An Excerpt from CROWN OF ASH

Here’s an action-packed snippet from CROWN OF ASH, Book 4 of the Blood Skies series, coming in late August!

*****

Gouts of steam erupted into the air.  Human traffic packed lanes filled with caged animals, livestock, tables of linens and knives, fruit stands, watch vendors, fortune-tellers and soothsayers.  People were dressed in a motley assortment of loose clothing, tunics or capes, sandaled feet or combat boots, exotic and colorful cloaks that looked like peacock’s feathers or somber grey and green work fatigues.  Small dirigibles loaded with goods soared overhead.  Rickety wagons barreled down the street.  Mutated horses and homunculi servants brayed and keened in the background.  The team passed through drifts of tobacco and alcohol, fruit vapors and burning meat.  Danica smelled linseed oil and beeswax, smelted copper and roasted corn.

Her spirit kept to the background and quietly skirted the periphery of her thoughts while they passed through the bustling city-state.  Kane and Ronan kept their eyes alert.  They were all exhausted and on edge, but everyone was ready.  They were in dangerous territory, and she knew she could count on them.

Blacksand was a port-city.  It was a crossroads – a means to getting elsewhere.  Travelers of all sorts stalked the corridors of Blacksand looking for buyers or wares: Rakzeri merchants, Vuul pirates, nomads from the distant islands of Nezek’duul with their filed teeth and frost-white eyes.  Waters lapped against dark pylons in a bay filled with iron and steel ships weighted down with weapons and slaves.  The sandy streets were awash with liquor and blood.

Danica, Kane and Ronan moved through the streets with determination.  They’d left Maur back at the hotel with Cross, and plenty of guns.  The one thing they hadn’t left there was Cross’s weapon, the mysterious fused blade Soulrazor/Avenger, arcane swords forged from opposing energies.  They knew little about the blade save for the fact that the separate pieces had been forged from the power of two opposing deity-like forces, and that it had somehow allowed Cross to survive long after he should have been dead.  Danica carried the hybrid blade concealed beneath her armor coat.

They came to an open market, a junk station filled with piles of refuse: old engines, batteries, scrap metal, hoses and tubing, mounds of ball bearings and rubber tires.  All of those goods had been pushed into monstrous mounds next to wide wooden tables, where scruffy and grease-stained men with goggles and workman’s aprons haggled with mechanics and metal-yard workers.  Some of the negotiations were closer to screaming matches.

A small building made of stone and steel stood at the far end of the junkyard.  The door opened as Danica and the others approached.

Her spirit boiled against her skin.  She sensed presences above, fast-moving figures with razored jaws and iron-capped wings.  Shadows came into view.

“Incoming!” Kane yelled.

A trio of grey-skinned gargoyles unfurled their wings over the scrapyard.  Steel harpoons and straps of dark armor reflected the dull light of the orange sun.

Kane fired at them with an M14A, and Ronan dodged to the edge of a pile of debris and shot up at them with his MP5.  The gargoyles were startlingly quick, and somehow dodged the barrage of bullets with ease.  The roar of gunfire was deafening.  Shell casings clattered in the dirt.

Danica smelled hex fumes in the air.  Whispers came at her with the force of an iron wind.

The gargoyles weren’t alone.

She narrowly avoided a blazing missile of shrapnel.  Metal wreckage exploded in hex flames behind her, and heat washed over her body.

Danica’s spirit moved around her wrists and fused into a shield of force.  A second missile exploded against the barrier. Bits of smoking steel rained to the ground.

A mercenary warlock unfolded out of the shadows.  His spirit camouflaged him, made him fade in and out of sight.  He seemed two-dimensional, a paper enemy.  His eyes glowed like burning cinders.

Kane brought one of the gargoyles down with a stream of gunfire.  Another darted forward and clawed at Ronan.  It flew back and came in again, and the swordsman deflected its attacks with his katana.

The merchants and shoppers in the scrap-yard had fled.  Panicked noise echoed everywhere.

The warlock turned and vanished again.

Damn it!

Danica’s spirit coiled around her like a hungry serpent.  His touch chilled her skin.  She shuffled her feet in the dirt, and moved careful so as to avoid tripping on any debris.  The yard felt wide open, and she realized how exposed she was.  Her back tensed with anticipation of an attack.

She heard the stone breath of the gargoyle moments too late.  The warlock had masked the creature’s presence.  It suddenly loomed over her with outstretched claws and massive teeth.

The moment Danica turned around the mage shifted into focus just off her right flank.  Light caught on his dark cloak, and she saw a bandolier filled with explosives and knives.  His spirit coiled into an ice stake that he held like a spear.

Danica ignored the gargoyle and launched her spirit at the warlock.  Red energies exploded in a shower of razor sparks.  The warlock’s cloak caught on fire, and the spirit missile he’d prepared to cast at Danica detonated in his own hands.  His body exploded in a blaze of ice, flame and blood.

A sharp crack sounded, and the gargoyle fell to the ground at Danica’s feet.  She looked up and saw a handful of armed soldiers who’d emerged from the small building.

Jade, a young and attractive woman with vaguely Asian features and incredibly long and silken dark hair, stood at the head of the party.  She wore a simple blue-black cloak and riding pants, a loose white shirt and a number of rings.  Her eyes sparkled with magic, and Danica immediately took note of the witch’s spirit, a hostile male force that circled her like a caged tiger.  Black’s spirit bristled, and though the two tensed and tested one another, Danica held hers back and used him to make sure there weren’t any more threats approaching.

The only other newcomer that Danica recognized, Sol, stood with his gun still smoking from when he’d shot the gargoyle.   He was a mountain of a man, a half-Doj with dark skin and dark eyes, short cropped black hair and muscles like iron.  He wore a tight armor vest and flak pants, and even though he smiled wide his eyes burned with malice.

Sol and Jade were enforcers for Klos Vago, a member of the large cartel of slave traders and smugglers known as The Shard.

“Mr. Vago sends his regards,” Jade said politely.

“Who the hell were these guys?” Kane asked angrily as he gestured at the corpses.  Gargoyle blood covered his chest.

“Bounty hunters, would be my guess,” Ronan said.  He wiped his katana off on the one of the bodies.

“Again?” Kane said.

“Yes,” Jade answered.  “Again.”

“Which means we need to get out of Blacksand,” Danica said.  “I trust that’s why Vago wants to meet with us?”

“Actually, he sent us to give you the details of the last job he’d like you to do before he helps you get home,” Jade explained.  “Listen…we should really get indoors…”

“What do we have to do?” Kane interrupted.

Jade hesitated, and looked at Sol.  He shrugged.

The city around them had more or less returned to normal.  Minimal damage had been dealt to the scrap yard, and automaton slaves moved forward in a rush of whirs and buzz to scrape up the debris.  The sky drowned in thick red clouds, and Danica smelled sea salt on the wind.  People outside the scrap yard went about their business – if the battle had bothered them, they didn’t show it.

“You two,” Jade said to Kane and Ronan, “will fetch your friend Maur and come with me and Sol.  We’re going to investigate some trouble near the arcane barriers north of the city.”

“What are we looking for?” Ronan asked quietly.

“Vampires,” Sol said with a smile.  “Ebon Cities forward patrols.  We don’t want them around, and they can’t seem to take the hint.  You help us out with our problem, and the boss says he’ll help you out with yours.”

“Wait a second…” Black said.  “Where am I going to be during all this?”

“Mr. Vago fears it would be too great a risk to send you out with your teammates,” Jade explained.  “Especially since the soldiers of Black Scar are here in the city looking for you.”

Damn it.

“Black Scar…” Kane said.  “Dani…”

“Wouldn’t it make sense to send her away from the city if she’s the one they’re looking for?” Ronan asked.

“Mr. Vago doesn’t think so.  We’re certain they’re watching anyone who leaves the city, and they’re…”

“Probably tracking my arcane signature,” Black said bitterly.  She looked at Kane and Ronan.  “And if they’re doing that, there’s a good chance they’re also giving my signature out to the mercenaries they’ve hired, which explains why both these guys and those Vuul were able to find us once I got out in the open.”  You shouldn’t be surprised.  You knew your past would catch up with you sooner or later.  “Shit.”

Jade hesitated.

“He has ways of masking you from their presence,” she said.  “But you’ll have to remain close to him.”

This keeps getting better and better, Black thought.  Surprisingly, though, she thought Jade sounded truly encouraging, maybe even sympathetic.  I’ll keep that in mind.

“This is a crap idea, Dani,” Kane said.

“Don’t be scared, Blondie,” Sol said.

“I wasn’t talking to you, Beefsteak,” he said.

Ronan looked at Danica.

“It’s your call.”

Danica looked at her friends, and then at Jade.  This was worse than she’d thought.

Why are you looking for me now?she wondered.  Why can’t you just leave me the hell alone, Rake?

She tapped her foot.  They had to get home.  For all they knew, Cross’s life depended on it.

