Novum Release Week, Day 1!

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Hello, and welcome to release week for Crucible!

Over the course of this week, we will be releasing character artwork and short stories to set the scene for the world of Novum! Today, we’re launching into things with character artwork over at Joseph Lallo’s blog, and a short story here, exploring the origins of the colony at Guan-Yu.

Until Friday, you can tide yourself over with a free excerpt available on Amazon here!

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Seed Colony: noun; one of the “non-intervention” colonies prepared for under the Vargas Treaty of 3128, which laid out several programs intended to safeguard humanity from war, disease, or accident. Each colony consists of a fully terraformed planet devoid of non-human sentient life, stocked with a viable population of volunteers. Volunteers consent to have memories blocked at the beginning of the experiment, and will be unaware both of their coordinates and of their participation in the project. These colonies are under military protection until such time as they develop spacefaring capabilities, and the coordinates of all seed colonies are classified. Intervention in a seed colony is considered treason against human interests.

      Joceyln,

They told me they’re only sending one transmission home, so I’ve been saving this up. We’ll be heading home soon, so there’s no point in putting it off much longer. I’ll tell you how things end up when I get back, but not much is going to change from here on out. We’re already starting to pack up; the tent village looks deserted.

I miss you terribly, I’ve been gone so long, but to be honest I can’t imagine leaving this place. I looked back at my journals and I spent the first few weeks complaining about the heat, but it started to feel normal at some point, I guess. It gets into your blood. I don’t know if you remember Nana’s house, back when Keeling was still a new settlement. You went out and played in the dirt and Papa yelled at you and said you’d get some disease. It’s like that here—we’re supposed to be very careful about quarantine, but there’s only so much you can do (and anyway, the people are going to introduce all sorts of microbes, there’s no way to do a full wipe of their systems). So after a while we stopped worrying about shoes and masks and…well, I guess I’ve just gotten used to the feel of dirt between my toes. The sun bakes into the earth all day and then the heat radiates back into your feet all evening, even when the air is cold.

Water is precious here, in a way I didn’t understand before. In a station, it’s all rations, you know? Purification systems. Here, the water goes into the land. Sometimes when you walk near the river, you can see new plants poking out of the ground. The break up through the earth, little spindly stalks but it’s strong enough, and then they unfurl. There was a week when I would come back every day to check on one of the plants. The botanists said it was just a weed, but it looked so strong and delicate at the same time, unbelievably green in this land of sand and hot winds.

I go for walks by the river at night, the sound is very soothing. You can walk, and walk and walk. It is an incredible luxury to be able to walk without anywhere to go; I have to be careful now that they can’t see me from the settlement camps, but other than that, I can go anywhere. No hallways. I’m going to miss open sky. Sometimes I think about running away and living in the hills. I know I couldn’t do it… I’d never make it here, it’s too harsh.

I’m so afraid for the people we’re leaving. We’re supposed to accept everything that’s going to happen, you know? But I can’t. I think they knew that. They told us before we came here that leaving would be the most difficult part, and they were right. Last night we named the planet: Guan-Yu, after a Chinese general from Old Earth.

None of it seems real most of the time, and then other times it does seem real and like a terrible mistake. Only sometimes, when I’m not thinking about it, I get this rush of wonder—it’s such a strange feeling, to have seeded a planet, so full of power, creating life! I told Simon that I felt like a god, and he laughed at me. I do, though. It’s this terrible sense of responsibility, like I should make sure they’ll all be safe, and of course they won’t be if I do my job correctly. I have to make sure that they’ll be in enough danger, and that the conditions are adverse enough, that they will start to develop technology.

We picked where to leave them right away when we got here: a harsh patch of earth with the river running through. Nearby, across a narrow strait, is a land of incredible fertility. You would not believe your eyes to see it! It is more green than I have ever seen in my life. The air smells sweet with flowers, and we found fruit trees and cereal grains. There is something like a gazelle, and we had a close call with one of the dogs that stalks them! It’s beautiful, and I hope the settlers get there someday.

But they can’t start there, they’ll be starting out somewhere less welcoming. Warm, of course, and the mountains will keep out some of the worst weather. Remember Ewing’s Conjecture, that I kept talking about before I left? It’s the one that says a society will develop technology most quickly if forced by adverse stimuli, but I keep having these nightmares that we used it incorrectly. There was a failed colony on a planet called Treherne, very cold, that proved that there’s a limit to it. They didn’t make it two generations. No one talks about it, but we’ve all been thinking about that one. And a thousand other things could go wrong, meteor strikes or some disease or something, but it would be so much worse to know that all these people could die from something I did.  I don’t know how I could ever live with that.

And I’ll never know, anyway. That’s what gets to me. It will take thousands of years to know that for sure. What if we’d chosen the coasts? What if we’d dropped them off in the green lands? I’ll never know that, and I’ll never even know the results of the choices I did make, and the ones I didn’t. When they do come back, in a few years, they’ll just scan from space—and hundreds of lives will be passing underneath, so much more than just life forms on a scanner. So much more. To anyone else, it will just be numbers. It has become more, to me. To all of us.

