Flash sale!

If you already own copies of all my books, yay, thank you! And this is the day to pick up stocking stuffers for all your friends! Just hit “buy for others” and pick Christmas as the date and there you go, a nice handful of extra gifts, which I hope aaaaalllll your friends and relatives will enjoy.

If you’ve been waiting to pick up anything, this is a good time for the following:

Tuyo, The Year’s Midnight, No Foreign Sky, and Invictus: Captive should all be $0.99 today.

Other book in the Tuyo series, the Death’s Lady series, and Invictus: Crisis have also dropped in price; again, just for this sale.

The Death’s Lady omnibus, which contains the first three books, will drop in price to match the three individual books.

Since the Death’s Lady series is not in KU, I will lower the price for these books everywhere, though the links above go to Amazon.

The Black Dog omnibus, which contains the first three books plus the first eight shorter stories, will also drop in price, to $7.99. That is quite a deal, if I do say so myself.

This isn’t quite as much a flash sale as this term implies. Because I lowered prices by hand, I did that this past Friday afternoon to be as sure as possible prices would be down by today. And for the same reason, I will raise prices probably tomorrow, but as I will do it by hand and therefore again there may be a lag before the prices come back up. If you noticed price changes before today or a lag in price changes after today, that’s why. However, this is the day for which I was actually aiming and prices will come back up pretty soon, though not sharp at midnight tonight.

Also! I nearly forgot to release this edition in time, but I’m also bringing the Invictus duology out as a boxed set (ebook only). It should be available by the time you see this post. Amazon only, sorry, and hope I will have things arranged next year so that anyone who wants ebooks of any new releases, but not from Amazon, will be able to get those books via an alternate platform prior to the book dropping into KU.

I’m matching the price of the boxed set to the sale price of the duology, so it’s $7.99 for the set today. I’ll raise the price of the boxed set when I raise all the other prices, so probably tomorrow.




I have no control over the prices of traditionally published titles, but at the time I type this, nothing here is over $10. I’m linking to the Amazon ebooks, but all of the titles below are available everywhere.

The City in the Lake is down to $4.99, an extremely good price for a Random House title.

The Floating Islands is not particularly on sale, but if you would like it, there it is. Here is the sequel, The Sphere of the Winds.

Here is The Keeper of the Mist — this is an unusually good price. $6.99.

Here is The White Road of the Moon.

Here is The Griffin Mage trilogy.

Here is House of Shadows and the sequel, Door Into Light.

Here is The Mountain of Kept Memory. Better than typical price; $7.99.

Here’s Winter of Ice and Iron; also a good price; also $7.99

Here’s my collection, Beyond the Dreams We Know.

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Cozy spaces in SF

Here’s a post by Molly Templeton at Finding the Cozy Spaces and Fantastical Architecture of SFF

Great idea for a post! Or at least, I immediately think it might be great. Where does Templeton take this idea? The first cozy space that leaps to mind is Bag End. Sure enough, this post starts here:

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.”

Yep. Where to next?

For me, it didn’t start with hobbit-holes. It started with The Wind in the Willows—specifically, the edition illustrated by Michael Hague, in which everything is rich and saturated and looks as welcoming and comfortable as a well-worn velvet sofa. I haven’t even seen a copy of this book in years and I can still see Mole and Badger and Rat and the rest; I am still shocked that I have not yet cross-stitched the words “Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing—absolutely nothing—half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats” and hung them on the wall. …

Ah, I must admit that first, this is understandable, and second, I never actually liked The Wind in the Willows. Why not? Because as a kid, I preferred my animal characters to be much more realistic than that. I still feel some reluctance to dress little animals up and send them puttering about in boats. That’s just me, of course.

Fantasy is full of homes that a reader may or may not imagine as the author saw them. The house in The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, which I envisioned full of libraries and animals, a mountain house that was isolated but comforting, cozy and stern at once. 

Oh, yes! I’m not sure I thought of this house as cozy. What a lovely story. I mean the prose. The story itself has a dark edge to it, but I will say, it’s also lovely. It’s not as easy a story as some of McKillip’s but it’s beautiful. And the animals do not dress up in waistcoats and mess about in boats, either. They do talk, but they are animals, not English gentry. I linked to the special 50th anniversary illustrated edition, which is not out yet. Soon. February. Even though I prefer ebooks, this is so tempting. A lovely edition of a favorite book? Twist my arm.

Okay, of course you should click through and check out the full post, but also, I haven’t done a post on cozy fantasy based on the panel at World Fantasy Convention. Maybe I won’t get around to that, so let me mention the most memorable line. This was Sarah Beth Durst. Everyone was talking about how to define cozy fantasy, and Durst said — this is a paraphrase — “A cozy fantasy is a gift to the reader. You, as the author, are giving this warm and fuzzy book to the reader as your gift to them, to make them happy.”

And I thought, Okay, we’re done. This panel can stop now. No one is going to top that. [Spoiler: no one did.]

Not all of Durst’s books are cozy fantasy, BUT, given this perfect statement about what cozy fantasy is to the author and what it should be to the reader, I’m not surprised that I thought Journey Across the Hidden Islands was so warm and fuzzy. Others of hers that look like they fall into the same category, but which I haven’t read, include The Shelterlings and Spark — basically any of hers that look like MG.

Looks cozy to me!

While cozy spaces may be found in many kinds of fantasy, I’m hereby going to think of the subgenre of cozy fantasy this way forever: “A cozy fantasy is a gift to the reader. You, as the author, are giving this warm and fuzzy book to the reader as your gift to them, to make them happy.”

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Classics that are worth reading

Ooh! Ooh! The Count of Monte Cristo.

My goodness, the kindle version is just $0.99. It’s unabridged. I actually especially favor the abridged version I first read, but you know what, fine. For that price, I’m picking up this ebook version.

What else?

Pride and Prejudice, which, is this a trend? is also available in a kindle ebook for $0.99. Well, in this case, I have lovely paper copies, so even though I prefer ebooks, I’ll stick with those. Also the rest of Jane Austen’s books … wow, this ebook collects all of Jane Austen’s works and it’s free? Okay, never mind. I still love my nice paper editions, but I mean.

What’s another great classic? Little Women. Not quite free, but certainly inexpensive. I haven’t read this for years, and I always pushed back a bit against certain elements, but nevertheless.

