Sneak peek at THE BOOK OF SECRETS

My next book, THE BOOK OF SECRETS, is coming out in January. This first book in the new series The Last Oracle is the story of a young woman whose new job as clerk in a mysterious bookstore turns out to be more than she could have imagined. Here’s a look at the first chapter:

The Book of Secrets, Chapter One

Bookstores were supposed to smell of old leather and dry paper. This one smelled of onion, of musty dry air trapped for centuries underground, smells that hung in the frigid air like invisible curtains. Aside from my own breath, the store was perfectly still, without even the whoosh of passing traffic to remind me of the world outside.

I took a few steps toward the bookcases, peering around them for some sign of Mr. Briggs. Should I wait for him, or did he expect me to follow while he answered the phone? I’d had exactly three job interviews in my life, not counting the one that had gotten me the job at McDonald’s the summer I was sixteen, and I had no idea what the protocol was. My shoes, sensible pumps, tapped quietly across the cracked yellow linoleum, spangled with silver stars that time had worn to gray blisters. Still no sign of life.

I straightened my skirt and took a seat on the folding chair next to the door. I stifled a shriek when my bare legs brushed the freezing metal. The chair wobbled when I shifted my weight, and I held still, afraid it might dump me off. I really didn’t want to touch the floor. It wobbled again, and I shot to my feet. Maybe standing was the better option.

The wooden counter to my left was curved plywood stained walnut-dark, topped with a sheet of glass cracked like the linoleum. A stack of remaindered pop psychology books declaring I could Master My Potential! weighed it down at one end, and the antique cash register took up the other. It looked more like an art piece than anything functional, with brass filigree decorating its sides and back, and a Victorian valentine complete with lace appliqued to the top. It was hard to believe it was anything more than a conversation piece, but I’d seen Mr. Briggs use it when handling a sale ten minutes ago, so it wasn’t a joke.

It had been a surprise when someone actually bought a book. I didn’t think anyone was brave enough to squeeze between the shelves. They were packed so tightly that if two people tried to negotiate the same aisle, one would have to back up to let the other pass. The highest shelves were well beyond the reach of an ordinary person, at least eight feet tall, and I hadn’t seen a stepladder. And the books… it made me shudder to look at them, crammed in any old way, flat on their faces or standing at attention, with more books piled on the tops of the bookcases. The idea of this going on for several hundred square feet gave me chills.

I went to the nearest bookcase and examined the titles. There was no theme to their organization: a cookbook sat next to a book on the Prussian military campaign in 1805, which was next to a novel titled Translations in Celadon. I removed a book and sniffed its spine. It smelled just as it ought, of dry paper and dust, and that reassured me. The store might be strange, the organization nonexistent, but at least the books were sound. I’d half-expected to smell mildew or cigarette smoke.

I heard a distant voice, barely more than a whisper. “Hello?” I said. “Mr. Briggs?” The whispering stopped. A draft of frigid air brushed my ear, making goose pimples rise up on my arms. The voice spoke again, but I still couldn’t understand it. I turned around fast, suddenly nervous that someone had managed to come in without my hearing them. No one. Either my imagination was piqued by my unusual surroundings, or the store was haunted. By the onion-scented ghost of a former owner, no doubt.

Heavy footsteps sounded, and I quickly put the book back and sat in the chair. “Sorry,” Mr. Briggs said. He was a short man with a paunch and a yellowish, jaundiced cast to his skin, wearing gray slacks and a blue and gray argyle sweater vest over a white button-down shirt. A pair of very old-fashioned half-moon glasses perched on his blond head, apparently forgotten. “A long-time customer. We try to keep them happy, of course.”

“Of course,” I said, wondering at “we.” Mr. Briggs, as far as I could tell, ran the shop alone. It was why I was there. “Do you do a lot of business online?”

“Not online,” Mr. Briggs said. He pulled a metal stool that looked like the distant cousin of my chair around from behind the counter and sat, drawing his feet up to rest on the lower rung. “We deal strictly in the catalogue trade. Most of our customers don’t use the internet at all.”

“I see,” I said, though I didn’t, really. “So… phone calls, order forms…?”

“Exactly. And walk-in customers. We don’t get as many of those these days. The neighborhood hasn’t exactly gone downhill, but much of the foot traffic has been diverted west. People have to make an effort to reach us, which is probably to the good.”

No organization. No customers. No desire for customers. And the place smelled strange. I clasped my hands in my lap, atop my purse. I ought to leave, thank him for his time and say I didn’t think I was a good fit. But that would be rude. “I wasn’t quite clear on the job description,” I said. “What would my—the duties be?”

“Cash register, of course,” Mr. Briggs said. “Stocking new inventory. Filling catalogue orders. Light cleaning. Then there’s the opportunity to move up to customer relations. It’s not very demanding work, but you’d start at fifteen dollars an hour and work your way up from there.”

Fifteen. That was almost half again what I could make at the Pick ‘n’ Pack, which was my only other job lead so far. “It sounds interesting,” I heard myself say.

