We’re giving one lucky winner a copy of Joe Okonkwo’s Jazz Moon. You can listen to and read an excerpt in Episode 61, where we feature Joe’s work.
Joe Okonkwo is a Pushcart Prize nominee who has had stories published in a variety of print and online venues including Promethean, Penumbra Literary Magazine, Chelsea Station, Shotgun Honey, and Best Gay Stories 2015. In addition to his writing career, he has worked in theater as an actor, stage manager, director, playwright and youth theater instructor. He earned an MFA in Creative Writing from City College of New York. Jazz Moon is his debut novel.
This week, we featured an excerpt from Rebecca Strong’s novel, Who Is Mr. Plutin, published by Curiosity Quill Press. And because both Strong and her publishers are awesome, we’re giving away her book to one lucky entrant to the contest below! If you don’t win, don’t worry! You can buy Who is Mr. Plutin here!
From the Curiosity Quill Press’s websites, a quick description of Who Is Mr. Plutin:
Yesterday Vika Serkova was in New York, eating takeout alone in her closet-sized apartment. Today she wakes up with a wedding ring on her finger, next to a man who claims to be her husband. In a designer flat in St Petersburg, Russia. Huh?
Her new reality is full of surprises. She owns only stilettos but can’t take a step in them without falling. People around her seem to think she’s lived in Russia her entire life. Her daily routine includes thousand-dollar spa visits with caviar and Dom Pérignon. And her husband is a handsome oligarch who buys her jewelry without any occasion. This new Russian life seems to be as different from the old American life as two countries’ views on Crimea.
Has reality blown a fuse? Vika won’t worry about it now that she is a living Cinderella story. At least not until her husband drops an ultimate bomb about why she’s forgotten everything, about the work she does with her father, and about her current assignment for the Russian President. The assignment, which, as she discovers a day later, sets her against her husband in a conspiracy big enough to cost them not only their Breguets but very possibly their lives. To save herself and the family she is beginning to remember Vika needs to fool them into defecting. A perfect plan but only if she can manage it with her Russian memory MIA and her opponents set on destroying each other even before Vika’s manicure dries.
Fun and fast-paced, WHO IS MR. PLUTIN? is set in modern day St. Petersburg, Russia where your chances in life are only as good as the car you drive, the clothes you wear, and the people you stay away from.
Tor Books has kindly agreed to let us give one of our wonderful listeners a copy of Brandon Sanderson’s The Bands of Mourning. Below you’ll find the details to enter, and the first chapter!
THE BANDS OF MOURNING: Chapter 1 Excerpt
By Brandon Sanderson
Waxillium Ladrian hurried down the steps outside the bar-turned-hideout, passing constables in brown who bustled this way and that. The mists were already evaporating, dawn heralding the end of their vigil. He checked his arm, where a bullet had ripped a sizable hole through the cuff of his shirt and out the side of his jacket. He’d felt that one pass.
“Oi,” Wayne said, hustling up beside him. “A good plan that one was, eh?”
“It was the same plan you always have,” Wax said. “The one where I get to be the decoy.”
“Ain’t my fault people like to shoot at you, mate,” Wayne said as they reached the coach. “You should be happy; you’re usin’ your talents, like me granners always said a man should do.”
“I’d rather not have ‘shootability’ be my talent.”
“Well, you gotta use what you have,” Wayne said, leaning against the side of the carriage as Cob the coachman opened the door for Wax. “Same reason I always have bits of rat in my stew.”
Wax looked into the carriage, with its fine cushions and rich upholstery, but didn’t climb in.
“You gonna be all right?” Wayne asked.
“Of course I am,” Wax said. “This is my second marriage. I’m an old hand at the practice by now.”
Wayne grinned. “Oh, is that how it works? ’Cuz in my experience, marryin’ is the one thing people seem to get worse at the more they do it. Well, that and bein’ alive.”
“Wayne, that was almost profound.”
“Damn. I was aimin’ for insightful.”
Wax stood still, looking into the carriage. The coachman cleared his throat, still standing and holding the door open for him.
“Right pretty noose, that is,” Wayne noted.
“Don’t be melodramatic,” Wax said, leaning to climb in.
“Lord Ladrian!” a voice called from behind.
