground was rolling beneath me and I perceived myself to be at sea. To make matters worse, it was a French ship of the line, a third-rater called the Jason in the fleet of Rear Admiral Destouches.

I had a few disagreements with my sudden transfer from the militia to the navy, but to my surprise, and to that of my captain, a fine sailor by the name of Jean de la Clocheterie, I took to the ocean. In recognition of my education I was elevated to the grand position of his cabin steward, where, I may say, I prospered. It’s surprising what you can learn once you’ve acquired a position of trust. I survived the battle of the Chesapeake in 1781, was on board the Jason at the Battle of Mona Passage a year later when she was captured by the British. I had no liking for the idea of being at the mercy of King George, who had a tendency to insist that Americans were subjects of the Crown and therefore eligible to become cannon fodder in the Royal Navy. Along with a few compatriots, I contrived to escape in the ship’s jolly-boat, and we made the shores of Hispaniola where there are many opportunities open to a young man of keen intelligence and fighting spirit.

I joined the crew of the Black Hawk, then captained by Edgar Ransome. It took me six years to work my way up to the top, but by the time I was twenty-seven I was captain, and Ransome was at the bottom of the sea.

Heart of OakI first saw Rossalinde Tremayne when her husband Will and I both chased down the same French merchantman. I wasn’t in the mood to fight two battles, and neither was he, so we agreed that I would take the cargo and he would take the ship for the bounty paid by the British. I was intrigued by Tremayne’s woman, fighting like a maniac, sword and pistol in hand. I didn’t know then that she was his wife. Though I’d barely spoken two words to the lady I couldn’t get her out of my head. Lust at first sight you might say.

A year later I received a missive from Tremayne asking for a parlez between privateers and pirates to sort out who would raid where. I might have refused outright. What concessions did we pirates need to give to those who considered themselves above us just because they had letters of marque from their monarch? Then I remembered the wench and wondered whether she was still with Tremayne.

I granted them parlez and invited those other pirate captains plying their trade in the Caribbean and across the Atlantic. Tremayne did likewise amongst his privateer acquaintances. We met three months later at the Golden Compass, in Ravenscraig, on the Island of Auvienne. My Island. My town. My tavern. My rules. Except Tremayne was a fierce negotiator and in the end I gave more concessions that I had planned. I blame the distraction. Tremayne had brought the wench with him, though she was a pale shadow of the woman I had seen before.

It turned out that only two months before, she’d given birth to a son, born early. He barely lived a few days and her grief was palpable. Tremayne did what he could, but I perceived she needed cheering up and so I went out of my way to be kind and attentive. I had my reasons, of course. Many a marriage has been soured by the death of a child, and I determined to be the one to pick up the pieces if their relationship shattered.

Alas, we became friends. I say alas, because in the end I wanted the best for her and that meant relinquishing her to Tremayne when we concluded our parlez. Her loyalty to him was unshakeable.

It took several months for the news of Tremayne’s death to reach me. To my credit my first instinct was shock. Men like Tremayne are not easily disposed of. But the sea had other ideas. He’d been killed by a falling spar at the height of a storm, and my lovely Ross was a widow. An available widow.

Ross Trenayne 4I hadn’t expected her to take over the captaincy of her ship, but news reached me that the Heart Of Oak was cruising the Caribbean for French shipping. I set my sails in that direction, but she was elusive. Then I heard she’d gone back to the Atlantic sea routes.

It was another couple of years until fate dropped her into my lap unexpectedly. A storm had damaged the Heart of Oak and she was forced to take shelter in a cove on my island. I hadn’t had any inclination, then, that she was mixed up in magic, but when I rode, with my men, to confront her and her crew, there was a box which made my stomach tingle. I’ve always been a little sensitive to magic and the box drew me almost as much as Ross did. I’d heard there was an Englishman prepared to pay well for such a thing. She gave up the box easily—maybe too easily—and accepted an invitation to dinner. I took the box and left Ross a mount to make the journey to Ravenscraig. I was half afraid that she wouldn’t come. To my surprise she did. I wined her and dined her, and wooed her as delicately as I could when all I wanted to do was to rip off her clothes and bed her until she was insensible. It seemed that she’s had enough of widowhood for she came to me willingly. I will not give away secrets of the bedchamber, but I thought that having come to me once she was mine.

I was wrong.

