Category Archives: Guest Post
Been a little while since I plugged a friend’s book here, so here’s one: my friend Nancy has the conclusion to her fantasy trilogy come out just YESTERDAY! Check it out:
Before Winter, the exciting conclusion to the Wolves of Llisé trilogy, was released in eBook by Harper Voyager, U.K. Sept. 21, 2017. Before Winter, Among Wolves (2015) and Grim Tidings (2016) follow the quest of Devin Roché, a young archivist, who discovers discrepancies in the government Archives which send him in search of the oral Provincial Chronicles which record a very different history.
In the final book in the trilogy, rumors of Devin’s death at his own bodyguard’s hands reach the capital and the Chancellor is detained on fabricated charges of treason, which may cost him his life. In the provinces, people fight to reclaim their history – but the forces against them are powerful: eradicating the Chronicles, assassinating Master Bards, and spreading darkness and death.
Accompanied by a wolf pack and a retinue of their closest allies, Gaspard and Chastel must cross the mountains in a desperate attempt to save the Chancellor before winter makes their passage impossible. But the closer they journey towards Coreé, the clearer it becomes that there are those who don’t intend for them to arrive, at all.
The paperback of Before Winter will be available March 22, 2018. EBooks of both Among Wolves and Grim Tidings are on sale through September 29!
Special treat today! Brooke Johnson is a steampunk author whose first book, THE BRASS GIANT, is a wonderful tale of clockwork, young love, and a hard-nosed female protagonist up to her neck in trouble. The second book in her series, THE GUILD CONSPIRACY just came out yesterday, and Brooke has been so kind as to allow me to post an excerpt of it for you all to read. Check it out!
EXCERPT from Chapter 2 of THE GUILD CONSPIRACY:
Petra reached the University square and crept toward the student entrance, hiding in the shadow of a nearby steam duct. Tucking her hair into the brim of her hat, she glanced down at her pocket watch, grazing her fingertips over the intricate C that decorated the case—just a few minutes before ten. She peeked out from her hiding place and searched the empty square, but no sign of Rupert.
With a sigh, she pressed her back against the warm metal of the exposed ductwork and waited, listening to the rush of steam hissing through the pipes. The machines of the subcity rattled and whirred beneath the stone street, synchronized gears and linkages ticking a rhythm of mechanical perfection beneath her feet. She inhaled a deep breath, catching the scent of coal and gasoline amidst the humid air billowing through the grates. It smelled of home.
A few minutes later, the lock above the student entrance unlatched, the gears knocking and grating as ratchets shifted the deadbolts. The door creaked inward, and Rupert’s blond head peered out, his face lit by the flickering gas lamps at the bottom of the stairs.
“Petra?” he called, his voice barely above a whisper. “You out here?”
She slipped out from behind the steam duct and met him atop the stairs. Rupert closed the door behind her. He removed his student key from the lock, and heavy gears ratcheted the deadbolts back into place, locking the door with a resounding clunk.
Petra leaned against the smooth brass-plated wall and breathed in the familiar air of the University, the lingering scents of grease and metal polish putting her at ease. The usual bustle of engineers, students, and professors was absent from the dark, empty lobby, the echo of distant machinery lurking in the shadows like haunting ghosts. It had been months since she’d been here after dark—when Emmerich was still here and her only worry was keeping their automaton project secret. It seemed an eternity ago now.
Rupert touched her shoulder. “Come on,” he whispered. “Or we’ll miss it.”
He took her to the lift and used his student key to propel them up to the eighth floor, the whirring belts and pulleys singing as they ascended. The lift slowed to an abrupt stop, and the lights above the gates spilled across the hall, startlingly bright in the quiet darkness of the University.
“So what’s this meeting about?” she asked Rupert.
Their brisk footsteps echoed off the hard floor as Rupert led her down the hall toward the student lounges and recreation room.
As they approached, a muffled cacophony met Petra’s ears—shouts and curses, cheers, a clash of metal on metal, the clear sound of a combustion engine igniting. Petra’s heartbeat quickened, and she pressed her ear to the door, feeling the vibrating hum of a purring engine in the room beyond, the sigh of exhaust, the smell of burnt fuel reaching her nose.
Rupert nudged her aside and keyed into the room, the clash of metal rising to a deafening thunder as he opened the door.
Inside, the billiard table, chess tables, chairs, and sofas had been pushed to the walls, the usual carpets and rugs thrown over the furniture. A spotlight illuminated a few dozen students near the center of the room, surrounding a hulk of moving brass, its shiny surface flashing in the glow of the electric light. The crunch of crumpling metal and subsequent jeers echoed off the walls, and the metal beast reeled out of Petra’s sight.
Leaving Rupert behind, she elbowed her way through the crowd of students and stumbled headlong into the center of the ring. A quick hand caught her by the collar and yanked her back into the crowd just as a metal arm swiped through the air, inches from her nose.
Petra stumbled into the student next to her, gaping in delighted disbelief at the scene before her. Two imposing metal figures stood in the center of the ring—a squat trapezoidal machine and a grotesque humanoid—dripping oil and smelling of exhaust. Jagged trenches cut through the outer shell of the larger machine, exposing a mesh of combustion enginery and electrical wiring inside, while the smaller, wheeled contraption had a stump of shredded linkages and twisted gears where its second arm should have been, its stout body half-crushed and front wheels bent.
The bipedal machine lunged, much to the crowd’s delight, and there was a terrible, teeth-grinding crunch as the metal shells crumpled and warped on impact. The biped hammered its fist into the smaller trapezoid, the squat machine’s outer shell buckling under the assault. Yet the contraption held its ground, wheels spinning forward as it pressed against the hulking mass of metal, its remaining arm buried halfway into the biped’s central system, pulling wires and tubes from its body like rubber intestines, oil and hydraulic fluid spilling onto the floor.
With a sputtering whine, the combustion engine rumbled to a halt, the spin of gears slowing to a groan as the mechanical biped powered down. The heavily damaged trapezoid pushed the biped away, and the mutation of combustion enginery and electricity toppled over with a resounding crash.
And then the room erupted in cheers.
From the far side of the ring, a young man stepped forward and waved the crowd into silence. Petra recognized him by his long, narrow face and shrewd eyes—Vice-Chancellor Lyndon’s son, Yancy. He spread his hands wide.