Wax glanced over his shoulder, noting a tall man in a dark brown suit and bow tie pushing between a pair of constables. “Lord Ladrian,” the man said, “could I have a moment, please?”
“Take them all,” Wax said. “But do it without me.”
“I’ll meet you there,” Wax said, nodding to Wayne. He dropped a spent bullet shell, then Pushed himself into the air. Why waste time on a carriage?
Steel at a comfortable burn inside his stomach, he shoved on a nearby electric streetlight—still shining, though morning had arrived—and soared higher into the air. Elendel spread before him, a soot-stained marvel of a city, leaking smoke from a hundred thousand different homes and factories. Wax shoved off the steel frame of a half-finished building nearby, then sent himself in a series of leaping bounds across the Fourth Octant.
He passed over a field of carriages for hire, rows of vehicles waiting quietly in ranks, early morning workers looking up at him as he passed. One pointed; perhaps the mistcoat had drawn his attention. Coinshot couriers weren’t an uncommon sight in Elendel, and men soaring through the air were rarely a point of interest.
A few more leaps took him over a series of warehouses in huddled rows. Wax thrilled in each jump. It was amazing how this could still feel so wonderful to him. The breeze in his face, the little moment of weightlessness when he hung at the very top of an arc.
All too soon, however, both gravity and duty reasserted themselves. He left the industrial district and crossed finer roadways, paved with pitch and gravel to create a smoother surface than cobbles for all those blasted motorcars. He spotted the Survivorist church easily, with its large glass and steel dome. Back in Weathering a simple wooden chapel had been sufficient, but that wasn’t nearly grand enough for Elendel.
The design was to allow those who worshipped full view of the mists at night. Wax figured if they wanted to see the mists, they’d do better just stepping outside. But perhaps he was being cynical. After all, the dome—which was made of segments of glass between steel supports, making it look like the sections of an orange—was able to open inward and let the mist pour down for special occasions.
He landed on a rooftop water tower across from the church. Perhaps when it had been built, the church’s dome had been tall enough to overshadow the surrounding buildings. It would have provided a nice profile. Now, buildings were rising taller and taller, and the church was dwarfed by its surroundings. Wayne would find a metaphor in that. Probably a crude one.
He perched on the water tower, looming over the church. So he was here, finally. He felt his eye begin to twitch, and an ache rose within him.
I think I loved you even on that day. So ridiculous, but so earnest.…
Six months ago, he’d pulled the trigger. He could still hear the gunshot.
Standing up, he pulled himself together. He’d healed this wound once. He could do so again. And if that left his heart crusted with scar tissue, then perhaps that was what he needed. He leaped off the water tower, then slowed by dropping and Pushing on a shell casing.
He hit the street and strode past a long line of carriages. Guests were already in attendance—Survivorist tenets called for weddings either very early in the morning or late at night. Wax nodded to several people he passed, and couldn’t help slipping his shotgun out of its holster and resting it on his shoulder as he hopped up the steps and shoved the door open before him with a Steelpush.
Steris paced in the foyer, wearing a sleek white dress that had been chosen because the magazines said it was fashionable. With her hair braided and her makeup done by a professional for the occasion, she was actually quite pretty.
He smiled when he saw her. His stress, his nervousness, melted away a little.
Steris looked up as soon as he entered, then hurried to his side. “And?”
“I didn’t get killed,” he said, “so there’s that.”
She glanced at the clock. “You’re late,” she said, “but not very late.”
“I’m … sorry?” She’d insisted he go on the raid. She’d planned for it, in fact. Such was life with Steris.
“I’m sure you did your best,” Steris said, taking his arm. She was warm, and even trembling. Steris might be reserved, but unlike what some assumed, she wasn’t emotionless.
“The raid?” she asked.
“Went well. No casualties.” He walked with her to a side chamber, where Drewton—his valet—waited beside a table spread with Wax’s white wedding suit. “You realize that by going on a raid on the morning of my wedding, I’ll only reinforce this image that society has of me.”
“That of a ruffian,” he said, taking off his mistcoat and handing it to Drewton. “A barely civilized lout from the Roughs who curses in church and goes to parties armed.”
She glanced at his shotgun, which he’d tossed onto the sofa. “You enjoy playing with people’s perceptions of you, don’t you? You seek to make them uncomfortable, so they’ll be off balance.”
