Thursday, 27 December 2012

Teaser: Paralyzed

A teaser snippet from Paralyzed...

"Fuck, I forgot the scorpions. I’ll be right back, guys.” Thornton disappeared with a gust of air, rustling Amara’s hair.
Reaching up to brush the blonde strands out of her eyes, Amara scowled at her brother’s lack of manners. She was surprised when Asher grabbed her wrist.
“Mara, I need you to read this script.” He placed her hand down on the book he had been studying.
She felt a shiver at the awkwardness of his touch, and glanced at him shyly. “Is this Phoenician?”
“I think so. Could be Etruscan,” Asher said with a frown. “Doesn’t matter—can you tell me if you think this is the right incantation?”
Amara felt a blush darken her cheeks. She found it flattering that Asher still valued her opinion, but she was ashamed that she could not help him. “I—I don’t know how to read foreign languages with my prana,” she admitted.
“Really?” he asked in surprise. “Then how have you been practicing all this time?”
“Pax usually translates it for me,” she said with embarrassment. “I’m sorry I’m of no use to you.”
“Here, it’s pretty easy,” Asher said, pressing her hand firmly against the book and separating her fingers individually. She was suddenly very glad that she had recently gotten a manicure. He rested his large hand on top of hers, and released the dark blaze of energy that she had seen so often whenever anyone translated a manuscript. “Thousands of years ago, someone penned these pages—they probably had their hand resting on the book, really focused on the words as they wrote them. They were totally engrossed in the task, thinking about the value of these sentences and the curves of the letters; they probably imagined that someday, people like us would be reading them. Either way, there’s a little bit of that person’s soul left behind in the book. The ink is organic, so if you release a bit of prana into the book, you can connect with the ink, and reach across time to derive its meaning.”
“That’s amazing,” Amara said, feeling the warmth of the energy surrounding his hand. “I didn’t know that was how it worked.”
“Try to create a prana pattern that matches mine,” Asher said, gently pressing the back of her hand. “Then close your eyes and let the black energy just merge with the ink before it travels back into your body, and into your mind. Then you’ll understand what it means.”
Amara closed her eyes and tried to follow his instructions. She was afraid that she would release too much prana and destroy the book. She could not breathe without having Asher’s scent fill her sinuses, and she could not concentrate at all with his proximity. She felt her skin break out into goose bumps because of the sensation of his hand resting on hers. “I can’t do it,” she whispered.
“Let’s see—there’s an incantation which can help you focus,” he said in a low voice. “It’s been a while since I used it, but maybe I can remember.” He pulled his lips to one side thoughtfully as he searched his memory. Finally, he spoke:

Words of deepest midnight, from a distant mind;
Cross now the parchment, ancient tongue, and time.

Amara nodded and mentally repeated the words until the meaning of the Phoenician text became clear to her. Her eyes widened in surprise. “I understand it, Ash! It says—oh, what the heck does that mean?” Her brow furrowed in concentration. “A cavernous chest reveals an unsealed channel—it doesn’t make sense, even in English. What is this gibberish?”
“That’s what I’m asking you!” he said with a laugh.
She couldn’t help giggling as well. “I guess I’m still not much help—but thanks for teaching me. You’re a really patient instructor.”
They smiled at each other, and that was how Thornton found them when he returned.
“Whoa,” the blonde man commented as he examined their position. “Am I interrupting something?”

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Office Job vs. Writing

Today I drove by my high school and couldn't help thinking about the person I used to be, and whether she'd be pleased if she knew what I had become. I wouldn't want to disappoint her. So I did a little analysis of my life over the past few years to decide if old Nadia would think I was on the right track.

What my life was like at various office jobs:

7:30 AM: I want to continue sleeping forever.
9 AM: Late of course.
12 PM: I don't want to talk to anyone. Why can't they just leave me alone and let me read?
2 PM: When will this day be over? I'm going to stare at the clock and hope it moves faster.
3 PM: Maybe I'll just sneak in a bit of writing. My boss isn't paying attention and this is pointless.
4:30 PM: Soon. So soon. Almost over. I'm almost ready to explode out of this chair to freedom! I can't wait to get back to reading on the way home to escape this horror.

What my life is like now, as a full-time writer:

5AM: Wow! That was a great dream. I wonder if I can use it in the story somehow? Since the laptop is on the bed with me, I might as well start making notes and get back to work!
10AM: Oh, was I supposed to get breakfast? I've been so engaged in this story! I'll just grab some of the chocolate beside my bed and get back to work.
10PM: What? How did 12 hours pass? I hardly got anything done! I better grab coffee and keep writing.
2 AM: Stupid body, don't give up on me now! We can do this. We can keep writing! The story is getting really good and I really want to see what happens when these characters finally meet up after so long...
3 AM: Maybe just a small nap. I can't go any longer. =( But I want to keep writing...
6 AM: Awesome dream! That totally inspires me! C'mere, laptop!

So, in conclusion, I think that if I traveled back in time, my old self would say:

"Thanks for coming back in time to tell me all this." (She is polite and Canadian.) "You're a bit more mediocre than I hoped, and much less rich and famous than I'd imagined, but you've had a lot of crazy adventures; I almost thought I had run out of interesting new ways to jeopardize my health and safety. I do think it's kind of pathetic that you don't have a boyfriend, but I understand you're one of those focused, career-women. That's cool. As you know, I consider passion one of life's most important virtues. You seem excited about every day of your life, and you are your own boss-- motivated and free. I guess, by my definition, I would almost call you successful."

"Really?" I would say in wide-eyed surprise. "Thanks! Your opinion means a lot to me."

"I know. Now please go back to the future and quit cramping my style."
Actually, she probably wouldn't say that last sentence. She'd probably get out a notebook and start making extensive notes on her future so that she could vastly improve every aspect of it. She'd do such a great job too.

Now I'm feeling nostalgic and I really want to travel back in time to hang out with myself. =(

Friday, 21 September 2012

Abyssal Zone: Teaser

For your enjoyment, while we wait for the release of Book #4 in the Sacred Breath series, here are the first two chapters of the novel.
Hope you enjoy them! =)

