The Hook: Darkness Fair by Rachel A. Marks

February 3, 2016

MARKS-DarknessBrutal

The Hook:

The demon is crouched in the corner, between the Cheetos and the onion dip. It’s a small one, only about four feet tall: a low-level creeper. I flick my gaze over the spot like I don’t see it and open the cooler door to get a Coke. 

I watch the cashier behind me in the security mirror as he finishes ringing up a customer. He notices me—eyes my ratty hoodie, grungy backpack, scruffy jaw, tattooed fist gripping the cooler handle—and reaches one hand under the counter, probably to grab the butt of a shotgun or a bat he’s got hidden there. He’s totally oblivious to the real danger that’s hanging out in the junk food aisle. 

The bell on the door rings as the customer leaves. 

I walk past the demon casually, hoping it doesn’t sense my awareness. It’s not here for me, though; its bulbous black eyes are trained on the cashier. Its scarred and misshapen wings twitch and knock at the shelf as its leg muscles tense, like it’s ready to pounce. Clawed feet dig into the linoleum floor, surrounded by traces of black ash and sulfur that seep from its skin. 

I set the can of Coke down on the counter and toss a Snickers up there too—dinner of champions. 

“Hey,” I say to the cashier. The chill of being too close to the demon crawls over me, but I clench my jaw and ignore it. 

Rachel A. Marks writes:

My debut YA Urban Fantasy series The Dark Cycle begins with DARKNESS BRUTAL, where we get to know the homeless seventeen-year-old, Aidan, and learn about his very strange abilities, which he’s been using, up until now, to try and keep his little sister safe. It’s based loosely on the idea that the underbelly of society could hold the greatest treasures of humanity; you know that bum walking past talking to himself? He might be just the guy to save the world. Think of it as Dickens’ Oliver Twist meets TV’s Supernatural in the gritty streets of Los Angeles.

I wrote this opening after several missed attempts, since I was trying to decide where Aidan’s story really started. I wanted to reveal him and his world in a way that would allow the reader to see his everyday life while still providing enough information and action so it wasn’t boring. And so, I imagined the most mundane thing in the daily life of Aidan, and plopped a demon on top, which he would see as an “everyday” thing but the reader certainly wouldn’t.

Demons and snack foods. It’s an opening line that people seem to attach to and instantly want to understand and know more about. I also wanted them to see how the rest of the world saw him. So when the store owner looks on in suspicion we know Aidan is a little ratty and not fit for “good” society. He’s an outsider. And he’s more worried about the demon knowing his awareness than the store clerk suspecting him of criminality. He avoids his abilities. And so in this scene, we watch him fail to stay in the shadows like he wants.

As the story progresses Aidan begins to realize what he’s really running from, and why, and we see that he’s not alone in these strange abilities, even if he thought he was, as other young people crowd around him. Without spoiling it, one thing that makes this series unique in the UF world, are the ties it has to legends and history. Time is a central theme as the story reveals the ancient battle that follows Aidan and his sister, which will soon have them looking at each other across a chasm of their parent’s mistakes.

Book two, DARKNESS FAIR, releases today and is the second part of the siblings’ story. It takes the reader even deeper into the legends and magic that Aidan has to traverse to help his sister, and gives us the story from another perspective. We see Aidan settling into his new role and attempting to use and grow his abilities rather than hide from them. Just before it all goes wrong, of course.

Buy The Dark Cycle on Amazon

About the author:

Rachel A. Marks is an award-winning author and professional artist, a cancer survivor, a surfer and dirt-bike rider, chocolate lover and keeper of faerie secrets. She was voted: Most Likely to Survive the Zombie Apocalypse, but hopes she’ll never have to test the theory. You can usually find her hanging out with her four teenagers, reciting lines from Buffy the Vampire Slayer or arguing about which superhero rocks the hardest, while her husband looks on in confusion. Find out more about her and check out her art at www.RachelAnneMarks.com

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The Hook: Steal the Sky by Megan E. O’Keefe

January 6, 2016

StealTheSky

The Hook:

It was a pretty nice burlap sack. Not the best he’d had the pleasure of inhabiting, not by a long shot, but it wasn’t bad either. The jute was smooth and woven tight, not letting in an inkling of light or location. It didn’t chafe his cheeks either, which was a small comfort.

