Roll Call!

I haven’t updated here for quite some time. There are reasons for that. The 6yo daughter went through several months of treatment for Lyme Disease. I discovered I was pregnant, then immediately dove into 2 1/2 months of awful morning sickness. Then the holidays. Now the kids are passing a bug around from one to the other like a demented game of Hot Potato.

But! I’ve been writing. The sequel (hopefully standalone-ish) novella to The Half Killed is well underway, and has a title! The Death Within should have a May release, and I’ll be sure to share cover art and all of those other goodies once they’re finished.

I’ve also jumped back into writing some shorter pieces of fiction. This one that I’m posting today is… different. A bit more sci-fi, I think. It wants to spiral out into something larger in my head, but for the moment, it’s just a snippet of a story/chapter, with a touch of humor (well, *I* thought it was funny while writing it way too late at night) and some new characters. Maybe I’ll spend some more time with them in the future. But for now, meet Dave. DAVE

 

Dave

The sign was in need of a fresh coat of paint.

It wasn’t much of a sign, really. It was wood, and it was vaguely square, and some claimed to see a few indistinct words scrawled across it, but regardless of the various arguments on what was necessary for a sign to be a sign, no one could disagree that this one was due for a bit of freshening up.

The sign hung to the right of a door – a typical door: knob, window, small strip of tape where the glass had cracked – and was meant to direct potential customers through the door and into the shop within. It was not a wholly uncommon occurrence for people to take one look at the sign, and the door, and the entire street before turning around and deciding that their business wasn’t nearly important as they’d originally thought.

Randall Smith paid no attention to the street, the sign, or the door, and the last one only for a  brief moment when the keys from his pocket made an appearance to slide into the lock. The door threatened to stick in its frame, but again, only for a moment. A swift kick to the warped panel of wood, a muttered curse, and he was inside.

The darkness was expected. Randall didn’t wait for his eyes to adjust before he returned the keys to his pocket and strode into the room. The shades were still down, and the square that might have been a window if he bothered to touch it with any kind of cleanser or cloth let in only enough light for him to see his hand in front of his face. He didn’t notice the other eyes that stared at him, blank and lifeless. Or the disembodied limbs crammed onto the already full shelves. One set of fingers twitched, and then there was a hum. Another twitch, and behind the counter, a blank screen lit up with a deep blue light.

“Welcome to Obsolete Robotic Services. If this is your first visit to our location, please step up to the counter, state your name and the nature of your repair.”

Continue reading “Roll Call!”

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A Short Story and a Twist of Lyme

Last week, my youngest daughter began complaining of leg pain and her left knee swelled up. A couple visits to the doctor later, some talk about juvenile arthritis and lupus,  and she was finally diagnosed with Lyme disease and is now on a three-week course of antibiotics that will – hopefully! – give this illness the giant, massive kick it deserves.

Because of being distracted by waiting for her diagnosis to come in, I didn’t accomplish much in the way of writing this week. Daughters of Men has sat and collected dust, and aside from the last few edits for An Unpracticed Heart, I wasn’t doing much creatively. And then Monday night, a story began spilling out of me, flooding faster than I could scribble it down on the page, and now it’s Friday and this little 2200 words of something is done.

Writing this pushed me through some massive stress this week, and so here is the result of that stress, a little thing I call… Splintered Teeth.

*** Splintered Teeth

The creature was not as large as the legends had made it out to be.

The stories had betrayed her, tales told at night and over fires, the hands of the elders casting shadows that dipped and swayed, dipped and swayed, fingers taking on the shape of wings that stretched across the night sky and tugged at the edges of dreams just begun. Wings and fire and claws that scraped the earth, a barbed tail that could curl around a mountain peak and wrench the stone away from its foundations.

So the legends had said. As if the weight of all the world and creation could be carried on its monstrous back. Monstrous. Monster. A thing to taint her imaginings and turn them into nightmares. And there it sat, grey and scarred and blind, and curled in on itself, like a cat dozing in the sun.

