Sunday, November 29, 2020

Jeffe's Top Five Christmas-Adjacent Movies


Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is our favorite Christmas-adjacent (or other holiday-adjacent) movies. Now, I'm a Christmas-loving gal, so if you don't celebrate or don't care, feel free to skip. This will not be on the final.

All right! Now, if you are like me and love to add Christmas movies to the general celebrating, but maybe get tired of the movies that focus SOLELY on Christmas - not that there's anything wrong with those! - then you might like some of these Christmas-adjacent movies. They're not Christmas movies in any real sense, but they include Christmas in awesome ways.

Also, I suggested this topic because I'm always looking for more Christmas-adjacent movies. (NOT Die Hard, people.) So, I'm looking forward to what my bordello-mates suggest - and please tell me yours!

In reverse order, my Top Five Christmas-adjacent movies.

#5    Mean Girls

What? I *told* you these aren't actual Christmas movies! Mean Girls is almost an honorable mention, but I have to include it because of the classic sexy-Santa-in-red-latex dance. Also, this is a brilliant movie that deserves a rewatch anyway.

#4    You've Got Mail

The Christmas scenes in this movie capture all the wonderful nostalgia of the season. The original movie, The Shop Around the Corner, had a stronger Christmas focus and is totally worth watching, too.

#3    Iron Man 3

Tony shopping for a gift for Pepper? Trying out a new suit to the tune of Jingle Bells? Yes, please! Also the Christmas setting provides glittering contrast to the story. 

#2    The Long Kiss Goodnight

Seems like not many people saw - or appreciated - this one, but I love Geena Davis as a kickass spy who goes from sweet, amnesiac wife and mom to lethal superagent. All at Christmas time. Plus Samuel L. Jackson. More ironic Christmas cheer for the win!

#1    Bed of Roses

Sometimes I feel like the only person who saw and LOVED this movie. I saw it in the theater twice, and have had it on VHS since then. It's one of my favorite romances, and the juxtaposition of the emotional pressure of Christmas and family make the love affair even more poignant. Plus, contains the line from Pamela (Segall) Adlon, "I'm a Jewish Elf." 


Now, hit me with suggestions! What Christmas-adjacent movies should I be watching???


Saturday, November 28, 2020

Gratitude Attitude

 “Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.” Robert Brault

DepositPhoto

“Got no checkbooks, got no banks, still I’d like to express my thanks. I got the sun in the morning and the moon at night.” Irving Berlin


Friday, November 27, 2020

Gratitude is Riches

Gratitude is riches. Complaint is poverty.

Doris Day

 

The essence of all beautiful art, all great art, is gratitude.

Friedrich Nietzsche


Thursday, November 26, 2020

Thankful


The more grateful I am,

The more beauty I see.

~Mary Davis

For our readers in the US, Happy Thanksgiving! During this Thanksgiving week we like to reflect on the many things we're thankful for. 

It's easy to pick out what's not going well or the failures that keep us from where we want to be. It takes an effort to look on the bright side. And while I believe it can be good to let yourself wallow for a bit, afterward it's even more important to take stock of the good things. 

It doesn't have to be all big things either! I was thankful for my cup of coffee this morning and I'll be thankful for a glass of wine tonight. Right now I'm incredibly thankful for my friends who keep me going—even better than caffeine—and help build me up when I've been torn down. 

Thank you my friends for being there. And thank you to our readers for giving us your time each day! I hope you all have a thankful weened!

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Some wise quotes about gratitude

I have one main thanksgiving-type quote, but it seemed kind of simple and not super weighty or thoughty, so I turned to Google and found some really good ones: 


“When I started counting my blessings, my whole life turned around." —Willie Nelson

"Be thankful for what you have; you'll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don't have, you will never, ever have enough." —Oprah Winfrey

"Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude." —A.A. Milne

“ ‘Thank you’ is the best prayer that anyone could say. I say that one a lot. Thank you expresses extreme gratitude, humility, understanding.” —Alice Walker

“The roots of all goodness lie in the soil of appreciation for goodness.” —Dalai Lama

“When eating fruit, remember the one who planted the tree.”—Vietnamese Proverb

“Silent gratitude isn’t very much to anyone.”—Gertrude Stein


Humans can be so wise. I'm human, but  not always wise. My personal go-to quote is unattributed and unattributable, though I say it almost constantly. And not to put myself anything like on the level of these deep thinkers and talented folks, I'll just sneak it here at the end. Here goes:


"Thank you." --me


Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Thankfulness and Gratitude

In this week of being consciously thankful and grateful, this quote by Henri Frederic Amiel reminds me that my thoughts and deeds are concentric circles creating ripples in the Universe. What flows out, flows back. Let kindness inform the intention and compassion shape the action.


Happy (Early) Thanksgiving


Monday, November 23, 2020

Thank you.

