Category Archives: Behind the Scenes

October Surprise: Inspiration

Reluctant Groom: Manlove, Evernight’s latest LGBT anthology, is an collection of stories celebrating May/December romances between two men… and, you know, forced marriages turning into happily-ever-afters.

What a perfect way to celebrate Pride Month!

Get it here from Evernight, Amazon, Nook, Kobo, iBooks

My story in Reluctant Groom is “October Surprise”

Image is everything to Whim, a stoic mayor who is also an openly gay, black man running for governor of a Southern state. So when the blackmail letter arrives, Whim knows there’s only one person in his city he can trust. Sunshine, raised in Whim’s aunt’s foster home, has idolized Whim since he was a kid. The young man is as brilliant as he is free-spirited, and his solutions to Whim’s troubles will either save the campaign or destroy them both.

October Surprise: Inspiration

Evernight released the call for Reluctant Groom just before the 2020 elections. So I had politics on the brain. The initial plot-bunny that hopped through my head was about a gay politician who covered up a scandal by claiming the sex worker in those dirty pictures was actually his fiancé.

And that was all I had.

In my first attempts to carve out a story, I thought maybe the politician was the sort of rake who’d make Bill Clinton blush while the younger man was a college student who could barely speak in public. Or maybe he was a secret war vet? Or maybe a born-again Christian… that wasn’t working. Then I thought, maybe the politician was super corrupt and the young fellow was the victims of a sex trafficking thing and… that fell apart very quickly.

With the deadline for the submission getting closer and no idea who I should be writing about, I took drastic measures.

I made a playlist.

I love Spotify because it lets me like any damn song I want and keeps that song in a positively enormous list for me. When I get stuck on a character or a conflict in a Romance book, I shuffle it and let the first three songs dictate where I go from there.

The first song I came to was Johnny Cash’s cover of Eagles, Desperado. It’s an absolutely legendary song, made even more heart-breaking by Cash’s lonesome vocals. It was the perfect starting point for the December in my story. A cowboy type, trying to save his city. Thinking he had to do it all alone without letting anyone see his weaknesses. Whim Deluth became a paragon of his community, obsessed with appearances and haunted by his own virtues.

The second song was so wildly different I nearly skipped over it on instinct. be steadwell’s “What I Want,” is a glorious ode to lesbian seduction (like most of her songs). Lines like “she is a reoccurring dream/ and she came back just like I knew she would” and “I don’t wanna hear you scream/I wanna hear you whisper “Please don’t stop” coupled by the raw sensuality of the song are the reason I’m a huge fan of be steadwell. The May of my story was not going to be a wilting flower, or a soft, inexperienced victim. With that one song, Sunshine became a young, gender-fluid man who knew who he was, who he wanted, and how to get his way. Is it any wonder, the young man became the more forceful of the two?

The final piece to the puzzle came with another less known artist, Rebecca Angel, and her song “Again.” It’s a deceptively simple song. Here are the lyrics without repetition.

Touch me again
like you did before.
My skin cries out
with the memory of you.

I was tempted to include the repetition and the stresses. Half the magic of the song comes from the singer’s pleading, playful, forlorn longing. There’s a lovely spareness and mystery to those few words and the light touch of the instrumentation. It evokes a rich history between these two lovers, hints at something deeply broken, and offers hope that this time will be different, better, and more satisfying.

Three songs that I doubt have ever been put near each other before, but they came together, and suddenly, I had a story to write.

October Surprise: A Bit Odd

Reluctant Groom: Manlove, Evernight’s latest LGBT anthology, is an collection of stories celebrating May/December romances between two men… and, you know, forced marriages turning into happily-ever-afters.

What a perfect way to celebrate Pride Month!

Get it here from Evernight, Amazon, Nook, Kobo, iBooks

My story in Reluctant Groom is “October Surprise”

Image is everything to Whim, a stoic mayor who is also an openly gay, black man running for governor of a Southern state. So when the blackmail letter arrives, Whim knows there’s only one person in his city he can trust. Sunshine, raised in Whim’s aunt’s foster home, has idolized Whim since he was a kid. The young man is as brilliant as he is free-spirited, and his solutions to Whim’s troubles will either save the campaign or destroy them both.

October Surprise: a little bit odd

October Surprise: not exactly the story I thought I would be writing

I don’t usually write contemporary realism stories. My mind tends to run more towards the thriller and speculative sides of the romance genre.

I don’t usually write May/December romances. The power dynamic of a much older partner and a young person ‘groomed’ for the role always freaked me out when I was a teenager, and I never got over that.

And I never thought I would be asked to write a Forced Marriage between two men. I’m a little like Whim, and my old-fashioned ass is still tickled pink and a bit unused to the fact that gay marriage is legal in the U.S.

