Excerpt From ‘Masque’

As Masque will be officially published tomorrow, I thought it was high time that I shared a sample of it here. Unlike Spindle, I haven’t used the very first pages: instead, I’ve cut an excerpt from somewhere in the middle of chapter one. Do enjoy, and don’t forget to order Masque tonight! It’s available in paperback and ebook formats from Amazon, Kobo, Createspace, and selected bookstores, and the preorder function is still on.

Normal service will resume in a few days. Until then, enjoy!

Excerpt from Masque Chapter One.

The library was pleasantly quiet when I wandered idly back through it. Someone had lit a fire in the grate, and orangey shadows flickered over the walls, pearlescent and warm. A comfortable-looking settee was set back a little from the fire, big and plush and just right for reading in, and somehow I found myself sitting down.  It was comfortable, and before I knew what I was doing I had slipped out of my dancing shoes and tucked my feet beneath me as I did at home on a rainy day. I was stretching back luxuriously with a guilty thought that I shouldn’t stay too long from the ballroom, when I realised with something of a shock that I was not alone. Green eyes gazed at me from an identical chair opposite mine, and a familiar green waistcoat glowed rich emerald in the firelight: it was the man I had danced with.

“I do beg your pardon,” I said, startled. It seemed ridiculous to bleat that I hadn’t seen him there, since he filled the chair very obviously, his long legs stretched out in front of him; but I really hadn’t seen him. “Shall I leave?”

The man stiffened, his head jerking back a little as if he were also startled, but he said quietly: “Not at all.”

His voice was velvet like his waistcoat, deep with slightly rough edges, but now that I had a chance to really look at him, I found that there was something unnerving in his face.

To give myself time to ruminate on the sense of unease, I said: “I’m sorry if I startled you.”

He cocked his head and leaned a little forward. “Most people don’t notice me when I don’t want to be noticed.” He said it more with interest than annoyance.

“I see,” I said quietly; and I did see. I saw two things: one, that this man was a magic user, and that was why I hadn’t seen him at first; and two, that my feeling of unease came from the fact that he was wearing a mask beneath a mask. The lips of it moved, but stiffly, and with imperfect synchronicity. What sort of a man wore a mask beneath a mask?

I said: “Lord Pecus, I believe?”

He laughed at that; a low, warm laugh as enthralling as his voice, and removed the green velvet mask. “You have the advantage, my lady.”

“Lady Isabella Farrah,” I said, inclining my head grandly, just as if I wasn’t curled up in a regrettably informal way. I offered him my hand, and he kissed it in the old fashioned way, cold porcelain against flesh. “I believe we have a mutual friend: Lady Quorn.”

He looked at me piercingly, and I added with mendacious helpfulness: “The one who stumbles.” I was enjoying myself immensely. I thought I saw a gleam of answering humour in Lord Pecus’s eyes, but it was difficult to tell through the magical mask.

“I think I would like to see your face,” he said thoughtfully. “Would it stretch politeness too far to ask you to remove your mask?”

“After you, my lord.”

I thought he laughed at me, but again it was hard to tell. “I don’t think I understand you, my lady.”

I looked at him steadily for a moment, my chin propped up in my palm. “Forgive me if I seem rude, but I think you understand me very well.”

He sat forward again, leaning his forearms on his knees. His bulk was so considerable that this maneuver put his face only inches from mine, and I found his eyes uncomfortably piercing. “Very well, my lady. Remove your mask, and I will remove mine.”

I was burning with curiosity that was tempered by a touch of self-satisfaction that I was about to accomplish something that even Delysia had not been able to accomplish, but I untied my mask with fingers that were steady enough.

“Well, my lord?”

“Charming,” he said softly, deliberately misunderstanding. I found myself blushing for the first time in many years. It was annoying to know that he’d intended as much. “How old are you, Lady Farrah?”

“Very nearly thirty, my lord,” I told him composedly, ignoring the rudeness of the question. “And a confirmed old maid, so you’ve no need to waste your compliments on me.”

“What brings you to the Ambassadorial Ball?”

“The proposed militia merger, my lord; and I believe you’re stalling.”

He gave me a slow, considering smile, and I wondered if the face beneath the mask was smiling also. “Is that so? Are you sure you want to see my face?”

Courtesy compelled me to say, albeit with reluctance: “Not if you’re unwilling, my lord.”

Lord Pecus sat silent for a moment as if in thought, his mask unreadable.

