Wednesday, October 30, 2013

WednesdayBriefs: Sealed in Stone #19

Welcome to Wednesday Briefs, where authors post free fiction of 1000 words or less each week.

I’m continuing the story of Willem and Torrey, whose love for each other makes for an uneasy fit in an alien society. This week the prompts were: “Did you really think that would scare me?” or “Yo mama’s so scary...” or “Suck on that, big boy!” or “This place made the Bates Motel look like Disneyland...” or “I want my mummy!” or “You got candy? I only got rocks!” or feature a haunted house or a vampire or any Halloween creature or have your character in costume or use the Great Pumpkin or “When did you get to be so smart?” or have a character playing a video game or have a potato sack race or have a character watch NASCAR.


Enjoy!

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Sealed in Stone #19


“Once you are inside the nom, we cannot protect you, not truly. We can only try.” Jayn sounded tired, and old. Lines of care creased the skin bracketing her lips.

Willem adjusted his work belt, glad to be wearing tools again. A sturdy chitin case at his feet held his larger tools. Though Jayn was certain he’d been included on the team for reasons other than to do stonework inside the nom, he still hoped for it. Humans had created works of wonder inside Pesht, most known only through drawings and rumor. Havar’s Folly. Vayna’s Chamber. The Throne of Kavra. If he could lay eyes on any of these works… or create such a work of his own for the ages….

“Are you listening?”

“Yes, Kumbharani. I will honor the rules and not present myself in any way that would tempt the nomari.”

“You only need worry about the queens or the intelligent females. Warriors don’t care and workers care even less.” She fussed with his veil. Men who went into the nom did so concealed from the hairs on their head to the soles of their feet. He’d bathed and scrubbed and been massaged with doje oil to dampen his scent. “We do not know why She sent for you. Her reasons will become clear. She has promised to house the team safely, and I assume that means you also.”

“You’re just concerned Torrey will have no one to write to.” Willem worried about that himself. What if this was the Queen’s way of taking that away? Torrey’s right to communicate with his kumbh was written into the alliance, not Torrey’s right to communicate with him. Maybe Jayn was right. His and Torrey’s love for each other provided avenues to control… and punishment.

“He will write to me now, or someone else. Your situation worries me more.”

“I’m not pretty enough to tempt a queen.”

Jayn laughed. “A scar does not make you ugly, or less useful in bed. Not perfect enough to be a trophy, perhaps, but you could serve very well in private. Junior queens with no means and no dominance or power scheme to acquire males with less to offer than you. You are a son of this kumbh, a skilled artisan, healthy and in your prime. Don’t think for a moment you would not tempt any of them.” Her arms stretched above her head as she reached for his veil and pulled it down over his face. Now she resembled only a shadow, without features, only a voice. “You will be watched. If you see my son, follow his lead in every encounter. He will let you know what to do. And if you do not see him, stay with your team. Do your work. Never let yourself be separated from them.”

A large palanquin waited in the courtyard. After placing his case into a rack carried by a squat, silent nomari worker, he entered the palanquin. Inside, he joined the rest of the team, four women wearing tool belts just as he did, but without the obscuring veil.

“That’s ridiculous,” said Shel, giving the fabric a tug. “Push it back. We know what you look like.”

Curtain in place, the conveyance lurched and rolled for a moment, then balanced and they were on their way.

“The veil stays.” Lena Hal had a tiny voice but the bite in it caused Shel to stop.

“And is he going to work in it? He can barely move.”

“Or breathe.” Willem lifted the gauzy material away from his face and tucked it behind his shoulder. “Only until we get to the nom,” he promised Lena, whose fierce glare he wanted to turn toward something else. “And if the curtain opens, this comes right down.”

“This is some sort of queen game, you know. You shouldn’t even be on a team, not any team that goes in there.”

“I’m the damn best artisan here.”

Marda Kwin shot him a look that said he’d have to back up that statement later.
“And you’re male, which means we have to protect your ass and make sure none of the junior queens catch sight of you or get bright ideas. There are reasons men don’t go into the nom on work teams!”

Shel snorted. “He doesn’t even like women.”

“That doesn’t matter to them,” snapped Lena.

