Introducing Dmiri

Summer is upon us and I am no longer an intern! Slowly but surely things are starting to get polished up and put together for Forsaken Lands 2. To keep the new words flowing, I have been working on a short story featuring a new character named Dmiri – I thought I’d share a clip from the rough draft in the absence of inspiration to blog anything else recently. I hope you like him as much as I do. 😉


I’m not a nervous person – at least, that’s what I tell myself. I’ve been a part of the Celet military since I was eight years old – 24 years. Absent gods, does that make me feel old.

I pride myself on being calm and well-conducted under pressure, but with the way I was wearing a four-finger dent in my desk with my incessant rap, rap, rap on the wood, any bystander would assume I was plagued with the mental disease. I was starting to wonder that about myself. Perhaps I misjudged my vices all these years.

I was grateful when there was a knock at the door to my quarters. I laced my fingers together in the hope that they would calm themselves. “Come in,” I called.

The door clicked open to reveal my visitor, Second Eling-Mai Nyugen. Fully clad in the Celet officer blues with her dark hair pulled back in a severe-looking bun, Mai was totally within aesthetic regulations. Her pistolet hung at her side practically halfway down her leg – though Mai was small even among the Celet people, she carried with her an imposing presence. Her thin fingers rested on the grip of her weapon, a sure sign of her own apprehension. She had nothing to fear inside this room; it was what waited for us outside on the previously-unknown outpost called ‘Zhyra’ which set her nerves on edge.

True to protocol, Mai closed the door and stood just beyond its threshold, waiting for my instructions.

I waved at her inelegantly. “I think we’re well beyond rules by now, don’t you?”

Mai’s shoulders remained stiff and strong when she approached my desk and sat down. I imagined I looked a wreck in my rumpled two-day-old uniform with sleeves pulled up over my elbows. I hadn’t properly slept in as much time, of course. The mess of classified documents I’d managed to procure from one of the shipments we dropped off two weeks ago were sprawled out in front of me, marked up by my own hand so haphazardly that even I couldn’t read it.

Mai’s sharp eyes took all of it in with one sweep. Her cheek twitched.

“The watchers are reporting land,” she told me. “We’ll be there by sundown, unless you’d like to postpone.”

“Is that what you want to do? Postpone?”

“I…” Mai trailed off uncharacteristically. She shook her head. “I just thought I should ask before we proceed.”

I couldn’t fight the smile. I tried to straighten up, pulling the wrinkles out of my uniform jacket. “This is still a voluntary mission. You can still go belowdeck. I will happily call you my prisoner.”

I might have been hallucinating, but I thought I saw her fight off a smile. Instead she just blinked. “And you can still turn this ship around.”

Non-answer. “Mai, I’m asking you as your friend – are you sure you want to go down for this?”

“If I wanted to abandon the Resolute I would have jumped off at Tayk like everyone else,” she caught herself just in time, “sir.”

“In as many years as we’ve known each other you still can’t call me Dmiri,” I mused. Ever since we’d graduated from the academy together she used my rank or title when speaking to me. I supposed that was partly my fault for keeping people at a comfortable distance. My reputation amongst the fleet was a good one – I was trusted, even liked by most, yet I could count on one hand the number of people who might really know me.

Mai would be one of those people. She knew me all too well. She pressed her lips together – clearly my attempts at distraction were not appreciated.

“Dmiri,” her voice lowered, the use of my name so surprising that I jumped and hit my knee against my desk. She acted as if she didn’t notice. “Are you sure you want to go down for this?”

I couldn’t hold her gaze; instead I rested my eyes on the papers. The sting of fatigue jabbed me with each blink. She asked a question I’d been asking myself constantly since I saw that cage.

I swallowed. Damn and hell, this anxiety issue would kill me. I tried to grin. “They cannot court martial a legend.”

Mai replied with a grunt of disapproval. “Not all of us are legends.”

“They will be reasonable,” I told her, and impressed myself with how confident I sounded. It was a skill I’d had since I was too young – I could convince and charm people by making them think I knew what I was doing. What I’d learned by practicing this skill was that I was not the only one pretending; in reality, no one knows that they are right. Leadership is a costume, nothing more. “We’re just asking questions.”

Mai, of course, knew this secret too. Her dark eyes sparkled silent understanding. “You should change,” she remarked, standing and folding her arms behind her back. “I will bring us in.”

She half-bowed to me, as was custom, and turned to leave. “Mai?” my voice crackled. I would need to exorcise my uncertainty before I showed my face to the rest of the crew, let alone to my adversaries.

Mai looked at me over one shoulder. “Yes, Dmiri?” her own voice was soft.

“Thank you.”

The silence between us felt warm, if just for that moment.

“Captain,” she said curtly, then disappeared beyond the door.

Friendly interactions over. Time to get back to business. When I stood my muscles ached, and not with good reason – they ached  from sitting, keeping my spine jammed vertical in a chair for much too long. I traced a finger along one piece of paper, despairing at how little my work had won me.

Codewords and cooked numbers. The ledgers were full of shipments marked as if they were simple supplies – food, water, containers, bandages. Deep in the paperwork was much darker stuff: thousands of bullets, hundreds of weapons, and medical equipment I wasn’t qualified to judge. Jamming devices – a few dozen of them – more than the entire continent had produced in a decade. The military hadn’t employed jamming devices since the Rice-Wheat Uprising nearly fifty years ago.

Goods befitting a peaceful mission of resource-gathering they were not.

I strode across the room, fussing with the buttons on my jacket. One of them popped off, clattering on the floor. I didn’t bother to hunt after it. The jacket, undershirt, and pants hit the deck just before I reached my bathing suite.

