Night Wars Collection Out Tomorrow!

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That’s right! The new book will be out at some point tomorrow. You’ll be able to find it on my Amazon page, or Missouri’s. Want more? Here’s a little snippet from one of my stories, In Defense of Mushrooms. This was originally released as a novella, and it’s something of Izzy’s origin story. Izzy is one of my favorite characters in THE SPIDER’S WEB, and this story was so much fun to write.

Don’t forget to check it out tomorrow, in ebook and paperback!

For more information on the collection, you can find my Q&A here.

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Night Wars Collection Cover Reveal!

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This probably won’t come as a total surprise, since Missouri shared it on twitter earlier this week, but we have a cover!nightwarscollectionsmallThe collection will be out next Tuesday, March 28, and includes 13 short stories, including 3 by yours truly. For all the info on the collection, check the Q&A, and as always, you can find all my upcoming releases here.

Dru Faust and the Devil’s Due, part 20

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dru-coverThe police station where my mother worked wasn’t large. Only about a dozen officers worked there, plus one detective. Mother was one of only three policewomen in the entire department, and thus the only woman working at that station other than the secretary.

Mrs. Hughes greeted me with a smile when she saw me enter. A matronly woman with steel grey hair and spectacles that hung from a chain, she looked more like a librarian than the type of person one would find in a police station.

“Druscilla! Hello, dear. If you’re looking for your mother, I’m afraid she’s out on patrol right now,” she said, peering at me over the spectacles.

“I’m actually doing a little research, and I thought you might be able to help me. Do you mind if I take a look at the map?” I asked, pointing to a giant map of the city pinned to the wall.

“Certainly, dear. Go right ahead.” She raised a section of the counter dividing the public waiting area from the desks beyond and allowed me to pass.

The map showed the entire city and the outlying areas, all parceled up to show ownership of the individual lots. Here and there a name had been crossed out or erased, and another penciled in when a major tract of land was bought and sold. I traced a finger along the river, tracking High Street north until I was at the outskirts of town. A little further north, and I found the turn off for George’s picnic spot. Right below it was a large, lopsided rectangle with the name Thibault scrawled neatly in the middle.

I was about to move away when the sound of a raised voice from Detective Reiss’s office caught my attention. At first, I was going to back away, to offer some small measure of privacy that the thin walls of the station did not afford, but something in his tone made me stop. Instead, I crept a little closer to his office door, which was cracked open just a few inches, under the pretext of examining the western edge of the map.

“Do you have any idea how hard French is breathing down my neck right now?” the detective snapped. From the pause, I could only assume he was on the telephone. “No, I don’t care. Just find it. Do you have any idea what kind of hell there will be if word gets out that much industrial alcohol is missing? The Chief and the Mayor and the goddamn Governor have been bragging about how we’ve shut down the bootlegging industry in Columbus for months, and now over a thousand gallons has gone missing in a single night? I don’t care what you have to do, just bring them in…Well do something about it, then! I can’t cover for you…No. Absolutely not.”

“Did you find what you needed?”

“Oh!” I jumped, nearly dropping my handbag.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you,” Mrs. Hughes laughed. When Detective Reiss’s voice raised once again, she reached over and gently pulled the office door shut. “There, now. I’m afraid the Detective has a bit of a temper. He’s been under a lot of stress.”

“I can imagine, with the push to enforce the Volstead act. I know a lot of people have been very eager to see it enforced.” To read the local papers, you would think Columbus was the last bastion of moral behavior between New York and Chicago. It was all bunk, of course. We had our share of crime, and people still drank and listened to Jazz, it simply wasn’t on the scale of those larger cities. Columbus was an industrial town, staunchly protestant. And of course, Ohio was the home of the Anti Saloon League. It simply wouldn’t do for us to port forth anything but the purest, most virtuous front to the world.

“Yes, well. I can tell you there have been a lot of long hours put in the last two years, and we aren’t done yet. Now, is there anything else you need?”

“May I see the log book?”

Surprised, Mrs. Hughes blinked at me several times, but she stepped aside so I could view the heavy ledger spread open on the counter where all the arrests were recorded. “What exactly are you researching?” she asked, leaning on the counter next to me as I searched the pages for the entries from Friday night.

“I’m looking into something for a friend. He thought a friend of his might have run into trouble, and I just wanted to verify.” Each entry included the culprit’s name, age, address, time of arrest, offense, and the arresting officer. I skipped down to the bottom of the page and began with anyone brought in after ten o’clock.

There was a ten-year-old boy brought in for theft at 10:45, two students from the University for being a public nuisance–whatever that meant–at 11:20 and two other men for brawling thirty minutes later.

Nothing else was listed until the early hours of Saturday morning, when Officer O’Neil brought in two men and a woman just before three o’clock. Their crime was listed simply as “intoxication.” None of them was Howard White.

“Did you find what you were looking for?” Mrs. Hughes asked, noting the crease between my brows.

“I’m not sure. These people here, they were all picked up from the party on Fifth, weren’t they?”

