Shall We Have A Teaser? Why Yes, I Think We Shall B-)

This is what I’m working on. Enjoy <3

Mercury sat in the front row of the Great Hall in Kaditeos’s premier Evil Overlording Academy, pointedly not sweating. This was mostly because she made it a point never to sweat, sweat being an indication that she was working hard, and hard work being antithetical to her way of life.

However, if she had been sweating right now, it would not have been due to overexertion. Instead, it would have been caused by an even more unfamiliar concept in Mercury’s emotional vocabulary: nervousness. Mercury did not get nervous. Mercury got things done. So that fact that she was sitting here, in the front row of the Great Hall, about to graduate from Evil Overlording Academy with distinction, and was feeling nervous… She crumpled the paper program in her fists. It made her furious, that’s what it did. Abjectly furious, that snooty-tooty Deviran with his stupid morals and his stupid I-don’t-want-to-be-here and his stupid overlords-are-empty-figureheads and his stupid face sitting over there on the other side of the hall, looking implacable as though he knew it gave him a stupid air of alluringly stupid mystery… She scowled and searched for the train of thought that had been derailed, yet again, by Deviran’s stupidity.

Ah. Yes. She was angry because she was nervous because she wasn’t absolutely entirely one hundred and fifty percent sure that she’d beaten Deviran in their final exams, and one, being anything less than a hundred and fifty percent certain of anything made her cranky, and two, being beaten by Deviran for dux of the year would be utterly unbearable.

In the corner, the starkly-attired band with their traditional blacked-out instruments began playing the March of the Oncoming Doom. The screechy scrapes of hundreds of chair feet on the hall’s wooden floor sounded, and the crowd climbed to its collective feet.
Mercury sat with her arms firmly folded for a few moments longer, until her best friend Sparky kicked her in the ankle.

“Get up, idiot,” Sparky hissed, hints of real flame flickering through her flame-coloured pixie cut.

“No,” Mercury said, flouncing to her feet and tossing her glossy brown hair. Six years she’d been playing by the Academy’s rules in order to get what she wanted, and she’d had just about enough.

Sparky rolled her eyes before focusing on the stage, where the ceremonial party had begun entering.

Mercury clenched her jaw and narrowed her eyes as the teachers of the Evil Overlord Academy filed onto the stage, dressed in their formal finery. Each teacher had their own distinctive look that matched their personality and their Overlording style, from severe charcoal suits to jet-black leathers, ballgowns and lingerie and spandex, and even on one tiny little old woman at the back, worn jeans and a flannel shirt. She was the one to watch out for, of course; Mercury could respect an Overlord who was confident enough in their abilities that they didn’t need to telegraph them. It wasn’t a look she herself would consider, of course, but still. She could respect it.

The band’s march finished and, after a moderately awkward pause, the crowd sat. The Principal took the podium, and Mercury narrowed her eyes. He was doing a superb job of hiding it—he was a premier Evil Overlord, after all—but she was Mercury, and unlike anyone else, she had the benefit of being able to rummage through people’s consciousnesses. She was better at adding things in than taking things out, but he was telegraphing fear loudly enough that she could sense it without trying.

Mercury pursed her lips. Hmm.

The Principal cleared his throat at the podium, and the fear made it into his eyes. “Before we begin,” he said, and Mercury’s stomach did a peculiar kind of flip-flop. “I have a pressing announcement to make regarding the safety of our students and their families.” He cleared his throat again and took out a sheet of paper from his pocket, unfolding it carefully and smoothing out the creases before beginning again. “The Council”—quiet booing echoed around the hall—“have asked me to recommend that students from Tumul Tuos seriously consider postponing their return to town for a few days. The city is dealing with a situation at present which may present a danger to our students’ health and safety.”

Mercury’s hands fisted at her sides and she forced herself to remain seated. What was wrong with her city? What had the Council mucked up now? A risk to the students’ safety? There had to be more he wasn’t telling them. Gently, Mercury tugged on his consciousness, implanting the suggestion that it might be better to share the news than to keep it secret. After all, how could they fight an enemy they didn’t know?

“There has been, ah…” He trailed off, glancing side to side as though wondering why his mouth had decided to continue.

Mercury didn’t snicker, but she did press her lips together in satisfaction.

