My Worldcon 2015 Schedule

In which I tell you about my schedule for Worldcon 2015. What? Panels, a reading, a signing, and a… gameshow?

My schedule for Worldcon has now been confirmed by the organizers, and here it is!

(1) Wednesday 19th, 13:00-13:45, Exhibit Hall B (CC)  Autographing. Bring books, book plates, crockery, random objects. I’ll sign anything that isn’t offensive. The full list of participants at this event: Erin Lale, Gerald Nordley, Alan Smale.

(2) Wednesday 19th, 19:00-19:45, 300D (CC)  Panel: To Include or Not To Include… Evaluating Writing Critiques. “When you’ve had a manuscript critiqued, you’ve gotten feedback… likely tons of it. But how do you sort out the good advice? What do you do with conflicting advice? New and mid-level writers can be led astray by critiques as easily as helped by them. This panel will discuss how to choose the advice that benefits your writing while still keeping it your story.”  Panelists: Alan Smale (M), Karen G. Anderson, Jennifer L. Carson, Scott Edelman, Patricia Briggs.

Having participated in a Writers of the Future workshop, Taos Toolbox, and two Rio Hondos, and having had a variety of beta readers for books and stories over the years (and critiqued many other writers too), I may have some opinions about this. 😉

(3) Thursday 13:30-14:00, 301 (CC)  Reading. From Clash of Eagles, or the upcoming sequel Eagle in Exile? You choose! 

(4) Thursday 19:00-19:45, Bays 111B (CC)  Panel: Connecting Your World’s Past with its Present. “The sense of ancient history in The Lord of the Rings and A Song of Ice and Fire is palpable and helps to make these series particularly rich.  When you develop a speculative environment, do you build the ancient history early on, or do you write the current history and then go back to weave in elements of the past?  What are some examples of where developing the past worked seamlessly…and examples where it seemed grafted on?”  Panelists: Julia Smith (M), Peter Charron, Patricia MacEwen, Alan Smale, Lezli Robyn.

I’ve never seen a panel title like this before. Quite thought-provoking, and should be fun – especially as my old friend Peter Charron from Taos Toolbox will be on the panel too, and I know -he’ll- have smart things to say…

(5) Saturday 16:00 – 17:00, Grand Ballroom: Salon III (Doubletree)  Panel: Sub-Genre Games. “SpoCon Presents: Sub-Genre Games. Are you deep for dystopia? Crazy for cyberpunk? Feverent for urban faerie? Soft on steampunk? We’re pitting ten sub-genres against each-other to see which should shed its “sub” prefix and become a fully-fledged genre alongside the towers of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Does YOUR favorite sub-genre have what it takes to stand alone?”  Panelists: Jessica Rising (M), Taiyo Fujii, Caren Gussoff, Frog Jones, Nick Mamatas, Christie Meierz, Steven Silver, Alan Smale, Kaye Thornbrugh, Dan Wells.

I’ll be honest: I have no idea what to make of this one. I guess we’ll all just show up and see what happens. I anticipate mayhem and shenanigans!

And if you don’t make it to any of these, feel free to stop me in the corridor and say hi. Hi!

The Decline and Rise of the Roman Empire

In which I argue that the Decline and Fall of the western Roman Empire was by no means inevitable. [This is the Director’s Cut of a two-part essay titled “Decline and Rise” that originally appeared on in March.]

In the Clash of Eagles trilogy the ancient Roman Empire did not fall on schedule, and in 1218 A.D. a Roman legion crosses the Atlantic to invade the newly-discovered North American continent. There they face a mighty wilderness, confront the Iroquois and Mississippian cultures, and get much more than they bargained for.

Now and then I encounter polite incredulity at the notion that the western Roman Empire could survive until the thirteenth century with recognizable classical legions, their soldiers armed with the familiar gladius, pugio, pilum and all the rest. Some people assume that, since the Roman Empire declined and fell in our universe, it had to fall. That the Imperium’s collapse was almost preordained, a consequence of marauding tribes from without and moral decay and degenerate leadership from within.

I think this greatly overstates the case.

First, let’s look at what really happened. Then I’ll offer up a straightforward way in which it might have turned out very differently.

