Readjusting my online presence and deleting Facebook

I’ve been mulling over deleting my Facebook account for a few years now. While the platform works well for others, it has never meshed well with me. These days I’m increasingly suspicious of FB’s motives and business model. Thus, I’m finally shutting it down.

Because I’ve been on FB so little over the last two or three years, deleting the account will have little effect on my public author social media presence. Mostly I may lose easy contact with many friends and family, some of whom are on other platforms (like Twitter) but some of whom are only on FB. Nevertheless as 2020 looms and with it the launch of my newest series, I have to think about how, where, why, and what I want to be online.

Some writers like marketing and publicity and are good at it. I’m not one of them, which is one of several reasons I do not self publish.

It’s a truism that it’s best not to try to be something online that you aren’t or can’t sustain. Trying to curate an online presence in a way that makes you unhappy or that stresses you out is definitely not sustainable. This is one reason I remain on Twitter. While Twitter has its hellscape side, it remains the current platform I most enjoy.

It’s been easy for me to fall into the trap of believing that if I just do something better, something more time and creativity consuming, with my online presence, that I can become more visible, more successful, on the basis of the extra heaps of work I put in. While the changing nature of the marketplace means writers should, if they can, build new skillsets as a form of adaptation, it does not mean they have to do everything or have to do things they simply aren’t good at or don’t have time for, if that time spent takes away from what they are, presumably, best at, which in my case is writing fiction.

It’s counterproductive for me to take away energy and time from writing fiction, even as hard as it can be to just say no sometimes to thinking I can do it all and that somehow if I churn churn churn then my hamster wheel will shift location. But the whole point of the hamster wheel is that it tires out the hamster without its base moving an inch.

At the same time, I’m not going to vanish from online. I value the friendships I’ve made and sustain, the networking, the outreach, the humor, and the amazing ability we now have to touch base with people all over the world with astonishing ease.

I have no idea what will emerge next in terms of online platforms, so for now I’m going to focus my online presence on Twitter, my newsletter (you can sign up here if you haven’t already), and a renewed presence on this blog for people who may want to ask questions or interact in a quiet corner of the internet that is under my control.

Free book giveaway for teachers and librarians! Thanksgiving 2017

For Thanksgiving I’d like to thank librarians and teachers for their hard work by giving away several dozen copies of my books to teachers and librarians.

Here’s how this will work (and with thanks to Malinda Lo who gave me her template for a librarian/teacher giveaway):

·   this giveaway is only for teachers and librarians (any librarians, not just youth librarians). I’m particularly hoping that libraries and schools that have low/non-existent book buying budgets can take advantage of this giveaway. I’d also love to see my YA trilogy in the hands of more teens!

·   first-come, first-served basis, because that’s what I can handle. If your first choice is gone, you’ll get your second choice, etc, until all the books are gone.

·   I am paying for all the shipping costs, so this is totally free to you. However, this means I can only ship to US mailing addresses. Sorry, non-US folks; I can’t afford the international shipping costs. The books will go out media mail so it may take some time for them to arrive.

·  I will sign the books. (signed only, not personalized)


1.  Email me at with the subject header Teacher/Librarian Giveaway.

2.  Please email me either from your work email or reference your work email in the body of the email so I can tell you’re legit (sorry, you know how it goes these days).

3. Include a mailing address so I can mail the books without having to ask for further information.

4.  List three choices in order of preference (as 1. 2. and 3.) I will fulfill first come/first served according to what is still available, so you’ll get your top choice if that’s still available, second if it isn’t, third (etc), until all the books are given away.

The List of Books/Audiobooks Available:

5 (five) sets of the complete Court of Fives trilogy in hardcover (Court of Fives, Poisoned Blade, & Buried Heart)

5 (five) paired sets of hardcovers of Poisoned Blade and Buried Heart

5 trade paperbacks of Poisoned Blade

5 (five) sets of the complete Court of Fives trilogy in audiobook CD (all three novels)

10 mass market copies of Cold Fire (Spiritwalker trilogy book 2)

10 trade paperbacks of Cold Steel (Spiritwalker trilogy book 3)

Thank you for the important work you do.

