I owe you a report on what I’m up to.
As you saw, I gave Amgalant Three its cover and its back cover copy when we did second editions of One and Two in April. My wonderful designer Kathleen Lynch at Black Kat Design said she particularly liked the quote used for Scavenger City, so that line’s gotta stay. It was hairy writing a book description before the book is finished, but the plot’s mapped out and I have 200,000+ words raw or in the oven. I was confident to tell you the trajectory:
In the steppes of High Asia, the year 1206…
“You want me to tell His Celestial Majesty that there is a new Celestial of Sheepskins?”
“That is exactly what I want you to tell him.”
Tchingis Khan, a king in sheepskins, has positioned himself as the champion of the People in Felt Tents – of a way of life, which China wishes to abolish. Cities have scavenged on the nomads of the steppe for centuries. The crusade he unleashes turns cities into zones for scavenger birds.
Is this a war without end, the worst war? Spirits of violence drive Tchingis Khan, but a spirit of peace might stop him.
Scavenger City is the third and last in a trilogy that gives voice to the Mongols in their explosive encounter with the great world under Tchingis Khan. Both epic and intimate, Amgalant sees the world through Mongol eyes. It’s different from the world you know.
So when’s it due out?
The brute fact is, I can’t afford to focus entirely on Amgalant but must try to attract readers and gain sales through other work. I have been slow to face this fact. To support Amgalant with more accessible work on the side was a strategy Libbie Hawker — who has made such a success of independent publishing since — advised me to try in 2012 when she reviewed the first edition of One. I should have listened at the time, but I had my consciousness trained to live in Amgalant to the exclusion of the rest of life. The notion of ‘other books to be written’ I repudiated: I was a one-book woman. That state of concentration I achieved let me write One and Two, but didn’t let me extract myself afterwards.
However, inevitably and happily, Amgalant has thrown out lots of ideas for stories and short novels attached to the main work. I have in hand three short novels, two at advanced stages of outline and draft, to be written concurrently with Three. They share its research.
The first, that I expect to write in 2019, is set among the ‘oi irgen’ of the Secret History, the forest peoples. Readers of One and Two are familiar with the Uriangqot and the Merqot, and we meet others in Three. This first new novel is the most distant of the three from Amgalant. It’s set in the 1500s, and it’s fantasy. It’s fantasy because it’s constructed from the oral poetry of the forest peoples, whose narratives themselves are ‘fantasy’ to us, with spirits and monsters and inhuman humans. Jamuqa became a fan of the Uriangqot ‘quest’ songs when visiting Temujin in the Sacred Mountains [Against Walls, chapter 8].
Next is a historical, set in China shortly after Amgalant ends. This is about a figure whose career was only possible in the chaos of the Mongol invasion of Jin China: its working title is Sister Chaos. She became a governor for the Mongols – not the only woman governor they appointed. But she began as a commoner, a rebel against the Jin government, and the captain of a rebel army. She is historical, and spectacular, but her behaviour – including her sexual behaviour – violated basic standards, which, her chief scholar says, is why she never caught on as a popular tale, a fighting-girl hero like the fictional Mulan.
In both these short novels (short at least by Amgalant’s standards), I can explore things that are present in Amgalant but that do not belong there in-depth. My main challenge with Amgalant has always been to keep my shaggy beast shapely and not stuff too much in. To ‘stuff in’ is a property of epic but shape is crucial to any work of art or craft whatsoever. It’s actively useful to me to draw off material from Three, which is far too huge in draft. So the historical, for instance, watches the beginnings of zaju, the popular opera which exploded in the conditions of Mongol China, as a cultural fusion. The fantasy has as the main event matters of stories and spirits – and how these two are interchangeable terms – that Temujin is aware of, but that he doesn’t have time to go into as he’d like.
Three, if not lean, is more healthy for these excisions. And as a strategy, we’ll have short novels that we hope lead readers back to Amgalant. I think of them as Amgalant off-cuts. I have more lined up.
Now I’ll do a highlights of 2018. That’s easy. There were three. Three reviews.
To go with our launch of second editions, Dmitry Kosyrev, who wrote The Pet Hawk of the House of Abbas and its sequels — translated into English, but better known in Russian — was kind enough to review Against Walls in the Asian Review of Books. Immense thanks to the ARB for accepting an obscure independently-published novel for review in the first place. I have since reviewed myself for the ARB (a Mongol history title; I hope to do more), and editor Peter Gordon has said he likes to bring to attention lesser-knowns; sometimes an Asian Review of Books review is the only one a book gets.
It was a thrill to have Rohase Piercy pick up a book of mine. 2018 is the year her 30th Anniversary Edition of My Dearest Holmes came out. Thirty years ago, this was a formative influence on my sister Julie and me. We were fangirling when Rohase Piercy spoke to us on our three Goodreads blogs; and then she read our work!! Again, mine — not my sister’s, who does better — is very small-time, with (let’s face the grim statistics) tiny numbers of reviews; to have bigger-fish authors validate it is a thing, and I cannot thank them enough.
Lastly, on Christmas Eve a visitor to this blog, Chris, cheered me with a review of Against Walls and Imaginary Kings. Because Chris has often left comments on my site I am allowed to feature him (Author Ethics 101: interact with readers only when they initiate). I’d like to tell him, what he ‘wishes for’ in Three is exactly what he’s getting. It is reassurance to me to have a reader ask for more, and not less, of the Temujin and Jamuqa story. I have the same view as Chris: their story is the core and the soul of my trilogy.
I have to mention too a story I had published this year in the Manifold Press anthology No Holds Bard: Modern Modern LGBTQ+ fiction inspired by the works of William Shakespeare. I seized my opportunity to write about Shakespeare’s Sonnets and what they might have meant to him. The story has an Amazon from his late play The Two Noble Kinsmen – and no doubt she was Scythian, so there is a steppe connection.
Before I go, I have a New Year’s resolution. It is: not to leave half-finished blog posts in my documents. I’ll post more often than I did last year. I have a lot sitting around.