In the third century A.D., everything went to hell for Rome. It’s known as the Crisis of the Third Century, and for good reason. The Crisis was foreshadowed by the atrocities and persecutions of the Emperor Caracalla (198-217 A.D.) – of whom more later – and the utter bizarreness of his successor, the flamboyant and decadent zealot Elagabalus (218-222). The emperor who followed, Alexander Severus (222-235), tried to bribe the Empire’s enemies to go away rather than facing them in battle, alienating his legions, who eventually assassinated him. Certainly dodgy days for the Roman leadership.

This breakdown of Imperial power was followed by a half century in which 26 men ruled as emperor, many of them army generals claiming the position by force. In the process of almost constant civil wars the frontiers were stripped of troops, allowing a broad range of incursions by foreign “barbarian” tribes plus a resurgence of attacks from the Sassanids to the East. Just to mess with the Empire further, the Plague of Cyprian (probably smallpox) hammered it from 250-270 A.D., further reducing military forces while helping to promote the spread of Christianity.

Although it took until 476 A.D. for the western Roman Empire to completely founder, leaving Constantinople as the power center of a transformed eastern Empire, the rot was clearly irreversible after the Crisis of the Third Century. Organizationally, the most ominous step was the precedent of dividing the Empire into parts. Once division of the Empire became acceptable (during and after Diocletian’s reign, 284-305 A.D.), the demise of Rome was inevitable. No coming back from that.

But was all this predestined? Somehow programmed in? Could the Crisis of the Third Century have been averted?

Yes. Rome had introduced significant constitutional changes before, notably under Augustus (27 B.C.-14 A.D.). With sufficient will and strong leadership, such things were possible.

So let’s go back to the beginning of the Third Century. Emperor Septimius Severus died in 211 A.D., leaving his empire to be ruled jointly by his sons, Caracalla and Geta. Caracalla was thoroughly unpleasant, and his murders, massacres, and persecutions make him a close runner-up to Caligula for paranoid brutality. Caracalla clearly had no intention of sharing the Empire with a brother he hated, and murdered Geta within the year. Caracalla then strode off as sole ruler into his reign of terror.

By all accounts, Geta was a much calmer, more thoughtful and reasonable man than his brother (although maybe this is a low bar). And perhaps on one critical day in December 211 A.D., Geta could have been just a little luckier, surviving Caracalla’s attempt on his life.

In the world of Clash of Eagles, this is exactly what happens. Geta escapes his grisly fate and flees Rome for Britain, where he is greatly respected by the legions. Factions align. Senators and armies choose sides. The Empire descends into a bloody ten year civil war, and almost collapses in the process. But ultimately, Geta wins.

Geta and the Roman Senate have experienced a cataclysm they never want Rome to experience again. They have looked into the abyss of chaos and societal collapse, and backed away. So when Geta proposes civil reforms to limit his own Imperial power and that of his successors, and plants the seeds for military reform to curtail Roman legions’ bad habit of supporting their own candidates for the throne and acting as kingmakers, the Senate is right behind him. The Severan Dynasty solidifies the Empire. Classical Roman culture perseveres. And there is much rejoicing, Roman-style; feasts and gladiatorial games and such.

Nothing about this scenario is at odds with Roman psychology. From Julius Caesar onward, the Senate would have dearly loved to curb the powers of both their dictators and their generals. Emperors used the power of the legions not only to put themselves into the Imperial purple but also to maintain themselves there… and to win arguments with the Senate.

If legions are not distracted – and often destroyed – by the Imperial struggles all through the third-century Crisis, Rome’s long-term future looks much brighter. A strong army can defend Rome’s borders. Strong emperors can beat back the Parthian resurgence.

What about the “barbarians”, you say? Well, massive migrations of hostile tribes into the Empire had been halted in earlier centuries by the likes of Julius Caesar and Trajan (98-117 A.D.). Similar incursions could have been held at bay again by a succession of determined emperors and competent armies in later centuries. The surge of Goths into the Balkans in 376 A.D. could be terminated and future troubles deterred by ruthless massacres. For examples, see how Rome razed Carthage to end the Third Punic War in 146 B.C., and how Trajan smashed the hell out of Dacia in 101-106 A.D. If the Romans were anything, they were ruthlessly efficient in their slaughter of their enemies. It wouldn’t have been pretty. But it would have been effective.

In my scenario, Emperor Geta quite unknowingly puts in place the safeguards that prevent the Crisis. His successors prove to be equally competent. The Empire continues to be ruled through strong central control. The military stays solid. The Rhine is never crossed by hostile tribes; Rome is never sacked by the Visigoths. The Empire is never split by power-sharing emperors and Byzantium – Constantinople – never rises to become dominant. The western Roman Empire lives on.

