“All Ends” or Things Are About to Get Stabby

So, hey!

A little while ago, I won an award. I’m usually an “honorable mention” kind of person, so to actually win something felt a little bit unprecedented. But the wonderful people who frequent the r/fantasy subreddit had a vote and my story “All Ends” won for Best Short Fiction of 2019.

(Some notes: I tied with Alix E. Harrow, author of The Ten Thousand Doors of January.)

(The story can be found in the anthology Heroes Wanted, currently available for FREE on Amazon)

The award arrived yesterday. It is aptly named “The Stabby.” I am giddily proud of this little sticker.

90594886_10163061494585462_6832127172077944832_o

In – minor – celebration of this event, I’m going to post “All Ends” in its entirety here (I mean, the anthology has nineteen different fantasy stories from authors like Michael Sullivan and Will Wight and Phil Tucker and K.S. Villoso and many more, so my suggestion would be to check that out) for those who just want a quick click and read.

So without further ado, here is… “All Ends.”

***

She is such a small thing. Small and delicate, made all of limbs and sharp angles yet to be grown into. Marit notices this first before anything; the slightness of her, how she seems to have shrunk with the absence of breath and life. 

Pale hair, stiff and straight as straw scattered across the floor. Eyes closed, thank God. Lips gray and parted. Nostrils still flared with fright, or anger, as if she is ready to clamber up from her pose on the floor and admonish everyone around her for letting such a thing come to pass. 

And there is her neck. Broken, Marit thinks. Decorated with livid bruises. 

The dead don’t bruise.

The thought slips away as swiftly as it came. Marit brushes her hands across the front of her skirt – once, twice, three times – and steps forward. 

“Fetch the police.”

The other girls stand around, still in their shifts and dressing gowns. Yesterday’s rouge and face paint is smeared across their cheeks, smudges of kohl deepening the shadows beneath their eyes. Mrs. Talbot has yet to be roused, so it is Marit’s voice that carries above the hum of restless worrying. 

“The police!” She tugs at the sleeve of the girl closest to her, a more recent arrival to Mrs. Talbot’s establishment and the one who is the nearest to being properly dressed for the day. “Stop gaping like a trout and go!”

Now that she’s spoken the others begin to press in, but Marit shoos them away. “Someone wake Mr. Fanny. Clear him out of here before we’ve got everyone traipsing in and out of the house.” One of the kitchen maids glances around at the assembled company before peeling away from the group and rushing towards the back stairs. “The rest of you go to the dining room. There’ll be breakfast, for those of you who still want to eat it.”

They shuffle away, some of them twisting their heads around to look back, the strips of rags tied into their curls bobbing around their shoulders. 

“Julia,” Marit calls, and one of the women pauses at the door leading out of the bedroom. “Will you wake her?”

Julia sets one hand on the side of the doorframe, her lacquered fingernails scraping at the soft, peeling paint. “I’d rather not.”

Marit stands beside the body. Her fingers twitch again and she looks towards the bed, wondering if she should take one of the sheets and use it to cover the girl.

Cora, she reminds herself. The girl’s name was Cora. 

Continue reading ““All Ends” or Things Are About to Get Stabby”

Angels in Their Places – A Short Story

Today, somehow, I managed to reach 1k followers on Twitter.

Yeah, I’m not sure why they’re following me, either.

But! In honor of this momentous achievement, I bring you a new short story, never before made public.

Angels in Their Places is a 10k word tale (yes, it’s a bit long) of dark magic and survival. It’s also been burning a hole in my computer for the last few months, so it needs to be read.

In advance, thank you for reading! I hope you enjoy this latest fantasy short of mine.1280px-black_angel_iowa_city2

***

Angels in Their Places

In the dark. There is no moon, not tonight. The light of the stars prick holes in the sky, the morning near enough she thinks herself capable of reaching up and plucking one of them free of the black fabric above. There is mist carried off on every breath, nothing she can see but the moisture is there, warming her hands as she blows into the thin weave of her gloves.

Twigs snap beneath her feet. She is light, almost frail, her shoes soft, but still he looks back at her, the pause in his progress a chastisement enough. Her head goes down again, eyes searching over a ground she cannot see. Twigs, leaves, roots and branches that cause her to stumble, catching at her skirts like sharp grasping fingers.

