Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Tuesday Tip: Short Story Markets

According to the Guardian UK, 2009 was the year of the short story. This is heartening news in one way for me as someone who publishes short stories, because it means that there is still a market out there. On the other hand, the tone of surprise in the article makes one wonder just how long this train is good for. Oh well, I'm not pubbing in the same markets they're talking about anyway.

Short story markets can be incredibly tight, depending on your genre. If, like most of us, you are not planning on doing a compilation of your own work, then you're looking for an open anthology or a magazine to publish your work in. Fortunately, an hour or two of internet searches can net you a bunch of submission calls. Unfortunately, many of them don't pay very well.

Ultimately, the submission calls you answer will be up to you. Is it worth it to sell a story for less if it's a market or editor or publisher you really want to work with? Are you willing to write off some of your work as marketing material? Do you want to take a chance on that short story contest, where if you win you get a nice paycheck, but if not you could end up having given them your story for nothing?

Your standards will probably change after the first few sales too. For example, for epub I'm not selling stories for flat rates anymore unless that flat rate is at least five cents a word. Especially now that I'm back to working full time, I need to maximize my return on time investment. Royalties are different. I'm still hoping that if I can get enough royalty-paying stories out there they'll add up to something eventually. However, I'm also trying to broaden my fan base by publishing with many different publishers, and once you have one royalty-paying sale with a publisher it makes it that much more attractive for you to get more with that publisher, in the hopes that they'll add up to a check sooner.

Of course, I have the leisure to do this because I chose a genre with a lot of open markets. If I were trying to do this in horror, it might be quite different. And I'm willing to write for specific markets as opposed to writing what I want to write and then trying to find a market for it. I think a lot of writers start out writing the stories they already have in their heads and then trying to sell them, which is much harder. I can't remember where I read it now, but there was an author that I read talking about his early career, where he decided to stop trying to sell what he wrote, and only wrote what he sold. That is to say, he would send in a proposal for a novel, and only if the publisher was interested would he actually write it. I'm not quite to that level yet, of course, but I'm at least writing for what I know I could sell. And I've been able to find homes for a few stories that have been floating around in my head for years, but which have never been able to steal priority away from the novel.

Friday, December 25, 2009

100 Words About: Christmas

A friend of mine recently posted on Facebook, asking what we all thought the true meaning of Christmas was. I was the only one to take the bait, posting Nephew Fred's speech from A Christmas Carol. Said friend then replied "Christmas means different things to different people, but dare I opine that a majority of the meanings today have very little, if any, connection to the original? Those meanings might be wonderful and worthy, but still warped in some sense."

My reply was: "I don't care what you call it - any day where people are more inclined to help their fellow man and show compassion, even if all it is is having an extra ounce or two of patience - that's a day I can get behind. I guess compassion is what I think the meaning of Christmas is. (And Jesus was all about compassion too.)"

And I would argue that the man in whose honor the day is held would rather see folks, regardless of their religious beliefs, being truly kind and generous to each other than seeing people battling over whether we're all being worshipful enough.

And so, here are my 100(ish) words about Christmas, with many thank-yous to Charles Dickens:

"But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round -- apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that -- as a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!" - A Christmas Carol

Image: Francesco Marino / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve in Wisconsin

I thought that some of you might be unfamiliar with the realities of winter in Wisconsin, and in the interest of providing you with some setting info, should you ever decide to place a story here, or even if you're just wondering what makes Packer and Badger fans so cold-hardy, here is a little look into one Wisconsin writer's morning. (I'd love to hear how this differs from other snowy states.)

It's Christmas Eve morning, and I wake at a leisurely 8am not with visions of sugar plums dancing in my head, but with the loud rumbling scraping of the snow plow going by outside. The weather last night was frightful, so this is to be expected.

I creep out of bed and let my poor sick husband sleep. While I usually have snow removal duty at our house (he mows the lawn, I shovel the walk), I am looking forward to when he is feeling better enough to at least walk the dog for me. I neglected to let the poor girl out last night before I went to bed (although when we had attempted to go for a walk earlier in the evening she hadn't liked the sleet one bit) and she was quite eager to get out this morning.

Last night the sidewalks had been covered with about an inch of actual snow, though the wind had blown it higher on the edges to meet the tops of the drifts on either side, some still as high as six or eight inches, so that you're constantly walking down a trail through what would otherwise be almost knee-deep snow. At least, if you're my height, anyway. On our 80+ lb dog, the banks reach mid-chest in many places.

As we make our careful way down the front steps, we realize two things: the snowy sidewalk is now an open-face sandwich of slush under snow under ice crust, and that the crust is both not strong enough to hold the dog's weight, and uncomfortable enough that she doesn't want to stand in it to do her business. After several attempts to surmount the snowbank, my miserable dog gives up and goes on the sidewalk.

However, the thinner layer of crusted snow on the sidewalk is apparently the new "neatest thing ever," and she decides she wants to run. She's not a running kind of dog, normally--she's a mosey kind of dog, except when on the trail of something small and furry--and she's been cooped up so much that I feel that I have to let her get her run in. We run full-out for a couple of blocks before I have to call a halt. I bless my YakTrax as the best dog-walking tool since the Gentle Leader.

After the walk I head out to clear the sidewalk. I am a much more conscientious shoveler since joining the ranks of the dog walkers. I wrestle our snow-thrower out of the shed, refill the gas tank, and fire it up. We've only had it for a few years, and I'm kicking myself for not getting a bigger better one. (At the time all I could do was look at the price tag and meekly say that the little one would be just fine, I was used to shoveling without one anyway...) No, I vow as I see-saw it back and forth through the ice crust, leaning my stomach against the handle-bar and shifting my weight from foot to foot, no, next time we're getting one with POWER. With TORQUE! With wheels that can push the damn thing without me shoving it from side to side.

I clear a path down to the end of the driveway and then attempt to clear out the knee-deep pile of ice and slush and snow that the snow plow has deposited there. I don't worry about getting this down to pavement, I just want it level enough to get the car out. Note to you novice snow-shovelers: put the snow from your driveway on the down-traffic side of the driveway, otherwise the plow will just shove it back in your driveway on the next pass. Not that you're supposed to snow-throw into the street, but it's a very narrow space between the street and the sidewalk, and no one wants to make more work for themselves by snow-blowing into the sidewalk if they can help it.

So, with the end of the driveway secured, I tackle the sidewalk. We have a longer sidewalk than most of our neighbors as we have a sideyard instead of a backyard. I plow down the hill until I get to the cross-street, then head up the side of the next block to get our elderly neighbor Carl's walk. This means I also am clearing the walk of the neighbor on the corner, but she doesn't have a snow-thrower and is very grateful for the favor. And I'm happy to do her walk and Carl's if it means she'll shovel Carl's steps for him, which she does.

As I make the turn to come back, one of the bolts on the thrower's handle pops off. We've already lost the other bolt on that side, so I have to try and screw it back in with my fingers while the handle is vibrating like mad, because I don't dare turn the bloody thing off. I have an electric starter for it, and while it does have a pull-starter, I've never been able to get it to work, which means I would have to push it all the way back down the sidewalk and up the driveway to get to the electrical outlet. Fortunately I am able to get the bolt back in tight enough that it holds all the way back down the sidewalk and up the driveway. However, it does make me decide not to do the rest of my driveway or the sidewalk of the abandoned house next door. Whoever's in charge of that property this year has actually been sending people out to clear the sidewalk and the driveway, so I'm not too worried.

After wrestling the thrower back into the shed, I take on the front steps with the shovel. The trick of shoveling the steps is to put the snow strategically along the bottom edge of the snowbank first, so any snow you drop higher up on the hill doesn't just roll over the ice crust and land back in the sidewalk.

There's still a layer of slush on the sidewalk, and in my anal-retentive way I decide to try and get that up as well. While today it is a balmy 33 degrees (and I'm wishing I had worn a lighter sweater under my heavy coat), I know that tomorrow this will all freeze, and there's nothing harder to get off of a sidewalk than glare ice, except for hardpack that's frozen solid. (Glare ice will usually succumb to ice-melt. Hardpack won't as much.) And so I dutifully scrape up the slush.

Veterans of Wisconsin winters can tell you about all kinds of snow. The blizzard two weeks ago was wet heavy snow, which is backbreaking for shovelers but not so bad if you have a snow-thrower. It's also great for snowballs. Last night's snow was light and dry, which doesn't pack for shit but is apparently good for skiing. It's easy to shovel and annoying to snow-blow (you'll find snow-blow and snow-throw to be interchangeable) because it tends to hang in the air and blow back in your face. However, in both cases it was the weather that happened AFTER the snowfall that really mattered. In the case of the blizzard, temperatures plummeted, meaning that if you hadn't gotten your sidewalk done you were now stuck with the aforementioned frozen hardpack. Last night the snow was followed by freezing rain, creating the lovely aforementioned slush-snow-ice sandwich. (At least now that it's warmer it's easy to get the hardpack up. Wedge your shovel under it and lift, and it'll break off in big chunks.)

