Jaime Lee Moyer: Midnight Secrets and Lies
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Hold my hand, you know this journey could be long

Another outtakes blog post. I’ve always loved this story, but I could never sell it. It’s all part of my conflicted relationship with short stories. I adore them, I have a million and one ideas for short fiction.

Editors of short fiction tell me to go write another book. So I do.

I wrote the first rough draft of this story in 2004. In the quest to sell it, I’ve rewritten it at least five times. In 2012 I gave up and let it sit.

Pretty sure this another fall between genre cracks story; not SF enough, not dystopian enough, a touch of 1984, but not completely mainstream. It is what it is.

Dreaming Of Mercy

 

In dreams I drift like a phantom through her house, the shadow at her shoulder rifling through her life. She can’t hide anything from me. I learn the words to her favorite songs, the titles of the books on her nightstand, and that she keeps pressed flowers wrapped in blue paper at the bottom of her sock drawer.

A silent voyeur, I record everything. I can’t turn away as Mercy quivers under a lover’s caress, or hide from her tears.  She’s only a case file. I can’t afford to care.

The dreams always end with me standing next to her bed. I watch her sleep. Moonlight shines through the window, falls across her face in slanted stripes of alternating shadow and light. Long brown hair pools around her head, a dark cloud on the pillow. I reach out to brush a strand off her face.

She opens her eyes and grabs my hand. “Kristen…help me.”

That’s when I wake, drenched in sweat, breathing too fast and tangled in the sheets. Some nights I don’t get back to sleep at all.

I ghost through Mercy’s days, quietly stealing her life. She haunts my nights.

###

Her case file described her as female, twenty-two years old, and in her last year of college. Mercy Daniels lived just outside of town in a small two-bedroom cottage set back from the road. An only child, she’d had an average middle class childhood with trips to the beach, vacations to amusement parks and dance lessons. Both of her parents taught art at an exclusive private school in another state.

According to the reports I read, Mercy lived alone, cultivated disturbing ideas, and shared them with the world. Her reputation on campus as a voice for the opposition party grew as her writing spread via online forums and blogs. In her quiet way, she made the government nervous. The security agency I worked for marked Mercy Daniels as someone to watch.

Once her file landed on my desk, watching her became my job. Real time video and sound are fed to my screens, while communications in and out of her house are rerouted through my computer. I followed Mercy through her day and never left my chair.

In less than a week, I was confident I knew everything about Mercy Daniels. How little she tried to keep secret about herself and her activities baffled me. What puzzled me even more was that the agency put such a high priority on tracking her.

Nothing I downloaded seemed to merit the resources being poured into this investigation. She appeared to be an average college kid, not much different from me at that age, or my younger sister. I struggled to connect the person I monitored to the person in the case file. Mercy, with her long brown hair and ready smile, didn’t look like an enemy of the state. She didn’t behave like one either.

Two months into working the Daniel’s case I still hadn’t found a hint of anything she could be charged with. Something was off, something I couldn’t put my finger on. I gathered all the data I’d compiled onto a disc and went to see my supervisor. Richard glanced up from his computer screen when I knocked on the door-frame and waved me inside to a chair.

I ignored his one-sided conversation about manpower allotments and amused myself by studying his office. The personal items, and photographs of him posing with cabinet members, were all placed for maximum effect, each one serving a purpose. All the careful decorating let him maintain the illusion of status and power. Reality was that he could be replaced within hours, all without leaving a ripple in the agency’s pond. Just like the rest of us.

He finished his conversation and turned off his cell. The dark circles under his gray eyes made Richard look older than the forty-six years his bio claimed. “I hope this is important, Kristan. The budget director’s office wants the new manpower figures compiled by Wednesday.”

“I’d like your input about this assignment.” I leaned forward and dropped the disc with Mercy Daniels’ file on his desk. “I’ve been working on this case for a couple of months now. I don’t know why I’m watching this kid. She’s not doing anything wrong. Not that I can find.”

Richard leaned back in his chair. He rested his elbows on the padded vinyl arms and steepled his fingers in front of his chest. “Remind me. Which case is this again?”

“Mercy Daniels.” I gestured toward the two-inch disc lying in the middle of his precisely ordered desktop. The overhead lights sent rainbow shimmers across the polished silver. “It’s all in the file. Her blog glorifies the opposition party and isn’t anything the government wants to encourage, I’ll grant you that much. But I can’t find any criminal activity.”

He swiveled his chair around to face the window. “How long have you been a surveillance specialist, Kristan?”

“A little over eight months.”

“Eight months.” Richard swung around to face me again. “Do you foresee a long career with us? Advancement even?”

I started to ask what my career goals had to do with Mercy Daniels. The attentive way he sat forward stopped me. I settled for nodding my head.

Richard stared at me for another few seconds, his expression impossible to read. He picked up the disc and flipped it into my lap. “Questioning the validity of your assignments is not a wise career move. Get back to work.”

I took the hint and went back to watching Mercy.

 

###

In the dream, the door to her house stands open. As I walk inside I worry that she doesn’t keep it locked, that she does so little to protect herself.

At first I stand in her front room, hoping to see Mercy curled up in the blue, overstuffed chair. She isn’t there. Instead, the room is full of black lacquered shelves lined with books, and shadowed corners the lamplight never penetrates.

I know I’ll find her in the small room at the end of the hall. Her face lit by the glow of the computer screen, Mercy sits in the dark and writes. Little pieces of her shine in each word. I steal them from her, plucking her thoughts, her dreams, from the net before they reach their intended destination.

Compiling evidence to seal her fate.

###

New orders came down from the assistant director two weeks after my conversation with Richard. Existing surveillance logs on Mercy were to be copied. Any visitors to her house observed on the video feed were to be identified and screened for records of past criminal activity. All data, old and new, was to be forwarded and flagged for his eyes only.

It didn’t feel right that the assistant director had taken a personal interest in this case. He’d never shown a flicker of interest in my progress on investigations with a higher profile, or cases with real merit. I brooded about that while I copied all the voice transcripts and video files to send to his office.

When the copy process finished, I stared at the disc sitting in the middle of my desk. Without knowing exactly why, I picked it up and popped the disc back into the reader to make a second copy. I sealed the original into a transfer folder for the director. The duplicate I dropped into my pocket.

The request for her records left a lingering bad taste in my mouth. I logged into the archive database, pulling up the original transcripts of the net traffic that first brought Mercy to the Agency’s attention. Maybe if I started at the beginning I’d find the reason her case was so important.

A sick ache grew in the pit of my stomach as I read. Most of the records they’d red-flagged were chat room transcripts and emails to a boyfriend going back to Mercy’s second year in college. Other than being a little more politically aware, none of it was any different than the emails my younger sister Lindsey sent me.

