Posted in Book Reviews, Books, Uncategorized

When In Doubt, Read More Books

So exactly one month ago, I moaned extensively about how all art lately has been making me sad. (Read it here if you can stand it.) Since then I’ve been taking my favorite cure–reading fiction. I asked for a bunch of books for Christmas, and I’ve been burning through them, reading every night. And I’m pleased to say, they’ve made me feel a whole bunch better.

So here’s what I’ve finished since January 2, 2018:

The Princess Bride by William Goldman

I’ve loved this book since I was a teenager. I read it years before the movie came out. That first time, all I really engaged was the story inside the story, Westley and Buttercup. I read it again as a grad student and was all about the postmodern narrative and how the fantasy story reflects the story of Goldman the writer as a character–much equating of Buttercup and the starlet in the pool. Now as a middle-aged writer myself facing all those same doubts, that’s the story I see. And it’s still great. I wish he’d never bothered with all the Buttercup’s Baby stuff, but that’s not up to me. It’s an evolving story, and it’s completely his.

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

It is precisely what it reads on the cover–a very readable retelling of the high points of Norse mythology from the guy who wrote Stardust and American Gods (and many many other awesome written things). These ancient stories are told with intelligence and a whimsically twisted humor that should feel very familiar to anybody steeped in contemporary pop, goth, and geek culture. But while the tone feels current, the scale of the stories is still epic; it’s not hipster-lite mythology. I’m no scholar of the great sagas, but I would bet he gets the details right–that’s certainly the way it feels. Because these are myths, the characters are archetypes, but they’re all very specific and well-drawn–I rarely found myself referring to the glossary of names at the back; I usually remembered everyone once they were mentioned. I can’t say I particularly identified with them or felt any great emotional connection to them, but I enjoyed their tales very much. I read the whole book in a weekend. I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in Norse culture, especially young readers. Yeah, there’s some crazy, perverted stuff that goes on, but it’s all told in a matter-of-fact, humorous style that should keep any interested middle-schooler from being scarred for life.

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

This one was so wrenching, I actually put it down halfway through, meaning to take a break from it, but I couldn’t. I ended up reading the second half straight through and ended up a soggy, emotional wreck–and a huge Jesmyn Ward fan. The best, truest, most heart-wrenching, most horrifying ghost story I’ve ever read. Deserving of all its awards, including last year’s National Book Award for best fiction book. But I was afraid I would have to spend the next month reading nothing stronger than Winnie the Pooh stories just to recover.

Leia, Princess of Alderaan by Claudia Gray

This was the first YA book I’ve read in a long time, and it’s a good one. Gray’s version of Leia at 16 is strong, smart, and winning while being both a realistic teenager and true to the character I know and love from the movies. And I was surprised by how exciting the plot was–this is no standard feisty princess tale; it’s a tense and well-paced Star Wars adventure. I would recommend it to young adults new to Leia’s story but also to older fans like me who have loved her since A New Hope.

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

This is the easiest, most purely pleasurable reading experience I’ve had in quite a while, and I read a lot. The shorthand synopsis is that it’s a modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice, and it very much is. If you’re familiar with Austen’s famous novel, one of the pleasures of this book is seeing all the clever, twisty ways Sittenfeld has worked all the sparkling facets of the original into this new version. But even readers who have never touched eyes to Austen and wouldn’t on a bet will enjoy this story. Witty without ever being mean, hilarious without ever being stupid, and romantic without ever being schmaltzy, this is the modern woman’s romance for readers who loathe “chick lit.”

So that was my January. Right now I’m reading back and forth between The Briar King by Greg Keyes and Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff–two great tastes that so far taste great together. And I also proofread an extremely fab anthology as part of my editing gig that I look forward to telling you all about when it releases. In the meantime, go to the bookstore. It really, really helps.

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Posted in Editing, Writing process

Protect Your Through Line. Be Batman.

My fiction writing teacher in college told us there are only two kinds of stories: character stories and situation stories. In a character story, the protagonist evolves over the course of the action from one thing into another—The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Rocky, and “The Ugly Duckling” are all character stories. In situation stories, the protagonist(s) is/are dropped into a negative situation, and the action of the story is how she or he or they deals/deal with it—Moby Dick, Twelve Years a Slave, and Night of the Living Dead are all situation stories. Most stories have some crossover back and forth—the hero of a character story evolves by dealing with a series of situations; the poor saps in a situation story might well be changed forever by their harrowing experience. But the spine of the story is one or the other; the reason the story exists is to demonstrate either how this person evolves or how this person or these people get out of the mess they’re in.

