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The Last Goodbye

A reader asks, "How far ahead do you write? Do you know the end before you get there?"

Oh yes. Often I know it years and years ahead. I almost always have some kind of ending written before I write most of the book/story.

Here is (almost) the end of Elza's story, the last chapter of the last book, at least as it exists now. And yes, it echoes Hand of Isis, but in a much more positive way! I'll share this preview, and I'd love to hear what you think.

The Last Goodbye, Paris 1840Collapse )

Invalides autumn 1991

Invalides, Autumn 1991 photograph by me

An Ascending Path

I was just reading a new reader review over on Amazon, and basically what they said is that they liked my work because it made them feel good and hopeful. I'm extremely glad of that, because that's one of my purposes! Most of my books, original, co-authored and Stargate, follow the pattern of an ascending path. That's a form rarely used in modern fiction outside of genre.

An ascending path is the opposite of a tragedy. In a tragedy, the beginning of the book is the high point. On page one things are pretty good for the main characters. Then things happen. With each plot twist, the characters are more and more snarled, making worse and worse choices, going deeper into darkness. In the end mostly they die in horrible ways, having screwed up the world in the process. The book goes from high to low. Even when a character attempts a redemptive act, it's just a blip that pulls the line up for a moment before it begins to plunge again.

My clearest example of an ascending path novel is Stealing Fire. Page one is the low point. The book opens with a melee for control of a corpse, and our hero kills as he says "for no reason at all." And from there the path starts to rise. Characters make choices and good choices pay off. Lydias chooses, still in the first chapter, to help Ptolemy save his lover and their young children. He rides from Babylon with the little girl in front of him, sheltered by his cloak, and his life has begun to change. Each good choice leads to better choices. Bad choices and bad things happening are blips that turn the line down momentarily before it begins to rise again. Good people are trying, and the line is turning up. The book ends not with his death but with his return to life, with Lydias realizing he has long years ahead of him to build and grow.

The entire Stargate Atlantis Legacy series is an ascending path. The end of the show in season five was a complete downer with everyone left in pretty terrible places both physically and emotionally. The eight books, all 800,000 words of them, are an ascending path. Piece by piece, the world is restored. Piece by piece, good choices lead to improvements. For example, John's path turns upward in The Lost. He's reached rock bottom when they're lost in the desert because of his mistakes, his friends are injured and may die, and he's suffering severely from PTSD. He makes a choice. He trusts Teyla. He begins to turn upward. Teyla's path turns upward in The Furies, when she accepts her Wraith heritage in order to become Steelflower. Each character has a turn upward. By the end of the last book, the world is restored. It's not perfect, but it's better. The characters we love are left in a better place full of hope for the future.

Lost Things is an ascending path. Each book of the Order of the Air leaves the characters in a little bit better place. They're coming out of their damage, dealing with their sorrows, becoming stronger and more whole. Alma takes a chance on a new relationship in Lost Things. It takes Jerry until Wind Raker. Mitch bottoms out in Steel Blues when he wanders around New Orleans in a suicidal funk. But it gets better. Little by little, it gets better. Each good choice leads up.

Which doesn't mean life is easy, and it doesn't mean bad things don't happen. Bad things continue to happen. The world is not suddenly sunshine and roses. But the characters deliberately try to do the right things, and overall that pays off even if it doesn't always give easy answers. For example, at the end of Lost Things Lewis pledges his life as Diana's Chosen, and knows that at some future date she will require the sacrifice of his life. But it will not be a tragedy. In due time Lewis will die as he knows he will -- for a purpose, and after years of a life well lived. I will cry, and I'm sure you'll cry when you read it, but it will be right. His death will be the high point of his arc, not the low point. And that's what an ascending path is.

The Mysteries of Emege

I'm currently working on a Stargate Atlantis novella to come out late spring/early summer, and I thought I'd share a little taste of it. One thing I discovered I really enjoyed when I was writing Secrets is the friendship between Teyla and Rodney. It was wonderful to develop that relationship in Legacy, and I'm enjoying continuing it in this novella, The Mysteries of Emege, which sees Teyla and Rodney undertaking a mission on their own. So here's a little bit as a preview!