“Gentlemen! I believe we have our winner!”
The winning engineer stepped forward and swept into a low bow, tucking a metal control box behind his back. Petra noted the thick cord trailing from the brass case, snaking across the oil-slicked floor to the back of the trapezoidal machine. So that was how he controlled it.
She suppressed a smirk. Rudimentary technology.
Rupert squeezed in beside her. “What do you think?”
“It’s brilliant,” she said, her voice nearly lost amidst the cheers and shouts around them. “How long has this been going on?”
“Started about midterm, last semester. You know about the failed automaton project, right? Some of the boys who work in the armory found the remains of it and got the idea to start a mechanical fight ring.”
Petra pressed her mouth shut and nodded. So they had kept it then, the ruined prototype that Emmerich had so expertly smashed through the floor of his workshop—now collecting dust in the armory. The failed automaton project. That was what the rest of them called it, not knowing she had helped design and build it, not knowing what her involvement had cost her.
“Where do they get the parts?” she asked.
“Discards and surplus from the workshops,” said Rupert. “Some of the richer blokes buy parts offshore and have them shipped in. Most of it is scrap, though.”
In the center of the ring, Yancy quieted the crowd with a wave. “That concludes the inaugural competition of our mech fights.” Another boy brought forward a table and handed Yancy a pad of paper and a pencil. “If you wish to participate in the next tournament,” he said, waving the paper over his head, “sign up by the first bell tomorrow and have your mech ready for the first round sometime next month, date to be decided. Entry fee is a pound note—or equivalent—the sum of all entries to be rewarded to our next winner.”
He dropped the paper and pencil onto the table, and a handful of students stepped forward to enter. Petra watched as they scribbled their names, one after the other, knowing she could outmaneuver every single one of them with a machine of her own.
For six long months, she’d been stuck in boring classrooms, listening to dry lectures and permitted to do nothing more than pointless busywork. She missed the feel of a screwdriver in her hand, the smell of grease under her fingernails, the late nights of working with her hands deep inside a machine.
She yearned for it.
Rupert nudged her with his elbow. “Go on then. Sign up.”
Petra considered it, absently twisting the stem of her pocket watch between her thumb and forefinger. She could enter, write her name down and fight in the next tournament, finally have the chance to build something again. Yet . . . she knew they wouldn’t let her. They’d only laugh at her, mock her for thinking she could compete with them, for thinking she was their equal.
She stared at the sign-up sheet, the determination to prove herself burning in her chest.
To hell with them.
She released the breath she’d been holding and stepped forward, heart beating faster. Leaning over the table, she took the pencil into her hand and pressed the point of graphite to the paper, quickly scribbling her name at the bottom of the list of entrants before she second-guessed herself. She belonged here, building machines alongside the best of them.
She’d win the damn tournament, and then they’d see.
THE GUILD CONSPIRACY:
In the face of impossible odds, can one girl stem the tides of war?
It has been six months since clockwork engineer Petra Wade destroyed an automaton designed for battle, narrowly escaping with her life. But her troubles are far from over. Her partner on the project, Emmerich Goss, has been sent away to France, and his father, Julian, is still determined that a war machine will be built. Forced to create a new device, Petra subtly sabotages the design in the hopes of delaying the war, but sabotage like this isn’t just risky: it’s treason. And with a soldier, Braith, assigned to watch her every move, it may not be long before Julian finds out what she’s done.
Now she just has to survive long enough to find another way to stop the war before her sabotage is discovered and she’s sentenced to hang for crimes against the empire. But Julian’s plans go far deeper than she ever realized … war is on the horizon, and it will take everything Petra has to stop it in this fast-paced, thrilling sequel to The Brass Giant.
Release Date: August 9, 2016.
About the Author:
BROOKE JOHNSON is a stay-at-home mom and tea-loving writer. As the jack-of-all-trades bard of the family, she journeys through life with her husband, daughter, and dog. She currently resides in Northwest Arkansas but hopes to one day live somewhere more mountainous. You can find her on Twitter @brookenomicon.
Having a crazy week, so here’s just this quick link to a guest post I made over on Ragnarok yesterday. It’s about how writing novels/stories differs from tabletop RPGs, which is something I feel I know a bit about, as I’ve spend a good 25 years parsing through the differences.
Check out the post here, and check out Ragnarok, too – they’ve got a lot of cool things going on over there and they’re relatively new, so wander around.
Talk to you next week!
Hi folks – I’m back! And by “back” I mean “I’ve got somebody to cover for me today as I recover from jet lag.” Allow me to introduce Bishop O’Connell: friend, author, and apparent Irish ecclesiarch. He’s here to talk about villains and, as a frustrated super-villain myself, I can tell you that you ought to listen to his advice, because he knows what he’s talking about. He also has a series of urban fantasy novels out, the most recent being The Returned (I’ll let Bishop describe it for you at the bottom). For now, read his post. Then read his books. Then hack into and read his e-mails (they’re hilarious).
Wait…never mind that last part. You didn’t see that. Ummm…errr…just read the post, okay?
Interview with a Villain
Villains are important. Every book has one, in one form or another. No, I don’t (necessarily) mean a Blofeld-esque villain who lives in an active volcano, on a skull shaped island, laughing as he strokes his beloved cat.
I’m talking about the antagonist. While the story might not have a true villain per se, there is always an antagonist. I learned early in my writing career that if I wanted my stories to be compelling and interesting, I’d need to spend at least as much time on my “bad guys” as I do on my “good guy.” It’s true, not every antagonist is a person, it can be an environment, a society, or anything else. But for those times when it is a person, here are some things I’ve learned about making a good counter to my protagonist (main character):
Goals – “What’s my motivation in this scene?”
Every antagonist has one, and no, “because they’re evil” only makes for a sad caricature of a villain.
