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A Look Back on the Writing the Chimera Adventures with Cate Glass

Place holder  of - 54The Chimera series by Cate Glass has officially come to a close, but we’re continuing the adventure with a very special look back at the series with author Cate Glass! Check out her guest post as she talks about writing the series, developing the story, and more.


By Cate Glass

There was a time when I believed that the idea for a novel must spring forth fully formed like Athena from the head of Zeus. Of, course, that was before I ever wrote any novels and didn’t even imagine that I could.

After birthing a few, I believed my best stories always grew from a particular kind of trope-whacking on my part: a handsome, heroic figure who was wholly unworthy of the great destiny awaiting him; or a uniquely skilled magical warrior who was a pacifist by nature; or a mature woman who was not only not an ingénue princess-in-waiting, but a bitter exile who believed her heart dead. I would envision that person in an interesting situation, flesh out just enough of an interesting world to house that situation, and start writing to see where the idea took me.

I call myself an organic story developer. Once I confront my sketched characters with the action of the first scene, I begin to figure out who they really are and why they react as they do, and how I might make him or her or the world or the situation more interesting, deciding what follows logically. The story that may have begun as a standalone idea develops into three books. Another one morphs into two books and eventually into another parallel pair.

The Chimera stories had their origin in my desire to do something a little different. I wanted to build a framework that could house a flexible number of shorter tales. At about the same time, I had a chance encounter with an old TV series. (The series later morphed into a series of Tom Cruise action movies, which are not at all the same thing.)

Every episode of the series was centered on some snarl of political or international evildoing that the Secretary wished to be stopped, but could not afford to be publically involved in. The little group who took on these missions were not spies or secret agents, but people with specific talents that made them able to adapt to a wide variety of situations. We knew little or nothing about these players’ backgrounds or their lives beyond the missions or what they thought about it as it unfolded. (I did not like that aspect!) The pleasure arose watching them create an alternate reality in order to hornswoggle the villains of the week. Tension was always high, because the alternate reality could fall apart at any moment.

So, then I thought: What if these specific talents were magical…and what if the world was the kind to breed nefarious plots…conflicts of politics and myth and burgeoning scholarship…maybe something similar to the Italian Renaissance? Thus was the Costa Drago born and its independent city of Cantagna.

It was great fun to review caper and heist adventures, from The Scarlet Pimpernel to Leverage, from The Great Train Robbery to The Three Musketeers to Burn Notice, and assemble a list of skills that make such undercover schemes work: impersonation, martial arts, escapes, technology, and intelligence about people, culture, languages, economics.

Thus, instead of deriving one central character from sheer inspiration, I went looking for four operatives:

  • An expensive, well-educated courtesan
  • A professional duelist
  • A silversmith/artist
  • And a teenaged thief, because without D’Artagnan, the Musketeers would have far less spark.

Each player possessed a particular variety of magic and life experience that encompassed the skills I wanted. But use of magic was dangerous…forbidden. The world’s mythology would explain why.

But where to start writing? Always before, I knew what would be my opening scene. The day the unworthy hero bought the slave who would tell his story. The day the bitter woman met someone who forced her to engage with life again.

Because I disliked Mission: Impossible’s shallow characters, I wanted to get to know my four before getting them together on a mission. So, I wrote the tale of how Romy, my courtesan, lost her position at the side of the most powerful man in Cantagna, the Shadow Lord, and was returned to impoverished streets. The Shadow Lord—the Godfather, one might say—could be a source for the kind of missions I had in mind. But before Romy could become the Chimera, she had to deal with a teenaged thief, her own angry, rebellious brother, and they had to meet the duelist and the smith. Once I engaged them in a nefarious scheme—their first mission—I had a novel’s worth of story. Voila! An Illusion of Thieves. A little different than I expected.