“Give us an hour,” she said.  “We’ll meet you back here?”

“Of course,” Jade nodded.

“Dani…” Kane said as they left, but she put a reassuring hand on his arm.

“We don’t much of a choice, Mike.  You guys go, help them out.  I’ll make sure Cross is secure and try to keep us both out of sight.”

They moved a few distance away from Vago’s men before she stopped and looked at them both.

“We need to play this bastard’s game, at least for now,” she said.  “You guys take Maur and go with them, do the job, and I’ll try to keep any more of my old friends from finding me.  Right now it’s just important that we get home.”

*****

If you like what you see, get caught up on Books 1-3 of Blood Skies, available at Amazon or Smashwords!

Jump! – Short Fiction

(This story has been rolling around in my head for the last week and a half or so. It was inspired by our last round of posts about Plotters vs Pantsers.)

Victor checked his calculations for what had to be the tenth time. This hour. He would check them again at least another dozen times before they reached their destination and made the translation to the next star.

Constant check and recheck of the numbers was necessary to adjust for random gravitational disturbances. At least, that’s what he told himself and anyone who asked.

If he were honest, Victor would admit that he liked knowing that every movement was planned out and locked in. And with a mega-million ton freighter loaded with cargo, not to mention the life of one Victor Cardonez, at stake, it didn’t hurt to be thorough.

“Calculations confirmed, Doctor,” the ship’s AI announced. If AIs had been programmed to express emotion, the Betsy’s voice would have been dripping with exasperation and impatience.

“Pass the calculations to the main navigational computer and send backups to both secondary navcoms. Also, push the calculations to both escort vessels and integrate our planned movements into their plots.”

“Doctor, Captain Har’i has installed a series of software blocks to prevent remote access to her navcom.”

Victor sighed. The fighter pilot still thought she could keep him, or the Betsy’s AI out of her systems.

“Run sweeper program Hydra. That should clear the blocks. Then push the calculations and lock them in with a Cerberus encryption algorithm,” Victor instructed.

“As you say, Doctor.”

Victor adjusted the massive hologram that represented the star system A-113; he focused in on the huge freighter and its two tiny corvette escorts.

One of those ships was under the control of the Betsy’s AI; it was deployed more as a deterrent than an actual defense. The other ship that swam erratically alongside the whale of a freighter was the real defense.

Captain Eily Har’i was one of the best escort pilots on this side of the Golden Gate Passage; she had come highly recommended for her ingenuity, tactical genius and overall ability as a pilot.

Her lack of professionalism, terrible habits and incessant need to ignore his planning at every turn had been left out of the letters of reference that she had provided before accepting his offer.

It couldn’t be helped, he supposed. Unlike humans, the cat-like Orah lived on instinct and emotion; they had no use for careful plans or detailed calculations.

Victor just hoped that they would be able to reach their destination, deliver their cargo and part ways with the pilot without further personal incidents.

***

Emiy rolled the burnt remains of a fat terran cigar between her teeth and pawed her reader. The device obediantly flicked to the next page and she carried on with the story. She liked these long, dull escort jobs for just this reason: she could catch  up on the hundreds of new novels that had been published between stops.

“Captain, the Betsy is attempting to push new calculations to the navcom,” Emiy’s computer reported. They were little more than an hour away from the jump point; the doctor was right on schedule.

“How is the firewall holding up?” Emiy asked, bored.

She had spent nearly the entire time they had been in the A-113 system, more than a terran week, programming the blocks into her corvette’s systems to prevent the doctor from forcing his calculations onto her system.

“Initial attempts have been rejected, but I have a feeling that the good doctor won’t be deterred.”

“Of course not,” Emiy agreed.

The good doctor wasn’t a terrible person, but he had no sense. His constant insistence on plans, schedules and, above all, meticulously plotted jump point translations had worn on her nerves quickly.

She rolled the cigar to the other side of her mouth, bite down with sharp feline teeth and sighed.

Her people couldn’t have been more different from the terrans if someone had designed them. The soft skinned, short lived humans were fixated, some said obsessed, on plans and strategies. The doctor was the most extreme case of their species.

The Orah were spontaneous, unpredictable and valued the ability to think on the fly. Nowhere were these characteristics of their race more evident than when it came to jump point translations between stars.

Orah pilots could feel the gravitational ebb and flow that made up the jump points that connected the star systems. She could pilot any ship right where it needed to be. If only the doctor would let her show him.

“New calculations and plot locks are uploading to the navigational computer.”

“Damn it,” Emiy said. Her fingers flew over the keyboard as she tried to fight the doctor’s software creations. It was going to be a long hour.

