Interview Transcripts

Michael Ehart: Fantasy Writer   May, 2009

 

Michael Ehart’s stories have appeared recently in Dark Worlds, Ray Gun Revival, The Sword Review, Every Day Fiction, Flashing Swords and Fear and Trembling, and in anthologies including Damned in Dixie, The Best of Everyday Fiction, Return of the Sword, Unparalleled Journeys II, Magic and Mechanica, and the upcoming Rage of the Behemoth. 
His book The Servant of the Manthycore from DEP is considered by critics to be one of the best fantasy books of 2007. Michael Moorcock writes in the foreword, "It resonates with the authenticity of genuine myth, bringing a deep, true sense of the past; a conviction which does not borrow from genre but mines our profoundest dreams and memories; the kind which give birth to myths." The sequel, The Tears of Ishtar, will debut in early fall.
His secret identity is as the mild-mannered Chief Security Officer and Systems Engineer for a large Application Hosting Company. His Computer Security credentials include high level certification as a CISSP and HIPAA Security Specialist. He is the HIPAA Security Forum Administrator for cccure.org, one of the leading IT security sites, and writes a monthly column on computer security for Accounting Practice Development News.
Ehart is married to one of the most beautiful women in the world and would offer "pistols for two, coffee for one" to anyone who disagrees but pesky laws get in the way and so offers instead to naysayers a referral to a good optometrist.
You can find out more about what he is up to at http://mehart.blogspot.com .

 

Mary Rosenblum:  Michael, it's great to have you here!  For those of you out there, I've known Michael for quite some time. We mostly bump into each other at Norwescon, the SF/fantasy convention up near Seattle.  We sometimes end up signing at the same table.  Michael writes rather nice fantasy (read Servant of the Manthycore) that gets very nice reviews.  
So, as I said, it's great to have you here! 

 

Michael Ehart:  Wonderful to be here! Mary is one of my favorite panel-mates. She is a wealth of imformation, both about the business of writing and the craft. 
(Don't tell her this, but she is one of those writers around whom I must watch myself, in case I suddenly break out into fan-boy babble  Smiley) If you haven't read Horizons, go do so now. That's how a story is put together!
I am very excited about sharing a TOC with Mary in the upcoming Rage of the Behemoth, from RBE. My story there is an excerpt from the coming Tears of Ishtar, which is a sortof sequel to 2007's Servant of the Manthycore, so if you like it you know where to find more!
Barrage me with questions, please --- I can always make up an answer!

 

Mary Rosenblum:  Oh, Michael, I am SO blushing!   Kiss  But hey, you're my favorite up and coming fantasy writer.  Cool to be sharing the same anthology! 

 

Dale Ivan:  Hi Michael, thanks for being here this week. I've seen you at few conventions here in the Pacific Northwest and  enjoyed the panels you were on  Smiley
My wife bought a copy of your novel, The Servant of the Manthycorewhen it was published and really enjoyed it. It's on my to-read list  Grin

 

Michael Ehart:  Dale,  Your wife displays a charming discernment, obviously, in both literature and men. Smiley
Mary,  I have a feeling about this anthology; I suspect it will garner a lot of attention. A lot of writers have been working really hard to re-define "low fantasy" and S&S and I think this book will provide a great launching pad for what Howard Jones calls the "New Edge."

 

RBE Jason: Hi Michael! Hi Mary! (He get's first billing, as it's his week after all Grin)  Glad to hear both of you excited about Rage! Much to be happy about there.  I hope you get lots of visitors this week, Michael. I popped in early Tuesday and read up on things; will catch up now and toss in a comment here and there.  Folks - read Michael's works. He does a thorough job of creating and then pulling you into his ancient world and he's created a very fine and well-rounded character to is very believable.  Enjoy!

 

Mary Rosenblum:  Ditto what Jason said.  And Michael, I hope you're right about attention for Rage of the Behemoth.  About time for some new attention in fantasy. 

 

Michael Ehart:  Jason and Mary -- thank you both, very kind.

