writing

The End of Last Year

Well, I didn't make my goal of 365 books before December 31, but I managed a happy total of 230. If you want to see what filled up my reading year, check out my GoodReads page!The reviews for December's reads will be coming, but it's been a very hectic - and exciting! - time in life right now, so thanks for your patience. In writing news, I'm making progress on my next book - yay! It's still in the (very) early stages, so my writing focus will be on that instead of here, but don't disappear! I will be posting updates as well as previews for books that haven't been published yet, and of course reviews for anything I get a chance to read that's already on the shelves. Reading goal for the year - 150 books Writing goal for the year - finish the first draft of my new book. Hopefully this won't take all year, but with a full-time job and all the other craziness in life right now, I'm giving myself plenty of time.

Books of October and November

It's two months in one! October was a light reading month for me, unfortunately, but I at least got a good mix of stuff in. November was a bit better, helped out by having some real vacation time (yay Thanksgiving!). I'm still scarily far from my overall goal, needing to read about 100 more books yet this year and only having a few weeks left. My current plan is to catch up on a lot of manga I'd been setting aside in favor of vampire books and mystery novels, and to listen to more audiobooks at work (and therefore less music).

And now for the book reviews. Enjoy. :)

The Warning by Katherine Applegate - 3 stars. I like this book well enough, and there were certain parts that definitely spiced it up. For one thing, two of the main characters get into some serious crap, and Jake (the narrator) isn't convinced they can get out in time. As readers, we know the two will be all right because 1. the series continues and 2. I don't know of a children's book that kills off two main characters. But it was funny and good. Must stop the aliens!

The Hunger Games (audiobook) by Suzanne Collins - 5 stars. I had read the book before (the whole trilogy, actually) but this was the first time listening to the audiobook, and I think that made me like the story even more. I did see the movie when it came out, so it was interesting to listen to the book and have images from the movie kind of playing along in the background of my brain. I don't plan to re-read the rest of the series because books 2 and 3 were nowhere near as good as this one, but I may end up re-listening to this sometime. Collins gave her characters good depth and didn't make any of them perfect - except maybe Rue, who is just awesome. I loved reading Katniss as the heroine because, in a lot of ways, she breaks the YA rules (don't get me wrong. I read a lot of YA, especially ones with female stars, but there are just certain traits that carry over to nearly every character. Why? Probably to cater to the stereotypes, but seriously, be creative!) ... Anyway, Katniss. She doesn't go for the insta-love that could have easily happened - actually, when she finds out about it, she gets pissed. She doesn't spend all her time in the hellish Games pining over Gale, either. She's scared, worried for her family and if they will survive without her hunting skills, brave, independent, stubborn, and sometimes annoying. She's the type of person I definitely don't want my children to be, but someone that they should be like.

Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk - 0 stars. Disclaimer: I did not finish this book, I hated it so much.I expected a good horror/thriller - nope.

This book is nasty in multiple ways. 1. The main plot should have been amazing - take a bunch of writers and throw them in a "vacation home" for three months, and whoever is still alive at the end gets to go home. Instead, what we get is a bunch of twisted, perverted people all trying to show that they're the best, to the point of murdering other people. 2. The little short stories written by the various characters were gross and perverted. I have never been so happy to not read a book. Ew.

Sandry's Book (audiobook) by Tamora Pierce - 4 stars. I have read this book (and this whole quartet) at least a dozen times. I don't remember how old I was when I first found them, but I've kept them ever since and the same copies are sitting on my shelves right now - looking very worn and very well-read. The book stars four young people, around age 12, who are brought from the edges of life and given a home in a temple community. They learn that they are natural mages, and a lot of this book is dedicated to exploring what that means to each of the kids and how they must deal with it. Listening to it as an audiobook for the first time was an awesome experience, both because of all the memories I have attached to this book and because it was recorded with full cast audio. Going into the book knowing that there are more to come will make reading it more pleasant (especially the slow chunk at the beginning), but the end still feels satisfying and stands on its own. The book is written in third person, which is nice because even though there's more of a focus on Sandry than the other three, we still get to see the others shine. Briar is my favorite. :)

Tris's Book (audiobook) by Tamora Pierce - 4 stars. I never used to like this book as much as the others in the series, but it's grown on me over time. Shriek still annoyed me, but it was a cool way to see the softer side of Tris. The four are still recovering - and helping their home of Winding Circle recover - from the earthquakes in the previous book when pirates attack the port. This book doesn't have the slowness of the first one and doesn't spend a lot of time recapping what happened - just enough to let you know the setting, and then we're off into a darker plot of attack, betrayal, and murder. Tris learns that sometimes, good intentions aren't enough to make up for bad actions.

Daja's Book (audiobook) by Tamora Pierce - 5 stars. Lots to dive into with this book! Daja is/was a Trader, but her bad luck (being the sole survivor of a shipwreck) left her thrown out of her Trader heritage and marked as outcast, scum, non-existent. Living at Winding Circle, learning magic and smithing, she almost didn't care, but now that she and her friends are traveling and a Trader caravan stops by, Daja must deal with the stigma all over again. Seeing the other side of Trader life was really cool. There were two other things that earned this book the extra star: Sandry's mapping, and the end of the book.

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman - 5 stars. What a strange book. It stars Seraphina, a half-human, half-dragon who must keep her identity a secret or else face total banishment and possibly execution. Only her father and her long-time mentor know the truth, and it's getting harder and harder to hide.

Honestly, I don't know exactly what made me like the book so much. The pacing was slow but not boring. There was a ton of world-building going on, and the writing was descriptive, interesting, and calm. It felt like a very long read but I thoroughly enjoyed it; the pacing actually felt like it was matching the mindset of the dragons in general. I don't know if this was intentional or not, but it was neat anyway. I hope the next book comes out soon; this one left some loose ends and I'm curious to see what happens.

Vampire Knight, vol. 12-18 by Matsuri Hino - 4 stars. Oops. Having borrowed all of these from the library, I can't remember what happens in each specific volume. :( But I do know that volume 12 starts the story 1 year after volume 11. For the most part, I still enjoyed the series, but there were times when I wanted to strangle Yuki a little bit (grow a backbone, girl!) and punch Zero and Kaname (boys...). The art is amazing, but since it's all printed in black and white, I had a tough time figuring out exactly what was going on in the last volume, which made deciphering the ending a bit difficult. I was going to watch the anime to figure it out, as it follows the story of the manga pretty faithfully, but then I discovered that the anime only goes through volume 11 - so that wouldn't work. (I might still watch it anyway because I am addicted to anime.) All in all, it was a fun series with an interesting plot and a few twists I didn't see coming (along with a bunch that I did), and since I had to make an educated guess at the ending, I liked it. If I'm wrong, then I'm not happy. But if I never read the wikipedia article about it, then I guess I'll always be right in my own little world. :)

The Good, the Bad, and the Undead by Kim Harrison - 4 stars. I took too much time between this one and the first one, so I was pretty lost at first. I remembered the one super-important thing that had happened, but there were lots of other references that I totally missed and had to go back to later. That said, I liked this book. Rachel (the star) tries to get back to normal life after the events of the first book, but that isn't exactly easy when you're a witch with a slightly out-of-control vampire for a roommate and a demon hunting your blood. Jenks, her pixie partner, is as awesome as ever, and I laughed out loud when Rachel tries to turn a fish into her familiar. The writing felt more coherent in this book than in the first, and certain characters (Nick and Ivy, obviously, but also some of the secondary characters) get a good fleshing-out.

The Color of Magic by Terry Pratchett - 3 stars. I don't know what happened here. I wanted to love this book. Everything I've ever heard about the Discworld series has been amazing and proclaims it to be the funniest, most creative writing of all time. But I just couldn't stay in the story. It was amusing and had its powerful moments, but it was just so easy to put down. I think I will still read the second book in the series - maybe it will get better over time. But I don't even remember the main character's name, and barely remember what he was supposed to be doing. I don't even remember the end of the book. I do remember the sentient luggage, though. It reminded me of a creepier Monster Book of Monsters from Harry Potter and was probably my favorite character.

Second Shift: Order by Hugh Howey - 4 stars. The Wool saga continues, and it is spectacular. Seeing the first silos go down, and watching the struggle from a different perspective, was intense. Like everything, there's never just one side. No one is 100% right or wrong. Mission was a great character to follow and Donald's pieces were powerful and sad (which was good, because I didn't really like him much as a character).

Third Shift: Pact by Hugh Howey - 5 stars. Wrap-up to the Shift omnibus, and probably my favorite of the three. Solo's history we knew from Wool, but experiencing it made it all so much more intense - I love Shadow. The Big Reveal about the silos was mean (in a good way) - could no one figure out a better solution? I'm excited for Dust (the final book in the series) to see what happens to this massively effed-up world.

Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde - 4 stars. This is a sci-fi book about people who can only see certain parts of the color spectrum, and how their entire society is based off of how powerful your eyes are. It's the first book in the series, and I desperately wish the second one were written because the ending of this one was cruel. What will Eddie do now that he knows what he knows? What will happen to Jane? There's not a good way for me to even summarize the story without spoilers, so you just need to go read it yourself. Just please, Please, don't confuse it with 50 Shades of Gray. Totally different book.