The Mysteries of EmegeCollapse )

My Favorite Bowie

I'm a huge David Bowie fan, so in honor of his passing, here are my favorite Bowie songs. This isn't necessarily "the best of Bowie" and certainly not his biggest hits, but these are the ones that I love. I'd love to hear what you love too!

From his self-titled debut album, David Bowie: The Laughing Gnome and Let Me Sleep Beside You. Ok, nothing on this album is very good, the Laughing Gnome just makes you go WTF. In which David Bowie sings to a chipmunkesque speeded up version of himself. It's like The Hobbit on acid. Or something. But it makes me laugh out loud every single time I listen to it. Meanwhile, Let Me Sleep Beside You is juvenalia at its best: you can hear the foundations of everything that's going to be amazing. Despite very conventional production designed to make him the next teen heartthrob, the lyrics have twists. "Your darkened eyes throw mystery but your lips are void of history. You could not imagine that it could happen this way, could you?" Very young Dionysus, singing to a very young Persephone.

From Space Oddity: Space Oddity of course! Creepy, lovely, and sticking with you like almost nothing else, this favorite deserves its fame.

From Hunky Dory: Oh You Pretty Things! instead of the more usual Changes. Mind you, I like Changes, but if Oh You Pretty Things wasn't written about what was happening in X-Men comics just then, I'll eat my hat. (And it has a feather, too.) This is David Bowie does Magneto, which is not to be missed.

From Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars: despite my adolescent attachment to Rock 'n Roll Suicide, the track on this album that I consistently adore is Suffragette City. Can I be a girl Ziggy now? No?

From Aladdin Sane: there are two tracks on this album that are totally different from one another, and I love them both. The first is the sassy, nasty, pushy, defiant Jean Genie. In 1973 drag was out, lost in the first attack of the clones when the gay community went macho. Jean Genie is a tribute to the drag queen, because even being subversive has to be off-kilter. The second track I love is one of my overall Bowie favorites, Lady Grinning Soul. It's quite simply one of the most beautiful love songs ever, and says everything about the power of the Aphrodite archetype.

From Diamond Dogs: another of my absolute favorites, Rebel Rebel. This one's on my Elza playlist. Like, forever.

Station to Station is the one album I listen to all the way through without skipping a track, and so it's really hard to pick out favorites. Golden Years is so evocative and perfect -- I was listening to it this morning, and it twisted around, becoming about something different again, this time Jerry's theme song for Oath Bound. And maybe that's totally appropriate. I also love Wild is the Wind and Word on a Wing.

Which brings us to Low: Again, listening this week, I'm in love with Art Decade all over again. Always Crashing in the Same Car is the theme song for a long past relationship, and I don't need to listen to it again, though it's gorgeous. But the finest thing on the album is what is possibly Bowie's "best" ever, Warzawa.

From Heroes: of course Heroes, though I actually prefer the version on the soundtrack album of Christiane F. But my sleeper favorite here is Beauty and the Beast. Again with the underworld, I know....

From Scary Monsters: Ashes to Ashes was the big success on this album, but my favorite is the title track, Scary Monsters. I've always wished for a Sanctuary vid to this one!

Let's Dance is the one the Bowie purists usually don't like, but I actually do. My favorite tracks are China Girl and Cat People. Cat People was a soundtrack cut, and it's kind of underrrated, but I think the guitar line is fantastic, and the soaring vocals are Bowie at his best, sinewy and sharp. "I've been putting out fires -- with gasoline."

Tonight has a bunch of great songs, but my favorites are Blue Jean because who can't dance to that, and Loving the Alien. Loving the Alien is just such a manifesto about the Night World that it ought to be an anthem.

From the Labyrinth soundtrack: As the World Falls Down harkens back to Station to Station, but stands on its own. Gorgeous. And then there's Underground which really explicitly takes the underworld themes to their logical place.

