homework

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I was never this tidy when doing homework.  I’m, um, still not this tidy when working…

There’s this thing in indie publishing circles that’s kind of a hot subject, and that is writing to market.  The idea, basically, is to write what readers want to read.  Sounds pretty simple, if you’re an author that wants to buy groceries and pay rent and whatnot.  I mean, it makes sense, right?

Well, it gets a little bit more complicated than that once you start getting deeper into it, and some people start arguing that writing to market is gross commercialism and selling out and all that. And then there are other folks who are pointing at popular authors saying ‘see?  It works! Give people what they want to read!’ and it all often devolves from there, as things are wont to do on the internet.

And then there are those of us that don’t really want to go hardcore either way– I love my readers and want anyone who reads my work to enjoy it, but I started publishing because I couldn’t find quite what I wanted to read.  So… what that means really, is that I want to know what the common themes and tropes are in my genre so I can know which ones are what I’m looking for in a story and which ones make me insane. And that’s kind of the problem.

You might have noticed that I kinda like to read?  >_>

It’s partly because I like finding a good, fun, stress-free place in the world.  (Hint: the news isn’t it.) So, when I read, if it’s a good book, my active mind turns off.  So I’m enjoying the story, not analyzing it like I’m in ninth grade English.

Nothing ruins the fun of a good book quite like high school English classes.

If I have to keep my brain active enough to think ‘this is a plot point,  I should take note of that, and be aware of what the characters are doing and thinking’ then I am kicked fully out of the story.  I might as well be reading the driver’s ed manual, or Hamlet for the five hundredth time (oh, the perils of a theatre degree.) Either way, I’m no longer enjoying a good urban fantasy adventure.

How is that a fun thing to do to a book?

The obvious option is to read it through once for fun, and then if I enjoy it enough, go back through it and find the tropes and beats and analyze the structure.  But… (you know there was a ‘but’) that feels an awful lot like homework again.

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What I did last weekend.  I regret nothing.

I just finished Clean Sweep by Ilona Andrews, for example, and it was amazing.  I stayed up way too late over the weekend to finish it and it was worth every sleepy minute I struggled through the next day.  If you haven’t read this, you probably should.

Since I finished it, though, I’ve been playing with the idea of going through it again and taking notes on the major tropes and plot points, and… I can’t bring myself to pick it up again to do that.  Because that would suck all the magic out of it for me.

And sucking the magic out of a story seems like the worst sin of all.

Crowded

I woke up this morning and my brain was full of people.  Not even all my own people, which would make sense since I’m in the middle of writing a theft and a murder.  No, mostly my mind is filled with other people’s people, and it’s feeling a bit crowded.

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There’s the character from a book I read a while back who I really liked but disappointed me badly.  He was a young man who for several reasons had nothing much to do besides hang out and train at his local dojo, and thus grew up to be a very skilled martial artist.  His story in the book was one of trying to find a real place for himself, a path besides just hanging out and now teaching classes in his master’s school.  By the end of the book, while he does find a path that fits nicely with both his skills and his lack of patience with bullies, he winds up meekly following along with whatever his partner decides, flat out saying ‘he tells me what to do and I do it.’  For a character that started out fiery and passionate, it was a serious letdown, and it’s bothering me like it was a close friend in a bad relationship.

Then there are the characters who are abrasive and awful.  I read a book recently that I really, thoroughly enjoyed, and went on to grab another of the author’s books set in the same universe.  Within three pages, however, the main character showed off her violent anger problem and her complete refusal to take responsibility for said issues.  Then over the next chapter or so, it was made clear that her family was aiding and abetting with the excuses. “You’ll find a job that won’t fire you, I’m sure!” and “Just keep trying, someone will see you for the gem you are!” are not appropriate responses to “I got fired again for assaulting a customer.  Again.”  And it’s definitely not a trait that should be rewarded with jobs, adventures, and powerful friends.

And then, of course, lurking in the corners are my own characters.  The clever one that I can’t seem to write out of a hole.  The persistent one who is feeling like giving up.  The annoying, bubbly one who is sliding into seriousness and, well, not despair.  That’s a bit melodramatic, but definitely a melancholic mood..

Sigh.  It’s frustrating that the only people in my head lately are the ones that frustrate, irritate, or disappoint me.  I suppose it’s human nature— the bad sticks so much more easily than the good, after all.  So I’m going to go back and sit down with a few books full of characters I know I like (I strongly recommend The Wood Wife by Terri Windling) and hang out with a cup of coffee and some old friends.

What’s your favorite character?  Who should I meet?

Holiday anti-hijinks

5PuweTeKQi6oMqQ6cy1Z+AWe’ve had two Monday holidays in a row here in Japan, and it’s thrown me off a bit.  Add in The Boy’s birthday and oof.  I didn’t write any post for today.  But!  Depending on when you’re reading this (like, say, two hours after I’ve posted it…) then I have excellent news!  In The Blood is live!  You can get it on Amazon or a number of other ebook retailers!

So that’s all I’ve got right now, because between forgetting that it’s recycling day (because Monday felt like Sunday…) and the leftover party pizza for lunch, I’m about done in.

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Political escape

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I have something to confess.  I’ve been reading a lot of romance lately.  Except, not really.

See, I read as an escape.  I grew up inside the Beltway near Washington DC and even the local news was national and international.  My family loves little more than arguing politics and current events and I, being the weird one, can’t stand it.  Then there’s the world around us.  No matter what your stance on something, you have to admit that it’s a pretty volatile place to live these days.

