duskpeterson: (bookshelves)
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"This is the right place for you, boy. They'll school you here to be a right-standing man, one who can keep control over his actions, like any good man should. You just got to keep yourself open to learn and to grow."

How far can trust grow, when you're in a place you despise?

Arrested for a crime he doesn't regret, Bat ends up handcuffed to a group of fellow city boys and sent on a long journey into the countryside. He knows that he is being transported to a prison for delinquent servant boys, but what form will his imprisonment take?

Tattooed with the rank-mark of servant, Bat must learn how to keep from losing his temper with the men who carry the keys to his freedom. But in the unbelievable world where he has been deposited, in which a genial master orders strict punishments and a servant acts like a master, will Bat be able to locate the door to his release? Which of his fellow prisoners can he trust to help him?

And will he survive long enough to find out?

Inspired by true events at a turn-of-the-century reform school, this novella (short novel) is set in an alternative version of the Chesapeake Bay region during the 1910s.

This story will be serialized online weekly.

duskpeterson: An apprentice builds a boat as a man looks on. (Default)
"He came down the mountain one early summer afternoon, toward the end of what had not yet been dubbed the Hydrogen War. He was just in time to catch the climax of the war."

He knew he wasn't normal. Now he must save others who have been left behind.

For two years, since his parents left for the west coast of the continent, Phillip Schafer has lived in a mountain home, as far as he can get from society. But when the loss of his beloved companion forces him out of his refuge, he finds that the world is on the cusp of change. And he may be one of the few people left who is able to outrace that change.

Accompanied by two unusual allies, Phillip must escape from his nation before disaster strikes. But with no jet-car, he must somehow reach the skyport before the last rocket blasts off. . . .

Read online or download as a free e-book: Far Enough Away (Young Toughs).


My bio )
duskpeterson: An apprentice builds a boat as a man looks on. (Default)
Historical adventure tales that are speculative fiction, including lgbtq novels. All e-books are DRM-free.
 

BIG ANNOUNCEMENT

From this point forth, all of my new stories will be posted at Archive of Our Own as free fiction. You can read the stories online or download the stories as free e-books (in html, epub, mobi, or pdf formats) by clicking on the "Download" button toward the top of the story's page.

I'll also be posting all of my backlist at Archive of Our Own, starting with the stories that haven't yet been bundled into volumes.

I will continue to periodically bundle my online fiction by series volume or theme and offer such e-books for sale at online bookstores. However, I'm lowering the price of my commercial e-books, and I won't remove the free fiction when I publish the commercial e-books.

To those of you who have bought my e-books in the past and are now cursing yourself for not awaiting the free or cheaper versions of my stories . . . Your money has been paying my food bills. I greatly thank you.

I have eighty stories in my backlist that aren't yet free fiction. I have several hundred thousand words' worth of new stories at the editing/layout stage. I'm starting a new job. It's going to take me a while to get all my backlist posted, folks. In the meantime, my website will reflect the transitional nature of this change.

More announcements are available below, after my story announcements.
 

NEW E-BOOK: Risk (Dark Light)

Now available in multiformat. Click on the cover for more information.

Risk



REISSUED E-BOOKS: The Eternal Dungeon

Now available in multiformat. Click on the covers for more information. The expanded edition of the Eternal Dungeon omnibus now includes the story "Balladeer" and is available in wide distribution (including Amazon Kindle).

On GuardThe Eternal Dungeon: a Turn-of-the-Century Toughs omnibus



NEW FREE FICTION: Young Toughs, The Three Lands, & The Eternal Dungeon

Information about my free fiction. Click on the titles for the full blurbs and story.
 

New Day (Young Toughs). Kit has reached her apprenticeship birthday and is on a path to inherit power. But what sort of power will she wield?

Guise (The Three Lands). Daxis is the land of bards and of truths too painful to be faced.

Sweeping Day (Young Toughs). "When she was hired as a maid, no one told her that she'd hold the future of the Dozen Landsteads in her bosom."

Tax the Dungeon (The Eternal Dungeon). Nothing in life is certain but love, death, and taxes. But what if all three should converge?


REISSUED FREE FICTION: Darkling Plain & Master/Other

These stories have been unlocked again and moved to new series. Information about my free fiction. Click on the titles for the full blurb and story.
 

Revenge (Darkling Plain). Revenge is sweet. . . unless you are haunted by dark memories of your own misdeeds.

Cold Stars (Master/Other). The prince was told that he must find himself. But what if finding oneself means losing one's love?


REVIEW: Rebirth (The Eternal Dungeon)

"Rebirth doesn't pull its punches. It is quite intense and at times, it is pretty hard to read. The main themes explored are good and evil, guilt and redemption, life and death. . . . Rebirth is about two men, both very damaged by their pasts, and both of whom want nothing more than to be reborn into men that are each worthy of the other." —My Fiction Nook on Rebirth (The Eternal Dungeon).
 

FEATURED BACKLIST TITLE: O Most Unthankful (Master/Other)

An Arthurian tale. A simple Greek lesson reaches deep when a tutor seeks to teach a prince what can happen when love and duty clash.

Available free online: O Most Unthankful (Master/Other). Information about my free fiction.


Excerpt

I had already reached the summer room before I remembered; then I cursed myself. For four years, against all odds, I had maintained good relations with Belin, and one of the reasons I had managed to do so was because I had always shown him beforehand any texts I would assign to the prince. Belin had forbidden me to use only a handful of the texts I had shown him over the years; it took me little time to realize that this would have been one of the few.

I hesitated a moment, wondering what would be the best course to take now; then I molded my heart into courage and went searching for the priest, to make my confession.

I found him, appropriately, in the house's chapel. It had been a shrine to Mithras in the old days; Belin was not above desecrating other men's sacred places. To be fair to him, he probably thought he was bringing the shrine into the use that its original creators would have wanted, had they been so fortunate as to know of the Anointed One. Unlike some priests I had met over the years, Belin was refreshingly free of talk about pagan demons and their devillish followers; instead, he spoke of the fulfillment and summation of all good things in the Anointed One.

He was innocent of the fact that anyone might be offended upon being told that they adhered to a childish faith. I had not disillusioned him, partly because he was a good man in his own way, but mainly because he and his clergy friends were of too much importance. I had been in Ravenna when Rome's fourteen-year-old emperor was deposed there, partly because the Bishop of Salona denounced him.

Belin was not praying; he was reading from a bound wax tablet. At first I thought it was the letter from the King, but as I came closer I saw that the tablet's seal was not red but golden.

He looked up as I stopped next to him, and I said, "Bishop Dubricius has written to you?"

He nodded; his face was shining with joy. "He has asked me to send him the treatise I told him of, on the Blessed Paul's denunciation of pederasty."

I sat down on the bench beside him. The chapel was small, having originally been part of the larger room beside it, and then walled off when some earlier priest had decided that this mixing of sacred and secular was unwise. A tortured man hung from the wall – Belin was fashionable in his artistic tastes, and he preferred this design over the bare crosses that hung in most churches and chapels that I had seen. I slid my gaze away from the atrocity – after all, I reminded myself, my own ancestors had not been adverse to shedding blood for sacred purposes, though they had not gone so far as to revel in the agonizing death of a god. The altar below the cross was more to my taste, having been consecrated originally to an older god, as could be seen from the fact that the lettering of dedication had been hacked away.

The chapel was otherwise beautiful, filled with candles and incense and spring flowers. I breathed in the spice of the incense – I recognized it as one of the spices I had brought as a gift from the old Empire four years before – and tried to think what approach I should take in my confession. It did not appear that this was the best time for raising such a topic.

Belin, thankfully oblivious to my thoughts, said, "He says that he would like to use the treatise to help him compose a homily on the subject."

"Indeed?" I said. "That is a great honor."

Belin nodded, continuing to smile. "That such a great and influential man should value my thoughts on the subject is humbling to me. I hope that he will not be disappointed by what I have to offer. All that I have done is suggest some scriptural support for the Holy Church's condemnation of pederasty."

Belin was always the most polite of men; he never used words such as "sodomy" in the presence of an unbeliever. I said, "Surely that is not a matter that is under debate among the Anointed One's followers?"