For the first time since I joined the agency surveillance team, I had serious doubts about an assignment. I kept asking myself what was so special about Mercy’s case. Pulling the copy of her file out of my pocket, I added the archived records to the data.

I took the disc out of the reader and tried not to think about what would happen if I got caught. Grabbing my jacket, I turned off the lights and went home.

Trying to decide what to do with the information kept me from sleeping that night. Warning her she was being watched could be prosecuted as an act of treason; going to the press was just as risky. By the time I walked through the office security doors in the morning I’d convinced myself that stealing a copy of Mercy’s records was a stupid thing to do. I vowed to feed the disc into a shredder and stop looking for trouble.

I laid my palm on the glass plate set into the main desk and nodded to the guard. “Good morning, Saul. How’s your wife doing?”

“Much better.” Saul watched the readings on the screen as the scanner verified my identity. “The doctors think they’ve found the right medication this time. They might send her home in a week.”

“That’s good news.” I caught sight of the time. “Shit, I’m late. Andrew’s going to be pissed. He was supposed to leave ten minutes ago.”

I hurried down the pale green and gray corridor towards the office I shared with Andrew, pausing long enough to grab a cup of coffee and a bagel off the snack cart. The coded locks cycled and released, letting me nudge the door open with my shoulder.

The overhead lights were dimmed as I walked in. A flickering, bluish glow from the flat screen filling one wall lit Andrew’s face. He glanced away from the display in front of him long enough to flash a hello grin before he turned his attention back to the video feed.

I turned my back to the screen and caught my breath. Putting my coffee down, I shuffled through my email messages and surveyed the mess he’d made of our office. A snowy trail of powered sugar snaked across the top of the dark wood-grain desk. The half-empty box of raspberry jelly donuts next to Andrew’s right hand made me cringe. I sincerely hoped he hadn’t dripped jelly on the keyboard again.

“Just in time, Kristan.” Andrew sucked raspberry goo off his fingers. “You almost missed the morning show. Daniels put on quite the performance last night.”

“What are you talking about?” I took a sip of my coffee, pulling the rich smell deep into my lungs before I moved to stand behind him. Habit made me automatically note the feed rate of the video images and the time stamp on the views Andrew had open.

The difference in the display clicked in my brain a few seconds later. “You have more than one live feed running at once.”

“The funding level for this operation got kicked up to a whole new level after you left yesterday. Orders came straight from the assistant director’s office. Watch this.” The view screen flickered as Andrew typed out a set of instructions. “The techies performed some kind of magic overnight. Better resolution on all the images, plus we have more control over the angles of the shots. The best part is we can zoom in on anything we want a closer look at. No one said so, but I think they must have sent a team in to insert more cameras.”

My stomach soured and I set the coffee aside. “Why?”

“Watch and learn, Kristen. The big boys always know what they’re doing.” He settled back in his chair and reached for another donut. “Ah–there we go. Looks like you got here just in time. She’s not awake yet.”

A close up image of Mercy lying on top of her bed filled the screen. The baseball jersey she normally slept in lay wadded in a ball next to her pillow. A corner of a sheet draped across her legs, the only part of her nude body hidden from view.

“What the hell are you doing?” Anger flared hot and swift inside me as Andrew panned the camera the length of her body, lingering on a picture of the slow rise and fall of her breasts as she slept. I leaned over his shoulder to flip off the power switch. “This is a criminal investigation. Not your private peep show.”

“Simmer down, Kristan.” Andrews grabbed my wrist and kept me from shutting down the feed. “This is all part of the investigation. I’m just enjoying the fringe benefits while I wait for the action to start.” He gestured at the screen. “Look who showed up last night.”

A young man came out of the bathroom attached to Mercy’s bedroom. He slid into bed next to her, running a hand down her hip, kissing her shoulder and her neck. She woke under his caress and turned to face him, a sleepy smile on her face.

“The computer red flagged his picture in less than a minute after I started the identity search.” Andrew adjusted the angle of the cameras for a better view. “His name is Justin Kimmer. Government security has been trying to nail this guy for a year. Remember the group that hacked into the network feeds during the last election? The guys over in intelligence are sure lover boy was the brains behind the cyber attack.”

“Then why hasn’t he been arrested?”

He brushed at the powered sugar on his shirt. “None of the spooks have been able find anything on him that would stick in court. They haven’t been able to come up with anything to use as leverage against him either. Up until now, that is.”

“They found evidence to prove he’s the hacker?” I’d heard rumors about the pressure on the assistant director to find the person responsible for high-jacking the government broadcasts. The incident embarrassed the President and made his security forces look like jackasses.

“No.” He nodded toward the screen. “They found her.”

My mind blocked out the sound of Mercy’s laugh coming from the speakers, tried to ignore the playful growl Justin made deep in his throat as he rolled her over on top of him.

“This is why we’ve been watching this kid day and night? To get at a boyfriend?” I ran my hand through my hair and shook my head. “You’ve seen all the files, Andrew. There’s nothing there. Hell, she doesn’t know anything about what happened to the election broadcasts. We’d have found evidence if she did.”

“She doesn’t have to know anything. She knows him.” Andrew grabbed the last donut from the box. A blanket of fine white sugar rained down on his lap as he waved it around. “All it takes is association. Suspicion of involvement in a conspiracy is all it takes to hold her as long as they want.”

“So why isn’t Justin behind bars already? What gives him the free pass and not her?” The knot in my stomach tightened. I didn’t like where this was going.

“Because he was smart enough to be born into the right family. Justin’s daddy is an ex-Senator with all the right connections. Pulled lots of strings to keep the heat off his son’s back.” He wiped his hand on the front of his shirt before he typed in the code to change the camera angle again. “Using Mercy against the boyfriend is an end run around the old man. Time in the detention center will do amazing things for her memory.”

Once Mercy went into the system there was no guarantee she’d come out again. I wanted to throw something, anything, at Andrew right then. The smirk on his face disgusted me. “This isn’t right and both of us know it’s not legal. Our job is to protect the government from subversives, not to ruin this girl’s life.”

“Don’t be so naive, Kristan. It’s us against them.”  He pushed the chair back abruptly and stood. “This isn’t the first time intelligence has tweaked the rules a little to get the result they want. And it sure as hell won’t be the last.”

Andrew went to the coat rack and pulled his leather jacket off the peg. He turned back to face me. The cold look in his eye shook me. I began to wonder if I’d ever met the real Andrew Dale.

