writing

The Heir and the Spare | Cover Reveal and Pre-Order

Well, folks, the cat is out of the bag. My next novel, The Heir and the Spare, will release on February 19, 2021.

This is my first-ever kingdom adventure (fantasy without a magic system), and today I’m excited to bring you the summary and cover reveal!

The Heir and the Spare: A Summary

An evil princess, a ruthless persecutor, a wretched match.

Tormented at home and bullied during her studies abroad, second-born Iona of Wessett hides in the quiet corners of her father’s castle. Her art and music provide refuge, but her cruel sister Lisenn ever lurks like a monster stalking its prey.

Such has been her life for twenty years.

However, a promise of reprieve and retribution arrives when the neighboring kingdom of Capria proposes an alliance between their new crown prince and Wessett’s heir to the throne. The treaty will rid Iona of the toxic Lisenn, and the potential groom is none other than her erstwhile bully, Jaoven of Deraval. The marriage could not be more poetic: each deserves the misery the other might inflict.

Except that Jaoven, humbled by the war that elevated his rank, appears to have reformed, and the fate of both kingdoms now hinges on the disastrous union he’s about to make.

And the wrapping paper…

cover image for The Heir and the Spare: a gold snake and bird face off against a leafy green backdrop

A big thank you goes to my brother, Russell. That’s his bougainvillea decorating the background. When he heard I was looking for a thorny, leafy shrub, he graciously volunteered it for the cause.

(I know you can’t see the thorns, but if you’ve ever encountered bougainvillea, you *know* they’re there.)

If you want a jump on this release, THE EBOOK IS AVAILABLE FOR PRE-ORDER ON AMAZON.

Some fun facts

This is the first time I’ve taken a full-length novel from idea to publication within a period of six months. It’s also the first time I’ve used an epigraph rather than a dedication. Because of the quickness of the drafting/editing/publishing process, when it came time for me to make that decision, my mind drew a blank.

See, the family relationships in The Heir and the Spare are kind of strained, so I didn’t want the dedication to come across like, “Hey, beloved family member, this one’s for you!” *wink*

(Although, I guess I could have dedicated it to my cat.)

Dedication vs. Epigraph: What’s the difference?

A dedication marks the book as a formal offering to a person, cause, etc. as a symbol of the author’s respect or affection.

An epigraph is “a quotation that is pertinent but not integral to the text.” (CMOS 17th ed, 1.37)

In this case, I used Luke 17:3 (KJV), because forgiveness vs. retribution plays a thematic role in the plot. Also, that verse uses the subjunctive mood in two of its clauses, and I highly appreciate such nuance. #grammargeek4lyfe

Anyway, this whole project has been a whirlwind of fun from start to finish. I truly hope you enjoy it!

The Heir and the Spare (Newsletter Excerpt)

Title plate: The Heir and the Spare, Chapter One

Author’s Note: This excerpt from THE HEIR AND THE SPARE is subject to change. Please excuse any grammar errors, typos, etc. that I haven’t caught yet.

Chapter One

Only two people had to die for Princess Iona to become queen: her father King Gawen, an aloof figure whose passing she would one day mourn, and her older sister Lisenn, whose grave she would gladly dance on should the occasion arise. Of course grave-dancing was frowned upon in Wessett and the likelihood of Lisenn dying first was minuscule, but that didn’t stop the younger sister from sheltering such an inclination in her heart.

And it had nothing to do with wanting the crown, because she didn’t.

“You look exceptionally nice today,” said a voice behind her.

Iona glanced up from the tray of art supplies she had been arranging—oil paints, brushes, pencils, rags—to her cousin leaning against the door casing. Aedan wore a kind expression in his drooping eyes, his brown hair framing his face in waves, perfect for a portrait. Shame he was supposed to be on the other side of the room, positioned between a pair of faux-marble columns instead.

“Thank you…?” she said, her intonation rising as though she were asking a question rather than accepting his compliment.

He pushed away from the jamb and strolled fully into her studio, hands in his pockets and a casual air about him. His dark eyes swept from the top of her head to the tip of her toes. “It’s your hair, I think. Your maid put in some extra effort this morning.”

Her fingertips ghosted against the style. Bina had insisted on working braids into her usual upswept knot, and Iona had been too sleepy to protest. While she preferred to keep her long blond hair in simple order, the occasional elaborate variation wouldn’t kill her.

Aedan shifted his focus elsewhere. “Sticking to your usual somber colors, though. You always seem like you’re in mourning.”

She looked down at herself and pitched her words to sound innocent. “The smock is white.” As if that counteracted the slate gray of the exquisitely tailored dress beneath it.

His mouth pulled to one side and he leveled her with a piercing stare. “Your sister doesn’t own the rainbow, you know.”

Iona suppressed a laugh and motioned him onward to his waiting perch. “I like my grays and browns.” When he made no move to ascend the set of his portrait, her nerves manifested in a warbling chuckle. “Bina did try to dress me in blue today. Heaven knows where she got the gown, but it was the color of a summer sky.” Wessett was barely halfway through spring, but the pale, incomparable blue had called to her nonetheless. It invoked warmth and brightness, a far cry from the thread of cool, damp breeze that wafted now from her row of open windows. Her studio, tucked into the ground floor of the castle’s eastern wing, had only an hour or two of good natural light in the morning, but never the warmth of the sun.

“You should have worn it,” Aedan said, with something akin to sorrow on his face.

Again she shooed him toward the set, impatient. “Why? I’d only get paint on it by day’s end.”

He gave her an odd look but finally walked on, hopping up onto the low scaffold to take his place between the columns. Iona, satisfied that they were beginning their session at last, picked up her palette and selected a long, thin brush from her collection. Before she could so much as touch it to paint, her cousin asked,

“What was the name you used when you were living in Capria?”

Her hand froze. A series of unpleasant memories flashed before her eyes. Carefully she broke the momentary trance and lifted her gaze to meet his. “Why do you want to know that?”

“Were you keeping it secret from me?” he asked, off-hand, and she had to concede the point. She’d told him four years ago, upon her abrupt return from the mainland, but she hadn’t spoken of Capria or her experiences there in ages. Plague her memory though they might, she refused to let them govern her life. Only her lady’s maid knew the full extent, and only because she’d witnessed it firsthand.

But refusing to speak of it when directly asked would only arouse suspicions. Even though Aedan knew a fraction of the truth, he needn’t suspect it still bothered her.

So, Iona focused on the half-finished portrait and quietly said, “I called myself Yanna of Ghemp.”

“Why Ghemp?”

She leaned closer to the canvas, adding daubs of white to highlight the yellow-gold of her subject’s sateen breeches. “Because it lies in the furthest corner of their kingdom, with only a lower set of nobles who rarely sent their children to the Royal College. Why the sudden curiosity?”

Aedan didn’t immediately answer, and she might have let the conversation drop if not for the charged silence that possessed the room. After three more daubs of white, she stepped backward and to one side, the better to scowl at him.