“Hm. I don’t believe I am,” he said at last, as if he had surprised himself. “Try not to scream, my lady.”

If he had said it with the slightest theatricality, I would have laughed and gone back to the ballroom, content not to know what his face really looked like. But he said it unemotionally, a plain warning; and I had to take myself firmly to task for the quickly accelerating beat of my heart as he removed the charms that kept his mask in place. I settled my chin a little more firmly in my palm and waited, watching the process with some interest. I had not much talent for magic, and my knowledge was almost as slight: my training had mostly to do with international policy and diplomatic processes.

At last he seemed to be done. He raised both hands to remove the mask – beautiful hands, strong and bare of rings – and it came away cleanly. For a moment I thought he had yet another mask beneath: firelight played on tawny brown hair – no, fur!- in a face that looked like the worst parts of wolf and bear mixed. I blinked once, realising in that instant that it was his face, his real face, and no mask. His mask must be magic indeed to have hidden that snout under the pretence of a plain common-or-garden human nose.

“I see,” I said into the silent warmth of the room. I dropped my hand back to the arm of the chair and let a small sigh escape. “That explains a good deal.”

Anticipation (Also, Happy ‘Straya Day)

The day is almost here! Masque will be officially available this Sunday! But in the meantime, I’ve released the paperback early for people like me, who can’t wait. So if you were just waiting to order Masque, you need wait no longer! The paperback will, in fact, probably be with you before the Kindle and Kobo editions are quite released.

You can order the paperback of Masque from Amazon and Createspace, and the Kindle and Kobo versions are available for preorder, awaiting Feb 1st. If you want a refresher on what Masque is all about, read on!

Otherwise, have a great ‘Straya Day!

(And, as always, if you want to get your mitts on a review copy of Masque, get in contact through the contact page.)

MASQUE - 2000

Masque (The Two Monarchies Sequence)

Beauty met the Beast and there was . . . Bloody murder?

It’s the Annual Ambassadorial Ball in Glause, and Lady Isabella Farrah, the daughter of New Civet’s Ambassador, is feeling pleasantly scintillated.

In the library is Lord Pecus, a charming gentleman whose double mask hides a beastly face, and who has decided that Isabella is the very person to break the Pecus curse.

In the ball-room is young Lord Topher, who is rapidly falling in love with an older woman.

And in the card-room, lying in a pool of his own blood, is the body of one of Isabella’s oldest friends: Raoul, Civet’s Head Guardsman. The papers sewn into his sash seem to suggest espionage gone wrong, but Isabella is not so certain.

Lord Pecus, as Commander of the Watch, is of the opinion that Isabella should keep out of the investigation and out of danger. Isabella is of the opinion that it is her murder to investigate, and that what a certain Beast-Lord doesn’t know won’t hurt him. . . .

Will Isabella find the murderer before Lord Pecus does, or will she end her investigation as a bloody spatter on the parlour floor?

Laziness And Self-Publishing, And Stuff

I’m lazy.

That’s one of the first things I learned about myself as I was growing up. You know the kid that goes to the toilet before it’s supposed to do the washing up and just never comes out? Yeah, that was me. (It’s still me, except I’ve figured out better ways to skive off work than shutting myself in the loo with a book.)

So one of the things about self-publishing that’s hit me hard is the amount of work. To be honest, it wouldn’t be that bad if it wasn’t for the full-time (and by full-time I mean 40-55hrs a week) job. There’s just so much stuff to do. Yanno, stuff stuff. It’s not even real writing stuff. It’s stuff like hanging out on Twitter to connect with people (and getting carried away ‘cos suddenly you’ve met this awesome person who’s at the same place you are, and writes these really fantastic stories), or figuring how to promote your book/s, or trying to discover exactly how Goodreads works. (I mean, seriously, I JUST figured out how to Twitter!)

And that’s before you consider the hours of writing per day, sandwiched into my lunch break, or before work, or after work. Then when I get home, there’s the housework to do.

I’m lazy.

I don’t want to have to do all that. Only it’s so satisfying when it comes out right, and the book’s published, and you can get on with the next book. It’s satisfying to see the follower count for my blog go up. It’s satisfying to find out that having a Twitter Follow-Me! box is worth the time and effort to install. And it’s really satisfying when someone else downloads one of your books.

