Updates – ‘Broken’ Novella Release Date and Blurb

Sixteen-year-old Elden is a young man driven by impulse. A natural telekinetic raised by strict disciplinarians, he has struggled all his life to be what anyone expected him to be. On the eve of his brother’s induction into Justice training Elden is faced with a series of crucial choices, the outcome of which will determine his future in ways he never imagined.

As mentioned in a previous post, the writing for Broken happened fast – really fast. I’ve wanted to take the time to explore Elden’s past since his conception, so as soon as I got myself into his head I couldn’t get out until the story was finished. The whirlwind of inspiration was a surprise, albeit a welcome one. Broken takes place approximately 5 years prior to the events in Tragedy, when Elden was 16 years old. In it we get the chance to meet the younger, less-experienced boy who becomes the cocky, life-hardened man we see briefly in Tragedy and more prominently in Sacrifice. He gets a lot of POV time in Sacrifice, which will make Broken a nice introduction to the character prior to reading the sequel (and yes, I am going to finish this sequel – I swear it).

Broken’s release date is now set for June 26th, which should theoretically give me plenty of time to get feedback from the betas and finish up a final edit. Having a release just before the big residency wave hits will *hopefully* keep the writing going strong through the first part of intern year. Intern year is still a giant void at the moment, a point at which it seems my life ceases to exist (mostly because I *still* don’t have a schedule). For now I’m just going to keep writing, reading, and trying to finish as many projects as possible before I hand over the keys to my life. There are a few blog post ideas I’ve come up with, as well, that I hope to write up between now and then. To keep me honest I’m going to put this list out there for all to see –

  • What it means to write “strong female characters”
  • Marketing: one writer’s experience, what I’ve seen from others, and what I’m planning
  • The big Kindle Select vs. Wider Distribution debate
  • Contests?!

If something on that list sounds particularly interesting to any of you, please comment! I will bump that topic to the front of the queue.

Alright, that should be plenty to add to my to-do list. I should probably scurry off to work on some of the more practical items on that list… like packing for my move, which I haven’t done. At all. Have a lovely evening out there in the real world, folks. 😉

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The Healer-Writer and Other Reflections on Med School

When I started writing I was faced with a decision: how much did I want to reveal about who I am and what I do to potential readers? At the time I started conservative. I decided to be a bit vague on my location, generally indicate that I have cats/not kids, and made reference to being a “medical professional.” I’ve been thinking about that last part a lot lately, and anyone who knows what’s going on in my life knows why. Five days ago I graduated from medical school. I’m a doctor.

There. I said it.

I had been reluctant to be upfront about what I do because of interviews and residency-related things that were taking up my time. Medical school is a long and treacherous journey in which any single person’s opinion of your “fitness” as a physician can bite you, and bite hard. I wasn’t sure what others might think if they dug into my creative pursuits. My imaginary world is rather personal – it reflects a lot about my values and identity. I’m proud of who I am, but I’m also an unassuming person who tries not to offend people in real life, particularly if they’re my supervisors. There were plenty of reasons not to specify my profession and schooling at the time, so I didn’t.

Having graduated and secured a residency, I’ve come to re-think this whole thing. At this point book sales are going relatively well by my standards (this isn’t saying a whole lot, mind you, but it buys my sandwiches), and I have a few people who are reading this blog stuff. With the increased attention I want to talk more – the trouble is finding things to say. I find that there’s always this block in front of doing anything besides promoting books and showing off snippets, because when you get down to it, >50% of my time in any given week is devoted to medical things. So much of what I could be saying has to do with what it’s like to be a med student (now a physician) and how I balance that with being a creative person.  Until today, I’ve avoided all that.

Another reason I’m doing this is because I wrote a piece a couple nights ago about my experiences in med school. I tend to reflect a lot (as so many writers do), and ended up with a decent writeup on what what the last four years look like from down here at the med school finish line (also known as the residency/actual job starting line). I was thinking, hey, I’ll post this on facebook, tag these friends that I’m talking about…

…and then I thought about how I could just put it on the blog where I post the rest of my writing anyway. People I meet in real life seem to find the ‘published a book in med school’ thing pretty interesting, so maybe you, dear reader, might also find it interesting. If you’re a medical student you might even find it inspiring regardless of whether you have any interest in my fiction. I know that I found it inspiring to read about students and docs who were still functional, complete human beings, especially during first year before I figured out how to make my life and my work jive together.

Many people have asked how I ever “found the time” to do what I’ve done, so I’d like to address that briefly before I go on. Those that ask the question act as if my writing was some tedious, required activity, a massive feat that must have taken dedication and strength. I always laugh when I get this question, because I’m not sure I would have survived the process without it. I wrote more during rotations I found distasteful (hello surgery, peds and OB-GYN) than on any other rotations. In fact, the entire scene from the temple in Torvid’s Rest was written in between delivering babies while I was on labor and delivery nightshift. I would love to encourage anyone in the medical field (physicians, NP’s, PA’s, what have you) to indulge in their passions outside of medicine, no matter what that passion is. I haven’t been in the profession that long, but I’ve already seen my share of burnout – I’d like to think that having an active non-medical life is one of the keys to avoiding that.

