Chronicles of Ghadid Trilogy, Short Story

Casting Bones

Happy July! Here’s a short story about Amastan’s cousin, Azulay – gambler, assassin, and soft cinnamon roll extraordinaire.

Ao3 Tags: anxiety, angst, gambling, pretending to be bad at this, cinnamon roll, bad choices, only choices, everything’s Fine, how (not) to make friends
CW: Mild violence, domestic violence, heights, death

***

“Four skies, six sands, and two squandered,” announced the watcher.

The crowded table erupted with a mixture of cheers and groans, washing the air afresh with the reek of guzzled wine and bad breath. Azulay grit his teeth and forced a conciliatory smile as the man across from him pulled the pile of baats to himself. At least Azulay didn’t have to fake his disappointment.

It turned out that even when he threw the bet on purpose, losing still felt like shit.

Go figure.

He sighed dramatically—something else that wasn’t faked—and dug deep into his coin pouch. He found one last baat and dropped it onto the table with a clatter of finality.

The cheering stilled. Faces turned to him, their expressions hidden by their wine- and spit-stained tagels but their eyes still—always—telling all. Surprise. Confusion. Amusement. Mockery.

That last one hurt. He’d gambled with this same group—or at least a collection similar to this same group—on a hundred separate nights. They knew his name. They knew his preferences. And they knew he always won.

Sometimes, anyway.

Okay, often enough.

But all it took was a different tagel, a rougher voice, and a straight back and they didn’t even know him from Saben. And Saben habitually hit on the other gamblers, so really.

He knew most people couldn’t read a man as easily as he could, or at least he’d known that in principle. It was why he was so good at what games of chance. A man’s moods were as clear to him as the horizon to a stormsayer. He used to win every round of hands and downs, two games built around equal parts chance and deception. But after a particularly large win one night, he’d been caught in an alley and he’d been taught a painful lesson about men’s fragile emotions.

The worst part was that he could’ve taken all six of them. But that would’ve been suspicious and Tamella didn’t like it when they were suspicious. So instead he’d let them quench their anger through their fists, let them argue their point with bruises and blood.

He’d quit hands and downs after that, but he couldn’t quit gambling. It wasn’t the money that snared him, or the rush that came when a hand was called or a roll thrown, but the simple fact that he was so shards-cursed good at it. With three older brothers, he’d had so very few things to claim as his own, and even fewer that he received any praise for. Not that his parents would ever praise him for this. Nothing he did would be enough for them, so why bother? Azulay could shit wood and his parents would still fawn over his eldest brother writing his own dust-covered name.

It was freeing, if he could just look at it in the right way.

Of course, now he was good at other things. Tamella had seen to that. But being good at sneaking into someone’s room and taking their life wasn’t exactly the kind of accomplishment he could share with his parents.

Azulay picked up his drink and tipped it to his lips but swallowed only air. On the opposite side of the table, the mark mirrored his actions, but swallowed wine instead. Baby see, baby do, thought Azulay grimly. He had to focus on what was important here and for once at the table, for tonight, that wasn’t his pride. Well, maybe it was. Because if he shattered this, Kaseem would never give him another contract, and what was a cousin without contracts?

Plus the whole shunned and publicly humiliated and pro-ba-bly executed thing. Those could be problems, too.

The main thing was, if he broke this, he’d no longer be an assassin.

And he wasn’t about to let that go. Gambling was one thing—the roll of the tiddas bones, that held-breath moment before they settled and the watcher finished counting, when everything, absolutely everything, was up in the air. But it didn’t hold water compared to the thrill of a contract, the moment before a life ended.

Not that he knew how that felt. Not yet. Although he’d helped his cousin with two previous contracts, Dihya had always held the knife — both literally and figuratively. But he could imagine.

Beneath the table, he traced one finger along the edge of his knife as he met the watcher’s gaze. “Again.”

The watcher glanced around the table, met agreement, and nodded. He gathered up the tiddas pieces, a dozen and more carved bones, each a different shape, a different size, a different variable, and tucked them into his sack. Then he shook the sack—once, twice—before upending it across the table. As one, the gamblers leaned in. Azulay leaned with them.

The game was simple. The bone pieces were curved and could land in a variety of different ways. Each landing represented a different amount of points, and whoever placed their bets closest to the total points tossed, won.

There was no way to cheat at tiddas. No way, unless you knew a few things about the table’s surface, about the dealer, and about that particular tiddas set. And Azulay knew them all.

But so did many of the other players.

It was a game of chance only in theory. The trick was accounting for all of the variables. And there were other ways to play. If your bet was far enough off, you could push for double, keeping all bets on the table for a second throw. If two players were within a certain amount of the throw, you could call a triple, where everyone who held in could stay through three throws and whoever came closest two out of the three throws took a third of the pool. And there were other rules, too, rules that came with the particular dealer or the particular inn or the particular night.

So long as every player agreed, anything went.