The Last – short fiction by Chantal Boudreau

Kryos stirred. He had never expected to wake from this sleep. It should have been his last.
He opened his large fluid eyes, eyes that gleamed liquid silver like mercury, and glanced about his cave. This should have been his crypt, his final resting place. He was the last of his kind – the last crystalline dragon. He had purposefully chosen that special dormancy common to all dragons, the one that dragons used to prepare themselves to mate, as he had settled into place here. With that particular type of sleep, the only thing that could rouse him to wakefulness was another of his kind, a female who was also ripe for mating. There had been no such female. He should have slept forever. Why then, had he awakened?
He raised his large head and sniffed at the air. It was there, the scent of female, young, but mature and fertile. How could that be? There was something odd about her aroma, however, something not quite right. The odour was strong but heavily tainted in a way that Kryos would almost describe as incomplete. She was crystalline dragon alright, but not pure, which meant that he still was the last pureblood of his kind. The remainder of her smell was not that of any other dragon that he could identify, either.
Fully alert now, Kryos pushed himself into a sitting position. His cavern was very cramped. He had not chosen it on the basis that it would serve any purpose other than being the place where he would die. That death would not have come until after many more centuries had passed and even the near ageless quality of a dragon would have succumbed to the rigors of time.
Pinpricks of sunlight wormed their way in through small holes in the rock, and glinted off of his scales. Each scale acted like a tiny prism, capturing the light and releasing it again, divided into its spectrum of colours. The effect lit Kryos up with a myriad of tiny rainbows that reflected onto the rock walls surrounding him.
He sighed, wondering if wherever she was, the female had scented him as well. She would not have been able to find him. He had almost completely sealed the entrance into his niche, not wanting anything non-dragon to disturb his rest. The gap that he had left would not allow for anything the size of a human to pass. In fact, it was so small that Kryos would have to change to the most diminutive of his three forms in order to escape his enclosure.
He sniffed at the hole into the outer world, not wanting to transform and flit away if there were any dangers lurking beyond. He was most vulnerable in his smallest form, and could not afford to take any chances. Trying to detect the smell of danger past her scent was almost impossible, however. His body tensed as he breathed deeply, driven by the urge to find her and mate with her, a compulsion generated by the type of sleep that he had chosen. He had created this desire in the process, and now he was possessed by it.
Unable to resist that draw, Kryos leaned back and initiated the change. He hated transforming. It was a very uncomfortable process, one where he had to use his innate magic to compact his essence, his own matter, and force it into a shape that it did not prefer. At least this particular transformation only required him to shrink his form, and not alter it in any other way. Not so for his third form, which he avoided using if at all possible.
Kryos fell onto the rock floor as the metamorphosis took a hold of his very being. He writhed from the pain, feeling as though he were being twisted inside out. As he shrank, the world seemed to grow and by the time the change was complete, when he lay there stunned and aching, he was only a fragment of the dragon that he used to be – he was not even the size of a small house cat. From a distance, he looked like a giant crystalline butterfly, but from up close, one could make out his slight reptilian form, including his long snout and limpid eyes, his elongated neck and tail, and his tiny clawed limbs.
It was several minutes before he had returned enough to his senses to scramble up off of the floor. The wind was blowing through the crevices in the rock, carrying that alluring scent to him, without any effort on his part. Kryos tested his wings, fluttering them eagerly and darting about the cavern until he was sure that he could attain and maintain the speed that he would need to help him avoid any predators. Once he was sure that he was ready, he crawled over the series of rocks barricading his intended crypt, and out into the light of day.
The sun was bright, glaringly so, and it took Kryos’s vision time to adapt after being confined to the dim contents of the cavern. Things on the outside were very different than they had been when he had crawled into that hole, lonely, depressed and praying for death. The rock on this mountain had been mostly barren, with some patches of moss and a few sprouting plants. An entire forest had sprung up around him over the centuries, as he had slumbered. He gazed about at the lofty trees, wondering how things had also changed in the wild valley below.
That was when her smell wafted past him again, and a thrill rushed through him. He longed for this other dragon, more than anything else. Soon, they would be soaring high in the skies together, and then plummeting together, locked in a lustful embrace. He could almost feel her claws, brushing against his scales, and her tail entwined with his own. There would be no more loneliness.
Kryos sprang into the air, and then headed for the shadows. If he did not keep well out of sight, and allowed himself to be exposed to the sunlight, he would be impossible to miss. Anyone who looked his way would be bedazzled by his brilliance and would automatically know that he was there, whether he wanted them to or not. That was why his third form, his least preferred form, had its uses. He could hide out in the open with that shape. He could blend into a crowd.
He wove his way spryly through the trees, enjoying the journey at first but growing confused as he approached the area from which her scent was originating. The closer he got, the harder she was to detect, not because she had left that place, but because that place was filled with odours reminiscent of the one that had marred her distinct dragon smell. They were there in such quantity that Kryos was bewildered. There had been nothing like this in the nearby surroundings when he had sought out his last place of rest. Something had gathered here. Something had bred.
As he neared the base of the mountain, Kryos’s sensitive ears could pick out strange noises in addition to the bizarre smells. There was movement. There was bustle. As he neared the edge of the tree-line, he almost exposed himself. Recoiling quickly, he retreated beneath the fronds of an immense fern, and observed. There were people.
Why? Why was she here? Why was she living among these lesser beings? It did not make sense. Had they captured her? Were they keeping her caged, hoping to lure one like Kryos to her side? It did not make sense.
It was then that he spotted her, and in doing so everything fell into place. Moving through the crowd was a willowy woman, one who seemed completely out of her element. Her movements were hesitant and untrusting and there was a constant sadness to her features that made his heart ache. She had skin the colour of alabaster, shockingly white blond hair and large silvery eyes that separated her from the rest of the bland looking villagers, the ones who milled about around her, brown haired and tanned looking. She also had slight points to her ears, another unique feature. Kryos wanted to transform into his largest and most natural form, pluck her out of the crowd, and carry her away. But he could not let anyone know that he existed, not as long as he felt driven to breed.
The reason that his kind had been dying out, the reason that they were practically extinct when Kryos had chosen a slow and catatonic pathway to death, was because the wizards of his world had discovered a fundamental function for the heart of a crystalline dragon when used in their magic. Their heart, dried and ground to a powder, was the most important ingredient to a potion that could extend a man’s life well beyond the age that nature would allow. Never mind that such magic meant the murder of one sentient creature for the sake of preserving the life of another, those who were driven by desperation to concoct such a brew usually were possessed by a heightened sense of entitlement. As far as they were concerned, they deserved to live, even at the expense of another. If Kryos revealed that his kind were not entirely extinct, someone would come hunting for him, hoping to take his heart from him.
No, things would not be so simple for the last pureblood crystalline dragon. He would have to hide in plain sight, charm her and somehow lure her away, before revealing his true self. It was possible that she had no idea what she truly was.
Kryos understood things now. She lived amongst these people because she thought that she was one of them. Centuries before, when there were still a scant few other than Kryos, some other male, desperate to preserve their kind, had forced a mating without a proper sleep, by changing to the third form and breeding with one outside of their species. His genes had remained dormant in his offspring and their descendents until something had triggered them, drawing them to the surface in this one. Now, his kind’s blood flowed through her with much of its magic, and she was clearly oblivious of this. Convincing her of this so that he could get her to change – so that he could feed his urges, would be difficult, and he certainly could not do it the way that he looked now.
“Bianca! Bianca, quit messing about and get in here now! You aren’t paid to loiter,” came a harsh and grating cry from one of the buildings.
His mate-to-be nearly jumped out of skin and scampered off in the direction of the wretched voice, disappearing from view. The tiny Kryos let out a soft whimper.
“I need you,” he whispered anxiously.
He would have her too, but that would require sacrifice, a sacrifice that it was time to make. He flitted deeper into the brush, away from the village, and found a small copse of trees shrouded in shadow. He settled into its centre and began his second and more difficult transformation of the day.
The pain was intense, his body not meant to exist without tail, snout or wings. He tried to bite back a scream, and he mostly succeeded, but it still managed to escape as a low throaty moan, while his body became rigid and he clung to the springy moss beneath him. He twitched and thrashed, gradually growing and morphing, his skin looking more opaque as he changed.
It took him the better part of an hour, and when it was done he lay there trembling, his raw skin blistering in places, his nails and gums bleeding. He was exhausted and in agony. While he was uncomfortable in this form, unlike other people, he was not uncomfortable in his nakedness. He remained where he was, as he was, allowing the cool damp moss to soothe his irritated skin.
As twilight eased its way in, Kryos finally sat up, his violent shakes reduced now to the occasional tremor. He stared at his hands, the smooth colourlessness of his skin and all the other novel parts of his altered body. It was time to seek her out, this Bianca, and to make her see things his way.
But first, he would need to find some clothes…

The Rainbow in Genre Fiction

As writers, we have to strive to make our work different. Be it the context of which are worlds are set in, the way we tell our stories, the locations we set them in or the timeframes that we present the reader to, there are an innumerable amount of ways to make writing ‘different’—which, I think, is one of the most exciting thing about discovering a new writer. The thrill of seeing how they make their work different, especially the worlds that their favorite genres are set in, is always one of the greatest things that happens whenever you crack open a new book. Though that may sometimes not be the most pleasant thing in the world, I think it makes for interesting literature.

The topic this week on the Guild of Dreams is to write about what makes our writing different from another’s. While that in itself is a great idea, I stumbled over the topic itself because I wasn’t sure whether or not I wanted to present this essay to the readers of the fantasy collective. I decided that, in the end, I should write it, because if I’m not going to, no one else is.

As many of you probably already know, I self-identify as homosexual (i.e, I’m attracted to the same sex.) I won’t go into specifics, but this has been a near-lifelong identification for me and it has affected everything from the way I perceive things, people, to the way I respond to certain situations and also the way I interact with others. It also affects my writing, which some might find surprising.

Readers and writers alike often ask, ‘What makes your writing different?’

I say, ‘I write about gay characters.’

The writing world is very sparsely-filled with such characters. Genre fiction as a whole especially suffers from a lack of identifiable and relatable individuals that relate to the GLBTQIA spectrum (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual.) Oftentimes, gay characters are presented in minor roles (the strong female character’s sassy, finger-snapping hairdresser gay male friend or the bitter lesbian who hates men.) The two aforementioned roles are probably two of the most commonly-used examples of tropes within the gay community. Even writers who are pro-gay or are gay themselves often don’t write about gay characters, or have them as minor characters whose issues are never highlighted in detail. Growing up, especially as a young gay adolescent and eventually teenager between the ages of nine and fourteen, I searched for positive role models. Sadly, I only started finding them at the age of fourteen, when my thoughts and feelings about my sexuality were festering to the point where I was becoming depressed. While Christopher Rice’s debut novel A Density of Souls ultimately helped me find that support I needed, it was one of the few books I read that had a positive gay male as a role model at the time.

In my fiction, I try to write characters the reader can look at realistically—flawed, dignified, respectable and sympathetic men and women who readers can identify with. Sure, they might not be perfect, but who is in the real world?

Examples of gay men and women in my genre fiction wholly rely on the source. Several characters in my collection Amorous Things are gay or lesbian. My two leads in my novel Sunrise are gay. And, most specifically related to this blog, a major character in The Brotherhood eventually enters into a relationship with someone of the same sex. I won’t say who it is, or allude to which character it might be. I will say, however, that their relationship speaks of how it is to live as a person who doesn’t identify as heterosexual. The doubt, the fear, the misconception, the mistreatment from others, the worries about being in a position of power and about raising a family in a world where the ‘traditional’ is supposed to be the ‘right’ and ‘proper’—all these things are presented in this character’s plight, and though I struggled with including this aspect of this character’s life in the book, I ultimately realized to hide it would do no one good.

In the end, I want to craft engaging stories that are told from points of view that are underrepresented. In my mind, those in the LGBTQIA community are highly underrepresented, and I will never stop writing for them.

With Apologies…Liked it? Review it!

Okay, I have to admit it. I was hoping it wouldn’t come to this, but desperate times beget desperate measures. I accept 100% of the responsibility; I’ve been a bit behind over the past few weeks with the launch of the new book and a free promo on the old one. I wasn’t paying as close attention as I should have been. And so it was at 10:17pm on Wed., July 25, I noticed the blog post due to go up in precisely one hour and forty-four minutes wasn’t in the queue.

Normally, I’d just whip off a new, original post, but my day started at 6am and isn’t quite over yet. So I’m copping out and stealing an old post from my personal blog. If you’ve already read it, I apologize. If you haven’t seen it before…forget everything you just read.

Me looking shame-faced at my oversight

Making decisions is something most of us don’t relish. I’m not talking about the big decisions here — buying a house or car, getting married, moving, having children (not always a decision!) — I’m talking about the little things. We’ve all had this conversation while driving or walking along with our significant other:

“Where do you want to eat?”

“I don’t know. Where do you want to eat?”

“I’m not sure. You pick.”

“I picked last time. It’s your turn.”

“No. I chose the last restaurant. You pick.”