If you don’t want to email, or if you emailed and I didn’t respond that I’d gotten your email, you can fill out this google form:

P. S. Email me at if you have any questions.

BURIED HEART/Court of Fives Trilogy Discussion HERE


I’m opening up comments here for discussion of the Court of Fives trilogy, BURIED HEART  or any of the volumes specifically, both of the novellas (Night Flower and Bright Thrones), and any questions about world building details, character choices, thematic content, how much you hate Gargaron, worst/best scene, and really anything.

Or you can just comment, no discussion necessary.

SPOILERS OKAY (so if you haven’t read the entire trilogy, be warned)

I will be creating a post with all the maps ASAP.



A Tour of Saryenia (from Descriptions of Efea, a guidebook)

A Tour of the City of Saryenia


Descriptions of Efea (A guidebook for travelers)

Enter the royal city of Saryenia. You will see such wonders here as you never knew existed in your tour of the many countries bordering the Three Seas.

It’s true this magnificent city began as a humble Efean fishing village built between Mist Lake and the Fire Sea. The narrow, twisting lanes of the oldest part of the city, the Warrens, are all that remain of the village, and of course only Commoners–that’s what we call people of Efean ancestry–live there now.  Because the streets have no names, the only way to figure out where you are is by your proximity to the fountains at each intersection of three or four or five alleys (we can’t really call such narrow passageways “streets”). Each fountain bears the statue of an animal atop it, so the Commoners who live in the Warrens will give you directions according to how close they live to the “cat fountain” or the “scorpion fountain.” We won’t go there today, nor do we recommend you attempt to navigate that maze alone or, in truth, at all.

Saryenia has much more interesting and splendid things to see.

From off shore you’ll notice the twin hills that give the city its distinctive topography. Called the King’s Hill and the Queen’s Hill, respectively, they mark the site of the King’s Palace and the Queen’s Palace, both massive buildings easily seen from far away. Remember that the current rulers of Efea originally came from the old Empire of Saro a hundred years ago. That’s why the architecture of the two palaces will remind you of the ancient imperial capital–now abandoned–in old Saro across the sea.

The hills are mirrored by the city’s twin harbors. The East Harbor is reserved for the royal navy, so you’ll arrive in the city at the bustling West Harbor, filled with merchant ships from every part of the Three Seas. You can buy anything on the streets of the Harbor District but it will cost you extra. So don’t go shopping there!

In fact, Saryenia’s famous markets are one of its chief attractions! The best known is the Lantern Market, where by day you can buy protective amulets, perfume, cosmetics, jewelry, and gifts suitable for lovers. At night, of course, the Lantern Market turns into the Lantern District, famous for its spectacular theatrical productions and poetry competitions. At night the Lantern District also sells every manner of pleasure, which we cannot detail in a family publication like this one.

But while the Lantern District is easily the most famous of the markets, don’t neglect the others. The Grain Market may be mostly wholesale grain and agricultural goods brought in from the nearby countryside, but it has its own fascination for the many boats coming and going from the lakeside port and the constant haggling of both Commoners and the ruling class of Saroese–who call themselves Patrons–over even the smallest of onions, for Efeans have an unseemly love of bargaining. Never take the first price you’re offered.

For something special, and often overlooked by visitors, try the Ribbon Market. Its scenic location tucked into the caldera of the Queen’s Hill gives it special interest, and it’s a rigorous day of shopping with so many stairs up and down to various levels, but you can’t beat the choice of local handicrafts, especially the amazing variety of colored ribbons and the astounding array of masks that can be bought there.

By now you’re probably hankering for a drink, and we recommend one of the harborside taverns–expensive but with a thrillingly diverse clientele and plenty of rowdy sailors who often break out in song–or a quieter drink at one of the elegant restaurants below the Queen’s Garden. Avoid the over-priced drinking establishments that open onto the Avenue of Triumphs as they are packed with off-duty soldiers more than happy to pick drunken fights with unsuspecting passers-by.

No trip to Saryenia would be complete with a visit to the Archives, known as the most complete library in the Three Seas. You’ll have to apply in advance for a tour since visitors aren’t allowed to wander around as they please. The architecture alone, with its pavilions and twin libraries, will give the cultured visitor much to remark on, and with a special dispensation in hand scholars can spend time among the books and scrolls of the main library.

