Crossing the Equator 3: Why “she said” is divine, and about adverbs.

[W]hile to write adverbs is human, to write he said or she said is divine. — Stephen King in On Writing.

In writing, one can fall for guidelines-cum-misrules that novices over-learn. “Don’t end a sentence with a preposition.” “Don’t start a sentence with a conjunction.” “Don’t use contractions.” “Don’t split an infinitive”. All of these rules should be learned (there are reasons why they exist) and then broken skillfully.

To start, English isn’t Latin, so one can split infinitives. Sometimes it works. And there’s no reason you can’t start a sentence with a conjunction, because ideas are allowed to cross sentence boundaries. (If they don’t, your sentences are too long.) As for prepositional endings, that’s also fine: she put her clothes on. Contractions? Please. Shakespeare used contractions. They’re beautiful.

Repeated words are sometimes offensive. Here’s a bad example, unless the repetition benefits a context (let’s assume that it doesn’t).

The night was dark. She didn’t like running in the dark. If she wore dark clothes, she couldn’t be seen in the dark, because it was too dark.

It sounds bad. It’s repetitive. Also, though, it’s bad writing even in spite of its repetition. The first question is: do we want to accentuate dark? Maybe. That’s contextual, of course. Who’s the character and what is she afraid of? Yet if we had four great synonyms for dark, though, it’d be bad writing for its fluff. If no context gives us a benefit from the overuse of dark, it can be improved.

It was night– too dark for running. It was dangerous to be out along the road without bright clothes, which she didn’t have.

That said, there are repeated words that work great. They can bring in parallelism.

She wanted to see him because she was horny. She wanted to see him because he was sweet. She wanted to see him because… she was falling in love.

It makes it clear: she wanted to see him. Imagine this rewritten without parallelism.

She wanted to see him because she was horny, he was sweet, and she was falling in love.

It doesn’t work as well. Not even close. It reads like a business document. You can almost see the bullets popping out on a PowerPoint presentation entitled “Why She Wanted To See Him”.

One of the worst things that people do, to avoid repeated words, is replace “said” with synonyms. “He exclaimed.” “She blurted out.” “He screamed.” “She spoke angrily.” It injects melodrama and it fails in an important literary dimension: proportion. Here’s the thing about the boring, worn-out old “said”. It’s almost invisible. That’s what we want. The reader should be able to focus on what is being said and who is saying it. How it is said should be obvious from the context. You want the reader to forget that he’s reading words (“exclaimed”) and to focus on the action.

Of course, there are exceptions. There are times in my writing that I’ll use “said, with a smile” or “asked” or “yelled”. Battle scenes have a lot of yelling. “Asked” is almost as invisible as “said”, redundant thanks to the question mark. For a question, to ask is the lowest-entropy verb instead of to say.

“Did you have anything,” Farisa asked, “to do with that [spoiler]?”

There’s something information-theoretic here. As writers, we often think a lot about word count. Farisa’s Courage stands (as I write this) at 123,306 words and it will become much easier to get published if I can cut 3,307 of those. That’s about 13 minutes of reader time. To be fair, time matters. A difference in efficiency can make the difference between a page turner and an “okay read”. One can go too far with cutting and it’s most important to get the word count right. (For Farisa’s Courage, the right word count is somewhere around 118-121k, I feel. I’m close to it. Early drafts are typically 10-30 percent over.) My point is only that a small difference in efficiency can have a major effect on reader enjoyment.

That said, not all words are created equal. I can write 10-word sentences that are impossible to parse. In fact, I can arguably write an 8-word sentence using one word (guess which) as each of the 8 parts of speech (as-preposition and as-conjunction require a little stretching). It’s nearly unreadable but translates, approximately, to “I say with expletive emphasis not to cheat this unlikable person in business, nor have sex with him.” What we actually care about is entropy. How much information are we shoving down the reader’s eye-gullet (and, much more importantly, what is the payoff ratio)?