Tonight, they’d agreed on wine. Or rather, Azulay had suggested it and the others had gone for it. And now the mark’s cup quite literally ran over, he could barely keep up. His eyes were red-rimmed with drink and his calls increasingly slurred, but he was winning, dust cover him.

Azulay closed his eyes for a moment while the dealer counted; if tonight went as it should, dust would.

“Five skies, two sands, four squandered.” The watcher paused for a heartbeat, then said, “One for G-d.”

The table erupted into a chaotic mixture of cheers and groans. Without opening his eyes, Azulay pushed his last baat across the table to the mark.

He’d get it back soon.

***

“The street is spinning—is the street supposed to be spinning?”

The mark squinted suspiciously at the stones between his feet as he walked—well, more like stumbled—and then he rested that squint on Azulay. Or at least he tried to. He couldn’t seem to find Azulay at first, then his gaze locked on with a sharp keenness, his fingers tightening around Azulay’s arm.

“It shouldn’t be spinning,” continued the mark.

“No,” agreed Azulay. “That’s not very kind of it.”

“Not kind at all.” The mark nodded, but the motion was so overemphasized that he almost fell over. A giggle burst from him like a gasp. “But you are, sa. Thank you for helping me home, even though I took all your baats.”

That was the fifth time the mark had thanked him and they weren’t even a platform away from the inn. But Azulay smiled anyway so the warmth would reach his voice. “It was a fair game, sa.”

“Of course it was. It’s always a fair game.” The mark winked at him, his eye staying shut so long Azulay wondered if he’d forgotten to open it again. Then his other eye closed and Azulay wondered if the mark would just pass out here, on the street.

That wouldn’t do. The contract had been very specific. Azulay gave the mark a gentle shake and slowly, slowly, those red-rimmed eyes reopened.

“Huh,” he said distantly. Then, “What was your name again?”

“Saben.”

“You remind me of my son,” said the mark, ignoring the answer. “We used to play tiddas together, too.”

“What happened?” asked Azulay, despite himself.

“He’d always call the bet as it landed,” continued the mark, his voice brightening with a smile. “Never got it, bless, but he thought it was more fun that way. He wouldn’t ever listen to advice. Now I haven’t talked to him in years. Moved out. Apprenticed. But also doesn’t want to be around me any more.” The smile broke and his voice turned wistful.

Azulay felt a stirring of compassion for the mark and tamped down on it as hard as he could. He wondered if Dihya could hear the mark from where she was, if she was following as close as she’d promised. She’d been breathing the warm night air on a nearby roof instead of sharing the same breath as a bunch of drunk gamblers.

They’d agreed early on that the weight of this contract would fall on Azulay’s shoulders. He was more at ease amongst gamblers, at soft touches of deception. They’d planned this contract together, but ultimately it was up to Azulay to carry it out. This was supposed to be an easy one. But the mark was still talking.

“Lost my wife soon after that,” he said. “It’s been… it’s been a hard year. By G-d, I miss her.” His voice cracked and his foot caught on the stone. He stumbled, but caught himself on Azulay’s arm. A chuckle hissed from him. “She’d hate seeing me like this. Didn’t use to be this way. Didn’t use to be…”

Now the compassion hardened into guilt. It was mostly Azulay’s fault that the mark was so drunk, after all.

“What’s your name again?” asked the mark for a third time. Then, without waiting for an answer, “I’m Lamek. Azal name, I know. But I’m not Azali. I mean, I am. My mother was. Came with a caravan and stayed. She always complained about the camels, hated the noises they made. Said it reminded her of someone throwing up. Or maybe it was the other way around.”

The mark chuckled and then groaned, hand rubbing at his forehead again and again. “Oh shards — what’s she going to think when I’m hungover tomorrow? Like I’m the sands-cursed son she says I am, that’s what.”

“We’ll get you home and cleaned up,” said Azulay. “I know just the thing to prevent hangovers.”

Lamek’s gaze locked on Azulay like he was the King of the Wastes. “G-d be praised,” he said with no small amount of reverence.

“No praise needed,” said Azulay with a grin and a chuckle, but the joke went over Lamek’s head. “The important thing is to preserve your breath.”

But Lamek didn’t take the hint. As Azulay guided him down the street—first the wrong one, until Lamek finally realized they were headed the wrong way, then back and down a different street—Lamek kept talking. Apparently Azulay had nabbed himself a chatty drunk. Couldn’t he have been the belligerent sort instead? Azulay found himself reciting Lamek’s list of crimes in his head, the reason for his contract, but it was increasingly difficult to place them at the feet of this bumbling drunkard.

Theft, threatening with a weapon, harassment, emotional manipulation, financial manipulation, assault, disfiguration —

And all of that against his wife, Hazul.

No wonder she’d left. But that hadn’t stopped the mark. The disfiguration had come after she’d packed her trunk and moved back home with her family. He’d drawn a knife on her in searing daylight and pulled its sharp blade across her cheek. The healers couldn’t stop it from scarring; it was too late in season and there wasn’t enough water to waste on something that didn’t threaten her life.

