White Privilege, Human Decency, and the Blackout at Rockefeller Center

Yesterday I was at work when the power went out everywhere from 72 and 42, knocking out Broadway, Times Square, and of course Rockefeller Center where I give tours. I was on break between the tours and for a moment, my normally boisterous colleagues all fell silent. I knew we were all sharing the same thought, “Is the building going to fall on us?” I imagine a lot of people who live in New York had that same thought or some version of it.

When the silence broke, the first thing that was said wasn’t an expression of fear or a reassurance. It was a call to action. “We’ve got to get people out of the underground.”

As a tour guide, I know the concourse of Rock Center better than anyone (it connects everything from 5th Ave to 6th Ave under Rockefeller Center across four blocks), so I went down into complete darkness with my phone flashlight along with everyone else who was on break. At that moment, we didn’t know a fire in a manhole had overheated a transformer and knocked out the grid; we just knew that there was thousands of people in pitch darkness who didn’t know the way out.

After the concourse was eerily empty (you could hear the tap of security’s footsteps echoing across 22 acres of underground), I went out to the street level to try to keep the area outside of Top of the Rock entrance cleared. We had people stuck on top and in elevators between the 2nd and 66th floor and lots more trying to figure out what was going to happen with their tickets to the top. It was amazing to me 1) how money-minded people can be (“I know there’s a firetruck coming and you want the street clear, but you say you’ll honor my ticket tomorrow or give me a refund? Why don’t I get to go to the top for free?” is literally something I heard) and 2) how good people are at hiding inner turmoil.

The majority of my co-workers are POC and ‘black-out’ has a whole other level of meaning to their community that I was a white rural person was not familiar with. There’s a history of riot and race violence associated with power-outages in the summer in big cities and I saw the undercurrent of distrust from many tourists (the majority of whom were white). I didn’t understand why so many people approached me, though the only thing that marked me as an employee was a branded baseball cap and a dangling ID card (not a proper starched black shirt or red vest uniform). Not until I went back inside where my co-workers were dealing with the tension in their own way; making nervous jokes about riots, looting, and “black outs” (as in “oh, the blacks are out! Get indoors”). Suddenly, I understood the question ‘where are we safe?’ and their side-long glances at my co-workers.

These were the same co-workers whose immediate response to a power outage is “get the people underground out of the building, even if the building might be falling down.” The same co-workers who were calling parents, spouses, and children to leave “if this is my last moment” voice messages to loved ones. Many of them were in the city on September 11th and we didn’t know what caused the power outage (exactly 42 years after a major black-out in 1977 which seems almost too close to be coincidental), but they still returned to the street to smile and reassure customers their tickets would be honored at a later date.

When the elevators and all three decks were cleared (less than an hour after the outage!), we were all briefed about the extent of the outage and let go early. On the way to Port Authority, I saw hundreds, maybe thousands of people in Times Square which was dark for the first time in decades. Broadway was far from silent since most shows had closed, but the performers came into the streets to present unaccompanied opening numbers or improv riffs with the audiences. It was an inspiring and energizing experience in good-will and I’m glad I got to see that.

I started the walk with a big crowd of my co-workers and I got to see more of those distrusting side-long glances, occasionally from armed police officers. One of my friends, a tiny woman of mixed Puerto Rican and Haitian dissent, teasingly said she’d protect me when the looting started. I’m about twice her size and keenly aware that I was not the one in danger.

I’ve never been more aware of the strength of every-day people or of the incredible privilege of my skin color.

Three Lessons From The Brooklyn Writers’ Workshop

So last weekend I went to Brooklyn’s Writer Conference and I learned a lot about how to start a novel, what YA is (according to one agent) and especially how to pitch to an agent. I’ll be writing about those other two topics later on, but this pitching thing is tough. I got a request for a partial and two and a half requests to send first chapters (I’ll explain the “and a half” below), so fairly successful. I wanted to get my notes on it out into the world so that I could reference them myself the next time I pitch.

It boils down to three things: Tell a Story, Know Your Audience, and Be Human and Professional

Be Human and Professional

I had meetings with four agents and the first one was late to our pitch. I was terrifically nervous, so in a way it was good because I had a moment to sit and feel in control of the space. This also gave me the opportunity to eavesdrop on the other writers pitching.

Oh, we are awkward, nervous people.

I heard a lot of rehearsed and lifeless pitches, and it reminded me of watching middle-school students suffer through their first presentations. The same advice teachers gave you then, counts now. Don’t recite your notes by rote. Smile. Make eye contact.

Now, I’ve got a leg-up on other authors in this way. My day job is as a teacher and tour guide, so while I am the strong, silent, prefer-to-sit-under-the-stairs-and-take-notes-on-mere-mortals type, I’ve learned to command a conversation and talk naturally.

There’s a ton of resources on how to speak confidently at job interviews and in business meetings, but I think the best thing to do treat the agent like a person. They are not a genie who will grant you a best-seller if you rub them the right way (please don’t rub the agents). So, get out of the straight-jacket of a rehearsed monologue.

I can’t believe this is advice we need to hear, but I saw this three or four times (mostly men pitching fantasy to women): don’t argue with an agent during a pitch. I don’t care if she just said that the only good fantasy is about sparkly vampires or you will never sell your book. Bottle your pride, your rage, your contrarian nature and be professional. That agent wasn’t for you; don’t go off on her and make an enemy out of all the other agents in the room.

It helps me to start the conversation with something besides the business (since the temperature was wildly fluctuating at the conference I opened with the weather. Terrible idea in writer, awesome advice for small talk.) Then lead into my name and credentials.

