Sunday, October 25, 2020

The Haven books are now available in paperback!

 My first two published novels, The Sixth Discipline and its direct sequel No Safe Haven are now for sale as paperbacks.  Here are the new covers:




For some reason, Amazon put  The Sixth Discipline on sale for $11.99 even though the regular price is $14.99 If you have any interest in the paperback, get it ow befor the change their minds. 

Friday, October 16, 2020

New covers and a new format for the Haven books

The first book I published was The Sixth Discipline, followed by the sequel No Safe Haven. Both are currently available only as ebooks. When I decided to also put them out in paperback, I bought new covers for them. Here's a teaser for the first one:


I am still hashing out the formats but I hope to have both books available in paperback soon, and I will re-issue the ebook versions with the new covers. 

Here's the teaser for No Safe Haven:



As you can see, I am emphasizing the romantic elements in these books. They are there, so might as well let people see that, 



Monday, September 28, 2020

Lots of irons in the fire: THREE upcoming releases!

Somehow I now have a total of three novels in various stages of production. They started as two books, but one was so long, I had to split it into two books.

My science fiction romance Worlds Apart will come out in the spring from Crimson Fox Publishing. The book is finished but has not been edited, and it does not yet have a release date. My editor will start work in January and the cover artist in February. It's a longish book, but it does fit as one volume. It takes place on two very different colony worlds (hence the title), one where the hero is born and raised, and one very different world where the heroine has lived most of her adult life. 

The Nameless World, however, was slightly more than twice as long as Worlds Apart, and I ended up creating two books from it: The North Edge of Nowhere and Oaths and Promises. The two-book series is far future science fiction, and is set in my ThreeCon universe. It will come out from my own Cracked Mirror Press. The two books are a little different in terms of subgenre, or at least in terms of categorization of the plot. The first one is pretty much a coming of age novel, as Darius, the protagonist, is seventeen when it starts and twenty when it ends. It does have a love story in it, but it occurs between two secondary characters. The second book picks up only a few months after the first one ends. A lot happens in book 2, but a good part of the story line could be called a romance, as Darius is old enough to be involved romantically and that relationship is complicated. This dichotomy might turn out to be a real marketing challenge but I am hoping readers will find The Nameless World Saga compelling enough not to worry about subgenre categorization.  

While you could read Oaths and Promises without reading The North Edge of Nowhere first, the story makes more sense when read in order. It's a lot like The Lord of the Rings, which is really one story published in three volumes.  

Worlds Apart has no cover, as yet, so I can't show anything for that book, but for a teaser here is the initial cover art for book 1 of The Nameless World Saga: The North Edge of Nowhere.


Hopefully this gives you a clue as to the genre and style of the story. It's set on a colony world that has not been rediscovered— not officially rediscovered—  by ThreeCon. If you have any comment to make on the cover art, please do so here! 

This book is likely to see publication well before Worlds Apart, but I don't plan to release it until Oaths and Promises is ready, too, because I don't think it's fair to make readers wait for the conclusion of the story.


Tuesday, September 22, 2020

BAG OF TRICKS has launched!

 My new fantasy romance Bag of Tricks has launched!  The cover was created by Najla Qamber, who also did the cover for Drifters. Here is the full cover for the paperback


The Kindle version is available on Amazon now. The paperback is for sale in online bookstores including Amazon and on Barnes and Noble.


Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Snippets from BAG OF TRICKS and TRIBES



From Chapter 2, where Alevline has stumbled over Zarek's campfire while fleeing from the evil Duke and his men.


He reached for the spit. “Would you like some rabbit?”

Her fingers itched to snatch the spit and devour the rabbit whole. “Yes, please.”

He cut the carcass off the spit onto a tin plate and divided the rabbit into three almost equal portions. He tossed one to the dog, who crunched the meat and bones as if he hadn’t eaten in weeks. The man took the second piece in his own calloused hand, then handed the plate with the third and largest portion to Aveline.