The priest shook his head, his smile fading. "You would be surprised what wicked arguments men will make in the name of God. The bishop has among his flock some men and youth who, having lapsed into this sin, refuse to show proper contrition, but instead argue that the Blessed Paul did not condemn pederasty but some other sin instead. They quote the Blessed Hippolytus, who said that the Blessed Paul was speaking of those who take part in the orgiastic rites of the mother goddess. But I believe this is a misinterpretation of the letter to the Romans, and that the true interpretation of the passage can be found by examining the letters' later use of the words arsenokoites and malakos . . ."

He continued on for some time in this vein, with me pretending to show great interest – and indeed, I can always stay attentive to a good discussion of translation problems, however trivial the text may be. When Belin reached the point where he was preparing to describe the use of malakos in Homer to refer to Achilles' "soft bed," I interrupted him and said, "But does your holy man Paul say why he is opposed to pederasty?"

"That is clear from the words he uses," Belin replied promptly. "A malakos is a soft man, an effeminate man, one who has allowed himself to be used for the sexual pleasure of another man, as a woman should properly be used. 'Men abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another . . .'"

This was tiresome; I had heard this argument made by too many would-be philosophers over their drinks. "I can see that might be true of men," I said mildly, "but we are not talking about men, we are talking about youths. Surely at that time of life, the role of a young man is to follow, not lead, and it would be as improper for him to serve as master over his lover as it would be for a woman to serve as master in a marriage."

Too late, I remembered that it is never wise to try to argue philosophy with followers of the Anointed One; they always end up appealing to their holy book as certain proof that their god ordained such-and-such an action. Belin, who had turned concerned eyes toward me, said, "Good Arnobius speaks of how the King of Pessinus sought to withdraw his son from so disgraceful an intimacy, but spurned on by the frenzied madness of his lover, the youth mutilated himself—"

I stood up hastily, my head swimming from the sudden rise. For a moment, I thought that I was on the edge of a vision, but then I saw before me only the priest, staring up at me with the benevolent concern of a holy man who has failed to assist a soul that has strayed from his god's ways.

"I am out of my depth in these matters, I fear," I said with a smile. "I would appreciate it if you would lend me a copy of your treatise so that I may learn more on this subject. For now, though, I must return to my pupil."

Belin nodded, satisfied with this excuse, and turned his attention back to the tablet. I left him in the chapel with the flickering candles and made my way hurriedly down the corridor as the bells began to chime for dinner. No, not a good time for a confession, I thought. My best course of action would be to take the scroll back and return it to its hiding place.

I could only hope that the prince had not read far.
 

Available free online: O Most Unthankful (Master/Other). Information about my free fiction.


NEW SERIES: Dungeon Guards

The Eternal Dungeon is soon to wrap up after five volumes and fourteen years' worth of stories. (I do plan to write an additional postlude novel.) However, don't worry. Although my main protagonists' stories are wrapping up, the Eternal Dungeon is a big place, and some of the other residents there have been clamoring for their own series.

Dungeon Guards is my response to their demands. That series begins with The Shining Ones, which I originally published as a side novella in the Eternal Dungeon series, but which is now story #1 in Dungeon Guards. The rest of the first volume of Dungeon Guards is already written (my Muse has had a good summer), so you'll be seeing those stories too, probably next year.
 

OLD SERIES: Young Spies & Young Toughs

Because I'll be having less bookstore presence in the future, I've taken down my YA site and am folding the current volume of Young Spies (Law Links, which started off as a Three Lands volume) back into The Three Lands. The Turn-of-the-Century Toughs series Young Toughs will remain independent, but it will serve as a companion series to Waterman, featuring minor characters from Waterman in their own series. (If you've been paying attention, you already know that this is what Young Toughs has consisted of so far.)
 

PROGRESS REPORTS

I've moved my progress reports to the bottom of each series page, for readers' easier reference: The Eternal Dungeon, Dungeon Guards, Michael's House, Life Prison, Commando, Waterman, Young Toughs, and The Three Lands. (The Three Lands has an especially long "in progress" list. Man, was I ambitious in the 1990s.) I haven't included progress reports for the archived series, because who knows when I'll get around to updating any of them; but I can say that I plan to repost all the completed stories from Loren's Lashes and Leather in Lawnville. Also, Wizard of the Sun is coming soon.
 

OTHER WEBSITE CHANGES

I've revised two FAQ: Which accessible books are available for the disabled? and I'm visually impaired. What else should I know about this website?

The copyright and FAQ pages have been changed to reflect my return to concentrating on free fiction.

About the Author has been updated with information on my preferred pronouns (they/their) – and wow, how amazing it is to live in an era when people actually ask for that information.

The Older Writings section of my home page has been expanded to list fiction series titles and nonfiction site titles.
 

NEWS FOR E-BOOK SUBSCRIPTION READERS

Scribd is carrying my e-books again, and 24symbols has been carrying them for a while, so I've added those links to the entries for my e-books that are in wide distribution.

I'd talked on my blog last spring about placing some of my stories in Kindle Unlimited. Instead I'm posting all my stories online! Which means I can't put them in Kindle Unlimited, since Amazon requires exclusivity of KU titles, darn it. I apologize to those of you who prefer to download stories from the Kindle store.
 

E-BOOK PRICES LOWERED

As mentioned above, I'm lowering my e-book prices. Omnibuses are now $9.99, novels/volumes are $2.99, and short fiction is 99c.
 

INTERVIEWS

I had a couple of interviews last spring that are already a bit outdated, in terms of my e-book plans, but a lot of what I said remains relevant.

MM Book Escape interviewed me. Much of the interview is about The Eternal Dungeon. You can read about the interviewer, KathyMac.

J. Scott Coatsworth also interviewed me. The interview centers on my lgbtq speculative fiction. In addition to being an author of lgbtq speculative fiction himself, Mr. Coatsworth is the energetic founder of the Queer Sci Fi community for readers and writers of lgbtq speculative fiction. I highly recommend Queer Sci Fi's Facebook group; it's lively with interesting conversations.

duskpeterson: (bookshelves)
"When she was hired as a maid, no one told her that she'd hold the future of the Dozen Landsteads in her bosom."

It's sweeping day again, and her task seems straightforward: clean the dirt in her master's study and leave.

But Sally's master is no ordinary master, and Sally's sweeping could be the trigger for war. Finding herself in a dangerous trap, Sally must draw upon the wisdom of her allies in the servants' kitchen before disaster strikes.


Read online or download as free e-books: Sweeping Day.
duskpeterson: (bookshelves)
New Day (Young Toughs).

"Having a servant-boy accompany them on this trip was annoying, Kit thought. But there was no way around it; Honey's parents would never have allowed Honey to visit Yclau without her young bodyguard."

Kit has reached her apprenticeship birthday and is on a path to inherit power. But what sort of power will she wield?

A journey from the First Landstead to the neighboring Queendom of Yclau seems an easy enough day-trip for two young women and a faithful young servant. Kit and Honey will simply catch a monorail to the queendom's capital and enjoy their first sight of a foreign nation.

But Yclau is not the First Landstead. It is a land of robots, memories of the Bomb, and a lingering fear of what might occur next.

Kit is determined to have her birthday the way she wanted. But she will need allies for her fight, and one of them is an ally she did not expect.
duskpeterson: (bookshelves)

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Feel free to pass on this post to other people. Requests for review copies may be sent to the author, Dusk Peterson.

Title: The Lure (Young Toughs).

Series: Young Toughs.

Publisher: Love in Dark Settings Press.

Publication date: May 2, 2016.

Genres: alternate history | maritime fiction | young adult (crossover fiction).

Tags: family | friendship | 1910s America (Chesapeake Bay island) | masters and servants | watermen (fishermen) | criminals | spirituality themes (reincarnation).

Word count: 9,000.

Buy link: http://duskpeterson.com/youngtoughs/#lure Available as a Kindle e-book. Also available in multiformat until Thursday, May 19.

Blurb:

"The panic was stronger, now that they had reached the wharf. It was his parents' mightiest rule: Never allow himself to be seen. If, by terrible chance, he met someone in the woods, he must run away immediately."

His entire life has been a secret. Now he must rip open the secret.

Hannibal S. Mercer has lived all his life in an isolated island home with his loving parents and two servants. Hannibal never receives the opportunity to meet anyone else. The older servant doesn't speak to Hannibal. The younger servant might or might not be an ally in time of trouble.

Now trouble has arrived. When hostile strangers invade Hannibal's world, he must uncover the truth his parents have been hiding from him. And then he must make a choice that will determine the course of his life.