But one of the fun things about anthology calls is that challenge to get outside yourself and write something specific to a theme.

Like every other person on the planet, 2020 was a tough year for me. I’d left my apartment in NYC to teach abroad in Shanghai, China, just as the pandemic shut everything down. Abruptly, I was thrown out of my comfortable life with an enriching career and the luxury of my own home and pushed back into life as a cashier, living with my in-laws. I spent most of 2020 joking that quarantine was a writer’s dream, but in truth, I was worn out by fear. Fear of the pandemic, fear of my nation’s negligence, fear of the racial strife that seemed just as dangerous to my family as the disease.

Evernight released the call for Reluctant Groom just before the 2020 elections. I was so wound up in these thoughts that a politician forced to marry to quiet down a scandal was the only story I could dream up. Thinking about a gay, black, uber-responsible Democrat running for governor was therapeutic for me.

Partly because I wished for a real-life Whim so much, I couldn’t bring myself to make him the sort of fella who would coerce his lover into a marriage. So, it ended up being Sunshine, the younger man, who was applying the pressure. It’s a little bit odd, so is Sunshine, so I wrote the story the way I needed to and hoped for the best (more on this in another post).

By the time I submitted it, my nerves were back. I knew I was walking the line of the most important part of the theme, and kicking myself for being cavalier with the rules, with spending months on this story with such an obvious flaw at the very heart.

I fully expected a rejection.

So when Evernight’s email came back, I was devastated but not surprised. It read: “Thank you for your submission. The story doesn’t fit the anthology requirements (almost opposite with the younger man being the forceful party)”

And then I stopped reading and wallowed for a while.

It wasn’t until a day later when I received a follow-up email asking for my response, that I went back and finished reading the initial email.

“… but the acquiring editor really enjoyed your story and is willing to bend in this specific case.”

So moral of the story, kids, finish reading your emails.

I hope you enjoy “October Surprise” even if it’s a little bit odd.

October Surprise

Reluctant Groom: Manlove, Evernight’s latest LGBT anthology, is an collection of stories celebrating May/December romances between two men… and, you know, forced marriages turning into happily-ever-afters.

What a perfect way to celebrate Pride Month!

Get it here from Evernight, Amazon, Nook, Kobo, iBooks

My story in Reluctant Groom is “October Surprise”

Image is everything to Whim, a stoic mayor who is also an openly gay, black man running for governor of a Southern state. So when the blackmail letter arrives, Whim knows there’s only one person in his city he can trust. Sunshine, raised in Whim’s aunt’s foster home, has idolized Whim since he was a kid. The young man is as brilliant as he is free-spirited, and his solutions to Whim’s troubles will either save the campaign or destroy them both.

Selection from “October Surprise”

A blackmail letter sneaks onto my desk in early spring. I’m on a call with a local school board member who needs to be reminded he’s essential, and I open my mail with indifference until the handwritten lettering peeks through. Chisel-tip marker, quite beautiful, if I’m honest. I look at the envelope again—good forgery of City Hall’s seal.

The message reads: I know your secret. When we meet, you’ll give me what I want. No questions asked.

The fellow from the school board pauses, so I mirror enough of what he’s said to make him continue on.

There’s a tiny part of me that’s pleased to receive a blackmail letter as the mayor of a mid-sized city. Death threats, I’d grown accustomed to during quarantine two years ago. But to be blackmailed … that’s proper validation.

The greater part of me is confused. Do I have a secret worthy of extortion? I’ve spoken openly, though not frequently, about my sexuality. I’m not exactly proud of my time in the Army, but there’s nothing to publicly shame me. As far as I know, I’ve never been successfully bribed. Maybe something from before. Before the military. Before my political ambitions.

Sunshine will know which of our old friends sent this.

I return the letter to its envelope, tuck it into my jacket pocket, and focus on my phone call.

After I’ve soothed the school board official, I sit in the silence. City Hall is a tomb after hours, a pristine echoing place, especially my office. The clean empty walls are cool and crisp as snow.

The last time I talked to Sunshine—not so much talking as moaning and panting, if I’m honest—I hadn’t returned his calls. He knew I wouldn’t. I’m the mayor of a mid-sized city, aiming to be governor, and he was … is … a strange kid. Feral, lawless, but not in a mean way. Boy’s heart is pure gold, just … unpredictable. He’s magic to kiss, heaven to hold, and impossible to keep. For me, anyway. Someone with less ambition and a softer heart might tame him. But he’s too fragile for my strength, too odd for my world.

Still, he answers the phone when I call. As usual, he doesn’t speak first.

“Sunshine, it’s me.”

“Who?”

“William Duluth.”

“Naw, it ain’t.”

