End of the Year Update

When Rebel Elements, the first fantasy book in my latest series, titled Seals of the Duelists, suddenly started selling after one week on the market, I was surprised.  When it sold 1000 copies in the first month, I was stunned.  As it continued to rise in popularity, I had a bold, crazy idea.

See, I sit all day, writing, or thinking about writing, and as a result, my body isn’t in the healthiest condition, and my back complains more than I’d like it to.  I didn’t need a drastic change, just, you know, acknowledgment that I’d like to be a little healthier at the size I am.  So I thought, “What a fine idea to pit my series book sales against my health!  After all, its win/win.”

So that’s what I did.  I decided to see whether I could sell more thousands of books by the end of the year, or lose more pounds/inches combined.  And now, at the end of all things 2013, I have my answer.

The winner is: me!  But, you knew that.

Specifically, my health wins, with more pounds shed than inches lost, but the two stats ended up being pretty close.

However, I’m more than excited by the results from my sales, as well.  I released book two, Traitor Savant, in September, and since then I’ve sold over 1000 copies of it.  Since releasing Rebel Elements in February, I’ve sold more than 5000 copies, for a grand total of over 6000 books sold since I released the first book in the series.

Overall, an excellent year for my books, my writing career, and me.  And you, my faithful readers!  Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and may you never run out of adventures to read.


Narnia Was Just The Beginning

There comes a point where Susan, who was the older girl, is lost to Narnia because she becomes interested in lipstick. She’s become irreligious basically because she found sex. I have a big problem with that.” - JK Rowling
Can we talk about Susan’s fabulous adventures after Narnia? The ones where she wears nylons and elegant blouses when she wants to, and short skirts and bright lipstick when she wants to, and hiking boots and tough jeans and big men’s plaid shirts when she feels like backpacking out into the mountains and remembering what it was to be lost in a world full of terrific beauty— I know her siblings say she stops talking about it, that Susan walks away from the memories of Narnia, but I don’t think she ever really forgot.
I want to read about Susan finishing out boarding school as a grown queen reigning from a teenaged girl’s body. School bullies and peer pressure from children and teachers who treat you like you’re less than sentient wouldn’t have the same impact. C’mon, Susan of the Horn, Susan who bested the DLF at archery, and rode a lion, and won wars, sitting in a school uniform with her eyebrows rising higher and higher as some old goon at the front of the room slams his fist on the lectern. 
Susan living through WW2, huddling with her siblings, a young adult (again), a fighting queen and champion marksman kept from the action, until she finally storms out against screaming parents’ wishes and volunteers as a nurse on the front. She keeps a knife or two hidden under her clothes because when it comes down to it, they called her Gentle, but sometimes loving means fighting for what you care for. 
She’ll apply to a women’s college on the East Coast, because she fell in love with America when her parents took her there before the war. She goes in majoring in Literature (her ability to decipher High Diction in historical texts is uncanny), but checks out every book she can on history, philosophy, political science. She sneaks into the boys’ school across town and borrows their books too. She was once responsible for a kingdom, roads and taxes and widows and crops and war. She grew from child to woman with that mantle of duty wrapped around her shoulders. Now, tossed here on this mundane land, forever forbidden from her true kingdom, Susan finds that she can give up Narnia but she cannot give up that responsibility. She looks around and thinks I could do this better.
I want Susan sneaking out to drink at pubs with the girls, her friends giggling at the boys checking them out from across the way, until Susan walks over (with her nylons, with her lipstick, with her sovereignty written out in whatever language she damn well pleases) and beats them all at pool. Susan studying for tests and bemoaning Aristotle and trading a boy with freckles all over his nose shooting lessons so that he will teach her calculus. Susan kissing boys and writing home to Lucy and kissing girls and helping smuggle birth control to the ladies in her dorm because Susan Pevensie is a queen and she understands the right of a woman to rule over her own body. 
Susan losing them all to a train crash, Edmund and Peter and Lucy, Jill and Eustace, and Lucy and Lucy and Lucy, who Susan’s always felt the most responsible for. Because this is a girl who breathes responsibility, the little mother to her three siblings until a wardrobe whisked them away and she became High Queen to a whole land, ruled it for more than a decade, then came back centuries later as a legend. What it must do to you, to be a legend in the body of a young girl, to have that weight on your shoulders and have a lion tell you that you have to let it go. What is must do to you, to be left alone to decide whether to bury your family in separate ceremonies, or all at once, the same way they died, all at once and without you. What it must do to you, to stand there in black, with your nylons, and your lipstick, and feel responsible for these people who you will never be able to explain yourself to and who you can never save. 
Maybe she dreams sometimes they made it back to Narnia after all. Peter is a king again. Lucy walks with Aslan and all the dryads dance. Maybe Susan dreams that she went with them— the train jerks, a bright light, a roar calling you home. 
Maybe she doesn’t. 
Susan grows older and grows up. Sometimes she hears Lucy’s horrified voice in her head, “Nylons? Lipstick, Susan? Who wants to grow up?”  and Susan thinks, “Well you never did, Luce.” Susan finishes her degree, stays in America (England looks too much like Narnia, too much like her siblings, and too little, all at once). She starts writing for the local paper under the pseudonym Frank Tumnus, because she wants to write about politics and social policy and be listened to, because the name would have made Edmund laugh. 
She writes as Susan Pevensie, too, about nylons and lipstick, how to give a winning smiles and throw parties, because she knows there is a kind of power there and she respects it. She won wars with war sometimes, in Narnia, but sometimes she stopped them before they began.
Peter had always looked disapprovingly on the care with which Susan applied her makeup back home in England, called it vanity. And even then, Susan would smile at him, say “I use what weapons I have at hand,” and not explain any more than that. The boy ruled at her side for more than a decade. He should know better. 
Vain is not the proper word. This is about power. But maybe Peter wouldn’t have liked the word “ambition” any more than “vanity.”
Susan is a young woman in the 50s and 60s. Frank Tumnus has quite the following now. He’s written a few books, controversial, incendiary. Susan gets wrapped up in the civil rights movement, because of course she would. It’s not her first war. All the same, she almost misses the White Witch. Greed is a cleaner villain than senseless hate. She gets on the Freedom Rider bus, mails Mr. Tumnus articles back home whenever there’s a chance, those rare occasions they’re not locked up or immediately threatened. She is older now than she ever was in Narnia. Susan dreams about Telemarines killing fauns. 
Time rolls on. Maybe she falls in love with a young activist or an old cynic. Maybe she doesn’t. Maybe Frank Tumnus, controversial in the moment, brilliant in retrospect, gets offered an honorary title from a prestigious university. She declines and publishes an editorial revealing her identity. Her paper fires her. Three others mail her job offers. 
When Vietnam rolls around, she protests in the streets. Susan understands the costs of war. She has lived through not just the brutal wars of one life, but two. 
Maybe she has children now. Maybe she tells them stories about a magical place and a magical lion, the stories Lucy and Edmund brought home about how if you sail long enough you reach the place where the seas fall off the edge of the world. But maybe she tells them about Cinderella instead, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel, except Rapunzel cuts off her own hair and uses it to climb down the tower and escape. The damsel uses what tools she has at hand. 
A lion told her to walk away, and she did. He forbade her magic, he forbade her her own kingdom, so she made her own. 
Susan Pevensie did not lose faith. She found it. 
(Source: ifallelseperished)
(Reblogged from sparrowwingsandfragilethings)


What's-a Motto With You? Washington's Motto

I live in WA state, for those of you who don't know. As a lover of stats and historical stuff and languages, I just found myself caught up in Washington State's motto -- or rather, its lack of one.


Yes, Washington State doesn't have a state motto. That was news to me. We do have a territorial motto, though: Alki, or Al-ki, from the Chinook language. It means "by and by," as in, "I'll see you later." The concept translates to hope for the future. Pretty cool, yesno?