A cool shower would focus my mind. The light clicked on in the cramped space, and I was greeted with my reflection, inescapable from the position of the showerhead.

I could deceive myself into believing I was less vain than the masses, but this would be folly. For all I felt like a jaded old man, I was still young, particularly for my position. The bits of gray peeking out from my slightly-too-long-for-regulations black hair were my penance. I was the youngest captain of a Class 1 naval vessel in Celet history, a journey requiring a level of physical training and academic rigor which most people would find unreasonable. I could have saved the stress and accepted the usual course in life, and I would have arrived in the very same position just five years in the future. No one would have been disappointed.

No one, that is, except me.

I turned the knobs, tensing when the frigid water coursed over my forehead, my chest, my back, a procession of shivers jolting me from my anxious fog. Ideas of what would or would not happen when I set foot on the Zhyra outpost fled from me. Speculation wasted energy, anyway.

For all I would tell anyone who asked otherwise, I still wished I could have achieved what I did without inviting the gray in my hair.

Preview: Forsaken Lands 2

SPOILER ALERT: NEW SCENE FROM FORSAKEN LANDS 2 BELOW

Blackness. Nothing but the feel of her – skin smooth, muscles tensing beneath a layer of lush softness. A mouth covered his, and hands found their way up over his shoulders to wrap around his neck. The length of her –and sweet gods above, the way she molded to him – pressed against every inch of him. They were bare flesh on flesh, tantalizing and wonderful; everything he ever imagined.

They kissed: long, hard, and passionate; the way he’d always imagined. His heart thudded in his ears, the heat of pleasure and pure want spread to the tips of his fingers. His grip tightened.

He gasped when Aia’s hands fanned over his chest, pushing him down onto the steel table. When he opened his eyes he saw only her face, wide cheekbones framing a mischievous smile. Lavender eyes locked onto his.

“Skies,” he growled, reaching to pull her down on top of him. Ringlets of maroon hair brushed his face, tumbling from her shoulders. He wanted to be with her, in her, around her, beyond anything-

Teveres awoke to an intense burning sensation deep in his right hand. Pain shattered the fragile gift of sleep. Though he wanted nothing more than to drown out his existence with unconsciousness, sleep came all too seldom. His sole companion in this strange place, The Cold Steel Table, was not very welcoming of his fantasies; its unyielding angles drove them far away.

He wished that he could go far away – anywhere.

Pain was becoming his constant master. As awareness drifted back to his body, physical sensations returned in sequence. First was the new pain – the burning in his hand where the needle-ended tube entered his skin. There was sharpness like a knife in his upper back and a lancing pain in his side that raged every time he took a deep breath. His naked skin was always freezing against Cold Steel. Blankets, apparently, were of low priority in this prison. A machine whirred softly in the background, along with the sound of bubbles…

The sound of bubbles that followed him for these past weeks – months? – was conspicuously missing. Slowly, slowly his head was clearing, and he realized that Cold Steel was folded into a chair-like configuration. Straps pressed tight against his chest and abdomen, holding his arms to his sides. Something has changed.

The next step – opening his eyes – came with a great cost. Seeing the inside of his cell, three walls of cement and a fourth made of a mirror, was a serial disappointment. The outline of the door in the mirror taunted him, absent of hinges or handles. As near as he could tell, his captors were ghosts. They never showed their faces; items appeared and disappeared, whatever they drugged him with changed to suit their liking, and not once had he seen their faces.

Today he faced the mirror. He hated to look at himself anymore, but from his position it was hard to avoid. The man in the mirror was a grim sight indeed, hardly resembling the man he was when he left his home in Ilvan nearly a year ago. His travels leading up to his imprisonment made him thin, but not emaciated; when he saw himself now he was skeletal. His skin was pale and his cheeks sunken. While his muscle mass had not disappeared – he had not been here quite that long – his collarbones, wrists and ribs were much easier to trace beneath the skin.

Examining his own image more closely he noticed a small, stitched-over wound on his right side where a tube used to be. His chest ached with each breath. There was a new item behind him, a small box with dials and buttons similar to some of the devices he had seen the engineers working with in Nivenea. Metal wires from the box snaked up to stick painlessly to his forehead.

Two facts about his situation were particularly unnerving: first, that the tube-and-bubble-machine with no apparent purpose but to torture him was missing for no apparent reason – and second, that someone had made several significant additions to his surroundings. He loathed being kept in the dark, fearing what would come next. He racked his brain, searching for clues.

Thinking back to the last time he was awake, he recalled nothing out of the ordinary. He spent that day (or night, or whatever it was) doing what he normally did. When he was first brought to the cell he was unable to get up from pain and labored breathing, but as he recovered he began trying to carry on functioning. He didn’t know much about medicine, but he did know that walking was important, so he did just that. He ate the food that appeared on the table, showered under the pitiful spigot in the other corner, utilized the humiliatingly open-to-the-air facilities, and sat on the table. He hummed songs he barely remembered and tried not to give in to the temptation to bash his skull against the wall.

As far as he knew, he hadn’t done anything objectionable lately. This didn’t seem likely to be a punishment. Whatever reason they had for sedating him and changing his surroundings, it wasn’t a reaction to what he’d done.

Who “they” were was still unclear. He gathered that they were these Celet people and that they were watching him. He hated them very much. They kept him in a constant low-level state of capping, a state of mild pain which rendered his powers useless, which made it impossible for him to turn against them. The headache from the weaponized kelspar used to cap him was as constant a companion as Cold Steel, a dull throb at the base of his skull.

Teveres sighed loudly. With the bubbles gone his own breath was the only sound in the room. He would give anything to talk to anyone else – Celet, Kaldari, or otherwise. The last time he saw or spoke to another soul was the day he was shot…

His chest tightened at the memory. Focus on something else, damn it. He had enough nightmares about it; no need to dwell on it during waking times, as well.

