Friday, September 30, 2016

Elementary, My Dear

It always fascinates me when people talk about which fictional characters they'd want to be - I notice no one mentions Game of Thrones much. Not too many people opting for zombie books, either. Usually. I guess I'd always assumed that other readers were like me. I wanted to be the main character in whichever book I was reading at the time. Frankly, I spent most of my angst-ridden, middle-school, junior high years wanting to be someone else. ANYONE else. So the list of characters I would have given you was a mile long.

I mean, Meg from A Wrinkle In Time was super high on the list. Any of Ursula K. Le Guin's heroines are, too. But really. After examining all the evidence, there was only one possible conclusion for someone who desperately wanted to be to step into the shoes of a character far clever than she is herself: Sherlock Holmes.

Yes. Yes. Let's forget the whole 'he's a dude, you're not' BS. This is fiction. We get to be any freaking thing we want, right? And that's the whole point. Gender. No gender. Stripes. Polka dots. Aliens with blue skin and green eyes. No less probable than a secret agent with a license to kill who manages to single handedly save the world, sleep with anything that moves and avoid the clap all at the same time. Why should I not be Sherlock?

Oh, yes. I am aware that character is fraught with baggage. But to be that clever, that sharp. Not to mention intrinsically immortal. For a character conceived and created in the Victorian Era, he's looking awfully well these days. Despite some tragic reboots and reimaginings of his adventures.

Maybe the real answer is that the geeky little girl who curled up reading everything she could get her hands on because real life was pretty lonely also wants to be as popular and well-liked as a cranky gum-shoe in a deerstalker hat. The very best thing about Sherlock Holmes is that he is a misfit who had managed to make his misfittedness work on his behalf and to win him influence and acceptance. And while I'm not crazy about the notion of stepping into the shoes of a cocaine addict . . . I - Yeah, I dunno. I think I'm stuck on the fact that this character can be so beloved and popular, even with (perhaps because of) his foibles. That's mighty attractive.

Would you swap places with him?

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Butler's Parables Series: A Fiction We Don't Want To Live In

So the question put in front of me today: what fictional character would you like to be?   There's been that meme of late to define yourself with three fictional characters, and I'm always at a loss with that sort of thing.  I don't know, I just don't think along those lines.  
But-- and forgive me for getting a bit political-- I know one fictional setting that I don't want to live in, and that's Octavia Butler's Parables duology.
If you haven't read Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents, a quick summary: it's set in a near future dystopia, where the American government has effectively collapsed to privatization and a fearmongering leadership.  And as opposed to the hip dystopias of Hunger Games or Divergent, this one is disturbingly plausible.  At the time I read it, it felt like a place that we might actually reach, it felt more real from its lack of rules or rigidly defined divisions.  Instead, all the divisions are just the usual Fear of the Other-- someone who isn't one of mine can't be trusted.
It's a frightful vision of the future, and I hope it's not a future that anyone would want to live in.  There is hope in the series, hope spawned from attempts at unity and empathy.  But the point of the series is how fear and selfishness tries to squash hope, unity and empathy.
Choose a bright future.  Choose hope and empathy.  Because that's where I want to live.
And read those two books, because they are excellent.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Be a Character

If I could be anybody else's character who would it be and why...

I've said for years that I was inspired by Jennifer Roberson's character Del in The Sword Dancer series because I wanted to be Del. I still stand by that. Why? Because she's unafraid to set a lofty goal and then she achieves it. It doesn't hurt that she can use a sword as well as the men around her who are taller and stronger and more experienced.

But, if that's the criteria...then a host of other ladies fit the criteria, such as Wonder Woman, Princess Leia, and Hermione Granger.

And hell, I'd be happy to be Han Solo or James Bond or Conan the Barbarian. Just sayin'.

I'm a sucker for the idea of an adventure.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Is It Bad That I'd Want To Be A Brat?

Who would I be if I could be a character from a book...uhm...hmm.

I'll go with Anne Rice's über emo misanthropic brat Lestat. Responsibilities slide off him like oil on Teflon. He's unquestionably bold and daring to the detriment of everyone around him. He has amazing adventures with more amazing people...and gives no shits for how badly he wrecks them. The people and the places, that is. His selfishness lays low immortals and gods (you know that is a special level of It's Always All About Me when you're worse than a god). When he's overcome with self-pity, holed up or buried, wallowing in his bad hair day, one of his Stockholm victims comes to his rescue. Even when his peers attempt to hold him accountable, his charm and insouciant ways somehow lead him to be the hero of the moment or at least of the illusion.

Lestat is so completely who I am not, that it would be a gas to live his life with his utter lack of morals.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Who would I be...?

So the notion here is to say who you would like to be in someone else's world. I rather like that.

There are so many choices.

Superman. he'd be great. Not that sad sack from MAN OF STEEL, but the one that believes in truth, justice and the American way. That one.

Still, let's go a little deeper shall we?

John Carter of Mars had it pretty good Super strong, hottest girl in the universe on his arm. Still. A little too much like Superman when you get right down to it.

I'm going to go with Taran from the amazing Chronicles of Prydain, by Lloyd Alexander.

Tara started off as an apprentice pig farmer with delusions of grandeur. He wanted to be a brave hero. he wanted to fight the ancient enemies of the land, including Arawn the evil overlord who almost ruled the whole of Prydain before.

Seriously, you'd think with that start up that you'd get another mostly generic fantasy, but Taran lived an amazing life. he met incredible creatures and friends. He learned and he grew and before it was all said and done he got everything he wanted out of the world, and all it cost him was his dreams and his innocence.

In other words, he went from being a bratty kid to becoming a man of honor and integrity.

I think that's all anyone can ask for at the end of the day. Also, he got the girl. That's a lovely notion.

Absolutely one of my favorite series of books ever. Absolutely one of the best developed characters I ever ran across.


Sunday, September 25, 2016

I Would Be ... Lessa of Pern!

Our topic this week at the SFF Seven is what character would you like to be in someone else’s novel and why?

It was an interesting question to ponder. I went through a number of choices before discarding them for various reasons. Like, I nearly said Eve Dallas from J.D. Robb's In Death series - but that's mainly so I could have Roarke. I wouldn't want her tortured past or to be a homicide detective. Similarly, I thought about Kate Daniels (now Lennart!) from Ilona Andrews Kate Daniels books. It would be cool to be kickass like her and have all that magical power, but she's had a sucky life, too, and has a tough challenge ahead of her.

This kind of thing is true for many characters who capture my imagination, and I'm a believer in looking at the entirety of a person's life. This is a great remedy for envy of all kinds, by the way. Whenever I find myself wishing I could have some other author's book success, I make myself consider everything about them and if I'd tried the whole of my life for theirs. Even with the most awesome people the answer is always no, because I like MY life and who I am.