Tell a Story

With one of the agents, I got detoured from my pitch and we went down a rabbit hole about the world. I got so carried away explaining the history of the world, how magic functioned, how it was based off the people in the area I was raised, that I never got around to telling her about the main characters’ stories. Not until she asked me, “what are the stakes? What’s the germ of the story?” I got lucky that she brought us back to that, because the details of my world weren’t enough to sell her on the pitch.

I applied her advice (leading with a log line that I had buried deeper in my pitch) and it lead me to my most successful pitch. I went into charming storyteller mode and told my novel the way I talk about movies and pieces of art. I hit all the marks professionally but entertainingly and it engaged the agent enough to ask for a full partial. We also finished early so I got to talk about my sales as a romance writer, my other work and ideas, and how the market might respond to such a book.

Know Your Audience

A.K.A.: do your fucking research. When I signed up for the conference, I remember choosing one agent who only represented fantasy and thinking she’d be a great fit not for the novel I’d be pitching to everyone else, but for a separate project I’d just finished. So, I signed on for her and thought in my hubris I would prepare a second pitch just for her.

I forgot.

I cannot explain how embarrassing it was to sit down with an agent and have her listen to me pitch a YA fantasy/sci-fi romance and then immediately explain she doesn’t represent sci-fi. It’s especially bad, when you’ve paid for the pitch session. But this is good advice for an email query too. When an agent reads queries, she is working for free, so not researching wastes her time and more importantly your rejection threshold. There you are agonizing for two days, two weeks, two months anticipating feedback and she deleted your email because you didn’t respect her guidelines.

When things went south, I was able to roll with it. I apologized for the misunderstanding and asked how I could improve my pitch and what advice she had (you know besides, doing my fucking research).

Towards the end of our conversation, I thought she was throwing me a bone when she gave me the name of another agent at her company who might fit the work. I almost didn’t write the name down, since I figured it was a pity gesture. But I’m glad I did, because she was right; that other agent would be a really good fit for my book. Because I acted like an adult and didn’t collapse completely under my own humiliation and despair, I have a personal introduction to an agent who has represented a lot of very lengthy books that have sold well. Which is like… half a point, right?

On the other hand, I knew one of the agents dislikes The Fae, so when I referred to my world I was able to speak to that by calling it a kind of post-industrial fairyland, but you know without the fairies. And that really interested him.

So, know the agent, be a kind professional, and tell a story. Pitching is hard; but it’s a necessary step in an author’s career. You can’t level up until you master it.

So… I’m Updating my site

I just want to apologize for the ton of e-mails that have come (and unfortunately will continue to come) your way. I promise normal levels of non-activity will resume shortly; I’m just prepping for a new batch of agent submissions.

Enjoy this brief refresher of everything I’ve ever published. lol.

Needle and Knife

This is a very disturbing story. Seriously, it involves baby mutilation. Not my usual romance.

But the full story won honorable mention in the horror category of the Writer’s Digest Popular Fiction Contest in 2018 So I’m sharing it here.

Needle and Knife

In Emilia’s dream, someone holds a baby. A brand-new white baby. Weak, inescapably male. Painfully blue eyes brimming with complete trust. He knows he will not fall.

The hands, which look so dark and brown against that new white flesh, tickle the baby’s ankle. The baby laughs. The big hand wraps around a tiny fat ankle and bends the chubby pink leg behind the baby’s back. He fusses. Blue eyes squint. He whines small and cute. The hand twists, folding the fat unformed bulb that will become the baby’s knee. Twists too far. The baby arches, curls, tries to pull his foot away from his back. He blurts annoyed squalls. Farther still. The baby cries.

Farther. New bone cracks.

The baby screams.

A knife glints against the baby’s breast and a bright bubble of blood appears over the new heart.

Emilia wakes, startled but soundless. She’s in the backseat of her grandfather’s car, head tipped back on the rich leather. It’s a North American car imported to Chile by a cargo freighter. Papi dozes beside her, her mother stares forward in the front seat, looking at the darkness of the Chilean countryside. Grandfather drives, she can see his soft brown hands on the wheel. Everyone in the car ought to hear the pulse of her heart, but no one does.

She wants to tell her nightmare, to hear comforting words, but she’s nearly nine and too old for such weakness. Her right hand still makes a tight fist, holding an invisible knife. Her left arm still curls as if cradling a new baby – her cousin, Vicente, she knows now that she’s awake.

To shake the dream, Emilia stretches her arms and leans forward to thrust her head between her grandfather and her mother. She smells strong coffee and catches the glow of her mother’s Blackberry.

Mother puts her hand on Emilia’s head and strokes her braided hair. Says nothing.

Grandfather whispers. “Is that my curious little snake?”

Emilia hisses at him.

“Go to sleep, Lia.” Mother glances over her shoulder at Emilia’s father. There’s no judgment, merely observation. Around Grandfather, Mother always looks at Papi as if he is a bird with a broken wing in a household of cats.

Emilia says. “Is this the Place of Gulls?”

“No,” Grandfather says. “We have to go into those mountains.”

Emilia presses her face to the car window and stares into the darkness of a countryside that is nothing like Santiago. This Chile is filled with an absence of life. No noise and no people. Nothing survives that does not understand hiding.

She always thought the night sky was black, the blackest black, but now she knows the only real darkness in the world is those mountains.

“Is that where our copper mine is, grandfather?”

Her mother speaks without patience. “You know it is. Be still and—”

“Yes, the oldest and greatest of the Vidal family mines.” Grandfather interrupts his daughter. “The one you’ll inherit.”

Mother watches Grandfather. The look of a sparrow watching an old hawk, waiting for him to dive and eat her young.

