Monday, December 30, 2013

One More Day - Anthology Release

I am very pleased to be a part of the blog tour for One More Day, a new anthology featuring seven tales, including "Stage Fright," by Erika Beebe, a fellow Rockhurst alumna and a very good friend of mine.  

As part of the blog tour, I received an advance copy.  This was a highly enjoyable collection of stories which represent the full spectrum of speculative fiction: paranormal, paranormal romance, high fantasy, science-fiction, fairy tale and horror.  The stories share two common threads: one is that each story is told from the point of view of a teenage protagonist.  The other is that each of the main characters experiences a moment in which they look around to find that the world around them has stopped-- that time has stopped.  The how and the why, of course, vary widely from author to author.  The apocalypse, time machines, computer programmers-in-training, an absent-minded scribe, and a memorable retelling of Sleeping Beauty are but a few of the takes offered up by this talented group of authors. 

Erika’s story, “Stage Fright,” (excerpted below), is the story of a small-town girl, Hannah, who has moved with her mother to the big city after the death of her father in Iraq.  Hannah is trying desperately to fit in.  She’s been cast in the lead of the musical her school is putting on, which you’d think would be a leg up with the popular girls.  But no.  If anything, it has drawn the ire of the head Mean Girl.  So one day, during a particularly stressful rehearsal, Hannah suddenly finds everyone frozen in place—everyone except her, and a mysterious boy straight out of the spreads in her teenage heartthrob magazines.  Has Hannah suffered a serious break from reality?  Or is there something fantastical at work here? 

I really appreciated Erika’s story in that, unlike a lot of paranormal fantasy/romances, it actually uses the genre as a vehicle to confront greater teenage issues, like dealing with the death of a parent, the struggles of the high school social order, and the pressure to succeed.    

“Stage Fright,” like all of the stories included in this volume, is refreshingly well-written.  Usually, when I come across a collection of stories, I invariably skip one or two that don’t hold my attention.  That was not the case with One More Day.  I found each story thoroughly engaging and entertaining.  While the plots themselves aren’t exactly original, I think they will serve as a fine entrĂ©e for the YA audience into the greater possibilities offered by the genre—possibilities beyond vampires, werewolves and tedious love triangles.  To that audience, I’m sure, these stories will seem very new (assuming that many tweens today haven’t seen old sci-fi shows that thoroughly mined the stop-time conceit like The Twilight Zone).  My only real complaint, in fact, is that I feel like these tales sort of burst at the seams—the authors have stories that shouldn’t be limited to a short story word count, but need room to sprawl and breathe.  I was left wanting more.  And that’s hardly a complaint. 
Aside from “Stage Fright,” my favorite stories of the bunch were L.S. Murphy’s “The 13th Month,” an exciting take on end-times and battles between angelic beings, Kimberly Kay’s “Sleepless Beauty,” a hilarious version of the old tale about the chick who pricks her finger, and Danielle E. Shipley’s “A Morrow More,” which definitely needs to be a book.  I look forward to checking out full-length works by these authors. 

By L.S. Murphy, Erika Beebe, Marissa Halvorson, Kimberly Kay,
J. Keller Ford, Danielle E. Shipley, and Anna Simpson

What if today never ends?  What if everything about life—everything anyone hoped to be, to do, to experience—never happens?  Whether sitting in a chair, driving down the road, in surgery, jumping off a cliff or flying ... that's where you’d be ... forever.

Unless ...

In One More Day, Erika Beebe, Marissa Halvorson, Kimberly Kay, J. Keller Ford, Danielle E. Shipley and Anna Simpson join L.S. Murphy to give us their twists, surprising us with answers to two big questions, all from the perspective of characters under the age of eighteen.

How do we restart time?  How do we make everything go back to normal?  The answers, in whatever the world—human, alien, medieval, fantasy or fairytale—could, maybe, happen today.  Right now.

What would you do if this happened ... to you?

Excerpt from “Stage Fright” by Erika Beebe in ONE MORE DAY!

They warned me about the stage. It stretched out long, black and ice-hard with a curve around the edge, and Mean Girl, one of the cast members, stood at the perfect angle, a little behind me off to the left, but where I couldn’t escape her sneer. 

"Do you remember the last time you danced on the lake, right before the blizzard in the spring?” my best friend Jess had asked the night before, in a long overdue FaceTime chat—the closest we’d come to seeing each other in months. “Feel the ice, and dance.”

I sucked in a huge breath of air and pictured that day in my hometown, instead of the stage; the sky overhead had darkened, the rolling clouds pushed by a wind so strong, it whipped my long dark hair around my face. I remembered braiding my hair quickly and pulling my green stocking hat down over my ears and forehead. After grabbing my skates, I’d slung them over my shoulder and walked to the edge of the frozen lake.

