Tuesday, 30 December 2008

The Trilogy Complete!

Quite a lot's happened since I first jotted down my rough outline for a sci-fi survival trilogy in early 2006. I remember it seeming insanely ambitious at the time, perhaps because of the word 'trilogy'. But I was adamant that each book should be no more than novella length, and that the setting for each installment should be vastly different than the other two. Kate Borrowdale is an interesting character to build a series around because she doesn't tend to say much. And when she does, it's often terse. A survivor through and through, Kate is as close to an American pioneer woman as I'll probably ever get to write. She's stubborn, single-minded, and endlessly resourceful. The unforgiving alien planet of Kratos is in some respects her home turf--it calls into action all of her considerable physical and mental attributes. And as she has the man of her dreams to look out for as well, let's just say it's going to take more than Red Indians to stop her.

Eternal Press released the The Eleven-Hour Fall as an eBook in April 2008. It did solid business, ending up in the top five bestsellers for that month. In November, it received a nomination for Best Short Fiction 2008 at the Red Roses For Authors Christmas Awards.

Part two, The Elemental Crossing, is set on a vast ocean. Kate and Jason must try to cross it if they are to procure long-term survival on Kratos. It's a harrowing journey, but with this being an alien ocean, the creatures and scenarios they encounter provided many fascinating passages. Of the three books, I think this is the most consistently imaginative. Sea survival stories carry an inherent sense of scale and isolation, and there's a strong element of fate, in that there's only so much a person can do on a tiny raft. The rest is up to chance.

Eternal released The Elemental Crossing in September 2008. I've now signed a contract for the third and final installment, Kate of Kratos. This is a longer novella (29,000 words), but there are also more characters. The forest and mountain setting sets it apart from the previous books in every possible way. There's finally a chance of finding a permanent abode on Kratos. But there are also fresh mysteries to solve, deadly new creatures to contend with, and personal questions Kate must ask herself if she is to live within a family unit. This was the quickest book to write, and easily the most enjoyable. There's a sustained chase sequence half way through that I think will have readers chewing the screen in excitement (I know I did while writing it). All told, this is the strongest installment in terms of plot and character. It pays to be critical of your own work when looking back, but I'm genuinely proud of what I did with Kate of Kratos. It's such a relief to know that I didn't screw the whole thing up at the final hurdle.

I can't wait to share the last part of Kate's adventure with you next year. It's been a great ride on Kratos!

Monday, 15 December 2008

The Basingstoke Chronicles - Coming 2009!

April 2005. It began as a short tribute to my favourite Victorian-era adventure writers--Wells, Burroughs, Verne, Rider Haggard. Six months later it was a fully-fledged time travel novel with fun characters and a grandiose plot. I'd never really intended it for publication, at least not in the style I wrote it. But earlier this year I revisited The Basingstoke Chronicles and, to my genuine surprise, found an enthralling yarn buried in the grandiloquence. My next task was to re-edit, re-shape, re-write the entire text, trimming the fat while still maintaining that old-fashioned charm and flavour. No mean feat, considering my latest sci-fi short, Save the World, Tax-Deductible was the most cynical thing I'd ever written.

So it came as quite a shock last week when I was offered an eBook contract for The Basingstoke Chronicles!! I'd submitted it to Uncial Press because I love the specific historical periods featured in their books--Regency, Edwardian, Victorian. My novel wasn't so specific, yet it was a throwback to the formal vernacular and style inherent in those periods. Turned out to be a good match, and I'm thrilled to have found Basingstoke such a fitting home.

Take a look at the prologue (unedited):

The Basingstoke Chronicles/Robert Appleton/Time Travel Adventure


My name was once Pacal Votan. How the two rarest flowers on Earth came to rest a mere few feet from where I sit every evening for dinner is a tale many years in the telling. I have never been one to exaggerate - being a man of science, such is not my nature - nor am I prone to lend weight to unlikely claims, especially when their basis is un-scientific. Therefore, to the fantastical elements of this story I am forced to lend the more illustrative voice of my good friend, Lord Basingstoke: a man whose daring propelled him a great distance to find me; a man for whom the unlikely is, and always was, only ever a matter of time.