Jason, heroic fantasy is the Ur of literature. After all, the first narrative tale was the Epic of Gilgamesh. 
The genre just somehow got ghettoised. The truth is, a good writer of heroic fiction (Homer, for one) is often recognized as a master. It isn't readers who decided that the sort of stories that have amazed listeners since a bunch of naked apes developed speech were somehow "not worthy". It was sadly the result of some marketing survey. Not cool. Not sophisticated enough. Low brow.
The truth is, if you tell a story that touches the heart of the human experience, no matter how crudely told, there will be an audience ready to hear what you have to say. And if you have drunken from the well of the muses (i.e. spent a little time learning your craft as a story teller) you will be able to touch the essential core of your readers in such a way as to change their lives.
What other excuse do we need as scribblers to put down line after line of our blatherings? If in some small way (though I gotta say, I am aiming for great) we can show our readers even the smallest glimmer of meaning to continue our existence as a tenant of this too, too solid flesh, then our existence has been justified, and anything further is just raspberry drizzle on the key lime pie of life.
Heroic fantasy has been buried, sadly by our success. Xena, Hercules, and a very many stupid movies and interchangeable books conspired to kill our genre. But a funny thing happened. Like the unstoppable sprouts of thorny life that reappear after a vainly celebrated Fall eradication of blackberry vines in the Pacific Northwest, the very roots of story telling itself, the tale of the hero who overcomes against all odds and without, or in spite of the help of the gods, still will find its home in the heart of anyone who ever sat at the feet of Shaharazahd, or flipped a coin to hear the next verse sung by a blind poet, or stood ankle deep in refuse as a Groundling to laugh at Uncle Bill's latest collection of dick jokes presented in play form.
I am thrilled by Jason's collection of heroic fantasy stories, not only because they are ripping good tales, but because they represent a return to what story telling is all about.  Wrapped in a candy-coating of swords, bosoms, and sorcery he has selected a group of stories that remind us of why we started reading in the first place. We fooled our mothers and teachers into thinking that we were complying with whatever curriculum they were pushing. In fact, Dick and Jane were welcome to whatever dull and marginal existence they could eke out in the suburbs. So far as we were concerned, they were just shadows to be blinked through as we lived a life of swordplay and romance among the heroes of Barsoom.

 

Mary Rosenblum:  Michael, you've published a lot of short fiction in a lot of places, and most recently Servant of the Manthycore.  And we're both going to be in Rage of the Behemoth, which is way cool.   How did you get started?  When did you first start writing?  What made you keep at it?  When did you know that you were going to, by golly, be a writer?  

 

Dani:  Are you a former Long Ridge Writers Group student?  Thanks and welcome to Post a Note!

 

Michael Ehart:  Hi Mary, Hi Dani!
My Mom is a romance writer, and like most kids I grew up thinking my parents were normal, in the same fashion I have managed to delude my children in turn. It never seemed unobtainable or even a very distant goal. I made my first sales to national magazines in my early teens, and my first international sale in 1973 to a magazine in England. I kept and still have the acceptance letter from that one, as he used the word "whilst" which I had never before seen in anything but Dickens.  Smiley
Through the years I have written a lot of different things. I tend to write more when I am either very broke or doing pretty well. When I am broke I write a lot of non-fiction, because I can really crank it out and because there are so many markets for free-lance. There isn't a lot of money there, but if you know your markets and can write 20 column inches on how to shop for shoes for your kids, 20 more on the best places for sushi, and a couple of 5 inch fillers for a magazine editor you've been doing business with, and do a variation on that every day, you can make enough to get by, or at least supplement the times when you are under-employed. 
Fiction is very much harder to make any money at, so I tend to write the fun stuff when times are less tough. We've had a good few years lately at Casa Ehart, so I have been turning some of that energy to telling stories. I tend to write whatever comes to mind, and then match it to a market, which is the opposite of the process for non-fiction. Even when I submit to an anthology, it is because there was a certain story I wanted to tell, and that anthology needed something like what I send them. An example of how that might work is my story "Night of Shadows, Night of Knives" which appears (in the anchor position!) in the new Magic and Mechanica anthology from Ricasso Press. I wrote that story, about a very worried man running through the dark and dangerous streets of an alternate world middle-eastern city, over 15 years ago. It just wasn't a good fit for anyone until now. And the 20+ rejections mostly reflected this  ---nearly all praised the story, but it really was a little specialized. Still, it found a home.
I don't think Long Ridge Writers was around when I started, but I certainly admire the results Mary produces! Some wonderful writing is coming from students and former students here, and whenever I read something really good from someone new to me, it is never a surprise to learn they are an alumni of LR.