But wait, there's more statehood motto geekiness ahead! See, this is what happens when you enjoy the craziness that is hyperfocus. I apologize in advance if you're getting American History classroom flashbacks.

Washington State's motto is only four letters long, tied with Rhode Island's "Hope" for the shortest state motto on record.

Our motto is the only one taken from the Chinook language (not really a surprise), and the only one taken from any Native American language. Only three other mottos are rendered in different languages. The vast majority of state mottos are given in English, and many of those also have Latin translations, because nothing says awesome on a state seal like a dead language. Montana's motto is translated into in Spanish, Minnesota's into French, and Hawaii's is rendered in Hawaiian, with English translation, because haoles can suck it. Hang loose, brah!

I found it interesting that Washington State's motto is also one of only three mottos that, like Hawaii's, is put in a language other than English first, with the translation (if any) second. These are:

Alki (WA) -- because we don't need to use any more letters, thanks anyway.
Ua Mau ke Ea o ka Aina i ka Pono (HI) -- from memory! The first Hawaiian words I ever learned.
Excelsior (NY) -- that's Latin, btw, and no, they don't bother translating it, because New York.


Do Not Buy The Homicidal Broom!

So my husband's out of town for the next couple of days, and it falls to me to drive the kids to school in the mornings. I clap on a dark-brimmed cap, just in case yesterday's migraine isn't quite done making me fear and loathe Las Vegas--er, sunlight. Being all efficient--my so rarely achieved life goal--I swing directly from the school parking lot over to Walmart and nab that much-needed dog food for Eddie. Seriously, we used up the very last of his last bag for breakfast. Poochy would've gone hungry tonight, and we can't have that!

Among the few items on my list--and the "how did that get into my cart" additions (mostly gift wrap and other Christmas decor stuff)--I need an outdoor broom for keeping the tiny leaves from the neighbor's tree at bay on my raised deck. The current broom is older than my marriage, missing 1/3 of its bristles, and twists randomly within its plastic housing. Derptastic to say the least.

So, new broom it is. I want a nice wide one, so I stand in front of the broom selections and see three possibilities. One is narrower than I want, so I don't even pull it down. I reach for the one with the green handle, definitely the widest of the three. It's heavy as I swing it down from its two-pronged metal support, on which it was barely hanging.

A few experimental sweeps with the plastic-sheathed bristles, and I realize the broom is actually pretty darn heavy. Did they make the handle out of steel, for crap's sake? No. Putting it back now. I swing its heavy, wide head upward, set it evenly over those metal prongs, and reach for the medium bowl of porridge.

Before I can lay a finger on its handle, something violently swats at my hat's brim, then clatters to the floor directly between my shoes. Attack of the killer broom! My lip curls, and I swing the green deathmonster back up, making sure to shove it all the way to the back of its rack.

But no. Either that broom was wildly affected by a gravity well, or it had become sentient in its rage at never being purchased. It tried to kill me again! I wrenched it up from the floor once more and shoved it, bristles down, among the dusters and pans. "No wonder no one buys you, you freak of nature. You're a homicidal maniac!"

That middle-sized broom suddenly looks very attractive. It's lightweight, sure, but it never once tried to splatter my brains on the concrete floor. Into the cart it goes, and now it's gracing the corner of my deck. I feel such an inexplicable bond with that broom for its complete lack of homicidal tendencies. I feel safe, cared for. Loved. And with the added benefit of a leaf-free deck, too!

But seriously. No one buy that green broom at Walmart. It WILL try to murder you.


Cover Reveal - Way Walkers: Tangled Paths

Way Walkers: Tangled Paths

The Tazu Saga: Book One

J. Leigh

Twelve Ways create a thousand tangled paths.

Hatched from an egg but unable to shift into dragon form, Jathen is a Moot among the Tazu. His rightful throne is forbidden him because of his transformative handicap, and neither his culture nor his religion offer acceptance of his perceived flaws.

Driven by wounded anger, Jathen strikes out across the vast world beyond Tazu borders, desperate to find a place where he feels accepted and whole. Though he travels with the most trusted of companions, sabotage and conspiracy soon strike his quest. Jathen and his allies must struggle against man and magic alike, at the mercy of forces beyond their ken.

As Jathen presses on, his questions of belonging are surrounded by more of identity, loyalty, and betrayal. Where will the path of his destiny lead, and will he follow or fall?

Coming March 2014


Release Day for Traitor Savant! (and attack of the stats junkie)

So, I've been busy the last week with spreading the word for my Traitor Savant release day joy and for the freebie run for Rebel Elements. Now I'm sitting back and hitting refresh a lot--my hard-earned reward!

Equally as cool as watching the sales and free downloads add up is watching my books find their way onto various Amazon lists. Here are some highlights from the day thus far:

Title: Rebel Elements
Status: Free
Amazon Top 100 Lists: 4

#24 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Children's eBooks > Science Fiction, Fantasy & Scary Stories > Fantasy & Magic

#3 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Children's eBooks > Science Fiction, Fantasy & Scary Stories > Fantasy & Magic > Coming of Age

#10 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Children's eBooks > Science Fiction, Fantasy & Scary Stories > Fantasy & Magic > Sword & Sorcery

#32 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Literature and Fiction > Science Fiction and Fantasy > Fantasy > Epic

Title: Traitor Savant
Status: New Release
Amazon Top 100 Lists: 1

#50 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Teen & Young Adult > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Fantasy > Sword & Sorcery

Amazon Hot New Releases Lists: 3

#9 on Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Teen and Young Adult > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Fantasy > Sword and Sorcery

#55 on Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Teen and Young Adult > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Fantasy

#65 on Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Teen and Young Adult > Science Fiction & Fantasy

#25 on Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Literature & Fiction > Fantasy > Epic

Though most of the lists my books get on are in the Teen and Children's categories, I just love seeing them on the Epic Fantasy lists, too. How tautological!


Cover Reveal: Traitor Savant, Second Seal of the Duelists

Sequel to Rebel Elements
Second book in the Seals of the Duelists series
Available September 20th for purchase


An unexpected torture

Funny thing about going about your business. We get so caught up in doing the ordinary that the obvious escapes our notice.

Late last night, I loaded the dishwasher, wearing my handy dandy, long, pretty pink rubber gloves. The children had already gone to sleep, and I wanted to make sure everybody had clean breakfast bowls in the morning.Finished with my loading I did what I do every time. I ran the water and flipped the switch for the garbage disposal.

But something was wrong. The disposal made a loud crumbling noise at me. I instantly worried that my daughter had dropped a peach pit inside it, not knowing they weren't supposed to go down disposals.  I turned the angry monster back off. With a double check glance at the switch to make sure the disposal was a really, really, really off, I reached my gloved hand inside to feel around for that peach pit.

Can you guess what's going to happen next? I sure didn't.

I had left the water on. The scalding, burning water. As I wrangled my arm down the disposal, the mouth of my glove shifted beneath the flow of the hot water. It poured down my glove and surrounded my fingers. I yanked my hand up out of the disposal to try and rip the glove of finger by finger. That doesn't work very well when the inside of the glove has suction due to water replacing the air around my hand. It does, however, empty all the hot water out of my glove, by pouring it down my arm. Oh goodie.

Eventually, I got the glove off and held my scalded arm beneath a nice cool stream of water. Three applications of aloe vera later, the burning calmed down enough to let me sleep.

There is an upside, though. For some reason, I reached down that disposal with my right hand. And I'm left handed. So I'm not completely stymied today. Typing isn't fun, though. Every time my fingers bend, they sting. So I'm using voice recognition.

I've been under rather a lot of stress lately. I guess this just shows how distracted I'm getting. But, onward and upward. I have so much to do, it would be a real shame to flip out now.