Groaning, he writhed against the restraints. His half-hearted escape attempt was all in vain. The leather straps were unyielding. Stuck – but why?

“What do you want from me?” he called out into the solitude.

He waited, but no reply came. They were watching him, for certain, somewhere out there – watching, but never talking.

“We’re all waiting,” he continued anyway. His words were louder and clearer than usual with the tube removed. The improvement was mildly encouraging. “I love these conversations we have, you know. It’s been a while. Maybe you could contribute?” he looked up at the slab ceiling. Part of him worried about becoming a mad man; the other part was convinced he already was. “I try not to complain, but I would like it if you’d take the needle out next time. Fucking burns, if you didn’t know.” The burning was getting worse, it seemed, and as it did the headache started to go away for the first time in what felt like forever.

The silence dragged on. His eyes fluttered closed. Perhaps if he tried, he could push the pain away and go back to sleep. It was a much better alternative than staring at the mirror.

CLANG. The sound that echoed through the room reminded him of a shot from the pistolet. He cried out in surprise, his heart racing. His eyes snapped open to darkness as the dull high of adrenaline consumed him.

He scoured the blackness for an answer. The only source of light came from the mirror… which was no longer a mirror. It had transformed into a window, the work of some dark magic. Suddenly he was not alone.

A woman sat opposite him through the glass, strapped down to a very familiar table. Short-cropped black hair framed a young face, her features small and delicate. She was perhaps 18, wearing only underthings; her coffee-colored skin was bathed in bright white light.

When Teveres’s gaze met hers he couldn’t look away. Her eyes were decidedly gray, the color of summer storms, too large for her small face. Tears glimmered in the light and trailed over her cheeks. Her eyes were pleading with him as her body shook. Her lips mouthed silent words: ‘Don’t do it.”

Panting, Teveres struggled harder against his own restraints. The straps squealed against his skin and jabbed into his ribs. The initial joy of seeing another human being was replaced by dread. Something bad was about to happen. He felt fear, but the fear was not his own. He was feeling her fear. The capping was starting to lift in earnest.

A second figure stepped out from the darkness to stand next to the girl. The figure wore a black, eyeless mask, and dark clothing. Gloved hands wrapped around a pistolet, leveled at the young woman’s skull. The girl hung her head.

Teveres broke out in a sweat. There was so much fear and rage around him and within him that he couldn’t sort it. He wished that he could share in Aia’s divinity long enough to get a better picture of what was happening. His mind-reading abilities were sadly insufficient. He looked skyward again.

“What do you want?” he bellowed up at the nebulous Them. “What is this supposed to be?” This time his cries were met with an answer of sorts. If Cold Steel had not been bolted down, Teveres would have toppled backwards at the sudden, sharp physical pain that emanated from beyond the glass. The young woman began screaming loud enough that the sounds seeped through to his cell. Teveres’s heart flew to his throat trying to block it out. Nothing touched her and the pistolet had not gone off… yet her agony was unmatched. His skin prickled as the lost flame of his divinity began to warm him, a slow kindle building to a raging fire.

Her pain consumed him, threatening to break him. A sound between a roar and a scream built in his gut until it exploded from his lips.

Do you want a fight?” he shouted, his voice cracking. “Is that what you fucking want? Come down here and take me!”

His mind stuttered when the masked figure advanced to press the pistolet against her head. The barrel of the weapon touching her temple destroyed his last vestige of his control. Teveres let go of the leash, the fire within blazing through the masked figure’s life energy.

He didn’t need to see the evidence of his work. His eyes rolled back in his head and a blissful wave of pleasure soaked him. The pain, the fear, the rage all went away. The high of killing always disgusted him, but this time he let it take over, even as the guilt clawed at him, panic threatening to shatter his reprieve.

Gods, demons, anyone, please…take me away from here. In his ecstasy, he wept.

The First Reader You Disappoint

Today is a good day. Today I got my first sub-4-star review from someone who was disappointed in Broken. When I got it I paused and felt the initial punch of sadness – They read it and walked away unhappy?! – and then intrigue – What did they see in the words that they didn’t like?

I’m pleased to say that this is a new experience for me after a year and a half (ish) of positive reviews across the board. It’s hard to complain about that, so I’m not going to. I’m also not writing this post to confront the reader, as per author’s etiquette. I side with the large group of writers who feel it is poor form to get into arguments with readers over differences of opinion. I have certainly disliked books that other people loved in the past (Lord of the Rings, for one, even though I respect the story as a whole). What I’m writing about here is the thing that I love about art in general – no single piece of art is viewed the same way by all people, and that is okay. I would argue that it’s the entire point.

The same story does not have exactly the same meaning to any two people, and as a character-driven author and reader, I see those differences of opinions through the relationships we have with characters (sure, we can get bogged down in plot points and technicalities, but I find those problems much less interesting). If we look at the well-dramatized TV show Mad Men, for instance, we can find a divide in fans between those who like Don Draper and those who find him beyond redemption. Draper is an adulterer, a liar, and a drinker. He is also someone who is tormented by what he’s done and memories of where he came from; he has sparkles of kindness that show up through the lying/cheating/drinking (i.e. his care for Anna), great charisma, and a brilliant mind for advertising. What a viewer sees in Don Draper depends so much on their own experiences – to one who has been cheated on, he may be the embodiment of deep hurts. To the child of an alcoholic, he may be a reminder of a father too infrequently present. At the same time, he could actually evoke sympathy in the same person, not just for the character, but for the real-life incarnation of his indiscretions.

