Midweek and a Short Story

I have a massive to-do list looming over my head, so instead of tackling that I sat down and wrote a short story.

But! Before we get to that, I do have the pre-order link for The Stranger, a horror anthology due out October 2nd that will include my standalone prequel to The Half Killed, “With My Own Eyes.”

Now, the short story.

It’s another entry into the files of That Victorian-era Werewolf/Gaslamp Fantasy Story I Need To Sit Down and Write. (I keep saying “this fall,” but this fall is almost here, so… hmph.)

So read, enjoy, and be warned that it’s a longer one, nearly 6k words. Just so you know.

An Only Pawn An Only Pawn

A flick, a brief push of air as the folded note cuts a path towards the tabletop, and there is the name and particulars of the person I am to kill, written in a cramped, blotted scrawl.

A confession, Reader: I have never killed another person. No matter that I unfold the paper carelessly, that I read the words forged on the surface of the vellum as if I were scanning the details of a shopping list; inside of me there is a great tremor of something—fear, perhaps—that what I have been appointed to do will mark an event from which I can never recover.

“There’s no concern over whether or not the death should appear natural.” The man across the table from me—Edwards, is his name, as if he were a valet come to decry the muddy state of my boots—brushes his knuckles across his jaw before pausing to bite at the edge of a ragged fingernail. Nothing else about him is ragged, his coat and trousers immaculately tailored, if a bit nondescript. But it’s not our purpose to garner attention here, in a middling tavern that treads a delicate line between the upper echelons of London society and the filthier holes of drink and gaming that share their foundations with the swarms of rats and overflowing gutters near the river’s edge.

“So a slit throat and all will be well, hmm?” I look at the paper again, at the name that loops its way across the upper corner of the page.

Lady Ariadne Drummond.

Continue reading “Midweek and a Short Story”

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A Monday Post

I’m notoriously bad at working on multiple projects at once. At this moment, I have three documents open on my laptop, plus this blog post, and the dishwasher is running, and there are cookies in the oven, and STUFF SO MUCH STUFF TO DO I’M GOING TO DIE BENEATH A PILE OF ALL THIS STUFF AND ALL THIS JUNK MAIL I REFUSE TO SORT THROUGH.

And I do it to myself, of course. And secretly (well, not so secretly anymore since this is a blog and I’m typing these words for all seven of the people who will read this) I do it because I want to. Because I enjoy having thirty-nine irons in the fire and also my house is on fire because I’m too busy trying to find a word that means “nonchalant” but isn’t “nonchalant.”

So. Today I’m going to talk about Daughters of Men. It’s a project I’ve been toodling with on and off for about ten years or so (much more off than on, obviously) but it’s finally making its way to the forefront of my brain and so also garnering the majority of my attention.

Brother and sister, they were raised in fear, told to keep to the shadows cast by the walls slowly crumbling down around them.

Kai and Isak Vadra have lived their entire lives in London, scratching out a living in the shadows of the city’s filthy slums. While their mother struggles to keep them safe from the everyday threats of hunger and crime, a new danger presents itself, one beyond the reaches of politics and police.

Their mother does everything within her power to prevent this new danger from tearing their world apart. But instead of safety, it threatens to bring to light her worst fear, that a secret their family has kept for generations will finally be revealed.

I’m going to try to update fairly regularly about progress (I’d LOVE to see this one finished and fine-tuned and published sometime in the first half of next year, but I refuse to make any promises) and I’ll be generous and leave a little snippet from the first chapter here (before I run off to grab those cookies out of the oven.)

Her bowl sat on the floor in beside her, forgotten after only a few bites. Instead, she concentrated on the small tin lamp, her hands clasped loosely in front of her, elbows resting on her knees. Isak watched her, the steadiness of her gaze causing him to hold his breath. The flame flickered once and was still.

“Kai.” Her name was a hiss between his teeth. He glanced at his mother to make sure her back was turned towards them.

His sister’s dark blue eyes met his.

“Stop it,” he mouthed, and shook his head in warning.

Her cheekbones pushed upward, turning her eyes into slits as she smiled. A second later, another flicker of light, brighter this time, shot halfway up the lamp’s narrow glass chimney.