Grandfather notices but is not interrupted. “You’ll see it tomorrow. My grandfather burrowed into the earth and found the richest deposit of ore in all of Chile. He never mined half of it, because…”

“Copper dries up.” Emilia nods. “But people always want a bigger better roof over their heads.”

“Good girl.” Grandfather and Mother both say. All three of them smile but do not laugh.

The road jostles the American car and Papi snorts and blinks awake. Mother smiles, but Emilia frowns. It’s better when he’s asleep. She regrets this thought. It’s unkind, and Papi is nothing but kindness.

Papi gives her a goofy smile and tugs her hair as if she is not nearly nine. “Hey, Pretty Girl. Still awake?”

There had been something quiet, something special when it was only Grandfather, Mother, and herself in the stillness and the dark. Papi cannot tolerate the quiet.

“No, Papi, I’m dreaming. I’m a snake swimming in the mountains.”

Grandfather, Mother, and Papi all laugh at this. Papi laughs because his daughter is serious. Grandfather and Mother laugh so that Papi is not alone.

Then Papi tickles her and Emilia is the one laughing alone, joyful. The darkness of the mountains, the knife in her dreams vanish into the warmth of her father’s big brown fingers.

In Emilia’s dreams, she knows how to press the needle into the baby’s ear, how to angle it so that it pierces the flesh but does not bend when it hits the bone of its skull. She tugs the ear high and tall so that it will be sharp and attentive. It must hear the slightest rustling because it will not see.

The foot has grown through the baby’s chest and its toes wrinkle and clench as it squirms and whines. So much noise. Such a loud baby.

When the ears are stitched to the baby’s small head, blood trickles down the curves and into the canal. Emilia takes a moment to twist the baby’s neck. Soon its head will be able to turn entirely around, but for now, she’s only trained it halfway.

She cleans the blood from its ears, hushes and soothes the baby. She feeds it cat’s milk in a bottle. When the baby calms, she lays him on the wooden table and takes out her scissors.

Emilia pinches the baby’s tongue. It’s older now. Old enough to punch, but still tiny and weak. She uses the scissors to fork the tongue, and the blood gushes over the blade.

She cleans the scissors and feeds the baby a balm to heal its split tongue. Then the goat meat in mushed chunks to sustain it. Then the herbs and bone-powder to make it grow strong.

The baby calms as she rocks it on her shoulder.

The eyelids must be last. Glued with the proper balm. When Emilia is finished, those blue eyes will be clouded, and it will see only what she wants it to see. But that’s not for today. For today, she sings the baby ancient songs and massages its neck.

Emilia is alone in the hotel room in a bed large enough for two adults. Trembling at the darkness.

“Papi…” She whimpers, so cold and so empty in this place without skyscrapers and street lamps. She badly wants his goofy smile and his big voice. But she will not call for him because Mother can’t know she’s afraid of the dark.

So, Emilia feels the darkness getting closer, prickling at her skin.

Eventually, the sun breaks over the horizon and gray light spills into the room that hundreds of strangers have called their own. Emilia rises and opens her suitcase. Papi packed her favorite long-sleeve shirt, the one with the princess.

But she will see the copper mine today. So, she wears her new black sweater. She ties her hair into her mother’s bun.

Papi knocks softly and carefully creaks the door open. “Hey, Pretty Girl, you awake?”

She badly wanted his voice a few hours ago, but in daylight, she is annoyed.

“It’s morning, Papi. Why would I be sleeping?” Still, she smiles graciously, her mother’s smile. Her father recoils.

They have breakfast with Uncle and his wife. The woman, Anna, was from the warm coastlands of Chile where the people were white and the natives were few. The Vidals came from the south where the people were brown and had always owned the land.

Anna holds her baby as if he had wings. Everyone is polite, but she doesn’t belong. Mother and Grandfather look at her like wolves at a Chihuahua. Grandfather, Mother, and Uncle talk about the business, the buildings, the mines. Papi and Anna talk about babies. Anna worries that Vicente is only seven days old and shouldn’t be out in this cold. Papi assures her he will be safe.

Emilia watches the boy’s sleepy blue eyes and dreads his cries.

On the way to the mines, Mother hisses. “If that bitch thinks just because her baby has a prick he’s going to get any part of the business…”

“She doesn’t—”

“Dominic is weak, and his wife is weak, and their son will be weak.”

Papi stiffens the way he always does when Mother talks about weakness. He calms her with, “trust your father.”

This conversation would mean nothing to Emilia if it happened in Santiago. In Santiago, she was top of her class, she had ribbons and trophies. But as she walks through the copper mine with her hair in its tight bun, she sees only men and her cousin’s sleepy eyes.

Grandfather leaves his American car at the mine and drives a truck up the mountain. A trailer laden with two ATVs drags behind, chattering along, threatening to come undone and crash into Papi’s little car.

“Where’s he taking us?” Papi grumbles. “Anna shouldn’t be out this soon after giving birth.”

Mother says, “maybe there’s a restaurant on the mountain.”

Emilia looks out of the window at the mountains. The world is alive with green foliage and patches of snow. The darkness hides under the earth. It coils around unmined ore, shielding the shine of the copper from the sun.

There is no restaurant. They are going to the Place of the Gulls like Grandfather said.

Grandfather stops at a dirt trail beside a railing and sky. It’s cold as a refrigerator here. Santiago never felt this cold. Emilia put on her coat, which was meant for light rain and black and sleek as her grandfather’s fur-lined coat. She stands beside her mother looking down at Chile. She can hear the cry of seabirds, but she sees none.

