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Feb 13, 2016

SMSO: Pip Ballantine & Tee Morris



Today you get a two-fer. This couple seemed the perfect choice for a pre-Valentines shout-out.

Pip Ballantine & Tee Morris
On Twitter: @PhilippaJane & @TeeMonster
Check out their websites pjballantine.com & teemorris.com

Who they Are:
While they both have their own books, this husband and wife duo has created the magnificent Ministry of Peculiar Occurances (MoPO)series. Their steampunk capers can be found in bookstores online or near you.

Why you should follow them if you’re not already:
A) Their books are fantastic.
B) Their blogs are insightful for writers.
C) They’re fully active on twitter.
D) Because I said so.

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Feb 12, 2016

Free Flash: Cupid's Bow (Happy Valentine's Day)


Christopher Robin—no relation to the little boy whose psychosis let him think his stuffed animals were alive and talking to him-that kid needed help—stood in the middle of a dark alleyway, staring at a grafitiied brick wall, waiting for dawn. He'd cleared out the few vagrants that had been sleeping near the dumpster and the one who'd actually taken refuge inside the foul-smelling box.

The fact that he was alone was the only surprise the early morning had brought him. But he knew that wouldn't last. No matter how long it took, Petunia would join him before dawn brought its spell.

"Speak of the devil," Chris muttered under his breath as the girl sauntered up the alley toward him.

Petunia was a deceptively incorrect name for his rival. She might be petite and sweet with a smile that melted men's knees, but she was sharp, calculating, and wouldn't hesitate to stab you in the back—or front for that matter.

There was something to be said for that kind of ruthlessness. It was damn sexy.

"Chris," she said, standing beside me with a nod. "Happy Valentine's Day."

"How is my favorite blossom?"

"Just as annoyed as my little bird that we have to do this again."

"Don't worry, I'll get it this year and you can thank me profusely when you have to do everything I say."

"Clearly you don't know how this works. I'm going to get the prize and then you're going to lick my boots."

Chris looked down at her shoes in spite himself. "I can think of worse punishments."

She wore a dirty pair of black chucks and he followed them back up her body appreciating the skin tight leggings that turned her lower half a psychedelic geometric pattern, and the swishy black skirt that covered her like a ballerina's practice uniform. Her long sleeve pink thermal topped it off and kept her covered neck to toe, save for a thin slice of ankle between socks and leggings.

"Then just think of it this way, if I get lucky... so do you."

Snorting, Chis looked toward the alley's opening; He couldn't see a horizon from here. There were too many damn buildings. But then, the setting was one of the quirks of his long dead maker.

"Think either of us have a chance of getting it this time?" Petunia's eyes were locked on the wall, her face a mask of indifference, but her voice was timid, her lips trembling.

"The only thing I know for sure is that neither of us is going to die today. We've been doing this way too long to make a misstep."

Petunia closed her eyes. "Almost time."

Christopher could feel it too. A part of their curse. The reason he couldn't stay home and sleep on Valentine’s Day. Burning started under his skin and he saw Petunia shift as the same sensations irritated her.

They were the last two left. There had been over a dozen when they started. Ten years of these idiotic trials. And all for what?

Chris cringed. No matter how asinine he thought the ritual, he knew it was for a good purpose.

Cupid's bow.

"Cupid's damn bow." Petunia said it as though she could read his mind. "How did we get into this mess again?"

"A twisted mistake of fate?"

She rolled her eyes. "Last year you said we were in a toxic-spill-car-accident and the government covered it up."

Shrugging, Chris kept his eyes on the wall. He honestly didn't know how they ended up in this position, and as far as he was concerned, any answer was as good as the next.

The burning intensified and Chris knew what was coming.

Dawn broke and the wall broke with it.

The wall split, bricks falling away as though they were crumbling into nothing. "You ready for this little bird?"

He didn't have a chance to respond as she darted through the blinding opening ahead of him. He was right on her heels and then everything was light and sharp.

