Quick Change

Quick note to let you know about a quick, and hopefully short term, change to this blog.

The previous theme I was using started messing with my pages so I have temporarily switched over to this theme until I find the time and space to hire someone to do the full make-over this website needs (which requires stuff done on the back end which is beyond my abilities).

However, this theme displays things somewhat differently than the old one did so posts made before today (2/19/19) may be formatted somewhat oddly.

Cover Reveal: The Cassandra Complex

Why restore the timeline when you can create a better one?

Cass is a 22nd century university student who – like most young adults – has always believed her parents were a bit stuck in the past. But on her eighteenth birthday she learns exactly how true this is: not only are her parents time travelers, living in an era different than either was born in, but now, to ensure that history plays out as it’s supposed to, she must travel to the year 1914 to live out her adult life.

Cass isn’t the type, though, to just sit back and watch while all the tragic events she’s learned about in her history courses play out in front of her. Not when she’s the only one in the world with the foreknowledge – and determination – to change it.

The Cassandra Complex is the third novella in the Place in Time series, which began with The Continuum and The Grandmother Paradox.

I’ve had the pleasure of editing this series and I love it. The Cassandra Complex picks up where The Grandmother Paradox left off and brings us another awesome adventure in a different time period than our main characters are from, but it also totally stands alone. So even if you haven’t read the first two books you can totally pick up this third in the series and enjoy it unreservedly. Wendy is kind of a magician in that regard 🙂

Anywho, today was cover reveal day, so I am pleased to share this gorgeous purple cover, designed by Sarena Ulibarri.

Add this book to your Goodreads shelves or pre-order your copy today. Or do both! I vote for both 😉

Cover Reveal: F is for Fairy

Check it out!

F is for Fairy, the sixth installment in the Alphabet Anthologies series, has got a cover! Yay!

As always with this series, the cover was designed by Jonathan C. Parrish.

“Anyone who believes that faeries are wee, golden-haired creatures with dragon-fly wings and sweet intentions has never met a real faerie.” –Suzanne Willis, “A Silver Thread Between Worlds”

Retellings of familiar favourites from new perspectives, and brand new stories share the pages of this fairy-themed collection. Within these offerings you’ll find fairy music and food, contracts (making and breaking them), changelings, circles and curses–these stories deliver all the things you already love about fairies and a few new tricks as well.

A dusting of dragons, shapeshifters and ogres accompany these tales which include feminist fairies overcoming trauma, Norse fairies breaking the rules to interfere in human affairs, intergalactic fairies hitching a ride to a new home, political satire featuring an idiot king and talking animals, a new Robin Archer story, fairy run nightclubs and so, so much more.

Altogether this anthology includes twenty-six brand new tales–one for each letter of the alphabet–from contributors Pete Aldin, Steve Bornstein, Andrew Bourelle, Stephanie A. Cain, Beth Cato, Sara Cleto, Cory Cone, Danielle Davis, Megan Engelhardt, Michael Fosburg, Joseph Halden, Lynn Hardaker, L.S. Johnson, Michael M. Jones, Jeanne Kramer-Smyth, Samantha Kymmell-Harvey, C.S. MacCath, Jonathan C. Parrish, Alexandra Seidel, Michael B. Tager, Rachel M. Thompson, Laura VanArendonk Baugh, Brittany Warman, Lilah Wild, Suzanne J. Willis and BD Wilson.

Though it’s not going to be available until May 7th, F is for Fairy is currently available for pre-order:

Amazon (US) (CA) (UK)

Kobo

B&N

Apple

OR

If you’d like to read a free advance copy in exchange for an honest review you can get a free review copy on BookSprout.

Whatever you choose to do, don’t forget to add it to your ‘Want to Read’ shelf on Goodreads!

Setting Goals for 2019

At the start of each year I set goals for myself, then at the end of that year I look back at them and assess how well I’ve done at reaching those goals. In theory, throughout the year it helps me keep my magpie energy in check by showing me the things I ought to be focusing on and by sharing the goals publicly it gives me a sense of accountability as well.

Usually I mostly share my work related goals here, but in the spirit of ‘Work/life balance’ (what even IS that?) I’ve decided to put them all here. And make fewer of them, maybe? We’ll see… I’m going to start writing and you and I will find out together if I managed to cut back at all.

2019 Goals

Stuff:

  • Finish playing Divinity 2
    • I love this game but I keep taking loooooong breaks from it because reasons. Well, mostly because work reasons. I’d like to finish it so I can finally begin playing Dragon Age: Inquision in earnest… ya know, so I can maybe finish it before the next one comes out LOL
  • Get good at making chicken/chorizo gumbo
    • Like really good. I want to like, craft a master recipe for my ultimate chicken/chorizo gumbo. I’m starting by mastering stock. I’m not even joking. See? I can over-complicate anything. It’s a skill, really.
  • Have a successful ‘Depth Year’
    • Jo and I decided to have a ‘depth year‘ this year, which basically means we aren’t buying anything that isn’t consumable. There are a few additional exceptions — for example I’d really like to fix our broken-ass back fence so home maintenance things don’t count — but mostly we aren’t buying things. The idea is it will eliminate impulse buying, stop adding clutter to our home, save us some money and help us appreciate the things we already have.
  • Empty a box every month
    • We’ve spent the last couple years on a serious de-clutter and purge mission, and it’s gone very well. There are still little piles here and there, though, so Jo and I have each got a banker box in our offices and the goal of filling it with things we can get rid of and then actually getting rid of them. Every month. We’re both really good at putting things in the box, it’s the moving them from there to out of our house part that is going to be the most challenging.
  • Take a vacation
    • Every year I book the month of July off to vacation with my family, and every year I end up working… just less. This year I want the only work I even think about doing in July to be occasionally reading Swashbuckling Cats submissions. That’s it and that’s all.
  • Set up a Patreon
    • Related — sit down and schedule which promo dice I’m going to commission and when.
  • Establish and write down five and ten year goals
  • Create, schedule and effectively host the anthology book club on my Facebook group.
  • Take two walks a day
    • They don’t need to be long, but I need to get up from my desk at least twice a day for at least twenty minutes and go for a walk. Inside on the treadmill, outside running errands or catching Pokemon, it doesn’t matter. I just need to do it. The idea is that it will break up my day and also get my blood moving a wee bit.
    • Note to self: Don’t even begin to pretend these little jaunts can take the place of actual workouts. They are in addition to, not instead of.
  • Read 40 books
    • Books I begin in good faith but just can’t bring myself to finish totally count
  • Host another Giftmas Tour to benefit the Edmonton Food Bank