So, using this rule of thumb, I ended up discarding most potential characters. I finally ended up with...

Lessa of Pern!

If you don't know, she's the heroine of Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey, the first of the Weyrs of Pern trilogy, and she appears in many of the connected books, too.

And yes, yes, yes - I KNOW. Lessa had a majorly sucky childhood, too. And nasty challenges to face.

*BUT*

It would totally be worth it to have a queen dragon. And F'lar. Plus she was the first heroine who really resonated with me. She's more interested in getting things done than in being nice. Her force of will and determination are qualities F'lar loves about her and made me believe I could be loved for that in myself, too. (And I am!) She's frequently bitchy and not afraid to be angry - but she's also widely appreciated and has a soft heart under it all.

Totally my role model!

~waits for dragon~

Saturday, September 24, 2016

It's Fall Play Ball Excerpt from Trapped on Talonque

Tiny confession: we're supposed to do flash fiction about the equinox, I think. I'm not a real big fan of writing flash fiction nor am I well versed in the intricacies of the equinox PLUS I did a flash fiction with the titles of classic books just a couple of weeks ago in this very space. Moving merrily onward, I'm flash fictioned OUT.

(Saturday SFF7 person is a bit rebellious this week. Been having visual migraines the last couple of days, which are kind of stressful.)

So here's an exclusive excerpt from my latest novel Trapped on Talonque, in which the heroes are observing the local ball game, sapiche. They have to learn to play, well enough to win and save not only their lives, but also the alien sleeping beauty. (Ball game=football=Fall, right? Unless you want me to talk to you about the eleven seasons of "Making the Team" about the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders that I've been bingewatching lately....but so, I'm staying in the theme of Fall. Somewhat.)

Fall is my favorite time of the year!

The story:
Will an alien sleeping beauty awaken to save him, or destroy everyone around her?

When a Sectors Special Forces soldier and his team crash land on an alien planet, they’re taken captive and given a challenge–win at the violent ball game of sapiche and live. Lose, and they die, sending a mysterious, alien beauty to an even uglier fate. To survive, these soldiers must win the game and find a way to free the dangerous prisoner from her locked chamber.

Nate Reilly and his team are in deep trouble. Prisoners on a backward alien planet, they’re brought before an alien ‘goddess’, sleeping in her high tech seclusion. Nate is astonished when she awakes and establishes a psychic link with him. But her news is not good–he and his men must win a brutal challenge set by their captors, or they will die. She’ll give her aid, but in the end their courage and strength must win the contest.

Bithia sleeps in her chamber, as she has for thousands of years, since her own people unaccountably left her there. Viewed as a goddess by her captors, she must hide her ancient secrets to survive. But only the bravest of men may free her. Can she use her psychic powers to keep Nate and his men alive long enough to help her escape, or will her only hope of freedom die with them?

The excerpt:
The ensuing game was exciting, engaging Nate’s attention despite the circumstances. Opposing teams of four players each strove to capture a black leather ball as it shot at random, apparently, from one of the wall openings. The men fought to ram the sphere into one of the openings on the other side of the court. The other team did its best to steal the ball and inflict maximum damage on the other players in the process. Violence and aggression met with roaring approval from the crowd.

The game progressed rapidly, limited to three scores. Whenever one team or the other managed to get three balls into the wall despite the defenders’ best efforts, the proceedings came to a halt. The winning team paraded around the court, arms held high, accepting the cheers of the crowd, eventually moving out of sight into the holding area under the amphitheater. The four members of the losing team were dragged to the middle of the sand and knelt in a line, facing the king and queen.

As the last man on the winning team left the arena, a complete hush fell over the crowd. A quartet of black-clad priestesses escorted by guards marched onto the court. Moving quickly, each woman looped a heavy golden chain over the head of an unresisting player before leading him out through a different exit. Servants carried anyone too injured to walk.

Groundskeepers emerged to rake the sand, hiding the bloodstains from the rough play of the previous round. The crowds fell to animated chatter and wagering, coins changing hands. Servants brought the nobility refreshments. Harsh-voiced vendors hawked food and drink on the commoners’ side. At first nothing was offered to the prisoners, although their guards accepted free drinks from vendors willingly enough. Later in the afternoon, as the games continued, two servants appeared with flagons of watered wine. 

“Doesn’t bode well for the losers, you think?” Thom asked as the same grim ending repeated after each round.

Nate shook his head. “Our captor has to be showing this to us for a reason. Are you paying close attention? I’m watching for any kind of strategy at work, or is victory obtained primarily by brute force? I thought I noticed a pattern to the passing, especially when the red team was working their last ball.”

“You think we’re going to be the visiting team?”

Nate sighed and stretched as far as the chains allowed, settling on the bench with a satisfied chuckle as he realized the guards were getting nervous. “Not today, I hope. But why else drag us out here?”

“Reminds me of soccer, or Betyran tisba,” Haranda said, clearly enjoying himself.

“You play?” Nate asked.

“Tisba. I was lead wing on the varsity team at the Star Guard Academy, two years running.”

“Don’t get cocky,” Thom said. “I don’t think you had the same kind of rules. The Sectors Star Guard generally doesn’t want its recruits killing each other. These guys are out for blood.”

The day stretched on. Nate watched four more matches, each as rapid and as brutally played as the first two. The final match was played late in the afternoon, and the team in red shirts and shorts was clearly the crowd favorite as the chanting rose to a high volume. “Do you think Kalgitr is the team name or the guy who scored the goal?”

“I’m guessing the man. He’s a bruiser, all right.”

Nate nodded. “Plays dirty too. I think he broke the other guy’s arm.”

“Win at all costs or die,” Thom said. “Nice rules.”

Buy Links:

Friday, September 23, 2016

Flash Fiction and Giveaway

Blog tour and giveaway! I'll get to the flash fiction. Hold your horses. You want to win free stuff, right? Of course you do! Damned If He Does is up for grabs (3 copies) at the end of this blog tour - each stop allows an entry into the giveaway - an internet raffle, if you will, that cost you no actual dollars.





September 19
A Writer's Mind 

September 19
Books,Dreams,Life,

September 20 
Preternatura

September 21
Supernatural Central

September 22 Review
Romance Authors That Rock

September 23
Mello and June, It's a Book Thang!  

September 26
BookBoyfriends and Booze

September 26
My Book Filled Life 

September 27
Share My Destiny

September 27
The Book Junkie Reads 

September 28
T's Stuff  

September 28
Whiskey With My Book

September 28
Rising Indies United

September 29
Fang-tastic Books 

September 29
Infinite House of Books

September 30
Traci Douglass

September 30
Ramblings of a Book Nerd

October 3
The Silver Dagger Scriptorium


October 3
Fantatical Paranormal Romantical



If you'd like to win a sopy fo Damned If He Does, visit each of the site in turn and you will be entered. Books will be given away after 10/3

FLASH FICTION
You were very patient. Thank you.
I'm sick. Got nothing to say, mainly brain fry. Sorry.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Dark Road: a #HoldOnToTheLight post




Over the past few years, I’ve read the accounts of many of my writing peers as they confessed their mental health struggles on social media. Each time, I felt glad that they were brave enough to be open about it…and wished I could be as bold and confident because I have also walked the dark road holding hands with that specter.