Book 2 must give each of the four a chance to explore and use their particular magical talents, because in a world where you have to hide what you are, there hasn’t been much opportunity to do so. And so was born A Conjuring of Assassins. Assassination…impersonation…thievery…tunnels under the city that hid secrets. A political cabal. And just because it was that kind of sultry night walking beside the slow-moving River Venia, Romy rescues a half-drowned stranger from the river. He has interesting talents. Who is he?

I am a fantasy writer, after all, and if I’ve invented a mythology, I have to decide whether the stories it tells are true or not. Indeed, I discovered a connection between the half-drowned stranger, the mythology, and the activities of the villainous society known as the Philosophic Confraternity who had enforced the extermination of magic users for centuries. And so, the simple mission of breaking up a marriage that could upend the political balance in Cantagna became twisted into a revelation about the truth of the myth…and there was A Summoning of Demons.

My three books became, not just three distinct episodes in a framework, but an integrated whole. Organic! I’m delighted that readers can accompany my four new best friends through their adventures

Cate Glass is the author of the Chimera series. An Illusion of Thieves, A Conjuring of Assassinsand A Summoning of Demons are all available in stores now. 

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Forming the Perfect Fantasy Heist Crew

A Summoning of Demons is finally out in the world and while we’re so sad that the Chimera series is over, we are also SO ready to reenter Cate Glass’ world of forbidden sorcery and a ragtag magical crew of ready for whatever espionage, heisting, or skullduggery the Shadow Lord has in store for them.

To keep us going, we’re revisiting Cate Glass’ guide to forming the perfect fantasy heist crew! Join along and tell us in the comments which role you’d play in a heist.

Originally published June 2019.


By Cate Glass

Image Place holder  of - 25I’ve always loved spy stories, from The Scarlet Pimpernel to Len Deighton’s cold war novels to Robert Ludlum’s Bourne novels. I also enjoy elaborate heist stories like Denzel Washington’s “Inside Man,” Robert Redford’s “Sneakers,” and two of my favorite binge-worthy TV series—“Burn Notice” and “White Collar.”

These tales center on groups of skilled operatives who pull off amazing, twisty ventures that look very much like magic. When noodling around with my own project a couple of years ago, I decided I wanted to pull this classic story into a world of my own devising, to create my own group of agents or thieves and set them on intriguing adventures where the “magic” in the caper was actual magic!

First, where and when?

I envisioned a great city just moving into an age of enlightenment and the rule of law, where feudal barons are being replaced by merchants and bankers and explorers. Magic, believed to be the dangerous residue of the wars of Creation, has almost been eradicated, though the authorities are ever on the alert for magical activity. Rather than conquest and empire-building conflicts, I wanted to focus on localized intrigue and political skullduggery, struggles between new governance and old ways. Rather than battlefields, significant conflicts take place in salons or dining rooms, secret societies, artisan workshops, catacombs, public marketplaces, and dark streets. Combat involves betrayals, kidnappings, poisonings, and assassinations. And crises arise that need to be dealt with in secret, without the overt complicity of authorities.

Poster Placeholder of - 40But, of course, before I could devise a first adventure for my little group, I needed to figure out who they were! Sorcerers certainly, and in my world, magical talents are unique and rare. And for truly complex missions, they would need more than magic.

So I looked back at those agents and thieves I so enjoyed and assessed the tools they used to get their jobs done. They used laser glass cutters or elaborate climbing harnesses to get them into inaccessible places. They impersonated their marks by using tools that bypass retinal, voice, or fingerprint scanners. Communications were on earwig devices. Their weapons were things like laser–aimed dart guns or focused explosives. I also considered the classic TV show Mission Impossible, where the team was not composed of experienced spies with super electronics, but actors, mechanics, electronics experts, linguists, and the like—who brought their own particular set of talents and more mundane tools, like makeup, latex masks, and trucks, winches, power supplies, and common screwdrivers to do similar tasks. Though I wanted to put my adventure in an era more like the sixteenth century, the skills they would need were much the same.

Placeholder of  -42Time for a casting call!

