Tag Archives: Naked Reader Press

When stories run amuk

huntedcover

by Ellie Ferguson

Let me start by thanking Sarah for asking me to blog today. She’s had to listen to me almost as much as Amanda and Kate have as I’ve angsted over my last two books. Hunted, the first book in my new Hunter’s Moon series, wasn’t a book I ever meant to write. In fact, I was almost half way through a nice cozy mystery when the plot for Hunted hit me. It was like I’d been struck over the head, dragged to my desk and tied to my chair and threatened not to have any coffee or chocolate or good scotch until I wrote the book. Fortunately for my sweet tooth — I have to have my chocolate — the plot was so strong, the characters so there that it didn’t take long to write the book.

So, I wrote my first paranormal romance. It was a departure, of sorts, for me. My first novel, also from Naked Reader Press, was Wedding Bell Blues, a romantic suspense novel. I had a lot of fun writing it but even that wasn’t what I saw myself writing. In my mind, I’m a cozy mystery writer. Oh, I might add in a nice suspense novel here and there, but mystery is what called to me. The only problem with that is no one told my muse.

It seems my subconscious had been leading up to Hunted. One of my two short stories is an urban fantasy. The other one is a fantasy of sorts. And then, when I wasn’t looking, I was hit by Hunted that demanded not only that it have the urban fantasy elements but also the romance, hence paranormal romance.

Still, as I finished the novel and sent it off to first my beta readers and then to Sarah for editing, I tried convincing myself that Hunted was a one off. It wasn’t going to be a series. Oh no. It was a lark and now I could go back to what I really wanted to write. Silly me. First, Sarah told me that I wasn’t done with the universe. Then, as if just waiting for her to give it permission to come storming back, the universe overtook me again and the second book in what is now, I guess, a series hit me right between the metaphorical eyes.

Like Hunted, Blood Moon (working title) looks to be a quicker write than a lot of my other work. Also like Hunted, it has its own form of torturing me. I’m a plotter. It’s something Sarah has tried to break me of because I try to plot out every little detail. She says it’s because I don’t trust myself as a writer yet. Me, I say it’s because I want to know what’s happening BEFORE it appears on the screen in front of me. It can be very embarrassing if your child — or worse, your parent — is looking over your shoulder and you are suddenly writing a hot and heavy sex scene and haven’t realized it.

At least Hunted let me do some plotting ahead of time. I generally knew what was going to happen from chapter to chapter. Oh, it threw me for a loop from time to time, but not like this one. Blood Moon tells me I can plot out the next chapter. Then it lets me write the chapter according to my notes. Then, as I sleep, my muse — who is an evil muse I’m beginning to think — changes the chapter and I wake up having to completely rewrite the chapter. Rinse and repeat each day.

That is so very different from my normal writing style that I’m afraid I may be driving Kate and Sarah insane with snippets and needy emails wanting reassurance. They have assured me it’s good so far and remind me that I went through this same sort of lack of confidence about Hunted which has turned out to be, by far, my most successful title to date. As for Amanda, well, she has threatened to hurt me if I don’t quit whining and just finish writing the thing.

All this is, as I’m sure you’ve figured out, a way of hopefully enticing you to go check out Hunted. I’ve linked to the Amazon page for it, but you can find it on iTunes, All Romance E-books, Kobo, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble and more. It will also be available in print in the next few weeks. Yes, I’m doing the happy dance — like so many, actually holding a printed book of mine makes it real even though I know an e-book is just as real as a printed. It’s just that I’m old-fashioned that way.

Here’s the opening scene for Blood Moon, due out the end of summer. I hope you enjoy!

*     *     *

“Lady, I said to hold still!”

The cop, who looked all of thirteen, held me against the hood of his squad car and finished cuffing my hands behind my back. As he did, lightning flashed overhead. I turned my head and stared down the alley, praying it had just been my imagination, that I hadn’t seen movement in the dark shadows. Damn my bad luck and the cop’s even worse timing. If only he’d been a few minutes later, I’d have finished the job and been well away from here.

Don’t get me wrong. Under different circumstances, and most definitely with a different partner, I might have actually enjoyed being cuffed. After all, there’s nothing wrong with a bit of role-playing between two consenting adults. But neither of us were playing and I most certainly wasn’t consenting – at least not in that way.

Hell, all I wanted to do was survive the next few minutes and the possibility of that happening grew smaller with each passing moment.

God, I hate my job sometimes.

With the cop’s forearm still holding me against the hood of his car, I blinked through the rain and sniffed. Nothing. Not that I really expected anything different. The wind had shifted again, blowing toward the alley. That, along with the cop’s fear and the smells of the car engine, made it almost impossible to scent my prey. Not good, not good at all.

Still, there was one small blessing. The cop was human. That meant the stench of death clinging to me didn’t call out to him. He couldn’t smell its foul odor any more than he could read my mind. Fortunately, science hasn’t progressed that far. The last thing I needed was some gung-ho cop mucking about in my mind, especially considering my activities of the last half hour.

The dark of night combined with the rain also helped. It kept him from seeing any blood that might have splashed on me during the kill, just as it kept him from seeing the bruises that marked my face. Nor could he see the way my jeans were torn at the left thigh where the feral managed to get in one good bite before I’d slit its throat. Both the bruises and the bite would heal soon enough. What worried me was what forensics might reveal should the cops decide to check my clothes or do too close of an examination of the alley.

Well, I’d worry about that later – assuming there was a later.

“Look, officer.” I tugged ineffectually at the cuffs and then tried to straighten, only to be slammed back against the hood. The sharp, bitter taste of blood filled my mouth and I spat, sorry the rain would wash the results from the hood. Damn it, this was getting old fast.

A clap of thunder sounded overhead, rattling the windows in nearby buildings and drowning out anything he might have said. Unfortunately, it also drowned out any sounds that might have come from the alley. The alley I could barely see as the rain beat down even harder. By the time I saw anyone, or anything, emerge from the shadows, it would be too late.

I’ve always known death would come for me one day, but I’d planned to meet it head-on, fighting. I wasn’t one to “go gently into the night.” Now it looked like I’d meet it head-on, but there’d be little I could do about it.