My fiction writing teacher in college was wrong about a lot of stuff, but I think in this case, he was right on the money because what he’s actually talking about is a through line, and every good story has one. The greatest hook, the most interesting characters, the most mind-blowing world-building fiction has ever known won’t save a story that wanders all over the place and takes forever to figure out what it’s trying to say or, worse, never seems to figure it out at all. Yes, you need to grab the reader’s attention; yes, you need to show them something they haven’t seen before or haven’t seen in quite that way before. But more important than all of that, you have to give them something to hold on to at the very beginning that they can keep clutched in their fist all the way to the end. They have to know what or whom to root for and why. Otherwise, they are just not going to care.

From my reading, I would say the biggest and most common problem talented and hardworking new and indie writers have is their through line–either not knowing what their through line is or not making it plain to the reader early enough to do them any good or not following it through to the end. This is the single most common reason why they aren’t getting paid for the stuff they’ve worked so hard to write, why they aren’t getting accepted by publishers, why the stuff they publish themselves isn’t selling. (Untalented and lazy new and indie writers don’t sell because they suck.) And it feels really complicated; it feels like a hard fix—I actually had to look up the definition of through line before I started this because it’s such a vague and floofy concept. But you can train yourself to recognize the through line in other stories pretty easily, and once you’ve done that, it becomes easier to find your own.

So how do you find it? Step one: is it a character story or a situation story? Step two for a character story: how does the character evolve? Who are they in the beginning? Who are they in the end? How do the different things that happen in the story change them from that first thing into that second thing? Step two for a situation story: what’s the problem? How do they fix it? At first glance, the situation story looks simplest, and it can be—there’s a reason why murder mysteries and Godzilla movies never go out of style. But a good situation story can be incredibly artful and complex, and a good character story can be packed front to back with action. Every origin story about every superhero ever written is a character story—mayhem does indeed ensue, but only so Superhero can deal with it and thereby become the Superhero she or he is meant to be.

Actually, the best example I can think of to demonstrate what I’m talking about is the trilogy of Batman movies written by Christopher Nolan, Batman Begins (2005), The Dark Knight (2008), and The Dark Knight Rises (2012). Because they are action movies about a superhero, they might all three seem like situation stories. But in fact, both Batman Begins and  The Dark Knight Rises are very much character stories that exist primarily to show the evolution of the character of their protagonist. In Batman Begins, every incident that occurs leads Bruce Wayne further down the path to becoming Batman. It’s not a single situation to be managed but a series: Escape the audience of an opera about bats; survive the mugging; try and fail to make a new life as an orphan; try and fail to get revenge on his parents’ killer; go off to Asia to feeeeeeel something; take the blue flower to the top of the mountain; etc., etc., etc.—this is why haters like me think this movie takes foreeeeeeeeeever to get started, but in fact, it’s a very carefully and deliberately crafted character story that begins with Bruce Wayne as a child and ends when Batman saves the day and becomes a superhero in the imagination of Gotham City.  The Dark Knight Rises is almost the same story in reverse. Batman begins the story as a feared and hated public figure and through a series of incidents that thwart his efforts to be a superhero at every turn evolves back into private citizen Bruce Wayne. Only The Dark Knight is a situation story—it’s Godzilla, and the Joker is the monster. It’s complex, beautifully crafted, and has amazing character work throughout, but the point, the spine, the through line is, the Joker appears, and Batman has to deal with him.

But what’s all this fannish movie commentary got to do with the writing we’re doing now? Picking the spine out of a story that’s already grossed a couple of billion dollars is easy because that story already exists; how do we apply this mind trick to our own stuff? By doing it in the second draft. Every how-to book on fiction writing in the universe will tell you every story starts with a “what if?” Your first draft is for exploring that, following it down all the dark alleys and squiggly forest paths, spending half a chapter inside the head of the villain “remembering” childhood abuse, getting to know the characters, finding out shocking secrets you never dreamed they had when you started, letting them lead you along, letting the incidents lead you along, cause and effect. Your first draft is an organic, growing, evolving, mutating monster, and it’s your precious baby, and you love it, and you should, every little morsel of it. But in the second draft, after you’ve put that baby away long enough to forget just how hard it was to make, that’s when you find that spine, that through line. That’s when you look for evolution in your main character and look at the situations they survive and decide which one is more important for your story—what does your story spend more time and energy pursuing? Where do you start? Where do you end? What exactly are you trying to say? Are you all about your character, or is it all about the situation? Define that through line. (And by the way, if this story is part of a series, you have to do this for every single installment. Telling yourself it will all make sense by Volume 3 is the primrose path to disaster.)