Releases:

  • Release Grimm, Grit and Gasoline
    • September.
    • I would like this anthology to have my best launch yet–beating all my other WWP anthology launch numbers. To pull that off I am going to need to come up with a great promo plan, and figure out how to give it an awesome launch outside of a convention setting.
  • Release F is for Fairy
    • May 7th
    • I want to feel good about this release, to feel as though I’ve given the book the time and attention that it deserves and not just sort of thrown it to the wolves. I will need to assess and set some concrete, measurable goals for this and record them in my records for the book.
  • Release Earth: Giants, Golems and Gargoyles
    • August.
    • The timeline for this anthology is a bit shorter than usual but I want to make it work and give it a great launch, matching the success that we found with Fire: Demons, Dragons and Djinns
  • Release Shadows
    • Date TBD
    • Will be self-published and require production and promotion. This will need to be fitted in around other projects but I don’t want the results to feel like they’ve been fitted in around other projects.

Submission Periods:

  • Have a successful submission period for Swashbuckling Cats
    • Submissions for this one end July 31st. I would like to have a Table of Contents decided by the end of August.
  • Have a successful submission period for Earth: Giants, Golems and Gargoyles
    • Submissions close on February 28th. I would like to have a Table of Contents by the end of March. This may be unreasonable, but that’s my goal.
  • Hear Me Roar
    • This anthology closes to submissions in September. I would like to have the Table of Contents decided by October.

Writing and Editing

  • Finish writing Eerie Edmonton
  • Complete edits on Hollow and hand those in to my publisher on time
  • Complete edits on Shadows
  • Edit the next book in E. C. Bell’s Marie Jenner series
  • Copyedit and assist in the promotion of The Last Dream of Her Mortal Soul by K. Bird Lincoln
  • Copyedit and assist in the promotion of Book #3 in the Place in Time series by Wendy Nikel
  • Outline the urban fantasy series I already have covers for
    • I don’t usually outline but for this project it just kinda feels right that I try it. So I’ll give it a whirl and we’ll see what happens.
  • Finish the NovPad poem a day project I started and failed to finish last year
  • Finish and begin querying Arcana

Deadlines:

  • Submit Eerie Edmonton on schedule
    • The manuscript is due on April 15th. I want the first draft done by my birthday (March 15th) so there’s time for polish before I hand it in
  • Submit Grimm, Grit and Gasoline on schedule
    • The manuscript is due on April 15th. I would actually like to have it handed in by the end of February in order to free up space in my brain and on my desk for other projects. This means getting my butt in gear with regard to edits.

Okay… so I know it doesn’t look like I did very well at the ‘cutting back’ thing, but honestly a lot of these points are almost repetitions. For example, having a good submission period for Earth, handing in Earth and launching Earth are all individual points up there, but they all add up to one thing — make a great anthology and share it with as many people as you can. So perhaps the format I’ve chosen this year makes it look like there’s more up there than there is.

And also, Future Self, in my defense, there were lots of things I thought about adding and then decided not to… so it’s not as much as it could have been? And I love my job. Surely there are worse things than being so excited you set a lot of goals for yourself?

It’ll be fun to look back at the end of the year and see how many of these I got to check off 🙂

Cover Reveal: Last Dream of her Mortal Soul

Writing cover reveal posts are difficult, because you just KNOW the reader’s eye has gone to the cover before it focused on the words… or at least I assume that’s the case because that’s what always happens to me LOL So given that, there is no point in writing long introductions to the cover, or the book, and trying to be like, ‘Drum roll please…’ because everyone has already seen the cover.

Though apparently that didn’t stop me from rambling a bit just now.

But here it is! The cover for Last Dream of her Mortal Soul:

Designed by Sarena Ulibarri, I think this cover is the perfect addition to the series, and a wonderful way to end the trilogy.

What trilogy, you ask? Well, let me tell you about it 🙂

This is the third book in K. Bird Lincoln’s ‘A Novel of the Portland Hafu’ series. This is an urban fantasy series that, rather than focusing on vampires or werewolves, includes more Japanese mythological creatures. Also dragons. 🙂 The main character, Koi, is half-Baku/half-Human. She is also half-Japanese and half-American. Hence the series title. The official description for this final book is:

Even a dream eater can’t escape the final sleep…

After her trip to Japan, the Head of Portland Kind calls Koi home to help solve a murder. The body of a powerful magical being was found in the witch’s hut in Forest Park, along with a strange, haunting quotation about dreams and death written in blood. Can Koi discover who seems to be calling out a Baku before others from her new-found family die?

Dun dun dun!