He wanted to say something, wanted to bark an order at her to quit, but their mother was right there, her shoulders hunched forward as she scrubbed at the inside of the soup pot, her sleeves rolled up to her elbows.

Unable to think of another option, Isak kept his head down, picked up his spoon and stirred what was left of his dinner. “Please,” he whispered again, but the flame continued to dance at the tip of the wick, strange shadows cast outside the small circle of light.

The blast made less noise than he imagined it would. The glass went everywhere, a few larger chunks littering the floor between them, while needle-sharp slivers had flown in all directions, some disappearing into the last of his soup.

Kai laughed, then gasped before clapping her hands over her mouth. There was the sound of rummaging above them, and then a match flamed to life and a candle was lit. Their mother stood over the two of them, the sharp lines and hollows of her face exaggerated by the candle’s twitching flame. Her eyes glittered as she surveyed the mess on the floor. She said nothing. Then, she bent down and struck Kai across the cheek.

Isak winced at the sound but failed to look away.

“Here.” His mother threw a cloth at her daughter and nodded to the lump of distorted metal that had been a functioning lamp only minutes before. “Clean it up, every piece.”

“But—”

“Say another word, Kai. Go on, then.”

Kai picked up the cloth and ran the stained edges of it between her fingers. Her bottom lip quivered as if she was about to speak, or about to burst into tears. Slowly, with a hand that trembled, she reached out and picked up a shard of glass from in front of her knee.

Isak picked up his bowl and stacked it on top of his sister’s.

“Go to bed,” his mother told him. Her voice was calm, quiet, as if she was reluctant to disturb the hush that had descended since the lamp went out.

“What about…?” He glanced at Kai, the cloth spread out in front of her, a small pile of glass and bits of metal accumulating in the center of the fabric.

“She’ll be along when she’s done. She has to do this. She has to learn.”

 

 

“The Stranger” Cover Reveal

Today, on this most auspicious of eclipse days (eh, or it’s the first sign of the apocalypse. EITHER WAY) I am absolutely chuffed to bring you the cover reveal of The Stranger, an anthology in which I will release my horror/fantasy short story, “With My Own Eyes,” a prequel to my novel “The Half Killed.”

Corbeau Cover large

I love it. (Am I allowed to say that? Yes. Yes, I am.)

The release date is set for October 2nd, perfect timing for Halloween and cups of cocoa and crunchy leaves (unless you’re in the southern hemisphere, then… well.) I’ll post again soon with pre-order links as soon as they’re available. Now, time for coffee and some solar/lunar gymnastics…

Stranger Teaser 1

More info can be found at Corbeau Media.

Halloween is Coming

It’s still August. I know. But the giant, inflatable pumpkin displays are already up at the grocery store, surrounded by troughs of candy corn and bags of mini-Snickers and there is NO WAY any of that would last more than a day in this house if I bought it to put away until the end of October. (Which is most likely their dastardly plan: Buy candy now! Give in to temptation and eat it all! Come back to buy more!)Halloween 026

But a step outside shows the leaves on the trees acquiring that late-summer tinge of brown (I’d say that the grass is dry and crinkling, as it usually is this time of year, but it’s incredibly wet so I’ll just scratch that one off the list) and the days are, whether I want to admit or not, growing shorter. Which can mean only one thing:

Halloween is on the horizon.

It’s one of my kids’ favorite holidays! Dress up and go begging for free candy? MAGIC, I SAY. But there’s another thing happening this year that is a first for me: I’ll be taking part in an anthology with several other authors.

DUN DUN DUNNNNNNNN!

Wait. No. I’ve done that bit before. Hang on…

It’s a horror anthology!

DUN DUN DUNNNNNNNNN! (See? Better, yes.)

To tell the truth, I’m the biggest scaredy cat there is. I cannot watch or read horror and expect to live a normal and productive life for at least 72 hours after consuming such frightening product. So all of those Friday the 13th and Dawn of the Dead and blood and limbs and masks and teenagers being chased by a madman who likes to wear other people’s skin for a hat? Yeah, nope. Nope, nope, nope. Not gonna happen. I’ll stick with my Jane Austen and Narnia and comforting things like that.

And yet I wrote a short story for a horror anthology. I’m funky like that.