“It’s too cold.” Anna climbs down from the truck, clutching Vicente as if he is a life-jacket and she is drowning.

“Stop worrying, darling,” Uncle says. What he means is stop being weak in front of the family.

“Let me hold the baby, Anna. Rest.” Mother can be gentle, but Mother can also lie. Anna doesn’t know the difference and gives Vicente to the other woman. The baby cries.

The sound frightens Emilia. So much like her dreams…

Determined not to feel the cold, she walks to her grandfather’s side. She points out to the valley and the highways. “Someone should build a proper road over this mountain. Then a big hotel with a ski resort right here.”

“Clever,” Grandfather says. “They’ve tried. I stop them.”

Emilia studies the wrinkles around his eyes and mouth. She waits for him to teach her more.

Grandfather says. “Get on the ATV.”

Her father and Uncle drove both ATVs off the trailer. Grandfather sits on the first in front of the cooler. Uncle straddles the second.

Mother sits on the ATV behind Uncle cradling Vicente.

Papi kisses Mother’s cheek then says to Grandfather. “Anything else, sir?”

“No.” Grandfather’s gentleness is more convincing than Mother’s when he waves at Anna sitting in the car, weak and drained and cold. “Take poor Annie back to the hotel.”

“Dominic, he’s only seven days old. We should—”

“Anna.” Uncle shows the family hardness. “You should rest.”

She cries.

Papi whispers softly with real kindness. Anna is soothed and heartsick. Then Papi says, “Come on, Lia. You sit up front.”

Emilia glares. She is not weak like her uncle’s wife.

But she thinks about the darkness hiding in the mountain and longs to sit beside her father and sing silly American songs as they drive away. The cloud of those dreams would lift. He little cousin would be another crying baby if she could only get in that car and drive away from the mountain.

“Come, Emilia.” Grandfather commands.

And she obeys.

The road is impassable at the end of the world. The dirty trail to the heart of the mountain turns into a wall of rock and thick trees and snow. No person could get through.

Grandfather stops at the edge of the stone wall. It was once taller. Over time, it has crumbled. Nuggets of raw copper at the base left like an offering.

Vicente squalls from hunger and cold. Uncle stays on his ATV and stares straight ahead, his face as stoic as the stone.

“You know, Lia, I’m not the oldest of my father’s sons.” Grandfather walks toward the wall.

“Really?” Emilia turns to her grandfather, respectfully, her back to the woods. Grandfather had always been the oldest in the stories. “What happened to your brother? Did he get sick?”

Grandfather smiles. “He was lost when he was a newborn.”

Emilia casts her eyes over to her cousin, Vicente. So small, so weak. “How did he die?”

The forest crawls behind her, but it is impolite to turn her back on her Grandfather, and he wants to watch the trees.

“He didn’t.” It’s not like him to talk in riddles or euphemisms. “He was lost. Have you heard of the Brujo chilote, my little snake?”

Emilia snorts. “Witches and monsters in baby stories.”

Her grandfather smiles, pleased. “That’s not so. They are very real.”

The Brujo Chilote are the sort of thing Papi would talk about before he pretended to eat her belly. Emilia looks to her mother for an explanation of Grandfather’s ridiculous claim.

Mother watches the forest with a mouse’s eyes, ready to run.

Emilia steels herself. This is a test. To see if she is gullible? To see how much she trusts him? She says nothing. Vicente cries, and Emilia’s stomach turns with the memory of a knife and needle.

“The Brujo chilote bought my older brother from my grandfather. Sold for good fortune, protection.” Grandfather goes on. “He was turned into an invunche.”.

Emilia does not know what that means. She senses there’s a weight to the word, a summoning power, as if it should conjure images of frightening stories from her childhood. But in Santiago, the monsters were tiny figures on a television screen, and Emilia had always changed the channel.

Emilia hears her mother swear and Grandfather dips his head to indicate for her to look toward the wilderness.

The invunche crouches on the stone, perched on one foot and steadied by two long arms. The other foot curls and uncurls from its chest where its heart ought to be. If it had once been human, it is no longer. Thick with muscles and grey hair, it sways, never still, always listening and tasting the air with its forked tongue. The head floats over its massive hairy shoulders as though the thick cord of its neck is only a string, tenuously attaching the weird and inhuman face to the rest of the contorted body. The eyes are white, seeming to see nothing until they fall on Emilia. The lips, the only truly untouched thing about the monster, smile.

Emilia does not scream when the monster launches into the air and lands before her. But she also does not run. The invunche, invited by her grandfather to steal his kin, sways on one foot and his great arms reach toward Emilia, capture her by her waist, lift her onto its back where she sees its other leg was once broken and sewn through the monster’s chest.

Her mother shouts not for Emilia, not in fear, but in betrayal. “You said it wanted the baby.”

Uncle also shouts. “You said you wouldn’t argue if it was your child.”

“Hush.” Grandfather does not shout.

The invunche carries her into the trees where no human thing could have passed. No human should smell so animal. No animal should move so quickly. Nothing that quick should be able to hold her so tightly.

Emilia never screams, but she punches. Its eyes depress under her fists like warm jelly. The massive jaw hurts her knuckles. The beast laughs, without human words, but with human understanding of her … weakness.

Enraged, Emilia bites the invunche’s ear, tearing at the scarred flesh. It howls with pain and gropes for her neck. She spits in its ear canal, then finds her scream. It is a weapon.

The invunche catches her neck and yanks her away. She grabs its hairy arm and bites until the howling echoes in her mind and the blood washes her eyes.

The soft voice comes from above, higher in the trees, from the very sky. “Put her down.”