WANTED, for four possible positions in or near the independency of Cantagna, applicants possessing one or more of the following job skills:

  • ability to breach secured facilities without detection
  • ability to replicate documents…and signatures…and artworks or other artifacts.
  • knowledge of history, art, law, government, important personages, and political and interfamily rivalries throughout the nine independencies of the Costa Drago.
  • high-level skills in weaponry and offensive and defensive combat.
  • impersonation.
  • costuming.
  • retrieval.
  • communications specialists.
  • improvise structural and mechanical devices in close quarters.

Applicants must be able to work in a variety of stressful environments in tasks which have no visible support from any official entity. Decent pay, but no benefits, no public acknowledgment of service, and most definitely no life, health, accident, or disability insurance.

After sorting through a variety of applicants with a variety of skills and background, I found my four. Like my favorite literary operatives, they should be able to create enough magic and mayhem to ensure the good guys – or mostly good guys – win the day.

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$2.99 eBook Sale: August 2020

$2.99 eBook Sale: August 2020

The end of summer is fast approaching, but there’s still time to bolster up your stack with some discounted ebooks! Check out what books you can snag for only $2.99 throughout the month of August below!


Poster Placeholder of - 84Among Others by Jo Walton

Startling, unusual, and yet irresistably readable, Among Others is at once the compelling story of a young woman struggling to escape a troubled childhood, a brilliant diary of first encounters with the great novels of modern fantasy and SF, and a spellbinding tale of escape from ancient enchantment.

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Image Placeholder of - 76Burn the Dark by S. A. Hunt

Robin is a YouTube celebrity gone-viral with her intensely-realistic witch hunter series. But even her millions of followers don’t know the truth: her series isn’t fiction.
Her ultimate goal is to seek revenge against the coven of witches who wronged her mother long ago. Returning home to the rural town of Blackfield, Robin meets friends new and old on her quest for justice. But then, a mysterious threat known as the Red Lord interferes with her plans….

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Placeholder of  -21A Conjuring of Assassins by Cate Glass

Romy and her three partners in crime—a sword master, a silversmith, and her thieving brother—have embraced their roles as the Shadow Lord’s agents, using their forbidden magic to accomplish tasks his other spies cannot. Now, the Shadow Lord needs them to infiltrate the home of the Mercediaran Ambassador and prevent him from obtaining information that would lead to all-out war with Cantagna’s most dangerous enemy. To succeed, they will have to resurrect long-buried secrets, partner with old enemies, and once again rely on the very magics that could get them sentenced to death.

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Excerpt: A Conjuring of Assassins

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Image Place holder  of - 60A Conjuring of Assassins is Cate Glass’s second adventure with the Chimera team, a ragtag crew who use their forbidden magic for the good of the kingdom.

Romy and her three partners in crime—a sword master, a silversmith, and her thieving brother—have embraced their roles as the Shadow Lord’s agents, using their forbidden magic to accomplish tasks his other spies cannot.

Now, the Shadow Lord needs them to infiltrate the home of the Mercediaran Ambassador and prevent him from obtaining information that would lead to all-out war with Cantagna’s most dangerous enemy.

To succeed, they will have to resurrect long-buried secrets, partner with old enemies, and once again rely on the very magics that could get them sentenced to death.

A Conjuring of Assassins arrives this month. Please enjoy the following excerpt.


Chapter 1

YEAR 988 OF THE NEW MILLENNIUM MONTH OF FOGS—SUMMER QUARTER DAY EARLY AFTERNOON

The air in the noisy alehouse blurred with more than greasy smoke. The slim, pearl-handled dagger laid out on the plank table shimmered around its edges. And it wasn’t simply the thump of boots or the raucous rattle of the tabor that made the world quiver. Something wasn’t right.

The dagger certainly wasn’t right. I wasn’t right. An important answer sat at the tip of my tongue, so very close … but I couldn’t even recall the question.

“Enough is enough,” said the black-eyed youth sitting across the table from me. “She can’t do it.”

