Teaser Tuesday: CLOCKWORK LIVES

A special announcement AND a sample to whet your literary appetite.  Even though this hasn’t exactly been a secret, with a few announcements coming out—and I talked about it extensively at this year’s RushCon in Toronto—we’ve finally posted the first official press release about CLOCKWORK LIVES.  Here is what ECW Press released today:

Follow-up to the New York Times Bestseller CLOCKWORK ANGELS Set to Release in September from ECW

CLOCKWORK LIVES
Kevin J. Anderson and Neil Peart

In the New York Times bestselling CLOCKWORK ANGELS, author Kevin J. Anderson and legendary Rush drummer and lyricist Neil Peart created a fabulous, adventurous world in a novel that accompanied the Rush concept album of the same name. Anderson and Peart have returned to their colorful creation in CLOCKWORK LIVES, a steampunk Canterbury Tales that explores the lives of secondary characters in CLOCKWORK ANGELS and introduces a new protagonist.

Marinda Peake is a woman with a quiet, perfect life in a small village. Her alchemist father’s will leaves Marinda a mysterious inheritance: a blank book that she must fill with other people’s stories—and ultimately her own. Styled after Marinda’s book, the ECW volume itself  will be a beautiful homage to traditional bookmaking. A limited-run collector’s edition will also be available.

Peart’s bestselling memoir FAR AND NEAR: ON DAYS LIKE THESE (October 2014) will also be released in paperback in August 2015. The Huffington Post calls FAR AND NEAR “a beautiful text, rife with interesting photos, anecdotes, and factoids.”

Kevin J. Anderson is the bestselling and award-winning science fiction author of over 120 novels. He has written spinoff novels for Star Wars, DC Comics, and The X-Files and, with Brian Herbert is the coauthor of 14 bestselling novels in the Dune universe. His original works include the Saga of Seven Suns series; Terra Incognita; Resurrection, Inc.; Hopscotch; and the Dan Shamble, Zombie PI series. Neil Peart is the drummer and lyricist of the legendary rock band Rush and the author of Ghost Rider, The Masked Rider, Traveling Music, Roadshow, Far and Away, and Far and Near. Anderson and Peart have known each other for more than 25 years.

AND HERE’S YOUR TEASER, PART OF THE FIRST CHAPTER
I read a draft of this aloud at RushCon. Here it is in a more polished form…and I hope you’ll want to read the rest. I think it’s one of my very best works.—KJA

**********

Some lives can be summed up in a sentence or two.
Other lives are epics.

Chapter 1

As a blue alchemical glow illuminated the rails, the steamliner came into Lugtown on its weekly run from parts unknown toward Crown City, the heart of the land of Albion. The chain of cargo cars and passenger gondolas were suspended by multicolored balloon sacks, each marked with the iconic honeybee symbol of the loving Watchmaker.

The steamliner touched down, steel wheels striking the rails outside of town and decelerating with gouts of blue-tinted steam and showers of sparks. As the steam vents hissed, lowering pressure inside the coldfire boiler chambers, the pilot damped his engines and let the steamliner simmer in place. He would park at Lugtown for the better part of a day to refill water tanks and take on cargo.

Restless passengers disembarked, men wearing frock coats and top hats or bowlers. The women wore voluminous dresses, gloves, button-up black boots; some even carried parasols as they accompanied their gentlemen. They chose such finery for the journey because they wanted to be presentable just in case the Watchmaker, or at least some of his Regulators, caught a glimpse of them when they disembarked at the Mainspring Hub.

They also thought this brief stopover in Lugtown might be a formal occasion, but in that, they were sorely disappointed.

Standing impatient with the other townspeople, Marinda Peake watched their expressions shift from optimism to disappointment, sometimes even withering scorn. She had seen it time and again, and she felt reciprocal scorn toward these frivolous visitors whose impact on Lugtown was as lasting as a few strands of morning fog.

Marinda found the steamliner’s weekly arrival bothersome because it disrupted the routine that served her just fine for the rest of the week. A well-established routine surved a valid purpose, and schedules were the perfect safety net. She had often considered shifting her regular supply trip into town to a different day of the week, when her business wouldn’t be so disrupted. But she had always come into town on Wednesday, and it would be too unsettling to change now.

The steamliner pilot emerged from the front motivator car, which was connected to a passenger gondola and smoking compartment. Though she didn’t like to admit it, Marinda held a long-dampened resentment toward any steamliner pilot. When Marinda was just a girl, her mother Elitia had spent a lot of time—far too much time—being friendly with the regular steamliner pilot when he came to town, mesmerized by his stories of far-off places, the freedom, the flexibility to travel.