Willem’s cheeks burned. It was getting damn hot in this closed container. Leaving the kumbh was the strangest thing he’d ever done, sitting with a group of women in a luxurious box borne upon the shoulders of immense nomari workers bred specifically to be beasts of burden. He was leaving everything he knew behind and going toward things that would be completely alien. Starting with this.

“I know what to do. I won’t show my face, any part of my body. I won’t speak. I will always stand behind the women.”

Lena exchanged glances with Marda, Shel, and a cutter named Rue before turning back to him. “When did you get to be so smart?”

“The day Torrey left and I realized I wouldn’t see him again unless I was smart.”

“Just because we’re going to the Queen’s chambers doesn’t mean any of us will see Her, or him.”

“And even if we do,” said Marda, “what are you going to do, run up and kiss him? Do I have to explain how that’s not a good idea?”

Rue barked with laughter. “Maybe it would be. I’ve heard about her little quirks.”
Willem wanted to hear more about Cyrrhi’s ‘quirks’ but to his disappointment Lena stopped Rue from continuing. “There won’t be any of that. We’re going in for a job. We’re going to do a job. We’re going to carve a bathing chamber for the Queen’s Chosen. It might take us months, maybe a year. Maybe we should wager our chances of going that long without either Cyrrhi or one of her junior queens snatching Will here.”

Rue laughed. “Not a chance.”


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Thanks for reading! If you’re looking for more fun, free fiction use the links below to visit the blogs of the other Wednesday Briefers.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Help! Alicia Nordwell Wants Cover Feedback

Alicia Nordwell wants to know what readers think about her book cover. So here's your chance to give it to her straight. Your comment might also win a copy of the book.

Feedback


Scary word, right? For readers there’s the question: Will the author appreciate my thoughts? How should I address their writing? What is and is not appropriate to say? Discussions have raged on Gay Authors about this very subject. Authors wonder why people don’t comment if feedback is sparse, some agonize over that or bad reviews. We all love good reviews, of course, lol!

I’m an avid reader myself, and of course, an author. I live on feedback. I relish every bit of constructive criticism I receive, grin when I get encouragement, and a few times… I’ve dearly needed the thoughts sent to me by readers when I was about to give up. That’s one of the many reasons why I like posting free fiction. Okay, I’m just loose for feedback, and I get more when you guys can actually read my stories! :P

I did receive a good bit of feedback from a reader on Goodreads for Picked at the Peak, which was great. One of their comments was that the cover was ‘less than good’. I haven’t heard back on WHY though, and it’s driving me bonkers! I also foray into cover creation, and since this was a self-published novella, I did the cover myself.

What do you think of it? The truth now! :P I can take it.
  

Okay, now that I’ve used you all :P In thanks I do have one final contest. One person who shared their thoughts on the cover (remember, honest, I can’t fix it if there’s something wrong if no one tells me!) will win a free copy of Picked at the Peak. Then, in thanks to everyone who has followed along to each hop spot, I am going to take 25% off the price!
A big thank you has to go to Tali for hosting me. I can’t say enough about the awesome support network of authors I’ve found in the last few years!

Picked at the Peak

Synopsis:

Aislin was surrounded by his extensive, but close-knit, family his whole life. He was the younger brother or the cousin they needed to protect and the kid’s favorite uncle, but he was never just Aislin. His overbearing family rarely listened to him, so sure they knew best. His adult years had all been about proving that the accident that damaged his leg as a teenager didn’t limit him.

He started a microbrewery business, bought a winery and decided to have... a baby.

The news shocked his family and friends, but he was determined to be a single parent. Not that Aislin wouldn’t love to have a partner, but dating never really worked out for him. It didn’t matter if he was gay, or single, or had a handicap. He was more than prepared.

He was not expecting the drastic change the next nine months would wreak on his life.

Excerpt:

"How exactly does a gay man get pregnant?" Conn asked as the room fell silent.
Teague smirked. "Yeah, was it the old-fashioned way, insert slot A into slot B? Who’s the baby daddy? Are you going to start showing soon?" His wife smacked him on the arm. "Ow."

"Don't be vulgar." Karen sat on the arm of his chair. She gave him a warning look. "Let Aislin talk."

Aislin sighed. "I am not pregnant, you idiots." He glared at his cousin and his brother. "A woman is having the baby, not me." Teague’s raised eyebrow and open mouth made him hold up his hand. “And no, I didn’t get her pregnant the old-fashioned way either.”

