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The Cutting-Room Floor

Just like movies, not everything that goes into a book makes it to the final page. Sometimes this happens during the editorial process, where an editor will point out how a story angle isn't working or could be reshaped to come across more strongly. Other times (most of the time, in my case), it's stuff that's cut and reworked during the first draft or even during the outlining stage. It's interesting to look back over my old notes and think about what might have been, if I'd made different decisions along the line.

To that end, I thought it might be fun to do a periodic series where I reveal some changes from past books. Before we start, I wanted to give a quick shout-out; Maggie Riley Harper is my steadfast assistant (who you can see thanked as Maggie Faid in the afterword of all my novels). She also writes poetry, and she's started a Patreon -- so if you like good poetry, check her out.

So, without further delay, here are five items from my cutting-room floor.

1. There were two Daniel Faust novels before The Long Way Down.

The Long Way Down was roughly my seventh completed novel. The first six were practice and don't count, nor will they be seen by the light of day. As much as I cringe, looking at some of my earliest published work (and still do now, but I keep working and trying to improve), these were -- as most writers' first books are -- just plain lousy.

That said, two of them were proto-Faust novels. They were set in Chicago (the city I was most familiar with, and research was just a car ride away), and Daniel actually worked for the Mancuso Family (who would eventually find a place in print, opposing him and the Vegas crew in The Castle Doctrine). When I decided to take some of the basic elements of the books for the first "real" Faust novel, the setting was the first thing to change. As Maggie pointed out, "You're writing a first-person novel about a modern-day magician who does detective work. No matter what, people are going to accuse you of ripping off the Dresden Files. Why make it harder on yourself?"

Of course, that turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as the Vegas setting fits the characters and themes far better than Chicago ever could have. I also had to laugh when I later watched an interview with Jim Butcher and he revealed that the Dresden Files were originally going to be set in St. Louis, but friends told him he was already going to be accused of ripping off Anita Blake, so why make it harder on himself?

Everything is a circle.

2. Daniel Faust had a familiar.

This was an element from the proto-novels that almost made it into the real series. Daniel had a familiar, a feathery floating serpent-spirit that, when it wasn't following him around, lived in a wax dinosaur souvenir from the Field Museum. It was interesting, but not much of an actual character, and its only real ability (shorting out electronics by flying through them) turned out to be seriously overpowered.

The power issue could be easily fixed, and there was nothing horribly wrong with the concept, but the end of the day, I couldn't really come up with a reason for it to be in the story. So, out it went.

3. In the Revanche Cycle, the witches' glade was in New Jersey.

When Mari is brought to the coven glade in Terms of Surrender, her first reaction is one of horror: Nessa has been teaching her the stars by night, and the stars over the glade aren't the ones she knows. The Dire Mother's cairn is clearly Elsewhere, maybe very far elsewhere.

Maybe...the New Jersey Pine Barrens?

The original draft did, in fact, strongly imply that the glade was right here on our Earth. There was even a bit, outlined but never written, where Mari saw the shadow of a plane passing overhead (and lost her shit, as one would). This was a case of a change made because of the rules of the fictional universe. Readers have noted that despite being set in the same multiverse, magic doesn't work in Revanche like it does in the Faust/Black novels. It's markedly more powerful, and users have to guard themselves against Shadow-sickness (a concept that mages from our Earth aren't even aware of).

There's a reason for that, one that will be explored in next year's Wisdom's Grave Trilogy. Suffice to say, though, the differential made it impossible that Nessa's coven would hold their gatherings in Jersey. Everyone would have noticed the bizarre shift in the currents of magic (and the Dire Mother, held together by sorcery and hate, probably wouldn't have even been able to exist in our world). So, that was an idea I really liked, but it had to go.

4. There was a longer My Little Pony reference in Double or Nothing.

I try to avoid using too many pop-culture references in my books; they can date a manuscript fast, and come off as jarring or worse, pandering. And of course, the craze that everybody knows about today is a "huh?" to tomorrow's reader. (Remember when Harlem Shake videos were all over the internet? That was huge. When's the last time you even thought about the Harlem Shake?)