I knew the youth. His new red shirt was made of— Why couldn’t I remember?

“Pull her out.” The big man seated next to the youth was almost invisible in the shadowed corner of the bench.

“Out of what?” I snapped behind my teeth. I kept my voice down, even though the Quarter Day holidaymakers made it near impossible to hear anything. “What are you talking about?”

Lady Fortune’s dam, what was wrong with me?

The youth reached across the table and grabbed my wrist. “Guess you have to try again another day, Romy. Some of us have things to do. Like eat.”

In the instant he spoke that name, the entirety of my identity—name, parentage, occupation, reasons for being in this nasty place—sloughed away like a false skin. As it was.

My true name was Romy. Sorceress. Scribe. Once a very expensive whore. A woman who had, over her five-and-twenty years, acquired a broad education in culture, languages, history, art, politics, pain, fear, self-control, and the habits of wealthy Cantagnans. Of late, a confidential agent employed by the Shadow Lord of Cantagna. An incompetent sorceress who couldn’t release herself from her own spellwork.

“By the Sisters! How many trials does that make?”

“I’m thinking a hundred,” said my brother Neri with an annoying smirk. He shot up from his seat and shoved the pearl-handled dagger toward me. “I believe I’ve just enough time for a bowl of rabbit pie before I head for the Duck’s Bone. Fesci’s backside will boil if I’m late for my shift.”

He vanished into the smoke and noise.

Shivering with the aftermath of magic-working, I closed my fingers about the dagger’s cool hilt and thumped the heel of my fist on my aching head. I’d been certain the elegant little weapon I’d owned for more than a decade, a reminder of both the worst and the best years of my life, could enable me to remember my own damnable name.

My particular variety of Dragonis’s taint allowed me to impersonate whomever I chose to be. When I invoked my magic, my body did not change. I remained a dark-eyed woman of moderate height, shaped in ways both men and women named comely. It was the magic that laid a mask over me, making me believe I was the other so completely that the Shadow Lord himself, who knew me as intimately as any human could know another, had not recognized me when I stood before him. It was a formidable and most useful talent—with the one drawback. Once I left Romy behind, only someone speaking my true name while touching my skin could get me back to her. Wholly impractical.

“You needs must ink the hints on your ass, lady scribe, so’s when you go topsy-turvy you can find yourself again,” said the man in the corner.

Someone opened the alehouse door, letting in the mid-afternoon glare. The dueling scar that creased my companion’s left cheek from brow to unruly black beard gleamed faintly red in a stray sunbeam. He planted his boots on the bench, settled lower in the corner, and clapped his shabby, flat-brimmed hat entirely over his face, as if ready for a nap.

Placidio di Vasil was a professional duelist, Neri’s swordmaster, and my tutor in the field of combat. He made me run up cliffs, slam fists and feet into the heavy leather bolsters that hung in the deserted warehouse where we trained, and wield a variety of blades with more general effectiveness than the defensive knifework I’d learned as a girl. Placidio was a demon-tainted sorcerer, as well, and a man I trusted with our lives.

“How will the Chimera ever be an effective partnership if I must have a minder every time I do an impersonation?”

He gave no answer. Probably because there was none. But this was his problem as much as my own. My partners and I were poised on the brink of our second dangerous venture in as many months, and if my magic was to be at all useful, I had to be able to disentangle myself from it.

“I was closer this time,” I said, propping my chin on my fist. “The world went blurry, and I wasn’t thinking as Monette the cloth merchant’s daughter anymore. Certain, I wasn’t thinking of you as my father. But I wasn’t thinking as me, either.”

I’d hoped that using the magic among strangers, instead of in my house or our training ground, would force me to keep Romy closer to the surface. One magic sniffer pointing a finger at me could get us all dead.

My plan had worked. Just not well enough.

“If you require a parent for your next practice session, get Dumond to play him. None’d b’lieve a spiff dandy like me old enough to sire a witchy female like you…” The slurred jibe faded into heavy breathing.