Then comes the REALLY hard part. You have to jettison every single freakin’ thing that does not serve that through line. ALL OF IT. If you start out with an aaaaaaa-maaaaaaa-zing action hook about two kickass characters who create the MacGuffin then disappear for the rest of the story, guess what? They’re outta here! And if you finally figured out in Chapter 9 that the protagonist is really a werewolf trying to find a cure, guess what? Chapter 9 just became Chapter 1 – or at least some elements of it have got to be moved to the front. Again, if I had to pick one problem that I see over and over again, that would be it—stories that start in the wrong place or wander off across cool but pointless pastures of narrative in the middle. And it’s all because the writer skipped that second draft. Before you start worrying about typos or commas or markets, you have got to deal with that. Find your through line. Polish it up, make it so shiny your reader can’t help but grab it and hold on to the end. Be Batman.

Posted in Movies, Pop Culture, TV

Don’t Mind Me, Y’all

Spoilers for Stranger Things Season One; Star Wars: The Last Jedi; and Game of Thrones. And Lord of the Rings if you still haven’t gotten around to seeing that one.

I realized last night I have blindly stumbled into a total asshole phase where I don’t like anything. I didn’t like the new Star Wars; I didn’t like Stranger Things Season One; I didn’t like the ending of the latest season of Game of Thrones (okay, I loved some things about it, but the overall place everybody was in when they left it made me sad and not in a wistful, angsty way but a frustrated, defeatist way). The last thing I really, really liked was Westworld. Here’s how bad it is, y’all – I’m re-reading the original William Goldman novel The Princess Bride, and all I can see is what I don’t like about it. And I adore that book; I have always adored that book. But now I find myself constantly thinking, “does Buttercup REALLY need to be THIS stupid for the adventure fantasy to work for him?” And I know it’s not the art; it’s me. I see the smart and sensitive people with the same tastes in story all around me loving this stuff; I see the looks of shocked incomprehension and, from the ones who actually give a crap what I think, disappointment on their faces when I say I don’t. And on the one hand, so what; it’s just TV and movies. But on the other, I feel myself losing that connection with people I love, and that IS important–and it makes me think that not liking this stuff is a symptom of something else.

One of the themes or plot points that has become really popular of late in science fiction and fantasy is a kind of existential defeatism played out against an enemy so powerful and so evil and so single-minded they can’t ever be vanquished, only managed for brief periods of blind joy and secret dread. I call it Borg Syndrome.

In Star Wars, even though we saw the big ewok barbecue at the end of Return of the Jedi and the fireworks over Coruscant, within the lifetime of the main characters, it all apparently went to shit–to paraphrase Don Henley, the rebels be rebels all over again; the First Order comes out of nowhere and takes control of everything and it’s like the big victory it took us three movies and almost a decade of avid movie-watching investment to achieve never happened at all. In Stranger Things, an evil lab under the auspices of the Department of Energy experiments on children, opens up a portal to another dimension and releases an apparently-mindless oogie-boogie without a face, and more children are tortured and devoured, and in the end, the good guys are just happy to have the one kid back and to hell with any accountability for the baddies who made it all happen because they’re just too powerful to be touched. The main evil scientist guy gets devoured, and that’s awesome, but the big machine rolls on–I know this; I’ve watched the first two episodes of Season Two. And in Game of Thrones, the king of the snow zombies has a zombie dragon that can take down the ultimate defenses of the good–wait, slightly-less-bad–guys in less than a minute, rendering pretty much everything we’ve seen over the course of seven seasons moot in favor of Night of the Living Dead, Medieval Fantasy Edition.

What the genuine fuck, y’all? Have we gotten so cynical and so saturated with antidepressants that we can’t even conceive of a happy ending that isn’t a sick joke, even in our most escapist fantasy? Are we making art designed to reassure us that there’s really no reason to get off the couch because we can’t accomplish anything real or lasting anyway? Am I just a wackadoo old person who’s ready to subsist on reruns of The Waltons on MeTV because I can’t handle the hard stuff any more?