“You don’t keep up with anything that happens at court, do you,” he said.

She huffed a laugh and resumed painting. “Why should I? I’m just the spare, here to ensure that my father’s bloodline continues on the throne into the next generation. If you want to speak of court, go find Lisenn.”

She didn’t miss the sneer that crossed his face, nor could she blame him for it. Had they been anywhere but her studio—had someone passed the open door to the hall or observed from the garden through the open windows—she might have rebuked him, but since they were alone and she shared his opinions of her sister, she merely allowed herself a wan smile and continued working.

His sudden interest in her time at the Royal College of Capria—four years, starting at age twelve—niggled at the back of her brain, but Aedan often wondered aloud about random things. Surely her parents weren’t considering sending her back, even if it was safe again. She dismissed the very idea.

The breeze helped dissipate the scent of turpentine, but it also worked a chill into Iona’s fingers. She had to pause to rub some warmth back into her joints. Had Aedan’s father commissioned the portrait later in the year, they might have set it in the garden instead of using the lavish backdrop of drapes and columns and worldly gewgaws angled in artistic opposition to one other, but the older generation loved their pomp and polished mementos. Perhaps she would propose a more casual study once this official one was complete. Aedan had an excellent face for painting.

But not, perhaps, a mind for tact. He abruptly said, “They’re coming to negotiate a treaty.”

Iona, absorbed now in the interplay of light and shadow on his canvas double, asked, “Who?”

“Capria. They sent the request last month. Their ship docked in the harbor this morning.”

She frowned, the words tumbling senseless against her own thoughts. Capria had fallen into civil war, the cause of her abrupt removal from its shores when she was sixteen. Of course she knew that conflict had resolved—such news traveled even to her neglected corner of the castle—but that had been more than a season ago. Wessett had helped the Caprian nobles with only a pittance of support during the worst of their battles, but the pair of countries had a troubled past so that hardly surprised anyone.

“Why would they want a treaty with us?” she asked.

“Probably to preempt your father from invading and taking them over when they’re already at their weakest.”

She blinked.

“Io, sometimes I can’t tell if you’re truly oblivious, or if it’s all an elaborate act,”Aedan said. “Capria has proposed a marriage alliance, their new crown prince with your sister, and the two thrones to combine in the next generation. They’re coming today to negotiate.”

Her chest constricted tight. She sucked in a controlled breath, torn between alarm and a strange, blossoming hope. “They’re marrying off Lisenn?”

“They’re negotiating it, I said. You little fool, do you understand what that means?”

The epithet didn’t bother her. Aedan used it more as a term of endearment than a malicious slight. His question, however, spiraled her into visual confusion.

Her cousin released a long-suffering sigh. “They’re sending their crown prince. He’s only a year or two older than you. That means you probably know him, and your parents will expect you at court as a member of the royal family to greet his entourage.”

Again she blinked, several times in rapid succession. Who was the new crown prince of Capria? The former prince’s assassination had kicked off their civil war, and his younger brother had died within a year. Both had been in their thirties, already married with small children, but traitorous militants had targeted their whole families. It stood to reason that the crown had fallen to another noble house.

But who? Someone near her age…?

The elite of the Royal College paraded through her thoughts, a catalog of proud and callous youths, scornful faces that delighted in tormenting their lesser peers.

In tormenting a nobody from backward Ghemp.

She almost flung her palette to the nearby table, fingers quick to work the buttons at the back of her smock. “Help me out of this,” she said on a gasp.

Aedan darted to her aid, deftly freeing her of the over-garment. “Are you going to wear the blue dress after all?” he asked, a gleam of approval in his eyes.

“What?” Iona peered past him to the open door. From further down the hall a set of footsteps echoed against stone walls.

“To court, to greet the—”

“I’m not going to court!” She shoved the wadded smock into his hands and bolted for the nearest window.

Aedan followed her to the sill. “But your parents—”

“I don’t care! I’m not going!” She was already slipping past the leaden frame, intent upon the narrow space between the bushes and the castle wall. As she dangled her legs off the ledge above the gravel four feet below, she glimpsed a figure in her studio door, and the voice of her father’s steward, Kester, filled the room she was in process of vacating.

“Your Highness, your most noble parents, the king and queen, request—”

Iona hit the ground running. If she never received the summons, she didn’t have to obey it. No one would expect her to attend the actual treaty negotiations. Or if they did, she could make her absence more prolonged. Perhaps she could masquerade as a dairymaid in one of Wessett’s far-flung valleys, or help with the early-season planting. The island was certainly large enough to hide her for a solid week or two.

Regardless, she could not meet the Caprian delegation. The nobles at the Royal College had prided themselves on who lay closest to inheriting the throne, and the lower that number, the more insufferable the bully. The worst of the lot, nine places removed from his illustrious birthright, had spearheaded every horrible movement within the school.

The war may have wiped out Capria’s royal family, but it had gutted their noble houses as well. Maybe he was dead. Maybe the crown had fallen to the twelfth in line, or the thirty-seventh. It didn’t matter. If they had a number, they behaved as monsters.

Kester shouted behind her. She glimpsed his more robust figure struggling through the window as she rounded the corner and passed beyond his line of sight. If she could reach the stable and commandeer a horse, she’d have much easier luck getting away, at least as far as the forest. The stablehands wouldn’t know she was expected at court.

Bina must have realized, though. That would explain the more elaborate hair and the plea for the sky-blue dress. Iona would have stuck out like a crocus in a snowdrift wearing such a color, and her sister would have wrung her neck. She thanked the heavens for keeping to her sedate gray, which might have passed as a servant’s garb if its make were not so fine.

Skirts hiked in her hands, she dashed across the back aspect of the castle. Gardeners lifted their heads from among the rose bushes and the flower beds, but she paid them little heed. The stable, with its long gravel courtyard, lay beyond the next corner. If she was lucky, Kester would give up pursuit and return to report her absence.

But luck eluded her, as it ever had. His shout echoed, the words lost on the wind between them.

Perhaps she would have to bypass the horse and rely on her own two feet. She barreled headlong around the next corner, into the shadowed porch that lay across the courtyard from the stable, only to collide with a body—or a whole collection of them. Swift hands grasped her upper arms to steady her.

“I’m so sorry,” she blurted, but as she lifted her gaze to the nearest face, the rest of her apology stuck in her throat.

She registered dark brown hair—cut close to the sides of the head in the Caprian style—along with an angled jaw and a pair of fine, hazel eyes she could never mistake. It was a face from her nightmares, Jaoven of Deraval, formerly ninth in line for the throne of Capria. He opened his well-formed mouth, presumably to inquire whether she was all right, but his initial concern melted into recognition.

A chill shot down Iona’s spine. The grip on her arms tightened.

“Yanna of Ghemp,” said her captor through gritted teeth. The flurry of movement her abrupt advent had created suddenly stilled, the air around her stiff and crackling.