 It's Thanksgiving time in the US. We are supposed to post about the most profound and simplest statement of gratitude that we can think of. 

Thank you seems to cover that pretty well. It's amazing to me how many people have trouble with those two words. They're almost as rare as I'm Sorry. But it's easy to forget, isn't it? When the world is doing its best to me you lower your head and push past the inconveniences, the fights, the squabbles, and protests? The world does that. It gets us into trouble. Politically speaking I don't have to look any further than the current president of these United States to see an example of selfishness personified. I don't care what side of the political coin is yours, it's just pathetic to see. 

We have a plague wiping out hundreds of thousands of people across the globe. We have had a season of truly epic hurricanes and tropical storms. We have seen millions of acres of land burned and destroyed this year, and heatwaves that are epic continue to hit the planet. In a time when we should be seeking unity, were have a virtual army of buffoons who can't wear a mask without throwing fits about their freedoms being taken away, and we have armies if, well, gun-happy clowns, running around carrying their weapons and doing their best to look intimidating. 

It's easy to see the negatives, isn't it? It always is. 

And yet, there are a million reasons to say thank you. I was silent here for over a year, because I woke up one morning with a growth on the side of my neck that turned out to be cancer of the tonsil. It was fast-acting and it could easily have killed me. I had doctors taking their own sweet time in making appointments for me to see specialist after specialist, while I struggled to continue breathing, while I found out the hard way that eating is damned near impossible when you can't swallow. 

But I had one young man who listened when I said I couldn't;t wait two more weeks to see the next specialist. He took the time to called around and got me an appointment at 8 am the very next day. That appointment got me in the hospital the same day, and got the machinations started to aggressively treat my cancer. I had people outside of the hospital who got me financial help in the form of a GoFundMe site. I would have never even considered that option. 

I got financial help when I needed it most. I got treatment for my cancer. I got help from literally hundreds of people, many of whom I never met, who had no reason to offer me help, aside from simply being kind-hearted.  They helped me, when there was nothing in it for them. 

How amazing is that?

Listen, it's not perfect. My health is not what it used to be. They mean it when they say the treatment for cancer is damned near as bad as the cancer itself. It's brutal, and it's nearly crippling. My heart is not the same. My body has suffered debilitating side effects. But you know what? I'm alive and currently cancer free. I've lost 70 plus pounds, had a few teeth pulled, and I spent six months with chemo brain stopping me from writing virtually anything at all. 

But I'm still here. 

I have a lot to be thankful for. More than I can express. 

As I said last year, I have so much to be thankful for and truly I am blessed. 

And all I can say is Thank You. 

I can never repay the debts, but I'm trying to pay it forward. 

And I hope I never find a reason to forget to say Thank You. 



 




Sunday, November 22, 2020

The Simplest and Most Profound Expression of Gratitude


Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is our favorite quote of gratitude. Mine is very simple - and profound enough that it's shaped much of my life.

Why?

No, not why is it simple and profound, etc. The quote is exactly that:

Why?

I learned this from my favorite college professor, who was also my major adviser in Comparative Religious Studies. (He identified as a non-practicing Orthodox Jew, which - if you know much about Judaism - tells you pretty much everything you need to know about him.) He said that our tendency as human beings is to question misfortune. When we get sick, or a loved one dies, or some other terrible misfortune befalls us, we turn our eyes to the heavens and ask why?
 
Why me?

Why them?

Why did this have to happen?

But, when good fortune comes our way - when we succeed in our efforts, when the people we love are still there when the next day arrives, even when we continue to be healthy and able-bodied - we don't ask why. We don't beseech the heavens with questions like:

Why am I so lucky to be healthy?

Why do I have such a comfortable life?

Why do these wonderful people and animals love so much?

This came as a huge revelation to my 18-year old self, and I have to remind myself constantly to ask those questions. It's a profound exercise in gratitude to look at my life and question why I'm so very blessed.
 
Along with this comes questioning my success as an author. It's easy to focus on my failures, to bemoan why I don't get everything I set out to do. Even easier is to congratulate myself for success, as if it's entirely due to my own efforts, rather than serendipity. So, I'm giving particular thanks for these badges of great fortune. UNDER A WINTER SKY has done brilliantly this week, and I couldn't be more grateful.

In this case, I don't have to ask why, because I know it's because of all of you. Thank you. 










 

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Excerpt from Veronica's Work in Progress JAMOKAN


 This week at the SFF Seven, we're sharing a snippet from a work in progress. I’ve been working – slooooowly – on my next Badari Warriors book, JAMOKAN. Everything going on with the pandemic and politics this year had made it hard for me to feel energized and creative (plus I’ve had several chronic health issues flare up recently). I actually have gotten six books out this year, much to my own amazement. Originally I thought JAMOKAN was going to be a novella but of course the characters thought otherwise and I’m over 50K with some major scenes still to be written.