The prism of characterization, molded by our own experiences.

My own experiences have come into play rather prominently with the latest book I opened up, the semi-autobiographical Country Doctor’s Notebook by Mikhail Bulgakov. Mikhail is a classically acclaimed physician-writer, best known for his novel, The Master and the Margarita. In Country Doctor’s Notebook he describes his experiences as a new doctor in 1917 rural Russia. As I started reading the book I felt this overwhelming sense of kinship with a man now long dead; somehow, between the pages of an almost 100-year-old book, I met a friend. There are obvious differences between our experiences as young physicians – while Mikhail was stranded in snowy Russia with inadequate resources and no other physicians to advise him, I am working in a well-appointed hospital with supervision. Where he is expected to do everything from surgery to psychiatry, I am training in a narrower specialty.

Those obvious differences aside, in so many ways our experiences are not different at all (starting with the fact that we are both physicians who write). I think every healer has felt that sudden doomsday sensation with the first patient you see as a qualified practitioner, knowing that you are the one with the answers now, or you’re supposed to be. I laughed when Mikhail wrote about concealing a textbook on the procedure he was about to perform on top of the patient’s chart, when not a week ago I was googling the steps to procedures and drugs I was about to initiate as I was walking into a room. His desperate thoughts on his first day ‘please don’t let this be a hernia,’ are not so different than my own ‘please don’t let this be a stroke.’ Through his work I came to understand that the insecurities of the young healer are a function of who we are, regardless of when we are – all of us through time have had the same fears, and that… is kind of awesome.

As the story went on Mikhail revealed the increasingly dark side of his early years as a doctor, when he became addicted to morphine. His description of the descent into addiction was surprisingly frank for someone of his time and profession; I could not help but admire his courage. Courage aside, there’s no way to defend practicing medicine while intoxicated; what he did was not right. It was bad.

I understood it, and think what you will of me, I still felt the same connection to him. What he did wasn’t what I would ever do, and still I found him sympathetic, for whatever reason that may be.

We look at these sorts of characters in their most broken times, and for us they are so many shards of glass – tilt them one way and we see something we want to see, tilt another way and we see quite the opposite. When you have a reaction to a character, what are you seeing? Are you seeing them for who they are, or are you seeing your friends, your family?

Do you see yourself?

We will not all agree on stories, characters, or values, but what we see in them is always a part of us in some way. I could never fault someone for that. Thank you for the reviews, no matter what they say.

‘The Aftermath,’ an Aia and Elden Cut Scene

I was overwhelmingly inspired this evening, my first totally free evening following the completion of wicked medical licensing examination part 3! Now that my exam is over my fingers are itching. This is a cut scene between Elden and Aia in Forsaken Lands 2 – you can read it here or not at all. 😉 Folks who have already read Broken may find this particularly interesting. There are minimal spoilers, however, if you’re super anti-spoiler you may want to avert your eyes for now.

I will be in touch later this week, you can be sure! More Fae and Folly is on the agenda. Until then…


“This girl you keep dreaming about…”

“Lyda,” when I said her name it came out all crackly, not smooth at all. I threaded my fingers in my hair like it would keep Aia from listening to my thoughts. I couldn’t tell when she was and when she wasn’t, which was about the most unnerving thing I’d ever experienced, let me tell you. Usually when a person unnerved me it made me avoid them, like the dealers on the streets that I wouldn’t even buy from because of their crazy eyes. Aia unnerved me like that, and at the same time made me feel a little better about myself. I couldn’t figure on why.

She shifted a little closer to me, the ocean wind blowing her hair so I couldn’t see her face. It was real dark out here in the middle of the ocean. The water below us was like an abyss, and in it I could almost see Lyda’s face. You could see anything you wanted down there.

“I don’t really mean to pry,” she started pulling her hair back in a bun the way she usually had it, “but sometimes you just… when you’re upset like that I tend to listen in. Makes me worried.”

I guessed if she could really feel and hear things the way she claimed to she would have all kinds of reasons to be concerned. I’d been dreaming about Lyda a lot lately, probably because I’d been half-sober most of the time since hooking up with Garren. Except that one night at the outpost, obviously, but that was just generally a mistake.

“Sorry,” was all I could say to that. I glanced to one side, thinking that maybe I could come up with an excuse to leave.

“No need,” her little smile was kind of cute, if a little sad. A lot of people smiled at me like that over the years. “I… am really curious about who she is. All I get are bits and pieces when you dream. There’s obviously a story there.”

She wasn’t asking for anything directly, which I took to mean that I could disappear right then if I wanted. Fool that I was, I didn’t leave. She kind of deserved an explanation after saving my ass all those times. Three times, I think. I was losing count.

“Lyda and me grew up together,” I said, and felt myself detach from what I was saying. I just went numb. “She was… my best friend. We were really close, till the day I left.”

“When you left home.”

“Yeah, then.” Aia knew most of what happened when I left Chall, or as much as I told anyone about it.

“So what’s the rest of the story?” She didn’t look at me, maybe to make me more comfortable.

I sighed. “I kind of… you know, I loved her.”

I had to shut my mouth, then, because I hadn’t said that out loud in a couple years at least. I’d told some guy once after we were together, cause he was asking about my history. It helped that I was drunk at the time. I wasn’t drunk now, though, so maybe that was why it felt like I’d just stabbed myself in the gut.

Aia just nodded. She had to have already figured that out from the dreams. I didn’t remember them all, but I know at least a couple were about the day I left, when I asked her to forget me. Sometimes I wondered if she really forgot. She would have been better off if she did.

“You keep dreaming about her in Feya,” Aia’s voice got very soft, almost too soft for me to hear. “I thought you grew up on the border.”