Entropy is why we care about grammar and spelling. Grammatical mistakes shove extra bits of information through that don’t do any good. There are two spellings for the word “color”/”colour”. If you’re consistent, then it’s an upfront cost of 1 bit per book and it doesn’t matter. Use either, it’s fine. If you’re using them interchangeably, and then you’re costing the reader 1 bit per usage. That adds up! The reader might question, is there a thematic reason why the spelling keeps changing? Am I missing something? You’ll always get the benefit of the doubt on the rare error– the reader will, at first, presume you competent and try to guess what you meant– but you don’t want to generate too much extra work like this.

The general assumption is that readers spend 240 milliseconds per word. I’d guess that a more accurate model is based on time-per-entropy, somewhere around 40-50 bits per second. (I make no claims about human consciousness bandwidth– only reading speed.) Speed readers clear more words but probably don’t take in more information. Grammar matters not because of our English teacher superegos, but because the reader deserves to get the most out of those bits and seconds. If you use “said” (and, for questions, “asked”) as a matter of principle, you’re making your how-of-dialogue channel thin (nearly zero bits) and that’s a service, because it draws attention to who and what is being said.

Perfect writing doesn’t stop at wasting no words, but wastes no bits. It’s telepathic. That said, in the real world, we have to settle for great writing that wastes as few as possible.

Repetition focuses attention. Writing is nonlinear. Just as 20-word sentences are more than twice as complex as 10-word sentences, repetition amplifies non-linearly. In the “dark” negative example, we’re amplifying the word dark, but we’re not getting anything for it. We already know that night is dark! With dialogue, we don’t get the same problem with said, because it establishes a low-entropy channel: 95+ percent of the time, the verb will be to say in past tense. It can be ignored, if one likes. We’re not worried about emphasizing to say because that’s what dialogue is: saying things.

What about adverbs? Grammatically speaking, there’s nothing wrong with adverbs. In fact, all good writers use them sometimes. I just did (“sometimes”). One of the most important adverbs is not. “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” It could be buffed for modern usage as “Do not commit adultery.” There’s no simpler way to say it, though. “Refrain from committing adultery” both introduces a larger (higher-entropy) verb (refrain versus do) and summons the gerund “committing”. You’re introducing abstraction, and costing more bits, but you’re not communicating anything more.

Not is a great adverb. It costs about 1 bit and it negates whatever verb or adjective you want. That’s beautiful.

So what’s wrong with adverbs? Nothing, but they’re tricky. We have the same problem with prepositions. To piss off and to piss on differ in ways that have little to do with the on/off antonym pair. The former is idiomatic and has nothing to do with “piss” or “off”. To fuck down is to lower ones sexual standards. To fuck up is to make a mistake and may or may not involve intercourse. With prepositions, there are a couple saving differences. First, they’re mostly short words like “on” and “off” as opposed to “hopefully” or “egregiously”. Second, the verb-modifications are usually restricted to a small set of well-known idioms. We’ve all been pissed off when someone fucked up in a way that screwed us over. Adverbs are large words and they function well when they’re adding precision– but only then. “Only three people came” is different from “three people came”, and “do not commit adultery” is very different from “do commit adultery”. Sometimes, though, adverbs fail at communicating what the writer intends. The worst culprits are false intensifiers: just, very, quite, and the worst criminal of them all when used by bad writers, literally.

“It’s literally freezing outside.” 32°F, by Midwestern standards, is a pleasant winter day. You de-emphasized.

“A literal ton of people came to her party.” You said, “Approximately 15”.

“He literally sleeps with his dog.” What’s wrong with that? I’d be disgusted if you said he figuratively slept with his dog.

“I literally got fired.” I’ve had some terrible employers and some unjust terminations, but I’ve never been burnt at the sake. I’m sure that many have had the thought, but the law protects me from me from that.

Let’s ignore the worst examples. What’s wrong with, “it was quite hot”? Well, one problem is that quite has a different meaning in the UK (where it literally diminishes) from in the US (where it may diminish but is intended to intensify). We can fix that. “It was very hot.”