Leaving will be a lonely business, like I’m leaving a part of my soul. The people we’ve dropped off don’t know our names anymore—of course, they don’t know their own, either—and I feel such mingled hope and sorrow to leave them here like this. They all agreed of course, just as you kept reminding me before we left. We made them sign three times, after all of the disclosures and telling them about the survival rates and everything, and we even asked again when we got here. They still said yes. I asked some of them why they were coming—strictly against regulations, but I know Simon did, too—so I know what some of them were running from. Harsh as it is, this land is kinder than some parts of occupied space. That’s all I’ll say.

Some of them wanted to come, they had everything and they gave it up. Those were the ones that touched me. A few just wanted adventure, but one of them said that this was the future of humanity. He was very calm about it, and he thanked me for my work. Right then I felt so young, like I didn’t know a thing about what I was doing, just throwing these people out into the world. Like there was no way to know what could come of it but I was doing something…big. I don’t know, I don’t have words for it. It felt like it mattered, so much, and I was walking blindly, changing the world in these vast ways and not even understanding it. I’ve had trouble sleeping since then. Sometimes I wake up from dreams of what will happen here, and I can never remember them…

Anyway, they all made their choice. And I have my journals to remind me why this is important, why we need to do this. Of the choices I made before I knew what it meant.

But there’s so much for them to learn, and now they seem so helpless! What if in a few years, they would regret it? I know what they’ll be facing: poisonous plants, predators, disease. Most of them won’t survive, and I keep thinking we just didn’t explain that well enough. They will try to cross the strait eventually, or venture up into the north, and they’ll lose so many when they do. I feel responsible, knowing that I have put them here. They are humans, and humans have unquenchable curiosity, an absolute desire to go searching, even into danger. I’m letting them go into danger.

But I feel so much hope, too—I really think they can flourish here. Who can say what technologies they’ll build, what they’ll discover that we could never have known? I have to keep thinking about that. Someday, far in the future, we might all be gone, destroyed by our wars, and these people might flourish far away from all of that. They’ll grow, not knowing anything about us, and venture out into the stars on their own…

It’s late, I should go to bed. I miss you, and I wish you could be here to see this. (You’d hate it here, I know.) I’ll be home soon—a few months in transit, but we leave the week after next. Nothing more to say, I guess. I hope you liked your birthday present.

Love, Eleni

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Gentle Readers –

I hope you enjoyed this first foray into the world of Novum! Stay tuned for more. For now, you can add Crucible on Goodreads here, and (if you have not already) sign up for the mailing list here.

-M

Crucible Mega Post

Gentle Readers,

You asked, you voted, and today I am happy to unveil the cover for Crucible, a beautiful painting by Sandro Rybak:

Fullcover_for_Crucible

Sandro did a beautiful job of capturing the essence of the story: clashes of old and new, and the starkness of the mercy and cruelty we inflict on one another. I have been itching to show this cover off for weeks, and I am delighted to do so! In the coming weeks, I will be unveiling artwork for each character, stories to set the scene, and even music set in the world of Novum!

With that said, I do have some very exciting news: Crucible has advanced to the Quarter Finals of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest! The contest spans five genres, and at the website you can find excerpts and blurbs for all of the Quarter Finalists – there are a ton of great books, so head on over to check them out!

If you’re on GoodReads, you can add Crucible by following the link :)

Happy Cover Reveal Monday, Gentle Readers!

-M

The Reading List (and News!)

Fullcover_for_internetA poll! Right off! If you had your choice of the following to be revealed first for Novum, which would you pick?

  • Cover
  • Character Artwork
  • Music

Leave a comment, and next Monday, the group vote wins!

Moving onwards, your friend neighborhood author has dived into a pile of books with wild abandon. First Earth’s Last Citadel, then Consider Phlebas, The Headmaster’s Wife, and Seating Arrangements. On my kindle now are The Privilege of the Sword, The Martian and How Not to Write a Novel!

I’ve got a varied and wondrous pile of things to work through in the near future, including:

…and that’s only a sliver! I’m also playing through Halo and Titanfall, as well as FFVI and FF Tactics, and have been told to watch Sherlock, Orphan Black, and Modern Family. (One of these things is not like the others, but I love me some comedy!)

As for the news …

Yours truly is working on the story and dialogue for a videogame! My goodness, yes! For now, the details remain deliciously mysterious, but there will be a blaze of concept art, story fragments, and gameplay demos coming along in the next couple of months. Stay tuned!

-M

Greetings from Iceland!

Boats in Harbor

Gentle Readers,

Hello from Iceland! I am just getting ready to head back from a rainy, windswept holiday in this land of volcanoes and ice. The landscape is incredible, harsh and out of scale with the humans who walk on it. The mountains often look old and weathered, covered with moss, but the land is some of the newest to be found on earth – straddling two tectonic plates, Iceland is home to Rift Valley, where the Eurasian and North American plates push apart, and the shattered sidewalk is testament to the change seen there every year!

