Shattered

How do you go about piecing your muse back together after years of watching it crumble away?

It’s an interesting thought. I have on my hard drive so many broken pieces of story that fit together somehow, but the bits that glue them into a whole are missing. The connecting parts of the story are often the most challenging, I think – writing a riveting, gut-wrenching scene is bliss compared to the arts and crafts that is transitional scene writing. The interesting bits are the only ones I’ve managed to produce, and my ability to put it all together has been hampered in the past few years. I would love to release the novella hanging out in my hard drive, if only I could will it into a cohesive story.

Something happened in my third year of residency (I say, horrified that third year was over 2 years ago) – the burnout burned through my passion for medicine and my passion for writing all in one. There are flashes lately of what once was, flickers of a still-burning fire that demands attention. As the burnout from my profession heals so, too, does my ability to think creatively. It’s a slow process which would take organization that I seem to lack in these weeks leading up to my specialty medical boards. Some system must be created to make sense of the madness that is my dropbox, but alas, there is not time just yet. Soon.

Ah, well. Perhaps for now I can release one of the tasty bits.

Perhaps someday something recognizable will emerge from these clippings.

From an opening scene in Forsaken Lands Book 3: Redemption –


The cold breeze of morning hit Aia’s cheeks. The wind brought to mind winter turning to spring – the sunlight on her skin was contrasted by a brush of ice. She breathed deep, suddenly at peace. The dew on the grass brushed her ankles.

Where am I?

Her eyes opened and she was greeted by a landscape of green fields surrounded by mountains. A fence encompassed much of the land. The snort of a horse startled her, and when she turned to look she froze.

The man brushing the mare had Teveres’s stature and hair color. If it weren’t for his age lines and soft, blue eyes she would have sworn it was him. He wore a priest’s tunic under a cloak and glaced at her only briefly before returning to his task, as if he’d seen her a thousand times before.

“I…” Aia’s voice faltered. “Dayle?” It had to be Dayle, Teveres’s father. Everyone said they looked so much alike…

“Yes,” Dayle’s voice was eerily familiar, too.

Fear settled in Aia’s chest. “Am I…am I dead?” she stammered.

“No, of course not,” Dayle patted the horse, who took the cue to walk off to graze. Dayle turned his attention on Aia. He smiled. “It’s good to finally meet you, Aiasjia.”

“How do you know me?”

“I know.” He shrugged, “No need to waste time. I’m not certain how long we can remain here together.”

“Where…is here? Why isn’t Teveres here instead of me? He’s the one-“

“Here is temporary. It isn’t real – and it is. I assure you, it is not a dream…not quite.” He looked up at the sky, which indeed looked very real. The sun appeared to be rising, chasing the shadows away. “The gods are here.”

Aia waited for him to finish the thought, but it seemed that the thought was already finished. “What is that supposed to mean?”

“They are here,” he motioned, “they are angry.”

“At me?”

He waved the idea away. “They do not see you.”

“Seems that you’re just as forthcoming as your son,” Aia sighed.

“When you look at the grass do you see each blade, appreciate every weed in the field? Or do you see the grass as a single collective feature of the land, and know how it makes you feel?”

Aia groaned. “If the gods want to talk to me then they should just do it. I would listen.”

“They speak all the time, child. They are not like us. They are…other. We draw human bodies for them, but that is not what they are. They need us and we need them, and you, the Deldri, are truly Children of Elseth.”

“I’m not sure I believe in all that anymore.”

Dayle approached, placing a hand on her shoulder. That felt real, too. “This is no myth. This is very important, Aiasjia.” His voice was pained, tears brimming in his eyes. Dayle’s energy shifted and Aia reached out for his thoughts.

She nearly stumbled backwards. His resonance dazzled her with its shattered-ness, a thousand crystals vibrating furiously just trying to remain whole. She couldn’t pick out clear ideas, distracted by his soul’s beautiful brokenness.

“You’re dead,” Aia said breathlessly. “You should be dead.”

“Aia,” he begged, “listen. The gods may not see you but they do need you. Nivenea needs you. Our people will be consumed by the blight and the land will die if you do not act. You must do as Mareth has told you: go to the Northsea.”