“Feya was the last place I saw her,” I reached in my pockets hoping to find some covash, distantly remembering that I’d already traded it away. My fingers fidgeted all around, like maybe if I fidgeted hard enough I would magically summon some of the stuff. I started speaking instead, and the words went way too fast. I didn’t even realize what I was saying as I was saying it. “Bout a year after I went in the wind I ended up in Feya. That was just before I went on my tear up the eastern coast, see, and I wasn’t doing so great. It was almost night…”

My breath hitched, and Aia was looking at me with those serious, piercing eyes, and I don’t think there was any way for me to run at that point. I had to keep going. “I knew where she’d be. Lyda was real smart, had an apprenticeship offer in Feya before I left. Wanted to be an alchemist. I went to lots of shops that day, but I was… well, high. About as high as I usually was back then, which was worse than when you met me, for sure. I had this dumb idea that I would walk up to her and say hello, you know, like nothing happened. So I ended up at this place that was down by the water, and I saw her. She had a basket in her hands, probably from the market, and she looked real good. She had new clothes and her hair was in a braid, which she’d never done before. I got all ready to go up and see her, and…” I shook my head. I wasn’t going to cry, not now in front of Aia, but if I was on anything I probably would have been bawling at that point. Thank the gods I had some restraint left in me. “I looked down and I was just a mess. I couldn’t walk up to her like that, filthy, piece of shit that I am. Then as I was starting to turn around – you know, to leave – this guy walked up to her. I don’t remember anything about the guy. I just remember that she smiled real wide, the way she used to smile with me, and she kissed him.”

I went quiet. It was a boring story, I thought, for anyone but me. Why should anyone get all excited about some girl they never even fucked kissing some guy? Lyda deserved to be happy. She deserved it a lot more than I ever did.

I don’t think Aia found it boring, though, with the way her eyebrows were all knitted together. “Skies, but that must have hurt.”

I shrugged. More than I can say.

“Have you thought about going to look for her again, now that you’re doing better?”

I managed to chuckle. “Sweetheart, I think you might be forgetting the week I’ve had. I’m nobody’s definition of ‘better.’”

“You’re never going to be perfect, especially not in your own head. That doesn’t mean you have to cut her out of your life forever.”

“It’s been four years, and I’m halfway across the world from her. For all I know she died along with everyone else in the earthquake.” I said it like it was a fact, easy, the way a person would talk about some random lurker on the street getting killed. On the inside it made my heart thump so bad I thought it might come out of my chest. I don’t know what I would have done if I knew for certain she’d died. I think I might have lost it again, the way I lost it when I was sixteen, and that could only be worse. I could do a lot more damage now than I could back then.

“Hm,” in her eyes I could see that Aia was coming up with some kind of plan, but I didn’t care to hear what it was. It was probably some high-minded idea that she could go find Lyda when we got back home. I didn’t want to tell her how frightened that idea made me, first because if Lyda was alive I would have to explain what happened to me, and second if Lyda was dead I would have to deal with the fallout of knowing.

“Don’t know why you care so much about all this,” I shook my head, “my problems don’t have to be yours, too.”

“Would it make you feel better to hear some stories about my shitty past?” she grinned, and it made me snort out a laugh. I didn’t know she was one to swear at all, but maybe I was rubbing off on her.

“Maybe,” I said, more than happy to get away from all my own problems. “I wouldn’t guess you made the sort of mistakes I did, though. You’re a good person.”

The grin dissipated, and suddenly she was somebody else, somebody with a totally different story than the one I’d constructed for her in my head. The grin didn’t go away completely, but it changed to a new kind of smile, one that I’d seen on people who knew things that no one should.

“Sometimes,” she said.

A silly post: It’s not my fault, really.

Note: the “I” in this post is me – the blog writer – rather than Amelie. *not a Fae and Folly scene* …sigh.

“Hey muse!” I sit down at the table with a bowl of freshly-cut yellow watermelon from the farmer’s market, all glistening and summer-wonderful. Clad in my self-dyed sarong with my hair tied back in a bandana, I look the picture of an exhausted hippie waif. “So, I’ve got two hours before I have to go to sleep and wake up to do my job, which I’m really not liking at the moment. Seems like now would be a great time to work on some Fae and Folly, don’t you think?”

The Inconvenient Muse smiles in her enigmatic way, taking the fruit in hand without consuming it. She scrutinizes it as she might look over my request in writing. “No, I don’t think so. Not tonight.”

“I’m really liking this faerie idea-“

“How about the last scene of your third novel instead?”

“Muse, we’ve been over this. I’m still working on book two. I’d prefer some Fae and Folly, but if you want to work on Forsaken Lands 2…

“I think it’s book three time.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me, Muse. This isn’t funny.”

She bites the watermelon, licking the sweet juices from her lips. In her sunfire eyes I see that she has again found my request lacking. “If you don’t write it down now I’ll never give you this idea ever again.”

“Muse!”

“You came to me for help.”

Welcome to my evening.

Wattpad – Because it’s Pretty

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http://w.tt/1owiq8U

Alright. All you’ve heard from me is Faerie-this and wings-that for a while – if you’re still wondering why I’ve gone so far into the world of glitter and magick I would point you in the direction of this post. I’m on week 6 of Internal Medicine crazy times, with only 2 weeks left. Two weeks left, people! I cannot describe to you how much I’m looking forward to my first weekend off. It’s… it’s like…

See, I can’t do it. It’s probably all the sleep deprivation sapping away my language centers. Anyway.

