This is an excerpt from my novella Raven’s Song, which is part of the Here Be Magic Boxed Set Anthology. 8 Fine novellas, many from best-selling or award-winning authors, for only $.99!
Ok, so for those of you who haven’t read Ravensblood, we’re in a *very* alternate version of the Pacific Northwest. Magic is real and openly acknowledged, and the Three Communities are ruled by a Joint Council representing Art –mages, practitioners of high magic. Craft—that would be all the shamanic and wiccan folk, and Mundane—that would be the people who have not aptitude for or interest in magic.
Raven’s Song is a novella set between the first two books of the series.
Forgive the spoilers , by the way, for those of you who haven’t read the first book yet, but I want to set the stage for the reading I’m about to do from Raven’s Wing. In the last book, the notorious dark mage, Corwyn Ravenscroft—Raven—, with the help of Cassandra Greensdowne, the former apprentice and lover he once betrayed, redeemed himself and won a pardon from the Joint Council by spying against and ultimately bringing down his master William, who had been trying to overthrow the elected government to set himself up as ruler absolute.
In the beginning of this story, Cass and Raven are lovers once again. Cass has been promoted from her former job as a Guardian—magical law enforcement for the Three Communities—to Guardian International Investigations. GII handles the complicated cases that are beyond the scope and abilities of the local Guardians, and tends to hire misfits and eccentrics, sometimes with questionable pasts.
Raven had been doing some unpaid, unofficial consulting on difficult cases for the GII, and while Cass is away on a case Davison, one of her colleagues, contacts Raven for help with a stalker case that has him stumped. Their first attempt at collaboration does not go well. Davison has a deep dislike of dark mages, and Raven’s past experiences with Guardians makes him distrustful.
But their mutual concern for the Mundane opera singer being stalked makes them try again. In this section, Davison has asked Raven to look over Miss Love’s house to see if he can figure out how the stalker is getting in. They are just now looking at the wards, which are the commercial type a Mundane can pay a professional ward-builder to set up.
One other bit of information you will need: The ‘Sherlock’ mentioned is not, of course, Sherlock Holmes, but Cass and Chuckie’s boss, given name Abigail Andrews. She got the nick-name ‘Sherlock’ for her Anglan accent and her unusual pipe-smoking habit, as well as a fondness for tweed.
OK, I think that’s all we need to start.
“I’m sensing wards,” Raven said.
“I had them leave them down for us, but yeah. Standard, commercial grade, the sort that a Mundane can pay to have commercially installed. Keyed to a palm-print—there’s a pad for it on the wall beside the door, inside and out. Set to Miss Love, of course, and a few other people she wanted to have access. Her PA, her housekeeper.”
Such wards weren’t popular, since they were expensive and required regular maintenance. They were also practically useless against a mage who really knew what he was doing.
“Were the wards breached?” Raven asked.
“Not obviously, but with this type. . .”
“I could have gotten in and out without leaving a sign,” Raven said. “While I was still in General Academy. Still, it might have helped if you had called me in while there were still magical signatures to be read.”
Davison looked down. “Yes, well, we were still hoping to come up with something ourselves.”
“Can I get a look at the wards while they’re up?” Raven asked.
“Give me a minute.”
Davison put a hand on the ward panel, tapped his fingers in a quick pattern. The wards sprang to life. Raven reached out with his magical senses. They were, for their type, surprisingly strong. He’d be able to blast through them, but not without getting singed in the process. As for dismantling them, well, he would have still been able to do it by his last year in General Academy, but it would have taken him a while, and he doubted many other of his fellow students would have been able to achieve the same.
“Do you mind if I try to take them down? Just to see what it takes?”
“Can you put them back together again?”
“Better than new.” Raven flashed a smile.
Quite literally better than new. It’d be violating the ward-builders proprietary magic seven ways to Sunday, but only if they found out about it. More important to keep Miss Love safe.
“Be my guest, then.” Something in Davison’s answering smile told him he knew what Raven had in mind and had no objection.
Not so by-the-book as all that, then. GII had a reputation for creative interpretation of rules, but Davison had struck him as more straight-laced than his colleagues. Wonders never cease.
Raven sent a flow of soft, soothing thoughts to the ward, mimicking its own patterns so as not to rouse it. Easy enough—although he’d never met this ward in particular, it varied little from a standard type every mage learned. Then gently, carefully, he searched for a loose thread in the magic. It took him a moment; the maker had woven his ends back in carefully. But eventually he found a strand that he could work loose, and from there it was just a matter of unknotting and unravelling, working faster as he realized that the ward was not going to wake.
Then the ward fell apart, useless and inert.
Davison whistled low. “Just over a minute. I’m impressed.”
Raven shrugged. “Hardly a challenge. Now the wards on the Council museum, those were some wards. Took me over a week of study and practice, and I barely got through in time to make the schedule.”
“You killed a guard that night.” Davison’s cold voice cut through his memory of the adrenalin of that night, the thrill of having gotten away with the near-impossible.
“I didn’t.” Raven said. “Although my partner in that particular crime did. I regret that it was unavoidable.”
“I’m sure that’s a great comfort to his widow and children.”
He’d found out the man’s name and contributed, anonymously, a large sum to the widows and orphans fund in his memory. But that didn’t make anything better and besides it wasn’t Davison’s business.
“I suppose none of your undercover agents have ever stood by and watched murder take place rather than blow their cover in service to the greater good,” he said.
Davison blanched. The barb had hit a sensitive mark. More sensitive than Raven had aimed for. He bit back a question. Let Davison deal with his ghosts. Raven had enough of his own.
