mercenary

We’re Mostly Mad Here

I was standing at the stove with my friends lounging around me as I poured pasta into boiling water, laughing at an exchange between Will, Sy, and Gilbert, when a sudden worry flashed through my mind.

How am I going to feed so many people with just one box of mac-‘n’-cheese? I frowned.

Then sanity resurfaced, and my face went red as I realized it was just me and my best writer friend Danielle standing in the kitchen. The hilarious Will, Sy, and Gilbert were our characters and muses.

I revealed my lapse in mental acuity, and they laughed at me—three imaginary, one present on the common plane of reality, and all four mocking my madness.

That's right, keep laughing at the chef. That will never have any consequences.

That’s right, keep laughing at the chef. That will never have any consequences.

But this madness—while entirely laughable—stems from a very important part of my writing process: taking my characters seriously.

Now, you don’t have to slip that far down the rabbit hole to be a good writer. But whether or not you consider your cast to be real, you must consider them valid.

Even if you think your characters to be players in your plot, not friends hanging out in your kitchen, their truths (not just their mutable facts) must be given due consideration. Avid readers can smell a cardboard cutout character an aisle away. Even side characters are better for having an underbelly. Even if it’s never shown in the story you’re telling, it will influence the visible surface, lending depth and truth.

Writing Grace the Mace, I considered the forces that had formed each character, and the impact each one would have on the others–in shaping, motivating, and provoking.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the title character herself. Dalvin Grace is shaped by two opposing forces—her mother, and the rest of the world. She resembles both her caring mother and her cruel environment. She resents both her “weak” mother and the buffeting world of the Great Graves mountain nations. Her feelings are spurred by—you guessed it, both her mother, and the world around them.

Had I treated Grace as simply a cog in my plot, I might have decided that she would defend her mother—another cog, a porcelain figure in maternal damsel-ish distress, serving the plot much as love interests commonly serve. That would have left me with an action-adventure novel that read much like an old, two-dimensional video game. However elaborately I plotted the “levels,” the main character would move through them, and collect the prize—mother’s safety—at the end.

But Weylah, the mother, is a valid person in her own right. Sweet, feminine, naive, and near-magically buoyant—those facts I knew from the first brush. I delved beyond the ultimate image of maternity, looking for personhood behind those soft, amber eyes. I asked a lot of questions. What were her fears? Regrets? Strengths? Worst memories? Doubts? Faiths? Worldview?

I can’t say a bell rings in my head at the precise moment a character goes from being an idea to being a person. But usually, the change is near the moment I understand their deepest, greatest why. Writing is an art, not a science, and the artistic process is never entirely predictable, but if they haven’t made that transition from pile of facts to true person, I know I’m not finished. If the people aren’t true, neither is their story.

If I didn’t understand Weylah, I wouldn’t understand the unique tensions between the flowerseller and her mercenary daughter, and how the push-and-pull of that relational tide shapes Dalvin’s very existence, for better and for worse—and for the plot.

Some authors are of the opinion that characters only serve the plot. But characters known in their own right will serve a plot far better than dress-up dolls sewn for the part ever could.

People are the heart of any story, and if you don’t write it with pumping blood, the best you’ll ever get is the interesting corpse of an idea.

You hardly need to go so far as to mistakenly make dinner for five, but a character that inhabits a writer’s head is, of course, that much more likely to stick in the head of a reader.

I think of fiction as a happily catching madness.

*****

If you’d like a disgruntled, paranoid mercenary rattling around in your head,

Check out Grace the Mace, available on Kindle in paperback.

 

 

 

Grace the Mace: Cover Reveal!

Grace has always been there for her mother, ever since she was old enough to bite the legs of those thugs and leeches that called themselves lovers. Ever since she was old enough to understand the world in a way her mother never would.

Now, she comes home every winter with blood money from a year of running with a band of sellswords. No more scrounging in midden heaps and cutting purses for a low court lord to survive the lean months.

But this year, home is as dangerous as the battlefield. Tensions are running through the street courts of her old slums, while a new and daunting lover has confounded her safeguards and gotten at her mum–and now they’re all tangled in a vicious turf war.

Is one lone mercenary enough to protect her own? Can she trust anyone else to do the job?

*****

Now to meet the face of the franchise, a word I here use in its loosest sense:

Grace the Mace Cover

My thoughts, numbered, but in no particular order:

1. Give me those boots. Give them to me. And throw in that breastplate while you’re in a generous mood.

2. I feel like if you zoomed in on the shield and enhanced, you could spot the photographer. (You can’t. I tried. The CSI shows lied.)

