Thursday, April 30, 2020

Upstream Updates 2020: March and April



Life Stuff


I figured it would be too confusing to try and re-cap March, from here at the end of April--and with all the confusion happening in the world, I figured we just didn't need that! Besides, there was a whole lot that didn't happen in March... and everything was inside-out and backwards for most of the month... I didn't really hit a "stride", per se, till April anyway... So here we go!

Yeah, March was the month that everything ground to a halt--and there was some big "family stuff" that I had to deal with on top of it, so there was definitely a week or two when I didn't really feel like doing much of anything, or making any plans. I work in an elementary school, you see, so when we heard of other schools in "hotbed cities" closing down, I was still convinced that as long as we didn't have any cases in the school district itself, we could remain open. Then, one hour before the end of the school day on a Friday, the "six-week" closure was announced. (Today would have been the day that ended.) Teachers scrambled to get together whatever materials they could, and did their best to prepare the kids for a long-term break... Never knowing that within the next two weeks, schools would close for the remainder of the year, and widespread distance-education would begin.

I'm still keeping in touch with my supervisors and principals and such. "Working from home" looks a little different for someone in my position--given that it's really an "onsite" job description, there is not a lot that I was ever expected to do from home, so it was a few weeks, really, before the administration could figure out what I'm supposed to be doing beyond just checking my email. I have an inkling that this might change in the next couple months, as they have finally figured out what to do with paraeducators--but then the school year comes to a close, and we're moving on to "summer break" without really having a "Last Day of School." I'm really going to miss those fifth graders who will be moving on to middle school next year!

March/April Stats:

-Words written:
March: 18,025 (the lowest so far this year... I was in a funk, what else can I say??)
April: 30,000+ (since I just finished the month... but 25K is the "baseline goal" anyhow, so I made that with a few days to spare!)

-Books read
March: 5/4
April: 7/4 (See what I can do, given enough time?)

Writing

The Last Inkweaver


In March, I managed to go through and work out at least eight different sections in the book that need to be rewritten completely, in and among the bits and pieces I could tweak then and there. I tell you what, Olivia Cornwell's Editing Services were well worth the price! By her input, I was able to identify spots that needed major assistance, isolate them from the passages that didn't need much help, and not just that, but work out exactly how I could fix them! Helpful, above-and-beyond what I would have been capable of doing on my own, and, judging by the way it reads now, since I've actually started rewriting the sections and made it through at least a new-and-improved Chapter 1... It's made a world of difference, and I'm really liking it!

I think I've gotten a better handle on what the world actually looks like, I'm able to throw in some actual foreshadowing in chapter 1, instead of "saving" it all the way till the very end of the book... The one thing that I'm still having trouble with is chapter length--but in light of the fact that there will be other parts I'm combining, and still more that will end up cut down to a more manageable size, I might not end up with that much difference as far as word count is concerned!

Priscilla Sum

Oh boy! I had to skip the last two weeks here of April, because otherwise I would have been cutting too close to what I haven't quite finished writing yet! Doesn't appear that very many people are too hurt by this, though... Can't say, from just looking at the view count, if people are actually reading and enjoying the serial, or just glancing at the link when it comes up. (HINT: that's what comments are for! That's how you can let me know if and when you're reading!)

I will say, I'm glad to actually be on the island at this point, and we're into the "wild and crazy jungle adventure" portion of the story, the one where the real supernatural-type stuff starts happening! This is where the story gets finicky if I don't "science" things just right, too... So that's another reason it's taking me so long to write! (Other than, of course, the bajillion other things I also happen to be working on, that is!) There's just always the question in the back of my mind... am I making this interesting enough? For people that aren't me, I mean? (There's no way to tell unless people comment...)

Flash Fiction Fridays

Link to Story:
"The Beckoning of Oz"
Woohoo! I didn't think I'd have the headspace to do any more of these... I hadn't been back to the Facebook group for a writing prompt in a good long while... But there was this one photo that immediately sparked something in me... So I wrote a quick little scene and called it "The Beckoning of Oz." A girl named Ruth meets a shapeshifting crow-man named Quinn, and his natural-crow companion named Manny. One problem: He thinks she's Dorothy. I really can't resist a good fairy tale twist, can I?

I also did a second one, that had more to do with "what if Kaiju monsters attacked the earth and wiped out humanity... except for one person??" I did have fun with that one, coming up with a fascinating scenario about what life would be like for that one person, if all man-made structures (not just buildings, but roads and houses too) had been smashed to smithereens... how would they survive? Where would they go? It's the little questions that really get the creative juices flowing!

Author Promo-ing

Facebook Author Page: Leslie Conzatti--The Upstream Writer
Another exciting thing that's been happening in April (not so much in March) is that I've gotten a bunch of different promotional opportunities! From reading aloud the first few chapters of Princess of Undersea, to getting to talk all about my latest (upcoming) anthology submission, the story of "The Water-Man", which will be appearing in the limited-edition anthology Myths and Monsters, compiled by an author whose books you've seen several times on this blog, Pauline Creeden. I've also gotten to fill out a couple author interviews for some blogs (I'll add the links to this post when I know what they are!), I participated in an author round-table where we discussed the elements and methods of story creation (you can watch that >HERE<), and if you enjoyed that, you'll want to keep a weather eye out and watch >This Space< because that's where I'll be linking a second round-table I'm participating in, talking all about folklore and fairy tales!

There's more upcoming, and they're all going to be centered around my novella Princess of Undersea--for two reasons: namely, that's the only solo book I have out so far. My second reason brings me to my next point...