Rift Valley

I took the opportunity to stand on both plates :D

Tectonic Plates

We set up in a little apartment by the harbor in Reykjavik, home to fishing trawlers and whale watching vessels alike, all set against and incredible backdrop of mountains. From there, we adventured: out into the nightlife of Reykjavik (the town really gets hopping around 1AM, although we mostly strolled to and fro, watching people as they walked around); around the Golden Circle to see Gullfoss and Geysir Park; and even out horseback riding!

Geysir

Gullfoss

Gullfoss

On horsesIcelandic ponies are apparently famed for their placid tempers and special gait, a not-quite-trot that uses different muscles from other gaits, and therefore extends the range of the horses. They are also remarkably stubborn.

Blue Lagoon

Blue Lagoon was one of our last stops, a beautiful park with famously blue, mineral-rich waters. The air was a chilly 40-45F, plus wind (4-6C or so), but the water was lovely, around 100F (37C). We swam around and painted our faces with silica-rich mud. It is worth going, but remember to bring your own towel – renting one will set you back 25 Euros (not kidding!).

On the last night, while venturing out for dinner, I caught this lovely view of the mountains across the harbor…

View over the BayCheers, gentle readers!

-M

 

Crucible and Other Updates

Hello, Gentle Readers!

A cleaning day here in the Katson household. I unearthed and sorted innumerable scraps of paper while singing my heart out to Florence + the Machine. I am now settled down at a clean desk, a chai by my hand, preparing to continue into Book II of Novum! A few updates for you all:

  • Sandro Rybak will be doing the covers for Novum, and has produced a fantastic one for Crucible. No, sorry, you can’t see it yet (although I’m not sure I can hold out for the official cover reveal in April), but you can check out Sandro’s DeviantArt gallery here. Which is your favorite? I love Nebora, Heart of the Arctic!
  • Speaking of artwork, the talented Zezhou Chen, who did the covers from Light & Shadow, will be returning with some character sketches for the cast of Novum! I have seen the first two and am dying to share those with you, too! His new pieces include Star Princess and Last Impression – gorgeous!
  • There will also be MUSIC for Novum. Music? Really? Yes! Stay tuned for more details soon!
  • And from music, onwards to the Composers for Relief project, which has now been released on Amazon here. The project is getting some great coverage in the media, the proceeds go to a great cause (Philippines relief efforts), and it’s a good way to check out 30 great authors!
  • I am hoping to get Novum out to the 2nd round beta readers ASAP – waiting for one more beta reader to get their critique in, then overhauls, edits, and off into your hands it goes! Huzzah! If you’d like to sign up for the March round, shoot me an email at moirakatson at gmail dot com :)
  • Book II (still untitled) is taking shape in both expected and unexpected ways. I look forward to sharing it with you in a few months!

How is your winter going, readers?

-M

 

Composers for Relief: Cover Reveal!

Gentle Readers -

You may remember that some time ago, I composed a short story to pair with “Existence,” a track on the Composers for Relief album benefiting relief efforts in the Philippines, following Typhoon Haiyan (called Typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines). While the recovery has faded from the news, there is still MUCH to be done. All proceeds from the Composers for Relief album will be going to Gawad Kalinga and GVSP, and as of today, I have a beautiful cover to share with you for Beyond the Binding, the companion set of short stories!

-M

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Beyond the Binding

Embark on an exciting journey “Beyond the Binding” of the imagination with 29 authors from across the globe, in a groundbreaking collaboration where music meets fiction. Surrender to soaring compositions as they surge through the veins of every story, capturing the triumphant pulse of the notes in heart pounding sci fi, enchanting fantasy and gripping slices of realism.

All proceeds of the Composers for Relief  album and Companion Collection ebook will go to Gawad Kalinga (“give care”) and GVSP (Gualandi Volunteer Service Programme), to support the relief efforts for victims of the deadliest natural disaster in Philippines’ history, Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan).

The ebook will be available from Amazon, Amazon UK, iTunes, B&N, Kobo, Sony, Diesel & Smashwords, with a tentative release date of sometime today – stay tuned!

Composers for Relief album available on ITunes, Amazon, CDBaby & Spotify

How to Publish Your First Book

There are a lot of things that I wish I knew when I started self-publishing, and it seems a waste not to share them with the world. Authors and prospective authors, I hope this helps – and feel free to add your own tips in the comments! (Or, if you’ve had different experiences, please share your experiences!) Please note that most of this is also useful for people who are looking to publish traditionally.

Step 1: Finish your first draft! Have you finished it yet? Excellent! Move on to Step 2. If not, keep working. Remember, marketing is a big, scary jungle and you feel like you should throw energy at it. Your writing, however, is the basis of everything you do, so throw energy at that first. Maybe start a twitter page. Then back to writing!