I don’t think so. I keep thinking back to the end of Lord of the Rings. Frodo, with massive amounts of help from everybody else, saved Middle Earth from the darkness, but in the end, he was too broken, too damaged to live in the world he had saved. He had taken too much darkness inside to ever really purge it. So he sailed off into the west, and I bawled my eyes out, but it made sense to me; I loved it. Because his sacrifice mattered to the big picture–the rest of Middle Earth was saved for generations to come. (Yes, evil always comes back, but maybe not next week?) And broken as he was, he had a place to go. He had the self-awareness to know the rotten way he felt was not the necessary norm of hobbit psychology and the faith to know there was something left inside him that could still be healed in the west. Tolkien was a Christian and so am I, and I know that’s a big part of why that story feels right to me, and no, I don’t expect everybody else to buy in.

But I don’t see an atheistic adherence to reason and knowledge in the new fantasy or a celebration of the human spirit; far from it. Knowledge is deeply suspect or discounted or laughed at or ignored–evil scientists are evil; burn the Jedi texts and laugh; Samwell Tarly is a comic figure cleaning bedpans while the real heroes kill things and sleep with their relatives. And people, generally speaking, are either evil shitheels or stupid but nice. And the goals of the nice people are either assumed to be hopeless–like in Star Wars and part of Game of Thrones–or extend no further than their own nuclear family–like in Stranger Things and the other part of Game of Thrones. Our heroes are now either Sisyphus or Forrest Gump.

But again, maybe it’s just me. I’m not being cute when I say that; I’m absolutely serious. Maybe the one who’s having a hard time believing in the light these days is me; maybe the one who sees herself and her fellow humans as either evil or stupid is me. And if that’s the case, I’m sorry; please feel free to ignore me. I promise I’ll be better soon.

PS: Westworld rocks, and one reason is, the people being exploited ARE smart and DO make a change to their world, even though they are literally programmed into a Sisyphean loop. No wonder I loved it so much.

PPS: The Princess Bride is sexist as hell because William Goldman is a hellacious sexist. He’s also completely brilliant and so is his book.

 

Posted in Appearances, Books, Other People's Awesome

Charlotte Writers’ Fair 2017

writers fair 1Hey Kittens – guess where I’ll be on Small Business Saturday? Meeting readers and trading witty banter with other writers and hopefully selling lots and lots of awesome print books just in time for Christmas. The Charlotte Writers’ Fair is the bouncing baby brain child of writer and publisher John Hartness, author of the amazing Bubba the Monster Hunter and Quincy Harker, Demon Hunter series (eseses) and chief executive thunder god of Falstaff Books. We’ll be filling the lobby of Theatre Charlotte with Carolina authors and their books, plus art from local artist and author Davey Beauchamp. Come hang out with us and find cool reading gifts for all the people you actually like! Romance, horror, fantasy, science fiction, action adventure, steampunk, mystery, lions, tigers, bears–something perfect for everybody on your list and at least a couple of more-than-perfect somethings just for you.

Other writers scheduled to attend:

Alexandra Christian, Tally Johnson, John Hartness, Nicole Givens Kurtz, Melissa McArthur, Susan Roddey, Misty Massey, Crymsyn Hart, Jason Gilbert, Darin Kennedy, Jim McDonald, Stuart Jaffe, Nancy Northcott, Faith Hunter, Tonia Brown, Edward McKeown, A.J. Hartley, Matthew Saunders, Samantha Bryant

I’ll have spiffy new paperbacks of these two lovelies:

last winter knight for print.jpgUntil Death 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Plus a limited selection of paperbacks from the Bound in Darkness series. Come see us!

Posted in Books, Editing, Publishing, Writing process

Lucy Blue Edits!

librarianLooking through my bills for last month, it suddenly occurred to me that I really, really missed freelance fiction editing. For anyone who’s interested, here’s what I charge and how I do it and why I think I’m qualified:

Proofreading: $0.005/word ($250 for a 50,000-word novel; $50 for a 10,000-word short story)

I’ll read for typographical errors, spelling mistakes, punctuation errors, and minor formatting problems. I won’t correct grammar, word choice, passive voice, continuity errors, or make any suggestions as to content. If I think your manuscript needs more than a proofread, I’ll let you know after the initial read (see below), and you can decide if you want me to go forward and how.

Copy Editing: $0.01/word ($500 for a 50,000-word novel; $100 for a 10,000-word short story)

In addition to proofreading (see above), I will also read for problems with grammar, word choice, and continuity and mark corrections. I won’t make any suggestions as to content such as plot, characterization, pacing, etc. If I think your manuscript needs more than a copy edit, I’ll let you know after the initial read (see below) and tell you why, and you can decide if you want me to go forward and how.