There isn’t anything wrong with it, but might we do as well with “it was hot”? Is the weather important to the character? If it is, we might want to give it more words and say, “The sun was directly overhead and her brow was covered in sweat.” (Showing, not telling.) If it’s completely unimportant, we should take it out entirely. There are cases where I can defend “It was very hot.” as the exact perfect sentence to use. If you’re writing a small child in third-person limited, you wouldn’t use “it was blistering”. If it’s 120°F, then “it was hot” might not be enough. If the weather matters enough for mention but doesn’t merit 5-50 words of showing, then you might just tell with “it was very hot”. It can work. Such examples are rare, though. If you’re writing exposition or third-person omniscient and expected to write/think as well as a writer, then you might want to cool it on the adverbs. Or maybe not. There are no rules, except one: the reader must enjoy herself.

Adverbs don’t emphasize in the way that one would expect them to. There’s a simplicity to “it was hot” that’s diminished by “it was very hot”. Like “said”, “it was” is a pair of invisible words (in this context) and you’ve roughly doubled the amount of entropy (“very hot” versus “hot”) for what is usually no gain. Without comparison or exposition (which may not be worth the words/bits if weather isn’t an important detail) the two sentences mean the same thing, and so the quicker one wins.

This said, one can go too far in cutting adverbs. Some, like not, don’t deserve to be cut. It’s often said that you should use a stronger verb, e.g. “she sprinted” instead of “she ran fast”. I agree. But, there isn’t always such a word out there, and cutting adverbs isn’t a good reason to use a word that your reader won’t know. There are combinations for which stronger verbs don’t exist. You can end up replacing an adverb with an adverbial phrase. Some adverbial phrases are tight– “she said, with a smile”– and some are just clunky. Adverbial phrases, like adverbs, can be beautiful or horrible and it takes a keen eye (and, to be frank, copious revision) to know the difference.

I’m only scratching the surface when it comes to what’s possible by applying information theory to reading and writing. Now, read the last sentence again. I used a cliche! Now, was that bad or good? That’s also tricky. There are powerful idioms that, like cliches, have been said over and over. To fuck up or to piss off were clever and colorful when invented, but they’re common idioms now and should be used when they work (assuming a context in which profanity is acceptable). They communicate efficiently. Scratching the surface is more work for the reader, and (another cliche) right on the borderline. In my view, it’s okay to use a cliche if it saves effort for the reader. Unless there’s value in the exposition, don’t be clever and say, “He made a mistake of such severity that it reminded him of failed copulations past.” Just say, “He fucked up.” Maybe, “he screwed the pooch” or “he shat the bed”. Cliches are fine (in moderation) if you know what they are, know when you’re using them, don’t expect to be treated as clever for using them, and– by far, most importantly– don’t use only them.

Farisa’s Courage Public Query

When you submit to an agent, you use what’s called a query letter. They get a bad rap, but I actually found it fun to write.

There’s a chicken-and-egg problem with agents. You need an agent to get published in the trade world. You won’t be able to look out for your own interests without one, and many publishers won’t even talk to you unless you have an agent. That said, if you’re in the pool of unpublished writers who they’re an agent’s phone call away from greatness, well… get in line.

I don’t fault agents for this, because there are so many millions of bad manuscripts floating about, but even getting your manuscript read is an accomplishment at first. You have to start your search for an agent with little to show anyone. Thus, it takes a long time. The whole publishing process is that way. If I pursue trade publishing, I’d be lucky to get Farisa’s Courage in the world’s hands by October 1, 2019. (October 1st is the titular protagonist’s birthday.)

I haven’t ruled out trade publishing. I’ll pursue it if I’m offered a deal that better suits my goals. I care about readership and cultural influence and beating up the world– not getting an advance. (Advances no longer exist for most writers, but that’s another discussion.)

If I self-publish, I’d like to hit October 1, 2017. I believe that I can achieve this date while producing a professional-quality book. To make it clear, self-published doesn’t mean “half-assed”. I’d hire an editor (more on that) and make sure the book was up to “Big 5” standards before sending it out. If it takes longer than I expect, then I’ll wait. Quality is worth waiting for.