Step 2: Do not look at your first draft for at least a week. During this time you may do many diverse things: take up crocheting, learn to tap dance, read other people’s books, or (if you are absolutely determined to do something related to this book) email around to see if you can find people interested in beta-reading your book. Go two weeks if you can, but one week is okay.

Step 3: Edit and proofread. Screw up your courage, push up your sleeves, and start editing your first draft. Have you come back from your hiatus to find out that it’s crap? That’s okay. In fact, it’s probably good. The whole point was to see it with new eyes. Don’t worry, remember that nearly every single author who writes about writing says they hate their first drafts. This editing phase may take a while, and when it’s done, take the time to proofread. Personally, I recommend printing the document out during this phase, because for some reason I have better luck finding typos when I do. Things you’ll want to look for:

  • Typos (obviously)
  • Consistent character/place details (if Jim’s eyes are blue, make sure they’re always blue. This is in NO way inspired by real-life events … )
  • A fairly consistent level of action (either something needs to be happening, or something needs to be imminent and building)
  • Jarring things (there’s no better way to describe this, it’s just anything that takes you out of the flow of the story)
  • Plot holes (better now than later)

Step 3a: Repeat Steps 2 & 3 as necessary. If you are not happy with your draft at the end of the first round of editing and you cannot come up with a way to make it better, wait a bit. Do not despair – time and the subconscious have a way of sorting things out. Repeat Steps 2 & 3 until at last you are moderately happy with it, or you are at an impasse that you simply cannot resolve. Shoot out some more emails to friends about beta reading. Try to score some people who love this genre, and maybe a few who don’t read it so often. When you either can’t find anything more to fix, or you cannot figure out how to fix the problems you’ve found, proceed to step 3b.

Step 3b: Copyright. If you want to. This may depend on who, exactly, is beta-reading. If you copyright now, you’ll want to copyright again at the end, depending on any major overhauls. Think about it, make a choice, navigate the system, drink a celebratory cup of tea, and head along to step 4.

Step 4: Send the book to your beta readers. If you have more than four beta readers, I recommend separating them into two groups and sending this draft to the first group. Send the book with very clear instructions that they are to be ruthless, and that you will give out bonus points and candy for finding typos; also, if you have some sort of time constraint, you should probably say that up front. Just as a warning, you will send this email, and then about 25 minutes later you will be white-knuckling your computer and wondering why they haven’t emailed back yet. (You think I’m joking.)

Step 5: While you’re waiting, line up a cover artist. If you’re going to go traditional, skip this step (your publisher will almost certainly line up a cover artist for you). If you’re planning to self-publish, I recommend making a DeviantArt account and posting about a commission, or heading over to some author groups and asking around. Be up-front about what you’re willing to pay. If you’ve done this already, you can spend your time plotting out your next book, tracking down agents (if you’d like to go traditional; DO NOT EMAIL THEM YET), or setting up a Facebook fan page for yourself.

Step 6: Read over the beta readers’ comments. This is probably going to be painful. At this juncture, you need to remember that your beta readers are people just like you, who love books and love YOU and think you can make things better. They’re giving you advice because this way, your book will be better when it goes to the general public. And you want that. And I cannot stress list last piece enough: your beta readers are most likely right. Go over their comments and sort out what advice you want to take. The advice may also be wildly divergent. Try things one way. If they don’t seem right, try them another way. Keep editing.

Step 6a: Repeat Steps 2-6 with your second set of beta readers. But Moiiiiiira, I thought I’d have this book published/out to agents two months ago! Too bad. I will yell if I have to.

Step 7: Hire an editor. You know the drill, but I’m going to say it anyway: buyer beware. Be smart about this. Look online for reviews of this person. Look for price comparisons. It’s a very good sign if this editor links both to industry-standard pricing models, AND provides names of clients. This allows you to track those people down and ask about their experiences. People planning to go traditional can skip this. In fact, everyone can skip this. However, I highly recommend that you do get one. That’s all I’ll say.

Step 8: Start working on your various summaries and pitches. If you’re going to go traditional, you’ll want a three-page and one-page summary of the book, listing out major plot arcs. There are a LOT of resources on the web about how to do this. Frankly, even if you aren’t looking for an agent, you may still want to do this. It’s good to be able to rattle off an elevator speech about your book at a moment’s notice. Practice it in the mirror.

Step 9: Begin shopping reviews from book bloggers, etc. There are oodles of lists online about book bloggers, by genre and subgenre and so on. Look for book bloggers who review in your genre, who have posted recently, and who accept books from indie authors. Look over their submissions guidelines, and follow them. I cannot tell you how important this is. If they say no self-publishing, accept that and move on.

  • Step 9 for traditional publishing folks: build up a list of agents and start querying! Very exciting! Pay attention to submissions requirements and go for it! … I don’t have much experience from here on out, but there are LOTS of agents and authors online to share their experiences. If there are any traditionally published authors reading this who would like to share helpful tips, leave a comment and we can work your advice in! As far as I know, people hoping to go traditional can skip from here to step 15 while they wait for agent responses. We are all crossing our fingers for you, good luck!