"A woman?" His cousin Nora was sitting next to him. She'd just finished feeding her daughter Anna and was trying to burp the fussy baby. She frowned at him. "Is she someone we know?"

"No, she's not a friend of mine or anything. Here, let me." He took the squirming infant and set her against his shoulder. He gave her a few strong pats on her back and then ran his fingers up her spine. Her little back arched, and she burped. He rubbed her silky hair, kissing the side of her head before handing her back to her mom.

"Thanks. You've always been good with the kids," Nora said. “How exactly is a woman having a baby for you? Why haven’t we heard anything about this before?"
Aislin looked around the living room. His entire family had come together in his house for Thanksgiving, and as big as it was, the living room was still packed with his family including all his aunts, uncles, and cousins. The older kids were all running around upstairs except for his brother's twin toddlers who were sitting in a playpen in the corner and the baby in Nora’s arms.

His little announcement had stopped everyone's conversations, and they were all staring at him. Most of the guys had taken up the chairs and seats near the TV to watch football, and the women were discussing their game plan to hit the early Black Friday sales. His father had muted the TV as soon as Aislin dropped his little conversation bomb though, and they had all turned to stare at him.

Aislin scanned the faces nearest to him, his brother and cousins. "Look, between the eight of you there are twenty two kids under the age of fifteen in this house. I love each and every one of them, and it’s great being Uncle Aislin, but I've always wanted to be a dad. It felt like now was the right time."

He hesitated to look at his mom. A lot of Aislin’s fear of telling his family hinged on how his mother would react. Would she think he was doing the wrong thing to have a baby? His dad might have been the one to lay down the law when he and Teague had gotten in trouble while growing up, but they'd both would’ve preferred facing his wrath than their mother's disappointment. Sorcha Kavanagh could be a very scary woman.

Another of his cousins moved over and sat down on the couch on the other side of him and patted his knee. "Well, I'm happy for you," Carlyn said.

He winced and pulled away. After most of the family dinners the women would surround him on the couch. He got to play with the babies, whom he enjoyed, but sometimes they forgot how sensitive his bad leg was. He pulled his forearm crutch up and leaned it against the couch next to his thigh to create a barrier.

"Thanks." He finally glanced at his mother but her face was still a blank canvas, her emotions hidden as she listened to him answer all the questions coming his way. He bit his lip. When was she going to say something?

Roisin cleared her throat. "Not that we aren't all happy for you, but what exactly brought this desire on to have kids now?" His aunt was sitting next to his mother on a love seat in the corner by the playpen where they could coo over the twins.

Aislin looked at baby Anna, her body seemingly boneless now that she was sated, as she snuggled innocently in Nora’s arms. He reached out to touch one finger to her petal soft cheek. "Well, Nora and Luke had just had Anna. I was visiting them in the hospital, and I kept thinking that I wanted that.”

The desire had been so strong he’d had to leave and find a quiet place to think. The hospital atrium had a small fountain he’d sat at many times before while waiting for a niece or nephew to make their way into the world. He’d sat there for an hour before a dad had walked over with a little boy and coaxed him to throw in a coin. He wished, in a sweet voice, for his new baby brother to be born that week while a very pregnant, and exhausted looking, mom stood waiting for them. He’d known right then, as he watched the man pick up and laugh with his son, that he wasn’t willing to wait anymore. Aislin sighed. “I wanted a baby of my own. I wanted to be able to take home a beautiful miracle and be a daddy. So I decided to look into my options."

His dad cleared his throat. "So what exactly did you mean when you said that you're having a baby? Are you adopting this woman’s child?"

"No." He looked over at his dad who sat with his arms crossed over his chest. "I found a surrogate. She is actually having my baby. I didn't really expect it all to happen so fast. She got pregnant on our first try. We found out three weeks ago that it worked."

His fingers pinched the crease on his dress pants. It was all still so surreal. He’d expected the process to take longer even though he'd been planning every step along the way. He’d learned that his baby would come at its own pace, regardless of his own expectations. "So, according to the doctor, sometime late next July or early August, my son or daughter will be born."

"Why didn't you tell us?" Aislin wasn't fooled by the soft tone in his mother's voice. He sucked in a quick breath and let it out with a heavy sigh.