“Then it’s settled. How do you feel about starting now?”

I gaped. “Ah… don’t you want to interview me?”

“No need. Your resume is exactly what we’re looking for.”

“But…” I felt, perversely, as if I should talk him out of it. “My resume is practically empty.”

“Which means you don’t have any bad habits to unlearn.”

“That can’t be a solid basis for hiring someone!”

“It isn’t.” Mr. Briggs took his glasses off his forehead and settled them firmly on his nose. “But our other criteria won’t matter to you.”

“I think I have a right to know what my qualifications are.”

“All right. You’re punctual, you’re quiet, and you know how to type. Do you want the job or not?”

I wobbled on the chair again. “I do.”

“Then I’ll show you where you can put your things, and you can get started.” Mr. Briggs stood and moved the stool back behind the counter. “Do you have any questions?”

I had so many questions I felt choked with them. Naturally, I came out with the most irrelevant one. “Abernathy’s. The store. Who’s Abernathy?”

Mr. Briggs smiled, making his cheeks puff up like a blond chipmunk’s. “An excellent question,” he said, and moved off into the stacks without saying anything more. I stood unmoving, confused, for a few seconds before remembering I was now an employee and shouldn’t stand around gaping.

Mr. Briggs showed me the tiny room, barely more than a closet, that in any other store I would have called a break room. It contained a small folding table and a couple of those freezing metal chairs, a wooden coatrack with two of the pegs sheared off, and a miniature refrigerator and microwave. I reluctantly hung my coat on one of the remaining pegs—the place was still bitterly cold—and followed Mr. Briggs to the room opposite, which turned out to be his office. Stacks of cardboard boxes full of glossy catalogues stood waist-high against the far wall, tilting haphazardly against one another.

Mr. Briggs sat in a rolling office chair and leaned over to open the bottom drawer of the tan melamine and chrome desk. “This is the employee agreement,” he said, coming up with a single sheet of paper. “We’ve never seen the point of a lot of paperwork. Read it first, if you want, but it’s fairly basic. Then you sign here and here.” He pushed the phone, putty-colored and older than I was, out of the way to lay the paper on the desk.

I read the document, which was handwritten in green ink. Abernathy’s wasn’t interested in my address, my Social Security number, my mother’s maiden name, or anything else. There were just a few paragraphs outlining the job description Mr. Briggs had given me, a few more paragraphs in which I asserted that I wasn’t a felon or a drug dealer, and then, bizarrely, a line that read I, _______ , swear to uphold the standards of Abernathy’s without fear or favor, and to seal its secrets in my heart, for as long as it remains in my charge.

“What does this mean?” I asked.

“It means you won’t disclose confidential information about our patrons,” Mr. Briggs said. He had his eyes fixed on the document, not on me, and his fingers drummed restlessly on the melamine. I hesitated. “Is there a problem?”

“… No. No problem.” I signed with the leaky plastic ballpoint he handed me, then gave pen and paper back to him and watched him countersign on the line below my signature.

He folded the paper in thirds and rolled backward to put it away in the top drawer of the filing cabinet. Then he unlocked the desk’s middle drawer with a small brass key and opened it. “Mailing list,” he said, handing me a sheaf of paper. “We send out a catalogue three times a year. You’ll type the labels, address the catalogues, and have them ready for me to take to the post office tomorrow morning.”

“All right,” I said. The list was ten pages long and the addresses written in a cramped, faded hand. “Where’s the computer?”

“No computer. We don’t have any need for them.” Mr. Briggs indicated a smaller desk behind his own. On it was an electric typewriter in a pebbly beige case. I’d seen ones like it before. In a museum. “There are labels in a box in the filing cabinet. Let me know if you need anything else.”

When he was gone, I took a catalogue from the topmost box and flipped through it. The glossy, slick cover had a blurred photo of the storefront under the name ABERNATHY’S. Someone stood next to the front door, possibly Mr. Briggs, though the photo was blurry enough it was impossible to tell.

Inside, there was no table of contents; lines of tiny print spread neatly in two columns across gray recycled paper. I ran my finger down the columns, accidentally smearing the cheap ink. I didn’t recognize any of the titles, which weren’t in alphabetical order. Some catalogue. I dropped it back into the box and regarded the antique typewriter with a sigh. All right, it wasn’t all that antique, but forty years old was still old enough to qualify. I wasn’t even sure I knew how to use it.

I found the labels and some blank white paper in one of the drawers of the filing cabinet. I practiced for a bit with the paper until I had the hang of the thing, then inserted the labels and started typing. For all the handwriting was crabby and small, it was easy to read, and I soon fell into a rhythm that let my brain wander pleasantly, far away from this store that smelled of onion.

My parents would be thrilled I’d gotten the job, though they’d be just as thrilled if I was working at the Pick ‘n’ Pack. What they wanted was for me to be employed, period, so I’d move out of their basement and become a responsible adult. Not that they were as blunt about it as that. They’d been generous in letting me pay rent and some of the grocery bill, and never nagged me about my future. I was lucky, really.

