Monday, July 31, 2017

What's it all about?

The topic for this week is what's your recurring Thieme and what's it all about.

Defiance, I suppose. At the end of the day I think every story should be about growth and the best forms of growth often come from adversity. In the SSEVEN FORGES series the Sa'Ba Taalor and the people of Fellein end up in a war that changes things substantially in the world of Fellein.

There are fights, skirmishes and finally a war that alters the paradigm drastically. On both sides, there are fighters who want change and those who want things to stay the same, but none of them can possibly be all right. There fore, defiance.

In THE LAST SACRIFICE, the first book in the TIDES OF WAR series it is one man fighting against impossible odds, against the gods themselves.

The themes have changed over the years. Most of what I write these days is more fantasy oriented and testosterone fueled than it used to be, but at the end of the day, exploration of characters through extreme situations has always been the framework of my writings.




What's Your Core Story?


So, this happened.

At the RWA National Convention in Orlando, I actually won a RITA® for Paranormal Romance. Our subgenre is a broad category ranging from J.R. Ward’s urban fantasies to Ann Aguirre’s and Susan Grant’s science fiction—along with Harlequin Nocturnes and Molly Harper’s Paranormal Romances. Winning was an amazing experience. Hearing my book’s title called out—THE PAGES OF THE MIND—gave me a rush of pure joy like no other.

Here’s a video clip of my win and speech, recorded by the fabulous Tawna Fenske, also a RITA finalist.

It had been heavy on my mind, that story I told, of being in Orlando at this same convention in 2010, and how low I’d felt. A long way for me to come.

I made time this year, as I try to do every year, to  attend Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ and Jayne Ann Krentz’s discussion of their careers and friendship over the many years. One thing they discuss is that every writer has a core story, which comes from the conflicts and beliefs that drive us. The core story is independent of the fictional landscape—meaning that it’s not confined to genre. It can take place in any genre and subgenre.

So it’s apropos that this week’s topic is “What is your recurring theme and how does it manifest?”

Mine is always about power and transformation. In THE PAGESOF THE MIND, my librarian bookworm heroine survived the rampages of a tyrant. She discovers her own power through fortitude, through surviving and arming herself with knowledge. To serve her high queen, she goes on a quest to discover hidden knowledge. She is kickass at understanding words and language—but to find true happiness and balance in herself, she has to learn to trust in the wordless, in the language of the body and passion.

This story comes out in my contemporary and erotic romances, too, and even in my nonfiction essays. For me, finding the personal power in ourselves to become more than who we’ve been is the great journey of our lives.

And that’s a journey I’ve undertaken these last seven years—from crying in the bar because someone said my work fell in the cracks between genres, to standing up on that stage with a RITA® in my hand.

Felt pretty damn wonderful, too. 


Saturday, July 29, 2017

New #SciFi Release TWO AGAINST THE STARS Exclusive Excerpt

Cover Art by Fiona Jayde
First though, congratulations to Jeffe on her RITA Award this week - yay!!!
**************

I just released a new science fiction romance this week, Two Against the Stars, so instead of flash fiction, I'll share an excerpt.

The story:
Empathic priestess Carialle has escaped the evil Amarotu Combine, but she’s hardly out of danger. Not when she risks everything to rescue a drugged man from a crooked veterans’ clinic. By lulling the clinic staff to sleep, she reveals her powers. And once again, criminals are after her and her rescuer.

Marcus Valerian, a wounded Special Forces veteran, never expected to have his life threatened by the clinic that’s supposed to help ex-soldiers like him. But when he wakes from a drugged state to find a lovely woman urging him to run–he does. In his family’s remote fishing cabin, he suffers the agony of withdrawal, soothed only by her powers.

In their idyllic hideaway, the two also discover a nova-hot attraction flaring. But can they stay alive long enough for it to become more? Not if the Combine has anything to say–they are not giving up until Marcus is dead and Carialle is their weapon.

The Excerpt – The Heroine catches her first glimpse of the hero and learns of her employer’s deadly schemes:
…she heard a commotion outside. Hastily she gathered up her tools and supplies and directed her robo cart into the corridor. Coming toward her was Mrs. Trang, talking to an officious man dressed all in white, while behind them was an anti grav litter escorted by four husky orderlies. Peters and Matikian trailed behind. The patient on the litter was shouting incoherently, fighting the restraints, cursing. He seemed to be in the grip of a delusion about being captured by Mawreg, the deadliest enemy of the Sectors civilization, against whom war was constantly being waged.

Appalled both by the man’s violent behavior and the cruel way he was restrained, Carialle flattened herself against the wall and watched as the litter was floated into the room, rocking precariously from the vehement struggles of the ill man. It took all four of the attendants to transfer him to the bed and shackle him tightly to the rails, as Peters slid the medical unit over the lower half of the patient’s body. Matikan jabbed an inject into the man’s neck with a force that made Carialle wince. He enjoyed that.

The patient convulsed and collapsed, going limp against his bonds.

“I’d keep him well under control,” the man in charge said. “Fully sedated. For his own good,” he added with a wink.

“Yes, doctor, of course.” Mrs. Trang was all smiles as she agreed with the suggested course of treatment.

Carialle was shocked to find the owner’s aura full of the bright green of greed, banded with the rusty red of evil and the corroded gold of improperly used power. She lingered to watch the patient as the others left the room, inhaling sharply as her still active senses ‘read’ him.

At his core was the blue fire of a true warrior of Thuun. His aura blazed with it.

Small patches of the dull gray intruded around the edges of the flames, probably from the inject he’d been given. The flames were distorted in a disturbing fashion she’d never seen before, blurry. Odd pools of oily black drifted in the center of his aura, three of them, walled off from each other by twisted knots of  bright white so glaring she had to shut down her observation, which had never happened to her before.

“Hey, you ok?”

She jumped as Peters tapped her shoulder. “Sorry, I—I was surprised at how agitated the man was when he was brought him in.”

“Yeah, the patients are usually a lot farther gone by the time we get them. He’s a big prize.”

“What do you mean?” Disturbed by her vision of the blue flames, as well as those mysterious black pools confined by the white lights, Carialle kept walking toward the next area she was due to clean. Mustn’t appear to be slacking off, especially with the owner on the premises.