"I don't know, Mom. I wasn't sure of how it would all work, and by the time I'd talked to a lawyer, found a surrogate, and we started the whole process I couldn't help but feel like it was sort of private. How was I supposed to tell you that I was going to a clinic to have my sperm inserted into a strange woman so we could hopefully make a baby?" A blush washed over him and he felt his face heat just saying that.

Teague snickered, and Karen smacked him.

“Intrauterine insemination isn’t any more successful than the average traditional attempts to make a baby. I thought I had a few months to figure out how to tell you. I just,” he shrugged one shoulder, “I wanted to do that part on my own.”

A look of hurt crossed over her face.

With his large family, privacy was in short supply. After his accident when he was sixteen most of his family members tended to be a little smothering in their desire to make sure he was okay. Their behavior made him fight for his independence even more after he recovered and eventually led to him moving farther away from the family than anyone else.

He had to hope his mother would understand. If he could only explain the way he felt, the anxiety and fear the IUI wouldn’t work, or his worry that somehow his disability would prevent him from becoming a dad. "I didn't do it to hurt anyone. I only waited three weeks to tell the family that the baby was actually a reality until now because I wanted to have everyone all together for Thanksgiving. Sometimes I can't really believe that it's actually happening still and," he hesitated, "I wasn't sure how everyone would react."

His mother spoke carefully, "Did you think that we wouldn't welcome your child just as much as your brother's and your cousins’ babies?"

Aislin blinked. "No, of course not!" The thought had never crossed his mind. He knew that his parents wouldn't treat any child he had differently from their other grand kids, and neither would anyone else in the family. "I don't know if I could explain why I wanted to do this on my own. I only had enough money for two tries with a surrogate, but I didn't expect it to really happen the first time. I didn't want to get everyone's hopes up if it didn't work, maybe, but I didn't mean to hurt anyone. When it did, I wanted to wait to make sure nothing went wrong."

Teague cleared his throat. "How are you going to do everything on your own? Kids aren't exactly easy to take care of." He glanced at Aislin's crutch.

That argument Aislin was prepared for. "I managed to keep Tasha and Sammy overnight didn't I? We were perfectly fine on our own. I'm pretty sure I can handle one baby."

"You did," said Teague's wife Karen. "But there is a big difference from babysitting to having a baby dependent on you twenty-four hours a day."

"And each of you made that leap with help from the family," Aislin pointed out, "and so will I. Look, I know better than any of you what my limitations are. I would never have considered having a baby if I didn't think I could take care of him or her. Yes, I have a bad leg, and I need a crutch to walk.” He didn’t mention the pain he lived with or how much he could ache at the end of the day. Pain was a fact of life for him and wasn’t going to change, but he wasn’t going to let that reality dictate his life.

“I’m not really fast. I have a bad leg and use a crutch but I still have a free arm. Besides, they have those little baby hammock things. I'm sure I can use one of those if I need to carry more stuff than I can handle, or I’ll make extra trips.” Aislin’s throat burned as he tried to explain to them how he was feeling. “I'm already half in love with the baby just knowing that he or she is a reality, and it’s only been a few weeks. In nine months they’ll be in my arms, and I'd really like to know that my family is happy for me."

He looked at his parents, holding his breath. His father had uncrossed his arms, and his mother was wiping a tear off her cheek.

They had to know how important this was to him.

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Twitter: @AliciaNordwell

Friday, October 25, 2013

“The Seventh Sacrifice” Release Today

If you’re looking for a dark, richly detailed story set in South America’s Andes mountains, check out my short “The Seventh Sacrifice,” released by Storm Moon Press today. 

Beltran is a peaceful man, but when his Bolivian cousin is brutalized, he seeks out a native sorcerer in a quest for vengeance. He doesn't know the attractive shaman, Katari, is an amaru demon, a serpent shifter determined to break an ancient spell. Beltrans about to discover the price of black magic.

This story was originally included in the Devil’s Night anthology and is now being offered for individual purchase.

One of the cool things about this story—at least for me—is that it has locations I know from from my time in Bolivia. The roof and interior of the Iglesia de San Francisco, for example, and the city of La Paz. I walked the same streets Beltran does and shopped at the Mercado de las Brujas. And the things my mother-in-law told me about that church and the market behind it made their way into this story. I just take the story in a very dark and non-consensual direction, so fair warning.