The monster seethes with pain and rage, swaying in the vines. It wrenches its arm to hurl her to the ground.

“Gently. In her place.”

The invunche hops from vine to tree, moving back the way they came until it lands on the wall once more. It grunts unhappily and drops Emilia before the stone.

Emilia wipes its blood from her eyes and spits at it. She knows vulgar words to say, but Grandfather is watching, holding the baby. Uncle sits on the ATV which chugs softly. Emilia’s heart beats louder than a machine, but she returns to Grandfather’s side. Her mother touches her shoulder proudly.

The Vidals glare at the invunche and share the same thoughts. If I were a boy, if I were the eldest, if I had been chosen…

The beast cannot find stillness. The trunk of one leg roots firmly, but even its eyes float in its skull. Then it’s head swivels and stares above. There is a darkness moving in the shadows, something soft and powerful. Uncle rises unable to remain seated in the presence of something so awful.

“Your granddaughter is very brave, Espen.” The voice from the other world speaks.

“Thank you, sir. Yes, she is.”

Emilia has never heard her grandfather call someone sir.

The shadow perches upon the invunche’s back. The body of the thin man fits perfectly between the divot of the beasts’ back and the deformed leg as if the leg were a saddle. Without any command, the invunche crawls from the stone and leans towards Emilia’s mother.

“The eldest. You took great care she was female.”

Mother shivers but does not look away from the darkness. Grandfather says nothing.

The invunche sinks lower, and the faceless shadow considers Emilia. The shape has eyes like fire and angels and ice. “And she made certain her eldest was female.”

None of the Vidals speak.

“But someone made a mistake.” A thin finger, wrinkled and stained black, grazes Vicente’s cheek.

“Someone lied,” Uncle says.

The shadow does not care but reaches for the baby.

“What are you going to do?” Emilia demands.

Her mother’s fingers tighten on her shoulder. But Emilia can taste the blood of the invunche in her mouth, and she’s not afraid of her mother.

 “Why, I’ll feed him cat’s milk, goat flesh – unless man is available. I’ll raise him to be strong and obedient and carry me in unreal places like this.” The black fingers dismiss the mountain, all of Chile, all the world.

Those eyes, all the light and life of the world swirling in the blackness of the hood, twinkle at her. “But, I’ll start by breaking his leg.”

Emilia remembers her dream, and the darkness drenches her bones. “You’re evil.”

“Perhaps I’m only necessary. Your family knows that.”

Grandfather holds out the baby, transferring the fate of the newborn to the darkness.

Emilia’s heart stalls.

Then before the withered hands steal her tiny cousin, Emilia grabs Vicente.

“Emilia!” Her grandfather’s shout should freeze her blood.

Instead, she climbs on Uncle’s ATV, and turns the machine down the dirt road. She steers one-handed, cradling the newborn the way Anna did. Flying down the road, fleeing the mountain, the darkness, the chill in her bones, and the fear of her overwrought heart.

Vicente squalls, a sound familiar from her dreams and inevitable. Something grunts close behind the ATV, something loping on three feet, burdened by shadow.

Emilia feels the darkness in her mind. A twinge. A promise of strength, power. She could be like Papi, all kindness, but she would not be weak. She could protect the weak. So many lives she could touch, improve, strengthen. The Brujo Chilote would make it so. But only if she would surrender the squalling brat frozen in her arms.

Emilia nuzzles her cheek, wind-blasted from her flight down the mountain, against her cousin’s head. The softness of his hair and the force of his wail warm her face.

Lightning from the cloudless sky strikes a tree, and fiery branches tumble into the road. The conflagration surrounds the ATV at once, too fast, too neat to be natural.

Emilia wonders if there’s a way to steer the ATV through the fire, to jump the branches, to land unharmed on the other side. Then the invunche is in front of her, not behind.

It emerges from the fire, the silver hairs on its head and neck burning. Two fists swing over its head, slam down on the hood of the ATV. The machine cracks, jolts, and stops.

Emilia leaps off the ATV, keeping the invunche on the other side of the hissing machine, keeping Vicente supported and safe. The creature puts its hands on the seat and grins. Cold. Hard. A Vidal smiles. It hops over the machine.

She steps back away from the invunche as the darkness between the flames sits on the monster’s back. Vicente wails. Will he never stop crying?

There is no way through the fire, no way away from the beast, no way to protect the infant screaming in her ear.

Except to kill.

Emilia shifts one hand to Vicente’s neck, so fragile. Like chicken bones. Like twigs, she snaps for fun.

The invunche snarls and sags. The darkness watches her, and it waits. Her hand twitches to snap the infant’s neck. Her fingers won’t obey her command. She steels herself to try again.

The darkness slides off the invunche.  A toe touches the earth.

The fire is gone, and Emilia is in the dream. She’s walking down the corridor holding Vicente who gasps as he cries. The Brujo Chilote ride the invunche because her world is too thin to support their realness. How does she know that?  How did she survive the shattering of her world, the fall into someplace stronger?

Vicente calms as she soothes him. She sees the wooden table, the knife, the needle. She turns to look through the window to all the worlds.

The voice is soft behind her. “I want an heir.”

Emilia can see the gulls now, carrion birds feeding on whatever world they chose. The mountain looks down on other places not as real as this tower, and she understands power.

She cuddles Vicente close. “You tricked me.”

“I’ve waited for you.”

Emilia looks down at Vicente. Brand new, so pale. Painfully blue eyes. Trusting her not to drop him, or let his head fall.

She tickles his foot and Vicente gurgles and laughs.

