RELEASE DAY: The Marked

The Marked

It’s time! It’s finally time! That’s right, it’s release day for The Marked!

A winding road, a freak storm, and a lightning strike. Jude Altfall’s life, just beginning to coalesce after her divorce, is shattered afresh. Dazed with grief, she’s not sure if the weird things happening around her are hallucinations…or something more. And there’s the mark on her hip—a tattoo she can’t for the life of her remember getting.

Preston Marlock left a shadowy government agency two years ago, to hunt a killer. Each time the bastard strikes the trail goes cold, and not even Marlock’s more-than-natural abilities are helping. Now the killer’s taken one of his very few friends, and there’s a surviving witness. The Altfall woman is now that most precious and fragile of targets, newly Marked. All Marlock has to do is dangle her like bait, and the killer will eventually show up.

The Skinner knows some people are different. Special. He has a collection of stretched skin and pretty pictures, each harvested with care. The trick is to take them while the victim is still struggling, still alive, otherwise their power is lost. He is careful, methodical, and precise, but chance robs him of a prize. Once he realizes Jude Altfall has what he covets, and has possibly seen his face, her fate is sealed. And just to be cautious, the Skinner might swat at the annoying fly who has buzzed along his trail for two years.

Sometimes you survive. You bear a Mark. And some things are worse than death.

Paperback available through Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and independent bookstores. Ebook edition currently available through Payhip, Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo.

Special thanks are due to my Indiegogo backers, who are the best of the best (especially the lovely and gracious Ann Aguirre) and to Skyla Dawn Cameron, who helped me bring the book baby to print. And, as always, thanks go to you, my dear Readers. I hope you enjoy it

Writing The Marked was extremely difficult, and I was very sure it wouldn’t find a home in trad publishing. I’m very glad to have the resources and the backing to bring it out this way, and I hope you like it. If this book does well, I’ll be able to write Book 2, full of secret societies, conspiracies, murder, and longing.

Now doesn’t that sound like fun. If anyone needs me, I’ll be suffering my usual release day nerves over in the corner…

Snore-plosion

Sometimes you just gotta let it all hang out.
Sometimes you just gotta let it all hang out.

As Miss B gets older, she sleeps on her back more. The funniest thing is when she snores–she rarely does so, it’s mostly Odd Trundles’s bailiwick–so loudly she wakes herself up and lunges into consciousness with a scrabble and a bark, ready to do battle. This, of course, wakes Odd Trundles, and since she is All Riled Up he, of course, must become Riled Up as well. There’s generally about five solid minutes of snapping and snarling, neither of them quite sure what’s happening but determined to make a good showing.

Once I can peel myself off the ceiling–because this is all loud, and sudden, and usually happens when I’m in the middle of an emotionally charged scene–I find it amusing. I could get all my cardio just being interrupted by the damn dogs.

I hope your Friday is as comfortable and relaxed as this. Without, of course, the sudden snore-induced explosions.

Unless you like that sort of thing.

Story Bones

Skulls 8 - photo by Augusto De Luca Story bones are strange and difficult things. Imagine a skeleton, structure for the dips and curves of the whole body, or a scaffolding to hang a three-dimensional tapestry on. Either way, there are weight-bearing supports in your stories, things that have to be strong enough to keep the whole thing from sliding into a pile.

Sometimes they’re character-driven. If you have a particular character who, say, has a volatile temper, your reader will believe them making bad choices in a fit of anger. Or it can be point-of-view based–a character who appears outwardly calm but is boiling inside, so we can believe it when they erupt. Showing either character’s internal state is a fine point of craft, not necessarily a structural choice. The structure is deeper, in whatever purpose that anger serves in the story.

Some bones are pure plot. These are tricky, because you have to make sure your characters are serving themselves and their own wants instead of said plot. A villain in an action movie has to work harder to avoid being a simple mustache-twirling device. At the same time, to sell a farfetched plot you have to do a lot of heavy lifting and scaffolding in other areas. Ideally, a plot should be inevitable, even its twists, from the very first sentence. Every beginning should carry within itself the seeds of its ending.

Notice I say ideally. It’s something to aim for, a moving target that changes shape, direction, speed, and everything else each time you begin a story.

There are other types of bones–emotional, where your character’s reactions and internal states reflect the motion and disturbance in the story. Or worldbuilding, which requires more than you’d think. Shoddy world building makes for a shaky scaffold, even if all other structural elements are in place. It also hikes the threshold of disbelief to chest-high, if not further.

About a quarter of the structural work in every story I write is what I call “excavation”. I’m not really building a narrative, I’m digging around a patch of disturbed dirt and clearing a submerged shape. Sometimes you only find a cellar down there, but other times you stumble across a palace to be dug out with shovel and toothbrush. There comes a certain point in writing–about a third of the way in, just before the long deadly slog–when I have to sit back and think about the shape that’s forming under my fingertips as I type. I’ve grown much better at seeing the whole thing earlier in the game, so to speak, but there’s still the odd book that will refuse to be seen from above. For those, it becomes a swing from one handhold to the next, with attention to how I’m shifting my weight–now there’s a rock-climbing metaphor, but it’s the closest I can come to the sensation.

