Complicated Melodies

I really don’t know how interested anyone will be in this, but I really am trying very hard to blog, even when I don’t have anything to say, so here goes.

Working on The Land of the Beautiful Dead is not a happy experience. I don’t mean I hate the book or anything, but it’s the zombie apocalypse. The world I have to live in when I write is a deeply unpleasant one and it is necessary that I feel those emotions in order to project them onto the page. Unfortunately, the more I allow myself to sink into the bleakness of the landscape, the more my emotions tend to bleed out into the characters. It kind of becomes this vicious cycle after a while–the book affects my mood affects the writing affects the book affects my mood, etcetera, etcetera, ad nauseam.

I cope with this in a lot of ways. I listen to music while I write, for example. All of my books have a ‘soundtrack’ that is distinctly their own, and even though LoBD’s ‘album’ is still pretty dark, just being able to sing along, even with the sad songs, keeps me at least halfway grounded in the real world. If it’s a really bad scene, I may turn on a well-loved movie I’ve watched a bazillion times to act as white noise in the background and subconsciously lift my spirits. In emergencies, I may go get my hedgehog. It’s impossible to be depressed when there’s a hedgehog licking your thumb as you’re trying to type.

Seriously. Look at that face.

Seriously. Look at that face.


Having said all that, I have to admit even Posey Q. Pricklepants is not always able to combat the malaise that comes along with working on a book in which I scrag the entire human race. In fact, there are days when the only way I’ve found to deal with the book is to put it entirely aside and work on another one.

Yes, Land of the Beautiful Dead. I’ve been cheating on you. With fanfiction.

I find fanfiction to be extremely soothing to my soul. It’s just so comfortable and easy, writing a story where all the hard work is already done for you. The characters are there. The setting is there. The world is already built and peopled. All you need to do is provide a plotline and watch the story tell itself.

This is probably where I should stop and rant a little while on how wildly out of control fanfiction has gotten these days. In my day, when we wrote fanfiction, we used the characters and the setting of the actual original source and just made up new stories. If there was a new character–and let’s face it, there was always a new character–he or she was a plot device, like any you might see in a new episode, there to engage and be engaged by the canon characters. This business where so-called fans take…I’m going to use Star Trek as an example, because it’s one most people are going to recognize…take the crew of the Enterprise and make them teenagers who all go to the same high school, and also some of them are vampires and the biggest plotline is who vampire-Spock is going to ask to the dance (hint, it’s either Kirk or Picard) is NOT FANFICTION.

I’ve been writing fanfiction more than half my life. The first story I ever wrote was fanfiction–Disney fanfiction, no less. The day I knew I’d arrived as an author was the day someone sent me fanfiction of one of my own books. Fanfiction is great, but if you’re going to write it, for the love of God, write it for real. If you’re going to change every single goddamn element that made the story in the first place, go ahead and change the names of the characters too. You might be doing yourself a favor.

Obvious correlation is obvious.

Obvious correlation is obvious.


So I’ve been writing a fanfic in-between editing chapters of The Land of the Beautiful Dead. No one will ever read it. Like all GOOD fanfiction, it simply cannot work outside the parameters of someone else’s copywritten work. I won’t even tell you the name of the source material. It exists for my pleasure and for my pleasure alone. However, since it’s what I was working on today, and today is the day I set aside for blogging, you, the reader, get a snippet.

One of my characters is a musician. He is in the source material and so he is in my book (and THAT, kids, is how you write fanfiction!) He’s not obnoxious about it, but it is an important aspect of his character, so I’ve done what I can to keep it, and one of the things I found I had to do as the story progressed is have him write a song. So I woke up this morning and wrote a song he could write for the girl he is never going to get. Disclaimer: There is a reason I am not a professional songwriter.



Baby girl, when you talk, I hear such complicated melodies

But it’s a song and I could sing it if you let me.

All I need’s a little time to hear the tune and make it mine

I’d play it for you and maybe then you’d see

How beautiful your music is to me

Won’t you listen?

For a little while…just one night is all I need.

Oh me and this guitar are both as broken as they come

But even we can make some music if only I

Replace these broken strings and play it right

Put a lead guitar and a bass beside me and I’ll prove to you

There’s still some harmony.