“Sweetie, what do you think Mrs. Trang is running here?” Peters kept pace with her.

Puzzled, she said, “A rehab clinic.”

He shook his head. “Yeah sure, in the other part of the building. Over here, she keeps them alive so she can scrape their veterans’ benefits. And she takes the payments for all the fancy therapy, nutritious foods, supplemental meds and special care they’re supposed to be receiving. Nice little racket. Her and the doc are in it together. He directs suitable patients her way and she gives him a kickback.”  Peters leaned closer, as if the way to her reluctant heart was to share his employer’s secrets with her. “This new guy ain’t even supposed to be here. He was Special Forces, badly injured in action, then got himself tortured by the Mawreg before he was rescued. The military ran him through rejuve regeneration to fix his body but his mind is fucked up.  He was supposed to go to a fancy, high end rehab clinic on the eastern continent but Trang and the doc diverted him here.  Forged the records. No one will ever know he existed. Much less find him.”

“Why?” Horrified, she exerted pressure to keep him talking for once. This new patient wasn’t her problem, not at all, but the glimpse of the blue flames rattled her to the core. Assisting a warrior of Thuun was the highest duty of a priestess. But I’m not a priestess and he can’t be a warrior of my god—he’s human. I don’t know him, I owe him nothing. But despite her frantic denials, she was under a compulsion to understand the situation more fully.

“Special Forces are awarded a more generous pension than these other poor bastards who were regular military, maybe five times as much. What she really wants from our new resident though is his veterans’ acres. He’s entitled to prime real estate, courtesy of the grateful Sectors.”

“How will she acquire land meant to be his?”

“The drug she gives them, toranquidol? It destroys the mind over time but there’s a point in the process where free will is gone but the victim retains certain functions. She can make them do anything she wants. She’s gotten rich off of having these poor bastards change their wills, sign over property, you name it. Even married one or two of them along the way for the death benefit and life insurance payouts. He’ll sign the forms to give her the veterans acres.” Peters chuckled, sounding as if he admired Mrs. Trang’s ingenuity at scamming. “I guess what the Sectors authorities don’t know won’t hurt them. I mean, who cares, right?”

“But don’t the patients’ families—”

Peters shook his head. “She and the doc pick their targets carefully. No family, no one to ask awkward questions. Or interfere.”

So what’s Carialle – a fugitive herself -  going to do about this?

Buy Links:

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Friday, July 28, 2017

A Midsummer's Barbeque - of an Incubus

HUGE CONGRATULATIONS TO JEFFE KENNEDY!!! RITA WINNER! :D


My regularly scheduled post:

Behold my inability to offer you flash fiction whilst in the midst of migraine. The drugs are onboard and I should be okay eventually. But deadlines wait for no head-splitter. So an excerpt of a fiery scene it is.  This is from Damned If He Does. Our hero has attempted to seduce the heroine to no effect. Since he's an incubus, this is not expected. So he reports to his boss for advice. Only that doesn't go exactly as planned.


“Incubus,” Ole Scratch said when the elevator door opened. He didn’t bother to look up from whatever he was working on. “You’re here off schedule.”

Darsorin approached the desk. “Yes. I’m a little confounded.”

Satan glanced up at that, though he continued writing, his pencil shrieking against the paper.

It set Dar’s teeth on edge.

“You’re empty-handed. Even after the power I fed you.”

Nearly burst him with, Dar corrected. Not that he’d ever admit that aloud. “She’s asexual.”

“An ace?” Satan’s gaze returned to his work. “Fine. You’ve wasted enough time on that one. Leave her.”

“No.”

The pencil stopped. Ole Scratch lifted his bottomless, soot-black gaze to Darsorin’s. Scorching heat licked his skin. Gritting his teeth, he forced himself to go on meeting the twin pits of endless evil.

“What did you say to me, unwise little demon?”

“I’ve upheld my part of the bargain several times a night all over the world for the past . . .”

“And you will go on doing so for all of eternity, Hugh McClellan,” the Devil noted in a flat, soft voice.

Dread shivered up his spine at hearing his true name on the Devil’s tongue.

“Or do you grow weary of your enviable task? You seduce countless women, something you embraced with relish in life.”

No match for that jab, he closed his eyes. “And sacrificed that life to it.”

Ole Scratch chuckled. Screams of tortured souls echoed behind the sound. “You were judged and damned. It wouldn’t be punishment if it didn’t pinch, now would it? You understand your options.”

“I haven’t been Hugh McClellan since the day I died. You made certain of it.”

“And yet it is your true name and still holds your soul in thrall. So hear me. Leave her or seduce her and bring me the curative power of her sexual energy. Your soul hangs in the balance. If you’ve lost your taste for a job in the afterlife that takes advantage of the proclivities you displayed in life, I am certain I can find some other situation for you. Perhaps you’d prefer to spend eternity the way murderers do.”

He tried to suppress a shudder. Failed. Heaven provided special dispensation to Satan for the punishment of murderers. Souls damned for killing someone – anyone – stood in for innocent murder victims time after time. The innocent souls still died, something neither Heaven nor Hell could prevent because of the freewill clause in the human/Divine contract, but the innocent could be spared pain and horror by trading in a damned soul to take the brunt. The punishment was reserved for the most violent, and insanely painful circumstances. Devilish, effective comeuppance. Dar had never had the courage to ask what Ole Scratch got out of that bargain. That Satan did was certain.

Dar swallowed hard and opened his eyes. “Understood.”

His boss’s eyes narrowed as he studied Darsorin. “What is it about this one? You’ve imagined yourself infatuated many times before now. How is this one different?”

“She has no expectation,” he said. “I’m not a means to an end.”

Ole Scratch snorted and sat back in his chair. “You imagine she values you for you? When she has no idea who and what you are? Son. You’re thinking with the wrong head.”

“It’s not like I have a heart to break,” he snapped.

“Or to give. Remember that. Don’t imagine you’re falling for her. You weren’t capable of it in life and you are not capable of it now. Make your choices going forward very, very carefully.”