The chair he was tied to was of considerably lesser quality. Each time Detan shifted his weight to keep the ropes from cutting off his circulation little splinters worked their way into his exposed arms and itched something fierce. Despite the unfinished wood, the chair’s joints were solid, and the knots on his ropes well-tied, which was a shame.

Detan strained his ears, imagining that if he tried hard enough he could work out just where he was. No use, that. Walls muted the bustle of Aransa’s streets, and the bitter-char aromas of local delicacies were blotted by the tight weave of the sack over his head. At least the burlap didn’t stink of the fear-sweat of those who’d worn it before him.

Someone yanked the bag off and that was surprising, because he hadn’t heard anyone in the room for the last half-mark. Truth be told, he was starting to think they’d forgotten about him, which was a mighty blow to his pride.

Megan E. O’Keefe writes:

Right off the bat, I wanted readers to realize that Detan Honding’s view of the world is different than most. I think it’s fair to say that most people would be concerned to find themselves tied to a chair with a bag over their head, but not Detan – he’s calm as can be. Instead of worrying about what’s coming for him next, he’s busy critiquing the quality of the bag obscuring his vision.

And yet, Detan is beginning to show cracks of annoyance. Splinters are picking at him, and he’s growing bored – worried that he’s been forgotten about – but also trying to work an angle, trying to see his way clear of the mess he’s gotten himself into. The overall picture is that Detan is a man who’s familiar with danger, perhaps even thrives on it. He’s been in this chair or ones like it before, and though he’s a wee bit irritated, he’s confident he can see his way through.

I wrote these intro paragraphs to have a slight sing-songy tone, a definite rhythm that, when it breaks, the reader notices – further emphasizing the cracks in Detan’s sense of calm. He may be telling himself everything’s okay, but the wear in the veneer of his flippant demeanor is already beginning to show and, by the end of the book, he may just be strained to breaking.

Buy Steal the Sky on Amazon.

About the author:

Megan E. O’Keefe was raised amongst journalists, and as soon as she was able joined them by crafting a newsletter which chronicled the daily adventures of the local cat population. She has worked in both arts management and graphic design, and spends her free time tinkering with anything she can get her hands on.

Megan lives in the Bay Area of California and makes soap for a living. It’s only a little like Fight Club. She is a first place winner in the Writers of the Future competition and her debut novel, Steal the Sky, is out now from Angry Robot Books.

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The Hook: Barsk: The Elephants’ Graveyard by Lawrence M. Schoen

December 29, 2015

BarskCover

The Hook:

Rüsul traveled to meet his death. The current had carried him away from his home island as if it understood his purpose. He lost sight of the archipelago before dusk, as much a function of the falling rain as the southerly wind that pushed him onward. In the days since, the sun had risen and set unseen, a slightly brighter spot that eased itself across the overcast sky. Nor had it cleared at night to permit a glimpse of the heavens. The clouds changed color as the rain ebbed and flowed, and the wind drove him across the water of its own accord toward an unvisited destination. Rüsul didn’t care. He had no need to hurry. He could feel the increasing proximity in his bones and that was enough. More than enough. An aged Fant on a raft alone and at sea, the wind filling his makeshift sail and carrying him toward the last bit of land he would ever stand upon. His father and mother had each left in the same manner, and their parents before them. That’s how it had been, going back generation upon generation to the very founding of Barsk.

Lawrence M. Schoen writes:

Barsk is an anthropomorphic SF novel set in the far future. As an elevator pitch, think Dune meets The Sixth Sense, with elephants. Its themes explore prophecy, intolerance, friendship, conspiracy, loyalty, and a drug that allows one to speak with the dead.

As I originally wrote this book, this was the opening to chapter two. But wiser heads prevailed and even though Rüsul is not the book’s main character (not even close), he is a good place to start.