Of the three temples, only the Temple of the Sun can be entered on a daily basis. The Temple of the Sea (not marked on the map) is currently under renovation and closed to the public. The Temple of Justice serves as a court, overseen by the king, and as with any working establishment you must have a case pending in order to enter. The Eternity Temple does not admit visitors at all, but like all citizens of Efea you can cross under its gate and enter the City of the Dead, the sacred peninsula where the tombs of the departed stand. Here, if you are bold, you can partake in the most peculiar and horrifying of Efean customs: Should you care to bring an offering to one of the tombs that houses a living oracle, you may present the gift to her and hope to receive an augury of your future from her lips. Although the local Patrons think this a perfectly commonplace act, few visitors dare to seek out the whispered words of an oracle, and in truth we advise even the most intrepid travelers to consider this local custom one they should assiduously avoid.

After all, if you get restless, you can crown your trip with an afternoon at the City Fives Court where the best athletes of Efea compete to be first to the victory tower. Thrill to their strength and agility! Marvel at their quick thinking and clever maze-running! Gasp at their daring leaps and acrobatics from heights high enough that a fall would kill! You’ll find the Fives nowhere else in all the countries bordering the Three Seas, and it’s a competition that shouldn’t be missed.

Just as Saryenia should not be missed, for it is indeed a unique city. We hope you enjoy your visit!


For some great visuals check out 5 Visual Descriptions of the City of Saryenia at The Novl.

BURIED HEART – Coming Soon! (+ Blog Tour)

The final installment of Kate Elliott’s debut Young Adult trilogy, BURIED HEART, will be released on 25 JULY 2017 from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. You can pre-order your copy on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Indiebound.

“In this third book in the epic Court of Fives series, Jessamy is the crux of a revolution forged by the Commoner class hoping to overthrow their longtime Patron overlords. But enemies from foreign lands have attacked the kingdom, and Jes must find a way to unite the Commoners and Patrons to defend their home and all the people she loves. Will her status as a prominent champion athlete be enough to bring together those who have despised one another since long before her birth? Will she be able to keep her family out of the clutches of the evil Lord Gargaron? And will her relationship with Prince Kalliarkos remain strong when they find themselves on opposite sides of a war? Find all the answers in this beautifully written and exciting conclusion to World Fantasy Award finalist Kate Elliott’s debut New York Times bestselling young adult trilogy!”

Here’s what people are saying about the series so far:

Booklist, starred review:
Jes makes a worthy heroine, as bold and daring as she is endearing. One of the best things about this series is that the characters–heroes and baddies alike–are vividly real, their motives and emotions often fierce but always recognizable.”

Kirkus Reviews:
With strong characters and vivid worldbuilding that refuses to oversimplify individuals, cultures, and the opposing forces they represent…Court of Fives blends emotional intelligence, passionate idealism, and realpolitik in a plot ending at the cliff’s edge of revolutionary change. At once nuanced and thrilling…

The main character is the classic ‘strong female warrior’ archetype…and will remind most people of Katniss Everdeen…. This book deals with issues of family loyalty, standing up for one’s beliefs, and self-discovery…. A solid addition to a high school collection.”

There will be a Buried Heart blog tour leading up to and following its release, including exclusive interviews with and guests posts by Kate Elliott. You can follow along using this schedule (though all links will be cross-posted here simultaneously):

Week One:

Week Two:

Stay tuned for how you can win a FREE copy of BURIED HEART in a blog giveaway!

BRIGHT THRONES — New Court of Fives Companion Novella

A new Court of Fives companion novella, BRIGHT THRONES, is now available as exclusive digital content.

Bettany has always been an outsider in her family: the angry one, the wild one, the daughter who refused to accept the dominance of her Patron father’s people over her Commoner mother’s. When her family is torn apart by a vengeful lord, Bettany makes a dangerous choice to accompany their household servants being transported to the mines, hoping she can keep them from suffering a fate worse than death. Their only chance lies with a stuffy foreign doctor who may be able to help them escape, but can Bettany trust him? Her instincts tell her there is much more to this man than meets the eye.

Find out what happened to Jessamy’s missing twin sister in this Court of Fives companion novella!”

BRIGHT THRONES is available digitally through The Novl via Little, Brown Books for Young Readers on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iBooks, Google Play, and Kobo.

And don’t forget: BURIED HEART, the third and final installment in the Court of Five series, will be released July 25, 2017! Information on pre-orders will be posted shortly!

The Water Margin by Shi Naian: Introduction and Prologue (WM 1)

Most Fridays in 2017 I hope to post a brief mention of the latest chapter(s) I’ve read in my 2017 classics read: The Water Margin (Outlaws of the Marsh) by Shi Naian, translation by J.H. Jackson and with an introduction by Edwin Lowe (Tuttle Publishing, 2010). I will use each chapter’s own synopsis as the synopsis.

