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Category Archives: Novel Excerpts

Gotta Be Starting Something

My writing career starts today.

Each year for the past three years, I’ve chosen a single word to describe the next step in the 20 year writing plan I came up with in 2007.

In 2007, although I wrote my first novel, I was on sabatical, separating myself from my prior life with its focus on things that had nothing to do with writing.

Then in 2008 and 2009, I backslid. In integrating myself once more into a daily routine, I fell back into old habits, putting too much of my energy into self-help blogging and coaching.

In 2010, I got wise. I decided that the word professional would guide me through the year. And it worked. I focused on my writing, improved my skills and most importantly cut away anything that wouldn’t help me fulfill my writing plans. Yes, I did get a day job, but it was one that I could leave at work, plus my bosses have told me a million times that my job is my job, but it should never get in the way of my writing.

In 2011, I chose consistent as my watchword. Without consistency, a writer is nothing. The only way to build up an income is by producing new work, continually. So I learned to write regulary, even when my muse didn’t feel like it or when life tried to interfere. In that year, I discovered that I need lots of time away from my writing or I resent it. Because of that year of focus on that one aspect of my writing, I’ve developed a pattern of writing that produces lots of words and yet gives me plenty of time off to enjoy time with my husband, my friends and with myself.

My word for 2012 was preparation. It wasn’t an easy year and I wrote very little, but that wasn’t my focus, so it was okay. My preparation included becoming debt-free so that I can save to indie-publish without going into further debt. I balanced my need and desire to write with the other parts of my life. And I read, a lot. I used to run my own business back in my other life and so spent 2012 learning how to apply the principles of running a small business to being a writer in the new publishing paradigm.

The year my word is an active one – the verb start. In 2013, I will publish a short story each month (including a few in Spanish), and one short story collection. I will also prepare two novels for publishing in 2014 and build up the queue of short stories for 2014. I don’t expect instant success, or any success at all. In fact, I expect to fail, over and over. This year is only the beginning. No one can expect to achieve everything at the beginning. Success is something that’ll come in the future.

This year I only need to worry about taking the first steps on the journey to success. I know where I’m headed, but my focus needs to be on the road in front of me, choosing the smoothest, clearest path possible.

And why does that journey start today?

Because today, my first short story of the year is available – in English and Spanish.

They are available in print and electronically at all the usual puchase points:

Bait (ebook):
Amazon: US & India; UK; Germany; Spain
Kobo
Smashwords

Bait (print):
Amazon: US & India; UK; Germany; Spain

El Cebo (ebook):
Amazon: US & India; UK; Germany; Spain

El Cebo (print):
Amazon: US & India; UK; Germany; Spain

And to whet your appetite, here’s the intro to the English version. Enjoy!

It took less than a day for Daniel to fall in love with the city of San Sebastian, and by the end of the third day he never wanted to leave. How his mother had been able to trade this jewel on the sea for dirty, damp northern England, he had no idea. Nor could he figure out why she’d never brought him here for a visit. No matter, though. He was here now and not going anywhere any time soon.

He stretched his arms above his head and sat up, marveling at the view spread out around him. From his towel, he could take in everything beautiful about the city in one sweeping glance, from the rich houses that crept up the side of Mount Igeldo off to the left, to the island Santa Clara in the middle of the bay, which when lit up at night looked like a railroad model, to the Old Part scrunched up against Mount Urgull protected from the worst of the winter storms.

Of course, the selection of mostly naked tanned people enjoying the late September sun also made the view more enjoyable. His own Yorkshire pale skin had just begun to get a hint of the color his mother’s genes had bestowed upon him. With luck, he could rid himself of his near-death pallor before winter settled in.

His eyes settled on a topless old woman whose skin had turned to leather from far too many years of lying on the beach and suppressed a shudder. Mental note: too much sun was a bad thing. The image wasn’t helped by the fact that she’d pushed her deflated breasts to either side as she leaned back in her chair. Did she move them around so as not to leave tan lines? He looked up and realized that she’d caught him staring. Blushing, he looked over at her companion, another old lady who sat fully dressed under a large parasol, her stern gaze on a book that she held out at arm’s length. Daniel smiled. His father had done that until giving in and getting reading glasses.

“It’s my favorite view as well,” the leathery woman said in a British accent that rivaled the Queen for formality.

