JM Williams

A home for all things fantasy and sci-fi.

My Story Submission Process

Dec
04

It feels like I haven’t written about my current writing process in quite some time, but a recent comment from the wonderful Joy Pixley has me thinking about it again. She is not the first to comment to me that I seem to have had a lot of success in publishing.

I posted long ago about my story submission tracker. This is my method of keeping notes on all my submissions, which is necessary since my basic strategy is to write and submit a lot. The tracker is based on spreadsheets I use all the time in the Army.

Here’s part of the tracker as it looks now:

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The tracker is now much too large to try to share in full. It has more than 60 rows and 28 columns. I have extended the submission attempts for a single piece out to 13, though in practice, the most times I have submitted a single story is still only 11. I have two stories currently on their 11th attempt, stories I like to think are particularly good.

If I were to sum up my submission strategy in once picture, it would be this:

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My current acceptance ratio is around 1 in 5. Is that good or bad? I cannot say. I’ve also submitted almost 60 stories in total. At least 30 of these were first sent out by the middle of February. I am slowing down now as larger projects (and real work) take more of my time.

I think success is highly subjective. I’ve have 33 stories accepted for publication (also a novella and a fantasy series). Is that success?

I have not yet been published in a pro-rated magazine (SFWA defines pro rate as 6c/word). For a 5000-word story, a pro-rated sale would be over $300US. Currently my best sale is only around $50, though I did win $300 in a contest. Of course, I want a pro-rated sale. That would make all this work feel like it accomplished what was intended. Does that mean I am not yet a success?

To be brutally honest, I am not sure. I feel good about my writing and publishing so far, but I know I have a long way to go.

If I could offer any advice, it would be to not give up. Don’t send your story to a single publisher and give up if it is rejected. After a rejection, you have to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and try again. At first, I was always feeling on tenterhooks, waiting for a response, only to be devastated when the form letter came. I’ve come now to expect rejection. This makes it easy when rejection does come, and a delightful surprise with each acceptance.

Also, don’t read too much into a publisher before submitting. A lot of places will suggest to read a copy of the mag before sending, but this is often A) a ploy to get sales and B) an arbitrary restriction on the content of submissions. Editors often don’t know what they like until they see it. If the publication is in the same genre as your work, and doesn’t have a blanked rejection on some aspect of it (for example, some speculative fiction publishers won’t take certain subgenres and others have specific content such as sex or gore that they won’t accept), send it in.

Think about it. What’s the worst, and best, thing that could happen? Worst, you get a form rejection. Let me tell you, you’re going to get a whole lot of those no matter what you do. But the best thing would be getting a sale! It seems entirely worth the risk, doesn’t it?

The review process is completely subjective. A certain editor might just not like your style or voice, no matter the content. And many places have only one or two people doing initial reads, that first step that gets your work from the slush pile into the hands of someone who will actually give it the time and attention it deserves.

I learned over the past year that the editors of Daily Science Fiction don’t like my style. Each one of the stories I have sent to them–which varied significantly in style and content and even structure–got form rejections, despite being clearly better written, at least technically, than much of what they do end up publishing. On the flip side, the editor of Bards and Sages seems to enjoy my style, as she has accepted three of my pieces so far, currently my best sales.

While I am now more inclined to send my stuff to Bards and Sages, since I know the editor likes my work and have enjoyed working with her, I still continue to try new places. Most of my submissions in the past month were to new publishers.

That’s really it. Submit often and submit a lot. Not much of a strategy.

Of course, you must read each publisher’s submission guidelines carefully, often necessitating substantial formatting changes to your manuscripts. And you want to be sure you are submitting to places that publish your genre. But other than that, just write a whole lot and don’t let rejections discourage you.

What comes along with submitting often is a deeper understanding of the publishing process. My experience with other publishers, and in reading many publishing contracts, allowed me to quickly identify a sketchy publisher who offered me a contract for my book In the Valley of Magic. I was quickly able to not only identify behaviors the editors and other members were demonstrating that were not right, but also quickly see a dozen significant problems with the contract. That deal was dead before it even started.