The Principal took a deep, steadying breath. “There had been one death already. The family have already been notified, so it is with much regret that I must inform you that Woovermyer will no longer be with us at the Evil Overlord Academy.”

Murmurs broke out around the room, not all of them sad—to be expected in a school devoted to raising the next generation of dictators and despots.

Mercury, however, shook quietly.

“You okay?” Sparky murmured, leaning towards her.

Mercury gave a single, tense shake of her head and stared at the podium. Dead. Lizzi Woovermyer was dead in her city. And the Council hadn’t done anything to stop it. Couldn’t do anything to stop it, probably, given they’d warned the students to stay away.

Enough was enough. Seriously. A good thing she was about to graduate at the top of the class, giving her the right to knock any current overlord she chose off their throne. Tumul Tuos would be hers in a matter of hours. And then there’d be no more of these wasteful deaths. Her city would be safe at last.

Madam [name] was up the front now, and abruptly Mercury realised Madam was there to make the announcement that would change her life forever. She leaned forward in her seat, ready to stand when her name was called.

“And now the announcement you’ve all been dying for,” the [subject] teacher trilled, the frills on her pink cardigan fluttering in a stray breeze. “The dux of this year’s cohort!”

Sweat slicked Mercury’s palms. Irritated, she reached over and wiped them on Sparky’s thigh.

Disgusted, Sparky pushed Mercury’s hands back into her own personal space bubble and Mercury, nervous to the edge of distraction, let her.

“Will you please join me in welcoming to the stage, our wonderful dux for this year, Deviran [namityname]!”

Mercury froze halfway to standing. “Did she just say Deviran?” she whispered furiously to Sparky.

Sparky hauled her forcibly back into her seat. “Yes,” she hissed back. “Sit down, you’re making a fool of yourself.”

Mercury’s spine snapped upright and she arranged her black skirt demurely. “No I’m not.” She closed her eyes. “Deviran’s going up to the stage, isn’t he?” Even at a whisper, the misery in her voice was clear.

Sparky reached over and squeezed her hand.

Mercury squeezed back, laced her fingers through Sparky’s, and held tight as all her plans and dreams vanished in front of her.

A stone had landed in her chest. That must be it. Some strange sort of magic that made her chest contract and sink, and made the world distort for just a moment, long enough to trick her into thinking Deviran had beaten her so that someone could jump in front of her and yell SURPRISE!

Any moment now.

Any moment.

She refused to open her eyes and watch Deviran parading across the stupid stage like some stupid stupid-person, receiving his stupid medal and stupid symbolic [thingy].

It was that last question. She’d known Deviran would pull out his stupid ‘Evil Overlords are merely figureheads, the Business Guild is where the power really lies’ rant that everyone had heard a million times back when he was younger and angrier, and she’d tried to counter it, she really had. She’d argued for the importance of the Overlording position, for the power of having a symbolic figure to unite the population in their hatred, for having a person able to make all the difficult, necessary decisions the Council was too weak and spineless to make… But it hadn’t been enough. Everything she’d worked for, everything she’d set out to prove—and it wasn’t enough.

There were words, there were names, and then forever later, once she’d died twice already, Sparky elbowed her in the ribs. “Come on,” Sparky muttered. “You’re up next.”

And just as Sparky said, there was a shuffling of presenters and the next speaker announced in threatening, funereal tones, “The Overlording class.”

Mercury blinked. She looked properly at Sparky this time and noted the graduation pin on her collar. She made eye contact, meaning to ask if Sparky had been up already without her noticing, but obviously she had or she wouldn’t have the pin, and they’d called the Overlording class up, and she was making a spectacle of herself.

Mercury blinked furiously and strode to the end of the line at the side of the stage. The other thirteen candidates proceeded one at a time across the stage, two girls and then stupid Deviran, and then the rest and then the speaker was calling her name.

Hands fisted, Mercury tossed her head high and marched across the stage. She wouldn’t look at them, the stupid faculty who’d denied her the city she rightfully deserved, and she wouldn’t look the other way either, at the classmates undoubtedly sniggering at her failure.

She shook hands with the presenter, and while he pinned her badge on her collar, her eyes betrayed her and slid towards the audience. Her stomach flipped as she saw the crowd of parents and friends behind the rows of students. Everyone had someone here to watch them graduate. Everyone except Weird Al—and her.