It’s not too late

For you to learn the words….and sing along with me.

Girl, I’d need an orchestra to play the story of your life

But if only I could play piano, I would try.

Any song can be written down once you have the key

And if I could find the note to build upon, I know you’d sing along with me.

And if I could play the drums, maybe then I could set the time

That brings the shattered rhythm of your heart into beat with mine.

And I’d get horns to be your courage and violins to be your tears

And one by one, I would find instruments to take all your hopes and fears

Until there’s nothing left but you and me and one simple melody

That’s been there, baby girl, all along.

And I’ll teach it to you…and it can be our song.

Girl, when you talk, I hear such complicated melodies

And it’s a song I know that I can’t make you hear.

Because I’m not the man you want tonight but before you go, I’ve got to try

To make you understand that if you can’t

Play the tune

Or sing the words…still, we can dance.

So let me put this old guitar aside…and we can dance.

Fresh From the Cutting Room Floor

Welp, edits on The Land of the Beautiful Dead are continuing, and I have come to the first painful batch of deleted scenes. Normally, I keep everything that can’t go into a book for whatever reason (length being the biggest reason why a scene will be cut. You may not believe that’s ever a factor with me, but believe it or not, my books could easily be much, much longer) just in case I’m ever able to recycle a deleted scene for a later project. That hasn’t happened yet, but I’m hopeful.

Why am I telling you this, you ask? Partly just to post something before I blink and it’s December, but also because I have here in my metaphorical hand, a scene I have just trimmed out of my book and which I find myself loathe to toss in the old woodchipper. It is the perfect combination of “Too Good to Throw Out” and “Impossible to Reuse” and I can think of nothing better to do with it than post it here, as a teaser of sorts.

Now, keep in mind as you’re reading this, that IT WILL NOT APPEAR in the finished book and should not be considered canon. It’s just a deleted scene. Would have loved to use it, but just no place to put it. So here it is, serving strictly as character color and atmosphere and serving no other useful purpose. To set the scene, Lan, our heroine, has not been long in the city of Haven, where the beautiful dead reside in the service of Azrael, the immortal creature who has brought about the end of the world. Lan is new to the lights and noise of his court and not at all comfortable taking her first formal dinner with him or his Children–Lady Batuuli, Lord Solveig, and Tehya, who is…artistic.




Lady Tehya stood.

The movement caught the eyes of her brother and sister, who at once silenced the chatter at their own tables to fix their full attention on hers, but Tehya did not respond. The hush grew, rippling out from the east wall to the west and then down past the empty stage to those at the lesser tables, until the whole hall was silent and still. Even the servants were watching, Lan saw, and pikes glinted as the hands that held them shifted apprehensively. Only Azrael himself pretended not to notice.

Tehya only stood there, staring down at her.

The initial surprise faded into bewilderment, which began a gradual slide towards boredom. At what point should she just start eating again?

“Are you all right?” Lan asked finally.

Without a word, Tehya reached into her sleeve and drew out a long, long knife. She did it slow, knowing just how the light hit the blade, dazzling the eye and making the whole thing seem so eerily beautiful that Lan did not immediately think to be afraid. Oddly, it was not until Tehya looked away from her that Lan suddenly realized she was at the perfect height, reach and angle for a good head-lopping. She pushed her chair back belatedly, but Tehya paid her no more mind than the rest of the room. Tipping her head to an unnatural, doll-like angle, she reached out her hand toward her father’s table.

Azrael sighed and set down his cup. “My beloved child,” he said, so softly, but the silence was such that his voice carried all the same. “How many times must we do this?”

Tehya’s head tipped the other way, bobbing just a little, as of a puppet on strings. She raised the knife high.

Azrael sighed again and covered his eyes.

The knife came down, plunging deep into Tehya’s belly. Fabric tore. The skin beneath opened up, releasing a terrible rotten stench and a sudden, shocking billow of color that sprayed directly into Lan’s face. She threw up her arms with a hoarse cry, expecting the heat and sticky slap of blood, but met only a small, dry storm of what her brain, in panic and confusion, could only identify as flower petals. They flew past her, tumbling against her hands and face and hair, then funneled up into the air and…and stayed there.