All of the writing has also helped me develop my skills and personal style. The stories I write now are clearly better than the ones I wrote even 6 months ago. After 4 or 5 submissions to the Writer’s of the Future Contest, I finally earned an Honorable Mention. My writing is getting better with each story, so maybe that pro-rate sale will come eventually.

That’s about it. No magic. No special rituals. I don’t have the chance to do any networking, as I live in Asia and do not have access to conferences and conventions. I just spam my work to anywhere I think it might fit. Maybe it was inevitable to find some being accepted.

Thanks for reading. If you have any specific questions, drop them in the comments.

Good luck with your writing!

~J.M.

 

Deadly Creation — My Writing Roots Vol. 3

Dec
04

As I mentioned in previous posts, I have been visiting my mother back in the suburban town where I grew up. Digging through the closets here, I have found a lot of my old writing material. Turns out, my mom saved everything from my time in school, some things she perhaps shouldn’t have.

(On a totally non-writing-related note, I am currently watching Bill Nye: the Science Guy on TV. It’s been way too long Bill!)

I was originally planning to post scans of the sequel to my first full-length story, which I wrote in the 6th grade.

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Like the last, this one was bound in a wonderful construction paper cover. But also like the last, it had a similar demon-hunting plot. It also doesn’t seem to be as well done as the original. Isn’t that the case with all sequels? It was quite a bit shorter than Dakkar of the Outworld, and the ending was horribly rushed. That being said, I would like to share the very last line of the story, because I think it’s representative of my writing then, and somewhat even now.

And to this day we remembered that anyone has the power to save the world.

Doesn’t that pretty much sum up classic heroic fantasy? Very Tolkien.

Instead of sharing that story in full, I would like to jump ahead in time to middle school, where my youth writing experience seemed to peak. I was not a prolific reader as a little kid. I started reading novels around the 6th grade, and my reading really took off in middle school. My general writing ability also improved. I even had the gall to think I could write a book myself! Though, I clearly didn’t have a good grasp of the scale of such a project.

That unfinished project, my first ambitious attempt to write a book, is what I want to share today. Though not anywhere near the size and depth of a real novel, this work came pretty close to a full-size, professional short story. If it had been completed, I am sure I would have broke four or five thousand words easy.

I titled my story “Deadly Creation.” I will first share the text with you, then offer some background on where it came from and what it meant for my evolution as a writer.

So here’s the unfinished military-horror story “Deadly Creation.”

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First thing, I clearly didn’t understand the difference between a fax and an old telegram–the cost of which was based on character count. Also, doesn’t “I’ll send you a fax.” date this story pretty well? I also had yet to learn how to properly paragraph, especially with the dialogue.

Something the Dakkar sequel showed was my growing fascination with the Amazon, which fed directly into this next story. Both stories also showed how little I actually knew about the sorts of animals that lived there.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I started reading a lot in middle school and the fictional influences are brutally clear to me here. I wrote this story shorty after reading Congo by Michael Crichton. Many elements of the story–such as the monster in the jungle and the motion detectors–as well as the general plot, were stolen from that book. Some of the other books I was reading at the time were Richard Marcinko’s Rogue Warrior series. Marcinko was the man who created Seal Team 6 and his books were filled with military and tactical expertise, and vulgarity, both of which I tried my best to emulate. Though, I kept my cursing hidden in acronyms like WTF and FUBAR. I don’t know if my mother ever figured those out!

This story shows a lot of growth in my writing, both in relation to story structuring, but also in the quality of the prose itself. My obsession with similes was beginning to die, though there are still a few cringe-worthy ones. I was starting to learn to be more abstract, less reliant on the word “like” to link my metaphors, and showed greater distance between the concepts I was comparing. A few of the lines that stand out to me as being pretty good are:

The night crept up like a lion on the hunt. It grew dark quickly and left the men scrambling for artificial lighting. The hum of the fluorescent lighting equipment was a relief to the silence of the jungle. 

and

It was an easy 100 degrees and an ocean floated in the air.

The other thing that shocked me a bit after all this time was that the two lead characters are both black. My neighborhood was not the most ethnically diverse place, nor was my school. I remember most of my friends, if not all at that time, being very white. Additionally, all the fictional sources of influence for this story had white protagonists. Hollywood is still dominated by white, male stars. But there was no consideration of any of that when I wrote the story. I had characters in my head and I wrote my vision as I saw it.