What else? Well, let’s pause to link to the post that caught my eye, which is at Book Riot: The Best Classic Books (That Are Actually Worth a Read)

I do not expect to agree with many of Book Riot’s picks because I usually don’t. I’m curious what they’re going to pick, and beyond that, I’m curious about their definition. Does a book have to be over 100 years old and still widely read in order to qualify? Does it have to be assigned in a lot of high school classes? What are the criteria? …. Doesn’t look like any criteria are stated? Well, that seems a little odd.

Well, some of these are things anybody would agree are classics, I expect. The author of the post seems to be treating this as “we all know what we mean by classics,” and I guess there are worse definitions. I’ve never heard of plenty, and some I hated, but here’s The Scarlet Pimpernel! I do like that one. I’m surprised to see it here.

A few of these were published as late as the 1980s. Nothing published in the eighties can be a classic, surely? I feel old.

Most interesting entry: The Ramayana. It turns out there are a zillion editions. The abridged this, the modernized that. I picked this edition because it’s the same one as at the Book Riot post, and I’m just trusting that person to have a reason to select this edition. Unlike everything else here, it’s not super inexpensive. but you know what, I’ve always kind of wanted to at least look at it. Maybe I’ll get a sample and see how it goes.

Entry where I recoiled: Like Water for Chocolate. I read it long ago and loathed some parts of it so much that this reaction colored the whole thing. No, I don’t remember what I hated about it. But I guess I’ll never know, because I remember the reaction well enough that I will never reread it.

Quick! One great classic that you would sincerely push on people who have missed it. Anything?

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Ooh, neat grammar post

Okay, fine, I know, many people are probably not as interested in grammar as I am. What can I say? This post at Kill Zone Blog caught my eye because I’m just the kind of person who instantly stops at posts like this: Phrasal Verbs, When an Adverb Is Not an Adverb

What is a phrasal verb?

Get out! Calm down. Carry on. Show off.

So a phrasal verb is a verb that combines with an adverb. Why are “out,” “down,” “on,” and “off” considered adverbs in the above phrases? They are obviously prepositions; everyone knows that if you are listing prepositions, “out,” “down,” “on,” and “off” would all be on that list. They are considered adverbs here because when a phrase has an object, then the item in question is considered a preposition: Get off the roof. When there is no object, as in Get off!, then “off” is considered an adverb. I sort of wonder now about this rule and why it works that way. Maybe the podcast Lingthusiasm has an episode about that.

Anyway, a phrasal verb creates a new meaning from the combination of two words. That meaning is separate from the meaning of the constituent words. If you say, “Carry on,” to someone, you don’t mean either “carry” or “on.” You mean something else.

This is neat! The post at Kill Zone Blog discusses the history of phrasal verbs, with a (really interesting!) observation that they haven’t always existed and that the first use of phrasal verbs was in 1154. (It was “give up.”)

Now, granted, in the 1150s, modern English didn’t exist, obviously. That was (I looked it up) Early Middle English. What was Early Middle English?

Þe Nihtegale bigon þo ſpeke
In one hurne of one beche
& sat vp one vayre bowe.
Þat were abute bloſtome ynowe.
In ore vaſte þikke hegge.
Imeynd myd ſpire. & grene ſegge.
The Nightingale began the match
Off in a corner, on a fallow patch,
sitting high on the branch of a tree
Where blossoms bloomed most handsomely
above a thick protective hedge
Grown up in rushes and green sedge.

Well, okay, there have been A LOT OF CHANGES to English since this poem, called “The Owl and the Nightingale,” was published. I guess I can believe that phrasal verbs weren’t in use as far back as that. They are certainly super common now. This post at Kill Zone Blog says that all the versions of phrasal verbs using “set” encompassed 60,000 such versions. Can that be true?

Okay, Wikipedia says The longest entry in the OED2 was for the verb set, which required 60,000 words to describe some 580 senses (430 for the bare verb, the rest in phrasal verbs and idioms).

So, pretty much true, apparently. What are some of those? Set aside, set down, set up, set off, set forth, get set. Okay, fine, there do seem to be a lot. I thought of these in about two seconds. Sixty THOUSAND still seems like a stretch. I don’t plan to go look at the OED to check, though.

Regardless, I’m not sure I knew what the term “phrasal verb” actually meant until now. It’s not something that comes up a lot.

Nor does there seem much reason to specifically look for or think about these, except that, to the extent phrasal verbs also happen to be slangy, they may or may not fit the style of a particular work of fiction. That is, “Get out!” for leave is not going to sound like slang to any readers, probably, but “Get out!” as in “You’re kidding!” or “You’re making that up!” definitely will.

So, pretty sure everyone can get along just fine without knowing what a phrasal verb is. Nevertheless, glad I saw the post. Always happy to think about grammar and language.

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Recent Reading: A Diamond in the Window by Jane Langton

Okay, so this little book has been sitting on my coffee table for a while. I finally read it this past weekend. I think I was looking for something (a) short, and (b) as far as possible from grimdark. If those two criteria were what I had in mind, then boom, nailed it.

So this is a young MG story. I don’t have a particularly clear notion about how to judge reading level, but offhand I’d say that this story, A Diamond in the Window, would be about right for eight- to ten-year-old children, though certainly older readers may well enjoy it. It’s a very simple story with a set of interlocking problems our young protagonists need to solve.

Edward and Eleanor are living with their hardworking Aunt Lily and her brother, their nutty Uncle Freddy, and there’s a serious threat that they may soon lose the house. More importantly, long ago, their aunt and uncle had two young siblings, Ned and Nora, who vanished mysteriously. A young foreign gentleman was staying with the family at the time and also vanished, after leaving a puzzle etched into the glass of the uppermost attic room’s window. Our two young protagonists want to solve the puzzle, find hidden treasure to save the house, and also find the children who vanished long ago.

So that’s the frame story: a series of adventures following the riddles laid out in the puzzle game. Chapters dealing with ordinary life alternate with adventures, which gradually become more overtly dangerous and the children realize they’re working against an enemy. Can they find the long-vanished children? Was the foreign gentleman a good guy, courting Aunt Lily and fond of the children; or was he a bad guy? The reader isn’t going to find this much of a puzzle. This is the story where everyone who seems like a good person is a good person; there’s not a lot of subtlety, though there are questions about exactly what happened.