The story is actually a stand-alone prequel to The Half Killed, so it involves seances and possession and spirits that may or may not be what they seem. Because I’ll be honest again and admit that little does more to scare me than things like demonic possession/oppression and all of that Exorcist/ouija board kind of stuff. *shivers*

So why not write a story about it!

The anthology comes out in October (I’ll have more details soon, release date, cover, etc.) and just as a teaser, I’m posting the first couple of paragraphs (I won’t give out more than that, since it’s a short story.)

And with that, here are the first few lines of “With My Own Eyes,” a prequel to “The Half Killed.”

***

My hand trembles, and so I press it into my skirts, grasping at the fabric there until I fool myself with the belief that I can manage my own limbs again. It’s this moment I wait for above all others, the final drawing in of the curtain as a mangled prayer tumbles from my lips.

For the last hour, a hundred pairs of eyes have been upon me, their owners’ myriad shiftings and muffled coughs serving to highlight my every reluctance to open my mouth and speak. But I had no choice, and the words tumbled forth. Marta kept to her place in the wings, her chin raised so that the limelight illuminated the smooth, white expanse of her throat. She doesn’t allow me to hesitate for longer than can be attributed to my own quirks of performance, a pause here and there as I allow the spirits to seek out their communion with me. But the voices are already there, always there, clamoring for the smallest window through which they can flood my every thought.

It’s a Tuesday!

It’s Tuesday. I’m having to remind myself of this quite frequently today, since every part of my brain keeps declaring that it’s at least Wednesday or later. Silly brain.

I finally finished up the epilogue for An Unpracticed Heart yesterday. Now I simply need to edit my way through the entire manuscript (plus revise the epilogue) and have it off to my editor by Monday. *weak laughter*

Daughters of Men is trudging along (that sounds desultory, but it’s not). My plan is for a release just after the New Year, and lots of fun tying it in with The Half Killed’s world while I work on the next book in *that* series. (I really do need to stop jumping all over the place with my writing (PICK A GENRE, QUEN) but I think I’ve realized this is just how my brain works, fortunately or unfortunately. Silly brain.)

And so! To make up for the lack of meat in this post, I bring you a short story, just shy of 1500 words, titled “Driftwood.” As long as my brain doesn’t want to go ahead and turn it into something longer…

***

DriftwoodDriftwood

Jesper cursed. The cold wasn’t supposed to get to him, that’s what they said. But he felt it still, in his knees, in his hands, even in the arches of his feet. Everything hurt. And as he made his way down to the shore, clinging to the slick rocks for balance, he cursed every person who had promised him there would be no more pain.

He glanced at the horizon, at the pale green glow that illuminated the distance. It would be morning soon. It was morning already, he reminded himself, whether the blink of fading stars agreed with him or not. There was an hour left, maybe. And then who knew what other vultures would come to make their claim.

He skirted the water as best he could, veering away from the waves as they crept upwards, erasing his footprints before he could take another step. The body was in the shallows, a dark blot against the pale background. It could’ve been a piece of driftwood left to bleach in the day’s sun. Jesper moved towards it, drawn by the glimmer of life, or what was left of it.

As he approached, he saw that the dying man’s face, the closed eyes, the parted lips. He was young, Jesper thought. Hardly a man. With another glance at the brightening horizon, Jesper placed his hands on his knees and settled down on the nearest rock.

It wasn’t more than a few minutes before Jesper looked up again, his gaze drawn by the quick splash-splash of feet moving along the edge of the water. He hadn’t considered the possibility that there would be more than one coming to collect. He wondered if he should stand up, greet the newcomer as an equal. But his bones wouldn’t agree to this, and so he remained seated, one hip throbbing as he shifted his weight forward.

The newcomer moved with ease, leaping over the rocks and detritus that littered the small pools. He greeted Jesper with a grin, both cheeks pushed upwards. Jesper cleared his throat.

“Hey, uh… Don’t touch that.”

The other man balanced on the edge of a flat rock, his heels resting on nothing but air. His right arm was in front of him, fingers outstretched, while his eyes took in the cliff side, the

ragged edge of soil washed away during the storm. His grin returned when his gaze made the circuit back to Jesper. “You’re Land,” he said, teeth shining like pearls in the pre-dawn light.

A grunt. That was all Jesper would give him. “The boy’s not gone yet.”