Elitia Peake had run off with that man when Marinda was only seven years old, and she was never heard from again. Her father rarely spoke of his long-lost wife, except with a wistful smile and few details. That was more than twenty years ago. . . .

Marinda had either forgotten or repressed most memories of her mother. The woman was never coming back, so there was no sense wasting time or mental energy thinking about her. She had been taken off the schedule, and Marinda had other things to do.

Now, the barrel-chested pilot barked commands, and cargo workers swung down from their drab bunk car to unload designated merchandise in exchange for what Lugtown had to offer. Others hooked up pipes to the steam pumps and boiler chambers to refill them for the long journey into Albion.

The villagers came forward, eager to see what interesting items had been brought for trade, but Marinda didn’t bother. Such exotic fripperies were a waste of time and imagination, and she and her father had what they needed.

The people brought wagons and chugging carts loaded with their finest craftsmanship. Lugtown was best known for agates and burls. A perennial fungus twisted and distorted the local oaks with leprous burls. But, in keeping with the tenet of the Clockwork Angels that “even the ugly can be made useful, possibly even beautiful,” the burls were carved into fantastic sculptures, furniture, decorative pieces, particularly carvings of the angels. Every house in Lugtown had burl tables, burl chairs, burl countertops, even clocks framed with burlwood.

The burl carvers sent their figures to market in Crown City, but none of the wood sculptors bothered to go to the big city to see their art displayed in galleries. When Marinda had asked about it once, a woodcarver responded with a baffled look. “The Watchmaker granted me the gift to be a sculptor, not a traveler. Why would I diminish something I am, for something I am not and do not want to be?” Marinda found that logic eminently reasonable.

A nearby quarry produced many thunder eggs, agates, which the Watchmaker supposedly found beautiful, or at least intriguing. Outside the agate quarry, children sat around smashing the little thunder eggs, hoping to find a rock pearl made of concentrated quintessence. The polished colorful stones were sent to Crown City in crates neatly separated from the burlwood items.

Showing no inclination to hurry, for the steamliner would be there for hours, the villagers loaded burl furniture, wooden angel carvings, and burl-framed clocks, as well as racks of polished agate slices into the cargo cars. Meanwhile, the rest of the town’s business ground to a halt, which Marinda found bothersome. She had a schedule to keep.

She reached into the pocket of her gray wool skirt to withdraw her list, reviewing the items she needed to purchase at the general store. She knew full well what was on the list, since she had written it herself and since, with only minimal alterations, the list remained the same every week. Still, it was always good to double check.

Since Camberon Greer, the grocer, knew she came in every Wednesday, Marinda never understood why he didn’t just have her order packaged up and ready, so as not to waste her time, but the grocer didn’t have the same respect for time as Marinda did. He never had. Marinda wondered what she had ever seen in that man. If circumstances had been different…

With the crowds distracted by the steamliner arrival, she thought it might be a good time to do her business while the town was quieter than usual. She had to make a special trip to the apothecary for unguents, prescription powders, and ophthalmic salves, though they seemed to do less and less good as her father’s health continued to decline.

Marinda nearly bumped into a dapper-looking man in a button-down vest, black waistcoat, and a bowler hat. His thin mustache had waxed tips curled upward in remarkable contrast to the disapproving downward turn of his lips. His fine clothes looked disheveled, as if he had slept in them for days aboard an uncomfortable steamliner passenger car.

Beside him was a woman whose complexion was so pale and perfect that she looked like a porcelain doll—and just as hollow and just as easily broken. She started blankly while the man cleared his throat, sniffed the air, and said, “Excuse me, ma’am, can you tell me if this … habitation”—he said as if unable to come up with the correct word—“offers a suitable dining establishment? We’ve had miserable food in the steamliner restaurant car for three days now.”

“It’s so bland,” the woman said. “No variety.”

The man’s gaze skated past Marinda as if he didn’t actually want to look at her, just wanted an answer to his question. He was clearly uninterested in her life. Marinda realized that she didn’t care much about his life either.

“No one comes to Lugtown for variety,” she said. “We find what works best and we stick with it. We have meat pies in town, mashed potatoes on Wednesdays, but I’m not the restaurant owner. You’ll have to take up your questions with him.” She walked off, more concerned with her own business.

Lugtown was laid out on the same general map as all of the villages in Albion; the Watchmaker had standardized the whole land more than two centuries ago when he imposed his benevolent Stability. Thus, Marinda adhered to the philosophy that if she’d seen one town in Albion she had seen them all, and it was a lot easier just to continue seeing this one.

With measured steps, she walked down the main street, past shops, clerk’s offices, the local newsgraph station. A cloud obscured the sun, and the shadow reduced the glare from the window of the solicitor’s office, enhancing her reflection as she passed by.