“L-let me go,” she managed to say, but she only feebly struggled. She couldn’t escape his grip. She already knew as much. A fleeting glance toward the others of his party revealed more familiar faces, men and women who, though four years older than her last encounter with them, she could never mistake. She fixed her eyes on the most sympathetic of the lot, Neven of Combran, a brunet who had shared several of her art courses so many years ago. “Please.”

He offered her no help, though remorse practically bled from him.

“The rats always abandon a sinking ship,” Jaoven hissed, leaning in close. “So you fled to Wessett? And you’ve been living a safe and pampered life here ever since, while your countrymen fought and suffered and died—?”

“Your Highness!”

Iona, cringing from her captor’s accusations, wedged open her eyes. Her father’s steward stood panting at the corner of the porch, one hand propping him against the stone wall as he gaped at the scene before him. His gaze traveled from Iona’s face to the hands that gripped her arms and then back.

Jaoven thrust her half-behind him, keeping a firm hold upon her as he said, with feigned cordiality, “Yes. I’m Prince Jaoven of Capria. We had the fortune of meeting one of our countrymen just now and were reacquainting ourselves.”

Kester’s attention flitted past him to Iona, a question in his eyes. She minutely shook her head, a silent plea for him not to name her as the true recipient of his message.

“You’re wanted at court,” he faintly said.

“Excellent.” A smile tinged Jaoven’s voice, his diplomacy on full display. “Do you lead us there?”

“Ah.” Kester looked again to Iona, but finding no command or contradiction, he skirted forward through the Caprian party. “Yes. Allow me to show you, please.”

Once the steward’s back was turned, Jaoven leaned close to her ear and whispered, “We’ll deal with you after this first introduction is over. You’re coming with us, but if you say a word out of line, you’re a dead woman.”

Then he passed her off to Nevan’s keeping with a muttered, “Do not let her out of your sight,” and pushed through his entourage to take the front position.

As the party moved together, bodies surrounded her on every side, men and women alike sparing her bitter glances. She didn’t recognize all of them. Some were certainly servants who would fall back before the official delegation crossed into the great hall, and others envoys who would participate in the negotiations but not this formal greeting. She picked out the nobles among them by the finery of their dress, six in total including Neven and the newly crowned prince. She could name five of them, fellow classmates from Capria’s Royal College.

Near the front, Elouan of Dumene—number twenty-four, in former years, and still as broad of shoulder and golden of coloring—pitched his voice low. “Jove, don’t let this put you out of temper. We need to make a good first impression on the royals here.”

“It won’t be a problem,” Jaoven replied, but the clenching fists at his side told another story.

Iona swallowed against a lump in her throat, her mind racing for any exit strategy she could formulate. To Neven she whispered, “You have to let me go.” As art students, they had shared many of the same woes four years ago. Surely he of all this group might sympathize with her.

Instead he dashed her fledgling hopes. “I can’t.” His attention flitted to the delegates and servants around them. “If your family abandoned Capria in its time of need, you have to face your punishment.”

With increasing dread, Iona buttoned her lips and marched. Strictly speaking, her family had abandoned the embattled noblemen of that land. What punishment it merited, though, was up for debate.

Neven’s hold upon her arm remained loose, but if she tried to break away, the others would dog-pile her. If he would only move to the edge of the group!

Ahead, Elouan and Jaoven continued their consultation. “Do you remember everyone’s name?” Elouan asked.

Jaoven snorted. “Please. I’ve recited them a hundred times since we got on the boat.”

“Say them again. If your mind goes blank at the wrong moment—”

“King Gawen, Queen Marget, Crown Princess Lisenn, Princess Iona. Happy?”

“I will be once this blasted meeting is over.”

“Because you’re looking forward to the days of negotiations yet to come?”

“Your father gave us very strict instructions.”

Enough, Elou. I have too much on my mind already.” He cast a scowl over his shoulder, briefly meeting Iona’s gaze before resuming his purposeful stride.

Morbidly she wondered how his posture would change in the moments shortly before them. It was almost worth provoking Lisenn’s wrath.

Almost.

They crossed the main courtyard and arrived at the entrance to the great hall. The Wessettan royal guards in their signature red cloaks lined the way. If any of them recognized Iona’s presence in the foreign delegation, they only raised their brows and shifted their attention elsewhere. No one meddled much with her doings, and because Kester led the group, her inclusion in it could invite no comments.

The steward paused on the threshold, turning back as though to speak. When his gaze met Iona’s her scowl prompted him to look elsewhere. “If you will wait here but a moment,” he said delicately to Prince Jaoven. Then, after a slight bow, he proceeded into the vast and airy room without them.

A crowd of Wessettan nobles lined the walls leading up to the central dais, where four thrones awaited the delegation.

“One of the princesses is missing,” said Elouan with a frown.

“Which one?” Jaoven asked, peering from the raven-haired young woman at the king’s right hand, then over to the empty chair at the queen’s left.

“The younger. That’s Lisenn next to her father.”

“Perhaps the other one’s absence explains the delay. They certainly left us waiting long enough.”

“Perhaps. Or she might not be in town. Our informants said they’ve housed their daughters in different areas of the country before, as a safeguard against any attacks upon the crown.”

Jaoven grunted. “Would that our people had been as wise.”

Iona bit her lips to contain a bitter laugh. She glued her eyes to Kester as he lightly hopped up the stairs to her father’s side and whispered in his ear. Lisenn’s pretty face contorted, proof that she overheard the hushed confidence, but she schooled her ire away again as her father responded.

Kester returned. He gestured inward with a grand, sweeping arm. In a voice that echoed from the vaulted stone ceiling, a cryer announced, “The crown of Wessett welcomes emissaries of Capria into its hallowed halls: Crown Prince Jaoven; Elouan, Duke of Dumene; Lady Denoela of Rosemarch…”

True to Iona’s expectations, the servants and untitled diplomats peeled away, leaving her and Neven near the back of the group, with only one man behind them. The list of names and titles continued as the official delegation processed across the checkerboard marble floor toward the waiting monarch. A murmur arose among the Wessettan nobles who noticed Iona in the foreign ranks. She resisted the urge to shrink out of sight, but it didn’t fully leave until she met Aedan’s gaze near the front of the room. He had every right to attend an assembly such as this, of course, but he must have bolted straight here the instant Kester followed her.

Which meant he either figured she’d get caught or else was curious about the Caprians himself.

When they locked gazes, he tipped his head, his brows cinched as though to ask if she had gone completely mad. She squared her shoulders and glowered at him.

The cryer finished his list of names and the delegation stopped ten feet in front of the dais. Prince Jaoven bowed and then straightened, waiting for his host to speak.

King Gawen, one hand tracing patterns on the arm of his throne, looked past the newly crowned royal to lock gazes with his own daughter.

“Iona, what are you doing?”

A stricken hush fell across the hall. The Caprian delegates exchanged confused glances, and Jaoven actually turned as though to discern where the king’s attention lay.