Adventures in Self-Publishing


Surprise! Princess of Undersea is getting a re-boot! Not totally... I'll just be self-publishing it, so the watermarks and whatnot need to be taken off the cover, some wording in the blurb needs to be changed... I'll also be updating my bio to reflect the current state of my writing accomplishments, AND (this is the most exciting part) ADDING THE TIE-IN STORIES AND THE EPILOGUE! That's right! The "bonus material" I have linked on the "Princess of Undersea" page here on the blog is actually going to be part of the book (if all goes well)! Perhaps not the three "Suggestion Box" stories, ("Gondu's Gamble", "Unlucky Urcellus", and "Yet You Are Young") but certainly the two "Reviewers' Tribute" stories, "Give Me What I Need" and "What Happened To Simon." Yep! You won't have to go fishing through my Facebook author page to find those anymore... and you'll finally get to read that elusive Epilogue that I've only shared with a handful of people by now!

I just need to figure out how to self-publish through Kindle Direct--I'm already in contact with a formatter who can help make the alterations on the cover and in the book itself. The main story isn't changing (well, maybe a word here or there, and some minor stuff that I wasn't confident about the first time around!) but I am pretty confident you're going to like the new-and-improved version when it comes!

Speaking of upcoming things....

Coming Soon: Clan of Outcasts, Season 3!


Say WHAAAAT?

That's right! I did close out "Season 2" with everything neatly tied off... mostly. (Sorry Justin...) And I really thought that would be the end of it. Well... There was that fanfiction where I basically pitted Denahlia against a character from another series, on another world, and created ties for her back in that world... but that was just one little fling... Wasn't it?

Those of you who were around at the beginning know that this whole thing started from nothing more than a really neat group of "character inspiration" images from an author friend I follow. (The same one who wrote the series that I fanfic'd, incidentally!) She just keeps finding these irresistible things... But at the same time, I just couldn't think of how else to use some of these images, since I couldn't very well come up with another adventure to throw these characters on...

Could I?

The answer, as of midnight on a Tuesday night (not even kidding... like I popped awake, jotted things down, and went right back to sleep), is "Why not?"

So yes! As soon as I'm finished with "Priscilla Sum", I'll be taking you all back to The Realm, where Jaran rules as king with Azelie his Queen, Prince Beren ("the Elder", as Jaran likes to add!) and Princess Zayra are working hard to develop the region once known as the "Wild Wasteland." Denahlia serves as the Harbor Watch, while Velora guards the Forest... Korsan the Mage has departed on sabbatical, and in his place, as Adviser to the King, he's left his protegee, Risyn Nysir--who has his fair share of secrets he's keeping... a new villain is on the rise, and the past refuses to stay buried...

Needless to say, I've got fresh images for old characters, and a handful of new characters to introduce to you--and even though I've got so much on my plate already, I can't wait to get things rolling! If you loved the original story, you're going to enjoy this one! If you haven't read "Clan of Outcasts" yet--now is the perfect time to start!


Wattpad Updates


Over the last couple weeks, something amazing has happened on Wattpad--Somebody commented on a fic I'd all but given up on.

The way it happened was this: way back in high school, I learned about and studied Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmund Rostand. I loved the verbal repartee, the logic, the jokes... I did not love the apparent age difference between Cyrano and his lady-love, nor the fact that the play was intended as a tragedy, so it ends in death and not romantic resolution, in spite of everyone's efforts to the contrary.

However, when I was reading it, I really did start picturing it like a whole drama set at an art college--literally every character is some kind of theatrical trope! Forthwith, although I had only just started online courses for college myself, I set out to write a modern adaptation of the play. Everybody became students or staff at a college, so the age difference wasn't too drastic, and I turned it into a romantic comedy just so the guys do not both die at the end. I called it "Once Upon Love", it was cheesy, I had a really hard time "updating" a lot of the dialogue... but I gave it my best shot, and called it "okay." I wrote it and moved on with my life.

Well, a few months back, I had the itch to revisit it again. I made a cover for it, and started posting the first couple chapters on Wattpad. Nobody commented, and it didn't seem like it was getting a whole lot of views, so rather than just keep apologizing for it, I just stopped updating it.

WELL... Then that brings us to a couple weeks ago, when I suddenly received a notification of a comment and a couple upvotes on this story that I'd pretty much abandoned. "I had to read Cyrano for school and this book is in a way, helping me!" the commenter said.

OH HAPPY DAY! You mean this bucket of tripe is actually useful to someone? I did a good thing?? Turns out that was all the motivation I needed. "Once Upon Love" has been reinstated to active status... and maybe you'll read it and like it, too!

I've also got another old fanfiction that I've been posting: "The Return of MacPherson", a Warehouse 13 fanfiction. I actually based it on the pair of stories that were the first "books" I really wrote after only writing fanfiction for a couple years. I had these stories, and I did notice how there were a few details that could possibly fit within Warehouse 13 canon... and you all know how I feel about true-canon fanfiction... So I went ahead and started jotting down notes for it, promising myself that the minute the story started falling apart, I could stop... Well, I made it all the way to the end of the "fanisode" without issue, so I went ahead and wrote it--and had a lot of fun making references to a pair of stories that never actually existed. (If people start begging, though... I might be convinced to also start posting those stories... Just saying...)

Reading


Wow! Ok... So reading over the last couple months has pretty much exploded, compared to what it was for January and February. All of a sudden I don't have to choose whether to read or to write--I can do both in a day, and I think that's why both my reading habits and my writing habits have mutually benefitted. It's like that quote I saw somewhere, by literary analyst Pam Allyn: "Reading and writing cannot be separated. Reading is like breathing in. Writing is like breathing out." And it's true! If I'm reading a whole lot and not writing much, it's like my creativity is asphyxiating: a whole lot going in, not a whole lot coming out. If I try to just write a whole bunch without reading anything in between, it's like I'm creatively hyperventilating: expending too much without taking in and re-charging what I'm expending. For proper creative respiration, one must expend and recover in a balanced degree.

That being said, I managed, over the course of two months, to read a total of five ebooks: Grave Tidings by R. R. Virdi, Fortunate Son by E. A. Copen (both of those I actually read in March, but they aren't listed on Goodreads so they "technically" didn't count toward my recorded reading goal, but I am still counting them!), and in April I read A Splash of Truth by Amy Hopkins, Ugly Girl by Mary E. Twomey, and Mirrors by Rebekah Dodson. You can follow the hyperlinks for each book to see what I thought of them!


