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.

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‘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.

Kickstarting Diversity in Fiction: An Interview with S.E. Doster

Recently I’ve had the opportunity to connect with fellow fantasy author S.E. Doster, writer of The Alliance Series. Her first book, The Alliance: Bloodlines, tells the supernaturally-charged story of unlikely heroes and their fight to take back their city. Doster is now working on the sequel, Drakon, while she is running a Kickstarter campaign to support her upcoming Sacrifice novel. She, like myself, is a strong supporter of character diversity in genre fiction, and took the time to answer a few questions about the topic and her latest work.

Tell me about Sacrifice and your Kickstarter. What inspired you to go the Kickstarter route?

Traditional publishing can be a hard industry to break into, but trying to find a home for such a diverse novel proves to be even harder. I originally intended my first Kickstarter to be one of my comic book projects, but the passionate enthusiasm of my beta readers convinced me to try Sacrifice first. I self-published the Bloodlines novel with a meager budget and the help of friends, but the overall quality of the product suffered. I wanted to give Sacrifice professional editing, formatting and cover design, but each of those come with such costly fees.

Sacrifice is an Urban Fantasy thriller that involves meta-humans and supernatural creatures. The story includes the romance of a lesbian couple, but that factor doesn’t define the story. There are gay and straight characters of all races, but it’s shown in a community that already accepts equality.


Diversity in literature… what are your thoughts on its importance?

I think it’s very important that we work to increase the diversity in literature. There are so many groups of kids that don’t get to see main characters like them. It sends the wrong message when bookshelves are filled with books that contain mostly straight, white male protagonists. Characters of color or even queer characters seem to fill the much smaller roles in novels, but how does that even make sense? Mainstream literature shouldn’t be filled with primarily straight white characters because the world is not made up solely of straight white people. I have a very diverse group of friends of all races both gay and straight, so I decided to write a book that reflects real life for me.

Over the last few years we have seen a small increase in diversity on television, but the publishing industry seems stubborn to accept the change. This is a vicious cycle that needs to be broken, or we’ll continue to give future generations literature that does not reflect real life or teach equality.


How do you think independent authors impact diversity in literature?

Indie authors have the ability to be their own boss, and choose to include diversity that maybe wouldn’t be accepted with a traditional publisher. They can write without fear of an editor demanding changes to avoid too much risk. I’ve seen many indie authors embracing diversity, some are writers like me that don’t want to wait for publishers to wake up and smell the diversity (pun intended) so they create the stories they want to read.

The one negative impact I see with indie authors is the percentage that lacks the polish of a traditionally published novel. I want to read LGBT fantasy novels, but I’m usually discouraged when I search Amazon or Goodreads for LGBTQ or lesbian fiction. I usually locate novels with poor reviews and covers, which makes me incredibly sad. The stories may actually be wonderful on the inside, but poor editing, formatting and covers can still be a detriment to sales and reviews.

I know how tough self-publishing can be when you’re paying out of pocket, and I understand why some indie authors settle on quality, but this is why the Kickstarter was important for Sacrifice. We need more quality diverse novels if we hope to see them hit the shelves of our favorite book store.


What can readers do to help promote diversity? What can writers do?

Readers can send letters to publishers to demand for more diversity, and support books that are diverse. There are some campaigns right now that promote diversity, and one of them focuses on children’s literature. You can find their site here: http://weneeddiversebooks.org/ This group offers great suggestions for diverse YA and children’s books.

Writers should make a conscious effort to bring diversity into their own stories, as well as supporting fellow writers who do the same.


How can we help with the Kickstarter, and when do you expect Sacrifice to come out?

Every little bit helps with crowdfunding. Like and share the Kickstarter post on social media. Tell your friends and family why diversity is important, and donate to the campaign if you can! Every single dollar helps. If every single person who saw my Kickstarter could donate just one dollar, (which is less than the price of one soda or cup of coffee) and asked/shared with their friends, we could make self-publishing Sacrifice a reality.

The Kickstarter launched on September 4th, and still needs your help to be successful!

Many thanks to S.E. Doster for participating in the interview! I for one am very happy to support her cause for all the reasons she’s given. As I’ve said before, media is an incredible vehicle for self-discovery and change; by promoting diversity in our entertainment we expand our own ideas of who we are and what we can be. Please visit the link above to donate and/or share her message.

