OFFICIAL! Book Two’s out and Book one’s FREE!


And you know, I kind of like this one better than the first… In any case, it’s definitely longer, which means more of everything you got in the first. As one reviewer wrote,

“It’s got all the good stuff: soul-eating demons, mind-controlling magical rings, explosions, heartbreak, moral dilemmas with no good outcomes, betrayal, more explosions.” 





If you’ve been following my progress with Book Two, you’ll notice the working title, THE KNAVE OF SOULS, did not make the final cut.

I fully thought book two would go to press with that title

But a couple months before publication, I was at Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Conference in Denver, and a good writer friend of mine, Heather Webb, commented, “Isn’t the knave the same card as the jack? And isn’t the title of your first book, The Jack of Souls? By naming the second book The Knave of Souls you’d be naming it the same as the first book, but in different words.

And I had to admit she was right.

But I didn’t. I resisted.

I explained to her that I was using an older meaning of “knave,” meaning “foolish person,” but even as I said it I knew it was a poor excuse, and that she was right. Damn it. Plus, another large fraction of my readers might not be familiar with the term “knave” at all., which would also be a problem. Double damn.

I had actually loved The Knave of Souls.

But I faced the music, and when I did, I was stuck for a title.

So I went round and round on it, noodling for a new title for months as I finalized the manuscript and got the cover going. The title crisis came to a head when I was three weeks out, and still had nothing.

The Fool of Souls was the next closes thing, but it didn’t have a ring to it. Heather had liked The Ace of Souls, which I agreed was cool, and had a ring to it, but which felt too modern, to me., Apprentice of Souls (meh), Squire of Souls, (meh).

So I switched suits. “Souls” was the suit that referred to the Unseen Moon, the moon that controls the magic of the spirit world and dreams. Since the Mad Moon is the moon controlling entropy and the magic of destruction, I’d imagined the Mad Moon’s suit would be “Fires” or “Flames” or something like that, but it hadn’t come up yet in the books, so I hadn’t settled one. After much deliberation, I eventually landed on, The Jack of Flames, but I wasn’t excited about it. Finally, my good friend Mark said, “How about The Jack of Ruin?” and it stuck.

Thematically, it’s actually a better title. But the change means, of course, that the third book needs to be start with “The Jack of…”, so in that respect I’ve painted myself into a corner. Still, I have lots of time to figure that out.


The proof copy of my second novel, THE JACK OF RUIN, just arrived!

If you are confused by the title, which for almost three years was THE KNAVE OF SOULS, I apologize. But this is better for a number of reasons. More on that later–it is time to celebrate!

It comes three years to the day since I released book one, and ****** I am just days away from publication! ****** 😄

#finishednovel #newfantasy #sequelunlocked #hallelujah

Book 2 Update – Beta Readers & Cover Art

Good news: The Knave of Souls, Book 2 is in the beta-reader stage!

That means the manuscript is complete, and it is in the hands of a few smart reader/writer types who are giving me feedback. They’re looking for problems of consistency, clarity, engagement, fun-factor, etc. In fact, it is now in the hands of the last beta-reader, and I hope to hear from him next week.

After next week, I hit it with revisions and tweaks, and then it’ll be time for the copy editor. 🙂

In the meantime, here’s a look at the full cover art, including the wrap-around to the back cover (which is the left half of the painting). The characters on the front cover, from left to right, are Harric, Fink, Caris, and Spook. 🙂


Book 2 Cover Art Achieved!

Excited to announce that I finally have cover art for The Knave of Souls. Below is a fun side-by-side shot of the concept sketch from my journal and a detail from the artist’s rendering. Hoping to release the book next month. Stay tuned for more updates!



Awesome Indies Approved! 5-Stars for The Jack of Souls

Hey, cool news. Submitted The Jack of Souls to Awesome Indies for a review a year ago, and finally got the review. Awesome Indies is a great site for pre-screening indie novels. Their motto is, “We take the risk out of buying indie.”  Hehe!

You out the review and the site here:

AI Approved! – 5 Stars For Jack Of Souls By Stephen Merlino

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000040_00010]AI

THE KNAVE OF SOULS – Progress Update


I posted like mad over my November retreat, but stopped during winter break, and though I’be been writing since, I haven’t posted. I was in France for some of that. Here is a terrifying picture of my family and I at 13,000 feet in a glass box over an icy crag of the Alps. 



I’m sending Chapter 52 (The End) for peer crit this Saturday! Feels great, too. I’m pretty happy with it. PLUS, for those of you who agree with me that 2.5 years to write a book is too long, it’s coming in at about 160K words, which is 30K words more than the first book, so, hopefully that 20% more Harric, Caris, Sir Willard, Ambassador Brolli, and Father Kogan will make up for some of the wait.

Below, some of the crit notes from the Chapter 51 peer crit session. I love scribbles. I find beauty in these artifacts. Hope I don’t become a hoarder.


Knave Update: Finishing Battle Scene Revision

Forgot to post yesterday, but think of this post as a two-day post, as both days are on the same chapter, what I’m calling the Battle Scene. Today at Cafe Fiore!

(Actually more like Chapter 16)

(Actually more like Chapter 16)

For the record, I did get my minimum of 4 hours in yesterday on the Battle Scene. Also attended a Writers Cramp meeting for a critique of Chapter 21. As always, Cramp raises the bar for me to another level. Thanks Crampies!

Today, an 8-hour day: Goal after Battle Scene: I finish up the Battle Scene and Dive into the Post-Battle Scenes.

THE JACK OF SOULS is up for preorder on Audible!

