Thursday, November 8, 2018

5 Ways My Vampire Books are Better than Twilight

All of us who've written vampire novels live in the shadow of Twilight.  I cannot deny that those books are page-turners of the first order.  So, what makes She Dies at the End and its sequels better than the Bella and Edward behemoth?  Here are five ways the November Show Series is superior to the Twilight Saga.



1) November doesn't take any nonsense.

My main character doens't put up with any patronizing, controlling nonsense from the vampires she meets. You don't want to love her for who she is, let her make her own decisions, and give her the respect she deserves?  Then she is done with your trifling, immortal self.  And when break-ups happen, she doesn't wallow in self-pity as though her life no longer has any meaning.

2) The stakes are higher.

Instead of spending three books obsessing over when she gets to have sex with a vampire she inexplicably worships, and one book defending her family, November spends her time trying to save the entire world from supernatural, authoritarian tyranny.  And occasionally making out with vampires.

3) The world is more diverse.

There are black people in my books.  There are latino people, Asian people, mixed-race people.  Gay people.  Even, gasp, the occasional bisexual.  Some fairies for good measuere.  Twilight is one heterosexual white person after another, at least on the vampire side of things.  How boring is that?  At least the werewolves liven things up.  Heaven forbid popular culture should look a little more like the real world.

4) Nobody sparkles, and there are no at-home vampire C-sections.

Self-explanatory.

5) The writing is better, and written for adults.

If you don't believe me, here is a sample:

November heard a scuffle begin outside the door. Before she could react, she herself had been flung against the wall, a hand around her throat. As she struggled to breathe, her assailant gloated. 

“Waited on the roof. Came through the window,” crowed a large fairy with bright yellow hair and eyes. “Now we wait for my partners to finish with your guards, and then we’re going to take a little trip. If you scream, I will make you regret it. Understand?”

November nodded, and he released his hold on her neck. She could hear Willow and Pine outside and caught a mental glimpse of their violent struggle. There would be no rescue from that quarter. She was on her own.

“I wish it was daylight,” the fairy whispered right into her ear. “So I could have a taste. Ah, well—there’s always tomorrow.”

November’s thoughts began to race. Her mind flashed back to a lesson from her mother. Once puberty hit, Julia had taught her daughter some basic defensive strategies. It was perhaps the only useful mothering she had ever done. “Make them underestimate you, think you’re not a threat. Then go for the eyes and the groin. Fingernails are good. Car keys are better.” November’s fear crystallized into an icy clarity.

November looked up at the unknown fairy and allowed her mouth to tremble. “Please don’t hurt me,” she whispered, tears beginning to flow.

A moment later, she slumped down to the floor in an apparent faint. As the fairy swore and bent down to check on her, her hand came up with the crucifix of her rosary between her fingers, and she planted it firmly in his left eye as she brought her knee up between his legs.

He began to scream, tearing at his face. November tried to run past him to the door, but he grabbed her ankle and gave it a yank, knocking her to the floor and climbing on top of her. He began to hit her even as her rosary was still sticking out of his eye, landing blows on her ribs and her face as she tried to protect herself with her arms.


“I should kill you, you little whore,” he screamed, but then seemed suddenly to weaken. “What have you done?” he whispered as light suddenly began to pour from his wound. She closed her eyes reflexively as the light grew brighter and brighter; her eyelids glowed red. There was one more scream, and when she opened her eyes, her assailant was gone. Her rosary sat in the middle of an empty floor.

The adrenaline was such that she felt none of her injuries as yet. Her shock held her still for a moment as she sat on the floor, staring at the place her attacker should have been, not comprehending what her eyes were telling her. The sound of screaming out in the parking lot reanimated her; she grabbed her rosary and stood up, having absolutely no idea what she was going to do. Her clarity of mind returned, and she used her ability to peer at what was happening on the other side of the door. Willow seemed to be holding her own, but Pine was in desperate straits, on the ground, his attacker above him.

November finally remembered the case of gear the two knights had loaded into the trunk. Praying that Pine had left the car unlocked, she took a deep breath and ran as fast as she could to the car. Relieved to find the car open, she popped the trunk, pulled out the shovels, and opened the case.

Carefully cradled in foam sat a variety of silver weapons with leather-wrapped handles along with a couple of firearms. Having no idea how to aim and shoot, she grabbed a silver-tipped mace and placed a coil of silver chain over her shoulder. She began to move toward Pine. His attacker had his back to November, and she hoped he was too engrossed in enjoying his imminent victory to notice a weak little human. He turned to look at her just as she got close enough to strike, and she hit him full in the face with all her weight behind the blow.

The painful shock to her arm and shoulders caused her to drop the heavy mace, but she was still able to throw the chain over her enemy while he was on the ground, clutching his head and recovering from her assault. The injured fairy’s cry distracted his remaining partner-in-crime just enough for Willow to get the upper hand. She sliced into her opponent’s neck, and at the instant his head was separated from his body, he turned to a flash of light. Willow placed her hands on her thighs, bent over with exertion, and assessed the scene with a few efficient glances before she began issuing orders.

“November, move everything currently in the trunk to the floor in the rear. Then help Pine get in the back seat. Start the car and sit in the front passenger side. Understand?”

“Yes, ma’am,” November replied, moving quickly to do her part. As she did, Willow secured the surviving assailant and tossed him in the trunk.

The fairy then turned her attention to the crowd of witnesses who were watching from the entrance to the store. She enthralled them into forgetting it all and tampered with the surveillance system, moving quickly enough to be practically invisible. They sped away and were already halfway up the on-ramp by the time they heard sirens approaching the gas station.

I challenge you to read She Dies at the End and decide for yourself.  Is it better than Twilight?