Of course, sometimes they still slip in there. When Daniel brings Circe to his apartment in Double or Nothing, she discovers the wonders of television along with "the cartoon with the singing horses." There was originally a bit, cut for the above reasons, that took it a step further. Daniel, distracted, tells her "I think you'll like the pink one best." Then later in the book, once Circe regains her grasp of language, she tells him: "Your assessment was incorrect. I did enjoy the antics of the pink pony, but I prefer the purple one. I find her situation...relatable."

5. Harmony Black was supposed to be a dragon.

Yes, a freakin' dragon. This was another element from the proto-books, which didn't make it into the final story because... c'mon. Because she was supposed to be a dragon. That's why.

Seriously, though, the Faust series originally had a completely different cosmology and backstory. God and Lucifer weren't missing and the Kings didn't exist, nor did the endlessly reincarnating characters of the First Story, or even the idea of a multiverse of parallel worlds. It was, instead, a kitchen-sink "all the gods and monsters of every culture ever are real" kind of thing, tied in with a mystery about a cataclysmic event that drove most of them underground centuries ago.

It was pretty boring.

When I started serious work on the "real" books, I wanted something weirder, scarier, and tighter. More Twin Peaks than the D&D Monster Manual. So, everything changed, the old cosmology went out the window -- and with it, the dragons.

And that's it for the cutting-room floor! Thanks for taking a trip down the halls of What Might Have Been with me. If folks dig it, we'll do another of these soon. Now I'm back to work on the first draft of The Neon Boneyard...and I can't wait to tell you what changed between the outline and the story this time around, but I'd better wait until the book comes out.

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Cold Spectrum: The Truth is Now

Good morning and happy Halloween, everybody! I have something a little better than candy this year -- Cold Spectrum, the fourth novel in the Harmony Black series, is available now. This book marks the culmination of the first big series story arc, with plenty of twists and turns (or, dare I say it, tricks and treats?)

Okay, I'm getting a little corny with the Halloween stuff there. (Maybe even...candy corn-y? Okay, okay, I'll stop.)

I do hope you enjoy it! Meanwhile, I'm still working hard on the first draft of the next Daniel Faust novel, The Neon Boneyard, which should be coming your way in April of 2018. And as we speak, my editor is lashing her red pen across the pages of Sworn to the Night, the first book in the Wisdom's Grave trilogy; we're still on track to have that one out around New Year's Day.

And with that, it's time for your faithful scribe to get back to work. No rest for the wicked (though I'll be fueling myself with coffee AND chocolate peanut-butter cups.)

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Year Three

Yesterday was a very special anniversary; I almost posted about it, but then I realized today was even more important. Two years ago, yesterday, I put in my resignation at my day job and quit to pursue my lifelong dream of becoming a full-time writer.

Today, though? Today is the start of year three.

Yesterday was a celebration. Today is a challenge. A challenge to keep honing my craft, upping my game, working to tell the very best stories I can. I suppose every morning starts that way, from the second I sit down behind the keyboard (with coffee mug in hand) and fire up the word processor, but the significance of the date carries a keen awareness of it.

In the immortal words of Barney Stinson, "Challenge accepted."

If year one was about finding my footing, and year two was about finding my flow, year three is about taking some risks. The first book of the Wisdom's Grave trilogy is landing in January, and I know it's going to be a divisive novel; it's the darkest thing I've ever written and it's likely not going to be a commercial success, but like the Revanche Cycle, it's a story I needed to write. Likewise, it's too early to get into details, but my publisher is evaluating a freshly-finished manuscript that represents a break from my usual style; it's sort of a Gaiman-esque fairy tale, an ode to New York City and the Lady in Red.

(On that note, a few people have guessed who the Lady is. Naturally, you'll find out for certain in year three.)

The Harmony Black series is about to undergo a swing in direction and momentum; I'd tell you why, but spoilers. Let's just say that by the last chapter of Cold Spectrum, you'll know exactly what I'm talking about. And as for the Faust series...well, Daniel is Daniel. He spent most of 2017 growing up, shedding his baggage, and finding his footing. 2018 will find him leaner, meaner, and ready for the fight of his life.

So many stories yet to be told, and I can't wait to share them with you. On that note, my coffee's running low. I'm gonna brew another cup and get back to work.

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Sales? We got 'em.