Substantive Editing: $0.02/word ($1000 for a 50,000-word novel; $200 for a 10,000-word short story)

In addition to copy editing your manuscript (see above), I will point out any problems I see with plot, characterization, pacing, etc., and make specific suggestions for rewrites. As part of the substantive edit, I might also engage you in a developmental dialogue to help you refocus or sharpen aspects of your story that don’t grab the reader. I will also read at least one rewrite if you choose to do one at my suggestion at no additional charge. All substantive edits will also come with a full evaluation of the manuscript—what I loved, what I didn’t love, and any thoughts I have about potential markets and your work going forward.

Initial Read: First 10 pages only; no charge

Regardless of what level of editing you want, I will do an initial read of the first ten pages (2500 words) of your manuscript and let you know: 1)if I think I can help you; and 2)what level of editing I think your manuscript needs.  I reserve the right to refuse any job that I think is beyond me, for whatever reason. Manuscript evaluation is subjective; if I don’t think I can help you make your book or story better, I won’t take your money. But if I tell you I think you need a substantive edit and you tell me, um, no thanks, I’m just looking for a proofread, I will absolutely do a proofread.

So what do I know anyway? Credentials:

I’ve been a paid, professional fiction writer since 1998. I’ve published novels with two major publishers (Berkley/Penguin and Pocket Books/Simon & Schuster) and novels and anthologized short stories with three independent publishers (Purple Sword Publications, Mocha Memoirs Press, and Falstaff Books) in addition to running a micro-press, Little Red Hen Romance, with my sister, author Alexandra Christian. In doing so, I have gone through the editorial process as a writer with many different editors with many different styles, and I know just how painful a bad edit can be—and how much a good one can help bring a story to life.

I have an M.A. in English from Winthrop University, and I’ve taught English composition at Winthrop and at York Technical College. I was the fiction editor of Winthrop’s literary magazine my senior year as an undergraduate, and I have been doing freelance editing off and on for the past three years for small presses and self-published authors.

Nuts and Bolts:

Once we decide I can help and what kind of help you want from me, I’ll send you an invoice for the full amount of my fee based on your word count. I’ll need at least half of the fee paid to me through PayPal at lucybluecastle@gmail.com before I start work.

All manuscripts will need to be submitted in Microsoft Word. I hate Microsoft, too, and I’m sure all those other software suites are charming beyond all measure, but I want to spend my time as your editor editing your art, not wrestling with your software. Any manuscripts submitted in anything but Word will be returned unread.

To get started, email me your manuscript as a Word attachment to lucybluecastle@gmail.com. In your cover email, give me your name and your snail mail address and tell me a little bit about your manuscript—genre, etc. This isn’t a query for a publisher; I just want to know what to expect when I read your first 10 pages. I only plan to do a handful of manuscripts every month, so if I’m swamped, I’ll let you know.

Final thought:

I can’t promise that if you hire me, you’ll get published, no matter how much I might love your book. But I do promise to do everything I can to make it the best book it can possibly be.

Posted in Books, Horror, Other People's Awesome

Dusk Warriors – New Vamps from Emerian Rich!

One of the great things about having a network of brilliant author friends is having people to provide brilliant content for your blog. Author and goth culture goddess Emerian Rich is taking over today to give us an excerpt from her new release, Dusk Warriors:

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dwbook3d2Lucy was kind enough to let me share an excerpt from my new book Dusk’s Warriors. What about a good old vampire hunt?

 

Excerpt from Dusk’s Warriors:

“Let me buy you a drink for helping me find my way.”

She considered as he read her mind. I got work in the morning and already dealt with one imbecile who thought he could have his way with me.

Julien looked into her eyes. His intent? Making her say yes. She was a tough one. Just like Jespa.

“All right,” she said. “But only if we go to that place.” She pointed across the street to another bar. It wasn’t as dark and the music wasn’t as hard, but Julien could see possibility.

“As you wish.”

They were the only patrons in the run-down club. Approaching the bar, he placed a crisp bill on the wooden bar top.

“Two glasses of red wine.”

“I can’t break a bill that large.” The bar keep wore a faded black concert T and looked like he hadn’t showered in a week.

“Then give us the bottle.”

“Mister, I still can’t break a bill this large.”