 

Mary Rosenblum:  What you said about 'Night Shadows, Night of Knives' Michael -- there's a market for every story, but sometimes the market doesn't exist when you first write the story.  :-)  That's why I suggest you save stories.  Do you have a regular schedule for 'looking over the inventory' Michael?  Or do you just remember everything you've written? 

 

Michael Ehart:  I have a system, involving a spread sheet with nifty color coding. I haven't been very good about keeping it up lately, because I am doing much less writing on spec. I've had a fantastic few years in short fiction, with more requests for stories than I can write. This is a very happy place to be, but it means that there are both a lot of stories I want to tell and haven't had the time for, and some older stories that might find homes if I just paid a little more attention.
I used to keep a handwritten log of stories, submissions, rejections, sales and resales. About 1995 I moved to electronic form. I honestly can give no better advice to someone who wants to make that first sale than to keep a lot of inventory in circulation. Keep good track of what you have written, where you have sent it, what the response was, and spend enough time researching the markets and talking to other writers so that you have a good idea of where it is going next. Shotgun submissions are annoying and a waste of everyone's time, so it is important that you understand how the editor is going to look at your submission. Keep good notes, and remember (or write down) peoples' names. A good rejection is an invitation to submit something else, so know what you might send them next.
I have written a lot of stories in the last 30 years. Most of them were crap and happily forgotten. When I go back through the old handwritten logs, I find titles that I have no recollection of ever having written, and notes on possible rewrites that could just as well been written by an entire stranger. I have one marvelous rejection letter from Algis Budrys from the mid 90's, full of excellent suggestions. Sadly, I have no memory of that story, but from his comments I would probably like to read it someday

 

RBE Jason: What a hilariously great read, Michael. So spot-on yet very funny because one doesn't often think about all those very obvious now facts you've listed.

 

Mary Rosenblum:  Excellent advice, Michael.  And I am SO laughing about those stories that you discover and can't remember writing them.  I’m glad it's not just me!   I do find the occasional story where I realize instantly what the broken spot is and can fix it.  That's  nice.

 

Michael Ehart:  You know, Mary, I have found any number of stories that were improved by the benign negligence of a decade or so. Most often, I realize that the story is crap, which lets me place it in the "learning experience" bin. Other times, I find it Frank Capra obvious what the story needs, and so am able to fix it with just a few lines of re-write.
Far less common, and most rewarding, I discover a gem that only needed a little growing from the teller of the tale. In that case I fix the obvious problem, scan through for glaring idiocy, and promptly send it off to be published and subsequently reviewed as having a natural style and clean, effortless narrative that demonstrates the author's native talent and unrefined story-telling ability.
Which is to say I have managed to knock the rough corners from the tale, and the reader just doesn't recognize the places where I spent literally hours trying to figure out the best way to just get on with it, and tell the fracking story.

 

Dani:  Michael, have you written mysteries too?

 

Michael Ehart:  Dani--  By the strangest of coincidences I just this morning received my copy of The Best of Everyday Fiction 2008. I have two stories in it. One, "Only His Name", was written on a bet-- another writer challenged me to write and sell a boxing story. I made more on the bet than I was paid for the story!
The other story is a French noir detective story set in 1961. "Without Napier" turned out to be EDF's most popular and highest reader-rated story that month, and went on to be nominated for the Pushcart Award. There has even been some interest in expanding it into a novel, even though it is somewhat less than a thousand words long. You can check it out free, at http://www.everydayfiction.com/without-napier-by-michael-ehart/
Much of what I write is based around a noir structure. Classically, this means that either in the beginning of the story, or before the narrative starts, someone has made a poor moral choice, and the story is about how the characters deal with the consequences of that choice. This often will give a mystery feel to a story, and I even sometimes follow the concentric-circle method of plotting, which definitely makes for a mystery feel.