Bagels, Dirty Limericks, and Martinis: The Badass Guide to Writing Your First Book by Lisa Bledsoe and Sonja Foust - 3.5 stars. Fun little book about writing books. Very conversational style (thank goodness it's not textbook or soapbox style or I probably would have chucked it out the window). Very humorous. And even though it focused more on non-fiction, there were some really good tips for fiction writers, too. Also, the dirty limericks are great. The best part is that the authors tell you that no matter how many books about writing you read, the only thing that will make you a better writer is to write.

Wizard's First Rule (audiobook) by Terry Goodkind - 4 stars. I've read this book a few times, but the audiobook was fun. I think I might be slowly getting addicted to audiobooks in general. This is the first book in Goodkind's Sword of Truth series, and it is absolutely a high/epic fantasy story. I'm not going to write paragraphs here to summarize the story - the book is way too long for that. But I will say that Richard (the star, known as the Seeker) is a lot of fun. I like that he's not a perfect hero. He has a temper (actually, he earns the nickname Richard-with-the-temper from one village he visits) and he often jumps to conclusions (not always the right ones) before he stops himself and sorts it out rationally. There is a bit of insta-love when he meets Kahlan (which is pronounced KAY-lin but which I did not know for years until my dad laughed at me and then corrected me when I said Kah-LAHN), but honestly, that didn't bother me. With stories like this, when you already know the hero, the female love interest is going to be pretty obvious pretty quickly, so I'm glad I didn't have to spend time reading about Richard's internal debate over whether he liked Kahlan or not.

There is a Lot going on in this book, and not all of it is nice. Some of it is gruesome, and some of it is gross. Don't read this to your kids, and be prepared for a seriously twisted Bad Dude. Evil is nasty.

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman - 5 stars. I forgot how much I loved Gaiman's writing until I picked this up. Set in London, it's the story of how one kind act from star Richard Mayhew throws him into a world he never knew existed, and puts him on a quest to help the strange girl named Door and get back to his home in real London. Solve the mystery, evade the bad guys, save the day, and mind the gap.

Rest in Pieces by Rita Mae Brown - 3 stars. The second of the Mrs. Murphy mysteries, where the pets are the stars and try to push their humans into solving the murder mystery that's happening in their little town. It's fun, it's funny, and I didn't know who was the murderer 90 pages before any of the characters. Yay! It's also pushing a bit of a feminist agenda, which annoyed me, but at least it was toned down from the first one. There's a place for that, but I don't think the middle of a "cozy mystery" novel is it.

Secret Vampire by L. J. Smith - 4 stars. "Don't judge a book by its cover" is definitely true here. Luckily, I was reading the first trilogy omnibus, so I didn't see the frighteningly bad cover art for this particular book until I went to add it to my Read list on Goodreads. Yikes. Other than that, this book was exactly as promised: YA paranormal romance. Not my favorite stuff, but it was fun and I liked Poppy (the heroine). She felt real and reacted normally (meaning, the way you would expect a person to react) to the intensity and insanity of things in her life: she freaks out and doesn't know how to deal with the news that she has terminal cancer (not a spoiler; you know about it in the first chapter); she clings to her brother and her family when she realizes that she's really going to die; she looks to her long-time friend for support and gets pissed when he pulls the "I'm a vampire" line on her in the middle of her trying to deal with cancer. Actually, remembering that, it was pretty funny. The plot was lackluster and there was no real sense of build-up toward the end - it just sort of happened. But it was fun to read once.

Daughters of Darkness by L. J. Smith - 4 stars. Book two of the Night World series, and it has almost nothing to do with book one. The main characters are completely different, but there is one (Ash) who creates the link between the books. The overall theme of this series seems to be Nightworlders (the supernatural) finding their soulmates and dealing with the humans that keep getting tangled up in their lives (a big no-no for Nightworlders since the humans aren't supposed to know about them). Daughters of Darkness was cool in that we see a totally different side of Ash than Secret Vampire portrayed - even he didn't know it existed. :)

Spellbinder by L. J. Smith - 3.5 stars. Book three: now starring witches! Again we see Nightworlders finding soulmates and figuring out how to reconcile that against the "don't tell the humans" law. Thea, the heroine, was fun and spunky, although she was constantly pushed around by her cousin Blaise. Otherwise, more of the same from Smith. And still with the horrible cover art.

Every Other Day by Jennifer Lynn Barnes - 5 stars. This book was tons of fun. So many funny parts I had to read out loud. Plus, the plot was quite dark for a YA book. The ending was very satisfying from a literary standpoint, but made me mad as a reader. I want there to be more of these books.

Trivia Corner:

“MS. THOMPSON, PLEASE KEEP YOUR FELINE OFF MY PROPERTY. IF I SEE IT AGAIN, I WILL EAT IT.” - This is from the first Mercy Thompson novel, Moon Called. This book, and this series, are amazing. I cannot recommend these highly enough for anyone who loves fantasy fiction/urban fantasy, werewolves, vampires, shapeshifters, witches, fey, and general awesomeness. Mercy kicks ass.

Up next: "I like having my guts inside me, as opposed to having them smeared all over." "Yeah, guts should not see daylight."

May Reading

Writing is coming along, more slowly than I'd like for now with a few other things having been added to my plate. I have a solid outline and some good chunks done for my story about Jonathan Harper, vampire and artist. I also got the kinks worked out with a writer friend of mine about some possibilities for Akitis' story, and I'm very pleased to have the green light for that! Writing Akitis is probably one of my favorite characters right now. I've also gotten a few more scenes done for a very new story that has bullet lists and character sketches littering my hard drive. No news on Fire in the Blood yet, but I'm still hopeful for Kallizar's story to be published. As always, the effort continues and in the meantime, I keep busy with other things.

In reading news... I'm at 101 books read this year, which is very cool as that's already more than I read during all of 2011. Sadly, I'm 56 books behind schedule to make my goal of 365 by Dec. 31, but I maintain hope. And so, here are the books I read during May.

City of Glass by Cassandra Clare - 3.5 stars. Ok, so I lied in my previous post regarding this series when I said I was reading the final book. Somehow I got the impression that it was only a trilogy, and the ending of this bok (#3 in an ongoing series) certainly seemed to close things up nicely. The ending felt very solid and the series could have ended there, easily. That said, I'm looking forward to what the next book does with the situation. Would have been a straight 4-star review if the foreshadowing had been subtle in some way, but since it more or less bashed you in the face, big parts of the Big Reveal fell flat. Still a good series- excited for more.

C is for Corpse by Sue Grafton - 3 stars. Much better than the previous book. I actually cared about the characters and the fact that we knew going into the story that one of the characters was going to die (seriously not a spoiler- the first intro page tells you this person is dead) made it easier for me to connect with him and want to see justice. The end was rough and more confusing than the other two books, which doesn't inspire a lot of confidence in continuing the series. We'll see.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (audiobook) by J. K. Rowling, narrated by Jim Dale - 5 stars. I've read the books, listened to the unabridged productions (I love Jim Dale!) and seen the movies, and I really just love the story. There's great character development and just a lot of fun going on in this first book.

Nearlyweds by Beth Kendrick - 4 stars. Fun, quick read. (And yes, I enjoyed a piece of chick-lit. Surprising, but it does happen.) This tells the story of three couples who all get married by the same pastor, only to find out that the pastor has died days later- without having signed their marriage licenses. As each couple is already having serious problems, they have to decide whether the relationship is worth saving, or if they are going to go their separate ways. I'm fairly certain I had some life lessons snuck upon me while I was reading this, but it was cleverly disguised by humor and fun, so I will accept it. Adam dearest, if you are reading this, I did not question our decision to get married, and if our paperwork had been bad, I would have married you again in a second. :)

The Black by D. J. MacHale - 4 stars. This is the second book of a trilogy. It tells the same story as book 1, but from Cooper's perspective instead of Marsh's- which is a big deal, considering the circumstances. I found it very clever and thoroughly enjoyable, building on what we learned in book 1 and filling in the other side of things, while still pushing the overall plot forward to the Final Showdown that I assume will happen in book 3. Really looking forward to reading the end of this trilogy!

Individually Twisted by David Pickering - .5 stars, and even that is generous. I read this on a bet with a friend, who prefaced it with "this is probably the worst story I have ever read. You must read it so we can discuss its badness." The only good thing I have to say about this is that it was short, so the torture didn't last long. The structure was crap, the characters were laughable and couldn't even hold continuity with themselves, and there was No Plot. Really. There were times when it seemed like something *might* happen to the kids, but nothing ever did. Supposedly written to be a warning against letting your kids do drugs, this "book" not only failed to deliver a warning but actually ended with the message that if you go sell drugs, you can be millionaires and retire at the age of 20. I kid you not. Do yourself a favor, people (two, actually): don't do drugs, and don't read this book. Ever.

Naruto vol. 6: The Forest of Death by Masashi Kishimoto - 4 stars. I don't want to give any spoilers for ongoing stories, so reviewing the manga volumes I read is going to get more and more vague. This book has Naruto, Sasuke, and Sakura in the middle of their Chuunin ninja exam in a dangerous place called the Forest of Death. They run into one of the main antagonists of the series, a rogue ninja named Orochimaru. and Sasuke and Naruto both get more than they bargained for, and Sakura steps up.

