Close, But No Cigar

I’ve been making one false start after another with Blackened Phoenix, the next Starbreaker novel that happens after the events of Without Bloodshed. The following is the latest attempt, but my wife likes it — which means I’m close. She just thinks Chief Inspector Windsor should face Morgan Stormrider alone, but Morgan, his big kitty Mordred, and Naomi Bradleigh (who had been a captive at MEPOL in Without Bloodshed).

Chapter One

It is common knowledge among police officers that under no circumstance should an Adversary’s questions go unanswered. Nor should an Adversary’s requests be denied, or their orders disobeyed. Whether the Adversary was in uniform, on the job, or even within their own nominal jurisdiction was irrelevant. Every police officer knew the rules. When an Adversary said, “Jump!”, a wise cop asked, “How high?”

Not that Chief Inspector Gregory Windsor of the Metropolitan Police of London felt like jumping at an Adversary’s command. What he wanted, and would have done if he were in civvies, was to tell him to sod off. “I’m sorry, Adversary Stormrider. We can’t help you. MEPOL closed the Crowley investigation, and the court sealed all evidence.” He paused for emphasis. “We acted on orders from the Phoenix Society.”

Morgan Stormrider leaned forward, as if Windsor’s refusal interested him. His green eyes narrowed, and he tapped the document he had placed before Windsor only a few minutes ago. “This letter of marque and reprisal was likewise issued by the Phoenix Society. It grants me the authority to investigate Christabel Crowley’s murder. It also authorizes me to seek evidence for a cover-up. I appreciate that this imposes a dilemma on you.”

“Damn right it does.” Windsor didn’t mind admitting that he was in a precarious position. If he gave Stormrider access to sealed evidence, the Phoenix Society might come down on him. If he refused, what might Stormrider do? He closed his eyes and rubbed his temples. Is this how my mother felt when secularist militants pointed guns at her, and demanded she throw away her hijab. What do I fear more? The prospect of judgment later on, or death here and now?

“Have I come at an inconvenient time?”

Windsor’s head had begun to throb, eroding his self-control. “You’re an Adversary. Your presence is never convenient.”

“Quite so.” Stormrider sat back, and folded the letter he retrieved too fast for Windsor to see. He slipped it into an inner pocket and spread his hands. “Perhaps a compromise is possible.”

“I’m listening.” But only with one ear, as Windsor began rummaging in his desk for a bottle of aspirin. Instead, he found some old codeine. Taking one pill, he washed it down with the remnants of a mug of cold coffee and grimaced.

“I would like to question Alan Thistlewood.”

“That—” Windsor swallowed, his throat dry. “That is not possible.”

“I know. You no longer have him in custody.” Stormrider’s tone was cold. He clipped his words with the precision of a prince talking down to a common soldier. “Please explain how a man I arrested and remanded to your custody pending trial ended up a meat popsicle in low earth orbit.”

“No.” Windsor shivered as the word escaped his lips, and waited for the inevitable retribution. Though Stormrider appeared unarmed, Windsor was sure he would suffer for doing what every sensible civilian did when confronted by authority.

Nothing happened. Instead, Stormrider studied him for a moment, looking thoughtful. “Are you afraid you might incriminate yourself?”

One Line Wednesday: 11 November 2015

More #1LineWed fun on Twitter. Check it out, and expect updates as the day continues.

Coming-of-Age Fantasy Sucks

You heard me. I said that any coming-of-age fantasy novel that involves the protagonist being a whiny little maggot and going “Why me? Why do I have to do the thing?” sucks. I’m not the only one who thinks so, either.

But instead of harping on the sort of fantasy I don’t like, let me recommend some of the good shit: fantasy whose protagonists tend not to whine. This is a non-exhaustive list, by the way. Feel free to recommend other books in the comments.

