Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Alchemy of Naming: Jon Keys on Writing "Crossfire"

I love hearing how other writers come up with things: names, places, ideas. So it's a pleasure to host Jon Keys and find out how he picks names for his characters. Also, I love this cover so much I'm showing it twice. Excuse me while I go fan myself. Welcome, Jon!

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Thanks Tali for having me! I’m thrilled to be here announcing the release of Crossfire as part of the Men in Uniform anthology from Torquere Press. I’m very excited that two of my short stories are appearing in Torquere Press’s anthologies this year with another shortcoming in July. But before I get too far ahead of myself I thought I’d give everyone a little insight into my writing process. Specifically I thought I’d talk about how I select character names.

Naming my characters has to be one of the most enjoyable, and frustrating, part of the whole outlining process. When I first started writing I was fairly casual about picking names. After that bit me in the rear-end a few times, I put a lot more effort into the character names now.

In Crossfire I had a general idea what I wanted my main characters to look like. Rick is muscular and Mediterranean while Gabriel is more slender and Scandinavian. Yay! I have a starting point for working out names. So here’s where I turn to the Internet. After trying to work out numerous character names, I’ve found a couple of places that are my go to sites for help.

Surnames are the easiest. Well, they are for me. I knew basically which areas of the world, and Wikipedia has a listing of most common surnames by continent. Bingo, pull up Europe and start shopping. Now, I’m playing a little fast and loose at this point. So I started trolling northern countries, and picked out my top four or five last names. How they sounded, how they looked on a page, and some indefinable parts that made me want to write using them. Then I repeated it for Rick and soon had another list of surnames from the European side of the Mediterranean.

Okay, short list for last names. Well, first names I have another site…Social Security. Yes, honest. They list the most common first names by decade, and even better, they break them down by state. So I shop through the names from the birthdates of my characters. Typically I don’t use the top of the list, although Joshua is a top ten pick. But I digress. I pick out more first names for each character on separate lists.

So now I have two lists for each character. (I seem to like lists a lot in case you haven’t picked up on that.) So I play mix and match. Some of the combinations are like fingernails on a chalkboard, some are questionable, but usually I have two last names and three or four first names that I think are workable. At this point, I stop working on the names. I know from experience that if I keep pressing it, the names won’t settle out. So I work on plot, or scenes or on this story I had to do a lot of research about the Colorado Highway Patrol. But the names wait.

Once I’ve given them a few days to ripen, I go back and look over my character names. By this point I usually have one that just seems right, so I let it audition. That’s right, the names have to audition. They’re trying out for the part of my characters name. So I begin writing. Usually they settle right in and after a page or two, I know they’re going to work. But occasionally, they never work right. Or I’m constantly misspelling them or worse yet, using the wrong name. Occasionally I press on. I can be stubborn! Damn it, I picked the name, it will work! Sometimes the character will settle down, but I finished a novel recently and had to go back and changed a characters name at that point. Sometimes stubborn is just stubborn.
So anyway, that’s how I decided on the character names for Crossfire. I hope everyone enjoys the tale as much as I did.

~ Jon ~


Blurb

Rick Anthis, a forty-five year old veteran of the Colorado State Police, and his husband, Gabriel Thorkelson, a deputy sheriff in a nearby county, enjoy the peace of their suburban Boulder home. Until three gunshots rip through the tranquil neighborhood and Rick witnesses the kidnapping of his buddy, eight year old Jacob.

The clues are sparse until Gabe reminds Rick of something Jacob had said. Rick has a starting point. He and his CSI team locate the remote hideout, only to find the the kidnappers are gone, and Gabe is missing too.

Excerpt from Crossfire.

Rick dried the last dish and handed it to Gabriel to put away. Gabriel settled the last plate into the white cabinets. He loved their house and the quiet, older neighborhood it was in. He hoped Mark and Rachel could work out their issues, keeping Jacob in the forefront.

Rick put his hand around Gabriel's slender waist. He's as sexy as he was in college. Damn just being next to him makes me randy. Releasing Gabriel, Rick folded the dishtowel carefully and laid it beside the sink. "Supper was great. You're a damn fine cook."

Gabriel snickered and spun to pop Rick with a wet towel. "It should taste good. Your mother gave me herbs from her garden the last time we visited."

"Mom's just trying to fatten me up. I'm kind of skinny for a forty-three year old Greek man."

The towel snapped against Rick's butt again and he grabbed at it. Gabriel danced away, his face lit with delight. "Where does that leave me?"

Rick swept Gabriel up and kissed him. "It leaves you in my arms, just where you should be."

Rick paused as he remembered the note in his pocket. Leaving his hand on the small of Gabriel's back he reached in his shirt pocket and fished out a small piece of yellow paper. He gripped it between two fingers and dangled the sheet in front of Gabriel.

"Speaking of, I found another note in my lunch."

Gabriel studied the symbols on the page as if he'd never seen them. "Huh, what do you think that means?"

Rick smiled. "I know what it's meant the last dozen times I found one in my lunch."
"Really? And what was that?"

"It meant I was going to be exhausted the whole next day."