He takes her arm, grip tight as he guides her forward. More than the detritus of the woods around them, pieces of stone digging into the balls of her feet. Sharp bits of gravel. A lane before them, nearly hidden in the dark, but it pulls them onward. A gate, then. Stone columns rising upward, against a horizon boasting the first touch of grey dawn. A gate torn from its hinges and left abandoned, vines growing over it, dead leaves curled over iron.

Continue reading “Angels in Their Places – A Short Story”

Review: The Wolf of Oren-yaro by K.S. Villoso

51BwLUtcqUL._SY346_

Born under the crumbling towers of Oren-yaro, Queen Talyien’s life unfolded like a storybook. The shining jewel and legacy of the bloody War of the Wolves that nearly tore her nation apart, her marriage to Rayyel, the son of her father’s rival, spoke of peaceful days to come. 

But all storybooks must end. Rayyel’s sudden departure before their reign began created fractures that left the land as divided as ever. 

Years later, Talyien receives a message from Rayyel, urging her to meet with him across the sea. An assassination attempt interrupts Talyien’s quest for reconciliation, sending the queen struggling in a strange and dangerous land. With betrayals in every twist and turn, she is forced to enlist the help of a con-artist to survive and save her husband from the clutches of those who would seek to use him for their gain…if he would let her.

***

I was fortunate enough to receive an ARC of The Wolf of Oren-yaro from the author, so I read it once in the fall of 2017, and then read it again earlier this month to refresh my memory before typing up this review in time for the book’s release.

If you’re unfamiliar with Villoso’s previous works (or even if you have read some of her earlier books, like Birthplace or The Agartes Epilogues) I will begin by saying that her stories are primarily character-driven. Her worldbuilding is excellent, so much so that instead of laying it out for you like a blueprint, she releases it to you slowly, through the eyes and thoughts of her characters, until you suddenly have an entire town, a country, a continent laid out before you without having realized it.

The Wolf of Oren-yaro focuses on Talyien, a Queen meant to co-rule with her husband Rayyel in a union devised from their childhood in order to put an end to fighting that has torn through their lands. Unfortunately, Rayyel is gone, leaving Talyien to rule a country that doesn’t want to be ruled. Or at least not by her.

We come upon Talyien several years into this task. Her warlords are rustling with rebellion. The other neighboring lands give her little to no respect. And if she’s not careful, she and her son might be assassinated and replaced by someone… anyone willing to make such a bold move. In order to restore some semblance of peace, Talyien attempts to find Rayyel and bring him back to help her rule. But it is when the meeting goes awry that Talyien realizes there is no one she can trust, and the bubble of royalty in which she’s been raised has not fully prepared her to fight for her throne.

We see all of this through Talyien’s eyes. Told in first person, we’re never left in doubt of her feelings, her opinion of the characters revolving around her. From con artists to mad rulers, she must use all of her wits, her persistence, her courage to keep from falling prey to those willing to use her as a tool, or simply get her out of the way.

Villoso’s main strength, as already mentioned, is in her characters. But this is backed up by strong pacing, lovely prose, and underlying themes of a daughter’s feelings of inadequacy in her father’s shadow, all of which are woven through every page until  it works into a beautiful tapestry that easily juggles court intrigue and politics as well.

I recommend The Wolf of Oren-Yaro to people who like or are looking for first-person narratives, female protagonists, non-European fantasy settings, female authors, and stories that might break your heart, just a little bit.

***

Buy it on Amazon now!

 

A Post That Is Not About Writing

It’s about grief. So really, you can stop there if you like. I won’t side-eye you at all if you back away slowly.

But today is September 18th. This date has absolutely no importance to me or my family. No birthdays, anniversaries, deaths… there is nothing I can think of to attribute to this particular day that should matter to me. Family

And yet here we are, two years and three months out from my father’s death (Passing? Demise? Shuffle from this mortal coil? None of them sound right.) and the grief from it is pricking at me like a fresh, raw thing.