Daniel’s eyebrows rose in surprise. What were they? A pair of eccentric duchesses taking their holidays here? Set the stern one on the beach a century ago and she would have fit in perfectly.

“Do you come to the city often?” he asked and made an effort to keep his eyes off the leathery woman’s divided cleavage.

She laughed and slapped her companion’s leg. The stern woman responded by turning the page of her book.

“He wants to know if we come to the city often, Rowena.”

The reading woman grunted.

“Young man,” the leathery woman continued, “we came once a long time ago and never left. The city enchanted us. Just like it has you.”

“Never leave? I’m only booked into my hostel for a week.”

Never mind that he’d already decided that he would do whatever necessary to stay. These women didn’t need to know that.

Rowena lowered her book to give Daniel a thorough inspection. He wanted to blush again and look away, but her gaze captured him and wouldn’t let him go. After an eternity, she released him.

“Philomona is correct. You are a part of this city now. It will not give you up easily.”

The surety in her voice gave him the chills despite the heat of the sun and sand.

“How old are you?” Philomona asked out of the blue.

“Twenty-one,” Daniel said, then bit his tongue. What business was it of theirs?

“No girlfriend with you or back home waiting for you?”

This time he did manage to refrain from answering. They were getting too personal.
Philomona laughed.

“You must excuse an old woman’s curiosity. We sometimes forget we are no longer as young as we once were.”

She’d been trying to flirt with him? It took all his control to keep his jaw from falling open. They had to be at least a hundred years old, if not more. Beginning to feel a bit creeped out, he pushed himself to his feet.

“Time to cool off a bit.” He jerked his head in the direction of the water.

“Enjoy,” Philomona said.

He nodded and wandered down to the edge of the waves. As he walked away, he thought he heard Rowena say something along the lines of him being a perfect mix, but he dismissed it as his imagination. A mix of what? And perfect for what? He swam out to one of the rafts that floated in the middle of the bay, and after diving off of it a few times, swam back to the beach. The old women were gone by the time he got there, so he lay down for a nap and a bit more tanning before the sun dropped down behind the mountains off to the west.

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Another First Draft Done!

Yes folks, despite my hatred of endings I managed to get the final scene in my latest novel written. And so to celebrate, I thought I’d give you the opening.

Enjoy!

Emily never thought her life would end this way, but at least the setting suited. The Exit Center’s only windows faced out onto the ruins of the train station, its burnt out shell a reminder to people of the inherent dangers in traveling. The tracks had long since been torn up for their metal and the flat smooth carriageway had become the new road. The celebration of the new fast form of travel had only lasted long enough for the first viruses to cross the country in a day and decimate three towns. The Highest Masters had ordered the destruction of all railways immediately.

And now they were ordering her destruction. Through no fault of her own.

While she waited for the end to come, she couldn’t even distract herself. The room was bare except for the usual health warnings that covered the walls. Wash regularly, avoid strangers, use a mask when encounters were unavoidable. The accompanying images showed the consequences of ignoring the warnings and emphasized the importance of following them to the letter. As if anyone needed the words or images. It was like giving people instructions on how to walk or talk.
For the past eight years, Emily had walked and talked Potions, working towards becoming a Master and render the warning signs irrelevant, or at least less necessary. Yet in the end she didn’t have enough of the Touch. She was no Potions Master and now they were going to destroy her for it.

Nicky, her mentor — and she’d thought friend — entered the room, the small vial containing the end of Emily’s life held in her stubby fingers of one hand. The liquid within gave off a slight glow, something Emily’s potions lacked, and would always lack no matter how much she tried. In her other hand, she held a small vase of roses, six soft peach colored single stem roses. Emily wasn’t a fan of the pale petals, but she did have to admit that they looked really soft and comforting. Which was not what she wanted or needed from anyone, especially not from Nicky.

“You’re wallowing, aren’t you?” Nicky asked, as if Emily was pouting about not getting dessert with dinner.

She put the vase on the bedside table. The bed where Emily would lie down and die later.

“Wouldn’t you be?” she asked.

“No, I wouldn’t. But that’s the difference between us.”

“You mean, that’s why I’m here waiting for you to take my life from me. You’re a positive person, all full of life and healing. Anyone can see it in your Potions, even the ones that take things away like the one in your hand now. And then there’s me, bringing this all on myself with for my negative attitude. I’ve heard it all before Nicky. I just didn’t think I’d hear it from you.”