It clung to the edge of the cliff, claws hooked over the rocks as if the mountainside offered no more space on which it could sprawl. Its tail – thicker and more blunt than the picture painted in her mind – trailed over the side of the cliff and out of sight. And there were its feet, the ones she could see, bearing their cracked, broken talons. Too large for its body, or what its body had shrunk to with the descent of years on its frame.

But it was the wing that drew her gaze, a span of grey tinged with a dull shade of russet. Perhaps it had once borne a more vivid hue, its scales and skin gleaming like a jewel in the daylight. Perhaps it had once been a beautiful, a terrible, a frightening thing. She had assumed so much about it before setting foot on the trail, when the first warning had reached them that the monster had been sighted, spiralling through the fog, a twist of shadow circling high above them.

A dragon.

The last dragon, the elders said. With a hitch of fear in the voices, a wheeze in their lungs as if the creature’s great claws had already begun to wring the life from them.

The last dragon. The end of it all.

Continue reading “A Short Story and a Twist of Lyme”

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.”

 

 

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.

***

 

The Bride Price – Chapter One

It’s Monday. The kids are feeling better. The weather is gorgeous. And it is only a little more than three weeks until The Bride Price will be thrust out onto the world.

So allow me to rush right through all the jibber-jabber you probably don’t care about and get to the meat of this post, which is the entire first chapter of The Bride Price, here for you to read. I hope you enjoy it! The Bride Price

Chapter One

Lord Winthrop, Viscount Marbley.

Emily Collicott whispered the name under her breath, her own voice added to the susurration of sound that rippled from one end of the ballroom to the other. From where she stood, she could not see him. There were too many other heads in the way, heads bedecked in various arrangements of ribbons and pearls and feathers. The feathers were the most dreadful of them all, flopping and tickling and occasionally smacking her across the face when she failed to keep a wary eye.

Miss Fauntley had called on them this morning for the sole purpose of relating the news that Marbley had returned to town, after a nearly year-long sojourn in Paris. But he was back in London, the obnoxious Miss Fauntley had tittered between bites of marzipan and candied fruit. He was back, and his reappearance had succeeded in setting every drawing room abuzz.

To tell the truth, Emily had found herself a bit underwhelmed by the news. This was her first season in London, and what was this Lord Marbley fellow to her but a tedious portion of gossip bandied about like a borrowed novel? But she was soon swept along by the bubbling, frothing tide of London society, and now that he’d arrived in Lady Halloran’s ballroom, she craned her neck as much as every other young woman in order to gain a glimpse of his reputed beauty.

He was tall, the women around her had whispered. He was broad-shouldered, another group had said. His hair was black as ebony, his eyes like amber pools, his nose a perfectly formed proboscis that would have sent the Romans into fits of envy. His smile was reputed to have caused no less than eight—eight!—young ladies to faint, leaving them as unresponsive heaps of silk and lace in his wake. He was witty. He was graceful. He was all that was kindness and benevolence.

And he was here, Emily thought. Not more than half a ballroom’s length away from her.

Continue reading “The Bride Price – Chapter One”

An Update and a Short Story

I’ve had sick kids in the house for the last two weeks (one of those situations where, instead of them getting it all at once, they drag it out by only getting it one at a time) so I’m a bit brain dead at the moment. Lack of sleep, never-ending fetching of cups of juice, endless viewings of Moana and Horrible Histories…

But since I’m home with sick kids, I’ve been writing and editing and baking (so much baking…) The Bride Price is getting ready for its August 1st release (*bites nails*) and is now available for pre-order! I’m still finishing up revisions on An Unpracticed Heart as well, which is slated for a late-fall release (I’m looking at end of November-ish, to be honest.) And I’ve written another short story/scene set in the same world as my previous stories Dust and Silver, Sleet and Shadow, Pale for Weariness, and Music in its Roar. I’m posting it below for you, just to prove I’ve not been sitting around, resting on my proverbial laurels. *wiggles butt* These laurel things are prickly!

***

Upon the Brink Upon the Brink

I cannot see a thing. The rain ceased some hours before, but still a heavy mist clings to everything, clutching stubbornly to the rooftops, mingling with the smoke that belches out of every chimney and streams from every factory this near to the water.