There’s a gravitas to that opening line. It’s perhaps the best hook I’ve ever written. It promises drama and emotion, destiny and agency, and then immediately slips away into building the scenario, laying down the groundwork for a story in which the weather is at least as important as life and death.

The character is resolved to an action, his death, but he’s not in any hurry. He’s set off to embrace it, and the journey will take as long as it takes. Establishing that as his motivation in the first paragraph, I was naturally obligated to thwart it, and do so with the rest of the chapter. All too quickly we discover that events have been set in motion with the express purpose of interfering with the time honored tradition of an old man (or at least, an old elephant) sailing away to his death. And if echoes of the myth of a place where all elephants go when it’s time to die are starting to stir in your mind, well, let’s just say that the book’s subtitle was no accident.

Much of the book is told from the point of view of a historian (who is also the protagonist), a chronicler with a specialty of studying the prophecies of a founder of the planet’s society. This allowed me to play with the frisson that results when exploring the past explicitly involves predictions of the future, as well as that classic physics problem of the effect observing a thing has on the thing itself. Along the way I had the opportunity to invent a new type of subatomic particle, define how memory really works, make an argument for a new type of immortality, play out some teachable father-son moments, play games with telepathy, obsession, righteousness, free will, and a really disturbing child who worked very hard to steal the entire novel away from me.

After more than twenty years writing and selling stories and novels, five published books from small presses, nominations for the Campbell, the Hugo, and the Nebula, Barsk is far and away the best thing I’ve ever written. I hope you enjoy it.

Buy Barsk on Amazon

About the author:

Lawrence M. Schoen holds a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology, has been nominated for the Campbell, Hugo, and Nebula awards, is a world authority on the Klingon language, operates the small press Paper Golem, and is a practicing hypnotherapist specializing in authors’ issues.

His previous science fiction includes many light and humorous adventures of a space-faring stage hypnotist and his alien animal companion. His most recent book, Barsk, takes a very different tone, exploring issues of prophecy, intolerance, friendship, conspiracy, and loyalty, and redefines the continua between life and death. He lives near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania with his wife and their dog.

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Guest post: An Ode to Episodic, Serialized, and Anthologized Fiction by Emma Larkins

December 12, 2015

The following is an essay by Emma Larkins, written as part of her Mechalarum blog tour.

booktour

An Ode to Episodic, Serialized, and Anthologized Fiction

By Emma Larkins

 

“And specially from every shire’s end
Of England they to Canterbury wend,
The holy blessed martyr there to seek
Who helped them when they lay so ill and weak.”

-Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales

Ever since the dawn of language, humans have told stories. They used their tales to describe the location of food, to warn against danger, to strengthen bonds of community and friendship, or simply to pass the time.

Little physical evidence remains of these first stories, as writing didn’t exist until the Sumerians invented it around 2000 BC. Even then, oral traditions persisted: written works – and literacy – wouldn’t proliferate until the invention of the printing press a few millennia later.

Because of the oral nature of storytelling throughout much of history, stories were structured in a way that made them easily memorable. In part, storytellers accomplished this through the use of mnemonics (memory devices) such as rhyme and acronyms. Narrative structure also played an important part in memorization. For example, many similar stories were built around a particular character, like those detailing the exploits of Hercules. Other stories, like those making up Homer’s Odyssey, fit together in a particular order, building up over time to create an engaging narrative arc. Still others focused on a theme, such as the hubris of humans and how their lack of humility before the gods invariably lead to tragic consequences.

From Homer to Aesop to Chaucer, through the deft fingers of medieval bards to the bedsides of sleepy-eyed children, these stories passed from mouth to mind and back again. Over time, the words and meanings evolved until they were unrecognizable from their original form. The formats, however – episodic, serial, and collected around a theme – stuck around for good.

As literacy spread through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, these formats started to fall to the wayside, with favor turning from the story to the novel. Readers grew accustomed to diving into the world of one author and one set of characters for an extended period of time. Literary fiction especially lent itself to the singular, long form story.