Demotion hung unspoken in the air between them. Darsorin blew out a sharp breath. “I’ll let it go for a few days. Give her time to cool off. She ordered me to leave her alone.”

“Why would she do that, Incubus?”

“She caught me out. Recognized me in waking life.”

“You were staking her out?”

“Looking for a way to break her open,” Darsorin said, nodding. “She confronted me.”

Satan shrugged. “Not the first time it’s happened. It won’t be the last.”

“Though usually, it leads to a waking sexual encounter,” Dar said. “This did not.”

“What did it lead to?”

“Breakfast.”

“Breakfast.”

Darsorin shrugged. “I made her a deal. I’d leave her alone if she’d have breakfast with me and tell me why nothing I did worked on her.”

Ole Scratch sat bolt upright, his eyes wide. “You did WHAT?”

The floor trembled.

Darsorin froze.

“You. Made. A. Deal.” Satan bit out the words as he rose, his fists planted on his desk. “YOU MADE A DEAL? Show me. NOW.”

He did.

“You struck a bargain with her.” The Devil snarled. Darkness swallowed the sunshine outside. Thunder rumbled. “You swore an oath to leave her alone. To vanish from her life.”

“With no intention . . .”

“Any bargain you strike with an innocent is made in MY name! Think you that I’ll be forsworn by the likes of you? Over her? When I again do battle with the Divine, it will be on my terms and in my time. You gave your word, demon. You will keep it.”

Satan flung a gesture at him.

Fire erupted around him, slamming him to the melting carpet, consuming him. His skin bubbled and crisped, cracking. The scream ripped from his blistering lips came out a hoarse, parched croak. He became pain and smoke.

A distant shrill rattled his charring skull.

Smoke detectors.

The flames winked out of existence.

Darsorin, trapped in a body that Satan couldn’t kill, lay shuddering on the carpet that he’d become a part of. The fibers had melted into his charred skin.

The Devil uttered a guttural, ugly word not meant for human ears. It resonated through the tortured flesh and bones of Darsorin, all the way to the damned soul of Hugh McClellan, which Satan held in thrall.

Reality opened beneath him and he fell.

He moaned a protest before he plunged straight into the soul crushing gray stones of his penitent's cell and into a sadist’s lash.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Hot Summertime excerpt from THE IMPOSTERS OF AVENTIL

THE IMPOSTERS OF AVENTIL is out in a little over two months, so it's high time to start talking seriously about its release.  And since the theme at SFFSeven this week is "hot summertime fiction" what better way to kick things off than with an excerpt of the hot summer nights in Maradaine?

THE IMPOSTERS OF AVENTIL releases on October 3rd, 2017, and is available for pre-order at AmazonBarnes & Noble, and more.


The Aventil streets teemed with Uni kids, and Lieutenant Benvin had to be a damned prefect to the lot of them. The captain had made it clear that he didn’t give a barrel of sewage what Benvin was working on. The Grand Tournament of the High Colleges was starting, so every able body in Green and Red needed to show the color on foot, horse, and wagon throughout Aventil.

Benvin knew it made sense. With the Tournament, the population of the Uni campus, and therefore Aventil, increased tenfold. Athletes came from every major college in Druthal, as well as friends, families, and other supporters. Every bed was filled, every pub was packed, and folks were pressed against each other so tightly in the street that even the city’s worst pickpocket could make a year’s pay.

Add in the sweltering summer heat that hadn’t broken all month, and the neighborhood was a stinkhole of trouble just waiting to burst.

“How many nights of this, Left?” Pollit muttered. “Because if it’s more than three, I can’t promise folks won’t be eating their teeth.”

“It’s eight,” Benvin said. “And I wouldn’t believe that promise anyway.”

Pollit flashed a smile. Pollit was part of Benvin’s Loyals, the squad he had put together that he trusted weren’t in anyone’s pocket. Just four footpatrol regulars—Tripper, Pollit, Wheth, and Mal, and two cadets, Jace and Saitle. The rest of the Aventil Stationhouse, they were fine enough folk, but Benvin didn’t have faith that they would really have his back in a pinch. Only his Loyals, and he knew they gave their best because he believed in them. All of them had all been outcasts amongst the Aventil regulars. Benvin had made them his.

“You don’t totally hate this, Left,” Pollit said.

“What makes you say that?”

“You usually don’t wear that pin on your uniform.”

Benvin glanced down at the pin on the lapel of his coat, marking his first-place win in oars for Riverview University at the Grand Tournament of 1202. “Man has a little pride in his school . . .”

“Wouldn’t have pegged you for a Uni type, Left. Certainly not one of the Elevens.”

“Drop it,” Benvin said. He wasn’t in the mood to talk about the things that led him from prominent law student at a prestigious university to street stick busting up cider rings and dice games. “Something over there.”

A handful of Uni boys—Royal College of Maradaine lads by their purple and yellow colors—were getting heated in front of the Rose & Bush. Looked like the server was telling them they couldn’t come in, and they weren’t pleased with that at all. Also, they clearly had had their fill of any pub for the night.

Saints, it wasn’t even seven bells yet. The sun was still casting long shadows down Rose Street.

“Gentlemen,” Benvin said, Pollit right at his arm. “What seems to be the dispute?”

“She won’t let us in!” one of the RCM boys said, wagging an accusing finger in the server’s face. “We gotta eat something before the opening ceremonies!”

“We’re full up!” the server snapped. “Ain’t barely room for me to walk from bar to tables. Can’t put another soul in the place!”

“Find another place,” Benvin said. “Or perhaps your beds for the night.”

“Pfff,” the lead RCM boy said. He didn’t seem to have registered who he was talking to. “We ain’t about to head in yet. We got—”

“Oy,” Pollit said. “Maybe you should note who’s telling you. Unless you want us to find you some special bunks for the night.”

The RCM boy looked at the two of them, his friends now all growing quiet as they recognized the Constabulary coats in front of them. This boy had definitely had too much cider though, as his eyes didn’t focus on them for a moment. When they did, they settled on Pollit.

“Saints,” he snarled. “You a bird or a bloke?”

That was the wrong thing to say.