The book will be available in March and you can pre-order it here:

World Weaver Press

Amazon

B&N

Kobo

It does standalone but you will definitely get the most out of it if you’ve read the previous two books as well:

Book One:

Book Two:

And in the spirit of full disclosure — I edited this series so I’m very biased when it comes to them. But I’ve been in love with them from the beginning when I had to arm wrestle another WWP editor for the privilege of acquiring and working on them 🙂

Fire Up Your New Year!

We’re ending 2018 with a bang! Between today and January 4th you can pick up an electronic copy of Fire: Demons, Dragons & Djinns for just $0.99! At the risk of sounding like a total commercial, it’s an amazing deal. Whether you’re a reader who loves short stories, or an author who would benefit from seeing what sort of things I’ll be looking for when I read submissions for book two in the series (Earth: Giants, Golems and Gargoyles) you can’t lose when it comes to getting a copy for less than a buck. Honestly.

Get Your Copy Now!

Direct from the Publisher

 

Electronic:

Amazon (US) (CA) (UK)

Kobo

B&N

 

Paperback:

B&N

Amazon

 

And, if you have already purchased and read Fire (thank you, thank you!) please consider leaving an honest review on Amazon and/or Goodreads. I would really appreciate it 🙂 Your review doesn’t need to be long or detailed, but a couple sentences and some stars could really make a difference. Thank you!

 

Award Eligibility Post (2018 Edition)

Woo… it’s that time again! Generally speaking I put off making these award eligibility posts because I find them a bit awkward but last year I put it off way, way too long and I just stumbled across this photo on a stock art site and I wanted to use it. So I’m actually on the ball this time. More or less. Because look at that girl? How aspirational is that?

Right. Eligibility.

Here is a quick and dirty list of work I did in 2018 which would be eligible for award nomination in 2019:

Anthologies

E is for Evil, Poise and Pen Publishing, May 15, 2018
Fire: Demons, Dragons and Djinns, Tyche Publishing, August 2018
Tesseracts Twenty-one: Nevertheless (co-edited with Greg Bechtel), EDGE Publishing, September 2018

Long Form Editor

Hearing Voices by E.C. Bell, Tyche Books
The Continuum by Wendy Nikel, World Weaver Press
The Grandmother Paradox by Wendy Nikel, World Weaver Press
Black Pearl Dreaming by K. Bird Lincoln

I am also eligible for short form editor for my work in the aforementioned anthologies.

If you are nominating for any major awards (and I count the Auroras among those) and would like to read any of my eligible works, just get in touch and we’ll make it happen.

Thank you.

 

 

 

 

Looking Back at My 2018 Goals

Because I have an awful lot of things on the go at any one time and generally lack focus in general, I set goals for myself each year to try and provide a sort of framework to work within. And then at the end of each year I look back over those goals and assess how well I did at achieving them.

It’s that time of year again…

Goals I feel I’ve accomplished will be in bold.

  • Write a book
    • I know this is super vague and that’s intentional. I have several ideas tumbling about in my mind and I haven’t settled on one yet.

Huh. I don’t know if I should bold this or not. I’m going to though… because I really turned up the amount of writing I was doing. Also, though I didn’t write a single book from start to finish I did write 20k ish words on a new book I sold to Dundurn Press (Eerie Edmonton) and wrote 50,000 words of a NaNoWriMo novel. I feel like that’s close enough to count.

  • Make at least one blog post a week

Uh… I don’t know if I did this, to be honest, but I don’t want to go back through my archives to count and see. If I didn’t actually write a post a week I definitely wrote more than 52 posts altogether and surely that’s good enough? Really, I question the judgement of Past Me in picking this as a goal because it’s definitely better to not blog on any given week than it is to blog about nothing, right?

Well, nailed the first half — I read over fifty books so far this year. I didn’t finish reading all the ones from my partial reading list, however. I guess that goal will get bumped to 2019 LOL

  • Increase the number of my books available in libraries
    • I wish I had a more concrete goal to go here, but I still need to figure out what my system is going to be (Am I going to focus on a specific book? If so, which one? Am I going to focus on a specific library location? Where? How much time am I going to dedicate to this?). As I figure out the details I will share them on this blog.

So technically this goal was achieved, but not through any effort on my part. Really what happened is D2D started distributing to Overdrive and a couple other places where libraries get books and a handful of libraries acquired some of my titles. I didn’t spend any time on this, though, which may be a thing for 2019 or may be a thing to put on a shelf for a wee bit longer. We’ll have to wait and see, I think.

Unfortunately, I didn’t manage this. I planned to. I bought tickets, booked a hotel room, hell, I even had plane tickets, but I was just too sick to go. That’s twice in a row I’ve had to cancel. Both times were for good reasons, but, bleh…

However, I did participate in STARFest in St. Albert, Alberta and CoCoKon in Phoenix, Arizona this year and I hadn’t planned to do either of those things. So hopefully that will make up for the convention I had planned to attend but couldn’t.

Done and done. It was a good one this year. I felt like I had just the right amount of programming and a happy amount of social time too. Win/win!

  • Successfully participate in NovPAD
    • NovPAD is November Poem-A-Day. I haven’t successfully pulled this off in ages, and I miss it.

Narp. Sadly. I tried. I even picked a theme and bought a premade cover to use as inspiration and everything, but by the end of November I did not have thirty poems. I am still working on this though, I want to finish that chapbook and put it out… maybe 2019? Maybe 2020?

It was a busy year 🙂

  • Have a successful submissions window for Grimm, Grit and Gasoline
    • Have a Table of Contents decided by the end of the year.