Today: Foreword and Prologue

The brief Foreword, ostensibly by Shi Naian (but perhaps by the redactor, Jin Shengtan), introduces the author’s quiet life, briefly mentions some details of his household, and explains why he wrote the novel.

Why would anyone living such a quiet, isolated life need TEN messenger boys? I imagine them as local village boys who come and go, not all there at once, but always several convenient for running messages on command. And that’s besides the brooms and mats they make.

Prologue:  Heavenly Teacher Zhang Prays for Cessation of a Pestilence; Marshal Hon Makes a Blunder in Releasing Demons.

Probably the main reason it’s taken me so long to dive into these Chinese classics (I only read Dream of the Red Chamber about 6 years ago) is the bizarre and unfounded belief I had that, being classics, they were inevitably turgid affairs as long-winded as your average Victorian novel, something one read to be well read rather than because they were enjoyable. Where did my preconceptions come from, I wonder?

In fact, The Water Margin is paced like a modern novel (I can’t judge how much that may be a factor of the translation, which was itself done in 1937 (and “rejuvenated” in 2009)). Your average 1990s fantasy novel is less fast-paced than this with its brief introduction to the later emperors of the Song dynasty and then the adventures of Marshal Hong, which are completely delightful. Marshal Hong does not strike me as sincere or adequate to the task. Besides being responsible for the release of the demons he conceals the foolish, arrogant deed from the Emperor.

As with Dream of the Red Chamber I can see I will learn a lot from this work about the effective use of cliff-hanging chapter endings. In fact, I have already almost finished Chapter One, and I’ll briefly discuss it in the January 13 post.


Next Friday (Jan 13, 2017): Chapter One.

New to the readalong? Check out the introduction the Water Margin project.

The Water Margin (Outlaws of the North) by Shi Naian: A 2017 Readalong

In 2016 Tessa Gratton and I read the Shahnameh (The Persian Book of Kings) by Abdolqasem Ferdowsi. It’s a long epic poem, often called the national epic of the Persian civilization, and by dividing it into weekly sections we were able to complete it in 41 sessions (with some missed weeks due to other commitments). It was definitely epic and well worth reading, as you can discover in our posts about each section.

Completing a massive project in this way emboldened me to tackle another classic of world literature in 2017 by plotting a reading schedule that will allow for an entire year to finish an otherwise daunting 798 page novel. [Stop laughing: Black Wolves is only 780 pages.]

So: Join me and a motley crew of volunteers from Twitter in reading The Water Margin (Outlaws of the Marsh) by Shi Naian (c. 1296 – 1372 C.E.).

water-margin-coverOriginating in the transitional phase between the end of the Yuan (Mongol) Dynasty and the early Ming Dynasty it is based on the story of an historical bandit named Song Jiang who lived during the reign of the Huizong Emperor during the Song Dynasty (1100 – 1126 C.E.), the one the Mongols conquered. I haven’t read it yet but it appealed to me because it is the story of virtuous people from every level of society who, forced into banditry, are fighting against a corrupt and unjust government.

The novel is ascribed to Shi Naian but scholarship doesn’t seem agreed that we can know definitively that he wrote the entire thing alone. What is known is that over the period of the Ming Dynasty the novel was edited until, in circa 1592 a man named Li Zhi produced a “definitive” 120 chapter version. Then, in 1641, Jin Shengtan published a version that lops off the last 50 chapters to produce a more unified thematic whole. I don’t know; I’m just repeating what I read. Regardless, this 70 chapter version is the one I’m using. I may well seek out the last 50 chapters because the Jin Shengtan version is itself a product of the times HE was living in and he evidently subverts the original ending. How interesting is THAT!

Here’s how the project will go:

I’m reading the Tuttle Publishing 2010 edition, with a translation by J H Jackson and an introduction and editing by Edwin Lowe. Lowe gives the credit for the translation entirely to Jackson but in his introduction discusses how he addressed what he calls the shortcomings of Jackson’s translation (mostly to do with Jackson’s sanitizing of some of the more vulgar and barbaric passages). This version is available both in a trade paperback edition and in Kindle form.