Ravenscraig came under attack that night from two British warships and in the panic and confusion, my lovely Ross slipped away, taking the magical box with her. I hadn’t known, until that night, that she was a witch. No wonder I was drawn to her.

Unfortunately I had already despatched a messenger to the Englishman who sought the box. His name was Walsingham and he made the journey to Ravenscraig and offered me a generous sum for laying a trap for the Heart of Oak. Ross wasn’t aboard, he said, so I was happy to do it. Unfortunately Walsingham was not only a liar, he was a magic user. We trapped Ross’ ship, and she was on it. I thought he was going to kill her, but when I objected he turned his magic against me. The next thing I knew I was in the water and swimming for my life as my ship’s powder magazine blew up behind me. I’ll gloss over the rest as it’s not a time I wish to remember. I was picked up by a pirate called Nicholas Thompson, Old Nick to his enemies; I doubt he has any friends.

By the time I escaped, I’d lost my ship, my crew, my island, and my self-respect. I slipped down the neck of a rum bottle, and might have stayed there, but Ross came into my life again. She had a new husband, Corwen, a wolf shapechanger, and they seemed very much in love. I can’t fault the man. He and Ross gave me back my island, my place at the head of the pirates, and my life.

The very last time I saw her I took both her hands in mine and kissed her cheeks. “If you get tired of dry land,” I said, “you know where to come.”

She smiled at me and said, “I do, but I won’t.”

I knew in my heart I would never see her again when she said, “Have a great life. Stay well and safe.”

I squeezed her hands once and then let her go. It was the most difficult thing I’d ever done, but her time on the ocean was over. She’d go back to England with her husband and continue to fight for the rights of magic users, because my dear Ross could never refuse a fight. She was – she still is – the bravest woman I ever knew, but didn’t count herself as anything special. That’s what made her so special to me. And I saw it in her husband’s eyes every time he looked at her.

She paused once on the gang plank to turn and wave, and then walked into her husband’s embrace. She’d found a good man. If I ever find a woman half as good as Rossalinde I might even be tempted to settle down, but until then I have my island, my ships, my tavern, and all it’s womanly delights.

But a man, even a pirate, can dream.

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My Week at Milford

My writing week

The view from the window of my little room.

Many thanks to last week’s guest blogger Joshua Palmatier for doing a post for me while I was away at Milford SF Writers’ week in Snowdonia at the lovely Trigonos, Though they do have wi-fi there now, it tends to be intermittent, so I wasn’t sure how much connectivity I would have. Also I was working on my little Dell laptop, bought (reconditioned) for travelling. It’s nowhere near as convenient as my desktop machine which has a 23 inch monitor and a lovely clicky keyboard.

What’s Milford?

Milford is  practically an institution in it’s own right. It was started by a bunch of well known, well respected professional SF writers in Milford Pennsylvania in 1956. Damon Knight being one of the prime movers. James and Judy Blish brought it to the UK in 1972 and with only a couple of exceptions it has run annually ever since.

The Blishes organized it at a venue in Milford on Sea. Anne McCaffrey chaired the first one, and the rank and file consisted of Mark Adlard, Brian Aldiss, John Brunner, Ken Bulmer, George Locke (‘Gordon Walters’), John Murry (‘Richard Cowper’), John Phillifent (‘John Rackham’), Chris Priest, David Redd, Josephine Saxton, Andrew Stephenson and Peter Tate. In the subsequent four-and-a-bit decades many SF luminaries have passed through: George RR Martin, Brian Aldiss, Bruce Sterling, Charles Stross, Alastair Reynolds, John Brunner. David Langford, John Clute… and many more. You can see more about MIlford’s history here http://www.milfordsf.co.uk/history.htm and more about Milford itself here http://www.milfordsf.co.uk.

Panorama01

Milford 2017 (Photo: Matt Colborn)

What do we do?

VLUU P1200  / Samsung P1200

Coffee break and conversation 2018

Milford is all about writing. Stick fifteen writers in a small venue in the middle of Wild Welsh Wales for a week and you get some amazing results. Everybody bonds. (Note bonding is not compulsory, but in all the years I’ve been involved there have only been a couple of people who have resisted the camaraderie.) That’s not to say we live in each others’ pockets for the week. We have a schedule which goes something like: Saturday arrive and settle in (and have dinner together) Sunday to Thursday inclusive, mornings are your own; afternoons are formal critique sessions and evenings are social time. (Though if you want to sneak back to your room and write, there’s nothing to stop you.) We send round our pieces for critique two to three weeks before Milford starts to give ourselves chance to read and critique in advance. And the workload is heavy, so it makes sense to get as much done as possible beforehand.