As I work, I'm surrounded by the drip-crackle of melting ice. The trees are all coated with ice, and many branches that were already weakened by the blizzard two weeks ago have come down under this new weight. With the temperature currently above freezing, much of that pretty glittery coating is now cracking and falling off. Icicles are growing like mad. I've already knocked some doozies off the back porch. (Yes, they're pretty, but they're also terrible for the roof.)

Across the street, a man with a better snow-thrower than mine comes along to help out another elderly neighbor who is stubbornly out shoveling. My heart is warmed to see this man swing down the whole front block and back, stop to chat with the old man, and go on his merry way. I think the snow helps bring people together in ways people in warmer climes may not appreciate. Not being a very social person, I've met most of my neighbors through snow-removal activities.

Finally, the sidewalk cleared to my OCD satisfaction, I put down a light layer of ice-melt. It will probably wash away with the warmer temperatures, but in the meantime it'll clear away the last of the slush. At least until it snows again tomorrow.

Image: Ron Bird / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Vamps Anthology Release

The anthology Vamps releases today from the good folks over at Torquere Press. In it you will find my story "The Power That Dreams Have," the sequel to my story "Empusa," which appeared in Torquere's Bite Me anthology earlier this year.

In "The Power That Dreams Have," Sophia of Athens is contentedly obsessed with her dreams of the daimon Empusa, though she knows Empusa is killing her slowly. But as the army of Xerxes advances on Athens, Sophia is in greater danger than she realizes.

While I think you get more out of the story if you've read "Empusa," "The Power That Dreams Have" is still a pretty hot stand-alone. Both anthologies are available in print and ebook versions.

"Empusa" was my very first fiction sale (05/06/09), and my very first fiction publication (08/26/09), and it pleases me greatly that I can bracket this first year of professional writing with stories about her.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Tuesday Tip: Take Care of Yourself

With deadlines approaching, marketing to stay on top of, quotas to fill, and plots to…well, plot, it can be hard for a writer to remember that there is one thing you must always take care of first.

You.

I don't know about you, but when I'm tired I spend a lot more time staring off into space, or writing crap that I end up having to do over again, or making poor plotting choices. So make sure you are getting enough sleep whenever possible. And be honest with yourself about how much is enough—this is different for different people. My husband needs four to six hours of sleep a night, with occasional twelves on the weekends. I need at least six hours every night, preferably eight, and ideally no more than nine or I get headaches.

Also, remember to get off your butt every so often. I know, so much of the hard part is getting your butt behind the keyboard to begin with. But regular exercise, even if it's light exercise, can help keep your brain functioning at its best. Plus, sometimes just the act of getting up and moving around can "jog" your creativity.

Don't forget to eat. I'm hypoglycemic, so you'd think that I'd notice when I go too long without food. Not so much. Particularly when I'm distracted with cerebral activities I can go eight to twelve hours without getting hungry. (Or, maybe more accurately, without noticing I'm hungry.) It makes my husband very sad when I do this, because inevitably by the time I do notice, I'm already into the cranky shrewish stage.

Learn when and how you neglect yourself, be honest about it, and take steps to make sure you take care of yourself.

Friday, December 18, 2009

100 Words About: No Internet

So last night we came home to discover our internet was down. The husband toddled off to go play LAN games at a friend’s, and I figured to settle in and get some rewriting done.

And yet, I itched to blog or post about the fact I had no internet. Considering that less than a year ago I didn’t have a blog or a Facebook page or anything, this kind of disturbs me.

Also, normally I work much better when I don’t have internet access. But for whatever reason, all I could think about was the fact I couldn’t get online, despite the fact I had just been rewriting like a fiend in the breakroom at work, which doesn’t have internet access. Arg!

Image: Pixomar / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Tuesday Tip: Git er Done

You have a schedule, whatever it might be. You stick to it, you get your daily allotment done.

But some days will just mess up your program.

You could get sick. Your computer could die. You could have a family emergency that commands your attention. And sometimes you just plain didn’t do the math right.

Or, as in my case, you get sick AND decide that you simply must do a story for that anthology that closes TOMORROW.

For whatever reason, you have a deadline approaching, and you’re running behind.

Late-nighters and all-nighters are part and parcel with this industry. No matter how well you plan, there’s always something that can come along and throw a wrench in your works.

These are the days where you work feverishly into the wee morning hours, catch a few z’s, and get up to go to your day job. And, as the case may be, find yourself feverishly typing your morning blog post that got pushed off yesterday so you could make that deadline. Ahhh, internet café, how I love you.

Friday, December 11, 2009

100 Words About: Snow!

I love snow. We just had 18 inches of it in less than two days, and despite still being sore from shoveling, I can honestly still say it: I love snow.

All you whining, complaining, can’t-drive-on-anything-but-dry-pavement peoples can please exit my state now. Hello, this is Wisconsin! Snow, beer, brats, cheese, hunting, and football. That’s it.

Anyway.

It’s bitterly cold out, but sooooo beautiful! Makes me wish I did winter sports, but I don’t have time. Maybe it’s me, but there is something inherently peaceful about a snow-covered landscape. And it’s so much easier to see the deer coming…

Image: Marcus74id / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Tuesday Tip: Read

If you want to be a writer, read. A lot. There are several reasons to do this.

One, the more you read, the more you learn about writing. Period. You learn by experience what works and what doesn’t, about the flow of narrative, about pacing, style, vocabulary, and everything else that goes into a book.

Two, by reading in the genre you plan to write in, you learn about what’s been done before. This helps you avoid clichés and stereotypes. You also learn about what is generally expected from the genre. This helps you know what readers of the genre might be looking for, and can also give you ideas for breaking out of the genre in ways that will work for your target audience.

Three, by reading outside the genre you plan to write in, you gain a whole host of advantages over writers who don’t read outside the genre they write in, such as a wider vocabulary, exposure to different methods of pacing, and stylistic tricks. Selectively applying these new strategies can give your writing a fresh feel that will hopefully appeal to your target audience.

Four, reading nonfiction in particular can give you a ton of great ideas, in-genre and cross-genre. It also exposes you to yet more vocabulary and different writing styles.

Five, reading poetry will teach you about how poets convey intense emotion and meaning with just a few words. Learn about imagery and rhythm and grace, and apply that selectively to your writing as appropriate. Remember, poetry does not have to be flowery purple prose—sometimes it’s wonderfully simple and elegant too.

Read for fun. Enjoy what you read, and don’t feel guilty about it unless you aren’t getting your writing done. Reading for the pure joy of it still gets the words into your head, and teaches you about the flow of action and reaction, build-up and climax, conflict and resolution.

Read actively. Pay attention to all the things you read about in books and blogs on writing. What works for you? What doesn’t? What blows you out of the water, and how can you apply that technique? Where does the author follow the rules, and where does he break them—and does he get away with it, or does it fail miserably? If you hate the book, why? Figure out what makes it so terrible, and then avoid doing it yourself! Learning to read actively will also help you with your own revisions, as you’ll be used to paying attention to the craft of the writing as well as to the entertainment.

I’ll warn you, learning to read actively will have an effect on your reading for pleasure. Things will annoy you that you probably wouldn’t have noticed before, and you may find it more difficult to immerse yourself in a good book. For example, I didn’t use to notice random point-of-view changes as much, but now they’re like nails on a chalkboard to me. Also, I get tripped up by oddly worded phrases—where I would have kept going before, now I’ll stop and figure out ways it could be phrased better. In my opinion, it’s a small price to pay to improve my skills.

Friday, December 4, 2009

100 Words About: Muzzyhead

You ever get that sort of fatigue where you just can't think? You're not tired exactly, or maybe just not sleepy. You've got enough get up and go to get up and around, but your brain's just lagging behind. Where your most likely answer to any question is "Um. What?" I'm feeling like that at the moment.

"100 words about..? Um. Um… God, my head feels stuffed with cotton…"

And the worst part is you know you can't just crawl into bed and be ok in the morning. Either you're going to lay there for a few hours first, or you'll sleep like a babe and still have muzzyhead when the alarm goes off.

