Do you remember Tales of the Emerald Serpent? The shared world anthology I’m part of, funded by Kickstarter? With its interlinked stories by a host of great writers, further enhanced by truly splendid artwork? All set in the mysterious city of Taux with inspirations drawn from Central American and other mythologies as well as the authors’ and artists’ fertile imaginations.
If so, you’ll recall we ran a second successful campaign and now the second volume is here! This anthology is even more intricate and ambitious. Our returning characters are caught up in official investigations as a Paladin tries to uncover the truth behind a gruesome murder while the Festival of Flowers fills the city with perfumes and parades, the perfect cover for some and their dark secrets…
Once again, I had tremendous fun writing my story, featuring Zhada the Lowl (a race of dog-headed men). If you’ve been at all curious about his romance with one of the city’s leading merchants’ daughter, you should definitely be reading this.
And yes, we’re discussing possibilities for Volume Three. We’re having far too much fun to stop, if we can possibly arrange it.
(I’ve linked to Amazon UK but obviously both books are available via Amazon US as well)
Well, as of this morning, 6th June, here in the UK, we’re already a third of the way to our first target in under twenty four hours. Whoo hoo. Though of course, that’s not nearly the sum of our collective ambition. As you will see from the stretch goals, we really want to see this as a whole series of books, and we’ve been kicking around some awesome ideas between us these past couple of months.
Do you remember Tales of the Emerald Serpent? The shared world anthology I was part of last year, alongside Lynn Flewelling, Harry Connolly, Todd Lockwood, Mike Tousignant, Martha Wells, Julie Czerneda, R Scott Taylor and Rob Mancebo? Successfully funded via Kickstarter?
Which committed me to a summer of cross-stitch which was fun to do with the added bonus of having unsuspecting folk come to see what I was doing, such a nice genteel hobby, er, oh, you’re embroidering an ornately decorated skull, how, er, quaint etc.
You can now buy and read that first book any time you want, by the way, paperback or ebook, on Amazon UK, or Amazon USwhere you will also find enthusiastic endorsements from a bunch of happy readers.
Well, we’re at it again and this time we have ambitions to write more than just one more book. Though that will do to be going on with in the meantime. Once again, we’re taking the Kickstarter route, so you can find out more at A Knight in the Silk Purse Kickstarter
Being involved in a Kickstarter is a decidedly unusual experience. Writers have not tradtionally stood up and asked directly for money for their work. We contract that out to our lovely agents, publishers, booksellers and so on. British writers especially are pretty reticent when it comes to shameless self=promotion on the web or at conventions. There’s generally more of an unspoken ‘if you would care to buy my books, to y’know, help keep my children fed and shod, that would be very decent of you’ vibe.
So me posting another update about Tales from the Emerald Serpent… is that ‘quite the thing’?
Yes, but, look, here’s a taster from Martha Wells’s story – and since I’ve been lucky enough to read the whole thing, I want to share it with everyone. (And if you’re not already reading Martha’s Books of the Raksura click here to see why you should be.
From her Emerald Serpent Story –
by Martha Wells
They made an odd pair for a number of reasons, but one was that she was tall for a Jai-ruk and he was short for a Kin. They were dissimilar on all counts, except for their interest in the past, and in strange myths, and mysteries, and how the world had looked before they set foot on it. They talked of things no one else cared about. Rather than an odd pair, everyone thought they were just odd.
“This is a job that will pay us well,” Kryranen said. “Up in the Golden Jaguar District.” She added unnecessarily, “Where people like the Vash live.”
“You’re supposed to be keeping the notes,” Jelith pointed out. Most inhabitants of Taux assumed Jai-ruk were too brutish for scholarly pursuits, but Kryranen’s handwriting was better than his. Her hands were large but her fingers were slender and dexterous; his notes looked like the scratchings of a child next to her elegant script.
She leaned forward to look at the book and her grimace suggested she agreed. “I’ll recopy it later.” Exasperated, she said, “You just don’t like working for money. It’s too bad we can’t eat history.”
“You would eat history if you could,” Jelith felt he had to say. It was true.
She folded her arms and gave him the long-suffering look.
And then there’s this terrific video, put together for us by Shane Wheeler, one of our pledged supporters, for sheer love of the project.
Incidentally, check out the Kickstarter page and you’ll see the bonus level for further volumes is now set at an additional $5000 per anthology. Why yes, all of us involved are that keen to get the chance to write more in this world.
(For anyone clicking through expecting this post to be anything else, you clearly missed the memo about Arthur C Clarke Award judges not making public statements about the shortlist or anything else. Sorry about that.)