I’m not saying their motive has to fit with societal mores, but it does need to be believable; it has to make sense for that character. I could ask myself what my character wants, but better to ask them directly, and better style to ask them why they want it. I’ve found this can actually be incredibly helpful, especially if you pain the full picture. I imagine the scene where I’m meeting my villain. What is the character wearing? Is she waiting for me, or am I waiting for her? If he is waiting for me, does he stand when I arrive, or even acknowledge my presence? Who chose the venue? Are other people there? If so, are they staring? If they are, how does the character react? The more detailed the imagining, the fuller the character will be to me, and thus (hopefully) to my readers. As an example—since you might not know my work and to prevent potential spoilers—let’s take a villain from a story just about everyone has either read or knows about: Lord Voldemort from the Harry Potter series. Apologies to Ms. Rowling for the butchering that follows. I hope you have a good sense of humor.
Voldemort met me at a popular London café overlooking the Thames River. His pale skin, serpent like nose, and trademark flowing, black robes made him easy to spot. He was sitting at a table with a view of the bustling river traffic, a cup of tea in hand, pinky extended. His now-famous wand sat on the table next to some kind of Asian inspired salad. I think he smiled when he saw me, it was hard to tell, and invited me to join him. A cup of tea was waiting for me, but since the wait staff was nowhere to be seen he poured the tea himself. I didn’t drink it.
Bishop: Thank you for meeting with me, Voldemort.
Voldemort: Lord Voldemort, if you please. I didn’t raise a dark army and commit mass murder to not use my title.
B: Apologies, thank you, Lord Voldemort, for meeting with me.
V: Certainly. I hope you don’t mind that I didn’t wait for you. They have the most exquisite quinoa salad here.
B: Not at all.
There is a moment of awkward silence as he takes a bite of his salad and a look comes to his face. It’s either pleasure or disgust, it’s hard to tell which with someone who looks like an escape from the Island of Dr. Moreau. After a moment he dabs the cloth napkin at the corners of his mouth and turns his attention back to me.
V: I’d ask if you want anything, but the wait staff is, well, indisposed at the moment.
He laughs, and it’s more comical than unsettling.
B: I’m fine, thank you. Let’s get to it, shall we? Lord Voldemort, tell me, what do you want?
He skewers some salad on his fork and looks bored.
V: I want to kill Harry Potter, of course.
B: Okay, I got that. I know that, you know that, Harry knows that, everyone knows that. But isn’t that kind of a simplistic goal? That’s kind of short term for you, isn’t it? I mean, what do you really want?
He chews the salad and a smile, or his version of one, returns to his face. He sets his fork down and pours himself more tea.
V: I’m so very glad you asked. No one ever really seems to care. My underlings are just trying to suckle at the master’s teat, and everyone else is just running for their lives. What I really want, and I know it’s terribly cliché, but what I truly want is to rule the world. My personal twist is that I also want to be the most powerful wizard ever. Harry Potter is really just an obstacle, the one who can best deny me those things.
B: Now we’re getting somewhere. Why do you want to rule the world?
V: Well, everybody wants to rule the world.
B: I had no idea you were a Tears for Fears fan.
V: Those are two of my favorite things.
He laughs and drinks more tea.
V: Seriously, though, I suppose I could say it’s the power I want, and I do, but that’s so simplistic. Power is a means, not an end. In truth, I’m a good old fashioned racist.
B: You’re a racist? That’s not something many people would openly admit.
V: I know. The word has such a negative connotation. The difference here is that my racism is based on genuine fact. I’m not biased based on anything as petty as skin color, birthplace, religion, anything like that. No, this is about magic. You muggles, quite frankly, are inferior to us wizards. In every way that matters.
B: Could you explain?
V: Happily. As wizards, we wield immense power. We have the capability to do things you only dream about by just saying the right words and moving a piece of wood through the air. We can violate your sad little “laws” of physics at whim. You are to us, what chimps are to you. We have flying cars, for crying out loud! Your scientists have been promising you flying cars since the 1950s, and yet the only ones I have ever seen are magical. Not that I need one of course, I can fly just find on my own.
B: So your racism is based on magical ability. Why are you opposed to muggle-born wizards and witches, or those from mixed families?
V: Just because the proverbial room full of monkeys with typewriters comes up with a play doesn’t make them Shakespeare.
B: Interesting analogy. Are you saying you admire Shakespeare’s work?
V: Not at all, I’m just using a comparison your small mind can grasp. To continue the analogy, you might find said monkeys an interesting oddity, but you’d never call them human. Likewise, Mud-Bloods, those wizards born from the horrible mixing of a wizard and a muggle, are just a sad half breed. While it elevates the muggle half, it pollutes the wizard blood beyond repair. Muggle-born wizards are just freaks of nature, abominations. No, it’s pure-blood wizards who can, and should, be the ones to rule. We’ve had magic in our families for countless centuries. We are the superior race, and I know it’s overplayed, but might really does make right.
B: It is a bit cliché.
V: Well, with rare exceptions, the one with the bigger club, and the ability to use it, wins. Your history has proven this over and over.
B: Okay, so you’re saying wizards—
V: Pure-blood wizards.
B: Sorry, pure-blood wizards should rule the world, and you being the most powerful, should rule them?
V: Exactly. You muggles, are an inferior species of the human race, like the Neanderthals—
B: Actually, I think it’s pronounced Neander-tal—
V: AVADA KEDAVRA!
And….scene. Obviously I had fun with this, partly because parody covers me from a lawsuit, but also because it kept you reading. Regardless, you see that he wanted more than to kill the kid with the lightning bolt on his face. It’s important as a writer to understand not just your villains’ immediate goals, but their long term motivations as well. When you go to the store, it’s not just to buy food. It’s because you have to eat to live, and odds are you don’t or can’t raise enough food on your own to sustain yourself. The disparity isn’t terribly complicated, but it has a big impact on the story. It doesn’t matter if the antagonist is a normal everyday person, or a scary, murderous monster. In fact, for a villain to be a monster, having a good motive is vital. Which is more frightening: A raving lunatic walking the street hunting people (insert generic horror movie monster here), or a true sociopath who is well organized, has a goal (however twisted), a detailed plan to achieve it, and goes about executing said plan in a cold, ruthless manner (Hannibal Lecter-esque)? Odds are you picked the latter. At least according to movie ticket sales, book sales, and cultural impact.
