The Post of Christmas Future
Subscribers' Lynchline 26: January 8, 2023
Now coming to you from even further into the future!
Ahhhh, shenanigans. There were a few New Year’s shenanigans. I know it’s an unhealthy cliche that writers drink to the point of tragicomedy. I’ve made jokes about writers drinking, and no doubt will again, though the writing culture I’m most involved with has made an effort in recent years to smash the idea that alcohol is mandatory for socialization. To add to the irony, I’m approaching two full years of deliberately reduced (for medical reasons) drinking. My overall consumption is about 25% of what it was in the couple of years leading up to 2021, and I track it on a weekly basis. Although I get a couple holidays each year to enjoy myself a bit more loosely, every other week of the year the math has to balance out- an extra drink here means a drink subtracted somewhere else sooner or later.
Possibly that’s why I was a lightweight this past New Year’s Eve, and my final drink of the evening, long after the festivities had settled down, resulted in my brain deciding to fly itself like a kite for a good long interval. While this was not at all unpleasant, it was the kiss of death to serious work that night, and I had a few things I wanted to say that needed some focus.
First, it is lovely to have you here reading this, even if you never comment or otherwise announce yourself! Every instant of attention is deeply appreciated. Every living writer whose work you enjoy needs every scrap of support you can muster, and so I’m grateful for it, and will try to keep passing it on to the 90+ people I support in turn on Patreon and via other newsletters.
Second, the ongoing degradation of Twitter, as I mentioned before, necessitates some examination and refurbishment of my other online contact points, so if you crawl to the end of this missive and you’d still like more of my babble, here’s the lowdown on my hangouts:
Tumblr: I just shocked this old thing back to life with a cat picture. I can’t imagine posting a great deal of epic content there, but I will try to screw around and have fun with it as before, and answer questions. Find me at: https://scottlynch78.tumblr.com/
Livejournal: My LJ has been disused for years, ever since it became apparent that the company’s operations were moving over to Russia, so listing it here is just a formality. Most of it yet exists but my intention is to make it go away in 2023. Future scholars will still have access to a complete archive of my LJ posts via the University of Northern Illinois, which has graciously stepped up to ensure that long after I am dust, all the dumbest fucking things I had to say in 2003 will be saved indefinitely like electronically petrified turds.
Goodreads: I have a Goodreads profile, and it was hanging in the balance. I was about to get rid of it last night, in fact, when I noticed that something like 23,000 people are following it. The part of me that needs to communicate with readers went “ack, don’t be so hasty,” and after taking advice from several parties, I’ll be keeping it and possibly adding new reviews of things I’m really enthusiastic about, though only carefully, as my current level of fame and the somewhat limited toolset at Goodreads makes it tricky to be as kind as I prefer to be these days, at least in public.
Facebook: I’m going to keep a Facebook account solely for personal use because I like having a semi-convenient way to check if anyone in my far-flung constellations of aunts, uncles, cousins, second cousins, etc. has broken a leg or graduated from college or whatever. As for a professional presence, nothing Facebook offers makes any reasonable sense for someone in my position. I would be happy to spend a bit of money on an ongoing basis if it guaranteed full and honest engagement with everyone who wants to follow my updates, but it doesn’t. Facebook’s setup in this regard simply stinks.
My Website: Still there at http://www.scottlynch.us and still rather useless, but I have now made the fateful decision to let my relatively-adequate-circa-2001 HTML skills crawl into the grave they so richly deserve, and henceforth I will be trying this one weird trick called “paying money to people who actually know how to keep a site running in 2023.” I’ve started chatting with folks about some exciting stuff, including integration of this newsletter with the website.
Mastodon: I can be found on Mastodon at https://wandering.shop/@scottlynch78. I’m not going to be using Mastodon as a marketing tool immediately (near as I can tell, its discoverability and global penetration are nowhere near Twitter levels, even if “engagement” at Mastodon is equivalent or better thanks to Twitter’s miserable throttling), but rather as a way to try and make sure that I don’t lose casual social media contact with the big network of friends, associates, and lovely weirdos I’ve found over the last decade. If you count yourself one of those lovely weirdos, you should always feel free to add me.
Thus for social media… and now to the real meat of this particular Lynchline, the bit you’ve hopefully been waiting for. Indeed, more than the bit you’ve been waiting for, because there’s a reason you had to wait another night for it… a great reason.