Today, these oral-tradition types of fiction are seeing a resurgence. Short form is a great way to dip into new and disruptive ideas. In this short-attention-span era, easy-to-consume is king. It makes financial sense, too – advances are dwindling (where they still exist at all), and many authors can’t afford to spend years on lengthy, detailed novels. Readers now well-accustomed to the episodic nature of most television shows easily transition to stories written in a similar form. Finally, the ever-growing interest in genre fiction lends itself particularly well to series and anthologies.

What differentiates these formats? How are they beneficial to writers? And to readers? Read on to find out!

Episodic Fiction

Episodic fiction follows a group of characters – usually in a recurring setting – as they experience life as it is revealed in the fictional universe. Alternately, the stories might revolve around a central device, such as an artifact or a location.

Episodic stories may or may not make use of continuity or story arcs. In the “snap back” trope, individual episodes act as silos: the storyline in one episode does not connect to that of the one before, and character situations and actions have no lasting consequences. In other cases, there may be some continuity between episodes.

Part of the rise in interest in episodic fiction is due to near-universal consumption of the format through television and movies. Another part is due to comic books and graphic novels gaining mainstream appeal (as demonstrated by the huge success of the Marvel movies and exploding interest in conventions like Comic Con). Audiences are more receptive than ever to one-off media experiences detailing the adventures of their favorite heroes that don’t tie together, even if those experiences directly contradict one another.

This flexibility is great for readers. They can enjoy unlimited narratives about their favorite characters and worlds without having to worry how it all fits together. They can pick up a comic book in a shop, read an issue digitally using apps like Comixology, or get a trade paperback which includes several comics in one compendium. They can jump into and out of universes at will, picking their favorite selections from a bountiful buffet.

Episodic fiction is also a boon for writers. More publications than ever before publish installments of short fiction – because readers might vary from day to day or from month to month, it’s beneficial when missing an episode doesn’t impact overall understanding and enjoyment. Writers can opt to self-publish and distribute episodic stories through their own websites, newsletters, and social media. Digital publishing platforms like Wattpad and Smashwords deliver stories to the masses in moments, with incremental funding through sites like Patreon providing authors with incentives to keep up the good work.

Serialized Fiction

Individually encapsulated episodes fill an important niche. However, often readers appreciate stories that tie together, with one or more ongoing story arcs continually fueling the hunger to discover “what happens next.”

The most well-known modern examples of book series are the trilogies, quadrilogies, septologies (and onwards) that swarm the shelves of bookstores and online retailers, often with ties to one or more popular genres.

Series can greatly benefit readers. When they find a character or universe that particularly appeals to them, they can relax knowing that their entertainment needs will be met for the foreseeable future, without the risk of diving into new works.

Many writers and publishers are fans of series as well. By their nature, series are easier to market and sell. Once you’ve got a reader hooked on one book, it’s a lot less work to get them to buy the next one than to convince them to try something new.

Series are nothing new, but we’re seeing innovations here as well. Or, more accurately, the re-emergence of trends popularized by the serialized fiction of Charles Dickens and others of his time.

Many writers now create worlds that can easily be expanded across formats and mediums. Instead of simply adding more novels to a series, they author supplementals, short stories, or novellas to fill in the gaps and enrichen their worlds. Savvy creators don’t ignore tie-in materials such as videos, games, art, graphic novels, and movies – they do whatever it takes to build an all-encompassing narrative.

Anthologized Fiction

Another way to take advantage of the modern interest in episodes and series is through anthologies – editor-curated collections of short stories that focus on a central element, such as genre (science fiction, fantasy, horror) or theme (summer romances, coming-of-age, humor). Anthologies gather together the works of many writers, giving readers the opportunity to enjoy a collection of voices, styles, and points-of-view all in one place.

Readers with hectic modern schedules appreciate the ability to dip into an an anthology for a few minutes, having completely forgotten the previous story. They can return to an anthology weeks or months after starting, without needing to remember the history of characters or storylines. Anthologies also offer an easy way to delve into the history and breadth of a genre. For example, there’s nothing quite like experiencing the what science fiction was like back in the 70’s or 80’s.

