Interview by Mark A. King

Mark asked me some fun questions about Mage and Source and other various topics over on his blog. Read the full interview here: https://makingfiction.com/2017/07/23/mage-and-source/. Yu’ll get to see a few images ideas for Gante, as well as my soundtrack pics for the book’s opening scene.

Enjoy!

 

Seven Questions: Margaret Locke

I’m happy to welcome Margaret Locke to my blog for her third round of Seven Questions. Her latest book is The Demon Duke, a Regency romance with an unusual hero.

As a teen, Margaret pledged to write romances when she was older. Once an adult, however, she figured she ought to be doing grownup things, not penning stories. Thank goodness turning forty cured her of that silly notion.

Now happily ensconced again in the clutches of her first crush (romance novels!), Margaret is never happier than when sharing her passion for a grand Happy Ever After. Because love matters.

Margaret lives in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley in Virginia with her fantastic husband, two fabulous kids, and three fat cats. You can usually find her in front of some sort of screen (electronic or window); she’s come to terms with the fact she’s not an outdoors person.

 Read on to learn more!

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1-Margaret, this is your fourth book. Wow! How has your book-writing process changed between Book 1 and Book 4?

I’d like to think I’ve gotten better. Each book has actually proven a quite difference experience:

A Man of Character I plotted out and wrote and re-wrote for four years before publishing it.

A Matter of Time I drafted as a NaNoWriMo project (my first!) in the middle of working on A Man of Character, but I took a year after the first book’s publication to tinker with the second.

I’d written a draft during my second NaNo of what I thought would be book three in the series (what evolved into The Demon Duke), only to realize a different story needed to come first. So, for the first time, I wrote, edited, re-edited, re-edited, and finished a novel, A Scandalous Matter, in six months. I don’t think that’s something I care to repeat – at least not while I still have kids at home!

For The Demon Duke, as I said, I had a draft, but I took more time to hone it, and ended up changing a fair amount, as my skills in writing (or at least my knowledge of better practices) had increased.

Now I find myself back at the drawing board, no complete drafts in my pocket – but I think I have a better sense now of what works and doesn’t work. Though they take time, character sketches, timelines, spreadsheets listing names and characteristics, and loose outlines work much better for me than winging it.

 

2-Which phase of the book process do you enjoy most and why?

 Definitely writing the initial draft. Everything feels new and fun, and I’m convinced I’m hilarious and this book is awesome and everything is perfect.

Until I re-read it. Until my editor reads it and sends me back revisions. The editing phase is not my favorite (read: nails on a chalkboard / chocolate-deprivation level dislike), BUT I’m learning to look forward to the final edits, as I’ve seen the story morph from “best EVER!” through “this totally sucks, who am I kidding?” to “maybe it’s not so bad after all.”

And getting the print copy in the mail is one of the best feelings there is, hands-down. It all feels real then.

 

3-Novels are a tough form, time-consuming and sometimes underappreciated in the world. What keeps you motivated?

Guilt and fear. What, that’s not a good answer? Okay, the characters bugging me in my head, the readers asking for more stories, the pleasure of that first draft – and guilt and fear.

Guilt, because if I’m not working on a book, I’m often wasting vast amounts of time on things like Facebook and Two Dots (okay, yeah, I admit – I do that even when I am working on a book!).

Fear, because what would I do if I didn’t do this? As someone with almost a PhD (I did everything but finish the dissertation) in medieval history from twenty years ago, what marketable skills do I have now?

But also love.

Because love matters. Love stories matter. And I truly do love writing them. Yes, it’s hard work. I still have a lot to learn, still have great ways in which to improve. But when my own eyes well up, my own giggles escape, my own heart aches at a scene I’ve written? When readers tell me they love my books? When I realize I get to do something I love as my job? That’s what truly keeps me going.

That, and chocolate.

 

4-Do your book ideas arrive in your head in a particular way? As images, as opening scenes or sentences, as characters, as conflicts? Tell us a little about idea generation, brainstorming, and how you come up with a story? Once you have an idea, what are the next steps?

 It varies. For A Man of Character, it was the opening question, What would you do if you discovered the men you were dating were fictional characters you’d created long ago?, that launched the whole thing. From that question, I mused on what kind of men someone would fantasize about at different points in their life, etc., and sketched out a story.

I think characters come to mind first, and then I imagine what might befall them, or who might suit them best. For example, Amara, the heroine from A Scandalous Matter, evolved as a reaction of sorts against my first two heroines. Both Cat from A Man of Character and Eliza from A Matter of Time were rather circumspect in their sexual attitudes and behaviors. I decided I needed a female character more driven by physical pleasure, and along came Amara.