“Nailing this little prick to the wall is the important thing. If Mercy goes down with him, so be it. I don’t feel sorry for her at all. She gave up all rights to sympathy when she crawled into bed and opened her legs.” He stuffed one hand in his pocket and leaned back against the edge of the desk. “Do you know what college kids like Justin and Mercy call agents who do this job?”

I shook my head. “No. I don’t.”

“They call us trolls.” A nasty smile played around his mouth. “The idea is that we’re like the dirty troll who hides under the bridge, lying in wait for his pound of flesh. And no one knows he’s there until he takes a bite.” He started to leave, but paused at the door, his hand on the handle. “You’d better get used to being a troll if you’re going to keep doing this job, Kristan. It gets muddy under that bridge. If you don’t have the stomach for the job, get out.”

###

The raid on Mercy Daniels’ house happened two hours later. Justin tried to run when a tactical squad broke down the door. He only got as far as the yard before they brought him down with a stun gun. His body hung limp between the two agents who dragged him to the van waiting at the curb.

They made Mercy stand in the middle of her living room floor, hands on the top of her head, while they tore apart her house. Her computer was taken away first. All her notebooks, pictures and papers where sorted through. The ones they wanted as evidence went into boxes.

Mercy watched them haul her life out the front door in bits and pieces, tossing the parts they didn’t deem important into corners. She shook so hard she could hardly walk when they finally cuffed her and took her away. I saw it all, recording the raid for the court record.

The video feed ran to my station until the evidence team finished. My view of Mercy’s house faded away when they sealed the door and deactivated the cameras.

I sat staring at the empty screen. She was gone, but that didn’t matter. The panicked, confused look in Mercy’s eyes stared back at me. I smashed my fist into the keyboard and went to see Richard.

Richard barely looked up from his data screen when I slammed into his office. He continued to drone on to the person on the other end of the phone about resource allocations. The only acknowledgement of my presence was an occasional flicker of his eyes in my direction.

I prowled his office resisting the urge to kick something. If he thought making me wait was going to calm me down, he was wrong. I grabbed a book and threw it across the room. That got his attention.

“Todd? I need to call you back later.” Richard severed the connection and leaned back in his chair. “You have ten seconds to come up with a damn good reason why I shouldn’t have security haul your ass out of here.”

I balled my hands into fists, ignoring the sting as the nails bit half crescents into my palm. “Get them to call it off. Have her released.”

“I’m afraid you’re going to have to be more informative than that, Kristan.” His gray eyes watched me coldly. “Exactly what am I supposed to call off?”

“Mercy Daniels. Drop the charges against her.” I could feel my hands start to shake. I clenched my fists tighter. “This case has smelled bad from the beginning. The only thing she’s guilty of is bad taste in bed partners. What they’re doing to her is wrong and you know it.”

Richard studied me in silence. He sighed and leaned forward, resting his forearms on the desk. “There are times the end justifies the means. Justin Kimmer is exactly the kind of threat our agency was put in place to deal with. Our job is to end that threat.” He shrugged his shoulders. “It’s unfortunate she got caught in the crossfire, but there’s nothing I can do for Mercy Daniels.”

I slammed my fist down on the top of his desk. Richard didn’t even twitch.

“The opposition party is already screaming about how much power the President gave the intelligence and security agencies. How long do you think his coalition will last if the public finds out how that power is being abused?” My fingers itched with the urge to close around the disc in my jacket pocket. It suddenly felt as heavy as a lump of lead. “I’ll go to the press if I have to.”

His cool gray stare never wavered. “I can’t stop you if you’re determined to ruin your career over this girl. But going to the press would be an unfortunate choice.” Richard reached into a drawer and pulled out a folder. He dropped it on the desk in front of me. “I think you should take a look at this first before you make a decision.”

I opened the folder and leafed through the first few pages. The surveillance photos of my sister and her boyfriend were underneath the transcripts. A roaring sound filled my head, growing louder as I stared at the pictures. “You bastard. How dare you.”

“Our last conversation left me unsure about your commitment to your job. I decided to check up on a few things. Insurance, you could call it.”  Richard reached across the desk and pulled a photo out of the folder. He flipped it on top of the others. “I think this camera angle is my favorite. The lighting was just right. It’s a shame Lindsay fell in with the wrong crowd at college.”

It took all my self-control not to wrap my hands around his throat. “That’s a lie and you know it.”

“I’ve always felt you had a lot of potential, Kristan.  With the right guidance I think you could be a good agent. So I’m giving you a choice. Your sister or the girl.” Richard closed the folder and held it out to me. “Pick one. Take the afternoon off to think. If you make the right choice, you can be back at your desk tomorrow morning.”

My hand shook as I reached for the file. Richard held on to the folder when I tried to take it from him, forcing me to look him in the eye.

“One last thing, Kristan. Don’t slam the door on the way out.”

###

In the dream, my footsteps echo in the silence of an empty house. Lace curtains flutter at an open window, teased by a summer breeze. Flowers sit on tables and chests, bright spots of color in the mismatched vases Mercy bought at garage sales. The house looks as it always did, full of life, full of her touch.

I search everywhere, but I can’t find her. Nothing has changed, yet everything is different. Even as I drift from silent room to silent room, I know the house is a reflection of what I want, not what it is. Mercy’s house will always be a ghost within a dream.

Mercy is the phantom now, the shadow at my shoulder as I go through my days. An unseen part of me, she steals my dreams, steals what’s left of my soul.

It seems only fair.

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Armadillo Con 2016 Schedule!

I have my official Armadillo panel schedule now.

Panels! A reading! Meet the pros party!

Meet the Pros Party Fri 7:30 PM-9:30 PM Lobby Come meet your favorite authors and artists. You can meet me too.

Fairy Tales in Current SFF Sat 10:00 AM-11:00 AM Ballroom ECatmull, Ewing, Leicht*, Lynn, Moyer, White How are fairy tales being used in SFF these days? How has this evolved, and what trends do the panelists see?

Portrayal of Law Enforcement in SFF Sat 1:00 PM-2:00 PM Ballroom F Cole*, Maresca, McKinney, Moyer, Rogers, Sarath Do people get it right? What does getting it right look like?

Gender Roles in Fantasy Sat 4:00 PM-5:00 PM Southpark A Clarke, Fischer, Moyer, Muenzler*, Wells From fairy tales, to Tolkien, to today’s urban fantasy and dark fantasy, how are authors experimenting (or not experimenting) with gender and gender roles?

Doing Research for Your Story Sat 10:00 PM-11:00 PM Ballroom E Blaschke*, Marmell, Moyer, White Panelists will discuss the strategies for doing effective research for stories, including examples of what has and has not worked.

Reading Sun Noon-12:30 PM Conference Center Jaime Lee Moyer

I’m going to read from the new book, A Parliament Of Queens, on Sunday. Stop by and listen before heading home.