Writers enjoy great benefits from participating in anthologies. They often earn greater recognition than they might otherwise receive from publishing only their own stories. And they can experiment with new ideas and styles in a low-risk environment

Editors and publishers love collecting stories in this manner. Creating an anthology means having a whole host of authors (and their networks and platforms) to promote the work, instead of just one. Not only that – it’s a great way to build relationships with talented writers which can lead to fascinating collaborations in the future.

Episodes, series, and anthologies – fun fiction formats that are worth checking out, whether you read, write, or get paid to sell stories.

About Emma Larkins:

EmmaLarkins

Emma Larkins is a science fiction author and card game designer who loves puns. Her influences include Tamora Pierce, Piers Anthony, Douglas Adams, J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.

She writes accessible scifi that teases the edges of your imagination without making you feel like your brain has gone through a blender. Her characters face the world with wry humor, even as it comes crashing down around them. Her stories are filled with action and adventure. After all, what’s the point of a tall tale if it doesn’t make your heart race?

Stop by her Twitter or blog to learn more, or just say hi!

mechalarum

In the dystopian science fiction novel Mechalarum, sciencers toil in a last-ditch effort to defeat the offworld Losh, who have rained death from the skies for twenty years. They work to build and perfect Mechalarum flying suits for fearless pilots to infiltrate and destroy the Losh airships from within.

The most skilled of these pilots, Kiellen Corr, never wavers in her dedication to the cause until she is blindsided with betrayal after a fateful discovery. With her faithful sciencer friend Gage Turman by her side, she must fight to understand the true nature of the Mechalarum suits, the Losh, and herself.

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The Hook: The Worker Prince by Bryan Thomas Schmidt

November 30, 2015

TWP WFP front cover

The Hook:

Sol climbed to the top of the rise and stared up at the twin suns as they climbed into the sky. Yellows, reds, and oranges faded under the increasing blue of oncoming daylight, leaving a pinkish glow on the horizon, and the ever-present smell of chemicals and fuel filled his nostrils but he barely noticed.

For as long as he could remember, he’d started each day with an escape from the heavy, polluted air and the noise of people, factories, and traffic. The peaceful, quiet sunrises would usually calm him to face the day ahead, but today he had no sense of peace, and the silence of the city’s edge drowned beneath the clamor within him.

My precious son! My God, don’t forsake us now!

The wait had been interminable, punctured by endless prayers to God for a precious gift. Now they had to send him away—their Davi! Was there no justice in this universe?

He glanced at his chrono and sighed. Wouldn’t want to be late to serve the Borali Alliance! After one last look at the twin suns, he turned and hurried back along the path toward Iraja and the starport filling the horizon near the city’s edge below.

He labored more with each breath as heavy air filled his lungs. The depot occupied a strategic site at the center of the planet, ensuring easy access from all regions. Ignoring the droning soundtrack of the city awakening, Sol timed in on the chrono and greeted Aron, his co-worker and lifelong friend.

Bryan Thomas Schmidt writes:

The Worker Prince is a reimagining of the Moses story as a space opera. The basic premise, of course, is that a prince discovers he was born a slave and develops sympathy for his genetic family, bringing him into conflict with his adoptive ruling family. In Moses’ cases, God speaks to him, but instead, I chose to drop the Ten Commandments, burning bush, and miracle stuff, and instead focus on a hero’s journey and coming of age story. As Davi’s convictions cause him to question the status quo, he finds himself questioned by his friends and family, even as he seeks to investigate where he came from and who he is. As always with such journeys, Davi begins to transform as things he discovers match up with the liberal education his mother, Princess Miri, provided him in the Palace. Unlike most leaders in the Borali Alliance, he was taught to think for himself and question everything, an approach his Uncle Xalivar — presently High Lord Councilor and leader of the Borali Alliance — would never have allowed had he known. Soon, Davi’s convictions find him defending a slave girl from rape by a fellow officer and the officer dies at Davi’s hand. Now, Xalivar sends his special police to hunt Davi and Davi goes from prince to wanted fugitive. Events unfold that change his relationship with his once loving, doting uncle forever, and alter his whole life and sense of self.