“It’s one of the simple joys I have left, Steris.” He smiled as Drewton unbuttoned his waistcoat. Then he pulled off both that and his shirt, leaving him bare-chested.
“I see I’m included in those you try to make uncomfortable,” Steris said.
“I work with what I have,” Wax said.
“Which is why you always have bits of rat in your stew?”
Wax hesitated in handing his clothing to Drewton. “He said that to you too?”
“Yes. I’m increasingly convinced he tries the lines out on me.” She folded her arms. “The little mongrel.”
“Not going to leave as I change?” Wax asked, amused.
“We’re to be married in less than an hour, Lord Waxillium,” she said. “I think I can stand to see you bare-chested. As a side note, you’re the Pathian. Prudishness is part of your belief system, not mine. I’ve read of Kelsier. From what I’ve studied, I doubt he’d care if—”
Wax undid the wooden buttons on his trousers. Steris blushed, before turning around and finally putting her back to him. She continued speaking a moment later, sounding flustered. “Well, at least you agreed to a proper ceremony.”
Wax smiled, settling down in his undershorts and letting Drewton give his face a quick shave. Steris remained in place, listening. Finally, as Drewton was wiping the cream from Wax’s face, she asked, “You have the pendants?”
“Gave them to Wayne.”
“You … What?”
“I thought you wanted some disturbances at the wedding,” Wax said, standing and taking the new set of trousers from Drewton. He slipped them on. He hadn’t worn white much since returning from the Roughs. It was harder to keep clean out there, which had made it worth wearing. “I figured this would work.”
“I wanted planned disturbances, Lord Waxillium,” Steris snapped. “It’s not upsetting if it’s understood, prepared for, and controlled. Wayne is rather the opposite of those things, wouldn’t you say?”
Wax did up his buttons and Drewton took his shirt off the hanger nearby. Steris turned around immediately upon hearing the sound, arms still folded, and didn’t miss a beat—refusing to acknowledge that she’d been embarrassed. “I’m glad I had copies made.”
“You made copies of our wedding pendants?”
“Yes.” She chewed her lip a moment. “Six sets.”
“The other four didn’t arrive in time.”
Wax grinned, doing up the buttons on his shirt, then letting his valet handle the cuffs. “You’re one of a kind, Steris.”
“Technically, so is Wayne—and actually so was Ruin, for that matter. If you consider it, that’s not much of a compliment.”
Wax strapped on suspenders, then let Drewton fuss with his collar. “I don’t get it, Steris,” he said, standing stiffly as the valet worked. “You prepare so thoroughly for things to go wrong—like you know and expect that life is unpredictable.”
“And life is unpredictable. So the only thing you do by preparing for disturbances is ensure that something elseis going to go wrong.”
“That’s a rather fatalistic viewpoint.”
“Living in the Roughs does that to a fellow.” He eyed her, standing resplendent in her dress, arms crossed, tapping her left arm with her right index finger.
“I just … feel better when I try,” Steris finally said. “It’s like, if everything goes wrong, at least I tried. Does that make any sense?”
“As a matter of fact, I think it does.”
Drewton stepped back, satisfied. The suit came with a very nice black cravat and vest. Traditional, which Wax preferred. Bow ties were for salesmen. He slid on the jacket, tails brushing the backs of his legs. Then, after a moment’s hesitation, he strapped on his gunbelt and slid Vindication into her holster. He’d worn a gun to his last wedding, so why not this one? Steris nodded in approval.
Shoes went last. A new pair. They’d be hideously uncomfortable. “Are we late enough yet?” he asked Steris.
She checked the clock in the corner. “I planned for us to go in two minutes from now.”
“Ah, delightful,” he said, taking her arm. “That means we can be spontaneous and arrive early. Well, late-early.”
She clung to his arm, letting him steer her down the side chamber toward the entrance to the dome, and the church proper. Drewton followed behind.
“Are you … certain you wish to proceed?” Steris asked, stopping him before they entered the walkway to the dome.
“Having second thoughts?”
“Absolutely not,” Steris said immediately. “This union is quite beneficial to my house and status.” She took Wax’s left hand in both of hers. “But Lord Waxillium,” she said softly, “I don’t want you to feel trapped, particularly after what happened to you earlier this year. If you wish to back out, I will accept it as your will.”