Still, I’m pretty pleased with my foray into self-publishing so far. I’m loving the level of control I have over my own book. I’m loving the fact that I can publish on my own schedule. And I’m loving all the fantastic people I’m meeting along the way.

I’m lazy, but there are some things that are worth working for.

Excerpt From ‘Spindle’: Current WIP

As Masque won’t be out for another 15 days, I thought I’d whet your appetite for my Two Monarchies Sequence by giving you a taste of my current WIP: Spindle. You may perhaps be clever enough to guess which particular fairytale I’ve messed with this time . . .

Anyone looking for this excerpt after it has progressed down the page need only click on the page Shorts & Excerpts to find it again.

Enjoy! (Bon Appetit?)

Excerpt from Spindle, chapter one

Polyhymnia knew perfectly well that she was dreaming.  Her hair was in pigtails and she was wearing a smock, which pointed to an age of perhaps twelve or thirteen; and the dream itself was a distant memory of a history lesson with Lady Cimone, her teacher.  She had been amused for a brief moment to find herself daydreaming during the lesson: dreaming, as it were, during a dream, while Lady Cimone pointed out the various flaws in Civet’s latest sally against Parras.
Oh, I remember this, thought Poly suddenly.  Parras tossed over one of our outposts, and we walked right into an ambush trying to retaliate.
Pain, in her left ear.  Poly clutched the injured member in surprise.
“Ow!”  She hadn’t remembered that.
“Perhaps you could pay attention to your lesson, now that you’re awake?” suggested Lady Cimone.  She always did prefer boxing ears to using a cane.  Maybe it was her idea of the personal touch.  “This is important, Poly.”
Poly let her younger dream-self murmur the appropriate response, her attention snatched away, because a gold-edged rift was beginning to form in the blue-painted wall behind Lady Cimone.
The lady caught the direction of her gaze and gave a sharp glance behind her.
“Bother!” she said.  She seemed annoyed rather than taken aback.
Before long the perpendicular rift was tall enough to admit a human, and Poly wasn’t quite surprised when a young man stepped through.  He was wearing a long, mud-splattered black coat that looked as though it had seen one too many days travelling, and he had an inquiring, dishevelled look.  His forehead was wide and square, with dark hair springing upwards and sideways from it, and his mouth was both determined and wistful; though the triangular set of his chin spoke more to determination than wistfulness.  Poly shut her mouth, which had dropped open, and took one involuntary step backwards as the man pulled himself fully into the room.  He was fairly glowing with residual magic, which set every alarm bell ringing in her head.
“Shoo,” he said to Lady Cimone, and stepped purposefully toward Poly.
The lady smiled a little grimly and said: “I am no more a dream than you are, young man.  Kindly be polite.”
Poly became her normal, older self in confusion, and the dream-memory of the younger her melted away, leaving Lady Cimone and the young man behind in the resulting void.  The young man seemed almost as bemused as Poly felt, but Lady Cimone was looking, as usual, serene and omniscient.
“I tried my best, but I’m afraid he got you,” she said to Poly.  “You’ll have to go with the wizard for now.  Your parents said they’d try to find you somewhere along the way, but things might be a little more difficult than they realised.  Try not to forget everything the minute you wake up, child.”
“But-” Poly began; but Lady Cimone was already gone.  Poly put her hands on her hips and surveyed the young wizard, who was still standing where he was, disturbingly real for a dream figure.
“Huh,” he said.  “Didn’t expect that.  Come here, princess.”
Poly could have said: ‘I’m not the princess,’ but it didn’t see worth arguing with a dream.  Instead, she said: “I don’t think so,” and slipped up and out of the dream.