I wouldn’t have written Farisa’s Courage if I didn’t think it had the potential to be a great book. Outselling George R. R. Martin is… not what I expect, but within my 95%-confidence interval. (I’m not saying that I’m better. I’m saying I have more than a 1-in-40 chance.) Still, just having a great book doesn’t guarantee speedy process– especially if you pursue trade publishing. You’ll get rejected a lot. Everyone gets rejected a lot. Hell, I’d be thrilled to write a book that got rejected by (i.e., wasn’t bought by) only 99% of the reading public. That would mean selling about 1.5 million copies. (Selling 10,000 is no small accomplishment.) Rejection’s one thing, but you may have to wait a year before you find an agent. If this is because your book isn’t ready, it’s worth waiting. That said, I’d like to believe that one grows more as a writer by getting great work out in a timely fashion, than by waiting for publishing bureaucracies to recognize work as great and green-light it. I could be wrong. I don’t know this game, and the exciting (but risky) thing about the self-publishing game is that no one really knows how it works. This is a lot of words to say that, on self-publishing versus trade publishing, I’m undecided.

If I pursue self-publishing, I will probably be using a crowdfunding platform to raise money for editing– no matter how good you are, you need an editor– as well as cover art and promotion. I will, of course, have to convince the public to buy in to my idea.

On that note, it shan’t hurt to query the public as well. Here is the current version of the bottom (non-personalized) component of my query letter.

That said, I am at least two self-edit cycles and a professional edit cycle away from considering the work “done”. It’s beyond readable and, quite frankly, already better than a decent percentage of prestigious published work. That said, I’ve been studying writing and editing toward the goal of making it even better.

Farisa’s Courage is a complete, polished, 124,000-word epic fantasy novel. It tackles contemporary issues including race, inequality, demagogy, gender and sexuality. Although written with series potential in mind, it offers a satisfying ending and can be read as a standalone novel.

A girl runs through a city she’s never seen before. Her memory has been wrecked by magic gone awry. Confused and desperate, she knocks on a stranger’s door in the middle of the night. He identifies her by the scar on her left shoulder. “Get the hell in here,” he says, “before anyone else sees you.”

The next morning, she remembers her name: Farisa La’ewind. She stands accused of two crimes. One, she couldn’t have committed. The other, she did— as a child.  A powerful enemy— a company controlling 70 percent of the known world’s wealth, and in every business from alcohol to railroads to murder— has put out a bounty. Civil war is breaking out all over the world. Her best friend’s in danger. She is in danger. With guns, magic, intellect, and a power that comes from a place of deep love and even deeper mystery, Farisa will fight to survive. She’ll encounter creatures including orcs, skrums, ghouls and flayers— not to mention spies and hit men working for her enemies. Yet the greatest danger, to her and to millions of others, is something in her past. Her recent past: eight hours before. If only she could remember…

Between 2011 and 2016, I ran a technology-industry blog that received over 4,000 unique hits per day at its peak. Some essays garnered over 300,000 page views. I covered topics as diverse as artificial intelligence, programming languages, organizational dynamics, mathematics, business ethics, and the economics of software. When active, my blog was considered one of the most important blogs in its industry (many of my readers were Silicon Valley venture capitalists) and it was among the most popular ones without corporate backing. Farisa’s Courage, for which I am seeking representation, is my first attempt to publish fiction.

 

Crossing the Equator 2: On Why “Highbrow” and “Lowbrow” Are Too Time-Dependent To Be Useful

I’ll let Farisa speak on it (slightly edited for de-spoilerization). She says it better than I can.

“Let me pose this,” Farisa started, awake and ready for intellectual combat. Her eyebrows would start popping all over the place soon. “It’s five centuries ago. Theater is undignified. Dirt-poor hawkers sell fake jewelry in the aisles. People don’t get away to piss, they just go under the bleachers. If an actor performs poorly, he’s pelted with rotting food.”

“That’s disgusting,” Mazie said.

“It is, but we’re talking about a different time. This is how important stories are. Rich and poor alike will crowd together, in hot sun or freezing rain, with a thousand other stinking people, just to hear ‘em. Anyway, acting is deemed unsafe and undignified, so women can’t do it. You have ten-year-old boys playing the roles of women, showing a bit of hairless leg, pretending to kiss men as old as Claes.”

