About my fiction: meet Izramith Ezmi from Soldier’s Duty

Izramith

Last night, I did a very quick character concept and render for Izramith Ezmi, the main character of Soldier’s Duty. She is, of course, the soldier, one of the fearful veiled guards at Hedron (about which I wrote a little while back). I’m thinking that before this character is cover-worthy, she’ll need a fearsome bloodied knife held towards the reader and some spooky lights. The background is probably going to be orange. Yes, there is a lot of urban-style fighting in the story.

A very rough “what is it about”:

In Barresh, they still haven’t dealt with a number of disagreements with neighbouring behemoth nation of Miran that’s sliding further into dictatorship. The Chief Councillor of Barresh, Daya, (who is also from Hedron originally) has hired her to oversee security at a high-profile wedding (read Trader’s Honour to find out who’s getting married), but prior to the festivities, a security patrol stumbles on evidence of a spying ring. The plot involves disgruntled locals, who used to earn handsome kickbacks under Mirani occupation, as well as any number of the many itinerant building workers in the city. Postponing the festivities would mean embarrassment. It is time to bring in the big guns, meaning: Izramith of the Hedron guards.

But she brings problems with her to a world that already has enough problems of its own. In a couple of loosely-related worlds, people have gone missing off the streets for years. Her uncle and newborn nephew are two of those people, and they are the reason why she agreed to leave her home in the first place. Because they are rumoured to be in Barresh.

Of course, the disappearances are related to the spying, which goes back to something that’s been mentioned passingly since Watcher’s Web, something that leads Izramith and a few die-hard suicide-wishers and frenemies deep into Miran for a mission whose hare-brained-ness will astound everyone.

So. Fighting. Hiding in disgusting places. Infighting (remember that association instinct in The Shattered World Within? Yeah, that). Sex. That, too. And a couple of “that wasn’t quite what I was expecting” moments.

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Public service announcements

With the above image (taken at the lakeside walkway in Belconnen, Canberra), I officially announce autumn. A bit late, but it’s been warmer than usual. If you don’t see the image, it’s because you’re seeing this in the home page. Click on the post title and you will see it.

I suppose most of you will already know this, but in case you don’t, Trader’s Honour has finally trickled through all sites and is now available everywhere, even on Sony–although don’t ask me where the cover went. I suspect it will show up at some point in the future. Sony needs to pull up its socks, but that aside.

This page on my official author site details all the places where you can get it.

I’ve also taken delivery of print copies to sell at Supanova Sydney, where I will share a stand with fellow Kindleboarders Anya Allen and Selina Fenech. Both Anya and Selina are locals. We hope to meet Kindleboarder extra-ordinaire Colin Taber (from Perth) there, who is a true self-published Guest of Honour at the convention.

After the poll I did, I haven’t decided what the next project is going to be, so I’ve started on a couple:

I’ve made a start on Soldier’s Duty, book 3 of the Return of the Aghyrians series. In the style of the previous two books, this novel features a different main character. This character is Izramith Ezmi, and if you’re familiar with my world, you may get that she’s from Hedron. She’s one of the feared, veiled and heavily-armed guards. She’s very, very angry about something done to her family. The story offers a different perspective on the world, while we continue to follow the overall threads of the series: the sliding into total badassery of the Mirani council and the trials and tribulations of the extended Andrahar family. This is becoming an epic space opera!

I’ve also picked up a half-finished draft of a hard-SF novel set in the ISF-Allion world. This novel will show some of the reasons why ISF and Allion slid into war, and builds on some of the setting covered in His Name In Lights. The main character for this is a really weird guppy, a guy by the name of Fabio Velazquez, who is a poster child for why messing with artificial minds and artificial bodies is a Really Bad Idea.

I really need to write some short fiction and have started a Solaris Agency story (my WOTF-winning story was another such story). These are space-detective stories.

I am aware that there is a lot of stuff I haven’t started on, but Russ is threatening to send me edits for the novel and when they arrive, I’ll have to deal with those first, and I probably don’t need any further projects.



Patty writes hard Science Fiction, space opera and fantasy. Her latest book is Trader’s Honour, in the space opera series The Return of the Aghyrians. If you’d like to be kept up-to-date with new releases, remember to sign up for Patty’s new release newsletter.