I chose to open the book with a prologue set 20 years beforehand where Davi’s parents must send him away to save his life after Xalivar issues a decree that all first born must be slain. This accomplishes two things, establishes Xalivar and the parents early as important figures, allowing me to unfold the story and their roles more slowly, and sets up the loving family Davi was born into and their sacrificial love. Since he doesn’t discover their existence for 3 chapters, this helps us to feel an emotional connection with them and root him on in making the discovery. The book also pays tribute to the space operas I loved growing up, from Star Wars: A New Hope¸which I tried hard to capture the feel of (and am told I did), to Battlestar Galactica, Superman (Reeves), Buck Rogers, Star Trek and more. From little snippets of dialogue borrowed as a wink-wink to fellow fans, to a few plot elements, etc., I incorporated subtle pop culture references to these things while also trying hard to keep a good mix of action and humor. The story moves quickly and has a complicated plot that unfolds little by little with lots of political maneuvering, twists and turns, and more. It’s also an ode to old fashioned B-movie/golden age style stories but without the women depending on men aspect. I have women in various roles, and yes, Davi saves one from rape, but she and the others come into their own as strong women in various leadership roles, fully equal to the men. That was important to me in retelling this story for modern audiences and in representing my own experiences with strong women in my family growing up.

This book is the first in a trilogy, and sequels will follow next year, a few months apart. We redid the first one because everyone felt it deserved a bigger audience and the original micropress publisher closed down. Kevin J. Anderson and Peter Wacks expressed interest, so I revised and expanded The Worker Prince, am revising book 2, The Returning, and then we’ll release the brand new book 3, The Exodus, to finish the saga. They also designed a knock out new cover. Very excited to have the chance for more people to discover and enjoy this series. I dreamed it up when I was a teenager and it is a blast to see if become reality 30 years later.

The Worker Prince: Author’s Definitive Edition debuted November 4th in print, audio, and ebook.

Buy The Worker Prince on Amazon

Enter to win The Worker Prince on Goodreads

About the author:

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and Hugo-nominated editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases. His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. As book editor he is the main editor for Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta’s WordFire Press where he has edited books by such luminaries as Alan Dean Foster, Tracy Hickman, Frank Herbert, Mike Resnick, Jean Rabe and more. He was also the first editor on Andy Weir’s bestseller The Martian. His anthologies as editor include Shattered Shields with co-editor Jennifer Brozek, Mission: Tomorrow, Galactic Games and Little Green Men–Attack! (forthcoming) all for Baen, Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6, Beyond The Sun and Raygun Chronicles: Space Opera For a New Age. He is also coediting anthologies with Larry Correia and Jonathan Maberry set in their New York Times Bestselling Monster Hunter and Joe Ledger universes. From December 2010 to June 2015, he hosted #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter as @SFFWRTCHT.

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The Hook: Domnall and the Borrowed Child by Sylvia Spruck Wrigley

November 11, 2015

Domnall Cover

The Hook:

For centuries–more than that, millennia!–since the beginning of time itself, the fae had celebrated the Spring by finding the bluebells and creating a faerie ring. And now, apparently, that was all over. Too dangerous, squeaked the Council. Times have changed. Tradition simply tossed to the wind like dandelion seeds.

Domnall stabbed his walking stick into the muddy earth to navigate the bog as carefully as possible. Dirty snow still crusted the north side of the hills. He spat and trudged through the mud as the afternoon sun sunk low. Maybe he should head out, leave this place and plead for safe passage from the sluagh–they still ruled their lands, at least. A chortle escaped him at the thought of his short round self jogging behind a pack of high-flying sluagh, terrorising the local villages. Maybe not.

A scrabbling sound ahead broke into his thoughts and he froze, scanning the scrubby land for movement. When nothing else stirred, he crept carefully towards the protection of the woods.