Each week I’ll try to read 15 – 20 pages or so, and I will announce at the end of each week’s portion whether we will be reading one longer chapter or two shorter ones for the next week. I may miss weeks occasionally. I’ll post a brief synopsis and some thoughts every Friday, and the comments will be open for discussion.

The entire project will be linked here. Here’s the opening plan of action:

Week 1: January 6: Foreward and Prologue

Week 2: January 13: Chapter 1

Week 3: January 20: Chapter 2 (short because I’ll be traveling)

Week 4: January 27: Chapter 3 (still short, because I’ll be traveling)

Week 5: February 3: Chapters 4 & 5

Week 6: February 10: Chapters 6 & 7

Writing, World-Building, Idea Development: Final Thoughts on the Shahnameh Readalong (42)

The Shahnameh 2016 Readalong had its genesis in a fortuitous exchange on Twitter. Tessa Gratton and I decided to divide the book up as one would in a college course and read the entire epic by Abdolqasem Ferdowsi across the year, blogging our reactions along the way. And so here we here, having read the entire Dick Davis translation although, because Davis abridged elements, not the entire epic. Herewith our thoughts, which end up focusing both on reading and on how a process of idea and writing development work.

Tessa: I bought my copy of the Shahnameh a little over two years ago. I’d just finished the final book in my United States of Asgard series, and planned to write some stand alone novels over the next few years, while reading, learning, investigating the background for whatever my new (next) (eventual) giant fantasy series would be. I only had the core idea, and because I’ve been writing for over a decade I know my imagination needs a lot of time and layers to start the soup that will become a vibrant, complicated secondary world culture big enough for a series. So even though I wasn’t planning to write that series yet (I’m still today probably two years away from writing the thing), I needed to begin the process of feeding the specific location in my imagination that would chew on the idea.

Stack of books, all non fiction titles.

Stack of books, all non fiction titles, from Tessa’s research library.

Most of my research materials for this project are nonfiction. Histories of the culture and locations, from ancient to modern, written by people from within and without the culture itself, with a focus on architecture and clothing/tools. Some biographies. And a very small number of fiction and mythology sources—as close to primary sources as I can find. I bought Shahnameh knowing only that it’s a chronicle of kings, rather like the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle meets Beowulf, but more important and influential to Persian culture than either of those aforementioned works. I also knew it was long. Very long.

When Kate mentioned on Twitter that she was thinking of making a project out of reading it, my copy had been sitting about 10 inches away from my computer for over a year, and I knew I had to jump on the opportunity if I wanted the best chance of reading every word.

I’m so glad we made this project. Not only because it’s given me an opportunity to work with an author I’ve admired for years, but breaking the Shahnameh down in weekly installments and writing up my thoughts forced me to focus on engaging carefully with the text as a reader as well as a writer, instead of trying to blaze through on my own energy, gathering only what I knew I needed instead of allowing time and space to discover what I did not know.

Discovering what I don’t know about a culture and place and time is what matters most to me when I want to be true to the rhythm and sensations of a world, not just the surface.

With regards to my writing, reading the Shahnameh has been an invaluable research experience because of how fiction breathes life into ancient peoples, especially fiction created so long ago—the Shahnameh brings me halfway to Ancient Persia in ways no recently written history or novel can. It transports me into the mindset of people fifteen hundred years ago, to what they thought was important to highlight about the Persian kings from a thousand years before that. The layers of prioritizing and purpose matter so much when analyzing and embracing a work like this, not only to my understanding of the story, but my understanding of how I myself will rework and translate the ideas and culture into what I eventually write. This version we read has a translator (Dick Davis) who chose what words/ideas/sections to highlight (and which to erase), and the original poet Ferdowsi who himself chose what kings/ideas/episodes to highlight for his very specific audience. Then we have the stories themselves, and how and why they survived in order to reach Ferdowsi’s imagination in the first place. Beyond even that, there’s the layer of my POV, my situation as a Western woman long interested in the conflicts in the Middle East for both personal and political reasons. In addition to how it directly affects my writing, the Shahnameh has helped me think through current war and politics, reshaping my understanding. Every work of fiction has layers like this, layers of perspective, expectation, prejudice, and I need to remember that at every stage of my writing process.