Iona, resigned to her fate, calmly extracted herself from Neven’s lax grip and skirted by the rest of the delegation. She spared Jaoven only a grim, sidelong glance as she passed, then she mounted the three dais steps and swept into the empty chair at her mother’s side. The fair-haired queen favored her with a smile.

Straight-backed and stoic, the second princess of Wessett met the horrified stares of her former classmates.

And she might have relished this wordless comeuppance had Lisenn’s glare not been drilling into the side of her head.


Thank you for reading Chapter 1! The Heir and the Spare releases February 19, 2021.

You can pre-order the eBook now on Amazon!

Discipline in the Year of Hindsight

Discipline: in each of us exists both creator and consumer, and we thrive when we strike a balance between the two.At the beginning of the month, people on my social media feeds started announcing their word of the year. I’ve never done that lovely practice, but it got me thinking: “If I were to pick one word that embodied my hopes for 2020, what would it be?”

Ever so softly, the vast ether whispered back, “Discipline.”

And I laughed. Hahahahahahaha!

If there’s one thing I have lacked throughout my life, it’s discipline. In large part, my body has been a convenient vehicle to get my brain from one place to another. And since my brain’s favorite “location” is its daydream-du-jour…

Yeah. Exercise, sleep, and meals all take a back burner to whatever thought pattern I’m engaged in. I mean, I get to them eventually, but they’re not scheduled or anything.

Still, as much as I lack discipline, I idealize the concept as well.

Discipline: An Etymological Dichotomy

Discipline sounds austere, like a schoolmarm with a critical eye and a ready ruler. However, it also exudes wisdom, like an ancient sage who has mastered body and soul.

The word shares its root with “disciple,” both of them coming from the Latin discipulus, “pupil/student.” Earliest English usage had to do with the “punishment” sense of discipline, but as an outward sign of seeking self-control. People would discipline in order to invoke obedience to a certain discipline.

Thus the word speaks to a broadening of the mind through strict adherence to a study or process.

One who has discipline is learning and growing. They understand and honor boundaries, physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional.

And ultimately, when I considered making it my 2020 theme, it begged the question, of what disciplines am I a student, and how well does my self-discipline reflect that?

Ideal Versus Reality

In my ideal, I’m a disciple of writing. In reality, I’m more accurately a disciple of YouTube. Much as I love daydreaming about scenes and characters and plots, the process of connecting the dots and developing all of those in a believable (or at least passable) manner is HARD WORK. It’s so much easier to pull up social media and see what their algorithm has to feed me.

So, in my quest to find self-discipline, I took a hiatus from the internet.

(Mostly.)

Last week, I had about four approved websites I was allowed to visit. Two of them were dictionaries. It was lovely and, yes, oddly liberating to say, “No, I can’t go there. I’m not doing that today.”

And what was the effect?

First and foremost, I got to bed roughly 2 hours earlier most nights. I had nothing to do in the evenings, so why not sleep?

Second, I found time to exercise (four days and a total of 150 minutes, up from zero the preceding week).

Work-wise, I re-typeset Goldmayne for its transfer over to Eulalia Skye. There’s a few tweaks left, but the book is basically ready for its cover. (And it’s going to be a fat book. 474 pages. Yikes. But the original typeset was in 10-point Garamond, and I’m not playing that space-saving game anymore.)

I also wrote about 1K words on Eidolon. Still wading through the weeds on how to connect all my plot-points there, but I ain’t gonna sneeze at what little progress I can make.

Long story short: internet bad, discipline good. So, for now, I’ll be keeping my online time to a minimum.

(But we loves it, precious, we does!)

For Discipline We Strive

In each of us exists both creator and consumer. We work, and we play, and we thrive when we strike a balance between the two. Right now, I need that balance.

So that is my word for 2020: discipline.

Wish me luck. And for those who have also chosen a 2020 word, good luck to you!

Oliver Invictus | Official Reveal and Pre-Order

If you read between the lines of my last post, this one will come as no surprise. I’m pleased to announce the upcoming publication of Book 3 of the Annals of Altair: Oliver Invictus arrives on September 18, 2019.

You can pre-order the ebook HERE. Hooray!

Oliver Invictus book cover

Summary: Oliver Invictus

Dead at Fifteen

Oliver Dunn’s life is officially over. Pulled from his bed in the black of night, he’s headed for the Prometheus Institute’s mysterious shadow campus, where anomalies like him vanish forever.

But no sooner does he leave Prom-F than the school descends into chaos. The student body revolts, classmates make a break for freedom, and one silent, powerful projector among them corrals the adults into a hive-minded collective of slaves.

Yanked back from his impending doom, Oliver’s mere presence restores order. The Prometheus heads demand that he ferret out the rogue projector, but he’d rather die than cooperate.

His life is already over. They can’t threaten him with any fate worse than his own. But they can threaten the one person in the world he actually cares about: his former handler, Emily Brent.

If you haven’t read the first two books of this series, that summary might raise a lot of questions. If it’s been a while since you read them, ditto. Because I’m a giver, I’ll go ahead and post links for those two books as well:

Book 1: A Boy Called Hawk

Book 2: A Rumor of Real Irish Tea

That’s it for the announcement part of this post. A new book! Go forth and pre-order!

Or, if you’re game, stick around and read on.

Background Notes

I always considered the Annals of Altair complete at 2 books. This is apparent in their structure, which is pinned to the US Constitution. A Boy Called Hawk uses the main body for its chapter numbering (Preamble, Articles, and Sections) and A Rumor of Real Irish Tea uses the amendments (27 in all).

My younger self thought it was funny to have the Constitution as a meaningless frame for a hypothetical future in which that document itself had become meaningless. Actually, my current self thinks it’s funny too.

So.

A third book was not on my radar. What was I supposed to pin it to, the tax code?

The Plot Thickens

Still, I had family members that asked for more, and I knew that more happened beyond the scope of those first two books. Besides, if the original structure was meaningless, and meaninglessness was the point, then abandoning it for a meaningless chapter-numbering system would be fine.

Confident in that reassurance and the knowledge that I don’t have to publish everything I write, I tackled a third book for NaNoWriMo.

Back in 2015. (Seriously did not realize it was that long ago, but the timeline checks out. Tsk tsk, Kate.)

The story stalled at the third act, as my stories chronically do. I played with it a bit over the years, but it was definitely a back-burner project.

Why?

Well, I’ll tell you.

This series gets the least amount of traffic among my literary canon. Not a surprise. It’s dystopia lite instead of the gossamer fantasy that is my usual fare, so it’s easily skipped. It was also more like a personal art project than a commercial endeavor. Hence, for a while, I saw it as my weakest link.

We don’t draw attention to the weakest link.