Knowing where the bones are can save you a lot of time and trouble, and it helps in the other sixty percent of writing a story, which is–are you ready?

Revision.

Revision is where you see the bones and can wrench them about to make the body take the shape you want. This is not a painless process, for you or for the book/short/novella/whatever. At the same time, it’s so much easier to revise when you have the whole thing on the table and can see both its current shape and the one you want it to take. Sometimes books have a weird butterfly effect going on inside them–one thing changes, and the changes ripple out until all of a sudden the structure clicks into place with a jolt you can almost hear and certainly feel. Other times–let’s be honest, this happens a lot–you’ll be going through and looking at the underpinnings, knowing you have to solve a problem, and the solution will be in a passage you don’t even remember writing, a little gift from the Muse. She anticipates, the bitch; there’s nothing she enjoys more than leading you through the labyrinth and letting you sweat a bit thinking the bull is right behind you and there’s no exit.

I do some revision in my head while zero drafting, of course. I don’t recommend doing much, really, because you can end up grinding the same few chapters over and over instead of finishing the damn thing. This is the seductive trap of mistaking the effort of circling for the effort of writing, which I’ve covered elsewhere. For me, the majority of revision happens between zero draft and the first draft I send to my long-suffering agent. It’s rare that I have to do more than one more pass for an editor after that, but there are exceptions–I think Cormorant Run, in particular, needed more than one revision. After that it’s copyedits, and then proofing.

So how do you know where to set the bones, or where to yank them around? That is a matter of instinct and craft, and you learn as you go along. It helps to be a voracious reader, because you end up absorbing a lot about structure, what works, and what doesn’t, just by the act of reading. There is no magic secret…but if there was one, it would lie in two words: internal consistency.

Characters must be internally consistent. So must the plot, and the worldbuilding. With a story’s beginning, you make choices, and those choices narrow the range of options further and further, all the way down the line to the ending. If you break that chain, you must do it in a way that is consistent with all three: plot, character, world. A deus ex machina at the last minute is lazy storytelling, though there have been geniuses who make an apparent God-in-machine internally consistent, but those are far and few between. If your magic system is built on rocks, all of a sudden having someone use an internal combustion engine for said magic isn’t going to fly. (Wow, that is a weird sentence.) If a character is a rage-filled sociopath, their sudden, unprompted change of heart at the end is likely going to make your reader throw the book across the room.

In revision, one of the hardest questions to ask yourself is about internal consistency. You can fool yourself into thinking it’s just fine because you’re the writer, goddammit, and you are the god of this small world. Sometimes it helps to map a book’s structure out on a roll of butcher paper, or with Post-its or a whiteboard. Sometimes it helps to give it to a beta reader who can pinpoint the weak spots, though you must choose your beta readers with care. When you’re also revising for craft, getting rid of weasel words, layering in more details, and whatnot, adding one more thing to the pile to watch for and manage can be overwhelming. You may even want to break up the revision of a zero draft into two passes: a structural pass, then a detail pass for everything else. And of course the process is never going to be the same twice, each book/story is different and more than likely will demand a different strategy.

And people wonder why writers drink.

I want to say “just pay attention to the bones and everything will work out fine”, but that would be a lie. They are an important, critical component, and not the only one. But that’s (say it with me) a whole ‘nother blog post.

Over and out.

Nibble, Incubate

nibble-nibble

Who is that nibbling at my house?
Only the wind, the child of heaven.

There’s a Hansel and Gretel story I have to write before I die, but I’m not quite ready yet. Sometimes a book is there, but you know it’s not time yet. It’s waiting, gathering strength. There’s never any shortage of books standing patiently in line, waiting to be born. It’s just as important to reserve internal space to incubate for a long while, too. Just keep writing and finishing while those books simmer inside you, because everything feeds the work and the Muse.

Everything.

Adulting

what i do The Little Prince is beginning to fall into a school-morning routine, with only the usual and expected amount of teenage grumbling. The Princess, bright and shiny as a new penny, is settling into her first job.

That’s right, my baby is gainfully employed. It was a pretty painless process, since she’s fearsomely organized and cheerful. (No, I don’t know where she got that from. I am as mystified as anyone else.) I am still agog that the squalling bundle pulled out of me eighteen-ish years ago is a productive adult. For making it up as I go along, maybe I haven’t parented too badly. Of course, any credit goes to her for being a wonderful human being from the get-go. I’m just glad I didn’t mess everything up. When I was eighteen, I couldn’t wait to escape. It’s pleasant and wonderful that the Princess actively wants to stay home. To her, this is a safe place, and I am glad.

School has been such a thing for so many years now that it’s kind of weird not to be sending her off each day at the usual time. It’s also weird to be adding adult things to the relationship–things like her taking over some of her own filing and paperwork, or shifting communication protocols now that she doesn’t have to check in with me about her location as frequently. We’re both pretty conscious that these things are changing, and most days it’s easy enough to keep up. Every once in a while, though, one or both of us needs a hug and some deep breathing.

