Thursday, June 21, 2018

Five-Star Review for Hexborn from Readers' Favorite

I'm thrilled to share this early, 5-star review for Hexborn, courtesy of Carol Beth Anderson from Readers' Favorite.



Hexborn: The Hexborn Chronicles Book 1 by A.M. Manay tells the riveting story of Shiloh Teethborn, a sixteen-year-old orphan. Shiloh is hexborn, accustomed to being an outcast due to the physical evidence of curses she received before birth. But not everyone rejects Shiloh. She has magical abilities, and the chief minister of the kingdom, Silas Hatch, thinks she will be of value to the king. Silas takes Shiloh from her small-town life and brings her to the capital to live in the palace, attend classes in magic, and serve the royal family. It doesn’t take long for Shiloh to attract attention, thanks to her considerable power. She must quickly learn to navigate the rocky paths of politics, relationships, and society. At every step, Silas is there to help her—but can she trust the man known as “the king’s hatchet”?

It’s been some time since I’ve found myself so intrigued by a new fantasy realm. The magical setting of Hexborn is drawn with vivid color and depth, and it’s populated by nuanced, fascinating characters. Shiloh’s vulnerability and strength join to make her immensely likeable, a character worth rooting for. Beneath the stories of intrigue and relationships, Hexborn presents deeper messages about prejudice, both societal and personal. I’m already eagerly anticipating the release of the second book of the series. When I’m lucky enough to discover an independent author with such storytelling prowess, I get a thrill out of it. This was one of those times. Discovering A.M. Manay’s writing was a delight, and I’m looking forward to reading her other novels.
Go ahead and grab that pre-order if you haven't already.  Hexborn is going places!

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Wednesday Work-In-Progress: Plotting wtih Silas


With Hexborn about to drop in a few short weeks, here is a peek at the untitled sequel currently in progress . . .





***

“I don’t know. Tunneling is inherently dangerous work,” Shiloh replied, worrying at her bottom lip. “And this would be a really long tunnel.”

“So is an attack on a superior force,” Silas pointed out. “And we don’t know how much they know about what happened at the Citadel. They could be ready for us, expecting us to show up here for Loor. Hell, they could have already moved Mosspeak, Penn, and the princess somewhere else. And I don’t think you’ll be able to catch them by surprise like you did the priests.”

She nodded. “It only worked because none of them bothered with wards inside the walls. Their arrogance was the key. But these men will be expecting me, most likely.”

“Agreed,” her husband replied.

“We need some information before we act, don’t we? Before we break everyone out and make a run for it?” Shiloh argued. “The Gernish troops need to think everything is fine for a few days at least, if we’re to have any hope of getting away clean. They might have some people inside the castle, too. We need to know how many, how often they report in.”

“Fair enough,” Silas replied. “We do need to know their patterns, how much information they have about what is going on in Fountain Bluff and in the kingdom at large.”

“We need a spy,” Shiloh concluded. Her eyes ran over the company until they landed on Jivan.

“You really think so?” Silas asked, following her gaze. “You trust him? He could walk in there and give us up in the first five minutes.”

“He’s a good boy. Kind. I saved his mother’s life. She almost died of Red Fever up at Northgate. And he’s got it pretty bad for Hana,” Shiloh countered.

“I killed his father,” Silas pointed out.

“I don’t get the impression that they were close,” Shiloh replied. Silas eyed her skeptically. “I know, it is a risk,” Shiloh acknowledged. “But he grew up in Gerne, and he wore the gray. They’ll be predisposed to trust him. He can tell them he barely got away with his life, ask them for help. Keep his ears open for a few days, then slip away. If he is willing. I feel bad about sending someone so young into danger.”

“I don’t like the idea of sending him in alone,” Silas argued. “I don’t know him enough to trust him. I do know him enough to be worried about what they’ll do to him if they make him. He’s still a boy.”

“I agree with you on the latter point,” Shiloh acknowledged. “I could use a concealment spell, go in myself, invisible.”

“No,” Hatch pushed back. “You haven’t regained much strength since your display of force last week. You’re liable to fall ill any day. And if it overtakes you while you are among those pigs . . .”

“Well, your concealment spell is rubbish, so what are we supposed to do?” Shiloh countered.

***

Don't forget to order your copy of Hexborn and to sign up for my mailing list for the latest info and sneak peaks.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Evening Excerpt: Hexborn, Chapter 4

For your enjoyment, an excerpt from Hexborn, available for pre-order on Amazon.




***

A carriage met them at the king’s private dock. As Silas exchanged words with the driver, Shiloh looked up to see the palace looming above the City, the complex completely covering the tallest hill. She could see the concentric sets of walls and the green of the enormous gardens. The irregular towers jutted up, fingers reaching for the sky. It was the law, she knew, that no building in the City could be constructed that rose higher than the shortest tower of the palace.