A Quiet Breakfast on the Deck...Then, Minstrelbirds!

I heard a chorus of birds in the distance as I ate my cereal in the early morning light on my deck. They were all singing the same trill of notes, and trying to do it at the same time. I didn't recognize the birdsong, so the only thing that came to mind was the mockingjays from Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games trilogy. Well, with myself on the outside of some delicious breakfast, my brain had the go juice to ponder what kind of bird I'd create, based solely on a unison tune. 

Here's what I came up with: 

The Minstrelbird.

Part parrot for intelligence and mimicry, though only of song. Part beetle (I can't remember which kind, alas) for the group competition to be the first/fastest (I saw a video of several male beetles surrounding a female, waving an arm up and down in almost perfect unison. The female picked the one who moved first.). Part bird of paradise for the showy hopping rituals.Whistling language borrowed from the Canary Islands, and parts of Greece, Turkey, France, Mexico, and Africa.

Okay, cool, but what do I do with him? Where do I put him?

Ah, yes. I have a whole new world I've been building for several years now. I'll put him there, in the mountainous forests inhabited by my version of the wagon-traveling gypsies (more on them in another post).

The upland gypsies capture minstrelbirds using a small, deft child and a plate of grubs rolled in berry honey. Jesses keep the bird from flying away, but let him feel he can still flap his wings. Minstrelbirds who were confined in cages invariably died of depression before they could learn the gypsies' songs. A particular whistle song is constructed and taught to the minstrelbird over the course of a few weeks, until the bird begins to mimic it.

Usual song subjects include dangerous passage, like a bridge or road washing out, or directions to a welcoming home for the night. Other songs direct travelers away from certain hunting grounds, curmudgeons, or love interests. Pranks are occasionally employed using minstrelbirds, but due to the time involved, they nearly always border on grudges. Still, they are often epic in nature, and make the gossip rounds for years to come.

Once his song has been transformed, the bird is released into a part of the forest where his song will serve as informatory to passersby.Minstrelbirds are not picky about their dwellings, so they'll move right in on a nice sheltered branch. As a result of his new territory, the new bird will eventually end up challenging a local male for dominance in a rowdy sing-off. If he wins, all the nearby birds will use his song when they do their speed competing for mates and daily challenges for rights to feed or bathe first. If the bird loses his dominance challenge, the gypsies train another bird.

I already wanted to involve some kind of nearly secret society in my Aurora Meridiani series--secret by dint of location, not of scheming--and these minstrelbirds just add to the natural environment in which my people live. Well, one of my peoples: I have a dozen or so realms on the Peninsula. And I need a different name than "gypsies," obviously. Work, work, always work...


This Latest Publishing Disaster

I recently advised authors not to blog when they're angry, but as usual, I'm going to ignore my own advice and do what I want. Today, I'm blogging when I'm spitting mad. Furious.
By now, I'm sure you're all familiar with many of the sordid details of my publishing experiences with a small press. Well, guess what? The story gets worse...

Absolute Write also has a thread addressing this particularly foul situation.

Authors who seek publication acceptance from small presses, PLEASE do your research before submitting your hard work.


Pot of Plot

Just saw an epic plot play out in the pot in which I was boiling water for spaghetti. Yeah, I'm that geeky. I added a bit of olive oil first to keep the pasta from sticking--at this point, the water wasn't even bubbling. 

But as it warmed, the blobs of oil began to swirl and bump, like influential houses testing each others' mettle. Some smaller ones were quickly absorbed, or sent to the edge of the pot, seemingly out of the action.

I picked one blob to be my protagonist. It was doing well for awhile, absorbing a couple of small blobs, avoiding being absorbed by larger blobs, and avoiding some odd, long string of oil that invaded from the edge, then broke off into rampaging bands of brigands. But then, tragedy! My blob was joined to the edge, and spread itself evenly around the pot, seemingly consigned to watch forever more.

But no. That's not how my pasta water and I roll. The rival blob that had been my blob's biggest threat lengthened and got pinched between two other, smaller blobs who I swear were teaming up. It got bent and its edge lost its cohesion, and while it was joining with one blob, the other changed its mind and joined forces with my original blob, now guardian of the edge of the known world.

Suddenly, the edge had power! And just then, the water began to boil. Bubbles rose up beneath the last remaining oil blob. They ran together and joined forces, creating rifts, holes, within the group. Eventually, to my surprise, they joined and so destabilized the oil that it split into two rival halves who batted at each other in the hot, tense environment of my pot. Meanwhile, my protagonist remained calm and poised, riding out the storm.

A minute later, the rival factions of the last remaining oil blob joined forces again, but it was too late. They'd become riddled with microbubbles. Their power was spent, and their destruction was assured. Never again would the cooking pot see such power struggles, such epic contendings for prime spots atop the water, such alliances smooth and inevitable. Such a twist in the holding of power--the seeming downfall of the hero turned into the one true bastion of strength--would never come again.

Until suppertime.


I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means

Over the past few years, I've read several novels that had a gay/lesbian side character who, at some point in the book, made a comment about a member of the opposite gender thusly: "Ooh, that character's so attractive, he/she could definitely turn me straight!"

Seriously, there are so many of these lines out there that I don't even have to think about their existence. They're out there, a mini phenomenon. But recently, I stopped to consider what that line actually means to me. And I'm not happy with the results of that thinking binge, not at all. Which is always a risk you take when you start thinking, so don't worry. I know the risks of binge thinking, but they won't scare me off. I'll be at it again soon.

Anyway. My binge thinking began by reminding me of this fun video on YouTube, called When Did You Choose to be Straight? From there, I started feeling this as-yet-unnamed horror creeping up my psyche, in regards to the quote at the top of this post.

Why is it that only the gay and lesbian characters say that line? I've never seen a straight character say it. I don't hope they're out there, for reasons I'll get to in a minute, but if there were books with straight characters saying some version of that line, I'd at least feel that I were living among slightly less discrimination than usual.

See, when only the homosexual characters say that line, it implies that authors, as one body of writers, are living with the apparently obvious "truth" that gay characters can change their sexual orientation at will, while straight characters wouldn't even consider it. Reading that line runs me right past "Oh, it's just a flirty line saying someone's hot" and straight into "Maybe you should stick to writing what you know."

It gets worse, at least in my head. I tried to apply that line to myself. How would I have to be feeling if I were to say that line out loud and mean it? I couldn't come up with any possible situation. Then I worked on creating an equivalent statement for myself, and I got horrified enough to get out of bed and post this before breakfast.

For me, personally and individually, "Ooh, that character's so attractive, he/she could definitely turn me straight!" is the perfect equivalent of: "Ooh, that character's so attractive, he could definitely make me like getting raped by him!"

Just. No. The line is only humorous until you stop and think about what it actually says: that GLBTQ characters have no original orientation and don't want one. I'm as straight as they come and I'm offended. (I hope that's okay, because that isn't changing, either.)

This is just one of the many examples of homosexual stereotyping in fiction that have been jumping out at me as poor choices for creating a balanced reaction in readers' minds. Homosexuality is just one facet of real people's lives. Why does it have to be expanded into glib stereotyping in fiction? It doesn't.


Return Of The Pain Monster

I wanted to be productive today. Apparently, my body had other plans. Luckily for me, I have this handy dandy voice recognition headset. So, now I can complain about how badly my body hurts without actually using my hands to type these words.

Every couple of months, this happens to me. An insidious ache begins deep in my bones. It worms its way outward along my nerves. Burning like a fire, like a slow, itching fire. I can't sit still. I wriggle, and I squirm. Nothing helps. It sucks. What is this monster, and why did it pick me to pester, oh so endlessly?

Hopefully, tomorrow will be better. For now, distraction is all I have. Catch you on the flip side.