Placidio’s somnolence was not to be mistaken for sleep. I’d come to think he never truly slept, which explained, in part, why he sucked down enough wine, ale, and mead in a day to supply a small village. Despite his duelist’s fitness and his modest age of four-and-thirty, old wounds and old griefs weighed heavy on him.

“If I can immerse myself deep enough in an impersonation to believe you to be my father, Segno di Vasil, and then get myself out again, it will give an inestimable boost to my confidence. Besides, Dumond shudders at the thought of masquerades.”

A scheme of impersonation and forgery to foil a threat to Cantagna’s peace had brought the four of us together—Placidio, Dumond the metalsmith, my brother Neri, and me, demon-tainted sorcerers all—and given us the rare satisfaction of using our talents for a cause other than preserving our own lives. We called ourselves the Chimera, a fantastical beast of many parts, the impossible made flesh.

Like giddy fools, we had taken on another such worthy effort within a day of finishing the first. It should be simple enough—find a dangerous document and destroy it. The prisoner who had hidden the document was being transported to Cantagna. We were awaiting only the Shadow Lord’s signal that he had arrived.

Unlike me, our employer was not disturbed by his multiplicity of names. He was equally comfortable as il Padroné, benevolent patron of the arts and advocate for the rule of law, and the Shadow Lord, the ruthless manipulator whose will was crossed only with peril. Both were true aspects of the man born Alessandro di Gallanos, the wealthiest and most powerful man in wealthy, powerful Cantagna. For nine years I had called him Sandro.

“Maybe I won’t need to use my magic at all in the new venture,” I said. “Getting inside a prison cell is more up Dumond’s alley—or Neri’s. I wonder—”

Neri emerged from the crowd like a thunderclap from a clear sky. “Swordmaster, someone’s come looking for you!”

A scrawny fellow with wispy red hair, peeling skin, and bad teeth shoved Neri aside and slapped a dirty woven badge on the table. The stink of sour flesh and moldy garlic wafted from him.

“Placidio di Vasil, I bring answer for the insulting challenge you threw at my uncle yesternight in front of twenty witnesses. My own self will stand for him at Bawds Field in one hour. Be there or be deemed coward forever more.”

“What?” Placidio threw off his hat and snatched up the badge. “Come back here, Buto! Does your uncle know about this?”

Placidio’s outrage could have been heard clear up to the Piazza Livello at the heart and height of the city. But the scrawny man had already vanished through the silenced crowd.

“Damnable idiot. An hour?” Placidio scraped fingers through his matted hair.

“You challenged someone for yourself!” Neri gawped after the man. “Who is it? What did he do?”

Professional duelists fought other people’s battles. Only the stupid ones risked injury by fighting for free—for themselves—or so Placidio always claimed.

“One wrong, cursed, confusticated word.” He slammed his hat back on his head and shoved the table away, trapping me on my own bench. “Another lesson for you two. Never exchange insults with a pox-raddled moron in the middle of a card game.”

The tapgirl yanked another bung, and like a spark near nitre powder, it reignited the clamor of drinkers and the whistle and rattle of the musicians.

“Another match?” I said, in quiet frustration. “We could get the Shadow Lord’s signal at any moment. And no referees, I’m guessing.”

“Told you before, lady scribe, my matches are naught for you to worry on. But if it eases you, the only difficulty here is how not to kill this maggot.”

“But for someone unsavory like this fellow, you need a second. A witness, at least,” said Neri, bolder than I in the face of Placidio’s unyielding personal boundaries … or at the backside of them. Placidio was already three steps from the table.

Neri persisted. “No time to fetch a neutral.”

Placidio whirled around, his cinder-gray eyes picking at Neri. After a moment, he spoke grudgingly. “Witness, aye. That could be useful. Mostly it would do you good to see how an overeager idiot like Buto conducts himself, lest you start thinking you’ve learned enough from your lessons. But you are not my second. I alone do the talking. You will stay where I tell you—at the split-trunk nettle tree west of the path from the prison. Well hid. Neither toe nor eyelash to be seen. And you stay exactly there till the end.”

