Table of Contents

Book Cover
Trigger Warnings:
This book does involve mild violence, capture and impending torture by antagonists, and discussion of the murder of children.

Book Info

Author:
Series:

Books of Autumn

Series Type:
Interlinked
Number In Series:
2
Cover Artist:
Publisher:
Falstaff Books
Published:
20 June 2022
Book Type
Words:
105,000

Synopsis

THE HARDEST PART OF DYING IS DECIDING HOW TO PASS THE TIME

Valerius Bakhoum died and kept no living. Now he can walk the streets of his city with a new face and a new name and finally feel a little bit respected. Too bad he’s still flat broke and behind on the rent. Unsure what to do with himself—and perhaps even of who he is—Valerius resumes his career as a detective by taking up the oldest case in his files: where do the children go?

Throughout his own youth on the streets of Autumn, last of the Great Flying Cities, Valerius knew his fellow runaways disappear from back alleys and other hiding places more than people realize. Street kids even have a myth to explain it: the Gotchas, who steal them away in the night. With nothing but time on his hands, Valerius dives in head-first to settle the question once and for all and runs smack into a more pressing mystery:

Who killed one of Valerius’ former lovers?

And do they know he’s still alive?

Return to the mean streets of Autumn by Valerius Bakhoum’s side as he shines a light into shadowy corners and finds secrets both sacred and profane with shockingly personal connections to who he was—and who he might become.

 

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What is the most heartfelt thing a reader has said to you?

In the first book of this series, A Fall in Autumn, the main character, Valerius Bakhoum, has cancer and very little time to live. Shortly after its publication, a reader wrote to me to tell me he had survived the same diagnosis as Valerius had, and how important it was to see a character reflect his own experience, his own fears, and his own courage in beating it. It meant so much to me, to know someone saw their greatest danger reflected in a way that validated their own experience. I’m getting a little misty just typing about it. That reader and I have kept up via email since then. He’s an absolutely incredible landscape and nature photographer, just an incredibly gifted artist.

Every book is, essentially, a reader and an author clasping hands across the ever-widening gap of time, and it means so much to me when that connection really lands.

What was the hardest part of writing this book?

Figuring out how to end it so that it remains both science fiction and hard-boiled noir. Detective novels usually end with the private eye a little wiser, a little more worse for wear, and though they’ve solved the case they haven’t particularly profited by it. That’s important for the idea of an open-ended series, like if I wanted to write twenty more books about Valerius as a private eye without particularly having his circumstances grow or change. But that’s the problem: I do want Valerius’ circumstances to change over the series. I want the world to change, and I want Valerius to be a part of changing it. After all, that is vitally important to the science fiction side of the coin. So I had to balance those two elements: I had to let the book land so that Valerius is essentially still Valerius but the gears of the world around him have started to turn. I needed to create a sense that things will inevitably change and keep Valerius maybe even a little bit unaware of the role he’ll play in that change. That was an enormous challenge.

Also, the original ending of this book involved Valerius inciting a riot against a powerful institution, and I turned it in on January 5th, 2021. The next day the attempted insurrection at the United States Capitol happened and I emailed my publisher and told him I had to rewrite the ending of the book. I couldn’t run the risk anyone would read my book and think I thought Trump’s stirred-up mob of murderers were right or reasonable or that what they did could be excused.

What was your first published work? Tell me a little about it.

My very first book was Perishables, a suburban horror story about a vampire at a meeting of his neighborhood association when a very small zombie apocalypse breaks out. It’s actually composed of three interconnected novellas, and together they tell the story of a curmudgeonly vampire and what gets him to start rejoining the world of the living in little ways here and there: relearning how to form friendships, being reminded there are humans he likes, that sort of thing. I loved writing it, and I love the main character of Withrow. In fact, I wrote a five-book series about him, The Withrow Chronicles, which concluded (for now) in 2019. 2022 is the tenth anniversary of the first edition of Perishables, which won the Laine Cunningham Award for best novel from The Blotter, so Falstaff Books is going to publish a special annotated edition. Many of the places (and a few of the people) from Perishables are taken from my own life and experiences, so I’ll be going through and talking about that. I love that book, and I love that series, and I am so pleased to get to revisit it after all these years.