But it did, Azulay had thought while he’d read the contract. It threatened her life every day. It was a reminder that he was out there still, the one who’d hurt her. Able to take more at any time. Unpunished.

Hazul had petitioned her drum chief, but she’d been given a few days’ escort by the watchmen and nothing more. Despite the attack happening in public, in a street, she’d found no one who would vouch for her story. And so, her plea had been dismissed. The watchmen had satisfied their duty. And the mark walked the streets of Ghadid without a care while she spent every moment looking over her shoulder.

Not for much longer, if Azulay had anything to do with it.

The mark stopped suddenly, finger pointing at one door among many. “That’s it. We found it!” He patted Azulay on the shoulder, or at least tried to; he hit Azulay’s bicep instead, palm slamming into the knife hidden there. Azulay winced, but the mark didn’t seem to notice.

“G-d bless you for all your help, friend. I’d’ve fallen off a bridge without you.” The mark squinted at Azulay. “Saben, you said?”

Azulay nodded. “I’m not finished with you yet.” He stepped around the mark and opened the door for him, “Remember that hangover cure I promised you?”

“A hundred blessings,” said the mark reverently, stumbling through the doorway.

Ahead, just as Azulay had known there would be, were the stairs leading up to the mark’s room. The contract had been very specific in how the act needed to be carried out. An accident, of course. Lamek—the mark, Azulay corrected himself—was known for drinking. Not excessively, not often anyway. But Azulay knew a half dozen ways to up the chance.

And if the mark happened to fall down the stairs and break his neck, well. Accidents happened.

Azulay hung close as the mark heaved his weight onto the first step, leaning forward as if all the world were trying to drag him down.

“I have water to spare,” the mark was saying, still talking, as if silence might condemn him if he ever stopped. “If you have time, I can make some tea. It’s so quiet here—I still get lonely. Don’t worry—we won’t wake my mother. She can sleep through a storm.”

The mark was on the third step now. There were twelve total. Azulay matched him, step for step, the heaviness in his stomach spreading to his limbs. Could he do this? The mark seemed like such a nice guy. The kind of friend Azulay would make around the tiddas tables. The kind he’d share drinks with, learn his life’s story, commiserate with and advise. Despite his cousins’ teasing, Azulay gave good advice. It was hard not to when he could feel a man’s emotions as well as his own.

And Lamek’s loneliness spilled into the air around him like smoke from a fire.

A life. Azulay couldn’t believe he was hesitating, now. Of course, his cousin Amastan was always hesitant, always worried about what it meant to take a life. But Azulay had always known it was necessary. He’d taken several before, without even thinking.

Now he wasn’t so sure.

This guy—maybe there was more to the story. The contract had come from a friend of the wife’s. It could’ve been partially fabricated. The wife could’ve done equally terrible things to Lamek. Did the man deserve to die over a single, impulsive moment?

“I might get to see my son soon,” Lamek was saying. “He’s a performer, now. One of those with the swords and the silks. He’s amazing. He wouldn’t ever let me come to one of his shows. Embarrassed, I guess, to see his dad there. But this one will be out in the streets, part of the end of season celebrations.”

Halfway up. The bottom floor fell away, empty space on one side of them, wall to the other. Azulay could do it now, shove Lamek hard and he’d fall—but he might not die. He might break a leg, an arm—wouldn’t that be punishment enough?

But Azulay would be botching the contract, he’d be screwing up any chances for another, and he’d only be proving to the others that he really wasn’t good at anything but gambling.

They took the next step together.

“Of course, his mother might be there, too.” Lamek’s tone darkened. “She poisoned him against me, whispering lies in his ear like a jaani, confusing him about what’s real and what isn’t.”

“What will you do if she’s there?” asked Azulay, equal parts hoping for and dreading the answer.

“Dunno.” Lamek shrugged, the motion exaggerated with drink. “Depends, I guess. If she keeps her lies to herself, I won’t have to do anything.”

Lamek’s hand tightened on the railing. He paused. He was over halfway up the stairs now. Azulay’s heart was in his throat; how could this stairwell be so long? But at the same time, he could see the street outside after season’s end, the dancers and performers filling it with color and movement. A boy among them all, deftly spinning in bright reds and yellows from the top of a ladder. Below, one woman among the many watching, her head tilted up and eyes on the boy, a wisp of a smile on her face.

But not for long. She’d glance around and check the crowd soon, worried, weary. The sun would catch her face, spill silver down the scar across her cheek. It’d highlight the fear that would spread her pupils, flush her cheeks, and catch her breath. And then she’d be gone, like a wisp of late-season cloud, blown away by her own terror.

All so Lamek could walk free, unpunished.

Azulay’s will hardened.

“We’re almost there now,” he said with a lightness he didn’t feel. “We’ll get you safely in bed and your hangover cured and you’ll never have a worry again.”

“That sounds lovely,” sighed Lamek.