I haven’t written the blurb for the book yet because one challenge at a time, you know? Here’s the series blurb: Genetically engineered soldiers of the far future, the Badari were created by alien enemies to fight humans. But then the scientists kidnapped an entire human colony from the Sectors to use as subjects in twisted experiments…the Badari and the humans made common cause, rebelled and escaped the labs. Now they live side by side in a sanctuary valley protected by a powerful Artificial Intelligence, and wage unceasing war on the aliens. Some overarching issues do remain unresolved in each book since this is an ongoing series but romance always wins the day in my novels!

Jamokan is the Alpha of one of the packs and feeling frustrated with his role in the rebellion and in the sanctuary valley. In this unedited scene from near the beginning of the novel, he’s asking Aydarr, the ruling Alpha for permission to take his men to the mountains for a hunt.

EXCERPT: Two days later he sat with Aydarr in the other Alpha’s office, drinking Badari herbal tea and discussing a training issue. It was a rare meeting with neither Jill nor Daegan in attendance and Jamokan knew this was his opportunity to make the proposal he’d been mulling over. “There is one more thing,” he said once they agreed on the resolution of the training curriculum.

Eyebrows raised, Aydarr watched him. “Yes? I know you’ve had something weighing on your mind for a while now. I know you too well after all those years of rivalry in the lab. I used to have to watch you like the alien cat in my DNA would stalk small winged prey. I never knew what you’d pull next and I always had to be prepared.”

The Alpha’s tone was complimentary, admiring even and Jamokan was mollified to some extent.  Yes, before Jill came onto the scene there had been strong competition between them and Jamokan won his share of the contests. He stopped himself before wondering for the thousandth time what would have happened if the Khagrish had given Jill to him instead of Aydarr. She isn’t my fated mate, which is the will of the goddess, so we’ll never truly know. “I need to pull my pack together and take the men out of this damn valley for a bit. The pack bond is… fraying.” He searched for the right words. “Not to the point where it would ever break of course.” A flare of dominance prickled through his nerve endings at the mere idea of his pack dissolving. “I wouldn’t permit that. I can hold a pack together. But maybe it’s our special canid mix of DNA – we need to run as a pack. Just us. Take a breather from all this forced togetherness in the valley and undertake a task or mission on our own.”

“I think the Khagrish unfortunately had some sense built into their so-called science,” Aydarr said, unperturbed. “I think all three of our packs needed that time loose in the Preserve which we were given between experiments. To just be ourselves, as much as we could be under the circumstances. To not interact with the other two packs for an extended period.”

Thinking back to the time in the labs, Jamokan said, “I wonder how the Tzibir are faring these days? Collaborating with the Khagrish even to a limited extent seems like a slippery slope to extinction.”

“You hear the same reports I do from MARL,” Aydarr said with a shrug. “Nothing about them on any of the intercepts. As long as the damn lizards aren’t taking the field against us, I have other worries to deal with than a group who chose not to join us. What kind of sortie do you have in mind for your pack? Now isn’t a bad time actually.”

Jamokan had come prepared. “I understand the kitchen is running low on protein stocks, since we added the last group of people. I was thinking the pack and I could go up north, to where the giant horned faleker roam, and do a few weeks of serious hunting. Maybe bag game birds as well. Darik said when he was on his solo mission to the north he saw flocks of thousands of birds on the lakes near the falekers’ habitat. My enforcers and I could design a few simulated maneuvers to run as well, sharpen everyone’s senses. Maybe offer a prize to the winning team or soldier. I have to think through the details, once I know for sure where we’re going.” He tilted his head ever so slightly, knowing he needed to signal his willingness to accept Aydarr’s decision. The other Alpha’s strength pushed against his own and of course Aydarr would win. Jamokan always had to be mindful to steer clear of confrontation with the man, which chafed. In the old days, in captivity, he and Aydarr squared off fairly often. “Assuming you give permission.”

The supreme Alpha lounged in his chair, considering…

******************************************

I hope to get the book finished, edited and released in December….till then feel free to catch up on the rest of the series, if you haven't already! At all major ebook sellers...



Friday, November 20, 2020

WIP Snippet - Book Four Chronicles of the Empire

 This book doesn't have a title yet. It'll be Enemy something or the other. I just haven't gotten to the something or other yet. The story is resisting pulling together and you know how happy that makes me. But. Like Dad has always liked to say, anything worth doing -- no. That's not the one. You know what? He doesn't have a saying for this. I do. Sometime writing is hard. It'll be worth it. Someday. Today's not that day. Tomorrow doesn't look so great, either. 

We're on an alien planet. Bad things are happening. While this is for book four, it the whole 'alien planet, bad things happening, pretty much describes all the openings of the books in my SFR series. Welcome.