Vampire Knight, vol. 1 by Matsuri Hino - 4 stars. I'd never heard of this series and came across it randomly, and I'm glad I picked it up. The art is gorgeous and the story seems promising- there's a boarding school with two groups of students: the day class and the night class. The day class is regular kids, and the night class is all vampires. The day class doesn't know this; they've been told that the night class is made up of the "elite" students. The story centers around a girl named Yuki and her friends- Zero, fellow human and guardian of the students keeping the two classes separated, and Kaname, vampire who saved Yuki from a rogue vampire when she was young. There was a twist at the end of this volume that I saw coming a mile away, but I'm definitely going to continue the series.

Red, White, and Blood by Christopher Farnsworth - 4 stars. Loved this one. Cade grows a lot, which is pretty cool considering he, as a vampire, doesn't change in a lot of ways. The enemy was fantastically creepy and reminded me of someone straight out of the TV show Supernatural (which is also excellent, by the way). The ending was solid and made me angry that the next book isn't out yet. I'm actively watching for it now. If you are squeamish, do not read this. It gets pretty grizzly.

Mister Monday by Garth Nix - 3 stars. It's a Nix book, so there was no question about whether to read it. Overall, it has promise, but the symbolism gave me whiplash. I plan to read more, if only to spend time in the awesome world Nix has created (his strongest point, I think) but I don't know when book 2 will make it to the top of my "on-deck" list.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (audiobook) by J. K. Rowling, narrated by Jim Dale - 5 stars. I still love this world. Lockhart really annoys me (as well he should). The Chamber part was also excellent. One thing that I've never understood is how Hermione, as smart as she is, managed to confuse a cat hair for a person's. :)

The Dark Sleep by P. N. Elrod - 4 stars. Book 8 in the series, and it spends a lot of time on the supporting cast, letting Jack step out of the limelight for a bit. We learn a lot about Escott, something I've been dying for since we met him. The story itself was great, but there's one part - just a few paragraphs - that kept this from being a 5-star review. Jack is a former journalist, now trying to write and someday publish a fiction novel. Fine. But Elrod took a few paragraphs to basically say, "look how hard it is to write something cool that will get picked up by a publisher! It's so much work. It takes a lot of perseverance and the author should really get a pat on the back for being so determined and pushing through the struggles." That really annoyed me. Yes, it's true that it can be hard to write something good, and even harder perhaps to get it printed. But that's what writing is about - what any kind of art is about. You create it because you want to, you polish it because you care and you want it to be the best it can be. When you present a piece of artwork, you want people to notice how nice it is. You don't then pull out the fifty failed attempts and shove them under their noses to tell them how hard it was to get right. Effort is behind-the-scenes stuff. Or at the very least, if you want to talk about the process of creating it, you find an appropriate time - and the middle of a novel is not the place for telling readers how hard it was to get the script done.

Anyway. Aside from those paragraphs, it was very good.

Bleach vol. 22: Conquistadores by Tite Kubo - 4 stars. I'll combine my review of all three Bleach volumes here. Basically, Ichigo is having some serious problems with his Hollow, and the Visoreds know it. Then some new enemies drop in from Hueco Mundo and go after the scouting Soul Reapers, breaking into  five different battles across the night sky of Karakura Town. Arrancars are tough, and these ones are led by the even tougher Espada 6, Grimmjow (who, incidentally, is one of my most favorite characters to date). The Soul Reapers realize they are in some serious crap, and Ichigo finally realizes what must be done to save himself.

Bleach vol. 23: Mala Suerte! by Tite Kubo - 5 stars.

Bleach vol. 24: Immanent God Blues by Tite Kubo - 5 stars.

Reached by Ally Condie - 3.5 stars. The introduction of the plague saved this book from the brink of oblivion. Just by the nature of the other two books in this trilogy and the way things were heading, it was obvious that not one of the main characters was in danger of dying, so that killed a lot of the suspense. But the way the plague was introduced, and the explanation of the viral growth and mutation, was very cool and accurate and brought something new and interesting to the table. Overall, a stock ending to a stock YA storyline. Worth reading once if you are looking for something to pass the time, but I think there are better things out there.

Sushi 101: The Fundamental Ingredients, Techniques and Concepts of Sushi by Cooking Penguin - 4 stars. This rating comes from ease of use, not from actual book formatting. This book can get away with being more conversational because it's a short little ebook on the how-to of sushi-making. Being a big sushi lover, I was happy for this book's existence, because I now know the basic ingredients and needed preparations to try making a few maki rolls at home. Yum!

Up next I've got plans to continue with the Harry Potter audiobooks, as well as a book called The Rook by Daniel O'Malley that's on the agenda next for my book club. Bleach, Naruto and other manga will also continue, and beyond that, I intend to keep on raiding the library. I also have some advance copies of novels soon to be released for sale that I have on the schedule to read and review. For more info on any of these books, or to see what I've said about other books in the past, check out my GoodReads read shelf. Anything read this year has a review along with it. Feel free to send me recommendations, either on here or through GoodReads messages - I'm always looking for new books! (And if you have a horrible book like Individually Twisted you think I would enjoy tearing apart, let me know- just be sure to warn me that it's terrible or I may question your sanity.)

Feast to Follow Famine

Help yourself to whatever you want: I've prepared a smorgasbord of tasty tidbits from my reading and writing efforts this past month. Heck, have some of everything! Writing:

- I got my first official rejection letter. Considering I didn't think I would get any notification at all unless I was accepted, it was a nice surprise. I've put that submission away and am working on my synopsis before I submit to my next candidate. Onwards!

- Synopsis work is tedious, scary, and absolutely necessary. It's been eating a lot of my time, and, like most writing projects, never seems to have much to show for the amount of work until very late in the game. But at least I know where the ending is, and that makes it easier.

- In the wake of finishing FITB, I've been dabbling with quite a few other stories. Consequently, I don't have another big work in progress yet, but I am enjoying working on the handful of smaller things. They all have outlines (some very sparse still) and plans for being their own novels... but I forgot how much fun it is at the beginning of a story to just go into "random creative mode" and let the story do whatever it wants, and screw the outline. Characters tell you a lot more about themselves when you don't keep them tethered all the time.

- I am trying to incorporate more writing into my day job (I'm a software Quality Assurance tester) - primarily this means writing more wikis and the like for my team. Nothing at all like fiction storytelling. But who knew? I really like writing wikis. :)

Reading:

- I'm only slightly behind schedule to meet my 2013 goal of reading 365 books. I tried to add the tracker widget to this site, but I can't because apparently WordPress doesn't play well with java. Ah well. If you're interested, it's on my GoodReads profile.

- Want to see my reviews for the books I've been devouring lately? I post them all on GoodReads. (Yes, I am addicted to that site. Yes, you should be also.) I review every book I read, although with some of them (like the graphic novels) are more of a spoiler-free summary of that installment. I hate it when things get spoiled for me, so I do my very best to write spoiler-free reviews for everything. GoodReads also has this handy little html tag for hiding spoiler comments in a review, so if I do decide there's something spoilery worth calling out, it will be hidden until you click the "show spoiler" link. (Edit: There's been a few problems with the above link, so here's the steps to get there yourself. Go to my profile. Click on my Read shelf. Sort by Date Read so the most recent date is at the top. Any book with a Date Read in 2013 will have a review. I make no guarantees for dates prior to that.)

- Libraries are one of the greatest things in the world. I get all of my "impulse-shopping" out whenever I go to the library, because I don't actually have to spend money. The last time I went, I needed to pick up two books that were on hold for me. I walked out with a stack of books so tall I could barely see over it. I even had to put one book back because I just couldn't hold any more. My friend told me it looked like I'd robbed the place.

- A random sampling of some of the books I've been reading lately: Animorphs (my first time ever), The Walking Dead, The Devil in Silver, The Light... you know what? They're all on GoodReads too. Suffice to say that I've picked up and read some books I never would have thought about reading (like The Secret Keeper, a historical fiction novel) because of my library wanderings, and others (like Down the Rabbit Hole) at the recommendation of my friends. Genre-wise, I've been picking up a fair bit of YA- found a few really good ones (All These Things I've Done, City of Bones) and a few annoying-beyond-belief ones (Confessions of a Murder Suspect, Masquerade). I also raided the mystery section and now have some of the alphabet mysteries by Sue Grafton, as well as The Dead Zone by Stephen King (how embarrassing, I nearly spelled his name wrong!). Continuing of course to read some of my favorite authors, like Garth Nix (Confusion of Princes) and Jim Butcher (Cold Days from The Dresden Files), but I also think I have found one or two more authors to make it to the level of "favorite" - Jasper Fforde, Iris Johansen. And lastly, I even picked up some audio books, both narrated by Jim Dale. As one of my friends mentioned in her review, I would listen to Jim Dale read anything, even the phone book.

In Short:

- Writing is hard work, and still amazing.

- Reading is good for the soul.

- Libraries are the best things ever. Go there now.