Cover Update Reveal: Oathen, Book Two in the Immortality Archive

Here's the awesome new cover for the sequel to Wicked Heroine, complete with epic waterfall and an axe of light. I'm really loving the colors on these new covers. The oranges are slightly malevolent, and the greens are just a hair too creepy to be trustworthy. Enjoy!


Cover Update Reveal: Wicked Heroine, Book One in the Immortality Archive

This fabulous new cover art by Streetlight Graphics is in the process of updating to all the book's purchase sites, so here's a sneak peek for those of you who are quick and in the mix. It'll be everywhere in a few days.

A Very Tasty First

I've never made a smoothie in my life, but with all the fresh fruit I have in my house, I just couldn't resist. The thought popped into my head, unbidden, and took root over a couple of hours, until I was too hungry to resist.

Three scoops of vanilla, a splash of milk, a handful of raspberries, seven strawberries, and two bananas later,  tasty heaven had arrived. Dude, that was delicious. I'm gonna have to do that more often!


The Unexpected Syndrome: Amnesia of the Soul

I must have sprouted stealth armor, because I totally fell off the radar for a couple of weeks there. I mean, I was low on the scanner already, because I was keeping my head down and working my butt off. But two weeks ago, I had to stop. My. Life.

I got brain poisoning. Such a short sentence--four little words--yet so terrifying. I'm still kind of stunned that I'm not dead. Or maybe that stunned feeling is just the meds.

Meds meds meds. Dude, the meds. Okay, technically it's just one med. The ER doc gave me Lorazepam, and it gave me back my sanity by balancing my brain chemistry. But that's only the end of the story.

I had a nasty migraine going on the week before that. Three days straight. I was at my wits' end, so I went to my PCP. She gave me an Imitrex shot for the migraine, but it backfired, big time. I dropped straight into Serotonin Syndrome (later confirmed by the ER doc and by my new PCP--we'll get to him in a minute). And  as I lay muttering and flailing on my doctor's exam room table, she...played with my son.

I couldn't make this up. Because I don't write horror.

 I lay there and blurted out my strange symptoms in a desperate attempt to get her to interact with my immediate situation. All the while, I wondered why I had a long-fingered troll with a wraith feeding hand gripping the back of my neck, sucking all my energy out. My limbs were cast in rubbery concrete. After twenty or so minutes of not having my vitals checked and not being otherwise examined in any way from across the room, I heard my doctor say she needed to take me home.

I couldn't even stand up, yo. How's that gonna work? Well, there was a nice young nurse and a wheelchair, and some hopefully coherent small talk on the way across town--the wrong direction from the ER, by the way, which was literally a stone's throw from the doc's office. And it was literally the only place she should have been taking me for such a serious reaction.

I work with motives and character background for a living, and I do not understand why she did what she did. Unless... She did prescribe me a migraine medication that said in its warning section, "Do not take this drug if you are allergic to opioids (eg. Morphine)." Well, guess who's allergic to morphine? Trying to get rid of the witness, perhaps? Probably not, but what else am I to think when she tries to kill me twice in one day? I'm supposed to think it's time for a new PCP, that's what.

I lay in bed all day, drained. The next day, my head was screaming. The day after that, it was still screaming. On Friday, I felt my equilibrium tip and spill me down into endless darkness, and waves of depressed weeping swept over me like storms. I died inside sometime that day, and I remember not mourning, because nothing mattered.

I got better, then worse again, and worried it would kill me that time, so I sought help at the ER, where the doctor, despite my crazy fears that nothing would change, actually diagnosed me properly and gave me some medication. I popped half a pill there in the ER, and by the time I got home, I'd been raised from the dead.

I got a new PCP the next day, and even an appointment, because I needed someone to oversee my new treatment plan. His last words to me as I left the exam room--on my own two feet, might I add: "I will not abandon you." I think he's a keeper.

It's been a crazy week since then, knowing that I remember who I am as long as I'm on the pills, waiting for the Serotonin Symptoms to fade away on their own--because nothing can cure it; it's a waiting game. I sometimes get periods of several hours when I'm off the meds and I'm still me. But that first warning symptom that I'm not out of the woods yet is always that troll's crushing grip on the back of my neck, and the acid headache that spills upward into the back of my skull.

I now know what it's like to have a serious chemical imbalance in the brain. I know the crazy, and that fighting it alone is futile. I know that help is essential. I know my prognosis is good, since the syndrome is only temporary. I've been to crazy. It was indeed a short trip--about two minutes flat for the syndrome to kick in--but I don't ever want to go there again.

I've been working, cautiously and at a slow pace, this past week. I've done a bit of editing on two books, and a bit of writing on a third. It feels good, like warm summer light after the tornado has passed. I remember who I was, and I am willing myself to be that person again.

And yes, I'm totally noting every detail of my sudden, dangerous experience for potential inclusion in one of my books someday. Because that's who I am, too.


I Heard a Bee Buzz When She Died

I just found a honey bee in the trough of my sliding glass door, buzzing for all it was worth. I completely forget why I went into the kitchen now, but the sound of her wings drew my attention. The screen door was shut, and I worried that it had a hole somewhere. I love honey bees, so my first thought was to rescue her and return her to the outdoors, where she could work on pollinating my tomato plant for me (I say that because two years ago I bought two tomato plants that put out glorious yellow blossoms all summer long--and no one came to pollinate them. How terrifying!)

Alas, the bee seemed in distress. I offered her the flat edge of the flyswatter, but she wouldn't cling to it. I offered her the thin metal handle next, but her flailings seemed so desperate that I wonder if she knew it was there. Maybe, I thought, she was just dying at the end of her life cycle.

But, disturbingly, she looked like she was in absolute, overwhelming agony. It reminded me of the poor spider that got the Cruciatus curse in the fourth book of the Harry Potter series--it looked like it was screaming. That might have been helped by the fact that its tongue was constantly flailing as well.

I've never seen a bee's tongue before. Dark pink and thread-thin, it's the color of mine, turned into a straw. A long needle for drinking. But to see the bee sticking it out repeatedly, as if, what, seeking an antidote she accidentally dropped nearby? It just made the overall image of her distress more unnerving.

I don't make a habit of examining stinging insects up close, but the bee looked to be a funny color, covered with more pale gray fuzz than seemed normal. Maybe she had a fungus that was driving her out of her mind. Her legs were certainly uncoordinated. Some cross between grooming and walking, with the occasional spastic straightening, as if suffering a seizure, kept the creature in constant wobbling motion.

And all the while, her wings buzzed, until, finally, she grew too exhausted. She lay silent, writhing, tonguing the air. My daughter crouched by me, and I tried to make sense of the bee's possible diagnoses for her. She had picked a couple of flowers outside--just weeds this time, a morning glory and a dandelion. She offered me the morning glory, and I held it over the bee for a while, hoping the smell of pollen would help somehow.

Then we spotted a jumping spider outside on the deck, through the glass. I gave my daughter a child's version of the euthanasia speech, but by the time I'd scooped the bee up, the spider had vanished.

She was just a bee. But she seemed to be in pain, dying, and I've always liked bugs. I stayed with her. I can't remember what I was about to do before I saw her, or if I'd already completed it. But it doesn't matter. I don't even know how she got into my house, but that doesn't matter, either.

I remember you, creature of the air. And I am the better for it.


Unexpected Paradise

The power went out at our house yesterday. I'd already left the house with the kids, but my hubby was just climbing out of the shower when everything went dark. Kind of a vulnerable position to find oneself in! I'm glad that wasn't me.

He had to walk to meet us because the garage door wouldn't open. Luckily, our church is less than a mile from our house, and it was a nice spring day--which, around here, means no wind storms, no rain, no heat wave and no sudden chill. Exercise is good, but exercise on a lovely morning is better. Right, honey? Heh.