Silas helped her into the velvet interior of the carriage, and before she knew it, they were rattling over cobblestoned streets. Hustle and bustle closed in on all sides as soon as they departed the royal wharf. The noise was overwhelming: the clatter of wheels and horses, the cries of vendors, the angry yells of drivers trying to force their way through the traffic, the clanging of the Temples calling people to morning prayers. Shiloh could feel her chest tightening. Another buggy swiped against their own, setting it to rocking on its springs, and she could not stifle her cry of alarm.

Hatch looked up from his letter and set it aside. “Are you all right?” he asked.

“Fine,” she lied, voice cracking. She saw his eyes land upon her lap and looked down to see that she was clutching her skirts hard enough to turn her knuckles bone white. To her surprise, Hatch reached across and took her hand, carefully opened her fingers, and set them back down on her knee.

“I’d forgotten how strange it is the first time,” he said apologetically. “It seems so crowded and dangerous. When I arrived, I had not once been out of the Vine. I was convinced I would never arrive at Greenhill alive. When we travel with the whole court, they clear the street. It is much calmer that way. But I don’t rate that treatment by myself, I’m afraid.”

“Thank you,” Shiloh replied self-consciously. “It’s just so noisy. I’ve never been anywhere so crowded. Obviously.”

“Take deep breaths,” Hatch advised. “Soon we’ll arrive. I’ll hand you off to the Matron and to your maid. She will show you your room and help you get your bearings. This afternoon, you will meet with the headmaster and the armorer. Tomorrow, your studies shall begin. Simple.”

All Shiloh could do was nod and watch the palace grow ever closer.

Simple.

***

Monday, May 21, 2018

New November Snow Trailers

As you may have noticed, I recently updated the covers for my November Snow novels.  For the sake of consistency, I wanted to update my trailers to match.  Check out the spiffy new trailers for She Dies at the End, She Lights Up the Dark, and She Marches Through Fire.









Wednesday, May 16, 2018

An Action-Packed Excerpt

Today I'm sharing a peek at one of the most exciting sections of my forthcoming YA high fantasy novel, Hexborn.  Please let me know what you think!



The sky lurked dark gray above them.

“Clear weather the whole way, eh?” Shiloh asked Hatch, looking at him askance.

“In Kiven’s defense, it may not be a natural storm,” he replied, face grim.

Magenta lightning lit up the sky.

“You don't say?” Shiloh snorted, equally grim.  She pulled out her wand.  Hatch’s was already in his hand, glowing with white fire.

“They must be close, right?  Weather spells don't travel far,” Shiloh observed.

“Aye.  And they must be close enough to board before we sink, if they hope to take Lady Esta alive,” Hatch added.

Around them, sailors ran frantically, preparing the ship for the oncoming storm.  The captain emerged on deck, and Hatch waved him over.

“Call battle stations,” Hatch told him.

“Are you mad?” the captain sputtered, until the red lightening made another appearance.  He swallowed.  “Battle stations it is, sir.”

The first drops of rain splattered onto Shiloh’s face.  The swells grew higher, and the ship began to rock.  Shiloh’s stomach lurched in time with it.

“You know Kirkland’s Spell of Revelation?” Hatch asked.

“Yes, sir,” she replied.

“I'll calm the seas.  You find their vessel,” Hatch ordered.

She looked up to the crow’s nest.  She knew it would take her an age to climb up there, but it would give her the best view in all directions.  She sighed, hating to reveal one of her new tricks so soon, but there was nothing for it.

Holding her wand aloft, she bent her knees deeply and called out a spell in Estan as she leapt.  A moment later, she landed lightly in the crow’s nest.  Looking down, she saw Hatch throw back his head and laugh, then turned her attention to her task.  

She began on the starboard side, aiming her magic in a line that began just off the deck rail and extended into the distance several hundred yards.  When nothing appeared, she turned about ten degrees and repeated the process.  It was exhausting work, sustaining the magic for so long.  At least Hatch had been successful at calming the water, so her precarious perch ceased its terrifying lurching.

Luck was with her, and a small, swift vessel appeared out of thin air.  Quickly, she bound it, lest it disappear anew.  The ship shuddered as cannons began firing beneath her, now that they had a target.  

She pulled up the hood of her cloak, but her hair had already been soaked by the pelting rain.  She turned her mind to setting a ward over the ship, assuming the fire would be returned.  

The water between the dueling vessels glowed bright with the light of the curses now flying back and forth, as every sorcerer on board took aim at their attacker.  She could make out Lord Mosspeak himself throwing curses off the starboard bow, his maroon hat perched atop his head.