- I should be paid to advertise GoodReads. (Kidding. But seriously, if you like reading at all, check them out. Send me a message!)

Screams in the Red Rain

How has it been so long since my last post? Shame... But here's some quick tidbits of cool info going on in my writing/reading world, followed by another character sketch I wrote for my time travel story. (The other sketch for the character named Millie can be found here.) - I set a reading goal for myself this year: finish 365 books before midnight, Dec. 31. Bonus points if they are all first-time-reads. So far, I'm only 1 book behind schedule. (Want to see what books I've read and check out some reviews? Look me up on Goodreads.) (Interested in other fun shenanigans my brain decided? Check out and sign up for my other blog, RealmwalkerWriting!)

- I have a list of literary agents who are looking for work by new authors or my genre and will be submitting queries and such to them very soon.

- When I go to the library on Monday to pick up a book that's being held for me, I will have to pay my first-ever fine for having a book too damaged to return. Sadly, my puppy found a way to get onto my dining table while I was out getting groceries, and slightly mangled The Better Part of Darkness by Kelly Gay. Sad. At least I got to finish reading it, though.

- Two of my friends recently had me over for dinner and decided we would watch My Little Pony. I later went home and read Dead Reckoning by Mercedes Lackey and Rosemary Edghill. Consequently, I had Applejack from My Little Pony narrating this book set in post-Civil War Texas - extra funny when the zombies showed up. :)

Enjoy the character sketch!

-----

My first thought was, it’s raining. But that didn’t make much sense – I was in my house. How could it be raining in my house? My second thought, that the roof had a leak, didn’t make sense, either. No self-respecting builder would have a leaky roof on a house he built.

But I was lying on the floor, on the soft rugs covering the hard wood, and I knew there were drips of water on my face. Had I been crying? No. Besides, if I had been crying, the drips wouldn’t have hit me from the ceiling – they wouldn’t have startled me awake.

Well, lying there wondering wasn’t going to solve the mystery. If I wanted to figure out why it was raining in the house, I’d have to open my eyes. I expected to see one of my siblings – probably my younger brother – standing over me, holding a glass of water and giggling at me.

He wasn’t there. No one was. I felt another drip and looked up at the ceiling, but with the late hour and the fireplace too far away, I couldn’t see. Sighing, I stood and grabbed one of the candles from the dining table. Mother would be annoyed that I disturbed her decorations, but I would put it back and just pray she didn’t notice. Mother always liked to have things perfect for the holidays, especially for Christmas. The tree, with its own decorations of carefully hand-carved ornaments, painted by my siblings and me as we had grown throughout the years. The garlands of evergreen boughs tied together with silk ribbon – expensive, Father said. Pretty, Mother said, and worth the money to ready our house for the coming of the Baby Jesus. It’s funny… I never saw him actually show up. With only a few days left before Christmas Day, the area beneath the tree was stuffed with presents wrapped in shiny paper, bright scraps of cloth, or tucked away inside pouches that Mother and I had sewn new for this year. Our stockings were hanging over the fireplace, just like always. I had stitched the names on them myself this time, instead of having to follow Mother’s patterns. From this far away, I couldn’t read them, but I knew they were there and I smiled nonetheless.

Even holding the candle up toward the ceiling didn’t help much. We had a big house, and the ceiling was too far away. I looked around, but since I didn’t see anyone, I decided to chance it and climbed up onto the table, my bare feet stepping carefully around the other candles and the fragile manger scene that decorated the tabletop. I held the candle up again…

…and screamed.

I was right. It was raining inside. Only it wasn’t water… it was blood.

Where was my family? My brother, my sister, my mother and father? Whose blood was this, leeching down from the roof? I looked down at myself and had to clap my hand to my mouth to keep from screaming again. I was covered in drops of sticky blood. I had been lying on the floor for a long time… had I slept through some terrible nightmare?

No… Now that I was awake, filled with adrenaline, I could feel the pounding in my head. I hadn’t fallen asleep. I’d been attacked.

I jumped down from the table, making the manger scene rattle. “Mother!” I yelled. “Where are you?” I was terrified. Where was everyone? Had they run away, thinking I was dead?

The rest blurred together in my memory, too much to take in so fast. Somewhere, out of the darkness, a hand snaked out and grabbed my arm, pulling me in. I began to scream when a second hand quickly covered my mouth. My nose caught the scent of soap and lavender and I realized these were my mother’s hands. I remember her whispering to me in a frightened voice. We had to get out, she said. They were still very near, and they would not let us leave alive. I asked about my siblings in a whisper crushed by my own emotion, and my mother’s choked-back sobs were answer enough.

Most unluckily, the flickering light of my candle lit up a sliver of the room for a moment and I saw a flash of what had happened to my siblings. They were not dead. They had been murdered, brutally and savagely killed and tossed aside like garbage. I was angry and scared… and then I was sick, all over the floor of Mother’s closet where we were hiding. I had never seen a dead body before.

Mother and I made it out of that house. We had to climb out onto the roof because we could see dark shapes blocking the stairs leading down to the first floor and to safety. I could tell Mother was scared. I had not told Mother about the blood-rain in the dining room. I hoped I was wrong, but I thought I knew whose it must be, if Mother and I were here and my siblings were still inside.

Mother did not look. She did not know to look. I think if she had known, she never would have left, and we both would have died. Instead she let down the escape ladder my father had built into the roof, in case there was ever a fire, and began to climb down. She called for me to come after, but her voice was small and far away. I was caught, stunned and terrified, by the scene on the roof.

My father was dead, that was certain. Whoever had attacked us had made it clear that he was not able to protect his house or his family. Spikes, like the big ones they used down at the railroads, gleamed red in my eyes. My stomach heaved again even as I ran over to him and grabbed the slick iron with both hands,  begging my father to get up. I don’t know why. I knew he couldn’t hear me. I knew.

My mother called again, frantically, and I heard her. I jumped to the ladder and slid down the sides, getting splinters in my hands. Mother grabbed me and dragged me along behind her, running as fast as she could away from that house. I was running, too, but my legs were too slow to keep up with her, so I mostly stumbled and slowed her down.

I don’t know how long we ran. I remember looking back and seeing the black shadows moving around that house, hearing voices that faded away as my panic overtook them and turned them into howls of demons. We finally stopped, what seemed to be miles and miles away, and collapsed, panting hard and trying to uncramp our exhausted lungs and limbs.

Mother looked at me. You look a mess, she said, attempting to smile, but instead she began to cry. I felt a mess. Blood, vomit, sweat all clung to my clothes, splinters dug into my hands. It didn’t matter. Mother wrapped her arms around me and pulled me close, crying low sobs that rattled the soul to hear them. I buried my face in her shoulder. This time it was raining inside, and leaking out through my eyes as tears that soaked my mother’s clothes. Why did it happen? I remember asking her through my hiccups, trying to control myself and failing miserably.

My mother pulled away a little so she could look at me. Cupping her hands around my face, she smiled. It was a real smile, even though her eyes were so sad. She didn’t know, she said, but she was thankful that she still, at least, had me, and I had her. We were not alone.

I cried again. My mother frowned and brushed the tears away, making them mix with the blood on my cheeks and leave sticky trails behind. She said she understood, and she knew it would be hard, but we would get through it. God always had a reason, and he was watching over us.

I looked up at my mother and asked a question that had been burning in my heart for all the years I could remember: Was this my punishment because I was different?

I had always felt responsible for everything when I realized I was different. When my brother was born, I knew he was not like me. When my sister was born, I knew she was like my brother. Like Mother and Father. Not like me.

My mother gripped my hands tightly in her own and pressed them to her heart. She looked at me and told me to listen very closely, that I must never forget what she was about to tell me. I was different, I was special. I had power inside of me. God would never give His child such a gift and then punish her for having it. I had this power, and I should remember to always, always, do good with it. Use it to honor her. Use it to honor my family. Use it to honor God.

I felt safe there, with my mother, sitting beneath the trees. She had told me that I was not the reason we were alone now. It had been a cruel act of violence, but it had been random. There was nothing we could have done.

Lies.

Although my mother did not know it, the fear I had harbored since I had been a child, the fear that my difference, this “power,” would bring pain to my family, had come true. Those shadow-men had been after me, and it cost my brother, my sister, and my father their lives, and my mother her husband and her children.

I left my mother with some family friends who promised to take care of her. We did not explain everything, only the bare facts – that we had been victims of a terrible crime and were all that was left of our family. I left. My mother begged me not to go, but I could not bear to stay. This power, whatever it was, had killed my family. I would not let it hurt her, too – not any more than it already had.

***

Memory fades with time. All these events happened so long ago, I cannot remember much. I cannot remember the sound of my mother’s voice, my father’s face, or my sibling’s laughs. I cannot remember the town in which we lived, nor even the country, anymore. I cannot remember my family’s names… I cannot even remember my own name.

I can remember my scream, when I first saw the blood-rain oozing through the ceiling. I can remember the shadow-men darting around that house.

I can remember because I still see them, I still hear them, in my dreams, sometimes… and it always ends the same way: I am running around that house, trying to catch the shadow-men and see who it is that has murdered my family. I lock eyes with one of them through the darkness, and it is as though he can see me through my own dreams, from within my own mind.

