Category: Fiction

So I’m writing a novel. Naturally, when people learn that, they often ask, “What’s your novel about?” or, “What kind of novel is it?” or, “What are you, nuts?” And then I have to answer them.

Ignoring that last question, I could call it a fantasy novel. But there’s not really a lot of fantasy in it. Obviously (if you’ve read even the first few paragraphs—if you haven’t, it’s here), the whole thing hinges on a pretty big fantastical element right out of the gate, and I’d be lying if I said that element had no significance beyond hurtling a modern voice into the 12th Century. That said, while there are a few swords, there’s precious little sorcery. More substantively, the book is not an exploration of a world driven more by mystical forces than the rational. (I think. Maybe I need to give that one some more thought.) Anyway, I don’t think the “fantasy” handle fits.

So I usually say it’s an historical novel, set in the age of the Crusades and with a little supernatural stuff thrown in. Wikipedia (quoting Britannica) says an historical novel “has as its setting a period of history and attempts to convey the spirit, manners, and social conditions of a past age with realistic detail and fidelity (which is in some cases only apparent fidelity) to historical fact. The work may deal with actual historical personages, or it may contain a mixture of fictional and historical characters.” Seems to fit the bill.

Realistic detail and fidelity (or apparent fidelity) conveys the spirit of the historical era.

Of course, time travel is hardly historical (so far as we know anyway), and while the supernatural is pretty subdued in this book it’s not entirely absent. But Britannica goes on to say that “one type of historical novel is the purely escapist costume romance, which, making no pretense to historicity, uses a setting in the past to lend credence to improbable characters and adventures.” So if that counts, maybe my liberties can be forgiven.

Improbable characters and adventures? Not so much.

To my ear, for what it’s worth, “historical novel” sounds a bit more dignified than “fantasy.” Maybe that’s because I have delusions of snobbery (not that my love of fantasy fiction and games is any sort of secret). Or maybe I’m just desperate to justify throwing a year of my life into this thing, and “historical novel” sounds more grown-up. Whatever.

But claiming to write an historical novel comes with a bit of baggage: That darned history. Seems if you want to grasp that “historical” title, you have to deal with the historical. Britannica’s “apparent fidelity” bit gives one a little leeway, but one must at least attain a decent level of veracity, a sense that the story is really set in the setting it’s said to be set in (if you see what I mean). Which basically means its level of historical detail has to go beyond common knowledge—the book needs to know at least as much history as the average reader.

And if you’re really going to sell it as an historical novel, it must be historically “correct” enough not to offend actual history buffs. (I was going to write “actual historians,” but I don’t think they’re the real problem. Armchair historians are worse, because like most nerds they only respect one’s information if it’s demonstrably superior to their own.) Because a history buff who doesn’t like your history won’t just not like your book—he’ll hate it. Perhaps enough to say unpleasant things about it on Amazon or iBooks. And nobody wants that.

Do I pass the test? If you’ve read what’s been posted so far, maybe you have an opinion. I’ll examine a few aspects of the book in a future post.

Comment below; you know you wanna! And receive an email notification of every update to this site by subscribing (see the link to the right). Converse with me on Twitter at @charlesmryan, or follow my writing diary on Facebook at Charles M Ryan.

Etien looked back at me. He was tall by the standards of those around us. And though he wasn’t any taller than me—and didn’t, as far as I could tell, have an inch of neck—I still seemed to be looking up at him.

“Tell me about the castle. How many men does she have on it?”

“I’m sorry, my lord, but I cannot betray her confidence.” I braced myself for the fists. My nose and cheekbones were so sore; I wasn’t sure how much of it I could take. But I was thinking of Madeleine, that first day I saw Etien, standing calmly in the face of his threats.

He didn’t hit me. Instead, before I even knew what was happening, he had grabbed my left wrist and pulled it up. Like Jason rending his way through a dozen at the Wing Dome, he grabbed my pinky and wrenched it back, twisting as he went. There was a cracking sound. I fell to my knees, screaming and clutching my hand, engulfed in a world of pain and shock.