He turned his attention to rebuilding the ward, weaving in a few nasty surprises for the unaware, and finishing by weaving the strand he’d first pulled loose even more firmly into the ward and finishing with a trap-rigged knot that even he would have trouble with, if the ward did not recognize its creator.
“So Miss Love had the ward keyed to you for ease of access. Anyone else in GII?” Raven asked.
“Why do you ask?” Davison’s eyes narrowed. “If you are implying that one of my men—”
“Baseless accusations are your area, not mine,” Raven snapped. “I merely wanted to warn you that if anyone needs to dismantle the wards because they don’t have access to take them down, they had best be very careful.” He sighed. “Or have them call me and I’ll come down and do it.”
“Oh. Right.” Davison looked flustered. “There’re a couple more of us on the case, and we’re all keyed in to the wards.” He took a deep breath, blew it out. Then he pulled out a key on a fob marked with a serial number of some kind and the GII logo, and opened the door.
“Miss Love is in a safe house right now.” Davison gestured Raven to precede him. “She’s given us permission to enter the residence.”
In the foyer of the house, Davison took the lead, and Raven followed him through the living room, taking in the replica French baroque furniture, all white satin and ornate gilt-painted wooden trim. A coordinating curio cabinet in one corner held porcelain figures of ballet dancers. What looked like a genuine Persian rug dominated the room with its vivid golds and blues and its fanciful birds and flowers. It lay on a spotless white carpet so thick that their feet made no sound as they crossed the room to the bottom of the stairs.
“I want you to look at the display he left,” Davison said. “I know you said that the MO doesn’t sound like anyone you know, but looking at it might jog something anyway.”
“Fine.” Raven followed him up the wide, carpeted staircase. Cassandra was out of town, and he had nothing better to do than swear at the piano for things that were not the instrument’s fault. He had some research projects on his desk, but without the urgency of practical application they had failed to hold his interest for long.
At the landing he paused. “I never even entertained the thought that the stalker might be a Guardian. I may suspect your average Guardian capable of a lot of things, including willful ignorance, prejudice, and a willingness to brutalize suspects, but I’ve no reason to believe that any of you are sexual predators.”
Davison froze, clearly searching for a response to this unexpected declaration. Finally he settled for a curt nod, and led Raven into the dressing chamber that was the anteroom of Miss Love’s bedroom. The wallpaper was cream with pink roses, dusted with a faint golden glitter, a rather old-fashioned design. The dressing table, bureau and wardrobe were all cream, accented in antique gold. Framed photos from several of Miss Love’s performances hung on the wall in artistic arrangement. An elaborate pink beaded-and-fringed Victorian lamp sat on top of the dresser. The room smelled distinctly feminine, the scent of make-up and expensive floral perfume.
Incongruous on the center of the dressing table stood a garish, crude diorama. A woman crowned with ivy and holly writhed in labor on what was clearly meant to be a manger, her face contorted. A creature, half-stag and half-man, stood by, naked and rampant in arousal, while men robed like ancient magi of the East knelt at his feet in adoration. A mural painted on the mirror depicted in pornographic detail a woman having sexual congress with a bull, and a multi-rayed sun or star hung from the corner of the dresser mirror, glowing like a light-globe.
It was a parody of both Christian and pagan traditions, so obscene that it chilled his blood.
“You—” he swallowed bile. “I assume you’ve checked for magical signatures?”
“On this?” Davison gestured. “Nothing magical about it. Except the light globe, and I doubt the man spelled it himself.”
Raven shook his head. When did GII start hiring idiots?
“One of my men did check that,” Davison continued. “Said it was a classic light globe spell. No trigger, meant to stay on for a set period, then burn itself out. No evidence that it was a custom job. You see trinkets like it all over the shops, this time of year. We did try to trace the shop it came from, but no luck. By this point, any magical signature from the maker would have faded.”
Raven shook his head. “Not necessarily. There are ways to read it in the fabric of a continuous spell like this.” Not everything in his ancestor’s journal was dark magic.
Davison frowned doubtfully, but kept his silence.
Raven reached for it, and paused. “May I?”
Davison reached into his pocket and offered him a bag of latex gloves. “Knock yourself out. We’ve already dusted for prints, checked for fibers. Forensics already cleared the place, or I wouldn’t have brought you in. Technically, I could have had the lot of this carted off to the evidence room days ago, but since Miss Love doesn’t feel safe returning. . .” he shrugged. “I wanted to look at it just as he placed it, just where he placed it. Try to get into his mind, understand what he’s thinking.”
Raven shook his head. “I don’t think you’ll ever understand what he’s thinking. And you’re the better man for it.”
He hadn’t meant the compliment to slip out, but Davison, staring at the pseudo-crèche, didn’t seem to register it.
Raven put on the gloves, and took down the glowing star, holding it in his hands as he tried to register its signature. There was something. . .wrong about it. The signature was muddled, as Davison had said the stalker’s was. Almost certainly not a route commercial job; he could tell that as easily as he could tell the difference between factory-made furniture and pieces crafted by an artisan. Davison’s man clearly needed re-training. But even beyond the muddling of the signature—oh, yes, almost certainly deliberate and he needed to learn how that was done—it was just wrong. Not the wrongness of someone who had spent his life devoted to dark magic, Raven knew that sort of wrong. This was something different. It felt like a sickroom smells.
Underlying the muddling, underlying the wrongness, something tugged at his memory. He’d encountered this signature before. No, it wasn’t one he knew well, but something he’d caught in passing, like a tune heard on the wind as he walked down the sidewalk past an open window.
After carefully replacing the ornament on the mirror, Raven told Davison what he had found.