Here's a snippet from the beginning:


Marisol had told him the shop to look for, that it would have an orange awning with a sign proclaiming it to be the house of guardian angels.  Two angels hugged the words, though the beings looked more like winged serpents.  In fact, they looked a bit like demons.
Beltran thought them fitting.  Angels had little enough to do with the native religion.
He angled his way through the street’s milling crowd of colorful cholas and photo-snapping tourists until he reached the shop entrance.  Two stone steps flanked by tables of packaged, prefabricated charms led to the narrow hole-in-the-wall that constituted a store.  Every spare millimeter of space was packed with arcane objects.  Fully furred llama fetuses with huge, black eyes and grimacing teeth hung from a pole over the doorway, while more of the samemummified and without furlay piled in baskets.  The dried husks of armadillos, toads, and starfish held sway among racks of cheap beads, brass bells, and trays of colored powders.  Beltran hoped the powders were herbs, but at least one looked like dried blood, and he knew the others could be anything from antlers to hooves, teeth, or bones.
But what caught his eye next, and took away his already scanty breath, was the man sitting on a stool just inside the doorway.  Black hair, straight and shining, framed a brown face with strong features and high cheekbones.  The heavy mane cascaded behind broad shoulders and a red poncho of alpaca wool.  As the man rose to his feet, Beltran saw that he was taller than most native men, with a wiry, powerful frame.  The shopkeeper’s eyes commanded him most of all: deep and black, they locked onto his with a hunger so fierce, the compulsion in them made him quiver.

Holy Mother of God, Beltran thought, forcing himself to breathe normally.  Marisol never told me her shaman would be gorgeous!

There's also a longer excerpt HERE. Enjoy!

The ebook is available at Storm Moon Press.
Also at All Romance Ebooks.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Wednesday Briefs: Sealed in Stone #18

Welcome to Wednesday Briefs, where authors post free fiction of 1000 words or less each week.

I’m continuing the story of Willem and Torrey, whose love for each other makes for an uneasy fit in an alien society. This week the prompts were: “Who the fuck made you emperor?” or use a tootsie roll pop or use the evil eye or “My Aunt Fanny has bigger boobs than you do!” or “You win some, you lose some...” or use: a pirate, a gentleman, and a sheep or make a reference to any REM song or “She/he asked you to do what?” or “The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind” or “Two plus two equals what?”


Enjoy!

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Sealed in Stone #18


“How many passings have you been with me?”

“Three greater and two lesser, my Queen.” Torrey leaned into Cyrrhi’s hand and relaxed to her kiss upon his hair. Lately when she touched him, he wanted to touch her back.

It had been a long day of audiences followed by drafting of letters. The goldsmithing kumbh, the Kasarim, desired an alliance with one of Pesht’s younger queens and Cyrrhi had questioned the request. Another queen had asked to choose the same youth a year before, but the kumbh declined that petition. Torrey had read the letters the Kasarim presented. That of the young man, Alber, convinced him the match was wanted by both. After listening to his opinion, Cyrrhi approved the union and he’d helped word the official consent.

“You are a great help to me. Greater than I could have hoped. Though I take Hari to my bed and favor his kram between my legs, you do not demand to take his place. Perhaps you are relieved?” Amusement warmed her voice and glowed in her golden eyes.

Torrey flushed slightly. Stories abounded of queens who’d destroyed the men they could not possess. Fortunately, she did possess him. But desire? What he felt for Cyrrhi was complicated—woven of kindness, necessity, and growing admiration for her adept politics—and it felt terribly close to love. The only jealousy he’d detected had been the night before when Cyrrhi visited his chamber to see the gift he had received. Willem’s starflower carving rested upon the table beside his bed. She’d caressed the smooth white petals with her fingertips and watched his face.

Now she drew those fingertips along the bared skin of his arm, awakening a shiver of arousal. “Are you relieved, my Chosen, because I have not asked you for that?”

“You desire Hari, my Queen. He desires you and I… I do not want what Hari wants. I know you know this. Hari can give you things I cannot.”