Step 10: Go through the editor’s suggestions, make the ones you like, and do one final proof-reading run. You are not obligated to take every suggestion your editor makes. Some will be spot on, some will be way off. Trust your gut! Then look for typos again. And again, for whatever reason, I do recommend printing the manuscript out while typo-hunting.

Step 11: Format. Deep breathing, you can do this. You want to end up with a .doc file that has a linked table of contents. This is just one of many brilliant blog posts that will help you through the process. If you have a lot of pictures or strange formatting, or if you feel deeply uncomfortable with this and would prefer to have someone else handle this, find a formatting service – there is no rule that says you have to do this all yourself! Barry Eisler lists some here, and there are many  more!

Step 12: Put your book up for preorder on Smashwords (optional). As of right now, Amazon does not allow indie authors to do this (bummer). Smashwords and iTunes, however, do. I recommend this, even if you don’t have much of a following, and the reason is that all preorders list as sales on the day of release, pushing your book up in the rankings. That’s cool, right? You will have to upload a manuscript, so this may be a good gut-check. Butterflies in your stomach? Good. Sinking dread? Maybe read through that manuscript again.

Step 13: Copyright. There are actually some diverging opinions on whether this is necessary. I say, maybe give up a few pizzas and spend the $30. For me, it’s peace of mind.

Step 14: Upload. I upload directly to B&N and Amazon, and let Smashwords handle the rest. Some people upload direct everywhere. Smashwords will have a review process to identify common issues, and after that will go through a two-week-ish process of vetting the book for distribution to iTunes, etc (wherever you’ve chosen). You’ll have the options during upload to choose keywords and genres; don’t worry, you can change this later. Remember to put in your supercool descriptions you worked on in Step 8.

Step 15: Relax a little bit. If you aren’t in the middle of a polar vortex, you could try going outside. Either way, have a cup of hot cocoa or a whiskey, maybe read or listen to some music. Relax. Smile. Refresh the Amazon page a few times, compulsively. Allow a friend or partner or kid to drag you away from the computer for a bit.

Step 16: Panic. You may have come to the conclusion that this is the worst book that has ever been written. This is normal. Deep breaths. Don’t delete the book!

Step 17: Start working on the next book. But of course! ;)

Authors, do you have anything to add? Prospective authors, do you have any questions? Let us know!

-M

Indie Author Feature: Daniel Arenson

TorinAndBailey

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Gentle Readers -

In our ongoing series of Indie Author Features, I am delighted to bring you an excerpt of Daniel Arenson’s latest book, Moth – and some of the art and music that has been created for the story!

-M

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They say the world used to turn. They say that night would follow day in an endless dance. They say that dawn rose, dusk fell, and we worshiped both sun and stars.

That was a long time ago.

The dance has died. The world has fallen still. We float through the heavens, one half always in light, one half always in shadow. Like the moth of our forests, one wing white and the other black, we are torn.

**********

Excerpt

They entered the shadows, seeking a missing child.

Torin swallowed, clutched the hilt of his sword, and gazed around with darting eyes. The trees still grew densely here–mossy oaks with trunks like melting candles, pines heavy with needles and cones, and birches with peeling white bark. Yet this was not the forest Torin had always known. The light was wrong, a strange ocher that bronzed the trees and kindled floating pollen. The shadows were too long, and the sun hung low in the sky, hiding behind branches like a shy maiden peering between her window shutters. Torin had never seen the sun shine from anywhere but overhead, and this place sent cold sweat trickling down his back.

“This is wrong,” he said. “Why would she come this far?”

Bailey walked at his side, holding her bow, her quiver of arrows slung across her back. Her two braids, normally a bright gold, seemed eerily metallic in this place. The dusk glimmered against her breastplate–not the shine they knew from home, but a glow like candles in a dungeon.

“I don’t know,” she said. “Yana has been strange since her parents died in the plague. Maybe she thought it would be an adventure.”

Despite himself, Torin shivered. “An adventure? In the dusk? In this cursed place no sensible person should ever enter?”

Bailey raised an eyebrow and smiled. “Why not? Aren’t you feeling adventurous now?”

“No.” He shook his head vehemently. “Adventure means sneaking out to Old Garin’s farm to steal beets, mixing rye with ale, or climbing the old maple tree in the village square.” He looked around at the shadowy forest, and his hand felt clammy around his hilt. “Not this place. Not the dusk.”

They kept walking, heading farther east, deeper into the shadows. Torin knew what the elders said. Thousands of years ago, the world used to turn. The sun rose and fell, and night followed day in an endless dance. Men woke at dawn, worked until the sunset, and slept through the darkness.

Torin shivered. He didn’t know if he believed those stories. In any case, those days were long gone. The dance had ended. The world had fallen still. Torin was a child of eternal sunlight, of a day that never ended. Yet now . . . now they were wandering the borderlands, the dusky strip–a league wide–that was neither day nor night, claimed by neither his people nor the others . . . those who dwelled in the dark.