With a setting based upon an island on the Chesapeake Bay in the 1910s, this novelette (miniature novel) can be read on its own or as a story in Young Toughs, an alternate history series about the struggles of youths in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Young Toughs is part of Turn-of-the-Century Toughs, a cycle of alternate history series (Young Toughs, Waterman, Life Prison, Commando, Michael's House, The Eternal Dungeon, and Dark Light) about adults and youths on the margins of society, and the people who love them. Set in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the novels and stories take place in an alternative version of America that was settled by inhabitants of the Old World in ancient times. As a result, the New World retains certain classical and medieval customs.

Excerpt )

duskpeterson: An apprentice builds a boat as a man looks on. (Default)

*

Feel free to pass on this post to other people. Requests for review copies may be sent to the author, Dusk Peterson.

Title: Far Enough Away (Young Toughs: Atompunk).

Series: Young Toughs.

Publisher: Love in Dark Settings Press.

Publication date: April 4, 2016.

Genres: alternate history | science fiction | adventure | young adult.

Tags: friendship | mentally disabled character | chronically ill character | lower-class characters | retrofuture | 1950s | atompunk.

Word count: 6,000.

Buy link: http://duskpeterson.com/youngtoughs/#farenoughaway

Blurb:

"He came down the mountain one early summer afternoon, toward the end of what had not yet been dubbed the Hydrogen War. He was just in time to catch the climax of the war."

He knew he wasn't normal. Now he must save others who have been left behind.

For two years, since his parents left for the west coast of the continent, Phillip Schafer has lived in a mountain home, as far as he can get from society. But when the loss of his beloved companion forces him out of his refuge, he finds that the world is on the cusp of change. And he may be one of the few people left who is able to outrace that change.

Accompanied by two unusual allies, Phillip must escape from his nation before disaster strikes. But with no jet-car, he must somehow reach the skyport before the last rocket blasts off. . . .

It is a time of jet-cars, Astroware parties, and microfiche newspapers. It is our future as it was envisioned in the 1950s and 1960s. This retrofuturistic short story of disability and friendship can be read on its own or as part of the "Atompunk" volume of Young Toughs, an alternate history series about the struggles of youths in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
  Excerpt )

duskpeterson: An apprentice builds a boat as a man looks on. (Default)
Historical adventure tales that are speculative fiction, including lgbtq novels and young adult fiction. All e-books are DRM-free. New e-books and reissues are multiformat.

Survival School

NEW NOVELLA: Survival School (Young Toughs)

"This is the right place for you, boy. They'll school you here to be a right-standing man, one who can keep control over his actions, like any good man should. You just got to keep yourself open to learn and to grow."

How far can trust grow, when you're in a place you despise?

Arrested for a crime he doesn't regret, Bat ends up handcuffed to a group of fellow city boys and sent on a long journey into the countryside. He know that he is being transported to a prison for delinquent servant boys, but what form will his imprisonment take?

Tattooed with the rank-mark of servant, Bat must learn how to keep from losing his temper with the men who carry the keys to his freedom. But in the unbelievable world where he has been deposited, in which a genial master orders strict punishments and a servant acts like a master, will Bat be able to locate the door to his release? Which of his fellow prisoners can he trust to help him?

And will he survive long enough to find out?

Inspired by true events at a turn-of-the-century reform school, this novella (short novel) is set in an alternative version of the Chesapeake Bay region during the 1910s. The story can be read on its own or as part of the Young Toughs alternate history series, an alternate history series about the struggles of youths in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Young Toughs is part of Turn-of-the-Century Toughs, a cycle of alternate history series (Young Toughs, Waterman, Life Prison, Commando, Michael's House, The Eternal Dungeon, and Dark Light) about adults and youths on the margins of society, and the people who love them. Set in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the novels and stories take place in an alternative version of America that was settled by inhabitants of the Old World in ancient times. As a result, the New World retains certain classical and medieval customs.

Available as a multiformat e-book (epub, html, mobi/Kindle, pdf, doc): Survival School.


Excerpt

"Well, I've surely been schooled."

Having said this, Bat tossed another shovelful of dirt to the side and paused to wipe his brow free of sweat. The midsummer morning was clear, with not a cloud in the sky to provide them with shade. The trench they were digging remained too shallow at this point to throw shadows.

"Oh my blessed, you're right about that." Frank took up the refrain as his pickaxe chiselled another rock. "When I get my first job out there, and the master asks me what schooling I received here, I'll say, 'Why, sir, I was learned to break rocks.'"

Frank rarely voiced bitterness; that he did so now was a sign of how exhausted the boys were. Bat looked wearily over at the pails of water that Trusty had taken care to place near the boys. The water would last till sunset. He wasn't sure he would.

Bending down to scoop up a bucket of mud, Emmanuel said, "Might as well be in the Men's Penitentiary. Makes no difference to the work we do."

"Two thousand nine hundred feet long," Joe added as he reached down to lift Frank's broken rock into the wheelbarrow. "That's what the Super said the tunnel will be. Two thousand nine hundred feet times seventeen feet is—"

"Stop showing off." Emmanuel took a halfhearted swipe at him, then turned and shouted, "Hoi! Leave him alone!"

Bat turned to look. White-faced as he struggled to push another wheelbarrow full of dirt and mud and rock up the incline to the campus lawn, Mordecai was being blocked by one of the boys who worked in the main dormitory of Family Cottage Trustworthy – the "Big Dorm," as everyone called it now. Several of the other boys, who were assigned to take charge of the wheelbarrow once Mordecai reached the lawn, were laughing at the young boy's efforts to get past the barrier.

"We got to come over there and paste you?" demanded Joe.

Bat looked uneasily at where Trusty stood on the lawn. The young man was deep in conversation with the Superintendent, but it was unlikely he had missed hearing Joe's threat. For now, though, he seemed contented to let the quarrelling boys settle themselves.

The boys in the Big Dorm looked inclined to fight, if only to defend their honor, but at that moment Slow, with impeccable timing, returned from using the toilet in their cottage. He took one look at Mordecai and said, "Aw, that's too heavy for you. Let me help. We better help, right?" He turned toward the boys who had been teasing Mordecai. "Because we're big and he's little."

With the situation voiced in that stark fashion, the boys of the Big Dorm shrugged and moved forward to relieve Mordecai of the wheelbarrow. As they did so, Mordecai began to fall to his knees. Slow caught him and carefully escorted him back to where another packed wheelbarrow awaited him.

The boys of the Big Dorm took a second look at the small group digging the trench for the steam pipes, then evidently decided not to pursue the matter further. It was well known by now that the boys in the Little Dorm – as they'd been dubbed – were close pals who always protected one another. Separated at night from the other boys of Family Cottage Trustworthy, they formed their own little community, like a family within a family.

Bat watched Mordecai with concern as the young boy paused to lean against a boulder, panting. His legs were shaking. Joe, however, had turned his attention back to the work at hand. He said, "We got Comrade Carruthers to thank for this, you know. He gave the money for the steam plant."

Restored to his usual good humor by the pause in labor, Frank said, "At least we won't be cold at night."

"I'd never let you get cold, honey boy." Joe flung this observation over his shoulder as he bent down to scoop up more mud.

Emmanuel gave a snort then, and Bat and Slow exchanged smiles. Everyone in the Little Dorm knew that Joe had taken to sneaking into Frank's bed after lights were out. Even Trusty knew, because he'd caught them sleeping peacefully together one morning. Since it was clear that both boys were where they wanted to be, and since they were both fully clothed in their underwear, Trusty had confined himself to telling them that they'd best not take the matter any further than they had, or they'd be in trouble with the Night Watchman.

He had left them in an agony of curiosity as to what happened "further."

Bat had been amused. One week, not long before he was arrested, a childhood playmate of his had invited him to tea with her mother. The mother had proceeded to explain to him – with drawings, no less – what constituted "further" when it came to boys and girls, with an added explanation that he mustn't go too far with any girl he wasn't marrying. Then she had shooed them out of the room, saying, "Bat, you can go to Sally's bedroom now. I'm sure you two want to play." And they had.

Now, leaning against his shovel, Bat spared a thought of regret for Sally. She was so pretty that she'd likely be married by the time he got out of prison. In the meantime . . . His gaze wandered over to Emmanuel, who had removed his jacket and shirt to work, revealing from his physique that he was well on his way to manhood. Bat figured that, if he turned up at Emmanuel's bedside one night, Emmanuel would likely invite him under the sheets, in his easygoing fashion. They could go a lot further than Joe and Frank had. Bat knew by now that such arrangements were common in the House of Transformation, though always risky in family cottages not placed under Trusty's benevolent rule. The Superintendent, a widower who had no doubt served his liege-master in bed during his youth, had taken it into his head that the inmates' bed-play was "filthy."

