Writing and Other Afflictions

"If it was easy, everyone would do it." –Jimmy Dugan, "A League of Their Own"

Book Release: The Tower and the Fox

I’ve been working on this book for some seven years, which is a record for me unless I dig up one of my trunk novels and try to publish that (spoiler: my trunk novels would need to be rewritten and no, that is not happening). What happened was that I started writing this story, and then it got too big and became two books, and then there wasn’t a lot happening in the first book so I got dissatisfied with it and shelved it, and then one friend said, “You can write better now than you did when you wrote that,” and so I started from scratch and rewrote the whole thing (keeping a few passages I really liked), which is also by the way what I’m doing now with the second book. Along the way I had an idea for a sequel, which became the third book when the first one split and then became the fourth book when another friend made an offhand comment after reading the new draft of the first and I realized I needed another book between 2 and 3. So that’s how a book becomes a four-book series.

The book takes place around Prince George’s College of Sorcery in the Royal Colony of Massachusetts Bay in 1815, which means that yes, there is magic and the American Revolution has not (yet) happened. Kip Penfold, one of a race of animal-people called Calatians created by magic four hundred years before, is trying to become the first of his kind to enroll in the college and become a sorcerer. The opportunity has arisen for him because of a mysterious attack that decimated the ranks of the College and made them desperate for new students. Even so, not everyone is on board with this, not many of the sorcerers, his classmates, nor even the rest of the Calatians in the nearby town of New Cambridge where he grew up. The Tower and the Fox follows Kip’s quest to be accepted as apprentice to one of the sorcerers at the College while preserving his relationships with his community and while surrounded by the mystery of who attacked the College and whether–when–it will happen again.

Kip is a fox (of course) and his best friend Coppy is an otter. Also enrolling at the college are Emily Carswell, the first woman to enroll in a College of Sorcery, and several other students who will offer Kip grief or support throughout the few months leading up to the decision about an apprenticeship. Along the way he will find a mysterious book that nobody else can read and a voice that speaks to him from the ancient White Tower that was the only building spared in the attack, in addition to more practical mysteries such as “is there anything another student can do to him that would actually result in them being punished?”

The Tower and the Fox is coming out in July from Argyll Productions, and should be available on Amazon in physical form as well as on most major e-book sites in digital form (digital might be August). The cover and all the interior art is by Laura Garabedian and it looks fantastic.

I’ll leave this page up for info on the book, and will post again when it’s available.


What Now?

a eulogy

He was a dog who did things his way.

When Mark, Jack, and I adopted Kobalt in October 2015, I felt like he chose us. We drove two hours to meet him, a black German Shepherd dog who’d been found wandering the streets of Sacramento, and the first thing he did upon meeting me was rub his head against my midsection. We were convinced. I drove up again three days later to pick him up.

The first few months were tough. He had his own ideas about the role of a dog in a house, which included barking at other dogs (we later grew to suspect that he just didn’t know how to play, and his idea of “play” was to run at the other dog barking, which usually led the other dog to attack him in panic, totally reasonably; though sometimes he also did seem to be warning off other dogs) and biting strangers he thought were threats.

We despaired of being able to keep him. We went so far as to write a letter to the rescue agency saying that we wouldn’t be able to keep him. But then, around that time, Kobalt came into my office and I remember him giving me a look. Most dog owners are familiar with the “what now?” look: head raised, eyes wide, ears up. From this dog, who’d survived as a stray on the streets and felt supremely confident, it felt like a sign that we’d earned his trust. He wanted to stay with us. He wanted to know what the rules were.

We never sent the letter we’d written. Instead, we worked on a series of compromises. The (brand new) couch was fair game for him, always; the most we could do was put sheets on it so it would be easy to clean. Taking food from our table and plates was a no-no and incurred the worst punishment: banishment to a room we weren’t in. We only did that a few times, and then he learned to respect us, and we learned not to leave food unattended.