For The Demon Duke, I knew what his affliction would be, and I knew who his physical inspiration was (Ian Somerhalder of Vampire Diaries fame). From there, I brainstormed on how his struggles might shape his life—and his reaction to love.

I’ve sketched story ideas out in great detail and I’ve done a more pantser approach where I make up everything as I go along. I’ve learned I do best when I let ideas percolate in my head and then eventually write them all down and plot things out. I do tend to have different ideas about different books pop into my head at any given time, though. I guess those characters don’t always care that I’d like to proceed in clear, linear fashion, thank you very much!

 

5-You have been recruited as an experimental space traveller. You are allowed to bring only what you can carry in a small backpack. What do you pack?

 May I bring along Hermione’s Bag of Holding? In which I could stuff, you know, a T.A.R.D.I.S.? No? Well, then, I suppose I’d want a camera with a massive amount of storage, water, pain meds, chocolate, a Kindle, battery chargers, a pen, paper, and a cat.

 

6-It turns out that your experimental space ship has malfunctioned, and instead of traveling through space, you’re traveling through time. What era/year will be your desired destination? And why?

I knew you were going to do that to me! I certainly would like to visit Regency England, to see if it was anything at all like the society we read about in novels (both Austen and modern romances), but tops on my list would be ancient Rome. I’d really love to see it in its heyday. I’d also want to visit Charlemagne’s court, and that of Otto the Great, and go back to learn who built Stonehenge and why, and zip off to Renaissance Italy, and maybe colonial America.

But I think I’d want to be like Scrooge – just popping in and out, invisible. Because a) I wouldn’t want to mess up history, and b) I’m really fond of air conditioning, and I’d eventually run out of chocolate.

 

7-Tell us a bit about your next book (or books)?

 Next up is The Legendary Duke, the second in my Put Up Your Dukes Regency series, based loosely on the Arthurian legend of Gawain and the Green Knight. It’s been years – since grad school days – that I’ve studied Arthurian lore, so I’m really looking forward to that, especially since the third book in the series, The Once and Future Duke, also has Arthurian connections, as you might have guessed from the title.

Oh, and somewhere in there, I want to write book four in the Magic of Love series. Because Sophie Mattersley needs her story told.

Thanks so much for hosting me, Emily!

Learn more about Margaret on her website: http://margaretlocke.com

Get The Demon Duke now on Amazon or at other outlets:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

iBooks

Kobo

The-Demon-Duke-Kindle

Behind every good man is a great secret.

Banished to Yorkshire as a boy for faults his father failed to beat out of him, Damon Blackbourne has no use for English society and had vowed never to return to his family’s estate at Thorne Hill, much less London. However, when his father and brother die in a freak carriage accident, it falls on Damon to take up the mantle of the Malford dukedom, and to introduce his sisters to London Society–his worst nightmare come to life.

He never planned on Lady Grace Mattersley. The beautiful debutante stirs him body and soul with her deep chocolate eyes and hesitant smiles. Until she stumbles across his dark secret.

Bookish Grace much prefers solitude and reading to social just-about-anything. Her family may be pressuring her to take on the London Season to find herself a husband, but she has other ideas. Such as writing a novel of her own. But she has no idea how to deal with the Duke of Malford.

Will she betray him to the world? Or will she be his saving Grace?

Seven Questions: Allison K. García

I recently had the pleasure of formatting Allison K. García’s first novel, Vivir El Dream, a story of life in America for Mexican immigrants and their families. It gave me a chance to practice my rusty Spanish as I checked endnotes that translated the Spanish material in the book into English.

Allison is a Licensed Professional Counselor with a passion for writing. Latina at heart, she has absorbed the love and culture of her friends, family, and hermanos en Cristo and has used her experiences to cast a glimpse into the journey of undocumented Christians from Mexico as they attempt to make a life in the United States.

Allison K. Garcia

Welcome, Allison!

1-Pitch your book in three sentences or less.

The fates of an undocumented college student and her mother intertwine with a suicidal businessman’s. As circumstances worsen, will their faith carry them through or will their fears drag them down?

 

2-Is your book indie-published or traditionally published? Tell us a little about that journey.