3. YES. That’s my girl, alright. That’s her attitude, all over her face, which is totally her face! Maker take her, what a bitch! 😀

4. Ooooooh, colors and lighting and framing! Ooooh, stone textures! Yeah background!

5. This art is way better than most fantasy cover art. Imma be real; most actual paintings (not talking about the airbrushed photos) on fantasy covers look kind of… weird. Someone’s face always looks stupid, some basic physical proportions are always off. Not here. Not with this. This baby is perfect.

6. A thousand and one thanks to DarianaLoki, the artist responsible.

Grace’s thoughts:

1.  “It’s a good likeness.”

2. “My gear isn’t horribly misrepresented. Thanks.”

3. “What, am I supposed to come up with six things, too? It’s nice. It’s good. It’s, what’s the word, professional. What do you want?”

Guess I’ll have to rustle up three more thoughts somewhere else.

Grace’s Mum’s thoughts:

4. “Oh, what lovely work! Isn’t she beautiful? And so… fierce-looking.”

5. “Are those chrysanthemums? I can’t tell, but they brighten the place up nicely, don’t they?”

6. “Grace isn’t in… trouble, is she?”

Ohhhh, my sweet summer child.

*****

Excerpt I

Excerpt II

Excerpt III

 

 

Grace the Mace

Grace has always been there for her mother, ever since she was old enough to bite the legs of those thugs and leeches that called themselves lovers. Ever since she was old enough to understand the world in a way her mother never would.

Now, she comes home every winter with blood money from a year of running with a band of sellswords. No more scrounging in midden heaps and cutting purses for a low court lord to survive the lean months.

But this year, home is as dangerous as the battlefield. Tensions are running through the street courts of her old slums, while a new and daunting lover has confounded her safeguards and gotten at her mum–and now they’re all tangled in a vicious turf war.

Is one lone mercenary enough to protect her own? Can she trust anyone else to do the job?

*****

Grace the Mace – Excerpt I

Onnie winced as an apple fell from the gather of her apron, striking root. She stooped, inspecting the small gash and bruise on the pink skin. It had been perfect for market; now it would be tossed in with the cider apples. No great loss, but she hated to see a pretty thing marred. She reached to gather it up again, then froze as a harsh, foreign laugh sounded across the orchard.

Spinning on her heels, she searched for the sound’s source. There— a pair of men, walking through the trees as though they owned them, their rollicking voices nearing with every step. With great hilts bristling at shoulder and hip, with leather and mail gleaming, they could only be mercenaries. They weren’t in any regular army—fearful enough—and they couldn’t be bandits, bold as brass as they strolled, picking the apples off the trees.

Onnie pressed the apron hem to her nose, shrinking against the trunk. Only thing worse than bandits were mercenaries, everyone knew. Only difference between them was that one kept hidden, and the other had your lord’s coin and protection. Was the trunk hiding her? How she wished it were bigger. Were the men coming closer? Maker save her, they were. She muted a whimper.

“No, it gets better. See, what does he do then,” one was saying, “but try to loose a warning bolt, right by the messenger’s head. But it turns out he fancies himself a better bowman than he is, because—hold, what’s this?”

They stopped. Onnie, who’d been edging towards the trunk’s other side as they walked by, tried to spring to her feet to bolt, but her foot tangled in her apron, sending her sprawling at the men’s feet along with two-dozen apples. Likely ruined now, she thought dimly, watching one roll between a large pair of boots.

She pushed up to her knees, staring with mute terror at the pair looming over her. One had an eye patch, and a terribly scarred face. The other had a bristling brown beard, and both had wicked grins.

“Aww, it’s a little apple blossom, all alone,” drawled the bearded one, stepping closer still. “Where’s your minder, girly? Surely you aren’t old enough to be out in the woods on your own.”

Onnie’s lips quivered as she fought to find her voice. “It’s our orchard. You’re shouldn’t be here.” It came out in a whisper.

The mercenaries laughed. “Well, we weren’t doing any ill, were we? Only taking a little walk. Sure, we might be taking a few bites as we go, but where’s the harm? Now, now. No need to shriek. We’re only having a chat.”

No use in shrieking, there was the truth of it. If she screamed now, her mother and brothers might come out, but her brothers were children, whatever they said to the contrary, and children armed with pitchforks would be quickly cut down by these monsters. She’d have to try to run again.