Chapter 1: Pretense of Pleasure

     “Ten years is a long time to take deciding if you’re going to go out on a simple date with a fellow.”
      “Maybe to you land-dwellers,” the redhead responded, staring down at the food on her plate in disappointment. “I have spent fifty years pondering over whether I should share a meal with a man, and I still regretted those decisions. My mind is usually too occupied with more important issues. Do they have oysters here?”
     The bald man’s lips curled upwards. “Oysters are an aphrodisiac, you know.”
      “I’m currently more interested in the zinc and selenium,” she muttered. With a sigh, Sionna pressed the tips of her fingernails into her forehead. “Marshal Landou, you know I’m only doing this because my sister forced me to, right?”
      “She said you lost a bet.”
      “An unhappy married woman can never stand to see a happy single woman get away unscathed—she must try to compromise her liberty at every chance.” Sionna finally relented to the meal before her and used her utensils to deftly deposit a piece of swordfish against her tongue. She closed her eyes at the flavor. Acutely aware that she was being observed by her dinner companion, she lifted her eyelids to reveal sharp jade irises. “Visola shamelessly conned me into this, even though she knows that I find your character and your face both hideous.”
      “Did she also tell you how irresistible I find a difficult woman?” Marshal Landou asked casually, picking up his wine glass.
      “No,” Sionna said, lifting a condescending crimson brow, “or I would have been acting easy and accommodating.”
      “Come now, Dr. Ramaris,” Marshal Landou said with a smirk. He took a generous draft of wine as he considered her smugly. “We both know that for all of Visola’s schemes, you can hold your own. You wouldn’t be here unless it suited your personal purposes. This evening may be strictly about business for you, but since you have lured me here under the pretense of pleasure, I intend to have some. Let’s be direct: tell me what I can do for you.”
     Sionna sliced the spiky head off a spear of asparagus before inserting it between her lips. She stared thoughtfully at the man as she chewed. “So you think you know me,” she observed.
      “No,” he answered, ignoring the bloody steak before him as he gazed hungrily at her face, “but I recognize that mischievous glint in your eye. Everyone thinks that you and your twin sister are so different, but in addition to your identical bodies, you have identical body language. I can read you like a book, Sio. You have the same tells.”
     Sionna snorted at this, grasping her fork a little too firmly as she pointed it at the man across the dining table. “Visola has no tells. She is the most unpredictable phenomenon on this planet, and any man who presumes to think he can read her will surely end up crushed under a pickup truck.”
      “And you, Dr. Ramaris? What of the men who underestimate you?”
     She lowered her eyes and her fork, realizing how aggressive and threatening she must appear to the American man. Inhaling the warm air of the restaurant to produce a soothing effect on her body, she stabbed a spear of asparagus before slicing it in half. “I generally don’t provide anyone with the opportunity to underestimate me,” she answered softly, “but you will find that my methods are much more subtle and much more effective than a pickup truck.”
      “I have heard of your methods,” Marshal Landou said with a smile. He swirled the dark liquid in his glass briefly before inhaling the scent of the contents. “You intrigue me, Dr. Ramaris. Tell me what you want and how I can help you. Then I will tell you how you can help me.”
     Sionna tried to conceal her grimace. “Actually, I have a business proposal. I have developed a serum which I am currently testing on Homo sapiens sapiens…”
      “A serum?” he asked with a frown. “Your country doesn’t have to be concerned with science and research any longer. Adlivun is in the free market now. Relax and let the big boys deal with the pharmaceuticals, little lady.”
     The knife in Sionna’s hand twitched before descending to dissect the unsuspecting asparagus. “I came to you first before going commercial with this product because I believe it can be very beneficial to your military. I thought you might consider using government funding to help test and tweak my product so that it can be FDA approved. Are you interested or not, Landou?”
      “What does the serum do?” he asked curiously. “I’m guessing it’s not an aphrodisiac.”
     Ignoring this completely, Sionna picked up her napkin and dabbed the corners of her mouth. “For a few hours, it emulates our adaptation.”
     The large bald man froze. “It emulates your…”
      “Did I stutter?” Sionna asked, returning her napkin to her lap. She crossed her arms across her chest and glared at the man. “For a few hours after ingesting this serum, a land-dweller is capable of breathing underwater, similar to our people. Obviously, it doesn’t recreate every advantage of Homo sapiens marinus, but the most essential…”
      “That’s impossible,” Marshal Landou said briskly. “It can’t be done.”
     Sionna cocked her head to the side. “That’s true. But I did it anyway.”
     The bald man sitting across from her stared without blinking for several seconds. Finally, he tossed the remaining contents of his wine glass down his throat. “What in God’s name prompted you to create such a thing?”
      “It was an accident really; a personal project for a family member. As you know, a few years ago, the king’s brother had a daughter who was unable to breathe underwater. At first this was fine, and Callder and Brynne kept her mostly in Upper Adlivun. As she grew older, around her sixth birthday, she began to express her wishes to swim below and started sneaking away to… well, it’s not important.” Sionna shook her head. “Basically, I solved the problem. I have discussed the other possible applications with my sister, and we concluded that the primary use for such a serum should be national defense.”
      “Yes,” Marshal Landou said quickly, “definitely defense. You must keep this confidential and tell no one else.”
      “Obviously,” Sionna said, swirling her fork aimlessly in her mashed potatoes. “We’re not stupid. We could use this serum to explode the tourism industry, or even to explode our populace, but we are already seeing a decline in the birthrate of humans capable of breathing underwater. It’s more important to us that we preserve our natural abilities. We want to protect our culture and heritage as much as possible, and avoid assimilating too much with Americans.”
      “That’s too bad. I was hoping to assimilate with you.”
     Sionna’s fingers lightly pressed against the bridge of her nose. “Yes, Visola warned me you would say such things. Therefore, I am only repulsed and not surprised. I believe most of the power of any feeling is in the surprise, and I try to avoid being surprised to avoid having feelings. Do you have anything to say about my serum?”
     Landou cleared his throat. “So, this substance gives human lungs the ability…”
      “To produce an enzyme which catalyzes the extraction of oxygen from water.”
      “I see,” the man replied, pouring more wine into his glass hastily. “Well, I’ll have to consult with some of my officers and see if this can benefit us.”
      “Of course it can benefit you,” Sionna said with a frown.
      “Yes, yes, but you know, there could be a really huge market for this outside the military. Are you sure you’re not interested in pursuing the commercial options?”
      “I’m well aware of the potential market,” Sionna said in a low voice, leaning forward. Her green eyes hardened as they locked with his. “Do you want to do business with me or not, Marshal Landou?”
     The man stared motionlessly. Finally, a slow smile overtook his face. “Please. Call me Gaston.”