But I truly love the story and its cast of characters—on both sides of the conflict. My initial vision to spin a yarn about four kids escaping an oppressive government morphed into a tale about the rotten little antihero tasked with bringing them back. By the end of the second book it was clear that Oliver and Emily were more the main characters than Hawk, Hummer, Honey, and Happy. I’ve always known what became of them afterward, and part of me always wanted to write it.

However, it seemed self-indulgent to work on a book that strayed so far from my perceived fantasy brand, and that few people—if any—actually wanted to read.

So what changed?

For my birthday last year, I sat down and conducted an inventory of my writing: unpublished projects, planned-but-unwritten projects, and works-in-progress. The list was kind of a slap in the head: I had 20 books in some form of development, not including my notebook of story kernels, and not including the six published books I still needed to switch over to my imprint.

The creative pile-up weighed me down. When you have too much debt, you get rid of the smallest one first. Thus, Oliver Invictus, 75% complete, moved up in the work queue.

(As a side note, the idea for Soot and Slipper hadn’t even occurred yet. I’m not great at managing my plot bunnies.)

The final impetus to complete the draft came from a comment on my blog last April. It’s one thing for people you know to ask for more of your work—there’s always a voice at the back of the head saying they’re only being polite, or that it’s their way of expressing a compliment. It’s quite another for a stranger to speak up. That’s a call to action.

And, as it happens, answering that particular call was within my ability. So.

Long story short (too late)

I estimate that roughly twenty people outside my own family might actively want this book. I hope more than that will read and enjoy it, but if its total market saturation is only those twenty, I still consider it time and effort well invested.

Mostly because I want this book.

Whether Oliver Invictus has a large audience or a small one, I’m excited for its readers to experience the next leg of this upside-down world.

And why September 18th?

It’s Oliver’s birthday. It seemed a fitting day to bring his story to light.

Annals of Altair series book covers

Look at these covers, you guys! They look like they belong together! +1 Branding skills for me!

Project Updates and Other Ramblings

Greetings, my friends! It’s time for a few project updates. Some bad news, some good news, maybe…? Idk. So, as Li Shang says, let’s get down to business.

First of my project updates: Thank you! May this classy purple flower convey how awesome you are.

First of all, I want to give a HUGE thank you to everyone who has read Soot and Slipper, double-thanks to those who have recommended it to others, and triple-thanks if you took the time to rate and/or review it on the venue of your choice.

Full disclosure: as a general rule, I don’t read reviews. My mother does, though, and she thinks it’s fun to pull them up and read them aloud to me as I hastily vacate her presence. You, my lovely readers, have been SO NICE.

Thank you. I am overwhelmed and humbled and grateful that you have found value in my work. You are awesome and amazing.

And speaking of value…

(Terrible segue, I know.)

Ebook Pricing

Around the time I released S&S, I had multiple people tell me I need to up my ebook prices (including a couple of commenters on my own blog, haha). I’ve kept my prices low as a courtesy, but those discussions have left me with a lot to ruminate on. After several weeks of wishy-washy contemplation, I’m ready to capitulate. Sort of.

Over the next few months, my ebooks that are 50K words and above will all get a price update to $2.99. For Tournament of RusesThe Legendary Inge, and Namesake, this is no increase at all. The Annals of Altair series, Kingdom of Ruses, and Goldmayne will each go up $2.

I did look into upping the price on the longer books (90K+ words) to $3.99, but price increases statistically lower sales. Basically, I’d be charging more for fewer people to buy, to the benefit of no one. So that’s been shuffled to the side for now.

For the time being, my two fairytale novellas will remain at $0.99. I know I could probably raise their prices as well, but I like them as introductions to my writing, so the low courtesy pricing makes sense to me.

It’s not that big of a difference on most of these, but hopefully the new prices will better signal that yes, I do value my work and I want readers who value it as well. I don’t have an exact timetable for when each price increase will happen (see below for why), so this is your courtesy notice that if you want any of my books at their lower price, grab them sooner rather than later.

And that brings us to…

Project Updates

When I created my imprint (Eulalia Skye Press) a couple years ago, I intended to transfer my earlier titles over. It hasn’t happened for a number of reasons.

Or, well, mostly because of all the paperwork involved. I’m using a different trim size under ESP than with my earlier titles, so transferring over means re-typesetting six books, which also means new covers. And that in turn means updated ebooks, which would ideally correspond with the aforementioned price hikes. In short, it’s a lot of dominoes that have to be lined up and tumbled, and since I’ve already been through the process with these books, I’ve dragged my feet on doing it again.

But I finally learned InDesign (as the print version of Soot and Slipper will attest, yeehaw), and I really ought to use that subscription to its fullest. So.

Annals of Altair Books 1 – 3

The print versions for A Boy Called Hawk and A Rumor of Real Irish Tea are no longer available. They will return shortly. This series gets the least amount of traction in my collected works, so no great loss.

For the ebooks, the price increase is effective immediately. I’ve uploaded new covers and reformatted book files for a nicer reading experience. Because these were my first books published, I’ve also done a medium-light edit (cleared out excess verbiage, cleaned up the writing style, etc.).

The stories are the same. They’re just not quite as wordy.

For those who want a hard copy (Hi, Mom!), the typesetting for the print versions is complete. I just have to upload files, order proofs, and make sure everything is pretty. My self-imposed deadline is the middle of September, for Reasons.

Look for this newly rebranded series on Amazon.

Ruses, Goldmayne, and Inge

I’m not messing with the wordiness of these books. Goldmayne is meant to have a folksy fairytale voice, so my older style of writing still works. The same goes for Inge and the Ruses books, to a lesser degree.

Kingdom of Ruses, however, will get the addition of a bonus short story, “The Prince among Men.” It’s roughly 4K; I wrote it a few years ago to answer that burning question, “But where did Will go?” And then I had nowhere to publish it, because it was too long for a blog post and too short for a standalone novella.

L O L

Since I’m adding a short story to the end of Kingdom, I think I have to dis-enroll it from Kindle Unlimited so that it doesn’t look like I’m trying to game the system for more page-reads. There were shenanigans to that effect a couple years back, as I recall, and I’d rather not chance having a book flagged because previous readers are skipping to the end for some added content. So whenever that update happens, no KU for a few months. (Sorry, my lovely KU readers. It will return eventually.)

These four books will update in the following order (theoretically): Goldmayne, Inge, Kingdom, Tournament.

Namesake

And now we arrive at the elephant in the room. “Wasn’t there supposed to be a sequel to Namesake, like, a year ago?” Why, yes. Yes there was. And then it turned into two sequels and I threw a creative tantrum.

I have a hard-and-fast rule of not publishing a book that needs a sequel written. Namesake can stand on its own, so I waffled over whether even to write the follow-up. When it split into two, that waffling doubled. I am still working on them, but there’s no timetable for completion.

Just, when you see Goddess (Book 2) finally make its appearance, you can rest assured that Eidolon (Book 3) will be close on its heels. I won’t leave you hanging from that cliff for long. Pinky promise.