I smile to spite myself. “It’s Whim, then.”

“Shame on you, Whim, forgetting yourself.”

Considering the blackmail letter filling my pocket, is there shame in forgetting what deserves to be forgotten? “I’m glad you remember me. How’ve you been, son?”

Sunshine bucks against the small talk. “What color’s the sky where you are?”

“Black.” Then I look out the window and consider the darkest part of this southern sunset. The springtime heat floats in a haze above the asphalt. Rows of city-approved palmettos and oaks sway in the glow of streetlights, and the skyscrapers hemming in the historic district reflect the peaceful twilight. The glowing dome of City Hall dims the stars. “Hazy gray.”

“I’ve been where the sky is purple in the night.”

“You outside the city?”

“Yup. Just ’cross the river. I like your town, Mayor Whim.”

His endorsement means more to me than a dozen donors. “Proud to hear that. Listen, I’d like to—”

“Where and when?”

“Sunshine, you don’t even know why I’m calling.”

“You sound lonely.” I bet he’s smiling to hide his own aloneness. “You know I’ll keep you out of trouble.”

In more ways than one. “Nothing has changed, son. If I’m honest—”

“I know it.” He has no patience for my defenses.

“Let’s—as a thought experiment—keep it professional. Set some boundaries.”

He laughs at my attempt. “Come and fuck me, Whim.”

I pinch the bridge of my nose, frustrated by his transparency and by the excited energy zipping through my spine. “I’d rather meet in public.”

“How’d that work last time?”

Last time. Winter. He’d worn a pink scarf from a street vendor, a long trench coat, and— I learned when he’d sauntered into my condo later—nothing else. The brightness of cheap cashmere on his mysterious dark skin … the platinum blond cloud of his shoulder-length afro … the memory burns my blood.

“It was a good effort.”

“We know how this goes, Whim. It’s like playing with matches in a pile of newspapers.”

Or a flamethrower in a weapons bunker.

“Come on over and start a fire.”

Beautiful Chains

Billion Dollar Love: Manlove is Evernight’s newest anthology about, as the title suggests, billionaire bad boys.

Get it here from Evernight, Amazon, or Bookstrand

My story in Billion Dollar Love is “Beautiful Chains”

In this “Phantom of the Opera” meets “Moulin Rouge” m/m romance Harper Brosh, a dancer with a fledgling theater company seduces Mr. Ito, the theater’s mysterious patron. While the sparks fly with the eccentric billionaire (who Harper has never seen unmasked), Harper is surprised as anyone to find himself falling for timid stagehand, Carlos.
As Mr. Ito get more possessive and demanding, Harper must make a choice between his passion for theater and his heart.

Selection from “Beautiful Chains”

Outside New York City, people’s heads turn when I pass—with as much confusion as admiration, as if tall, blond, and skinny is a new breed of humanity. But in NYC, no one stares when I get on the uptown B, no one points me out to their friends. No one tries to strike up a conversation or suggests with cheerful ignorance that I ought to be a model.

The doorman to the condo tower notices me. But doormen in historic apartments on 5th Ave. are as subtle as the gilding on the ceilings; they blend in with all the dizzy little details. They recognize who belongs and know when they want attention and when they want to slip past unseen.

But somebody is watching when I enter the penthouse suite.

It’s not a true penthouse, not in the sense of being the very top of the building or having the rooftop terrace. But with the decorative beams on the ceiling and the sunken marble floor, it’s damned close. Central Park peeks between other luxury apartments, and across the room, I can look slightly down on Rockefeller Center.

I unwrap my red scarf and peel out of my fall jacket, slinky as a showgirl. After all, there’s a genuine silver hook to hang it on. I bend to politely remove my shoes, then rake my hands through my curls to settle them. Putting on a little show for the man I can’t see yet.

The room is lit only by the city’s false starlight and the blinking lights of hidden electronics. The darkness purrs with machines. A smart tower to command the lights and heat and music. At least one camera and God knows what else this dark, minimalist décor is hiding.

The centerpiece is the kabuki mask on the far wall. Even in the darkness the silver and gold catch the light. It’s a demon face. Black and hollow-eyed, the lower half is carved away to let the performer rant and roar, but the cheeks and eyes and brow are extravagantly detailed. Inlaid with precious metal to give that inhuman face the impression of an ever-changing expression. The glowing big screen TV hangs beside it like a caption box.

“Welcome Home, Omocha.”

I freeze at the steps, poised to walk down into the sunken den, but helpless before that mask. My heart taps a ghoulish Bob Fosse routine, one frenetic pulse inside an ocean of darkness and calm. If I could remember free-will, I’d turn and flee, but he’s here, and he’s watching.

