Key/Egg Reviewed in the Current Issue of F&SF, Eight Years After Publication


Today I’m writing about something I never expected and which I still don’t know how to think about it. I mean, I have literally spent the last ninety minutes starting and deleting this post. 

After Circle of Enemies, I wanted to write something that wasn’t quite so dark and mournful. Even though I had more Twenty Palaces books in mind, I wasn’t ready to continue working in that style and tone.

Therefore: A Key, an Egg, an Unfortunate Remark, which most of you reading this already know is a pacifist urban fantasy with a main character in her sixties who is a cross between Gandalf and Auntie Mame. In a genre that has sometimes felt like a series of Mike Hammer novels that slotted vampires in place of gangsters, I wanted to do something different.

Like an idiot.


Here we are, eight years later, and the latest issue (July/August, 2023) of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction has a review of Key/Egg in the “Books to Look For” section.

That’s Charles de Lint’s review column. What’s more, he finished his review with the phrase, “Highly recommended”. 

If you look at de Lint’s Wikipedia page, it correctly states that he “pioneered and popularized the genre of urban fantasy.” To have this bestselling author, winner of a World Fantasy Award and an Aurora—one of the authors who helped define the non-Mike-Hammer end of this genre—pick up one of my books and give it a glowing review eight years after it was first published, well….

Like I said, I didn’t expect this and I haven’t really wrapped my head around it yet, but having a pioneer in the genre like de Lint give the thumbs up to this book–which I truly believed in but which pretty much went nowhere–gives me complicated feelings. 

Some highlights from the review: 

“too entertaining not to give you a head’s up about its existence”

“full of lovely bits of strangeness”

“never a dull moment”

He does say that he didn’t care for the first chapter, which is fair. The book is, in part, a murder mystery, and I borrowed the mystery conventions of having, first of all, an unsympathetic murder victim and second of all, an opening chapter from the victim’s POV. Even so, I tried to keep things interesting, and I’m glad I didn’t make him toss the book in the recycling. 

Anyway, at this point, eight years after release day, I sell about five or six copies a month. Will there be a de Lint bump? I’ll write a post about it later when the numbers are in. 

Want to read the latest issue of F and SF for yourself? Their web presence doesn’t seem up to date, but the most recent issue can be read gratis, assuming you’re subscribed to Kindle Unlimited. 

Thank you for reading. 

Audiobook for The Flood Circle available for pre-order, plus a very happy surprise


On Tuesday, June 20th, the audiobook for The Flood Circle will be available. This is the Amazon/Audible link. Links to other vendors are already in the main post for this book.

If you want to pre-order it, you can do that now.

In other, unrelated news, the next issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction will have  a review of A Key, an Egg, an Unfortunate Remark, which I (self-)published more than eight years ago. Even more surprising is that it’s a positive review, from multi-award winning author Charles de Lint!

I have said a lot about this book over the years, but for once I’m going to let common sense take hold and shut the hell up. I’m extremely pleased to see this review and I refuse to bad mouth myself for a joke that no one will laugh at.

Please check out the review when the next issue drops, on June 27th, and the rest of the issue, too.

Key/Egg Giveaway for You and Anyone You Choose


Lots of folks are self-quarantining at the moment, and there’s a lot of tension and anxiety out there. My family feels it the same as anyone else.

There’s not much I can do about that, and I don’t have much to offer folks to make this difficult time easier. However, I can do this:

Until the end of March April, you can use coupon code


to get a free Smashwords ebook of A Key, an Egg, an Unfortunate Remark, which is probably the most upbeat, least harrowing book I’ve ever written. Just go to the link above, click the “Buy” button or the “Give as Gift” button, then add the coupon code in the provided field. After, you can “Update cart” to be sure the price has been set to zero dollar and zero cents.

Key/Egg is a pacifist urban fantasy about Marley Jacobs, a sixty-five-year-old woman who’s a cross between Gandalf and Auntie Mame, and it’s set in modern day Seattle. (Or, at least, “modern” to the time it was finished, about six years ago. In construction-happy Seattle, some of the locations in the novel no longer exist.) There are lots of books out there that feature vampires, werewolves, and ghosts, but I like to kid myself that I’ve created an usual take on them here.

Plus, this is my most upbeat, light-hearted book. I figure folks don’t need another harrowing angsty bloodbath right now.

Finally, there’s no limit on the number of times you can use this coupon, so if you want to pick it up for yourself and make a gift of it, please do. All I ask is that you only send it to people who might like this sort of thing.

And that’s it. Take care of yourselves and take care of each other.

For God’s Sake, Don’t Talk in the Elevator: The Social Media Pitch


[Added later: This post has been included on Joshua Palmatier’s blog round up of posts about creating pitches. If you want to read more (after you finish mine, ‘natch) check it out.]

The elevator is a terrible place for an elevator pitch.