Final Thoughts

A disproportionate amount of my writerly life has been me feeling like I fall short of other people’s expectations. I lack follow-through, I disappear for weeks or months on end, I hoard creative control, and I happily nest down in my comfortable corner of obscurity. The truth is, I only ever wanted to write. It was never my dream to publish a book.

So here I am, ten titles down the road and wondering how the heck this all happened. It has been a long, meandering path, and there is still so much meandering yet to come.

Long story short, thanks for joining me on this journey. Life is full of surprises, y’know?

Music and the Written Word

Albert Einstein on musicFor all you book purists out there, the paperback of Soot and Slipper is now live! (Click HERE) In honor of this momentous occasion, I’m going to explore a fun little element of writing: the background music.

Some writers need total silence. Others need speakers blaring. I fall closer to the second category, where listening to music can help me focus on my writing, but with a caveat: I can’t usually handle new lyrics. If I don’t know a song, my brain will turn more toward discerning its content than unraveling the scene I’m supposed to be creating.

Hence, my playlists often feature instrumental arrangements or foreign-language singers. But one other element comes into play when I pick my writing songs: the atmosphere. Every book is different.

DISCLAIMER: I don’t have any connection with the artists I’m discussing in this post. I’m not an affiliate for any of the sites I link. I just really like their music.

The Music of Soot and Slipper

As a Cinderella retelling, Soot and Slipper has a light and fluffy atmosphere, with some maybe darker undertones at play. (No spoilers, haha.) The playlists I gravitated toward definitely reflected that.

Music Backdrop #1: Eurielle

Around the time I started toying with the plot idea, I came across Eurielle on YouTube. At times epic and other times floating, her music has echoes of Enya if Enya were orchestrating a feature film about ghosts and medieval yearning for salvation.

Her album, Arcadia, provided backdrop #1 for this novella. She sings in English, Latin, and French. Probably the most influential song was “Je t’Adore,” which came to represent Eugenie’s first masquerade. It starts with gravitas (“Liberate me from the fire” is the Latin phrase, which works nicely with my recurring theme of embers and ashes) and then transitions into an airy refrain.

Eurielle on [iTunes] and [Amazon]

Music Backdrop #2: Boggie

This artist has been on my radar since the video for her song “Parfüm” went viral a few years back. A Hungarian jazz singer, she has songs in Hungarian (of course), English, and French. I have two of her albums, the eponymous Boggie and All Is One Is All.

Her playful song “Camouflage” became Pip’s anthem. And really, it suits him to a tee.

Boggie on [iTunes] and [Amazon]

Music Backdrop #3: Erutan

Sometimes I got too lazy to sign into my digital music account. (This is true first-world laziness, I fully admit.) Both of the above artists have YouTube channels, though, and after a few video plays the algorithm kicked in to find me similar songs.

And Erutan appeared in my suggestions.

Kate Covington AKA Erutan (“Nature” spelled backward) combines medieval instrumentation with etherial vocals to create an otherworldly musical experience. She sings both original music and covers arranged to her celtic-influenced style, with intertwining melodies and harmonies that stoke the imagination. I suppose, in many ways, she might represent the fairy of my tale.

From what I can tell, Erutan is an independent artist in every sense. She’s ridiculously talented, too. You can support her by watching her videos on YouTube or buying her tracks on [iTunes] or [Amazon].

Honorable Mention: Cœur de Pirate

So this artist didn’t show up in my algorithm until a couple days after I finished the Soot and Slipper draft. Since I was on a French kick, though, I gave her a listen. When I encountered her song “Combustible,” it embodied Marielle so well that I had to include it here.

I will definitely be listening to more of her in the future. (Especially since I’ve bought two of her albums so far.)

Cœur de Pirate on [iTunes] and [Amazon]

A Musical Trend

On looking back at the playlists I listened to while writing this book, a lot of them had Halloween and/or phantasmic overtones. Although Soot and Slipper was the very soul of creative escapism for me, that secondary atmosphere is oddly fitting.

If you enjoyed the songs above, please consider supporting the artists. Music, like books, can’t happen without a lot of work.

Final Thoughts | Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire

Final thoughts: Pamela Meyer quote on relationship between liar and recipientAnd at long last, we come to the final thoughts.

Through real-life patterns of deception, we can identify weaknesses in our writing and shift those weaknesses into strengths. With that in mind, I offer the following summary of this series.

The Poor Liar

  • Fakes emotions in the moment
  • Provides excess details to prevent the listener from questioning their authority
  • Dumps information
  • Forgets or contradicts essential points in their narrative
  • Uses language defensively, as a barrier to keep their listener at bay

In short, the poor liar spoon-feeds their audience because they don’t trust them. They either control every aspect of their narrative so tightly that it loses all authenticity, or they treat it with such vagueness that it never had any to begin with.

The Skillful Liar

  • Mimics authentic emotional patterns
  • Keeps details to a minimum so as not to draw unnecessary attention
  • Strategically withholds information
  • Maintains continuity in their narrative
  • Uses language as the tool it is, as a mechanism to draw their listener close

Skillful liars exploits their audience’s truth bias. They use cooperation defaults to further their deception instead of allowing those defaults to constrain them within the boundaries of truth.

As fiction writers, we need to be skillful liars, not poor ones. Our ability to engage our readers and to keep them engaged depends largely on how well our stories resonate with their perception of truth. Immersive reading only occurs when the reader forgets they have a book in their hands and starts living within those pages instead.

Final Thoughts

In her first chapter of Liespotting, Pamela Meyer shines light on an incredible truth.

“The liar and the recipient participate in a fabric of mythmaking together. A lie does not have power by its utterance—its power lies in someone agreeing to believe the lie.” 

Pamela Meyer, Liespotting, p. 22

This hold true for fiction as well as real life. The author and the audience are partners in creation. Thus, when you engage in Cooperative Deception, your words have power.

So, with that in mind,

  1. Trust your audience. They are with you for this ride.
  2. Lie to them with every pattern of truth you can mimic.

And that is the end of this series. Now get out there, my lovelies, and let your stories take over the world.

***

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The Misdirection of Agatha Christie | Liar, Liar

The mystery genre requires careful threading of information from character to character, between narrator and reader, and from author to audience. And Agatha Christie, as the queen of mystery, has mastered the subtle art of misdirection.

Hence, she’s the perfect author to study for breaks in the Cooperative Principle on multiple levels of dialogue.

SPOILER ALERT: This post includes some serious spoilers. On the one hand, Christie’s work has been out for decades, and this is a discussion on craft. On the other, spoiling a Christie novel is almost a capital offense. If you’ve not yet read the following titles and you want to read them without external cues, kindly skip this post and come back when you’re ready.

Title Plate: The Misdirection of Agatha Christie

Misdirection #1: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is an icon of the whodunit genre. Our 1st Person narrator, Dr. Sheppard, records events surrounding the death of the eponymous Ackroyd, along with the exploits of the famous Hercule Poirot in uncovering the murderer.