I can do this.

About Erika Beebe:

Inspired by her first grade teacher's belief in her imagination from the first story she ever wrote, Erika has been a storyteller ever since. A dreamer and an experiencer, she envisions the possibilities in life and writes to bring hope when sometimes the moment doesn’t always feel that way. 

Working in the field of public relations and communications for more than ten years, she has always been involved with writing, editing, and engaging others in public speaking.  

Her two young children help keep her creativity alive and the feeling of play in the forefront of her mind.

Connect with Erika:

Contact Links for Other Authors in One More Day:

Don’t forget to sign-up to take part in blog tour giveaways here.   

Friday, December 20, 2013

Indie authors on Scribd

Hey, fellow readers & writers.  There’s a new way to support indie authors.    

Smashwords announced yesterday that it has signed an agreement with Scribd, a subscription ebook service (think Netflix for ebooks).  Which means that indie authors will now be available to Scribd’s audience of 80 million people worldwide.  Authors will receive royalties for each read.  

It should be noted: there are other ebook subscription services out there, and they also carry indie books: 
  • Oyster – has some indie titles on a limited basis. 
  • Nokbok – a new service, which will be launching in early 2014.  They are all about indies. 
I couldn’t be more thrilled that these services are out there and gaining popularity.  There are a lot of novels out there that couldn’t find a niche in the traditional publishing arena that will now be able to find their audience.  Netflix has done so much for obscure, indie and foreign films, or even some films that, for whatever reason, didn’t do so great at the box office (think Shawshank Redemption). 

As a book reviewer, this will also make my job much easier in terms of seeking out and accessing new authors. 
Best of all, Smashwords authors get Scribd for free for the next year—I’m signing up today. 

You should too. 





Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Just Another Feminist Rant

So a friend of mine recently shared this TED Talk on Facebook. 

I watched.  I liked.  I shared.

And almost immediately, three of my friends (who are Star Wars geeks) had MELTDOWNS because Stokes is taking potshots at their cultural touchstone, their sacred cow, their holy grail of fandom.  “Who is this putz?” they demanded.  “How dare he say that Luke Skywalker isn’t a hero?  That Princess Leia isn’t awesome?  WHY ARE PEOPLE LETTING TV AND MOVIES PARENT THEIR CHILDREN IN THE FIRST PLACE?”

Whoa, there, little dogies.  This wasn’t about the evils of Star Wars specifically, and nobody said Luke Skywalker isn’t a hero.  I think we’re missing the larger point here, hmmmm?

First of all, while I do think Stokes downplayed Princess Leia’s toughness, I have to admit, I have never found her to be that compelling of a character.  Like Stokes’ daughter, I much prefer Obi Wan, or Yoda.  If you were to ask me to make a list of my top female fictional characters, I'm sure I would get around to Leia eventually, but she doesn't spring to mind immediately the way other examples of fictional female badassery do.   Like, say, Dorothy Gale.       

Some may argue that Star Wars is a product of its time, and therefore the Bechdel test shouldn’t apply.  I call bullshit.  It came out in 1977, well after women’s lib, a scant two years before Ellen Ripley would be the sole survivor of the Nostromo.  (Not to mention, 38 years after the other film Stokes is submitting for analysis.)  And you mean to say that in the entire galaxy there were only two women?  And they are both related to Luke Skywalker?  Really?  Which means that their entire import is not based on whether they’re tough or not, or whether or not they’re leadership material, but only insofar as how they are connected to the hero.  Seriously, the only other female characters in the whole damn franchise were some female Ewoks, and that poor chick who became Rancor-chow.  (In the original trilogy, I mean.)   Would it have been such a stretch to give us a woman flying one of those X-wing starfighters?  

Not passing the Bechdel test is a common and distressing trend that is not improving.  Stokes is not the first person I’ve heard point out in that past year that even now, so few films have female protagonists (only 11 of the top 100 last year).  It’s not just about including more women of substance in our stories, though that would certainly be nice, but it’s also about changing how we view men’s roles.   

Meanwhile, The Wizard of Oz centers around three strong female characters and romantic entanglements with men never even come up.  It teaches that gentleness, cooperation and intellect can be heroic, and that it’s not unmanly to follow a female lead.  

But Stokes’ greater point is not just what all this teaches girls—it’s what it teaches boys. 