 

Dani:  Thanks, Micheal.  Loved the ending!   I've never heard of that site.  I'll keep it in mind for future reference.

 

Michael Ehart:  I subscribe. It is free, and you can get it like I do via email. I really enjoy starting my mornings with a fresh hot cup 'o steaming fiction  Smiley

 

Dani:  Ok.  I'll do that.  I want to read the other story as well because my protagonist in my LRWG assignments is a recreational boxer. 

 

Michael Ehart:   http://www.everydayfiction.com/only-his-name-by-michael-ehart/  Happy to accommodate you!

 

Dani:  Thank you!  Good, but sad, story.  Smiley

 

Mary Rosenblum:  So, as long as we have you here, bwa ha ha, let us milk you ...er ask you...for helpful tips on real life internet safety. Or is there such a thing?   These days, as publishing moves to the internet, and people are now getting phishing letters from fake publishers, it's more of a jungle out there than ever. Or so it seems.  What's your take on this?  You are the expert here!  

 

Michael Ehart:  Security is relative. It is important to remember that rather than something to be achieved, security is a set of behaviors and safeguards. 
How safe do you want to be? And maybe more importantly, how safe do you need to be? I do business regularly over the net, and the company I work for is an Application Service Provider. We provide a web-based service that allows our customers to do financials from on-site, so our requirements are a lot closer to 100% bullet-proof than most users are going to require for making thier car payment or ordering my book from amazon http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_ss_gw?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=servant+of+the+manthycore&x=17&y=21.  Smiley
Over the next couple of days, I'll drop a few hints as to the best ways to secure your stuff, and maybe a cautionary tale or two. Do ask questions, because that's what I'm here for!

 

Here's something cool (for me anyway!) It is a post I wrote back in 2005 on wireless security. It is still good.

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Wireless Security 
I have been asked a lot recently about wireless networks, and how to secure them. On this subject there is good news and bad news. Sadly sometimes its the same news. So let's do some FAQ's here, and see if I can clear up a few questions.
Q: Is a wi-fi network as secure as a wired network?
A: Nope. All of your traffic is broadcast via radio waves, which means that anyone with a wireless card can tune in. Using a laptop to troll for unsecured wireless networks is called wardriving. Ten minutes in the parking lot of any medium sized medical office complex will provide a wardriver with a half-dozen networks just laid out for the asking.
Q: Can wi-fi be made more secure?
A: Yep. Jeff at HIPAA blog has some excellent suggestions here. Your basic security concern with any network, wireless or not, is to conform to what security experts call the CIA model-- Confidentiality, Integrity, and Accessibility. You want your information to be confidential--- meaning that it stays off of the phosphor of the bad guys, have integrity, meaning that the bad guys haven't changed it, and accessible to the folks who need it, but not accessible to those who don't.
Q: Okay, then. Let's talk about confidentiality and how to achieve it.
A: To start with, encryption is your friend. It is possible to encrypt/decrypt your information without the user having to do anything--- we call this transparency. Use a protocol like WEP to keep the blackhats out. Make certain that the default names and passwords have been changed on your wireless router. And try to limit the range of your wireless broadcast to the offices you are in. Wardrivers love to be able to sit in a car in your parking lot, and crack your system at leisure.
Q: Integrity seems important.
A: It is! One of the favorite tricks of malicious users is to change stuff around, which is pretty funny unless it is your customer information, patient health records, or your website being changed. A strong password policy is the least you can do. Couple this with biometrics like fingerprint scanners or tokens like smartcards and you will be killing two birds with one implementation--- your personnel will have access and non-personnel won't.
Q: Fine. So how do I do all this?
A: Here is one of my favorite sources--- The Unofficial 802.11 Security Web Page. If this seems too much for you, consider hiring a consultant. Your network can be hardened by a pro in a surprisingly short time, and the cost of the hired gun is far less that you might think. Especially if someone gets into your system and changes your order forms so they point to something that would make your Marine Corps DI blush.