“You’ll reach a point, Farisa,” Claes said, “when forty-five doesn’t seem old.”

“Ay, old man, but you’ll be ancient. Now, some of these actors have animal bladders sewn into their clothing, and those bladders are filled with another animal’s blood. Might be a sheep bladder and cow’s blood, details aren’t important. In a swordfight, the bladder breaks and the blood goes everywhere. Sometimes, it spills on the audience.”

“Where are ya going,” Mazie asked, “with this ‘istory lesson?”

“One playwright decides to drop all pretension and write for a popular audience. To make as much money as he can. Doesn’t write his own stories, but steals them from ancient legends and folktales. He’s talented, so he writes some of the most sublime verse he can, but he also writes a few plays full of rape, cannibalism, and regicides. Every third line is a sexual pun. There are tons of anachronistic references to popular culture. He makes up words and breaks with the standards of verse, because most of his audience wouldn’t know better. You’d call it trash, right?”

Claes and Mazie nodded.

“Well, I would call it Pallastro. Salah, not Wilhelm, because I’m pretty sure that the wife wrote the plays while the husband counted the bacon.”

“Farisa has a point,” Claes said, “although I don’t buy her Baconian theory.”

“Long before they were high culture, they were the trash of the time. Ragnar and Teefa was almost lost to history, because no one considered it worth writing down. So was Marley’s Luck.

Jakhob’s Gun isn’t going to be remembered in five ‘undred years,” Mazie said.

“Do you know that? I don’t. Anyway, that’s not why I’m bringing it along. As I said, I think there’s a code in it. Steganography.”

“You know what’s great about hanging out with Farisa?” Claes asked, rolling his eyes.

“What?” Mazie asked.

“You learn all these Farisa words. Steganography. That’s the study of dinosaurs, right?”

There is an irony, when it comes to what we deem to be high- or lowbrow. If you wanted critical acclaim in Shakespeare’s time, you wrote in Latin. How much Renaissance-era Latin-language literature is extant? Almost none. People today read Latin-language classics in the original, but nothing from Shakespeare’s time. For writing in a vulgar Germanic language, the (spoony?) bard was as ill-regarded in his day as Stephen King was before he wrote On Writing, establishing himself to be both a passionate and masterful writer. (King’s reputation may have been marred by film adaptations with low production values, but that’s a topic for another time.)

Farisa’s Courage Table of Contents As Of May 1, 2017.

Of course, chapter titles may change, and the page numbers are unlikely to match those of the printed book. I’m just sharing the current TOC because I think it’s interesting data about the book.

Currently, Farisa’s Courage is 470 pages and 124,758 words. I suspect that, by time of publication, it will be somewhere between 115,000 and 125,000 words.


Table of contents:
01: enter farisa          ................   1
02: house 139             ................   7
03: reverie '94           ................  23
04: the city of exmore    ................  39
05: knowledge and virtue  ................  58
06: train's out           ................  79
07: aftermath             ................  92
08: the global company    ................ 105
09: knight's move         ................ 136
10: high summer           ................ 160
11: playing for keeps     ................ 186
12: the high road         ................ 208
13: royal jelly           ................ 227
14: switch cave           ................ 237
15: joyful september      ................ 251
16: the ivory ashes       ................ 266
17: blank spot on a map   ................ 296
18: brown shoulders       ................ 314
19: what we have lost     ................ 327
20: the magic forest      ................ 361
21: there's always another way ........... 397
22: p.s.                  ................ 427
23: crossing the equator  ................ 444
END                       ................ 470

Crossing the Equator 1: From Tech Blogging To Fiction

I had originally intended to quit blogging. In fact, I started shutting down social media accounts. For example, I went from 2,500 Twitter followers to zero. I don’t miss it. That addiction to internet micro-approvals wasn’t healthy. “Likes” feel like genuine social connection and retweets feel like cultural influence, but let’s not kid ourselves. Social media is crack for anyone insecure enough to seek external proof of value– and all of us become guilty of that, at some point in our lives.