Too many stories send boys the message that it’s best to go it alone; that being embroiled in conflict makes you a man.  Movies not passing the Bechdel test teach boys and girls alike that women are marginal—they are supporting characters at best, and their entire roles are defined by how they relate to and/or support men.  But we’re not marginal—we can’t be marginal when we make up half the fucking population.  But this misogyny cuts both ways-- it teaches boys that there’s always a princess waiting for him on the other side of battle, and if he fights hard enough, she’ll just fall into his arms.  Stokes is making the same point—we need to break out of the old gender roles and start thinking about what an equal society looks like, and how that affects our storytelling.  

It’s so easy to make a film about men that’s just about men—bands of brothers, royal courts, and even twelve angry men.   

When I was ten or eleven years old, I wrote a futuristic/post-apocalyptic story about a band of women soldiers.  I did that specifically because of the crying lack of female warriors in films and books.  It’s not so easy to make a meaningful film about just groups of women, because, historically, there were hardly any places where women could exist without men running the show.  In fact, I can really think of only two places: convents and brothels.  Madonnas and whores, in other words.  No wonder people continue to struggle with that dichotomy.  

As for using the media as a proxy for parenting, I’m pretty sure that isn’t what Stokes meant.  Maybe it’s just because I’m a writer, but I take it for granted, as Stokes seems to, that stories do shape who we are.  We get so up in arms about worrying whether or not the TV/video games/Internet are taking the place of parenting that we forget that at the core of all those mediums are stories.  No one sees anything wrong with Mother Goose.  All stories have power-- humble fairy tales and nursery rhymes, literary leviathans, or even Dora the Explorer.  It's the parent's job to provide context.  

My first ambition, after all, was to be a Jedi knight.  My mother (who is an engineer) wanted me to be a doctor.  The fact that I happened to be born with XX chromosomes never even entered into the equation.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

New cover art!

Is there anything more exciting than new book cover designs?  I think not! 

Check out the new covers for The Ice Dragon and The Winter Prince:

Just in time for the holidays!  Much thanks to Tatiana at Vila Design for the covers.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Zombies Anonymous

Happy Halloween!  In honor of the day, I thought I'd share with you an excerpt from my latest short story, "Zombies Anonymous":

When I get off work, I stop at the farm before I go home.  The chicken farmer knows me, is expecting me.  He has a beautiful bird set aside, ready to go in a cardboard container.  I pay him, a worn ten dollar bill.  Tell him to keep the change.

The chicken, a red hen, rides in the seat beside me.  The box has ventilation holes in the top, but otherwise, the bird can’t see out, so she is pretty docile for the twenty or so minutes it takes to get her home. 

I take the box out back and leave it on the patio table while I go inside.  I reemerge wearing one of those disposable plastic rain ponchos.  

The box thumps softly as I shift it towards me, open the top flaps.  The bird’s head pops up, gold eyes regarding me beadily.  When I reach in, she squawks and fights.  I hold her carefully, one hand around her neck, the other holding both feet together.  She continues to screech, beating at me with her auburn wings.

It hasn’t been daylight for a half hour yet.  I hold her like that, stretched between my hands for a moment in the watery morning sun.  Then I raise her to my face and bite, tearing into the breast with my blunt canines.  The bird shrieks, her claws digging into my palms.  Feathers fly everywhere.  They cling to my hands, sticky with blood.  In another second, she is still. 

When I’m finished, I hose the blood and feathers off the patio, sluicing them into the grass.  Then I strip off the poncho.  I pack it and the bones into a trash bag and set them out on the curb, next to the recycle bin. 

 * * * * *

The meetings are mandatory.  It’s just like from before, with gatherings in church basements and school gyms, a circle of fold-out chairs.  In the back of our meeting area, refreshments are laid out on a pair of folding tables: an assortment of raw meats and a carafe of blood.  Pig’s blood, usually.  I prefer cow. 

We even start with a prayer:

I am grateful that I am here and I am still me. 
I will not let my impulses define me, only my choices.
I ask for strength to weather adversity and change.
May grace and mercy reign over all my interactions
So that I may be an example to others,
Leading to peace and understanding between all mankind.

We all know each other here—most of us went through quarantine together, so there’s no need for anyone to stand up and go, “Hi, I’m Joe, and I’m a cannibal.” 
To read the rest, grab a copy of A World of Terror, an anthology of indie horror authors.  It's a FREE ebook on Smashwords.  Get it here

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

A World of Terror

My short story, "Zombies Anonymous," is included in A World of Terror, an e-book anthology of horror stories released just in time for Halloween.

Some Goodreads reader reviews:

"This is a thrilling showcase of writing talent that has something good and scary for every fan of horror."

"Sure to have something for every appetite."