Photo courtesy of Suat Eman and freedigitalphotos.net.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Tuesday Tip: Internet Marketing: Blogging Next Steps

Once you have a blog and a few weeks worth of posts, it's time to start promoting your blog. Comment in other blogs that you read. You’d be amazed how many people will click on your name if they like your comments. When appropriate and relevant, mention one of your own blog posts and include a link. Don't do this a lot or you run the risk of looking like a spammer.

The HTML code for imbedding links is the one piece of code I think all bloggers should know. It looks like this, only without the asterisks:

<*a href="http://mercyloomis.blogspot.com/">My Blog<*/a>

That bit of HTML, without the asterisks, would make this link: My Blog

This will allow you to imbed a link into your comments in other people's blogs, which is a lot less annoying and rude than trying to paste a long string of URL into someone's comments section. You probably only need to remember this for when you are posting a comment somewhere else—your blog manager should have a button to insert the code for you when you are making your own posts.

Submit your blog posts to social bookmarking sites to get more exposure.

Trade guest blog spots with other bloggers, where you do a guest blog post on their blog, and they do a guest post on your blog.

Take part in relevant chat room events and other social networking events, such as LiveJournal communities, Ning sites, or other social forums.

Use your site counter to keep track of what strategies seem to work for your blog, and keep doing those!

Read other blog marketing sites for ideas and new techniques to try.

But above all, keep posting. Content is what will keep people coming back to your blog.

Friday, November 27, 2009

100 Words About: The Guilt of Gratitude

I have a stupid amount of things to be grateful for, and for most of them I'm grateful with my whole heart, but there is an uglier kind of gratitude that plagues me this Thanksgiving.

I lost someone very dear to me this year, but for all of my personal pain, I feel like I can't show it as much. He wasn't my husband, my father or my son, my sibling or my best friend. What right do I have to be miserable?

But worse than that is the guilt of gratitude, because I can't help but be grateful that it wasn't my parent, or my sibling, or gods-forbid my husband.

My head says it's not wrong to be grateful that it wasn't me. But my heart calls my head a liar.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Tuesday Tip: Internet Marketing: Blog Goodies

A no-frills beginner blog is good, but there are a few tools, modules, and/or gadgets that you should consider adding to it.

First, you want some sort of site counter. This is a tool that keeps track of how many times your blog is viewed, how long people are there for, where in the world they came from, etc. Since many people stop by blogs without leaving comments, this is the best way to find out whether or not people are reading what you're blogging.

Depending on what blog manager you are using, there may be a counter tool offered as a module or gadget. Otherwise, there are a number of ones available on the internet for free which may require you to add HTML code to your blog. Fortunately there are lots of great websites out there that can walk you through how to do that if you find a particular counter that you like.

Next, you want to make it easy for people to follow you. Most blog managers should have some sort of "follow" function, which allows readers to flag your blog so that their account is notified when you make a new post. That's one gadget or tool you definitely want to set up.

Speaking of making it easy to follow your blog, add in buttons like "Share This." This allows people to click a button and post a link to your blog post on their account on Facebook, Digg This, Twitter, or whatever buttons you care to include. (You'll notice I've been too lazy to set this up.)

Also consider including your Twitter feed if you have one, a Facebook Fan Box if you have a Facebook fan page, an RSS feed if you have another blog, you get the idea. If you have unique content posted somewhere else, you want to let your readers know about it!

Do you have a favorite blog toy I haven't touched on here? Leave it in the comments!

Next week: Making your blog work for you.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

New Story Published at Mainstream Erotica

Galina's looking for a date with more backbone, but is she ready to submit completely when she meets up with sexy top Stefan?

I'm pleased to announce that my short story "Floggers Last Longer Than Flowers" is available to read over at Mainstream Erotica. It's available for free, although you do have to make an account at the ezine. There are lots of free stories there so take a look around!

Friday, November 20, 2009

100 Words About: The Bad Boy

Face it, gents. Women are hopelessly attracted to the bad boy. The outlaw. The one our mothers warned us about. I have to wonder if our mothers warned us because they knew we'd be stupid that way, or because they knew we wouldn't listen and hoped we'd get it out of our systems early.

What is so fascinating about them? The impression—hopefully illusion—of danger? The allure of the anti-authoritarian figure? That air of knowing more than you do, which they actually might, or which may just be insufferable ego? Regardless, there is something insanely attractive about a guy who will mug someone to buy you flowers.

What are your 100 Words About the Bad Boy?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Tuesday Tip: Internet Marketing: Blog Basics

Blogs are one of the easiest ways to start building your platform. You don't need to know much about computers or the internet in order to get a blog started, nor do you need to learn fancy tricks in HTML to make it look good.

The first things you need are access to a computer and an internet connection. Most of you likely have these things at home, but one can successfully blog using library or school computers as well.

Next, you need an email account. You should have one of these anyway in the name you are writing under. See my Tuesday Tip about Pseudonyms for more info, but basically, get a gmail or yahoo or other free internet account if you don't have another one.

Next step, create an account on a blog manager. The ones I see recommended most often are Wordpress and Blogger. I chose Blogger because most of the blogs that I follow are on Blogger, and I like getting the occasional hit from people who see me post in those blogs and follow me back to mine. Also, I hear Blogger blogs are ranked higher in Google searches, because Google owns Blogger. However, there are many blog managers out there and you should look at several of them before making a decision.

Pretty much all you should need to set up a blog account is your email address. Once your account is activated (you may need to go to your email and click a link) then the manager should walk you through setting up a blog. There should be a few templates to choose from that govern the overall look of your blog, and there will be features and modules you can change to customize your look, but basically, once you decide on a title, you're good to go.

So, now what?

Your blog is more than just an oversize Twitter feed. You should use your blog to highlight your writing skills and to provide information about you and your work. Don't post whatever random thought comes into your head—make it relevant to what your blog is about. For example, I don't post about going to visit my family unless it's relevant to my work somehow, like my brother-in-law helping me set up my website this weekend. Maybe when I'm on the New York Times bestseller list I can start just posting whatever it is I'm thinking about, but for now, I need to stay on-message. If someone happens upon my site or follows me back to it from some other blog, I want them to know right away that I'm a writer and I'm serious about it.

You must post regularly. Should you manage to snag someone's interest, they need to know how often to check back. Nothing will make someone stop reading your blog faster than coming back to it a few times without seeing any new material. You don't need to post every day if you don’t have that much time or that much to say. I only post regularly on Tuesdays and Fridays, and if I have a lot going on, like I did the last week in October, I'll post more often. But if, like last week, I don't have much news, my regularly scheduled posts are still there on their scheduled days.

And speaking of blogging regularly, check out the rest of The Ten Commandments of Blogging from Eric over at Pimp My Novel.

Next week we'll look at promoting your blog and a few useful tools and modules that you should consider adding to it.

Friday, November 13, 2009

100 Words About: Doggie Kisses

I was never a doggie kisses kind of person. Truthfully, I was never a doggie person, period. But particularly I disliked dogs that jump up on you and ones that want to lick your face.

But then I agreed to adopt a rescue dog.

Suddenly I had a dog, when I was used to owning cats all my life.

How do you know when a dog likes you? Especially a sort of traumatized dog that didn't wag her tail for the first month she lived with us. (We'd started to think maybe she just didn't wag.)

But she's done kisses from day one. All of a sudden, I'm a fan of doggie kisses.

What are your 100 Words About Doggie Kisses?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Tuesday Tip: Internet Marketing: Intro

This is the first of several Tips regarding internet marketing. In coming weeks we'll look at a number of aspects of internet marketing, but today we're talking broad strokes. We're talking about your platform.

I don't mean what software package you use. I'm talking your public image. How many people know who you are, and are they likely to buy a copy of your book? How quickly and easily can you get the word out to your fan base? If your book goes gangbusters, are people going to be able to find you on the internet? And what are people saying about you?

With more and more of a publisher's marketing budget going into fewer and fewer authors, it has become necessary for authors to learn to market themselves. Not only does it help an author once they have a book published (and, preferably, about-to-be-published), but it may actually help an author get published in the first place. While I haven't seen much hard data on the subject, the current thought is that a publisher considering taking on a new author may be more inclined to do so if that author can demonstrate that they already have a platform – fans on social networking sites, followers on their blog, high traffic numbers on their website, etc. Not only does that author already have potential buyers to bring to the table, but their platform reflects their work ethic; they are ready and willing to work to make their project a success.

But don't just take my word for it.

For people like me who prefer not to socialize online, this can be a daunting prospect. But never fear! If I can do this, anyone can. Follow me through my internet marketing adventures as I discuss what I've done so far, what has worked, and what hasn't.

And the great part is, you already are!