Aia shook her head, puzzled. “There’s nothing there. We have so much to do…and our friend Dmiri has brought help-“

“It won’t be enough,” his voice cracked and he turned his back on her. “You’ve started this in motion and yet you have no idea what you have done.”

“Started what? Where?”

“In Torvid’s Rest.”

Aia couldn’t organize her thoughts before Dayle faced her, a hidden object in one hand. He looked scared – desperate – decidedly incongruent with the composure of a Clergy. Aia’s heart skipped.

“Aiasjia,” his voice lowered and he stepped close to her. Gods help her, she didn’t have the sense to move. The look in his eyes was so earnest, inescapably sad. “Tell Teveres he is forgiven.”

Without warning Dayle revealed a long shard of what could only be ebonstone, the material Aia, Les, and Teveres had recovered for the Kaldari army at Torvid’s Rest. Aia was powerless to flee before he stabbed her in her core. Her scream was more of surprise than pain. There was a rushing sensation through her body, as if she were sucking in all of the energy in the world through the hole in her torso. Warmth flooded her, tingled over her skin, and despite what should have been an excruciating experience Aia felt nothing but reassurance. Everything was suddenly as it should be. Her vision spun into darkness.

Nivenea’s Shield Part III

Check out Part I and Part II to read Les’s short from the beginning.


The camp didn’t have much going for it, that was certain. It was getting colder by the day, snowing overnight sometimes but not enough to stick in the daytime. Seldat’s little village was struggling enough before the so-called “Fall” a few weeks ago that there were several empty homes for us to use. Dirt floors and holes for latrines – there was a time when I never dreamed of living in such conditions. It occurred to me that Aia had lived in this place years ago, and the respect I felt for her was more like a knife than a flower blooming, knowing I respected a woman who was dragged away from me while I watched, helpless.

I swore internally for thinking about my friends again, the thousandth time in the day, and stood up from the fire in the center of my hut. Kyren, one of my two hut-mates, looked up from the floor where he lay.

“You look mad again,” he commented. His words came out in puffs of fog.

I shook my head and forced myself to smirk. “Don’t worry, I’m not mad at you.” I turned to walk out the door. I needed to go somewhere, anywhere – a walk around the woods again, perhaps. There was talk of moving the camp soon. Adreth had a surprising number of confidants around the whole of the world; in the first week after arriving at Seldat word spread that we were here, and people started showing up with information in tow. They told us about work camps and horrors in the countryside. Some had news from Nivenea herself, none of it good. Adreth and Adria were working on some kind of plan, the nature of which I was only glancingly privvy to. They needed me as a symbol and a name. They did not need me to make decisions.

Not that I wanted to make decisions. I had nothing to give. I was getting frustrated at having to be here at all, but Adreth kept telling me he needed me, and would need me more in the future. I thought he’d lost touch around the whole issue – his judgment with everything else seemed sound enough, yet when it came to me, he had no grasp on reality.

All the thoughts swimming through me traveled faster than my senses, and it took more than two seconds for me to notice a woman on a horse un-horsing herself to walk into Adreth and Adria’s hut. The woman looked sufficiently weathered to be called a messenger. The realization jolted me, and suddenly I was on a mission to find out where this mysterious messenger had come from. Every newcomer in the camp was another chance at finding out more about Cadde.

“Les,” Kyren called after me, “do you see something?”

“Messenger I think. I’ll let you know.” I wasn’t sure if he heard me in my walk-away, and much as I’d hate to admit it, I didn’t much care if he heard me or not. I jogged across the camp to Adreth and Adria’s door and knocked. I wanted to barge in, but something kept me from doing so. “A moment,” Adreth shouted out at me.

I waited and listened. They spoke in hushed voices. A creeping feeling of dread raised every hair on my body; I couldn’t follow those anxious thoughts, not yet. They could be talking about anything. Troop movements, negotiations with the Celet forces…things that didn’t really concern me.

It seemed like forever before Adreth peeled open the flimsy door and beckoned me in. When I entered the messenger looked at me, then back at Adreth. She was shorter than me but sturdier even so. In a fight I’d place bets on her, not me, though to be fair there aren’t many people against which I’d have much of a chance. This strange fear only added to my concern that this woman looked afraid of me. That couldn’t be right. Either I was misinterpretting the situation or she thought I was someone of more consequence than I was.