My sons have grown up with me writing epic fantasy. They can browse the bookshelves for non-fiction titles on biological warfare in the ancient world, women scientists in the Enlightenment, the folklore of trees, modern asymmetric warfare and that’s just some of what I can see from my desk. Fiction? Start with Aeschylus and go on through to Watchmen and beyond. We have originals of Geoff Taylor’s fabulous cover art hanging on our walls, along with Japanese wood block prints of samurai, sundry other pictures, aikido blackbelt certificates and such.
So it’s fairly rare for one of them to stop by the study and say in astonished tones, ‘Mum, what is that?’
To which I replied, ‘A cross-stitch pattern for a phone case.’
‘You’re making a case for your phone with a skull on it? Cool.’
‘No, it’s not for me…’
So I explained that one of the rewards we’re offering on the Tales of the Emerald Serpent Kickstarter is a slipcase for a smartphone with the Beyond the Black Gate medallion embroidered on it. Because ever since I first saw that art, I thought what a great design it would make. And I like to embroider. I find it relaxing, just small projects, nothing too time-consuming. But truth be told, there is a limit to how many bookmarks one house needs, even a house with this many books. There are only so many times you can give family and friends some piece of your handiwork without them starting to look sideways at you.
And then I remembered how people say that part of the fun of Kickstarter is offering unusual rewards by way of a thank you to supporters. Hey, CE Murphy offered to personally sing ‘You Are The Wind Beneath My Wings’ to the highest-level backers when she Kickstarted the ‘No Dominion’ Walker Papers novella. A little needlework is nothing to that!
So far? I’m on the hook for making four of these. Or am I? The thing about Kickstarter is, unless the project goal is reached, that’s the end of it. Fall short by ten dollars and nothing happens. And that would be such a shame – not because I wouldn’t get to do some embroidery. Because the world is intriguing and the stories are awesome and this could be the start of something truly fantastic in every sense. And there are great rewards on offer, including signed prints and even originals of the terrific artwork.
We’re doing nicely so far – I think. There’s all sorts of lore and graphs and charts about Kickstarter progress which I don’t pretend to understand. What I do know is we can’t look at the numbers at any point and take anything for granted. So if you have been thinking about chipping in to support the project, please do, at whatever level suits your pocket and your interest. Buying some embroidery isn’t compulsory.
When I was invited to write a story for Tales of the Emerald Serpent, I was sent some fascinating background material on the city and its inhabitants. My attention was instantly drawn to the Lowl, described as ‘dog-headed humans’, taller than an average man, with some fire magic and an inclination to warrior and mercenary lives.
My university degree’s in Classics, so I immediately recalled Hesiod and Herodotus’s tales of the Cynocephali, the dog-headed tribes encountered by Greeks exploring the mysteries of Africa and India. More than that, I remembered the pictures in the books of myth and folklore which I’d read many years before. I recalled those wonderful maps where pictures of such half-human races separated known lands from the wilderness where all the mapmakers said was ‘here be dragons’. My love of fantasy fiction, as reader and writer, most definitely has its roots in such stories. Wouldn’t it be marvellous if there truly were such creatures?
This may well surprise fans of my novels. Readers observe from time to time on the absence of non-human races in my books, curious rather than critical. It’s a valid observation and that was a definite choice I made at the outset. Then as now, I’m looking for new perspectives on epic/high fantasy, those tales of princes, heroes and wizards – and in the ones I write, any and all of those characters can be men or women. I chose not to include ‘classic’ fantasy non-humans like orcs, dwarves or elves because they come loaded with so much baggage. So many readers will instantly see such characters through the prism of their own preconceptions. Some writers work very well with that challenge but I knew it wasn’t for me. I aim to test assumptions on class, gender and political power-structures in other ways in my stories, best done in an all human world. Along with writing a vivid, fast-moving story of course, with whatever sword-play, trickery, magic or dragons seems best suited to that particular adventure.
Writing short fiction offers me opportunities to do different things. Exploring the non-human condition is something I’m increasingly interested in. I considered dryads in my story for ‘The Modern Fae’s Guide to Surviving Humanity’; nigh-on immortal beings whose life is nevertheless lived in a constant here-and-now. Bound to the natural world and its seasons, their concept of time, life and love is utterly non-human – which is all very well until they’re forced to deal with humans intent on building a road through their oak grove.
Lowl are something else again. Their dual nature fascinates me, not only when considering how humans will react to them but wondering how Lowl see themselves. Are they neither one thing nor the other? Or enjoying the best of both worlds? Or something else entirely? What will that mean for an individual’s opportunities and choices?
Help our Kickstarter reach its target, and you’ll be able to read my story as part of a truly fascinating collection. The minimum buy-in is $5, for readers world-wide, and if you have more cash to spare, there are a whole range of bonus benefits after that.