She turned away so that Nicky couldn’t see tears of anger, frustration and disappointment cloud her eyes. The view outside the window blurred and she breathed deeply, forcing the tears to dry up by sheer strength of will. They wouldn’t see her beg or break down.

“Your life isn’t over, Em. You could stay, you know.”

Emily snorted. As if. A mere technician, relegated to living in the no-man zone at the border of a town and managing transfers and quarantines. That wasn’t what she wanted. She hadn’t spent the last eight years of her life studying harder than anyone to end up a drone. No, she’d made her choice. She’d stick with it. Besides, they would still take her Touch away from her. Why continue working for them?

“I hate that I have to do this to you,” Nicky added.

“Don’t feed me plague spores, Nic.” She spoke to the train station, unable to look at the pity that lurked under Nicky’s nuetral facade. “You’re one of the chosen ones. Your life is a guaranteed luxury. Don’t make it seem like you’re anything but thrilled with your life. I’d be if I were you. A Master of Masters, on your way to becoming one of the Highest Masters one day. Don’t try to convince me otherwise. I won’t believe you.”

“Would you rather someone else do this, Emily?”

Emily shook her head, still staring out the window.

“What are you waiting for? Just give me the potion already and let’s get it over with.”

“Not yet. They want to speak with you first.”

Of course they did. One more attempt to try to convince her to stay. They’d been after her since her final exam potion had failed.

“Fine. Whatever.”

Her gaze returned to the window. They weren’t going to succeed. She’d made up her mind. She’d drink Nicky’s Potion and it’d be over. Nearly half her life gone in a flash. And all of her meager Touch.

She heard the click of the door as Nicky left then a moment later it opened again. The sound of several pairs of feet striding into the room told her the High Master had entered with his acolytes. She resisted the urge to turn around and bow. That was for students and other Potions Masters. She was neither.

A group of horses appeared on the horizon, moving towards the city and the blank wall of the Admittance Center across the square with its single door and inward facing windows where they’d be quarantined for a week before being allowed to enter the city. Perhaps they were new initiates, children with a hint of the Touch, ready to throw away their lives for the greater good. Of course only a fraction of them would become Potions Masters. The rest would be like her, thrown away useless.

 
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Posted by on January 17, 2013 in Am Writing, Novel Excerpts

 

Teenage Angst: Excerpt from Decay’s Hope

My sinus infection has me on an emotional roller coaster this week, so I thought I’d send you all on another with an unedited draft excerpt from my current work-in-progress: Decay’s Hope, the second book in a series about a group of teens who, by trying to assert their independence, destroy a centuries’ old way of life.

*****

With a huge sigh, Hannah gave in and started climbing the stairs to Julian’s tower. What was she going to say to him when she saw him? What could she say? That she hated him for choosing William over her? For being a freak and liking boys? For not being her rescuer? She had piled many of her hopes onto Julian. It wasn’t his fault that he unknowingly failed her, but still she couldn’t help blame him. To distract herself as she climbed, she checked the results of Julian’s work with the walls and marveled at the workmanship. She hadn’t been by the tower since Julian had finished and she understood why he was working on the main gates. If he could do this to them and fool the Matriarchs into thinking he did it without magic, it would be the first step in making the whole Citadel livable again. Not that she wanted to be around for that, of course.

Far too soon, she reached the top of the stairs where she loitered, building up the courage. No, it wasn’t courage. She was trying to calm down a burning rage inside her chest. He had no right to ruin her life so. Feeling stronger, she raised her hand and rapped on it hard, making sure she use the side of her hand rather than her knuckles. Robin opened the door while she was still knocking and she almost punched him in the face accidentally. He didn’t so much as a twitch an eyebrow. Impressive.

“So, you’re doing it,” he said in a low voice.

“Whatever necessary.”

He smiled. “Whatever necessary,” he repeated at her breasts.

“Eyes up,” she snapped, not in the mood to flirt. “Is he here?”

Robin bowed and swung the door open. She didn’t see Julian, but the lump of blankets on the bed was large enough to be hiding a body.

“Would you like to be alone?”

“Yes, please.”