All the ghouls, ghosts, vamps death and psychos you could want-- for FREE.  Get it here.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

On Negative Reviews

Recently, I had someone ask me why I gave a book one star.  (Translation: "Why are you so MEAN?")  The answer is because: two stars = "it was ok.”  One star = “I did not like it.” 

It was not ok.  I did not like it.  That is why I gave it one star.

A debate has been raging within the indie author community for some time about whether or not we should leave negative reviews on other authors.  Obviously, I am in the camp who thinks we should.  Negative reviews are actually helpful, for several reasons.  Here are my dos centavos on the subject:

1.  First and foremost, don't lie.  

C'mon, kids.  It's a basic ethical, moral, professional and even religious precept.  Why say a work is well-done when you don't think it is?  Who does that benefit?  It does not help my credibility as a reviewer, it does not help the author grow as a writer, and it does not help other readers who are checking out reviews to gain some insight into the book they're considering for download/purchase.

2.  "But if you can't say anything nice, isn't it better to not say anything at all?"

No.  This is a business.  If you're just reading for pleasure and don't want to finish a bad book, that's fine.  If you don’t have the time or the inclination to leave feedback, negative or otherwise, that’s also fine.  I'm a reviewer.  Frequently, I have committed to finishing a book and giving my opinion on it.  So I goddamn will.  You are free to disagree with me.  

It's nothing personal against the author.  I'm an author too, and I know how much time and hard work goes into writing a novel.  But, as an author, I'm also aware when a writer is inexperienced or cutting corners, and I'm not letting them slide by with that shit.  They have created a product that they are asking people to buy.  It’s as simple as that.  If the product is not quality, it behooves both producer and consumer to be aware of its shortcomings.    

3.  Nothing but four- and five-star reviews looks suspicious.

Authors, that person that just left you that one- or two-star review?  Actually just did you a favor.  They’re letting all the other potential book buyers know that somebody besides your mom read your damn book. 

When most of us click on a novel, especially an indie novel, and see that it’s gotten nothing but high ratings, it looks very fishy.  We think that only the friends and family of the author have read it.  Which is fine—we all have to start somewhere, and who better than the warm audience? 

But worse than that, if people see a slew of high ratings, they might think the author has purchased them.  It’s an unfortunate reality of the publishing world now that too many authors are willing to pay a marketing firm or a mercenary reviewer to flood their review section with praise. 

Negative reviews give authors credibility.  Period.

4.  Give positive reviews when they are warranted, and be thorough about it.  

I give positive reviews when I think they’re deserved, and I’m fucking exhaustive.  (Some may say, “long-winded.”)  The advantage to giving criticism along with the praise is that authors know that when I click five stars, I mean it.  I’m not some desperate indie out there looking to join the circle jerk, hoping that if I give everybody five stars, they’ll give me five stars in return.  Again, that’s not honest or helpful.  To see a negative review on an author’s page proves that someone beyond the author’s intimate circle has not only read his work, but is thinking about it.  It is provoking a response.  The way I see it, that’s a good thing.  That's what art is supposed to do-- provoke.  

5.  Reading reviews = smarter readers.

Yeah, I know, I know.  I write reviews, so this sounds self-serving.  But I’ve been reading reviews a hell of a lot longer than I’ve been writing them. 

Reading reviews has taught me how to read with discernment, to examine my own preferences.  I am continuously amazed by eagle-eyed reviewers who catch things that I don't, both good and bad, who give me a totally new perspective on a work that I might never have thought twice about. 
Reviews also give readers insight into whether or not they would like it.  For example, if I criticize an author for over-describing, you might read my review and say, “Hey, I like lots of description.”  

Or if I say, “I don’t like stories about werewolves,” others might go, “But I love them!” 
I know that I frequently disagree with reviews.  People practically think it's a badge of honor to disdain the opinions of professional/famous reviewers.  The point is not to blindly follow their (or my) advice, but to consider the work in question through the lens of their own experiences and predilections. 

6.  “Oh, yeah, Miss Smarty Pants?  I bet you cry when you get bad reviews on your work.”

Not anymore.  Have I had my share of negative reviews?  Absolutely.  I have been very fortunate, however, in that very few of my reviewers have been rude.  (So far . . .  Knock on wood.)  Most of the criticisms I have received have been perfectly valid and helpful to me as a writer.  

Throughout my life, I have had numerous teachers, editors, publishers, fellow writers and even friends and family, be very blunt with their feedback.  Have I had my feelings hurt?  Absolutely.  But I learned to push past the initial sting to see if their comments had merit.  I am grateful to all of them for making me better at what I do, and for helping me grow a thicker skin. 

Writing, or any kind of art for that matter, is no business for pussies.   