All this was constantly on my mind as I read, but what will stick with me longest, I suspect, is the very gripping sensation of inexorable despair that I felt several times while immersed in the stories. I’m thinking most specifically of Seyavash, of course, and secondarily of Rostam’s doomed son, of Zal surviving all his children and grand children until he goes off to a mountain alone, in some ways the first and the last of his wise-wizard archetype in the Shahnameh. It’s amazing that Seyavash’s story could resonate so strongly for so many hundreds of years, beginning in this conflict between the Persians and Arabs thousands of years ago, with what they revered and feared, and eventually finding a home in my heart, too. That kind of emotional resonance is what literature is for.

Thank you, everyone who tagged along, keeping us honest, and thank you especially to Kate for making it happen.


Abdolqasem Ferdowsi

Kate: After Tessa sent me her comments I felt she had basically covered what I would say, especially with respect to world building and research: I start by figuring out what I don’t know. There’s a lot I don’t know. This is why the structure and approach toward research feels important to me as a writer. The more I assume I know, the less I can actually learn.

For decades I’ve had an intense interest in the history and mythology of the Silk Road, I think in part because an aspect of me loves the resonance of long distance travel as a theme or anchor, if you will, for narrative. The ways that cultures rise and fade across centuries, the ways cultures connect and conflict, absorb and reject, transform or remain static: As a writer this is thematic content that never gets old for me. A million million stories rise out of the endless back and forth of cultural contact in all its best and worst aspects, and everything in between. Weave that within a story of adventure or empire or a journey into unknown spaces and I’m in writer and reader hog heaven.

So my early interest in the Silk Road led me to an interest in the history of Iran, and my interest in the Hellenistic Period led me to its intersections with ancient Persia. In late 2014 I read Frederick Starr’s book Lost Enlightenment: Central Asia’s Golden Age. It’s a non fiction work about the rich scientific and literary landscape of Central Asia during what was also the early Middle Ages of Europe and how much of that Central Asian scientific work was brought into a less advanced European system. It’s specifically written for Western readers; that’s fine because it’s a good introduction that contextualizes the material for a readership assumed to be looking in from the outside. A work like this can be a starting point but should not, to my mind, be an end point. Although I was aware of the Shahnameh, of course, Starr’s book did make me start thinking more seriously about reading Ferdowsi’s epic, but it’s a long work and therefore rather daunting.

That’s why it worked out so amazingly well when Tessa said she’d be interested in reading it along with me. Positioning it as a year long project split into discrete and manageable sections made it . . . manageable.

Reading the Shahnameh gave me a glimpse from the inside (via a translation) into the incredibly rich heritage of one of the world’s most profound and complex civilizations, that of Persia. Now when I see references to characters or events I have a connection, however frail, that links me to that cultural heritage. We all live within shared heritages, and sometimes we live within overlapping ones, so that my shared cultural heritage as a person born and raised in the USA overlaps with my shared knowledge of 20th century rural Willamette Valley Oregon, with the Danish American experience, with being Jewish in America, with having parents who lived through World War 2, and with the larger cultural “regions” each of these attach to. What I’ve listed above is not the sum of my experience, just some examples, but the point is that having read the Shahnameh I now have a few touch points that connect me to a culture and history I was taught so little about and that mostly in simplistic terms.

One of the things education and experience can do is expand our touch points, those places in which we recognize and acknowledge and at times share the experiences of people who may be separated from us along other vectors of experience. So for example, Ferdowsi and I are separated by a gulf of time and culture (I don’t speak Persian so I can’t read his work in the original), and yet we are both writers so when he complains about not getting paid for his work I feel a sense of solidarity. How dare we not get paid for the work we do! *shakes tiny fist at world*

The lives and destinies of his characters now offer me a window through which I can communicate with people who also know these stories. We can enjoy the story’s fascinating take on Alexander the Great as trickster and seeker-of-wisdom, cheer on confident Rudabeh as she invites the handsome Zal to her chambers, and weep together over Seyavash’s tragic fate. It means something important when these connections are made and bridges are built. As human beings we talk to each other so much through shared understanding of stories.

Tessa and I also often remarked on what Davis left out of his translation (she covers this discussion, above, in much the same terms I would), and that too is a fruitful space to think about how people understand the world and how the world gets “translated” (or mis-translated) for different people in different spaces and places. We have to keep pushing at the closed gates and narrowly-framed windows that limit our access of vision.

What an amazing epic story the Shahnameh is, both as the national epic of Persia and as a vital vehicle in sustaining the Persian language. It is also fascinating in terms of its own history and tradition, not just in terms of Ferdowsi’s life and work but because the existence of a “Book of Kings” in the Persian cultural zone goes all the way back at the very least into the Achaemenid period.