When I was a kid, there were no major deaths that rocked our family. I was lucky not to lose any immediate family members at a young age, so I imagined that grief would start out harsh and painful, loads of wailing and the whole sackcloth and ashes bit, but then it would slowly taper off, the sharpness would dull, eroded away to a pebble of sadness that would make me feel occasionally misty or sentimental when something would trigger a memory to bubble back up to the surface. That would be it. A steady progression, and nothing more.

But lo and behold, two years out from dealing with the death of my dad and a miscarriage, and the rough edges haven’t worn down. Last night, my youngest daughter wanted me to read a book about owls to her, and I sat there and bawled and blubbered through the entire story, because there was a Grandpa Owl and he took his little owl grandkids fishing and I’M OUT I’M OUT I’M DONE MY FACE FEELS THICK AND BURNY AND I DON’T LIKE THIS ANYMORE.

It was like stepping onto what I thought would be a safe, quiet, one-lane dirt road and getting run down by an out-of-state U-Haul towing a pick-up truck behind it. And I’m still feeling the repercussions of it today, like the slightest thing might set it off again, and all for seemingly no reason. 12931044_10156633333710462_5131290375944612566_n

But I guess since life is like that, smacking you in the face with things you’re not ready for and not expecting, it follows that grief (a fallout from life, really) would share the same characteristics. It doesn’t slowly fade away, all graceful-like. Instead it likes to wallop you from behind, steal your pocket change, and kick dirt on you one more time before it runs off to hide again.

So what is the point of this post? Grief sucks. There’s no way around that. And it doesn’t always get easier. It might change shape, take on new and different qualities, but it never really goes away. It becomes a part of us, like a scar, a wrinkle, that weird spot on your shoulder that you probably should get checked out… It’s there, an echo of loss that ripples out and affects those still living in its wake.

*sigh*

I miss you, Dad. And the kids miss you, too.

Snippet Sunday: January 15, 2017 – Getting There…

Today, my oldest child said, “Time is going really fast lately!” It is, sweetie. It is.

We’re already up to the third week in January. My youngest child is now eight months old. The girls started at a new dance school and are settling into their new schedules. LIFE, MAN.

Today’s snippet picks up right where last week’s left off, with Lydia arriving at her new home on a cold, wet evening.

And if you’re looking for more snippets, check out Weekend Writing Warriors for lots of reading fun!

Charlotte had prepared herself for a heavy Scottish brogue, but the old woman’s accent was more Cheshire than anything.

“Um, Mrs. Faraday?”

The woman tilted her head to one side, but gave no indication that she might be the Mrs. Faraday in question.

Charlotte cleared her throat and began again. “I’m looking for a Mrs. Harriet Faraday. My name is Charlotte Claridge. I am your… Well, her niece.”

The other woman drew in a breath and held onto it as she took in every detail of Charlotte’s appearance from head to toe. “Wipe your boots,” she said after a full minute had passed, and stepped aside to let Charlotte enter.

 

A Thief and a Lady: Chapter One, Part One

It’s the start of a new year, and so here I am, beginning something new on my blog. The new thing? A story to share with you, in its entirety, bit by bit. Like the serials of old, I’ll be posting a segment every week until it’s finished.

The story? I’ve given it the working title of A Thief and a Lady, and it takes place in England in 1799. The characters? Esther Kirkpatrick, a young woman who makes her way picking pockets and cleaning up after her often drunk and gambling father. And we also have Jeremy Dudley, a younger brother who has inherited the title of Marquess after his brother’s untimely death.

So here is Part One of Chapter One, and I do hope you enjoy it!

***

a-thief-and-a-lady

A Thief and a Lady

Chapter One, Part One

He would be an easy one, Esther decided. She studied him from her place on the opposite side of the street, beneath the crooked sign for the butcher’s shop and beside a cart of mouldering potatoes that smelled of damp earth and dung. A cab trundled past, blocking him from sight for a minute, but she found him again quickly enough.

He stood with the confidence of one too often given his own way. He held his chin that half an inch higher than those around him, his dark hair combed in a style that gave him the air of a puffed up cockerel. The corners of Esther’s mouth twitched with the urge to grin. Yes, he looked a fool, and a bored one at that. She could only hope that he would be disinterested enough in the sights and sounds around him to prevent his noticing her progress towards him.