I could tell you a lot of stories about being the ninja fiction writer in med school, but this post is already getting too long, and there’s the whole thing about the reflective piece I wanted to share. I’m attaching that particular bit below.

***

Somebody told me once that the best part of medical education is the time between when you get your acceptance and when you matriculate. Well, I’m done with medical school now, so I guess I can have an opinion on that. For what it’s worth, I don’t necessarily agree with that assessment. I see things a little differently.

Med school is an insane ride. Even periods of time that seem innocent like “after the match” or “before matriculation” can be fraught with anticipation, stress and busywork. Every step of the process had a little bit of horrible and a little bit of wonderful in it, in different proportions. It was akin to a giant swing or a poorly-constructed carnival ride wherein there are periods of abject terror – reaching the top and fearing you might fly off and die – followed by periods of the swing-back, where things are better, and even great.

I have snapshots of the last four years in my head, all floating free now that graduation is over. Sitting here and analyzing it, there was more than enough of the fear and anguish part – of thinking, “why didn’t I go into marine biology?” or “maybe I should have been a starving author,” or better yet, “I can’t tell if food service was better or worse than this.” I saw classmates who struggled personally and professionally at times, not one of us immune to the episodes of self-doubt, wondering if we did the right thing or if we would even make it out the other side. There was drama and professors who drove us batty, gossip and class-wide turmoil. More than anything else there was a whole lot of frantic studying just hoping to pass a test, bargaining with one’s preferred higher power (be it deity or luck) for one more day where we could prove that we belonged in this profession. On clinical rotations we saw the beginning of life and its end, people in pain, torn-up families and good people who were suffering for what seemed to be no greater purpose. We witnessed both the triumphs and the failures of medicine, sometimes because of holes in our science and other times because of simple human inadequacies.

Each one of those despairing memories is contrasted with events that still make me smile. I remember very clearly the first time my friend-crew got together, and the first of many times we celebrated following a test. There were late-night study sessions interrupted by hysterical bouts of laughter, trips to conferences and the fun we had after. There was time spent in class, chatting with the almost-back-row-gang, turning white as a sheet when a certain professor asked uncomfortable questions. We daydreamed about our future lives, and watched those dreams grow and change into what they are now. I worked alongside colleagues who were resilient in the face of unruly hours and ridiculous expectations, who met every challenge without sacrificing their compassion. We were privileged to meet and care for some incredible patients. We all have those private memories of the patients who called us “doc” when we insisted we were students, the ones who thanked us for our kindness, and those who said we were going to be great physicians.

The thing I remember best about this whole mess is the laughter and the people who I call friends – great human beings, and now, some of the greatest doctors I’ve ever met. We have stories that nobody can take from us and share a bond that is entirely unique.

In many ways I grew up in medical school, and I think that probably goes for a lot of us, no matter how old we were when we started. The changes induced by a medical education are inescapable. For some people, sadly, it stole things from them; surely I lost my share of hobbies and knowledge throughout this process, but I’d like to think that I’ve gained far more than I’ve shed in order to become the person I am now.  Intern year is going to be another swing upward with the stomach-dropping fear that goes along with it, but I have faith that all of us are going to make it. We made it this far.

Cover Release: An Elden Novella Called “Broken”

Well my friends, interesting things have been happening over here. While working on Forsaken Lands 2 I had a conversation with my sister, and at some point I asked the question, “Hey, who do you think deserves the next short story?”

As soon as she said “Elden” my mind got spinning, and in 12 days I had about 18,000 words on paper – enough to qualify as a novella. Mind you, I had planned to work on a short story after the novel draft was finished, but Elden’s tale was so juicy that it simply took off with my better senses, and here we are. Fortunately I’m pretty sure that I can still make my goal of a June 23rd first draft of FL2 despite my 12 day novella diversion. What’s even better is I will now be releasing a new title in the next 1-3 months, prior to the release of FL2! Check out the cover –

broken

I’ll be working up a formal blurb in the next few days. In short, it is another first-person origin story of sorts, giving you a window into Elden’s life at age sixteen. Several points about his past are revealed, including the beginning of his dangerous relationship with the Kaldari fire drug. After my beta readers give me their feedback on the draft I will make necessary changes, consult with my editing folks, and then bam – it will be out on the net. I’m still undecided as to whether I’ll do three months of Kindle Select or go straight to wider distribution. More on the intricacies of that decision to come.