The presenter muttered something to her and offered his hand again. Mercury coldly ignored it and strode from the stage. It didn’t matter. None of it mattered. It was her city anyway, and no one could change that. She’d think of something. She’d take a day or two out, make some plans… And she could always hope that Deviran would choose some other Overlording territory.

He’d be stupid to, but then again, he was stupid, so. Mercury could hope.

All at once, Mercury came to rigid attention, scanning the room. Somewhere out there in the crowd, an exchange of power had just taken place, and it felt… unusual.

But the final few students were backing up behind her and muttering, so Mercury headed back towards her seat, craning her head all the while and searching for some sign of whatever it was that had just discharged a dizzyingly quiet amount of power into the room.

She sat, and Sparky leaned over. “Okay?”

“Mm,” said Mercury. “Did you feel…”

“Feel what?”

She turned it over in her mind. It had felt like a large shot of power discharged very quietly—but perhaps it hadn’t been. Perhaps it had only been a small discharge after all, something most people probably wouldn’t have noticed. But still, something about it had tugged on her. She shook her head. “Never mind. Don’t worry.”

Sparky sighed and straightened. “It’s fine, Mercury,” she said, drily exasperated. “I know you didn’t win, but I promise, you’ll live through it.”

Mercury waved a hand for silence. The power had just discharged again, and it had come from somewhere in the back corner. Impatiently, Mercury waited for the final formalities to conclude. The crowd stood while the band played the exit march and the stage party left, Mercury tapping her foot all the while.

The moment the last notes of the march died away, Mercury turned and headed to the back corner, weaving in and out of students and parents, ignoring Sparky’s calls behind her. Power, something that tugged in a way that was strange and familiar, all at once. She pushed her way through a family posing for magigraphs—and halted.

Deviran stood with his family, with his stupid, smug little smile. His mother and father, she presumed, gushed over him, patting his back and hugging him tight. Within moments the Principal was there, glibly shaking hands and congratulating them on the success of their son. Something flickered across his consciousness, and also Deviran’s fathers, some moment of recognition in response to what they were saying—but Mercury brushed it aside as the mother brushed melodramatic tears from her cheeks and handed Deviran a package about as long as her hand but half the width.

That. That was the source of the strange, magical feeling. Mercury watched hawk-eyed as Deviran unwrapped the gift. A glimpse of gold set her pulse racing—What was it? What did it do? Could she steal it?—and then the paper fell away to the floor, and Deviran stood staring at the object in his hands, and Mercury did too.

Wide-eyed, buoyant, Deviran raised his gaze to his parents, and she could hear the reverence in his voice as he thanked them even from here.

But Mercury had eyes only for the object. No wonder she’d felt it discharge, and no wonder it had felt both strange and familiar. In Deviran’s hands lay a glorious, sunshine-gold key, large and strong—and with a handle in the shape of a stylised fish, long, flowing fins curving to make the grip.

A Key. They’d given him a Key. And not just any Key, but the Key, her Key, the Artefact of Power belonging to her city.

A wordless noise of wanting rose in Mercury’s throat. Who cared about being dux? She needed that Key.

Practising In Public, Or, I Have A Book Coming Out in May :3

Years ago, I read an article that prompted somewhat of an epiphany. This is not, in and of itself, a noteworthy event, as this is something that happens with rather astounding regularity in my life. I guess when you read a lot, and when you read widely, this kind of thing is also just called ‘Learning More Stuff’. Yay learning! Yay stuff!

But anyway, this particular article (which I’m sure I linked to at the time but can’t for the life of me find on the blog at present*) was about a distinguishing factor between writing and a lot of other art-forms: namely that in many art-forms, practising in public is not only permissible, it’s actively encouraged. Painting pictures? You don’t have to be a painterly genius for the school to let you exhibit your work. Learning an instrument? Recitals are generally actively required, whether you sound like you’re strangling a cat with tomato sauce or not. Writing? …Yeah, probably just better put that notebook down and not show anyone your writing until you’re *good*, okay, honey? There’s a lovely sane writer person. *pat pat*.

The article, and subsequently I, took umbrage with this notion. Why NOT practise in public? Look at The Martian, for example. It’s arguable but also pretty intuitively obvious that the book only ever became as great as it did because the author took a risk and practised in public, garnering assistance and feedback along the way that made the book what it was.