 

How long on average does it take you to write a book?

I wish I were faster, but it takes me at least a year for a novel, often more like 18 months. For a novella, I can usually knock out a first draft in four to six months. I have a very demanding day job and am basically only able to write on Saturday or Sundays, and only sometimes at that. My brain is just too tired the rest of the time. I know writers who work extremely intellectually and emotionally draining jobs all day and then write for hours at night and I am absolutely in awe of their abilities. I just don’t have that sort of mental stamina. I have to be able to start fresh and focus on writing for a few hours on a weekend day.

 

What book is currently on your bedside table?

San Francisco’s Lost Landmarks by James R. Smith. One of my series is a historical fiction/time travel/urban fantasy series set in that city, and this book is an absolute treasure trove of historical places that no longer exist. It’s rich with photos, first-hand accounts of people who went to these places that no longer exist, and everything else a writer needs to bring San Francisco’s past to life. Did you know there were multiple locally-owned and -operated amusement parks in San Francisco from the late 19th century through the 1970’s, complete with everything from roller coasters to log flumes to zoos to wax museums? One of them even had an unofficially official policy of making it easy for kids to sneak in, because the park operator knew kids would tell their friends and some of those friends or their families would turn into paying customers. San Francisco has an unbelievably rich history and this book makes it so accessible, so immediate, so vibrantly alive.

 

What are you working on now, and when can we expect it?

Next up is the fourth (and final?) book in my urban fantasy time travel series. That series features modern-day queer witches in San Francisco summoning up the very real historical figure of Emperor Norton, that city’s greatest eccentric, and sending him tripping through time as they fight a demon of real estate.

I’m also currently writing an Appalachian-set cosmic horror novel about a haunted house and family trauma and what to do when the life the main character has escaped tries to pull him back in with the lure of family tragedy. Despite that description, I also happen to think it’s a very funny book! The main character is a sharp-tongued old queen who’s very wounded inside. In a lot of ways he’s a very courageous character, which is good because he’s going to be facing down unimaginable horrors.

And after that, of course, is the third book in the Autumn series!

 

Excerpt

Across three quarters of the City of Autumn, street kids are an unthinkable paradox. For the most part, the Pluses and the PlusPlus and all the other manifold forms of intentional humankinds only ever run into the sorts of kids someone wanted badly enough to design. There are already a billion people in the world between the Empire, the Eastern Expanse, and the less-organized places nobody’s fought over quite yet. Having kids willy-nilly wouldn’t add up, not with so many people already in line for the breakfast bar. That’s one of the many objections the Spiralists put forward to continued cultivation of Artisanal Humans like me—well, like I was.

That’s going to take some getting used to.

Anyway, widespread cultural insistence on bespoke offspring leaves a lot of kids out in the cold, literally. The ones I described before, orphaned by chance or abandoned for turning out imperfect or who got tired of their old life and decided to chase a new one are, in the remaining fourth-to-fifth of the City, as common as cobblestones and just as underfoot. There are plenty of them, and the supply continually refreshes, and I went to distinctly other streets than theirs. It isn’t that I wanted to avoid them, but talking would have taken money or some sort of barter and I was too short by half on either. I suspected it would have generated too much information rather than too little. A street kid asked to tell a story for a steam bun or a little reliably spendable scrip will gin up all the story you want and then some. I didn’t need urban legends. I needed facts, and that meant a much more gruesome start than some urchin milking my wallet with tall tales of what goes bump in the night.

I mentioned to Clodia one time that I had a friend who worked the Cisterns. The City of Autumn is like any town: its people have to piss like anybody else and its gutters often swell with rain. Autumn routinely flies into weather systems to gather up fresh water, and there’s a vast infrastructure to purify it for use by humankinds. I could spend ten pages telling you about the ponds in Down Preserves where rainwater burbles and bubbles under pressure, mixing in fresh air. The whole City sleeps atop a bed stuffed with pumps and gravity lines, charcoal and scrub algae, grates and artificial reefs and purpose-built shrimp—but I won’t.

