The Harlequin and the Engineer

“There must be some kind of way out of here,” said the joker to thief. He absently tapped the stone wall across from the iron door that sealed their shared cell before returning to pacing out the six steps that encompassed the width of their entrapment.

“Why fret?” Asked the other man from under his dark wide brimmed hat. His coat was of green leather in a long cut nearly to his knees. His grey knee-high leather boots concealed most of his exposed lower body, and seated on the floor with his back to the wall, he looked very much like a pile of mossy boulders.

The joker stopped pacing, in the dimming light his white crescent-moon hat and pale face were offset by his comical suit of black and red diamonds and his curled-toe white shoes. “I served my liege loyally. I poured wine and entertained traders from the furthest Duchies in the City. I managed farms across the width of his domain. I oversaw his counting house, and doubled his production and his income. None of his promises were kept. None. I’ve been tricked and cheated. And now I rot while he celebrates his increased fortune.”

“That’s no reason to get so excited,” replied the thief. “There are many philosophers throughout the history of the City, that feel that life is just a cosmic joke. You’ve played the punchline, or so you say; but a productive servant has little to fear once his master remembers his former success.”

The joker narrowed his eyes behind the alabaster mask, “Tell me, my philosophical friend, why are you in this un-flushed bunghole beneath the Citadel of the Lord of Gazes?”

“I came following tales of something that belongs to me. A tool that I made for myself many years ago. It was stolen from me, and I’ve been crossing the City, duchy by duchy, listening to drunken whispers and children’s tales, trying to find it before it can be used in ways I had never intended.”

The joker chuckled a dry, insincere noise, little more than a cough. “My master has no patience for any who would take what he thinks belong to him. If he possesses your ‘tool’ then he’s not likely to part with it.”

The thief smiled to himself under his hat. “Oh, I’m not concerned about recovering my property. The finding of it was the difficult task, the taking is a matter of moments and nothing more.”

The joker cocked his head, downward curling tip of his hat touching his shoulder. “If you have such confidence, and such prowess, then I ask again: what are you doing in this Gods forsaken place?”

“Because I’m far more curious how it was stolen in the first place, and how it came to be here. I admit that I had suspected one of my long-lost brothers to be the culprit, but I see now that they were not to blame. That leaves more difficult suspects, and much more difficult choices once the guilty is found.”

“So you don’t think my master guilty? And you let him toss you down here to be forgotten like yesterday’s piss? What can you learn from that? You’re not a thief, you’re a fool.”

“A fine joke, no? But you and I have already been through that. This restful moment of distraction, in this quiet place without prying ears or surprise complications, is neither of ours fate. Let us not talk falsely now. The hour is getting late.”

The joker stood straight, abandoning his former slouch. Like white wax melting under a thousand candles, the white crescent moon hat and alabaster mask seemed to flow down the red and black checkered sleeve, forming a perfect white rod in the joker’s hand.

“I had thought it more a scepter than a tool. But I see the utility of it. I see how one could call it that. I simply call it power.”

The joker touched the wall with the rod, and it simply melted away, leaving a twenty foot shaft of perfectly smooth stone, running directly out to a hallway with torches burning around the corners.

“I can freeze anything so cold it will shatter with the lightest touch. I can burn any substance with a flame so hot that stone melts and sand turns to glass in an instant. I can drown a room in water, or steal the air from someone’s very lungs. I don’t know what jobs you intended such a tool to perform, but I can tell you that it has been of endless utility to me.”

The thief rose to his feet. “But the question remains, how did you come to posses it?”

“A gift, from a benefactress. She warned me that others would come to steal it away. I didn’t think to ask if they were its rightful owner, as, well, possession is really all of the law in this world, isn’t it?”

The joker reached out with the rod, stabbing at the thief. The thief simply held out his hand and grabbed the end of the rod. Slowly the rod melted, slipping out of the joker’s grasp and reforming, like a candle melting in reverse into a long, white curved sword.

“A matter of a moments, nothing more.”

“If a wise man steals a key to everything, the first thing he does is not look for every lock; the first thing he does is copy the key.” The black checkers across the joker’s suit slowly melted away and flowed down his sleeve, forming a long curving black blade.