With the unexpectedly candid view of herself, Marinda saw what others saw when they looked at her: plain features, smooth skin, blue eyes, brown hair done up in an efficient bun so the strands would not be blown astray by breezes. Marinda believed in stability in her hair arrangement as with all things. Though she hadn’t even turned thirty years old yet, she had already adopted the persona of a much older woman. In that, Marinda was ahead of schedule.

The hours ticked away. She ticked away . . . and her father was ticking away even faster than the rest.

She turned away from the window, not caring about her appearance. Everyone in town knew Marinda Peake full well, and they weren’t likely to change their opinion of her as easily as she could change her hairstyle . . . not that she found it easy to change her hairstyle. It is what it is, she thought. All is for the best.

As she passed, the solicitor’s office door popped open, startling her with its jingling bell. Benjulian Frull was Lugtown’s only lawyer, a master of the fine art of legal language, obfuscation, and loopholes. The fact that he had no competition in Lugtown made it difficult for any legal disputes to become contentious, because Benjulian Frull, Esq., represented both sides, quoting chapter and verse to each party until the matter was resolved.

“Ah-hem, Miss Peake! I saw you staring in my window, which is quite fortuitous. I need to discuss a matter with you.” Frull stepped out to join her on the street.

“I wasn’t staring in the window. I was staring at the window. At my reflection, and I wasn’t doing that for long.”

“It’s convenient nevertheless.” He was a man with a round face and a round belly; in contrast, his arms and legs were quite spindly, so that, in summation, he was an average-sized man. “And how is your father doing?”

“The same as always,” she said. “Poorly. His eyesight is mostly gone, and he is in constant pain, but he putters around the house and gardenb, and keeps his clockwork Regulators functioning, although they don’t work as well as he thinks. I believe he’s much more ill than he lets on.” She put her hands on her hips. “My eyesight is perfectly good, and I can see his condition.”

The solicitor frowned, “But how is Arlen’s mind? Ah-hem . . . can he still think? Still invent things?”

“We converse as always. He can still daydream, and he likes those silly stories of his more than ever. He wants me to read aloud for him every night.”

“Good,” Frull said. “I just wanted to verify that in your opinion he is of sound mind?”

“Of course. His body may be failing him, but his mind is not.”

“Agreed. I also thought he seemed quite clearheaded when he engaged my services a few days ago, but I wanted to make sure.”

Marinda raised her eyebrows. “When did he talk to you? He never leaves the cottage.”

“Arlen summoned me, sent one of those clockwork contraptions marching into town while you were away on your weekly errands. I went out ot the cottage and spoke with him for hours.”

Marinda was surprised. “He didn’t mention that to me.” She had always known her father had plenty of secrets, but she didn’t know how much he kept truly private from her.

“It was legal business, a redrafting of his entire last will and testament. He wants to make certain that you’re taking care of, dear lady. He wants what’s the best for you.”

“I can take care of myself,” Marinda said, “always have.”

“True.” The solicitor tapped his upper lip. “I believe you know that he amassed a significant nest egg from his time in Crown City.”

“I’ve heard the rumors like everyone else, but he refuses to speak of whatever he did there.” Occasionally, her father made comments that seemed to fit the wild stories, but those hints only increased his mystique. Some said that Arlen Peake had once worked for the Watchmaker himself, such an ingenious inventor he was qualified to fix even the Clockwork Angels. . . .

She hardened her expression. “It’s all just so much nonsense. People say he has a secret stash of the Watchmaker’s gold. If that’s the case, he certainly hasn’t used it to make our lives easier.”

Marinda wasn’t actually interested in a lavish or easy life; she was content with her quiet, perfect life, setting her ambitions low enough so that she met every single one of them. Even if her father did have unimaginable riches from his secretive past, she wouldn’t know what to do with wealth, and she definitely wouldn’t want to be like those steamliner passengers who frowned at the “squalid, uncivilized conditions” of a place like Lugtown.

Benjulian Frull clucked his tongue. “Arlen had me draw up the documents, which are signed and notarized. Although his wishes seem strange, I believe he is in full possession of his mental capacity. I’m glad you agree. He is preparing for the day when he is no longer with us.”

Marinda felt uncomfortable with the subject. “I’ve tended my father for years. Sometimes, he’s prone to overreacting.”

The solicitor frowned. “Ah-hem. You would be foolish not to think about what is to happen when he dies, Marinda.”

She didn’t have time for this. She pulled out her list of items for the general store and the apothecary. “I need to pick up these supplies and get back to my father in time to prepare him dinner. Good day.”

Nodding, the solicitor stepped back inside his office.

CLOCKWORK LIVES IS AVAILABLE FOR PREORDER NOW

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