When choosing what to send in the general advice is to send an unpublished piece (or two pieces) of not more than ten thousand words altogether. Make it as good as you can but sometimes if you’re having trouble with a piece that’s also a good reason to select it for scrutiny. This year I sent a section from the work in progress, The Amber Crown. It’s a book with three viewpoint characters and though it’s kinda, sorta finished I just added a whole load of story for my female character, Mirza. Though her chapters are interspersed with the other two (Valdas and Lind) I pulled them all together into one continuous piece. I received some really interesting critiques, but nearly everyone said that the long flashback was problematical, but a couple of people suggested writing it in real time and inserting it as an extra chapter earlier in the book. At one time Mirza didn’t appear until Chapter 9, now she’s right there in Chapter 2. I’m happy with that.

Few people got massively adverse comments. Everyone said that the comments they did get were really helpful. (And they are always delivered constructively.) You probably learn as much – if not more – from critiquing otherpeople’s pieces than you do from having your own piece critiqued.

It was one of those weeks where we seemed to be laughing all the time, even though Wales was trying to drown us in rain for most of the week. Predictably the rain cleared up on the last day for the drive home.

Valley in gloom

Nantlle Valley in a gloomy mood. You should be able to see Mount Snowdon in the distance, but it’s obscured by low cloud.

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Guest Blog From Joshua Palmatier

Jacey Bedford graciously invited me to guest here at her blog today so that I could talk about the small press Zombies Need Brains and our current Kickstarter (check out tinyurl.com/ZNBPortals) attempting to fund three brand new SF&F anthologies.  I thought it might be nice to explain where the themes for these three anthologies came from.

PORTALSsmallFirst, the lead anthology, which is really my own little baby.  I grew up reading fantasy novels in the 80s, which means I read a ton of novels with characters from our world transported to another world.  Books like Andre Norton’s WITCH WORLD or Stephen Donaldson’s CHRONICLES OF THOMAS COVENANT.  There were many, many others, but I noticed that I hadn’t seen or read many “portal novels” in either fantasy or sci-fi recently.  I loved those stories, so thought, “Why not do an anthology with portals as the theme?”  Hence, PORTALS was born (although the original name I had for the anthology was WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE; I think PORTALS is much more concise and explains the theme rather well though).  Even though this was my concept, I decided I’d let Patricia Bray and S.C. Butler edit it.  I expect I’ll read a fair amount of the submissions to the open call though, perhaps stick my nose in occasionally with a thought.  *grin*

The second anthology in the Kickstarter is TEMPORALLY DEACTIVATED.  This theme came about when I received a spam email from a bank I didn’t have an account at that warned:  “Your account will be temporally deactivated unless you respond to this email now and confirm your account! [suspicious link here]”  Zombies Need Brains had just released the anthology TEMPORALLY OUT OF ORDER (to great success) and I immediately thought “SEQUEL”!  I added it to my list of potential themes and then promptly forgot about it … until David B. Coe got the same email a few years later (these things never die) and pinged me about it.  He’d had the same thought:  “SEQUEL!”  And so the theme was revived and of course David B. Coe is now editing it with me.

The last anthology for this Kickstarter came out of the blue.  I’d honestly been considering doing just two anthologies this time, but Steven H Silver emailed me with this cool concept for an alternate history anthology, ALTERNATE PEACE.  Most alternate history novels and stories begin with a change in the outcome of some kind of violent event, such as a different result for a battle or a war.  His idea was to find alternate history stories where the divergence from our own timeline came from a peaceful change, such as a discovery (or lack of) in science or a societal culture change.  That change could lead to violence, but the change in the timeline itself was peaceful.  I liked the concept and thought it fit well with the other two themes, so I decided to add it to this year’s roster.

So that’s how the three themes for this year’s Kickstarter were selected.  If you’ve got a moment, swing on by the Kickstarter at tinyurl.com/ZNBPortals and make a pledge!  Help bring these themes to life!  It’s only $15 for the ebooks and $48 for the paperbacks.  And once the Kickstarter is funded, there will be an open call for submissions, so anyone can submit a story for consideration.