Advanced Review – “A Veil of Secrets” by Hailey Edwards

While book reviews are not typically part of my blogging bag (honestly, I don’t know that I have a typical anything on this blog so far), I recently got the opportunity to read an advanced copy of Hailey Edwards’ latest book, A Veil of Secrets, due out in December of this year. Ms Edwards is the author of the Aranae Nation and Daughters of Askara series, both under the umbrella of the fantasy/romance genre. I’ve been a fan of Ms Edwards’ work for a while now – I picked up the first Aranae book, A Hint of Frost, two years ago when I was just starting to expand my literary tastes from straight-up fantasy into stories with more of a romantic twist. I’ve now read every book in between (there are 8 of them at this point, I believe, counting this latest piece) and enjoyed each of them.

Thus it is my great pleasure to offer my review of A Veil of Secrets. If this story sounds interesting to you I’d encourage you to use the next couple months to catch up prior to the December release!

Although I have made every effort to leave out major plot points, there are potential spoilers ahead. You have been warned.


The world of the Aranae Nation, for those unfamiliar with the series, is dark indeed. This isn’t a bunch of fluffy romance, nor is it a plotless pages-long sex fest (though some of the scenes are quite steamy, which I don’t mind a bit). This series has a central plot involving a deadly plague which is wiping out whole towns of people and animals alike. The Aranae themselves are unique, with spidery qualities including fangs and the ability to spin thread. They are divided into tribal groups, each of them with their own codes of honor and skills. The Mimetidae, for example, are a war-like people (think semi-Klingons, if you will), willing to eat the flesh of their enemies, while the Salticidae are relatively peaceful agricultural-types, and obligate vegans to boot. Given the complexity of the world, I definitely recommend reading the preceding books prior to picking up Veil. Veil builds on the plot from the prior books, and offers much insight into the origins of the dreaded plague (you won’t hear those secrets from me, though – you’ll have to read to find out).

On to more book-specific details…

One of the things I love about Edwards’ work – the reason I easily blast through each installment of the series – is that she has a talent for grabbing the reader immediately. She accomplishes this beautifully in A Veil of Secrets, perhaps moreso than in any of her other books. From page one we are plunged into the world of Marne, the female protagonist with a rather unfortunate secret, Edan, her aggressive and super-protective brother, and Asher, a guard who is accompanying Marne and Edan on a journey through the dangerous veil, a sort of metaphysical barrier between where they are and the city of Beltania. Marne and her brother are trying desperately to survive after Marne was turned into a harbringer, a dangerous creature best known for flying around killing and eating people, a reputation of which makes it difficult for Marne to exist freely as who she really is. The difference between Marne and your typical harbringer is that she didn’t make the full transition into paranormal killing machine – she instead walks the earth dependent on injections to keep her alive and sane. She and Edan are seeking refuge in Beltania with the hopes that they will be able to have some kind of fresh start in life, away from their unpleasant pasts.

Now, I started this book while at Penny Arcade Expo, a geeky con for fans of video and tabletop gaming (brief tangent incoming). My husband had gone to a panel on some RTS game that I wasn’t really into, so I was sitting comfy in a hotel lobby with my tea and tablet, pleased to have a little down time in which to read. Within the first several pages I found myself deep in the action, fighting off harbringers with Marne in the veil. It was that lovely feeling when you’re really into a book, and your consciousness is hovering somewhere between you, the pages, and the characters…

…then a siren came blaring through my trance, and when I looked up I was a little surprised that I was still in Seattle. That’s the kind of reader-grabbing that I’m talking about here, and that was when I realized I was going to have a hard time putting the book down.

The romance in Veil is absolutely adorable. As stated above, Edwards likes to write romance with a central plot, so the physical romance is towards the end, but well worth it. Marne is a woman with a great deal of strength who demonstrates a clear arc from relative dependence on her brother to a new-found comfort with her abilities and independence, which I find very appealing in my romancy stuff.  Marne is no damsel; she easily stands beside her warrior male counterparts. Several characters make re-appearances from prior books to good effect; I particularly enjoyed seeing Pascale with Lleu, two side characters who offer bits of comic relief and witty banter throughout.