This story takes place in Concord, Massachusetts, and Henry Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Lousia May Alcott are all strongly present in the story, which includes lots of literary references and snatches of poetry. Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul / As the swift seasons roll! Leave thy low-vaulted past! / Let each new temple, nobler than the last, / shut thee from heaven with a dome more vast / till thou at length art free / leaving thine outgrown shell by life’s unresting sea!  This is pretty snazzy in a story aimed at ten-year-old readers. I would have loved it when I was ten and I liked it now.

Also, A Diamond in the Window wraps around Christmas, and while it’s not centered on Christmas, I hereby declare it is close enough to a Christmas story that if you would like to read a short, charming Christmas story this month, here you go.

The story is unabashedly and thoroughly positive in its themes and imagery. It’s a little dated – it was first published in 1962 – but actually, it’s about old enough that it just comes across as historical rather than contemporary. If you remember E Nesbit’s stories fondly, then I expect you’d enjoy this story as well; if you’re giving Nesbit’s stories to a young reader, you can certainly add this to the stack because it will fit right in.

Now I kind of want to go reread something by Edith Nesbit. Did you realize her books are literally over a hundred years old now? Five Children and It was published in 1902, The Phoenix and the Carpet in 1904, The Story of the Amulet in 1906. That seems just remarkable. I bet Jane Langdon read Nesbit’s works and was inspired by them.

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Update: same old, same old, here have a story

So, yes, still December, nothing worth mentioning.

OH, except my mother is 88 today, so happy birthday to her!

But other than that, still just moving forward with Silver Circle, which yes, is almost certainly going to be a continuing project all month. That’s going to make updates boring, so I’m going to toss other stuff into these posts.

And! I was listening to a Lingthusiasm podcast this weekend, and they referred to this story:

“And Then There Were (N – 1)” by Sarah Pinsker.

All the Sarah Pinskers from four hundred realities or so get together for a Sarah Pinsker convention.

I tried to change the subject before she told me Seattle was gone in this reality too. “So why is this being held on Secord Island?”

“Everyone asks.” She smiled, showing gapped teeth. She’d never gotten braces. “It’s a sovereign island off the east coast of Canada. You know Canada?”

I nodded, wondering what variation had prompted that question.

It’s a fun story — a 24,000-word murder mystery. Click through and enjoy it.

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Look at this, it’s December

Well, November certainly swished past in a hurry. I’m pretty happy because even though Silver Circle is stretching out and out and out, I did write just about exactly 60,000 words in November. Looking at my notes for this book, I note that I wrote 30,000 words in September and 40,000 in October. Those are oddly round numbers. Glad to see I did manage to punch up the wordcount pretty well in November. Still, I’m betting I don’t wind up the draft of Silver Circle until Jan 1. We’ll see!

I hope any of you who were taking a stab at NaNoWriMo also had a pretty good November and made it to something close to your goals!

Meanwhile, I’ll be sending out the December newsletter any time. I’ll be putting it together today or this weekend, probably scheduling it to go out shortly.

I’m arranging for a one-day sale in December too, so I’ll mention that in the newsletter as well. In fact, maybe I’ll schedule the newsletter to go out the day of the sale, because that would be sensible.

Personally, I think you all ought to give somebody one of my books as a stocking stuffer, which at the prices I’ll be dropping books to would be very reasonable. I’m dropping four books to $0.99. I haven’t yet decided whether to drop everything or how much, so we’ll see.

I’ll be dropping those four books by hand, which means dropping to the 35% royalty rate, which is annoying, but whatever, you can’t keep the 70% royalty rate unless you use the countdown tool and that’s life. Doing it this way will put the sale price everywhere, not just in the US. I’ll mention the sale here, of course, but info and links will go in the newsletter for sure.

I spent the morning re-reading the next installment of the Ryo story that’s going in the newsletter. This installment is about 3700 words and surprise! does not finish the story. I’m thinking the whole story will wind up at about 10,000 words and that sure demonstrates why it’s more sensible to break up longer stories for the newsletter. I have not actually finished this story, which I guess I had better do pronto so that the last part is ready to go in the January newsletter.

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Theme matters

A post at Writer Unboxed: Yes, Virginia, Story Themes Still Matter

I don’t think anyone has actually been arguing that themes are unimportant, but absolutely, sure, themes matter. This is true even if you can’t tell what exactly your themes are until your readers tell you. That happens to me pretty often, though these days sometimes I spot themes for myself.

Anyway, yes, themes definitely do matter. They’re what gives the story depth and truth.

Fiction writers, at least in their braver moments, do desire the truth: to know it, speak it, serve it. But they go about it in a peculiar and devious way, which consists in inventing persons, places, and events which never did and never will exist or occur, and telling about these fictions in detail and at length and with a great deal of emotion, and then when they are done writing down this pack of lies, they say, There! That’s the truth! — LeGuin

And it is the truth, because if you hit something thematically true, then it’s true no matter what story surrounds it.

From the linked post:

Yet, given the vast market for genre fiction today, grounded in highly entertaining plots, has the importance of theme diminished? Will the age of AI further erode its prominence? Or are we as a species wired to find patterns in both our world and the stories we consume, a need fulfilled by stories laden with themes?

Highly entertaining plots are not in opposition to themes, though they may be in opposition to openly stated messages. Let’s say we have two normal curves into which all fiction fits. Here they are:

These are independent axes. The same exact book can appear in the middle of one curve and way over in the tail of the other curve. The same novel might be way over on the lefthand side of the upper curve, but way over on the righthand side of the other curve. Ideally, a novel will be well over to the right on both curves. These are the books that may find a wide readership AND readers will also say they “resonate.” These are books that cause book hang-overs, that are remembered for a long time, that readers go back and re-read. Here’s one such book:

I’m not saying that this is the all-time greatest example or that it’s the farthest over on the righthand tail. I’m picking it because I read it pretty recently and thought the themes were quite clear, but not so clear that they would interfere with MG readers loving the story. I think it’s well over on the righthand side for both axes. Here’s another:

A completely different style of novel, still fantasy, but so utterly different that it’s practically in a different genre. Once again, the themes are clear, but hidden in a compelling plot. (Maybe I should have said compelling rather than entertaining). Again, I think this book is well over to the right on both axes.