She nodded and looked past him, to the closed door of the chamber. “Yes, he does give me that. His body craves what mine craves. But you are my Chosen, my match in mind and soul. Sovesa guided me well. You bring a sweetness, a purity of heart and purpose, to every hour I spend with you. Not even Arton, who I loved in every way, wanted so little for himself as you. This cannot continue. I wish for you to be happy here, with me.”

“I am happy, my Queen.”

It was a lie, of course. One he hoped she would not detect. Happiness came when he read letters Willem had written, or when he lay in his bed, alone in his chamber late at night, gazing upon a stone starflower whitened by moonlight.

“I think you will be, very soon.” Her lips touched his and Torrey inhaled the exciting musk of a queen on the edge of estrous. It awakened his every nerve. “I have decided to give you a gift.”

* * * *

“She asked you to do what?”

Jayn frowned down at Willem. He had followed her order to be seated and now he knew why she’d asked. The request was shocking.

“Pesht’s Queen has asked for a team of our workers to construct a new room in her chambers. And she specifically asked for you.”

Torrey. There could be no other reason. Willem’s heart hammered at his breastbone. “Me? Why? Men aren’t permitted on work teams—”

“Ordinarily, yes, that would be true.” Jayn sighed and lowered her body onto the chair beside his. “The dangers are great. Kidnapping, rape… mateless queens commit these acts far too often in the face of temptation. You will have to be heavily guarded. Cyrrhi has sent an escort of warriors. I will be sending a team headed by Lena Hal, perhaps with Shel as banker mason.”

“Will I see Torrey?” If they were going to the Queen Chambers….

“She did not say. She only said she wishes for stoneworkers to prepare a chamber as a gift for her Chosen.” Jayn’s fierce pale gaze fastened on his hopeful one. “I cannot tell if Torrey has pleased her and this chamber is to be his reward—or if he has displeased her and you are going there to build his tomb. All we know of what goes on in the nom comes from those queens with whom we are allied, if they tell us anything at all… or Torrey’s letters to you. Has he said anything? Something unusual? Something curious?”

Willem shook his head. His hair was longer than it had been. He’d stopped cutting it when he quit working with heavy blocks of stone. “No. He sounds careful, but not like he’s scared. We have words”—he caught himself, but Jayn simply smiled. Of course she knew—“he never used any to say he was in trouble. Just ones to ask if I was. I can write him a letter and ask—”

“No time for that. We have too much to do to prepare you.”

“For what? I already know how to carve, better than anyone.”

“Ha! Yes, you managed to show off your skill, didn’t you? Sending a gift to my son! I would not have allowed it.” Willem squirmed. He’d taken advantage of Jayn’s absence and his knowledge of her office to affix her seal of approval to the package. Now he could not meet her eyes, knowing she’d dismissed her second because of it. “The bad part of this is Cyrrhi should not even know you exist. You were never offered! No, if she knows of you, that’s Torrey’s doing.”

“You encouraged him to write to me!”

“No, I discouraged him!” The words stung like chips of flying stone. “I told him to communicate through me, but he insisted on writing directly to you and in doing so he revealed you. He revealed a weapon that can be turned against him.”


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Thanks for reading! If you’re looking for more fun, free fiction use the links below to visit the blogs of the other Wednesday Briefers.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Wednesday Briefs: Sealed in Stone #17

Welcome to Wednesday Briefs, where authors post free fiction of 1000 words or less each week.

I’m continuing the story of Willem and Torrey, who are struggling to keep their love on an alien world. This week the prompts were: “It had to be you” or use keys in some way or have a character bake a cake or “He was hung like...” or use a fan dancer in some way or “I thought he’d never finish” or “where there's a will, there’s a way” or “nothing but a heartache”.


Enjoy!

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Sealed in Stone #17


Willem ground his palms against his eyes, then blinked again at the paper he was reading. He could only stare at ink strokes so long before he wanted to take up a grindstone and do some real work. Protracted argument had worked to get Jayn to allow him to turn the sitting area of Torrey’s apartment—he would never think of it as his own—into a modest workshop. He could shape stone, at least, in his spare time and do small work. He’d made a vase out of a block of green onyx for Jayn. She’d pronounced the workmanship excellent and he’d last seen it sitting on her desk, holding a spray of long stemmed golden trumpets.

They’d reached a kind of equilibrium. She tried to understand him… and he tried to pretend he found any of the words on these papers interesting.

