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.”