In a flash, Pollit had knocked the boy in the teeth. Before he could even blink, the boy was face down on the cobblestone, irons going around his wrists. “Someone found a new bunk for the night!” Pollit shouted.

“Pollit—” Benvin tried to give a gentle rebuke, if Pollit would pick up on it.

Pollit looked up at the rest. “Any of you?”

“Going somewhere else,” the other RCM boys all said, hands up defensively. They quickly dispersed.

“Good.” Pollit had the boy up on his feet, arms bound behind him. “You see a lockwagon nearby, Left?”

Benvin leaned in. “We can’t arrest the boy just for firing your hairs, Pol.”

Pollit whispered back, “Can we have him sit in a wagon with irons on for an hour or so to cool off?”

“Twenty minutes,” Benvin said. “There’s one over there.”

Pollit gave a salute to Benvin, and then one more to the Rose & Bush server with a wink, and took the RCM boy over to the wagon.

Folks in the stationhouse talked about Pollit in not-so-hushed whispers, but Benvin paid them no damn mind. Pollit was a damn good stick, that was all that mattered.

Whistle calls pierced the air—and not just a general call. Three sharp trills: long, short, long. Corpse call.

“Pol!” Benvin didn’t need to look to know that Pollit would soon be on his heels as he ran in the direction of the whistles. He hoped Pollit at least left the Uni with a wagon driver.

“Aside, aside,” he shouted as he approached the source. A crowd had inevitably formed at the mouth of a narrow alley—not that every damn inch of this neighborhood wasn’t a crowd right now—and Benvin nearly had to beat his way through. “Constabulary, people, stand aside!”

The crowd parted just enough to let him pass, to see a young man blocking the alley entrance, whistle in his mouth. He stopped blowing as soon as Benvin approached.

“Hey, Left,” he said, dropping the whistle out of his mouth and catching it. “We’ve got some nasty business here.”

“Jace,” Benvin said, looking the cadet in the eye. “You’re supposed to be off-duty.” The boy was in civvie clothes, at least. But this kid, he never stopped working. Benvin admired him, to be sure, because he had a heart that was pure Green and Red as he had seen. Came from a family eight or nine generations deep in the Constabulary. When that crazy stampede went through the neighborhood two months ago, Jace had nearly got himself killed jumping onto the lead horse to blow out warnings. That was why Jace was part of the Loyals, but Benvin had to fight the boy to get him to go home sometimes.

“I was, Left, honest. On my way home when a couple folks spotted this. Had to put in the call, and then keep these folks off the scene.”

“Fair enough,” Benvin said. “Body?”

Jace nodded into the alley, while popping the whistle back in his mouth to make a new call, signaling that an officer was on the scene and they would need inspectors and the bodywagon to come.
Not that Benvin really wanted any of the Aventil Stationhouse inspectors to come. None of those chairwarmers were worth their rank, none of them could be counted on. Odds were they would come, glance at the body, and leave the work to him.

Pollit was now at the scene, giving a slight nod of regard to Jace. “Sorry about that, Left. Just getting that tosser comfy in the wagon.”

“Anything good?” Jace asked.

“Ain’t you supposed to be home?”

“In this crowd?”

Benvin ignored them, instead looking at the body. Definitely a murder. Four arrows were buried into his chest. Young man, about twenty or so. Scruffy, dirty, and unkempt. Face beat bloody, head cracked. Shirtless, but wearing a fur-lined coat. “A Red Rabbit.”

“Ain’t seen many of them since the last big street row,” Pollit said.

“No,” Benvin said pointedly. He pointed to the chevrons on the coat, and tattooed to the boys’ neck. “And a captain at that. Is this Keckin?”

“Could be,” Pollit said. “Saints, this is brutal.”

Benvin had to agree. The four arrows were all from head-on. Keckin—if this was Keckin—wasn’t running or even fighting back very well when this happened. Looked like he was shot, beaten, and then shot again. Someone wanted to make him suffer.

“Didn’t happen here,” Benvin added. He looked up to the top of the building. “Maybe on the roof, and he was dropped down after shooting him?”
Pollit gave his own glance up and down. “Makes sense. This couldn’t have gone down around this crowd.”

Benvin pulled one arrow out of the body. “And not too many people would use a bow in this neighborhood.”

“You think it’s him, boss?” Pollit asked.

“Nah, couldn’t be,” Jace said. He seemed almost spooked. “I mean, he’s never left a body like this before.”

“Then he’s stepped up his game. Let’s add it to the list of charges we’ll lay on the Thorn when we catch him.”

“I don’t like it, boss,” Jace said. “It ain’t that simple.”

Benvin didn’t like it at all, either. With everything else going on in the neighborhood, the last thing they needed was for the Thorn to move on from being a vigilante menace to a vengeful murderer. This might have been a Red Rabbit scum that Benvin would have ironed and locked up given the chance, but he didn’t deserve a death like this. Nobody did.

But it did mean one thing. Now Benvin had the cause he needed to act.

“Spread the word, boys,” Benvin said. “As of right now, I’m calling an All-Eyes out on the Thorn.”

Summer and the Grand Tournament of High Colleges have come to the University of Maradaine. If the heat and the crowds weren't enough to bring the campus and the neighborhood of Aventil to a boiling point, rumors that The Thorn is on the warpath—killing the last of the Red Rabbits—is enough to tip all of Maradaine into the fire.

Except Veranix Calbert, magic student at the University, is The Thorn, and he's not the one viciously hunting the Red Rabbits. Veranix has his hands full with his share of responsibilities for the Tournament, and as The Thorn he’s been trying to find the source of the mind-destroying effitte being sold on campus. He’s as confused as anyone about the rumors.

When The Thorn imposter publicly attacks the local Aventil constables, the Constabulary bring in their own special investigators: Inspectors Minox Welling and Satrine Rainey from the Maradaine Grand Inspectors Unit. Can Veranix find out who the imposter is and stop him before Welling and Rainey arrest him for the imposter’s crimes?

Goodreads Page for THE IMPOSTERS OF AVENTIL
Available for Pre-order at AmazonBarnes & Noble, and more!

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Flash Fiction : In the Sweltering Dark

For our summer flash fiction, I submit this 952 word short story.