Sylvia Spruck Wrigley writes:

Domnall and the Borrowed Child is a traditional fantasy story set in Scotland and follows the tribulations of an old and cranky scout named Domnall. When a Seelie child falls deathly ill, Domnall has to trick a human family into giving it Mother’s milk, an old ploy of the good folk but one that they haven’t had to resort to in a century or more. Domnall faces cunning humans, hungry wolves, and uncooperative sheep in his attempt to save the child.

I had two challenges to tackle in the first few paragraphs of the book. The first was to quickly make it clear that it was not a fairy tale and definitely not a children’s story. Domnall is lovable (well, I like to think so) but very much for adults. The second challenge was to make it clear that these were not Disney fairies who loved humans but instead a separate culture with their own politics and viewpoint.

Originally the story started in front of the Sithein, with Domnall speaking to his friend when Maeve comes out to tell him that they need his services. The opening scene was completely serviceable but it was a bad place to try to feed in the backstory.

Usually, I try to drip-feed information later in the story but in this case, I backed up instead. In that initial scene, Maeve is interrupting Domnall’s evening because she has an emergency, so I had to think about what she was interrupting. His peace and quiet, of course, but why did he feel he deserved it? The answer could only be because he’d spent all day on a thankless task. This gave me a great new scene and an opportunity to introduce Domnall properly, not just as the Sithein’s scout and all-around friendly guy. His internal frustration at the politics of the Sithein and the changing world was allowed full reign. Of course, his thoughts needed to be interspersed with action, so I took the chance to show his interactions to his environment and, a few paragraphs in, his reaction to a human child wandering through the forest.

This is interesting because usually I would attempt to drop the reader into the action in the first few paragraphs. This time, instead of setting up the plotline with Maeve, I slowed things down and offered an introduction to the narrator, the world and (most importantly) the type of book to expect. Domnall’s story is more of a fun romp than high action and adventure, so this hook sets the mood.

It’s not general advice that I would give for working out where the story starts but in this case, it was right for the story.

Buy Domnall and the Borrowed Child on Amazon.

About the author:

Sylvia Spruck Wrigley was born in Germany and spent her childhood in Los Angeles. She emigrated to Scotland in 1990, guiding German tourists around the Trossachs while she searched for the supernatural. She now splits her time between South Wales and Andalucia where she writes about plane crashes and faeries, which have more in common than most people might imagine. Her short stories have been translated into over a dozen languages. Domnall and the Borrowed Child was released this week by  Tor.com as a part of their new novella imprint. You can find out more about it at http://domnall.intrigue.co.uk

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The Hook: King of Shards by Matthew Kressel

October 13, 2015

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The Hook:

Daniel was getting married today, but all he could think about was work. In the musty Hebrew school classroom of Temple Beth Tiferet he pulled the black suit jacket over his shoulders and remembered the storm, how he had laid warm blankets over weary shoulders. He tightened the knot of his wine-dark tie and remembered wrapping gauze around swollen legs. Those folks didn’t have homes — hadn’t for years, and yet here he was, about to venture off to an island for two weeks of luxury and indulgence. And what about Gram, who would remain home, alone, with no one to call if she needed help? He wanted to keep Rebekah happy, but the truth was he longed to stay in New York and continue working for the Shulman Fund, where he fought for the city’s homeless. He wanted to stay close to Gram, the one who had raised him. But Rebekah, as sympathetic and understanding as she could be, had said their honeymoon was non-negotiable. They would be leaving first thing in the morning.

Fully dressed now in his itchy black wedding suit, Daniel gazed out the window. Last week’s hurricane — unusual for New York — had swept out the late-summer warmth, and outside the afternoon air was crisp and biting. The sun descended over a copse of tall Westchester oaks, and the light pierced the blinds, sending ladders of orange across Christopher’s smiling face. Christopher managed the Rising Path shelter that Daniel had helped build, and as he turned, the sun illuminated the tattoo on the dark skin of his neck: a crucified Jesus, blood spilling down his face from his crown of thorns, gazing up at God, awaiting redemption.  

“I’ve never been to a Jewish wedding,” Christopher said. “You told me about some of your customs, but I’m excited to see them for myself.”

