Planting Life in a Dying City: First Chapter (Draft)

That move I mentioned a couple posts back is happening this week and I didn’t have the time or spoons to write a blog post. So instead, here’s the first draft chapter of Planting Life in a Dying City


A shaft of sunlight lanced through the forest gloom highlighting another empty snare. Lefeng shook eir head as ey pull up the small game snare and examined the grass rope. Somehow no one had seen that break in the canopy over the summer. They were lucky they snare hadn’t been sun-touched.

Ey coiled and stash the snare-rope it in eir pack with the dozen others ey had pulled earlier that day and the pair of lemurs that had been caught by two of the traps. Ey had been surprised to find that many after [sibling] ran the trapline two days ago. Lefeng was just as glad that ey had forgotten to pull the snares. It gave eir a chance to get into the foothills on eir own one last time before the summer ended.

Ey moved with a ground-eating lope to the next snare, pausing on the way to pull leaves from a low growing mint plant to munch on and moisten eir mouth. The air was dry in the foot hills, away from the influence of the ocean. But ey only had a few more snares to pull and then ey could head home.

Tomorrow, the adults and near-adults like Lefeng would start packing for their winter travels. They’d follow the old ways, camping for a shor ttime to gather food and supplies, then travelling on when the area they were in started to become depleted. Each year they travelled a slighty different path, giving the land time to recover.

The ground shook, making a stone under eir foot move. Ey fell to the ground. “Stagnant water!” ey cursed. That was the third shake today. The first one had been strong enough to bring down some of the young saplings. Earth shakes were a part of life. As the [priest] liked to remind them, even the earth is alive in it’s own way. But three in one day was unusual.

Ey stood and cursed again. Eir right ankle hurt when ey put weight on it. Checking the ankle showed that it was only swelling a bit. And it had held when ey put weight on it. Ey hobbled up to a straight sapling a short distance off the trail and used her handaxe to cut the sapling down and strip the branches from it. With this rough-made walking stick ey carefully continued down the trail carefully.

Ey had no intention of staying in the village this walking-season. And a bad injury would keep eir in the home compound this winter with elder, the young children, and some of the grandparents. Two of Lefeng’s siblings who were courting other family’s in the village and would be staying with their prospective-spouses most of the winter.

That was the last thing Lefeng wanted. Ey was planning on marrying-in and spending the rest of eir adult life the way ey had spend eir years so far. And GreatWave, a child of a fishing family who had been courting Lefeng and eir siblings would be coming with them this walking-season. Ey was hoping to get some time with eir outside of the crowded confines of the compound. So no more falls!

A short time late, ey had finished pulling the snares and was headed home. The sun was setting—ey’s injury was making eir late. But there was still light to see by.

A half-mark from the village ey reached the lookout clearing. The hill top had been cleared of trees to give a clear view of the sea. The fisher families used it in storm season to watch for storms gathering on the horizon.

There were no storms today, but the sea looked strange. More like a mud puddle a child had jumped in, swirling around and full of debris.

Lefeng licked eir lips and looked harder. Ey had the best far sight in eir family, and while ey had never seen the sea like that, some of that debris looked familiar. Like the scraps of wood and sail that washed up on shore sometimes after a boat was caught out in a storm or wrecked by the one of the bright days.

GreatWave had gone out with eir family boat that morning. Ey told Lefeng ey wanted to feel the sea under eir one more time before spending more than half the year in the mountains.

Caution forgotten, Lefeng pelted down the trail, skidding and sliding in damp leaves and muddy loam. A short time later, ey burst out of the trees at the edge of the village and stumbled to a halt.

Everything was mud. Mud and dead fish and ragged stumps of wood where walls and homes had been that morning. Here and there, a lump sprawled in the mud, lumps covered with fabric and often trailing banners of waterlogged hair.

Lefeng stared, trying to take in what ey was seeing. It was like the entire village had been washed away. Step by step ey crept out into the mud. It sucked at eir boots and clung to eir legs.

The first body ey came to was the elder, TallDeer. Ey’s face was unrecognizable, but somehow ey was still wearing the silly bracelet of nuts and dried berries ey had worn for nearly twenty years. Lefeng sank into the mud next to eir and gently touched the bracelet. Lefeng had given it to eir, a chilidsh gift from a youngling to eir favorite grandparent. TallDeer had promised never to take it off.

Now, Lefeng removed it for eir. “Journey long, Baba. Until I join you at the meeting-fire.”

Tears pouring down eir face, Lefeng forced eirself to stand. Somewhere, there had to be someone still alive. There had to.

When dark fell, Lefeng, retreated into the shelter of the trees and made a small camp. Ey forced eirself to eat, having learned well the lessons of the trail. Never go hungry when there is food, you don’t know when you will find more.

With dawn, ey returned to the remains of the village.

No one had survived. Most were simply gone, no sign remained that they had ever existed.