I wasn't feeling so hot after the kids finished their morning class, so I took the car and the daughter home, and hubby stayed behind with Mr. Boy. On the final turn before our block, I had to wait for a Pacific Power truck to clear the intersection. A bit worrisome, see, since my husband had already told me there was one on site to fix the problem--the site being the power pole just next to our front yard. Yet this truck was just arriving, and it was the only one there. There went my hopes of having the power on so I could park in the garage. Nope. Driveway it is!

Everything was off, naturally. My daughter had forgotten since the last power outage we had, years ago, what runs on electricity and what doesn't. I assured her we had water. But let me tell you, peeing in the dark of a bathroom with no windows is always a little creepy to me.

I was in the middle of telling her about how we shouldn't open the fridge or freezer unless absolutely necessary since we didn't know how long the power would really be out when I realized I wanted to eat up some of that slowly-melting ice cream. It's only practical, right? So we grabbed a blanket, a bunch of sofa cushions, and two bowls of ice cream (okay, it was actually rainbow sherbet and had no dairy products in danger of going bad, but an opportunistic craving is an opportunistic craving), and headed to the back deck.

It was the perfect ice cream picnic. We sat in the shade of the roof, the sky had a light haze so the shadows were soft (good for my post-migraine head), the ice cream was cold, the cushions were comfy, the dog was a stolid companion, and the other guest was adorable, witty, and fun, as only an eight-year-old can be. It's a rare day when I find myself in the perfect spot, temperature-wise, but that day, I totally nailed it: in the shade with the occasional breeze that might have been one degree cooler. Also, did I mention the ice cream? Excellent internal coolant when one isn't actually hot.

We sat out there for almost an hour. My daughter could see the power pole around the corner of the house, and narrated to me as two men in two buckets from two separate trucks rose into the air to fiddle with the pole's upper end. We dawdled and joked and lazed, and eventually one of us had to go inside for something. She flicked on a light switch, and lo, verily, it worked! Huzzah and gadzooks!

So we returned to the modern civilization of our air-conditioned, filtered, lit, and heated house. But not without reluctance. Some days, when the perfect storm of perfect weather grabs you, you can't help wanting to revel in it forever. Build me a garden with wi-fi, and we'll talk.


Rebel Elements Spring Sale Weekend

May 3-5
$4.99 $2.99

Rebel Elements is having a Spring Sale!
Grab your copy of the First Seal of the Duelists today.

See Kindle Books and Tips' Featured Book promotion today.


This is the Part Where I Don't Know What the Cover of Traitor Savant Looks Like

Tomorrow is my scheduled date to begin working with Streetlight Graphics on cover art for the second novel in my latest fantasy series: Traitor Savant. I am so excited! I feel like a kid on Christmas Eve! I have all these ideas in my head of how it will look. Will I be right? Will I be even close?

Will it do that cool mystery glow thing so everyone knows it's awesome?

I love anticipation. It's something that slipped right past me for most of my life--when I wasn't actively hating it. Now, in order to keep a more balanced perspective, I'll often tell myself "This is the part where I don't know what's in the box." It anchors me to the Anticipation Phase, and once I know what's in that box, I can look back and see how I got from A to B, emotionally, physically, etc. I find it actually helps me with my characterization, so I try to do this whenever I try something new.

So right here, right now, this is the part where I don't know what the cover of Traitor Savant looks like.


Kindle Fire HD 7" Giveaway

Kindle Fire HD 7" Giveaway

The winner will have the option of receiving a 7" Kindle Fire HD (US Only)

  Or $199 Amazon.com Gift Card (International)

  Or $199 in Paypal Cash (International)

Sponsoring Bloggers & Authors
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Giveaway Details
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Open only to those who can legally enter, receive and use an Amazon.com Gift Code or Paypal Cash. Winning Entry will be verified prior to prize being awarded. No purchase necessary. You must be 18 or older to enter or have your parent enter for you. The winner will be chosen by rafflecopter and announced here as well as emailed and will have 48 hours to respond or a new winner will be chosen. This giveaway is in no way associated with Facebook, Twitter, Rafflecopter or any other entity unless otherwise specified. The number of eligible entries received determines the odds of winning. Giveaway was organized by Kathy from I Am A Reader, Not A Writer http://iamareader.com and sponsored by the participating authors & bloggers. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED BY LAW. Prize value $199 US.

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Cover Reveal: Passion Potion, a New Adult Paranormal Romance by Mary Beth Daniels

Passion Potion 
by Mary Beth Daniels 

Publication date: May 1st, 2013 
Genre: New Adult Paranormal Romance

New Adult Addiction

Jet is a Nix, the daughter of an Enchantress who went outside her bloodlines. No one helps a Nix, and even though her father is in deep trouble with Dei Lucrii, a dark Enchanter who paid her family an extraordinary sum to make a passion potion, Jet has no way to fix the powerful spell that killed her mother. But someone is watching her. A very handsome someone whose face appears in a pewter bowl her mother always kept close by. Could the boy be the secret to avoiding the curse of the Nix? Or is he the sort of distraction Jet REALLY can’t afford at a time like this? Passion Potion is a paranormal new adult romance from the author of the romantic comedy hit Heteroflexibility.


Mary Beth Daniels is a writer and photographer in Texas. She is a huge fan of Ellen Degeneres, a rabid stalker of Nathan Fillion, and she can't mention how she feels about Chris Hemsworth without risking a restraining order. Mary Beth is also the author of the hit romantic comedy Heteroflexibility and cites Strawberry Shortcake & Friends as an inspiration for her hair colors.


Editing Achievement: Unlocked!

I got Traitor Savant back from my editing team today! It's all pretty and shiny, and I'm so excited I could burst! The cover art date isn't for another three weeks, but I'm crazy impatient right now. Rebel Elements is selling so well, I'd love to throw Traitor Savant up for sale the moment its cover art is ready. Why must that time frame be so far away from now?

Why won't this TARDIS go any faster??

I'm so thrilled to have gotten another chance to work with Karen and Lynn over at Red Adept's Editing Services. They're the bomb. Karen, my fantasy editor, really knows her stuff, and she's the same kind of weird as I am. We clicked immediately over book one, and it was pure joy to get to listen to her jauntily berate me on my word choices and plot holes in book two as well. 

So, here I sit, thrilled with my clean and polished manuscript. Today, I'm one vital, enormous step closer to the release of book two: Traitor Savant, Second Seal of the Duelists. It's a good day. A very good day, indeed.


Is it Magic, or Just My Sleep Number Bed?

We got a Sleep Number bed installed yesterday. It's the kind with the flexible base, so it bends like the beds in those Sealy Posturepedic commercials of my childhood. We're trying it out at 35, with a teensy bit of head and foot elevation because we both have sore backs from our old mattress.

I slept like an absolute dream. I had several nice dreams, too. I think Benedict Cumberbatch was in one, with the Sherlock hair that I think is so adorable. I know there was a rabbit, too. Easter Bunny, was that you?

Anyway. I woke up and found myself musing sleepily on my Sleep Number baffle-down pillow (haha, yes, my pillow is always baffled) on the titles of the three books in my Seals of the Duelists series. I love Rebel Elements and Traitor Savant, but Master Steelwielder always felt like something was missing. I tried to pin down that je ne sais quoi with the muzzy-headed logic of the newly awake, and in true creative fashion (I get a good half of my story ideas and plot twists during waking or falling asleep), I actually figured it out.

It seems obvious now, but you know what they say about hindsight. "Rebel" and "traitor" share a certain separatist element, but "master" does not. What could I come up with to fit that pattern in the title of the first two books, something that would reflect not only the hero's journey, but the villain's? And then it hit me.

