in Blog, Writing, Writing Craft

That Loser Lise Wrote Another Novel: the (in)Frequently Asked Questions + Excerpt

This is largely the same post I made on Facebook on Monday — all I’ve added is the excerpt at the end, and a bunch of links. Feel free to skip it if you’ve read it there. I know at the moment the world is focused on bigger matters than little ol’ me and my writing, but I wanted to have this preserved somewhere less ephemeral and easier to reference than FB.

As I wrote elsewhere, I recently finished the novel project I’d been working on for ~3 years. Like the last time I finished a major writing project, I thought I’d make a few notes for people who might be interested in helping me out with the difficult next steps.

So, what’s the title of this novel?

A Lioness Embarked

So what is this one About ™?

A Lioness Embarked is a fantasy re-imagining of The Three Musketeers from the point of view of the antagonists, liberally sprinkled with queer characters, polyamory, frockery, and bad innuendos. In order to repay a life debt, diplomat (read: spy) Yfre must unravel a conspiracy to assassinate the Empress she hates.

It’s fantasy, obviously. Adult fantasy, specifically, and fantasy of manners more specifically still. Indeed, if you go to the Wikipedia page and look at the list of authors, it looks a lot like a list of my favorites 🙂

My alpha readers have compared it to Ellen Kushner’s Riverside stuff, which is flattering, and has caused me to ABSOLUTELY NEVER MENTION CHOCOLATE, because the similarities really are too great. Ironic, since I didn’t even read Swordspoint until I’d already started Lioness. There are some incidental similarities to the Kushiel series, too, just because we both picked a fantasy version of medieval France as our setting.

Other than that, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t take a great deal of inspiration from Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor, although it’s grimmer in its outlook. (Definitely not grimdark, though).

How many words is it?
Around 120k, after cleaning out a repeated scene in the final chapter.

This is, for anyone keeping track at home, just about on the line of becoming a hard sell in SFF. (Books more than 120k are harder to sell, harder to edit, harder to publish, and harder to print). I can probably cut it down significantly, however, in editing.

Seriously, are you still writing fantasy?

Yes, Mom and Dad 🙂 Not that I really need to defend my choice to write genre fiction, considering that SFF stories make up something like 80% of films and TV these days, and being a geek is the new cool, but yes, I do proudly write fantasy. I write it because we all think we would be secret badasses if you gave us (in this case) an education in diplomacy, poisoned hairpins, seduction skills, and the ability to pick locks. I write it because when wonder has gone out of the world, I like to find it on the page; if I can’t find what I want, then I have to create it.

But I also write it because SFF has the unique ability to sufficiently remove us from the real world to provide a 10,000 foot view of issues we are mired in. As Anne Rice said in her totally unnecessary introduction to the movie version of Interview with a Vampire, it’s not a story about vampires. It’s a story about you and me.

(Lioness is also, literally, not a story about vampires. Just making that clear).

And what the heck do you plan to do now that you’ve finished it?

Well, first, celebrate. I’m trying to figure out how. Buying a lot of writing books appeals–I enjoy reading books about writing, and they have the potential to be helpful in some way, but I usually don’t allow myself to buy them, because that way lies procrastination and too much process. Ultimately they are not putting words down on paper, and it’s easy to fool yourself into thinking they are the same as being productive.

But when you’ve just written 120k words, I think you can indulge yourself.

I kind of want to have hot dogs from Elvis’ Hot Dogs in Leominster and ice cream from Cherry Hill Ice Cream in Lunenburg, but a) they would both be breaking my diet, b) making an unhelpful connection between writing and food, and c) Cherry Hill is also closed for the winter.

LISE REALLY KNOWS HOW TO LIVE IT UP, AMIRITE?

(Note, after the fact: yeah, I mostly just ended up buying a lot of books, not all writing-related. Not a bad indulgence).

Okay, but really, what are you going to do with this novel?

Edit the ever-living fuck out of it. I think the first draft is relatively clean in terms of internal consistency, but there is a lot of characterization stuff I need to clean up, and the plotting is all over the place.

I’m probably going to use the editing method espoused by Rachel Aaron in her 2k to 10k book, because it appealed to me when I read it, and seems wildly better than the methods I used for Gods and Fathers. (Which were… none, really). I have a few editing books I might explore to see if they suggest anything that feels more in line with how I work.

I PLAN to have a PLAN.

So are you going to publish it?

I am going to attempt the very traditional route of finding an agent who then sells the book to a publisher. I know, a wild and crazy thing to do in these days of self publishing, but honestly? I want more people than my friends to read this book. I would also like to make non-zero amounts of dollars from it. And really the odds are much better in these regards if you go the trad publishing route.

So I’ll continue to bang my head against the gates to the ivory towers of publishing. Maybe I’ll self-pub it if I can’t find a way in, but more likely I’ll do what I did with Gods and Fathers, and trunk it as not-good-enough when I can’t even get an agent to request a partial.

ISN’T WRITING FUCKING AMAZING?

Can I read it?

With a few exceptions, I prefer that people don’t read it unless they are prepared to offer constructive feedback. I desperately need lots of eyes on this to make it the best novel it can be, and while it warms my heart for you to look at it and go “I love it!!!” it doesn’t actually make the novel better.