*                *                *
     A soldier grasped a brunette’s slender forearm, yanking her roughly through the inhospitable hallways of a rundown ship. He did not notice that the pale flesh did not yield under his grip, but instead remained rigid as rock. It was only the small size of the woman’s physique that he registered, not its solid quality, as he continued to drag her through the narrow corridor. When he reached the door number inscribed on her bracelet, he wrenched her wrist up to his eye level to confirm the numbers. He nodded, shifting his eyes to his captive’s face, which was mostly shielded by plain brown locks. He barked at the woman harshly. 
      “Employee number Five-Nine-Zero-Seven-Three! Stay in your cabin. This is your final warning!” The soldier used his left hand to swing the thin panel of wood open, and shoved the woman roughly forward onto the floor. Her head slammed against the wall of other side of the small cabin before she crumpled to the ground. There was contempt on her face, but she did not turn to look at the soldier in the doorway until she heard him close the door and turn the lock. Once she heard footsteps, her chin slowly swiveled so that her blue eyes could burn through the flimsy door.
      “Employee indeed,” she said.
      “Mama,” whispered a small voice. The woman’s head snapped to the right to observe the small girl huddled on the narrow wooden bed. “Why did you let him hurt you?”
     Aazuria briskly lifted herself from the ground and rushed over to the disappointing piece of furniture. Planting herself beside her daughter, she swept the child up into her arms. The makeshift bed creaked under her as she hugged the girl against her chest. “Trust me, darling. We can learn more from lurking in the shadows as faceless nobodies. If we revealed ourselves now, we would never know the truth of what is happening in Adlivun. For if your father knew, he would not allow this to continue. Trevain would surely...”
     Drawing a ragged sigh, Aazuria reached up to unclip and remove the drab brown wig from her head. Her own long white locks tumbled down her back, blanched from lack of sunlight. She used her fingers to gently feel her eyebrows, which were irritated from waterproof makeup. They had been darkened to match her wig and were now rather itchy. Tossing the wig to the floor, Aazuria lowered herself to the rickety bed, curling up beside her daughter on the thin mattress. A giant yawn escaped her lips.
      “You were gone for sixteen hours, mama,” Varia said, frowning down at the tired woman. “Did you work very hard?”
      “They forced me to do a double-shift,” Aazuria explained as her eyelids glided closed. “We were working on fortifying the foundations of the bridge deep underwater. It was taxing—they shot a man when he tried to leave.”
      “Are they allowed to do that?” Varia asked.
     Aazuria shook her head. “According to the treaty, each citizen is only required to work for forty hours a week—but everywhere I go, they are violating the terms to abuse our people. Look at these living conditions. Adlivun was built with echoes of sixteenth century grandeur. Now our people are holed up in tiny cabins of rundown slave-ships. This brig is the worst kind of hovel, and I do believe there are fleas in this mattress.”
     Varia twitched, looking down at the bedding suspiciously. She clenched her tiny fists, intending to strike the bed to pummel the fleas into oblivion, but changing her mind when she realized that a strike would collapse the bed altogether. She sighed in defeat, allowing the fleas a temporary victory. “At least when we were held captive in Lake Vostok, we weren’t separated for most of the day! Now I only get to see you when you’re sleeping. The rest of the day you’re being worked to the bone. This is worse, Mother. This is far worse than before.”
      “I know, dear.” Aazuria sighed and reached out to pull her daughter down beside her. She cuddled the little girl as if she were a teddy bear. “I promise I won’t submit you to this for very much longer. This is not the way that any child should be raised, least of all you.”
     Her mother’s soothing words seemed to placate Varia, but the girl soon grew restless. “Mama, I learned more every day when we were stuck in Antarctica, just the two of us. Now I’m surrounded by the other children in the classroom all the time, but no one teaches me anything. It’s so boring.”
     Aazuria’s eyes opened and she was suddenly wide awake. “Are there not teachers?”
      “They do nothing. The kids just goof around all day,” Varia explained, “and everyone hates me, because I just ignore them and spend all day reading.”
      “I was told you would receive a decent education! This upsets me,” Aazuria said, shaking her head, “more than anything else I’ve heard so far. If the children of the bridge workers aren’t being properly educated, what does this mean for the future of Adlivun? It is impossible that my sister knows of this; Elandria would not have allowed our country to deteriorate this way!”
      “You can change it, can’t you, Mother?”
      “Yes,” Aazuria answered, “but not all at once. I can’t undo ten years of deterioration in a single breath. First of all, I need to get you out of this place. You need to be somewhere safe while I stay here and collect more information.”
      “You want to separate us?” Varia asked hesitantly.
      “I’m sure that they still teach the children properly and privately at the palace. I know that Brynne has a young daughter, and Princess Yamako of the Ningyo people has a small son. I do not know their names or ages, but I am positive that there is some kind of special school for Adlivun’s elite, probably run by my sister.”
     Varia swallowed. “Mother, please. I’ve never been separated from you for more than sixteen hours. Today was the longest ever. Why can’t we both go to live in the palace? You won’t have to work long hours and get abused by the soldiers, and it will be better for both of us.”
      “Darling, we mustn’t only be concerned about ourselves. It is very easy to seek our own comfort, but we have the power to make things better for everyone else as well.”
      “Why should they be our responsibility?” Varia asked with a frown.
      “Because a crown was placed on my head and I promised to devote my life to this country,” Aazuria explained.
      “But they abandoned you in the South-lands when you were kidnapped!”
      “Just because someone abandons you, does not mean you have the right to abandon them,” Aazuria said softly, staring into Varia’s different-colored eyes in the dark. One iris was deepest azure blue, like her own, while the other was Ramaris green, like her father’s. Aazuria’s mind drifted to the image of Trevain’s face, her thoughts lingering on the sound of his voice as she remained silent for several seconds. When she realized her lapse, she cleared her throat brusquely to chase the debilitating emotions away. “At any rate, I am sure they didn’t abandon me. They searched as much as they could, and no one could have known I was being held prisoner in Lake Vostok. We cannot blame them—you must not resent your father for what he has done.”
      “He betrayed you,” Varia said doubtfully. “Why should you suffer more while he lives in the big ice palace? It’s not fair.”
     Aazuria kissed her daughter’s forehead gently. “Varia, I could swim back into the castle at any time and reclaim my throne. I would be accepted with open arms and plenty of apologies and tears. Believe me—I want to do this so badly it feels like my chest is going to burst.” She paused, looking up at the ceiling thoughtfully. “But that would be the easiest thing to do. In most cases, drifting along with warm gentle currents is not the worthiest course of action; more can be gained by fighting our way upstream.”
     Varia nodded solemnly.
      “Our anonymity is our greatest asset,” Aazuria said firmly. “We must take advantage of it while it lasts.”
      “Anon… nymity,” Varia repeated, stumbling over the syllables.
      “Yes, dear.”
     Varia remained very still in the dark cabin, listening to the sound of her mother’s breathing. She could always sense what her mother was feeling by determining the intervals between and velocity of each gust expelled from her lungs. “Is there another reason we are hiding here?” Varia asked softly. “Why does it seem to me that you are afraid, Mother?”
     Aazuria pulled away slightly to regard her eight-year-old with surprise. “You are a very bright girl, Varia. Be careful with that brain of yours or you will get yourself into trouble.”
      “Now you’re avoiding the question!” Varia said with a laugh. “Are you scared to go back to the palace, Mother?”
      “Yes,” Aazuria answered truthfully. “I would rather face a hundred-thousand of Zalcan’s warriors on the field, or sea as it may be, of battle, than see my husband or my sister again.”
      “Because it will hurt them?” Varia asked.
      “It will ruin their lives,” she responded. “I love them both, and I do not want to cause them pain.”
      “But he was your husband first! I don’t understand,” Varia said in frustration. “I just never understand anything lately.”
      “You will, dearest.” Aazuria squeezed her daughter’s hand reassuringly, before turning to face the door. She was lying on the bed so that her body was between Varia’s and the doorway—a defensive habit she had picked up during previous captivity. She closed her eyes and gave light slumber the permission to overcome her, but it was interrupted by the little ball of energy behind her. Aazuria could feel her daughter’s lively curiosity buzzing in the room like a swarm of fireflies. Although she was exhausted, she could hardly sleep in the presence of such thirst. Turning back to the girl, she propped herself up onto her elbow and smiled at her daughter in the dark. “Okay, Varia. What have you been reading about?”
      “I don’t want to keep you awake,” Varia responded hesitantly. “You’ve been working so hard.”
     Aazuria ignored her protest. “What do you want to talk about tonight?”
      “Well, I was reading about the history of Adlivun, and some of the information in the books is different from what you told me before. Did King Kyrosed really take the throne in the year 1590?”
      “No,” Aazuria responded. “That was when we migrated to the Bering Strait. That was the founding of the new nation of Adlivun here in the Aleutian Islands, but long before that, my father ruled over an old kingdom off the coast of Norway.”
      “Was he really as mean as the books say?” Varia asked. “Did he really… die the way the books say?”
      “Yes,” Aazuria answered quietly. This was not a conversation she was prepared to have with her daughter; but then, Varia had already witnessed her kill a man once. She swallowed. “He was meaner than any book can describe—but he was kind to me. He might have been a good grandfather, if you could have met him.”
      “Tell me more about the Nordic seas!” Varia said, nestling against her mother’s side.
     Aazuria smiled and closed her eyes. “Well, when I was just a little older than you, we were being raided by the French nation of Ker-ys. It was a dangerous time, and Papa decided that I needed protection. He chose two fierce, red-haired warriors to be my defenders…”