Looking forward to being at Armadillo Con. If you’re there, be sure to say hello.

 

 

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Will you wake from your dream with a wolf at the door…

I’ve decided to call the bits and pieces, the scenes and false starts I’m posting here outtakes. Like pieces of a film, most of these will wind up on the cutting room floor.

Once upon a time, I fell in love with the idea of fairytales. Not the popular or Disney version, but the old, dark tales. The ones where the wolf at the door had real teeth.

This is a piece of a very dark, feminist YA fairytale called Awaken. I’ve cheated on three different adult novels to slowly add to this book. I’m not sure the world needs a feminist version of Sleeping Beauty, one where the wicked queen isn’t so wicked, but I need to write it. I will finish this book. There are two novella’s ahead of it, and then Miranda and Elspeth have my full attention.

I’m really on the fence about whether this scene will make it into the book or not. All I’m going to say for now is “maybe.” That’s why it’s going up here.

This is a ways into the book, so a tiny bit of setup to avoid confusion. Miranda is the first daughter born to the house of Shavano in 200 years, and destined to fall prey to a revenge curse. Her mother is a northern princess, with flaxen hair and ice blue eyes. Her father, a western prince in a kingdom by the sea, is dark haired, dark skinned, and has deep brown eyes. The king and queen love each other deeply, and love their daughter even more. Finding a wizard who can break the curse is the focus of their lives.

Miranda looks like her father, and especially like Elspeth, her many times great-grandmother. Mira has the same long tight curls, the same dark bronze skin. Elspeth was supposed to have died when the curse was cast 200 years before, but you all know how it goes with fairytales.

Personally? I love this scene. Still not sure it’s going in. I’ll decide when the book is finished.

###

The day before I turned seven, my brothers were born.

Owls filled the tree outside my window, silent and watchful, their feathers ruffled by a strong wind. Clouds raced ahead of a storm, hiding the stars. Meadow was curled up on my pillow as always, paws twitching as she dreamed. I tried to blame my restlessness on shifting shadows and the owls’ silence, but it was more than that. I was afraid.

Katt had put me to bed earlier and hurried away, thinking I’d stay there. I’d tried to fall asleep, but harried voices carried down the corridors from my mother’s private suite. Far too many of my mother’s women came and went, some at a run. Before long muffled cries and half heard scraps of conversation pulled me out of bed to investigate. I couldn’t have said why the need to see my mother was so strong, only that I had to be with her.

The midwives were too busy to notice when I crept into the room, or that I’d hidden in the small space between a wardrobe and the wall. I could see the birthing bed from my vantage point, the bright wash of blood on the sheets, and the worried glances between Katt and the midwives. My mother’s moans and the pain twisting her body terrified me, but I was more frightened of leaving her than of staying.

One of Mama’s cries made me screw my eyes tight shut. When I dared look again, Elspeth sat next to me. “Come back to your room, Mira. I’ll sit with you until you fall asleep. Katt and the others will take good care of your mother.”

“No, I have to stay.” I pulled my knees up under my skirts and hugged my legs, rocking back and forth. Women died in childbed every day, a reality not even a young princess was shielded from. Being Queen of Shavano offered my mother no more protection than a scullery maid enjoyed. “I can’t leave her, grandmother. I can’t.”

Elspeth cupped my chin and looked into my eyes, no doubt seeing the mix of terror and stubbornness churning in my chest. She didn’t try to talk me into leaving again. Instead she sat with me, holding my hand and petting my hair. My hiding space was much too small to hold us both, but somehow we fit easily.

“The baby’s almost here, Rissa.” Katt sponged Mama’s face with a wet cloth, and made her drink something from an old clay cup. The potions she brewed were supposed to ease birth pains, and help keep my mother strong, but even I knew they weren’t working. “You don’t have far to go, a few more pushes and then you can rest. He looks to have a fine head of hair on him, near as much as Mira did when she was born.”

Mama dropped back down on the sweat soaked pillows, panting and crying. “I can’t—I can’t push again. Something’s wrong, Katt…he…he should have come already. Tell me what’s wrong!”

The young midwife at the other end of the bed swore. She met Katt’s eyes, her face ashen. “There’s a second babe. I can see a foot next to the head.”

Elspeth sucked in a breath and went very still. She stood, putting a hand on the top of my head before stepping into the room. “Stay right here, Miranda. No one will see you if you don’t move, and you mustn’t distract Katt. I need to help your mother.”

The way Mama screamed, and the panic on Katt’s face as she tried to ease one baby out and push the other back, would have frozen me in place without the warning. Elspeth stood at my mother’s side, both hands on Mama’s swollen belly, and face screwed up in concentration. She was muttering to herself, and the little I could hear sounded like a song.

Mama stopped screaming, but there was so much blood I didn’t take any comfort in the quiet. Katt’s apron was soaked in crimson, her arms red to the elbows. I curled over my knees and covered my eyes, unable to watch.

My head came up when I heard my brother wail, his cry full of anger over finding himself cold and forced into the light. A midwife took him from Kat’s hands, covered in birth blood and legs kicking, his face flushed scarlet from crying.

A minute later the second babe flopped in Katt’s hands, limp and unmoving. She laid him in her lap to cut him free of the cord, and passed him to the midwife waiting at her shoulder. He didn’t cry, not even when the second midwife splashed his face with cold water, or rubbed his back and belly with a scrap of linen. I held my breath waiting for him to move, to make a sound.

He never did. The midwife looked at Katt and shook her head.

Katt wept as the midwife wrapped my smaller brother in a blanket and laid him in a cradle. But her voice was cheerful as she pressed on my mother’s belly to help stop the bleeding, and bring her labor to an end. “There’s only the afterbirth now, Rissa. Sleep and I’ll take care of things.”

Elspeth stood at Mama’s head now, brushing hair off her face and whispering in her ear. My mother’s eyes were closed tight, and my noisy brother suckled at her breast. His hair was fair like Mama’s, his skin rosy. I listened to the mewling noises he made, thinking it strange to have a brother that small, and trying to picture him grown to be as tall as our father.

But I couldn’t stop staring at the cradle in the corner, watching for movement that never came. Feeling my brother roll and tumble inside Mama as he grew had made him real to me; made me love him before I’d ever seen his face. How I knew I’d felt my smallest brother push against my hand I couldn’t say. I only knew I couldn’t let him be alone and forgotten.

Everyone was busy. Not even Elspeth noticed as I tiptoed from hiding.