Kobalt was the smartest dog I ever knew, insatiably curious about his environment and what the rules and patterns were. He had figured out how to live in foster homes, and he remembered how to live in a home where he was The Dog (we never found out his backstory, but he was so gentle with people that he must have been loved). Once he realized that we were the latter and not the former, he adapted. In any new situation he explored and watched, looking for the patterns so he could anticipate them, whether it was the angle at which we’d kick a ball or the times of day he went for walks or where we would hide Kongs for his dinner. Any new game we invented, he learned the rules within a few tries. He invented some games of his own, with his favorite ball or with the Kongs, and then when we got good at his games, he’d cheat. There was always intention and opinion behind his actions, and he seemed to take time to think about them. And he dreamed so much! We have countless videos of his paws twitching, and I caught his tail wagging in his sleep a couple times. Every indication was that his mind was highly active and engaged.

We loved that about him. When we could see how much thought he put into his life, how deliberately he made his choices, we knew that whenever he chose us, that was something he wanted. It was how he showed his heart. I don’t know that he obeyed us so much as he let us explain why it was better for him to sit, or wait, or lie down, and then decide that we had made a persuasive argument. He made us laugh so many times when he figured out a pattern and took a shortcut.

He knew he was responsible for his pack. When he wouldn’t listen to us, it was never angrily, but calmly resolute. Most often the example was that two of us went for a walk and one of us would split off to go to the store. Kobalt strained to follow the departing pack member, and if denied, he would simply sit down and stare off in the direction they’d gone. He wouldn’t complain or bark, he’d just give us that look: well? What now? Sometimes he could be coaxed with treats, and sometimes he’d see another dog and forget why he was waiting, but sometimes we gave in. The moment we took steps in the direction the other person had gone, he would spring up and lead us happily there.

He wasn’t demonstrative. He wouldn’t wag his tail when we came home or bark excitedly or jump up on us. But he showed he loved us in so many other ways. For example: he would come to the door when we returned, if we’d left him alone. We made him sit before we would open the door, but we never had to worry about him running out; if we were coming in, that’s where he wanted to be. And true to his nature, after a few times being told to sit when we came home, he would run to the door, see us, and sit without being told, staring eagerly through the windows of our door until we came in.

For another example: when one of us took him for a walk, when he came back he’d run around the house looking for the rest of us, to make sure he knew where we were. If one of us went to the bathroom and closed the door, often we would open it to find him sitting or lying there, looking up at the door, waiting for us to come out, whereupon he’d follow us back to wherever we were going. If we left the door open while we showered, he would come into the bathroom and poke his nose into the shower, making sure he could see us so he knew we were safe.

He did everything his way, the way he thought was best, and while he was very food-motivated, mostly what he thought was best was that the four of us should be together. That made it easy for us to make the same choices, to prioritize being with him whenever we could. If one of us left on a trip, he wouldn’t be visibly stressed, but he would look for that person in the places he usually found them, or he would sit outside their room hoping they would come back there. When the family member returned home, he might favor them with some rare kisses, or he might pout because they’d left, or both, but he definitely relaxed and was most content when all of us were home—as were all of us.

As the years went on, his mobility declined due to back issues and arthritis in his elbow, but he adapted. He learned to run after his ball with his back two legs pushing off together rather than alternating; it wasn’t as fast as he had been, but he could still run well. When even that became too difficult, he adapted further, taking rests on his walks when he needed to. When his back was diagnosed with herniated disks in summer 2020, the neurologist told us that she expected the condition to deteriorate so that he could no longer walk in 6-18 months. We hired a physical therapist to do exercises with him, and in March 2023—some 30+ months after the 6-18 month prognosis—though he could barely get up on his own, he could still trot after his ball with surprising speed. True to his nature, he developed strategies: he wouldn’t put on a burst of speed unless he knew he could get to the ball before us. If we were kicking it along the ground and he was walking alongside, he would walk a little ahead of the ball because he knew eventually we’d kick it forward to him.

In late 2021 he started having persistent nasal discharges with some blood sometimes, and that turned out to be a carcinoma in his nasal cavity. He underwent two procedures to fight it, in September and December 2022. Both succeeded for a month or two, and then it returned. But he never let the cancer or his mobility issues get in the way of his joy in life. When he couldn’t follow us from room to room, he barked if we left him alone to tell us to get back where he could see us. When he no longer wanted to go on long walks, he went on short ones; when he no longer wanted to go on short ones, he was very happy sitting in the grass of our back yard, rain or shine, and catching balls we’d toss to him. He’d guard them between his paws, and if we reached in to get them, he’d press his neck down to pin our arm or foot in place.