Look. I don’t want to get too hung up on this idea; I just wanted to note that you know what, writers? Sometimes it’s okay for us to share stuff with The Reading Public that we know has flaws.*****

Segue. In 2010, I wrote a book. It was a book-of-the-heart, the first book I wrote straight through without blood, sweat or tears, and it was magical, and elating, and glorious. It was a book, actually, for my sister, not because the plot mirrors her life or anything (and even less so now than in that first draft) but because, at the time, it felt important that I could give her the gift of happy escapism for a while–and it dovetailed nicely with a fragment of an idea I’d had rolling around in my head for a while.

Segue. It’s 2017. This book has gone through about 7 drafts, at least 4 of those with relatively major changes, though it’s not like it was ever gutted and torn up for parts like some of my other novels. The resultant story is still largely the same shape as the original, just better. More book shaped, less like a whimsical object from my head.

Segue. It’s still 2017, and I have an emotional collapse on Twitter at a bunch of my writing friends. The Twinny One immediately gets onto Skype; she understands what the problem is in a way that’s hard for me to articulate on Twitter, and also in a way that’s hard to articulate on Twitter, she knows the solution. It’s the goalpost, she says.

See, seven years is Quite A Long Time to work on a book, really. Especially when your goal is to make some kind of living out of this. And over those years, numerous times, people have told me (kindly, for my own sanity’s sake) to put Sanctuary down, to shelve it, to walk away.

I don’t walk away from books. I’m terminally incapable. So being told to abandon this one is heart-wrenching, and I’m scared I’ll never finish it, and I’m scared I’ll be forced by time or people or circumstance to abandon it, and secretly I’m just plain old scared that I’ll never be good enough to edit a book to The End. Editing, y’all, is HARD, HARD WORK. Taking this story, this image, this idea that you have in your head and translating it into something that not only makes sense but is just as compelling for others as it is for you? HARD.

But for the first time, Liana puts it in words that seep into my head. It’s not that I’ve changed as a writer in those seven years, though it’s also that, and I most certainly have, in leaps and glorious bounds (though some days I still stumble and crawl). It’s not, as I heard this to mean, that I could do better, that I could write better than this, that I need to be constantly revisiting Sanctuary to update it with the new skills I’ve learned.

It’s the opposite. It’s not that I’ve changed as a writer so much as that I keep moving the goalpost. Of course the book will never be DONE if I keep applying new criteria to it; no book I ever write will be done if I work like that.

There are still some flaws in this book. I know they’re there, but fixing them would mean gutting the book and starting over, and I don’t have it in me to do that yet. Maybe one day I would, but I’m faced with a choice: I can let the book go, or I can hold onto it for another seven years, picking and prodding and angsting and hoping to someday get it ‘right’. I need to let it go. But letting go doesn’t have to mean shelving it. It can also just mean at last, finally, calling it done.

Practising in public, you see.

So here it is: my glorious piece of imperfection, a tiny part of my soul carved into words and made flesh of its own. I’m calling it done, I’m writing The End, and I’m turning it over to you, my wonderful, wonderful reader. I hope you’ll love it. But if you don’t, that’s okay; I’m practising in public, and I’ve done what I needed to do. Finally, I’m letting this glorious beast go.

A teal book cover with light exploding from the centre of it. Shadowed butterflies fly out and up from the light, and the title, Where Shadows Rise, overlays the image in a serif font with decorative curly elements. It's pretty. Very, very pretty.
Where Shadows Rise
Sanctuary Book 1
Coming May 24, 2017
Amazon | B&N | Kobo | iBooks | and more 🙂
(print and ebook)
(yay)
(isn’t the cover *astounding*?)


The fairies have a secret they’re just dying to protect…

Emma knows breaking the rules can get you into trouble; it nearly got her sister killed. That’s why Emma’s stuck in backwater Nowra, Australia, under temporary witness protection with no friends—and no life.

So when Emma has to break the rules to retrieve the runaway family dog, she decides the fairy she sees is clearly a guilt-induced hallucination. Problem is, hallucinations don’t usually send you invites to Fairyland—and shadows don’t usually chase you home.

It would be easy to ignore the invite.
It would be sensible to avoid the shadows.