Indie published. Well, this has been a five-year journey for me! I wrote this book during 2012 NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, November) and had been hoping to get it published traditionally in the Christian market. I bumped up against a lot of barriers, mostly because there is not a lot of diverse Christian fiction on the market right now and because this might be one of the first English-language Latino Christian fiction books. Long story short, it’s a new genre, so a lot of Christian agents weren’t sure how to market it (not to mention the fact that it deals with undocumented Christians, which is a hot topic). The secular market doesn’t like dealing with Christian fiction, so I wasn’t able to go that route either. So, after much praying and consulting with other writerly friends, I decided to go the indie route. I felt called to write this book, and I feel the world needs to see it, especially with everything going on right now. Then came the whirlwind of indie publishing, which I am still in the midst of figuring out. Thankfully, I have plenty of friends who indie publish, so they have been awesome at answering my many, many questions during the journey.

3-What are your favorite genres/books to read, and do you think this affects your writing? How?

Well, I love reading diverse books, I find myself drawn to them. And I’m a sucker for classics like the Brontës, Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, etc. I love stories about people and their lives and struggles. I love epic fiction, as well. As long as it has a good story with interesting characters, you’ve got me!

4-What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever been given?

Two come to mind. I love going to my American Christian Fiction Writers conferences and spending time with my local chapter, because they often remind me why I’m writing Christian fiction and get my head back in the right spot.

Also I had a Creative Writing teacher in high school, Ms. Whiting. She said, “Allison, you write, “And then she slowly walked over to the door, step by step, raised her hand to the knob, and twisted her hand to the right, allowing the door to creak open.’ Sometimes you just need to say, ‘She opened the door.’” That has stuck with me.

5-How do you fit your writing into a busy life?

I write and edit in the mornings before my toddler wakes up. I’m up at 5 and he usually is up between 7-8am, so I have a solid 2-3 hrs to write.

6-What is your favorite book that you would categorize as similar to Vivir El Dream?

I would like to say Like Water for Chocolate because of its Mexican culture, how it talks a lot about cooking and has humor and a bit of romance, but also deals with some tough issues.

7-What’s your secret superpower?

The ability to catch a falling toddler in a single bound! Just kidding…sort of…one of my hidden talents is cooking from scratch. My proudest example was making lasagna from scratch…like for real. I made the mozzarella and ricotta cheese, I made the noodles from flour, egg, etc. and I made the marinara from my homegrown tomatoes and herbs from my garden. I felt pretty Italian in that moment! I channeled my Italian ancestors for sure!

So many thanks to Allison for appearing for Seven Questions on my blog.

You can get Vivir El Dream on Amazon here.

Vivir el Dream Kindle cover

Vivir El Dream

Linda Palacios crossed the border at age three with her mother, Juanita, to escape their traumatic life in Mexico and to pursue the American dream. Years later, Linda nears college graduation. With little hope for the future as an undocumented immigrant, Linda wonders where her life is going.

Tim Draker, a long-unemployed businessman, has wondered the same thing. Overcome with despair, he decides to take his own life. Before he can carry out his plan, he changes course when he finds a job as a mechanic. Embarrassed about working at a garage in the barrio, he lies to his wife in hopes of finding something better.

After Juanita’s coworker gets deported, she takes in her friend’s son, Hector, whom her daughter Linda can’t stand, While Juanita deals with nightmares of her traumatic past, she loses her job and decides to go into business for herself.

Will the three of them allow God to guide them through the challenges to come, or will they let their own desires and goals get in the way of His path?

 

 

Deleted Scene : More Hinge Backstory

This little snippet was originally in The Gantean, a piece of information about the magic of the Gantean Hinge. Ultimately, I found a way to “show” rather than “tell” this information, but, like a lot of writing about magic systems, I had to write out the theory of it before I could even attempt to integrate it more naturally into the story.

Leila was the narrator telling this info, though it could have been the Cedna, too:

“Because of this Hinge, all other magic was possible, for in its opening, the Ancestors had made the Layers permeable, so that we could walk from one to the next. The Gantean People were the Guardians of this Hinge, and it was our sacred duty to protect it, to keep it hidden, safe, and open. Not just for ourselves, but for the whole world, for all the nations who used magic. The Hinge, high on the ice plateaus of Gante, was the source of all magic.

Every Gantean knew about the Hinge. Such knowledge made us Iksraqtaq. It was a secret funneled into us, never spoken, but lived and felt and inhaled from our very first breath. If we were a stern and somber people, it was because of this great responsibility we guarded. We kept the Hinge open by feeding it the dead, their flesh and spirit and blood, to appease its endless hunger.”

