Winter of Discontent (New Book, Who Dis?)

New book, who dis?
My fantasy novel about Shakespearean Immortals is now live on Kindle and Nook. I’m still working out the kinks on this hybrid model, so other formats and venues to follow. An excerpt can be found here.

Ebook: | Kindle (Sponsored link)| Nook

Winter of Discontent:

Desmond was a soldier until a piece of shrapnel took away his life’s work. Now he only feels alive when he’s being someone else, so he’s majoring in theater while dreaming about losing himself forever. He’s about to discover the cost of dreams.

William Shakespeare is the greatest sorcerer who ever lived. People still believe in the characters he created 400 years ago. He has made them immortal. Literally. In Winter of Discontent, Shakespeare’s immortals live on in an eternal half life. Half themselves, half the creatures Shakespeare made of them. When the magic of theater meets the Magic of Theater in a production of Richard III a deadly chess game between the damned is the result.

Where there are players, there are also pawns. Matt and Riana are actors and friends of Desmond. They are also novices in the theatrical magic tradition that created Shakespeare where Desmond is not. Sworn to a secrecy that seals their lips, can they help Desmond stay alive and stay true to their oaths at the same time?

Some thoughts from the afterword:
This book has taken over twenty years to get from my brain to the page, or nearly fifty if you count its roots in my childhood love of Shakespeare. I literally can’t remember a time before the great plays were a part of my life of the mind. Sometime before I could speak my mother discovered that reading to me was one of the best ways to calm me down. She also discovered that it didn’t matter what she read. So, in addition to the typical children’s books, I got Shakespeare, Asimov, Tolkien, and various myths and legends in an endless loop that saw classic language and iambic pentameter layered into my bones along with the laws of robotics, the lore of middle earth, and the tales of half a dozen pantheons.
The love of literature and theater this created has dominated the course of my life. Though I am a novelist now, I started acting when I was ten or eleven, and performed steadily from then till shortly after I got my B.A. in theater, when I shifted to writing as my primary artistic outlet. Richard III was always a favorite, but as I grew older and learned more about the reality that underlies Shakespeare’s history plays, I found myself increasingly angry on Richard’s behalf and wishing I could do something to “write that wrong”—if you’ll allow me the pun. This isn’t the only time I’ve felt that way—in Cybermancy and MythOS, I addressed my anger with the plight of Persephone and the tragedy of Ragnarok—but the earliest versions of this book came first.
For readers who are familiar with my other work, this novel may seem something of a departure, though I strongly believe that if you like my other books you’ll also like this one. In voice it is less intimate, coming as it does in the third person, with three major point of view characters and half a dozen minor characters. As I was working on Winter of Discontent I read and reread Richard III as well as renewing my acquaintance with MacBeth, the Tempest, Romeo and Juliet, Coriolanus, a Midsummer Night’s Dream and bits of the various Henry plays. I also corresponded with the Richard III Society, visited and wandered the backstage areas of several theaters, and generally indulged myself in a depth of research and scholarship that my more commercial work doesn’t normally allow.
Winter of Discontent has seen four major drafts and countless minor tweaks over the twenty-one years it has existed on the page, mostly due to my substantial improvements as a writer over that same time and continual attempts to bring the words on the page up to the standards of my vision for the story. The initial draft was my fifth completed novel and came at a point when I had written perhaps three-quarters of a million words of fiction and published a few thousand. The current version benefits from coming at the end of more than four million words written and more than a million in print. It is a work of love and anger and scholarly self-indulgence, and it marries my training as an actor to my vocation as a novelist. I hope very much that you will enjoy it.


Infodumpy: a “poem”

 I blame Dana Baird…

Beware the infodump, my child!
The bits that bore, the facts that fail!
Beware the as-you-know, Bobs
And handwavious exegesis!

Take not the purple pen in hand:
Lest too long the tedious plot be splained —
Then resist the by-the-way asides,
And babble not the it-all-begans.

And hast thou slain the infodump?
Come to my arms pithy child!
O laconic day! Compact! Concise!’
He chortled in his brevity

Dana and I were on this panel at CONvergence and she said “Beware the infodump!” and this has been percolating ever since…

And, yes, I know it doesn’t scan perfectly, but I was trying to keep it brief…

The process that is.

See also: will commit doggerel for food.