Recalling her supposed aristocratic background, Aveline forced herself to eat daintily, taking tiny bites as if she were having supper at the palace. The man watched her openly while he ate his own meal.

Aveline took better stock of the two of them. The man’s clothes—a tan leather waistcoat over a patched white linen shirt, gray homespun breeches, long gray stockings with black garters, and ankle-high boots, even the brass buckle on his belt—looked practical rather than fine. He seemed well fed but worn down, as if he worked hard for his bread.

The sword was the only thing that worried Aveline. A tradesman or a farmer might well be prosperous enough to own a donkey and a cart, but he would never carry a sword. The bow sticking out of one corner of the cart would be for hunting, the knife on his belt for eating and for work, but a sword was a weapon. Tradesmen didn’t carry curved-bladed swords that looked like something a pirate would have.

The dog licked his lips and lowered his enormous head to his paws. He gave off a hint of a scent Aveline recalled from climbing the crags behind her father’s farm. She noted the saddle-shaped patch of darker fur on his back. “Your dog is a wolf.”

“Only part, I think,” the man said, reaching down to rub the dog’s head. “Burden’s pedigree is a mystery, but some of it is written in the pattern of his fur and in his ears. And also in the ill-will that other dogs show to him.”

“And you also are a mystery,” Aveline said, before she had thought through the wisdom of commenting on his situation. “By your speech, you’re a southerner. What brings you and your donkey and your wolf-dog to Har?”

His grin showed he appreciated the irony of a young woman in a ragged court gown asking that question. “I’m on my way to the Temple of Fate, to fulfill a vow I made two years ago.”

So he was a pilgrim. Pilgrims of Fate wore no badge, just as Fate Himself had no other name. “What shall I call you, then, good pilgrim?”

“Zarek.”

“Zarek?” she repeated. “From what city or town?”

“Just Zarek.” He tossed his rabbit bones to the dog, who immediately began to crunch them. “It’s been years since I claimed a town or any town claimed me.”

Aveline sucked the last bit of meat from the rabbit’s leg bone and flung the remains of her meal to Burden, who snapped them up, having already finished what Zarek had given him. Exhaustion crept over Aveline. She had been walking for so long, and she was so tired. Curling up to sleep in front of the fire would be a welcome change from huddling in a mass of rotting leaves and pine needles. “I need to sleep now, Zarek of nowhere in particular.”

The man gave her a critical look. “You do, indeed. Fortunately, I have two blankets.”

Aveline took the proffered rectangle of gray wool with gratitude. Perhaps in the morning she could creep away with it as soon as the chance offered. Or if he left her alone long enough, she could reach her talisman bag and work a spell on him. It would pain her to use magic on such a kind stranger, but she had her mission to complete. Princess Inessa’s very life depended on her.

Aveline held in a sigh. She must have been close to the Crossroads by now. If she could reach it safely, she could ensorcell someone into helping her. So far she had been able to avoid the Duke’s soldiers, but they must have known the Princess would head for Drune.

She had only four more days. If she hadn’t reached Drune by then, she would have to restore the Princess to this world and hope for the best.






The start of Chapter One:

The scorpipede crawling up Hob’s foot tickled, which seemed odd for something so deadly. The boulder behind Hob warmed his back as he watched the insect’s dark red body undulate, rippling its skirt of silver filaments. The tickling sensation intensified. The scorpipede held its barbed tail high as it reached the peak formed by Hob’s sandal strap across his instep.

Hob debated moving his foot.  If he did it abruptly enough, the thing would almost certainly stab him with its venomous tail.  Hob’s death would be painful but quick, and Andre would probably never find his body.  He would think Hob had escaped him, and that would be a victory of sorts, even if Hob wasn’t alive to see it.

Hob lifted his head to stare out at the flat reddish-gray expanse of desert, broken only by an occasional cluster of white-flowered calla trees and the distant remnants of an old road. Here and there where the pavement was still intact, smooth puddles of water tempted Hob, vanishing when he turned his head. The deceptive shimmer in the air above the road told him the water was only a mirage. 