Placidio didn’t need to add what dire consequence would follow disobedience. Nonetheless, Neri hurried after him like a hound after its hunter. As he had abandoned his bowl of rabbit pie, I was not inordinately surprised when he darted back to the table before reaching the door to the street.

“Romy, talk to Fesci for me. Tell her I’ve dueling business with Placidio and will be late. She always fusses over him, so she won’t be all bent when I get there.”

He didn’t linger to finish the pie, nor to hear my answer. He knew he’d get a lecture.

Neri had come a long way from the angry, ignorant youth who used his magic to steal three rubies, getting our family exiled and the two of us very nearly executed. But he was still rash and headstrong, and forever assumed one or the other of the Chimera would pull him out of the fire if he danced too close.

Since the dawn of the world, the First Law of Creation had mandated death for anyone tainted with the monster Dragonis’s magic, lest they use their fiendish talents to set the beast free to wreak the world’s end. The earth’s shudders that flattened villages, and the mountains’ yearly spews of ash, smoke, and scalding rock, provided clear reminders of the malignancy imprisoned beneath the Costa Drago. But whether one believed or not—and after nine years’ immersion in history, reason, and philosophy I was skeptical—the First Law made no distinction between those who worked magic and those corrupted by association with it. A careless mistake could pose a real and mortal danger to Placidio, Dumond and his family, and me, as well as to Neri himself.

I shoved the table back to its place and set out for Bawds Field. When Neri saw I’d not done his bidding, he could decide for himself if he wanted to risk a reckoning with Taverner Fesci.

 

Bawds Field, shielded from public view by the bleak bulk of the prison, a few nettle trees, and a tall bordering scrub of firethorn and prickly juniper, was often used for grudge fights, including duels not registered with the referees who maintained the city’s professional Dueling List. The place had gotten its name back when Cantagna was governed by a hereditary grand duc instead of our elected Sestorale. The nobleman had taken a young wife who was horrified to learn that bawdy houses were legal in her husband’s demesne. Even worse, the grand duc required their prices stay low as a way to make whores accessible to every citizen who desired to partake of their services.

The ducessa must have had the charms of a goddess, a will of forged steel, and no conscience to speak of, as within a month of the noble marriage, every bawd, pimp, whore, and catamite in Cantagna had been marched into a wasteland behind the Pillars Prison and hanged. Tutors at the Moon House had used that story to remind us students how fortunate we were that not only were we not criminals, but that our beauty and skills would command a price that only someone like a grand duc—or a wealthy banker—could afford. At age ten, I had not felt comforted.

In the center of the pounded dirt and gravel, the scrawny man called Buto donned a mail shirt. Two equally disreputable comrades marked out a large, slightly lopsided circle with stones and bits of rubble, planting sticks in the ground at four quarter points.

Placidio stood to one side in his dueling leathers, hands clasped behind his back, his favored dueling sword at his side. His relaxed but wary posture should be intimidating to anyone who had ever watched him fight.

And Neri? I stood between the twin trunks of the giant nettle tree on the west side of the field—exactly where Placidio had told Neri to hide. Neri wasn’t there. Nor was he out of sight. His red shirt shone like a signal flag from a thicket on the opposite side of the field.

Using the path behind the scrub, I headed for Neri.

“You are familiar with Cantagna’s Code Duello, young Buto?” Placidio’s booming query drew me to a gap in the stand of firethorn.

I’d never watched one of Placidio’s duels. For one, I saw enough of his skills when I trained with him. For another, I assumed he had reasons for saying so little of when, where, or whom he was fighting; his privacies were very important to him. And, in truth, it made good sense for Placidio, Dumond, and Neri and me to keep our non-Chimera lives separate.

Copyright © 2020 by Carol Berg

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