Davison shook his head. “It’s not like Matthews to make that sort of mistake, but he’s been off his game. I’ll talk to him. Still, it doesn’t sound like his mistake cost us any material information we didn’t already have. I’m more interested in the fact that you said the signature seems familiar to you. Someone from your old life, do you think?”
Raven shook his head. “I can’t be sure, but it doesn’t feel like it. For one, the signature is barely familiar. Certainly it wasn’t anyone in William’s inner circle, or I would recognize it. Could be someone on the periphery, but I would still expect it to reek of dark magic. This is a different kind of wrongness.”
“What do you mean, a different kind of wrongness?” Davison snapped.
He’s frustrated with the case, not shouting at you. Raven took a deep breath. Let it out. “I wish I knew,” he said evenly. “It might give us some clue as to who we’re looking for. “He took another deep breath. “You said something about showing me the rest of the house, and why you think the front entrance is the most likely one.”
Davison nodded, and led the way back down the stairs, through a dining room with a chandelier and a polished wood table clearly meant for large dinner parties, and through a kitchen that many a gourmet chef would trade his first-born for.
At the door he paused and turned toward Raven, blocking his way, forcing Raven to look at him. “You made a reference earlier, to Guardians brutalizing suspects. Were you abused in custody?”
Raven shrugged and looked away. “Nothing that can be proven. I fail to see how this is relevant.”
“It’s relevant because it shouldn’t have happened. If it happened, it needs to be addressed.”
Raven smiled cynically. “How could you get so far in the Guardians and remain so charmingly naive? Nothing that happens to a dark mage matters.”
He tried to brush past Davison, but the Guardian grabbed his shoulder. “It matters, because we’re Guardians. No matter who or what the suspect is, we’re supposed to be better than that.”
Raven shook his head. “I almost think you believe that.”
“I’m not saying abuse doesn’t happen. I’m not stupid. But it needs to be addressed.” Davison spoke with a fervor that reminded Raven of all he used to believe about Guardians, back when he was a child.
“It was almost a year ago. It can’t be proven. Let it go.” Raven pulled away from Davison’s grip.
This time, the agent let him pass. Which is all he wanted. No reason to be disappointed that the Guardian did not pursue the matter further.
He followed Davison out into a formal garden complete with fountains. Though it was the wrong season for flowers, green still lined the white gravel paths. A low stone wall enclosed the borders.
“If you think that wall is enough—” Raven began.
“Hush and follow,” Davison said.
Hush? The audacity of the man! Still his curiosity drove him to follow on the man’s heels to look over the wall.
The last twenty feet or so beneath the wall had been shored up with a rock retaining wall, now slick with the moss that covered everything in the Pacific Northwest that didn’t run away fast enough. Below that, the hillside dropped away abruptly to something half-way between a slope and a cliff, mostly rocks and mud, with deep grooves worn by run-off.
I sincerely hope Miss Love had an engineer look at the stability of this before she bought the house. “And?” Raven asked. “I’m not a hiker or a climber, but this doesn’t look impossible. Difficult, maybe.”
“I hike and climb with the wife and kids on weekends, and I wouldn’t want to try this without equipment. More to the point, it would be impossible to do it without leaving prints in the mud or scuffs on the moss. No one came up this way.”
“But surely there’s another way into the garden,” Raven said. “I can’t imagine the architect would not have placed a back entrance somewhere to provide an adequate exit in case of fire.”
“Gate on the side. Ivy twined around the gate and post. Clearly hasn’t been opened in a long time. Someone really should talk to Miss Love about that. Not only is it a safety issue, but ivy is a non-native species. It really shouldn’t be allowed to grow and propagate itself.”
Raven studied the house, registering the ornate metal grillwork over each of the windows on the first floor. Functional as well as decorative. No one made it into the house through that.
“Teleportation?” Raven asked. “How long have the wards been up?”
“I don’t remember the exact date. Since before Yule, anyway. You see why I think the stalker used the front door. There’s not more than a handful of mages that could teleport through even a weak ward.”
And you almost certainly can guess that I’m one of them. But if Davison had any suspicions, he kept them to himself. Either he’d learned his lesson, or he’d had the fear of Sherlock put into him.
Raven frowned. “While it’s possible for an exceptional mage to take the wards down and put them back up again without leaving a trace, what would be the point?”
“To further muddy the trail? To throw suspicion on those who had access?” Davison ran a hand through his hair, which looked weeks overdue for a cut. “Gods only know.”
“Are any of Miss Love’s staff from the Art community?”
Davison shrugged. “Her PA graduated from General Academy, by his own admission at the bottom of his class. Says he hasn’t done anything with it since. Claims he can turn on a light globe and work a message crystal, but not much else.”
“Do you believe him?”
“No reason not to. But I’ve never been particularly adept at gauging another’s power. Can you. . .”
Raven smiled darkly. “Basic survival skill, living with William’s merry band of vipers. Find an excuse for me to meet with him, and I can tell you in under two minutes whether you should write him off or move him up the suspect list.”
“Thank you, I—“Something trilled in Davison’s jacket pocket. “Excuse me.”
Raven raised an eyebrow. A Mundane cell phone? Some mages owned one; Cassandra did, though she rarely used it. He’d never met a mage before who actually carried one on a regular basis.
“GII’s experimenting,” Davison mouthed to Raven as he hit a button and held the phone up to his face. “Davison here.” His face changed, shock and urgency written in every line. “Miss Love? Madeline? Is that you? I can’t understand you, take a breath and try to slow down.”
Raven’s heart pounded. Adrenalin surged through his body in a way it hadn’t since his return to mainstream life.