In March 2023, I had booked a six-day trip to Texas for a convention, and because a friend’s dog had recently passed after a very fast deterioration, I was scared the same thing would happen to Kobalt. I promised to cut my trip short if anything happened. But nothing did; I came back and got welcome-back kisses from him, and the next day we played out back in the sun and grass. He caught his ball and chased it and he was happy with all of us there around him. It was a very good day.

We’d known the day was coming when we’d have to make a decision about his quality of life. We made checklists of the things he loved to do and whether he could still do them: eat his food, play with ball, be with us. But we should’ve known he wouldn’t let us decide that for him. The day after that very good day, when he got to do all the things he loved, he woke in some distress, and his condition deteriorated quickly. We rushed him to the hospital, but he passed on the way there. Even at the last, he knew best and he died in his own way, in his own time, surrounded by family rather than on a hospital table. I know that these sudden things are often beyond our control, but I believe firmly that he made some decisions. I believe that he waited for me to get back, that he was happy to be with his family when his time came. Even the small mercy of dying on the way to the hospital rather than at home meant we could grieve him and then leave his remains to others rather than have to call someone while he lay at home. He was a very good boy to the end.

One of the very last pictures we have of him, from that morning, is of him looking up at me as I approach. What now? he’s asking, in pain.

I didn’t have a good answer then; I knelt behind him and stroked his head and chest as he rested in my lap, reassured him that he was with family and loved, and his quick, distressed breaths slowed as he calmed. That was the last meaningful interaction I had with him, and I could not have chosen a better one.

When I see him in my mind now, which I do all the time, he’s lying on his bed in the living room and perked up as I come into the room. His ears go up, his eyes widen, and he looks expectant. What now? he wants to know.

We’re asking ourselves the same thing. The house that felt too small to contain his boundless energy when he arrived now feels too small to escape his absence. He was part of our routines, ever-present in our lives for seven and a half years. Without him, we have to rebuild routines around the reminders that are everywhere.

But he left us with so much love. We built our family with him, and through him we learned to be patient, to be communicative, to be loving. We will continue to be all those things for each other, and because he would want us to. In time, other things will fill our days, but there will always be a black German Shepherd curled up in our hearts.

And I know that if there’s a place for the very best dogs to go when their time with us is done, he’s there for sure, asking, What now? He’ll figure it out quickly, and he’ll know just what to do.

The Good Smell (2023)

This story was published in Zooscape in 2020. It was always about Kobalt, but I named him Shadow in the story so as to make it, I dunno, more professional or something? Shadow was a name we discussed for him because he was all black, but also because he would follow us around from room to room, silently shadowing us, just wanting to be near.

I’m posting the story here, but I’ve changed Shadow’s name back to Kobalt. Here, now, it seems appropriate. I reserve the right to change my mind back in the future.

Kobalt wearing his pride bandana in fall 2021

The food smell led Kobalt a way he hadn’t gone before, so he placed his paws carefully among the jagged pieces of brick and concrete. He stayed to the shadows where he could, letting the darkness hide his black-furred form, and he kept his ears perked high for any noises other than the skittering of little rodents and the buzzing of insects. An 80-pound German Shepherd could handle most things he encountered these days, but not all, and even if he won a fight, he might sustain an injury more serious than those mapped in scars around his body.

Wind swirled and the smell floated around his head. He stopped and lifted his nose, turning one way and then another until the breeze died down and the trail picked up again. Raccoon and blood: fresh, less than a day old. Though he had to find his way around a car that smelled of old fire, over a pile of rubble that clawed at his sensitive paws, and through a gap in a metal gate bent and buckled from the outside (yet still somehow standing), he didn’t mind the obstacles because his nose told him the struggle was worth it.

It was worth passing up the half-rotted possum carcass for this; it was worth abandoning the faint smell behind the cold scentless steel that he knew could open but had never figured out how. This was the kind of thing that sometimes took him most of a day to find, and some days he didn’t find it at all.