In the Sweltering Dark
by Linda Robertson


Abigail roused to the sweltering dark, but she was not in her bed. 

Drowse fled away as realization struck: she was in a boat. Tear-shaped, it had only room enough for her, and barely that. As she slid onto a sitting position, she could not straighten her legs. Her pantsuit was dirty and there was sand and mud under her nails.

What in Hell is going on?

Pushing her gray hair out of her face, she scanned around but recognized nothing. The night-shrouded shores offered no explanation. Sweat beaded on her brow, but not purely from the stress of this moment. Despite the lack of sun in the sky, it had to be a hundred degrees here. A hundred and twenty. 

Thinking to splash some water on her face, she dipped a hand into the fluid but drew back instantly. Even the river seemed about to boil. 

How did I get here?

Thinking back, Abigail had trouble remembering. She knew her name. She knew she was an Executive Assistant to the Curator of Greek and Roman Art at the Cleveland Museum of Art – had been since graduating from Bryant Stratton thirty-two years ago. She had a cottage in a posh suburb. But she hadn't been home… and she certainly wasn't there now.

Eyes closed and hands covering her face, she fought to remember. 

Travelling. 

Snippets of calm, blue ocean shifted into a churning mass of green and gray. A gentle curve of coastline being ravaged by the swells of giant, foamy waves. White houses in the rain.

Mykonos. I was in Greece! A dream assignment and vacation in one.

There had been a storm. The charter boat bucked and heaved under her. She was told to go below deck; she hadn't understood the words but the captain pointed.

She hadn't made it.

Reliving it, she felt the wave grip her, lift her, and pull her from the deck like a monster. Just drops of water, she'd thought. Just drops...but gathered into millions, surging to the whim of a tempest's fury, and she was powerless. The Aegean Sea closed over her head. Gray turned to black. 

I'm dead.

Pulling her hands from her face, she opened her eyes again.

Yet I’m here. But where is here? If I’m dead…this is…no. No. It cannot be.

The speed of the river increased. Ahead, it split. One side flowed into a thick mist, the other seemed alight under the mist. Leaning, she steered the boat toward the light.

Nearing, she found that wasn’t mist on this side, but smoke. And the light on the water was flames.

Leaning again, twisting the boat beneath her, she willed it to change its course. But Abigail could not alter the bearing. Her path had been chosen.

Fear claimed her as she neared the flaming portion of the river. A more tangible version of death was about to seize her.

Hugging herself to keep as far from the flames as possible, the smoke enveloped Abigail and she floated among the flames. Every breath of this steamy air made her lungs feel more scalded.

In seconds, figures appeared to the left and right, near the shoreline. They were women, some ankle deep in the water, some knee deep. All moaned or wept.

At the sound of a nearby scream, Abigail turned sharply as another woman appeared, closer, and waist deep in the river. This one wore a tattered blouse with scorched cuffs, and her thin hair hung like so many threads. The burnt cuffs flaked away like ash as she reached out, broken nails scratching at the rail but finding no purchase. She cackled and cried, though it could have been mad laughter.

Drifting onward, the figures grew more numerous, many much closer to the boat. Their piteous cries filled Abigail’s ears and she covered them but could not block the sound. Her eyes squeezed shut again and seemed to continue burning from the smoke.

This couldn’t be happening.

She thought of her children and her husband, finally acknowledging the pain and loss they must be suffering, and her heart grew heavy knowing they would grieve. In his own way, so would her dog, Dante—

At his name, knowledge connected with thoughts and ideas and bound tight as she looked around again.
                                            
Phlegethon.

“I’ve committed no violent crimes,” she shouted into the smoky haze and drawing the attention of those trapped in the river. “I am not meant to be here!”

She felt and heard the scratch of something on the bottom and the boat lurched to a halt despite the current. Peering over the edge, she saw a wrinkled face barely above the surface of the lake. White hair fanned around her. “Help me!” The woman moved slightly to either side as if keeping the ebb of the heated water from flowing into the corners of her eyes and up her nose. Her arm, beneath the surface must have grabbed the keel. “Help!”

Being restrained in the river, the flames latched onto the boat. They licked up the sides, painting her view in orange and red. “Let go!”

From the river came only laughter. Not just the closest one; all the women began to laugh.

Abigail pulled off her shoe and threw it at the old face. Fire-water splashed across the woman’s eyes and she screamed. The boat began to drift again, but too late. The flames had set in and the heat redoubled at Abigail’s back—

Sitting up in her bed, Abigail gasped. Lightning flickered and thunder boomed outside her window. Aside from the pouring rain there was no sound. No light. Not even the clock.

The electric’s out. AC cut off.

And another hot flash crawled over her.



Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Summer Fiction Excerpt

It's summer time. Hideous, horrible, sweat everywhere and on every thing summer. When the sun is too bright and more than five minutes in its light scorches unprotected skin.

I'm not a fan. but you know who is? Vadrigyn, the fire-warrior protagonist from my debut Larcout. Even she knows fragile blood beings have no business under the brutal sun.

Here's tidbit of the opening for your pleasure:


LARCOUT Fire Born, Blood Blessed: Book 1


CHAPTER 1

Blood-beings could be chattel or they could be char. There were no other options for them in Agenwold. The four male gods had created these arid mountains as a prison for their sister’s fire-children, the Morsam. The Morsam, in turn, made Agenwold a prison for any male god’s child foolish enough to cross the Pogichan Sea. If blood-beings bothered to think before they fled, they would know freedom did not exist here.

Still, blood-beings ran without regard for their destination.

Vadrigyn os Harlo leaned against the warm mouth of a shale cave, watching her kin toy with their morning prey. The Morsam’s broad golden wings reflected the suns, blinding the bestial Nivurnian as he scrambled down the mountainside, sometimes on two feet and sometimes on four. The Nivurnian’s striped tail and tattered pants showed damage from the heat.

Blood-beings refused to admit the unfiltered intensity of the six suns ringing Agenwold posed a threat to their persons. The turbulent skies over their native nations had shielded them from the truth, yet even when exposed to the facts they clung to the lie.