Twice, I've sought medical treatment and been diagnosed with depression. The first time was 2007. The second time was more recent, February 2015, and it was coupled with anxiety and insomnia.

Allow me to set the stage. -gulp- I’ve never been this open in a public forum. Here I go.

A (now-estranged) family member had moved in “temporarily,” refused to get a job, and began bullying me to the point that I did not feel safe in my own home. Early in 2013, this person returned to find the entirety of their belongings on the porch and the locks changed. I wish I could say that ordeal had ended there. 

In 2013, I began seeing a counselor because I was starting to question my sanity; she helped me see that I wasn’t crazy. I ended a relationship with a man who was abusive in a way that she never formally identified but -thanks to book research afterward- I can call it gaslighting. It hit me hard when I realized he’d had nearly all of the classic traits. Months later, I had to file bankruptcy and I lost my car. (I’d never missed a payment on it but the bank took it anyway because they could.) So I walked to work for a while and bummed rides when I could. 

The day before my birthday in January of 2014 a father-figure passed away and suddenly it felt like I hadn’t grieved my own father who had died in 2008. This was the proverbial “straw that broke the camel’s back.” I had my first real anxiety attack when I was supposed to leave work and go to this friend’s funeral. I made it as far as the front entrance of my workplace, then I found myself back in my office, door shut and sobbing because I COULD NOT GET IN THE CAR AND GO.


I knew it was irrational. I knew something was wrong. And I lied to myself about it just as I had been lying to myself about a host of other things.

Looking back, having all this on top of regular stress and responsibilities, I can see how that specter was holding my hand, whispering to me long after a decent bedtime had passed, night after night after night.

**You do not have to have such troubles or upheavals to suffer with mental illness, but I believe that in my case, these things were definitive factors.**

At this time in my life a good, true friend would have been invaluable to me, but (perhaps due to the burns received from the ‘friendships’ of my youth) I never learned the skills to be ‘good at’ friendships, to hold on to them and nurture them. Instead, I became skilled at crawling inside myself and being satisfied with the solitary act of putting words on the page or making music rumble from my guitar’s amplifier. Though I’m ‘good at’ being alone and staying busy, solitude in excess isn’t healthy. At least not for me.

When I wanted to pick up the phone, the specter would say:
Who will you call? They might be busy. Besides, you didn’t call when you were happy. No one will want to hear you whining.

When I thought to stop by to see a friend, the specter would say:
People don’t do that anymore. It’s an imposition. It’s rude. Besides, you didn’t stop by when you were happy. No one wants to listen to you talk about how much you hurt inside.

When I considered going out to where my friends might be, the specter would say:
You can’t possibly go out alone. A woman walking into a bar alone sends a bad sign, worse if she’s not meeting friends quickly inside. You can’t have a drink. You aren’t safe out there. Stay home. Alone. You’re safe there.

It cut me off every time I tried to reason my way out.

My own family didn’t recognize how I hurt. They thought I was in my own space writing and being creative. But the creativity was meager at best. The part of me I adored most was slipping away and that hurt most of all. The self-doubt from that is the most pervasive and yet-lingering part.

I would drive myself up to the Mt. Jeez overlook when the house was too constricting {read as I needed some place new to cry}. I often checked-in from there on Facebook, silently hoping someone I knew would recognize the truth and come talk to me. Isn’t that a horrifyingly pitiful, selfish, and stupid bit of behavior? I see that clearly now. I feel ashamed to admit that I thought that way, and equally so to admit that I had no idea how to reach out to others without also feeling immeasurable shame for simply thinking about reaching out.

That shame is the specter's punishment, one I wanted so much to avoid. Via hindsight I can say that I now see the choice I could not see then. It was: Avoid the shame and stay in the dark alone and stagnating, or face and accept the shame and take the chance of reaching out and growing.

PLEASE, DON’T WAIT FOR SOMEONE ELSE TO FIX IT.

I made an appointment to see my doctor in late February 2015. He prescribed something to help me sleep and another something for depression. We had a bit of trial an error but by summer I was feeling much better, if lonely. The sleep was so good. The loneliness was there, but it didn’t hurt. Because it didn’t hurt, I was able to move slowly back into the light where the loneliness finally began to fade.

After about six months, I quit taking the medicines. I had discussed the exit strategy with my doctor at the beginning and it was important for me to know if I needed a kick to straighten out, or if I needed medicine as a daily part of my life. Maybe it will come to that someday but for now I haven’t been on the medicine for over a year. I feel good. I sleep 97% of the time good and naturally.

Every day of life is a learning opportunity. Good days and bad days alike.

I learned to know me better and recognize my warning signs. The shadows remain, and probably always will, but I have learned that there is truly no shame in seeking treatment. If I find I’m not kicking the occasional lows, or if the anxiety is unmanageable, or if the sleep stops again, I will not wait or argue with myself about going back to my doctor because I know that specter is out there, and I know what it does: It tricks you into the lonely dark and into stagnation where confidence dwindles and self-doubt grows to monstrous proportions.  

I don't want that. Not again.

Telling all of you this private stuff about me, I believe, is part of helping myself keep the specter at bay. 

I've told it because the #HoldOnToTheLight initiative brings awareness, the kind that not only helps people with mental health issues, but will help other people recognize mental health issues in their loved ones. If someone in my family hadn't been ignorant of the signs, perhaps they could have/would have done something and I might have gotten help so much sooner.  

I’ve told it because I remember seeing my peers and being encouraged by their admissions. 

I’ve told it because if you’re reading this and you’re struggling, I want you to know without a doubt that YOU ARE NOT ALONE

Do not listen to that specter’s lies; things are not hopeless and you do not deserve this

Do not let it convince you that it is shameful to  ask for help. 

Do not stagnate, you must keep growing and learning and doing and being. 

Don’t wait. Take the initiative, please. It IS worth it. Reach out, let people help you.



Neither you nor I have to walk the dark road holding hands with that specter.