“Someone must take my place.” The shadow touches Emilia’s shoulder. Life is thin. There is devastation in the place of the gulls, held away from her fragile home by little more than a crumbling wall. From this height, she could change the world, reshape it in her image. She can control it.

Emilia grips Vicente’s tiny fat foot then his unformed knee. She bends his chubby leg, far. Farther. Too far.

New bone cracks.

Emilia holds out her hand. “Give me the needle.”

“That comes later.” The knife appears in her hand. “His heart.”

The bubble of red becomes a line, the line becomes a river, then a valley of blood. Her dark fingers swim inside the blood. The shadow withdraws the tiny heart. Emilia cuts deeper, finds Vicente’s foot, pulls it through.

The shadow hands her the balm, and Emilia heals the wound.

“Now open your mouth.”

Emilia obeys. Fingers touch her chin, and her mouth opens wider than possible until it is not her throat opening but some deep passage into her soul.

The tiny, still beating heart drops inside.

Filler words to cut and replace

This is for me, mostly. I have a list of words that I personally abuse/find weak and I’m tired of losing my list and recreating it. So, I’m posting it here.  Yay!

 

 

Words to highlight and revise:

Is

Was

Ly

Ing

get

Be

Being

Seen

Seem

Saw

Feel

Felt

Hear

Heard

Smell

Smelled

Has

Had

Think

Thought

It’s

It is

 

Words to probably remove:

Probably

Only

Just

That

Very

Of the

Off of

About

Absolutely

Completely

Basically

Suddenly

All of a sudden

Said

Say

Reply

Replied

Ask

Asked

Up

Down

 

 

Replace:

Towards with toward

Backwards/backward

Upwards/upward

Downward/downward

Probably Lightening/lightning

 

 

Sunshine and Snakes

Lawless: Manlove was a best-seller on Amazon in the LGBT Anthology Category.

Get it here from Evernight

Or from Amazon

My story in Lawless is “Sunshine and Snakes”

Silent and unflinching in the face of death, Rico never met a man he couldn’t kill. Until he is instructed to murder his old cellmate and occasional lover, Burgess Accorsi. Burr is the extra son in a mob dynasty and someone keeps raising the price on his head and pressuring Rico’s family to do the job. Now Rico has to decide if the man is worth protecting or if it would be easier to just kill Burr himself.

Selection from “Sunshine and Snakes”

What I know for sure about Bruiser Accorsi couldn’t fill a Chihuahua’s nut-sack.
I know his real name is Burgess. Second-born son. Took his mother’s maiden name. He goes by Burr if you go back.
I know the Accorsi’s are the biggest family in the illicit ‘adult entertainment’ industry. High-end escorts. He likes to brag about the movie stars and politicians his girls fuck. No direct human trafficking. A financial decision, not a moral one.
I know he’s an amateur bodybuilder. I know his thick black hair is soft, not greasy. I know his eyes are the color of a sun-shot grapevine.
But I also I know he’s worth sixty thousand dollars dead.
And I’m gonna be the one to kill him.

Reviews from Goodreads:

“Any story that takes place in prison is pretty much automatically going to be a little darker and little dirtier than your average story. What follows was a nice mix of sweet with suspense.”

“In Sunshine and Snakes by L.J. Longo nothing stops a hitman from hitting his mark not even the four walls of prison. And when his next mark happens to be the man who had shared his prison room, he faces a dilemma. This story is a mix of suspense and steaminess.”

“I liked this one because the chemistry between the couple was palpable. The MC was a hardcore hitman and the mafia love interest was actually a big softie *LOL* I could see them being together for a long, long time.”



Steampunk according to Shelley Adina

I had the great pleasure of attending some of Shelley Adina’s lectures on creative writing. In addition to being a phenomenal teacher, Shelley is an extraordinarily kind woman who will let weirdos with websites interview her. I didn’t even have to take any chickens hostage (though apparently, “The Silkie Mafia” comes armed with lightning pistols, so…)


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Shelley Adina is the author of 24 novels published by Harlequin, Warner, and Hachette, and a dozen more published by Moonshell Books, Inc., her own independent press. She writes steampunk, contemporary romance, and young adult fiction, and as Adina Senft, writes women’s fiction set among the Amish and other plain communities.  She won the Romance Writers of America RITA Award® for Best Inspirational Novel in 2005, was a finalist in 2006, and in 2009 was a Christy Award finalist.

When she’s not writing, Shelley is usually quilting, sewing historical costumes, or enjoying the garden with her flock of rescued chickens.

Her latest Magnificent Devices story comes out on the 19th and it looks like this:

 

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Here’s my full interview with Ms. Shelley Adina:

L.J.: What brought you to Steampunk?

S.A.: Would you believe the Wild Wild West TV show back in the 1960s?

L.J.: YouTube says it’s like James Bond on horseback. I can believe it.

S.A.: I loved the adventure in the Wild West, the trick gadgets, the derring-do of it all. Because I was the oldest, when we recreated the episodes after school, I always had to be James West. But I wanted to be Artemus Gordon because he got to invent the cool stuff. Carry that forward several decades, and I’m inventing cool stuff in my imagination now.

L.J.: I’ve been making people define Steampunk all month, but you’ve actually defined it in the past really succinctly as “high technology in the Victorian age,” but you write in the Regency as well. Does the era matter?

S.A.: Since the steam engine was invented by Richard Trevithick in 1807 or thereabouts, the age of steam falls both in the Regency and in the Victorian age. For writers focusing on both eras, steam matters. But what also matters is the punk element—the element of subversion of authority and fighting for independence, especially among women. While it may be easy to imagine Victorian ladies getting up to subversive activities in a time that saw the likes of Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and Viscountess Amberley, the Regency had its share, too, like Ada Lovelace (born 1815), the first computer programmer. Steampunks know this, and celebrate it in the characters and art we create for ourselves.