The way she clutched his hand as she said those words sent a very different message. But she didn’t seem to notice. Looking at her, Wax found himself wondering. When he’d first agreed to the marriage, he’d done so out of duty to his house.
Now, he felt his emotions shifting. The way she’d been there for him these last months as he’d grieved … The way she looked at him right now …
Rust and Ruin. He was actually fond of Steris. It wasn’t love, but he doubted he would love again. This would do.
“No, Steris,” he said. “I would not back out. That … wouldn’t be fair to your house, and the money you have spent.”
“The money doesn’t—”
“It’s all right,” Wax said, giving her hand a little squeeze. “I have recovered enough from my ordeal. I’m strong enough to do this.”
Steris opened her mouth to reply, but a knock at the door heralded Marasi sticking her head in to check on them. With dark hair and softer, rounder features than Steris, Marasi wore bright red lipstick and a progressive lady’s attire—a pleated skirt, with a tight buttoned jacket.
“Finally,” she said. “Crowd is getting fidgety. Wax, there’s a man here wanting to see you. I’ve been trying to send him away, but … well…”
She came into the room and held the door open, revealing the same slender man in the brown suit and bow tie from before, standing with the ash girls in the antechamber that led to the dome proper.
“You,” Wax said. “How did you get here before Wayne?”
“I don’t believe your friend is coming,” the man said. He stepped in beside Marasi and nodded to her, then closed the doors, shutting out the ash girls. He turned and tossed Wax a wadded-up ball of paper.
When Wax caught it, it clinked. Unfolding it revealed the two wedding pendants. Scrawled on the paper were the words: Gonna go get smashed till I can’t piss straight. Happy weddings ’n stuff.
“Such beautiful imagery,” Steris observed, taking Wax’s wedding pendant in a white-gloved hand as Marasi looked over his shoulder to read the note. “At least he didn’t forget these.”
“Thank you,” Wax said to the man in brown, “but as you can see, I’m quite busy getting married. Whatever you need from me can—”
The man’s face turned translucent, displaying the bones of his skull and spine beneath.
Steris stiffened. “Holy One,” she whispered.
“Holy pain,” Wax said. “Tell Harmony to get someone else this time. I’m busy.”
“Tell … Harmony…” Steris mumbled, her eyes wide.
“Unfortunately, this is part of the problem,” the man in brown said, his skin returning to normal. “Harmony has been distracted as of late.”
“How can God be distracted?” Marasi asked.
“We’re not sure, but it has us worried. I need you, Waxillium Ladrian. I have a job you’ll find of interest. I realize you’re off to the ceremony, but afterward, if I could have a moment of your time…”
“No,” Wax said.
Wax pulled Steris by the arm, shoving open the doors, striding past Marasi, leaving the kandra. It had been six months since those creatures had manipulated him, played him, and lied to him. The result? A dead woman in his arms.
“Was that really one of the Faceless Immortals?” Steris said, looking over her shoulder.
“Yes, and for obvious reasons I want nothing to do with them.”
“Peace,” she said, holding his arm. “Do you need a moment?”
Wax stopped in place. She waited, and he breathed in and out, banishing from his mind that awful, awful scene when he’d knelt on a bridge alone, holding Lessie. A woman he realized he’d never actually known.
“I’m all right,” he said to Steris through clenched teeth. “But God should have known not to come for me. Particularly not today.”
“Your life is … decidedly odd, Lord Waxillium.”
“I know,” he said, moving again, stepping with her beside the last door before they entered the dome. “Ready?”
“Yes, thank you.” Was she … teary-eyed? It was an expression of emotion he’d never seen from her.
“Are you all right?” he asked.
“Yes,” she said. “Forgive me. It’s just … more wonderful than I’d imagined.”
They pushed open the doors, revealing the glistening dome, sunlight streaming through it and upon the waiting crowd. Acquaintances. Distant family members. Seamstresses and forgeworkers from his house. Wax sought out Wayne, and was surprised when he didn’t find the man, despite the note. He was the only real family Wax had.
The ash girls scampered out, sprinkling small handfuls of ash on the carpeted walkway that ringed the perimeter of the dome. Wax and Steris started forward in a stately walk, presenting themselves for those in attendance. There was no music at a Survivorist ceremony, but a few crackling braziers with green leaves on top let smoke trail upward to represent the mist.