"You don't say. Let me see that." Gabriel took the paper from Rick's hand and appeared to study the content. "Looks like Native American symbols. Hmm, maybe 'bear' and 'hunt'." He smiled at Rick with a glimmer in his eyes. "Are we going on a bear hunt this fall?" Gabriel reached up and tugged on the short hair coming from the top of Rick's T-shirt. The slight touch shifted his libido into high gear.

He nuzzled his face against Gabriel's throat and sighed at the spicy fragrance that curled through his nostrils. Rick slid his hand under Gabriel's shirt; the rub of his chest hair on Rick's palm ignited his desire. "What's the sign for otter? Because I think I need to hunt one of those little furry things." I still can't believe Mom gave Gabe my Eagle Scout pictogram project.

eBook Link:
 

Bio:

Jon Keys’ earliest memories revolve around books; with the first ones he can recall reading himself being “The Warlord of Mars” and anything with Tarzan. (The local library wasn’t particularly up to date.) But as puberty set in he started sneaking his mother’s romance magazines and added the world of romance and erotica to his mix of science fiction, fantasy, and comic books.

A voracious reader for almost half a century, Jon has only recently begun creating his own flights of fiction for the entertainment of others. Born in the Southwest and now living in the Midwest, Jon has worked as a ranch hand, teacher, computer tech, roughneck, designer, retail clerk, welder, artist, and, yes, pool boy; with interests ranging from kayaking and hunting to painting and cooking, he draws from a wide range of life experiences to create written works that draw the reader in and wrap them in a good story.

You can find me at:


Twitter: @Jon4Keys

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Hop Against Homophobia Winners

Though we're all winners when it comes to this event, three people who commented on my blog post are walking away with prizes.

This morning Cate the poodle and I sat down and picked names from a hat (well, actually a random number generator, but I wish it was a hat) and Cate thumped her tail and got a treat for every pick. She thanks you very much.

The winners are:

~ Copy of any of my books (ebook or paperback): Rodney Batterman and Rissa

~ $10 gift card: Sherry 

I've sent an email to each of the winners and will arrange to get their prizes to them.

Thanks so much to everyone who visited this blog. My post was quite personal and I didn't even realize how much Alfie and Benny meant to me until I actually wrote it. It's strange and also wonderful how powerfully people whose lives seem to barely touch our own can leave so profound an impact.

Shortly after I posted that post, one of my kids asked his father about what he thinks about gays marrying and was shocked when my ex said he thought it was all right. He mentioned Alfie and Benny as having had a stronger marriage than his own. If he could see that, and come to the conclusion he did, even old homophobes can someday see the light.

Maybe I'll make that next year's post.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Wednesday Briefs: Sealed in Stone #37

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

I’m continuing with Sealed in Stone, M/M science fiction about Torrey and Willem, two human youths who love each other but must fight to stay together when Torrey becomes the Chosen of the alien Queen who rules over his people.

In this chapter, our story comes to an end. Torrey and Willem have come full circle and its time to give them their happy ending.

This week I chose the prompt: “Well, come on, man, get naked!”    


Also, this week is the Hop Against Homophobia. My post is HERE and includes links to all the other participating authors. Did I mention the hop features prizes and giveaways? Enjoy!

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Sealed in Stone #37


“Help me.” Hari’s plea fell in soft syllables. Torrey wanted to turn away but couldn’t. His soul was sick, because of Cyrrhi.

“You betrayed her, Hari. You let Bekatti in.”

Urdhva signaled two warriors to seize Hari and he screamed as they dragged him to his feet. Though he was taller, their strength surpassed his several times over. Urdhva stood before him and touched his face, then trailed her hand down his body to stroke his sex.

“You are too deadly to keep, too dangerous to gift, too beautiful to let live. Either you used Sovesa and Bekatti to your ends, or you allowed them to use you. Join them, then, in their reward. You will have a vr’nabi for your last mate.”

As the warriors carried him away, Hari shouted back at Torrey. “You don’t know what it was like! You’ve never been a slave!”

“All men are slaves,” Torrey said, though Hari was gone and would never hear him. Only Willem heard. And Urdva, who would not disagree.

“It is done.” Urdhva addressed her court, her gathered queens and subordinate females, the lifeblood of the nom. “Now we feast.”

* * * *

The high terrace afforded privacy and excellent light. Spacious rooms opened onto the rooftop garden, which boasted a pool for bathing, and the interiors boasted furnishings fit for a queen. There was probably not a finer residence in all of Pesht’Dasa. Willem noticed how Jayn Prim nodded in approval of the recently appointed rooms.

“Urdhva’s going ahead with the bathing chamber for her Chosen. She sent these notes on the plans. I want you to look them over before I give them to the team.”
Willem took the rolled up plans in hand. Jayn had included him in several projects since he and Torrey had returned to the kumbh. He was even starting to like her a little. She’d been right about the training he’d needed.

“I wish Torrey didn’t have to go back into the nom so often.”

“Damas needs his counsel and Urdhva trusts Torrey to teach him. She desires her Chosen be trained in pan-nomari economics. Torrey is helping Damas reach his potential.”

Which was the same thing Torrey said whenever Willem brought it up. “What if She decides she’ll just keep Torrey, too?”