In an effort to make Fae and Folly more cohesive, I had the stroke of brilliance to add it to a place called Wattpad. If you haven’t heard of it yet (and I’d be surprised if you haven’t – it’s kind of a big deal), it is a website for sharing free stories with people around the world. Many of the stories on Wattpad are serial in nature; some are by big-name authors you’ve heard of, but most are just regular folks trying to share the written word. What’s cool is that it’s easy to access and totally free, which I’m always happy to support. Adding F&F to Wattpad also gave me an excuse to cobble together a little “cover” for Fae and Folly, seen above. Not so bad for a hippie doctor chick with very little graphic design experience, if I do say so myself (and I do).

Forsaken Lands 2 is going perhaps slower than it was at the beginning of this 8-week internal med stint, and I truly feel sad about that. I’ve had some awesome inspiration for Les’s scenes lately but none of the energy/focus I need to actually produce anything of merit – hopefully that will change here shortly as I transition into a more humane schedule with weekends. Seriously. Weekends are amazing. I miss them so much.

Did I mention that fatigue causes me to have very loose associations? Mm, yes – well, it does. I should probably stop talking now. 😉 If you haven’t checked out Wattpad yet, I encourage you to follow the link and see what it’s all about! …that and check out Fae and Folly. It’s quite adorable.

See you on the other side, folks.

‘Why is she writing about Faeries, anyway?’ – and other thoughts on intern year

Those of you who come to me for the darkness in my stories – the tragic, gut-wrenching what’s-gonna-happen-to-that-character feeling, may be somewhat confused by my most recent posts. I started writing Fae and Folly with very little explanation, testing the waters of serial blog stories. After posting so much about Fae and Folly and so little about Forsaken Lands I believe I owe you internet folk an explanation. In order to do that I’m going to briefly describe my life at the present time. It may sound a bit whiny, though that is not my intent – I would merely like to give you all a little context. Here we go…

Six days out of the week I wake up at 5:34(ish) in the morning. This, I have discovered, is exactly the amount of time I need to get out of bed, dress in my business casual, check that I have my pager/phone/tablet, eat something that takes 3 minutes or less to prepare and arrive at the hospital at exactly 6 am. I try not to think too much about what I’m about to do at this time of day, because the series of events is inevitable – there’s no way I’m going to stay home or call in, because my team and my patients all need me. I choose one of my hiding places (usually the conference room or this little room off to the side on the second floor where no one goes), turn on my headphones, and spend exactly 30 minutes reading about what happened overnight while evaluating lab results. At 6:30 my day begins in earnest, and I disappear.

When I say “I disappear” I mean that in an existential sense – on internal medicine who I am, Sydney the writer, the wife, the friend who enjoys pear wine with a new episode of Sailor Moon – that Sydney disappears. I’m Dr. Cooper, and Dr. Cooper has no needs. She is who her patients need her to be, the diligent team member who reads every note, checks every lab, and asks every question she can think of to make sure that nobody is unduly harmed in the process of her training. At the hospital the person I am at home (and here, on this blog) exists only in the approximately 45 minutes per day when she is able to slip on headphones and do charting, because at least if the right music is playing all of the dry technical language tumbles out to a jaunty beat.

– at this point, as an aside, I’d like to remind you that I am not going into internal medicine. I have an immense respect for people who do, but am personally not equipped to pursue a career in which my sense of being is consumed by medical culture and jargon. Internal medicine is merely one of the requirements of my residency as a whole, the specialty of which I may release at a later date. I love the job I actually signed up for and will be able to return to it in November. End digression –

When I come home (usually between the hours of 4 pm and 9 pm, depending on the type of day we’re having) I have 2-4 hours to adjust to doing usual things: eating, showering, watching TV, and if my day was good enough, I will sit down and write. Lately every time I have a moment to transport myself to another world, I find myself in a place where faeries are real, magick is sparkly, and muses trick young humans into colossally poor decisions.

I don’t think I need to explain the connection between working 10-14 hour days in a stressful environment and happy-go-lucky escapism. The escapism is part of what has been keeping me sane as I learn to navigate the complex hospital system all while desperately trying to be a good doctor.

Make no mistake – I still love my Forsaken Lands crew. FL2 is developing into a much longer installment in the series, full of revealed secrets, ambitious (for me) action scenes and new characters who I think all of you will like just as much or more than the old ones. However… FL2 is work-intensive and many times dark. The darkness appeals to me, on the one hand, and on the other is just too much for the next 6 weeks. I’ve been getting a little done on it here and there, but I don’t expect to do much more until I’m on my neurology rotation in late August/early September.

As stated at the beginning of this post, I in no way mean to sound like someone who is griping just for the sake of griping (though I do value the therapeutic release). There are plenty of good things going on in my life right now, even at work. The people I’m working with on internal medicine are amazing. These residents and attendings are compassionate, smart individuals who do a genuinely good job caring for our patients. The hospital has a nice cafeteria, my new home is lovely, and the other interns in my program are positively awesome. In the end I will survive these next few weeks and move on to other things.

…that said, I cannot wait to go back to having two days off in a row at the end of this ride. It’s gonna be wild.

So that’s my (rather lengthy) answer. I hope everyone else is having a positively fabulous summer, and I invite you to check out Fae and Folly if you’re curious about it. Perhaps some of you, dear readers, need a little sparkly magick in your lives too. Peace.