Next week: the ins and outs, dos and don'ts, and ups and downs of author blogging!

Friday, November 6, 2009

100 Words About: Perseverance

When you think about it, perseverance is what we humans do best, as a group. We find ways to keep on keepin' on. Whatever it takes, we move forward. It's noble, I suppose, but mostly, it's just survival at its most basic. There's a beauty in it; a sort of terrible, uncomfortable beauty that you really don't want to look at for too long, striking as it is. It skirts the line between valor and stubbornness, honor and pride. But we can only do as we are made to do., even when we don't understand why. Thank the gods.

What are your 100 Words About Perseverance?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

"A Wild Hunt, Part Six"

A reminder that "A Wild Hunt, Part One", "A Wild Hunt, Part Two", "A Wild Hunt, Part Three", "A Wild Hunt, Part Four", and "A Wild Hunt, Part Five" are also available.

A Wild Hunt, Part Six
by Mercy Loomis

Kiran swallowed hard. "You're not very comforting, Ariane."

"I never claimed to be." Ariane let go of his hand as Kiran stepped reluctantly toward the mouth of the tunnel. He sucked in a startled breath as Gloria's spell took a firmer hold, no longer buffered by Ariane's presence. "Resist her as best you can, Kiran. Don't let her touch you if you can help it. I'll try to take her out before it comes to that."

Kiran turned, walking backwards, hand outstretched toward her, but Ariane shook her head. She released her human skin, Kiran's pleading eyes fading from her sight in a heartbeat, his protesting words growing distant as she spun herself out into the air. Before Kiran had finished three steps she was flesh and blood again, darting up into the sky on crow's wings.

She climbed quickly, her gaze searching the landscape. The faint crunch of leaves echoed up from below her as Kiran made his way inexorably back to the clearing. It was that dry carpet of leaves that had made her decide on the crow—there was no hope of sneaking up on anything if you had to go overland. Marty might have been able to do it in his squirrel skin, but Ariane had never bothered with that form.

The clearing came into view as she rose above the trees. The earth was undisturbed, as if the giant had never made an appearance. Typical, and a sign that it had most likely been dismissed already. Gloria stood alone in the middle of the clearing, staring fixedly toward the sounds of Kiran's approach.

Where is the other one? Ariane wondered, scanning the trees anxiously. She didn't dare attack Gloria without knowing…wait, there!

A dark form stood shrouded amongst some bushes just within the treeline, perfectly positioned to see both Gloria and the end of the trail Ariane had taken earlier. The mage's hood was pulled low to hide the pale skin of her face, and a human would have easily overlooked her, but the crow's eyes saw her shape against the branches.

Gloria's out in the open like bait. I don't think I'll take it. Maybe if I get this one out of the way, it'll distract Gloria from her spells…

Kiran was already nearly to the clearing from the sounds of his footsteps. Ariane dove, planning on changing forms just before the branches got in the way.

Impact shook her. A sickening crack as her left wing folded mid-bone, and she was free-falling, flapping uselessly with her right wing, the pain and sudden nausea of the break stealing her breath. She struggled to let go of the wounded form, but she was crashing through the branches now, out of control, her wings catching in twigs and leaves and sending new shocks of agony through her that shattered her concentration. It was only that stupid instinct to keep flapping that saved her from a brutal landing as she finally broke free of the grasping branches, half fluttering and half falling at the mage's feet.

Except the robed figure wasn't the mage at all, but the female initiate. Ariane had last seen the girl curled on the ground clutching her head, and apparently her own rescue of Kiran hadn't bought the girl enough time to get control of her new powers. The girl stood slack-jawed and glassy-eyed, arms limp at her sides, and took no notice of the bird trying to right itself in front of her.

An unseen force lifted Ariane from the ground, and she froze.

"Julianne here was telekinetic," a feminine voice said brightly. The air next to the tree wavered, and the missing mage stepped out of her camouflaging spell. She tossed a stone into the air, which hung suspended for a moment before dropping back into her hand. She'd been wearing jeans and a t-shirt under her robes, apparently, and a necklace festooned with what looked like bulbous homemade glass beads. "I think I've picked up the basics very quickly, don't you?"

"Show off," Ariane squawked.

The mage cocked her head to the side. "See, that's how I knew you weren't just an animal. I can touch an animal's mind, understand what they're thinking. But you, I get nothing." The spectral hand holding Ariane tightened. "Should I snap your neck now, or see what use we can make of you?"

"Tabitha, have you got it?" Gloria called.

The mage, Tabitha, pouted. "Yeah," she called back, and started across the clearing toward Gloria. Ariane floated along in front of her, and Julianne stumbled behind looking like a movie zombie that hadn't started to decay yet.

Craning her neck, Ariane saw that Kiran had stopped at the edge of the clearing by grabbing onto a tree. Remembering his affinity to the Underground forest, she wondered just what kind of fae his ancestor had been. Still, from the look on his face she didn't think he'd be able to resist the summons for very long, assuming Gloria didn't just go to him.

Gloria didn't. Instead she waited for Tabitha to join her, reaffirming Ariane's belief that Gloria had been waiting in the middle of a trap all along.

"Stop fighting. Come here, Kiran Connor Eckhart," Gloria called, and Ariane made a mental note to get Kiran a new true name if they managed to survive until morning.

Kiran shuddered but held his ground.

Gloria clicked her tongue. "There's no need to make this difficult, Kiran. You never had use of your full potential before tonight, so how can you miss it? Once we've taken your memories you won't even know you ever had any abilities. You and Julianne will be right as rain in the morning." Gloria laughed, but there was a steely edge to it. "We did have to give Steve to the elemental, but since your little friend killed Deirdre it's only fair, don't you think?"

When he didn't reply, she turned her attention to Ariane. "Is this a pet of yours? Some faerie creature? I knew there was something odd about you, but with a power like yours I was willing to risk it." Gloria smiled sweetly. "A dangerous little thing, this pet. Now, if it were your familiar, the backlash from killing it could do serious damage to you—and I wouldn't want to risk that just yet. But I don't think you know enough to have a familiar, Kiran, so I can avenge poor Deirdre without losing the chance to finish taking your power." The smile vanished. "Unless you come here. Now."

Even in the dark Ariane had no trouble seeing the blood drain from Kiran's face, and her heart sank even before he let go of the tree he was so desperately clinging to.

"Don't!" she cried, even as he yelled, "Don't hurt her! I'm coming."

We are so screwed. Ariane closed her eyes and did the only thing she could think to do. Fighting through the pain of her broken wing, she let go of her skin.

The two mages gasped as she vanished. A truly skilled telekinetic could have held her aetherial form even more tightly than a physical form, but Tabitha was too new and still thought too linearly, and Ariane squirmed free. Still, it mattered little. The trap sprung into place almost immediately, just as she suspected it would. It was a common enough circle of confining, but to a skinshifter caught out of her skin it might as well have been a cage of cold iron.

The sad part was that yesterday this spell would have had no effect on Kiran at all, but now that the Underground had accepted him, he could be caught and held just like any other demon.

Suspended in the aether between one plane and another, Ariane gathered her strength and belled. The cry reverberated through the ley lines, a ripple that spread outward with a lightning bolt's speed.

Far, far to the south, an answering ripple.

With a shock like being thrown into a frozen lake, Ariane was ripped out of the aether into her human form.

"You!" Gloria said, staring down at her. "I suppose I should've guessed, the way you're always mooning after him in class. Ariane, isn't it?" She paused, frowning. "Why isn't your arm broken?"

The crow's injury pulsed at the edge of her awareness, echoing down through the aether, mixing with what felt like a hangover from hell. She crouched at the center of her invisible prison and glared, but refused to answer.

Gloria opened her mouth, about to snap a command like the one that had forced Ariane into physical form, but Tabitha interrupted her, nodding toward Kiran. "First things first."

The ripple in the south was no closer. Despairing, Ariane turned her attention to Kiran, praying he could stall for time, not knowing how to tell him without tipping off the two mages…her jaw dropped.

Kiran was crossing the clearing, but no longer reluctantly. He held his arms out from his sides ever so slightly, but that and the set of his jaw were the only signs of tension. He stalked forward with a liquid grace that would have made Ariane melt under the best of circumstances, but now, with the air around him literally shimmering with heat, she thought she had never seen anything so beautiful in all her life.

True, Gloria's talisman was sucking away Kiran's power. But unlike the last time he'd been this close to it, now Kiran wasn't mindless with shock and pain.

It was still his power, and it knew its home.

"Burn it!" Ariane shrieked. "Burn the talisman!"