Strangely enough I have a project in the early stages of development and writing that is partly inspired by a period of ancient history in which the Achaemenid Empire was a major player. But that’s another story built on the edifice of Story that surrounds us and creates us, because humans are pattern makers and story tellers. It’s hardwired into us to build our lives as narratives.

So if you haven’t read the Shahnameh, I recommend it. Go forth and read. Or at the very least search out the gorgeous artwork commissioned over the centuries to illustrate the many characters and iconic events.

This is still perhaps my favorite illustration that I’ve shared in this readalong for its gorgeous composition, colors, detail, and beautifully delineated human figures:

Shirin and Khosrow Parviz

Shirin and Khosrow Parviz seated on a divan or large pillow, with three ladies in waiting.

Thanks to Tessa for the shared journey because I could not have done it without her, to Paul and Rachel our most consistent comrades on the march, and to all who read along for part or all or some of the way.

And yes, I’m doing another readalong in 2017, this time of the Chinese classic The Water Margin (Outlaws of the Marsh).

Happy New Year!

Missed any of the Shahnameh Readalongs? Here are the links to each of the 41 entries:

Previously: Introduction, The First Kings, The Demon King Zahhak, Feraydun and His Three Sons, The Story of Iraj, The Vengeance of Manuchehr, Sam & The Simorgh, The Tale of Zal and Rudabeh, Rostam, the Son of Zal-Dastan, The Beginning of the War Between Iran and Turan, Rostam and His Horse Rakhsh, Rostam and Kay Qobad, Kay Kavus’s War Against the Demons of Manzanderan, The Seven Trials of Rostam, The King of Hamaveran and His Daughter Sudabeh, The Tale of Sohrab, The Legend of Seyavash Pt. 1, The Legend of Seyavash Pt. 2, The Legend of Seyavash Pt. 3, Forud the Son of Seyavash, The Akvan Div, Bizhan and Manizheh, The Occultation of Kay Khosrow, Rostam and Esfandyar Pt. 1, Rostam and Esfandyar Pt. 2, The Story of Darab and the Fuller, Sekander’s Conquest of Persia, The Reign of Sekander Pt. 1, The Reign of Sekander Pt. 2, The Death of Rostam, The Ashkanians, The Reign of Ardeshir & ShapurThe Reign of Shapur Zu’l Aktaf, The Reign of Yazdegerd the Unjust, The Reign of Bahram Gur, The Story of Mazdak, The Reign of Kesra Nushin-Ravan, The Reign of Hormozd, The Reign of Khosrow Parviz, Khosrow and Shirin, The Reign of Yazdegerd

2016 Writing Retrospective & 2017 Looking Forward

My Writing Year of 2016 & Looking Ahead to 2017: This post is only about writing/publishing.


Cover of Poisoned Blade, featuring a dagger superimposed over a golden circle and the tagline “To win the game, she must fight a war.”

What did I publish in 2016?

In 2016 POISONED BLADE: Book Two of Court of Fives came out in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook  (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, USA, should be available worldwide). Court of Fives was published in a trade paperback edition (ebook and audiobook still available). Both audiobooks are narrated by Georgia Dolenz, who I think does a wonderful job making Jes sound determined rather than perky!

COURT OF FIVES has been named to the Tayshas and Lone Star 2017 lists of the Texas Library Association. It’s also on the South Dakota State Library Teen Choice list for 2016-2017 (Middle School). I mention these because library and school support for MG and YA novels is so important.

If you’re a librarian or educator, or have a book club, my publisher has made this Educator’s Guide available (they asked me questions and I answered).

Besides Poisoned Blade my most widely read piece published in 2016 has probably been the 9000 word essay, Writing Women into Epic Fantasy Without Quotas, which appeared on in March. The title describes the content.

In a related post, Ken Liu and I published a dialogue at Lit Hub on the related subject of why the idea that it is unrealistic to show women in positions of power in epic fantasy still pops up with sad regularity. We don’t deal with the related claims that no one ever says this, even though examples can be found easily and often in the very threads in which people are claiming that no one ever says this.