I think that does the trick. If you agree, feel free to stop here.

If not, let’s dig deeper into the Official Causes of Rome’s Decline and Fall.

And here we hit an interesting wall, and for me the most telling point: if even professional historians and other well-read experts can’t agree why Rome fell, the conclusion that its fall was inevitable is pretty hard to sustain.

For Edward Gibbon, “the decline of Rome was the natural and inevitable effect of immoderate greatness.” Meaning that the Empire was unsound to begin with, due to lack of civic virtue, and its use of non-Roman mercenaries and the advent of Christianity ultimately caused its death knell. Vegetius, too, blamed military decline due to immoderate use of mercenaries. Many have proposed a slow decay of Roman institutions all through the centuries of the Principate.

Prominent economists, however, blame unsound economic policies. Joseph Tainter, an anthropologist, blames social complexity and diminishing returns on investments. Military historian Adrian Goldsworthy points to the weakening effect of endless civil wars and the decline of central authority. Historian William McNeill blames disease, geochemist Jerome Nriagu lead poisoning.

There are, in fact, over 200 different theories for why Rome fell. This preponderance can perhaps be blamed on the lack of strong evidence – the death rates from the Cyprian plague are guesses, for example, and precious few economic documents survive from the Rome of the third to fifth centuries A.D.

But to simplify: a number of these causes look suspiciously like effects – the effects of a weak central authority, combined with an out-of-control military promoting its own favorites for emperor and weakening the borders in the process – and seem avoidable.

In my scenario, the much more moderate Geta has defeated his notoriously brutal brother Caracalla in a sustained civil war at the beginning of the third century A.D. and ushered in an alternate timeline where the Empire is not weakened by almost a century of turmoil. Given the military reforms I’ve postulated, mercenaries are less necessary and can be kept under firmer control, their leaders are less likely to rise up against Rome. The borders stay firm. The so-called “barbarian” tribes are forced back or eradicated.

The economy remains strong, bolstered by plunder. The religion of the Christ-Risen thrives, but church and state remain separated. People still die from plagues and contaminated water, but with strong central authority paying attention and without the general devastation of almost constant civil war, many dire effects can be mitigated. And thus the Roman Empire expands in a series of fits and starts through the rest of Europe, and ultimately into Asia.

But does it live on unchanged? Does Roma still have recognizable legions in the thirteenth century?

Maybe so.

The Romans did adapt when they needed to. They adopted new ideas when they found them. But only if they saw an overwhelmingly good reason to do so.

And if they didn’t, they stayed with the tried-and-true. In fact, the Roman army was extremely conservative. Weapons and tactics remained largely unchanged between the Marian reforms of 107 B.C. and the late third century A.D. The military formations used by Julius Caesar were still commonly used well into the third and even fourth centuries. As it turns out, most Roman military disasters were caused by the army’s strategic and tactical inflexibility.

Beyond the tactics, the rituals of the military triumph remained unchanged throughout Roman history. Contemporary books discussing Roman army marching camps written 300 years apart describe exactly the same layout, and this is backed up by archeological evidence. Often even the individual signa – the symbols of various centuries and legions – persisted for centuries.

Weapons and armor barely changed either. The Roman pilum endured unaltered for 600 years, swords and daggers for almost as long. By the third century A.D. helmets were evolving to provide more protection, based on innovations copied from the barbarians. But it took a long time for these changes to manifest. Back in Urbs Roma, the same. Cowell’s Life in Ancient Rome reports that the main elements in Roman clothing “remained practically unaltered throughout almost the entire thousand years of Rome’s history.” Rome was already well into its decline by the time major sartorial changes kicked in. Housing styles, likewise.

And why? Underlying it all, Roman society was based on a system of patronage, a vertical patron-client relationship that defined Rome from top to bottom and was strongly resistant to change: “the web of interlocking obligations was tightly woven and made change difficult” (Everitt, The Rise of Rome). Keeping their society stable was Job One, and by and large the Romans did an outstanding job for centuries.

Unlike our own society, in ancient Roma change was not a given. It came slowly, and at a cost.