Adreth didn’t flinch. I wasn’t convinced he was capable of such a thing. Adria kept her eyes on her brother, just like the messenger.

“Baron, there is something you should know,” Adreth’s eyebrows quirked just slightly, as if to say, Are you ready to hear me say this?

The look on his face tightened something in my gut. I think I knew immediately that there was something going on about Cadde – something very bad. None of the thoughts were concrete, though, as my vision and hearing shifted, and the words from my mouth sounded as if they came from someone else.

“What is it, Lieutenant?” Was my voice always that wispy?

“I-” the messenger tried to speak and was cut off with the flick of Adreth’s hand in her direction.

“Les, I am very sorry to tell you that Cadde has been lost,” his voice was measured and slow. “Our messenger, Emm, was told by the survivors from Pelle that your wife was blight-touched soon after you left. They were not able to find her when they evacuated your home.”

Emptiness, just then, throughout my body. All I felt was cold, disconnected. I wanted to burn down the encampment and burst into tears all at once, and instead the only thing I did…was stand still.

It would be so much better if she were dead. She probably was. This wasn’t happening.

Adreth dismissed the messenger, people moving around me while I stood outside of time. He spoke to me. “Les,” he looked me straight in the eye, “I’m sorry.”

I swallowed. Should I have laughed? “No,” I must have said, because it certainly seemed like I was talking. Shit. “I have to…I should go. I should go.”

“Baron-“

“No,” my voice rose, anger flying past my lips even while I couldn’t quite feel the heat of the emotion at the time. “I shouldn’t be here. I should never have been here – if I hadn’t been here then-“

“Sh,” Adreth inched between me and the door. If he’d been a smaller man I think I would have tried to push him out of the way, but even with half my brain working properly it was obvious that he was a large man, much larger than me. If he wanted me to stay he could make me stay. “I’m not going to pretend this is nothing to you, but I’m also going to need you to keep this contained.”

“Contained?” At that I did laugh. There were tears on my cheeks – they must have been mine. “I don’t think you understand. Cadde is blight-touched and it is my fault.”

“The hell it was,” Adria spoke up, looking altogether uncomfortable with the whole situation, yet unwilling to leave. “What could you have done if you were there?”

“She would have known me. She…maybe she wouldn’t have run. She would be alive.”

“Would you?” Adria’s puzzled gaze saw much clearer than my own. “Pelle was evacuated. It was destroyed. Everyone left was killed or captured. If your wife is alive it’s because she ran off, and if you’d been there, you would be just as dead as any of them.”

“Dead and better off,” I choked.

“You’ll keep that to yourself,” Adreth loomed closer, and with him the idea that he could smash me to bits. I had never met a man who wielded charisma and intimidation in such equal measure. I envied that. “You’re here. You’re with us. You are not alone.”

Because you need me for something, you mean? I didn’t say that. I wasn’t sure if it was true. The way he expressed caring felt real when everything else in the world didn’t. As much as I wanted to blame someone for something, it was clear that Adreth wasn’t pretending.

“I can’t do this,” the words spilled out too soft and too quick. I wasn’t sure they could even understand them. I turned away from Adreth, towards a wall. I pressed my knuckles to my forehead just to feel the pain.

There was silence for a long time. I could hear Adria shifting uncomfortably while Adreth stayed still enough that it was almost like he’d disappeared. It was getting dark outside, I was pretty sure. Kyren would wonder where I went.

“Adria,” Adreth’s voice was smooth and low, even soothing. “I think you should find Kyren. Have him come in here, see if you or he can find something for the baron to eat.” It was as if he was Aia with her mind-reading ability.

“Here?” He must have given her some kind of gesture or look, because the next thing I heard was Adria clearing her throat. “Not a problem.” She left.

“Please, Baron, have a seat,” Adreth moved to take a place on one of the sitting-pillows near the fire circle. It gave me pause, but I eventually obliged to take a seat across from him.

I didn’t look at him. There was a crystalline quality to everything I saw, blurred by tears. The part of me that was still supposed to be a “leader” – whatever that meant – lamented Adreth watching me in such a state. Another part of me, the larger, growing part, didn’t care what happened to me or anyone else. That thought was almost comforting.

We sat quietly for a while. I wondered where the hell Adria got off to, looking for Kyren. I wasn’t sure if I really wanted her to come back.

