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Clarion Write-a-Thon

The Best Little Writing Workshop in ANYWHERE

Ok. So. What do Octavia Butler, Kelly Link, Kim Stanley Robinson, Ted Chiang, and Glen Cook have in common? Well, they’re all great speculative fiction writers, and they all went to Clarion. So did a ton of other writers you’ve probably read and enjoyed. Every summer since 1968, a handful of aspiring science fiction and fantasy writers come to Clarion to learn the tools they need to achieve their dreams.

Those of you who’ve known me for a long time know how much Clarion means to me. So this year, I’ve decided to participate in fundraising for Clarion via their Write-a-Thon. During the next six weeks (June 24 to August 4), I will be following the adventures of this year’s participants, and writing along with them.

New Project Ahoy!

My epic fantasy novel THE AFFLICTED is out on submission right now. I may hook an agent with it, I may not. The crucial thing for me to do at this point is to keep moving forward with new work. So, I have a rough outline and two chapters of a new novel, and my goal for the Write-a-Thon is to crank out 30k more words on it.

The novel, tentatively titled MY DEAR WATSON, is a science-fantasy, set on an alien planet settled by folk who longed for simpler times. In the early years of the colony, most of the great works of technology and art were purposefully destroyed by zealots. Of literature, only four books survived; the Bible, Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty, the collected works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and a book on Buddhism, making, hundreds of years later, for an odd culture indeed. So that was the setup; here comes the pitch:

Young Merre Noone must find an apprenticeship; without a place in the world, it is only a matter of time before the dragons eat him, payment for the services they render the city.

Merre’s not picky; any job will do as long as it gets him off the street. But when he wins a lottery to become the new Watson — the investigative assistant to the king’s magician — Merre thinks it might be better if he just jumped down the nearest dragon’s gullet. Everyone knows the Watsons never live out the year of their indenture.

Despite his fears, Merre finds himself fascinated by his new master, the prickly, brilliant, cross-dressing Zel. Zel hates the dragons and their flesh price, but without them the city will be overrun by demons who will massacre all. Though demons are senseless, vicious, apex predators, Zel is convinced there is an underlying motivation behind their attacks.

The trail leads Zel and Merre from a gentlewoman’s parlor to the basement of a brothel, from the palace’s treasure-vault to a penal colony on a remote island. Together they uncover a horror beyond anything they dreamed; one that will topple the city they love. Still, there is no other choice; they must reveal the truth.

If they are not silenced first.

I hope you’ll help out by visiting my profile on the Write-a-Thon Website and sponsoring me. Every contribution will help motivate me to reach my goal, while also helping out future writers. Is there anything more badass than being a patron of the arts? Nope, nothing. Nevertheless, allow me to sweeten the deal: donate $25 or more and I’ll create a character in your honor! I’ll be updating both this blog and my author profile with excerpts so you can watch the weirdness unfold, and donors are welcome to beta-read the finished product, if they wish.

Clarion  exists through donations from people who love science fiction and fantasy, people like you and me. Please, help out! Every penny counts.

The Seven

Today’s 500 club prompt was a bit tricky, I think, so I decided to dust off the old blog and take a crack at it. If you want to play too, you can here.

The Seven

The leaves fell with every breeze, fluttering down in red and gold showers, oak, ash, and elm. They made me think of the parades I’d seen in the newsreels, the fluttering storms of tickertape raining down onto the heads of the victorious. But that was them, and this was us.

My scabbard hung naked at my side, empty and purposeless. It slapped my leg as I rode. They’d let us keep our horses, a gesture of goodwill. What did they need with horses, anyway? I scratched Damon’s neck and he danced for me, arching his neck and picking up his feet. Still proud, my Damon.

Three of us left; six if you counted the horses. Elissa rode beside me, her scarred face and arm hidden by her dark green hood. I know I didn’t look any better; I lost the top of my ear and a third of the hair on my head from the same shock-blast that’d mangled her. Should’ve killed me outright, but Elissa’d grabbed me just in time. Achima rode behind us, silent. She didn’t have a mark on her skin, but still she woke screaming, night after night. She never cried with words, the last words she’d said, after they caught her, were “fuck you.” I know this because we were belly-down in the scrub, looking for the chance to steal her back.