Bat forced his weary limbs back to work. He liked Emmanuel, as he liked all the boys in the Little Dorm, but he had no interest in establishing the sorts of ties that might bind him here when the time came for him to leave. He'd declared that to Trusty on the first day, and he hadn't changed his mind since then. This place was a prison, not a home; he'd wait till he was out of here before joining himself with anyone else in love.

He'd missed part of the conversation; Emmanuel was saying, ". . . Most of the farms around here belong to him. The farmers are his tenants. No wonder he wants to place us out with the farmers. We're free labor to him, even when we're paroled."

Bat cast another quick glance in the direction of Trusty. Trusty had moved his conversation with the Superintendent a few yards from the trench, no doubt to prevent the Super from overhearing this conversation.

"Is the House of Transformation's farmer the Super's tenant?" asked Frank.

Emmanuel shrugged as he knelt down in the mud with his bucket. "Might as well be. He's married to Super's daughter. —Hoi, watch out." This was to Mordecai who was in danger of staggering in front of Frank's pickaxe, having returned from delivering his latest load.

Bat caught hold of Mordecai as Joe said, "I heard the farmer and his wife can't have children, even though they've been trying for years."

The other boys exchanged looks, but nobody voiced any doubts. Joe was always up to date on the campus gossip.

"But she's pretty!" cried Slow, who had not quite mastered yet the rules for how children were produced.

"She surely is," said Joe appreciatively as he paused to take out his matches, first glancing around to ensure that none of the boys from the Big Dorm were watching. Super and Trusty remained absorbed in their conversation. Slow went over to help Mordecai push the wheelbarrow up the incline.

A question had been forming in Bat's mind for several weeks. Now, with Mordecai gone, Bat blurted out the question: "Joe, did you have anything to do with that ferry fire that killed Mordecai's parents?"

Frank looked shocked. From the expression on Emmanuel's face, Bat surmised that this possibility had occurred to him too.

Joe simply gave Bat a sour look. "There were folks on that ferry. Not just men and women – kids too. I'm not a murderer."

"His master's boat was empty," Frank said in quick support.

"So why'd you set it on fire?" asked Emmanuel with mild curiosity. "'Cause you hated your master?"

"That fire?" Joe gave a wicked smile. "That fire was fun." He pulled out his box of cigarettes.

Emmanuel snorted again as he paused to drink another full dipper of water from one of the pails. Bat paused too. As Slow and Mordecai returned, Frank tossed dippers to them while Joe tamped down the end of his cigarette. Cigarettes were the most precious contraband on campus; inmates who were forcibly returned from parole would sneak back boxes of cigarettes and sell them for favors. Emmanuel, who received gifts of fruit from his mother through the mail, regularly exchanged the fruit for cigarettes that he gave to Joe. Emmanuel figured – probably correctly, Bat thought as he watched Joe lovingly strike a match – that this was the safest way to channel Joe's worship of fire.

"Can I try one?" asked Frank, staring at the cigarette.

"You ain't getting hooked on one of those coffin nails, boy," said Emmanuel as he placed Frank into a headlock. Joe laughed as Frank twisted free and thrust Emmanuel against the shallow wall of the trench. Newly returned, Slow pulled Mordecai to safety as the struggling boys thrust dirt all over the place. Bat dived to save the pails of water.

"All right, that's enough." It was Trusty's voice. The result of his arrival was striking. Frank immediately released Emmanuel. Bat rose to his feet, brushing dirt out of his hair and grabbing for his shovel. And Joe slipped the matchbox back into his drawers as he swept the lit cigarette behind his back.

"You're all here to work, not fight," Trusty told them. "Drink your water and get back to digging. Give me that." He held out his palm.

With a sigh, Joe handed him the cigarette. Trusty ground it underfoot as he said, "Matches too."

For a moment, it looked as though Joe would turn stubborn. Trusty tilted his head to one side. "You planning to eat supper tonight?"

The threat of the missed meal did its trick. With a deep heave of breath such as a martyred slave might emit, Joe took out the matches and handed them to Trusty. Slow had been looking exceedingly nervous during this conversation, but there was really no reason. Trusty never beat the boys in his care. At most, he'd tell the Super that a misbehaving boy deserved to be lowered by a merit-grade, but that rarely happened. Trusty anticipated and caught problems early on, before they had time to worsen, perhaps because he was an inmate himself.

Trusty treated the matches with the same contempt as the cigarette, dowsing them in a pail that held a bare inch of water. Emmanuel raised his eyebrows. The Watchman, they all knew, would confiscate matches and cigarettes from boys, and then he'd sell the contraband to journeymen who were being released from prison with a few coins in their pocket. Trusty could not fail to know that he was destroying a healthy profit for himself.

"Back to work," Trusty instructed; then he beckoned to Bat. Bat set down his shovel and came forward, ignoring the looks that the other boys gave him – the looks that the other boys always gave him when Trusty took him aside for a lecture. Without any word ever spoken between them, Trusty had established himself as Bat's private mentor, giving him a quiet word on the side whenever Bat began to stray from the straight path.

Bat wondered what he had done this time. He'd been trying for weeks to behave properly, though it wasn't easy, especially on week's end, when the cleric from the local chapel would stand in the transformatory chapel, thundering down his denunciations of the boys' evil ways. Afterwards, on the campus lawn, there would be drill inspection by the Superintendent, which was even harder to take, for the Super invariably had an "encouraging" word for each well-behaved family cottage about how far the boys had come from their days of ill repute. Bat sometimes suspected that the journeymen kept their family cottages in everlasting turmoil simply in order to avoid these speeches.

He and Trusty passed the boys in the Big Dorm and came out of the trench. The sun blazed like flames from a house-fire. Trusty, who was wearing a straw hat like those worn by all the inmates who did outside work, took it off to fan himself, one of the few times he had ever hinted that he suffered as badly as his fellow inmates.

Trusty looked tired. Bat had heard him get up during the middle of the night when he was fetched by the Watchman to fix some plumbing problem that had developed with the Super's toilet. He often did chores like that around the campus; Bat had overheard the Superintendent refer to him as "my man-of-all-work."

Now Trusty said, "Your transfer has come through. You start tomorrow morning."

He couldn't help hopping on his toes with joy. "At the campus farm? What about the other boys?"

"Harry is being transferred to the stables. The rest of the Little Dorm stays in the broom manufactory."

His spirits abruptly fell. He looked back at the boys. Emmanuel, Slow, Frank, and Joe were all laughing over a joke, but Mordecai, who was trying to turn the wheelbarrow around, looked as though he was about to pass out.

"Say, can't he be left off this work?" As he spoke, Bat pointed at the younger boy. "He's not made for this. He's a domestic, and he's too young to be hauling rocks anyhow. Even working the fields would be better for him than this."

Trusty took his time in answering. Finally he said, "You prepared to let him take the farm job in your place?"

The words fell like chunks of hot lead, searing through his insides. He looked back at the trench. Two thousand nine hundred feet, Joe had said. The tunnel would take months to dig. Months of shovelling in the blazing sun. . . .
 

Available as a multiformat e-book (epub, html, mobi/Kindle, pdf, doc): Survival School.


Prison Food and Fondness

NEW SHORT STORY: Prison Food and Fondness (The Eternal Dungeon)

"All she needed to gather were the ingredients for the meal. This she tried to explain on one summer morning, standing by the outer dungeon's exit while confronting two guards who had their daggers pointed at her."

Voluntarily incarcerated in a prison full of men, married to a man who has no desire to "love" her in the traditional sense of the word, Birdesmond Manx Chapman has chosen a challenging path in life. But she is a Seeker, a prison-worker who has taken an oath of eternal confinement in order to share the conditions of her prisoners. She has the strength to meet all challenges.

Until she encounters her greatest challenge of all: obtaining the ingredients for a wedding-anniversary meal in a dungeon filled with men who don't know how to cook.

This short story of an unconventional marriage by a woman who lives in a man's world can be read on its own or as a side story in The Eternal Dungeon, a speculative fiction series set in a nineteenth-century prison.