  • Ken Liu: The Grace of Kings
  • Andrzej Sapkowski: The Last Wish
  • David Gemmell: Legend
  • Matthew Stover: The Acts of Caine
  • Joe Abercrombie: The First Law
  • Glen Cook:
    • The Tower of Fear
    • The Dread Empire series
    • The Black Company series
    • The Instrumentalities of the Night series
  • Jacqueline Carey:
    • Kushiel’s Dart
    • Kushiel’s Chosen
    • Kushiel’s Avatar
    • The Sundering: Banewreaker
    • The Sundering: Godslayer
  • M. John Harrison: The Pastel City and A Storm of Wings
  • Scott Lynch: The Gentleman Bastards
  • S. A. Hunt: The Outlaw King series and Malus Domestica
  • Andrew Rowe: Forging Divinity
  • Roger Zelazny: the Amber novels and Lord of Light
  • Samuel Delany: the Return to Nevèrÿon series
  • Stephen Brust: the Vlad Taltos books and To Reign in Hell
  • Michael Moorcock:
    • The War Hound and the World’s Pain
    • The Eternal Champion
    • The Dancers at the End of Time
    • The Jewel in the Skull
    • The Mad God’s Amulet
    • The Sword of the Dawn
    • The Runestaff
    • The Knight of the Swords
    • The Queen of the Swords
    • The King of the Swords
    • The Fortress of the Pearl
    • The Revenge of the Rose
  • Catherine L. Moore:
    • the Northwest Smith stories
    • the Jirel of Joiry stories
  • Robin McKinley:
    • The Hero and the Crown
    • The Blue Sword
  • China Mieville: Perdido Street Station
  • Janny Wurts: To Ride Hell’s Chasm
  • Carol Berg: Dust and Light
  • Gail Z. Martin: Ice Forged
  • Michael J. Sullivan: Theft of Swords
  • Fritz Leiber: Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser


That’s right, folks. To coincide with the 2015 World Fantasy Convention in Saratoga Springs, NY, I’m running a giveaway on the Kindle edition of my first novel, Without Bloodshed. The giveaway will run from 11/05/2015 to 11/08/2015, just like the convention.

(And if you’re attending the convention, check your souvenir book bag. You might get the paperback as well.)

Get your copy of Without Bloodshed today!

Without Bloodshed: a Starbreaker novel, by Matthew Graybosch
Without Bloodshed: a Starbreaker novel, by Matthew Graybosch

Morgan Stormrider must prove that he isn’t just the Phoenix Society’s assassin, the man they sent to silence critics by the sword, after a decade of service in that very capacity.

One Line Wednesday: 4 November 2015

Just leaving this here. I don’t have time to participate in #1LineWed like I did last week.

Support Indivisible

Indivisible banner by Lab Zero Games.

I’m about to head out for the 2015 World Fantasy Convention, but before I left I wanted to mention Indivisible, a crowd-funded 2D action RPG inspired by Southeast Asian culture and the classic JRPGs Valkyrie Profile and Chrono Trigger in development by Skullgirls developer LAB ZERO GAMES.

The gameplay in the prototype is tight, the music is gorgeous, the cast is diverse with interesting character designs, and the lead character is a badass young woman. What’s not to like?

Lab Zero has 11 days left to meet their funding goal of $1.5 million. They’re nowhere near that goal, but we might be able to fix that. I’m already down for $60. Check out their campaign page at to lend your support.

“is brandon sanderson an atheist”

Somebody got referred to my site by searching on the phrase “is brandon sanderson an atheist”. This is notable mainly because, thanks to Google encrypting their search terms, most of the time I have no idea what brought a person here.

By the way, I’m pretty sure Sanderson isn’t an atheist. He just has a sympathetically portrayed atheist character in his Stormlight Archive. I mentioned her here, last year.


His Indiscretion Caught Up With Him

It hadn’t been that bad of a life. Sure, Carl Danvers reflected as he wove a drunken path through a cluster of nightclubbers looking for the next scene, he could have gone to university. He could have studied. He could have applied himself. He could have been somebody. He had potential. He could have done so much with his life, and made his family proud.

But that wasn’t what Carl wanted. The world was full of people—every one of them a story—and he wanted to hear as many of them as he could. Driving a limousine gave him access to people he might never otherwise meet, stories he might never otherwise hear. Best of all, it was simple work.

Drive to the location specified by dispatch. Help the fare into the limo and see to their comfort. Go where they tell you to go, and get them safely and all due haste. Listen if they want to talk, and answer any questions asked of him. Don’t be first to flirt. And above all, be discreet.

And it had gotten even easier when that guy in white put him on retainer. Most of the time he didn’t even have to get behind the wheel. He just had to be ready to drop everything, hop a maglev, and be where he was needed when required.

Carl enjoyed his work, such as it was. He had time to read, work out, seduce beautiful people, and listen to them as they poured out lonely hearts to him in bed. Most importantly, the work afforded him the time and solitude needed to write down the stories he heard, too, but in that he remained discreet. He never named names. And nobody ever read the stories he posted anyway.

Despite all this, he did not walk home alone. A steadily mounting paranoia was his silent companion through the dark, foggy midnight Manhattan streets. It constantly prompted him to not only look both ways before crossing a street, but behind him and up at the rooftops as well.

The paranoia did not leave his side until he had returned to the familiar avenues of his home neighborhood, Greenwich Village, and walked past the Old Stonewall Pub. Cold sweating dread had replaced it, trading the suspicion of something behind him with the certainty that something terrible awaited him.