“Urdhva would never offend her Chosen or his kumbh—or this one—by taking Torrey. Two males of high status would create an impossible household and far too many complications.” Jayn laid a hand on his arm. “The day will come when Damas no longer needs a teacher.”

Maybe. But Torrey would still be sought out for advice, though Willem dared hope they would have long days and nights for each other.

As soon as Jayn left, Willem read over the plans and Urdhva’s notes. He scribbled his own notes to the team about some of the drainage problems presented by the half-finished chamber. He then left the plans on the table and walked outside to the bathing pool. The clear water beckoned and he stripped off his dejebba, tossing the loose garment onto a couch crafted of woven reeds. He slipped into the just slightly cool water and mentally thanked Urdhva for having ordered they be housed in luxury and seclusion.

Willem was still lolling in the shallows, allowing his body to soak up the sun, when he heard steps and rolling over to see Torrey standing at pool edge, watching him and wearing a huge smile.

“Hey. You look good,” Willem said. It was true. Torrey looked happy and relaxed, his body covered by a rich robe of blue silk threaded with gold and copper. The Silk Weavers had laden him with such gifts not just for his service but in recognition of a strategic new alliance between their two kumbhs.

“You look better.”

Torrey hunkered down by the pool, his knees spreading the beautiful fabric of his robe. “I’m exactly where I want to be. In my kumbh, with other people… and you.”

Willem propped his elbows on the edge and gazed at him. The warmth from the sun was nothing compared to the heat Torrey wakened in his body. “Could we have been happy in the nom, do you think? If Cyrrhi had lived?”

Torrey nodded. “We’d be happy anywhere we were together. I think she wanted us to be happy. I think seeing us like this would make her happy.”

“No, she’d want more than this. Come on, man, get naked!”

Torrey laughed and the sweet light sound filled the garden. The beautiful silk robe joined Willem’s plain one on the reed couch and the next thing Willem knew Torrey was in the water with him, slick arms around his shoulders and chest, pulling him away from the edge. And then Torrey filled his arms and their lips met, sealing breath between them as they slipped beneath the surface.

Willem filled his hands with Torrey flowing hair and held him to the kiss for as long as they both had air. When they surfaced, gasping and laughing, he pressed Torrey’s slender body against the side of the pool and continued to kiss him. Before long he was licking the droplets clinging to the hollow of Torrey’s throat.

“Crash it, Willem—”

“I love you. It almost killed me when you were Chosen, watching you leave. I thought you’d never come back.”

“But you sent parts of yourself into the nom to find me.” Torrey raised a hand and brushed back the wet hair that concealed part of Willem’s face. “Damas saw the moonflower you carved. I gave it to him and told him it would bring him luck. The way it brought you to me. Do you mind? I could try to get it back.”

“No.” Willem now understood something about the social importance of gestures. “Good if it brings him luck. He’s going to need it. All I need is you.”

“Forever,” Torrey affirmed as their lips met.

END

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Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed this story and can be happy for the boys as they move on. Im not sure what Ill write next. 

If you’re looking for more fun, free fiction You can visit the Wednesday Briefers home page HERE for opening snippets and links to all the briefs. Or you can choose from the list below. Enjoy!

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Hop Against Homophobia: Benny's Landscapes

Welcome to the Hop Against Homophobia. The hop promotes awareness concerning homophobia and transphobia and is held in conjunction with the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. Do visit their site, it's well worth your time.

This post is my contribution… and it includes a giveaway. The details of the giveaway follow my post, but the short version is I’m giving away books and a gift card, and I do ship paperbacks overseas.

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I didn’t grow up with gay people in my life, though my Dad was bi and I certainly knew men sexually interacted with other men. He talked frankly about sex and how it was fun but significant, and that finding one’s own gender attractive was just as natural as finding another gender attractive. I could imagine that. It always perplexed me when I ran into people who couldn’t, even though when it came to that kind of fun I was attracted only to boys. So I have Dad to thank for giving me an open mind about sex.

It didn’t occur to me before I married to find out what the future father of my children thought about homosexuality. Among my excuses are that I was really young, young enough to think opinions were shallow and not symptoms of bigger things like, say, intolerance. Besides, I was blithely heterosexual and there was no real need to go there. Or so I thought. Remember, I was young.

My husband’s partners in his medical practice included a doctor I’ll call Alfie. I didn’t know him well, though he seemed nice. We saw him socially once in a while. One day my husband explained there was something not right about Alfie: Alfie was homosexual. I knew what that meant and some things became clearer, such as why Alfie never brought a date for big social events such as Auxiliary Balls and the like. In those days, a man bringing a male partner would have been frowned upon. The reason my husband wanted me to know the reason for his dislike was that Alfie had invited us to his house and, well, hubby kind of needed to show up because the other partners would be there, too. He really didn’t want to go near the gays.