I knelt next to the cradle, staring at the brother who looked like me. His skin was as dark as mine, his hair just as curly, and his fingers square at the ends like mine. I stroked his cheek with a fingertip, imagining what teaching him to walk would be like, or naming the flowers in the garden for him while red and black bumbles buzzed around our heads. He’d love Meadow as much as I did and he’d never pull her tail.

The owls would sing for him too, I was sure of it. He was my brother.

I leaned into the cradle and whispered. “Open your eyes. I have so much to show you.”

Elspeth knelt next to me, the swish of her skirts loud in the sudden silence. I’d grown used to her carrying a bubble of quiet with her, shutting out everyone but her and me, and holding long conversations with none around us any the wiser. This didn’t feel any different than a hundred times before.

But it was.

The questions I needed to ask were different too, but I trusted Elspeth to answer truthfully. That I already knew the answer didn’t make asking easier. “He’s not going to open his eyes is he?”

“No, he’s not.” Her voice was tired and full of grief, something I’d never heard from Elspeth before. “I’m sorry, Miranda. I tried, but I couldn’t save them both.”

My fingers curled around the cradle’s edge, holding so tight they ached. “He looks like me. Was he cursed too?”

“Oh stars, Mira. No, no, he’s not cursed.” Elspeth put an arm around my shoulders, pulling me tight against her side. “He was turned the wrong way and the cord wrapped around his neck. This was an accident.”

Just as women died in childbirth, babies were born that never drew their first breath. I knew that too, but I was seven and the curse loomed large over everything in my life.

Elspeth stood and held out her hand. “Your mother needs to sleep now and so do you. You can visit her tomorrow.”

“Will they give him a name?” I looked between her and the still form wrapped in blood-splattered blankets. Knowing if he’d have a name was suddenly the most important thing in the world. “He should have a name so people will remember him.”

“I don’t know. He was stillborn, and sons are usually named on their tenth day. But there’s no reason you can’t name him.” Tears glistened in her eyes, but Elspeth brushed stray curls off my face and smiled. “You and I will remember.”

Thinking of the right name, one that fit and did him honor, was harder than I thought. Elspeth waited patiently until I’d chosen.

“Lucas is a good name. Do you think he’d like that?” She nodded and I leaned into the cradle to kiss him goodbye. “We won’t forget you, Lucas.”

We went back to my rooms then, before I could see the midwife take Lucas away and give him to the seers.

Elspeth put me to bed and lay down next to me, telling stories of faraway lands and what it was like to grow up in a forest kingdom, far from the sound of the sea. With her voice in my ears and Meadow curled tight against my side, I was able to fall asleep.

The dreams I’d had fled as soon as Katt woke me. She told me I had a brother, healthy and strong, and that my mother would send for me soon. Katt never told me about Lucas. Neither did my mother when I saw her after the evening meal.

No doubt they saw little reason to upset me, and their own grief was still new and raw, but how I viewed the world changed again.

Seven was young to feel the ache of loss, certain the empty spot inside would never fill. But I understood something new about Grandmother Elspeth, and the distant look in her eyes when she told stories about Penelope.

Love doesn’t end because someone dies.

 

 

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And we’ll drink out old memories and we’ll drink in the dawn

Once again, I’m every writer’s bad example.

There is an alternate-history-fantasy story I’ve tried to forget, and that I just can’t. I wrote a whole novel with these characters–a novel that needs major work on the pacing in the middle. It’s dark and Gothic, set in a place that never was, and I love the story and the characters so much. There will come a day I have time to fix it. Or gut it and start over.

But this world, and these characters, won’t let me go. Thinking about them at all generates more ideas, more stories.  Over the last year I’ve stolen time to work on a novella (dear dog, let it stay short) set before the poor doomed novel.

And for some unknown reason my brain thought it was a brilliant idea to start this novella when Lori and Josh were kids. My writer brain was oh so wrong.

That isn’t where the story starts, Lori doesn’t belong in this one at all, but it took 10,000 words or so before I realized that. The scenes I wrote belong to something totally different. What that story is I can’t tell you.

No words are ever truly wasted if they teach me something about a story, or the characters, or craft. If nothing else, this was an exercise in nailing voice. I wanted to invoke a time and place, and I think I accomplished that.

I have so many story pieces sitting on my hard-drive, doing nothing and not earning their keep. Some of them suck big pointy rocks.

But some, or most, don’t. They will likely never grow beyond what they are now, so I figured I might start sharing some of them here. At least then I might feel better about the time I spent indulging my story brain and not working on a novel.

Not sure if this is a good idea or a bad idea. I guess I’ll know if people start flinging rotten fruit.

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The Duke of Unicoi’s Estate, Franklin Province, April, 1855
Lori

I held tight to Papa’s hand, watching strangers lead away the yearlings and chaffing at being made to stay out of the way. Even so, standing in the sunshine watching was better than being shut inside the parlor, stitching a sampler.

If Mama had her way, I’d be doing just that, away from dust that settled in my hair, the smell of sweat and horses, and safe from hearing men’s rough talk. Mama truly believed a duke’s daughter should be sheltered from the rough parts of life. She did her best to keep me fragile as a china doll.

At ten years old I’d already figured out that being fragile was boring. I did my best not to miss a thing.

My three brothers were allowed to help with the sale. Thomas is the oldest, sixteen and already taller than Papa. For the second year running he wrote chits saying who’d paid, and took IOUs from those cash poor. Samuel turned fourteen at Christmas time, but he double checked brands and gave orders to the wranglers, same as a grown man. He never lost track of which horses to separate from the herd.

Even Isaac, little more than a year older than me, ran messages back and forth. He never missed a chance to grin or stick his tongue out on his way past, smug at being allowed to go where he pleased while I was made to stay with Papa. Thom saw me stick my tongue out right back at Isaac, but he didn’t scold or let on.

Papa’s horses were the best in the kingdom, prized by breeders and traders from all the provinces. Men traveled from as far as Seattle in the Northwest Province, or the grasslands of the Odessa plains to buy his yearlings. I loved listening to their voices, trying to figure out where they’d come from by the way they talked and the clothes they wore. Most pitched tents in the valley below the manor, or slept in their wagons. Campfires bloomed in the meadows at night, sending showers of silver sparks drifting toward the sky.

I’d overheard Mama and Papa talking and things were changing. Folk would still travel long distances to buy my father’s horses, but they’d gather outside Charlotte, not where I could see. King Harold had convinced the ruling houses to hold regional markets twice a year, spring and fall, to sell their horses and cattle, dried tobacco and breeding stock.

This was the last year our valley would fill with visitors. I wanted to be in the thick of it all, drink in the sights and sounds, and remember all I could.

Papa understood that. He convinced Mama that I wouldn’t come to any harm, not with him and Thom so near. She made Thom promise to help look out for me, but that was an easy thing for him to swear.