Robin nodded and slipped out without announcing her. She stopped into the room with extreme care. If it had been anyone else other than Julian, she would have suspected his absorption and looked for traps, but Julian would never kill her, so she ventured inside.

“Julian?”

“Mmrphhh,” came back at her from the direction of the bed. Why did boys have to sulk in their beds so much? William used to do that all the time.

“Julian? It’s Hannah.”

The bedclothes heaved and a rumple-headed Julian emerged, bare from the waist up. Hannah’s heart leapt into her throat. She couldn’t have this conversation if he was looking like this. Julian half-naked, half-asleep in a messy bed was enough to make her want to give up her vow to not have children. She turned her back on him.

“Please, could you make yourself more presentable?”

“Wha? Oh, right.”

She heard shuffling sounds behind her then at his signal she turned around. He had moved to the settee on the far wall and was wearing a flowing summery shirt of definite foreign fashion. Much better, although how he wasn’t cold in the loose shirt, she had no idea.

“Will you sit?” he asked, all formal and unsure of himself.

Hannah almost smiled. She was always at her best when others were unsure of themselves.

“No, thank you. I want to know what’s going on.”

“So do I,” he countered. “We were best friends and then suddenly you hear a few rumors and wham, you abandon me when I most need a friend.”

“It’s only a friend you need though, isn’t it? At least from me.” She gave him the opportunity to tell her his secrets.

“What are you talking about?” Of course, he didn’t. Why would he, especially after she’d attacked him so clearly?

Hannah crossed to the window and stared out at the city below. If she could do magic, would she be able to jump down there and run away without anyone knowing where she had gone?

“Why haven’t you started teaching me magic yet?”

“Is that what it’s about? You want to know magic? I don’t know what else to do! Plus we’re get into huge trouble if we were caught, like instant death worthy trouble.”

“Would you teach him magic if he asked you?”

“Who him?”

Hannah glared unwilling to say William’s name. Julian knew exactly who she meant but he was playing dumb. The way his face went red also told her that he was already teaching William magic. How dare they! No, she pulled back on the anger. She was here to apologize and clear the air. But how could she forgive him when he was lying to her? But then again she hadn’t told him the truth yet either.

“I saw what happened up on the wall, Julian,” she said. “Everything.”

“Saw what?”

The room fell silent until Julian relented.

“I didn’t kiss him, honestly. I attacked him.”

“Don’t lie, Julian. I was there.”

He crumbled on the settee.

“I hate this. At home, I wouldn’t have to hide it.”

“Julian, you know you’ve fallen in love with a monster, don’t you? Remember, I grew up with him. I know what he’s done.”

“But what if it’s only because he didn’t know any better? Everyone here in this crazy house is twisted. Yes, even you. The only time I’ve seen you express emotions for a death was with Victor. Every morning people accept the latest deaths without pausing in their conversations except to wonder how it happened and who did it.” He stood and crossed the floor to stand in front of her. His skin was flushed and he obviously believed what he was saying. “What if, in a different situation, he was a different person? What if I could take him away?”

That was the confirmation Hannah needed. Julian had never had any plans to take her with him, just William in some love-dazed hope that the assassin would stop killing for pleasure.

“What about me?” she asked in a small voice. She flinched inside because she recognized what she was doing. She was manipulating Julian to get what she wanted. It was what she did. Boys killed and girls manipulated. It was what she had to do to survive. Whatever necessary. “What would I be like out of this place?”

“A Queen someday. You would have princes fighting over you for your hand in marriage. Or whatever you want to be. My parents chose to be traders instead of staying at the Hirkanian courts. Outside of the Citadel, you could be whatever you want. Come with us, when we go.”

“A happy little family?”

“Well, no. As three friends, escaping their horrible lives.”

Julian was delusional on several fronts. First he thought that William wasn’t a monster, he also believed that he could convince William and her to get along, and last but not least, he assumed that they would be able to get out of here. But he wasn’t going anywhere and that was the worse part. He still thought he was going home.

“You won’t tell anyone, will you?”

“Why would I want to tell anyone that my ex-husband is in love with another boy?”

“Do you hate me?” Tears welled in his eyes.

He really was a sweet boy. So open with his emotions. She couldn’t hate him. Pity him, yes. Wish that he liked her instead, of course. But hate him? No. She shook her head and opened up her arms. He swept into them and buried his face in her neck.