From Tin Machine: Heaven's in Here is my favorite on an album I'm not that into because I feel like his voice got lost. This is my favorite track.

Sound + Vision: this is supposed to be a compilation, but there are a few new things, including Bowie's amazing cover of Springsteen's Hard to be a Saint in the City. OMG. This may be my favorite Bowie ever. I keep saying that, but this one just.... I listen to this on repeat when I'm writing Charles van Aylde. It's amazing. If you haven't heard it, go find it!

Reality: Never Grow Old is sharp. Bowie can skewer, and this is his sharp wit at its best, self-mocking and self-aware.

And on the new album, Blackstar, the album released just three days before his death, the last song on the last album, I Can't Give Everything Away. You never did, sir. You kept an ace up your sleeve to the end.

Where are the others?

A reader asks, "I've just read Oath Bound and I loved it. I have a big question for you. In Wind Raker we learned where Michel and Elza are in the 20th century. Where are the rest of the companions? Are we going to see them in later books? Maybe Subervie or Corbineau?"

Wow, that's a question! I think, cautiously, that we will see some of them at some point. Maybe Subervie, though I'm not sure yet where he is. I don't think I can bear to write my beloved Jean-Baptiste Corbineau in the 20th century. He's in such a bad place, and it's so organic that I can't make it not be that and be something else. I think we are likely to see Reille, though I don't think it will be a big part. (I could be wrong, since that book is still some way away!) I can safely promise, however, that Michel and Elza will be back!


Lost Queen!

Melissa Scott's new post Legacy novella, Lost Queen, is out and for sale now! I beta read this novella, and I loved it to pieces.

Ever wonder what Sheppard's team look like to the Wraith? This fun adventure is told entirely from the Wraith point of view. I know I've got a lot of Wraith worshippers lovers reading this, so run rather than walk to read Lost Queen!


As a thank you for all the readers of the Order of the Air, I thought I'd give you this very non-spoilery look ahead, to December, 1941. (The only spoiler is that obviously all the characters in it are still alive then and not killed in the intervening books, which isn't much of a spoiler at all.)

I wrote this a few years ago to be the prologue to Night World, which will be book eight of the Order of the Air, but I've since written a much better prologue that grabs the reader better and lays out the problem in the book, rather than this which is mostly a character piece. Now this scene goes between books and probably won't be used. So I thought I'd share it! (Warning for one period ethnic slur.)

December 18, 1941Collapse )

Oath Bound -- the real John Robinson


One of the most fascinating people I learned about in the course of writing Oath Bound was John C. Robinson, the father of the Ethiopian Air Force. As an African-American boy growing up in Gulfport, Mississippi in the early part of the 20th century, the idea that he could be an aviator was absurd. But inspired by having once seen a seaplane land at the age of seven, he decided that flight was his dream. He attended the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, one of the premier tech schools of the day for African-Americans, where he majored in automotive mechanical science, a new field that was just opening. He got a job as a mechanic at the airport in Detroit, working on aircraft engines. There, he persuaded the pilots to give him flying lessons on the Jenny biplane. It was love at first sight.

He then applied at the Curtiss-Wright School of Aviation in Chicago -- but despite his degree was turned down three times because of his race. Undeterred, he took a job there as janitor and sat in on the classes. Eventually, an instructor, Bill Henderson, went to bat for him and he became the first African-American student at the school, and the first to earn his license there. Furthermore, he got Henderson to sponsor the Aero Study Group, a group of young black men who wanted to be pilots. A number of them subsequently enrolled at the school and got their licenses as well. He then persuaded his alma mater, the Tuskegee Institute, to add a degree in Aeronautical Studies and to provide pilot training. For this he is known as the Father of the Tuskegee Airmen.

In 1935, when the Emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie, called for pilots to help defend Ethiopia from the Italians, John Robinson answered the call. His qualifications impressed the Emperor, as did his command potential, and he was named commander of the Ethiopian Air Force -- all twelve planes. He immediately set about training pilots and creating an effective fighting force -- which is where our story meets him in January of 1936.