He had been walking for four days, and the mountains were nowhere in sight. He could sit here and die slowly, or jerk his foot and die quickly. Or he could keep walking and hope that he made it.

The scorpipede flowed down Hob’s sandal and onto the sand, still ruffling its filaments in its quest for survival. After several seconds, Hob could no longer distinguish the insect from the red-gray landscape. He didn’t know whether to be relieved or disappointed. He was a long way from anywhere. Probably he could have made it this far from Agra in a few hours if he’d had a skimmer. As it was, he had nothing but his own two feet—and even his feet weren’t much good with the damned manacle Andre had locked on his ankle after his first escape attempt.

Hob bent his right knee so that his ankle was close and studied the bright blue band. Its smooth seamless surface, a stark contrast to the bruised and scabbed-over skin around it, seemed to mock him. He had given up smashing the thing with a rock once it was clear he would break his ankle before he would break the manacle. He groaned as he stretched his leg out again. There seemed to be no position where he could hold his foot so that the plastic didn’t touch him, and anywhere it did throbbed with dull agony.

Hob tried to lick his cracked lips, but his mouth was too dry. He shut his eyes and thought about water. Cool, clear water. He let out another groan. Thinking about water only made him thirstier. He sighed and squinted at the sun, a bright golden ball still high in the cloudless blue-green Mariposan sky. Time to get moving. He had let the scorpipede go, so he had to keep walking.

He pulled himself to his feet, feeling the full heat of the sun on his shoulders as soon as he moved out of the meager shade of the dead mara tree, the only mara he had seen so far. He limped across the dry stream bed, keeping the road on his right, hearing no noise beyond his own footfalls and the stirring of a faint, hot breeze.

He had just started to replay the text of his favorite adventure story in his mind when an abrupt, distant sound interrupted his thoughts. He glanced around, surprised, and saw nothing. The noise grew, and he realized it was behind him. He turned and saw a small shape growing rapidly larger.

It was a plain gray skimmer, nothing like Andre’s flashy red model or the large traveling vehicles Hob had seen a few times in the last few days. It was headed north, following the old road, moving fast in spite of its small size. 

Hob sprinted as fast as he could run to the nearest calla tree. The gray skimmer was less than a hundred meters away when he ducked behind the calla. He pressed against the branchless bole, ignoring the sharp stench of its flowers and the prickles sticking into him, right through his pant legs. His heart raced. Had they seen him? He held his breath as the vehicle flew past at only a meter or two of altitude.
The skimmer looked not only small but battered, with a distinct bend in one of the struts. After it passed him, Hob drew in a deep breath, then let it out with a whoosh of relief.

A second later, the skimmer banked, turned back, and circled toward his calla tree. Hob scrambled to keep the tree between himself and the low-flying vehicle, tearing his pants on the spiny bristles as he maneuvered to stay on the opposite side of the bole. They must have seen him. Why else would they turn?

The skimmer hovered for a second, then set down between Hob’s tree and a cluster of large boulders. After a moment, the pilot’s door opened and someone in a blue shirt got out. Hob pulled back, his heart thumping in his chest. He wouldn’t let himself peek again. No, no! He wouldn’t go back. He couldn’t go back.

“Anyone there?” 

It was a woman’s voice. She sounded unsure but hardly fearful.

The muffled thud of footsteps on sand came closer. “Is anyone there?”

Hob held his breath. What could he do? Even if she didn’t try to make him go back to Agra, she would likely tell someone she had seen him. On the other hand, she had a skimmer. If he could get to the skimmer first, he could get out of the desert. He had to get to her vehicle before she did—no matter what it took.

Hob gathered his strength and let his need take over. He lunged from behind the calla tree, straight at the woman. She was closer than he had expected, and she swung a weapon at him. A sharp pain stabbed Hob’s right shoulder as he jumped at her, but his desperation made him keep going. He knocked the pistol out of her hand and grappled her to the ground.