Remembering her riding instructor's advice, she cast the ward she had modified to dissipate energy. The ship barely rocked when her shield lit up with the impact of incoming curses and cannonballs.
Whoever was casting wards for their opposition had not been so skillful.  She watched the smaller vessel tip so far over on its side that its mast nearly touched the waves.  She felt a twinge of pity as she spotted men tumbling helplessly into the water.  The shield around the ship flickered and disappeared.  Its caster must be among the drowning, Shiloh realized. 

Those who managed to cling to wood or rope resumed their attack when the ship righted itself.  No one spared a moment’s attention to the men in the drink.  Shiloh realized she had been spotted when a volley of sickly yellow hexes traced an arc high in the sky and began to fall upon her nest.

Clingfire.  

***


I'm afraid you'll have to read the book if you want to know what happens next.  Luckily, it is now available for pre-order.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Wednesday Work-in-Progress

As I continue to await news of Hexborn's fate in the Kindle Scout competition, I thought I'd share with you an excerpt from the sequel.  I've tried to choose something without too many Hexborn spoilers.  :-)  Enjoy.




Shiloh stood at the back of the line filing into the Script Shop.  A number of the faces round her were familiar, belonging to courtiers who had, evidently, fallen out of favor, but none would meet her eyes.  They were a mix of men and women, though most of the men were elderly.  She wondered if the young ones were assigned to more physical labor.
As the others took their seats at their desks, Shiloh stood hesitantly in front of the monk overseeing the scribes.  The room was rather lovely, to her surprise.  A large hearth kept it warm.  I guess it would not do to have the ink freeze.  Floor to ceiling windows bathed it in natural light, which she supposed made sense, given the task at hand.  It was the first sunlight she’d seen since her arrival the day before.
“Pardon me, Honored Brother, but his is my first day.  My name is Shiloh Teethborn.  Where would you like me to sit?” she asked.
His dark eyes flicked upward, lingering on first her hair, then her hook.  He pushed a scrap of parchment toward her, along with a pen.
“Write something,” he ordered.  “Let me see if I need to throw you back.”
Shiloh bent to comply, writing her favorite verse from the Tarwah, from the Scroll of the Mother.  For she who has known wilderness most appreciates the warmth of the hearth.
“Good enough,” he allowed.  “I’m Rikkoh.  You will call me Master or Honored Brother, or, preferably, nothing at all because you are too busy attending to your work to disturb me.  Tell me, girl, do you know why we copy the edicts of the Patriarch by hand rather than by magic?”
She swallowed heavily.  “Because the words of his holiness are sacred?”  Saying the words nearly made her lose her breakfast.
“Indeed.  To copy them by hand is an offering to the Lords of Heaven,” he replied with grudging approval.  “Who taught you to write?”
“Edmun Courtborn,” she confessed warily.
“The old traitor’s still alive?” Rikkoh asked with surprise.
She shook her head.  “No, Master.   He died two summers back.”
The man laughed.  “Tell me, how did the arrogant bastard die?”
Shiloh gritted her teeth.  “A cancer took him.”
He continued to laugh. “Reduced to teaching a Hexborn freak in the Teeth.  I love it.”  Finally, his mirth faded, and he pointed to a desk.  “Sit there.  Copy this.”
“How many times, Honored Brother?” Shiloh asked.
“Until it gets too dark to work.”
All morning, they all bent silently over their tasks.  Shiloh got into a rhythm.  It was almost meditative, as long as she focused only on forming the letters.  If she allowed herself the read the words, to comprehend the sentences, then the rage became too great a distraction.  She breathed into each stroke of the pen, trying to make it the prayer it was supposed to be.  Several hours passed in this fashion, until her focus was shattered by a clatter just behind her.
“What is this rubbish?” Rikkoh demanded, hauling an old man bodily out of his seat, sending the stool crashing to the stone floor.  “Four errors on one page!  Are you going blind?”
“I’m sorry, Master,” the man protested.  “I’ll do better.”
With a gasp, Shiloh realized that she recognized him from court.  It was a minor nobleman named Dann, whose sole reason for noteworthiness came from having been the father of the executed queen, Zina.  Esta sent him here for spite, she realized.
“You’d better,” Rikkoh growled, then dropped the man to the floor, giving him a swift kick for good measure before stalking back to his own desk.  “What are you looking at?” he spat at the scribes, whose necks quickly swiveled back toward their desks. 
I should help him up, Shiloh told herself.  I should help him up.  She listened to him struggle behind her, grunting as he pulled himself painfully to his feet and straightened out his stool.  At last, she heard his pen resume its scratching.  Shame made her cheeks bloom pink.
I should have helped him up.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Before and After: Grief and the Act of Writing



I’ve written a lot of characters with dead parents. I think many of us do. We have to get them out of the way, after all, so we can expose their kids to mortal peril. I thought I could imagine my characters’ pain fairly well. I’m an empathetic person. I consume a lot of media that explores grief. As it turns out, I didn’t really have a clue.