L.J.: What do you think caused the Steampunk movement?

S.A.: In a world that’s so high-tech, where you can have relationships with people you never meet in person, the hands-on, “I made this” aspect of steampunk is very appealing. The maker communities are large and active, sharing a community build of a steam-powered motorcycle or a particularly attractive bustle design for a dress. The art of it brings like-minded people together, and there’s a real appeal in sharing a common weirdness 🙂 That speaks to me as a writer, too, because I’m building a community around characters who embody that brave, punk aspect of the movement.

L.J.:  As a reader, do you think Steampunk leans more dystopian or utopian? As a writer which way do your books tend to swing and why?

S.A.: I’ve read steampunk in both flavors. Being an optimist at heart, I prefer the utopian. My heroines get what they want because they’re clever, brave, and compassionate. My worlds, while they might be broken in some ways, still have room for happiness if one is brave enough to create it. Maybe that’s a bit of my life philosophy, too.

L.J.: I really like that as a life philosophy. Can you tell us more about your books?

S.A.: The Magnificent Devices series numbers 12 books, followed by four “manor house” novellas that continue the adventures in a much smaller, more domestic way. Because, you know, the adventures don’t stop after the wedding 🙂

Then there is my spinoff steampunk mystery series, Mysterious Devices, which follows the adventures of Daisy and Freddie Linden, two young ladies from Bath who are searching for their father. He went missing in Book 11 of the larger series. Along the way they solve murders, missing persons cases, and espionage cases. As one does, in steampunk.

L.J.: Last thing, because I don’t want your chickens to get out and start robbing banks without their mom keeping an eye on them, what are your top five Steampunk favs?

S.A.:

  1. The Leviathan series by Scott Westerfeld
  2. The Clockwork Century series by Cherie Priest
  3. The Parasol Protectorate series by Gail Carriger
  4. The Baskerville Affair series by Emma Jane Holloway
  5. And a delightful French movie called Les Aventures Extraordinaires d’Adèle Blanc-Sec that is based on a comic book series

You can find Shelley’s work here.

 


The Fantasist is a quarterly online magazine that publishes three original Fantasy novellas on the third Thursday of every third month.

And this month, while they celebrate Steampunk, one of them is mine!

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Support these guys. They have good stories for free.

Steampunk: How to Feed People Underground?

So this is less to do with Steampunk in general and more to do with my story in specific. One of the primary images I was working with was a huge number of people trapped underneath another city. And one of the main problems was figuring out how they were still around after being effectively buried alive.

I turned to science for my fiction and let me tell you, the future is coming fast and it’s actually rather encouraging for those of us afraid of climate change.

Aerofarms is a real company in New Jersey; they grow salad in a warehouse.

aerofarms
Aerofarms

Obviously, this is hugely important stuff. The technology they use allows them to produce huge amounts of crops without soil or sunlight (aka land in New York); their website can tell you better than I could about the technology they use and how it gives reliable crops with better growing seasons using less water, and all that other really cool, hippy crap.

I’ve eaten the salad and it’s as good as salad is ever going to be for me (I’m a pizza and burger person). I think this is an awesome company and it needs all kinds of support.

However.

I grew up in farm country and I’ve worked in warehouses. So that image above is hugely jarring to me. There’s something so out-of-place about plants growing indoors that I immediately started thinking about science-fiction Dystopias. Of course, this is closer to a Utopia because more food, produced with less waste and cheaper, is the stuff of a good society.  It feels strange to us now, but this is the way we will be fed in the future, at least those of us who eat salads.

Personally, I will be eating this:

 

Clean meat, grown in a lab, with no harm to animals.

Honestly, I’d totally eat that. It looks like raw hamburger meat and I bet it tastes the same. Once they make it cheap and shape it like nuggets, I’ll never kill an animal again.


The Fantasist is a quarterly online magazine that publishes three original Fantasy novellas on the third Thursday of every third month.

And this month, while they celebrate Steampunk, one of them is mine!

cropped-The-Fantasist-Logo-192x192
Support these guys. They have good stories for free.

Tortured Heart

Denying the Alpha:Manlove is Evernight’s latest shifter anthology.

Get is here from Evernight

Or here from Amazon

My story in Denying the Alpha is “Tortured Heart”

Aza, a crow shifter, has fought hard to rise to steward of a large household and to prove himself worthy to the kindly witch who raised him. But when he finds himself trapped and tortured by a rival witch, he struggles to even remember what manner of shifter he is. He had few clues to his identity and they seem inextricably tied to Thariff, a wolf is clearly his enemy and lover.

Selection from “Tortured Heart”