Some of those slow changes are evident in the 33rd Hesperian Legion of Gaius Marcellinus. The legions are certainly recognizable, but by no means identical to their third century counterparts. By 1218 A.D. tribunes have more direct responsibility for specific cohorts than they did in ancient Rome, and auxiliary forces are an integral part of the legion rather than being treated as a separate unit. (Over the long haul, such assimilation would be essential for efficient command and control.) In the Clash of Eagles trilogy soldiers are allowed to marry while in the army, and take furloughs between campaigns. Neither was permissible in ancient Rome, and both improve morale. Most crucially, promotion in the Roman army is now essentially merit-based. While there’s still a tendency for some tribunes to be political appointees, skilled and determined men like Marcellinus and Aelfric can and do work their way up the ladder to prominent leadership positions. The shapes and functions of Roman weapons – gladius, spatha, pilum – have not changed, but in the thirteenth century they are made of steel rather than iron.

And so, in Clash of Eagles, the Empire marches on. And good luck to them, for in the forests, plains and rivers of Nova Hesperia, the legions of Rome will face challenges that not even two millennia of ruthless conquest have prepared them for.

We see the world of Clash of Eagles through the close point of view of Gaius Marcellinus, who doesn’t spend a whole lot of time pondering history. He has other things to worry about. But if these books were set in Europe or Asia rather than North America, a number of other differences in society and technology would be apparent. If I get the opportunity to write further in this universe once the Clash of Eagles trilogy draws to a close, maybe we’ll get to see more of the slow-but-steady changes time has wrought across the Roman world.

Sound and Vision 1 – Podcasts and TV

In which I provide links to two podcasts and a TV interview – with Fictional Frontiers, Scientific American, and Fast Forward TV respectively.

I doubt you’ve ever wondered what I look and sound like when discussing ancient Rome and ancient America, but, if you had, here are some links that would help you. My fun podcast interview with Sobaib Awan of Fictional Frontiers can be found at:

Next up, I was interviewed by Steve Mirsky of Scientific American’s Science Talk for a podcast entitled “Mississippi Mound Builders Meet the 33rd Legion”, and this you can find at:

Last but definitely not least, the good folks at Fast Forward TV interviewed me on camera as part of their excellent long-running series of interviews of science fiction and fantasy writers. Find me and many even more famous people on the main Fast Forward TV board, or jump straight to my interview on YouTube at the links below:

Thanks go to interviewer Tom Schaad and all the production team, but especially Mike Zipser and Kathi Overton, for this one.

I certainly had a great time giving these interviews. Hope you enjoy them too!


The Map Is The Territory

In which I geek out about maps. Especially mine.

You know what? I’m incredibly stoked that there’s a map of Nova Hesperia in the front of CLASH.

I’ve always loved maps. When I first read The Hobbit at some tender age, I probably spent as much time looking at Thorin’s map in the frontispiece as I did reading the words. My strongest reason for wanting to read Lord of the Rings -might- well have been to find out more about the territory, and my biggest complaint about the Narnia books was the relative dearth of cartography. I liked the real world too, and the heavens above; I spent a lot of those same tender years poring over a world atlas and studying the constellations on my planisphere.

Even now I find it notoriously easy to get derailed by maps. While doing some minor fact-checking for CLASH I picked up the Penguin Historical Atlas of the Vikings by John Haywood, and that was it for the next three days. In my office I have a noticeboard. Most of it is covered with maps of pre-Columbian America: the extent of the Mississippian culture, the rough territories of the other nations and tribes, the… You get the idea.

My editor and I did bandy around the idea of having a map in the front of CLASH, but it took a long time for us to get serious. For one thing we were busy with other issues like, say, making sure all the words in the book were right. But I never quite let go of the idea… even though it actually costs me money.

Yep. The map is extra artwork, and someone has to pay for that. If it costs $X to commission a map, then that $X is added to the amount I have to earn out on my advance before I start receiving royalties. There ain’t no such thing as a free map. Well, that’s how it worked for me. Other authors’ mileage may vary, but I have no problem with the logic.

While I was still mulling over whether or not to do it, someone I deeply trust made the comment to me that having a map wasn’t going to sell any books. Damn. I must have bought a slew of fantasy (and straight historical) novels over the years based almost solely on the map inside the front cover. I must be weird. Again. So I checked with some of my writer friends, and was quite relieved when they came back and said “Oh yeah, I’m the same.”

Then again, I chose them as friends, so there may be a selection effect involved here. Hmm.