Terry Pratchett Is Gone And Another Pillar Falls

A writer has many parents—people who shape who we are and what we become. We have the parents of our blood and bone, the ones who gave us our bodies, our actual mothers and fathers. We have parents of the mind—teachers and personal role models who helped us find our talents and hone our arts. We also have the parents of our souls—the voices we hear when we imagine what it is to write, the writers who make us who and what we are.

Too often those voices belong to those who have passed on before we ever truly arrive on the scene, people we can never thank properly because we know them only through their words…Shakespeare, Cervantes, Moliere, Wilde. Sometimes we only miss them by the narrowest of margins. I never met Roger Zelazny, though he probably shaped the writer I have become more than almost anyone else. Too rarely we get the chance to meet them or thank them in some other way.

Some years ago I set out to write thank you letters to as many of my surviving influences as I could, the pillars of my authorial universe. I wanted to let them know how much they had meant to me and shaped my voice. Among those, one of the most important was Terry Pratchett. My second novel, the never published Swine Prince, was pretty much my attempt to be Terry when I grew up, and his work has echoed through mine ever since.

I never got the chance to meet Terry Pratchett, and yet he is one of the people who made me. Simply knowing he was out there somewhere writing away has made the world a better place. And now he isn’t, and that hurts. I will miss his wit, his wisdom, his humanity, and his sheer cleverness. I will miss the writer who saw cruelty and injustice and skewered them with unerring accuracy and merciless verve. I will miss the voice that has comforted me so often in dark hours and times of stress. But most of all, I will miss one of the mighty supports of my world, the giant whose shoulders so much of my own work is built upon.

Another of my authorial pillars has fallen. Or, if you prefer, my world has one less elephant holding it up.

$@&@%# Muse!

So the part of my Muse that I call my sense of structure has apparently been on vacation for the last 8 months, a fact I noticed when it returned this morning at 6:15 to whisper vicious nothings in my ear.

M: “Psst Kelly, I’ve got a question.”
K :”Go ‘way.”
M: “No, really, there’s something I’ve been wondering about.”
K: “No, really, go ‘way.”
M: “You know that bit right at the end….”
K: “Sleeping here.”
M: “Yeah, I heard you the first time. Still gonna ask my question.”
K: “So ask, then go ‘way.”
M: “Right, so that bit at the end where you introduce the thing and that other thing that fixes the first thing.” (Redacted for spoilers)
K: “Yes.”
M: “Well, I can’t help but noticing that the way things are structured now you really do introduce them right at the end even though they’re really important. Do you think that’s such a good idea?”
K: “Sure. I’ve been planning it since I wrote chapter 6. Yes, I introduce them late, but the one solves the other, so it’s not like I’m just pulling a rabbit out of my hat to solve a problem.”
M: “No, more like you’re pulling a carrot out of your sleeve to feed the starving rabbit that just came out of the hat. You’re okay with that?”
K: (waking up more) “Shouldn’t I be?”
M: “I’m sure it’ll be fine. You just go back to sleep.”
K: “All right then.” (Pulls covers over head, just like when there are bats in the room)
M: “Oh, I almost forgot….”
K: Pokes head out again. “What!”
M: “That character you introduce in chapter 8, the one who’s going to be really important in book 2?”
K: “Yes.”
M: “Well, since the character’s familiar is going to be really important at some point don’t you think you should introduce a place to put it?”
K: “Go ‘way!”
M: “Sleep tight.”
K: “I will, thanks. Now to get back to…Oh hell.”

Stupid Muse.

And that’s why at 6:20 this AM I got up and scrawled a note on a post-it note that said:
THINGXXXXXX (redacted for spoilers)
and stuck it to my cell phone. No, I don’t know why I put it there either. I was mostly asleep.

And then, when Laura woke up a couple of minutes later and headed off to do things, I asked her to add EXSANGUINATION TABLE to the note stuck to my cell phone and pulled the covers back over my head. Laura, having lived with a writer for 20+ plus years, just asked where the phone was and let me go back to sleep, which I did. Wonderful lady I’m married to.

Now, I don’t really believe in the Muse as an external force so much as I think of it as a collection of story processing techniques that my brain uses at a level below the conscious, often while I’m dreaming, and all of which make my job enormously less difficult. The sense of structure is really the latest major upgrade to the system, having come along in the middle of my tenth novel. So, it’s the one I rely on the least (I can plot perfectly well without it, thank you very much), which is why I didn’t notice its absence until it returned. But, like all the other bits of Muse I’ve built over the years, I know that when it does show up I’d damn well better listen.