On top of that, I got through just about my entire stack of books, both the old stack and the new stack: After Veiled Rose by Anne Elisabeth Stengl, Magnus Chase and The Ship of The Dead by Rick Riordan, and Until We Meet Again by Michael Korenblit--in April I read Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik which was absolutely everything I wanted it to be. She's just so gorgeous with her folklore! The Stars Below by David Baldacci was also a book that amounted to exactly what I was expecting--which is to say, not a whole lot. It did bring things to an end, for sure--but there was something inherently alluring that is typically found in all of his adult thrillers that this series just lacked, in a big way. Who knows?


Anyway, I moved on to read Inquisitor by John and Carole Barrowman (yes, that Barrowman...) only to discover that it was BOOK 3 IN THE SERIES. And as I was feverishly wondering how I culd possibly mistake Book 3 for Book 1... I realized it was because the library didn't have the other two books in its catalog, so I'd gotten Inquisitor as the only option... when it wasn't even the start of the series!! So, with great disappointment, I had to just put that right into my bag of library returns, and move on to the others.
Seraphina by Rachel Hartmann went a long way to softening the blow, though! An absolutely delightful take on dragon-lore, and not unlike the concepts I tried to explore in my Cinderella re-telling, "The Dragon's Mark"! Seriously loved it. Which then left me with only Empire of Shadows and then Beastly by Alex Flinn to read. Speaking of the latter, the book wasn't that much better than the movie, suffice to say. It was a fluffy teen re-telling with no attempt at being subtle with its references... The whole chatroom conversations with "Mr. Anderson" and other characters (who must be references to characters from the other stories in the series) provided a kind of "updated" angle, but this whole "series" seems to center on the witch character, so I don't think I'm really up for that. I'll stand by the Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer for my "fairy tale re-telling" needs!

As for Empire of Shadows by Miriam Forster, that's the last of the library checkouts I will be reading... I've already scoped out the first couple chapters and it looks to be more of a spin-off of the first novel, than an actual sequel. I'm not seeing any familiar characters at all. Maybe some will show up later, but who knows? That one, although it is from the library, is going to be a "Reader's Review" post, so you'll find out what I think of it soon enough! So beyond that, as you can see in the picture, I have Hercule Poirot's Casebook by Agatha Christie, and then, if the libraries still haven't opened by the time I finish that one, I am going on to finally finish The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks--which has been sitting with the bookmark at exactly halfway for MANY months... I guess that just shows you how desperate I am!

And so we come to the end. That's basically what I've been up to this last month, and I'll be seeing you for another one of these at the end of May! As always...

Catch You Further Upstream!

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Reader's Review: Novella Double-Feature!

Double Feature today!!!

Fortunate Son (Judah Black Series, #0.5)
E. A. Copen

Synopsis from BookFunnel:

No one is above the law.
At least, that’s what federal agent Judah Black believes. Her job is to police supernaturals—werewolves, vampires, and fae—who have come out of hiding to live alongside humans.

The rest of the cops in her precinct are all too eager to dismiss her latest case, an apparent werewolf suicide. But the suicide note lays the blame on a cold case swept under the rug by the very department Judah works for.

When Judah decides to dig deeper, she uncovers evidence that could bring down one of the most powerful up and coming politicians in the country. Her superiors tell her to leave it alone, that everyone who’s ever crossed this senator was fired or worse—dead. Pursuing this case will place Judah in the center of a growing struggle between humans and the supernatural, and change her life forever.
>>>>>>>>>

My Review:

This prequel novella was one of a selection of free ebooks to download (Follow the link above for this one and more, still free!) so it's actually been on my device for a while now.

It hasn't been all that long since I've read a Judah Black book--but I'm sure glad I read this one, finally! I found it really fascinating, having just read the second novel and seeing how much she's grown from the first novel, to then go "back to the start" of Judah's story and see where it all began: the distrust of "proper procedure", the tenacious drive to not let bureaucracy trump true justice, and the actions that led to Judah's being "sequestered" to Paint Rock at all. Now, reading all that she's able to accomplish as the agent in charge of the "reservation of supernaturals", I can see it as a good thing--but also, reading what she was up against as a cop in Columbus, it kind of also doesn't feel like a "good thing", per se.

I loved this glimpse into "early Judah." She's a newly-singled mom trying to do the best she can for her community while protecting her son from all the things that are inherently wrong with society. The real-world event that no doubt inspired the core conflict of this simple story is dead-obvious, as some of the descriptions read like straight-up references... but at the same time, it is definitely something that a character like Judah would face. Copen makes it fit into the world she's created, where magic does exist, and supernatural creatures like Fae, werewolves, and vampires do walk among us where they can, but on a more hidden, subtle level that some people can and will ignore (or form prejudices against) more often than not. It's a much more vulnerable Judah we see here, more impulsive and not quite as practiced as "Paint Rock Judah" has become. It's a great start to the series, a perfect introduction to the main character of a series that fans of urban fantasy and the paranormal/supernatural genre definitely will enjoy!

Rating: *****

Further Reading: (Also by The Author/Urban Fantasy/Paranormal)
Judah Black Series--E. A. Copen
       -Fortunate Son (*This book)
       -Guilty By Association 
       -Blood Debt
The Grave Reports--R. R. Virdi
        -Grave Beginnings 
        -Grave Measures 
The LouisiAngel Series--C. L. Coffey
        -Angel in Training 
        -Angel Eclipsed 
        -Angel Tormented 
Talented Series--Amy Hopkins
     -A Drop of Dream 
     -A Dash of Fiend 
     -A Splash of Truth 
The Therian Way--Kimberly Rogers
       -Leopard's Heart 
       -Wolf's Path 
       -Tiger's Shadow
Wonderland Guardian Academy Series--Pauline Creeden
       -Red The Wolf Tracker

Mirrors (The Curse of Lanval, #1)
Rebekah Dodson

Synopsis from Amazon:

This is the start of my story. And it’s one helluva saga.
The greatest adventure of my life started with a discovery in a history book by my sister, Jules. Don’t let anyone fool you, this truly is all her fault. Well, not my Uncle Richard’s death, but everything else.