And if you haven’t heard of the small press Zombies Need Brains before, we are a relatively new press with 10 anthologies under our belts.  We’ve been recognized by the Science Fiction Writers of America (SWFA) as a professional market and we have had three of our past stories in anthologies up for the WSFA Small Press Award.  Two of those stories are up this year and we hope that one of them wins!  Fingers crossed!

You can find out more at www.zombiesneedbrains.com and tinyurl.com/ZNBPortals.  I hope to see you on the backer list!

BenTateJoshua Palmatier has published nine novels to date—the “Throne of Amenkor” series (The Skewed Throne, The Cracked Throne, The Vacant Throne), the “Well of Sorrows” series (Well of Sorrows, Leaves of Flame, Breath of Heaven), and the “Ley” series (Shattering the Ley, Threading the Needle, Reaping the Aurora).  He is currently hard at work on the start of a new series, as yet untitled.  He has also published numerous short stories and has edited numerous anthologies.  He is the founder/owner of a small press called Zombies Need Brains LLC, which focuses on producing SF&F themed anthologies, the most recent being Guilds & Glaives, The Razor’s Edge, and Second Round: A Return to the Ur-Bar.  Find out more at www.joshuapalmatier.com or at www.zombiesneedbrains.com.  You can also find him on Facebook under Joshua B. Palmatier and Zombies Need Brains, and on Twitter at @bentateauthor and @ZNBLLC.

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Finish What You Start – Or Don’t

Unless you stop faffing about re-writing the beginning of your story/novel, you’ll never finish it.

Believe me, I know this. I am an expert in faffing around.

I’ve spent untold hours/days/weeks/months getting the start of my novels just right. Sometimes that means rewriting the first few scenes time and time again. Sometimes it means starting the story in a different place, either earlier or later than I had first envisaged.

The acknowledged writerly wisdom is that even though you know the opening isn’t perfect, you can move on to the rest of the novel then come back at the end and rewrite the beginning with the hindsight of having a finished story. And, indeed, that’s not a bad idea at all.

But…

But…

For me the opening is my launch pad into the story. Unless I have a clearly defined jumping-off point I find I’m floating in a bit of a vacuum. I need solid ground from which to jump.

I’m one of those writers who is halfway between a plotter and a pantser. At the beginning of a novel I’m usually ‘pantsing’ – i.e. writing by the seat of my pants, trying to discover what the story is about and who the characters are. Though I often have an ending in mind, I can get twenty thousand words on the screen before I start to jot down notes-to-self on where the story is going.

Nimbus front coverWhen I started to write Nimbus, the third book in my Psi-Tech space opera series, I think I must have written four or five different openings. (The first one I wrote eventually ended up as a story thread that appeared about one third into the book. So don’t ever throw your rejected openings away. They may still be useful elsewhere.)

The writers’ group I belong to must have been punch drunk when presented with my multiple alternative beginnings, but eventually I got to where I needed to be and with great relief, moved forward.

The book I’m working on at the moment, The Amber Crown, had a clearly defined beginning from the moment of its conception and yet… it has three individual viewpoint characters, all separate at first. So, really it has three beginnings. I wrote it right through to the end and then decided that one of my characters began her journey in the wrong place, so I’ve just gone back and inserted two additional chapters to begin her story much earlier. Not at the beginning, but at her beginning.

Rowankind_cover 400In my upcoming book, Rowankind, (DAW, December 2018), the final book in my Rowankind trilogy (a historical fantasy set in the early 1800s) I was almost ready to send the finished manuscript to my publisher when I finally figured out that I’d left something out that needed to be right at the beginning, so I added in a new chapter.

But what happens when you can’t get an opening to work?

Unless you are a serial abandoner of half-finished novels, there’s really nothing to stop you from saying, “This simply isn’t working.” We all have moments when we think what we’re writing is trash, and it will never work, and it’s the worst thing we’ve ever written, so we have to judge very carefully. Is this one of those phases that all authors go through, or do we really, truly know this book is not working? I have one of those. It’s a book I started writing and spent several months on, but the further I got into it, the less confidence I had. In the end I showed it to my writers’ group and though they didn’t hate it, they didn’t totally love it either. I felt justified in retiring it to the bottom drawer. Maybe I’ll look at it later and be able to see why it didn’t work for me. Maybe I’ll have a sudden insight and know what I need to do to set it right, or maybe it will languish, forgotten forever. Since I have six books published and four more finished, I don’t feel guilty about the one that got away.