-Linda

About the campaign:
#HoldOnToTheLight is a blog campaign encompassing blog posts by fantasy and science fiction authors around the world in an effort to raise awareness around treatment for depression, suicide prevention, domestic violence intervention, PTSD initiatives, bullying prevention and other mental health-related issues. We believe fandom should be supportive, welcoming and inclusive, in the long tradition of fandom taking care of its own. We encourage readers and fans to seek the help they or their loved ones need without shame or embarrassment.
Please consider donating to or volunteering for organizations dedicated to treatment and prevention such as: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Home for the Warriors (PTSD), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Canadian Mental Health Association, MIND (UK), SANE (UK), BeyondBlue (Australia), To Write Love On Her Arms and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.
To find out more about #HoldOnToTheLight, find a list of participating authors, or reach a media contact, go to https://www.facebook.com/groups/276745236033627/

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Flash Fiction: When Night Equals Day

Image result for autumn fairy at night gif


At the Summer Solstice, we retreat. The days too long. The sun too painful. Everything is too bright.
Colors. People. Sky.
Everything is too loud. Insects. Rivers. Trees.
The earth burns and the air scorches.
We are unwelcome.

But at the Autumn Equinox, we are called. Come back, she whispers. I am here, she soothes. I grow stronger, she promises.
We are slow in our fear, but we rise. Emerging. Creeping. Approaching.
The ground is cool and soft beneath our feet. The air is sweet and kind.
We are cherished.

Under the stars, we dance with the night.



Monday, September 19, 2016

Autumn Equinox? Is that like Halloween?

Sounds close enough for me.

Jack's Carving

Jack had been at it a long time, of course, ever since Old Scratch had sent him on his way from the underworld with a single, burning ember of hellfire to light his way and keep him warm. That ember would never burn out, never become a faded ash.

That meant holding it someplace where it could not burn his flesh, or worse, still, his very soul. For that is what Hellfire burns and Jack had so many sins. Never meant for Heaven and not trusted to enter Hell, it was his lot to wander the world for all eternity. Cold and alone.

Thanks to he hellfire, not so cold.

Thanks to his own machinations, not so alone.

Every year there was one. Chosen on the Harvest Moon, offered to him in exchange for good fortune by the town of Summitville.

This year the offering was fair and sweet and would last better than the old turnips pr even the pumpkins he had used in the distant past.

The knife was sharp and thick, exactly what was needed. Jack drove the heavy blade into the top of his new lantern, feeling flesh part and bone crunch.

The souls of the dead he feasted on. They fed his hellfire ember.

The bodies hardly needed to go to waste, and so he made his lanterns of flesh these days.

The skull held up well and the flesh hardened when the heat of hell itself burned away the moisture.

Best of all, the hair made for a lovely handle.

The wet materials were easily removed. The knife carved away the eyes and the rest with ease.

Almost Halloween. Time for Trick-or-treaters and the veils between to worlds to thin out and allow easy travels.

End

One could almost get the impression I have Halloween on my mind. My next book release with a cover by the amazing Dan Brereton.







Sunday, September 18, 2016

Cover Reveal and Teaser!

Guess what???

We have a cover for The Tides of Bára!!

It's so incredibly beautiful, I literally gasped out loud when I saw it. The incredibly talented Louisa Gallie knocked this one out of the park.

Want to see it?

Yeah, you know you do....

.

..

...

....

.....

TA DAH!!!!

!!!!!

And, since I was supposed to write Autumn Equinox flash fiction today, and you all know how I feel about flash fiction....

Here's a snippet from the recently (like, last week) completed draft. Chuffta, Oria's small dragon Familiar, has turned out to be a bit of a firebug...


*****

Closer by, Chuffta worked intently to drag what looked like a tree limb to a blazing bonfire. He had his wings spread and managed it by half-flying, half-hopping on one leg, and wrestling the thing with mouth, tail and the free foot.
“What are you doing?” she asked aloud, for Lonen’s benefit, though the words scraped her raw throat.
“I’m feeding the fire,” he chirped happily. “Keeping you warm!”
Lonen groaned. “Hey, man. Enough with the fire. You’ll roast us.”
“No?” Chuffta paused, releasing the limb with foot and mouth, but keeping his tail wrapped around it. He sounded terribly disappointed. He cocked his head at the fire. “Maybe just one more?”
“No more, please, Chuffta.” She rubbed at her gritty, sensitive eyes, though it only made them water more. She certainly wasn’t weeping. She blinked them open to find Lonen grinning and grimacing at once. “I don’t know what’s gotten into him,” she said, ducking her face so he wouldn’t see.
“I like fire! It’s hot.”
“His first time with fire?” Lonen suggested. “Other than your purple magic kind.”
“Could be.” She must have sounded dubious, because he shrugged.
“Some people are like that, obsessed with fire. Why not a derkesthai?”
“I’ve never played with fire before,” Chuffta confirmed. “It’s not like breath-flame, that runs out. As long as I keep putting wood, in there, it goes and goes.”

“You can build another one when we sleep tonight, how’s that?” she suggested. Chuffta grumbled, but agreed. He stayed by his fire, though, tail lovingly wrapped around the limb he’d wanted to add. 

*****

This will be out October 29, and the books in the series can be found here on Amazon, or here on my website. The preorder links will be up soon!

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Burning Bridges?

DepositPhotos
The world is small.
The world is smaller than you think.
People talk to other people.
People move around. Today's intern might be tomorrow's CEO.
There's no need to be anything but polite and professional.
This is a business. (Whatever business you might be in. I happen to be in publishing.)

On a Facebook loop with over a thousand members, even a sekrit or closed group, you have NO IDEA who else is reading your ranty post besides the twenty or so active people who post all the time. You are not talking to just your friends on social media. Ever.

In this world of social media and hacking and etc., anything you say anywhere anytime EVER can come back to bite you.

As my mother used to say, would you be comfortable to hear what you said repeated on the radio? (Since my mother was in that generation LOL.) Nowadays I'd ask if you'd be comfortable to see it repeated on all the many social media channels and late night talk shows until some other, hotter scandal overtook it?  If the answer is yes, good and go for it. If the answer is no, then take a deep breath and hit delete a few times.

If you agree to a deadline, meet it. Or else do some good, clear communicating along the way about what's going on and why the schedule might slip on your end.

If you sign a contract, read every word first and be sure you understand it. Then fulfill the terms or else go back and try to renegotiate but do not deliver something that isn't what the contract calls for and hope no one notices.

If a business relationship isn't working for your business (and yes, a self publishing author like me IS a business), then take steps to correct the situation or to end it. Remember, polite and professional...and no ranty posts later on that thousand person loop about how awful person X was etc etc. If you must vent, do so in private to your closest actual friends who you trust.

There are two sides to every story.

Be willing to receive professional feedback.

A burnt bridge is unpleasant but usually not the end of the world. There are always other possibilities!
DepositPhotos

OK and because this song has been stuck in my head all week while we discussed this topic here at SFF7, here's the classic Mike Curb song from the movie "Kelly's Heroes."


Friday, September 16, 2016

Who Stared the Fire?