Take our cousin’s awesome car? Her idea.
Explore this ancient castle? Her idea.
Touch things that say don’t touch? You guessed--

Guillaume Lanval! Do not blame the entire mess on me! I didn’t send us to 1154 A.D. In France. And turn history on its head.
Well, we don’t know we did that, Jules.
Want to know more? Open my pages. You know you want to.
>>>>>>>>>

My Review:

Whew! This was one I nabbed during a promo, I think--the premise was so cool, I wanted to learn more! Perhaps part of me wondered if it would be like that other series I love where two siblings travel to another world via a mirror... Or perhaps I just happen to like stories that use mirrors as a vehicle for time travel... Whatever the case, it was a snappy premise that drew me in--and that first scene, our introduction to the main character was absolutely spot-on, positively caked with color and intrigue!

The characters are well-done. Gill is a bit of a ham, very much the typified cliche of a "rascally" young man who sleeps around and gets very aroused around pretty girls... But then again, he's also juuust dorky enough that I'm not exactly rolling my eyes and thinking oh I know EXACTLY where this book is going... His relationship with his sister is very well balanced, and she provides an essential dimension that keeps us from writing off Gill and his whole obsession with girls and constant whining about the "family curse" entirely... He's not your typical self-absorbed, Practically Perfect, Heartless Heartthrob main character--he cares about people, especially injured people, with his background as an EMT, so that whole side of him comes into play in a very important way.
My only beef with this book, as it has been for other books, is that it teased so much and presented so much potential--but it was too short. There wasn't much "payout" because this is just "Part 1." I got to the end and felt like I had buckled in to watch a chess game, but instead, the players only just set up the board and left off at that.

Which direction the rest of the (albeit diminutive) series is going to head remains to be seen... from the "blurbs" alone, it sounds like Gill and Jules are in for a wild ride! As far as first books go, this isn't terrible--and if you like time travel, plenty of sarcasm, and just a little bit of irreverence for historical time periods (but a healthy respect for the consequence of making changes in historical events!), then perhaps you, too, can grab Mirrors (and maybe the rest of the series, while you're at it!) and discover the secret behind "The Curse of Lanval" for yourself!

Rating: ****

Further Reading: (Time Travel/Siblings/Fantasy Adventure)
The Time Tree Chronicles--Lisa Rae Morris
       -The Emergence 
The Shaudrey Universe Series--J. E. Mueller
       -Fire's Song
The Fair Folk Chronicles--Jeffrey Cook and Katherine Perkins
        -Foul is Fair 
        -Street Fair 
        -A Fair Fight 
        -All's Fair 
Starstruck Saga--S. E. Anderson
       -Starstruck 
The Books of Winter--R. R. Virdi
       -Dangerous Ways 




Saturday, April 18, 2020

Serial Saturday: "Priscilla Sum" Part 13


Part 13

By eight o'clock the next morning, Greece time, we were stumbling through the motions of packing up, struggling to keep our eyes open and fervently wishing that we wouldn't forget anything.

"Ugh!" Jordyn groaned as she gave up trying to brush her bushy, curly hair and just dug in her bag for a hair tie. "I don't know about you, but I feel like I only slept for ten minutes before my body decided Oh, it's morning again! right in the middle of the fricking night!"

I wagged my head and rubbed my arms to wake myself up. I hadn't exactly popped awake in the middle of the night, but I definitely didn't sleep well, with all the nightmares and strange dreams that plagued my sleep. Of course, as soon as I awoke, I couldn't remember anything, but I sure felt the effects of it!

"I think I slept," I commented. "Maybe... I don't know, it just felt like I laid with my eyes closed, but still awake, just about the whole night."

Jordyn sighed as she hefted her backpack onto her shoulder. "Let's hope our internal clocks catch up with us tonight. I don't think I could take an entire trip of this jet lag!"


We met the rest of the group in the front hall of the hostel. The guys didn't look any more awake than we felt--with the exception of Kayce and Tony. The former slouched against the wall with a vacant expression on his face, and Tony just stood calmly, taking everything in with his keen gaze. I caught his eye and offered a smile, and he grinned in response.

"There they are!" Tony said as we approached. "Ready to do some digging, girls?"

Jordyn laughed. "I know I am! But first--coffee!"

"Did someone say kafes?" Asked a jovial, accented voice, and Alexandros entered our group, bearing a full six-cup carrier with a familiar green logo on the side in one hand, and a paper bag that smelled heavenly in the other.

six pairs of eyes lit up at the sight of it, and we all moved outside for places to sit and enjoy our light breakfast.

"Impeccable timing, Alex!" Professor Silver chuckled, selecting a pastry and pulling apart the wafer-thin layers. "For a tour guide, you really treat your guests well!"

We sat at a plastic table just outside the hostel, possibly intended for the establishment next door, with its large grilling pit smelling of charcoal and old grease. A mix of growling cars and bicycles streamed past us down the road, punctuated by the odd horse-drawn cart. A few of them even called out a greeting to Alexandros, without the least bit of surprise to see a group of pale foreigners gathered with him. He must do this tour-guide thing a lot.

The coffee was very different-tasting than what I was used to, even though it ostensibly came from the same chain. The coffee itself was much stronger, and then the amount of cream added to it was not quite proportionate--but it was coffee, and as soon as it cooled to a tolerable temperature, I drank it all.

Alexandros showed up next to me, leaning so close I could see the faint sheen of brown in the blacks of his eyes. "Here," he said, offering me a sticky clump of buns in a napkin, "try some loukoumades."

I accepted the napkin, gingerly poking at the round lumps. "What are they?"