I do not wake screaming anymore. One grows used to such nightmares, when one has them for so many years. But the unsettling feeling never grows dim, and I fear that one day, soon, all that will remain of my memory are those soul-piercing eyes and a child’s scream as blood rains down.

2.5 Stars: Incandescent by M. V. Freeman

I really wanted to give this book a higher rating, but in the end it earned 2.5 stars.The plot was good - three races fighting for control, each with their own brand of magic and their own justified hatred of one another. The characters were compelling and I cared about them. But I couldn't stay immersed in the story because the writing was so rough. At first I just did a small double-take and attributed it to a sneaky typo missed during editing (I've been through enough rounds to know that there's always that one little weasel that gets through)... but by the end of the book, I was having to translate the book rather than read it. Pluses for Incandescent: - Intriguing premise of Elementals, Mages, and Darks. - Strong heroine who (except for once) was believable and real - Attractive anti-hero with the "dark and dangerous and sexy" completely owned - Mina. She is a great character and I would gladly read an entire book about her - Laurie's friends Rachel and Nicki. Though not heavily featured, they were believable too, and likeable

Minuses for Incandescent: - Really rough writing. It felt like I was back to tutoring freshmen for their papers for English 101. - New terms used with little to no introduction. I don't mind new terms in a fantasy book; I do mind when I'm two-thirds through the book and have to check the glossary in the back because I'm tired of being the only person in this world who doesn't know what a Cogent is. - The one scene that broke Laurie as believable for me for a bit. (Check out my Goodreads review if you want the spoiler version.) - Flow of time. I have honestly no idea the timespan covered in this book. I think it was a few months but it felt more like a few weeks at most.

If there are more books coming in this series (which I sincerely hope, given the rather abrupt ending), I am looking forward to reading them. Just please get another few rounds of heavy editing in beforehand to clean up the comma-splicing mess.

Ill Omen

A look back to the coronation of King Fawlen and the beginning of the end of Kallizar's old life.  

 

“And now, we must complete the ceremony for which so many have gathered to see,” Prophet Zahn continued. “You have passed your third and final test; you have shown yourself to be a humble and compassionate man, gentle and wise beyond the boundaries of the royal line.”

Mikael approached both Fawlen and Seriah. “Kneel, my brother,” Mikael said, “that you may be given what is yours.” He drew his sword, the glinting blade catching the sunlight and throwing it across the waiting crowd in green flickers.

Trembling very slightly, Fawlen lowered himself to his knees before his brother.

The edge of Mikael’s sword came down on Fawlen’s left shoulder. “The nation of Fyan cries out for a new king!” His voice was steady but his eyes were bright with emotion. “You have proven yourself, before this country and this court, that you are ready and worthy to answer this call!”

The entire courtyard watched with unblinking eyes, tense with excitement. This was the moment – the new king was about to be crowned!

The members of the court watched wide-eyed as well, but their tension was borne of sudden panic. Instead of lifting his sword and finishing the ceremony, Mikael had pressed down on the blade. It had bitten into Fawlen’s shoulder and a small patch of dark red was blossoming onto Fawlen’s clothes.

Kallizar looked around rapidly, checking the extent of the situation. Hirom had not yet noticed anything amiss, thank the gods. Seriah had – her knuckles were white where she gripped the arms of her chair. But she seemed torn between stopping Mikael by force and staying still so as not to alert the crowd.

For a split second, Kallizar met Mahlíz’ eyes. He looked stunned.

Fawlen looked much the same. Shock was all over his face, and pain beneath that… but whether from his wounded shoulder or from his brother’s actions, Kallizar couldn’t tell.

Kallizar looked to Mikael, her heart trying to beat itself free of her ribcage. What was he doing? Why in Lillith’s name would he attack Fawlen? A sudden, terrible thought entered her mind. Mikael… have you lied all this time?

A sharp, almost electric sensation hit her a second later, and Kallizar realized what must be going on. A quick glance at Mahlíz told her he had figured it out as well. Someone had thrown a spell on Mikael’s sword, and from the look of things, the prince couldn’t do anything to stop it. The muscles in his arm bulged as he strained to lift the blade, and sweat was starting to trickle down his worried face.

Mahlíz’ magic swirled onto the scene, soft blue hues to Kallizar’s vision. It wrapped around the prince’s sword and smothered the offending spell, choking it out until nothing remained.

Mikael must have felt the pressure fading because his face relaxed and he adjusted his grip so the blade would not go flying over his head.

Kallizar scoured the crowd for the guilty Sorcerer, but she could not sense anyone with that magic. Nor did she see anyone who looked particularly guilty, or surprised, or disappointed. The magical signature dissipated as Mahlíz’ magic destroyed the last of the spell, but Kallizar wouldn’t soon forget that feeling. It was all she had to figure out who – and how. Something was off about that signature… it was too scrambled, too confused, to have been natural magic. Someone had been meddling.

That thought made Kallizar extremely uncomfortable. Tainted magic came as the result of dark experiments, indeed.

Don't Interrupt a Sorcerer

Concentration is key for Sorcerers - if they are interrupted, pray to the gods you weren't the one to do so, or you may well have blood on your hands. Here we see Kallizar attending to the severely wounded villagers in the far north of Fyan, victims of a cruel pirate raid. Kallizar wished yet again that she could use her magic to heal another, but she was limited by the same thing that allowed people’s bodies to heal themselves. Her magic was foreign to them, and they fought it off. Only the Prophets could truly heal, using the gods’ powers directly. Even with all her strength, it was not enough to keep the spell up for very long. After only a few minutes, she was forced to stop. She was beginning to sweat, and her hands shook when she removed them. So did her legs when she attempted to stand.

“Water, please,” she said, kneeling quickly. When she had downed what was brought, she moved on to the next victim, this one the woman with the missing eye.

She had barely begun when she felt heat rising against her chest. Confused, she hesitated. In that moment, the spell faltered, snapping back on her with a vengeance. Kallizar jerked her hands away as pain shot up her neck, searing hot. She reeled backwards and landed heavily on her back.

Mai rushed to her side. “What happened?” she asked urgently.

Kallizar reached for the emerald necklace, belatedly realizing what had happened. As she had suspected, it was still warm to the touch – the king had called. However, when she attempted to call the wind to respond, she found herself too weak even for that. As she held the gem, it flared again.

“Oh, gods, what happened to you?”

The shock and concern in Mai’s voice cut through the pain Kallizar was feeling in her neck. “I was interrupted,” she explained. Her voice sounded oddly distant to her ears. “I got surprised and I lost my balance.”

Mai was shaking her head. “No, not that,” she said. “Your neck.” The confusion was evident in her eyes.

Kallizar was having trouble concentrating – the pain in her neck was terrible, a much different kind of fire than the feel of magic in her blood. “I… what?”

“Mai, look!” One of the other relief workers, a man, was staring at the woman in the bed. When Mai saw her, she stared, as well.

Kallizar’s heart sped up with worry. “I… what done?” she asked. Somehow, the words didn’t seem to be making as much sense as they should have been. The pain was growing, across her shoulder, down her back, and up her jaw and cheek.

Mai looked back at Kallizar. Panic blossomed across her features. “Naloi, help me,” she ordered the man. “She’s getting worse.”

Kallizar’s vision wavered; one of her eyes seemed unwilling to open. “Died?” she asked despairingly, gesturing with weak arms toward the bedridden woman.

Mai smiled carefully. “No, Sorcerer,” she assured her. “She will be more than fine.” Her smile died as worry consumed it. “Sorcerer?”

Kallizar vaguely felt herself lifted from the ground. Her skin throbbed and burned, making her recoil from the touch. Someone laid a cool cloth across her face; Kallizar realized she was lying down again. She heard Mai’s voice, low and frightened. “Naloi, go. She’s got a horse at the edge of the city. The prince is with his men at No’om. Tell him to hurry…”

Words from the Wise

Quotes from important people from Fyan's history. As a date reference, Tijak was king when Kallizar first joined the Fyanish High Court, and not long after that the prince Mikael became Commander General. High Prophet Zahn was the Prophet living in Xuun during Tijak's, and then Fawlen's, reign. All the rest of the people lived in a time before Kallizar. Lillith and Ri'hannon, of course, live throughout history as gods watching over the mortal realm.  

 

"The power of magic and even the might of the gods pales beside the strength of love we hold for one another.” -Sorcerer Jarrod,  Prophet of Lillith

 

“Do not try to live up to my name. Instead, make yours one for all generations to remember. You are strong and your heart is great – protect and love your people and they will sing of you until the stars go out.”  -Tijak, late king of Fyan, spoken to his son and heir, Fawlen

 

"An icy thrill rippled through me, and a chilling shudder passed through my body. My heart quaked within me and I clapped my hands to my pounding head. I cried for mercy; I called out for Ri’hannon’s gentle hand.