Who am I kidding? It’s mostly me. For so many years you guard your child’s every breath, and the process of easing up as they grow into an adult works against that habit something fierce. This is all new for her, taking her first steps into the world she’s hopefully pretty prepared to make some headway in. I have to remember to slow down and take things I’ve been doing for decades–balancing a checkbook, say, or knowing how to jockey a bureaucracy–and break them down into easily digestible components for her. I mean, I’ve always done that, but the process has accelerated a bit of late.

The Prince, of late, is also changing. He’s no longer the baby, being Fourteen and All Grown Up Now. Seeing his sister take on some of the trappings of adulthood means he needs to bump his nose against some boundaries just to be sure they’re still there, still cradling him. It would be frustrating if I didn’t understand how scary it is when you’re that age and things start changing rapidly. As it is, it’s damn hard to keep a straight face when he does the boundary testing.

Through it all, the writing flows, some days easier, other days harder. The book I’m working on now is taking its sweet time, and what began as a simple gift for my agent has turned into something I know I have to finish, just because. It was a method of saving my sanity between contracts, but now that I’m 30K in and there’s (still) no contract in sight, finishing is somewhat talismanic. My own version of a nervous tic. Each time life gets more complex, I turn to writing. Sometimes I think it’s to process, other times I’m pretty sure it’s an escape, and there are times I know the truth: that it’s a lifeline, and keeps me balanced when everything around me is shifting.

Now it’s time for a run, to sweat out the stress. Later it’ll be time to spin a whole world out of whole cloth, from my brain to my fingers and onto the page. Last but not least, to hug both my children, no matter how grown-up they are. “Mom hugs are the best hugs,” the Princess tells me.

“Even when you’re a legal adult?” I ask.

“Especially then,” says she. And hugs me harder.

THE MARKED Preorders!

themarked-lg That’s right, you can now preorder The Marked!

A winding road, a freak storm, and a lightning strike. Jude Altfall’s life, just beginning to coalesce after her divorce, is shattered afresh. Dazed with grief, she’s not sure if the weird things happening around her are hallucinations…or something more. And there’s the mark on her hip—a tattoo she can’t for the life of her remember getting.

Preston Marlock left a shadowy government agency two years ago, to hunt a killer. Each time the bastard strikes the trail goes cold, and not even Marlock’s more-than-natural abilities are helping. Now the killer’s taken one of his very few friends, and there’s a surviving witness. The Altfall woman is now that most precious and fragile of targets, newly Marked. All Marlock has to do is dangle her like bait, and the killer will eventually show up.

The Skinner knows some people are different. Special. He has a collection of stretched skin and pretty pictures, each harvested with care. The trick is to take them while the victim is still struggling, still alive, otherwise their power is lost. He is careful, methodical, and precise, but chance robs him of a prize. Once he realizes Jude Altfall has what he covets, and has possibly seen his face, her fate is sealed. And just to be cautious, the Skinner might swat at the annoying fly who has buzzed along his trail for two years…

Ebook editions are currently available for preorder at Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo. (Note: The paper version is coming soon!)

A great big thank you goes out to EVERYONE who contributed to the Indiegogo campaign. It would have taken a LOT longer to bring this baby to the light if not for you. I am pleased as punch to give you the book about grief and semi-sentient tattoos I’ve been talking about for so damn long. Preorders may–may–ship early, but not for at least a week.

And now I’ll be a quivering mass in the corner, as is usual at this point in the book process. I’m already hard at work on the next few stories for your delectation.

Shroom and a Slug Story

shroom

The return of the rains (however temporary, since we are currently afflicted with sunshine) prompted a return of mycelium parachutes, too. Of course, every time I see a mushroom now, I have to take a picture or two and forward it to the Selkie for one of her upcoming projects. I suspect she wishes I weren’t quite so enthusiastic, but that’s usual.

I must mention, after this morning’s constitutional Odd Trundles found out leopard slugs are not Good For Eating. Miss B investigated one on the path in the rose garden, and of course, with her nose down Odd thought she had found something snackable. Which meant he had to get in on that, because if there is anything even remotely edible to be had, his entire world narrows to getting said remotely edible thing down his gullet.

I let out a faint remonstrance, hauling on the leash, but his vorpel-jaws went snicker-snack…and he immediately spat the slug out, then tried to get the taste out of his capacious mouth by alternately barking and smacking his jowls. Loudly. Miss B, of course, seeing he’d spit something out, now became bound and determined to get her share of the snack, and lunged for the poor slug, who probably thought he’d been thrust into (a very damp, warm) hell without a Virgil.

…so, yeah, it took a little while to restore order and get both of them into the backyard. Whereupon Odd began to scuttle around and eat grass, probably to get the taste out of his mouth, and Miss B had to herd him, of course, because she had not given him permission for this activity.

*sigh*

The slug seemed relatively unfazed, but since their language is neither plant nor vertebrate, I couldn’t figure out if it was troubled or just simply overwhelmed. Either way, here, have a picture of a mushroom, and I’m just glad I didn’t have to fish a slug out of my poor, sweet, stupid bulldog’s mouth before coffee.

Or after, for that matter.