Lightning streaked across the sky, followed almost instantly by a clap of thunder. The storm was right on top of us and didn’t seem to be moving anywhere fast. I sensed more than felt the cop fumbling with his radio. Taking advantage of his inattention, I twisted slightly, sliding out from under his restraining arm. Before he could react, and probably shoot me for trying to escape, I turned and straightened. But I didn’t move away from the squad car. Instead, I planted my butt against the fender and stood there, looking to my left, never taking my attention from the alley.

Another flash of lightning – damn, Mother Nature was pissed about something tonight – and the shadows near the mouth of the alley shifted. My breath caught and I fought the urge to move. The instincts born of a hunter tried to force me toward the alley, toward my prey. Common sense and a strong desire to survive stopped me. Even so, my wrists strained against the cuffs. My heart pounded. Fear, stronger than any I’d felt in a very long time filled me. Like this, I was helpless and I didn’t like it one little bit.

Wasn’t it enough I’d been forced to kill that night? Did I have to die as well?

“Damn it, lady, I told you not to move!”

The cop’s voice cracked as he dropped his radio and fumbled at his hip for his gun. If the situation wasn’t so serious, it might actually be funny. Maybe it would be in a decade or two. But for now, it was deadly serious and even more dangerous.

Praying I wasn’t making a fatal mistake, I tore my attention from the shadows shrouding the alley and focused on the cop. Maybe he really was as young and inexperienced as he looked. The way the hand holding his gun shook seemed proof of it. So did the fact he hadn’t secured me in the squad car while he checked the alley. He might not have told me what he thought he’d seen me do, but I could make a pretty good guess.

At least if he’d followed standard procedure, I’d be out of the rain. Instead, he had me standing there in the rain, cuffed like a common criminal.

Believe me, I might be many things but common I’m not and that’s something he’d soon discover if he didn’t get us out of there.

I waited, expecting Volk to appear from the shadows at any moment. He’d already surprised me once tonight and it had come close to costing me my life. He might still succeed, thanks to the cop. At least I’d had the satisfaction of knowing I’d dealt with one of Volk’s ferals before everything went to hell. But damn it, Volk had already cost us so much. How many more would die before we managed to kill him and contain the rest of his followers?

I closed my eyes and fought for control. My hunter wanted out. She knew the danger we were in and railed against it. She knew how to deal with this foolish human and she knew how to deal with Volk. All I had to do was release control and let her loose.

Part of me wanted to do just that. God, how I wanted to. But cuffed as I was, it would be beyond foolish. I couldn’t shift with my arms secured behind me. At the very least, my shoulders, and probably elbows and wrists, would be dislocated in the shift. More likely, they’d be broken. Neither result would heal quickly. Besides, Hollywood had a number of things wrong about our kind, not the least of which was the process of shifting between human and animal. It wasn’t quick, nor was it painless. I had no doubts that before the shift was over, the cop would have put a bullet in my brain and that would seriously suck.

The sound of leather scraping against the pavement seemed to fill the air even though the cop gave no indication he’d heard it. My eyes snapped open and I once more focused on the shadows down the alley. I tensed, ready for flight. I’d risk a bullet in the back to facing Volk with my hands cuffed behind me.

Death was close. I could feel it. How long would it toy with me before finally striking?

A moment – or an eternity – later, I exhaled slowly. Whether I shivered from the cold or relief, I didn’t know and it really didn’t matter. But my guess was on relief. After all, no monsters – human or shifter – had emerged from the shadows. Better yet, I was still alive. Maybe my luck was improving. I doubted it, but one can always hope.

Not that I was about to relax just yet. I knew Volk. I’d been tracking him for more than a month now. I’d seen what he could do and knew he wouldn’t hesitate to send one of the ferals in first to distract the cop so he could personally deal with me. Fear once again licked at the edges of my self-control and I fought it down. I had to stay calm and I had to figure out some way to convince Officer Do-Good to get us the hell out of there.

Most nights, the last place I wanted to be was a jail cell. Right now, however, the thought of being safely locked behind solid walls and strong bars sounded very, very inviting.

“Look, officer,” I began again as the sounds of a distant siren reached me. It wouldn’t be long before others joined us. Whether that was good or not, I didn’t know. “I don’t know what you think I did or who you think I might be, but I was just out for a walk. You’ll find my ID and motel key in my back pocket if you’d just look.” I let a hint of frustration creep into my voice. He’d expect it and God knows I certainly felt it.

“Lady, I read you your rights. I suggest you exercise the right to remain silent, because there is no way you were out for just a walk. I saw what you did!”

Great, just great. My luck was running true to form. I’d been stopped by Billy the Boy Scout, always true to duty. I’d lay odds he was one of those who always believed what he saw, no matter what the truth might be. Hell, with my luck, he also believed everything printed in the paper or reported on TV because the media would never lie or show bias.

Well, if he wasn’t careful, I’d shatter all his illusions. It was bad enough he’d cuffed me and hadn’t followed procedure by securing me in the squad car before securing the scene, something that might just keep us both alive a bit longer. The fact Volk still lingered in the area only made matters worse. When the wind had shifted a moment earlier, I’d caught the scent of him: that foul, carrion-like scent I’d learned to associate with him long ago. I’d felt his amusement in that moment. I’d become the mouse to his cat, most definitely not a position I enjoyed. If Officer Do-Good didn’t do something soon, I would because I did not want to die in this back alley.

No more than five minutes could have passed from the time the cop had cuffed me and his back-up arrived, but it had been five of the longest minutes of my life. In that time I’d gone from anger and frustration at being interrupted before I could finish dealing with Volk to bone-chilling fear and I’d had just about enough. The only thing keeping me from doing something that might be exceedingly foolish was the thought of how it wouldn’t accomplish anything but cause more trouble, trouble no one would thank me for.

I dipped my head and tried to wipe the rain from my eyes with my shoulder – Have I said I hate being cuffed?  It’s damned inconvenient – Then I turned my attention to the car now parked behind the squad car. Interesting, it wasn’t a marked unit.  Instead, it was a black SUV. To the untrained eye, it looked like any of a number of other SUVs on the market these days. But I didn’t have an untrained eye. I saw the reinforced bumpers and other special after-market add-ons that told me it had to belong to one of Coyote Springs’ detectives.