Each morning I left the house right after breakfast, and didn’t go back until forced inside to wash up for supper. Mama gave me looks and her mouth pulled tight from the start, but she never said a word. She’d promised Papa to let me be for the week.

The day everyone was set to leave, I didn’t even take time for breakfast. I ran down the backstairs soon as I threw clothes on, dodging into the kitchens long enough to grab one of Maggie’s warm biscuits, and continued out past the house servants’ cabins. That was the quickest way to the barns and paddocks. With luck I’d be there waiting long before Papa dragged Isaac from the breakfast table.

I came around a corner of the main barn to find Thom and Sam leaning on the paddock fence. Mares munched on new spring grass, three of them with long legged foals at their sides. My brothers had their heads together watching the mares and talking, but their voices were pitched low in the way that meant they were keeping secrets. I hugged the barn wall, listening.

“Harold’s just begging for trouble.” Sam was shredding a handful of hay, tearing the stalks apart bit by bit and tossing the pieces away. “I’m not saying he’s wrong, mind you. but less than half the ruling families support him. None of those houses send thralls to market in Orleans.”

Thom shrugged. “Uncle Tobias thinks Harold can win the rest over, but it’s going to take time. Closing the Orleans market is only the first step.”

“Maybe. I hope Tobias knows the earl is stirring up trouble again.” Sam looked grownup and serious, worried in a way I’d never seen before. I crept closer, staying quiet so they wouldn’t know I was there. “Some of the traders were talking last night. I guess the earl’s taken to buying support with silver when he can’t come by it honest. One man swore he’d heard that Bledsoe was looking to buy a mage.”

“He won’t find one. Not in the provinces.” Thom chewed his lip, staring out over the paddock. “Still, might be best for us to tell Papa and Uncle Tobias what you heard. Just to make sure.”

They stood there quiet long enough I started to think about coming out of the shadows. Sam put an end to that right quick. He brought his fist down on the top rail of the fence. “Harold should just strip Bledsoe of his lands and be done with it. He’d cause a damn sight less trouble.”

“Harold can’t seize an earldom, not for anything short of treason against the crown. Rein in that temper of yours and think, Sam.” Thom was raised up to never forget he was heir to the province, and that what he did could hurt other folk. He worked at making Sam stop to think things out and not always charge in bull roaring mad. “Open rebellion is the only reason the ruling houses would accept. Bledsoe is a coward. He’ll back down.”

“You sound just like Papa.” Sam tipped his head to peer at Thom, squinting against the sun. “I hope you’re right. But I think you’re wrong.”

I slid back around the corner of the barn, out of sight and wanting to think about what I’d heard. Most I didn’t understand, but anything that stopped Sam from joking made me uneasy.

A big gray barn cat squeezed out a narrow gap in the barn siding, twisting round my ankles and purring loud enough to rouse the dead. I sat in a patch of shade next to the wall and she crawled into my lap.

Papa found me there, tracing dark and light patterns in the cat’s silky fur with a fingertip, and listening to her purr. He didn’t question why I was sitting in the dirt; I loved cats more than most anything.

Thom and Sam were still leaning on the fence when I came round the corner hand in hand with our father, the gray cat trotting at my heels. My brothers stopped talking soon as they saw me. Sam swung me up to sit on the top rail, putting me eye to eye with the curious foal who came to lip my fingers.

A moment later Thom was making plans with Papa for the trip to Charlotte in the fall, figuring how many horses to drive to market, talking about keeping wolves from stalking the herd, and how many days they’d be away from home.

The life I’d known all of my ten years, the rhythm of people coming and going, things that I’d counted on always staying the same, was about to vanish. Secrets between my brothers were a piece of that, worry sitting on Samuel’s face the way it did on Uncle Tobias another part. Maybe this was what Mama meant about putting aside childish things and having to grow up.

I’d never thought of Sam’s laughter or happy times as childish. Growing up didn’t seem a fair trade for giving those up. Not fair at all.

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Don’t you remember it was rain that drowned you

Father’s Day…for some reason this year I miss my father.

I don’t remember when I started prefacing any discussion or stories about my dad with “He did the best he could.” My father was deeply flawed, problematic in his attitudes and beliefs, often angry and exhausted from working overtime–and did the best he could as a father. As a person.

Pop never finished high school. He went to work as a pressman in L.A., married my mother, and had four little kids before the age of 26. They lost a child before me, or there would have been five of us. A combination of paper dust, ink dust, and the cigarettes he’d smoked since the age of fifteen caused the lung cancer that killed him.

He was still young. I was younger.

While my dad had uncles, he never had a relationship with his own father. He had no one to model what a father should be, or how a father interacts with his children. My grandmother wasn’t an easy woman to deal with, or live with, or even love, something I was keenly aware of even as a little kid. The fact my father never talked about his childhood–as in never my whole life–is a clue that growing up was difficult. I know lots of stories from my mom’s childhood, not a single one from my dad’s.

In my teens I started to see his flaws, the cracks, and Pop’s own terrors. He wanted his four children to be perfect, to be the best, to excel in school, and most of all, he didn’t want us to struggle with life as much as he did.

And he did struggle. I shouldn’t say he was never comfortable in his own skin, but he was most alive and happiest on fishing or hunting trips to the mountains. Los Angeles suffocated him, and he escaped as often as he could. My mom always said Pop was born 100 years too late; he should have been a mountain man.

One of my earliest memories is of my father telling me stories about the full moon visible through the bedroom window, and talking until I fell asleep. He was a giant at 6’4 1/2″ to seven-year-old me, and he taught me to dance–and to love music–by having me stand on his feet while he moved through the steps.My dad introduced me to Tarzan and John Carter of Mars, and Lena Horn.

Twice he managed to save up enough money to take the whole family camping in the Sierras. Listening to the wind in the pines and aspens, and the rush of water in the creek that looped the campground, I fell in love with the mountains, birdsong, trees and sky.

I understood why he went back to the mountains so often. And I began to understand why concrete and steel suffocate me, and make me so restless.

My dad was far from the perfect parent, but he did the best he could. I never doubted he loved me.

That’s a rare thing, never having to doubt you’re loved.

 

 

 

 

 

 







Something I wrote last night

I’ve been sharing snippets of the WIP on Twitter each night. I don’t always have a line that fits 140 characters, but most days I do.

I wanted to share a paragraph I wrote last night, which may or may not survive revisions. But it said something to me about friendship, support, and finding your own family. Knowing who you can count on…that’s a big thing.