They had a witch with them, and the witch crawled inside Achima’s head and tried to make her tell, tried to make her say our names, to reveal the dreaded Night Rebels that harried their forces for so long were seven girls from Aeaea.

But Achima knows magic too; we all do. Just little makings, otherwise none of this would ever have happened. I guess she burned out the language center in her brain instead of give us up. I’ve tried to teach her some sign language, but she just stares at me. I can’t tell if she won’t learn, or can’t.

Before they came, Elissa was a birder. I was a horse trainer. Achima was a poetess. The others I will not name without incense to burn for them, to carry them to heaven. Time was, you could cremate a person properly, but of course that’s done now. Incense was our answer of austerity, but they took ours when they took our swords. They knew what we did with it.

“Almost there,” said Elissa, as we passed the bent old sign that pointed to home. Surprised they hadn’t torn it down yet. Suppose they can’t be bothered with these island roads just yet.

“I want a bath,” I said.

The forest diminished as we rode, the sky beyond clear and blue. The rustles of the little creatures that we startled as we rode grew less frequent; the scolding birdsong sporadic. Soon there would be no woods to hide in, no leaves to flutter down to say hello, to say I’m sorry.

Achima pulled her horse alongside Damon.

“Ready?” I asked.

She cocked her head at me, her lips bending into what could nearly be called a smile. And I looked into her eyes, and saw the thing I feared the most.

 

 

After the crash

Last night my writer’s group The Parking Lot Confessional was living up to its name, chitchatting out in the parking lot of a coffee shop in downtown Phoenix, situated on the corner of a side street and a main thoroughfare, 7th street. As we were going over our writing goals for the next two weeks, we heard the unmistakable bang of steel meeting steel at speed. Tires screeched as the three of us looked up to see a car careening into the incoming traffic lane; it’s headlights blaring directly at us, and still the rubber screaming. It’s not stopping, I realized, it’s going to hit the building on the opposite side of this side street, and as it did with a horrific slam and began to spin, I thought, Oh god, it’s still not stopping, it’s going to spin right into us. I felt my body tense to run, but, off the road and tires blown, the car 180’ed and at last careened to a stop.

The driver popped out of the mangled car like a jack in the box and began to walk in circles in the side street, dazed and pumped full of adrenaline. His glasses had been knocked off. He probably was concussed, and would likely develop some bruises later. It was perhaps the most amazing thing of all. Though that young man likely does not feel very lucky today, he is so, so lucky, to have walked away from that pair of collisions.

I almost want to cry every time I think about how lucky he is.

How lucky we were, that the car stopped when it did.

I am so lucky to be writing this now, and you, reader, wherever you are, are so lucky too. We are here, we are alive, we still have that chance to do whatever it is we are called to do with our lives.

We still have that chance.

After several weeks of perfecting my submission package for my epic fantasy novel The Afflicted, I sent out my first query letter on Friday. I personalized a few more last night, and will send more out over this week. And, since I have spent the last three weeks obsessively writing, and rewriting, and re-rewriting synopses of varying lengths, and the weeks before honing my query letter, I am definitely looking forward to throwing myself into the first draft of the next book. And yet, I am so glad to be here, exactly where I am.

I am so grateful, and so glad.

 

Originally published at The Parking Lot Confessional.

Intermission is over, did you get the Junior Mints?

So, ah, can we pretend that the last sixteen months didn’t happen? No. Okay.

So I had this weird glitch with WordPress, where sometimes it didn’t accept my password. Which was weird. Sometimes became often. Often became it just didn’t ever effin’ work. My husband, who eats zeros and ones for breakfast, reassured me that I hadn’t been hacked. Nothing was wrong. I just couldn’t access my own blog. And because my WordPress is self-hosted, if I wanted to reset my password, we had to do a bunch of … stuff?