What I want to give you now is a glimpse of the first of several forthcoming Gentlemen Bastards novellas I owe Subterranean Press. These three bite-sized Locke Lamora and Jean Tannen adventures (each should be around 15-25% as long as a full-sized Bastards novel) collectively form a bridge narrative, describing how the lads cross a continent and characteristically find trouble at every step, starting a few minutes after the end of The Republic of Thieves and continuing to the very edge of The Thorn of Emberlain. They are absolutely not essential for readers of the main sequence books; I’m working firmly to the rule that Thorn readers who are completely unaware of the existence of the novellas should not get a sense that anything is missing. I have every hope, however, that they will enrich the experience of every constant reader and sweeten the long gap between the third and fourth books of the main sequence.
Right about here is where I had originally typed “without further ado, a snippet from Untitled Gentlemen Bastards Novella #1.”
Something atypical has been haunting this novella, which is that for months now I haven’t had the faintest idea what to call it. This is, without exaggeration, unique in my professional career. I am used to having a title for something before I start it, in many cases years before, and only in one or two instances have I had to venture a few pages into a work before discovering its proper name. You may think of this as an artistic idiosyncracy or a strange quirk or a drooling neurosis, as you prefer, but it’s how we run things here inside my skull. Having a title helps me feel immersed in the work; it gives me a sense of proper connection to the shape of the narrative and its themes. My inability to settle on a proper one in this case was teeth-grindingly frustrating.
Until 2:30 AM last Monday, New Year’s Day +1, when I was doing dishes and idly kicking myself over the subject. In a fit of pique I scribbled a few notions on our kitchen whiteboard, and after staring at them for a few moments I realized that a viable title had finally, randomly, somehow fucking materialized. I was ecstatic. I was sure the issue was resolved.
Twenty minutes later, a variation on the title popped into my head, seemingly equally compelling.
Months and months without one trace of these two assholes, and now they both show up and start fighting over the spotlight? Come on.
I set the matter before my wife, my agent, and a few other trusted folks, and after they all asked some pointed questions like “do you know what time it is” and “how did you get this number,” they more or less unanimously that one version was stronger than the other. I’ve had to do some plotting and planning since then, but the wait was absolutely worth it, because now I can dress this thing properly rather than send it out into the world, ashamed and unclothed. Thus, without further ado, a snippet from
MORE THAN FOOLS FILL GRAVES
A Tale of the Gentlemen Bastards
by Scott Lynch
Locke and Jean Keep Their Eyes
Collisti Seren to Marador’s Field
(AUTHOR’S NOTE: Locke and Jean have fled the city of Karthain and are now headed south by east across country, following the old Therin Throne roads. After slipping down the bank of a swollen river and going for a more brisk and bracing swim than they would have liked, they have paused for a break. While Jean scouts, Locke takes an exhausted nap in the shadow of some hilltop stones and has a disturbingly lucid dream. Apologies for any typos, this is pasted from a draft.)
Locke gasped out a breath of dreaming air and took in a breath of the real thing, sharp with the taste of late afternoon. The grass of sleep gave way to the real, and likewise the earth and sky and the cold glaze of sweat beneath his clothes. He was where and as he’d been in the dream’s final instant, carried over in every detail, but far from where he had set himself down to rest. Indeed, he was nearly upon the road.
He whirled to stare back at the hill and its fog-threaded stones. No shadow stirred there. No voice could be heard, just the soft sash-chash of the breeze through the grass and the embarrassing shudder of his own frightened breaths, as well as the impatient whinny of an animal.
An animal? Locke whirled again.
From her wagon-top seat a woman of middle years with eyes like clouded flint peered down at him. Neither woman nor wagon, nor its pair of uneasy horses, had been in his dream but thanks to his sleepwalk they were now close enough for conversation. The seams of the woman’s face crinkled as she smiled, pleasantly enough, but whether she smiled from genuine warmth of spirit or because she was holding a five-foot blackened iron spear between that smile and Locke, he was not yet equipped to discern.
“Fu- uh, that is, fair afternoon, madam.”
The woman inclined her chin, very slightly.
“I, uh, apologize. I am… it’s just—” Locke gestured vaguely at the hill behind him, trying not to look as though he were doing anything to invite a lunge, which might well reach him if she had any enthusiasm. “I am not at my best, you see, because until a moment ago I was, ah—”
“Asleep? And more than that, I’d wager.” The woman was hoarse at first, but Locke was familiar with the effects of long silent hours on the road, and as she talked her dry voice gained vigor. “You were seeing and hearing things in your sleep.”
“You know this place?”
“Collisti Seren. So the hill’s called. The stones may be empire tombs. I have never known anyone who could say, nor anyone who would venture up but the once, and I include myself in that tally. It is not a quiet place, if you take my meaning.”