“Vadrigyn, will you not save that man from the winged monsters?” The Nivurnian behind her spoke with soft deference.

“The entrance to my holdings is no secret. If he wished to be saved he would run toward us and not the sea,” she answered in the foreign tongue of her recently acquired chattel. They huddled in the darkness of the cavern, safe from the suns and bored Morsam. “He is like many of you blood-beings—fragile and willfully blind. He believes he can conquer the terrain, yet excludes the suns from his consideration. He thinks he can run faster than a fire-child can fly, yet he ignores the physical obstacles only he faces.”

An animalistic bray drifted up to the cave. Frustrated keens sounded from the swarm of circling Morsam. Her chattel shuffled back. She returned her attention to the fleeing Nivurnian. He no longer ran. His round furry ears peeked from a ring of boulders. His claws scraped at the unmovable stones to no avail. Another scream and he vanished from sight into a hunting trap—one of hers, to be precise.

Fool.

The stupidity of blood-beings amused her kin. Her kin’s stupidity provided opportunities for her. She leveraged those opportunities to amass more blood-beings. The cycle endured day after day, year after year. One day she would break free of the pattern, and break free from the mountain. One day she would prove to the gods that the burn of her essential fire was more than destructive, it was evolutionary. It was a fire that cleared away the old and fed the new.

Live. Learn. Burn.

Read more here: LARCOUT an excerpt

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Fantasy Books I'd recommend

Just back from a convention In this case the New England Writers' Conference, also called Camp Necon. Necon is a delightfully mellow convention where I always manage to get work done. I love that combination

Jeffe write about a recommended list of romantic fantasies. I don't do those, so here's my compromise.

A list of Fantasy novels

First, for dark and grim and gritty, you don't get much better than Joe Abercrombie. His trilogy THE FIRST LAW is powerful stuff and I recommend it.

Obviously no fantasy list is complete without J.R.R. Tolkien's THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy.

Just as fine in my eyes are the CHRONICLES OF PRYDAIN, by Lloyd Alexander.

Gather up your original Robert E. Howard CONAN books. Learn why the character remains so popular after closing in on a century in print.

Fritz Leiber's FAFHRD AND THE GREY MOUSER series is wonderful fun and hold in the collected volumes a great deal of the powerful prose that was often imitated as Sword and Sorcery fiction took off.

Jirel of Joirie by C.L. Moore is another treasure trove of almost forgotten fiction that is readily available and should be savored.

The CHRONICLES OF NARNIA by C.S. Lewis. Enough said.

The CHRONICLES OF AMBER by Roger Zelazny.

The THIEVES WORLD anthologies edited by Robert Aspirin and written by a plethora of talents.

All great for very different reasons, and all recommended.

Give them a try for a slightly different take on fantasy.

Fantasy Romance Recommended Reads

It's Hot & Muggy Flash Fiction week here at the SFF Seven. In beautiful Santa Fe, New Mexico, it's never muggy and rarely all that hot. Perfect weather for drinks on the patio! Likewise, I'm not participating in the Flash Fiction, as it always feels like a diversion from what I'm writing.

At the moment, that's my contribution to Amid the Winter Snow, a holiday anthology with Thea Harrison, Grace Draven, and Elizabeth Hunter. The story is tentatively called THE SNOWS OF WINDROVEN. Turns out Ash and Ami have a lot of unresolved issues. Until I delved back into it - and from Ash's point of view - I hadn't realized how tentative their happy-ever-after was. It was really a happy-for-now. Nothing like being snowbound in a castle built into a formerly-dormant-now-rumbling volcano with shapeshifting toddlers to bring relationship issues to a head!

And, speaking of heads, I just got mine into this story. I'm not thinking about hot and muggy anything.

Instead I'll share a post I wrote on the SFWA (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America) blog. It went up on May 1 and I totally missed it. But many of you will likely recall when I posted to Facebook about compiling a list of Fantasy Romance Recommended Reads. SFWA asked me for a list of ten authors, so they could also be put on bookmarks. In culling all the terrific recommendations down to ten, I found myself having to take a hard look at how I define the subgenre of Fantasy Romance, so that's part of this article, too. You can read it here.

For some reason the comments on SFWA blog aren't allowed, but I know you all will have additional authors to recommend - and possibly arguments with my definitions. Please feel free to comment here! I wish I could have included everyone, but the whittling down to ten made for an interesting exercise.

Also, check out my local chapter's contest for unpublished manuscripts! I'll be the final judge for Paranormal Romance/Fantasy Romance/Urban Fantasy/Science Fiction Romance. That means I'll mentor my winner and provide promotion support. The overall winner will receive support from the entire chapter! Check it out here!

Friday, July 21, 2017

The Writer's Filter - Piecing Together Real Life

 This week's question - the use of real life events/people/places in fiction echoes a very similar question in acting. Do you mine your life to feed your body of work? 

Uhm. Yeah. Of course. Because what other frame of reference do I have? You think I'm using someone else's life? Oh. Wait. I've done that. But even then, the only way to put that on a page (or into performance) is to internalize the experience set even if I did not have it and present it through the lens of what if I had? 

Right? I mean, the only system any of us has for feeling and conveying that feeling is via our own body/mind/emotions - which represents the sum total of everything we've ever experienced. Granted, I get that we're talking about whether or not I'm writing about Aunt Edna's false teeth falling into her glass of milk during my sixth birthday party.

Sometimes I do. I subscribe to the notion that anytime I experience high emotion (whether pleasant or unpleasant) it has some use in a current WIP. There was one case where a major bad guy was modeled on someone and an awful situation I'd known. It involved restraining orders and threats of violence. Rough several months. Perfect bad guy fodder, but you bet I made darned sure neither the person nor the situation were recognizable by anyone but me. (Also, I don't have an Aunt Edna, so forget about the teeth and the milk.) So yes. Everything I write, every character I create, every play I perform, it all comes through me, and so is indelibly colored by my experiences. Some times situations or people directly influence character or plot development, but not often and never undisguised. The rest of the time, it's subtler than that - more a case of tone and filter. My life and my mental state (such as it is) set my tone and create the filter through which all story passes. Add into that that every place I've been speaks story to me. The shot of the corner shop at top is the local tea shop. I turned it into a main character's tattoo shop in Nightmare Ink. The pyramid played into that same character's story in Bound By Ink. The dragon toothed cave hasn't shown up yet, but it will.  And the stairs - same thing. There's a story there. Who or what comes down those steps? Why? 