Chapter 2: Transforming Helpless Ducklings


      “A hundred-thousand men!” Visola shouted as she slammed a brawny warrior into the ground. She straddled his back and twisted his arm behind him until he screamed in pain. Grinning up at the scattering of her elite forces, she lifted her eyebrows to indicate that this was the technique she wanted them to practice. The soldiers were gathered for training in a waterless cave, deep in the tunnels of Lower Adlivun. Visola reached up to brush some wayward red wisps away from her eyes, and continued to lecture them as she shifted her body and helped the overpowered warrior to his feet. “The Clan of Zalcan commands an army a hundred-thousand strong. That’s according to recent reports from our men on the inside. The whole force isn’t stationed at their home base in the Maldives—they’re divided, oppressing various foreign undersea cities. Some of the warriors are positioned strategically rather close to us, among the Rusalka, and even in the ruins of Shiretoko. You there!”
     The young man to whom Visola had pointed straightened and struck his fist to his chest in the traditional Adluvian salute. “Yes, Gen—General Ramaris?”
     She studied his small, wincing features and heard the Japanese accent in his stuttering voice. He expected her to assault him; she moved forward, intending to do precisely that, but not in the way he anticipated.  “You were in the city of Shiretoko when the Clan attacked?” Visola demanded. When the young man nodded, she frowned. “How did you escape, Takeshi?”
      “I—I ran, General Ramaris,” he said, with downcast eyes. A furious blush transformed his features.
      “Mhm. So how do you feel about that?” she asked, moving to stand mere inches from the man’s face, and allowing her hot breath to waft over his reddened skin. Visola towered over the small warrior at six feet tall, her voluminous red hair adding several extra inches of unnecessary menace.
      “Pathetic,” Takeshi answered weakly. “It was the ultimate dishonor, General Ramaris. They took my family along with most of the Ningyo people, but I didn’t fight. I left my mother and my sisters and swam for the mainland to save my own skin. I swam, I ran, and I swam some more until I was safe.”
     Visola turned to the other fighters in the room, observing their faces for the slightest hint of humor or mockery. None of the other men dared to laugh. This pleased the general, for she would have harshly disciplined anyone who sought to make fun of a war refugee. “This time we won’t run,” she said in a low tone. “Those brutes killed my best friend, and I will never let that go. There never was, and never will be anyone like Aazuria Vellamo.” Remaining quiet for a moment, Visola’s red eyelashes lowered in fond memory of the former queen. She gave the Adluvian salute across her chest, and every warrior in the room followed suit, honoring the lost heroine.
      “General Ramaris,” said an older soldier with a Caribbean accent. “Do you really believe that our protection from the Americans will soon be dissolved?”
      “I can’t say for certain, Marsden,” she answered, “but we need to be prepared for every eventuality. Queen Amabie of the Ningyo has been training another secret faction of warriors, and we will soon test your skills against theirs. You boys had better not disappoint me—I’m betting money on you.”
      “Clan Zalcan destroyed my country too,” he told her. “Bimini Empire was my birthplace, a glorious nation, but now all that remains is ghostly ruins and ridiculous rumors about the Bermuda Triangle. Like Takeshi here, I also ran. I ran and I lived. Since then I have called Adlivun home, learning to love a new country for over sixty years. I will never run again. No more running.”
     Many of the warriors around him echoed these sentiments in a chorus, glancing at each other to strengthen their neighbor with their sense of communal resolve. 
      “My wife was killed by the Clan of Zalcan,” said a large man with a buzz cut and prominent patriotic tattoo on his neck. “I have been raising our young son on my own since that day. My first chance to fight those sons of bitches, and I am really gonna let loose.”
     Visola smiled sadly. “You and me both, Bain. We have all lost someone by now. We all have a reason to fight—that’s why you were chosen. Not only because we saw the most potential in you, but because you’ll fight with the most heart.”
      “I will, General Ramaris,” Bain said, giving the traditional salute and bowing from the waist. “Just teach me, and I will do whatever you command. We all will.”
     Visola nodded ardently, narrowing her eyes. “I won’t let this nation fall,” she declared with determination. “If we do lose the American submarines for any reason, we will be all that stands between Adlivun and a watery grave. And we will stand.”
      “All twelve of you?” was the dubious query that echoed from the cave entrance.
     Visola’s head whipped around to behold the source of the familiar voice. She surveyed the muscular man with a small black ponytail, and released a deep sigh. “Honey, I told you not to bother me when I’m training the Ducklings.”
      “Where are the rest of them?” Vachlan asked. “Your flock seems smaller today.”
     She waved a hand, armored in a dark green gauntlet. “Most of the men were forced to work overtime on the bridge again.”
      “That’s happening more and more often,” Vachlan commented. “Trevain and Elandria should really do something about all these treaty violations. But more importantly, darling, you really need to stop calling your elite military squadron the ‘Ducklings.’ Allow these poor men to preserve a modicum of their self-respect.”
      “They were handpicked to receive private training sessions from me,” Visola boasted, sticking her chin out arrogantly, “and we intend to fight for Adlivun. That provides all the pride we need.”
      “Really?” Vachlan said, turning to the warriors. “Are you lads comfortable with this arrangement?”
      “General Ramaris can call us anything she wants, sir,” Marsden responded promptly.
     Vachlan squinted, lifting a hand to rub the back of his robust neck. “Dear wife, I believe these young combatants would fight better if you gave them a less shameful name. Queen Amabie is calling her unit the ‘Water Dragons.’ That sounds far more intimidating to me.”
      “For Sedna’s sake!” Visola shouted, tilting her head back to look at the cave ceiling for validation. “We’re a secret army, not a sports team! It’s a codename, dear husband—we’re not permitted to organize, and I believe that the more harmless we sound, the less harmless we’ll actually be.”
      “Interesting notion,” Vachlan said. He fished into the waterproof rucksack he carried with him and lifted out a slender laptop. “Viso, I really need your opinion on my latest screenplay. It’s a romantic comedy set in New York, but with a twist…”
      “Let me guess: no action, again? Cheesecake, how many years has it been since you wrote about someone getting even a beer bottle smashed over their head?” She emitted a large, exaggerated yawn. “I think maybe you should train with my Ducklings, Vachlan. It looks like sitting on your ass and writing all day is making you a bit soft around the midsection.”
      “What!” Vachlan shouted, reaching down to feel his washboard abs. When all the warriors in the room snickered at his reaction, he glared at her. “You will pay for this, woman! Tonight you can tell me again just which sections of me have gotten soft.”
     When the men around her burst into laughter, Visola could not resist a grin. “How about I tell you which parts have gotten black and blue?” She cricked her neck to either side before smirking and lifting her hand to point at her husband. “Get him, boys.”
      “Oh, great,” Vachlan said as the twelve warriors moved forward slowly to surround him. “I’m really not in the mood for this, gentlemen. But if any of you are interested in reviewing this charming script—”
     Marsden was the first to dive at Vachlan, and the dark-haired warrior deftly slipped his laptop under his arm before using one hand to defend against blows, and delivering a swift kick to the man’s chest. The warrior from Bimini was sent tumbling back into another soldier, and they both stumbled to the cave floor, scrambling to get up.
      “—and perhaps proofreading for errors or typos—”
     This time Vachlan was interrupted by two men attacking him from either side, and he lowered himself to the ground to sweep their legs out from under them as if breakdancing. He pivoted on the palm of his hand, still clutching his laptop protectively under the other arm.
      “—that would be of great assistance,” Vachlan finished. “I want to email this off to the studio in the morning.” When Takeshi rushed at him suddenly, Vachlan moved inside his attacker’s strike and used the boy’s own momentum to drive his knuckles into his face. Another man dashed at him from the side, and Vachlan dropped to his knee, grabbing the man with one hand and twisting to toss him into another oncoming opponent.
      “Hold this for a second, would you please?” Vachlan asked, handing the wounded Takeshi his laptop. He swiveled and moved so rapidly that Takeshi could hardly keep up with the motions as he tried to process the battle in his mind. Before he could understand what was happening, several of his comrades were unconscious or writhing on the ground, and Vachlan was already retrieving the laptop. “Thanks, kid. Now, Visola Ramaris, what in the vast oceans are you teaching these men!”
     She sighed. “They’re just children, Vachlan. Some of them are only about a hundred years old. Lots of strength and energy, but very little experience.”
     Vachlan tossed his laptop down onto the body of an unconscious warrior before lifting his hands to arrange the three stray hairs that had escaped his ponytail. Rubbing his temples, he looked around, studying the lifeless forms of the men piled up on top of each other in the few yards around him. He had not moved an inch from where he had originally been standing. “Looks like I raped the Ducklings yet again,” Vachlan observed in disappointment.