The Count was bellowing at me, but I almost didn’t notice. “Do you think I will stand for games?” he shouted. Bits of spittle were showering down on me. A lightning bolt shot through my kidney as he kicked me, hard, and I doubled to the floor. “You are in my house! When I ask a question you answer it!”

I was panting. Sobbing. I couldn’t see anything; my vision was painted in shades of pain. I was holding my hand, but I didn’t dare touch the finger—it was sticking out at a sickening angle; just seeing it was stirring vomit in my gut. The flesh around the knuckle was ballooning up. An ache, dull but intense, was radiating out of my side where I’d been kicked.

“Hannes,” Etien said, an iota more calmly. “Give me your axe.”

It’s been a busy summer. Not, for the most part, a summer filled with writing fiction, though I did have nice and productive conversations at Gen Con with the excellent Drew Baker (who will be putting the cover on this novel) and Jim Lowder (who, if we can make our schedules jibe a bit, will do a little editing).

So to say Thanks to the three of you who are still checking this blog, I’m posting herewith an omnibus edition of the current draft, complete up through Chapter 16. I hadn’t been planning to post any further chapters until the whole thing was finito, but, well here you go.

Chapter 16 isn’t a particularly long chapter, nor is it (as you might gather from the excerpt above) a particularly pleasant one for Martin. But I like the way it turned out, and it introduces some pretty important story elements (though they might not—strike that: should not—be obvious at this point). Let me know what you think!

Click through for PDF.

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I’ve been writing. You’ve been reading. But that’s not all that’s been going on—while we’ve been doing our part, the extremely awesome Drew Baker has been mulling over the book’s cover.

Drop by that site I’ve linked above. Drew is an incredible artist, and I’m sure you’ll be impressed with his work. (If you play L5R, D&D, or Warlord, chances are you already have been.) Once you’ve done that, so you have a sense of how a finished piece might come across, have a look at this short progression of initial sketches:

An initial idea: Martin outside the castle, surveying the work to be done.

A second concept, this time moving Martin into the Old Church in Liege. That would be a fresco of Saint Martin, on his horse with the cloak and the beggar and all that, in the background.

Another take on the same scene, giving Martin a more dynamic pose and upping the tension in the piece.

In our discussions, we’ve kicked around how to convey Martin’s modern background, but ultimately decided that there wasn’t any great way to do it—and that it wasn’t really that important, anyway. Drew had this to say: “The story is about him fitting into his new world, not him being ‘The Man From the Future!’. You established the conceit straight away, but it’s mostly served to make him the stranger in a strange land, and we learn about the world along with him. None of the Avatar posters or covers focus on Jake Sully being paraplegic—it’s the same thing.” Well stated.

I’ve known Drew for a very long time. I’d like to say I “discovered” him, in the sense that I gave him one of his first professional commissions, for a Millennium’s End book that was unfortunately never published (but for which he drew some excellent pieces). Truth be told, though, with his skill and talent his discovery by others was quick and inevitable. Coincidentally, one of his earliest jobs was illustrating the Triamore Sourcebook I wrote for Ars Magica—a sourcebook set in a Brabantine manor that was a sort of prototype for the Bois de Haillot of this novel. This was not long after Drew had done the Millennium’s End work, and I don’t think either one of realized our mutual involvement in the project until we each got our contributor copies! As if that’s not enough, I have one of Drew’s original oils up on my living room wall. So to say that I respect and admire the man’s work would be an understatement!

I really like the direction these sketches are heading—what do you think?

Comment below; you know you wanna! And receive an email notification of every update to this site by subscribing (see the link to the right). Converse with me on Twitter at @charlesmryan, or follow my writing diary on Facebook at Charles M Ryan.


