Once Upon a Future Time

Full of far off worlds and wonders close at home.

They’ll span the breadth of space and time.

The Kickstarter for Once Upon a Future Time, Vol. 2 has opened! This anthology contains eleven authors and over 400 pages of classic fairy tales retold as science fiction. Among the rest is my own “Jack and I,” a re-telling of Jack and the Beanstalk.

Drop on by to learn more and join the cause!

‘Hidden Histories’ Is Out!

Hidden Histories is out! This anthology of speculative fiction tells stories of history altered, forgotten, and misreported. Among the rest is my own short story “The Fulcrum.” In “The Fulcrum,” the military – having expended its pound of cure – turns to the ounce of prevention, and launches a time-travel operation to ensure that the war they lost never happens.

Hidden Histories is available on Amazon. For further information, drop by Goodreads or Third Flatiron Publishing.

News: Hidden Histories

It is my pleasure to announce that my story “The Fulcrum” will be published next month in Hidden Histories, a Third Flatiron Anthology (they’ve published many!). Hidden Histories is devoted to the fascinating theme of history changed, hidden, or forgotten. Twenty-eight stories will be published in the anthology, running the SFF gauntlet from science fiction to fantasy to horror – with some flash humor thrown in.

My contribution is “The Fulcrum,” which tells of a military operation to infiltrate the past and erase events that triggered a disastrous war. It’s an exercise of sci-fi geekery and history geekery, and I hope you all have as much fun with it as I did. I would love to delve into my speculations and research snags – but I will wait for the release date.

Hidden Histories is available for pre-order on Amazon. Those of you with an eye for a good bargain can consider pledging on Patreon, where you can get a yearly subscription to Third Flatiron for $1 a month (yearly subscription = 3-4 e-books). But if you like free books and you like to write about books …

I’ve got an offer for you. Third Flatiron is offering review copies. A personal blog is not necessary – you can post your review on Goodreads or Amazon (or both!). If you’re interested, contact me at info@shannonmcdermott.com, and I will put you in touch with the publisher.

Release date is April 15 – a dark day, I know, but here’s a ray of sunshine. See you then!

The New Look

… which is not to be confused with Eisenhower’s New Look, or FDR’s New Deal, or John Kennedy’s New Frontier, or Woodrow Wilson’s New Freedom, or Theodore Roosevelt’s New Nationalism. (One of the lessons of history is the enduring popularity of political slogans that begin “New.”)

The New Look I am referring to is, of course, the new look of this site. Some fine-tuning may remain, but the major renovation is finished. Despite some adjustment of the site’s pages and blog categories, the change is mostly cosmetic. If you’re reading this, you’re looking at it, and I have no need to describe what you’re seeing. I would like to note that the background image is original, designed by Meghan McDermott, and used on the cover of The Valley of Decision. Of course, there’s a knife and a nice burst of light there, too ...

Summer, Intellectuals, Imbeciles

Summer is here early, and I don’t say that because of the weather, which is, at this particular place and time, overcast, rainy, and certainly no warmer than 60. I say it because the school year is over and done, and I’m settling into summer routines. My job takes less time than the classes, with attendant tests and papers, I’ve been occupying myself with since January, so now I’m turning to other things. Writing queries, a short story or two, an epic hermit crab essay. This blog.

I also have a summer reading list, which consists solely of books that possess these two qualities: (1) I choose them; (2) I don’t have to write papers about them. The first of these books is Imbeciles, which is not what it sounds like.

The book title is taken from a declaration made by Supreme Court justice Oliver Wendell Holmes regarding the case Buck v. Bell: “Three generations of imbeciles are enough.” With the ruling of Buck v. Bell, the Supreme Court upheld the forced sterilization of the socially unfit – those deemed criminal, insane, or “feeble-minded”. This is eugenic sterilization, the elimination of undesirable genes through sterilizing undesirable people, and it is now largely forgotten. A hundred years ago, however, it was being mandated in American law.

I am about one third of the way through Imbeciles. I’ve just finished reading about an expert witness called in to support the forced sterilization of Carrie Buck, the young woman at the center of Buck v. Bell. This expert never met, let alone examined, Carrie, or her mother and daughter – the first and third of the supposed three generations of imbeciles. He did, however, request comprehensive data regarding her genealogy, blood relatives, and their literacy, social status, mental test records, and physical and mental development.

What strikes me is that, before testifying that a young woman should be sterilized by the government, he wanted to see her family records, but he never wanted to see her. He was interested only in data, facts and figures about people without faces. It occurs to me that it is through this divorce between data and people that intellectuals get themselves into trouble.

And their victims.

New Year’s Salutation

New Year's 2016

So now we’ve had the countdown to the New Year, the confetti, the ball dropping, the calendar change. It all adds up to one thing.

We’re doing this year thing again.

So Happy New Year. I hope this New Year’s finds you happy and well, and that you carry with you every blessing and joy of the old year. May troubles fade and happiness bloom, and may your opportunities to do good and to know good be rich and many. May you be kept in God’s grace, and go forward in His providence.