Monday, November 5, 2018

A Gallary of Characters in Unclean

You could call this something of a collage of some of the main characters in my Hexborn sequel, currently in revisions.  I wanted to give you a preview of some of the people you will be cheering for and against.  I found these images when looking for material to use in the upcoming book trailer, and I hope they will give you a taste of what is to come.


Here we have a new version of Shiloh.  As you can see, she is dressed in the purple of the Unclean and is loaded for bear.



Silas, aka "the Hatchet."  He is not happy with recent developments, and someone is going to pay.



Brother Fenroh Templeborn, son of the Patriarch of the Church.  Ambitious and cruel, he and Silas have an unpleasant history.  Fenroh also has a dangerous amount of interest in Shiloh and her abilities.



Esta, the new queen.  Let's just say that the crown does not improve her personality.



Westan of Gerne, Esta's new husband.  Vain, greedy, stupid, and impatient.



Keegan, Chief of the Feralfolk and Shiloh's birthfather.  He is determined to earn her trust no matter what it takes.




Daved, Lord of the Wood.  Will his love for Shiloh continue to burn bright?



Who are some of the other characters in Hexborn that you hope to see again in the sequel?


Thursday, November 1, 2018

Chapter 1 of Hexborn

It's been a while since I've posted an excerpt from Hexborn, the sword and sorcery novel I published this past July. Today I've decided to share the entire first chapter.  I do hope it will intrigue enough for you to go grab the rest of it.





Chapter 1
Our Duty to Kingdom and Crown


The dust betrayed them.  At the end of a long, dry summer in the Teeth, the hooves of their horses stirred up a cloud that billowed like smoke as they traversed the pass.  Shiloh made out a flash of blue that she reckoned must be Lord Blackmine's crest.  The Lord of the Teeth's men flew a banner with a white horse on a blue field. 

Not that we see it much, given his lordship’s lack of interest in defending his lands and his folk. 

The spots of red up in front she supposed might be Silas Hatch's household livery: a golden hatchet on blood crimson.

At least the man embraces his infamy.

She’d been packed for weeks, waiting.  She could have run.  That is what Brother Edmun had urged her to do, from his deathbed . . . Edmun, who had put her in mortal peril long before he'd learned to love her like a daughter.  

He had let Shiloh read all his letters to the City, the ones in which he’d begged the Hatchet to find a place for her at the Royal Academy.  He had extolled Shiloh’s virtue and her gifts at length, hopeful that his favorite old pupil would have mercy on his beloved young one.  But at the last, Edmun’s fear for her safety had overcome his hopes for her future, and he'd urged the girl to fly away before Hatch’s men came stomping up their mountains.

She had considered it.  As she'd wept into Edmun’s blankets after he'd finally breathed his last, she'd considered it.  As she’d watched his wands crumble to dust as they died with him, she’d considered it.  As she’d prepared him for burial, as she’d put him in the ground, as she had waited for weeks . . .
And, yet, here she stood, waiting patiently for an infamous, ruthless stranger to spirit her away.
As she watched the cloud of dust move ever closer to her home, she considered her choice one last time.  Her options were limited.  No other village would ever accept a hexborn stranger, and a bastard foundling at that.  Her own had only tolerated her because they’d feared to cross Edmun and her father, and because her skills had made her useful.  She was surprised they hadn’t tried to drive her out of town since her men had died. 

If not a village, then where?  Living as a hermit in the woods lacked appeal, not least because her ill health turned every winter into mortal combat.  Besides, the Feralfolk were not exactly fond of her.  She would be easily caught if she ventured any further west, closer to the City.  She had not the money to go abroad, to Estany.

Thus, she waited, and she hoped that all of her work, and all Edmun’s plotting, had not been in vain.  She wondered how the soldiers would react if her village failed to produce her.  

Not well, she thought.

It would serve them right.

***

Before Hatch and his men entered the village of Smoke Valley, there they were: a half-dozen charred skulls on pikes at the edge of the road leading down from the pass, a warning to outlaws to steer clear of the settlement.  He squinted and held out a gloved hand as if feeling for heat.  A muscle in his face twitched.

“Looks like they’re holding their own against the Feralfolk,” Perce observed.  The men grunted with approval after they traced superstitious circles on their foreheads.

“She, not they.  Magic killed them all,” Hatch countered grimly, before prodding his horse to continue past the macabre display.  He heard retching behind him and turned to find Wilar, the young priest sent to replace Edmun, vomiting into the brush. 

Hatch shook his head.  These high country folk are going to walk all over him.  Let’s hope he doesn’t pass out the first time he sees one of them chop the head from a chicken.

“A little girl from the Teeth, all by her lonesome, killed six grown men?” Perce asked skeptically.  “A girl who hasn’t even been to the Academy yet?  Isn’t it more likely this Brother Edmun did them in?”

Hatch fixed his sharp eyes upon his companion.  “That is possible, but as poor as his health has been these last years, I find it unlikely.  The rumors all say the girl killed them.  As to the child’s education, Brother Edmun was the finest sorcerer at the Royal Academy for decades before the war started.  He was the youngest headmaster ever appointed.  She’ll know more walking through the door than many of our most gifted noblemen know when they finish their studies.  You underestimate her at your peril.”

Perce held up his hands in surrender.  “Yes, Uncle.  It’s just . . . it’s a lot to believe.  A hexborn kid that he found in the woods grows up and kills grown Feralfolk without even having a wand to use?”

“She might have used one of his.  Stranger things have happened,” Hatch replied.  “And my source in South Lake has proved reliable in the past.  Evidently, the Feralfolk had just killed her father when the . . . incident . . . occurred.  That is certainly plausible motivation. 