But the voice that answered me was not Ri’hannon. ‘Guess again, mortal.' The sound of her words thundered in my ears, rattling my bones. ‘You shall have your mercy, for I will stay my wrath. And you shall be my Prophet.’”  -Sorcerer Jarrod

 

“Know your objective. Watch for your enemy. Do not let anything stop you from moving forward to the very end. We are soldiers of Fyan – we will not fail; we will not fall!” -Mikael, Commander General

 

“And so men discovered the pain that came with the fires of magic. Their healing nature kept the Sorcerer from sickness and healed even his most grievous of wounds. They protected his body. But those flames weighed heavily on the Sorcerer’s soul, forcing him to say good-bye to everyone he had once loved as they aged and fell around him.” -Wrade the Historian

 

"Some say we fear what we cannot see. I think, rather, that we fear what we can see and yet cannot change, what we cannot stop, what we cannot control. Helplessness ignites the worst fears in us all.”  -Izmund, Prophet of Ri’hannon

 

"Close your eyes and look at what you see, and your sight will be made clear.”  -excerpt from the Book of the Gods

 

"All that you were is a part of who you are, even if who you are is not who you once were. And at the end, you will have been all that you were meant to be, for only you can choose which path in life you walk and where your steps may fall.”  -Prophet Izmund

 

"You say you do not believe, but it is your faith that will be your undoing.”  -Sorcerer Jarrod, Prophet of Lillith

 

“Regard this day with honor and glory, and celebrate the birth of our country, our Fyan! Let there be no quarrel between noble and common, between House or trader or Sorcerer or Prophet or farmer. Let every citizen gather together in celebration of our heritage and our future. And every year shall the High Court hold such a celebration that only the gods be spoken of more highly.”  -Ny’mara, High Queen of Fyan

 

"By the gods do I so live. In the gods do I so die. My faith makes me fearless.”  -part of the oath sworn by the Fyanish military

 

“If I could, I would wrench my soul from my body, so that I would not have to bear the sorrows of these long years. But the tears I shed must suffice.”  -Sorcerer Zeke

 

"'Have faith,’ he cried, ‘I cannot fail! My magic is the highest power!’

But magic cannot make you immortal, Sorcerer. That crackling you hear is not your flames– it is the sound of your soul breaking.”  -High Prophet Zahn

 

“We are not in your world, but we can see your suffering. We are not all-knowing, but we can feel your pain. We do not hold ultimate power, and we marvel at your strength. Mortals, your gods do watch over you.”  -Lillith and Ri’hannon

 

"People born with magic become Sorcerers. People born with power become legends.”  -Shaana the Wise

FITB: The Beginning

Meet Riat, Aeva, and Kallizar for the first time in this clip of the first one thousand words of Fire in the Blood. “Stand up, boy, and don’t make me tell you again or you’ll have my sword at your back!”

Riat tried to straighten his sore muscles, but they rebelled and he winced involuntarily. It had been a long, hard march to get to the slave markets, and it was only the beginning of a long and miserable day. He had no misconceptions about it being otherwise. Riat was twenty-three, and after eleven years in the slave trade, he knew exactly what was coming.

The trader glowered at him and drew his shortsword. “I said stand up!” he snapped, slapping the flat of the blade hard against the base of Riat’s spine.

“Careful, Maakus,” called another man from a few feet down. “If you hit it too hard, no one will want it.”

Riat, who had been knocked to his knees by the blow, did not know whether to thank the Sorcerer who had spoken or hate him even more. Not that it mattered.

Maakus grumbled but sheathed the sword. “Fine.” He grabbed Riat by the hair and yanked him to his feet, ignoring the young man’s cry of pain. He stared into Riat’s dark blue eyes with a creepy-looking smile. “Guess you owe Sorcerer Danis, now, slave.”

The Sorcerer grabbed Maakus and pulled him to the side. “Hush now. Here comes your first customer of the day.” He stepped away, adopting a pose of feigned indifference. His presence at the slave markets was required by law throughout all of Varaetí: a Sorcerer must be present to ensure fairness of deals and prevent stealing of slaves – or attempts at escape. But Danis had become a good friend of Maakus over the years, so he rarely did anything that would result in less money for the trader.

The customers did not know, of course. They knew that Sorcerer Danis was from the king: the tattoo on his left wrist proved him to be a registered member of King Steph’non’s protective network of Sorcerers. Of course he would be doing everything in his power to ensure fairness to the citizens of Varaetí.

Riat looked around dully for the first customers, wondering what kind of slaves they were after. It was an older man, which meant Riat was probably safe for now… although he didn’t envy the girl that would likely end up with him.

The man bought a tan-skinned brunette in the end, somewhere in her late teens. From what Riat could see, she did not appear to understand a word of what was being said, which meant she was probably from Fyan, the country across the sea. Riat looked down as the man, smiling too widely, took the girl by the arm and pulled her away.

Not long after, Sorcerer Danis suddenly stiffened. “Maakus, look sharp,” he hissed quietly. “We’ve got a Sorcerer on the way. A powerful one.”

Maakus grinned. Sorcerers were his best buyers. They loved to use slaves for all kinds of magical experiments.

Riat knew this, too. Please, Ri’hannon, he begged, praying to the god of mercy, please let the Sorcerer pass me by.

However, even as scared as Riat was, he could not look away when the Sorcerer entered the market. She was eerily beautiful, with short, auburn hair and pale skin that was just colored enough to hint at foreign blood somewhere in her line. Of more interest was the glow that seemed to emanate from beneath her skin. It was faint, but still there. Her clothes, Riat could see by a glance, were well-made – fine silk and soft leather, dyed a striking mix of red and black. He had done work for a tailor once, a few years back, but nothing like this.

Beside her, Riat saw a girl – a young woman in age similar to Riat. She had the fair skin of the Vaerish and Riat knew she was no relation to the Sorcerer. Her hair was much lighter, her stature much shorter than the tall Sorcerer.

Riat watched as the Sorcerer bent and whispered into the young woman’s ear. A friend, perhaps? Or a friend’s daughter? Riat latched onto his curiosity, using it as a guard against his fear.

Unfortunately it evaporated when the young woman pointed at him. The Sorcerer nodded and began to approach him. Why, why did it have to be me? Riat mourned silently, trying to look as useless as possible.

The Sorcerer came right up to him and then did something incredible. She knelt down and looked into his lowered face. Riat tried to hunch away without looking like he was doing so, but his sore muscles prevented him from bending that far.

“Hello, young man.”

Riat looked up without meaning to. Had he heard her correctly? Her words had a lilt to them, telling Riat that Vaerish was not her native tongue, but it was not enough to make him confuse that greeting. Then he saw her face and nearly fainted.

It was not terrible, or scarred, or filled with malice. On the contrary, the Sorcerer’s oddly pale skin gave her a strange kind of beauty. Her jaw was strong and her mouth was curved into a gentle smile. But her eyes quickly captured all of Riat’s attention. They were light grey, which was odd enough. But the truly frightening thing was the flames that burned behind them. They flickered and danced quietly, having no apparent effect on her whatsoever. Was she crazed? Taken by a spirit? Or was this merely a trick she had used in order to frighten him? Magic could do anything. He had seen Sorcerer Davis do some terrifying things on more than one occasion.

The Sorcerer blinked her frightening eyes once, and Riat realized something else: these eyes were kind. They held a look of kindness.

“Can you understand me, young man?” the Sorcerer asked.

Riat swallowed. “Yes, Sorcerer,” he whispered.

“Then could you please tell me, young man: what is your name?”

Riat was completely bewildered. She had asked him a question, not issued him a command. Moreover, she had asked for his name. No one, ever, had done that.

He tried not to hyperventilate. “My name? My name is Riat, Sorcerer.”

The Sorcerer smiled again and extended her hand to him. “Hello, Riat. My name is Kallizar, and I am here to buy your freedom.”

***

Kallizar waited a moment for her words to sink in.

Beside her, Aeva tried not to look uncomfortable. She remembered the slave trade all too well, having run away from it only one year ago. Running into Kallizar had been an accident, but it had been the best thing to happen to her so far. She hoped this Riat would be able to say the same thing.

Kallizar glanced at Aeva. “Stay with him while I go take care of… business.”

“Still in one piece, Kallizar,” Aeva warned quietly.

Kallizar ignored her and walked coolly up to where both Maakus and Danis stood, trying to look as though they had not just been in a heated discussion over what they had overheard.

Maakus cleared his throat and smiled. “Welcome, Sorcerer. I take it you have found something to your liking?”

Kallizar gritted her teeth. “The boy named Riat. What is his price?”

Maakus had to look down the line to see which slave Kallizar was referencing. “Seventy gold Daari.”

Danis paid no attention whatsoever to the following bout of haggling. He was much too preoccupied with the Sorcerer herself. Her power was immense! He could see it in her eyes as well as sense it around her. The flames of her magic roared in her eyes, and they burned with a strength he had never before seen. The flames in his own eyes were barely visible. He swallowed his jealousy quickly. If this Sorcerer was so strong, she could likely do anything she wanted – including make his life very good, if this sale went well.

When she handed over a large pouch of gold, Danis could not help but stare, his heart suddenly pounding. The Sorcerer’s left wrist was bare. She had no tattoo.

She was not registered.

Kallizar returned to Aeva’s side. “Riat,” she said gently, addressing him, “I have paid your price. You are no longer bound to Maakus.”

“Am I now bound to you, Sorcerer?” Riat asked. He smiled a very little bit. Perhaps this Sorcerer would be nicer than the rest.