“I don’t want change.” The edge in Julien’s voice told the guy not to question him again. Julien took a deep breath before returning to the girl.

She glanced tentatively at the door and then at him as she fidgeted with her boot lace. He’s hot, but all he sees me as is an easy lay.

Or an easy drink. Julien snickered to himself.

“What’s so funny?” she asked.

Julien hadn’t meant to laugh aloud, but it didn’t matter. He would charm his way through it as he always did.

“You remind me of someone.”

“Oh, yeah? Gonna tell me who?”

“Someone I loved.” He looked into her eyes, attempting to wield his hypnotic power over her. He put his hand over hers on the table. Despite her strong will, the girl seemed to melt.

The barman brought over a bottle of cheap wine and two chilled glasses.

“We don’t have an ice bucket or anything.”

“It’s fine,” Julien said through clenched teeth, striving to keep the girl’s attention. Her will bent, but the barman’s voice pulled her out of the trance.

“You all right, hon?” the barkeep asked.

The girl looked unsure, blinking as she looked from the keep to Julien.

“She’s fine.” Julien spoke in controlled anger.

“Look, friend, I’d like to hear it from her,” the keep said.

“I’m fine,” the girl echoed.

“I just thought…”

“Step away from the table,” Julien said through clenched teeth. He rose, barely able to control his anger.

“I don’t want no trouble.”

“Then leave, and you won’t have any.”

The barkeep seemed frozen in his spot.

“Pardon me for a moment,” Julien said to the girl and walked the unwilling barkeep to a store room in the back of the bar.

As soon as the storeroom door closed, Julien’s forearm pressed against the keep’s throat.

“You should learn to mind your own business.”

The keep choked, coughing and panting as Julien pressed on his windpipe. Unable to control his anger or his thirst, Julien sunk his fangs into the keep’s neck before he knew what he was doing. As the blood flowed over his teeth and down his throat, Julien lost all concept of reality. His fangs ripped and tore at the man’s neck, turning him into a worthless corpse. The keep fell to the floor and Julien’s vision cleared.

dwBAR

Dusk’s Warriors by Emerian Rich

 

Heaven has opened up and welcomed the vampires of Night’s Knights into a new reality. As they struggle to find their place in their new world, trouble brews on Earth.

 

Demon servant, Ridge, is causing havoc by gathering up all the souls on Earth that have been touched by immortality. When he injures one of the Night’s Knights crew, he launches a war between the vampires of Heaven, the Big Bad in Hell, and a mortal street gang of vigilante misfits.

 

Will Julien, Markham, and Reidar be able to defeat the evil that’s returned, or will they once again need Jespa’s help?

 

Praise for Dusk’s Warriors:

“All hail, the queen of Night’s Knights has returned! Emerian Rich’s unique take on vampires delights my black little heart.” ~Dan Shaurette, Lilith’s Love

 

“A world of horror with realistic characters in a fast paced thriller you won’t be able to put down.”

~David Watson, The All Night Library

 

Praise for Night’s Knights:

“Fresh, original, and thoroughly entertaining.” ~Mark Eller, Traitor

 

“Emerian brought the Vampire Novel back from the dead.” ~C. E. Dorsett, Shine Like Thunder

 

Available now at Amazon.com in print and eBook

 

https://www.amazon.com/Dusks-Warriors-Nights-Knights-Vampire/dp/1544628803

emz1smallEmerian Rich is an artist, horror host, and author of the vampire series, Night’s Knights. She is the hostess of the internationally acclaimed podcast, HorrorAddicts.net. Under the name Emmy Z. Madrigal, she writes the musical romance series, Sweet Dreams and she’s the Editorial Director for the Bay Area magazine, SEARCH. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and son.

 

 

Posted in Books, Fairy Tale Romance, Free Reads, historical romance, Medieval Romance, Paranormal romance, Witch Romance, Works-in-Progress

The Viking and the Witch – Chapter Seven

Two days into the voyage, the girl fell ill from her wounds. By late afternoon, she had fallen into a delirious stupor, and by nightfall, she was completely unconscious. Asmund’s men said nothing, but he caught them exchanging glances. He knew they hadn’t forgotten Stian’s warning that Maeve was a witch. If she had been any ordinary captive, he would have tossed her overboard before her death attracted evil spirits. But she had saved him. Even if he hadn’t developed a fondness for her, he couldn’t let her die.

Most of the women and children they had taken from the village were on a separate cargo ship, but a few had asked to stay close to Maeve, and he had allowed it. “You,” he said, pointing to the one who had told him where to find the hidden village children. “What is your name?”