The idea behind an elevator pitch was that maybe someday Earnest Hopeful, young production assistant at Big Wig studios, might unexpectedly find himself alone in an elevator with Mr. Big Wig himself! How could he best describe his movie idea so that Mr. Big Wig falls in love with it, gives it the green light, and casts William Powell and Veronica Lake to star. Earnest has to be prepared! His pitch has to be shorter than the elevator ride but compelling enough that Mr. Big Wig invites young Earnest to get off at his floor.

But that’s not why we need an elevator pitch. In my entire life, I’ve never had reason to talk to a stranger on an elevator unless I couldn’t reach the button for the floor I wanted.

No, elevator pitches are supposed to be for the writer, and for social media.

For a long time, elevator pitches were mixed up with the idea of the “log line”. Log lines were the short descriptions of TV shows or movies that appeared beneath the listings in the TV Guide. But, if you went online during the late nineties hoping to find advice that would make you a pro, creating a log line for your story was commonplace advice. In that context, the log line was:

[Protagonist] struggles to [goal] in order to [what’s at stake] to prevent [terrible price of failure].

Or something like that. It was always a little different each time, but the basic Mad Libs of the thing are in that line above.

The point of a log line was to show beginning writers where their story could be found. It was about [Protagonist], not a million side characters. [Protagonist] was in pursuit of [goal] because [what’s at stake] was so important. They didn’t laze around mom’s basement, feeling sorry for themselves. And so on. It’s a fine way to highlight the important parts of a certain kind of story (essentially: stories that are like movies or tv shows, which is where these ideas come from) but it didn’t apply to every sort of fiction.

Eventually, this Mad Libs-ed log line idea merged with the elevator pitch to become the most basic way a writer could describe a story. It told you where to go with the story. It told you what mattered. It was extremely limited and limiting.

But it’s a tool, and all tools are limited. When we teach writing, it’s much easier to gas on about basic story construction than what most new writers really need: the skills and judgement needed to organize sentences and paragraphs in an enjoyable way. That’s what I really needed to study but that shit is hard to teach in a 300-word blog post or message board thread, so instead the internet filled up with “How to make your protagonist compelling” and Freytag’s Pyramid.

So, has an elevator pitch/log line ever been useful to me before I wrote a first draft? Yeah, actually, in short fiction. The format has helped me keep the story from spinning out into an unpublishable length.

For novels, which are a complex, sometimes digressive form, no. Not ever.

After the book is started, I’ve found some use for these pitches/log lines. Has the plot started to wander? Have the characters motivations become jumbled? Does this one particular scene seem to be going nowhere? That’s a good time to remind myself what, specifically, each character wants and what’s in their way. When I’m blocked in something as small as a few lines of dialog, filling in those blanks can help point the way forward.

But really, the elevator pitch is the social media pitch. It’s the short description that fits inside a tweet (oh for the luxury of a five-story elevator ride) that piques readers’ interest. It may not sell the book, but it might get readers to download the sample. I didn’t have one for the Twenty Palaces books, but I did for The Great Way: “An epic fantasy trilogy about a sentient curse that destroys an empire.”

At one point a reader asked me if I hadn’t gotten that wrong: shouldn’t elevator pitches focus on the character? Who’s the story about? What are they trying to do? This reader was focussing on all the log line essentials: Shouldn’t I fill out that Mad Lib? I responded by saying that a pitch should highlight what’s most unique and compelling about a book. If that’s the lead character and their goal, awesome. Going that route is easy enough, and it can be effective. If, instead, what’s unique and compelling is an apocalyptic tone and a weird antagonist, then some other format has to be created. The Mad Lib of a log line is a fine tool to start with when organizing a pitch, but it’s a poor fit for a lot of books. Sometimes the work has to be done without that tool.

For example, the pitch for A Key, an Egg, an Unfortunate Remark was: “It’s a pacifist urban fantasy with a hero who’s a cross between Auntie Mame and Gandalf.” Nowhere does that define her goal (which is to solve a murder) or what awful thing will happen if she fails (because she doesn’t know at first and it’s supposed to be a fun surprise) but it does highlight what I think is unique and compelling about that book.

Currently, my agent is shopping One Man, a fantasy/crime thriller, and I’ll have to create a social media pitch for it. That means I take a sheet of scrap paper and list elements that I think are fun/unusual/exciting. Not all of them will make the cut, but lists gives me something concrete to work with. Should I focus on the protagonist, a former golden boy responsible for the deaths of those nearest to him, who now bears unknown magic? The setting, a city built within the skeletons of two “dead” gods (both killed while fucking)? The plot’s macguffin, a piece of forbidden healing magic that might lead to civil war?

Nah. For me, the most unusual and interesting aspect is the stakes. The protagonist isn’t trying to destroy a magic ring, or defeat an evil army, or slay a sorcerer-king. He wants to rescue an orphaned little girl that no one else in the whole world cares about. They’re small, personal stakes for a book filled with fighting, magic, and impending war, but that’s what makes it interesting to me. Will readers feel that same way? It’s impossible to know. Fantasy readers like their stakes to be big. Epic, even. Will pitching the stakes in One Man push people away from a book they might love if they read it?