Inside, they were no longer in New York. As far as he knew, they were no longer on earth. Sliding through that crack in the wall was more like sliding into the weirdest fantasy land he'd ever seen. Everything was upside down.

Petunia raced ahead of him, her heavy steps leaving bursts of puffiness in the white clouds that carpeted the oddities around them Stars hung above them like balloons on sparkling fishing wire, and thee ground over their head was an ugly, muddy green, and the shadows of skyscrapers hung over their head in a misty film. He'd avoid those if he could.

Petunia was almost to the first obstacle. A bridge of moonlight over a vast pit of void.

How many had this simple bridge and pit killed on their first run?

He shuddered to think. By the time his foot hit the moonlight, Petunia was already on the other side. He leapt after three steps, grabbed hold of the crescent moon suspended overhead and swung from it and through, grabbing stars as he threw himself across the nothing as though her were a child playing on a park's monkey bars.

The next obstacle was nothing for him, since Petunia was in the lead. She triggered the shooting stars that had impaled and incinerated the two front runners the first trip. She dodged them like a pro.

By the time he followed through, they were little more than an effervescent haze of stardust.

He needed to catch up by the time they made it to the fifth obstacle. There was no saying what came after that. The first three years, the group of them had stumbled over obstacles one and two. By the fourth, they were overly cautious. There was no way they would get fare enough to win the prize in the limited time.

For the last three years, it had just been him and Petunia, and between the two of them, there was little care for caution anymore.

He ran and took a bounding leap into the shining river of stars and swam through the stream that felt like trying to pull himself through the tiny polystyrene foam balls that filled bean bags. Except these one's stung with each forward pull of his breast stroke.

Hauling himself up on the other side, he picked up his pace as he brushed the diamond like microstars from his clothes.

In front of him, Petunia did a graceful twirl that sent a shimmer of the things flying away from her.

The fourth obstacle was deceptively easy. A cliff of clouds rose out of the ones underfoot, a seemingly unclimbable wall. He glanced up, even though he knew he wouldn’t be able to see Petunia.

All it took to clear this was a flying leap through that wall.

Falling through, he pushed back up to his feet and ran after her again. She was going to beat him to the sixth one. Even from here, he could see the glimmer of the bow.

All of the obstacles required thought, but the fifth actually forced you to stop and think every time you found it, not just the first time.

Pausing in front of three pillars, he caught his breath as he studied the arrows. Their pattern eventually pointed to which pillars he could safely cross between.

His eyes traced the pattern, the left column told him to go down and right, the middle column told him to continue right, and the right column told him to go down and left. From there it was up left, down three and right. Down one, right one. Up two… and he needed to go through the right entrance.

Taking off at a run, he got to the sixth obstacle and stopped beside petunia.

Doubled over, she looked at the vast expanse between them and the glittering golden bow.

"How the hell are we supposed to get across that?"

Reaching up, Chris brushed a handful of the micro stars from her hair. When she pulled away, giving him her patented death glare, he said, "Sorry about that."

Pulling back his hand, he let them fly as though he was skipping a stone and watched as they fell into the nothingness. There was no bridge; the sky above was empty of hand holds. Even the shadowy buildings that hung overhead like stalactites were gone.

"Petunia dropped to sit down and scowled out at their unattainable trophy.

"Was this all some sadistic magical joke?"

Sitting beside her as a haze of cloud swept up around them, Chris shrugged. "There has to be a way."

"Why? Why does there have to be one? Because that's a lot of faith to put in a fucked up game we've been forced to play since we were ten."

"Well, we've got a few more minutes before it's all over again until next year. Or, we could say screw next year."

"What?"

"If you jump, I'll jump." He grinned as her face slowly went from shock to amused irritation.

"You're a dork, you know that." Punching him in the shoulder, she leaned against him. "It’s been a weird decade, hasn't it?"

"Ever wonder what would happen if we left the city and weren't here for the fourteenth?"

"Based on how it feels when you hesitate for a moment... I do not want to find out."

"No, neither do I."