Happy New Year, to everyone. Good luck.

God bless.


New Year's

And … We’re Back

After various technical issues, this website is back. If you look at it, you will notice that it looks pretty much like it did before. But the admin site is shiny and new, like something you’d see on the Enterprise.

Regular posts should resume soon, probably later this week. Until then, welcome back.

Appendix of Names

During the earliest development of The Valley of Decision, I established this pattern of naming: of Gaelic origin, unusual enough that the names would not be common in our own world, but not too unusual. I avoided names like Ruairidh because it just looks too foreign. Who would care to guess how to pronounce it? So I ended with names like Torradan and Artek and Belenus – different, but easy enough.

I made various exceptions to this pattern – none without rhyme or reason, except perhaps naming the capital city of Alamir Ataroth. The rhyme and reason of the other exceptions will become clear.

This appendix is not a dramatis personae, listing the characters of the drama, but a compilation of the origins and meanings of many names in the book. Because of this, and how I began the naming process, there are some notable omissions. Neither Caél nor Keiran, the book’s heroes, appear in this appendix; absent with them are other lesser (but still important!) characters – among them all three lieutenants of the Hosts.

The reason for their absence is this: As part of my preliminary research, I made lists of Gaelic names that struck me as fitting the story. With the exception of the Fays (Fays are always an exception), the earliest-existing characters were named from this list without regard for the name’s meaning. Keiran, Caél, Torradan, Artek, Lachann: the cream of those lists.

Other patterns emerged. A majority of the Fays share names with Celtic deities, and several place-names are just two words with the space between them deleted: the Coldlands, the Wildheath, the Northwood. A few names, such as My’ra, have neither a particular origin nor a particular meaning, but the longer I worked on the story the more I rejected these. Even minor characters like Emain and Labras have names of Gaelic origin, and so of a certain flavor.

Appendix of Names
The Valley of Decision

Achadh: A Gaelic place-name meaning ‘field’

Ailill: ‘Elf’; the name of several Irish High Kings

Alaunos: The Celtic god of healing

Ataroth: An obscure Canaanite city conquered by Joshua and Israel

Brandr: A Norse name, meaning sword; Brandr was, after all, an earl of the northern Coldlands

Belenus: ‘Bright, shining one;’ the Celtic god of the sun

Dochraitay: A slightly more phonetic rendering of dochraite, a Gaelic word meaning ‘friendless, oppressed’

Droheda:: A slight alteration of Drogheda, an Irish city cruelly subdued by the English under Oliver Cromwell

Glahs (Forest): Glahs is Gaelic for ‘green’

Hrolfr: Norse, meaning sword

Jarmith: An alteration of the Gaelic name Jarmin, which means German – a foreigner in Ireland, as Jarmith was among the Dochraitay

Kobuld: This elder blacksmith of the Trow was named after the Kobold, a race in German folklore who were said to live in mines and be expert metalworkers

Morrigan: The Celtic goddess of, among other things, war

Muireach: A diminutive form of the Gaelic name Muireadhach, meaning ‘lord, master’; this is the least majestic name owned by a Fay

The Northmen: An old name for the Vikings, on whom the Men of the Coldlands were loosely based

Nuadha: ‘Protector’; the Celtic god of the sea

Sgrios: Gaelic word meaning ‘ruin’

Tullach: A Gaelic place-name meaning ‘little hill’

Volund: Of Norse origin; in legend, the name of a great smith


As usual when I have trouble alighting on a topic, I’m going to talk about myself today.

This past April I finished the raw draft of The Shameful Years, which I’ve (nearly) re-titled The Time Door. This manuscript has been different, and in some ways more difficult than what I’ve done before. I didn’t quite understand, when I began, what challenges I was setting myself with the premise. I was pleased with the manuscript when I finished it, but as every writer knows, that’s not the gold test.

The Time Door is sci-fi, and the first book of the Eternities series – of which my novella Cards is, to date, the only published work. I have planned Eternities as a series of free-standing novels, each book a complete story and each a significant episode in an imagined history beginning in the middle of the twenty-first century and continuing into the twenty-second.

Such a history holds innumerable stories in potential, and I hope to be mining them for years to come. But not any more this year. I decided, on completion of The Time Door, that I liked it and wanted to write something different, ideally with dragons. After exploring various ideas for a new project, I am now writing about …

A painting emperor. And his half-wild brother. And space pirates.

In this manuscript, I’m taking the characters of the Sons of Tryas series and giving them a much broader drama on a much larger stage. Since spring, I’ve been dividing my writing time between that and editing my raw draft to a polished draft.

Finally on the writing front, a young reader recently gave me this picture. He drew it after reading The Valley of Decision; I recognize the characters, the scene, the quotations. It is incredibly cool to see a moment of my book brought to life by another person. So, with appreciation for the gift that it is, I present the meeting of Keiran, Captain of the Hosts, with Kobuld the elder blacksmith of the Trow, as drawn by Christian.