 - – -

The Duchy of the Marches was renowned far and wide for two things, the long wall of watchtowers that stretched far out of sight in either direction from the grand citadel where the Duke reigned, and the scorching heat that burned the sandgrass a charcoal black every summer.

The Marches had stood watch against the western frontier for hundreds of generations, since before the sun dimmed red in the noon-day sky. The broken moon was just beginning to rise over the endless ruins that covered the frontier. Broken towers and shattered walls crumbling across hundreds of leagues, a scant few hundred yards beyond the sandgrass strip that lined the foot of the watchtowers running north and south.

At the base of the grand citadel of the Lord of Gazes, is a gate as tall as twenty giraffmen of the east or more. The doors have not been closed in at least a thousand years, and no one knows for sure just how to close them if the need arose. Through the grand gate flowed every level of society one finds throughout the City. Women from every profession, men on every kind of errand, barefoot servants, thieving orphans and begging wretches, all gathered in one place, passing through one portal for an infinite variety of reasons.

Far below that grand gate, under hundreds of feet of stone, fed air through narrow grates covering shafts that spiraled down into unimaginable darkness, came a brilliant white light.

Where the white blade met the black blade’s edge, all the forces of creation and destruction in the universe collided with nearly cosmic force. The expanding shockwave simply rendered the first molecules it encountered into their constituent subatomic particles. The shock shell expanded out nearly a thousand feet, obliterating the gate and most of the eastern end of the citadel. Those who weren’t vaporized were crushed by the secondary shockwave that leveled the rest of the citadel and every structure for more than league in every direction.

Out of the blinding light floated two figures each holding long curved blade. The man with the long white blade landed quickly on the edge of the perfect hemisphere carved out of the ground. His attention turned to the man with the black blade, tumbling gracelessly through the sky. The man with the white blade redirected the gravitons of the man with the black blade back towards the earth, and then increased their mass and affinity, propelling him faster and faster towards the earth. Right as he was about to strike, he seemed to slow down. A perfect singularity had formed at the surface of the earth, with an event horizon boiling in an unseeable storm a few feet from his outstretched hand.

The man with the black blade was a quick study, and he suddenly shot away from the singularity and landed upright with only the slightest slide.

He shook his head, faced the man with the white blade, and launched himself impossibly quickly towards him, covering hundreds of spans in a few miliseconds.

A dozen feet from the man with the white blade he came to a sudden stop, the very air around him held static and unmovable. The man with the white blade stepped up to him, parting the static molecules with a gesture.

The man with the black blade smiled as the man with the white blade approached, “I found your key so limited, it’s power so small, I made a few improvements on the design.” His blade began to grow hazy, as though it was becoming fog. Black tendrils struck out from the fog, grasping the white blade. Slowly, like some kind of grasping slime, the black fog consumed the white blade, pulling from the other man’s hand.

The unarmed man looked sadly at the man with the black blade. “Your mistake was simple. For you, the black blade is the source of your power. For me, the white blade is simply a tool that I imbued but a tiny fraction of my own power within, to make some tasks simpler or leverage other forces concurrently with my primary focus.”

The unarmed man turned his attention to the roiling black fog. He pursed his lips and blew a long breath towards it.

Where the breath met the fog, it began to fall like black snow on the ground. The breath enveloped the entire fog, and the white blade fell unharmed and was caught again with ease. The remains of the fog were carried away by the breeze, and nothing was left but a slight smell of ozone and charcoal carbon.

The man with the white blade looked at the man held fast before him. “Now. Let us discuss your benefactress. I would very much like to meet her.”

The unarmed man opened his mouth as if to speak, but the sound he made overwhelmed the man with the white blade, it stabbed him in his mind, and he doubled over in searing pain.

The unarmed man dropped to his knees, freed from the unseen bonds that held him fast. He laughed, and grasped a pendant that had been hidden under his outfit. With a flash, he disappeared.

- – -

Far to the north, two riders could just be seen riding south as fast as their mounts would carry them. One was a man, but seemed to be made entirely out of brass and copper. The other was a westerner with long blond hair and the typical hooked nose. The rode straight to the man with the white wax blade, now sitting calmly on a rock not far from the foot of the first standing watchtower along the northern wall.

“Master Savaan, I am glad to see you in good health. I see you recovered that which you had been seeking.” The westerner sounded every bit like the Academae graduate that he was. Darus was a loyal retainer, but not a particularly astute observer.