Esther tugged at the ends of her shawl and stepped off the pavement. Horses pulling all manner of vehicle clattered past her, leaving behind piles of droppings to be cleared away by the crossing sweepers. She maneuvered through the maze of traffic, both wheeled and shod, and found herself on the other side of the street, only a few paces behind the bored fool with the starched cravat.

People dashed about her on every side, taking no pains to mutter even the briefest of apologies as their elbows and shoulders knocked into her slight frame. That she was a diminutive creature often worked in her favor, allowing her to slip in and out of places that larger persons could not navigate without attracting attention towards themselves. As a child, she had lamented being given so small a figure. Now she rather enjoyed the benefits of being underestimated due to her petite frame. It always caught people off guard when she so deftly outwitted them.

Continue reading “A Thief and a Lady: Chapter One, Part One”

And Then It Snowed

It’s funny. A few days ago, I referred to the coming weekend snowstorm with a bit of a tongue-in-cheek attitude when I called it the “Storm of Doom.” And here we are, those few days later, with over 30″ of white stuff on the ground and the schools are closed and bridges are closed and… oh, we weren’t really expecting more than the forecast 8-12″ we’d been told all week.

And I’m sure there are so many blog posts going up all over the Northeast filled with tales of the storm, to which I probably don’t have much to add. It snowed. We played in it. My husband shoveled it. We drank hot chocolate. We played in it again. We took hot baths to relax the aching muscles obtained from trudging through thigh-high snow.

Today, things are starting to get back to normal. The kids are doing school work. The girls have dance classes tonight (though story time at the library is cancelled this afternoon). The dish washer is running. More baths will be had. It’s just another Monday, but with mountains of snow covering our patio and… well, everything.

And I mean “everything.”

 

 

 

Another Week Slips Away

 

DSCN1115

My kids are upstairs, running around between batches of schoolwork. My son is sitting on the potty, playing Angry Birds on my banged up, scratched up tablet, because it’s one of the few things that will get him to sit long enough on the potty for anything to “happen.”

It’s been one of those weeks. Nothing terrible occurring, but just a week that seemed to only move forward because something was nipping at my heels. Exhaustion, stress, that lingering bit of a cold and sinus headache that has not broken since New Years. The kids wake up every morning with a cough and runny nose, though by the time breakfast has been cleared away and the cartoons turned off so schoolwork-type things can commence, they’re fine and back to their crazy, rambunctious selves. Just with a few extra coughs thrown in.

But the house is a mess. I’m slowly catching up on a few things, but… no, it’s a mess. And three kids later I think I’m only just now beginning to understand that this is how it’s going to be. I homeschool. The kids don’t go to daycare. They’re always here with me. We will soon be a family of six in a house that measures round and about 900 square feet. There will always be a mess. So I can’t look at pictures of other people’s houses on Facebook, with their toys all picked up and in bins, and their windows free of fingerprints, and everything so neat and tidy when I know their life is not my life.

I mean, I could spend all day chasing my kids around with a vacuum cleaner. I could be in the kitchen right now, washing dishes or scrubbing the stove top or scraping Tinkerbell stickers off the linoleum floor. Or I could write this and empty my brain, or do some puzzles with the kids, or bake something and add more mess to the grime already accumulating on my kitchen counters.

Because I’ve learned that I can’t do both. I can’t have the immaculate house that I want with everything scrubbed and de-cluttered and folded AND sit and watch a movie with my kids or let them help me make pancakes or spend hours cutting out paper snowflakes to tape all over the walls. And I’m sure there are magical women out there who can do all of these things and also not walk around their house wondering what that smell is. But I’m not that woman. I don’t have the multi-tasking skills to pull it off. And when faced with the choice between going outside to play or attacking my bathroom sink with a toothbrush, I will choose going outside Every. Single. Time.

In other news (that is not the unplanned, several-hundred-word posting from above), other things are moving forward. I’m 24 weeks pregnant, and Torsten is constantly moving around in there, but it’s still at the pleasant baby kick stage, not the oh-I-think-you-took-out-a-rib baby kick stage. I’m writing, steadily, and should have another excerpt to share in the next few days. And good reviews for The Half Killed and Knotted are continuing to trickle in, which is always wonderful.