If I have any criticism (and I add this so I don’t come off as just an excited fangirl) it’s that at times I felt a little lost in the settings – I’m very visual and like to get a better handle on what I’m looking at and where people are, which was occasionally lacking. There’s a balance between being overly detailed and leaving a majority of the setting to the reader, and I feel like Veil is more on the reader-insert-details spectrum. Since my concern is always characters first, this was by no means significant enough for me to down-rate this book.

Want a number? 5 out of 5 stars. Two thumbs up. Too many character-driven giggles to count. Interested? Go read it, folks.


Alright! Hopefully that gives you a little something to go on. In other news, I will be posting a Q&A with S.E. Doster in the next several days regarding the kickstarter for her book (coincidentally named) Sacrifice. Also on my agenda: finishing Forsaken Lands 2 (good gods above please let me finish the draft this month) and another installment in Fae and Folly.  I’ve got 4 more days before I go back to the medical grind, and I plan to spend as much of that time writing as I can. Peace.

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

image

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.

Serial Story: Fae and Folly Part 6

Miss the previous installments of Fae and Folly? 

Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5


“Did you not hear anything I told you last night?”

I dodged Dy’s death glare, ducking into the kitchen. I didn’t really need my chai tea, but what I did need was a plausible reason to avoid taking Dy’s energy straight on. It was the fourth time we’d had this conversation after I tried to offhandedly mention to her that she would need to take public transit to the airport because I was going to be gone – with Caleb.

As if to prove a point, she had woken up at 7 am to pester me about it. I think I could count on one hand the number of times I’d seen Dy conscious before ten. She was serious.

“I heard you,” I tried to speak a patiently as I could. “I heard you the first time, and the second time…” well, maybe not quite as patiently as all that.

“There’s something not right about that guy,” Dy continued as if she hadn’t heard me at all. Peering around the corner I could see her perched on my couch the way she liked to do, hands motioning to her own private audience. “You know I’ve never seen him fly? It’s just weird, Lee. The motorcycle thing doesn’t make any sense.”

“I saw him fly,” I said, barely able to censor my initial defensive response. I didn’t need to defend him so much as I needed to defend my own rationale for agreeing to this escapade. Of course, I wasn’t doing a great job of convincing myself to begin with. “He flew inside the bar.”

“Flew? Or did he just do that fluttery thing?”

“How well do you know him, again?”

“Word gets around, Lee. I’m still a muse. We talk.” She swooped around the bar area to stand next to me.

I glanced up at her only briefly before diligently stirring a dust of cinnamon into my travel mug. “It’s not like I have a choice. It’s my job – the IFA wants me to show Caleb around the Willamette, so I will. That’s all it is.”

She was looking at me. I knew she was doing it. I frowned and walked out into my living room, sitting on the edge of my chaise.

Undeterred, Dyana knelt at my feet where I couldn’t evade her wide, silvery eyes. She was childish like that when she was riled – it was actually a little concerning. I’d rarely seen her so hellbent on changing my mind about anything. Then again, when we were doing the activist thing we very specifically agreed on almost everything. That was why we worked so well to begin with.

“We always agreed that we were non-violent,” she began again in earnest. “You still believe in that too, don’t you?”

“What would make you think-” I worked my jaw, but the words weren’t coming out. “How could you… of course I’m still non-violent, Dy. I’d never-”

“I just needed to hear you say it.”

“Dy, is there something else going on that you’re not telling me about?”

Dy quieted, her full, pale lips downturned. Her wings clung tight to her body. “With all that’s been going on… I don’t know, alright? There are rumors about something big going down, and I promise you, if I knew any more than this I would tell you everything. With you being up in the IFA these days I figured it could go one of two ways…”

“Just be honest with me Dyana. We’ve always been straight with each other.”

“I don’t know if ‘straight’ is what the humans would call it,” she struggled to put on a joking smile, but it died a quick death. I narrowed my eyes. “If you were sympathetic to his cause, it would explain-“

“We don’t know that he has a cause at all.”

She blinked at me a couple times, and her eyebrows shot up into her hairline. I shook my head, my fingers working the ties on my boots. Boots would be appropriate for motorcycling. The internet told me so.