“You’re not old enough to have been in the war.  I saw grieving wizards slaughter entire companies of men after losing a beloved companion on the battlefield; some of them were barely older than this foundling.  Power comes in unlikely packages, and rage can unlock any box you try to hide it in.”

“Where do you suppose she even came from?” Perce asked.

“There are a number of possibilities.  She was born in the last days of the war.  Many of the monks and nuns drafted into the fighting broke their vows in those days.  Of those who bore children from such illicit unions, some abandoned or killed them in the hopes of hiding their guilt.  Some ran off and became Feralfolk along with their offspring,” Silas explained patiently. 

“It is fortunate that the girl was found by someone interested in proving his loyalty.  Had she been raised a Feral, or spirited out of the country by the king’s enemies, she could have become a significant problem for the realm.  A weapon like that, in hostile hands,” Silas concluded, “could be devastating.”

“Do you think she’ll come quietly, Uncle Silas?”

“I think the chances are good.  Edmun claims that she is as devout and patriotic a lass as could be found anywhere.  Even if that is an exaggeration, if she were not clever, Edmun would not have bothered with her.  He never was an easy man to impress.  I doubt he gentled with age,” Silas opined.

“And if she seems like a threat, once we have her in hand?” his nephew asked.

Silas turned his intimidating gaze upon Perce once again.  “Then we shall fulfill our duty to kingdom and crown.  Why do you suppose King Rischar sent me to handle this myself?”

***

For an object of near universal fear and loathing, Shiloh found Silas Hatch to be rather unremarkable in appearance.  Average in height and build, he was blessed with unblemished skin of warm bronze and a full head of curly, dark hair.  His eyes were his most striking feature; green and sharp, they gave the impression of missing nothing.  His clothing, all black as befit a barrister, was well-made and showed no signs of wear.  His boots looked fine enough to provoke envy in a lord.  The king’s patronage was, evidently, lucrative. 

The king’s man was accompanied by about three dozen soldiers, a nervous young priest in robes of brown, and a young man dressed in City clothes.  Shiloh assumed he was another courtier or an assistant of some sort.  He had a pampered air about him, and a rather punchable face, she thought.

“My name is Silas Hatch.  I am here, in the service of the king, to collect a girl named Shiloh Teethborn,” the king’s man cried, projecting his voice to be heard by the entire crowd. 

Shiloh had thought she’d been prepared to hear those words, but her breath still caught anxiously at the sound of them.  Hatch’s voice was deep as a mineshaft and promised twice the danger.

The townsfolk gathered in the square said nothing, even surrounded as they were by dozens of armed men.  They might have spit and cast signs every time Shiloh walked by, and called her a freak under their breaths on the daily, but she was their freak, and they weren’t going to rat her out to some rich courtier from the City if they could help it.

“The girl will not be harmed,” Hatch assured them, seemingly misreading their spiteful reluctance as actual concern.  “She has been offered a place at the Royal Academy of Mages.  It is a tremendous honor to be thus invited into royal service.”

Still, they said nothing.

“If we cannot locate her, I will order these men to start burning down houses after they tear them apart looking for her,” Hatch warned, changing tack.  “I would rather not be forced to do you harm.”

“That won’t be necessary, my lord.  I am ready to go,” Shiloh replied, stepping out of a shadow next to the Temple, her bag on her shoulder.  Her neighbors all traced circles on their foreheads.  Their relief at her timely appearance on this particular occasion was, nevertheless, obvious.

Hatch eyed her appraisingly, lingering on her hook.  “I am not a lord.  I am but a simple barrister, blessed to be in the king’s service,” he replied before demanding, “Show me your eyes.”

She obeyed, stepping into the light and pushing back her hood to reveal the unnaturally colored eyes that were one of the hallmarks of her condition.  She squinted in the bright sunlight, her pink irises glowing.  Finally, he nodded, seemingly satisfied as to her identity.   

“Good.  We shall leave immediately.  I want to make our last camp before dark.” 

His gaze fell upon the steel hook that served as Shiloh’s left hand. 

“First, I shall need to take your weapon,” he added. 

“Well, master barrister, this isn’t a weapon.  It’s my hand,” she calmly replied.

“Nevertheless,” Hatch countered, implacable, but his eyes betrayed some sympathy.

Shiloh pressed her lips together until they nearly disappeared.  Wordlessly, she turned and began stalking off toward the trees.

“Where do you think you’re going?” Hatch demanded.

Shiloh wheeled on him with a glare that could have cut his throat.  “I don’t know how they behave in the City, but here in the hills, a woman does not disrobe in public.  I will return presently.  You need not fear.” 

She straightened her back, lifted her chin, and strode quickly away.  A few of the townspeople snickered.

“If you run, they will be punished, and so will you be,” Hatch warned loudly.  She made no reply.

***

Silas Hatch waited for the girl to return, his eyes never leaving the spot where she’d crossed into the forest.  He was not a man to take chances.  He didn’t want anything even resembling a weapon on her person, just in case she decided that she liked him about as much as she liked Feralfolk. 

He looked over the crowd of villagers.  Typical of the Teeth, the child’s neighbors were a sullen and suspicious bunch, most of the children lacking shoes, along with a fair number of the adults.  Prosperity in the rest of the kingdom of Bryn never quite managed to make it up into the mountains.

 It doesn’t help that Lord Blackmine has barely set foot above a thousand feet of elevation since King Rischar made him Lord of the Teeth. 

It was hard for him to picture Edmun living in this sad place.  After all, the priest had been a royal bastard, one of old King Jerroh’s many illegitimate spawn.  He’d grown up serving at court, surrounded by wealth and education, rising by virtue of his genius to become headmaster of the Academy.  Then the war had come . . .