The audiobook for The Jack of Souls is up for preorder on Audible, and it’s freaking fantastic!  I am so pleased!

Here’s an audio file of the opening pages. The actor, Alex Wyndham, went with an English accent—probably because of the lofty material, 😉 –and he rocks it! Turns out he’s a great character actor.

JOS - Audiobook

Even in the first minute I love what he did with the barman. II can’t wait to hear how he did Caris and Willard and Brolli and Bannus’s voices.

I shall have to subject my kids to it on the road trip to the mountains this weekend. Mwa-hahaha!


Ready thy snickersnee!


The commander of the sloop was hurrying about and giving a world of orders,which were not very strictly attended to, one man being busy in lighting his pipe,and another in sharpening his snicker-snee.

               – Washington Irving, Bracebridge Hall, 1882


Oh never shall I

Forget the cry,

Or the shriek that shriekèd he,

As I gnashed my teeth,

When from its sheath

drew my snickersnee !

                 – W. S. Gilbert, The Mikado, 1885



And You Think Sagging Pants are Ridiculous…

Weirder than Fiction

Fops Together

Building Believable (and Fantastic!) Fantasy Worlds

Reality is often truly stranger than anything you could make up, so it pays to research.

Take this picture from a late 17th century fashion mag displayed in the Rijks Museum, Amsterdam. Look close.

Look how hard these guys are working! That hair! Those stockings! Those accessories! They look like 80s glam rockers!

Accessory Detail 4

Accessor Detail 1




Accessor Detail 2
Accessory Detail 3










The Inredibles

Turns out, there was a name for this Captain Jack Sparrow style of dress back then. Here is what the Rijks Musuem had to say about them in their Fashion Magazines exhibit: They were called, “The Incredibles.” Not kidding.

Fop Explanation

 So This was Actually Satire of the High Fashions of the Rich!

Still, I am not sure they succeeded in making it more ridiculous than the actual fashions. How could they? Here is one of the men they mocked, also from a fashion mag of the time:

Noble Absurdity 2

Dude. You’re wearing pink and white candy-cane-striped tails with yellow pantaloons. Nailed it.











Extremities of Female High Fashion

I wish I had more pictures of ridiculous wealthy men’s attire from the time, but most of the extreme examples are of women’s fashion.

Like these insane hairstyles for women.

Retouched Fashion Hair




The Ship one is my favorite:

Hairstyles 2



Here is the Timeless Message of High Fashion:

1)  Since no one could possibly do work in such attire, I am clearly wealthy.

2) Since the time it takes to design and execute such confections of hair/clothing makes it impossible to do any actual work during the day, I am clearly wealthy.

3) Since the cost of my fashion–not just in time but in money–is astronomical, I am clearly wealthy.

Building This Principle Into Fantasy A World

A good illustration of this in fantasy is in Martin’s A Game of Thrones (the books, anyway) where the fashion of the noble women of the slave city of Meereen is a dress that is essentially a mummy wrap from neck to ankles, making it impossible for the women to walk in anything but tiny little steps. Clearly, those women are NOT doing any work!

Here’s a dress from modern day high fashion that might have been from Meereen:

Meereen Dress

I apologize I don’t know where this image came from originally, or I would cite it. I found it via google on a Pinterest page. Anna D made a comment connecting it to Daenerys in Meereen.

Finally, a Note on the Timelessness of Junk Grabbing

Okay, pant-sagging may not have been around in the old days, but the Incredibles did, apparently, grab junk. They were straight up Gs.


My First Book Group Invite was a Blast

In January, the Ashworth Avenue Book Group picked The Jack of Souls for their next novel and asked if I’d come to their meetup to chat with them. Last night we met at my good friend Jeanne’s home, and I had a blast with them–some not even fantasy readers!–talking about the book, the characters, the process of writing.

They had a lot of fun questions, tangents, ideas, comments, wine, pizza, quiche, wine.

Thanks, Ashworth Book Group!  I had a great time. 🙂

(L>R) Mary, Pegge, Heidi, Alex, Denise, Shannon, Alice, Barb. (Front-Me and Jeanne)

(L>R) Mary, Pegge, Heidi, Alex, Denise, Shannon, Alice, Barb. (Front-Me and Jeanne)

A Fun Interview with Hack Sketches

Image for Question 1 I’ve done a few interviews in the last month, and when I got to about interview 3 I though, “Dang, these are pretty long interviews. Maybe I should spice them up with some with sketches from inside my brain.”

So I did! And it was fun.

Click the image above to see the interview. : )

Reading at Eagle Harbor Books Tomorrow

ehbHi all!

If you find yourself making a sunny day trip tomorrow on Bainbridge Island, I’ll be reading from The Jack of Souls and talking fantasy at Eagle Harbor Book Co, in lovely Winslow. Drop in! It’s walkable from the ferry!

Punch and pie.

Fun Review From Kickstarter Backer

Back in December, I was out delivering books to Kickstarter backers in the neighborhood around the high school where I teach, and met this woman whose daughter goes to my school! It was fun to meet her. And I just discovered her review on Amazon.
on February 22, 2015
Format: Paperback
I came across this book because the author teaches at my daughter’s school. What luck to stumble upon such a great story! I’m not a connoisseur of fantasy, but this book is enthralling. After a few chapters, I was thoroughly captivated with Harric and Caris, Sir Willard and Brolli, and their intertwined adventures. I highly recommend “The Jack of Souls” for anyone wanting to experience a new genre, and am looking forward to the next installment (2nd book!).