It is possible I burned a bridge. Or maybe, it was burned by someone else while I stood upon it. I'm still not entirely clear how that went down or if it ought to have been handled differently. For the record, if I set fire to the bridge, it was with a couple of phone calls and a follow up letter. It wasn't certified. It was just mailed.

But, in short, the issue was this: I had a person who shall remain nameless who I believed I could trust. Over the course of our relationship, little snippets of key detail would be missing - things like 'awaiting instruction from author before this deadlined event can occur.' At first, I could put it down to my lack of knowledge - I mean I was a publishing newbie. For the person in question, it was old hat. Could it be a simple case of assuming I knew more than I did? Possibly. But it kept happening. And then, at a conference, another person who shall remain nameless stopped me in a corridor and said, "You know I'm waiting on a book from you?"

My eloquent, nonverbal response looked like this:


She nodded. "I suspected that message never reached you." I found my voice then with a shrill, "OMFG." I did not use the acronym.

Trust broken. Bridge afire. No clue who lit the match.

Do I regret the fire? Some days I do, because I strongly suspect the relationship with person 1 is no longer salvageable. Good, maybe? Who's to say. I hear it said that hindsight is 20/20, but frankly, I am still squinting through the smoke on this one. I'm no clearer now than I was when the bridge went up in flames. But I do know this. A relationship is only as good as the communication within it. At the very least, person 1 and I had a major communication dysfunction that ended up crossing my tolerance threshold. (Person 2 got the book she was waiting for.) I severed the relationship with person 1.

So peer through the bridge-burning smoke as tell me. From your perspective, who started the fire?




Thursday, September 15, 2016

Burning Bridges and Small Press Stockholm Syndrome

So, the point of discussion this week is on burning professional bridges-- when is it time to do that?  Now, for me, this is a mostly theoretical question.  I'm rather pleased with my agent and editor, thank you very much.   And why wouldn't I be?  My editor won the Hugo for Best Editor for the very year my novels debuted.  My novels are connected with a Hugo win.  See?  I have proof.
OK, mostly I want to show off that photo.  But, for real.  I'm happy.
But there can be good reason to break off a professional relationship with your agent or editor.   Especially if you are suffering from Small Press Stockholm Syndrome.
See, small presses can be really problematic things.  You should really deeply think about what you're doing before you get involved in one.  Investigate closely and ask yourself, honestly, "Are the books these people publish ones that I would buy?"  And if the answer is anything but a resounding, "Of course!"  do not sign a contract.  Do not do it just to be published by someone.  Else you might end up saying something like this:
If [EDITOR] hadn’t noticed us lurking about and convinced us to submit a short story to [ANTHOLOGY], we don’t become professional authors at all.  [EDITOR] took us from nothing–nothing— and made us what we are.
The above quote comes from a defense of a small press publisher who wasn't paying royalties or meeting obligations.  But it's OK, because that publisher loves us and made us!
It's like staying in a bad marriage because they were the first person who showed interest in you.
Look at what your publisher is actually doing for you, and ask yourself-- without getting lost in the sunk costs and the misplaced gratitude: are they really helping you and your career?  Or are they trapping you in their orbit?
I've mixed a lot of metaphors here.  It happens.
In the mean time: tonight (Sept. 15th) I'll be appearing at BookPeople in Austin on a panel about SF&F for the Writers' League of Texas!  Next week I'll be at FenCon!  Come say hello.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Ties that Bind...for a While

Ending Professional Relationships: When, Why and How to do it without Burning Bridges

Sometimes, a burning bridge is a gift. Ending a personal relationship with someone who’s been Gaslighting you until you’re questioning your sanity…bring on the gasoline and light that fucker up.

But when the relationship is professional, and because of the ‘there’s-always-two-sides’ rule and the fact that people talk, you should definitely leave the gasoline at home. Granted, there may be a situation where a little smoke on the bridge can be helpful to put things in perspective. If you’re willing to take that risk, be sure you have an extinguisher as a back-up.

There could be a time when you show up and find the other person brought a flamethrower to the negotiation party. What you have to understand is: that’s their fire. You are under no obligation to fan the flame.

When dealing with parting ways with folks who are capable of impacting your reputation, tread carefully. I offer two stories:

First:
I was asked to co-author a story, as suggested by the spouse of someone who had been a friend/peer. The spouse be-friended me and several of my friends and hanging out exclusive of the writer/peer was fun…for a while. Eventually the spouse starting becoming a pest to my other friends. All involved parties asked me for advice and though I just didn’t see the behaviors others saw, I tried to balance and mediate and ended up in the middle – where I did NOT want to be. Too soon, the spouse’s behavior that had left my friends exasperated began to manifest directed toward me. I could no longer maintain a friendship with the spouse, and tried to quietly separate myself from the personal/friend part of that couple. As I feared, it cost me the writer/peer part as well, and the year’s worth of work that went into that really good novel idea is a casualty neither of us can heal or work with. Ever.

I tried so hard to save that bridge, but the gasoline kept fueling it and in the end...it wasn't my fire. If someone else wants the bridge destroyed, all you can do is walk away and let them roast their marshmallows. 

Had I kept that professional relationship completely professional with both the other writer and their spouse, y’all would have that great novel instead of my contribution to it gathering cobwebs in a mental junk drawer.

Second:
I used to have an agent. Said agent became sluggish about returning emails (as in months at a time) and things I was told would be done just weren’t done. Staff at agent’s agency made some blunders, which I politely brought to agent’s attention and asked for a change to be made. Months later, I had received neither an apology nor a confirmation that the correction had been made. (Honestly, either would have sufficed; both would have been monumental.) I felt that this was the time for a separation to occur. I wrote a polite letter and made extra sure to keep the tone friendly. Sure, I felt unimportant and ignored. Sure, it stung. Sure, it made me feel like maybe me getting published had been a wild dream I never deserved. (That may be BS left over from the gaslighting I endured.) But the truth was, I didn't have to sprinkle drama all over that shit. It's business. I do what's right for me, aware that they sure as Hell are going to do what's right for them. Nothing personal on either end of the equation.

The letter was emailed and sent via certified mail. And I keep moving forward as best I can.

THE POINT: The Business of Writing and Publishing is a business.

It isn’t personal. i.e. He/She doesn’t like me.

It’s a business. i.e. He/She can’t do/isn’t doing the job. I’ll focus on finding someone who can/is doing the job.  

You do need a thick skin to be in this business.