“No, you.”

“No, you.”

Sometimes a squabble ensues; often the decision ends up being the same old place you always go, or nowhere at all. But how much does that discussion change if one of you read a restaurant review in the local paper?

“Where do you want to eat?”

“I just read a review of this place, ‘Joe’s Eats’. The reviewer said it was good. Let’s try that.”

“Okay.”

Much easier, right? You could substitute choosing a movie, going to see a band, or a host of other similar situations and the conversation remains essentially the same. The problem is that we don’t want to take responsiblity for a choice and end up disappointed. Then it’s our fault. But if the reviewer or a friend told you it was good, and it turns out they were wrong, you have someone else to blame.

Here’s another example.

In my family, we don’t have cable (by choice — there’s too much time-wasting, soul-destroying crap on TV) and we used to spend a lot of money renting DVDs every month (probably more than we would have spent on cable). When Netflix came along, we remedied that situation. How is that an example? Those of you who follow my blog will remember I am Canadian, and our version of Netflix has had some problems with different studios. While I can watch Thor or Transformers 3, I went looking for Blade Runner the other day and it wasn’t there. Given the lack of selection, we are left with one way to sort through the myriad of movies we often have never heard of: the star ratings. We don’t know who rated them, but that doesn’t matter. It gives us a guide as well as an out. If we start watching a movie and it’s crap, we can still say, ‘but it had a 4.5 star rating. It’s not my fault!’ (we tend to avoid most rated less than 4 stars). More often, we discover hidden gems we would otherwise never have known about because other people who watched and enjoyed took the time to make sure we knew it was worth it.

See where I’m going?

There are literally millions of books available through Amazon. Suzanne CollinsStephen KingJames Patterson, etc., have no problem finding readers, because the readers will go looking for them. But why, with all those books to choose from, would someone in Montreal, or Dallas, or Albuquerque, bother to buy a book by some guy named Bruce Blake (insert your name here, indie authors) who they’ve never heard of?

“Well, it’s urban fantasy, I like urban fantasy — that’s good. But it’s self-published, and the last self-published book I bought was crap. But it’s only $2.99, that’s not too bad. At least if it sucks, I didn’t waste too much money. ‘On Unfaithful Wings’? Interesting title. Kind of a cool looking cover. Geez, I’m not sure; I’ve already got so many books on my Kindle. I should just get it. No, I shouldn’t. Yes, I should. No, I– Oh wait, it’s rated 4.6 stars. That’s pretty good. Hmm. Oh, what the hell. I’ll take a chance.”

Click.

Thank you.

The moral of the story is, gentle readers, if you liked it, leave a review. Let others know how much you enjoyed it. I’m not talking about ‘The Hunger Games’ here — Ms. Collins already has almost 6000 reviews on Kindle (and a movie, which doesn’t hurt sales). I’m talking about myself and all the other independent authors out there who need your help: the ones you know and got their book as a favour (see? Canadian!), the ones you picked up free during a promo, the ones you bought (usually for $3.99 or less). Don’t be nervous — no one’s expecting Ernest Hemingway to write the review. If all you’ve got is “I liked the book. You should read it”, that’ll do. I would love to have that review.

And, if I may speak on behalf of independent authors everywhere: thank you from the bottom of my heart, not only for buying my book and taking the time out of your busy life to read it (who has time for reading when it takes so long to choose a restaurant?), but also for caring enough to let other people know how much you liked it.

Thank you. Now go review someone’s book.

Excerpt from Promising Light

Today, I decided to share a short excerpt from Promising Light with you lovely folks.

Grace began a secret courtship with Dar for the thrill of doing something against her father, the king’s general. She hadn’t planned on falling in love with him. When Dar suddenly leaves her, she searches for answers, reluctant to let him go.

Everyone seems determined to keep the truth from her—until she’s kidnapped by Dar’s family. They’re shape changers who claim she can break a curse set on them ten years ago by the Protectors, a group of noblemen determined to stifle magic in the name of safety.

Torn between two worlds, Grace isn’t sure who to trust. If the curse endures, Dar’s family could die out forever. But to help them, she’ll have to leave behind everything she knows.

***

Grace tried to keep her eyes away from Dar as they got ready to leave. She watched as the prince’s advisor directed the servants with their trunks. The horses were soon connected to the carriages, and the prince said farewell to the politicians.

Grace said goodbye to the different governors and barons, giving her special thanks to Governor Peter and his family for their hospitality. Governor Alastor and Dar stood at the end of the line. She lowered in a curtsy. “Governor Alastor, Sir Dar.”

Dar inclined his head and met her eyes before she turned away. Her heart pounded as she thought of last night and wondered when she’d see him again.

She got into the carriage, and a servant closed the door behind her. She heard men yelling, and the prince went to the front carriage. A moment later, her carriage lurched forward, moving away from the manor and away from Dar. She let out a breath she hadn’t realized she was holding. She still had feelings for him, whether it was right to or not. Six months couldn’t be erased in only two weeks. She was determined to find out more about the shape changers Dar was so closely involved with.

A couple hours passed before the carriages stopped for a break. Grace stepped out to see they’d stopped on the side of the wide path. The servants were watering the horses from a small creek that ran alongside the path before it vanished into the forest to their left.

Prince William approached her, smiling. “I hope your morning has been good.”

“Yes, your Highness, thank you.” She’d slept for most of the time, and found her dreams full of shapes that changed from men into tigers, snakes, and other frightening creatures. “I think I’ll step into the forest with Thurma.”

Thurma was the only female servant on the trip. The two of them took breaks together in the woods when they needed to relieve themselves. After searching a few moments, Grace found Thurma feeding sugar cubes to the horses.

“Need to go?” Thurma asked, raising her eyebrows. She was an older woman and looked just as muscular as the men.

“I’m afraid so,” Grace said.

They went into the forest, deep into the foreign plants. Grace held her dress up as they went a fair distance. “Go behind that tree,” Thurma said, motioning to a large tree a few feet away.

After Grace went, she stood up and turned back to Thurma. “Stop,” Thurma whispered, lifting her hand.

Grace followed Thurma’s eyes to a spot on the ground. A bright green snake lay in front of her, the body curled up, but the head gazing at Thurma. Grace gasped and stepped backward. It was louder than she intended, and the snake sprang at Thurma. Grace was about to let out a scream when someone grabbed her from behind, clasping a hand over her mouth.

She fought against the arms frantically, but then they were suddenly changing. The skin bristled, the bones grew smaller, and the hand was now rope twisting itself around her, forcing itself into her mouth. The ropes caught her wrists and her ankles. Stumbling, she fell, and her chin barely missed the ground. She screamed as loudly as she could with the rope in her mouth, but someone grabbed her again. She thrashed against him, feeling miserably helpless. He picked her up and threw her over the back of a horse. She ended up on her stomach, her face toward the ground. The rider grabbed her dress and set off in a gallop.

The horse tore through the dense forest, leading them away from the prince and his carriages. Grace screamed as she jostled around on the horse, the rider’s hand holding onto her back. She struggled against him and the ropes, but she was too afraid of falling off the horse and being trampled. Where was he taking her? Had the snake bit Thurma?

Once she gave up screaming, she tasted blood in her mouth. She must have bit her tongue when she fell.

They rode on and on, the forest around them growing thicker and darker. The rich smell of the earth surrounded them. The horse kicked dirt into her face and eyes, and she tried to cover them as they kept going. Her head felt faint after a while, the blood rushing to her head, her back aching from the position she was in.

As soon as the horse slowed to a trot, Grace struggled against the rider. She couldn’t let him take her. She tried to elbow him in the legs and kicked at the ropes on her ankles.

“Stop struggling!” he shouted, shaking her by the shoulders.

Just as she began to understand her struggling wasn’t going to do anything, the man stopped the horse and stepped off. Her body started to slip, and he grabbed her by the waist and lifted her off the horse. She tried to step away from him, forgetting her ankles were tied, and he caught her before she fell over.

Grace only got a glimpse of the unsaddled horse before he began to change. His back legs grew while his front legs shrunk, his nose recoiled, his torso twisted in shape, and then a man stood in front of them. Grace stared at him, her eyes wide. Her knees suddenly felt weak. It couldn’t be. . .it couldn’t. How. . .but he’d just been a horse. He’d changed forms in front of her very eyes.

Everything she’d heard about shape changers over the past week ran through her mind. She hadn’t truly thought it was real, but now that she’d seen it, she couldn’t deny it.


***

If you’re interested in reading more, check out Promising Light on Amazon, B&N, or any other ebook retailer! The sequel, Promising Hope, will be coming to stores this September. And check out that awesome cover!