News and what I’m doing at Conflux

willie wagtail

At Conflux, I will be like this Willie Wagtail: all over the place!

There is still time to register for my workshop Writing to Sell. In this workshop, I will cover a wide range of things related to taking the next step in your writing. There will be a lot about self-publishing, but also about submitting traditionally, and a lot about what things you can do before you get to the publishing stage. This workshop will run on the 25th of April. Book on the Conflux website. Every participant will get some freebies!

Directly after the workshop, I will take part in the self-publishing panel at 3pm.

After the official opening, I will be on the panel How essential is an editor, particularly for self-published authors? This will be at 10pm. I have some opinions on that which people may find odd.

On Friday the 26th, I’ll be on the Kissing in Space panel, which runs at 9pm. I’ve also bought a ticket for the banquet which runs at the same time, so if anyone wants to see me turn up to a panel in my gothic (very tight) dress, come to this one.

On Saturday the 27th, I have a table at the one-day market, where I’ll have copies of most of my books.

NEWSFLASH!! I will be reading from my fiction on Sunday the 28th at 9.30am. I’ve selected two pieces for this.

NEWSFLASH!! Copies of Trader’s Honour are starting to make their way through the system. I’ll advertise more when they have shown up in all the main stores. Currently on Smashwords, Amazon and Kobo. Click the image to the right to see the links and read a sample chapter.

Why learning to write is only the beginning

Trader's HonourI’m going to do something REALLY embarrassing. I’ll be posting, below, a small snippet of the very first novel I completed. By the time I penned this, I had already spent some time in various workshops and I’d taken my dutiful dose of No adverbs, no forbidden words, no weasel words and no repetition, and there are indeed very few of those crimes in the manuscript. In fact, I admit that I now use more adverbs than I did back then. I use more passive constructions, and I use more “forbidden” words. Because these words or constructions evolved in the language for a reason, and sometimes a sentence is genuinely clearer when you add the word “that”. Trust me.

So, without further ado, here is the snippet from Trader’s Honour as I wrote it in 2005, with excuses for the absolutely TERRIBLE writing. I’ll elaborate on that after the piece.

* * *

Two days. That was all that stood between happiness and despair.
Two days ago, the morning of the election had dawned without a cloud in the sky and the city of Miran was covered in a sparkling blanket of snow. The beauty of the morning was lost on Rehan. He was tired; it had been very late when he had returned home the previous night. He was sitting at breakfast in the dining room, leafing aimlessly through a bundle of election brochures, wondering who he was going to vote for. The successful candidate would take up the post of commander of the Mirani armed forces and one of the four High-councillors of Miran. It was an important election, but Rehan felt too tired to care.
‘I don’t like the sound of what Nemedor Satarin is proposing,’ Braedon said, gesturing to the election brochures Rehan was holding.
Rehan leafed through the papers until he came to the relevant brochure. It was printed on orange paper and bore just a few slogans “Free Miran of foreign influences,” “Restore our nation to its former glory,” and “Bring back order to our streets.”
‘It doesn’t say much, doesn’t it?’ he said, breaking his fish bread in pieces and dropping them in his soup.
‘No,’ Braedon said, ‘but he has strong opinions that many of the upper classes find appealing.’
Rehan looked up with a frown.
‘What is appealing about freeing Miran of foreign influences? How can we or the merchants function without foreigners?’
‘People haven’t forgotten the war, Rehan,’ came Isandra Andrahar’s sharp voice from the other end of the table.
Rehan looked at his mother, her back bathed in sunlight, which made her hair glow like silver.
‘What does the war have to do with this?’ he asked.
‘You were too young,’ the way she said this made it sound like an accusation. ‘The Asto fighters raided the warehouses in our agricultural district, and what could the Mirani army do? Nothing! The Asto army could easily have pushed their way to our capital!’
‘But they didn’t,’ Rehan said; he looked down at his plate to fish a piece of bread out of his soup. ‘They only wanted to free up their food supplies, which were rightfully theirs anyway. They are not interested in conquering other colonies.’
He still couldn’t see how this had anything to do with the local election.
His mother drew herself up and waved a bony finger at him.
‘When I was a girl, and that dreadful Palayi man – whatever his first name was – was Chief coordinator of Asto, there was a constant threat of war,’ she continued. ‘We should never trust those Coldi people. They are barbarians – incapable of tolerating any opposition. Thania Lingui may seem a lot more peaceful, but what happens when he retires? Will the next Chief coordinator want to have absolute control over Asto’s food supply? We are close, we have much fertile land, we already produce a lot of their food. We need strong defenses to stop them invading!’ and as Rehan was about to put the bread in his mouth, she snapped. ‘And don’t do that! You’re eating like a commoner!’
Rehan sighed, put the bread down and picked up his spoon. Table manners, table manners! Was that all she ever cared about? He was at home, for goodness sake!