“I am Luna.” She had two small sons, strong boys who met his eyes without fear.

“Come here.” He motioned her over to where Maeve lay glassy-eyed and still under a heavy fur. “Do you know how to help her?”

“Lady Maeve is the healer,” Luna said. “Better than her stupid mother ever was.” She looked at him shrewdly. “Didn’t she heal you?”

“Do something,” he said. “Why won’t she wake?”

“She burns.” She pulled back the fur and pulled up Maeve’s tunic to expose the shallow slash on her belly. He expected to find it red and festering with pus, but it was clean and looked nearly healed.

“Where else is she hurt?” he asked.

“Nowhere else, great prince,” the woman said. “I dressed her wounds myself.”

“Then why has she fallen into such a fever?” he demanded. “Why is she dying?”

“Because she has chosen to die.” Luna pulled the fur back over Maeve and made a sign of blessing or worship over her heart, folding her hands as if in prayer. “She is a child of the goddess.”

“She is a woman, just like you,” Asmund said. “Her mother was nothing more than a savage slut who doomed her own people for a trickster’s kisses.”

“Aye, she was that,” Luna said with a wry smile. “She was also the most powerful sorceress in seven generations.” She bathed Maeve’s face with cold water from the sea, and the girl stirred, but she didn’t wake. “She made this one in the spring ritual in consort with the dragon god.” She laughed, but it wasn’t a happy sound. “I should know. My husband was her dragon.”

“Your rituals mean nothing,” Asmund said. He refused to believe that Maeve would simply decide to die and do it or that she even could. “Superstition.”

“Is it?” Luna said. “Then how is it you live?” He had no answer, and she smiled. “My husband loved Lady Maeve like a daughter, though he could never say it, not even to her.” She folded one of Maeve’s hands between her own. “He was one of you, you know—a Viking. He fell ill on his first raid when he was still just a boy. His people—your people—left him behind, and the dead queen’s mother took him in.”

“So Maeve is of Viking blood?” Asmund said.

“Yes, if that means anything to you,” Luna said. “Maybe that’s why she saved you.”

“So wake her,” Asmund said.

“I cannot,” Luna said. “If she has chosen to join the goddess, no soul on earth can compel her to return.” He saw pity in the woman’s eyes. “Let her go, great prince. She has saved you. What else can you want with her now?”

He yanked her to her feet. “Take her to the cargo ship; take all of them,” he said, shoving her at his brother. “She knows nothing.”

“Asmund, let them take the girl with them,” Hagen said, dropping his voice so the others might not hear. “Let her die with her own people.”

“She isn’t going to die,” Asmund said. “Just take the others away.”

The sea was calm, an endless plain of green glass all around them. He carried Maeve to the dragon’s head prow of the longship and settled himself there with the girl in his arms. For the rest of the day and into the night, his men avoided him, and he understood why. They thought he was reliving the terrible days after his wife had died. He had locked himself away in an empty house with her corpse until the king himself had come and ordered him to come out. But this was different. When Astrid had died, he had blamed the gods for taking her from him before her time. He had stood over her body and demanded that her soul be allowed to return, not so much for his sake but for the infant son who needed her. But of course the gods had said no, and in time, he had come to accept their wisdom.

But this was his fault. Maeve had saved him not just from death but from an eternity of wandering in a frozen hell. Tiny and fragile as she was, she had fought a fire demon for his life and won. And he had repaid her kindness by abandoning her and her people to a pig like Stian.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered. She was tucked against him like a child with her face cradled against his throat. Her skin was burning hot, and her breathing was shallow and slow. He pressed a kiss to her forehead. “I’m so sorry, little Maeve,” he repeated in her own language. “Please come back.”

******

In her fever dream, Maeve wandered in a forest. The trees were taller than any she had ever seen with thick, black trunks and deep green needles. It was spring, and the air smelled clean and sweet. Fallen needles made a soft carpet under her bare feet, and a warm breeze ruffled her hair. Tiny blue and white flowers peeped out from the bracken like the memory of snow. She felt peaceful but not contented. She was sad because she was alone.

The white vixen she had seen in her vision before slipped out of a thicket and crossed her path. “Wait,” she said, hurrying to follow. The fox was running through the underbrush, and Maeve stumbled and almost fell as she tried to keep up. “Wait for me.” In her heart she knew the vixen was the Goddess and that she would lead her to her mother, lead her home.