I think this was the last big story I wrote for a long time. Even though my family was very supportive of my writing, and their praise was at times overwhelming, I don’t think I ever had the delusion that writing would be a viable career plan after high school. Also, the work load from school increased significantly. So my focus drifted from the arts into the sciences, though English remained one of my favorites classes.

If you managed to make it this far, thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed seeing my growth as a writer. I’ll have to write one more post, filling in the gaps between middle school and college. That’s when my desire to be a professional writer came back in full force.

But Saved by the Bell just came on, so I got to go!

~J.M.

 

 

 

Dakkar of the Outworld — My Writing Roots Vol. 2

Dec
01

As my previous post mentioned, I started writing heavily in the 6th grade. I wrote horror stories in my school journal, I played with the word processor on my home computer, I even assembled mini-books. Today I will be sharing one of those.

I must preface this by admitting to some of the blatant copyright violations in this story. I was just a kid; I had yet to learn the word “plagiarism.” I stole names in particular from everything around me. I was big into video games and Magic: the Gathering. The term “Outworld” in the title, comes straight from Mortal Kombat (On a unrelated note, a lot of people do not appreciate just how much lore was crafted for those old SNES games; the game manuals were dozes of pages long and usually this was half story. The first Mortal Kombat film is still one of the best video game adaptations in part because it followed the lore of the original game, and did it unabashedly.) The name of the main villain in my story series, Lim-Dul, was stolen from M:tG. In fact, Legions of Lim-Dul is even a card itself. I almost certainly stole the word “legions” from that very card. In addition to names, magic cards were a source of much of my complex vocabulary. Sometimes I didn’t use them right, but I tried.

So with that caveat (read: Don’t sue me Wizards of the Coast!), I would like to present the first full-length story I wrote in my youth, “Dakkar of the Outworld.” This story was nine pages hand-written! What 12-year-old writes that many pages of fiction? If I have to guess, it’s around 2000 words. That’s a full-size short story these days.

I apologize for the horrible handwriting. I did not want to type it out for a couple reasons. I wanted to show the original form, and I thought my textual OCD would prohibit me from typing it out with all the errors intact.

Without further ado, let me present “Dakkar of the Outworld.”

Dakkar CDakkar p1Dakkar p2Dakkar p3Dakkar p4Dakkar p5Dakkar p6Dakkar p7Dakkar p8Dakkar p9

Isn’t that something? Sure, it reads like a elementary school student wrote it, but that’s because one did! What’s amazing, reading it after all these years, is that there is a complete coherent plot inside this messy story. There are many standard fantasy conventions like the wandering warrior/mentor and the animal ally. I clearly had some idea what I was doing, even back then.

My fantasy roots can be seen in this story, though I leaned a lot more heavily towards horror (and gore in general, the appeal of which I no longer understand) back then. I imagine my youth was similar to Stephen King’s, but whereas he stuck with horror, and maybe even got darker over the years, I shifted to more uplifting and heroic styles of fantasy. As you also can see, I really liked similes when I was younger. Really, really liked similes.  I also had not come close to mastering the concept of paragraphing.

I hope you enjoyed this crazy kid’s story. I will be sharing the sequel “Lim-Dul’s Revenge” soon, as well as a few other things I wrote when I was that age. It’s been very interesting seeing all this stuff after such a long time.

~J.M.

Pre-orders Now Open

Nov
17

The PRE-ORDER PAGE for The Adventures of Iric is now live on Amazon. I’d like to think it will be the same page for regular sales, once the release date arrives, but I’m not sure.

Justin Cover

Thanks to everyone for all the support you’ve given me over the past year here on the blog, on Facebook, and all the places I’ve been published. Finally things are starting to take shape in the way I had expected when I started on this writing adventure over a year ago.

~JM

The Adventures of Iric–Release Date Set!

Nov
17

Well, I did it. I pushed the button that handed my baby over to Amazon. The official release date is set for Monday, November 20th. But it should be available for pre-order some time soon.