7.  Negative reviews vs. bad reviews.  There's a difference.

In my opinion, negative reviews demonstrate thoughtfulness on the part of the reader.  Bad reviews are just that—bad.  They say things like, “This book SUCKED!” or other hurtful/generally non-constructive things.  Because sometimes people are bullies, or just straight-up assholes.  Petty rivalries break out.  The Internet is frequently a cold and unforgiving place.    
Here's an extreme example of this.  It should be noted, however, that there's been a great deal of outcry over this type of behavior, and responsible readers/reviewers are calling for an end to BULLYING, not constructive criticism.  Because that shit is not acceptable. 
But when something like this happens, you know what?  Other readers get that.  Really, we do.  We’ll see bullying and bad reviews and just ignore them.  We get that “it sucked” is not insightful commentary.  Or, if your ex-girlfriend is telling us we shouldn’t buy your books because you’re a heartless, cheating bastard or whatever, we understand that that’s not necessarily a reflection of your writing. 

8.  Don’t get into flame wars.

It’s bad enough that we have good review circle jerks and people buying up five-star ratings.  Then you have the other side of the coin—authors getting into flame wars with each other, trying to discredit each other, wreck each other’s ratings and ultimately drive down sales. 

STOP IT.  You’re not helping yourselves, and you’re not helping authors in general.  It’s hard enough to be taken seriously as an indie author without devolving into that kind of bullshit.  If your work is good, people will figure it out.  You don’t have to run down the competition. 
You especially don’t have to run each other down if you’re writing genre books.  Do you see how many romance titles are out there?  How many mysteries?  Sci-fi?  Genre fans lap that shit up and are always looking for more.  Promoting each other goes a hell of a lot further than denigrating.    

9.  No one gets five stars all the time.  No one.  Accept it. 

Beloved classics like To Kill a Mockingbird and Lord of the Rings average just a four-star rating on Goodreads.  More polarizing authors like Stephen King and Stephanie Meyer get less. 

Do you know why?  Because not everybody who's ever read To Kill a Mockingbird loved it.  Some people maybe even . . . quite possibly . . . dare I say it?   Actually disliked it. 


Undoubtedly, there are people in this world, right now, this very moment, who are going, "Flannery O'Connor did it better," or “FUCK that Atticus Finch.  Fuck him right in the ear!  And Boo Radley, too.” 

It’s not because it’s not a well-written book.  It’s not because it’s not a compelling story.  It’s because they just didn't like it.  It didn't engage them.  They can’t relate to the story.  They can’t relate to the characters.  They don’t like fiction.  The writing style doesn’t speak to them.  

There are a million reasons why readers might find fault with your work, no matter who you are.  Ultimately, this is a subjective business.  Get over it.  Stop trying to please everybody. 

Personally, I like the idea of readers disagreeing and getting into discussions over my work, with half of them hailing me as the second coming of Shakespeare, and the other half going, “Wait.  Who the fuck still likes Shakespeare?”

This has not actually happened yet.  I’ll keep you posted. 
For a bonus: check out this hilarious compilation of author-on-author insults.  Then come back and tell me about how harsh your readers are.  

9.  We can haz quality.

As an indie author, I think it’s more important for us to be honest with each other.  Writing is the most democratic art form, and the cheapest to produce.  If you are literate and own a word processor, then you can be a writer.  All you have to do is pound something out and post it.  

Hence, I think we have an obligation to advocate good work when it’s out there, but be realistic about it when it’s not.  Because if we don’t, then who will? 

My first novel was utter crap.  So was my second.  I have scads of early work that will never see the light of day.  These works will never be posted on Amazon, and I certainly will never slap a price tag on them and try to sell them.  As I said, anybody can write.  But it takes hard work, dedication and practice to be any good at it, just like anything else.  No one expects a JV athlete to win the Super Bowl.  Why do we expect authors putting out their very first book to become instant best sellers and garner critical adulation?

Writing is both an art and a business.  We are creating a product that we are asking people to not only buy, but to invest a significant amount of their time to read.  We owe it to them to give them the best product possible.  Don’t be shocked when people remark on poor quality.  And don't get all butt-hurt when your work is, very simply, not their cup of tea.   

I do everything I can to advocate indie authors.  I want us to be taken seriously—as seriously as books that are released through major publishing houses.  For that to happen, that means putting on our big-boy britches and taking some hits.  A colleague of mine is fond of saying, "If you're not pissing people off, you're not doing anything."
So choose to do something.  Then be ready for the backlash.  Complacency is the death of art.  Our art dies when we stop struggling to improve.   