Christopher turned, and the shadow of his neck darkened the sky above Jesus, as if storm clouds were rolling in. “The rituals are beautiful,” Daniel said, “but sometimes I feel as if it’s more about the performance than the meaning behind them.”

“All rituals are performances,” Christopher said. “That’s the whole point, isn’t it?”

Above the chalkboard a paper Hebrew alphabet had been stapled to a long cork strip. In the orange sunlight, the letters seemed to burn. The letter Ayin was missing. Ayin, the divine nothing. Ayin, the good or evil eye, depending. At least, that’s what Gram had said. Daniel shook his head. Now wasn’t the time for her silly superstitions. Outside, the branches of dead trees shivered in the wind.

Matthew Kressel writes:

King of Shards is an epic fantasy novel based partly on ancient Jewish mythology and folklore. One myth that has always fascinated me is the legend of the Lamed Vav, or the thirty-six anonymous saints who uphold the world. No one knows who these Lamed Vav are, and the myth says that even you or I could be one. If any one of these saints ceases to be righteous, the world would be destroyed. In King of Shards, Daniel Fisher discovers he is a Lamed Vavnik and that demons have been searching for his kind for millennia, trying to kill them.

Another myth I find fascinating is the so-called Shattered Vessels of Creation, a theory, elaborated by the 16th century Kabbalist Isaac Luria, that our universe wasn’t the first to be created. There were others that came before ours. But they displeased God — they had too many imperfections — and so God smashed them. In King of Shards, these primordial worlds were not empty, but populated with sentient beings — demons. A few survived this cosmic Shattering and live on fragment husks — the Shards — where they cling miserably to life.

And they’re pissed.

In the cosmology of King of Shards, the Earth serves as a kind of fountain that waters the many universal fragments of the Shards with its life force. Without Earth’s water of life, the Shards would wither and die. Earth is relatively abundant and prosperous, but the Shards are brutal hell worlds. Nothing lives on the Shards for long, and the demons that dwell there endlessly struggle for meager scraps.

So when it comes to pass that a few demons discover the names of the hidden Lamed Vav, they hatch a plan to kill them all. They hope that if they kill the Lamed Vav and destroy the Earth, the waters of life will spill in a great torrent upon them, bringing them life and abundance that has been denied them for so long.

It’s a crazy plan, and none other than Ashmedai, king of demons, recognizes the insanity of it. But Ashmedai has little power to stop them. He’s been dethroned and cast out of Sheol, the most ancient of Shards. Weak, alone, and vulnerable, Ashmedai needs Daniel’s help to stop the demons before they destroy all of existence with their foolish plan.

And so Daniel and Ashmedai, saint and demon, must join forces to save the world. But Ashmedai is not everything he appears to be. He is demon, after all.

I have always been fascinated with the apocryphal tales of Judaism, stories that began as folktales after the canonical Hebrew bible was set down. These tales were passed from generation to generation, evolving over time, until we hear engrossing tales of dybukks, lost souls who possess brides-to-be; golems, mounds of clay animated with the Holy Name of God; and shedim, demons who leave bird-like footprints by the beds of sleepers. There are literally thousands of these stories, and it would take a lifetime to explore them all. I’ve been outlining a few of these myths over on my blog.

Not all of these myths found their way into King of Shards, of course. I began with a few lesser-known myths as jumping-off points, but I never let them interfere with my creativity. Ultimately, I wanted to tell an exciting adventure fantasy. So while King of Shards is based on mythology, it’s not constrained by it, and many of the creations in the book are my own. I hope this inspires you to check out King of Shards and try to guess which ones are which.

King of Shards debuts October 13th in print, audio, and ebook.

Buy King of Shards on Amazon

About the author:

Matthew Kressel is a multiple Nebula Award-nominated writer and World Fantasy Award-nominated editor. His short stories have or will appear in such publications as Lightspeed, Nightmare, Clarkesworld, io9.com, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Interzone, Electric Velocipede, Apex Magazine, and the anthologies Naked City, After,The People of the Book, and The Mammoth Book of Steampunk, as well as other markets.

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