A black cat with white paws and white tufts in its ears lay curled up on his doorstep. This was hardly unusual; Carl often came home to find alley cats sunning themselves on his doorstep. He would stop and pet them if they were friendly, scratching behind their ears. “Hey, kitty-kitty. You’re a big fellow, aren’t you?”

The cat uncoiled, sat up on his haunches, and yawned. It was indeed a big fellow, easily as large as the Rottweiler his family had kept as a pet when he was a child. It favored Carl with pale blue eyes, and his long white whiskers strained forward. Rising to its feet, it took a step forward, breaking the spell. This was no cat.

“JesusH.Christyou’refuckinghuge.” The words came out in a rush, and Carl retreated. One step back, and then another, but not a third. Somebody was behind him.

“You shouldn’t be afraid of Mordred. He just wants to be friends.” The voice behind Carl was a that of a man speaking softly, as if he didn’t want to spook his prey.

Too late, unfortunately. The cold sweating dread that had followed Carl bloomed into the terror of a man sure he was to die a tiger’s prey. Launching himself across the street, Carl sprinted. He kept running as the blocks melted away behind him, glad that vehicle traffic was all but non-existent in the Village after dark by law. He kept speeding glances over his shoulder, sure he was being followed.

There was nobody, and for one fleeting moment Carl Danvers thought he might get away from the three-tailed monster whose master called him Mordred. Then something struck his shins and tore into his flesh, sending him flying.

This text will need some refinement if I include it in Blackened Phoenix, especially if I make it my opening and cut to Morgan interrogating Carl. For one thing, I tell the reader about Carl’s fear instead of showing it.

You’re a Demisexual Mushroom, Kid.

You’re probably sitting in your health class wondering why you didn’t drop out and join the Navy. The problem is that it isn’t 1941, when military recruiters might look the other away at an underage kid who wanted to join up and show Hitler, Tojo, or both what happens when people fuck with America.

Instead, it’s 1995, and you don’t believe in America. You don’t believe in God, either, but that’s not why you may well be the only male virgin in your high school class. Joke about the girls with the purity rings taking it up the ass if you must, but you’ll be able to wear white at your wedding.

The problem is that you don’t really need this “health class” because you already know damned well what happens when a fertile, healthy, heterosexual man and woman get together and fuck often enough. The woman gets pregnant, usually at the most inconvenient possible time.

Your parents drilled this into your head before you were even old enough to beat your meat to the Victoria’s Secret catalogue (and this was back when the models were attractive, and not underfed and dependent on Photoshop to cover up little imperfections like their ribcages). However, they added a little twist. You see, Dad was double-bagging it, and Mom was on the pill. They still got stuck with you.

And, quite frankly, you were a weird fuckin’ kid. You preferred to read instead of socializing with other kids, so you might have been able to sound like a little genius talking about the difference between general and special relativity at grown-ups’ parties — “Oh, how adorable! He’s like a little professor!” — kids your own age might as well be from Mars.

The problem was that you’re the fucking Martian, not them.

So you never learned to make friends or keep them. You learned instead to be self-reliant. You learned that other people weren’t to be trusted. And now you’re neck-deep in adolescence and you feel like a walking, talking priapism even when you have the time and privacy to jerk off several times a day.

You’d think this class would teach kids something useful, like a reasonable protocol for dating. There’s no such thing (and it only gets worse over time). Nor is there any mention of the importance of consent for both parties, and certainly now how to make sex enjoyable. Finally, there’s nothing that says it’s OK for you to want sex, and that girls your age probably want sex as much as you do, and that’s also OK.

So, you scratch your own itch when you think you’ve got some privacy. Fortunately, your parents have the good sense not to make it obvious that they know you jerk off, even when you do your best to keep quiet. You might talk to girls, but you don’t ask any of them out. You don’t have a car, and while they have upper-middle-class mommies and daddies, you’re a middle-class schmuck from the wrong part of town, and you ride your bike from Sayville to Bay Shore to work at a shitty supermarket after school. You don’t have time or money to date.

And besides, it’s not like Sayville girls do it for you anyway. You’re not gay, though, even variations on your name like “Gaybosch” are the default insult; the fact that the Victoria’s Secret catalog gets you hard and not Calvin Klein men’s underwear models ought to be proof of that, but you aren’t all that interested in sex with other people — just like you aren’t all that interested in other people in general. For the most part, they and their demands are just a nuisance.