Your education should have extended beyond numbers and science. He heard her voice in his head every time he balked at lessons. It was a mistake to stop teaching you civilized arts just because you scarred your face.

She had based that decision more on an attempt to separate him as much as possible from her son, not thinking through the situation. His and Torrey’s friendship had endured, and grown, and now she was trying to remedy her error with books and tutors. Like Infida, the rotund woman instructing him now, showing him selected passages from history texts and trying to impress upon him the importance of understanding human interaction with the nom.

“Our reproduction is adversely affected when our females live inside the nom. Too many eggs release at once, too many are fertilized and implant, too many fetuses develop. Seven or eight or more is not unusual. These pregnancies do not succeed and often the mothers are lost as well.”

“So we moved outside.” He knew this part of the lesson already.

“We did. The First Mothers at Eshuun made a pact with their Queen. So many turnings ago! They made a pact to protect our women—and our men. The nomari find our men desirable. Useful. They crave males for pleasure and, during their nuptial phases, for crude copulation. All other things for which they find us useful—our contributions to their commerce and economy, our art, our prowess at innovation and implementation of new ideas—pale next to their sexual use of our men.”

“The reason we control… regulate”—his use of the word caused Infida to arch an eyebrow with approval—“access to our men.”

“Yes, yes! They cannot take our men too young, something they would gladly do if their tendencies were not restrained. They can only take our men by trading power to us for them. Alliances with queens are key. They connect us to trade routes, resources, important commodities. Food, for example. Nomari workers are more numerous and more efficient at producing food than we are.”

“Which frees us to concentrate on commerce and playing power games.”

“Power games, as you call them, are the highest level of protection for this kumbh. For all kumbhs. Playing them well is why the Bhesarim thrive where others struggle.”

And how Torrey’s sacrifice could be justified. One young man—one male—was a small price to pay for influence with Pesht’s Queen.

“And my learning this is going to help Torrey? I don’t see how.”

“You learning anything at all is debatable. The only thing you understand is building walls. Walls against knowledge are dangerous.” The way Infida lifted her chin and looked down her nose at him was not new. What was new was the sharpness of her rebuke.

Willem knew he tried her patience, though he didn’t really intend to. He held out the long piece of paper he’d worked on all night. “You told me to write out the connections between Pesht and the kumbhs. I did it this way.”

He’d sketched the many interactions with drawings and a few notations, rather than write them out. His first attempt at writing everything down had led him to scratch out too many words and ruin too much paper. In the end, the chart had been easier. He’d even put a key at the bottom to help explain the more complicated parts.

Infida peered at it through the lenses perched on her nose. Her mother had come from Eshuun, where humans tended to be weak-eyed.

“How fascinating! It seems where there’s a will, there’s a way!” She laughed and lowered the paper. “So you have been listening and reading the texts.”

“Best I could.”

“Judging by this, you have just become my best student.”

“I want to help Torrey. I just don’t see how learning any of this will do that.”

“No chart can explain the intersections of knowledge and trust. You are useful to us. We are making you useful to him. Leave that part to the Kumbharani.” She gathered up her texts, including the one he had been reading. “I think I can give you the rest of the afternoon to yourself, young scholar.”

She swept from the room, paper in hand. At least she’d relieved him from having to read more eye-numbing texts.

Taking advantage of afternoon’s good light, Willem went to his work bench. He’d obtained a small block of pristine white marble and had nearly finished working it into a cluster of starflowers just like those that bloomed on the vines around Torrey’s window. Torrey had told him on more than one occasion that whenever he saw a starflower he thought of Willem.

People had told Willem he’d think of Torrey less as the days passed, but that hadn’t happened. He missed his friend’s laugh, his kisses, the scent of his hair and the taste of his skin.

One day soon he would just die of the yearning, and then where would Jayn and her stupid lessons be?

