Elza, the female trickster

James Bond, Jack Sparrow, even D'Artagnan -- we're used to the male trickster as hero, or at least as the protagonist of his own story, but female tricksters are few and far between.  Elza, hero of The General's Mistress, The Emperor's Agent, and now The Marshal's Lover, is a female trickster.  She is a secret agent, the wily, seductive, libertine master of disguise more often seen as the hero's antagonist, the Bond Girl.  But this is her story, and she's the one calling the shots -- quite literally, as she takes on a counterespionage mission with a license to kill.  In short, The Marshal's Lover is the story of two of Elza's assignments in the Emperor's service.  But being a secret agent has a price, and Elza uses herself as hard as any clever trickster can, from the battlefield where she takes a near-fatal wound to the ballroom where she seduces the enemy with utter ruthlessness to get the information she needs.

And yet her life is far from joyless hardship.  Elza revels in her bisexuality, in her ability to play seducer and seduced both, and in the freedom she enjoys and appreciates all the more for knowing that it's only possible because she is a citizen of France, with license forbidden to most women in Europe.  In the first book, The General's Mistress, Elza thought politics was a crock of bull, a game for rich men to play that meant nothing.  Twelve years later, she fights for her ideals.  She values her freedom and the government that allows it, and so she plays the game of espionage for that most elusive of reasons, idealism.  She is a principled trickster.  This is also true of her private life.  While she and her lover, Michel, are very much a thing, he knows that she will seduce enemies.  And that she will amuse herself with friends.  They've entirely come to terms with that, and to a certain extent to his marriage.

If you've ever wanted to see inside the mind behind that beautiful, inscrutable face confronting the hero over a pistol or a pillow, if you've ever wondered what her internal life was like and what her reasons were for playing this dangerous game, read this book.  Meet Elza.

The Marshal's Lover

So now that some of you have started reading The Marshal's Lover, any thoughts?  I'd love to hear from you!

The Marshal's Lover is live!

Marshals Lover cover3.jpg
The next Elza book, The Marshal's Lover, is live on Amazon!  It will be up on all major sites soon!

I can't wait to hear what you think!

The Eagle's Heir is out!

The Eagle's Heir is out!  It's available on Steam, iTunes App Store, Google Play, Amazon, etc!

I can't wait to hear what you guys think of it!

Sneak Preview of The Eagle's Heir!

Today you can play the first three chapters of The Eagle's Heir for free!  The full interactive novel will be available on March 30, but you can go ahead and sample it now.  Here's the link for the first three chapters: https://www.choiceofgames.com/eagles-heir/#utm_medium=web&utm_source=mailchimpprev

If you do try it, please come and tell me what you think!

*spoilers for the first three chapters may be in comments*

The Eagle's Heir

I'm happy to at last reveal the cover art for The Eagle's Heir, my interactive novel with Amy Griswold which will be released on March 30 by A Choice of Games!

A small teaser from the flashback in Chapter One, with your grandmother, Madame St. Elme...

Each afternoon you practiced with Alexandre.  Your grandmother watched you go through the drills together, quatre to cinq with blades extended, side by side in shirts and breeches, while the sweating instructor corrected your stance and grip.  In the carriage on the way home she put her arm around you.  “I learned that way when I was your age,” she said.  “With my brother who died.  Our father was a fencing master.  It’s a very useful skill.”

“But you were a girl,” you said.

“True.”  Your grandmother took off her glove and showed you the long scar across her palm.  “Waterloo,” she said.  “I caught a saber cut with my off hand that would have killed me.  I was wearing heavy gloves so it didn’t take off my fingers. I’ve bled a great deal in the Emperor’s service.”


Your grandmother seemed to consider your question very carefully.  “Because he’s the best monarch alive.  We have a constitutional monarchy, with a Legislative Assembly and a Senate who help make the laws.  We have a constitution.  We’re the only country in Europe that does, or was until some of our protectorates got them.  All of the other monarchs are much worse.  Would you rather live under the Austrian Emperor?  He’s an absolute monarch.”

“No,” you said slowly.

“Or how about George IV in England?  His father was mad and he does nothing but spend money.”

“That doesn’t sound good.”