“I need you as a friend, Hannah. You’re too much fun to have as an enemy.”

She had no answer for him so made do with the pats on his back as he cried, releasing all the tension he was feeling.

“Julian, if we’re being honest with each other, I have something to tell you. You’re not going to like it, but you have to know.”

She had come up here with a plan to reconcile without caring, to go through the motions in order to get one step closer to her goals, but she hadn’t counted on the fact that under her anger, she actually liked Julian. He was fun, rebellious and, along with Winnifred and Andrea, made living with the rest of the Family bearable.

“I think you should sit down.” She led him back to the sofa. “Know how you’ve never gotten any letters from home?”
“Because they get blocked here. The Matriarchs have cut me off from my family.” He sniffled, self-pity threatening to bring more tears.

“You’ve been cut off, but not from this end exactly.”

He snapped up straight and his face went hard. She could almost see the tears on his cheeks retreat back into his eyes.

“Did your mother ever say how she got away from the Citadel?”

“My mother never told me anything about the Citadel or the Family until the day before I got sent here.”

“How did she get away from here if no one normally does?” She couldn’t come right out and say that his mother had sold him in exchange for her own freedom. She had to let him figure it out for himself. It might hurt less that way. Or at least, that’s what Hannah assumed. For her part, she could almost count the few memories she had of talking to her own mother.

“They let her go for some reason. Maybe she wasn’t important.”

“Her father and brother were both kings at some point. Her mother is a powerful Matriarch. Her children, you, were much too valuable for them to let her go.”

“What are you getting at, Hannah?”

Why was it so difficult to say? A day ago, she would have enjoyed stabbing him with this betrayal and twisting the knife into his belly. But his willingness to cry in front of her, to ask her for forgiveness softened her.

“She was offered a deal and she took it.”

“Get out.” Julian’s voice turned as cold as the Citadel’s stones in the depth of winter.

“Julian, I-”

“This is you punishing me, isn’t it? I stole your husband from you. I turned down your advances. And now you try to tell me that my mother sold me back to her murderous Family so that she could be free.” He stood. “People have warned me that you make a terrible enemy, but I didn’t think you would ever do this to me. I never purposefully hurt you. I can’t choose where my heart decides to lead me. I’m sorry.”

He climbed back into bed and pulled the blankets over his head. Hannah side and moved to by his side. She ran a hand over the lump that looked like a shoulder.

“No, Julian. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have been angry with you.” Whoever said the truth made everything better was an idiot. Whe’d made them ten times worse. “It’s like you said. This family twists people.”

“Get out,” he repeated, the words muffled by the layers of blanket.

Cursing herself, Julian, William and even Robin for suggesting she make up with Julian, she left, but the blame couldn’t be placed on any of them. There was only one real villain. The Family. And if she had anything to say about it, before she left she’d see it destroyed. And she would use Agnes’ offer as a means to do just that.

 
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Posted by on July 5, 2011 in Novel Excerpts, Online Fiction

 

Venomous Workplace: The Opening of Kitchen Ambitions

The following is an excerpt from the short story Kitchen Ambitions, which is set in the same world as my current project, Decay’s Trap. If you like what you see, you can get yourself a copy of it for 99 cents from Amazon, Smashwords, or XinXii.

And if you don’t have an e-reader, don’t worry about it, Amazon has an app for the iPhone,or PC, Smashwords offers a variety of formats to downloand and to read the XinXii epub version, Adobe offers a computer-based e-reader as well. And all these readers are free!

*****

As Evelyn walked to her corner of the vast underground kitchens of the Citadel she did her best to ignore the taunts of “How noble she looks!” and “One of the Family for sure!” following her. But then someone with a highly polished boning knife in his hand stepped in front of her.

“Look who it is, the Salad Girl.”

Anton. He had never been able to resist a moment of harrassing her, especially after that mistake of a night she’d made in a moment of weakness back when they were both apprentices.

She looked him directly in the eye. He had grown up and out in the time she had been away. It was almost too bad they hated each other.

“Still polishing other people’s knives are you?” She angled her head to give the impression she was looking down on him like she always had.

While he stared at her with eyes full of arrogance, the knife flew out of his hands and neatly boned a whole chicken in seconds. The contempt in his expression made his face curl up like the discarded skin of the boneless chicken on the butcher block beside him.