The Eternal Dungeon series is part of Turn-of-the-Century Toughs, a cycle of alternate history series (Young Toughs, Waterman, Life Prison, Commando, Michael's House, The Eternal Dungeon, and Dark Light) about adults and youths on the margins of society, and the people who love them. Set in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the novels and stories take place in an alternative version of America that was settled by inhabitants of the Old World in ancient times. As a result, the New World retains certain classical and medieval customs.

Available as a multiformat e-book (epub, html, mobi/Kindle, pdf, doc): Prison Food and Fondness.


Excerpt

She knew in her heart that her frantic desire to cook a meal had to do with what had taken place on her wedding night.

Her musings on this were interrupted by Weldon's arrival at the master bedroom in their "living cell," as Seekers termed their apartments. He was in his shirt and drawers, rubbing dry his hair, having just completed his week's end bathing. "I saved the water for you," he said.

She grimaced, glancing beyond him at the round iron tub sitting in the middle of their parlor. Some of the sacrifices she had undergone to become a Seeker were more distasteful than others. "I'll bathe tomorrow," she said. When there was some hope that the water would still be warm out of the maid's pitcher. "My chain is snagged on my collar. Will you loosen it for me?"

He came forward quickly, eager as always to help. It took him a moment to free the chain that held the locket she wore as a traditional indicator that she was married. The dungeon's Codifier – himself a widower who wore a marriage watch to work – had ruled that it was acceptable for her to wear the locket on duty, provided that it remained hidden under the plain uniform she wore as a Seeker. It was the uniform of a female prisoner; similarly, all of the male Seekers wore the uniform of a male prisoner, as a visible symbol of the oaths they had made to live as much as possible like their prisoners.

Weldon stepped back with the chain and locket in hand. She turned her head to look at him. Even after all these months, she instinctively expected to see a familiar sight: the expression of a man who has touched the neck of a beautiful woman and who longs for greater intimacy.

What she saw was Weldon's polite smile. "I'll put this away beside my watch, shall I?" he offered.

She nodded, turning toward the mirror before he should see the look in her eyes. Her throat ached as she reached for her brush. . . .
 

Available as a multiformat e-book (epub, html, mobi/Kindle, pdf, doc): Prison Food and Fondness.


REISSUED NOVEL: Transformation (The Eternal Dungeon)

Now available in multiformat. Click on the cover for more information.

Transformation


REVIEW: Rebirth (The Eternal Dungeon)

"Rebirth is the dark, fascinating tale of two very different men who come to know and love each other under almost impossible conditions. The writing is detailed and powerful, the story fresh and unpredictable." —Outrageous Heroes (with major spoilers) on Rebirth (The Eternal Dungeon).


The Abolitionist

FEATURED BACKLIST TITLE: The Abolitionist (Waterman)

"The servants were scared stiff of him, and the masters were clearly uncertain what to say to a man who came from such an eccentric House. Nothing was different, nothing had changed. And yet everything had changed since Carr met a young foreigner who showed him not the least bit of respect."

When a foul-mouthed, seditious foreigner turns up at your door, what are the benefits of letting him in?

So wonders Carr, a young man living in a bayside nation that is troubled by internal battles. In his world, servants fight against masters, tonging watermen fight against dredging watermen, and landsteads eye one another's oyster grounds with greed. It seems to Carr that the only way in which to keep such warfare from entering his own home is to keep very, very quiet about certain aspects of himself which his family would not be able to accept.

But "trouble" is a word that appears to delight the new visitor. He is ready to stir up danger . . . though he may not be as prepared as he thinks to confront what lies within Carr.

A finalist in the Rainbow Awards 2013, his novel can be read on its own or as the first novel in Waterman, a speculative fiction series set in an alternative version of the Chesapeake Bay region during the 1910s and during the future as it was envisioned in the 1960s.
 

Available as a multiformat e-book (epub, html, mobi/Kindle, pdf, doc): The Abolitionist.


Excerpt

Perhaps in acknowledgment of the guest's political leanings, Carr's father had chosen to hold supper, not in the formal dining room, but in the family dining room. By the time they arrived there – having taken a tour of the mansion grounds – Sally had returned from town: she was stationed in the corner, breathing heavily as she pulled the rope that stirred the peacock-feathered ceiling fan, which hung over the dining table. Jesse took one look at this and demanded, "Do we really need that?"

"Hmm?" Carr's father, who was making last-minute adjustments to his manuscript, looked up from the galley proofs, transformation-blue pencil in hand. "No . . . no, I don't suppose so. It's cool enough today that we don't really need the fan. That's enough, my girl."

Sally let go of the rope, practically collapsing as she did so. Bat, his footman's uniform slightly askew, came forward to support her with his arm. Carr made a note to himself to remind his father that he should really remember to assign the House's heaviest duties to the male servants. His father, who lived under the delusion that the servants would inform him if they didn't like the tasks they were assigned, was inclined to forget such niceties.

Carr's mother entered the room, all aflutter, her embroidered shirtwaist dress shining cream-colored in the late-afternoon sun. "Oh, dear, I'm sorry I'm late," she exclaimed. "I was helping Cook with the dessert."

Carr managed not to wince. Carr's father said equably, "I'm so glad you can find the time to assist the servants. I dearly wish I could. Carr, do have a seat."

Carr sat down, acutely conscious of Bat, who had not rushed forward to help him. When Carr's father had presented Bat as a gift in honor of Carr's seventeenth birthday, as a potential future valet for his only son, Carr had spent an entire week having disturbing dreams. . . . But the dreams had come to nothing. It soon became clear that, for Bat, service was merely a way to earn money so that he could keep from starving. The young footman was very unlike Variel, Carr's father's valet, who was dedicated to serving his master.

Carr turned this dangerous thought from his mind as Jesse, rather than wait to be seated in a master's chair, pulled up a servants' stool to the table. Nobody besides Carr noticed; Carr's father's attention was focussed on Sally, who was pulling back a chair for her mastress.

"Why, thank you!" As always, Carr's mother managed to sound surprised and grateful for the duties she herself had trained the servants to do. It was one of the reasons why, despite everything, the servants loved her. "That's so very kind of you. And so nicely done."

Turning pink, Sally curtsied. "Thank you, ma'am."

"Oh, please, no curtsies. And no 'ma'am' either. Benjamin," added Carr's mother, turning her head toward her husband as Sally, crestfallen at this reproach, retreated from the table, "it's really too bad that the servants have no suitable title by which to address me. Can't we create a female equivalent of 'Comrade Carruthers'?"

"'Comradess,' perhaps?" Ignoring the plate of terrapin meat that Variel was offering him, Carr's father paused to consider the dilemma.

"Food's at your elbow," Jesse pointed out. "Why do you need a special female title anyway? What's wrong with calling her Comrade Carruthers too? It would show that she's your equal."

Carr's mother gave Jesse a delighted look. Smiling, Carr's father said, "Daisy, allow me to introduce our guest, Comrade Jesse. Carr has invited him to join us today."

Carr could feel Jesse's eye on him. "I thought, Father, that we might invite him to stay with us for a few days." Seeing his father's incipient frown, he added, "There are so few Egalitarian homes in the Second Landstead for him to stay at, and it seems a shame for him to have to resort to a hotel."

His father's expression cleared. The elder Carruthers valued his privacy, but he responded, as Carr had intended, to this clear reminder of his duties as the highest-ranked Egalitarian in the Second Landstead. "Of course," replied Carr's father. "Our home is yours, comrade, for as long as you need. Have you travelled far?"

"A fair bit. —This food is good." Jesse directed this comment, not at Carr's mother, but at Variel and Bat and Sally, who had retreated to the serving table.

"We have an excellent cook," said Carr's mother, always happy for an opportunity to compliment the servants. "I wish that I could prepare meals half as well as she can."

"Nonsense, sweet one; your meals are always a delight to eat." Carr's father frowned as Sally came forward again to retrieve the napkin that Carr's mother had dislodged in her excitement. "My girl, what is that you're wearing?"

Sally stared down at her dress, bewildered. Carr's mother looked surprised. "Is something wrong with the servants' uniforms?" she asked.

"Her top button is undone. And her skirt is far too short. She looks like a woman of the streets." Carr's father glared at the young servant, who was now blinking back tears.

"Oh, dear." Carr's mother grew flustered. "I hadn't noticed. . . . Sally, perhaps it would be best if you made a few adjustments to your uniform."

"Yes, ma—" Sally quickly cut off the forbidden word. "Now?"