So, I read.  But, (you knew there was a ‘but’ coming,) so much fantasy of all sub-genres these days is about political posturing and the intricate dance of maneuvering through power structures.  It’s exhausting for me to read through how a character is trapped into an action they hate via political blackmail or the threat of a misstep.  It’s way too much like watching the news.

But, there’s an easy way to get around that.  Read a romance novel.  It does take a little looking, but once you find your way down the genre pathways to the paranormal romance or the fantasy romance novels, you’ve struck a rich vein of decent adventures that are often, dare I say usually, written without the angsty political whinging that seems to be so prevalent pretty much everywhere else.

The characters are carefully developed and usually the sort of people I don’t want to hide from.  The situations are often just as tense and exciting as any thriller.  And the world-building is usually done as the story goes along rather than in page after page of lengthy explanation of the political climate and why our hero is so completely trapped by it.  And, more often than not, there’s a happy ending where everyone can rest easy knowing that the Great Evil has been defeated and nobody’s future is miserable and uncertain.  I wish that could be the case in real life, for sure.  (I’ve really enjoyed Playing With Fire and pretty much anything set in the Cold Case Psychic world.)

Not everything I read is romance these days— I’ve currently got Junkyard Druid up next on my Kindle, and I just read Enter The Saint not long ago.  Still, I am leaning right now towards Stories that can help me relax without worrying about how close to an actual news story it’s getting.  Who has a favorite book that’s pure escape?

Preorder prison

boy-facepalm-child-youth-exasperated-tiredSo apparently I was a bad, bad writer.  I guess.  At least this is the case according to Amazon.  When I went to get the preorder for Spiritkind together the other day, I was unceremoniously informed that I am ineligible for creating preorders.  The reason? ‘Past preorder activity.’ I have no idea what that actually means, though, so…

What this means is that I can’t, at the moment, put any of my upcoming books up for preorder, which sucks, since that’s easily my favorite way to handle launches and it makes my life rather more tricky.  It also means that I am letting you guys know now— if you didn’t already know— that Spiritkind launches on Thursday, and I’m going to mention that again next week, so fair warning.

I’m not sure how I’m going to handle my next few books.Spiritkind Ebook  It’s a pretty major inconvenience, to be honest, and it seems pretty random.  I’ve read reports that some people managed to find out why (mostly due to canceled preorder processes and failure to post the final manuscript before the launch date,) and I’ve heard that a very small number of people have gotten through to an actual human at Amazon who is sometimes able to get the prison sentence reversed.

I doubt I’ll be that lucky, so I’m more than likely looking at a year of this nonsense.  I’m not sure what to tell you other than keep your eyes out on Thursday.  I would, however, suggest that you join my newsletter since that’s where announcements go out first and I might just have a few sneaky presents and things planned out for the next few months for newsletter readers.  Just saying.

Book Report: Playing With Fire

Really quick before I get to the Good Stuff: The first two books in the Spirits of Los Gatos series are available in paperback, and hopefully by the end of the week Finding Insight will be as well.  Here’s the link to Caroline’s Inheritance.  I’ll let you know more on the FB page when the others finally get processeced.

I’ve been reading lately.  Okay, that sort of goes without saying, but I’ve been on a bit of a bender.  I think I’ve got through fifty or more books since New Year’s.  My husband is thanking any deity he can get the attention of for Kindle Unlimited, and so am I or it would be a real problem.

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I think I read all of these…

A lot of those books weren’t really worth remembering.  Good fillers for my brain at the time, certainly, but not anything I’d tell other folks about.  Others were straight up trashy romance novels of the finest caliber because man.  That guarantee of a happy ending can be vital to my mental health some days.

And some… Well.  Some combine all sorts of elements to be worth telling everyone about. Fair warning though, yes.  It is technically a romance in that the main character enters into a romantic entanglement much to the couples mutual satisfaction.  No, it’s not a romance in that I’ve never read one like it.  Playing With Fire by R.J. Blain.

Bailey Gardener starts the book working in a coffee shop in Manhattan that is licensed to add pixie dust to its drinks.  In this world, it’s a mostly harmless magical hit, but— and there’s always a but— only the lower grades of dust are legal for handling by any old person.  The higher grades are classified as dangerous substances and you need a certification to handle them.  Which Bailey has.

It’s the certification part that gets her into more trouble.  That and her bizarre lack of a filter between brain and mouth.  She’s fairly certain that she has no friends and by the end of what might be the worst 18-hour solo shift at a coffee shop ever (and chapter one,) she gets blown up by a phone bomb laced with yet another extremely dangerous substance— gorgon dust— in her own apartment.  Good thing her one true talent is being immune to all things gorgon.

The local police chief, naturally, arrives on the scene to put her in very special quarantine and things are rolling through a fast-paced few months of dealing with the effects of magical quarantine, an unusual uptick in gorgon-related incidents, jumping through hoops for the freelance cleanup job that her certifications qualify her for, and stumbling through the discovery that she’s got more friends than she thought she did.

At one point she’s sent out to deal with a  drunken gorgon, er, mess, and finds one of the gorgons themselves still there and still over amorous male there who decides that Bailey would be perfect for carrying his whelps.  No court in the country could convict her for her actions.  Gorgons heal fast anyway, right?  There’s napalm-drunk fire breathing unicorns, angels with a fairly twisted sense of humor, more gorgons and crazy exes than should be packed into one book, and a courtroom brawl that honestly I wish I’d been to.  I’d have taken popcorn.