Happy October, everybody! It's my favorite month of the year, and even better this time around because the fourth Harmony Black novel, Cold Spectrum, is coming out on Halloween morning. To ramp up to the release, my publisher has priced the e-book versions of the first three books in the series at $1.99, all month long.

They also asked me to do a cross-promo thing, I agreed, and Double or Nothing has been priced at $1.60 as a Kindle monthly deal. Why $1.60? I...don't know, actually. Seriously, what costs a buck-sixty? I can only assume there's some kind of Math Science happening behind the scenes here. But their weird pricing strategy could be your gain!

I've spent the last month in deadline hell, getting Sworn to the Night, the first book of the Wisdom's Grave trilogy, shaped up and ready to send to my editor. It's looking like we're nicely on track for a January release. I've also been working on The Neon Boneyard, the next Daniel Faust novel, which you can also expect early in 2018. And putting the finishing touches on a project that's way too early to talk about yet. As it stands, it looks like I can finally take a few days off right after Halloween. No sleep 'till Brooklyn!

(Well, no sleep 'till Manhattan, anyway. I like to stay at the High Line when I'm in NYC. Beautiful hotel, and it's walking distance from the McKittrick.)

That's all my news for now, I've gotta get back to work on these pre-edit edits. Book discounts all month long, have fun, and keep it spooky.

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A September Update

Happy Friday, everybody! No big announcements today, just a general status update because I haven't shared any news since just before the eclipse.

Oh, and the eclipse? Amazing. Worth the four-hour drive and the considerably longer traffic jam on the way back. Sunset arrived from every direction at once and the sky took on the wrong color. There was a black hole in the sky. People were whispering to themselves, people were crying. We watched the sun bow to the power of the moon, and it was a moment to treasure.

Also, I have to give a shout-out to the River City Casino and Hotel in St. Louis, where I stayed for the event. Now, you know me -- I'm a little, shall we say, picky when it comes to hotels and casinos in particular? These folks were aces. Great rooms, great staff.

Since then I've been home and back to work. I'm in that long stretch where there's nothing but projects and deadlines stacked on deadlines, and nothing really exciting to show for it yet. It's easy for the days to blend, especially in the Summer months when the weather doesn't change much from day to day. I find myself sinking into a work-sleep-repeat cycle, no days off so I don't lose momentum. Which means I don't have much of interest to share (beyond my recent discovery that Tim Hortons coffee is really, really good), but the work's getting done.

The first book of the Wisdom's Grave trilogy is getting shored up and ready to go to my editor and cover designer in just about a month. And of course, Halloween brings Cold Spectrum, the fourth book in the Harmony Black series. I'm basically hammering out the 2018-2019 production schedule now and there's gonna be a lot of cool projects in the pipeline, so just bear with me while I plow through another month of Productivity Mode before we get there. :)

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Urban Enemies is Available Now!

So there's this new anthology project, Urban Enemies. It's out now, the concept is "urban fantasy stories told from the villains' perspective," it features a ton of great writers, and also I'm in there too. (I'm one of the "and others" mentioned on the cover.)

My contribution, "Sixty-Six Seconds," is about Fontaine and Rache's first hunt together, chasing the last remnants of the Redemption Choir in Detroit. If they can round up four fugitive souls by sunrise, they get paid. If they don't catch all four, they get nothing. It's not a fair deal. It rarely is.

(Oh, while we're on the subject...yeah, I feel like dropping a little teaser here. The Redemption Choir is back. Their new leader is en route to Vegas in next year's "The Neon Boneyard," with a pack of devout followers and a plan to purify the city of abominations. Said abominations including Daniel and Caitlin. So that's gonna be a problem.)

Anyway, cool anthology, lots of great writers in this thing, I'd give it a villainous thumbs-up even if I wasn't in it. (Or should that be a thumbs-down? But an ironic one, because evil? Either way, check it out.)

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Double or Nothing -- Now on Audio!

Well, better late than never! Sorry for the delay, but Double or Nothing is now live on Audible. As always, Adam Verner returns to narrate the seventh chapter in the Daniel Faust series and he did a great job with it. (And on my end, I'm doing some behind-the-scenes tweaking to see if I can do a better job of lining up audio with ebook and paperback releases. Cold Spectrum is through 47North and they've got their timing airtight, so that book should be available in all formats just in time for Halloween night...)