Suddenly realizing her danger, Gloria tried to shield herself, but the same principle that let her spell keep draining Kiran through Dave's wards now gave Kiran access to the talisman even through the mage's defenses.

Gloria screamed as something caught fire under her robes. Shrieking, she tore at her throat, trying to pull a necklace out from under the cloth, but the metal was melting, running over her hands. The glass beads stuck to her skin, red glowing spots under the fabric of the robes until the heat singed the cloth away.

In the south, the ripple winked out of existence.

Panic seized Ariane in its grip. "Kiran, you have to stop!" she shouted. "Right now!"

But Kiran didn't seem to hear her. He'd stopped walking, head thrown back, arms outstretched, welcoming back the power that had been stolen from him. The grass and leaves under his feet were starting to singe.

Gloria was clawing at her chest, still screaming, her concentration completely shattered. Ariane was free, but she didn't dare approach Kiran—the heat coming off him was painful even from where she stood already.

"Kiran, please!"

He looked at her, his gaze electric with the impersonal passion of wildfire. Welts rose on her skin, but it was the complete lack of empathy in his look that scared her the most. He could kill her with a thought. The tears that rolled down her cheeks hissed and steamed.

"Please," she begged, putting every ounce of emotion she could muster into her face, her voice. "Please, if you've ever trusted me, trust me now. They'll kill you if you don't stop!"

Something flickered in his eyes. Recognition. His face softened, the heat faltering.

The ley lines thrummed as the Hunt burst out of the barrow.

As Kiran released the fire—or it released him—the strength went out of him and he collapsed. Ariane sprinted to him, throwing herself down next to him as the first riders came pounding down the path.

"Say nothing!" she hissed in his ear. "Nothing at all, not your name, not a word, not a sound, do you understand me?"

For one gut-wrenching moment she didn't think he did, but then he met her gaze with dazed but lucid eyes and nodded.

The Hunt swept into the clearing, beasts and riders of every description ever penned in a fairy tale, and some that had never made it into the stories. Kiran stared with mouth agape, but Ariane ignored them all, save the one wearing the antlered crown of the Huntsman. He was one of the gentry, and she didn't recognize him, but then she tried to stay out of politics. It didn't really matter anyway—whatever station he held normally, for tonight he was the Huntsman, and his word was law.

"You called the Hunt, little hound?" said the Huntsman.

"I did, my lord." Ariane climbed to her feet and pointed to the mages. "Here are two that have wronged the fae. They have injured and bound me against my will."

Gloria was curled in a little ball, huddled moaning around her blackened chest, but Tabitha stood wild-eyed with terror. "We didn't know she was fae!"

The Huntsman turned to Ariane. "Is this true?"

Ariane considered. "They didn't know I was, that is true." She pointed to Kiran, still sprawled at her feet. "But they summoned him. The trap they bound me with was meant for him. For him, they knew."

The Huntsman turned his gaze on Kiran, and Kiran lost what little color he had left. "The accused summoned you?"

Kiran nodded.

The Huntsman frowned. "Speak."

Kiran turned a frantic glance toward Ariane, but she was already answering. "My lord, he has vouchsafed me his voice."

"She speaks for you?"

Kiran nodded again. Ariane could have kissed him. Except, she realized giddily, she would have anyway.

"Very well." The Huntsman leveled his gaze on Ariane, but she was a skinshifter, descended from the original fairy hounds, and the Hunt held no terror for her. "And you say he is of the people?"

"The path opened for him. The land aided him. He is of the people."

The words rang with an undercurrent of the hound's belling, and a murmur went through the gathered host. Ariane tried not to show that she was just as startled as they were.

"The land speaks through you." The Huntsman was suddenly disinterested. Settled was settled, and there were hours yet until dawn. "Take the condemned."

The Hunt surged forward en masse, dashing past Ariane and Kiran on either side, a rush of bodies that would probably have pulled Ariane into their frenzy if Kiran hadn't caught her hand.

The Huntsman smiled at them as the host retreated, Gloria and Tabitha and Julianne lost somewhere in the throng. "You'll run with us," he said, not asking, but Ariane nodded anyway.

I'll have to try and find Julianne, and make sure Gloria and Tabitha can't tell any tales. "We'll catch you up in a moment, my lord," she replied, bowing. With a knowing, amused look, the Huntsman turned and set off after the host.

Ariane let out a breath and pulled Kiran to his feet. "That was perfe—"

His mouth descended on hers, and all the passion of the fire's grip was nothing compared to the blaze in Ariane's heart. She kissed him back fiercely until he broke away, laughing.

"I do trust you, Ariane. Enough that I'm going to go with you now and trust that you'll explain what the heck just happened later."

She smiled back up at him and gave him another quick kiss before stepping back and taking hold of her horse skin.

There was a lot to explain, like how he wasn't quite human anymore, and yet wielded the most feared of all human powers. And how he could never, ever tell anyone he was pyrokinetic, because fire killed almost every living creature on Earth or in the Underground, and there'd be no end to the list people gunning for him if it ever got out. And that he'd have to learn how to shield his thoughts or telepaths might be able to find out anyway.

She shuddered briefly and knelt so he could climb on her back. She'd have to try and keep him from meeting Gabriel for as long as possible. Nothing scares you as much as a firebug when you're as flammable as a vampire. Ariane didn't think there was a favor in the world big enough to keep the vampire from killing Kiran the moment he found out.

Over my dead body.

But that was all for later, along with teaching him about the Underground, and all the varied creatures on both planes he never dreamed existed. And, of course, more kisses. Lots of kisses. "Hang on," she called back to him as she headed after the host. "It's going to be a wild ride!"

THE END

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Tuesday Tip: Prioritize

My husband tells me I try to do too much. I can't do martial arts, Middle Eastern dance, one-to-three game sessions, and writing group every week, on top of writing and working a full time job. Oh, and trying to learn Arabic or Egyptian hieroglyphs, not to mention all the reading I do and my addiction to Plants Vs Zombies, plus finding time for laundry, dishes, balancing the checkbook, and spending time with a husband, two cats, and a dog.

Yeah. I try to do too much.

Oddly, I expected this would have been even worse while I was unemployed, but there were many projects I meant to do that I never got started on. I think this was because, suddenly having so much free time, I had to decide just what I was going to do with myself. And I decided that I couldn't pass up that opportunity to try my hand at writing full time.

I've been writing as a hobby for a very long time. And, as a hobby, writing ranked roughly equally with all my other hobbies—-it was just a hobby I stuck with a lot longer than most of my other hobbies, short of reading.

But now, suddenly, it was more than just a hobby.

Granted, I had made writing my #1 hobby before. The first time was when I decided that I was going to finally finish my novel. I dropped out of my martial arts class for three months, stopped going to dance practice, and made sure I parked my rear behind the keyboard whenever I could. And, wonder of wonders, I finished the bloody thing. That still ranks as one of the best feelings ever, when I finished my first novel for the first time. (Many of you writers will understand what I mean by finishing it "for the first time.") The second time I made writing my #1 hobby was when I wrote a short non-fiction book, my very first contracted work. I had a schedule and I stuck to it, and turned in the project early.

But this time was even more so than that. This was not a hobby anymore, this was business. This was when I proved whether I could do it, or if I was truly just a hobbyist.

What allowed me to do this was prioritizing. See, when writing was at the same priority level as all my other hobbies, I was only moderately successful at it (novel finished, but still unpublished), just as I was a moderately good dancer and a moderately good martial artist. But when I moved writing up my priority list, I was able to become more successful.

This sounds like common sense, but many of us go through our days without a clear sense of priorities. My top priority is my marriage. Beyond that, what I've mostly wanted out of life is to be happy. Simple, but frankly it's not terribly effective.

I've tried making written priority lists before. This works for some people, but I am not one of them. (This is strange, because I love making lists. I used to kill downtime at an old job by making lists of the most efficient way to grind out tradeskills in EverQuest. Ahhh, the number of Misty Thicket Picnics I made…the account is deactivated, but the carpal tunnel is forever…) But right now, my list looks something like this:

  1. Relationship with husband
  2. Covering the basic necessities (food, shelter, etc)
  3. Relationship with friends, family, and pets
  4. Chores (dishes, laundry, etc)
  5. Writing
  6. Reading
  7. Hobbies

I'm hoping that writing will be lucrative enough someday that I can combine it with Covering the basic necessities, but at that point it'll actually drop below Relationship with friends, family, and pets, because the husband will probably be the one doing the steady financial providing.

If lists work for you, great! If not, sit down and try to figure out what is most important in your life in a way that makes sense to you. For me, it was finally setting a more concrete goal than being happy. My new goal was to get fiction published. Now that I've done that, I'm working toward getting my novel published, and building my fan base will help with that. That means more stories for you!

