Surviving the Templar Tombs

In my space opera trilogy, the Templars were an old species, maybe the first to achieve interstellar travel. When humanity’s empire butted up against Templar space, war erupted. Humanity unleashed a genetic plague that wiped the Templars out.

The trilogy opens on the Templar tombworld, a ghost planet full of mountains that were hollowed out and used as graves by the insectile Templars. Back when the Templars still existed, they protected the planet and didn’t allow outsiders to land there.

In the decades since the Templars perished, their tombs have lain undisturbed: a monument to the former rulers of the galaxy. When The Dangerous Type begins, a team of humans has bribed all the local authorities to turn a blind eye as they loot the graves.

I envision the Templar tombs as huge inside, full of space and just as black. Their stone walls have a strange ability to generate a field that keeps things stored inside as fresh and shiny as the day they were buried. Mostly, that means that Templar warriors are still contorted by the plague that killed them, their blood still fresh.

In the case of Raena Zacari, entombed alive during the Human/Templar War, the stone preserved her, despite 20 years without food or water or air. Some readers have interpreted that as stasis, which implies a “slowing or stoppage of normal flow of bodily fluid,” according to Merriam-Webster.

I see Raena’s confinement more as a bend in time. She can get up, walk around, explore the extent of her grave. For a while, she had a lantern left behind by her jailers, but eventually its batteries ran down. After she shredded her cloak and it failed to repair itself, she believed that any injury she did to herself—intentionally or not—would not heal. She was more afraid of living forever with a concussion or a broken bone than she wanted to die, so she endured her imprisonment, entertaining herself with memories, slowly becoming sane, and waiting to be released.

After she gets out, of course, there’s hell to pay. She goes on a mission to hunt down the commander who watched her burial alive—and never came to rescue her after the War ended. From then on, the story is off and running.

As a matter of fact, Raena’s entombment actually dates back to the very first story I published about her: “Claustrophobia,” which appeared in the zine Anthology in 1986. I’ve written about my own claustrophobia, but there was an equally important reason for Raena’s imprisonment: since my friends and I created a shared universe zine, we were writing for each other’s characters. One of the others wrote about Raena as heartless and evil. I didn’t recognize her. Horrified, I made it so that she couldn’t appear as a villain in anyone else’s story. I locked her up alive in the Templar tomb to keep her character safe from misuse.

Storywise, locking her up was really a good choice. It meant that, going forward, Raena appeared as a specter or motivation in a lot of the other characters’ stories. Only after the zine ceased publication did I toy with the idea of letting her out—and that’s where this trilogy came from.

So why doesn’t Raena age while she’s imprisoned? I wanted the other characters in The Dangerous Type to react to post-imprisonment Raena as if she is still the violent, unpredictable, frightened girl she was when they knew her during the War. Those preconceptions are easier to sustain because she looks like the same girl. But just as the others have aged and changed, so has she. It’s just not visible on Raena’s surface. I’ve written about my experiments with persona, but Raena’s youthful appearance was crucial to that exploration.

All novels combine a whole lot of different influences, but those are the elements that kicked off my In the Shadow of the Templars trilogy. The Dangerous Type came out from Night Shade Books on July 7, 2015, followed by Kill By Numbers in September and No More Heroes in November that year.

I put together a whole booklet of behind the scenes essays about the Templar books and their influences — along with the first chapter of The Dangerous Type, a prequel story about Raena and Ariel, and a whole lot of other juicy stuff — which you can download for free at Bookfunnel. Here’s the link:

The novels are available at Amazon,, Barnes & Noble, or directly from me: 

Posted in Science Fiction | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

New Worlds Await

July 7 is the anniversary of the publication of my first space opera novel, The Dangerous Type. I wrote this piece about faster-than-light travel back then, but it was never published. I thought you might be interested in it.

New Worlds Await

In our universe, interstellar travel is slow and time-consuming. It takes nine months to get an unmanned rocket to Mars and that’s only 140 million miles away. The closest planet outside our solar system is more than 25 trillion miles away. We’re not getting there any time soon.

For my space opera trilogy, I took interstellar travel as a given, something necessary for the story to take place. There are different and unfamiliar people in my galaxy, therefore there are different and unfamiliar worlds. There must be ways to travel amongst them.

My editor encouraged me to think more deeply about the modes of transportation. What interested me was not the theoretical science of bending laws of space and time to drive ships across the vastness, but the economic inequities of space travel.

One of the things I wanted to explore in my galaxy was the way wealth changes the experiences available to my characters. I’m dealing with two generations: the humans who were shaped by surviving the Human-Templar War and the multispecies crew of the Veracity, who grew up in the war’s aftermath.

In my galaxy, space travel is expensive. Either people buy personal craft at great cost or they buy passage on other people’s ships. If they’re dying to travel — or to escape wherever they’ve found themselves — they might take a job on a ship hauling food around the galaxy or catering to travelers. The sort of travel we’re familiar with now — jumping on a plane for a quick vacation — is rare. People might save their whole lives for a vacation on a pleasure planet. They might travel once in their lives, but afterward they might not be able to afford to leave.

For the most part, only the wealthy or the useful get to travel through space. Everyone else stays on the ground. 