“Soon enough.” The man bobbed on the edge of his rock, up and down, up and down, a motion that matched the lap of waves behind him.

“Do you think he’s yours, then?”

“What? This?” The man indicated the body between them, as if only registering its presence for the first time. “Of course. I’m surprised you feel the need to ask.”

Jesper waited for more. He waited for an explanation. He waited for the other man to leave off bouncing and skip back the way he’d come. He looked down at the body half sunk in the water, the body of the boy who had yet to die.

“You’ve no claim on him,” Jesper announced.

“Really? Should we cut him open? See what’s filling his lungs?” The man chuckled. “If he’s got a chestful of dirt, then I’ll gladly relinquish my hold on him.”

“He’s on land now,”Jesper pointed out.

“That he is,” he conceded.

“He’s also still living.”

Again, the grin. “I’d heard you were a stickler for details.”

Jesper nodded toward the water, illuminated by the sky above it. “There’s not much time left.”

The man leaned over the body, eyes narrowing as he searched the neck for a pulse. “No worries,” he said. “Another minute or two and it won’t matter.” He stood up and tilted his face up toward the sky.

The other man was also young, Jesper thought. And tricky. The young ones always were.

“I’m surprised he’s stayed on this long,” the man announced, his smile never leaving his face. “It’s always a bit of a bother when they decide to linger.”

Jesper looked down at the boy again. His face was an odd, colorless shade. The skin that stretched across his jaw seemed to be as fragile as paper, ready to tear, to disintegrate into nothing.

“You didn’t get enough with the storm? You have to take this one, as well?”

The man stepped onto a smaller rock that dipped precariously beneath his weight. “I don’t understand why you try to be so stubborn, so solid all the time.” His grin brightened, then

faded rapidly. “You want to be immovable. You want to be a bulwark. A protection. And I… I don’t understand it.”

A minute passed. The sound of the waves was an irritant. Jesper shut his eyes and released a breath, ready to curse himself for reacting to the man’s prodding. “What?” he asked finally.

The man tilted his head to one side, regarding him curiously. “I’m sorry?”

“What is it? What don’t you understand?”

“Oh, that.” Another grin, this time accompanied by a brief shrug. “Just the silliness of it, your insistence on never giving in, and yet…” He moved gracefully from one stone to another, arms spread wide as he gestured towards the battered shoreline. “You’re so malleable, so easy to tear down.”

Jesper nodded. “You’re trying to distract me.”

The man hopped onto another rock and dropped down to his haunches. “A little bit, yes. But it doesn’t seem to be working all that well.”

Jesper shook his head.

“I must admit, you’re fairly pleasant for one of your kind.”

Jesper made no indication that he would return the compliment.

The man reached his fingers into the still pool of water that surrounded the dying boy’s legs. The surface of the water shimmered, ripples gliding outward and then swirling clockwise before they turned back again. As he removed his hand, the water calmed, the only color it reflected that of the grey sky shifting above it.

“So what are we to do with him?” he asked, his gaze fixed on the drops of water that clung to his fingertips.

We will do nothing,”Jesper said, and dug his heels into the soft sand beneath his shoes. “The boy’s about to expire, and that’s a great deal of soil beneath his rear, despite how waterlogged his boots might be.”

The man laughed. It was a bright, giddy sound that bounced off the rock wall and  mingled with the breaking of the waves against the shoreline. “What? You don’t feel inclined to gamble for him? Or perhaps some wise man will rule that we should cut him in half, each of us taking our fair share.”

Jesper placed his hands on the rock. He didn’t want to stand. He was too tired, too sore to stand. But he dug his heels in deeper, until he felt the water squelch out of the sand, and even the rock beneath him seemed to sink farther into the ground. “Should this boy have drowned at home, in the tub, which one of us would be there to collect him then, hmm?”

His smile faded, and a line appeared between his eyebrows. “You’re going to make this difficult.” He sighed and stood up again to his full height. Around him, the various pools and shallows began to ripple. Behind him, the waves that crashed onto the shore reached far enough inland to swallow up a wall of debris left behind by the storm.

Jesper didn’t stir. He felt the rock beneath him, the roots of it reaching down into the earth. He rolled his shoulders forward, and the movement was echoed by a groan from the stone wall. A few pebbles broke loose and bounced down to the sand.