 

          Perimeter guards on Anqorre had a distressing tendency to turn up dead, their body parts strewn all over the jungle. When they could be found at all. Since she hadn’t had the good grace to die in her first several firefights, putting her on sentry duty presented the brass with the next best opportunity for getting her killed without having to put a gun to her head themselves.

          Though, to be fair, that was likely next.

          Lightning flashed.

Ildri stopped walking. She glanced at the dark hulk of jungle. Rain swept the tops of the trees flat. The low roar did nothing to mask bone-shaking thunder. The squall had to be the outer bands of the incoming storm.

No one would sleep in the muddy, misery-plagued camp tonight. Good time to head for the supply ship.

          A man’s voice pinged her auditory sensors as if carried on the last rumble of 

thunder. "Godsdammit, I should have gills.”

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Snippet from work in progress The Breath Between Stars

This week on SFF Seven, we're offering snippets of whatever we're working on. And as usual, I'm working on a story, and I love it and loathe it at the same time, and I am trying to make it good, but it's not always cooperative. And I hope sort of desperately that someday someone reads it and likes it, but I have no confidence of that ever happening. 

My WIP features a badass semi-retired Mary Poppins in space. It's called The Breath Between Stars, and this is the first of my favorite moments so far.

Hestia didn’t turn. Smoke burled through the recycled air. She had been scanned for weapons before boarding, of course, but she was not unarmed. 

She stilled herself, hands at her sides, weighted skirts brushing the metal deck.

Closing her eyes, she amplified her aural implants, searching for breaths, fingers on weapons, boots on a floor, tumblers being set down, knives unsheathing, any sound that would tell her who among the people in this room were her enemies, and where they sat. She liked to think of it as reading a room. Much like reading a book or reading the stars, assessing the threat in a given space simply took a bit of mental flex.

Blade was still sitting at the back table where she’d left him. The chair springs creaked beneath his fussily clad ass. He was getting to his feet.

The barman clinked a glass. He said nothing, but Hestia was sure he’d ducked behind the long fake-ivory bar for protection. Or maybe to fetch a weapon? Or to send a System alert? She counted off the other pub patrons and covertly accessed the handheld control disc in one pocket of her armored, voluminous skirts, pairing the Damsel’s remote pilot with her gloves.

“All right, if you insist,” she murmured.

With a gloved thumb she drew a shape on the control disc, and three things happened. 

One, her boots magnetized, securing her to the deck plates. 

Two, her adorable peacock-feather fascinator elongated, forming a pressurized, oxygen-filled helm about her coiffed head. 

And three, the station stopped spinning.

Which meant gravity stopped.

Which meant drinks, snacks, expletives, and other far less savory items were flung into the piped-in and pressurized air, messing the cramped space and colliding with all those self-important mercenaries. One of their bitty guns went off, with predictable results. In null gravity, the bullet and the shooter spurted in opposite directions and both with some force, though not enough to injure the shooter. Shouted accusations of clumsiness won out over the mad search for any pricks in the space station’s skin. It was all glorious chaos, if you liked that sort of thing.

As Hestia so did.

“As you can see, Mr. Bly,” she said calmly amid the panic, “my starship has overridden the gravity controls. You may indeed own this module, but you currently have no control over the station core. I do. Open the blast door, or I shall demonstrate the reasons why one should never underestimate a lady with pockets.”

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

THE SHACKLED SPY: Cover Reveal and Teaser Quote

Dropping in late January, the sixth book in my Immortal Spy series leads Bix and the Berserkers on a scavenger hunt for the pieces of a potent containment device that will remove a millennia-old cosmic moat from outer space, and allow them to finally deploy the new and improved defense system. But, there are things living in the moat that will not go quietly, things that will force Bix to confront the greatest tragedy she's ever suffered and turn her into the Worlds' biggest threat. 


Cover Image for The Shackled Spy
Cover by Gene Mollica Studios
THE SHACKLED SPY
The Immortal Spy: Book 6

From the Book:
Tobek closed the fingers of his prosthesis around the piece of the containment device still held by Bix. His high-tech amalgam of plastic, rubber, and machinery crumbled into dust. He changed hands, cautiously gripping the triangle. The ink of his heavily tattooed arm and torso illuminated through his T-shirt. The green of his pupils lit, and the vibrant blue of his irises followed.

“Let go, Tobek,” Bix quietly urged.

“I’m learning its resonance.” His voice sounded as though it was rising from a deep well. “Cian is correct. You cannot store this in the Mids. It’s more dangerous to all native life than the ether.”

“Well, that’s interesting, because original me scattered the remaining fragments across the Mids.” Bix tugged the panel, but Tobek held fast. 