Anyway, even if they’d all said “Naw,” I’d still have wanted the map.

Its creation was an interesting collaboration. Here’s how it went:

It’s New Year’s Eve 2013 and I’m sitting on the floor surrounded with atlases and topographic maps of North America, writing a thousand-word treatment of what I think the map should look like. It starts off something like this:

“So what we need is a map of the eastern half of North America, but greatly simplified and perhaps containing deliberate errors. We will essentially be looking at it like Romans. To the West the map will be bounded by the Rockies, which are not named, and about which little is known except that there are spiky, snowy mountains there. At least for the first book, the map will not include the western coastline of North America. Featured on the map will be:”

And then a bunch of notes about which rivers, seas, bays, mountains, towns, and trails should be named, and information about the territories of the named tribes, and thoughts on fonts and, gosh, whatever else I could throw in there to state in words the kind of thing I was thinking of. If I could draw I might have sketched it out, but I have no talent in that area at all.

And I sent it in, and then nothing happened for a very long time, and towards the end of 2014 my editor and I were like “Oh, crap, the map,” and went into high gear. We got a map back from the designer and I was like “Well that’s sort of what I had in mind, except what I –should- have said was…”

And back and forth we went: four times, with ever shortening intervals between, and I think we all agreed on the final version at the absolute final possible moment before printing when it could still have been included. I’m not exaggerating here.

But it’s awesome. Truly.

It’s North America in a different universe. A North America with few boundaries and no states, where the waterways are the dominant lines of communication. A North America of the thirteenth century, as it might be perceived by peoples with both Native American and Roman perspectives and influences.

More than that I can’t say without giving away some plot points, so you’ll have to take my word for it: This map is Nova Hesperia. In this case, the map is the territory. And I love what the artist did with it: the similarities to the real North America and the subtle distortions, the simplifications and exaggerations that real early cartographers might have made, the way the forests and mountains are shown. The fonts. The whole deal.

And so here it is, by kind permission of Del Rey and the artist. Please, for my sake and his, if this map propagates anywhere else, make sure Simon Sullivan’s name, copyright and Web site credit stay associated with it, as follows:

Map (c) 2015 by Simon Sullivan,

And including my name, and the name of the book, wouldn’t hurt either. Thanks, and enjoy!

My Book Launch “Week”

Well, that was a rush.

No, not just a surge of adrenaline, although I had a few of those too. I mean I was busy, much busier than I’d expected.

CLASH OF EAGLES made its debut on schedule, on Tuesday March 17th, and now I’m a published author. Well, okay, I’ve been a published author for two decades in short fiction, but I’m here to tell you that having a novel out from a major publishing house feels completely different. And there was champagne, and celebrations and much rejoicing, and my friends near and far were kind and supportive and congratulatory, and even people I didn’t know went out of their way to contact me to say nice things. Many people sent me pictures of themselves in bookstores holding copies of CLASH, which was quite delightful.

And then there was the work. I knew beforehand that I should expect to work pretty hard, before, during and after. Blog tours are all the thing now, and I was certainly willing to do everything I could to help Del Rey to promote CLASH and send it out into the big wide world. I knew that would mean guest blogs on other people’s sites, interviews, podcasts, and so on, and that in between all those I’d be expected to keep up on social media. I also knew that in my parallel world it would be a busy time at the day job; Murphy’s Law had worked splendidly, and I had a major proposal due on… Monday March 16th. But I’m a pretty organized chap, and I figured I could do all that and, in between the cracks, still be able to blog here regularly about the experience, kinda summarizing what was going on and how I was feeling about it all…

Well, I did most of it. I did. I’d told my group at work that I -really- wanted to submit the proposal early, and we all pulled together, and after three months of work I did indeed press the button on Thursday March 12th to send our finely-honed document on its way into the belly of the beast. A minor miracle (did I mention I love my team?) that freed up a lot of time at the weekend to work on those guest blogs.

The guest blogs were harder than I thought. I’m not a natural blogger. If you’ve even read this far, you already know that. I write blogs much more slowly than I write fiction. I can basically only do it by pretending that I’m writing a long Facebook post.

I did okay. Adjacent to this blog post you’ll find an entry that summarizes all my guest posts for March,  and provides handy-dandy links.

I did not, however, manage to blog here about the experience while it was happening, because when it came down to it, there was a limit to how long I could look at a computer screen every day.