The secretary balanced her cheaters on her nose to examine the entries. “I don’t know, sweetheart. This was in the middle of the night. I’m long gone by then.” She gave a little laugh and let the spectacles drop down to her chest again.

I nodded. Of course. At the time of the arrests, it would be another six hours before Mrs. Hughes came in to work. With a finger, I traced each line to its conclusion. “O’Neil…he was the arresting officer?”

“Yes. He’s recently been moved to the night shift, since one of the boys is out with a broken leg. Cecil Danvers fell off a ladder two weeks ago. Poor dear. He won’t be able to work his beat for another month yet. Detective Reiss has him doing paperwork for the the Prohibition Enforcement task force.”

From the way Archie and Alex described the party, it seemed quite a few people were present. So why were there only three arrests? Why weren’t the hosts arrested, too?

“Was Officer O’Neil working with anyone last night? A partner?”

“Well, I’d have to check.” Slowly, Mrs. Hughes went to the sheet pinned to a cork board. It listed all of the assignments for every officer on duty. “He worked from midnight until eight o’clock in the morning, down by the University. He would have been by himself, but Mike Connors was just a few blocks away. He had the beat between North Star and Hector.”

Once again, something wasn’t adding up. I thanked Mrs. Hughes, but before I could ask another question a very angry man in handcuffs burst through the door like a wild stallion with two officers in tow–one of them was my mother.

“I’m tellin’ ya, I didn’t do nuthin!” he shouted as two more officers who had been working at desks behind the counter surged forward to assist the arresting officers.

“Save it, Higgins!” snapped one of them, cracking the prisoner’s knee with his club. With a wild roar, the man sank to one knee. Three of the officers finally succeeded in hauling the him away to the cells in the back of the building, where he continued to shout and hurl abuses at anyone who happened to catch his eye.

“Druscilla, what are you doing here?” mother asked. Her cap was askew after the struggle, hair curling loose from its pins.

“I was just in the neighborhood and thought I would say hello. I was just having a lovely chat with Mrs. Hughes.” The secretary in question was busy with intake paperwork, and couldn’t contradict me.

“Well, it’s nice to see you. I’m sorry about all of that.”

“What happened?”

“Never you worry about it,” she said, giving me a quick hug and using it to steer me toward the door.

“No, really? What happened?”

Mother sighed. “I caught him trying to force himself on a shop girl.”

“Oh, no!”

Another sigh. “The worst of it is, the girl ran off. She’ll never give a statement, now, so he’ll probably be free in the morning, off to terrorize another girl.”

“But that’s horrible! You saw him. Doesn’t that count for anything?”

“It depends on the judge. But without another witness or the victim, it likely won’t hold up in court. It’s unfortunate, but for Bruce Higgins that cell door might as well be a revolving door. Usually people are too terrified to say anything against him. I think I’ve arrested him more than anyone else. Theft, assault…but we don’t have time to track down his victims for statements, not if they don’t want to be found, and without them the charges don’t stick.”

“Can’t anyone do something?”

Mother just laughed. “Unless you can convince the city council to approve the sixty officers Chief French wants to hire, I’m afraid there’s nothing anyone can do.”

Another officer, on his way to do his rounds, pushed past us. I side stepped, trying not to block the door. Mother was clearly trying to see me on my way. A wave of guilt for interrupting her work–and for doing so on false pretenses–washed over me.

“Mother, if you were to arrest someone, what kind of evidence would you need to make the charges stick?”

Surprised, she took a half step back. “Well, it would depend on the crime. But in general, you need irrefutable proof that the suspect was at the crime scene and committed the act.”

“Like what?”

“Like a witness, preferably more than one. Or something of theirs left behind at the crime scene, something that has no business being there otherwise.”

I wondered if the clues we had so far could be considered evidence. Would it be enough for the police to pick up the investigation?

“Honey, what is this about?”

Startled from my thoughts, I looked up, pasting on a smile. “It’s nothing, Mother. I’ll see you at dinner.” I hurried to the street car stop at the corner before she could ask any more questions.

 

Writing Under the Influence: Mental Health Mondays

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I am not a doctor.

I’m not a shrink. I took a couple of psychology courses in college and I’ve read a lot of self-help, but the only thing I have a degree to treat is artwork, not people.

But I do have anxiety and depression.

Does that surprise you? Anymore, it seems like everyone I meet has one of these disorders.

There’s been a lot of talk lately about mental health. A lot of people have been struggling to keep their heads above water. The current international political climate means a lot of lives are about to change very drastically over the next few years, and most of them won’t be for the better. The new American Healthcare Act will strip coverage for millions of Americans dealing with anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, addiction, schizophrenia, and a host of other disorders.

Most of the authors I know are struggling; things feel hopeless, and it’s affecting their productivity. And when our productivity suffers, our paychecks tend to go down. And when our paychecks go down, things start to feel pretty hopeless. And when things feel hopeless…well, you get the picture.