Smoke ascends while ash falls, he thought, remembering the priest’s words from his youth, back when he’d attended Survivorist ceremonies. They walked all the way around the crowd. At least Steris’s family had made a decent showing, her father included—the red-faced man gave Waxillium an enthusiastic fist-raise as they passed.
Wax found himself smiling. This was what Lessie had wanted. They’d joked time and time again about their simple Pathian ceremony, finalized on horsebackto escape a mob. She said that someday, she’d make him do it proper.
Sparkling crystal. A hushed crowd. Footsteps on scrunching carpet dappled with grey ash. His smile widened, and he looked to the side.
But of course, the wrong woman was there.
He almost stumbled. Idiot man, he thought. Focus. This day was important to Steris; the least he could do was not ruin it. Or rather, not ruin it in a way she hadn’t expected. Whatever that meant.
Unfortunately, as they walked the remaining distance around the rotunda, his discomfort increased. He felt nauseous. Sweaty. Sick, like the feeling he had gotten the few times he had been forced to run from a killer and leave innocents in danger.
It all forced him, finally, to acknowledge a difficult fact. He wasn’t ready. It wasn’t Steris, it wasn’t the setting. He just wasn’t ready for this.
This marriage meant letting go of Lessie.
But he was trapped, and he had to be strong. He set his jaw and stepped with Steris onto the dais, where the priest stood between two stands topped with crystal vases of Marewill flowers. The ceremony was drawn from ancient Larsta beliefs, from Harmony’s Beliefs Reborn, a volume in the Words of Founding.
The priest spoke the words, but Wax couldn’t listen. All was numbness to him, teeth clenched, eyes straight ahead, muscles tense. They’d found a priest murdered in this very church. Killed by Lessie as she went mad. Couldn’t they have done something for her, instead of setting him on the hunt? Couldn’t they have told him?
Strength. He would not flee. He would not be a coward.
He held Steris’s hands, but couldn’t look at her. Instead, he turned his face upward to look out the glass dome toward the sky. Most of it was crowded out by the buildings. Skyscrapers on two sides, windows glistening in the morning sun. That water tower certainly did block the view, though as he watched, it shifted.…
Wax watched in horror as the legs under the enormous metal cylinder bent, as if to kneel, ponderously tipping their burden on its side. The top of the thing sheared off, spilling tons of water in a foaming wave.
He yanked Steris to him, arm firmly around her waist, then ripped off the second button down on his waistcoat and dropped it. He Pushed against this single metal button, launching himself and Steris away from the dais as the priest yelped in surprise.
Water crashed against the dome, which strained for the briefest of seconds before a section of it snapped open, hinges giving way inward to the water.
Copyright © 2016 by Dragonsteel Entertainment, LLC
Sanderson grew up in Lincoln, Nebraska. He lives in Utah with his wife and children and teaches creative writing at Brigham Young University. In addition to completing Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series, he is the author of such bestsellers as the Mistborn trilogy, Warbreaker, The Alloy of Law, The Way of Kings, Rithmatist, and Steelheart. He won the 2013 Hugo Award for “The Emperor’s Soul,” a novella set in the world of his acclaimed first novel, Elantris. For fascinating behind-the-scenes information on Brandon Sanderson’s work, visit him at www.brandonsanderson.com.
Tade Thompson, featured on Episode 46, is giving away two hard copies of Making Wolf. Here are his thoughts on the book:
MAKING WOLF is a love letter to the pulp crime novels that occupied me on long, hot afternoons in my teenage years. I’m talking about Chandler, Spillane, Hammett, Chase, Pendleton. It is also a memoir of my time in Nigeria, though transformed beyond all recognition (this is a lie. My sister recognized all of it). It is not for kids. It is an adult book with adult themes and a farcical harshness that is not for the meek. Though this particular story is complete, I am not done with the characters yet. The cover art is gorgeous and you should buy the book for that reason alone. Frame that sucker! I sometimes worry that a general audience may not have enough cultural context, but it is a novel, an entertainment. It is not anthropology field work. I don’t view it as a genre novel, but don’t take my word for it. Read it; form your own opinion.