 

Mary Rosenblum:  Oh, this is SUCH great how to.  And boy, the reports of people whose systems get hacked or who discover that someone has been using their web identity, are legion. Seems more a matter of 'when' you get nailed than 'if' you will get nailed. 

 

Michael Ehart:  We have a saying in IT Security -- "The bad guys only have to be good once." The trick is to deny them the opportunity. By using secure passwords, keeping system and application updates current, and using a good anti-virus you can eliminate about 95% of the risk. Sadly, that still leaves you vulnerable to the biggest threat of all: you. It only takes a momentary lapse at the wrong time to get hit.

The good news is that for the most part you are not the main target of the bad guys. Willie Sutton was right. It makes more sense for them to go where the money is. But if you make it easy enough, someone will oblige you. Credit card numbers, bank account information and social security numbers should never be kept on your computer, unless in a secured database like Quickbooks. Turn off autocomplete, and never, ever let the computer remember your passwords.

 

Dale Ivan:  Michael, What's your writing process like? Are you an organic writer, or an outliner, or some where in between? I'm  experimenting with my process to get better handle on characters and their conflicts and am always interested in how other writers approach the process of creating and writing fiction, with the caveat of course that everyone is different and YMMV  Smiley
Also, do you write to a daily or weekly word or page count, or use other metrics for setting and reaching writing goals, or are you more of a burst/binge writer?  Wink
Thanks again!

 

Michael Ehart:   Non-fiction I outline. Fiction mostly grows in my head until it ripens, then is written down, usually completely out of order. I'll write the core of the story out, then scenes that support it, then interstitial stuff.
But not always. If a story forms up in my head that goes from here to there in a fairly linear fashion, I'll probably write it that way, too. 
By preference I like to write 4-5 nights a week. The goal is 5000 words a week of finished, salable story. This is one short story or a chapter a week, which if I stick to it is fairly brisk. 
Life interferes with this, alot. I'll stay on task for 3-4 months, and then get interupted by something like my wife's current campaign, or recently a large project for work. Knocked off the habit, I'll write intermittently through the period I'm busy elsewhere, and then when time is a little more my friend I get back on the horse.
When I'm super busy like that I'll get more like 5000 words a month done. 
A few years ago I tried Jay Lake's story a week for a year plan. I did pretty well with it, managed to finish about 40 stories or chapters, and sold 16 of the shorts that year.
My best advice, of course, is to do what works for you. The key is to get a lot of words on paper, though, as many as you can early on. The more you write, the better you get.

 

Dale Ivan:  Thanks Michael! Your "best advice" is sage advice indeed, as is your comment about what is key to the process--words on the page  Grin  How do you create, discover, build, or otherwise come up with characters for your fiction? Do you use a particular technique such as character sheets, interviewing, freewriting, or do you discover them as you write your stories? I imagine you don't necessarily always use the same process  Smiley
Is there anything you feel is especially central to character?
Finally, do you have any tips or general advice for us on coming up with characters?