I want to create a resource for writers and other creative people. Since many will soon struggle to afford care, or be forced to find alternative treatments, I want to look at things we can do to stay productive and creative, even when our personal dementors come knocking.

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So, starting in April, the first Monday of every month will be dedicated to mental health. Some posts will be written by me, but there will be guest posts, as well. If there’s a good response, I might increase the frequency to every other Monday, but we’ll see.

If you would like to contribute, you can find directions for submitting here.

 

 

Reading Slump

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You may have noticed I haven’t been reading much the past few weeks. I”m in a bit of a slump-having trouble getting into any of the books I”m reading, or seeing them through. It’s not that I”m not enjoying them. The written word as written by other people just hasn’t been holding my attention.

I’m not sure what the psychology behind it is, but I know when my mental state starts to decline, I either devour books, or ignore them completely. In the fall, I couldn’t stop reading. Now, I can’t seem to start.

Tips for Overcoming a Reading Slump

Read at specific times.

Whether it’s your morning commute or right before bed, pick a time and dedicate 10-15 minutes to reading. I’m trying to read for 20 minutes or so on my lunch break at work.

Find something gripping you can’t put down.

I picked up THE HATE YOU GIVE the weekend it came out, and managed to read it in three days. I couldn’t put it down. That helped a lot with the slump–a good book coma usually leaves me energized to move on to the next book.

Reread an old favorite

I haven’t tried this one yet. I am re-reading HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS, though it’s not my favorite book in the series. I’m thinking about picking up one the books I really loved as a kid, SPYING ON MISS MULLER by Eve Bunting. I haven’t read it since middle school, but it was one of my favorites and really informed a lot of my writing.


Slightly off topic, but please make sure to stick around! I have a big announcement coming on Monday!

Dru Faust and the Devil’s Due, part 19

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Monday, July 17, 1922

“Why do I let you talk me into these things?” George asked, cutting the engine on his Ford. The car coasted slowly to a stop on the tree lined road.

The three days since our last adventure in the woods allowed the ground to dry out. Mud puddles no longer created hazards on the roadway, and someone had removed the downed limbs.

“Because you’re a gentleman who won’t let a lady do dangerous things alone.”

“That’s not exactly what I meant. I was trying to talk you out of this.”

I opened the door and leaped lightly onto the gravel. “Are you coming or not?”

I paused at the edge of the trees, listening closely. I could just see the barn through the branches.

This time I’d come prepared, choosing sturdy shoes, trousers, and a work shirt. In my bag, I carried the folding camera Daddy used to record his experiments.

As noiselessly as possible, we approached the structure. At first, it looked just as it had on our last visit–ramshackle, like another good strong wind would bring it tumbling down.

“I still don’t understand why you think this place is connected to what happened to Archie.”

“It’s just a hunch.”

“You know there are lots of people with stills around here, right? And more bringing booze in from Canada. They might be completely unconnected.”

“I don’t believe in coincidence.”

George heaved a massive sigh, which I ignored. We were just at the edge of the clearing around the barn. Now that I took a chance to study it, I could see the incongruities: the thick underbrush stopping suddenly about ten feet from the barn. The fresh tire tracks on the overgrown drive.

It all contrasted sharply with the signs of neglect. Storm debris still littered the ground, and the fallen branch on the half-collapsed roof hadn’t been removed.

“George, wait!” I grabbed the back of his shirt just in time. There, stretched along the ground and nearly hidden by tall grass, was a thin wire. It stretched all the way around the edge of the clearing. I followed the line with my eyes to a tree branch where a bundle of empty cans dangled.

That explains the awful noise during the storm! I thought.

“Is that some kind of trap?” George whispered, leaning in close.

A fearful chill ran down my spine. “An alarm. Yes, I think it is. And it’s meant for us.”

“Dru, we have to get out of here. What do you think is going to happen if we set one of those off?”

“The men we ran into last week will try to use us for target practice again.”

“Exactly. Now come on–“

George reached for my arm, but I was already stepping over the tripwire.

“Dru!”

“Shh!” I waved him off, tiptoeing over the thick grass toward the barn. Something was caught on the tall weeds. I wanted to see what it was.

Not so much as a leaf stirred as I closed the distance. Though there was no immediate threat of danger, my heart hammered even faster, harder even than when I hid in Mr. White’s office.

The thing which caught my eye was a scrap of paper. I plucked it free, smoothing it out for a better look. The paper was pale yellow, with dark blue ink. Though it was torn and water damaged, I recognized it immediately as the bottom half of a Hudson Castle Whiskey label.

As if the label would point me in the right direction, I looked around quickly, half expecting the still to magically appear. Nothing changed, however. In the distance, I could just make out the sound of the river.

The river! Of course! I stashed the paper in my pocket and peered around the corner of the barn. The only person in sight was George, half hidden by the bushes. He waved frantically for me to come back, but I shook my head, pointing toward the water.