My father died of a sudden heart attack in October, 2017, at the end of a family vacation. I had just seen him that morning, then had headed to the airport to come back to California. When I landed, I found out in the baggage claim that he had died while I was in the air, barely an hour after I had taken off. He’d collapsed at the hotel, just before my parents were supposed to leave for the airport themselves.

A few months later, when the shock finally wore off enough for me to start working again, I realized that I should probably rework a few scenes in Hexborn in which Shiloh, my main character, talks about the death of her father. Such grief was no longer theoretical to me.

Take a look at this scene from Hexborn and compare the “before loss” version to the “after loss” version. To me, the second one feels more true. Of course, I’d much rather not be in a position to know that.

***

Before:

Shiloh knelt next to Esta in front of the shrine to the Mother in the Temple. She was utterly alone, no ladies-in-waiting to accompany her in her sorrow. Her nose and cheeks glowed bright red from crying, but her eyes were now dry.

“I thought I might find you here,” Shiloh said softly. “I am so sorry for your grief.”

Esta looked at her in surprise. “No one else is,” she declared, her bitterness escaping like steam from a kettle.

“I know. Her death makes things easier for everyone else, and no one will show any regret over her passing for fear of being thought a traitor. But I know what it is to lose a parent, and I am sorry you have to carry this alone, my lady.”

“They poisoned her. I feel it in my bones. The queen’s people, or Hatch’s minions. Only the Gods know who. No one will ever admit it, nor will anyone ever face justice for the act, at least not in this life. I will never be able to speak of it to anyone who matters, not so long as that woman is queen. But I will not forget. I will never forget,” Esta swore.

“When my father was murdered, I lashed out at those who had taken him from me. But it didn’t make me feel any better. It made me feel worse. The only thing that helped at all was time. And prayer.” Shiloh glanced around. “I need to get back before I am missed. I’ll pray for you, my lady.” She rose to leave.

“My priests tell me you are in here twice a day,” Esta told her, halting her departure. “That you are a faithful woman.”

“Yes, my lady, I try to be,” Shiloh confirmed. “I was raised that way.”

Esta nodded. “So was I. But it is no longer in fashion.” She turned her attention back to her prayer beads, and Shiloh took that as a dismissal.



After:

Shiloh knelt next to Esta in front of the shrine to the Mother in the Temple. The king’s daughter was utterly alone, no ladies-in-waiting to accompany her in her sorrow. Her nose and cheeks glowed bright red from crying, but her eyes were now dry.

“I thought I might find you here,” Shiloh said softly. “I am so sorry for your grief.”

Esta looked at her in surprise. “No one else is,” she declared, her bitterness escaping like steam from a kettle.

“I know. Her death makes things easier for everyone else, and no one will show any regret over her passing for fear of being thought a traitor. But I know what it is to lose a parent, and I am sorry you have to carry this alone, my lady.”

“They poisoned her. I feel it in my bones. The queen’s people, or Hatch’s minions. Only the Gods know who. No one will ever admit it, nor will anyone ever face justice for the act, at least not in this life. I will never be able to speak of it to anyone who matters, not so long as that woman is queen. But I will not forget. I will never forget,” Esta swore.

“When my father was murdered, I lashed out at those who had taken him from me. But it didn’t make me feel any better. It made me feel worse,” Shiloh sighed. “I’m not going to lie and tell you that the pain of missing them goes away. You just get used to it, and it dulls to an ache. It’s as though the Gods didn’t make us to suffer entirely without respite. It does help to talk about them.”

Esta snorted. “With whom? I trust no one, not even my confessor.”

“Even if only to the Gods, then,” Shiloh suggested gently. “Everyone says that time helps. And it does, in a way. But I resent it passing. It’s like a river that carries me further and further away from my Da. And to me, it’s like it just happened, but the water just keeps on flowing,” Shiloh concluded, then glanced over her shoulder toward the door. “I need to get back before I am missed. I’ll pray for you, my lady.” She rose to leave.

“My priests tell me you are in here twice a day,” Esta told her, halting her departure. “They say that you are a faithful woman, Unclean or not.”

“Yes, my lady, I try to be,” Shiloh confirmed. “I was raised that way.”

Esta nodded. “So was I. But it is no longer in fashion.” She turned her attention back to her prayer beads, and Shiloh took that as a dismissal.

***

They say that art is therapeutic, and I think that is true. What pain have you poured into your own art? What art has touched you in your damaged places?

You can read more about Shiloh and her trials and tribulations over on my Kindle Scout nomination page. Many thanks, and happy reading.