A rebel is against the establishment from the start. A traitor begins on the side of the establishment, then changes his mind. What could I manage to describe that would fit with being for and/or against the establishment, possibly at the same time, or possibly at different times, without giving too much away because that's never fun either, and which could apply to my hero and to my villain simultaneously or alternately in turn during the execution of the plot? (Feel free to tell me that this is too spoilery. According to research, though, we like spoilers.)

The word "prodigal" jumped into my brain. So hard and so fast that I actually swore in amazement, right into my brand new expensive pillow and probably woke up my husband. (Sorry, honey.) Rebel Elements. Traitor Savant. Prodigal Steelwielder. Huzzah! I have a new working title for book three in the Seals of the Duelists series.

Unless I can't find you, or if I forget (thanks, Shrek).


It's That Time: Selecting the Future

I hoped I would never have to make this decision, but sadly it seems I do not control the universe. Curses! So here I am, faced with a wild imbalance in sales on Amazon vs. Nook. I had a brief discussion with Brian Kittrell, author of the Mages of Bloodmyr books and others, on the topic of exclusivity, which was prompted by this post (which you should read, as it is very in-depth) by popular indie writer and champion J.A. Konrath, on his blog, A Newbie's Guide to Publishing. And after thinking this issue over very seriously for several weeks, before and after the post and the conversation, I think I have to admit what Mr. Konrath has already concluded: sometimes, exclusivity is actually a good thing, because that's how your readers find you.

At one point this month, my Amazon-to-Nook sales ratio was 50:1. Now it's more like 200:1. In the face of numbers like these, I honestly can't think of a single reason to say No to the borrows and freebie opportunities that the Kindle Select program offers.

However, I do love my fans, and I know that the Nook users will be very disappointed to learn of this decision. Fear not, loyal Nook readers. I always upload my books DRM-free. Please see this page on my website on how to transform a Kindle file into a Nook (or any other format) file, so that you can still continue to enjoy my books.

As soon as Barnes & Noble unpublishes my book file, I will enter Rebel Elements into the Kindle Select program for 90 days and see what happens. I have high hopes, or I wouldn't be taking this step. If you are curious for more information or puzzled as to why this seems like a good option, I urge you to check out the Q&A section in the second half of Mr. Konrath's post. Reading his post and his answers helped me clarify a lot of my own feelings and enabled me to see with plenty of clarity the issues I personally face, so that I could make this decision with confidence.


The Rebel Elements Rap

So, I guess I half-woke this morning just before 7 am and jotted down a rap about my latest book. Which is weird, because I'm really more of a soundtrack girl, but there you are. My subconscious wants to rap, I let it rap. As long as it doesn't make me wake up all the way. I found these lyrics in my bedside notebook when I really woke up, two hours later. (God bless Sundays and kids getting their own breakfast!)

Hot Rage

I wake up in the mornin', I'm composin' ma tweets
Gotta tell the Twitterverse all about ma story deets
Got a hero on the loose
And his magic don't make sense,
Sayin' hey hey hey check out Rebel Elements!

110k word, word,
word, word
110k word, word,
it's all the hot rage.

Bayan has got a problem, see, his family sold him out.
and on the long long ride to prison school, all he does is pout.
His magic's gettin' poisoned,
Assassins gather round,
He's got to face his rage before it brings the empire down!

110k epic new adult,
new adult, new adult,
110k epic new adult,
it's all the hot rage.

So, yo, what's a guy to do when his world starts crashin' down?
Give up on his friends and wait to die down on the ground?
Bayan has gotta choose the tale that's written on the page,
Will he stand up for himself or will he give in to his rage?

Top 100 Fantasy, epic new adult
All the hot rage,
Top 100 Fantasy, epic new adult,
It's all that hot rage.


Indistinguishable From Magic

Arthur C. Clarke

I'm a child of wonder. I love to feel that superstitious awe when I see a new scientific discovery or development, and think to myself, "Whoa! How did that happen?" The wondering is always more pleasurable to me than the answers (although I always want to know them, too).

Because, just like the quote, to me that stuff is magic. And I want to believe in magic. It's why I write fantasy. I want that sense of wonder, of amazement at the world around us. Yes, believing in magic has its dark side--unnecessary superstitions, unhealthy rituals we all perform due to a misguided belief that it'll ward off an unwanted effect. Take the ritual of drinking diet soda as a way to lose weight, because we believe in the myth of the beverage god named Diet instead of the science of caloric intake and the effects of sugar on the body. Not a good magic.

Believing only in magic, and not in science as well, can be bad like that. That's why I'm interested in the scientific answers to my magical questions. But there's never going to be a time at which humanity will have discovered all the answers. I will always have something to wonder about. And that's a magic all its own.

I write fantasy, not science fiction (well, I dabble). But I'm such a science geek that I pull some kind of science/magic switcheroo, a la Clarke, in all my worlds, on one level or another. Is it cruel to inflict an Earthlike level of science on poor, unsuspecting fantasy characters who lack the scientific study, or even the terminology, to grasp the concepts? 

Hardly so. I'm a cruel taskmistress with my worlds, inflicting all kinds of drama and chaos upon their denizens. I don't write for my characters' benefit. I write for yours. So sit back and enjoy the magic, and if you see a little science peeking through here and there, don't tell my characters. They'd only try to burn you at the stake.


Chapter One: Skycaller

Previously, I've posted the prologue to my newest fantasy novel, Rebel Elements. Here's a sneak peak at  chapter one: Skycaller.


The paddy water swirled around Bayan’s tanned brown shins as he stepped to the next row of rice seedlings. He nudged a few green stems with his double-pronged wooden baton to see whether they had rooted well. They had.

He paused for a cool drink from the water skin he carried on his belt. Gnats buzzed, and frogs chirruped at the edge of the water. The day was already sticky, and the warm season not yet arrived.

He liked it over in the corner of the block of paddies. No one watched him or looked at him from the corner of their eyes, as if waiting for a sudden reprimand. Why did everyone assume he was exactly like his father?

Probably because his father was still their employer, no matter which position Bayan currently held. At fifteen, he’d worked in the fields for five years, learning the skills he would need to become the field supervisor for all the crops on his father’s farm.

He looked forward to the responsibility. His father was a wealthy and highly respected man in Pangusay, but Bayan wanted to succeed on his own terms. Being seen as his father’s son wasn’t his goal in life, after all. Bayan had big plans for himself which didn’t all involve farming.

Bayan twiddled his pronged stick, grinning as he thought of Imee. She was beautiful, and her laugh was pure music. He always tried to think of something funny to say, so that when he and his father traveled into Pangusay proper, to meet with Imee and her father at the trading market, he could hear her laughter again. She warmed all the right parts of him whenever she was close. She seemed to know it, too.

Suddenly, Bayan's mind slipped from his pleasant reminiscing. What had drawn his attention? Had someone called his name from across the paddy? He turned and saw the other workers bent to their tasks.

Then, in the murky water, he saw the ripple of an approaching swamp viper, barely noticeable as it arrowed toward him. Bayan searched for the viper’s prey, and saw a small cloud of jujufish fry nibbling imperceptibly at the skin of his ankles. The snake, nearly as long as Bayan was tall, disappeared among the seedlings. Bayan’s adrenaline rose. He knew the venomous beast could strike him by accident as it hunted its piscine meal.

The surface of the paddy stilled, hiding the serpent’s approach. Bayan backed toward the low bank, and the jujufish followed.

He gritted his teeth and grimaced, peering into the water. “Where are you?” he whispered, holding his pronged stick over the water like a spear.

The snake struck in a murky blur. Bayan drove his wooden weapon downward and jammed it into the mud at the bottom of the paddy. He leapt toward the bank in long splashing strides, expecting a bite on the calf at every step.

Dripping with muddy water, Bayan crouched at the edge of the paddy with the dry forest at his back. He stared at the water, but saw no sign of the snake. He’d have to go back in for his baton; he didn’t want to carve another one.