Drew and Ashtad warily leaned on the table, getting closer to the piece remaining inert in Tobek’s hand even though the Berserker himself was in full-blown woo. Gurp stayed way the hell away from the table, which was odd for the goblin, who prided himself on being a walking forensics lab. He busied himself checking on Cian, which wasn’t odd, come to think of it. People first when it came to Gurp’s great big heart.

“Chief gave us the heads-up that you’re removing the ether so we can push Resen live.” Ashtad got his hand within six inches of the triangle before he snatched it back with a wince. “If Resen was active, we could track the fragments by resonance, but…”

“Anything that’s powerful enough to contain the magic of titans is going to be detrimental to any collective, not just the Mids.” Drew succeeded in touching the triangle but lost half his hand as a result.

↭ 


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Monday, November 16, 2020

The Tourists Guide To Haunted Wellman

 As Jeffe pointed out, this week we're supposed to tease a forthcoming project. Well, I've got several of those going and I like to tease, s here's the first part of THE HOURISTS GUIDE TO HAUNTED WELLMAN.

For the many who do not know, Wellman is a fictitious town in Georgia, created by Charles R. Rutledge and yours truly.  

This book is a blend of ghost guide and ghost stories. Here's a bit of both.  IN thepry this book will be out in time for Halloween of 2021.


 The Tourists Guide to Haunted Wellman


Introduction


    Brennert County, Georgia is a beautiful place. Nestled in the north Georgia mountains, and only a little over an hour and a half away from Atlanta (depending on traffic, of course) the buildings in the area are a collection of traditional southern homes and a few surprises. The area has been lived in for years, and the history is rich with tales of heroism and villainy alike. During the Civil War there were plenty of those tales to be told, and exactly who the bad guys were was often a matter of perspective. 

    Looking at the homes, at the landmarks, and at the lush green hills, you’d think that Brennert County, and towns like Wellman, were just about postcard perfect. But as is often the case in the south, there are things not mentioned, places not spoken of in polite society, that hold dark and sometimes even dangerous secrets. 

    Wellman, Georgia and the surrounding areas are steeped in a history of violence, madness, and murder. There are tragedies aplenty to go with the local legends of goblins, like the Moon-Eyes, and the tales of witches buried in the Hollow, or living in the places where the sun almost never shows itself. There are rumors of runaway slaves who got themselves lost in the mountains and had to deal with demons in order to survive. Wellman is a place where families have kept themselves for close to two hundred years, never leaving once they found the places that felt like home to them. What could be better? What could possibly go wrong?

    Read carefully and you’ll learn of love lost, of murder most foul, of people hanged for crimes they did not commit and young lovers who died trying to save each other. Take the time to study this book and you’ll discover where a man buried his own family in the walls, along with their fortune, to keep them all “safe” from invading forces, and you’ll hear the truth about some of the Native American Mounds that even the Etowah are scared to go near. You’ll hear tales of heroism and stories of dark deeds that were never punished. You’ll learn where statues cry bloody tears and find out about the judge that took the law into his own hands and made sure the guilty were punished for crimes they thought they got away with. 

    You’ll discover the road where a little girl wanders when the sun sets, looking for her family dog, and some say running from the man who murdered her and her family alike. You’ll find out why the ghost of Ethan Crane still haunts one of the local churches and if the stories are true, still seeks the man who cut his eyes and heart from his body.

    There are tales of Confederate Soldiers who wander along a dark road with plans to kill the Yankee conspirators who betrayed them, and legends of a battle that replays every hundred days, revealing the locations of where each person died and maybe even showing where treasure is buried if you pay attention to the clues. 

    All this and more await you in The Tourists Guide to Haunted Wellman, a book of stories meticulously studied and verified by the Brennert County Paranormal Society. We know what haunts you. 


    ***

    “Are we really doing this?” Emily Strand looked at the rest of the society members and spoke softly, her voice barely carrying far enough for anyone to hear. 

    Travis Dunlap heard her, of course. Travis would have heard Emily from twice as far away and if she were whispering as softly as she could because every word she said was very nearly holy in his mind. She owned his heart and he would marry her someday if he ever got up the nerve to actually speak to her. 

    Don Washington was the one who answered her question, of course. Don, who was twenty-six and knew more about the supernatural than most of them, was the Vice President of the Brennert County Paranormal Society, and he was the driving force behind the book they’d been writing and the plans they had to make sure that the ghosts were really there. 

    Well, none of them were really writing the book, they had a ghostwriter. Travis snorted when he thought about that. A ghostwriter for a book of ghost stories. Of course, Don didn't think that was funny at all. Don took everything as seriously as a heart attack. 

    “Yes, for the tenth time, we’re doing it, Emily. We have to make sure we’re onto something. The book says we can prove the existence of ghosts just by reciting the right words, at the right time, and in the right place.”