If you haven’t been following my Facebook posts, you might not have heard: Last night I typed the words THE END. 407 pages, 30 chapters, and 157,017 words into The Mason of New Orleans.

It’s not done—it’s not even really a complete first draft, as there are several little holes I’ll have to go and fill in. But it is, roughly, a complete novel, with a beginning middle, and end. And it’s a very, very good feeling!

And now, the end game: Filling in those few holes, editing, and revisions. Who’s ready for a complete book?

Comment below; you know you wanna! And receive an email notification of every update to this site by subscribing (see the link to the right). Converse with me on Twitter at @charlesmryan, or follow my writing diary on Facebook at Charles M Ryan.

“Who is this?” the knight had asked Staas, jerking his head my way. I don’t think he had been expecting us; a half-eaten dinner was on a trestle table. I’d caught a glimpse of the lady of the house, along with a couple children, disappearing from the hall through a rear door as we had entered.

“One of Ma Dame’s household, Mon Sieur” Staas had answered. “We almost got her as well, but she escaped us.”

The knight had considered me for a moment, before turning to Staas. “He’s not her wizard?” he said. His tone was a bit hushed.

Staas’s eyes had widened a bit, and the other guys, standing around me, shifted. “I—” he hesitated; I could see him playing back the capture through his mind. “I don’t think so.” He rubbed a meaty hand across his meaty mouth. “She was alone with him in the woods. He don’t look like a wizard. He didn’t do anything.”

The knight had stepped my way, pulling his knife. He slipped it under my gag and cut it free.

“Who are you?”

I had taken a couple of deep breaths, then tried to work some moisture into my mouth. “Michel,” I gasped after a moment. I’d spent some time during the march thinking about this. Michel wasn’t very inventive, but I wasn’t so conversant in local names that I wanted to get too creative. “Michel of Osche. I am a scribe.”

The knight leaned a bit, just enough to see my hands tied behind my back. I had enough ink stains to be convincing. “You don’t look like a scribe. And you talk strange.”

Click through for a PDF.

This half-chapter contains almost no dialog (you get the bulk of what it has above), but, I hope, rather a lot of tension. This is terrain with which I’m not enormously confident, so I’d love to hear your thoughts on whether it worked.

Comment below; you know you wanna! And receive an email notification of every update to this site by subscribing (see the link to the right). Converse with me on Twitter at @charlesmryan, or follow my writing diary on Facebook at Charles M Ryan.

“Maitre Martin!” he said. “I was just thinking of you.” I started to my feet, but he waved me down. He knelt beside me. The kid had a bundle in his arms.

“Thinking of me?”

“Yes, you. You have been quite the talk today.” He took a couple bandages from the kid and laid them on his knees, then started pushing up my sleeve.

I glanced at Gigot. “Really?” I said slowly. “Who has been talking about me?”

Chretien ignored me. “I’ve been asking myself: What sort of man arrives in town with a ten-year-old draft and a strange accent.” He took an earthenware jar from the kid and pried off the lid, dabbing a rag in the contents. “Buys himself expensive clothes. Then gives ostentatiously to the poor. One answer presents itself: A man suddenly into a large sum of money, but with a weight on his conscience. A thief or brigand.”

I glanced again at Gigot. He had taken a quiet half-step back, and his hand had moved to the haft of the axe.

In his comments last week, T.W. Wombat said he enjoyed the sense that “the list of places to run keeps shrinking” in this chapter. I don’t think the back half of it will disappoint–but I’ll let you be the judge!

New to this? Start with the first 10 chapters here. Then get the first half of Chapter 11 here.

And then read this:

And then, when you’ve done all that, comment. ‘Cause that’s the reason—the whole reason—I’m posting these things. To get your comments!

Comment below; you know you wanna! And receive an email notification of every update to this site by subscribing (see the link to the right). Converse with me on Twitter at @charlesmryan, or follow my writing diary on Facebook at Charles M Ryan.