Silas knew that Edmun had been lucky he’d even kept his head, probably because no one had been brave enough to climb the Teeth to take it . . . But to think of him here, with only one student to occupy his brilliant mind, spending his final years literally out in the cold, leading peasants in worship and mediating disputes between shepherds . . . It was appalling.

Silas was curious about the girl who had earned his old mentor’s respect.  Elder and Babe above, they’d all been terrified of him in their school days.  During the war, Silas had thought the man might’ve been made of stone.  And yet, it seemed he had adored this girl, if his letters could be trusted.

Silas felt a twinge of pity.  Whether it was for Edmun or for the girl, he couldn’t say.

I do hope I won’t have to kill her.

***

Muttering curses, covering her humiliated tears with whispered words of rage, Shiloh's hand shook as she undid the hooks holding her jacket closed beneath her heavy cloak.  Cold weather came early to the Teeth, and she was accordingly dressed for a winter journey.  Beneath her quilted leather jacket was a sweater of wool, and beneath that a tunic of embroidered linen that fell to her knees.  They did not wear corsets in the Teeth; corsets were a vanity for the irreligious of the flatlands. 

Her skirt was calf-length, as was the mountain custom, the better to keep it out of the snow and mud.  She wore wool leggings beneath, attached to a garter, and knee-high boots.  Her boots were starting to look worn, but they were sturdy and whole and would make it through the winter. 

Everything she wore was dark in color: warm browns, deep greens, rich blues.  Only small children were permitted rowdy reds, yellows, and pastels.  No one dressed in purple, of course.  The only thing she wore that caught the light was the hook that served as her left hand.

A curl of pale pink hair fell in front of her eyes, and she tucked it impatiently back behind her ear.  Like all the women she knew, she covered her hair year-round when outside the home, most often with a hood, but sometimes with a scarf in warm weather.

The leather straps that held her prosthesis buckled beneath her sweater and over her linen, looped beneath the opposite arm, and crossed her upper back before moving down her half-formed left arm, which ended a few inches below the elbow.  Her father had taken great pride in crafting her false limbs as she’d grown, experimenting with different materials and different shapes of hooks, always seeking beauty and improvement.  She smiled through her tears, thinking of him.

Shiloh wiped her running nose and then pulled back on her sweater and jacket.  She folded the left sleeves and used her teeth to place a long pin to hold them neatly in place, so they wouldn't drag along, empty and forlorn.  She pulled her warm cloak back around her, as if its bulk could protect her from feeling small, and she walked back to the man who held her life in his hands.

She shoved her hook toward Hatch, looking determinedly past his left ear.  Her eyes were dry; her expression revealed nothing, but she could not hide the red nose that betrayed her earlier tears.

Hatch cleared his throat.  “I will take care with it,” he assured her.  “Do you have any other weapons?” he asked.

Shiloh bent down to pull a knife from her boot and handed it over.  A sling and a bag of round pebbles followed from her pocket.  Then came a set of knitting needles and a small roll of wool yarn.  Laughter rippled through the crowd.

“Is your terror of me now alleviated, Master?” she asked softly.  She heard chuckles behind her back.

“You ought to learn to mind your tongue,” one of the men retorted, “before I decide to tan your hide.  Maybe you ought to concentrate on praying that Master Hatch doesn’t lock you in the High Tower for the rest of your miserable life.”

“That is sufficient, Perce,” Hatch scolded the young man, his tone and eyes both ice cold.  He glanced at the now muttering villagers.  “Let's get moving.  Captain Pike, you may start setting up your garrison on the edge of town.  Brother Wilar, the village of Smoke Valley is now yours to govern.  Their loyalty to lord, crown, and the Holy Family is now your responsibility.  The king is counting on you both.”

The captain nodded smartly.  The priest squared his narrow shoulders and tried to look resolute.

“A garrison?  We'd be glad of some protection from the Feralfolk; Gods know we've lost souls to them enough, but our town is too poor to house and feed a whole garrison,” a village elder protested. 

 “Winter is on the way.  There's been a drought.  A few men, sure, but three dozen?  We’ll starve.”
Hatch shook his head almost sympathetically.  “The orders come from the Earl of Blackmine and from your king.  It is out of my hands.”  The villagers shuffled anxiously, eying the men and grabbing hold of their daughters.

“You may wish to buy some furs from them before we leave, sir,” Shiloh advised softly.  “It's going to snow tomorrow, and none of you look to be dressed for it.”

“Are ya daft, girlie?” one of the guards asked.  “It's barely autumn.”

Shiloh held Hatch’s eyes but said nothing more.  If he chose not to believe her, it was his funeral.

Hatch sighed.  “All right, Miss Teethborn, tell me with whom I must haggle.”

***

Hatch knelt to help Shiloh mount his horse.  She didn’t weigh more than a bundle of twigs.  At least she had decent shoes, and her skirt was loose enough to accommodate her riding astride.  Her father had been a smith with a reputation for skill and fair dealing, according to one of his sources.  She’d have been more financially comfortable than her neighbors, he supposed. 

He could feel her tension when he swung his leg over to settle behind her.  Frightened and brave.  To his surprise, she didn’t turn around once as they left her home behind them.  Perhaps she had already said her goodbyes.  Perhaps there was no one left to whom she would wish to say them.

Silas thought back to the day he’d left his own home behind, headed for the City.  He’d been thrilled to leave the monastery to make his fortune at court.  He’d felt some fear as well, of course, and some shame for his poverty.  But watching that dock fade into the distance had been one of the happiest moments of his life.

A drop of water fell onto one of Hatch’s leather gloves.  He looked up, searching for clouds in the clear blue sky, then realized that the splash had been a silent tear from his passenger.  He considered offering some words of comfort, but he decided that she might not welcome such an acknowledgment.  She didn’t strike him as the kind of girl who would wish to show weakness to a stranger.  Perhaps she hadn’t yet realized that tears could be a woman’s weapon.