“Or a Bourbon restoration, as the powers of Europe would have us take?   To restore the old regime and go back to the way things were before the Revolution?  Before the Revolution I couldn’t have had my own bank account or the lease on my house in my own name.  I would have had to belong to a man.”  Your grandmother shook her head, her bonnet plumes nodding.  “The Emperor is our best chance for freedom and progress.  He’s not perfect – heaven knows!  I’ve known him very well for years through many ups and downs.  But he’s our best hope for the future.”

“But what about a republic?”

Your grandmother’s face was solemn.  “The powers of Europe will never allow that.  A republic endangers all their thrones.  They’re frightened enough by our constitutional monarchy, where the Emperor serves by plebiscite vote.  That’s why it says what it does on the coins – Napoleon Emperor of the French, not Emperor of France.  The country doesn’t belong to him.  He belongs to the people.”

It was a lot to understand.  “And what happens next?  Who is his heir?”

Her voice was quiet.  “That is the problem.  The Emperor made a marriage of state to Princess Marie-Louise of Austria.  Their son was only a year old when the Emperor was forced to abdicate and go to Elba.  He escaped, thanks to the work of many who were loyal to him, and regained his throne.  After Waterloo the powers of Europe have never dared to challenge him in arms again.  But his son was gone.”  She looked out the carriage window, her face sad.  “You are too young to understand this yet.”

Now, fifteen years later you understood.  The Emperor’s legitimate son had been taken back to Austria by his mother and had been raised by the Austrian Emperor.  The only other heir was Alexandre.

Eagle's heir art

A Sad Goodbye

It is with sadness that I say goodbye to the inspiration for Rodney's cat Newton in the Legacy series, my cat Selene.  Though she was only eight, purebreds are prone to all sorts of things, and she passed away of liver failure.  My dear Selene will be so missed!



Finding Alexandria

The month before I turned five years old, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton's Cleopatra aired on US network tv.  The movie was ten years old then, but it had been a great sensation and if my parents had seen it in the theater, that was ten years ago.  (Remember, there were no VCRs or DVDs in 1973 -- you watched things when they aired or not at all.)  I suppose they started talking about it when the TV Guide came, deciding that they were going to have a movie night after my sister and I had gone to bed.  We were plopped in (a little early, I thought) and told to go to sleep.  Which my sister did promptly.  I, on the other hand, knew something was afoot.  And if it was something only for grown ups, it must be too cool for kids.  I gave them a few minutes to decide we were asleep and then snuck downstairs.  If you sat on the third step from the bottom and peeked through the metal stair rail, you could see the tv over the backs of the big people on the couch, but they wouldn't see you unless they turned around.  This was my plan, and just in time because the movie was starting.

It opened with the credits, the names of actors superimposed over pictures of places and things rendered weathered, as though they were old paper left out in the rain.  It was interesting, but not that much.  It was hard to see what the pictures were or what the people were doing.  They were static, drawings in a storybook, not real.  And then.  And then there was that moment when the drawing faded into reality, into glorious technicolor, soldiers burning their dead on pyres and an urgent messenger arriving.  Not dead.  Not a storybook.  A bunch of men talked about people I'd never heard of and decided things and then we were back to the pictures again and the ponderous voice over.  A ship's sail spread with an eagle upon it, and Mr. Narrator intoning, "Just as the Romans, the Egyptians also made war upon one another."  Then the magic again -- the sail belled, filling with wind.  The galley was real, rounding the point with the Great Lighthouse, Alexandria spreading out before it full of living people, all in glorious technicolor.

Real.  Vivid.  The shiver that ran down my spine -- I can still feel it.  I can still feel the metal of the stair rail in my hands, poking my face out through it to see better.  I was utterly transfixed.  I wanted to step through the screen, to go there.  To be in that place that must be as real as my grandparents' house or the grocery store, somewhere real but just not here.  I wanted to be in that story.

I crouched there on the third step all the way through the first half and a bit. I remember Cleopatra's farewell to Antony at the boat on the Tiber after Caesar's death.  I was crying for Caesar, trying to be quiet, but I remember thinking, "This scene isn't right at all.  Antony shouldn't be there and it should be scary and rushed, not dignified and sad.  I wouldn't tell the story this way."  I remember Cleopatra's arrival in Tyre with her fleet, and how hard it was not to bounce up and down on the step and make noise because yes!  That was perfect and beautiful and oh to walk into that scene!  And then the banquet.  I remember thinking that some of this food had to be cooked ashore because seriously?  Roasts and sautes, maybe, but someone whispered in the back of my head, even I can't cook cheesecakes on a galley!