The houses around him, some whole, some damaged, remained mostly quiet. The bad smell lingered faintly around some of them, but not so much that his hackles raised. This area had not been easy to get into, but once he made his way through the gate, he felt the difference in the world, an easing of tension. The bad smell was the worst thing he would have to watch out for, worse than other dogs or sharp stones or groups of people with death-bangs, so he walked down the middle of the street along the smooth asphalt, moving to the cooler sidewalk when he could.

He found the source of the food smell soon after: a house that looked not too different from the others. The smell might be inside, he thought until he came to one side of the house where a large tree leaned against it and more of the sharp-clawed rubble lay around the base. The smell of dust was fresh here, as were the smells of other raccoons, cats, and other dogs.

One dog smell in particular came strongly to him, and now his hackles did go up. His ears went straight up and he stood still and quiet, sniffing and listening.

After a moment, he heard it: slow steps and snuffling, the other dog. It was coming around the corner of the house behind him. As quietly as he could, he turned and stood facing that corner, waiting, and when the dog came around the corner, Kobalt sized it up in half a second—half his size, scrawny, only a minor threat—and then leapt forward while the black-and-white dog was still surprised. He barked as loudly as he could: back off, get out!

The dog yelped and stumbled backwards and then took off at a run. Kobalt watched, because sometimes they stopped at a distance to size up the situation, but this dog kept going until he was out of sight behind a house across the street.

After that, it was an easy matter—more or less—to make his way up the trunk of the tree to where the raccoon lay crushed between a branch and the claws of the broken roof of the house. Kobalt had to tear the body to get it free, so he fed himself from the smaller pieces until he felt stronger, enough to take the edge off his hunger. This would be a good time to rest, up on the roof, if only he didn’t need to bring this prize back.

So he hefted the furred body in his jaws, shifting it until he got a good grip, and then made his way down the trunk. The other dog, if it were still around, kept its distance, and Kobalt remained undisturbed as he returned down the quiet street to the gate.

At the metal bars, he had to push the raccoon through and drop it before squeezing himself through. He bent to pick it up and then hesitated. His nose was full of raccoon and blood, but a sound came to him, several creatures moving together heedless of noise. He stepped away from the raccoon and lifted his nose and there it was, faint but fresh on the air. His hackles rose.

He grabbed the raccoon, but it slipped, loose skin and thick coat too much for his teeth to find purchase. The noises grew, definitely coming toward him. He found a grip and pulled, dragging the body along the ground, but at least he was moving.

When he got to the sharp-clawed rubble, he had to slow down even more, and that’s where they caught him.

The bad smell came off them in waves, like the dead raccoon but more wrong, and these creatures were like humans but they moved unnaturally, swinging their limbs like dead weight, their heads listing at an angle. They did not make the familiar barks of humans, none of the words Kobalt knew, but instead made noises like a dying animal that never died. The sound of their steps was something like the sound of his raccoon being dragged across rocks.

They did not move fast; unencumbered, he could outrun them. But to do so would mean leaving his prize behind for them to tear at and eat. It might take him days to find anything else as good.

He’d fought one of these things once, months ago. They were not good fighters but they kept going and they used their paws and teeth when they got in close. One could be dispatched with quick, savvy lunges, staying out of reach of the clublike limbs. But how could he stay out of the way of many? There were more than he could keep track of easily, and though they weren’t fast, they remained close together so that in leaping out of reach of one, he might put himself in danger from another.

On top of all that, he had to guard his raccoon. He started with sharp barks, but they did not run. Humans only understood his barks about half the time anyway, and he knew these things were not human, but the barks bubbled up inside of him and had to be voiced. When they kept advancing, he leapt at the nearest one, tearing away pieces of the leg, hoping to at least cripple it.

For the first few minutes, he thought he might be able to keep them away. One went down to its knees, struggling to pull itself across the rubble. He took aim at another, but then saw that one had reached his raccoon and he ran back over the rocks that clawed at him to throw his weight at it, knocking it over. The bad smell filled his mouth but he tore at the neck, at the arms, at the legs, and the thing did not even cry out or howl, but gurgled and sputtered and flailed.