Still, you’ve got enough self-awareness and emotional intelligence to wonder if perhaps something isn’t profoundly wrong with you. You wonder if you’re even capable of loving somebody else — or if the only emotions you can feel when it comes to other people are fear, which rapidly metastatizes into rage and hatred.

Soon you’re done with high school. Nobody bothered to teach you how to make friends, and nobody bothered to teach you how to win a woman’s affections, either. They figured you’d figure it out on your own, but did your culture provide reliable information? No, of course not. That would make too much sense.

Instead, when it comes to connecting with human beings, you grew up like a mushroom: kept in the dark and fed bullshit. Sure, your father tried to help, but his experience was so grossly different from your own as to be inapplicable. He grew up in a different America, and had a car and access to recreational drugs. The message you heard growing up was “don’t make the same mistakes I made, son.”

Fair enough, but you’re damn well gonna make some of your own. Like going to college. You didn’t want to, but you’re doing it anyway because what else are you gonna do? There isn’t a single form of work on the Devil’s green earth that appeals to you; nobody’s gonna pay you to read books, play video games, and listen to heavy metal.

You’re not a patriot, you’re nearsighted, and you’ve got serious authority issues; that mean’s the military’s most likely a no-go even though the sensible thing to do might have been to join the Coast Guard. At least then you wouldn’t be fragging brown people to make the world safe for neoliberal capitalism. And you’re an atheist, so the priesthood or monastic life are right out despite your Catholic background.

So, you go to college. And because society doesn’t make sense because society (like Soylent Green) is made of people, you decide to study computer science. What the hell; it’s the late 1990s, the dotcom boom is going strong, and at least you’re good at it even though you don’t love it and you’d rather be writing that novel that’s really nothing more than a shitty Lovecraft/Moorcock/Blue Oyster Cult/Final Fantasy/Shin Megami Tensei fanfic. It gets you access to a Unix account, and it gets you free internet access.

Now shit gets interesting. You kinda missed out on BBS culture and USENET, but no biggie. The Web is in, and social media consists mainly of web forums, ICQ, AIM, shitty hand-coded web pages on sites like GeoCities or (where you ended up) You start a shitty little board on Excite’s forums called — of all things — The Vampire Connection. (That’s what you get for reading Anne Rice in English class, schmuck, and no, she never quite recovered from Memnoch the Devil.)

The Vampire Connection actually got some traction, and you met a girl. Her handle was “parisienne”, but as you got to know her via email, you found out her name was Naomi, and she lived in England. You exchanged pictures. You thought she was gorgeous. She thought you were handsome enough. You decided you just had to meet her, so off to England you went.

We didn’t have sex, unless her grinding on me or making me go down on her counts. She certainly didn’t concern herself with whether I got my rocks off. In fact, she seemed to rather like the idea of using a man for her own pleasure while giving no consideration to his. Turnabout being fair play, I suppose.

The less said about that venture, the better. Let’s just say that if by some miracle I ever meet her again, and she doesn’t shoot me on sight, I owe her an apology. No, I didn’t force myself on her, but I mistook my infatuation for love and never realized she was just using me as a pre-university fling.

After that, you moped. You were emo, only without the fashion or the music (not that you ever had the figure for skinny jeans, even when you rode a bike 10–20 miles a day). Nobody ever taught you how to handle the end of a relationship, even one as misbegotten as the one you just fucked up and ruined, so you had no idea how to cope with loss in anything resembling a rational manner. Instead, you wrote a lot of shitty sci-fi and went through several second-hand copies of Rage for Order and Operation: Mindcrime by Queensryche, as well as getting deep into bands like Type O Negative, The Cure, and The Sisters of Mercy — all bands Naomi liked — as a last link to those memories.

You dropped out of college; it just didn’t seem worth it any longer, and because you were commuting you didn’t have the support network that other students had (no friends, remember?) and took the first shitty programming job you could get just so you could have your own apartment.

Once you had your own apartment and a dialup connection, you found your way back online. You found your back to web forums, but this time they were Yahoo! forums (and FARK) And, again, you met a girl. This time her name was Catherine, and she was from Australia. This time, however, you didn’t rush yourself and you didn’t rush her.

At least, not until you met in person a little over two years after meeting online, and the first thing she did at the airport was kiss you three times and hold you close. Being kissed by a woman who enjoyed kissing you was great; that much you figured out fast.

That being naked together was also pleasurable was something you and Catherine figured out fast, but nobody ever told you that you would not only not have much confidence in your own physical, sexual appeal as a man, but that a woman can find a man sexually appealing even if he isn’t some movie-star Adonis.