Didn’t he have the decency to leave me alone?
Thariff took my shoulder, more forcefully this time. The strength in his hand, the power of his arm, radiated through me. If he didn’t want to let me go, I wouldn’t be able to go. He’d tear me apart.
Instead, he pressed me back against the bricks and leaned closer. He smiled, smoldering. “I want to kiss you.”
I met his softness with bitter cold. “I want to attend to my errand.”
“You want me to do more than kiss you.”
I did. I really, really did.
But—
I scoffed at him, disdainful of what I didn’t deserve out of habit. “How charmed your life must be that you’ve reached this advanced age without ever being told no.”
Thariff looked at me, silent and patient. Waiting. For what? His silence caused a great shout to rise in me, a guttering screech, but I swallowed it and kept my face placid. Unimpressed.
He squeezed my shoulder, inhaled deeply, and listened to my heart pounding. Because a wolf could sense those things, as certainly as I felt a thunderstorm building in my bones. Then, with dusty tartness—the trace of lemons—his mouth covered mine.
That kind of kiss could break the weak. That kind of knee-buckling passion could sweep an innocent off balance and into chaos. That kind of desire defeated good sense, good instinct, and good intention, and instructed smart men to throw away everything on the off chance they might get another kiss like it.
I was only saved from utter collapse by the basket in my hand and the bricks at my back. The basket belonged to Madame Lamrow, good and kind and deserving of my loyalty. The bricks belonged to a dirty city and only an act of violence could make me touch them.
As soon as I resisted—which was less immediate than my pride cared to admit—the wolf abandoned the kiss. He kept me pinned and stared liked parting from me would be poison. “You don’t like kissing?”
I loved kissing. I didn’t get to kiss enough. Kissing was weak and foolish and…
He bowed close, bringing his lips back to mine.
I’d be lost forever if I let him kiss me.
I turned my head only at the last moment. He paused, kissed my cheek, and then plucked a soft path toward my ear.
“You want more than kisses…” he whispered.
My face was hot against his cool lips. My body radiated desire as if every inch of my skin wept for his touch. I wanted him so much that getting what I wanted might kill me. He rubbed his face into my neck and shoulder. What cruel tenderness…
I didn’t deserve it.


Reviews from Goodreads:

“Wow. This first story is a doozy and had me completely captivated. It’s filled with magic, both light and dark, and two men who seem so disparate but in the end they both want the same thing – to be safe, to be free, and to be loved. This was a fascinating story of fantasy and love, and I was hooked.”

“I’m totally in love with Tortured Heart by LJ Longo. That’s probably my favorite of the bunch. We’re instantly in the middle of it but the author does a fantastic job of explain what’s going on so the reader isn’t lost. There are lovers betraying, twists, torture, shifters, magic, yummy sex and a really interesting plot. I would have totally given this story 5 stars by itself. (5/5)”

Steampunk: How does Clockwork…Work?

While I was writing The Scribbling Windhund, I made the inventor/terrorist very aware and a little embarrassed when he started going into technical details, so he’d cut himself short and not over explain science that I couldn’t explain. However, I do know a thing or two about clockwork mechanisms and if you’re interested, I’m going to indulge.

One of my favorite things to do when I was a kid was take apart my older sister’s wind-up music box collection and clean the insides. Partly it was fun because she couldn’t put them back together and it terrified her to see her beloved music boxes in pieces, but mostly I enjoyed it because it let me pretend to be an inventor.

I’d have my tweezers, a little copper bowl of Brasso, some q-tips, rubbing alcohol (which was absolutely not necessary and probably shouldn’t have been mixed with other chemicals), and a tiny screwdriver. Then I’d set to work dismantling the movement.

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This is a “movement.” Clockwork speech for the shit inside.

The way these music boxes work is really painfully simple and extraordinarily beautiful. The round part in the upper left of the image is either called the main spring or the spiral spring. If you take it out of the case (and be very careful you don’t hurt yourself when you do), you’ll be holding a flat band of metal wound very tightly. That’s were the energy of winding the music box comes from and the longer and thinner the wire was the longer the box would play (the shorter and thicker the faster it would play). This is basically the battery of the mechanism. After you put in the energy turning the key to the music box, it tightens the spring. This is slowly unleashed and turn the wheels, gears, and eventually causes the revolving cylinder to turn. The raised bumps hit the tuned teeth of a steel comb (or lamellae) and “Music of the Night” or “Romeo and Juliet” begins to play.

I’d take great delight in carefully unscrewing the comb, and dismantling the gears, cleaning them of the little bits of dust and hair that somehow got into the device. I’d talk to myself pretending to either be inventing the thing for the first time, or defusing a bomb, or discovering a piece of old technology lost to the ages.

And of course, I’d reassemble it by the time my parents came to yell at me for messing with my sister’s toys.  They’d find nothing except a perfectly functional music box and the strong scent of rubbing alcohol and Brasso in her bedroom.

The only time I ever really got in trouble was when I took to un-making my Great Uncle Wes’ pendulum clock. The piece was much more complicated, with a lot more small moving parts (pinions, the escapement, the damned pendulum, a chiming train, and a movement train) and after I’d taken it apart I was terrified I wouldn’t be able to put it back together before someone caught me.

In the end, I stole the clock and all it’s parts and hid in the clean field (which was actually a very dirty hill) next to my Aunt and Uncle’s house. I can vividly remember skidding down the rocks and past the snake burrows to hide among the staghorn sumac. I spent the rest of the day figuring out those gears and wheels and pinions, watching the sunlight cutting through the leaves and the bars growing longer and longer as I ran out of time.

I was particularly frustrated when I realized I had put the hour hand where the minute hand needed to be and I had to take it all apart and reassemble it again.

I was there for about four hours, lying among the rocks and the grass on my belly trying to piece the thing back together. In the end, I couldn’t figure out the chiming mechanism (I suspect I lost some pieces on my flight to the field).

I don’t know if my Uncle Wes ever figured out exactly why the clock stopped chiming, but I know whenever my Aunt Annie would remark on how he ought to go and get it fixed he would just shrug and cast me a wry little smile.

It was like this clock, but not as ornate:


The Fantasist is a quarterly online magazine that publishes three original Fantasy novellas on the third Thursday of every third month.

And this month, while they celebrate Steampunk, one of them is mine!

cropped-The-Fantasist-Logo-192x192
Support these guys. They have good stories for free.

Embrace adventure, magic, romance, and the power of escapism.