I came to the end of a sheet of labels and inserted a fresh one. My mind wandered away again. I was twenty-one years old; you’d think I’d have some idea what I wanted to do with my life. But I’d graduated from high school without making much of an academic splash, had made it through a couple of years of community college before the money ran out, and now… Well, this wasn’t the best job in the world, but if I could stick it out, maybe get a raise—did Mr. Briggs offer benefits?—I might, at some point, come close to having a clue about my future.

I heard whispering again, and turned around fast, knocking the list to the floor. Nothing. I got up and opened the door. The hall outside was empty. I shut the door again and shook my head. I was being stupid. Just because the bookstore and Mr. Briggs were a little weird didn’t mean I had to let my imagination come up with more weirdness. I was level-headed and not superstitious, and I was wasting time.

The mailing list had fallen splayed-out on the floor. I leaned over to pick it up, and a wave of dizziness struck me. For a moment, the room was outlined in flickering blue light. Then it passed, and I sat clutching the list in both hands. That had been strange. I bent over and sat up again, but felt nothing but a brief pressure as the blood rushed to my head and away again. The room looked perfectly normal. Shrugging, I spread out the mailing list again and resumed typing. I could ask Mr. Briggs… and have him decide his new employee was mentally unstable. It could stay a mystery.

By the time I reached the end of the mailing list, I was starving. I checked my watch. 1:17. I hadn’t brought any food because I hadn’t expected to start work immediately. There was a market around the corner. Mr. Briggs had to give me some sort of lunch break, right?

Mr. Briggs was gone when I left his office. I checked the break room and knocked tentatively on the washroom door; both were empty. I quickly used the toilet, which was as ancient as the typewriter, probably had one of those 3.5 gallon tanks that weren’t legal anymore, washed my hands, and ventured into the bookstore proper. Most of the bookcases were knocked together out of plywood and lengths of unfinished yellow 2x8s, though there were a few proper cases of polished, chipped oak and two blackish-brown units that came from IKEA. I sidled between them, unwilling to call out Mr. Briggs’ name into the silence of the store. The hush was so profound I imagined the books were sleeping.

Just as I’d begun a reverie about putting books down for a nap and imagining what kind of lullabies they would prefer, I heard the door open, then slam shut with such force it rippled through my skin. That couldn’t possibly be Mr. Briggs. I hurried to the front of the store, feeling a sidelong sense of responsibility at being, as far as I could tell, the only Abernathy’s employee on site. Then I felt embarrassed at my reaction. It was a store. People were supposed to come in and browse, Mr. Briggs’ odd notions to the contrary. Even so, I probably shouldn’t give anyone ideas about shoplifting.

The man was standing next to the counter when I emerged from the maze of bookcases, as if he’d been waiting for me. In his three-piece pinstriped suit, handstitched leather shoes, and heavy gold watch, he looked as out of place in Abernathy’s as a computerized cash register would be. He was studying his watch, but looked up when I arrived, and I felt caught by his dark-eyed gaze, pinned to the nearest case like a captive butterfly. “Who are you?” he said, somewhat irritably.

“Helena Davies. I started work this morning.” I immediately wished I hadn’t sounded so defensive.

Irritation gave way to surprise. “Nathaniel hired you? Impossible.”

I swallowed a sharp response. The customer is always right, especially when he could probably buy this whole store twice over. “Can I help you with something?” I said, hoping he’d say no, because the only help I was capable of giving was directions to the toilet, which wasn’t for public use.

“I doubt it,” the man said. “Who are you?”

I regarded him more closely. He was good-looking, with fashionably styled dark hair, and no more than thirty, but he had an air about him that would have better suited an octogenarian with a Napoleon complex. “I don’t know why you’re so sure I don’t belong here, but I’m certain I signed an employment contract,” I said, trying not to think about how irregular the paperwork had seemed. “Maybe I should go get Mr. Briggs.”

“You do that,” the man said. “Nathaniel must be in the basement. Why don’t you bring him here, and I can convince him to be sensible.”

“I don’t know—” I shut my mouth. I felt I’d already told this man too much. “Please wait here,” I said, and backed away. Turning my back on him made me nervous.

I hadn’t realized there was a third door beyond the office and the break room. It was flat plywood, stained dark like the walls of the short hallway, with an iron knob that looked like a black knot against the wood. I opened it to find stairs descending into perfect blackness. A string swayed in the faint breeze of the opening door, and I tugged on it, lighting a single dim bulb that didn’t do much more than set shadows moving.

The steps were raw wood, splintered on the edges except where hundreds of feet had worn them smooth. They didn’t creak under my weight, to my surprise; I’d almost expected the cries of the damned with every step. At the bottom of the stairs, there was a light switch. I flipped it on, and a couple of fluorescent bulbs flickered into life. They cast a brilliant light over the small, cold basement with its dark concrete floor. I looked down, and screamed.