Then his eyes fixed on the prong jutting from the paddy and the tiny green shoot which sprouted from its handle. A new kind of fear shot down his spine. With a nervous gulp, Bayan slipped back into the paddy. He pulled the baton from the mud and turned again for the bank, keeping his actions casual. Only as he stepped from the paddy did he notice the weight dragging at his arm. The swamp viper’s skull was skewered by one of the prongs on his baton.

Bayan strode away from the civilization of the farm and slipped into the trees, dragging the snake’s corpse with him. His breath went ragged as he struggled to contain his emotions. They were the source of his problem, after all. Every time he became highly emotional, something like this happened. Once, he had set the corner of a shed on fire and barely had time to urinate the small flame to death before one of the farm workers rounded the corner. Another time, he had made the surface of an entire paddy turn hard and cold to the touch. Luckily for him, no one else had been around, and the hard water had returned to normal before anyone discovered the change, the rice none the worse for wear.

Bayan knew what was happening to him, and he hated it. He was turning into a Skycaller. If Imee ever learned of his condition, she’d drop him from her life like a hot coal.

Months ago, when he’d realized what triggered his magical outbursts, he’d tried to suppress his emotions. The magical events began a year ago, and according to the legends of the Skycallers, Bayan only had nine more to withstand before the magic abandoned him entirely, finding him an unworthy vessel. He didn’t care about being unworthy. He cared about marrying Imee and taking over his father’s prosperous farm. He cared about living his life the way he chose. No stupid magic was going to steal his dreams.

Bayan arrived at his destination: a crumbling, natural rock wall, deep in the forest, formed from the same volcanic runrock that shaped the spined mountains to the north. At the wall’s base grew a massive vine, thicker than his leg. It spread up the wall, tendrils clinging to rocky outcrops, wedged into crevices. Across the face of the wall grew ten enormous, deep red pitcher plants, nearly as deep as his arm could reach, should he be foolish enough to do so. One of the pitchers was sewn shut with catgut, and a hollow vine pierced its rounded bottom and curled down to a barrel in a protective box on the ground.

He let out a slow breath. “Hello, Gamay. I need your help with something.” He shook the snake’s corpse to the ground, put his knee against the baton’s shaft and, with effort, snapped it in half. “I know this isn’t what you like to eat, but I’ll give you the snake too, to make up for it.”

He scaled the wall and slipped the pieces of the broken prong and the snake’s body into one of the higher pitchers, avoiding the clear, thick, sticky liquid that oozed over his gifts. He knew it wouldn’t harm him if he cleaned it off soon, but the ooze left a distinct, spicy scent, and he didn’t want anyone smelling Gamay on his hands and coming out to poke around in her pitchers.

Back on the ground, he glanced one last time at the enormous pitcher plant and headed into the trees to hunt for a nice hardwood from which to carve a new baton. Maybe he could get Dakila to spar with him later and work off some of the tension clogging his mind. Dakila’s aunt had married the Waarden schoolteacher, and Dakila had been a quick study when it came to Waarden unarmed defense techniques. He’d been Bayan’s defense instructor at school, and Bayan had been his best student. Now that Bayan was training for a vocation, the two enjoyed beating the guts out of each other regularly.

Yes, that’s just what I need. Some pain to distract me from my disintegrating life.


By the time Bayan returned to the paddy, all four of his workers had skived off. Shoulders slumped, he went to fetch them back. He knew where they’d be on such a hot day.

“Bayan, where have you been all afternoon?” asked a creaky voice. Bayan halted at the corner of a storage house and found himself before old Sanakit, a veteran farmhand. Bayan pushed down his nervousness. Suppressing his emotions again, so soon, was difficult.

“Why? Did I miss something?” Bayan tried to sound both innocent and curious.

Sanakit stepped closer, and for once, the older man wasn’t smiling; untanned lines striped the skin near his eyes where he usually had laugh wrinkles. “That imperial surveyor is back.”

“The one who mapped the roads around Pangusay last month?”

“Yes. But he’s not mapping roads now.”

“What’s he mapping?”

Sanakit grinned, revealing straight but yellowed teeth. “Nothing. He’s looking for a place to build a bridge across the Mambajao.”

“What? No one can build a bridge across the Mambajao. That’s why we have the Sand Guides.”

“That is what we have told him, but the fat man with the pretty hair says he knows it can be done. Something about imperial magic.”

At the mention of magic, Bayan’s stomach flipped and dropped. He shut his eyes and willed himself to be calm.
“Are you well?” Sanakit asked.

“Yes, fine.” Bayan released a slow breath. “So, the workers who abandoned my paddy have all gone down there to gawk instead of lounging at the swimming hole. Is that what you’re telling me?”

Sanakit grinned. “They would not have abandoned the paddy if you had been there. You sneak off to see Imee again?” Bayan lowered his eyes. That had been his excuse the last time his magic had gotten away from him, and now he was stuck with it. “Ha-ha!” the old man crowed. “Best your father marries you to that girl soon!”

“I need to fetch back my workers. If you’ll excuse me.” He brushed past the man and took the broad dirt road toward the river. Sanakit cackled behind him.

Bayan made his way down the road to the river’s bank. With his feet planted on the rich, dark mud bordering the Bank Road beside the green expanse of the Mambajao, he looked upstream and downstream for his missing workers. To the south, toward the ocean, the high banks of the river lowered until they were nearly nonexistent. The fields down that way had no need of artificial flooding, since the river spilled over everything in its path. To the north, the land rose and became rocky and dry. Pangusay proper was perched on a hill above the river delta, as were the farmers’ permanent houses, kalabao pens, and anything else they wished to save from washing away.

Upstream, Bayan saw a gathering of people. Most wore the traditional undyed cloth of farm workers, but he spotted a few splashes of bright color: the strangely feminine imperial surveyor and his entourage. Bayan turned reluctant feet in their direction. He knew his father and the other Sand Guides would be angry at the prospect of a bridge across the Mambajao River. Only the Sand Guides had the focus and dedication to learn the complex stick-patterns that marked areas of safety among the quicksand of the river delta. The nearest river crossing to the north was two days away. Any trade or travel headed east from Pangusay needed the Sand Guides, therefore, to safely cross at low tide.

The imperial surveyor’s bridge would end the need for the Sand Guides and their tolls. Bayan knew his father would not miss the income. He only guided travelers a few times a month, but most other guides risked their lives twice a day for the money they earned and relied upon to feed their families. And all of them took great pride in their ability to guide safely.

The rest of the farmers and townsfolk, however, might take a different view. A bridge would allow them to carry their own goods to the next town’s market whenever they wanted, at no charge.

Bayan braced himself at the sound of raised voices. I’m just here to gather my workers, that’s all. I need to get out of here quickly.

The Bank Road was completely blocked by the surveyor’s fancy purple carriage, an imposing silverwood-trimmed structure twice as high as any farm wagon, with a team of four blue-gray horses and a sturdy roof laden with traveling boxes. Bayan shook his head, unable to fathom riding in such a monstrosity.

The surveyor himself was surrounded by his entourage, a set of seven nearly identical men with curly brown hair atop pale faces lit by dark eyes. One young man, slighter than the rest, had darker skin and wore a simple cream tunic and pants. Bayan had seen the group in town before—a group of industrious assistants who took measurements and paced distances. Now, however, the seven Waarden men appeared distinctly more martial as they guarded the plump, bewigged surveyor with their hands on their sword hilts. They stood impassive as several angry villagers clustered in front of them.

Bayan spotted his four missing workers lurking near the back of the crowd. He approached them, touching the nearest on the shoulder. “Tammay,” he said, attempting to copy his father’s confident tone, “you need to get back—”

“Bayan!” called his father.