A shadow darted ahead.

Torin leaped and drew his sword.

A rabbit raced across the forest and disappeared into a burrow.

Bailey stared at his drawn sword, eyes wide, then burst into laughter.

“Protect me, brave Sir Torin Greenmoat!” she said, doubling over. “Will you defend me from the evil Bunny of the Night?”

Torin grumbled and sheathed his blade, cursing himself. He had come of age last autumn, turning eighteen, and he had joined the Village Guard, yet it seemed Bailey would forever mock him.

“Hush,” he said. “It could have been them.”

She rolled her eyes. “They don’t walk this far dayside, if they even exist.”

“How do you know?”

Bailey groaned. “Everybody knows that. It’s still too bright here. The nightfolk only live in the deep darkness.” She lowered her voice. “It’s dark as the deepest cave there, Torin. It’s darker than the soul of a killer, darker than toast burnt in dragonfire, darker than the empty spaces inside your skull. So dark you can’t see your own feet. That’s where they lurk . . . scuttling, whispering, sharpening their claws . . .” She inched closer to him and smiled wickedly, the orange light reflecting in her eyes. “When all light is gone, that is where they’ll . . . leap at you.”

She lunged toward him, clawing the air. Torin muttered and pushed her back.

“This is no time for your games,” he said. “A child is missing. Until we find Yana, I’m keeping my hand on my sword. And you should nock an arrow.”

She blew out her breath noisily, fluttering her lips. “Yana is thirteen, rebellious, and wants attention. We’ll find her long before we hit the true darkness. Let’s keep walking, and do try not to wet yourself.” She winked. “I promise you, no bunnies will hurt you, Babyface.”

He sighed. She knew he hated that name. Even at eighteen, Torin still stood a little shorter than Bailey, and people often said he looked young for his age, his eyes too large, his cheeks too soft, and his chest too smooth. Torin had hoped that joining the Village Guard would make Bailey see him as a man, not a callow boy, but so far his hopes had been dashed. Standing almost six feet tall, preferring leggings and boots to gowns and slippers, Bailey wasn’t easy to impress. Jumping at rabbits wasn’t helping either.

They walked on. Torin didn’t wet himself, but with every step, his heart raced faster and more sweat trickled. As they headed farther east, the sun sank lower behind them. The shadows deepened, stretching across the forest floor like slender men in black robes.

The forest began to thin out. Back in Timandra, in the full light of day, the trees grew thick and lush and rich with birds. Here in the dusk, they faded like receding hair on an aging man’s scalp. The verdant woods dwindled into a few scattered trees, stunted and bent, their leaves gray. The soil lost its rich brown hue, darkening into charcoal thick with black stones. Another mile and the sun actually touched the horizon behind them, casting red beams between the last trees. The air grew colder and Torin hugged himself.

“We should go back,” he said, hating that his voice sounded so choked. “We’ve come too far. We’re almost at the night.”

A lump filled his throat like a boiled egg, too large to swallow. Torin had seen the night before. Like everyone in the Village Guard, he had climbed the Watchtower upon the hill. He had gazed across the dusk, this withered no man’s land, and beheld the great shadow in the east. But that had been different. In the safety of the Watchtower, the daylight upon him and the forest rustling below, it was easy to be brave. Now he walked toward the very lair of the beasts.

Scared?” Bailey asked, smiling crookedly.

Torin nodded. “Yes and you should be too. They live near here.” He took a shuddering breath. “The people of the night. Elorians.” The word tasted like ash.

Bailey snickered and kept walking, her braids swinging. “If you ask me, ‘lorians are just a myth.” She trudged up a hillside strewn with boulders. “People who live in eternal night, their eyes large as an owl’s, their skin milk white, their souls pitch black?” She snorted. “It’s just a myth to keep children away from the darkness.”

Torin followed reluctantly, though every beat of his heart screamed to turn around, to head back west, to return to the eternal daylight of his home. Bailey could snicker at the stories, but Torin wasn’t so dismissive. If the world indeed used to turn, and day and night would cycle like summer and winter, would people not have lived here once? When the world had frozen, leaving Timandra in light and Eloria in darkness, would the people here not wither into twisted demons, hateful of the light, thirsty for the blood of honest folk?

“Torin!” Bailey looked over her shoulder at him. The low sun painted her a bloody red. “Are you following, or will you run back to safety while I go looking?”

He grumbled and trudged uphill after her. “If I turn back now, I’d never hear the end of it.”

She grinned and winked. “That’s the spirit, Winky.”

He sighed. It was another name he hated. Years ago, while wrestling with Bailey, he had fallen upon a stone and scratched his left eye. Since then his pupil had remained fully dilated, hiding most of the iris. He could see only smudges from that eye now, a blurred world like a melted painting. Folks joked that his eyes were like the world’s halves, one green and good, the other black and dead. To Bailey, he had simply become Winky.