“I’ve never lost a mate,” Adreth’s voice startled me to attention. He sat forward, elbows on his knees, gazing into the fire rather than me. “I have lost many friends, family…people you can’t replace. It’s never easy and it doesn’t get easier.”

I guffawed – almost laughed – and at once felt sick. How could I laugh at a time like this? Was I really so hollow to think…? “Lieutenant, never easy is as far as I can imagine from what this is. This whole thing…” the image of the broken spire flashed in my mind, and I squeezed my eyes shut as if it would drive the image away. It didn’t. My parents, my friends, my wife…like as not, they were all dead, and I should have been dead with them. The laughter grew in my chest. “What kind of god,” I choked through laughter and tears, “left me alive through all this? Whose joke is that, Lieutneant? Explain that to me.”

His dark eyes flashed up to meet my gaze, something haunted hidden behind them, a thing I didn’t expect to see. “I’m not going to try to explain the universe to you, Baron, but let me tell you this much-” Adria peeked through the door with Kyren behind her, both of them pausing in the doorway, no doubt feeling the weight of Adreth’s talk with me. He continued, barely pausing. “What I do – what we all do – we can’t do it hoping that some deity will protect us. Reason or not, you’re alive and they’re gone. We’re all we’ve got.”

I didn’t understand it in that moment, feeling the raw, penetrating pain of grief. Looking back, that may have been the wisest thing anyone’s ever said to me.

A Time for Superheroes

The past few days have been harrowing for many of us, myself included. The fear in my community is palpable, an anxiety-inducing energy that would cause palpitations in the dead. I could go into all the reasons why people I work with and work for are unsettled, but that’s not the point of this post – no, dear reader, I have something much more powerful to talk about. Tonight I was rescued by Dr. Strange.

The lady is ill! I imagine you thinking. She’s hallucinating about comic book characters and such. This can’t be healthy. Please, hear me out.

The Dr. Strange movie was good. The writing was decent, the visuals stunning, and it always helps to have a special fondness for Benedict Cumberbatch. The movie took me away from the things I was feeling – powerlessness, grief, anger – and reminded me of something I had apparently forgotten… stories are important.

This is about more than just distraction through escapism, though that has its own valid purpose. At any point in history, in any culture, you will find stories. We humans can’t seem to stop telling them. We use them to communicate experiences and provide each other with amusement, but more than that, stories remind of us of values greater than ourselves, especially in times where we’ve lost sight of those values. Dr. Strange did not fly through a window and bend space and time to fix my problems (not that I’d mind all that); the story of Dr. Strange brought to mind the important things in life that will never change. The power of fantasy, connection, a desire to do good, the mind’s ability to influence reality – those concepts exist no matter who our leaders are or how our personal circumstances change. As a character-driven writer it struck me that it’s not about the setting; twists of plot are interesting to me only insofar as the plot guides the reactions of the characters. Events happen, many of which the characters had little or no control over, but how the characters respond is what matters.

We, too, play parts in real-life stories. Our roles shift depending on the day and the perspective, one day the hero, the next the helper, later the antihero. What’s true of stories is just as true of real life. It may not seem like the time for fantasy, reading, writing, and movie-going, but I would argue that now is exactly the time for these things. We need the experiences of story-telling and story-receiving as a means of centering ourselves; ancient human experience, a higher power of sorts, connecting us to ideals and each other. Don’t stop reading. Don’t stop watching. Don’t stop creating.

Don’t stop believing in what matters most.

 

NOW AVAILABLE – Forsaken Lands II: Sacrifice

Forsaken Lands II: Sacrifice

Trust is everything.

The world lies in pieces in the aftermath of Nivenea’s Fall. Captured and held against their will, Teveres and Aia’s only hope is that their friends may have survived a deadly battle, while Les, the lowly Baron of Pelle, finds himself thrown in with a ragtag militia on the losing side of a war. Separated from all they once knew, the Deldri must learn to trust not only their former enemies, but also themselves…or risk the destruction of their nation.

You can now find the ebook edition on Amazon here. Tragedy (Book I) is free for release day (11/6) here!

I am SO happy to have this thing out! It took 2 years and much angst, and…I hope you like it. Reviews are so important for indie authors, so if you like it (or even if you don’t) please review on Amazon or GoodReads. Giveaways and more material to come. 🙂 The print-edition always takes more formatting work and will be available in the next couple of weeks barring unforeseen complications.