The metal man looked at the destruction laid out as far as the eye could see to the south. “Forte, what in the Empress’s name happened here?”

“Ah Tumblejack. Always asking the correct questions. About fifty thousand souls were ended because I miscalculated badly. Maybe more, I don’t really know how far the shockwave swept inside the duchy. I had expected him to take the fight to the frontier, not annihilate the citadel from the dungeons up.” Forte Sevaan gathered up his hat and looked up at the sky. “I’m pretty sure the energy I tapped lowered the area temperature by at least fifty degrees, maybe more. There’s going to be wicked storms from here to Ivysouth. It might snow in the Marches on midsummer. That will be one for the stories. We might want to make for the north as quickly as possible.”

“Of course.” Darus began shifting his pack and making room for Forte to take the saddle.

“But is the thief dealt with? One of your brothers, as you thought?”

“No, and no. The thief claimed a benefactress gave him the blade. And he was wearing the pendant of a Marionette, he jumped before I could stop him. He stunned me with some sort of word of power. I’ll have to see if I can work out what that was.

“But for now, we ride, and quickly. The hunt continues.”

“If you’ve recovered your blade, why pursue the interloper? Surely his benefactress will know of his defeat, and he likely won’t survive her wrath to risk exposure a second time.”

“Because a man wise enough to copy the key to anything, is wise enough to make more than one copy.”

Shards and Dust – Part I – Prolog

“That which goes up, will come down. That which grows hot, will grow cold. That which is living, will die. That which is carved, will crumble. If these things were not true, our world could have no order. The great clock runs. The great wheel turns. The Great City goes ever on. Blessed is the Empress who rules over all. Blessed is her Engineer who builds her wonders.”

-Tamred the Younger, “Treatise on the Nature of All Things” The Year of our Empress 2920

- – -

“He’s always the same in every story. The god of seductive dimples. The god of lusty glances. The god of grunting and moaning and obscene outcries and shuddering climaxes. There are many gods in the pantheon of saints, but his icons are the most observed, and his feasts the most well attended. Many fear and placate Death and Sickness, many run to the Healer when they bleed, or the Harvester when they struggle, but all stop and honor the Fucker as they pass through the Church of Saints. Others are revered, he is beloved.

-Bishop Carlideon, “Missive to new initiates” DRS 862 (CF 7566)

- – -

“I have been called the Joker. I have been called the Thief. I have been horror, and terror, and cruel death. I once tore the moon in half. I once turned the moon into a new sun. I have leveled armies of thousands and mountains of stone with a slight breath and a flick of my eyes. I have lifted whole duchies into the sky and pined them there for a hundred generations by my force of will alone. I have murdered millions to save billions. My brothers are now gods. My lovers were all monsters. The only woman I have ever truly cared for was actually a non-corporeal alien super-intelligence inhabiting a mechanical body I constructed specifically for her, until she died by my hands. The fundamental forces of the universe are my playthings. The building-blocks of reality jump to my whim. I am nearly indestructible, suffer no disease or malady, and have no fear of age or death. Ten-thousand years have passed before my eyes. Billions of voices have fallen on my ears. Trillions of footsteps have now echoed my own. And I am tired. I know too much. I remember too much. I no longer trust my own decisions. My hubris is unmeasurable. My conceit is unfathomable. Gods fear me, men revere me, and no sane person would stay in my company by choice. So I must die. And thus, you are born. To you I gift the one thing I cannot have myself: freedom. You will remember little, and that is by design. You will be free of the shackles I have bound myself with. You will be free to follow a new path. To forge new things. To make new mistakes. And I envy you.

-Forte Sevaan , “Jade Library – Volume X\DCCLII” (CF 10752)


To call it a crash is to fundamentally misunderstand or woefully misrepresent the scale of the calamity. A floating island of nearly twenty miles in diameter fell from a height of three-thousand feet above the streets of the Duchy of Gran Lon directly onto the market square, the high capitol, the royal parklands, the crafters quarter, the docks, and the eastside slum. No one was spared. Those who didn’t die in the impact itself were cut down by shrapnel, choking dust, buildings that collapsed from the ensuing earthquake, or the fires that burned out the rest of the duchy over the following weeks. There were simply no survivors across the whole of Gran Lon.