But when Emma’s only new friend is snatched by the shadows in the middle of the night, Emma knows she has a decision to make: stick to the rules and leave her friend and dog to die, or risk her own life to save them.

CHAPTER ONE

THE DOORBELL RANG. That doesn’t sound exciting in and of itself, but let me assure you: it was the most heart-pounding thing to happen all week. It was my birthday, I was home alone, and because of the stupid witness protection business, I’d been stuck in the house all summer. I hadn’t even been allowed out to see friends, because we’d arrived in town at the end of last year with only three school weeks to go—so I didn’t have any friends.

Well. I had friends, but they were back in Melbourne, and I wasn’t allowed to contact them for fear someone would track down our new location. Lucky me.

Anyway, it was my birthday, I was alone because Mum and Dad had gone to do something regarding birthday surprises and Anna had inexplicably chosen to go with them, and the doorbell had just rung. I stared at the closed door, heart pounding, while our chocolate Labrador, Veve, tried to chew it down. Was I going to open it?

Of course I was going to open it. The chances of it being a mobster were slim to none; for starters, a mobster wouldn’t have rung the bell.

 

A teal book cover with light exploding from the centre of it. Shadowed butterflies fly out and up from the light, and the title, Where Shadows Rise, overlays the image in a serif font with decorative curly elements. It's pretty. Very, very pretty.
Where Shadows Rise
Sanctuary Book 1
Coming May 24, 2017
Amazon | B&N | Kobo | iBooks | and more 🙂

 

* Granted it is 10pm on Sunday night and I just spent 10.5 hours of my day marking things and my brain is leaking somehow out my ears and it’s goo, all goo, everything is goooooooo.**

** The number of times I mistyped ‘good’ for ‘goo’ just then is shameful. And probably indicative of my Tired. And possibly indicative of my subconscious’s determination to be optimistic? Sure, let’s run with that.***

*** Better than running with scissors.****

**** Imma get back to the main article in a second, I SWEAR. Any second now. Aaaaaany second…….

***** Of course, just as the right to voice your opinion does not include the right to be taken seriously, so too practising in public does not shield you from having substandard work received as such. I don’t advise this course of action unless you have a thick skin, or aim to develop one.

Over 40 Free Stories! An Anthology of Stories for Teen Readers

YOU GUYS IT’S NEARLY HOLIDAYS. This, my friends, is a Very Exciting Thing. It also means that hopefully you’ll get some more regularly scheduled blogging – and I’m going to do my level best to set up some sort of blogging system that will work to keep things happening regularly throughout 2017, I promise >.<

BUT! IN THE MEANTIME! FREEEEEEE STOOOOORIEEEEEEESS!!

First of all, I have another short up on the Darkness&Good blog this week. It’s an extract from my work in progress, Fox Red. If you’re following along on social media, this is #FoxBook, and the reason I’m sharing an extract with you is…

*drumroll*

that-moment-when-boxset

The first part of Fox Red is being included in this fantastic anthology of sff YA stories! You can find this awesome anthology of stories for teens on Amazon here, and it’ll be available across all other retailers within the next week or so too. NOTE: It’s 99c at the moment, but if you wait a week or so for the price matching to kick in, it’ll be perma-free 😉 I’ll remind you about it again once that’s happened, so if you want to wait until then, go for it 🙂

The section of Fox Red that I’m sharing on Darkness&Good is NOT included in the That Moment When anthology, so you get bonus bits of story (woohoo!). And if you like what you see, make sure to head over to my Fox Red page for updates on the story and related things like inspiration images and music 🙂

9 days till holidays. See you on the other side.

<3
A

New Free Short Story!

Hello! The Darkness&Good blog took a break there for a bit while Liana and I dealt with some Life Things, but I’m pleased to say that we’re open again for business, and free (mostly unedited) short stories will be going up at least 3 weeks out of every four over at http://darknessandgood.blogspot.com! 🙂

Also, we have a new member: Thea van Diepen has agree to join in the madness, hurrah! You can read her first short story right here, followed by Liana’s story from last week – and today, it’s my turn! *jazz hands*.

So yeah. The Darkness&Good blog exists again. You should follow it. There are stories. They are free, and shiny, and awesome 🙂

DARKNESS & GOOD Free Short Story Blog