Ultimately, John Robinson remained in Ethiopia. In the late 40s he resigned from the Ethiopian Air Force (which was largely financed by Sweden) after the last of a series of bitter disputes with Count Karl Gustaf von Rosen, his old rival. Robinson and one of Haile Selassie's sons set up Sultan Airlines, the first African-owned airline to serve the continent. In 1954 Robinson died from injuries sustained in a plane crash while delivering urgently needed blood to a remote area. He is honored today by two nations, the nation of his birth and the land that adopted him.

Robinson giving flight orders


Oath Bound

Anybody started it yet? Anybody finished it? I'd love to hear what you think!


Oath Bound is live!

I'm surprised and delighted to discover when I woke up this morning that the ebook version of Oath Bound is live on Amazon! I hadn't expected it for a few days yet. It will also be available on other major sites as they update. The print edition will be several weeks more because if the ebook is live, the print version is just going to the printer, and of course the printer also has two holidays in the next few weeks. So the print version is coming, but it's going to be a little bit.

But! Oath Bound is out! I'm so excited. Here's the blurb:

Aces high…

As the threat of European war looms, the Kingdom of Ethiopia is one of the first to come under attack from the Fascist powers. When Dr. Jerry Ballard’s long-anticipated dig in Alexandria is interrupted by the arrival of his old friend Iskinder on a secret mission for the Ethiopian Emperor, Jerry has to make a stand — even if it means delaying his dream of finding the lost tomb of Alexander the Great. Fortunately, the rest of the Lodge, Alma, Lewis, Mitch, and Stasi are in Sicily showing the Catalina flying boat at a prestigious European air show. Bound by oaths and friendship, they undertake a dangerous journey across the Mediterranean and into the heart of a battle where they will be tested as never before.

And here's the teaser for inside the front cover:

Robinson’s voice crackled in his ears. “Potez, take off in order starting with Two. Breda, Breuguet, follow Five in that order. Head west on two-niner-zero and be ready to take formation.”

“Roger,” Lewis said, his voice drowned by the others, and advanced the throttle, taking Potez Five out of the hangar. On the bumpy, red-brown taxiway, he eased into line behind Mitch, waiting as the first two planes lifted off. They were quick, bounding into the air, and he began to hope they might be good enough to hold the Italians back. It was Mitch’s turn now, and Lewis watched intently as Mitch turned the little biplane into the wind. This was one of the new designs, with the small lower wing; it was supposed to be more maneuverable, though Lewis hadn’t really noticed the difference in the planes he’d flown so far. Mitch opened the throttle, Potez Four skittering down the dirt track, tail lifting almost at once. Then he was up and away, banking sharply west into the sun, and Lewis swung into line, opening the throttle. The engine roared, he released the brakes, and Potez Five leaped forward. He checked his instruments, everything in order, and felt the tail come up. He pulled back on the stick, and the little plane rose sweetly into the air. He climbed steeply, a hundred feet, three hundred, and banked onto the ordered heading. He could see the rest of the flight ahead of him, dots strung out in the glassy sky almost obscured by the sun: Robinson already maneuvering to get the advantage. Below, the ground showed broken scrub and fields; the airstrip and the village fell away, and he craned his neck to see north toward Gondar.

“All right, boys,” Robinson said. “We’ve got the sun behind us. Potez Two, Three, Brueguet, form up on me. Potez Four, you take Potez Five and Breda. Let’s go find them.”

Lewis brought Potez Five around in a wide circle and took his place on Mitch’s left wing. He could feel the excitement building, the familiar delight that he hadn’t felt since the War. Mostly he was ashamed of it, even in Italy where he had seen it in the other pilots’ eyes, but this time, he could use it, could let it go. He settled himself more comfortably in the cockpit, feeling Diana’s seal heavy in his pocket, warm against his leg, and scanned the sky ahead. They’d come down on the Italians out of the sun: that was all the advantage they had, but he’d made less work for him before. This time the hound could run.