A Little Bit of Adventure for Your Day: Excerpt from Born of Water

In the buried archives of the Temple of Dust may lie the secret to defeating the Curse, a creature which seeks to destroy 16 year old Ria for the forbidden gifts she possesses. But it is from among the ranks of those who control the Curse where Ria will find her best chance of success. Only the Priestess Niri can save Ria from the forces that hunt her, if Niri doesn’t betray the girl first. Along with Ria comes Ty and his sister, Lavinia, both bound to defend Ria from the Church of Four Orders and Niri, if they must. However, Ty has been living a life less than honest and keeping it from his sister. To survive a journey that takes them across the breadth of their world, the four must learn to trust each other before pursuit from the Church and Ty’s troubled past find them.

So goes the description to my epic fantasy novel Born of Water. The Companion to Born of Water, full of background information and other tidbits, will be released within a week and I’m hard at work on the sequel, Rule of Fire. I’ve offered up Born of Water for free, but never given out sample chapters! Bruce has convinced me to mend my ways, so for the first time ever here is an excerpt from Chapter 7 – The Bazaar of Sardinia:

.

No one entered Sardinia unnoticed. The town was perched on an exposed slim finger of land which jutted out into the Sea of Sarketh. High hills dropped quickly to the ocean, leaving no deep, sheltering harbor or port for vessels. Instead, a natural breakwater was formed by a line of rocks sweeping out from the point. It offered ships meager shelter from the current and incoming storms.

A small town had formed by those skillful or desperate enough to seek refuge behind the submerged rocks of the breakwater. Despite the convenient location of the town between the Archipelago and the cities lining the Sea of Sarketh, the lack of a harbor had kept the settlement from becoming a thriving commercial town. Over time, the breakwater had been enlarged with boulders and the town had turned to catering to those whose needs were not met in the traditional markets. Sardinia was avoided by conventional merchants and honest professionals, or so Ria had heard.

As Lavinia steered them toward a ramshackle wharf, Ty stood watch leaning over the edge of the boat.

“Rocks awash fifteen feet to port.”

Lavinia nudged the rudder post to turn them a degree to the right.

“No, keep the course steady.” Ty’s harsh voice caused Lavinia to flush as she froze her hand.

“Then say ‘stay on course,’ not ‘rocks to port,’” Lavinia snapped at her brother.

Ty ran his hands through his already rumpled hair. Ria and Niri glanced at each other in silence. Ria’s breath caught in her throat as they glided past the half-submerged remains of a ship. The cracked boards of its hull were an ominous welcome to the dangerous town and harbor.

“You are doing fine. Just keep it slow and follow the channel,” Ty said a little more kindly.

Lavinia took a deep breath and glared at the back of her brother’s head. She refocused on the quickly approaching wharf. The mass of wooden planks and pilings sprawled along the shore without order. In places, small rope-and-board bridges spanned sections that had fallen into the waves.

“Where do I go?” Lavinia asked, admitting that she needed help.

“Stay to the starboard side. Head there, just off the channel. You see?” Ty said, pointing to a doubtful-looking mass of planks nailed haphazardly between old pilings.

“That’s where the merchant vessels tie up?” Lavinia’s voice broke with nervousness.

Ty glanced at her grimly. “No, but it’s the closest to the channel and will be the fastest to leave from.”

The edges of Ria’s vision faded, the colors blending to white. She inhaled sea-laden air while her stomach tumbled. Overcome with seasickness and nervousness, she focused on the rigid lines made by the bones of her hands, not looking up toward the town until the boat brushed the dock.

Three men were walking down the wharf toward them as Lavinia stalled the sailboat just off the dock. They confidently stepped across the missing planks with an easy swagger. His gaze not leaving the approaching men, Ty casually looped a rope around a nearly upright piling, not so much securing them as making certain the boat did not drift.

“Do exactly as I say while we are here,” he said quietly.

Wide-eyed, Lavinia watched her brother over the dropped sail as she lashed it to the boom. Niri was pale, but her serene face did not betray any fears. Ria felt that if she opened her mouth she would scream. Her heart thudded in her chest so hard she thought it would break her ribs, which felt as fragile as crystal. She was a creature made of spun gold and milk glass about to step foot in a world that would crush her as surely as the Church. Eyes twin shards of moss agate set in alabaster, Ria stared at Ty, feeling as frightened of what he was asking her to do as she was of the men walking down the dock.

“Aye, what business do you have?”

The lead man stood over their small ship, coolly appraising it from the height of the dock. One thumb was hooked into the waist of his faded red, rough-woven pants, while his weight rested on his right leg in a casual pose. His muted brown hair fell to his cheeks, which showed two days worth of scruff.

“We have goods for the bazaar,” Ty answered calmly, eyes not leaving the man’s face.

There was a slight glimmer to the man’s hazel eyes as he looked at Ty, then the air of nonchalance fell back across his face. His eyes drifted between Ria and Lavinia. “Is that so? Anything good?”

The muscles around Ty’s face tightened and he stood a little straighter. “Odds and ends mostly; we need to clean out the boat.”

“Not selling her, are you?” the second man asked from where he stood a pace behind the first. Sandy blond hair trailed over one eager brown eye. His tan tunic had a slash of dirt across the front, while his pants were neither gray nor brown. They were the color of mud.

Ty paused, his gaze shifting as he tried to judge what the man was referring to. The man’s eyes rested on the girls as much as on the ship.

“No, the boat isn’t for sale.”

“Too bad. She is a slick little vessel,” the man replied, his eyes laughing at some private joke.

The third man was hard to gauge. He stood well back from the other two. Built lithely with fine muscles that rippled under his deep black skin, his eyes took in everything. But his expression gave little in return. His clothes were dark, a sleeveless violet tunic with embroidery at the keyhole collar over black pants and boots. The fabric of his shirt was crisp as if still new. His eyes were the only ones that did not stare at the two girls. He met Niri’s gaze steadily.

Niri remained unreadable, not in the least bothered by the direct stare. She stood alone near where she usually sat on the boat, the bright and slightly revealing shirt looking out of place on her controlled form. Ria felt as pale as a summer rain cloud. She refused to look at any of the men, wishing they would disappear if she did not acknowledge their presence, as if she could will this place not to exist. Lavinia stood in front of her, looking up at the men through a lock of dark hair that had fallen across her downcast face. To Ria, the glare to Lavinia’s blue eyes looked startlingly like her brother’s.

“You’ll need to pay the normal dock fee, then,” said the first man, who looked to be the oldest, or at least the one in charge.

Ty did not hesitate. “I’ll pay you to watch the ship, too. We won’t be past sunset.”

The offer erased the dour look from the man’s face. “That would be all right. I’m Gaff. Causis and Hahri can help you take items up to the bazaar as well. You can pay me.” His grin was easy and gap-toothed, more troubling in the boyishness of it compared to the nefarious look the moment before.

Ty passed Gaff a handful of coins without even counting them. Ria watched the money they had spent the last two days earning disappear into Gaff’s shirt. Her breath came in little puffs as she floated high in her head, detached from her body, the boat, the town.

Gaff vanished down the haphazard wharf. Sandy-haired Causis stood leering at the two girls while Hahri waited silently behind him. Ty tossed the bags they had sorted the night before and brought on deck at dawn at Causis’s and Hahri’s feet. Causis scowled but picked up his share.

Ria followed Lavinia’s actions, bending to pick up a small sack of mostly fine cloth. It was light but Ria felt like a willow being bent over in a storm. Ty helped her from the boat to the wharf, his touch warm on her ice-like skin. It made her come back to herself and her skittering heartbeat like a wild bird caught in a snare.

Ria walked down the rickety wharf as close to Lavinia as possible. Hahri and Causis were nearly to end of the dock and Ty was moving quickly to stay with them. Ria’s stiff, stilt-like legs and the weight of the bundle twined in her arms nearly caused her to overbalance at every missing plank. Her eyes would lock on the water swirling around the rocks below and she would nearly misstep. Niri’s hand on her shoulder kept her moving, bringing back enough focus to keep her from walking off the edge.

The relief of finding the muddy road under her feet fell away the instant the wind shifted. The smell of strong spirits and stale urine hit her with a sudden onslaught. She gagged this time for a reason other than nerves. On solid ground now, Lavinia moved her bundle to her left hip so that she and Ria could walk next to each other, their shoulders nearly touching. Ty followed directly behind Hahri and Causis, while Niri was last, keeping the girls between herself and Ty.

Dilapidated buildings with broken boards and missing narrow windows lined the dirt road winding up the hill. Bottles were smashed into the muddy track. A rat dove under the corner of a building, something moldy in its mouth. In an upper window, Ria saw movement. She found herself meeting the dull eyes of a girl about her age. Her naked shoulder was bruised and scratched, lank hair falling down to cover her breast. Rough hands covered the welt and pulled her back and out of sight.

Trembling so hard that she thought her bones would fall apart, Ria pulled her eyes down to Ty’s back and trudged ahead in a nightmare.

The abused wooden buildings gave way to low stucco structures and then larger ones of worn stone. Still far from elegant, these building at least gave a sense of purpose and organization. Ria found herself glancing around again from under her lashes.