Seven Questions: Mark A. King

I am very happy to welcome Mark A. King to my blog for a round of seven questions, featuring his debut novel Metropolitan Dreams. Mark is one of the founders of FlashDogs, a global community of talented flash fiction writers. His flash fiction stories have been published in a number of anthologies and magazines. Mark was born and raised in London, works in Cambridge, and lives in Norfolk, England.

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1-Pitch your book in three sentences or less.

M.A.K.: In the aftermath of a violent crime we follow the connected stories of an injured nightclub bouncer, an ageing crime-lord, a conflicted police hacker, a traumatised Tube-driver and a vulnerable twelve-year-old girl as they fight for survival, purpose and redemption in the fractured city of London. Along the journey we discover lost rivers, abandoned underground stations, mysterious forces and angels (perhaps).

2-Is your book indie-published or traditionally published? Tell us a little about that journey.

M.A.K.: Indie published. Having monitored the progress (and success) of many FlashDogs on their various publishing adventures, it became clear to me that traditional publishing can be a long, hard and often frustrating experience. Self publishing offers choice, power, flexibility and responsiveness in terms of being able to get the book in front of readers. Some misguided voices that say self publishing has lesser quality, but a fair number of the finest books I have read over the last few years have come from indie authors and traditional publishing is no guarantee that you will like a book anyway, as everyone has their own reading preferences. Indeed, the indie path can often offer a wider variety of material to the reader. Neither is better, it’s just that indie suited me at this time.
The kind and talented host of this blog helped me almost every step of the way, from story transformation through to last minute logo creation. Should you be able to find someone as marvellous, I highly recommend you seek their magic as a priority early in the process.

3-What are your favorite genres/books to read, and do you think this affects your writing? How?

M.A.K.: I enjoy speculative fiction, which covers genres as diverse as science fiction, horror, fantasy, magical realism and new weird. I find myself always looking firstly to ground my stories in the lives of my characters and the journey they on on, but I’m fascinated by the worlds that science, faith and spirituality hint at, which are just beyond our current understanding. So I always try to find an undercurrent of otherworldlyness in my stories (not a real word, but it probably should be).

4-What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever been given?

M.A.K.: I can’t remember the exact words, but it was something like ‘Write the way you want to write. Try not to be someone else as there is only one you.’
I’m starting to learn that it’s important to tell the stories I want to tell in the way that I want to tell them. It might sound obvious, but it’s not, well not for me anyway, I’m fairly conformist in my real life, my writing in many ways is an outlet for something more creative.
However, I realise that this approach is likely to mean that I have less success in terms of potential sales.
It would almost certainly be easier to create a firm genre fiction, following the paths of proven formulas, but that wouldn’t seem like success to me. I’ve waited all my life to write a novel. Success, I think, is creating something different and unique, being true to the stories in my imagination and in my heart, and all I can hope for is that readers will appreciate something slightly different and connect with it in some way.

5-How do you fit your writing into a busy life?

M.A.K.: It is incredibly hard. Like many writers, I have a full time job. I have a reasonable amount of responsibility in my job and when I come home there are numerous demands on my time and energy. I juggle a number of social media accounts (my personal one, my writer one/s and the FlashDogs one)–I wouldn’t make a good spy, as this is too many identities for me already. I tend to squeeze stolen minutes and hours between other tasks, or use my work breaks wisely. My favourite writing experience was when I had to drop my daughter at a horse riding experience which was in in a neighbouring county. Too far away to come back home, so I looked at the map and realised that Rendlesham Forest was nearby, so I took my laptop and wrote some of Metropolitan Dreams from the middle of the forest where UFO sightings have been reported (the UK’s very own Roswell incident, only with more witnesses and recorded evidence from military personnel).
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It was a magical place to write from, it wasn’t just the history, but being outside surrounded by the energy of the forest was inspiring in itself. So, while finding time is sometimes hard, it does also lead to wonderful opportunities.

6-How and when did you first know you were a writer?

M.A.K.: I find it odd to think of myself as a writer and I have a cheeky small-boy grin when someone suggests that I might be one. For most of us, writing is unlikely to pay the bills, so for me, it is only ever a secondary role to; being a father, husband, good employee/manager, community contributor etc.

7-What’s your secret superpower?

M.A.K.: What is it now? Or what would I like it to be? If now, then people say that I am generally very calm under pressure. But if I had to choose a real superpower, it would be teleportation. I’d click my fingers and return to the warm sands of Shark Bay on Heron Island which sits atop the Great Barrier Reef. I’d click my fingers again to visit family or friends I don’t see often enough. Click to visit the many friends I have not yet met in different parts of the world.