Where eir family’s compound had once stood were a few stumps from the fence and the wooden frame of the house. Scattered throughout the village where a few–a very few–things ey recognized as once belonging to eir family. Ey gathered everything ey could, both from eir family and others, that might possibly be useful.

The next day, ey spent gathered the bodies together on a pile with as much wood as ey was able to move. It had been over a year since ey had started a fire without a coal or spark to work with. And the wet wood didn’t want to burn. But the effort of getting the fire started kept eir from really thinking about what ey was doing.

About what ey would do next.

It was possible that others from the village had survived, but no one had been off on a long journey. Only the far-walking families regularly ever went further than a half days travel from the village, and they had all been here, preparing for the winter journeying. Even the fishing boats returned each day except for their yearly trips up the coast to the big city. Anyone who hadn’t been in the village when… whatever it was happened should have returned by now.

Which meant Lefeng was completely alone.

Finally, the fire started. Ey sat upwind and watched it burn. Saying and singing the prayers that were meant to be said when the dead were buried, but there was no way ey, alone, could bury them all before scavengers became to bold for eir to chase away.

The fire burned long into the night and ey watched.

Jess Mahler’s Upcoming Books 5/13/19: #AmWriting

I realized that since re-starting this blog, I never shared what-all my active writing projects are. It’s probably time and past-time I do that.

At the moment I have 2 projects I am working on regularly and 3 more that I consider ‘active/backburner’. That is — I am keeping them in mind and will work on them when and as the mood strikes. They’re simmering, basically.

I have many many many projects that are ‘in holding’. They are projects that I reached of point of saying ‘no, this isn’t working;’ but think there is enough potential there that I might pick them up again in the future — or might not. (Probably not, if I’m being honest. But maybe.)

Polyamory on Purpose Books

Polyam and Kink

As I’ve talked about elsewhere, my next PoP book will be Polyam and Kink. It’s currently one of the two projects I work on regularly. I don’t actually know what the current word count is — I’m using this manuscript to experiment with eMacs and orgmode. I have to say, I really like eMacs for straight writing, but org mode is giving me headaches on the regular.

Because the writing is scattered across several dozen text docs all linked together through orgmode, figuring out the word count before I’m ready to pull it all together is going to be an absolute pain.

Abuse in Polyamory

Had a blog post about this last month, but tentatively planning for the next PoP book to be Abuse in Polyamory. At the moment, this is more the seed of an idea than an active project. I’ll probably start writing it when I get to the painful part of editing Polyam and Kink.

Jess Mahler’s Fiction

Planting Life in a Dying City

I need to work on this title. I want the final title to be something like this, but not sure if this is too long or not. *shrug*.

Anyway. I’m just past 29,000 words on this one.

I’ve thought of putting one of those progress tracking widgets on the sidebar, but I never remember to update them. So you’ll need to make do with blog posts like this every month or two.

Planting Life in a Dying City is a story of a group of individuals who come together to build a family in a bronze age society where if you don’t have a family, you are nothing. My blogs about generational families and nalbinding were referring to this manuscript. I’ve also got a Quora answer about the magic system that this world will have.

Space Werewolf

I don’t have a title for this one yet. It’s (as the working title suggests) a sci-fi novel with werewolves. (No, not science-fantasy. I’ve got a science-based explanation for having werewolves. It’s no less realistic than FTL drives. 😛 )

I’m pretty sure I haven’t blogged about this at all or discussed the details with anyone other than close friends and family. The two main characters are a werewolf who was is an undercover operative for the (Underground) Railroad and a human/ship entity who botches the werewolf’s op by ‘rescuing’ her.

This one is at around 19,000 words and has been backburnered since last fall. I expect it’ll move to fully active project soon.

Arranged Polyamory

What if, instead of dating and trying to find people to build relationships with, three lonely and lost strangers decided to make a commitment to each other and see what they can build?

At about 6,000 words, I’ve barely started on this one. I’m using it as an experiment in kishōtenketsu style narrative. One thing I’ve struggled with in my romance (and aromance) stories is lack of conflict. Conflict being central to Western-style story telling, but if you have two characters who are constantly in conflict and in a relationship, usually what you have is rather toxic… and I’m realizing that this could be a whole blog post on it’s own, so maybe next week.

Anyway, kishōtenketsu is a narrative style that doesn’t require conflict. So it seemed like a good idea to give it a try.

Thinking and plotting in a completely different manner from what you learned growing up is hard. Hence the very slow burn on this novel.

Historical Space Romance

I admit it, I got lazy.

This was going to be a historical romance set shortly after the Norman Conquest of England. But I didn’t have the spoons to do the research necessary to make it reasonably accurate, and wasn’t willing to not make an attempt to be accurate if I was doing historical.

So I cheated, and it’s now one of those ‘sci-fi’ romances that are set on a colonized world where people lost a lot of tech knowledge and are scraping by and I’m handwaving the ridiculousness of having cultures so similar to Norse, Anglo-Saxon, and Norman because fiction.