Once you have a goal or a list or whathaveyou, figure out what steps you need to take. What do you need to do to achieve your goal? How can you best allocate your two resources (time and money) to make sure your priorities are being met in the proper order? And are you prepared to sacrifice things of lower priority for things of higher priority? Decide what's most important to you now, while you have the leisure. When the crunch time comes (job loss, overtime, deadlines, family emergency, etc) you'll be ready.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The October Roundup: Publications, Reviews, a Sale, and an Excerpt

Wow, October was a fabulous month for me, but also very busy! I had a great time at the wedding of two of my good friends last night, a perfect cap to a great month.

First up, Hungry For Your Love released on Thursday, and is already up to #1 on Ravenous Romance's website. This anthology has generated a ton of buzz already, including a quiz to find out if your boyfriend is a zombie, and even a mention in Publisher's Weekly, and the print rights have been sold to St. Martin's Press! The print version is scheduled to be out next year for Halloween.

I am incredibly excited about the print sale. St. Martin's is a big name imprint of Macmillan, and publishes books from such authors as Sherrilyn Kenyon and Sue Grafton. Not that I don't love the other anthologies I'm in, and Bite Me was available in print from the first, but it is going to be so freaking cool to be able to walk into my local Barnes & Noble and pick up a copy of a book that I'm in. Squee! Not to mention getting my name out there, which is half the point of writing the short stories, honestly.

Next up, we've gotten a couple of reviews over at GoodReads for Bedknobs and Beanstalks. Of the anthology as a whole, Carole says "It's always hard to rate an anthology because the writing skill and enjoyment potential is different for each story, but here the stories are of uniformly high quality. All of the stories are cleverly fleshed out, using the original tale as a skeleton and branching out into new and imaginative territory." And Kathy says "I love anthologies, but I've learned to expect that not all the stories in it are going to appeal to me. Well, this anthology threw that assumption out the window! There are nine very different stories and each one of them, in my opinion, is a winner." I'm told there will also be a review posted sometime today over at Rainbow Reviews.

Last week also saw two great reviews for Taste Test: Scared Stiff. The first review is over at Well Read. For the anthology as a whole, the reviewer says: "This trio of mini ghost stories may be perfect for Halloween, but don’t worry you are more likely feel amused and heartened by these romantic stories than scared out of your wits...I had a great deal of fun reading these stories which are perfect Halloween reads." And of my story, "The House That Pip Built By Mercy Loomis was a tongue in cheek look at a haunted house where the ghost is very friendly indeed." This is the second time a reviewer has commented on my tongue-in-cheek humor, which amuses me because that's not something I actually try to do on purpose. (I suppose that's why it apparently works!) There's a link to a longer review over at Reviews by Jesse Wave, but right now the page is not coming up. I'll post snippets from that later.

Two more reviews for Like a Thorn. Dark Diva Reviews says "This is a variation on The Princess and The Pea, and was a nice tale. I enjoyed the interaction between the Princess and her part-time maid/full-time lover. I enjoyed the role changes, in which the maid is the Mistress and the Princess is the submissive. There is a twist at the end that just makes this story." She also calls the story a "charming romp," and gives the anthology as a whole 4.5 out of 5 divas. After reviewing "Skin Deep" and "Last Mistress of the Chatelaine," Lisabet Sarai over at the ERWA website comments "The other three stories in the anthology offer somewhat lighter fare. The brightest is "The Princess and the Peony" by Mercy Loomis." And of the anthology as a whole, she says "The stories in this collection more or less fulfill the promise of the introduction. They are original, well-crafted, and varied. All are laced with at least a bit of darkness. My biggest criticism of this collection is that it is too short."

I also found out that my story "The Sub Fairy" will be published in May 2010 by Cleis Press as part of the Please, Sir anthology edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel. Woot! I've been wanting to work with them for awhile now so it's exciting to finally get into one of their anthologies. "The Sub Fairy" is about a married vanilla couple and how they discover a wonderful D/s relationship.

And last but not least, here is an excerpt from Hungry For Your Love. This is the very beginning, because frankly without the beginning I couldn't think of an excerpt that would still make sense... This will also give you a little insight into Dave from "A Wild Hunt," although Dave and Joseph are different people. Enjoy!

"White Knight, Black Horse"
by Mercy Loomis

I don't know if I can rightly describe it to you, what it's like. When you are seized by the loa there is no memory, no knowledge of what passes. The loa, the voodoo spirits that act as intermediaries between God and men, are fond of using humans as their horses when they wish to pass on a message or join in a celebration. It's said that the loa displace their horse's ti bon ange, the little good angel, the spark of their host's personality. Either they hold it safe in their keeping, or no one has been stupid enough to try to steal the soul of a loa's horse.

I would imagine the loa would take a dim view of such a thing.

But God knows, I had been ridden before, and coming out of the ground was nothing like it.

The bokor, the sorcerer, called me from the earth, and I came.

I was bound. I was beaten.

And the bokor stole my ti bon ange.

I can tell you all this, for I remember it. It is not the same as being ridden, not at all.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

"A Wild Hunt, Part Five"

Ok, so I didn't get the story done, but I did get enough for another installment. Sigh. Am about to head out to help do set up for my friends' wedding or I'd probably try and pound it out today. I'll get the rest to you next week!

A reminder that "A Wild Hunt, Part One", "A Wild Hunt, Part Two", "A Wild Hunt, Part Three", and "A Wild Hunt, Part Four" are also available.

A Wild Hunt, Part Five
by Mercy Loomis

Ariane's heart gave a hiccup as her lips met Kiran's. She'd been imaging this since the first day of class, but those dreams had not involved running for her life beforehand, much less doing it twice. What started out as a slow, cautious kiss quickly escalated, passion mixing with adrenaline and igniting a bonfire in Ariane's heart. She shuddered against him, overcome with desire, and Kiran only kissed her harder, pulling her to him like a drowning man clutches at a branch.

From upstairs came the thud of Dave's bedroom door, and the sound of his footsteps on the stairs. Ariane broke away with a gasp, her cheeks flaming so hard they felt sunburned. Kiran had that same glazed expression he'd had when Gloria grabbed his hair, like a man waking up from a stupor, cast adrift on a calm sea.

"It's like I thought," Dave announced as he strode into the room, pausing at the threshold and gazing at their joined hands. "Oh, excellent idea, Ari, that should help."

"Why? I mean, he said things were better when I was touching him…" She struggled to let go of the impulse to leap up and pin Kiran to the couch.

"Your aura is helping to shield him. It won't stop the attack, but it will slow it down. Skinshifters," he explained to Kiran, apparently interpreting Kiran's blank expression as confusion, "are bi-planar, partly in this plane and partly in another, and tend to warp certain magical energies…"

"What Dave is trying to say is that skinshifters are immune to having our thoughts messed with or controlled." For all of Dave's theories, she'd never had proof of "warping" or anything else beyond the fact that the vampires couldn't use their usual psychic tricks on her—an immunity she was grateful for every time she had to deal with them. Although Gabriel still managed to get her to do what he wanted nine times out of ten…"Anyway, maybe that's why you could understand me, because you were touching me."

Kiran shook his head. "No, I heard you before that, when you tripped and started swearing a blue streak."

Dave cocked his head to the side. "You understood Ari in a non-human form? On this plane?"

With an uncertain glance at Ariane, Kiran nodded.

Dave started pacing again. "You shouldn't have had that ability after the attack…but then, the gift of tongues is not a human gift…"

Ariane interrupted him before he could get too caught up in puzzling over whatever had his attention this time. "Dave, what was it you found out? What's happening to Kiran?"

"The mage, Gloria, she is stealing his power from him." Dave shook his head, bemused. "It's quite clever really, akin to how living zombies are made. Instead of stealing his ti bon ange, she is taking just a small piece of it, the part that lets him use his abilities."

"My T-bone what?" Kiran asked.

"Ti bon ange. Your soul," Ariane said before Dave could get into the explanation. Dave frowned, but after a brief internal struggle he shrugged and let her definition stand.

"But couldn't I have just taught her how to do whatever it is I do?" Kiran looked from Ariane to Dave and back while they shook their heads at him.

"You can't teach someone to be taller, and you can't teach them to be telepathic. Either you are born that way, or you're not. It's part of the confluence of body and soul—a disembodied person cannot use their psychic powers, even if they took over someone else's body."

Dave was starting to warm to his topic, so Ariane interrupted him again. "But because she has part of his body to attach it to, she can draw the psychic part of it to the talisman and bind it there."