The driver’s door opened and a man stepped out, a very tall man. A man who, the the quick flash of lightning, looked like he was as much at home in a gym as he was patrolling the streets. He wore black slacks, black shirt and a DSPD windbreaker.  His shield hung from a chain around his neck.  He paused long enough to frown up at the rain before closing the distance between him and the uniformed officer in long, quick strides.

Then the wind shifted again and every instinct was once more on alert. The scent of the newcomer was more heady than the most expensive cologne. My other self, the white tiger that had been fighting for release, pressed once more against my control as she recognized one of our own. This newcomer, this mountain of a man, smelled of the grasslands. Whether that was good or not had yet to be seen. Like the normals, shape-changers have their bad seeds.

God, I hoped he really was one of the good guys.

At least he looked like he knew what he was doing as he looked first at me, his eyes sliding over me before he focused on the deeper shadows of the alley. Nothing about his expression or the way he held himself betrayed his thoughts. Surely he’d realized what I was. It was possible he hadn’t and, if that was the case, I didn’t want to call attention to my true nature. So I reasserted my control over my tiger and prayed the newcomer got us far away from the alley and soon.

Instead, he turned his attention to the uniformed officer and motioned for the younger man to join him. After a quick warning for me to stay where I was, the young cop complied. I leaned against the fender of the squad car, wondering what was going to happen next and not liking how they kept me standing there, wet and cold, while they talked.  I strained to hear what they said but couldn’t quite make it out.  There was something about “patrol”, “flash”, and “blood” and that was all.  Nothing I hadn’t expected.

“Did you find anything when you searched her?” the newcomer asked, turning to look at me with the jaundiced eye of a cop who’d been on the streets long enough to know just how fatal it can be to take anything for granted.  “You did search her, didn’t you?”

“No, sir.”  In the light form the head lamps, I could see the uniform swallow nervously.  “I secured her and figured it best to wait for back-up before doing anything else.”

Oh my gods, he was worried I’d yell sexual harassment? Give me strength.

“Please tell me you at least secured the scene.”

“N-no, Chief Kincade.  I didn’t think I should leave her unattended.”

For a moment, Kincade said nothing.  I’m not sure he could.  Frustration and disbelief radiated from him.  In the light from the two cars, I saw how his right hand fisted at his side.  I might be the one cuffed, but Officer Do-Good was the one in real trouble.  Not that I had much sympathy for him just then.

Kincade took another step forward until he was standing almost nose to nose with the uniform.  “Let me get this straight, Officer Snyder.  You arrested this woman you say you saw kill someone.  You cuffed her and I assume you read her her rights.”  Officer Snyder gave a jerky nod.  “But you didn’t search her and you didn’t secure the scene, even though it’s raining and any evidence there might be is being washed away.  Worse, you didn’t check to see if there might be someone in need of medical attention further down the alley.  Nor did you check to see if she might have an accomplice hiding in the shadows, waiting for the right moment to shoot you and free her.”

“I-I—“

“Stay here.”

With that, Kincade moved to stand before me. His left hand closed around my left arm and he gave a slight tug, just enough to let me know he wanted me to come with him. Since he was moving toward his SUV and not the shadows of the alley, I was happy to oblige. Not only would the SUV keep the rain off of me, it would offer some protection against Volk should he still be nearby and decide to strike.

“Lean back,” Kincade said after helping me into the back seat.

I did as he said and watched as he secured the seat belt across my waist. He cinched it tight and then gave it a tug to make sure it wouldn’t loosen. Then he bent. Before I could react, much less ask what he was doing, he shackled my ankles, the short chain running through a metal loop in the floor.

He straightened and quickly glanced over his shoulder to where Snyder stood looking miserable as the rain continued to beat down on him. “I don’t know who you are, lady, but I know what you are. I also smell the blood on you. As soon as I check the alley and make sure you haven’t left me a mess I can’t explain away, we are going to have a chat. What you tell me will determine whether you go to jail and get to call your lawyer or you go straight to my clan leader to explain why you’re hunting in his territory without permission.”

Mouth suddenly dry, all I could do was nod. He gave me a long look before slamming the door, locking me inside the SUV. I might be dry, but I might just be in more trouble than I’d been in before. Hunting in another clan’s territory without permission from the local clan leader could a capital offense. My own alpha had assured me he’d see to it my way was cleared wherever my hunt took me.

But if he hadn’t, facing Volk might actually be the lesser of two evils. It wasn’t long before Kincade emerged from the shadows.  Relief filled me — well, relief and a touch of worry — and I watched as he once more approached Snyder.  It was easy to see that Kincade hadn’t found anything to substantiate what Snyder had reported, not that that helped me. Kincade had smelled the blood on me. As a shape-changer, he’d know it was the blood of one of our kind. Hopefully, he’d remember to tell his alpha that. Killing one of our own kind was a serious offense but not the automatic death sentence hunting a normal would bring down on me. Still, I was relieved he hadn’t come across Volk. Hopefully, he’d be able to convince Snyder he’d made a mistake and I had done nothing wrong. Then, if my luck continued to hold, he’d call his alpha and find out I was authorized to be in their territory and they weren’t to interfere with my hunt. If that happened, and I knew it was a very big if, I’d soon return to the hunt.

At least for the moment, I didn’t have to worry about becoming Volk’s next victim.

Kincade said something to Snyder that had the uniform hunching his shoulders and staring at his feet like a kid getting a very effective dressing down.  Then Kincade nodded to the squad car, the implication clear. He stood there, watching as Snyder moved slowly away from him, feet dragging through the water. Part of me felt sorry for the kid. He’d had the misfortune of stumbling upon something he wasn’t prepared to believe in, much less understand. Then he’d been dressed down by his boss. My night might have sucked, but it had been even worse for Officer Snyder.