I actually couldn’t put this one down.  In fact, I was too busy wiping tears of laughter from my eyes and accidentally waking my family up with my laughing to even notice it was creeping up towards dawn.  And yet, for all the slapstick funny nonsense, there was a pretty warming story of a woman who didn’t realize how many friends and allies she actually had, even when she was pushing her luck with them.  Bailey manages to be a reliable hero, a professional at handling the dangerous magical substances she works with, and remarkably resilient.  Frankly, she’s the first female lead character in some time that I haven’t wanted to strangle.

Even beyond that, the world building is solid.  Supernatural and magical creatures are an everyday part of society.  There are rules and regulations and bureaucracy all through the book that are exactly the sort of thing that normal society forces us to deal with, and Bailey either waltzes over them or bashes her way straight through, to hilarious effects. I mean, who doesn’t want to see what happens when an incubus, a fire breathing unicorn, and a semi-trailer is involved in a felony pixie dust spill?  Trust me, you want to see it.

A sneaky-peeky gift for you!

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As promised, here’s a very early peek at the first two chapters of a new series.  I don’t want to give too much away, but here are a few tidbits to tide you over. This is from what is technically the prequel novella, explaining how Caroline gets tangled up with Darien and his very special teammates.

I can’t lie, I’m pretty excited about this.  Hope you enjoy and let me know what you think in the comments!

–Chapter One–

Caroline shivered under the table and hoped that nobody could hear the shaking.  It served her right, really, that everything had gone so horribly wrong. She shouldn’t have been there in the first place, and now she was paying for it.  

It was the dumbest thing, too. She shouldn’t have let Monique and her cronies get under her skin. She should have just let it all wash over her and not snapped back like that.  If she had just let it go and not started mouthing off, the gym teacher would never have heard her, and then… ugh.  Such a mess.

It wasn’t even worth remembering, but she still felt her face heating over the humiliation of it all.  And that, of course, was why she’d decided to skip school that afternoon, for the first time ever. And, being her first time skipping school, she’d gone somewhere she was positive that nobody would look for her: the city’s Local History Museum.  It was just a few rooms in the back of the city hall, with a small side entrance so that visitors wouldn’t disturb the grand municipal business of the city and nobody ever went there.

Until today, naturally, when Caroline decided to be a truant.  Today would, of course, be the day armed thugs decided to come crashing into the front room of the museum nobody ever went to, to start rummaging loudly through the displays, while she sat in the furthest back room with her novel.

So, now she huddled under the table covered in pamphlets and the empty mailing list signup sheet, hoping that none of the weird attackers would find her and she could go home to confess everything to her parents.  She didn’t even care what sort of punishment she’d get, anything they could dole out would be heaven compared to this.

A boot stopped right in front of her, it’s scuffed black leather feeling huge from what she could see of it, just the couple of inches between the bottom of the cheap blue tablecloth and the floor.  

“You’re sure there’s nobody here?  I could swear I keep hearing something,” said a deep, male voice.  It almost sounded musical and was so far from what Caroline expected to hear that she almost gasped.  She slapped her hand over her mouth and held her breath, eyes wide and staring at the boot as it shifted.

“Me too, but I can’t find anyone.  We ran off a couple of gawkers. Not like anyone cares about their local history these days, after all,”  said a second voice, very close. It must belong to Boots in front of her here. A few more footsteps and another foot appeared, facing Boots.  This man’s footwear was similar in style but they were pristine. Shiny, even, for all their rugged foot protection.

“As long as we find the artifact.  We will deal with any witnesses one way or another,” Shiny said.  Caroline could almost hear the smile in his voice, and it felt oily to her.  

“Another hostage could come in handy.  Those idiots in the FPAA might not worry too much about how to retrieve one of their own considering what he is, but a civilian might give them a few minutes to think,” Boots agreed.  

A loud crash nearby made Caroline jump.  It sounded like part of the building collapsed, and there was a shout of triumph accompanying it.  Both pairs of feet in front of her turned to face the noise and she squeezed her eyes shut and prayed that any noise she’d made in her surprise had been muffled by the ruckus, whatever it was.

“I got it!” someone shouted.  There was a sound of more feet rushing around, Boots and Shiny stepped away from the table and out of her view, then after a few minutes, there was quiet.  Caroline stayed under the table, motionless and silent for a long time. An odd image flashed into her mind of a rabbit that lived in her mom’s garden that would sit just under the edge of a bush in the twilight and watch you watching it.  She’d sat there watching the animal for maybe fifteen minutes once, both of them sitting completely still, the rabbit no doubt hoping that either Caroline hadn’t seen it already or that she wasn’t hungry.

Finally, when she couldn’t take the heavy quiet anymore she crept towards the sliver of light where Boot’s boot had appeared and pressed her face to the floor to peek out.  The room was a mess, one of the display cases overturned and the contents scattered across the floor, mingling with shards of glass and splinters of the wooden frame that had held the case together.  

No feet.  No people at all.  Still, she waited a few more minutes, holding her breath and watching the dust swirl in the one shaft of sunlight that speared through the window.  The displays usually needed dusting, she thought to herself, but this seemed like a terrible way to go about it. As soon as she thought it, she breathed a quiet giggle.  It was such a ridiculous thought that the tension drained out of her all in a rush and she decided that she was being completely silly, hiding under a table when the thieves had gone a long time ago.  The police were probably outside right now, and she could go tell them the little bits that she’d overheard and then go home to be grounded for the rest of her life when her parents found out.