So I’ll be brief: I had a GREAT time during Book Launch Week Month. Didn’t get sick, which was my big fear, but I am (still!) very tired. I’m both happy and sad that things are calming down a bit now, although I do have two live (not written) interviews coming up in the next few days and I’m still wondering what to do about that one – only one – blog post I kinda promised to do and then dropped on the floor. On the other hand, amidst all of this activity I also put together a detailed outline for Book Three of the trilogy, and discussed it with my editor at Del Rey, Mike Braff. And now I’m ready to get going on that. Real Soon Now.

More to come about all this. Stay tuned.

March Guest Blogs – A List

In which I provide links to the ten guest blogs and interviews I did on Other People’s Sites in March, including Paste Magazine,, Suvudu, SFFWorld,, Eating Authors, The Qwillery, and 2 Book Lovers. Wow. March was quite a month.

3/15: On 2 Book Lovers Reviews, In honor of the Ides of March, I and three other writers debate whether there’s better fodder for writing Roman fiction before or after Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon:

3/16: Eating Authors: As part of his long-running series about writers and food, I describe my most memorable meal to Lawrence Schoen:

3/17: Dear Readers: On Del Rey’s site I talk about my thoughts on the eve of Book Launch Day:

3/17: My Favorite Bit: On Mary Robinette Kowal’s site, I describe my favorite bit in CLASH OF EAGLES (contains mild spoilers):

3/17: SFFWORLD interviews me about my hero Gaius Marcellinus, research, alternate history in general, and writing this book in particular:

3/17: Decline and Rise Part One: In CLASH OF EAGLES the Roman Empire never fell. How? Why? In a guest essay on, I argue that the Decline and Fall was by no means inevitable…

3/20: Decline and Rise Part Two: The second part of my essay on why the western Roman Empire did not need to fall:

3/20: I am interviewed on The Qwillery as part of the 2015 Debut Author Challenge:

3/25: Five Books that Twist History till it Begs for Mercy on

3/31: Paste Magazine: Another interview? With moi

In closing, Paste Magazine was also nice enough to select CLASH as one of its “Ten of the Best New Books in March”. I confess I never in my life imagined my name would ever appear on a list that also included Kazuo Ishiguro and T.C. Boyle. That can’t be right…

Blog Post Zero: Beginnings

In which I inaugurate the blog with some backstory of how I got here, personally and geographically, and how I’m now on the verge of having my debut novel published by Del Rey.

“Where do I come from? Where do I come from?” – Duncan Macleod, Highlander, the Series.

I was always a writer. I wanted to be a writer long before I wanted to be an astronomer. I’ve been writing for almost as long as I’ve been reading; my first story was called “The Mountain Children”, and it was about three kids who had essentially grown up feral (although I doubt I knew that word then). They were based on the Tarzan of the old Johnny Weissmuller movies that were still being shown on TV then. Two girls and a boy: Val, Su and Chay. Children at home in the jungle. Having adventures.

My earliest interest in astronomy may have come from an old World Atlas my parents owned, with images of the planets in the Solar System as a frontispiece. As far as the Atlas was concerned Jupiter had twelve moons and Saturn ten (as of today: 67 and 62) and I had all their names memorized. Later on I looked at some of those moons, the Pleiades, sunspots, and the smudges of other galaxies through a small telescope I “co-owned” with my father. Astronomy.

By the time I went to secondary school in Yorkshire, England I was writing stories of intrepid men of action while hiding in the classroom during recess. I put the writing aside for several years to focus on (a) getting degrees (b) enjoying life in Oxford, but once I moved to the U.S. to take up a job at the Goddard Space Flight Center I also started getting serious about writing speculative fiction.

When I say I write, people who know me only as a NASA astronomer assume I write hard SF. I have, but generally I don’t, because it feels too much like my day job. My first story was “The Breath of Princes”, published in an anthology of original YA fantasy stories called A Wizard’s Dozen, edited by Michael Stearns. It involved a dragon, and a girl who only wanted to be rescued from it on her own terms. This was before electronic submission, and Michael initially rejected the story in a few terse but regretful sentences, and sealed it up in my stamped addressed envelope. Then had second thoughts, fished it back out of his pile and wrote all over the back of the envelope in his neat handwriting, pointing out the things I’d done wrong and telling me that if I could fix them, he’d be willing to look at it again.