She remained silent as they made their way.  Whether this was Edmun’s influence, her own turn of mind, or pain at her departure, Silas could not say.  He wondered how she would adapt to the girls at court, with their ceaseless chatter and ringing laughter. 

Of course, they may well not deign to speak to her.  If she is lucky, she’ll be novel enough to gain a little popularity, at least among the bastards and the lesser gentry.  The lords know courtiers are prone to boredom, having so little actual work to do. 

He did not imagine that the king’s new wife would be interested in having an Unclean maid in waiting, and one unskilled in the entertainments of court at that. 

We’ll have to find something for her to do when she isn’t at study.  Perhaps one of the tutors can use her help with something.  She is probably a diligent worker, given how demanding a master Edmun always was.  The library can always use some tending, or the Temple, or the gardens.  Assuming she is physically strong enough for such work.

Now, her health or lack thereof . . . that was a topic of great interest to Hatch.  As a student of dark magic, and a creature with a naturally morbid temperament, he had read a great deal about the effect a mother’s curses could have on an unborn child.  He’d had occasion, over the years, to examine a few such unfortunate children; unhappily, they had already died before he’d gotten his hands on them. 

The autopsies had proved less enlightening than he had hoped.  Two of them had been born dead, or so the mothers had plausibly claimed at trial.  The third had obviously been strangled in the family’s unsuccessful effort to hide his birth.  They’d hanged the mother at a crossroads, as he recalled.

He’d only met a live one once, during his years abroad, where they were not so fussy about such accidents.  The girl’s parents had been disinclined to allow him to examine the child in detail, alas.  All of the specimens had shared hair and eyes of bright colors along with significant anatomical abnormalities.  The live one had also possessed an accumulation of scars.

Hatch had pressed Edmun for details about Shiloh’s condition, to little avail.  The priest had admitted that the child had suffered from bouts of affliction from time to time, illnesses whose symptoms matched the results of certain hexes that had been popular during the war.  However, Edmun had offered little beyond the fact that the girl had come close to death on more than one occasion.   

She should present a fascinating case study, when the time comes. 

Assuming, of course, that no misfortune intervenes.

Available on Amazon in kindle or paperback.  If you enjoyed this excerpt, please also sign up for my newsletter for more sneak peeks and bonus material.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

RRBC Spotlight Author: Marcha Fox


Today, I'm thrilled to be hosting fellow Rave Reviews Book Club member Marcha Fox.  When you're done here, be sure yo check out her scifi novel The Terra Debacle.  Take it away, Marcha!



Learning the Hard Way: Why Book Blurbs Should Target Your Market

As an author, you want to maximize book sales. No matter how much you love what you do, you still want to share your hard work and maybe even make a few bucks. This requires getting it into as many readers' hands as possible, but the unfortunate fact of life is that you're competing with literally millions of other books.

It wasn't this way a mere twenty years ago or so, when self-publishing options were expensive with poor distribution, if any. If you had a few thousand dollars you had nothing better to spend it on, you could get your book printed at a vanity press who'd provide you with a few thousand copies, most of which would wind up in a spider-infested corner of your attic or garage.

The ebook revolution changed all that, giving virtually anyone with internet access the opportunity to publish a book. Print on demand (POD) publishing was another boon. Thanks to computer technology, it was no longer a practical necessity to make large print runs. This, also, was perfect for independent authors, saving money as well as all storage space in your attic or garage.

Before you congratulate yourself on taking advantage of this technological wonder, however, consider the downside. First of all, now there are millions of books available that may never go out of print. NEVER--not the usual six weeks shelf life of the past.  Even those that were out of print are being resurrected. Thus, the list keeps getting longer and longer and longer, until it implodes in on itself and becomes a blackhole.

Coupled with that infinitely long list is the need to bring attention to your literary masterpiece. One marketing class compared it to being in a packed Super Bowl stadium trying to draw attention to yourself, but multiplied one hundred times over. Good luck with that, right?

Furthermore, will every Tom, Dick, Harry, and Jane even like your book? Some genres are more popular than others, plus people have preferences. How many books have you started, but never finished, simply because it wasn't your "thing?" I'm not talking about one that was poorly written or edited, but one that simply wasn't for you. For example, I'm not a big fantasy fan. Same goes for vampires and zombies. Ho-hum, no thanks, I'd rather watch old M*A*S*H reruns.

So why waste your time and meager funds marketing and promoting to the entire world population when only a rather small percentage is likely to be interested? Yet, this is something you may be doing inadvertently and of which I am guilty as charged, as I discovered when I received a few poor reviews.

You can't please all the people all the time, so bad reviews like poop, happen. However, I foolishly invited it because my book description didn't present its content accurately.

My initial intent was to write science fiction for a younger audience, from middle to high school, who was interested in science. Young geeks, if you will. When I was that age, I loved sci-fi, but was always disappointed that it was largely bereft of actual science. The stories were great, but I didn't learn a thing. So, after getting a physics degree and working for NASA for 21 years, I was poised to write the books I wanted when I was a kid. And I did.

But did I label them as such? NO!! I was an idiot, and misrepresented them. Duh!

There are many sub-genres for science fiction. Mine is hard science fiction, meaning it actually has science in it. Not all sci-fi fans like that. Furthermore, while I integrate the technology and science into the plot, I do explain it a bit more than some adults care for.

The result was a couple bad reviews from readers who expected something else. These 3-star blasts stated it was a good story for a younger audience who was new to science fiction coupled with too much techno-babble. The irony was too much--that was exactly what I was aiming for! When I've had the privilege of meeting members of my young, target audience who've read my stories, they love them. Unfortunately, this group rarely writes reviews.