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Coming in 2018: The Wisdom's Grave Trilogy

Back from a whirlwind week in New York City, filled with location research and an amazing time at the annual Thrillerfest writers' convention, and now I'm setting my sights on 2018. I'm scheduling my team, booking editing and design time, and we're full steam ahead on next year's book releases. Meanwhile, I'm working my way through David Mamet's Masterclass on writing for the theater. No, I'm not turning my sights to the stage -- I leave that to people who are way more experienced than I am -- but I've found that studying different styles of writing can spark insights into my own craft. Learning is a lifelong process (and I've got plenty to learn!), and always worth the pursuit.

I think it's time to finally spill the beans on the project I've been working on -- and teasing -- for the past year or so. January will bring the first book of the Wisdom's Grave trilogy. It's a very big story that begins in a very small room: a stone-walled cell, where an aging fantasy author and her interrogator square off in a battle of wits. Something has happened to the world outside the cell. Something terrible. And as their dance begins, they're both hunting for answers.

"You're a storyteller. Tell me a story."

Carolyn spread her hands as far as the chain between her cuffs would allow. "I can do that. One of mine, or one of the classics?"

"The Witch and her Knight," he said.

Carolyn fell silent. Pursing her lips, her gaze dropped to the table. She stared at her reflection in the brushed steel, distorted and blurry.

"You want a fairy tale," she said.

"We want to know what happened. The truth. All of it."

"Fair warning," Carolyn told him, "this isn't some sweet Disney bedtime story. This is a real fairy tale. Old school. The kind with death, and blood, and suffering. And I never promise a happy ending."

A serial killer is stalking the streets of New York, a brutal predator who preys on sex workers. Marie Reinholt, NYPD detective, has vowed to bring him down. Her badge means more than a job to her: it's a crusade, a never-ending battle to protect her city, and she pushes herself to exhaustion night after night.

When she dreams, she dreams of being a knight. Donning armor and a blade in strange worlds and strange wars. She chalks it up to her favorite pastime, the pulp fantasy novels she devours when she's not on duty, but her nighttime visions seem vividly real. Almost like fragments of lost memory.

Vanessa Fieri-Roth knows that feeling all too well. She's the bored and restless wife of the city's biggest real-estate mogul, as well as the daughter-in-law of Senator Alton Roth, and an unwilling prop in the senator's presidential ambitions. Nessa is also a fledgling witch, haunting the city's parks and experimenting with poppets, blood and rusted razors. Sometimes her spells seem to work, sometimes they don't, but a sense of greater purpose leads her onward. A siren call to explore darker mysteries and forbidden secrets.

When Marie's investigation draws her into Nessa's path, sparks fly. What comes next is more than a furtive whirlwind romance; it's the first pebbles of an avalanche. Nessa and Marie are victims of a curse, a doom that's pursued them for centuries, across countless reincarnations and parallel worlds. They're trapped in a twisted living fairy tale that always, inevitably, ends in misery and death. Now their tragic story is about to repeat itself in modern-day New York, but with a twist.

This time, somebody's spoiled the plot.

Forewarned and armed, Nessa and Marie have one chance to break the cycle of death and reincarnation, find the source of the curse, and free themselves. If they fail, they'll be trapped for eternity. And they aren't the only players on the chessboard...

Daniel Faust leaned against the bank of steel refrigerators and tried to catch his breath. Blood trickled down his arm and his back, plastering his dress shirt to his skin. He gently tugged the ripped shoulder of his jacket and winced at the wound underneath. Seeing it just made it hurt more.

"Yeah," he muttered to himself. A pulled muscle flared in his hip as he stepped over the dead man and stumbled to the kitchen door. "That's gonna need stitches."

Outside, the others were waiting for him. Maybe a dozen people in all, from the waiters to the diners in their fancy dress, steak knives in their eager hands. Their hungry eyes glinted in the candlelight, shimmering turquoise.

"I realize this looks bad," he said. "And I might have ruined your cannibal dinner party, killed your chef and stolen a couple of priceless artifacts, but you have to take the circumstances into account. I only did it because a crazy immortal witch in a cave told me to. When you look at it that way, this is really just a big misunderstanding and I think we can agree to let bygones be bygones."

"Dibs on his eyes," one of the waiters said.