Tom Hiddleston, probably best known in the U.S. for his role as Loki in the various Marvel movies said, “Every villain is a hero in his own mind.” Hearing that quote for the first time was an “aha moment” for me. It made sense. Villains never think they’re the villain. Oh, they might recognize that society will see them that way, but THEY know the truth and it’s that truth that drives them. Look at your favorite book, movie, TV show, what have you, and think of the antagonist in it. I’d be willing to bet (but please don’t email me offering a bet because you found an exception to this) that they’re doing what they felt had to be done. It might be their own ideals, looking for vengeance (justice in their mind), because their dog told them, or anything else. Regardless, they have their reasons and they are meaningful to them.
No, villains don’t have to be likeable. But, if you make them understandable, and there is a difference, the reader will really love to hate them.
Bishop O’Connell is the author of the American Faerie Tale series, a consultant, writer, blogger, and lover of kilts and beer, as well as a member of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America. Born in Naples Italy while his father was stationed in Sardinia, Bishop grew up in San Diego, CA where he fell in love with the ocean and fish tacos. After wandering the country for work and school (absolutely not because he was in hiding from mind controlling bunnies), he settled Richmond VA, where he writes, collects swords, revels in his immortality as a critically acclaimed “visionary” of the urban fantasy genre, and is regularly chastised for making up things for his bio. He can also be found online at A Quiet Pint (aquietpint.com), where he muses philosophical on life, the universe, and everything, as well as various aspects of writing and the road to getting published.
Blog – https://aquietpint.com/
Twitter – https://twitter.com/BishopMOConnell
Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/bishopmoconnell/
Amazon Author Page – http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00L74LE4Y
Hi, everybody! Shoveling out from beneath a mountain of papers, but today I’ve got a special treat for all of you. My friend Beth Cato has a new story out set in the same world as her Clockwork Dagger series. If you like Steampunk, fantasy, or especially Steampunk Fantasy, check it out now!
Another breathtaking short story from the author of The Clockwork Dagger and The Clockwork Crown, set in the same world…
Captain Hue hoped he was rid of his troubles once Octavia Leander and Alonzo Garrett disembarked from his airship Argus. But he was quickly proved wrong when his ship was commandeered by Caskentian soldiers. He is ordered on a covert and deadly mission by the smarmy Julius Corrado, an elite Clockwork Dagger.
Now Captain Hue must start a mutiny to regain control of his airship, which means putting his entire crew at risk—including his teenage son Sheridan. As the weather worsens and time runs out, it’ll take incredible bravery to bring the Argus down… perhaps for good.
An excerpt of the very beginning of the story:
I stood at the rudder wheel of my airship Argus, in command of a ship I did not truly control. We flew north, destination unknown. A soldier stood several feet behind me. His pistols remained holstered—he wasn’t daft enough or desperate enough to fire a weapon in the control cabin of an operating airship—but he had already proven adept with his fists. My co-pilot, Ramsay, was currently getting patched up, as the sarcastic commentary he had offered was not kindly received.
Throughout the cabin, tension prickled beneath the surface like an invisible rash we couldn’t scratch. Everyone stood or sat rigid at their posts, gazes flickering between their gauges, the windows, and the soldiers in our midst. These were soldiers of our own kingdom of Caskentia, in green uniforms as vibrant as the sprawling valley below. They had occupied the Argus since that morning.
This was the second time in as many weeks that my airship had been commandeered. The previous time, rebellious settlers from the Waste had claimed it by force. I rather preferred them. Wasters made for an easy enemy after fifty years of intermittent warfare. This occupation by our own government was ugly in a different way.
My fists gripped the wheel as if I could leave impressions in the slick copper. The futility of our situation infuriated me. I couldn’t stop the Wasters before. And now I couldn’t stop this, whatever this mysterious errand was.
My son, Sheridan, was on board somewhere. I needed him to be safe, not snared in any more political drama. The Wasters had used him as a hostage to force my hand; I didn’t want these soldiers to do the same.
“Captain Hue, sir.” My co-pilot saluted as he entered the control cabin. I assessed him in a glance. Bandages plugged his swollen nose. Blood still thickened his thin brown moustache.
“You are well enough to resume your duties?” I asked.
“Yes, sir. I’ve felt worse after a night of leave.”
Ramsay knew his job; if only he could control his fool lips. I stepped back to grant him control of the rudder and leaned by his ear. “Corrado said this would be over in days. Bear through.”
I saw my own frustration mirrored in his eyes, and in the other crew as I walked from station to station. I muttered what assurance I could and exited the control cabin. I needed to find my boy.
Like the start of the story? Read the whole thing for just 99-cents–and that includes the first chapter of Beth’s novel out in August, Breath of Earth!
Beth Cato is the author of the Clockwork Dagger steampunk fantasy series from Harper Voyager, which includes her Nebula-nominated novella Wings of Sorrow and Bone. Her short fiction is in Clockwork Phoenix 5, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Daily Science Fiction. She’s a Hanford, California native transplanted to the Arizona desert, where she lives with her husband, son, and requisite cat. Follow her at BethCato.com and on Twitter at @BethCato.
Hey, all! Remember those term papers I was digging out from under? Still digging. Good news, though! Here is Bishop O’Connell, my friend and fellow Harper Voyager author, who is celebrating the release of his third book. Check it out!
Three Promises: An American Faerie Tale Collection is my third book. It’s a compilation of short stories—technically three short stories and a novella—and while I’ve always struggled with short fiction, that wasn’t the case here. These stories seemed to write themselves, and the characters truly shine. In my previous books, The Stolen & The Forgotten (available anywhere books are sold) the stories drove the characters. In Three Promises, the opposite is true. There’s no child to rescue, no shadowy enemy snatching kids off the street, and you get to see the characters for who they are. I was worried they wouldn’t stand on their own, but I think they didn’t just stand, they soared I really liked my characters before; now, I love them. I hope you will, too.