My only crime was laziness

But, I’m no Hackers-era Angelina Jolie. I’m not even Angelina Jolie’s terrible haircut. Nope. I’m not even Johnny Lee Miller’s terrible bleach job. So in order to get my blog back in business, I needed to sit down with my husband and work through the tech issues together. Let me tell you something about me and my husband. First of all, we fight crime in our spare time, so after all that there’s like, not a lot of extra spare time going around. It’s more of a drinking old fashioneds and watching Doctor Who thing.

don't mind if I doooooooooooooo

Second of all, we’re both the same type… creative. That leads to some interesting timetables. For example, we moved into a new house in November of 2010. Do you guys know how long it took us to hang our ceiling fans? A week? A month? A year?

Trick question! They’re still not all done. Okay, five of them are done. One is still in the box. And, my friends, we live in the desert. Fans, kinda important to live.

So the fact that this blog is up again, well, high-fives all around! All the high-fives, forever! Ouroboros of fives! I’ve got some new ideas, and I’m excited to get to them, and I’m just going to keep jumping around and giving thumbs-ups and finger guns and knuckle-bumps and high-fives until someone beats me over the back of the head with a billy club or hands me an old fashioned and tells me to sit down. Because it’s easier to write when you’re sitting down (and a glass of bourbon doesn’t hurt). Right? Right!

Red Light Special

Time for a Friday Flash, prompt courtesy of the 500 Club. If you want to play, the prompts are here. Here’s my contributory flash for this week.

RED LIGHT SPECIAL

The last thing Flynn wanted to do that day was another love spell. It was cheap work, he thought, flavored with desperation. And the thing about love spells- if you needed one that badly, they wouldn’t really take, which meant repeat business with irate customers.

He eyed the man standing in his workshop, hat literally in hand. Flynn didn’t mind the ugly ones- that made sense to him. It was when they were lookers, that was when the bells started to ring. This guy, with his slicked black hair and brick-smashing jawline was the sort his secretary Eunice called a “three-hole punch.” Vulgar little fairy, that Eunice. Made him laugh, though.

“You the tincturist? Thought you’d be a woman,” he said, his hair glistening in the light. Nice.

“Flynn.”

Brylcreem  offered to shake. “I’m-”

Flynn gave his hand a pump and dropped it like a greasy banana peel. “Don’t tell me.”

“Sorry.”

Flynn waved it away. “Here’s the deal. Sometimes it lasts a lifetime. Sometimes a night. Depends on whether the recipient is subconciously willing to love in the first place.”

“Either way, it’s fine by me.”

“So you know. No refunds. Now, I need to ask a few questions. So. Man or woman?”

Bryllcream sneered. “Woman.”

“Approximate weight?”

“One-ten, maybe.”

“Human?”

“Yes!”

“Occupation?”

“What?”

“I need to know what she’s around, so we don’t get a bad reaction. Industrial chemicals, stuff like that.”

“Oh. I don’t know. She goes to school.”

“Trent U?”

“Something like that.” He shifted from one foot to the other.

“Age?”

Brylcreem’s eyelids flickered. “Eighteen.”

“You sure? This is not for minors.”

Another flicker. “Yeah, I’m sure.”

Shit, thought Flynn, one of these. No good reporting the guy- cops don’t care, they think it’s all bullshit. And if he refused service, Brylcreem would just go score off some other tincturist.  So, a Red Light Special it was.

Flynn pulled two vials off his back shelf and slapped them on the counter.

“The blue is for her. The red one, that’s for you.”

“Me?” he licked his lips. “I thought-”

“For you. Right here. Right now.”

Brylcreem looked at Flynn.

“Hey man, you want her or not?”

“Cheers.” Brylcreem drained the red in one gulp. “Tastes like raspberries.” He tried to put on his hat and collapsed. His eyelids fluttered and sweat beaded on his forehead as Flynn crouched next to him, the blue vial in his hand.

“What was that?” he croaked.