Without further ado, here is the cover:

Justin Cover

That’s pretty decent, right? E. Rachael Hardcastle did a good job. I wasn’t actually trying hard or hoping for much with this collection, since it’s a first and just collection of my blog stories. But it came out very nice. I was shocked when I found the stock photo with this guy. I almost shouted to myself, “It’s Iric!” Really close to what I had in my head when I started writing him.

I struggled a lot trying to decide on the right pricing for the book. In the end, I decided to go a bit lower than what I thought was right. I’m hoping to use this book to build my brand, so I think I need to preference distribution over income. Accordingly, the book will be priced at $2.99 (US) and whatever the equivalent is in other currencies. The length is about average for a novella and seems longer than many flash collections out there.

I have put a lot of work into making this a great collection. All of the stories have been revised, some significantly. For many, this happened during the editing process when they were published across the web in a variety of magazines, ezines, and flash sites. For the rest, I revised and edited as I added each to the collection.

Though this is primarily an Iric collection, there are some bonus stories at the end, featuring my other flash fiction characters from the same setting: Sparrow and Faline.

I really hope you’ll consider picking up a copy of the book when it drops. And if you do give it a read, please give me an honest review on Amazon!

This is just the beginning. I’ve got several more projects coming up soon. Keep an eye on this blog for further news. Things are starting to get busy!

~JM

Featured in Corner Bar Magazine

Nov
07

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Happy November Friends and Fellow Speculators!

I have been working hard on the fourth episode of my epic fantasy series Call of the Guardian. I am hoping we–meaning myself and the other two authors in this StoryVerse will go live in a couple months. We are currently talking about having six episodes (of a ten episode season) complete before we start releasing. I think I am currently the furthest behind schedule. I’m going to have to dig in and get focused now!

While I’ve been working on this project, I received so good news. The story I sent to Corner Bar Magazine is now out in their October 31st Winternacht issue. You can go directly to the mag with this LINK.

I really like Corner Bar Magazine. It’s got a great, professional layout for a free ezine. It also has a nice, old-timey vibe with the styles and image choices. And I love old-timey stuff!

I hope you go check them out.

~J.M.

 

A Horde of Updates

Oct
29
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Brace Yourselves!

It seems I should take business trips more often. In the past two weeks, while I was away from home and my computer, I received a flurry of publication news. November is turning out to be a big month for me. I could bore you with the details of my trip and my feelings at receiving several acceptance letters while in the middle of doing something totally different. Instead, I’ll keep this short and jump right into the juicy bits.

First, my story “Innocence Lost, Innocence Found” will be dropping on Flash Fiction Magazine on October 31st. Halloween is the perfect day for a good old vampire story.

My story “The Sorcerer” will soon be out in Bards and Sages Great Tome of Magicians, Necromancers, and Mystics. The publisher has announced the book should be released on or about the 1st of November. An extract of another story in the anthology can be read here.

I will have another Iric flash story released on Eternal Remedy on or around the 5th of November. I loved what they did with my last one, the site and accompanying illustrations having a great vibe and not being something I would have chosen to use on my own.

A few weeks ago, I submitted a Storm Hamilton flash story to Akashic Books’ “Mondays are Murder” flash fiction series. In fact, I wrote the story specifically for that series. Interestingly, the publisher accepted the story but wants to use it for a band new flash series they are calling “Fri-Sci-Fi.” I’m going to go ahead and take full credit for spurring them to create a new series.

My horror tragedy story “Last Night” will be dropping on Roane Publishing’s Flash Fiction Fridays on or about December 1st. This one has been hard to place, in part because it is not a very happy story. Be forewarned.

Also, my next story with Antipodean SF should come out the month in both text and audio. Like the last one, I recorded the audio myself for their Anti SF Radio Show. This time I sent them a mildly humorous Iric story. The text version can be found here.

Lastly, I have been working hard compiling my “Adventures of Iric” flash stories into a collection, which I will be self-publishing as an ebook (not yet sure if I will bother with print-on-demand with this one). This was, in part, spurred on by Roane asking me for a personal sale link, of which, of course, I have none yet. It would be nice to have something on Kindle by the time the story drops so they can send some business my way.

Well, that’s all for now. I will, as usual, post direct links to all the stories once they drop. Except for that, though, I will likely be away from the blog for some time still. I need to get back to work on drafting the fourth episode of Call of the Guardian (those of you who subscribed to my newsletter have already seen the cover), as my co-authors and I get closer to going live with our StoryVerse. I will also have some edits to do with my novella soon.