Here’s a sample from one of the short stories, “The Legacy of Past Promises”:
Elaine stared at the painting. While her body didn’t move, her heart and mind danced in the halls of heaven. The depth and intensity of mortal passion was astounding to her, and her ability to experience it through art was like a drug. The heavy silence that filled her vast loft was broken by the high-pitched whistle of the teakettle. Elaine extricated herself from the old battered chair, which was so comfortable it should be considered a holy relic. She crossed her warehouse flat to the kitchen area, purposely stepping heavily so the old hardwood floor creaked. She smiled at the sound. It was like a whisper that contained all the memories the building had seen. Unlike the fae, the mortal world was constantly aging. But for those who knew how to listen, it sang of a life well lived in every tired sound. The flat took up the entire top floor of a warehouse that had been abandoned in the early 1900s. She owned it now and was its only permanent tenant. The lower floors of the five-story building were offered as a place to stay to the fifties—half-mortal, half-fae street kids, unwelcome in either world—she knew and trusted. But with all the unrest in Seattle, she was currently its only occupant.
She turned off the burner and the kettle went quiet. Three teaspoons of her personal tea blend went into the pot. The water, still bubbling, went next. The familiar and comforting aroma filled the air, black tea with whispers of orange blossom. Light poured in from the south-facing wall of floor-to-ceiling windows. But she ignored the view of the Seattle skyline. The twenty-foot ceiling was constructed of heavy wooden beams and slats, broken only by the silver of air ducts, a relatively recent addition. The floor was oak, original to the building but well maintained over the years, as were the exposed bricks of the walls and pillars. The flat was large, 5,000 square feet of open space, sparsely furnished with secondhand pieces. They had been purchased so long ago, they were technically antiques now. But she looked past all that to the paintings that covered the walls, collected over centuries and not always through strictly legal means. Nearly every school was represented by at least one piece. Her eyes followed the heavy strokes of a Van Gogh, thought lost by the general public. The emotions and impressions left behind by the artist washed over her. The melancholy and near madness, the longing and love, all mixed together like the colors of the painting itself.
The smell of her tea, now perfectly brewed, broke her reverie. As she poured tea into a large clay mug, her gaze settled on a Rossetti. Elaine smiled as she remembered seeing the painting come to life. Gabriel Rossetti—Elaine could never bring herself to think of him as Dante, it was such an absurd name—had captured Jane’s beauty spectacularly. Jane Morris had been a truly beautiful mortal; it was no wonder Gabriel so often chose her as a model.
Elaine carried the mug back to her chair, sank into the plush cushions, and hit play on the remote. Vivaldi’s Cello Concerto no. 4 in A Minor filled the space. She closed her eyes, letting the music fill her soul. The mournful cello danced with the playful harpsichord. She sipped her tea, opened her eyes, and her gaze fell upon another painting, the one she’d almost lost. Unwanted memories rose to the surface—and just like that, she was back in France, deep in the occupied zone.
The war—or more correctly, the Nazis—had mostly turned the once beautiful countryside and small villages to rubble. The jackbooted thugs had marched with impunity, leaving only death and destruction in their wake
Even now she could almost hear the voices of her long-dead friends.
Elaine blinked. “Pardon?”
François narrowed his eyes. “I asked if you were paying attention,” he said, his French heavy with a Parisian accent. “But you answer my question anyway, yes?”
There were snickers from the collection of men, scarcely more than boys, gathered around the table and map.
“Sorry,” Elaine said, her own carefully applied accent fitting someone from the southern countryside. “You were saying a convoy of three German trucks will be coming down this road.” She traced the route on the map with her finger. “And this being one of the few remaining bridges, they’ll attempt to cross here. Did I miss something?”
François turned a little pink, then a deeper red when the chuckles turned on him. When Paul offered him the bottle of wine, François’s smile returned, and he laughed as well.
“Our little sparrow misses nothing, no?” he asked, then took a swallow of wine before offering her the bottle.
Elaine smiled and accepted.
Six hours later, just before dawn, the explosives had been set and the group was in position. She sat high in a tree, her rifle held close. Despite having cast a charm to turn the iron into innocuous fae iron (a taxing process that had taken her the better part of three weeks), she still wore gloves. On more than one occasion she’d had to use another weapon, one that hadn’t been magically treated.
As the first rays of dawn touched her cheeks, she had only a moment to savor the sublime joy of the morning light. Her keen eyes picked up the telltale clouds of black diesel smoke before she ever saw the vehicles. She made a sparrow call, alerting her fellow resistance fighters.
A thrush sounded back.
They were ready.
Elaine hefted her rifle and sighted down the barrel, her fingertip caressing the trigger. She watched the rise, waiting for the first truck to come into view.
Her eyes went wide and her stomach twisted when she saw the two Hanomags, armored halftrack personnel carriers, leading the three big trucks. That was two units, more than twenty soldiers. She made another birdcall, a nightingale, the signal to abort.
The thrush call came in reply, repeated twice. Proceed.
“Fools,” she swore. “You’re going to get us all killed.”
She sighted down the rifle again and slowed her breathing. They were outnumbered almost three to one and up against armor with nothing but rifles and a few grenades.
“Just an afternoon walk along the Seine,” she said. Of course Germany now controlled Paris and the Seine, so maybe it was an accurate comparison.
The caravan crawled down the muddy road, inching closer to the bridge. Looking through the scope, she watched the gunner on the lead Hanomag. His head was on a swivel, constantly looking one way then another. Not that she could blame him. This was a textbook place for an ambush.
The first Hanomag stopped just shy of the explosive charges.
Her heart began to race. Had they spotted it? No, it was buried and the mud didn’t leave any sign that even she could see. No way could these mortal goose-steppers have—
An officer in the black uniform of the SS stepped out of the second Hanomag, flanked by half a dozen regular army soldiers. Elaine sighted him with her scope, noted her heartbeat, and placed her finger on the trigger.
The tingle of magic danced across her skin as the officer drew a talisman from under his coat. “Offenbaren sich!” he shouted.
There was a gust of wind, and the leaves on the trees near her rustled. She whispered a charm and felt it come up just as the magic reached her. The spell slid over her harmlessly. Her friends weren’t so lucky. A red glow pulsed from the spot where the explosives had been set, and faint pinkish light shone from six spots around the convoy.
“Aus dem Hinterhalt überfallen!” the officer shouted and pointed to the lights.
The gunners on the Hanomags turned and the soldiers protecting the officer took aim.
“Merde,” Elaine cursed, then sighted and fired.
There was a crack, and the officer’s face was a red mist.
Then everything went to hell.