“I call it, In Morte, Veritas. So, how old is she?”

“Thirteen.”

“You snake.”

“I’m sorry. I won’t do it.” Foam frothed at his lips.

“No, you won’t.”

“Please,” he said, reaching for the blue bottle. His heels began to kick the floor, rat-a-tat-tat.

Flynn stood and pressed the RECEPTION button on his phone.

“Yeah boss?”

“Get me Rusty. Bulk trash pickup.”

“Jesus, Flynn. That’s the third this week.”

Behind him the drumming stilled. Flynn sat on the edge of the counter and lit a cigarette. “I know, sweetwings. But I’m a bad, bad man.”

MEAT MARKET

500 Club time! If you want to play, the prompts are here. Here’s my contributory flash for this week.

MEAT MARKET

The bag of groceries smashed on the ground between us. A confetti of broken eggs splattered onto the parking lot.

“Get your hands off me.” I said, jerking out of her grasp. I stooped to gather up the tattered plastic sack before she saw what was in the bottom of it.

Sara’s face was shiny, red, as she loomed above me. She always wore heels, even to stand out on the back patio for a cigarette.

“I’m warning you. I’m serious.”

“I didn’t do anything,” I said, shoveling a box of granola bars back into the bag. Egg stringed from my fingers. I curled my lip and tried to wipe my hand on the pavement, which only added a fine coat of dirt.

“We both know that’s not true. So quit it.”

That was enough. I stood. “Reality check- I’m the one who just got assaulted, sweetheart.” I brandished my ruined bag at her. One of the handles snapped and I swallowed a scream and caught it in both hands.

“I don’t want to see you. I don’t want to hear about you. I don’t like you.”

“Fine.” I resumed walking to my car.

“I don’t like you!” she shouted.

Don’t respond. She just wants to fight- it feeds her. Anger makes her vibrate, makes her feel alive. I know, I used to be her.

But now? Now I wear a different face.

I got into my car, watched her walk into the store. If she was having another barbeque, she’d be going to talk to Ed. Maybe she’d even talk to him about me as he weighed out her 80/20.

I could see him in my mind, slapping down chuck, letting her look at the ribs. Watching her face, because that’s one of the things Ed did. One of the reasons I liked him.

“Well, what do you know, Flo? You look like you’re ready to go kick some chickens in the teeth.”

And she’d laugh. And maybe she would tell him then, about seeing me in the parking lot. Not about the bruises she gave me, of course. No one ever heard about the bruises Sara left behind her, tracks on my arm like footprints in snow. But maybe she would tell him we were fighting, and maybe he would shake his head, and lean over the edge of the sparkling glass meat counter, and tell her what I bought.

I blinked back to life, keys unturned in the ignition. I’d better hurry.

Dogs howled as I walked to my door. Stupid things. Not supposed to have dogs in this complex anyway.  But no one ever cares about the rules. My knees buckled, just for a second, as I locked the door behind me. I closed the blinds,  lit the candles. Even Glade would do in a pinch.

I set the bag on the counter, reached inside. There, leaking and stained, but still there. I pulled it out, white butcher paper crinkling in my fingers, and got a knife to cut the twine.

CLICK CLICK

A slightly tardy 500 Club Entry. Of course, while it’s true the prompts do go up on Thursdays, it’s never too late to play.

CLICK CLICK


Jenny never liked the color red. Red smelled like squashed tomatoes, like the breakfasts the College of London cafeteria served. Poached eggs in slimy clear-white umbilical blobs, cold toast, red red stewed tomatoes. Blood sausage. The sort of food that chased you down corridors in your dreams.

It made her think of Quaztl. Quaztl was one of those people she used to give a free pass, on account of his being very good looking and also his not giving a fuck, not that he would ever say that. Quatzl didn’t make those sort of announcements.

Jenny sat alone in the cafeteria,  notebook at hand, and Quaztl would sit across from her. He’d slice the blood sausages down their center and splay them, revealing their red-purple jelly hearts, before winking and licking the grease from his fingers.