Sometimes a thing simply doesn’t work, and we have to admit it.

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Jaine Fenn Guest Blog

HiddenSun_cover 144dpiEvery writer has their obsessions, the themes we return to; real-world stuff that bothers us enough that we pick and peck at them repeatedly through our stories – because y’know, writing is therapy.

I’m fascinated by juxtapositions. Especially physical ones: I’ve lived much of my life between the rural and urban, on the edge of towns, seeing the best and worst of both worlds, escaping to one when the other got too much. Perhaps that’s why I love the idea of divided worlds. How do they come about? Can one exist without the other? What happens when they rub up against each other?

Although it wasn’t at the forefront of my mind, looking back I can see that this obsession was there from the start. Khesh City, the setting for my first novel Principles of Angels, is physically divided into an upper and lower city, one on top of the other. I spent a long time getting to know that setting while I learnt the craft and wrote (and rewrote… and rewrote) the novel, but one book wasn’t enough for this particular obsession.

Not that the idea of a divided world was the seed for the Shadowlands books. I’d had it in mind to write something with weird-yet-accurate cosmology for some time, and from this cosmology came the division of a world into skylands – where the heat, radiation and scary wildlife would soon put an end to an unaugmented human – and the shadowlands – isolated low-tech settlements not unlike the old Greek or Italian city-states.

Writing the shadowlands books has been in challenge in many ways, as I’m taking the stories into places I’ve not dared before, and I’ve had to get various scientifically trained grown-ups to help me design the world. But once the underpinnings were in place, the physical set-up became a major driver for the story – all the while allowing me to explore one of my favourite obsessions.

 

JF torso shotJaine Fenn studied linguistics and astronomy to a level just high enough to be able to fake it and worked in IT just long enough to never trust computers again. She is the author of numerous published short stories and of the Hidden Empire series of space opera novels, published by Gollancz. She also teaches creative writing and is currently writing for the video games industry. Her upcoming novel is Hidden Sun, out on 4th September 2018 in paperback and ebook from Angry Robot.

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Book Covers

The page proofs for Nimbus just landed in my desk, so I’m a bit busy this week, so rather than rushing to write a post I thought you might be interested in my book cover illustrations for the Rowankind trilogy, and how they turned out after the designers had turned them into the actual book covers. Sometimes I’ve looked at the initial images and wondered how on earth the designers (not the same people as the illustrator, Larry Rostant) were going to fit in the type, but they always do.

Enjoy.

Rowankind Vis

Rowankind_cover

Silverwolf Revise

Silverwolf final front cover

Winterwood Vis 2

Winterwood front cover

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Dropping a Pebble in the Pond

I used to think that if I could only get one book published by a major publisher I would be able to die happy (though I did not necessarily plan that particular event soon). Now I have five books published and another coming out in December, so my ambitions have changed. Now I not only want my books to be published, but I actually want people to read them, to like them, to tell their reading friends about them, to review them (favourably, I hope, but also honestly) and to talk about them online via Facebook, Goodreads and Amazon reviews.

And that’s where you come in, gentle reader.

These days–unless authors are already ‘best sellers’–publishers don’t really give our books much of a push. Oh, yes, they publish them, and make sure they are the best they can be in terms of editing and cover design. They put us in their catalogue, and tweet about us the day our book is released, but my publicist is also the publicist for any number of other authors, and the time she can give my new book (or any new book) is limited.

I’m not grumbling about this. I love my publisher. It’s just the way it is for many, many authors out there who are published by any number of publishers, large and small.

So what we rely on, gentle reader, is YOU.

I’m not just begging for myself, but for all author-kind. If you like a book, shout out about it. Mention it in your blog, recommend it to friends, tweet about it, add your review to the reviews on Goodreads and Amazon and any other bookish sites that solicit your opinions.

Borderlands-shelfie

For almost a decade I’ve been blogging about books and reading to anyone who will listen. Some are books that I like, others not so much (but I try to be fair). I blog every book I read and have done since 2009. I have a completely separate book and movie blog on Dreamwidth: https://jacey.dreamwidth.org/

Sometimes it feels like a bit of a bind to finish a book and have to write it up, but I’m so glad I’ve stuck to it. Flicking back through my blog reminds me of all the books I’ve read. How I wish I’d started doing it years ago.

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