Kallizar shook her head. “No, Riat. You are no longer bound to anyone. You are free.”

Aeva smiled at Riat. “It sounds crazy, but it’s true. She did the same for me.”

Riat was not so sure. “Then why are you still with her? Why didn’t you leave?”

Aeva shrugged. “Where else would I go? Kallizar has given me a home. She gave me more than I could have gotten if I had tried to go somewhere else. I’m safe with her.”

“Then if you’re not looking for a slave,” asked Riat, “why did you come to the slave market, Sorcerer?”

The seriousness in Kallizar’s gaze made Riat feel almost crushed beneath its weight. “Because I know that terror.”

Kallizar: Fire in the Blood

I've spent a lot of time with Kallizar's story. Submitting it was the scariest and most exciting thing  I have ever done, and I'm happy for the experience. I'm also happy that I was able to take a good long look at my work and decide what would be the best for it. In the end, I decided to cut it down from a trilogy to a stand-alone novel. The vast majority of the book was the script from Book 2, but is now entitled Fire in the Blood. (I'm not going to go back and edit previous posts that refer to the old trilogy setup, but I have changed the categories and tags around a bit to make things easier to find and to reflect the new changes.)

For a while, I thought this would just be a novella-length story about a Sorcerer named Kallizar who worked as the Court Sorcerer for a kingdom and uncovered a plot about one of the nobles trying to take over the throne. As I kept working on it, more and more craziness started popping up with Kallizar's history and suddenly she informed me she had major history with a guy named Tavius - apparently he used to be her student, but when he started messing around with twisted magic Kallizar kicked him out. The entire "noble taking over the throne" arc pretty much disappeared as I let the other characters just kind of take over the story.

I can't remember how it all ended, but I know there were far too many characters and not nearly enough continuity to hold it together as a novel. But I'd written the entire thing, beginning to end, and I'd even had to get out a second notebook. Exciting! I was about to be a sophomore, and I'd actually finished a story I had started.

During the rest of high school I didn't work on Kallizar's story much, but I did bring her to life when I went to the Michigan Renaissance Festival. That was a blast. :)

Fast forward a bit to college. I had clips and bits from dozens of characters and stories, but Kallizar was nagging at me. Finally I sat down and re-worked a bunch of her story to get her to shut up, and decided most of what I had written in high school was crap, but there were some really neat ideas that I could branch out with. I grabbed a brand new notebook and started scribbling, and by the time I was ready to graduate, I had the rough manuscripts for two books in a planned trilogy ready to be typed out and edited, and the basic outline for the final book.

Go forward another year or so and I have a day job and almost no time to work on refining my scripts. But eventually I get the first one done and have a friend (another writing geek) read it over. Terrifying. More terrifying because in going through it before I hand it over to her, I keep thinking how unhappy I am with the script. Some things just don't seem to want to fit right. But I suck it up and let her read it anyway. When I get it back, she tells me basically what I already know, which hurts like hell but drops a realization at my feet: I already have a story I'm happy with. The script from Book 2 is rough, sure, but I don't think of it and want to bury it in the sand. It's got strong characters and a much better flow than the first script. And good news - Harper Collins just announced that they are taking unsolicited manuscripts from new authors for the first time in over ten years! It must be time to sit down and make a decision: what do I want from my writing career? Am I going to hang on to old ideas I had just because I put a lot of work into building them, even if I'm not happy with the result? Or am I willing to value that work for what it is (mostly good practice), use it as a reminder that I'm still - and always will be - growing as a writer, and to take the initiative to put my best foot forward?

Clicking that Submit button was terrifying. But I'm glad I had the chance. Having that opportunity, and that deadline, forced me to look at the work I was doing and really turn it into the best story it can be... and if that means cutting it down from a planned three books to one, then great. Maybe I will come back to Kallizar and company with some short stories to fill in the non-essential but fun pieces that are now gone with the death of Book 1. Who knows?

In the meantime, I'm going to keep looking forward and take these moments as opportunities for self-evaluation. I'm excited for all the stories I've yet to tell.

One Step Closer: Submission Complete!

The weeks of disappearance and sleeplessness have paid off: I submitted my manuscript to a publisher today! This is a huge step for me and I am thrilled to be able to share it with so many people who support reading and fantasy fiction writers.

I will find out in a few months whether or not I am accepted. In the meantime, I'll keep right on writing and posting!

 

P.S. Watch for a few more big announcements in the next week or so. Exciting times...!

Short but Important

I'm terrified and excited to be actively working against my first major deadline - I will be submitting a manuscript for possible publication in October! This means I have been, and will continue to be, very busy working on making the script as good as it can be before I send it to give myself the best chance I can. This is a big step for me in more than the one obvious way. I've had some tough decisions to make about my books and other stories, and my writing career as a whole. It's been painful and needed and overall I'm pleased with the answers I've found for myself.

One of the most important things I realized about this submission opportunity is that I fully recognize the chances of an unpublished author getting picked up on the first try are very slim. But I'm not looking or thinking of that as failure - I'm excited to have the chance to submit my story, and no matter what the outcome, I will have gone through the process. Which in turn means that the next time won't be so scary, and I'll have learned things to make the next time around even better if/when this first opportunity doesn't pan out.

As I continue to refine my script, I am growing more and more certain of a few big changes I decided to make to the concept of Kallizar's story as a whole. Once the submission deadline passes and I have some time again, I will likely update the site to reflect these changes before I post new pages.

But until then, I thank all of you for your support and hope you have enjoyed the journey thus far. It's only the beginning. :)

FITB: Lee and Z

The manuscript for EUD (Book 1) is currently out to a friend for proofing. The manuscript for FHBB (Book 2) is finished, but I'm still in the first round of revisions. It's exciting, seeing the two big binders on the shelf with print-outs of my novels. Hopefully soon they'll be in real bound-print format. For those of you who don't know anything about FHBB, here's a fun introduction (taken from the script) to one of my favorite characters. And Lee takes great pride in his pirate slang, so he better not hear you mocking him. For those who do know more of this story, here's also the first mention of Z being uptight. I suspect The Glass may make an appearance in a future post to share this wonderfulness with everyone. :)

***

Even below decks, Kallizar could hear the shouts of the Saphira’s crew mixing in with the jeers of the pirates. One particularly loud man’s shout was audible even above the din. “Run an’ hide, ye cowardly Vaerish dogs! Cap’n Freeman’s come to get ye!”

“You won’t take me without a fight!” Captain Cath screamed back.

Someone laughed, and then Kallizar lost all traces of understandable conversation to the roar of the battle.

It did not last long. The merchant men, hopelessly outnumbered, were subdued in minutes. Some of them died, screaming or cursing, but Kallizar tried to ignore it. All that mattered was that Aeva and Riat were safe.

“Search the ship. Cap’n wants to make sure everyone’s up to see their cap’n dispatched,” a female shouted, causing a round of coarse laughter from the pirate crew.

Kallizar brought her magic to her hands. If they thought to take her quietly, they were mistaken. If Kallizar had her way, they would not be taking her anywhere.

Heavy footsteps thudded down the stairs. A huge, muscled man came into view, his eyes darting expertly around. When he saw Kallizar, he grinned. “Ye gonna play nice or is Lee gonna have to make ye come up?”

Kallizar recognized his voice as the man who had shouted the insult about the Vaerish dogs.

The man, seeming to get a better view of her, suddenly furrowed his brow. “Ye look awful too pretty to be a part o’ that rubbish crew,” he said. “Ye sure ye be on the right ship?”

Kallizar was completely confused by the man’s statement. “You mean, I should be on your ship?” she asked, not letting her defenses down.

The man laughed. “My ship?” he chuckled. “I’m not the cap’n, and the Fury not be me ship. But I have me place. Cap’n Freeman seems better than this what ye got yerself here.” He arched an eyebrow at her. “Or don’ ye know that this ship here belongs to one o’ the crummiest, scummiest, evilest cap’ns still sailin’?”

Kallizar did not know how to respond, so she said nothing.

“True, true,” he said with a shrug. “Creepin’ Cath an’ his two-timin’ trades.”

“Lee! Ye get killed down there, or what? By the Gods, ye take forever!” the woman called.

Lee rolled his eyes. “Zandra, gettin’ all uptight,” he explained to the surprised Sorcerer. “But I guess she be right. Come on, then.” He gestured for Kallizar to follow him.

“No.” Kallizar was mildly entertained by Lee’s nonchalant behavior, but she was not going to simply leave Aeva and Riat and follow him up into the middle of a bunch of pirates who were, doubtless, less casual than this one.

Lee frowned. “Come on, lass. I know ye be smart or ye wouldn’ be still standin’, talkin’ to me. Ye would have screamed or fainted or some other somesuch nonsense. I know yer not afraid, an’ I know why, too.” He pointed at Kallizar’s lightning. “Ye have the magic in yer blood. But I got a secret for ye.” He winked. “I’m not afraid of yer magic.”

Kallizar tried not to let her growing surprise show. “Do you have a proposition, or are you merely going to chat me to death?” Kallizar asked him. “Either fight or leave me alone.”