Not Benny's but looks like his.
And so I went to the party and that’s when I found out about Benny. Benny was Alfie’s partner. Being naturally friendly and curious, I talked to them. Of course I did. They were the hosts and they were interesting. Among other things, I learned they’d been together for over 20 years, which at my young age impressed me enormously. They said they’d be married if that were possible and for the first time it occurred to me that, yeah, why not? They’d bought their house together, and it was decorated throughout with Benny’s work. Benny was an artist. I’d heard my husband belittle his paintings as being expensive but bad. They weren’t bad. They were beautiful. His landscapes were wild and brilliant, painted from open spaces and filled with heart. Alfie and Benny also collected glass art. They traveled. They had fun. I often heard other doctors and their wives snicker about them behind their backs, but I admired them because it was clear they were happy and loved each other. As far as I was concerned, everyone should be so cool.

My husband didn’t like my attitude and for many years I listened to him expound about the evils of homosexuality: how it was unnatural, fostered diseases (AIDS first appeared not long after I met Alfie and Benny), went against our religion, and that gays preyed on innocent boys—boys like our three sons. This was before scandals involving Catholic priests, which would have given me pause given our kids went to Jesuit schools. But I was convinced my boys were safe from gays. Cars and fireworks? Whole ‘nother story.


Benny died of AIDS. I wasn’t close enough to Alfie and Benny to go through this troubled time with them. I watched from a distance. I endured my ignorant husband’s rants, driven by a realistic fear that having a gay partner in the practice scared patients away. Hatred of homosexuality eats away at humanity. Misunderstanding leads to fear and fear leads people to some very ugly places. If you’ve ever seen someone go to these places, you know what I mean. My husband didn’t attend the funeral. I did. I have never seen a more heartfelt goodbye. Benny was loved and cherished.

I didn’t divorce my husband because he hated gays. He hated and feared lots of other things, too, including Jews, women, poor people, blacks, foreign cars, and lawyers. Quite frankly, I divorced him because I wanted to watch the Simpsons in peace and be with someone who didn’t have so many problems with me. But I will always be happy I married him, because I have three beautiful non-homophobic sons. And because of him I got to know Alfie and Benny, and through them my eyes opened not only to how two people can love each other so much, but also how other people can hate them for it. Dad never taught me about that.

I wish I had one of Benny’s wonderful landscapes, but I never will. I just have my memories of them and of how he brought a lot of beauty into the lives of those around him.

And he’s one of many reasons I take part in the Hop Against Homophobia.

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So, you made it this far! If you leave a comment (and email so I can contact you) here on this post, you can WIN: 
  • A copy of any one of my titles. (2 winners) I will ship paperbacks internationally. 
  • A $10 gift card from your choice of Amazon, Dreamspinner, or ARe. (1 winner)
For more detail about the books, here's my Books by Tali Spencer page.

The blog hop runs through May 27th, so I will contact and announce the winners on May 28th.

Please visit all the other wonderful participating authors below.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Wednesday Briefs: Sealed in Stone #36

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

I’m continuing with Sealed in Stone, M/M science fiction about Torrey and Willem, two human youths who love each other but must fight to stay together when Torrey becomes the Chosen of the alien Queen who rules over his people.

In this chapter, our story is winding down. Following Cyrrhi’s death, the boys learn their fate and Torrey negotiates human fates.

This week I chose the prompt: “We are stronger than we look.”  
  

Enjoy!

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Sealed in Stone #36


As he met the gaze of the bloodstained and fierce younger queen, Torrey lightly squeezed Willem’s hand in reassurance. They were safe, both of them. Though Cyrrhi lay dead, Urdhva had nothing to gain by killing them—and a great deal to lose. From this point forward, Urdhva must erect and maintain connections both nomari and human. He, and Willem through him, were pieces of a dominance scheme that would encompass the consolidation of her rule as Pesht’s Queen.

“We are Yours to do with as You will, Great Queen.” Bestowing the honorifics secured their places. He tugged Willem’s hand down and was gratified when his friend flawlessly followed him into a deep kneel and bow. That Willem trusted him completely gave him all the purpose and support he needed.

“Look upon me as we speak.”

He had hoped for that. Queenly dominance had many shades. His hope lifted further when he saw that her expression, while calculated, was also warm.

“You were an asset to her. Beauty, of course, and good manners… but intelligence also. I saw for myself how she prized your insight and honor. A male well-chosen is the jewel every queen seeks for herself. I must hold the jewel in whom I entrust the heart of Pesht. I have nurtured, in secret, an alliance with the Kumbh’Pattaim, and have promised to choose one of their sons when the time came.”

Torrey allowed a smile to touch, though barely lift, his lips. “Your time has come.” A son of the Silk Weavers was a fine match for any queen.

“He will be my heart. Still, I wish to take a lesson from she who came before me.” She turned her gaze to Willem. “She knew you would answer truthfully. She knew you speak truth because you trusted him. I know this because fear lies. Trust does not.”

Willem’s wide eyes flicked to him and Torrey nodded he should answer. “I trusted Her, Great Queen”—he did his best with everyday nomari—“because he did.”

Urdhva’s lips curved very slightly. The nomari did not truly smile in the way of humans. The expression signified triumph, not amusement. To Torrey, she said, using the more refined speech of queens. “He lacks your skills but his integrity is attractive. To possess him would appeal to some, but you know I will not allow that. Him, or you. Too much dominance would be gained by one who possesses Cyrrhi’s former Chosen.”