Here’s a taste to whet your appetite.
Zhada was heading instead for the Emerald Serpent, first and most famous of all the Black Gate’s taverns. Whoever had first claimed that half of the long building had known a trick or two about keeping customers coming back even more readily than they visited the neighbouring Silk Purse and that house’s fragrant courtesans.
The pastry triangle in his hand was still warm plump with hotly spiced meat and fruit. He wolfed it down, relishing the bite of the pepper pods. So much human food was tediously bland to Lowl tastes but Mistress Talleran was Taux born and accustomed to using all the Free Coast’s bounty in her cooking.
‘Here comes a hound for hire!’
Zhada halted as he rounded the corner into the wider thoroughfare cutting straight towards the stadium.
‘Varrach.’ He let his hand rest lightly on the hilt of his sword. ‘Don’t you find the day a little chill?’
Like the rest of his followers, Varrach was shirtless despite the season. Zhada noted that three more had now followed his lead and gone under the needle for tattoos. At first glance the ink extended the Lowl pelt covering their heads and necks right across their human-framed shoulders and down their chests. A closer look would show they were no more furred than any particularly hairy human.
He also saw Varrach’s gaze drop to check that knotted ribbons secured his sword’s hilt to its scabbard, to signal that Zhada had no intention of duelling today.
The tan-furred Lowl squared his impressively muscled shoulders and stared straight into Zhada’s eyes. ‘I choose not to soothe the humans’ fears through wearing their clothes.’
‘Then shouldn’t you be going bare arsed?’ Zhada’s riposte was as swift as any blade.
Varrach clenched a fist beside his tattered ulama trousers, the loose cotton fabric cut short above his knees and bare feet. ‘And throw the ball straight into the merchant guild’s hands? Their Sturgeons would chain me like a cur in their lock-up for goading humans into unsanctioned fighting. Who would challenge their claim on this city then?’
‘But you don’t care to challenge them in their own language.’ Zhada interrupted with a gesture towards the men and women walking past, fewer than half of them sparing curious glances for this exchange in incomprehensible Lowl speech.
Varrach’s scarred muzzle wrinkled as he drew dark lips back from his canine teeth. ‘I have nothing to say to such stunted specimens, as good as deaf and noseless.’
Zhada cocked his head. ‘Why do you feel so threatened when Vitcoska’s blessing has given us so many advantages over them? She chose to form us from humanity. Doesn’t denying that kinship insult her? Don’t you see it every time you look in a mirror?’
Truth be told, he wasn’t speaking to Varrach now but to the pack of younger Lowl loitering behind him. Then he noticed that a couple of those fool pups had done something to their eyes. No longer manlike, their gaze was as dark and featureless as any beast’s.
The fur on the back of Zhada’s neck bristled with irritation. He took an angry step towards the closest, ready to grab his scruff and shake some sense into him. ‘What are you going to do next? Cut off your thumbs so you’re left with useless paws and start scurrying around on all fours?’
Varrach moved to intercept him, both fists clenched. Zhada halted. He didn’t have time to waste on this nonsense or on trying to explain himself to the city’s blue-liveried guards.
Taking a swift sidestep to wrong foot Varrach, he went on his way without another word.
Taken by surprise, the tan-furred Lowl settled for shouting a last insult. ‘Be sure they reward you richly for putting their leash round your neck!’
Zhada ignored him, lengthening his stride. He didn’t want to be late for his meeting and the sun had already risen above the vast stadium. He hurried into its shadow, heading straight for the Emerald Serpent.
When he entered the tavern though, he saw Lareo already deep in conversation with some human. Zhada approached nevertheless, to make sure that the aging Eldaryn had seen him. The diminutive individual was barely two thirds the height of most humans, even sitting on his tall stool.
Catching the human’s scent, the Lowl’s nostrils flared. Magic. A Tome Mage. One of those cheats peddling magic-wrought fakery on the basis of some supposed kinship with true wizards. As if such mountebanks had any link with those scholars who lived unseen in the Star Tower across the harbour.
‘Zhada, good day to you.’ Lareo waved to him over the human’s shoulder.
He shucked his backpack and dropped it on the floor to land with a solid thud. The man turned around in his chair, startled.
‘Good day.’ His smile widened. ‘Ah, I am looking for one of your kinsmen. Do you know a—’ he hesitated ‘—one called Durrau?’
Zhada had the Tome Mage’s measure in an instant. Newly arrived in the city from one of the New Kingdoms. While he’d have heard of Lowl he’d never have seen one beyond the seas. He didn’t know how to pronounce their names, just as he didn’t realise that Zhada now baring his teeth was nothing akin to a human smile.