"Greek honey donuts," Tony announced, licking the fingers in one hand as he crumpled a napkin in the other. He came to sit next to me, and Alexandros backed away to a more appropriate distance. "They're really good." To prove his point, he reached for more from the pile in the middle of the table.

I plopped a puff into my mouth, and relished the sweet explosion of honey on my tongue. The fluffy pastry seemed to melt away as soon as I bit down, and I swallowed the rest easily.

"Oh wow!" I gasped.

We spent a good hour enjoying the pastries, learning their names, and getting excited for what we might find out on the island.

"I can't wait to see what Fourtouna actually looks like!" Jordyn gushed.

Professor Silver stretched his arms. "How long is the boat ride to get there?" he asked our guide.

Alexandros bobbed his head. "Not long. I have already been down to the marina to charter the boat, and we should have clear weather all the way. It will not be more than one hour, so you will have plenty of time to get acquainted with the site before the sun is too high--and that is when most of the American team breaks for rest and a meal."

Derrick snorted. "Really? So everything just stops in the middle of the day?"

Alexandros gathered the trash into an empty paper bag and dropped it into the nearby trash can. "Not everything. Some teams work in shifts, so that even though it might be too warm to dig, there is still work getting done. You will see when we arrive."

I felt the weight of what we were about to do as I threw away my coffee cup. This was it. Today, perhaps, I would find out what had my mother so worried--and what a certain nefarious demon might be up to, in this particular part of the world that shouldn't exist.

Tony must have seen the concern on my face, because he stuck beside me and gave my hand a squeeze when I turned around.

"Hey," he murmured, "It'll be okay."

I gave myself a shake and sighed all the concern away. Time to put on my happy face. I grinned for Tony's benefit. "You bet it will! I'm excited."

Professor Silver shouldered his backpack and grabbed the handle of his suitcase. "Everybody got all their stuff?" He looked around at each of us. "Let's head down to the marina, then!" He waved his arm and followed Alexandros down the road.

We probably looked far more touristy than the day we arrived, the six of us with all of our luggage rolling along beside us--but to the credit of the locals, we only got a few whistles, some frustrated glares from suited businessmen and middle-aged women in groups who had to go around us on the sidewalk--but at last, we arrived at the water's edge.

Row upon row of bobbing docks spread out in front of us. We made our way down the metal gangplank and onto the main dock.

"Keep a good hold on your handles, folks!" Jordyn joked, as her rickety suitcase nearly twisted out of her grasp on the uneven surface.

Instinctively, I gripped my own handle a little tighter, opting to just lift my bag ever so slightly if it met resistance at all. As I turned back to check on it, I noticed Kayce, head bent and hair hanging down over his face. He wasn't wearing his signature hoodie, but he still looked like he wanted to curl up and disappear all the same. I dropped back a little to talk to him.

"You doing all right?" I asked.

It took him a moment to respond, like he expected someone else to answer the question. When no one spoke, he finally lifted his head.

"Huh?" Kayce muttered. "Oh, yeah... I'm fine." He squinted at the boats as we passed them, headed for Slip 24.

I tried not to mind that he wasn't looking at me--even though it did grate on me, considering all the times my Mom drilled me in conversational etiquette. "I noticed you haven't said much all morning," I pointed out. "What are you most looking forward to on Fourtouna?"

The sunlight glinted off his platinum-blond hair as Kayce shrugged. "Dunno... I did find out more about the worshippers who built the temple, back when the island was part of Macedonia." His face relaxed a little and he actually smiled a bit. "Turns out there is this whole branch of ancient Greek theology that hardly anybody knows about, and they worshipped something called the 'Microtheon', which is exclusively focused on minor gods, not the major ones."

I thought about the books currently bundled in the top pocket of my suitcase. "Oh really? So they weren't like the normal gods we usually think about when we think of Greek mythology?"

Kayce shook his head, his shoulders squaring up just a bit more. "Nope--not Zeus, Poseidon, Hades and all the rest--only minor gods, who had very specific names and assignments to various details of human life and the natural world--like instead of Athena for wisdom and battle strategy, they'd follow Dianoia, goddess of intellect, or Machios, god of combat." He paused to sidestep a pile of bird droppings. "When you consider the hundreds of thousands of minor gods recognized and recorded, it's almost like these 'microtheists' were the hipsters of the Greek theological scene, rejecting the 'mainstream' gods in favor of a handful of obscure ones to suit their needs."

It was the most I'd ever heard him speak since the day we met. Of course the Anthropology major would be interested in the religious aspect of the place we were going, and the people who once lived there! Why didn't we ask him about the research he did sooner? I just knew, out of everybody else in the group (except maybe Tony), he would be pretty excited to see the books I brought from Mom's office--maybe he could actually read some of the Greek passages!

I self-consciously tucked a lock of hair behind my ear as I asked, "Do you think that maybe the gods they worshipped on Fourtouna might also be part of this Microtheon?"

Kayce bobbed his head, running his fingers through his pale hair. "I mean, it makes sense, given the nature of the area and the theological sentiments of the group living there at the time."

Alexandros finally stopped and waved at us. The boat he stood next to was mostly white, with a bare-wood trim. The man standing at the tiller squinted at us over a wispy pale beard, his face shiny and red like a weather-beaten old apple as he reached out to shake our guide's hand. Alexandros had a quick conversation with the man who nodded several times. Finally, he turned back to us.

"This is it, friends! This is the Synnefo Kataigidas--the Storm Cloud! She will take us to Fourtouna. He says you can stow all your bags below, to keep them safe from being tossed overboard. We will be underway in only a few more minutes!"

"Wonderful!" Professor Silver gushed. "Everybody climb aboard. Fourtouna awaits!"

The captain of the boat nodded and beckoned to us, gesturing to an opening at the rear of the boat--the stern--that had been cut out to allow for ease of entry. Kayce climbed on as easily as stepping onto a porch, and when Tony tried to do the same, I felt the dock we stood on shift and waver a little bit, sending the boat a little higher and widening the difference between the two surfaces. He scrambled for the railing with both hands to keep himself upright.