I’m on break between the end of my training and the beginning of my new job, so there will be lots of writing happening in the next few weeks as well as a (much less arduous) move to a neighboring city. I’ll see about getting some blog posts out in that amount of time. Who knows… perhaps I’ll release some snippets from Broken while I’m at it. Interested? Shout out!

Preview Chapter – Forsaken Lands Book 2

Hello out there blog folk! It’s been a wild month-and-a-half or so. Despite an ever-changing schedule and an impending move (again), the work on Book 2 has been proceeding as scheduled. With 73,000 words in the Forsaken Lands sequel, I’d like to present a sample of what’s been going on so far. Slowly but surely this thing is getting finished… goal date to finish the draft: June 23rd. More blog posts to come in the next few months! Sorry for the decrease in chatter.

The scene below is from the second chapter of Forsaken Lands Book 2 and contains spoilers – you have been warned.

           Even balled up in her fur cloak with the hood drawn up, Eila had glittering green eyes and a thin little body that made all sorts of interesting shapes in a fight. She was probably younger than him – maybe 16 – but she was better with a sword and a hell of a lot better at speaking the Kaldari’s god-cursed language.

           Elden gifted the girl with one of his sly half-smiles and threw the stone right back. She laughed and said something under her breath that he couldn’t understand.

           Sigh.

           It was getting colder than he could ever remember. Seven Kaldari huddled around the center of a traditional Kaldari Chitaka, a semi-permanent, round, tent-like structure that he helped construct from animal hides about a week ago. There were sleep sacks scattered around the periphery of the structure and a blazing fire in the center, the smoke pushing cold air out through the hole in the ceiling. Even with the roaring fire and the close quarters, Elden hugged his own body tightly to keep in what warmth he could. The snow outside formed a barricade, so thick that folks could barely squeeze through to use the outdoor facilities. Fortunately the snow seemed to slow the Celet down almost as much as it slowed the Kaldari. They hadn’t seen action since the Chitaka went up.

           Though he’d spent several weeks with these people, Elden felt incredibly alone. When a Kaldari patrol cornered him outside of Nivenea on the week of The Fall, Elden had given serious thought to killing them all. He had the ability to do so, certainly, and no real moral issue with it, but part of him knew that being a loner wasn’t going to work forever. The emergence of the Celet and their mysterious weapons brought his entire world into question – he could run, but to where? And for what?

           He was nothing without a group to hide within, so it made some amount of sense to just go with them. Growing up on the Kaldari Border Elden had picked up a little of the language – mostly slurs – just enough to get along. He understood more than he could express, at least. “Yes” was the only word that seemed to matter, anyway.

           Given his poor control of the language he came off as quiet, but nobody seemed overly disturbed by his lack of conversation. Quite the contrary, they treated him as if he were some kind of ideal stoic. Unfortunately stoicism wasn’t his usual gig. He found himself craving real human interaction, without the fear of being found out.

           It might not have been worth all the isolation except that the Kaldari gave him a steady supply of the fire, which saved him from the withdrawals. The fire alone might not be enough to keep him around. As time went on he gave greater consideration to joining the infamous Nivenea’s Sword, the Children of Elseth’s resistance movement against the Celet. Elden had his first encounter with The Sword just the day before, and he couldn’t help but admire with tenactiy. More than that, he liked that he was able to understand what they were saying effortlessly.

           Gods I hate being alone in my own head.

           <That one, where did he come from again?> Eila whispered to the male, Berik, beside her.

           <I heard he was Alke,> Berik replied.

           <He’s so slow,> Eila chuckled.

           Elden stared up at the ceiling as if oblivious. She either believed that she was speaking softly enough that he wouldn’t hear, or more likely, she thought he was too dumb to understand. He had no intention of finding out which. He grabbed his bag and stood, stretching his stiff legs. Berik raised eyebrows in his direction.

           Elden jerked a thumb toward the entrance flap, <Pissing.>

           Berik nodded.

           Pausing just a moment to gather his wits, Elden pushed through the hide-flap into the biting cold of the night. Outside the Chitaka very few people stood guard; he counted four, one at each cardinal. Only their shadows were visible through the dark and falling snow, outlined by torches which seemed to be swallowed up by the forest. Ice hung heavy on the pine trees, the whiteness turned to black with the occasional sparkle of stray light. He could see no stars; when he looked up the snow stung his lashes.

           Somehow being physically alone was comforting compared to the sensation of being alone in a crowd. Hunching his shoulders, Elden trudged out to the edge of the camp where people typically went to relieve themselves. The forest was too quiet; his every movement was amplified a hundred times, yet the guards spared him only stray glances. They did not expect an attack this night.

           Once safely out of sight of the guards, Elden huddled up against a tree. He checked one way and then the other, took a long breath, and relaxed. When he raised his hand his lighter slowly levitated from his pocket, spinning free while he packed his stolen pipe. His covash was getting low, but a hit or two and he’d be able to forget enough to get to sleep.