A weight landed on him, driving him down into the rubble. Stone teeth stabbed his side and leg and his foreleg twisted awkwardly. He yelped once, struggled, and then barked again. Dead flesh clawed at his sides and teeth grazed his leg. He kicked out and felt his claws sink into softness, ripping it, but still the thing did not stop.

His feet found purchase and he sprang free, but as he regained his balance, another of the creatures loomed over him. He seized the raccoon and lurched away, but rocks rolled out from under him and he tumbled backwards.

Now panic rose despite his instincts. They were all around him now, and all that saved him was that they seemed more interested in the raccoon than him. He would have to let it go if he wanted to live. He would have to. He—

A loud crash shattered the air. Kobalt folded his ears back as one of the things fell across him again. But it didn’t claw or bite, just lay there.

The noise of the death-bang still echoed when the next one came, and another, and another. The bad smell filled his nose, overwhelming even the smell of his raccoon. His ears rang.

When the bangs stopped, he couldn’t hear what was going on around him, but he knew he had to get free. His hind legs pushed at the ground, scattering rocks and seeking purchase to shift the weight from over him.

A shape came into his vision: a human. Startled, he barked, and the human put a hand out. “Good boy,” it said, and then some other barks in a calm tone.

Kobalt stilled, watching it. It looked up above him and tapped the side of its head. “Good <bark>,” it said. and then, “<bark bark bark bark> dog.”

The weight on him shifted. He struggled again and a voice behind him said, “Shh, good boy, wait.”

He stopped, making sure he had a good grip on his raccoon. Now the ringing in his ears faded and he heard noises around him again, Several humans, barking in low voices to each other, dragging the bodies of the creatures into a pile together.

The weight came off him. He got to his feet, shook himself, and then picked up his raccoon, looking warily around at the humans. The one in front of him remained crouched. “Good boy,” it barked again, its tone remaining calm.

It didn’t reach for the raccoon, so Kobalt stepped carefully to one side, waiting to see if the human would stop him or follow. He caught its scent now through the thick smell of raccoon and the receding bad smell: she was female.

She watched him pick his way over the clawed stones and to the edge of the rubble. He waited there for a moment and then kept going along his path.

They followed him, crashing and stomping their way behind him, which was a good thing in general. The noise would likely scare away anything Kobalt couldn’t handle on his own. He did not want to lead them all the way back, but he couldn’t move faster than them, not burdened as he was.

So they came to his street finally and to the house with the car where the door should be and the old rubble around it. Kobalt ignored the humans until they arrived at the house, and there he did not want to show them the way in, so as much as he wanted to go inside, he set down the raccoon and lay beside it, staring at them.

They barked among themselves a little, but didn’t go away. He appreciated that loyalty in them, and an instinct in him tugged gently toward that group. They had followed him and he could follow them; they had the good smell and they were good hunters. But stronger instinct and loyalty kept him lying where he was.

Scuffling movement came from the house behind him. His ears swiveled back, and then one of the people in front of him barked in alarm and pointed at the window. Another raised her death-bang as their alarmed barks grew louder.

Kobalt sprang to his feet and barked: go away, get out! When they didn’t move, he ran to the window and stood in front of it facing them, and barked again.

The one with the death-bang raised it. Kobalt came forward and barked again, his voice higher with panic. He couldn’t fight a death-bang but he couldn’t let them use it, either.

The human who’d crouched in front of him put her hand on the death-bang, and the other human lowered it. They all watched him, and then the human said, “Good boy,” and barked some more in a calm voice.

Kobalt stayed alert, and barked again: get out!

This time, they understood. “Come on,” the first human said, but to the other humans, not to Kobalt. “<bark bark> go.”

He watched as they retreated to the end of the street and turned the corner out of sight. Their smell lingered in the air. Maybe they were waiting for him. It would be good to hunt with a pack again, if they could let him bring food into the house. When he set out again, he would remember their scent.

With some difficulty, he got the raccoon up onto the car, and from there onto the small porch roof. He pushed the raccoon through the narrowly open window and then squeezed through himself.

The bed he landed on let out a puff of dust and familiar scent. He whined softly and nosed the sheet, but the scent was cold and faint.

Raccoon in his mouth, he walked down the hall to the stairs and from there down to the large room on the first floor. His hackles rose instinctively, but he went forward and dropped the raccoon on the carpet where he’d eaten so many meals in the past.