People stepped back and a path opened to the front. Ros was sure the two of them were a novel sight, the small and fair pregnant empress and the tall queen with dark brown hair. For some reason, she was reminded of the walk to the dais the afternoon she married Roland. The Sanctuary had been full of people she didn’t know, most of them Roland’s family, all of them staring and weighing her worth to the alliance. She’d searched desperately for a friendly face. Ros finally found Owen, stationed next to a pillar near the front where she could see him for the duration of the ceremony.

Owen, Irina and Jared stood where she and Sofija could see them when they turned to face the crowd. They weren’t alone.







Throw yourself in the midst of danger, but keep one eye open at night

I’m always making something. If I’m not writing, I’m quilting, crocheting, or doing some kind of craft. I can’t just sit and watch a movie, or one of the TV shows in my queue, I have to do something with my hands. My dining room table is covered in baby presents I’m making for a co-worker, and a quilt I’m making for a friend.

My day at work yesterday sucked out every ounce of cope and energy I had, compounded by the need to run a few errands when I got off. So I watched a couple episodes of Grantchester, and I made key chains on my desk.

Most of these are for someone else (shhhh….don’t tell) but I made a different kind for myself too. When mine was all finished, I added two engraved metal charms back to back.

One says imagine. The second one says believe.

I have no trouble at all imagining different worlds, different societies and the people who live there. None. I have more ideas lined up in my head than I will ever have time to write.

As I watch some friends seriously consider giving up writing, while other friends soar to heights I’ve never dreamed of–I’m having a little trouble with the believe part of the equation.

And it’s not that I don’t believe in what I’m writing, or that I don’t think I’m a good writer, with worthwhile stories to tell. I do. But the universe keeps sending me secret messages, many of them wrapped in silence, that all revolve around “you’re not good enough, you’re not special enough, and who do you think you’re kidding.”

Things aren’t helped along by real life. I lost the entire month of April to fighting off plague 2.0.5, dealing with the aftermath of the hail storm that destroyed my car, and still having to show up at the dayjob. The less said of April the better.

Writer doubt is the worst doubt. It’s evil and insidious, and creeps into how you see yourself, and your work. Trapped inside your own head, those doubts eat away at any confidence you’ve managed to build up.

I want to burn all those doubts with fire, especially the ones planted by others. I want to rage at false perceptions about what I write. I want to rage about friends giving up because the genre world and marketing is so totally fucked for women.

I won’t, but I want to. Oh do I want to.

I’ll keep writing, and look at my symbolic little charm, and believe.

 

 

 

 

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I was just guessing at numbers and figures, pulling the puzzles apart

A Parliament Of Queens still loves Coldplay best of all. “Spies” is still Owen’s song, and “The Scientist” is still Rosalind’s song. My brain is never subtle.

Since last we gathered around the old blog, I finished revising The Brightest Fell and sent it off to a patient beta reader. This long suffering friend is bringing fresh eyes to this story. Since I added a little over 10k to this book, it really is a story now and not a skeleton scampering in the woods.

Or at least that’s what I hope. Until my friend tells me the story works, or is a dismal failure, hope will keep me going.

I think I gave myself a whole 24 hours off before diving right back into Queens. It’s utterly amazing how time away from a book that was kicking my ass brings perspective. I saw holes and filled them. I saw places where the tone was all wrong, and I fixed those.

Most of this was in the last few scenes I wrote. That was in the middle of holiday madness at work, so I’m not at all surprised. I wrote those chapters in my sleep. That, gentle readers, isn’t hyperbole. I fell asleep at my keyboard almost daily. It’s not fun being that exhausted and I don’t recommend it for creative endeavors.

The book isn’t fighting me now. I’m counting that a victory and I take my wins where I can find them.

A darling, and then I’m off to bed. I can’t write if I don’t sleep. That’s a proven fact.

Goodnight stars.

The bedroom was lit by one small alchemist blub in a bedtable lamp. Dim light was kinder on Owen’s eyes, she knew that, but Ros wished the shadows weren’t falling over his face, hiding his expression as she crossed the room. She sat on the edge of the bed and took his hand. Owen smiled, chasing away the last of her fears, and making her cry in the bargain.

Ros kicked off her shoes and slipped under the coverlet, carefully molding her body to his so that she wouldn’t hurt him. He’d been her best friend since sixteen; her lover since she’d turned nineteen. This was how they’d always been, holding tight to one another in the worst of times and their deepest troubles. She felt foolish for thinking the world might push them apart.

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We all know what they did to witches

Ah spring, that silly season of award lists, recommended reading lists, and erasure. Time for my annual blog post, for lo, nothing ever changes.

Erasure is such an ugly word, with all its connotations of non-existence, of wiping out accomplishments and work and history. At times an ugly word is exactly the right word. Erasure is so much more than “forgetting” to add women (including QUILTBAG and minority women) to a list, or not being able to think of any women who’ve written even a single worthy book.

And let it be said that I don’t buy the chorus of baffled–and totally disingenuous–cries of “but I don’t understand why you’re angry.”

Bullshit. You do understand. Every single one of you. And that in a nutshell is why I’m angry, and why so many women writers are angry.

Women understand. Erasure is nothing new for us.

Marion Langhorne Howard Brickwedde (1909-1997) with Ferdinand G. Brickwedde (1903-1989)
This photograph of Marion Langhorne Howard Brickwedde (1909-1997) with Ferdinand G. Brickwedde (1903-1989) was published with the caption: “Dr. F. G. Brickwedde and his wife with the apparatus for making heavy water.” Marion Brickwedde earned a B.S. in chemistry (1929) and M.S. in physics (1930) from the University of Georgia. During her career, she taught physics at George Washington University and Pennsylvania State University, and was on the research staffs of the U.S. National Bureau of Standards and Los Alamos National Laboratory. Pictured with her husband, those accomplishments vanished.

Bertha Parker Pallan [Cody] (1907-1978)

Bertha Parker Pallan [Cody] (1907-1978) is considered one of the first female Native American archaeologists. The caption to this photograph said that Bertha Pallan was an “expedition secretary” who was demonstrating “the difference in size of early type [small] and large type atlatl darts from Gypsum Cave.” Bertha Pallan’s knowledge and field experience vanishes by labeling her a secretary and not an archaeologist.

Ruby Hirose

Biochemist and bacteriologist Ruby Hirose researched serums and antitoxins at the William S. Merrell Laboratories. The original caption for this photo read: “Dr. R. Hirose, American-born Japanese girl scientist on the research staff of the Wm. S. Merrell biological laboratories” I can’t even believe the dismissive and racist “Japanese girl scientist” label stuck on Dr. Hirose.

How many of you have heard of Jacqueline Cochran? She was the first woman to break the sound barrier.

Or Katharine Dexter McCormick? She was a U.S. biologist, suffragist, philanthropist, and funded most of the research necessary to develop the first birth control pill.