Tessa Gratton and I read the Shahnameh: The Persian Book of Kings, by Abdulqasem Ferdowsi, and we wrote each week about the chapter we’d read. We were delighted and enthralled, at times appalled, and occasionally bored by this classic of world literature, and we will never get over the tragic fate of Prince Seyavash. It was such a fantastic project that in 2017 I’m going to do a readalong of the Chinese classic The Water Margin (Outlaws of the Marsh), although Tessa won’t be participating in this one. Charles A Tan and Ken Liu have signed on though, so this is an official thing now. I’ll be posting information on that on December 30.

I started a world-building Wednesday series, which I hope to continue as I have time.

You can find the Poisoned Blade blog tour list here if you’re interested in the posts I wrote surrounding the release of the book or want to revisit them.

2016 Appearances:

RT Convention, Las Vegas, where Black Wolves won the RT Award for Best Epic Fantasy of 2015.

Nebula Weekend (Chicago, IL), where Court of Fives was a finalist for the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy (Updraft by Fran Wilde won the award this year–huge congrats to Fran!)

San Diego Comic Con (big)

MidAmericon (fun)

HawaiiCon (an enjoyable relaxacon)

What did I write in 2016?

BURIED HEART (Court of Fives 3, and the final volume of the trilogy) is complete and due for publication on July 25 2017. It is already up for pre-order. Don’t wait!

I wrote a novelette for THE BOOK OF SWORDS, an anthology edited by Gardner Dozois. No publication date set yet. The story is titled “I am a handsome man,” said Apollo Crow and it is set in the Spiritwalker universe.

I wrote a 100 drabble (it was actually 1120 words) as part of a fundraiser for Reading For Pixels, a short piece set in the Jaran universe. I hope to share this in 2017; I’ll keep you posted.

Here’s me looking forward into 2017:

Dead Empire (Black Wolves 2): Yes, I’m working on it. I apologize that it is going so slowly. It’s a large and complicated plot, and I’ve added one more point of view character for a total of six. That is, there are two pov characters in each of the three plot-thread locations. The new pov character has been planned all along so this isn’t me changing my mind about things or going off on a tangent. Not that I can promise that will never happen but be reassured that this isn’t it!

YA proposal, TBA: Working on this and thus can’t announce yet. It’s space opera, not fantasy, and is intended as my YA follow-up to the Court of Fives trilogy. Not a literal narrative follow-up, that is, but a new series in the YA genre.

A 2nd Court of Fives novella: Working on this and can’t announce yet although I can tell you it will be about Bettany. But if you haven’t read Night Flower yet, please do so (if you’re so inclined). Since it functions as a prequel to the Court of Fives series you can read Night Flower with or without having read Court of Fives and/or Poisoned Blade. It works either way. And I’m particularly proud of how I sketched in the world-building in this shorter piece, trying to strike a balance between enough detail to give a strong sense of place and brisk pacing to keep the pages turning.

night flower 1

The cover of Night Flower has the title superimposed over a white and pink bird of paradise shaped flower.

Short fiction: I have several partially-written Spiritwalker short pieces I would like to finish, a short-short set in the Jaran universe that I owe to Mette Harrison (as part of a fundraiser), and a couple of possible projects I’ve tentatively agreed to write a short story for that don’t yet have contracts (that I know of).

Jaran 5: I have the opening of this written. I’m starting to wonder if I can find a way to write this story as a novella just to get it out there. At the moment I do not know when I will have time because I have other contracts to fulfill. Hermione’s Time Turner would be useful right now.

Other projects: Like almost every writer I know I have a number of potential projects and scraps of openings written, just waiting for that halcyon epoch when I can write everything that is waiting to be written. These include a book set in the Crown of Stars universe, 500 years later, an adult space opera (not set in the Jaran universe), and several YA fantasy ideas in the early stages of development.


The cover for Buried Heart shows a silver-colored spider super imposed on a pale circle and blood-red background. The tagline (which my fabulous editor came up with) reads: “The end the war, she must choose a side.”

Upcoming 2017 events (this is only what is confirmed so far, not a final list):

ConFusion, Detroit, Michigan (how will I survive January in Detroit? By never leaving the hotel!)

Duke University Story Lab

YAKFest, Keller, TX (Dallas-Fort Worth area)

Sirens Conference, Vail, Colorado

If I missed any 2016 events or publications, or you have any questions about 2016 OR 2017, jump on in to the comments.

Happy New Year, my friends and readers and colleagues. May you find art and support that helps you on your journey. As for me, I will as always try to stay on the road of justice and compassion.