They lurched out of the shadows as he retreated to the stairs, the sound and smell of meat drawing them forward. These creatures were not as decayed as the ones that had attacked him earlier. Their clothes bore tatters and stains, but their flesh remained mostly intact.

He stayed on the landing, looking down as the figures tore into the raccoon, eating noisily, shredding it with clumsy fingers and dull teeth. Kobalt’s stomach growled, but he kept still, resting his head on his front paws.

When they were done, they might be ravenous for more, but he’d fed them yesterday too, so he hoped they would be quiet. And if they were quiet, then he would go down among them and hope that they would rest their hands on him and rest beside him. When they did that, he felt their love like a flicker trapped under rubble, and he knew that the good smell would return to them one day, if only he remained on the right path.


(I wrote this piece in spring of 2021.)

We adopted a dog in October 2015. Kobalt came with that name and we decided to keep it. He was estimated at four and a half years old but nobody really knew; they’d found him on the streets of Sacramento and so had no history on him at all. He’s an unusual all-black GSD (tan has come out on his legs as he ages) and the first time we met him, he came right up to me and pressed his head against my midsection. We didn’t formally decide to adopt him until we were driving home, but if I’m being honest, I fell in love with him right then.

Rescue dogs have all, by definition, endured at least the trauma of separation from an owner. Many have been abused in other ways, but that didn’t seem to be the case with Kobalt. He was friendly with all of us immediately, had clearly been trained, and knew and liked interacting with people. He was dog-reactive, but we’d had a dog-reactive GSD previously and had experience dealing with that behavior. The main problem we found with him was that the separation from his original family had given him a fear of abandonment. 

This is common in rescue dogs, too. We’d been told that Kobalt would sit quietly in a crate while people left, but he was smart enough to know the difference between a foster family with other dogs and a family where he was the only dog. The first week we had him, he barked and howled when left alone in the house. The first night, he was nosing at our plates while we ate dinner, so we tried putting him upstairs in a crate. He howled and bent the metal crate so much that we had to re-bend it to get the door to work, and the plastic tray in the crate broke. As soon as someone came up to sit with him, he settled down. He wanted more than anything to be in the room where we were, to know that we weren’t going to leave him alone. Whatever he’d gone through to end up wandering alone on the streets, it remained a powerful thing in his mind, a fate to be avoided at all costs.

I could relate.

When I was ten, my mother was killed in a car accident. I still had the rest of my family, but that kind of shock leaves a mark. Being human, we bury the mark, but it finds its way out in all kinds of ways, some easier to trace back to the source than others. You might withdraw from those close to you to lessen the sting when (inevitably, you feel) someone will be ripped away from your life. You might, when someone you care about is late, find yourself envisioning terrible scenarios and playing out your reactions in a poking-at-open-wounds kind of way. You might find yourself drawn to narratives of ghosts and speaking from beyond the grave. And you might pursue a rescue dog so you could help another creature who’d lost his family.

With dogs, all of the marks are clear enough that even without any direct knowledge of Kobalt’s history, we could piece together bits of it. He’d been raised by a family and he’d been part of it, allowed on furniture and probably well loved. Food was the most valuable thing in the world; he knew simple commands like “sit” and “down,” but his responsiveness was remarkable when food was in the offing. He understood our three-person household immediately, bonding with each of us in different ways, and made himself a part of it.

When on walks, the most reliable way to get Kobalt to do something was to offer him a treat, but the second strongest pull was to have one of the three of us walk away from the group. Kobalt instantly ignored whoever was on the leash to follow the person who was leaving. If distracted by another dog or by treats to the point that he could no longer see the person who was gone, often he would just lie down and stare in the direction they’d gone, determined to wait for them. For a time, one of our traditions was to walk down to the train station in the evening where we would meet up with the other two, when they took the same train back from work. Once that pattern was established, Kobalt got excited for those walks and would pull me toward the train. Sometimes, when he and I were out alone (or with only one other), he’d pull toward the train station anyway. That was where we found lost people! 