Ahead, Hahri opened a tall arched door set in a high wall. Causis and Ty slipped through without pausing. Ria raced through on Lavinia’s heels, who stopped so quickly Ria bumped into her. The bazaar of Sardinia swirled around them on the other side of the old stone wall. The winding narrow streets of chipped stone and stucco buildings echoed the shouts, music, laughter, and sales chatter of hundreds of vendors. Shop doors stood open, giving glances into the dark interiors of rug merchants and dimly lit cafés. Smoke from small cook fires along the street floated in the warming air. The smells of roasted coffee mixed with spices and cooked marinated meats mingled in the still morning. It was the largest and most vibrant market Ria had ever seen or heard of. She blinked in surprise.

“Where do you want to start?” It was the first time Hahri had spoken. His voice was a low base that rumbled deep in his chest. After walking through the doorway to the market, Hahri was now behind Niri while Causis was next to Ty. Ria glanced at Ty to see Causis staring at her. Ria felt her cheeks flame as she glanced away.

“I know someone. You will be able to leave us there. This way.”

Ty led, moving along the bazaar with the ease of someone comfortably familiar with their surroundings. The tension was gone from Lavinia’s form as she watched her brother’s back. The bundle she carried dangled only a foot above the ground. Niri and Hahri were behind Ria, so she could not see if they were similarly relaxed in the vibrant heart of Sardinia. Ria felt more confused than reassured.

But it was easy to be drawn in. An elongated red and orange demi-dragon twisted around the arms of a tattooed man, the rich colors of his skin blending with that of the chained beast. Birds in cages or with feet tied to sticks screamed and sang from one stall. In another, fire sylphs danced above their brass cages waiting to be sold. A man ran up to Ria holding out lengths of gleaming silver silk. His words were incomprehensible as he described the material in a language other than trade. Ria shook her head and looked away, seeing a young boy acrobat, wearing little more than paint, lithely tumbling forward from a handstand. It was marvelous and lurid, fantastical and deceptive.

In the midst of it all, Ria felt like every eye turned toward her. Silk and jewelry, delicate shoes and fine dresses were whisked in front of her. She pulled into herself, for the first time in her life wishing away the novelty of her delicate beauty. The sellers could not help but notice her. Eyes from the shadows of stores assessed her potential. She could feel the stares pushing against her.

Senses assaulted by a new wave of merchandise thrust at her, Ria floundered, gesturing them away with her hands. The bag she was holding dropped and was scooped up before she could bend over. Tears of frustration filled her eyes as she stepped after it, only to be stopped immediately by the surrounding wall of merchant men. Lavinia was not next to her, Ty nowhere to be seen.

Ria scrambled to step back, not knowing how she had become separated from them so quickly. But the men would not let her pass. A hand like a shackle closed over her wrist and pulled her sideways through the throng. Ty had come to collect her, she was sure. The relief that Ty had found her shattered as Ria found herself staring into Causis’s greedy brown eyes. His other hand cut off her scream as he dragged her forward toward the edge of the street.

His grip was brutal. His hand crushed her wrist, bruising her flesh while the arm of the hand across her mouth felt like a steel band across her chest. As he pulled her down an alley barely a doorway wide, Ria stumbled against him, feeling the length of his body against hers. She began to struggle, writhing and kicking.

The hand over her mouth let go. Ria sucked in air before it was knocked out of her again by the slap across her face.

“Stop it. You are worth more to me unblemished, but not by much,” Causis hissed into her ear.

I hope you enjoyed this tiny snippet of the novel! You can find Born of Water on amazon. Look for the Companion, which will be free, sometime in the first week of August. And if all goes well, Rule of Fire should be out late fall.

Autumn

Not Just Another Fantasy World

What sets my book apart from the others?

By Scott Bury
Author of The Bones of the Earth

I set out to make The Bones of the Earth different from other fantasy novels, but at the same time, to make it the same as all the great stories.

Open almost any fantasy book, whether commercially or independently published. You’ll find a map of an imaginary land. Names of places sound English or Celtic; the farther you go from the place where the hero comes from, the stranger the place-names get.

Characters’ names follow a similar pattern. Good guys have English- or Celtic-sounding names, bad guys have Germanic-sounding names. Oh, am I describing the Game of Thrones series? Yes. Also Eragon and most every fantasy whose author was trying to be the next JRR Tolkien.

Tolkien set a very high bar: he created an imaginary world with a detailed history of its peoples. He created different species, a mythology and five languages. They’re all based on real languages and the mythology of the ancient peoples of northern Europe. Still, it took him decades to write it, and he never finished the book we now know as The Silmarillion before he died.

Most other writers fail to come close to that standard. There are a few; I haven’t read George RR Martin’s (are his middle initials yet another homage to the master?) books, so I’ll reserve judgement. The TV series shows a very complex world, so no wonder it takes him so long to write novels.

I like fantasy, I like the idea of dragons and other mythological creatures in our world. And I wanted to write a story about dragons that my sons might enjoy. But I didn’t like the fantasy model, and I did not just want to re-write Lord of the Rings.

The first thing I did was avoid the imaginary world. Fantasy writers want to have a world where magic is possible, where monsters make sense — a setting that’s believably haunted.

Well, what time was more haunted than the “Dark Ages” of the fifth and sixth centuries CE? After the Western Roman Empire fell, when learning was nearly extinguished in Europe? (At least, that’s what we learned in history class.)

Just a little research showed that wasn’t quite right; there were “barbarian” kingdoms that were fairly sophisticated, and in eastern Europe, Rome did not fall for another thousand years. We call it the Byzantine Empire today, but the people who lived in it at the time still called it Rome, and called themselves Roman — even though the city of Rome was not part of it for most of that period.

I also did not have to make up names that are obviously made up, like Eragon or Eventine. The names of my characters may sound strange to many readers, but Javor, Mstys, Boles, Photius and Hrech are all historical, all real. Some are even used today in some countries.

I also tried to evoke the oldest meaning of the myths that remain so popular. My dragons are not friendly or cute; they represent the greatest power of life, as they did for ancient cultures. Other monsters come directly from old myths and legends that most of us know today. Even “Stuhach” comes from ancient lore of eastern Europe, and the Kobolds, Krum Chimmek and their king, Goldemar, from central European cultures.

Most important, though, is what I hope makes my book similar to others: believable and likeable characters. I based all my characters on real people that I actually know. My main character, Javor, is based on my sons: he looks like the elder and acts like the younger. His mentor, Photius, is based on a university professor — except that I don’t think Professor Marlin was a skilled fencer. Other characters are based on my friends, my parents’ friends, neighbours — and yes, one is based on my wife.

See if you can guess which one.

What is the Truth in Concept?

I saw Jeff Daniels on a local morning news show talking about his new series “The Newsroom” (which is great by the way). What struck me about this particular interview was that he never spoke about the main theme behind the show–how the news has largely become propaganda and fluff aimed at ratings and money rather than the truth. Maybe he couldn’t talk about that, because he was sitting in just such a newsroom at the time. A strange juxtaposition — funny and sad at the same time. One of the anchors on the show, which they were saying was mainly pointing out the truth about politics (definitely a theme in the show), asked Jeff if the opinions on the show weren’t tilted toward that of the writer (Aaron Sorkin). Well… duh. Of course they are. How can they not be? I do think Mr. Sorkin tries hard to be fair toward all sides with the idea of producing a true quest for the truth. The point here for this blog is that all writing is going to be tilted toward the opinion of the writer. You don’t have to agree, you have to absorb and make decisions based on what you feel about their “reality.” Does this count in all fiction?

Yes.

One of the things I have held as a quest all my life, even as a child reading, is that if I can read a book and come away with some fact, feeling or belief based on what I’ve read, it is a GREAT book. Deep down, I think most writers have a message somewhere in their story that they truly believe in, want to show to the world. It isn’t that they want to hoist that belief or version of the truth on you, they want to expose you to it and let you make your own choices. That’s the way it should be. Certainly you’ll find some who are determined to convince you of their beliefs, but good writers don’t do that. They lay it out in a pleasing manner (the story) and let you develop your own feelings on the matter. Good writers trust their readers to form sound opinions of their own and enjoy the fact that they aren’t always going to be the same as their own.

Here is an excerpt from Hell’s Own, to give you an idea of how a concept can be shrouded inside the story, and help to bring the character to life. As a writer, I have my own opinions, and they will always shine through the writing. It is also important to understand all viewpoints on a subject, however, or the writing will be lopsided. You have to be able to play devil’s advocate (so to speak) and try to keep your opinions from overshadowing characters with opposing views. It can make for some pretty interesting conversations with yourself as you do it.

Christine’s Angel–Excerpt from Hell’s Own

Alex crawled out of the fountain sputtering and heaving. Blood flowed freely from the cuts on his chest and back. His arms shook as he braced himself on the edge of the basin. His wings, soaked and heavy, hung back like limp rags.