Daniel slumped against the wall and left a slug-trail smear of blood on the eggshell paint. His deck of cards launched from his hip pocket in a flurry of pasteboard, landing in his pale hand.

"Okay," he sighed. "So, we're doing this."

In Nevada, Daniel Faust is recruited for a deadly heist. In Texas, Harmony Black and Jessie Temple uncover a drug cartel massacre with ties to the occult. Eventually all three will converge upon Nessa and Marie's quest -- and they aren't the only forces in motion. The criminal underworld, the courts of Hell, and the shadowy masters of the Network all have a stake in this fight.

To sum it up, the Wisdom's Grave trilogy is an epic crossover between the Daniel Faust series, the Harmony Black series, and the Revanche Cycle, though I'm aiming to make sure it stands alone and doesn't require any knowledge from any previous books. If I've ever written any character that you've liked (and if they're still alive), they've probably got a cameo. This story is huge, it's ambitious, and there's a very good chance I'll fall on my face but I'm going to try to tell it anyway. Look at it this way: if it's a triumph or a train wreck, it'll be entertaining either way, right?

It's also a story that's been in the works for a very long time. I've been actively working on it for over a year and planning it well before that. How long before? Well, let me put it this way: there's a one-line easter egg buried in A Plain-Dealing Villain that's pivotal to the plot of book two. I'll point it out when we get there, if nobody finds it before then.

We'll also be shining light on some of the longer-buried mysteries of my shared universe. Like what's lurking in the Shadow In-Between. Or what, exactly, the Kings are. Hey, want to know what happened to God? So do Nessa and Marie. And they're going to find out, if it means kicking in the gates of the after-world and storming the place.

They've been denied justice for a thousand lifetimes, and someone is damn well going to answer for it.

“This is our hell,” Nessa's reflection seethed. “For the first time in our lives, we find love. And then it’s all torn away from us. We die in flames and then we start over, only to suffer anew. A curse more cruel than any I have ever woven, I assure you, and I have taught lessons in cruelty. Make no mistake: someone did this to us on purpose. Is it a punishment? A sick joke? I don’t know. But if you’re receiving this message, then my quest ended in failure. Now I’m you, reborn, and it’s your turn to fall, unless you can accomplish what I couldn't.”

Marie's hand tightened around Nessa's.

“Listen to me,” said the woman in the mirror. “Hunt for Wisdom’s Grave. It’s the wellspring of magic. The resting-place of the first witch who ever lived. If there is any weapon, any spell capable of shattering this curse, that’s where you’ll find it.”

Her twin’s eyes blazed. The ribbons of blood wreathing her began to boil as her voice broke.

“You are our only hope, Nessa. You are my vengeance. You are the Owl now. Allow no mercy into your heart. Not one shred of compassion. Terror and madness are your tools: use them. Spread the shadow of your wings across the world like a living nightmare, because that is exactly what you are. Then break this curse and find the architects of our pain. And when you finally track them down? Make. Them. Bleed."

This is gonna be a dark ride, let's just establish that up front, and it won't be to everyone's tastes. I have a feeling this is going to be a love-it-or-hate-it deal for a lot of people. It's not gonna be a blockbuster trilogy and it probably won't be earning me any award nominations. But that's okay! Sometimes you've got to write the story that speaks to your heart, and this one...this one speaks to me. I had some themes I wanted to dive into -- about feminism, politics, and the constant erasure of LGBT characters in genre fiction, among other things -- and a desire to visit the outer limits of my fictional setting through a new perspective. At the risk of sounding impossibly pretentious (too late) I'm aiming to explore some big questions about fiction itself; about the structure of stories, how they change in the telling and re-telling, why people gravitate to certain characters and themes and why I tell the stories I tell.

But that's all theme and background, and if I do my job right you won't even consciously notice it. When it comes to the meat of the tale, what we've basically got here is a full-tilt rock-and-roll road trip to the edge of the multiverse. Gunfights, fast cars, black magic and body horror, doomed and desperate romance, interdimensional alien conquerors, a suspicious number of Macbeth references, mad scientists, eldritch cults, neon lights and kissing in the rain, a desperate cop on the edge of a breakdown, and one very, very pissed-off and murderous witch. By the end of the trilogy there will be, as Uma Thurman phrased it in Kill Bill, "a roaring rampage of revenge." Maybe even two.