Caroline crept out from under the table, careful not to put a hand or knee on a glass shard— the last thing she needed was to cut herself and start bleeding everywhere— and stood up with a shiver to survey the damage.  

A hand gripped her arm and she froze again.  

“I knew I heard something.”  It was Shiny’s voice. Caroline twisted to look over her shoulder and saw his perfect boots matched the rest of him.  He was dressed like the undercover military SWAT team guys usually were in the movies with his black boots and cargo pants, and the black long sleeved shirt under a black vest of some kind, but at the same time, he managed to somehow look like he was wearing formal wear.  He was sitting cross-legged on top of the table so she would never have seen him when she looked across the floor, and when he was still it was the complete stillness of an inanimate object. Or a predator.

Caroline did the only thing at that moment that she felt that she was fully capable of.  She fainted.

–Chapter Two–

“Hey.”

Caroline shivered.  She wasn’t sure why but she was terrified and just hoped that whatever it was she was scared of wouldn’t notice her.  Probably just the end of a nightmare. She had them sometimes and could never really remember them after, just the odd, creeping feeling of dread that didn’t wear off for a few hours.

“Hey, miss.  You need to wake up and let me know you’re okay.”  Okay? Why wouldn’t she be okay?  And who the heck was asking?

Then the whole scene rushed through her memory at high speed: the disaster at school, running off campus to just get away from all that drama, going to the tiny town museum, and the robbery.

She’d been kidnapped.  Holy shit.

“Miss, if you’re unhurt, please let me know.  I don’t want to be locked in here with a corpse.  Again.” The voice was strained and not at all melodic like Boots or Shiny.  Still, she kept her eyes closed and didn’t say anything. She just focused on keeping her breathing deep and even so he’d think she was still out while she tried to come up with a plan.  

“Oh, good,” the voice said.  “You’re not hurt too badly then.  Thank goodness for that anyway.”

Caroline’s eyes flew open and she sat up. There was nobody else in the room that she saw.

“How could you tell I heard you?” she demanded.  Then she wanted to smack herself in the face for being so easily taunted into revealing herself.  The man chuckled softly. There was no malice in the sound, just amusement.

“I could hear your breathing change.  You were working too hard at sounding asleep,” he said.  Caroline looked over and saw a man sitting on the floor in the corner across from her, one arm propped on his bent knee, his other leg stretched out in front of him.  He looked relaxed lounging there in the corner, but she had the strange sensation that it was an act.

He was wearing jeans and a polo shirt, and scuffed up hiking shoes, and looked a bit like anyone.  Well, aside from the dirt smearing him from head to toe, and the rips all over his clothes, and the blackening bruises she could see all down the left side of his face and peeking through the holes in his shirt.  Dried blood trickled past his right ear from somewhere under his hair and his left eye was swollen almost shut. She was kind of glad that she couldn’t see his torso if his shirt looked that bad.

“Holy shit what happened to you?”  She was clearly going to have to work on her filter when under stress.  The man shrugged.

“You should see the other guys,” he smirked before sobering a bit.  “Well, some of them anyway. They got me with elf shot from behind. Stupid, rookie mistake leaving my back exposed like I did, but to be fair to myself it was a bit of a brawl.  The rest of this is just them enjoying themselves for a few minutes. Stress relief or something.”  He snorted inelegantly and Caroline supposed he thought he was making jokes.

“Elf… shot?”  Caroline wondered what kind of weird slang that was.  “Where are we? What’s going on, anyway? Who are those guys?  Why are we here? Why would those guys want anything in that boring old dustbag excuse for a museum?”

“Well, what were you doing there then?”  he countered.

“Er…”  Caroline wondered if she’d lost her mind.  Why was she feeling guilty about admitting that she skipped school when she’d been kidnapped by museum robbers  “I, um. I cut class. I was kinda hiding out.”

“Hiding out?  I guess a dusty unvisited museum room is a good place to do that,” the man nodded.  “Although I hope you weren’t hiding from them, because in that case, you did a lousy job.”

“Well, not when I went there to begin with, no.”  Caroline slumped on… what was she on?

She actually took a moment to look around now and discovered that they were in what looked like a basement room, with a small, barred window high up in the wall letting in a trickle of sunlight.  She sat on a cot that she had expected to be filthy but was surprisingly clean and comfortable. There was even a wool blanket folded up at the foot of the narrow mattress. It wasn’t fancy, but it was clean and probably warm, though the room itself wasn’t very cold.  

In the wall opposite the window was the expected door, and as expected it looked thick and strong and had no opening in it anywhere.  What she hadn’t expected was in the wall opposite her own seat on the cot was another door, standing halfway open, and leading into a small bathroom.  

“Where…”  Caroline didn’t even know what to start asking.  The man sighed and the noise sounded so… defeated somehow that she looked back at him.

“I’m not honestly sure how much I should tell you,” he said, staring at the floor between them.  “If we ever get out of here it might be best if you don’t know.”

“If?  Won’t the police come to save us?”  she asked. Caroline knew that she was a bit sheltered.  She was a self-admitted nerd and her parents knew that she was probably too trusting of people and as such kept her on a pretty tight leash.  Skipping school today had been her first and so far only act of rebellion since third grade unless one counted wearing navy blue instead of black like her mom had picked out to go to her dad’s formal club dinner.  Still, wasn’t that the whole point of having police? Even in a smaller town like this one? The man sighed again.