"Yes, now." As the girl retreated, Carr's mother looked over at her husband, who continued to glare in the direction of the departing servant. "It's not her fault, is it, dear? I mean, she's very young."

"Yeah, she is, isn't she?" Jesse's voice was lazily speculative. Carr winced, wishing that his guest was less perceptive.

His father's expression turned to puzzlement. "Excuse me?"

"Nothing," Jesse replied around a mouthful of hominy. "Look, why is it that you don't have the time to do household tasks alongside the other residents here?" He waved his hand toward Variel and Bat, who continued to stand by the serving table, silent and alert.

Carr's father sighed. "Because, regrettably, my primary responsibility is to earn the money that keeps this House operating. We lost our tenant farmers during the financial troubles three tri-decades ago, and the Bay doesn't bring in as good a harvest as it used to. If it weren't for my work at the Bureau, this mansion would be in a state of disrepair."

"The Bureau?" Jesse had gone suddenly as still as the servants. Carr bent his head, concentrating his gaze on the celery salad that he was pushing around the plate with his fork. Not merely perceptive but quick-witted. Jesse was going to prove . . . interesting.
 

Available as a multiformat e-book (epub, html, mobi/Kindle, pdf, doc): The Abolitionist.


AT MY BLOG

If you're interested in reading about my daily life, you may wish to read my March daily life entry: Trying to get back into the writing habit.
 

INTERVIEW OF ME BY TAMI VELDURA

For those of you who didn't see my earlier announcement: This interview of me originally appeared in the March 2016 newsletter of Tami Veldura, who writes science fiction, fantasy, steampunk, and queer fiction. Ms. Veldura begins by saying, "Today's interview with Dusk touches on apprenticeship, history, and alternate universes."
 

NEW TURN-OF-THE-CENTURY TOUGHS MAPS

The number of Toughs maps are beginning to multiply, so I've added a maps page to the Turn-of-the-Century Toughs resources. You'll see three new maps there.
 

MORE FREQUENT STORY ANNOUNCEMENTS & A REMINDER ABOUT REVIEW COPIES

You might have noticed that my monthly update is getting a bit clogged. For the sake of you who don't want to read a whole bunch of blurbs and excerpts at once, I'm going to start posting weekly updates of my latest e-books at my blog, e-mail list, and the various social networks that my blog feed goes to. The blog/list/feed will continue to carry a monthly round-up (like the one you're currently reading) of all my e-books issued during the past month, as well as links to my online fiction, excerpts from backlist titles, links to posts I make at my blog, and general announcements.

Because my posts are ending up in so many places besides my blog these days, I'll be adding hashtags to my post titles. Since I can't add every hashtag that applies to any one of my stories (#sff #althistory #crimefiction #romance #newadult #suspense #adventure #lgbtlit #histfic #everygenreunderthesun), you'll need to take these tags as a hint at the nature of the story, not as a definitive description.

Because these posts will also be going to potential reviewers, you'll see notices in the posts about the availability of review copies. This is just a reminder: Anyone who is willing to post a review online – at online bookstores, at their blog, or anywhere else – is welcome to request a review copy of any of my e-books. Your review needn't be a positive one; I value honest, negative reviews (as you can tell from the fact that I frequently link to them here).

For those of you who can't afford to buy as many of my e-books as you'd like, reviews are a good way for you to get the word out to fellow readers of what you think about my writings and to satisfy your curiosity about what happens next with my characters.

duskpeterson: An apprentice builds a boat as a man looks on. (Default)
"There was an odd kind of mood lift that came with privation. . . . It was something seen during long, long nights of corporate projects where no one slept and where eating was done from half cold takeaways while you worked. Sometimes the cheer was called 'punch drunk', but it was as if people began to concentrate on anything that in a seriously uncomfortable situation gave them any kind of comfort, particularly the most primal things. The intense sensory pleasure of hot coffee and the sweetness of donuts, which on an ordinary day you'd eat without noticing. A kind of pride and celebration that said this was a hell of a night, but we got through it. Dale knew the feeling too from his experience of being what Flynn and the others called grounded. When your day was severely simplified and restricted, you began to notice and take real pleasure from anything good, from the smallest of privileges that usually you'd barely notice. The human spirit, in circumstances of hardship fought back, and a little rough living cleared both your head and your senses."

--Rolf and Ranger: Silver Bullet - Ranch.


My professional work last month )
Teasers from e-books I've published during the past week )
A writing day in my life )
duskpeterson: An apprentice builds a boat as a man looks on. (Default)
Historical adventure tales that are speculative fiction, including lgbtq novels and other types of diverse fiction. All e-books are DRM-free. New e-books and reissues are multiformat.

Journey to Manhood

NEW NOVELETTE: Journey to Manhood (Young Toughs)

"Perhaps, when they spoke next, the other young man could tell Simmons of any masters here who were in need of an apprentice who was perilously close to the age of journeymanship."

Simmons has been waiting all his life for the day when he would come of age and pledge his service to a liege-master. But at the last minute, all his plans go awry; he is left in the awful position of having to find a liege-master quickly. Desperation may force Simmons to pick the worst of liege-masters.

Working at his uncle's waterfront store on a bay island, Simmons seeks a way out of his dilemma. Then another young man walks through the door, one whose problems may be even worse than Simmons's. . . .

With a setting based upon an island on the Chesapeake Bay in the 1910s, this novelette (miniature novel) can be read on its own or as a story in Young Toughs, an alternate history series about the struggles of youths in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Young Toughs is part of Turn-of-the-Century Toughs, a cycle of alternate history series (Young Toughs, Waterman, Life Prison, Commando, Michael's House, The Eternal Dungeon, and Dark Light) about adults and youths on the margins of society, and the people who love them. Set in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the novels and stories take place in an alternative version of America that was settled by inhabitants of the Old World in ancient times. As a result, the New World retains certain classical and medieval customs.

Available as a multiformat e-book (epub, html, mobi/Kindle, pdf, doc): Journey to Manhood.


Excerpt

At that moment, the door opened. A light spring breeze, fresh with the smell of Bay water, entered the store, along with a waterman, unmistakable in his oilskin hat and coat and boots. Simmons caught a flash of the man's rank-mark on the back of his right wrist as he removed his glove: black.

The servant wasted no time in the doorway; he limped forward as Simmons's uncle said, "Ah, Sol. I'm glad to see you up and about. How's that leg of yours doing?"

"None too good." The servant's reply was so brief, and without proper salutation, that Simmons might have thought the waterman rude, but he noticed that the man had carefully removed his hat the moment that the owner of the general store spoke.

His uncle, at any rate, seemed to treat his remark as inoffensive. "I'm sorry about that – very sorry indeed. But you've found a new captain, I hear? How have the oysters been this winter?"

Sol shook his head as he removed a list from within his coat. "None too good neither. Way I figure, all the right good ones've been stole by those dredgers from the Western Shore."

His uncle sighed. "It's very sad, very sad indeed that there's such animosity between our landstead and the Second Landstead. That their boats should take oysters from our own territory . . . Ah, well, oyster season is over. And Captain Harvey is doing well, I suppose, if he could afford to hire you as his new man."

Sol shrugged as he laid the list on a lard barrel next to Simmons's uncle. "Needed couple more servants for his boat. He's still short a man. Come autumn, he'll be looking for more watermen."

"Really? He needs more crew, with all the watermen on this island?" Simmons's uncle took the list and peered at it through his spectacles.

"'Deed he do. He's like to hire a full-grown man, but an oyster-shucking boy would do." Sol's gaze wandered over to Simmons. After a moment, Simmons realized why, and he felt his face grow flush.

Travelling from the capital to Hoopers Island had been no problem; Simmons had simply hired a boat with most of the remaining money his father had given him for the brief period during which he would still need his family's income, before his liege-master should begin paying him. But Simmons's belongings had been a greater problem. He had not anticipated having to move them further than the bedroom that had long awaited him in the house of his liege-master's father.

With his plans turned awry, he had been forced to dispose of all but his most precious goods. Fortunately, school term had only just ended; he had been able to give many of his belongings to the servant who had tended his study-bedroom at Capital School.

His trunks, he had sent down to Hoopers Island by road. He had taken care to hire an automobile, naively believing that, with such a swift means of transportation, his trunks would be awaiting him when he arrived by boat.