For now I’m going to slip away into the morning, drink my hot cocoa, and hang out with one of my favorite people and her little one. In the meantime, here’s a little excerpt from early in the piece –


A hard object hit glass on the other side of the concrete, loud enough to be heard in the control room. Kali rushed to look through the spyglass. Her mouth dropped.

“Guards, now!” Kali shouted. She hit a button on her station.

“Let me see.” With a grunt, Zhe pushed Kali out of the way to get her own assessment of the situation. She felt the crack in her cool facade when she registered what was going on. Her eyebrows raised.

Through the fisheye lens she saw the Eastern man – this Teveres person – slumped with his back against the two-way mirror. The muscles in his neck were strained from fury and pain; he gasped for breath, his words punctuated by sobs.

<Just make it stop!> Zhe heard him say in Leyvada. Defiant, he turned and slammed his body face-on against the mirror again, letting his skull take the force of the impact. Zhe prized her desensitization to the pain of others, but the impact of a body thrown against a wall still made her stomach lurch.

Way back in her private musings, she admired the dedication. Self-injury on such a scale required quite a bit of willpower.

Behind her she heard the guards running to meet them. Kali went after them with a medi bag in hand, as if she’d been waiting for exactly this kind of event. Zhe had a moment of hesitation considering that the prisoner was one of the single most dangerous individuals on the planet – going into the room meant sacrificing the protective shielding that separated the cell from the control room.

The pause was overridden by her training. She experienced no fear, only excitement at the thought of the challenge. She caught up with the group just as they began putting on the gas masks hanging on the wall outside the prison door. Zhe gave Kali an inquisitive eye.

“I released anesthetic gas,” Kali explained quickly, situating her own mask. “He’s usually a lot easier to control than this…never tries to hurt himself…I never thought he’d actually…” The scientist spoke of the prisoner fondly again. It just wouldn’t do.

Zhe selected a mask for herself, covering her face and eyes with the ghastly-looking apparatus. She hated the things. They made the air taste like industrial plastic.

When the guards crowded the doorway, Zhe shouldered into the middle of them. Two of the guards were women about her height (which wasn’t saying much), while the third guard, a male, seemed to double her in size.

Teveres was mid-launch with his back to the mirror when the guards rushed him.

<Let me pay…> Teveres grit his teeth, anticipating the pain. When he slammed into mirror again, a spiderweb crack dripping with blood haloed around his head. His eyes went glazed and unfocused. <…for what I’ve done.>

One guard each took hold of his arms while the third, the largest man in the group, dove for Teveres’s legs. He did not struggle, his body limp in their arms.

“Be careful with him,” Kali urged, motioning the guards to bring the prisoner back to his steel table.

Zhe edged towards the prisoner. He was actively bleeding from the back of his head, his eyes fixed up at the ceiling. Whatever his motivations, they were strong enough to keep him fighting the anesthetic gas. When his eyelids began to drift closed his whole body tensed as if in convulsion, rattling down against the table with fists clenched.

“Don’t let him do that!” Kali snapped, examining the prisoner’s laceration.

Teveres went still, visibly fighting the pull towards unconsciousness. His eyes were pretty, Zhe had to admit. They were a kind of gilded green, deep and dark. If she were to fuck a man, as unlikely as that might be, she’d like it to be a man with the same eyes.

<What did you think you were doing?> Zhe addressed Teveres in perfect Leyvada. She supposed that reassurance might have some kind of place in this situation, but she wasn’t a reassuring kind of person. Instead she cleared her throat. <You’ll have to do a lot better than that if you’re trying to kill yourself.>

<Just…let me go…don’t know…what you want…> His voice was hoarse.

He was at the breaking point. Zhe could see it on his features, the same barely-collected expression she wore when she was sent to train at The Facility. Had this one never been broken before? She knew his history at least in brief, how he’d witnessed the death of his family and killed a dozen people out of pure fury. Reports said that not even half a year ago he had terminated his ex-partner’s fetus to save the lives of his friends. She assumed that a man who endured so much loss would have been broken and callused over long ago.

Zhe thought to speak again, but was too late. The very pretty eyes closed, the muscles unclenched. He finally succumbed to the sedation.