That said, there are innumerable authors, agents, editors and publishers. Doubtless, there are ones that you or I won’t like, and equally doubtless there are many more that you and I will like. You have to get out there and meet them to find out! And if you’re not hitting it off with this one or that one, don’t give up. Meet more. Odds are you’ll find kindred spirits if you keep trying. And, as someone who has found many friends among the kindred spirits, I can say that learning the lessons of the few who haven’t remained friends only makes me stronger, my skin thicker, and those friends I have found closer.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Souring Business Relationship: Conflict Resolution to Termination

Starting a business relationship is ever so lovely for both parties. Maintaining a long-term relationship can be complex. Whether it's the business that changes or the people, conflicts will happen. Sometimes those conflicts can be resolved and sometimes it's necessary to terminate the business relationship. Conflicts can arise unexpectedly for fleeting or enduring reasons. Termination should never be a surprise for either party.

Jeffe gave an example on Sunday of an author who abruptly dismissed her agent and set fire to the bridge, the roadway, and the connecting villages. Believe it or not, there are ways through business conflicts and even endings that can allow the personal connection to survive.

The key is clarity, specificity, and confidence. 

Conflicts are no time for you to be passive-aggressive, apologetic, or vague. If you hate confrontation with every fiber of your being, this process can be the raft to which you cling. If you have the bad habit of turning a professional conflict into a personal one, this process might help with that too.

Let's assume the conflict has arisen because whatever product or service to which you agreed hasn't been delivered at all or to the level of your satisfaction.  Aka, there is cause.

What To Do If There's Cause for Conflict or Termination

1. Check Your Contract
If you have a contract with the person/agency, read the conflict resolution and termination clauses. There might not be a conflicts clause, but there should be a termination one. Make sure you have the legal right to end the business relationship. There are less-than-reputables out there who will present you with a contract that gives them all the power and you none. NEVER SIGN THOSE. Ehem, assuming there is a termination clause that allows you to end the relationship, it should tell you how many days notice, whether notice has to be written or verbal, and if there are any penalty fees. Follow the terms of the contract, with the exception of any "verbal only" requirements. Always follow-up with a written version to Cover Your Ass.

2. The Concern Call -- Desired Outcome, Improvement
With the Concern Call, you're giving your business partner the chance to fix whatever the problem is. They may be completely unaware that there is an issue. On the other hand, maybe they've long known there is an issue and dreaded telling you. The magic third hand could be that your expectations and theirs are wildly different. The call is the opportunity for everyone to get on the same page. At this point, there is still a good chance that both of you can come away with exactly what each of you wants.

Yes, this really should be a spoken conversation--phone, video chat, or in person--if you want to preserve a positive personal relationship. If your communications have always been online, then skip to the next stage. Do not, under any circumstance, do this in instant messaging or chat. That platform allows for unintended interruptions and mistimed responses that can blow the simplest of conversations out of proportion.

Before you place the call, WRITE DOWN your concerns and your expectations. Avoid statements of blame, they're counterproductive to progress. WRITE DOWN the specific deliverables/actions and the dates for those things to be completed in order for the business relationship to move forward. Limit yourself to no more than five key deliverables. All due within 30 days. All realistically achievable within that timeframe. It's okay to write this as a script if that makes you more comfortable. You're going to reuse this text in the next step anyway.

During the call, stick to facts not feelings. You want to be very clear about the severity of the situation while allowing your partner to maintain their dignity. They're already on the defensive, that's unavoidable. It's not your job to placate them. Your purpose is to lay out the path forward and to offer them the opportunity to walk that path with you. PLEASE, please make the extra effort to not dither, obfuscate your expectations, or apologize for having the expectations in the first place. It does neither of you any favors.

Before you conclude the call, schedule a follow-up meeting/phone call on the 31st day to review what's been done and whether it's satisfactory.

If your business partner refuses to meet your expectations, then the next step still happens but the tone changes.

3. Document The Caution (Immediately After The Concern Call) -- Desired Outcome, Improvement
The Caution is the written summary of your Concern Call and what agreements the two of you reached. The letter itself doesn't have to be long. Think bullet points.

Dear Bob, 

As per our phone call on [date of call] discussing my concerns about [concise nature of issue] and our ability to move forward, these are the deliverables we discussed and the dates we agreed they are due: 

Bullet points 1-5: Deliverable summary. Date due.

Thank you for your attention to this. Looking forward to our meeting on [Date, Time], to review our progress and next steps. 

Sincerely,

If the Concern Call was a disaster and there was no satisfactory resolution, you still send this summary of what you discussed and what they refused...and you combine it with The Notice mentioned below in 4b.

If you skipped the Concern Call and went straight to emailing The Caution, people who are professionals will respond, usually with a request to talk on the phone or they'll fire back an email. Expect a certain amount of surprise and defensiveness on their part. Remain objective and focused on the resolution. There will probably be some counter-negotiations. Document the final agreement and send it to them as The Caution Part 2. The point here is no surprises on a clear path forward.

People who are hiding from you will continue to do so. They will not engage or acknowledge. Regardless, they've been informed and you are armed for the next phase.

4a. Document The Improvement & The Plan for the Next 90 Days -- Desired Outcome, Continued Business Relationship
If the Concern Call and the Caution have been successful, then you're heading into the review meeting. If everything is delivered to your satisfaction, everyone is on the same page, and everyone is willing to go forward together GREAT. Send your partner a thank you note for taking your concerns seriously and outline your expectations for the next 90 days. Yes, thank them. Yes, document your 90-day expectations. This ensures that the resolution of one crisis was not an anomaly. Business relationships succeed when everybody understands the expectations and agrees to the deliverables. Will you have to have another status meeting at the end of 90 days? You should want to. If everything is going well, it should be a pleasant experience that ameliorates any weirdness or hostilities that popped up during the initial 30-days.

4b. Document The Notice of Termination -- Desired Outcome, End of Business
Assuming your business partner has failed to deliver on the items specified in The Caution and you actually have the follow-up meeting, the ball is in your court as to whether or not you give an extension or a chance for a re-do. If you choose to do so, repeat Step 3. Again, you send a follow-up note, summarizing the progress or lack thereof, the new dates, and the next follow-up meeting.

If your partner is ignoring you and/or doesn't show for the follow-up meeting then the note is very simple.

Dear Bob, 

Disappointed that the expectations we spoke about on [Date of the Concern Call] and that I laid out on [Date The Caution Email Was Sent] in the email titled [email title] could not be met by you. 

[Optional] Status updates on the bullet points from the previous letter.

As per our contract [if applicable], this letter serves as 30 Days Notice of Termination, effectively ending our business relationship on [Date 30 days from now].

By now, Bob knows this is coming. If he tries to dispute it, you have the documentation. Expect your business relationship to be dead at this point. If you're on a monthly retainer type of plan, you'll still owe them the money for the last month, just don't expect anything in return. Sad but true.

Anyone who's been in management will probably recognize the conflict & termination process as a modified Performance Improvement Plan (PIP). Being an author may not feel like being in Corporate, but there are lots of best practices we can borrow from big business when dealing with our small business.