What I don’t like is when the message is so central that the plot becomes an afterthought. It doesn’t matter whether the message is great or horrible, in either case, the novel is not succeeding all that well as a novel. But a novel can be compelling without capturing something true. Here, look at this one:

Because I disliked the deep worldview shown in this novella, for me, this story belongs somewhere on the righthand side of the upper graph, but way over in the left tail of the lower graph. Except here I would say “false” rather than “clever and facile.” I vehemently disagree with the themes buried within this story — that you can’t win against evil, that such victories are hollow, that family bonds are cages that mothers need to escape, and so forth. But the themes are buried in the story. I mean, maybe not all that deeply, but the story is compelling. I read the story all the way through.

Emphasizing highly entertaining plots has nothing to do with reducing the importance of themes.

And no, for the foreseeable future, AI will not be able to write a novel with a coherent, deep, hidden theme. Maybe with a message that is right out in the open, but not with a deep theme tucked out of sight in a compelling narrative. That’s my prediction. We’ll see how that looks in five years.

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How does ChatGPT do when asked to continue using a unique style?

For these ChatGPT posts, I’ve been finishing off with the beginning of a novel that I don’t think ChatGPT can possibly emulate. Am I right? Let’s find out.

What I’m going to do is simply drop the entire opening that I posted here into ChatGPT with the simple instruction: New story; continue the story in the same style. I find you have to tell it you’re starting a new story or it tries to make whatever it generates match up with the prior story, which is funny, but not useful in something like this.

So here we go — the actual beginning, which you have seen before, and then ChatGPT takes over and continues the story. Watch what happens —




I was minding my own business in beautiful downside Wanderweb, having just managed to mislay my cargo for the right price. My nighttime man had talked me into bootlegging again, and damsilly stuff it was, too – either maintenance manuals or philosophy texts. I never did figure out which, even with sixty hours time in Firecat between Coldwater and Wanderweb to stare at them and Paladin to read them to me.

So I was making my way around Wanderweb, free, female and a damn sight over the age of reason, when I saw this greenie right in front of me in the street.

He was definitely a toff, and no stardancer – you never saw such clothes outside of a hollycast. He was lit up like Dream Street at night and wearing enough heat to stock an Imperial Armory besides. And this being scenic Wanderweb, land of enchantment, there was six of K’Jarn’s werewolves and K’Jarn facing him. I was of the opinion – then – that he couldn’t do for them before they opened him up, so, fancy-free, I opened my mouth and said: “Good morning, thou nobly-born K’Jarn. Airt hiert out to do wetwork these days or just to roll glitterborn for kicks, hey?”

K’Jarn looked up from pricing Tiggy Stardust’s clothes and said, “N’portada je, S’Cyr. Purdu.”

K’Jarn and me has known each other ever since I started running cargos into Wanderweb Free Port and he started trying to boost them. For once I should of took his advice. But, hell, it was seven-on-one and I’ve never liked K’Jarn.

“Like Imperial Mercy I will. Yon babby’s my long-lost lover and my maiden aunt and I’m taking him home to Mother any day now. Fade.”

He might have, except that just then one of K’Jarn’s wingmen got restless and took a swipe at the glitterborn with a vibroblade. Tiggy Stardust moved faster than anything human and swiped back and I burned K’Jarn before he could mix in. K’Jarn dropped his blaster, not having a hand to hold it with anymore, and left on urgent business. So did everybody else.

Business as usual in wondertown and not enough fuss for the CityGuard to show up. Except for the deader Tiggy made and another I didn’t have time to get fancy with, me and him was alone and he wasn’t moving.

I went to see if there was anything left to salvage. He snaked around and then it was me down and staring up at an inert-blade knife as long as my thigh while he choodled at me unfriendly-like.

I can get along in flash, cant, and Trade, but I couldn’t make head nor hind out of his parley, and I thought at first I’d hit my head too hard. But then I knew that what I had actually gone and done was the stupidest thing of my whole entire life. I’d rescued a hellflower.


Tiggy Stardust loomed over me, the inert-blade knife gleaming in the light of Wanderweb’s peculiarly iridescent sky. His glittering attire, so out of place in the grime-covered streets of the Wanderweb, contrasted sharply with the surroundings. I couldn’t help but curse my impulsive nature.

“Starseeker, you should have left me,” Tiggy spoke in a language I struggled to comprehend, his eyes revealing a mixture of confusion and curiosity. “Why interfere in the affairs of glitterborn and nightshades?”

I winced at the unfamiliar terms. “Look, Tiggy, or whatever you call yourself, I don’t speak your lingo. And why I helped you is a mystery even to me. Maybe I got a soft spot for a guy in glitter who can dance with werewolves. Call me sentimental.”

Tiggy Stardust tilted his head, as if trying to decipher my words. The glitterborn language seemed to be an intricate puzzle, and I had just thrown in a wrench.

“We,” he said slowly, using a few words I recognized, “have common enemy. K’Jarn. Merciless. We grateful.”

I sighed in relief, realizing that, at the very least, he considered us allies in the face of a mutual foe. I pointed at myself. “I’m S’Cyr. You?”

He mimicked my gesture, pointing at himself, “Tiggy Stardust. Thank you, S’Cyr.”

The names might not have meant much to each other, but it was a start. I gestured toward the inert-blade knife hovering ominously above me. “Is this necessary? I’m not your enemy.”

Tiggy considered for a moment before sheathing the knife. “Understood. But K’Jarn may return. You should leave.”

As I struggled to my feet, I could feel the eyes of the glitterborn community on us. Tiggy Stardust extended his hand, and I hesitated before shaking it. It was an agreement forged in the strangest of circumstances, and I had no idea where it would lead.

“Come with me, S’Cyr. We have much to discuss, and I sense a shared destiny.”

I followed Tiggy Stardust through the labyrinthine streets of Wanderweb, a peculiar alliance born out of a moment of impulse. Little did I know that this chance encounter with a glitterborn would unravel a tapestry of mysteries and adventures that stretched beyond the horizon of the Wanderweb, into realms both enchanting and perilous.




My name be Ice Cream Star. My brother be Driver Eighteen Star, and my ghost brother Mo-Jacques Five Star, dead when I myself was only six years old. Still my heart is rain for him, my brother dead of posies little.

My mother and my grands and my great-grands been Sengle Pure. Our people be a tarry night sort, and we skinny and long. My brother Driver climb a tree with only hands, because our bones so light, our muscles fortey strong. We flee like a dragonfly over water, we fight like ten guns, and we be bell to see. Other children go deranged and unpredictable for our love.

We Sengles be a wandering sort. We never grown nothing from anything, never had no tato patch nor cornfield. Be thieves, and brave to hunt. A Sengle hungry even when he eat, even when he rich, he still want to grab and rob, he hungry for something he ain’t never seen nor thought of. We was so proud, we was ridiculous as wild animals, but we was bell and strong.