“I shouldn’t have let him up so much,” Kali said distantly, folding her arms as if suddenly chilled. The prisoner’s breaths came slow and steady. “I started to trust him too much. I knew he was under stress but I didn’t expect…I should’ve told Sat that I just wouldn’t do it…I…”

Zhe considered her words carefully before speaking, a pretense she rarely had to employ. Usually the right words came out easily – the right words in her business were usually lies. “These people can’t be trusted with their own choices. That’s why the consultants decided on manipulation strategy rather than coercion. I was there,” Zhe paused, realizing that her matter-of-fact report could hardly be seen as friendly. “I’m sure you won’t let that happen again.” Well, that wasn’t very friendly either. It would just have to do.

COVER REVEAL: “Forsaken Lands II – Sacrifice”

As I sit here with my soup (which I highly recommend, by the way – Zoup is awesome if you have one nearby) I am about to embark on a several-hours-long endeavor to complete editing on the digital version of Sacrifice. My goal: publishing the sequel by the 5th of November.

I’m not sure I’ll meet that measure, but nonetheless, I am going to make the effort. Before I lock myself into the formatting/editing zen state, I want to show off the cover. Without further adieu I give you… Forsaken Lands II: Sacrifice. Just to make it interesting, I’m willing to give away a copy to anyone who can correctly identify the male on the cover in the comments. 🙂


Forsaken Lands II: Sacrifice

Trust is everything.

The world lies in pieces in the aftermath of Nivenea’s Fall. Captured and held against their will, Teveres and Aia’s only hope is that their friends may have survived a deadly battle, while Les, the lowly Baron of Pelle, finds himself thrown in with a ragtag militia on the losing side of a war. Separated from all they once knew, the Deldri must learn to trust not only their former enemies, but also themselves…or risk the destruction of their nation.


I would also like to note that I am flattered and overjoyed that Forsaken Lands I: Tragedy is officially a finalist for the Speculative Fiction Cygnus Awards. I can think of few things more motivating than that!

Alright then. Back to the word mines. I shall return with news in the coming days, one way or another.

The Power of Reading: Perspective for a Dime

If my mother had read the contents of Illusions, she never would have handed it to me.

I was twelve years old, relaxing on the bed at my grandmother’s house. Wednesdays were the days that my mother and I visited my grandmother in the mountains to do work for her, and this day my mother and grandmother had gone treasure hunting at the local garage sales. Homeschooled and left to my own devices, I spent a great deal of time doing whatever I wanted – in this case, re-reading one of my very favorite books, Artemis Fowl, for about the thousandth time. I had an early review copy complete with all the pre-publishing grammatical errors and formatting problems (the fact that I enjoyed the flawed copy even more than the polished, retail copy probably should have been a sign to somebody that I would one day toil away as a writer myself).

“I found this for you at the library sale,” my mother said, tossing the slim volume to me.

The cover was simple yet intriguing: a single blue feather, surrounded by stars on a black background. The title was a single word: Illusions, by Richard Bach. I scrutinized the cover and the back matter, which told me little to nothing about the book itself. The sticker price said 10¢. Unsurprising, I thought; the poor thing was all torn up. One corner of the cover was folded over, white showing through the black background, the spine held together with the years’-old glue.

“I thought it might be your kind of thing,” she shrugged. “You’re always reading fantasy stuff.”

“Thanks,” I said, watching her disappear to tend to her much-more-important estate sale finds.

Reading the interior I discovered that the book was written in the 70’s. The first chapter looked as if it had been photocopied from an old notebook; the words were handwritten and at times difficult to read. The voice in the first chapter struck me as odd, with a cheeky bible-like description of a “master” of the world of illusions likened to a river creature. It didn’t make much sense the first time I read it, but I read it anyway. I loved to read, and something about this book was screaming read me, finish me. What I read would change my life quite permanently – much to the chagrin of my mother, whose values so violently clashed with the book that I eventually hid it from her so she wouldn’t discover what was inside.