He didn't voice his other concerns... what would happen when one of them finally won, what would happen if there was a time limit... how many years would they have to keep failing at this.

Sighing again, Petunia dropped her head on his shoulder. “It’s weird, isn’t it? We spend every Valentine’s Day together… and I still haven’t gotten around to kissing you.”

Every muscle in Chris’ body froze.

Rethinking each of her words, he swallowed before he said, “Did you want to?”

Her head moved on his shoulder.

“Okay.”

She pulled away and looked up at him like it was some sort of joke. But after that half second, that caution left and she leaned forward. Her lips pressed against his and without thought, he took hold of her and pulled her across the short distance that had separated them.

It felt like they were floating.

He pulled away and glanced down. They were floating.

“What the—” Petunia laughed beside him as their cloudlike transport deposited them on the other side of the chasm.

“I guess we should have expected as much from an obstacle course keeping us from Cupid’s bow.”

Together, they stood in front of the gilded monstrosity.

“Do you want to take it?” he asked. “You did get to the gap first.”

“I feel like I’m supposed to want to, but I really don’t.”

Chris couldn’t argue with that. They had no idea what taking it would mean. As annoying as the trials were, they were known.

“We could take it together,” Petunia said, he voice wobbly. “I mean, it only seems fair since it took both of us to get across.”

He paused, and it was a moment too long.

Time was up.

Like a giant pair of hands grabbed him from behind, he was flung backward, the bow and all the brightness sucking back into a pinpoint of light. And they were back in that dank alleyway with the faint purple of morning covering the sky between buildings.

The closing of the wall sent out a pulse that threw them backward and left an enormous dent in the dumpster.

At least they'd both made it out alive again.

Panting, Petunia pushed herself up and fell back against the brick wall. "So, that was frustrating."

"Yep," Chris said, following suit and letting the hard, nobbly bricks push at the sore spot in his shoulder.

"Want to go work it off?" she asked as she dropped her head on his shoulder. "I'm sure the NYPD would appreciate us heading back to my place or yours instead of me bashing some heads in."

She didn't wait for an answer. Hopping to her feet with more exuberance than Chris was going to be able to muster, she held out her hand--still stained with blood.

"Can I at least shower first?"

Glancing at her hand, she shook her head and pulled him up forcibly. "Nope, I like you dirty."

Chris let her lead him down the alley and back into the midday foot traffic of New York City. He only glanced back at the alley once. The wall would open again next year, and again, they'd be better prepared. Maybe then, he'd get his hands on the damn bow and kill the need that ached in his bones.
 
*********
 
For more free stories, check out the free section of my short stories page.

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Feb 11, 2016

Review: Feed by Mira Grant


Feed

by Mira Grant

 
Post Zombie-apocalypse Bloggers take on the system

 
Mass Market Paperback, 599 pages
May 1, 2010 – Orbit


 

The first four chapters are great. And then it goes off the rails. The book, the plot and the general idea are all fine, but it’s not the zombie book I was looking for, and that made it a tough sell that just kept getting harder to like.

The blogging aspect was unique, as was the set-up and history provided throughout… however, the blurb gives the idea of something more clandestine than a presidential campaign. I struggled to crawl out of that particular drop and in the end wasn’t able to finish the book because it wasn’t what I was hoping for.

The two main characters are fun, and probably the reason I kept reading for as long as I did.


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Feb 10, 2016

What I do on an "Off" Day




Today’s post is not about vacations. I’ve already written about that here.
Today’s post is about those days when motivation fails you and the writing doesn’t flow. Today’s post is about the off days when getting those words out feels like pulling teeth.

An off day can mess up your whole schedule. They are the reason I write wiggle room into mine.
I’ve read several author’s accounts on their own off days, and most of them do the same thing, they push through the bad days, they get in their word count, and they press on.

That is a great thing if you can manage it.
I myself have forced myself to get the words out on some days where I’ve just hated every single keystroke. But words on the page are one step closer to your goal, even if they’re bad words.

I have other options that I employ.
 
