New Fiction and Other Updates

Hi there! Long time no see! I’ve neglected my website while I’ve been figuring out what to write next after Daring and Decorum. It was a very long fallow period for writing, but I kept busy volunteering for the successful anti-gerrymandering effort in Michigan. Then my wife and I moved from East Lansing to Tucson for her new job. Big change, that. I’ve enjoyed being in the desert and thought it might actually prompt me back toward nature writing, but so far, not. I also thought I might start covering some of the great cycling in Tucson on my blog, but again, nonfiction just doesn’t hold the same appeal as it used to for me.

But on to new fiction. I’m about halfway done with a post-post-apocalyptic novel which takes place centuries after an artificial intelligence takes over from humanity in order to save the world. It’s going well, and I’m hoping to place it with a publisher.

In the meantime, our white nationalist regime’s efforts at ethnic cleansing are deeply disturbing to me, and I wrote a story in response. I’ve gone back to the world of Skyrim for this, because it’s the ideal setting for explorations of racism and xenophobia. (In fact, the kernel of it came to me in a dream after watching the disturbing news of migrant children in cages.)

Deirdre and Lydia

The Khajiit Murders takes place three months after my previous Skyrim fanfic, The Song of Deirdre,  and takes the form of a murder mystery. One group, the Khajiits, are scapegoated for the killing spree and threatened with ethnic cleansing. Queen Deirdre and her friends have to find the actual murderer before the rebellious jarls remove her from power and try to make Skyrim an ethnically pure Nord state.

I’ve posted the story over on the FanFiction website, and will probably post it here soon. In the meantime, here’s a little excerpt:


Arrest

Picture of J'zargo of Elsweyr, a character from Skyrim

“Court mage to Queen Deirdre of Skyrim!” J’zargo of Elsweyr exclaimed. “It is this one’s next step on the road to greatness. What glories will J’zargo not attain!” The Khajiit’s long feline tail flicked back and forth on the rump of his horse.

“Co-mage, don’t forget, you arrogant cat.” Brelyna Maryon’s red eyes glared at her companion and sometime lover, but he didn’t notice, his own eyes were so firmly fixed on the glories of his imagined future, rather than on the road ahead of them. They were on their way to Solitude, and Brelyna hoped they would reach the city this evening, as scheduled. Showing up late for one’s appointment with the queen would hardly do, friends though they were.

“And before you get your hopes up,” she went on, “remember that Skyrim is but one former province of what used to be a great empire. How it will stand on its own, threatened by both the Altmer and the Empire, I know not. I can only hope Deirdre has a better idea. I don’t believe this throne was anything she ever sought.”

“Pffft. Who wouldn’t seek such a lofty position, especially a mage of such power, and born to a great destiny, such as our friend? We will provide her with wise counsel, which one so young surely requires.”

“Ha, you’ve hardly seen more winters than she. And I am older, but still in the youth of a Dunmer. No, our appointments have more of the college grapevine about them than our magical powers or wisdom.”

J’zargo gave a soft hrmmph, and they lapsed into silence.

An odder couple could hardly be imagined. Not just because she was an elf and he a Khajiit, one of the cat-people of Elsweyr. No, it was his arrogance and self-centeredness, in contrast to her own lack of confidence, that had surprised their friends, Deirdre and Lydia, when they first became a couple.

Brelyna was as surprised as anyone. When she’d first met the cocky Khajiit at the College of Winterhold, nearly a year ago now, she could hardly stand him, with all his boasting and ambition. Whereas she just hoped to not disappoint her family too badly with her lackluster talents in the magical arts. No mediocrity was tolerated among the scions of Morrowind’s House Telvanni. After months at the college, she’d finally overcome her mental block against alteration magic, and more recently she’d been pleased to write her family informing them that their daughter was about to enter the service of Skyrim’s new High Queen.

She’d left out her relationship with J’zargo. They’d surely disapprove of anyone less exalted than a distant Telvanni cousin; failing that, a strategic alliance with a noble of House Redoran might be acceptable. But a Khajiit! Her mother would probably require all the flin in Solstheim to revive her upon hearing such news.

The circumstances of their pairing were certainly understandable. Thrown together in a strange city after the grief and horror of the siege and retreat from Whiterun, Onmund dead, Lydia grievously wounded, and Deirdre preoccupied with trying to heal her – they’d had no one else to turn to for comfort. If she’d had to guess back then how long their relationship would last, she’d have given it a few weeks at most, long enough for the grief to subside and the initial burst of attraction to ebb.