And then I got caught.  One of the big people turned around and saw me, so I was marched unceremoniously back to bed.  "Don't you realize it's almost ten o'clock!"  I didn't see the end, not that time.

The next day I tried to draw it, but I couldn't.  My not quite five year old hands couldn't make the crayons produce Alexandria or Rome in technicolor.  All they produced were boxes with columns in front and some Christmas tree looking plants and smiling stick people with the right colored hair.  I showed them to my father and told him what I was trying to draw.  He got out a book of his, or maybe it was an issue of National Geographic, and showed me a two page spread -- the ruins of the Palace of Minos on Crete on one side and the artist's rendering of the palace as it had looked on the other.  Wow.  Oh wow.  "But how does the artist know what to draw?"  My father explained that archaeologists dig up ruins, and for some places there are also descriptions of them that were written in the past, and then the artist uses this information to bring the place to life.

Magic.  Utter magic.  "I want a time machine," I said.  My dad said, "The artist's imagination is a time machine.  The artist takes what he or she sees in their mind and turns it into something that everyone can see.  Dead people and places are gone, but art can make them live again.  A drawing, a movie, a book.  Art can resurrect the past so that anyone can step into it."

To make the past live again.  To make a door that you can step through and be there.  "That's what I want to do," I said.
I generally don't start sharing something I'm working on when it's just an idea -- before the point when it becomes clear to me that the sketches are going to really and for certain turn into a book.  For the last few months I've been playing with a new project, a historical fantasy set in the Roman world called The Eagle and the Owl.  It's far enough along now that I'm pretty sure this is a real thing, so I wanted to share the very beginning with you, and I'd love to hear what you think!

This takes place in 8 AD, a generation after Hand of Isis.

Via Claudia AugustaCollapse )

I would love to hear what you think!

It's a wrap!

Amy Griswold and I have finished our interactive novel, The Eagle's Heir, and delivered it to our editor.  We'll have edits and revisions to make, but The Eagle's Heir is essentially done.  It should be out later this spring.

One of the things that's been fascinating to me when working on this book is looking at how small decisions change history.  In a regular, linear book there is only one outcome.  Because of that, there are always so many unexplored avenues, so many AU possibilities, and most of them remain forever obscure even to the author.  In a gaming campaign (and I've been running rpgs since I was twelve) there are many possibilities, but they are closed by the actions of the players.  In other words, even if it would be possible for a party to do Y, if  this party chooses X then I will never see what was down the path opened by Y.

With The Eagle's Heir, all the possibilities exist simultaneously.  It's Schroedinger's Story.  The main character both betrayed their friend and gave their life for them.  They both supported the Revolution and an Austrian prince.  They both went down in flames with an airship and saved the day.  The game can be played over and over, with many possible endings.  Which is the best?  There are three best endings down different paths, different continuities, if you will.  There are three worst as well.  And sixty some in between, good and bad, compromises.  Also, what is best?  That depends in part on what the player believes.  What should the future look like from two hundred years in the past?  What future do you want?  What do you believe is a good government and a good life's work?

Writing this has been fascinating.  I can't wait for it to come out.  When it does, I'm going to create a spoiler thread because I'd love to hear what you guys chose and what your various lives turned out to be.


Numinous World

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  • 13 Sep 2020, 02:38
    It's really good. Hate your website.
  • jo_graham
    5 Sep 2019, 23:55
    Book Six and the others don't seem to have come off -- which is an absolute damned shame as these are boffo books and I would cheerfully buy any number of this quality.

    S.M. Stirling
  • jo_graham
    24 May 2018, 06:07
    I'm really looking forward to Fire Season, and I wondered if there's any news about it? I swear I can contain my soul in patience, but... ? ??

    Crossing my fingers--!
  • jo_graham
    13 Apr 2018, 16:51
    PS: Your writing quality is so far above most others out there today. Your following may be somewhat small thus far, but because of the sheer quality and depth of your writing, I'm sure your renown…
  • jo_graham
    13 Apr 2018, 16:47
    I'm polyamorous and have two husbands. I read The General's Mistress and the rest of the numinous world series aloud to my younger, blond husband back in 2014 or thereabouts, which was after I'd…
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