Finally, his grip loosened. Finally, he took another step. Over halfway now. A few more steps would put him high enough.

“Tea, though,” continued Lamek. “You should stay long enough for tea. I owe you that much. There aren’t enough people in this G-d-spat town that would be so kind to a drunk. And people don’t talk to me like they used to, not since… well.” He shook his head. Another step.

“Since?” prompted Azulay, despite himself.

“Since the accident,” said Lamek. “And it was an accident,” he added fiercely. “The drum chiefs saw that, even if my own neighbors don’t. They shun me, like I’m a madman.”

“But you’re not a madman.”

“No! No, of course not.”

“You did what any reasonable person would do.”

A sigh. A step. Then, “You understand.”

Azulay did. He hated it, but he did. He could understand the anger of a moment, an act cast and too late reconsidered. The harm called, the bones what they were, what they always would be. Too late to take back a bet. Too late not to have taken a chair at the table, too late never to have set foot in the inn.

But then you dealt with the dust-cursed consequences.

Lamek took another step.

“I do,” said Azulay. “And I’m sorry.”

“Thank you,” said Lamek.

It was a simple thing. A nudge at the back of the knees. A pull on the shoulder of the wrap. A stumble. A stutter. A fall.

Lamek let out an “oh” of surprise before his legs betrayed him and the stairs took him. A crack, clatter, thud—and then silence. No movement, no sound, nothing but a body crumpled at the base of the stairs like so many cast bones.

Three squandered, thought Azulay. One for G-d.

He waited for a heartbeat, then two, his own blood roaring like wind in his ears. His mouth tasted like ashes and his chest felt as heavy as lead. Distantly, he heard voices next door, loud and concerned. But the body didn’t move. Slowly, slowly, Azulay did.

He didn’t remember climbing out the window. He didn’t remember how he got to the roof. But he must have. Dihya was waiting for him on the rooftop, her wrap a plain beige and her face bare. She uncrossed her arms and started toward Azulay, a hand out, a smile warming her features, then paused. She dropped her hand and her smile.

“His neighbors heard the crash,” she said. “I saw one leave to get a watchman. Someone will find the body soon. You did well, Az’.”

“Yeah.” Azulay kept walking past Dihya, unable to stop, unwilling to turn back. He’d done what he had to, he told himself. He’d thrown the bones and now he’d deal with the consequences.  “We’ll get a lot of baats for this one.”

“It’s not supposed to be easy,” called Dihya.

“I know.”

But knowing didn’t change the roll’s outcome.

***

The heat beat like a drum against Azulay’s skull, almost in time with the real drum that filled the street with thunderous reverberations. Color pulsed with the beat and between that and the crowd and the sun, it was all Azulay could do not to be sick. He’d told Dihya he was going to go fill his skin at the pumphouse and it’d only been half a lie to get out of the dark house and away from her postmortem.

He did need the water, but first —

The beat quickened. Fabric in reds and blues and yellows swirled, vibrant and blazing in the full light. Between and beneath, boys and men and others danced, their bare arms glistening with oil and paint. A ladder rose in the middle of the performers, hoisted aloft by half a dozen hands. A boy burst from the bustle of movement, climbing the ladder rung by rung until he balanced at the top. He couldn’t have been older than Azulay had been the very first time Tamella had broken into his room and held a knife to his throat.

The boy spread his arms and the fabric with them, thin enough to blaze with sunlight and wash the crowd in gold. Azulay scanned the crowd, found the one upturned face that glowed with love instead of light. Azulay didn’t see a scar, but he didn’t need to.

He didn’t know if the boy was Lamek’s son. He didn’t know if the woman was Hazul. It didn’t matter. It was enough to know that out of a thousand different casts, one could land correctly. It was enough to know that it was possible.

He didn’t have to wait for the watcher to call it.

 

Cover photo by fotografierende from Pexels

promo, The Impossible Contract (Book 2)

Pride Month Pre-Order Extravaganza

It’s that time of year!

What, ant season?

No, it’s –

Oh yeah, hurricane season. Thanks for the reminder, I need to restock my –

No, I meant –

Oh! I remember now. Monsoon season. But that doesn’t start for another two weeks.

I mean, yes, all of those, but it’s also PRIDE MONTH. The time of year we queers celebrate how far we’ve come and reflect on how much further we have to go, when we remember that it takes standing up and making ourselves actually visible – however terrifying and dangerous that may be – to make any progress.

In that spirit of visibility, me and some other authors put together a special little pre-order campaign, just for Pride. We all know pre-orders mean the world to debut and small authors, and it means even more to marginalized authors. We’ve made some big strides in recent years when it comes to how many queer books are out there, but we’ve still got some ways to go.

So here’s what we got for you. For the month of June, for each of these four books that you pre-order, you’ll get a special, signed, Pride-themed bookplate. Each of us has made our own fancy bookplates just for this, and we’re excited to send them to you!

All you have to do is pre-order, and then fill out this form.