Willem put the starflowers in a box and sealed it, to be sent along with his next letter.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Thanks for reading! If you’re looking for more fun, free fiction use the links below to visit the blogs of the other Wednesday Briefers.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Improving With Age

One of my favorite writers, Michael Rupured, has a new release from MLR that ties murder, 60's era Washington, DC and the gays right movement of that era into a shiny, thrilling bow. And he's giving away not one, not two, but TEN books during his blog tour! Check this out... 
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Thanks so much, Tali, for inviting me to your blog to talk about my new release, After Christmas Eve, from MLR Press. Can you believe it’s already been a year since I first turned up on your blog? Funny how time flies when you’re having fun!
To celebrate the 10/11 release of my second novel, I’m giving away 10 copies (ebooks) through an 11-stop blog hop. To enter, comment before midnight, October 25, 2013 on any of my posts on the eleven participating blogs. Be sure to include an email address.
I took French in junior high and high school and plodded through three semesters of Russian in college. I never learned enough to think in either language. I was too busy for all the required studying in college, but high school was a different story. Five years is a lot of time to have learned so little. I should have been thinking in French.
Becoming a good writer is like learning to think in French. The more you practice, the better you get. Eventually, good writing becomes second nature. Then the writer's mind is free to focus on more interesting elements—like pacing, plot, and character development. With experience, these things become second nature, too, and the focus turns to new ways to improve the writing.
I've spent hundreds of hours ripping apart the work of the Robot Unicorns (writers in my critique group), listening to what others said about the same piece, and noting things others saw that I missed. Now that I'm paying attention, I notice the story-telling techniques in books, movies, and television dramas. Thinking about how the writer has crafted the story is great practice.
After Christmas Eve benefitted from having gone through the publication process with my last book. Experience is a great teacher. Writing three books (my unpublished memoir and two novels) has taught me a lot. Now I feel a little more like I know what I'm doing. 
Here’s the blurb:
As Philip Potter wraps up his last minute shopping on Christmas Eve, 1966, James Walker, his lover of six years, takes his life. Unaware of what waits for him at home, Philip drops off gifts to the homeless shelter, an act of generosity that later makes him a suspect in the murder of a male prostitute.

Two men drive yellow Continentals. One is a killer, with the blood of at least six hustlers on his hands. Both men have secrets. And as Philip is about to discover, James had kept secrets, too. But James wasn’t trying to frame him for murder…


*This is the third of eleven stops on the After Christmas Eve Blog Hop. Excerpts appear in serial form along the hop, beginning with my post at http://www.shiraanthony.com.
Excerpt #3 of 11
The very idea of asking anyone for money rubbed Philip the wrong way. He prided himself on his self-sufficiency. Asking Roland Walker was the last resort. All other options had failed. James meeting with the father he hadn’t seen or spoken to in the last five years was a testament to his desperation.
Philip stopped in front of Walgreen’s, admiring the attractive display of powder blue, sea foam green, canary yellow, and fire engine red transistor radios in the window. He bought two of each color and an extra red one—James’s favorite color. While he waited to have Daddy’s Helpers wrap the radios, he enjoyed a piece of cherry pie and a hot cup of coffee at the fountain. His impulse purchases when money was such an issue were blameworthy, but he knew James wouldn’t mind. A few more dollars wouldn’t make much difference anyway.
On the way home, he detoured by the Relief Society Shelter for wayward boys where his lover had often stayed before Philip had rescued him from the streets. Perhaps a cheery new radio would lift the spirits of the boys who’d spend this Christmas there. Philip knew James would appreciate the gesture even more than the watch that waited for him under the tinsel-laden tree in the G Street apartment they shared.
Philip opened the shelter’s door, stomped his feet a few times, and whisked his coat free of snow. He’d expected the cash-strapped facility to be deserted, and was surprised to see that wasn’t the case. The snow and cold had chased all but the hardiest souls from the streets. He hoped he’d bought enough radios.
The squeak of the color wheel changing the white artificial tree from amber to green, then red, blue, and back to amber competed with the tinny music coming from an eight-track tape player on the front desk. Philip recognized Joan Baez singing “Ave Maria” from her newly released Christmas album. Are eight-track tapes still albums? He wasn’t sure.
Boys playing Chinese checkers on a card table near the white-flocked tree erupted into laughter. A shortage of volunteers meant they lacked much in the way of parental influence, supervision, or positive role models. Philip wished he had time to join them as he walked toward the young man at the reception desk. The boy’s head was down, the fingers of his left hand tangled in his bangs as he concentrated on the fountain pen that danced across the page.

Continued on 10/16 on the blog of Eden Winters. (http://www.edenwinters.com/)

Buy link: MLR Press (http://www.mlrbooks.com/books.php)

Michael's Web site: http://rupured.com

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