Butterflies, a cloud of butterflies. Red and yellow and orange and black. They swept up toward the ceiling and down again, dispersing lighting on people’s hair and the flowers on the tables and on the tips of the guards’ pikes.

Lan’s gasp was lost in the needless gasps of the dead. Batuuli began the applause, slow and admiring, and soon the hall was riotous with cheers and clapping, but Tehya ignored it all. Reaching into the cavity that was her own body, she drew out a blackened, reeking handful of what appeared to be rotten meat, on which dozens of butterflies delicately fed. She extended her arm again to her father, offering, imploring, and watched without expression as Azrael rose and came for her.

A few last butterflies were crawling out of her belly onto her dress, fanning their wings in a slow, shimmering display. They all scattered before Azrael, all but one, whose wings were presumably too wet to allow it to fly, and that one dropped dead, fluttering to the floor in lazy circles to be crushed underfoot when Azrael finally reached her. He cupped her painted face between his hands and she reached up to lightly grip his wrists. Her eyes closed; his dimmed.

“Oh, my precious one, have no fear,” he said. “I’ll mend it.”

Tearing away with a silent cry, Tehya ran from the hall. Azrael reached out one hand, but did not follow or attempt to call her back.

“A promising start, but a predictable ending,” Solveig said, pinching a butterfly off his collar and flicking its body to the floor. “I give it three stars of five. What do you think, sister?”

“I think the butterfly garden is empty,” Batuuli replied with a pout. “And I think I rather enjoyed visiting the butterfly garden on sunny days. And what do you think?” she asked, turning to Lan.

“I think you’re all horrible.” Lan shoved her chair back to a gale of laughter and ran after her.


Back From the Grave

Lord, I don’t even know how to start this. After a while, apologizing for not blogging becomes meaningless, especially when it’s followed by six months of radio silence.


So here’s the deal. I had to take a break from essentially everything to deal with some things. Some of it was health-related, some of it family-related, all of it personal. I will say no more, except to say it’s dealt with now and I’m back on track and so far behind schedule it’s almost inspiring.


Thank you to everyone who took the time to write and ask where I was and why I was gone and if I was okay and if I was dead. That last one tickled a little. Sorry if I scared you. Blogging may come naturally to some people and goodness knows, there are plenty of people out there who keep the whole world posted whenever they stub their toe, but I am not one of those people and never will be. My desire to sell books is constantly at war with my desire to brick myself in a basement and never come out. Any basement. Your basement. Have you checked your basement lately? Am I there? Tell me to come home and work on my damn book.


The Land of the Beautiful Dead is done with its first draft and going through its first set of revisions. As you may or may not know, I do one round of edits, then a read-through with my betas, and then a final edit. When will the book be complete? Hell, your guess is as good as mine these days.  I really thought I’d have this book out last Halloween. Then life happened. And it’s still happening, so…we’ll see. Hang in there with me.

Tis the Season For Procrastination

And a Happy New Year!

And a Happy New Year!

A real post is coming soon (after more than two months of total radio silence! What is WRONG with me???), but I just wanted to break from all the family stuff going on here at Casa Smith and wish my readers a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Joyous Winter Solstice, Happy Kwanzaa, Festive Festivus, and to all my atheist friends, have a nice day!

Lan’s Mother

Lan picked at her dinner, scowling, then put down her fork and said, “You want to know about my mother? Okay. Here’s pretty much everything you need to know about my mother.”

“I’m all attention,” he said, ignoring her to carve into his bird.

“She lost her coat the night she got here.”

She could see him trying not to react to that, but after a few awkward seconds, he looked at her. “There must be more to the tale than that.”

* * *

In every book I write, there are certain characters, background players who barely get a mention now and then, who fascinate me. They aren’t the heroes. They aren’t love interests. They don’t get big musical numbers to explain their motivations. They just tell their part of the story in a whispering background sort of way and fade out, but these are the characters I tend to gravitate towards the most, because they remind me that everyone has a story, but not everyone gets a book. In The Scholomance, it was Horuseps. In Cottonwood, Good Samaritan. In Arcadia,  oh gosh, a whole slew of ’em, but especially Lily. And in The Land of the Beautiful Dead, it’s Lan’s mother.

Although her influence on the book is strong, she’s not a major player. I could probably go back through and count the number of scenes she’s in. In fact, let me do that.