The In the Wake of the Templars series focuses on the crew of the Veracity, led by reformed Imperial assassin Raena Zacari. The Veracity is much older than most other ships in service at the time of the trilogy. It served as a diplomatic transport during the Human-Templar War and was hidden away, rather than scrapped, at the war’s end. It’s trickier to fly than newer ships and requires someone in the cockpit to monitor it constantly. Its human-made drive skips the ship across space, zipping in and out of hyperspace. At the end of each hop, the course needs to be recalibrated. Haoun, the Veracity’s Na’ash pilot, learned to fly on simulators. The rest of the Veracity’s crew is capable of monitoring its flight, but they need Haoun to run the ship’s calculations.

The Veracity’s crew makes enough money to keep their ship flying, but they wouldn’t have been able to buy it in the first place, if Raena hadn’t stolen it for them.

Personal craft do exist that can cross space more quickly and easily than the Veracity, but ships owned by individuals are small and fuel is not easy to come by.  Former arms dealer Ariel Shaad has a racer that she can fly by herself, but it’s really only comfortable when she’s solo or traveling with an intimate friend. Just before the events of The Dangerous Type, she had it upgraded with a Templar-derived tesseract drive, which proves to be a problem in book 2 of the series.

Before the trilogy begins, the Templars were wiped out by a genetically targeted plague during the war with humans. Prior to the war, they provided gates that most large ships used to travel from one solar system to the next. Use of the gates was subject to tolls, collected by the Templars, who profited from – and could regulate – all galactic trade.

Once the Templars were gone, one of their stardrive technologies was appropriated by the rest of the galaxy. The tesseract drive, which is not as well understood as most people believed, warps space. Tesseract ships are fast, but in Kill By Numbers, the second book in the trilogy, they are starting to malfunction. Ships go into tesseract space — and sometimes, unpredictably — they don’t come out. This has been happening for a while before the Veracity’s crew gets involved, but the intragalactic shipping companies hid the evidence.

After the tesseract flaw is revealed, the galaxy is thrown into turmoil. Delivery ships have gotten too big to use the gates. Insurance to pay families of haulers lost when ships enter tesseract and don’t return is so expensive that shipping companies are driven out of business. Tech shortages and famines result. The tourist industry is gutted when people decide travel on tesseract-powered ships is unsafe.  Only smaller — older — ships like the Veracity are reliable and there aren’t enough of them to keep the peace.

So where did all of this come from?  I’m fascinated by the power of transportation and the slow collapse of cities because I grew up outside of Flint, Michigan as General Motors ceased manufacturing automobiles there. Michigan in the late 20th century had been designed around the automobile and trucking industries. There wasn’t a reliable public transit system any longer. The town where I grew up had neither a train nor bus station, though it had once had both. If you didn’t have a car, you walked, rode your bike without benefit of bike lanes, or you stayed put.

My trilogy gave me a venue to explore the ubiquity of transportation and the ways in which we take it for granted. It’s so easy to overlook, until the system breaks down and leaves you stranded.

Of course, space travel and its deficiencies are only the underpinnings of my story. When you’re writing science fiction, it’s fun to take something as familiar as travel — or the ability to eat produce delivered from all around the world — and wonder what would happen if those constants were disrupted on a galactic scale.

Find out more about the Templars trilogy here:

Posted in Science Fiction | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

With You By My Side, It Should Be Fine

The story that got me into the Clarion Science Fiction Writers Workshop was about a nonbinary prostitute called Tolly. Thomas Disch, one of my Clarion instructors, was extremely disappointed when he met me and my gender didn’t match his expectations, based on the spelling of my name and the subject of my story.  The same story, when written by someone who presented as a woman, meant something completely different to him.

At the time, I didn’t have the language to describe Tolly. I saw him as a boy who was more comfortable dressed like a girl. Once, decades later, I saw the term nonbinary, I knew that was how Tolly would describe himself.

In this story, which was originally drafted in the early 80s, I’d never heard of nonstandard pronouns. Because of that, Tolly uses masculine pronouns throughout, because that is what was available to him in the world he lived in. I like to think that wherever he and Doug end up, there are wider options available. Masculine pronouns have never encompassed all that Tolly is. invited me to kick off their new reading series. Since it’s Pride Month, I asked if I could read the LGBTQ+ story closest to my heart, the one I chose to end my story collection, Unsafe Words.

This is “With You By My Side, It Should Be Fine.”

Posted in author reading, Books for sale, horror writers, Science Fiction | Tagged , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Paranormal Romance eBook Extravaganza!

Enter to win a copy of my succubus & angel romance and so much more:

eBook & Paperback Sweepstakes!

(2) Winners of eBook “Gift Baskets” of ALL ebooks
Other Winners of individual ebooks or paperbacks
(randomly selected)

Posted in book giveaway | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Holding Office Hours at the Nebulas

This Friday at 11 a.m., I’m hosting an Office Hour as part of the Nebula Conference of the Science Fiction Writers Association. I’ll be available to answer questions about the future of body disposal from burial in space to cremation to the newest technologies for water cremation, promession (freeze-drying), and human composting.

I’ve been researching memorial gifts like cremation diamonds, tattoo preservation, and memorial forests.

If you’re going to the Nebula Conference, I’d love to talk with you. The signup sheet is here:

If you’re not attending the Nebulas, I’ve been collecting my reference materials up on Pinterest:

Posted in author appearance, literary event | Tagged , , | Leave a comment