Whoot! That TOC was tricksy, but I finalized it just this month. Edits will begin in January and then contracts which means I’ll probably be able to announce it in February or March 🙂

  • Continue in my role as Assistant Editor for World Weaver Press
    • At present this looks like it will include acquiring and/or editing at least three titles.

I edited some of these WWP titles in 2017 for a 2018 release. Some I edited in 2018 for a 2019 release. To be fair, the bulk of my work ends once edits are complete, but not all, so I’ve included all of the titles. I didn’t list those I copy edited though, so it seems balanced to me 😉

The Continuum by Wendy Nikel (Edited in 2017 but released in 2018)

The Grandmother Paradox by Wendy Nikel (Edited in 2018 for a 2018 release)

Book #3 in the Place in Time Series by Wendy Nikel (Edited in 2018 for a 2019 release)

Black Pearl Dreaming by K. Bird Lincoln (Edited in 2017 for a 2018 release)

Book #3 in the Portland Hafu Series by K. Bird Lincoln (Edited in 2018 for a 2019 release)

  • Edit the next book in E.C. Bell’s Marie Jenner series

Hearing Voices is out in the world and I’m ridiculously proud to say that I’m its editor. The previous book I edited in this series, Dying on Second, also won the Bony Blithe award this year. Of course, Eileen did all the work for that, but I get to brag about it a bit too 😉

  • Work on putting together TOC for [Top Sekkrit] anthology

So close to done on this. Close, but not quite.

  • Organise a Giftmas Blog Tour

Done and done. At the time of my writing this post we had exceeded our goal and still had several days to go. I am very proud 🙂

  • Increase my mailing list subscribers by 20%

I actually increased my numbers by significantly more than that — like closer to 30x at its peek. I used a couple builders to do that, however, so after the cycle of unsubscribers leaving and purging zombie members my subscriber numbers are much lower than that peek but those who are on the list really seem to want to be there. And even my current numbers are significantly higher than they were last year. About 9k at last count (because why am I being vague?)

  • Increase my BookBub followers by 20%

LoL Well, Past Me. It would be easier to know how I’d done in regard to this goal if I had written down my current number of BookBub followers somewhere memorable at the begining of the year. Alas, I did not. I wrote it down. I remember that much, but I can’t remember where… so I guess this one will have to remain a mystery. However… I think my ultimate goal was 1,000 BookBub followers (because that would open up tools to me) and I currently have just over 800. So probably this goal wasn’t nailed. Yet.

Not listed as goals but other things I accomplished this year include editing F is for Fairy (forthcoming), pitching and selling Eerie Edmonton to Dundurn Press and doing loads of research for it, sold an anthology about swashbuckling cats that was wholly conceived of on Twitter, and successfully completing NaNoWriMo.

I spent a good part of this year quite unwell so I was nervous about looking back at these goals but overall? I’m pretty pleased with how I did. I’d also set a fitness goal for myself that I totally failed to hit, but given how sick I was for over half of this year I’m going to cut myself a whole bunch of slack on that one.

Looking forward to seeing what 2019 will bring!

Our Gift To You

Thank you so much for supporting the Giftmas 2018 fundraiser to benefit the Edmonton Food Bank. Together we raised $1,127 which is the equivalent of 3,381 meals!* I am so incredibly proud and grateful — as are all the authors who contributed to this event.

And we’d like to thank you for your amazing support.

Did you miss some of the stories in this advent tour? Well, good news! We’ve gathered them all together into one anthology that you can download for free!

Twenty-five stories offer a treat for every day in December leading up to Christmas. Savour them slowly, or gobble them up all in one sitting, it’s up to you! A man’s soul is broken with a hockey puck, a young cowboy wrangles a semi-sentient iceberg, two grumpy old men scheme up a way to earn some extra Christmas money, a werewolf struggles to find the perfect gift for his girlfriend and a woman breaks up with an alien in this eclectic collection.

Features stories by E.C. Bell, Tiffany Michelle Brown, Stephanie A. Cain, Beth Cato, Kevin Cockle, Julie E. Czerneda, Amanda C. Davis, Lizz Donnelly, Pamela Fernandes, Chadwick Ginther, Kurt Kirchmeier, Jennifer Lee Rossman, Premee Mohamend, Rhonda Parrish, Randi Perrin, Cat Rambo, JB Riley, Alexandra Seidel, Michael B. Tager, Steve Toase, Laura VanArendonk Baugh, J.S. Watts, Cassandra Weir, Amanda Wells and SG Wong.

 

Download it here for FREE

It will be available there as a free download for the next week — until midnight on December 31st.

Or

If you prefer a paperback copy, or would like to continue to support the Food Bank, you can purchase electronic and paperback copies at the following locations for the next few months:

Paperback (US) (UK)

Amazon (US) (CA) (UK)

Kobo

B&N

Apple

All profits from these sales will be donated to the Edmonton Food Bank.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

And happy holidays!