      “This isn’t the only team,” Visola said, in a tone that was suddenly tired. “We can’t make it obvious that we’re still running military operations, so we have to be discreet and use fresh blood. We rotate the groups frequently too. In addition to Amabie’s squadron, Major Mardöll is training a regiment, and so is Lieutenant Namaka, Geira, Holma, Naclana…”
      “On the bright side, at least I had to put my laptop down to defeat those twelve men!” Vachlan noted. “If I can’t do it single-handedly anymore, then I would have to say that they’re improving. By a large margin, and quite quickly. Give these ducklings another few months under you, General Ramaris, and maybe they’ll be able to take me down. They’ll never be able to keep me down for a complete second, but you know—it’s an improvement.”
     Visola moved forward, stepping over the unconscious bodies of her warriors. “You should help out more often. These poor boys have learned so much from you beating the crap out of them today!”
      “I did help when I suggested we reveal ourselves and get military protection from the Americans,” he reminded her. “That’s working out well, isn’t it? The Clan doesn’t even bother trying to attack Adlivun anymore.”
      “But you adore fighting. You used to be all about the backup plans,” Visola said softly, putting her hands on his chest. “Just consider it, love. It’s a really rewarding career—transforming helpless ducklings into vicious predators.”
      “Ah, Viso.” Vachlan slipped his arms around his wife’s waist and tugged her close to plant a kiss on her nose. “For centuries they called me the Destroyer. But those days are behind me! I no longer relentlessly pursue ancient vendettas and amass sickening fortunes of sunken gold doubloons. I no longer squash nations just because I can—and have nothing better to do. I’m a family man! I have a loving wife and two foolish grandsons in need of my guidance.”
      “Yes,” Visola said, cringing as she stared up into his grey eyes, “but you also write romantic comedies.”
      “Don’t knock them!” Vachlan warned, releasing her waist to waggle a finger. “I’m a very versatile writer, and even Shakespeare diversified his portfolio. People don’t want war and heartache all the time…”
      “Sedna spare me,” Visola groaned, throwing her hands up in the air and backing away. She stopped when her feet banged into the skull of one of her soldiers. She began to pace in the few inches of room between Vachlan and her unconscious students. “Did you ever consider that maybe the reason I can’t get pregnant again isn’t because I’m nearly 570 years old? ‘Cause I’m thinking it’s your limp, ineffective sperm. Those little guys used to be so virile, but now they’re wearing petticoats, floating around in your maple-syrup semen, and having fucking tea parties!”
     Vachlan recoiled as if wounded. He gestured wildly to the men lying on the ground around them. “Bloody hell, Visola! I just knocked a dozen of your ‘elite’ warriors unconscious almost-single-handedly. If that isn’t manly enough for you, then I don’t know how to give you what you need anymore!”
      “I could have done that twice as fast,” she told him, unimpressed. She crossed her arms and cocked her head to the side.  “When I first met you, you bragged to me that you had balls the size of coconuts. Now that you spend all of your spare time writing sappy mush, I swear they’ve shrunken down to the size of walnuts… maybe jelly beans.”
      “You infuriating—!” Vachlan snarled and leapt forward, delivering a side-kick to Visola’s knee and tackling his wife to the ground. They ignored the messy sprawl of bruised, sweaty bodies beneath them as they began to wrestle brutally for several minutes.
Visola laughed loudly as he began to pin and lock her arms, allowing him to feel victorious for a second as she smirked up at him. In one swift motion she brought her leg up, using her flexibility to slam her foot into his ear before prying her legs under his elbows and kicking him off her. She followed, by climbing on top of him, pressing her elbow against his throat and clenching her thighs around his knees. “I miss playing with you,” Visola said mournfully as she choked husband amidst the chaotic pile of bodies. “This is nice. We should do this more often.”
      “Just keep insulting my sperm,” Vachlan said as he twisted out from under her elbow. He grappled with her until she was facedown on top of a warrior’s stomach. “There is nothing wrong with my sperm! Maybe if you stopped fighting long enough for a pound of fat to accumulate on your body, your uterus would remember that you’re a woman and it would start working again!”
      “That’s a low blow!” Visola gasped with a giggle, pushing the limp warrior out from under her torso. Her face was immediately gnashed into the dirt, and she sputtered and blinked it out of her eyes. Rotating her upper body and curling her abdomen for leverage, she used an arm to grab Vachlan’s neck. “Well, vanilla popsicle, maybe once your sperm stop wearing dresses, my uterus will stop wearing the pants!”
     Visola squealed when Vachlan grabbed a handful of her hair and yanked it back forcefully. Using her moment of surprise, he seized her ribcage and rose to his feet, easily tossing the giantess over his shoulder. “Excuse me, gentlemen,” he told the subdued men as he stepped over them. “I will need to take the liberty of dismissing class for the night. A pressing necessity has arisen to demonstrate to my wife exactly why she should continue to respect me.”
     Coughing out some sand that had found its way into her mouth, Visola smirked, loving that there was still someone who could wipe the floor with her face. “You jerk!” she whispered loudly. “Don’t undermine my authority in front of my men!”
     The ex-conqueror rolled his eyes as he stooped to pick up his laptop with one hand and used it to spank her on the bottom. Visola yelped and struggled to free herself from his grip, but he held her fast over his shoulder. “Don’t say another word, Viso, or I will undermine you in front of your men.”
     As Vachlan navigated over the carpet of fallen men on his way to the door, the sounds of cracking ribs were heard as Visola repeatedly pummeled her elbow into her husband’s back. The playwright continued to walk at a comfortable pace, making casual conversation with the woman whose thighs he had clenched under his bicep. When they were gone, the beaten warriors stared after them weakly.
      “I’ll never understand their relationship,” said Takeshi, shaking his head in confusion.
      “It’s easy,” said Marsden. “He’s the only man alive who can kick her ass, and she loves it.”
      “That’s a good point. So remind me—why did we attack him again?” Bain inquired as he nursed a dislocated shoulder. He grunted as he snapped it back into place. “This hurts like a bitch and I have to go to work on the bridge at 5 AM.”
      “Because she told us to,” answered Marsden, “and I’m much more terrified of Visola than her husband—she’s the one who gets to beat on us every waking minute that we’re away from that bridge.”
      “Fuck the bridge,” said another man, spitting out a clump of blood. “We’re warriors, not construction workers!  Vachlan Suchos is a brilliant military strategist, not a romance writer!”
     Takeshi looked around nervously. “I heard that he joined up with enemy forces for the past century. Only a few years ago, he was helping the Clan of Zalcan to plot against Adlivun! How can she trust him?”
      “It’s okay, boy. The righteous Queen Aazuria, Sedna rest her soul, forgave Vachlan and welcomed him back to this country,” Marsden explained. “Once that woman died, this whole nation went downhill under her harlot sister Elandria.”
      “It’s not Queen Elandria’s fault! It’s that man. He extinguished Bimini,” said another warrior, grimacing from where he lay on the ground. “Vachlan is known as the Destroyer of Kingdoms. It is dangerous to have him within the walls of Adlivun—but it is a hundred times worse to have him in bed with the enemy. We can’t afford an adversary of his caliber.”
      “I wonder if Visola really loves him, or if she just pretends she does to keep him close?” Bain mused. He tapped his relocated shoulder thoughtfully. “That would be the ultimate strategic maneuver.”
      “She loves him,” said a man named Evian. “He was the only man she ever married, and trust me, a woman like that receives thousands of proposals.”
      “But he has betrayed every country he ever belonged to,” Takeshi said. “I heard it was an old combat master in Bimini who trained him. Then he used Bimini’s soldiers to conquer Ker-ys—his own birthplace.”
      “Yes,” said Marsden. “That’s right. He used Adlivun’s soldiers to conquer the Yawkyawk in Australia, and he absorbed several South American undersea settlements, all within a decade. Then he turned his back on Bimini and Adlivun, and joined with the Clan of Zalcan to destroy the original home of the Japanese mermaids in the 1950s.”
      “But have you seen his romantic comedies?” Evian asked. “They’re not so great.”
      “They kind of suck. I agree with Visola there—you would think they were written by a thirteen year old virginal schoolgirl.”
     The men started guffawing when Bain began to protest, “Hey! That’s not true. They’re not so bad. I enjoy watching those films—they show the raw, vulnerable soul underneath the harsh exterior of the warrior.”
      “Oh, Sedna, please.”
     Marsden grinned. “Here’s something we can all agree on, men. As long as Visola has a vagina, Vachlan is a harmless kitten.”
      “Harmless?” asked the young Takeshi in shock. He gestured around at all the warriors, none of whom were standing, before pointing at his own bloody nose. “This is what you call harmless?” 