Since his parents had died in the plague ten years ago–a pestilence many claimed the Elorians had spread–Torin had been living with Bailey and her grandfather. The young woman, a year his senior, could always draw him into trouble. Whenever Bailey climbed the Old Maple, she would challenge him to climb too, then laugh as he dangled and fell. Whenever she ran across the fields, she’d challenge him to a race, then tease him relentlessly for losing. Torin had always been a little slower, a little clumsier, a little meeker, and even here and now–old enough to serve in the Village Guard, tracking a missing child through the shadows–she could goad him.

He shook his head as he walked uphill. Sometimes he loved Bailey like a true sister. Sometimes he thought her beautiful, brave, and his best friend. And sometimes, like now, he thought her the most stubborn, reckless soul this side of darkness.

Several feet ahead of him, she reached the hilltop, froze, and gasped.

Torin’s heart raced. He clutched his hilt and drew a foot of steel. For an instant, he was sure the Elorians were swarming toward her. He raced uphill, boots scattering pebbles, and came to stand beside her.

His hand loosened around his hilt, letting his sword slide back into its scabbard.

Bailey turned toward him, her eyes damp, and smiled tremulously. “It’s beautiful, Torin. It’s so beautiful.”

He looked ahead, saw the land of Eloria, and could barely breathe.

Beautiful? he thought. It looked about as beautiful as the black heart of a viper.

From the Watchtower back home, the night seemed a mere smudge of ink, a blackness that spread into the horizon. But standing here upon the edge of dusk, he beheld a new world. Lifeless black hills rolled into the distance. Beyond them, mountains rose against a deep indigo sky. Wind moaned, scattering dust and invading Torin’s clothes with icy fingers. No plants grew here; he saw no grass, no trees, no life at all.

Upon one hill, several miles away, rose the black obelisk men called the Nighttower, a twin to the Watchtower back home. Torin had seen it before from the safety of daylight, a needle in the distance. Seeing the edifice so close chilled him, a strange feeling like seeing one’s profile between two mirrors, a vision familiar yet uncomfortably different. The Nighttower rose like a stalagmite from the hilltop, black and craggy. Some men claimed it was a natural structure, carved by wind and rain; others claimed the Elorians had built their own tower to observe Timandra. Even standing here, Torin could not decide, but he had no desire to get any closer.

Above all else, even more than the barren stone and looming tower, it was the sky that spun Torin’s head. Countless small, glowing dots covered the firmaments like holes punched through a black blanket. An orb floated among them, as large as the sun back home, glowing silver. It took Torin a moment to realize–it was the moon. He had seen the moon before from the dayside, a wisp like a mote of dust, but here it shone like a great lantern.

“The stars and the moon,” Bailey whispered. “I’ve heard of them. The lights of the night.”

He grabbed her arm. “Bailey, this is enough. We’ve crossed the dusk; this is Eloria itself ahead. This land is forbidden.” He tried to tug her back downhill. “We go home. Now.”

She refused to budge. “Wait. Look, Winky. Down there.”

He followed her gaze, staring toward the distant land of darkness. A lump lay below upon the eastern hillside.

“A boulder,” he said.

Bailey shook her head, braids swaying. “All the other boulders here are tall and jagged. This one’s smooth.”

She pulled her arm free and walked downhill, heading deeper into the darkness. Torin cursed and looked behind him. Back in the west, the sun still shone and trees still grew; they were gray and twisted nearby, green and lush farther back. Far above them, he could see the top of the Watchtower and the blue sky of Timandra behind it.

Home. Safety.

He turned away, muttering curses, and began walking downhill after Bailey.

“She always does this to me,” he grumbled.

Thanks to her taunts, he had fallen from trees, almost drowned swimming after her in the river, and nearly gagged during a pie eating contest. And now this–walking into the land of darkness itself.

He drew his sword and held the blade before him. He had never swung it in battle; he wondered if that would change now. As he moved nightward, his boots scattering pebbles, he kept glancing around, seeking them. He had seen countless statues, paintings, and effigies of Elorians, and now those visions returned to him, mocking him with oversized eyes, sharp teeth, and claws. He sucked in his breath and held it.

Bailey knelt ahead over the lump. She looked up at him, and the last beams of sunlight filled her eyes. They gleamed, two orange lanterns.

“Torin,” she whispered, voice choked.

He crossed the last few steps toward her. He knelt at her side, looked at the shadow below, and lowered his head.

We found her.

Yana lay on her back, eyes glassy and staring. Her skin was pale gray, and her hands were still balled into fists. Three gashes gaped open across her chest, and blood soaked her tunic, deep crimson in the night. A steel star, its points serrated, pierced her neck.

Bailey’s hand shook as she closed the girl’s eyes.

“I think we should leave now,” she whispered.

Torin nodded and they lifted the girl. All the way here, they had taunted each other, laughing and groaning. They walked home in silence, leaving the darkness and returning to a day that seemed less bright.

 **********

You can find Moth on Amazon, or directly on Daniel’s website. You can also find Daniel on Twitter and Facebook.