Instead, I’ll simply say this: by the time water gets to us, the only thing left is the scent of the air where it first fell as rain. I don’t understand how the process works. I don’t care, either. The important thing, the thing none of us think about too much in case it, too, is another pretty lie in the quilt of them we make over our lives, is it happens. Sip from Lotta’s to remember the dead, cup your hands in the fountains of Domino, turn on a tap in the average Autumn kitchen, and you’ll enjoy the aroma of a field somewhere in Afrique, or a mutant blossom somewhere on a nameless plain in the vast Recovery Zone between Big River and the Salt Flat.

But on the other end of the system? Once all that delicious water has run its course through bodies and beer kegs and ice machines and steam plants?

That’s called Cistern Intake. I knew a gal who worked that part of the system. You could smell it on her from ten meters away. I always felt sorry for her, because it was so baked into her skin, ground down into her pores, she didn’t even smell it anymore herself.

On the plus side, she always had plenty of room in a bar. Nobody crowded her for long.

 

Frankie was a Mannie. Generally speaking, no variety of Plus—nice, “normal” people with designer genes—would even be considered for her job. Even applying for it might result in getting a replication error assessment. Odds are good you’ve already heard the story from a few years ago about the PlusPlus whose big ideas on “lived egalitarianism” got her carted off for genotoxicity screening. What most folks don’t know, however, is it was a stunt on both sides. Sure, she only wanted to make a point by suing the City for the right to join a scrubber team, not actually take the job if they offered it. But the City went out of its way to make the counterpoint in response, escorting her kicking and screaming away from the workhouse where they keep the little gliders they use to clean the Fore Barrier’s external face.

I assume she hoped to drum up publicity for her so-called perverse beliefs. I think she expected the City would do something to make an example of her, sure, but something more symbolic. You know, a big fine she could never pay, or maybe a few nights in the Palace of Imperial Justice. Something Imperial media could print without making anybody lose their lunch.

Instead, they dragged her —did I mention the kicking and screaming?—straight to the Hive. No trial. No judge. No pretenses. The Hive is right there at the front of the City, and the tiny portion of it sticking out above street level is visible if you climb high enough in Down Preserves and look to the Fore. The joke goes, they put the City’s worst criminals out there so we’ll hear them screaming if we crash into anything. This lady’s worst crime, though, was trying to prove we’re not all equal, not in the lives we’re allowed to lead or the risks we’re expected to take in the course of them. It sounds like heroism to you or me, but to the powers that be, the Sinceres, the Spiralists, and all the other people who don’t care if the Empire is a heap of shit as long as they’re near enough the top to catch a breeze, she’d committed the worst kind of social treason: she’d violated the spoken and unspoken rules propping up the class system on which they relied.

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Giveaway

Michael is giving away a

$20 Amazon gift card with this tour.

Biography

Michael G. Williams writes queer-themed science fiction, urban fantasy, and horror celebrating monsters, macabre humor, and subverted expectations. He’s the author of three series for Falstaff Books: the award-winning vampire/urban fantasy series The Withrow Chronicles; the thrilling urban fantasy series SERVANT/SOVEREIGN featuring real estate, time travel, and San Francisco’s greatest historical figures; the science fiction noir A Fall in Autumn, winner of the 2020 Manly Wade Wellman Award; and a bunch of short stories. He strives to present the humor and humanity at the heart of horror and mystery with stories of outcasts and loners finding their people.

Michael will be the Guest of Honor at Ret-Con in 2023, co-hosts Arcane Carolinas, studies Appalachian history and folklore at Appalachian State University, and is a brother in St. Anthony Hall. He lives in Durham, NC, with his husband, a variety of animals, and more and better friends than he probably deserves.

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