“We both got lucky,” Kincade said as he slid in behind the steering wheel. “The rain washed away the most obvious evidence of what you were doing in that alley and whoever else was with you or your target got the body away before anyone else could see it.” He slid the key in the ignition and a moment later we drove off with a squeal of tires. “But you are a problem I have to deal with. Name and clan?” The last was snapped out and I knew better than to keep quiet.

“Maggie Thrasher, Kansas clan, Wichita pride.”

He nodded but said nothing else. Instead, he radioed into Dispatch that he was transporting the suspect to County. My heart beat a bit faster. Surely he wasn’t really going to do that. County jail meant not only fingerprinting me and taking my photo. Thanks to a recent Supreme Court ruling, it meant the cops could — and, with my luck, would — take a DNA sample from me. That was one of our kinds’ biggest fears. Modern science had finally advanced to the point where it was quite possible some overly-ambitious lab tech would spot the difference in our DNA from normal human DNA. Once that happened, our secret would be out and none of us wanted to risk the panic that was sure to follow.

Shape-changers might be stronger than normals and much more difficult to kill, but we also were in the vast minority. That’s why we have always done our best not to let our existence be known. We’ve seen what fear can do to people. We’ve seen it in our own kind when a new shifter form suddenly appears. If our existence became public knowledge without the right groundwork being laid, there would be bloodshed and too many on both sides would die.

“Where are we going?” Did he hear the worry in my voice?

“To see my alpha. He’ll either tell me you are cleared to be here or he won’t. For your sake, you’d better hope you’ve told me the truth and he knows why you’re here and has approved it. We had trouble with hunters coming here without permission last year and trying to take his mate against her will. He won’t take kindly to another hunter coming here without prior approval.”

I swallowed once, mouth tight, as memory of my own clan leader telling us about his visit to the Texas clan and the reasons for it. I’d known then that Declan hadn’t told us everything. There were gaps in the story about how the clan leader for the Northern California clan had hunted for a female shape-changer for years, ever since she’d spurned his advances as a fifteen year old after her parents’ deaths. He’d somehow discovered she was living in the Dallas area and had sent hunters after her, without notifying the Texas clan leader of their presence, much less getting his permission for them to be there.

But there was one thing I remembered very clearly from that night. When Declan told us the names of the clan leader and his new mate, I’d been stunned. Not by the fact the Northern California clan leader had died in a fight with the female alpha of the Texas clan. Not even by the fact the Californian had tried to kill the Texas clan leader. No, I’d been shocked by the identity of the female alpha. I’d never met her, but I’d heard about her all my life. She’d been my older sister’s friend during the summers when Eileen would visit our grandparents in Oklahoma.

With that came memory of the clan leader’s name. Kincade. Obviously Chief Kincade was some sort of relative. Whether that was good or not, I didn’t know. I just hoped the clan leader and his mate were morning people. Unless I was very wrong, we’d be at their place long before the sun was up. Then I’d have to hope Declan had done as he’d promised and filled the alpha in on my mission and why it was so important I be allowed to work in the Texas territory. If not, well, Volk would be the least of my worries.

And I still hadn’t had any coffee.

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ConSensual is here

Kate asked me to fill in for her today because she is having one of those weeks at work where she is never quite sure when she will get home or what state her brain will be in when she does. So, I get the pleasure of letting everyone know that ConSensual, the second book — and third title — in Kate’s Vampire Con Series is now available. You can follow the link above to the Naked Reader Press store page for ConSensual or you can buy it direct from Amazon and Barnes & Noble. It will be coming to Kobo and other outlets shortly.

To celebrate the release of ConSensual, here is an excerpt:

1. ConSensual Encounters

Nothing says you’ve left normal reality like walking into a hotel lobby and seeing a Clone Trooper chatting with a Sith Lord. The sign on the back of the Clone Trooper’s armor, ‘Come to the Dark Side. We have cookies. Tonight. Room 1226’, was really just corroborating evidence.

The lure of Dark Side cookies notwithstanding, I took myself to the reception desk and got signed in. I’ll give them this: the staff didn’t seem at all upset by the strangeness manifesting in their hotel. Maybe it’s a southern USA thing, but none of the southern con hotels I’ve been in have ever been anything less than welcoming.

Well, unless the convention was sharing space with one of the more fundamentalist religious conventions. But that’s another story altogether.

ConSensual being one of the bigger southern conventions, I doubted that would be an issue. It was held in one of those sprawling southern cities that takes about five times the land area of a northern city to hold the same population, and usually has so many hotels it’s not hard for any one event to make an exclusive booking.

Whatever they do with them outside the convention season isn’t my business.

I can never keep the hotels straight. This one was one of those modernist faux-elegant jobs with lots of shiny metal and glass, a multi-level gallery area where all the ballrooms and convention areas were, the inevitable bar and house of bad coffee, and the tower containing the actual rooms off to one side.

Since it sat in the middle of one of the less salubrious parts of the city — or at least it looked that way coming in on the airport shuttle — I expected there would be some interesting late night encounters.

I dropped my backpack off in my room: as always, several levels away from the party floor. I’d been able to book the northern side of the hotel this time. After the last con, where a murderous lunatic had crushed garlic into the air vent and opened the curtains while I slept, I was a little paranoid about sunlight and other things.

Yeah, I’m a vampire. I drink blood. Most of the rest is myth, but I am violently allergic to garlic, and while I’m old enough to go walking in the sun that doesn’t mean I like it.

I’d also taken the precaution of registering and signing for my room with one of my alternate identities. I keep a few for backup, in case something happens. Last con, it had, with a vengeance. You don’t get more something than a nutcase performing ritual sacrifices so they can summon Himself Below.

Anyone looking for my hotel room using the name I was registered in with that con would find precisely nothing.

My room was decorated in modernist Hotel Awful, complete with the kind of paintings on the walls that made you wonder who was having who on. This set looked like someone had splattered paint around, ridden a bike through it, then cut up the canvas and sold the results. A similar pattern adorned the bedspread and the upholstery on the chairs. At least everything else was basic beige.

One thing I’d learned from years going to cons, it was always possible to get more mind-bogglingly tasteless.