“You’ve no claim on him,” Jesper repeated. He didn’t raise his eyes.

The man spread out the fingers of his left hand. The water around the boy’s figure shimmered in response. “If that’s the way you’re going to play, then—”

There was a harsh cough, and then a wet retching sound.

Jesper looked down. The boy moved. His thin chest heaved as his lungs fought for air. More coughing, and the boy managed to raise his head out of the sand, rivulets of water dribbling from the corners of his mouth.

“Oh,” the man said, his lean figure looming over the boy. “That’s inconvenient.”

Jesper let his gaze sweep back towards the horizon. A sliver of sunlight appeared above the waves, setting their crests on fire. He smiled, then. He couldn’t help it. And when he looked back at the other man, he caught a glimpse of a grin in reply before the both of them glimmered and winked out of sight.

***

 

Senlin Ascends by Josiah Bancroft – A Review

I’m going to start out by saying I don’t often review books here. I’ll leave reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, but not always on my website/blog. Mostly because I don’t feel that I have the critical chops necessary for stripping a story down to its nuts and bolts and slapping an arbitrary number of stars on it.

Because it would, in many ways, be arbitrary. I’ll give points for good prose, good editing, and all of those other little things (flow, story, dialogue that doesn’t sound rinky-dink awful) but I’ll give points for things beyond the measurable “quality” of a story. I’ve awarded high ratings/reviews to books that simply made me feel good during difficult times, just because.

So!

All of that being disclaimered away, let’s dive in. 518+9kYvi0L

First up, what it’s all about:

While honeymooning in the Tower of Babel, Thomas Senlin loses his wife, Marya.

The Tower of Babel is the greatest marvel of the Silk Age. Immense as a mountain, the ancient Tower holds unnumbered ringdoms, warring and peaceful, stacked one on the other like the layers of a cake. It is a world of geniuses and tyrants, of airships and steam engines, of unusual animals and mysterious machines.

Thomas Senlin, the mild-mannered headmaster of a small village school, is drawn to the Tower by scientific curiosity and the grandiose promises of a guidebook. The luxurious Baths of the Tower seem an ideal destination for a honeymoon, but soon after arriving, Senlin loses Marya in the crowd.

Senlin’s search for Marya carries him through madhouses, ballrooms, and burlesque theaters. He must survive betrayal, assassination, and the long guns of a flying fortress. But if he hopes to find his wife, he will have to do more than just survive. This quiet man of letters must become a man of action.

Within the first few pages, the menace of the tower and the areas surrounding it are put on display. Before we’re given more than the briefest of introductions (and yet enough of an introduction to know early on something of the personality of Thomas Senlin and Marya) his wife is swept away from him, a “victim” of the overcrowded market that shifts and bustles near the base of the tower.

And as quick as one can turn away and look back again, Senlin’s almost obsessive love of the Tower and the order depicted in the handbook he carries around with him earns its first, rather large, crack.

Because, as is demonstrated in a few flashback chapters sprinkled throughout the book, Thomas Senlin loves the Tower of Babel. It leaks into his teaching, the wonder of its well-ordered levels – or “ringdoms” – perfectly fits his personality, one that craves order and logic and everything to be just so.

But of course, we wouldn’t have a story if Senlin and Marya had arrived for their honeymoon to find everything just as the guidebook had described.

And so Senlin has to enter the tower and climb if he wants a better chance of finding his wife. Thomas Senlin, this mild-mannered man who wants nothing more than to teach his students and build his kites and enjoy a sedate life with his new bride is now forced to tangle himself with people he’s repeatedly told not to trust, in a whole new world that doesn’t seem to follow any set of rules or instructions, or at least not any set that he’s been given.

Now, I could go into further description of his climb upwards through some of the tower’s levels, but because I fear accidentally spoiling something, I’m going to begin a slow summing up.

The pros:

The writing itself is glorious. Josiah Bancroft has a gift with words, creating lines that I wanted to pause and read again simply because of how beautifully crafted they were. I read some reviews that said the story started off too slow, but it’s a deliberate, gorgeous build, one that slips under your skin, almost lulling you into comfort until a brief, keen shot of violence or injustice sears as hotly as a brand.