In the 2010s I learned, the hard way, that technology companies can’t be trusted. It began in 2013 when Hacker News began representing my comments as having performed more poorly than they actually had– a moderation practice called “rank-ban”– largely because I criticized the prevailing business model of Bay Area venture capital. I was able to prove the existence of this “rank ban” using accessible historical data. In 2015, I was banned from Hacker News and then Quora (also owned by Y Combinator) under false pretenses of a more serious nature. Quora, in addition to blaming a Y Combinator partner by name, threatened to expose my viewing history to the public.

You know what? To some extent, it’s on me. I trusted my reputation to privately-owned technology platforms. That was naive, and I got burned. I spoke out about the tech industry’s social injustices and moral failures and was attacked by everyone from anonymous trolls to billionaire venture capitalists.

So, I quit tech blogging. On that topic, I’m still quit. Fuck tech, and fuck tech blogging, and fuck everything the private-sector software industry stands for… which is perhaps a vacuous fucking (like wind fucking other wind) because it stands for nothing. I refuse to waste any energy, or to put my livelihood or reputation further at risk, in a vain effort to save it. Given the risks, if I ever publish essays on those topics, I’ll be charging for it– either self-publishing e-books or through print magazines. Because of what I’ve written, I’ve had to take expensive security measures to protect myself and others close to me. That cost has gone unpaid.

Still, I need to write. In late 2016 and early 2017, I found myself in a negative mood. I don’t wish to expose precise political opinions or economic interests, but… this is not a time to sit down. Too often, I hear people express a wish to sleep through unfavorable political events or adverse economic circumstances. Here’s the scary secret: it’s very easy for most people to “sleep through” bad times. That’s how the villains win. It galled me in 2016 (especially, leading up to Nov. 8) when people talked about how “this election” had been so exhausting and dreadful (thus, creating a false equivalency between a classical campaign, with as many negative elements as any other, and a terrifying one). Yeah, our right to vote is such a bummer; fuck off with that spoiled whining.

In February, I pulled together the hundred pages or so that I’d written for Farisa’s Courage, which I originally figured I’d finish in my late 30s– I’d attempted it a couple of times, but it never quite “took”. Of that hundred pages, a decent proportion was still good. About sixty would make it into the final novel.

In late March, I figured out what was wrong with the original story, and how to make it better. The truth is that writing (like programming) is either a lot of fun or an absolute slog and, when it’s the latter, it’s a sign of something wrong. In fiction, one might not be ready for the project. That’s not a big deal. I had a very successful blog here, even six years ago, but I wasn’t ready to write Farisa until this year. It takes time. The tech industry is quick to crown people as “experts” after they give one presentation or write a popular blog post– I was once crowned an expert, by a reputable source that shall go unnamed, in a technology that I’d picked up three months before– but writing projects can span ten years between conception and completion, even for the most advanced writers.

I realized the one best way to tell the story of the first 21 years of Farisa’s life. (Farisa’s Courage is the first in a series, called The Antipodes.) I’m speaking vaguely here, because I want to avoid spoilers. Once I figured it out, I got to it. I wrote. Soon, I had a 134,000-word novel on my hands. (After revision, it’s 124,000.) The story, as far as I can tell, works. It’s compelling, it has a couple of great characters, and there’s the right mix of sad, scary, funny, and sweet moments. I’ll probably do one or two more passes’ worth of editing before I start querying agents, but it’s good.

The last chapter of Farisa’s Courage is entitled “Crossing the Equator”, and so is this series of essays.

What do I wish to write about? Well, let me talk about what I’ve learned over the past few months.

First of all, deleting social media accounts leads to happiness. Try it. The danger is that it can be hard to get them back. As someone who’s going to be publishing a book soon, that 2500-follower Twitter account had value. Oops! Social media can be useful, but it has become, for most people, a waste of time that compromises real-life interactions and that drives out more meaningful channels of information– like books. It’s really nice to be reading books again.