Enjoy this picture while you wait.

Enjoy this picture while you wait.


Okay, I’m back. She gets roughly 150 mentions, spread out over 35 separate scenes and in most cases, those mentions amount to Lan thinking that her mother once said or did this or that. One line, tossed away, which when picked up and pieced together, create a story–I’m not going to lie–I would almost rather be writing than the one I wrote.

What do we know about Lan’s mother? We know she’s not pretty. When Azrael remarks that all children find their mothers pretty, Lan is quick to reply, “Not mine. She was hard. Scarred.” We know she’s resourceful and tough, having grown up on her own not only in a strange land, but in a strange land overrun with dead people who want to eat you. And we know that, even in a zombie apocalypse, mothers say mother-things:

* * *

If this were Norwood and if her mother were still alive, she would have had Lan out of this room and on about her chores and never mind Mallowton or the garden or killing a kid. There were no excuses good enough to mope the day away. ‘If you can do something, do something,’ she used to say. ‘If you can’t, do something else, but quit sulking or I’ll give you something to sulk about.’

Who would have ever thought she’d miss hearing that? Or miss seeing that face, her head perpetually cocked because her left eye was nothing but a socket full of scars? She missed her mother’s hands—rough and chapped, with a knuckle bitten off on one and two fingers that wouldn’t bend on the other, so she was constantly flicking people the Vs if she didn’t consciously fold them down when she made a fist. She missed the heat of her mother’s body close to hers on the camp bed they shared in the women’s lodge and how she’d wake at the slightest cough or rustle in the dark and sit up, knife in hand, to listen…then lean over and touch Lan’s face, so lightly, never knowing Lan was awake to feel it or to hear her mother’s whisper, “She’s okay. She’s just fine,” as she tried to talk herself into going back to sleep.

* * *

And we know she’s dead. The book begins with Lan making her way to Haven, where Azrael rules, after her mother’s funeral, which is to say after her mother’s walking corpse had her back broken and was burnt, writhing and snapping her teeth, to ashes. Memorial service to follow.

In lieu of flowers, the family is accepting bottled water and bullets.

In lieu of flowers, the family is accepting bottled water and bullets.

Lan grew up in a comparatively sheltered life. She had strong walls around her to keep the Eaters out. She had food, although subsistence living is a bitch and starvation was a very real possibility. She considers herself a survivor, but not on the same scale. Familiarity breeds familiarity, as someone or another once said (They need to release Probe on DVD. I don’t care if it was just one season, I’d watch it) and those who grew up after the apocalypse just don’t measure up against those who had to live through it. Lan measures herself against her mother constantly and comes up short. Don’t we all, right?

My own mother died three years ago and the wound is still very fresh. It wasn’t a conscious factor when writing LoBD, (see the previous post for how consciously I write anything) but in my read-over, it is impossible for me not to find resonance in Lan’s memories of this vanished person, who she both idolizes and blames, doesn’t always understand, but profoundly misses. All of my books tend to strike along a central theme of Family and never is it more apparent than in this book. It wasn’t deliberate and I can only hope it reads well, because the kinds of family situations that exist in Beautiful Dead’s world are so far removed from my own experience that it was almost like writing for aliens.

Anyway, please enjoy the story of Lan’s mother and how she lost her coat (it’s not my favorite mother snippet, but my favorite will just have to wait until publication because it’s something of a spoiler), and then it’s back to edits. Also, it’s something of a downer, so be prepared.

* * *

“She was a child when she came to this country,” Lan said. “She didn’t remember how old. Maybe seven. Maybe only five or six. She used to live in a big house, painted grey and white. She said from her bedroom window, she could see the sea, but they never went there that she remembered. Not until the Eaters came. No one knew what happened yet. No one knew it was you. There was a whole ocean between you and my mother’s home, but the dead rose up anyway and started eating people.”

Azrael did not flinch or drop his eyes.