There was only one survivor from the Skyland of Saint’s Rest. He floated down gracefully, like a feather from a great bird alighting on a whirlwind of rubble and carnage.

And he laughed at the destruction he had wrought.

He had destroyed not only one of the Empress Above’s favorite abodes, he’d also destroyed one of the most populated Duchies on the face of the Great City. All with one simple act of sedition.

He danced in his diamond patterned suit, his masque unable to conceal his mirth and glee. Chaos was loose again in the world. And The Harlequin was once again its avatar.

What I’m Looking For

I’ve been working on this in fits and starts for more than three years. I’d like to think I’ll finish it some day. What I’ll do with it then I have NO idea. Not much of a market for memoirs from unknown dudes.


Memoir-esque project that started on My Bad Pants. Each of the lines from the U2 song “Still haven’t found what I’m looking for” set to an essay/story/vignette from my life.


Scrivner file
Scrivner export (rtf)

Current Draft stats:

Words: 38,800
Pages: 100

Change from last version:

First upload.


OK, fast recap of the state of things:

I November I wrote about 25k words of a NaNoWriMo novel before veering off and writing 25k words of a murky stream-of-consciousness drivel about monkeys on mars. I won NaNo and promptly put the book out of my mind.

Cue random life events: I ended up talking with an editor for completely un-NaNo related reasons. Oh, and I sold a story, provisionally sold another and have a third out on request. That’s awesome.

Cue the last five days: Last Friday, the editor I’ve been working with on a novel length proposal had a wonderfully nice call with me, which resulted in me sending my NaNo book-start-thing unedited to her. This TERRIFIED me. No one wants to send out something that is so clearly less than their best work. Amazingly, that editor forwarded it on to another editor (it wasn’t in her genre); and THAT editor set up a call to talk with me today. (confused yet? me too.)

It was a great call. And a humbling call. And it raised some questions.

First and foremost, why do I think I need to write genre fiction?

Well, I think my answer to that is “write what you know” and I’m primarily a reader of genre fiction. That’s what I enjoy. Second, I think I have some really good ideas in that space, and I’d like to explore them.

Which leads to question number two, if I’m excited to write genre, why do I spend so much time writing non-genre fiction?

And to this I have no answer. I’m not sure if I doubt my genre ideas, or if I’m truly more talented/inclined to just write semi-humorous general fiction. I’d be lying if I said this hasn’t been tearing me up since she raised the question.

I’ll admit that my personal perception is that the odds of a Joe-Nobody like me getting published writing general fiction feels a bit more remote than winning the lottery. I have this perception that with a good enough story, and a good enough effort, someone without an MFA and a writing grant can get published in a genre market. Some of this is simply based on the fact that as a kid I saw my mom get published so it’s brought the world of genre fiction “down to earth” (or at least within a lucky jump and a hang-on-tight after that).

General fiction just seems like the world of “serious” writers who sit alone and exhale unassailable prose that we mere mortals cannot aspire to reach for or hope to produce.


I’ve been thinking about what I have written, what I am writing, and what I want to write. I’ve also been thinking hard about write-club and NaNo and progress bars and semi-public accountability. And I’ve been thinking about what I can do about all that.

SO, I’m going to basically turn Serial Storyteller into my write-club output display/story management tool/writing lab. I’ll post a few public posts somewhat regularly, but they’re going to be writing and not “blog posts” like I have over on My Bad Pants. I’m going to start collecting up a few things that started over on My Bad Pants and put them together over here.

Behind a password wall, I’m going to start posting my fiction over here. Chapters, story starts, everything. Mostly because I need a better management method that I have now, and this one also facilitates talking about those writing chunks with the people who regularly give me feedback. Essentially the password goes out to write-club members, and anyone else who regularly wants to read drafts and give feedback. Or ego-hugs, but really this is for people who give feedback.

I’ll probably post up the current export of my writing, as well as a dropbox link to the scrivner file. The beauty of a small and trusted audience is that it’s small and trusted, and besides, dropbox means knowing everyone who’d ever downloaded something…

So, for all five of you who regularly read/write/workshop with me, expect passwords in your email. If you don’t get a password and you want to see behind the curtain, drop me an email.