The basic idea here was ‘You know all those historical romances where the woman is forced into marriage with a man she doesn’t know/doesn’t like and over the course of the novel becomes a dutiful, submissive medieval wife to her warrior-husband? Yeah, I’m gender-bending that shit.’

It turns out that in Anglo-Saxon England women could do a LOT of things that Norman women weren’t allowed to do. And when the Normans took over they put an end to little things like women holding land in their own right or being their father’s heirs (assuming there was no male heir, of course.)

This one is sitting at right around 10,000 words, written in short bursts as inspiration hits. I’m struggling a bit with this one because i don’t have a general plot arc laid out, beyond what I mentioned above. I’m pretty much purely pantsing is, which is NOT my usual and a challenge. (But obviously not as much of a challenge as kishōtenketsu since I only started it a few months ago and already have this much!)

I’ve shared a few snippets from this one in Jess’ Pack if you want to check them out.

Fantasy Twists Anthology Is Out!

Okay, so the announcement is a bit late, but better late than never, right?

Fantasy Twists anthology, the trope-pretzeling short story collection from Cuil Press, is available as of last Thursday. My own story, One Hell of an STI, is included as well as pieces for six other authors.

If you are looking for creatively written stories inspired by some of your favorite tales as well as diverse characters you should check out Fantasy Twists from Cuil Press

from TheNerdyGirlExpress

I think my favorite part of the anthology is how varied it is.

While all the stories are fantasy, they range from fairy-tale retellings to superheroes. They explore, twist, and recreate, a wide range of fantasy tropes. Some authors took tropes so old they have become cliches and then fallen out of fashion and given them new life. (The scary old person next door) Some authors took tropes that will likely never go out of fashion and took them in a completely different direction. In my case, I took one of the most popular tropes of urban fantasy and turned it inside out.

The characters are varied as well, including werewolves, PoC, superheroes, trans characters, witches, fae, and a character I have been told is loosely based off of the Goblin Kin from Labyrinth. (See if you can spot him.)

Check it out today!

The Bargain by Jess Mahler is Now Available!

When I started writing The Bargain, I wanted a story with polyamory and kink (especially kink!) that I could relate to. All the femdom fiction I could find at the time was either straight pron or man-hating bitches or just flat out unrealistic and icky.

A lot has changed since then, and while femdom* still isn’t widely written, there’s a decent amount of it that I can read and enjoy.

The funny thing is that while I was actively trying to create a story with polyamory and kink, I unintentionally built my story around much more universal themes.

The kink is there, don’t get me wrong, and I think I did a good job with it. But the story… the story is about family. About what it means to be family. It’s about love and the different forms love can take. It’s about life after trauma, when you think the past is behind you but somehow it still manages to dog you around years after it’s “over.”

Most of all, I think it’s about choice. The most pivotal moments in the story all hinge on someone making a choice. Some of those choices are good ones. Some… not so good. But they all have consequences that ripple through the story. Including, of course, the choice to make a bargain…

The Bargain by Jess Mahler

It was supposed to be a straightforward sacrifice. After their mother was killed by Lord Oeloff, Mattin swore to do anything to protect his sister. When the fae lord came for her, Mattin traded his life and freedom to Oeloff’s enemy for the promise of his sister’s safety. He thought he was prepared for anything. Anything except what he actually
found…

It was supposed to be a political gambit. Struggling against Oeloff’s latest ploy, Jahlene found an unforeseen opening in the arrival of the bitter Mattin. Bringing the stranger into her household was a risk. Trusting him was a bigger one. To protect her family, Jahlene bargained with him. She never guessed how it would end…

Sometimes, what starts as a bargain, becomes something more.

The Bargain is a fantasy thriller exploring themes of family, betrayal, trauma, and sacrifice. It is an “own voices” book for polyamory, kink, and PTSD.

The Bargain by Jess Mahler

The Bargain is now available on Amazon

*Check back tomorrow for more on why my writing this for more femdom rep turned out to be somewhat ironic…

His Innocent Victim: A Free Fantasy Short Story

I have a small treat to share today.

As you may know, my fantasy thriller novel The Bargain is coming out on January 18th. To celebrate (and in hopes of wetting your interest), I’m making my short story His Innocent Victim available for free for the next two weeks.

His Innocent Victim is set 500 years before The Bargain and starts the story of Falthro and Dannel. Falthro is also a character in The Bargain. However, like some characters, he didn’t like his relatively small role and insisted on having his own story.

In theory, His Innocent Victim is the first in a series of short stories about Falthro and his household. I’ve got the second part written and will hopefully be publishing it sometime in February.

Enjoy!

His Innocent Victim

When the town of Oak Grove captures a child-killer, they petition the fae lord Falthro to find his missing victims. But before the council will release him to Falthro, they insist he swear by the Goddess to punish the prisoner for the deaths of the town’s children.

Falthro is oathbound, but his magic tells him the prisoner is innocent…

His Innocent Victim is a complete short story, the first in a series about Falthro and his victim, Dannel.​

his innocent victimDownload as ePub

Download as PDF