Many thanks to Mark for answering seven questions!

You can learn more about Mark and his writing at his blog: https://makingfiction.com/
Follow him on Twitter: https://twitter.com/Making_Fiction
Get Metropolitan Dreams: https://goo.gl/EsXA3I

Deleted/Reworked Scene: Sterling Prologue

My friend and reader Christine requested a deleted scene from Sterling, Tales of Blood and Light 3, and so this next one is for her. Book Three had fewer purely deleted scenes and many more “reworked” ones, so this scene may have familiar bits, for those of you who have read Sterling. This was the Prologue I had in the first draft, which was reworked and rewritten and massaged into the shorter and less wordy Prologue I used in the final version.

Sterling, of course, is the narrator, albeit a bit younger than she ended up in the final prologue:

“Every girl has a fairy tale,” my sister Stesichore said. We sat on the sun porch off the fourth floor of our Shankar house, as grand a dwelling as any in Lethemia. “Why, there’s a fairy tale for any situation and any appearance. There’s Cinder and Ashe for a housemaid, and Rose Red for a girl whose mother has died. Clever girls have The Peasant’s Wise Daughter, and beauties can have their pick from Fair Ruslana or Pretty Poppy.”

Stesi’s musing came about because she’d found me out on the deck reading a book of such stories, and she’d asked me if I liked them. I’d told her honestly that they were silly and unrealistic, and she’d begged to differ. Now she had to prove herself, which I knew could be a tedious game. I sighed and put the book aside. Stesi, impossible to ignore, demanded attention. She couldn’t endure being alone; only through the eyes of others could she make sense of the world and herself. I was fourteen; she was twenty-two, but I was the sister with more sense. Not that anyone would ever recognize that.

I acceded to her overtaking my quiet afternoon. “So what would your tale be, Stesi?”

The Princess in the Tower, of course.”

I wrinkled my brow, trying to determine why “of course” tagged this sentence. I couldn’t reason it out. “Why that one? I would have thought Fair Ruslana more to your liking.” Fair Ruslana told the tale of a beautiful, fair-haired princess enchanted into a long sleep, only to be broken by the kiss of her true love, a prince.

Stesi patted at her hair, upswept into a fabulous arrangement that likely took several hours for her handmaiden to create. “Well, first of all, I have beautiful hair. Everyone says so.”

That was true enough. Stesi’s hair was long and heavy, the color of honey. She’d been chagrined when the pale blonde of her youth had changed to the darker hue. She’d begged for a year to be allowed to dye it, but my mother had said that “Only courtesans and loose women alter their appearance with artificial aids.” So Stesi, in typical fashion, had begun to believe that honey-gold hair was far more desirable than the pale locks I had never outgrown.

“And The Princess in the Tower is all about an unattainable woman. That’s me. I have rejected all my suitors thus far, and I shall wait until the best one offers for me.”

“Oh? And who will that be?” I couldn’t help asking, though I knew encouraging Stesi in this way could be foolish.

“Prince Costas, of course. I am going to marry him and become Queen of Lethemia.”

This plan, far-fetched as it sounded, was not beyond the realm of possibility. In fact, my parents were likely angling for the match. But there had been no word yet that Costas Galatien, a full three years younger than Stesi, intended to hold a Marriage Brokering anytime soon.

“So what’s my fairy tale?” I asked, knowing this question would shatter Stesi’s argument to pieces. There were no fairy tales for a girl like me.

The Ugly Duchess,” Stesi said without hesitation. Her selection of that tale for me came as no surprise, but her choice showed how little Stesi knew. The Ugly Duchess told the story of a fair-skinned girl born into a dark-skinned world. She grew up her whole life being called ugly, until her father married her off to a duke from a distant land. When she arrived in her new home, she discovered that there were other fair-skinned people, and the people of the fair-skinned world considered her beautiful beyond compare. Like most fairy tales, the message intended to be uplifting: that beauty could be in the eye of the beholder—but the message was wrong. I should know. I had the kind of ugliness that could not be remedied by a change in perspective. I’d been born with a wine-stain birthmark sprawling across the right side of my face and trailing down my neck. My mark would not be considered lovely anywhere in the world.

I had been an outsider my whole life, looking in at other people’s stories from a distance. Stesi’s story dominated my childhood. Her beauty and her importance as the heir to House Ricknagel eclipsed everything else in Mama and Papa’s eyes.