Back in the lobby area, I braved the con registration queue to collect my badge and the little plastic bag with the program and half a dozen flyers, then scanned the area to see if any of the immortal regulars had arrived yet.

The usual mix of convention exotica mingled and chatted, some costumed, some not. The inevitable Klingons clustered with Clone Troops and Imperial Stormtroopers — possibly giving tips on how to hit the side of a barn at point blank range. A woman in what could only be described as Regency in Space chatted with a White Witch whose pointy hat was at least as tall as she was. The construction had to be reinforced with wire because there was no other way it could have stayed upright. The thing probably made a functional antenna, and with the way the wide brim drooped to cover her ears I gave it maybe half an hour before people were speculating it was an alien mind control device. I knew she was a white witch because her hat and dress were white. She even had a white wand, although thankfully it didn’t have a star on the end. That would have been too much.

This being the south, there were any number of corseted women, although all of them seemed to have forgotten that the usual location of a corset is under the clothing. The inevitable uplift certainly distracted the fanboys. Precisely why the corsets should be paired with tied on wings that could be either butterfly or fairy wings depending on your viewpoint wasn’t something I intended to investigate. Some things are best left to the imagination. Or preferably, forgotten altogether.

At least there were no chain mail bikinis yet. Hopefully with the hotel air conditioning set to the typically southern preference of ‘glacial’, there wouldn’t be any. Not that I was holding my breath or anything.

Well, not until I saw who was sitting out front, eying the con-goers with the kind of disapproval that should have had them dropping dead of sheer fright.

He wasn’t here for the con. I’d bet my life on that. I might never have met him, but everything I’d heard about him suggested that he’d find fen irritating at best, and most of the authors offensive. What he’d think about the publishers — particularly the demonic ones — didn’t bear scrutiny.

I hoped I was wrong, and he was just some random businessman who happened to have a rather strong resemblance to one Vlad Tepes, also known as Dracula. The closer I got to him, the less likely that seemed.

For starters, he was definitely a vampire. I can pick most immortals by scent: it takes a vampire older and stronger than me to mask the faint cold smell of my kind, and then… well, nothing smells of nothing at all. No scent meant old, powerful, and probably not with good intentions.

He was also the right age — five hundred years, give or take a few. Him being awake in the middle of the day meant only that he’d grown strong enough to tolerate daylight and lose the sense of time that protects younger, weaker vampires. For a vampire his age to tolerate daylight, he had to be stronger than most, which fitted with the bits and pieces known about the man. If this truly was Dracula, the likelihood of him limiting himself was somewhere close to the chances of the sun rising in the west.

I could reasonably assume that he had given up his favorite means of execution: this wasn’t an era when putting people on sticks and letting them die slowly was something that could be done discreetly. That didn’t mean he hadn’t found other ways of torturing people who got in his way.

All of which meant that since I was the only immortal regular around, I had to warn him off. Joyous.

At least this didn’t count as saving the world. Once was enough for that.

He watched me through eyes that slowly grew wider and more intent as I approached. Not that I bothered to hide what I am, since there wasn’t any point deceiving anything weaker than me and anything stronger would see straight through that kind of deception. It’s one of those woo-woo tricks that always struck me as kind of silly.

He wasn’t hiding anything either, and he was stronger than his age would suggest. From what I knew about the man, he was probably about as pissy and stubborn as I am, which tends to make a vampire get stronger faster than normal. Something about not giving up when you’re beaten.

It wasn’t really that obvious who he was: his hair was unremarkably short, and he was clean shaven, which did a lot to change his appearance. It’s just that when someone gets as much infamy as Dracula does, just for being a vampire, it’s worth my while to make sure I know who he is and what he looks like, in case I run into him.

Stoker might have been way off on a lot of things, but it’s worth making sure. Sometimes there’s a seed of truth in all the nonsense, you know?

The upholstery here looked like white leather. I’d be willing to bet it was a good looking fake. Like they were in every hotel I’d been in, the chairs were that awkward not quite comfortable enough to stay in but damned hard to get out of shape which I swear is custom designed just for hotels.

I nodded in his direction. “Staying long?”

His control was damn good, I’ll give him that. He didn’t so much as twitch. “I was not aware this region was claimed.” His accent was one of those not-quite-British accents you sometimes hear from people who started with a British accent and travel a lot. Not bad for someone from the ass end of Eastern Europe.

Of course, with five hundred years to play in, you can learn a language really well.

“As far as I know, there aren’t any claims.” I’m the first to admit I’m kind of an oddity even for vampires, but the last I’d heard staking out territories — yes, I’ve heard the puns, more times than I want to think about — never really took hold in the Americas. It’s only been the last hundred years or so that there’s been enough people reliably in the one place to support a vampire outside of a handful of cities.

Most of the vampires I’d come across were more or less vagabonds, moving from place to place in a kind of circuit to avoid being too obvious. Once you get into the habit of being on the move, the things you need to settle start looking like too much trouble.

He studied me without comment. Slight pressure against my mind, a bit like an incipient headache that never quite materializes, told me he was probing me. I let him. It wasn’t like I had anything to gain or lose in forcing a confrontation.

Eventually I inclined my head in the direction of the Sith Lord and the Clone Trooper. “I’m here for the convention. There’s a fair few immortals who attend, and we have an informal agreement. Nothing that attracts attention, nothing that harms the guests.”

I don’t know if what I got was a smile or not. His mouth made the right shape, but nothing else changed. “A sensible precaution, under the circumstances.”

I shrugged and spread my hands. “It works. There’s a few of us who keep an eye out, one way or another.”

“Our kind?”

Score one for me. He was a controlled bastard — getting surprise out of him was a definite win. “Nah. You name it, there’s one or more of it here, or will be.” I grinned. “Trust me, I’m probably the best of us you could have run into.”

One eyebrow rose just enough to make a noticeable change of expression. “I would have said being warned off by an elder was impressive enough.”

That was one for him, although I’d be damned if I was going to let him see it. One of the reasons I put up with what was at the time a long and uncomfortable ocean journey to come to the Americas was the way the Europeans were so hung up on class. Being an elder vampire just meant that I was good at not dying. It didn’t make me something you paid tribute to. “I’m not warning you off, just letting you know the convention rules.” I smiled, not showing my fangs. “Call me Jim.”