She spoke truly. Torrey could but agree. The greatest prize of any dominance move was to possess a more powerful queen’s prize. Among the nomari, there was no higher prize than a male. In Urdhva’s case, she now possessed the highest prize of all—the nom’s drones. Human males were mere reflections, though powerful ones.

“As males, we have no choice,” Torrey reminded her.

“This is true. So I will decide this. My Chosen arrives tomorrow with full ceremony and we will be joined. I wish you to meet him and ascertain if his education is as yours.”

Even on the surface, the request was unusual. It could be construed as an affront to the Silk Weavers. Just the presence of another male of status equal to the new Chosen could be misconstrued.

“My Queen, I—”

“That is my one condition. After this service to me, you and your friend will leave the nom. Upon my order, you are to retire to your kumbh, the Bhesarim, and reside in privacy there for the rest of your days. You shall never belong to any queen, nor will I permit your kumbh to formally join you to any females of your kind. You forever will be Cyrrhi’s.”

In the eyes of nom and kumbh, perhaps. But Torrey knew better. Now, at least, he could forever be Willem’s. He bowed to Urdhva’s terms, knowing his mother and all the kumbharani would agree to them. A former Queen’s Chosen was exalted, and possessed enormous diplomatic standing.

“I thank you, my Queen—and so does he.” Torrey ducked back a smile as Willem nodded vigorously. He knew his friend well enough to imagine him wanting nothing more than to leave the nom as soon as possible. “We will be your servants, however you might need us. We ri’im offer many gifts. We are stronger than we look.”

“Strong, and cunning, and sometimes wise. While I have you, I will seek wisdom.” Urdhva pointed to the other human males huddled naked beside Cyrrhi’s still fresh corpse. “What shall I do with them?”

She could, of course, parcel them out as gifts, earning dominance by distributing prizes. All three men possessed beauty surpassing that of any kumbh born youth. Torrey met and held Nak’s wide, tear-filled eyes. Nak was the youngest and loved lithe Aktu with all his heart. To separate them would be cruel.

“Keep the two dark haired ones.” Torrey answered without hesitation. “Possessing two of Cyrrhi’s males enhances your dominance far more than you would gain by gifting them. But also your Chosen will be lonely without others of his kind. These males are loyal and gentle. They are playful by nature. They will be welcome companions to your beloved, as they were for me.”

Urdhva lifted an eyebrow. She had not thought of that. “And the one who opened the door to Bekatti. Cyrrhi did not kill him with Sovesa, but left him to me. Do you know why?”

He did. Torrey held Hari’s blue gaze. “He cannot be trusted. She left him to you as the first test of your new Queenship.”

Urdhva would know what he meant. Cyrrhi had left behind a challenge to her wisdom. All queens had heard of the Tyranny of Rayyas. But it was for Urdhva herself to meet the Test of Kaffiri and decide the fate of the great beauty who had brought her predecessor to ruin.


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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.


Friday, May 9, 2014

The Mermen of Ea Series: Recreating the Merfolk Myth

Thanks, Tali, for hosting the Into the Wind Blog Tour today! I wanted to remind readers that I have a great Into the Wind Blog Tour giveaway on Rafflecopter. Grand Prize is an amazing handmade merman tail fluke pendant, 1st Prize a Mermen of Ea Goodie Basket (includes autographed copy of Stealing the Wind paperback, t-shirt, and lots of other fun stuff), 2nd Prize is a $10.00 Dreamspinner Press gift certificate, and 3rd Prize is a paperback copy of Stealing the Wind (Mermen of Ea #1) – or for non-US winners, a $10 Dreamspinner Press gift certificate. Readers can enter daily by tweeting, commenting, and liking!

The Mermen of Ea Series is set in an earthlike place where magic and magical creatures exist, but are not commonplace. And that’s where I let my imagination run wild, which is probably the best part of writing a series of books: getting to play in a universe for more than one book. I’m especially enjoying playing in this particular universe, because I’ve fallen in love with mermen and the merfolk myth.

I’ve written some posts about how I came to write mermen. Long story short (since the point of this post isn’t the inspiration), I was working on a pirate story when I got certified for open water scuba diving, and my imagination began to kick in, expanding that simple pirate story into an epic trilogy about creatures who could breathe under water. That was the easy part. The difficult part? Worldbuilding. Creating a universe where merfolk are believable and creating a framework within that universe for them to thrive. With a little help from my imagination, a bit of research, and my amazing beta readers (Tali!!), the Mermen of Ea took shape.

If I were to go through every bit of worldbuilding I did for the Mermen of Ea Series in this post, we’d be here forever. So I’ll just take a chunk of it and explain how my mermen evolved. I began, of course, with mermen lore. The Little Mermaid, Sumerian mythology, European mythology. The original merman was a half human/half fish god called “Enki” or “Ea” (hence the series’ name).To that mythology, I added my imagination.

I wanted strong mermen. Half man, half beast. Sexy mermen who had a strong primal, animal desire that warred with their human side. I didn’t want them laying eggs (I mean, is that sexy?), so fish-based merfolk were out and mammals (dolphins) were in. I wanted to write about them on land and in the ocean, so they became shifters who appeared human until they swim beneath the water. This also made a lot of sense to me, given the mythology.