So, I’ll just leave you with this:


(Originally published on the Wyrdsmiths blog August 18 2010, and original comments may be found there. Reposted and reedited as part of the reblogging project)

Reblog: I Blame John Scalzi

Updated: This was inspired by Scalzi’s pranking of Wil Wheaton (link below) and perpetrated by my friend James (link in comments) with the support of a rather large cast of unindicted co-conspirators. It is also made of awesome.

Ravirn…on velvet…eviiiiiiiil:


I see the painting:


Me and my velvet Ravirn:


Recreating the Wil Wheaton pose:

And Scalzi’s original eviiiiiiiiil.

(Originally published on the Wyrdsmiths blog Dec 19 2009, and original comments may be found there. Reposted and reedited as part of the reblogging project)

Art and Death and Finding the Right Words

I recently had an experience that both moved and shook me. I’m going to tell that story first and then I’m going to try to talk about being a writer and experiencing a moment both from within and at one remove. The story:

I was on vacation in the Dominican Republic when I got an urgent message from my friend Pamela Gay—a gifted astronomer and podcaster.

A very close friend of hers, author and podcaster P.G. (Patrick) Holyfield, was dying of cancer—quite possibly within the next few hours—and would it be possible for me to record a goodbye message for him because my books had been important to him.

I don’t know if I can quite convey how that hit me. I’ve never met Patrick and I didn’t really know anything about him before that moment. I had one moment of complete terror when I read the message. What could I possibly say to a dying man that might make his path a little easier? While my forebrain was trying to get a grip on that, my backbrain was typing a reply to Pamela. Of course I would do it.

How could I not?

Here was a dear friend asking a favor for a dying man who had cared about my words. How could I not find a few more to help him on his way? For that matter, even if Pamela wasn’t someone I care about, even if you removed her from the equation, the question still stands. It was simply the right thing to do.

So, I grabbed my iPhone and I walked out into the dark tropical night and I recorded a message. I did it in several short fits as I struggled to find the right words and my voice kept trying to break as I did it. I don’t know if it eased Patrick’s passing—I hope that it helped at least a little—but I’m told that his family was aware that I was a writer that mattered to him and that it meant a lot to them.

As I finished my recording, the sky opened up and started pouring rain. If I were religious, I might take that as a sign of some sort and maybe find comfort in it. But I’m not, and that’s not how I find meaning. I find it in the right words. I’m finding it as I write this, I was finding it that night as I spoke to a dying man, and I will find it in the future as my brain cannibalizes the experience and puts bits of it into my fiction.

Because that’s what writers do. We analyze and pick and pull and we try to find ways to lay out the bits we extract so that others can see them. The shiny bits. The sweet bits. The horrible bits. All of them. And we don’t just do it later, we do it in the moment, and sometimes we hate ourselves while we’re doing it.

My grandmother, Phyllis Neese, was a second mother to me. I loved her completely and unreservedly. When she died a few years ago it gutted me. And I used that. I stood by her bedside after they disconnected the life support and I waited for the monitors to go still, even though it tore at me to do it. I did it because I loved her and because I owed it to her and because it was the right thing to do.

And every second that I stood there, a part of my brain was standing back and looking on at what I was doing and how it felt, and it made notes. I couldn’t not, and it made me feel like a vampire—here I was in one the hardest, rawest, most devastating moments of my life, and I was making mental notes about it for later use.

It wasn’t the first time, and I knew it wouldn’t be the last, and I really didn’t much like that part of myself in the moment. Nor for years after. It seemed somehow horrible and inhuman, and it wasn’t until I was trying to think of words to say to a dying man that I found a different sort of meaning for that experience. Just as it had with my grandmother, a part of me was standing back and observing the part of me that was talking to Patrick.

It seemed ghoulish at first, but then I realized something. The part of me that had stepped back and watched while my grandmother died was handing me things from that moment to use in the present one. The part that stood and took notes while I was hurting was the same part that gave me what I needed to at least try to ease another person’s death. It’s not a vampire, it’s a witness.

We step outside of ourselves in these moments so that later, when someone needs the right words, we have a place in our hearts where the hard things are written: a record that we can share and maybe, just maybe, ease the pain for someone else. As writers, when we hurt or grieve or bleed, we stand apart in some ways and we take notes. We do it because we can. We do it because we must. We do it because somebody has to try to find the right words.

For the first time in my life I’m entirely at peace with the observer in my head. I don’t know how much my words helped Patrick that night, but I know that trying to find them helped me—that Patrick helped me. I’d like to believe that, through this essay, they’ll help a few more people along the way.