If Your Business Relationship Is Ending due to a Predetermined Event/Time:
Even the best contracts expire and may not be renewed. Do yourself a favor and 90-days before that predetermined termination, verify that it is still happening. You don't want to be shocked by a detail that slipped past your notice or tethered by an auto-renew clause you didn't remember in the fine print. Plus, you want to kickstart the wind-down process for final deliverables, payments, and maybe even a party.



NOTE: Nothing contained in this post should be viewed as legal advice. The sample letters are intended only as illustrations.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Cutting the Cord-(When and how to end professional relationships.)

The first word that comes to mind in this sentence is RELATIONSHIPS. It's a very important word.

We are, all of us, basically nothing without them. You have friends? Relationship. Lovers? Relationship. Editors? Relationship. Readers? Often times a relationship.

Sometimes, however little we might like the idea, relationships change or end. The problem is, as I suspect most of you already know, sometimes those long-term connections tend to go out in a blaze of glory.

A while back I had a friend of mine whom I had not seen much come up to me and at a convention and casually ask if I might be available to do lunch sometime. we got together a little over a week later and we chatted but there was a tension between us. Finally my friend looked at me and said, "Honestly, Jim, I thought I'd done something to offend you."

He had not. But I was dealing with my writing career, my full-time job and at that time, my wife who was dying by inches and needed my support. Here's the thing: I did not tell anyone that my wife was ill. It was not their business. She did not want it advertised and I therefore did not push it. People who saw us together could tell there wee issues. (the wheelchair was a dead giveaway.) I'm not saying any of  this to be contrary. I'm pointing out that he did not KNOW what i was going through anymore than I knew what he was going through. We parted ways out of a lack of communication. We were never business partners or professionally connected though we both work in the same industry.

We fell to the wayside and eventually we repaired our differences. The fact that we fell away was an unfortunate side effect of life.

Another example from more recently. I saw a gentleman I have seen exactly once in the last 5 years last week at Dragon-Con. He made a point to hunt me down. I'm not hard to find when I'm at a convention like DC, but as I had a dozen panels and lots of people to catch up with (We're writers. we're ridiculously solitary a lot of the time. Conventions make up for it. In my case, so does working at Starbucks. You think I jest, but without that job I'd likely be a hermit. )

This particular gentleman was a good friend for years. We met up for movies, we talked books, we did a lot of things as part of the same group. Over time I got busy (you'll note a patten here. It happens a lot, which saddens me but is inevitable when I have deadlines) and he stopped hanging around with our group as much. From time to time I would basically look up from my writing, notice he was no longer around, and feel a little bad about that, but life moves on when you aren't paying attention and for all of the reasons already mentioned, I was not often paying attention.

He asked for ten minutes of my time at Dragon-Con. Seriously, ten minutes is nothing, but that particular day? I had 6 panels and a few meetings set up (remember that professional part? We're getting there).

Long story short, he first apologized for not knowing, when we'd seen each other the previous time, that my wife had passed. Again, I seldom make mention of that fact. You want details? Here they are. When Bonnie passed I told a handful of people. I did not post on social media. I took a week to recover and did my best to move on. It's just the way I'm programmed. So I was not at all surprised that he had not heard. he was horrified. He apologized profusely and I explained that it was;t necessary.

And I was glad to look into the face of a man I'd missed for a long time without realizing that I missed him.

He also told me that a mutual friend of ours (whom I have long since stopped speaking with because he is borderline toxic) told him that I no longer wanted to see him, because he and my wife were not famous friends. It happens. My friend and my then wife tolerated each other. They were never going to be close. Until that conversation--which I know nothing of--occurred, we had continued in the same circles. After a jackass who shared an opinion that had no foundation in truth had made that comment, we had been friends and then, pow. Separation. It was silent and it was complete and from time to time I looked up at the world around me and was sad that my friend was no longer there.

That's two examples of relationships falling apart. Neither of them were intentional. They have, thankfully, been mended.

The first one was miscommunication and busy lives. the second was the assumption of truth from a third party, and busy lives. We are, all of us, busy, aren't we? God knows most of my friends have to actively find the time for leisure.

Now that I've told you all of that, I'll explain a few simple facts from my perspective: Relationships end. Professional relationships often end badly, whether you want them to or not.

Once upon a time I was dealing with Publisher A, A small press that did limited editions of all of my books. Per contract (and I knew this going in, folks, but I'll always caution you again KNOW WHAT YOUR CONTRACT SAYS) half of whatever I made from reselling to a mass-market went to Publisher A. When one of my biggest novels to date (And by big I mean length here at 300,000 words) went into mass-market release, it became three books and the money was good. And half of that was going to Publisher A. Except it down;t work out that way. I had to overhaul books 1 and 2 in order for the books to make sense as a trilogy. I did a lot of extra work. And because I was doing a lot of extra work, I felt (and I still feel) that I should get a bit more of the money for literally adding 40,000 words to the effort. especially because the entire format of the novels had to be changed in order to make it a trilogy instead of one mammoth book.

Long story short, the new publisher and I worked out deal where one of the three books was essentially considered a new book. Publisher A got a nice chance of change, but it was 2/3 of what the publisher felt it should be.

We did not part on good terms. Publisher A felt cheated.

Some of you might agree. I did not and do not. Publisher A threw  deeply nasty meal my way and that was the end of it in my eyes.

Later, Publisher A actually sent me a note of apology. Listen I get it. We all want our fair share. But I still stand by not wanting to give away half of the money for what amounted to a completely different novel when you added in the extra 40K.

That same situation also involved Publisher B. 

It was a a rare and precious moment in my career. I had two publishers that wanted a book of mine. I was unaccented at the time I spent most of my career unaccented. Anyone that says you can't make a living without an agent is possibly incorrect, but its IS a lot more work. In any event, I would up with a bidding war. Publisher B. was doing several of my paperback reprints around that time and had WONDERFUL distribution. They paid squat, but you got into airports, etc.

Enter Publisher C. Not as aggressive, but definitely just as good for distribution and also one of the bigger companies.

Bidding war. Publisher C. won. By a lot. I made enough money to think there was a chance to survive as a writer. (My opinion on that changes daily, by the way).

Publisher B. was not pleased. On my next few books, they low-balled me on options and that was that. We parted company. There was no negotiation beyond that point. We had done a few originals together and they'd sold well enough but after the bidding war the honeymoon was decidedly over. I have since seen the representatives of Publisher B. on several occasions. We are civil and even friendly to each other, but there's almost always that awkward silence where we realize we no longer have much in common. Publisher B. has gone the way of the Dodo bird, by the way, and dragged a few careers into the muck in the process. I managed to avoid that, because we'd cut all ties by the time the publisher collapsed in ruination.

Publisher C. is still going strong and though we haven't done anything new together for a while I still get the occasional royalty check.