So I had the basics. But just imagining what a merperson looks like isn’t enough to create an entire world of mermen. Next up? Physical abilities. Because if merfolk can shift from one form to another, why not give them specialized magic? And wouldn’t it be more interesting if not every merman had magic? And not every merman who had magic had the same magic? So different flavors: the power to defend, the power to see into the past, the power to control the elements. And with that, I knew the main character would be able to manipulate the wind, because what better power to have when you’re a sailor? And what an amazing power that would be!

Lastly, I thought about the romance that underpins the series (because the story is first and foremost a romance!). I’ve always found the idea of soul mates an intriguing one. How incredibly romantic to have lovers separated by fate find each other in the future. Reincarnated lovers? And with this idea came the cultural background for my mermen. Not a Judeo-Christian society, but a society that worships a deity who guides and nurtures them. The Ea goddess is a demanding one, as the main characters in the series discover.

All of this was well and good, and the plot began to take shape. But there was one last element that I needed: a means to ease the reader into my new universe and not bombard him/her with facts and history about the Ea culture I created. I knew I needed lots of detail in my universe, but I also knew that if I spent the lion’s share of the books explaining merculture, I’d lose my readers before they even started the story! So what to do...

This is where I admit that I’m a huge fan of the Harry Potter books. I read them (some more than once) to my children when they were young, and became as addicted to them as my kids were. And what a perfect way to introduce readers to a world they know nothing about than to have my protagonist know nothing about that world. Harry knew nothing about wizards and he had no idea he was a wizard. And that’s when the inspiration for Taren’s story really took shape. I knew Taren would discover he was a merman after having been raised to believe he’s human. And as the world of the Ea revealed itself to him, the reader would also learn about that world. It’s a wonderful technique that’s been used in many stories, especially fantasy stories. In fact, one of my all-time favorite series, Darkover, by Marion Zimmer Bradley, uses that device in several series books.


So that was a mouthful and a quick, down and dirty look at how the Ea came into being. I hope you’ll take a peek at my mermen if you haven’t already! You can read an excerpt below. Don’t forget to enter the blog tour drawing for a chance at some great prizes! -Shira

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“Into the Wind” Blog Tour

Thank you all for participating in my blog tour! Here’s all the information you’ll need for the tour, including the big tour giveaway and Rafflecopter link.  

If you have any questions, please email me at shiraanthony@hotmail.com!

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Blog Tour Giveaway Info:

Contest starts 5/5 (release day) and ends at midnight on 5/31.  Prizes include:

Grand Prize: Handmade Merman Tail Fluke Pendant
1st Prize: Mermen of Ea Goodie Basket (includes autographed copy of “Stealing the Wind” paperback, t-shirt, and lots of other fun stuff)
2nd Prize: $10.00 Dreamspinner Press Gift Certificate
3rd Prize: Paperback copy of “Stealing the Wind” (Mermen of Ea #1) – or for non-US winners, a $10 Dreamspinner Press Gift Certificate

Here’s the Rafflecopter link: http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/cf0ba93/

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Blog Tour Participants:

5/5 Release Day – Smoocher’s Voice  (Interview with Shira)
5/6 Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words (Inspiration for the Mermen of Ea Series)
5/8 Mrs. Condits and Friends (Merman Sex 101)
5/9 Tali Spencer’s Brilliant Disguise (Series and Worldbuilding: Recreating the Merman Myth)
5/10 Prism Book Alliance (Character Interview with Ian Dunaidh)
5/13 Joyfully Jay (Character Interview with Taren Laxley)
5/15 Book Suburbia (TBA)
5/16 Jase’s Atenaeum (TBA)

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Book Buy Links:




Blurb:  Since learning of his merman shifter heritage, Taren has begun building a life with Ian Dunaidh among the mainland Ea. But memories of his past life still haunt him, and as the threat of war with the hostile island merfolk looms ever closer, Taren fears he will lose Ian the same way he lost his beloved centuries before. Together they sail to the Gateway Islands in search of the fabled rune stone—a weapon of great power the Ea believe will protect them—and Odhrán, the pirate rumored to possess it.

After humans attack the Phantom, Taren finds himself washed up on an island, faced with a mysterious boy named Brynn who promises to lead him to Odhrán. But Taren isn’t sure if he can trust Brynn, and Odhrán is rumored to enslave Ea to protect his stronghold. Taren will have to put his life on the line to find his way back to Ian and attempt to recover the stone. Even if he does find it, his troubles are far from over: he and Ian are being stalked by an enemy who wants them dead at all costs.
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Excerpt:

DEAFENING CANNON fire rang out from the port side of the ship. Ian braced himself against the stair railing to keep from falling backward as the ship leaned deep and heeled hard to starboard. He heaved himself upward and crested the stairwell to the deck as the ship pitched again, forcing him to grab one of the barrels lashed to the deck to remain upright. Cannon shot landed off the bow, sending water over the forecastle and cascading down the already sodden deck. The acrid smell of gunpowder stung his nostrils and burned his eyes, and the familiar scent caused his adrenaline to skyrocket and set his mind racing.