Suddenly the trees opened up on a vast green plain. She recognized this place. In her first vision, she had stood on the cliffs above it and seen it white with snow. She had seen the little village in the distance and a woman and child being chased by a pack of wolves. But now the scene was warm and peaceful, a lush green field covered with wildflowers that nodded in the wind. The vixen had stopped in the shadows of the forest and sat back on her haunches, waiting.

“What is this place?” Maeve asked her. “Why have you brought me here?”

Suddenly she heard a man’s voice calling her name like an echo on the wind. Turning, she could just make out a figure on the far side of the field. It was the Viking, Asmund, and he was looking for her. Tears stung her eyes, and her fists clenched with rage. But something in his voice touched her, angry as she was. “I’m sorry,” she heard him calling. “Please come back.”

The vixen stood up and turned back toward the forest. “Wait,” Maeve said. The Goddess paused and looked back at her, one foot poised. The choice being offered was clear. She could go back into the forest and follow the vixen to her realm. She would see her mother again and Vivian; she would grow in power and prepare for rebirth. Or she could go to Asmund.

“Why do I have to decide? You’re the Goddess; show me what I must do.” One the wind she heard Asmund calling again and a sigh like a woman’s laughter. But the vixen didn’t move.

She turned away from the forest shadows and ran out into the light.

******

Asmund had dozed off, and he woke when he felt Maeve stir in his arms. She opened her eyes and smiled at him. Her cheeks and lips were pink again, and her eyes were clear. “Maeve?” He cradled her cheek in his hand and bent as if to kiss her.

“No.” She pushed his hand away.

“All right.” If she would live, he could wait. He settled her back to the pallet beside him. “Just rest then.” She closed her eyes and slept.

 

 

**********

 

 

Days later, Maeve stood at the bow of the cargo ship as it navigated between sharp, icy cliffs. In front of them, the dragon’s head carved into the prow of Asmund’s longship sliced through the swells, a sleek, black wyrm darting over the cold, green sea. Even at this distance, she could hear the Vikings singing and laughing as they rowed, and the sailors on the cargo ship were the same. They were almost home.

Luna’s two sons raced around her, chasing one another around the deck, and one of the Vikings laughed as he called to them to be careful. These men had treated their captives well, she had to admit, much better than she had expected. Some of the women of her village were already forming attachments, young ones and widows who hadn’t had any lovers to lose in the raid. In time she had no doubt that the people of the Goddess would be absorbed into this new tribe, and that was as it should be. If the Goddess had not willed it so, Asmund would not have saved them. But cold the Goddess even see them in this freezing, far-off place?

Luna brought a cloak and wrapped it around Maeve’s shoulders. “The men say we are almost there,” she said. “They already sing praises to their gods for delivering them safely.”

“They are brave men,” Maeve said. “Can you imagine having the courage to set sail across all that empty water with nothing but the stars and a needle in a bucket to guide you?”

Luna laughed. “I can’t imagine doing anything men do, my queen.”

“Don’t call me that,” Maeve said.

“If not you, then who?” Luna said.

“No one. You have a king now. We all do—Asmund’s father.” She could see the Viking’s silhouette in the blinding white sunlight. He was standing at the rudder of the longship, steering their course, fearless and certain. “He will do what he likes with us.”

“You saved your people, Lady Maeve,” Luna said. “If Prince Asmund didn’t care for you, he would have let the other dog have us, and we would all be dead. That was the old queen’s legacy.”

“Mind your tongue,” Maeve said. “She was my mother.”

“Aye, and she was a fool.” She put a hand to Maeve’s cheek, making tears come to her eyes. “Sing for us, my lady,” she said. “Remember us to the Goddess.”

Maeve had abandoned her prayers back in Britain, her prayers and her life and her hope. But she had changed her mind about living. And if she lived, she belonged to the Goddess.

“Sing with me.” She reached toward all the women on the deck, gathering them into a circle. They were so few compared to the tribe they had been, her heart ached to see it, but they would be enough. “We will sing a requiem for our dead,” she said. “And a prayer of thanks for this new homecoming.”

*****

On the longship, Asmund heard Maeve’s voice singing just as he had so many times back on the beach in Britain. He had grown to love the sound of it. But this song was so sad, he felt a lump rise in his throat. The other women raised their own voices to join hers, and even on the longship, all his men went quiet.

“Odin save us, brother,” Hagen said, smiling but turning pale. “What magic have we brought home?”