“Listen,” Davison kept his voice soothing yet firm, though his eyes were wild. “You need to call 911. Have you called 911? They said what? Okay, okay. I’m on my way.”
He hit a button and then tapped another. “Marcus? What the hell is going on in dispatch? What? Oh, hell. What was that? Marcus, you’re breaking up. I don’t understand—” He looked at the screen, viciously stabbed a few buttons, and shoved the cell back into his pocket. “Shit, shit, shit. Godsdamned Mundane piece of junk.”
He turned to Raven. “I can barely make sense of Miss Love. The Guardian on shift at the safe house is down, maybe dead, something about blood everywhere. Dispatch says there’s a bomb threat at a shopping center and a possible hostage situation at an elementary school, they have no idea when they can get someone out to the safe house. And the fucking phone just cut out. No idea if it’s the battery or what, but I won’t be able to raise my team. There’s not a crystal anywhere here.” He glanced about frantically, as if looking for a message crystal, or a miracle.
“You have no idea what you’re jumping into,” Raven said. “You can’t go in alone.”
Davison bared his teeth, a cross between a grimace and a grin. “Watch me.”
“Anchor for me when you get there. It’ll take less than a second. I’ll be your backup.”
“You think I’d bring a civilian into a potential crime-in-progress? You’re mad!”
“I’ve probably seen more violent magic than any Guardian you’ll ever meet,” Raven said. “And it’s not like the public will call for your head if you get me killed. We don’t have time to argue.”
Davison pressed his mouth into a thin-lipped frown. “Fine,” he snapped and teleported.
The GII agent could have simply teleported and then blocked Raven from using him as an anchor, but when Raven reached out through the ether a moment after Davison faded out, he found a steady anchor to follow.
Alanna is one of my first and most loyal readers, one who has been with me from the beginning and has been trusted with insider information on where the series is going. A little while ago, she made an off-hand comment about how she couldn’t wait to see how Raven handled it when the midwife handed Raven his first-born.
Now, I didn’t see that scene fitting in to any of the upcoming books. (At least not as I’ve currently conceived them. Sometimes things change.) But it seemed like a good challenge to set myself. Not only would I be writing the experience for a masculine POV (and, let’s face it, birthing is one of those things where gender does really matter) but also I have zero parental instincts. No desire for parenthood whatsoever. Never had it, never will. I don’t think babies are cute and will go to great lengths to avoid holding one.
I did some research, IM’ing a male friend who became a parent a little while ago. Still, it was a challenge getting into Raven’s head at this moment. You can tell me how you think I did. . .
Raven looked on as the midwife took the small, perfect, impossible being from where he rested against Cassandra’s chest, dried it, and swaddled it in the soft, raven-print blanket that Ana had sewn as soon as they told her that Cassandra was expecting. He focused for a moment on that blanket, the fabric of which was purple and likely intended for Samhain, because if he looked at that small, scrunched face right now he was going to cry.
His chest hurt, too full of emotions he could not separate, let alone name. He’d wielded in his life more power than most mages could imagine, yet all of that seemed to slip away, insignificant in the face of this new life that he and Cassandra had brought into the world.
Sweat plastered Cassandra’s dark hair to her forehead. Tears of pain and joy ran down her face. She was utterly beautiful. He wanted to tell her how much he loved her, but there were no words.
“Do you want to hold him?” the midwife asked.
No, Raven almost said, suddenly and ridiculously terrified of the fragility of this tiny life, the immense responsibility he had toward him. But that was ridiculous; he’d sat through all the classes, been taught how to hold a baby. He had thought he was ready, but nothing could have prepared him for this moment.
He reached out to take the child. His hands were trembling, but he could not be embarrassed by the show of emotion. He and Cassandra had chosen a name as soon as she had known the gender of the child, and so he whispered ‘hello’ to Ransley Zachary Ravenscroft.
Such an insignificant weight to carry so much hope and promise. Mick must have felt this way when each of his sons were born. Raven would have to call and give him the news, and thank him for all the times Mick had talked him through his fears about fatherhood. Soon, but not just now.
His son opened his eyes, looking up for the first time into his father’s face.
OK, so this time she has a kinda-sorta valid excuse. She recently completed a novella, Raven’s Song, a part of the Ravensblood universe, that will be released as part of a multi-author boxed set on 11/13. This put her behind schedule for Raven’s Heart, the third novel of the series, which is very much a novel worth her effort. (She has finally taken my advice and put a cat into the novel, although she still fails to make the cat a main character.)
Anyway, since she is frantically producing fiction to the detriment of her duties to me, I’ll take a moment to tell you what else she’s been up to.
In case you haven’t noticed the new tab under ‘Other Works’ (humans can be so un-observant), the long-awaited (though sadly catless) Where Light Meets Shadow is out and available on Amazon. A high fantasy crossed-over with male-male fantasy romance, this is your book if you like elves, harps and bardic magic. It spent a bit of time on the Amazon best-seller list for LGBT-themed fantasy.
Raven’s Wing won a gold medal in the Global E-books Awards.
She also released a new short story, The Red Pencil, which does have a small but significant cat mention.
And, yes, she is still cheating on you with other blogs. Her blog on the Sacrificed God in myth and fiction appeared a little while ago over at Here Be Magic, followed by a more recent blog on autumn, fiction, and change.
Last but not least, the Doctor Who audio in which she performed the role of Lucinda is now available for free download!
So, the writer-person has been talking incessantly about a launch date. I’m worried that she has developed delusions of being an astronaut.
So while she’s out at some pub listening to live Irish music (she says she works on her writing while she’s there–likely story) I’m sneaking on to share her shameful secret While she claims to be too busy to update her blog, dear readers, she has been cheating on you with other blogs.