"Sorry," he coughed, as Professor Silver got up behind him. "Guess I still have lingering effects from the hospital recovery."

My cheeks burned. Hospital recovery; only the two of us knew what that really meant. To anyone else, it just looked like a really effective medical treatment, but he still carried the disease. They couldn't know that he was totally not even sick anymore.

The dock still felt a little unstable, so I let Jordyn get up next. That left Derrick standing behind me, and I almost wanted to let him go, too, but he kept waiting for me.

"Are you going to go," he asked, "or what?"

"Yeah, come on, Pris." Now Tony was standing beside the small opening, holding his hand out toward me. "It's easy. I'll help you."

I mustered my courage, gripped Tony's hand, and trusted all my weight on the foot that rested on the weathered wood of the boat. My other foot left the dock, and I was aboard the "Stormcloud." The captain enlisted Alexandros' help to release the ropes that tethered us in the sloop, and we pulled out of the marina, our course set for Fourtouna!

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Friday, April 17, 2020

Flash Fiction Friday: "Flashes of Inspiration" No. 22


Picture prompt: 

"The Beckoning of Oz"

The wind around Ruth’s shoulders whipped her hair into her face. Above her, the crow perched on a street lamp. Ruth pulled her coat closer around her shoulders, tucking her chin into her scarf.

“It’s just a crow,” she whispered to herself. “It’s just a bird—“
Crawk!” the massive black shape careened toward her head again.
Ruth yelped and brought the edges of her coat up to protect her face. She could feel the claws scrabbling at her ponytail, the scratchy wings batting her head. It kept croaking until she staggered a few blind steps forward. Only then did the beating stop, just like it had before.
Ruth peeked out from her collar. The crow hovered some distance in front of her. It cocked its head back and forth, rasping at her.
A fog was beginning to gather, and the crow progressed further and further into the shadows.
Everything about this felt so wrong.
Ruth promptly turned heel. “Nope!” she announced. “I’m not—YIKES!”
A black shadow unfolded right in front of her as a second crow blocked her path! It darted for her head, but Ruth turned and broke into a run. She took the path right in front of her, heedless of direction beyond “away from the crows”... and yet they still managed to keep pace with her, slapping her with their wings if she dared turn aside or stop.

“Go away!” she whimpered as she ran. “Get away from me!”

Her feet slid out from under her, and Ruth landed hard on her elbows, nearly smacking her face on the brick path.

The YELLOW brick path.

Since when did forest trails in the Beech Mountain wilderness have yellow bricks for paving?

The wind whipped harder, and Ruth heard the low rumble of thunder. She stared at the crows overhead.
“Okay, you know what?” she yelled at the looming pests, “I am not doing this! The yellow brick road in the middle of nowhere... crows?” She folded her arms. “I’m not some country orphan living with her aunt and uncle in rural Kansas. I’m outta here!”
Ruth braced herself for the beating, but the crows didn’t move. She turned her back on them, and took two hesitant steps forward, right to the edge of this random yellow pavement.
Just when she lifted her foot for the third step, something rugged at her ankle, and Ruth put her foot down to steady herself. The wind had picked up, pushing against her like an invisible wall. Ruth could only stare in horror as the wind seemed to push her feet back up the path!
“No!” she blurted, “No! No! NO!
It was too late. Every step she took against the wind only shifted her balance so it pushed her back five more. And now the crows had returned, flapping along with the wind, preventing her from wrestling herself away from it. Ruth whirled around to face the same direction as the wind—and immediately regretted it.

The fog has coalesced into a swirling grey-green column, and she was getting closer to it. The cloud swelled so big it swallowed her view of the entire path. Ruth screamed as she threw her arms in front of her face—

And immediately, the wind died. Ruth’s ears rang, and her skin tingled at the sudden absence of pressure. She dropped her arms.

She still stood on the yellow bricks, but these ones looked brighter, newer.
On her left was a field of sunflowers. To her right, the path curved off over a meadow full of giant toadstools and into the distance. Ruth turned around.

“Hello!”
“AUGH!”
Crawk!

Ruth stumbled backward to get away from the tall, lanky stranger. His blue eyes crackled with energy, and his shaggy dark hair and sharp features definitely gave the appearance of a crow, if the black tunic and trousers he wore were not any sort of giveaway. An actual crow settled on his shoulder, glaring at Ruth.

“Wh-what—who... Where—Y-you...” she spluttered. Her hands shook as she lifted a finger to point at him. "You did this! What did you do to me?"


The stranger grinned at her. "Don't be angry! I only wanted to find you so I could bring you back and fix things."

"Back?" Ruth squinted at the sky, down the road in both directions, and especially at those funny-looking tree-sized mushrooms. "What do you mean, back? I don't belong here!"

The lanky stranger snorted. "Of course you do, Dorothy! Now, you don't know me, but I'm Quinn, and this,” he brought a slender hand around to allow the crow to step onto it, “is Manny--and Oz needs your help again!"

Ruth stopped wandering in circles wondering when the cloud was going to return and restore everything to normal. She revolved slowly to face Quinn.

"What did you call me?" she spat.

Quinn shied away from her, and Manny squawked as he landed on the lanky man's other shoulder, to hide from the smoldering glare on the girl's face.

"You..." He stammered, "You're Dorothy, aren't you? That's how I found you, because you're..." He trailed off as Ruth shook her head.

"You've got the wrong girl, Slim," said Ruth. "I'm Ruth from Raleigh--I don't even know anybody named Dorothy."

His calm self-assurance wilted, and Ruth saw actual terror unfolding over his face. "N-no!" He whimpered. "That's not--I didn't... But then how could I--Oooohh!!" He wailed and covered his face with his arms. "This is bad," he wailed. "This is very very bad! I did a bad thing!"

Manny warbled and wriggled his way into Quinn's lap to console him. Ruth stood awkwardly in the middle of the road, watching the young man break down.