That’s it!

And here are

THE BOOKS

Lord of Secrets by Breanna Teintze
July 25th 2019 by Jo Fletcher Books
Magic is poison. Secrets are power. Death is . . . complicated.

A delightful necromantic romp through a dark and complex world with magic as boundless as it is painful, terrifying undead monstrosities, and secrets layered upon secrets.

Outlaw wizard Corcoran Grey is just trying to find his imprisoned grandfather. To do so, he’s just break out of prison, break into an ancient underground temple and avoid killing himself with his own magic in the process.

Oh, and handle a ego-centric, power-mad, necromantic demigod. You know. Easy stuff.

It’s also got some straight up gay necromancy and I loved this book so much.

Rep: M/M
Pre-order: Publisher | Dymocks | Amazon

The Library of the Unwritten by A.J. Hackwith
October 1st, 2019 by Ace Books

A story about stories, ones we tell ourselves, the ones we tell others, and the ones buried so deep we hope no one ever finds them.

Hell’s Librarian is just supposed to tend to the unwritten books under her care, to keep the characters from escaping their stories, and mend any that manage to get away, only to inevitably be drawn back, battered and bruised.

She’s not supposed to let any of those characters stay free and she’s not supposed to leave the library for any length of time and she’s absolutely, 100%, No, Don’t, supposed to get involved a power struggle between Hell and Heaven.

Well, she tried not to. That should count for something, right?

Rep: F/F, Bi
Pre-order: Publisher | Indiebound | B&N | Amazon

Wild Life: Dispatches from a Childhood of Baboons and Button-Downs by Keena Roberts
November 12th 2019 by Grand Central Publishing

The memoir from the daughter of two famous primatologists, Wild Life describes an adolescence split between the wilds of an island camp in Botswana and the even more treacherous halls of an elite Philadelphia private school.

In Africa, Keena slept in a tent, cooked over a campfire, and lived each day alongside the baboon colony her parents were studying. She could wield a spear as easily as a pencil, and it wasn’t unusual to be chased by lions or elephants on any given day. But for the months of the year when her family lived in the United States, this brave kid from the bush was cowed by the far more treacherous landscape of the preppy, private school social hierarchy.

Wild Life is ultimately the story of a daring but sensitive young girl desperately trying to figure out if there’s any place where she truly fits in.

Rep: #Ownvoices lesbian
Pre-order: Publisher | Indiebound | B&N | Amazon

The Impossible Contract by K.A. Doore
November 12th 2019 by Tor Books

In this not-exactly-sequel to The Perfect Assassin, Thana’s got a huge reputation to live up to as the only daughter of the Serpent. When the opportunity to finally prove herself arrives in the shape of a particularly dangerous contract, she doesn’t think twice. Of course she’ll do it.

Even if the contract is on a foreign diplomat with the ability to bind a soul under his own control. Even if somebody else wants her mark dead, and doesn’t care who gets in their way. Even if it means pursuing her mark across the desert and into the heart of the Empire itself. Even if she’s got to tamp down on these feelings she has for the healer who’s come along for the ride.

Even if it turns out the man she’s supposed to kill might be the only one who can stop something far more evil?

Even if…

Rep: F/F
Pre-order: Publisher | Indiebound | B&N | Amazon

 

The Perfect Assassin (Book 1)

It’s here!!

The Perfect Assassin is out in the world!!

You should be able to find it anywhere books are sold. Also libraries!! In fact, people’ve been sending me photos of it in the wild, face-out, at Barnes and Nobles and their local indies, and honestly, that’s been so, so cool.

People have been asking me how this all feels and mostly just: normal? I guess? I’ve been waiting for this day in general for most of my life and in specific for about two and a half years, so it’s all been one long transition. I treated the Day Of like a birthday and went for a run and just generally let myself chill – which was great, A++, best way to celebrate.

And then I went back to work the next day, both dayjob and also writing. A project I’ve been noodling on for almost three years now is slowly coming together and my hope is that once Book 3 is officially, 100% done I can finally focus on the new project. One thing I’ve learned in the last few years is that I am no good at multitasking.

Or at least, I thought I could focus on dayjob and new!WIP, but even though the Day Itself is past, people are only just now sending me photos of my book in the wild and that’s just… that’s been wild. It’s one thing to know your book is out there, it’s another for your high school and college friends to be excitedly sending you photos of them finding it in their local bookstore. I have teared up so many times over the past forty-eight hours.

It’s something that for so long I’d hoped would happen, and even something for some time I’d known would happen, but knowing and hoping are pale things to the reality of it actually happening.

And now I get to see things like this:

Bookshelf with prominent SFF titles face-out

It took me 20+ years to get here. I guess it’s okay to need a few more days to process it.

Chronicles of Ghadid Trilogy, The Perfect Assassin (Book 1), The Unconquered City (Book 3)

Less Than a Week

How did we go from two and a half years to less than a week??

Oh right, the passage of time.