Mr. Briggs lay face down a few feet from the foot of the stairs. Dark blood spread across the back of his argyle sweater and pooled beneath his chest and head. I stumbled forward and knelt beside him, scraping one knee on the cold concrete. His eyes were closed, and I fumbled at his throat for a pulse. I didn’t know how to find a pulse. I didn’t know how to do any of the things you were supposed to do to see if someone was alive. I leaned far forward, holding my hair out of the way, and put my cheek near his mouth. No warmth, no breath.

Someone thundered down the stairs. “Move back,” the strange man said. I scooted back, tugging my skirt over my knees, and watched the stranger crouch over Mr. Briggs and repeat the same movements I’d made. Finally, he stood up and put his hands on his hips. “Nathaniel,” he said. It sounded like a reprimand. As if Mr. Briggs was in trouble for being killed.

“What are you—we have to call the police!” I reached for my phone and came up empty. I’d left it in my purse—no pockets in this skirt. I felt my breath coming in quick, ragged pants and forced myself to stay calm.

“That would be a serious error,” the stranger said. “Starting with the fact that you’d certainly be their first suspect.”

I gaped at him, panic welling up again. “Are you crazy? Look, I don’t have any blood on me, I hardly touched him! There’s no reason to suspect me!”

“You were alone in the store with him, you are a new employee—you might have killed him to get at the contents of the cash box.”

“Then why would I stay around to call for help?”

The man sighed. “I’m not saying they’d convict you. I’m saying they would make your life hell for a while. Is that what you want?”

I looked at him, at his height and the way he stood, and felt more chilled even than the basement could account for. “I… think I’ll risk it.” I took a few casual steps toward the stairs, never letting my eyes leave his face.

“I didn’t kill him,” he said, exasperated. “I don’t have any blood on me either, do I? And I think whoever stabbed Nathaniel in the back would be at least a little bloody.”

“How do you know that’s what happened?”

He pointed. “There’s a gash in the back of his sweater. You can see where the blood collected there first and made the fabric curl. Look, whoever you are, you can’t be stupid or Nathaniel wouldn’t have hired you. Somebody came into the store and killed Nathaniel, and you’re damned lucky whoever it was didn’t realize you were here, or you’d have joined him.”

I sat down heavily on the second stair from the bottom, my vision clouding over. “They had to know I was here,” I said. “That typewriter isn’t quiet.”

“It’s not important,” the man said. “What matters is we need to get someone to take care of Nathaniel’s body. Someone who isn’t the police.”

“That’s insane. We have to tell the police. People don’t just ‘take care of’ dead bodies.”

“The police will draw far too much attention to this store. No, we’ll handle this matter privately. I’ll need your permission to—”

My permission? What do you mean, ‘privately’? I’m calling the police.”

The man focused on me then, his attention an uncomfortable knuckle digging into the base of my neck. “What’s your name again?”

“Helena. Helena Davies.”

“And you’re certain Nathaniel hired you today?”

“Yes.”

“Well, Helena Davies,” the man said, his lips curving in a sardonic smile, “you’ve just inherited this bookstore.”

 

News, news, and more news

Here’s some updates on upcoming releases and ongoing projects:

  • I’m no longer offering the Convergence trilogy for free, but the first book, The Summoned Mage, is available for FREE at all major online retailers. Links are on the page here.
  • The next Crown of Tremontane novel is the first book in the Willow North trilogy, Pretender to the Crown. It will be published September 19 and is now available for preorder at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, the Apple store, and others.
  • The next Extraordinaries novel, Abounding Might, will be published October 3. This one will be available through Amazon only (this is something my publisher does, sorry!).
  • The first book in my new series The Last Oracle, The Book of Secrets, will be out in mid-January. This is a contemporary fantasy about a young woman who takes a job at a bookstore and discovers it’s hiding a world of secrets.
  • I’ve started writing a new series! The book, titled Company of Strangers, is old-fashioned adventure fantasy with wizards, warriors, thieves, and strange magic. 400 years after wars both magical and mundane devastated the world, men and women called scrappers take jobs to locate ancient relics and explore lost ruins. The young wizard Sienne, trying to escape her past, takes a job with a team that is anything but unified. But what they find is far more than an ordinary ruin, and forces them to work together or face death. I’m afraid I’m the only one who will like this, but I’m having fun writing it!
  • And in other news, Burning Bright is a semifinalist in the 2017 Kindle Book Awards!

That’s it for now. Thanks for reading!

Release Day: WONDERING SIGHT

It’s here! The next book in my Extraordinaries series, WONDERING SIGHT, is released today. How am I going to celebrate? With a visit to the dentist, you know, like you do…

WONDERING SIGHT is the story of Sophia Westlake, the Extraordinary Seer who discovered the secret of how the pirates were tracking the Royal Navy ships in BURNING BRIGHT. Sophia is a talented, well-respected Seer within the government’s War Office, with a perfect accuracy rating. But when she accuses Lord Endicott of embezzling from the government, her Dream is “proved” false, and she is expelled, sent back to London, her reputation intact only because the War Office would look bad in condemning her. Furious, Sophia decides to turn her talent toward bringing down Lord Endicott, with the help of her best friend Cecy and her cousin Lady Daphne St. Clair, an Extraordinary Bounder. But as Sophia draws ever nearer to bringing down her prey, she becomes increasingly like the man she’s sworn to destroy. Will Sophia’s success come at the cost of her own sanity–or even her life?