Michael Ehart:   This is certainly a lot of fun!
I mostly don't come up with characters. Mostly I steal them.
I am constantly exposed to interesting people, because I live in three different worlds that rarely intersect. I am a writer, and go to a lot of conventions, so I meet and observe the particular type of person who attends such gatherings. I work in a very specialized branch of IT, with its own interesting subculture filled with native fauna. And my wife is a politician, so I get to spend a lot of time as either armcandy, or working the room as the candidate's hubby. While there are some simularities, for the most part I couldn't ask for a more varied inspiration pool. Take parties, for example. The politicians dress better and have more expensive booze, but the conversations are better and more varied with a room full of writers. An IT party usually is mono-gendered, Boones Farm-oiled and involves six never married guys sitting in someone's Mom's basement doing a weekend marathon of Red Dwarf.
Most of our characters, by number anyway, are going to be minor. The tavern keeper, the bleery drunk, the garruolus farmer, the ringside know-it-all need to say their line or two, and then they vanish from the narrative. You can have them be invisible, of course, defined by their trade or appearance, but that is a lazy way to write, and it is a slippery slope from there to just filling slots with cliches from Central Casting. Spend a moment or two, and think about why that person is in this scene, other than as a prop to serve the story. Where did they come from? Where are they going? What do they think of the characters they interact with? Motivation is a daunting word, so I like to ask myself, "What's in it for them? How are their selfish interests served?"
Back to my social circles... My second best writing trick I stole from Raymond Chandler. Did you know that the quintessential American voice was actually born and raised in England? So how was he so able to convey the dialog and character of so many unmistakabley American characters? He sat in hotel lobbys, and listened to conversations. A word or two here, a brief chat there ...soon he had captured the unique American idiom of the mid-twentieth century. From these observations he was able to build characters that seemed to be someone you hadn't quite met yet, but probably would soon. 
Cons are fun, but they are work time for me, too. Besides shameless self-promotion and blathering about anything they'll put me on a panel for, I am careful to spend a few hours each day wandering the halls, listening and watching. Can't find me this hour on the con schedule? Look for the main intersection. That middle-aged guy who looks dangerously like me, sitting quietly in a corner chair? He may just be stealing your soul to include in one of his stories. 

 

Mary Rosenblum:  So that's what you 're up to when I pass you in the hallway and you're sitting there with that bemused expression. And I thought you were readying yourself for the next pithy panel!   Wink  So, Michael, what is it that you feel is the strongest part of your writing?  What do you think aspiring writers should work at perfecting?  What's important, in your opinion?  Here's your chance to talk about the craft of writing -- what is important, what isn't.  What's your take on 'getting published'?  

 

Speck: Ohhhh....I have a question.
The fiction market is getting smaller and smaller each day...well, not really but it is shrinking. How do you balance writing a great story with marketablility or do you just write the story and worry about finding the market later and if there isn't one, then move on to something else?  Or do you even consider the market when writing?

 

Michael Ehart:   Hi Speck!
This question always reminds me of the insult duel in Cyrano (my second favorite scene, BTW in my favorite play. I have a lot of versions of this classic, but by far my favorite is the Depardieu version. I have to watch it in two parts, and have for years. After the line, "I've been braver since", every copy of this I have ever had becomes defective, with the video suddenly blurry for at least an hour.)
How should I answer this? Philosophically? People will always need stories. The cave paintings were tales of the hunt. One of the first things ever written down, the Epic of Gilgamesh, from which I steal freely, was an adventure story. Jesus taught his lessons in story form. We are on the weird side of this, being those who create the stories, but our need to tell them is just as vital as the need of others to hear them. 
Economically? Conventional wisdom says fiction markets have shrunk dramatically since the early 1950's. People seem to get their stories from TV. Big publishing houses have shrunk and combined, and except for a few die-hards (God bless 'em) the fiction magazine is down for the count. The writing is on the wall... 
Realistically? Go take a peek at Ralan's. If you don't require your stuff to be in print, there are hundreds of markets who are clamoring for good stuff. In many ways, the ezine has taken the place of the pulps, as an entry drug for readers and as a breeding ground for aspiring writers. Many are quite awful, just as many of the old pulps were. Go read a Planet Stories magazine from the 40's. Pick one without a bunch of now-recognizable names, and tell me that all nine stores are classic. Three you will need to mainline caffiene just to stay awake through, three will be okay, but forgettable and probably only one will honestly be a good story. The ezine is no longer a "vanity" placement. Some of them are now SFWA eligible, and some, like the always fantastic Thousand Faces, an ezine of super-hero fiction, are flat out incredible.
Practically? Write your heart out. Write the stories you want to write, write the stories you want to read. Live the dream. If you are a true storyteller, Grasshopper, you will tell stories. If you tell them long enough, you will find a voice that is yours, and once that happens, there will be people to hear them. 

 

Dale Ivan: Following up on Mary's question, what do you feel is at the heart of story? One of my writing teachers feels that there is only one rule of fiction writing, that you must effect the reader emotionally. The rest he says are principles :-)  Would you agree? If so, what principles do you think are most important?