“Not very likely.  Well, not the police you’re thinking of anyway.  My team will have pulled rank on them pretty damn quick, and they work under slightly different rules.  If they come here they will try to get us out, yes, but we’re not going to be their main focus.” He huffed a humorless laugh.  “My chief probably won’t even bother looking for me, frankly. He’ll be glad to be rid of me. And they may not even know about you.”

“What?  But why?”  Caroline heard the bitterness in his voice as he spoke.  There were frustration and anger and defeat there as well, and a few other things that were less strong.  She’d never been very good with people, felt that ‘socially awkward’ was probably the nicest way to describe herself, but she had always been able to hear more shades in people’s words than everyone else.  It was how she reacted to the knowledge that she didn’t know how to deal with.

He flashed her a small smile, wincing at the flair of pain from his eye.  

“He’s never cared much for my kind.  Hated it when my transfer application was approved.  I used to work up in Washington state.” He shrugged again.

“Your kind?  What, like some sort of special undercover cop or something?”  Caroline asked. He glanced up at her and blinked. Then took a deep breath and slowly started to sit up straight.  She watched him unfold himself from his spot lounging on the floor and realized that he was tall. Very tall, it seemed to her, easily another foot and a half taller than she was herself.  And he was strong, she could see the muscles flexing under his clothes. Not body-builder macho-man style, but more like a swimmer. It was strangely comforting.

“Someone’s coming,” he said, leaning back against the wall again and crossing one foot over the other.  Again she got the feeling that he was pretending to lounge, but was actually more like a coiled spring.

“What?  How do—”

The door opened and three men came in.  Shiny, in the middle, carried two trays and the other two men had very serious looking guns pointed at her cellmate.  Caroline watched the men with huge eyes, but they didn’t even glance at her, keeping their whole attention trained on the beaten man leaning against the wall under the tiny window.

“Here you go, young lady.  Dinner is served. I hope the accommodations meet with your approval, but let’s be honest with each other.  It wouldn’t much matter if they didn’t,” Shiny said. “Pity that you had to pick today to investigate local history, but that’s simply the strange way fate works.  Until we decide what to do about you— both of you,” he glared at her companion now, “you’ll simply have to stay here and be patient.” He set the trays down on the bed beside her.  It was clear that nobody considered her a threat, but that they were very careful of her cellmate.

“As for you,” Shiny was saying.  “Your colleagues don’t seem terribly interested in retrieving you.  I’m somewhat amused by that. Office politics go sour?” Caroline heard the taunts in his voice but was confused by what lay underneath.  Smugness, which made sense, but also nerves and just a hint of fear. Caroline felt dizzy with questions but knew one thing for dead sure.  She was in way over her head.

Her cellmate just shrugged and stayed otherwise still.  Shiny narrowed his eyes and glared for a moment before turning and walking out.  The gunmen backed out slowly, never taking their attention off their target before the door closed and she heard a heavy thunk as it was locked.

“What…”  Caroline’s voice squeaked and she had to clear her throat.  “What’s your name? I can’t just keep thinking of you as ‘that guy.’  I’m Caroline.” She swallowed and waited.

“Darien,” he said, then slid down the wall to sit on the floor again.  He was breathing heavily like he’d been running and she saw that the blood running down his face, which had been dry when she woke up, was now dripping onto the shoulder of his shirt.  He swiped at it gingerly. “Darien Webb, but my friends usually shorten it to just my first initial. Because they’re lazy and think they’re clever, I guess.”

“So just D?”  she said, grabbing a water bottle from one of the trays and twisting the top off.  She scrambled over to where he slumped on the floor and tried to hand it to him. “You’re really badly hurt, aren’t you?”  He glanced up at her and shrugged.

“Besides the obvious?”  He gestured to the bruises on his face and winced at his movement.  “Yeah. A few broken ribs I think, maybe some internal damage. And I think my wrist is broken.  Maybe a concussion. Almost certainly a concussion”

“Why aren’t you lying down?”  Caroline swore she felt herself go pale as he casually listed off injuries that should have him in a hospital bed.  “Why did you stand up like that? You need a doctor!” He shook his head.

“If they think I am anything less than a very serious threat to them, it won’t end well for me certainly.  Maybe not for you either, since they’ve tossed us in together.” He looked thoughtful for a moment. “Although maybe they didn’t have a choice.  I think they just had this room ready in case they needed it, not because they were expecting lots of prisoners. Maybe it’s the only one they have.”  He shrugged again. And winced again. “I have to stop doing that.”

“There’s no way you can be a threat to anyone besides yourself if you’re so badly hurt,” she said.  “Let me help you over to the bed, okay?” Darien shook his head.

“No, I’ll heal.  This isn’t the first time I’ve been on the losing end of a fight.  Trust me, this will pass. Eventually.”

Caroline sat on the floor beside him.  It was strangely comforting, even as badly injured as Darien was, to know that she wasn’t in this alone.  Just having his company was probably keeping her from hysteria.

“That guy did sound kinda scared of you.  And then the extra scary guns on top of it.  The other guys must look really terrible after all.”  That got a laugh.

“Yeah.  I’d have made it out fine if I’d been less of an idiot.”  Then he frowned. “What do you mean he sounded scared of me?”

“Oh, just his tone of voice, you know?  Under the taunting bravado, he was kinda… I dunno.  Scared of you. And a little confused maybe? Which doesn’t make much sense, but…”  she shrugged now herself.

Darien emptied the bottle of water, using what Caroline now realized was his good hand.  He was frowning at the floor again.

“I wonder what my parents are doing.  I should probably have been home hours ago by now.”  