“I… there was a voice, in my dream. A voice, and a shadow.” Why he confided in her he could not have promptly explained; perhaps having weapons pointed at his face was settled routine in his life in a way that dream-voices were not, and he needed some reassurance of human fellowship. “I’ve felt something like it before. The voice was harsh. Hardly seems a big enough word for it, but… harsh.”
“Made you cold to hear it,” she said. When Locke nodded, she spoke on: “Unnatural. Made your ears burn, as if you’d stood out in a bitter wind.”
“Yes. All that and more. It said to keep away.”
“Then it seems you met at least one friend this afternoon.”
“Nothing I just saw or heard was friendly.”
“There I must contradict you.” One of the woman’s horses scuffed a hoof and flicked its ears in agitation, and without taking her eyes or spear off Locke she momentarily drew her reins taut. “Tsk, tsk. No, sir, if something told you to clear off it was acting as a friend. It’s the other sort of voice you need to worry about. The sort that says: all’s well, come closer, come on up and bide awhile. In a lonely place like this, that’s the voice to fear.”
“I suppose you have a point,” said Locke. “In fact, you have two. Is the one in your hands still necessary?”
“It stays ready, thank you. Now that we are to business, it’s bad luck you chose such a poor hide to lay in ambush, but the cause of your dispossession from concealment is unusual and I doubt you’ll make the same mistake twice.”
“Ambush? I’m not a bandit, madam.”
“Exactly true. I am preventing your banditry, and there are two ways I might go about it. I should prefer to see you walking briskly away, as you do not seem an absolute waste of bodily humours, but it would be no inconvenience to put a hole or two through you.”
“Oh, would it not?” Locke took a smooth step back. Loath as he was to creep another inch toward that hilltop ever again, this was tactically preferable for ongoing conversation. Let her take a lunge; unless she was some kind of gymnastic prodigy she was now as like to fall on her face as she was to touch him. “I’m hardly at my best, madam, for I am freshly awake and freezing and apparently haunted, but how is that grounds for such a casual offer of roadside murder?”
“You are a bandit, therefore fit to walk or fit to bleed, the one being as good as the other.”
“I am by no inclination a bandit,” said Locke. Was this the single broadest lie he had ever told in his life? Something to ponder in a more relaxed moment. “Why do you keep insisting I must be?”
“Plain as blue sky you’re no merchant. Nor dispatch rider, nor mercenary, nor guard. You have no trappings for any such. You’re a pure stranger to these parts.” The woman tugged her reins again; her horses were obviously not pleased to be lingering here. “No one who knows this road or lived within twenty miles would choose to lie in wait at the Collisti Seren. Also, you have a wretched, haggard sort of look about you. Likely you’ve not slept under a roof for some while.”
“Wretched I will allow,” said Locke, “as I recently fell into a river, and owing to that I also have no goods or decent clothes, but haggard is too much. I am not haggard.”
“Sir, you are a pigeon’s worth of meat hung on a wood-shaving.”
“What do you think you’re about, madam, pointing spears at strangers, proclaiming them robbers when they have undertaken no violence against your person, and then immediately making them wish they had?”
It had been several days since anything had happened to stoke Locke’s self-regard, and it was not in fact as stoked now as he was trying to let on, but on the opposite hillside he had just happened to glimpse a figure slipping low through the grass. Either that was Jean creeping back from his reconaissance, or— or fuck his life, fuck everything, and fuck this cold stretch of road in particular. He would hope for Jean, and do his best to pin this woman here with words. He continued:
“Who do you think you are, dishing out threats and judgment, with your wagon not fit for burning and your horses not fit for brush-hairs?”
“Perhaps you are no bandit after all,” said the woman, “or perhaps you are the first blind bandit I have ever encountered. It is indisputable these beasts know more about celestial navigation or three-part harmony than you know about them.”
“Madam, if your horses were rendered for sausages and given away for free I wouldn’t eat them. I’d buy a sheet of glue instead. Vomiting it back up would taste better. If I were a bandit I wouldn’t rob you. I’d be too ashamed. I’d build you a fire. I’d tuck you in beside it and pat you on the head and tell you how very sorry I was!”
“Bold bafflegab from a half-naked hedge-skulk who can’t even build a fire for his own sake. You have certainly become more lively company. This causes me to wonder if you might not be trying to delay me while some confederate returns from an errand. Countering that hypothesis is the question of where a scuffed turd like yourself would procure a friend.”