So, I stand tall and dignified, in a casual first position, and watch the mask and the screen for further instructions.

The text does not change.

It ought to be a command. Half-riddle. Half road-map. A precursor to tonight’s torture.

Once, it read: “Ice. Cool down in the kitchen.” And I’d found a bowl of ice in the freezer. I’d spent fifteen minutes gliding it over my lips, around my nipples, into my ass. Playing by myself while he watched from … somewhere. He’d emerged like a phantom, faceless in the shadows, but hot as the sun. He’d burned away the chill, stolen more than my breath and sanity as he fucked me.

Once, it read: “Ropes in the bedroom.” And I’d found a silken rope and a kimono to match folded on his huge bed. The light in the room transitioned to an eerie blue light when I changed into his costume. But my lover didn’t come until I looped my hands in a noose. Wearing only that strange mask, he’d more than explored my body that night, tying me down in a dozen different ways, opening and shutting the robe as if debating whether he preferred me to look more lascivious or innocent while he fucked me.

Tonight, the empty mask leers, as if it also remembers every time I’ve come.

“Welcome Home, Omocha.”

The flickering smile on the mask isn’t real. Just the product of an overworked imagination that’s already on high-alert and one hard shove from a drop into madness. Welcome home? What the hell do I do with that?

Nominated for Evernight’s Best Paranomal Romance 2019

Freeing the Witch is nominated for an award!

I’m so ridiculously thrilled about this. If you liked the book, please vote for it here:

Evernight’s Best Paranormal Romance 2019

Freeing the Witch is the hardest romance novel I’ve ever written since it’s about two people who are very different than me. They are shy and self-effacing and the kind of folks you want to get a happily-ever-after. Even though one a wolf and the other is a witch. So really its an Enemies to Lovers story, but with genuinely sweet people.

Emaula Whispel thought she’d be happy if she could live outside her mother’s magical stone tower, but when Emaula starts working as a chef at her friend’s trading post, she becomes smitten with Porter, her co-cook. Now Emuala’s magic is obsessed with possessing this quiet, charming wolf, and the budding witch has to fight to control her powers and her lust, to prevent her new friend from becoming her accidental victim.

If you’ve not read the book, click here to get it from Evernight or contact me. I still have a few author copies to give away!

 

Freeing the Witch

Happy Friday the Thirteenth, Everyone. I know I’m having a good day because I get to announce the official release of Heart of the Mountain 2: Freeing the Witch just in time for Halloween!

*Update: Freeing the Witch won runner-up for Readers’ Choice Best Paranormal Romance. Save 25% off 2019 Readers’ Choice Winners with coupon code WINNERS2019.

Easily the hardest to write and probably the best of the romance novels I’ve written, Freeing the Witch is about Emaula a sweet, shy witch who is trapped by her psychopathic mother who is slowly eating her soul and has cursed her to be poisonous to the touch. She is saved by her friend Jasprite (heroine of Hiring the Tiger) and whisked to the jungle mountains of the south where she meets the effortlessly charming Porter, a wolf she immediately falls in love with but can never touch.
The wolf-pack is deeply suspicious of witches, and Emaula’s curse makes her particularly distrustful, so Porter finds himself for the first time ever disagreeing with his pack. He loves Emaula and he knows she wants him, what he can’t understand is why she’s so hesitant about it. And even if he could get her to admit her feelings, and smooth over the tensions with the wolf pack, there’s still that evil mother to contend with.

Starting today, you can find it online at Evernight Publishing: here.

Or on Smashwords: here.

Emaula and Porter’s love story has been particularly weird for me to write because it’s so sweet (my roommates have been listening to me complain for months about how hard it is for two shy people to fall in love). Generally my characters are as much in competition with each other as they are with the outside world; this is the first time I’ve really tackled a romance between not just one shy person, but two.

Porter and Emaula both have a lot of growing to do before they can acknowledge their own worth and fight for their mutual love.
But that’s also the reason this is one of my favorite stories. Their happy ending, because of course there’s a happy ending, is sooo earned.
So pleased to finally share this with the world.
I hope you guys enjoy Freeing the Witch.

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.

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!

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Support these guys. They have good stories for free.

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
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Cover Reveal!

Once again, I got so interested in Steampunk that I forgot to announce my new release!  It’s another anthology story called “Tortured Heart” and it will appear in Denying the Alpha.

Which looks something like this:

 

 

denying the alpha antho-MM-complete

I love these anthologies because they always get me to write something new and interesting. I keep returning to the same world of shifters so this is similar to “The Scarf” and Hiring the Tiger. “Tortured Heart” tells the story about a crow shifter who has fought hard to rise to steward of his witch’s household only to fall in love with a rival witch’s wolf.

The release date and teasers soon!