They rolled back and forth. Hob knew some slave quarter tricks, but none of them helped. Her fists punched him; her hands clamped his wrists; her feet kicked his legs. Hob dodged as her knee came up at his groin. Finally, frantic, he managed to get his hands around her throat and started to choke her. 
She croaked at him. “Look down!”

Just as he glanced down, he felt the tip of the small knife she had pressed against his heart, saw his own blood drip red onto her blue shirt.

He let go. It was over. He was a slave again. He could feel his eyes trying to tear up, but they were too dry to manage it.

When she pulled away he saw the tribal mark of two crossed swords on the side of her neck. Alone in the fucking desert and the only person to find him was a fucking Han-Lin! Whatever good luck he had had in his escape had evaporated like the morning dew in the calla flowers.

The Han-Lin retrieved her laser pistol and waved it at him. “Get up!”

****

For sale on Amazon and free in Kindle Unlimited.




BAG OF TRICKS — Cover reveal!

 My new fantasy romance Bag of Tricks will be released on Tuesday, September 22! The cover was created by Najla Qamber, who also did the cover for Drifters. Here is the full cover for the paperback


The Kindle version is available for pre-order on Amazon now. The paperback will be available on Amazon on September 22 or it can be pre-ordered on Barnes and Noble.


 

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

A Snippet from BAG OF TRICKS

 This is from the first chapter of my new fantasy romance Bag of Tricks, already available for pre-order on Kindle and releasing in paperback as well on September 22. This scene describes how Aveline meets Zarek, who becomes her companion on the road and an ally in her goal to rescue Princess Inessa. 

 

 ------------------------

Aveline inched through the trees, staying parallel to the road. The aroma of roasting rabbit nearly drove her wild, but caution made her move slowly. She ducked down to peer through a scraggly whortleberry bush.

A lone man sat beside a campfire, the leaping flames making an island of color in the growing sea of blackness. For just one second, Aveline thought he had a magician’s aura, but then she realized it was a trick of the firelight. At the man’s back stood a two-wheeled cart, a modest vehicle with slatted sides and an open back end.

Tied to a nearby tree, a dusty, dun-colored donkey flicked its tail as it grazed on a stand of bastard balm. Beside the man, a large gray dog lay with his muzzle on the man’s thigh. His eyes followed the man’s hand as it turned a spit on which a rabbit carcass sizzled.

“Almost ready now, boy.” The man scratched the animal’s head, then took a scrap of something from a pack that leaned against the cart and tossed it to the dog.

Aveline looked the two of them over. The man looked well past his youth as his black hair was streaked with white. His teeth showed white under the black mustache that matched his short beard and thick, short eyebrows. His eyes were deep-set in his scarred and sun-weathered face. A bend in his nose suggested he had been in a fight.

Beside him, the huge dog looked muscular and shaggy, both his long muzzle and his pricked-up ears made him appear more like a wolf  than a dog.

Aveline inhaled a deep breath, trying to use her gift to assess the man. What manner of man was this who spoke to his dog as a friend? She scented none of the sour smell of evil, the rank odor of violence. Weariness, bitterness even, but no venom.

She glanced around, still anxious about the possibility that the Duke’s men could issue forth from the woods. How should she appear? A transformation spell would weary her quickly and kill her if she kept it up it for long. But a trust spell could impose goodwill without harming this stranger. Aveline would offer the heart-shaped trust charm as a gift and mutter the spell while he held it. He would believe anything she said after that.

The dog lifted his head and stared right at Aveline. He knew she was there.

The man’s short, bushy eyebrows shot up. “What is it, Burden?”

Forced to act, Aveline pushed her way through the bushes, conscious of the tattered blue taffeta of her skirt, and the grubby brocade of her bodice. “Good evening to you, good sir. Might I share your fire?”