That’s not my real name, of course. I’m not sure that you could say I’ve got a real name, since I’ve used a whole lot of names over the years, and I don’t remember the one my parents gave me.

He gave me the kind of look that said better than words he wasn’t impressed. Not that I looked all that impressive: I don’t dress fancy unless I’m in costume, and I hadn’t replaced the Olde Worlde Vampire getup after the last con. Right now I was wearing sneakers, jeans, and a gray tee with a logo showing two dragons playing ‘snap the wishbone’ with an armored knight. Oh, and sunglasses, of course. I looked like a paler version of the typical male fan.

After a while he said, “Victor Drake,” and offered his right hand.

I shook it. “It’s a pleasure.” He was still young enough — or held his name in high enough esteem — to use variants of his name. I generally aimed for generic when I built an identity, something not quite as obviously anonymous as ‘John Smith’ but nearly as invisible.

‘Drake’ gave me a thin smile. “I am here for several days on business.” He handed me a business card.

Call me warped, but I had a hard time not laughing. For Vlad Dracula — sorry, Victor Drake — to be the owner of a timber and hardware chain was the kind of darkly ironic twist that hit my sense of humor where it lived. Score another one to him.

His smile was actually more genuine this time. “It keeps me occupied,” he said mildly. “These days my old amusements would not be well received.”

I could think of a few places where making human popsicles would do a lot of good — and a few people who deserved to be human popsicles — but that was beside the point. “True. Times change.” I shrugged. “Personally, I’ll take the security hassles and the like just to have the modern plumbing.”

Drake actually laughed. “You have a point. Modern cities are much less malodorous than their historical counterparts.”

Modern cities typically didn’t turn the local rivers and streams into open sewers, or throw so much ash and soot into the air everything was covered with a thick layer of black filth. Progress and technology might have their disadvantage, but from my perspective the overall result was so much better it made the drawbacks seem pretty minor.

I grinned. “Precisely.” Levering myself out of the Hotel Awful chair took some doing. “I hope your business trip goes well.”

He inclined his head in a gesture that mixed amusement and acknowledgment. “As do I.”

*     *    *

If you haven’t already checked out the other titles in the Vampire Con Series, you can find ConVent, the first book in the series, and ConFur, a short story, in the NRP store, Amazon, BN and other e-book outlets.

Oh, yeah, now for the fun part — at least for me. Tell your most bizarre or funny con story (it must be something that you really witnessed at a con). Keep it reasonably clean please. The winner will get a free copy of your choice of the Vampire Con titles and Kate will red shirt you in the next title in the series.

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New, or at least renewed, beginnings

In a number of ways, this is a very difficult post to write. While I’ve had no problems over the last several years opening up about my feelings about the state of the publishing industry and where I think we’re going, I haven’t written much about what goes on in my life. Part of that is because I’m a very private person. Part is because being in law enforcement earlier in my life, I learned not to share personal details on a public forum. Today I’m going to break that rule, sort of, as well as do my usual schtick regarding publishing.

As most of you know, I’ve written before about hitting the wall with burn-out. Now, I can hear those nay-sayers would will tell you there is no such thing as burn-out. That when we think we have it, we should just push through. They are right and wrong. A lot of times when someone says he’s got a case of burn-out, he doesn’t. Yeah, he’s tired. Yeah, he’s having a hard time focusing on whatever his current work in progress is. But that might not be burn out. It might be that he’s writing something he shouldn’t be, whether it’s because there is a fundamental flaw with the book or the book is scaring him because his craft is taking one of those unexpected leaps forward. It might be because he’s at that part of the book where it is just hard to keep going. For a lot of writers, that’s the middle of the book. That sort of “burn-out” is what you can push through.

But real burn-out is something you can’t push through. Not really. Oh, you might fool yourself for awhile and manage another few days or weeks before you not only hit the wall but the wall falls on you. This is the mind-numbing, body-breaking burn-out that makes it hard to do anything in your chosen profession. It is often accompanied by either family stress, work stress from your outside job or illness or all of the above. When that happens, it takes time to get over it, time you may not realize you have to take.

This is all a roundabout way of explaining what happened to me. I’ve been on a leave of absence from Naked Reader Press for the last three months due to some potentially very serious medical issues that needed to be dealt with as well as some personal, but not nearly as serious, personal issues that I had to get a handle on. During that time, writing stopped. Work stopped. Life, in a lot of ways, stopped.

But, out of it came some good on several different levels. The first is that the medical issues, while not completely over, have been dealt with and did not — knock on wood — turn out to be as serious as they could have. The family issues are well in hand and weren’t serious at all. And NRP, well, we’re behind as any small business is when one of the few full-time employees is off for an extended period of time. But that also meant we, the owners and I, spent time discussing how to make NRP better and how to handle such situations should they arise in the future.

So, on the NRP front, we are bringing onboard two new editors. I’m thrilled to welcome Taylor M. Lunsford and Charles Martin to the company. Taylor will be helping set up our new romance and mystery lines and Charles will be heading up the non-fiction line. They will also be helping us get caught up on slush. So, for those of you who have been waiting for an answer, it will be coming shortly. What makes both Taylor and Charlie excellent fits for NRP is the fact they understand the fluid nature of publishing right now and they aren’t afraid to try something new, whether it is tech or figuring out what the next literary trend might be. You’ll learn more about them and hear from them about what they are looking for over at the Naked Reader site starting next week.

As for me, I’ll be continuing with NRP but my workload will be more manageable with the additions of both Taylor and Charlie as well as our own Sarah who is now our art director. It’s amazing how much that helps and I can’t thank each of these wonderful folks for believing in NRP as much as I do.

There’s another indication for me that the burnout is finally over. I’ve been writing again. Not just a few hundred words here and there but writing, real writing. In the last few weeks, I’ve managed a little over 55,000 words. They might not be my finest work, but it’s still first draft. They key here is not only that I’m writing, but that I want to write. It’s been a long time since I’ve really wanted to.