She’d hardly gathered her legs under her when the bearded one stepped forward again, his boot coming down on her tunic’s hem. For the first time Onnie could think of, she actually wished her tunic would rip, but the contrary thing stayed whole, pinning her to the earth. The apple-sweet air now reeked of sour sweat, and worse.

Let me be. She mouthed the words, but her breath had knotted in her chest so she didn’t think she could even squeak. If there was any point in squeaking, or in saying anything to the brutes.

“Help the poor girl up, Creyl,” the man with the eye patch chuckled, stooping down to wrap a massive, callused hand around her upper arm. It clamped tight as a shackle, yanking her to her feet. The tunic did rip, then, as her arm bruised. Ruined. She stared up into the one-eyed leer, feeling faint. She wished she would faint, hoped she might.

A third figure appeared in the trees, lanky and lean and leading a mule. Oh, two were more than enough to champion for Hell. What had she done to fall so foul of Chance and the Maker?

“What’re you louses doing?”

Onnie blinked, focusing on the newcomer. A woman’s voice? A young woman. Of a height with an average man, she wore a round shield on her back, and some menacing looking ball-and-chain weapon hung at her hip. Her blond hair was short and tousled, her face pale and her eyes bright blue and—flat. Onnie dropped her gaze. She’d hoped for a rescuer, but mercs were as mercs did. This one being a woman, really more of a girl, didn’t change that.

“Just talking with this little delight,” the bearded man said, taking Onnie’s other arm. “Not much for conversation, though, she isn’t. Maybe she’s more the physically expressive sort.”

The newcomer snorted a laugh. “Oh, lay off, you luckless sons of famine. Nor’Hiymar is quick to close its borders to troublemakers. Are you looking to throw muck on the band’s name?”

“She’ll be no trouble.” The bearded man’s grip tightened. “Will you?”

“No, she won’t.” The girl hooked her thumbs in her iron-studded belt. “Because she’ll have no reason to be. Because you’re laying off.”

Onnie looked up from under her bangs, hope rising like a fresh breeze.

“Don’t be a buzzkill,” the bearded man began, but, “Aww, Gracie, we’re only teasing her,” the one-eyed man spoke over him.

“Yeah, good fun,” said the blonde mercenary. “Now the joke’s over. Hey, girl. Look at me.” She passed the mule’s lead to one of the men, and bent to snap her fingers in front of Onnie’s face. “Don’t go glaze-eyed now. We can buy apples here, yeah? Where should we go to buy them? Let go, y’louts. We’ve got a job to do, don’t go forgetting.”

Grumbling, the men’s hands drew away from Onnie. The girl collapsed, tears pricking her eyes.

“Tch.” The blond kicked at Onnie’s knee. “Scared her useless. Come on, fawn-face. We’re here looking for food. We can go on looting your trees, or you can tell us who to give coin to. We’re getting fresh food for two-hundred suppers; there’s coin in that for your little orchard, better than you’ll get at market. Speak up.”

Onnie reached out, clutching at the woman’s boot for support. It pulled back out of reach. “Well. You’ve scared her simple. Can you point, addle-pate? We’re only going to buy. We’ll not hurt anyone.” A sigh. “I swear we’ll not.”

“House isn’t far,” Onnie said softly, pointing. Her gaze on the ground, she swiped her tears on her apron. Her hands were shaking. “My Mum will be there. And my brothers,” she said, trying to make that sound like a warning. “They’ll help you.”

“You heard her. Let’s go.” The three started off, but Onnie caught the blonde’s tunic as she passed.

The mercenary girl yanked the hem free, but paused, scowling down. “What?” she asked in a low voice. “What else d’you want from me?”

“Thank you,” Onnie whispered. “I don’t know what would have happened if—what’s your name?”

The girl’s jaw tightened, her eyes a biting blue, but she answered. “Dalvin. Better known, Grace the Mace. But don’t think you can call on me by it.”

“Thank you, Dalvin. Lord Chance be kind to you. If there’s anything I can do—”

“There clearly isn’t.” Dalvin’s lips pulled into a sneer, and she turned away after the men.

Upset, afraid, and above all, relieved, Onnie buried her face into her apron and wept.

*****

After talking about other people and their works for as long as I have, I’m not sure how to say this, but…

It’s mine! That’s the work of Tirzah Duncan, my own self. That’s the opening of my novella.

Further excerpts to follow!

Cover reveal to follow!

Now Available!

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