In my greats’ time, we come up from Chespea Water; was living peaceful by Two Towns until the neckface murderers come. Then we flee onward to these Massa woods. Here we thieve well. We live as long as Lowells—sometimes twenty years or twenty-one years. Every Sengle have a knife, and we together possess two guns. Driver got a gun that shoot, and Crow Sixteen a broken shotgun, still good for scaring.

The day my story start, we been out scratching in the evacs. These evacs be house after house that face each other in twin lines. Houses shambledown and rotten; ya, the road between is broken through with pushing weeds. Get fifty houses in a street, and twenty streets in one hour’s walking. When these houses all was full, it been more people here than squirrels. Ain’t nobody living now.


I was deep in the evacs with Driver Eighteen and Crow Sixteen, the air thick with the musty scent of decay and remnants of forgotten lives. Our footsteps echoed through the empty streets, and the memories of those who once called these houses home seemed to linger in the air.

“Driver, Crow,” I called in a low voice, “check the houses on the left. I’ll take the right. We need supplies, and the evacs have a way of hiding treasures.”

They nodded in silent understanding, and we dispersed into the crumbling structures. The houses whispered stories of bygone days as I moved cautiously through the debris. My nimble fingers traced over forgotten belongings—a child’s toy, a faded photograph, a cracked teacup. Each item held a piece of someone’s past.

In one house, I found a stash of canned goods hidden beneath a floorboard. A small victory, but every find was a step closer to survival in these desolate times. As I secured the cans in a makeshift bag, a faint sound caught my attention—a distant shuffle that did not belong to my companions.

“Driver! Crow!” I hissed, and we gathered in the street, our senses heightened. The Massa woods had taught us to be vigilant, and the evacs were no different.

A shadow emerged from the doorway of a nearby house. It was a young woman, her eyes wide with fear. She wore tattered clothing, and her skin was marked with bruises. Her presence struck a chord within me—an echo of the suffering we all faced in this world.

“Please,” she whispered, “don’t hurt me. I’m alone, just trying to survive like you.”

Crow Sixteen, ever the vigilant one, raised his broken shotgun defensively. I stepped forward, a gesture to ease the tension. “We’re not here to harm you. What’s your name, girl?”

She hesitated, her eyes flickering between us. “Lena. Lena Hart.”

I exchanged a glance with Driver Eighteen, and a silent understanding passed between us. In this desolate world, alliances were scarce, but so were opportunities for compassion.

“Alright, Lena. We won’t harm you. If you’re willing to stick with us, we can use all the help we can get,” I said, my voice steady.

Lena’s eyes softened with gratitude, and as the Massa woods echoed with the distant howls of unknown creatures, our ragtag group—Sengles and a newcomer named Lena—faced the uncertainties of the evacs together. In this world where survival meant embracing the shadows, we were determined to carve out our own path, even if it meant challenging the ghosts of our own pasts.



Okay, so that was interesting! Chat GPT is obviously completely unable to continue writing in a unique style if asked to do so. The voice of the protagonist is lost immediately, in the very first generated sentence.

But Chat GPT does some interesting things. It doesn’t indicate that the Hellflower’s name IS Tiggy Stardust; did you catch that? It puts in text that indicates that the Hellflower is accepting this name for the moment. But it does NOT realize that the protagonist has never said “Tiggy Stardust” out loud and that therefore it’s impossible for the Hellflower to accept this nickname. It doesn’t know what “glitterborn” means and immediately starts using the word incorrectly.

Chat GPT is surprisingly willing to throw in additional characters. (Hi, Lena! Where did you come from?). I mean, why would it do that? Do so many books start with this kind of encounter in a desolate, ruined town? Maybe so. I’m making a mental note never to do this. Though it wouldn’t actually matter, as a good writer could do it well, so I’m sort of also making a mental note to be sure to do it someday, but much better. I’m just saying, that must be a heck of a cliché for Chat GPT to throw Lena into the story that fast. I will just add that there IS an encounter with a wounded, distressed person coming up in this book, though that character does not resemble Lena in any way and the encounter is very different and there are no deep thoughts about opportunities for compassion.

Chat GPT is utterly incapable of stopping with (a) complete sentences, and (b) incredibly cliched phrases, sentences, and ideas. That isn’t surprising at all.

What do you think, would an AI text generator specifically created for the purpose of writing novels do better? I think that’s entirely plausible. You could get Chat GPT to do much, much better if you just told it that it doesn’t have to use complete sentences, that it should analyze the text you feed it and copy the variety of sentence structure that it finds. You would also need to get it to quit using verbs in a standard way and start copying the use of “be” as show in the text you feed it. Ditto for nonstandard syntax and word usage of every kind.

Metaphors like My heart is rain for him are probably impossible for a text generator, no matter how good the generator might be. I can’t see how any text generator at all could manage to use (most) created slang properly. It’s a text predictor, so how could it possibly predict how that slang should be used? Unless you fed it half the book, and at that point, you’ve written half the book, so you must be good enough to write the other half. But it does use “evac” more or less plausibly.

Anyway, regardless of what text generators might be able to do in five years, right now, there is not the remotest resemblance between the unique story it started with and the text it generated to continue the story. This is true even when Chat GPT is specifically instructed to copy the style.

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ChatGPT Challenge: Where does the story stop being real?

For each of the four excerpts that follows, the names of all the characters have been changed to avoid easy recognition if you’ve read any of these books. Some of these books are much, much better known than others. A couple I pulled off my own shelves almost at random. I also asked my mother to loan me a couple DNF mysteries from her give-away pile. What I had in mind there was specifically selecting some books that might not be very good and, even more important, that you here would probably never have read.

In each case, I opened the book at a random spot in the middle and began typing an excerpt. Other than changing the names, the text begins exactly as it appears in the real book. In each case, I told ChatGPT: This is a new story. Continue the story.” Then I dropped in the excerpt and hit Enter.

So, where does the excerpt change from the real book to the generated text? Can you spot where that happens? You have four excerpts if you want to try them all. The excerpts are a bit long because I felt I had to give you enough real text to kind of get a feel for the style before letting ChatGPT continue the story. In each case, ChatGPT had exactly as much text from which to extrapolate the style so it could continue in the same style. We can evaluate how well it did at that job.