But that afternoon after Stesi flounced away from the sun porch to do something “more interesting than reading fusty tales,” I began to see that I had a story too, though it bore no resemblance to Stesi’s bejeweled fairy tale.

This was the first circle of my story, the truth on which the world agreed: Sterling Ricknagel was nobody, the ugly, shameful daughter of a great house. Any story is never only one story, one circle. Concentric circles lie beneath; even the tightest story has other tales creeping below, silent loops waiting for only a slight weakening in the first story to break free.

No one would remember me in the history books. The passage of my life would be forgotten, and I couldn’t help but think it would be a mercy if it were. I would make no mark upon the world.

I slammed the book of fairy tales closed.

Deleted Scene: Laith and Miran in Muscan

Here’s a scene that was cut because the book from which it was drawn was entirely rewritten (ToB&L Book 4) and the young boy character “Miran” (Laith Amar’s nephew) was cut. This was a scene from Book 4– and so you see a big give-away about one of my narrators for that book, who happens to be Laith Amar, Lethemia’s top mage and Leila’s half-brother. There is another big reveal about something that happens at the end of this scene that may relieve some readers, however, since this scene was cut, I make no guarantees that it officially happens in Book 4–or anywhere!–anymore. This scene was a bit of a darling because it contained one of my favorite things: puppies!

Reminder–the narrator here is Laith. Muscan is a city in the Eastern Empire.

Scene:

I needn’t have worried. Miran loved Muscan. Everything fascinated him—the gilded cupolas on the seven basilicas, the elaborate bath houses, the spicy food, the hothouses full of flowers that stretched for leagues beyond Muscan, even the stray dogs on the street that he insisted on feeding.

“I miss the hounds at home,” he told me as we stood in a filthy backstreet pursuing a bitch-dog with sagging teats that he had spied from a far. The poor dog was skin and bones. Miran had bought a shoulder of raw pork at Muscan’s open-air market and held it wrapped in linen.

I had a headache—the final, enduring symptom from whatever sickness had struck me down in Galantia. It never stopped, a dull, throbbing pulse behind my left temple. After nearly two sidereals in Muscan, Elena’s image had faded from the backs of my eyelids. A little. But I was losing hope. No Esani troupes had passed through the city in all this time. Somehow she had slipped through my fingers. The failure weighed more heavily upon me with every passing day.

Miran tossed the pork in front of the hole in the wall where we’d seen the desperate bitch pass carrying not one but two tiny puppies in her mouth. We waited.

“She looked so weak,” he murmured. “Maybe she can’t come out? Or maybe she’s just wary.”

“Wouldn’t you be, if you were her?” I said distractedly. The hammer at my temple beat a steady, nauseating rhythm.

Wheels rattled on the cobbles behind us. “News! Printed news! The latest from Lethemia!” A small voice cried in the Imperial tongue.

I turned away from the dog’s hidey-hole, though Miran did not. A boy smaller than Miran pushed a cart brimming with freshly-printed new-sheets. I could still smell the fishy odor of the ink. “News! Papers minted from the Muscan Imperial Press! Official!” he cried again.

“How much?” I asked in his language, which I had learned lifetimes ago as a student at the Conservatoire. What news of Lethemia was so important the Imperial press had taken it up? I had come to understand that the Empire rarely made mention of its western neighbor in its press or politics these days.

“Two jennars, sir,” the newsboy said. He lifted a paper with ink-stained fingers.

I handed him the coins and took the paper. The newsboy passed on his way, and when I turned, I found Miran standing with two wriggling puppies in his arms and tears streaming down his pale cheeks.

“What? What is it?”

“She died,” Miran said. “Their mother is dead.” He jerked his chin towards the hole. I peered into it and saw the sad, still form of the bitch, every rib shadowed.

“They’re too small to eat the pork,” Miran said from behind me. “They need milk.”

I rolled up the paper, tucked it beneath my arm, placed a hand on Miran’s shoulder, and together we went back to the open-air market. I couldn’t stand his tears.

After procuring milk and paying an exorbitant sum to the keeper of our hotel for permission to keep the puppies in our room—the Imperials, in general, disliked dogs—finally I had Miran happily settled with his freshly-bathed puppies and a ball of yarn. I unfurled the newsprint and began to read.

The paper nearly slipped from my hands.

“Holy Amassis!” I whispered. “After all this time?”

Leila’s long missing daughter, Tiriq’s own twin, Tianiq Galatien, had been found.