Well aside from flailing, I haven’t much to say. But I’ve got a lot of links!

First off, if you want to learn about dunes – or some of my research behind the Perfect Assassin and its world, you should check out my essay over at Tor dot com, How Do You Fight an 80-Foot Sand Dune?.

Second off, the introduction to March got TPA featured on a bunch of lists, which is exciting.

The Nerd Daily’s March Book Releases: Fantasy + Sci-Fi

Barnes and Nobles The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Books of March 2019

io9 Gizmodo’s 39 Amazing New Sci-Fi and Fantasy Books to Check Out in March

And my little book even somehow snuck into Amazon’s best books of the month for March:

Yeah okay, that’s all cool.

But you know what’s even cooler?

I turned in book 3 edits this weekend!

[Sound of kazoos and party poppers]

Gotta wait yet to see if Book 3 is actually, well, done done, but at least, at the moment, I am free of the edit mines. So I’m gonna kick back, relax, maybe take a break and enjoy this whole Book Coming Out OMG thing, yeah?

Chronicles of Ghadid Trilogy, Pre-pub, The Impossible Contract (Book 2), The Perfect Assassin (Book 1)

January Recap (Madcap?)

It sure has been a month. I don’t even know how to begin, so let’s just run through it, shall we?

I started a new job. Winter finally showed up. I moderated my first panel and gave my first reading at ConFusion in Detroit. I wrote a bit more of my WIP. The cover for book two entered the world. Book one got two excellent trade reviews. Our laundry machine broke. A Polar Vortex shut down our city –

Wait, wait, WAIT – you say. Book two’s cover?? Went live???

Oh yeah. I guess that’s important.

Okay that’s an understatement. It’s pretty important and I’m REALLY EXCITED about it. If you’ve been following my posts for any length of time, you know Book Two was once Book Only and I poured my heart and soul into it. Then I wrote Book One and poured my heart into that too, but Book Two will just always have that place in my heart as the First.

There’s just something about writing a book for just you, never knowing if it’s going to get an agent’s attention let alone reach the light of day – or the hands of readers. I love all of my book children equally, in their own ways, but The Impossible Contract just feels different. For The Perfect Assassin, covers and blurbs and reviews weren’t daydreams – they were expectations. I had a contract, after all. But for TIC, well. They were dreams.

And when I got to see TIC’s cover for the first time in December, it was literally a dream come true.

And now that it’s live elsewhere on the internet, I can finally share that dream with you:

The purple! The gold! That expression! That garrote! It’s THANA. My Thana, who started out as a lone figure on a rooftop almost five years ago and now has a whole family to rely on. She has come so very far and I can’t wait to talk more about her and share her with you in November.

But BEFORE THAT I have a whole ‘nother book coming out.

And The Perfect Assassin has been getting some awesome reviews.

But Kai, you say gently, You just dropped a cover on us. You can tell us about the reviews later.

I mean, yes technically, I could but in reality, this is probably the only blog post I’m going to make for the next month or two, so you’re getting this now.

Here – if it’s any easier, you can take a break and come back in a week or so and pretend this is a whole new blog post. Good?

Good.

Welcome back!

I’ve already flailed and hyperventilated about this elsewhere, but The Perfect Assassin got a starred (!!!) review from Publisher’s Weekly! You can read the whole thing here, but if you want to avoid some very light potential spoilers, here’s the choice quote:

“Doore is a force to be reckoned with, blending a stirring plot, elegant worldbuilding, effortless style, and diverse, empathetic characters.”

!!!!

!!!!!!

I might have shouted “a force to be RECKONED WITH” every chance I had for a week straight. Honestly, I’m still riding that high.

And then there’s also this amazing review from Booklist. It’s behind a paywall, so if you don’t have access, here’s another good quote:

“Doore’s thrilling fantasy debut is a suspenseful murder mystery wrapped around a coming-of-age story […] Ghadid, set on platforms hundreds of feet above shifting sands, is vividly described, with a fascinating history and culture that Doore folds in naturally. This author is one to watch.”

WATCH ME.

IF YOU DON’T, WHO WILL.

AND IF NO ONE DOES, DO I EVEN EXIST?

Anyway: *flings confetti*

I guess this means I can’t pretend I’ve just been bribing/threatening everyone for good reviews. Or maybe it does and these are two flukes that will never happen again! Who knows! I sure don’t! You might find out in just 48 days!

 

Photo by Georgia de Lotz on Unsplash

Chronicles of Ghadid Trilogy

Looking Back, Leaning Forward

Today is the Solstice, the longest night of the year and the turning point. No longer will the days continue to shorten; we only have light to look forward to. It’s the perfect time to breathe deep, feel the chill, and look back at the year.

And this has been a year. It feels like a blur that went on a little longer than expected. There were some very long parts and some parts that kinda just blew by, leaving me happy if disoriented. I don’t even know how to conceptualize this year, so I’m just going to list what I’ve done.