Yes, I know how it feels. I feel the same way she goes away for hours, sometimes days, and comes back smelling of other animals.
You don’t want to believe, I know. But here’s proof:
And a podcast, too!
OK, the writer-person actually has somewhat of an excuse this time for ignoring the blog. After much stressful back-and-forth, she and The Wild Rose Press have parted ways due to irreconcilable editorial differences. I, for one, applaud her cat-like pride and independence.
Still, that means she is now scrambling with the business of getting Where Light Meets Shadow out as an indie release, leaving her precious little time for other important things, like her cat and her blog.
So I’m stepping in on her old back-up laptop to tell you some of the things she has in store for you.
There will be, someday soonish, a post on the holidays of the Ravensblood universe and another post or two about real-world locations that match up with locations in that series.
The Astoria segment of the Cool Stuff blog series has not been forgotten. . .at least, it better not have been, as she abandoned her cat for three whole days to hang with friends and get the material for that particular blog.
Also, there will be a Special Guest Cool Stuff blog around Memorial Day. Local web -content writer and photographer Jocelyn S. Mackie will be sharing what she knows about cool old cemeteries in the area. (I like Jocelyn, even if she does kidnap my writer-person for occasional expeditions. She is, after all, a cat person, and that makes up for a lot.)
Also, look for more info on Where Light Meets Shadow in social media and on the website soon. Release date is August 8th, and yes, there will be a party. With music. To which her long-suffering cat will not be invited.
I started out with the Whovian fandom young, at about age nine or so, and like many Whovians, I dreamed of someday writing for or playing a part in the show. Well, that first, best dream of writing for the show is still out of reach (if any of you have contacts in the BBC, put a word in for me, will you?). But recently, the dream of acting in Doctor Who came true—sort of.
I dropped into the Facebook group PDX Whovians, as I do every couple of days, to see if there is anything of interest going on in the local fandom. There I saw a casting call for a Doctor Who Audio Drama. Now, this is not a BBC or even a Big Finish production, but a not-for-profit group made up of professionals, semi-professionals, and serious amateurs that have been doing Doctor Who audio dramas since 1982.
I decided to try out as a lark. Other than a semester-long class in oral interpretation in high school, I have no formal training in acting. My only experience in theater was few months’ stint as a props master and publicity assistant my freshman year in college. Other than giving readings of my work, I have no experience in acting. The casting call specified preference given to British accents, which I do not have and cannot fake, so I wasn’t holding out a lot of hope. Still, I thought it would be fun to try.
I have some friends with recording equipment and experience, and so I messaged Mike Zamudio of Otter Crossing and Rose in the Heather. (Local readers will recognize Otter Crossing as the Irish trad/classical fusion band that plays my book launches). Due to some crossing of messages and texts, I wasn’t even sure we were going to get the audition recorded in time until the evening we had to do it, and so I hadn’t put much into preparing my lines.
I dropped in at Casa Zamudio after my day job. We had a leisurely dinner, and put some time into photography for the cover for an upcoming short story release. Then we warned the children Zamudio to be quiet, removed the jangling collar from Pepper-the-pit-bull, and settled into the music room to record. I decided to try out for two roles, one with seventeen lines (I’d mentally dubbed her the Bitch) and one with one hundred forty-some (the Flirt.) Julie helped by reading the lines of the other actors, and despite my lack of preparation we recorded the auditions for both characters in one go.
I liked the character of the Flirt better, but I was afraid my voice was better suited for the Bitch (those of you who know me can just hush). I thought I’d be offered the smaller role, if I got any role at all. Much to my surprise, not only was I offered a part, I was offered the part of Lucinda, the flirt!
Needless to say, I was excited. And nervous. And more nervous still, when I had the chance to read the full script and realized I had to sob and scream on cue. To add to the stress, my publisher for Where Light Meets Shadow (my upcoming stand-alone fantasy novel) presented me with a round of edits to be gone through the very same week I would be prepping my lines. (Did I mention I have a day job? And a horse that requires attention?)
How DWAD works is that the actors record their individual lines and then email them to the folks who put it all together. (I don’t envy the person in charge of mixing his/her job!) So, with another flurry of emails between myself and Clan Zamudio, I set a time to go back in for recording. After another leisurely dinner (are you seeing a pattern?) we took the collar off the pittie, told the kids to go be quiet somewhere, and started the recording process.
I’d like to say it went effortlessly. But I try not to lie. I remember seeing blooper reels of the fifth Doctor flubbing a line and using language I’d never have suspected either the Doctor or Peter Davison of knowing. I now knew exactly how he felt. I stumbled over dialogue. I breathed too loud. The hour grew late, I grew tired. Worse, I couldn’t have any whiskey until we finished for fear of slurring my lines. Mike and Julie, showing a capacity for cruelty I wouldn’t have suspected, were drinking in front of me.
Finally, at a quarter past one in the morning, we had only one scene left. We decided to save that for the morning out of consideration for the neighbors, since it featured a bit of screaming. So I had a shot of Kilbeggan’s (at last), and crawled off to the crash space.
The next morning, we fortified ourselves with doughnuts and bacon, told the long-suffering boys to quiet themselves, and headed back to the music room with the resolution of soldiers returning to the front. And realized we had a problem we had forgotten about.
Pepper-the-pittie is a sensitive soul. She wasn’t going to be happy about one of her people-friends making sounds of apparent distress. And with her keen hearing, merely locking her in another room wouldn’t help. So first we had to desensitize the dog to screams. Julie gave a little scream, and immediately fed Pepper a small treat, and then repeated the process, until we worked up to me screaming, and then me screaming loudly.