Throughout that winter’s night on the shingle of Ten Gulls Beach in Devon, southern England, I believed every word of my companion's absurd account. So too, now, do I remember them. The flames from our campfire resisted the onshore breeze with zeal. We had hoped to find a more sheltered spot in which to dry ourselves, but had happened upon only a rudimentary cove. The frank moonlight distilled enough rocky shapes and creeping lines of surf for my every thought to feel stolen or in harm's way.

"Strange, after all we've been through," I said.

"What's that?" replied Lord, rubbing his hands in the heat.

"How such a harmonious place can give me - what was that word - the creeps?"

He laughed, recalling the last time he had heard that term used outside of its original dialect. "Oh, just before the journey began – about seventy-eight years from now," he said.

I shook my head in mock disbelief. The year was nineteen hundred and one. Across the beach, I spied the shape of our vessel bobbing like the neck of an empty bottle, inconsolable in dark silhouette, an ocean messenger bereft of its long-held message.

"The fellow’s name was Rodrigo Esteban Quintas, my diving partner from Cuba. We had hired a research vessel for some serious underwater work," he continued. “And by work, I mean spending a scorching summer in cool, turquoise seas, searching for sunken treasure. Hey, we were the hardest workers of any rich people I knew."

I had to interrupt, "How rich were you, exactly?"

"Rich enough to make a difference and too rich to care. Let's just say if we were in nineteen seventy-nine, you wouldn't be sitting so close to me without a title of some kind - Sir Votan perhaps, or Duke Votan. Seeing as you're a foreigner to these parts, an honorary Count might suffice."

My friend's manner was often so aloof it would veer between outright arrogance and a tone that was utterly endearing without a second's warning.

"Here! Here! Count Pacal Votan, emissary from a distant land, has arrived at this fair isle with a priceless secret for us all and otherwise not a clue. Let us drink a toast to his brazen heroics and sadly poor grasp of English colloquialisms."

With that, he produced his familiar, gilded-silver whisky flask. Alas, as he tipped it, it was empty.

"Damn your hide, man. What did you fill it with?"

I replied with a sheepish whimper, "I didn't."

Despite his insistence at my being out of place, it is Lord Henry Basingstoke who will always be the anachronism. But what great adventurer isn't? To say Columbus or Alexander were simply products of their times is paradoxical, for history tells us the reverse is true. While events may have aligned for conquest, their eras have become the products of their own legacies. The discovery of the New World belongs to an Italian, not he to it; likewise the forging of an Eastern Empire to a Macedonian King. Man creates history, and time - that most cold inevitability - can be made to bow to these bold, aberrant figures.

Lord (as I liked to call him) is one such figure, though I thoroughly doubt he would agree. An Englishman in every sense of the word - from what I have come to know of them, that is a fine compliment - he relishes every challenge life has to offer as surely as every comfort. As he sat opposite me on Ten Gulls Beach, orange firelight waving shadows across his animated face, I knew it would probably be the last time I'd see him. The telling of his great adventure, of which I had only been a small part, was his parting gift to me - the culmination of our friendship through time.

And I miss him to this day.

Though written from memory, I could not have fashioned this account any closer to Lord Basingstoke’s own words without excluding myself from the latter chapters, for that was how he told it to me. This I have remedied by telling it as he would to a stranger. As far as possible, I have tried to assume his mannered dialect. This upper class way of speaking is, it seems to me, both timeless and proper.

So it is here that I'll submit, as I did then, to his incredible tale: the adventures of a fine gentleman as told to me, a humble listener, on December 16th, 1901.

The Basingstoke Chronicles has a tentative release date of September 2009 at Uncial Press.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Cover Art for Lot 62

The multi-talented Dawne Dominique has created the classy cover for my upcoming spy mystery short, Lot 62. She previously did the artwork for two of my books, Grandiloquence and the first Esther May Morrow anthology, Buy or Borrow. This one's another winner.

Julie Blalock is approaching thirty and has an unfulfilling job with an accountancy firm. But she also has a secret—she was once an MI6 Agent. A personal tragedy forced her to quit eight years ago, but a chance offer to return for a one-time op is too tempting to ignore. Her mission—to pose as a rich socialite at Sotheby's, to gain critical intelligence during the most anticipated high-class auction of the year—Esther May Morrow's sale of antique treasures, featuring Lot 62, a prize that has even the Ministry of Defence worried. What secrets will Julie discover on her impromptu return to espionage?

Lot 62: An Esther May Morrow Mystery is scheduled for release on January 7th at Eternal Press.