“Ah! Here we go,” he said. One of the scraps stuck to his lip; two more fluttered to the ground. He stooped again to pick them up, then held one out at arms length, squinting at it.

“Alum,” he read, pausing to remove the scrap from his lip. “Black vitriol, live lime, and borates. No, that can’t be right. Didn’t I get borates in Verdun?” He scratched his chin again, then stuffed that scrap back into his purse. Gigot started walking again, and Gaspard followed, shuffling through the remaining couple of scraps in his hands.

“Yes, here we go. Hair cloth. I know I needed hair cloth. And some new iron molds. And phials. That goes without saying, of course.” He looked up at me. “And of course the relic market. Liege is an excellent market for relics.”

He was now moving at speed, and I took up position beside him once more. He had a surprisingly long stride. “Relics?”

He stopped again. “You aren’t a officer of the church, are you?”


“No, no, of course you aren’t.” He started walking once more. “Liege was once a great center of learning, you know. Well, it still is, I suppose, but it has fallen behind Paris and the other universities. It has never actually had an university, per se.” He said that last bit like it was an obscure but amazing bit of trivia. Like “bulls can’t actually see the color red; they just hate capes.”

“Really?” I asked. Hey, it was better than thinking about dead people.

“It’s true. But it is nonetheless an excellent source for instruments and materials of philosophy.”

“And relics.”

“Oh, yes, and relics. Though I suppose that has more to do with the churches.”

That would make sense. I guess.

“Why the interest in relics? What do they have to do with—um—philosophy?”

“Well, Rhazes speaks very little about the intervention of the divine on transmutation—but then, you would know that, of course. I suppose that’s to be expected; he was a heathen.” He paused, and for a second we walked in silence. Then he went on: “I’ve often thought it interesting that so much of note has come from the heathen philosophers. Not that they are all in agreement, of course: Rhazes himself demonstrated that the four elements of the Greeks are a misconception. Though few scholars fully accept his thinking on this topic. His medicine, yes, of course. . .” He went on for quite some time; I think he was rather into this Rhazes dude. Eventually, he trailed off.

And then he said, “But we were talking about relics.”

“Right,” I replied. “Relics.”

“I have rather an amazing one. Its effects on transmutation, especially the nigredo, have been, well, quite eye-opening. Would you like to see it?”

“You brought it with you?”

He hesitated. “I don’t usually leave it . . .” he muttered.

“In your pocket?” I suggested. He glanced down.

“I don’t think it would fit. Perhaps the mule.” The mule was just wandering by; apparently we again weren’t keeping up the pace. Gaspard started rummaging through the baggage as he walked.

“Wait,” said Gigot, halting. The mule stopped as well, flicking a nervous ear at Gaspard.

“Perhaps we should stop for a rest,” Michel said. He was a good twenty paces ahead. “Before we reach that village.”

We were well into the fields now; in another ten minutes we’d reach the village. I don’t think Michel wanted to spend any more time there than we needed to, and after my conversation with Madeleine, neither did I.

I picked out a spot along the bank that didn’t look too damp and sat down, arranging my cloak to let as little moisture soak through to my bottom as possible. Gigot started digging around on the far side of the mule as Gaspard seemed to find what he was looking for.

“Here it is!”

He brought it over and sat down next to me.

In his hand he had a box, about the size of a box of Kraft macaroni and cheese. The deluxe kind, with the goop instead of the powder. Only this box was made of wood, with elaborate metal trim. He handed it to me.

It was heavier than I expected, despite being just a bit smaller than my initial impression. The surface was engraved or inlaid or whatever with dense patterns that formed octagons and eight-sided stars. The corners and edges were made of brass or something, and there was a latch made of the same metal. It looked like something one of my gaming buddies might have kept his D&D dice in, only quite a bit more expensive.

“It’s—” I started to say Middle Eastern. “It’s from the Levant?”

“Oh, yes!” Gaspard responded with a nod. “Open it!”