Several years ago I acquired this domain with great plans to do some kind of regular blog on my process of starting from square one and becoming “A published novelist(TM).” I thought it would be interesting to read, and I thought that the comments and feedback would propel me forward like a tiny raft on a great wave of encouragement.

I know, I know. It sounded less stupid in my head at the time.

Now I’ve got a few years in the blog-o-sphere under my belt, first at Dead Charming and then at My Bad Pants. My Bad Pants remains my personal blog. My “these are biographical anecdotes about why my life is hilarious or an object lesson in what not to do” and “those are notes about our current events that are basically just over-sized Facebook status updates” that I keep track of in WordPress. My Bad Pants will continue, but I’ve not put a lot of time or effort into it in the last few months (i.e. years).

2012 was a bit of a bitch of a year. OK, ok…yeah. It was just an all-out-bitch of a year. There were a lot of excuses I used this year when I didn’t write. Some were admittedly better than others.

Excuse #1: I work too much. I really do. I won’t go into details but trust me…I work too much, too long, and too hard.

Excuse #2: I had a heart attack. Kinda see excuse #1. My body got a bit tired of being ignored on excuse #1 so it took matters into its own…aortic chambers. I wrote about it here.

Excuse #3: The Seattle Mariners traded Ichiro to The (fucking) New York Yankees. I realize this is rather far down the list from “heart attack” but it honestly sucked more and threw my entire grasp on the universe out of whack right in the middle of the summer. Or I might have been using it as a substitute for parsing the emotional and mental shit-storm from having a heart attack at 36…nah.

Excuse #4: I broke a tendon in my middle finger on my left hand and have to have my finger immobilized for six months. Yeah, whine whine whine…I know. But seriously, this JACKS UP the ability to type (especially that ridiculously over-used ‘e’ key).

Most years this would be what I point at and say, “I would have written more but excuses excuses excuses” and pretended that I didn’t care. But OH DID I CARE. This year I once again entered NaNoWriMo. I had all these excuses, all these reasons why it wouldn’t work this time either.

Instead I took two weeks of vacation, plus November first to get a good start, and pre-did all of the outline and plot stuff beforehand to be ready. I had Scrivner entirely set up (if you don’t use Scrivner you have no idea how freaking hard that is) and I was READY TO GO at midnight on November first. And despite a good start, I kind of felt my old pattern returning. I had a rocky first week and almost immediately fell behind. Thanks to some great writing buddies I was pounding out some chapters that I was really happy with, but I was still slowly slipping further and further behind.

On Day 23 I was at 23k words. They were good words, almost second-draft words. They were words that felt like the first step in making a novel; but at that rate I had no chance of getting to 50k words by the end of the month. I knew I was going to come up short again. Fifth failure in a row.

So on day 24 I changed tactics, drew a line in my manuscript, and totally changed gears. Hell, I totally changed plots. And genres. And Point of View in my narration. And I wrote 26k words in three long sessions (5+ hours each) and two short ones (less than 5 hours total). 26k words in a little over 20 hours of effort.

At first I looked at that second part of my effort and derided it as complete crap. And it IS pretty crappy…but it’s also production. A lot of production. And I won. I finished. I wrote 50k words in 30 days.

One of the lessons that I learned while doing NaNoWriMo is that I NEED that progress bar. I need it like a junkie needs heroin…I NEED to see that bar going up. I feel accountable, and that propels me to write more. I thought to myself, “you know self, we’ve got that website just sitting over there unused…maybe we could dust it off, clean it up and actually DO something with it.”

So…that’s exactly what I’m going to do. Right here. I’m going to use this site to sort of follow along as I work on fiction. I’ll post some snipets of what I’m working on sometimes. Maybe. And write about my progress and what I’m working on. Maybe I’ll post some of my query letters and the inevitable rejections. A sort of “follow along as I try to get published” thing. For fun.

On the other hand, I’m going to have a much different comment policy here. I will not be responding inline to comments at all. Also, after some excellent thoughts on comments and making things from The Oatmeal, I may not even enable comments on some things. I don’t know yet. This site will be more about watching someone write and try to get published. If the old skit from Monty Python is any indicator, that might not be terribly interesting for 99% of the world, and for once, I’m strangely OK with that.