But it had persisted, with a few spats, through the remainder of the war and their return to the college. Even J’zargo’s boasting of his prowess with females of all races, equal to his powers as a mage, had lessened of late. He’d grown more attentive to her wishes and needs, as opposed to his former self-preoccupation. She was sure their friends would hardly recognize him.

But now, as they neared Solitude, J’zargo’s boastful nature was having a renascence. He’s just excited over his new appointment, she told herself.

They emerged from a small grove of trees and the town of Dragon Bridge was laid out before them on the opposite side of the Karth River. The place was aptly named. Twin dragon heads carved from stone loomed over the bridge crossing the mighty river. Before the return of Alduin, these carvings had been mere quaint oddities depicting beasts from fable and myth. Now they served as grim reminders of the very real terror that had gripped Skyrim just a few short months before. Brelyna shivered at those fearsome visages as she and J’zargo rode beneath them. She’d never faced a dragon in the flesh, only an undead serpent in skeletal form, but that had been bad enough.

Two town guards stood at attention at the other end of the bridge. In these more peaceful times, most guards had returned to their usual habit of greeting travelers with a curt “Citizen” or “No lollygaggin’.” But as soon as these two caught a glimpse of Brelyna and her companion, they drew their swords and moved to block the exit from the bridge.

“Halt!” one said. “Dismount now. And no magical funny business.”

Brelyna drew her horse to a stop, as did J’zargo. But the Khajiit — foolish cat! — wouldn’t be ordered around so brusquely.

“Nord soldiers know not to whom they speak,” he said in a low growl. “This one is on important business to your queen. We have no time for your petty concerns.”

“J’zargo…” Brelyna began, already preparing a lecture about not provoking the Nords’ well-known bigotry against outlanders. But there was no time for that. Turning back to the guards, she said, “Please forgive my companion’s rude behavior, but he speaks true. Queen Deirdre expects us in Solitude this evening at the latest.”

“That may be, but we have our orders to question and search any outlanders — especially Khajiits. Now dismount!” As if to underscore the guard’s threat, another soldier emerged from the guard house, bow drawn, an arrow aimed at J’zargo’s chest.

Brelyna reached out a restraining hand to her companion, who was making ready to cast a spell. “Don’t be a fool, J’zargo. Let us do as the guards say.” He looked over at her, his eyes blazing with indignation. “Please, J’zargo.”

“Very well,” he said as he dismounted. “But when Queen Deirdre hears of this…” His words were cut off as a guard pushed him to face the bridge railing. Another did the same with Brelyna and she had to catch herself with both hands to avoid hitting the railing or toppling over it. The guard patted her mage’s robes roughly, with no regard for the dignity of her person. From the other side of the bridge came the grunts and scrapes of a struggle. “No, you silly Khajiit, don’t resist!” she called. But now more guards were running over. They soon had J’zargo subdued.

“Perhaps if you told us what this is about, you’d get more cooperation,” she said, marshaling all the hauteur she could remember from her mother’s dealings with recalcitrant shopkeepers and the like. Her words met only silence. She was about to go on but broke off as the guards turned her around. One of the guards near J’zargo was staggering away, clutching his face where J’zargo had clawed him.

The one with the bow went over to the wounded soldier and examined the wounds. “This proves it!” he said, pointing to his colleague. “These are the same marks the murderer left on Heimvar’s face, and on the Jurards as well!” He turned to where J’zargo was being held with his hands tied behind his back. “You’ll pay, you bloody Khajiit!” The archer stepped toward J’zargo, dropping his bow and pulling a dagger from his belt.

“No!” Brelyna shouted, struggling against her own captors.

“That’s enough!” said a newcomer, who appeared to be in authority. “The jarl will see to their punishment, both the Khajiit and his Dark Elf accomplice. Lock them up.”

With that, they frog-marched Brelyna and J’zargo into town and shoved them into adjacent cells in the town jail.

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For those of you who have been waiting with bated breath for the print version of Daring and Decorum, it's now available for pre-order through your favorite local bookseller, Barnes and Noble, and through Amazon.uk. It's not up on Amazon.com yet, but … [Continue reading]

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