And oh, is the misdirection strong.

Early in the narrative we have the following exchange, in which Ackroyd and Sheppard discuss a letter just received by the soon-to-be-murdered man. The letter contains the name of a blackmailer, and its writer, a friend of Ackroyd’s, has already killed herself because of the wicked soul.

Ackroyd, his finger on the sheet to turn it over, paused. “Sheppard, forgive me, but I must read this alone,” he said unsteadily. “It was meant for my eyes, and my eyes only.” He put the letter in the envelope and laid it on the table. “Later, when I am alone.”

“No,” I cried impulsively, “read it now.”

Ackroyd stared at me in some surprise.

“I beg your pardon,” I said, reddening. “I do not mean read it aloud to me. But read it through whilst I am still here.”

Ackroyd shook his head. “No, I’d rather wait.”

But for some reason, obscure to myself, I continued to urge him. “At least, read the name of the man,” I said.

Now Ackroyd is essentially pigheaded. The more you urge him to do a thing, the more determined he is not to do it. All my arguments were in vain.

The letter had been brought in at twenty minutes to nine. It was just on ten minutes to nine when I left him, the letter still unread. I hesitated with my hand on the door handle, looking back and wondering if there was anything I had left undone. I could think of nothing. With a shake of the head I passed out and closed the door behind me.

Agatha Christie, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Chapter 4

Analysis

So here we have the murder of Roger Ackroyd. Not just the book, but this particular passage. The narrator is the murderer, and he kills Ackroyd in that ten minute interval between when the letter arrives and when he leaves. (I told you there were spoilers.)

But he’s masterfully breaking the Cooperative Principle on both the character-to-character and the narrator-to-reader layers of dialogue.

Maxim of Quantity

Sheppard withholds information by being vague (“if there was anything I had left undone”). He also gives too much information about Ackroyd’s stubborn character and his own concern for the man.

Maxim of Quality

Sheppard lies: “But for some reason, obscure to myself, I continued to urge him.” He knows Ackroyd is pigheaded. He doesn’t want him to read the letter because it has his own name in it, so he urges him to read it, knowing that will make him refuse.

Manipulation at its finest, in other words.

Maxim of Manner

His false sincerity toward Ackroyd (making excuses for Ackroyd’s behavior) belies his true intents; his insistence for Ackroyd to reveal the blackmailer’s name implies his own innocence to the reader, too. Why would a guilty man urge his own unmasking?

Maxim of Relevance

By focusing so keenly on the letter (“It was just on ten minutes to nine when I left him, the letter still unread.”), Sheppard indicates that it’s the most important element of this scene. This misdirection is especially brass because Ackroyd is already dead.

But sure, tell us about the letter. That seems relevant.

This is the scene that first-time readers inevitably flip back to when they reach the grand reveal. Sheppard, the unreliable narrator, presents a picture of honesty and forthrightness, but his perfidy was between the lines all along.

Misdirection #2: The Secret of Chimneys

One of Christie’s lesser-known tales, The Secret of Chimneys is actually my favorite of her novels. Some of its characters reappear in her other work, but the book itself is a stand-alone rather than part of any of her serials. It has a light-heartedness despite being a murder mystery, and some fairytale elements render it a delightful read.

Best of all, it begins with a deceptive wink toward the reader.

Chapter 1: Anthony Cade Signs On

“Gentleman Joe!”

“Why, if it isn’t old Jimmy McGrath.”

Castle’s Select Tour, represented by seven depressed-looking females and three perspiring males, looked on with considerable interest. Evidently their Mr. Cade had met an old friend.

This is misdirection from line 1. We know from the chapter title that our hero’s name is Anthony Cade. We know from the third paragraph on that he is the person referred to as “Gentleman Joe.” After his conversation with McGrath ends, the nickname leads to the following exchange between him and one of his Castle’s Select tourists.

“Is your name Joe?”

“I thought you knew it was Anthony, Miss Taylor.”

“Why does he call you Joe, then?”

“Oh, just because it isn’t my name.”

“And why Gentleman Joe?”

“The same kind of reason.”

“Oh, Mr. Cade,” protested Miss Taylor, much distressed, “I’m sure you shouldn’t say that. Papa was saying only last night what gentlemanly manners you had.”

Agatha Christie, The Secret of Chimneys, Chapter 1

Analysis

Within the opening scene of this novel, Ms. Christie calls into question her hero’s identity and then immediately reestablishes it. Of course he’s Mr. Cade. Who else would he be?

As the story unravels, the reader takes it for granted that the hero knows things beyond the scope of what a mere Anthony Cade might know. He’s clever and quick-witted and affable. He’s lived abroad and encountered lots of people and cultures. When characters’ identities start getting called into question, we can count on him to be who he says he is.

…Or can we?

Other characters begin to speculate on Mr. Cade’s true identity, and the reader has this scene playing in the back of their mind. He answered to a different name. Does anyone really know who this person is?

Christie both foreshadows and disarms that foreshadowing, so that the truth emerges in a delightful plot twist.

Maxim of Quantity

The abundance of attention paid to Anthony Cade’s name in the first chapter seems to point to his authenticity instead of away from it. But this is a case of TMI. Instead of reassuring us, it should spike our suspicions.

Maxim of Quality

Our hero never actually tells Miss Taylor his name. He hedges around it by saying he “thought [she] knew it was Anthony.” While what he says is technically true, it also leads her—and the reader—to believe something false.

Maxim of Manner

Mr. Cade’s vague manner of speaking allows those around him to assume they know who he is. So, too, does the narrator’s ambiguity allow the reader to make assumptions about his identity.

Maxim of Relevance

The nickname itself, Gentleman Joe, gets played off as a bit of playful sarcasm. In fact, it’s an insight to Anthony’s character, that he comes from different origins than he pretends.

So who is he really? The infamous jewel thief, King Victor? The missing-and-presumed-dead monarch of Herzoslovakia? Or simply an old Oxford boy drawn into an adventure of murder and mayhem?

This one I won’t spoil, except to say that he’s not Anthony Cade.

Misdirection #3: Her Real Freaking Life

In December 1926, at the age of 36, Agatha Christie disappeared. Her car with her coat in it lay abandoned on a hillside above a chalk quarry.

Was it a publicity stunt? An abduction? A suicide attempt?

No one knows. Eleven days later, she turned up in a hotel in Harrogate, where she’d checked in under the name of her husband’s mistress. While a massive manhunt searched the countryside for her, she’d been attending evening parties and other such events.

She claimed amnesia and never spoke of it again.

Speculation has abounded, that she crashed her car and lost her memory, that she tried to commit suicide but had a change of heart, that she faked her disappearance to make her philandering husband the center of a murder investigation. Personal events in her life at the time pointed toward emotional upheaval: her mother had recently died, her husband wanted a divorce.

But the episode remained shrouded in mystery.

When, decades later, she dictated an autobiography, audiences expected some revelation about this period to emerge.