 

Michael Ehart:   That really is the question, isn't it Dale?
Every story has to tell some essential truth, or you have wasted the reader's time. It doesn't always have to be something deep, but unless there is some observation, revelation or conclusion about the human experience, the story will be rudderless. Somewhere in the pack of lies we spin, there needs to be a kernel of honesty.
So I would have to agree somewhat with your teacher  ---we react emotionally to things that touch on our lives. But without the underlying truth to sustain it, the most heart-wrenching scene will seemed contrived.
It is a funny thing, isn't it? We read fiction to find truth. 
That being said, the story is always the thing. Small peeks at the underlying truths of our existance are much more palatable than a full-bore bludgeoning of our readers with the truth Truth TRUTH!
I am not one to struggle over finding the right word or phrase, or to spend weeks agonizing over the emotional through-line of a story I am telling, but I can provide an example of a time where I had to go away from a story for a bit to find the right way to say the thing I wanted. It was from a Servant of the Manthycore story, “The First Trial of Jermaish the King”, which appeared in Flashing Swords #10 last May and will be included as a chapter in the upcoming Tears of Ishtar. Those of you who have read some of my Servant stories (Bless you, each and every one!) know that the protagonist is a woman who has been under a murderous curse for many centuries, enslaved by a terrible beast and compelled to every few months take a group of people out into the desert and kill them, to feed the beast. Her life is so awful that she had long ago given up any hope, when a few odd events cause her to form a series of plans to be free. By chance, during one of these plans, she encounters an eight year-old slave girl, who somehow convinces her to buy her. This girl, Miri, becomes the Servant's adopted daughter, and through her eyes we see the gradual and sometimes fleeting return to humanity of someone who is so removed that she has forgotten her own name.
In this story, the Servant, who has been re-named Ninshi by her daughter, has been terribly wounded, and even though she has been kept alive for centuries by the magic of the Manthycore, she may very well die. 

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Miri was only gone for a moment, but by the time she returned with a ewer of water Ninshi was laid back on the pallet, panting. Across her bared belly were several slashes. Most were already closing, but two were swollen and angry, purplish along the edges. 
“The blood of the creature is poisonous,” Ninshi whispered. “If not for the protection of the talisman I would already be dead.” 
“What shall I do?” gasped Miri. For the first time in the years since her mother had bought her from the slave traders she was afraid for her. 
“Clean me up, best as you are able. I will sleep soon, a healing sleep as the talisman fights the poison. If it wins I will awake after some time. Perhaps many hours, even days. Do not let the King’s healers or witch men near me, as anything they try will probably kill me. And do not remove the talisman. It is all that can prevent the poison from killing me, or worse.” 
“I will not leave you.” Miri laid her hand on Ninshi’s. It was cold, and the scars and calluses were rough. 
Ninshi panted for a moment then nodded. “Yes, I know.” She laid her head back, and her eyelids started to drift closed. 
“I love you, mother,” whispered Miri. 
Ninshi’s eyes fluttered open for a moment. “What a strange thing to say,” she murmured, and then was asleep. 

Here, in the context of an adventure story, I was able to find a place where I could tell something I had learned about the nature of being loved. In fact, the whole of the story was about that, even though it had demonic creatures, midnight death, sword fights, and dark magic. In fact, the wrappings are what made it possible to tell that truth, because I am not entirely certain I could just baldly state it and have it make any sense. You can read the story here:http://flashingswords.sfreader.com/issues/issue10/fsi100018.htm You can let me know if the truth got told. 
And of course, if you like that story, you will be quite welcome to buy the book this fall Smiley

 

RBE Jason:  “The First Trial of Jermaish the King” is one of Michael's (and Ninshi's) best stories! And I loved that part you cite, Michael. I thought that line eyes fluttered open for a moment. “What a strange thing to say,” she murmured, perfect, both for the story, the concept, the blend of actions (flutter and murmur)... I think this is my favorite of your Servant tales.

 



 

 




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