The lesson for you? Make sure you're up-front with your description. If it's for younger readers, say so. Target the people you know will like it. A disappointed reader may feel they've been duped and thus may not even finish your story, much less give it a fair review. Worst case, they might even ask Amazon for their money back.

One analogy comes to mind thanks to the recent long, dry, hot Texas summer. When I watered my trees, I didn't have the hose nozzle on some fine mist with a diameter of several feet. I had a directed stream to get the most water in a concentrated area. This is how you need to market you story--starting with your description. Hopefully my new one, which starts out with "a family-friendly geek fest...", will be more effective.
I have my fingers crossed.


AUTHOR BIO:



Marcha Fox is an avid science fiction fan and author with over 20 years’ experience in positions ranging from technical writer to engineer to manager at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. She earned a Bachelor’s Degree in physics, which was but a prelude to her interest in the unexplained mysteries of the cosmos. Inspired by science fiction to pursue a career in a technical field, she hopes to instill the same fascination in young readers, while providing older ones with classic hard science fiction.

Born in Peekskill, New York she has lived in California, Utah and Texas in the course of raising her family, which included fifteen years as a stay-at-home mom before returning to college in her 30s to obtain her degree, a feat accomplished while she still had six children at home. All are now grown with children of their own providing her with 17 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren so far. Never at a loss for something to do, besides writing she’ a professional astrologer who enjoys gardening, her two Bengal cats and a sassy tuxedo, and keeping up with family.


THE TERRA DEBACLE: PRISONERS AT AREA 51 

Blurb:  Thyron is a flora peda telepathis (telepathic walking plant) from the planet Sapphira on an adventure gone terribly wrong. The bad decision of a human girl and her maniacal robot companion has stranded them on Earth, where his botanical cousins face horrible fates such as consumption by herbivores, incineration, and brutal annihilation for use as building material.

Following capture, Thyron is transported to Area 51, where NASA exobiologist, Gabe Greenley, studies his every move, ecstatic with the opportunity to examine an entirely new lifeform. In due course, the scientist makes a ground-breaking discovery, distressed by the fact he can never share it due to his security oaths and research agreement. Eventually, he’s confronted by an even worse ethical dilemma that forces him to make a treasonous and potentially deadly decision.

Will Thyron’s psychic powers be enough to save him? Is Greenley friend or foe? Or does the exobiologist have a few secrets of his own?

Find out in this unique combination of hard science fiction, suspense, and a touch of humor populated with memorable characters in a setting loaded with intrigue. Unexpected plot twists coupled with a unique ending make this an unforgettable tale whether you’re a science fiction fan, botanist, UFO aficionado, or simply enjoy a good story.

Twitter: @startrailsiv
Facebook:  @marchafoxauthor
Website: https://www.startrailssaga.com

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Sneak Peek: Book 2 of The Hexborn Chronicles


Spoiler alert: If you haven't finished Hexborn, avert your eyes!

I'm excited to report that I have recently finished the first draft of the Hexborn sequel!  Right now I'm working hard on revisions, but I couldn't wait to share a little bit with you.  Enjoy!

***

“Drink it down. I know it’s vile, but drink it all if you want to live.”

Shiloh cradled Hedsin’s head with her silk-clad forearm and held the cup to his cracked lips. The farmer looked up at her with skeptical eyes, but he did as she had bid him, a little of the disgusting concoction dripping onto Shiloh’s glove.

“Might’ve been kinder to slit my throat, my lady,” he coughed.

She smiled down at him indulgently, but grim lines framed her pink eyes. “Now, now. In a few days, when you’re bouncing that new grandson on your knee, you won’t feel the same, I’ll warrant.”

Shiloh straightened her back and squared her shoulders. “I must get on to the next afflicted house,” she told Hedsin’s wife, Deenah. “Make sure you and yours keep your charms pinned to your clothes at all times, lest this spread to the rest of you. At. All. Times.” She held the woman’s eyes with stern resolve.

“Yes, my lady,” Deenah replied, bobbing her head and wringing her hands. “Thank you, my lady.”

“You are most welcome.” Shiloh handed her three ribbons and pulled her away from her husband’s sickbed. She lowered her voice to continue, “Now, tie the black one on the door if he dies. The red one if someone else shows symptoms, so I can bring the medicine. The white when he recovers. That means no fever for twenty-four hours.”

Deenah nodded. “How many are sick in the village?” she asked anxiously.

Shiloh inhaled deeply. “Three dozen. Plus five in the monastery, and four in the castle. A dozen more in the barracks, maybe more. I hear it’s terrible in Gerne. That’s probably where it started. I had a letter from my lord husband to that effect.”

Deenah traced a circle on her forehead. “Gods preserve us,” she breathed.

“Indeed,” Shiloh agreed, tracing her own circle. “Gods preserve us.”



***



“Go back to your homes,” Shiloh ordered, her voice hoarse but resolute.

She stood on the back of a hay wagon, wand in hand, cold wind snapping her purple headscarf behind her with a loud crack. Northgate Castle stood behind her, dark and lurking against the pink of dawn. Several dozen frightened villagers stood before her, attempting to flee the plague that had swept in from the north.

“We’re not going to stay here to die, my lady!” one of the men yelled. Shiloh could hear some of them saying, “Abomination!” under their breath.

“Do as I tell you, and you won’t,” Shiloh spat back. “Wear the protective charms I gave you. Boil your water. Cook all your food through. Stay inside. Mark your door if any of your folk take ill, and I will send medicine. If you leave this place and grow ill, there will be no help for you. You will die in the woods, alongside the road, in the cold. No other village will let you through their walls. They know you’ve been exposed to the Red Fever. They know, because I sent word to every settlement within a hundred and fifty miles.”