Never in my life did I think I’d have a need to look up motorcycling footwear.

“You like him,” Dy accused, leaning in somehow closer.

“I do not like him. I… the very opposite of like him. It’s like you said, he’s strange-“

“And he’s got one hell of a set of wings on him, doesn’t he?”

“Oh please.”

Her wings – which were still just as gorgeous as the day we met – flexed long and languid, almost suggestive. “I know your face, Amelie Fletcher. You think he’s a pretty bit of stardust.”

“That’s not the issue here-“

“You of all people!” her hands covered her face, and at that moment I could imagine no more uncomfortable a feat than discussing attraction to another Fae in front of my former partner – which wasn’t entirely accurate, I reminded myself. Attraction required both the physical and mental aspects for me, and I had yet to find anything about his mind that would be considered desirable. I hardly knew him at all… the problem was, Dy was partly right. He was a pretty bit of stardust, but that wasn’t the point. “I never thought you would be the kind to get distracted by a pair of fancy black wings.”

“Dy,” I grabbed her wrists and pulled them away from her face, planting my now-booted feet on the floor. “Remember who you’re talking to. I’m not as shallow as all that. If he’s in with the Elementals then I want no part of him,” I paused, flashing her a smile. “And besides, what better way to figure all that out than to spend a little extra time with him?”

Dyana sighed, tugging her wrists from my grasp. She rose, kissing the top of my head on her way up. “Take care of yourself out there. Not all the muses are as clean cut as me.”

“You’ve never been clean cut.”

Her lopsided grin warmed my soul – if I had one – the way it always did. “What I do in private notwithstanding.”

I almost had a good reply in mind when there was a knock at my door. Right on time. I had every intention of getting the door myself, but Dy beat me to it.

The wide-eyed, huge-mouthed smile she managed to achieve when she opened it was so comical that I had to laugh. My laughter was drowned out by her overly enthusiastic “Hello!”

I watched their interactions as I finished zipping up my backpack, filled to bulging with a couple changes of clothes and basic essentials on the assumption that we’d be spending a night in Eugene. Landsong would insist.

“It’s nice to see you again, Dyana,” said Caleb, the essence of cool. I was certain that most people would have shrieked or at least looked startled at Dy’s theatrics. Not Caleb. Caleb acted as if she’d answered the door with a polite how-do-you-do.

“Isn’t it though?” Dyana stood in the entryway without the slightest movement to indicate that he could come in.

“You’ve been well? Down in… Reno, as I recall,” he continued, stuck just outside the door.

“The Tahoe glade is a real trip. I love it down there. I hear that you’ve been awfully busy these days.”

“Professional hazard,” he inclined his head, glancing at me over Dy’s shoulder for the first time since he arrived. “Do you need a little more time?”

“Not at all,” I swung the bag over my back, taking another sip from my mug. The sun shone brightly behind Caleb’s figure, the glowing Oregon greenery a sharp contrast with Caleb’s (apparently customary) black attire. He looked rather out of place against the backdrop of a vibrant, sunny day. He was more of a night Fae, for certain. I hugged Dy briefly before I passed her by. “Lock up on your way out, and have a good flight.”

She squeezed me with pressure enough to approximate my ribs together. It was very Dy of her. “I’ll call you.”

I nodded once more before managing to escape, the click of the door a sure sign that I was all alone with Caleb.

His dark eyes swept me head-to-toe before he made a soft sound of what I assumed was approval. “You’re appropriately dressed, at least.”

I had on my sturdiest pair of jeans and a long-sleeved purple shirt underneath a jean jacket. My hair was held out of my face by a flowery headband. Game enough, I made my own visual sweep of him, passing over his zipped-up faux leather jacket and dark jeans. With skin so pale he was all darkness and light.

“I suppose you’ll do as well,” I raised an eyebrow.

The barely-audible chuckle in his throat could hardly be called a laugh. “I have some gear for you.” He began walking down the stairs – a little odd, I noted, since I usually just glided down from the railing, but I went with it anyway. There was no need to show off.