The gorgeous music was composed and performed by Ekaterina (you can find more of the music here), and the artwork for Moth was done by Peter Ortiz.

Assorted Oddments

readers

Hello, Gentle Readers -

As the new year dawns, much excitement is brewing! A few pieces of news and collected wisdom from around the internet for you all:

  • Are you looking to publish traditionally? Is your manuscript honed to within an inch of its little life? Well, then it’s query time! Here are a few links to help you perfect the art of the synopsis, which is just incredibly difficult to write. But it’s do-able! Basic Plot Structure and How to Write a One-Page Synopsis. (Do you have a favorite resource for help with this? Share it in the comments!)
  • And then head over to Absolute Write to check the listings on agents and publishers. I don’t want to encourage an atmosphere of fear, and certainly the vast majority of agents and publishers are trustworthy, book-happy folks. But please, please take advantage of resources like the “Bewares, Recommendations, and Background Checks” forums!
  • Or perhaps you’re going to self-publish. Here’s the KBoards listing for artwork and design: linkity. Really, KBoards is a great resource. Head over and lurk around!
  • Meanwhile, Book 1 of Novum, tentatively titled Crucible, has undergone its first major overhaul from me, and is in the hands of the first round of beta readers and a professional critiquer – it will head off to the second round of beta readers mid-February! Contact me to get on the third round list for late March!
  • Book 2 of Novum is in its infancy, and is going not as quickly as I would like, but quickly enough for any rational person ;)

And you, gentle readers – do you have any book recommendations or helpful links to share? Comment away!

-M

 

On Writing Your First Novel

To me, the best description of writing is that it’s like falling in love: it’s wonderful, incredibly comforting and unsettling all at once. It’s raw–you’ll get tumbled about and jostled, you’ll want to shed tears not only for your characters, but for your inability to capture them (and sometimes, for the joy of the description coming together). Robin McKinley said that “Every once upon a time for me is another experience of white-water rafting in a leaky inner tube,” and I have found it to be true.

But the first novel… The first novel, the first time that you plunge headlong into your work and get hopelessly lost, is one of the best experiences you will ever have. I know that many of you are also writers, and that you have a piece that has been hanging out in your brain for ages. I hope you pick up a pen and scribble in the edges of your day calendar, or perhaps type a few words in you word processor when you get home. More, I hope you keep writing, and you finish that piece! Novel, novella, short story set, whatever it may be. It’s a wonderful feeling!

Perhaps you are already embroiled in this. Moira, you say, it is not going well. You’re not sure how to make the words come out correctly. In fact, you are astounded by how words and concepts that sound so moving in your head become so trite and flat when you get them down on the page. Your plot is a sinking ship and your characters sound like angsty teenagers.

So let me take your tear-stained face and wipe away the tears and say gently that this is normal. This is to be expected; in fact, it is to be hoped for, as odd as that sounds. You should feel outmatched by your story much of the time. But Moira, you say. I have read so many books. I know how this should be done. I wanted to be the special one who would pick up a pen and make angels weep with my first effort. Sorry. There are things about writing that you can only, ONLY learn from the act of writing your chosen format. Don’t get me wrong, reading will serve you well. Read often, read voraciously. Read with envy and throw the books across the room from sheer jealousy that the other author managed to describe things so well. But know that there are skills you will never be able to learn, save through writing. As someone wise once said, bad writing precedes good writing. You can’t get to the good stuff without going through the dreck first!

So tell me about your book. Or tell you about your book. Go sit in front of a mirror and chat away. I have never met an author who didn’t have a very lively (and somewhat combative) relationship with themselves. Go talk about your book. Tell me/you/your brain just what is so cool about this book. Remember the scenes you’ve written (or imagined) that have moved you to tears, and tell me about them. Bring tissues.

Then keep fighting with the writing itself. Bring all those tears, all the joy and hope and sorrow you feel when you imagine your book, and return to the manuscript. Give it the sort of Look that says, “I know what you are about to try, and I am going to win this battle no matter how long it takes.” As Anne Lamott suggests in Bird by Bird, break things down into tiny pieces. You don’t need to show me the character’s transformation from naive child to sophisticated city slicker, all you need to do for right now is show the view out the character’s window, or maybe the home-cooked meal they are eating. This is manageable. (Also, I highly recommend reading Bird by Bird.)

Over time, you will get better at writing – and I do not mean, better at stringing words together into sentences, although that will likely happen, too. I mean that you will get more accomplished at shutting down the paralyzing worry that comes with writing, and you will be able to suspend disbelief with more ease as you plunge into a paragraph. Your writing muscles will get bigger. Your writing style will become a bit smoother.

But you will never again be writing your first novel. So, for that if nothing else, slow down and savor it. That terrifying, wonderful-awful jumble of feelings as you launch headfirst into telling your story to the world? That feeling remarkably similar to falling in love and taking the leap? Revel in it. If you are afraid, remember that others have been here, and others have emerged. Remember also that you are here because you need to tell the story, not because you need to be finished telling the story.

-M