His uncle had smothered a laugh when he heard this, then had patiently explained that most of the marshy roads between the capital and Hoopers Island were not yet paved. The roads on Hoopers Island were. The pavement consisted of logs and oyster shells.

Feeling very much an ignorant townboy, and envisioning the automobile wallowing in the mud – or even sinking without a trace in the marshes – Simmons had made do as best he could. His uncle, a portly man, had no clothes that would fit the new arrival, and his uncle's apprentice was several sizes too small. So Simmons – by now grateful for anything that would cover his body – had borrowed clothing from his uncle's manservant, a waterman who spent most of his days making deliveries by boat.

His uncle, looking up from the list and seeing Sol's gaze upon Simmons, seemed to realize the mistake that the waterman had made. Characteristically, he did not reprimand the erring servant. Placing his arm across Simmons's shoulder, he said, "This is my nephew, Jasper Simmons. His journeymanship birthday is coming next month, so he's staying with us this month while he decides which master he wishes to pledge his liege-service to."

Sol did not embarrass Simmons by asking, "Why did you wait till now?" But neither did he dip his eyes, as any well-trained servant would ordinarily do under such circumstances. All that he said was, "Right glad to meet you . . . sir."

The slight pause could have been taken any number of ways, but Simmons, staring into the waterman's eyes, suddenly realized that this was a servant who rarely addressed masters as sir.

Smiling at the special courtesy he had just been granted, Simmons said, "I'm glad to meet you as well, Servant Sol."

Then, and only then, did the waterman dip his eyes. And Simmons realized that he had been granted a deep courtesy indeed. Simmons wondered what, by all that was sacred, he had done to earn such honor.

His uncle squeezed Simmons's arm in some sort of silent accolade. "I won't keep you, Sol; I know you're busy. Some of these items will have to be wrapped. Your boat-master still docks at Back Creek? I'll have my apprentice bring the goods over, then."

"Master Simmons." Sol's slight nod of farewell encompassed both uncle and nephew; then he turned away.

At the doorway, he paused. Another man had just arrived, wearing a wool coat against the spring chill. He made some brief greeting, and Sol, hearing the man's refined accent, carefully stepped to one side to let the master enter.

"That's a good man," said Simmons's uncle softly as the door shut behind Sol. "A very good man. I'm glad you didn't take offense at his mistake."

"Why should I?" Simmons laughed as he turned to his uncle, but he kept his voice low as well, so as not to disturb the newly arrived master, who was now at the other end of the store, fingering a bottle of morphine.

His uncle raised his eyebrows. "Some masters would be very offended indeed to be mistaken for a servant."

"Oh, but I look like a servant at the moment." Simmons stared down at his shabby clothing. "It's not his fault. I suppose I ought really to change out of these, lest I mislead—"

A bell, higher in pitch than a fog-bell, interrupted his speech. His uncle glanced out the window facing the water and said, "Postal boat. It's early today."

"Shall I help you bring in the mail, Uncle?" asked Simmons.

"No, no, my lad. You stay here and tend the customers." His third-ranked uncle patted Simmons's shoulder somewhat awkwardly.

Simmons could understand why. He was still becoming used to it himself, his rise in rank. At school, he had always held the awkward position of being the son of a third-ranked master who was very, very rich. Now, after many years, the Third Landstead's House of Government had eased the lack of alignment between their family's wealth and rank by granting to Simmons's father the title of Envoy Extraordinary, assigning him duties in an overseas nation in the Old World and raising him to second rank.

Until that time, as a third-ranked lad, Simmons's choices were clear: as a journeyman, he could train under his father, under a third-ranked master, or under a second-ranked master – not under a first-ranked master, as he futilely tried to point out to his first-ranked schoolfellow Eugene on many occasions.

But now Simmons was second-ranked. He could train under a first-ranked master. He could even pledge his liege-loyalty to that master.

"I told you it would work out," Eugene had squealed, hugging the older boy on the day that Simmons received the news of his eligibility to be Eugene's liegeman. And Simmons had hugged Eugene back, stunned and joyful at this turn of events.

But it had not worked out – not in the end. . . .
 

Available as a multiformat e-book (epub, html, mobi/Kindle, pdf, doc): Journey to Manhood.



FREE FICTION: Crossing the Cliff (Darkling Plain)

A reissued story at Archive of Our Own.
 

Crossing the Cliff (Darkling Plain). After ten years as apprentice to a Peacesteward, the one thing Erastus is sure of is that he's ill-prepared to become a master. Unfortunately, he's about to discover just how ill-prepared he is.

When he and his master stray into forbidden territory, Erastus is thrust alone into a community that is on the brink of war. His only hope for bringing peace is to ally himself with a young boy . . . a boy who has stolen what Erastus values most.

(Permalink.)


REISSUES: The Eternal Dungeon

Now available in multiformat. Click on the covers for more information.

RebirthThe Unanswered QuestionCommoners' Festival


REVIEW: Life Prison

"Beautifully written. Even the things that shouldn't be beautiful, were." —Amazon (Fenriz Angelo) on Life Prison (Life Prison).


Unmarked

FEATURED BACKLIST TITLE: Unmarked (Waterman)

"Master Meredith, whose entitlement to a last name had not yet been determined by the courts, was sitting in a window-seat overlooking the playing fields of Narrows School when the Third House bullies found him."

He needs a guard.

In his final terms of school before his university years, Meredith is faced with a host of problems: A prefect who abuses his power. A games captain who is supposed to protect Meredith but has befriended the prefect. And a legal status that makes everyone in the school question whether Meredith belongs there, among the elite.

Unexpectedly, rescue arrives, in the shape of a fellow student who seems determined to right wrongs. There's only one problem. . . .

"Fair play" is the motto of the Third House, but that motto takes on a different meaning when Meredith is secretly wooed by a young man from a rival House.

This novel can be read on its own or as the third and final story in the "Master and Servant" volume of Waterman, a speculative fiction series set in an alternative version of the Chesapeake Bay region during the 1910s and during the future as it was envisioned in the 1960s.
 

Available as a multiformat e-book (epub, html, mobi/Kindle, pdf, doc): Unmarked.


Excerpt

"Power boats is more important," insisted Billy to Theo. "Think of all the right calm days when we could be tonging oysters."

"The master of the House of His Master's Kindness wants power boats too," pointed out Sol. "And power dredging to go with it." In the silence that followed, he raised his voice, saying, "Lad, you're as quiet and dark as a dredger boat come night. Didn't hear nor see you till now."

Meredith stepped forward from where he had been fingering a muskrat trap that hung for sale from the ceiling. "I didn't mean to disturb your conversation, sir."

"You ain't disturbing nothing that don't deserve disturbing. You looking to find your daddy?"

"Yes, sir. My father said that he would meet me at the foot of the drawbridge, but he isn't there, and his skiff isn't docked at Back Creek. I thought you might have seen him recently."

"'Deed I did – seen him at his workplace just this morning, and he gave me this note for you. He figured you'd be coming by here." Sol reached down and pulled a piece of paper out of his rubber boot – probably the driest place he had for storing paper. He offered the note to Meredith, without rising.

Meredith cautiously came forward. As he reached out his hand to take the note, his overcoat spread open to reveal his blazer. The new crewman, who had just taken hold of the mug, choked on the coffee. The crewman hastily rose to his feet.

None of the other servants followed suit. With the exception of Sol, the servants were looking at the fish-hooks, the stuffed eagle on the wall, the turpentine, the tins of chewing tobacco, the corsets . . . anything but the young master standing in their midst.

Meredith tried to ignore his churning stomach, instead concentrating his attention on unfolding and reading the message. It was written in his father's uneven hand and erratic spelling: "Substute keeper sik. Yu come. Yur father, Master James Hooper."

His father had almost written "Yur daddy," but had scribbled out the servant-style word in time. Meredith looked up. Everybody was still staring at the store's merchandise, other than the new crewman – who was gazing with horror at his fellow servants – and Sol, who was watching Meredith.

"Thank you, sir," said Meredith to Sol. "Will you be going back to see my father any time soon?"

Sol shook his head. "Not till Spring Death. You needing a ride out? Believe Master Simmons is sending out goods to your daddy today."

"Thank you for that information, sir. I'll ask him whether I can ride along in his boat, then." He hesitated, seeking an excuse to linger longer, but most of the crewmen were beginning to shuffle their feet, and the new crewman looked as though he was about to expire from terror. "Goodbye," Meredith said, looking around at the crew, trying to make the farewell general.