Soldiers poured from the trucks and the Hanomags, the gunners turned their MG-42s toward the now-fading lights marking François and the others. The soldiers took cover behind the armored vehicles and divided their fire between her and her compatriots. She was well concealed, so most of the shots did nothing more than send shredded leaves and bark through the air. Only a few smacked close enough to cause her unease.
Elaine ignored them and sighted one of the MG-42 gunners.
“Vive la France!” someone shouted.
Elaine looked up just in time to see Paul leap from cover and charge at the soldiers, drawing their attention and fire. She watched in horror as the Nazi guns tore him to shreds. Somehow, before falling, he lobbed two grenades into one of the armored vehicles. There came a shout of panic from inside the Hanomag and seconds later came two concussive booms. Debris flew up from the open top of the halftrack and the shouts stopped.
François and the others took advantage of Paul’s sacrifice, moved to different cover, and started firing. A few Nazi soldiers dropped, but the remaining MG-42 began spraying the area with a hail of bullets.
Elaine gritted her teeth and fired two shots; both hit the gunner, and he fell. This again drew fire in her direction.
The fight became a blur after that. She took aim and fired, took aim and fired, over and over again, pausing only long enough to reload. It wasn’t until she couldn’t find another target that Elaine realized it was done, and all the Nazis were dead or dying.
She lay on the branch for a long moment, until the ringing in her ears began to fade. When she moved, a sharp pain in her shoulder brought her up short. More gingerly, she shifted and saw tendrils of white light filled with motes of green drifting from her shoulder. At the center was a growing blossom of gold blood. She rolled and dropped from the tree, landing only slightly less gracefully than normal. Still, the jolt made the pain jump a few numbers on the intensity scale.
She clenched her jaw, hefted her rifle, and carefully inspected the scene. The Germans were all dead, but the driver of one of the Hanomags was still alive. He took a couple shots at her with his Luger, but he’d apparently caught some ricochets or shrapnel because he didn’t even come close. Elaine put him down with a shot through the viewing port.
“Please, help me,” someone said in bad French.
Elaine spun to see a German soldier lying on the ground. He was little more than a kid, maybe sixteen; it didn’t even look like he’d started shaving. She just stared at his tear-filled eyes, blood running down his cheek from the corner of his mouth. He had at least half a dozen holes in his chest. He was already dead, he just didn’t know it.
“Ja,” she said.
His thanks were swallowed by the loud report of the rifle as she put a bullet between his eyes. There was nothing she, or anyone else, could’ve done for him. She wiped tears away and muttered a curse at Hitler and his megalomaniacal plans.
After double-checking that all the soldiers were dead, Elaine made her sparrow call. Her mouth was so dry, the call was hardly recognizable.
Only silence answered her.
Swallowing, she hardened her heart and went to where François and the others had been taking cover. She couldn’t bring herself to look down at the bloodied mess that had been Paul. She just kept walking. Her rifle fell to the ground, then she went to her knees, sobbing, covering her mouth with her good hand.
They were dead, which wasn’t a surprise, but it didn’t make finding them any less heartbreaking. Rémy was almost unrecognizable. If it wasn’t for his blond hair, now matted with blood—Elaine’s stomach twisted and she retched to one side. Michel, Julien, Daniel, Christophe, and Christian were in slightly better shape, for the most part. Julien’s left arm had been chewed up by the machine gun, and Christophe’s torso had been ripped open, allowing his insides to spill out. Elaine sobbed and turned to François. His rifle had been discarded and his pistol was still clutched in his left hand, two fingers having been shot off his right.
Sadness mixed with anger, and she screamed curses at him.
“You arrogant fool!” she said between sobs. “Why didn’t you just call off the operation? You got them all killed!”
It wasn’t long before Elaine grew numb inside. She used her fae healer’s kit to remove the bullet from her shoulder, and a liberal smearing of healing ointment numbed the pain enough to give her almost full use of her arm again. Lastly, she set the pinkish, putty-like dóú craiceann over the wound, sealing it like a second skin. She’d never been much of a healer herself, but she got the job done. With effort, and still careful of her wounded shoulder, she dragged Paul into the cover to join his brothers-in-arms. Elaine whispered a charm and the earth drew itself up and over her friends. A moment later, lush green grass covered the seven mounds.
“Adieu, mes amis,” she said softly.
The ebook is only $0.99 (and how can you not buy a $0.99 book?), but if you preorder the paperback (releases 1/8/16 and is only $3.99) from The Fountain Bookstore, not only will it be signed, but you’ll get an exclusive gift. As a nice bonus, you can also order signed copies of The Stolen and The Forgotten while you’re there, and don’t worry, they ship worldwide.
Bishop O’Connell is the author of the American Faerie Tale series, a consultant, writer, blogger, and lover of kilts and beer, as well as a member of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America. Born in Naples Italy while his father was stationed in Sardinia, Bishop grew up in San Diego, CA where he fell in love with the ocean and fish tacos. While wandering the country for work and school (absolutely not because he was in hiding from mind controlling bunnies), he experienced autumn in New England. Soon after, he settled in Manchester, NH, where he writes, collects swords, revels in his immortality as a critically acclaimed “visionary” of the urban fantasy genre, and is regularly chastised for making up things for his bio. He can also be found online at A Quiet Pint (aquietpint.com), where he muses philosophical on life, the universe, and everything, as well as various aspects of writing and the road to getting published.
Happy Monday, folks! While I’m digging myself out from underneath a pile of term papers, I have a guest post for you from my friend, Teresa Frohock. Enjoy, and be sure to pick up her newest installment in the Los Nephilim series, Without Light or Guide.
Every time I think about heroes, I hear Brad and Janet from the Rocky Horror Picture Show, singing in my head. I am completely aware of how strange this sounds. Unfortunately, there is no cure. I’ve just learned to live with it and pass the earworm along at every available opportunity.
The song I’m talking about is entitled … wait for it … Super Heroes, and the pertinent lyrics go like this:
Brad: I’ve done a lot / God knows I’ve tried / To find the truth / I’ve even lied / But all I know / Is down inside I’m
Janet: And super heroes / Come to feast / To taste the flesh / Not yet deceased / And all I know / Is still the beast is
Of course, if you can’t see why those lines excite my imagination, you haven’t been paying attention to my stories.