Christie opted out. She didn’t even mention it.

But really, what better badge of honor can the most successful mystery writer of all time have than an unsolved mystery in her own life?

Conclusion

Christie is a master of misdirection because she uses her audience’s truth bias and cooperative defaults against them. She drops subtle clues and then plays them off as nothing important, and we believe her.

And thus, she fulfills her Author-Audience contract to a tee. She tells us a gripping yarn, and twists a knife in our backs when we least expect it.

***

Up next: Final Thoughts

Previous: Breaking the CP on 3 Layers

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Breaking the CP on 3 Layers | Liar, Liar

Now that we’ve explored the Cooperative Principle and how to break it, we turn our attention back to our three layers of dialogue. Breaking the CP will look different on each of these layers.

Some breaks are good and can drive the plot, while others should be avoided at all costs. We’ll examine these by type of break and layer of dialogue.

Breaking the Cooperative Principle on 3 layers graphic

Unintentional Violations

Layer 1: Character to Character

As discussed in our case study of Miss Bates, unintentional violations on this layer can have many forms. Characters who unintentionally violate the CP may do the following:

  • Talk too much or too little
  • Give false information by accident
  • Accidentally skip necessary information
  • Use pronouns without referents, causing confusion
  • Mumble
  • Speak too quickly
  • Fail to allow their conversational partner to respond
  • Wander off on tangents they assume have relevance

The only item on this list that is possibly undesirable is the fourth bullet point, particularly when missing pronoun referents lead to conflict. (Not to point fingers, but this happens an awful lot in the romance genre…)

In the real world, we are keyed to tie pronouns to their referents. When the referent is missing, there’s usually a double-check, “Sorry, who are we talking about?” or something similar. Pronouns only have meaning in their context, so this is one area that we instinctively clarify when there’s any ambiguity.

Long story short, if you’re using a “vague pronoun causes misunderstanding” trope, make ABSOLUTE CERTAIN there is a reasonably assumed referent. Otherwise, this trope becomes contrived.

Layer 2: Narrator to Reader

In a perfect world, we would never see a narrator breaking the CP in this manner. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world. Unintentional violations from the narrator include the following:

  • Dumping information and/or backstory (wall o’text exposition)
  • Leaving out information by accident
  • Contradicting earlier information later in the book
  • Repeating or recapping events the reader already knows
  • Using barrier objects
  • Taking long tangents on non-plot-essential details (or, why an abridged version of Les Misérables exists)

These types of breaks frustrate a reader at best. At worst, they drive the reader away from the book entirely and can generate ill will and scathing reviews.

The narrator should not commit unintentional violations of the Cooperative Principle.

Layer 3: Author to Audience

If the narrator should not commit these types of violations, it’s doubly so for the author. Breaking the CP in this way on the Author to Audience layer of dialogue includes the following:

  • Plot holes and/or contradictions
  • Inconsistent characterization (usually caused by sticking to a plot outline even if it requires out-of-character antics to maintain)
  • Inconsistent world-building
  • Accidental failure to meet genre expectations
  • Blatant anachronisms

Unintentional violations on this layer break verisimilitude with the audience because they are mistakes in the very mechanics of a story.

Intentional Violations

Layer 1: Character to Character

Intentional violations on this layer of dialogue can drive a conflict. Characters breaking the CP in this manner might

  • Lie and get away with it (for the moment)
  • Omit important information on purpose
  • Use ambiguity to keep their listener out of the loop
  • Hurl veiled insults

The reader might or might not recognize that a violation occurs, but at some point, it should come out. It can be a strong reveal or a satisfying payoff. Or, it can be a detail that lies dormant, waiting for the canny reader to ferret it out from the other clues around it.

Layer 2: Narrator to Reader

This type of break signals an unreliable narrator, easier done in 1st Person, but a possibility for 3rd as well. Narrators intentionally violate the CP when they

  • Strategically withhold information
  • Misdirect the reader to a red herring
  • Give unreliable or biased accounts of events

Because the narrator knows they’re violating the CP, the reader shouldn’t realize in the moment. Otherwise, the violation becomes a clumsy attempt at storytelling rather than an authentic, immersive tool.

Layer 3: Author to Audience

The author SHOULD NOT intentionally violate the Cooperative Principle. Violations on this layer of dialogue include

  • Plagiarism
  • Subtly trolling their audience

What do I mean by “subtly trolling”? This happens when the author sees their audience not as partners in creation, or even as fellow humans, but merely as a means to a paycheck. The recent book-stuffing epidemic on KDP, for example, violated cooperation because readers often didn’t know they were helping those authors commit fraud.

Author-to-audience violations happen outside the narrative of the book. When discovered, they are a rude awakening to those who were duped.

Flouting

Layer 1: Character to Character

We’re back in “desirable” territory in breaking the CP. Characters who flout are the pride and joy of readers everywhere. They

  • Hurl blatant insults (often with a smile)
  • Use sarcasm as a conversational tool
  • Talk around a subject instead of addressing it (circumlocution)
  • Mutter audible asides
  • Code-switch and/or gate-keep

Flouting on this layer amounts to wonderful exchanges, where alternate meanings create multifaceted conversation. It’s the antagonistic flirtation between reluctant lovers and the battle of wits between rivals.

Everyone loves a good character-to-character flout.

Layer 2: Narrator to Reader

On this layer, breaking the CP in the manner takes a more literary turn. Narrators who flout the Cooperative Principle

  • Invoke dramatic irony
  • Foreshadow events yet to come
  • Leave open endings
  • Adopt an experimental point of view instead of telling the story straight

The reader knows there’s more than what they’re receiving, but the narrator doesn’t elaborate at that time (or ever, in some cases).

Layer 3: Author to Audience

The author who flouts on this layer of dialogue shows contempt for their audience. This is an author who

  • Insults readers on social media or elsewhere
  • Intentionally fails to meet genre expectations (overt trolling)

This is the author who lists their book with keywords that don’t apply, or who claims a genre they’re not remotely writing. It’s the erotica listed as a clean read, or vice versa. The audience comes to the table expecting one thing and gets slapped in the face with another.

Don’t flout your audience. It’s not nice.

Opting Out

For funsies, I’m including how to opt out on the three layers, but breaking the CP in this manner is pretty basic.

Layer 1: Character to Character

When characters snub, give the silent treatment, or avoid encounters with other characters, they are opting out. This can add a fun dynamic to a scene (or to the novel as a whole), but beware falling into the trope of “a single conversation could have prevented disaster.”

If your characters are opting out, they should have solid reasons for so doing, none of this namby-pamby “can’t talk to that person because [contrived excuse].”

Layer 2: Narrator to Reader

The narrator opts out when they stop telling the story. (Surprise!) Don’t like a cliffhanger ending? Too bad.

L O L

Layer 3: Author to Audience

The author opts out when they stop writing, and the audience opts out when they stop reading an author.

DO NOT WANT, for either of these.

***

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