Many people who know me by my outward behavior or my writing make the assumption that I grew up in a household where values of diversity, equality, and compassion reigned supreme. What always entertains me about this (apparently common) belief is how different my life has actually been. I grew up  being taught that LGBTQ people were horrendous, disgusting sinners who should have gotten over God’s “challenge” of their identities by remaining permanently celibate. Interracial marriages were alright for some people they supposed, except that it was against the natural order of things and “selfish” in the case of producing children from such a marriage (‘who would curse a child by making them mixed-race?’ – their words, not mine). Atheists, well, they could certainly exist in this country, but their values shouldn’t matter, and my goodness, you couldn’t ever trust them. Pagans were witches possessed by the devil – dangerous and evil, naturally. Speaking of possession, most mental illness was viewed as likely possession which could be prayed away.

I could probably go on, but I think you get the idea. Mine was a rather narrow-minded home.

This book, though, Illusions… it was not narrow-minded at all. I remember clearly the surreal experience of reading it for the first time. In the book Bach uses fictional characters to illustrate the ideas that life can be what we make it, that choices are personal and infinite in their iterations, and the concepts of “right” and “wrong” entirely depend on a person’s perspective. The very first chapter contained these words, which have stuck with me to this day –

“And what would you do,” the Master said unto the multitude, “if God spoke directly to your face and said, ‘I COMMAND THAT YOU BE HAPPY IN THE WORLD, AS LONG AS YOU LIVE.’ What would you do then?”

For a girl who had been raised to believe that there was a right way to be and a condemned sinner’s way to be, the ideas in this book were revolutionary. They were also terrifying. I had to google Richard Bach after finishing the book (in tears, I might add) to make sure that god hadn’t struck him down. Imagine my surprise when I learned that he was nearly 70 and still flying airplanes!

I’ve never met Richard Bach, and yet the words he wrote were the first step towards freeing me from a life of bigotry and hate. I don’t know if he ever even imagined that a kid would pick it up – I’m pretty sure he didn’t write it with kids in mind, but for me, it was the most important thing I read in my entire childhood. It was magic.

A book takes on a life of its own when it reaches the hands of a reader, one that the author never could have imagined. They are powerful – ideas in physical form, disseminated to hundreds or thousands of people. How could a person not want to be a part of that experience, as readers? As writers?

What books have influenced you?


Hope you enjoyed that little spiel! It’s back to the grind for me… I think I have (please let this be true!) 1-2,000 words left to write before the Forsaken Lands 2 draft is FINISHED. Seriously. I think I can, I think I can…

My Physician Alter-Ego

We are hardcore.

We don’t like to say it. Doctors, nurses, and other folks in the medical profession known for the long shifts, the 80-hour weeks and the life-and-death scenarios, we like to say “Ah well, it’s just what it is. We signed up for this.”

That may be true, but that doesn’t make it any less ridiculous.

I say this as someone who is on the “softer” side of the medical profession with my choice of specialty; this week I will have only worked 72 hours in six 12-hour increments. I’m in the emergency department as part of my overall intern-year curriculum, though it is not my area of study – it is expected that I be able to manage these patients with the help of my attending physician and make halfway decent decisions if I have an unstable patient while waiting for the real expert to show up. I feel tired probably 70% of the time, and when I look back on my week I wonder how in the world I made it through. It takes a huge amount of energy to go to work every morning and deal with serial emergencies (major props to my friends in emergency med and internal med – I really don’t know how y’all deal with this forever).

I’m not saying this to be all “hey, look at me,” I’m saying hey, look at us. We live weird lives compared to everyone else – that’s why they make television shows about us, along with cops and military folks. Those three groups are the fodder for countless stories because it’s just generally something that most people will not experience in life. We made some of the most critical moments in life our jobs, every single day. The majority of everyday people will not see day after day of psychosis, suicide attempts, and crippling anxiety. They don’t routinely welcome new humans into the world or watch as children die way too young.

Maybe it’s different for people from medical families, but from my perspective, this life is incredible. When I was a kid doctors were somewhat mysterious (perhaps more so for me than other people – my mother didn’t really believe in doctors). They didn’t seem like fully formed people; they were mystical folks who fixed things and knew things. Surely these people were just born this way. No one becomes a doctor, they just are. The universe declared them so.

I was almost old enough to drive when I came to the seemingly obvious realization that doctors were people who went through years of school to learn a profession which is way beyond the realm of normal experience (turns out that the few doctors I met as a kid were the most educated folks I had any contact with – who knew?). It was a shock for me to find out that I could be one – a kid who grew up in a town of 6,000 people, raised by a single mother who cleaned houses and waited tables. They let people like me into school, with the right grades and extracurriculars.