This year, I:
– Finished copy edits and page proofs for Book 1 aka The Perfect Assassin and now the text is Set in Stone and Untouchable Forever and Always
– Finished edits and officially turned in Book 2 aka The Impossible Contract
– Finished writing (and rewriting [and revising]) Book 3 aka The Unconquered City and sent it to my editor
– Read 29 books
– Mentored (and am continuing to mentor) for Pitch Wars, which involved reading quite a few manuscripts, agonizing over which to pick, rejoicing when I found the right one, writing up a comprehensive edit letter (only 17 pages), and now chilling while my mentee sweats
– Started blogging for the Debutante Ball
– Wrote and edited a novella
– Wrote two short stories
– Got 22k words into a new WIP
– Visited Tucson and the Tucson Festival of Books, where the Toddler was officially introduced to cacti and other desert flora (not the fauna, so much)
– Got to see Hamilton (finally!!)
– Attended Sirens for my 2nd year, where I
– Sat on my first panel (!!)

That all sounds very impressive listed out like that, but this year was particularly hard in some less obvious ways. I delved deep to write book 3, and that wasn’t always easy. I also had my first migraine, for which I had to go to urgent care and get hooked up to an IV. I also had a back injury that has kept me from my favorite movements – running and heavy lifting. I also dealt with several severe panic episodes and started seeing a therapist again. Depression stole a lot of joy from what should have been joyful moments.

And there have been some friggin’ joyful moments:
Meeting agent siblings at ConFusion
Receiving my first blurb, ever.
The blurbs after that.
Readers sharing photos of their Advanced Reader Copies of my book in the wild
Readers sharing what they loved about reading The Perfect Assassin – not just fellow debut authors and agent siblings, but real humans who don’t even know me and have no reason to pretend they liked my book (!)
Friends and family being excited for me
Seeing cover comps for book 2
Realizing book 2 is coming out next year as well
Making two (2) betas and now one (1) editor cry with book 3

Honestly, how can you top that? I don’t have the first clue, but in 2019 it looks like we’re going to try. I’ve got two books coming out – two!! – and on top of that, a new dayjob, another round of Sirens and ConFusion, and another journey to Tucson. As well as a Toddler to continue to nurture and raise – and occasionally water.

And somehow, somewhere, somewhen, I’ve gotta write The Next Book. I’m still not 100% certain what that’s going to be; I’ve got a draft zero to eke out and see if it’s viable, and two other plots simmering on the backburner. A lot depends on how TPA does, of course. A lot depends on how much writing I can get done with a fulltime job and a Toddler, while taking care of myself and the house as well. A lot depends on 100 different things that could change at any time.

So here’s to those 100 different things – and here’s to writing, despite them all.

Here’s to 2019.

Chronicles of Ghadid Trilogy

Where Do We Go From Here

Serious Author Being Attacked by Serious ToddlerI… I turned in book three. I still can’t quite believe it. A week or so has already passed and the implications are only just hitting me. I think I’ll need a bit more time to process the fact that I wrote a friggin’ trilogy. There’s a whole blog post in there somewhere, but for now…

For now I’m going to Take a Break. At least from writing. I have Pitch Wars submissions to read (and they’re all so good – you guys are making this hard), as well as the entirety of my towering TBR list to read, as well as this lovely autumnal weather to enjoy, as well as this rambunctious toddler to chase around, as well as a job to seek, as well as this coffee to drink –

So I might be a bit quiet in these parts for a bit. I’m actively not writing the Next Thing, but I am participating in the Debutante Ball, so you can still find my thoughts and ramblings over there.

Seriously – check it out. Five debut author ladies are gonna talk about the whole Book Thing for a full year and I’m one of them. You can even read my little intro here!

I followed them for a year plus before applying and, if last year is anything to go by, it’ll be a lot of fun and interesting posts to read.

So yeah. That’s it for me right now. Pitch Wars, Debutante Ball, Toddler, definitely not researching Ostrogoths or the impact of climate change on the range of tropical diseases like dengue nope definitely not.

…nooope.

The Perfect Assassin (Book 1)

The Perfect Assassin Has a Cover

This is a cat meant to soothe you and think happy thoughts and not, in fact, the actual cover

First there were copyedits. Then there were page proofs. Then there was silence.

Now. Now, there is. A cover.

*pauses for the appropriate amount of anticipation*

*pause*

*paaaause*

*drumroll*

Ta daaa!

Thank you to the team at Tor for putting this together, especially my editor Diana Pho for helping find the perfect model, and Larry Rostant for its creation.

And now back to your regularly scheduled excitement. Those fingers! That leapage! The red!

Fun fact: I specifically requested red because of Plot Reasons (not blood, jeez guys) and I am very very pleased with how that turned out.

Also fun fact: One of my original ideas was to have the main character, Amastan, sitting with a bunch of scrolls, which somehow I thought would be very engaging. Ahah. Ahah. Ahaha.

And that, my friends, is why I’m not in Marketing.

What do you think? Eye-grabbing? Face-stabbing?