I still see the editor from Publisher C regularly. We often have a meal together at conventions, or at least a drink. There are other publishers I have NEVER worked with that I have meals or drinks with. Why? Because they're fun people, and because this is a small industry in many ways. In all cases, we are friendly and we can get along very well and have had several deeply passionate conversations of thew sort you can only have with friends. But do you want to know something? If I ever DO sell to them, and the time comes to negotiate? That friendship goes to the wayside until the talks are done. I'll do you one better, my agent will handle the negotiations, because that way the friendships are unaffected.

In any event, I will do everything I can to avoid ending the relationships I have with people in the industry. We may not work together, but there's nothing that says we can't remain civil.

I mentioned this article to Author E.J. Stevens.

She suggested telling the entire affair from Jonathan Crowley's perspective. I can't do that. The story would end in flames. Seriously, there was never a character more willing to end every relationship with carnage. So instead of making suggestions from Crowley's perspective, here: have a short story about Crowley and relationships. (Art by Alan M. Clark, who is awesome.)


Where Did We Go Wrong?

By James A. Moore

"Why won't you even speak to me, Jonathan?" Her voice rang in his ears and Crowley did his best to ignore her. It wasn't easy. She was persistent. 

The cold air bit at his exposed skin and Crowley looked from his perspective atop a four-story apartment building toward the home of his target. The woman inside that building had, according to the people he'd persuaded to talk to him, been dabbling in the sort of sorcery that never went right. 

Joan's voice came from every closer, the whining note buzzing like a fly next to his left ear. "Jonathan, I know we were never married or anything, but we had fun, didn't we?" He closed his eyes. Yes, they'd had fun. 

"Joanie, honey, you should just stop while you're ahead, okay? This isn't going to go the way you want it to, and I'm a little busy right now."

"You know I hate it when you call me Joanie. Makes me sound like I'm twelve." That petulant tone again. Pouty and annoyed and at the same time playful. One night together. It had been a long time ago. Still, she thought that meant something.

"At least you're not ignoring me any more." He felt the pressure of her fingers on his left shoulder. Jonathan Crowley opened his eyes just in time to see his target across the street opening the leather satchel that contained the book she'd managed to steal from Boston Occult Archives, which sounded so formal but was little more than a used and new bookstore specializing in tarot readings, Wiccan books and printed paranormal accounts of every type. 

He'd actually gone to the store because they had a copy of his Crowley’s Compendium of Exotic Botanicals, 1819 Edition, a book that was absent from his library. He intended to buy it. They had it on hold. 

The damned fools held that one in a lock box. The manuscript that Lianna Potter had in her apartment? That shouldn't have ever made it to their store. Books like that were best destroyed, or if that was not possible, held in a place where no one would ever find them. Like his library.

The Potter woman was carefully laying out the summoning ring that would allow her to summon a demon. 

"Jonathan, you're making me angry now.  Look at me!" 

He looked, and sighed. 

She'd been so beautiful once. Bright eyes, a lovely face, and hair he still remembered holding in his hands and smelling as they made love. It was a rare thing for him to be with anyone. A long life means endless chances for regret. 

They had not parted company on good terms. She wanted more than he could offer and the names she called him would have ended with him beating someone severely (Not her, just the next person who ticked him off.) if she had been someone he felt close enough to for the words to actually hurt.

That was the thing with casual sex. No hard feelings and no looking back.

Now and the past came to haunt a foolish man despite that philosophy.

So beautiful once, but death was not kind. Her body was long gone. Buried or cremated he had no idea, but her spirit remained, rotting and furious. Her once voluptuous form was desiccated. Her hair had fallen out in heavy patches, leaving bald, rotted bone to remind him of the temple and scalp he'd kissed feverishly. Her breasts, along with most of he internal organs, were gone, lost in a cavernous shadow. 

Her eyes wee glimmering lights in the sockets of her mildewed face. 

"How did you die, Joanie?"

"I-I can't remember."

"Why are you still here, Joanie?"

"Because I love you, baby?" her voice was a simpering mess and he hated it. Hated the memory of her baby talk after their romp in the dump of a hotel that she and her brother had managed. He remembered her brother, too. How angry he'd been when he called to make accusations. 

Hard to remember, it had been along time ago, but it was possible Crowley and laughed at the man before he killed the phone call. 

Really, it was best not to get involved with people. It always went wrong. 

"Joanie, honey, if you leave now I can pretend this never happened. For old times' sake."

"Jonathan, baby, come with me. Be with me. We could have so much fun."

Across the street the Potter woman was standing up now, naked and dancing. Her windows were open. How was it that she didn't think to pull the drapes or do anything at all to protect the summoning circle she had made out of little more than salt and a few herbs?

If the twerp who'd owned the bookstore hadn't asked for help, Crowley could have done nothing from where he was. He'd been invited. That made all the difference. 

30 yards away, across the street and a story higher than the Potter woman, Crowley saw the air shimmer and distort where the demon was starting to manifest. Did the lady want riches? Revenge? True love to notice her? Did she want to bring back a loved one or, god forbid, a favorite pet? Crowley did not know and did not care. 

"Johnny..."

Okay, that did it. No one called him Johnny. 

"Remember what I do for a living, Joanie?"

The ruin of Joan's face twisted into a frown of concentration. "Something to do with monsters?"

"Yep. I hunt them. That includes ghosts."

"What's that got to do with me?"

More the pity. She wasn't even aware she was dead.

"Everything." His hand reached out and grabbed at her spectral flesh. He should have slipped right through, but there were dozens of incantations to let him touch a ghost and hundreds that involved exorcising them. This time around, a little something different. 

He folded the energies of the dead thing that had once been his lover into a knot of fury. What had been was in the past, but what remained had its uses. If he were a kind man he would have sent her to her final rewards. Sometimes that might mean heaven, he had no real idea. He had never been allowed to see the joys of the afterlife except as an unwanted visitor. Heaven? No idea. Hell? Oh yes, several of them and on numerous occasions.

His pitching arm was just fine. The essence of Joanie shot across the street like a hardball aimed at the batter's face. 

She screamed as she ripped through the air and screamed louder still when her spectral energies blew through the lines of salt meant to protect the Potter woman from what she was trying to haul into this world. 

The salt line broke. 

Joanie shrieked in agony. 

The half-formed demon roared out laughter as it drew Joanie to it and then reached out with black, burning hands to pull Lianna Potter to its distorted, half-shaped chest. 

The air echoed with screams and laughter alike as the shapes all collapsed in on themselves and were pulled into whatever Hell Potter and been dealing with. 


Crowley took the stairs on the way down. He had a book to collect. For a moment he felt bad about Joanie (Not Lianna Potter. She had done that to herself) and he sighed, remembering what they'd been to each other for a few short hours.