I was on the second story of the ‘hotel,’ a catwalk connecting my room to all the others with an open-air staircase. To my knowledge I was the only one in a suite for the time being. Most of the time other Fae traveled to the Northwest in the summer when it was less wet. This day was a special day in that regard. Sunshine in an Oregon winter was near-blinding, all the dampened grass and leaves sparkling emerald-green. It was absolutely breathtaking, if a little jarring compared to the usual grayness. The road was mercifully low-traffic so far.

“Where are you staying, anyway?” I asked, filling the silence.

“Family business associate keeps a house down here. They don’t use it much, so I generally have free reign over it.”

“Here in Portland?”

He nodded absently, approaching his very shiny – very pretty – motorcycle. It was all curves, a body that reminded me of smoothed agates. I restrained myself from touching it out of fear that my fingertips would smudge its perfect black sheen. Caleb started handing me a few things from his saddlebag – another one of those things I had to google in preparation for this adventure. My analysis of motorcycle schematics  told me that “saddlebag” was an accurate, if somewhat silly term for the storage device.

“The helmet is where all of the PPE comes in,” he said, referencing ‘Personal Protective Equipment.’ “You’ll need that, the jacket, a scarf and gloves. I think these should fit alright, maybe a little on the large side.”

I handed him my bag in exchange. “You can smash it in there. Nothing fancy in my stuff.”

“Not even a computer?”

“The glade doesn’t have wireless anyway.”

“So I take it we’ll be staying there.”

“Is that a problem for you, fancy Fae?” I was swimming in the jacket he handed me, but it was a nice combination of lightweight and warm. My heart was racing as I handled the helmet, an enclosed unit with a filter near the mouth when the shield was down. I was about to ride a motorcycle.

Why did I agree to this?

“Your stunningly poor opinion of me aside,” his lips twitched the way they liked to twitch just before he settled his own helmet over his face, “no, it won’t be a problem.”

Stunningly poor opinion. It was the first real rise I’d managed to get out of him, if you didn’t count the passive-aggressive sparring in the conference. He didn’t seem angry, exactly, or even hurt. I wasn’t really sure what he was, and that was the entire problem.

I swallowed against the – guilty? – lump in my throat and put on the helmet myself. The filter was cumbersome, my breath fogging the shield almost immediately. There was no way this was going to work-

Until he tapped the switch next to my jaw and the tiny motor whirred, circulating the air. I blushed behind the mask.

“You ready?” I jerked at the sound of his voice, loud and clear in my helmet. He had some kind of radio system in the damned thing – I supposed, though, that with the cost of the filter and the jackets, a radio system was pocket change.

I couldn’t tell if he was smiling at me with the mirrored shade over his face. It made him even less readable.

Gods of the old continent, I was certain I was about to die. My mouth was totally dry and my stomach was clenched with fear. It occurred to me that humans would probably feel the same terror about flying. Anything that is new and seemingly uncontrollable is scary the first time you try it. I could only hope that I would survive to try it a second time, when it would be less horrifying.

“Yeah, sure.” My hands trembled in the gloves which were at least a size too large. At least the helmet fit alright. None of the outside air brushed my face.

He settled down on the bike and craned around to look at me, just waiting. I slipped in behind him and realized, quite stupidly, that there were no safety devices to hook into. I swallowed, and with the radio system there was a good chance he heard me.

“Mind the footholds,” he told me, indicating them with the flick of his wrist. He steadied the bike upright while I positioned myself. “You’ve ridden a bicycle, haven’t you? I regular one.”

“I… once?”

“Just relax,” he crooned. “Hands on my hips. Easier to steer that way. We’re taking 99 down to Corvallis and then the 5 from there. It’ll take longer but it’ll let you get used to things before we’re on a real highway.”

If this is going to take so long, why are we bothering with it at all? With weather so nice would could have flown the whole way. Then I realized it – he was toying with me. The only way this made sense was if it was some kind of test. Test of what and why, I wasn’t sure. It was too late to turn back.

Hesitantly I placed my hands as he asked, reminding myself that such hand positioning was necessary to ride properly, and nothing more. I could almost hear him grinning. “Okay,” my voice cracked without my permission. “Okay, you can… make it go.”

“Hang on tight, Ms. Fletcher,” in his voice I heard mischief; another flicker of life in his heretofore inscrutable personality.

When the electric motor revved and the contraption took off, I learned about an entirely different form of flight.