“Stop here,” I say, and knock my fist against the ceiling of the carriage for good measure. The carriage meanders to a halt, and I drop the window and poke my face through the narrow opening. Despite the lights that should belong to the buildings I know are there, the orbs of illumination that should mark the position of each boat and ship currently trawling along the surface of the river, we are encased in a thick, stinking cloud that seems to glow from within, and all without providing any light by which George, my driver, can direct the horses.

The murk is even more impenetrable outside of the carriage. I stand still for a moment, the fingers of my right hand touching the door until I find my bearings. For there are no landmarks on which my eyes can fix, and before I can restrain it, a panic wells up inside of me, tightening around my chest like a steel band.

The sound of a ship’s horn is my saving grace. My mind latches onto it like the needle of a compass, and I move forward, picking carefully over the uneven ground as I approach the river.

Behind me, George clambers down from the carriage, and I hear his soothing words to the horses before he is swallowed up by the fog behind me. My eyes have adjusted to the point that I can make out a few larger impediments on either side of me. Warehouses, no doubt. And as I pass between them, the sounds of water slapping against the bank, of metal and wooden things knocking against each other grows louder. A gentle, downward slope of the ground, and I know I’ve nearly reached the water’s edge.

The light of the lamp catches my eye before I’ve taken three more steps. Two flashes, and then it is gone. Two more flashes…

My pace quickens, and what seems like it will be a great distance to travel is proven to be another trick of the mist when I almost stumble into the bearer of the light, one arm reaching out to steady me as the shuttered lantern swings from his other hand.

“My lady?”

My gaze sketches out the edge of narrow shoulders placed somewhere beneath a head and the brim of a cap. I search for the more identifying features of a face, but the gloom is too thick and so I must make do with the familiarity of the voice instead.

“Mr. Robson.” There is no gesture I can make that he will see, and so I move closer, my eyes fixing on the thin line of light peeking out from behind the cover of his lantern. “Where is he?”

My guide says nothing, but his fingers tighten on my arm and he draws me onward, our steps kicking out stones behind us as we rush towards the river and the treasure most recently dredged out of it.

Continue reading “An Update and a Short Story”

Update! Update! Update!

Ah, there I go again, failing to update this ol’ blog. I do have reasons, though. Genuine reasons! (… aside from children, homeschooling said children, taking children to dance lessons, to the playground, errands, sleeping, taking pictures of clouds, the occasional shower or bologna sandwich…) DSCN5372

I have two deadlines looming over my head, one for June 1st and the other for June 2nd (Yes, you read that right). The first requires that I finish a 10k story by then, the second needs a first chapter and a synopsis. Plus I’m trying to revise An Unpracticed Heart in there, as well, because why not throw more stuff on the to-do pile.

I’m also in allergy hell right now. As much as I love this season, this season doesn’t love me. So when I’m taking medicine to stave off the urge to CLAW OUT MY EYES WITH A FORK OH MY LORD IT FEELS LIKE MY FACE IS MADE OF SAND, I also don’t get a great deal of… oh, let’s call it “thinking” done. So there’s that, too.

And I’m just tired. I really need a nap, people.

But! If I keep at this pace, I should make my deadlines. The first story  – “A Handful of Dust” – is at 6k words now and I have the ending worked out in my head. The second is titled “With My Own Eyes” and will act as a 10k-word prequel to The Half Killed (so if you love the Dorothea and Chissick dynamic, I’m sorry to say that the latter character only receives a brief mention) which covers events that pretty much lead up to where we find Dorothea, or rather WHY we find her in said situation, at the beginning of The Half Killed.

So. All of that. It’s a lot, but I’m managing it. I find that setting small word count goals for each story (say 500-700 words) keeps it from overwhelming me, and I’ve been okay jumping from story to story without an issue. Well, so far. Let’s see if I’m a gibbering mess once these deadlines have come and gone.

Oh! And in other news, a huge THANK YOU to everyone who picked up a copy of The Firstborn! This has been my most successful book release to date, and I am tickled that it didn’t sink like a stone right out of the gate. (Hmm, I think I’m mixing up my sayings there. And I rhymed. Hmm, I may need one of those naps. Or some bologna.)