"Yes." The zombie looked a bit disgruntled at her breaking his train of thought. "You stopped her before she could complete it, but her spell is still working, still stealing his powers. Eventually it will drain them totally."

"There must be a way to stop it," Kiran said desperately.

"There is, especially while it's still ongoing…" Ariane trailed off. Kiran's expression had suddenly changed, brows knitting in confusion, his gaze going distant like he was listening to something far, far away. He started to try to get to his feet, but Ariane held him down. "Kiran, what is it?"

"I have to go," he mumbled, staring past her toward the door. He began to struggle, but she was stronger than a healthy human, much less one as weakened as he was.

"She can't be summoning him," Ariane said doubtfully. "He's human."

Dave looked even grimmer than before. "I think she is. He must have some other blood in him, Ari, and the ritual woke it up. The gift of tongues is a fae gift, not a human one, and it doesn't appear to be impaired by the draining spell."

"And tonight of all nights, with the veil so thin..." She broke off as Kiran surged against her. He was getting stronger. "Well, this is one way to find her," Ariane muttered.

"Be careful," Dave told her, regret in his voice.

"I will." She knew he wished he could come with them, but the energies of November Eve wrecked havoc with his soul's connection to his body, and with all the people running around, their drunken boisterous energies adding to the already volatile mix, not to mention the mages and the non-humans that tended to be attracted to such things…well, it was the same reason Gabriel always left town.

Cautiously she eased up on Kiran, who scrambled to his feet. "We're going, we're going," she murmured as he tried to bolt for the door. "Calm down."

Now that he was able to move, a little sanity came back into his eyes. He walked like a man with a mission, but he gripped her hand tightly, pulling her along when she didn't follow fast enough. "I have to go," he whispered, despairing. "Please, Ariane, don't leave me?"

"I'm right here," she said. "I won't let her have you."

Kiran gave a tiny shudder as they passed through the wards again, but it didn't slow him. Ariane closed her eyes as they stepped outside. The air was vibrating with energy, the wind rattling the now-bare branches, the nearly full moon playing peekaboo with the high, thin cirrus clouds like a belly dancer peering through one of her veils. The night called to her, pulled at her, and somewhere to the south she could feel the wake of the Hunt's passing, a ripple in the ley lines that she itched to follow.

"Come on," Kiran snapped, tugging her after him.

"Where are we going?" Ariane asked, a little breathless from the rush.

His free hand rose, pointing. "She's still there. She never left."

Ariane frowned. Her apartment was smack in the middle of downtown, and with Freakfest in full swing there'd be no way to get a car through without going all the way around the lakes. With such a close call the last time she was leery of cutting through the Underground again, but Kiran was pulling her straight toward the pookha hole. She held back, refusing to think about opening the way. "I really don't think we should—"

The hole stretched wide before them. Ariane cursed, clutching Kiran's hand. "Don't! You don't what you're doing yet!" But Kiran ignored her, plunging into the tunnel, and she had no choice but to dart after him.

The darkness was total, and went on and on and on. Kiran's breath echoed off the walls, a harsh panting that grew as the minutes kept going by. "What's wrong?" he finally asked. "Why aren't we there yet?"

"Because you don't know where you're going. You're trying to cut straight over to Picnic Point, but you can't do that. You could wander in here forever trying. I need you to stop walking."

"I don't know if I can!" he said, his voice rising. "Whenever I think about stopping, it feels like I'm smothering, and like there are a thousand little hooks in my skin pulling me forward."

"Well, try, or we're going to be stuck here for a very long time."

Kiran paused, stumbled forward a few steps, paused again, stumbled some more, but eventually managed to halt, quivering like a frightened horse.

"Now let go of the path," Ariane said. "Clear your mind of any destination other than following me."

That took even longer, but the moment Ariane felt control shift—the airflow changing, the echoes coming back from new directions, a slight change in the grade of the stone under her feet—she started walking. Kiran came after her gratefully.

In less than a minute they emerged into the Underground, coming out of an old hollow tree into a dark, menacing forest. Sighing, Ariane pulled Kiran after her when he started to head off to their right. "Not that way," she scolded. "You can't trust your direction sense down here. Let me lead."

Kiran winced, but came along without protest. "This is awful. It's like…like being tortured, and they keep giving the thumbscrews another twist."

"That about sums it up. Why do you think demons are always so angry in stories? Getting summoned sucks." She paid little attention to what she was saying, more concerned with getting out of there. The branches above them creaked and clattered as the trees whispered to each other. Ariane had heard them hundreds of times before, but tonight they sounded nervous. "Just passing through," she called softly. "No need for alarm."

"I'm not scared," Kiran said, thinking she had spoken to him. "I like it here." He sounded surprised. "It feels…right. Homey. Not exactly familiar, but like it should be, you know?"

The trees around them murmured appreciatively, and Ariane let out a long breath. "Yeah, definitely fae blood in you somewhere. Once we get this spell off you, we need to have a nice long talk."

The trees around them shifted subtly, causing them both to blink hard. Just ahead of them was what looked like a fox's den. "Blessings on the forest!" Ariane cried in relief, pulling Kiran forward. Grateful as she was, you just never knew when the trees would decide to hinder instead of help, or switch from one to the other. "You do make an impression, Kiran."

"What?"

"I'll explain later." She all but dragged him into the tunnel.

Kiran looked back wistfully as the darkness closed around them. "Couldn't I have tried to take us up? I know where I'm going this time."

"But you don't know when. I mean, what time do you think it is, up top?"

"I dunno, it felt like we were in that tunnel for hours. It's gotta be past one."

Ariane smiled. "See, that's just it. I can take us out five seconds after we went in."

Any reply Kiran would have made was cut off by the glow of the exit ahead of them. "What's the plan?" he whispered.

Ariane squeezed his hand. "I have no idea."

***
Read "A Wild Hunt, Part Six"

Friday, October 30, 2009

100 Words About: Houses at Night

I walk through the streets of my neighborhood, and at night particularly I'm struck with the feeling that no one really lives in any of the houses. The light shines through curtains and blinds, a pale, faceless glow that, unlike the dark glass of the daytime, suggests that someone might be home. And yet uncurtained windows display empty rooms, giving glimpses of lives that might be, but don't seem real. TVs blare at chairs you can't see, photos and knick-knacks of imagined lives sit like props in some post-apocalyptic B movie. On the rare occasions you do spot a human moving around, it startles you like a mouse darting through the grass at your feet.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

"A Wild Hunt, Part Four"

A reminder that "A Wild Hunt, Part One", "A Wild Hunt, Part Two", and "A Wild Hunt, Part Three" are also available. I'm hoping to have the exciting conclusion to the story for you on Saturday, but this week has filled up fast! Tune in on Halloween and see if I make it!

A Wild Hunt, Part Four
by Mercy Loomis

Ariane carried Kiran into the living room and set him down on the sofa. "Dave, this is Kiran. Kiran, my roommate Dave."

Dave turned his computer chair around, but didn't get up. His mahogany brown eyes narrowed as his gaze swept from Kiran's muddy sneakers to his damp tousled hair. "Well, you do know how to pick the lookers," he said, but there was concern and puzzlement in his tone.

Kiran moaned and Ariane looked down at him. He was pale under that lovely dark skin, and sweat had broken out on his forehead. "Oh, God. It's getting worse," he gasped.

"What is?" Ariane asked, but Kiran just shook his head.

Behind her, she heard Dave rise to his feet. A gentle touch on her shoulder made Ariane step back. Dave moved up next to the couch, his form blurring in her sight as his soul leaned out of his body and he passed his hands gently over Kiran.

Kiran didn't seem to notice any change in Dave's appearance, but then, few humans would have. Then again, few humans liked to spend much time looking at Dave. Ariane was used to him, but most others found him obscurely off-putting; something to do with the remoteness of his gaze, or maybe the slightly grayish tinge to his ebony complexion.

"What are you doing?" Kiran asked.

Dave's eyes were half shut, the astral specter of his hands getting lower and lower until they finally touched Kiran's body, dipping just under the skin. Kiran noticed that, all right, jerking like he'd been touched with a live wire.

"You are missing something," Dave murmured, his words echoing faintly. His hands settled on Kiran's head, while Kiran's back arched and his mouth gaped like a fish's. After a few seconds Dave moved again, his hands tracing a line upward. Kiran's posture didn't change. "This is not good."

Dave turned and walked back to his chair, his soul settling back to its usual place. Kiran collapsed back against the cushions like a puppet whose strings were just cut. With great heaving breaths he curled up on his side, eyes squeezed tight shut.

"Dave, what is it?" Ariane had never seen him look so grim. "What's wrong with him?"