 

*At the time of this posting. This number may have gone up before the fundraiser officially closed

 

 

Dark Shadows on the Earth

For this year’s Giftmas blog tour has an advent theme each participant has donated a story — one each day between now and Christmas Eve, with a special surprise on Christmas Day. Not every participant has an active blog, however, and so for those couple who do not it is my pleasure to host them here. Cat Rambo has a blog, but today it is full of announcements about her end of the year sale at her writing academy. If you’re a writer, definitely check that out here –> http://www.kittywumpus.net/blog/about/ . So, anyway, since her blog is busy and my blog is not, I get the pleasure of sharing her story here 🙂

Before we get to the story, however, a quick word about the tour, if I may. The purpose of the blog tour is to fundraise for the Edmonton Food Bank. We do that by collecting donations through our Canada Helps page which you can find right here. We use Canada Helps because it’s easy, and also because then you can give with confidence knowing that the money is going exactly where it’s intended — to help struggling people. Also, by using Canada Helps it means Canadian contributors will be able to get a tax receipt. Oh, and American donors? You get some awesome value for your money because donations are all in Canadian dollars so the exchange rate will definitely work in our favour here 😉

Finally, in addition to offering a story a day to everyone who’d like to read them, we like to reward those people who do what they can to help out. However they help out. Whether that be by making an actual donation, helping to boost our signal or just leaving encouraging comments on the stories themselves. They all help. So we’ve got a rafflecopter with tonnes of prizes. You can read the full list here but they include loads of books, critiques, a magazine subscription, dice and more.

Enter to win here:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

(If the widget doesn’t load for you click here, it will take you to the page so you can enter directly)

And now, without further adieu…


Dark Shadows on the Earth

Cat Rambo

I loved Christmas lights till I knew better. Loved to look out my kitchen window, down the hill, and see the lights twinkling, sparkling, lines going off and on, leading the eye in complicated cuneiform, punctuated with glowing candles and the faces of luminous angels.

When the new guy first moved in, three years ago, that Christmas was downright subdued by the standards he’d come to set, but even then everyone said Gaudy in whispers or sometimes not whispers, conversations on the street or at the bus stop, in the grocery checkout while buying tasteful pine wreaths and poinsettias in red and white and marbled pink.

No one said anything that first year, but in October they started talking about nipping it in the bud, gathering conscripts for a delegation sent the Sunday before Thanksgiving to ask him to tone it down that season. Do something a little more in fitting with the overall atmosphere of the neighborhood.

No one expected someone so dedicated to Christmas cheer to meet them wearing a dilapidated Santa suit with Kevlar showing underneath split seams, bedraggled red velvet. He was hostile, he was obdurate. He shouted, “Atmosphere? Just wait till you’re breathing methane!” And then he laughed and laughed, just before he punched Mr. Takenada from 830 Park Avenue in the face.

He would not explain his ways, let alone change them.

I mentioned something about it to my brother-in-law Arturo in Denver, and he said, “There’s one in every neighborhood, isn’t there? We have one, moved in a couple of years ago, and you wouldn’t believethe problems we’ve had.”

Even then, see, the clues were there. How could I have been such a fool?

I don’t know, but I was — even when Willa at work mentioned her own homeowner’s association having problems.

I wasn’t the only stupid one. You would have thought that someone in a satellite would have noticed the overall patterns. The pictograms formed by the display locations. Even if no one could read them. Even if no one realized they said, Almost ready.

And so we the neighborhood didn’t grasp the larger picture. We took that year’s display as war, not realizing it was literal. He expanded the gnome village, had them all over his lawn and garden, each one carrying a lantern. There were choirs of angels perched on the roof, in the garden, everywhere, even a big golden one next to his mailbox. And five Santas, each in a different location, with herds of reindeer and elves capering around him. Christmas carols blaring whenever it was legally possible. And the lights, all night, bright and twinkling and illuminating his display and the dark shadows it cast on the snow.

This year we thought we were prepared. Takenada had figured out the power lines: exactly where to snip, long enough to get in close and do additional snipping. Cut those wires enough times that he’d take a thousand years to splice them all back, he cackled. Takenada has always been one to hold a grudge. It was a rainy season, and we didn’t even have snow yet, just rhododendrons with leaves curling against the cold and dry leaves scrabbling at the ground as the wind scraped them away.

Rudolph and all the other reindeer had a feral look to them, and the candles the angels were holding looked more like laser pistols. We waited until a half hour before the dark, when the lights would snap on. We figured that was the closest to dark we’d get.

His defense system was in full working order. The gnomes swiveled, the lanterns flickering to life. The angels on the roof peered down and revealed fanged smiles. The Santas let out ear-splitting whoops, a discordant version of Jingle Bells.

We pushed forward, not understanding until it was too late.

They landed when all the lights across the city came on and unleashed the hunting robots. All those other Christmas figures came to life and joined them. By then Takenada had gone down screaming when that big golden angel sliced his throat with a razor-edged wing tip. I barely got away with my life; I was in no shape to resist when a patrol of elves rounded me up with some other resisters.

Did they pick that scheme because they thought we’d be vulnerable, filled with love and the spirit of the season and therefore unable to understand the attack until it was too late? Or was there some special humiliation, a particular way to score points in some enigmatic alien game we had no chance of understanding, scoring points for despoiling our childhood loves and turning the holiday into horror?

I do not know. Nowadays we toil in their factories, under the eyes of wise men and security Santas. Walking home at night, I see the angels swooping overhead, watching us, their lasers in their hands. They glow, the angels, and as they move, they cast dark shadows on the earth, and the shadows make their horrible glow all the stronger.

 


Originally published at Every Day Fiction, December 30, 2015

 

Cat Rambo lives, writes, and teaches by the shores of an eagle-haunted lake in the Pacific Northwest. Her 150+ fiction publications include stories in Asimov’s, Clarkesworld Magazine, and Tor.com. Her short story, “Five Ways to Fall in Love on Planet Porcelain,” from her story collection Near + Far (Hydra House Books), was a 2012 Nebula nominee. Her editorship of Fantasy Magazine earned her a World Fantasy Award nomination in 2012 and her first novel, Beasts of Tabat, appeared in 2015. She is the current President of SFWA (the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America). For more about her, as well as links to her fiction, see www.kittywumpus.net.