Some in the mob began to look at each other, uncertain in the face of their lady’s opposition.

“I know you’re afraid,” Shiloh said more gently. “But I assure you the gifted sisters at the monastery and I are doing all we can to protect you. And I cannot allow you to spread this pestilence south and east. I will not. The safety of this kingdom depends on stopping the fever here.”

Her wand began to glow, and the crowd, as one, took a wary step backward.

“I survived the Red Fever as a child, a crippled and sickly child at that. If I could, so can you. Go home, for the Gods’ sakes. You’ll be safer there. I promise.”

“And if we don’t?” someone called belligerently.

“Then make yourselves comfortable here in the dirt, because you are going nowhere.” Shiloh raised her wand and hummed, and a shimmering dome filled the sky, encasing the castle and its surrounding village, forming a glowing barrier that began a few dozen yards from where they stood. A fearful murmur rustled like dead leaves. Some of the children whimpered, which nearly broke Shiloh’s heart.

“I wouldn’t touch that if I were you,” she warned them, sheathing her wand. “Not if you’re fond of your hands. Now, I have more than enough work to do, between saving your neighbors and chasing off Gernish raiders. Don’t bother me with this foolishness again, and thank the Gods I’m a patient girl. If my husband were here, make no mistake, he’d have killed at least one of you for an example. Go home.”

She jumped down from the cart and strode through the crowd, head high and heart pounding. To her immense relief, they opened to make her a path. Most of them even bowed a respectful head.

“Would that really take off a hand?” Brother Charls whispered in her ear as he fell in beside her for the walk back to the castle.

Shiloh snorted. “Of course not. I’m powerful, but not powerful enough to keep up something like that without paying attention to it. Besides, one of the children might stumble into it. It’s just a light show.”

Charls swallowed a laugh. “What if they test it?”

“They won’t,” Shiloh asserted with far more confidence than she felt. “They won’t.”

They didn’t.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

New Release: Warrior Mine by Pandora Spocks

I had the pleasure of reading an advance review copy of Warrior Mine, the latest from Pandora Spocks.  As usual, Spocks delivers.  Her stories are always full of heat and heart, and the writing is always clean.  If you want a book with a BDSM spin and skilled, classy writing, Spocks is the writer for you.  And if you want the bondage without the abuse of some of the other books out there, look no further.






The two main characters, Jackie and Scott, are both people you want to root for.  They deserve every happiness in the world, and you will enjoy the ride that gets them there.  Check out the blurb and excerpt below, and happy reading.

Blurb:


She is the perfect combination of princess and warrior.
Scott Nielsen and Jackie Walker.
Their attraction is instant from the moment they meet.
But he’s Dominant.  And no way is she submissive.
Is it a missed connection?  Or a divine appointment?

Scott Nielsen is ready for change.  He’s walked away from his career as a wilderness counselor, planning to start his own outdoor survival school.  He looks up his old friend and former colleague Blake Walker, intent on leasing space at Blake’s family’s remote wilderness guest lodge.  That’s where he meets Blake’s sister Jackie, who runs the lodge with her brother’s help.  Her strength and independence intrigue Scott.  A single mom, Jackie has no intention of being anyone’s submissive.

In his personal life, Scott is tired of casual sex in the BDSM club scene.  Envious watching his buddy Blake fall head over heels for his own submissive, Scott thinks he might be ready to take the plunge himself.  As he and Jackie spend time together, he’s enchanted with her inner Warrior Princess.  But Jackie’s been burned before.  And she has two children who are her priority, not to mention the business to run.   As independent as she is, she can’t see relinquishing her power to a man, not even one she’s falling for.

Scott’s heart aches at the idea of not having Jackie in his life.  Can she take another chance on love, or will she insist on ignoring her submissive soul?

If you enjoyed LOST & BOUND, you’ll love this spin-off stand-alone story.


Excerpt:




“It’s a gorgeous day,” Scott commented.

“It really is. I haven’t been out in the woods like this in a long time.”

Scott watched her appraisingly. “Are you much of a camper?”

“I can hold my own.” She lifted her chin, and he saw a glint of challenge in her eye.

“I imagine you can,” he smiled to himself.

He watched her dig the toe of her boot into the soft black earth and push it into a small heap. “So let’s talk, Jackie.”

She exhaled loudly, and out of the corner of his eye, he saw her grip her hands so tightly together, her knuckles were white.

“This makes you nervous,” he observed.

“Well, yeah! You’re over here wanting me to agree to be some kind of…I don’t know what…slave, I guess. That’s so not me.”

“You’re right, it’s not. I see in you a submissive soul, but a slave is not remotely what I have in mind. Jackie,” he straddled the log to face her, “you’re a strong, smart, sexy lady. I admire the hell out of you.”

“So why do you want me to give all that up?”

“I don’t want you to give anything up. I love all those things about you.” He laughed softly. “I love that you challenge me. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Jackie’s expression was dubious. “I don’t understand what you want from me. Am I supposed to run and jump into your arms like Amy does Blake?” She rolled her eyes.

Scott had to laugh. “You’re not a slave, and you’re definitely not a baby girl like Amy, either.” He gave her a side-long glance. “Amy’s a sweet girl, but she’d drive me nuts. A Daddy Dom I am not.”

“Good, because there’s no way I’m calling you Daddy.”

“Our dynamic would be more King and Princess. You’d call me Sire.”

He was pleased when he saw her reluctant smile. “All I want is for you to let go and allow me to lead you, to help you be free to be your true self. You can depend on me, Jackie.”