He shook his head, his gaze even more distant than usual. "Ari, where did you find him? I thought you were running an errand for G—"

She cut him off. No need for Kiran to hear that name; at least, not yet. "I was. Kiran was there, and there was some kind of ritual. A mage, Gloria, she pushed a ley line through him, and I think she had started to try to steal whatever powers she woke up when I interrupted her."

Dave looked up at her, startled. "How much do you think he—"

"Stop talking about me like I'm not here!"

Dave and Ariane both turned to look at Kiran. He'd lifted his head, his glassy eyes bright with fierce and fevered defiance. He struggled to raise himself up on one elbow and Ariane hurried over to help, propping him up with some pillows.

"Is that better?" she asked, starting to step back.

Kiran grabbed her wrist. His skin kept shifting between cool and hot, but his grip was almost painfully hard. His eyes locked onto hers and held her, and she fleetingly wondered if this was how Gabriel's prey felt. That look demanded her full attention, determined and desperate, and made her breath catch in her throat.

"What are you," Kiran growled through clenched teeth, "and what is he, and what the hell is happening to me?" A note of pleading entered his voice, and a hint of fear showed in the line of his brows. "Talk to me."

She swallowed, and gave him a shaky smile. "Well, I'm Ariane Conant, and I'm a skinshifter, and he's Dave Larue, and he's a zombie, and you're Kiran Eckhart, and you're apparently a human psychic."

Kiran looked from her to Dave and back, but only said, "Go on."

He still hadn't let her go. Ariane sighed. Men. She knelt next to the couch, hoping to avoid a crick in her neck from looking down at him. "Honestly, I don't know entirely what's going on. What were you expecting to be doing on Picnic Point?"

Kiran's lips thinned, and he closed his eyes. "She said she could awaken my psychic powers. She said she knew the minute she saw me that I had a lot of potential, and she could help me unlock it, learn to use it." He shuddered, his hand tightening on her wrist. "She didn't say that it would hurt."

Dave snorted. "There is a price for all things. Ari, you said she shoved a ley line through him?"

Ariane briefly described what she had seen. "Kiran, what was it that you gave her?"

"Some hair and nail clippings and three drops of blood wrapped up in a little piece of my pillowcase."

"You what?" Ariane cried in dismay. Dave only groaned and muttered something about fools. "Kiran, you gave her total magical power over you by doing that. Basically, as long as she possesses that talisman, she can do whatever she wants to you."

"No wonder the attack is getting through the wards," Dave said, starting to pace. He spoke quietly, thinking out loud. "It's not quite the same…still, I don't think it will be possible to sever the connection…except…excuse me a moment." He turned and hurried out of the room. Ariane heard him run up the stairs to his bedroom.

"Where's he going?" Kiran asked.

"Probably to consult the loa, his spirit guides," Ariane replied, shivering a little. "They kind of creep me out."

"He's really a zombie?" He sounded doubtful.

"Yes. He got his soul back, but the connection's been a little loose ever since, apparently. I don't know anyone else that can partially step outside himself at will like that—usually it's all or nothing. But he knows a lot about certain kinds of magic."

"What about you?"

Ariane shook her head. "I don't do magic, and I try to avoid it as much as possible. Although, Dave's wards are kind of nice."

Kiran frowned, his eyes searching her face. "But you changed shape."

He's got such beautiful eyes
. "That's not magic. I'm a skinshifter. That's what we do."

He gave her a smile that was part admiring, part self-deprecating. "It sounds like magic to me."

Ariane was very suddenly aware of just how close they were, with her kneeling next to the couch, and him all propped up on the pillows. Mortified to feel her cheeks heating, she glanced down. "You seem to be doing a little better."

"A little. It's not so strong when I'm touching you."

Her gaze snapped back to his. "Really?"

He nodded, but there was something in his expression that made her think that wasn't the only reason he was holding on to her. "In, uh, in the Underground it wasn't too bad at all, and when we were outside the house it was worse even with you touching me. The wards messed me up, but the other wasn't as bad, until you set me down." He shuddered. "Even with the wards, it's worst when you aren't touching me."

"Oh. Well, then, I'll just stay right here." She knew she sounded breathy, but she couldn't help it.

"Thanks." He let go of her wrist, lacing his fingers through hers instead. His hands were bigger than hers, but not uncomfortably so. His eyes traced paths across their joined hands, and Ariane swore she could feel the warmth of his gaze moving across her skin. "I didn't know what it would mean, giving Gloria what she asked," he whispered.

She gave him a comforting squeeze. "I know that." Not that it makes a difference.

Kiran swallowed hard. "I'm scared, Ariane. I feel like I fell in a river and I don't know how to swim."

Ariane reached out with her free hand and tipped his chin up until he met her gaze. The heat she'd imagined feeling on her skin seared into her, but she tried to push it aside. "I'll help you as much as I can, Kiran," she told him softly, and then, to break that scorching electricity she added, half-laughing, "And call me Ari, everyone does."

Kiran's expression shifted, the worry fading, the fear morphing into something sharper, more confident, as if he had found the riverbank and regained firm footing.

"Ariane," he said just as softly but with firm assurance, and she shivered at hearing her name spoken with such intensity. A lump of longing rose in her throat, making it hard to breathe. There was a roaring in her ears, an inferno of soundless emotion that made the air around them almost shimmer with the heat of it.

Kiran cupped her cheek with one hand, his thumb tracing lines of fire over her lips, before drawing her to him. Ariane let her eyes slip closed, and kissed him.

***
Read "A Wild Hunt, Part Five"

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Tuesday Tip: Writing Around Work

(Note: even when I write the blog post ahead of time, it helps to post it before going to work...)

I touched on this in a previous tip, but today I’m going a little more in-depth into how to squeeze writing time in around your work schedule.

As I type this, it’s actually Monday morning. My husband and I carpool to work. He drops me off and picks me up, and right now I’m getting to my building almost half an hour before I actually start work for the day. Fortunately, we have an employee lounge which apparently no one else on my floor uses this early in the morning, which makes it a perfect place to get some writing done.

(There is, strangely enough, no clock in the employee lounge, but as long as I set my laptop’s computer clock to work time, I also have a convenient way to make sure I get punched in on time.)

I also have a half hour lunch, and roughly half an hour between when I get done with work for the day and when my husband gets here to pick me up. Since I’m trying to eat in to save money, that’s three half-hour blocks of writing time I can use, or two and one for reading research books while I eat lunch.

(Nine hours later…)

It doesn’t seem like much time, but I managed to get 200 words done in about 20 minutes. If my word count goal for the day is 500 words, I should be able to do that entirely at work. Of course, some days will be better than others—for instance, the fire alarm kicking off on one of my breaks was a tad distracting, and of course there will be those days where I stare at the keyboard and only get half a sentence done before it’s time to pack up. And those are days when I will have to park my rear in front of my computer at home and finish out my word count.

But so far, so good. And another nice thing—if I get stuck on something early in the day, it’s got all day to kick around in the back of my head while I work. If letting things simmer overnight works, I imagine letting ideas percolate through the filter of claims processing will have a similar effect.

Shoe-horning my writing time around my work time leaves my evenings free for walks with the dog, watching the Daily Show and the Colbert Report with my husband, and (gasp!) dishes and laundry. My husband is always great about supporting my writing habit, and the dishes and laundry will keep. But the dog? She’s less forgiving.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Hungry For Your Love:The Editor Speaks

Hey all, just a quick note to point you over to Ravenous Romance's blog, where editor Lori Perkins has posted some neat info regarding the upcoming Hungry For Your Love: An Anthology of Zombie Romance, which contains my story "White Knight, Black Horse."

As Lori points out, they had 110 submissions for the project - a huge amount considering it was never posted to the Erotic Readers and Writers Association or the Erotic Authors Association open submission sites, and also considering the call was open for just over one month. I haven't gotten through the whole thing yet (life intervenes) but there are some really great stories in this, and I'm excited and proud to be a part of it!

Lori also includes the Introduction from the book, which recounts the entertaining birth of the idea for the anthology, as well as a quick run-down of all the stories. Check it out!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Win a Free Copy of Bedknobs and Beanstalks

Hey folks, just wanted to point out that you can leave a comment in this link to enter to win a free copy of Bedknobs and Beanstalks! Thanks to editor EM Lynley and www.reviewsbyjessewave.com!

In other news, I had a lot of fun yesterday over at the Torquere LiveJournal Community! Thanks to everyone who posted, especially kinky_kneazle, aishabintjamil, and twillery for the microfiction prompts! The microfiction prompt thread is available here.