Finally we were ready to record the scene. The dialogue part went fairly smoothly. Then we came to the scream at the end.
Mike is experienced with recording singers and instrumentals. Screams are another thing entirely. We tried pushing the mike back on its boom, but the sound levels were off the chart. We tried having Julie hold the mike on the far side of the room. We tried adjusting the sound levels electronically. I started to grow hoarse. We tried having Julie hold the mike outside the room. We tried again to adjust the sound levels manually.
Finally, just as my voice was about to give out entirely, we got it.
I have always respected actors, but my respect has now broadened and deepened.
And if I ever talk about trying out for live theater, please shoot me before the auditions.
(Doctor Who: The Dying of the Light will eventually be available online for free download. I’ll let you know here and on Facebook and Twitter when that happens).
Q. Thanks for stopping by! Tell us a bit about your novel.
A. It’s called Stone and a Hard Place, and it’s the first book in my urban fantasy series, The Alastair Stone Chronicles. Stone is a thirty-one-year-old professor of Occult Studies who’s recently arrived in the United States from his native Britain. He’s smart, snarky and, unknown to almost everyone, a powerful magical practitioner.
The story takes place a little earlier in Stone’s history, about four years before the next book in the series, and serves as an introduction to the character and his world. He has just taken on a new and unexpected apprentice, and shortly afterward agrees to help out a fellow professor who has an elderly, wealthy relative who thinks her big old house is haunted. The plan is to just go there and tell her, counting on his authority as a professor to make him believable, that everything is fine—but since Stone is a real mage, he quickly sees that not only is there really something there, but it’s potentially quite dangerous. So he has to deal with it while keeping secret the fact that he truly does have magical powers, and fighting off the group of black-magic practitioners who have less-than-wholesome plans for the house’s entity (and for Stone’s apprentice).
Q. That sounds fascinating. I just read the beginning, and you have me hooked. Can’t wait ‘till I can clear my schedule to finish it. You have quite the compelling protagonist. How did the idea of him develop?
A. Stone has been around in one form or another since the early ‘90s. The basic template of his personality started out with a Shadowrun character of mine named Winterhawk, but I eventually decided I wanted to do a series in an original setting, so I just transplanted him from the 2060s into (mostly) modern time and filed all the Shadowrun serial numbers off. The only things that remained from that character were the personality, the magic, and his status as an academic.
Aside from that, I have a thing for smart, sarcastic, cynical Brits (or people who really should be Brits ) I can trace bits of Stone’s personality to characters ranging from Willy Wonka to the Tenth Doctor.
Q. What drew you to urban fantasy as a genre?
A. Mostly the fact that I like books set in the “real” world, but I also like magic and some of the other aspects of more traditional fantasy. I think I can blame Shadowrun for this again, since they were one of the first (certainly the first I encountered, back in 1989) that combined fantasy tropes with a modern-day setting. I’m not really that big a fan of classic medieval fantasy, to be honest, unless it’s got something really different to recommend it. Also, when I was growing up my mom was fascinated by anything “witchy” and paranormal, and she was a psychic (I’m a huge skeptic about that sort of thing, but I saw enough of her in action to believe that it can exist). Her love of things that go bump in the night rubbed off on me in a big way.
It’s funny, but when I started writing my series, I’d never read any of the Dresden Files books. My beta reader asked me if I had, and when I said no, he told me I had to read them and assured me that, given what I was writing, I’d love them. He was right!
Q. What prompted your decision to go indie?
A. Impatience, mostly, and a control-freak streak a mile wide. I write because I love to write, and because I have characters who want their stories told and won’t shut up until I indulge them. I’m not in it for the money (though of course it would be nice to at least make enough to pay my editor and art bills!) and I’m getting to the age where I’m not willing to wait for many months or years to see my work available—and that assumes a publisher would want to buy it in the first place, which is a big assumption. I like to have control over things like my cover and the design of my book, which you lose in most cases when you go with a trade publisher.
Now, that’s not to say that if some publisher noticed me and wanted to publish my books (yes, I know, stop laughing!) I would turn them down. But primarily I just want to get my stories out there in front of readers who I hope will enjoy them, in a reasonable timeframe.
Q. You don’t hear me laughing. From what I’ve read so far, you are quite publishable. I know what you mean about the control freak thing, though. I do both indie and legacy myself, and it’s. . .interesting going back and forth.
Now, I notice you also have a Shadowrun novel coming out. Would you like to talk a bit about what it’s like to write in a pre-set universe?
A. It’s a lot of fun when you love the universe you’re writing in. As I mentioned, I’ve been involved with Shadowrun as a fan since the game’s start in 1989, and also as a freelancer since 2001 (including a brief stint as assistant line developer). This game world is pretty much in my DNA at this point, so writing in the universe is easy for me. The only hard part is that Shadowrun is a very gear-intensive game, and it has a lot of fans who really love it for that. They love to argue over which gun is right for which application, or how the specific rules would go for a decking job or a running firefight. I’m much more cinematic—I just want the story to be good and fun and fast-paced, and essentially character based. So the “gun fu” part of the whole thing was hard for me.
I’m not sure I’d want to write in a universe I was less familiar with, because I’d be terrified of getting it wrong and disappointing the fans.
Q. What is one assumption people make about you that is wrong?
A. A lot of people who are only familiar with my online presence think I’m male. I’ve been a tomboy all my life, and apparently my writing style (both in stories and in online communication) comes across as at least somewhat masculine. I don’t make a secret of my gender to people who know me, but as an online presence I can honestly say that I have never experienced any of the sexist/misogynist garbage that many women online unfortunately have had to deal with, and I suspect that’s part of the reason for it.