“Head Poultry Chef now, Evelyn,” he announced, like cooking mere poultry was anything to be proud of. He held up his hand and the knife jumped from the butcher block into his grasp.

Without moving a muscle Evelyn cleared all evidence of chicken, depositing in the scraps bin as was proper procedure.

“The girl can do magic after all,” someone behind Anton said. “And here we thought she was a member of the Family come down to show us how to live the genteel life.”

“If you don’t let me pass, I will take that knife and skin you as fast as you skinned that chicken.”

Anton said nothing but someone else yelled, “She’s been working salads so long she’s forgotten that magic doesn’t work on living things.”

Evelyn resisted the urge to laugh. She was a Master in the Art of Saladry and knew more about magic by not using it than any person in the kitchen who used it on a daily basis!

She didn’t answer and Anton finally stepped aside, his eyes averted down at his feet.

“Idiot,” Evelyn muttered under her breath.

After that everyone else let her finish the walk to the back of the kitchens where the salads were prepared.

There was no natural lighting in her corner, but the abundant witchlamps hanging from the ceiling provided more than enough light to work. The space was a full mini-kitchen with its own bakery, butchery and ovens, as she’d expected. The Family she served might be a bunch of insane assassins, but they did at least understand the Art of Saladry.

She felt her molars unclenching. She wouldn’t allow herself to get fired on her first day as Head Salad Chef for rising to a few taunts. Who cared what a bunch of ignorant cooks thought of her?

It’s all about the salads and the experience, she reminded herself. Ignore them.

Six months here or at most a year then a triumphant return to the coast, where the sun actually shone for more than ten minutes a day. And where other cooks respected the purity of Saladry. Only the fact that the magic-disdaining Family had one of the few fully stocked mundane kitchens in the five surrounding countries had been enough incentive to draw Evelyn back to the home she had abandoned the first chance she had gotten.

The last chef had obviously not cared about purity, however. Evelyn could see signs of magic use as she approached her station. Several of her underlings were removing dirt from the lettuce with their minds instead of with water and the bowl of croutons freshly delivered from the other side of the kitchen had obviously been baked in the kitchen’s main ovens.

She approached the person nearest her, a woman deeply focused on taking the rind off of a watermelon in slow curved slices.

“Watermelon’s out of season,” Evelyn said by way of greeting.

The woman flinched but the knife didn’t make a wrong move. She finished the slice then lay the knife down.

“It comes from the Greenhouse, Chef.”

The Greenhouse. Evelyn’s favorite place in the Citadel, in all of Turliena actually. When she’d first been apprenticed to saladry, the Chief Salad Chef had been very strict about the Greenhouse. And from her most recent visit to the Greenhouse she had discovered a team of gardeners headed by a man as passionate about Saladry as she was. At least she wouldn’t have to worry about fresh produce.

“Is that so?” she said leaning forward to examine the watermelon closely.

“I grew it myself,” the underling said. “From seeds of a melon from Lories.”

Evelyn smiled. Lories was the city in Niperta where the Art of Saladry had been born. This melon would be pure.

“Your name?”

“Anastasia.”

“Well Anastasia, congratulations. You’re my new second in command.” She turned to the rest of her crew. “This woman is serious about Saladry. If you want to cook with magic, you are more than welcome to move to another area of the kitchen.” No one left. Good.

After talking briefly with all her staff, Evelyn left and let the morning shift leave as well. Anastasia stayed to show the newest chef how to knead dough properly with his fingers. He looked a bit dismayed and Evelyn bit down on a laugh. No point in antagonizing him.

Anton wasn’t at his station on her way out and so Evelyn managed to make a quiet exit.

 
 

Pissing Off the Relatives: Opening of Decay’s Trap

The following is the opening to my current work in progress, Decay’s Trap, the first in a probably four-part YA fantasy series. This first book should be published in electronic format before the end of the year.

*****

Julian scowled at the moldering semi-ruin of what had once been the grandest castle gate on the continent. Ivy obscured the stones and had worked its way through the mortar pulling down whole chunks of masonry. Not the best first impression, but his expectations had been falling rapidly ever since crossing the border, so why should things be any better in the center of the country?