“They couldn’t get out of the city. All the cars were stuck on the road and so people were driving crazy, trying to get through anyway and crashing their cars and then they’d raise up and so there were Eaters on the road, going car to car and no one could get away. So they couldn’t get out of the city, but the city was even worse. People were shooting Eaters and shooting each other, which only made more Eaters, and buildings were burning and no one even knew why or what had happened. But somehow, someone over there came up with this plan to put all the kids in town that could get to them on a boat and take them to England. Just until whatever was happening was over, because they didn’t think it was happening in England and England was the only country they could think of that was far away and friendly. This was the plan. What kind of plan was that?” Lan asked him. That wasn’t part of the story. She hadn’t really meant to ask, but it came bubbling out of her all the same. “What kind of ass-headed plan…? She had no one, knew no one. Her parents thought they were saving her. Instead, they put her on a boat and sent her right into your glorious shadow. And she was five or six or seven. And she was all alone.”

Azrael said nothing.

“The ocean was cold. That’s all she remembered of the trip across. It took a long time and she mostly stayed in her room with the other kids. Sometimes, they were let out on the deck, but the wind was so cold and sometimes it snowed, so even if they were let out, she mostly stayed in her room. All she had was what she was wearing: her pajamas, her rubber boots, and her coat. There wasn’t time to pack others or even to really get dressed. And it was so cold that she hardly ever took the coat off, even indoors. It was pink, with white fuzz on the edges like fur, but not really. When the boat came close to the shore, they called all the kids up onto the deck. It was dark and it was snowing. All the kids were trying to stand in the middle of other kids because it was warmer there, but my mom was so little, she got shoved to the outside. She was right next to the rails in the very front of the boat. So she saw everything. She could see fires burning in the city, but no lights on. And the boat was going to dock anyway,” said Lan, shaking her head. “How could anyone see that and just dock anyway? How could they not know?”

“What would you have had them do?” Azrael asked quietly. “Sail the Earth forever? Perhaps they were out of food. Perhaps they thought…at least it would end quickly.”

“Nothing ends. That’s the point, isn’t it? They all but fed those kids to your Eaters and, quick or not, that’s a fucking awful way to go.”

He did not answer that.

“It was dark,” said Lan, after a few calming breaths and a drink of water. “But my mother could see shapes moving on the shore. She thought they were people, their new moms and dads, coming to get them. But they didn’t stop when they reached the end of the pier. They fell into the water, she said, and they kept coming until she could see this white, churning wave coming right at them. The boat never even had the chance to dock. The Eaters hit the side of the boat and kept piling up. It wasn’t quick, but it was…inevitable, she called it. Like the sun setting. They piled up higher and came over the rails and suddenly everyone was screaming. The boat kept going. It broke through the pier and crashed into the whatsis, the docking place. The hull stoved in and the boat started to flip over. The waves came over the side and kids were being washed overboard, right into the Eaters in the water. My mother fell too, but a wave picked her up. She grabbed hands with a boy in the water and the wave took them both to the pier. It put her down on top of the boards. It slammed him into the side and crushed him dead. That was how my mother came to England.”

“She lost her coat in the water, one assumes.”

“No, she still had it then. It was a big, puffy coat. She used to say it was what saved her, actually. It was full of air, like a life-vest. Anyway, there was no one left of the crew on the boat. No one to meet them on shore. Eaters bloody everywhere and no one to help. All she could see of the city was burning buildings and the boat sinking off the pier. All she could hear was sirens and screams. The kids all scattered as soon as they reached shore and most of them got taken down by Eaters pretty much right off. My mother was one of a group that climbed in through the window of a dockside warehouse or something. Understand, this place was in sight of the boat she’d come in on. She could have thrown a rock and hit it. But she thought she was safe, like a child who thinks pulling the blankets up over her head at night will keep the monsters out. She slept that night with her hood pulled up, the hood on her coat, for just that reason. It was a big, puffy coat,” Lan said again. “She couldn’t hear through it very well. She never heard the Eater come in through the window.”

Azrael raked his eyes across the table, then stabbed a small game bird of some sort off a platter and transferred it to his plate. He began to carve it, somewhat forcefully.

“It was only dumb luck it didn’t get her instead of the little girl it did get. It dragged her down and tore her open while she was still screaming and my mom saw her guts coming out. The little girl’s name was Sharon. My mother remembers that because she was wearing a nametag. It said, Hello, my name is Sharon. If I’m alone, please help me find an adult.”

Azrael put down his knife and fork and tore the leg off the bird with his hands.