Q. I have been fortunate in not having been exposed to anything like that in the geek world, too. (The ‘real’ world is another story.) And to my knowledge no one has mistaken me as a man. I think in general there is more good than bad in geekdom. It’s just that the jerks are louder.
So now for a fun question: Choose one form of transport, real or fictional (steam train, horseback, sternwheeler, spaceship, pirate ship, TARDIS, anything you can think of). Choose twelve companions, alive or dead, real or fictional. (We will assume your transport also has a full complement of whatever crew it needs to make it viable.) Choose one destination. Where are you going, with whom and why?
A. Well, okay, of course I’m going to pick the TARDIS. As a Whovian, I’d be silly not to! For companions…I’m not big on historical figures, so most of them will be fictional. Off the top of my head:
1. The Tenth Doctor
2. The Twelfth Doctor
3. My own protagonist, Dr. Alastair Stone
4. Sherlock Holmes (the Robert Downey Jr. version)
5. Dr. Stephen Strange
6. Steve Jobs
7. Alice Cooper
8. Dr. Gregory House
9. Willy Wonka (the Gene Wilder version)
10. Harry Dresden
11. Dunkelzahn the dragon from Shadowrun
12. J.K. Rowling
Honorable Mentions: Dr. Hannibal Lecter, Dr. Ian Malcolm from the film Jurassic Park
Wow, that’s kind of a sausage fest, isn’t it? But I think that group would certainly make for some interesting conversation, don’t you? Either that or their egos would combine together, gain independent sentience, and take over the universe…
As for where we’d go, how about Milliway’s, the Restaurant at the End of the Universe?
Q. Some interesting choices. I’d be afraid Hannibal Lector would eat everyone else. I prefer the Gene Wilder version of Willy Wonka, too, but I would have gone with the Jeremy Brett version of Holmes.
Now this is from Samhain-kitty: Your bio says you have a small herd of cats. Obviously you are a person of fine taste and sterling character. How did you come to be jointly owned by so many cats, and what are you doing to repay them for the great privilege?
A. I’ve loved cats since I was a tiny kid, and always had them growing up. Then I went off to college and lived in a succession of apartments that didn’t allow pets. I vowed that when I had my own house, I would have cats. There was the slight hurdle of the spouse being allergic, but he wanted cats too so he agreed to get the shots (this was a huge sacrifice for him since he hates needles, and I definitely appreciate it).
We started out with one, and unfortunately he didn’t work out (we weren’t ready and he was too young—we found him another home and he thrived with his new owner; also, the shots hadn’t worked right yet and the spouse ended up in the emergency room). After that we waited a few years until we had a house (and more shots) and got a pair of kittens: a Singapura named Tenshi and a Russian Blue named Meep. Then we got another Singapura kitten named Ozzy a couple of years later. Sadly, Meep succumbed to lymphoma at only five (I still miss her terribly). We got a couple of Russian Blue kittens (Grace and Sonata, aka Boo and Fred), and our vet had some rescue kittens who were looking for homes, so we took Clarice, a lovely tabby girl. Then, a few years after that, we took Ozzy to the vet and I fell in love with another rescue tabby boy (Nabbytabby, named after Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov) when I picked him up and he stuck his tongue up my nose. I called the spouse and told him we were taking this kitten home, expecting him to object. He came down to meet the kitten—and promptly fell in love with his sister, an adorable tabby girl (Tessa, aka Bug). So of course they both had to come home with us (by this point the vet doesn’t even charge us the adoption fee—they basically assume any kitten adopted by us has hit the lottery). So now we live with our four “purebloods” and our three “Muggle-borns” and we’re all very happy together. But definitely no more additions to the herd!
You know you just jinxed yourself by saying ‘no more additions’! Seriously, that’s quite a lot of cats. And kudos to your husband. I’m not sure I would have been up for another round after a trip to the emergency room!
Thanks for stopping by, and best of luck with your new novel!
Readers: Ms. King’s novel can be found on Amazon.
For those of you who loved the ball scenes in Pride and Prejudice and long for a way to join that world, you can (sort of). On one hand, there is less in the way of fancy dresses and elegant men in period costume. On the other hand, you don’t have to have expensive clothes and be landed gentry to join in the fun.
On (almost) every Friday night, there is an English country dance at the Burlingame Water Tower Dance Hall (8936 SW 17th, Portland). The music is live and appropriate to period. Dress is pretty much whatever you are comfortable with. . .you will see everything from dressy-dresses to tie-dye T-shirts and jeans. (On the occasions that I went, I usually wore skirts because I like the way they twirl when I turn). The only real requirement is inside dance shoes. (Which can be any comfortable shoe that has never been worn outside. I wear the same Capezio dance sneakers that I bought for Irish ceili dancing, but a friend just bought a cheap pair of China flats.)
Beginners are welcome, no partner is needed. Each dance starts with the caller walking the dancers through it and explaining the dance. I found that my background in Irish ceili dancing helped me get quickly up to speed, although I had to forget everything I ever knew about expecting symmetry in dance and sometimes had to mentally ‘translate’. (Because a back-to-back in ECD is very much *not* the same figure as a ceili back-to-back).
If you’ve never done any similar style of social dance (or even if you have), it might me a good idea to familiarize yourself with the terms before you go.
If you write in the regency period, or if you are simply a history geek like me, this is a great experience. Not only do you see and learn the dances, but you start to get the idea of how personalities come out in individual dance styles withing a highly structured dance, and how much flirtation can be carried in simple eye contact within the decorous bounds of the dance floor.