10.  Remember why you’re doing this.

If you’re writing novels to get rich and famous—well, good for you.  You and millions of other authors around the world.  The reality is . . . well, there are no reliable numbers on what the average indie author makes in royalties.  But I think it’s safe to assume that the average indie author will never make enough to quit their day job.  Myself included.  In fact, I consider it a good fucking month if I can take my royalty check and treat my husband to dinner at Applebee's.  (That there, my friends, is what my dear old grandma would call, "Shittin' in tall cotton.")  

So what does that leave?  
Well, why did you start writing in the first place? 

I started writing to please ME.  I am writing the books that *I* want to read.  Validation should come from the work itself, not other people’s opinions of it. 

I’m old enough to remember the days when all submissions to magazines and publishers were done by snail mail.  A single submission could take months or even years.  Once, I received a rejected manuscript back from a publisher with the usual form letter, but worse than that, some arrogant prick had scrawled in big red letters across the front page of my manuscript, “WHY SHOULD I CARE?”  
I shredded that page.  And the rejection letter.  Because fuck that.  

But I walked away with a valuable lesson.  If you can take that, you can take anything.  If you're a writer, you will write.  No matter what anybody else says.  If you're a writer, you know it all the way down to your bones.  At the end of the day, it's not money and it's not applause that drives us to create.  
Remember Kurt Vonnegut's alter ego, Kilgore Trout, a.k.a., the worst writer in the world?  Be Kilgore Trout.  He wrote over 117 novels and thousands of short stories and gave no fucks as to whether or not they even got read. 
You write because words and ideas wake you up in the middle of the night and have you reaching for the notepad by the bed.  You write because the characters are so vivid, you can see them looking over your shoulder in the mirror in the morning.  You write because you have stories to tell, worlds to build, mysteries to unravel.  You live for that moment where the rest of the world around you has vanished and the words flow from you.  It's divine.  It's sublime.   
In the face of that, the rest doesn't even matter. 


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

D20 Girls Review

The Order of the Four Sons Book I and Book II got a review today on The D20 Girls Magazine, a quarterly publication that focuses on community and promoting females in nerdy industries-- which, I'm pretty sure I qualify.  Coyote would too except for, y'know, the whole XX thing he's got going on.  But we don't hold that against him.

Anyway, check out the review here

Thanks so much to the lovely Tara Watson, a.k.a. Sairin, for the write-up, and thanks especially for capturing the essence of these books! 

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Catching a Sorcerer by Sara Walker

Title: Catching A Sorcerer
Author: Sara Walker
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Audience: Young Adult
Formats: Paperback and E-book
Publisher: Sara Walker
Cover by: Melody Simmons
Pages: 198
ISBN-10:  1491049804
ISBN-13: 978-1491049808
Date Published: May 2013

About the Book
After a sorcerer kills her mother, fifteen year old Melantha is asked to help catch him. She wants nothing to do with it, but then she learns one of her classmates is the son of the sorcerer. With her spell-turner powers not yet developed, the mission will be dangerous, but it will be downright deadly if the sorcerer figures out who she is and decides she will follow in her mother's footsteps. 

Book Links

"Well balanced in plot and not too dramatic, touch of humor. Very satisfying, great writing, i loved the characters. Would recommend for fantasy lovers." – Barnes & Noble Reviewer

"Quite a different book and I enjoyed it. Interesting spins and enjoyable" – Barnes & Noble Reviewer

"Solid writing and strong world building. Pacing was a little slow towards the second half of book. Overall, I recommend this book and look forward to more from this writer." – Barnes & Noble Reviewer