I lifted the lid. The walls of the box were thick, so the space inside was considerably smaller than one would guess. Inside, something about the size of a shot glass was wrapped in dirty, stained fabric.

Michel had wandered up to us. He leaned over to watch.

“What is it?” I asked.

Yeah, yeah, it’s Wednesday. The Black Death is currently sweeping through the Ryan household, though, with severe cases of the flu affecting every family member. I have staggered from my deathbed to bring you this week’s chapter. By way of recompense for your inconvenience, however, I include the extra-long cut-scene above (really, I’m just too bushed to edit it) and a new deluxe omnibus edition of the first 10 chapters, gathered together.

Click through for PDF.

A fine collector’s piece for those of you who have been reading along, and a great place to start for those of you who haven’t!

This isn’t the most action-packed chapter, but you’ll see some significant elements of the main plot showing themselves, along with the introduction or blossoming of a couple of important sub-plots. Along with all the humor, wit, and insight that is simply de rigueur in this fine literary work.

As always, comments craved. Click below. And if you’d like to keep up with where I’m currently at on this literary travail, visit me on Facebook at Charles M Ryan, where I talk about the writing process as I go along (currently on Chapter 25). Couldn’t hurt to toss me a Like while you’re there. . . .

Comment below; you know you wanna! And receive an email notification of every update to this site by subscribing (see the link to the right). Converse with me on Twitter at @charlesmryan, or follow my writing diary on Facebook at Charles M Ryan.

It was still night. Still dark outside. Still cold—colder, it seemed, than when we went in, though maybe that was just in contrast to the heat down below. At least the rain seemed to have finally stopped.

I tripped and stumbled, half sliding, down through the brush and weeds for thirty or forty feet until I found a relatively clear spot. Somehow I kept my feet under me and managed not to drop Celestine. I crouched and, as carefully as I could, lowered her to the ground. In the deep blackness of this night, her body seemed almost to glow. She looked like a ghost.

A ghost who must be freezing. I quickly reached for the clasp of my cloak, but it took my shaking hands a minute to work it. Laying the cloak down on the wet grass, I rolled her onto it, then wrapped the edges around her.

Then I took a break to throw up.

Nothing came, but I must have spent two or three minutes on my knees, immobilized by the violent churn of my stomach. I heard the crack and rustle of someone else making their way down the slope, and some part of my mind acknowledged it was Michel, but had it been a bad guy there was nothing I could have done.

The churn and the tunnel vision started to slacken, and I willed myself to straighten as Michel crouched down beside us. He had Stephan’s shield, and now I could hear the latter pushing through the bracken above.

Michel pushed the cloak back a bit to look at Celestine’s face. “She is alive?”

Here it is: Chapter 9:

Click through for a PDF.

It’s not quite out of the frying pan and into the fire in this chapter, but, well, there are quite a few fires in Martin’s future, and this chapter sets him well on the path to a few of them.

(If you haven’t read any of this, there’s no time like the present! Get Chapters 1-6 here, Chapter 7 here, and Chapter 8 here.)

In other words, I’m heading (hopefully) into the last month of writing on this novel. If you have any thoughts on how it’s going, now’s the time to share them, before I wrap things up. Let me know what you think!

Comment below; you know you wanna! And receive an email notification of every update to this site by subscribing (see the link to the right). Converse with me on Twitter at @charlesmryan, or follow my writing diary on Facebook at Charles M Ryan.

“What about now?” Michel whispered from the other side of the opening. “What do we do?”

I leaned out past Stephan to sneak a peak down the passageway. It was dark, but not more than twenty feet long. At the far end someone had been peeking our way; a face disappeared behind the corner.

“Do you hear that?” I said. The sounds were coming from down that way: rhythmic chanting of some sort. It was still indistinct, but it now seemed to have a hurried feel. The acrid smoky smell was stronger too. “They’re still holding their mass.”