“How old are you, if I may ask?”  

“Seventeen.  They don’t know I was there at all, at the museum.  I…” Caroline shifted, her guilty conscience driving tears to prickle in her eyes.  Now that she was feeling them, she was pretty impressed that she hadn’t cried sooner.  I mean if there was ever an appropriate moment to break down in tears, it was when you wake up kidnapped by crazy, violent thieves.

“Hey, it’ll be okay.  Somehow.” Darien bumped her shoulder with his own.  “I’ll think of something.”

“How did you know that there was someone coming?” She swallowed her tears down, trying to will them away.  Crying never helped and she hated that it seemed so out of her control.

“I heard them,”  Darien said.

“Like my breathing.”  Caroline glanced at him, and he nodded.   “The breathing I’ll grant you, but there is no rational reason that you could have heard anyone walking down that hallway.  Those guys all move like freaking cats, and that door is about four inches thick. I looked when they opened it.” She watched him and saw his expression harden like it was freezing in place the way parents always threatened.

“I, uh…”  he said. Caroline felt like she’d caught the edge of something.  Like there was a piece of clear tape on a window, and now that she’d found the edge of it she felt compelled to pick at it.

“And how did you even manage to stand up like that, anyway?  If you’re so badly hurt— and I believe you, for some weird reason.  I mean about the internal injuries and the concussion and stuff. If you’re that beat up you shouldn’t be able to stand up and look almost bored about it.  You should be curled up and unconscious or something.”

“Um…”  Darien started to look uncomfortable.  Which as she had just said, he should have looked this whole time.  Uncomfortable at the very least.

“And you said something earlier about your boss not liking your ‘kind.’  What did you mean? You never answered me, and I don’t think you just meant cop.”  Caroline turned to face him fully and realized that he looked almost embarrassed.

“Boy, you’re tough.  And you’re just in high school?  Sure you’re not an undercover cop or something?”  He hunched over a bit and groaned before sitting up again.

“I’m about to graduate,”  Caroline huffed. “Assuming those creeps don’t murder me or sell me off or something.  What’s going on here? Why would they want to rob the town museum? I mean it doesn’t even have anything interesting to us and we live here.”

“Remember when I said it might be for the best if you didn’t know?”  Darien asked, glancing at her. Caroline nodded. “Well, I think that with as many questions as you have, and how much you’ve noticed already, that ship has sailed.”  He sighed and looked sad for a moment. “Those guys are elves, and they seem to be after some sort of artifact that was broken up into bits. I have no idea what it is or why they want it, but those guys specifically are from a small group of elf supremacists, and they’re not averse to violence, so whatever it is they have planned can’t be good.”

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Book Report! Bless Your Heart

One of the books that made it into the hailstorm of Kindle Unlimited books I blew through in my recent effort to hide from the world was a novel by Kimbra Swain, Bless Your Heart4287681186_9e1b5f1840_b.  I hadn’t read any of her work before, and as hypocritical of me as I know it is, I have a hard time reading books with female leads.  I’ll get to that later, but for now, I have to admit that I mostly enjoyed my time hanging out with Grace Ann Bryant.

Now, as anyone with an ounce of awareness of Southern culture knows, the phrase Bless your heart can be used to mean anything from an expression of pleasure to a barely veiled threat of painful retribution.  Grace uses the phrase very effectively as she navigates her life in a doublewide in Alabama.  She’s there because she was exiled by her own people when she was not quite fully an adult fairy, and her father King Oberon did nothing to stop the punishment.  She’s got a bit of a chip on her shoulder from that, you could say, and now she lives among humans even though the ruling has been reversed.  Grace wants nothing to do with her family or the realm in which she’s royalty.  She barely seems to want to have anything to do with her own magic, but she does what she must with a fairly good attitude.

Unfortunately, in order to stay among humans and not be constantly moving, she had to strike a deal with what amounts to the enforcers of the human world: the Sanhedrin.  She’s got a few rules to follow: she can’t get romantically entangled with a human.  She is required to work with law enforcement when they call upon her.  She can’t move too far without permission.  That sort of thing.  Not that Grace seems to mind too much, and she’s even become reasonably friendly with the enforcer that is assigned to Alabama.  So when he brings her a young man and asks her to keep an eye on him while dealing with other things, she does it, grudgingly but without much animosity.

Naturally, that’s when all hell breaks loose.  Two brutally murdered children, a tangled love affair she can’t afford to have, a demon, Oberon putting paternal pressure on her to return home… and honestly, that’s just the easy stuff.  This story is a murder mystery in an urban fantasy setting, so if you like a little sleuthing in your fantasy, then this is a good bet.  I’ve been reading mysteries for most of my life and while I figured a few things out early, I didn’t guess the murderer until almost the official reveal.

Grace herself felt real to me, for the most part.  She did what she could because it was the right thing to do.  She genuinely liked her neighbors and was truly angry at whoever ‘did that to those kids’ and was determined to find the culprit even after she was herself accused of the crime.  The young man she takes under her wing irritated the poop out of me at first, but within a few chapters, I felt like he had relaxed and I actually found I liked him after all.

The only thing I really have to complain about is that by the end of the book Grace, this powerful fairy queen, falls into a habit I find common among female characters: falling all over themselves to make everyone happy, including themselves, regardless of the situation. Because heaven forbid a woman gets justifiably angry, or frustrated, or upset.  It is entirely unreasonable to expect a strong person— male or female— to constantly give up on feeling because it will upset someone else.  Or, as is the case with a female character at least half the time, refuse to be upset with someone because she’s in love with them and that clearly means that she should never get angry or offended or hurt in any way by their object of affection.