WONDERING SIGHT is available as an e-book here, and coming soon in print.

Happy Wintersmeet!

It’s the winter solstice today, and in my world of Tremontane, solstice is celebrated as Wintersmeet–a time for gathering with family and friends and feeling your family bond come alive. Whether dancing the night away in the palace or sharing a quiet meal, Wintersmeet is a joyous time. Here’s an excerpt from Agent of the Crown in which Telaine North Hunter, disguised as an ordinary Deviser in the mountain village of Longbourne, learns about Wintersmeet from her Aunt Weaver.

Aunt Weaver sent the apprentices home early on the day before Wintersmeet Eve. “Happen you don’t know our Wintersmeet customs,” she said.

“Don’t see how I could know, Aunt Weaver,” Telaine said, rolling her eyes.

“No need to be disrespectful. Thought you wanted to be told things now ’stead of working ’em out for yourself.”

“I’m sorry, Aunt Weaver. Please continue.”

“Uppity girl. Well. Tomorrow we clean house. Gets us ready to start a new year, see.”

“I do. That’s…interesting. I like it.”

“Well, I don’t so much like cleaning, but it’s good and symbolic. Wintersmeet Eve is for families. We eat together and think about the ones who ain’t with us.”

Telaine thought of Ben, alone in his house. “That would be sad if you didn’t have any other family around.”

“That’s up to you. Then Wintersmeet day you visit with all your friends and exchange gifts. I take it you have gifts?” Aunt Weaver sounded as if she questioned Telaine’s Wintersmeet spirit.

“I’ve made gifts for everyone. Aunt Weaver, what if someone gives me a gift and I don’t have one for them?”

“They won’t take offense. Wintersmeet gifts is like a thank you for doing something that mattered to the person giving the gift. Sometimes you do more for a person than they do for you. Sometimes it’s the other way around. But mostly you know who’s giving to you.”

“That’s good.”

“Wintersmeet night is for big gatherings. Your young man leads the chorals down at the tavern. Figure you’ll want to be there. Lots of parties and people goin’ from one to the other.”

***

The next day they cleaned more thoroughly than Telaine had thought possible. Sweeping and mopping the weaving room, dusting the sitting room and creating great pale clouds that merely settled back on the furniture. Aunt Weaver made Telaine go outside and wave the broom around the rafters of the outhouse, sweeping out cobwebs that drifted around her like strands of gray, sticky clouds.

It left Telaine feeling exhausted, but Aunt Weaver seemed unaffected as she moved around the kitchen making supper. The smell of hot pork roast and buttery mashed potatoes filled the air. “Happen you’d like to get that candle off the high shelf,” Aunt Weaver said, and Telaine climbed the step stool and reached up for a fat silver candle in an iron casing. It had been lit many times before, the wax melting down the sides and over the metal holder, smooth and shiny.

Aunt Weaver produced fine china place settings and silverware and a couple of wine glasses, then, even more surprisingly, a bottle of good wine. She served them both, sat down, poured the wine, and picked up her knife and fork. “Happy Wintersmeet, niece,” she said.

“Happy Wintersmeet, aunt,” Telaine replied.

They ate in silence, and then Telaine cleared the dishes while Aunt Weaver lit the candle. “Family joins us,” she said when Telaine sat down again. It sounded like ritual, one Telaine didn’t know. “Family binds us. We leave one family to join another. However far we go, family draws us back.” She put her hand around the candle, below the dripping wax. “You put your hand over mine,” Aunt Weaver said. Telaine did so.

Aunt Weaver closed her eyes. “You never knew your grandpapa,” she said in a quiet voice. “He died before you were born, died too young. I’d grieved for him already when I left, because Zara North died and left him behind, but I didn’t know I still had it in me to miss my little brother when he died.”

She smiled, her eyes still closed. “He was a brilliant, joyful man. When he was young he cared too much for what other people thought and didn’t have the sense to know whose opinions he ought care for. But brilliant and joyful. No question what your grandmama saw in him, though they had a rocky road to travel. Wish I’d been there to see them reach the end.”

She fell silent, and Telaine sensed it was her turn. “I never knew my mother,” she said. She gazed at the candle flame, trying to see images from the past. “She died of lung fever when I was not quite three. But my father was my whole world when I was a child. When she died, he took me to live in the forest he loved so much. I grew up wild and unschooled, without knowing anything but surviving through winter and summer.

“He taught me a lot of things I forgot, later, growing up in the palace. It was like losing a piece of him every time I tried to remember how to tickle fish, or find my way by the stars—I was so young to learn any of that, and maybe he was denying me my mother’s heritage, but I think he loved her so much he couldn’t bear the places where she’d been. And then he got sick, and I think he knew he was dying, because he brought me back to the palace before the end. I…” She broke off, cleared her throat. “I’ve never quite forgiven him for leaving me.”