No rest for the wicked.

~J.M.

A Two for One — 3LineTales

Oct
13
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Photo by Austin Chan

For this week’s Three Line Tales I came up with two–rather obvious–responses. You guys can tell me which is better. Here’s the first try:

Cadriel leaned heavily on the bar, sipping his IPA from a tulip glass–having been around since the creating of beer, he was a bit of a connoisseur–pondering his existence. He set his cold drink down hard, watching the fog evaporate off the glass, revealing the image of a sword. Recovering from his shock, the angel of death rose from seat and approached the miscreant biker gang conversing loudly in the room’s opposite corner.

That one derives from the religious connotations of  “looking for a sign,” though with a celestial being swapped for the typical human. Here’s the next one:

Luke Skywalker rubbed away a stain on the old, decrepit bar, staring down a shady twi’lek who still had not paid for his drinks. “The sign’s a joke–an old jedi thought I might be the chosen one,” Luke said to another nearby patron, “but I never really bought that rubbish, and the New Republic hasn’t worked out as I was hoping.” Raising a hand towards the deadbeat twi’lek, Luke said, “You want to pay your bill.”

This one follows on the obvious source of the sign’s wording, which derives from the infamous “These are not the droids you are looking for,” line from the original Star Wars. Though, I’m not one for fanfic, so I don’t know how I feel about this story. Nevertheless, I felt compelled to write it. 

So which one do you prefer?

~J.M.

Only One – 3LineTales

Sep
28
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Photo by Bryan Minear

My breath is heavy; I can’t catch it, nor the blood seeping out from the slash along my side. It was a hard fight, and for a moment I thought it was over for me. But the final blow was mine, and now I can feel…the quickening! AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!

*Written as a response to the Three Line Tales Week 87 photo prompt. Yes, I know this is technically four lines, but the last bit was mandatory. 

If you like what you read here, why not sign up to join my Rabble? I will be sending out my first letter in the next week, which will include an exclusive cover reveal for one of my upcoming major projects. You can sign up by entering your email in the popup or at the right of the page.

Beggars Would Ride (Flash Fiction)

Sep
20

In honor of my story being published in The Uprising Review, I decided to write another flash story featuring the same characters. This one was inspired by the unwanted thoughts of horses I had all day, after hearing a particularly funny line in Unseen Academicals, the book I am currently audio-reading. I’m not sure if this story is as funny as Jaron and Bren’s last, but the I think the same sense of satire is there.

Enjoy!

~J.M.


Beggars Would Ride

By J.M. Williams

Jaron felt himself fly through the air, tossed unceremoniously onto the stone floor of the jail cell. The guard’s fat grimy hand locked the door, then yanked to ensure its security.

Jaron was still shaking off a constellation of stars when Bren approached the guard.

“Please, sir. There must be some misunderstanding,” Bren said.

“No misunderstanding. We caught ya with your hands on the merchandise. Er heads…well doing something with the damn beast. Dirty horse theives.”

“Horse thieves? Pray sir, we are no thieves.”

“Then how’s it you was standing right next to the horse when we caught ya? Eh? A horse that somehow jus’ disappeared from Mr. Bolton’s fenced-in ranch, several farms down the line mind, ya…”

“I wish you would just let me explain what happened.”

“Well, if wishes were horses,” the fat guard laughed.

“If they were, somebody’d be damn close to a kick in the nuggets…” 

“What’s that?”

“The law says you must give us a chance to defend ourselves.”

“We don’t give no chances to horse thieves around here.” The guard growled. Bren’s face contorted when hit by the rotten air.

“It followed us.” Bren put his hands together, pleading. “We didn’t steal it. Please, you must listen.”

“Enough of your blabberin’. This town hadn’t a good hangin’ in a while. It’ll be good for folks to get out for a show.”

“Hanging?” Bren looked like he would faint. He put an hand to his forehead in a melodramatic show.

“See you two in the morning,” the hairy man said with a laugh, as he swaggered off to the adjoining room.

“You dirty son of a…” Bren’s act of begging and supplication had ended, now only anger could be seen on his face.