On any given off day, I do one (or more) of these three things.
 
1) Work on the admin stuff.
If the writing isn’t flowing from a creativity stand point—maybe you’ve realized your outline doesn’t work anymore, maybe you’re a panster and you just can’t figure out where you’re going next—sometimes writing the boring stuff that you need to get out of the way is a good way to use that potentially wasted time productively.

2) Explore that idea that’s been simmering away at the back of your mind.
Sometimes, the best way to clear out the cobwebs on one project is to do a little work on a different one. Knocking your head out of the set pattern you’ve had for the last several weeks/months can help your brain get onto a different track that lets you have a good day “tomorrow.”

3) Say “Eff it.”
I don’t recommend doing this often, but somedays, you just have to throw in the proverbial towel and abandon hope all who enter here the project  for a day. Everyone needs a battery recharge from time to time, and if you’ve been plugging away for days on end, it might just be the time for a break.

Now, if you’re on a deadline and doing any of these things is going to risk your ability to make that deadline, definitely push through. Otherwise, evaluate your specific brand of “off” day, and choose accordingly.

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Feb 9, 2016

Out Today: Glass Sword, Sudden Death, The Lives of Elves, etc


Glass Sword by Victoria Aveyard –
Mare Barrow’s blood is red—the color of common folk—but her Silver ability, the power to control lightning, has turned her into a weapon that the royal court tries to control.
The crown calls her an impossibility, a fake, but as she makes her escape from Maven, the prince—the friend—who betrayed her, Mare uncovers something startling: she is not the only one of her kind.
Pursued by Maven, now a vindictive king, Mare sets out to find and recruit other Red-and-Silver fighters to join in the struggle against her oppressors.
But Mare finds herself on a deadly path, at risk of becoming exactly the kind of monster she is trying to defeat.
Will she shatter under the weight of the lives that are the cost of rebellion? Or have treachery and betrayal hardened her forever?


Changing Hands | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

 

Sudden Death by Alvaro Enrigue –
Sudden Death begins with a brutal tennis match that could decide the fate of the world. The bawdy Italian painter Caravaggio and the loutish Spanish poet Quevedo battle it out before a crowd that includes Galileo, Mary Magdalene, and a generation of popes who would throw Europe into the flames. In England, Thomas Cromwell and Henry VIII behead Anne Boleyn, and her crafty executioner transforms her legendary locks into the most sought-after tennis balls of the time. Across the ocean in Mexico, the last Aztec emperors play their own games, as conquistador Hernán Cortés and his Mayan translator and lover, La Malinche, scheme and conquer, fight and f**k, not knowing that their domestic comedy will change the world. And in a remote Mexican colony a bishop reads Thomas More’s Utopia and thinks that instead of a parody, it’s a manual.

Changing Hands | Amazon | Barnes & Noble


The Lives of Elves by Muriel Barbery –
Do two young girls have the power to change the world? Maria, raised by powerful older women, lives in a remote village in Burgundy, where she discovers her gift of clairvoyance, of healing and of communicating with nature. Hundreds of miles away in Italy, Clara discovers her musical genius and is sent from the countryside to Rome to nurture her extraordinary abilities.
Who are the mysterious elves? Will they succeed in training the girls for their higher purpose in the face of an impending war?

Changing Hands | Amazon | Barnes & Noble
 

The Lost Time Accidents by John Wray –
Haunted by a failed love affair and the darkest of family secrets, Waldemar 'Waldy' Tolliver wakes one morning to discover that he has been exiled from the flow of time. The world continues to turn, and Waldy is desperate to find his way back-a journey that forces him to reckon not only with the betrayal at the heart of his doomed romance but also the legacy of his great-grandfather's fatal pursuit of the hidden nature of time itself.