Restlessly, Jackie got up and paced back and forth. “It’s not like it’s just me, Scott. I’m a mother. I have two kids to care for, and they have to be my priority. I can’t decide I’m going to just go off and do whatever I want. Plus, there’s the business…”

She stopped pacing and faced him. “I’m a whole ‘package deal’. You don’t need all that. You should be out meeting women who aren’t so tied down.”

Scott couldn’t stop the smirk as the image of a nude Jackie tied to the posts of a bed flashed through his mind. She must have realized it because she blushed bright red.

He gave in to the temptation to tease her just a little. “I’ve met my share of women, Jackie. Women who don’t mind being tied down.”

He chuckled. “I’ve done the club scene, and I’m tired of casual sex. When Blake told me he’d found someone, I must admit, I felt envious. I took a hard look at my life and I realized it was time to make a change. I had no idea I’d meet someone so quickly.”

Arms crossed, she stood ten yards away. He considered going to her, but changed his mind, allowing her space.

“I’m attracted to you, Jackie, in a way I haven’t been to anyone else. You have no idea how hard it was for me to resist you that night you came to my room. Hell, to resist you last night. You’re beautiful, Jackie, in case no one’s told you in a while. That one perfect exposed breast? I’ve had dreams about that.”

Jackie blushed, wrapping her arms more tightly around herself.

“Together we have an explosive chemistry. I know you feel it, too. I’m dying to take you to the next level.”

Arms still crossed, she shrugged. “Yeah, we have physical chemistry. Maybe it’s because it’s been a long time for me, I don’t know. And I appreciate the things you’ve done, like taking care of things when Emma was sick, and Jesus, you saved Grant’s life.”

She started pacing again. “And you washed my hair. I couldn’t believe you did that. So when you say, Now be my submissive,” she deepened her voice to imitate Scott, “it’s like I owe you.”

“You don’t owe me, Jackie. I washed your hair because it was what you needed. That’s what a Dom does.” He gazed out through the woods and exhaled sharply. “I think you’ve read too many so-called BDSM books about sadist Dominants. That’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about safe, sane, and consensual. Always.” He looked back at her. “You can depend on me, Jackie. I’ve got you.”

She walked to the edge of the clearing, her back to him. Her voice was small. “What if I depend on you, and you leave? I don’t think I could survive that. Better to be on my own and know what I’m getting.”

“Jackie, I’m not him. I’m not that guy.”

Scott couldn’t stay away from her any longer. He approached her, tentatively reaching out to touch her shoulder. “I’m this guy, right here, asking you to let me share your burden, to lighten your load, and set you free.”

She reached up to put her hand on his. Her voice was small. “I don’t know if I can do that.”

Leaning down, he kissed her hand. “Fair enough.”
Grab your copy today: books2read.com/WarriorMine

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

The Red Fever

Spoiler alert: If you haven't finished Hexborn yet, you want to wait to read this excerpt from the sequel.  Also, why haven't you read it yet?   ;-)



***


“Go back to your homes,” Shiloh ordered, her voice hoarse but resolute. 

She stood on the back of a hay wagon, wand in hand, cold wind snapping her purple headscarf behind her with a loud crack.  Northgate Castle stood behind her, dark and lurking against the pink of dawn.  Several dozen frightened villagers stood before her, attempting to flee the plague that had swept in from the north.

“We’re not going to stay here to die, my lady!” one of the men yelled.  Shiloh could hear some of them saying, “Abomination!” under their breath.

“Do as I tell you, and you won’t,” Shiloh spat back.  “Wear the protective charms I gave you.  Boil your water.  Cook all your food through.  Stay inside.  Mark your door if any of your folk take ill, and I will send medicine.  If you leave this place and grow ill, there will be no help for you.  You will die in the woods, alongside the road, in the cold.  No other village will let you through their walls.  They know you’ve been exposed to the Red Fever.  They know, because I sent word to every settlement within a hundred and fifty miles.”

Some in the mob began to look at each other, uncertain in the face of their lady’s opposition.
“I know you’re afraid,” Shiloh said more gently.  “But I assure you the gifted sisters at the monastery and I are doing all we can to protect you.  And I cannot allow you to spread this pestilence south and east.  I will not.  The safety of this kingdom depends on stopping the fever here.” 

Her wand began to glow, and the crowd, as one, took a wary step backward. 

“I survived the Red Fever as a child, a crippled and sickly child at that.  If I could, so can you.  Go home, for the Gods’ sakes.  You’ll be safer there.  I promise.”

“And if we don’t?” someone called belligerently.

“Then make yourselves comfortable here in the dirt, because you are going nowhere.”  Shiloh raised her wand and hummed, and a shimmering dome filled the sky, encasing the castle and its surrounding village, forming a glowing barrier a few dozen yards from where they stood.  A fearful murmur rustled like dead leaves.  Some of the children whimpered, which nearly broke Shiloh’s heart.

“I wouldn’t touch that if I were you,” she warned them, sheathing her wand.  “Not if you’re fond of your hands.  Now, I have more than enough work to do, between saving your neighbors and chasing off Gernish raiders.  Don’t bother me with this foolishness again, and thank the Gods I’m a patient girl.  If my husband were here, make no mistake, he’d have killed at least one of you for an example.  Go home.”

She jumped down from the cart and strode through the crowd, head high and heart pounding.  To her immense relief, they opened to make her a path.  Most of them even bowed a respectful head.
“Would that really take off a hand?” Brother Charls whispered in her ear as he fell in beside her for the walk back to the castle.

Shiloh snorted.  “Of course not.  I’m powerful, but not powerful enough to keep up something like that without paying attention to it.  Besides, one of the children might stumble into it.  It’s just a light show.”

Charls swallowed a laugh.  “What if they test it?”

“They won’t,” Shiloh asserted with far more confidence than she felt.  “They won’t.”

They didn’t.