Oh, I thought. Right. I get it.

I rewrote the second half of the story and had it back to him within the week. That story sold, and so did about three dozen others over the years. Fantasy, horror, and yes, SF.

Recently I’ve focused almost entirely on historical fantasy, and alternate and twisted history, with sales to Realms of Fantasy, Asimov’s, and others.

So where did Clash of Eagles originate? How did we get here?

When you read certain books you can almost feel the metaphorical scales falling from your eyes. It happened when I first grasped Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection. Oh, right. I get it. It seems so obvious once someone points it out. Why didn’t I realize that sooner?

Guns, Germs, and Steel was such a book for me. It pointed out just how reliant early civilizations were on the natural resources and beasts of burden around them. How the natural geography and environment affects the development of ideas. All other things being equal, crops, beasts, and ideas travel more readily along lines of latitude than north-south or south-north across ecological boundaries. And the early presence of livestock eventually brings immunity to certain diseases. All factors that have major effects on the pace at which societies develop, and what happens when societies at different levels of development clash.

1491 was next. I hadn’t realized till then just many people lived in the Americas prior to Columbus’s voyage and the disastrous European inroads, invasions, and infections that followed. It was also while reading 1491 that I started to think seriously about Cahokia, the great city-state on the Mississippi close to where St. Louis is now. Once Cahokia grabbed me it wouldn’t let go; I got a copy of Ancient Cahokia and the Mississippians by Timothy Pauketat, devoured it, and ordered maybe ten other books about Cahokia. The rest, as they say, is history.

Before I knew anything else about the story, I knew that my new invading force would be Romans. Growing up in the north of England and taking vacations in the Hadrian’s Wall area had steeped me in Roman ruins and culture, and it was surprising I’d never used them in a story before. The Roman viewpoint on Nova Hesperia – my North America – was critical to the plot development in many ways. And as for the more… unusual aspects of the story, they just flew into my brain full-grown. Why base a city on huge earthen mounds if you’re not going to throw yourself off them?

I wrote “A Clash of Eagles” in 2008. The characters, ideas, and setting gripped me, and hard. It ended up much longer than I was anticipating: 25,000 words. I’d written a novella I really believed in, and it was too long for any major market.

Fortunately for me, Dario Ciriello existed. Dario was publishing a series of all-novella anthologies, and I’d already sold him a 31,000-word novella for Panverse One called “Delusion’s Song” about the Bronte sisters and a timeslipping anomaly centered on Haworth. Dario took “A Clash of Eagles” for Panverse Two, and it appeared in print in September 2010 to good reviews. Dario also sent in the paperwork to have it considered for the Sidewise Award for Alternate History, which may have changed my life.

Cut to the Reno Worldcon in 2011. “Clash” has been nominated, but is up against solid stories by Eleanor Arnason, Barry B. Longyear, Ken MacLeod, and William F. Wu. I know I don’t have a prayer, and at a rather sparsely attended book-signing I confide this to Mur Lafferty at the next table. She admonishes me to prepare an acceptance speech anyway, Just In Case.

Mur Lafferty is wise, because if she hadn’t told me that, I’d have been too flabbergasted to speak clearly when I won the Sidewise that evening. As it was, I remembered my three talking points. Tell the audience what the story is about! (Because most of them won’t have read it, but if you give them a good elevator pitch, they just might.) Give massive props to Dario and Panverse! And thank the judges and everyone in the room who just cheered! (Because you’re insanely grateful, and there are lots of more interesting things your friends could be doing than sitting here listening to you.)

I’d already written most of the novel version by then, but once I got home from Reno I went into overdrive; finished and polished it, sketched story arcs for the sequels, and was querying agents by spring 2012. I signed with the marvelous Caitlin Blasdell of the Liza Dawson Literary Agents in June and did some rewriting and condensation at her behest, and then she went to work.

On May 7th, 2013, I signed a three-book deal with Mike Braff of Random House/Del Rey. More in-depth editing and copyediting ensued, along with cover work, map work, and promotion. Clash of Eagles hits the streets March 17th, 2015, in the U.S., U.K. and other places, in book, ebook, and audiobook formats.

It’s been a long road.

And now comes the next step, the step where I’m a Published Author of Actual Books. I got used to being a short story writer some time ago. This? This feels completely different.

So that’s where I come from.

And now I get to find out where I’m going.