To KDP Select or Not to KDP Select

This post is targeted particularly at writers (and even more specifically indie writers). I’m about to get a little technical about things, which will probably be very boring if it does not apply to you… fair warning. 😉

While working up Broken I came to a decision point: did I want to use Kindle Direct Publishing Select, or did I want to just do Kindle publishing + extended distribution on Smashwords? For those who are unfamiliar with the topic (and for those who are coming here specifically looking for a discussion on it), KDP Select is an optional agreement that an indie author can make with Amazon when they publish their ebook. Opting in to KDP Select gives Amazon 90 days of exclusivity on your ebook, meaning that you cannot e-publish your book on any other web-based outlets (Smashwords, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, iBooks, Wattpad, personal blogs, etc.) during the KDP Select period. During this time you make a 70% royalty on all sales and your book must be priced between $2.99 and $9.99 – no more and no less (this obviously limits the utility of using Select with shorter works better suited for a $0.99 price range). Once the exclusivity period is over you can either continue with KDP Select (automatic enrollment is selected when you start unless you change it) or choose to go with regular old KDP, the latter of which would allow you to then publish on other outlets as you would normally. It should be noted that none of these agreements affect print books, so you can do KDP Select and publish a paperback copy on Createspace without problems.

Amazon’s exclusivity alone would be rather meaningless if it did not come with some advantages, of course. In exchange for not publishing your ebook in other places, Amazon allows you access to certain promotional tools. You can choose to either list your book as free for 5 days (which can be spread throughout your 30 day enrollment period) or use a relatively new feature called Kindle Countdown Deals. During a countdown deal, you set your book price lower than the usual list price (even as low as $0.99) while retaining the 70% royalty rate for a period of 1 hour to 5 days. During the course of the countdown deal the price slowly goes up. Amazon has a special section where it advertises countdown deals, which gives your book more visibility – some authors have claimed increases of more than 900% in their sales from countdown deals alone without additional advertising, which is pretty hefty. As a caveat, you can only use a countdown period once during your 90 days. In other words, even if you only do a 1-hour countdown, once you use it you cannot use another countdown until your next enrollment period (as opposed to the free days which you can break up and use over time). You also cannot use both free promotions and countdown deals in the same period – you must choose one or the other.

Free days by themselves garner quite a bit of attention. When I had Tragedy in KDP Select I ran some free days, and each time I did I saw more than 100 downloads. Of course, the issue with this is that many readers will just troll for free books to download which they may or may not ever read, and this doesn’t always generate fans. Even if it does generate genuine readers, it doesn’t necessarily help your sales if you don’t have any other books out yet. I think that KDP Select probably helped Tragedy early on, but honestly I feel that the best thing to do to increase sales is to produce more work. This is of course based on what I’ve read from other authors more than anything – I’m still trying to get to where I have multiple novels, novellas, and short stories out there.

As you can see, KDP Select comes with some obvious pros and cons. The promotions can be useful to spring a relatively unknown book into the hands of readers, but you can only choose one kind of promotion to do per period. You cannot sell on other outlets, and you have to price your book at a minimum of $2.99, which may or may not be reasonable for your particular work.

In the case of Broken I’ve been rather torn on the subject. Broken is on the short end for a novella at 18,000 words (20k if you count the bonus material), so $2.99 is a bit of a stretch. However, I am very proud of this particular novella, and I don’t think that $2.99 is wholly unreasonable considering the quality and time spent, it just might be hard in a market where there are so many free and $0.99 books. I’m also already on the other outlets with Tragedy and Fathers and Sons, so it seems a little odd to have this one novella exclusive to Amazon.

In the end it’s only 90 days, though. If I go with a $2.99 pricepoint through KDP Select and it doesn’t work, and even if the promos do not help me whatsoever, I can open things up to other outlets and lower the price after one period. Some other authors have been successful with KDP Select novellas, as well, which has helped nudge me over the edge into trying it. It’s very hard to go with multiple distributors and then condense back to just Amazon, so this is a decision I will only be able to make once – I may as well give it a shot.

There you have a basic rundown of KDP regular vs. KDP Select, and my reasons for going Select with Broken in particular. I hope it was helpful!

In other news, I would like to congratulate Chris B., Julia W., and CJ R. for winning the Broken giveaway! For those who entered and did not win, please do check out the novella which releases on 6/26. Since I have decided on KDP Select there will be some deals ahead, and you will be the first to know. 🙂

Peace and long life.

Quick Post – A Preview of the Much-Anticipated Novella

Since this clip was posted on social media, I wanted to additionally toss it up here on the blog – a little taste of Broken.


I heard my father’s footsteps coming towards me, and another wave came over me. I shivered and tried to push it away, tried to straighten up. He was the last person who I wanted to see me like this, not that it would be the first time.

“You look terrible.” That tone was a tone he used with prisoners, sometimes. It wasn’t sympathetic, even though it seemed like the words could have been presented that way. He was judging me right then.

I stared him right in the face. We never looked much alike, me and Da. He kept his hair real short, out of his eyes, and always looked neat and clean. Since I got old enough to have a line of stubble I’ve always had it, where he never had any sign of a beard. He always had a tight lip that seemed to be frowning, which I guess made sense since he dealt with Kaldari and criminals all day. We had the same skin, though – olive colored and easy to tan.

If he’d been anyone else I might have come up with some snide remark or a twist of sarcasm. Instead I just stood and shivered, hoping that whatever other nothing I had in me would stay down. My throat burned.

“You have nothing to say for yourself?” the only change was his eyebrows creasing together, but I knew what that meant. My father didn’t show anger like I did. He could be furious at a person, and all he’d do is twitch. Crease of the eyebrows, well, I should be glad he didn’t have any kelspar on hand, at least none that I could see. “Where do you even find the-” he paused, “never mind, I don’t want to know. Not today.”

Where do you even find the coin? – that’s what he wanted to ask. He’d been holding that question back for a couple months at least. What I wanted to point out was that he should have figured it out by now, being an officer and all. With my abilities I could pickpocket people without even using my hands, which makes it pretty easy. I bartered a lot, too, and I wasn’t so bad at hustling cards. He would have known all that if he knew me at all.