Without waiting for George to follow, I jogged down to the water’s edge. More tracks cut into the soft earth. Footprints, and the wheels of a cart. There wasn’t a dock, just a soft, muddy bank with a relatively steep drop into the water, but there were many overhanging branches, and a small pool sheltered by a downed tree and several boulders–the perfect place for a small craft to pull up and unload its cargo to a waiting crew.

I bent down for a closer look at the tracks. I could discern at least two, maybe three, different sizes of boots overlapping each other and criss-crossed by the cart wheels. Then, under one of the bushes, the glitter of broken glass caught my eye. Pulling one of the shards free, I held the bottom of an oblong bottle. Part of a yellow label was still attached.

“Dru! We need to go.” George finally caught up. He didn’t dare speak above a whisper as he reached for my arm, hauling me back toward the car. I held a finger to my lips to silence him, and raised the bit of glass so he could see, pointing to the tracks leading from the water’s edge.

George closed his eyes. I wasn’t sure if he was in awe at my deductive skills, or just exasperated. Judging from the way he grabbed my upper arm and physically dragged me away from the water and back in the direction of the road, I had to assume it was the latter.

I had enough, I thought, so I followed him willingly back to the edge of the clearing, carefully avoiding more tripwires along the way. We were just crossing into the woods when the rumble of an engine caught my attention.

“Wait, just a minute.” Crouching behind a tree, I watched as a blue car rumbled down the overgrown lane. Instead of parking in front of the barn, the driver jumped out, looked around, and pulled open one of the rusted barn doors, hiding the car inside.

“Dru, we should go while he’s inside,” George whispered, once again tugging on my arm.

“Wait. I want to see when he comes out, and if he brings anything with him.”

“We already know there’s nothing in the barn.”

“Then what is he doing there in the first place?”

George pressed his lips into a thin line, but he didn’t have an answer.

We waited for what felt like an eternity. My watch said it was only about ten minutes, though, before the door opened once again. A few moments later, the engine started and the blue car rumbled out, pausing just long enough for the driver to close the door again before speeding off down the lane. Remembering my camera. I quickly pulled it out and snapped several pictures of the car and driver. In the back seat, several boxes or crates were stacked.

“Satisfied?” George asked. He hadn’t let go of my arm since the car pulled up.

“Yes. Let’s go home.”

We waited for the sound of the engine to fade into the distance before leaving our hiding place and hurrying back to George’s Model T.

Still wary after our last trip, I kept an eye out while he turned the crank. For once, the old car didn’t seem to object too much and we were off and running in a jiffy.

“Now what?” George asked after we’d driven in silence for several minutes. I pulled the piece of glass from my handbag, and the crumpled label. Though both were weathered and dirty, I thought the papers were a match. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the contents of the broken bottle to test against our other samples.

Replacing the items in my bag, I stashed set it aside. “Why don’t we go say hello to Archie? I’m sure he could use a friendly face or two.”

The patient was sitting up in bed when we arrived, looking cheerful and much more lively than we’d left him the day before. Alexandra, unsurprisingly, was already there and we caught them in the middle of a game of cards.

“You’re just in time. I was about to clean her out,” Archie grinned, scooping up a handful of peppermint candies and coins scattered on the coverlet.

Alexandra made a face, but was obviously not put out by the loss, if it meant her brother was feeling better. “I’ve been letting you win. As soon as you get home though, I’ll beat the pants off you!”

He only laughed. “I’d like to see you try!”

Archie dealt George and I into the next hand, and we passed a cheerful afternoon playing poker and rummy. Unsurprisingly, the invalid was the clear winner, the mound of spoils on his night stand soon growing to include three dollars in pennies, nickels, and dimes, several foil-wrapped candies of various flavors, two hairpins and a button.

“So where have you two been?” Archie asked, dealing out the cards for our next hand of rummy.

“Oh, nowhere,” George replied, too quickly.

If he was trying to avoid detection, he’d gone about it in exactly the wrong way. Archie’s eyes lit with mischief. “Oh, come on. I’ve been cooped up here for days! What’s been going on? What have I missed?”

“George has just been very kind in escorting me while I investigate the people responsible for your hospital stay,” I said, deftly laying out a four card run of diamonds and discarding.

“Really?”

“Oh, don’t encourage her!” George groaned.

I tucked a lock of hair behind my ear. “He was very gallant. But there weren’t any bootleggers around to worry about.”

“No. Not until they drove up and nearly found us in their backyard!” he shot back.

“Oh, you have to tell us everything!” Alexandra abandoned her cards completely in pursuit of the story.

In order to tell them about our search of the barn, I had to tell them about the day we discovered it in the first place. Though I kept my voice down and tried not to draw any attention from the nursing staff as they puttered around the ward tending to the other patients, Alex let out a gasp when I got to the part about Elizabeth, George, and I being used as targets. The nurse two beds away looked up, shooting us a glare as she tucked the sheet around the empty mattress with military precision.

“Are you two crazy? You could have been killed!” Archie hissed when I was finished. But he looked thrilled.