Sunday night and I was learning to turn a summoning spell. Though I'd spent most of my life being home schooled, I had a feeling this was not a normal family activity for other fifteen year old girls.
"Gran, when I told you I wanted a cell phone, this wasn't what I had in mind," I said.
Gran picked through a handful of wheatberries, looking for just the right one to add to her pot. We stood at opposites sides of the round table with a copper pot in front of each of us and a host of ingredients filling the table between.
"Cell phones don't work for members of the magical community," she said.
"What community? It's just you and me."
Dumping ingredients into a pot had nothing on the convenience of electronic communication. Kids at school were constantly using theirs to call each other, text, watch videos. But not me. I wasn't allowed to have one. I had to learn the "old ways."
Gran sighed, and I knew by the way her lips were pursed that she didn't intend to elaborate. She'd been trying to get me to learn spells every night for weeks now. I'd finally caved in hopes she would back off, but that plan hadn't worked out quite like I'd hoped.
"I have to go to the library tonight," I said. I dumped a handful of crispy dried lavender flowers—for devotion so the line of communication would stay clear— into my pot.
In another time we might have been called witches. But now that term was considered derogatory. We were spell-turners. Well, Gran was. I wouldn't be a full spell-turner until I turned sixteen and came into my full powers. In all my fifteen years, in all the time I'd spent in Halifax and my current residence in Ottawa, I'd never met another turner, not another magical creature of any kind, until the day my mother died.
If there was a magical community out there, I wouldn't know it.
I hadn't been out of the apartment except to go to school in six weeks. I needed to get away, to hang with some friends— even just for a little while.
"We have books here," Gran replied in a stern tone. This was an old argument.
She was right— we had books here. Every wall of the living room was filled to the ceiling with shelves, every shelf filled with books. All had belonged to my mother.
Without coming right out to say so, Gran was subtly reminding me of the reason I was confined to the apartment. My mother had been killed by a black-spell sorcerer— that is, a sorcerer who chooses to use death to fortify his spells. For some reason Gran thought he would come after me. But I wasn't a full turner yet. I had only partial powers. Until my sixteenth birthday, every spell I turned would dissipate the moment it came together. "Learning powers," Gran called them. "Just enough juice to see what you're doing, but not so much as to harm yourself or anyone else."
She seemed convinced I had these learning powers, but for some reason my spells never seemed to turn out right no matter how carefully I followed her instructions. And that was bad news. Even though they didn't want me to know, I'd heard my mother and Gran fighting about me. Gran thought I was either a late blooming white turner or a null— a turner's daughter born without powers. My mother refused to believe I was a null. So Gran was on a mission to prove one way or another I had learning powers or I was deliberately faking not having them out of extreme laziness.
"Your mother was a good white turner," Gran said. "She loved turning spells with me when she was your age. Couldn't get enough of it."
Her mention of my mother hit me square in the gut.
"Didn't she like to do anything else? Anything normal?"
Gran pinched her lips together again. She didn't like to speak about my mother beyond her gifted spelling abilities.
I directed the conversation back to the topic at hand.
"I really need the books at the library," I said. I followed her actions and, using a wooden spoon, swirled in two cups of diluted bay leaf extract for strength. I turned the spell clockwise, same as she did. We were on opposite sides of the small round kitchen table, so I had to think for a minute which way to turn my spoon.
"Why?" Gran asked suspiciously, narrowing her eyes. Everything was suspicious to Gran.
I barely kept myself from rolling my eyes. "I have homework." 
"What homework?"
"What do you mean? I go to high school now. I get homework." I used to be home-schooled. Right up until 52 days ago when I lost my mother. Then Gran had to take over as my teacher. She used to be able to teach my lessons for the few months of the year when I went to live with her in Halifax, but now that I was in grade ten, my studies had advanced to the point where she didn't understand anything in my textbooks. So she marched me down to the nearest high school. She would have signed me up right then, but they were closed for winter holidays. Imagine that.
"The new semester starts tomorrow, February second, according to the literature I received from the school," she pointed out.
Crap. "I'm catching up from last semester," I said, carefully examining a handful of calendula. I felt more than saw Gran carefully examining me.
"Who's the boy?" she asked.
"There's no boy," I answered quickly. Too quickly. Double crap.
"I might not know much about quadriplegic equations or—"
"Quadratic equations," I corrected.
"Or, what goes into a good Theseus statement, but—"
"Thesis statement. Theseus killed the Minotaur."
"But," she said again with emphasis, ignoring my corrections, "I know my granddaughter."
This time I did roll my eyes. "Whatever."
His name was Rory Macdonald. But I wasn't about to tell Gran that. I met him in the principal's office on the morning of my first day. It was his first day, too. A drunk driver had killed his parents and now he was living with his aunt. I met him again later in the day at the guidance counsellor's office. A special grief counsellor had been brought in to meet with us. Neither of us wanted to meet with her, but nobody asked us. His aunt was almost as controlling as my Gran.
We didn't have plans for tonight, so I didn't have to worry about calling him to cancel. He'd mentioned he'd found this place, where he liked to go on Sunday nights to play bass guitar for a band. I'd only hoped to stop in and hear him play.