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Teaser: Parabellum

In a few days, I will be releasing book two in the Thirty Minutes to Heartbreak books. I am very excited about this one, and thought I would share this teaser from the beginning of the novel. Just to warn you... things may get a little steamy. ;) Literally.

Chapter 1: Between Mountain and Metropolis

        In the dip of the crater on Mount St. Helens, massive cracks began to appear in the solidified magma. Soft molten rock began to lift and swell, becoming engorged like living flesh. The pressure from the hot liquid rising below provoked undulations in the once motionless, solid surface. What had been flat and lifeless landscape now ballooned upward, a breast expanding with quivering breaths. To an onlooker, if anyone had been unfortunate or blessed enough to be looking on, the pulsations in the growing dome might have resembled the mountain’s heartbeat—racing with the excitement of approaching release.
        With a sound like a sigh, a thin white plume was released from the crest of swollen rock, sending ribbons of hot ash billowing up into the air. A growing fracture began to form in the apex, from which more and more steam was emitted, spurting thousands of feet into the atmosphere. The rupture rapidly expanded, allowing the first drops of bubbling lava to trickle from its creases.
        A woman’s hand abruptly broke through the crack in the rock. More steam immediately surrounded the lime green fingernails which just barely poked out of the seam. The fingers began to flex and writhe as they clawed at the crevice. A second hand smashed through the fissure, feeling around tentatively. If one could have seen through the thick steam, they would have noted the woman’s dark copper skin, slender fingers, and several eclectic rings with multicolored gemstones. The hands thrashed around in distress as lava bubbled up around small wrists, hot enough to boil rock, but apparently not the tender skin of this human being.
        Finally, emitting an ethereal silvery glow, the two hands paused—they firmly gripped the sides of the gap and worked in unison to forcibly rip the rock apart. A forearm followed, elbow resting on the surface to help push the woman’s torso through the crack, and when her head was above the surface she gasped for oxygen hungrily. Crawling along the surface away from the crevice, she panted as she rested gratefully on a firmer portion of the crater—the bright light surrounding her entire body intensified. When the mountain continued to hiss, teeming with pressure from below, she struggled to rise to her feet.
        Stumbling as she limped to the edge of the mountain, the woman leaned weakly against a jagged portion of rock that jutted out along the rim of the crater. The translucent white blaze which hugged her curves like an outline began to fade. She coughed as she inhaled some of the hot grey ash that was spewing out of the volcano’s mouth. She glanced up at the steamy plume with dismay, and looked down at her damaged lime-green jumpsuit. She began hastily brushing ash and clumps of drying lava from her bizarre garment. 
        “I am never doing that again,” she vowed.
        Jumping off the edge of the crater, the woman began to levitate slowly toward the ground. She interlocked her arms across her chest and frowned at the skyline of a city visible to the north. In the blink of an eye, she propelled her body across the dozens of miles between the mountain and the metropolis. She now hovered above a busy intersection, staring down in confusion.
        “Is this Seattle?” she whispered as she lowered herself to the sidewalk. “Looks different without piles of dead bodies in the streets.” She ignored the judgmental looks as pedestrians strolling by examined her oddly vibrant, neon-green outfit. When a grandmother pulled her small child away protectively, and the young boy stared up at her with his mouth in a little O-shape of surprise, the woman growled. She reached up to touch her curly black hair to check if it was out of place. Finding nothing wrong with her appearance, she made her way to a payphone.
        Staring at the machine in bewilderment for a moment, she seemed to be trying to remember how to use it. Mumbling a few numbers under her breath, she lifted a hand. Her fingers paused slightly in front of the phone, not making contact, but causing the receiver to float toward her ear and mouth. Numbers on the keypad began to depress automatically, and the payphone reacted as though coins had been inserted, beginning the call. After a few rings, a polite, professional voice filtered through the receiver.
        “Kalgren Technological Enterprises, CEO’s office. Nina speaking. How may I help you?”
        “I was supposed to meet with Thorn Kalgren an hour ago!” The young woman in the green bodysuit acted convincingly annoyed. “God, he still hasn’t shown up and I can’t sit here all day—I have other appointments!”
        “The CEO is a busy man and he seems to be occupied with some sort of emergency. I apologize—I’ve been cancelling his meetings for the day, but I must have missed yours—who is calling, please?”
        “It insults me that you even have to ask,” she told the secretary. “Never mind—is Thorn’s sister available? Amara should be able to help me.”
        “I’m afraid Miss Kalgren isn’t in the office today either. Is this about one of her inventions? I could forward you to her department manager…”
        “No, no.” The dark-skinned woman chewed on her lip thoughtfully. “This is a matter of some delicacy, Nina. I need to speak to a Kalgren directly—is Rose available?”
        Nina seemed to hesitate. “Thorn’s mother is retired. Sorry, ma’am, who did you say you were? If you’re from the tax office, I can forward you to the financial…”
        “No! Is Pax Burnson there?”
        “Why, no.” The secretary paused. “In fact, I don’t believe she’s involved in any current projects. Thornton recently broke up with his girlfriend, you see.”
        “What?” the young girl shouted. This seemed to bother her more than the volcanic lava. She tried to regain composure after slipping out of character. “Well, what about Asher Burnson? Any of the Burnsons really.”
        “I highly doubt the Burnsons would be able to assist you with Kalgren Tech company issues. If you just call back tomorrow, I am sure we can schedule you another appointment. I’ll mention to the CEO that you called.”
        “No!” the woman in the lime jumpsuit hissed. “Where the hell is he? I’m going to kill your boss.”
        “Uh… excuse me?” Nina’s voice faltered.
        “All of them. I’m going to kill all of them.” The woman turned her back on the payphone and it promptly exploded behind her. People traversing the Seattle sidewalks began to shriek when she levitated several meters off the pavement. The girl ignored the attention and swept her body up into the air, moving away from onlookers in a fraction of a second. Her slender silhouette barreled through the air so briskly that she was just a kiwi-colored blur. Finally, she landed in the middle of a forest clearing before a massive Victorian manor.
        “Burnson Grove,” she muttered. She had been hoping to see several cars in the driveway, signifying that the Kalgrens were visiting. Instead, she could tell without entering that the house was empty. She could not detect any formidable life forces within the walls of the mansion, and the Burnsons and Kalgrens were all strong enough that they would have been easy to detect. “Damnation,” she swore, glancing to the west. Her eyes narrowed angrily. “They’re in India. I should have known.”
        Before the final word had left her mouth, her toned body exploded into the sky—a sleek missile launched to a distant destination, sure to wreak carnage upon arrival. 

Monday, 2 July 2012

Aazuria's Dance

This is a piece of writing I did several months ago and tucked away in a folder to gather dust. I am rather fond of the concept, so I've decided to share it with my readers. In my first novel, Drowning Mermaids, we begin by looking inside the mind of Captain Trevain Murphy as he watches a mysterious woman dance on stage. I thought it might be fascinating to take a peek backstage, and see the same scene from the mind of the dancer. I considered including this in the main story, since it's "canon" and could have actually happened, but I realized that it might reveal too much about the characters far too soon, disrupting the whole element of mystery in the beginning of the story.
So, this is solely for your enjoyment. 
Hope you like it!