Eight Precious Spiced Jewels

For this year’s Giftmas blog tour has an advent theme each participant has donated a story — one each day between now and Christmas Eve, with a special surprise on Christmas Day. Not every participant has an active blog, however, and so for those couple who do not it is my pleasure to host them here. Kevin Cockle is one of those people. I first met Kevin when I accepted his story, “Strange Attractor” for Fire: Demons, Dragons and Djinns. I later got the opportunity to meet him in person to launch that book… and totally forgot to ask him to sign my copy. Because of course I did LOL

Before we get to the story, however, a quick word about the tour, if I may. The purpose of the blog tour is to fundraise for the Edmonton Food Bank. We do that by collecting donations through our Canada Helps page which you can find right here. We use Canada Helps because it’s easy, and also because then you can give with confidence knowing that the money is going exactly where it’s intended — to help struggling people. Also, by using Canada Helps it means Canadian contributors will be able to get a tax receipt. Oh, and American donors? You get some awesome value for your money because donations are all in Canadian dollars so the exchange rate will definitely work in our favour here 😉

Finally, in addition to offering a story a day to everyone who’d like to read them, we like to reward those people who do what they can to help out. However they help out. Whether that be by making an actual donation, helping to boost our signal or just leaving encouraging comments on the stories themselves. They all help. So we’ve got a rafflecopter with tonnes of prizes. You can read the full list here but they include loads of books, critiques, a magazine subscription, dice and more.

Enter to win here:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

(If the widget doesn’t load for you click here, it will take you to the page so you can enter directly)

And now, without further adieu…


Eight Precious Spiced Jewels

Kevin Cockle

It’s a typical Szechuan restaurant, the Dragon Palace: low overhead in terms of décor; clean, but crippling, teal-coloured booths; tables topped with brown I-Can’t-Believe-It’s-Not-Wood surfaces; sizzling hot-plate noises erupting whenever the kitchen doors open; spicy aromas triggering glandular reactions in your mouth.  I love the joint – the neighbourhood’s lucky to have it.  I’ve had one of everything on the menu in the ten years I’ve lived just a few blocks away.  Through a process of Darwinian selection, I’ve whittled the list of edibles down to a few chosen favourites.

That’s my style: experiment at the start, then settle in for the long haul.

“That guy is SO not into her,” Anne says, cutting her eyes to a couple directly across the room from us.  I glance: learn nothing.  They seem perfectly happy: he a balding, fortyish, be-sweatered university prof type; she a grey haired, be-braided force of nature type, doing most of the talking.  They’re in a window-booth: large, soft flakes of snow drift down in backdrop to the scene.  “He’s thinking of some hottie in his Middle English survey course,” Anne continues, mock scandalized.  “Ooh, Tom, you’d love her – this hottie – second row, three chairs in.  She’s totally your type.”

“He’s at the university?” I smile.  See, you don’t have to be psychic to read people.  I got that one all on my own.

“Yep.”  Her green eyes flicker from table to table like hummingbirds: sampling, eavesdropping.  I’m used to it: you can’t expect to hold Annie’s attention – not with everything she’s got coming in.  She leans forward over her dumplings, clicking her chopsticks together as she watches.

It’s easy to block her – been doing it for years – ever since we met at university.  Once I knew what she was doing, there’s a Heisenberg principle involved: the thing under observation changes and becomes opaque to her.  You just need to narrate to yourself – be aware of your own thoughts and state them to yourself as though you were addressing someone else.  She can only think-in on you if you free-wheel up there, let yourself ramble because you think nobody can hear; because you believe yourself to be omniscient within your own confines.  Omniscience is like a neon ‘welcome’ mat to Annie – practically an invitation to come on in and rummage around.

Suun brings the dishes: Homestyle Fish; Eight Precious Spiced Jewels; Hot and Spicy Soup; rice bucket for two.  Anne smiles up at Suun and thanks her: only I know that Annie’s nabbing some secret or other, just because she can.  It’s like having an opposable thumb to her: go ahead and turn that doorknob, or manipulate that tool – that’s what thumbs are for.

I remember how we met – thinking at the time that this was easily the most forward chick I’d ever seen.  I was sitting in the university smoking lounge – a kind of time-capsule holdover from the seventies, complete with black vinyl mod chairs and a sunken fire pit/chimney deal.  I’m reading my Organic Chemistry text and suddenly, this body flops down into the chair beside me – the person practically leaning over into my ear.  I look up and there she is – still glowing from a swim and a steam, dressed in green sweatshirt and black dance pants, smelling faintly of strawberries.  And grinning like she’s getting ready to unleash her favourite joke on me.

I’ve seen her around, I do recognize her face.  If you’re a young hetero lad at university, and you see a girl like Annie bounce past, you make a point of remembering her.  She’s way out of my league, although university had seen some appreciation of my value over the nervy drought years of high school.  “You wanna know a secret?”  She says – I mean – she opens with The Secret.  She hits me with a ten on the Richter scale – right then and there, before I even know her name.

“You’ve been watching me,” she says, smirking with certainty.  I could have sworn I hadn’t been caught.  “Relax.  I take it as a compliment.  From you, anyway.  It matters, you know – who’s doing the looking.  I don’t appreciate stares from everyone.”

“Thanks,” I manage.  Heart.  Pounding.  This sort of thing really doesn’t happen to me, but I’m determined to play it as James-freaking-Bond as I possibly can.  “I’m flattered.”

“I know.”

“Oh, you do?  You really should work on this low self-esteem thing of yours.”

“So.  Do you?”

“Do I what?”

“Wanna know a secret?”

“Who doesn’t?”

“I can read minds.”