And nobody ever told you that after years of jerking off, your little friend might not want to wake up and say hello to your girlfriend. Fortunately, by then you knew other ways to help her feel good, but it wasn’t until you got married in 2004 that you managed the old in-out in-out.

Know what else they didn’t tell you? They didn’t tell you that fucking a woman, even one you love, isn’t all that great in and of itself. Frankly, kissing her and holding her feels better, and lasts longer too. But that’s not what she wants, so you’ll do your best but wonder sometimes why you bother. And then you’ll come up with ways to allay her concern if she guesses that it wasn’t all that great for you.

Because what are you going to tell her? “I enjoy your company but I like it better when we just make out and jerk off together?” Yeah, that’s a great way to keep a marriage going strong.

Oh yeah. You’ll have to figure out how to be married as well, while not letting your marriage become like your parents’ marriage, or that of her parents’. Good luck with that, because nobody’s gonna give you any useful advice on that front either. All I can say is be patient with her, because she’s probably exercising the patience of a bodhisattva.

But the upshot after all of this was that the assholes you used to fight were right, for the wrong reasons. You are a queer. Not because you like cock. That would be too easy. No, your problem is most likely that you’re demisexual. You won’t even learn the term until somebody reading your shit points out that your main characters tend to be demisexual, too.

Here’s the deal: you only get hard for somebody you know, trust, and genuinely care for. Chasing pussy is out, love at first sight is just a myth for you, and she’s more likely to cheat on your than you are to cheat on her, unless you come to love somebody else the way you love your wife.

Given how sociable you are, you’ll win the Nebula, the Hugo, or the World Fantasy Award before that happens.

I wrote this on Medium first. Silly of me.

You’re a Demisexual Mushroom, Kid

Reese Witherspoon’s Outrageous Demand

Reese Witherspoon thinks 50% of all roles in Hollywood should go to women. 50%! Fifty per-fucking-cent! Indiewire has the scoop, and you can see for yourself:

“Women make up 50% of the population, and we should be playing 50% of the roles on the screen,” said the Oscar winner in a frank and inspiring acceptance speech. Witherspoon emphasized the need for more “female surgeons, Supreme Court justices and soldiers” in the media, so we can see women “not just as the girlfriends to famous men.” Witherspoon’s past film roles have seen her play a high-school politician (“Election”), a lawyer (“Legally Blonde”), a doctor (“Just Like Heaven”) and a police officer (“Hot Pursuit”).

Can you believe the nerve of this woman, the sheer effrontery and unmitigated audacity, to demand that women be represented in film? I can, but you know what? I agree with her. But I always thought temerity was a virtue.

“But, Matthew,” says a gentleman in the audience, “If there’s a quota dictating that half of the roles in every movie should go to women, won’t that infringe on the author’s freedom to write as he pleases?”

I don’t think so. I’m not a lawyer, but I think it’s fairly obvious that if Congress (or the State of California) were to pass legislation mandating quotas in casting, then this would indeed a First Amendment issue. However, if a studio were to make a public commitment to only buying scripts written so that 50% of the roles could be played by women, that’s not censorship. That’s just the free market at work.

Furthermore, it isn’t that hard. Sure, I could have made Without Bloodshed‘s cast a complete sausage-fest (and thus become a rather curious spectacle: a straight man writing gay romance), but I didn’t. You can see the major character breakdown by gender for yourself.

Major characters, by the way, are characters who either appeared in more than one scene in Without Bloodshed, or will appear in other Starbreaker novels. The table below is subject to updates and corrections as needed.

Men Women
Morgan Stormrider Naomi Bradleigh
Isaac Magnin Elisabeth Bathory
Saul Rosenbaum Iris Deschat
Munakata Tetsuo Nakajima Chihiro
Alexander Liebenthal Tamara Gellion
Edmund Cohen Christabel Crowley
Sid Schneider Catherine Gatto
Samuel Terell Sarah Kohlrynn
Abram Mellech Claire Ashecroft
John Desdinova Miria Deschat
Roger Riordan Karen Del Rio
Malkuth Astarte

OK. It’s not a perfect 50/50 split between men and women, but I don’t think I did too badly, either. I’m just a long-haired metalhead who codes for a living. Is it really that hard for a professional Hollywood screenwriter?

Yes, it imposes constraints on the writer, and may require the writer to deviate from their original vision. Who cares? If you’re going by the Save The Cat! formula, you’re already writing to constraints. And once you sell a script, it’s no longer yours anyway, and your vision will be compromised unless you’re some kind of legend.

So why not do the right thing and write your story so that half the population is represented in your cast? What do you think? Do you already consider gender representation in your work? Do you think I’m completely off-base? I want to hear what you think, as long as you can keep it civil.