Also, for the record, I never really had any heroes like Brad and Janet. I just wanted to give you that earworm before proceeding to the post.
I used to have this thing about heroes, that they all should be like Superman (the one from the 1950s and 1960s–not grimdark Superman, and screw whoever thought that up). Heroes should be good. They should be strong. Their moral compass should never waver.
And so on and so forth and so on.
I thought about heroes a lot while working on Los Nefilim. For a bit of context: my “angels” are really invaders from another realm – they are another species completely separate from the daimons, which are earth spirits, and the mortals. The angels start out good and wholesome with the mortals’ best interests at heart, but by the time In Midnight’s Silence begins, some of the angels have spent so much time in the flesh, they have become corrupted by the very creatures they think they’re trying to save.
And the super heroes the angels have created – the Nephilim – are beginning to hemorrhage emotionally from being involved in a continual war.
As a creature who is half angel and half mortal, Guillermo wonders about his place in this cosmic dynamic. He has served as a general in the angels’ army for centuries. He has not always been content with this role, but he has always been duty-bound to do what is right. When he was young, he went out and performed great deeds, but now he has settled down with a wife and a daughter of his own. One day, his daughter, Ysabel, will succeed him as the leader of Los Nefilim, and Guillermo is beginning to wonder what kind of legacy he will leave for her.
Likewise, Diago’s life changes dramatically when he is faced with the discovery of his young son, Rafael. Living unmoored to either angel or daimon is no longer a choice. He must choose a side and learn to fit in for Rafael’s sake.
And all the while, the angels and the daimons continue to feed, like a beast that is never sated.
Don’t get me wrong. I love the old Superman, the one who never had any doubts. I need heroes like that. I need them because when my moral compass goes south, I want a clear indication of the right thing – the good thing – that should be done.
The reality is that life and choices aren’t so clear cut. That is one the themes I wanted to explore with Los Nefilim. How super heroes are just like us. They want to have all the things: to be safe, to be a good person, to do what is right. Yet in spite of their best intentions, they sometimes do the cowardly thing. And sometimes, the thing that makes them feel safe turns out to be just an illusion of safety, just as it so often is with us.
However, I don’t believe that one kind of hero should supplant the other. That is one of the things that bothers me when people start arguing about grimdark vs. other forms of fantasy. The implication is often that a hero must be one way or the other, and I’ve never felt that to be necessarily true.
I need both kinds of super heroes: the good ones like Superman, and the reluctant ones like Diago. Occasionally, I read stories with no heroes at all. Yet each story is important, because they all show me something about myself.
I aspire to act with Superman’s integrity; although, most often I am more like Diago – a little lost and afraid in the world. However, seeing a variety of characters portrayed, I am able to find balance, and within all of this beautiful fiction we’re making, I find bits and pieces of myself – both the person I aspire to be, and the person that I am.
T. Frohock has turned a love of dark fantasy and horror into tales of deliciously creepy fiction. She lives in North Carolina where she has long been accused of telling stories, which is a southern colloquialism for lying.
She is the author of Miserere: An Autumn Tale and numerous short stories. Her newest series, Los Nefilim, is from Harper Voyager Impulse, and consists of the novellas In Midnight’s Silence, Without Light or Guide, and The Second Death.
Good morning everyone! My foiled blog post about Rothfuss’s The Slow Regard of Silent Things will have to wait because today is the official cover reveal for Goldenfire, the second book in the Darkhaven series by my friend AFE Smith. It will be released by Harper Voyager on 14 January, but if you want to read it sooner, you can enter the giveaway below for your chance to win an advance ebook copy!
In Darkhaven, peace doesn’t last long.
Ayla Nightshade has ruled Darkhaven for three years. With the help of Tomas Caraway, her Captain of the Helm, she has overcome her father’s legacy to find new confidence in herself and her unusual shapeshifting abilities.
Yet three years ago, a discovery was made that could have profound consequences for the Nightshade line: a weapon exists that can harm even the powerful creatures they turn into. And now, that knowledge has fallen into the wrong hands.
An assassin is coming for Ayla, and will stop at nothing to see her dead.
Enter the giveaway:
Today is a special day. Beth Cato, talented writer of the Clockwork Dagger series and fellow Harper Voyager author, is paying us a visit. Read her post, and check out her work (Many steampunk! Very wow!).
The good news is that Harper Impulse Voyager sent me a contract to write a novella in my Clockwork Dagger steampunk fantasy world. Yay! The bad news is that I had never written a novella before, so I was rather freaked out about the whole thing.
Novellas tend to be 17,500-40,000 words long. There are very few magazines that accept stories of that length, so it’s a format that I avoided because it’s so hard to market (though that is starting to change). Like most writers, I tend to have my comfort zones for word counts; my stories tend to be around 1,000 or 4,000 or 6,000 words, and my novels tend to hit at about 90,000. Novellas are out in some wasteland.
But more good news: I wrote the novella, and it’s out as of November 10th! “Wings of Sorrow and Bone” features two teenage girls setting out to save a laboratory full of gremlins from a politically-powerful scientist.
Here’s how I survived going from zero to 27,000 words of published text.
1) I sent up the Bat Signal to call in friends who had written novellas.
They provided great advice, including:
– read more novellas to understand the pacing
– keep the named character count low
– think like a novel cut into a 1/3. I actually pulled out some of my novel outlines to see how long they were to get a sense of how I usually work.
2) I outlined my novella.
There is a constant debate in the writing community about if plotting or writing-by-the-seat-of-your-pants is best. As far as I’m concerned, there shouldn’t be a debate. A writer should find out what works for them, and that might change by the project.
Following that advice to think of it like a short novel, I did my usual “plot vomit” where I write out everything I want to throw in the story. It was a big mess but from there I could fill in gaps and break it into chapters.
3) I wrote and rewrote.
Since I hadn’t done a novella before, I fumbled a lot through the process. I ended up adding a new chapter when I revised, and I had to rewrite another full chapter on my editor’s advice. I had great feedback from critique partners, too–some of those same people who gave me initial advice on writing novellas.
4) I continued to read more novellas as I worked on mine.