Thomas Senlin himself is an unlikely hero, which is why many of his actions are not textbook heroic at all. Instead, there are moments of cowardice and disbelief and guilt and fear. Instead of weapon-totingly, one-liner-flinglingly heroic, he is human. Which makes his every experience in the tower more visceral for the reader (well, for me, at least.)

The supporting characters are strong enough that I found myself wanting to read each of their own stories from life in the tower. It’s a wonderful thing that we’re given side characters who, instead of existing merely to prop up our protagonist, serve to show how large and rich and fleshed-out this world really is.

The cons:

I’m honestly trying to think of some. I can say that this book is not for everyone (though neither is any book, really.) There is no great action moment to start us off, very few “DUN-DUN-DUUUUNNNNN!” scenes to take one’s breath away. And yet it succeeds at pulling in the reader, at keeping the pages turning because you really, truly don’t know what might happen next.

And for those who pay attention to such things: There is only mild language in the book, the violence – while quick and shocking – is not described in every moment of bloody gore, and there are no scenes of a sexual nature (so no hanky-panky time, if you were looking for that sort of thing.)

 

[Snappy Title Goes Here]

It’s Friday and I’m sitting here, trying to wake up a bit. (It’s not working out too well, seeing as how I misspelled about four of the words in that sentence. And then I forgot the second “s” in “misspell.”) One child is watching Moana while another seems to be staring into some great, dark void and a third is probably eating something he shouldn’t and the fourth is still upstairs sleeping. (Lucky child. She’ll be doing chores later to pay for her gift of sleeping in.) And here I am, already misplacing the point of this paragraph.

It’s been that kind of week.

Basically, I hit a wall. Not a writer’s block kind of wall or anything like that, just a moment where everything I was doing became too much and my brain began to squelch in my head like so much useless squelchy stuff and things like clipping coupons became rather taxing.

I had Reasons, you know. The Firstborn came out in May. The Bride Price came out on Tuesday. I’m polishing up another book set to come out in October. There are two anthologies set for this fall that I’m slated to be a part of. And then there are children in this house, spilling out of every crevice (crevasse?), constantly needing more food and clean underpants and wanting to go places like swimming pools and the library and dance lessons. And then my husband picked up some bug/illness/plague which involved him having a terrible fever off and on for a week and a cough that sounded like his lungs wanted to break free from the paltry confines of his ribcage and then my brain went NOPE and here we are.

It’s Friday, and I’m still trying to wake up.

I gave myself a couple of weeks to breathe. I mean, The Bride Price still had to have its debut. But I didn’t write anything new, not really. All the other characters, sitting in their lovely little worlds (okay, some of them have not-so-lovely worlds where people kill one another with hammers and then they miss afternoon tea) had to be pushed back for a bit, while I tried to remember basic things like daily ablutions and consuming food that wasn’t a cookie or cake or… I don’t know. The names of other types of food are escaping me right now.

But the moral of this story (Yes, there’s a moral, watch me meander my way towards it) is that you need to find a way to give your brain a break from time to time. Even if it’s only a five-minute mini-break while you hunker in the bathroom and cry over the Oreos you hid from the kids (… what?), your brain needs a moment to step back and regroup.

Over the next three-ish months, I’m starting my oldest in third grade work, my second daughter in first grade work, my oldest boy in pre-k, and all while trying to keep my toddler from sledding down the stairs or eating the drywall. I’ll have two – possibly three – writing-related releases. The girls will start up their dance lessons for the fall and there will be library things and homeschool things and LAUNDRY DEAR LORD WHY DO YOU KEEP WEARING CLOTHES AND THEN CHANGING INTO OTHER CLOTHES AND WHY DO I HAVE MORE UNMATCHED SOCKS IN THIS HOUSE THAN MATCHED???

*deep breath* Moral, Quenby. Don’t forget the moral.

So. To sum up!

The Bride Price is out now and it has a shiny new cover! cover_sub1_800

See? So shiny…

I managed to somehow (hides sacrificial goat remains) make it the shortlist of a flash fiction contest headed up by fantasy author Mark Lawrence.

One of the little dudes inhabiting this household turned four AND got a haircut.

DSCN3665

And that’s my week! Now… back to work.

After Oreos, of course.