Stomach roiling with uncertainty, Bayan turned toward the authoritative voice. “Yes, Father?”

“Come here. I want your opinion.”

Startled, Bayan momentarily forgot his fears. My father wants my opinion, in front of all these people? In front of an imperial surveyor? He stepped away from Tammay and threaded his way through the small crowd.

Datu stood in the center of the crowd with several other Sand Guides, while Isagani Magittang stood with a few local merchants. Bayan swallowed and joined his father.

“This is my son, Bayan,” Datu told the surveyor. “He is a farmer, but he does not guide. As one who would live his life with your bridge spanning the Mambajao, let us ask him what he thinks.”

Bayan felt the weight of many eyes upon him. He studied the surveyor. The man was short for an imperial, not much taller than Bayan himself, with light skin and impossibly pink cheeks that were plump without becoming jowly. Akrestoi, maybe? Hard to tell. His hair was a glorious bouffant of golden curls, and his clothing fluttered and winked with bright, lacy trim and bits of brass.

The surveyor eyed him for a moment through dark blue eyes, then spoke in accented Bantayan. “A good day’s greeting to you, Bayan. I am Philo Sallas, Imperial Surveyor and Cartographer to His Imperial Majesty Jaap voorde Helderaard.”

Bayan nearly laughed; the man’s voice was as high and girlish as Lailani’s, Bayan’s youngest sister. Managing to keep a straight face, he replied in the Waarden tongue, which Dakila’s uncle had painstakingly taught him in school. “A good day’s greeting, Master Philo. Balanganam has been part of your empire for seven years. Why did you wait so long to offer us a bridge?”

Philo’s painted eyebrows rose, and some of his guards shot each other pleased glances. “That’s a fine Helderaard accent you have; your teacher has been diligent. But to answer your question, my offer comes now because I’ve only just arrived here,” the fancy man replied, also in Waarden. “I’ve been mapping my way through Balanganam for all of those seven years, so the empire can bring your High Ways up to imperial standard.”

Bayan was not amused; he and everyone he knew had continued living as if the empire hadn’t taken over Balanganam, ever since the Danatu had signed his nation’s heritage and governance over to Emperor Hedrick. Being reminded of it by an imperial felt like a kick to the gut.

The surveyor spoke again. “Why do you choose to speak to me in my own tongue?”

Bayan glanced at the older people surrounding him. What schooling they’d received by the time they were his age had all been in the Bantayan tongue, not Waarden. “Most of these folks never learned it. With a smaller audience, maybe you’ll be more likely to tell the truth.” Out of the corner of his eye, Bayan saw Isagani smother a grin; he knew the merchant was fluent in the imperial tongue.

“I’m heartbroken at your opinion of us.” Surveyor Philo placed a beringed hand over his heart. “I see no reason whatsoever to lie to any of you. I’m here at the emperor’s behest, so that your lives might be enriched by his bounty, in exchange for the exotic and mouthwatering foods you supply to the empire. Among other things.”

Bayan crossed his arms. “What makes you think our lives need enriching? We’re doing just fine without you.”

“I meant no offense,” Philo countered. “But can you tell me truly that every man here would turn down the chance to prosper further, simply because it was I who offered them the opportunity?” He pointed to the far riverbank, as if indicating the bridge’s benefits.

Bayan resisted the urge to look at his father, Isagani, or anyone else. Meeting Philo’s eyes, he replied, “No. We enjoy success here in Pangusay as much as anyone else. But you won’t be offering the Sand Guides prosperity, will you?”

Philo smiled. “Ah, Bayan, if I could tell you the dozens of times I have had this conversation in other Balanganese towns. It is true. The men would not earn their guiding fees. But someone has to help construct the bridge, do they not? Who could possibly be persuaded to give up their jobs and accept imperial labor rates on such a project? And, once the bridge is complete, increased trade will surely bring more jobs to Pangusay. The future is always uncertain, my son. But that uncertainty can bring good as well as bad.”

Bayan hadn’t thought about how the town would change with increased trade. He suspected that the surveyor was right about more jobs coming into the area; perhaps Philo really had seen this situation over and over during his seven years in Balanganam.

Reluctantly, he nodded. “You’ll convince them more easily if you can explain how the bridge can be built. We haven’t built one because the river is too broad and because the Mambajao floods for months at a time. Won’t that stop you, too?”

Philo turned to look at the river, dark and smooth, low against its banks. “We have a few talented individuals, rare even across the breadth of the empire, who will make an easy task of building a bridge strong enough to withstand flooding. Not a quick task, mind you, but easy enough that I can guarantee success.”

Bayan frowned, envisioning complicated masonry techniques. “What sort of talent do they have?”
Philo smiled in triumph. “Magic. They can manipulate stone, make it strong enough to hold up against high waters and floating debris. If you have smaller tributaries in the area that I haven’t discovered yet, I’m sure we can arrange…”

Bayan couldn’t hear him anymore over the terrified buzzing in his ears. The empire has magic. Everywhere I turn, magic is pulling me away from the life I want! 

His skin felt tight and hot, his fear and frustration overfilling him like too much water in a weak water skin. He whirled to go, but his first step sent him plummeting through an explosion of stone chips and dirt. He landed in a confused heap at the bottom of a sheer-sided crevasse, as voices above him cried out in surprise, shock, and confusion. He scrambled to his hands and knees on the uneven soil and looked around with growing fear.

He’d done it again. Only this time, he’d blown a hole in the ground with his magic, in front of dozens of witnesses. After such a display of magic, there’d be no way to avoid being sent to the ridges with the Skycallers. His heart thudded against his ribs, and he ached with the need to see Imee one more time before he was sent away.

“Bayan?” his father called. His voice sounded hoarse with shock and dust. “Bayan, what is this? What is happening?”

Bayan sat back and hung his head while tears seeped from his eyes.

“Pull him out,” Philo urged. “He may be hurt.” The end of a fibrous rope landed on the ground next to Bayan’s foot.

Can’t I just live in this hole forever? The moment I get out of here, my life will be over. In spite of his despair, Bayan reached for the rope. Strong arms hauled him up, and when he reached the top of his hole, he saw that a pair of Philo’s guards had muscled him up. He dropped the rope and stood, head lowered.
“Thank you, Fabian, Frits,” Philo said. Of Bayan, he asked, “Son, are you hurt?”

“Bayan, answer me,” Datu demanded, eyes wide. “Did you do this? Are you a Skycaller?”

The tone of accusation in his father’s voice stabbed deep. I didn’t do this to spite you, Father! I didn’t want to do it at all! Yet he couldn’t bring himself to speak, to give legitimacy to the horrific fate that waited to clutch him away from his life.

“Bayan! What possesses you? Answer me!” Datu shook Bayan’s shoulder roughly.

“Son? Are you home in your skull?” Philo asked.

Bhattara na,” Bayan finally muttered, lips numb with despair. “I am a Skycaller.”

Datu threw his hands into the air and chanted the first few words to a song of lamentation. The farm workers gathered in clusters and muttered to each other.

Despite his father’s distress, Bayan thought Isagani had the worst reaction. The merchant looked away and shook his head. His body language spoke of regret, and Bayan knew he’d lost Imee forever.

“No,” Philo chirped. “This young man cannot be a Skycaller.” Bayan raised his head, shocked.

Chaos swirled around him as voices called out in questioning and accusatory tones. Bayan dared to feel hope. Was there some imperial rule that had banned Skycallers seven years ago, as they were banned in Pinamuyoc? Perhaps no one had learned of it, this far south.

“Under the rules of the Empire,” the surveyor continued, his high voice shrill over the crowd, “any person found to possess the gift for elemental magic belongs to the emperor himself, immediately and for eternity. Bayan is not a Skycaller. He is a Duelist.”