 Aazuria's Dance

      Her cheek grazed her knee as she waited backstage, doing simple stretches. A woman with large fake breasts tottered by shakily on towering heels, sending her a suspicious glare. Aazuria was stricken by the disproportionate size of the woman's breasts with respect to the rest of her emaciated body; she remembered something Sionna had told her about new procedures which augmented certain physical attributes. It was fascinating, but not really of much significance to her, and she returned to pressing her forehead flush against her leg.
       The carpet under her bare legs was rough and abrasive. She imagined that it was already leaving ugly scratches on her newly-tanned skin. As she straightened slowly from the stretch, she stared at the unfamiliar color of her knee. She missed being underwater. More women strolled by, sending her more suspicious and disdainful looks. Aazuria sighed to herself, and continued stretching. A redheaded woman burst into the room, strutting buoyantly on her shoes as though she hardly noticed she was wearing them. Her whole body was finely muscled, and her height was intimidating; at six feet tall she towered over the other women in the room who barely came up to her chin. Her pleasant laughter rang out loudly in the dressing room.
       "For Sedna's sake! Zuri, you really don't need to stretch. Don't bother giving this any effort! It's supposed to be a low-class, inferior form of entertainment." The redhead turned to the women who had been watching Aazuria with airs of superiority and glared at them. She flung her hand towards the exit as she barked an order, "Skedaddle, bitches."
       The women quickly complied. Aazuria smiled at her protectress. "It is not worth doing unless it is done properly, Visola."
       "Then show me how it's done, Princess," Visola said with a wink. "I'll be watching."
       "You have always been watching," Aazuria said fondly. She heard the first few notes of her song begin, and she bolted to her feet nervously. "Well, here I go."
       "Break a le—"
       "I would much rather not." When Aazuria pushed past the beaded curtains, she felt the music seeping into her bones. Her eyes were downcast as she ascended the stairs, feeling a strange sense of simultaneous nervousness and excitement. She had always been confident in her dancing technique—she had studied various styles on various continents, and she had practiced for hundreds of years. She usually trained in water, and it was far more difficult to dance in water than it was on land. By all accounts, this should be a cinch.
       The familiar vocals began, and Aazuria plunged her limbs into motion. Indescribable sensations of loveliness washed over her, as they always did when she began dancing, reaching her lips to settle there in a smile. Finally, she turned to gauge the reaction of her onlookers.
       The audience was a sea of eyes. Adoring eyes of those seeking something from her dance which she would never be able to give them. They were seeking the things which they did not really need. They sought sex and excitement or momentary stimulation, but her every gesture and expression, her every step, was dancing in homage to something transcendent and everlasting.
       Slowly, the audience was pulled out of the realm of their own expectations and into the realm of her creation. Yes, she could hold them spellbound with a little help from the haunting sound of her sister's recorded voice. Aazuria was strong enough to guide them all—she had always been in a position of leadership, and this was no different. She created the atmosphere, she poured her personality and her principles into it, and she invited them inside for a moment to glimpse the décor of her soul. She felt like she was challenging their roughness with her grace, and ultimately, she was winning. She was overpowering them.
       She spun, and spun, and felt windborne. There was an impossible fire within her which seemed to radiate forth from her limbs. All of the elements coalesced in her emotions; as always, she felt far greater than herself when she danced.
       She was in complete control. The stage was hers, the audience was hers, and time was hers. She could bend it and make the moment last an instant or a lifetime, depending on her whim. She was in complete control until he looked up from his drink. She was thrown by unmistakable shine of intelligence she saw glinting at her from across the room in a pair of sad green eyes. Her chest constricted at the sight which hit her like a tidal wave and nearly knocked her off her feet. All she could do was hang on for dear life, as she pushed her body onto automatic mode. At the same time, she became doubly conscious of her motions. She tried a little harder, knowing that there was at least one person in the room who could discern the quality of her movements.
       The rest of her dance flew by in a blur that she could barely remember. Her heart was beating unusually quickly under the fine scrutiny. Every moment she could justifiably spare was spent glancing at or staring into the green eyes of the man at the other end of the room. He was probably the person sitting farthest away from her, concealed in an extremely dark-lit corner. Luckily, her vision, especially in the dark, was better than most. There were dozens of men, probably handsome young admirers, clustered around the stage; she was not sure why her attention was held rapt by the pair of distant, shining eyes.
       As the world spun, those green eyes were a solid island. How sweetly they shone, and how firmly they were grounded. She could not resist being drawn to them as a windswept ship eagerly seeks a harbor. She could not resist the immediate intimacy that was provoked in her chest, completely unbidden and unanticipated.
       When she had finished her dance and retreated backstage, she stood naked against a wall, trying to calm her racing heart. Excitement flowed through her with a huge burst of energy, somehow laced with triumph. The audience had loved her; she had sensed it. She felt strangely affirmed by this; she was by no means a young woman anymore, despite her smooth skin and outward appearance.
       But that man! She closed her eyes as she leaned against the wall, remembering his gaze.
       "How was it?" came a soft voice from the shadows. It was Visola, of course. The red-haired warrior never strayed far from Aazuria's side.
       "Oh, Viso," she said, her chest heaving with exhilarated breaths. "It was divine. There was a man…"
       "There were many men, darling."
       "Yes, but this one… his eyes were shining."
       "Be careful. Minimal interaction, remember? We make our money and get out," Visola said sternly. She paused, studying her friend. "What did this man look like?"
       Aazuria tried to picture his face, and she frowned as her mind faltered. She could not remember a single attribute of the man—not his skin, his height, his hair, or clothing. Nothing came to mind. But burned into her memory was his peculiar pair of emerald eyes, and the strange feeling which they had stirred in her breast.
       "I do not know," she said in confusion.
       "Well, go find out," Visola encouraged, nudging Aazuria playfully. "Remember, the most important part of a man's appearance is the girth of his…"

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Novels Poop Too

Sometimes I feel like I should have a cool job description similar to "Biosolids Management Specialist."

One of the most important writing strategies I've developed is a simple and easy trick, but it has been essential to my progress. I learned to let go of chunks of the story that aren't working, while still preserving them in case they're needed later, by saving them in a file marked "crap." This wasn't a meticulously chosen file name, (more of an instantaneous, first-thing-that-came-to-mind choice I quickly typed before returning to writing) but upon reflection it was actually quite apt. When you've poured your time, energy, and emotion into a few paragraphs, it can hurt like hell to dispose of them-- despite the fact that you recognize that they stink. I mean, they "exceed the odor threshold."

I used to spend copious amounts of time feeling awful, guilty, and foreboding about selecting several lines and pressing backspace. I would try to memorize the words in case I changed my mind and wanted to revert to them later. Often times I would try to get back to the previous version, and I would not be able to remember what I had lost. Sometimes I've made so many changes that desperately slamming CTRL + Z (Undo) does not help in the least.

The trick to writing is preserving everything. I am a compulsive chronicler with neatly-organized archives of just about everything important in my life. If you asked me to find a photograph I took of my best friend in 2002, or any other year, I could find it in seconds. The same goes for letters we wrote to each other. Everything I've ever received has been scanned and tucked away neatly in my gigabytes. Documents, photographs, letters, mementos.

Angry, vicious breakups with internet boyfriends are stored away in files with cool names like "LastConvoWithHim," or "LetterofResignation." I believe the urge to archive is a librarian-type mindset that readers and writers have. This is why I was finding that every time I needed to delete something I froze up and felt like I hit a roadblock. I didn't know what to do, and I panicked, trying to hold on to my words before I lost them permanently. It was definitely interfering with moving forward.

Once I realized what I was doing, I began to keep a second file open beside my main writing file. I copied and pasted everything significant I decided to delete in the "crap" file. It seems like such a basic step, but it has been a huge help in speeding up my writing and allowing me focus. I often tend to go back to sift through passages I "dumped" in the "crap" file and have managed to work them into the story at more appropriate parts. I occasionally manage to recycle a certain phrasing here and there, turning my crap into "regulated organic nutrients," sprinkling the story with fertilizing manure created from its own excretions.

Sorry, I'll stop. It's just such a fun metaphor, yanno? Like any living thing, novels poop too.

Each story I write generates a new "crap" file which usually has about 10% of the volume of the entire story. For a 100K-word novel, I usually have 10K words that I could have used instead, but chose not to. That's a lot of crap. But that's the point of writing, isn't it? We spend our time pulling out the weeds to make the lawn perfectly manicured. We cut the rough stone of the diamond down into the polished, faceted gem. (Except we do that while submerged in our stories, letting our actual lawns grow wild and diamonds go unpolished.)