On the other side of the open gate he could see Matriarchs pecking their way around the moss-covered cobblestones, made dangerously slippery by the almost incessant rain that fell over the mountain. Wearing nearly identical layers of black moth-eaten wool, this black brood of women supported their bent bodies with identical canes as they came together and broke apart like decrepit hens chasing after breadcrumbs. His grandmother would be part of that gaggle of crones, a woman he had never met who had dragged him away from sun, warmth and comfort. As he crossed the threshhold the noise doubled in volume as several Matriarchs gasped out loud, while the rest started clucking at each other in indignation and disbelief.

“He’s a brown as a roasted chicken!”

“All the sooner devored!”

Then suddenly they dispersed, wandering about the courtyard as if it was customary to spend their morning in damp exercise. It was, over all, a rather a pathetic attempt to make him think they didn’t care about him. Three old crones, however, stayed within earshot, most likely on purpose, given that they were talking about him.

“He’s such an ugly young man.”

“Look at that hair. So short and unmanly.”

“And so blond. What has the sun in that dreadful country of his done to it? It’s as bleached as a bone in a desert.”

“Whatever it looks like, it’s hideous,” said the second one. “Maybe he could wear a wig. I know a good shop in town.”

“I don’t know,” mused the first one. “He’s a much more visible target as he is, don’t you think?”

They all laughed.

Something on the other side of the courtyard distracted Julian from the conversation. The mingling Matriarchs had all paused in their movements and gossip to watch another Matriarch stride towards him. Unlike the rest of them, she used no cane, kept her back straight and her head high. She appeared to conform to fashion with her rotten-appearing clothes but everything else about her exuded strength and vitality. Was this his grandmother? If so, no wonder his mother hadn’t argued against the summons. Only the strongest could fight such arrogance.

And he would find out soon enough just how strong he was.

“You’re late, boy.” As first words, they could have been worse, but they were meant to dominate him. “You were supposed to be here an hour ago. You’ve kept all your relatives waiting in the rain.” She gestured to the other Matriarchs who joined in the game and scowled at him.

“What? You didn’t think of waiting inside?” he responded, refusing to be controlled. “Or maybe even using, I don’t know, a little magic to stay dry? Oh no, that’s right, you don’t use magic here.”

 
 

Justice Must Be Achieved: The Opening of Undoing Alice

The following is the opening scene to my novel Undoing Alice whose scheduled publication date is fall 2011. Enjoy!

*****

Dear diary, is it possible to hate someone you’ve never met? If so, then not only do I hate that person, I quite honestly loathe her from the tips of my satin slippers to the ends of my paper-curled hair.

“Who?” you ask. Who could I despise so intensely? Who do you think?

Alice, of course. Queen Alice.

The want-to-be queen. The intruder who stole my crown and my life. The pretender-pawn who did what I should have grown up to do. The one everyone else adores.

Now, I know what you’re going to say. I’m Princess Lily, daughter of the White Queen, the luckiest girl in Looking Glass World, every need and luxury provided by my doting mother. But I call it a terror. No one sees me as an adult ready to embark upon life’s grand adventure. How could they when even my own mother still perceives me as an infant, needing the constant care of Nanny Rook with her polop of borogroves and curling of momraths?

But I have a secret that I will share with only you, my diary. Today I slipped into the Throne Room while the Chorus was busy singing Alice’s midday praises and Nanny was coaxing the momraths out of their latest outgribing attack and I stole Queen Alice’s crown.

It should have been my crown, so I feel no guilt in having liberated it from its perch above Alice’s venerated empty throne.

Before anyone realizes that the crown has disappeared, I shall use it to fly away, as fast as my mother moves across our checkered world. But this journey will not be solely for exploration and the development of a much-needed liberation of spirit. I have a plan. I shall finish the game, topple the Red King and free Looking Glass World from the influence of the human child.

I shall wipe the chessboard clean and start again, this time taking my rightful place as my mother’s pawn, rewinning the crown by my own hand and occupying the throne that Alice so carelessly claimed then abandoned on a whim.

“And just how shall I accomplish this?” you ask. I shall tell you, but only you diary because you guard all my secrets so well and have never divulged a single one of them, not even the time I plucked Nanny’s tail feathers while she slept and tried to fly out the bedroom window. Only you learned of the bruises I suffered after sneaking back into bed, biting down on my sobs lest Nanny or the Chorus hear me.