If you like murder! and sand in your teeth! and archival searches!, you can pre-order The Perfect Assassin – the story of a historian turned assassin turned detective who is really tired of this shit – over at the usual suspects. Some early readers have said it’s okay, they guess. And there will be a book two! And a book three! And book three has definitely made some people cry, so you know that means it’s great.

March 2019, guys! That’s like, eight months and change! Less than a pregnancy away!

Barnes & Noble AmazonIndiebound

Querying, The Impossible Contract (Book 2), Writing

Hey What About Your Query, Kai?

A picture of a cat, not a query letter.

As some of you already know, I’ve joined this year’s Pitch Wars mentor crew. For those unfamiliar with Pitch Wars, this means that one (not-so-)lucky writer will get the chance to have their manuscript beaten (literally and figuratively) into shape by me. But to get to that point they – you, possibly – will have to first write a query.

If there’s one thing all authors/writers/agents/human beings can unilaterally agree on, it’s that queries were devised to torture storytellers. You spent what feels like a million words (by that 24th revision it’s probably been more) carefully building a story and now someone wants you to do it again in – *gasp* – 250-300 words. Mon dieu!

Thankfully that’s not really what a query’s meant to do. All it’s gotta do is entice. And to do that, you just gotta distill your plot down to a few lines, pick out some awesome details, snag the voice, do the Macarena, assemble the Avengers –

Wait. No.

They say a picture’s worth a thousand words, but I’m sure an example is worth just as many. So, here – have one successful query letter that just happens to be mine. It’s been a few years (*cough3cough*) and if I could I’d change a few things, but I’m going to resist and let you see the exact query that led to pages being requested that led to a full that led to a call that led to an offer and so on.

[Side note: This query was for The Impossible Contract, which is now Book Two (and if you want to know that story, go here). I don’t think there’re any spoilers for The Perfect Assassin (aka Book One) in here, but you have been warned if you care about those things.]

Dear Agent –

THE IMPOSSIBLE CONTRACT is a fast-paced adventure fantasy complete at 128,000 words. I’m sending this query to you in particular because I noticed you expressed an interest in LGBTQ stories in any genre and this novel includes a lesbian romance.

In the desert city of Ghadid, assassination is a family business. To learn the trade, Thana trained with her older cousins for years, but she’s still nervous when it’s her turn to take a contract. But it’s not just the responsibility: it turns out that her mark is the Empress’ own marabi, a highly skilled and powerful priest. Any qualms Thana might have had about killing a holy man, though, are soon put to rest when she learns the mark is involved in the blasphemous practice of binding souls.

The contract should have been straightforward: steal into the mark’s room, circumvent his magical protections, and slit his throat. Except that someone else wants the marabi dead. Before Thana can deliver the killing blow, a half dozen men break into the room and attack them both. Even outnumbered, the men should have been no match for fast and lethal Thana, but they have a key advantage against her knives and garrote: they’re already dead and someone – another blasphemer – has bound their souls. Thana barely escapes with her own life, let alone the mark’s.

The mark is determined to discover what these men are and who sent them. Thana is determined to follow the mark and finish her contract, even if that means leaving home to cross the desert. If she fails, not only will her family be shamed, but Thana’s life will be up for contract. But along her journey, Thana learns of the ancient evil behind the dead men and bound souls and realizes that the price of her success may be the destruction of all she holds dear.

Aside from writing, I also practice photography and weightlifting while living in the Sonoran Desert. I have the writer’s prerequisite small but significant cat collection and caffeine addiction, as well as a number of chickens, a degree in Classics, and way too many (never too many) knee socks.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

 

Here’s a few things to note:

First off, you’ll notice I front-loaded the query with the title and wordcount and a little personalized intro for that specific agent. Typically, you’ll want to go straight into the query proper, but if you have a reason you’re sending this to a specific agent, it can help to put that up front.

In this case, my query doesn’t have room for the romance in it, but since I knew the agent was specifically looking for queer fic, I pointed that out as part of the personalization.

Second… this is a little long for a query. Related, that wordcount is about 30k too long. I got dinged a lot for that, by the way (multiple agents specifically cited the wordcount in their rejections), and part of signing with my agent meant cutting as much as I could – and then cutting more once I signed with Tor. So take it from me, you really want to stay within the acceptable word count ranges for your genre (this has a good rule of thumb btw).

On the positive side, it still worked. So.

Third, I know a lot of writers worry about not having any pub credits to their name to rattle off in the bio section. You’ll notice I, too, had no prior publications nor anything really of note, so instead I used that space to add a little more of my own personality.

But wait, there’s more! Don’t just take my word for it – you can read a breakdown by another agent over at the Weekly Workshop as to why, exactly, my query worked for her.

I’d also recommend taking a deep dive into the Query Shark archives as well as reading all the queries the other mentors have put up in the last few days.

So there you have it. Just be short and honest and bleed a little on your keyboard and you’ll do just fine.