Amazon Special: Summer Leaves

Free on Amazon
March 20 – March 24

Summer Leaves
A Story in Three Acts
(Sons of Tryas, II)

Ruark, Lord Heir fourth in line for the throne, and once first in line, came so close. Still, he missed it entirely. His brother reigned, and dreamed, and Ruark himself wandered, burning his restlessness on distant, wild planets.

Then the premier of the Assembly found him, with an offer to give him everything he ever wanted, at only a small cost to his soul.

In Summer Leaves, Shannon McDermott continues the story of the sons of Tryas, begun in Beauty of the Lilies.

Summer Leaves on Amazon
Summer Leaves on Goodreads

An Excerpt of

Summer Leaves

‘Behold the summer leaves are green!’ – G. K. Chesterton


There were five of us there that day. It was like so many days we had all lived, except for one moment. In that moment death nearly became the sixth to ride the plains. Till then I had never really believed in death. And it’s strange to recount, but it wasn’t until I first believed in death that I began earnestly to believe in life.

We were riding stallions, the fastest bred. It was a strange amusement to many, but our spirits soared with it. The stallions were fierce and eager, and there was a similarity between masters and beasts—both young and strong, given the finest and raised to be the finest. The wildness in the beasts was intended; the wildness in the masters was not.

We rode the high plains of Yavah, where the grassy meadows are split open by cliffs a mile tall. We found a large fissure, more than large enough to swallow a horse and rider. Three of my friends galloped headlong toward it and swerved at the last moment. My fourth friend and I watched.

I watched them, but I kept looking at him. His face was against the blue sky, his brown hair lit by the sun. His lips were drawn into a cheerless line, as if he did not like the vista the plains offered him.

I thought I knew what weighed on him. The burden we all carried was what had drawn us together. Most of us were brothers of great men, all of us were sons. We lived with an obscure anger.

Except him. His anger was sharp and vital, feeding off the loss of something he had never had. He was the son of an emperor, and what he had lost was a kingdom. Ruark, Lord Heir of the Empire, and close enough to be tantalized. There was much speculation once that the eccentricities and distraction of his brother would hand the throne to him. The talk damaged both brothers in the end. Any astute observer could tell what it did to Jediah; perhaps only a friend could tell what it did to Ruark.

Ruark leaned in abruptly, scattering my thoughts. He gestured to the others, saying, “They’re flirting with death.”

It was our favorite pastime, and tension swept through me at the idea that he was suddenly having qualms.

Ruark straightened, gathering the reins into a tight hold. “They aren’t serious. But I—I will court death.”

I opened my mouth, but he shot away from me. The others saw him tearing over the grass, and they reined in their horses to watch. He was always our chief.

Ruark flew across the plain, at the chasm opening its rocky mouth. He didn’t swerve, he passed the point of swerving, driving the horse toward the edge at all its speed.

My heart jolted so hard it stung my chest. Then I understood what he was doing, and my panic ebbed and surged again like the tide.

The stallion thundered to the precipice and then into a mighty leap. And though I had seen all the wealth and power of the Empire in glittering display, I never saw anything as glorious as that. For one moment horse and rider hung between the sky and the abyss, intensely alive, recklessly strong.

They made the jump. As soon as its hooves touched the ground, the horse raced on. My friends cheered, but I didn’t utter a sound. I couldn’t. Fear clenched my throat.

Ruark turned the horse and came galloping back. I watched with a detached horror, like hearing the inevitable end of a tragic story. Ruark reached the cliff’s edge, his horse leaped, and my fear nearly choked me.

The stallion came down barely on our side. At its impact rocks crumbled into the canyon, and its right hind leg plunged into air. The other hind leg slid after the first, and the whole horse slid with it. And I was as sure that Ruark was dead as I was sure that I was alive. A picture sliced across my vision; I saw myself explaining Ruark’s death to his brother.

The stallion scrabbled wildly, gripping solid ground. It pulled back onto the plain, and Ruark cantered to us.

We made a game of coming into death’s reach, but that was the first time he had ever grabbed at us. It rattled us, but no one would say a word. The rest of the day I pretended; that night I didn’t sleep. I thought of Ruark coming within a hair of falling to his death; I thought of myself standing before Jediah. What would I have said? Your brother died a fool, and I live as one? Did Ruark nearly die to prove he was better than the nine feet of empty air that told him to turn back?

It started new thoughts in my mind. I wondered why we were more interested in risking our gilded lives than living them. What did we lack, and what did we find in death’s proximity?

I went back to Telnaria, to the home that had functioned as a stop between destinations for so many years. I went for quietness and solitude, because I needed urgently to think about life, to understand what strange deprivation was shaping—misshaping—mine. Ruark followed not long after, but his reasons were different. It was the storm brewing in Telnaria that summoned him.

– Memories, by Jaden Amitai

To finish, purchase free from Amazon.