They sat in silence, hand over hand, watching the warm silver wax slide and drip over their fingers to the table, waiting for midnight. There was no clock in the kitchen, but there was no mistaking the moment when the lines of power shifted their alignment in response to the solstice, filling Telaine with a rush of energy.

She could feel her connections to Aunt Weaver and Uncle Jeffrey and Aunt Imogen and her cousins for three seconds, and she knew they could feel her presence too. This was how Uncle Jeffrey felt, all the time. She tightened her hand over Aunt Weaver’s. She must have been so lonely, all those years…

Aunt Weaver moved her hand away and Telaine pulled back as well. “That’s for our dead,” she said. “Now for our living.”

“I don’t understand.”

Aunt Weaver sat back in her chair. “Been gone a long time,” she said. “Young Jeffrey was no more than two when I left. I resent this magic that keeps me young because I ain’t seen you all grow up. Same magic makes it so I can’t have children of my own. Certain sure I couldn’t have stayed, but if I could… I want to know my family. Tell me.”

Here’s wishing you a happy holiday, however you celebrate this time of year!

In which there is much writerly news

So many things have happened recently, I don’t know where to start. Chronologically makes sense, I suppose, so–

*BURNING BRIGHT is going to be an audiobook! This is probably the news that excites me most, because I have a daughter with a reading disability who consumes books almost entirely as either manga or audiobook. This means she’s never read any of my books, and I’m so happy to be able to share this one with her. (Okay, yes, I could read them aloud to her, but as she does all her reading late at night, I’m reluctant to do so.) It will be available November 15.

*For fans of Tremontane, the next novel is actually a trilogy taking us back in time to the days of Willow North, first of the North queens. PRETENDER TO THE CROWN won first place in the League of Utah Writers First Chapter contest, and I’m looking forward to sharing it with everyone. But I’ve decided, since it’s a true trilogy and not a set of linked stories, not to start releasing it until the trilogy is complete–which means writing the third book. I’m sorry about the delay.

* I’ve sold two new books to Curiosity Quills! One is the sequel to BURNING BRIGHT titled WONDERING SIGHT (the rhyming is completely coincidental). It features a whole new cast of characters and is about Sophia Westlake, the Extraordinary Seer who figured out the pirates’ secret in BURNING BRIGHT. It’s a very different story from the first; there are counterfeiters and madmen and revenge and obsession, and I hope readers will like it, too.

*The second book is the first in a new series called The Last Oracle, titled THE BOOK OF SECRETS (I’m not satisfied with this title and it may change). The book is about Helena, who takes a job at a strange used book store only to discover it’s hiding some powerful secrets. Caught up in a centuries-long war between humanity and alien monsters from another reality, Helena must take on a new role: that of custodian to the world’s only living oracle. I’m very excited about this series, which is five books long so far and still growing.

*Speaking of sequels, the sequel to THE SMOKE-SCENTED GIRL will be available for preorder on October 5! THE GOD-TOUCHED MAN is the story of Evon’s best friend Piercy, man about town and secret government agent. When he’s assigned to chaperone a princess of a foreign country, Piercy thinks he’s in for a very dull time. But an encounter with a rogue magician catapults Piercy and the princess two hundred years into the past, forcing the two of them to work together to return to their own time and prevent a catastrophe that could destroy Dalanine–even if it costs them their lives. Release date November 15.

I’ll be posting more news as things progress, but until then, thanks for reading!

 

Release day–Burning Bright!

Burning Bright front coverToday marks the release of my latest book, BURNING BRIGHT. It’s an alternate history Regency-era adventure, with magic and pirates–how’s that for a mouthful! I wrote this book on a personal dare, challenging myself to write historical fiction, and I think it turned out pretty well. The magic system is one I had constructed for a modern-day fantasy, but that story just wasn’t coming together, so I’m glad it could find a home in the Extraordinaries series. I hope you enjoy Elinor’s adventures in a world where the Napoleonic Wars are fought with magic and telepathy, teleportation, and telekinesis are all part of everyday life.

BURNING BRIGHT is available as an ebook at Amazon.com and will be available in print soon. The book is free for Kindle Unlimited users.

Cover Reveal–BURNING BRIGHT!

Burning Bright front cover

This is it–the cover of my new book, BURNING BRIGHT, which is an alternate history Regency adventure with magic and pirates! Here’s what it’s about:

In 1812, Elinor Pembroke wakes to find her bedchamber in flames—and extinguishes them with a thought. At 21, she is old to manifest magical talent, but the evidence is unmistakable: she not only has the ability to start fires, but the far more powerful ability to control and extinguish them. She is an Extraordinary, and the only one in England capable of wielding fire in over one hundred years.