“Stop being creepy, Quaz.”

“I am not the one who calls this breakfast. Look around you.” his voice dropped to a whisper. “We’re surrounded by perverts.”

“You’re being a prat.”

“Prat. Nob. Bunghole.” He waved his fork. “The British are a creepy people. Pale skin. Lorries and crisps. Worms for breakfast.” One of his knees thumped the table. Quatzl was a constant leg-wiggler, a perpetual motion machine.

Jenny gave him a Stern Librarian look. “What do you want?”

“Let’s go.”

“Go where?”

“I’m hungry. For some real meat.”

“Mmmm.” Jenny clicked the cap of her pen. The feel of the pen’s button catching soothed her. “I hear they’re serving spaghetti tonight. That always comes with meat.” The uni’s version of sauce was ground mutton gravy.

“Are you trying to hurt my feelings?”

“Can’t hurt what you don’t have.”

“Come on, Jen-NY. Let’s go to Hampstead Heath. It’s not raining.”

“All the way out there? That’s like two line transfers.”

“Just one.  Come on, there’s only a week left before term’s over. You want to spend your entire trip inside?”

“I thought you wanted to eat?”

“Over it.” He bounced. “Maybe some Mr. Whippy.”

Tottenham Court. The area outside perennially under construction. Northern Line to Orange. Jenny watched the city flashing by, swaying. Quatzl draped an arm around her and read a battered paperback. She could hear his stomach growl.

I wish I knew who took this amazing photo so I could accredit it.Once at Hampstead, Quatzl bounded along, enthusing over every bush and tree. There was a particular woods he wanted to show her.

“Trees are massive. Ancient. It’s amazing.”

“Glad I brought my notebook.” She pulled the pen out of the spiral binding and clicked it.

The wood was dense, quiet. The sunlight filtered through the tree canopy, speckled rays of light into shadowed ground. Roots rose from the ground, tangling in knots that rose higher than Jenny’s head.

“It’s like a cathedral.”

“I’m so glad you came,” he said.

He turned to her and she thought he was going to kiss her …lips? Cheek? Throat. She screamed as his teeth tore through her skin, dropped her notebook. Blood ran down the front of her shirt.

Jenny’s thumb jammed the top of her pen. Click click. She swung her hand and stabbed him in the eye. He  shrieked, staggered away from her. She ran. Out of the woods. Out of the dark. Meadows. Paths. Joggers, who stumbled when they saw her. Dog walkers who screamed- how she was bleeding, and running, and running, with nothing behind her.

Jenny never liked the color red.

PLC Interviews: Sam Sykes, author of Tome of the Undergates

Hey everybody! Today is most auspicious! Wanna know why? Because today we have our very first guest post up at PLC.
Sam Sykes, author of  fantasy novel Tome of the Undergates sat down and talked writing with us.

Tome of the Undergates will be released in several countries (including the US, of course) next Tuesday. Here’s a snippet of  Tome I yanked from Sam’s website.

“Contrary to whatever you might have heard in songs and stories, there are only a few productive things a man can do once he picks up a sword.

“He can put it to use for his country, if he’s got any pride.  He can use it to defend his loved ones, if he’s got any.  And if he’s got any intelligence at all, he can put it down.

“For those who are lacking all three, the only viable option is to embrace that meanest and most disrespected of professions: adventuring.  Falling somewhere just below the rank of mercenary and just above the classification of scum, adventurers are chiefly a source of cheap labor, providing with violence and misfortune what they lack in standards.

“And I count myself among the cheapest.

I for one look forward to reading his debut. Sounds like it’s going to be one bloody butt-kicker of a fantasy novel. (my favorite kind!) You can order it from Amazon.

Next Tuesday @ the PLC: Alan DeNiro, author of Total Oblivion, More or Less and Skinny Dipping in the Lake of the Dead

In Your Cloak

For this week’s 500 Club, I decided to revisit one of the scenes in my novel, The Iron Key, retelling it from one of my favorite secondary character’s point of view. If you want to take a crack at one of this week’s writing prompts, hop on over and go to. After all it’s only 500 words!