As a German Shepherd, it’s likely that he felt responsible for us when we went outside. The world is a dangerous place, full of other dogs and cats and cars and whatnot, and he’d lost his previous people somehow. He wasn’t going to lose us. He’s a stoic dog and a working dog; outside of the house, he’s patrolling and keeping his pack safe. Even when we found people at the train station he wouldn’t really display any signs of affection. Maybe a little wag of the tail, but then it was “good, you’re here and safe, I’m doing my job.”

As the years went by, Kobalt started to trust us a little more. We always came back, always found him, and perhaps his trauma receded somewhat. He still prefers it when all three of us are with him, but that might be because that increases the chance that we’ll go to a Starbucks and get pastries which we’ll share with him. Now, sometimes when one of us walks away during a dog walk, he’ll stare after that person but will keep trying to bring the rest of us to a treat place. He knows that people often catch up, will rejoin the group, aren’t lost when they go out of sight.

I can relate to this, too. Your past experiences stick with you, they linger, but new experiences also have an effect on you. As noted above, I know that there’s still residual trauma from my childhood kicking around in the corners, shading decisions and thoughts, sometimes surfacing. But there’s also twenty years plus of a stable relationship, and the effects of that also take effect over time.

Watching Kobalt’s acclimation to our family and growing confidence in it helped me understand and appreciate a lot of my own journey over the past many years. Helping to visibly create that environment for someone else, even an adopted dog, also makes me feel happy about our strong, loving family.

I know that he’s going to leave our family before anyone else (barring an accident). But I know, too, that when he does finally go, he’ll have spent over half his life in a warm, loving family that did its best to make up for his past. 

I can relate.

Book release: The Revolution and the Fox

Well gosh, it looks like the last time I wrote something here was when the first book in this series was coming out. Or had come out. Anyway, the series is done (or will be when this last book comes out on January 15th)! I’m really excited about this, and a little sad, because I liked writing about 19th century magic schools.

I started this series thinking about all the ways we have parental relationships in our society, whether it’s between an actual parent and child, a professional organization with a new member, or a large political body with member states (the idea of colonies has a whole other host of problems, of course). And then I invented another one, the idea of a magical race created by a human wizard and left to the stewardship of humans. Here we are four years later (more like six in-world years) and our hero, our sorcerers, and our new country are all grown up.

So this book is about what happens after that. How do you go from a newly-independent young adult, journeyman sorcerer, or whatever to a peer of the other adults in the world? How do you decide what kind of adult you’re going to be? And, especially in the case of our hero, will you ever have to actually stop proving yourself?

This book was originally supposed to bring Kip over to London where he would meet a cute fox who was Sherlock Holmes’ assistant (and the real brains behind the famous detective), never mind the sixty-year gap in when Holmes actually was supposed to have lived in London. But as the series went on, Kip went to London in the second book and met a cute fox there. Holmes fit less and less with the world and the book as it went on, and the trip to London wasn’t as world-broadening as it had seemed at first; after all, in the third book, Emily visits several other European countries. So instead of Holmes, Kip and Emily and Malcolm visit an International Exposition of Sorcery where they meet sorcerers from non-Western countries. This gave me a chance to think about all the other places in the world that would have sorcery and what their sorcerers would be like. Or–if not all the other places, a select few as representatives in the story (there’s a sequence with Russian sorcerers that I could maaaaybe have cut, but I liked the Russian sorcerers too much, so they stayed in).

This exposure to the rest of the world shows Kip and his friends that when deciding who they’re going to be, they aren’t limited to the options they grew up with. The world is growing and changing and they can be part of that change. Of course, not everyone wants to embrace the new world and leave the old one behind…

Going back to my earliest notes, this whole series has been part of my life for a dozen years now. I’m so very glad that it’s complete, out of my head, and onto the page where everyone else can enjoy it. I’m proud of this series and of this last book, and if you’re a fan of the series, I hope you’ll find this a fitting ending.

Links (it’s available for pre-order in print or e-book!):

From the publisher: https://argyllproductions.com/product/the-revolution-and-the-fox-calatians-book-4/

Bookshop.org: https://bookshop.org/books/the-revolution-and-the-fox-calatians-book-4/9781614505280

Amazon (US): https://www.amazon.com/Revolution-Fox-Calatians-Book/dp/1614505284/

Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-revolution-and-the-fox-tim-susman/1137536166?ean=9781614505280

IndieBound: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781614505280

Powell’s: https://www.powells.com/book/the-revolution-and-the-fox-9781614505280

Tower and the Fox Audiobook on sale!