My Clockwork Dagger series doesn’t take place on Earth, but it still required a lot of research. For this novella, that research included making a technical study of other novellas:
– How much time did they spend setting up the world at the beginning?
– How many characters did they use?
– At what point did the climax hit?
– How long did it take to resolve things afterward?
It was like returning to my college English 1B class, but a lot more useful and enjoyable.
The good news: “Wings of Sorrow and Bone” received a passing grade from my editor. I’m pretty happy with the end result, too. I can say I’ve published a novella now… and who knows? I just might write another one.
Wings of Sorrow and Bone: A Clockwork Dagger Novella
A few months after the events of The Clockwork Crown…
After being rescued by Octavia Leander from the slums of Caskentia, Rivka Stout is adjusting to her new life in Tamarania. But it’s hard for a blossoming machinist like herself to fit in with proper society, and she’d much rather be tinkering with her tools than at a hoity-toity party any day.
When Rivka stumbles into a laboratory run by the powerful Balthazar Cody, she also discovers a sinister plot involving chimera gremlins and the violent Arena game Warriors. The innocent creatures will end up hurt, or worse, if Rivka doesn’t find a way to stop Mr. Cody. And to do that means she will have to rely on some unexpected new friends.
Available for just 99-cents
Beth Cato hails from Hanford, California, but currently writes and bakes cookies in a lair west of Phoenix, Arizona. She shares the household with a hockey-loving husband, a numbers-obsessed son, and a cat the size of a canned ham.
She’s the author of THE CLOCKWORK DAGGER (a 2015 Locus Award finalist for First Novel) and THE CLOCKWORK CROWN from Harper Voyager.
Today we’ve got a special treat. Here is fellow author A.F.E. Smith, author of Darkhaven, to talk about fights and protagonists in fantasy novels, something fans of the Saga of the Redeemed are no doubt used to. Enjoy!
It is a truth universally acknowledged that the hero of a fantasy novel must be outnumbered at least three to one before the reader even begins to worry that he’s in danger.
Most fantasy fans enjoy a good battle, whether between individuals, groups or armies. And we also like seeing our heroes overcome the odds. But by now, most of us have read enough gratuitously unequal fights that overcoming the odds has become an expectation. In real life, a duel between two people of roughly equal skill and experience – or a war between two evenly matched armies – would be loaded with tension for all concerned, because there’d be no way to predict the outcome. Instead, it would be clear that the battle ahead was going to be long, drawn-out and take a significant toll on all involved, quite possibly without ever resulting in an outright winner. But in fiction, where narrative conventions dictate that the protagonist is going to punch above his weight, evenly matched isn’t enough. Evenly matched means an obvious win for the protagonist. And obvious is boring.
Fantasy novels therefore face the challenge of loading the odds against the protagonist in order to make him the underdog – because everyone loves an underdog – while still making it plausible that he should win. Taken too far, it becomes ridiculous: hey, my mortally wounded and exhausted hero just fought off an entire army with a rusty spoon, isn’t he awesome? Yet not far enough, and it’s just dull: some guy dueled a slightly more skilled guy and beat him. Yay. There’s no tension in the second option, no edge. But the first option can be equally tedious, particularly if it keeps on happening – because someone who can defeat that many people under those conditions is clearly invincible. Every time David successfully overcomes Goliath, there has to be a believable reason for it. And because the plot requires it is not a believable reason.
Tolkien (of course) does this very well in The Lord of the Rings. In every battle, the tide is turned by the fulfillment of a slender hope – and those hopes keep on getting more slender as the book progresses. It wouldn’t have been at all the same if the mighty hordes of Gondor had been facing Sauron’s tiny ragtag army. But nor would it have been the same if Aragorn had single-handedly slaughtered the hordes of Mordor with his kingliness. The plot walks the fine line between too easy and too implausible without setting a foot wrong. Every challenge is overcome, but only just. And that’s what keeps us on the edge of our seats.
Of course, many books since Tolkien have subverted the expectations that we have of our protagonists. Most of us probably got near the end of George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones and thought, Aha! This is a classic unequal fight situation! Ned’s in a pretty tricky position now, but I just bet he’s going to overcome the odds at the last minute. After all, he is the protagonist!
And we all know how that turned out.
Still, I love an unequal fight, and I didn’t hesitate to put one into my own novel. Here’s a tiny snippet from Darkhaven in which my stubborn sort-of hero, Tomas Caraway, is faced with the prospect of getting past a whole group of warriors just when the stakes are at their highest …
‘Just give it up, Caraway,’ one of the women said. ‘Go home.’
He shook his head. ‘I can’t.’
‘Fine.’ Her face showed no hint of sympathy. ‘Then you accept what’s coming to you.’ She glanced around the circle. ‘Weapons away, lads.’
The sound of steel being sheathed rang through the air. Caraway scanned their grim faces and understood what was about to happen. They wouldn’t afford him the dignity of swordplay, with its attendant rules and courtesies. How could they? He had no blade to speak of; it wouldn’t be fair.
So instead, they would maintain their code of practice by beating him up with their bare hands. The fact that there were twenty of them and just one of him had no bearing on the matter.
It’s probably fair to say that he doesn’t stand much chance of triumphing in this encounter. Yet for all that, I think the outcome is realistic. See what you think.
Ayla Nightshade never wanted to rule Darkhaven. But her half-brother Myrren – true heir to the throne – hasn’t inherited their family gift, forcing her to take his place.
When this gift leads to Ayla being accused of killing her father, Myrren is the only one to believe her innocent. Does something more sinister than the power to shapeshift lie at the heart of the Nightshade family line?
Now on the run, Ayla must fight to clear her name if she is ever to wear the crown she never wanted and be allowed to return to the home she has always loved.
A.F.E. Smith is an editor of academic texts by day and a fantasy writer by night. So far, she hasn’t mixed up the two. She lives with her husband and their two young children in a house that someone built to be as creaky as possible – getting to bed without waking the baby is like crossing a nightingale floor. Though she doesn’t have much spare time, she makes space for reading, mainly by not getting enough sleep (she’s powered by chocolate). Her physical bookshelves were stacked two deep long ago, so now she’s busy filling up her e-reader.
What A.F.E. stands for is a closely guarded secret, but you might get it out of her if you offer her enough snacks.