* * *

OMG, this is truly embarrassingly bad. It does not violate many Creative Writing 101 Rules, but it’s bad, bad, bad. I’ll explain why.

I used this novel as learning-to-write exercise. I was probably halfway through when it occurred to me that it had to have a plot. I was so wrapped up in my characters that I merely enjoyed seeing what they did. And they did a lot of things. Plenty happens in this novel. In fact, all these happenings are what made me decide to salvage the story, because GOOD stuff happens, but it wasn’t connected, was connected in the wrong way with way too much bullshit that went off at right angles. In other words: I hadn’t learned to write a solid plot and keep that plot on the rails while I was writing.

The POV is weak. I bet that in this piece you can’t even tell who the POV character is (hint: it’s Rehan). There is very little direct internal thought. It just hadn’t occurred to me yet that I could write in that way.

All the characters act like arseholes. They’re also far too forthcoming with information. This is classic immaturity in character development. One of the most important things a writer needs to learn is that what a character says is that character’s perception of the truth, unless the character is lying, but the character doesn’t even need to lie outright for their replies to be coloured. Also, what is not being said is often more powerful than what is being said. Over-the-top-ness of character reactions, as in this snippet, is also classic beginner prose.

Worst of all, I’m using the wrong main character. There is a reason why all the characters are arseholes, that is because they ARE arseholes of some kind, at least in this point in the story. It only occurred to me much later that I was trying to write The Devil Wears Prada from Anna Wintour’s POV. Doesn’t work. You need another character.

All these things above are not really teachable. They are not what most critique groups deal with. They are skills you have to develop through practice, and through reading awesome fiction and listening to experienced writers. Still, if you happen to get commentary of this nature when you begin, you will most likely not understand it at the level that it needs to be understood. The above things are largely intuitive and are why it is so hard to quantify “good writing”. The writing “rules” are really only the beginning.

So, I decided to salvage, gut and re-write the story. I added a completely new character who is not related to this highly dysfunctional family but comes into it as newcomer. To be sure, she has her own stakes, as you have seen in the snippet I posted a few days ago. Because we now see the story through the eyes of someone who is more sympathetic at the start of the story, it doesn’t matter that the three brothers and their mother behave like boors right now. Yes, some of it is only an act, and as my character’s stakes and that of the family intertwine, the abrasiveness will vanish.

Like so (and three cheers to the reader of this blog who can spot the future love affair):