“That’s what I’ve been telling her!”

“George, you worry too much.” I picked up the two of clubs he’d just discarded, adding it to the pair of twos already in my hand. Fanning them out on the bed, I discarded my last card. “You’re starting to sound like Elizabeth.”

As we tallied up points, Archie demanded more details on our findings. He’d already heard about the previous day’s adventure from his sister, but was eager to find out more.

When George, Alexandra and I were done with the tale, Archie shook his head. We were done playing, but he still shuffled the cards thoughtfully, an old habit. “Wow. If you keep this up, Dru, the police will have to turn the case over to you completely. Maybe Chief French will deputize you.”

“Don’t tease,” I said, nudging him gently.

“No, really. I think the cops were more interested in busting up the party than in catching the bootleggers who made me sick.”

My brow furrowed. “The cops showed up at the party?”

“Yeah. That’s why Officer O’Neil was here the other day. Some neighbor called the pigs on us. I only just got to my car in time. I thought for sure they were going to arrest me, but I managed to get away.”

“So then O’Neil was here to question you about the party, not the liquor?”

Archie nodded. “He said he thought I’d been punished enough, so he wouldn’t take me in. I think he thought I was just a kid.” He grinned wickedly. Where his sister had a sleek, mature look that could make her seem years older, Archie still had a baby face and was frequently mistaken for someone in high school, even though he would be starting his second year of college in the fall.

“You haven’t heard of anyone else from the party getting sick, have you?”

“That officer said two other people were taken to the hospital, but I don’t know who. To be honest, I didn’t know many people there. I heard about the party from a friend of a friend; we were sort of crashing when we showed up.”

“What about Mr. White? Did the officer say anything about him?”

“Like what?”

“Was he arrested?” Howard White was probably the one who bought the liquor in the first place. He would know where it came from, or at least he would know someone who would.

“He didn’t say.”

I pondered that for several moments. Mrs. White certainly hadn’t acted as if her husband had just been hauled off by the police. In fact, I suspected she would have been arrested as well, if that were the case. “And he didn’t say anything about taking you in? Not even for formal questioning?”

Archie shook his head. “No. He said he was just here as a favor to your ma. Why? Are thinking of telling him to arrest me?”

“What are you thinking, Dru?” Alexandra asked. Her eyes bounced from her brother to me and back like she was watching a tennis match.

“Just that something doesn’t add up. George, are you going straight home after this?”

A little caught off guard at suddenly being addressed, George nodded.

“Would you mind dropping me off at the police station on the way?

Tips for Transitioning from Short to Long Fiction

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I recently got into a discussion on Twitter about transitioning from short fiction to writing novels. The person I was talking to had difficulties, because by the time they wrote a one page synopsis, they basically had the entire story on one page, from beginning to end. They’d become so used to writing short stories and articles, that writing anything longer was impossible.

I remember struggling with this myself; years of writing short stories for school and 4-H made it hard for me to do what I really wanted, which was write novels. Even now, I usually have a shorter first draft (40-60,000 words) which is then expanded in revisions.

If you’d like to make the jump but keep find your manuscripts end up short, here are a few tips.

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Characters

Look at your main characters, supporting cast, and antagonist. Do they all have their own set of strengths, weaknesses, and motivations? Or is your main character’s best friend falling flat on the page? Supporting cast members should be there to, well, support the protagonist, but they shouldn’t exist solely to follow their whims. They need to have something to contribute to the plot itself.

I know, I know. I just said we were going to add to the manuscript, not take away. If, for example, your main character uses their sister as a sounding board, while their best friend usually only shows up to make some kind of funny one liner, then maybe you’re better off combining the two of them. Now that your new character has the attributes of both a compassionate listener and a sense of humor, maybe you can look at them a little more closely. What are their personal goals? How do they align with the protagonist’s goals? What kind of tension exists between them (no matter how much we love someone, there is always that one thing that causes tension).

On the flip side, look at your antagonist. Why are they opposed to the protagonist achieving their goal? Conversely, why is the protagonist bent on stopping them? When you treat your characters like people and not cardboard cutouts, you end up with richer dialogue and characters that are easier for the reader to connect to. Not to mention a longer story.

Plot & Subplot

You, as the author, are now the embodiment of Murphy’s Law. If your story is wrapping up on page five when you were hoping for fifty, then clearly things were too easy for your protagonist.

There need to be challenges. A story about someone who goes to the grocery store to buy milk, finds it exactly where it’s supposed to be, pays, and leaves isn’t very interesting. But if our shopper misses their bus and has to walk only to get mugged on the way, then it becomes interesting. One thing that has always frustrated me with urban fantasy, though it’s my favorite genre, is that the main characters tend to spend more time fighting evil than they do at their invariably boring day jobs, and yet still always manage to not only pay the mortgage on their large homes in big cities, but they can afford to fix their car for the third time in six months after a troll sat on it, or to replace the window and the carpet after elves shot flaming arrows into the living room.