"Hey, um..." She ventured after a few minutes, "So... if you're looking for Dorothy, do you think you could, like, bring me back, then? I mean, I really don't see how I could be of any use to you, since I'm not, you know, her--"

"Don't you get it?" In the space of a blink, Quinn stood nose-to-nose with her, his blue eyes crackling. He huffed heavily as the anxiety built. "I can't get back to your world! That was my one chance, and I blew it! I was supposed to find one person and one person only in that world--and you were the only person I could find!"

Ruth blinked, scooting back from his frantic stare. "I... What?" she gasped. "But that's--"

"Impossible, I know!" Quinn threw his arms up, sending Manny flapping into the sky with an angry croak. "I tried, I really did, but--out of everybody in that whole world, only one person actually stepped onto the yellow brick road, so I thought if anybody was destined to find me and return to Oz, it would be--" He gestured dramatically toward her, and plopped down in the grass beside the road again.

Ruth, meanwhile, felt the awful weight of the situation: she was stranded in a place that should never have existed, a world she knew nothing about, with a skinny goth lunatic and his pet as her guides--and all this was the outcome of a last-ditch effort to find someone who could supposedly save this world from certain doom?

Her knees buckled, and she joined Quinn on the grass. A gnawing pain built in the pit of her stomach, and she pulled her knees close as it wound tighter and tighter, crushing her body and escalating until it was hard to breathe and she wished she could just curl into herself and disappear--

Ruth gave a gurgling, sharp gasp as tears poured from her eyes.

"Hey." Quinn's voice reached her through the funk. She felt his hand stroking the back of her head. "Don't--don't cry... Please don't cry... this isn't your fault--"

"Not my fault?" Ruth picked her head up and stared at the slim-faced young man. She couldn't help the way her face contorted as she ugly-cried. "I'm not crying because it's my fault--I'm crying because there's nothing I can do to undo all the things I did!" Oh cripes, this place was rubbing off on her--I sound as crazy as any of them! "I have to get back, Quinn! I just want to go home!"

The black-clad man let out a long sigh. "I know--but you're here now, so we just have to make the best of it till--"

Ruth let out a bitter laugh, through her hysterical tears. "Make the best of it? Ha! Till what, might I ask?" she snapped, swiping the tears savagely from her face. "Till something ends up killing me? Till I get so old that nobody back in my world remembers me?"

Quinn scowled at her. "I was going to say till we can find somebody who knows how to re-open the portal to send you back. But," he shrugged, "you're welcome to find some way of killing yourself off or dying of old age without making any sort of effort, if those are your only options."

Ruth sniffed, her frustration and anxiety subsiding somewhat. "Really?" she asked softly. "You think we could find someone? And you'd help me?"

Quinn plopped Manny on his shoulder and stood up. He held out a hand to Ruth. "Of course I'll help," he said, pulling her onto her feet. "After all," he winked. "I'm the only friend you've got just now." He gestured toward the yellow brick road. "Shall we?"

Ruth followed the lanky scarecrow of a man down the blazing path, toward an uncertain destiny.
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For more "Flashes of Inspiration", check out the Flash Fiction tab at the top of this page!

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Reader's Review: "A Splash of Truth" by Amy Hopkins



Synopsis from Amazon:

A boy is missing, and Emma needs to find him fast. The High Seat's request to hunt down a traitor on the Council will just have to wait.

When Emma's search leads her to the gritty underground where half-blood children are made to fight for sport, she'll require every ounce of cunning and skill she has to bring the operation down. She must not only mingle with the arrogant nobles who run the operation but finally face down the one person who means her the most harm - her sister, Aveline.

Putting off the High Seat's task, however, may be a bigger risk than she bargained for...
>>>>>>>>

My Review:

Oh goody!!!

A few years ago, I read the first two books, back when it was billed as an "urban fantasy gritty adventure" series. It was an okay fit, and I really did enjoy both books--but then Hopkins pulled, edited, and re-branded the Talented series as a "cozy urban fantasy mystery" and holy heck what a difference a simple change of genre focus makes! All that to say, while I ended up reading the first two books twice over (just to make sure there wasn't anything huge that would have to change my reviews at all--great news, there wasn't! Every word still applies!) this was the first book in the series that I only had to read once--and it was absolutely spiffing!

Hopkins does an excellent job with the continuity of character relationships--from Emma's interactions with Harrod and Martin and Charlie, all the way down to Ellandra and Lenny. Everybody's falling into a rhythm with one another, and taking up certain roles in Emma's story. In the first book, she's barely having anything to do with the Inner City life--and after the events of Book 2, we see her now attending events as "Emmaline Beaumarchais" and acquainting herself with the side of her life that has rejected her for so long (and in some ways still does.)

A Splash of Truth deals with more of a challenge to high-ranking officials than ever before, and marks Emma's transition from "preserving one's own life" (as in the first book) and "crimes done in the seedy underbelly of society" (as in the second book) to "secrets held among the elite"--but she absolutely shows the same tenacity!

The other thing I like best is the fact that, even with an extraordinary Talent that "nobody should possess", Emma is not an indomitable, over-powered, invincible Mary-Sue--she's still being trained how to use it (though sometimes the training doesn't go so well), she's still susceptible, vulnerable, and by no means proficient--though she learns some important lessons about her Talent that give her more clarity than ever before.... Just in time for things to ramp up yet again, in preparation for the final book!

A Splash of Truth demonstrates the importance of pursuing all the facts in the matter rather than accepting things at face value--and how dangerous it can be when one kernel of truth is swamped in a sea of lies. At the same time, a "splash of truth" can be the key to one's freedom. It's got super-powered children, battle magic, enchanted disguises, vicious villains, intense plot-twists--and a whole lot of heart! I give A Splash of Truth the full *****5 STAR***** rating, and it still warrants an Upstream Writer Certified ABSOLUTELY RECOMMENDED endorsement. Because seriously--if you like fantasy and magic and you're done with the Harry Potter series and want more like it, look no further! This is undoubtedly the series you're looking for!