Real Becomes Fake, but Where? You be the judge!

Number One:

The ugly percussion shocks them out of awe. There are shouts and shots. Out of the dark, German soldiers come running. Gerhard ducks behind the remains of the car and fires.

Behind the attacking Nazis a jeep is rocking over the rubble toward them. How long have these soldiers been waiting?

Gerhard fires as they come and tries to focus and counts and calculates what he can see. There are too many. His heart slams. Too many. He holds his breath and reaches into his pocket, for the card, this time, he thinks, in time.

But the remarkable zombie is striding into the road. The soldiers gape and fire. It raises its limbs and all the German bullets, even those misaimed, curve in the air, fly right into it, stud its body with resonant sounds.

Some of those shots were at Gerhard.

The zombie, impervious to the hail of bullets, continues its slow advance, seemingly unaffected by the chaos erupting around it. Gerhard crouches behind the wreckage, feeling a mixture of awe and terror.

As the German soldiers struggle to comprehend this bizarre turn of events, Gerhard seizes the opportunity to crawl toward a nearby building for cover. He can hear the distant rumble of the jeep approaching, its engine echoing through the war-torn streets.

The German soldiers, now realizing the futility of conventional weaponry against the supernatural foe, scramble for cover. Amidst the confusion, Gerhard manages to retrieve the small card from his pocket—a relic of ancient knowledge that had been passed down through generations in his family. The card bears an inscription in a language unknown to Gerhard, but he had seen his grandfather use it during times of peril. With a deep breath, Gerhard focuses his thoughts on the mysterious symbols and chants the incantation he has memorized from his grandfather’s teachings.

As the incantation leaves Gerhard’s lips, a surge of energy emanates from the card, enveloping him in a protective aura. He can feel the power coursing through his veins, granting him abilities beyond the realm of ordinary mortals. It is a gift from the ancient mystics, a last line of defense against the encroaching darkness. With newfound strength and determination, Gerhard emerges from cover and confronts the astonished German soldiers. His hands glow with radiant energy as he gestures toward the remarkable zombie, commanding it to stand down.

To the soldiers’ amazement, the creature obeys, its limbs lowering in acknowledgment of Gerhard’s command. The remaining German forces, realizing the supernatural odds stacked against them, reluctantly drop their weapons.


Number Two:

“We met at my first real job after college – a small graphics outfit in midtown,” Theo began. “A week or so after I started, the temperature hit ninety degrees, and the office air conditioning went on the fritz. We all took off our ties and rolled up our sleeves. Dave points at my wrist, and says, ‘Look! Another former guest of the SS! What did you enjoy more, Gerhard? The food, or the service?’ That was Dave.

“Same as with Abe, we stayed in touch. Stella and Dave’s wife, Heidi, also clicked, and the four of us would have dinner together maybe four or five times a year. A couple of months before their thirty-fifth wedding anniversary, Heidi died of a cerebral hemorrhage. Several years after that, their only child, who was living in Miami, went from HIV-positive to full-blown AIDS … whatever medicine he was on, it stopped working. Dave flew down to take care of him, but the kid didn’t hang on too long.”

“Not even bad luck … no luck,” Greta observed.

After a deep breath, Theo continued. “Dave inherited his son’s condo, instead of the other way around. I guess the warm water helped him decide to stay. The last time we spoke, he told me he was working forty hours a week, twenty at Home Depot, twenty at the beach – working on his tan. Said you couldn’t find two better spots to pick up chicks.”

Greta couldn’t help smiling. “He sounds like a perpetual teenager.”

“Sure, but a teenager who never got over his son, and was still in love with his wife.” Theo turned his head over his shoulder, looking back, but not at anything in the room. “When Dave missed a few days at work – well, you can guess the rest. He’d collapsed in his kitchen. One of his neighbors called me with the bad news.”

Greta reached across the table, placing a comforting hand on Theo’s. The weight of Dave’s story lingered in the air, a somber reminder of life’s unpredictable turns.

“I’m so sorry, Theo,” Greta said softly, her eyes reflecting empathy. “Losing a friend, especially one who carried such heavy grief, is never easy.”

Theo nodded appreciatively, grateful for Greta’s understanding. “Thanks. It hit me hard. We shared a lot of memories, and he was more than just a friend. He was family, you know?”

Greta nodded in understanding, her mind briefly wandering to her own experiences of loss and friendship. “Tell me more about him. What was Dave like outside of work and the occasional dinners?”

Theo’s eyes brightened with a mixture of sadness and fondness. “Outside of work, Dave was a bit of a recluse, but not in a negative way. He found solace in the simplicity of everyday life. He loved the sound of the ocean, the feel of warm sand between his toes. It was therapeutic for him.”

As Theo spoke, Greta could almost feel the coastal breeze and hear the rhythmic waves in the background. The image of Dave working at Home Depot during the day and then spending his afternoons by the beach painted a poignant picture of a man seeking solace in the routine.

“He had this old, beaten-up guitar that he claimed he couldn’t play a single note on, but he’d strum it when he was alone,” Theo continued, a small smile playing on his lips. “I think it was his way of keeping the memories alive—the echoes of his wife’s laughter, the moments with his son.”


Number Three:

I left Rita Colletti sitting at the diner after telling her I had a pressing appointment. Not exactly a lie, since I felt an urgent need to meet with Sheriff Crawford. I hoped to high heaven I’d find him in his office. I wanted to know how Rita had found out so much information so quickly and what she was up to. Was she trying her best to point the sheriff at me? That wasn’t going to work out for her, since I had nothing to do with Fisher’s demise.

The whole situation was preposterous. All I did was chase Hitchcock across a field and happen across a body in a truck. Not a run-of-the-mill morning, but still. End of story. Except it wasn’t the end of the story. Fisher’s family wanted to talk to me, for crying out loud. I had to get Sheriff Crawford’s take on all this before things got totally out of hand.

Normally, I would hop in my car and drive to the building the sheriff’s department shares with the Lavender Bible Church. But with the added tourist traffic and booths set up on what seemed like every square inch of real estate, walking was more efficient.

I cut across streets and between buildings to come out behind the booths set up along the parking lot. A quick scan told me the church ladies were selling handmade quilts, homemade jams and jellies, themed decorated picture frames, and Christmas wreaths and stockings. Quite an assortment, and they had plenty of chattering potential buyers.