And, what I’m learning, is that I’m not the only writer/editor/etc who has been feeling this way. The turmoil in publishing has taken a toll on most of us. The push to find alternatives to traditional publishing, trying to decide if we are going to utilize these alternatives exclusively or remain with traditional publishing only or try a mix of both has been difficult for most of us. And it has taken a toll. When you add in the normal stresses and strains of life and it is little wonder there aren’t more walking dead among writers.

Any way, now that I know my health is only compromised and will, in all likelihood, return to normal and the other stress is working out, I am ready to hit the world running — or at least limping along. The ride may be bumpy at times, but that’s what makes it exciting.

Now, as for the publishing world…If you haven’t seen it already, HarperCollins has renegotiated its contract with Amazon and is no longer using the agency model to price their e-books. Yes, there are also the boo-birds out there condemning Amazon for it and forecasting doom and gloom for publishing because, gasp, best sellers may be priced below $10. Of course, these are the same naysayers who want us to believe it costs as much to produce an e-book as it does a print book and, by the way, they also tell us it costs that much even though there has been a print book produced. According to them, there is additional editing, copy editing, proofreading, etc., that has to go into the creation of the digital version of a book produced for print. When someone tells you that, call them on it because that is WRONG. You don’t have to edit, etc., again. Yes, you need to format but that is a matter of running the copy through a conversion program and then checking to see it converted properly.

These are also those who would have you believe that the DoJ’s suit is against agency pricing and who so conveniently forget that it is against price fixing. In other words, DoJ says that it isn’t agency pricing that is inherently wrong but how it came about that was. The alleged conspiracy between the five publishers and Apple is the issue. The fact that three of those publishers have agreed to terms with the DoJ, and that has been approved by the court, is not Amazon’s fault. Amazon isn’t some grand puppet master standing behind the scenes manipulating everything. What Amazon is is an innovator. Yes, it is the 800 pound gorilla but, for the moment at least, it is a gorilla that is in my corner and I will take advantage of what it offers, not only for myself but for the authors who come to NRP. That doesn’t mean I won’t keep a close eye on what the gorilla is doing. I’m not that foolish. But I won’t condemn myself to much fewer sales by not using Amazon simply because Amazon might do something I don’t like at some point in the future.

So, how do you tell if you are buying a book that is a product of the agency pricing mode or not? That’s really easy on Amazon. Go to the product page and under the price you will see one of the following: either a listing of the just the price points for the various versions of the book or the publisher’s name and “This price was set by the publisher” or “sold by: Publisher’s name”. If you see the first alternative, you know you are buying a book that was published by an author or publisher who never took part in agency pricing. The second alternative is our old friend agency pricing. These are the publishers who have yet to enter into new agreements with Amazon. The third alternative is what you will see post agency pricing.

Is the agency model gone? I doubt it. For one thing, the only publishers being forced to abandon it right now are the three who came to agreements with the Department of Justice. What happens with the other two, and with Apple, remains to be seen. For those other publishers who negotiated with Amazon and are currently using the agency model, the question remains open as to if, when their contracts come up for renewal, the agency model will be continued. My opinion is that we will see a hybrid of some sort.

In the meantime, I will continue checking not only prices but publishers. There are very few e-books I’d pay more than $10 for, especially when I know how little authors get for those traditionally published e-books. There is no way in heck I’ll by $19.99 for an e-b0ok and, yes, if you look at the best sellers this morning you will find one at that price. My question is why? Why are you paying that much? Especially when the publisher is loading the book with DRM and limiting how many devices I can have it on and when that publisher doesn’t believe that $19.99 allows me to OWN that e-book.

My money can and will do my talking for me. And now I need to go wade through some more email and start smoothing my way back into the swing of things at NRP.

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A Real Change of Heart or Just More Smoke and Mirrors

Earlier this week, it was announced that Tor/Forge was going to go DRM-free by July 2012. Normally, I’d view such news as very good news indeed. However, I’ll admit I’m still playing Scrooge about it. Maybe it’s because of who owns Tor/Forge — Macmillan. You remember them. They are one of the Big 6, those major publishing houses that believed it was better for their companies to adopt the agency pricing model and make LESS money just because it might stick it to Amazon. Macmillan is also one of the five publishers, along with Apple, to be sued by the Department of Justice for price fixing.

Anyway, here’s what Tom Doherty had to say: Our authors and readers have been asking for this for a long time. They’re a technically sophisticated bunch, and DRM is a constant annoyance to them. It prevents them from using legitimately-purchased e-books in perfectly legal ways, like moving them from one kind of e-reader to another.

While I have to admit, it’s nice to see that Doherty and company finally realize that DRM is “a constant annoyance”, there is one thing I find glaringly absent from his comment or from the TOR announcement: a decrease in price. Remember, the application of DRM has been a convenient excuse for publishers charging higher prices for their books because DRM is expensive. So, if they are going to do away with DRM, will they be lowering prices? Somehow, I’m not holding my breath.

Another point of irritation comes from reading the Publishers Weekly article about the TOR announcement. It’s no secret that I am an e-book fan. I wouldn’t work for an electronic press if I wasn’t. It should also come as no surprise that I have brand loyalty to Baen. Under Jim Baen’s leadership, Baen pioneered the e-book industry. Toni Weisskopf has continued and expanded the work Jim began. Yet the only publishers PW mentions in the article are those who once had DRM and dropped it, not those — like Baen — that recognized from the outset what a bad idea DRM happens to be.

One more point about all this: don’t get too excited about the announcement. Macmillan has not yet expanded the announcement to other imprints/houses under its umbrella. In other words, St. Martins and Henry Holt, among others, will continue to add DRM to their titles. In other words, this is an experiment. Macmillan is trying to see how much of an impact removing DRM will have on its sales. My fear is that the experiment is already set up to fail. If TOR doesn’t lower its prices, there will be no dramatic increase in sales. If there is no dramatic increase in sales, I doubt (and that’s putting it mildly) Macmillan will decide to remove DRM from its other titles.

Maybe I’m being overly pessimistic. What do you think?