It should have woken her.  For a moment, she thought it had.  She was standing in her own small, rounded chamber, stranded aimlessly between her bookcases.  Through her window-slit the outside world looked sunny and normal.  Then she saw the translucent something coating her hands from fingers to elbow, and belatedly felt the odd, sideways pull that had brought her here.
“Bother,” she said aloud.  The translucent something wasn’t quite magic, but it seemed to be the dream equivalent.  In real life, Poly had no magic.  It was the one consistent way to tell dream from reality when her dreams became too realistic.
Poly wriggled her fingers and the translucency shivered coolly across them with a sense of familiarity.  When had she started dreaming about magic so often?  In fact, when had she started dreaming for so long at a time?  She felt as though she’d been dreaming for years.
Time to wake up, Poly decided.  She let herself slip upwards and awake, and again found herself sliding sideways to the pull of something strong and unfamiliar.
Someone said: “No you don’t, darling.  Back to sleep with you.”
Poly gave a little gasp of indignation and fought against the pull.  It was ridiculous to allow her dreams to be hijacked by an unpleasant dream entity of her own creation.  Where was it coming from?
She dragged herself around in the direction of the voice, feeling the reality of her dream-chamber wobble around her.   A nasty quiver of surprise shook her at the sight of the hooded, murky figure that seemed to be more shadow than substance, cobwebbed in the doorway.
To give herself time to become brave, Poly said: “Now, what are you?  I know I didn’t dream you up.”
“You must have,” said the hooded figure, its voice soft and amused.  “Here I am.”
Too smooth for words, Poly thought, sharp with fear.  There was a prickle at her back that made her think the enchanter from the previous level was making his way through to her again.  A panicked, nightmare quality had settled over the dream like a wet blanket, weighing her down, and for a brief moment Poly found herself unable to think.
The same soft voice said: “Darling, you’re being difficult.  There’s no need for things to become uncivilized.  Be a good girl and go back to sleep.”
“I don’t like you,” Poly said experimentally.
“That’s hurtful, darling,” said the voice reproachfully.  “As it happens, I’m really quite fond of you.  However, needs must, and you really need to go to sleep.”

The reasonable tone to the shadow’s voice was hard to resist.  There was her bed, in the middle of the tower room where it didn’t belong, and Poly felt herself take one step towards it.

The sheets should have been cool and smooth when she slid between them.  Instead, they were fuzzy and warm, and Poly felt her eyes gum together in the last warning of approaching slumber, the prickle at her back fading in the warmth.
“Huh,” said a second voice.  “This is all very interesting.  Who are you?  No.  Not who.  What?”
“Undefined element,” said the hooded shadow thoughtfully.  Poly could vaguely see it through her gummy eyes, outlined in the brilliant gold of the wizard’s magic.  “You are not valid here.  Retreat or assimilate.”
“Tosh,” said the wizard.  “You’re what? A remnant?  Go away.”
“No, I don’t think so,” said the shadow; and it seemed to Poly, mired in sleep, that an impossibly strong magic was stirring in the room – no, in the very air – around her.  It was bright, fiery, and entirely translucent.
The wizard said: “Yow!” and did something golden and magical with more haste than precision.  Poly stirred, fighting against sleep, and saw his face briefly appear above her.
He said: “Well, better get on with it, then.”
Poly tried to say: ‘Get on with what?’ but found that she couldn’t move her lips.  It took her a shocked moment to realise that she couldn’t move her lips because she was being kissed. It took another to realise that she was waking up- really waking up.  Gold magic fizzed from her lips to her toes, and everything familiar . . . disappeared.

What Makes Good Cover Art?

What makes good cover art? Well, that depends a lot upon whom you ask. I’d advise against asking me: if there’s one thing I’ve learned as an Indie Publisher, it’s that I have absolutely no talent whatsoever when it comes to art. I’d show you some of the stuff I drew as a kid, only I don’t want to scare you.

So what’s a talentless, artless writer to do? Commission a cover, of course. I looked through a LOT of premade covers when I was ready to publish A Time-Traveller’s Best Friend, and was fortunate enough to come across one created by Margo Weissman that was exactly what I wanted.

Ain't it purty?

Ain’t it purty?

I wasn’t so lucky when it came to covers for my Two Monarchies Sequence. At the time, I had three books in the sequence almost ready to go: Masque, which was ready but for an edit, Wolfskin, which is in much the same boat now, and Spindle, which requires about 40 000 more words until it’s ready for revision. Oddly enough, I found the cover for Spindle first. Not even finished, and it was the only MS I could find anything suitable for. I found it on the flickr page of Joleene Naylor, a rejected custom cover that was perfect from the second I laid eyes on it. I don’t know why someone rejected it, but I can only thank their stupidity from the bottom of my heart, because it was exactly what I wanted without knowing what it was that I did want.

I mean, c'mmon- it's GORGEOUS

I mean, c’mmon- it’s GORGEOUS

After I had the cover for Spindle, I was on slightly firmer ground. Jo had agreed to do a few more covers for me (much to my relief) and it was now a matter of simply finding the right photos/artwork for her to work with. Simple, right?