“The hierophant,” Stephan said. “He’s sent the congregation out to protect himself.”

“Not just to protect himself,” I answered. “To finish whatever it is he’s doing. To finish his ceremony!”

Stephan furrowed his brow. “Ma Dame said to stop the hierophant. But he’s sending the whole congregation out first. We have to get past them.”

That wasn’t going to happen. There was just this passageway; us here, them at the far end. One side was going to have to hack its way through the other. And meanwhile the bad guys had gone no-huddle. Celestine’s time had to be running short.

Here it is, in all its glory: The moment we’ve all been waiting for! Chapter duh-duh-duuuuuuuh Eight!

The Mason of New Orleans, Chapter 8

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All action all the time! But of course with every bit of the subtle nuance and gentle insight into the human condition you’ve come to expect from Martin’s 12th-Century exploits.

(If you haven’t read any of this, there’s no time like the present! Get Chapters 1-6 here, and Chapter 7 here.)

This may be one of my favorite chapters in the entire book so far (and by “so far,” I mean up through Chapter 21, on which I currently labor). Is it working for you? You let me know what you think, and I’ll keep those chapters coming. Maybe even on Mondays, once in a while. . . .

Comment below; you know you wanna! And receive an email notification of every update to this site by subscribing (see the link to the right). Converse with me on Twitter at @charlesmryan, or follow my writing diary on Facebook at Charles M Ryan.

A third crash and the door split lengthwise, a large plank flipping up into the air and landing next to the hearth. Hands fumbled through the gap. For a second it was like a zombie movie—arms lit orange by the firelight flailing sightlessly through the opening—but then they gripped the bar and lifted it, and the door flew open.

A man stepped in. I’d never seen him before, but he looked like a peasant. His eyes searched the room. He said something to someone behind him, but I couldn’t hear it over the pounding of my own heartbeat.

This was it.

I charged through the gap in the partition, bringing my club up in a two-handed swing. His jaw fell, and he started raising his own weapon, but he was two steps behind. He might have deflected my upward stroke, but if he took anything off the impact it wasn’t much. My swing connected above his brow, and I saw his eyes roll as my shoulder plowed into him.

The other guy was dropping whatever he was holding—their battering ram, I guess—and grasping for an axe tucked in his belt. A sitting duck, but I was off-balance, tangled in my first target, and I couldn’t bring myself to bear. I tried to plant my foot, but the earthen floor was slick where the rainwater was coming in. I swung as his axe cleared his belt, but my blow simply knocked his arm away. He took a half-step back and regained his stance.

I kicked myself free of the first guy, falling back half a step myself. I hefted my club again, twisting my body like a batter at the plate. We had the doorway between us—he had the deadlier weapon, but he was going to pay a price before he could use it.

“Come on!” I yelled out. I don’t know why, but suddenly I was feeling defiant. It was on, and now I was ready to get it over with. “You think you can take us? Come and get it!”

And then there was a crash from behind.

That’s an excerpt from Chapter 7. I’m telling you, it’s literary gold: Nonstop action, startling revelation, and touching emotional resonance, all wrapped up in uncanny insight into the human condition. But you’re not getting it today, because, as I said when I posted the omnibus, there are no more chapters until that draft hits 100 downloads. We’re closing in on it, but we aren’t there yet.

What’s that, you say–you haven’t read it? What the heck are you waiting for?!! Surely you’re dying to know how a 21st-Century gamer fares when thrown into the 12th Century? Grab it now—it’s 91 pages of trans-temporal brilliance. Then tell your friends!

Click through for PDF.

If you have read it, odds are very good you know someone who would also enjoy it. Please let them know! Cause I can practically taste that 100th download, and I don’t want to wait any longer than you do to start getting new chapters posted!

Receive an email notification of every update to this site by subscribing (see the link to the right). Follow me on Twitter at @charlesmryan or find me on Facebook at Charles M Ryan.

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