“Renda! What the hell is happening?”

“She’s fired on us with no warning shot, Captain!” Renda, the ship’s quartermaster, barely looked at him as he struggled to steer the Phantom out of the line of fire.

“What colors does she fly?” Ian shouted as he ran toward the helm and lifted a spyglass to one eye.

“None, Captain! Her crew’s human! Navy ship!” Renda shouted above the cannon fire.
Ian felt it too. There were no Ea aboard the attacking ship. An entirely human crew? Only the Derryth navy sailed brigantines. But if he and the crew of the Phantom were fair game for the king and his navy, why didn’t they fly Derryth’s colors? They’d appeared out of nowhere. Had the mist been so thick that the men on watch had missed her?

Renda ceded the helm before Ian could think much more about it. For now, he needed to focus on their attackers and on gaining the upper hand. It had been more than twenty years since Ian had taken his ship into battle, but his crew was well seasoned. He prayed silently to his goddess that the winds would favor them.

“Derryth?” he asked Renda as he steered to avoid another blast from the enemy’s cannons. “Aligned with the Council? Or is this just a coincidence?” He’d expected to face the island Ea in battle eventually, but never had he expected them to use humans to chase them down.

Renda scowled. “No coincidence. Magic, seeing as the fog cleared just in time for them to attack. They had help tracking us down. A mage, no doubt.”

Humans did not possess magic. When had the island Ea recruited the humans to their cause? The thought made Ian’s blood boil. Humans had nearly wiped out their kind hundreds of years before, looking for the fabled rune stone, a weapon more powerful than the Derryth Kingdom’s largest cannons. Had someone told the humans they were heading to the Gateway Islands to find the reclusive pirate, Odhrán, and recover the very weapon that had nearly been the cause of their destruction?

No. He mustn’t think about that now. He needed his wits about him to keep his ship safe. Then he could think more about the implications. He focused once again on the ship and her crew. The feel of the wood beneath his hands and the stiff wind against his cheek always warmed Ian’s soul, even in the midst of battle. The bright, crisp scent of the salt spray awakened his senses and mind. He’d been born for this command, although he’d paid a stiff price for it. His father before him had been a sailor, although he’d long given up the seafaring life by the time Ian had learned to sail in the Derryth navy. Sailing was in his bones and his blood. The only thing he loved more than sailing on the water was swimming in it.

Renda shouted more commands to the men manning the ropes, then turned back to Ian and scowled. “Their ship is fast. She’s shooting the sun and she has the weather beam.”

Stealing our wind! Ian cursed beneath his breath. With the enemy positioned between them and the wind, the Phantom could do little to maneuver. If he hadn’t been forced to stay within the Council’s reach, tied to the island, he’d have long before found the best clockmaker in Derryth and purchased a sextant. He was tired of others sighting guns upon the Phantom so easily. Their ancient astrolabe might have sufficed twenty years ago, during the civil war that cleaved his people in two, but it was useless against a better-equipped navy. As things stood, Ian could only guess at the angle of the enemy’s guns and what direction he might be able to steer the Phantom to avoid them.

He glanced skyward and was momentarily blinded by the sun’s brilliant reflection in the lookout’s spyglass. He moved his gaze to the mainsail and the seagulls that rode thermals alongside it. It had been a calm day until the enemy appeared. Now the wind raced the heavens. The telltales on the sails fluttered frantically with each powerful gust of the wind, making it difficult for Ian to determine the wind’s direction. He fought the helm in an effort to maintain their course as the sea swelled and the ship bucked. Worse yet, the Phantom was poorly situated in the wind on a close reach that placed the ship at a crucial disadvantage.

The enemy’s guns belched again and cannonballs spun past, spitting fiery tar and narrowly missing the main mast. The flames that licked from the metal nearly set the mainsail afire.

“They’re using pitch!” Renda shouted as the pungent smell of burning pine reached Ian’s nostrils.

Ian heard his father’s words echo in his mind. “There is nothing as deadly as fire at sea.” If one of those cannon blasts hit the Phantom, she’d go up in flames.

Heeling starboard as the Phantom was, her portside guns aimed high above the waterline. Each cannon shot fired was nothing more than wasted ammunition. They were outmanned, outgunned, and out-positioned in the wind. Damn. Ian considered his options quickly, mulling their position relative to the enemy and eyeing the wind in the sails. He had no choice but to bring the ship about and take aim with the starboard cannons. Yet if he turned and lost the wind, they’d end up in irons and stalled in the water.

“Are the starboard gun ports open?” Ian shouted.

Another blast from the enemy ship’s cannons landed within a yard of the Phantom. The ship shook with the impact, and several crewmembers scrambled to better tie down some of the supplies on deck.

“Aye, Captain! Ports open, guns loaded!”

A quick glance around the deck told Ian that his beloved Taren was not there. He reached out first with his innate senses and was relieved to feel Taren’s strong heartbeat as if it beat within his own chest. Their connection had continued to grow stronger over the past few months. Among Ea, a bond like theirs—what their people called soulbound—was rare. Where most Ea could only sense that one of their brethren was near, Ian and Taren could sense each other’s presence in particular. Sometimes Taren’s fear became Ian’s, and although Taren had not spoken of it, Ian guessed his own anger and frustration sometimes became Taren’s.