Mikandra stomped the snow off her boots on the mat, slipped them off and put them next to the men’s boots lined up next to the door. She selected the smallest pair of slippers she could find on the rack under the cloak stand. They enfolded her feet with luxurious warmth, and the fur that lined the inside had not yet flattened with use.
She followed Taerzo–wearing similar footwear–across the hall into the living room, where traditional oil lamps burned on the walls and their flapping flames made grotesque shadows on the walls. With its marble flooring, antique hearth and hand-crafted furniture, the house was the epitome of old-fashioned noble households. Well, except for the hub with its blinking lights in the corner of the hall.
In the living room, Braedon sat at the table behind a huge pile of books. He glanced up when Taerzo came in, looked back at his books and then up again at Mikandra. He raised his eyebrows and raked his hair behind his ear. Apart from Taerzo, who was not that much older than her and was considered to be the joker of the family, she found Braedon least intimidating. He was rather plain, straightforward and quiet. He did not wear lots of jewellery or other display of status like his two older brothers. He came into the hospital quite a bit, and was always courteous and kind to the nurses or surgeons.
Braedon gestured to the seat next to him.
Mikandra sat, still clutching the letter. On the page in the book facing him were long columns of financial data. He had a reader on his other side, which was, apart from the hub in the hall, the only concession to technology in this very traditional house. The screen glared more columns of figures.
She was going to show them the letter, but Braedon brought his fingers to his lips.
There were voices at the back of the room, in a section partitioned off from the dining area by a sliding door.
Through the glass in the door, she could see second-oldest brother Rehan in front of the hearth, facing a man who sat on the couch.
“Anyway,” Rehan was saying, the words only slightly muffled by the door. “Whatever has caused it and why ever you did this, your behaviour has been nothing short of grossly inadequate. You’re going to have a lot of explaining to do, and unless I’m satisfied, I will call in the Guild Lawkeepers, and they will get to the bottom of this.”
“You’re not going to sack me?” The man sounded incredulous.
“You’ve worked with us for long enough to know that is not our style. I would very much like to sack you, but it does not solve anything. Sacking you does not put our accounts in order.”
“Uhm . . . I guess.”
Mikandra realised the man on the couch was the Andrahar account keeper, Trimor Estredin, the husband of one of her mother’s theatre friends.
“You guess?” Rehan continued. “What will go a long way towards putting our accounts in order is your story about what happened. Why did you approve these books? Why did you sign all these pages that clearly have mistakes on them? Where is the missing money?”
“I honestly don’t remember doing all that.”
There was a heavy thud of some object hitting wood. “Bullshit! That’s fucking bullshit and you know it. You know what happened. You were there. This is your work! Get the fuck out of here. Go to the office. Come back when you have something to say. Don’t dare run away. Don’t think we won’t find you.”
The man rose and left the room at a run. A moment later, the door shut.
Heaving a big sign, Rehan opened the partition doors. “Fucking numbskull. Blubbering nitwit.” He stopped a few paces into the room, and frowned at Mikandra. Met her eyes. His hair, normally a silk-like curtain over his back, had become entangled in the clasp of his cloak. His cheeks were red. “What’s this about? Any more problems?”
Mikandra lifted the letter.
“I got my letter of acceptance,” she said, but she no longer felt exuberant. Something was very wrong.
“The fuck you did?” He still sounded angry.
Braedon said, “Rehan, please mind your–”
“Don’t tell me what I can or can’t say in my own house. We don’t have the time to deal with fucking pambies.”
He looked at Mikandra. His expression was so penetrating that she felt like fleeing. He was very tall, his appearance immaculate. At least he wore his Trading uniform, the khaki shirt and trousers with the ornate belt and his high boots. But no medallion.
“All right, you win. No more fucking swearing in the presence of women, eh?” He blew out a breath and turned to the window.
Mikandra looked back at Braedon who at least didn’t terrify her as much. “What’s wrong?”
“We’ve had our licence suspended by court order.”
What? A big black hole opened in Mikandra’s mind. A suspended licence meant no sponsorship. It meant no work, no place for her to go to. It meant–how was that even possible? These were the Andrahar Traders, the most influential in all of Miran. “What happened?” Black spots crept into her vision.

Trader’s Honour some delightful progress

Trader's HonourProgress is good on this book. While I work, and to spur myself on, I’ve made book 1 of the Icefire trilogy free. At the moment it’s only free on Smashwords, but that will filter through to other sites over the next few weeks. I don’t like giving away books that I can also sell, so I better hurry up and finish this one!

Over the past few days, something pretty incredible happened with my current WIP Trader’s Honour. I’d been working on dialogue and character motivation, and got some good fireworks going between my main character Mikandra Bisumar, who was in the scene I posted last week, and another major character, who comes across as terse, authoritarian and bully-ish.

But all of a sudden, a couple of barriers broke. A situation turned bad, and Mikandra proves herself in a big way. They’re not out of trouble, but suddenly, there is a fight worth fighting. And all of a sudden, these two characters fell in love with each other, the head-over-heels type. It even took me by surprise.

I’ve had a bit of time to think about this–as writer you have all the strings in your hands–and I’ve allowed them to proceed. I feels right. Plus, the prospect of an extremely high-profile wedding gives me lots of opportunity to set up the next book.