Further Reading: (Also by The Author/Urban Fantasy/Delightful Characters)
Talented Series--Amy Hopkins
     -A Drop of Dream 
     -A Dash of Fiend 
     -A Splash of Truth *(This Book)
Lord of the Wyrde Woods--Nils Visser
     -Escape From Neverland 
     -Dance Into The Wyrd 
The Books of Winter--R. R. Virdi
       -Dangerous Ways 
The Chronicles of Lorrek--Kelly Blanchard
        -Someday I'll Be Redeemed 
        -I Still Have A Soul 
        -I'm Still Alive 
        -Do You Trust Me? 
        -You Left Me No Choice 
The Therian Way--Kimberly Rogers
       -Leopard's Heart 
       -Wolf's Path 
       -Tiger's Shadow 
The Fair Folk Chronicles--Jeffrey Cook and Katherine Perkins
        -Foul is Fair 
        -Street Fair 
        -A Fair Fight 
        -All's Fair 
The Vemreaux Trilogy--Mary E. Twomey
       -The Way 
       -The Truth 
       -The Lie 
The Portal Prophecies--C. A. King
     -A Keeper's Destiny 
     -A Halloween's Curse 
     -Frost Bitten 

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Reader's Review: "Ugly Girl" by Mary E. Twomey


Synopsis from Amazon:

Love and hate don't matter when a wicked queen wants you dead.

When a stranger crashes into her life and lifts the concealment that has marred her face since childhood, Rosie Avalon leaves everything she knows behind. Pulled into a realm teeming with magical creatures, Rosie must navigate this new, broken world while avoiding capture by the evil queen, who knows there’s more to Rosie than meets the eye.

Bastien is an Untouchable, feared and shunned by all but a handful of elite warriors. His realm has been ravaged by the evil queen’s reign, but he will stop at nothing to save the land he loves, even if it means pushing Rosie past her breaking point.

Thrust into a quest that threatens to destroy her, Rosie’s path is clear: she must sacrifice all she holds dear to save a world on the brink of collapse.
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My Review:

Oh boy, here we go!

I have come to the conclusion that I tolerate the steamy smut from Mary Twomey for the same reason I tolerate high levels of gore and violence from Mark Lawrence--the plot and the main premise is just too dang good.

With Twomey, it started with her Volumes of the Vemreaux trilogy--that one built up the premise to a glorious extent and totally wrecked my emotions while bringing it all to a thundering conclusion. I loved all the characters, I got to know them before things started coming to a head, and I ended up rooting for the main pairing, without reservation!

Now with the Faite Falling series, I was looking forward to another such extraordinary experience. Main character Rosie is grotesquely deformed, and used to living her life that way, brushing off people's negative opinions of her, and clinging to at least the one friend who saw her in any kind of positive light.... And then Rosie loses the necklace her mother had given her, and her whole life changes.

I loved the references to Arthurian legend--Morgan le Fae, the kingdom of Avalon, and Lancelot, to name a few. The concepts of the different races were cool and inventive and characteristic of Twomey's rampant imagination, to be able to pull of something so incredible that you don't want to miss one amazing moment because nothing is at all like anything you've read before! The world of Faite and the magical abilities--even in Rosie, which is why she stayed hidden all those years--and even the uniquely perilous situations that they run into when trying to make their way across the kingdom of Avalon are all stacked up to make me want to keep on reading to find out what happens next!

There were a few things I could have done with less of--for someone who "has never been kissed" and basically spent her whole life being unattractive to everybody, Rosie falls pretty quickly for any of the strapping gentlemen who treat her with adulation and tenderness, and the number of times she ends up in the arms (or the lap) of the "grim and gruff bodyguard type" felt a bit out-of-balance with the amount of actual plot that went on outside those scenes... I don't know, maybe because this book in particular, with the way it needed to set up the rest of the plot, didn't have a whole lot of "down time" for the characters, and whatever "downtime" it did have, it was because she needed his protection, which forced them into very close quarters, which made it awkward...

Bottom line, I'm not as invested in the main characters of this story as I was for Volumes of the Vemreaux, and if I do continue the series, it would be because I can't get enough of Faite (which is very true!) and I just want to see them going up against Morgan le Fae (who is still the villain, even in this version!) with all the hope that she is every bit a spectacular opponent as this build-up would have us believe!

Ugly Girl gets a good ****4 STAR**** rating--not your average fairy tale re-telling, for sure... but the opening salvo of what promises to be a fantastical series! If you like your fantasy with a lot of Strangely Alluring Races and Steamy Lip Teases, you don't mind the odd Sequence of Disturbing Images (and a bit of gross humor by way of Teleportation By Flatulence), and really you're just hungry for an Arthurian Legend that is truly LEGENDARY--then Faite Falling is waiting for you!

Further Reading: (Also By The Author/Folklore Adventures/Epic World-Building/Romance)
The Vemreaux Trilogy--Mary E. Twomey
       -The Way 
       -The Truth 
       -The Lie 

The Untamed Series--Madeline Dyer
       -Untamed 
       -Fragmented 

The Red Dog Conspiracy--Patricia Loofbourrow
       -The Alcatraz Coup 
       -Jacq of Spades 
       -Queen of Diamonds

-City of A Thousand Dolls--Miriam Forster 
-Chasing Rabbits--Erin Bedford
The Chronicles of Lorrek--Kelly Blanchard
        -Someday I'll Be Redeemed 
        -I Still Have A Soul 
        -I'm Still Alive 
        -Do You Trust Me? 
        -You Left Me No Choice

Lord of the Wyrde Woods--Nils Visser
     -Escape From Neverland 
     -Dance Into The Wyrd

The LouisiAngel Series--C. L. Coffey
        -Angel in Training 
        -Angel Eclipsed 
        -Angel Tormented

-Beasts of Babylon--E. A. Copen
-Notna--J. D. Cunegan
Tales of the Fallen--Katika Schneider
       -Devotion