"You may invite him to come here," Gran said, ignoring my denials. She released three drops of cedar oil, for dedication, into the liquid swirls in her pot. "But you won't be going out."
I bit back a scream. It used to be my mother and Gran had no trouble keeping friends out of my life, what with shipping me off to Halifax twice a year and homeschooling me. I never got to go to birthday parties, Halloween parties, camping trips or any other fun thing that normal girls did.
"Friendship is dangerous," Gran would say. My mother would agree. She would even agree when they were having that big fight that lasted for weeks.
I tried a new angle. "I need to use the computers at the library."
"What do you need those confounded contraptions for?" she asked. Her tone was one of surprise, even though this wasn't the first time we'd talked about my needing a computer for schoolwork. She just didn't get the concept of computers. Ever.
I listed the reasons on my fingers. "Research, report presentation, statistical analysis—"
"Hmph. In my day we had to do all of that by hand." She peered down her nose at the runny swirls in my pot. While mine was little more than a pathetic soup stock, hers had taken on shimmering hues of purple and green. I didn't have to see her face to know she was disappointed.
Still, I pressed my case. "Look, it's not a big deal. I can take care of myself."
"Hmph." She tapped the wooden spoon on the pot rim.
"Please? Can I go for an hour?" Oh, man. That sounded so desperate.
"No," she said simply, placing her spoon on the table next to her pot. She carried the empty vials to the sink and turned on the hot water. 
"Gran—" I cried.
"I cannot permit it, Melantha. If you do not go outside this apartment with me, then you do not go outside this apartment at all."
I rolled my eyes and groaned. "You are completely impossible!"
If my words stung even the slightest, she didn't show it. She carried on with washing the dishes. "I'm sorry, Melantha. But I promised your mother."
"Promised her what? Promised you would keep me a prisoner and never talk about her?"
I slumped into a chair with my arms crossed. This was hopeless. Gran was super stubborn. I needed a new approach.
Temporarily abandoning my potion, I snagged the tea towel on the way to the sink. Unexpected helpfulness always put Gran in a good mood. I hoped it would be good enough to let me out.
She cleared her throat. "Your potion is incomplete."
"My potion is nothing but water with twigs and leaves in it." I noticed she didn't tell me not to dry the dishes. Nor did she tell me to start over and make the potion again. We'd been down that road before. It always resulted in the same thing: failure. Whatever it took to make a potion, I didn't have it. My mother and Gran had been convinced my spells would come together the closer I got to my sixteenth birthday, but so far they always amounted to nothing.
"Did you project your light into it?" she asked in that snippy tone that said she already knew the answer.
"Yes." I hated it when she said "light" instead of "magic".
"And?" Gran prompted.
"And what? Nothing happened." I shrugged. I felt my power, my magic. It flowed through me, the same as blood and oxygen flowed through me. It was there. I could feel it the entire time we put together these spells. But magic also dredged up too many memories of my mother. And there wasn't much light there when I thought about how she died. It was more like a choking sensation. I hated that feeling.
"You're not trying hard enough," Gran said. That was what she always said. I didn't answer. There was no point. She'd already made up her mind.
Maybe the truth was, I could have tried harder, but turning spells just felt wrong. If my mother had been killed by bullets, would I still be expected to attend target practice?
"I don't understand what's so bad about having friends," I said, plucking a soapy plate from the drain board.
She shut off the water. "You know the reason. They can be used against you. And you against them. It's better for everyone if you just don't have them to begin with."
Yeah, I'd heard that part before. It was stupid. For some reason my mother and Gran thought I would be kidnapped and held for ransom. I couldn't understand why. We didn't have anything of value. It wasn't like we were millionaires.
So who were they protecting me from?
"As for going out alone," Gran continued as she washed a pot, "there are many kinds of evil out there. You are not safe on your own."
"But I won't be on my own. I'll be with friends!"
"Together you'll be on your own."
"But that makes no sense at all!"
An eerie wind howled outside the windows. If the weather was getting worse, I was sure to lose this argument. I crossed the apartment to the living room windows and used the tea towel to clear away the condensation on the cold glass. Snowflakes swirled under the streetlights below. Even the weather wanted to keep me inside.
There was a sharp knock at the door. I met Gran's gaze. She appeared as surprised as I was, but where I welcomed any and every visitor, I knew she would send away whoever was on the other side of that door. By the expression on her face, she suspected I'd invited a friend over without permission. I hadn't, but knowing Gran, that wouldn't make a difference.
I dove for the door, but Gran beat me to it. She leaned cautiously up to the peephole.
"Open up, Alberta. I'm here to speak to the girl." It was a man's voice— muffled, old and tired. The voice of someone older than Gran, someone ancient.
The girl? I hoped for his sake, he wasn't referring to me. There was something familiar about the voice, something that sent a nervous sense of foreboding all the way down to my toes. This was one visitor I didn't want to see.


About the Author:
A former bookkeeper, Sara always preferred books to numbers, and finally put aside her calculator to write stories and work part-time in a library. She is the founder of, a website established in 2008 that specializes in promoting urban fantasy and speculative fiction. Her articles and fiction have been published in anthologies and online. She is the author of Catching a Sorcerer, an urban fantasy for teens.

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