Also please note that this coming Friday (3/6) is a special fancy-dress ceili, with dancers asked to come in their favorite period Western costumes (You can be a sheriff, a dance-hall girl, a school marm, or ??? Steampunk friends, this is your dance!)
Official link with details, contact info here.
Between publishing commitments and a knee injury, I’ve been absent lately, but I hope to start up again soon. Maybe someday I’ll see you there!
Author’s Note: This short story first appeared on the Here Be Magic Blog on Valentine’s Day, 2014. The authors belonging to that group blog challenged each other to write a flash fiction piece featuring a heart-shaped box. The pastiche below was my own contribution.
Sherlock Holmes’s top desk drawer held trophies of his many successes, plus a simple, wooden, heart-shaped box. One with Holmes’s skill in observation might note that the box was the sort of cheap trinket that a young person might buy with an allowance, painted after purchase with a tutored but inexpert hand.
I first encountered the box when he sent me looking for a tin of poisonous seeds that he thought might shed some light on a current case. I pulled out the thing with a laugh, for it seemed so unlike my friend’s tastes, and made some sort of jovial allusion to the tales of the monster who cannot be killed because he keeps his heart in a box, only this box was empty.
Holmes uncurled like a viper from his previous indolent pose and snatched the box from my hand.
Thinking I had offended him with my joke about heartlessness, I stammered out an apology— though he had said as much and more about himself on occasion.
Holmes waved off my contrition. “It is I who should apologize, my dear Watson. It is only that the box is a reminder of a matter most sensitive to me. While everything else you see in that drawer is a memento of my success, that box is a reminder of my failure. My very first mystery, which remains unsolved.”
Something in his face discouraged further questions, and suggested to me that personal sorrow, not professional frustration, drove his somber mood. Though Holmes lived and breathed rationality, I have often suspected his cold logic to be a defense. One need only hear him play his Stradivarius to realize that he was a man of deep passions. Perhaps he kept tight rein on his emotions out of fear that they would otherwise run away with him.
Something ran away with Holmes that dreary winter. He was out all hours, sometimes not coming home for days, often returning very much the worse for wear. When I asked him about the client, he would only say that there was none.
My friend sometimes undertook odd exercises to keep his skills sharp and, I suspected, to alleviate boredom. Since this was less unhealthy than some of his other methods of combating ennui, I held my tongue until the night he came back with a bullet wound for me to dress.
“Damn it, Holmes, life isn’t something to be held lightly.”
He tilted his head back to look at me upside-down. “You are right, my dear friend. It is not.”
Holmes slept for a day and a half, rose in a better mood and ate breakfast with an unusual appetite. I tried to engage him in conversation on the previous day’s headlines. The Yard had solved a serious of murders of young women, some going back almost two decades, previously thought to be unrelated. Such a subject would usually interest him, but he only said ‘indeed’ and proceeded to fill his pipe from the store he kept in the Persian slipper on the mantle. Our rooms filled with the strong, harsh scent of shag tobacco, and all was right with the world.
I was called out to an emergency in the evening and did not return until the sky started to lighten, so I might be forgiven for being still abed when Holmes received his caller, a somewhat older woman by her voice, in our shared sitting room. Eavesdropping was unpardonable, but I had caught the vice of curiosity from Holmes.
The woman thanked him, over and over again, for some service he had rendered.
Holmes’s voice was gentle, almost fond, as he quieted her. “I fear, madam, that my services were too little, too late.”
“But at least now we know what happened to her. A bit of peace, after all these years. And you were practically a boy yourself, without resources or training, when Patricia disappeared. You never did say how you discovered her killer, after all these years”
“Detective Inspector Lestrade was going on in his customary monotonous way about his early years on the force. Usually I ignore such prattle, but he mentioned two unsolved disappearances from his early years. I saw the similarities he had missed between those two cases. Similarities Patricia’s disappearance also had in common. Those peculiarities helped me build a description in my head of the killer as sure as if he had provided me with a photograph and a personal biography.”
“So you hadn’t the information you needed all those years ago to find out what had happened to our poor Patricia,” the woman said. “There was nothing you could have done earlier.”
“Yet it was my fault to begin with that she was lost.”
“No, Mr. Holmes— Sherlock. We have never held you responsible.”
“If I had escorted her to that dance as she requested, the blackguard would not have had his opportunity.”
“She knew such things were not to your taste. She could have stayed home, or accepted one of a half-dozen young men who would have been happy to escort her. She was just being our Patricia— outrageous, irrepressible, and even more stubborn than you.”
I heard Holmes open a desk drawer, sort through the objects, close it again. “I still have this, you know. The box she gave me. She said I should take it so I had at least one heart, as it was clear that I wasn’t born with one.”
I winced for my friend.
“You know she only meant it as a jest. She admired you greatly.”
“And I her.”
“Did you sometimes wonder, if she had not been taken. . .”
I held my breath, expecting my friend to scoff at the idea that he might ever have married, but Holmes will never cease to astonish me.
“Here, I’ve brought you something. It was among her things, I’ve kept it all these years, but I think you should have it.”
I blush to confess that by this point I had cracked the door to the sitting room open that I might watch. The woman opened her reticule and handed to Holmes a small locket, tarnished with age.
Holmes opened the locket, gave a wistful, sad smile. “Thank you.” He opened the heart-shaped box, put the locket inside, and closed the lid.
I will never again say that Holmes has no heart, nor agree with anyone who says that heart is empty.
Another note: This year’s blog challenge was love letters. Hop over to Here Be Magic on Valentine’s Day to see A Letter Raven Never Sent From Australia