I haven’t worked that out. But then, if it were easy, everyone would do it.

That’s my take on so-called elevator pitches. Once in a long while, they’re useful during the writing process, but they’ve become necessary after the books comes out to help attract readers. Start with a log line, if you want, and make a list of unique and compelling elements that you believe will intrigue readers. And good luck. None of this is easy.

But please don’t talk on elevators.

A Sudden Attack of Common Sense


Sometimes, common sense sneaks up on me and shakes me out of a stupor. When it does, I tell people.

I’ve just changed the price of The Way into Fate from a set dollar amount to a Pay What You Want system.

What is The Way into Fate? It’s a 50K word-long game supplement that adapts both The Great Way trilogy and A Key, an Egg, an Unfortunate Remark into campaign settings for the Fate Core rpg. It includes world building documents, custom rules for adapting non-human species (to make them intelligent and inhuman at the same time) plus scenario ideas and “Invasion at Shadow Hall”, a full-length fantasy adventure set in Kal-Maddum.

If you’re a Fate Core player or GM, the supplement has never been more affordable. If you enjoyed the books and are curious about the nuts and bolts behind them: see previous sentence.

And if you’re gamers who haven’t read the books, maybe the supplements will make them look intriguing.

So, The Way into Fate is Pay What You Want for a not-limited time. Check it out.

Not with a bang but a buy link: the rpg supplement from my just-finished Kickstarter is now ON SALE


For writers, the huge projects that we put hours of toil and sweat and heartache into typically end when something goes on sale. That happened today.

The Fate Core supplement, titled The Way into Fate, that covers The Great Way and A Key, an Egg, an Unfortunate Remark has been sent to backers and is now available for sale on Drive Through RPG. It’s over 53K words (far more than intended) and is basically a world-building document expressed in Fate’s (deeply intuitive) game system.

Plus, there’s a 50-page adventure covering a historical incident briefly alluded to in the books. The Key/Egg section of the game covers Marley’s Farce Magic, and both sections include many story seeds for possible campaigns/adventures.

It also means my Kickstarter campaign is officially over.

The campaign that I launched in Oct, 2013 to fund books that were released one year ago, has now, with the publication of this game supplement, ended. To say this is a load off my shoulders is understating things significantly. If you’re a backer and I owe you books, check your Kickstarter messages. If you don’t have a working link, message me through Kickstarter.

And, to bury the lede, check out that final Kickstarter update for a big Twenty Palaces update.

In the meantime, if you like games and fun, pick up your copy of the game supplement here.

Special Halloween Sale Price


Hey, are you someone who likes ghosts, vampires, and werewolves, but hates being scared?

For today, I’m putting my pacifist urban fantasy on sale:

Check it out. Give it as an anti-Halloween gift (or as a Halloween gift, I guess) for people who like monsters but hate to be terrified.

BTW, right now, the price above is $3.99, but it’s actually been dropped to $2.99.

The Blog Tour Continues, Part Nexter


Continuing from the previous blog tour link farm

1. Like every writer, I sometimes I have to write a synopsis. It will surprise no one to learn that I have a system.

2. Here’s a post about genres, protagonists and exposition at SFF World.

3. Advice you won’t hear from sensible authors: Always Blame Yourself.

4. The way that studying screenwriting helped me as a novelist, and the way it didn’t.

5. Self-publishing vs traditional publishing, with an agenda to push one over the other.

6. He Always Runs While Others Walk: Pacing in Fiction. My ideas about pacing aren’t what I hear from so many other writers.

7. God is All Loving (Some Exemptions Apply) Religious Magic in Horror and Fantasy. I talk about vampires, crosses, and dehumanized enemies.

8. King Queen and this Three Seasons: ARROW and the Challenges of Long Term Narrative.

9. SF Signal Mind Meld: which series got better after the first book?

10. I Search the Body: What Role-Playing Games Taught Me About Writing Fiction.

11. Helpless in the Face of Your Enemy: Writers and Attack Novels.

— 11a. That Black Gate post was linked at io9. Comments are interesting.

12. The Loneliest Student: Writing as a Subject of Study. Applying education research to the process of learning to write.

And that’s it for my blog tour. It’s Dee Oh En Ee, done. I hope you find these interesting; please share if you do.

A Key, an Egg, an Unfortunate Remark, Chapters 1-6


New book! As usual, I’m providing a free sample to pique your interest, but this time, I thought it would be best to drop all the sample chapters into one post. They aren’t very long and I think it reads better this way.

Curious what the books about? The description is here.



Evening had fallen on Seattle, and there were a great many people going somewhere they didn’t want to go. An ER nurse with an aching back, a recent graduate about to ask his father if he could move back in, a middle-aged woman facing another evening of her boyfriend’s tedious anime and even more tedious sex—all felt the helpless resignation that comes before an unpleasant, unavoidable task.

Of those thousands of people, none were expecting a warmer welcome than the man standing at Marley Jacob’s front gate, and none were more mistaken.

Continue reading