Lee smiled. “Those be bad choices, Sorcerer lass. I’d love to let ye stay, but I have me orders, and the Cap’n doesn’t take well to people not obeyin’ his orders.”

“Then I guess we’ll have to fight. How does your captain take to having dead crew members?” Kallizar retorted.

Lee shook his head. “Truth be told, I would take it much worse than the Cap’n if ye killed me,” he said, “but the Cap’n would still take it pretty bad.”

Kallizar shot a bolt of lightning at Lee’s knee, aiming to stop him without killing him. Gods help her, but she liked the man.

***

I Think I'm Having an Identity Crisis

More difficult to answer than you might expect, and a question I've been mulling over for some time now: Do I want to have my books published under my real name or under a pen name? I have reasons for liking (and disliking) each option and I haven't made much progress toward an answer.

What do you think about pen names? Do you "judge a book by its cover author name"? Are you more interested in unusual names (especially if the name sounds like it really fits the genre to which the book belongs)? Or does the author's name not matter to you?

In short - when you wander down the aisles of your local bookstore or library, does the author's name have any weight in what makes you pull an unknown book off the shelf for investigation?

Show and Tell

"They're more like guidelines, anyway."    --Pirates of the Caribbean

 

Rules for writing. They're useful, they're good, and on occasion, they're best when broken. One that I particularly love to break (sometimes by bringing that phrase crashing down around someone's ears, giggling madly in time with the fragile little pieces hitting the floor) is "Show, don't tell." And really, I love to break it so much because I hear it everywhere, without the slightest bit of context, which makes me wonder whether the people saying it are, in fact, informed and trying to help, or whether they just have heard the bit-quote before and feel the need to put in their two words' worth.

In lieu of me regurgitating someone else's words here, I'm instead going to point to a blog written by a long-time favorite author of mine, Patricia C. Wrede, where she clears up a lot of issues with the over-quoted writing rule. She has my gratitude. :)

Please enjoy - and remember, if you hear crazy laughter, cover your head.

Capitalization is Evil

I'm an organized person. (My sticky notes might argue otherwise, but I never listen to them anyway.) I like it when things have a set of rules or guidelines and actually follow them. English grammar is not one of those things. My beef today is specifically against capitalization. It is evil because it is fairly arbitrary and never agrees with itself. During the proofing of EUD, I realized I didn't know the rule for capitalizing a noun like "king" or "commander" in certain situations. So, like all good writers, I investigated.

The internet informed me that, in short, no one knows. I checked sites built specifically for simple understanding of grammar (like sites geared toward learning ESL - English as a second language) and sites discussing grammar rules as they applied to college and beyond with rules and exceptions so precise I'm still not convinced they really exist.

The best I could come up with is to treat it like we treat the words "mom" and "dad" - that is, when the noun is used as the person's name, it's capitalized. When it's not, it's not. While not all sites agreed with this (and gave me bizarre examples of contradictions that I unfortunately can't find to link here for your amusement), I think it reads the best that way and is easier on the eyes and the brain. I think of it like I do the rule about possessive apostrophes on words that end with an "s" sound - pick a type and stick with it. (I am in favor of the "no 's after s, z, x, or other s-sounds" so my book has it written as Mahliz' instead of Mahliz's. Argue amongst yourselves; you're both right.)

Personally, I wish we would adopt the German rule for capitalization: if it's a noun (of any kind) or the first word of a sentence, capitalize it. If not, don't. Easy peasy. Rules like that make it easy to pick out the important Words in a Sentence and eliminates Confusion about when Something should have a capital Letter.

Since I find this change to be highly unlikely, I will suffer through it and continue with the theory of picking what seems to work best and staying consistent.

Beware the capitals. Down that way lay frustration and madness.

Victory!

It's an auspicious day, everyone! As is obvious by my lack of recent posts, I've been very busy lately. But it was all for a good cause, because the proofing of Even unto Death is finished! I am very excited to have hit such an important milestone in my life and writing career. The total count came out to 440 pages, and I also hit another personal goal: I broke 100,000 words! Best of all, I can honestly say that I'm happy with the results!

I'm going to be swamped with work (yes, I have a day job) for the next few months, so unfortunately I won't likely be able to do much with EUD right away. But it feels so great to have gone through the entire script and polished it up so that I feel good about the vast majority of it! There are still some sections that need help, but I'm hoping my volunteer proofers can help out with that. And soon it will be time to go agent-shopping!

Thank you to everyone who has supported me, given me advice, and kicked my ass when I was being pokey-slow about working on EUD. Writers are hard to put up with, I know.

If you're wondering whether this means the end of my posts... Nope! There's still lots to do with EUD and Immortal Flames, not to mention all the other characters and stories that I've been bouncing around on here - and on paper. I'll be writing for a long, long time. :)

Kallizar: Glimpse of the Future

No spoilers here, other than Kallizar is the main character for all three books (which you likely already knew). Since this piece is actually significantly longer and more in depth, when I decided to post it I edited out all the spoiler-y parts from Book 2 for you. :)  

Kallizar has grown drastically throughout her nearly two centuries of life. She has  reached the point where it takes a lot to make her frightened, and she has a will that is not easily broken. Instead, she is willing to do whatever it takes to survive, and to protect those who have put their trust and their lives in her hands. More than ever, Kallizar lives for the moment, since the past is filled with bitter memories and the future is frightening because she will outlive her friends. However, the past still leaves scars that Kallizar cannot ignore, and she has had to face the consequences of them on more than one occasion.

Overall, Kallizar is an aggressive person. She takes things into her own hands whenever possible and doesn’t back down from a fight. She is hot-tempered and rash but can quickly calculate the best plan of attack based on her long life’s experiences. She has no talent for swords whatsoever but is quite capable with her staff… not to mention the vast array of spells at her command. She is extremely smart and witty, and loves to tease people. She is also very opinionated but will sometimes admit when she is wrong.

In its natural state, Kallizar’s magic presents as red lightning and she has used it for a huge variety of spells, ranging from simple summoning to complex warping of space and time to travel great distances in seconds. Some things she cannot do, however, include teleportation and healing (her magic is a foreign thing to other bodies and thus they fight against it). Any spell she casts uses up some of her strength, so she cannot use many powerful spells at one time or she will become unconscious (or die, if the spell’s pressure is great enough).

Kallizar’s favorite color is red, and she loves storms and dark forests and the sea. She is very empathetic towards slaves and the mistreated because of her own past. She hates commands and manipulation, and is irritated by foolishness and weakness (especially her own).

Kallizar does not hold to religion. Although she will readily acknowledge the existence of the Moon Gods, she does not attend service, nor does she hold any kind of faith in the gods themselves – although she does admit the power of the Prophets, especially when it comes to healing.

Kallizar speaks Fyanish and Vaerish, and her motto would be, “Knowledge is not power but rather fuels power, and those with both knowledge and power will rule their world.”

At the Hands of a Hunter

Alec - Vampyra, wild cousin of the vampire. Bound by the new moon and the nightmare of nightmares, this Vampyra can still feel fear... and it has been said that Hunters know how to make even demons hide their faces. Click on the tag "Alec" in the word bubble to read more about Alec and the people in her world!

 

 

Hunt me no longer. End the terror that keeps me prisoner. Such pleas have never crossed my lips, but I have never wished for anything so hard in my life.

 

Of course the Hunter does not oblige. Even if he could hear my pleas, he would not. But I can only beg silently. My jaw is held tightly shut. Paralyzed, but not by fear. By iron. A cold, cruel iron stake through my heart. The point of it protrudes from my back, into the ground where I’ve fallen. I cannot free myself – the iron freezes my boy, rendering me completely vulnerable to whatever the Hunter has in store for me.

And the pain… the pain at the hands of a Hunter, the torture he can devise, it is worse than the Turning that so many have endured. I would rather have been Turned a thousand times than fall victim to one Hunter.

Tears born from that agony creep silently from the corners of my eyes, forbidden but still present. I cannot blink them away, and they leave a shining, cool streak down my temples to the ground.

The Hunter grabs me by the ankles. I try to fight back, but I cannot even twitch my toes. The Vampyra within me snarls at his touch, even of his soft black gloves. He gives a nasty yank, jerking me forward. The end of the iron spike drags a rough furrow along the ground, wrenching me into new agonies. Screams tear at my throat but cannot escape. I endure silently, by force, unable even to close my eyes against the pain wracking my chest. Along the furrow is a smeared, sticky trail. Although I cannot see it, I know it is there.

Even though my heart does not beat, it can still feel pain. The twisting, jolting, of that spike is such fierce pain, I long to pass out, to flee from my feelings. But such is the true cruelty of iron: we must remain awake, conscious, for every second. We must feel everything.

Is it any wonder why we hate and fear the Hunters so?

Worse fear wraps around me as I realize where we are headed, where the Hunter is dragging my immobile body. Into the last, fading rays of sunlight.

There is nothing I can do. I am going to die. My only consolation is that, because I am a Vampyra, it will be quicker than he expects. He will not be able to torture me for long.

We stop moving for a moment while he regains his breath. When he sees my stone face, he laughs viciously.

Beside me, my tears fall with a whispered splash into the seeping pool of black-red blood.