Sol was the only one who bothered to reply to him. "You keep warm and safe, lad, and you give your daddy my respects, hear?"

"Yes, sir, I'll be glad to," replied Meredith eagerly, relieved to carry out a duty. "May I do anything else for you?"

In the next moment, he would gladly have thrown himself in front of the rifles of the Second Landstead's dredgers. Billy and Theo exchanged looks, while Hallie simply rolled his eyes.

Sol, far more patient than the others, said, "Thanks, lad, but there ain't no need. You'd best be getting on your way."

Meredith, taking the hint, backed away from the warm circle of fellowship. He opened the store's door, which was nearly wrenched from his hand; a moderate gale wind had blown up while he was inside. He swiftly closed the door, then leaned on it to make sure it had shut properly. As he did so, he heard the new crewman say, "Sol, have you gone mad as a 'Mippian in battle, speaking like that to a master? He's making fun at you, certain, calling you 'sir.'"

Sol said something in a voice too low for Meredith to hear.

"Him?" The new crewman sounded incredulous. "He don't look nothing like his daddy."

"Don't speak like him, neither," said Billy. "But he's the one, all right – Jim's son."

"You mean, Master Hooper's son." Theo's voice was bitter.

Billy made a sound like spitting. "Mean what I say. Jim was born a servant. He's still a servant, whatever he may think."

"It's him getting that new religion that messed up his head," suggested Hallie, who had barely been born at the time that the episode happened. "Him and all them Reformed Traditionalists—"

"Ain't a matter of Traditionalists 'gainst Reformed Traditionalists," Billy insisted. "Even if a man can go in one lifetime from being servant to being master, Jim ain't that man."

There was a murmur of agreement, and Theo asked, "Why d'you suppose he asked to be raised in rank? He was doing right smart in our crew."

"Why d'you think?" shot back Billy. "Way I figure it, he wanted a crew of his own."

"If that was his reason, he's well punished," interjected Hallie. "Ain't a crew in this fleet that'll sail under him."

"Neither would any boat-master take him as journeyman, back in the days when he was that young. Well, he's burned his own corpse-ashes." Theo sounded satisfied.

"The lad's who I feel sorry for," said Billy. "Being brought up figuring he's a master, when it's plain to see that he's just like his daddy."

"That's enough talk," said Sol gruffly. "You boys shouldn't be speaking 'gainst your betters."

"Our betters?" said Billy incredulously.

"Servant Sol, you keep your tongue to yourself," said Theo. "You ain't my master."

"But Jim is his best pal." Hallie sounded hesitant. "We shouldn't be talking like that 'gainst Sol's pal."

"He ain't my pal." There was no mistaking the bitterness in Sol's voice. "He's ranked as a master now; masters can't have servants as pals. But he was my pal once, and he followed the water along with us, over many a year, so there ain't no call for talk 'gainst him. He's catched his fair share of oysters and crabs and fish; it's his right to do what his faith and his conscience tells him."

There was an acknowledging murmur that sounded like it was more of dissent than of agreement. Sol, reading his fellow crewmen's mood, said, "Ain't worth talking 'bout what we can't change. You hear that wind out there? Sounds like the nor'west blow has arrived. Oh my blessed, I sure am glad the master let us take the day off."

That remark brought loud calls of agreement, and Theo began talking about what the annual autumn storm had been like in his great-granddaddy's day.

Meredith, turning away from the door, almost tripped over the watermen's tongs, leaning against the wall by the door. One of the tongs still had an oyster shell stuck within its tines. Absent-mindedly, Meredith took off his mittens, pried the shell off the tine, and nearly threw it in the great pile of shells near the porch. Master Simmons bought shells from the oyster packing houses and then resold them to companies that used the shells for road paving or fertilizer or chicken grit.

Then, on a whim, Meredith curled his hand round the shell. Letting his rucksack lie sheltered against the leeward side of an empty barrel, he shoved the shell and his mittens into his overcoat pockets and stepped off the porch.

The wind was hard as a culler's hammer now. The water had nearly emptied; most of the boat-masters, seeing the signs of the coming storm, had retreated to harbors and coves. Meredith, who had endured worse winds than this over the years, walked slowly toward the store's wharf, his thoughts on matters other than the weather.

It had never occurred to him to call Sol anything other than "sir." Whatever Sol's perspective might be on Servant Jim's transformation into Master James Hooper, Meredith knew that Sol was the closest thing his father had left to a friend. And so, since Meredith called his father "sir," he had also called his father's friend "sir." His father had never forbidden him from doing so, and Sol had not seemed disturbed by Meredith's manner of address.

But Meredith had not seen Sol in over three seasons, he recalled now. Perhaps the rules for proper address had changed, now that Meredith was beyond his apprentice years. Perhaps it would be safer to address Sol as "Servant Solomon." That would still be respectful, wouldn't it? Or would it overemphasize Sol's rank in relation to the young master who spoke to him?

Meredith sighed. The person he should be addressing such questions to, he was fully aware, was his liege-master. But Pembroke would treat any such question as a sign of weakness in him. Meredith supposed he would have to ask his own father instead – yet he was growing overly old for seeking answers from his father. Most of his fellow students treated their confirmation ceremony as a time when they broke away from the care of their parents. As journeymen, they still could not own property or run a House or business in their own right. But they were old enough to work under their liege-master, to study at university, and – with their liege-master's permission – to marry. They were even old enough to father children.

Meredith reached the shore. Master Simmons had cleared out all the Bay grass from the shoreline, so the shoreline was bare except for mud and the usual assortment of shells. Meredith fingered the shell in his pocket as he stared out at the churning waves, his eyes blinking against the harsh wind. He had wished, many a time, that he had never been fathered, or at least had been fathered after the revocation of the Act of Celadon and Brun. If that had happened, then his life's path would be clear. As it was . . .

The oyster shell was cutting into his tightened fingers now. He stared out at the water, where the crew of a lone shallop was struggling to reach shore. In a sudden and uncharacteristic fury, he took the oyster from his pocket and prepared to hurl it into the waves.
 

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NEW TOUGHS SERIES & NEW YOUNG ADULT FICTION PORTAL

I've started a new Turn-of-the-Century Toughs series, entitled Young Toughs, which will center upon teenage characters in the Toughs world. Some of the characters will have appeared in other Toughs series, while other characters will be new. So Young Toughs is a crossover series with other Toughs series. It's also crossover fiction in another sense: this is a young adult series that is intended for both teens and adults.

I've added a portal, ya.duskpeterson.com, that will help readers go directly to my YA fiction. All the series listed there appear on the duskpeterson.com website, so you needn't check both places. However, those of you who are interested in young adult fiction may like to see my links to my favorite YA adventure fiction authors.
 

ABOUT THE REISSUES OF REBIRTH AND SPLIT

The Toughs series' volume e-books (Rebirth, Whipster, etc.) have needed new covers, and some of the volumes haven't been available in multiformat, so I'm gradually (re)issuing them all in multiformat editions. I'm taking this opportunity to reread the stories within the volumes to catch any stray typos or continuity errors that I missed the first time through. Other than that, there are no changes to the content.

Speaking of typos, I'm usually pretty good about catching them before publication, but I let a couple of really horrendous ones slip by me with Split. (Such as switching my protagonist's first and last names toward the end of the story.) Since I didn't want to wait till the full volume of Sweet Blood was issued before correcting errors of this magnitude, I've uploaded a corrected version of Split to the bookstores. If you've bought a copy in the past, you can try downloading the e-book again from the bookstore where you bought it, if the bookstore allows that. (The new edition is marked as the February 2016 edition in the copyright notice.) If that doesn't work, drop me a line, letting me know which format(s) you bought, and I'll send you a replacement. I'm sorry about the extra trouble to you.
 

THE THREE LANDS IS GOING TEMPORARILY OUT OF PRINT

Or whatever the electronic equivalent is of "out of print." Although I'm keeping all of the Toughs stories published as I reissue the volumes, The Three Lands is a more serious marketing challenge, since it's never found much of a readership. I've decided that it would be best to take an entirely fresh approach to the series, so I'll be taking down the current editions as I begin to issue the new editions (and will bring out new stories in the series, if my Muse is cooperative). I'll be taking down the current Three Lands e-books at the beginning of April; in the meantime, they remain available.
 

PROGRESS REPORT

The progress report of my writings has been updated, showing which stories are closest to being published (and which aren't).

October 2017

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