(Oh, and of course, in between installments of the trilogy I'll be bringing you more Faust and Harmony stories; nobody's gonna be neglected, no worries.)

So that's the announcement! We're aiming for the first book of the Wisdom's Grave trilogy to debut in January of 2018 (tentatively titled Sworn to the Night, but we've gone through three or four titles at this point and it may change again before the manuscript goes to my editor; we're workshopping it.) My usual awesome editing and design team is all on board, and stage actress Susannah Jones -- who did such a fantastic job with the Revanche Cycle -- will be narrating the audiobooks. We'll all be working extra-hard over the next few months to bring you an adventure to remember.

“I suppose we should start things off properly,” Carolyn said. “So: once upon a time, in a magical kingdom, there lived a valiant knight. But she didn’t know she was a knight, not yet, any more than she knew that she was fated to die. And in this same kingdom lived a witch who would have been peerless in wit, majesty, and wickedness, but she’d fallen under a vile sorcerer’s spell—”

“Get on with it,” the interrogator told her.

Carolyn's fingertips riffled against her legs, like a pianist getting warmed up for a grand performance.

“Never rush a storyteller.” Her eyes narrowed at him. "You might miss an important detail. And here…we…go.”

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Paperbacks, and a Sale

Good morning, everybody! So the first reviews for Double or Nothing are in, and...sounds like people are enjoying it? Hurray! On that note, the paperback version is now available, sorry again for the delay there. (The printer rejected the original manuscript for an unspecified pagination issue. I went over it, couldn't find it, THEY couldn't find or explain it, then I re-submitted the exact same manuscript and they said the new version was correct. Yes, I facepalmed.)

Meanwhile, I'm getting back to work on The Neon Boneyard, prepping another manuscript for my editor in October, AND packing for Thrillerfest. I'm not presenting or anything, just going as an attendee -- I learned a ton last year, and can't wait to go back. Also, doing some more book research, because if I'm setting foot outside my office, it's probably for research.

Oh, and to celebrate the new Faust novel coming out, The Long Way Down is on sale for ninety-nine cents for the next week or so. Because that's how I roll.

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Double or Nothing is Here!

Good morning! (Wow, very morning, it's 4:30 here. I don't sleep well before new-book days.) I'm happy to announce that Double or Nothing, the seventh Daniel Faust novel, is on sale now; in the US you can grab it at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B071GLNMM1 and it should be making its way to the amazon.uk and other international storefronts as we speak. The paperback version is delayed but on its way. We had a little hiccup in transit, but I approved the final proof copy yesterday and now it's just a matter of waiting for it to be added to the purchase page -- it should be up by the end of the week at the very latest. Audio is coming too, Adam Verner is hard at work in the narrator's booth and I think he's forgiven me for some of the words I threw at him this time around.

(Seriously. I made him say "Teotihuacan." You don't make an audiobook narrator do that without sending a note of apology and flowers.)

In other news, Cold Spectrum -- the fourth Harmony Black novel -- is in good hands over at 47North Publishing and they're ramping up for a Halloween release. I just finished approving the final proofreader edits, so that's pretty much in the bag. There's also a short story coming up in August, in the Urban Enemies anthology, entitled "Sixty-Six Seconds." It's about Fontaine versus the remnants of the Redemption Choir, so, y'know, things are gonna get a little rough.

Launch days are strange. There's a sense of celebration, but not relief. An endlessly held breath and a feeling of keen vulnerability, nestled in the sense that you've just put your inner landscape on public display. Delight in the idea that people are exploring the story you've created for them, and the aching fear that it isn't good enough. Of course, I never think anything I write is good enough. The only cure for it is to go back into the office first thing in the morning, sit back down at the keyboard, and get back to work on the next story. But not today. Today I'm fuzzy and distracted, and probably going to go on a movie binge to get out of my own head for a bit. Seen anything good lately?

And that's about it from me! I've got some fun special projects in the pipeline, which I'll tell you about soon -- and in three weeks or so, I'll finally spill the beans on that secret trilogy project I've been working on for most of the last year. Finally. I promise. For real, this time. We've got a release date and everything. Catch you soon; stay cool out there, and stay safe.

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