“You can read minds.  I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to prove that one.”

“Oh Tom,” she says, as though she’s known me forever, “it’ll be my pleasure.”  That smile of hers: I feel an honest-to-God tremor run up and down my spine at the sight of it.  Oddly enough, it’s the same quiver I get every time I hear La Marsellaise sung in Casablanca.

She goes ahead and proves up her claim with a few embarrassing revelations I’d prefer to forget.

The world tilts.  Everything that’s not bolted down tumbles figuratively onto one wall of the room.

And that was it – I mean, there was more talking and introducing, so on and so forth – but basically, after The Secret, I was reeling and not processing many of the subsequent details.  It probably took me a month to fall in love with her, and I was proud of myself for holding out that long.  But scared of her?  I was scared seconds in, and haven’t really ever shaken the chill.  That’s one of Annie’s favourite paradoxes: it’s the fear she counts on, she says, because that lets her know the love is genuine.

I’ve come to understand that she told me her secret because she’d read me and knew that I wouldn’t tell anyone else if I promised not to.  And she knew I’d promise.  And she also knew that once I knew, she wouldn’t be able to drop in on me anytime she wanted, and she knew she’d be able to trust me anyway.

I take a moment to look at her working her curious left-handed grip on the chopsticks – fumbling with a piece of baby-corn.  Long bottle-blonde hair with dark roots: makes me think of casinos, late nights, bright lights.  “Obsession” perfume: on her, it smells like chocolate.  Large, expressive eyes and delicate, arching brows.  High, prominent cheekbones and a too-cute nose: I used to tease her about technically being “cute” rather than “beautiful” – at 5’3” she’s always railing about her lack of length.  True, she lacks elegance, but her curves could warp time.  I never, ever get used to the way she looks for some reason – can never completely get past the wonder of her.

She looks up, catches me staring.  She smiles.  “Happy anniversary,” she says.

We’re not married, although we do co-habitate, and we’re not into formalitites: the anniversary dinner at our favourite joint was my idea, but there won’t be a big deal made otherwise.  I buy her something the month-of her birthday, not the day-of.  Christmas is right around the corner: we may pool funds and go somewhere.  Probably won’t shop for each other, unless whimsy strikes.

Because, the truth is, she’s not around much.  Her job – which has no title other than “consultant” – takes her around the country.  She’s like a professional networker –  again, this is essentially an opposable-thumb effect.  What else would she do?  She’s a brilliant communicator and fixer, putting people together and achieving unheard of synergies.  She works only as hard as she wants to – which winds up being somewhere in the low six figures – and the rest of the time she plays.  But don’t kid yourself: she’s not playing with me during her downtime.  She’s still got that Caribbean tan from her last adventure – a trip with someone she can think-in on, and do things to she’s chosen not do to with me.

I should be grateful I guess: Annie plays hard and she plays for keeps.  There’s that side of her that she closed off to me in the moment of honesty that defined us at the start, but it’s still a big part of her – a part I can’t access.  It’s who she is in the most fundamental sense of the concept.  And yet, I know who she is, and as far as I know, I’m the only one she’s ever told.  “We need to shut each other out,” she’ll often tease, “if we’re ever gonna have a chance to really connect.”

She loves her paradoxes, Annie does.  All part of her charm.

“Hey,” I say, suddenly tuning into a thought I’ve never had before concerning her.  Which is weird, because I thought I’d gone over and over all of them.  “Not reading me: does that mean you fear me?  I mean, not because of what I might do, but just because you can’t read me.  You’ve chosen not to.  Is that part of it?”

She smiles: thin lips; cute.  But she doesn’t answer.

Something’s off with the Eight Precious Spiced Jewels.  Not bad per-se, but different.  Like they hit it with the wrong shaker in the back.  It’s fine – really it is – but when you’ve been having the same thing for a decade, you know right away when something’s awry, and this place doesn’t miss often.

“Something’s off with this,” Anne says, frowning slightly, smacking her lips as though multiple smacks just might identify the problem.

“You read my mind,” I quip.

In university, even though she couldn’t think-in on me, Anne would do things to unnerve me.  Like the way she’d write essays.  The first time I saw this, we were in the library, sharing a table for six between the two of us.  I was hung over and didn’t need to be suffering the harsh fluorescent glare of the overhead lights, but Annie wanted company, so that was that.  She counted out ten pages of ruled 8X11 paper, all blank, onto the table.  And then – little brow furrowed, tongue pink between her lips – she flipped three pages in and wrote a word somewhere in the middle of the page.  Then she flipped back to the front and jotted down a punctuation mark, then skipped to the back to plug in a word.  On and on like that – left hand clutching weirdly and too tightly at her pen, eyes never looking up from the paper – she composed this perfectly cogent ten page argument like she was taking dictation.  No re-writes.  And when she was done, she glanced up at me with this look, knowing she’d just shared another secret with me; gauging  my reaction with relish.

I don’t know what the hell to call this ability of hers – it’s not mind reading – it’s like a tracing of how her mind is wired, and it’s not wired like yours and mine.  It’s way beyond thumbs.  It’s like a whole extra hand, growing out of her neck.

It’s hard sometimes, because my friends do not, repeat do NOT like Anne, and the more vocal among them haven’t been shy about expressing that fact.  “Jesus, Tom,” Mary O’Connor almost always gets around to saying to me, at some point in our monthly coffee get-togethers, “what are you still doing with her?”