There are a few other tiny technical writing strategies I use. For example, I have updated the Autosave feature on Word so that it saves my writing once a minute. That way, I'm never worried about losing anything if my computer crashes, or an evil villain shows up and presses the power button. Also, I back up all my writing in a Dropbox folder, so that if the evil villain uses a hammer to smash my computer into pieces, or breathes dragonfire onto the machine and melts my hard drive, it doesn't matter. I'll just raise an eyebrow and tell him that his efforts to defeat me were weak and unsuccessful. (If he gets angry at this and decides to kill me, and if for some reason I can't defend myself while simultaneously cracking puns like Buffy, I generally have one "writing heir" appointed at all times. He or she will know the password to my Dropbox and will be able to retrieve my files and finish and publish my stories. Once they finish avenging me, of course.)

So, dear writers, may you engage in waste disposal with finesse. And, dear readers, be assured that you will only ever get to see the good stuff! Unless you're the kinky type. Then feel free to contact me and I can send you the raw, filthy, novel-poop for you to enjoy in any way you like. Just don't tell me the details, please. 

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Thirty Minutes to Heartbreak: The Beginning

It was about 1.5 years ago that I began Thirty Minutes to Heartbreak, and at first, it was not one of my more carefully planned projects. It was January 2011 and I had recently gone through a tough time. I had not been able to go to work, leave my apartment for any reason, see friends, or do much of anything for several months. I spent all my timing reading and writing to escape. I imagine this isn't too special, and many people have episodes like this. A contributing factor may have been that my boyfriend of 4 years had just left me under unpleasant circumstances.

The first three chapters began gushing out without my permission, even somewhat to my dismay. I was surprised (and fascinated) with how much the story was focused on revenge, and how petty and vindictive the characters seemed-- but the story had three unusual qualities for my writing: it was fun, sexy, and twisted. I sat on the chapters for a while, nervous and uncertain about whether anyone would like them. Finally, I released them on my usual writing website, and the response was incredibly positive. I was encouraged to continue, and only then did I allow myself to begin consciously making long-term plans for the rest of the story.

I was insanely relieved-- the fact that others were already enjoying the story I desperately wanted to write gave me the permission and excuse I needed to keep going. I had no money, and I had just moved out of home and begun renting an apartment. I had just graduated and I was in huge debt to student loans and credit cards. The circumstances were not ideal for writing, but nonetheless, I could not stop. So, in my little basement apartment in High Park (a rather pretty, forested area of Toronto) I worked for countless hours, completely immersed in this story. It was dark underground, and I had heavy curtains, so I lost track of time and never knew whether it was day or night. It was exactly what I needed to temporarily forget while simultaneously rubbing my face directly in what ailed me; a healing balm and self-punishment all wrapped up in one.

From January to April I did nothing but working on Thirty Minutes. I paid my rent with my credit cards and tried to ignore my mounting debt. Nothing else was important but that story and doing everything in my power to entertain and impress the readers. They gave me much-needed validation and I literally lived for good reviews; I couldn't find happiness or self-worth in anything else. Hours were spent just chatting with fans and trying to determine the mechanics of the story. What portion was science and what portion was magic? Hours were spent addressing how to redeem the characters. But most of all, readers told me that it made them feel. I was obsessed.

Here's the thing: it was merely fanfiction. It was a story I NEVER intended to publish. I wrote it because I physically could not make myself do anything else. Readers began to shower me with kudos, suggesting that I publish. I can't tell you how many people sent me articles about Amanda Hocking, and how many people told me that I had surpassed their previous favorite authors and they enjoyed my work more than "real books." This stunned me. I had been writing incessantly since I was a kid, but the level of praise I was receiving was new. I always knew I would need to be a writer someday, but was I finally good enough? Maybe someday was finally here.

I was 22, miserable and dirt poor, but a spark of confidence was ignited in me. Just like the woman I was writing about, Para, I began to change and grow. When I began writing Thirty Minutes I was broken and unsure, but after a three-month marathon, my mind had been completely sharpened and refreshed. I felt like anything was possible-- I felt capable of conquering the world. So I did.

After a period of withdrawal, I often feel the need to come out swinging harder than ever to compensate. That's how I work-- I'm not consistent, but I'm lethal in brief spurts of productivity. I made a goal to fix my financial troubles, and over the course of the summer I completely turned my life around. I told myself that once I was able to fix my living situation and save up a few dollars, I could return to writing with peace of mind. And I did. By November I was able to buy my first house, and I achieved this while being disciplined enough to write consistently. Throughout all I did, the story was my priority.

There was one line I happened to write in Thirty Minutes that inspired all of the Sacred Breath Series. It was a scene where one of my male characters is observing his ex-girlfriend through a viscose green liquid, and he imagines that she looks like a drowned mermaid. He's a bit of a silly character, and he dwells on the thought for some time, imagining the details of whether a mermaid could drown and whether it had gills or lungs like other aquatic mammals.

I spent so much time thinking about this story. I drove from Toronto to Chicago and back three times last year (9 hours each way) and each trip was filled with visions of the characters unfolding in my mind. I played out scenes hundreds of times, sometimes tweaking the tiniest details. It was never redundant, and it was always pleasurable.

I had often considered re-writing TMTH so that it could be enjoyed by a larger audience, but I had always dismissed the idea. So much of the world was built on the ideas of others that I felt guilty. I thought it would be dishonorable to stand on the pillars of someone else's creation and chose to publish only the ideas which were completely original-- if even there is such a thing. I considered my tail-less, biologically plausible mermaids to be as original as I could manage.

However, this year with the recent success of Fifty Shades of Grey, which as we all know, used to be Twilight fanfiction, I seriously reconsidered my preconceived notions of honor. I realized that all ideas are built on the creations of others, and if I could find a way to completely change the the mythology of my beloved story, maybe I could regurgitate it in a new and improved form. The idea rattled around in my head for several months before I thought of making my characters witches.

I considered this for a while before deciding it would never work; I created Thirty Minutes as a virtual playground for superpowers. When you're feeling powerless, what could be better than reading about characters who can do practically anything? Eventually, I decided that my characters could not fit the mold of just any mythical creature-- they needed to be gods.

Para needed to be a vengeful goddess. It should have been clear to me long ago! I researched Buddhist mythology and found that the concept of demigods called "devas" were precisely what I needed. I grew so, so excited about this! I was eager to spend time with my characters again--and created a few new characters, in fact. The original Thirty Minutes was 310K words-- to perform the adaptation, I took the first 60K words and re-wrote them with an additional 40K words. The novel is 100K words in length, which works out to being... long. Even after the events of Paramount, I have the material already written for about 3-4 more novels in this series, and the plans to easily write six in total. I am only a teensy bit older and wiser, but I believe I have grown as a writer since the story first hit the internet. The new version truly is better; it's more polished, and more riveting.

I have three full-length novels completed, but for some reason I cannot wait to receive the paperback copy of Thirty Minutes in the mail! The cover is just gorgeous, and I have never wanted anything more than to sit down and just read my own paperback book. Although I wrote it, and I've read this story over and over dozens of times, I still want to live in that world. I suppose that's what love is-- not being bored of something, even when it is no longer new. Although, technically, rewriting it has injected new life into the story and made it new again.

It might be the fire. I feel so much closer to the fire of Thirty Minutes than the water of the Sacred Breath Series. It's definitely my favorite element; I'd much rather go out in a burning blaze than by drowning!

I chatted with a few readers about this, and had my spirits totally lifted to hear them speak about how much they care for the story. It literally brought tears to my eyes. I can't explain the allure of Thirty Minutes or why it is so beloved. The story is a pretty simple concept of two loyal friends helping each other out. It's rather down-to-earth (once you look past the arrogant omnipotent characters) and oftentimes the characters are foolish. But I know one thing for certain; there's something special about this one.

Writing this story has already changed my life for the better.