As he panted he looked up straight into the biggest, bluest eyes he’d ever seen. Blue like the skies of earth. Blue like his dreams.

A timid smile quivered on the ruby lips of the petite female human. In her hands that trembled at the sight of him was a sign bore the words:

SALVATION IS YOURS-JUST ASK.

Alex raised a brow. His weary mind couldn’t decide if it were a sign of hope, or a cosmic joke—or if she were a proper candidate for a refreshing feast.

He studied the figure of the woman. Golden hair glistened like spun sunlight in tight, short curls around her cherubic face. Surely an angel had landed before his eyes. He blinked to clear his mind. Blood pulsed rapidly in her veins. He could hear it. His mouth watered. She was ripe, and looked oh, so tender. A spark of desire lit in him.

Too much blood rushed away from his brain too fast. What hadn’t been lost on the ground got redirected. A wave of nausea threw him to the grassy surface and made him forget any desire.

He wretched and willed his eyes to remain in their sockets with every heave that threatened to explode his head.

His bruised body begged for relief. As if in answer to an unspoken prayer, two tender hands lifted him by the shoulders.

He looked up into her eyes as he rose up with her assistance. Her enchanting eyes shimmered with curiosity, but her face bunched up with uncertainty.

Alex held up a bloodied hand. “Don’t be afraid,” he wanted to laugh at her awed expression, but he was too weak to manage anything but a shaky grimace, “you’re safe with me. I don’t have the energy…” He felt himself slump into her arms just as his words slurred, and his mind went blank.

***

Christine Temple lugged the limp man to her car. Every muscle in her twenty-two-year-old work-out-fit body felt inadequate to the task. She leaned him against the side of the car to catch her breath and he slid to the ground in a heap.

Her heart raced as she studied him. The marvelous wings were enticing.

She reached out a tentative hand. Her heart fluttered when she touched the smooth leather skin of one limp wing. It flinched at her touch and she jerked back.

Okay, fine then, be touchy. There was work to do anyway, she glanced over at her discarded sign on the grass and ran for it.

She hurried around to the trunk and flung it open. With a shove she thrust her sign in amongst a trunk full of similar placards, all with different sayings scrawled on their face. She shoved aside a large bag of canned food. The food pantry would have to wait. Her eyes scanned the contents of the space and stopped at a raggedy blanket. She pulled it from the clutter, and slammed the trunk shut.

When she got back to the angel’s side, blood had streamed beneath him in a horrifying pool. Could an angel be mortally wounded?

With a moan she pushed the man into her car and struggled to fold his obstinate wings in around him. She staggered back as they pushed against her and hung in almost dejected fashion out of the open door.

They were amazing.

Cool and slippery like she imagined a bat’s would feel if you touched one. They were big too. She started to doubt she’d ever be able to get them inside.

“Look,” she said to the wounded appendages that she thought just might have a life, and feelings all their own, “you have to cooperate here unless you want to be dragged down the street caught in the closed door. That’s going to hurt. I promise you that.”

Nothing.

The wings trailed out of the door and lay limp on the ground.

Christine hunched, and leaned in over the passed out figure slumped on the seat. She touched his shoulder and gave it a shake. “Hey,” she said. There was no response. “Oh, God, please don’t let him be dead.”

As if in answer to her prayer, the man stirred and looked up at her through pain filled eyes.

“Your wings.”

He wasn’t focused. She couldn’t remember ever seeing such dilated eyes. Not a speck of color shone around the huge, black as coal pupils.

“This is bad,” she thought out loud. “Come on, Mister.” She shook the limp shoulder harder.

The sound of a man’s voice startled her. She looked up through the windshield. A small bald man stepped over a ridge in the grass where the battle had taken place. His eyes were big as saucers. She worried that others would come and discover her angel, and take him from her.

The little bald man paid her no mind, but she looked across the street. Others were coming out of hiding. They might.

In a frustrated shove she crammed the wings in over the man no longer being gentle. She just wanted out of there.

***

Christine looked over at the flaccid form on the passenger seat. Nobody would believe this. She’d captured a real honest-to-goodness angel. She wrinkled her nose. He didn’t look like an angel in the books. He didn’t smell like one either.

A bemused smile flickered on her lips. What exactly did an angel smell like? Especially one fresh from battle with one of Satan’s demons.

She jerked to attention and swung her head back to face the road when one of the dark angel’s eyes opened a slit to peer up at her.

Christine gripped the steering wheel in a white-knuckled chokehold.

“Are you really an angel?” Christine turned back with hope, but the mysterious angel man was fast asleep once again. “Well, fudge sickle.”

Her mind raced trying to decide whom to show him to first.

Her mother.

Her mother adored angels. Every nook and cranny of the house Christine grew up in had an angel in some form. Beautiful crystal, delicate china, cutsey crochet, painted on velvet, watercolor on paper, oil on canvas, funky psychedelic prosaic, ceramic, hand painted plates, if it had been created, her mother had it.

It drove her father crazy.

This would make him blow a fuse.

Her mom would freak. A warped smile twisted on her mouth. “Yeah.” No, she shook her head to clear the thoughts. She glanced back at the wounded being beside her. Lots of people would be interested, but not yet. A live angel would be much better than a dead one.

She swung the wheel, and turned toward home.

 

Tami Parrington is a freelance writer and author of seven novels including Hell’s Own. Check out Hell’s Own on Amazon.com at http://www.amazon.com/Hells-Own-ebook/dp/B001B8QFF4

A Little Something New to Read

Things are pretty busy on the old writing front right now (and when I say writing, I mean writing, editing, planning, outlining, formatting and promotions. Whew). My first Icarus Fell novel, On Unfaithful Wings, is currently free on Kindle (if you’re reading this between July 19 and 21, go get a copy and tell your friends), and I just released the second in the series, All Who Wander Are Lost. You can get it for only $0.99 until the end of July (tell your friends that, too). I’m editing the first half of my Khirro’s Journey epic fantasy while finishing up the writing of the second half. Underneath it all, the rumblings of the third Icarus book are beginning. I won’t even mention the other 6 or 7 books waiting in the wings.

In All Who Wander Are Lost, Icarus gets himself into even more trouble when he decides to journey to Hell in order to bring back souls condemned due to his lackluster performance as a Harvester. The archangel Michael forbids it, his guardian angel refuses to help, but he still manages to find himself in the one place no one should never want to go.

Here’s a bit of the action:

I opened my eyes, half-expecting everything to be ablaze. It didn’t disappoint me to find it wasn’t the case. The gray sky looked like an average overcast day threatening rain, though I couldn’t discern any clouds, just gray. I breathed deep through my nose but didn’t smell brimstone or sulfur, only the earthy smell of the first rain after a lengthy dry spell.

About time, sleeping beauty.”

My neck creaked as I turned my head and gazed into the eerily blue eyes of Piper kneeling beside me. She smiled.

If this is Hell, count me in.

How long?”

A minute or two. Not long enough for brain damage.”

I’ll have to come up with another excuse.”

She stood and offered her hand, but I struggled to my feet on my own rather than risk the visions her touch was sure to insert in my mind. They weren’t unpleasant, but I’d rather have my wits about me in Hell than walk around with an erection. As I gained my feet I surveyed the area around us: a medium-sized stream burbled on our left, stretching to the horizon; a forest of twisted trees clogged our right. We stood on a swath of earth which accounted for all else.

Where are we?”

Hell,” she said as casually as if she’d told me ‘the grocery store.’

You sure? Doesn’t look like Hell.”

You were expecting a lake of fire, something like that?”

No, actually. Last time I visited, it was a deserted apartment building.”

She shrugged. “To each his own.”

She looked away and took a few paces toward the stream, leaving me to feel as though I’d lost a friend. My eyes followed her, and when I managed to tear them away, I noticed a small city perched on the far bank.

That wasn’t there before.

Is that where we’re going?”

I think so.”

You don’t know?”

She looked back over her shoulder with an expression of mock disdain.

I’m an angel, Icarus. Why should I know anything about Hell?”

Right. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean–”

You’ve been here more times than I have.”

That shut me up. Still, I didn’t know anything about the place, my exposure being limited to a fiery hallway in an abandoned apartment building and a few rooms which didn’t look like they belonged in Hell. Hardly detailed knowledge.

I walked toward the edge of the stream, fully intending to step in and make my way across. I enjoyed Piper’s company, but the sooner this expedition got underway, the sooner we’d get the Hell out of here, pardon the pun. My right foot was hovering over the water when her hand on my shoulder sent a shock through my spine.

Don’t go in the water.”

I returned my foot to dry land and shook my head as I dragged myself from her touch before all the blood left my brain. I blinked a few times to clear the mud from my thoughts.

Why not? I thought you said to go to the city.”

We do, but you can’t touch the water of the River Styx.”