Cue in a happy writer!

Trader’s Honour snippet alert!

Trader's HonourI finished the first draft! Much work remains to be done, but here is a snippet from the middle of the first section of the book. Because I quite like this scene. And because I can.

Mikandra strode to the wardrobe and flung the dress onto the floor. She slammed the wardrobe door. She took the wad of paper with the text of the play–a stupid old-fashioned drama about some ancient event in Miran’s history–off the night stand and flung it on the bed. Papers flew like butterflies.

Stupid play with its pompous, self-righteous language. Stupid events in the past which still caused people to have hangups about participating in gamra society. The boycott had not started because the other gamra entities had cut off Miran, but because Miran was continuously obstructing foreign investment within its borders with arcane rules.
Because the council was stubborn and inflexible and old-fashioned. And then they were surprised that other nations got angry.

The Invasion indeed.

She spread the papers out over the bed.

Stupid noble arrogance.

Stupid traditions.

Stupid notion of being all nice and pretty and utterly useless.

So, she was not good marriage material, huh? Only to be passed to old creepy men who wanted a plaything. So, when she tried to be useful regardless, they treated her like this, huh?

Shut up and learn your lines, huh? Live the rest of your life in some sort of stupid fantasy oblivious to the burning of Miran’s society around it. Pretend Miran was still at the top of its glory. Pretend everything was like before The Invasion. Like the Coldi cared, like the Trader Guild cared. Those people were just laughing at Miran.

Clothes, plays, music, arts.

Stupid-fucking-make-up.

While in the poor parts of the city people froze to death and homeless were left to be eaten by wild animals. And then the nobles sent their girls into the hospitals to put bandages on their wounds?

And that was Miran’s noble culture?

She went to the mirror, picked up the eye paint brush and dipped in the paint. She wrote on the wall If you want to shine, be like a star.

There, that was better already, a much better use of eye paint than putting it on her eyelids where it irritated her eyes and made her look as if she’d been crying.

Bah, crying was for helpless damsels.

But that still didn’t make the decision any easier. She let her shoulders sag. It was easy to be angry in this room. Being angry when facing Father was a whole different matter. Or saying that she didn’t want to be in that play when Mother was crying.

There was a knock on the door. Mikandra looked from the door to the wall. If that was her father again, he’d be even more angry for painting on the wall. If that was her mother, she would say how disappointed she was in her eldest daughter. If it was Rosep, he would complain about having to re-paint the wall and tell her father.

There was another knock.

“Sis, it’s me,” a small voice said. “Open up, please.”

Mikandra sighed and went to open the door. Her sister slipped inside. In the low light, her face was a pale oval. She glanced from the dress on the floor to the papers scattered over the bed to the text scrawled on the wall. Her eyes were wide. Scared.

Mikandra sometimes forgot how young Liseyo was, and how much what Mother and Father said was still law to her.

“Why is it so cold in here? Hasn’t Rosep lit the fire?”

Mikandra gazed at the dark hearth. The fire was producing lots of smoke but no flames.

Annoyed, she poked the smothering fire bricks aside and fanned the tiny glow in the coals underneath. Flames licked the corner of the fire bricks.

Liseyo sat down on the bed amongst the scattered papers. She picked one up, and then a couple more, shuffling the sheets in order.

“Mother borrowed this text off Gisandra Tussamar. It’s very old and precious.” There was a tone of accusation in her voice, a tone that said that the noble lady would not appreciated if her precious play got flung over the bed out of order. She was right of course, and that was the annoying part.

“Don’t you start, too, Liseyo.”

“This is my favourite re-telling of The Invasion. I’m going to play Dinandra.”

“Isn’t that a role for someone older?”

“They’ll make me look older, with white paint in my hair and lines drawn on my face. I get to wear a really nice old-fashioned dress. I think you should join, too. It’d be great fun.”

Mikandra sighed. “It’s a hideously skewed view of history. There are plenty of documents in the library which say that there was no invasion at all. That the Coldi who came were weak and hungry. They say that the Mirani defenders killed a lot of them before the Coldi could make it clear what they wanted. It’s not as if they spoke our language. Flaming creatures came down from the sky indeed. Where is the truth in that? They didn’t shoot and weren’t aggressive. The truth is that Miran had the watchtower, the watchtower keeper used telescopes. Asto is by far the clearest point of light in the sky, and the Mirani council back then knew that people lived there. So why were they still surprised when these people came?” She spread her hands in frustration.