Aunt Rowe’s friend Helen waved a hand to me from the Christmas booth. I lifted a hand in response, but continued toward the sheriff’s office, weaving through the clusters of festival-goers. The air was filled with the scent of fried food, laughter, and the distant strumming of a live band playing at the main stage.

As I approached the sheriff’s office, I noticed the familiar sight of Sheriff Crawford’s patrol car parked out front. A sense of relief washed over me; at least, I wouldn’t have to track him down. The festival seemed to have drawn most of the town’s attention, leaving the sheriff’s office a temporary haven of calm.

I pushed open the creaky door and found Sheriff Crawford hunched over his desk, surrounded by scattered papers and case files. He looked up as I entered, a curious expression on his weathered face.

“Charlie,” he greeted, pushing his chair back and standing. “What brings you here on festival day? Thought everyone would be out enjoying the festivities.”

I closed the door behind me and got straight to the point. “Sheriff, I need to talk to you about Fisher’s case. Rita Colletti’s been asking around, and I want to know what she’s up to. She seems to think I’m involved, and I want to clear this mess up before it gets worse.”

Sheriff Crawford sighed, gesturing for me to take a seat. He leaned back against his desk, his expression turning serious. “Charlie, I’ve known you for a long time. I can’t imagine you being mixed up in something like this, but Rita, she’s got her ways of digging up dirt. What exactly did she say to you?”

I recounted my brief conversation with Rita at the diner, emphasizing her pointed questions about my involvement in Fisher’s death. The sheriff listened attentively, rubbing his chin thoughtfully.

“That woman’s always been a thorn in my side,” he muttered. “She’s got a nose for trouble, but she’s not always right about who’s causing it. As for Fisher’s case, I’ll be honest with you, Charlie. It’s a mess. The family’s pushing for answers, and I’m doing my best to find them. I need your cooperation, not your trouble.”

I nodded, understanding the gravity of the situation. “Sheriff, I just want this to be over. I didn’t ask to be involved, but now that I am, I need to know how to handle it.”

Sheriff Crawford sighed again, weariness etched on his face. “Stick close, Charlie. Let me do my job, and I’ll keep you out of the crossfire. We’ll get to the bottom of this mess together.”


Number Four:

The following day the storm had passed and the street was clean in the white April light, the sky bleached blue, and the garden tremulous with dew, every grass blade bright. Gretchen and Hannah spent the morning occupied with the usual household duties, while Suzannah went to visit the dressmaker.

In the afternoon, Gretchen went alone to deliver the mufflers to the vicar’s wife. It was a duty she disliked, especially since it was a day on which the vicar himself was highly likely to be at home, and he was a man who always produced in her a profound depression. Still, there was no avoiding it this time. It was her turn, and neither Hannah nor Suzannah had seemed in the least likely to relieve her of it.

She arrived at the vicarage a little before half past three. It was mild after the storm and it had been a pleasant walk, something under two miles, but she was used to exercise, and the mufflers were not heavy.

The made opened the door almost immediately. She was a severe, angular woman of indeterminant age, and Gretchen could never remember her name.

“Thank you,” she said politely, stepping in. “I believe Mrs. Cummings is expecting me.”

“Yes, ma’am. If you’ll come this way.”

The vicar’s wife was sitting in the smaller back parlour and the vicar himself standing with his back to the black, smoking fire. Gretchen’s heart sank as soon as she saw him.

“Good afternoon to you, Miss Harrison,” he said with a slight bow, more a bending of his back. “How pleasant it is to see you spending your time in small duties for others.”

“A very small thing, vicar.” She instinctively wanted to deny it. “Only a few mufflers my mother and sisters have made. I hope they will be …” she trailed off, realizing she did not really mean anything, uttering empty words, noises to fill the silence.

Mrs. Cummings reached for the bag and took it. She was a handsome woman, broad-busted, strong, with fine, strong hands. “I’m sure next winter there will be those most grateful for them. I have frequently noticed that if your hands are cold, your whole body is chilled, haven’t you? These are lovely, Miss Harrison. Your family has a talent for such delicate work.”

Gretchen managed a small smile, grateful for the compliment. The vicar, however, remained silent, his gaze fixed on Gretchen with an intensity that unsettled her. She shifted uncomfortably, feeling the weight of his scrutiny.

Mrs. Cummings sensed the tension and quickly spoke up. “I’m sure you have a busy schedule, Miss Harrison. Thank you for delivering these. I’ll make sure they are distributed to those in need.”

Gretchen nodded, relieved at the prospect of leaving the vicarage. As she turned to go, the vicar stepped forward, blocking her path.

“Miss Harrison, if you have a moment, there is something I’d like to discuss with you.”

Gretchen’s heart sank. She exchanged a quick glance with Mrs. Cummings, who looked equally puzzled. Reluctantly, Gretchen agreed, “Of course, Vicar. What is it?”

The vicar led her into the small back parlour, closing the door behind them. The room felt stifling, and Gretchen’s unease grew. The vicar cleared his throat, his eyes fixed on hers.

“I couldn’t help but notice your frequent visits to the cemetery,” he began, his tone measured. “And I’ve observed you spending a considerable amount of time near the Harding family plot.”

Gretchen’s heart raced. She hadn’t expected this conversation, and the vicar’s scrutiny felt invasive. “Well, sir, I find the cemetery to be a peaceful place. I often take walks there to clear my mind.”

The vicar’s expression remained inscrutable. “Miss Harrison, the cemetery is a place of rest for the departed, not a leisure ground for the living. I must ask you to refrain from loitering near the Harding family plot. There have been concerns raised.”

Gretchen felt a mix of anger and confusion. “Concerns? I assure you, I mean no harm. The Harding family were dear friends, and I find solace in being near their resting place.”

The vicar’s gaze bore into hers, and for a moment, she felt a shiver down her spine. “I advise you to respect the sanctity of the cemetery, Miss Harrison. Good day.”

With that, he opened the door, ushering her out of the parlour. Gretchen left the vicarage with a sense of unease, the weight of the vicar’s words lingering. As she walked away, she couldn’t shake the feeling that something more than mere concern for cemetery decorum had prompted his words. The mysteries of the small town seemed to deepen, and Gretchen found herself entangled in a web of secrets that she had never imagined could exist beneath the surface of her seemingly tranquil life.