And now I think I’ll head into the kitchen (my messy, cluttered, grimy, Tinkerbell-stickered kitchen) and make some hot chocolate. And then maybe I’ll watch a movie with the kids once Freja has finished her handwriting practice for the day. We’ll see.

30 Days of Beauty: Day One

I’ve noticed lately that I’ve been having little snippets of conversation with my students and my husband about “looks”. Body image. Attractiveness. And so on. I also have two young daughters, who are going to grow up to hate some part (or parts) of their body. I know I did (hate parts of my body, that is). I still do. So now I’m going to point some of the parts of my body that I perceive as being my flaws, the physical things that I have lamented possessing since I was able to look in a mirror and see myself not as others saw me, but as the worst physical version of myself. Which translates roughly to “sometime in my early teens.”

*ahem*

I hate my nose.

DSCN5726

 

As soon as my nose was no longer a little kid nose and had taken on the shape it would have for the rest of my life, I stopped liking it. I thought it looked like a ski jump. It’s too narrow, and it’s pointy, and a bit too long, AND it also sports too-large pores and the skin is so oily there and OHMYGOSH why do I have this ghastly protuberance on the front of my face????

It also aggravated me to no end that my nose is neither my father’s or my mother’s nose. My dad’s is narrow and straight, but without that lift at the end. My mom’s is small and perfectly suited to the size of her face (she’ll probably disagree with me here, but that’s her own blog post to write). (Also, she doesn’t blog.) (And I’ll probably get a phone call about this and have her complaining into my ear about WHY ON EARTH I’m talking about my wonderful nose that is beautiful and couldn’t be any more symmetrical with my face AND ALSO why I would say that her nose is perfectly suited to her face? DON’T I KNOW it’s a horrid proboscis she’s had to live with for her entire life? This is just an assumption, of course.)

Anyway, I don’t like it. There have even been moments (fleeting, like gone-in-the-blink-of-an-eye flashes of stupidity) when it crossed my mind that if I had the money, or if there existed an amazing plastic surgeon of foolproof talents, that with just a little snip or a tuck here and there, I could have…

No. NO. I would never allow myself to follow that train of thought for very long. Because I know what happens to people who tinker with their sniffers. I won’t name names, but you’ve seen them. The nostrils look strange, and the corners are weird, and you know – you just KNOW that something has been done to that thing. Like that little wool sweater you had, but you accidentally threw it in the dryer on the super hot shrink cycle and it comes out looking like it wouldn’t fit a baby doll. Like THAT.

So I would never even give serious consideration to going under the knife, because as much as I make a lemon-pucker face of dissatisfaction every time I look at my nose in the mirror, I’d rather keep the nose I have than end up with something that looks like I picked it out of a catalog.

But ANYWAY, my nose.

Now, I said that neither my mother or my father have my nose, but I did get it from my father’s side of the family. I’ve been told it’s a Scandinavian nose, that it can be traced back to Wisconsin and then back to the shores of Sweden whence my dad’s family sailed many moons ago. And there are times when I pop ABBA’s Greatest Hits into the player and belt out “Fernando” at the top of my lungs while imagining that one day, I’ll wander back to my native land and my people will not hesitate to welcome me with open arms because they’ll see my nose and they’ll recognize that I am one of them and that I belong. And then we’ll all eat fish and some kind of baked good with cardamom in it and watch the Eurovision song contest together.

Or something like that.

So chances are, at least one of my kids is going to dislike their nose. They might end up mine or their dad’s or some other thing dragged out of the gene pool from four generations back. And they’ll hate it, and they’ll poke it, and they’ll wonder why their nostrils have to be so funny looking and blame me (or their dad) for gifting them with something more suited to a walrus.

And I’ll be there for them. I’ll let them know that I didn’t like my nose, that I still don’t (no matter how many times my husband kisses it and tells me it’s beautiful), but that it’s part of me, that it keeps me from looking like everyone else (which would be totally boring, as my five-year-old daughter has already taught me), and that I’m showing off a wonderful part of my family every time I raise my chin and wrinkle my nose with pride.

A nose that I don’t like.

Well, I guess I do like it. In a way. Because it’s me, isn’t it? It’s a part of me, ski jump and all.

And seriously. Those tiny, little surgically-altered nostrils? Absolutely terrifying.