This is my plan, my dearest confidant. I shall wake the Red King from his sleep, making Alice disappear, to be forgotten as quickly as any dream disappears upon waking. And for once and for all, I shall end the nightmare in which I live.

 
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Posted by on April 12, 2011 in AtoZ Challenge, Novel Excerpts, Online Fiction

 

Don’t Leave Me Alone: A Novel Excerpt

The following is the opening to my second novel The Other Half, to be electronically publish this summer.

*****
Mercaj clung to the rock pillar watching the tide lap at his feet and decided he had chosen the wrong place to wait. With high tide reaching its peak he would soon run out of pillar and be left swimming against the tide between submerged columns that conspired with the waves to kill him. He looked around him. Could he could get to the next highest one without hurting himself? Not likely. The moon didn’t offer enough light to see well and he would likely smash himself against a pillar rather than climbing one. And he didn’t feel like dying, not tonight, not on his Vigil where he was so close to meeting his other half. Tonight would decide whether he would go into the sea forever or bring his other half out of the waves where they would go sail the world together.

Either way he would get off the island and make the Headman and Headwoman happy.

Not that their happiness meant anything to him, of course.

On an island like Lesser Tanuj you did what the Headpair told you or you left. Shells! Just look at the way they all treated him. The Headpair hated him so everyone else did and that was that. Even his own parents did their best to ignore him.
They hadn’t even wished him good luck before he left on the Vigil. It could have been the last time they ever saw him and they hadn’t shifted themselves from behind the pile of work the Headpair had given them. He hadn’t expected anything different from them, but it still hurt. The accounts they worked on day and night held much more interest for them than their only child who couldn’t seem to find a place for himself on the island. Perhaps if he had spoken to them in numbers instead of words they might have understood him, or even wished him well. Then again they probably hadn’t remembered that he turned sixteen tonight.

Tronae’s parents had of course remembered their daughter’s birthday. They had come down to the beach to kiss Mercaj’s best and only friend goodbye, both of them with tears in their eyes. She let them blubber for a bit then pushed them off laughing.

“Enough with the crying,” Tronae had said. “I’m coming back. There’s no way I’m going to sacrifice myself to the Sea. I’m going to live on top of the waves, not under them.”

Mercaj envied his friend’s confidence. He felt no such assurance. The Headpair was also there to wish Tronae luck. They didn’t much like her rebellious attitude, but given that Tronae planned to become a trader just like Mercaj, they were at least polite to her. Not so with Mercaj who, for a reason he had never understood, they had always wanted dead.

“May the Sea swallow you whole,” the Headwoman hissed at him on her way back up to the village.

“Finally, we’ll be rid of the abomination of your existence,” the Headman added.

The latest in a lifetime of insults and maltreatment, he paid their comments as little attention as ever. He wouldn’t focus on anything negative on his last night of childhood.

“Ignore the stupid squids,” Tronae told him after they had left. “As soon as the night’s over we’ll get married and within no time at all we’ll be off this island forever. The four of us circling the whole world. I doubt the Headpair have ever been farther than Council meetings on Greater Tanuj. I feel sorry for them, really.”

Mercaj laughed. Tronae was so vibrant, so sure of everything. He wondered sometimes why she was even friends with him, he was so opposite, sure of nothing ever. The only things they had in common were their birthdays and their desire to get off the island. Tronae because one island would always be too small for her, Mercaj because he had no other option. They had spent their childhood down in the port, harassing whichever trader was around to teach them about boat building and trading. They shared everything and had helped each other build the two boats that would take them to their new lives.

“Now, go away,” she said, not willing to share this one thing with him. “I’m going to strip down and get into the water. Don’t forget to put your clothes somewhere dry. And stay away from the south end of the beach. That’s my territory.”

She undid the fabric wrapped around her wrist and tied her long black hair in a knot. Mercaj hoped his other half didn’t have straight hair like Tronae’s or like his own. He did, however, hope that she had Tronae’s dark coloring. His own skin was too much like the sand on the beach, too pale to be beautiful.

“And smile!” Tronae added pulling at his ear like she always did when his thoughts had taken him somewhere. “It’s not the end of the world, you know. It’s the beginning our of lives!”

 
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Posted by on April 5, 2011 in AtoZ Challenge, Novel Excerpts, Online Fiction