Jaron rose to his feet and brushed the dust off his shoulders and arms. He put a hand to his head and groaned.

“Dammit. Fat bastard messed up my hair,” Jaron shouted, hoping the man would hear.

“I don’t think this is the time to worry about your hair. They’re going to hang us.”

“Don’t be so sure.”

“Do you have something to pick the lock?”

Jaron patted his pockets and felt underneath his leather armor. His tools were gone.

“No. Must have fallen out, when the guards jumped us.”

“We’re doomed.”

Bren sat down on one end of a long wooden bench that ran along the far wall, under a window with widely spaced metal bars. Sunlight drifted into the room between the bars, casting blocky shadows. The stink of dirt and horse manure betrayed the road just beyond, a road to freedom that now lay at an uncrossable distance.

“I’m sure our doom is only tentative,” Jaron said.

“Why do you think that horse was following us, anyway?” Bren asked.

“If I had to guess, I bet it’s the honey wax I put in my hair this morning.”

Jaron brushed the large square lock of the cell door, polishing it until he could see his image. Watching his reflection, he rearranged the hair on the right half of his head, making the short brown locks curl outwards. Then he spun around on a heel and dropped onto the bench, the top of his head resting just below the window.

“I don’t really care for the idea of being dead,” Bren said.

“I’m sure the gods will come through for us once again.”

“It was never the gods. It was always you.”

“Are you so sure?”

Jaron leaned back against the wall, feeling the breeze pass over his head, pondering the dilemma. Something clanked against the window bars. He jumped around to see the toothy grin of a horse in the window.

“By the gods, is that the same one?” Bren asked.

“Seems like it.”

“Didn’t they lock it back up at the ranch? This thing must really love your hair wax.”

“Hmm…” Jaron hummed as he leaned towards the window. A long, sticky tongue reached out for his head.

The horse’s mouth was wrapped in a bridle, but its mouth opened and closed freely. It looked as though it were trying to chew through the bars. Jaron reached his fingers through the bars and scratched under the beast’s chin.

“There, there boy,” he said. “You don’t want to chew that. You’ll bust your teeth.”

Jaron’s fingers crawled along the horse’s jaw until they felt something hard. He gripped the object and yanked. A curved metal pin slid out of one of the bridle’s bindings.

“I told you the gods were watching us,” he said to Bren, brandishing the pin.

Jaron went to work on the lock, and in mere minutes had it open. He heard the horse snort encouragingly from the window. The door slid open with only a soft creak, one that could have easily been mistaken for a bird.

Waving his friend forward, he led Bred into the next room, where the fat guard was passed out, face down on a round wooden table. There were several loose coins lying next to the man and Jaron’s hand reached out instinctively, until he felt Bren’s knuckles digging into his back.

The pair crept across the room, keeping a close eye on the sleeping guard. Jaron cracked the door and peered outside. The door opened to a narrow road, across which were several buildings, including the tavern they had visited the night before. The sun was high in the sky, bathing the avenue in light.

Seeing nothing of concern, he swung the door open. It screeched like a banshee.

Jaron grabbed Bren by the collar and dragged him into the street. Behind his friend, he could see the fat guard stirring to life. The man glared at him. Jaron slammed the door and took off running.

He could heard the clanging of an alarm bell from behind as he dragged Bren down the side streets and alleys. All the while, he chastised himself for not heading the other way, to the clearing where the horse had been, outside the jail window.

Eventually, they did arrive at a clearing, but the space was far from clear. A semi-circle formation of villagers blocked their escape. The people brandished pitchforks and pikes, like a proper mob, and their eyes were filled with hunger.

“Thieves! Hang ’em!” the people shouted a bit too cheerily for Jaron’s liking.

“We haven’t had a good hanging in a while,” one of the pitchfork owners shouted.

There was no where left to go. The mob would be impossible to outrun. Jaron closed his eyes in surrender. Then he felt something chewing on his hair. He smiled.

As the horse galloped away from the village, Jaron driving it on, Bren holding on for dear life, Bren shouted in Jaron’s ear, “I guess we can’t come back here again.”

“No bother,” Jaron replied. “The ale here is piss.”

THE END