Yeah, no. The hours I spent on Canstock/Istock/whatever, ladies and gentlemen. The flamin’ hours. Because, you see, if a shot has the perfect face or pose, you can guarantee that it won’t be a full body shot when you need a full body shot. Or the perfect shot will be there, within your grasp, when you learn that it will be ridiculously expensive to get your hot little hands on it. And so back to the drawing board.

And that’s all before you find out that certain covers will appeal to certain people, and that certain other covers won’t. In a word, marketability. Fortunately, I have friends. I say that both to boast (yerp, ladies and gentlemen, I am a writer who has friends) and to point out that without them to stop me when I wanted to use something that definitely didn’t fit my book, I would have ended up with some very bad covers.

So before I end up waffling for this entire post without ever making my point: what does make good cover art? I will leave you with the vastly erudite answer of It depends. It depends on what your book is about. It depends on who your readers are. In short, good cover art is a very difficult thing to attain, since what one person will love, another will absolutely hate. All I can say is, it helps to get other opinions. It helps even more if those people have read your book. There will be differences of opinion, but you can guarantee that there will be that one piece of artwork that will make them all go ‘Oooooh! That’s it!’ And that moment is worth all the work it took to get you there.

Shout out to Joleene Naylor, Margo Wiessman, and all the other awesome artists out there; because without you guys, we’d be lost.

And let me know what you think. What makes good cover art? What are some of your favourite covers?

Scams And Gullibility

Yanno, like Sense and Sensibility, cos it’s . . . oh, never mind.

At some stage in your writing career (well, in almost any career), you’re certain to run into a scammer. Where there are writers desperately hoping and trying for a breakthrough, there are always going to be schemes like PublishAmerica and the like, ready to prey on the hopeful and uninitiated.

In my original quest for a publisher, I ran into three of these. The first was PublishAmerica. I’d sent a blurb and a sample chapter or two before I knew enough to check them out on the internet. They sent back an effusive email missive that said they would like to publish my book FOR ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. (And yes, they did capitalize that.) Once I’d come down from the high of reading that someone wanted to publish my book, a few things snagged uneasily in my mind.

#1 was that capitalized assurance that publication would cost ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. A genuine publisher has no need to tell prospective authors that they won’t charge for publication. Money flows to the author.

#2 was the fact that they hadn’t even read the full manuscript. I got this message after sending only a few chapters to PublishAmerica. So yeah. If a publisher hasn’t read your full manuscript and is already offering to publish it, run. Run for the hills. You might be that awesome, but my bet says you’re not.

#3 was the info I found on the internet after belatedly checking out the ‘company’. If you’re looking for information on almost any publisher out there, scam or legit, you can’t go past Absolute Write and Preditors and Editors.  I can’t stress enough the importance of checking your facts before even approaching a publishing company or agent. The less bait you are for scammers, the safer you’ll be. There will always be the cold-call, or direct approach, but at least you won’t make a mark of yourself.

More insidious was the supposedly reputable publisher who received my application (blurb, chapters, etc), asked for the full manuscript, and then sent an email back to me some months later, indicating that they could publish me under one of their imprints- which turned out to be a vanity outfit that wanted to charge me $3000-$6000 to ‘publish’ my book. This was after I’d checked them out online and found them to be supposedly reputable. It was only later that I learned this particular publisher had a ‘traditional’ side and a ‘vanity’ side. I sent them back an email indicating that I would wait until I found a publisher who felt they could support me in every way. As I said before (and many have said before me): Money flows to the author.

Most recently, a friend of mine was emailed out of the blue by someone who claimed to have read her fiction online, and who was interested in publishing her. Now, my friend is a great writer. However. This person purported to run a certain company with a name almost exactly the same as a reputable company. They were so similar, in fact, that every google search turned up the other publishing company instead of his. The reputable company has been around for some years, and is connected with many reasonably well-known names. The ah, entrepreneurial company has been around for two months. I still don’t know whether it’s a determined scam (though I’m inclined to think so, based on the name game), or whether this guy with no proven publishing experience/contacts just isn’t awake enough to himself to know how publishing works. Either way, it’s not a safe bet. Your writing might be that awesome. But it’s not likely.

There will be stuff you learn along the way – hopefully not through bitter experience – but what I’ve learned is that:

*Money flows to the author

*If a ‘publisher’ contacts you, check them out very carefully before signing anything

*Suspect everyone, and check out everything

*The internet is your friend

*If it seems too good to be true, it probably is (Actually, I got that from Hustle, but it’s true)