“All the other kids ran, but my mom grabbed an axe—don’t ask me what an axe was doing lying around, because I don’t know—and hit him in the back. She severed his spine and no, he didn’t die, but he couldn’t get up either. He lay there and writhed instead, snapping his teeth while Mom tried to drag him off of Sharon. And when she finally rolled him over, Sharon got up. The rest of her guts fell out, but she still got up. Mom had to cut her head off to stop her. Would you like to know how my mother lost her coat?”

“Not especially.”

“She took it off because she couldn’t get the blood out. That’s how young she was—she left behind her only coat just because it got bloody.”

* * *

The Land of the Beautiful Dead

coming soon




Books With A Mind of Their Own

Well, it’s been two weeks since I said I’d make a new post tomorrow so, yeah…right on time.

The Land of the Beautiful Dead is finally into the editing phase and I immediately hit a major continuity problem which is involving massive rewrites in addition to the usual last-minute research crap, which will take extra time because the book is not set in a familiar location. It’s times like these I have to laugh at the popular misconception that writers make stuff up. Okay, so maybe some do, but I don’t. Some time ago, I remarked on the fact that the number one thing my readers ask me is where I get my ideas (closely followed by “Why do you get your ideas, dear God, why?”), and I don’t offhand recall my song-and-dance answer, but it occurs to me as I grind away on these edits that a far better question is, “How do you get your ideas?” because I think that’s a better look inside the writer’s head.

My head is mostly full of horror and porn and dinosaurs (and frequently, sexy killer dinosaurs)…



…and now and then, one of them crawls out of the sea and flops around in the sand until it loses its gills and grows lungs and stands up on all fours and lets out its mighty yawp and I have really efffed up this metaphor. My point is, I get an idea, but I rarely sit down and write it out. I watch it first. I’m a very visual writer; I tend not to think in words, but rather, see pictures and attempt to describe them on paper. This is worth mentioning solely to illustrate that it does no good at all asking me how a new project of mine is going to end, because most of the time, I don’t know. Seriously. No clue. Haven’t seen that part yet. In fact, several extremely vital plot points of various books whooshed right over my head for weeks if not months before plopping out on the page in front of me, and I was just as shocked as I hope you were.

Example: In The Last Hour of Gann (spoiler incoming), the hateful human S’kot attempts to bump Amber off with an overdose of some heavy-duty synthetic opiate. I had no idea this was going to happen. Hilariously, because I write whatever scene is clearest and therefore jump around the timeline (hence my current situation with editing LoBD), I had written several extremely obvious clues that this was indeed what happened. Amber had gone from a fairly tough little cookie in her early scenes to someone who was clearly physically weakened (Meoraq even had a line where he directly referred to her illness: “You have suffered severe illness which makes you tire more easily. You may improve in that regard with rest and time, I don’t know, but for now, you do tire easily, which makes you weak.”); I spent a ridiculous amount of time listing the various items in the medikit, which I then never used, all but shining a spotlight on the drug I ultimately used to bump Amber off, and made a point of saying an overdose would be lethal; I had even written the scene wherein Scott and the other surviving humans are rediscovered and wrote Scott’s extremely weird reaction to hearing that Amber was still alive, but I still thought, like Amber, that she’d been bit by a snake or something, right up until I actually wrote the confrontation scene between Meoraq and Scott and watched as the weaselly little bastard snuck out of his tent and plugged Amber in the arm. I mean, my mind was blown. It’s like I knew it all along, except I didn’t.

I tell you all that to tell you this: I had no idea when I first sat down to write The Land of the Beautiful Dead that it would be set in England. I’m an American. I write books that are at least marginally set in America, not because I’m all flag-waving and crazy patriotic as much as I’m just really, really lazy. I know what America looks like and I know how Americans think and eat and talk. America’s awesome and if I were writing a book about the zombie apocalypse in its purest form, with survivors all surviving and stuff, shooting zombies and driving brand new Ford Focuses (Foci?) through the wasted landscape four flipping years after all the Ford factory workers were, you know, eaten by zombies (it’s nice to know Ford hires the walking dead), then I would definitely set the book in America. But that isn’t the story. The story is about Azrael  and it’s entirely possible that Azrael didn’t even know America existed. Sure, we got hit by the zombie-wave too, but it wasn’t personal. Okay, it was very personal, but it was personal on a global scale. When Azrael finally lost it and hulked out, he didn’t pick and choose. He had it in him to scrag the whole human race and he popped his Frozen soundtrack on and let that shit go.