Turns out this doctoring thing really is an acquired skill, or so they tell me. I’ve officially been a doctor for six months and I still have a hard time believing I’m part of this world. “Dr. Cooper, radiology for you on line two,” the department secretary calls over the loudspeaker. Dr. Cooper, who? Why are nurses looking to me for advice and direction? Plenty of them are close to twice my age. Surely not – surely not me.

I believed every day for the four years I spent in med school that I was going to fail out, despite never failing a class. Every board exam was another opportunity to prove that my admission to med school was some kind of mistake. I was not born a doctor; any time now, they’re going to figure out that I’m a fraud dressed in a white coat, trying to pretend I’m one of them.

I passed my third and final licensing exam a couple weeks ago, and now I can’t really make that argument anymore. I didn’t just pass it, either – I did well, so well that you’d almost think I was one of those doctors spontaneously formed from the fabric of the universe.

In six hours I start an overnight emergency shift. I will bike myself up the hill, take off the tie-dye and don hospital-issued scrubs. My nametag says “Physician,” the whitecoat inspires confidence. I’ll hit the floor running in my tennis shoes, ready to take on whatever comes in. I’ve been on the service long enough that the attendings have started to trust me.

I think I’m slowly getting to the point in my life where I’m beginning to trust myself. I’m not sure that the title will ever merge with my identity the way I imagined it as a kid. Healthcare providers are people, some of them people just like me. Tie-dye, fantasy writing, and all.

Cut Scene: The Original Prologue

Tragedy has an interesting past that I don’t think I’ve shared before. The very first scene was written when I was 15, just after I completed my first (never-to-be-published) novel, 4012. Teveres was originally created as a gray-morals character to be featured in 4012‘s sequel (which I never wrote), a contrast to the story’s heroine. Teveres was someone from another planet, as this was more on the sci-fi side of speculative fiction, and his situation came to me in one picture: a powerful young man with green-and-gold eyes, face-down in the dirt after the brutal murder of his family. He was supposed to end up running away and meeting 4012’s heroine.
Six years later I was inspired to create Aia’s character, and in the process stumbled upon this scene on my hard drive – it just so happened that Teveres was exactly the kind of person the story needed. The life-and-death duo of Aiasjia and Teveres, born out of story fragments. Oddly enough the scene which brought Teveres into this story just didn’t really fit in the final product, and was cut during the editing phase.
It’s not much, but here’s a little blast from the hidden past: the prologue that never was.


When Teveres hit the ground outside his father’s plantation, he stayed there. Like a slave, like a beaten child, like a rodent he dug his hands and knees into the ground, letting the dirt agitate the skin beneath his fingernails. Spittle dropped from his lips to the moistened soil; he could feel his tongue sending a river of blood down his throat that choked him.

Ignorant fools.

The men and women of the city – his city – cackled around him. They were more like animals than people, circling him in his weakest time. He grew up in their presence, helped them educate their children and tend their fields, yet they lacked the basic decency to treat him like a fellow human being. They disgusted him.

In his fury, he caught only fragments of words. “Whore, just like his mother,” “Slimy son of a bitch,” “Dirty,” “Arrogant,” “Blight-touched,” the words just kept dribbling from their unbridled mouths.

Hair dripping from the rain, he began to shiver. “I’m asking you to stop,” his voice was low-pitched and eerily controlled. The undercurrent of rage was lost on the mob.

“And what will you do, my lord?” the farmer called, “your lands have been taken. Your house is in ruins. You are nothing.”

They think it was me. How could they think this was me?

A woman hit him in the head with a farming implement. His ears rang and his vision blurred, drowning out everything but his sense of touch. Someone spat on him.

“Don’t make me do this,” he hissed.

When one of the men kicked him, Teveres didn’t move. He didn’t have to. He breathed in, out, calmed his heartbeat and closed his eyes. When he finally looked up to the chalk-colored skies, the ringing in his ears was gone and everything was still. The townspeople all lay quietly, peacefully deceased. A smile made a hesitant tug at Teveres’s lips.

He fled.


In other news, I am now 108,000 words deep in Forsaken Lands 2… and it’s still not done. Maybe this month, my friends. Maybe this month.

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.