All my thoughts didn’t translate into words. I didn’t have anything to say to him and never had. Ever since I could remember me and Da just never got each other. He was so disciplined, and me, it was like I was born in the wrong family. I worked my throat on a swallow, wishing I had water to drink. I was freezing, my chest hurt to breathe, and gods but I just wanted to lie back down, preferably on a mattress this time.

I started walking inside like he wouldn’t follow, even though I knew he would. He was at my back, not missing a beat. I swung through the never-too-quiet door and made a line for the bedroom that I shared with Keller. My mother looked up from the kitchen table, but didn’t seem interested in stalking me like he did.

“We’re not done here,” Da growled, his composure slipping. He was getting really mad now, which was not a good sign. Usually he just let me go at this point. “Where do you think you’re going to hide?”

I brushed past the red-and-gold tapestry that covered up our room, and my father followed with me. I carried on like he was invisible, like maybe if I pretended he wasn’t there hard enough he would disappear.


The contest for early release copies of Broken is up and running (you can enter here) and final little editing and formatting touches are being added for the 6/26 release. I have a family wedding to go to in another state this weekend and 8,000 more words to write in Forsaken Lands 2 before I start working as an actual physician on July 23rd (this alone is so ridiculous that I can’t even begin to think about it)… so yes, it’s a busy time. Unfortunately while I believe I will make the wordcount goal in FL2 I do not believe it will be finished at the same length as Tragedy. Indeed, I believe it will be longer.

Much longer.

I can’t wait to finally get this sequel draft finished. While it may not be done by the 23rd, getting it up to 90k will be a solid start, and hopefully it won’t be too much longer before it’s done. Look for a preview of the new novel at the end of Broken.

Alright, that’s it for my updates. Write on!

Sequel Syndrome

“I can only hope it’s true enough/That every little thing I do for love/Redeems me from the moments I deem worthy of the worst things that I’ve done…”

I always have a song to go with every scene. It doesn’t have to be playing the whole time I’m writing, but generally it has to be playing when I start writing, and I have to replay it periodically while the scene is going. The tone of my environment is very important for my writing performance. Lately I’ve been working on some Les-heavy scenes, and Les tends to be a Panic at the Disco kind of guy. So, for fun, I give you today’s scene theme music before I launch into our discussion –

Things have slowly been calming down in my personal life while they’ve been ramping up in my writing life (two different lives, of course). The sequel is now at 52,000 words and climbing, and the further I go the more appreciation I have for every sequel I’ve ever read, particularly the good ones. Ask anyone who has talked to me in the last month and a half, and they will tell you that at some point I mentioned “book two” and some variation of “kicking my ass” in the same breath. Until the last few weeks I’ve been suffering from horrible writer’s block/writing anxiety and self-doubt, even as I’ve received praise from readers about Tragedy.Both the joy and the torment of writing is stretching yourself – forcing yourself to understand a new viewpoint, solve a new problem, or sharpen a new literary skill. For me, the sequel has been a challenge in ways I could not imagine.

I knew Suffering (which I am considering renaming to Sacrifice, but that’s beside the point) would be more complicated. At the end of book one the world opens up, and book two is all about the flood of information and the fallout from the climax of the previous story. In the beginning I’ve got four separate groups of people doing their own thing, which later consolidates to 2-3, depending on how you count. I thought to myself, sure, juggling that many plots/subplots is going to take a lot of mental energy, and that’s going to be hard. There’s going to be more action, which is not necessarily my forté, and also more interpersonal development; figuring out how to stay true to your characters while ensuring they have an actual arc takes a bit of a deft hand.

The problem I didn’t anticipate was the variable independent of my actual story – the problem is I’m writing a sequel, and sequels are just plain difficult. I’ve written two full novels by this point in my life, one that is published and one that never will be, but until now I’ve never written the continuation of a larger story.  Problems of writing a sequel widely include ruining something that was previously good, worrying about disappointing an audience, writing a story that is “all middle,inconsistencies, and my personal white whale, obsessively wondering why your sequel rough draft looks nothing like your beautifully polished first novel (I never claimed to have a rational muse, just an inconvenient one). One need not list the many sequels which failed to live up to their debut counterparts *ahem* but they are legion, and consumers have almost come to expect that the second installment of any story, regardless of the media form, will be somehow diminished.

Of course, there are some sequels that managed to dodge the sequel syndrome. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets was actually my favorite of the series, and was pretty well-received by most readers; The Wrath of Khan is known to be one of the great classic Star Trek movies. The Two Towers is also well-regarded in the arena of sequels (and again was my favorite of that series), and nobody in the movie world should forget The Dark Knight as perhaps one of the best movie sequels to grace the screens (bias here – I adored Dark Knight). These sequels share several common traits; they stand well on their own as stories, in general, and they deepen the observer’s connection to the characters in some way. In Khan we had the heart-wrenching moment of Spock “dying” behind the glass. Dark Knight had its own fascinating arc within the Joker and his ever-escalating trail of violence. Many blogs out there in the world seem to agree that the keys to writing a good sequel are – as you might guess – the very opposite of what makes a bad sequel.

All that said, I’m doing my level best to avoid the sequel syndrome pitfalls by keeping things interesting, getting the plot moving, and throwing in a few surprises. It helps that one of my characters is unpredictable by nature, giving me a great tool to liven things up from time to time. As to the anxiety of ruining the series and the problem of trying to edit before I get words on the page, I’ve decided to forcibly restrain myself from editing as I type. The rough draft looks perhaps even rougher than it already was, but at least things are moving now. I have to remind myself that Tragedy wasn’t beautiful in its first iteration, either.

The learning curve sharpens. To you, dear reader, I leave a question: what do you think makes a good sequel?