The other side of the coin, unfortunately, tends not to be well-rounded female characters who have reasonable reactions to things, they tend to be unlikeable, selfish harpies, but that’s a different rant for a different day.

On the whole— even with the occasional forays into Typical Female Characterdom scattered through the story— this is a great book, and I recommend it wholeheartedly.  It is the beginning of a series, and it seems that there’s lots of fun to be had.  And honestly, I kind of want to know what terrible ideas Cletus and Tater have next.

4.9 rutabegas out of 5 on this one.

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Photo credit: akseabird via Visual hunt / CC BY-NC

Last preview

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I need more coffee.  Oh, guys.

I know, I know, it’s been a lot of previews up in here lately.  But Brewing Trouble goes live on Thursday, so next week you should have a different sort of post here.  Assuming NaNoWriMo hasn’t completely shut my brain down.

Hah, maybe I’ll write about how it’s difficult to be creative on demand.  Entirely possible, but tough.

At any rate, here’s your last excerpt before launch, I hope you enjoy it!

 

Brewing Trouble ebookA heavy shudder ran over her body and made the old bench creak.Suddenly, the stillness of the night and the soft gurgle of the water seemed ominous, and the soothing peace she’d sought fled for the comfort of the lighted apartments.Sarah wanted nothing more than to follow it.She turned in her seat and started to stand up, and the shadowed figure standing on the path froze her in place.For one panicked second she thought the wights were back and had somehow gotten inside the wards, but then the familiar, friendly, safe greeting reached her.

“Mr. Young!” Sarah gasped.The world around her snapped back into place, the stress and anxiety driven off by the quiet older spirit.Mr. Young smiled and tipped his head at her, his brown eyes soft and comforting.

“Sure, I’d love for you to join me.”Sarah scooted over on the bench to make room for him.He never spoke— at least not that she had ever heard— but he still managed to communicate somehow.Nobody really understood it, but everyone agreed that you just knew, somehow, what it was he wanted to say.

Mr. Young stepped over and sat gingerly on the bench, sighing in simple pleasure as he settled his weight and brushed his hand over his plain brown trousers.He settled back onto the bench slowly, with a long, tired sigh.

“Oh, come on, you’re not that old.You’re barely old enough to be my grandfather,” Sarah said, then chuckled and shook her head.“Actually, you’re probably older than I would guess, aren’t you?”

Mr. Young winked at her and reached into the pocket of his cardigan.He pulled out a candy bar and snapped it in half, holding one piece out to her.

“Thanks.” Sarah accepted the gift and turned back to the pond, which was once again just a pleasant spot to spend some time.“I guess you’re only as old as you feel, huh?”

Mr. Young nodded.They sat and listened to the water splashing into the pool while they ate their treat.Finally, after swallowing his last bite, Mr. Young turned to her and tipped his head.

“Nah, I just needed a few minutes, you know?Everything’s been so hard this week, I had to step away for a breath or two.”Sarah shrugged.“This outbreak of shadow pox while Doc’s in the hospital, and then Meg got hurt today—”

Mr. Young frowned.

“She’s okay, mostly.She got shoved by some guy, and it all cascaded until the display case broke.She needed to get stitches for one cut, but otherwise she’s fine,” she said.“But I’m not fine with it.The guy that shoved her?He was sent into the shop on purpose, with a talisman specifically to get through the wards.”

Mr. Young’s frown deepened.

“I know.I’m kind of freaked out.” Sarah slumped back onto the bench and pulled her own jacket tighter around herself.The days were plenty warm, with the summer sun shining, but the evenings could get chilly and tonight definitely qualified.“Doc is being attacked deliberately, it’s not just some weird, random virus she picked up or anything.I’m so worried about her. And we don’t know what to do.Gabe saw a witch casting some sort of big spell, and she seems to be Angela Davila Meg’s so-called coven leader and all around favorite person. “I’m not Doc.I’m not my grandmother.I’m not good enough to do all this.”

She sensed rather than saw him roll his eyes, and got the impression of a snort.A lone wisp of mist drifted past her eyes where she stared at the path that they sat beside.It flowed over the ornamental gravel and collected on the surface of the pond to swirl playfully away to nothing.

“You know I’m not exactly a well trained witch.Sure, I know I have the potential, I’m not going to ignore that, but with the exception of breaking that one curse on Sebastian, I’ve never done anything big on my own.And even that was almost just pure luck, and I’m pretty sure that Kai’s dad was helping guide me.”

Mr. Young nodded.He looked around the pond and pointed at something invisible, just past the wall on the far side of the water that surrounded the whole apartment complex.

“Yeah, I fixed the wards, but I’ve worked with Doc on wards for months.I’ve never seen Shadow pox before. Or Ellie came in the other day with Dryad Flu.And now there’s another witch out there coming after the shop, and Doc, and by extension all of us.And I have to fix everything.”

It was too much for a new witch to handle on her own. Mr. Young shook his head and raised his eyebrow at her.

“Yeah, I know you’re right.Nobody can do everything by themselves.And I’m not on my own here.I’ve got you and Sebastian and Kai and everyone,” Sarah slumped on the bench. “It’s just that this feels like a problem that needs to be solved by a witch, you know?And I’m the only one around now.And I don’t even know where to begin to start.I don’t know if I can do this, and then it’ll be my fault if Doc doesn’t get better.”