#  #   #

Book 1 in the Nocturnal Lives Series

Now for the promotional spiel. Nocturnal Origins (Book 1 of the Nocturnal Lives Series) can be purchased through Amazon. Nocturnal Serenade (Book 2) and Nocturnal Haunts (a novella set in the Nocturnal Lives world) can be purchased through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and the Naked Reader Press webstore. And, because RES rightfully chastised me for not making it clear in yesterday’s promotional post, authors get a larger slice of the pie if you buy your copies from the NRP store. Finally, as always, there is no DRM added to any of the Naked Reader Press titles.

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One Year Later

By  Amanda S. Green

I’m going to start off by admitting that I’ve been hard-pressed trying to figure out what to blog about today.  I’ve been working on a series of posts about the changing role of agents for more than a month.  Every time I think I’m ready to go with it, something happens that makes me go back and re-examine my premise.  So, part of me wants to continue the discussion started with Sarah’s series of posts.  Another part says not to.  For one thing, Sarah is out of town and I don’t know how things stand right now in her situation.  Because of that, I don’t want to do anything that might exacerbate her situation.  So, I’m going to do something I don’t often do.  I’m going to step back from a topic a feel very strongly about.

That brings up the question of what to write about.  I’ve started and erased at least four times so far this morning.  But there is one thing on my mind besides the agent as publisher/whatever issue and that’s the fact that it’s been almost a year since NRP first offered titles for sale.  So, bear with me as I try to get my thoughts in order.

The last couple of weeks, I’ve been as busy writing as I have been with Naked Reader Press work.  Which means sleep has been a rare commodity.  Not that I’m complaining.  I knew when I took the job with NRP that this first year would be very focused on doing all I could to help the company get off the ground.  To say we’ve done much more than I dared hope a year ago is an understatement.  But it isn’t what those of us behind the scenes have done that’s been the reason for our success.  No, that success lies solely at the feet of our readers and our authors.  So, to each and every one of you, thank you.

One thing I’ve learned this year is that I have to keep an ear to the ground and pay attention to what readers are asking for.  It used to be when an author asked if they should write a book like Harry Potter or Twilight or The Da Vinci Code or whatever the hot book of the month was, they were told that might not be a good idea because of how long it took for a novel to go from manuscript to being on the shelves of a bookstore.  Years could pass from the time you finished that last edit and started submitting the book before it was published.  So that hot trend could be long cold.

That isn’t exactly the case any longer.  An author who self-publishes can put his book up for sale almost as soon as he types the last word.  I wouldn’t recommend this.  Every book, I don’t care who the author is, needs editing.  It needs to go through beta readers or a critique group.  Good cover art needs to be found because, no matter what you’ve heard, people do look at the cover of e-books and make a lot of judgments based on that cover.

That said, whether you go through editing and crit groups or if you go through a micro-publisher like NRP, the delay between writing and publication can be as little as months instead of years.  So that trend might still be hot…or it may be cooling.  So the best advice is to put your own special spin on the trend.  Make it yours.  Make it special.  Don’t just change the names and places.  Give the readers something to make them want to read not just that book but other things you’ve written.  In other words, you want them to say, “Oh, John Doe wrote [insert title here].  It was a great book,” not “Oh, John Doe.  He wrote that book that was like [insert best seller title here].”

This is especially true if you aren’t going the self-publishing route.  I have seen slush submissions that were nothing more than cookie cutter imitations of movies or other books.  If I can identify the source material before the end of the first page, well, that’s not good.  Fortunately, those have been in the minority.  The thing to remember is that if you wrote something as fan fic and just changed the names and places before submitting it to a publisher, there’s a good chance it isn’t going to fly.  Luke Skywalker is still Luke Skywalker even if you change his name to Puke Skyfaller and have him wear a white cloak and black desert clothes instead of the white desert clothes he wore in the original Star Wars movie.

So, does this mean you can’t write a space opera about a boy who follows a stranger who might be a hero or who might just be a mad man?  Of course not.  But it means you shouldn’t write it in such a way it follows plot point by plot point a movie millions are familiar with.

An excellent example, in my opinion, of taking a well-known story and putting your own spin on it is Kate Paulk’s novel, Impaler.  Most everyone is familiar with the Dracula legend.  Most have at least a passing familiarity with the theory that Dracula was based on Vlad Tepes, who ruled part of what is now Romania with an iron hand and who gained his nick-name of Impaler by impaling his victims, often alive.  Vlad/Dracula has been painted as one of the worst villains in history, especially after Bram Stroker’s novel was published more than 100 years ago.  I thought I’d read every possible take on the legend until Kate started sending me snippets of Impaler as she wrote it.  I knew when I went to work for NRP that I wanted Impaler for our catalog.  Why?  Because it was so different.  Kate stayed as historically accurate as she could within a fictional context and yet she made Vlad Tepes someone the reader could identify with if not exactly sympathize with.  Her take on “the curse” is very different from anything I’d read before.  In short, she took something familiar and made it her own.

Another example is A Touch of Night by Sarah A. Hoyt and Sofie Skapski.  I doubt there’s a person in this country who went through public junior high or high school who wasn’t forced to read Pride and Prejudice.  How many of us have rushed to the bookstore — or Amazon — to find Cliff notes for the book?  Yes, it’s a classic.  Yes, I can appreciate the book now.  But in high school I was much more interested in reading Heinlein and Tolkien than I was British drawing room novels.  But A Touch of Night is such a wonderfully fun take on P&P that there was no way I couldn’t love it.  After all, Sarah and Sofie stuck to the basic plot of the original but added shape-shifters.  More than that, the animals the characters shift into fit their personalities, they make sense.  Who could ask for more?

So my advice is this.  If you have a story you want to write, write it.  But make sure it has your voice, your spin.  If it is well-written and edited, if it has a plot that compels the reader and characters the reader can cheer for — or boo if that’s what is needed — then you’ll find your market.  You might not get rich, few of us do, but with a little work and lots of luck, you’ll find readers and they will talk about your book and that, my friends, will bring in more readers.

Writing is a crap shoot at best.  But the odds are now more in the writer’s favor than ever before.  Small and micro presses as well as new avenues of self-publishing are working in our favor.  So, butt in chair and write.

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