    Don huffed and puffed and sighed. He was not in great shape, really. Okay, he was obese, as in carrying an extra person around his guts and butt. They’d been walking for close to a quarter-mile and most everyone was just fine, but Don was wheezing and red-faced. Okay, the clove cigarettes probably didn’t help very much. 

    “I thought Charon said it was a bad idea.” Emily really did whisper that time. Don rolled his eyes and shook his jowly face. “Charon doesn’t know everything. She’s got a bookstore that sells occult crap and Tarot cards. Everything there is over-priced and a rip-off. Have you seen the stupid books on local ghosts she has? Not even half as much stuff as we’re including in our book.” He hauled his pants back up to his waist as if that were a definitive statement about how foolish Charon was.

    Travis grimaced. No one but Don thought poorly of Charon, and he only thought that way because she’d told him off about all the crazy experiments he wanted to do, like the one tonight. Charon's bookshop, Baba Yaga’s, was over in Gatesville and was probably the best-stocked occult bookstore north of Atlanta. It was the primary reason she didn't have much time to spend with the group anymore.

    Don had the wild idea of “enhancing” the ghostly experience by making the restless dead more restless. He said it was like agitating fireflies: harmless, but effective. To that end he’d used Ouija boards, a dozen different “rituals” he’d found online, and had even hunted down a few books that he said were supposed to “thin the barrier between the living and the land of the dead.”

    So far the only thing that had happened was they got to hang out together and wait, while nothing at all took place. Travis would have minded a lot more, but every time they got together for one of Don’s experiments, he managed to sit as close as he could to Emily. 

    Emily, who was just about as perfect as any girl had ever been. He could count the freckles on her face a million times (there were exactly thirty-seven of them) and never get tired of it. Emily, who was so quiet and shy, even though she had the greatest eyes ever behind her glasses. Emily, who probably didn’t even know his name, even though they went to school together and were in the society together.  Emily, who thought Mark Irvin was about the cutest guy on the planet if you judged the way she always looked at him.

     He'd have hated Mark if the guy wasn't so damned nice. 

    “So that’s a yes.” Emily sighed and wrapped herself in her own arms to ward away the chill. 

    It was cold. Autumn was in the air, the sky was half-buried in clouds, and the wind that blew through the area came from the north and west. There was frost on some of the trees and the grass under their feet crunched in a way it never did during the summer.  

    The First United Methodist Church on Maynard Avenue stood like a shadowed guardian over the area as they moved into the cemetery. The side of the building held hundreds of pumpkins set up for sale, even though the pastor there was not overly fond of Halloween. As they moved past the gate into the graveyard the bell at the church rang out eleven times, the sound so much louder in the night than it seemed when Travis was at home. 

    They passed the subject of one of the entries in the book, a life-size marble statue of a woman in a flowing robe. Travis didn’t know if it was supposed to be the Virgin Mary or what, but local legend said that on full moons people had seen tears of blood in the statue’s eyes, and heard the sounds of a woman weeping. They wound their way through the tombstones, many of those the unmarked graves of fallen Civil War soldiers, until they found the spot they were looking for. 

    Don let out another epic sigh and grunted as he lowered himself to the grass near the headstone of William Avery Harrington. The stone was rather unremarkable, but the dates showed that the old man had died at exactly one hundred years of age, down to the day.  For the next fifteen minutes, all of them sat around while Don looked over the things he’d brought with him and then he directed each of them to a different position as he started carefully making marks on the lawn with a bright white powder and then other marks in charcoal black. 

    It was ten minutes to midnight before he said he was ready. By then Travis had sidled closer to Emily and then slipped back when she moved over to talk to Mark, damn his eyes.

    The mood was solemn and despite his appearance—unkempt on the best of days—Don lowered his voice and spoke clearly as he said the words written out on an old piece of parchment. 

    He finished at exactly midnight, as the bells of the church rang through the night air. The bells sounded wrong to Travis’s ears.

    They sounded angry.


































Sunday, November 15, 2020

A Pre-Release Peek at UNDER A WINTER SKY!


This week at the SFF Seven, we're sharing a snippet from a work in progress. We're supposed to "tease" with one paragraph, but I'm going the extra multiple-paragraph mile. Since UNDER A WINTER SKY releases this week (you can preorder until Thursday for only $5.99, when the price goes up), I'm sharing the first chapter and a hint of the second chapter of my novella, The Long Night of the Crystalline Moon. This story is a prequel to a brand new series I'm starting, Heirs of Magic. Book One is THE GOLDEN GRYPHON AND THE BEAR PRINCE, and will be out in January. It picks up where The Long Night of the Crystalline Moon leaves off. 

You can preorder UNDER A WINTER SKY via the buttons below on follow that link to my website. I'll also be adding the preorder for THE GOLDEN GRYPHON AND THE BEAR PRINCE this week. 