I usually shrug or something – give a sheepish smile.  There’s nothing I can say.  To them, it looks like I’m wrapped around Annie’s little finger, quietly cuckolded, and too afraid to leave. Partially true, let’s be honest.  But we also have something unique that I can’t let go of, which my friends would understand, IF I could tell them.  And in her own way, Anne needs me – my lack of threat; my unvarying routines; my unreasoning faithfulness.  She’s the most dangerous woman in the world, hooked up with – as she’ll sometimes label me – Mr. Slippers.  Yes, I do get cold feet for some reason, and no, it’s not psychological.

Then there’s the matter of protecting my friends, which always makes me nervous.  I cringe every time one of my friends is “nice” to Anne, thinking that they’re putting one over on her.  Especially Mary, I mean – Christ – you don’t have to be a mind reader to know what she thinks of Anne.  Naturally, I try to do my visiting when Annie’s out of town, because really – who knows what the hell she’d do, if she got in the mood to do something?  If she ever had it in for you – you’d hurt.  You’d hurt in ways you never dreamed possible, from wounds that would never heal.

Suun comes to collect the dishes, asking how everything was.

“Hen Hao,” I say putting 50% of my Mandarin vocabulary out there like I’m laying a full house down on a table in Vegas.  I get a little thrill from speaking Chinese – it’s hard to explain.  “But you know,” I continue, “there was something a little different about the Spiced Jewels.”

“Whaaat?  No good?”

“No no – perfectly good,” I nod at Anne to get her agreement: she nods back.  “But it was really different – have you changed the dish at all, or…?”

“New cook,” Suun says, lips pursing like it’s just become “former cook” and I immediately regret bringing it up at all.  “I speak to him.”

“Well, but – it was good Suun…”  Too late, she’s off to the kitchen.  Seconds later we hear a burst of Cantonese like machine gun fire, and I wince.  We’re regulars – we’ve got a lot of power here.  I should’ve been more careful, but right away, I come up with a plan to fix things.

Suun comes back, finishes cleaning up: “Anything else for you folks?”

“You know,” I say, “how about two Baileys?  Annie?”

Anne looks confused.  Ten years I’ve been coming here and never ordered anything other than green tea.  “It’s Christmas,” I shrug, “or near enough, anyway.”

That’s good enough for Annie.  “Yes, Suun, that would be great.”

Suun nods, leaves.  Anne wriggles her nose: “Look at you, all unpredictable.”

“There’s a method to my madness,” I say, putting my mysterious face on.  Anne smiles because she doesn’t know what I’m thinking and she’s intrigued.

“What do you mean?” She asks, narrowing her eyes.

“You’ll see.”

Anne glances across to a foursome, smirks: I see that tell-tale light in her eyes as she picks up on somebody’s porn proclivity, or criminal alter-ego, or wife-beating temper.  Opposable thumb effect: Anne never judges anything she reads – nothing bothers her.  I’ve come to believe that’s part and parcel with the ability: if you did care, you wouldn’t – you couldn’t – have the power.  It’s either/or.  It’s another indication of how she’s wired, that lack of empathy.  She’s not psychotic, I mean, you wouldn’t call a leopard psychotic exactly, but it’s certainly right up there with that essay-writing trick of hers for eeriness.  Does it keep me up nights, when she’s asleep beside me, and I think about that aspect of her?  Of course it does.  Every once in a while.

I should leave her – even Annie knows that – though it’s one of the few things she refuses to discuss.  I know my friends are right – not for the reasons they think, but for reasons just as valid.  Another ten years and it’ll be too late for another grand romance.  The kind of romance where you’re still able to say things you’ve never said before, maybe still able to feel things you’ve never felt.  The kind of romance where you’re not only surprising the other person, but you’re surprising yourself as well.  Another ten years, and she’ll have gotten it all – all I have to give.

If I leave right now, it’s still not too late.

Did she tell me her secret, because she knows I won’t leave?

Or did she tell me her secret, because she knows I might?

Suun brings the drinks, inclining her head, smiling.  I lift my glass and gently tink it against Anne’s.  I can never get used to the sight of her.  Her green eyes hold my blue-eyed gaze and we sit in comfortable silence for a moment.

“The drinks,” I saw with a prestidigitator’s flare, “will be on the house.”

“How do you know?” Anne says, grin revealing those small, perfect, chemically-whitened teeth.

“I can predict the future,” I say.  “I’m like a human fortune cookie.”

When Suun brings the bill, Annie reaches for it and scans the list.  Sure enough the drinks have been comped.  I didn’t order the drinks for us: I ordered them for Suun, knowing she needed the opportunity to make up for the misfire on the Spiced Jewels.

Anne is absolutely delighted.  I’ve done what she could have done, only I did it blindfolded, drawing on ten years of experience and familiarity with this place.  Drawing on the empathy she lacks, and maybe needs in some curious way.  And I did it for her, as well as for Suun, and that matters to Anne.

“You’re spooky, boy,” Annie chuckles – almost a purr.

“You have no idea,” I bluff, knowing I’ve got nothing else up my sleeve tonight.


Originally published: On Spec Magazine, Winter 2006, #67, vol 18, no. 4.

 

Kevin Cockle is a Calgary based, Aurora-nominated, speculative-fiction author of over thirty short stories, whose work has appeared in a variety of genre-related magazines and anthologies. In addition to screenplays, boxing-related articles and various technical writing credits, Kevin’s debut novel “Spawning Ground” was published by Tyche Books in 2016. “Knuckleball”, a feature-film for which Kevin shares the writing credit, is in theatres now and on-demand.

 

The blog tour continues tomorrow at Cat Rambo’s website with her story, “Dark Shadows on the Earth”, and in case you missed it, yesterday’s story was “Never Too Late” by Cassandra Weir.

I write, I edit and I take a lot of naps.

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