Ian looked up, searching the mastheads and rigging with his eyes, and found Taren atop the main mast. He worked furiously, tying Turk’s heads in the rigging as fast as he could and adjusting the sails to compensate for the heeling Phantom.

“Trim the sails! Man the starboard cannons and tell the gunners to fire when I come about!” Ian knew it would do little good. If they headed farther into the wind, they’d lose speed and stall. “Tell the gunners to fire when they can!”

“Aye, sir!” Renda barked commands and the boatswains flew  into action with whistles and hand signals. When Ian saw that Taren had acknowledged his orders, he brought the Phantom hard about. She bucked the squall and swell as Ian fought the wheel to turn her, and she listed her worst yet, her masts lying but thirty degrees off the water.

Damn.

At midturn, a volley of cannon fire caught the Phantom’s bow, causing her to shudder angrily as wood splintered and flew, mortally wounding one of the crew in the chest. Bright red blood splashed the deck to mingle with salt water and run past the smoldering pitch.

Crian! Renda ran to help the injured sailor. Perhaps he could help the man long enough that he might transform and heal his wounds. But Renda’s slight shake of his head and icy expression told Ian there was nothing to be done. Crian was dead.

Ian’s gut clenched when he thought of Crian’s family. Why was he so surprised that he’d lost a man? Had he really believed this voyage would be anything but risky? He’d naively hoped their mission would be a simple one: find Odhrán, retrieve the rune stone, and return it to Vurin, the leader of Ea’s mainland colony, so he might better protect their people.

He searched the rigging for Taren again and couldn’t find him. He’d felt Taren’s steady presence only moments ago, but he’d been too preoccupied with the battle to keep track of him. At least he could still feel the steady beat of Taren’s heart. He finally spotted Taren aft, now atop the mizzenmast, clinging to guy ropes and swinging wildly with each turn of the helm.

Taren had left their cabin at dawn to work on the sails with the intention of increasing the ship’s speed. He loved to toil on the rigging, and Ian knew how his spirits soared with the feel of the wind on his face. Taren’s acrobatics never ceased to amaze Ian, but they nonetheless left him cold with fear. Taren was nothing short of a long-tailed monkey in the rigging.

“Taren! Taren!”

Ian’s shouts went unheeded—Taren couldn’t hear him over the chaos of the battle. Ian only hoped Taren had guessed what his next maneuver might be, and had good purchase on the ropes to keep him from falling.

The navy ship tacked in tandem with the Phantom and now aimed its sights at her stern. Ian couldn’t risk a blow to the most vulnerable part of the ship and had no choice but to adjust course again to avoid a hit. He spun the wheel the hardest yet to starboard.

Hold on, Taren!

The ship protested the quick maneuver, her teak wood groaning and creaking under the strain as she stalled in irons. In his quick decision to turn hard, he’d been reckless. They were headed directly into the wind now and were dead in the water.

Ian looked up and found Taren as he kicked out like lightning and baffled the aft sail to back the ship. An eerie silence descended, and they waited to see if the Phantom would catch her wind speed. Not a whisper of wind touched the sail. Taren reached for the rigging and swung out hard, kicking angrily at the sail once again. The sail billowed once, twice, and Ian’s breath stuttered, his warning shout lodged in his throat. He knew precisely what the aft sail would do. With a whoosh and an earsplitting snap, she filled and the Phantom regained her air once again, leaping to top speed.

Ian watched in admiration as Taren swung down on the ropes just in time to avoid the snap of the sail. He landed gracefully on the deck a dozen feet away.

“Ian!” Taren shouted as he ran over to the wheel. Another shot from their attackers landed close to the Phantom, causing Taren to grab a hold of one of the nearby rails.

“Excellent work,” Ian said as he adjusted the ship’s heading. “Now if we can only make some headway—”

“Why don’t you send a few men down?” Taren panted hard, clearly winded. Ian sensed his excitement and his fear. No. Sensing wasn’t quite right. Ian felt Taren’s emotions as if they were his own.

“Down?”

“Send them down with axes. Crowbars. Something. Anything. Have them transform and attack from below.”

Ian frowned. “It won’t work.”

“Why not?” Taren demanded. “If we could—”

Taren’s words were cut short by a volley that landed even closer to the ship. Ian fought to maintain his course. “It doesn’t work that way,” he shouted over the din of the waves crashing over the bow. “It’s far more—”

But Taren was already halfway toward the bow before Ian could finish. “No! Taren! You don’t understand! You can’t just—” Ian had no one to blame but himself for Taren’s lack of knowledge of Ea battle tactics. He glanced around, hoping to find someone to take the wheel. He needed to stop Taren before he did something dangerous, but before he could call out to Barra, the Phantom’s guns fired and missed. The navy ship returned fire, and a loud crack sounded from overhead as the shot hit the mizzenmast and the aft sail caught fire. The mast shattered, sending beam and splinter out at light speed. The sound of the mast breaking into smithereens was the last thing Ian remembered before his world grayed, then faded to black.