The man had jumped to his feet as soon as she moved, one hand reaching under the cart. When he came upright, his right hand held a sword. The weapon had a long, slightly curved blade and a plain but serviceable steel guard. He held the weapon out as he looked her up and down, surprise and wariness written on his face.

Aveline realized she had judged his age wrongly. His face might have been scarred and deeply tanned, but it was unlined. He couldn’t have been much more than twenty-five, thirty at the most. His hair had a single wide streak of white over one ear, but the rest of it was as black as jet.

Aveline tried to think as she patted her own brown hair where it had escaped the silver hairpins Inessa had given her. What story could account for a lone woman wearing a tattered court dress in the deep woods?

The sword point wavered as the man looked her over. “Who are you?”

Aveline sank into her best curtsy. “My name is Lady Aveline of Helg, and I’m quite lost.”

His eyes opened wide as he took in her black wool cloak, ragged, but lined in red silk, and her once dainty satin slippers, now filthy and shredded. “I should think so.” He lowered the sword and peered into the darkness behind her. “Are you alone, madam?”

Her heart lurched at having to admit the truth, but she had no choice. “Yes. Quite alone.”

He suddenly glanced down at the dog. The animal had risen when his master stood but had made no offensive move or even any sound. Instead, he held his head cocked as he studied Aveline. His tail moved in a tentative wag.

“Burden seems to trust you, at any rate.” The stranger picked up the scabbard and slid the sword into it. Aveline noted the thick curved ridge of a scar on his left cheek, and a longer rope-like scar that started below his right ear and disappeared into his collar. “Sit down and welcome, Lady Aveline of Helg.”

 

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Wakanreo, world without castes

One reason I enjoy setting my stories in fantasy worlds, or in the far future is that it lets me create the world itself-- not only the geography, but the culture. I especially like to try different dynamics as far as gender, sometimes making men and women equal and sometimes giving more power to one sex or the other. 


But when I created the Wakanreo trilogy that begins with Alien Bonds, I took my world building to a new level. The aliens known as Wakanreans are unique in my far future universe because they mate for life from a pure biological reaction. I was reminded of this recently when I was reading a couple of recent articles about the new Netflix show "Indian Matchmaking." I saw the first one in the Washington Post. It described how many Indian families still rely on old-style matchmakers who connect people looking for spouses. In fact, 90 percent of marriages in India are arranged, I found that statistic amazing. 

The thing is, when these marriages are arranged, they almost always result in couples from the same caste marrying, which reinforces India's strict caste system. Many countries have stratified levels of society based on wealth, occupation, and such, but India's system comes from the Hindu religion and not only assigns names to castes but treats the stratification as being justified by the will of their gods,

Then I saw a second article in my news feed; this one, from Al Jazeera was also about the same Netflix show but it mentioned that Indian Muslims practice arranged marriages and that they use them to also practice "classism, ethnocentrism, and colourism."  So, even though it wasn't part of their religion, these folks were relying on arranged marriages to maintain the same kind of stratification that a caste system imposes.

And of course, in the Western world, many people use online dating apps to screen prospective partners for compatibility, not only of temperament but also income, race, and looks, so I can't claim it's purely an Indian thing. 

Finding a life partner is a serious matter, Some people stay single from choice, some from despair after a bad relationship, and some because they're waiting for the right person to walk into their lives. In Alien Bonds, I created a society where every adult is either paired off  (or every now and then, in a permanent threesome) or waiting to be paired off, based on a reaction beyond his or her control. This system has advantages and disadvantages for individuals, but one side effect is, there are no castes, no aristocrats, no stratification of society.