The point is, while the protagonist is saving the world (or whatever it is they do in your story, whether it’s finding a lover, getting the job of their dreams, or catching a serial killer), real life is happening around them. Their neighbors are going to complain about the loud, strange noises coming from their apartment in the middle of the night, and the landlord will make a visit. They’ll argue with their spouse or significant other about the placement of the toilet seat, and the cat will barf in their dress shoes five minutes before they have to go to a meeting. They might trip on the stairs and sprain an ankle, and show up to the final boss battle on crutches.

Life happens. Don’t forget it.

How does your character respond to this? Are they angry? Do they throw something? Curl up in a ball and cry?

What kind of tall tale do they feed the landlord to hide the dragon hatchling curled up in the fire place? Is the toilet seat issue a symptom of a larger problem in their romantic relationship? Do they have to pick a new outfit to match their only other good pair of heels, and wind up ten minutes late–just in time to witness a bank robbery?

Structure, Voice, and Other Sundry Details

In most fantasy novels, you’ll find there is a particular structure. Usually the hero has to face the villain three times before they can win. At the first encounter, they may or may not realize who the bad guy is. At the second encounter, they invariably get their ass handed to them, and have to regroup before facing them a third time, and ultimately saving the day.

This comes from the three act structure. If you’re having difficulties expanding your story out, then take a look at this. A hero who save the day the first time out of the gate isn’t very believable, and readers will have a hard time connecting with them.

Let’s face it; we all have our weaknesses. When a hero has weaknesses, it helps the reader to relate to them. Everybody likes an underdog.

When the deck is stacked against the main character, it makes the story more interesting. Take a close look at your hero and the story, and decide where the main conflict is. Is it internal, or external? Can you add a secondary conflict?

Take our businesswoman for example. While running late to work, she witnesses a bank robbery. The robbers know she’s seen them and can identify them, therefore, she has to be eliminated: external conflict, classic man v. man (or character v. character).

But, when she finally gets home, instead of sympathy from her longtime partner, they get into an argument about that damn toilet seat. Again. For the third time this week. Is it really about the toilet seat, though? Or is it about his lack of understanding, or the fact that she’s not home to make dinner? Either way, she’s got some soul searching to do, to decide if this is a relationship she wants to save or one she wants to end. It’s an internal clash that might distract her from the fact that she’s in mortal peril at exactly the wrong moment, giving our antagonist an in for that first major conflict.

That brings me to my next point: stakes. If your protagonist isn’t risking everything–or at least something of great value to them–on that final struggle, then is it really a story worth telling? Remember, going to the store getting milk isn’t very interesting. Going to the store and getting mugged is.

Lastly, look at your voice. We’ve all heard “show, don’t tell” in writing classes, online forums, and in textbooks. Don’t just tell us the room was bright or the noise was loud. Make us feel the sunlight searing through our eyelids as the curtains are drawn back, or the rapid thump of the car’s bass as it pounds through the main character’s chest. You’re not just adding words–you’re adding to the experience.

I hope this has been helpful for you. If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment below, or you can ask on Twitter. There’s a link in the sidebar, or you can find me as @knotmagick.

 

 

The Night Wars Collection–March 28!

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That’s right, the Collection is coming back!

Ash is hard at work on the cover as we speak, and the final edits are done, and the book will be out on Tuesday, March 28, 2017. Mark your calenders!

As always, a new book means it’s time for some Q&A! If you want to see the original Q&A post I did for the first release, you can click here.

Wait, what do you mean, “first release?” Is the book already out? I thought this was new!

Not new, exactly. The Night Wars Collection was first published last fall, by Torquere. However, Torque changed a lot of our vision for this collection, and didn’t follow through on a lot of other things. Now that Torquere is closed and Missouri and I are self-publishing the collection, there have been several changes made to bring this book back to our original vision.

What kind of changes?

Mostly, this has involved changes in tone and wording. Most publishers have very specific “house styles.” This style doesn’t always match up with the way an author writes. Missouri and I have decided to use the original text, before these stylistic changes.

In addition, IN DEFENSE OF MUSHROOMS, the novella that came out last year around this same time, is now back in the collection, where it was originally supposed to be. Torquere had us remove it, because for some reason teenagers having sex is inappropriate for an adult audience, but a-ok for a YA audience, in their view. I don’t pretend to understand it and we had a very long discussion about it, but go figure.

At any rate, the collection now contains three stories by me (instead of two), and ten by Missouri.

What are the other two stories?

THE TEN OF CUPS is a short story featuring Adam and a new character who will become important later on in Evie’s series, and in L’ILE DES SOEURS, we’ll flash forward about eight years and see Evie and Micha after they’ve taken their positions with The Night Patrol, Canada’s paranormal police force.

What formats will be available?

One of the things Torquere never followed up on was producing the paperback edition of the book. Since we now have total control over the process, I swear on all things yarny that there will be a paperback edition, as well as an ebook. No lie. Hand to god.