P. G. Holyfield was a writer. He knew what it meant to try to find the right words, and I hope that he would be pleased to know that he’s helped someone else to find a few of them.

Thank you, Patrick. Hail and Farewell.


The original post about P.G. Holyfield’s cancer diagnosis and sudden decline can be found at

Pamela Gay has written a touching tribute and farewell to her friend P.G. Holyfield at her site.

Finally, I want to say a quick thank you to my friend, essayist and generally wonderful writer Patrick Rhone for taking a look at this essay and reassuring me that it was something I ought to share with people.

Musings on Art and Practice and Joy

I want to make a point about art and success and failure and practice and motivation. Over the course of my 47 years on the planet I have mucked around with visual art, music, dance, acting, martial arts, 3D design, and writing. I have been decent at some of those, good or even very good at others, and I now make my living writing. There is a reason that I left many of those things behind while mastering the writing,* and that’s what I want to talk about here. It’s going to be a bit rambly because there’s no way to get at this without providing a good bit of background.

I recently had reason to want to sketch something. Unfortunately, I don’t have the necessary skills. Not anymore, anyway. My degree is in theater, and, as part of that I took a fair number of design classes. If you can’t draw a set or costume concept you can’t really build it. Now, I never got very good at free-handing an original composition, but I did get to be pretty solid on architectural style projections and good if never great at copying line drawings and altering them to suit what I needed. So for example, drawing a rose from scratch was more or less beyond me, but taking a small sketch of a rose that someone else had done and copying and altering that copy at a larger scale to create a drawing of multiple roses was something I could do well and with relative ease.

Which brings me back to the thing I wanted to sketch this morning. It was a pretty simple composition and something I could easily have done when I was in practice. But I quit doing that practice when I left theater for writing. At that time, my writing skills weren’t all that much better than my drawing skills. Some, certainly, but not bunches.

I’m going to leave that there for a moment and jump over to music which is the absolute bottom end of my range. I have never been particularly good with musical things. I have a decent ear, and a wide vocal range—one of my theater voice teachers characterized it as one of the widest she’d had in a student. I can even carry a tune…briefly. On the other hand, my rhythm is terrible and while I can hit the notes, I tend to jump keys from verse to verse. I noodled around enough with guitar and piano to discover that learning the fingering was relatively easy. What I lacked was drive and timing.

I was a decent dramatic actor, and a good comedic one, possibly even very good when it came to improv. But even very good isn’t enough to make a living at it. I had the physical chops for the dance side of the business, but there again my lack of rhythm was an insurmountable barrier. Those skills worked better in martial arts, but injuries sidelined me out of that arena. I’m still quite good at 3D design—good enough to design and build complex structures in steel that involve cutting, grinding, and welding.

The reason I’m still decent with 3D design is that, for me, it’s fun and useful. From my first encounters with it, I had enough talent to complete things that were functional, if not pretty, and to see where I was failing and how to get better. The same is true of writing, only more so.

From my earliest compositions for classes I have always been able to express myself better than most. Teachers gave me praise, and even when it felt like a huge and painful chore I had a sense of accomplishment when I finished something. Sure, many of those things are awful by my current standards, but by comparison to my then-peers I was always doing pretty well.

When I first bailed out of theater, I sat down and wrote a novel in about four months. It’s not a very good novel, though it’s not utterly awful. More than that though, I had a ball writing it. Even when I completely punted sentences or whole scenes, I could see that it was actually a book and I could see it day to day. It was a practice novel—though I didn’t know it at the time—and the practice was fun because I was accomplishing something in the exact same way that I was accomplishing things with 3D design.

I was making something visibly useful and entertaining even if it wasn’t up to professional standards. I never had that feeling of accomplishment with dance or music, or really even drawing and drafting. I wasn’t good enough to find the practice an end in itself, and so, I wasn’t motivated to do it and get better. I had many of the necessary tools to become good at those things, but I never did, and it was all about joy. I take joy in writing and building things and so I have gotten very good at them. I took joy in acting and martial arts, but other things caused me to leave them behind.

There have been several roads I could have followed in life, even several forms of art that I might have mastered. What has drawn me into my present career as a science fiction and fantasy author was joy in the practice as well as the end result. Without that, I don’t think that I would have succeeded. I can’t speak for anyone else, but the secret of my success so far is simple:

Finding joy in practice.


*I’m not prone to false modesty, or really, modesty at all. I’m not as good a writer as I intend to be someday, but I’m very, very good at it.