Locke sighed inwardly. Why were all the trusting and dim-witted travelers already beguiled elsewhere, leaving him to try his chances with the armed and cagey ones?
“No,” said the woman. “No, I do not believe I am in a mood for laying bets. I shall depart. Keep a distance, now. If you try to chase me, the only reason you’ll escape stabbing is because you’ve been run under hooves and wheels.”
“At least tell me who you are before you whip those half-dead sacks of bristle to their full sad shuffle,” said Locke. “If nothing else, I am genuinely curious as to what your business is in this gods-forgotten corner of nowhere.”
“Oh, it’s not so bad as all that,” said the woman. “And you’ve been bested by Lyris Nicerianis, salt-and-sourmonger. The salt-and-sourmonger, hereabouts. In pickling season I deal the finest vinegars, salts, and relish powders this side of Karthain. I’m on my circuit, and I advise you to be gone from it. Gods have mercy on you and send you some clothes.”
“Lyris Nicerianis,” said Locke, “all this time, I’ve been talking to Lyris Nicerianis? I might not know these parts, but even I’ve heard of you! Salt-and-sourmonger? Anodynist, more like! You couldn’t sour up one cherry with three wagons worth of the stuff you’re hauling! Mothers give your vinegar to babies to make them calm. I know of what I speak! I’ve had Camorri golden peppers! I’ve burned my tongue on red sea nettles! I’ve had that Syresti spice coffee that causes hours of screaming!”
“They make that coffee as a joke to play on annoying Therins,” said Lyris.
“Yes, I fell for the joke,” said Locke. “As you have fallen for mine.”
He would have called his timing excellent. The statement was meant to be punctuated by the precise instant of Jean’s vault atop the wagon, a memorable synchronicity of verbal flourish and superior physicality, but unfortunately Jean was as tired and sore as he was, and horses have eyes.
Jean emerged from the grass as expected, copped to the situation without a word or a signal, and did indeed leap up to disarm the spear-wielding salt-and-sourmonger, but his arrival was less of a triumphant pounce and more of an awkward flop and roll, complicated by a lurch and stomp from the alarmed horses. Lyris shouted and tried to introduce her spear-butt to Jean’s face, but the wild jerking of the horses was no aid to her balance, either.
For a moment all was chaos— Jean and Lyris tumbling about, atop, and beside one another while Locke leapt back from the wagon to avoid the hooves and wheels previously alluded to. Lyris was a sturdy and determined woman, but Jean Tannen at close quarters was no little trouble for anyone. By the time Locke managed to safely approach the wagon, Jean had spear and reins alike in hand, and had narrowly prevented the horses from carrying the whole affair off the road.
"I thought you drank that coffee on a dare,” said Jean.
“I did say that.” Locke leapt up the side of the wagon, just behind the seat. “But that was just because my pride was stung. No, those fuckers skinned me sweetly with that one. I meant to admit to it but never got around to re-telling that story.”
“You’ll get nothing from this, I warn you,” said Lyris, clutching at some sort of necklace with both hands. “Nothing you take from this wagon will be worth the agony you two are courting. Harm me or my goods and—”
“We don’t actually mean you any harm,” said Jean. “Right? I did just get here.”
“Absolutely correct,” said Locke. “Nothing that just transpired was personal, Lyris, including you pointing a spear at me. We would, however, appreciate a ride to the next town on your circuit.”
“You’ll get no cooperation from me!”
“Oh for the gods’ sakes,” said Jean. “We do not have daylight to waste talking you into accepting our profound harmlessness.”
Jean handed the spear back to the wide-eyed Lyris, who unclenched her necklace and took the weapon with lightly trembling fingers, like a person reaching out to test a hallucination.
“Also, when you say you’re a salt-and-sourmonger, dare I hope you deal powdered mustard as well?”
“Two kinds,” muttered Lyris.
“Fine floured Verrari?” said Jean.
“And, um, the northern ordinary.”
“Lovely! We fell into a river, you see, and all my spices drowned.” Jean settled himself on the bench, helped Locke to do likewise, and at last held the reins out to Lyris. “We can talk prices as we roll. I need mustard. I am a grumpy child when I can’t get it. Are you going to hold that spear the whole way?”
ADDITIONAL AUTHOR’S NOTE: I’m terribly sorry for the bonus delay; I thought I had sent this out yesterday and I was wondering why none of my Substack stat reports had shown up yet, but I made the most interesting discovery— it turns out that in order to receive statistics for a post one must first click the post button Wild stuff! I pass the benefits of this discovery on to you.