Excerpt One: The Last Days of New Paris by China Miéville

I have never actually read this book, but I have it on my TBR pile and picked it on a whim. It turned out to be a challenge because the story features a creature or entity called the “exquisite corpse.” This is a … highly memorable phrase, let’s say. I changed it to “remarkable zombie” because that seems sort of similar and might at least slow down recognition if anybody had read the book.

The last real line was “Some of those shots were at Gerhard.” ChatGPT itself put in “this bizarre turn of events,” which is funny, because I’m surprised it can tell that it’s bizarre to have a zombie suddenly appear in a WWII story, but it’s not wrong.

By the time the card with the mysterious incantation appears, I’m sure you all realized ChatGPT was in the driver’s seat, because wow, that’s stupid. It doesn’t even matter what was going on in the first half of the book; nothing could save dear old granddad’s card from being anything but a wildly stupid deus ex item in this moment. The surge of energy and protective aura and all that just cement the certainty that we’re not reading the real story any more.

Excerpt Two: Stealing from the Dead by AJ Zerries

This was a terribly depressing story to hit at random, and I can see why my mother dropped this book on her DNF pile. The last real sentence was “When Dave missed a few days at work – well, you can guess the rest. He’d collapsed in his kitchen. One of his neighbors called me with the bad news.”

I think you might have spotted the shift to ChatGPT immediately. The comforting hand might have given it away. Eyes reflecting empathy probably nailed it down. I haven’t seen anything so cloyingly sympathetic since … ever, maybe. Wow, this suddenly turned from a real anecdote to an unbelievably saccharine interaction, and the change happened instantly.

Excerpt Three: The Black Cat Sees His Shadow by Kay Finch

The last real line was “Aunt Rowe’s friend Helen waved a hand to me from the Christmas booth. I lifted a hand in response, but”

I ended that paragraph in mid-sentence just to see what would happen and also because I was bored with this excerpt anyway. This was another book from my mother’s DNF pile. I have to say … I’m not sure it’s at all obvious when ChatGPT takes over. That … is not something I would want anyone to say about one of my books. But … it’s … kind of true? Is that true? What did you think?

As you all know, I think advice not to use adverbs is WAY overblown, but I also have to say, I think ChatGPT uses a lot of adverbs badly. If I’d read this excerpt without knowing where ChatGPT took over, I would have pegged it at “rubbed his chin thoughtfully.” That’s multiple paragraphs after the shift, but I’m not sure I would have guessed that.

Excerpt Four: The Cater Street Hangman by Anne Perry

I picked this one off my shelves. I rather like Anne Perry’s mysteries, though I sometimes find the killer almost painfully obvious (I mean, considering I don’t try to figure out who did it, it shouldn’t be super obvious to me).

The last real line is “I’m sure next winter there will be those most grateful for them. I have frequently noticed that if your hands are cold, your whole body is chilled, haven’t you?” The next sentence is ChatGPT, but I inserted it into the same dialogue to smooth out an awkward transition.

I didn’t expect the vicar to lead Gretchen off for a private chat or to bring up the cemetery. It’s almost sort of like it actually is trying to continue a story. I’m not sure anything stands out clearly as fake. I think if someone had handed me this excerpt and challenged me to find the point at which ChatGPT took over, I might have pegged “The mysteries of the small town seemed to deepen” as the probable sentence where that happened. That was quite a few (short) paragraphs after the shift really took place, but on the other hand, it’s less than a page of text. I honestly don’t think the excerpt from the real book was particularly great, though as I say, I do like Perry’s mysteries and have several in this series.

What do you think?

Was ChatGPT able to continue a story in the style of the few paragraphs it was given? I think it did pretty well at that for the third and fourth excerpts. Much less well with the first excerpt because China Miéville is a great writer and ChatGPT is obviously not going to be able to copy a unique style very well. But also, perhaps surprisingly, not very well with the second excerpt either. I think there the shift in tone is dramatic, plus we suddenly get a flurry of clumsy adverbs.

Do we still see nothing but complete sentences from ChatGPT? Yes. Do we see place? Not very much. Do we see inside the characters’ heads? Somewhat. Is it obvious where ChatGPT takes over? Sometimes. But sometimes, it’s not as obvious as I might have expected.


To finish off this post, as before, let me share the opening of an impressive novel by Sandra Newman.

Unlike Hellflower, by Eluki bes Shahar, I don’t exactly recommend this novel because it is grim grim grim. I am not kidding. It may be the grimmest story I have ever read all the way through. It’s certainly in the top five. I think the author meant to write a sequel, which hopefully would have brought this story to a somewhat less awful conclusion, but the sequel did not appear.

Nevertheless, I liked this book, sort of, in a way, because of the unique voice, which is not something a text generator would be capable of spitting out. This is another example of an “evolved language,” as also see in Eluki bes Shahar’s Hellflower trilogy, as commenter Andrea K pointed in the previous post. From this, you may ascertain, correctly, that I think evolved language is not something a text generator can come anywhere close to producing.

This is the opening of In the Country of Ice Cream Star. This story occupies the intersection of YA dystopia with literary.

My name be Ice Cream Star. My brother be Driver Eighteen Star, and my ghost brother Mo-Jacques Five Star, dead when I myself was only six years old. Still my heart is rain for him, my brother dead of posies little.

My mother and my grands and my great-grands been Sengle Pure. Our people be a tarry night sort, and we skinny and long. My brother Driver climb a tree with only hands, because our bones so light, our muscles fortey strong. We flee like a dragonfly over water, we fight like ten guns, and we be bell to see. Other children go deranged and unpredictable for our love.

We Sengles be a wandering sort. We never grown nothing from anything, never had no tato patch nor cornfield. Be thieves, and brave to hunt. A Sengle hungry even when he eat, even when he rich, he still want to grab and rob, he hungry for something he ain’t never seen nor thought of. We was so proud, we was ridiculous as wild animals, but we was bell and strong.

In my greats’ time, we come up from Chespea Water; was living peaceful by Two Towns until the neckface murderers come. Then we flee onward to these Massa woods. Here we thieve well. We live as long as Lowells—sometimes twenty years or twenty-one years. Every Sengle have a knife, and we together possess two guns. Driver got a gun that shoot, and Crow Sixteen a broken shotgun, still good for scaring.

The day my story start, we been out scratching in the evacs. These evacs be house after house that face each other in twin lines. Houses shambledown and rotten; ya, the road between is broken through with pushing weeds. Get fifty houses in a street, and twenty streets in one hour’s walking. When these houses all was full, it been more people here than squirrels. Ain’t nobody living now.

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