I stared at her for a moment, looked at the stream, then back at her, trying not to laugh—I didn’t know if doing so would hurt her feelings—but couldn’t stop myself.

The River Styx. Really? Disappointing.”

She raised an eyebrow.

I expected something bigger, a bit more…torrential.”

I gazed back at the over-sized creek, searching the flowing water for signs of damned souls sliding by under its surface, eyes blank, mouths open in eternal screams. Think I saw one of those ornamental Japanese goldfish—koi. Big, but I didn’t notice any teeth.

How do we get to the other side?”

She looked left, then right. “I suppose we have to find the ferryman.”

The second the word cleared her lips, a solitary puff of fog appeared on the far bank. It roiled and moved in place for a minute, then struck out across the creek, misty tendrils trailing behind. A minute and a half later, it reached us. The fog cleared to reveal a flat-bottomed raft bearing a stooped old man with long pole in hand. A black patch covered one of his eyes, the other bulged and stared beside his hook nose; long, stringy hair hung past his shoulders. He looked enough like Marty Feldman’s rendition of Igor in Young Frankenstein that I expected Mel Brooks to shout: ‘Action!’.

Piper took a step toward the boat but I caught her by the sleeve of her shirt, stopping her.

Whatever you do, don’t pay him ’til we get to the other side.”

She looked at me like she thought she’d been wrong about the brain damage.

Come on…Chris de Burgh. ‘Don’t pay the Ferryman’. You must know it.”

She shook her head.

“‘The Lady in Red’? ‘Spanish Train’? ‘Patricia the Stripper’?”

A blank stare.

You guys need better tunes up in Heaven.”

Nothing worse than funny references your audience doesn’t understand. It felt like I was talking to my ex-wife—she never appreciated classic rock humor, either.

Are you done?”

I paused a second before nodding. She stepped onto the raft, making it rock gently; I hesitated but followed. The bent ferryman stared at us with his one eye but didn’t push off. I looked at him expectantly—this was his job, he should know what to do—then turned my gaze on Piper, who was staring across the stream toward the city. I sidled up beside her.

What are we supposed to do now?” I asked out of the corner of my mouth, one eye on the ferryman.

You can’t wait until the other side to pay him, no matter what this de Burgh fellow told you.”

Her mouth crinkled up in a smirk and I almost laughed aloud, but the urge dissipated quickly as the man’s unblinking eye bore into me. He extended his hand. I patted my pockets and found them as empty as when I’d set out to feed the ducks.

Shouldn’t have left all my change to tip the barkeep.

Pay him what?”

I don’t know, I’m an angel. Ask him.”

I took a hesitant step toward him. The wrinkles in his cheeks and forehead were deep enough to be crags; I thought, if I looked close enough, I’d find tiny mountaineers scaling them. I didn’t want to look that close.

Excuse me, sir. We need to reach the other bank.”

He stared at me, mouth pulled down in a scowl. I swallowed the lump forming in my throat and rephrased the question, not liking how this was proceeding. I gestured across the stream.

What will it cost to get there?”

His palm up, expectant hand turned, the exaggerated knuckles folding all but one of his twig-like fingers back until his hand quaked in my direction. The lump returned to my throat.

Me?”

He nodded. I backed away a step and whispered to Piper.

Ah, a little help here?”

I didn’t look at her—didn’t want to take my eye off the wizened man—but felt her gaze. Its effect didn’t match her touch, but it brought goose bumps to my neck and courage I wouldn’t have found on my own.

Give him what he wants.”

I didn’t want to look away from the ferryman for fear it would be the last thing I ever did, so I clenched my teeth instead of giving her the disbelieving look her statement deserved.

I raised my hand tentatively toward him. Our hands drew closer and I felt an uncomfortable warmth radiating from his flesh. Then, with enough speed to make a mongoose jealous, his fingers encircled my wrist.

As soon as his flesh touched mine, I saw it wasn’t really a man stooped in front of me, but a wolf-shaped beast—the huge, misshapen werewolf from ‘An American Werewolf in London’ come to life. Terror froze me. The wolf-beast jerked me toward him and lurched forward; its jaws found my shoulder, fangs dug into muscle. I screamed.

The thing shook its head once, rending my flesh. It reared back, a chunk of me in its teeth, my blood running between its jaws. A wave of nausea overtook me, spinning my head, dizzying me. I stumbled away and the beast released its hold on my wrist. My feet tangled and my tail bone struck the raft’s deck hard enough to click my teeth together. A second later, Piper knelt beside me.

Are you alright?”

My lips moved but no sound emerged. I registered the concern in her eyes, then returned my gaze to the man-wolf.

Gone.

The stooped ferryman stood at the back of the raft working his pole as he guided us across the stream. I jerked my head around expecting to find the beast behind me, but the raft held only the three of us.

Did you see what happened?” I asked, breathless.

Yes. You asked him what it would cost to cross, shook his hand, then you stumbled. Did you hurt yourself?”

I shook my head and brought my hand up to the shoulder where the beast took a chunk out of me. No pain. When I looked at my fingers, they were free of blood.

What the fuck?

You didn’t see it?”

Piper shrugged. “See what?”

I opened my mouth to tell her about the wolf-thing, its bite, but the instant my lips moved, my cheeks burned with embarrassment.

I must have imagined it.

I couldn’t admit to this beautiful woman—angel—that a mirage made me panic.

Nothing. Never mind.”

She offered her hand to help me up off my ass but I chose again to do it without the aid of her skin against mine. I climbed to my feet, head feeling like the Hindenburg—lighter than air but about to explode.

Are you sure you’re alright?”

I nodded, then promptly vomited over the side of the raft. A group of huge goldfish like the one I’d seen earlier gathered and made a meal of my spew. The sight made me gag again but I retained the rest of the contents of my stomach and stood on unsteady legs.

The ferryman stared straight ahead, his one bulging eye fixed on his goal of the other shore. Over his shoulder I saw the bank we’d left receding.

Good.

I wanted to get off this raft as quickly as possible, leave the man with his craggy face and long pole behind. And whatever-the-hell-it-was that bit me. Pivoting on my heel, I faced Piper. An amused smirk had usurped her expression. I wanted to tell her how it’s not polite to laugh at the folly of others, but the far bank caught my eye.

It was no closer.

What the…?”

I spun back toward the spot we’d left, saw it was farther away, then looked back to our destination which looked the same distance as before.

What’s going on, Piper?”

She shrugged. “It’s Hell,” she said, unconcerned. “We’ll get there eventually.”

I slouched down onto the deck of the raft, sitting cross-legged—what Trevor’s kindergarten teacher called criss-cross applesauce—and breathed deep, attempting to quell my shaking hands.

An hour later, I’d shifted position a few dozen times—criss-cross applesauce is fine for kids but gets uncomfortable quickly when you’re in your fourth decade. A warm wind rose from the direction of our goal, which was no closer; waves lapped the side of the raft. I peered into the water and saw the school of giant goldfish swimming alongside, their tails working but getting them no further ahead than us. Piper sat at the front like a monk deep in meditation. I stared a few seconds at her dark hair hanging to the middle of her back, at the smooth whiteness of the flesh of her arms, then finally at the distant city, still as far away as when we began the trip across the river Styx.

Enough,” I said.

I climbed to my feet, knees aching, and approached the ferryman. He remained fixed on our destination, so I stepped into his line of sight but stayed far enough away he couldn’t reach me.

What’s going on here? You got the payment you wanted, when will we get to the other side?”

I’m not sure what the payment had been—probably didn’t want to know—but felt he’d taken something from me. Behind him, the far bank had disappeared, leaving a stretch of churning water between us and our point of departure. How-the-hell a stream could grow into a small sea was beyond me, then I realized the answer to my query.

Hell.

The ferryman’s eye shifted and he stared at me for a full minute before returning to his survey of the far shore. As much as I didn’t want to deal with this man—this thing—it was time for answers.

Look at me.” I moved again to block his view. “When will we–”

The raft struck something solid spilling me onto my tail bone for a second time. Perhaps we’d hit one of the enormous koi. I righted myself and saw the ferryman pointing past me, gnarled finger extended toward the shore. Piper came to my side.

We’re here,” she sing-songed.

The edge of the raft made contact with the rocky shore. A few hundred yards away, the city overtook the landscape, its buildings rising taller than I’d thought, many reaching hundreds of stories toward the ashen sky. Monolithic, ultra-modern slabs stood shoulder to shoulder with cathedrals which looked like they were erected a thousand years ago. The skyscrapers stretched the length of the shore as far as I could see.

I opened my mouth to ask ‘what-the-hell’ again but closed it without posing the question. This was Hell, after all: apparently I’d have to get used to a little strangeness.

Hope you enjoyed it. I’ll keep you all updated as things progress on the other projects. If you ahve any questions or comments, don’t be shy. Use the comments below or email me: bruceblake (at) hotmail(dot)ca. And reember, All Who Wander Are Lost is only $0.99 until July 31.