That said, if your question is actually, “Can I be a beta reader?” why yes, you can. In an ideal world I’d have alpha readers, who see it in its current state, and beta readers, who take a look after I do edits — but let’s be real, I’ll take what I can get. The latter is a much more pleasant job, I would imagine. And I do have some alpha readers, in the form my writing group (i.e. Dave* and Laurence).

I am also desperately in need of sensitivity readers. As I said, there are numerous characters of an LGBT persuasion, including one trans man, and you’ll have probably noticed I am none of these things. It is not a story about being gay or bi or trans — that is not my story to tell — but this is a world in which those kinds of characters exist, and I’d like people who have real experiences with such things to comment upon it and tell if I’ve fucked it up.

Really, it’s your preference what role you’d like to take on. I’m happy to send it to you in any format you like, at any point in its development, as long as I get some sort of feedback on it. Since I use Scrivener I can even send it to you as an epub, so you can read it on your e-reader or mobile device, if that’s easier.

Comment below, or email/PM me, if you wish to be involved. All I can offer in return is an exchange of critiques and/or your name in the acknowledgements and/or a free copy of the book, if this ever gets published.

Can I see a sample of your work so that I know your writing is better than a kindergartener writing with crayon on a paper bag?

Sure. There’s a brief excerpt from the first chapter below. (I don’t want to post more, because posting to a blog does, yes, count as publication, and most publishers only buy first rights).

Do you like peas?

Yes, yes I do.

Without further ado, I present: the excerpt.


Yfre was about to die.

It was twilight, and the day was heavy with rain. Clouds hung like bundles of wet grey wool in the sky, and mist crept along the Northgate streets with a freedom Yfre envied. Somewhere distant, a dog yowled an endless stream of pain.

The rope, heavy and scratchy, was on her neck, and there was a saddled horse beneath her, fidgeting with impatience. They had shorn away her golden curls with no more care than farmers making hay, and her scalp itched as rainwater sluiced through the stubble. She had been left no clothing but an aged chemise, rendered immodest by the downpour. Underneath it, her left breast ached where it had been laid open. Against vanity, they had said.

What will vanity profit me when I’m dead? she had replied, though the glibness had pained her.

Yfre’s fear was a curiosity. If she looked away, she could almost forget for a moment that her life was about to end at the end of a rope. This isn’t really happening, her mind would scream in protest. Her rational mind would remind her it was, and then the ice-water fear would leak up through her guts, to claw at her heart.

Rain trickled down her face, simulating tears.

The magistrate–her executioner, of a bureaucratic sort–was dressed all in black except for a sodden white neck-cloth. He read the charges–gross licentiousness, fomenting military disunity in the service of treason–and turned his implacable face up to Yfre. “Would you like to register any last words?” He might have been asking her if she took milk with her coffee.

Yfre opened her mouth to speak, finding it dry and cottony despite the dampness all around her. The only thing she could think to say was It’s not fair, but she should have been old enough to know that nothing was fair, not for a peasant girl from the provinces. But still–a death for a death is no justice.

She was about to say as much, but the only sound that came from her parted lips wasn’t of her own making. She heard the clop of hooves on cobblestones, the splash of cartwheels through puddles. Was the coroner come for her body already?

The three riders–and a dog-cart–that approached through Peterman’s Alley wore the unmistakable blue and gold livery of the Temple Hautal. The man who rode in the forefront caught her attention; his green eyes were luminous underneath a blue hood sodden with rain.

What could the Temple want with me? They were as done with Yfre as surely as the Diplomacy was; dying a traitor meant that no temple would claim her as their own. Not that I ever followed any faith. A vast irritation pushed out the fear in Yfre’s chest momentarily, stealing her last words. “Come to see a whore suffer, mes sires? If the rope doesn’t break my neck, you’ll get a good show.” The thought brought the cold stone of fear to her throat again, but she clasped her bound hands to keep from shaking.

The green-eyed man pushed his hood back, revealing short, sand-colored hair and a chain of linked, wrought iron compass-lilies around his neck. He looked to Yfre and said, “I’ve not come to see you hanged.” His voice was a cool, placid tenor. He turned to the magistrate. “What is her blood price?”

The magistrate gasped, “Your Holiness!” and fell to one knee. It was some time before he continued, “Begging your pardon. She has been accused of treason.”

“Then I pardon her, and grant three hundred escut to the Arms as a gift.” He turned the reins in his hand. “I have that authority.”

“I do not question it, my lord. Only-” The magistrate looked uncertainly up at Yfre, a sheep appraising a wolf.

The green-eyed man gave a thin smile. “Sky grant I can defend myself from half-naked women.”

The next few moments passed in a blur. Yfre remembered the sound of a knife sawing through rope, the sudden weightlessness of unbound hands and feet. She fell heavily into the arms of the green-eyed man, who righted her and led her to sit in the dog cart. Another rider gave her bread to eat and a flask of brandy to drink, and she sat, shivering, while the green-eyed man and the magistrate concluded their business.

The green-eyed man–no. The Holy Warlord.