     

 And now, Chapter One and a glimpse of Chapter Two of The Long Night of the Crystalline Moon from UNDER A WINTER SKY!


~ 1 ~

 

Castle Ordnung came into view as the dragon dropped beneath the thick cloud cover. From Rhyian’s perspective on dragonback, the white towers and high walls looked only slightly less white than the snowy landscape. The high queen’s crimson banner flapped furiously on the heights, all the pennants of the subsidiary thirteen kingdoms arranged below. Though it was still afternoon, the thick snowfall dimmed the light to a grim gray, so gloomy the thousands of burning torches lining the parapets shone clearly.

Rhy snorted to himself. So much for mossback’s much-anticipated viewing of the crystalline full moon. With that overcast, no one would even see it. To think that he could be at home in tropical Annfwn, celebrating the Feast of Moranu in the traditional way—on the beach, shapeshifting, dancing, and drinking in the warm night.

But no. His mother had issued a royal command that Rhy absolutely would attend the ball celebrating the quarter-century anniversary of High Queen Ursula’s prosperous reign. Nothing less could’ve forced him to attend. Not that Rhy didn’t love and respect his Auntie Essla. But it seemed likely Salena would also attend. And he’d rather be anywhere than in the same place as Salena.

Not something he could or would confess to anyone. And even the queen’s son must obey royal commands—particularly when his father, the king of Annfwn, did nothing to save him. So there Rhy was, tricked out in the fancy dress outfit his mother had forced him to wear via yet another royal command—the silver-trimmed black velvet making him look like a mossback—plunging into bitter winter, and counting the minutes until the following dawn when he would be free again.

The longest night of the year had a lot of minutes.

Hopefully Salena would just ignore him tonight. It would be a big event in a huge castle. They should be able to avoid each other. After all, they’d managed to avoid each other for seven years since the incident. And she’d been the one to flee Annfwn, clearly to avoid seeing him ever again. He couldn’t imagine she’d want to see him now any more than he wanted to see her.

Zynda landed in the cleared field set aside for the dragons. The cold wind whipped them cruelly as soon as Rhy’s sorceress mother released her magic bubble that had kept them warm on the journey. Zynda waited only long enough for them to scramble down the rope-harness ladder before shifting into an elegant ballgown and furred cape. “Brr,” she declared, joining them. “I always forget how cold it is here in winter.”

“I don’t,” Rhy replied caustically, but subsided when his mother glared at him. They rushed up the cleared walkway, the torches lining it providing some warmth, though the flames whipped and guttered with the wind.

Guards saluted, shouting hails for Queen Andromeda of Annfwn, some giving Zynda’s husband, Marskal, the Hawks’ salute, though he was long since retired from the high queen’s elite guard. Finally, they made it inside the castle, and for once, Rhy appreciated the thick walls. The stone edifices mossbacks favored might be as confining as a cage, but they did cut the brutal winter winds.

It was like stepping into a different world—and a different Ordnung than he’d ever seen before. To honor the goddess Moranu’s rule over shadows and the dark of night, the rugs, table coverings, and other hangings were all in deepest black. They created a somber backdrop for the remaining decorations, which all celebrated the return of light. Silver and gold threads wove through all of the black fabrics, catching the candlelight. Crystal plates and goblets sparkled with fire, everything in silver and gold. White gems of all shapes and sizes studded everything, like thousands of stars, and garlands of evergreen boughs sporting white moonflowers that gleamed like sweetly scented living pearls festooned the walls, windows, mantels, and every other possible surface.

The elaborate crystal candelabras—some suspended by silver wires, others perched in clusters on every surface—held white candles blazing with light. More moonflower garlands dripping with flashing crystals, and possibly diamonds, hung in graceful swoops from the high ceilings.

Scribes sat at black-draped tables scattered throughout the busy reception hall, using flashing crystal implements to take notes for fancily dressed folks speaking earnestly to them. In other places, hammered gold bins held countless rolled scrolls of paper, with empty tables beside them, writing implements at the ready.

Rhy had no idea what that was about, but he had to admit—silently, in the privacy of his own head—that the mossback celebration of Moranu’s feast outstripped the one in Annfwn. Certainly more elaborate. But then, mossbacks always did like things.

“Rhy!” Astar, wearing a fancy velvet getup very like Rhy’s, came striding through the busy hall, his twin sister, Stella, right behind him. His cousin embraced him, thumping him on the back. Stella hung back, giving him her serious smile and a courtly wave. Her sorcery gave her extraordinary healing skills but also made her sensitive to people’s emotions and physical pains. She’d learned a lot about shielding herself from the Sorceress Queen Andromeda, but not touching people helped more than anything. Still, a crowd like this couldn’t be easy for her.