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Scrapbooking for Real Inspiration

I don't tend to-- consciously any way-- mine too much of real life into my novels.  Obviously there's bits and pieces, some of it more overt than others.  Well, there are two minor characters in Lady Henterman's Wardrobe who are, in fact, very real-life inspired, but I think I'm going to keep the details of that close to the chest for now.  Have to save something for the memoirs.

Now, one thing I do like to do is draw inspiration from places I've been.  A lot of how the city of Maradaine looks in my head comes from places like Mexico City (specifically Coyoacan), Montreal (specifically Old Town) and Boston.  I don't know if I necessarily do a perfect job getting those inspirations across, but it's what I strive for.

 Image result for coyoacan church
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In other news, I'm going to be at ArmadilloCon here in Austin from August 4th-6th.  If you're in the area, stop by and say hello.  There might even be a shiny ARC of The Imposters of Aventil in it for you.  More details on that to come.
Now back to the word mines.  Plenty of work to do.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Real Life as Subplots in the Persephone Alcmedi Series

Back in the summer of 2009, the first Persephone Alcmedi novel VICIOUS CIRCLE hit the shelves. 

It doesn't seem like that long ago, and yet...we've come a long way since then. Most of my plotting revloves around Persephone and the intracasies of the witch council and Seph's own destiny, but there are many vampire and waerewolf characters in the mix.

When I learned about local Cleveland authorities planning to demolish one of the predominant buildings I used in the story, it seemed appropriate to include it.


EXCERPT:  WICKED CIRCLE, pg. 178

     Todd was blathering on about a meeting they’d just had with the Ohio Department of Transportation.
     ODOT had put a new compensation package on the table concerning their bid to buy and tear down the Cleveland Cold Storage building for the new I-90 project.   

I figured it was a great way to show that humans had their own notions and goals that had nothing to do with the non-humans. Yet at the same time, this allowed me to show their bias and hate by having the humans be snidely pleased that it was impacting the non-humans in a negative way. It also served as a mechanism to further explore and develop the heirarchy of waerewolves, as the big-wigs sent someone to negotiate for another prime location in Cleveland. 

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Real World Events, Gewgaws, Ribbons, & Hot Glue: Fictitious Scrapbooks

Taking real world non-fiction events and twisting them into a scene in a fantasy novel? Who does that?

Me. Totally me.

It's the twisting that's the fun part, then taking a hot glue gun to make little plastic bridges between the twists, and hoping the adhesive holds well enough that the whole story doesn't unravel. A little Modge Podge to seal it. A fashionable ribbon here. A pop-culture sticker there. Yep. Pretty much summarizes my writing process.

Yes. I absolutely burn my fingers on the glue. Yes, my hair, dog hair, and last week's mystery crumbs end up embedded in the scrapbook too. There's inevitably a ghosting fingerprint or twelve that'll identify me to the Thought Police.

In my defense, I try not to spill the bourbon on the scrapbook, 'cause that'd be alcohol abuse...and it eats through the glue. Though, it does make a great editing assistant and accidents happen.

So, scrapbooking in the figurative sense, I am a big fan.

Scrapbooking in the literal sense? Not it. No, that's wholly different talent.


Monday, July 17, 2017

scrapbooking

I suspect that every author is guilty of this to one level or another Scrapbooking is the fine art of using real life events (yours or someone else's) and incorporating them into a tale.

In my case the one case where I can consciously say I did this revolves around a story of mine called "Burden of Guilt: my Brother's Keeper." In the story I twins who are psychically linked. The catch is, one of them is a serial killer who keeps his brother in check via emotional blackmail.

The story came to me full blown when I was watching the eleven o'clock news and saw a piece n twin brothers who'd broken the rules, climbed the fence for a pool that was closed and, sadly, managed to get themselves drowned for their efforts. '

There isn't that much in common, really, but it was enough to get the creative juices flowing.

I looked at my wife, wished her a good night and wrote the 8,000 word story in one sitting.

For me it's a rarity that I use real life as a springboard and it's almost always accidental in that I don't seek the stories out but run across them.

But the process does make for interesting tales and I know several authors who are almost universally writing stories based on actual events that simply haunt them until they work out the details in their stories and novels.


What Blender Setting Do You Go For?

We've been on a long road trip this last week, seeing all kinds of family. And leaving the cats behind, like the monsters we are. Here is Jackson showing off his best Pitiful Abandoned Kitty face.

Thus, I'm late posting today. But so it goes!

I've shared this news elsewhere, but I'm happy to share again here! Many of you have asked what I'm up to with various writing projects, including a few delayed ones. (Yes, the next Sorcerous Moons books are coming - I promise!) Basically what happened is that I changed agents back in February/March. And then I worked up something entirely fresh for New Agent Sarah Younger. Basically I gave her a list of ideas, we debated them, and I wrote 100 pages of one of her top three choices - the one I loved best. We went back and forth on it with several revisions. That's a great benefit of working with an agent as sharp as Sarah. She gave me great feedback on the book, tightening it up and making it the best it could be. Basically we spent three months working on this.

Which meant I kept setting aside other writing projects to work on the next round of THRONE OF FLOWERS, THRONE OF ASH. Thus my entire schedule getting delayed and shuffled. The beautiful part is, when Sarah took this out on submission, we had tons of interest, multiple offers, and a sale two weeks later. And here it is!!

These books won't start coming out until 2019, so now I can go back to a regular schedule. Which absolutely means finishing both the Sorcerous Moons and Missed Connections series. The other thing that happened is that Kensington, who published my Twelve Kingdoms and Uncharted Realms books, started up a new SFF (Science Fiction and Fantasy) imprint called Rebel Base Books. They wanted to publish THE SHIFT OF THE TIDE, but that would have delayed its release until March of 2018 and I knew you all would have fits. (See? I do love you and want you to be happy. I really do!)