 

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

A snippet from ALIEN BONDS

For Teaser Tuesday, here's a very brief snippet from ALIEN BONDS, book 1 of my Wakanreo trilogy:

The Wakanrean stood in front of her. He glared down at her, his face contorted into a scowl, his amber eyes glowing with contempt.
“I beg your pardon.” Dina tried to keep the quaver out of her voice. “Do I know you?”
He was so close, she could feel the heat from his body. Either that, or the room had gotten suddenly warmer. Dina felt herself flush from head to foot.
He didn’t answer, but all at once it was as if his anger was a physical thing, an invisible mass, pushing against her. She stepped backward, stumbled, and almost fell.
She reached for the mezzanine railing behind her, and in the same instant, the Wakanrean grabbed her arm.
Dina froze, utterly baffled. The orientation had said clearly that Wakanreans would always avoid touching a Terran, and yet here was one not only touching her, but holding her firmly by the arm and helping her to stand.
The orientation had also failed to warn her that a Wakanrean’s touch was so warm it almost burned. Dina could feel a flush of heat on her arm where his hand still gripped it. She stood straighter and looked into his face. He had typical Wakanrean features—an arched nose, large round eyes, a wide mouth.
His expression changed as she watched. His anger faded to confusion. He looked almost stunned. His nostrils still flared, but from the way his eyes had opened wide, Dina knew he was surprised rather than angry.
Neither of them had taken a step since he took hold of her arm. Dina swallowed once, conscious of discreet glances and overt stares from those around them.
“I’m all right,” she said finally, wondering if she was speaking the truth. The dizziness had passed, but she still felt lightheaded. “Thank you, but you can let go now.”
He loosened his grip but didn’t release her for a few seconds. When he did, he brushed her bare arm with the back of his hand. Dina was amazed when it sent shivers of anticipation up her spine.
“This is unexpected.” His wonderfully resonant voice had a rich, warm timbre to it that made Dina’s shivers change from anticipation to yearning.
“Yes,” she said, unsure of what he meant, but afraid to give offense.
“Where do you live?”
“I have an apartment in the off-world sector,” she said, wondering why she was answering him. She fought the urge to close her eyes and just listen to that wonderful voice.
“My house is in the cliffs outside the city. Let’s go there instead.”
“All right.”
It took Dina a moment to realize that she had agreed to go home with him.




Friday, May 22, 2020

Writing the future in uncertain times

In some ways, humans have always lived in perilous times. In the past, life spans were shorter because poor nutrition and disease killed many people well before old age got the chance to. Now, however, science, which enabled more crops, a better understanding of nutrition, and the development of antibiotics and other life-saving drugs, has also created the technology of rapid world-wide travel. The corona virus designated as COVID-19 has spread at an unprecedented speed to create what feels like an overnight global pandemic.


The resulting lock-down of society in an effort to slow the spread of the virus has threatened the world's economy and put countless people out of work. This is scary as hell for a lot of people, and it has highlighted the difference between jobs in the digital world, which can be done anywhere, and jobs in the physical world, which require a person to be present. It also illustrated the length of our supply chain. If people stop going to restaurants, it's not just restaurant owners and cooks and kitchen and wait staff who suffer, t's the suppliers who sell them food, and the truckers who transport it,and the farmers who grow it, and the people who sell the farmers seed and tractors and fertilizer. We are all more economically connected than we ever realized.

If you think about it, though, this kind of epic event also affects people who write stories set in the future. There is no way this pandemic won't have an impact on our history. Once reason I always set my science fiction stories a thousand years into the future (except for Turnabout) is I didn't feel comfortable predicting the shorter term future.

Look at George Orwell's 1984, or Arthur C. Clarke and his series that began with 2001:A Space Odyssey. Orwell only went forward 30-some years. Clarke used about the same time leap (but then the setting jumped forward with the next book, finally ending a thousand years into the future with 3001.). But both books have, of course, been proven wrong. Orwell's story has had an impact on our language and political discourse, but it didn't actually happen (although it is looking more likely every day that Donald Trump is in office). Arthur C. Clarke's story became a visually stunning movie as well as a novel but we went to the moon and did not find any alien artifacts.

In a thousand years there might not even be people anymore. Who knows how many pandemics are going to happen and what their impact will be? I will keep writing, but the future now seems more uncertain than ever.