As an Extraordinary, she is respected and feared, but to her father, she represents power and prestige for himself. Mr. Pembroke, having spent his life studying magic, is determined to control Elinor and her talent by forcing her to marry where he chooses, a marriage that will produce even more powerful offspring. Trapped between the choices of a loveless marriage or living penniless and dependent on her parents, Elinor takes a third path: she defies tradition and society to join the Royal Navy.

Assigned to serve under Captain Miles Ramsay aboard the frigate Athena, she turns her fiery talent on England’s enemies, French privateers and vicious pirates preying on English ships in the Caribbean. At first feared by her shipmates, a growing number of victories make her truly part of Athena’s crew and bring her joy in her fire. But as her power grows and changes in unexpected ways, Elinor’s ability to control it is challenged. She may have the power to destroy her enemies utterly—but could it be at the cost of her own life?

The release date is 8/15/16, and preorders will be available soon!

 

 

New release 12/17–EXILE OF THE CROWN

ExileoftheCrown-eBook (2)I never imagined, when I wrote the first three books of Tremontane, that Zara North would be so popular. In response to all the questions about what happened to her after SERVANT OF THE CROWN, I wrote a novella touching on a few events of her life over the fifty years (fifty years!) following her “death.” Titled EXILE OF THE CROWN, it’s available for preorder at Amazon.com–and it’s only 99 cents! I hope you’ll read it and enjoy it!

In other news, the third novel, AGENT OF THE CROWN, will be out early in 2016, and the fourth novel, VOYAGER OF THE CROWN, is due to be published by June of 2016. AGENT is the story of Elspeth and Owen’s daughter Telaine, and VOYAGER is Zara’s own novel. Following that is a trilogy about Willow North, the first North Queen, release date to be determined later.

 

Nobody likes a critic…

…especially writers who are, as I was yesterday, facing one final round of line edits on a manuscript that’s been through four beta readers and two line edits by different people. Taking criticism is hard, which is why I rarely read my own reviews. Reviews are for readers, not authors, and a reader’s criticism comes too late to make a change to the book. I find that deeply frustrating, hence the policy.

But criticism in the early, pre-publication stages is essential, and it’s not something you should simply ignore. The problem is finding critical readers who share your vision. There’s a sometimes fine line between someone who points out flaws in what you’ve done and someone who wishes you’d told a different story and gives you feedback accordingly. Having a thick skin when it comes to listening to criticism is key to telling the difference. It’s also important how someone gives criticism. In one of my previous critique groups, there was a person who positively delighted in telling people what they’d done wrong, laughing like it was funny that they’d made mistakes. It never mattered whether that person’s points were correct; the net effect was humiliating to the writer on the receiving end. Some beta readers do the same thing, but in a vicious, cruel way, trying to tear you down. Neither of these are worth wasting time on. The critique process ought to be uplifting, centered not only on making a manuscript better, but on helping a writer learn and improve her craft.

My own problem with criticism isn’t taking it so much as taking it too well. I have a very bad habit of, when presented with a correction to the text, immediately rethinking everything surrounding that part of the story and believing that the correction is right just because someone else thought so. Not all corrections are good ones. Not all changes are an improvement. Whether because a reader missed something elsewhere, or didn’t understand what you were doing, or simply didn’t know enough about the historical background of the book, corrections can be wrong. While it’s important not to reject comments out of hand, it’s also important to remember that this is your book and you’re the one who’s going to live or die by whatever’s in its pages. Sometimes you really do know best.

I have between four and five beta readers, each of whom brings a different viewpoint to the manuscript. These are people I trust to be both clear and accurate in their comments, even when they’re telling me things I don’t like. I don’t take all their suggestions, though I do consider every one of them. Sometimes a comment on a specific passage leads me to consider the issue more globally; sometimes I can tell one of my readers missed something important and I go back and fix the other thing instead. But I think I’ve been lucky in never having had a beta reader who was a clear mismatch for my book, or who didn’t understand what exactly a beta reader’s supposed to do.

Line edits are different. In the case of the manuscript I was working on yesterday, the two line editors were assigned by my publisher. I’ve met one of them online; I have no idea who the second one was. And I immediately saw a difference between the two. The first could tell what I wanted for this book and was very good about suggesting changes that brought it closer to that ideal. She lacked a knowledge of the historical period I’m writing in, but was aware of her lack of knowledge. In fact, that made the book stronger because she asked questions that someone not familiar with the English Regency period would ask, pointing out places where the story would be opaque to such readers. And she made a lot of changes that made me squirm, but I was forced to admit she was right.

The second one wasn’t nearly so pleasant. Some of his or her changes were good, and one change in particular made me look at the manuscript differently. Unfortunately, this person also introduced errors into the text, made corrections that showed they didn’t know much about the time period, and had a very strange theory of paragraphing. I found myself feeling very hostile toward this unknown person, angry over the errors, angrier (because I have contrarian tendencies) when they were right about something or made a change that was better than what I’d come up with.

I have sole control over the final version. It would have been easy to just reject every one of those edits on the grounds that some of them were bad and I was angry over this person’s presumption. But this is part of criticism too–not letting personal irritation get in the way of making the book better. So I groused a lot about it to my husband, and I accepted the places where that reader was right, and rejected the things that were wrong. And then I moved on.