Second, I learned that I need to write. I guess that that was obvious. I’m glad that I quit tech blogging. I hope to be out of private-sector software entirely before I’m judged to be too old for it. Always better to leave on your own terms, right?So I didn’t write for a while. Still, that need to use the written word would come out, one way or another. Even after I quit, I wrote several unpublished (never-to-be-published) blog posts and I spent too much time, some anonymous, on Internet forums. I got to a point where I said, “Fuck it, might as well write something that matters.” So, I got to work on Farisa.

Third, I’ve improved as a writer. I was a 99th-percentile tech blogger for some time, but the standards of publishable fiction are higher than that of business writing– especially, internet business writing. Like I said, it wasn’t until my 30s that I had what it takes to write a novel. It’s not that hard to write 50,000 words of grammatically correct prose. It is much harder to come up with a complex story that anyone would want to read, and to tell it in a compelling way. I’ve already learned a lot in the (I hope, successful) attempt. Authors don’t get second chances. If someone gets bored at page 17, that reader’s typically gone forever. There are too many other things competing for the reader’s time. I know, because I worked in the tech industry. I helped build some of them.

Fourth, I’ve gained a sense of what I care about and what I don’t. In 2012, I would have said that the most important thing would be for every technology company to ditch Agile and implement open allocation. I still feel that this would be an improvement, but my mind fixates itself on bigger issues now. In 2012, I saw global techno-capitalism as inefficient. Those irritating product managers and under-capable executives were getting in the way of programming savants like me. (How dare they?) In 2017, I recognize global techno-capitalism as dangerous. Look at the political situation, anywhere in the world… and then keep looking for the next ten years because, where it isn’t bad, it will be soon enough. This is a lot bigger than open allocation versus Agile or whether Google’s cafeteria is better than Facebook’s.

Fifth, writing helps give purpose to suffering. The past 10 years have been a mix of good and bad, but there’s been a lot of of bad. I did meet my wife and get married. That has been good. I have two cats. Again, good. I wrote a novel of better-than-publishable quality. Good. Yet, for the challenges, in no particular order: I lived through the global financial meltdown; in 2012, I was fired for refusing to commit felony perjury; there were several deaths in my family; I was flagged in Silicon Valley as a “union risk”; I received death threats from highly-positioned people in the Bay Area;  conditions within my chosen industry (private-sector software) deteriorated; that same industry became an adversary of the world… and now I can only watch as technology-driven unemployment sets off a global wave of dangerous, reactionary populism. I’ve had many unpleasant experiences in the past few years… but I wouldn’t have been able to write Farisa’s Courage without them. That puts the weight on me to make it good.

On that note, back to work.

Farisa’s Courage (novel) is Revision Complete

“Revision Complete” means that I won’t be adding characters, changing scenes, or altering storyline in any major way. (ETA 5/2/17: I lied. I’ve added a couple scenes.) “Edit Complete” (i.e. fine-tooth comb, zero typo tolerance) will be a couple months from now. I’d like to have something finished and ready for the world by Oct. 1, 2017. (ETA 5/2/17: I doubt that I’ll make this date. The book will be ready, but publishing is slow.) We’ll see what I can do.

I’m sending out a finite (fixed but undisclosed) number of copies, even before I shop this out to publishers. It’s an intermediate draft (obviously) and So, to people who’ve read my writing, if you’re interested, please let me know.

Here’s the summary / blurb / trailer for Farisa’s Courage, intended as the first in a series (“The Antipodes”).

The Antipodes

The planet is hot. Civilization thrives close to the poles, but the tropics are uninhabitable. Sea temperatures exceed 50°C (122°F), so violent storms make the equator impassible by ship. Deserts broil. Jungles are full of strange creatures like skrums, squibbani, and ghouls. Thus, two hemispheres have been out of contact for thousands of years. There are rumors of a high-altitude path between the two worlds: the Mountain Road. The known path passes through dangerous cities, cursed caves, and a desert reaching 80°C (176°F). No one has made the trek and returned.