Liseyo’s mouth twitched. “Does it matter if it’s accurate? It’s just a story.”

“None of the historical plays is ever just a story. There are children in the audience, and this stuff is being taught to them as fact. They hear that Miran was glorious, yet the evidence is that it was not. We are far more healthy, better-clothed and better fed than the people back then. They hear that Miran was attacked, but the evidence is that these people came for help, not to conquer.”

“Baaah, you’re no fun.”

“This has nothing to do with fun. It’s about the way we learn to see people from outside Miran, and those views start when children are taught this sort of crap.”

She let an angry silence lapse.

Liseyo’s eyes were big. “I just wish you wouldn’t talk like this. It makes me scared. I don’t like it when Mother cries. Father is really angry this time, a lot more angry than he was when you refused to go to the theatre. Why do you do this?”

Mikandra sat next to her sister and closed her in her arms. Her shoulders were so thin. “Oh, Liseyo, I’d tell you, but you’re not old enough to understand.”

“That’s what everyone in this house says, and I’m sick of it. Try me. Why do you hate everyone so much?”

Was that what they thought? “I don’t hate everyone. I just want to make a difference and do something that helps.”

“Being in the hospital makes a difference. There are a lot of sick people who need you.”

“It’s all fake, Liseyo. Everything we’re allowed to do as girls is fake. The theatre, art, music, healing, nothing makes serious money or is anywhere near places where real decisions are made. Nothing is really important. While we’re in the theatre rehearsing the plays of centuries ago or in the wards covering up the problems of the city, they make decisions on our behalf, and nothing gets solved. Being in the hospital is just putting dressings on infected wounds that people wouldn’t have if they had houses so they weren’t sleeping in the street and attacked by maramarang, or if they had heating. I want people to stop the glorifying of Miran. I love Miran, but there are things wrong that we need to make better. I don’t think we can do that alone.”

“So, does that mean you’re going?”

Mikandra shrugged. For a moment she wished she’d never received that offer. Everything else she’d done in her life in the way of protest was gentle and reversible. She’d cut off her hair when Mother complained about her wearing it in a ponytail, but it had grown back. She’d walked around in hunting clothes in the city when she’d hidden that stupid dress Mother wanted her to wear so well that no one in the house could find it.

But she had never done anything or said anything that challenged her life with her parents and sister in a way this did.

If she went to Trader Academy, there would be no way back to this house or this room. She would have to be fully independent, and, since she would not find a husband to share her living costs, she would have to earn enough to support herself.

Money frightened her and the thought of not having any frightened her even more.

What’s in store for 2013

I suppose I could say that 2012 was a good year for me. I sold a novel, I sold two stories to Analog, and a novella to Giganotosaurus. I completed the Icefire trilogy and Shifting Reality. Book 1 of the Icefire Trilogy is currently ranked at 20 in fantasy at Kobo.

I hope for even bigger and better things for 2013. Here are few highlights:

– My novella The Shattered World Within will appear in Giganotosaurus in February. It is a story set in my space opera world and regular readers of my fiction will recognise names. This novella centres around the sociology of the Coldi people, who feature in my fiction publisher or yet to be published.

– My novel Ambassador will come out from Ticonderoga Publications in the second half of the year. This is one of those books that features Coldi people, and the above novella is a pretty good introduction to that part of the worldbuilding.

– My story Geospermia will appear in the May issue of Analog. For those who remember me talking about it, this is the “pandas on Mars” story.

– Short fiction: the barrel is completely empty and I haven’t had any inspiration to write short fiction for a while. I’m not promising anything in this department.

Trader's Honour– I will continue self-publishing. At the moment I’m writing a sequel for Watcher’s Web, which will be called Trader’s Honour. It is also set in my space opera world. This book will feature a new character and we will learn a lot about the nation of Miran.

– After I finished that book I may move onto book 3, which will probably be called Soldier’s Duty, or I may write a sequel to Ambassador first.