Can I pre-order through Amazon?
Right now, it doesn’t look like it will be up for preorder, but if that changes I’ll let you know.

Will The Night Wars Collection be available in brick & mortar stores?
Unless you have a really, really amazing indie book store near you, probably not. While you will be able to order the book through the Amazon and Barnes and Noble websites, physical copies will not be available in store. You can save yourself the hassle by just getting it straight from Amazon.

What about that cover art?

I can’t give you a preview just yet, but I should have it soon. You guys will be the first to know once I get it. We can’t use the original cover, because it belonged to Torquere.

Have a question I didn’t address here? Leave a comment below and I’ll be happy to answer it!

Dru Faust and the Devil’s Due, part 18

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dru-cover

We walked back to the corner to catch the next streetcar, but I had a sudden idea, remembering how well stocked the liquor cabinet had been. “The party was on Friday night, wasn’t it?”

Alexandra came to a halt beside me. “Yes. Why?”

“Because it’s Sunday. No one will have collected last week’s garbage yet.”

“Do you really want to go searching through some stranger’s trash?”

“I couldn’t take the bottle in the house. They would have noticed. But if there were as many people at the party as you say, there should be at least a few empty bottles, right?”

Exchanging a look, we both veered away from the sidewalk, following a rutted path to the alley between the two rows of houses.

A low fence encircled the yard of the green and purple house. More lilac bushes bordered both the yard and the house, where the porch wrapped all the way around. Near the back door, two bins waited to be put out for collection the next day.

“Do you see anyone?” I whispered, eying the windows. She shook her head.

I unlatched the gate. The July afternoon was turning uncomfortably hot; most people had taken shelter indoors, where they could open windows or even find refuge in the breeze of an electric fan and some iced tea or lemonade.

Praying the tall bushes would be enough to keep me hidden, I crossed the soft grass in a few long strides, ducking my head below the level of the nearest bush as I quietly raised the lid on one of the bins.

The stench of old food slapped me in the face. I gagged, glanced at the large paper bag full of kitchen scraps, and quickly put the lid back.

“Jackpot,” I whispered, peering into the second container. Under a thin layer of old newspaper were at least a dozen bottles. Tossing the papers aside, I began digging through them with as much stealth as I could manage. They clinked softly and my heart thudded a little harder each time.

At last, I caught a glimpse of the tell-tale yellow label. I’d just closed my fingers around the neck of the bottle when voices made me stop. From one of the windows, I heard the woman giving some directions to the maid. I was wrist deep in glass and tried not to move.

A bee, drawn by the heavy fragrance of the bushes, buzzed near my face. I swatted at it with the lid of the bin, but it wouldn’t go away, zig-zagging back to my face every time. The lid caught one of the heavy flowering branches, raining pollen and petals down on me.

My nose itched. I held my breath and willed myself not to sneeze. The woman was still in the room. I could just see her over the top of the railing, looking at something on the table in front of her. If she looked up, she would see my pink, feathered cloche sticking out from among her lilac bushes.

Tears leaked out of the corners of my eyes. My lungs burned fiercely. There was nothing I could do.

The mighty sneeze rocked my on my feet. Stumbling, the metal lid crashed against the edge of the bin, sending a shockwave up my left arm. I wrenched my other hand free with a clatter of glass. One of the broken bottles sliced into the back of my hand.

“What was that?” asked a voice from the house.

I dropped the lid and bolted for the back gate. Alexandra grabbed my wrist and we raced off down the alley. We didn’t stop until we caught a streetcar two blocks away.

Panting, we clung to the back rail of the car, waiting as the attendant moved from passenger to passenger collecting the fee. Fishing the coins out of my purse, I waited with my injured hand and the bottle hidden against the wall. The attendant in her crisp dark uniform eyed us warily–especially me, and my bedraggled appearance–but took our fare and moved on. My eyes met Alexandra’s, and we both burst out into hysterical laughter at our close escape.

Drawing stares from the other passengers, I elbowed her in the ribs. My heart heart was still racing. I stared resolutely at the floor until we reached our stop, trying to keep my wild emotions in check.

Alexandra was nearly bursting by the time we disembarked. “Did you at least get it this time?”

I held up the empty bottle triumphantly. She let out a little gasp. The back of my hand was covered in dried blood.

“Don’t worry, it’s only a scratch. Come on. Let’s go back to the house. I want to compare this to the bottle Daddy has in the basement. And clean up a little.”

***

Elizabeth was there to greet us when we came in. She took one look at me and her cheerful greeting died on her lips. Brown eyes wide she asked what had happened. “You look like you’ve been in a fight. Oh, Dru, you didn’t get into a fight, did you?”

“Why would you ask that? You know I’m a perfect lady,” I said, tossing my short hair imperiously. Alex let out a very un-ladylike snort, but it was enough to make a thin grin stretch once more across my friend’s face.

“You should go change clothes before Mama sees you,” she hissed, quickly taking my bag and hat. I’d lost the hatpin somewhere in the bushes. The feathers would likely never be the same.