So, we said no on that, but they really wanted me to be part of this new imprint, so we settled on me writing a trilogy for them set in the Twelve Kingdoms world. It will be high fantasy, which means less of a romance arc. BUT, I'm pretty sure it will be Jenna's story. For those of you who know what that means! We finished talking about that right before the other submission, so that got announced at the same time.








All that taken care of, our topic this week is Scrapbooking—taking stories from real life as the springboard for your stories and subplots. I'm going to keep this short, mostly to kick off the topic. I love Amanda Palmer and Neil Gaiman's thoughts on "blender settings." Basically they say that all creative types take our real life experiences and metaphorically put them in a blender which produces the smoothie of our art. The big difference is what "setting" we put the blender on.

They've had to figure this out in their marriage, because they have such different blender settings. Amanda, a singer/songwriter and performance artist, has a very low blender setting. What she experiences, she turns around and shares in big chunks that are recognizably her art. Neil, as a writer of fantasy, has a very high setting - you almost can't recognize his real life in the final stories.

Neither is right or wrong - both of them are accomplished artists - but it took some doing for them to come to terms with how they each processed experiences. Especially for him with her putting so much of her - now their - personal life out there as part of her art.

What's most important is to find what works for you. My standard advice: discover your process and own it!

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Ins and Outs of My Newsletters

From DepositPhoto
The topic this week is author newsletters.

I have one, with about 3000 people on the e mail list and I have a separate list of about 1000 people who indicated interest in audiobooks only. The mail newsletter list is primarily ‘organic’, in that readers have signed up for it from my blog over the last five years, but I did add a few hundred people from various cross promo, list building events I tried last year.  I decided fairly quickly those events weren’t for me. There are many people in the world who sign up for these events for the prizes offered and then really didn’t want to continue to hear from the authors, so they unsubscribe and/or mark newsletters as spam. The audiobook list came entirely from a 2016 audiobook list builder giveaway and the first time I sent out audiobook news, there were about 40 unsubscribes, which wasn’t too bad. So I regard it as a solid list and feel the audiobook listeners genuinely do want to receive that content.

I only send out a newsletter when I have a new release OR some significant piece of news about something writing-related-to-Veronica Scott. On rare occasions I’ll do an NL in connection with a big, multi author promo event if I feel it would be of interest to, and potentially benefit my readers. I don’t ordinarily do NL swaps with other authors (on rare occasions I will, if it’s for an author I personally love), I never accept paid placement in my NL, I run no ads, I have no excerpts, freebies, contests or giveaways. I don’t share recipes, family news, personal stuff.

This does limit me from being involved in certain author cross promo events where part of the deal is the mandatory requirement to send out a newsletter. I will very rarely do that – it’s not my ‘deal’ with my readers who signed up, so I can't participate.

I’m just not a newsletter person. To me a NL is a ‘purely the facts’ kind of communication vehicle and the main reason I’d use it is for new release updates. The golden rule of promo to me is not to do the types that don’t come naturally.

From DepositPhoto
To balance that, I’m very active daily on twitter and on Facebook (on my Veronica Scott page) and in various scifi and fantasy romance FB groups, as well as author groups. I blog in three places regularly and I write posts for USA Today/HEA, Heroes & Heartbreakers, Romance University and Amazing Stories, plus occasional guest posts. I figure that’s enough Veronica Scott for most people!
So why do I even maintain a NL list? Yes, Amazon and BookBub and even Goodreads will send out new release alerts to people who have followed me on their sites. Three problems – the alerts don’t go out reliably or timely. In each place I have smaller numbers of followers than on my own list. Those lists ‘belong’ to the site, not me. I don’t even have access to who the people are. So I need my own list to ensure that in these constantly changing times, I can reach my readers who’ve expressed an interest in keeping up with my new releases. Or other book-related news, if something cool happens.

I’ve also gotten some very lovely reader mail back after a NL goes out.

In today’s world of publishing, everyone is looking for the next new thing. Somewhere in 2016, from my standpoint, the whole newsletter concept exploded, and authors were doing these huge list building events. I began to see certain unintended, unexpected side effects occurring, as discussed in various author groups I belong to. One effect, I mentioned above, was the set of ‘professional giveaway entering people’ who’d sign up for the prizes and then promptly unsubscribe. Another was the author getting in trouble for too many people marking their NL e mail as spam, versus simply unsubscribing. Third, readers were burning out – if there were 100 authors in an event, the poor reader might get inundated with 100 newsletters right after the event ended!  Fourth, readers are busy people and they might forget they’d even signed up for a NL as part of a giveaway weeks ago (or it wasn’t made clear to them their e mail was being harvested, which is a no-no, you have to disclose that) so when NL’s they had no memory of asking for hit their inbox, the person might get pretty upset.

And then there’s this whole idea of the ‘drip campaign’ which as I understand it, is where the author sends the poor reader a series of a mails, like gates to go through…add to that author frustration I’ve seen over “people don’t even read the NL, I’m going to delete half my list”…well, maybe the readers  ARE reading the NL, but in their e mail previewer, which might not count as an open in your particular NL tool…some people send NL’s weekly (!!!), bi-weekly….

Hello, I write books. I need to spend my time writing the books, and relevant posts for the big platforms where many readers hang out, not newsletters. I do have a PA help me with the technical part of sending the NL out, but I write the content. I don’t have the time in my life, or the patience, to manage drip campaigns and click thru rates and developing unique content just for the NL….I prioritize what works for me as a person and indie author.

I guess it sounds by now as if I’m pretty down on newsletters. I know some authors are very successful with NL’s and have forged terrific relationships with their readers because that format works so well and is a natural fit for their personality and communications style. SE Smith is an excellent example. I also love Nalini Singh’s and am happy to see a new one in my e mail whenever they show up.

After ALL that, if you’d like to sign up for my newsletter and be assured you’ll only see new releases info, with a smattering of other content, here’s the LINK. The sign up box is on my blog, at the top of the Home page.


And if you are into audiobooks, a group of authors from various genres has gotten together on Facebook and Twitter to do a giveaway July 15th through 30th. Just look for the hashtag #summeraudio