Rhy gave her a gallant bow, then clasped Astar’s forearm. “Happy Feast of Moranu, Willy and Nilly,” he said, using their childhood nicknames, originally assigned by exasperated adults exhausted from chasing rambunctious shapeshifting twin toddlers, and now used gleefully by their friends to annoy them. Surreptitiously scanning the throng, Rhy didn’t see Salena anywhere. Last he’d heard, she’d been off in the Aerron Desert making it rain. Maybe Moranu would look on him favorably—not that She ever did—and Salena hadn’t come tonight.

“I’m so happy you joined us, Rhy!” Stella beamed at him. “We weren’t sure you would, knowing how much you hate to leave Annfwn, especially in winter.” As dark as Astar was light, Stella looked very much like Andromeda, with storm-gray eyes that shone almost silver like her argent ballgown. Her dark hair—the exact same unusual rusty black as Rhy’s mother—was up in a complicated style that shone with red glints where the light hit it.

“I wouldn’t have missed this for the world, my gorgeous cousin,” he replied with his most charming grin.

“Moranu save us all,” Queen Andromeda said in a very dry voice as she joined them. “It’s capable of polite speech. Who knew? Happy Feast of Moranu, niece and nephew, it’s good to see you.”

“It’s wonderful to see you, Auntie Andi,” Stella replied after Astar finished hugging their aunt for the both of them. “Mother and Auntie Essla are getting dressed now. I’m to ask you to join them in Her Majesty’s rooms.”

Queen Andromeda dusted off her leather riding pants unnecessarily. “Ah. Time to confront whatever Glorianna-inspired creation my baby sister intends to dress me in.”

“Auntie Ami is dressing you tonight?” Rhy asked, beyond surprised.

“Yes.” His mother wrinkled her nose at him. “Which is something you’d know if you’d listened to anything I’ve said for the last three days instead of sulking. Ami insisted on designing gowns for the three of us sisters. Essla, too. We’re frankly terrified,” she confided.

Even in his rotten mood, Rhy had to smile at that. As the avatar of Glorianna, goddess of beauty and love, his Aunt Ami embraced all things frivolous. “I’m amazed you agreed.”

His mother grimaced. “We’re all making concessions so this event will be a perfect celebration,” she replied meaningfully.

“I’m here, aren’t I?”

She straightened his collar, smiling wistfully. “I know you hate this,” she said quietly, “but you look very handsome.”

He batted her hands away, but relented and gave her a hug. “Good luck. I’ll pray to Moranu for you that the dress isn’t pink.”

“She wouldn’t do that to me,” his mother replied firmly. “Would she?” She shook her head. “I’ll see you all later.”

Once Andi left them, Astar clapped Rhy on the back. “It’s been too long.” He waggled his blond brows. “And we have a bottle of Branlian whiskey waiting to properly kick off this celebration.”

Rhy whistled in appreciation. “How did you get that?”

“Being heir to the High Throne might be the bane of my existence, but it does have a few perks.” Astar shoved back his golden curls, grinning cheerfully.

“And Jak has promised to bring aged Dasnarian mjed,” Stella added. “He sent a message that Jepp and Kral obtained a few casks of the good stuff, and he’s bringing one.”

“Then we might as well start on the whiskey,” Rhy said, “so we’ll be ready for the mjed. Who else is here so far of the old gang?” There. He’d asked that nonchalantly enough. Please say Salena isn’t coming.

“Jak arrived this morning. Otherwise, only we have joined the party so far that I’ve seen,” Astar replied. “But I’ve had a salon set aside for us to all meet up. Jak is keeping a lookout for the girls to emerge from their primping, and he’ll bring them to join us.” He smiled, every inch the golden prince. “It will be good to have all seven of us together again.”

“Won’t it, though?” Rhy said, scanning the crowd again with increasing dread. All seven of us. So Salena was coming. In fact, it sounded like she was already here. And they were going to be crammed into a tiny room together.

This night would be endless.

~ 2 ~

 

And there he was. Rhyian. Like night made into flesh, Moranu’s loving hand all over him, crowning him her Prince of Shadows. Salena couldn’t look away.

Amid the glittering crowd, laughing with Astar and Stella, Rhyian stood tall and languid, black hair in glossy disarray as if he’d just crawled out of some girl’s bed. Probably had. He wore silver-trimmed black velvet, perfectly tailored. And, even slouching with indolent grace, hands stuck carelessly in his pockets, he dominated the room with dark radiance. Astar, ever the golden prince, dimmed in comparison as he gestured widely, saying something with a wide and happy smile. Rhyian nodded, clearly not paying much attention as he scanned the crowd. Looking for his next conquest, no doubt.

Don’t be bitter, she reminded herself. After all this time, she couldn’t possibly care what he did.