Margaret Harwood directed the Maria Mitchell Observatory on Nantucket Island, and ran its female-founded and female-run nonprofit science education institute.

Beatrice “Tilly” Shilling was a prize-winning motorcycle racer and aeronautical engineer.

Maud Slye was a pathologist and noted cancer researcher She was also a prolific published poet.

Mary Roberts Rinehart, is considered to have invented the “Had-I-But-Known” school of mystery writing. She also created a costumed supercriminal called “the Bat”, who was cited by Bob Kane as one of the inspirations for his “Batman.”

I could name hundreds of women scientists, mathematicians, artists, activists, pilots, and writers who accomplished amazing things, and wrote amazing books, during their lifetimes. And for every one of these women, whose lives aren’t close to ancient history, you have to dig into historical newspaper and Smithsonian archives to find mentions of them. Sometimes you have to dig deep.

This isn’t counting the thousands of photographs I found doing novel research where women’s names, their identity and history, has been erased. These women are only remembered as wife of Mr. Whatever, or listed as wife and daughter of Senator Importance. They don’t exist as individuals, as people.

Which brings me back to women genre writers. Given the surface evidence, we don’t exist either. Other than one or two names that appear again and again, we don’t make recommended lists, award lists, year’s best lists, or most anticipated upcoming books lists.

And I’ll tell you, each and every time I see lists, or blog posts, written by other women who list nothing but books by white men? I don’t even know what to call that feeling.

The erasure of women is built into the system, from the marketing level on down. Our work is considered lesser and slight, but if you do write anything with any meaning or depth, then you’re boring. The message from people who should be our peers is stay in your place, and don’t try to play in the boys’ sandbox. Women don’t write “real” SF or epic fantasy, or even real fantasy–whatever that is.

You have to be the most thick skinned, stubborn, and determined person who has ever lived to stick with this. At times you have to nurse that tiny flicker of anger into a roaring bonfire and hold it close. Anger is a survival skill for women writers. Anger can lend you strength.

Luckily, women are good at surviving and holding each other together. We’ve had more than enough practice while dealing with attempts to wipe us off the publishing record. Most of that ongoing support happens in the background, where no one but other women can see. Much as I’d like that to change now, today, even in 2016 it’s still the wiser move to go slow.

Because if women writers are too public about supporting each other, or network too much where others can see, they tend to be viewed as conspiring to bring down all the men. Words like equal shares of marketing budgets, fairness on award lists, and balance in numbers of reviews are interpreted as “Mine, mine! All of publishing belongs to meeeeee!”

That unleashes all kinds of hell falling on women’s heads, again from people who are supposed to be our peers. Anger can keep you strong, but it can also level major cities.

One would almost think women writers were witches, with the ability to erase men’s accomplishments and deny them a career.

And we all know what they did to witches. They cursed them with the need to write.







2015: I’m erasing myself from the narrative….

“Hamilton”, and Eliza, may have been my happiest discovery of 2015. The songs have given me a thousand story images and endless lines to quote. In a year that was a disaster on all levels, I’m clinging to all the positives I can find. I’ve never been a fan of musicals, but Lin-Manuel Miranda’s words and music have made me a big fan of this one.

Friends know what went on last year, but this is the first time I’ve written about any of this publicly. I thought long and hard about putting any of this out into the world, especially the professional disasters, but I’m really sick of tiptoeing around the truth. I’m too damn honest for my own good, but that’s nothing new.

As far as personal disasters, I’m still everyone’s bad example. Don’t be me, kids.

2015 brought the third Gabe and Delia book, Against A Brightening Sky, into the world. I’m not the only one who thinks it is the best of the trio, but how good a book is has little to do with how it fares in the world. I still have hopes for this book I love most of all. That might be silly, but there you have it.

A month or so before the pub date for Sky arrived, Tor informed me of some decisions they’d already made. They were delaying publication of the tradepaper of the second book, A Barricade In Hell, for two full years. Not long after that, I got another email telling me “the time had come” to pull all the hardcover stock of books one and two and sell them to a remainder house. While ebooks of Barricade would still be available, there wouldn’t be any new print copies available.

That happened about a month or so after Sky’s release. From the limited information I had, what looked like rising, good sales for all three books stopped. As in, they all stopped selling completely. With the middle book of the trilogy unavailable that was exactly what I expected to happen. My expectations were met with interest.

Since I got serious about writing I’ve said that failure wasn’t an option. For the last two months I’ve spent a hell of a lot of time thinking about what exactly constitutes failure. Given the emails I’ve gotten, and the lines included in reader reviews, asking me to please write more Gabe and Delia books and keep the series going, I have a hard time thinking of these books as a failure.

And sometimes, failure has help. See previous blog posts about invisible women writers.

One thread that has run through a lot of reviews I’ve seen is that Against A Brightening Sky didn’t feel like the end of the series, or tie up the characters in tidy little packages. There’s a reason for that. When I wrote Sky I didn’t know it was the last book. I have two more books and a Dora novella plotted out, but for now all I plan to write are the novella.

Isadora Bobet in a very noir 1940s Los Angeles helping an old friend solve a mysterious disappearance, and a brujo searching for his granddaughter, is too good to ignore. This one treads dangerously close to full blown horror. I think I’m okay with that.

The bottom line is that the Delia series didn’t make as much money as Tor wanted to make. They’re moving on and so am I.

Moving on was the theme of 2015.

For those who don’t know, I booted the roommate out of my life and he moved out last April. More than six years after meeting him, and four years into the relationship and living together, he told me he’d only been biding his time to find a connection in town. As soon as found someone to buy from he went back to drinking and doing drugs 24/7.

His favorite place to buy was our living room. I wasn’t even remotely okay with any of that. His response was to make my life hell and do all he could to keep me from writing.

You know you’re living with a true addict when he starts stashing dope in the freezer and scamming his doctor for Vicodin. Did you know you can crush and snort Vicodin to get high faster? Neither did I. I also didn’t know you could take five or six at a time and not OD.

So that was fun. Moving to Texas was my idiot decision of the decade, but pathological liars are really damn good at what they do, which is lie and convince you they mean every word. The scariest part was researching sociopaths for my books and ticking off all the personality traits of the man sitting in the living room.

But I survived. I moved away from the place we’d shared for five years in the fall. He doesn’t know where I am and I’m determined to keep it that way. He’s blocked from all my social media, my email; everything.

I have friends from work that live nearby now, and actually get to spend time with them. I have no money, but I have peace. I’ll take it.

2016 has nowhere to go but up. New books, new stories–a life that includes more fun and less stress.

It might even include more blogging. We’ll see.