I handed her the bottle of Hudson Castle. “Take this down to the lab. I’ll meet the two of you there once I get cleaned up.”

Elizabeth gasped, grasping my injured hand. “What did you do?”

It’s nothing, really,” I insisted pulling it back.

The two of them managed to sneak me upstairs to change without alerting Rose. Quickly, I stripped out of the filthy dress, cleaned up at the sink, and found a fresh outfit. Deciding not to tempt fate, I put on a simple blouse and skirt I typically wore for working in the lab, then hurried downstairs to join the others.

“Dru, you need to look at this,” Alexandra said as soon as I entered the basement. She and Elizabeth were crowded together under one of the bare bulbs over the work table, examining the empty bottle with a magnifier. Beside them was the bottle from the evidence box.

Alex passed me the magnifier. “Look here,” she said, pointing to the image of the castle. I focused the magnifier on the crisp, dark blue lines. Each stone was clearly rendered with fine hatch marks to create shadows. “What am I looking at?” I asked.

She pulled the bottle out of my hand and replaced it with the half full bottle from the police. “Now look at this one.”

I adjusted the magnifier, holding the bottle closer to the light. My brow furrowed. “It’s not the same. The printing on this one is smudged.” Instead of clear hatch marks, the shadows were little more than blobs of speckled ink.

“The bottles are different, too.” Elizabeth held them next to each other. While they were the same basic shape, made of smoky glass, the one we’d retrieved from Fifth Street had a shorter neck and a slightly wider body that was less tapered than the one in evidence.

“What’s it mean?” she asked, taking back the magnifier to give the bottle in her hand another look.

“My mother told me about this. There are some bootleggers out there who try pass off their homemade stuff as the real McCoy. They can charge more if people think it’s the real stuff, and not some kind of coffin varnish.”

“So one of these is actually brought in from Canada, and the other one isn’t?” Alexandra took the bottles, weighing them in her hands.

I nodded, pointing to the empty bottle. “This is the real one. You can tell by the quality of the printing. This one is just a copy, probably printed by reproducing a photograph of the original. See? It’s made of dots, the same way a photograph in the newspaper is, instead of lines. This one was made from an original plate, etched with the image.”

Elizabeth pulled the top from the empty and held it under her nose. “Are you sure about that?” she asked, recoiling.

I took the empty and tested it myself. The smell was just as strong and just as foul as the one Daddy’d gotten from the police.

“If this one is real, then why did Archie get sick?” Alex asked.

“That’s a very good question.”

I examined the empty bottle again. There were only a few drops left at the bottom. “Hand me one of those test tubes.”

Elizabeth placed an empty tube in my palm. Very carefully, I poured the last remnants into the vial.

“Is there enough there for you to test it?”

“I’m not sure. But I can try. I can at least determine if it contains wood alcohol, and in what quantity. If it’s similar to the level we found in the other bottle, it will at least give us a place to start.”

“In the meantime, what should I do with this?” Alexandra produced a check for twenty dollars from her purse, made out to the Widows and Orphans fund.

I smiled. The signature was from Mrs. Howard White of 1588 West Fifth Street. Finally, we had a name to go with the whiskey. The Whites probably weren’t bootleggers themselves, but they certainly had connections to them, judging by that liquor cabinet. “I’ll hand it over to Mother tonight. I’ll tell her we ran into Mrs. White and she very kindly made a donation.”

“Dru, I don’t know how you do it. Even when you’re sneaking around, you still manage to make it for charity,” Alex laughed and even Elizabeth smiled.

“What can I say? It’s a talent.” We’d just have to see if that talent extended to catching the culprit behind the poisonings.

Writing WIPs & What’s Next

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I’ve got a busy writing year ahead, if you couldn’t tell from my list of goals. I’ve already started to put a dent in it, though.

Drafting

In progress: ALL FOR ONE. This is the gender-bent Three Musketeers I mentioned a couple of weeks ago. I’ve been posting snippets on my Twitter feed, if you want a preview. Right now it’s about 40ish percent done.
On deck: Steampunk short story. This is a spinoff short for an anthology, and will feature one of the characters from ALL FOR ONE.

hermes book 2

Eek! I better get to work. No time for napping!

Revision

Up next: THE FERRYMEN, Evie Cappelli vol. 2. This book has been cooling off for a couple of months, but it is “done.” I do think I’m going to add another subplot though, so it still needs some work.
On deck: Steampunk short story. What is that wooshing noise? Could it be an approaching deadline? Ah! I need to get this done by the end of April. Or the middle, rather, since I’ll be gone the last week.

Querying

In progress: OFF THE RAILS. I’ve had nibbles on this one, but no real bites. Apparently, historical fiction is a hard sell unless it’s a bodice ripper.
On Deck: ALL FOR ONE. I’ll probably be querying OFF THE RAILS until at least June, then I’ll be switching to ALL FOR ONE. There’s been a lot of interest in this book on Twitter, so I’m hoping it will be an easy sell.