Changing Hands | Amazon | Barnes & Noble
 

Shylock is my Name by Howard Jacobson –
Winter, a cemetery, Shylock. In this provocative and profound interpretation of “The Merchant of Venice,” Shylock is juxtaposed against his present-day counterpart in the character of art dealer and conflicted father Simon Strulovitch. With characteristic irony, Jacobson presents Shylock as a man of incisive wit and passion, concerned still with questions of identity, parenthood, anti-Semitism and revenge. While Strulovich struggles to reconcile himself to his daughter Beatrice's “betrayal” of her family and heritage – as she is carried away by the excitement of Manchester high society, and into the arms of a footballer notorious for giving a Nazi salute on the field – Shylock alternates grief for his beloved wife with rage against his own daughter's rejection of her Jewish upbringing. Culminating in a shocking twist on Shylock’s demand for the infamous pound of flesh, Jacobson’s insightful retelling examines contemporary, acutely relevant questions of Jewish identity while maintaining a poignant sympathy for its characters and a genuine spiritual kinship with its antecedent—a drama which Jacobson himself considers to be “the most troubling of Shakespeare’s plays for anyone, but, for an English novelist who happens to be Jewish, also the most challenging.”

Changing Hands | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

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Feb 8, 2016

Why Bernadette is the only reason I still watch the Big Bang Theory


I don’t remember when I started watching the big bang theory. I know that it wasn’t when the first season aired. I think it was sometime in the third season when I grabbed a copy of the first season and then proceeded to binge watch it. It was interesting, it had a mix of likable and unlikable characters, and it had its problems. (Full disclosure: this is based on the full seasons 1-8 and does not take into account the currently airing season 9)

As the seasons have gone on, those problems have only gotten worse, but I’m still watching and the reason is Bernadette. I still like Amy and Sheldon, and I’ enjoy most of the supporting cast, but the core group has hit a place where I feel like they’ve begun to stagnate. It’s unfortunate.

One of my biggest annoyances is the fact that none of the main female cast likes things that fall into the realm of geek culture. Any time they show knowledge in the realm of geekdom, it’s always accompanied by a statement of displeasure at knowing the thing. Along with that, the show also seems to have completely missed the fact that geek culture is big right now.

Bernadette saves the show for me. A) She’s rational and doesn’t fall into the same social blunders as the other characters because she seems to be the only one paying attention half the time. B) She is smart without being pigeon holed as unattractive. C) She is a tiny ball of rage when she’s expected to put up with anyone’s crap.

All of the other characters provide problems for me. Some of them are minor (and a little spoiler-y) some of them are grating because they held on for several seasons (I’m looking at you, Leonard, with your constant wining about women when you’ve dated and slept with at least four and had a few others who were willing to get in there too).

I’m going to keep watching the show because of Bernadette, and because my husband doesn’t  get as irritated about these things as I do.

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Feb 7, 2016

This Week’s Links 2/7


 
I am out of town this weekend, so I’ve put together a list of links for pre-posting that are a little old, but hey! They’re still relevant.


Lindsay Buroker talks about what worked and didn’t work for her book launch that earned $3043 in the first month.


Ways To Be a More Productive Writer (Via Fiction University)


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Feb 6, 2016

SMSO: Andrea Phillips


Andrea Phillips

On Twitter: @andrhia

Check out her website

Who they Are:
Game designer, author and transmedia writer, Andrea has worked on the app Zombies, run!, America 2049, and Perplex City. Author of Revision and A Creator’s Guide to Transmedia Storytelling, she has also produced a kickstarter-backed serial The Daring adventures of Captain Lucy Smokeheart.

Why you should follow them if you’re not already:
Aside from the fact that she’s wonderfully funny on twitter, she’s got an amazingly interesting insight into the publishing world from her experiences in other forms of media.


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Feb 5, 2016

7 Things to Secure Your Place in Writing History


 
Be a dick –
Let’s be honest. The easiest way to live in infamy as an author is to be “that” person. You know the one. They do outrageous things, like stalk reviewers or spend all their time and energy bashing other authors—especially those who are more successful than them. When they’re not tweeting about their book and demanding that you buy it now, they’re trolling for attention. This strategy is a great way to gain attention and marks you as someone to watch. Do it right and hundreds of people will know your name. The fact that they’ll probably never buy your books shouldn’t deter you.