           Plans could wait.

           He lit the pipe, careful to shield it from the wind and keep it from falling out. His supply would need to last until… well, until something. He didn’t know what. He used his mind to effortlessly place the lighter back in his pocket and took his first pull. He had to avoid using his abilities in the presence of others who might be suspicious. The freedom to move objects with his mind was absolutely freeing, a pleasure he too infrequently enjoyed.

           Movement off to his left caught his eye mid-drag, giving him pause. He hadn’t heard anyone coming up on his position, but the movement was unmistakable. When he turned to look he was met with the bear-sized frame of the Kaldari merc, a large bag slung on his back and a thick cloak drawn around him, only adding to his size. A hook was attached in place of his right hand, lost in the fight at Nivenea’s Fall. For a man so substantial he moved with the grace of a feline.

           Elden quickly concealed his pipe up his sleeve and hitched his breath, hoping that the man would pass him by. The merc halted his progression and slowly turned towards him – the feeling of the merc’s eyes on him gave Elden a start.

           “You did not see me,” the merc’s gruff voice came from beneath a faceless hood, appropriately lowered so that the guards would not hear. “Go back to the camp.”

           Elden leaned his head back against the tree, closing his eyes. He opened his mouth to formulate a reply in Kaldari, but stopped abruptly.

           The merc was speaking to him in Leyvada.

           He was inclined not to answer back in order to maintain this illusion of being a Kaldari soldier, but by the merc’s rough, staccato laughter, he had already fumbled too far. He knew. The merc grunted and kept walking, his back to Elden.

           “What the hell was that?” Elden whispered urgently.

           When the man looked over his shoulder Elden caught a glimpse of his long, black hair peaking from beneath his hood. “Your accent is very bad.”

           “You’ve known? All this time?”

           The merc’s shoulders slumped just slightly. His tone was flat. “Yes.”

           “And you didn’t think I was some kind of spy?”

           At that the merc laughed again. “Spy? If you are the spy I pity The Sword for sending you.”

           Elden couldn’t help but feel taken aback by the comment. He wasn’t a spy, but he didn’t think he would be so bad if he was. The other Kaldari accepted him, and showed no inkling of suspicion. To be identified by one man out of dozens was hardly something to scoff at.

           The merc began walking again, and something very stupid and very deep inside Elden’s psyche cause him to follow, even as he was telling himself, Leave this guy alone, idiot. He’s dangerous. He supposed that it was his power that got him into these situations. His whole life he’d struggled to impose deterrents such as fear into his every day actions, but doing so was difficult when he’d never met a person that he couldn’t defeat in a fight… at least in theory.

           “Do not follow me,” the merc said patiently.

           “You’re not giving me an abundance of options. I’m not done with you,” Elden proceeded, reckless with the need for change. “I want out of here, and it looks like that’s where you’re headed.”

           The merc didn’t turn around or stop. “And you think this is what I am doing, getting ‘out,’ as you say?”

           “You’re leaving the camp alone in the middle of the night, and word is your loyalties aren’t proven. Nobody trusts you.”

           “They let me live with them, they cared for my wounds. You think they do this for a man they do not trust?”

           “Look man, I don’t care why they let you in, I just want to follow you until I find someplace else to hide for a while. I don’t belong here.”

           When the merc swung around to glare at him, Elden instinctively ducked and raised his energy, ready for a fight. To his surprise the bear-man did not hit him. The shadowed face studied him a moment, and Elden could feel his hairs standing on end.

           “I can just go ba-” Elden began.

           “Your name is Elden.”

           Confused, Elden crossed his arms, in part for warmth and in part as a defensive posture. “And your name is…” he searched for it in the depths of his memory. “Garren.”

           “You are from Vail.”

           Elden physically and mentally withdrew, wary of Garren’s knowledge. He hadn’t told anyone where he’d come from, that much he was sure of. “Who says?”

           Silence.

           “If you wish to find the other Deldri then you follow me. If you do not wish it, you do not follow.” The statement was final. Garren turned away yet again and set off into the woods.

           “How do you know?” Elden called after him at the loudest volume he imagined to be safe.

           No answer. The mysterious merc man just kept walking, disappearing into the darkness, the snow, and the trees. Elden hesitated another beat – he was faced with one of his recurring life decisions, to go or to stay, to follow on to an uncertain future or wallow in the disappointing reality of his present. He supposed that he would continue making these decisions forever until eventually he found the decision which led to his happiness or he died, whichever came first. He was relatively certain that this was not one of those happiness-making choices.

           Settling his bag squarely over his shoulders, Elden followed his new-found traveling partner into a future unknown.

 © 2014 Sydney M. Cooper – No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.