Her eyes burned and she squeezed then shut against the tears.A warm hand brushed over her shoulder and she smelled something that made her think of her garden after a cool morning shower passed over it, something refreshing and healing and honest.

Tears filled Sarah’s eyes now for a different reason.Mr. Young patted her shoulder and then held out a packet of tissues.

“Thank you.”She took the tissues and dabbed at her eyes while her companion smiled gently at her.

“Yeah, Doc said I should look for other teachers, too.It seems to be a theme lately,” she said.It was a little scary to know that Mr. Young— a spirit old and powerful enough to be considered a god— had faith in her. A completely average, young, all too human witch.She had to smile at the idea that she now thought that being a witch was average.

He nudged her elbow with his own and grinned.

Sarah laughed out loud now.“Yeah.Sebastian has been after Gabe, and I made the mistake of mentioning the idea to him.Now he’s starting to get after me about it, and it’s been barely a day since the idea came up.”She sobered slightly.“Doc suggested that I study herbalism, but I don’t know.I feel like I’m getting as much hands on practice with that as I need. Maybe I should look at something else to compliment that?What do you think?”

He tipped his head and his salt-and-pepper hair caught the bit of light from the corner.It almost looked like the mist was clinging to him as much as to the pond.Sarah wondered again what sort of spirit he could be.Not that it mattered especially, but…

He looked at her with a raised eyebrow.

“I guess.”Sarah wasn’t sure that she was ready to take a whole new degree in anything.“I mean, I could look into classes for that sort of thing.Sebastian’s been after me to take classes ever since I mentioned it.You’re right that if I’m going to stick around doing this back-room witch clinic stuff, I should know more about medicine in general.Especially if Doc’s not around as much.”Sarah refused to accept that her mentor might not recover.The Apothecary without Doc was unthinkable.

Mr. Young nudged her elbow again.His grin was sly, and Sarah had to laugh again.

“You’re right.My mother would have a harder time arguing about a medical degree,” she said.“Though I have to say, I’d probably go for something like nursing rather than trying to be a doctor.She’d complain loudly that it wasn’t prestigious enough or something, I’m sure.”

Mr. Young just rolled his eyes slightly, but Sarah didn’t get any impressions of conversation behind the gesture, so it must have been just that.She sat beside him quietly thinking for a moment before turning back to tip her own head.

“Thank you,” she said.“I didn’t realize how much I just needed a friend for a minute.”

Mr. Young patted her arm, and Sarah had the sense— not that he was speaking in any way, but there was just a connection to a feeling— that Mr. Young was looking out for his family in his own way.If family was what you made of it, then she was glad to call Mr. Young her grandfather.And Doc was more maternal than her own mother.

Sarah was going to make them both proud.

Brewing Trouble is in preorder until Thursday when it goes live, and the rest of the series will be on sale to celebrate!

NaNoWriMo ate my brain

woman-sitting-at-table-and-working-with-computer.jpgI forgot it was Monday.  So I didn’t write a blog post and now I’m in bed and have no energy to come up with one, so instead, I’m offering a small piece of Book Five, which I’m trying to complete under the NaNo guidelines.  So here, completely raw, unedited, and totally unrevised, is an excerpt from my work-in-progress.  Let me know what you think!

Kai ended the call a moment later with over polite farewells, then frowned at the phone when it rested back in its cradle.

“Who was that?” Seb asked.

“That was Lloyd Franklin, city inspector.He wants to come inspect,” Kai answered.

“Inspect what, exactly?And why?I thought we’d finished all that.” Sebastian pressed, and Kai had to shrug.

“I have no idea.The roof, I guess.Maybe the clubhouse since that was sort of a last minute thing.We’ll have to make sure that there’s no suspicious informal coffee shop stuff in there, I guess.”Kai frowned at the phone again, then shrugged and returned his attention to Gabe.“Now then, back to your problem.”

“Oh thank god,” Sebastain groaned.“If I had to spend one more hour working with the gloomy yawn machine here, I was going to run away to the Carribean.”

“Oh come on, it’s not like you’ve never showing up here exhausted from not sleeping,” Gabe shot back.“Just because my excuse isn’t as pretty as yours is, doesn’t mean you need to rub your nose in it.”

Sebastian just grinned broadly.“Sarah is pretty, isn’t she?Maybe she’ll come with me to a tropical island and neither of us will have to hear you yawn.”

“Okay, both of you,” Kai cut in.“I swear, it’s like preschool in here some days.Gabe.Let’s go through your grounding ritual real quick and see if that helps drain off some of these unscheduled nightmares.”

“I hope I never want to schedule a nightmare,” Gabe grumbled, but he kicked off his shoes and socks and stood, barefoot, to head to the small manmade spring.

“And then after that, I want you to go with Sebastian to The Apothecary.Doc’ll take one look at you and you’ll be set up with some tea or something that’ll help you get some decent rest.”

“Seriously, Gabe.I don’t want you working around here when you’re exhausted.It’s unsafe,” Sebastian agreed.

“Exactly.And it’ll get the both of you out of my hair for a while so I can get some actual work done instead of having to hold storytime and recess for you children.”Kai started toward the door.

“So you’re sending us off for naptime and a timeout instead?Very clever, Mr. Kai.Can we have art class later?”Sebastian’s voice followed him out the door and as it closed he flicked a ball of foxfire back into the room, laughing at Sebastian’s sudden yelp.

I hope it’s not too terrible.  Also, the preorder for Brewing Trouble is still up until next week!