Throw your book at the heads of prominent figures –
It might seem like a good plan, but I’m pretty sure it could be mistaken as an assassination attempt. But hey, you’ll have tons of time to pen your magnum opus from behind bars after they determine you are a threat to others as well as yourself. Just think of the news stories though!

Find people who love your work as much as you do and enlist their help –
The writing community is a great place to find yourself and grow. It’s a place where others have been where you are and can provide insight that will keep you from falling off that cliff over there, you know the one. You were headed for it two minutes ago, it was disguised by vampire romances and the discarded gears of a runaway steampunk series. They were there as a warning, and you misread the signs. They’re good, but until you understand the nuances that make them good, you won’t have the parachute they had to keep them from dying on the rocks below. (wow, that metaphor went weird fast). Look at the people you admire, cultivate relationships with people who are willing and able to offer suggestions through their writing/tweeting/blogs. Understand who you are, where you are, and how they can help you even if it’s just through the osmosis of their work.

Play by the rules and know your stuff –
If you’re on the internet and reading agent blogs/twitter feeds, you’ll see a lot of notes on when people don’t play by the rules. If you do, you’re already a step ahead. Agent’s put rules in place for querying and submissions because they’ve been doing this for a long time and they know what works for them. If you don’t follow their guidelines, you stand a chance of being tossed from the pile without a second glance. Writing itself has rules you should follow, plot structure, pacing and grammar are important. If you don’t do your homework and just throw words on the page, readers aren’t going to get very far.

Flout the rules and do your own thing –
Ignore every convention. There are lots of rule breakers out there. Literary rebels manage to knock it out of the park every so often. They look at those rules and come up with a way to do it differently that works. Fair warning, you have to know the rules to break them successfully. Write that SF told from the perspective of a jelly brain that resides inside the belly of a fire beast with seven different timelines and more unpronounceable words than you can count.
(And please don’t flout agent rules, they’re not going to be happy with you.)

Write about people who are definitely going to get upset –
You know what’s a great idea? Pick a touchy subject, write about it in the most offensive way, and then fight anyone who calls out your book. It’s just fiction after all. No one’s lives have ever been changed by fiction. It’s not like portrayals of things directly effect the perception of your readers. So what if you cause a massive internet outcry. All publicity is good publicity, right?

Work hard & never give up –
This industry is the kind that will rip your heart out if you let it. It’s a constant learning curve and even people who’ve been successfully publishing for years feel like outsiders in their own field. It’s a business that will lift you up one day and drop you on the ground the next. But it’s one that requires perseverance and hard work to see through. Just remember. Your work matters, no matter how many people read it, how many bad reviews you get. Your work matters. Keep writing and keep getting better and keep your head up.

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Feb 4, 2016

Review: Maplecroft by Cherie Priest


Maplecroft

The Borden Dispatches #1

By Cherie Priest

 

Paperback, 435 pages

September 2, 2014, Roc

 

My Summary:
I don’t really know how to summarize this one without getting too wordy, so have this logline instead.
 
A lovecraftian style horror that combines urban fantasy, historical fiction and the legend of Lizzie Borden in a tidy package.
 
My Review:
An awesome tale of what happens after Lizzie Borden’s infamous story, this novel turns the usually vilified woman into a supernatural, axe-wielding heroine.

Keeping with the time and setting adds a darker air to this magnificently written novel.

Epistolary in format, the book combines letters and journal entries from various characters in a way that puts together an intricate plot and provides a surprising amount of insight to a life of phenomenon that could easily get muddled. This format does, however, require the reader to keep a close eye on dates to sort through certain parts of the narrative.

The horror aspect of this book is pleasantly thrilling without crossing the line into gruesome. It might keep you up at night for the little things—ideas that worm their way into your mind, then crawl under your skin.

The pacing was, at times, a little difficult. I chalk this up to the different narration styles and the historical language These pacing issues are worth fighting through, though.

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