Right up there (and coming soon to iTunes and Amazon), you can snag yourself a shiny copy of the audiobook of “The Tower and the Fox,” narrated by the talented Max Miller. If you’ve followed some of my other work, Max provided the voices and fantastic narration for the Dangerous Spirits audiobooks, and he’s done a terrific job on this one as well.

He’s also signed on for the second book, so I’ll start thinking about that once it’s launched. In the meantime, enjoy! And if you like it, please review it!


Coming Next Month: The Demon and the Fox

I’m excited to announce that the second book of the Calatians series, The Demon and the Fox, is now available for pre-ordering! It’ll be out just after July 4 (and if you’re going to AnthroCon in Pittsburgh, you can get it there plus a signature). This one expands Kip’s world from the narrow confines of New Cambridge, taking him to Georgia and London, and answers a number of questions while raising a few more. Laura Garabedian has again provided a fantastic cover and interior illustrations, and Argyll has put together a great presentation for it.

I hope you’ll enjoy this one while I get down to work on the third book!


New Tibet Anthology Open for Submissions

It’s been over a decade since anything was published in the New Tibet universe, but people ask me about it every year. I finally talked to Jeff and we worked out the details for a new anthology for 2018! Submissions opened today and will run for two months, so if you’ve had an idea percolating in this universe, get your stories in!

If you haven’t read any New Tibet and would like a taste of it, I’ve posted one of my stories from Shadows in Snow (which is currently out of print; Sofawolf is working on getting electronic versions out very soon) on this website. You can find my novel “Common and Precious” on Amazon and on Bad Dog Books, and Breaking the Ice (the first New Tibet anthology) is for sale on Sofawolf’s site.

I’ll be editing and hopefully also contributing a story, and I look forward to seeing what everyone else comes up with!

Tower and the Fox e-book on sale!

Happy Independence Day! To celebrate the American Revolution, my Revolutionary War-era fantasy book is now out in e-book form from baddogbooks.com. You can get it in either MOBI (Kindle) or ePub form, and you’ll be supporting an independent bookseller, not Amazon or Apple or Google.

But if you’re stuck on one of those platforms, it’ll be there come August.

Clarion Write-A-Thon time!

I’m joining the Clarion Write-A-Thon again this year! My goal is to get some editing hours in on a couple manuscripts I need to get ready for next year. If you’d like to support one of the best workshops out there for aspiring science fiction and fantasy writers, you can do it via my page. You can also support any of the other wonderful writers working this summer to raise money. This is a big part of Clarion’s funding, so anything you can do to help is greatly appreciated!

Workshopping (plus more Tower and the Fox release info!)

In 2014, I took Kij Johnson’s Novel Workshop at KU’s CSSF, and it was a great experience. Kij offers the chance to return and brainstorm with other alumni at Repeat Offenders, and this year I was able to take part in it. So I’m trying to nail down the fantasy book I want to write next year, as well as getting words down on the sequel to Tower and the Fox (titled “The Demon and the Fox”). I’ll be here through Monday the 26th and then heading home for July 4th weekend.

And in July, I’ll be attending a retreat with some of my fellow workshop alumni to hash out the outline for the third Calatians novel (and I’m not going to tell you the title of that one yet), right before spending a week at San Diego Comic-Con. Busy writing summer.

So you can see the Calatians are very much on my mind these days. The Tower and the Fox is off to the printer, the art looks magnificent, and I’m really excited to hold it as a real thing that actually exists in the world. The print version will be released at AnthroCon over July 4th weekend (I will not be there, alas) and on Amazon soon after. IN FACT, the pre-order page is already up on Amazon, if you care to mosey on over there and take a look. The Kindle version will have a preorder page up pretty soon as well, and the Kindle version (and other ePubs) will be up at baddogbooks.com in July (I have an exclusivity agreement with them for the first month), and on all the other major sites in August. I’m working on getting an audiobook into production too, but it’ll be a few months before that happens.