State of the World

Humans have won. Dragons, orcs, and elves still exist, but the human world stands at a population over 1 billion. Technological marvels like steamships and machine guns dominate the world. Trains achieve a blistering pace of 25 miles per hour. Plank turnpikes supporting carriages connect the cities. Yet, all is not well. The industrial economy is in decline. Age-old ethnic hatreds are broiling. Cryptic graffiti on city walls suggests danger. Economic inequality and climate change are roiling continents.

The Global Company

The lynchpin of the modern world is the Global Company. The Global Company in the business of… everything, from alcohol to fuel oil to railroads to murder. It began as a detective agency specializing in witch hunts, strike breaking, and bounty hunting. Now controlling 70 percent of the world’s economy, it hasn’t lost its taste for mayhem. It funds pogroms, rigs elections, and topples nations.

Hampus Bell, the largest stakeholder in the Global Company, is its Patriarch. (In addition, he holds political offices, but those don’t matter because the Company won.) Even Bell isn’t safe from his own firm. He faces internal intrigue, bureaucratic incompetence, and the mysterious syr Konklava. Bell seems to be losing his grip on his firm and his own mind. An executive includes a grisly murder in a corporate presentation– and his career thrives. Mysterious suicides by high-ranking officials mount. There are rumors of atrocities by (and within) the Company that even Bell does not know about.

The Blue Marquessa

Magic is real, but people with the gift, or “mages”, suffer from a terrible disease. Known as “The Blue Marquessa”, it can cause infertility, amnesia, insanity– even death. Every spell has a cost. This is a world where everything has consequences. A mage must be careful, for her practice is one that has led many to insanity or early death.

The Heroine

Farisa La’ewind is a smart, good-looking 20-year-old girl “from everywhere and nowhere”. She’s a brown-skinned girl in a snow-white land, a bookish erudite in a dumb war, and a lover in a world where hate thrives. Worst of all, she’s a known person in a society where invisibility is the greatest asset.

She’s also one of the most powerful mages in the known world. She stands accused of two crimes. One, she could not have committed. The other, against Hampus Bell’s only son, she did. This has made her a witch hunter’s prize. With the bounty on her head, she’s literally worth her weight in gold.

26 April ’94

It’s two in the morning. Something awful happened. Farisa can’t remember what. Barefoot and in ill-fitting clothing, she runs into the declining industrial city, Exmore. She believes that she can find safety in “House 139”, but she’s never been there. In the dilapidated outskirts, she encounters cryptic, threatening graffiti. She learns something dangerous. Someone is watching her– and seems to know precisely where she is.

The two most powerful people in the world are drawn into a conflict that neither of them wants to fight. Farisa must avoid Hampus (and his spies) to survive. Hampus must find Farisa or face danger within his own company. The only safe place left for Farisa is… the Antipodes. Yet the Global Company, running out of world to conquer, wants to head South as well. The stakes get higher and higher with every mile, and soon it’s not only Farisa’s fate that hangs in the balance. If the worlds are joined, much more is at risk.

Farisa meets a gun-toting steam-era knight in a leather jacket. She meets a beautiful resistance fighter with a secret past. She purchases Jakhob’s Gun, a trash novel believed to hold coded messages. She fights orcs and ghouls and dragons and even other mages. Her skills develop. She finds love and friendship. As she fights to regain her memory, she learns not only who she is but who she was– and that may be what threatens her the most.

End of blog

“When we reach the top,” Farisa said, “it’ll be worth it.”

Raqel was out of breath. Both girls had been trudging through snow since noon and it was only getting deeper as they climbed.

“You’ve never been up there?”

“Not in winter, Farisa. I’m a city girl.”

The peak was barely a hundred feet above, but each way up looked as treacherous as any other: snow and rock, mostly snow.

“Follow me,” Farisa said. “I know the path.”

“My hands are freezing.”

Reaching the summit exposed them to a fierce northerly wind. In its brief spells of rest, Raqel could hear farm dogs, baying in the shaded valley.

“It’s so cold! The lakes are frozen, the roads covered, the trees all bare–”

“Ay,” Farisa said, “and winter means you see farther. Farther than anyone. Farther than you would have ever known.”