Write. But don’t write in a vacuum. Someone is going to criticize your writing. It’s so much better to receive that criticism when you’re still in a position to do something about it.

Release day–RIDER OF THE CROWN!

Release day! I’m so excited for people to read RIDER OF THE CROWN. You can purchase it for the Kindle here , in print here, and at other retailers very soon.

I’m also having a Rafflecopter giveaway for an ebook of RIDER OF THE CROWN plus a $25  Amazon gift card to celebrate. It ends October 27, so enter soon!

 

On tour with Prism Book Tours.
Release Day Blitz for
Rider of the Crown
By Melissa McShane

 

We’re spreading the word about this newest fantasy release with an
exclusive excerpt and giveaway. Read more and enter to win below!

 

Excerpt from Rider of the Crown

 

Imogen, warrior of the Kirkellan tribes, marries the King of their long-time enemy the Ruskalder. Her obedience is the price of her people’s safety, but she can be pushed only so far:
     Hrovald slammed his fist down on the high table. “You will do as I command!”
     Imogen stared the King down. Her fear for Dorenna and for Elspeth had drained her ability to fear anything else. “Think again, husband,” she said softly. “You have no right to force me. I am your wife because I choose to be. I follow your rules because I choose to do so. You may think of me as a Ruskalder wife, but I swore oath to a Kirkellan husband, and no Kirkellan husband has the right to insist I not follow my conscience when someone’s life is at stake. So, husband, I intend to return to that room and continue caring for Elspeth North, and you should think very carefully about how far you’re willing to go to stop me.”
     Hrovald glared furiously at her. His fingers curled into a fist, and briefly Imogen remembered the treaty, and the Kirkellan, and Ruskalder warriors slaughtering her people. If she didn’t back down, what might he decide to do? Enough, she thought. I’m not going to be a hostage anymore. If he breaks the treaty, it’s on his head, and we Kirkellan will just have to endure. As we always do. She straightened her spine. She wasn’t some frail Ruskalder woman. She was a warrior of the Kirkellan, and she would show this man no fear.
Rider of the CrownRider of the Crown

 

(The Crown of Tremontane, #2)
by Melissa McShane

Adult Fantasy

Paperback & ebook, 385 Pages
October 22nd 2015 by Night Harbor Publishing

 

 

 

Imogen, warrior of the Kirkellan tribes, has never wanted to be anything else. But when the long war between the Kirkellan and the country of Ruskald ends, the terms of the peace treaty require Imogen to be married to the vicious King of Ruskald for five years. Confined to his freezing city, forbidden to fight, Imogen sees nothing but darkness in her future—until the arrival of Elspeth North, heir to the Crown of Tremontane, brings three countries to the brink of war and sets Imogen free.Now, sent to be the ambassador of her people to Tremontane, Imogen faces new challenges as she struggles to maintain her warrior’s identity in a world of glittering ballrooms and foreign customs. As a diplomat, Imogen discovers skills she never knew she had—as well as a forbidden attraction to the handsome and charismatic King Jeffrey North. But when war once again threatens not only Tremontane but her own people, Imogen must decide: is she the warrior, the diplomat—or something greater?

 

 

Also in the Series

Servant of the CrownServant of the Crown

 

(The Crown of Tremontane, #1)
by Melissa McShane
Adult Fantasy Paperback & ebook, 405 Pages
July 15th 2015 by Night Harbor Publishing

 

 

Alison Quinn, Countess of Waxwold, is content with her bookish life—until she’s summoned to be a lady-in-waiting to the Queen of Tremontane’s mother for six months. Even the prospect of access to the Royal Library doesn’t seem enough to make up for her sacrifice, but Alison is prepared to do her service to the Crown. What she’s not prepared for is Prince Anthony North, Queen Zara’s playboy brother, who’s accustomed to getting what he wants—including the Countess of Waxwold.
When the fallout from an unfortunate public encounter throws the two of them together, Alison has no interest in becoming the Prince’s next conquest. But as the weeks pass, Alison discovers there’s more to Anthony than she—or he—realized, and their dislike becomes friendship, and then something more—until disaster drives Alison away, swearing never to return.
Then Alison is summoned by the Queen again, this time to serve as Royal Librarian. A threat to Tremontane’s government, with her treasured Library at stake, draws Alison into the conflict…and into contact with Anthony once more. Can they work together to save the Royal Library and Tremontane? And can she open her heart to love again?

 

 

 

Melissa McShaneMelissa McShane grew up a nomad, following her family all over the United States, and ended up living in the shadow of the Wasatch Mountains with her husband, four kids, and three very needy cats. Her love of reading was always a constant during those uncertain years, and her love of writing grew out of that. She wrote reviews and critical essays for many years before turning to fiction, and was surprised at how much she liked it. She loves the fantasy genre and how it stretches the imagination.

Website – Blog – Goodreads – Pinterest

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