The cold never bothered me anyway.

The cold never bothered me anyway.

Now, Azrael is old. It’s possible he could have walked to America back when everyone else was doing it, but he didn’t. It’s also possible he could have just, you know, walked. The ocean bottom is a peaceful place and drowning for a few years while he made the trip couldn’t be any worse than all the other horrible ways he passed his time. But again, he didn’t. He went underground somewhere in Eastern Europe (my guess is Romania, probably not too far from the Scholomance, and wouldn’t that be a kick in the ass if only he’d known, because I’m sure they’d have let him in) and when it all went down, he went to England. He had his reasons. And because that was where he was, that was where the story happened, and thusly, that was where Lan had to be too.

Now here’s the funny thing. Lan was born in what was left of England after Azrael moved in, but Lan’s mother was American. Why? Again, not deliberate. It’s just one of those things that came out when I was writing. Lan’s mother was American and she did her best to keep her culture alive in her daughter (and, as with so many things our parents do, it was not always appreciated). And that served me fairly well, because, no offense, but Brits can be cliquish around foreigners at the best of times and a zombie apocalypse is far, far from the best of times. Lan’s mother was ultimately taken in, because despite the impression some people have of me from reading my books, I actually think people are mostly good and will do the right thing given the opportunity, but she was never really assimilated and as a result, neither did Lan. Some people may think this is because I am a lazy writer and would rather stick with what I know, to wit, ‘Murica, and they would have a valid point. But honestly, it’s just where the story happened and who happened to show up in it. Likewise, some will want to point out various landmarks and so forth that I’ve omitted, to which I preemptively reply, there was a war.  Even in peacetime, cities can change a lot in thirty years and after a war, places can be almost unrecognizable. Also, some will correctly point out that Azrael’s court is nothing like a real British court of any era, and they are absolutely right. Azrael is not emulating any particular fashion or tradition, he’s just made himself comfortable, adopting certain styles and habits that appealed to him and ignoring others. Which is pretty much my same attitude when writing.

Shown here, my attitude toward editing.

Shown here, my attitude toward editing.

So you’ve all been very patient while I blathered on. Would you like to read a snippet? This one went over really well with my British betas. (I love England, I swear I do.):

* * *

“Do you know why I came here?” Azrael asked suddenly. “Here, of all places on this Earth I might have taken.”

Lan looked around the room.

“Not to this palace,” he said with a dismissive wave. “What is it to me but a stack of brick and a dry roof? No, to this land. This…island.”

“Well, if I had to guess, I’d say you liked it here.”

“Mark the tone in which you suggest it,” he said with a humorless smile. “It is the very voice of doubt. I put it to you: Do you like it here? Did you like the life you had in Norwood? Do you miss it?”

Lan bristled, but could not think of any answer that was both affirmative and honest.

“No. You don’t,” he said for her. “This land is shaped from bitter clay. It is cold. Hard. Men have long since stripped it of whatever natural life it held and then buried it under the choking sprawl of their own cities, which have since fallen. Its watery veins are toxic. Its enclosing seas are always angry. It has the most desolate soil, the most miserable weather, the most loveless and unfriendly landscape. It is a wretched place,” he concluded, thumping a finger on the table to emphasize each word. “Of all my wanderings, it is the most wretched place one can live. Oh, there are lands more barren,” he said as she opened her mouth to protest. “Frozen lands, sere lands, lands infected with more virulent disease and lands teeming with more noisome and lethal beasts…but these are lands that kill. And I am weary unto death, so to speak, of dying, Lan, forever dying. When I ascended, when I had the king’s cut of all Earth had to offer, I thought, ‘I will take this land and set myself within it, for who would ever stay where the Devil dens?’”

“But it was their home!”

“Home? Home is a word, child. Your mother could have told you of a time when humans changed their home simply because they did not like the view from the windows. No, this is not their home. This is a forsaken grey Hell of stony soil set down in the very shadow of the greatest Evil humankind has ever known, and the only reason to root themselves to it is to harry me.”

* * *