IN YOUR CLOAK

“War is good to us though, eh death priest?” the merchant said, “Not like those fools.” He nodded at the next table, packed with Highgardean soldiers playing dice.

“Indeed,” said Wil, tipping his glass.

The merchant toasted him. But the minstrel at his elbow was silent, his eyes following some movement across the room. With a sinking feeling in his gut, Wil turned his head in pretence of ordering another drink, to see what had distracted the man.

Sahrel stood a few paces away loading a plate of pork, her stunning profile clear from Wil’s table. A strip of chestnut hair gleamed at the crown of her head, the rest spilling into a black knot at the nape of her neck. Wil ground his teeth. If she was so hungry, why hadn’t she sent down one of the others? It didn’t matter if anyone saw them.

Nob the innkeep was also watching her, his black eyes hawklike in his piggy face. He moved to block the stairs. Sahrel took a step in Nob’s direction, froze as she saw him waiting.

Wil slipped his hand to the knife at his belt.

“Any news from El?” the merchant asked him, oblivious.

“Men still die. We still take them.”

When he glanced back, Sahrel had vanished. His fingers slid from the hilt as he returned his attention to his tablemates. The merchant flinched at the look on his face.

“Beg pardon, I didn’t mean to pry. Please, allow me to refill your glass.”

The minstrel stood. “Excuse me, good sirs. The music of the ether is beckoning.” He drifted towards the front door, looking about him as he walked.

“He always spouts such turdery when he’s drunk,” said the merchant. He banged his fist on the table. “GIRL!”

The serving girl burst out of the kitchen door, looking harassed. Wil gave the door a thoughtful glance.

“Another round for me and my friend,” said the merchant.

“I’ll be back in a moment.” Wil pushed back his chair. “I’m going to see to my horse.”

***

The night air was cool on Wil’s face. The sky was overcast, a smell of rain on the wind. Wil paced around the side of the inn, keeping to the shadows.

Sahrel stood in the garden behind the inn, the minstrel gripping her arm.

Wil drew his knife. Lord keep me in your cloak. He moved in.

“You are confused.”

“No, I do know- You’re a concubine. You’re-“

Wil clapped his left hand over the man’s mouth, holding his head steady. With his right he sliced open the minstrel’s carotid artery.

Blood sprayed Sahrel. She gasped and jerked away, wiping frantically at her perfect face.

Wil held his victim tightly as blood pumped out. The minstrel flailed, squealing against Wil’s muffling hand.

At last he went limp. Wil dropped the body.

Sahrel blinked at him, blood caught in her thick eyelashes.

“Happy?” he said.

Stoked for September

The onset of September has me feeling like the monkey Steve in Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs (Steve, awesomely, is voiced by everyone’s favorite magical unicorn Neal Patrick Harris).

Excited! Excited!

My Writing the Novel class with Jim Sallis is starting back up. This marks my fourth semester of re-enrollment. Why would I take the same class over again, you ask? Because the man can wield a red pen like nobody’s business. He is absolutely gifted, a diamond in the rough. And, because there’s nothing I like more than sitting in a roomful of like-minded people and talking about storycraft. School starts on Monday and I’m psyched.

I finally finally finally am ready to start querying on The Iron Key. I’ve got a list of appropriate agents to sub to all prepped, and now I’m trying to mangle my query letter into something magic. Brute force works, right? Anyway, pretty much the entire publishing industry is on hol right now, so I’ve got until early-mid September to get it together.

And in September we’ll be kicking off some cool new content at my group blog The Parking Lot Confessional, namely guest blogs and interviews from published Young Adult, Science Fiction, and Fantasy authors. I can’t even articulate how pumped I am about this. Suuuuuuuuuuper pumped.

Last reason I am excited about September? I live in the desert, dudes.

(Cue cry of solitary hawk).

July is the cruelest month, it’s like the January of the Southwest. September means temps dropping back into the double digits. And I am all about that.